Being the Light in War

Communicating across language barriers

17 June 05

I haven’t written in a while. Things have been relatively uneventful. Been out on patrol doing traffic control points and searching houses for weapons caches. No luck yet. Getting a little more comfortable speaking basic Arabic. I’m rather surprised by how many Iraqis speak some English. I didn’t realize that some of the schools teach it to the kids. The kids love to talk to us. Mostly because we give them candy, clothes, water and toys. It is tough to lighten up and have fun with the kids while trying to stay alert and tactically sound. Balance and brotherhood. It’s comforting to know we have guys in the gunner’s seat watching over us while we walk foot patrol.

It is also very surprising to me seeing how many have cell phones and satellite TV. Just not something I expected. By no means are they living in luxury. Most houses have very little furniture, lighting or amenities. The ‘living rooms’ have rugs and a TV.

I suppose this is what the ‘middle class’ lives like here. We are on the outskirts of Baghdad, so there are some big extravagant houses in our sector. There are clearly some houses and family that don’t have nearly as much. Their houses are cinder block style, one room houses without much at all. No doors, no windows, no amenities.

Had a fun chat with some kids today. There was one young girl that was very eager to chat with us. Had a hard time knowing what she was saying, but it was fun to see her light up with a beaming smile. It is cool how you can laugh, joke and smile with someone even if you can’t understand what each other issaying. The girl didn’t want us to leave, so I ended up finding a flower to give as a parting gift. (finding the light in war)

Had a good chat with LT yesterday. We talked about how things got “real” after our first IED hit. I have been a little stressed. It feels like I am the only one who is taking things seriously. LT and I are guessing that’s a direct result of being blown up. I had a close call, but most of the other guys haven’t. That close call has opened my eyes more so than the others. It was good to have someone to talk it through with. Now I’ve got a good handle on why I’m extra stressed. It won’t get to me so much anymore.

Overall, starting to settle into our sector. Getting a feel for the area, bad areas, good areas, and good people. Also, feeling comfortable in our role.

Let’s do this!

~ DC

The after thoughts…

I didn’t know this at the time, but as I was learning how to balance being friendly with the Iraqi civilians while staying alert and tactically sound I was developing what would later be the foundation of my patrol style as a campus police officer.

One of my nicknames on campus was “Officer Smiles” and that’s how I acted on patrol in Iraq too. My Arabic was very basic, but it didn’t take long to learn that greeting everyone with a smile sets a great foundation. This ability to engage with the Iraqis eventually led to excellent working relationships and trust between us. They trusted we were there to help them and in turn they helped us as well. This was a direct result of building relationships and that all started with a smile.

In interpersonal communication, there are multiple ways to say the same thing. Even with the exact same words, how you say it make all the difference in the world. Think about time a time you have had to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Would they have been as receptive if you approached with a negative or grumpy feeling?

Now flip it, if someone approaches you who would you be more eager/likely to engage with? Grumpy or smiling?

Just because I was a soldier in combat or a campus police officer there to enforce the laws didn’t mean I couldn’t smile. I had the same results on campus. The students were eager and open to engaging with me. Even in enforcement situations, students were more likely to talk with me. Out of every arrest I made, all but two people said thank you afterwards.

A secret effect of greeting others with a smile is that you’ll come to find you enjoy your job that much more. Even a forced smile and being kind to others will trick you into being happy too! Having a bad day? Not feeling it at work? Power through, smile and be kind!

Do you have any tricks to cheer you up or stay positive?

Feel free to comment below and let’s chat!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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