The pictures shown here were taken when I was in Iraq during my first tour with the US Army Rangers. We operated out of a small town called Hawijah, and the countryside around it was dotted by countless small mud-hut villages. The people in that area had suffered for decades by the time I arrived in 2008.
Today, Hawijah is in the heart of the ISIS occupation. In fact, Islamic State forces conducted a mass execution there a few months ago. The kids who were seven and eight years old when I was over there are fifteen and sixteen now. Some are probably members of ISIS, some are refugees, some have probably been beheaded.
When I was there they were just kids, happy but exceptionally poor. They would be ecstatic when we rolled into their little village. They had nothing, and we would try and bring a soccer ball or some Beanie Babies. We would bring ice-cold Gatorade and they would huddle around it taking sips in turn. The younger ones were still naive enough to believe that we were their saviors, that we were going to help them. However, I could see in the faces of the older adults that they knew the truth. They had been there before. We would say the right things, promise to help, and then leave. They would stay, and it would only get worse. It broke my heart. I’d sit there and share their meager food, knowing that they knew I was just one more of a series of invaders in their country.
The man I have my arm around in the photo to the right was our interpreter, “Butcher.” We called him that because he butchered our language. He learned English by watching American cartoons and re-runs of The Dukes of Hazzard. He loved us and we loved him. He was a Muslim. He risked his life for us years before I arrived and years after I left. He begged me to take him back to America. I didn’t know what to say, I knew I couldn’t. The process was so long and expensive—he and his family couldn’t afford it. He had to wear a mask while we were out so insurgents wouldn’t find out who he was and murder his family. He had my phone number and called me once after I was back in the US, but the connection was bad and we got cut off. I tried calling him back but it wouldn’t work. It was the last time I ever heard from him. He’s very likely dead.
So, if you’re one of these people screaming to keep refugees out of the United States while you sit in your house safe and sound and spoiled, I never want you to thank me for my service ever again. I didn’t do it for you. I did it for them. And it didn’t help! And now that we have a chance to actually help, we refuse. Right now I feel ashamed to be an American.