Walker: One thing’s for sure, I’ll never forget

Published 9:52 am Friday, November 4, 2016

By Mia Sims

The Vicksburg Post

Anthony Walker is a strong man but he can’t stand to see a child cry. For good reason.

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He watched children blown up in the second Iraq War, victims of rocket-propelled grenades. It’s the kind of haunting memory that doesn’t always recede over time.

“The RPG blew kids up right in front of me,” said Walker, a Warren County deputy sheriff. “All I could see was children flying. I was in shock when I saw it. One of the other soldiers had to come and grab me and put me in the truck. Most of those children died. Some of them were able to run off. The others were left lying there.”

Walker and his comrades had been feeding the children because they were hungry. Many were frail, just skin and bones.

“The children would come around the convoys when we came,” he said. “The parents usually weren’t around. Most of our missions were on back roads. The kids would run there because they knew we were coming. And we’d throw food to them.”

“Those children were so hungry that we just fed them to the point that we didn’t even eat,” Walker said. “To see a child starving like that made me lose my appetite. When the war first started, some of the children were taking guns from the dead bodies of Iraqi soldiers, and trying to exchange the weapons for food. They were trying to trade their guns, or their medals, for food. That really got to me.”

Even today, he doesn’t like to see children being punished. It yanks him back to his days in Iraq. Walker, then 29, was sent to Iraq with the 296th Transportation Company for more than 10 months.

“My parents were shocked when I told them I was being deployed,” he said. “My daughter was 10 at the time. She didn’t really understand why I had to leave, or where I was going. She only knew that she couldn’t see me.”

When his orders came, he was given five days to get to his unit. Just like that, he was off to Fort Stewart, Georgia.

“That’s where I did a month of training,” he said. “Then from Fort Stewart, we flew to Kuwait. Once in Kuwait, we started hauling fuel to the front line for the beginning of the war. We were responsible for taking a few million gallons.”

When U.S. soldiers left Kuwait and reached Iraq, many Iraqi civilians embraced them. Others weren’t as welcoming. Many of Saddam Hussein’s soldiers disguised themselves to blend with civilians, but Walker said the looks on their faces betrayed them.

“Some were very angry,” Walker said. “A lot of them didn’t want us there. In some of the towns we went through, we were attacked. If we weren’t attacked, their faces held hostile stares implying they didn’t want us in their territory.”

In addition to the hostile environment, Walker was forced to adapt to the peculiar weather in the desert. It was hard for him because he was accustomed to experiencing different seasons during different times of the year.

“During certain seasons, you’d go through all four seasons in one day,” Walker said. “That was horrible for me because I’d never experienced it. Every 4-6 hours it would change. Early in the morning it would feel like fall slightly. From 8-12 it would be spring, and from 12 to about 6, it would be summer; I mean burning hot. The hottest day I had was 140 degrees.”

Walker didn’t get much sleep during the start of the war. He and his comrade would drive for 36 hours straight.

“The first 1-2 weeks of the war, we were just driving back and forth with fuel. We might’ve gotten three hours of sleep but it was 36 hours driving. We couldn’t stop. So one of us would drive while the other slept. It was an experience that you’ll never forget if you went through it.”

Walker said the sound of gunshots became a way of life. Rocket-propelled grenades were commonly used by both sides.

“I witnessed people being hit by an RPG,” Walker said. “The fragments hit a lady who was with us one time. All I remember is her screaming and falling out of her truck. Those RPGs had to be coming from my left and right. I just froze. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never experienced an RPG that close to me.”

During battle, U.S. troops sometimes cleared entire towns within a matter of minutes. Walker said he witnessed a single helicopter demolish an entire town.

“They’d just hover over the town and tear it up,” Walker said. “Our troops were shooting missiles. It didn’t take us long to tear up a town; a few minutes at most. We did each one differently. No building was left standing. I had to put in my mind that there were no innocent people in that town, even though I knew there was. There were warnings for people to leave, but everyone didn’t.”

Walker, now assigned to drug court in Warren County, said many civilians were terrified to go to their mosques and pray. Their government forbade it.

“We put a perimeter around the mosque to allow them to pray,” Walker said. “We were passing by them and wondering ‘why are they sneaking into the mosques, and why do they look so suspicious.’ We were later informed of the reason and wanted to help.”

What Walker saw over there changed his life.

“You had to change your mindset from being a civilian to a soldier, a war soldier at that,” he said. “It was hard. You had to put your old lifestyle aside, and pick up a new one. And for me, it took a little time. We had to develop that mindset early on, and from there keep that mindset for the duration of our time there.”

The war in Iraq lasted approximately nine years, helping breed animosity towards the United States among different factions. Walker has mixed feelings on the war, but feels it was at least partially worth it.

“It freed the Iraqi people from what they were going through, but I didn’t like the way we did certain things. I think we went overkill on some things but I guess we had to do it that way because we didn’t have long to complete the mission. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never forget.”