Tough Duty Traveling With Wanted Man and for U.S. Troops in Iraq
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 14, 2004 Security was the watchword of the day when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited Baghdad May 13.
Terrorist extremists have placed a $15 million price on Rumsfeld's head, press reports have said. And reporters traveling with the entourage could scarcely forget they were traveling with one of the most high-value targets to Arab terrorists.
From the plunging, corkscrew maneuver that brought the secretary's aircraft into Baghdad International Airport for a combat landing, to the tactical takeoff nearly seven hours later in complete blackness inside and outside of the plane every moment brought another reminder of the seriousness of the situation.
At every stop, Army OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters swooped back and forth overhead. Armored Humvees loaded to the gills with heavily armed soldiers stood at the ready outside every building the traveling party visited. The CH- 47 Chinook helicopters that carried the group from one location to another had three door-gunners apiece.
Even within the Abu Ghraib prison, the secretary and his entourage were escorted around the cellblocks in what the soldiers affectionately called "up- armored Winnebagos." They were actually Israeli-made heavily armored buses with the unlikely nomenclature "Rhino Runners."
But all of this only served up a reminder to the real danger America's servicemen and servicewomen deployed to Iraq live with day in and day out for a year or more at a stretch.
The very real dangers are exacerbated by conditions that can be called harsh at best and downright brutal at other times.
The senior leaders' day there produced a sandstorm in the afternoon that brought tears to everyone's eyes, blurred the horizon, turned the sky nearly the exact shade of tan as the service members' desert camouflage uniforms, and threatened to delay departure.
At the soldiers' dining facility at Abu Ghraib, the troops lined up for meals have to deal with the ripe smell of raw sewage in the 99-degree heat. Those same soldiers sleep at night in the damp cement cells of the old prison.
Myers focused on the mission and the senior leaders' sentiments with a group of soldiers gathered in the Abu Ghraib dining facility. "The commander in chief (and) our secretary of defense are steadfast in their support for you, support for your mission, support for this noble cause that we all strive for here in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world, to do our part in helping rid the world of extremism," he emphasized.
With these words, he galvanized the feelings of many Americans, also "steadfast in their support" to the nation's fighting men and women.