Former Child Soldier In Sudan Helps U.S. Exit Iraq
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MONTAGNE: First, let's go to Iraq. The U.S. military's role there is officially over. The last troops crossed the border out of Iraq into Kuwait at sunrise yesterday. NPR's Kelly McEvers was with those final units in their last days. She spent time with one soldier who personifies the war's accomplishments and its failures, and also its quiet end.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: If you want to picture how the war ended in Iraq, picture this guy, standing in a big truck yard that was the last weigh-station for every vehicle to exit Iraq.
CAPTAIN DAVID MOSES: I'm Captain Moses, Captain David Moses, and I'm the transportation detachment commander.
MCEVERS: What that means is Moses played a major role in the movement of thousands of soldiers and millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq. It was the single biggest logistical operation since the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. We take a drive around what's left of Moses's base.
MOSES: It's becoming like a ghost town around here.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Driving around, I mean it's just this huge expanse of land now. And it's now just totally empty. We pass the airfield where soldiers exiting Iraq flew out.
MOSES: All those vehicles, by the way, that doesn't mean that there are people coming back to drive them.
MCEVERS: Oh really? They just drove them to the airfield and dropped them off and then left?
MCEVERS: My god. It's like 20 vehicles. And just left the keys in them?
MOSES: Yes, leave the keys in them. Yeah.
MCEVERS: Moses is originally from southern Sudan. During that country's civil war he was forced to serve as a child soldier. He later became one of the so-called Lost Boys who eventually made it to the U.S.
MOSES: The ones that I was with when I left Sudan, we were about 10 of us.
MCEVERS: The other guys with you, though, they'd been forced to fight too?
MCEVERS: So you already knew how to shoot a gun by the time you were 12 probably?
MOSES: Pretty much.
MCEVERS: In the U.S., Moses got his high school diploma and a scholarship to college, where he joined the ROTC. He says he wanted to give something back to the country that helped him start a new life. He eventually settled in Utah, where, full disclosure, he was informally adopted by an NPR correspondent. One day in early 2003 he watched Colin Powell address the U.N., making the case for the U.S. to invade Iraq.
MOSES: Well, my thought was, you know, I raised up my right hand to protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S., and so I was a soldier and I was going to do what my commanders told me to do.
MCEVERS: Moses's infantry unit was one of the first to enter Iraq. Moses, of course, was different from other soldiers. He spoke Arabic and had sympathy for the kids who were living through an invasion.
MOSES: My platoon sergeant saw me befriending this Iraqi kid. And he was like, sir, you need to stop it because that kid can blow you up with an IED.
MCEVERS: Or an improvised explosive device. It was the insurgent's weapon of choice in the Iraq war.
We get back into the car to drive to the handover ceremony for the base. That's when the Americans officially signed the facility over to the Iraqis.
Moses says his own unit was hit by an IED back in 2007. No one was hurt, but he says something changed in his soldiers.
MOSES: You say stuff and then they get agitated. They get mad at things that, you know, you know they would normally not get mad at you when you say it.
MCEVERS: Moses says that's the first time he realized post-traumatic stress disorder is real. He had his own troubles with the disorder - sleep-walking and phantom pain after he left Sudan. Moses says he's seen a psychologist only once. A friend has given him the business card of a good counselor, but he worries about what might happen if he goes.
MOSES: When people see you, start visiting chaplains or, you know, psychologists, you know, they tend to stigmatize you. And sometimes you feel threatened. You say, well, look, what if they find something? That would be the end of my military career.
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MCEVERS: As the American commanders step aside and the Iraqi flag is raised, Moses says he hopes he can help change that stigma once he makes it back to the U.S. And he might get around to using that business card.
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MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.