Tuesday, December 20, 2005
It's 1815, Tuesday evening. Bingo and I have just returned from assisting the Iraqi Army in Operation Moonlight; a "cordon and knock" mission along the Euphrates river. There were three Iraqi battalions from the 1st Iraqi Brigade involved in the operation which covered a large swath of desert on either side of the river just East of the city of Ubaydi (See picture).
I was greatly impressed with the performance of the Iraqi soldiers who bring a much needed local face to the coalition's operations. Many of the soldiers whom I served with brought a wealth of combat experience to the fight from previous operations in Fallujah, Najaf, and most recently Operation Steel Curtain within the cities of Husaybah and Karibala. Most importantly, the Iraqi soldiers fight with passion fueled by a their desire to take the torch and defend their homeland unassisted. While they are willing to serve beside coalition forces, each soldier that I spoke to about their progress told me (in broken English) how much pride they take in the defense of their country. They are also quick to tell you how thankful they are for "Ameriki's" assistance. Also worthy of note, is that Operation Moonlight was a milestone for the Iraqi army as it was the first ever brigade size operation conducted by the newly created army.
Although the soldier's tactics could use a bit of refining, they have something that you cannot teach a warrior...heart. Every one of these men would walk the four corners of the earth to defend their country. On the eve of my indoc (try-out) for the Military Police Special Reaction Team, the team's chief, a Gunnery Sergeant whom I respect greatly, told us that he could teach tactics to a monkey, but something that he couldn't teach anybody was how to have heart and determination and how to keep your body going when your mind tells it to quit. I will never forget his words..."Gents, you've either got it, or you don't", the Gunny told us bluntly. "And starting tomorrow, my job is to see who has it, and wave bye-bye to those who don't. Your mind will give up long before your body will." I did not see a single soldier during the operation who didn't have "it". They caused me to dig a bit deeper as we went tromping along across the desert.
The operation started at dawn. I was one of several Marines participating in the operation aimed at locating any anti-coalition materials or fighters within the villages and farmlands along the Euphrates. The topography of the land was mostly wide-open desert with small villages scattered throughout. The villages resembled petting zoos and had a variety of wildlife that would have made your local zoo green with jealousy. I now know why they call it the "fertile crescent" as the wildlife is without a doubt, fertile. To my dismay and much to Bingo's pleasure, they also had more wild dogs than I could count. Three-legged dogs, dogs missing ears, furless dogs...we saw them all and Bingo was determined to greet each one. It made life very interesting for me. As I have stated in earlier posts, Bingo is three going on one and taking him into this kind of environment is like taking your toddler to Chuck-E-Cheese's and making him bring his homework with him. Oil and water. He was especially fond of the lambs and baby goats, totally convinced that their retreat was an invitation to go frolic on the river's bank. But we trodded along, Bingo did in fact work and in the end, I was confident that what he and I searched was void of explosives.
The sun set on a bunch of worn out and sore-footed troops. It took some convincing on our parts to dissuade the Iraqi soldiers from lighting bonfires amidst our bivouac site. "Trust us guys, you'd rather be cold, than have mortars raining down on your heads". At times I thought that they would rather have mortars fall on their heads than be cold. But in the end, common sense prevailed and we kept warm by laughing at each other's pronunciation of English and Arabic phrases. I woke up (many times) throughout the night, sleeping only long enough for one side of my body to go numb and remind me that it was time to flip and pay the other side some attention. It was during one of these moments of reveille, that I realized why they named the operation as they did. The moon was shining low in the sky and completely illuminated the desert landscape. Had it not been so cold, I may have emerged from my cocoon long enough to take a picture, but as it is, my inadequate description will have to suffice. The morning, as it so often does, came much too early and wouldn't you know it...I forgot my snooze button!
The dawn brought little warmth, and we stepped off this day the same as we had yesterday. As we made our way through the villages, it was readily apparent that we were a novelty to the children. It did however, take some goading on out part to get them to come close enough to hand them some skittles or other trinkets. On one particular occassion, Bingo was sitting down next to me with his leash connected to a tree. A throng of children looked, pointed and laughed in our general direction...albeit at a very safe distance. Bingo was a hit and he had the children enthralled (I think it's because he had two ears). They looked, pointed and repeated "chelub", Arabic for...you guessed it, dog. Well, I thought it would be a hoot if I got him and showed them some stupid pet tricks in Bingo's not-so-expansive repoitoir...play dead, etc. I was wrong...very wrong. I have never seen kids run away so fast. I turned around and just like that, they were all gone. I was politely counseled by my Iraqi counterparts and it was a lesson well-learned...Iraqi children are afraid of dogs with two ears and four legs.
The operation ended with a great sense of accomplishment. The Iraqi soldiers rode back to camp singing as they often do, and also with the knowledge that they do in fact have "it" and are well on their way to defending their country solo. It was a good day for them, and it was a good day for the whole of the country.