A year in Iraq:
By Col. Matt Riordan, U.S. Army
I just wanted to provide a little perspective after a year in Iraq. I left my family in D.C. and deployed in June of 2011. On June 29th, I took command of the Defense Contract Management Agency-Iraq with 151 people spread across the country supporting about 58 forward operating bases. Initially we were stationed at Camp Victory, near Baghdad, as we planned and executed one of the largest military drawdowns in history. At the same time, we were also supporting the establishment of the US Mission under Department of State (DoS) leadership to continue the diplomatic objectives here in Iraq. This currently is the largest overseas DoS post. The opportunity to execute both the drawdown of US Forces as well as the stand-up of the DoS mission was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve. I give thanks to my parents for the loving home that guided me successfully in life and to this career in the military.
Colonel Matt Riordan and Chaplain (CPT) Brian Stanley
Again, it is a privilege to serve with the dedicated men and women here, who have a sincere desire and hope that Iraq will succeed in becoming a successful and peaceful place. The Government of Iraq is slowly taking the reins and it remains to be seen what the future will hold for their country. We have invested much here and we truly hope the best for them.
I had the occasion to discover a lot of incredible people during this deployment. One night I was working in my office when the air conditioner failed and water started leaking onto the office floor. Within 20 minutes of the service order call, an U.S. expatriate and three Iraqi workers show up. “Where can I find the Colonel’s office? We understand there is an emergency with his air conditioner?” So after the men began to work on the unit, I engaged them in conversation. It was surprising to me how long they had supported the U.S. here in Iraq. One had worked for 7 years, another 4 and the other for 3 years. All but one had children and they were very kind men. As I inquired about the conditions in Baghdad, I got a bit of a reality check. Other than the known terrorist danger, the youngest man relayed to me that when he departs the US base and goes home that he has very limited electrical power there. He said that the power in his neighborhood is only on from 11am to 12pm and then 7pm to 9pm, a total of about 3 hours each day. He said he also pays to get 6 amps of extra electricity from a generator that a fellow set up in his area. When I asked how long it had been this way, he said for the last 8 years. I have to admit that at that moment I was pretty ashamed of the task they were doing for me on my air conditioner. It was a stark reminder of just how much I think we all take for granted.
One evening the Catholic Apostolate Nuncio for Iraq, the Ambassador for the Vatican, came into the US Embassy to say Mass. It was on that night when I met someone with real courage. Sister “Jane” is a Catholic, Iraqi nun living in Baghdad. It was incredible to see the peace on her face and through an interpreter, I ask her about life in Baghdad. Understandably, the violent attacks that Christians have endured in Iraq are profoundly sad and gut-wrenching. After Mass that night, Sister loaded the bus with other Catholic Iraqis and in a full nun’s black and white habit, she re-entered downtown Baghdad. That night, I saw someone with true bravery. I pray for her each day that God will protect and keep her.
Finally, there was another experience that came out of this year-long deployment, but it wasn’t here in Iraq. As I deployed and left my wife, Annmarie, in D.C. she did not skip a beat in taking care of our home and our four lovely daughters: Veronica (13), Julia (10), Teresa (3) and Joanna (2). It was neat to see how my children pulled together to take more responsibility now that I was gone and Annmarie was single-handed. As I left the States, clearly I had great respect for my wife, but not as much as I do after this year. She experienced an earthquake in Virginia that lasted for 20 seconds….obviously a long time. She took care of the finances. She held breakfasts for the lady’s group, prayed at the abortion clinic, completed country studies with the girls, played laser tag with the girls’ classes, ensured that whenever there was a flight of senior veterans coming into the D.C. to sightsee that she took our daughters to pay their respects to these Patriots upon their arrival at the airport. [God bless our veterans on this Memorial Day Weekend.] Lastly and toughest of all, she experienced the death of her dear, dear mother at the end of a long battle with cancer. God bless her Mom’s soul and may perpetual light shine upon the soul who gave my wife her nature, her gentleness and her ability to not say “what about me?” through all this. She handled all this with God’s divine help and all while I was here in Iraq. I cannot express how much I owe to her and how much respect it gives me for single moms and other spouses carrying the load while they are alone for whatever reason. I can’t wait to get home to see my family. Be Not Afraid.