When Sgt. 1st Class James Martin deployed to Iraq, he had firm, negative opinions about the Iraqi people. Now, the Army National Guard soldier's perspective has changed.
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class James Martin 230th Forward Support Battalion
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Today I was sitting in the foyer of the clinic in Iraq. It had been a fairly busy day: a couple of cases of pink-eye, a few upper respiratory infections, many muscle strains, a broken leg. We treated about 50 soldiers and one Iraqi civilian who was trying to get something out of a car just before it exploded. I am not convinced he was not a bad guy.
One thing is for certain, he would be dead by now if not for our medics, who gave immediate care to his injuries, and our providers who had given subsequent care for weeks now.
When he was first brought in, I thought he would lose his hands, but today it appears he will be all right. The look in his eyes tells me that he knows it too. He may have been a bad guy, but now he is a thankful man, happy that he met American soldiers.
Two men, Iraqi nationals — one a soldier and the other, his brother, in the typical white robe — came rushing up to the entrance of our hospital. As the platoon sergeant, it is one of my jobs to explain to Iraqis that they cannot be seen in our clinic unless it is a matter of life, limb or eyesight.
When I started toward the door to issue my explanation for about the fifth or sixth time this week, I noticed a small boy about 7 years old in tow of the man in the robe. In the arms of the soldier was a crying baby wrapped in pieces of cloth. Neither man spoke English more than a few words, "Baby, no good. Please."
I unwrapped the baby to expose a terribly distended belly, feet and legs that looked like filled water balloons ready to explode. His cry was pitiful. I told a medic to call for a physician and the surgical team. I escorted the two men and two children to our exam room. It was evident that there was a serious problem with this tiny baby.
After assuring the men we would try our best to help, I was able to ascertain that the baby was 3 months old and that the civilian hospital in Baghdad had sent the soldier away, telling him they could not help.
I saw a man who very much loved his son begging us to save his baby. He frantically tried to soothe his cry, gently kissing his cheek. My heart went out to him. I took the baby's vital signs as the physician assistant examined him. He determined that we needed to get the baby to Baghdad to our larger military hospital as soon as possible.
We had the father get out of his uniform and put on a scrub top so he would be a little less conspicuous — Iraqi soldiers are often targeted in Baghdad. The baby and his father were on their way to hope.
I came to this country hating Iraqi people. I did not want to be here. I have a 14-year-old son that I have raised alone. He needs me more than this country does. I have a 21-year-old daughter who has been having problems, and I want to be there to help her.
Just over a year ago I married my true soul mate. I did not want to put my life on hold and come to this God-forsaken desert, full of people who have been suppressed for thousands of years and, in my opinion, would never be able to run their
own government because they had been told what to do for too long. Their spirits are broken beyond hope.
As the sole custodian of my son, I was told I could get out of the deployment. And I had been denied the re-enlistment bonus offered to medics because I was in a non-deployable unit. "Non-deployable" meant I would never have to leave my son and wife.
But non-deployable unit does not mean non-deployable soldier. I thought about it. If I did not go and my replacement was killed, I would never be able to forgive myself. And I have the peace of knowing God has a plan for me. If this is where He leads, He will protect me or bring me to His presence. I remember as a kid learning about freedom and the sacrifices our forefathers made to grant us that freedom. Now it was my turn to do my part.
Today, I sit in Iraq, my family and loved ones in America. But I have new friends and loved ones here who serve with me. I think of the look in that soldier's eyes as we helped his baby. The look in the eyes of the children as we provide medical attention and toys. The smile from a mother who knows that there is truly hope for a better life for her children.
This road we are on is long and by no means without pain. I have had friends killed. I have seen children blown to pieces. We are here fighting for their freedom while some of their own set bombs in front of schools, knowing we would be less likely to suspect danger in these areas.
Many times I wonder if it is worth it. Then I think of the 3-year-old boy dressed in a suit watching his daddy graduate as a new Iraqi soldier. As he runs toward me, I am in battle uniform and ballistic armor, with weapon at high ready. He smiles big, waves and says, "I love you, American!" Yeah, it's worth it.
Many would have you believe this operation is a failure. Easy to say when they are sitting in their air-conditioned office, speculating about something they know nothing about. There are many awful things about war.
Many parents will not be returning to their children. Many husbands will not return to their wives. Sons and daughters will not return home. Don't let their ultimate sacrifice be for naught.
If you hear someone talking about the senselessness of this war, politely remind them of the price. I cannot think of anything worse for a child than to hear that his or her father died without purpose in a land of no importance. Do not allow others to forget or lessen the heroism of our fallen soldiers and those who have sacrificed a part of their lives to help our brothers and sisters in God.
My heart has softened for the Iraqi people, and my resolve to rid our world of bad guys has increased. Do not allow politicians to convince you that we need to leave before the mission is complete. I do not want my son here in 10 years starting over.
Sgt. 1st Class James Martin of China Grove, N.C., is a medic and platoon sergeant with Charlie Company of the 230th Forward Support Battalion, Army National Guard, out of Goldsboro, N.C.
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