Traveling soldiers elated and curious

News: At BWI, troops discuss excitement of Saddam Hussein's capture, and hope life in Iraq will be easier.

The Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 15, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Pfc. Joseph Drake wonders if he will hear less gunfire when he goes to bed each night in Baghdad.

Pfc. Christina Booth thinks maybe the people she sees every day in Karbala won't look so scared anymore.

Sgt. Thomas Gatschet, who has been stationed in Tikrit, wonders if his soldiers will be safer there.

U.S. Army troops trickling in and out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday - either returning home from Iraq for two weeks' rest, or headed back to the Middle East - said they were excited and surprised by Saddam Hussein's capture. They wondered aloud how their lives will be altered in Iraq.

"I'm kind of anxious to get back and find out how it's going to be different," said Gatschet, 23, from Canton, Ohio.

Said Drake, "I'm hoping it will slow things down."

Not surprisingly, the soldiers on their way home for two weeks were the most thrilled by the news. It doesn't take much to excite someone such as Drake, who turns 20 this week, and hadn't been to his home in Bryans Road near LaPlata in more than a year and a half - until yesterday.

"I [can't] stop smiling," he said while smoking a cigar outside the international terminal at BWI yesterday. "For one thing, I'm back here. Then I learned that Saddam is caught. The day couldn't get better."

The soldiers headed back to Iraq also welcomed the good news.

"I'm not exactly looking forward to going back, but I'm looking forward to the difference that it might make," said Spec. Brian Loveland, 23, of Ravenna, Ohio.

Gatschet, who was returning to Tikrit, said Hussein's whereabouts had become a topic of small talk among soldiers in the fallen dictator's hometown. "You think he's around?" they would ask one another.

Now Gatschet wonders how close he has been to Hussein for the past two months. He learned of Hussein's capture yesterday morning from an airline employee at the Akron, Ohio, airport.

Drake, Booth and Pfc. Mikhail Green, 21, had just touched down at BWI from Frankfurt, Germany, when word started to spread through their plane, a military charter.

While they were taxiing to their gate, a soldier on the plane announced that Hussein had been caught. In row 27, Green, who is from the San Francisco area, couldn't believe it. "It's one of those goals we've been waiting to get, and it just seemed like a never-ending goal," he said.

Five rows from the back, Booth had her doubts, too. "We didn't believe," she said.

But someone confirmed it, and the soldiers broke out in applause and whistles. Passing through customs, they saw a picture of a bearded Hussein with a handwritten note saying he had been captured.

If the e-mail Booth, 18, received from a friend in Iraq is any indication, the troops there are excited, she said. "My friend wrote me and all his words were in capital letters," she said.

She planned to catch a train to Newark, N.J., where her sister would meet her. She wanted to surprise her parents in Toms River, N.J., who didn't know she was coming home.

Despite the homecoming excitement, she was more elated about Hussein's capture. She must return to Iraq in two weeks, she said, but with him in custody, maybe she won't be needed there as a military police officer for much longer.

"That means," she said, "I'll be able to spend more time here with my family."

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