Sgt. Aaron White talks to Democracy Now! shortly after he returned from Iraq. He is now stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. [includes transcript]
In Thailand, an opposition senator is calling for his country to reconsider keeping troops in Iraq following the death of two Thai soldiers Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Karburla. The soldiers died in a multiple-car bomb and mortar attack that also killed five Bulgarian troops and thirteen Iraqis. Up to 130 people were also injured in the coordinated attack. Agence France Press is reporting that 10 U.S. soldiers have been killed over the past week including three soldiers who were killed on Christmas Eve in a bombing near Samarra and two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in Central Iraq. The U.S. death toll in the past four months is more than three times as high as the toll during the previous four months.
- Sgt. Aaron White, 1st battalion 10th Field Artillery, stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia
AMY GOODMAN: Several weeks ago, I went down to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to cover the protests at the School of the Americas that’s based at Ft. Benning, Georgia. On my way over to the protest, I met a young man named Aaron White, who had recently returned from Iraq. We sat down together for a little while, and he just talked about his experience there. This is Aaron White.
AARON WHITE: Hey, I was scared all the time. I was fighting for my country. I was stared scared. I just prayed every day that I was going to come back to earth, back — you know what I’m saying back to the stateside. I seen a lot of things over there.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you see?
AARON WHITE: Car bomb, a lot of explosions, a lot of shooting, dead bodies, shells everywhere, burned out vehicles, smoke and buildings knocked down and blown up. It was crazy over there. You sleeping through the night, and you have a man up on the piece pulling guard, you know, rotate the guard. A lot of times we don’t get no sleep. Do what we had to do though. That’s all that — they came back. Nobody was going to get hurt. We did a lot of training in prep for the war. By the time my unit got over there, it was like a clean sweep. It was in and out. We had been prepped for it for a long time. We got over there, it was just action.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the Iraqis respond you to being there?
AARON WHITE: They attempted to do a couple car bombs, Shootings. They had R.P.G.'s over there, but they fail. It seems like right now, what's going on over there since my unit left, It’s gone wild. Everyday it seems like more soldiers are dying now than it is after the war was declared over with. I don’t know. I’m not trying to go back. Right now, I’m trying to E.T.S. out and trying to retire from the military.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you plan on retiring this early?
AARON WHITE: Yes. yes. I did my four years safely. I feel like I done that.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you join the military?
AARON WHITE: I was in J.R.O.T.C. in high school four years and it did a lot of discipline. I felt like, if I die, I want to die for my country instead of dying on the streets slinging rocks or whatever. Life too short; anything could happen. I wanted to die a soldier, proud. That’s why I enlisted for. I had drill team under my belt four years. J.R.O.T.C., so, it was fun for me. It was fun. That’s a good experience. It’s good experience I will never forget. It’s something that I can tell my grandkids, stuff like that.
AMY GOODMAN: How did that experience compare to going to Iraq?
AARON WHITE: It’s like — I seen a lot of things. You seen kids over there. You seen babies and just explosions out of the ordinary that catch you off guard. Standing up and pulling long hour shifts, eating on the run, and driving, taking a break until rotate out. I drive for a little while and another man drive for a little while. It’s harder than being a civilian especially when you go to work. You have to be focused is the main thing. I been in this unit and they definitely supported me. I had a lot of battle buddies out there that kept me focused and mainly the man upstairs. He is watching over us all the time. We were definitely praying.
AMY GOODMAN: What were your orders in dealing with the Iraqis?
AARON WHITE: My orders. We had different orders. I mean, sometimes it was like — It would be like if anybody comes in your perimeter, come in your area, within a 100 feet, give them a warning shot. Depends on — the closer we got to Iraq, there may be a little, a serious group out there, so just stay focused and keep your eyes peeled for anything suspicious.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you mean if anyone comes near you, you give a warning shot?
AARON WHITE: Yes. Not anything, but — if it a kid comes, you give them a warning out. We yell out stop. We have always had one man guarding and one man searching if they had to seeing if they had anything on them. They were always protected by their fellow battle buddies.
AMY GOODMAN: What would happen if the person didn’t stop?
AARON WHITE: If the person didn’t stop, we shoot off a warning stop.
AMY GOODMAN: And then?
AARON WHITE: If he tried to reach for anything, if he was getting suspicious, we would back up, you know, to see what kind of move he is going to make. That determines on the soldier — we’re going to make the right decision because our life is on the line. A lot of time, it would be like one of them that they take their own life, and a few soldiers with it, and think they’re going to heaven because the rumor was that that’s what they believe in, if they take out a couple of Americans, they automatically go to heaven. That’s what they believe in.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you shoot anyone?
AARON WHITE: I never had to shoot anyone. I never had to shoot anyone. I never had to fire my weapon.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about that?
AARON WHITE: I feel good about it because, you know, my conscience would eat me up, but then again, if I had to kill someone, I wouldn’t have no problem with it, because I mean — I’m just — I’m defending myself and my unit. If anyone came through shooting, I would have been prepared to do what I had to do to survive. It’s the survival of the fittest. We were well equipped and in good shape and the whole time we were training over there and just were staying focused, staying motivated.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think that the U.S. is in Iraq?
AARON WHITE: Right now, there’s a lot of soldiers over there dying. My personal opinion, it’s like they’re trying to form up a government over there and get it organized. They’re so unorganized over there right now in Iraq. They’re get fighting against each other and other countries. Right now, we’re trying to get it organized over there, trying to bring things to peace.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the real — what do you think is the real reason that the U.S. is there?
AARON WHITE: The real reasons. maybe oil, maybe power. that’s it.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think about that?
AARON WHITE: I think it’s not worth it. I think it’s not worth it.
AMY GOODMAN: How do other soldiers feel, other people in the your unit.
AARON WHITE: They don’t want to go back. A lot of guys are saying that they’re going to P.C.S.; they’re going to be going to another duty station. They hope that the duty station they go to is not going back over there.
AMY GOODMAN: What does P.C.S. mean?
AARON WHITE: They’re leaving and going to another duty station.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say leaving, does that mean that you’re in the Reserves?
AARON WHITE: Yes. I’m in the Reserves. That’s what I planned on going to, not a deployable unit. But it can easily change. The unit can become activated, we could get deployed back over there.
AMY GOODMAN: How would you feel if you were sent back to Iraq?
AARON WHITE: I wouldn’t like it.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you go?
AARON WHITE: I would go back. I would fulfill my obligation.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard about people who are not going back, who are refusing?
AARON WHITE: No. I haven’t heard of anybody refusing to go back. That’s what we’re there for, defending our country.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think being in Iraq is defending our country?
AARON WHITE: Being in Iraq is — I don’t really know. Being over there — I think it is, that’s where it started from, so we are trying to go to the source. I feel we are trying to go to the source, and nip that in the bud.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9-11? maybe.
AARON WHITE: Maybe. I think him, Saddam and Bin Laden are working together. I think they’re working together.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever hear reports that actually Osama Bin Laden hated Saddam Hussein?
AARON WHITE: No. I never heard of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you —
AARON WHITE: Not sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you all talk about it in your unit with your commanders while you were there?
AARON WHITE: Yes. We talked about it. We were just there to do what we had to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Bush made a mistake?
AARON WHITE: I’m not sure. I’m not sure. Right now, it’s — it doesn’t look too good for the home team. It does not look too good. I mean, shooting out of helicopters, soldiers that are over there that haven’t been home for a year or maybe even more, but that’s part of the obligation. They have to fulfill that. They volunteered for it. But I just wish all of them the best of luck and hope they come home safe and sound. AMY GOODMAN: Did you know any soldiers who were killed?
AARON WHITE: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Or wounded?
AARON WHITE: No. Nobody in my unit was wounded or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: What was Baghdad like?
AARON WHITE: Baghdad. hm. We rode through Baghdad so a fast, there was — we might have had a couple of Iraqis or whatever out there trying to shoot, but soldiers would just keep their guard up. Man their post and look out for terrorists or whoever might bring a threat upon us. So, we did an outstanding job. But right now, I’m not sure — I don’t even like watching the news. I get tired of seeing soldiers dying all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the Iraqis want you to be there?
AARON WHITE: I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I think a lot of them are threatened and this we come over there and try to take over where they were born and raised. Like we’re on their land. How would we feel if the Iraqis come over here and try to rule us, try to set up shop. We wouldn’t like it at all. We wouldn’t go for it. I think that that’s why they’re trying to fight back now. Maybe, you know, somebody is in power, maybe and they’re planning, how can we run these soldiers up out of here. This is our turf. They can’t come over here and try to set up a government or whatever. We are trying our best. We are trying our best.
AMY GOODMAN: To do what?
AARON WHITE: To work with them, To try to stop the terrorist acts.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam?
AARON WHITE: Yes, I have heard comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam.
AMY GOODMAN: What does that make you think?
AARON WHITE: If it has to be like that now, comparing those two, then maybe the death count — that’s a lot of deaths. That’s hard comparative. A lot of soldiers dying constantly every day, more and more. The numbers are getting very high. It’s steadily increasing every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Did anyone in your unit speak Arabic.
AARON WHITE: No. Not that I know of.
AMY GOODMAN: Would it have made a difference if any of you spoke Arabic?
AARON WHITE: Yes. It probably would have made a difference.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
AARON WHITE: We wouldn’t have had a hard time community indicating with some Iraqis.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sergeant Aaron White from Alabama, recently returned from Iraq, hoping not to return. Originally said he planned to spend his life in the military, now wants out.