Chico to Fallujah and back
Local man shares his experiences as an American soldier with Bedouin roots stationed in Iraq
Ten years ago, Kahled Dudin was part of a local coalition fighting the construction of a parking structure in downtown Chico, where he was branded a “non-producer” by some in the business community.
Today he finds himself in an entirely different kind of coalition, battling resistance fighters, Baath Party loyalists and insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Dudin, who was born in the West Bank of Palestine and came to Chico 16 years ago, is a medic and Arabic-language translator for the 82nd Airborne.
While the juxtaposition of Chico with Fallujah may seem like a great geographical and cultural leap, Dudin said the two towns are more similar than many would imagine. The Euphrates runs just outside of the city through farmland, much as the Sacramento does just west of Chico.
“I was at a place along the river where the water kind of slows down and there are trees around,” he said. “There is a farming area nearby. Just for a second, if you let yourself relax a little bit, you say, ‘Hey, this is pretty.’ For me it was a little piece of home.
“Actually, it was creepy because literally I was transformed back in a flashback. The scene is so close. For a second I relaxed, and it scared the shit out of me.”
He’d let his guard down for a split second—something you can’t do if you expect to survive in this part of Iraq.
“But you have still have to do this to appreciate the beauty of the place. You have to see hope in a shitty situation. Otherwise you will fail.”
Home on leave for a couple of weeks, the former Chico State University student and computer business owner stopped by the News & Review May 4 in his military dress uniform. He’s bigger than when we last saw him and now carries shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade in his left leg, left arm and upper lip, which has translated to medals on his chest—a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
The 34-year-old Dudin stunned his friends when he joined the Army two years ago. Outspoken and intense, he was not afraid to share his opinions, which often included criticism of the U.S. government and its attitude toward the Arab world.
It was something, he said, he’d considered for a long time, and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, nudged him to his final decision.
“Everybody thinks they know what my ideological leanings are, but they really don’t understand exactly. This was a life-changing decision, and I did not enter it lightly. There is a time in everybody’s life when you are faced with a reality and you have to react to it.”
For Dudin, it was seeing jetliners fly into the World Trade Center towers.
“If you see a condemnable act, you have the minimum requirement to decry it in your heart. Really, the first requirement is to change it with your hands. You have to do something. You are not allowed to just sit on the sidelines and have no moral judgment.”
As an Arab—his mother is Saudi Arabian, his father Palestinian—Dudin finds himself in an odd position, fighting with U.S. forces in an Arab country. His background is invaluable, particularly his Bedouin roots. He knows the fine nuances and tribal customs of a culture about which most Americans are ignorant.
“I grew up between Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the West Bank, and Chico,” he said, laughing at the highly unusual combination.
“I was not cordial to the Iraqis,” he said. “I was very straight and firm about what I thought, and I think they respected that.”
The governing council of Fallujah, he said, asked Dudin’s commander if he would extend his stay in Fallujah.
“They are Bedouins, and I think they respect me. When they were messing up I told them, and that’s what in these serious kinds of situations somebody has to do.”
He blames the U.N. sanctions for much of the grief and anger in Iraq today. Those sanctions, he said, made Saddam Hussein stronger while grinding the majority of people into a vulnerable state of weakness. Then, with a stroke of the pen, he said, those who’d been in power were told it was over, to go home.
The fighters in Fallujah, former Baathists, “were fighting for their piece of the pie. They couldn’t care less about Saddam,” he said. Those fighters present a complex problem for the American soldiers.
“They will shoot at you from behind an elementary school for girls,” he said. “There are two things we can do. We shoot back like we are trained to do and we kill little girls, then that swells the support of the locals for the gunmen. Or we turn and leave and they look like they have defeated the big American bear, and the locals are then afraid of them. It’s a win/win situation for them.”
So the Americans try to engage the enemy at night.
His mother, who was in a serious car accident last month, does not know her son is in Iraq.
“She thinks I’m training somewhere in California,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “I made my brothers and father swear they would not tell her.”
Dudin must report back to the military after May 16. He has two more years’ commitment and will likely spend one of them in Iraq.
He predicts that the U.S. presence will remain in the country “forever.”
“What’s important is the form of that presence,” he said. “The worst thing we could do at this point is pull out and leave the country as it is, after what we’ve done. But we are promising these people things we can’t deliver.
“I’m concerned about making something better out of this mess."