One of the distinct memories Sgt. George Bonner brought back from his
really loved the jackets," Bonner recalled during a recent interview,
after his return from overseas. Bonner, an Army Reservist assigned to the 304th
Civil Affairs Brigade, was among those soldiers charged with helping to
establish a police force in an effort to provide the war-torn chaotic
was part of a larger effort to instill in these officers a sense of public
service - the idea of working for the people rather than working against them,
as was the policy under Saddam Hussein.
Although his unit also supplied
the officers with new handguns, holsters, belts, radios, and batons, Bonner
remembered how their faces glowed when they finally put on their uniform and
looked like police.
"It was amazing," he
said. "They really took pride."
Bonner had helped design the
Although Bonner's unit was also
involved in conflict, he said much of their duties in
Along with establishing a
civilian police force, members of his brigade helped establish a fire
department, made the local hospital function, and supplied local clinics with
things like gauze pads and disinfectants.
Bonner worked with a team of
soldiers that provided medical, school, and humanitarian supplies to local
towns in the
Civil Affairs soldiers serve as
liaisons between the
Bonner said that the Brigade
played an active role in rebuilding
After a more than a year in
There was no need to look over
his shoulder while walking the streets. No thoughts of where the enemy might
come at him next.
With all that said, Bonner said
he had no regrets about going to
Bonner was born and raised in
Although he had always toyed with
the idea of military service, he took no military training in college. He
majored instead in History and Social Studies, with a minor in English. They
were not the kind of subjects he thought the military might need.
He was wrong.
After a consultation with the
army's equivalent of a job counselor, Bonner was assigned to the 304th Civil
Affairs Brigade His background seemed perfect.
Unlike many of those who served
Fear of missing his opportunity
to serve motivated Bonner to enlist. He was 29 years old at the time. He feared
he might regret the lost opportunity if he waited and passed the 34-year age
Serving in places like
"I just got back to
training and went to work," he said. "Then it happened."
Prior to this, he had gone for
periods of time for training. He knew that he would be going into active duty.
"I realized there was a potential to go into action," he said.
His unit was mobilized in March
2003 and assigned to
He had been briefed through
studies on the country, but nothing could completely prepare him for the
poverty he encountered. People not part of the elite under Saddam did not live
well. Even prior to the war, electrical systems were inadequate, and areas that
saw no combat at all were in dire need of rehabilitation.
It is a hot, dry world where
temperatures reached 130 degrees in July and August.
"It looked liked something
right out of the Bible," he said, recalling the sight of sheep and camels,
mud huts and desolation.
The landscape was strewn with
World War I and World War II weapons that had been destroyed during the initial
hours of the latest war.
In the wake of the war, massive
looting took place, as people stripped public resources of everything that was
valuable - even the wire from power towers, risking electrocution. Hotels were
stripped, and even a cement factory.
Many of the civilian Iraqis were
hostile, and the American military had to be on guard most of the time. He said
there was a power grab underway, with leaders of different tribes or religious
groups seeking to get what they could.
Bonner's unit operated under
these troubling conditions, struggling to provide the area with humanitarian
assistance. But the need was staggering.
"My unit did what it could
to help," he said.
Often, soldiers found themselves
assigned to tasks that were not part of their original assignment. If a person
knew about construction as a civilian, he was suddenly thrust into overseeing
construction. One soldier had worked for the New York Transit system in his
civilian life and found himself overseeing some of the
For his service in
Attacks on his unit happened
with uncomfortable frequency, forcing him to call up his combat training. In
one incident, the enemy attacked using AK 47 Russian-made machine guns and
rocket-propelled grenades, and Bonner helped repel the attack by operating the
"The army says [that] you
train as you fight and fight as you train," Bonner mused. "While I
was there to help the people, when we are attacked, I call up what I was
trained to do."
In a country where every
household is allowed to have machine guns, there was danger - especially
because so many people were angry.
Bonner, however, was also
credited with developing and installing improvised armor to his unit's vehicle
that prevented injuries during three separate attacks. He was also deeply
involved in maintaining the defense of his base.