Essay: Independence Lessons From An Iraqi Goat

Capt. Nate Rawlings

Capt. Nate Rawlings is back in Iraq for the second time. Courtesy Nate Rawlings hide caption

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Capt. Nate Rawling's Soldiers

Capt. Nate Rawlings' soldiers (above) work closely with Iraqi commandos. Courtesy Nate Rawlings hide caption

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How Can You Show Support?

While many of his soldiers get care packages from home, Capt. Nate Rawlings says sometimes an individual doesn't get so much as a letter. He urges people to send letters to the troops and offers other tips on how to help below.

When you're stuck in Iraq for the Fourth of July, you have to get creative. Capt. Nate Rawlings' celebration involved a goat, a lamb, a medical training exercise and a large translator named Whopper.

The idea for our Fourth of July celebration came from my two youngest soldiers and led to the most useful, yet bizarre training event I have ever seen. Spc. Matthew "Doc" Pooley, my 24-year-old combat medic, had just finished recounting his medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, when Spc. Blake Colson, a 21-year-old rifleman, shouted, "Hey Capt. Rawlings, can you get us a goat?"

"What the hell do you want with a goat?" I asked.

"Because Pooley can teach the Iraqi commando platoon the Goat Lab," Colson explained. "And there's thousands of goats all over the place."

The "Goat Lab," it was explained to me, is an advanced training exercise performed by American medics. They sedate a goat and practice treating injuries often seen on the battlefield, including arterial bleeding and chest wounds. To pass the evaluation, one must successfully control bleeding.

While procuring both a goat and medication to sedate the animal does not fall into my normal, daily duties, I knew exactly where to go: Whopper, one of the interpreters who serve our small Joint Security Station. This nickname is a testament to both his massive girth and his oversized personality. In addition to his duties as a translator, The Whopper is our man who can get things. As a resident of Baghdad, he knows where to go and what deals to make.

My list for The Whopper that day included a small, very ill goat, a large and robust lamb, sedatives, bread and fresh vegetables. As he pondered the request and accepted the cash I handed him, he shook his head, the fat underneath his chin oscillating with the movement.

"You are a strange man, Captain. For you, this is no problem," he said.

Later, I returned to the Iraqi side of our compound and accepted the goods. Colson and Doc Pooley immediately named the goat Bambi and ran off to find a place to secure it, while I lugged our dressed lamb and fixings to the small grill we had managed to procure. When Doc Pooley and Colson found me, I asked where they had left the goat.

"We gave it to the Commando platoon sergeant," Colson informed me. "He put it in a jail cell."

With our goat fully secure, I set about to prepare the lamb for our twist on the classic Fourth of July barbecue. After the sun set, Doc Pooley, Colson and my team sergeant led the commandos from the Iraqi Elite Strike Platoon through the Goat Lab. Doc Pooley sedated the goat and made incisions to simulate actual combat wounds he had treated. He cut various arteries and made a pinpoint puncture in the goat's chest cavity, creating what's known as a sucking chest wound.

Immediately, the Iraqi commandos began executing their medical training. As one by one the Iraqi commandos used the proper tecniques — Quickclot and tourniquets — and applied a perfect sucking chest wound bandage to the puncture, Doc Pooley beamed with pride. The medical block of the Iraqis' commando training had been successfully completed — on the Fourth of July, yet.

Then it was time to eat. Doc Pooley and Colson led the Iraqi commandos to our eating area, where I had just completed grilling lamb and vegetables. Famished from the day's training and enjoying the relatively warm midnight, the Iraqi commandos wolfed down the food and soaked up the company of the American soldiers. Once my duties on the grill were complete, I asked for silence.

With the help of my translator I asked the group, "Does anyone know what today is?"

One of the Iraqi commandos raised his hand and offered, "This is the American birthday, right?"

I looked around the room to silent faces.

"After our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, we fought the British for another seven years before the war was over. Seven more years of fighting was what it took to finally earn independence. It has been five years since we overthrew Saddam, and now you are the front lines of a different war to complete your independence. While the enemy was very different in our war for independence, this struggle is going to have the same outcome. You guys are going to be the ones to finally ensure a free Iraq, and I am proud to fight alongside you."

The Iraqi commandos cheered in approval, and American and Iraqi soldiers stuffed their faces. At midnight, the Americans clapped one another on the backs and wished each other a happy Fourth of July. At the end of the barbecue, the Americans and Iraqis went their separate ways for some well-deserved sleep before another long day of operations.

Officer Suggests Ways To Support The Troops

Capt. Nate Rawlings i

Capt. Nate Rawlings is back in Iraq for the second time. Courtesy Nate Rawlings hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Nate Rawlings
Capt. Nate Rawlings

Capt. Nate Rawlings is back in Iraq for the second time.

Courtesy Nate Rawlings

Send A Question To Capt. Rawlings

Do you have a question about life in Iraq? Send your inquiries through this form.

Since Capt. Nate Rawlings began taking questions from Iraq two months ago, he has received numerous queries about how people can effectively show their support for the troops. This week, he answers this question and explains how he and his soldiers approach the topic of politics.

Question One: How can I show support for the troops?

Dear Capt. Rawlings,

In your estimation, what is the best way for those of us back home to show support for military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan? I feel very strongly about doing what I can to provide such support, and yet I was — and am — opposed to the decision to send troops into Iraq.

Sincerely,

— Martha Antolik, Vandalia, Ohio

Dear Ms. Antolik,

Thank you very much for your question. While many of us serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have wonderful family and friends who support us through letters, care packages and prayers, there are many soldiers on both fronts who are decidedly alone. I have seen many soldiers who have never received a letter, care package or much support from home. While care packages are amazing, there is no substitute for a letter; something as simple as "someone cares about you and is thankful for what you are doing." One of the best ways that people at home can reach out to the soldiers who have little family support is through organizations such as Any Soldier, which sends care packages to soldiers who do not receive them from anyone else. This is an outstanding organization worthy of great support.

Another aspect of service that can be difficult for soldiers is returning home. Often there are issues and problems that arise in soldiers' lives that are not well-publicized and are difficult to repair. Operation Homefront is another wonderful organization that provides assistance to soldiers as they make the transition from combat zone to normal life, assisting veterans with financial difficulties, medical problems and a variety of other challenges.

The third area where I have seen soldiers in need of support is in veterans hospitals across the country. There are thousands of veterans of the current operations and of other wars who do not have families or many visitors. Something as simple as stopping by the local VA hospital, asking if there is a veteran who hasn't received any visitors and visiting with him or her can make someone's month. You can locate nearby veterans hospitals through this database.

Question Two: What do you think about the election?

Dear Capt. Rawlings,

I am very interested in the elections and how they will affect the war in Iraq. I will admit that the prospect of a draft is not appealing to me. I wonder what you think of the proposed plans of Obama to withdraw and McCain's "come home with honor and victory." Do you think a withdrawal would only leave problems for later? Do you think that this war has a point at which we can call ourselves victors?

With thanks,

—Chase Hopkins, Edwardsville, Ill.

Dear Mr. Chase,

Thank you very much for your question. While it might be easier if we followed the old adage of the family holiday dinner table — "never discuss anything related to politics or money" — my soldiers and I regularly engage in political discussions. Indeed, we have many opposing philosophies and views.

My soldiers stay informed about politics through the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which reprints Associated Press articles on political and national matters. The national election holds immediate ramifications to our operations. While both candidates appear to be set in their viewpoints, I will be interested to see if their philosophies change based on potential improvements on the ground. While many of my soldiers have strong views on their choice of candidates, like millions of Americans, I have yet to make up my mind.

I do not believe that a draft will be part of the equation anytime soon. Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York's 15th Congressional District, has argued for a reinstatement of the draft. Such a move has been unpopular among the public and lawmakers; in 2003, his House resolution, which included legislation drafting men and women into military service, was defeated 402-2. I don't think public opinion has changed much since then. [An August 2007 Gallup Poll showed that 80 percent of Americans oppose reinstating the draft.]

You can find more of Capt. Rawlings' responses to listener questions here.

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