Hello! I hope you’re well and doing fine. Remember, soldiers worry about our friends and loved ones—maybe even more than you worry about us. We are protectors, so it’s stressful not to be there to look after the people we care about most. Please stay safe until we return!
Those ants I told you about in our last letter—now they’ve mostly disappeared. That’s the way it goes here. But I heard about something new—some sort of critter that looks like a cross between a crab and a lizard, and definitely not a scorpion. One guy calls it a “crab-zard”. Lovely!
And here’s an update on the mopeds—someone “chopped” his, throwing the forks way out. It’s barely rideable and hilarious to see. Another guy wears a black German-style helmet as he putters around.
Also, a comment on the civilian vehicles we have in theater, the ones that get us back and forth to the flight line. We call them non-tactical vehicles or NTVs (just think pickup trucks!). In 2006 these were all made in Japan. Thankfully someone came to their senses and replaced them with Fords, Chevys and Dodges. Buy American!
Here’s something that I’ve been meaning to tell you… There was a night when I finished up late in the clinic and started walking home. As I passed through an especially dark area, something made me look over my shoulder. I was amazed by what I saw and stopped dead in my tracks. The moon was rising above the horizon, huge and blood red, like nothing I’ve ever seen.
As I drank in the view, my thoughts turned to the hidden forces at play in this mysterious land. This had been the antediluvian world of moon gods and ziggurats, a place where so many things crucial to the human story occurred. It was the cradle of civilization! Events that happened here enabled man’s entire destiny. So everything we’ve done, down to the tiniest detail of Terry Johnson finding himself in Iraq, bumping along in the dark (wearing a reflective belt) and pondering the grand implications of it all, can be traced back thousands of years to the people who lived here…
But how could this be the cradle of civilization, where everything is so isolated, so bleak and so harsh? From that simple question springs the answer: for prehistoric people to survive here, they had to devise all the basic things that make man “civilized”. They invented the wheel and the written word, as well as large scale irrigation and the sustained domestication of plants and animals. They began to dwell in large groups with a division of labor and responsibilities, and with plans and laws and government and organized religion to guide the process. So, ironically, desolation meant that they would have to get organized and be inventive and work very hard to make a go of it. And that’s precisely what happened…
This region is also central to biblical history. It is the backdrop of Genesis; perhaps the Garden of Eden was somewhere nearby. In the southern reaches of modern-day Iraq are the partially excavated ruins of the city of Ur. I pronounce it “Er” and get it done in less than a second, but the locals bathe it in a thick Arabic accent, bringing it from deeper in the throat and saying it more like “Oooohh-rrrrrr”, with the “r’s” trilling and taking quite a bit longer to say (they get a lot of mileage out of two little letters). Ur was the birthplace of Abraham, the man credited as the father of so many of the world’s peoples and religions. Ur was where God told Abraham to go forth and share the truth of one god—the truth of God Himself.
Relatively few people have visited Ur. It was only in the 1920s that it was discovered and partially excavated. Before then, many scoffed at the possibility of its existence, chalking it up to “religious mythology”. Since its unearthing, wars and hostile governments and sheer geographic isolation have kept people away. During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam sealed it to foreigners and built a fighter base there (as he did at another sacred site—Jacob’s well). In 2006 I landed at the airfield near Ur a number of times, but my missions kept me from visiting the ruins. Now, I was delighted to find that our chaplains had cooked up a plan to provide “spiritual training” for troops in the form of a block of instruction and a visit to Ur. I joined the last available trip: the Iraqis would soon take possession, and apparently they hold a slightly dimmer view of permitting American soldiers to visit this cultural wonder.
Okay—there’ll be more about my visit to Ur (try to say it properly—it’s fun to do!) in the next letter. I’ll also tell you how not to say “ziggurat” (unless you want to irritate people).
Until then, your friend and neighbor,