Election takes a back seat to duty in Iraq
November 6, 2008
The election results altered life very little for most soldiers at Forward Operating Base Falcon just outside Baghdad.
Most soldiers caught the results when they stopped by the dining facility for meals and then continued with their daily patterns.
Pfc. Michael White left for a patrol in Baghdad’s Bayaa district at 6 a.m. Wednesday, a short time before Barack Obama was declared the winner of the presidential election. White didn’t think the results would come back so fast, so he didn’t think much about it before he headed outside the wire.
"I just woke up like any other day, got in the vehicle and headed out," said White, a soldier in Company D, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. "It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ "
Falcon’s dining facility opened at 3 a.m. to allow people to watch the results, but cafeteria workers from outside the country and news media outnumbered soldiers until breakfast at 5:30 a.m.
For most soldiers, Wednesday was just another day — although the dining facility sections showing news on the TV were a bit more crowded than usual.
Senior Airman Henry Jones, an Arkansas voter with the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, was one of the few who took advantage of the early opening. He arrived there as soon as the building was open and was the only military person there for the first couple of hours.
Jones has made a tradition of watching the election results come and only missed the last election because he was deployed. He planned to watch the election news until he had to go get a flu shot at 8 a.m.
"I just really want to see the entire thing," Jones said. "I guess I’m kind of like a person who doesn’t ever want to miss a part of history."
Spc. Anthony Kamps joined Jones at about 5 a.m. He, too, is a political junkie who likes to see every election through to the end. He stayed up until 5 a.m. to catch the results of the 2004 election. If the dining facility wasn’t showing the results, he said he’d be calling his wife every hour to stay on top of things.
Waking up early was no problem, even though he had to start his workday at 8:30 a.m.
"Any election is important. It’s the future of the country, and for the kids, it’s important for them," said Kamps, a soldier in Company A, Forward Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Night shift personnel didn’t have to worry about waking up early to catch the results.
Spc. Anthony Davis watched the polls closely at the TV room at his unit’s headquarters. Davis has kept up with the campaigning through the Internet and e-mails with his fiancee, so he was glad that he was able to watch the election without having to miss sleep.
First Lt. Brendon Baker, White’s platoon leader, swung by a TV on the way to his MRAP vehicle, but saw that the election hadn’t been called yet and moved on. He and his soldiers spent the bulk of their six-hour patrol discussing routine business and other matters that keep soldiers entertained on long missions.
The most important issue on their minds, though, was how the election will affect their jobs. All had heard Obama wants to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Soldiers and contractors were glued to the television north of Baghdad at the Forward Operating Base Warhorse chow hall. It was Wednesday morning local time when Obama delivered his speech.
Sgt. Kevin Sabo came to breakfast early to find out the results of what he called a "history maker" of an election.
"It affects us as far as, ‘Are we going to shorten our deployments?’ " he said.
For soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, it was another day on patrol searching for weapons caches in Khalis, a Shiite stronghold in Sunni-dominated Diyala province.
Spc. Michiel Timmermans said he started paying close attention to the race when Sen. John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
As with many other soldiers, the war is forefront on his mind. He expressed some concern about how Obama’s 16-month withdrawal promise will be instituted.
At Al Asad Air Base in Anbar province, some of the breakfast crowd at the base dining facility preferred to watch the sports programming available on the room’s 12 televisions.
Most, however, got the news early on televisions and Internet connections in their rooms or offices.
Cpl. Samater Mohamed, of Regimental Combat Team 5, woke up at 2 a.m. to check on election returns. The early projections were confirmed later on the television in his office.
"I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew this was going to happen," he said. "People want something different right now."
Cpl. Justin Garner, RCT 5, got the news during a 4:30 a.m. phone call with his siblings. They told him it looked like Obama would win.
"I knew it was going to be a close race," he said. "Six months ago I wouldn’t have thought Obama would have a chance."
While most Marines didn’t think election news would make a big difference in their workday, some predicted it would at least be a continuing topic of conversation in their offices.
"We normally have a lot of dumb conversations around the coffee pot. Today it’s been a little more politically charged," Garner said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Heath Druzin and Jimmy Norris contributed to this report.