I departed the veiled Kingdom of the Arabian Peninsula after four months. On my way to a new destination, I looked through the small portal of the C-130 aircraft and saw a land forsaken—void of springs and living water. Saudi Arabia was no different. Both places might well have been the dark side of the moon.
Being clothed in various brown and tan patterns, as if in garments of salvation, identified me as a soldier. With the red, white, and blue flag sewn on my shoulder, an American soldier—arrayed in a robe of righteousness.
Our plane began spiraling down in a corkscrew landing, when an Airman approached me. “Sir, we’re starting to land now if you’ll take your seat please.”
I nodded my head and tried not to stumble my way back to the olive-colored canvas seats attached to the red-strapped backrest. Daylight was fading. Darkness would soon cover the earth.
Leaving Saudi Arabia for Iraq was equivalent to jumping from a frying pan into the fire—there was a war. It was as if God tested me in one place to refine me in the other.
If we were going to bring about any vindication to this desolate, war-torn land, I thought, I would need to arise each day and shine my light in a gloomy place…for the next eight months.
It was during that period, amidst the almost daily bombing on our base at Camp Anaconda, I learned the Iraqi culture…not Sunni, Shi’a, Kurdish, or Christian, but Iraqi—through the eyes of entrepreneurs…Iraqi men and women conducting business.
I was a Contingency Contracting Officer and my job was to procure the best products, supplies, and services from local businesses for our American service members, both men and women. Our forces amounted to more than twenty-five thousand in our sector alone. It was a 0700 hours wakeup-to-midnight-bedtime routine…seven days a week—with three meals and a workout.
By learning the Iraqi business culture, I was successful in building and establishing a long-term and wide range trust base…one that paid strategic dividends. Highlights included hundreds of contracts, which supplied hard steel installed on our transport vehicles…that stopped bullets; portable ECU units to keep our soldiers cool in the blazing heat and warm in the bitter cold.
The ultimate show of trust however was when one vendor confided in me that his “cousins” knew important information but did not trust any Americans…until he told them about me. So, they agreed to travel to Balad from Baghdad—a dangerous trek, to share their knowledge.
When they arrived, the four of us departed the crowds and went to an empty field. “What would you like to tell me?” I asked.
The vendor translated my question in Arabic to the two men. One of them explained something in Arabic.
Turning to me, the vendor spoke. “He said that they know where one of Saddam’s hideouts is in Baghdad. It is a safe house with his officers and members of his team.”
“This is very important information,” I told him. As discussed the day before, I reminded him, “They will still tell my friends this story?”
The vendor looked at them and asked a question in Arabic. They both agreed. He looked at me and nodded his head.
“Come on,” I said in Arabic. “Follow me.”
I brought them to a pre-arranged room with three members of the military intelligence community waiting…and left them there. Two hours later, they returned to my contracting office. We had a small discussion—outside the building, and then they departed. I never saw any of them again.
Ten days later, American soldiers lifted a scraggly old man from a small hole in the ground. “I am Saddam Hussein,” he announced.
Later, I discovered that one of Hussein’s drivers told the Americans where he was hiding. Where did they find this driver? Soldiers rounded him up in the Baghdad safe house along with many others…the same safe house known by the vendor’s “cousins.”
To be continued…