"It's the Mosque" he yells out as he points down the narrow street.
The nine man patrol was conducting a typical "meet and greet" mission through the village of Buhmkaleef. Walking the six miles through the city, soldiers would stop frequently to interact with local villagers and purchase fruit or other items from vendors. The team looks forward to these interactions each week and the small village enjoys the American companionship-and pocketbooks. Local fruit markets in Iraq are not unlike what you might see in Small Town America-freshly grown fruit displayed on top of tables fashioned out of old plywood sheets. Young entrepreneurs sit perched upon makeshift booths selling everything from pirated DVDs to low-end famous knock off watches. Soldiers spend the thirty five dollars for a "Rolex" not because they think it's the real thing, but because they want to help out the local economy.
It's no accident that the Army spends time here. Positioned just south of the region known as the Sunni Triangle, Buhmkaleef teeters on the brink of an inter-city insurgent overthrow. Driving a Hummvee a short distance to the north along highway one puts you right in the heart of the enemy's area of operation and along this route, you can expect to be greeted with Improvised Explosive Devices and small arms fire. But here, for the most part, the people are safe. The Army's presence keeps the enemy at a distance and allows the people to live mostly uninterrupted lives. A typical small village, Buhmkaleef has a mayor, its own Police force, one small school and even a local soccer hero who manages a small cigar shop. Its only downfall is that it lacks a hospital for urgent medical treatment. For that, locals must travel fifteen miles to the west. Most though, will travel three miles south to a nearby Army base camp just to get the professional care of an American Army doctor. While nothing is ever routine in Iraq, these patrols are as close as it gets. Of course, until today.......
"Lett-it hah-rek, Lett-it hah-rek", was shouted to the scared villagers.
"I said DO NOT MOVE!" This time with a heavier tone and in English.
The team instinctively races toward the destroyed Mosque-weapons at the ready. Seconds later they halt in the middle of the street directly in front of the charred remains of the sacred worship place. Thick black and gray smoke now pour out of the burning structure onto the narrow street and the patrol suddenly finds itself lost in a crowd of panicked civilians. The screams and cries of the bystanders swirl around in the blackened air as if the smoke itself were speaking its own tales of anguish. The soldiers push through the quickly growing crowd, making their way to the entrance of the temple. As their eyes fight to adjust to the dissipating smoke, a few soldiers make out the pattern of a small boy standing inside the smoldering doorway. The four year old child walks slowly toward the group of soldiers, his eyes wide with fear, struggling as he takes each step. Sergeant Pacowski, the company's medic, grabs his aid bag and reaches the boy just as he collapses onto the gravel road. Overcome by the smell of burning flesh, Pacowski backs away slightly, resting his head momentarily on his heavy green medical aid bag. Forcing himself to regain his composure, he begins to refocus his attention on the injured boy. Panic sets in as he realizes that there is no time to waste.
Andrew Pacowski, aptly nicknamed "Pacman" is the genuine article-a true blooded American Patriot. His father grew up in the small town of Bezledy, Poland a few miles south of the Russian border. He often told Andrew of the days when, as a young boy, he would leave school and look across the field to see Russian soldiers patrolling in the area. His hatred over the Russian government would overtake him as and he would reach down to find several golf ball size rocks, launching them at the soldiers one by one. Often times they would draw their weapons at him in response, and once they actually fired. His father's lessons in freedom, Liberty and Democracy would be played out time and again in their modest farm house in Herscher, Illinois. Andrew would never forget his father's struggles and what the cost of freedom really means. His parents had lived it first hand. He loves America and appreciated all the sacrifices that helped shape this country into what it is today. Those stories would shape his life and ultimately contribute to his decision to join the United States Army where he serves as a Combat Medic.......
He stared down at the frail child and begins to treat him. Moments later, another team arrives with several Humvees to escort the boy to Baghdad where he would get the best possible chance for survival. Sergeant Pac stands up just as an elderly lady hands him an orange and white blanket to cover the bleeding and burned child. He cradles the boy, burying his face in the boy to hide his tears. He loads the little dark hair boy up into the vehicle and the Humvees accelerate off into the distance. He wonders if the child will someday have his own stories to tell about the cost for freedom for his people- about how their country is a much better place because of their own struggles to turn the pages of history to overcome unbeatable odds. He realized at that moment that he was never more proud to be an American.