Volume 127, Number 18
Soldier finds big differences between Iraq and Kosovo
Editor’s note: David Dodds, a 1998 graduate of UND and a writer for UND in civilian life, was first deployed to Iraq in 2007 and is currently serving a second time as a military journalist in Kosovo. He is the son of Lyle and Darlene Dodds and the grandson of Harold Jorgenson of Leeds. Here, he shares his story.
BY DAVID DODDS
UND Alumni Review
I’ll never forget my first day in Iraq.
It was March 20, 2007 and the war was in full swagger. Suicide attackers and roadside bombs, unfortunately, were so common they didn’t make the front page of the local newspapers anymore.
As I stepped off the C-130 onto the sun-cracked tarmac of Tallil Air Base, 300 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, the threats around me, though hidden, were palpable.
It wasn’t culture shock. I had been in the Middle East for seven months at that point. But, this place had an uneasiness not felt during my previous assignments in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.
I was a military journalist assigned to document the war and the progress being made in spite of it. I visited new brick and mortar schools that replaced Bedouin mud hut classrooms, multimillion dollar water upgrades built in lieu of drinking and bathing in polluted rivers and supermax prisons that supplanted Saddam’s infamous torture centers.
I sold the good that came of war. My target audience was the people of Iraq. My competition was a thriving insurgency sworn to kill the messenger, and any other American soldier who stood in its way.
I had a heightened sense of everything as I rolled "outside the wire" on my first mission. The convoy commander’s words of warning and checklist of what to do in case of . . . replayed in my mind. Not since my catechism in third grade Sunday school was something so important for me to know.
I sat in the back of an up-armored Chevy Suburban traveling the wrong way down the northbound side of an Iraqi Interstate highway. We moved at twice the speed of vehicles we met. It was all by design: be swift, and above all, be unpredictable.
My eyes fixed a good half-mile ahead. For me, the rookie, on my virgin voyage, every oncoming car was a possible vehicle-borne IED (improvised explosive device). The same could be said for anomalies on the road surface, freshly-tarred potholes and the never-ending parade of trash and displaced soil along the roadside — all potentially concealed a bomb with my name on it.
So, maybe a hundred times during that 20-minute drive to a new children’s hospital in An Nasiriyah, I prepared myself for the worst. And as each imminent threat passed, I sighed, took a deep breath and readied for the next.
This was reality for American soldiers in Iraq in 2007. The war was still in doubt and young men in An Nasiriyah openly wore their disdain for us. In lawless quarters, where al-Qaida in Iraq operated unabated, and to my chagrin, where the children’s hospital was, their confidence was bolstered by the Kalashnikov rifles they flashed beneath their dingy white dishdashas.
Our goal was to be in and out of the city in less than 30 minutes to deny the "bad guys" enough time to set a trap. In front of the hospital my vehicle abruptly halted, my door flung open and I was whisked inside. I was reminded right away not to stand in front of open doorways or external windows.
Another soldier was assigned to watch me so I could photograph and interview doctors and US Army Corps of Engineers contractors designing the new hospital. When an Iraqi construction worker started snapping photos of me, unbeknownst to me, with a hand-held digital camera, my bodyguard leapt to him, demanded the camera and deleted the images. The worker was escorted off the premises. At that moment, I realized there was a bounty for soldiers like me. My camera and pen were as lethal to the insurgent cause as anything American forces could throw at them. They needed to silence people like me.
This was my reality in Iraq. The environment I operate in now in Kosovo is the antithesis of my time in Iraq. One need only walk the main streets of Pristina, the vibrant hub of Kosovo, down to Ronald Reagan Place or Bill Clinton Avenue, past the 14-foot-tall bronzed statue of the 42nd US president, to see the unbridled love for America.
The American flag I wear on my right shoulder is met with smiles, handshakes and an eager "hello" from the children who want to practice their English on a real Yankee.
I am a NATO peacekeeper, part of Kosovo Forces 12 (KFOR), based at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, set in the heart of the once war-ravaged, now just volatile, Balkans.
In a land where Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs struggle to set aside centuries of blood feuds and religious persecution to live peacefully, there is common ground between the ethnicities when it comes to respect for America. The Fourth of July here is celebrated with as much fervor as the 17th of February, the day Kosovo asserted its own independence. The admiration for America here is second only to America’s love for itself. I didn’t feel quite the same love in Iraq.
There are similarities. For one, in both cases, I was/am part of a multi-national effort to restore peace and order to a part of the world.
In Iraq, I served in the US-led coalition Multi-National Force-Iraq.
Here in Kosovo, under NATO’s KFOR flag, I belong to Multi-National Battle Group East.
I also find myself once again in a region that is predominantly Muslim. But, here again, a contrast must be drawn between the radical Wahabism that mainlines in the Middle East and the more pedestrian form of Islam in Kosovo. Islamic terrorism against KFOR soldiers is virtually nonexistent for fear of what the citizenry might do to those who perpetrate it.
In Iraq, the goal for military journalists like me was to put the spotlight on the efforts of soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines to bring a better day and to focus on US and coalition projects to rebuild the country. The plan was twofold: delegitimize the insurgency and garner support for the coalition.
In Kosovo, the story is the opposite. Here, we go out of our way to place the US, KFOR and NATO in the background as much as possible. The idea is to shine the light on the institutions in Kosovo and their ability to provide for their own people. KFOR’s role is that of a ready reserve — a third responder behind local police forces — waiting to react only if needed.
So, for every story we do about someone such as US KFOR Soldier Spc. Abby Tews of Jamestown, who volunteers her time to teach English to schoolchildren in Gjilan, Kosovo, we also strive to spread the news of a bread factory in the same city that is using private investments to expand, hire more workers and create more opportunities for farmers of all ethnicities to sell their wheat.
The way war journalists cover their surroundings has everything to do with the stage of the military campaign they find themselves in.
In Iraq, we needed first to win hearts and minds before we could win peace. In Kosovo, a much more mature military setting, where a fragile peace has held for exactly six years now, the hearts were won long ago.
Kosovo should be a model for what Iraq and Afghanistan might look like years from now. And along the way, just like in Kosovo, military journalists will continually adjust the way they cover those parts of the world.
Having seen firsthand the ravages of war, the pure joy of newfound peace and the undaunted resolve to recover, I can relate to the musing of legendary military scribe Ernie Pyle when he yearned to return to postwar London to see the "peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges."
I, too, hope to return to my familiar haunts in Iraq and Kosovo one day. Preferably, not in uniform and amid a long-lasting peace for both.
This article appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of the UND Alumni Review.
The editor of the magazine is Leanna Ihry, also a native of Leeds. She is the daughter of Karen and Greg Anderson of Leeds.
David Dodds, a member of the ND National Guard, is currently serving as a military journalist in Kosovo in the Balkans of Europe.
Fishing was great!
Fishing was great near Churchs Ferry for James (left) and Cathy (right) Weispfenning and Frank (second from left) and Steven Piatz, all of Clinton, Iowa. Fishing with them were James and Dorothy Buckmeier of Churchs Ferry.
Students of quarter Leeds High School announces its students of the quarter for the fourth quarter of the 2009-2010 school year. Students are selected for this honor based on their academic performance, cooperation, attitude and effort, student involvement and responsibility. Left to right, front row, are Kevin Slaubaugh, Shelby Jorgenson and Kalvin Slaubaugh. Middle row: Hannah Anderson and Kendra Leibfried. At the top is Michael Urness.
Run at Fargo
Among the many people who took part in the Fargo Marathon activities are, left to right, Nancy Parizek of Minot (Lisa Parizek Richter’s mother), Lisa Parizek Richter (wife of Dereck Richter of Omaha, Neb.), Karla Hoffner Richter of Fargo, Kelly Mazewski (family friend) of Fargo, Maddock native Rhonda Knatterud Davis and Jesi Richter Anderson of Fargo. Nancy ran the 5K for the first time. Karla, Kelly and Jesi ran the 10K for the first time and Lisa and Rhonda ran the half marathon.
Brown feted in Colorado
Matt Brown of Limon, Colo. was honored recently at the Denver Athletic Club in Denver, Colo. He was choosen as a weekly student athlete by the Denver Post during the school year. The top 10 finalists were invited to a banquet at the Denver Athletic Club where Matt was announced as the winner.
Attending the banquet with Matt were Les and Jona Layton, Limon High School baseball coach, and Mark and Kathy Brown, Matt’s parents. Matt is the grandson of Reuben and Dorothy Brown of Esmond and James and Bonnie Fandrich of Manfred.
Matt’s high school career ended on a high note with winning the 2A State Baseball Championship. He was the winning pitcher and his brother, Jason was the catcher. He has signed to play football and baseball at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo.
Matt Brown, center, is shown with Les and Jona Layton, Limon High School baseball coach, and his parents, Mark and Kathy Brown. Mark Brown is a native of Esmond.
Plan open house
On Sunday, June 20 from 2 to 5 p.m. Les and Jan Ploium Ferry and their family will celebrate the 10th aniversary of "Wamduska Square, Home of the One Room Country Schools."
It was in 2000 that research for the project began. In the years to follow, the restoration of the three schools and the log cabin were completed. All the buildings are furnished with artifacts from the late 1800s era and all are accessible to the handicapped.
This year also marks the 10th wedding anniversary of Les Ferry and Janice Ploium, a native of Oberon. They request no cards or gifts.
Both events will be celebrated at Wamduska Square, 10 miles south of Lakota or eight miles north of Pekin along ND 1. There will be tours, music and food.
Wamduska Square, 10 miles south of Lakota will have an open house June 20 from 2 to 5 p.m. Created by Les and Jan Ploium Ferry, the square consists of three one-room schoolhouses and a log cabin. The Ferrys will also celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary at the square on Sunday, June 20 from 2 to 5 p.m.