Insurgents threaten woman after U.S. soldiers bring gifts to school
January 2, 2005
Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment had a simple mission when they knocked on the gate of a kindergarten in a southern Baghdad neighborhood on Sunday afternoon: distribute stuffed animals and school supplies to the kids and give the faculty a new space heater.
But the seemingly simple, good deed led to frustration on the soldiers’ parts and fear for one Iraqi woman. As they knocked on the metal gate in front of the school, the young, nicely dressed woman repeatedly told the unit’s interpreter that she didn’t want the soldiers to come in.
“We had been there before,” said Staff Sgt. Bryce Rigby, the patrol sergeant. “The woman at the front gate had always let us in.”
Though visibly distressed by the soldiers’ presence, she grudgingly relented, and the young childrens’ faces beamed as the loot was passed out.
The patrol left after about 30 minutes, moving on to visit and search an adjacent house. The rest of the afternoon patrol went without incident.
But when the platoon returned to the area for an evening patrol, it received distressing news.
The woman’s fears about the visit were not unfounded. She had been followed home and threatened by insurgents.
“Without a doubt it was someone in the neighborhood,” Rigby said. “They obviously had someone talk to them.”
The soldiers returned to the neighborhood that evening, frustrated at the results of their good deed.
“It makes you angry to do something good … and the insurgents come in behind us and threaten them,” said Sgt. Michael Wilbanks. “It makes you dislike the insurgents even more.”
Platoon soldiers banged on the metal gates of nearby homes and tried to find out how the insurgents — mujahadeen to the locals — learned of their visit.
“[The soldiers] were ready to go through every house in the sector if need be,” Rigby said. “We felt bad that the lady was harassed and we wanted to find out who was harassing her.”
The soldiers questioned the residents about the incident and told them they wanted their help in protecting the school’s students and staff.
A handful of residents said they didn’t know of the Americans’ visit, while others admitted seeing the patrol earlier in the day. None of the residents, about a half-dozen people of varying ages in each house visited, admitted knowing who the insurgents were.
“There’s nice people out there,” said Wilbanks, “and they get threatened because they took toys from us.”
But the soldiers didn’t have time to dwell on the incident.
“We don’t talk about it much unless they get killed,” said Wilbanks. “We’ve had some Iraqis working close with us killed. We just move on.”