Monday, January 31, 2005

An historic day

Yesterday I was happy to be in Baghdad.

Most days I can think of many places I would rather be, but on January 30, 2005 I was in the right place at the right time.

By Sunday morning we had all been wearing full protective gear for a couple days and I was eating stashed beef jerky and granola bars (instead of the issued Meals Ready to Eat) since the mess halls were closed for force protection reasons.

The chapel service I attended was standing room only, and the power went out after the first song, so we did the rest of the service by flashlight and candlelight. Prayers were offered for our Soldiers, the Iraqi Security Forces, and for the safety of the voters, and by the end of the service we hadn't heard any explosions, which was encouraging.

While taking care of normal business at work, I followed the election news on the internet and checked the official reports on the secure network used for internal reporting here. Two mortars came in a little after noon, but otherwise everything was still quiet, and the reports looked promising.

In the late afternoon I was able to hitch a ride on an overflight of Baghdad (photos posted below) and as well as I could tell from overhead, the mood on the street seemed almost festive.

Kids were out everywhere, using the streets as soccer fields since vehicle traffic was very restricted. I saw only one sign of violence - a burning hole in the road where an IED had apparently exploded.

I saw a few polling places with small crowds of people milling around them. I was flying over around 5:00 pm - the time they were scheduled to close.

In the evening, the good news was pouring in. Attacks, while fairly numerous, were mostly ineffective. As expected, suicide bombers were the most deadly, since they are very difficult to detect and deter.

After each attack, the citizens of Iraq got back in line - still determined to vote.

I wasn't completely convinced of the day's success until about 11:00 pm, when I listened to the top of the hour news on the BBC World Service. The BBC report was almost unbelievably positive. I'm accustomed to their normal pessimism and spin, so I was almost laughing out loud to hear them report on the huge turnout - even in the least secure areas.

With my deployment drawing to a close, yesterday was very satisfying. Despite the demoralizing efforts of the media and some American politicians (specifically Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Coble), we have made a real difference here in Iraq.

No matter what Mr. Kerry says, the world is a better place without Saddam in power, and the United States is safer with Iraq on the growing list of democratic nations.

Today, there are lots of smiles here on Camp Victory. Granted, most of them have something to do with the fact that a lot of us are headed home in less than two weeks, but they are also a result of being part of something really big.

This morning, Geraldo Rivera happened to be in my office area, and he couldn't stop smiling. When I mentioned that he had a pretty exciting day yesterday, all he said was "incredible."

I think that about sums it up. History happened in Iraq yesterday, and it was incredible.