by Dave Myers
A short essay about one part of my deployment to Iraq
Operation Provide Comfort
March - August 1991
Shortly after the cease fire was announced at the end of Operation Desert Storm, the Department of Defense sent in the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing Air Transportable Hospital to provide medical care to the multinational force at Humanitarian Support Base Silopi, which was located 3 miles inside the southeast Turkish border from Iraq.
The Kurdish population in northern Iraq were being persecuted by Saddam Hussein's regime because they supported the United States and the collation forces. Whole villages were being systematically decimated as retribution for supporting "The Good Guys". To bring an end to this, a no-fly zone was established in northern Iraq and we created a refugee camp north of the city of Zakho to provide sanctuary, shelter, food, water, and medical care to the embattled Kurdish population.
We drove into the camp every few days to bring in medical supplies to the clinic we had set up, as well as some treats and toys for the thousands of children in the camp. Sometimes we brought soccer balls, other times it was sweets or some of our "home-cooked" American food from our camp. The one enduring impression I was left with each time I visited was resilience
I was humbled by the way these people met the day to day uncertainty of their lives. The children were laughing, chasing each other around, and playing with the few toys they had, most of which had come from us. You would have never known that these kids had no house, no school, no running water, no playground or park, not even a bathroom.
Whenever our ambulance rolled into the camp, it was like the "Pied Piper". The kids would fall in behind the ambulance and follow us until we stopped by the clinic. Opening the back doors of the ambulance was next to impossible, as the kids would swarm the ambulance to see what we were bringing to them that day and they all wanted to be the first in line for "The Goodies". Even though everyone in the camp was under the same resource constraints, there were some teenagers that preyed on the younger kids and would take the things from the younger kids. Since the majority of the camp population was women and children, there were not enough men in the camp to assert adequate parental control over the bullies, so we started policing these predators ourselves to ensure the younger children got a chance to enjoy some of the things we brought to the camp....at least until we left. This was one of the most frustrating things I remember about the refugee camp and was another reason I couldn't wait to hold my kids closer when I got home.
On one occasion I had two children, brother and sister, take my hand and escort me to their tent. I looked in and their mother and baby sister were sitting there with beaming smiles and asked me to sit. They wanted to show me what they had done with the Coleman tent they had been provided as living quarters by the UN. They had placed a rug on the floor of the tent and it was evident their mother had spent a great deal of time trying to make it look like the house they no longer had, and they were very proud of it. They wanted to show how grateful they were for us providing them this shelter and that they did not take it for granted.
While deployed, I saw death, pain, suffering, loss, despair, and tragedy. But what I remember most....... were the children. They represented many things to me; each time I saw them, I saw my girls waiting in England for their Dad to come home, I saw an image of courage, defiance, resilience, innocence and innocence lost, and I saw the face of hope for a better future for the Kurdish people.
When I arrived in the Persian Gulf, I was focused on one thing, getting back home. On day one, I was already starting my countdown for leaving. I was there to do a job, so let me do my time here and get me the heck out of dodge.
I was not aware that God was preparing a blessing for me and that he was going to take me to school and "school was now in session". I learned more about the strength of the human spirit, the courage and capabilities of young children, and how spoiled and ungrateful I had been. I was given a course in HUMILITY 401 and found myself crying for those children every time we left. I was humbled to my knees and I asked the Lord to forgive me for my ignorance, my myopic view of the world, and my ungratefulness and to give me the wisdom and courage to change the things that were within my control.
In 1991, I deployed to the Persian Gulf to "Provide Comfort" and to provide the basic necessities to a refugee population and found that I had also been a refugee in need of inspiration, wisdom and grace. I can only hope that I left half as good an impression on those kids as they left on me.