Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


10.30.2005

Ramadan

The five weeks back from leave have been full of people and equipment moves as well as getting ready for and executing the elections. I have been very busy and working straight out. Most of my time has been consumed by administrative business, packing, customs training, and running the command post during the elections. Surprisingly, the elections were tensely quiet. There has been more activity the week following the elections with suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and artillery missions. Still, I became settled in a routine after the elections dealing with small but important stuff. I finally had enough and was able to go on a peacekeeping patrol instead of a combat mission or a convoy run.

It was good to get out on patrol again and be around the people and not after a specific target. We did a "presence patrol" where we talk to people and gather information about how they feel and what their needs are. These "atmospherics" get rolled up and reported to the highest level. When it crosses the big desk, they make decisions on how long we should stay here and how many assets to use.

On my microscopic level, we are able to get out on the ground and talk to the people and learn. We spoke with some men who served in Saddam's army and now are unemployed. They were concerned why they have to be unemployed when there is litter in the streets and poor sanitation and electricity. They are willing to work and there is work to be done in the towns. The interpreter explained to us about the mistrust and low-level corruption. "It's like mafia," he said. In talking to some others citizens, we were told that we (US/Coalition Forces) are not needed here in this town; they trust their local security forces (the Iraqi police and National Guard), but they are happy to see us and see that we care.

We had the opportunity to learn about Ramadan firsthand as we stood in a street at a bakery. Some men were praying on their small blankets while we talked to a baker who was making some Ramadan treats to be served at sundown. He asked, "Why are you not fasting?" I told him it was not my turn and I suggested he show me. He laughed and handed me sweet but greasy fried dough-like bread.

It was my first time on a dismounted patrol where we walked for blocks away from the safety of our machine guns and seven-ton HMMWVs. It was not a big deal. I have complete confidence in the soldiers I work with. I was just thinking how far we are from the stereotypical Hollywood image of some kind of chiseled, rugged soldier. We are citizen soldiers, just average people doing the best we can. It is true that the insurgent cartography is a checkerboard mosaic spread out through and among the towns. We are trying to use the friendlier pockets as spheres of influence to sway public opinion on the less friendly areas. We know which areas are okay to walk in without the vehicle support and which areas not to stray too far along the back roads.

The end of Ramadan is referred to as the "nights of glory" when the Koran was revealed to Mohammad. As the end of October has been approaching, the gatherings of people at dusk have been growing. This time of religious renewal for Muslims is also a time when the suicide bombers are expected to attack, as if access to heaven is guaranteed after a suicide attack. We have been fortunate in our immediate area as the only thing these guys have been able to blow up are themselves. Some of our neighbors have not been so lucky.

After a successful day on patrol, we returned back to our camp for a company formation. It was rare to have all of us in one spot, considering our patrol schedules and having units detached to other camps. Some awards were given out, and I received some accolades; my boss is recommending me for promotion when we return. After several frustrating days, it was nice to have some rewards and see that my frustrations are not for nothing.

We have started our rainy season, and I hear it has been snowing at home. We have prepared for the wet season by re-tarping the tents, and extra gravel has been deposited around the living areas. Although the colder weather feels strange here, it comes with a sense of completion as if things are coming full circle. I am torn between keeping everyone in the game, and thinking of home and moving on to other adventures.

posted by Scott | 16:37 Baghdad time | © 10.30.2005
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