Troops happy but see more hard work ahead
December 15, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Troops in a combat unit that carried out frequent raids like the one that bagged Saddam Hussein welcomed news of his capture, but saw tough work still ahead for coalition forces.
“That was good. That was something. We made history,” said Sgt. Arnaldo Rosario of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment.
“He’s as bad as they get … hands-down evil,” Rosario, 24, of New York City, said of Saddam. “He’s been sitting up on his high chair for all this time. He finally ran into reality. You reap what you sow.”
Rosario’s battalion has been in the vanguard of efforts to keep pressure on Saddam loyalists who have conducted guerilla attacks in Baghdad. Three of its troops were killed in action and others have been wounded.
Besides running patrols and manning checkpoints, the battalion has mounted a series of house-to-house searches seeking illegal weapons, quick-reaction forays to chase down insurgents, and sudden raids in search of insurgent suspects.
Spc. William Ashbaugh, 31, of Elyira, Ohio, is a Humvee commander with the battalion’s scout platoon. He said he had a feeling of excitement when he heard Saddam was captured, but the “rush of it” was quickly gone.
“At first I asked myself, ‘Is it really him?’ And at that point it went into ‘How does it change our role?’ ” Ashbaugh said.
“Our mission basically stays the same. That was just part of our mission. We still have a lot of cleanup work ... with Saddam captured, still a lot of people to catch. So really, because we take down the figurehead doesn’t mean the end of our mission.”
To Ashbaugh, the capture is partly “payback for the individuals who paid the ultimate price. It’s one more thing on our list.”
“And there’s an overwhelming pride that it was the Army that actually got their hands on, that was in on the raid to take Saddam,” he said.
For another soldier in the unit, the news was first heralded by the sound of Iraqis firing guns in celebration Sunday afternoon.
“I’m up in the turret and we’re in the Humvee and suddenly I hear the whole city erupt in gunfire,” said Pfc. David Campbell, 21, of Van Lear, Ky.
“About two minutes later it comes over the net, there’s a possibility that Saddam was captured … and then the lieutenant said it was official.
Campbell said he wasn’t sure what impact the capture would have on the insurgents, but said he hopes some of their activity will die down.
“I think it’s a good thing for all these people who are making explosives and making these attacks …,” he said. “Just the mental aspect of seeing that you will be caught … the minimal effect will cause them to cease their attacks. That’s at least my hope.”
“Immediate reaction, I don’t think it’ll be as big as we’d like, but as far as the long term, it’s a big step forward, especially the way he didn’t go out fighting — is going to be a big thing,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Driscoll, 24, of Philadelphia, the battalion’s chemical officer.
“His followers, hopefully, they’ll follow suit.”
“When it was confirmed, I was happy that the military accomplished one of its goals,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Livingston, 33, of San Antonio, platoon sergeant with Scout Platoon.
“They’re happy, too,” he said, referring to the Iraqis who could be heard firing automatic weapons in celebration.
There was more levity at the Baghdad International Airport, where about 150 soldiers watched a television broadcast announcing the capture. The images of a haggard Saddam brought whoops of laughter from soldiers, who were waiting for flights departing Iraq.
Soldiers provided a running commentary on the news conference. When a reporter asked whether Saddam would be turned over to Iraqis for trial, soldiers at the airport yelled, “Hell, no!”
As images of a bearded Saddam were shown, one soldier yelled out, “Man, he look like s---,” eliciting guffaws from dozens in the crowd.
Several said they hoped that the news would mean an end to attacks against their fellow soldiers.
“Hopefully things will start wrapping up now that there’s closure,” said Spc. Lorelei Durrell, 22, an automated logistics specialist from Stafford, Conn.
Sgt. Antonio Lester, 27, a Howitzer crew member from Atlanta, said that while he was ready to board a plane home, “I sort of wish I was staying around to see how the people react.”
Several said they were afraid the capture would prompt more violence by Hussein loyalists.
“I think things might be bad for a little while, a couple of weeks,” said Pfc. Dennis Toney, 23, a combat engineer from Charlottesville, Va.
Despite the jokes, most of the soldiers watching the news were reserved and just stayed glued to the TV.
“We’re still stuck here [in Iraq],” said one soldier.
Spc. Brandon Bender, 21, said he hopes the capture bodes well for a more peaceful Iraq.
“I’m not really sure what his loyalists will do; if I was one of them, I’d be hiding in a hole,’’ said Bender, a scout from Oakland, Ore., who’s been in Iraq eight months.
“I’m glad to know that coalition forces got him before I left Iraq. Now, if I can just get on a plane... .”