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Here’s What It’s Like To Return To Iraq 10 Years After The War
The first time I set foot in Iraq was as an Army grunt in 2004. Like most war experiences, it was an intense one, undoubtedly altering my life trajectory. Mortal combat, unlike most undertakings, has a transformational effect on the mind. In fact, almost any veteran who has ever squeezed the trigger of a rifle or ducked a whizzing bullet in a firefight can draw a thick line across the course of his or her life dividing before combat and after combat. Oftentimes that demarcation happens without notice, almost subconsciously.
I came back home from the war and continued on with school. I deployed again with the Army, this time to Afghanistan. I earned a degree. I left the military. I worked in Washington. I worked overseas. I traveled much of the world. The years passed quickly. I lived my life forward, rarely thinking of Iraq, its endless tragedies, tortured people, and forever wars. The memories, vivid at first, gradually diminished like a warm breath on a cool window. But the war never fully evaporated. Once you experience that side of the human condition, there is no going back.
So when the opportunity presented itself last fall to see Iraq again, a decade after my first taste of combat there, somewhat to my own surprise, I jumped on it. I returned on a 60-day contract with an Iraqi consulting firm that supported the implementation of various USAID and Department of State projects. Based in Erbil, in the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq, my job was to help develop the capacity of several “American corners,” that is, U.S.-funded cultural centers for locals to learn about and “experience” America through books, magazines, movies and other media. My duties consisted of problem solving, putting out fires, writing reports and dealing with people, their egos and interpersonal issues --- all tasks in which most ex-Army leaders are well versed.
I spent a good deal of my time bouncing around Kurdistan, both for work and for leisure. I made friends from all sorts of backgrounds: Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Yazidis, among others. If some of these names are unfamiliar to you, don’t fret. I was not aware of the full social complexity of the region either until I returned to live and work among its varied peoples. I enjoyed nights out in cities like Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. I went on kayaking trips. I joined a photography club. I volunteered at several of the Syrian refugee camps. In sum, I had a great time!
If going to war in Iraq was the catalyst for mental transformation, then returning was the impetus for emotional reconciliation. The countless interactions I enjoyed, the meals I shared, the hospitality I accepted and the friendships I forged, cast aside my old feelings of cynicism and detachment. Gone was the justifiable apathy toward this ancient land that I had developed during my tour of duty, as was my exasperation with its forever-squabbling population. To be clear, I did not suddenly embrace a romantic view of Mesopotamia, as some dreamy visitors are prone to do, but I did develop a deeper appreciation for the culture that allowed me to balance some of its virtues against its well-publicized counterparts.
When my contract ended and I flew back home, I knew with certainty that I would be back. Over the next six months, an eclectic group that included many veterans, conceived, designed and planned a small, agile initiative to support the education of displaced Syrian refugee children in Iraq. We called it TentEd. Our focus zeroed in on Kurdistan, where these refugees are concentrated.
For the last month, I’ve been in Kurdistan implementing the project on behalf of the group. By virtue of being a small, targeted operation, TentEd has been able to provide precise support exactly where it’s needed. We solicit requests for supplies and services from educators and officials who have intimate knowledge of students’ needs from working in the schools day in and day out. With comparatively little capital or manpower, we have made an outsized impact.
TentEd is first and foremost about helping people who need help. It’s about showing individuals in need that Americans care. Yet, it’s personal in its approach, centered on people rather than process. For me, it has served as a vessel for reconciliation with an impossibly intense life chapter. Rather than leaving Iraq in my past, I have discovered a new reality and have come to cherish this place.
Zack Bazzi co-founded TentEd, a development initiative supporting the education of displaced Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He is a proud former U.S. Army infantryman.
Hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War have repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital
In an uh-oh episode of historic proportions, hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War recently and repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital city.
Wait – they had hand grenades in the Revolutionary War? Indeed. Hollow iron balls, filled with black powder, outfitted with a fuse, then lit and thrown.
And more than two dozen have been sitting in cardboard boxes at the Department of Historic Resources, undetected for 30 years.
At least 4 American veterans among group arrested in Haiti with arsenal of weapons and tactical gear
At least four American veterans were among a group of eight men arrested by police in Haiti earlier this week for driving without license plates and possessing an arsenal of weaponry and tactical gear.
Police in Port-au-Prince arrested five Americans, two Serbians, and one Haitian man at a police checkpoint on Sunday, according to The Miami-Herald. The men told police they were on a "government mission" but did not specify for which government, according to The Herald.
They also told police that "their boss was going to call their boss," implying that someone high in Haiti's government would vouch for them and secure their release, Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles told NPR.
What they were actually doing or who they were potentially working for remains unclear. A State Department spokesperson told Task & Purpose they were aware that Haitian police arrested a "group of individuals, including some U.S. citizens," but declined to answer whether the men were employed by or operating under contract with the U.S. government.
White supremacist Coast Guard officer stockpiled firearms and hit list of Democrats for mass terror attack
A Coast Guard lieutenant arrested this week planned to "murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," according to a court filing requesting he be detained until his trial.
(Reuters Health) - Military service members who are at risk for suicide may be less likely to attempt to harm themselves when they receive supportive text messages, a U.S. study suggests.
The Army allegedly missed this soldier's stomach cancer for 4 years. His widow wants someone to answer for it
The widow of a soldier whose stomach cancer was allegedly overlooked by Army doctors for four years is mounting a medical malpractice lawsuit against the military, but due to a decades-old legal rule known as the Feres Doctrine, her case will likely be dismissed before it ever goes to trial.