Still dusting the sand off recent memories of his 15-months in Iraq, 26 year-old First Lieutenant Jeff Hurd of the US Army’s Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, talks to BustedHalo about media coverage of the war, the embattled city of Najaf, the people of Iraq, God and steak.
BustedHalo: Over here in the states we get a certain view of what is going on over there. Can you give us your first-hand account of what is happening?
Jeff Hurd: What they’re covering is accurate, but they’re not covering a lot of it. Most of what you see is fighting and how many soldiers died today. There is a lot of public relations going on over there that the media isn’t covering from what I’ve seen so far…. Each [military] team is allotted a couple thousand dollars to rebuild fields and schools and, I don’t think it goes to Mosques, but it goes into the community to rebuild everything. You don’t see a lot of that in the news we’ve had. But as far as what they do cover, it’s pretty accurate. There is a lot of violence going on.
BH: What was most on your mind when you were there?
JH: Home. [pause] There were always shooting and there were always explosions…And it happened so often, that you became so accustomed to it that unless you could feel the blast or hear the crack from the bullet, you’d just tune it out. So for the first couple months you were kind of jittery. After that, you had been there for awhile and all the stuff happened. You would just think about what you had to do for your job, or think about writing an e-mail home or how much you missed steak. [grins]
BH: What would a typical day look like for you?
JH: They were so varied. Most days we’d get up, check all the equipment, gather maintenance reports [Hurd was an Executive Officer involved in communications]. We’d drive to different sites to check all their stuff out, that’s really about it. We’d do that most of the day. Order parts, make sure they came in. Really that was average, there wasn’t a lot was going on until something broke. Sometimes things would break which would make things busier. Sometimes we’d see action and everybody would go crazy then. There were a couple of times, we had soldiers injured. So it was kind of hectic at first. But really it was average, not a lot went on most days.
BH: Could you talk a bit about some of your experiences over there and what goes through your mind when you are in danger?
JH: Once we were driving on the road, on the freeway, and, uh, one of the improvised [roadside] bombs went off between the two trucks on the convoy. And we were going fast enough so that nobody got hurt, but shrapnel sprayed through both trucks…And the tops of the trucks that we were driving that particular day were canvas and we had them pulled back so that we could see easier. And it came through the back of the truck and I was sitting in the back seat with one of my other soldiers sitting on the other side and, you could feel it, it was like rocks hitting the side of your face. And then some of it went through the window in the truck behind us but nobody got hurt….
We did have one of my soldier’s die… not in that particular one but in another one of the same thing. I wasn’t on that convoy. Um, so when you hear about it, you know, “A soldier got hit.” And you’re like, “Is everyone ok? Ok?” and, they say, “No.” Then, it’s, “oh.” Then you do what you have to take care of and you make sure everybody else is OK. But then when that sets in, that’s really a morale killer…. Because this guy had a wife and kids. And you’re like ‘Wow.’ All of the sudden it becomes real. I mean, that could have been me. I’m really lucky. So, you don’t think about it while it’s happening. You think about it after it’s over and when you lie there in bed before you go to sleep and that’s when you think about it.
BH: You mentioned Najaf to me earlier, tell me about that.
JH: My teams were spread all over…They weren’t actually in Najaf, they were in a base probably about 15 miles outside of Najaf. And there was also a base in Najaf so they would run operations out of there, but it was a lot easier to be outside of the city and protect yourself than to be inside the city where you can get attacked from four sides…. From what I could see, most people were the same as any other city. It just happened to be an easier place for the minority stronghold. But the people were the same. Iraqis are Iraqis.
BH: Did you ever have a chance to meet any people from Iraq?
JH: We would go outside the gate a lot and talk to them, to the Iraqi’s outside, and they, for the most part, were really glad we were there. Most people there just want to go to work, earn money for food and raise their kids. And we just made it a little easier for them.
BH: What was your perception of the role of religion in Iraq?
JH: Most of them were Muslim and…everybody respected each other. We didn’t push anything on anybody else. That really wasn’t the armies’ job to do that. There were missionaries there that you’d see once and awhile but, everybody just had mutual respect for everybody else. Our job was just to stabilize the place. But it was kind of encouraging to see, there were Christian Iraqis there that were always ecstatic. They’d come up and share with you that they were Christian and they would always give you gifts. Shake your hand and made sure you knew that they were Christian.
BH: Were you a religious person before you went to Iraq?
JH: I had gone to church for a long time when I was younger. When I was probably about12 my grandmother died and I stopped going. I was kind of angry. And I hadn’t gone since then. And I started going back once and a while before I left. And once I went over there, you have lots of time to think about everything. So I started thinking about it a lot more. And then somebody sent me a book, More than a Carpenter, one of those popular ones. I read through that and at first I was very skeptical. Then I read through it and it made sense. Then I started reading a little bit more because you know, you have lots of time to think, lots of time to read. And, I don’t know, I started getting closer to God and wanting to learn more. So I started going to services on Sunday and went to a bible study or two…. So I’ve grown a lot closer.
BH: Do you feel that your faith helped you get through your time in Iraq?
JH: Yeah. Not initially, I relied on myself. But once I realized that God was there, that God was there the whole time I was in Iraq whether I chose to see him or not. Whether I had a good day or bad day, God was somebody to talk to, somebody to listen.
BH: If you could ask God one question about your experience in Iraq, what would you ask?
JH: If I could say one thing to God? That I hope everything works out, you know. That people stop suffering. I wouldn’t ask anything. Maybe it’s not my place to know. But there’s a lot of suffering with war and neglect. You would see little kids that would run out in the street, just to come see you, because you have a piece of chocolate or something, in bare feet on asphalt when it’s 140 degrees outside and just for a piece of chocolate. Yeah, so no more suffering….