March 25, 2007

The Topple of a Tyrant: Voices of the Fallen

The following journal entries from NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE chronicle the lives of some of America's brave soldiers who are in Iraq. Although we support the removal of our troops from Iraq, we do support our soldiers who are caught up in this absurd policy.

July 7, Baghdad

How can I possibly put the last 7 days into words? We got into Baghdad on the 2nd of July. It was about an 8-hour drive from the Kuwait border to Baghdad. When we crossed the border it was like entering a new world. The sides of the roads were covered with starving Iraqis begging for food. Kids as young as what looked to be 4 or 5 would run up to the vehicles. We were given a direct order by the company commander not to throw food or water to the starving people because there are too many Iraqis getting run over by our convoys when they run after the food. It is so hard to tell a starving 5-year-old who is begging for food to go away. Every time our convoy would stop, we would be ambushed by kids trying to get food; it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to watch.

Finally I gave in. Sitting up in the gunner's hatch, I can see everything. A sickly barefooted 6-year-old approached the vehicle; he looked so sick. He was touching his lips saying "please, please." I told him to go away and he just looked up at me. It looked like he wasn't going to make it much longer in the 133-degree weather we had that day. Again, I shouted "kief!" which is "go" in Arabic, and I pointed. As we drove away, I threw an ice-cold bottle of water out the window to him. Luckily no one saw me.

I love you guys. And please try not to think too much about it, it sounds a lot worse than it is.

Mihalakis died of injuries sustained when his Humvee overturned on Dec. 26. He was 18.

Army First Lt. Kenneth M. Ballard
July 27, Baghdad

Things have really started to calm down [ ... ] One of the areas we patrol is largely Christian. They made/make up the middle class. We have little to no anti-American activity, [although] there is a lot more Iraqi on Iraqi violence. With more and more public services coming back on line, people are slowly getting back to normal. [But] no matter how hard we help to get the services back up, it is not fast enough. They don't understand that after 12 years of decay it will take some time, plus they don't want to work. Life is slowly getting better for us as well. Our new base camp (Kamp Krusty) will be finished in October. It is at their old War College. It will have a full-size pool. Our barracks building, which 3rd Infantry Division is still in, will have a private gym for us, [illegible], an Internet café, and last but not least, AC in every room [ ... ]

Marine Capt. Alan Rowe
Summer 2003, Najaf (audio recording)

Right now I'm getting ready for bed. It's been a long day. Got to go out in town, I saw some interesting things [ ... ] I had a meeting at a restaurant and ate Iraqi food, which was very good. We had rice, and we had shish kabobs and we had an interesting meat, kind of a sausage thing, called tikit. [ ... ] There were some beans and some sauce, and we had some yogurt and some cucumbers and tomatoes. And it was really very good.

[Then] we went over and visited some families who didn't have a place to live and we talked to them about finding a new place to live and they had a lot of kids and I had some candy and I gave it to the kids and they really liked that. There was a little girl about your age, Caitlin, and a boy, about your age, Blake, and they were cute and they smiled and I took my pictures of you and Caitlin out and I showed the pictures of both of you to the kids and they thought that was very nice and they actually kissed the pictures and that's one of their ways of showing respect and kinda like saying hello to you.

Rowe, 35, and two other Marines were killed by an improvised explosive device on Sept. 3, 2004, in Anbar province. He was promoted to major posthumously.

August 2003, Baghdad

There are some times here that you are able to stop and look around you and find a moment of peace. We were crossing the Tigris River at night under a full moon. The light was dancing on the water, a light breeze floated through the trees. You think to yourself how nice this would be with someone special, then flares light up the sky and you see tracer fire off in the distance and the cold slap of reality sets in that you are in the middle of a war zone.

Aug. 12, Baghdad

Ok, so things keep changing.

My company just got traded away to the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Brigade. What that means is we will live at Kamp Krusty but work in the 82nd's area. They have been getting the snot knocked out of them and they asked for tanks, so they sent us. The unit we are going to draws 400-500 gallons of fuel a day. My tanks use 2,500 gallons a day. [ ... ] On one of my tanks I carry as much small-arms ammo as one of their 700-man units. These guys are in for a big shock.

Aug. 16, Baghdad

The locals are different in every sector. In our old sectors we were able to build "good" relationships. In our new area it is a very different place: openly hostile is closer to the mark. We view most of the locals as someone to be dealt with and nothing more. Our CO wants us to embrace them with open arms and love our fellow man. Too many of us have a bad taste in our mouths about it all. They have no respect for weapons, each other and life; and if that is the case then how are we supposed to look at them any differently?

Ballard, 26, died in Najaf on May 30, 2004, when a passing tree branch triggered the unmanned machine gun on his tank.

On Aug. 19 a suicide truck bomb demolished the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding more than 100. The attack signaled to aid workers that any foreigner, not just U.S. troops, was a target.

Aug. 29, Baghdad

It's been a lot of dismounted stuff recently. After 9 hours in the heat with 80 pounds on your back, you don't want to do much except sleep when you get back. [ ... ] I saw the U.N. building today. It's pretty devastating when you see it up close. These people out here are something else. They just don't care that other people are trying to help them. But I guess that's the face of war, and yes, it's still a war. Don't believe everything you see on TV.

Army Capt. Christopher P. Petty
Oct. 30, Al Miqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad

Happy Halloween, sorry it has been awhile since I wrote. Things have been busy. Ramadan began the other day and so far the attacks have increased each day. [ ... ] You will most likely hear about it in the news soon, but an M1 Abrams tank was destroyed last night. Reports are unclear as to what caused it. However, it was clear that 2 U.S. soldiers lost their lives and an acclaimed indestructible tank had its turret blown off. That makes six soldiers killed in our brigade alone in the past four weeks.

Petty, 33, and four others were killed when their Humvee hit an IED in Najaf on Jan. 5, 2006. He was three weeks into his second tour.

Dec. 2, Baghdad

I tried calling yesterday but got the machine ... We're doing ok just busy hitting the enemy hard lately ... Long days and nights ahead ... Division is saying we'll be home in March ... I know how many days but I can't tell you on an unsecure line ... Gotta go. I'll try to call again.

Love, Patrick

On the night of Feb. 11, 2004, Tainsh's patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device; an ambush ensued. His commanding officer wrote afterward: "Although Sgt. Tainsh was immediately mortally wounded, he started laying down suppressive fire in order to secure the area for the medic to move forward. Sgt. Tainsh stopped laying down fire only after he felt the area was secured. He then dropped down and tapped me on the shoulder to let me know he was wounded." He was 33.

Unless otherwise stated, all images are courtesy of the troops' families and friends.

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