Soldiers tour the palaces of infamy
September 29, 2009
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq - In March of 2003, by command of President George W. Bush, U.S. Forces bombed what was then known as the Abu Ghraib Presidential Grounds. These grounds, constructed during Saddam Hussein's regime, served as a place of retreat for Hussein and his political allies.
The area which includes, man-made lakes, palaces and a Baathist party meeting center, is presently known as Camp Slayer.
Now known as Camp Slayer, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation department offers Soldiers tours of this historic area to see up close and personal the damage sustained to the buildings here and to learn more about the history behind those structures.
For Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division Band who took the tour, Sept. 26, the tour was an eye-popping view to that history.
"Everything's out in the open as to how Saddam was living and how he was treating his people, you see the excess of him and his political party," said Staff Sgt. John Addington, from Akron, Ohio, assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Band, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cav. Div. "It was something very immoral that was going on."
In contrast to the many impressive monuments seen around Baghdad, some of which are thousands of years old, the sights and structures on the former presidential grounds were only built in the last 25 years.
"This was cheap showmanship, not much in substance. It's a bunch of decorations," said Sgt. 1st Class Corey Dawson, from Mandan, N.D., assigned to 1st Cav. Div. Band.
"Saddam was very into himself... there was a lot of work to make everything look expensive, like chandeliers painted gold with plastic beads attached," said Spc. David Sturch, from Durant, Okla.
Soldiers saw first-hand how Saddam Hussein adorned his name and image throughout the buildings, including placing himself into a prayer blessing from the Quran posted outside the entrance to the Victory over Iran Palace.
"I didn't know there were still murals up of Saddam and I thought it was interesting seeing how Saddam put his initials into everything," said Sgt. Patrick Sullivan, from San Antonio.
Throughout the tour, a guide pointed out interesting details and highlights about specific rooms and their uses that helped Soldiers on the tour understand what they were seeing.
"It made it easier to know things and to know the history. But, I liked it best when they said go explore, and there was time for us to go and see what we wanted to see," said Sullivan.
After climbing up the ruins of the bombed out Victory over Iran Palace, Sgt. Sullivan took in a view of the Baghdad International airport, where he worked on his last deployment.
"I'd recommend this tour for any soldier," said Staff Sgt. John Buchanan, from Phoenix City, Ala. "It gets you out of your immediate area of operations, your day to day activities, and gives you a chance to see things you normally wouldn't see," he said.
"Most of the people that join the Army now have only heard of these places. To stand in the Ba'ath party house, to walk through what's left of Uday's house, gives more perspective, it's like walking through the footsteps of infamy," continued Buchanan. "I didn't know pools were built for executions and not for swimming," he noted with a serious tone.
Since the initial days of the war, things have come a long way. Touring the sites at Camp Slayer reminds Soldiers of the bigger picture and their own personal role in rebuilding Iraq.
"It reminded me of how we're the good guys and the work we do is not typical of what most militaries do," said Dawson. "We've helped to defeat a great evil in Saddam."
One Soldier summed up the events of the day by commenting on the unlikelihood of returning to Iraq once the deployment is over.
"I'm glad I did [the tour] because I know I'm not going to see that again, I don't plan on coming back. I'm not planning any vacations here for the future," said Sturch.
Tours are conducted each Sunday at 12:45 at Camp Slayer and are open for all Soldiers to experience. For more information or to schedule a group tour for a different time, email: email@example.com .