I’m Private James Sanders of the United States Army and I’m nineteen years old. My friends and family call me Jim. I was born and raised in Southwest Missouri, so forgive the slight accent.
When I joined the Army before the war in Iraq started, I thought I was grown. Come to find out, I had a lot to learn and the thing is, out here on the field, I’ve seen more in the past year than most people do in a lifetime, but not as much as my dad and granddad did.
Ya see, I come from a long line of military officers. No, I’m not a military brat, ‘cause they gave up the military after a tour or two, jus’ as I hope to do after all of this. I’m jus’ glad I haven’t seen what my dad and granddad did, least not yet.
My father served in Desert Storm as a medic. He’d go out on the field after the battle was over and made the decision on who they could or couldn’t save. Those they could save, they’d take back to their M.A.S.H. unit. He saw his comrade and best friend die out on the field ‘cause they couldn’t save him. He was too far gone and ever since then, my dad has insisted there ain’t no God.
What my dad didn’t see was my early years growin’ up. He missed seein’ me learn how to walk and talk, because he was fightin’ the war, but that ain’t half as much as what my granddad went through fightin’ in Nam.
My granddad was eighteen when he served in Vietnam. Eighteen seems to be the average age for men fightin’ a war, especially back then, but unlike his friends, he didn’t burn his draft card and run to Canada. Now I’m not sayin’ that it was good or bad that his friends did that, but my granddad was drafted and he had to do somethin’ he thought he’d never do in a million years. He shot a little child.
Why did he do that y’all ask? Because some Viet Kong strapped a grenade on a little boy and hit him so he’d run to the American soldiers. The child didn’t know any better. Even so, he was hoping he would get help, but instead my granddad shot him. If he hadn’t shot the child, he and his group would have blown up with the boy. For the American soldier in Nam, it was kill or be killed. Ever since then, he’s had nightmares over the war.
Luckily, I’ve not had it that bad, but it’s been bad enough here in Iraq. I’ve seen young children crying in the streets the next morning after we spent the night bombing their city because they some how got separated from their parents. Of course, their fathers may have been some of the men that we fought to get their city. God only knows why they weren’t with their mothers, but it was a sad site to see so many people scared and so many buildings falling down as we walked into those cities.
If I had killed one or both their parents, I didn’t mean to, but that is a side effect of war. In some cases their own government killed their parents. I don’t have a clue as to why, but I do know it’s one reason why we’re here; to fight injustice and give freedom to these people, or so we’re told. Everyone deserves that, but at what cost?
This morning, we’re fixin’ to go into a refugee camp. Just as we approach the camp a chopper sits down outside the camp. We rush to unload the commodities to give to the refugees.
I don’t know what we’ll see or how they will react to us. What I do know is we’re here to help them until they are relocated to another place. We don’t have much to give them, except some warm food, fresh water, and blankets. It’s a start though.
We walked into the camp and I found it refreshin’ to be surrounded by the smell life instead of death for a change. I get tired of hearing the sounds of gun fire and the odor of gun powder. The last thing I want to hear is another buddy scream in pain because a grenade or a bullet hit him. I’m even tired of listening to the enemy scream because ammunition is raining down on them.
After we entered the camp with the gifts, I noticed a young boy about the age of my little brother and I began to wish I were back at home playing ball with him. It would be so much nicer to be throwing a ball back and forth than it would be to see all this destruction and slaughter of others.
Yet I have a job to do here, helping others overcome injustice and oppression. It made me wonder how all the heroes before us succeeded in dealing with everything that they had to endure. I wondered if all this cruelty and hatred would ever end as I watched the child staring at us.
I could tell he was uneasy and uncertain of our intent, even though we both spoke different languages. The child, who could not be more than seven or eight years old, needed more than we could give him, and I could only hoped that what we do here today showed him a different side of people besides what he had already seen in his short life.
From what I could tell, he was alone among many people. I saw no woman caring for him as though he were her child nor did I see any man guiding him through the ordeals of life. It made me wonder where his family was. Did become he separated from them or were they tragically killed? Was it possible that his parents were more casualties of war?
I had no idea what his story was, but I knew, just as I have a story to tell, he also had one. Problem was we had no common language to share our stories.
As the food was being prepared, I took the time to sit with the child. We didn’t speak for a long time as we sat and studied each other in our own way. He just stared at me as though he were trying to look inside of me to see what sort of person I was and I looked straight ahead watching the cooks prepare the meal.
The young boy seemed afraid, most likely because he didn’t know if we were the bad guys or the good guys. I understood his fear, because out here ya don’t know if the next person you meet will be friend or foe.
Finally, the child uttered some words in a language that was foreign to me. I knew it was Iraqi, but beyond that, I had no idea what his words meant. Was he asking my name?
In hopes that he had finally overcome some of his fear, I took a chance and pointed to myself, “My name is Private Jim Sanders.”
He mumbled some more words in Iraqi again.
“My name’s Jim,” I repeated as I pointed to myself. Then I pointed to him and asked, “What’s your name?”
The boy still did not comprehend my words and it seemed as though another barrier was between us, only this time it was that of language. In frustration, the boy looked away from me and gazed past the cooks as we once again sat in silence.
The poor child still seemed very weary of the situation, but he did not run from me or the other soldiers. I could only assume that one of the adults had explained to him that we were there to help, but I had the feeling he still didn’t trust the situation or us. He seemed very lonely and isolated in a small camp of people.
As I sat with the child during my break, I watched the sun rise over the horizon and wondered just how many people in the camp had stories to tell. Would their stories ever be told or would language continue to separate us like an ocean?
“Ahmad,” the boy finally said.
“What?” I asked him.
I’m guessin’ it was my facial expression or somethin’, but he pointed to himself and repeated, “Ahmad.”
That was his name, I finally realized. Again, I pointed to myself, makin’ my words as simple as I could, “Jim.”
He held out his hand as though he were a little man and rattled off some words. The only one I could understand was an accentuated ‘Jim’.
I offered my hand and he shook it as I replied, “Please to meet you, Ahmad.”
It was not long after that that I was informed the food was almost ready to be served.
“Well, I have to get back to work,” I informed Ahmad. “I’ll be back though.”
As I stood, the leader of the group said somethin’ to the child and the child went over to some fresh water we had brought the camp. It was then I realized that the man must have told him to wash up for breakfast or somethin’ to that effect. Somehow that small act was reassuring to me and told me the boy was not completely alone, yet the man didn’t look as though he were related to the small child.
During times like this, I don’t think it really matters as long as someone is lookin’ out for him or any child durin’ times like these. Life’s hard, but sometimes it can be down right miserable. Most people probably don’t think about how good they really have it, until a tragedy, such as war, happens to them.
As I began to serve the food to the refugees I noticed the boy had taken up his post again. Was that his tent or was he told to sit outside his tent and wait to be served breakfast? I had no idea, but which ever it was, he was a very good child. Maybe even too good, but things like war seem to do things to a person. It changes them, sometimes for the better or for the worst.
I walked over and gave him a bowl of maple flavored oatmeal. As I handed him the bowl, I made a gesture with my hand. It was the universal sign for food or at least I hoped it was universal.
The boy glared at me with a questioning look. He had no clue what I was trying to communicate to him.
I pointed to the food and brought my hand to my mouth again, while saying food.
Finally, the child looked at the bowl of food with uncertainty as I tried hard to communicate what I was giving him. The boy nodded eagerly and took the bowl of steamy hot lumpy food. I guess the sweet aroma had eventually tempted him to accept the oatmeal.
The little boy took a bite and smiled at me with appreciation. When he had emptied the bowl he offered it back to me with a single sound from his mouth, then he copied my gesture from earlier.
I wasn’t sure what the young child was saying to me, but I said three little words, “You want more?”
He didn’t understand of course, so I pointed to the big pot of food, repeated my words, and made the same gesture of eating again.
The child suddenly nodded anxiously as he realized what I was trying to ask him. I hurried to get him more food. Thing is, I knew the boy needed more than just food to fill his hunger. He needed peace, security, a home, and most of all love.
He wasn’t going to get it out here though. Trouble was it was going to be a while before he would get any of those things.
I pointed to the bowl after giving it back to him again and said, “Oat-me-al.”
“Huh?” The boy grunted with curiosity.
“Oat-me-al,” I pointed again at the child’s food.
“Oat-me-al,” the boy said slowly.
I nodded vigorously because he finally understood that I was telling him the name of the food he was eating.
He repeated the word again with glee, “Oatmeal!” Then quickly, but happily, rattled off something in his mother tongue.
I smiled back at him with a feeling of joy. I somehow knew it was the child’s way of saying “Thank you for the good food.”
Suddenly, he jumped up and hugged me. I didn’t need a common language to know that the child was thanking me for fulfilling his needs. He wasn’t just thanking me for a full stomach, but also for friendship and giving him a moment of peace in the middle of turbulence.
His reaction to what I had done for him gave me a feeling I had not had in months. For the first time in what seemed like a long time, I felt good about the world. I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel and realized that I was fightin’ for the children of the world, so that they could hopefully one day have peace.