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Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I Met Saddam's Soldier!
Back in 1999, I spent almost all of the summer working in Phoenix.  Ryder had signed new business with three customers and I had to be down there helping get quite a few drivers hired, oriented and trained.  One of the accounts was for a customer that involved night deliveries to convenience stores using straight trucks. The experience required for these drivers was less than that of tractor trailer drivers, minimum of one year and  a Class B CDL license.
I remember reviewing this driver's application, interviewing and road testing him, nothing unusual got my attention.  I knew he was of Middle Eastern decent but really didn't pay much attention.  After we hired him, I rode along with him on the route for a few days for training.  He had a pretty thick accent and I really had to listen carefully to be able to understand him. One night as we were driving along I asked him what country he was from originally and he said “Iraq”. Well, this was well before 9/11 and from what I knew about Iraq, that was the country ruled by Saddam that invaded Kuwait back in the early 90’s during the first President Bush's term in office.  During a short war, we kicked their butts all the way back to Baghdad and they supposedly surrendered. I can’t remember this driver’s name, but he then told me that he had been in the Iraq war.  I said “you fought against Saddam?” and he said “no, I was in Saddam’s Army”.
That statement was quite a shock to me as I had all these thoughts racing through my head about how the heck could he have ended up here in the United States and wondering if I’m riding along in a truck with some crazy terrorist driving it!
It took a few moments, but I finally asked “you mean you fought against us?” In fractured English, he replied “oh yes, but I surrendered”. I said “you surrendered to the United States?” and he said ”yes”. I then replied with “well, how the hell did you end up here?” He then followed up with a fascinating story of how every young male in Iraq was forced to be in the military and the only reason for a lot of them to be there was to avoid torture or imprisonment. He told me he was scared to death of the US military and the first chance he had, he went running up to a US patrol with a white flag and surrendered. I asked what happened after that and he said they interrogated him and stuck him in prison for three years. After about three years, the officials determined that he was not a threat to us and asked him what he wanted to do. He could not go back to Iraq as he would certainly be killed for deserting. His mother and the rest of his family had no contact with him all the years after his surrender and thought he had been killed in the war. He was offered the opportunity to come to the United States and he took it.
So he got over here, went to Phoenix, found a job and started working his way up and making a life for himself. I remember him saying that he had wished so much for us to go all the way into Baghdad and finish off Saddam when we had the chance. He was longing for the day he could see his mom and family again. I hope he was able to accomplish that. He was a decent guy.
It is amazing some of the people you meet by chance in life!

Iraqi soldiers quick to wave white flags

[Photo: AP]
Iraqi soldiers attempt to surrender to journalists in a military convoy Friday. Military police specially trained in handling prisoners or war will be in charge of captured Iraquis.

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