As I prepare to return to my family, I wanted to put together the top ten most memorable moments of this Iraq embed. Here they are, in no special order.
1. Listening to a breathless Iraqi Captain describe confirming that a dump truck turned in by a local citizen was indeed wired to explode. When we complimented him on his bravery, he simply said, “We came here to fight, not to sit.”
2. Watching a U.S. Army medic bandage the finger of a little Iraqi boy. It’s not that the wound was so grievous, but that the medic was willing to take the time even for something as small as a band-aid.
3. Walking through Jurf-A-Sukhr without my Kevlar helmet, haggling over the price bananas with the owner of a shop who sixty days ago wouldn’t have been able to sell his produce on that street due to violence. It was an intensely human moment and wonderful to be able to do something so mundane among he people of this war torn country.
4. Spending a night atop a roof along the limit of the U.S. advance the other side of the street was still considered “no go” Al Qaeda Country. Sharing a meal with the “Concerned Local Citizens” by lamplight, learning that they were both Shia and Sunni, and had until recently been the enemy.
5. Watching an Iraqi citizen shinny up a disused lightpole with an Iraqi flag clamped in his teeth. Listening to his compatriots cheer as the flag was unfurled atop the pole. A supremely hopeful moment.
6. Helping a combined team of U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi citizens form a human chain and pass sandbags from one to the other as they fortified a checkpoint providing a perfect picture of U.S.-Iraqi cooperation.
7. Standing atop a windswept hill overlooking the mountainous desolation of the Iranian border. Seeing the hand-dug trenches stretch away to the horizon in both directions as a chilling monument to the miseries of the Iran/Iraq war.
8. Listening to the varied stories of the interpreters that I worked with throughout the trip. One was an Iraqi whose father had been murdered by Saddam’s henchmen. Another was an Iranian who had been tortured by his own government and had escaped from prison and then was smuggled across the border into turkey by friends. These kinds of stories are a constant reminder of just how soft I really am, and renews my commitment to share the wealth I’ve been given with those less fortunate.
9. Attending a reenlistment ceremony at Al Faw palace in Baghdad, where almost 300 soldiers of the third infantry division volunteered to continue this fight. Though most of them received bonuses in the neighborhood of $6,000 per year for five years, the ones I interviewed had deeper reasons for reenlisting. One sergeant told me, “the army changed my life, and I love what it’s done for me.” Many of those who reenlisted did so with “indefinite” contracts, meaning they’ve pledged to go all the way and serve at least twenty years. These men and women believe in what they are doing.
10. Watching the live feed from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle as a hellfire missile dropped out of the sky and vaporized the vehicle of a known bad guy as it sat in his driveway. Imagining what must have gone through the man’s mind when his car disappeared in a ball of flame for no apparent reason.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being here with the troops and seeing the tremendous progress that is being made here with my own eyes. I have several more “dispatches” to get out and will post them when I get time. In the meantime, have a merry Christmas, and please continue to remember these brave men and women in your prayers as they continue to serve through the new year apart from their families.