Just empty, dusty shells of places where thousands of American troops once lived, fought and died in the past nine years. In a few weeks, military operations in Iraq will officially be over.
I was there for about a month in June 2007 to witness the “the surge,” as it was called.
As you may already know from my previous posts about Iraq, my three-man news team was responsible for covering the Air Force’s contribution to that mission, which meant we hopped around Baghdad and the surrounding area. We traveled via helicopters mostly to various forward operating bases and paired up with weather and civil engineer folks, as well as some joint terminal air controllers who were calling in airstrikes to destroy the roads used to funnel weapons into Baghdad.
No matter where we went, there seemed to be an omnipresent buzz pulsating everywhere, something as real as the heat and dust. Electric like adrenaline, but heavy as fear. A mix of energy and edginess suspended over our heads like a pulsating weight.<
The place was thumping.
There were just so many people. Soldiers in gray. Airmen in tan. Allies in their speckled uniforms. Third-country nationals pulling security detail or food service. Contractors in khakis. Humvees. Government trucks. Aircraft roaring into a combat landing. Helicopters whipping and humming in the night.
There was always noise. People everywhere
But if you looked at my personal photos at the time, you wouldn’t know it.
You would think I deployed to a ghost town there in the midst of one of the busiest, most violent summers there.
Looking back, I’m struck by how few photos of people I took while in Iraq.
My job was to write. For photos, all I had was my Canon Powershot, a point-and-shoot Martin bought me for my birthday a few months before. I wasn’t aware of all its features yet, so I think that played a part in me not using it as much as I did my video camera. I have a ton of video from Iraq, in which I captured so much banter between my team mates and activity at our locations.
But my photos?
They are so lonely.
It wasn’t intentional, but I seemed to have gravitated to things that were broken there, and alone, which could very well be an indication as to how I felt there.
Because I was the only female on our team of three, I was often isolated away from the two men and put in a spare room or hut in a corner that didn’t have a lock. (This happened in Afghanistan all the time, where we were literally put on opposite sides of the bases.)
While we went on assignments together, always checked in with each other, knew our general whereabouts and ate our meals together, I was more often alone than not.
And to fight the boredom and anxiousness when not doing chores or writing letters, I took photos of those places, not realizing exactly what I was capturing, but appreciating it now almost five years later.
For me, that place of much pain and suffering, even at the height of the war … it was always a ghost town.
So full of loss and pain and stories we will never know.