Email From Basra
A endless short-term National Guard mission.
Thursday, July 3, 2003
Photo by Darren Vyff: Soldiering in the Sun: National Guard Spc. Nathan Lyons enjoyed Starbucks, jetskis and a henna tattoo at a barbecue in Kuwait. Later, he traveled north to Basra, Iraq, where it was less like a party going on.
From: Nate Lyons
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 09:42:46 -0700
Subject: Iraqi mission
Well, I spent the last three days in Iraq and it was quite an eye-opening experience. We were the security for American civilians going up there to help restore the oil fields and water plants to start getting the country operational again. About 100 meters before you get to the border there are these huge trenches dug by the Iraqis that were supposed to be filled with oil and burnt but they never made it that far so they are just sitting there. Then when you cross the border there are signs that say beware of children and do not feed the children. Right after that there are tons of little kids standing on the sides of the road waving, giving thumbs up, and asking for food or money. Their houses are nothing more than mud/sand bricks that form these little huts. They have no power and really nothing anywhere except a lot of goats. These kids have no idea what education is and start working at a very young age. Their fathers are off rummaging through abandoned vehicles on the side of the road, or tanks, while the women look for water or something covered from head to toe in black in the 130 degree heat. There are blown-up tanks all over the place.
In Basra things are the same. Except that in the middle of all these huts is a huge mansion. This was Chemical Ali''s mansion that he lived in while he was designing chemicals to kill their own people and Americans. Everywhere you go, people try to sell you things that are really of no value such as Iraqi money. Saddam broke many oil pipes so there are lakes of oil everywhere.
There was one place where there used to be a water reservoir but Saddam got mad at the people so he drained it and now it is just sand. That is really all Iraq is...Sand and huts and rubble as far as you can see. It was really depressing to see the way that all these people live while one man held all the money while they all starve and have nothing. With just the oil I saw spilled everywhere, all the Iraqis could have been really wealthy but instead they had nothing. Anyway, I got some great pictures and I hope to be able to show you all soon.
Two months ago, President Bush declared victory against Saddam Hussein. Since then, at least 59 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Kuwait in the line of duty.
Most of my casual friends assume that my brother Nathan, a sawgunner in the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry of the Oregon Army National Guard, is safe and home. They think the war''s over. It''s not.
Most of the time I''m able to reassure them that he''s hundreds of miles from harm''s way, at Camp Patriot in southern Kuwait, guarding the port where he''s stationed. Sometimes I even brag about his adventures, like his visit to a Kuwaiti school where he signed autographs and posed for pictures with schoolkids, and played guitar for a kindergarten class.
And the barbecue he and about 100 other soldiers attended at the home of a rich Kuwaiti family. The family hired a DJ to play American music and Starbucks to serve iced coffee drinks. They gave away Cuban cigars and gift bags with towels, sandals and hand-held fans. Nath might have won a Rolex watch--many were raffled off--but he was out jet skiing in the Gulf and riding in the family''s ski boat.
The next day, R. Lee Ermey, the real-life drill sergeant who also played one in Full Metal Jacket, entertained the troops. Later that same week during a day off, Nath and the rest of his platoon visited a nearby resort for dinner.
Nath turned 23 on May 5, and celebrated by eating ice cream and jumping off a high dive in a Navy pool. He didn''t receive any of the cards, presents and chocolate chip cookies we all sent. Later, we found out why. All the Bravo Company letters and packages were in Baghdad, apparently waiting for the soldiers, who were supposed to be in Baghdad, too. For some reason, they never went. Nath didn''t know why, but he reassured us that he wouldn''t be sent to Baghdad.
We all felt relieved, until a couple weeks ago, when Nath called my mom early on Monday morning.
"I''m going up north, but I can''t tell you where," he said. "Anyway, I don''t want to tell you because I don''t want you to worry."
Nice sentiment, but it was too late.
A week later, on June 23, I got a voicemail from Nath saying he was out of Iraq, back at Camp Patriot, and safe.
"Nath''s home!" I yelled to my husband, for a minute confusing an Army tent with home.
On June 24, six British military police were killed and another eight were injured north of Basra, where my brother had been a day before. "The news made it sound like they were ambushed," Nath said. "They weren''t. The Iraqis all carry AK47s. It''s their only means of protection against Baath party loyalists. The British are confiscating people''s weapons and they don''t like it." So, he says, the Brits took the Iraqis'' guns and the Iraqis came back and shot them to death.
Nath says he wasn''t worried about it happening to him.
"They love Americans in Iraq. They hate the British."
On July 4, my sister Suzanne will be married in Oregon. Suz and her fiance will be three groomsmen short of a full wedding party. One cancelled because of a family emergency. Two, my brother included, are in the Persian Gulf.
"We have no idea when we''ll be coming home," my brother said last week.