JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq ― The writing on the walls was clear for all to see.
Messages were left by service members who had lost friends, as a way to commemorate their memories. Those who were wounded left their marks to thank medical staff members. Comments from well-wishers also were dotted throughout the room.
With U.S. forces committed to transition out of Iraq by year’s end, a small group effort is underway to preserve historical artifacts from Joint Base Balad. This includes the contingency aeromedical staging facility “memorial” walls.
It was around the time of the troop surge in Iraq 2007 that the memorial wall was created, said Dr. Charles Dusch, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing historian. Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and allied nation soldiers who were waiting to be transported to higher level of care began writing on the walls. Many of them left memorials and tributes to comrades who had fallen and over time the numbers grew.
“You start to see messages from very important people like Air Force Secretary Michael Donnelly, Army Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, football coaches and cheerleaders traveling with the United Service Organizations,” the historian said.
Dr. Dusch, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, quoted fellow historian Dan Sherman in saying, “(Memorials help) transform emotions from grief to honor and a sense of accomplishment.”
Dr. Dusch said there aren’t many memorials in the world like the CASF walls. Traditionally, a war memorial is put up by someone after the fact, to remember someone.
“The CASF walls were created by people who actually fought, were wounded, and they had the opportunity to speak and honor one another,” he said. “It’s become a memorial to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it could be argued quite possible to the surge.”
The messages are individual expressions. Some are very bold, while others are timid and more reserved. Several are written smaller and more difficult to read, while a couple are larger works of art that stands out.
“It reflects the expression that those individuals at that moment in history … what was in their hearts and foremost in their minds at that time, and we have that captured here at the Air Force Theater Hospital at JB Balad,” Dr. Dusch said.