I laughed, cried, read in disbelief, and recognized ties to some extent parallel to my camaraderie within my search and rescue team. A group of reserve soldiers from Maine, men from all kinds of jobs and careers, think they are being trained to go to Afghanistan. At the last minute their assignment is changed, to be the military police at Iraq’s infamous detainment facility Abu Ghraib. This was following the terrible humiliation and torture of detainees that was spread wide in the Internet.
Most reserves expected they would serve in the USA, helping with emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina, or helping with civil unrest. The wars in the Middle East changed all that. A friend’s husband who is usually a Sheriff’s deputy has been deployed again and again to Iraq, probably four or five times at least.
The reserve men are sent without adequate uniforms, equipment and body armor. They have no radios! Their container of equipment is lost when they first land in the Middle East and they need to deploy regardless. Eventually they get some ceramic inserts for their vests but not enough. Men have to decide whether they are more likely to be shot or hit by shrapnel from the front or the back as they only get one plate!
Abu Ghraib is located in a suburban area between Baghdad and Fallujah with a freeway overlooking it. From there, people can stand with binoculars and direct others with long distance bombs to adjust their trajectory. There was garbage and human waste everywhere (including human bones). The porta potties often could now be emptied and would be overflowing. Many detainees and soldiers had dysentery. Temperatures could hit 130 F. Eventually, when new tents were built for the prisoners, they got air conditioning. The soldiers did not. They were offered tents but it was safer to stay inside a concrete bunker reinforced with sand bags.
Family back home sent care packages with sanitary napkins and tampons because of inadequate access to medical supplies. A tampon without an applicator is about the right size to pack a bullet hole.
I am ambivalent about our wars in the Middle East. On the one hand, I respect our men and women who choose to serve their country in this way. I have friends in the military and they are good souls. On the other hand, as a teacher, I feel that we could divert much of the money we pour into these overseas conflicts and use them to better educate our children. A little of that military money would go a long way in the educational system.
I was fascinated by this book. I have recommended it to a bunch of people. The writer is very good, very matter of fact. He brings into focus the humanity of these soldiers and the humanity of the detainees. Some were terrorists, but others were people swept up by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were women and children.
It will give you an idea of how you can live and work in hell and still retain your humanity. It also offers insights into the difficulties of returning to your family and civilian life after experiencing so many horrifying things, seeing friends and acquaintances blown to bits, experiencing brain trauma from explosions, trying to help the injuring without adequate facilities, and more. How can people live in this situation and still try to help others.
Please take the time to read this book.