A very dark place

When I heard about the act of evil perpetrated yesterday against those innocent children I was transported back to a place over seven years ago.

I was in a place called Yusafiah Iraq, it was my first combat deployment. During foot patrols in the villages around my Forward Operating Base(FOB) I got to know the citizens, they were a great bunch of people who had been beaten down by everyone from their leaders, to their religious teachers, to the terrorists who were using them as human shields. I used to talk to the people, I knew just enough Arabic to get my point across and they were willing to learn English, I grew to like them. They were just trying to do what every one on the planet does, they were trying to give their children a better life than they had. One of these children was Mohamed, he was six years old, I got to know him well, and I really liked him. Every time I walked into his village he was there to greet me with a huge smile. He loved it when we came through because as he put it, “you are here to kill bad people and help me be free, just like the kids in America.”

He loved playing soccer, and we usually planned our patrols to give us time to hang out and play soccer. We would also just sit and talk to the people, we would teach them English and they would try and teach us Arabic, they would tell us how great Iraq would be as soon as we got rid of the insurgents and how they couldn’t wait until they were free, and one of the things the children were most looking forward too was the opening of the local school. Opening the school was one of the projects we were working on, it was one of three schools we were working on. The children were looking forward to it so much they would try and help us rebuild it, this consisted mostly of getting tools, nails, or bottles of water when we needed it. But they thought it was the greatest thing ever.

As the time drew closer to open the school, Mohamed got even more and more excited, he couldn’t wait to go. One day he came to me and said he didn’t want to go to school anymore and when I asked why he just pointed to his feet. He had on mismatched slippers that had seen their better days, he was embarrassed by his slippers. A few days before the school opened while I was patrolling through his village again I asked if he was ready for school and he still didn’t want to go with the slippers he had on. So I pulled a brand new pair of flip-flops out of my bag and gave them to him. You think I gave him a million dollars, he was smiling and thanking me, he brought his family out to show off his new slippers, and he said, “now everyone will be jealous of me and I will get all the girls.” To see him that happy was just about the best day of my life. He said he wished school opened the next day so he could show them off.

Three days before the school was set to open the insurgent scum bags posted a letter on the door to the school it said “If you send your children to this school provided by the infidel scum you will regret it.”  We searched the school and didn’t find anything out-of-place, we looked for bombs, booby traps, anything that would hurt the children, finding nothing we posted Iraqi soldiers as guards.

Finally the day came to open the school. We showed up to the school complete with bags full of school supplies, pencils, paper, rulers, crayons, the things they would need for school. There was a ceremony that the village elders attended, along with a number of our higher-ups. There were Iraqi news outlets there filming the accomplishment. I was handing out school supplies when I felt a tug on gear, I looked around and there was Mohamed, he was bare foot carrying his brand new slippers, I asked him why and he said he didn’t want to get them dirty before everyone could see them. He had a smile a mile wide on his face, and he said in his broken English, “Thank you for my school, you guys are my heroes.” I felt like I was walking on a cloud, these kids were as excited for their first day at school as American children were for Christmas. Mohamed walked almost into the school before he put his slippers on, he looked back at me with a huge grin, smiled and walked into class with his head held high.

After all the fan fair and hand shakes and ribbon cutting was done, the principal of the school thanked us and off we went. We were gone for about ten seconds when it exploded. The school exploded. Time seemed to stop as I swung around in my turret I saw black smoke and grey dust where the school had just been. I jumped out of my turret and ran back to what was left of the school, there were children covered in dust and soot screaming and running around, some were bloodied, some were just disoriented. We searched around the area trying to find the bastard that did this and we couldn’t find anyone other than school officials and Iraqi Army. Then we started the grizzly recovery efforts, we started combing through the rubble of what had just been the happiest place in Iraq.

We found very few living people. What we did find was lots of body parts, lots of body parts that were just a little while ago happy playing children on their way to school, most of them for the first time ever. I was searching for Mohamed, my little buddy couldn’t have been killed, but all I found was one of his little feet still wearing the slipper I had given him a few days ago.

After the explosion we locked down every village that had sent children to the school and went from one side top to bottom to the other side and detained every male 8 to 80, and we shot anyone who resisted. I thought that would help me feel better. It didn’t.

At that time, just like now I question why, why did this happen to children? How could we have let this happen? But most important I want to know what we can do to prevent this from ever happening again. In Iraq we placed armed guards at the remaining schools, a well vetted and checked out armed guard force. That guard force we installed prevented further attacks, in one instance the guards successfully fought of an armed gang that tried to take over one of the schools. During this incident no children were killed, and only one was wounded, he hurt his ankle running from the windows to stay out of the line of fire. If this violence ridden war zone can emplace a guard force that protects its children why can’t we do it here? Why must the law-abiding citizens give up their rights because of a few deranged evil people? The answer is they should not, these law-abiding citizens should be placed as security guards for our children.

This tragedy could have been averted but it could not have been averted by taking the guns away from citizenry, it could have been averted by having a Sheep Dog in place to watch over the children. We must protect our children, they are our greatest treasure, and they deserve nothing less.

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