Freedom's Warriors: Part III - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/26/05

Freedom's Warriors: Part III

A few pieces of home. A few pieces of home.
Mike Manhatton recently spent time in Iraq, mostly Baghdad and Tikrit, to bring us a firsthand look at life on the front lines of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It's almost a cliche. We send "care packages" to our kids in college, or even family going on a long weekend. So imagine what those tastes--and especially sights--from home mean to soldiers stationed in a war zone overseas.

What really makes the difference in those little boxes might just surprise you. Of course, the favorite treats are candy and homemade goodies they can't buy at the PX. But there's something far more important they can't buy anywhere. The Army can't provide it.

It means the most. And it doesn't cost a thing.

"I'd much rather be at home with my kids, but we have a job to do, so you do what you have to do," said Sgt. Michael Combs.

They're doing it in a very different, sometimes dangerous place. Even though most troops have access to the PX that looks a lot like the stores back home, and live in base camps that are small cities with rows upon rows of air-conditioned trailers. Or former Iraqi military housing.

Some even work in Saddam's former palaces, walking past stone murals depicting Saddam as an ancient conqueror, and American bombs falling on Iraqi children. It's not home.

But on another wall of the palace, and in several other places around Iraq, some pretty familiar faces and sights. WTOC spearheaded a project to collect jerseys and posters and memorabilia from home to hang in Marne dining facilities, and plenty of people pitched in, while others sent items on their own.

"There's a few pictures that they send in a card form and a couple, that, some of them are real touching, you know, 'be safe,' and 'don't get shot' out of the mouths of babes, I guess," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson. "It's really neat to see how advanced some of the children are, that they understand what's going on and it's good to see that, so that they're not wondering and worrying."

"They want to know if you carry a weapon," said Staff Sgt. Warren Jones. "'Have you seen any bad guys?' They want to know what kind of vehicle you drive, 'Do you drive a tank?' That's what all of the boys ask, 'Do you drive a tank?' Every single one of them."

"It makes us feel like we're appreciated when we see that the kids are sending us stuff," said CWO2 Derrick Atkinson. "At least we know that people are thinking about us, we don't feel so alone over here."

"It feels real good," said Sgt. Combs. "At least lets us know that we're supported over here, we're not alone."

"It makes me feel really good that the students as well as the teachers care enough about the soldiers to send us pictures and letters to help boost our morale while we're here," said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Purnell.

"It makes us feel, it lets us know that we haven't been forgotten," said Sgt. Eric Kevin Walsh. "Lets us know that the people are thinking about us back home."

And Spc. Daniel Ketchmark has this to add: "Other than, I, we, thank them for the care packages they send, that, they have no clue the smiles that come on everybody's faces when we see candy and letters and, it's the littlest things. Toilet paper. It's wonderful, and I would like to thank everybody. And if it means anything, that I could send thank you letters, we do. We're very appreciative of that."

Tomorrow we'll take you outside the wire again to the streets of Baghdad where being on patrol in a city of hundreds of thousands is quite a challenge. As is playing "Soldier Santa" in the neighborhoods with kids clamoring for things our kids take for granted.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton, mmanhatton@wtoc.com

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