3 minute readMilitary Support

Happenings in Balad

This post is authored by Katheryn Wolfe, an American Red Cross worker serving troops in Balad, Iraq.

Phone Friends
I think we are all familiar with the term face friends. It’s those individuals who you run into frequently; either they travel on your same bus route, or pass you in the hallway, or maybe you always run into them at the grocery store. Whatever the encounter, there is usually an underlying tone of friendliness, but with a mutual understanding that you might not ever have a conversation. With two weeks under my belt, I have started to establish what I label as phone friends. It’s those soldiers on the other end of the line that take the Red Cross messages. I know their names, but not a whole lot else. During the course of delivery, there may be one or two personal tidbits but nothing more. There is still an air of friendliness, despite the fact that we usually pass along bad news. I was thinking to myself that it would be nice to put a face with a name. After all, they help us accomplish our goals by getting the message into the appropriate hands. Lucky for me, out of all the soldiers that I could run into on the base, I have bumped into two of my phone friends. Actually, more accurately, they have run into me…thanks to the Red Cross patch on my shoulder.

Soldier Stories
One of the best parts of this position is having the opportunity talk with our service members, who come into the office on a regular basis. Our experiences are often defined by who we meet along the way, not just to the destination to which we travel. Anyone agree?

A quick glimpse: We have an airman that comes to our office quite frequently. He is with security forces, as are many of our volunteers. He is originally from Georgia, and wasn’t quite ready to take over his family’s business. Tired of a mundane work routine, he joined the Air Force. Now he finds himself in Iraq, frequenting the Red Cross office to use our internet café to talk with his family. He has a fascinating position which allows him to have a bird’s eye view of Iraq and surrounding countries. He has even had the opportunity to go on a humanitarian mission. In some respects, he is our eyes to the outside world. We don’t know too much about the terrain or the cities beyond the fence line, because we don’t leave the post. Like most soldiers we chat with, he plans to use education benefits to go back to school. Not sure he knows exactly what he wants to do after the Air Force, but isn’t that a question that we all usually spend a lifetime trying to figure out?

Disappointment
As I mentioned before, my brother is in the Army, deployed to a FOB not too far from JBB. As soon as I found out I was coming to Iraq, everyone asked if I might have an opportunity to meet him. As luck would have it, he was supposed to come visit only a few days after my arrival. I waited in eager anticipation for him to walk into the Red Cross office, but he never came, leaving me feeling sorry for myself. There is this glimmer of hope that next week, on Thanksgiving, he might just make it here…that would be something to truly be thankful for.

Perimeter Road, Iraqi women and sunflowers
For my first few days on base, I couldn’t really find my bearings. I wasn’t sure how close we were to the fence line, or even what the lay of the land looked like from outside the gates. Then came the drive around perimeter road (Thanks Jocelyn!). We of course would never go gallivanting near the perimeter without a purpose; we were headed to take a postal class. As we drove, I happened to look upon a peculiar sight (in my mind at least): sunflowers. I hadn’t expected to see any trees or vegetation either, but the area around base is actually full of farmland. And sunflowers! Driving down a little further, I saw an Iraqi woman in a rather bright cover (neon color, I think) who was just staring in at the base. If I had to put words in her mouth or guess the thoughts in her head, I would say she was remembering what the land was like before it was a huge installation. Or maybe she was wondering if there would be an end to this conflict. I don’t know what her life was like before we arrived, but I like to think it is better now than it was. I guess I will never quite know her story, but only hope that she has experienced some joy during her lifetime.

A care package from MOM
One of the week’s highlights was a care package from my mom. I don’t think I necessarily qualify for a care package, having spent only two weeks deployed. But, this package had more than enough, making it perfect for sharing. Most importantly it had holiday decorations. No Black Friday shopping opportunities here, so to get everyone in the holiday spirit, we are having a decorating party. A topic you can look forward to in next week’s post.

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