Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Iraqi Children - Why It's Worth It (War Journal Entry)

4-14-03 Baghdad

More day and night patrols. We are rock stars. Today's patrol was beyond hectic because of the throngs of people crowding around us. We finally had to turn back for the second time in two days, the crowd getting out of hand. Little kids everywhere. Wanting to talk, to know your name and where your from. Every kid seems to know one another. They like to get close, which makes our job of scanning that much harder. We are essentially bait. We walk through the streets, hoping the bad guys will show themselves by shooting at us. In doing this, they give up their location, allowing us to respond in force. I find myself fearing more for these kids than for myself.
There was some kind of rally walking down the same street we were, making it even more crowded. I expected some kind of confrontation, but they were peaceful and seemed happy that we were there. Someone carrying a large picture up in the air, strangely resembling the pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls of many churches back home.
Two little boys walked next to me the whole time. Both smart and funny, knowing the crowds were somewhat of a nuisance to us. I was impressed with their sympathy. It wasn't the crowd that was a nuisance, it was the fact that it made it impossible to do our job. They love to get us to wave to all the females hiding in the shadows. One asked why I didn't know Arabic when he knew some English. Good point, and now I want to learn the language.
One beautiful little girl gave me sunflower seeds as all of the boys tried to keep her and two other girls in the background. I tried to forget about where these seeds came from or where they had been, tilted my head back and threw them all in my mouth at once. This elicited a roar of approval from the crowd of thirty or more kids surrounding me. Females are kept in the background of everything in this society- backseats, carrying the load for their man, and staying in the shadows of their homes, desperately trying to get a peek of us and shyly waving.
The seed girl and her friends walked with me all the way back to our AP, a soccer field beside a school. They kept getting pushed back by the boys, so I grabbed one of their hands to hold on to. They loved it and held on tight, not wanting to let go. The girl I was holding hands with put her friend's hand in my hand as well. I was holding two little hands with my one dirty, sweaty hand. On the end was another little girl holding on to the second girl. At this point I was just enjoying walking through Baghdad with three beautiful little girls, not worrying, as I should have been, that the hand holding theirs should've been on the handgrip of my weapon, ready to fire. About 50 meters before our stop and home, I let go and told them I had to go and continued walking. After about five steps I felt a little hand wrapping around my arm. Knowing who it was, I took my hand off the trigger, reached down and took her hand in mine until we got to the gate. I wish I could've walked with them longer, they make this war and everything we do worth it.


Blogger Whiteknighthorse said...

It is less difficult to be the one in action (whatever that may mean) than the one waiting and watching. No matter how terrifying, you are at least the one moving. Those on the sidelines can only wait and imagine horrible stuff. Awhile back, I had surgery that has a high incidence of problems. I wrote last letters to my loved ones. However, I was pretty calm about it. I didn't have a choice, I could chance surgery or die of not having surgery. Also my way of dealing with things that are terrifying is to go out and meet them, rather than wait for it to come to me.
My loved ones however had a really tough time of it. They could imagine all sorts of stuff including living on without me. Their obvious distress made it so much harder for me, because I had to be strong not only for myself, but for them as well. Consequently I didn't share with them my worries or tears, but gave them the "I'm fine with this" smile.
I hope you have people around you that you don't have to be strong for, people that can listen to you worry and that you can lean on.
Thanks again for sharing your stories.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Whiteknighthorse said...

In philosophy they talk about being able to turn individuals or groups into "the other" ie the bad guy, or the enemy and thereby de-humanizing them in order to accomplish what you often needed to do in Iraq. Very difficult to do when you are wading thru crowds of adoring kids. You have a hard job.
My uncle often told stories from WW2. He was a B-24 bomber pilot. The difference is that he never had to look the enemy in the eye when on a bombing run.
The gesture with the seeds was so totally cool! And the little girls, what a guy, that you could recognize their plight and "see" them and acknowledge them. It is stuff like that that will lead them to realize that the way they live now, is not the only way that they could live. Culture change is slow. But what a gift you've given them, that quick peek into being as important a being as the boys around them.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Accipiter in Yarak said...

Michael, great post, you create a very real picture with your words, ya got the gift bud. Looking forward to many more. Been coming by for a while now, and will be returning. Thanks

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why isn't there even one reporter from any news outlet who can write about incidents like this? Not to mention writing so well?

I'm copying a part of this to email to several people with a link to this site. I want a lot of people to come here to read what you have to say.

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, and very pleased to be here. What a great post! Your descriptive words evoke clear images. Looking forward to reading more! Thank you for your time and effort to share your experiences with us.

Shari, California

6:59 AM  
Blogger renny said...

Thank you for posting these entries. They help people remember to be grateful for all that you and others are doing for us and for those in Iraq.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish the news channels would show things like this....and not so much of the bad things that happen over there. By coming here and reading the post all these soldiers write, It goes to show that we are doing good over there. GOD BLESS YOU!!!!

8:17 AM  
Blogger Angel said...

While I love reading the entries that you’re posting from your first deployment, you're going to have to start giving tissue alerts if you keep this up!!!

What a wonderful memory, such vivid imagery that you are sharing is truly a gift.

Hopefully you’ll be able to experiences these moments of connection when you redeploy, who knows just what will come out of encounters in the future.

All the best


2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have the bandwidth and a sound card then this free course in Iraqi Arabic should help.

Thanks for everything you do.


5:56 AM  
Blogger The Sub Committee said...

Michael - incredible writing. Light years ahead of any media account I've ever read or heard about Iraq. Thank you for bringing levity and humanity to what you're up against.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sgt. B. here:

Talking down the street with three pint sized pixies holding your hand...
Man, that's cool... I mean, big grunt sloppy grin heart melting cool...

Stay safe,

Sgt. B.

5:43 PM  

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