In memory of two great soldiers: The mission continues
The news struck me harder than a derailed train smacking into a brick wall. Two soldiers died yesterday and four were wounded. I knew them, and they were not only great soldiers, they were great people. The Soldiers killed both were married to beautiful women. One was a soft-spoken professional. The other reminded me of Woody Harrelson in “Cowboy Up.” Tough, rugged and a smart ass. Great men!
When an RPG impacted on the side of a mosque, their squad moved to the site of impact to make sure nobody was hurt and challenge any possible terrorists. Turns out, the RPG into the mosque was only a decoy. The insurgents know we don’t like to see civilians or innocent people bleed to death, so they waited at a nearby mosque to ambush them. The insurgents fired upon the squad as the GIs moved into an open area and killed the two soldiers. They were ambushed or as the surviving soldiers put it “set up.”
Shortly after the firefight, the leadership made the call to go inside the mosque that was hit and where the insurgents were firing from. As you may recall from a previous post, we don’t do this unless we absolutely have to. That’s where I come in. I had about 15 minutes notice when I heard, “get your camera; you’re going into the mosque.” Now, that’s something you don’t hear every day, I thought to myself. They said I was going into a very hostile situation that would result in the most-important pictures I’ve ever taken.
An entire convoy was organized just to get me there. The trip was by far the most intense I’ve been on. The streets were completely empty except for the occasional car. A single vehicle on an empty road can only mean one thing: car bomb. Every single car I saw, my stomach turned in more knots than a Boy Scout training rope. Luckily, none were car bombs. We jumped over curbs and drove as fast as a hummer will go.
On the road, my adrenaline was high and I was still trying to process everything. One minute, I’m snacking on some goodies my mom sent me in a care package. The next, I learn two of my friends were killed and that I will be the first non-Muslim, American photographer to step foot in an Iraqi mosque.
The trip went by so fast it felt as though I blinked and I was already there.
As the black, steel gated entrance to the mosque opened, my heart pounded and my hands shook. I saw the area my two buddies were killed and I could hear gunfire. But I was focused. All I could think about was taking that one photo to illustrate to the world just how crappy these people we’re fighting really are. They fire from mosques, kill women, children and are holding this country back from its potential. Graffiti, weapons or anything unordinary were all to be photographed. How was I supposed to know what was unordinary in a mosque? I didn’t, so I took pictures of everything.
As my feet touched the mosque’s concrete floor, I saw Iraqi and American soldiers working side-by-side for a sole purpose: to find the contraband in the mosque. I moved into the main room that appeared to be the worship area. It was open, no furniture other than a few chests in the corners. Beautiful Persian rugs covered floor. There was a microphone and a mini stool at a small, little room that looked like a closet in the middle, back wall. No doubt, somebody had spread anti-American comments to the community from that very microphone. A clock with six-different time zones hung on the wall. I took pictures of everything. Then, one of the Iraqis opened a drawer from one of the corner cabinets, pulled out a piece of paper and started screaming in English “bad, bad, bad.” It was propaganda. As my finger touched the shutter, I heard a gun shot that sounded awfully close. “We’re going to the next mosque,” somebody yelled.
I sprinted to the Humvee. The next mosque was only seconds away. I was surprised how similar it was to the previous mosque. I really thought we just circled the block and went back to the same place, but we didn’t. Even though I can’t read Arabic, I could tell the graffiti on the walls was different. I photographed the graffiti. Turns out, they weren’t saying good things about us. Inside this mosque, we found grenades, weapons, RPGs and more propaganda.
As we were leaving to return to the camp, somebody told me that they will not be able to use the mosque again for worship until it is cleansed, which is apparently a long process. Unless storing weapons and death-threat handbills is worshiping, I don’t think Alah or God would mind that these mosques won’t be used for awhile.