CAMP MEJID, Iraq - With the security agreement and responsible drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, it is common for service members from 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division like Spc. Christopher Howard and Spc. Michael Cooley to spend a year in Iraq without meeting Iraqi security forces or experiencing their culture.

The security agreement keeps the two aircraft mechanics with 4th Battalion, 227th Attack Reconnaissance Regiment, on their forward operating base; the drawdown lessens opportunities for interaction with Iraqis. In fact, the two specialists are just weeks away from redeploying to the States.

However, thanks to a rare opportunity presented by 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Howard and Cooley traveled to Camp Mejid April 1 for a 7th Iraqi Army change of command and an Iraqi feast that followed.

"It's great to see the real Iraq," said Cooley, an airframe repairer from eastern Tennessee. "The bread is amazing."

With a chaplain, Howard had toured the palm grove that separates Al Asad Air Base and Camp Mejid where legend says Abraham camped, but he never knew he was so close to an Iraqi army base, he said.

After seeing many of the top Iraqi army generals of Al Anbar province, Howard and Cooley ate lunch with the commander and command sergeant major of 1/82 AAB and their Iraqi hosts.

Lunch was a traditional meal with platters of rice, chicken, lamb and flatbread, consumed without utensils. The fare was served on long tables around which the guests stood while eating.

Howard, a Houston, Texas, native, learned an Arabic phrase that many a soldier, sailor, Marine and airman have learned since 2003: "Shukran," he said. Thank you.
Both specialists are on their first deployment.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16