Editor’s note: As a special service for our readers, WND has been running a series of dispatches from Allan Wall chronicling his transition from civilian life as he prepared to fight with his National Guard unit in Iraq. Allan is now over in Iraq and will write for us as often as he is able to let our readers vicariously experience what people in his position are going through. We hope you will check regularly for Allan’s dispatches and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.
On our first full day in Iraq it rained. And rained and rained. It wasn’t a hard rain. Just a steady rain. All day long.
The water was so deep that I got my boots wet inside and out, and my socks, too. By nightfall, I was cold and shivering. I went to the phone center (a tent with phones in it) and called my wife Lilia in Mexico. I was shivering when I talked to her.
The daylong rain left the ground muddy. After that, it didn’t rain for almost a month. The earth gradually began to dry, but deep mud persisted in some places for weeks. And vehicles were getting stuck.
This was not sand. This was soil, transformed to mud by the water . But not just any mud. This was Mesopotamian mud in the Cradle of Civilization. Who knows what historical personages had once walked in that mud? And now we were walking in it, driving in it, getting stuck in it.
Thinking about a nursery rhyme
I love the traditional English nursery rhymes. I was raised on them, and I read them to my sons, who enjoy them also. These old poems are part of our cultural heritage, and they still possess a time-honored attraction to little children and help to develop an appreciation for poetry at an early age.
As I now find myself in Iraq with my National Guard unit, there is a particular nursery rhyme that I find relevant to our situation. I ran across it in one of the Mother Goose books that I would read to my boys at home in Mexico. Here is the text:
“How Many Miles To Babylon?”
How many miles is it to Babylon?
Threescore miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light.
You may get there by candlelight.
In my present situation, here in Iraq and separated from my boys, I find this poem touching and relevant.
Babylon was the ancient city located within the present-day boundaries of Iraq, a modern state formed in the 20th century. Babylon can also be taken as a synechdoche, referring to the whole of Iraq. That’s the way the Italian military uses it. The Italians have troops in Iraq. But they don’t refer to their operation as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” They call it “Operazione Antica Babilonia” (Operation Ancient Babylon).
As for the “threescore miles and ten” (seventy miles), I’m not sure what the (unknown) poet had in mind. If you look up the distance from Baghad to Babylon, you can find anything from 55 to 70 miles, it must depend on what part of Baghdad they’re measuring from (Baghdad’s a big city). Maybe the poet was just looking for a rhyme. Anyway, we sure traveled a lot more than “threescore miles and ten” to get here.
I really like the part of the poem that says, “Can I get there by candlelight? Yes, and back again.” My National Guard unit has arrived in Iraq. We didn’t literally travel by candlelight, but our flight from Fort XYZ to the Middle East employed artificial light, so that metaphorically be considered candlelight. And we certainly do desire to go back when our tour is ended . To get back to our families and civilian lives. Whatever befalls us in Iraq, we want to get back home someday. I hope and pray that we all do.
Our new mission was already being performed by soldiers of two different units. During the transitional period, their soldiers trained our soldiers how to perform the mission. Then, after preparing our soldiers, the outgoing soldiers made their own preparations to depart Iraq.
For us, the transitional period went very quickly. In just a few days, our unit had taken over the mission. There were many people at our base – the soldiers who had recently arrived and those preparing to leave Iraq. During this time of transition, many personal possessions changed hands. And that requires an explanation.
Deployed soldiers like to have personal possessions. The most popular items include entertainment equipment – DVD players, TVs, computer games – that sort of thing. And, comfort and convenience items like chairs, lamps and refrigerators.
Some of these items, if they’re not too big, can be brought from the United States. But when soldiers fly to the Middle East, they aren’t allowed to carry much. Their luggage space is limited, most of it reserved for uniforms and military equipment. So when they get there, they want more personal items and tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. Sometimes they buy it here in Iraq. Sometimes stuff is sent to them by mail.
By the end of the tour, though, the soldier has a problem. Because of his limited luggage space, he can’t take all that stuff home. So, he either has to mail it home, or get rid of it in Iraq.
While the outoing soldiers are preparing to leave, incoming soldiers are arriving. Many of the recent arrivals want the same sort of stuff. So what happens is outgoing soldiers sell – at bargain prices – these entertainment, comfort and convenience items to incoming troops. Sometimes the outgoing soldiers even give the stuff away. Sometimes they just throw it away. If recently arrived soldiers keep an eye on the trash dumps, they can find some good items, completely free.