U.S. Troops Doing A Fantastic Job
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
WHOOMP! Thump-thump-thump. The distinctive sound of the U.S. Army's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter vibrates in my ear as we make a low-altitude pass over a mud-hut village in northern Iraq. From my viewpoint, this is a sharp contrast to the media reports datelined from Baghdad on the nightly network news. The remote herdsmen below look up and wave. Young children race from the mud huts and pump their hands in friendly greetings.
by Ray Scott
From my observation seat in the copter, flanked by two machine-gunners, the untold story behind the headlines unfolds. American GIs are going to win this struggle. Not with bullets and bully tactics. That's the only answer to terrorist's roadside bombs, sure, but other acts of caring can alter hearts and minds.
Out of the machine-gun portal, the helicopter crew chief tosses small bags of candy, gum and toys tied with a bright ribbon streamer to the waving, smiling children below. Small gifts of goodwill, but also, signs of compassion and the urge to help. The Black Hawk helicopter crew purchases the contents of the bags from the Army PX store and ties each one with a red, white or blue streamer.
This is the final leg of our "Ray Scott's Iraq Thanksgiving Tour 2004" to visit our troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It has been an amazing adventure. Unforgettable. A time capsule to be preserved. I never want to forget one U.S. soldier's smile or one "thank you" handshake.
Photo: Ray Scott Outdoors
Ray Scott's 10-day tour, under the auspices of Armed Forces Entertainment, took him to bases all over Iraq.
But it is we who must be thankful for the heroic task the fine U.S. men and women are performing for the cause of freedom. I am caught up in three observations during our trip: 1. The extraordinary professionalism of our troops, 2. The extreme gratitude for our coming to Iraq, and 3. The common denominator created by bass fishing.
In the past 36 years since I founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), I have been privileged to travel the globe – fishing and making friends – under the BASS banner. Even fishing with the likes of two U.S. presidents named Mr. Bush.
But in the confines of a war zone, there is a unique experience. I feel a surge of pride when I realize these troops do know the BASS patch, Bassmaster Magazine, The Bassmasters TV series and the Bassmaster Tour pros. As I shake their hands, more often than not, the soldier wants to tell me where they like to fish "back home" – fishing spots I know and can relate back some details.
Over and over again, the "thanks, thank you for coming" comes. Our reply in return is to express how much we honor their sacrifice. Then assure them the lopsided media reports – that reflect so much negative news – is not overshadowing the good that's being accomplished in the eyes of Americans back home.
Life in Baghdad is perilous. Risky, yes. At night we felt the building tremble from rocket or mortar rounds and witnessed a mortar attack from the top of one of Saddam's palaces. But the mainstream media and television crews don't capture the real story.
"Reactions among U.S. troops range from frustration to anger to disgust or bewilderment." As one Army officer reported, a news crew had followed his troops for a full day doing interviews and taping as the troops delivered school supplies to Iraqi children and worked to repair a water-supply line. "Everyday stuff," according to the commander.
But the news clip that aired was "totally different." Something "negative of course." Thus the frustration with most media. "It just did not accurately reflect what we are doing here," pointed out the unit commander. "The selective editing of the interviews was amazing. The whole spin really was amazing."
During our visit to Camp Victory, Brig. Gen. Hammond of the First Cavalry Division acknowledged while some folks may not agree with our presence in Iraq, "a lot of attitudes are influenced by a consistently inaccurate portrayal of this situation. We are making a difference," he vowed. "What makes it difficult is trying to repair a building and get the kids back into school on one block, fix sewage problems on the next block, and then on the third block, we're getting shot at.
"But we're making a difference and we're going to win in this conflict," assured the U.S. First Cavalry commander.
Another untold story yet to make the newscasts is the amazing results taking place at the 231st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, under the command of Col. Rick Beitz. Converted from the sub-par Iraqi Sienna Hospital into a Level 1 trauma center, the hospital has a staff of over 30 physicians.
Since Jan. 8, 2004 the group has examined some 30,000 patients, including civilians and Iraqi combatants as well as wounded and injured U.S. troops.
The hospital commander said the staff is "performing procedures in saving lives that previously were unheard of in the history of war. The save-rate is 96 percent." That's the highest ever in combat. And here's another story you don't hear. The enemy combatants treated there don't want to leave.
As for myself, I owe a debt of gratitude to my intrepid team: retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Cayton, now a Triton boat dealer near Fort Hood, Texas. Montgomery, Ala. radio personality Don Day, the voice of the Bassmaster Classic. Former U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Kientz, now Executive Director of Ray Scott Outdoors, Inc. in Pintlala, Ala. And Jim Liner, a Montgomery hospital respiratory therapist and professional photographer. They accompanied me in grand style and made the Ray Scott Thanksgiving Tour to Iraq and Kuwait a success.
The comments by CW2 Scott McCauley of HHB 42nd DIVARTY made it all worthwhile. He said, "I was deeply touched that you all took the time when you didn't have to, to bring the real world to us. Fishing for me is a passion, and I miss it deeply. During your show it struck me – for the first time in 6 months – I didn't think of where I was, what was going on outside the wire, or have any other thoughts about being here.
"I was enveloped in your show. And I'm sure I was not alone. You have no idea of the impact you had on me and many others."
Our stated mission of the Thanksgiving Troop Tour was to go fishing for a few grins and laughs, tell some fish tales and hopefully entertain some of the greatest guys and gals on this earth. In military terms, I believe we can truly claim: "mission accomplished."
As a show closer, DJ Don Day selected Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." With the song playing in the background, and speaking on behalf of the American people, I told the troops again that we loved them and wished them a safe tour and safe return home to their families and loved ones.
After the shows, we tried to shake every hand. I remember one soldier asked for a signed copy of my book, Bass Boss, for a friend and avid bass angler. "Where is your bassin' buddy?" I asked.
"Sir, he couldn't be here tonight," the soldier said. "They've taken him to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was injured three weeks before when a mine blew up our patrol vehicle and he lost both lower legs." Other members in the vehicle had been injured, but not as seriously.
The next day we had the opportunity to see the mangled, explosive-wrecked vehicle. It was only a "miracle" and a blessing that anyone survived at all. And this vehicle was a well-armored Hum-V. It was a vivid reminder of the constant dangers our U.S. troops face on a 24-hour daily basis in carrying out Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But, as I confirmed with my traveling tour team members, we did not hear one soldier voice one complaint.
We met and were in contact with some 2,500 of the 150,000 coalition and U.S. military men and women serving in Iraq, shaking hands with most. Will I try to go again? Yes sir! I'd be back in Iraq in a heartbeat if requested. Now I know why Bob Hope and his USO Tour busted their butts to salute these guys and gals. They know there is no price too great to pay for freedom.
(Editor's Note: For a daily journal report on Ray Scott's Iraq Thanksgiving Tour 2004, click here to visit his website.)