A letter from a Valley soldier in Baghdad
Letter No. 315 | June 5, 2004
The following personal letter from a Nanty Glo man who is currently stationed in Baghdad was published recently in the Nanty Glo Journal. A friend of the Home Page thought it should be republished here and got permission from the Journal to reprint it. The writer is a 21-year member of the U.S. Army and is 41 years old. Both he and his family have asked to remain anonymous. To this end, one name in the letter has been changed and appears in parentheses. Only normal minor edits have been made and two military acronyms are used: IED refers to improvised explosive device, and MREs are meals ready to eat. The letter is undated but seems to have been written in the early days of the Iraq war, before the fall of Baghdad more than a year ago.
A Letter From Baghdad
Well Dad and Mom, We finally made it here. Because of you, I do not worry too much about things back home. I understand that things are tough, but you raised me well, and I will be fine. I have 160 of my own sons here. They take good care of me. I am so proud sometimes that I could almost break down.
We left Camp Victory in Kuwait for Camp Victory North in Iraq. As usual, my company was ordered to lead the entire battalion North, over 130 vehicles and 600 soldiers. It was a six-day drive through the desert, locked and loaded the entire way. Although it was uneventful, it was quite an experience.
You cannot imagine how these people live. My heart broke when I saw the children. These children came running from their mud homes and ran to the edge of the road waving with smiles on their faces. Some motioned with their hands for food and water. We were under orders not to stop or throw food. It was tough to just drive by as if they did not exist.
Lady luck has been on my side so far. We spent the night in a small town called Scandia. This was the last 100 miles into Baghdad. The next morning we were told that we had to wait for the road to be cleared by the MPs and mine sweeping teams. This was the pattern for all convoys going North. I figured by now the bad guys knew the pattern as well, and we decided to roll out at 4 a.m. I was hoping the enemy knew what time the convoys normally roll through and that we could have caught them by surprise by driving up North so early in the day. We passed the MPs and mine detector teams on the way. They wanted us to stop and bitched on the radio that we were nuts. Unfortunately, they reported to their higher command that the 458th was rolling North before the route was considered cleared. I took the chance that the bad guys would not be manning their roadside bombs early in the morning when they expected the convoys to roll through around 10 a.m. I lucked out and no one got hurt.
After getting here, they led us to a patch of open desert near the airport, and said, "Here's your new home," and we began to work. Why anyone or any nation would fight over this dusty hellhole is beyond me. There is no sand; it is all fine dust. You can never get clean, it covers everything. I always said if I went to war, it had better be some place warm, but damn, this really sucks.
It would seem that we are in high command here, as army engineers. We are attached to the 1st Cavalry Division, located near the Baghdad International Airport. There are about 13,000 troops here; I have never seen so many soldiers and equipment in one place.
We started building our base camp with our heavy equipment and we have constructed one hell of a fortress. Other units began to take notice and walked up to me asking if our dozers, loaders, and tracks could do the same for them. I gave the official army response and began making deals. I now have a wide screen TV and a satellite dish with 900 channels for the men to watch in the evening, just for pushing a little dirt. I would have ordered my men to do it anyway, but the TV helps with morale in the evenings.
I have been ordered to go into Baghdad several times during the past month, to become familiar with the area and to take over some construction projects. When you leave the wire and get close to downtown, it is like a Mad Max movie. We drove 60-70 miles an hour and stopped for nothing, always looking for in-ground explosive devices, roadside bombs or a sniper, but we drove so fast we could not tell anything. The entire city is a dump. Garbage and filth scattered everywhere. During one trip, my last armored Humvee with three young soldiers just missed an IED; it went off just as they drove past. The gunner had his ear drums popped, but they were all fine. I ran back to their Humvee, I heard three loud pings near me. The bullets hit my Humvee, when I yelled we were taking fire, everything broke loose. Although we did not shoot any civilians, or even one bad guy, we sure tore up some cars, trucks and buildings. We drove like mad back to our base camp and reported what had happened. I would rather be in an all-out war than here where you do not know whom the enemy is or how to find him.
One afternoon, driving on a mission, we were going through the desert. We saw the usual children run from their mud houses just to wave at the U.S soldiers. However, on an open stretch of road I saw what I thought was a small dog. As I watched through the dust, it seemed to be hopping along. When we got close, I saw it was a young girl who was missing her legs from the knees down.
She was probably only three years old; she had hopped some 300 feet to the edge of the road just to wave at us. I told my driver to stop. I was not going to drive by this time. I got out of my Humvee and approached her. She was nothing but smiles and reminded me of (Mary). I gave her a bottle of water and a meal ready to eat and began to walk away. As I looked back, I saw her little teeth trying to open the hard plastic of the MRE. I stopped and walked back, I picked her up, I placed her on my knee and began to feed her. I never said a word to her, but she smiled with every bite. After that, I gave her candy; it was probably the first time she had ever tasted anything sweet. You could not believe the smile on her face. By then, my driver approached me and told me the commander was yelling for me on the radio. I looked up at him with tears running down my face and without saying anything he knew I was not going to move. When I looked up again, I saw my entire company stopping, every one of my soldiers ran from their vehicles and formed a circle aaround me. They were guarding the little girl and me. Not a word was said; they watched and waited until I was done feeding her. By then her parents approached; I gave them a case of MREs and water. Her mother saw the tears in my eyes and wiped them from my facae. I am not sure why, but the tears would not stop.
My heart went from being completely broken to that of the proudest moment of my life. Then we loaded up and drove off. I will probably never see that little girl again. I may not completely understand why we are here, but for that moment in time, I understood. Helping that one little girl makes my stay here worth it. There is so much wealth in this country; I can't understand why some people are forced to live like that. Perhaps, one day when that little girl grows up, instead of haating the U.S. soldier, she will remember the one who gave her a piece of candy.
Enough about me. Let everyone know I am fine and doing well. Nevertheless, it is going to be a long year away from home.