I imagine when Major James Hayes joined the Army, he never envisioned the role he would play in breathing life into a young democracy in Iraq.
As Iraq prepared to hold its first free elections in 2005, Hayes was given the mission to set up a polling place in Tal’afar, a town in the northern part of the country. He received augmentation troops to enforce a secure perimeter around the polling place, traffic control sites and a local hospital, but the task was formidable.
The insurgents made clear their intentions. He told DefenseLink, â€œThe insurgents had posted flyers warning of what would happen to anyone that participated in the election.” As election day neared, the attacks escalated; and on the day itself, they shifted their focus to individual voters.
â€œOne Iraqi civilian was struck in the abdomen by enemy fire on the way to the polling station, but refused to be taken to the nearby hospital until he had cast his vote,â€ Hayes told DefenseLink. (He lived.) In an interview with the Pentagon Channel, he said, “I was just amazed to see people … crawling across open areas to get to the actual polls. Members of my entire troupe just sat back, kind of in awe of these people that are willing to put their lives on the line for democracy.”
During the four days leading up to and including the election, Major Hayes’ forces captured or killed several insurgents. And although there were some civilian injuries, no one died, and none of Hayes’ troops was injured.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Bronze Star. But more importantly, he preserved the integrity of the electoral process in Iraq. Around 300 attacks took place in an attempt to disrupt the 2005 elections; in 2009 there were eleven.
Major Hayes – and all the troops who stood tall to defend the right of free people to cast ballots in the democratic elections in Iraq – are our heroes of the week.
For the complete story, read the DefenseLink article.