After four years, I’m standing in a room with the finest press corps in the world. After four years – they’re throwing ME a party.
We’ve been through hell and back ... and back again.
From Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi, Tikrit and to the depths of Baghdad – we’ve literally, spilled the same blood, in the same dirt. Corny? Maybe ... But it’s true.
We’ve lost friends, loved ones, and colleagues. I choose not to count those who have died, gone missing – or simply disappeared. And that’s not counting those who have made ultimate sacrifice, and are often forgotten: those in the Iraqi press, choosing to try to make a difference in their own country. The numbers of lost are just too hard to imagine.
Many of my colleagues have not disappeared here in Iraq – they’ve gone “home” and we’ve never heard from them again. Truth is – what is “home” after four years in Iraq? I wonder how any of us can return home.
I’m humbled by a line I saw in a mini-series about World War II: “I wonder how I’ll explain all this when I get back home.” I do wonder how any of us will explain this place.
Our families – they don’t know ... and we would not expect them to – how could we? We don’t want them to have the burden of worrying about us. Because if they do, we can’t do our jobs with that on our shoulders along with everything else that we’re faced with.
And the simple, humbling truth is: we believe in this ... If anyone didn’t they would not be in this room.
We have had “close calls,” we have made mistakes – we stay up at night, wanting the world to care ... But they will never care enough in our minds. So we choose not to sleep.
We miss our families, our loved ones ... But there’s something about this story – we cannot shake it. It sticks to you like duct tape – something that is a running joke ... Injured? Stick some duct tape on it. Break that piece of equipment? Stick some duct tape on it. We do love our duct tape ...
Our tourniquets, bandages, flak jackets, gum, cigarettes, scotch, water, Gatorade, “wily-X eye protection glasses,” boots, radios, “go-bags”, lucky charms and helmets. Don’t leave the bureau without them. Especially the lucky charms – everyone’s got em’ and they work ... Until they don’t ... Welcome to the embed world. Welcome to Iraq.
We make jokes (bad ones), band together, and look after each other. We’d lay in front of oncoming traffic for any number of our staff members – everyone is equal here in Baghdad. We cut corners, we give the military cigars – and yes, we lie to each other, party together and forgive each other - because in the end – we’re bonded by something we can’t describe.
We love our security – for without them ... You’d see nothing from this country. The sound of silence would be overwhelming from a war that could not be covered without the names of many a former Special Forces soldiers; the names of which – you’ll never hear. Talk about a silent sacrifice.
I choose not to name names, not to list those that are forever my friends: rather this simple thought for those who know who they are.
These are the finest people I’ve ever had the honor of meeting, and they know full well; I breath this story like it’s oxygen ... And I will be back again.
- From Cal Perry, CNN Baghdad Bureau Chief.