Iraq from the Ground
This group of soldiers was assigned to the called "Sunni Triangle," mostly west of Bagdad near Falluja and Al Ramadi. If you have been watching the news on television, you might recogonize this area.
If I had to sum up in one word their expeience, it would be "boring." This is not to say that it was not dangerous. These soldiers were primarily Combat Engineers. Their main duties were to search out explosives and to build a variety of structures. Most of the time they were in camp they were building boxes for equipment, or making improvements and repairs to their barracks. They were originally told they would be living in tents, however, they were lucky enough to occupy buildings for their barracks. Most of their in camp projects were boring. One soldier related a story about building two guard towers. The guard towers were built near their barracks. You would think that this sounds like a legitimate project, but their barracks were located 3 miles inside the camp gates! After returning from a mission several weeks later, the guard towers had disappeared. The soldiers were never given any reason why the towers were constucted or why they were taken down. The camp was always under constant mortar fire. But even that became routine. One soldier related the details of one attack. When the mortars started to fall, he was reading the paper and did not move. He realized that the mortars were not close, so he kept reading his paper. Make no mistake, they were in a war zone and were in constant danger, but there clearly developed levels of danger.
The misions outside the camp were considered very dangerous and many of these men had to fire their weapons. They primarily fired at oncoming cars that would not stop. None of them mentioned having to fire on a person, but I can only imagine the emotional difficulties in reliving that if it had happened. Their primary mission was that of cleaning up all the un-exploded shells and roadside bombs. They found large amounts explosives. One soldier said they blew up 40,000 lbs. of these shells at one time. They found missiles, mainly of French origin, that were made after the embargo from the first war. Rebel Iraqis would also set roadside bombs and mines right next to a pile of human feces, with the expectation that the Americans would not touch them.
When asked about the Iraqi people, the soldiers agreed that they did not trust or like the people of Iraq. They said the people would smile and wave and then would make obscene hand gestures when you were not looking. The men were especially disturbed by the treatment of the native women, especially of little girls. Goats and sheep appeared to be worth more than a daughter. One incident related by one of the soldiers was about his passing out candy to the children. He would try to make sure the boys and girls got candy, but the boys would forcibly and violently take the candy from the girl. The soldiers would do their best to make sure that the girls got their share of the candy, but that is the culture in this country. But, they did say that the Iraqi people are a hard working culture, but need constant supervision to help them stay on task. The mud huts in which these people live have no plumbing, and there is no trash disposal, so the area is dotted with piles of trash and excrement. The insurgents liked to plant bombs in garbage piles, so a lot of time is spent searching in garbage piles.
When asked about the country, they all said it was horrible. It was very hot during the day and very cold at night. The soldiers had an outdoor shower facility made of wood and pastic. During the night when they took showers, it was very cold, but the water was very hot. They only took showers about every 3 days. They said that the flies were to be found in vast numbers and the only animals they saw were goats and sheep. They also said that sand covered everything. Understandably, they never want to see a desert again.
The final question I posed to them was, "Was it worth it?" They all answered with the same word. "Yes!" After seeing the plight of the people of Iraq and the effects of the rule of Saddam Hussein, they felt that they job was an important one, regardless of their personal feelings about the culture or the people. They all said they would do if again if asked. I have to admit, I was impressed with this group of very young men. They were from all over the United States and different backgrounds, but they all still believed in America. I know our country is in great hands with these men representing America!