AL ASAD AIR BASE, IRAQ: My impressions from Election Day in Barwana are available at The Weekly Standard – Election Day on the Eurphrates - Democracy vs. Zarqawi. Many of the photos I took are available in a flash presentation of the voting from Husaybah, Sadah and Barwana.
There is one story from Election Day I failed to share in The Weekly Standard. My Election Day experience began on the night of the 14th, when I hopped a flight from Al Asad Air Base. I accompanied a portion of the ballots that were designated for Barwana on a Marine CH-46 helicopter. We landed atop Haditha Dam, a beautiful setting for a night landing.
The following morning at 4:00 AM, I accompanied a convoy from the dam to Barwana. The ballots were with us. I watched them being unloaded by the Iraqi poll workers into the voting center. After the day ended, we took a convoy back to Haditha Dam, again with the ballots, but this time they were no longer empty forms, but contained the will of a portion of the Iraqi people.
We waited on the top deck of the dam for the night flight back to the air base. The flights were delayed as there was a lightening storm across the lake, which along with high winds precluded the helos from landing. After a month in Iraq with dry clear skies, the lightening strikes in the distance were a sight to behold.
The weather cleared at 2:00 AM, and we loaded the ballots onto the helos, and took the short flight back to Asad. Once there, the ballots where unloaded and stored in a secure location. It was quite an experience to accompany the transformation of mere sheets of paper into a statement of self determination and will.
The elation of the long days of travel and witnessing history was punctured by events in Barwana late this morning. The place where I stood just hours ago, a place of joy and hope for the Iraqi people, became a scene of terror and sorrow. The polling center, which once was a Ba’ath Party headquarters and now has been converted into a school, was struck by three mortar rounds.
Four children and one Iraqi soldier died on the spot. The soldiers were cleaning up the site from yesterday’s crowds while the children were playing soccer in the schoolyard. Two other children were wounder and evacuated to the air base for medical treatment. One of the children died while being treated. “Insurgents” continue to have no compunctions against killing children in their quests to destroy the dreams of the Iraqi people. And the joy of the ballots – possessing the will of Barwana’s citizens – continue to stand against the perpetrators of such acts of evil. Thankfully they are also protected by Coalition forces and an indomitable will to vanquish Iraq of the cowardly terrorists.
Barwana Attack Victim Receiving Treatment at Al Asad Air Base. Photograph by SSgt Beckstead.