In Their Own Words: Iraq war veterans tell their stories.

Staff Sgt. Benedict Iheanacho

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Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, March 19, 2006; 12:00 AM

Army Reservist Benedict Iheanacho was living in Denton, Texas, where he had a business buying and selling used cars when he was activated and deployed to Iraq in December 2003. He was based primarily at Camp Anaconda in Balad, north of Baghdad.

Iheanacho, a Nigerian who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, said heknew a great deal about the general politics of the Middle East as well as the culture and the people. "Being born in Nigeria and having to mix with Muslims, the cultural world view was nothing strange. A lot of soldiers were people who had not had the opportunity to have traveled outside their immediate environment and mixed with other people," he explained.

Despite being in the country during a time of war, Iheanacho said he appreciated being able to visit Iraq. "The opportunity of getting to be in Iraq in close quarters and getting to see what the place is like and people are really like beyond what I read and my own assumptions, it was an opportunity. That's something I couldn't have accomplished if I had stayed in the U.S."

Iheanacho said he found that many of the Iraqis had a stoic demeanor. "In the light of the circumstances, I think they were very courageous people because there was a lot of intimidation going on, there was a lot of killing going on to their families. I just saw them as another set of people trying to make a living, just like we all do here in America or elsewhere in the world."

There was always the constant threat to life from almost around-the-clock mortar attacks, he said. Still, Iheanacho said he remained upbeat during his tour. "I had the opportunity of having officers around that were intellectually more enlightened in a whole lot of areas...[and] very sensitive to soldiers' needs. We knew there was always somebody there thinking about us and taking care of whatever our needs were." There also was a chaplain with whom Iheanacho would discuss international policy, as well as religious and literary matters. "He was one great guy. We could argue back and forth on what is going on around the world."

His most rewarding moment, he said, was "finding time to introspect and look at what is meaningful to me as person in my life. When you face some kind of situation where mortality comes into question you begin to look at what really, really matters," Iheanacho said. "Seeing wounded from Fallujah, dealing with it, you try not to think about it, you try to get involved in escapist activities like reading. Go to service, go back to rediscover faith, find it if you don't have it."

To escape, Iheanacho made a poster out of a picture of the Amazon jungle and a waterfall and put it on his side of the tent, where he said he would play music and imagine myself "out there in the waterfall and the peace and quiet that comes with that. Just that."

-- As told to Washington Post reporter Cameron W. Barr


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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