Election Day here which was yesterday, was not really Election Day, but election results release day. The Iraqi government released the results of the election, and of course, we were on the street to make sure that nothing violent happened. I probably should say that properly. Violent things were bound to happen; we were there to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.
So here I am, sitting behind a machine gun, manning a checkpoint with my Iraqi counterparts. The sun had just gone down, and the streets were pretty empty, except for a car or two moving through the dirty streets. The temperature dropped pretty quickly, and it didn’t help sitting in the valley of a bunch of 4 story buildings. The Iraqi soldiers were assigned to search vehicles, and we were supposed to cover them. I watched them for a long time, as they walked up to the car in the dark of night, asked the occupants to open the truck, open the doors, get out of the car while we look in the glove box. Most of the time the soldiers have their weapons on their shoulders, if they carry them at all. They seldom wear their helmets, don’t have high-tech weapons, and yet they do their job day in and day out.
I look up the street, and I watch some of my guys search cars. They approach the car with weapons pointed at the occupants. They shout at them, have them get out, search the people, then the car, all with weapons trained, ready to fire at the slightest movement. The lights sway back and forth from the high wind, flickering here and there, and I can sense that something bad is going to happen. I make my way down to my guys, and tell them to lower their weapons. They look at me like I am crazy, but its obvious that these people are not a threat. I give them a couple of quick pointers, and remind them that we are not here to look for trouble. We are here to help train the police to do a job better. They grudgingly move back and let the Iraqi’s do what they need to do.
Are we doing something wrong? Are we looking for trouble, hoping to find some excuse to open fire? Are we waiting for the opportunity to engage somebody? Are we trigger happy, hoping somebody will show a gun so we can unleash some terrible devastation on them? I don’t think so, but I can’t get the idea out of my head that we are heading down some terrible road that will end up badly. I remind my guys every day that the choice to fire or don’t fire is theirs to make, but they have to be level headed about it, because only then will you know if you did the right thing.
I walk back to my position, and I ask the Iraqi soldier why they don’t do vehicle searches like we do. He says it is in the hands of god, and that no matter what we do, if God comes to claim our souls, he will do it regardless of what we do. I tell him yes, that is true, but you don’t have to go looking for it. If you wear your gear or you are a little bit more cautious, you may avoid getting killed. He looked at me and in a serious voice and said, “Yes, that is true, but we are not looking for trouble, so we do not threaten the people like you do.” With that, he put out his cigarette pulled his knit cap on against the cold and walked back to the vehicle point as a car came up to the traffic circle.
The wind picked up a bit, and the trash was blowing across my feet, as I lowered my weapon, and walked after him to the vehicle point.
Side bar: The night ended without incident. If I learned anything, I realized I am a total moron for putting myself at risk like that. I also learned that sometimes courage is admitting that you might not always be right.