In 1991 it was back to the Soviet Union but not through boxes of propaganda material and books. It is now the Soviet Union, the USSR for real. It is August 1991. The time is Glasnost. I tell you opportunity does knock. You just have to see it for what it is. I took these opportunities not knowing at the time how much they would impact me and my future development nor the impact it would have in writing this book.
My first offer even to go to Thailand, I said no. I had a great job and I didn’t even know where Thailand was! Then the potential to go to the Soviet Union was met by lots of fears and obstacles. This was a scientific envoy to the Soviet Union in 1991 sponsored by the U.S. Ambassador Program jointly with State Department the National Science Foundation and Soviet Ministries. This was part of US/Soviet time of glasnost in USSR with Mikael Gorbachev as its leader. It was still very much a communist regime. We were to meet with various Ministries and industries and provide guidance and technologies to our various counterparts on what worked in U.S, access and funding. Me working for the U.S Navy at the time led to some difficulties as to whether I would even be allowed to go, funded or allowed in by the Soviets.
This experience forced me to reflect on my days with Rockwell International at the Science Center and Technology Group where groups of Chinese and Japanese scientists were invited in to take notes and photograph our new developments and technology. I was very young and probably naïve but still had to sign security agreements etc. to be employed by Rockwell as a scientist. I am thinking back then on what are we (the U.S.) doing? This is crazy. I am not even supposed to talk about this stuff outside of work and directors have Asians photographing and picking our brains? That was early 1980s.That is another story but thought it fits to what is happening (and has been for years) now in this country. The stealing of our intellectual property and here, in this case, we were pretty much giving it away, especially to a Communist Country like China.
The Soviet Union’s tough beginning to open up was not the friendliness place on earth. There were some terrifying times and I am sure more so for the Russians during this time of unrest. Our envoy was accompanied by KGB types wherever we went, including our hotels and all site visits.
We visited all ministries and met with their directors and scientists. Our counterparts were very open and willing to talk which surprised me. The KGB (the name was changing during Gorbachev’s and Yeltsin’s time) agents were not invited into their homes as we were. They discussed the long lines waiting for food stuffs and clothing and shoes if it was even available. They reported that possibly four pairs of shoes would be available and people would wait on line all day until one showed up where one of the pairs actually fit someone. I asked why don’t they just tell people the sizes available. He just smiled at me. We visited the famous Gump Department store and it was totally empty, it looked like a ghost store. One could imagine it had once been glorious as I am sure it is today. All curved ceiling glass that reached to the skies, as though a magnificent greenhouse but supposedly its purpose to sell goods not plants. That has all since changed.
Our colleagues would sometimes invite us to dinner which was a major imposition on them as no one had access to food. They had to wait in lines like all others. As government employees they probably had some standing but not much we were told. So, they were taking food from their own stores. That provided a great deal of insight into what had occurred through Communism. They would tell us that there are no competitors for jobs like we have U.S. No one is left alive. All educated people were eliminated, and only a few survived. They were disappeared into Gulags or outright killed if you were from an educated class by Stalin and then Lenin. These two dictators killed more people than any wars of our times. I was told ‘you (in U.S.) have many scientists and engineers competing for positions in academia, industry, government etc. We have none. When you ask about environmental laws and regulations we laugh, not to be rude but to tell you reality as we have probably more rules and regulations than the US. However, there is no enforcement of them and if there were, someone would just pay them off with a bribe and nothing would change”. Bribes and graft have escalated with glasnost, not decreased.
“Death is the solution to all problems. No man, no problem.” Joseph Stalin
Our stays at hotels were moderate ones, not fancy or the most expensive hotels. It was odd to note the construction as many of us had engineering backgrounds. No two stairs would ever be the exact dimensions. One would be taller, another short, an 8-inch stair depth the next 10 or 12! Toilets were all different makes and installed differently. There appeared no construction standards or codes. There weren’t any. This is also a learning experience for many not educated in western culture and development. The codes and standards developed in western countries as the US’s ASTM (American Standards for Testing Materials) and other construction, monetary codes and standards took years, patents and government oversight to develop. Sir Isaac Newton was prouder of his government patent job than he was of his laws of motion or calculus. The U.S. is one of the best, especially in nuclear technology and safety. Our energy companies have spent billions researching and developing technologies to locate and utilize resources for the benefit of all society. Many just don’t understand how much we will lose if this current socialist agenda is allowed to take hold. You may not have heat in winter, nor any cooling in summer. Let alone be allowed to purchase just about anything you want. Let that sink in. Evolving new technologies for the betterment of mankind and the environment is one thing. Dictating the elimination of something that has decades of proven benefits before a new technology is proven is just demonstrating ignorance. The answer is planned transition. One of our colleagues worked in plumbing and design and he was an avid photographer of every type of toilet we came across including Asian ones in some locations. Electricity was iffy to say the least. Lack of construction codes and any type of enforcement to ensure codes and ordinances were followed was nonexistent. (This takes me to Iraq).
Eating out or in hotels was always interesting. The wait staff never smiled. I mean almost never. We took it as a contest to see if we could even make someone smile. Not in a negative sense but just to make them know we are not their enemy. I don’t think in many cases it worked. Unless they were selling all the black-market goods on the street. Then everybody was your friend. They were selling parents and grandparent medals from WWII, a war that they particularly honor. Instead of parks or National Parks, the Russians have monuments to the millions lost in WWII. An eternal flame was always lit at these sites and they were beautiful and moving. Many weddings were observed occurring at these memorial sites. Millions more were lost with Stalin and Lenin but that was not observed and those statues remained at the time.
I was challenged once when a Russian told me that they honor their history more than we in the U.S. and that their historical monuments and museums demonstrated their devotion to their country and history. I acknowledged Russia’s history and museums like the Hermitage in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) is incomparable. It is truly an amazing museum. However, I told him we are a new nation compared to the history of Russia and about our National Parks System, that they belong to all Americans and honor our lands, resources, the environment and its native peoples (at least many of us do). We Americans cherish our National Parks probably more than any museum. America’s National Parks: America’s best idea” Ken Burns. It was a good shared talk.
I was invited to give a presentation to several ministries on how our U.S. military actually complies with U.S. environmental law and regulations. This was my occupation at the time. For one thing I was greeted with almost hostile regard. This was a time (Glasnost) when Russians were turning against their military and had always been taught that America was a decadent and frivolous country. Though a civilian I represented the U.S military and was not thought of highly. Not so much that it was the U.S. military but during these years the Russians did not trust any military especially their own let alone the U.S.
Part of my presentation that was especially nerve raking was the incompatibility of technology: of slide projectors. No Internet or Power Points existed in 1991. I had slides presented in a Kodak carousel. The Ministry only had single tray slide projectors, not carousels, that were very old. Young people will not even know what I am talking about. I came prepared with back up trays. Always have a plan B. I learned long ago especially in the military. The trays jammed and I practically had to pick up the projector and force each slide in one at a time. The electricity went out a couple times. The presentation hall was one similar to a large college campus where seats rose up level upon level.
I was so nervous forcing the slides and with my not so friendly audience that I was sweating bullets which made my hands slip and the projector almost dropped to the floor with loose slides. I got a couple of chuckles but not encouraging ones. No one helped. If I was to be made a fool, I was totally on my own. If this were not so serious it would have been hilarious. I got the presentation done, with time for translation though most spoke some English. Half the audience was in disbelief that the US military ‘cared’ about environmental issues and the other half said I was lying and no military would perform compliance, cleanups and the investigations I described let alone the set aside the funding to do so. I showed photos to back up everything. When I asked for questions, all hands went up and I certainly was challenged in every way. I actually think I made some friends that day. I hope so. I always took my job very seriously and was very thorough so I rarely got stumped.
Visiting the Chernobyl site in 1991 was nerve racking. We were informed the sarcophagus was leaking by the U.S. but the Soviets said everything was fine. On our visit to Chernobyl, we were told we could choose not to go, similar to our visit to a Nazi Concentration Camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau a World Heritage Site established in 1979). Only one of our envoy members was told not to go by his employer and he represented our U.S. nuclear energy sector. He informed all of us that his company advised him and our group not to go due to safety concerns even if we were to be put in personal protective gear (see photo above of Soviet version of PPE) and don dosimeters. At the site we toured the sarcophagus, surrounding areas, burial of the dead forests, town of Pripyat and several experimental stations examining contamination to human consumption, feed crops and wildlife. The wildlife they were concerned with were the minks and sable populations used in the fur making industry. At the crops site several tomatoes and other vegetables were plucked and cut up for us to eat. We were told they were safe as our Soviet guide popped tomato wedges into his mouth. Not one of us ate anything from the experimental zone. We had definitely entered the ‘hot zone! Upon leaving the site, we were to decon (decontaminate), which entailed primarily changing back to our street clothes (no showers) and removing hair covering. Hair coverings were handled carefully and we turned in our dosimeters. We got back on the bus in the ‘hot zone’, exited the area and were driven to lunch which required us to drive back through the ‘Hot Zone’! When we pointed this out, we were pretty much ignored even though our U.S. guides were a bit concerned but nothing could be done. The Chernobyl Sarcophagus was leaking and was finally replaced in a magnificent feat of engineering by a new sarcophagus placement in November 2017. Readers can find on YouTube and is worth the viewing.
The night prior to our departure from the Soviet Union we were taken to a ‘special place’ for our last supper. It was a very ornate restaurant and the vodka and champagne flowed freely. The champagne we had to pay for was 25 cents (U.S.) a bottle! And it was fabulous champagne. We were very thoughtful of our wait staff on all occasions and though told explicitly not to tip, even by the KGB guys, many did anyway, proving our American version of friendship. Even so, to get a second cup of coffee was like pulling teeth. They did not operate by U.S. standards or customer service.
We were to pack and be prepared for an early morning trip to the airport. Our passports were always in hotel hands, then our guides, never us individually. This was very disconcerting but I have experienced often in my travels. That night I became deathly sick with severe cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. My bed was drenched with sweat. By morning I was so cramped up and fluid loss was so intense I could not stand. My roommate informs our guides that there is no way I could get on a plane. That very moment the news starts reporting on a coup d’état in Moscow. Soviet army tanks are moving down the streets of Moscow. They call me an ambulance. I have been told previously by U.S. State Department under no uncertain terms, take any injections in Russia. The AIDS epidemic is out of control and even medical people are reusing needles. My team has to leave to get to the airport on time. I am left alone at hotel with one of the translators with the ambulance coming. We are on the phone to the U.S. Embassy regarding me not being fit to leave. The Embassy insists my translator put me on the phone and tells me I have to get on that plane in no uncertain terms. ‘We do not know what is going to happen here. Some of the Embassy staff are already being evacuated. You have to get out of here. If you stay you may get home in several months or they can imprison you for life. We have no idea how this is going to turn out!” Does this sound like recent days in Afghanistan? It should. I was definitely scared this time.
The ambulance arrives and a doctor comes up stairs and sure enough out of a black bag he is readying a huge needle from meds in a glass tube. I am in bed yelling Nyet, Nyet, No, nyet! My translator doesn’t have to translate. I don’t want a shot and this time it isn’t fear of needles. I do not want to insult anyone either. Especially about AIDS or what the US guidance is, but I just keep saying no that I have some type of phobia to needles. In frustration, the doctor breaks open the glass tube and makes me drink the fluid. OK I will drink it but you are not injecting me with anything. It was awful. Cramping didn’t stop, nor did vomiting or diarrhea, but they got me a vehicle and to the airport. I thought my team was already gone. The security at the airport would not let me in.
My translator became my absolute hero. She got right in security’s guys face and is yelling at him telling him that I have to leave right now. ‘She is with a team of scientist at Premiere Gorbachev’s request’. Security tries to take my passport, which was left with the translator to deal with Embassy. She and the security guard are screaming at each other. I am praying. She refuses to give it up until I am either joined with my group or at least provided some means to get back to the States. I am not sure if she was given my tickets also, but it appears she must have been. The fighting outside the airport continues. I am useless and totally feel I am going to die or be imprisoned here. I was in so much pain I almost didn’t care at the time. You know like the stages of being sea sick. You will choose dying.
Finally, a security supervisor comes out and talks to the translator. I am escorted into airport finally to connect with my group. If I could possibly have acted happy to see them, I swear I would have. They certainly were to see me, but I as so cramped over and worried I would mess myself or vomit I could not respond to them. Prior to my translator leaving I gave her all my blue jeans (a black-market commodity worth its weight in gold at that time), all my jewelry and any cash I had that I could afford to give her and still have enough to get home. We flew on Lufthansa, a joy from the Aeroflot flights we endured while in the Soviet Union. I did not even partially recover until we got to Germany. Besides our translator, several in our group really helped me through and I will forever be thankful.
Arriving in Iraq was a challenge before I even got to the mission. I served as a government civilian (GS or government schedule) in Iraq from 2009-2010. Iraq was a country at war and led by a Dictator, Saddam Hussein for years. I saw combat operations and the aftermath, Iraq’s and ours.
My observations from my work in Iraq come from working with not only the multinational forces, as well as the U.S military, the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government personnel, Iraqi civilians, U.S. Chain of Command (CENTCOM), often outside of theater or operations, (meaning out of the country of Iraq) and personnel from U.S. that included military chain of command but also politicians and their responses to the American public. Suffice it to say there were many differing opinions and the misperceptions were monumental.
Let’s start with the first day just getting Iraq. Over 400 of us were on a military transport out of Fort Benning. We were all suited up with IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) and helmet. My biggest concern, having to go to the bathroom while waiting in all these lines! Yeh I was an older female civilian so give me a break. I am at the end of this huge line and know military aircraft are not customer friendly regarding bathrooms. I am getting desperate. I see a porta potty off the tarmac. Can make it? I am torn. This is military, not so cushiony as todays, so I wrestle with myself. You have to go. So, with this gear, you are required to carry, I run for the porta-pot. Running was my plan but with all this gear is impossible but I make it. Getting in the stupid door was next to impossible.
I was undoing my pants on the fly. Then I had to button up get back to the plane. All were on the plane and I would be the last. I knew they would not wait. The plane was huge and yards away. The ramp was down and stragglers were getting aboard. I ran as fast as my little 5’2” 115 lb. body would go. No one paid any attention to me. The ramp was beginning to move. No one said anything or tried to help; a civilian in a military world and I would experience this frequently on this venture. The lift gate was so high off the tarmac I could not make the step up especially with all the heavy gear on and it was closing! No one would help or even lend a hand. Hey all were military and I was one of the few civilians and a female without a supporting contractor group. They were not going to help nor would I let them defeat me. I literally flew myself onto the lift gate, probably looking like flying turtle with the IBA. Grabbed onto the metal rails and pulled myself in and eventually upright feeling as though I would topple backwards. What a chore but it was the beginning of a long learning process about the military, how a female civilian would be treated and how things were going to go once in Iraq, if I even got there.
Then to the job site. Arrived from Ali Asalim in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the night. The military airport, adjacent to Baghdad’s International Airport is a secure zone and since I was a lone civilian, I had no support that accompanies military personnel and contractors. It was almost like I was dropped off in the middle of a desert with no return air ticket back home in an emergency and no directions as to where to go, what to do or who to contact. No, not like that, it was that! My to be boss, a Colonel was located at Victory Base Complex and I was nowhere near there. There were few cell phones available at this time, not only due to availability of an in country Iraqi phone, but due to IEDs and security. A LCol took pity on me and ‘said you’re going with us.’ She was a breath of fresh air yet she was headed to the Embassy and I was headed to a forward operating base (FOB) and directed to be on site the next morning. Traveling in a combat zone is well, you just don’t call a taxi or Uber. Through the LCol I eventually reached my Col at 2 in the morning and still at work! That should have told me something right there.
The Col (I will call him my 1st Col to avoid names) sent a military driver to pick me up and get me on base. Still had to locate quarters and gear for the next day. Slept in a communal tent that evening in uniform and had to walk to find the building I was assigned to. It’s dark and I was stalked all the way in by a jackal. At the office (a square trailer placed on a slab of concrete) I was greeted by some of the military and the civilian contractors who would be working with me. All very cordial and welcoming. I had been assigned as Chief Environmental Engineer for the Multinational Forces Iraq (MNF-I) in theater, a heady position and not without monumental challenges.
My first assignment prior to getting to Iraq was with JSOC or Joint Operations Command at FOB Balad Air Base and my mission was to be taken out on night patrols by Blackhawk, dropped into villages to inoculate residents, check for disease and then fly out. Totally weapons trained and ready. I finally reached someone at Balad and told him I think they have the wrong person. The young marine says to me, ‘well you’re not advising any generals out here’. Thus, it was many more month, totaling 11 before I knew somewhat where I would be heading in Iraq.
Within the same office at Victory Base was the Multinational Corps in Iraq (MNC-I) run by the Army Corps of Engineers. So right off the bat one can see we have two Armies here and little did I realize at the time the conflicts that would create. A bit of ‘who’s on first’!
Within minutes I could sense immense tension. As I later relayed to my sister it as so thick you could cut it with a knife. I attempted to be that breath of fresh air I had met at the airport with the LCol. The air needed space not someone coming in and trying to control. So, when I felt the Col really wanted and asked for my help and guidance, that felt strange. Later it became apparent he was assigned way too much work and responsibility that no one could ever accomplish. He had been assigned a major position and then another issue overrode that assignment and he was tasked with both, definitely not unknown in the military. I learned that you did jobs whether that was your expertise or assigned or not. You just did it. His second assignment that brought a chill to my heart was being on a bases where the electrical wiring installed by contractors throughout the base was faulty. There had been a number of electrocutions and soldiers died just taking a shower. You could not protect yourself from this fault. It was luck of the draw. Even someone just walking, which was the mode of transporting yourself around the base, few to no vehicles, someone stepped on the wrong wire, was dead. This was our own version of IEDs (improvised explosive device, though this was electricity).
My Col had been put in a lose-lose scenario and his two LCols working for him had total disdain for him. I might add they were Army and he was Air Force. We were all like that. I was ‘on loan’ from the Navy. It was a total joint operation, U.S. wise, and multinational with other nations, many. I partook in some weighty military campaign planning with what I would call the best and the brightest people I had ever met. It was an honor to be in the presence of many of these military minds. Yet there were many more that were either assigned and too scared to function, there for money or some other reason and accomplishing the mission was not it. I met them all.
First off was finding out about the electrocutions and later how that effort impacted my boss. The first training I went through in theater, the very first day there, was suicide prevention. It was very real and the recent victims at their own hand were mentioned and their friends interviewed. This was beyond very difficult.
Sleeping in a tent community eventually to be moved into what was known as a CHU (containerized housing unit) was expected. The distance of the walk to the latrines and a separate walk to where showers were housed was problematic and not entirely expected. They were not even close to each other let alone close to the housing quarters. You had to walk over huge gravel stones, placed to avoid the wet sands during the rainy season, and were surrounded by 16-foot T-walls (T-walls are huge concrete barriers to protect barracks from mortar and artillery attacks. They are more protective and installed as a more permanent barrier than the more common Halisco barriers made of wire and sand bag construction. The problem was you felt extremely closed in and could not detect if anyone was lurking around these walls. It was like a maze only of tall concrete structures and not hedges. Then one of the female LCols tells me I need to be very aware of my surroundings due to all the current rapes. I am in a combat zone, surrounded with armed troops and I am supposed to be concerned about rape? My concern was being caught, captured and tortured by Iraqi militants. That we were trained for. I asked how would Iraqis get on base? No, she says, not Iraqis, our own troops! That took a moment to sink in. I need to be afraid of my own troops?
So now my first two days are Suicide Prevention, potential for electrocution and rape and a work environment that is as tense as a rattler ready to strike. I won’t even talk about peeing in bottles and storing until you could get to the latrines.
Within my first two months of being stationed at Victory Base which was adjacent to several other FOBs, there was an emergency call out for all to be on high alert. A soldier on suicide watch at Camp Liberty (adjacent base) shot and killed five individuals, three of them were doctors or medical staff trying to help him. Within the month there is an alert that some militant Iraqis are making their way on to base to capture or kill troops or civilians. I am told the civilians are the target of choice. That week I am in a CHU shared with a Col from the Embassy. At 2 in the morning (why does everything happen at 2 in the morning?), there is a pounding on the trailer door. A deep voice yelling ‘Dr. Roos, Dr. Roos’. My roommate and I are on high alert. We both decide not to open the door for security reasons. Could be a tactic. The voice and pounding are non stop. I finally yell that yes, I am here. Did I just make a really big mistake? It was Lt Kaz checking on me as there had been a legitimate threat. Someone did access the base and tried to capture a ranking civilian. My Command was checking on me. Of that, my roommate and I were both relieved.
Within several months, my own Col was escorted back to the States since he was considered a suicide risk or potentially a risk to others. He was caring a round in the chamber and that was considered a sign and was also against rules in theater. Possibly it went against our Security Agreement with Iraq as well. That renegotiated agreement caused a great deal of heart burn. Obama had become President and the world here in Iraq Theater of Operations changed. All military had their guns taken away and transport equipment as well as air support to do our jobs was seriously impacted. We civilians were no longer allowed to carry weapons to defend ourselves and could no longer wear the military uniforms we were first required and issued to wear. Many of us didn’t have other clothes as we were told we were to always be in uniform. It was all very confusing and the reason we civilian’s wore military uniforms was so we would not be easy targets for the militants. Now we were sitting ducks.
Midway in my volunteer service, I was on a mission to present my proposed Iraqi environmental protection goals to the Minister of Public Health and Environment. As we returned to the Embassy, a report came through, unbeknownst to us, for our protection detail to be on the lookout for two female suicide bombers. Our drivers started driving very aggressively, like out of a Bourne movie over sidewalks and in the wrong direction. We had been successful in our talks with Iraqis and were celebratory until we discovered that those two women had made contact with a military patrol killing three young soldiers. The last one died on the operating table upon our return. These soldiers had been in the same vicinity as our return route. We went from high-fiving each other to attend the ‘Walk of the Angels’ that evening when these young soldiers were to be airlifted back to the States. Two weeks later my presentation colleague and friend from the Embassy, Mageed Hussein, and CDR Wolfe (a highly respected Navy Civil Engineer) were killed by an EFP (more explosive and dangerous than an IED) visiting a waste treatment facility we had constructed in Fallujah. He was scheduled the next day to return to Egypt to celebrate his daughter’s fourth birthday. Changed my whole concept of war and the realities of life and death.
As my mission continued, another Lcol was sent home due to suicide prevention as he had already served five tours and was considered very high risk. The tension grew between the MNF-I division and the MNC-I group. I was actually confronted by the lead LCol of the MNC-I group and directed not to talk or even communicate in any way with his personnel. I politely asked him how we were going to get the job done without communicating but he told me he said what he was going to say. I will say later prior to his leaving he apologized to me and told me he didn’t realize all the efforts I had been making. It was a bit late though for the mission and for my Col who had already been sent home. The aggression toward the civilians continued and I seemed to be the brunt. Well, I was in charge and without a strong military leader I was not in a good spot. This is after having 5 different directors within a five-month period. I worked well with all of them (three Air Force Colonels, two Army LCols acting) until our last Col was assigned. Started off fine but with all the baggage of the last 8 months and this Col coming in like she was going to change us all to her mold just didn’t sit well with many, especially me. I saw her take down and seriously insult a very impressive Army Major. No one was more respected or worked harder to achieve what we were here to do. All the services and the multinational services respected this guy and she challenged him every step of the way. I was her target now and more the brunt of her tactics which I must confess were totally destructive to all involved.
So within a few months I experienced realities of suicide, potential for electrocutions and rapes from our troops, murders of personnel trying to help suicide victims by our own troops, mortar and artillery attacks, our own troops shot in the back by Iraqi troops they had been training, my Cols and a Lcol being relieved of Command and sent home due to being a suicide risk, a civilian mortared and killed in his CHU, high alerts of Iraqi infiltration, Rhino trips to the Embassy where a Col wounded himself following discharge protocol and ongoing fear of IEDs, fast pursuit and escape tactics of military convoys and escorts to avoid IEDs and suicide bombers, killing of four soldiers on patrol (where it easily could have been my patrol), EPU attack killing my best friend/colleague and one of our CEC officers to having to work for a Col that was out to destroy my career and at the time I felt my health and life. It seemed a pathway to madness and I finally did appreciate why soldiers would take their own lives. Within weeks of my leaving theater yet another colleague, one of our young Marines, committed suicide. He was handsome and charming. A good guy. I remember thinking of him as the breath of fresh air that I wanted to exude when I first came.
Iraqi hospitality is amazing. I get what Vian stated about their traditions and culture. I also noted when one of our translators commented on US chickens and how tasteless they are, I said no they good you just have to season them properly and it depends on the chicken. He looked at me and said what until you at an Iraq chicken.
From these photos (left and below) you can see the hospitality present itself. No need for words. And my Iraqi friend was correct. The chicken was the most delicious chicken I had ever eaten as was the hummus. Nothing we have compares.
During my time in Iraq, I witnessed horrible and wonderful things. The most beautiful was the archaeological survey I was involved in of the Ziggurat of Ur, a neo-Sumerian ziggurat located in the once City of Ur near Nasiriyah. The history of a site being over 3,000 years gives one pause. In short it was the coalition forces who based on their military rules of engagement do not allow historic site or structures to be attached or damaged. Obviously, there is argument about this as many countries do not follow the same respect or guidance and it can this be used against troops in battle.
Under coalition, the US protection the Ziggurat fared well and little damage was incurred during my time there. In 2010, the site was turned back to the Iraqis. We, as representatives of the multinational forces were invited to attend the ceremony turning the history site back to Iraq. I was invited by my General as I had performed in the site investigation and he wanted some knowledge along with him. It as an invitation of a lifetime as was the survey.
During the survey we researched all the restorations that had occurred since the 1950s and compared it to existing ancient structures and the different materials that had had to be used due to the times. The Iraqi archaeologist (I will not provide names for protection purposes) and the State department archeologists were extremely knowledgeable. We were guarded by special forces troops while there. The guys we were protected by were with Blackwater in past. I don’t think I ever felt safer than with these guys when outside the wire.
The turn over ceremony involved honoring Iraq’s ancient Moon Goddess Nanna. Music was performed by the Iraq’s Symphony Orchestra which as quite good. I as somewhat amped that in this heat, and with the ever-changing sand conditions that musical instruments could be maintained and stay in tune. A couple shocks to the system was an Arab, Fourth Governor of the Province, who I was seated next to me during the ceremony. He wanted me to take a boat ride down the Euphrates with him and he would show me how Iraqis grow their food. My General was listening to all of this at the time. He continued to tell me he a not at all interested in this cultural resource ‘rubbish’. It was not important as he waved his hand. I asked was he did and he said he was the Mayer of some district (I do not recall) and had a degree in nuclear physics. All the heads of all the Ministries I met while in Iraq, from the Minister of the Environment and Public Health seemed to have degrees in Nuclear Physics. I thought this rather odd especially with the Ministry of environmental Protection who was a female and that surprise me as well.
When the ceremony was over all the Iraqi troops started showing up in numerous trucks driving in at very high speed. This is a protected archaeological site, supposedly sacred to the Iraqis, and the drivers were driving donuts churning up all the sand around the Ziggurat. This is the location where our Iraqi archaeologist had picked up artifacts right off the ground earlier due to constantly shifting sands. The lack of respect really angered me and my General said ‘let’s get out of here’.
The other sad event was a special forces Iraqi soldier was there to celebrate as well. They were in uniform and on duty but have a good time. I was treated like a star with all the Iraqis wanting to take their picture with me, mostly men but some women also. Lots of smiles but some nerve-racking moments as well due to crowds when you could tell some did not like you, rather hated you. We were preparing to leave and one of the very handsome special forces soldier’s is being hand cuffed by his own troops and an officer is in his face. Come to find out he had been showing off his weapon or he took it out for some reason and it was misplaced.
We all tried to find it especially me, but my General said leave it alone, someone grabbed that as soon as they saw it. That gun is long gone and so is this young man’s career, maybe his life. That broke my heart, it was all so sudden. One misstep, and your career, your life is over. I just saw him being placed in the back of one of the Army vehicles, handcuffed with his head down.
‘Life, Liberty, Freedom’ are terms easily touted and bantered about yet few realize what they truly mean until they are threatened or lost. Many of the interviewees have shared their life experiences in either losing those freedoms or never having them until they arrived in America. Some never lost freedom and love their country of origin and yet they chose to be here. Most still cherish their heritage but they cherish their freedom more. Don’t be so sure of your opinions unless you have ‘walked in another’s moccasins’ to quote an old Indian proverb. And as John Rich, Country Singer and Song Writer and FOX host of Pursuit in an interview with Candace Owens both stated “experience outweighs your opinion”.