A soldier sees and feels a wider variety of sights and emotions in a year than most people will experience in a lifetime. …
In my short time in the military I have experienced more suffering than I could have imagined before joining up. I have held the hand of a dying Marine who had only one last wish: that someone would be with him and hold his hand as he passed on. So I sat there with a strange man, holding his hand, not saying a word, until he died. …
I have watched grown men cry, and cried with them, as we stood in front of the traditional memorial of a rifle thrust bayonet-first into the ground with the fallen soldier’s helmet and dog tags draped on the weapon. His empty boots stand at attention in the fore of this tableau.
My heart broke when I gazed upon a little girl, no older than my own 5-year-old, crying and begging in broken English for food and water. I have awoken from sleep in shock as it finally dawned on me how close I came to death on a recent patrol. I have lived in fear that I would never see my family again, or that my daughter would grow up without her daddy. …
On one of those days in Iraq where I wasn’t sure if I’d see my daughter again, I was working at a checkpoint near a small camp in the desert. … The locals would gather around our checkpoints to try to sell us things, beg for food or water, or just hang around the soldiers.
On this particular day one of the locals had his little girl with him. She was shyly watching me from behind his legs. When I smiled and waved at her, she brazenly ran up to me with a big smile and held out her arms, expecting to be picked up. At first I was shocked at her sudden bravery, and it took me a second to reach down and pick her up. When I did, she immediately kissed me on my cheek and then nestled in as if she meant to stay a while.
I looked toward her father and he immediately began talking rapidly in Arabic and gesturing at me. Our translator quickly explained that he, the father, had been locked in a prison for most of the child’s life. He had been sentenced to death for being a Shiite dissident traitor. The man went on to say that soldiers wearing the same patch on the shoulder as I was (the 101st Airborne Division) had freed him shortly after we began the liberation of Iraq. His daughter from then on believed that the famous Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st meant that we were angels sent to protect her family.
I sat in a little folding chair with that girl in my arms for well over 30 minutes. She trusted me so completely that she had fallen asleep with her head on my shoulder. All of my fears and worries faded as I held that little miracle. It had been so long since I had held my own daughter that this episode was even more healing for me than it was for her.
I have often wondered if, on that day when I missed my family so much, it wasn’t a coincidence that she found me, of all soldiers. Maybe it was that innocent girl, and not me, that was the angel sent by God.
Aric Catron, 25, a National Guardsman from Onalaska in Lewis County, wrote this letter from Baghdad, Iraq. Nadine Gulit of Operation Support Our Troops in Issaquah submitted Catron’s letter to the Seattle P-I with his permission. Catron is serving his second tour in Iraq.