Out of his element – Seven – military personnel in charge of security in Iraq
For a Navy Master-at-Arms life can be a sequence of routines – patrols traffic stops emergency traffic control. But for Master-at-Arms (SW) 1st Class James Strawser and the security personnel aboard USNS Comfort (TA-H 20), life is anything but routine.
“My usual job at National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) Bethesda, Md., is maintaining base security. I make routine patrols throughout the base, and issue citations for everything from speeding to running stop signs.” Strawser said. “But don’t have the opportunity to interact with people face to face like I’ve done aboard Comfort.”
Maintaining security for a base that sees tens of thousands of people driving through the gate every day is a great deal different from the personal interaction the security force assigned to Comfort provided. They were responsible for around-the clock guards for up to 150 injured Iraqi Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW), as well as approximately 50 displaced Iraqi civilrans with various injuries.
For Strawser the Iraqis taught him a valuable lesson. “we were there (guarding the Iraqis) so they would be less apt to try and cause harm to the medical personnel but most of them had no desire to cause harm. They wee grateful they were no longer in the situation they’d been in. These people were told we would kill them if they got caught, and here we were doing just the opposite = bringing them back to health and mending them wounds.
“Once the adults saw how they were going to be treated and how Navy personnel interacted with their children.” He added “they opened up a lot more to us.”
That interaction with the Iraqi people really touched Comfort’s crew. Knowing that these children are now going to have to opportunity to grow up in an area with less oppression — the beginnings of freedom — makes it all worth it.” Strawser said. “I will never forget the day the adult Iraqis were told Saddam Hussein was no longer in power and his statues were being toppled dragged through the streets. The expression on their faces and the tears streaming from their eyes, spoke volumes that could never be put into words. These were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. I watched their faces as the word freedom became not just a dream to them but a reality.
Strawser and McCoy photojournalists assigned to All Hands.
COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Navy
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group