(Editor’s note: Staff at The Daily Herald realize that in addition to Dallas Snyder’s presence in Iraq, many other area residents have been there or are continuing the military’s efforts in the recently-liberated country. Daily Herald writers are interested in the stories of these individuals and would be happy to hear from these people and their families so their stories can be heard also. Contact the Daily Herald at 684-4000.)
While millions of people across the world were tuning into CNN, MSNBC or Fox News to witness all the events that recently occurred in Iraq, a former local man was living it.
Recently, Dallas Snyder, formerly of Tipton and now of El Paso, Texas, a senior field engineer for Raytheon Technical Co., who traveled with the V Corp, 101 Airborne Division and Third Infantry Division from Kuwait to Baghdad, sat down with Daily Herald photographer Virgie Werner and told of his experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Snyder’s military history began a little more than 30 years ago when he was just a young teen. He decided then that there were few jobs in the area at the time and he had no money for college. He decided after graduating from Bellwood-Antis in 1974, he was going to join the army.
Twenty years later, he retired as an E-7, Sergeant First Class.
“I really loved the army,” said Snyder. “Then, it was truly my life and my family.”
But after leaving the military, Snyder still felt that twinge to help his country. After a two-year stint with his own landscaping business, he decided to get involved again, but not in a military capacity.
He took a job in 1996 with Raytheon, a defense which builds and maintains the Patriot Missile systems and other radar equipment. In his position, Snyder was able to travel the globe, noting spots such as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.
He left for Iraq on February 9 and stayed in Kuwait for about a month while waiting for the war to begin. During his wait, he turned 47 years of age.
The road to Baghdad
Snyder said when he got the call that the war had begun, he moved, as did a good number of battalions. They were on their way to Baghdad.
“Everyday was an experience,” said Snyder. “One day you wouldn’t see a thing and the next day you’re blowing up tanks. It was truly unbelievable.”
The trip to Baghdad was a hard one, according to Snyder, who traveled in a Humvee.
“One thing that really sticks out in my mind is how unprepared these people really were to fight this war,” said Snyder. “The Iraqis mounted large machine guns on Toyotas and everywhere we went, there seemed to be a burnt out pick-up sitting beside the road. It was truly a war zone.”
The heat was strenuous. Snyder said everyone wore chemical suits (which included the suit itself, a gas mask, a helmet and a bullet proof vest) for the first two weeks, but said they weren’t “too bad” to wear and said it sort of felt like he was wearing overalls.
But despite the discomfort of the suits, the heat wasn’t the harshest factor. It was the sand.
He said the large tanks didn’t have much trouble in the grainy terrain, but other vehicles, most notably helicopters and trucks, were less than efficient.
“The sand was terrible,” he said. “It was everywhere.”
To show an example, Snyder explained that just before his unit traveled over the Euphrates River, it turned off the main supply road onto a dirt road. He said they planned to set up a Patriot System.
“As soon as we made the turn, I looked up and what I saw reminded me of a scene in ‘The Mummy,’” he said. “There was a wall of sand coming at us from across the desert.
“When it his us, it felt like a tornado. The trucks were rocking and a lot of us thought they were going to tip over.”
According to Snyder, one specific afternoon, the density of sand in the area blocked all sunlight causing a complete blackout. He said after about an hour, the sunlight that started breaking through gave the area a reddish-colored glow.
“The younger soldiers seemed to get a little scared,” said Snyder. “They thought it might be a nuclear explosion.”
He explained how the sand delays travel because of the depth of the terrain at times, and also because of frequent stops to clean the air filters of the vehicles.
“Everything seemed so dry,” said Snyder, “especially your hands. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it, so we just had to live with it. I ruined a $280 pair of glasses just from reaching up to clear the sand off them. They were so torn up they were useless.
“Just about all of us wore the same clothing for three straight weeks,” he said. “We had a simple plastic wash basin and when we had water, we could us it.”
Sleep and food, like water, was also at a premium.
“You had to eat and sleep when you could,” said Snyder. “When we were in Kuwait, I bought a two-man pop tent. I spent three nights in that tent out of the three weeks we were there. Usually, we slept on the hood of the Humvee or in the seat. We were just moving fast so that’s what we had to do.”
Food comprised strictly of MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat. These pre-cooked food packets provided soldiers with the much-needed carbohydrates, but lacked the touch of a hot stove for preparation. Snyder said this was all that he and the other soldiers had to eat during their entire mission.
Snyder spent three days in Baghdad where he supported troops with his radar repair expertise.
The people along the way
Snyder’s unit traveled on the MSR, or Main Supply Route. He said his unit experienced numerous personal contacts with the Iraqi people.
“All the people we saw were very happy to see us,” said Snyder. “They were rally happy we were there. They knew what the intent of the United States was.”
He said the contact with the kids was heart-warming.
“They were really glad to see us,” he said. “They’d come right up to our vehicles and ask for water and MREs. We were happy to give it to them when we could, but that ended quickly.”
Snyder said the military had to start being careful with Iraqi contact after the second or third day. He said that’s when the first suicide bomber made his appearance.
“We also passed through a lot of military bases the coalition had taken before we got there,” he said. “Here, we would find farmers just taking whatever they wanted. They figured it should be theirs. It wasn’t uncommon to see a farmer walking down the road with a chair perched on his head. I even saw one farmer with a donkey cart with a refrigerator on it.”
The Jessica Lynch story
On March 23, mass media reports of the Iraqis capturing a number of American soldiers tugged at the world’s heartstrings. But for Snyder it was much more personal.
Although not in the same unit as Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the rest of the 507th Maintenance Company, Snyder was in the same battalion.
“They basically just made a wrong turn,” said Snyder. “We had been driving for 20-some hours through the desert. We had armor support initially, but because of the sand, the tanks got out ahead of us a little. You weren’t able to see five feet in front of you so it was hard to keep everyone together.
“They (Lynch’s unit) happened to be the first ones in Nasiriyah,” he said. “Somehow, they missed the armor column of Marines that were waiting to get in.
“As they drove down the road, people were smiling and waving, some with AK-47 (assault rifles) on their sides. They told me after they passed a mobile scud missile launcher, they knew they had to get out of there, but didn’t have any place to turn around.”
According to Snyder, they finally did find a place to maneuver in the reverse direction, but when they reached an area where two arches spanned the roadway, they were met by a bus that had pulled across the roadway, blocking their paths.
“There were women and children in the bus,” he said. “They got down and the enemy started firing. They had to try and make a mad dash to get out of there. Unfortunately, they all didn’t make it then. I’m glad they’re home and safe now.”
Snyder said it wasn’t a surprise the Iraqis were able to capture some American soldiers. He said Lynch and the others were in a maintenance support company and not an infantry division.
“Everybody in the armed forces have basic military skills and learns how to shoot, but this group wouldn’t normally be engaged in combat.”
When news of the event reached other members of the battalion, Snyder said everyone seemed somber. Unfortunately, and unlike the millions of people watching Operation Iraqi Freedom from the comfort of their living rooms, soldiers fighting the battles didn’t have any way of knowing what was going on, especially with POWs.
“I knew all of them (POWs) rather personally,” said Snyder, “but was kind of lost after it happened. Everyone was worried. That’s all we could think about.”
He said he was overwhelmed with joy when he learned on April 1 of her safe rescue.
His personal views
Being an army veteran and because of his travel worldwide, Snyder has strong opinions concerning the situation in Iraq.
First off, he believes there are chemical weapons there and the Iraqis used un-conventional war tactics during the conflict.
“We will find them,” he said of the weapons of mass destruction. “After making my way to Baghdad, I think it would be so easy to hide something in that country. I didn’t personally see any weapons like this, but I was in a warehouse that had nothing but missile parts and warheads. It was like out of a movie.”
He said the Iraqis have an elaborate tunnel system under the surface of the sand, which would be a prime storage area for WMD. He also said the Iraqi military does everything around civilians, putting them in harms way for selfish reasons.
Second, he believes Saddam Hussein is alive and hiding in neighboring Syria.
“I think we wounded him that first night of the attack,” said Snyder. “I don’t think we killed him, but the only way we’ll be able to determine that is through DNA testing.”
Even if Hussein is hiding in Syria, Snyder said the people of that country probably would not “give him up.” He said there is a heavy loyalty among the Arab people.
He also expressed his dissatisfaction for the countries who weren’t in support of the coalition forces, particularly the French.
“It seems we always bail them (France) out when they get in trouble,” said Snyder, “but this was all strictly politics. They should have been right there on our side, but it seemed they were more pro-Iraq. The French supplied them with equipment and battlefield items that helped what they were trying to do. It was terrible.”
He also mentioned the lack of support from Russia and the Germans.
“All three of them decided to stay away from the conflict,” he said. “But now, of course, they want to have a hand in the rebuilding so they can get a piece of the pie.”
Snyder said he knew going in the Iraqi people would put up a fight, but not a tough one.
“Those people know Saddam Hussein and most hated him,” said Snyder. “He’s a coward at heart and that’s why he hides behind women and children.
“The Iraqi people know this and that’s part of the reason why his military gave up so easily,” he continued. “They had nothing to fight for. Saddam was giving farmers guns and telling them to fight. These poor farmers were out there with a gun and they didn’t even know how to shoot it. They knew if they returned home, they would be killed, along with their families.”
After three days in Baghdad, Snyder said he received a cellular phone call stating that his mother, Patricia, suffered a stroke. His intent was to immediately fly to Tyrone to be with his ailing mother, but more sandstorms delayed his flight for almost a full day.
He flew out of Baghdad during the second week of April and was in Tyrone with his mom on April 12. His mother pulled through her scare and is recovering at her home.
On Monday, Dallas returned home to El Paso.
“It was an interesting journey,” he said. “I’m glad to be back. But if my country calls on me again, I won’t hesitate to do what I have to do to ensure the freedom of the millions of Americans who make this country so great.”