Today I was pleased to receive my copy of the UVa Alumni Magazine in the post and to discover that the current cover story is about UVa alumni (graduates from 1976 - 2005) who have served, or are currently serving, in Iraq. As the introduction notes, "For many Americans, military life is an abstraction, something that takes place behind a walled base or in another country." And as one Wahoo in uniform notes, "It's a shame that the media focuses so much on death and roadside bombings when there are so many positive things happening in Iraq: schools, water lines, power grids, hospitals…" As a humble counterweight to both of these phenomena, here are my two personal favourite testimonials from these stellar people. (More here.)
In Iraq: June '05-Aug. '06; Sept. '07-present
The saying is "a sound mind in a sound body"; I joke with my fellow officers that if you can't have one, you might as well have the other. Mission permitting, we hit the gym for at least an hour daily. The real sanity-saver, though, is communication from home. The pictures and videos my wife e-mails me from the States are particularly awesome. My son, Daniel, is 1 year old and you can't imagine how bittersweet it is to know he's growing up on the other side of the world. The USO has a great service where they burn a DVD of us reading children's books and then they send the DVD and book free of charge to your home. That way I get to read stories to my son. My wife tells me that Daniel knows my voice and when she puts the DVD in, he will say "Da-da."
Working through some local orphanages, I've had the opportunity to set up some clothing/toy drives supporting Iraqi children. Children arguably suffer the most in war. One translator relayed to me the story of a little girl I saw, maybe 5 years old, who had no shoes and no smile. He told me that she hadn't smiled since her parents were killed in front of her with a knife by al-Qaida. Their crime? They had been accused of "assisting the Zionist occupiers." Knowing that I can do something to make kids' lives a little better is deeply rewarding; maybe it has something to do with the fact that my son is so young. To be able to say to a child, "There is someone on the other side of the world, someone you will most likely never meet, who loves you and wants you to have this toy/jacket/blanket" it almost gives one hope for the future.
Simon is a logistician for the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Balad, Iraq.
Kimberly "Kimi" White (Col '02)
In Iraq: March '03-Feb. '04; July '05-Nov. '05
During my first tour of Iraq, I led a construction platoon in the Army Corps of Engineers. One assignment sent us out to the Turkish border. The town's wells weren't deep enough to draw enough water for the town, so the town relied on delivery trucks to bring water in from the mountains and sell to the townspeople at insane prices. Our mission was to dig a water main several miles from the mountains, out to the villages.
I became used to Iraqis staring at me on the street. Frequently, a woman would gawk at me, walk away and return with her daughter or granddaughter, gesturing as if to say, "Holy cow a female soldier!" While digging the water main, the town's children liked to watch our progress. They had the same reaction "A woman!" One little girl saw me and ran to tell her mother. Out in the heat digging a trench, I was hardly at my most feminine. Wisps of hair escaped from my helmet and whipped around in the wind. We didn't have shampoo or constant access to bathing water, so my hair was a mess. The mother came out and brought me two little silver barrettes to hold my hair back. They had to be the most expensive thing she owned. I was so touched I still tear up when I think about it.
White is in law school at George Mason University.