An airman’s letters from Iraq

by Justin W. Doering, SSgt, USAF Ali Air Base, Iraq

I know it’s been awhile since I have sent a letter home. I actually started to prepare this a couple of days ago. I have been taking my time to really try and pay attention to the new culture surrounding me. What I have found is that my Iraqi hosts are a very hospitable bunch, genuinely appreciative to have the coalition forces here. <BR><BR>I understand a lot more about cultural diversity here. The subcultures of Shiites live in southern Iraq, the Sunni-Muslims around Baghdad, and the Kurds in the north, bordering Turkey. The Sunnis are surely in the minority. However, they were the dominant political power in Iraq because of Saddam Hussein. Since he now waits in a jail cell, and free elections have taken place, what you witness on the news media of terrorist attacks and roadside bombs on coalition forces can be attributed to the Sunni desperation to hold onto what they have lost through intimidation and coercion. <BR><BR>The Shiites around me in the part of Iraq I live and work in right now are good people. Many understand English and are very cooperative and enthusiastic. Though, I do understand their initial lack of trust at first meeting. <BR><BR>Who wouldn’t be afraid of someone decked in full “battle rattle” with a 9 mm pistol at his side and hand clutched around an M4 rifle? To their credit, they do understand that my safety and that of my fellow airmen comes first. From there we establish a dialogue and build trust. <BR><BR>I have to mention our trusted local interpreters. They have a good sense of humor. They range in various ages, too. The eldest one is in his 40s. He has 11 children with another on the way. When he talks about how he hopes the baby will be a boy, I playfully advise him “Go get a television, buddy!” He gets the idea. <BR><BR>The youngest interpreter has less of a sense of what he is to do. He is probably more interested in selling black market watches to Americans than he is in doing what he gets paid for. What a job, getting paid to shoot the bull all day. He does a lot of that. <BR><BR>All of them live in the nearby town of Nasiriyah, including a school teacher of English for high school boys. He teaches in the mornings and works for us during the midnight shifts. He is an extremely friendly and polite guy. He loves what he does, but can’t tell anyone about it for he fears for his safety and that of his family. <BR><BR>I really enjoy getting into their playful debates. Each of them campaigns to get me to believe one of them is crazier than the other. That’s a big joke for them. In all of it, I misunderstood what they were teaching me in their language a couple days ago and called the eldest one “a woman who is not sexy.” <BR><BR> <BR><BR>I have been invited to homes many times to share meals and tea, or in their language, “Chi.” I have also been offered and given gifts that would really insult them if I refused. I have yet to find a local Iraqi hostile to me or any other coalition forces stationed here. But, I know someone like Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is always waiting around the corner. We know this, so safety is paramount. <BR><BR> I had a day off the other day, and went to get my head shaved because the 100+ degree temps in the country now are a little too hot under the Kevlar helmet. I stopped in a local craft shop to see if I could find something Tiffany would like, and saw the shopkeeper sporting a t-shirt promoting Minnesota State Parks. I asked him excitedly if he had been there, to my home state. <BR><BR>Many trusted local employees have been to the U.S. Except this one, as if to make it up to me in his thickest southwest Asian accent “No, I haven’t been to there, but my cousin lives in Chicago.”