It was January of 2005, I was an Infantry Platoon Leader in downtown Baghdad for OIF II. We were days away from the first open election in Iraq's history. I was in charge of security for 3 polling stations. I spent the last two weeks with little sleep preparing the sites. Cars would be banned that day, we had specific plans to try and protect the voters as they walked to each station. US Soldiers were not allowed to be seen on the polling station site because we did not want to give the impression we were influencing the election in any way
I had my soldiers placed in strategic areas, I had 5 Iraqi National Guard Platoons I would use to be seen. For the past two weeks we had fended off attacks, had intelligence reports of all the attacks expected that day. Polls would open at 7am Jan 31st. Intelligence maintained to not expect big crowds at the beginning as many Iraqis would wait to see if the site would get blown up first (I don't blame them). As the sun set on the 30th, my men and I were as ready as we could be, exhausted, but ready, I hadn't slept in 36 hours and got no sleep tonight either.
Then hope to hold. People started lining up at the polling stations well before 7am. They brought their families and children. They were so proud and thankful of this opportunity. I was really worried, lines of hundreds of people make a great target, but nothing happens, no attacks, not even a shot fired. Not only did people show up to vote, they did with exuberance, even bringing children who couldn't vote just so they could see the process. Women and little girls whose status in places Iraq can get them killed for just showing independence gleefully showed their purple fingers. My three polling stations processed 30,000 votes that day.
It was hope. They believed in this, risked their lives for it, and wore it on their chest proudly. That night I fell asleep on a concrete floor in one of the polling stations, happy to be a witness to how powerful hope can be and that when given can outshine the greatest of fears and evil.
I wish hope for each of you, may you wear it proudly, let it shine on everything you fear.