In his own words…

Laura Wong

April 1st, 2004

Spent last week at Camp Freedom, an oasis in a land of chaos.
Situated in the Northern part of Mosul upon some highlands, Camp
Freedom consists of a former presidential compound with numerous
palace-like buildings.

The Eagle Inn downstairs was our morning haven with Arabian
coffee and halfway-decent food. A nice large TV was situated at one
end of the room and large windows on both sides of the room with
painted murals on them. For the most part European MTV was
televised. Those people have some interesting taste in music.

Yesterday we loaded our gear onto the vehicles and drove through
Mosul to Camp Diamondback. The trip itself was only about 10 miles
in length but took us through an unfriendly part of town, so
unfriendly that someone began taking pop shots at us. We
couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of the shooters (being)
surrounded by civilians. Fortunately, no one was hit.

At 05:00 the next day we awake to leave at 06:00 to be at the
brief .25 miles away at 07:00. The route took us 30 km south, 20
west then another 60 to the northwest taking us to the north of a
city known as Tel Afar. The land was relatively flat rolling
terrain with fields of green grasses and small towns dispersed here
and there. It was like looking back in time.

The two primary means of living appear to be sheep raising and
farming. Tel Afar possesses a huge grain collection facility
although I doubt its still being used. Tel Afar is not what one
would call a clean town. Like Baghdad, there is garbage everywhere
and half fallen mud brick buildings dominate the scene. The
numerous children along the roads waving as we passed by gave us
some reassurance. Most attacks don’t occur while children are
about. Many were begging for food in which we had none to give. Our
final destination was an airfield 10 km south of the city. (There
was) a small collection of tents and conexes alongside the aircraft
in the middle of a sea of flat green grass land.

As far as personal living space, this is the best we’ve
had. Stimson, Thomas, Collins and I are in a four-man conex with
windows, air conditioning, lights and wall lockers. We have a nice
10×6 foot space to call our own. The chow is outstanding and there
are many amenities including a Haji mart and small shopette. At
presesnt Henry and Stimpy are still in Mosul. They will link up
with us tomorrow. Tonight their mission is to fly over our area of
interest and check out the terrain. Hopefully they will be able to
hash out a good plan for the upcoming missions. Today was an
exhausting day, the fourth time we’ve moved with all our
equipment. After this we should all go into the moving
business.

 

With a thick layer of “gray rotting paste” on the
wall and the remains of people surrounding the room, Chris
Henry’s living quarters in Abu Gahrayb, Iraq, were in a
former death camp that one of Saddam Hussein’s sons used as a
torture chamber.

“There are permanent blood stains on the floor where he
would hang people from meat hooks,” said Henry, a University
student who is currently stationed in Iraq. Fortunately, Henry has
since moved on to more humane living conditions, but much still
needs to be improved in the country as a whole.

More than a year into the war in Iraq, 681 U.S soldiers have
died with April being the second highest month in number of deaths
since the war began. Casualties for Iraqi civilians have been even
higher, estimated at about 10,000, an uncertain number because
deaths are often not reported. “My mother was of course
beside herself (when I left),” said Henry, who has been in
Iraq for eight weeks and corresponded through e-mail with The
Michigan Daily. “The possibility of not coming back is always
in the back of your mind.”

 

Call to Action

It was during a weekend drill last October when Henry, then a
senior at the University, first learned that his National Guard
unit would be leaving for Iraq. He said he experienced the expected
feelings of elation and fear that came with the announcement, but
along with those was a more eager emotion. Henry compares it to the
situation of a benchwarmer. “For years you practice and train
through the worst conditions and suffer pain and discomfort but
never get to play in a game. Now was our chance.”

The opportunity was long in the making. With two years left to
finish an undergraduate degree at Rochester College, no money to
further his education, and a long-time dream of attending the
University, Henry saw the U.S. Army — and the $40,000 it
offers for college tuition — as a solution to his problems.
Following a tradition of most males in his family, Henry enlisted
in 1997 and began his training as a soldier. His instruction
focused on the paratroop infantry which is trained to jump from an
aircraft and safely reach the ground. “(Basically), I am paid
extra to jump out of an airplane,” and land on fields to
engage the enemy, he said.

Henry went on to serve active duty in Alaska for more than four
years, after which he said he wanted to return to college to finish
an undergraduate degree and pursue medicine. He joined the Michigan
National Guard to continue his military career and began attending
the University. He had just begun his final year of college when he
was called up for duty last fall.

 

The Trenches

Henry, along with his unit, arrived in Balad, Iraq — a
city north of Baghdad — on a cold morning in February. The
new arrivals were anxious about their surroundings.

“We were of course jumpy and expecting to be attacked
right there on the airfield,” Henry recalled. “Those
that were helping us and had been there (longer) simply told us to
relax.

Belonging to a combat arms unit — made up of soldiers who
are physically and mentally capable to “seek out and destroy
the enemy” — Henry’s missions often involve what
he calls “spying on the bad guys.” This means sneaking
into an Iraqi farm field, digging a hole, hiding out in it for a
few days and then reporting anything he sees when he returns to his
ranks.

Outside of his missions, Henry has had some positive experiences
with Iraqis, especially those in the north who he says
haven’t been as affected by the war. “(I’ve
spent) many nights playing soccer with a group of Iraqis who lived
nearby. … The average Iraqi has some pretty good foot
skills.” He also noted the hospitality of many Iraqis.
“If a farmer in the United States is walking along his fields
and all of a sudden six guys armed to the teeth pop out of the
ground, he typically wouldn’t go get all of his neighbors and
invite the soldiers over for tea and dinner. Well that’s what
the country folk here are like,” he said.

But Henry’s brief experience in the city of Fallujah
exposed him to a different side of the population. Ending up there
because of a wrong turn, his unit came across a traffic cop who was
shocked to see them passing through the city in the middle of the
day. “He (just) shook his finger at us and said, ‘Not
smart,’ ” Henry said.

What the officer was referring to was the small-scale resistance
Henry saw next. “Little kids lining the road would gesture as
if aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at us or give us the
finger,” he remembered. Henry concludes that these two
different experiences prove how different the people of Iraq are,
and that the entire population cannot be generalized to having one
unified opinion about the war.

Although Henry said nothing specific about being in a violent
situation — security reasons prevented him from disclosing
specific information — he said one of the men in his unit had
a frighteningly close encounter with mortar shells. It was during
one of their days in Abu Gahrayb, when mortars began to fall some
distance away, far away enough so that no one was alarmed. Shortly
afterward though, three mortars fell within 100 meters of their
living area, near the latrine.

A member of Henry’s unit happened to be there at the time.
Thankfully, a wall of sand bags stood between the soldier and the
shrapnel — the hot metal part of the projectile that
“can tear you to shreds,” Henry explained. “Soon
after the soldier came running in soaked to the bone and sputtering
in what was coined genuine Mortarish,” he said, referring to
the language one speaks after “almost being blown up.”
Apparently, the mortar had hit a water tank next to where the
soldier had been standing, drenching him with water. “All we
could do was laugh at his sorry state,” Henry said.

The frustrations and hard times that come with being at war in a
foreign country have been easier for Henry because of the men in
his unit whom he calls a close-knit group of friends. “They
aren’t kidding when they say that in the end it’s only
the guy to your left and right that matters and whom you can count
on,” he said.

 

In the Face of Opposition

Last month, 2,500 anti-war protesters marched through Ann Arbor
calling for an end to the war in Iraq. Coming from one of the more
liberal campuses in the United States, Henry may find opposition
among his peers when he returns. But Henry seems unfazed by the
possibility. “Oddly enough (anti-war protestors) give me a
good feeling. (They) let me know that in America people can freely
voice their opinion to the masses and the government and let their
views be heard.” He said he also believes that there are many
out there who support the war. “This is by no means another
Vietnam,” he said.

The thing that really bothers Henry is what he calls the
Democratic Party’s attempt at using the war to divide
Americans and gain more votes – something he believes results
in the lowering of troop morale. “If (they) persist in using
the American soldiers’ lives as pawns for their own political
agenda they will be sorely distressed in the end,” he
said.

Regardless of what the liberals may think, Henry, a
self-proclaimed “conservative heathen” said he supports
President Bush in “liberating this country.”

“I do feel that we will make a difference. I hope
earnestly that the Iraqi people can govern their own people soon.
Once that happens I feel that major progress can be
achieved.”

 

Click
“http://www.michigandaily.com/pages/pdf/2004-04-16ffocus.pdf”>here
to view the pdf version of this article (requires Acrobat
Reader)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *