Cover Story

IN HARM'S WAY

COVER STORY: War stories from Iraq in their own words-American soldiers' diaries and America's wounded heroes

Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way," wrote John Paul Jones in a letter dated Nov. 16, 1778. Pentagon officials are expected this month to announce the next round of call-ups to the Middle East, sending 100,000 fresh troops from communities across America to replace those serving in Iraq. Despite a debilitating month of casualties in the war, mobilization for the all-volunteer service is another way to embody the motto handed down from John Paul Jones, founding father of the American Navy. From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, U.S. security has rested in greater numbers on soldiers who choose to go in harm's way than those forced to serve. For the current call-ups to Iraq, their tour will last six months to a year. They will see $225 a month added to their paycheck for "imminent danger pay." Their battle zone will be a perplexing mix of guerrilla warfare and humanitarian do-goodism like opening schools and hospitals. They will confront a populace that is one minute soured and the next open-armed. They will be men and women like those who've gone before them, from an Army nurse pulling duty at the 21st Combat Support Hospital in Balad (see Brad O'Brien, p. 34) to a recent college grad pulling civilian-defense duties (see Kathleen Wasson, p. 35) to a 45-year-old chaplain reservist with a thriving congregation (see Ron Prosise, p. 37). They go, knowing that they will come home changed, and that they may not come home. This is war, after all. Robert Laverick, a member of the Army's 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, normally worked from headquarters near the Republican Palace in Baghdad. An Army News Service story in June featured Mr. Laverick, a staff sergeant, helping with vaccinations at an Iraqi children's health clinic. On July 21 he was placed in charge of a public-health team sent to inspect a water-treatment plant north of Baghdad. Nearby residents had complained of contaminated water. The team thought some simple chlorination would fix it. Mr. Laverick led a small convoy out of the city in 120-degree heat. At an intersection a roadside bomb suddenly exploded, igniting the Humvee where Mr. Laverick was riding. Shrapnel cut through his right arm and both legs. More seriously, it severed his subclavian vein, leaving Mr. Laverick bleeding profusely from the chest. "I could not move my arms, and I was trapped inside a burning vehicle," he said. Mr. Laverick was also the one who was supposed to give orders. He remained conscious long enough to be dragged from the vehicle and to order someone to apply pressure to his chest. But there were no soldiers to spare. Mark Bibby, a corporal from Mr. Laverick's North Carolinabased reserve unit, had been killed when the bomb exploded, along with an Iraqi translator named Omar. Another soldier was seriously injured, leaving few good hands on deck. Then an Iraqi bystander stepped forward, unwound his own head scarf, and plunged it into Mr. Laverick's gaping chest. The Iraqi staunched the soldier's bleeding, tending him until he could be evacuated to the water-treatment plant. From there medical workers flew Mr. Laverick to the Army's 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. Battlefield casualties in Iraq include not only the 383 U.S. soldiers who have been killed in action since fighting began in March, but also more than 1,500 who have been wounded. Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington has become a virtual medical terminal, with C-17 transport planes arriving almost every night bearing soldiers on stretchers, as well as the walking wounded. The more seriously injured are taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the National Naval Medical Center nearby. Others are flown on to home bases for care. Walter Reed's commander, Maj. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, told The Washington Post there were only two days in July and four in August when the hospital did not admit soldiers injured in Iraq. U.S. Central Command reports 70 wounded and 34 killed in action during the month in which Mr. Laverick was wounded. But although the command keeps a tally of all wounded, it no longer reports them publicly unless they accompany fatalities. That means that the greater number of war wounded-in some months 10 times the number killed-is overshadowed by the more apparently tragic and readily reported numbers of the dead. A dead soldier's heroism can be summed up graveside; for the wounded, often no less heroic, their sacrifice fades into an unremarkable denouement of therapy wards and lingering convalescence. Two days after Mr. Laverick was hit, he was flown to the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. For a week he was on life support as his body battled a collapsed left lung and other internal injuries. On July 31 he was flown to Walter Reed and remained an inpatient there for a month. He spent another month as an outpatient, and since October has been at Fort Bragg on convalescent leave. "I'm doing OK," he told WORLD. "I know it's a miracle I am alive." Three days a week he has therapy to compensate for nerve damage to his left arm and right hand, along with shrapnel damage to both thigh muscles. His injuries have likely put an end to his peacetime career as a hospital floor nurse. It's a job he says requires a lot of heavy lifting. And they have dented his ability to maintain an addiction to extreme sports, like snowboarding and mountain biking. Mr. Laverick, who is 31 and the divorced father of a 7-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, is quick to say the episode has restored unity to a family once scattered from its roots in western Pennsylvania's coalmines. "My brother got the phone call" about the attack, he said, "and we've been talking more ever since. It brought the whole family closer together." Mr. Laverick, who joined the Army at age 17, said he knew the risks of the mission and did not expect his job to get easier once President Bush declared an end to hostilities last May. "The 'end of the war' only meant we were no longer going against a formed force. We expected snipers and Fedayeen to continue attacking us. We had seen Syrian and Iranian infiltrators," he said. "But Baghdad is a big city. You cannot trust everyone and you cannot mistrust everyone. We were called to gain support. If you so mistrust them, they will mistrust you back." Would he sign up again, knowing what he knows now? "Nobody wants to go over and get hurt. Nobody wants to die. But I have a 12-year-old son, and either I did this or we wait another 10 years and my son has to deal with it. I believed in the mission, and after I got there I believed in the mission more." Jonathan Pruden, a first lieutenant, wasn't supposed to be driving on July 1. The regular driver had something in his eye. The 25-year-old-a medic with the 37th Infantry Battalion out of Ft. Stewart, Ga., who was promoted to an infantry executive officer halfway through the war-volunteered to take the wheel. He was leading a convoy that included his Humvee and a truck. Since Mr. Pruden crossed into Iraq with the main thrust of the 3rd Infantry Division (his unit fought and won control of the Baghdad airport the first week of April), to him the city was familiar territory. "We were hoping we'd be home by now but it looks like we'll be here for at least another two months," he had written his 13-year-old brother June 9. The convoy proceeded back to camp at Baghdad's Olympic soccer stadium. When the Humvee crossed an IED, or Improvised Explosive Device, his vehicle exploded, and Mr. Pruden took shrapnel in his feet, legs, upper torso, and head. "I remember being hit, and I remember watching all the blood pumping out of me," said Mr. Pruden, who began his Army career as a medic. He realized he would die if he didn't get a tourniquet on his legs, and yelled at his company commander to apply one. "Tighten it until I pass out," he told him. By the time Mr. Pruden reached a combat hospital he needed 15 units-almost two gallons-of blood. On the operating table he stopped breathing. Field doctors had to ignore his many wounds just to focus on saving his life. At the same hospital that night a fellow officer died from the attack and five other soldiers were treated for wounds. Mr. Pruden's mother, Jane, saw near-simultaneous coverage of the attack on the midday news without realizing it involved her son: "There was no mention of those wounded, and no way for me to know it was Jonathan, at that moment near death on the operating table." Americans at home were just learning about IEDs, deadly and unpredictable explosives that have become the holdouts' weapon of choice against coalition forces. Unconventional devices, they detonate into oversized chunks of shrapnel as well as BB-sized pellets. Doctors would remove two 1-inch-square chunks of metal from Mr. Pruden's face and, later, a block of shrapnel about 4 inches in diameter from beneath his shattered shoulder blade. Once stabilized, Mr. Pruden was flown to Landstuhl in Germany, where he underwent extensive surgery before arriving at Walter Reed on July 9. Back in the United States doctors began almost daily surgical procedures to save his feet and legs and to treat numerous other injuries. His eardrums had burst in the explosion, he lost one toe (with infection threatening others), and all the bones in one foot were shattered. By mid-August he was able to catalog his improving status for a local newspaper reporter. "I've had 11 operations, and I've got 14 pins in my legs right now. I've also got a broken shoulder blade, and I've got 174 pieces of shrapnel in me," he said. At the hospital Mr. Pruden earned a reputation as "a hard charger" who waved away anesthesia and other numbing drugs, which would have made daily life easier. His mother was on hand when a nurse, redressing his shoulder wound, pulled three feet of gauze out of the hole where the large block of shrapnel had embedded itself: "He squinted but wanted no anesthesia, even when the nurse offered it." Mr. Pruden has also refused amputation, recommended at various times by specialists as the less painful, more road-tested route to recovery. Along with protracted, painful convalescence have been tender mercies. At Landstuhl hospital, the chaplain on duty had attended the same church Mr. Pruden attended as a boy. A German exchange student, hosted by Mr. Pruden's family in the United States years ago, lived nearby, and paid a needed visit. Money arrived from complete strangers to cover family expenses like travel, including a $250 check from a highway patrolman whose son had returned safely from Iraq. The lieutenant's wife of two years, Amy, has been a constant bedside companion who, Mr. Pruden says, "kept me mentally sane." By mid-September when President Bush arrived at Ft. Stewart to address returning troops, Mr. Pruden had made it back to his home base. Nevertheless, the convalescent-now the recipient of a Purple Heart and two Army commendation medals-spent the day of the president's visit in a hospital one block away, watching Mr. Bush's pep talk on television. What are his views on the war after watching similar IED attacks against U.S. soldiers increase in recent weeks? "I think what we are doing is right and I would hate to see us pull out," he told WORLD. "I don't know if we need more soldiers, but the ones who are there need to be better supplied. We need more force protection measures." Mr. Pruden echoes others in the military calling for the Pentagon to give U.S. forces something more protective than the "soft skin" Humvees and to arm more of them with new-generation flak vests. This month he will undergo surgery again, an innovative tibia bone-graft procedure he has encouraged doctors to try on his lower leg. They will use a new genetically produced protein putty called OP1, combined with a graft from his pelvis. If successful, the procedure will close a 5-inch gap in the leg bone. Mr. Pruden also anticipates having his right ankle fused. "I will probably never be able to run again," he said. But he does plan to walk. And possibly to dance. Last month he took his wife to the military ball at Ft. Stewart. She wore a green formal and he wore dress blues from the waist up with a blanket over his legs. He allowed that "people seemed very happy to see me," and admitted that "no one is as injured as I am" among his fellow Iraq war veterans at Ft. Stewart, "but hundreds of guys are in my situation; there are amputees and others with a long road ahead." Mr. Pruden is quick to say yes when asked if he'd do it all over again. "It was my job. I feel like what we did was good and valid." Capt. Brad O'Brien U.S. Army Nurse / 21st Combat Support Hospital / Balad, Iraq SEPT. 10, 2003 It depends on your definition of "combat" to determine whether we're really experiencing combat casualties. There really aren't any young men dying from bullet wounds caused by uniformed Iraqi soldiers. More and more Americans are being injured by RPG rounds fired into convoying vehicles. Or land mines. The troops who stand the highest chance of sustaining wounds or being killed are those who have the formerly "safe" jobs: truck drivers or MP escorts for convoys. The Iraqis have virtually no recognizable roadway motorist courtesies. I have taken care of two soldiers, a young married PFC and her squad leader who was a staff sergeant. An Iraqi driver cut into their lane. The Iraqi was presumably dead in his vehicle but the two Americans were injured when their faces hit either the dashboard or some other surface in the cab of their truck. She was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Rhein Main Air Force Base in Germany. At the Combat Support Hospital we have competent surgeons in multiple specialties, but even the best doctor in the world isn't going to do surgery if there are flies in the OR suite or you can see dust blowing across the floor. The risk of infection after surgery is too great. So Americans requiring most types of surgery are evacuated out of theater. Obviously we don't evacuate the Iraqi EPWs (Enemy Prisoners of War). It is now expected that they'll have to go back to surgery again and again for "irrigation and drainage" of the wounds left by surgery on their hips or femurs. And they are given Ancef, a heavy-duty antibiotic pretty much every eight hours to knock out any bugs they may have picked up in the OR. The Iraqi EPWs realize that even though they're under the watchful eye of young reservist MPs 24/7, they are receiving a level of medical care unavailable to them outside our concertina wire and sand berm. A few are devout and pray at regular intervals. One devout fellow is named Salah. He has external fixator rods to his right thigh and that makes getting out of bed to kneel in prayer difficult so he prays in bed. The other Iraqis-most of whom are ambulatory-don't get up to pray as Salah does. Some of the female nurses get all cutesy-cutesy with the EPWs, but I remind myself that each of these men are here because they fired, or were about to fire, at Americans when they were shot. (The high frequency of butt and thigh injuries tells me a lot of them were shot running away. Indeed, one man lost a testicle.) We've also had Iranians. Majid and his wife Zahra were here as "tourists." Who goes to a war-torn country as tourists? Zahra had a traumatic head wound. Majid stayed camped out by her bed and helped out a great deal with her care. When they were eventually discharged home Zahra was quite happy with the care she received although she wondered if her hair would grow back. The saddest patients are the young Americans with the diagnosis of adjustment disorder with SI (suicidal ideation). When you read their chart you see a host of events that would mess up anyone's psyche: early parental divorce or abandonment, etc. So the underlying psychological troubles were always present but the stress of this deployment managed to bring those problems to the surface and they interfere with job performance. Tomorrow is 9/11. The pastoral care team will provide a special prayer breakfast. I'm glad we aren't going to have to deal with that event on our own. Sept. 17, 2003 Took two Iraqi patients to the civilian hospital in Balad. Black flags hung from streetlamps and we didn't know why until we realized they were in mourning for a recently killed quasi-pro-American Shiite leader. The eerie part was seeing the big sign on a building with "SCIRI" on it. Supreme Council of Islamic Republic of Iraq seems to be moving in with full-force to fill the Saddam vacuum. I hope our boys didn't die to create a second Iran here. Please tell me that isn't the regime change we fought for. Oct. 1, 2003 The fear-inducing adrenaline-soaked moments are for most of us here in Balad few and far between. I guess MPs are the troops most feeling the heat of being a potential target. I was out of my cot and into a concrete barrier at about 0545 this a.m. after the magic words "Thunder thunder thunder" sounded over the PA system. Thunder is our codeword for enemy incoming mortar fire. None of it hit here to do any damage or cause any fatalities. In a not-quite-as-devoutly-Muslim-as-folks-back-home-want-to-believe country like Iraq, evidently alcohol isn't all that difficult to come by. MPs have the advantage of being out in the cities among the populace. Even if I did drink I wouldn't purchase anything from our "Haji" friends. (Haji seems to be this war's term of choice for both friendly and hostile locals, as in "If you're on the highway make sure you are extra careful around those Haji truck drivers." Most often the Hajis are Pakistani or Bangladeshi "guest workers" who do all manner of menial jobs.) Who can say that the liquor is really not poison or a bio-weapon? Here in Balad saluting is mandated by the command-that is annoying at a hospital since so many of our assigned soldiers are officers in the medical, dental, or nurse corps components. Ordinarily you don't salute in combat areas due to the fact that a sniper could pick out the "important folks" by who first salutes and who returns it. We also recently had a physical training test. I passed the PT test. But if an area is secure enough for troops to run a timed 2-mile run or go around saluting, then it must be a pretty safe area. Oct. 27, 2003 We keep things pretty tight around here 24/7. Though it would be nice if our hospital perimeter sentries actually had live rounds chambered in their M16s. (The young men and women who guard the entry points onto this base, however, do have ammo as far as I know.) I've been here since August, by the way, and I've never been issued ammunition for my 9mm pistol. It's been calm here. We feed our EPW patients a hefty meal at about 4 or 5 a.m. and the devout ones fast through the day. (Hospitalized Muslims are generally exempt from the Ramadam fasts. Of our five EPWs, we have one patient named Salah and he is a devout pray-er and faster; a "true believer.") Everyone anticipated the Muslims would use Ramadan for an all-out Viet Congstyle "Tet Offensive." The Red Crescent bombing/rocket attack is tragic, but I assume advanced planning and prep was done to react to hostilities like that. We got a few badly wounded guys here who were evacked here when the "sister CSH" could no longer take them in. But aside from that no major influx of patients like what we saw with the UN hotel blast. Kathleen (Casey) Wasson Department of Defense / Civilian Ministry of Finance / Coalition Provisional Authority / Baghdad Sept. 29, 2003 (Kuwait City) Eleven of us were recruited by the Pentagon for deployment to Baghdad. We call ourselves the "Magnificent Eleven." We are spending three days in Kuwait City prior to flying to Baghdad and have been attending security briefings. As part of our deployment, we each received a military duffel, complete with full camouflage, helmet, body armor, belt, boots, a canteen, and a gas mask. The Macedonian contractors who outfitted us tried to conceal their amusement as they tried to strap me into an "XL"-plated vest. They ended up fishing through boxes of camos to find every "Small/Short" item of clothing they could. We learned how to assemble and wear our gas masks. It took us an hour. You are supposed to be able to put one on in nine seconds. Oct. 1, 2003 We arose at 4 a.m. on Sept. 30 to head into Iraq. It took us about 18 hours from start to finish. Lots of paper and passport checking, and waiting. We flew on a C-130 and an armored convoy took us from Baghdad International Airport to the Republican Palace, guns cocked the entire way. The North Wing Dormitory, as it is known, is a large marble hallway with about 200 bedframes in it. The two other women on my team and I were not thrilled about sharing sleeping quarters with men (we were the only women; there were probably 100 men). We chose some beds behind a large marble pillar, thinking we would have more privacy. This turned out to be a joke. First of all, two Polish men also settled down on that side of the halls. Second, the crystal chandeliers in that area are permanently on. Third, we found out rather abruptly in the morning that "our" side of the hall was a busy thoroughfare. Although I sound acerbic, I would not trade this experience for anything. (The Lord's grace abounds in extraordinary circumstances! I am determined to be content when I am in plenty and when I am in want. At the end of it all, I am very grateful for these experiences and what I am learning from them.) Oct. 10, 2003 (Baghdad) We may live in a palace, but it hums like a campus. All the Iraqi governing ministries have headquarters here in the palace, stuffed away in miscellaneous rooms with a cubicle of interpreters outside each one. There are laptops everywhere, all hooked up to the same network. There are desk telephones with Boston area codes and hundreds of cell phones with New York area codes ringing constantly in the halls and offices. There are bundles of cables running along every wall, empty boxes stacked in hallways, and bottled water outside every palace door (by the way, the doors are so big that even on the internal doors, the doorknob is shoulder-high for me). Global Force Protection keeps armed Nepalese gurkas stationed at every palace door. Helicopters fly constantly overhead. I am now important enough to work out of a small kitchen-turned-office. There are a lot of kitchens in the palace. Although Saddam was hardly ever at his Baghdad palace, he required the preparation of 50 hot meals a day here on the off-chance that he might show up. My team and I are working for the Ministry of Finance. Our task is, among other things, to analyze and organize funding requests that have been sent to the Coalition Provisinal Authority from all over Iraq. The United Nations and the World Bank have already issued needs-assessment reports, which we consult. But our goal is to provide donors with "organic" needs-assessment data taken straight from the Iraqi people. This data will hopefully bolster the credibility of the funding requests made at the donors' conference. Oct. 24, 2003 I never thought I would pray to live in a trailer. But I am very, very happy; I have a 10-foot-by-9-foot room all to myself. The surrounding area is an absolute mess of rubble, and seems like an odd place for "residential" trailers. I think there had been work on developing another, more convenient trailer area, but apparently the diggers began turning up bodies, so work stopped. It is a little more dangerous in Baghdad than I initially thought. One of my team members was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it was attacked. When the bomb exploded at the Baghdad Hotel, the palace shook. There was a mortar attack on the compound a few nights ago. I was sitting with the team last night at an outdoor bar at the Al-Rasheed Hotel for a drink (I had Fanta), and gunshots could be heard nearby for most of the time we were there. There are explosions and attacks in other parts of Iraq daily. Spies and con artists make it into some of the ministries and even into the palace at times. I think it causes more stress on the employees here than we realize. One of my team buddies is not eating much but is smoking more. Some people are losing weight. Some people drink with frequency. Some soldiers here have committed suicide. Yet, I know that God is here with His people: "He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies." When I walk into chapel every Sunday morning, God is there, and I know with certainty now that God inhabits the praises of His people. He gives grace, and I am not afraid, and I give thanks to Him. Oct. 27, 2003 As I walked to the palace from my trailer yesterday morning at about 6:10 a.m., I heard the impact of the rockets on the Al-Rasheed. I did not know that it was the Rasheed at the time, but I knew it was an attack, and I knew it was close. When I arrived at the office, I discovered that one of my British colleagues, whom I was going to accompany to the ministry in Baghdad that day, had been injured. That night, several of us walked into the gloomy patient room at Ibn Sina Hospital. There was our colleague lying on a cot, naked but for a blanket draped delicately over his wounded body. Both of his feet were thickly bandaged, having been badly burned when his room caught fire. His visible knee was massive and oozing; his shoulders, arms, and hands were peppered with shrapnel wounds; his right eye was surrounded by gashes freshly stitched. He tried to be cheerful and conversant. "Take my best advice," he said. "Never ever sleep in a hotel! I am indeed a lucky man. [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz even came in here today and gave me a badge!" Despite the appearance of good spirits, I could see etched in his face the shock and strain of the event, the reality that one day he was an energetic policy adviser, the next a battered victim of a terrorist attack. My daily reading was from Psalm 57: "My soul is among lions, I lie among the sons of men/Who are set on fire,/Whose teeth are spears and arrows,/And their tongue a sharp sword./Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;/Let Your glory be above all the earth." Ron Prosise U.S. Air Force Chaplain / Deputy Senior Adviser / Iraqi Ministry of Education / Baghdad May 20, 2003 I'm in Qatar waiting to go forward. I have a very unusual assignment for a chaplain. I will not be ministering to soldiers but will be working with the reconstruction of Iraq directly under Ambassador Paul Bremer. May 24, 2003 Saturday I flew on a C-17 to Kirkuk, then to Baghdad. I spent the night in "tent city" off the Baghdad International Airport. I was picked up Sunday and taken to Saddam's presidential palace, where ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) has set up makeshift offices. This is where I work and live. It is impressive, and yes, there are gold-plated fixtures in the bathrooms. But the plumbing doesn't work, and the air-conditioning was sabotaged before the Iraqis left. My task is to revive the educational system in Iraq. This covers everything from rebuilding damaged schools (from years of neglect, battle damage, and looting), to paying teachers, to providing security for the end-of-year exams (which in the past have been stolen and sold), to revising curriculum, to de-Baathification of the educational system, to coordinating nongovernment organizations like UNICEF and UNESCO and Save the Children and others. It is a huge undertaking. June 1, 2003 Yesterday the big agenda item was to meet with an imam in Baghdad. Unlike other officers, chaplains do the driving as the assistant "rides shotgun" with the weapon. Driving in Baghdad is challenging enough with conditions here (no stoplights, stop signs, speed limits, or police), but when you are late for a meeting, it adds to the mix. As we headed down the expressway, we saw that traffic had slowed to a stop with all of the cars in the right lanes stopped for a long gas line. My assistant suggested driving over the median and going the wrong way down the expressway. I hesitated for a moment, then went into action. The Humvee handled the median nicely, and now there was no turning back. All the cars that were coming toward me in the fast lane honked and flashed their lights, but got out of the way of an oncoming military Humvee. Today I had the privilege of preaching here in the palace. In fact, it was in the very room where Saddam would pronounce his judgments upon those who were brought in before him. I am amazed at what God has done. And the people here are truly grateful. June 11, 2003 Last week an MP was killed at night: Sergeant Travis Burkhardt. His memorial service was yesterday. At the end of the service, according to Army tradition, his company was called to attention, and the First Sergeant began roll call. "Sergeant Anderson?" "Here!" "Specialist Brown?" "Here!" "Specialist Davis!?" "Here!" (Then the name of the deceased) "Sergeant Burkhardt?" (No answer) "Sergeant Burkhardt?" (No answer) "Sergeant Travis Lee Burkhardt?" (No answer) At this point taps was played. It's now Wednesday evening. The assignment today was a crucial one: Phase 1 distribution of salary payments for Baghdad school teachers and employees. Our MP escort had mistakenly taken off without us, which I was to find out was divinely orchestrated. It allowed me to talk with one of the native translators, Raghad, who was to work with me today. I was so delighted to find out she is a Christian, and she was amazed and overjoyed when I told her that I am a pastor. The salary distribution today was chaotic, and we almost had a riot on our hands as at one point teachers burst through the door and flooded into the building. Only five MPs and I could respond to this group. July 17, 2003 I'm winding down here-I'll be leaving next week. Yesterday morning I was given the mission to ensure salary distribution for one of the four Baghdad districts. On our way back I found myself singing a song from family camp, and tears began coming down my face as I thought about missing my family and God protecting me so that my wife and kids can have their husband and dad return home safe. About this time, our driver was maneuvering between a bus and a car and smashed his right rear-view mirror against the bus. He explained to the sergeant in charge that he had to do it to avoid an accident. The sergeant said, "You know where that's going, don't you?" The driver replied, "Yes." They have a "Wall of Shame" where they hang accident parts with the name of the driver. We passed an 8-year-old boy in a car who gave me a "thumbs up." I couldn't help but return it. This pleased him, and he smiled and blew me a kiss. Another mile down the road we heard a gunshot-the sergeant yelled, "Shot fired!" and the driver sped up as fast as he could. Ahead was an intersection that was completely gridlocked. The sergeant was forced to get out of the Humvee with another soldier from the second Humvee in our convoy, and try to get cars going. The driver asked me if I had a weapon. I said, "That's one of the disadvantages of being a chaplain-no weapon. But one of the advantages is that God looks out for me." The driver responded, "Roger that," and we both kept our eyes fixed on our two soldiers, ready for something that hopefully would not happen.

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Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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