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In Iraqi neighborhood, Captain Rainey defends & carries out mission of peace

BAGHDAD (BP)–“We hate American soldiers,” an Iraqi man snaps at Captain Michael Rainey from the back of a crowd of eight men, all in their mid-20s.

The greenish glow of a fluorescent light from a small store nearby reveals a stubble beard growing on the Iraqi man’s face. He folds his arms across his chest as if prepared for a battle response. But Captain Rainey does not fulfill his expectation. He says only, “OK.”

Along the neighborhood street in the district of Ghazalia, six miles west of central Baghdad, four tan U.S. military Humvees are parked spaciously along the street. Gunners sit on top of the vehicles with their hands resting tranquilly across their machine guns. At the entrance to the neighborhood, a car is blocked by the 113s and Bradleys (civilians call them tanks) but then passes by after a quick look and consent by the American soldiers.

A man in a flowing white gown with three children at his side walks by one of the armed vehicles. They ignore the soldiers as they walk slowly, attentive only to the soft melting chocolate and green-colored ice cream dripping down the sides of the white wafer cones they hold.

Neighborhood children have surrounded several American soldiers who have climbed out of the vehicles. The children are poking at their uniforms and asking for candy. Scattered along the street, Iraqi neighbors are standing and sitting in front of their houses. Some have brought lawn chairs to watch the show brought to their front door.

Unsatisfied with Captain Rainey’s response, the man with the stubble beard declares again: “We hate American soldiers.”

After a pause, Rainey asks slowly and deliberately, “Are we disturbing you or harming you in some way by being here?”

A clean-shaven Iraqi man standing in front of the group answers in English, “Well, I would like to go home in my car to my house because I have to study for an exam at the university and I cannot go because you have the street blocked.”

Rainey answers, “You can leave; in fact I will have my men escort you past the blockade.” The man steps back into the crowd not interested in grasping the opportunity.

For the third time the stubble-bearded man states, “We hate American soldiers.” The captain asks the man if his soldiers have done something bad to him or his neighborhood. The man waves his arms and says, “They scare the people.”

“What do my soldiers do that scares them?” Rainey asks. The man complains about the noise and presence of the 113s and the Humvees and then changes in mid-sentence to the fact that electricity is sporadic and it is too hot to be without fans.

Captain Rainey addresses the electricity problem, explaining that it is difficult to keep electricity going when terrorists place bombs under the power lines. He asks the crowd if they understand that, but no one answers. “I tell my soldiers to treat the people of Ghazalia with dignity and respect; if they aren’t doing that, I want to know.” The crowd listens quietly.

One of the men from the crowd, speaking in English, says, “We want the electricity on like you have in America … and the sewage fixed. We want good lives. We know how you live there and we think you bring that to us. But you bring terror and scare the people.”

When asked who is detonating the bombs and who is on the attack, the man replies, “These are the radical crazy people who follow anyone because they are ignorant. They make the bombs.”

Another man interjects, “We do not want the American coalition to leave now because, I ask you, what will we do? These people will take our country.”

Captain Rainey commands a platoon of 88. He is a soldier who fully believes in his objective. He explains that he does not have a political agenda but that his focus is on his assignment in the district of Ghazalia.

“After spending one week in Ghazalia I know that we are supposed to be here. I know my God supports our work in Ghazalia,” he affirms.

“If our purpose as a country is that Iraq can transition to a new government, then I know that my company has the same objective to ensure that Ghazalia is safe and secure so they can transfer to a new government on a smaller personal level.”

During Rainey’s command with Bravo Company, three soldiers have been killed in Ghazalia by roadside bombs detonated as their vehicles passed by. The captain says those deaths had a significant impact on him and his company. “I was not prepared for the deaths but it doesn’t change how we view the neighborhood of Ghazalia.” He hangs his head as he speaks and remembers. “It was personal and emotional. We cannot let it affect our focus.

“God created every emotion and we know that while he tells us in the Bible that He is peaceful and loving, He gets angry and jealous as well. So I think what God is trying to tell us is that the emotion itself is not bad but the things we humans do, as part of the emotion, can be bad. The Old Testament is full of warriors that fought for God’s people.

“Joshua is the original company commander. He led a small number of people against a large army. Because of his faith in God, he was able to overcome.”

Rainey continues, “As much as I love the people in Ghazalia, I know that there are people here who want to hurt us. I think by carrying guns my soldiers protect themselves.”

As two helicopters hum low overhead, Rainey explain his dreams for Ghazalia, saying, “My hope is to see the kids of Gahzalia walk out their front door without having to tiptoe through sewage and trash. I want each person to be able to choose to have electrical power on or off by a flip on a switch. What I don’t want is when a kid sees an American soldier to pick up a rock and throw it at us. And finally I would like to see a local government the people trust.”
Sherrlyn Borkgren is a freelance photojournalist who spent several months among U.S. troops in Iraq.

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