A letter home:
On station in Operation Iraqi Freedom
Sept. 14, 2003
Editor's note: This is another in a series of letters written by Lt. Col. Jeff Follett, a member of the 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian who deployed in June to Southwest Asia as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The letter was written to his friends in the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross and he agreed to share it with readers of The Meridian Star.
All continues to go well after my first month here. Since my last letter I have had the opportunity to travel north into Iraq to a Marine base located very near the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon. The environment there was quite different from my Kuwaiti base, both threat-wise and climate-wise.
While were were not in immediate danger at this location, we were much closer to Baghdad, thus increasing the changes for hostile activity. The level of alert and readiness is much higher.
Both the Marines and the Army have been located here since March, having established this camp during the journey into Baghdad. This particular location is slowly being turned over to Coalition Forces, mainly from Poland and Ukraine. One of Saddam Hussein's palaces is located nearby, thus making it an important goal of the military at that time. In fact, many of the enlisted members have set up camp within the palace.
As I walked through it, it was very evident that this was once a magnificent place. The local Iraqis had their way with it, though, prior to U.S. forces arriving, having pillaged anything of value or in some way useful, such as all of the furniture, many of the doors and hardware, plumbing fixtures, air conditioning, etc. Many of the large chandeliers are still hanging, though there is no electrical service to the power to the temporary lighting strung throughout the building.
I mentioned that the enlisted members had set up camp inside. One story is that because the palace sits atop a very high man-made hill and because it is a very steep climb to the top of this hill, the officers did not want to make the climb. So they gave the palace to the enlisted personnel. The officers set up camp at the bottom of the hill, living in tents.
The temperature here is about 15 degrees cooler than in Kuwait, averaging in the low 100's. The humidity is much higher, though, due to it being located right on the Euphrates River. There are many green plants in this area to include both palm and date trees and even grass. This is in stark contrast with the desert climate with little or no vegetation in Kuwait.
The ruins of Babylon were fascinating. There are several local Iraqis who work giving guided tours through the ruins. Our guide was an archeology major working on his master's degree but his studies have been put on hold until the universities are able to re-open. He has lived in this area all of his life and was extremely knowledgeable of the ruins.
We asked him many questions, both about the ruins and life under the Saddam regime. One of the very few good things that Saddam did during his rule of Iraq was to work on this site. it was originally built around 600 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar and is the site of the Biblical story of Daniel and the lion's den. Much work has been done to preserve and restore parts of this ancient structure. The ancient workmanship is amazing.
I can see this site becoming a very big attraction once peace has been restored to Iraq and tourists are able to come and visit. Our guide spoke of the atrocities performed by Saddam. He said that there were two types of people in Iraq, those who loved Saddam and those who hated him. The largest portion of those citizens living outside the large cities were among those who hated him, while those inside the cities loved him.
This is because he provided much for those within the cities in order to surround himself with a faithful following, limiting any threat around him, and provided very little elsewhere around the country. Much of southern Iraq was once fertile land because of the two large rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, known as the cradle of civilization. He ruined this land by draining many of the marshes, denying access to much needed water.
Saddam held a tremendous amount of power and could have done so much good for the country of Iraq with all of the nation's wealth, but chose to abuse this power and push his countrymen into their current situation.
So don't think that all Iraqis are evil and hate Americans because a great many of them are extremely grateful for what has been accomplished thus far and anxiously await the day when there is peace in their country again. There are those who still fight against us, but those are the exceptions to what the majority that wish for peace in Iraq.
I was able to visit a U.S. base located in Iraq, located on what remains of an Iraqi Air Force base. The runway is still usable, though it is left covered with destroyed aircraft and other debris, as are a few of the buildings. These facilities are used for work areas while living quarters, showers and latrines, and the kitchen and dining facilities are located in tents. Generators produce all of the electricity used and bottled water is trucked in for drinking and food preparation.
A limited supply of non-potable water is available for showers but must be used conservatively. The base is located in southern Iraq and very fine dust covers what was once fertile ground before Saddam cut off its water sources based here living in very austere conditions with very few comforts. They no longer have to depend on prepackaged meals since they were recently able to begin purchasing fresh food for their dining facilities. Other conditions improve as well as time goes by.
Please remember the many thousands of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines that are based around Iraq and throughout this region as they continue to face danger and make many personal sacrifices while they willingly serve and defend their country.