For Curtis Keltner, a 23 year old tribal member, son of Roberta Keltner and grandson of Theresa Asselin, arriving in Iraq was a true cultural shock and living in a war situation for a year only added to the shock.
People in the hometown of Saddam Hussien, Tikrit, were considered loyalist of his regime. Hussein moved to Baghdad after rising to the presidency of Iraq but made sure his old home was taken care of and the town composition was mostly friends of his and relatives. It was evident to Keltner why the people there hated the United States Army. Iraqi’s believed in Jihaad and the concept of a Holy War. By killing non-Muslims or die trying then this act ensured a place in heaven, which is why there were so many acts of sucide toward the United States military during Keltner’s year there.
Keltner said the people were poor, lived in mud huts, and had no running water. The children were nice and walked up to the soldiers and shook hands but would always ask for a dollar. Seeing these poverty conditions in an oil rich country such as Iraq made Keltner wonder why it worked that way. In the country of Iraq each town had a sheik, a millionaire who lived in big houses or mansions. He was considered the town leader and the title of sheik passed from one generation to another. Money equaled power in Iraq.
Before Keltner went to Iraq in March of 2003, the military instructed the soldiers in classes not to look at the Iraqi women because that would cause unnecessary grief for the women. The women were obedient to the men and worked in back-breaking jobs in the fields. The married women dressed in black robes from head to toe. The men in Iraq were allowed to have up to six wives, but only if they could afford them. Women in Iraq society are considered property. A man had to pay the father of a woman money or in a number of sheep, basically buying his daughter. The people of Iraq consumed no alcohol or ate pork and would pray up to five times a day. At certain times of the day, music would come from the local mosque and the people would stop whatever they were doing and fall to their knees toward Mecca and prayed.
What brought Curtis Keltner to this oil-rich but desolate and poor country? He described it as a love of country and life growing up listening to many military stories from his dad, who served 13 years in the army, and from his mother’s side. All of these childhood stories made Keltner determined to follow in his relatives’ footsteps and joining the army seemed the right thing to do for him.
Arriving in Iraq during the hot season where temperatures rose to 140 degrees only added to the initial cultural shock. These feelings of pity toward the poverty conditions soon dissipated when his Alpha Company were fired upon in their daily patrols around Tikrit.
Instinct and all the intensive military training kicked in during these attacks. The attacks were mostly guerrilla tactics where 2 or 3 Iraqi would fire upon the Americans and then run away. That’s the way they fought said Keltner It turned into a waste of time when his unit would have to go search for the attackers. Keltner said nothing happened 90% of the time on these daily patrols then out of nowhere an attack would happen when they least expected it. It was only afterwards, that they thought “Oh my God, I could have died.” He described the soldiers in his Alpha Company as good people who saved his life on more than one occasion with their courage. “They had your back and you had theirs” as Keltner described it.
Keltners message today is: even if you don’t support American war policies at least support the troops because they are doing it for their country.