We stood staring at each other, trying to look tough, yet friendly. He was really no different than me. He was a Soldier. His boots carried the same dust. His hands wore the same calluses. His eyes shielded the same mix of hope weighed down with pain.
We both had been fighting this war and lost loved ones. We both needed and wanted progress to validate our time, our loss. As he outstretched his arms in greeting, I realized he was different than me in some ways too though.
“Friend. Welcome. I am Abdul. Come. Sit with me. Let’s talk,” said the Iraqi Soldier. Yes, Abdul was different than me because the war he had been fighting was in his streets, and was endangering the country he loved. I dearly wanted peace for our Iraqi friends, but it was still not my home. My wife and kids were home in the United States. They were safe. Abdul’s were not.
“…My wife and son were killed by last year…I fight for my country and for God now…I fight with my American brothers…” said Abdul with a determined face. I recognized that piercing look. I had a similar look when my unit was attacked on my previous tour. I remember the gunfire, the explosions and my battle buddy falling. I remember the blood on my hands as I tried to save Cooper, as I tried to stop his bleeding. I couldn’t and part of me died with him that day. So I knew Abdul’s look and nodded my understanding.
“I will fight with you my brother. I too have lost loved ones. My closest friend, my Army brother, died in Ramadi last year….I miss him everyday…”
Abdul nodded and we began to talk about how we would work together to train and fight. My soldiers were to work side by side with his soldiers to teach them tactics. Together, American and Iraqi soldiers, would join to fight the hatred in his land.
As I started working daily with Abdul, I realized just how alike we were. He was not at all like the stereotype of middle Eastern men. He was just a man. He had loved his wife and boy. The unimaginable loss of them nearly crippled him, like when I lost Cooper. He enjoyed Army life like I did: the hard work, the strategic challenge, the physicality. He cherished a cool breeze on a quiet night. He appreciated a good sporting event. He’d die for his fellow soldier. Yes, we were very much the same.
After several months, Abdul and his team were ready. They would take over the training of their own Army. They would spearhead the charge and lead their own country into peace…or so I thought.
In moments, all the progress was undone. All the bounds we had built were broken.
Abdul and I were walking to the front of a crowd, to speak with a village elder. As the elder approached us, another soldier, one of Abdul’s, ran forward screaming, Allahu Akbar. Abdul, after looking at me, ran towards his soldier tackling him and pulling him away from me and the elder, who I threw myself on. Before Abdul and his soldier hit the ground, an explosion shook the area. Everyone fell to the ground that was not thrown there by the blast. Black smoke filled the air. Blood covered the ground. Screams filled the air. For a second, I lay there trying to digest what had happened. I jumped up. Looked at the elder’s minor wounds, and then turned to look for Abdul. He lay there, mangled and bleeding out. Yet, miraculously, he was still conscious.
“The elder is good? You are good brother?”
“Yes, you saved us Abdul. Now stop talking. Save your energy. You are getting out of here,” I lied.
Abdul struggled a small smile. “Don’t lie to me brother. It’s good. I will be a martyr.”
I grabbed Abdul’s face and knelt down near him. “You will always be a martyr and my friend. You have lived up to your name. You are truly a servant of God Abdul.”
A fictional story on the complexities of war: becoming partners with local forces when it is a strong possibility that there is could be one or two extremists in the ranks. Though this story is fictional, I have heard of like real-life stories of multinational soldiers bonding and then suffering in one kind of attack or another. Once you become a “battle buddy” or “brother” with another soldier, that bond is strong, and differences fade away. To all those soldiers, both foreign and American, who have died, you are not forgotten.