A Report from the Front in Iraq
As many of you know I have been working with DCTV, Jon Alpert,
and Craig Renaud on a ten hour series, following the Arkansas
Guard from the time of their call up through their return
On Election Day, both Brent and Craig were with troops at
Stations in Iraq. During those times, we were communicating
when it was possible. After it was over, Brent sent me the
account of his Election Day Experiences. I would like to share
with you. This is longer than my normal column. It is the
hand account Ive had of Election Day in Iraq and, with
permission, I am sharing it with you.
Regardless of your attitude to the situation in Iraq, it
is an amazing
>From Bent Renaud, Producer, OFF TO WAR
On Election Day we went to a town called Rashdya. Its
a town of about
6k people where we have been in ambushes before. I was with
E Troop of
the Arkansas National Guard and because the troops were supposed
stay away from the polling stations and only intervene in
we camped out in the Iraqi Police Station next door. Iraqi
stations are also targets of extremists so that was another
be there. We arrived late afternoon on election eve. It was
and we slept that night in Humvees outside in the police compound.
I was bitten by a spider that night while I was sleeping
and the next
day my finger swelled up the size of a ping pong ball.
Specialist Fulbright, the E Troop medic, had to slice it
open and drain
it because the pain from the pressure was immense.
About 4 a.m. we are awakened by 50 caliber machine gun fire.
When you are close to a 50 cal and it goes off, the sound
By now I am fairly familiar with that sound so I knew it was
from the Americans and that it was not incoming. So I felt
enough to get out of the car and run to the roof of the compound
find out what was happening.
Sgt. Curtis Rohrscheib was standing guard on the roof, and
told me he
had heard a launch in the distance of a mortar. The guys had
into the palm groves in the direction of the fire. About that
huge explosion occurred near the school where the election
were preparing for the next days voting.
The explosions just kept coming. One after another the rockets
mortars came in. As the explosions got closer and closer.
Rohrscheib said that the insurgents had locked on to us; now
had to do was keep feeding the mortars in the tube. One after
they came in -- about 30 explosions, some within 100 feet
of where we
were hunkered down on the roof.
The Lieutenant called for air support but none came. The
if someone doesnt get out there and scare these guys
they wont stop
until they kill us all. One of the platoons hurried to their
and headed out into the palm groves to search for the insurgents.
the time the helicopters finally arrived and the explosions
awhile, the palm grove around us was on fire and the polling
Sergeant Rohrscheib said the insurgents goal was to
scare the people
of this town from coming out to vote in a few hours. I cannot
how terrified people in their homes must have been. Imagine
where you live, and maybe one block north and south of you
with huge explosions all night long.
Thats what it was like. And yet when the polls opened,
first, people began to come out to stand in line to vote.
stood on the street and watched them in awe. I went into the
station and the people said they were not scared, that they
be scared. One old woman who could not read and was having
her son read
to her the ballot which contained at least 30 options, said
the first time she had ever voted, and the happiest day of
her life. I
met one man, a candidate for office, who was being followed
local press as he placed his vote; I asked him if he was afraid,
people in public office and running for office are often the
violence. Through a translator he politely said that he was
the notion. "It is the insurgents who are afraid, they
are afraid of a
prosperous Iraq, they are afraid of democracy, this is why
I must run.
I went to vote with the translator who travels with the soldiers
Troop. He calls himself Angelo and wears a mask so that people
recognize him working with the Americans. Many friends of
his who are
translators have been killed; some of them have also had their
killed. His best friend recently was recognized by insurgents
working with the Americans; they cut off the translators
video taped themselves playing soccer with it.
I was anxious to get out of the polling station. I knew this
would be a target of a suicide bomb or a mortar, but Angelo
to vote. He checked his AK47 at the door and went in and carefully
looked at the ballet, filled it out and as he put it in the
said, This will be my head.
As we were leaving he picked up his gun, and looked at me
and said: We
have freedom, but I still have my gun. I still have my bullet
vest; I still will have to wear my mask. Just as we turned
police compound, the mortars began to fall again. One hit
polling station near where Angelo had just voted.
Specialist Fulbright, the medic who worked on my finger,
the casualties who would shortly arrive. Like the night before
explosion after explosion came down around us. People were
fast as they could, carrying children, men holding on to elderly
Sergeant Rohrscheib pointed out, astonished, that they were
toward the polling station.
More people than were out even before the bombing started
back up. A
stream of people was rushing towards the polling station which
under attack so that they could vote. It was an incredible
defiance; it was as if they were literally fighting back.
brought them out of their homes to face the enemy.
Even as the injured began to rush into the police station,
by them to the polls. One man arrived with a finger blown
shrapnel; another had a two inch hole in his stomach and at
piece of shrapnel visible in his arm. Fortunately there were
fatalities. Specialist Fulbright bandaged them up as diligently
quickly as he would an American soldier and the Iraqi police
them to the hospital.
By the end of the day Sergeant Rohrscheib estimated that
we had been
hit with up to 40 mortars and rockets. A few lay dangerously
in the polling station front yard. People stepped over and
until the Americans finally came and removed them. This was
one of the
most heavily hit polling stations in the entire country on
day, and yet more than half of the people in the town risked
lives to come out and vote.
Sergeant Rohrscheib, as we prepared to pack up and head back
Cooke where we live, said, "There havent been a
lot of positive things
happen since we have been here, and I havent thought
accomplished much at all over here besides losing some good
but today was something. It was something.