Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thank You

Leaving the Alamo and walking to the front gate, I can feel the sweat trickling down the back of my neck. Three hours after the sun has set, it is still unusually hot. The wind blows in earthly gusts, fluttering the frayed plastic bags caught up in the concertina wire and giving the night a haunted, uneasy feel.

Walking thru the gate and past the sandbag reinforcements, the armored vehicle staged out front looms up at me in the darkness.

The gunner is up in his turret, silhouetted against the night sky as he scans for trouble. A bright red cherry colored light flares up, and in the light of the lit cigarette, I can see the face of the Sergeant of the Guard, talking quietly with the driver who is monitoring the radio.

Suddenly, the radio silence is broken by a transmission by my Platoon Sergeant, who is on a patrol out in the town.

“Warrior Alamo, this is Warrior 2/7, we have heard multiple shots fired to the north. Somewhere along the Wahabi market street. We are moving to check it out.”

Reaching past the driver, I pick up the handset in the vehicle.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 2/6, that’s a good copy.”

Turning and looking to the north, the district seems quiet.

It is almost too quiet.

Unusually for this time of night, there are no vehicles driving past the Alamo on the road running east to west along no-mans-land. Instead the buildings sit silently in the dark, outlined only by the occasional naked, fluorescent light bulb harshly illuminating their exteriors.

The night’s silence is again broken by my Platoon Sergeants excited voice.

“Warrior Alamo, this is Warrior 2/7, we are in pursuit of a black Opel. There has been a drive by shooting, and at least one person is down. The gunmen are in a black Opel that is driving north along the market road.”

“Roger, are there any other casualties?”

“Negative, at this time, I believe that only one man was hit.”

My Company Commander breaks in from where he has been listening at the Company headquarters back in the rear.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 6, what’s your status?”

“Warrior 6 this is Warrior 2/7, we are in pursuit of gunmen in a black Opel, they are running north up the Wahabi market street and heading to the bridge. How far north can we chase?”

I can picture my Company Commander back in the rear, leaning into the handset of the radio and wishing that he was out in the field giving chase to the insurgents.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 6, you can chase that bad boy from here until you run out of gas! Keep me updated.”


Standing next to the driver and monitoring the Platoon net, I can hear my Platoon Sergeant giving commands to his element as the patrol gives chase.

Thru the radio I can hear the tension in his voice and the whine of a vehicle engine as it begins to accelerate madly up the road.

Suddenly, two white headlights flash out and a mini-van pulls up to the gate. Three men jump out and start speaking loudly with the Iraqi Police stationed at the gate.

They are gesticulating wildly and the urgency in their voices is clear.

I motion to Steve, my interpreter, to accompany me around the concrete barriers forming the chicane and up to the minivan idling in front of the gate. As I move forward, the minivan shuts off it’s headlights, plunging everything into shadows.

As I approach, two of the men fall silent, and a third man steps forward. He is shorter than the others, but possessive of a quiet authority. His dark brown hair is cut short, and it looks as if he has not shaved for a few days.

I can feel the strength of his gaze on me in the dark.

Touching my hand to my chest respectfully, I give the traditional greeting.

“A’sallam Alechem”

“Alechem Sallam,” comes the reply, and the man immediately launches into a passionate monologue in Arabic.

Motioning to the vehicle, he looks at me expectantly.

“What is it?”

Steve replies quietly, his normal cheerful nature subdued.

“He says his brother has been shot. He is in the van.”

Reaching into my pocket I pull out my LED flashlight and step over to the van. Leaning into the interior, I notice someone lying down on the seat in the back, his feet curled under him.

On the passenger seat, clad in dark blue pants and a brown shirt is his brother. In the powerful white glow of the LEDs I can see that his face is a sheet of red. His shirt is twisted and completely soaked with blood. Where the rounds have hit, the shirt is stuck to his body.

With a brief glance, I can tell that the man had been shot multiple times in the torso and the head.

He is the victim from the drive-by shooting.

Shutting off my flashlight, I turn from the body and face his brother. I can tell that he is having difficulty trying to control his emotions.

“First, tell him that I am very sorry for his loss. Then ask him to tell me what happened.”

The man listens to the translation for a second, and then nods his head. He glances at his brothers standing behind him, and then back at me.

“He says that a car pulled up and a man wearing a headwrap jumped out with an AK-47. His brother was sitting in front of the shop that he owns, and the man shot him. He then walked up to his brother’s body, and shot him in the head to make sure he was dead.”

I look quietly at the man. I can tell that he and his two brothers are controlling their anguish.


This death is too new. Now that the concerted action of bringing their brother to the Iraqi Police Station has ceased, in the quiet night their loss is finally beginning to sink in.

“Tell them that we are currently in pursuit of the vehicle that we suspect was involved in the shooting. Is there any reason why their brother would have been targeted?”

The man blinks at the news, and then shakes his head “no.”

“My brother was a peaceful man, he was shot for no reason that we know of.”

I am glad that no one can see my face in the dark.

“Alright, I know that this is a difficult time for you, but you have to accompany the Iraqi Police to their offices and fill out some paperwork. I promise you, that if we can do anything to kill or capture the men that shot your brother, we will.”

The man looks at me silently for a second, and then places his hand over his heart.

“Thank you,” he says in halting English.

The man then turns away and gets back into the vehicle with his brothers body. As the minivan starts to move, the other two brothers walk alongside the vehicle. They are giving their brother an escort thru the concrete chicane and over to the Iraqi Police station.

Watching the minivan pull thru the entrance, I say a silent prayer for the dead man and his family.

Walking back to the HUMMWV, I pick up the radio handset.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 2/6, what’s your status?”

“Warrior 2/6 this is Warrior 2/7, we are currently north of the bridge, heading south on ‘Route Maples,’ and we are no longer in pursuit of the Opel.”

For a second there is silence on the net.

“The Opel got away.”

I can hear the tired frustration in my Platoon Sergeants voice. I can only imagine that the rest of his patrol is feeling the same way.

“Warrior 2/7, this is Warrior 2/6, you did everything you could. Come back to the Alamo.”

“Roger Warrior 2/6, on our way back now.”

I force myself to relax my hand which has involuntarily curled into a fist around the black plastic handset.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Least That I Can Do

She is handsome, rather than beautiful.

Her black dress covers her from head to toe, with only her face showing under a black head scarf. Still, her open, expressive face is attractive in a motherly way, as she smiles and looks down at her curly haired baby, the child’s first crammed firmly into his mouth.

Sitting on the woven carpets in the bare room are her other children. A slender girl, with her back against the white plastered wall, perhaps 14 years of age, and wearing a red dress smiles shyly up at me. The third child, a young boy, sits quietly besides his mother, his dark eyebrows and pale skin forming a striking contrast. Children’s books and white note pads filled with the children’s drawings are scattered on the carpets that line the floor of the room.

We have come to raid their house.

Standing in the room with the mother and children, I feel slightly foolish as I post a young, serious soldier with a squad automatic weapon to guard them. He is to prevent them from getting up and moving around the house while my soldiers conduct their search.

For both their safety and ours, I can take no chances.

Turning to the boy, I have my interpreter ask him where the family’s weapon is. Throwing a quick glance at his mother, he gets up and walks into his parent’s bedroom.

There, behind a curtain covering an opening into a cupboard, is a well maintained AK-47 and a 40 round Banana Clip magazine.

Each household in Iraq is allowed to have a single AK-47 and one clip of ammunition.

Reaching into the cupboard I take out the weapon. It takes only a second to remove the magazine, clear the chamber, and place the weapon back on safe.

One less thing to worry about.

“Are there any more weapons in the house?”

“No” he says, and shakes his head.

“Alright, go back in the room with your mother.”

Walking into the hallway, I stop next to my squad leader and give him the go ahead to begin searching the house. He moves up to the top floor and out onto the balcony with his search team.
Turning, I survey the house. As houses in Iraq go, this is a relatively nice one. The small refrigerator and freezer in the hallway appear to be new, and the house is neat and well kept.

As in all Iraqi houses, almost all of the rooms have no furniture, just mats and rugs on the floor for family members to sit on.

In the kitchen, what is left of the afternoon meal is sitting on a large metal platter. Cut cucumbers, white rice, and what looks like curried beans are each sitting separately in small metal bowls on the platter. When the family eats, they place the platter on the ground between them, and scoop the food out of the communal dishes with their hands.

My stomach gives a little flutter. The food is covered in a crawling mass of flies.

Walking up the staircase to the roof, I come across a growing pile of electric cables and copper wires. The squad leader and one of his men are collecting the spools of cable from a corner of the rooftop, and placing them into a pile for removal.

These are exactly the kind of materials used to manufacture and detonate an IED.

This is exactly the kind of thing we are looking for.

From the rooftop I can see my soldiers securing the perimeter of the house. To the north and east, armored HUMMWV’s are staged giving the gunners good sectors of fire. In the event that we are fired upon while conducting our search, the gunners will be able to return fire and suppress the enemy.

In the distance, to the west, looking out over no-mans land and past the Mosque, I can see the rooftop and gun positions of the Alamo.

We are just a stones throw from home.

Walking back down the stairs and out of the intense heat, I re-enter the room with the mother and her children. Behind her, a color television set sits on top of a large cupboard, an Arabic soap opera loudly and emotionally playing out on the screen.

I can’t help but noticing that the outfits and hairstyles in the soap opera look like something straight out of the 1960’s.

The woman is looking at me expectantly. Her dark eyes smiling as she plays with her child. She asks me something in Arabic and the girl behind her giggles.

“What did she say?”

“She wants to know if you want to take a picture with the baby.”

Caught off guard, I smile briefly down at her pleasant face, but then my smile begins to fade.

The woman does not know that we have arrested her husband on suspicion of being an insurgent.

He is currently out in one of the vehicles awaiting transport to a holding facility.

With a sinking feeling, I try to shut out my emotions. I know that what we are doing is going to be bringing a lot of pain and suffering to this friendly, motherly woman and her delightful children.

I tell myself that it is part of the job.

Still, I don’t have to like it.

My squad leader appears behind me and beckons me back into the hallway.

“We have completed the search. We found a mess of wires and cables, and a couple of boxes of documents.”

“Alright, good work. Go ahead and move everything into the back of my HUMMWV. I will go talk with the CO and let him know the search is complete.”

Turning, I walk outside into the heat. In one of the vehicles, my commander sits talking on the radio. He is coordinating events with another platoon searching a different house just down the road.

“Alright Sir, the search is complete. We found a couple of boxes of documents and some cables and wiring, and we are going to bring it all with us.”

The Captain looks at me thru a sheen of sweat on his bright red face.

"Okay, good work. Bring him inside and let him get some toiletries and a change of clothing.”

I walk back to a second HUMMWV and open the back door. There, in the back passenger seat, is the woman’s husband. His hands bound behind his back, and a pair of dark goggles covering his eyes.

Surprisingly, he is an older man, his salt and pepper hair and moustache accenting a strong, stern face.

The soldier guarding him is sitting beside him in the other passenger seat.

“Take him out of those cuffs and remove the blindfold. She doesn't need to see him like that. Oh, and when you guard him inside the house, try not to look like that is what you are doing.”

The soldier nods.

This is going to be emotional enough.

The man rubs his wrists as he steps out of the vehicle, briefly stretching his legs. On his face, I can see that he is steeling himself to face his family under these circumstances. It is a struggle for him to keep his face emotionless while he walks towards his home.

Following behind him, I can see him square his shoulders and muster his dignity. As I let him lead me into the house, I can see his wife on the floor, no longer smiling, as she looks at her husband with shock and concern all over her face.

Trembling she turns to me and starts asking me questions in Arabic.

“What has he done? Where are you taking him?”

Clasping her hands together she is almost pleading with me.

“Ma’am, we are just taking him over to our base to ask him some questions about a few matters that need clearing up.”

“How long will he be gone? Can he be back tonight?”

The pain in her voice is obvious. She is terrified for her family and for her husband.

The soldiers have come to take him away, and for all she knows, she may never see him again.

My heart is in my mouth.

“Ma’am, I am afraid that this is not possible. You should expect him to be gone for a few days at least.”

She glances down at her children and then looks at her husband. He speaks to her in Arabic and she moves into the bedroom to pack some belongings for him.

With a nod, I send a soldier in after her to keep watch.

The man asks permission to gather a few papers that he wants to take with him. He walks over to the cupboard and under the watchful eyes of his guard gathers what he needs.

Within a few minutes, his wife enters the room clutching a plastic bag filled with clothing and a towel.

She looks at her husband as if she wants to say something, and then she turns back to me as he is getting ready to leave the room.

“She wants to know if she can keep the AK-47.”

“Tell her that she can. Each household can keep a weapon for their own protection.”

She looks relieved, and then she continues hesitantly. Her hands clasped together as if in prayer.
“What will I do? How long will he be gone? I cannot stay here alone. It is dangerous here. Please bring him back tonight. If you do not, where will I go? Who will protect us?”

Behind her, I can see that her daughter has tears in her eyes.

I turn away from their stricken faces. Glancing at the soldier behind me, I can tell that this is as difficult for him as it is for me.

In a quiet voice, I give instructions to the private standing behind her husband.

“Alright, take him back out to the vehicle, and lets get ready to go. Let the CO know that we are done here.”

Accompanied by the subdued young soldier, the man leaves the room and walks outside without so much as glancing at his wife or his children.

“Ma’am, do you have family you can go and stay with? Is there someone you can live with until all of this is resolved?”

She thinks a moment, and then replies:

“Yes, my husband’s family lives in Baghdad. I could take the children and go there.”

I nod my head and attempt to look encouraging. “I recommend you do that. I honestly don’t know how long your husband will be gone.”

She looks at my face as if trying to read something, and then she glances down at her children and clutches at her infant’s chubby little hand.

Turning away, I address the other soldiers still left in the room.

“Alright, let’s get moving. Go ahead outside and mount up. Let’s get out of here.”

As the soldiers file out, I turn and place her AK-47 on the ground, and ask her not to pick it up until we have left. Then after all of the soldiers have left the room, I stop in the doorway and turn back.

“Steve, tell her that if she chooses to stay here, I will patrol near the house and check in on her from time to time to see if she and the children are okay. Also tell her that if she leaves and goes to Baghdad, I will try to stop by and make sure the house is okay.”

She listens and then nods her head quietly.

It is the least that I can do.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Enemy

The front gate of the Alamo opens up into the sprawling town. A mass of triple strand concertina wire and jersey barriers block out traffic and channel incoming vehicles thru a chicane of concrete blocks. The front entrance is reinforced by an up-armored HUMMWV, a gunner sitting in the armored cupola manning a long barreled .50 caliber machine gun. The gunner scans oncoming traffic looking for signs of trouble while the driver sits patiently and monitors the radio. The vehicle must be moved for any traffic to enter or exit, and is a last ditch effort to prevent a car packed with explosives from slamming into the Alamo and reducing the building to fire and ash.

Nearing the front gate and stepping around the wire, I wrinkle my nose as I catch a fresh draft of hot wind from the city. The sewer stench of the city permeating the air is something I will never get used to.

At the front gate, a man stands patiently, waiting to talk. He is wearing a dark blue robe and worn brown sandals. His sleeves, where they are rolled up, reveal faded swirling tattoos and Arabic markings on his skin. His unshaven face is rough, made up of sharp angular planes that are hardened by hooded, expressionless eyes.

Looking into those dark brown eyes, I can tell that he wants me dead.

Without taking my eyes off of his, I motion for the interpreter to come over. Steve walks over, and stops suddenly, as if sensing the tension between the stranger and myself.

“What does he want?”

Steve begins hesitantly, stumbling over the first few words of his normally flawless Arabic.

The man replies so softly that Steve has to lean forward to catch his last few words.

“He says he has come for his brothers.”

“Who are his brothers?”

“He says that one of his brothers was killed by Americans yesterday, and that the other brother was taken and arrested.”

Unconsciously I nod my head. I know who he is talking about.

The day before an IED had hit an American patrol. Immediately after the blast, the soldiers had noticed a blue bongo truck fleeing from the scene. The patrol reacted quickly and gave chase. The blue bongo truck fled until its tires were shot out. As the truck ground to a halt, two armed men had jumped out and started running. My patrol had arrived on scene just after one of the armed men had been shot dead and the other one had surrendered.

The brothers had been insurgents. This one was likely no exception.

Standing before me is the enemy.

The bastard is trying to stare me down.

Resting my right hand on my pistol, I feel an involuntary rush of adrenaline.

“Tell him that he can have his brother’s body. I will show him where it is.”

At the mention of his brother’s body his gaze cracks. For an instant, the corners of his eyes tighten with grief, and then his features return to his intense,hate-filled stare.

Motioning with my right hand, I turn and walk over to the Iraqi Police station. Behind me, the man follows, shadowed by two of my soldiers pulling security. They have picked up on the lethal atmosphere, and are moving with extra care, their eyes scanning for trouble.

I can feel his gaze on the back of my neck.

Walking into the comparative cool of the Iraqi Police station, I step thru the shadowed concrete corridors and into a back room. There, on a wooden pallet, is a body bag with his brother’s remains. An Iraqi policeman walks in and Steve quietly explains what the man is there for.

There is a slight stench in the air that no words could properly describe.

The man steps around me and walks up to the bag. I can see him grip his blue robe with his right hand, holding the material so hard that his knuckles have turned white.

After a long moment, he turns to face me.

“And my other brother, the Americans arrested him. Where is he? How can I get him?”

I look at him for a moment, not saying anything.

“Your brother was arrested after he attacked an American Patrol. He has been confined and they are doing an investigation. If he is guilty of terrorist activity, he will be charged and sentenced by an Iraqi Court of Law. If he is not guilty of terrorist activity, you have nothing to be afraid of. If he is innocent, he will be released and you will see him again. If however, he is guilty, he is going to be going to prison for a very long time.”

The man looks at me, his jaw working in anger. For a brief second, I get the impression that he is going to attack, and then suddenly, as if the energy has gone out of him, his shoulders slump slightly and he looks down at his brother’s body.

“Can you help me move him to my vehicle?”

I can tell that it was painful for him to ask me for assistance.

Looking steadily at the man standing before me, his face half cloaked in the shadows, I consider his request.

Part of me goes out to the man in sympathy.

For the loss of a brother.

And then I remember all of the bodies of innocent civilians that my men have found rotting in the sun, their hands bound behind their backs, and their eyes blindfolded, before they were shot in the head by insurgents that had suspected them of helping the Americans.

This man is an insurgent. His brother had tried to kill Americans.

My resolve hardens, and I shake my head to clear my thoughts.

Still, I will get him the help he needs.

“Tell him that the Iraqi Police will help him carry the body.” The Iraqi Policeman in the corner nods, and leaves the room to get a colleague to help.

For my men will do no such thing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Play of the Day

The open fields stretching out to the north and south of the road are empty and dead in the heat, the ground chalky with dust and cracked by the sun. For several kilometers in either direction, the gray-brown monotony is interrupted only by small mud buildings and the occasional yellow brick farmhouse. Small fields of gray palm groves look faint in the distance, and they dot the horizon in a haphazard pattern. To the south of the road runs an ever-present irrigation canal, its dry bottom filled with refuse and dead reeds.

The red 7-series BMW is parked on the north side of the road, its powerful engine purring contently as it idles in place. To its rear, a tan HMMWV rolls to a stop, blocking off any escape down route “Galaxy.” To the front, my vehicle pulls up just short of the BMW, its four-wheel disk brakes squealing in protest as 12,000 pounds of armored HMMWV come to a sudden stop.

Thru the dusty windshield, I can see the two male occupants of the car. The driver, in his mid 30’s looks quickly up, and then looks back down as he engages in a fierce but whispered conversation with his passenger, a dark, unshaven man in his early 20’s. The passenger, in a dark blue shirt and loose black trousers, is beginning to look nervous.

Two days previously, the TAC had been mortared, and intelligence reported that three cars were seen leaving the site of the mortars.

One of them was reputedly a red BMW.

I am going on a hunch.

Unlocking the combat lock, I swing open the door and dismount, my M4 Carbine held ready. Looking thru the close combat optic, I train the red dot of light onto the torso of the driver. The driver looks up again, and compresses his lips into a fine white line, his running argument with his passenger abruptly ended.

Thru my peripheral vision, I can see other soldiers in the patrol dismounting and securing the site. They sweep the roadside and the fields around the HMMWVs looking for IEDs.

They know that we are only 500 meters from a location affectionately called “the Circle of Death,” and no one is taking any unnecessary chances.

Moving away from the rear vehicle, one of the soldiers steps up to the driver’s side window. With his reflective black sunglasses and his body armor, the private looks particularly intimidating.

“Shut off the engine and step out of the vehicle.”

The driver, reaches into his front breast pocket of his blue and white plaid shirt, and pulls out an ID card. Waving it in the air thru his open window, he appears to be holding it out like it is a get out of jail free card.

An alarm bell goes off in my head.

“Hey, tell that motherfucker I don’t give a shit what kind of ID he has, tell him to shut off his engine, and get out of the fucking car.”

“Get out of the damned car!” shouts the private, and around the backside of the vehicle, a sergeant steps to the passenger side and opens the door himself.

“Get out!”

The two men reluctantly get out of the car, the driver still holding out his ID like a talisman.

Lowering my rifle, I indicate a patch of gravel on the side of the road. The private nods, and grabs a hold of the loose shirt of the driver, walking him over to the rocky patch of gravel. On the other side of the BMW, the sergeant takes hold of the shirt of the passenger and marches him next to the driver. Putting pressure on the passenger’s sweaty back with his forearm he forces the passenger to his knees.

The driver, a bright smile on his face, is nodding his head to me in a friendly fashion. He holds out his right hand and hands me his ID.

“Alright, search them and bring me all of their documents.”

Walking back to the hood of my vehicle, I lay out the ID card the driver has just handed me. It is a red and white ID card, with an Iraqi flag, and the driver’s photo laminated on the front.

In big black letters, it reads, “Ministry Security Office.”

So the guy is an Iraqi Ministry Security Guard. Big deal. Why was he waving the card at me?

Then, the title of the card catches my eye. It actually reads;

“Republic of Iraq, Minstry Security Office.”

“Minstry?” I mutter to myself.

You would think that the Ministry would know how to spell the name of their own department.

Then a thought occurs to me, and I look at the card more closely.

While engrossed in the details of the card, the private who has searched the two men walks over with their possessions and places them on the hood of my vehicle. In addition to a wallet, two cell phones, and two more ID cards, there is a very large amount of money.

“Holy Shit!”

I can’t help but exclaim as I undo the dirty rubber band and unfold at least thirty crisp and clean $100 dollar bills. Glancing at the hood, I can see that a second folded stack of money is thick with multicolored Iraqi Dinars, their colorful scenes depicting ancient Iraqi history.

Thumbing thru the stack quickly, I count at least 3,000,000.00 dinars. In my head I do some quick math; about $4,000.00 dollars. Some serious dough for an Iraqi.

“Where did these guys have all this cash?”

The private, flushing with excitement at his find, gives me a big grin.

“Sir, they had it all over, in every pocket, I just kept on finding more!”

Looking up I can see the driver watching me intently with expressionless brown eyes. His dark face a few shades paler than before. The passenger, knees folded beneath him, appears to be staring at the ground.

I walk over to the driver and instruct the private to move him a few feet away from the passenger. My translator, Steve, gets out of the HMMWV and walks over to assist.

The driver, seeing me approach, is quick to try to leave. He begins to stand, still with a smile on his face, and thru his fixed smile he says, “Thank you mister, thank you.”

The full weight of the stocky private standing behind him forcing him back to his knees quickly disabuses him of any notion that he is getting released.

His cocky smile no longer looks so certain.

“Whose money is this?

“It is mine.”

“What is all this money for?”

“I live in Balad and I am building a house in Baghdad. This is money for building my house. I am on my way there now.”

I stare at him for a minute. He begins to shift and fidget under the strength of my gaze.

Finally, I nod my head and walk over to the passenger, still sitting despondent on the side of the road.

“Whose money is this?”

“The money is all mine.”

“What is it for?”

“I have the money because I am on my way to Tikrit to buy a car.”

You would think with all the time they had to whisper to each other that at least they would get their stories straight.

“Really, so the money is yours. How do you know the driver? Where were you going in his car?”

The young man looks even more nervous than usual.

“I don’t know him. I only know his face. I don’t know his name. I only see him around.”

“Really? So what were you doing in his car?”

The passenger begins to speak, and then falls silent, his attention still firmly fixed on the ground in front of him.

I hate being lied to.

Turning my back on the man I walk back to the hood of the car to sort thru the rest of their possessions.

Opening the wallet of the driver, I pull out several pieces of paper, another ID card, and a small, folded paper envelope. In the billfold, I notice another two crisp, US $100 bills.

Someone is bankrolling this guy.

Putting aside the wallet, I pull out the second ID. The ID is a photo ID for a construction company, proclaiming that the owner of the ID is a general contractor.

Is this guy a general contractor, or is he a ministry security official?

The alarm bells have been ringing nonstop in my head.

Unfolding the white envelope, I tip out the contents into the palm of my hand.

Nine identical postage stamp sized ID photos of the driver.

In a fold in the wallet, there are another three ID photos, all three of different men, but each with the same thick, black, Saddam-like moustache that almost all the old regime men here have.

The alarm bells have turned into a five-alarm fire.

Looking up, I catch the attention of my squad leader. “Sergeant, go get the X-spray, and give them a test while I sort thru this.”

“Roger sir.”

The General Contractor ID is poorly made. It looks almost as if it is two pieces of paper printed out on a computer, put back to back, and then sent thru a laminating machine. The blood type catches my attention.

The blood type on the General Contractor ID is B+.

The blood type listed on the Ministry ID is A+.

So which is it?

Then the nine ID photos catch my eye.

They are the same photograph used on the Ministry ID. A well dressed, self-satisfied man with a rainbow background.

The date on the back of the photographs is only a few weeks old. The Ministry ID must be brand new.

I turn my attention to the passenger's ID. It claims that he is in an Industry Defense Force Battalion, whatever that is. The spelling of the ID also looks peculiar.

“Batalion” is missing its second “t.”

My initial hunch must be right.

With multiple, poorly made IDs, misspellings, the un-matching blood-types, and the envelope with all the photos, these can only be fake IDs.

Apparently whoever made this guy the ministry ID, must have told him that it would bear some weight with US troops, which is why he was so quick to show it to us.

Too bad for him.

Fake ID’s. Several thousand in sequential $100 dollar bills, their stories aren’t straight, and their vehicle matches the description of a vehicle seen leaving a mortar attack….

I carefully place everything back the way it was brought to me, and I stuff each item into a ziplock bag.

I finish just in time for the sergeant to walk up to me with two X-spray test papers.

They are both bright pink.

Positive for nitrates and other explosives.

That makes it easy.

“Alright, we are taking these guys in for more questioning.”

The sergeant nods his head. “Roger, what are we going to do with the car?”

I smile, “we are going to take it with us.”

I always did want a BMW.

Ten hours later I leave the brigade holding facility where I have finished filling out the half dozen forms and sworn statements required to detain a suspected insurgent. The driver and passenger have changed into their orange jumpsuits for an extended stay, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Walking into the Command Post, the First Sergeant stops me with a smile.

“So I heard you guys were hit by an IED on your way back to Camp."

I smile wearily back at the First Sergeant, while making a bee-line over to my stack of mail.

"Yeah, when we got hit and opened up with the crew-served weapons, the suspect I had in the back of my vehicle was so scared that he pissed all over himself."

That was not fun.

The First Sergeant grimaces wryly at the thought.

"Well, good job anyway today Sir. Did you hear that you had the Play of the Day?”

“The play of the what?!” I demand, not sure that I heard right.

The First Sergeant continues with his smile, delighted that he is the first to tell me.

“You had the Baghdad Area of Operations ‘Play of the Day’ as deemed by the Commanding General. It has just been released over the net that your catch of those two insurgents has been deemed the most important catch in the entire Baghdad area of operations today, and that is out of 60,000 troops. Rumor has it that they are talking.”


Friday, July 15, 2005


The first round explodes with a shattering crack, and I can hear shouting coming from outside the sandbagged room.

“Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!”

I leap to my feet and quickly settle my advanced combat uniform helmet onto my head. Despite the explosions and yelling coming from outside, somehow my mind registers the inconsequential thought that the helmet pads lining the inside of the helmet feel tacky from days of sweat and grime and will need to be washed.

Grabbing my rifle, I move to the sandbagged window and get down on my knees to minimize my silhouette. I am in the safest possible place, inside, behind sandbags.

My soldiers however, are not.

Thru a crack in the layered sandbags I can see them scattering in all directions. The soldiers drop their shovels and half filled sandbags and run to the nearest HMMWV clad only in their shirt sleeves.

With another shattering crack, a dirt cloud erupts from outside the Chicane protecting the entrance to the TAC. Black smoke mingles with cracked earth and the mortar round shreds itself into fragments of hot shrapnel. The explosion is only 15 meters from the HMMWV guarding the entrance, and I can see the soldiers inside the vehicle struggling to close the gunners hatch.

With a thud, the hatch falls shut, and glancing around, I can see that all of the soldiers have made it behind some level of armored protection, their shovels and half filled sandbags lying forgotten on the dusty ground.

I don’t think I have ever seen them move so fast.

To my rear, there is a muffled explosion, and I hear the brittle sound of wood snapping and something falling. It sounds as if a mortar has hit an electrical pole, and has cut it in half.

The thought occurs that we are being bracketed. Somewhere out in the fields and farms surrounding the isolated TAC is an insurgent watching where the rounds land, and calling adjustments back to the mortar team.


Ignoring the next explosion, I do another visual check of the area. I can see no soldiers outside cover. Finally satisfied, I edge away from the window and sit down on the marble floors with my back against the tan stucco wall.

I begin to count the sharp, quick, explosions in my head. They come rapidly, one after the other. One… Two… Three… Four…

With a thunderous roar, the fifth round hits the other side of the wall I have taken cover behind. The wall shakes and the dirty glass window rattles in its frame and threatens to crack. The sandbags lining the windows shift, and a cloud of choking dust rises from the neatly stacked green burlap bags.

That was close.

The silence outside is deafening.

Glancing at my watch, I realize that it was all over within a few seconds- from start to finish.

It felt like an eternity.

Silently counting another ten heartbeats, I can hear the soldiers outside begin to shout at one another. Team leaders are getting accountability of their teams, and Squad leaders are getting accountability of their squads.

Clambering to my feet, I grab my rifle and walk outside into the heat to check on my platoon.

It is a good day. No casualties.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

American Graffiti

The dirt road cuts between two farms, dividing the fields of pale green scrub brush and tall willowy palms. On other side of the road, deep canals run north to south, the murky water slowly filtering through the muddy silt and reeds. A yellow brick wall borders the north side of the road, defining the property line of one of the small farms and curving outward to match the run of the road.

On the yellow brick wall, the black spray-painted scrawl in Arabic seems to shimmer in the afternoon heat.

I turn to my interpreter, who is standing next to me with his hands on his hips.

“Spider, what does this graffiti say?”

Spider looks around briefly and then pulls his mask off. His face turns thoughtful as he considers the writing.

Finally he grimaces.

“It says, ‘May Allah bless the brave warriors and martyrs that fight the Americans in Fallujah. May Allah bring death to all Americans and their lackeys.’”

Oh really.

I turn and walk a few meters to my HMMWV which is staged on the south side of the road. My gunner is pulling security, but he turns briefly to throw me a questioning glance as I lift open the heavy hatch on the rear of the HMMWV. Rooting around in the trunk of the vehicle, I toss aside bottles of water, Meals-Ready-to-Eat, and rucksacks filled with gear until I find what I am looking for.

I walk over to Spider, and hand him a black can of spray-paint.

“Give me a hand painting over this shit.”

Quickly we spray-paint black lines vertically and horizontally over the Arabic. The propaganda disappears under a thin sheen of high-gloss black spray enamel.

Stepping back and looking at my work with a critical eye, I realize that something is missing.

Turning to Spider, I give him his instructions.

Slowly, a smile forms on his face and he nods his head as he gets to work, his can of paint flashing in the setting sun while he carves out bold, black Arabic letters on the yellow wall.

Satisfied with his work, he gives me a nod, and I turn and wave my right hand in a circle above my head, giving the signal for the patrol to mount up.

As the soldiers in the patrol pull back from the road and pile into their HMMWVs, I can tell they are wondering what exactly it is that Spider has just spray-painted in Arabic on the wall.

Getting back into my vehicle, my gunner leans down thru the hatch and grins.

“Sir, what does it say?”

I can’t help but grin back.

Keying the handset for my platoon frequency, I answer the question on everybody’s mind.

“Alright guys, listen up. Just something I wanted the insurgents that wrote that shit to think about. It’s an old Iraqi saying. It says:

‘We are watching you, and you can never hide. Like the eyes-of-god, we never sleep.’

Signed, the U.S. Army.”

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Routine

The concussion from the controlled detonation sends a visible shockwave thru the air, and the flash and thick smoke quickly obscures my view down the highway. From inside my vehicle, the explosion appears in slow motion, a bright crimson flash followed by a sharp report and billowing smoke.

Wiping the stinging sweat off my face, I key the radio handset.

“This is White 2, give me your status.”

The three other vehicles in my patrol check in, letting me know that no one was hurt by the blast.

This is starting to be routine.

Unlocking the combat lock, I crack the heavy door and breathe in the air of the desert. This far outside of the city, the usual stench has dissipated and the hot, thick air smells almost fresh. With the air conditioner in the vehicle broken, the heat is especially brutal.

At times the sweat dripping into my eyes is so bad that I can hardly see.

Dismounting, I step over to the front of my vehicle and look thru my binoculars. To the east, a pile of charred rubble and trash has been scattered by the blast. On the far side of the blast, three hundred meters out, White 4 is blocking the road with his vehicle and preventing the long line of civilian traffic from approaching the IED.

This was a lucky one.

The IED was spotted by the sharp eyes of one of my drivers. How he managed to spot the artillery shell hidden in the pile of trash as we hurtled down the main supply route at 55 miles an hour is beyond me.

Shaking my head, I look thru my binoculars at the burning, scattered trash, and I try to ignore the glare of the harsh sunlight off the lens. There is a bright orange glow coming from the charred and scattered trash pile. I turn to my squad leader and hand him the binoculars.

“What do you make of it?”

He gazes thru the optics for a minute, and then hands them back to me with a shrug.

“Probably just a burning piece of trash.”

On the other side of the blast crater, I can see my team leader dismount from White 4 and begin to walk towards the blast crater accompanied by a Sergeant from EOD. I raise my right hand and wave towards the blast crater.

“Alright, let’s go do a crater analysis.”

As I move east along the road, my eyes scan the berms lining the route for any sign of a triggerman or an impending ambush. On my right, I can see that my squad leader is doing the same.

Someone has hidden the IED in the trash pile, and the insurgent waiting to detonate it might still be out there.

A sudden motion on the road ahead of me causes me to look up. The White 4 team leader and the EOD Sergeant have stopped short of the crater, and are staring at the burning piece of trash on the ground.

Then the EOD Sergeant turns and runs.

My blood running cold, I stop dead.

Ahead of me, my team leader is frantically waving us back, trying to get us to back away from the burning object.

He doesn’t need to tell me twice.

Walking rapidly backwards while observing the burning trash, I make it back to my HMMWV in half the time it had taken for us to approach the crater.

My squad leader is right behind me.

Reaching into the vehicle, I pick up the platoon handset.

“What’s going on?”

Thru the static, I hear the breathless voice of my team leader.

“Sir, you see that orange glow coming out of the trash pile?”

“Roger, the burning piece of trash?”

“Ah, Sir, that’s not a piece of trash. It is another 155 round that has cracked open and is burning. It must have been hidden underneath the one that we detonated! It scared the crap out of EOD!”

No kidding. It scared the crap out of me.

“Roger, is EOD going to blow it?”

“Yes, they are getting R2D2 up and running now. The robot is going to plant a charge on the burning round and blow it.”

Stepping back into my vehicle, I shut the heavy door behind me and engage my combat lock. Thru the three inch thick armored glass I can see the EOD Robot apply a charge to the burning artillery shell. Picking up the handset, I notify Battalion that there is going to be another controlled blast.

This is definitely starting to be routine.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Long Day

Looking thru the binoculars I can just make out the frayed black plastic garbage bag caught up in the bushes. From 50 meters, the bag looks like a normal piece of trash, the type of refuse that is scattered throughout the canals and culverts lining the roads all over Iraq.

This bag is different. It is supposed to be a bomb.

Resisting the urge to get closer for a better look, I raise the binoculars to my eyes again. If it is a bomb, it is in a perfect location to hit a vehicle leaving the main road and heading into town towards the Alamo.

I am starting to become more convinced.

Turning on my heels I walk past the HMMWV blocking the road and over to an Iraq police cruiser. In the back seat of the cruiser is an Iraqi man. He is nervous, with perspiration dripping down his face and onto his neck. The chest of his loose brown shirt is saturated, and I can tell that he is uncomfortable being in the police vehicle. He is wearing a green medical cravat around his face, hiding his identity, topped with a New York Yankees baseball cap. He is also wearing my sunglasses.

“Are you sure this is the right place?”

Spider translates, and the man emphatically nods his head.

“Yes, this is it. I saw a black plastic bag and wires. There was a radio attached to it.”

The man leans out the window and points directly at the bushes. I stare at the pale green prickly plant again and the black plastic bag caught in its leaves.

I still don’t see anything.

Not sure what to think, I shake my head. The thought crosses my mind that this guy may be setting us up for an ambush.

It has been known to happen.

To my right I hear a commotion. An Iraqi Policeman is shouting at a boy that has just blissfully ridden his bicycle past the cordon and right up to the black plastic bag. Hearing the shouting the boy looks confused and he dismounts from his bicycle. At first, I think that the Iraqi Policeman is telling the boy to move away from the bag. Then I realize that he is telling the boy to go look into the bushes.

I cross my fingers.

The boy shrugs his shoulders and walks casually over to the bushes. Leaning down, he studies something on the ground. He stops dead, and then hesitantly leans closer for a better look.

He turns and takes off at a run.

Even from this distance, I can tell he is as white as a sheet.

I may not be able to see the bomb, but that is good enough for me. Walking over to my vehicle, I pick up the hand-mike.

“Warrior Alamo this is Warrior 2/6, stand by for IED/UXO Report.”

“Roger Warrior 2/6, send it.”

I send up the date, time, and grid location, as well as what other little information I have. Once the report is sent, I am informed that EOD has been dispatched to my location.

It may be nothing. A piece of trash. An overactive imagination. But I have to act as if there is a bomb in the bushes.

Leaning into the HMMWV I grab a bottle of Gatorade from the cooler. It is lukewarm. Twisting the top off, I begin to turn towards Spider to ask him a question.

The bomb detonates with a tremendous thundering roll and a violent surge of dust and debris.

A shower of dirt rains down, and I feel something hot down the back of my neck. The mushroom cloud of dust rises several stories in the air, and the blast wave shakes the vehicle. Jagged chunks of twisted steel, warped from the heat of the explosion rain down on the road. On the far side of the explosion, White 4 disappears in the cloud of dust and dirt.

That was close.

My stomach twisting for White 4, I turn and grab the handset.

“Is everyone okay!?”

“White 4 okay!”

“White 2 okay!”

I exhale a breath that I had not realized I was holding. No damage and no injuries.

I quickly notify battalion that the suspected IED has in fact exploded, and that it was triggered by someone other than us. Whoever he was, he must have realized that we had discovered the bomb and got tired of waiting for us to approach.

So he blew it.

“Did anyone see a triggerman!?”

Thru bad static I faintly hear the voice of the gunner of White 2. He is shouting excitedly into the radio handset.

“Sir! I see a guy about a half-mile down the road! Just after the explosion he left that berm on the north and is walking to a vehicle! It’s a gray hatchback with a roof-rack!”

“Roger, White 2, go get ‘em.”

White 2 peels off from its position and starts barreling down the road to the west. In the distance, I hear warning shots from White 2 as he attempts to clear a path to the suspected insurgent. The Iraqis on the road, too spooked from the explosion, refuse to move their cars quickly, and the path to the hatchback is blocked. With frustration and anger in his voice, White 2 reports that the hatchback has gotten away.

“Roger White 2, we will stand by for EOD.”

Standing above the crater looking down, I am amazed at how massive it is.

Five feet deep and eleven feet long.

Jumping down into it, I level my hand and measure its height. It comes up to my chest. According to EOD, the bomb was multiple 155 Howitzer shells buried into the side of the roadway.

The Iraqi man with the Yankees baseball cap has definitely saved someone’s life.

It is dusk, and I can make out the moon and the stars as we are get ready to leave the blast site. EOD has already left, and in the growing darkness my men are doing final sweeps to ensure that we have checked everything before we leave and return to the Alamo.

“Sir, this is White 2, I think I found something!”

The radio blasts with the sound of my gunners excited voice.

“What have you got White 2?”

“I think its some kind of rocket! It’s a big metal tube and it looks like it has fins!”

It doesn’t sound like we are leaving yet.

“Alright White 2, where is it?”

“Ah, Sir, it is on the north side of the road. I got out of the vehicle to take a piss, and just as I was pissing I was saying to myself ‘wouldn’t it be fucked up if I was pissing on an IED’ and then I looked down, and no shit, there was a rocket! I was pissing on the rocket!”

Despite myself, I can’t help but smile.

“Okay White 2, you did a good job, drop a chem-light to mark the site and pull back another hundred meters, I will call EOD back.”

Down the road in the dark I see a green chem-light flash into existence and drop to the center of the road. White 2 pulls off another hundred meters and stages, blocking traffic until EOD arrives… again.

The EOD Sergeant pulls back from the computer screen. There, clearly revealed by the robots camera and lights, is a metal cylinder with three short triangular fins. The robot is motionless in the darkness, crouching over the rocket like a steel grasshopper on its miniature tank treads as it allows the EOD Sergeant to see thru its eyes from a safe distance.

It is like watching R2D2 go to work.

Smiling, the EOD Sergeant turns to me.

“That is a Surface to Air missile. It is probably Russian, although it appears to be only one stage of the rocket. We are going to blow it in place.”

The Sergeant cocks his head to one side and smiles again, “Unless you would want to do it?”

Crouching on the side of the road I pull the adhesive off of three blocks of C4 plastic explosive. Three hundred meters to the east and west, traffic has been stopped on the road, the cars waiting silently in the darkness. It is just the EOD Sergeant and myself in the dark stretch of road next to the rocket. His vehicle is parked behind me, its engine running for a quick getaway.

Once I trigger the fuse, we will have less than 45 seconds to get away before it blows.

Gently I lay the blocks of C4 along the length of the rocket, overlapping each block by layering one on top of the other. Pushing the blocks down firmly, I insert the small, shiny blasting cap into the end of the final block, and grasping the fuse assembly attached to the end of the det cord, I nod to the EOD tech in the darkness.

He nods back.

“Fire in the Hole! Fire in the Hole! Fire in the Hole!”

With a twist of my finger I push down, turn, and then pull the fuse back out. Immediately a thin wisp of white smoke begins to emit from the charge.

45 seconds.

I haul ass.

Jumping into the EOD vehicle, the driver guns the engine and we shoot off down the road to the eastern cordon of vehicles. Reaching a safe distane, I dismount as quickly as I can. Walking around to the front of the vehicle, I turn to watch the coming blast.

And then it blows.

With a spectacular fiery flash and a thunderous report, the rocket is blown into pieces. In the darkness, the dust cloud is much harder to make out, but the flash and report are far greater.

Propelled by the explosion, fragments of steel, concrete, and rocks, are propelled outward in all directions.

I am hit.

I feel a sharp blow to my abdomen below my body armor, just as my mind registers the blast. The blow doubles me over, and knocks me back on my feet.

I don’t want to look.

Gingerly reaching down I feel for wetness, for the sign that I am cut and bleeding. I close my eyes and check for pain.


Breathing a sigh of relief, I open my eyes. Turning to the worried EOD Sergeant who is standing next to me, my eyes meet his. He has seen me knocked backwards and doubled over by the blast.

“Hey Sergeant, would you have a look?”

Bending, the Sergeant pulls out his white surefire flashlight and inspects my uniform. He reaches his hand out and feels for any wetness, just as I had done.


Straightening, he looks relieved. “Sir, I think your okay. You must have been hit by a rock or a piece of pavement projected by the blast. If it was a piece of shrapnel, it would have cut you. You will probably have a bad bruise. That’s all.”

Inwardly, I breathe another sigh of relief and start to laugh.

I can’t help it. It has been a long day.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Good Boy

The brutal heat fades as the afternoon begins its slow descent into dusk. Over the crumbling rooftops the sky has turned a pale orange, gently blending into an even paler blue. In this impoverished section of town, the evening air is filled with the sound of barking dogs and the smells of spiced lamb and baking bread. Dirty, barefoot children, curious at the presence of soldiers, stop their play and watch with wide smiles. Young men squat in small groups in front of houses, smoking cheap cigarettes and trading on the local gossip. As the patrol walks by, the men stop talking and watch, taking long drags on their cigarettes.

It makes me miss home.

He stands out front of his yellow brick home in the Shia neighborhood of town. It is a 15 minute walk south of the Alamo, thru neighborhoods of dirt lanes, streams of raw sewage, and fields of rubble. It is a well-constructed home of yellow brick, in better condition than the surrounding buildings.

He is obviously a proud man.

He stands tall and straight, his large frame filling out a long flowing white linen robe. His broad, frank, weather-beaten face is partially hidden by a thick black beard, and his arms are clasped behind his back.

“Marhaba,” I smile and touch my chest in the traditional symbol of greeting.

He smiles back, revealing fine white teeth, and touches his own arm to his chest.

He has no hands.

Both of his hands are cut off before the wrist, ending in jagged stumps. Looking closer, I realize that he is missing half of his right ear, and beneath the folds of his robe, I can see long thing scars on his chest, as if he had been whipped and the wounds had badly healed.

To cover my surprise, I turn to my translator.

“Max, tell him that I am LT Adam, and that I understand that he has found something he thinks is a bomb.”

In my peripheral vision, I can see that the soldiers from the patrol are securing and cordoning off the area, keeping away curious onlookers.

Max the translator looks like a highwayman. A scarf tied around his face reveals only his dark brooding eyes. Max nods his head at my request and introduces me.

“Yes, he has found something.”

Turning, the man points to a spot on the ground ten feet in front of his house.

I glance over in that direction and stop dead. It looks like a grenade.

The squad leader standing next to me swears softly under his breath. Together we inch forward and take a closer look.

It is definitely a grenade.

And worse, the safety pin and spoon are gone.

My squad leader and I back off, and I snatch the radio from my startled RTO.

“Alright everyone back off another 20m, there is a pineapple grenade on the ground over here.”

I turn back to the man and motion him a little further away from the grenade.

“How did it come to be in front of his house? Did anyone throw it at his house?”

Max translates rapidly.

“Yes, someone threw it at his house. A terrorist threw it. His son found it and thought it was a rock and he brought it inside the house.”

With the reddened stumps of his arms, the man takes out a cigarette from his front shirt pocket and leans down down. Behind him a small boy emerges holding a bic lighter, and a white curl of smoke rises gently as the young boy diligently holds the flame to the cigarette.

The boy, neatly dressed in a pair of trousers and a red t-shirt is maybe four or five years old. He is wearing brown sandals, and is one of the first children I have seen of that age to be wearing footwear.

The man takes a drag on the cigarette and continues.

“He took it from his son and threw it outside the house, he knows it is a grenade from when he was in Saddam’s Army.”

I smile at the boy. He stands quietly behind his father and does not smile back.

“Well why would terrorist want to throw a grenade at him? Does he know why anyone would want to kill him?”

As the man answers a change seems to come over him. It is as if his light brown eyes are filled with an inner light. He grows animated, and manages to somehow stand even taller and straighter than before.

“They try to kill me because I do not fear them. I do not fear the terrorists. They cannot make me bow to them, and I tell them that. I tell everyone that. If they come here, I will fight them. They cannot take my life away.”

Max translates passionately, his voice matching the tone of the man.

With a gesture, he waves his right stump expansively over his house and his son.

It dawns on me where he might have gotten his wounds.

Saadam was not known for tolerating free spirits.

“Max, tell him that we will call EOD and get the grenade disposed of. Until then, please ask him to keep people away from it.”

The man listens to Max intently and then nods his head.

“He swears he will keep everyone away. He will guard it himself until they come to dispose of it.”

Gratefully I nod my head. “Max, thank him and ask him for some I.D. so we know how to reach him if we need him.”

With a word, the boy runs inside the house and returns with his fathers I.D. His father takes the small plastic card from the waiting boy. Holding it between his two stumps, he hands it to me.

It is not a regular I.D. It is from an organization that I have never heard of before.

Above his photo and his name reads “Humanitarian Association of Victims of Genocide of the Saddam Hussein Regime.”

My suspicions about his injuries are confirmed.

I hand him his card back, unconsciously holding it vertically so that it is easier to grasp between his two stumps. He deftly seizes the card and tucks it away into the left breast pocket of his robe.

“Please tell him that we will do all we can to capture or kill the terrorists that threw the grenade at his house and tried to harm his family.”

At this, the man’s voice drops into a low growl, and I am struck by how formidable the scarred, disfigured man is.

“They will not harm my family. They will try and I will kill them. I am not afraid of them. My family is not afraid of them. My son is not afraid of them.”

His son, standing in the shadows of the fading light is listening intently to his fathers reply. As his father speaks, the boy stands a little straighter and a little taller.

The father, noticing this, stops speaking Arabic and turns to look at his son.

And then he surprises me.

“Good boy,” he says in almost perfect English, flashing his son a proud smile.

The small brown boy, standing quietly, smiles bravely back.
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