From Iraq, a soldier/father's perspective on the war

WASHINGTON—The Internet has brought us another remarkable soldier's story from Iraq worth reading and thinking about.

The story below is told by Sgt. Zachary Scott-Singley, 24, who grew up in Washington state and is an Arabic language translator serving in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.

The sergeant has been in the Army for five years. He fought in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was about to leave the Army late last year when he was caught in a "stop-loss," an involuntary extension of his enlistment so he could be sent to Iraq for another year of combat duty.

The event he writes about took place in 2003 near Abu Ghraib in the suburbs of Baghdad. He gave us permission to share the story. It has been edited. The full story and the sergeant's Web log can be read at: www.misoldierthoughts.blogspot.com.

"It was still dark. I dressed in that darkness. When I was ready I grabbed an MRE (meal ready to eat) and got in the truck. The targets were three houses where RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attacks had come from a few days before. Sitting there listening to the briefing I let my mind wander and said a prayer. 'Just one more day, God, let me live one more day and we will go from there ... ' It was the same prayer I said every day.

"There were different people to meet each day. There were some who would kill you if they could ... you could see the hate in their eyes. I also met people who would have given me everything they owned ... so thankful because we had rid them of Saddam.

"After the briefing we convoyed to the raid site. I was to go in directly after the military police who would clear the buildings. The raid began without a hitch. I was inside the courtyard of a house questioning a woman when I heard gunfire. Ducking next to the stone wall I yelled at the woman to get inside.

"When the gunfire stopped I peeked around the front gate. I saw a soldier pulling rear security who was still aiming his M249 machine gun at a black truck off in the distance. His was the weapon I had heard.

"I ran up and overheard the captain asking what had happened and why this soldier had opened fire. The soldier answered that he had seen a man holding an AK-47 in the back of the black truck. I was among the four, including the soldier who had fired, selected to go check on that truck.

"We were out of breath when we got to the gun-truck nearest to the black civilian truck. There were four Iraqis walking towards us from the black truck. They were carrying a body, a small boy no more than 3 years old. His head was cocked at the wrong angle and there was blood. So much blood. The Iraqi men were crying and asking me WHY?

"Someone behind me started screaming for a medic. It was the young soldier who had fired. He screamed for a medic until he was hoarse. A medic came just to tell us what we already knew: The boy was dead.

"I stood there looking at that little child, someone's child just like mine, and seeing how red the clean white shirt of the man holding the boy was turning. Then I realized I was speaking to them, speaking in a voice that sounded so very far away. I heard my voice telling them how sorry we were. My mouth was saying this but all my mind could focus on was the hole in the child's head. The white shirt covered in bright red blood. I couldn't stop looking even as I kept telling them how sorry we were.

"I can still see it all to this day. There were no weapons found and we accomplished nothing besides killing a child. I stayed as long as I could, talking to the man holding the child. I couldn't leave because I needed to know who they were. I wanted to remember. The man was the child's uncle, minding him for his father who had gone to the market. They were carpenters and what the soldier who had fired on the truck had seen was one of the Iraqi men standing in the truck bed, holding a piece of wood.

"Before I left I saw the young soldier who had killed the boy. His eyes were unfocused and he was just standing there, staring off into the distance. My hand went to my canteen and I took a drink of water. That soldier looked so lost, so I offered him a drink. In a hoarse voice he quietly thanked me.

"Later that day we were filling out reports about what we had witnessed. The captain who had led the raid was angry: 'Well, this is just great! Now we have to go give that family bags of money to shut them up ... '

"A family had just lost their beautiful baby boy, and this man is worried about having to pay for a family's grief and sorrow.

"To this day I still think about that raid, that family, that boy. I wonder if they are attacking us now. I would be. If someone took the life of my son or my daughter nothing other than my own death would stop me from killing them. I still cry when the memory hits me. And I cry when I think of how very far away I am from my family. I am not there, just like the boy's father wasn't there. I have served my time. I have my nightmares. I have enough blood on my hands. Just let me be a father, a husband, a daddy again.

_Sgt. Zachary Scott-Singley



Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young