Letters from Iraq: Outside the wire

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Greg Laffitte
  • 887th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
My day began at 5 a.m. by attending the "guard mount" along with the other Airmen who would be conducting a patrol outside the wire. This morning, a salty old master sergeant was in charge and methodically discussed the concerns of the day. His manner bespeaks of a veteran who has performed the mission before and conveyed a sense of confidence expected of one with his experience.

Assembled for this "o-dark-early" briefing are troops whose ages range from 20 years up to 50. No surprise that the 50-year-old guy is yours truly. A quick scan of the audience revealed not only men, but women as well. I see the faces of sons and daughters poised and ready to accomplish their mission. I am proud to serve with them and realize these are America's finest.

My mission was to provide emergency medical care in support of the Airmen patrolling sectors of the countryside. We would also provide security for a municipal meeting with local civic leaders where water supply concerns would be discussed. I was looking forward to this patrol, as it would be my first time interacting with Iraqi citizens in their neighborhoods.

Once the guard mount was complete, it was time to go. The convoy slowly headed out of the forward operating base ensuring it didn't break the 5 mph speed limit. Yes, you can get a speeding ticket here and the troops don't want to have to see the "shirt" when that happens.

Our armored vehicles are heavy and have knobs and various pieces of structure that can really put a dent in your "nugget" if you don't wear your helmet. Standing over 6 feet tall, I have to be really careful not to bang my head, especially while exiting the truck. Once strapped in, you put your headset on and make sure your "comm" is good to go.

It never ceases to amaze me how a group of Airmen can quickly turn a mundane subject into comedy. There had been some talk about stopping at a local roadside vendor and trying out the menu. As the onboard medic, I voiced my concerns and within minutes the troops' conversation "bottomed" out, if you get my drift.

We arrived at our village and exited the truck. My first walk down an Iraqi street was not exactly what I had expected. Off to my left was a pile of debris where at least six puppies were nursing from their mother. Off to my right was a medium sized dog who apparently was having a bad day and liked to show his teeth.

After walking for less than 10 minutes, I was greeted by a crowd of school-aged boys who seemed like they had finally met up with a long-lost friend. I could scarcely believe the reception I was given.

These children wanted to shake my hand and in broken English told me, "America No. 1!"

We conducted our business and then made our way to the municipal building where, we were greeted by older Iraqi gentlemen who were as courteous as your best friend's family. I was walking around the area keeping a constant look out for suspicious activity when I got hit.

The object was a soccer ball and the perpetrator was a 6-year-old boy with a love of soccer. Within minutes, this child and I were kicking his soccer ball back and forth and having a good old time. Another boy whom I would have guessed to be about 14 approached me and in broken English began discussing professional wrestling. I somehow got the impression he thought I looked like some wrestler named the "Undertaker" whom he had seen on television. My first up close and personal interaction with the people of Iraq was definitely a genuinely friendly exchange.

Iraq is a sovereign country as of Jan. 1. This is of enormous significance because the Iraqi government is now driving the bus. American servicemen and women serving here appreciate the fact because it demonstrates how far we have come in creating stability and security in this country.

The citizens of Iraq are definitely on the road to progress and are enthusiastic about an upcoming election only days away. Our role here is to defend the progress and protect against any insurgents that might attempt to disrupt that progress.

Before we departed the municipal compound, I noticed something. Standing to my left was an African-American Airman and to my right was a Filipino-American Airman. Here were three ethnically diverse American servicemen united as one force, protecting the rights of the Iraqi people who were on the eve of a historic election. I think that's kind of cool.