Stomping on Spiders:
The Fall of Saddam Hussein
by Larena Nawrocki
They were resting in their tent, sleeping or lying on their cots when the big sirens went off. Then the announcement came: “Get to the end of your tents.” Amber, a promotable, a specialist, and team leader in the army, gathered with her fellow soldiers at the open tent flap wondering what’s going on? Her black hair was slicked back against her head into a ponytail. Then the news reached them. “They’re taking down the statue.” As she told me this story, her hands came up to her shoulders as if she were riding a roller coaster. Her Polynesian-shaped eyes in cat-eye makeup widened. “We were all like ‘Oh my gosh!’” They were in BIAP or Camp Striker near the BIA, aka Bush International Airport to Americans and Baghdad International Airport to the locals. It surrounded Saddam Hussein’s palace grounds where they could see the large man-made lake in the midst of the dusty rock strewn terrain. They were only a half mile away.
In the spring of 2003, April 9th, the American troops took control of Baghdad. The US overthrew the government and the people were relieved and excited. BBC news claimed that a few Iraqi men tried to pull down the statue. They removed the metal plaque at its base. They weren’t able to so the US soldiers helped them by attaching a chain to an armored vehicle around its neck. The Marines were fired upon once while removing the statue, yet they quickly resumed the task.
Amber didn’t get to witness this event, though she told me some of the details from the actual fall. The soldiers there tried to get the citizens to bring down his statue, the statue of a man who terrorized his people. His sons and himself pillaged, raped, and murdered thousands of their people. Amber saw some of the graves grouped by the thousands, some by the palace. It’s estimated that 300,000 to one million were killed. She explained that the soldiers first tried to get the people to bring down the statue, yet they wouldn’t touch it. I asked her why they wouldn’t do anything and she replied that “they were too scared.” Some of the soldiers tied ropes and a chain around the statue and started to pull it down by themselves. Soon after that the people joined in. Soon the soldiers backed off and only the Iraqi people were left. Once it came down, they decapitated his head and beat on it. They tied ropes to it and dragged it through the city.
As I interviewed my co-worker, I wondered how she knew this if she was not there. I assumed it was from the soldier there at the time. After all, the whole camp was in Blackout. “I wanted to call my mom and say what happened.” Yet she couldn’t do so. They weren’t allowed to text, email, call, or leave the camp except when on duty. As she answered, her feet were bouncing up and down and she reached for her cherry slushy to take a sip.
I have only worked with Amber for only two months, but I already know her ambitions. She served in the army for six years and was deployed four times. She, like me, attends school and works as a hairstylist when not in class. Her goal is to become a nurse; a goal that helps others. After her first couple of weeks there, I learned about her military past.
I was talking about things that make me shudder. I hate spiders. They creep me out to no end. I once had a late night because random thoughts tortured my mind. While I was sitting at my computer watching TV, I saw a shadow in the corner of my eye. I looked at the door frame where it met the wall and there were two spiders; one the size of a quarter and the other the size of a half dollar. In my mind, they were as big as my fist. So I did the most logical thing I could think of. I stared, cried, and screamed in hushed tones until my angel mom came with a thick sole shoe.
Amber likewise had an encounter with a spider while in Iraq. I learned this story while interviewing her at the Southglenn Colorado Dairy Queen. Her patrol group had just finished and returned early in the morning. She decided to take a shower while it was still cool. The water was kept in giant plastic containers that heated up during the scorching day. The only time to wash was in the morning or at night when the water wasn’t boiling. The showers were about one DQ wall to the other DQ wall wide. She showed this by gesturing with her arms. Roughly, it was about the length of the common car. Well, the sun was beginning to come up and cast her shadow on the wall. When she looked, there was a Camel Spider, in her shadow. Camel Spiders are enormous goliath spiders that reach 8 inches in length. They can run about 10 miles per hour and they follow your shadow. When she saw that spider, “Let me tell you, I freaked out. I was screaming and yelling, but I couldn’t move.” Amber’s body shivered as she told me this. She simply had to wait, naked, and wet, until some soldiers came to help. They cornered it, trapped it, and released it far away from base camp.
I was intrigued by how a strong female army veteran could fear bugs when she experienced the harsh reality of the war in Iraq. There was a bond through our fear of bugs, yet when I talked about her military career, her face tensed and she spoke in monotone. Her words were slow and fierce. “We knew what we signed up for.” Wanting to understand, I reached out to my sister’s half-sister Jennifer Gustin and her husband Cody. Both served in OIF (operation Iraqi Freedom); Jennifer served in the 86th CSH, or combat support hospital and Cody is currently and was in the 160th SOAR unit, or special operations aviation regiment. Part of Cody’s job was to fly Chinook Helicopters in Mosul, Iraq and escort prisoners, or insurgents. He also had an experience with a slimy creepy crawly.
In Kuwait, February 2003, they were prepping for the invasion of Iraq by building up Camp Udari, or now called Camp Buehring. They were digging Z trenches in the vast dirt chalkboard desert when someone saw a lizard. It was about four feet long with a prickly tail, much like a Spiney Tailed lizard. He had the bright idea to pick the lizard up and put his “finga in its cloaca” and talked to it “like Steve Irwin.” His friend videotaped him taking the lizard away from the safety of their tents. As he set the lizard down, it slapped his foot with unthinkable power and almost knocked him down. “Some days, that’s all I had to cheer me up.” Jennifer had a much different experience working in the hospital. She “had to piece together body parts of soldiers and bag them in mass casualties.” One of which was from a decision to pull a lever.
One picture that Amber showed me was of a vehicle’s skeleton, blackened and twisted with parts broken off. It was hardly recognizable as the car’s guts. I could imagine this picture as I read about Jennifer’s experience. There was an explosion from an IED, or a road side bomb. A US soldier whose senses were flooded by fear rammed into their barricade with his “hum’v.” Jennifer needed to either shoot or to pull up the road spikes. It could possibly be an insurgent bent on mass murder of all the wounded soldiers in the hospital. She chose to pull the lever. Later, she found out, one of the soldiers died. Though that soldier might have lived if she didn’t chose the lever, she “made the correct decision.” She protected the other soldiers. This experience added to emotional residue. “I was pretty shell shocked when I got back to the States.” It seems she would succumb to her fear, but her training kicked in. This may have been what happened with the citizens of Iraq, only with their vengeance. The videos of the statue’s fall are only two minutes long.
Three men tied a noose around the statue, but it was too tall to completely wrap it around his neck. The people are throwing shoes at him. A tank the color of their dirt and shrub landscape pulled up to the statue. A six story building vomits out smoke nearby. The crowd parted as it drove up. A marine balanced on the crane of the tank an tries to place an American flag on Saddam’s head. The wind makes it difficult. The next shot is of an Iraqi holding the flag, allowing it to flow free in the wind. The crowd takes up a chant as the marine tightens the noose around his neck and adds on a chain noose. A comrade behind him eyes his work and now holds the flag. The Iraq flag from before Hussein’s reign of terror flies in the hands of an Iraqi citizen. The crowd claps and whistles. The statue looks as if it is waving first. The birds fly frantically away. Then his legs break apart at the knees and he teeters slowly forward. Suddenly, the statue falls down into a horizontal position. It bounces up and down as they try to get it off its pedestal. The crowd rushes right below it in anticipation. It suddenly drops to the ground and the crowd swarms over it dancing and waving their arms. They are stomping on it.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for them, but I have a small glimpse. I felt fear, much like how Amber felt when confronted with the nightmarish spider. I felt the fear and I didn’t do anything. Luckily I had help. If my mom had given me the shoe, would I have stomped on the spiders? Would I have been happy if someone helped me by enforcing their methods upon me? Would I have been myself still? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am still afraid of spiders. Though the problem for that night was removed, I still have the implications because I didn’t overcome it myself.
Larena Nawrocki lives in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. She is currently a senior at Metropolitan State University. She is working on obtaining a bachelor’s in English with an emphasis on education. She hopes to teach elementary level children to improve their writing through exploration of the world and current events. Until then, she is a cosmetologist who enjoys hearing the stories people tell every day. This is her first published non-fiction essay.