Peter Rooks retired from the Army as a Lt. Colonel after 21 years of service and then went on to head the Portland University Army Cadet Program from 2005- to 2009. In the University literary magazine he tells a powerful story of an event that happened during the Iraq war. At the time he was in charge of artillery for the Bastogne Brigade. They had rolled through Basra without any trouble but encountered some resistance in Nazaria. Then they came upon Najaf, home to the Golden Dome, the Imam Ali Mosque, high on a hill.
The Colonel leads the march to the Mosque. Pete is in a company of 130 men between the ages of 17 to late forties. It is a very hot day. As they go along children run alongside and yell “America good! Bush Good!” He notes that things were going well but that you never know what will happen next in war. He keeps yelling to his men, “Head on a swivel, weapons up.”
As they approach the Mosque they encounter a large hostile crowd who are afraid the soldiers are there to bomb the site. Tensions rise. Then this is what happens: “Our Colonel points his rifle down to indicate we are not here for war. Then he orders us to take a knee and smile. Everyone goes down on one knee and smiles. The kids who were running with us take a knee and smile too. They’re right in among us. And this actually works. Things calm down a little. Some rocks are thrown, but no one gets shot. Could we have forced our way in? Absolutely. But we used the biggest weapon, the one inside our head=====I remember that day in Najaf, clear as day. It’s a good story, people should hear that story. Somehow that story matters. It matters a lot.”
Taken from A WAR STORY in A SENSE OF WONDER, edited by Brian Doyle, Orbis Books