Driving Iraq: Meet All-American Mr. Turner

Robert Alt

March 1, 2004

Baghdad, Iraq—A series of about eleven rockets rained down on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad last night on what was the eve of the signing of Iraq’s interim Constitution. When the first explosion sounded at around 7:10 pm, I was standing at a shuttle stop just outside the now famous Al Rasheed Hotel. From my vantage point, the terrorists (this is not Reuters—we call them terrorists here) appeared to be aiming for the hotel, as missile after missile flashed to the north of the structure. I was not alone during this unusually large barrage, but rather was surrounded by other shuttle passengers and its driver, Stephen C. Turner, Sr.

Mr. Turner hails from Virginia, just north of the North Carolina line. He is Southern, in the best sense of the word. To speak with Mr. Turner for a few minutes is to know that he loves his country, God, and his wife. Indeed, it is his love of country which brought him to Iraq. You see, Mr. Turner was in New York City making a delivery in his truck on September 11, 2001. He saw the towers burn; he saw the towers fall. Welling with emotion, Mr. Turner explained that it was the experience of being in New York City on September 11th that brought him to Iraq. “This is about patriotism,” he repeated, “this is about patriotism.”

Mr. Turner was happy that there was a journalist on scene last evening to see the rocket attack, but he was also skeptical. He asked whether I was going to do a good story about the missile attack; a true story. “Not like CNN?,” he questioned. “No, not like CNN,” I replied. I told him that I was sent to Iraq specifically to provide some balance to the coverage from media outlets like CNN. The driver offered a broad smile. “I knew I liked you,” he said.

The drivers do a thankless job, and tend their passengers like a concerned parent watches over their children. Throughout the ordeal, Mr. Turner stayed the course, assuring his impatient passengers that he would only depart once he had received the approval and knew that it was safe. But Mr. Turner is not alone in his concern. Several nights ago, I told a driver that I needed to be dropped off at the stop by the Assassin’s Gate—an aptly named gate-turned-checkpoint between the Green Zone and the far less monitored outside world. The driver looked very concerned. “Are you from here originally?,” he asked. When I responded that I was not (my beard must have confused him), he made a substantial deviation from the route to drop me off at the checkpoint, and wished me caution and safety beyond there. Every day that I have ridden the bus since, he has made the same offer. Such gestures may seem small, but in an unstable world, it is the small acts of consideration which often make all the difference.

At the end of the tumultuous night, what struck me was not merely how close the missiles hit, but rather Mr. Turner’s story—which is in many ways the untold story of Iraq. Thousands of individuals—soldiers and civilian employees of all kinds—have traveled half way across the world to help establish a free government in Iraq and to defeat those who would threaten the United States and the Iraqi people. They have forsaken family, friends, and the safety and creature comforts of home. And for many, like Mr. Turner, they have done so not merely as a job, but as an act of patriotism.

Robert Alt is a Fellow in Legal and International Affairs at the Ashbrook Center currently reporting from Iraq. You can follow his daily progress at http://noleftturns.ashbrook.org.