Speaking of war

Sgt. Shane Sanders, left, posing with his mother Charmain Howard, center, and stepfather Joe Howard, spent 15 months with the U.S Army’s 501st Military Intelligence in Iraq. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Army linguist spent time in two of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.

Surrounded by marble walls, Army Sgt. Shane Sanders served his country in one of Saddam Hussein’s many palaces in Baghdad, Iraq.

There, the 1997 Clovis High School graduate worked eight to 10 hours a day transcribing mounds of information from Arabic to English.

He said his seven-man group of Arab linguists is credited with pinpointing the whereabouts of a group of Mhadi militia, allowing U.S. soldiers to halt a potential raid on American forces.

Recently back in Clovis after 15 months in Iraq and on transition leave with the Army, Sanders said he’s happy he served in the military like his father and grandfather.

“I never thought I would end up in a war zone. I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t,” Sanders said. “But it is good to say I was able to help out, both our country and Iraq.”

Sanders said his group was lucky to live in two of Hussein’s palaces — for 12 months in Baghdad — where 15-foot-high walls surrounding the palaces and American security forces protected them. Sanders also worked three months in Najaf.

The protection meant he was comparatively safe in the war-torn country, where more than 975 Americans have died in military operations since March 2003.

“I figured he was somebody who had a really important job and everybody would be protecting him,” his mother Charmain Howard said. “We’re real proud of him. He did what he wanted to do. As long as your kids do what they want to do and they’re happy, that’s all you can ask for.”

When Sanders first got to Baghdad, he said the constant gunfire triggered his nerves, but after a while he got used to it.

He said Iraqi militia fired about 30 rocket-propelled grenades at the palace where he resided, only once hitting the building and causing minimal damage.

The most dangerous missions, he said, involved gathering information in the supermarkets and on the streets of downtown Baghdad and Najaf. But even then he said most Iraqis were glad to see him and often gave helpful information.

“Most of the Iraqi populous actually liked Americans. They’re thankful we disposed of Saddam,” Sanders said.

Sanders said he trained 63 weeks to become an Arab linguist, a job that involved transcribing tapes and summarizing paperwork typed in Arabic for military intelligence.

During his down time, Sanders played soccer, ran and fished and swam in one of the ponds outside of Hussein’s palace.

He said the best day was when American forces confirmed the deaths of two of Hussein’s sons, spurring a five-hour celebration in the streets of Baghdad, where Iraqis happy with the news danced and shot off guns.

Watching the celebration from Hussein’s 83-room, four-story palace in Baghdad, Sanders said he knew the decision to go to war was the right one.

Sanders, who hopes to attend college at either Eastern New Mexico University or Texas Tech and eventually work for the U.S. Marshal or Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, said it’s not likely the Army would call him back to Iraq since he’s transitioning out of the military.

But if it did, he said he would go.

“If I had to go back I would, because I don’t mind helping out,” he said. “I think it would be fun to go back in a couple years to see how much has changed.”