Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Old Man is Snoring...

I am so lucky to be in Iraq!!! Ok, technically, that is BLESSED to be here. Let me tell you why. First mention is the rain coming down steadily for a day and a half. So much water, I was afraid we would have to row to get to work. But somewhere early Sunday morning, the sound of the cascading pelting went to a whisper and at dawn's rays the sun shown down through the clouds. It occurred to me that it’s not that Iraq doesn’t get much water, it’s just that it comes all at once. If they had aqueducts and reservoirs…Anyway, today started out slow enough, even a tad late getting to church. Sacrament was good, then, in the break before Sunday School I burned a baptism picture-disk for the Group Leader before he had to split for work.
We were standing around waiting for someone to start Sunday School when it was ascertained that no one had been asked to teach. Then one soldier pointed and said “that guy was supposed to.” I looked around but it appeared the only one in range of that finger was…yours truly.
Every week random assignments were given out for the lesson and talks the following week and since I had given the lesson the week before, I was done. But today the soldier came up to me and said he asked the group leader who was teaching and the group leader identified myself (unbeknownst to me) and told him that “that guy is the Sunday School teacher.”
My favorite calling, can it be true? I’m glad it apparently is a calling now, I’m just curious when they planned on officially letting me know. But that is SMALL news compared to what I learned after church.
I talked to the very same soldier and I casually mentioned (ok, not so casually) that it sure has been quiet here for awhile. Out came the news,and I inquired and requested more and more info and I heard the COOLEST stuff. The following are paraphrases of what I learned from this guy and his buddy.
The guy shooting the mortars into the camp, sorry to say, was setting one up when it went off and blew him and the 2 guys with him…out of existence and therefore, out of business. The military followed another guy who was financing him back to a meeting and they arrested all six people there. Now the bad guys (apparently this is being financed from Iran)will probably eventually get in replacements, but it may be quiet for some time! That is so cool.
Then, last night in the heavy downpour I remember seeing the patrols go out and the guy in the turret with the gun was getting drenched. I felt so bad for all of these guys going out in the weather like that. Very cold and wet and wary. So I asked these guys after church today, what’s up with that? They go on patrols constantly.
The purpose? It gives a presence so the bad guys know they are there. It gives the people a presence so they know they are still protected. It gives the IP (Iraqi Police) security that they are backed up. Very cool. The good news? The military is on these patrols around the clock so that means around Iraq thousands of patrols over time. That much exposure and so few casualties? Amazing. In fact one of the guys said he feels totally safe outside the wire.
He told me about the people. He says the kids love the Americans, and they really like the kids. The kids always are waving and coming up to talk and they say most often, “Mister pen! Misterpen!” They are taught the address of respect is Mister and they love ball-point pens to write with. Love ‘em! The favorite two items are pens and chocolate or candy.
The soldier says he just loves interacting with the children and apparently they are taught English in the schools because one child wanted him to write his English essay for him. Interestingly, my friend also said that he loves the Iraqi people because they are so generous. When they go over to talk with the people they are invited(everyone sits on the floor with crossed legs) and the Iraqis spread all kinds of food in front of them, even though some are quite poor.
They meet in city council meetings with the Iraqis and meet with police officers. My friend also reports that the police chiefs and one in particular “is such a stud!” He says about this one in particular and many in general that they are intelligent, full of purpose and ideas, and I got the impression that they are indeed motivated to create a new Iraq. The military is teaching them government and leadership skills. The military also oversees, hires contractors, and secures the development of infrastructure, making Iraq better than it ever was.

I’m sorry my friends, but this is the BEST NEWS and Ifeel so lucky to be here and get the “real story.” I hope this is of value and interest to you to. Now this Kirkuk area is one of the most agreeable and safe major cities in Iraq and I know other places have varying degrees of this kind of success, but I know it is going on. The reports of death and violence you hear in the news would seem to dominate the environment here, but you can see with this kind of interaction and patrols and meetings and building going on that the casualties reported are so small inrelation to the exposure and development of the new Iraq that is going on.
This is an unusually long report comparatively, Iknow. If I could give you a picture instead of a thousand words, you know I would. But if you caught all or part of the President’s Inaugural Speech, you can see how that vision is trickling down to the ranks here and that the primary goal of the military is to train, build, and protect these people until they can support and defend themselves, a true sacrifice of mercy and service. Not to conquer or vanquish at all, really.
This is so contrary to the public image ofthe military that it surprises me. In retrospect,with the Tsunami catastrophe, for example, it was the U.S. military that was first on the scene with food and water. Before the red cross and before the UN was even done meeting about what to do. I think that we know that perfection is not found, but that we can still be proud of the good things America does.

In other news, the Camino Ward of the El Dorado stake,actually the primary, did a very cool thing. They sent 15 bags or so with bags of candy, tissues, and Ensigns inside for the LDS soldiers here. As you know, you may recall that we got a National Guard unit from Utah, Idaho, and Montana, hence having a large amount of Mormons. So their gift was right on target, I would say. I’m using some of the tissues now because my nose was running during the lesson. OK, better let you go now. Here is a pic of the front of the shop now. The last sign I made for the building apparently impressed the bosses so that they commanded me to make a bigger one. Then they made me hang it up. OK, I actually liked doing it. Maybe it is dangerous here in Iraq after all…I would tell you about our new Dodge-ball league and how we are doing, but that seems trite in light of the previous notes. Keep the faith.
Ernie

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