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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
September 10th, 2004

A Soldier’s Story

One young officer's view from the frontline in Iraq.

 
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BustedHalo: Tell me about Baghdad.

Jeff Hurd: Baghdad? Baghdad is a big city. There were certain parts of the city that had been neglected for so long because…they were opposite Saddam [religiously]. So he neglected them for 30 years, that was Sadr City. And so, some parts of the city were immaculate like the “green zone” which you probably heard about that in the news, that’s the palace district. It’s just green everywhere, really nice paved streets, houses, shops, and all kinds of stuff. But then you go to Sadr City and it’s literally worse than slums. I mean, one room shacks with whole families in them with bamboo or sticks for doors. No windows, no air conditioning, no power. They’d rotate power through the city to make sure they had power every now and then. Dirt streets. No sewage. It would just sit on the side of the road, trash everywhere. One thing I remember clearly was they had horses because they would use donkey carts and horses a lot over there because people didn’t have cars and, there was a dead horse that had been there for weeks. Rigor mortis had obviously set in. It was just decaying out in the street and kids were playing around it…. The religious lines were really what you could see….

When we first got there [Sadr City], it was really sketchy. We actually encountered a bunch of hostile people there. They were throwing rocks at us and spitting at us. They ran up with a UXO [unexploded ordinance] bomb kind of thing, it was on a pushcart, and they were running towards us, so we got out of there. But after we got in there and set up and started spending money, you know, helped build soccer fields right outside there, so, helped the schools out. Everybody there was really supportive of us. And then when fighting broke out in Sadr City, most of those people just went inside their houses. And it was the bad guys that were holed in a particular building or whatever and would cause trouble. And everybody else was just inside on the floor waiting for it to pass.

BH: There has been talk that we need more soldiers in Iraq right now. What do you feel about that?

JH: It’s hard for me to say because I can’t see the big picture. In Baghdad we were always busy. When we moved down south, my company was spread out over four different cities. Most of the time we didn’t see anything. I had one team in Naiad and at the time it was pretty crazy there. But we were in Al-Kut … and nothing happened and it was really quiet. So, I really couldn’t tell you. I think with what we’re doing and with what we have there, they’re doing exceptionally well. One of the things the media doesn’t show you is the progress we’ve made…

I think the problem with the insurgents…more military may not help prevent attacks. I think the attacks are still going to happen. The only thing that more military would be doing is just patrolling the streets as a show of force that might help us out. I think we’d be better off dealing with what we have now because soldiers are so stretched out. I mean, we were there for almost a year and a half. And now, some of my crew left in April they were there for one year, they left in April. And they’re going back again next year already…

BH: They’d like more relief?

JH: Yeah, I think what they want is more relief of rotations. I think they’d rather have six-month rotations and go back every six months than be there for year, come back for eight months, and then go back for a year. I think that’s what would probably be better off. But as far as soldiers on the ground in Iraq, I think it is adequate.

BH: There has also been
talk that President Bush is going to call the draft if he wins the election. Do you think that would be a good decision?

JH: Absolutely not. That would probably be one of the worst decisions he could make…. If he reinstates the draft, it’s going to do the same thing that it did in Vietnam. You’ll have a bunch of unmotivated soldiers that don’t want to be there, kids getting killed that would have done something else, that never wanted to go into the military, and that had no desire to go into the military. I mean, the military is definitely not for everybody. Some people just don’t need to be carrying guns. So, I think it’s a terrible, terrible idea and I really think that it won’t happen.

BH: Do you think there is a way out or do you think this is going to turn into another Vietnam?

JH: I think that Vietnam and Iraq are apples and oranges. It’s a completely different kind of war. It’s hard to have an exit strategy in a place like this. I mean, you can’t really because until the government is sturdy and stable, it could be overthrown in, you know, a week. So with every other operation that we’ve had, there are always soldiers that have had to stay there and I think we’re in the same place. When they’ll start moving soldiers out and reducing the amount of soldiers that is there? It’s hard to say. But everyday they’re training new ICDC—The Iraqi Civil Defense Core—the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Army; they’re always constantly training, all over the city, or all over the country in fact. So once they get enough of those guys, once they have a little time on the ground, and get a little experience and are strong enough to handle themselves, I think we’ll remove soldiers from there but I think it will be a permanent station for the United States just like Bosnia or Kosovo. And then eventually at some point, we’ll probably pull out everybody with the exception of a small rotation. As far as exit strategy, it’s hard to have one. I think it will take a couple more years, at least five.

BH: What is your hope for Iraq in the next 10 years?

JH: I’d like to see them survive and do their own thing…Everybody says, why are we forcing democracy on them? Is that what they want? I say, most of the people just want to go to work and you know, give their kids food, watch them grow up, just like anybody else does….

BH: Is there anything else you want to say?

JH: I don’t know if it is an experience I’d want to repeat. If I had to, I would. If I had to do it again, I would. That’s my job, that is what I’m supposed to do. So I wouldn’t have any issues going back. I’d prefer not to. But I am glad that I was over there to see what I saw. Even the parts that I’d rather not remember made me grow as a person and, in a way, grow closer to God. As far as the political reasons and the administration, my job is to support them and not to question it. So why I was there is not as important as what I had to do there. That’s it.

BH: Thank you very much.

JH: You’re welcome very much.

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The Author : Nicole Sotelo
Nicole Sotelo writes from the Boston area.
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