Ramadi has changed so drastically from the terrorist-infested pit that it was as recently as April 2007 that I could hardly believe what I saw was real. The sheer joy on the faces of these Iraqis was unmistakable. They weren’t sullen in the least, and it was pretty obvious that they were not just pretending to be friendly or going through the hospitality motions.
“It was nothing we did,” said Marine Lieutenant Colonel Drew Crane who was visiting for the day from Fallujah. “The people here just couldn’t take it anymore.”
What he said next surprised me even more than what I was seeing.
“You know what I like most about this place?” he said.
“What’s that?” I said.
“We don’t need to wear body armor or helmets,” he said.
I was poleaxed. Without even realizing it, I had taken off my body armor and helmet. I took my gear off as casually as I do when I take it off after returning to the safety of the base after patrolling. We were not in the safety of the base and the wire. We were safe because we were in Ramadi.