From Iraq: Reflections on Returning
17 November 2017
Our Iraq team is currently on mission reconnecting with the people they met this past spring and early summer. Some are people they’ve worked with, others are people they helped rescue from ISIS territory and sniper fire. Dave Eubank previously wrote about those interactions and another Ranger, Sky, who was a part of the early June rescue teams, shares what it was like for him to return to where the rescues happened and reconnect with some of the individuals rescued.
We spotted the hospital while still on the eastern side of the Tigris River. After crossing a bridge (recently repaired since ISIS destroyed it) we were stopped at a Federal Police checkpoint. They were nervous about us being there, scared we would step on an IED. I was taken aback, considering every one of us had been on the front line during the operation to liberate Mosul, when the fighting was at its worst.
It looked much different than I recalled. It wasn’t just the absence of shrapnel, rubble, and bodies in the street. I realized my point of view had changed. Before, I had observed the scene from a second story window, or quickly peeked over a wall. Now I stood out in the open, no snipers to worry about. Last time I had stood here I was multi-tasking: dragging a wounded man, trying to keep the tank between myself and ISIS machine gun nests, and trying to make sure we weren’t flanked. That didn’t leave a lot of time to take in the scenery. Now I had a moment to let it soak in.
Death still hung in the air. Bones and pieces of flesh left the stench. It still smelled the same. Worse were the clothes: a young child’s shoes; a little girl’s pink shirt. Reminders that children aren’t off limits for ISIS.
Omar, the civilian who aided the FBR team in rescuing wounded, met us in the street. He and his family had moved back to their home only a few blocks away. He hugged me and kissed my cheek, calling me his brother. I’ll never forget the first day I met him. After Omar had risked one trip into ISIS territory to rescue his wounded mother, Dave Eubank asked if he wanted to go with us to rescue more casualties. His response: “I am with you until death.” His courage inspired me.
We brought food and water to Omar’s home, where we met his wife and four sons. After his mother died, they are all Omar has left. The rest of his family was killed in the fighting. The situation in his neighborhood is bleak. No water and no electricity. He asked if I knew where he might find work. I told him I’d ask around.
After visiting Omar’s home, and treating an infected wound in his foot, we left to visit Khofran. She had been shot by ISIS while trying to reach the safety of the Iraqi forces. The FBR team had found her after sneaking into ISIS territory with four soldiers from the Emergency Response Division. Omar had come too, of course. The last time I had seen Khofran, I had lifted her up into a Humvee to be evacuated. She’s 20-years-old and tougher than she looks. Not many people can keep quiet while being carried along with a broken femur. Her family is as tough as she is. Khofran’s mom had stopped to help her when she was shot, but then her mother took a bullet to the face. Her three brothers had been shot as well, one in the head. Her mother and brothers survived. We left food with her family, and asked if they needed anything else. Her father explained that they are in debt after Khofran’s surgery. I told him we would help as we could.
I have been asked to reflect on how this trip made me feel. Honestly, I don’t know. I am saddened by the loss of life and destruction. I am thrilled to see Omar alive and well. I am humbled to have the opportunity to glorify God in a place some would call godforsaken. I am both glad and angered to see Khofran – glad because she is alive and will be able to walk again. Angry because she should be in university, not recuperating from multiple gunshots.
Most of all, this trip reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:6-8: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” That’s why the FBR motto starts with love. It is our greatest commandment, one that never quits in the face of oppression.