I received this today, it is a letter authored by a friend of our family. I have deleted names to respect their privacy:
Nope. This is not a Christmas letter. Rather this is the most heartfelt and sincere thank you note I have ever written. This note is to express the love and gratitude ****** and I have for all of you who prayed for us and/or wrote letters or sent packages to my soldiers and I while deployed to Iraq. It is to thank you for supporting ******, my parents, and ****** on the home front. It is to thank you for supporting American troops in your day-to-day lives even if you opposed the war.
In addition to thanks, I want to let you know where we were and also to provide some insight to what we saw and experienced. The greatest bit of information you can take out of this is about the American soldiers, and also about what America did for the Iraqi people.
First of all, we deployed to Kuwait in early January. We trained there for 5 weeks, spending a lot of time on urban fighting and cultural training. We had an incredible access to resources while in Kuwait. The training we received was often conducted by retired Special Forces soldiers. The camaraderie of the platoon grew exponentially.
At the end of February we moved to a new assembly area presumably to cross the border and start the war within days. Ultimately, we ended up spending three more weeks there. The waiting and not knowing when it would all happen was the hardest part. In this assembly area we practiced battle drills, practiced chemical attack procedures, and brushed up on our Arabic phrases.
Finally, we got the word to go. We lined up on the Iraqi border and as we tried to go to sleep that night, we watched overhead as the Air Force and the Navy began to prep Iraq for the entry of the ground forces. It was unlike any Fourth of July show you have ever seen as the sky was full of rockets, tracers and missiles. We awoke and began the assault into Iraq. As we crossed the desert, we encountered many Bedouin families who cheered and waved. These people gave new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere.” It was truly amazing and it raised our hopes to see the excitement and the smiles as we raced towards our first objective.
We arrived at Talil Air Field outside An Nasiriyah early the next morning. We assaulted the air base and encountered virtually no resistance. Most of the Iraqi Army had fled, and those who were there surrendered. The next day we moved towards the city of An Nasiryah and captured many insurgents, but again, not a hostile shot was fired. We also began to realize that everyone in Iraq carries a weapon and it would be harder and harder to decipher friend from foe. Also while in An Nasiryah, we saw the temple at Ur, commonly believed to be the birthplace of Abraham.
Our unit then moved north towards Samwah. We spent 1-2 days sealing off HWY 8, the main road through Iraq before moving on to combat operations. On the 25th of March, the whole world looked like Mars to us. An eerie red dust storm engulfed all of Iraq virtually shutting down all of our aviation support and making our visibility about 7-10 feet. This also eliminated any advantage of the American thermal systems over the enemy.
As we returned from a combat patrol on HWY 8 in the city of Samwah, we received a report that Saddam Fedayeen (The Iraqi guerilla forces loyal to the Ba’ath party, but not regular army) was moving in our direction. Out of the fog came two long bed pickup trucks loaded with men in black pajamas and red head wraps. The men carried AK-47’s, machine guns and Rocket Propelled Grenades. Simultaneously US forces and the Fedayeen began firing at each other. This moment was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Looking directly at enemy muzzle flashes only 20 feet away, I realized that for the first time in my life, those were real bullets intending to do real harm. It is something I will never forget. If a theme park can ever replicate that instant combination of fear and adrenaline, then roller coasters will be put out of business. I told my gunner to fire and our platoon immediately eliminated the threat. We spent the next few days in Samwah chasing the Fedayeen and fortunately, they are bad shots. Our platoon left Samwah unscathed, and the level of confidence was high as the soldiers now felt “combat tested”.
We pushed into Karbala for the next few days. After capturing some regular army soldiers and an amazing arsenal of weapons, we again fought against insurgents. As we ran presence patrols in Karbala, our soldiers were greeted with smiles, cheers and flowers. The whole city seemed to come out to celebrate. It was like being in Little League again for a Memorial Day parade. Our platoon also had the unfortunate mission to search a lake for a downed Navy pilot. Soldiers in my platoon went to great lengths to swim through the muck to try to recover the pilot, but we were not fortunate enough to find him. As we returned tired and wet, we got the word that 1st brigade was about to hit Saddam International Airport. It was time for us to head to Baghdad. As we entered Baghdad, we saw the amazing efficiency of the Air Force as Iraqi tanks were destroyed along HWY 8 into the city. We encountered only two Republican Guard tanks intent on harming us and both were eliminated quickly.
The first night in Baghdad, just outside the downtown area of the city, one of the tanks with our Bradley’s rolled into a ditch. Third platoon raced to the tank, pushed back the insurgents who were attacking it, and set a perimeter which allowed the crane and the mechanics to work all through the night to recover the tank. My soldiers outdid themselves staying vigilant through the night after being awake over 36 hours and having cleared an entire village of weapons and insurgents. Clearing means going house-to-house and ensuring no weapons or signs of military occupation are there. Contrary to what you may hear, the utmost care and respect is rendered to the people as we checked their homes. It was not like in the movies where homes are ransacked. Many people were eager to give us information even when not prompted. The term of choice from the Iraqi’s was the phrase, “Thank you Mr. Bush, Thank you Mr. Blair.”
The tank was recovered and no Americans were injured. Finally, it was time to push into downtown Baghdad. On April 9, we ran straight south on HWY 1 leading into the heart of the city. It really is a beautiful city on the Tigris River. However, on this day, it was a ghost town. From the time we entered the city limits, we were being fired at. RPG’s were exploding all around. My company commander, CPT ****** ******, was hit with an RPG but only slightly wounded. One of our Bradley’s took a serious hit from another RPG. A soldier from my platoon was injured badly and was evacuated quickly thanks to the incredible instincts and courage of my youngest soldier. We destroyed numerous enemy and did not even have time to celebrate when the word came from higher headquarters that the Ba’ath Government had collapsed and fled. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the terrorists. The firefight lasted about five hours. We accepted the surrender of 12 Republican Guard officers, and then headed back to our base.
For April, May, and June, our platoon was assigned to a vast sector of Baghdad and we spent the time starting schools, getting people back to work, creating jobs, providing health care and generally helping the Iraqis start their lives anew. We headed back to Kuwait and then touched down in America on July 19 after seven long months.
In my seven months in Iraq, I learned a lot about myself, about my faith and about America. About myself, I learned that I will succeed, but I will also fail. I learned not to dwell on a failure but to learn from it. The first time we were attacked, I cursed Iraq, I cursed the terrorists, and I cursed my job. I was angry that this is the world we live in. Only hours later as I tried to sleep did I realize that my soldiers and myself had come away unscathed through a barrage of bullets. Who had I thanked? Nobody. I realized that I owed God thanks for his protection. From that moment on, the simple prayer “Not my will, but Yours be done” lowered my pulse and always put me at peace.
Finally, the greatest thing I learned was about America. The Iraqi people did not know what to do once the Ba’ath party was gone. They had infighting. They were lazy. They wanted Saddam gone, but they still wanted to be told what to do. They did not have the resolve to stand up and do what needs to be done. As one university-educated Iraqi put it to me, “Mr. ******, my people want freedom, but do not know what to do with it now that it is here.” If our government ever collapsed or if America ever lost all ability to communicate outside of city limits, every town would have people step up and do what needed to be done. Would there be disagreement? Of course. Would people get upset? No doubt. But ultimately Americans would band together like we did after Sept. 11 and do whatever it takes to get it done. That is the great difference between us and them. It’s not religion or culture, it’s fortitude and a sense of family.
I met so many wonderful Iraqis. People who want just what we want. Opportunity, a safe environment for our kids. A chance to make something of themselves. They were so grateful to us and to you for what we did. What you see on the news is real. There are some who hate us. But what you see on the news is not everyone. It is not even the majority. You don’t see little girls who put on American flag shirts which have undoubtedly never been worn in public before. You don’t see the old men who touch their heads and then gesture to us, indicating we are honored by them because the head is the closest position to God. You don’t see the men who showed us the scars from years in torture cells. You don’t see the women whose sisters and mothers faced awful fates at the hands of brutal men all in the name of Saddam. These are beautiful and wonderful people. We may never be able to fix the Middle East. We may never “win” this extended operation. We did however find and eliminate the most severe weapon of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein and his regime destroyed a people’s dignity. He destroyed their sense of security. He destroyed their culture. He violated the most basic and most sacred human rights. I can think of no nuclear or chemical weapon that could be more destructive.
Thank you for helping those people. Thank you for raising our morale with your kind gestures. Thank you for helping us to help the Iraqi people. ****** and I will never celebrate a Thanksgiving together without thinking of you and what you did for the Iraqi’s, for my soldiers, and for us. God bless you and please pray for those still in harm’s way.
All our love,
****** and ******
P.S. Please feel free to share this with those who may not have been able to write, but who kept us in their thoughts and prayers. We may not have their names, but we felt their support.