Personal Stories Stories from Kurdistan

Deployed to Kurdistan with the U.S. Army

The story below was submitted to The Kurdish Project by Bill Spaulding, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army who deployed to Mosul in 2004. Do you have a story about the Kurds? Submit it to us here and we’ll share it with our audience.

My Life in Kurdistan

by Bill Spaulding

In March of 2004 I was deployed to Mosul, Iraq as a U.S. Army heavy engineer. I had joined the Maine Army National Guard in 1978 so I was an experienced Sergeant by the time of my deployment. My battalion was the heavy engineer support for all of northern Iraq. In April of the same year I was asked to join a reconnaissance mission to Irbil Province in Kurdistan to evaluate engineer projects proposed by the Kurdish Regional Government.

Bill Spaulding waves a Kurdish flag with a Iraqi Kurdish police officer in Dahuk. Photo courtesy of Bill Spaulding.

Bill Spaulding waves a Kurdish flag with a Iraqi Kurdish police officer in Dahuk. Photo courtesy of Bill Spaulding.

The reconnaissance mission was based in the Christian suburb of Irbil City called Ankowa and sending out missions of 2 to 3 days deep into northern Irbil Province as far north as the Turkish border and as far east as Hajj Omran, Choman district on the Iranian border. As soon as I got to Ankowa I knew I’d been assigned to a great mission. We were escorted and driven everywhere by a select set of PDK Peshmerga bodyguards. We quickly got to know, respect, and rely on these excellent local Soldiers. It would have been impossible to complete our mission without the support of the Peshmerga.

Photo courtesy of Bill Spaulding

Bill Spaulding shares a chai with Kurds in Kurdistan. Photo courtesy of Bill Spaulding

Later I returned to Kurdistan as Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of a mission to set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) at the Iraqi Border Patrol station in Diyannah, Soran, Irbil Province. During this mission I met two local translators that have had a great impact on me. I will only use given names because I don’t have their permission to identify them. Majeed, a man about my age (44), had grown up in Diyannah and was at the time an American citizen and Saeed was a younger man, perhaps 25, that lived in Dahok.

Girls school in Kurdistan. Photo provided by Bill Spaulding.

Girls school in Kurdistan. Photo provided by Bill Spaulding.

These two men taught me Kurdish language and culture. During this mission they took me to Hassan Beg mountain where I represented the U.S. Army at a wedding held on the helipad of a destroyed palace built by Saddam Hussein. During the wedding the man that owned the property, now a PDK general, gave me a house lot and invited me to move to Hassan Beg and build a house.

My last phase in the Kurdish mission was when I worked on several projects in Irbil Province. A street repair project in Diyanna, a major road bypass in Khalifan, a school project in Similan, more reconnaissance, and other work.

Reflecting on Time in Kurdistan

During my 4 months in Kurdistan and several trips to Dahok and Irbil City later to transport supplies I was almost always warmly welcomed by Kurdish people. Some became such good friends I’m still in contact with them today and consider myself part of several Kurdish families. I had the opportunity to spend many nights in Kurdish homes eating meals and talking.

Photo provided by Bill Spaulding.

Photo provided by Bill Spaulding.

The Army told us not to discuss religion but most hosts would ask over chai, “What is your religion?” I would answer, “Masaee”, make the sign of the cross with my fingers and say, “Celebe”. Sometimes they’d smile or nod and sometimes they’d explain the virtues of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). It was never hostile. The only Kurds who caused us problems were a small minority of Ansar-al-Islam that mounted some unsuccessful attacks. They were effectively hunted down and dealt with by the Peshmerga.

It has been 11 years and I still would like to go back and visit Kurdistan. I was never able to visit Kirkuk or Sulaimaniyah but I did get to work with some PUK Peshmerga in Mosul. It is my strong hope that Kurds will no longer fight Kurds but will unite against their common enemies and found a free and prosperous Kurdistan. If I were in charge of US foreign policy I’d recognize the full and complete independence of Southern Kurdistan and guarantee Kurdish independence with troops if the Kurds requested it.

Thank you Kurdistan. Az Xosh Kurdistan.

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