This post is the contents of an e-mail received yesterday afternoon by the wife of a lieutentant colonel in Baghdad and a brother in Christ. The title above is his. This note is an answer to prayers, many of them. (Note: “IED” refers to “Improvised Explosive Devices.”)
Today I got to witness first hand a new democracy take its first steps. My day started early … acutely (actually?) my day started about 4 days ago because we have been going non-stop since then, hence no updates lately. I was up at 5am and my head was pounding and my sinuses were killing me. I was up and out with my team by 5:30am … I had to get at least one cup of coffee in me before I left. The day started slow and we had some small arms fire, 8 rockets shot at us, and we found one IED. The small arms fire and the rockets missed us. The IED was another matter, but we called our bomb guys and they took care of it with their bomb robot. Which, by the way, is their third robot. The first two died in the line of duty. The polls opened at 7am and that when things got interesting.
The press showed up in droves. It would have been impossible to swing a dead cat and not hit a reporter in our area of operation today. I met Campbell Brown from NBC. She was likeable, but you could tell she did not want to be in Baghdad. She was very jumpy and looked a nervous. I guess we were that way when we first got here too but you get used to the shooting. Later, when we were dealing with the IED, a guy from PBS filmed the whole episode and told me that he was shooting a documentary for PBS. He had the camera in my face for about a half an hour while we got set to blow the IED. It is a little weird trying to get rid of a roadside bomb when guy has a camera in your face. I finally got him to leave me alone when I told him we were going to blow the bomb in place. Since the bomb was on a bridge there was no where to hide so I put him behind my armored hummer and he stayed put. We blew the IED and the PBS guy left.
We had very tight security on the polling sites and all around our area of operation. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers were at every polling site defending them. I have been planning for about 8 days for this mission and it was the largest we have done to date. Infantry, armor, attack helicopters, engineers…. you name it, we had it. The Iraqi government shut down all traffic in the country so the streets were deserted. At about 10am the streets were packed with large crowds of people walking to the polls. We were on edge waiting for more attacks that never came. By about 3pm we could start to let our hair down and talk to the people. The site was amazing.
We dismounted from our vehicles and were instantly mobbed by about 200 kids. The kids were all over the place playing in the streets while their parents voted. The kids walked with us for about 2 miles while we were talking to the adults. I have never seen anything like it. People everywhere wanted to talk to us and thank us. This is what it must have been like when the Allies liberated Paris. Iraqis of all ages wanted to shake our hands and thank us for allowing them to vote. The kids were proud to tell us that their parents voted. Adult after adult wanted to thanks us for making this day happen. When the Iraqis voted they dipped their fingers in indelible purple ink so that polling officials could tell who had already voted. When we walked the streets the Iraqis would hold their purple finger up in the air as a mark of pride. They were very proud of their purple finger. The Iraqis statements to us were all the same; “Thank you for your sacrifices for the Iraqi people”, “Thank you for making this day possible” “The United States is the true democracy in the world and is the country that makes freedom possible”, “God blessed the Iraqi people and the United States this day”, “We have never known a day like this under Saddam”, “This day is like a great feast, a wonderful holiday”. I shook more hands today then I have ever in my life. If you missed a hand they would follow for a mile to get a chance to shake and say thanks. It was nothing like we expected or have ever seen. The Iraqi people were strong and brave today. The Iraqis stoic to danger, faced fear, and went out and voted. Then after they voted the Iraqis stayed on the streets to celebrate by singing dancing and trying to shake the hand of any American that they could find.
Even though today was a great day for Iraq, the Iraqis took their lumps. There were 6 car bombs in Iraq today, 2 of them in Baghdad. One I believe did more for Iraqi moral then any other event I that I have ever witnessed here. A suicide car bomber drove up to a polling site, which was not to far from us, and blew up. The bomb did not kill anybody but the bomber himself. After the bomb went off the Iraqi voters calmly walked out of the polling site and spit on the remains of the suicide bomber. The polling site stayed open and the voting continued. That incident ran all day long on Iraqi TV. It was a beautiful act of defiance for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people stood up for themselves today and stuck a purple finger in the enemy’s eye.
Later in the day I thought about our sacrifices that we have made. I wondered if the three men that my unit has sent home in flag draped coffins was worth what I saw today. I am still not sure if that is the case, but when a grown Iraqi man thank me with tears running down his face it made me feel better about what we have accomplished.
Much later that night we had two Kiowa attack Helicopters working for us. One of our sister battalions was in contact and needed help. We diverted the helicopters to the other battalion and watched. A unit of the other battalion was under attack by 15 insurgents. The enemy was trying to flee on foot in the open. That was a mistake. The Kiowas launched 10 rockets and hammered the enemy. The pilots report after they attacked was two words, “Target Destroyed”!
Please continue to pray for Scott, all the troops, and all of the good people of Iraq. If it’s God’s will and the U.S. armed forces permit, Scott’s schedule will rotate him back home in March.