Monday, December 18, 2006

July, 2004: Journey to Babylon

Our mission to protect our general took us to the legendary city of Babylon in July, 2004. I wrote an article about our journey:

Babylon, Iraq

As I stood among the ruins of ancient Babylon the day after our own Fourth of July celebrations, I tried to comprehend that I was standing on what many regard as the most important archaeological site on the face of the Earth. This civilization had thrived and fallen many times before the United States was even a gleam in the eyes of its founders.

I came to Babylon with Brig. Gen. Charles Davidson, commander of the 350th Civil Affairs Command in Iraq. He has been given an important role in the Army’s effort to protect the most historic area in the world. As the sergeant in charge of his Protective Service Detail, I get to go along for the ride.

As I watched the general look out over the horizon, surveying this almost mythical land, I was reminded that Alexander the Great also looked out over the Babylon of his time. The tasks of the two generals were far different, however. Alexander came to conquer and rule. Our general came as a part of an effort by a coalition, not just to conquer, but to liberate, nurture and protect. As a parent would for a child, America has handed the keys of freedom to the new nation of Iraq, giving it the opportunity to create its own modern legend.

For me, an average man and police officer, I was humbled to be standing on the ground that had once been ruled by Hammurabi, whose code of laws was the basis of modern law and one of the reasons I have a job to go back to in the States, with the Altamonte Springs Police Department. To stand in the path of Procession Street, next to Nebuchadnezzar II’s re-constructed palace, was to stand where that ruler had walked. Even Alexander the Great had marched with his troops there. I could almost hear the sounds of horses coming down the road or the rattling of the swords and armor of his army. The foundation of the Tower of Babel is only a short distance away.

I stood in the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar, where he would have looked out over his own military leaders, his palace staff, his scientists and his scholars. I remembered some of the accomplishments of his age: the first astronomers, the 24-hour day, the 60-minute hour, the invention of algebra and many others. History also records that, after he destroyed Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar deported the Jews to Babylon where, according to many historians, they wrote the Hebrew Bible.

Those of us in the modern world often forget that this part of the Earth is the cradle of all civilization. The armies of our coalition have accepted the responsibility of helping to ensure its protection forever. Gen. Davidson has sought, and found, officers and soldiers with training or experience in archeology. He has also given them a gift as soldiers, a chance for them to help America leave a positive legacy of its own in this historic land.

War has ravaged Babylon for thousands of years. During this war and the subsequent effort by coalition troops to protect the site, some unintentional damage has occurred. American military and civilian authorities have stopped further construction of a military base around Babylon and are working to relocate military personnel from the area and to protect the site.

Ultimately, the lead force in the overall effort will be the Iraqis themselves. Their own scientists and archaeologists already know how best to protect Babylon. Along with these experts, groups and individuals throughout the world with the necessary expertise are being invited to join the effort. On this visit, Gen. Davidson walked with some of the Iraqis who will be instrumental in the protection of this unique city and who told us some of the great stories of the history of Babylon.

For me, just being able to walk through ancient Babylon is one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was not only able to walk among the ghosts of Babylon, but as a modern soldier, I had a chance to reflect on what it might have been like to be an ancient soldier.

After all, at 55, I am one of the oldest soldiers in Iraq, and my men joked that I was a private in Alexander’s army. I’ll never tell.

SFC Chuck Grist
Babylon, Iraq

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, I was in Babylon for eight months, till the end of November '04 when Alpha was closing and Babylon was being handed back to the Iraqis. We spent our remaining time in Camp Echo in Diwaniyah.
    However, I personally feel only slight damage was caused by American/Coalition forces or KBR and if not for the ruins being enclosed within the camp, more damage might have been caused. While there we were only mortared once in Aug without any known damage to any of the ruins.

    Saddam building his palace on top of ruins, adding new brick walls to the ruins crushing 2000 plus year old bricks, did more damage than anyone else.

    I too was in awe of walking among the ruins (which I did on many occasions) in such a historic site. I certainly enjoyed it more than Baghdad however I was not too impressed with Babylon's main Difac, wish it had been as good as Camp Victory's. A plus for making a run to Baghdad was stopping off at Victory for lunch.