16 Apr 2004 “It’s Mentioned by Nearly Every Soldier That I Have Met…”
Joe Roche’s sister, Gita, saw the letter I wrote to Kirby Wilbur of KVI Radio, thanking him and his listeners for their notes of support and care packages for the troops, and mentioning the interactions between GIs and Iraqi kids.
Gita sent me a note sharing some of Joe’s experiences, as he wrote them to her, about the interactions between American troops and the children of Iraq, including a small group of Iraqi children aged about 4-11 who literally have been living on base these past months with the men of the 16th Battalion, 1st Armored Division.
As soon as I read her note, I knew it should be shared with others:
…I wonder why no one has yet picked up the stories about the children of Iraq, it’s mentioned by nearly every soldier that I have met or read the letters of…. I have so many letters [from Joe with] funny stories about the little ones who lived on base, and nearly every set of 5 or 6 pictures that Joe sends has at least one of the photos being of various children around the humvees, reaching in to touch the soldiers and smiling so happily. In the early letters to us, and throughout as his supply would run low, Joe would ask repeatedly for us to send little toys for the soldiers to be able to give to the little children that their unit would see on their runs.
One of the funniest series of pictures had to do with the day that the schools that the 16th Eng Batt had been rebuilding were opened. On one pic, there is a crowd of children mobbing the soldiers celebrating their rebuilt school. In the next pic the soldiers are sitting there in full battle rattle trying awkwardly to eat cake as the children chatter away with them, the note on the back goes on about how funny it was to see these big soldiers trying to figure out how to respond to and mingle with a bunch of 6 year olds simply gleeful at their presence.
I don’t think anyone knows how the 4 or 5 children who have been living at camp came to be there. Somehow after the perimeter had been cleared for Joe’s unit to set up camp the children were found to be already living there on their own inside the cleared perimeter! Given how dangerous it was outside, no one apparently had the heart to put them out, so these children have been with this unit thru their entire tour in Baghdad. Joe has often written me about how they wave the soldiers out each day as they go on missions, and welcome them home gleefully. When there were casualties and soldiers did not return to base, Joe would tell me about little [name deleted] and the other children crying at the gate.
Joe would write of the endless games the kids on base would play. One package we sent over had a bunch of toy whistles in it, well that’s all the soldiers heard for weeks. Joe said they were driving everyone nuts with those things, but the funniest part was that later Joe would hear the soldiers whistling the same tunes as the kids had been playing. As I told you, another game the kids loved to play was to spring upon a soldier while he was trying to catch some much needed sleep, no matter how tired the soldiers were they always managed to wake up giggling at the game, and the children never tired of playing it. I remember a few weeks back Joe wrote that he could not even talk about how difficult it was going to be to leave the children. I have not had the nerve to ask him what is going to become of them. I wonder if he even knows.