A hero's welcome
Students learn about war in Iraq from a local soldier
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Crestline Elementary School's fifth grade class had the rare opportunity to get a close-up, personal view of the war in Iraq last week, thanks to the firsthand experiences of a member of the U.S. armed forces who is stationed there.
Specialist Sherry Barnes, a member of the 1999 Hartselle High School graduating class, was invited to come speak to the fifth graders when teacher Ellen Hodgen learned that the Iraq veteran was home on leave.
"We started a project to support and thank our Iraq war heroes this year," Hodgen explained. "We keep a list of the names and photos of local members of the armed forces on duty there on our bulletin board and remember them each day during our silent time. To have a soldier home on leave from Iraq give us her perspective of how it is there is special."
Specialist Barnes, dressed in a desert tan uniform, told her young audience she has spent nine months in the Sunni Triangle, North of Baghdad. "I am attached to the 121st Signal Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany, and will be returning there to complete a three-year assignment in February-March 2004. We provide infrastructure for telephone and Internet communications," she said,
She reported that conditions for the allied forces have improved since she arrived even though many are exposed to real danger on a daily basis.
"The buildings where we stay are protected by baskets filled with sand. Helicopters patrol the base for two or three hours every day. Plus, any loud noise, even the backfire from a motor vehicle, will get your attention in a hurry," she pointed out. "I haven't been exposed directly to enemy attack; however, one of my friends was killed in a bomb explosion," she added."
The civilian population is also benefiting from the humanitarian work of military personnel. "Our unit is helping to rebuilt a school for young girls," she pointed out. "Under Saddam's dictatorship, girls did not have the same rights and privileges as boys."
She said soldiers are well aware of the level of support they are getting from people back home. "Your letters, your care packages and your prayers mean a lot to us. Please keep them coming," she added.
After the program, specialist Barnes said she was impressed with the knowledge the students showed about the war, and that they came prepared with lots of questions. It made me feel good to know that everybody is concerned about our safety and welfare."
Some of the questions she was asked by students and teachers and her answers follow:
Question: What do you have to eat over there?
Answer: We had T-rations and MRE's the first six months. Most of it comes in cans or packages, and it's yucky. Now, the food is prepared by Kellogg, Brown &Root and is served in dining halls. It 's much better…similar to what you have in your cafeteria.
Question: Has your unit ever been under attack?
Answer: Yes, one time. Iraqi insurgents drove two cars loaded with explosives into the front gate of our base last June. Fourteen Iraqi citizens were killed and one soldier was wounded.
Question: What kind of weapon do you have?
Answer: I carry an M-16 rifle. It's loaded anytime I am outside of our safety zone.
Question: What's the weather like in Iraq?
Answer: It was 120 degrees when I left. It's hot during the day and cold at night during winter months.
Question: Have you ever been in Baghdad?
Answer: Yes, I have traveled through the city three times. It's safer where I'm at and I'm thankful for that.
Question: Do the Iraqis support the presence of the allied forces?
Answer: Some do and some don't. I'd say it's a 50/50 ratio.
Question: Is the war in Iraq winnable?
Answer: It is, but it's going to take a long time.
Question: What are the living conditions of the Iraqi people?
Answer: The wealthy live in mansions and the majority live in substandard housing.
Question: Have you ever seen Saddam Hussein in person?
Answer: No. But we talk with Iraqi citizens on a daily basis.
Question: What diseases are common in Iraq?
Answer: They have a sand fly that carries a deadly disease. It can be fatal if your become infected and don't get treatment early. To protect us, we use a spray-on pesticide and sleep under mosquito nets. We also take pills to prevent malaria.
Question: Why did you join the Army?
Answer: I was not doing anything with a strong sense of purpose after high school. The Army gave me the opportunity to learn a skill, travel and earn credits for my college education.
Question: What have you missed the most while being in Iraq?
Answer: Being separated from my family is the worst part.