Thursday, April 20, 2006

Music From Heaven

On my first deployment to Iraq I was stationed at a prison camp in southern Iraq. The invasion had just started and prisoners were coming in bunches. One of the main needs at our camp was for Arabic speaking translators that could assist the military with the handling of the prisoners. The translators were mainly from Kuwait but some were native Kuwaitis who were living as far away as London, England. The translators that came to our camp were not simply looking for work but instead were intelligent men who held jobs as engineers, scientists, and computer programmers. I happened to live right next to the translators and after a few weeks at the base I became good friends with a large number of them.

We would often get together at night when we had all finished our work for the day. Usually they would eat together and on the nights that I didn’t join them for dinner I would at least stop by to talk and drink tea with them. They all spoke English exceptionally well and loved to speak with some fellow soldiers and I in order to hone their English. We would play darts or horseshoes and often played volleyball well into the night. I even managed to spend a few days in Kuwait City with a couple of them. I relished the time with them because they would tell me about their lives and answer any questions that I had. Instead of our relationship being purely professional I know they considered me a friend.


Dowtown Kuwait City

One particular night I was sitting in a circle with about 7 or 8 translators and I brought up the topic of Desert Storm. All of them were over the age of 30 and were able to recall with clarity the events of 1991. One translator who was about 50 years old spoke up above the rest and told me of his harrowing story during the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi army until his release from prison several months after the war ended.

He recounted to me the initial invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis with horror: “They roamed the streets and frightened everyone. They stole from and killed those who stood up to them,” he said. The sense that I got from him and the other translators was that Kuwait had changed overnight from a civil and ordered society to one of lawlessness perpetuated by Iraqi soldiers. All Kuwaitis were living in fear of the soldiers and were afraid to stand up for their rights for fear of being killed. These feelings lasted for Kuwaitis until one day as my friend described to me that they heard “music coming from heaven.” With a twinkle in his eye he recalled the day that he first heard the bombs being dropped by American planes. The sound of bombing, a sound that would frighten most people, was the music from heaven that he heard. For Kuwaitis the sound of our bombing meant that they would soon be free. Someone was coming to their aid; the world had not forgotten their plight.

Soon after the bombing started he told me that Kuwaitis felt emboldened to stand up to their oppressors. His brother-in-law felt the same way and tried to speak out against some Iraqi soldiers who were harassing him one afternoon. Unfortunately for him no American soldiers were in Kuwait yet and the Iraqis killed him. The bombing instilled in many Kuwaitis a false sense of security and unfortunately for my friends brother-in-law it cost him his life.

Right before American ground forces liberated Kuwait my friend went to his place of business one afternoon to find that most of his things had been confiscated by the Iraqis. When he went to complain to an Iraqi officer nearby he was handcuffed and sent to an Iraqi prison. He told me about the several months he spent in a dark, dirty, and damp cell with numerous other Kuwaitis who had been arrested along with him. At first he said it was hard for him to even breathe in the cell and it was some time before he became used to life in the prison. His family back in Kuwait assumed he was dead since he did not return home from work and was not allowed to communicate with them from prison.

When Iraq surrendered to America one of their promises was to release all of the prisoners they took during their time in Kuwait. Keeping in line with his character Saddam did not make true on this promise and it was several weeks later that my friend was released from prison. On the day that he was released he told me about the horror that awaited the prisoners in his camp. As the prisoners were led out of their cells they were split up into two groups: one group stood to the right and one to the left on the field outside of the prison. My friend went to the group on the left and they then bordered buses and were driven back to Kuwait, the group on the right were gunned down and buried on top of each other in a mass grave. My friend estimated that 3000 people were killed that day. Saddam used the release of those prisoners, among others held at different camps, to show the world that he was complying with the terms of his surrender. Since no records were kept indicating how many prisoners were taken and kept by Iraq it was easy for Saddam to lie to the world.


Downtown Kuwait with the Independence Tower in the background commemorating the Iraq invasion in 1990

My friend arrived home to find that his country was free of Iraqis and he was once again reunited with his family. He told me that he would forever be indebted to the Americans who came to his country’s aid when they needed it the most. He, along with the other translators, assured me that all Kuwaitis remembered what America had done for them and they praised us for trying to do the same for the Iraqi people. The look in his eyes that night has stayed with me to this day and whenever I question our motives in Iraq I remember that everything else aside we have given freedom to a people whom desperately needed it. Just like my friend who was locked away unjustly, the Iraqi people today have suffered enough for things they had no control over. I believe it is high time America and the world over began to hear stories from the people who have been affected positively by war. There are countless stories like this one but unfortunately most people have never heard them.

12 comments:

JohnD said...

Tim,
Thank you again for sharing your story about what really is happening in Iraq today (and fourteen years ago).
It is true that we need to hear all the news, not just the daily death count of American or Iraqis, but the schools built, the Iraqis leading some of the military ventures and the other postive news.
We should never be in a position where we only hear one side of any story, and you and the other milbloggers are truly making a difference.
Keep up the great work!

Melinda said...

Another good and informative post. Keep up the good work, okay?

Anonymous said...

We found this one of your most interesting blogs, Sgt. Boggs, and well written. It is high time that the good things that happen in war come out, horrible as war is. Way past time in fact. No wonder you are the mature young man you are. You have seen much and learned many leasons first hand. Sometimes I think that sheltering our young people from the harsh realities of life has not been the kindest thing we could have done for them. May you be an inspiration to other soldiers to write of the good, the bad and the ugly. The more we read and hear our Military mens stories the more we respect you and we seek new ways to support you. Thank you Timothy Boggs, warrior and writer.
A&N

tanksis said...

We are going to have to create a new dictionary of words to describe you and your blogs, Sgt!

But until then, another awesome and inspirational post.

Hope the press gets on to that milblog wire...no doubt it is sorely needed to help get the "good" word out.

Thinking of all in uniform today and every day.

Courtney said...

Tim-

Thank-you for the inspiring post! Just what I needed to end my work week!

Chuck aka Tully Mars said...

Excellent post. Glad to see that others agree that what we are doing there is needed and is making a difference. Maybe many in the US cannot fathom what it would be like to have no law enforcement, no way to protect yourself and heavily armed thugs roaming the streets with no fear of retribution.

Carole said...

Just want to say, Thanks for serving our country and thanks for a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Music from heaven for us today would be to hear that you and your buddies are all well. A bad weekend for Mosul. It points out to us just how important you are to us Sgt. Boggs - -you and all of the men there. May the true God keep you safe!
A&N

Gypsy said...

Yes, what A&N said t.f. My prayers are with all...

banzai said...

Essayons!

AFSister said...

WOW.
just... WOW.

And people think that we're the Great Oppressors of the world, and are only in Iraq for the oil? Fuck that. We're there for the Iraqi people, just like we were there for the Kuwaiti's.

Elizabeth said...

This was a touching story, and riveting too. I vastly prefer this type of reportage to "commentary" and "analysis."

I wish I could believe we went to Kuwait for the Kuwaiti people. Evidence, however, indicates that we went there to protect the oil reserves.