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Welcome Home, Rick...
Posted by: McQ on Friday, March 21, 2008

One of our faithful readers and sometime commenters is Spc. Rick Branch of the 3rd Infantry Division. Rick works as a military journalist within the division and has just completed either his second or third tour in Iraq (my apologies, but I don't remember which). He's written about his latest tour in a note to the readers of QandO:
Hello QandO!

I've not posted in months but I still frequently read about what's going on back home from you all here. I do have some great news now, I'm going home!

I’m leaving Iraq with a job well done.

I've been here so long that words in my mind can't convey the feelings I have in my heart about the upcoming plane ride back to the states.

When I came here, I was really worried. I was with a new unit and going to Ramadi, Iraq.

Once known as the most dangerous city in the world to some people; Ramadi would see running gun battles daily just patrolling into the city.

On average, the Soldiers here encountered about 30-35 attacks a day here.

My brother also was leaving Ramadi when I was preparing to arrive there.

I remember the stories he spoke of in his time in the Al Anbar provincial capital.
He'd get hit by roadside bombs daily.

Small-arms fire was common in the city. Anything from bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, and bombs was a daily sound to hear around Ramadi.

However, my brother was a very lucky guy. His tank would be targeted by some of the worst bombs and munitions insurgents could throw at them but he was never hurt badly by anything.

To add to my worry, one of the servicemembers in my field (I'm a correspondent/print journalist) died from a bomb shortly before I arrived. To say I wasn't scared would be the biggest lie I ever told myself.

Yeah, I was terrified. I'd occupy my mind over many things to keep the worry at a tolerable level.

My first mission here was back in February of 2007. I was walking down a street and people were scattering at the first sight of Soldiers moving down the street.

People were never on the roads. To describe what it was like you'd only need to think about those western movies where the streets are empty just before the gun battle at high noon.

Nothing happened my first time outside the wire but when I got back to the combat outpost, things quickly picked up.

I was staying in a room just below the guard tower and just getting dozing off to sleep when the sounds of a grenade launcher made me jump out of my slumber.

I tossed my gear on and grabbed my camera; the insurgents were attacking the base. I remember grabbing my weapon before I bolted from the room and ran up the stairs to the guard tower.

When I looked out over skyline, I saw Christmas lights everywhere. There really were no Christmas lights but numerous tracers flying from the tower and some uncomfortably close to it. It was like grabbing lights from your tree and throwing them into the air.

The darkness was lit up from the flashes of the munitions hitting the buildings, peppering them with holes, or demolishing them before my eyes.

I ran up to the guy firing the grenade launcher; he was in the zone, living for the moment knowing it was either them or you.

While I sat there, I wondered what was in the terrorists' mind while they shot at us.

Yeah, we came here and are in your city but it's not to oppress you.

We're not here as blood thirsty killers. Most of us would rather not be here at all even, yet we were being attacked to stop an attempt at securing the city.

Later, I found that it's impossible to sit down and rationalize during combat. Some things are best left for brighter people to analyze, and I just wanted to come out of this experience alive.

The roof top around the guard tower was buzzing with activity. I remember seeing the first sergeant there with his rifle taking single shots here and there. His shots were not many, but they were well-aimed shots at insurgent muzzle flashes he spotted.

I turned around then and saw my coworker running about as well. She had her video camera out and was capturing the sights and sounds of the battle.

I never really asked her how she felt about the experience, but I'm sure some of the same thoughts in my head were probably swirling around in her mind while we watched the chaos unfold around us.

In the distance, there was a Bradley firing down the street at some unseen target. The booms were so loud that you had to yell to the person you wanted to talk to, even when they were an arms length away.

I was there a few days. It became a daily routine. For a time, anyone could predict the attacks to 30 minutes before and after a mosque broadcast.

I was never told this outright but that's what I learned talking to the people at my rank about attacks.

Fast forward a month now and I'm sitting in a sheik's house in March. The man I was seeing was Sheik Sittar Abu Risha. I was skeptical the first time I met him.

Many people believed that Sheik Sittar was an opportunist out to capitalize on the situation here in Ramadi, and I kind of believed some of it. It wasn't until the third time that I met him that his words really sunk in and hit home.

Sittar was trying hard to broker peace.

His family had also been hurt badly by the insurgents with two brothers dead and his father as well. Add insult to injury, the bodies were not allowed to be buried according to Muslim tradition.

I began to admire the man. After one tour in Baghdad, I didn't have a great taste in my mind what the Iraqi on the street wanted but this man was different.

Sittar united his tribe with the coalition presence in Ramadi and united many other tribes under his banner of freedom from tyranny, oppression, and in some cases annihilation.

Your everyday Muslim doesn't live by the harsh doctrine that is ingrained in many westerners' mind. The radical Muslim is a terrorist; he doesn't live by the basic code preached in the Koran but a perversion of it to fit his own twisted ideals.

Sittar, while devout in his faith, was a man looking to change the sway of the common man being influenced by terrorists.

I remember once when I talked to a friend who worked in the law enforcement field, he told me that many insurgents don't even know how to read and write, which allows the common man to become corrupted in their way of thought.

While I have had lots of time to think here, I came to my own conclusion about this war in Iraq. Even if there are no weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam never had anything, we are accomplishing one very important goal here.

The goal we are accomplishing is opening peoples' eyes. Life is not important if you walk around with blinders over your eyes like a horse plowing a field and life is not important if you don't make the best of it.

The people of Iraq have been through years of oppressive rule. Many people are not educated, and they can't read or write here, which allows influential people to move in and take advantage of a situation.

The Iraqis are trying though and it's the schools in the cities and countryside that will make the difference. Educate the people and explain to them the differences of other religions and Iraq can become a beacon of tolerance and hope for the world.

Back to Sittar, he didn't have a chance to see the fruits of his labor because he was killed by a roadside bomb planted outside his home. He may have died though but his cause lived on.

The direct result of Sittar uniting the people was the "Awakening," which has spread throughout Iraq. Everyday people are hearing that violence doesn't solve problems but creates them. Iraqis don't like the violence caused by terrorists and have risen up in Al Anbar, which is now one of the safest provinces in Iraq.

Granted, I don't think Anbar is 100 percent safe because an episode in September with gunfire confirmed that for me; I do think it's probably the number one place I'd want to be if I was an Iraqi or a Soldier deployed here.

Fast forward even further now and I'm sitting at just a scant few days before I board a plane and say goodbye to my home for 15 months.

It's been a long and difficult ride. I've grown a lot as a person and will cherish the experience I learned here for the rest of my life. I'm honestly tired though. I've not had an opportunity to live either. I've not had a decent relationship because of these back to back tours, which makes me sad. I do understand this was what I signed up to do so I don't dwell on the past much but look to the future when I think about life.

Regardless what my life has in store for me, I'm glad I came here. I have a better appreciation of what it means to be an American. I'm grateful for being born in freedom and the small things in life.

Now I just want to go home and spend a day just lying under clear blue skies remember what happened in my 15-months here.

If anyone sees a lanky little guy with dark shades, looking at the sky and smiling know that it's probably me. If you ask me what I think about Iraq you won't get your standard text book answer; you will get one word from me though - hope.

If you bring me a cup of coffee, you'll get my thanks and a story of life on a 15-month deployment.
Welcome home Rick and thanks very much for both your report and your service. And I promise you that cup of coffee if we ever meet as I'd love to hear the details of your latest tour.
 
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A tip of the hat to Rick.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Welcome back indeed. btw, I like the where you refer to your "coworker", not fellow soldier - I think it presents an appropriate picture for what is going on there.
:-)
 
Written By: BIllS
URL: http://bills-opinions.blogspot.com

 
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