Friday, March 7, 2008

Starring Colonel Faisal

March 8, 2008
Maybe all wars breed impatience. After all, who wouldn’t want to get to the part where peace breaks out? The war in Iraq is not unlike a big budget movie, a movie gone straight to DVD because it went a little long and dragged in the middle. If this were a movie, it would be hard to resist the temptation to hit the fast forward button to see how it turns out.
And like a major motion picture, the war in Iraq has a cast of characters, some of whom are so compelling, they steal the show.
Colonel Faisal, commanding officer of an Iraqi Army (IA) battalion located next door to the 2nd Battalion’s Delta Company at JSS (Joint Support Station) Love, is center stage in the drama taking place in the area south of Samarra. Colonel Faisal is the sort of character actors would be fighting for the chance to play.
Any Iraqi who works with the Coalition Forces is putting his life in danger. The people who know this and continue to work with us are exhibiting a rare kind of courage. Colonel Faisal is working with American soldiers to build the Iraqi Army into a formidable force. His relationship with the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade extends back to their last deployment, in Kirkuk, where he worked with Major Chris Kidd, then of the MiTT (Military Transition Team) Team.
Colonel Faisal spends a lot of time these days with Captain Nathan Hicks, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion’s Delta Company. They share many goals and responsibilities. Recently, both men attended a memorial service for a member of the CLC (Concerned Local Citizens) who was killed in the line of duty. Local sheiks organize and supervise CLC groups, which provide security to their communities. The loss of one of their members brought many sheiks from the area together. By taking the time to pay their condolences, Colonel Faisal and Captain Hicks were doing their part to promote a sense of solidarity between forces, and to further legitimize the CLC as a vital component in Iraq’s security system.
It might seem as though the days in Iraq are filled with nothing but violence and sorrow. The country does have more than its share of both, but there is also a lot of laughter, especially when Colonel Faisal is in the room. The smart person knows the importance of balance, and Colonel Faisal is very smart. He knows when to put aside his burdens and have some fun.
During my stay at JSS Love, Captain Hicks and I were invited to dine with Colonel Faisal three times. Our first meal included kabobs, a popular meat dish, several vegetable dishes, and bread. Colonel Faisal noticed I wasn’t eating the kabobs. I explained through Jerry, our interpreter, that I was a vegetarian. Colonel Faisal was devastated by the information. He didn’t want me to go hungry, which wasn’t really a possibility, there was plenty of food, so he sent one of his soldiers out for falafel. The meal was as good as the company, and I was happy to hear we were invited back the following night.
Our second dinner was more impressive than the first, and this time Major Chris Kidd, Colonel Faisal’s old friend, joined us. The table was filled with vegetarian dishes. I was touched by Colonel Faisal’s thoughtfulness. During the meal, the men talked about soldier stuff, but they also talked about cooking. In Iraq, it is considered shameful for a man to help his wife in the kitchen. Colonel Faisal teased Captain Hicks when he admitted to occasionally helping his wife, but it was hard to take the Colonel seriously when he gone to so much trouble to make sure I, the only woman in the group, had enough to eat.
It is a privilege to break bread with our Iraqi friends. They are generous and warm, and want nothing more than to make their guests feel welcomed and cared for. Colonel Faisal embraced his role as host in the same way he embraces his role as a commanding officer.
A veteran of the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Colonel Faisal has endured some challenging times, but he has clearly not let those years get the best of him. At forty-five, he is the father of three young children and is obviously invested in the future of Iraq. During our third meal together, Colonel Faisal asked some hard questions, questions that revealed the depth of his concern for his country and its people.
What would it take to make the children of Iraq happy? Colonel Faisal waited patiently for a reply. I had often wondered about the children. How do they cope in a time of war? How much of the violence touches them? Is happiness even a possibility? There are children all over Iraq—often all it takes is an American convoy to draw them out. They might be barefoot in the cold. They might ask for a football. Would shoes and footballs make them happy? They might smile for a picture. When they smile, are they happy?
Captain Hicks pointed out an advantage Iraqi children have over American children—strong family ties that extend far beyond one household. It must be reassuring to have a place at more than one table. In spite of harsh realities that find them at far too young an age, the children of Iraq seem at least to experience moments of happiness. The challenge is to help them maintain a sense of hope for the future, their future.
Colonel Faisal also wanted to know why the Democrats were not interested in pursuing the terrorists in Iraq, alluding to discussions on the campaign trail in the United States regarding the reduction of troop levels in his country. People like Colonel Faisal, who want to clean up Iraq, and who understand how useful a partner the American forces can be, also understand how hard it will be to continue the fight alone. From his point of view, if the United States significantly cuts the number of troops in Iraq, the terrorists will be free to go about their evil business. And he will be forced to attend more memorial services.
Iraq is a country full of people who deserve a safe and fulfilling life. Just as we don’t always think of the lives our soldiers are putting on hold while they are deployed in Iraq, we don’t try to consider the lives the Iraqis have put on hold until their country becomes more stable.
Laughing over falafel with Colonel Faisal was more fun than winning a date with a movie star. He makes it very difficult to imagine how we can walk away from all of this. If only this were a movie. Then Colonel Faisal and all of the good people of Iraq would find a way to triumph over the bad guys, because in movies the good guys always win.

1 comment:

Call Me Mom said...


I was just browsing throught the blogs and came upon yours. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the job our military is doing in Iraq and elsewhere.