| A US soldier stands in front of Anabelle Valencia as she waits outside a military base in Tikrit. (AFP)
Tikrit, Dec. 7: Anabel Valencia crossed oceans, deserts and half the globe to see her daughter, Specialist Giselle Valencia, a truck driver with Task Force Ironhorse here in Saddam Hussein’s old neighbourhood.
But you just don’t drop in at a heavily guarded US military base in a war zone, even if your kid is on active duty inside.
“Your daughter’s on a mission,” an incredulous MP holding a fierce German attack shepherd advised Valencia.
“I can wait,” came the firm reply from the resolute Arizona teacher’s aide, 51 and mother of three. “I came this far. I can wait a bit longer.”
Valencia, born in Los Angeles, was one of a handful of parents who travelled to Iraq this week to see their active-duty children. Another parent, Fernando Suarez del Solar, from Escondido, California, gathered sand from the spot where his son, Marine Lance Corporal Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar, was killed in March.
Sponsoring the trip was Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based activist group that opposed the US invasion and is eager to spread its anti-war message. None of the parents had formal military clearance to visit their soldier children.
Anabel Valencia’s trip provided an offbeat glimpse into the US occupation in this former stronghold of Saddam’s Baath Party. Police from Tikrit arrived to arrest her but eventually compared her distress to that suffered by the Iraqi people under occupation.
“I’m glad we came and got rid of Saddam Hussein — he was a dictator and oppressed his people,” said Valencia, who also has a son, Chuveny, 22, deployed in Baghdad. “But now I think it’s time for the troops to come home and for Iraqis to govern themselves.”
The mother says she hasn’t seen her daughter, Giselle, in three years. Giselle was stationed in Germany before being deployed to Kuwait and then Iraq this spring.
Valencia informed both of her children of her intention to travel to Iraq. Both had the same reply: Stay home.
Valencia left her Baghdad hotel on Friday following breakfast accompanied by two veteran female activists, including Medea Benjamin, the founding director of Global Exchange. The women set out for the two-hour drive to Tikrit on what has become one of Iraq’s most dangerous roads, a major north-south artery for US military convoys.
The entourage arrived without incident slightly after midday at the gate of the sprawling compound of Task Force Ironhorse, the 4th Infantry Division force that occupies some of the toughest turf in the Sunni Triangle. The MP with the German shepherd informed Valencia that her daughter had just decamped, driving a truck with a convoy en route to Baghdad.
“I came all this way to see her,” Valencia pleaded to the MP, who was unyielding but polite. “She’s in the military, ma’am,” said the MP.
With the day slipping away, army Lt Nathan Carver approached. He informed Valencia that her daughter might not return until late, or perhaps the next day. He suggested that she return on Saturday, when a visit could likely be arranged.
“I’m so happy,” said a relieved Valencia. “Now I believe I will see her.”