Smiles All Around
Take a good look at that this picture. I think it tells you a lot about what was happening in Iraq while I was there.
A boy’s radiant smile dominates this picture. He wasn’t smiling because of the picture. Instead he liked the lollipop that I had just given him. That lollipop had been all over Iraq by that point. I had put it in my kit after the first time I interacted with an Iraqi child and didn’t have something to share with him. The military calls these “lickies and chewies”. Kids and adults like them the world over. I carried them as “emergency pick me ups” from the very first missions. They were “war-wary” candy by this point, but still held their sweetness and ability to bring a smile. I gave one to this boy out of the spirit of agape. The same love that I share with my neighbor’s children and anyone that needs someone to brighten their day.
Second, you may notice his mother in the background. Her dress is an indication that she keeps many (if not all) of the Arabic traditions. She seemed not to view me or our contingent as a threat. In fact, she smiled at us as her son walked up to talk with these Americans – he hardly viewed us as an Army of occupation. Much has been said about the lack of open arms and bouquets of flowers. I cannot speak for all Soldiers, but I can tell you that the vast majority of Iraqis I met expressed their gratitude for liberation and their hope that we would prevail to ensure their liberty. This lady trusted us, despite 4 years of war, countless civilian deaths, and implied threat that heavily armed soldiers represent.
To my rear stands my interpreter. Every mission I took depended upon men and women like him. These are Iraqi patriots willing to risk all for their freedom. These are individuals that live in fear for their lives and the safety of their loved ones. By this point, two of my interpreters had died, yet these persevered. These civilian Iraqis were well paid, but that was not their motivation. They dreamed of a free Iraq that had embraced democracy in some fashion. They put their lives on the line everyday to make their longings a reality.
Last look at me. I was smiling that day, because I was part of improving the lot of these people. For me this was another tough day outside the wire, I had moved to my new assignment and looked ahead to four more months serving in an increasingly bloody war. The casualties for CA Operators were steadily mounting and IED attacks had begun to take a fearsome toll. My friends had already started to leave as the 354th CAB went home. But the opportunity to serve was its own reward. That is because despite of the danger and price we had paid, I could see the winds of change beginning to take effect. The insurgents were losing, we were winning and I was privileged to be in the vanguard of that effort. This day we had visited factories that needed just the smallest of nudges to begin sustained production again. This meant people would have jobs and hope. Money would again start to flow and a small portion of Baghdad would be healed.
The process of building a nation is hard. Brick by brick, the coalition forces and the Iraqi people started this process. Neither bombs nor snipers could stop us. The insurgents did not and never have had the military power required to win the war. Only if the American people gave up hope could we lose. Being a few weeks after the November 2006 elections, I knew that this could easily come to pass. The only real heaviness in my heart came from the failing courage of my own people. That empty phrase “Support the Troops” rings hollow in a Soldier’s heart when he knows that the leaders back home care more for re-election and personal power than the imperative of liberty and justice for all.
But Soldiers are taught to adapt and overcome, in my mind this meant that I had to make change happen. If we could make Iraqis smile and trust us, maybe we could even convince the American people to believe that there is far more to life than Hollywood, professional sports, and the latest electronic gadget. I smiled because I knew this. No amount of death, horror, and fear can overcome the human spirit. Live the days God has given you to the fullest, help your fellow man, and spread agape. Perhaps Jesus said it best. “Do unto others what you would have done unto you”. When you think about what America should do with all her blessings, her national treasure, and our Soldiers’ blood, in my view in Iraq there was hardly a choice. To whom much is given, much is expected.
A few days later, I learned that my time in Iraq was coming to a close. As a result, this was my very last mission. In fact the last thing I did outside the wire was to share a smile and a lollipop with this small boy. I had stuck it in my gear 8 months before and it had fulfilled its destiny. I pray that we do not abandon this young man and his family – they need us, but we need them even more.