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Soldiers usually win the battles and generals get the credit for them.
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
It was 3:00 A.M.. Although the sun’s rays had retreated hours before, its hot breath refused to dissipate from the steppes of Kuwait’s Ad Dibdibah plain. The heat attacked us from all sides. Airborne sandy powder hung above us and dimmed lights as if in a London fog.
One by one, all members of the battalion encircled our small "Band of Brothers" and cluster of convoy vehicles-they had, without being ordered, chose to wish us safe passage on our sojourn to Iraq. As the Chaplain prayed, we all wondered if our souls were ready should He request an inventory of our lives.
My army unit was being tasked for a mission in Iraq. That morning, I prepared to move out with a small lead element that was to reconnoiter an area where the main body would relocate to-our destination was Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq. This was south of Babylon where civilization had begun.
Intelligence briefings warned that insurgents had been active along the route we were to travel. Appropriate Force Protection info was given-suddenly, the desiccated saliva in my throat grew to a dry, furry tennis ball; swallowing failed to ameliorate the choking sensation.
Why was I there, in Kuwait, and now heading for Iraq? Collectively, that question was infecting us all. In retrospect, I believe God had had a hand in my being allowed to serve, in the military, in a time of war. Although a 9mm pistol hung from my belt, He allowed me to serve Him, and the Army, without it ever leaving its sand encrusted holster.
The sun, a most unwelcome fiery orb, soon began its westward migration, and our vehicles, pregnant with supplies, groped the sizzling hardball with the speed of a glacier. Each glance, form right to left, recorded a cerebral picture as vivid as a 10 billion pixel image-charred tank skeletons, gun emplacements that had lost their duels with "smart bombs", breached sandy berms and towns with masses of children attacking us with smiles and thumbs up gestures.
Although I was tasked to keep our battalion's health in check, my real job was waiting for me up the road. My itinerary was prepared by God, and the Army afforded the venue.
Serving in a fixed base, air conditioned "C.A.S.H" hospital (where everyone wore daily fresh fatigue uniforms) was not to be-instead, I was to travel, eat, sleep and suffer with a line unit. Working out of a canvas M-5 aid bag was as high tech as it got. I, the PA, nurse and medics were tapped to minister to wounded Iraqis, and Islamic insurgents, in the city prison.
Upon arriving at our destination, Camp Edson, the U.S. Marines greeted us and did all they could to assist us in our mission. Soon, a dedicated Iraqi physician showed up at the compound gate and asked for our assistance. The city hospital was critically low on medicine and supplies. After visiting the local hospital, I realized that God was again involved in my odyssey.
Although not officially sanctioned, the medics "procured" a huge cache of medical supplies. Daily, we made our way to the hospital where the medicines were received with smiles of biblical proportions. That Iraqi hospital was choked by a sea of desperate souls-limbless, weak, filthy and dying-looking into their eyes told vivid stories about how miserable things had been.
Work at the prison was grueling, hot, frustrating and endless. Within its sand colored walls were fly infested cells that reeked. I often thought of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta and how similar it must have been to where we worked. Al Queda, Hamas Baath Party and street thugs were crammed into sweltering cells. All seemed to have an eclectic array of maladies-infected bayonet/gunshot wounds, abscesses, burns and festering, maggot laden sores.
Administering whatever antibiotics we had, to the sick, would have triggered a peer review investigation, in the U.S.; however, there, by God's hand, no matter what was used afforded improvement, and the wounds healed.
Despite the heat, sweat, filth and flies, seeing the prisoners' smiles, on our daily rounds, made me believe that what was being done, as crude as it seemed, was appreciated again, God was there.
My tour of duty eventually came to a close. My exit from Iraq was in the belly of a Marine helicopter. After lift off, I gazed down at the barren, lifeless-appearing Syrian Desert and reflected on my mission. I was blessed to have served my country, fellow soldiers and the wounded enemy. Somehow I know that our efforts made a difference.
Note: by Richard L. Klingler, MD LTC MC USAR, U.S. Army 310th MP Battalion
This Day in History
President James Monroe proclaims naval disarmament on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.
British declare martial law throughout Ireland.
Les Irvin makes the first jump with an Army Air Corps parachute.
Benito Mussolini, and his mistress, Clara Petacci, are shot by Italian partisans who had captured the couple as they attempted to flee to Switzerland.
French troops evacuate northern Laos.
U.S. troops land in the Dominican Republic.
President Richard Nixon gives his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia.
The North Vietnamese offensive continues as Fire Base Bastogne, 20 miles west of Hue, falls to the communists. Fire Base Birmingham, 4 miles to the east, was also under heavy attack.