For 8 and a half years I held onto a letter written in Arabic to me from a friend I made while in Iraq. He had written it after I was injured in an ambush and sent home. Honestly, the letter had little chance at getting in my hands, but it did, brought home by an army buddy on leave. I had put it in a box and left it there because I didn’t want anything to do with the war, the military, or anything that reminded me of either.
Last year an Iraqi restaurant opened up on Alberta Street. I live a few blocks away from it so I went to grab some food. It was amazing, but nothing brings back memories like smells and taste. At the end of my meal I thanked the woman waiting the tables and told her I was stationed in Taji. She told me her family didn’t live far from there. I wanted to speak to her longer, I had so much inside ready to spill out, but I had no idea what to say. Instead I just sat there smiling like a goofball. I left a tip bigger than my meal had cost and I had no idea why.
A few months after that my daughter turned sixteen and started looking for a job. I told her to try the Iraqi place and make sure she told them that her father was in the war. They hired her and she loved working there. The people who worked there were family and they treated her like family. At this time Ghaith ran the place with his wife Tiffany. Ghaith’s mother cooked and his father helped wash dishes. It very much was a family and Cora fit right in.
I don’t know what made me think of the letter, but one day when Cora was getting ready for school I told her about it. I went to my little box, pulled the old envelop out, and asked if she would see if someone there would translate it. The letter was from a family who lived by a bridge we guarded regularly.
Every night we were out there Q’as and his family would bring out chicken and rice. After a few nights we all got to know each other and Q’as would bring out his wife and children. We would all eat the rice and chicken with homemade flat bread, but my favorite was the felafel. His wife made the best felafel. I tried to pay Q’as for the food. I knew that chicken wasn’t cheap there. I knew he had to kill a few for the amount of food he made for us, but he never accepted any money for it. All of it was because he had a generous soul and he didn’t expect anything in return.
One day, a few weeks before I was injured and my friend Eric was killed we were sent to guard the bridge again. This time Eric and I brought a television with a built in DVD player and some DVDs of western cartoons. We gave it to Q’as and his family knowing they only had electricity every other week or so, but we thought it would be nice for his kids to watch Looney Toons every once in a while. I don’t know, maybe we thought it would help them learn English too, who knew.
June 13th, 2004, we drove into an ambush. A car stuffed with munitions exploded less than 10 feet from our truck. Eric was killed instantly in the turret. I had a three-inch steel door between me and the explosion. It saved my life but when the door buckled in it broke my arm in a couple spots, tore the Rotator Cuff in my shoulder, cracked some ribs, broke my knee, and the small bone in my leg, knocked me out. There was a secondary explosion. I saw Shane run while under direct fire with a medic bag to try to help me. Zedwick shielded my crumpled body with his body and took some shrapnel. We both did, but not too bad. Three triggermen started shooting at us with machine guns. The rounds hit the ground and ricocheted off the flaming truck behind us. Then they started mortaring us. Kent, Dow, Brady, Matier, Shad, and the rest of the patrol drove straight into the killzone to save us. I fucking love all those guys. They did it. They shot a few of the shitheads in half and called in a medivac for me and Shane.
I was a mess for years, but little by little I started writing about my experiences. I had reenlisted the day after 9/11 after dropping out from art school. I started there and ended the book after leaving Hurricane Katrina clean up. Writing that book saved my life. I saw other veterans struggling with their experiences as well so I started a non profit with my friend Miah Washburn. He’s a vet of three tours so far. He was able to reconnect to life through acting like I did with writing so our non profit is about helping veterans transition back into society through art. This is where the Rough Men Stand Ready Anthology came from.
A little over a week ago the trailer in the back of Ghaith’s restaurant burned down. The fire only lasted a few minutes but completely destroyed their kitchen . The dining room didn’t catch fire, but all the stoves and kitchen equipment were a complete loss. Ghaith helped me when he hired my daughter and made her a part of his family. He helped me more than he could comprehend when he translated that letter. Q’as showed me through his sincerity and friendship that humanity could transcend warfare.
On June 15th, next Saturday, I am organizing a veteran reading at Ghaith’s restaurant. The name of his restaurant translates to House of Peace, and I think that couldn’t be more perfect. I urge everyone to come because not only would you be helping veterans transition back into society through the arts but you are also helping a family business get back on their feet. Your support can show everyone what Q’as showed me: humanity can transcend warfare.
Dustin Chilton will be reading some poetry. Dustin lived in Alaska most his life, but joined the Israeli Defense Force after high school and spent a couple years in the Gaza Strip. Mathew Robinson will be reading an incredible touching story. He was a cavalry scout, infantryman, and now a war veteran. Tommy Houston will be reading some poetry. Tommy was over with me, but stayed a lot longer. Mike Francis will be reading his incredible story. Mike works for the Oregonian and went to Iraq as an embedded reporter. I’ll be reading from my upcoming book Wax Bullet War which is being published by Ooligan Press next Spring.
I hope to see as many people there as possible. Thank you.