More at: The War After the War

The end of major combat in Iraq did not bring an end to the fighting. American troops trying to rebuild the country found themselves surrounded by unknown dangers and escalating hostility from Iraqis whom they once viewed with sympathy. American RadioWorks asked medics with the Army's 101st airborne division stationed in Mosul, Iraq to record their impressions of the situation unfolding around them. The recording was made in December 2003 shortly before they returned to their base in Fort Cambell, Kentucky. Their story, along with a follow-up interview, aired on The World in April 2004.

Hi. This is Corporal Hanley, I'm John. I'm with the 3-327 Infantry Battalion which is part of the first brigade and we're out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. My P.A. who's a physician's assistant, he just walked in.

My name's Lieutenant David Lavelle. We're winding down a one-year tour here. We're supposed to drive back from Mosul, Iraq (laughs) through wonderful areas of Falluja, Tikrit, and Baghdad on our way back to Kuwait.

Lately we've been getting a lot of I.E.D's-which is improvised explosive devices-alongside the roads, just like homemade bombs, everything from old mortar rounds to like pipe bombs and things that they detonate and it's been causing a lot of havoc.

I don't know, we're being told they're foreign fighters, we're being told they're Palestinians, they're Syrians, whatever. They're the main troublemakers coming in here. They're doing the ambushes, they're shooting the R.P.G.'s at us and all that, you know. They're the ones doing all this, but yet it's the Iraqi people that are doing all the cheering and clapping as our guys are lying there bleeding.

When I first came here I had a lot of empathy and sympathy for these people you know, but with the recent things going on, there are days when I feel like these people need a dictator.

I guess they believed the stories that you know, we were going to come here and rape their women and eat their young and all that and then to see us do something completely opposite they were just totally amazed and-in fact I'll give you an example. There was an old man, there was a teenage boy and three little kids all in a cart being pulled by a donkey. And I don't know what happened but I remember looking over and seeing the donkey and the cart going head over heels and the people in the cart just flying all over the road.

And they see the U.S. soldiers, of course, running over to them so now they panic. They grab their kids and this one little boy, he has his face laid open. And the look on this father's face when I took off my helmet and knelt down by his son, I don't know, it looked like he thought I was going to pull a knife out and just slit this kid's throat.

Couple of my medics came over and we started treating this little boy. Cleaned him up a little bit, put some bandages on it and that, stood up, looked at the old man and said, "Hey, it's going to be alright, you know. It's OK. OK." And his face went from fear to just sheer joy. Tears welled up in his eyes. He hugged me, gave me a big kiss right on the lips with that walrus mustache. I guess he was thanking me in Arabic. And at that time, that one incident, I was like, "God, that made, that just made this whole war worth it." And then, I don't know. The whole damned thing just changed.

Our new thing is we can't, we can't even let, like kids come up to us anymore. Little kids will say "Fuck you. Fuck you." You know and shit like that. It's uh, it's very, there are moments when I want to take my rifle and shoot the kid in the head.

There have been so many times that the Joes in this battalion and some of my medics have just wanted to, to just open up on the crowd. To just open up and pull the trigger. Just let loose and let the lead fly where it does. But they don't. They keep their finger on the trigger but they don't pull the trigger because they're professional and they're courageous.

It's very frustrating when everything you've done and yet these people don't seem to understand. Go home? I would love to go home. I would have loved to have probably never come here. Um, I don't really feel like I've become any better of a person for having experienced this. I've gotten to see a lot of things that I'll never get out of my mind even as much as I may like to. And it's hard to keep the morale high whenever you know something bad happens. The guys that I work with, they're the average soldiers you know. They just want to get home in one piece they're not really concerned with why we're here, they just want to go home.

You folks whoever you are listening, lot of you folks have been giving us some great support and believe me we really appreciate it. Take care of yourself and your families. Bye.

John Hanley left the military in July of 2004. David Lavelle is awaiting his next assignment, possibly in Iraq.


Photos courtesy of John Hanley

Producer: Sasha Aslanian
Editor: Deborah George
Project Director: Misha Quill
Assistant Producer: Ellen Guettler
Production Assistance: Samantha Kennedy and Neil Tassoni

Web Producer: Ochen Kaylan
Web Manager: John Pearson
Web Production Supervisor: Michael Wells

Managing Editor: Stephen Smith
Executive Producer: Bill Buzenberg

Special thanks to Mitch Hanley

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