EAST MANATEE — In his new book, “Inside the Fortress,” U.S. Army Reservist Steve Valley of Country Creek describes his experiences in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and one of his first trips to downtown Baghdad in 2004.
“We were in traffic on a road that could have been mistaken for any big city street,” writes Valley, who ran a Army public affairs unit. “It was filled with street vendors selling cigarettes, fruit, snacks and gasoline.
“The main thing that set it apart from a normal, civilized city was that although we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, we were in about 6-inches of raw sewage,” Valley said. “It didn’t seem to bother the Iraqis, but it almost made me puke. It was like being in the middle of a septic system.”
Valley, who spent from December 2003 to January 2005 with his U.S. Army Reserve unit inside Baghdad, has written a book that looks at the routine activities of an every day soldier stationed away from the offensive operations in Iraq.
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“Reading the book brought back smiles,” said U.S. Marine Jay Antonelli, who was stationed with Valley. “He kept a journal. I should have done that, too, but I didn’t. We were in the most media-centric spot in the world in 2004 and 2005 and having Steve there with a hard working ‘Let’s get it done” attitude made it bearable.”
Valley and Antonelli called every day in Iraq “Groundhog Day” after the Bill Murray movie where Murray relives the same day over and over.
But once in a while a day stood out.
Valley describes another moment in downtown Baghdad:
“As I looked back to my 12 o’clock I noticed a young Iraqi boy about 25 meters in front of us walking at a normal pace. He kept on glancing over and then turned his head when I made eye contact with him. This happened for about 30 seconds until the boy finally stopped and looked straight at me and made the knife across the throat motion with a smile on his face...the thing that struck in my mind is the hate that this young boy exhibited toward me. I’ve watched the Israeli-Palestinian situation for years on television and didn’t think that people really could hate that much. To my surprise, I saw this hatred firsthand in the Iraqi boy who was taught to hate at such a young age.”
“Inside the Fortress,” which will be released Oct. 26, is as much an historical record as it is an engaging read.
It may soon be history because General Ray Odierno announced last week that the U.S. will pull out roughly 4,000 troops from Iraq by the end of October and all U.S. combat troops by September, 2010.
Although there are still 124,000 U.S. service personnel in Iraq today, their numbers are now being pared.
Valley, 44, kept a journal throughout his stay, The book is being pubished by American Book Publishing of Salt Lake City.
“They edited, created the cover and marketing plans,” Valley said of the Utah company, which also invests its own money in some projects like Valley’s. “I wrote all of this from that personal journal I kept.”
A 24-year Army Reserve and National Guard veteran and former commander of Braden River VFW Post 12055, Valley writes about the boredom of being far away from home in an inhospitable world and the exhilaration at certain moments when he was part of history, like dealing with the world media on the Abu Ghraib prison incident and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. Army.
“It was absolutely wrong what the members of the 372nd MP Battalion did to the Iraqi prisoners,” Valley wrote. “I was ashamed of these derelicts being part of my Army because their acts did not reflect the values the Army and I stood for. There was no excuse for what they did and they deserved all the punishment they got. All they did was ensure the Arabs had another reason to hate the U.S. and that wasn’t the impression we needed in Iraq.”
Valley, who now works at the U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, started writing the book a couple months after he got back from Iraq in February, 2005. He finished it a year later in 2006. The book was rejected by scores of publishers before American Book Publishing agreed to publish it if Valley would pay them $500, Valley said.
“There are a million books that can talk about warriors breaking down doors and doing operations against terrorists,” Valley said. “But I wanted “Inside The Fortress” to be a ‘behind the wall’ look at Army life in The Green Zone.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.