Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ahmed

A boy walked into my life for a brief moment this past Easter Sunday, and I am better because of it. Thomas and I were pulling guard on top of a tank that stands at the entrance to our FOB. We were tired, bored, and busy complaining about the endless hours we spend guarding something. Didn’t we come over here to fight bad guys? It’s as if we came over here for the sole reason to guard ourselves. Why can’t we go on more wild rides on the Iraqi highways, letting adrenaline and chaos fuel our souls? At least the time would go by quicker.

We were sitting there on top of the tank, watching the Iraqi world pass us by and feeling sorry for ourselves. Since it was Easter, there weren’t many convoys coming in or out of the gate, making the four hours seem endless. I tried hard not to glance at my watch again, knowing that I would be disappointed with what it had to tell me. Thomas and I had run out of things to talk about and were both in a daze of exhaustion.

I was behind the 240, and he was behind the .50 cal. Both of us were secretly wishing for a reason to make these guns talk. The guns sat lifeless, inanimate tools of death, begging to be brought to life. Do I really want someone to ride by and shoot at us? In the back of my mind I was grateful not to have bullets whizzing past my head. I know what that’s like, and as soon as you’re in that situation, you begin to imagine a million other places you would rather be. I was beginning to think that a firefight would be a welcome intrusion into my otherwise peaceful, boring day.

I must have been busy with these thoughts because seemingly out of nowhere, like angels sent from heaven, two young boys appeared at the gates, beckoning us with their voices. Where the hell had they come from? Thomas looked up and wondered the same thing. What did they want? One of them waived a piece of paper in his hand as if he was a messenger, anxious to deliver his message. “I’ll go see what they want,” Thomas said. “Hopefully they won’t blow me up.” As I held up my hand to signal for them to wait there, I realized that his comment didn’t hold the sarcasm that it might have a couple of weeks ago before a boy their age blew himself up outside our FOB, killing four Iraqi soldiers in the process. Thomas got off the tank and began walking toward the boys, holding up his hand at one point when they began to duck under the gate. They got the message and stood there waiting, leaning against the long arm stretching from one side of the gate to the other.

As Thomas got close to the gate, the boy with the message held out the paper for him to take. The boys both smiled and looked at each other with relief, as if their mission had finally been accomplished in handing this young American soldier this piece of paper. I could see Thomas shake his head a little as he read the piece of paper. With the boys still smiling, Thomas walked back to the tank with a bleak look on his face.

“What does it say,” I asked? While he read it to me, I couldn’t help but look back at the boy with sadness. He looked right back at me with a smile still on his face, oblivious to the message he had carried with him. It was a note from a doctor at another FOB in the area asking if someone would evaluate the boy and give him any treatment they could. He was a 14-year old boy, named Ahmed, with signs of possible liver failure/cirrhosis in his lower extremities. Dammit. Why couldn’t it be someone other than this boy? Why couldn’t it be an old man who had lived a full life?

“What do you want to do,” he asked? “Let me see the paper.” He handed it up to me and I read it for myself. He’s not even supposed to be at this FOB. It’s for a doctor at the med station of another FOB close by. They better take a look at him anyway, or I’m going to walk him down there myself. I picked up the radio, called battalion, and let them know the situation. Thankfully the guy on the other end had a heart. He told us to search him and call an escort to escort him to the aid station. I called back and asked if it was okay if he brought his friend along too. He said it was fine, and we waved the two boys to the tank. While they are walking up, Thomas and I decide that if what this paper says is true, this boy may not live past his youth. “He doesn’t even know, does he,” he asked? “No, I doubt he does.” “Man this sucks.” “Yeah, but hopefully they can do something for him.” I said this knowing full well that Iraq probably doesn’t have some kind of donor program, and that this kid will never receive a donor or transplant in this country.

As the boys got closer, I noticed the one that was holding the paper walked with a pronounced limp. They got up to the tank and looked up at it with awe. Both of them said hello and waved to me again. I could tell they didn’t understand English and confirmed it by asking them. I could tell Thomas didn’t want to subject them to a search but did anyway, joking around with them as he waved the magic metal detecting wand over them. They didn’t mind the search, even seemed to think that it was neat. I called an escort over the radio and told him to come to our location to pick up two boys that needed to go to the aid station. I knew it would be a few minutes before he arrived, so I got down off the tank to talk to them.

Ahmed’s friend’s name was Mohamed. They were both wearing long-sleeve t-shirts with sweat pants that were dirty from the knee down. Ahmed and Mohamed, good ole pals, were having the time of their life just getting to walk into the American’s camp and talk with some soldiers. “Look at his foot,” Thomas said. “It looks pretty bad.” His right foot was twice the size of his left, so that it wouldn’t fit into his sandal. Ahmed saw me look at his foot, and I tried to hide the surprised look on my face. With the hand signals that became our way of communicating, he asked me if I wanted to see it. “Yeah, let me take a look at it.” He slid his pant’s leg up and pulled his sock down, revealing a hugely swollen foot with a bandage around it that had been stained by blood and pus. At least they can clean it up and put on a new bandage, I thought, as I tried to hide the disgusted look on my face at the sight of his wound. “What happened to your foot,” I asked? Mohamed somehow understood and began moving his arms in an upward motion around his body. “Was it fire, did he get burned?” Mohamed understood the word fire and said yes, it was fire. Ahmed, still smiling, showed me another burn scar on his hand. This poor kid got burned and now it won’t heal.

Letting my fingers do the walking, I asked them if they had walked all the way over here from the other FOB. They didn’t understand until I asked them if they had ridden in a sierra(sp) over here. Sierra is Arabic for car, and with that word they understood. They had taken a taxi over here. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ahmed had limped all the way over here with his bad foot. Where were Ahmed’s parents? Why hadn’t they come with him? They only answer that I could come up with was that they too knew nothing of the severity of his wound.

I wanted to give this kid something, anything that would maybe make him happy. I wish I could’ve given him a ride in the tank. I wish I had the power to get him a ride on a helicopter. I wish I could’ve put him on a plane to the U.S. with the best doctor in the world waiting to greet him as he arrived. I wish they could’ve saved the liver of one of the Iraqi soldiers that had been killed by another boy Ahmed’s age and given it to him.

All I had with me was what I’d brought with me to my guard shift. I jumped up on the tank and got a few pieces of bubble gum, two packs of Trident, a Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and a small bag of Life Savers. Unfortunately it would take a lot more than candy to save this boy’s life. Their eyes lit up with joy at the sight of these treats. They put the drinks in their pocket for later and started piling gum into their mouth. They looked at each other and laughed as they struggled to chew the big wad of gum. I tried to tell them that the bubble gum and peppermint Trident mixture might not be that good, but they didn’t understand and didn’t seem to care.

We showed them our guns and tried to explain all the trinkets that were attached to our vests. I wanted to give them all of it and let them play American Soldier for a while. As they continued to point at different things with curiosity, the escort showed up to lead them away. This escort was some young punk, who made a show of slapping a magazine into his weapon as he approached. I wanted to take him around the other side of the tank and punch him in the mouth. “Have you already searched them,” he asked? “Yeah Rambo, we already searched them, but be careful, these kids may try to take over the FOB,” Thomas replied as he rolled his eyes. I wanted a damn General to drive up in his armored Suburban and personally give them a ride. I wanted him to be treated like a King.

The boys gathered up their gum and candy and started to follow behind Rambo. Both of them looked excited about the prospect of entering this world of wonder. As Ahmed began limping away, smile still stretched across his face, he looked back at me right in the eyes, gave me a thumbs up and said thank you. I waved back and said thank you to him, wishing I could do more. He turned, caught up with his friend, and walked out of my life. His message had been delivered. Ahmed reminded me that I should be eternally grateful for all that has been given to me. At this point guard didn’t seem like that bad a deal.

32 Comments:

Anonymous tmg said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It's incredible how God makes His presence known in our lives. Ahmed's life may be unfairly short, but it will still have meaning. Everyone who reads your words will be touched.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Your telling of your days in Iraq are so vivid. Don't know if you intend to be but I find some of the things you say in the midst of your frustration very funny.

Thanks for all you do.

May the Lord keep you and bless you.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Yarbz www.juggernuts.com said...

Fantastic story. Sure wish we could ship the kids to the best hospital in the States and fix them up... If you ever hear what happened to them, let us know.

Thanks...

9:08 AM  
Blogger The Believer said...

Fantastic story. Awsome blog. I'm telling people about it. I don't mean to sound sappy and patriotic, but that is what I am...without apology. You are what makes America a great country. Your honesty and compassion bring glory to your creator. Keep up the great blog!

10:56 AM  
Blogger The Believer said...

Fantastic story. Awsome blog. I'm telling people about it. I don't mean to sound sappy and patriotic, but that is what I am...without apology. You are what makes America a great country. Your honesty and compassion bring glory to your Creator. Keep up the great blog!

10:57 AM  
Blogger Al's Girl said...

Thank you for 'keeping it real'. I try to check your blog every couple days or so. My fiancé is a nurse in Iraq right now. I hope that he takes good care of all the boys like Ahmed. It crushes my heart to know that a bright and beautiful flame like that could be extinguished before its time - but it also gives me peace to know that the man that I love is doing the right thing.

You remain in my prayers. Blessings to you and your fellow soldiers.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that story. You helped provide a miracle on Easter for a yound boy. You may not ever know what happens to him but because you all are so wonderful and so caring, you know who ever received him on the other end will do everything they can for him. Just as you did. God Bless you all for the wonderful things you do.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Chap said...

My friend, good on you. Chief Wiggles would approve.

You may want to talk to the Chief. He might have a project for you.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

Boy - that sure tears at your heart. The boy had to have been in a big hurt with the foot and yet he still has a smile on his face. I sure hope 'Rambo' was nice to the boys. You've got a good heart Michael.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Soldier, you did good.

~janie

9:46 PM  
Blogger strykeraunt said...

This story just broke my heart. When you talk about wanting to give this kid anything and everything I understand how you feel!! When reading your story all I could think about was, how can we save this child. There are many sad sad stories that come out of Iraq but this one really got to me.

Take care soldier and thank you for sharing.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Maggie45 said...

Thank you, Michael, for sharing this story, and all the others with us. Thank you, and Thomas too, for your service to our country. God bless you both.

10:47 PM  
Blogger neurotic_wife said...

Wow an amazing story, very touching. It gets you thinking, how many more Ahmeds are out there, and what is it that we can do to help them.

You are doing a great Job,Thanx for putting a smile on these children's faces.

Take care and stay safe....

3:59 AM  
Blogger dadmanly said...

Excellent story, excellent blog. Keep up the fine work, and stay safe. The world is a better place because of your efforts, and your outstanding ability to communicate.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it will help you to know that while you consider guard duty boring that I pray often for all of you who post that duty because so many others depend on you. Next time you are feeling like it is a drag, remember that all of us with loved ones where you are are grateful for your service.

You touched a young life on Easter - just as Jesus touched your life. You are not responsible for the outcome of that encounter - only to have shown the love of Jesus during it. And you did that. God bless you.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you do this to the least of these, my bretheren, you have done unto me.
Thanks for showing your Christlike spirit.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jenius said...

Michael,

Words cannot express my gratitude for your courage and bravery. Freedom is on the march across the world, because of what you are doing in Iraq. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us, and providing a roll model for my 12-year-old son, who is obsessed with becoming a soldier. I would be proud if my son could represent our country the way you have. Feel free to hit me up for a care package!!

P.S. Damn you for making me cry

8:24 AM  
Blogger Spatula said...

Talk about a tear-jerker. Thank you for the reminder that we are not just occupying their country to get rid of the bad guys, but to be a big brother to the little ones God has put in our way. Once again an outstanding job. Love and prayers from Texas.

3:46 PM  
Blogger AFSister said...

Michael-
Thanks for relaying this story to us. Once again you have shown the world how wonderful and caring our military is. I hope Ahmed gets the help he needs, for his burn and his liver. So very, very touching. Thanks, man....

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I hope Ahmed gets better, if not at least he has encountered caring people trying to help him. Thank you for that! I love reading your blog, today you really touched my heart. Keep up the good work, stay safe and God bless you!

4:52 PM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

That is such a touching story, and you are the one to tell it. The grace in your writings is always appreciated, and the kindness we show others may never be realized to us. However, God is in charge, so I wouldn't be surprised if He didn't hear your heart and answered. I pray He did.

4:52 PM  
Blogger kathianne said...

That was so sad and moving. Prayers of healing go to those boys. Prayers of thanks go to you and all our fine military people.

7:04 PM  
Blogger jtb-in-texas said...

Why not set up something for kids like this?

Our liberal brethren preach and pontificate about all of the evils of the Bush Administration; here's a chance for them to put their money where their mouth is and start helping people instead of whinging about like a bunch of selfish prats...

This is an awesome post and if you make it to Dallas, I wish you'd look me up.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tuned in to your blog to see how life might be for my son who is ther ein Iraq. I am a nurse and was once a medical missionary in Honduras. I felt for you as I read the part about the kid with the swollen foot and wanting to do something, anything to help. It's a hard place ot be.

When my son and I write or e-mail, we are doing the discreet, courteous, leaving out the bad stuff things that might make the other sad or that might create a security problem. The discretion is giving me practice at being a lady and politically correct and all the things that decent people are supposed to be these days but I am not.

thanks for your blog in letting me see how it might be for him even when he doewn;t want to let Mom know about the bad parts.

Mom

2:07 AM  
Anonymous Jana Lane said...

Your spirit of compassion and caring is exactly what Americans need to bring to people around the world. Thank you.
It is remotely possible that one or the other of these boys may receive medical care in the United States. I live in Oakland and our Childrens' Hospital has been caring for months for an Iraqui boy who lost both his arms. He has made excellent progress.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be so?? Is this true?? Is it possible even?? American slodiers are kind and caring! Can't be or the MSM would have told us.

Brian K

4:17 PM  
Anonymous john hockenberry said...

GREAT STORY...

Well told. With much truth for all to consider. For me it is the universality of humility, yours in telling the story and confessing the depth of your transformation, and Ahmad's humility in the face of death. Oddly, having spent many years in the Middle East I suspect these kids are well aware of their fate... yet carry it with such dignity. Well done.

4:00 AM  
Blogger exfbonnie said...

i'm speechless. truly, truly, speechless.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

someone posted a link to your blog on a website where the need for the war is hugely debated. good luck over there. it might not seem like it but we think about you guys alot.

8:17 AM  
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