Saturday, October 30, 2004

Days Like These

October 30, 2004

Trying to make sense of everything that happens out here is impossible. Instead of pretending that everything is fine, I’ve used writing as a way of sorting out my feelings. As a result, I frighten everyone with my fears and frustrations, and I unintentionally cause all of you to worry. I apologize for that. The last thing I want is for you to spend your day wondering how I am coping - if my inside is as healthy as my outside. Writing to you, however, assures that my insides are okay – or at least as healthy as they can be. I can’t pretend that all of this chaos has not affected me, but it’s not something I discuss with people on a daily basis. We don’t really talk about it because when we listen to the news, we’re reminded of it; when we go outside and have to do a complete search of our vehicle for IED’s, we’re reminded of it; when we hear the death toll, we’re reminded of it. We all deal with this situation in our own way, and I can almost guarantee if you ask anyone here who spends time with me, they will tell you I am fine. They all know me as the funny, carefree Addie who remains optimistic, happy, and smiling. They aren’t disillusioned. That is who I am. That is who I have always been.

Only now, I am so much more.

I’ve seen a part of humanity I never imagined I would experience personally. I’ve only read about the kind of hatred I deal with on a daily basis. I’ve never been so guarded around people. I’ve never been so suspicious of other human beings. I’ve always taken them at face value. You cannot do that out here. In order to stay alive, you must question every action you take during the day. You must be friendly, yet guarded. You must be forceful, yet sympathetic. It’s an exhausting existence, and I’ve grown weary and depressed, feeling like the situation is spiraling out of control. Like you, we are overwhelmed with political grandstanding, election chaos, beheadings, car bombs, death tolls, and bombing campaigns. How do we remain sane and optimistic when all we are exposed to is consistent bad news about our lives?

My answer was to get out of the parameters of the stuffy Green Zone to see some goodness in this situation - to witness first hand the kind of heroism that, like the hatred, I had not personally witnessed until this experience.

I spent last weekend in Ar Ramadi with the 4th Marines Civil Affairs Group. The CAG found out about my “Kicks for Kids” program and convoyed to Baghdad to pick up roughly 8,000 pair of shoes to distribute to Iraqis who live in the Al Anbar province, an extremely volatile and dangerous part of Iraq. The plan was for me to present a few pair of shoes to the Governor of the province and to let him know that citizens of the United States donated them.

We traveled at night, when visibility is low for insurgents targeting convoys. The next morning we prepped to leave when we heard someone spotted two IED’s outside the Governor’s office building – the exact place we were headed. After a short delay, we got in the humvee’s and started our convoy to Ramadi, located just a short distance from the Marine base, Camp Blue Diamond.

This was, by far, the most dangerous situation I have been in since I arrived in Iraq last November. I wouldn’t characterize Ramadi as friendly, especially when I saw many Iraqis give us a thumbs down sign as we convoyed through town. That simple gesture hurt me, I think, more than a bullet ever could. My gut told me to blow it off, but I will never get that image out of my head. All I could think was ‘we are risking our lives, voluntarily, to bring your community thousands of donated shoes, and you treat us like this?’ For the time being, however, I blew it off because I had to focus on what was happening. There is no ‘I’m a broadcaster, big bad Marine, protect me please.’ Oh no, I was responsible for myself – no babysitting the soldier on this trip. So, following their lead, I did what is expected of me. When we were stuck in traffic, I hopped out of the humvee and pulled security, I scanned the buildings for snipers, and I looked for suspicious men in potential bomb-laced vehicles. I don’t know if I could adequately defend myself or the Marines if I had to, but I think I did okay - for a broadcaster – and we got to the Governor’s office without incident.

Once we were safely inside the building, we waited on the Governor to arrive. As we waited, we heard several explosions outside. For whatever reason, I was not afraid. For the first time in months, I felt peaceful. Let me explain why.

In spite of the danger that surrounded me – the anger, violence, corruption, confusion, hatred – I felt peaceful. I’ve been waiting for months to feel re-energized about this mission; to feel helpful when I was helpless; to feel calm when things were chaotic. I found peace that day in the Governor’s office. With a simple handshake and exchange of shoes, I felt validated. I felt that I, along with thousands of Americans, took small, yet essential steps in winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. We touched souls through soles with Kicks for Kids.

I never expected this to be an easy tour, but I also never expected to become so emotionally involved in what is happening. I expected to come here, do my job, and get home again. I never expected to feel such fear, anger, and frustration. I have looked for answers for months. I have searched for the silver lining. I have longed to believe again. The answer wasn’t right in front of me, or in one of the President’s intended morale boosting speeches. The answer was on my feet. With one small idea, I helped myself by helping others. Together, we put shoes on an entire community. Shoes that were once on the feet of an American child are now on the feet of an Iraqi child. You may not believe this, but you all have helped change things over here – even if it is a small step.

While on the Chinook back to Baghdad, I thought a lot about my weekend, and even more about my last few weeks in Iraq. I thought about the emotional roller coaster I was riding, and I thought about how all of this is going to affect me. I’ve spent 348 days in this environment and every day has been different. It has not been easy, but all I could think on this warm Baghdad night was I can make my peace with days like these.

With Love,


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