4th ID Troops Express Jubilation Over Saddam's Capture
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2003 It was the height of irony.Soldiers from the Army's 4th Infantry Division were huddled around television screens in Saddam Hussein's opulent palace in Tikrit, Iraq, watching the Dec. 14 announcement that a task force from their division had pulled the former dictator from a hole in the ground beneath a hovel just nine miles away.
As the news broke, cheers and applause thundered through the marble corridors of the palace, now headquarters for the Fort Hood, Texas-based division.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," said Sgt. Billy Atkinson from the 124th Signal Battalion "I couldn't believe it until I actually saw it on the news."
Most of the troops watching coalition and military leaders describe Saddam's capture had little or no advance warning of the news. But many said they knew that something was in the air something so major that it warranted a communications blackout at the headquarters preceding the announcement: no telephone access, no TV, no e-mail.
"Nobody knew for sure what was up, but we knew it was big," said Sgt. William Doyle from the 418th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based at Staten Island, N.Y. "We figured that we'd either gotten him (Saddam Hussein) or (Izzat Ilbrahim) al-Duri (vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council)."
"We had no official word," agreed Sgt. 1st Class Marshall Meyer from headquarters and headquarters battery, division artillery. "But we had an inkling that something very big was going on."
Capt. Duane Patin from the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade, which is attached to the 4th Infantry Division, learned of Saddam's capture shortly after it occurred. "It was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time," he said.
But keeping the news a secret until Saddam's identify was confirmed and the announcement made "was really tough," Patin said. "It took about 18 hours until the official announcement came out."
In the division's intelligence office, 1st Lt. Natasha Howard, too, learned of the capture before the press conference. "At first I didn't believe it," she said. "The first thing that went through my mind was, 'Is this a double, or is it really him?'"
When Howard's office got confirmation that the former dictator had, in fact, been taken into custody, Howard said she and her coworkers resisted the almost irresistible urge to celebrate or even talk about it among themselves. "But it was a really happy atmosphere," she said. "People had smiles on their faces and were even whistling."
Perhaps the greatest feeling, she said, was learning that when Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III announced in his press conference, "We got him," the "we" he referred to was her own division.
"Everyone was happy that it was us the 4th ID that actually captured him," she said. "That made everyone feel really great."
Howard said most 4th Infantry Division soldiers haven't yet descended from exuberance over the capture, and the role their fellow soldiers played in it. "People are still excited," she said. "The initial excitement hasn't dropped yet."
When Howard spoke to her 8-year-old son the day of the announcement, he told her that he had good news and bad news. "The bad news is that you're not home yet," he said from his grandmother's home in New York. "But the good news is that you guys caught Saddam," he said, asking, "Did you know that?"
Howard said her son then went on to verbalize the same thought that many 4th Infantry Division soldiers admitted went through their own minds when they learned of Saddam's capture. "So that means that now you can come home," he said.
But like many of her fellow soldiers, Howard acknowledged that Saddam's capture doesn't necessarily mean that their mission will get any easier or that they will get to return home any sooner.
"There's still a lot of work to do here," she said. "But in the meantime, this news is a great Christmas present for all of us."