In the face of combat
Prineville resident Mike Hile reflects on combat in Iraq
Mike Hile spent his Thanksgiving with his family in Prineville. The last seven years, Hile has had to work Thanksgiving.
A soldier in the U.S. Army, Hile had a lot to be thankful for.
"On the 11th of this month, three days before I came home on leave, I had an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade, fired at me. It missed my head by about five feet and hit the wall behind me," Hile said.
"It's scary. Forty-five minutes later I was in a 3 1/2 firefight in the city," he said.
Hile serves in Iraq, and on Dec. 2, the soldier will return to Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, and risk his life for another four months.
He joined the Army after he graduated Crook County High School in 1997 so he could travel and get a college education.
In his seven years of service, the 25-year-old has racked up some travel time, visiting Alabama, Virginia, and Hawaii. Currently, he is stationed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia.
Globally, Hile has also served in Korea and now his duties are taking him back to Iraq.
However, the luxury of the soldier's travel is accompanied with risks.
With Iraq's first nationwide elections scheduled to take place on Jan. 30, Hile is sure he will face insurgents in the months to come.
"During that time, we'll probably be fighting more and attacks will probably be picking back up. There's a lot of people that don't want the elections to happen. They will do whatever they can in their power to stop them," explained Hile.
He is part of the Army's military police. The military police help train the new Iraqi police and patrol the city.
"You walk around with a weapon on at all times. You're always ready to do something in case something needs to be put down," the soldier said.
During his 20-day leave, he's enjoyed not having the weapon attached to his hip.
"It feels weird. It's like a piece of you is gone, like you're missing a hand or an arm. In the same sense it feels good just to get it away," he said.
In Iraq, Hile is always on watch and has seen his share of combat.
"Being in such small vehicles and always being out patrolling the city, we actually get attacked more than every other unit does there," he said.
While on patrol, Hile and his accompanying soldiers look for insurgents, a task that is easier said than done.
"It's hard to see them because you never know what they look like. Generally, the only way to tell between the civilians and insurgents is the ones that are shooting at you," he said with a laugh.
"And half the time we don't even see them shooting at us," he added.
Does he ever fear for his life?
"Every day. The attacks over there can happen anytime. We were attacked at our barracks on Aug. 4. We got into a 2 and 1/2 hour fire fight on the roof of our barracks," said Hile.
"There were people in the shower, people sleeping, people just trying to enjoy their day off and they tried to attack our gates," Hile said.
However, the odds were in the U.S. troops' favor.
"We had over 20 people attacking us, but they had 180 M.P.'s (military police) shooting back at them," he said.
His platoon has not been exempt from the growing number of U.S. and Iraqi troop fatalities.
"In my platoon, on May 10, one of our soldiers died... It)s a person that we worked with everyday. He was like family, like a brother," said Hile.
The fallen soldier was shot in the head. He was only 20 years old.
"There are plenty of days over there where you wonder, 'Am I going to come home today?'" he said.
While he was stationed in Korea, a friend of his in Iraq was severely injured in combat and sent home.
"We)ve had a handful of people sent home from over there that were shot. A good friend of mine that was in Korea with me had her right arm blown off one day by a rocket," he said.
The soldier said he hasn't killed anyone in combat, but wouldn't hesitate to if his life was in danger.
"In a way, I've been lucky. If I had to do it, would I? Yes," he said.
"I have friends over there that have killed people. They are only 18- 19 years old. It changes a person. They were really screwed up for a good couple of weeks," Hile said.
He believes that the casualties and injuries of American soldiers are what the national media centers on, but pointed out that the military has helped Iraqi civilians.
"We've helped build houses for people. We've built schools. There are kids there that are just starting school who haven't gone before. There are people that have never had power have power now," he listed.
"We've just helped out a lot," he added.
It angers Hile that the media concentrates on the negative stories, rather than the positive changes he believes the soldiers are making for the war-torn country.
"The news tends to focus on the bad stuff like soldiers shooting people, or the whole prison scandal. It kind of gives us a bad name," he said.
While on patrol, Hile tries to give out candy to the Iraqi children. However, giving out candy can lead to a situation that compromises the troops' safety.
"When we first got there, we would try to pass out candy to the kids, but then if you pass out one piece of candy to one kid, 15 seconds later you'll have 35 kids around you that you didn't see two minutes before," he explained.
"It creates problems because it takes our focus off of security to try and get the kids out of the way and keep them away from our stuff," Hile said.
However, not all of the children come running for candy. Some of the children run towards the soldiers with rocks to stone them with.
"You'll know when the kids don't like you. They'll throw rocks at us, some will even curse at you... These are little kids, probably seven years old," he said.
The soldier worries that if the military doesn't make a good impression on this generation of Iraqi children, history may repeat itself.
"All of the people that are fighting against us now were kids during the first Gulf War. We don't want them to turn around 10 years from now and feel that same way their parents do and start fighting us if it comes down to that," he explained.
Based on Hile's experience of Iraq, he believes most civilians want the U.S. involved.
"Most civilians like us there, but some don't. They don't necessarily show you support because sometimes, depending on where they are and who they are around, if they tried to talk to us or show us they like us, they could get killed," Hile explained.
The response to troops at home has been extremely positive, Hile said.
"I was in the airport in Atlanta and I had just got back. I was walking from one terminal to the other and I probably got thanked a good 10 to 15 times. People would walk by and say 'We appreciate what you're doing over there' or just 'Thank you,'" Hile said. "It's a good feeling."
"I was in the bathroom shaving at the airport and a guy walked up and said, 'I really appreciate you serving. Thank you very, very, much,'" Hile said.
Communities across the U.S. have also been supportive of the troops. Soldiers in his platoon look forward to care packages.
"My mom sends big bags of beef jerky and if I leave to go out to work one day, half of it's gone," Hile said.
Although Hile isn't looking forward to his next few months in Mosul, he re-enlisted in the Army for four more years in August and is looking forward to starting dog handling school.
He is scheduled to return to Ft. Stewart some time in March 2005.
After being in the army he believes he's more professional and has a whole new attitude on life.
"It matures you a lot... At least for some people," Hile said.
"I just look at the world different now."