My First Trip to Syria

Our Stryker’s drove slowly down the road leading to the border crossing. The area was very walled-in, as the border it self was one huge wall that ran in either direction to keep Syrians in Syria and Iraqi’s in Iraq. Different Ministry buildings sat in the Customs compound in various states of disarray. There were chunks of concrete and rocks strung across the road here and there, along with strands of barbed wire. Iraqi Border Police stood guard here and there; there was a large walled in lot where large transport trucks would be searched had they been allowed to cross, there was a vehicle search area for cars, and there was a passport stamping office for foot traffic. All of these were very disconnected from the actual crossing and there was no real system in place or order of flow for anything. From the looks of it, people and vehicles sort of mingled together as they came and went, with a very confusing paperwork process somewhere in-between. But right now the border was closed and it was mostly empty, save a few people standing at the base of a large stone wall that was painted with an Iraqi Flag and the words “Welcome to Rabiah, Gateway to Iraq” in many languages.

We got to the point where we had to park the trucks and get out to walk as the road was totally blocked by barbed wire strands and rocks set up by the border police. I dismounted along with my section leaders, our two dismounts, and my senior scout. We walked towards the opening in the wall we saw that led into Syria. To our left and right were all the various buildings and lots I spoke of, and the road ran straight directly ahead of us through the spot where the wall opened to allow it. There was one single strand of barbed wire at this break. As we walked towards it, we saw a guard shack on the far end of the concertina. “This has to be the crossing” said the senior scout, very matter-of-factly. We figured the best place to start would be with the guard shack to see how they ran things there. We had to look menacing; the group of us advancing from the back of the Stryker’s with our weapons at the ready. My section leaders both had M203 grenade launchers on their M4’s. My senior scout for this adventure had the shotgun in one hand and his M4 and M203 strapped across the front of his body armor. Everyone else carried an assortment of grenades and magazines and flex-cuffs for detainees. This was standard. But the border guards we approached just looked at us in confusion. We didn’t understand it, really.

My senior scout moved the barbed wire a little so that we could squeeze by it and the wall. We stepped through and turned towards the guard shack. As we did, the guys in the guard shack stood up and the door came flying open. My senior scout was ready to level his shotgun on these guys except that when the three guys in the border shack came screaming out the door, they were unarmed and had their hands in the air. They were waving frantically. “What are these guys bitchin’ about” said my bravo section sergeant, with his southern drawl. They approached. ‘No, no, no!’ they were shouting. They immediately stood in front of us, the three guys from the shack. One began to wave his arm across the road. ‘Mister, No! No! Syria’ he waved his arm at the ground where we stood. ‘Syria, No! No! Iraq’ he waved his arm back at the barbed wire we just walked a good fifteen feet past. ‘Iraq, Iraq! Mister, No Syria, no, no!” We got the point and bowed as we apologized and quickly went back the way we came. As we did, the three guys stretched the barbed wire back across the street and used a piece of wire to string it to a nail in the wall. “Sorry” we said. ‘Mister, Ok-Ok, No Problem’.

“Alright, well now I’ve been to Syria” my senior scout said. Didn’t even get a stamp for the ole’ passport either.  Damn…

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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