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Air Force Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, a contractor, buys fruit from a vendor in the northern Kurdish city of Sallahadin, Iraq.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, a contractor, buys fruit from a vendor in the northern Kurdish city of Sallahadin, Iraq. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, a contractor, buys fruit from a vendor in the northern Kurdish city of Sallahadin, Iraq.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, a contractor, buys fruit from a vendor in the northern Kurdish city of Sallahadin, Iraq. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

It's a perfect fit for Army Sgt. 1st Class Terry Hamil, of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 201st Forward Support Battalion, Vilseck, Germany. Hamil took time out from buying supplies Saturday to pick up a head scarf. The gesture met with a loud cheer from Iraqi Kurds in the northern city of Irbil.

It's a perfect fit for Army Sgt. 1st Class Terry Hamil, of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 201st Forward Support Battalion, Vilseck, Germany. Hamil took time out from buying supplies Saturday to pick up a head scarf. The gesture met with a loud cheer from Iraqi Kurds in the northern city of Irbil. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

Air Force contractors purchase auto supplies from an Iraqi businessman in Irbil on Saturday. Pictured from left to right are Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, seated; Capt. Tony Principi and Tech. Sgt. Jimi Oyefeso. Standing to the right is Air Force Capt. Curt Green, a helicopter pilot for the 129th Rescue Squadron, who came in on his day off to offer additional support.

Air Force contractors purchase auto supplies from an Iraqi businessman in Irbil on Saturday. Pictured from left to right are Staff Sgt. Brent Goe, seated; Capt. Tony Principi and Tech. Sgt. Jimi Oyefeso. Standing to the right is Air Force Capt. Curt Green, a helicopter pilot for the 129th Rescue Squadron, who came in on his day off to offer additional support. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

After a long day on the road, Air Force Capt. Tony Principi heads back to Bashur Airfield in northeastern Iraq.

After a long day on the road, Air Force Capt. Tony Principi heads back to Bashur Airfield in northeastern Iraq. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

IRBIL, Iraq — No one would mistake Tony Principi for an Iraqi Kurd.

“Sorry,” the Air Force captain apologizes in jest to Staff Sgt. Larry Knoll, his driver on this day. “I’m not from around here.”

But Principi is getting to know the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil pretty well.

For a week, the San Diego native and a contractor and finance officer have been venturing into the city to buy supplies for the group at Bashur airfield in northeastern Iraq. A week ago, on their first trip, the locals greeted them with cheers and flowers.

The run he is on now is half morale, half mission. His shopping list includes fruit, soft drinks and paper towels. It also includes practical products, such as computer accessories and trash cans.

What’s of primary concern at this moment is finding an auto parts store, where he had earlier placed an order for oil, grease and anti-freeze for the vehicles and equipment at Bashur, about an hour away.

All of the items could be flown in on one of the many cargo planes landing daily at Bashur. But that isn’t always practical.

“It’s more expensive, and there isn’t a lot of cargo space,” says Principi, normally a logistics adviser for the 3rd Air Force at RAF Mildenhall, England.

These excursions also allow him, on behalf of Uncle Sam and the Air Force, to pump a little money into the local economy. More importantly, they demonstrate to the people of Irbil and others in the region a degree of trust and good will.

“It’s good for them to see our faces,” Principi says before his convoy leaves camp.

The convoy includes a trio of soldiers from Germany: 1st Sgt. John K. Rose and Sgt. 1st Class Terry Hamil, of the 201st Forward Support Battalion in Vilseck; and Sgt. 1st Class Leida Anderson of the 1st Personnel Command in Würzburg.

They are along to purchase unleaded fuel for all-terrain and utility vehicles.

Principi’s vehicle is leading the way through the streets of Irbil. His memory doesn’t fail him. The 29-year-old spots a couple of landmarks and soon the convoy pulls up in front of Burea Middle East, the auto parts store.

Like at three previous stops in and around the town of Sallahadin, halfway between Bashur and Irbil, the sight of U.S. troops is magnetic. Boys sporting T-shirts and old men in headscarves and working prayer beads seemingly appear out of nowhere. They smile and stare, enthralled at the presence of Americans.

“It’s still pretty Dodge City-ish,” Principi says to Capt. Curt Green, a helicopter rescue pilot and an Air Force Academy classmate of Principi’s who is along for the ride.

That characterization was made back in Salah ad Din. Half an hour later, as if on cue, a man on a brown horse comes riding by in a celebratory mood.

Now it’s the airmen’s and soldiers’ turn to stare in disbelief.

“Hey,” Principi says, “it’s the Lone Ranger.”

At the auto store in Irbil, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jimi Oyefeso and Staff Sgt. Brent Goe seal the deal, which is reached using hand gestures and a pocket calculator.

“You can get pretty much anything you want,” Oyefeso had said earlier. “Not all the time, but if you tell them and come back, they’ll have it.”

To date, the Air Force contracting team has spent roughly $14,000 on supplies. The total bill for this trip runs about $630.

But there’s something more important that money can’t buy: gratitude.

As Oyefeso and Goe conclude their transaction with Mosleh Ismail Ahmed, part owner of the auto parts store, Ator Binyamin Sharwin steps into the office. A former U.N. local hire, he speaks to the troops in English.

Arab as well as Iraqi people “should thank America and pray for America,” Sharwin says. The United States and Great Britain have saved this country “from that bloody guy in Baghdad.”

“Here,” he adds, “everybody knows the truth, but they don’t talk about it.”

Now they can.

— Kevin Dougherty is embedded with the Air Force at Bashur airfield.


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