Christmas in Iraq

 

Written by PHD (Col.) Dave Jack

- Published - Jan. 05, 2005

   

Dr. Jack is the Utah National State Surgeon and is currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Jack

Dr. Jack is the Utah National State Surgeon and is currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq.

BALAD, Iraq –December 25 is a rainy, overcast day in LSA Anaconda, Iraq.  Alert sirens have screamed, and lightning and thunder have perforated the night.  Perhaps this is the equivalent of snow, silver bells, and fireworks for this country.

 

In anticipation of the grand Christmas luncheon, only a small continental breakfast was served this morning.  Breakfast is not a possibility for me anyway, since it is served from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 AM, and my meetings go from 6:00 a.m. until about 11:30 AM each day.  The magnificent dining experience was scheduled from 11:30 a.m. until 3:00 a.m. 

 

Past experience and stories informed me that there would be long lines most of the day, so I waited to don my raincoat until about 2:30 p.m.  Trudging through fresh puddles and pools of mud, I reached the dining hall with wet only soaking my clothes from the mid thighs to the top of my boots, the only areas uncovered by rain protective gear. 

 

There was a line, but it was short enough to be protected by the improvised plywood roof over the sidewalk.  Behind me was a soldier from Washington State, who regularly attends church with us.  His unit was due to leave this week, but they were being delayed by the water and sludge that prevented him from being able to efficiently load his equipment.  He and his comrades had been pushing slippery vehicles and machinery up slimy ramps all morning, and were drenched, drained, and discouraged.

 

The offerings were quite impressive, including pressed turkey, ham, fried shrimp, Cornish game hen, dressing, mashed potatoes, half sections of corn on the cob, cornbread, salads, and assorted pastries. An additional table contained a pot of seafood soup/stew, with crab, lobster, and shrimp mixed together.

 

Even though it was near closing time, the dining facility was quite full.  People were relaxing and enjoying the dining, and were not eager to exit to the soggy surroundings.  Looking around, I noticed some empty seats near an Iraqi National, and a man wearing a U.S. Army uniform with an Islamic crescent on the collar.  Although many people had passed by with full plates, no one had chosen to sit by them.  I chose to join them, and pulled up a chair by the citizen from Iraq.

 

Here are the tales that they told.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Jack

Dr. Jack in LSA Anaconda in Iraq.

 

The man sitting across the table from me was a captain who stationed Hawaii, but who has been deployed to Iraq for eleven months now.  He just found out that his one-year tour of duty was extended by three extra months because of the Iraq elections in late January. He serves as a chaplain, and is one of a very few Islamic/Muslim chaplains in the service.  He had come to visit one of the Islamic members in his unit who was injured, and who was being treated in the nearby Air Force Hospital. 

 

Born in Syria, this chaplain went to college in Kansas, and studied engineering as a major.  There are 6 children waiting for him to return home to Hawaii, with ages ranging from 4 to 16 years old.  A year ago, his mother flew from Syria to visit them in Hawaii.  She had to return early, as she could not stand the rampant immorality of Hawaii, even though the family tried to keep her sheltered.

 

Sitting next to me was a shy, soft-spoken Iraqi interpreter who learned English in school here in his native country.  He has never been to the United States, but if he goes, he wants to visit Hawaii.  Iraq now celebrates Thanksgiving concurrently with the United States, and he likes the custom of having a large meal, with ice cream for desert. He also does not mind Christmas, for largely the same reasons. One of the reasons that he is here is because his brother, also an interpreter and employee of the United States Government, was involved in a terrorist attack, and had sustained severe damage to his eyes. 

 

One of the brother's eyes was permanently blinded, and the other one was damaged to the point that he needed sub-specialty care.  This problem is, as an Iraqi citizen, he must go to an Iraqi hospital for further treatment.  The Iraq hospital does not have the capability to save his eye, and he would be in danger there because of his strong affiliations with the U.S.  If he were a U.S. citizen or soldier, he would be evacuated to Germany for proper treatment.  With help from the Muslim Chaplain, he was tying to get an exemption to policy, allowing him to be transported to Germany.  The Chaplain stated that this gentleman was one of the few entirely trustworthy supporters of the U.S., and related how this man had, at his own expense, purchased hundreds of blankets and supplies for his people with the money that he had made as a translator.

 

These men had innumerable stories of how those people that were sympathetic to the U.S. were killed.  In fact, they said, life was one of the cheapest commodities in Iraqi society.  First hand tales of how small, supportive gestures had turned into disaster, rolled off of their tongues. I will spare some of the details, but suffice it to say there is a very strong Mafia-like presence in Iraq that must be extinguished if there is any hope for freedom from despotism and hegemony.

 

What an interesting way to spend a Christmas afternoon!  The two Muslims and I talked until the dining room was nearly empty.  I left with an expressed wish that the brother be granted an exception, and with the proclamation that the purpose of Christmas was to affirm that we are ALL brothers. 

 

Once more it was affirmed to me that we are a fortunate and blessed nation.  I believe that Thomas Jefferson once stated something to the effect that "the field of liberty must occasionally be nurtured with the blood of patriots."

 

This Christmas I trust that you will all remember and honor those patriots, foreign and domestic, that have cultivated your freedoms and comforts.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Dave Jack

 

Hummers are used in battle as ambulances.