Not Re-Inventing the Wheel...Just Fixing It
Sol was still fairly low in the eastern sky, its scorching rays tempered still, by a thin layer of clouds, yet to be burned off by the heat from the sun, and from the dust that rose into the air, kicked up from the convoy. We bump and bounce along a dirt road, tall reeds run the length of the rutted path, seperating the route from the irrigation canal on our left.
As my rippled soles of my boots hit the crust, I look around and survey my surroundings. The ground, baked hard from eons of desert sun, is sprinkled, seemingly uniformly, with black pellets. Sheep and goat turds litter the ground, and they are to be seen everywhere, almost as if they were spread, in feeble attempt to fertilize the hard ground. They crunch underfoot, moisture robbed by the parched air, as I move toward the link-up point. The days mission is a "Knock and Greet", a PC term for "Cordon and Search", and we are working in coordination with the Iraqi Army. This hamlet, barely large enough to be mentioned on the most detailed map, matches the earth it has been scratched from and formed out of. Thatched roofs dominate the 'skyline', if you can call it that. Chickens, Turkeys, sheep and dogs run about the villiage. A huge pile of sunflowers is to my left,
The particular IA fire team my squad was working with was standing around the back of the "bongo"; as we Americans call it, a brown Isuzu truck, with a long bed, the vehicle they rode to the target village in.
Our four are a motley crew. They were aged from early twenties to mid-thirties, near as I could guess. Their uniforms were dirty, ill fitting, but of uniform pattern. They all were copies of the old US Army "chocolate chip" Desert Camo design, reminiscent of the first Gulf War. It is odd to think about, soldiers of a new army, wearing the same, albeit old and discarded, style uniform of the force that repulsed their predecessors from Kuwait over a dozen years ago. Almost symblolic, if you ask me. A new, free army, wearing the clothing of a force that restored the sovreignty of a nation from the rule of their former dictator.
Two of them were wearing a flimsy imitation of a modern tactical vest, with cheap fastners and pattern mocking the American Woodland camo. Another is wearing a rugged canvas chest bandolier, with large black buttons, but faded from years of use. A brown blotch is splashed on the right shoulder, possibly bloodstains from another conflict, another time. The last one, the youngest, and probably the least ranking of them, has no vest, just bare body armor, AK mags jammed is his pockets, and a cheap, dollar-store-variety flashlight in his hand. Three had kevlar helmets, two with camo covers, one bare, a 'turtle shell", as it would be referred to in the US Army. Again, the youngest appears to have been shafted on the equipment, for he only has an old Iraqi Army style helmet, a steel pot, with a tattered and severely weathered leather chinstrap hanging unbuckled.
Their AK's were different, also. One had a brown plastic stock kit, one with a wood stock kit. Another had a skeletonized folding stock and black plastic furniture on the forend. The last one carried an AK with no stock, a thick piece of twine serving as his makeshift sling.
The only thing they all had was the yellow-papered French Galuoise cigarettes that dangled from each soldiers lip, or burned in their thick, dirty fingers. These soldiers are eager to get to work, though, enthusiastic to be on a mission. I see hope in them, hope that they might make a difference, hope they might make their country safer, hope that they might keep their children from being murdered in the streets by radical factions. Enthusiasim they have, training and equipment they are recieving, and more often than not, a baptism by fire for a new army they have had, for they fall under attack far more than the Coalition forces.
We canvass the village, the IA soldiers as the main searchers, stacking and restacking sacks of grain in storehouses, opening cabinets, overturning mattresses, combing through closets and exploring dark corners of sheds and homes. A barn, mud, with a thin sheet-metal door, no doubt its frame shoved into still wet mud, is secured with a rope. Our mission is to seal off this small burg, allowing no ingress or egress of the indigenous population, and search every structure, well, haystack and vehicle for contraband.
I open the barn, and the stark scent of urine immediately offends my nostrils. It is dark inside, for the entrance was on the west side of the hut, its solid mud windowless walls allow no light to enter. The roof is heavily thatched. The SureFire weaponlight on my rifle made short work of the darkness, obliterating the inky blackness, revealing a mainly empty space. The thick layer of loose dirt, still littered with goat turds, is decorated only with a large, bald flat tire, on a hopelessly dented and heavily rusted rim, never to roll correctly again. I think about a television series I saw, about a wheelwright in the early 1800s. The visual comes to me, as the show portrayed them crafting a wooden wheel with a metal rim, how perfectly round it was, made with rudimentary tools, unaided by computer balance machines and laser alignment devices. Our mission here in Iraq is similar to the weelwright of old. Build a device, or country, in this case, that spins well, balanced and straight. The former regime flattened the tire on the wheels of this country, bashed and mangled the rims on a hard stone or curb, and was content to let the country rust away in a dark, dank place.
Iraq is a new place, believe me. We are providing tools and training to this fledgeling country to flourish. Opportunity they have, paid for by men and women, not unlike myself, who gave all to secure and defend freedom, and who hail from many nations. Experience they need, and they get it on almost a daliy basis. Zeal and dedication they possess. These components are what is required to form a country that can move forward, in a balanced and straight path, guided by multi-lateral leadership under a new era of democracy. I hope that we will be successful, and they ride this vehicle we are building well, and that the wheels don't come off when they start to pick up steam.