By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
As Desert Storm fermented in Middle Eastern sands in 1991, Keith Simpson got an itch to become a soldier. He never got around to scratching it. More than a dozen years later, he dug his nails in. In the summer of 2002, Simpson chucked his job as an IBM computer technician and went from maintaining networks and blocking viruses in Dallas to sniffing out roadside bombs and disrupting ambushes in Iraq. Simpson, 33, is an Army specialist with the "Wolfhounds" infantry regiment, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. He was due back in Dallas by New Year's Day and had hoped to re-up with IBM. Instead, his brigade's tour was extended because of Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30. He hopes to return home in mid-March--conditions permitting. This interview was conducted with Simpson via e-mail. He responded from an undisclosed location near the Sunni Triangle.
What prompted you to join the armed forces?
I remember distinctly the day I decided to join the military. It was during the summer of 2002, and I was out with some friends at a bar for some happy hour drinks and food. 9/11 was still pretty fresh in everyone's thoughts, and we always got together to discuss it, and politics, world events and so on. During these get-togethers there would always be one or two people in the group [who] would always bitch and moan about "well, if I were in this position, I'd do things this way" or "if I were in charge, terrorism wouldn't be as big a problem for the United States." You get the picture. Well, one day I just got fed up with hearing it all, and I remember saying something to the affect of "why don't ya shut the hell up and actually DO something to help out instead of complaining about what should be?" Figured I should take my own advice.
When and where were you sent to Iraq?
My unit was sent to Iraq during the last two weeks of January 2004. Our forward operations base is located somewhere between Tikrit and Kirkuk. Most of my time has been spent at base here, helping patrol the surrounding area. I've also been to Kirkuk quite a few times, have been through Tikrit, Baghdad, Balad, and so many lil' villages and towns I can't count 'em all. What went through your mind when you were sent there?
All sorts of things. We were originally set to deploy to Afghanistan for 6-9 months, and then later in the year (2003) we were told, "Oh, sorry, it's been changed to a year long tour in Iraq." I suppose you could say a bit anxious, excited, and concerned all at the same time.
What did you expect to find and what have you actually found?
What we expected were a bunch of people who would be glad to have us around, seeing as how we liberated their country from Saddam Hussein. What we found was something different. It's true that there are some locals who genuinely want us here to help rebuild their country and create a more stable and fair government, and we've been trying to do that. But most all of them would just rather see us go home, [or wish] that we had never showed up in the first place. Not too surprised really. Imagine if the Iraqi Republican Guard decided to land on our soil uninvited to "liberate" us from our own president.
How do you find the Iraqi people?
The kids are nice. Sometimes they bug ya too much (mister, mister, gimmie!) but they're nice and look up to us. The adults? It's a mixed bag. Some are friendly and will come up to talk to us, others you can tell that they'd just as soon shoot ya if they knew they could get away with it. Overall most of 'em would rather just be left alone. The ING [Iraqi National Guard] soldiers we work with when we set up joint checkpoints with are pretty friendly. We've had all sorts of discussions with them about family life, their feelings and thoughts about their country's situation, religious differences between us and them, etc. You can't trust any of them.
What is your typical day like?
Well, for starters I'm an infantry soldier. So some of my days consist of going out on patrols with my platoon, either looking for IEDs--improvised explosive devices, the PC term for road-side bomb--providing convoy security, manning checkpoints with ING personnel, securing various zones/villages, basically just lookin' for trouble. We also spend time going to various villages and towns in our local AO (area of operations) to talk with locals, make our presence known--that kinda thing. The kids are friendly and like to talk with us most times. We'll give 'em things like Beanie Babies, soccer balls, MRE's [meals ready to eat], etc. Just whatever we have on hand to give out. Back in June of this year myself and two other soldiers in my battalion were sent down to Kuwait for 10 days to train on how to fly and operate UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicle). So some days I spend time flying recon missions with it as well now. It's pretty cool, small enough you can hand-launch it. I can't go into too much detail on its capabilities for obvious reasons, but let's just say it's been a big help on certain missions.