FEBRUARY 27TH |
March 09, 2007
Name: American Soldier
Posting date: 3/9/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: www.soldierlife.com
Most soldiers will tell you that the things they see during the war stay in the war. They experience it and deal with it at a later time. Well that time has come for me. February 27th.
Let me take you back to a year ago. An irrelevant city, a nameless street and a small home where a little girl and her mother lived. I never did see the father during my many trips past this home. I often wondered where he was -- dead, divorced, who knows. I’d have my gunner hand out extra candy whenever we’d pass. The child looked like my own daughter. Dark wavy hair, charcoal eyes and tan skin. She always had a smile, and waved while the boys tried to look tough. She would giggle and laugh at us. It brought a piece of home to me during the long nights on patrol or the early morning stroll.
We all had ways to deal with our tour. For me it came to be about seeing the future of Iraq.These children loved us and we appreciated it. However, this was not meant to be a happy story. This is reality in a war. And for me reality came crashing down.
We were heading out for a patrol and were doing our morning checks in different parts of the city, always keeping on a different path and being random, to avoid any trouble. This doesn't always work, because someone can just wait and sooner or later they will hit you. We all get blown up. That is just the fact of war and patrolling outside the wire.
As we neared the house of the little girl we saw a bleak front yard. A few pottery planters, a metal grate door and a white stone fence, and of course dirt. There was a makeshift soccer field adjacent -- not a soccer field by Western standards, but these local kids would kick balls on it and play tag. I looked across and saw the little girl running back to her house. I was in the lead vehicle and radioed back to my trail vehicle to look out for kids running across the road. Watching the side of the roads for IEDs is tough enough, let alone when you have children running, without warning, in front of you.
She was running and waving and had that beautiful smile. Just like any child happy in their own little world. A smile came across my rough face and I blinked my eyes and looked forward again. Our vehicle is passing by. The sun reveals itself in my window and I squint. The stinging of sweat in my eyes irritates them. I rub my eyes and look in my rearview mirror and I lean forward.
The spiraling trail smoke from a rocket. It is flying towards where my vehicle has just passed. With a thunderous boom it explodes. My face, half-smile fading, goes into war mode. My trail vehicle takes evasive action, going around where the rocket had impacted. My driver speeds up and we get ourselves in a better fighting posture. We drive around a corner and to try and identify the culprit, but like most times he fades into the shadows. We go back to check out the area and my heart stops. The smiling face, the peaceful bliss and the innocent child, now on the ground.
Her mother had run to her, and was now crouched down beside her. She lifted her up and was crying at us, damning us with a language I could not understand. As we approached the house we came under small arms fire and had to move out of the area fast. We could not go back to check on her but we found out the result later on. That area became empty to me. No more smiling face, no more innocence. It was taken away and I was a part of that. A burden I live with to this day.
I look back at it and it really hurts me inside. Something in my heart died that day. I can deal with seeing bad guys blown apart or hurt, but not children. It breaks me, and goes deeper than any other pain.
Later that day I was involved in a situation that earned me a Purple Heart. But the date is not seared into my brain due to the medal, but due to the loss of a child. I look at the medal and that is what I remember. The grind of battle wears on the toughest of men. The experience is stored away until various anniversary days come and go. February 27th is one of my dates.