Among the pages of captioned color photographs from my 2003 deployment is one that sticks out. There’s a woman in uniform, not unlike every other picture I have of persons in Iraq. But then there’s this guy. He has no BDU t-shirt or DCU pants; he’s in a white cotton button up with rolled sleeves and blue jeans. He’s sitting on a dusty cot next to our tent, his arms out, his lips pursed mid-sentence, and he’s smiling. He’s holding a shawarma wrapped in plastic he’s brought from his home to give us a break from MREs under our camouflage netting-covered “porch” where we shared lunch every day.
Muhammad was our translator. His father and uncle had been killed by the defeated regime, and he was supporting his siblings and cousins with the $10/day and MREs the Army gave him in exchange for helping us communicate with the guys making $1/day who filled sand bags and cleaned our outhouse or the guys stuffing canisters with mortars trying to kill us. Muhammad was important.
Most of the soldiers assigned to the area stayed away from the young Iraqi, but I found him fascinating. I learned how he was taken off by henchmen for being too sick to stand when one of Saddam Hussein’s sons passed on the street, but they felt sorry for him a few minutes later and tossed him out of the back seat just down the road. I’d ask him the questions I was sure I wasn’t supposed to ask, like about Islam, terrorism, and the chemical weapons drums we’d found not far away.
During one of our many shared meals, I asked him this:
Me: Are you glad we’re here? I mean. Look at your country. It’s practically destroyed.
Him: Yes, but is good.
Him: Once we were afraid. Now we have courage. Once we were weak, but now we are strong.
That conversation helped me keep my head up for the months that followed while in country in ’03, the years that followed when everyone on TV spoke of the invasion’s being in vain, and the months comprising my second trip to Iraq in ’07. An Emancipation Proclamation it was not, but it was the motivation I needed to feel good about the time I spent away from home, a family, and the semblance of normalcy a life here gives in comparison.
Last summer, I went to Washington for a week of annual training in the form of 8 hours a day of briefings and powerpoint slides. At one of the morning breaks, I approached a Major who’d mentioned during one of the talks that he’d been to Camp Anaconda in 2003.
Me: You were there in ’03?
Him: Yeah. You been there too?
Me: I have…got there in May ’03 after a couple months in Kuwait. When did you arrive?
Him: Summer…late July or early August.
Me: Holy shit…are you from Texas?
Him: Yeah, were you part of the team from Tennessee?
Me: You relieved me! Wow…I’ve never been happier to see someone as I was to see you get off the plane to signal my getting to go home.
Him: You look really different…
Me: I was 27. I had a shaved head, hadn’t started practicing law yet, and didn’t have children.
Me: Hey, was there a translator there named Muhammad? Young guy…looked sorta like a tanned Tom Cruise?
Him: Yeah, I remember Muhammad…smart kid! They, uh…they actually…killed him.
Me: What? Who?
Him: The insurgents…they found out he was helping us and…
Him: Were you…
Me: I… gotta take… (pretended cellphone was vibrating and walked outside).
And then I realized I’d never thanked him. Not for his tolerance of my nosiness; not for his sharing his food and culture with us; not for his service to our side; not for his friendship.
Thank you for your brave service to our countries, Muhammad. Happy Veterans Day.
Good thing that Muhammad didn’t see you cry. He might have kicked your sorry ass.
Happy Veteran’s Day. Wait. Veterans’ Day? Veterans Day?
@avitable, It must chafe to sleep in Anti-Christ pajamas every night.
They’re actually quite comfortable!
For all the beauty in the world, it can be such a horrible, violent, senseless cesspool as well. It’s the things like this that both give me hope… and fill me with despair… over the future of our planet. A kindness shared can change the world, however, so let’s hope it catches on.
This is probably the best Veteran’s Day (Remembrance Day in Canada) post I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for writing it.
I served at Anaconda in 2005. I will never forget the guys I escorted everyday. Thanks for your service and this story.
@keyona, Really? I had the pleasure of a trip there in ’03 and ’07. Thanks for your service as well, and I’m glad you made it back safely.
I agree with SciFi Dad – this is perfection in a post.
Thank you, Veterans, active and retired… or inactive.. or whatever the proper terms may be!
I’m sorry about Muhammad.
Thank you for your service.
Happy Veterans’ Day.
We had guys who filled sandbags and cleaned outhouses. They were called me. Does the military just hire civilians to do the unsexy work these days? Bear in mind that in my day we still had army cooks.
Thank you for sharing this.
And for the time you spent away from your family, protecting mine.
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Thank you, Muhammad AND The Muskrat.
Dude. Fabulous post. My lip is trembling.
Thank you to Muhammad, and thank you to you.
Happy Veterans Day.
Thank you for this. Far too often we don’t see beyond the attention grabbing headlines and don’t take the time to recognize the people who live through much worse every day. Happy Veterans Day.
Thank you for your service, and for this post.
This story is just awesome. I don’e mean that in the “it is cool kind” of way, I meanit int he inspiring awe kind of way.
And thanks for your service.
Well, I generally don’t comment on these types of posts because they make me all emotional. My husband went to Iraq to train iraqi soldiers and he would tell me stories of soldiers being found that would break my heart.
Thank you SO MUCH for your service. Happy Veterans Day!
This was nice. And, yes, thank you.
thank you both.
i know the words thank you aren’t enough to describe how i feel and they aren’t enough for you to hear, but they are all i have. thank you, muskrat. and thank you, muhammad. thank you so very much.
Happy Veterans Day. Thank you for serving. Thank you for sharing. Peace,
Thank you for this, my friend. And thank you for your service.
Thank you, Muskrat. Thank you, Muhammad. Thank you to all who serve our country.
Oh, shit. This post, of all the Veterans’ Day posts, made me cry. Thanks for this.
And thanks for your service, too hon!
Alright. Enough with the sucking up. Back to our regularly scheduled mutual ridicule.
This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday!
I heard similar stories from my father about Vietnam, and they really affected me and my views on the world. Thank you for sharing your story.
I agree with what’s been said here already. I read several Veteran’s Day posts this week. This one stands out. Well done.
Saying Thank You, of course, just doesn’t seem like enough.
this post was really affecting. seriously. wow.
ON A COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE NOTE:
I could use your opinion on my latest post.
cause, ya know . . . .
this was…incredible. thanks to you, father muskrat, and rest in peace, mohammad.
asking permission to share this story of Muhammad.
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