News accounts of naked Iraqi prisoners and leering American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison filled me with anger, but there is another story from Iraq that did not make it on CNN or NBC—the story of how soldiers helped to rebuild and open elementary schools in that town.
If seen, such pictures would show how exuberant Iraqi schoolchildren prepared to begin their education after U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians stood side by side to reopen schools destroyed by looters after the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
It is an unheard story, the result of a slow and quiet process, the kind that often does not make the news. Still, after spending a year and a day "boots on the ground" as a chaplain in a military police battalion, I know that U.S. soldiers are making a difference in that war-torn land.
What disturbs me is that nobody seems to know what we have seen or done in partnership with the people of Iraq. Nobody talks about the good.
I saw our medical corps personnel meet with Iraqi village elders and make plans to bring much-needed treatment to the residents of local villages. Some helped restore running water and electricity to cities and towns, while others worked to get the trains running again or help rebuild the country's infrastructure.
I remember the joy I felt seeing the lights come on in the city of Nasiriyah after so many weeks of darkness. It was a dramatic sign of progress: Iraqis and Americans working together made those lights shine.
In time, as restored mail delivery slowly became a "process" rather than an "event," an increasing number of boxes flowed into the companies of my battalion. Soldiers had shared with folks back home about the many needs of the Iraqi people, and local churches, scout organizations, civic groups and individuals responded with school supplies, personal hygiene items and children's toys.
After learning where the items had originated, one Iraqi teacher said to a U.S. soldier, "Americans must have big hearts to help children they do not even know."
I am proud of the ways in which ordinary soldiers took initiative to help others. When we moved north to Baghdad, "Operation Caring Hands" was operating in high gear. Our unit and others joined in and continued that good work.
News reports show pictures of angry Iraqis waving Kalashnikov rifles and shouting "death to America." It's true. There are people in that country who hate us. They are the ones who lived well under Saddam's presidency.
Yet, I and others have seen so much of the positive, and we have been involved in making it happen. The American public has not seen the faces of ordinary Iraqis who have said, "Thank you!"—again and again. There is another side to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I left Iraq with hope that my Iraqi friends will find the peace, freedom and prosperity that God intends. I will continue praying that it will come to pass, and I am glad to have had a small part in making it happen.
The Rev. David Ellis, a UCC Army Reserve chaplain, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He is pastor of Trinity UCC in Spinnerstown, Pa.