Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2003 / 16 Kislev, 5764
Joseph L. Galloway
In Baghdad, the many different faces of war
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | BAGHDAD A whirlwind tour through a place such as this produces a kaleidoscope of images and voices, some of them contradictory, of America's newest war and those who are involved in it.
The American soldiers, 120,000 of them, are doing their usual great job in a bad place. They are upbeat and, by every account, morale is good. Gone are the 130-degree days of July and August, when water was rationed to two bottles a day and chow was two Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs), new and improved but still barely ready to eat.
The weather has turned in Iraq; days are 75-80 degrees; nights plunge into the 30s. Most soldiers now eat three hot meals a day in clean mess halls staffed and operated by contractors who have done this in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan. Portapotties have replaced the unloved six-hole latrines of memory. Bigger bases have shower points with hot water and small exchanges where a soldier can buy a tin of snuff or a candy bar or razor blades.
There are satellite phone-home booths and computers hooked up for e-mail and instant messaging with loved ones back home. Seventy percent or more of the mail is packages of good stuff from home.
These soldiers can almost see home over the horizon. For four months, beginning in late January, this army will be on the move. Those who've done their year in a hellish place get to go home, replaced by other soldiers just starting their year.
There are the faces. Young specialists; older NCOs; young lieutenants; older colonels. The grunts do their business with weapons that have evolved but are still recognizable to a Vietnam veteran. The staff people do their business with laptop computers that clog plugged in operations centers wired for CNN and BBC, with one eye on causes, the other on effects.
American brigade commanders spend more than half their time talking to Iraqis, listening to the requests and complaints of local councils and doing what they can to bring life back to places where everything from roads to schools crumbled from the neglect of four decades of Baath Party rule.
All this they do under a constant threat of death from homemade mines and AK-47s and hand grenades. The media keeps score of the numbers killed and wounded, but to those who soldier here they aren't numbers but friends and comrades.
Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of the 1st Armored Division, carries a small deck of laminated cards in his pocket. Each of the 41 cards carries a photo and a name of one of his soldiers who's died in Iraq. The back of each card carries the names of that soldier's wife and children; where they live and their street address. Those cards lend purpose to everything he does and remind him daily of the cost of war and who pays the price.
Like any war, this one has its moments.
Lt. Col. Chuck Williams of Sterling, Va., the commander of the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division, and his troopers are still shaking their heads over a recent incident at a Bradley target range they built out in the desert to keep their gunners sharp.
A troop of Bradleys was out firing on the range when over a small hill came trotting 20 lightly-armed guerrillas who inexplicably had decided to attack the American armored vehicles with their 25mm chain guns and machine guns. The gunners simply switched targets and blew away the guerillas in the blink of an eye.
Then there are the eyes of a 10-year-old Iraqi boy who was yanked, with his sisters, from the thin pads where they slept on a floor in their family home in a Baghdad suburb at 3 a.m. last week. Their father, a former Saddam secret policeman suspected of being a bomb-maker, sat blindfolded and handcuffed on a nearby curb.
The boy's large, unblinking eyes followed the comings and goings of American soldiers and military police with bomb-sniffing dogs and FBI agents searching his home. They came out with three rifles and a mortar sight and hustled his father away to jail.
The boy was silent, as commanded. There were no tears in his eyes. He just watched and stored the memories of a night when foreign soldiers kicked in the doors and left him and his sisters standing in the cold street, fatherless.
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