It’s been a long summer in the desert of Eastern Iraq, as soldiers from the 3rd armored calvary worked to secure the small towns and villages from insurgent domination. I the summer of 2008, insurgent domination in these villages means one thing; target a family among the four or five that inhabit the village and murder them, leaving the bodies for the others to see. Once that village is under control, move to the next, and so on. The American soldiers, with heavy armored vests and pads covering every inch of vital organs sported helmets and guns and camel backs full of water in the 120 degree heat are there to teach and support these rural people. They are there to teach them how to protect themselves against this insurgency plan. The villages with all the concerns of any rural neighborhood fretting over sickness and drought, marriage and death, the art of daily living, must contend with foreign soldiers who are there to protect the one thing they need above all right now, safe lives. The long history of the nation of Iraq’s place in the middle East, their struggles, the power and conflicts, the leaders and wanna-be leaders emboldened by religious fervor, are not lost on the soldiers who trudge through streets and waddis, across undulating sand dunes to provide protection to those they have been instructed to protect. It’s a hard job in many ways. The soldiers’ days are filled with heat and sand and odor from their bodies unwashed for weeks and their nights are filled with missions to discover what new havoc might have been planted by the enemy of the soldier and the farmers and sheep herders that would thwart their mission. The insurgents have it easy; they only need travel the 10 or 15 kilometers to the Iranian border and gather up the explosives and mines left over from an earlier war with these neighbors. They plant them, in the Iraqi sand, hoping to scare and maim the heavy mounts and the men in them, that these deployed Fort Hood calvary soldiers use now instead of horses.
As I picked up Josh at the airport I thought about not seeing this youngest son of mine for just about a year as he soldiered in that part of Iraq I just described. He looked good, as he came past airport security, the biggest smile on his face that I can remember him ever sporting. I thought of the irony of him coming past this American checkpoint, the people of his nation waiting with shoes off and aerosols and gels in plastic bags for their own screening for safety implemented by our nation since terrorism came home to America. Lots of things have changed and among them I wondered how much my Josh may have. His eyes look wiser, he is quite thin, and surprising to me, there is a peace about him. I see a seriousness in him, something about the way he has shouldered his responsibilities over there has marked him. Sitting on my bed late that night, when a bit of the newness of being back home has settled in, he opens up Google earth and he shares with me the map of where he has lived and what he has done for the last eleven months. There is pride in his voice. There is respect and acceptance there too, for another culture and people as he describes mission after mission. “You want to hear the story of my truck hitting the IED” he says. I listen as he details the route and how that night three vehicles were hit, one after another as he commanded his soldiers on what they should do to protect and secure and ensure their mission and each other. His voice was strong and steady as he described the heat and sand and dust that filled his vehicle once it hit that buried ordinance in the sand. And as my heart lurched in his telling, he continued to describe the scene. “Contact IED, my truck”, he called over the radio, detailing and reporting the level of destruction and the beautiful reality that all personnel were unharmed. “These MRAPs can take it,” he tells me and then with a twinkle in his eye relates what happened next. “Sir, we have to wait for recovery, wanna watch a movie?”, one of his soldier’s suggested. “That’s the way a soldier thinks, Mom”, he tells me. I notice that there is a balance in Josh, the way the thinks about his job over there and the people over there, which is what a soldier must have and I am proud of him. I thank God for him and wonder at how mysterious things are because my husband had a hand in our nation’s provision for our soldiers of these mine resistant ambush protected MRAPs that have saved so many soldiers these days.
Josh will go back soon and we will wait and pray for his safety as he returns home once his deployment is over. I ask you to do that too, but not just for Josh. For those who have lost sons and daughters, for those who serve, and for the people of other nations that we seek to honor, by sacrificing for their protection.
Happy Monday, a bit delayed.
Quote for the day: The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. Douglas MacArthur.
From the Mayor of Tall’Afar, Iraq:
In the Name of God the Compassionate and Merciful
To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.
To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.
To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.
Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.
I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.
The leaders of this Regiment; COL McMaster, COL Armstrong, LTC Hickey, LTC Gibson, and LTC Reilly embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom. Officers and soldiers alike bristle with the confidence and character of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.
God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.
Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families.
NAJIM ABDULLAH ABID AL-JIBOURI
Mayor of Tall ‘Afar, Ninewa, Iraq