Even though the realization that I am in a combat zone never leaves my mind, it is hard to not feel excitement at being on the other side of the world experiencing a different culture.

When Forward Operating Base Danger, in Tikrit, Iraq, was handed over to the Iraqi Army, I was there. Many of you may have seen a snippet of the ceremony on CNN. A rocket was launched at the site and landed a mere hundred yards away. The rocket was luckily a dud, and the ceremony proceeded.

While the sight of the US Ambassador, numerous Iraqi dignitaries, and U.S. military generals rolling around on the ground is an image I will always secretly giggle at, the day will be remembered for more than that.

I was sad that this day was overshadowed by a failed rocket attack. For the media, the focus was all on a rocket landing in a ceremony where "countless" were injured. Of course countless were injured! How can you count the number zero?

For me though, the focus was on Iraq. This was a big day. FOB Danger was the site of Saddam Hussein’s "hometown" palace and no Iraqi local had stepped foot inside those grounds before for a friendly visit.

I listened to the governor of Salah Ah Din province speak, and my heart swelled when I heard him say that now the grounds would be open to the local population. For the first time in years, Iraqis would have access to this beautiful location and view of the Tigris River.

I watched as the Iraq flag was raised over the palace grounds as a band played the Iraqi national anthem proudly. For the last two days, I had listened to them practice that song. I know the tune almost as well as I know our own national anthem.

Maybe it’s silly, but I felt proud to witness the raising of this Iraq flag. I had talked to some of the band members before the ceremony. There was no interpreter, and they spoke very little English. They did, however, express excitement about the Iraqis control of the palace.

Their excitement was contagious. It made me think back to the beginnings of our own country. I think I understood the feeling Francis Scott Key held when he composed our national anthem, seeing our flag flying.

I often wonder what path Iraq will lead in the future. It doesn’t always seem very hopeful, and there are definitely some areas of Iraq that are more concerned with Coalition Forces existence than in the existence of their country.

However, on that particular day, for me and the Iraqi band members, Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi media, U.S. civilians and U.S. Soldiers, I think our focus was all on the existence of Iraq.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was the United States, nor will Iraq be built in a day. The steps are being taken in that direction though, and sometimes, all you can do is hope.


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