HOW HE SEES IT Tour of duty in Iraq shatters stereotypes
My tour in Ba'qubah, Iraq, is one of the most influential and important events in my life. I have learned that the Iraqi and American people have profound differences, yet we have much in common. They are much more like us than we realize.
During my year- long tour in Iraq I have learned what cruelty they had to live with under the rule of Saddam Hussein. I am very proud of my service in Iraq. I feel that American and Iraqi soldiers working together will be successful in Iraq. We have to be, for the war in Iraq is now the showdown between the West and Islamic extremism.
When I deployed, I had many stereotypical beliefs about Iraq and Arabs in general. When my unit entered Iraq I very quickly learned that these beliefs, just like any stereotypical beliefs, were wrong. I always felt that Arabs were more God-fearing than Westerners, and that they followed their religious beliefs more closely. The truth is that I have seen many incidents of severe drug abuse, especially heroin and opium. Alcoholism is common, with many addicts living in alleys and doorways. Crime is rampant. Prostitution is there, but it is hidden.
Many of the city officials, police and religious leaders were initially very corrupt. The women of Iraq have few, if any, rights. Some are westernized. They wear modern clothing, have jobs and enjoy some freedom, but most live a more traditional lifestyle and are totally subordinate to their husbands or fathers.
I found that the Iraqi people are very inquisitive about us, especially the kids. As we started to patrol the town I got to know many of them. I have found that the Iraqis are much like Americans in that most only want to live their lives and provide for their families and are law-abiding people.
I really got to know the feelings of many Iraqis when I was selected to help train the Iraqi CivilDefense Forces for the Diyala province of Iraq. When we started hiring, we found that enthusiasm was high. Some of those enlisting were former officers in the Iraqi Army. Some of them wanted the same rank they held in the old army and were upset when they found that we would screen them for any ties to the Republican Guard and turn away those who were corrupt or inept.
Those Iraqis enlisting as privates were very motivated. Initially we issued them captured equipment from the Iraqi army, but as time went on we began to issue them much more modern equipment. We trained them as well as we could, given the limited time that we had. During the training, I would try to talk to the new recruits as much as I could.
As I got to know these men, my opinion of them changed dramatically. Much of their behavior was just like that of American soldiers. Like American soldiers, the Iraqi soldiers were mostly married. The men from both countries would talk about their families, showing off pictures of wives and kids was very popular between our soldiers and the Iraqis. The Iraqis would also talk about what they felt was going on in the country and their hopes for the future. Many of them were optimistic. They are very thankful for the sacrifice of Americans and generally have a favorable opinion of us.
I found that they were very patriotic; most of them were proud of what they were doing and wanted to make a difference in their country. They were inexperienced and made many mistakes, but they learned quickly. As they became involved in combat operations, they showed they were brave and capable of fighting effectively. What you don't hear about much in the news is that many more of these men are being killed than American soldiers, and yet they still do their jobs.
These men are the hope for the future in Iraq. Americans must realize that not only are American soldiers fighting in Iraq, but many Iraqis are fighting and dying as well. These young men will be the force that determines the success or failure of our mission in Iraq. These are the young men who will win the war for the Iraqi people.
X SFC John D. Aaron, a graduate of Hubbard High School, has served in the United States Army for 19 years and is stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. He served in the first Gulf War and spent a year in the Sunni Triangle Iraq with the 4th ID out of Fort Hood, Texas. He was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart during his tour in Iraq.