Letter From Iraq


Written by Chaplain (Maj.) Joel Miller

Published March 19, 2004


Some of the Iraqi children and teachers at a school that the 116th Engineers are working to rebuild.
Photo Courtesy of Utah National Guard


Some of the Iraqi children and teachers at a school that the 116th Engineers are working to rebuild.

Tallil Air Base, Ur, Iraq

    Marhaba (loosely translated, "Hi"),

    My days are very full with trying to get situated in my office at the Religious Activities Center and with providing support to my unit, subordinate units and to subordinate unit chaplains.

     I took a group of 20 soldiers to the Chaldean Ziggurat. It is a 4,000-year-old temple mound that the Chaldeans would climb to the top of and offer sacrifices to the Moon God; often these where human sacrifices. We met Deiff, our guide, who was very knowledgeable and spoke very good English. We not only visited the temple mound, but we went into the ruins of another temple, walked around the remains of the royal palace and explored inside the royal tombs of the kings and queens of Ur. We also went into the boyhood home of Abraham.

     What an awesome experience to walk on ground the prophet Abraham walked to glimpse back into time and see how an ancient people lived. The spirit of this place was exciting and I couldn’t help but think how after years of exposure to the elements, looting by thieves, and warfare, that such an edifice still stands.

     Yesterday, I went with some of our Design team to look at the work being done on a school, whose renovation we will be supervising. The 115th will be overseeing the work being done on about eight schools in the area. Other community projects will be added in the near future. The majority of the work is being done by hired Iraqis, and we act as the building inspectors. However, we must see the work on a daily basis to ensure quality and integrity.

Chap. Joel Miller standing in front of the Chaldean Ziggurat,

 a 4,000-year-old temple that the Chaldeans would use to

offer sacrifices to the Moon God.  

   Prior to leaving the air base, we "lock & load" all weapons. As a chaplain, I do not carry a weapon and so I did the driving. This was definitely an interesting experience. We obeyed no traffic laws except the ever-popular Iraqi law "the bigger vehicle has the right-of-way" or, if the vehicle you are approaching is smaller but heavily armed, they have the right-of-way. Therefore, we always had the right-of-way. We drove through An Nasiriyyah like a "bat out of hell."  As we drove 40-50 miles per hour through heavy traffic, I thought several times that we would get into a terrible accident but, surprisingly, the people and vehicles got out of our way.

 We passed the Italian headquarters in which 19 Italians were killed in an attack a few months ago.  We passed the hospital from which Jessica Lynch was liberated.  We drove through what I would consider the most deprived and dilapidated civilization in the world. 

     The school we went to was in Suq Ash Shuyukh, a boy’s school that is in such a neglected state that I would have thought that they would have bulldozed it and built a new one. Although there was damage from the combat phase of the war, much of the dilapidation was due to years of neglect. Once the Shiites in the south rebelled against Saddam, he cut off all funding and support; thus these communities are beyond the poverty level that we have ever seen in America or other parts of the world.

     It was a profound experience that I think I shall never forget or even recover from. We were relatively safe and always alert, and we personified force. Aside from some rock throwing, by the Iraqis, there were no incidents. It was very strange, though, to see individuals just walking down the street carrying AK-47s; everyone’s got one but not everyone is a threat. We did receive a lot of cheers and thumbs-up from the kids, and many of the adults were friendly. However, though they are glad we are pouring money into their communities and that we got rid of Saddam Hussein, they are anxious for us to leave.

     Leaving now would create more chaos and minimize progress. We are providing stability in this country. The Iraqis are by no means ready to manage their new freedoms without assistance. Also, there is a growing concern with a large group of moralists who go around killing those who are not adhering to the strictest precepts of the Islamic faith. They are not too warm towards us as well.  Just another day in fabulous, fun-filled, Iraq.

     As always, I appreciate your love and support. Many have asked what they can send me and my soldiers. What I really would like to see is a concerted effort to provide school supplies to the students of the schools we are working on. There are lots of kids, 300-600 per school, and they have nothing. They need pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, rulers, scissors, etc. We have to give them to the kids directly because if we give them to the teachers, they will sell the supplies on the black market. But the teachers need teaching supplies as well. Anyway, it is just a thought, but had you gone with me yesterday, you would want to do whatever you could for these kids.

Some of the boys from the school in Aug Ash Shuyukh posing

 with Chap. Joel Miller. 

  May our Lord’s Spirit be with you to help you realize the blessings that you've been given.  May you never take them for granted.

Much Love,