The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

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THE SEARCH |

October 14, 2006

THE SEARCH
Name: Adam Tiffen (AirborneJD)
Posting date: 10/14/06
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:
http://www.thereplacements.blogspot.com
Email: airbornejd115@yahoo.com

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 fist 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 beside his mother, his dark eyebrows and pale skin forming a striking contrast. Children's books and white notepads filled with 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 parents' 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 none of the rooms have 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 from a corner of the rooftop, and placing them into a pile for removal. These are the kinds of materials used to manufacture and detonate IEDs. This is exactly what 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 stone's 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 sits on top of a large cupboard, an Arabic soap opera loudly and emotionally playing out on the screen. I notice that the outfits and hairstyles look like something straight out of the 1960s.

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've 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'll go talk with the CO and let him know the search is complete." 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. 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 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.

"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 let's 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.

Comments

Acts of kindess and decency... It is what keeps us human in the worst of circumstances. Thank you for your story.

What a waste of time.

Like you can stop the tides or the insurgents !

This is an utterly heartbreaking story.

Unbearably sad.

You did the right thing. That woman and her children will always remember you as an American with compassion.

My heart goes out to you. The fact that you haven't become totally desensitized by all the madness is amazing. Thank you so much for allowing us to see the human side of the war. Maybe, one day, just maybe, if everyone had a true sense of what wars really entailed, maybe people would do more to prevent them, maybe. I want to thank you for the fact that my children and I don't have to live with the fear that that mother and her children do.
((((((FOR ALL ))))))
wishing you all a safe return, Mrs. Marten

You did the right thing; that family will always remember a compassionate American.

As a piece of writing this is beautiful and powerful. As a piece of life it is the same. Thanks for letting us read it.

Thank you for making us proud back home of your actions. You are always in my thoughts and prayers for the strength you need to carry on. This woman and those children will remember that you treated them with the dignity they deserve. Thank you.

Hey AirborneJD. Just wanted to say this was my first time in the Sandbox, first read from a soldier in Iraq, and I appreciate very much what you wrote -- very moving, very troubling. When we hear it's a "tough job" over there, I don't know that we think in terms of what you were feeling for that arrestee's wife and kids -- and for him, too, to your everlasting credit...It's messed up that a lot of good people are in such a bad way. All the best.

Even though our leaders seem to have forgotten our nation's ethical foundation, thankfully, you remember. We are a nation of laws and justice. Your compassion gives me hope. Thank you.

Thank you for doing the right thing. Your kindness will always be remembered by that family and those of us lucky enough to read this.

Outstanding writing. Thank you for your good work there, your compassion and humanity. When this is all over, you have a career ahead of you as a writer.

Always maintain your sense of what is the right thing to do and you'll be okay. Stay safe...

Thank you for telling your story, and doing your best to be a civilized human. I hope the man taken into custody is treated with the same respect, no matter what. Because if he isn't, the good that you have done will slip away. Thanks again and good luck!

All we can do is face the challenges in out own lives with all the dignity and honour we can muster. It was a privilege to read this.

Hooah!!! You bring honor and dignity to you, your unit and our country. Stay safe and be smart.

I am so sorry you have to go through this. And I'm so sorry for that family and others like them in Iraq. This is just heartbreaking.

Compassion, decency, and honor have been virtually extinguished in Washington. While I knew that they have not in our armed forces, I thank you for confirming it once again.

Amazing story... thank you for posting it. I can't help but think that somewhere in Baghdad or Ramadi or some other town some IED is waiting to be used that, perhaps, was made by those wires and, perhaps, that man. The implications of this story are profound... again thank you for your willingness and ability to put it into words for us.

Your story is about what is wrong with war. The wrong people suffer. Including you and your men. Thank you for being kind when you could have been otherwise, and for making the reality of this war come home. Stay safe and come home well.

Keep on Keeping on. You are doing the best you can, which is all that we would expect. Hold your head high, not literally, and come home safe.

AirborneJD, you have a way with words. Please tell us more.

Airborne JD, do you have a blog? You are an amazing writer. Can't wait to read more........... You need to write more often!!!!!!

You have a gift for writing. I was transported there as if a ghost observing, but not truly experiencing the complete sensory overload that you were. Give us more stories that make us stop, think, feel and know what you encounter in your day-to-day operations. You obviously have a talent for telling your stories.

Thanks for your compassion, and for humanizing the situation. I think the public forgets that mothers and children get swept up in all of this, too...

Thank you for your story, and thank you for being an honorable man. God's Peace.

What can you say? Except that Bush & Co ought to read and digest what these men have to go through every day. So many innocent lives on all sides destroyed by incompetant wealthy and protected politicians.

Your story proves my theory that there are still human beings in the military and not all of them are brainwashed drones wearing a uniform.

Wow! Amazing story.. do you have a blog page? If not start one up, would love to read more! My heart is with you and your fellow soldiers! God Bless

Too bad they use copper wire and spools of wire to hang up their laundry and other items around the house. Just because they have wire and documents you can't read doesn't mean they are insurgents. Those are mistakes we made in OIF 1...lessons that should have been passed down. Now we flood our legal system with Iraqi men that don't need to be there. Have you considered what is in our garages in the US? A lot of stuff that can be used to make an IED...does it mean we should be arrested?

Tell your S2 to get up to speed with what real bad guys do.

You are a very sweet soldier, thank you for taking the time to write this so we can read it and thank you for being so kind to the woman and her children. I will pray for your safe return to your family.

It takes real courage to look into another's face, especially the "enemy", and see a human being staring back at you. You are a hero - not because you saved the day Rambo style, but because you did what you could to save hearts of strangers. Bless you.

Thank you for sharing your experience in such delicious detail.

Thank you for being such a decent man and not an animal. Your kindness and compassion under the circumstances will not be forgotten. God bless you sir and be safe.

Wow...that was extremly moving. I had no idea that you would have to do anything in that nature and then have all of those emotions attached to it. I applaud you for at least trying to make things a little better for that mother. Nice to see a man stand up for a woman and her children. Thank you for sharing your story. She will remember you for your random act of kindness. I wish you a safe return. Patti

You honor all Americans with your actions. I wish the media would pick up on these missions, instead of a death numbers daily. That matters too, but I and many more want to know daily operations and what is really being done to bring and end to this war.

That was a great read, good work man, sounds like things haven't changed much. "Get after it!"
-from a former third brigade Panther

I've read your story over and over...thank you for serving your country in so many ways!!! Don't give up believing that the leadership and the people of this country care deeply about you, honor greatly who and what you are, and prayerfully long for your safe return home to America! This country is 'divided' because most people don't know people like you. America is great and is worth the fight against terror. I pray for you, your squad, your family at home!!!

Thank you for allowing us back home realize how lucky we are to be an American. And thank you for your kindness to the mother and her children. Very well written, you may want to write a book when you return home. I read and American Soldier and an Iraqi Boy, a wonderful story!

Your compassion and concern is truely what our country was founded upon. Your actions with this family have not only made your family proud but also your nation. No one knows the many different facets of war unless your a soldier, thank you for your service, courage, compassion and decency amid the hell you face. God speed soldier, the nation prays for your safe return

I don't even really know how to put my feelings in words about your blog. In a way I am saddened by everything that you guys are having to go thru over there, but at the same time I support everything you guys are doing. I'm glad to see that you haven't allowed the brutality of the situation to steal your compassion. You know what your job is and what you have to do, but at the same time you're sympathetic to the needs of the people and the emotions they are experiencing. Keep up the good work.

Very well written. Glad to get glimpses of that true american spirit in the midst of all the chaos.

Hope to read more from you.
Thanks
DT

You carried out your duties in a very professional and compassionate way - we're all very proud of you.

Considering the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was probably beyond a mistake I can only hope that most Iraqis come away with the same impression of Americans.

Keep on showing them who America REALLY is.

I happened on this blog by accident and just got curious. Yours would be the first I have read. I cried. Not only for the mother but for you and your team. I'm so sheltered in my small Oklahoma town. At the age of 34 you would think I would know more about the war. But I don't. When I read your story, all I could think about was that you are one of the guys out there protecting me and my son so that when he grows up he'll have abundant opportunites and freedom of life. I'm at a loss for words so all I know to say at this time is Thank You. Cindy

Thank you for letting us know that we Americans are a kind and compassionate people even when all around you the opposite is being shown.God Bless you and your company for your humanity to others.

I stumbled on the Sandbox today. And I realized how I don't have a Clue. Keep blogging so people like myself will learn what was is, instead of seeing it by the news or politicians or just peoples opinions. Send the facts and open eyes. Thank-you & Bless you, Deborah

Thank you so much for sharing this poignant story. Your empathy towards the woman and her children is an example that good people are fighting a bad war. May God keep you and your fellow soldiers safe, good luck.

Thanks for sharing the story. I hate you have to be there...all of you. Take care and come home safe!
Les

You are amazing, the story you wrote took me there with you and how hard it is to know who you can trust. You were civilized and very professional, also compassionate. When this is all over, at least some people have will have good memories of our troops over there fighting for their freedom and ours.
God Bless you!

Valerie, the link to his blog is at the top of the article. I was amazed that this post is actually from July 24, 2005.

I don't know what you did before the war or what you intended to do after, but I really think you should consider writing. I have never read such a thing on this internet so worth reading, you have a way of painting a picture which too few writers have. I feel like I was right there when it was happening and could see the woman and children standing there. You created the most fantastic and real picture with your words...here's hoping someday I read one of your published works!...I will be sure to give it a good review!

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