It was an ordinary day in Mosul, Iraq; children playing barefoot on the dusty roads and locals shopping in the market for dinner. The sun was bright and hot, with very few clouds in the sky. I’m a Private in the U.S. Army and this is my first deployment overseas. Our mission on this day is to show a friendly presence and ensure that the locals feel safe.
As we drove slowly into the city, I sat alone on top of our armored Humvee scanning back and forth for possible threats. “What a lovely afternoon it is out here,” my Sergeant says to me over my headset. I respond nervously with “Roger that.”
For those who don’t know military lingo, when someone says “Roger,” they’re usually being sarcastic. I was not enjoying my afternoon; I was sweating profusely and wearing 60 pounds of gear complete with sunglasses and gloves.
“Who enjoys 100+ degree temperatures, while my head is an open target for the enemy?” I ask my Sergeant sheepishly. He laughs and tells me I’d better get used to it, we have nine more months to go. I crack a smile and continue scanning.
As we approach the busy local market, there are hundreds of people bustling through the streets, livestock standing near the road, and stray dogs barking in the distance. “Mista Mista, Pepsi Pepsi,” I look down to see about a dozen little boys and girls chasing after us, palms out, begging for money, soda, candy, and other supplies we usually pass out to locals. I tell my Sergeant what I see and we halt our convoy and get out. We pass out candy, water, and soda to the delight of the children. A few locals come over to greet us and we hand out medical aids and some of our spare equipment. They smile and thank us in broken English.
Among the crowd of people gravitating towards us was an older man, dressed in all white. He starts speaking to my Sergeant in clear English and my focus immediately turns to him. He tells us he’s a local leader in the community and he’s heard stories of us giving out supplies to his people. He explains how the past few years he’s led multiple attacks on U.S. Soldiers and at one point he was a General for the Taliban. He’d heard about the kindness my fellow Soldiers have shown to his people and wanted to see it for himself.
In 2006, Mosul was a safe zone for most terrorists and our deployment was tasked with patrolling the area and ensuring that locals were safe. The first three months of my deployment was filled with daily attacks from terrorists on our patrols. Regardless, we still passed out food, water, money and supplies every day. After our encounter with the older man, the daily attacks in that village stopped for the remainder of my time in Mosul.
This goes to show that even the smallest gestures get noticed. Building trust means doing the right thing because that’s what needs to be done. Even when we think no one is watching, kind words and a positive attitude can have an impact in others’ lives. Trust is earned not given.
Happy Memorial Day; let us remember our Veterans who have given their lives supporting our great country!