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Major, Army reservist since 1987, retiredOccupation:
Litigation support analyst, McGuireWoods
When I first got the phone call, I hung up and then I just started crying. There were an awful lot of tears those first 24 hours. My husband was actually in the Air Force in Vietnam. I think in a way it was harder for him to have me go because he knew what it's like to be in war.
You know the old saying: There are no atheists in foxholes. I was baptized in November 2005 in the pool behind the palace where we lived. Not too many people can say they got baptized in Saddam Hussein's former swimming pool. One of the guest speakers said Saddam would probably be rolling over in his jail cell -- because he was still alive then to know that a female, American soldier was being baptized as a Christian in his old swimming pool, which made it even more special [laughs].
We got to Baghdad a year earlier, on December 23, 2004. On Christmas Eve I went with some of the other people in my unit to the gym. We were being shelled and mortared, and you just see all the explosions in the air. One guy said it's almost like fireworks for Christmas except, you know, these people were trying to kill us not give us a light show. Then Christmas was just like any other workday.
I was surprised to see how well-developed Baghdad was. I mean, I didn't expect to see mud huts and people on camels everywhere, but I didn't expect to see skyscrapers with elevators. There are some really elaborate homes.
[I was in public affairs.] My team produced two weekly publications. One was called the Scimitar. It was only 16 pages, in color, [and] it came out once a week. It was aimed at the English-speaking service members in Iraq, although we knew there were other people reading it, the locals who could speak English. We had a page full of cartoons that ran every week, and we had to be careful especially with those that dealt with religious themes.
Usually the people who work at the checkpoints were infantry soldiers who were all males. But because of cultural sensitivities, you don't want a male American soldier feeling up an Iraqi woman to make sure she doesn't have a bomb strapped around her body. So about a week before the first elections, they asked us to come in and help.
There's an Iraqi police station across the intersection, and they got bombed the day we were out there. You could feel the ground shake, you could hear the explosion, although it wasn't close enough that we were hit by anything. Then the Iraqi policemen started shooting at where they thought the insurgents were. Then you could hear the insurgents shooting back. It was really close. There were two Iraqi women who were working with us and they had gone through that before, so they dove down behind the barriers and were grabbing us with them, saying, "Get down, get down." After a while everything calmed down and we went back to searching people.
I really feel like we needed to get Saddam Hussein out of power. Well, maybe not we. I think he needed to get out of power. It's just mind-boggling to hear the things he did to his own people. But on the other hand, I don't think that when we went in we really had a good plan, and I think it's obvious that we're still in there four and a half years later, and I don't think there's an end in sight.Back to the cover storyClick here for more Cover Stories