In retrospect… A look of hope

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March 31st 2014
Published: March 31st 2014
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Letter No. 5: A look of hope, but no smiles or waves, from a teenage girl

By David J. Jenkins, USU class of '98

December 20, 2004 · Hello everyone. Greetings from Baghdad . . .

This morning we were out on a routine R&S (Recon and Surveillance) Patrol. This is when we drive around in circles for half the day until EVERYONE in Baghdad is aware of our existence. And, while we are out and about, we keep our eyes open for basic police-action type activity.

We had just finished patrolling a neighborhood when we emerged onto a main thoroughfare. Traffic was piling up in both directions and there was a very large median divider to prevent cars from making a left turn; however, we needed to go left. So, we inched our way out into the oncoming traffic.

Each of our vehicles moved within inches of the cars on either side of us, and we proceeded to drive straight ahead until we crept over the divider, which was slightly taller than a traditional curb. Our lead vehicle lurched up and then slammed back down as it made its way over. It made a loud squelching sound as the body of the truck bottomed out on the tires. They continued to creep along on the other side of the median, blocking out the cars approaching from the right, clearing a path for the rest of the convoy.

As we approached the median, we too made our way up onto the concrete slab. Our front wheels ascending until the road in front of us was out of view, and we were staring at the third story of the building directly ahead. The concrete median was wide enough that as our front wheels came crashing down, the rear wheels had not yet begun the climb. We just sat there, blocking traffic from both directions, waiting for the lead vehicle to move forward.

I noticed that in front of us, two lanes over, was a mini-van. There were four older men, and what appeared to be a 17- or 18-year-old girl inside. She was just sitting there, inside the van, occupying the middle row of seats. Her forehead was glued to the window, eyes focused, gaze fixed, staring at us.

My first impulse was to smile and wave. We try to be friendly to the locals, acting in accordance with our first directive of "winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people." However, the traditions, customs and beliefs here are different than what we are used to. I then thought about the severe beating that she might receive from her father when she got home, for drawing attention to herself, especially from an American Soldier.

Still, there was the impulse to smile and wave. . . . Isn't it right to be friendly?

Then, I thought about the severe beating that I was sure to receive from my wife when I got home -- when she heard about me waving to young girls (and you know she would hear about it. . . . I don't know how, but they know). So, of course, I did the only decent thing, and diverted my attention elsewhere.

I could see the look of admiration on her face. The look of hope; hope for peace. I knew that if she could, she would wrap her arms around any one of us just to say, thank you. And, I pray that she saw the look of mutual respect; and the look of hope, on each of our faces.

Eventually, we were able to lurch our vehicle forward and free it from its vulnerable spot in the middle of the road. We entered yet another neighborhood and continued to make our presence known, until all of Baghdad could say, we saw the Oregon National Guard today; and, there is hope.

David J. Jenkins
Oregon Army National Guard, 2-162 Infantry


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