I knew that the soldier sitting next to me on the plane was special when he responded, “No Ma’am. Let one of my men sit up there.” The stewardess had walked back to his seat just prior to take-off to ask, “Colonel, would you like to move up to first class?”
To be honest, I was hoping that he would say yes, because he was strapping and sitting in the middle seat for the six hour flight from Chicago to Anchorage last night. I thought that I’d be able to sleep better if he moved up. I’m glad he didn’t because then I would have missed talking to him about his experiences in Iraq.
Colonel Lance Raney and Sergeant Anthony Hunter along with about 30 other members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade were on their way back home to Fairbanks, Alaska for a two week leave after serving six months in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Colonel Raney told me, “It sits in northern Iraq, along the Tigris River. It was a big agricultural area with an ag university.”
“The Iraqis really respect us for making it a safer and more secure area. They will be happy when we leave, but know that if we left now it would be very difficult for them. We are training a whole division (4x size of brigade) and doing a lot of joint patrols, but gradually turning over sections of the area directly to them.”
I asked him about the news media reporting in the USA and Colonel Raney told me, “A lot of our guys refuse to even watch the coverage. The news reporting shows a picture much worse than anything we are seeing on the ground.”
“We had a news reporter from Fairbanks embedded with us for six weeks in December and January. Margaret Friedenauer did a good job of telling it like it really is.” Her reports can be seen at www.newsminer.com. Look in the upper right corner “Reporting From Iraq”.
“The Iraqis have a different way of looking at work. They typically only work from 9 to 2 and think that they should work 3 weeks and then take a week off.” He laughingly added, “Maybe they don’t have it all wrong!”
He also talked about the bond that has developed between the soldiers and the kids on the streets, “I just hope that we aren’t developing a generation of beggars there because my guys are always giving them things.”
The biggest challenge for him and his men? “Everyday is Monday. We don’t get anytime off. That’s why we are really looking forward to being with our families in Fairbanks for the next two week.”
It was a real privilege for me to sit and talk with Colonel Raney and Sergeant Hunter during our plane ride. After I thanked them for what they are doing, I thought of all of the wonderful people that I meet on my travels. They were two of the very memorable ones.