Soldiers, airmen in Iraq take time out to honor those who served before them
KIRKUK, Iraq — Soldiers and airmen took a two-hour break from the war Friday to honor those who have served before them and those who continue to serve.
More than 200 soldiers, airmen and Iraqi servicemembers attended Friday’s Veterans Day celebration at Forward Operating Base Warrior, headquarters for the Air Force’s 506th Air Expeditionary Group, and of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Unlike many stateside Veterans Day events, which usually draw a crowd of snow-haired retirees and appreciative civilians, nearly every attendee at Friday’s ceremony — from the teenaged Iraqi army private to the gray-haired U.S. Army colonel — was an active combat veteran. Soldiers of both nations saluted both national anthems and celebrated afterward with an American poolside barbecue. American soldiers were also given combat patches; their Air Force counterparts, coins.
“To celebrate Veterans Day while in combat is even more special,” said 1st Brigade Combat Team Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, himself a veteran of two tours in Iraq. “It puts into perspective what we’re doing.”
Iraqi Col. Safin Haidar, commander of an infrastructure brigade and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War and the current war in Iraq, said he was honored to be celebrating shoulder to shoulder with his former adversaries.
“We consider ourselves as one army in this area,” he said through a translator. “There’s no difference between us and our American brothers in this area.”
His son, 19-year-old Cpl. Mohammed Safin, also attended the ceremony and stood with his father. The two men are in the same brigade; the son serves on his father’s personal security detail.
“I feel very happy to be with my father attending this ceremony with the Americans,” he said through translators. “We are so proud. I want to be part of this operation and liberate this country.”
1st Brigade Combat Team commander Col. David Gray also lavished praise on both forces. He asked the Americans to acknowledge the Iraqis with applause.
“We fully understand the dangers you face daily in this quest and applaud your courage,” he said. “You are the spearhead of liberty in this country.”
To the Americans, he said, “You are no longer novices but experienced veterans of our profession.”
However, Spc. Grant Ramsey, a 24-year-old infantryman and veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, modestly shrugged off praise.
“When it comes to being a soldier,” he said, “every day is just another day.”