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From the Front Lines Part II
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Cummins '82 hands out Beanie Babies, which were sent to him in care packages from the BC Alumni Association, to Iraqi children.
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Cummins '82
In the fall of 2007, I submitted an article about my experiences as a military advisor to the Iraqi Army to good friends who work at the BC Alumni Association. Excerpts from that article were published in November's Alumni Connections. Now that my tour has ended and I’m back home in Virginia after celebrating my daughter Maureen's graduation from Boston College, I decided to submit a second article. During my tour, I kept a daily journal for professional reasons to document lessons learned and to record events, at least as I understood them. I must have a million stories, but these few journal excerpts will attempt to capture part of my odyssey. For the interest of the Boston College alumni readers, I decided to emphasize my periodic encounters with my Catholic faith while in Iraq. God often found me. I just had to be observant.
Our precise task was to help the First Brigade of the Fifth Iraqi Division, located in the northeast Diyala Province of Iraq, improve its insurgent combating abilities. More importantly, we were there to help professionalize the brigade into a force that would respect Iraqi citizens’ civil rights and be respected as a legitimate security force to uphold the rule of law—tall tasks. The problem we encountered was that the Iraqi army was historically feared and mistrusted by its own people. Prior to our arrival, this brigade had a bad reputation for purportedly operating "death squads," condoning blatant corruption, not combating the Islamic terrorists or Iranian border infiltrators, and gross incompetence. Our work was cut out for us.
May 29, 2007 I lead a convoy from the Kirkush Military Training Base (KMTB), near the Iranian border in Diyala Province, to Balad Air Base to pick up supplies and sign for the government property. Before departing on the convoy, a couple members of the outgoing advisory team recite the Rosary. A sergeant says it helps him avoid roadside IEDs (improvised roadside bombs—explosive booby traps). I join in. As we drive through the various villages on the way to Balad, hardly a single adult male waves (never a woman). Some don’t even look at us. A few very young kids wave, but a man hits one kid in the face for waving at us. Our interpreters say that the people don't hate Americans so much as they are extremely afraid of seen being friendly for fear of retaliation. Insurgents often murder whole families. The enemy has instilled fear throughout the region. Welcome to Iraq.
June 1, 2007 On the way back from Balad Air Base to KMTB, an Iraqi soldier standing at a lonely checkpoint stops my convoy. I’m the lead vehicle. We have difficulty understanding him, but he is pointing up the road and waving us off. Our interpreter speaks to the soldier and we are told that the road ahead is booby-trapped. I scan the road up ahead but see nothing. Finally, an explosive ordinance team comes along, clears the road, and finds the concealed IED. They detonate the IED, which creates a huge explosion and leaves a crater on the side of the road. If the Iraqi soldier hadn’t stopped us, I would have hit the IED for sure. The sergeant was right; Rosaries are powerful.
September 23, 2007 A very good day. While on a tour to inspect the town of Ba’qubah’s security (things have much improved since June), I stop with the Iraqi commander at various places to hand out toys to children. All sorts of friends from BC, elementary schools, and work had sent me boxes of Beanie Babies and other small toys that are easy to carry in my truck and quick to hand out. I love handing them out to the kids. The Iraqi adults watch. Some smile, others even encourage kids to get a Beanie Baby. I can’t overstate the pure joy on the children’s faces.
December 2, 2007 While walking to the Iraqi brigade headquarters one morning, as I usually do, I pass three radio antennae mounted on a roof. They are always there, but I seldom notice them. Today the antennae catch my attention in a most deliberate way: the configuration remind me of the crosses at Calvary. I stop cold in my tracks. I must have looked at the antennae scores of times without thinking twice. But why do I notice this now? Is there greater meaning to my observation? I take my Rosary out of my pocket and look at it, and then move on. A few days later, while walking along the path, I notice that the same three antennae are gone. I never see them mounted on the roof again.
February 23, 2008 The senior Iraqi general and I take another tour of Ba’qubah to inspect security and other civic projects. This time we stop at a remote outpost where we meet a prominent sheik who is willing to join the government and fight Al Qaeda. The sheik states that his people need jobs, and that they hate Al Qaeda foreigners. The request for jobs is the key point. We can only deliver so much. I notice that the sheik handles his praying beads, which are common to Muslims. I think of my Rosary and how it often helps calm and focus my thoughts. But in Iraq, public display of Christian emblems by U.S. forces is highly discouraged so as to not offend the Iraqis, although nearly always in private or in small groups the Iraqis tell me that they are not offended that I’m a Christian. Many say that it doesn’t bother them and that they used to have Christian friends. Once in a while, I have displayed my Rosary to them in private, and they find it intriguing.