‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ – A Soldier Speaks

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Sgt. Matthew Kelch of the United States 101st Airborne Regiment never thought what the future had in store for him when he graduated from the U.S. Army Rangers School in August of 2001.  Kelch joined the army in October 1999.  Soon after his graduation from Army Rangers School, America saw the worst day in the history, Sept 11th, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the world trade center and set in motion a chain of events which have changed the world we live in today.

Things were pretty quiet for Kelch after 9-11 but in April of 2002 he was sent to Afghanistan where he stayed for 3 months.  During that time he was the team leader for a unit whose mission was to rescue and secure the planes and helicopters that were downed. Though he had several missions in Afghanistan it was much quieter compared to what he would experience later in Iraq. After the short stay in Afghanistan, he came home for six months, however in February 2003 he was sent to Iraq where he saw front line action with a special operations unit of the Army’s 101st airborne division.  He was in a battalion scout reconnaissance platoon whose main job was to inform the infantry about the ground situation before they would go on a mission, they would dig a little hide site and watch over the town and radio back to the infantry what was going on. They would also inform them about RPG’s (Rocket propelled grenades), they were like the eyes and ears of the battalion. It was a pretty dangerous job, if they were caught it would have  been really bad.

The picture of Saddam Hussien which was disfigured by Iraqis

Along the way towards Baghdad Sgt Kelch met the local Iraqis most of whom greeted them as liberators, majority of the people liked them but there were towns where people would throw stones at the U.S. military personnel. There was an incident where in the Iraqi people from a town would fire RPGs at the building of US military personnel every night until they finally said “if you guys do this again we are going to cut all of your electricity”, which the locals did not  want. At the same time the American Apaches were flying over the town which scared them to death, from that day the RPG attacks stopped.

The fear of attack was inevitable for the American troops when Sgt Kelch was traveling with his battalion an RPG hit the Bus they were traveling, that was the loudest noise that the Sgt had ever heard in his life and would never like to hear it again.

During their March to Iraqi capital Sgt Kelch met reporter Geraldo Rivera of Fox news who was assigned to 101st airborne division, who was sending reports of day to day progress of the war back home. Though at times they did see very heavy fighting there wasn’t much resistance as expected which was probably a good thing, if there were to be stronger resistance there would have been more US deaths.

Once they reached Baghdad in April his mission changed the marines and the 3rd infantry division were in charge of running Baghdad, Sgt Kelch was in Baghdad for about a month and during this time he was on Sniper duty as the American troops were getting shot at every day, people were coming by and shooting at the building that housed the U.S. military personnel so he was put overlooking the Interstate Highway that ran by the building, while he was on duty young Iraqi kids would come and shout up to him and his buddies for candy and chocolates, U.S. servicemen were pleased to oblige them.

Sgt Kelch also developed sympathy for the Iraqi people and also got glimpse of the atrocities faced by people during Saddam era which was clearly visible in the poverty and misery faced by the Iraqis.

Right before Sgt Kelch left Iraq the attacks on US military convoy increased this was mainly due the Saddams people who had gone hiding right after the Invasion of Iraq, had come out and started attacking them. The saddest part is they hide among civilian and target the military which makes the job much more difficult, also the number of people who oppose Americans are  point zero zero one percent and the media is to be blamed for misleading the Public. Kelch returned home after he completed the four year commitment to the U.S. military in Dec 2003.

A New Beginning

Kelch returned back to Iraq again but not as a soldier but as a civilian working for the famous Halliburton corporation. Wherein he was able to interact with the Iraqis more closely. The famous “republican Guards” who were in charge of fighting for Saddam to death were the close friends of this American with their new jobs as security personnel for the Halliburton, they were really happy that they were out of the bondage of Saddam and they were able to lead free lives, many of whom were forced into the army. Kelch spent 13 months on his new assignment in Iraq with the Halliburton and returned home on in March 2005 and is pursuing his career to be an Emergency Medical technician in order to protect the lives of people back home.

A tete-a-tete with Sgt. Matthew Kelch

Matt what do you think about the series of events in the past four years since 9-11 ?

I think that the Americans are doing a good job by  being over there in the middle east, as it keeps the terrorists away from the american borders, also it helps the locals to gain freedom.

Do Oil interests overweigh the fight for freedom ?

I don?t think so.

Could you please tell us more about your “operation Iraqi freedom” experience?

My unit returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan in July of 2002 where we continued our  training.  I was in a high deployable unit where we knew that if an invasion of Iraq was to happen, we would be the first to go.  In March of 2003, we were deployed to Kuwait were we conducted ongoing training and led the invasion around March 19th, 2003.  We went into Iraq and continued to move until we  reached Baghdad and remained in Baghdad for one month.  After staying in Baghdad, we were assigned to move north to the Iraqi city of Tal Afar for the duration of the term.

How was your interaction with Iraqi people  as soldier as well as a civilian?

As soldiers we had a lot of interactions with the Iraqi civilians and for the most part they were friendly but a few towns we went into, we felt the impression that they didn’t like us being there.  While working as a civilian, I had the privilege of working so close with the Iraqi civilians that I was assigned a translator, I learned a lot about the Iraqi culture during that time.  Most of the Iraqi men that I worked with, in Baghdad as a civilian, were soldiers of the national guard who fought for Saddam at the beginning of the war.  They had a lot of great stories but made it known that they weren’t fighting for Saddam because they wanted to but rather that they had to.

What do you think about the situation with Iran and North Korea?

I think that may be something should be done about these two countries!

When we look at the present situation it looks like it’s a never ending story, When do you think this conflict will end?

I’m not sure when all of this will end, hopefully soon. The U.S. military men and women fighting in those countries have done a great job, but are exhausted, and I would like to see the Iraqi and Afghanistani citizens step up and take care of their own countries soon.   

The present Baghdad international airport which was once Saddam intl airport

What’s your message to our readers?

Freedom comes with a cost and never let anyone take away your freedom, My friend told me about this website, you guys are doing great job in uniting your people. Keep up the good work.

Matt, I Thank you on behalf of Mangalorean.com for your time and co-operation and we wish you the best in your future endeavors!

Emmanuel D’Souza, USA

Author: Emmanuel DSouza- USA

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