By Solomon Akugizibwe
Richard Magezi spent a year in Iraq as a security Guard, he saw it all and did it all. This is the second part as told to Solomon Akugizibwe. The first part was published in our last post here.
We did not get a chance of going outside the camps because the whole country was a combat zone, we were restricted because a combat zone is always unpredictable, sudden and life threatening, meaning that you could be killed at anytime by the insurgents.
I did not meet many Iraqi Christians but I had an Iraqi Christian friend who was an interpreter for the American army and a Kurd from northern Iraq. Whenever he would go on leave to his village, he would bring me many good things to eat. He always put on a rosary and told me that Christians in Iraq are very many and can also influence governmentÂ decisions.
There were also chapels inside the base where Ugandan guards and American soldiers would pray.
It was like any other normal storm which would take three to four days and was very common, especially in the summer. During the storm, the atmosphere would be filled up by sand blown by strong winds, disrupting everything before settling down. Planes and military convoys would not move because the visibility would be very low. You couldnâ€™t see a person 20 meters away from you. Besides, it was a threat to our health and to be safe, you had to wear nose masks. It was also a threat to security but on the other hand, it would also make it hard for the insurgents to operate.Â
I had put the issue of the suicide bombers behind my back because before I left for Iraq, the UPDF colonel who recruited me gave me a very inspiring message which reduced all my fears. He told me that â€œhey, when you are going to make money, never think about death, look at me, I have been shot many times in the back but, am I not living?â€ When you want to achieve something, never think about death. On my mission to Iraq, I wasnâ€™t scared because I was prepared for anything which would befall me while on duty.Â
I first witnessed victims of bombings in a hospital in Ballad, it was a very sad experience, some had died with no heads, smashed stomachs and others were in critical conditions with no legs or hands. Victims of the bombings were mostly Iraqis. The bombs were locally made but they were very powerful to an extent of flattening a five-story building. Bombers would target people at gatherings and other public places.
In Iraq I had no girlfriend, but back home in Uganda I had a girlfriend called Lucy. As soon as I landed in Iraq, I gave her a call and she was happy. I kept communicating until one day I realised she was going behind my back â€“ cheating on me â€“ I assumed that she had another boy-friend because when I called her while in Iraq, she said â€œeh, call me after 10 minutes, am still cooking my food.â€ I wondered how she could do such a thing to me because the airtime was very expensive since it was an international call and besides, someone can receive a call while cooking. It affected me psychologically and I took it as a sign of unreliability. I had to quit the relationship and when I returned to Uganda, I never bothered calling her again.
When we reached Iraq, it was summer and it was very hot. We were then deployed in places with air conditioners. It was a wonderful experience because the environment was very conducive and made me like my job. Â
My worst experience was my first winter season, I wasnâ€™t used to it and it was very cold. I was working outside and although I would wear winter clothing, the coldness would penetrate my body and make me shiver.Â
Weapons that amazed me
Stryker: It was an armoured vehicle used by the US Army. It was computerised and could move with no lights or sound at night. It uses night vision goggles to â€œseeâ€ at night. I had never sat in it but it resembles a chopper inside. It has four guns on top â€“ two in front and two behind – with four gunners controlling them. Although the gunnersâ€™ heads were always out, they are surroundedÂ bullet-proof glass which makes it hard for bullets to hit them. It also has detectors in front which can detect and â€œdisorganizeâ€ the bombs. It is very heavy, fast and big.
Armoram: It is also an armoured vehicle with a driving steering resembling that of a helicopter. It has a driver, co-driver and a gunner inside and a gun on top. The vehicle is very tall, long and big. Although all American armoured vehicles in Iraq are big and heavy, they are also very fast.Â
Eagle eye camera: The eagle eye camera was like an eye placed very high on an antenna in every American Military Base. Although it is based in one place, it keeps rotating and can view so many miles away from the camp. It can detect anything suspicious and a person in the control room can keep a close watch on it to make a timely follow up. It also has night vision equipments to enable it effectively work at night. Â
His best friend in Iraq
My best friend was Stephen Nyakoojo who spent all his two years in Iraq staying in an air-conditioned room and doing administrative work. He went to Iraq earlier than me; I went there when he had already spent a year. We knew each other after about two weeks of my deployment at Normandy Camp. He found me in front of the office and asked me where I come from, to which I told him I come from Rwengoma (a village in Fort Portal town). He said â€œyou are from my home base, come and we talkâ€. We went to his room and chatted, he introduced me to all his room mates. He told them that â€œthis is my brotherâ€. We knew each otherâ€™s families â€“ he knew my grandfather Kabagambe, I also knew his grandfather Nyakabwa. Knowing him made my life very easy, he used to pick me for lunch with a car since the dining facility was a bit far from where I used to sleep. He was a leader and he had access to all such luxuries, he also influenced my deployment to good places.
Coming back to Uganda was one of my best moments. After one year, our contract ended and we were required to go back home and sign another contract. Our base was also winding up because of the Obama policy to withdraw all US military soldiers from Iraq by 2011. When leaving, we were recalled from all the camps, settled in one camp and arranged into groups of 25 people each so that we could board choppers to the main base. At the main base we were arranged into batches of 100 people each so that we could board one plane to Baghdad International Airport.Â
At Normandy Camp, we were told to go and sit at the Pax Terminal. I sat at the first terminal, from where we boarded choppers to Ballad â€“ which was the main base in the region. From Ballad, we boarded planes in groups of 100 to Baghdad International Airport where we had received our visas. Our journey to Uganda took nine hours, only stoping at the Yemen Airport for refueling.Â
Landing at Entebbe
When our plane was landing at Entebbe International Airport, I shed some tears due to over excitement; I couldnt believe that I was at home finally after surviving bombs in Iraq. Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers received us; we filled some forms and were asked questions like where we would be stationed while in Uganda, our contacts and how we benefited from Iraq. After filling the forms, I found my people waiting for me. We headed straight to Makindye at a certain guest house and had a party.