September 3, 2007

Last Day in Camp Taqaddam: the good and the bad

This morning we were up at 4am to go out on a convoy with 1/11 Charley Company, 2nd Platoon. We headed out on foot from our quarters to their headquarters with our body armor, kevlar, camera bag, etc.

We discovered out that among other operations they would be conducting on this convoy, they were also going into Tourist Town--the town I visited in Oct 2006, where I interviewed the school principal and more. I encourage you to follow that link to hear the old interview, then listen to this one when it airs.

The last thing we want to do is make it sound like everything is all rosy here in Iraq. It is not. Many of our military interviewees mentioned that fact. But we felt--and others do, too--that it is important to also hear the positives. Our day at Camp Taqaddum was another day that illustrates the progress over the past year.

The drive to Tourist Town was over two hours, including an operations stop along the way. As the day progressed, we could feel the heat more and more in the humvee. Added to the heat is that we all had body armor on, and the soldiers had their ammo and more. Again, I have nothing but the highest respect for all of our military for working in the conditions they face.

At our first stop in Tourist Town, the woman who was our interpreter during our October 2006 trip spotted me--we isntantly recognized each other. Last time she did not feel safe having her picture in the film, but this time she told me that it would be okay. She talked about progress in the area since I was here, and about some of the challenges--mainly in Baghdad and with the Iraqi government. It has been eye-opening to talk with Iraqis and hear what they think.

After awhile, some of the Marines came over and suggested that we walk with them through a residential area. The first family we met on our walk included the dad of a little boy whom our military is helping go to India for urgent heart surgery. This effort started with the Minnesota National Guard, and the Marines are working on completing it for this little boy. You will love hearing this on the Internet broadcast, and especially watching this on cable and dvd. The kids here just capture your heart.

We walked some more and met more Iraqis, including refugees. [Only some of this is on tape and film.] One refugee had been kidnapped by a militia group and then left for dead. Fortunately for him and his family, he was found and survived. He then left his home in Baghdad and moved his family here to Tourist Town, as have other refugees. He now wants to go back home to get his furniture so that he can sell it and use the money to feed his kids.

Another Iraqi talked about his home on a busy roadway in Baghdad, a roadway that coalition members, Iraqis, insurgents and others drive across every day. He saw many IED's go off there, and the coalition started searching his house very frequently. Finally, he decided it was too dangerous to stay there with his family and moved them to Tourist Town. Both he and the other Iraqi man we spoke to hope to go back to their homes someday.

Another Iraqi served Chai (tea), as is the custom of Iraqis when they have guests. He introduced his brother, who had a business that makes safes. A militia group confiscated his business, so he and his family also left.

The sad part is that this is a common occurrence for many Iraqis across Iraq, but mainly now in Baghdad. Hopefully al Sadr's announcement today that all his militias are to stand down for six months will allow all the progress we have seen in Baghdad to happen even faster now. But we will have to see...

All the Iraqis told us similar things. One thing they told us is that they do not want America to leave until they are capable of defending themselves against the militias, the insurgents, and Al Qaeda. The second thing they mentioned is their belief that peace will come to Iraq; they see us as helping them get there. One of the Iraqis apologized to us because in the beginning he was against us being there, there but now he realizes we are his friends.

Yes, we have brought all kinds of positive progress reports back, but it is important to not forget that there are still kidnappings, suicide bombers, etc--bad stuff is still happening. Our troops are still under attack in some areas; injuries and, sadly, deaths still occur. But the good news is that there is progress... there is hope.

After we left the Iraqis, we were brought over to Tourist Town School--or as the Iraqis call it, Al-Absaar Primary School. Principal Emad Jasim Hussien recognized me immediately. One of the last things I had told him through the same interpreter was that I would do my best to come back. Even though I had to depend on sponsors 100% this time, less than a year later Emad and I were talking!

He was excited to see me, and to share with all of America the progress that has happened in the past year at his school and in Habbbaniyu Tourist Village (the Iraqi name for their town). In October 2006, Emad had talked about his fears for himself and his family after allowing himself to be filmed. But this time he said this time he does not feel that fear. Last time there were no Iraqi Police in their town, now they have not IP's (Iraqi Police), but local people who patrol their community, man checkpoints and more. We met some of them, and you will seem them on film.

Emad also gave us a tour of his school. First we saw the desks that he was so happy to have received. The desks reminded me of desks I have seen in schools in America from about 50 years ago, but they have desks. He now has chalkboards, but needs more. He is using lesson books from last year, and he has to have more than one child use each book (share them). He
wants to get the newer books, and he would like to have one for each child. He needs pretty much what all schools in America take for granted: he needs school supplies, although he thanked our troops and the American people for the school supplies already sent to them. School opens here in a few weeks.

I would love to see some American schools team up and work it out with the civil affairs people to get them desks. They also need chalkboards, pencils, paper, back packs, and English readers. Yes, English; they are all learning English.

After we got back to Camp TQ, we were getting ready to walk back to our quarters when we were introduced to the Battery C 1st Battalion Commander, Cpt Butler, and also to 1stLt Peter McGrath. We went to eat with them, then came back and they shared a great overview and summary of what has been happening in their area and all the progress. They also talked about the school and their community.

I can hardly wait to let millions of Americans hear it!

We are now out of Iraq and in Kuwait. We hope to be able to leave for the U.S. tomorrow (we will fly into Dallas). We have talked with a major back there about doing another program on how Dallas welcomes home our troops--it is great. After Dallas, I have two days before my plane to go back to Colorado Springs. I am working on last-minute fundraising so that I can rent a car and go see my WWII Veteran Dad, who is in the ICU at a hospital there.

There is so much I want to write about, but you will all have an opportunity to listen on the Internet, and later to watch it with all the other interviews and stories we covered on Altitude Sports and Entertainment or on the DVD's. When I get back to Colorado Springs, I will post a summary of our trip. There are also many, many pictures and we will get some of them online as
quickly as possible.

America... let's set politics aside and make sure that millions of Americans hear these stories. Again, there is still bad stuff going on in Iraq and Afghanistan; people are dying and being injured. But there is progress.

Our troops were very glad to hear that we were bringing these progress stories back to the American people. Watching some of the major news media is very frustrating to them--even Iraqis talked about it! Bad news is news, no doubt about it. But good news needs to be news too. So between all of us, let's get this blog out to people. And when the interviews and stories are ready to air, let's all join together in a grassroots movement to get the word out to millions.

My next post may not be for four or five days... definitely after the Dallas talk show this Sunday.

Thank you again to FbL for taking care of this blog for us. Thank you to Patti Bader and Soldiers' Angels for making it possible at the last minute for me to make this third trip to Iraq. Thank you to the wonderful folks in Colorado Springs who put the wine-tasting fundraiser together, and to those who participated. Thank you to all of our sponsors and to all you selflessly help with this project.

To all of our troops: be safe, stay alert, and keep doing the great job you are doing.

Blessings,

Bob Calvert

7 comments:

Jules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy Bear Pearson said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective. It opens the eyes.

Peace be to you, safety and love to you.

Please know that my family and I send our best wishes and thoughts.

Bob Calvert said...

Thank you Jimmy Bear Pearson. Jim and I appreciate our prayers. We are now back in the states. Our next project is getting the many of hours of interviews and documentation online so everybody can listen.
Thank you
Bob Calvert

Anuj said...

I find it sad that so many people die every day due to bureaucratic errors, I think that the deployment to Iraq was a mistake however I am quite impressed by the great job that you guys are doing!

Cherlyn said...

Thanks for showing your support for us in such a huge way - this means so much to us all.

~SSgt Van Etta, USAFR

Bob Calvert said...

Thank you anuj....everytime we go back to Iraq we are impressed even more too. Hopefully as millions of Americans listen to what they and Iraqis shared with us we will all be even more impressed as a country.

Cherlyn.. thank you for your support too!!

Bob

Anonymous said...

Bob,

Thank you so much for posting this update about Tourist Town. I was in A Co 2/136 INF. This is the MN National Guard Unit that had control of that sector. I'm glad to hear that the heart transplant with that child is still a pressing matter and that the desks we made are being used. Most of all I'm happy that you have blogged about the positive things going on in Iraq. The progress we saw in that sector in the 16 months we were there was unbelieveable.

Take care,

SGT Michael Lamon