Special Guest Opinion

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Hope through my eyes... in Iraq

Soldiers who walk away from a war are filled with stories of death, blood and destruction. Though I have yet to walk away, one story I know will never be forgotten. This story centers around the most destructive weapon, when faced with oppression -this story is about hope.

For three years I've been trained, schooled in the Arabic language and Crypto Logic linguistics, taught how to survive and trained to kill. It never crossed my mind that my weapon of choice would not be my M-4 rifle or bayonet.

I wasn't on shift yet, so I went out with the human intelligence element to pull security. It was a routine visit to one of their sources. Keep in mind that we are not in the middle of the desert here. We're in the middle of Baghdad. The city is crowded, something I'm not quite used to that, having grown up on a farm in rural Iowa (Heaven).

And when a military vehicle stops in the street, hoards of children surround it. The children know few words in English, so we hear things like, "Mr., Mr. One Dollar, or Mr. Mr., Water," usually mixed in with some Arabic as well, because they think none of our soldiers knows any Arabic. This day was no different, with one exception... I was there.

We stopped, and soon enough the kids were there, asking for that "one dollar" or that "bottle of water", anything. All of us were wearing our body armor, ballistic helmets and sun glasses, so at first look we were all "Misters."

I noticed a little girl standing a good distance away. She was nervous, and probably a little scared, so I said Hello to her in Iraqi dialect and asked her how she was. It surprised her, to say the least, and she couldn't answer me. She yelled over to her sister that this soldier was speaking Arabic and she thought this "Mister" was really a "Missus."

Smiles washed over both their faces and they began to giggle. Her sister joined her and they came a little closer to the truck. I started a conversation with them and by this time, they were convinced this soldier was indeed a missus behind the sun glasses, it seemed as if they had never seen this color before. Every one of them stopped talking, stopped doing whatever it was that they were doing and just looked, trying to take it in, especially the little girls.

Here is a female soldier, carrying a M-249 S.A.W., who is an equal to the men around her, and knows Arabic. For the first time since being over there, I saw true hope. I saw it in their eyes the moment I brought the sunglasses down from my face. Our eyes mirrored the inspiration we had all been searching for.

I could tell a million different thoughts were running through those little girls minds. And I know, among those, were thoughts of the future, aspirations and even plans for their own lives. Their hope is a weapon, a weapon against tyranny and oppression; a weapon that fundamentalists cower from. Hope to them is a deadly disease that spreads like wildfire and though I will not put my rifle down, because I will not let some craven terrorist take the life of any of my fellow soldiers, my weapon of choice will be my blue eyes, myself. I am able to arm the children with the most powerful weapon of all, the weapon of hope.

So, please keep this in mind the next time you watch the news if you feel as if it's pointless for our forces to be over here. Based on previous and present missions I can assure you that it is not pointless.

There is hope; it's just that it's been suppressed for so many years, faith is feeding off of hope and regaining its strength and will.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse.. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own idea of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their own free choice- is often the means of their regeneration." (Mill, John Stuart, "The Contest in America", 1859.)

* Spc. Kristine M. Kruchten is the daughter of Douglas and Lillian Kruchten and a 2000 graduate of Newell-Fonda High School. She is now serving in Baghdad, Iraq. This letter originally appeared in the Buena Vista County Journal and was submitted to the Pilot-Tribune.