Members from Command Post-North, Task Force Lightning, made visits to both the Yezidi temple in Lalish, Iraq, and the Hermos Christian Monastery in Al Qosh, Iraq, Aug. 2.
The group, led by Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, deputy commanding general (support), Multi-National Division-North, first went to the temple in Lalish where they met with Prince Tahsin Ali, prince to all Yezidis in the world.
Brown and the CP-North Soldiers gathered together with Prince Tahsin and his fellow Yezidi religious leaders in a meeting room to visit and share stories with one another. The Soldiers were told about Yezidi customs and rituals and shared in a meal of fruits from the area with the religious leaders.
With a calendar that dates back 6,756 years, Yezidism is claimed to be the oldest religion in the world.
“It was incredible to see such an ancient place with amazing rituals,” said Capt. Kelly Calway, 25th Infantry Division analysis control element battle captain. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Following their time spent sharing in their different cultures, the Soldiers were taken into the Yezidi temple with a guide who explained the Yezidi religion and answered questions from the group. Soldiers even took part in some of the customary Yezidi rituals such as making wishes while tying knots in a satin fabric and tossing a scarf onto a smooth-faced rock three times to have wishes granted.
The tour of the temple ended as some of the Soldiers were taken to Zemzem, a cold-water spring on the lowest level of the temple where the Yezidi people go for baptism and prayer.
“It was such an honor to be able to go there and see just a completely different religion, culture and way of living,” added Calway.
The group left Lalish and headed to the Christian village of Al Qosh where they spent time at the Al Sayda Orphanage and toured the monastery.
While at the orphanage, Brown and the other Soldiers took time to play with the children of the orphanage and handed out Beanie Babies and Nainoa dolls. Brown had the story of the Nainoa doll translated to the priests and children of the orphanage, as it carries a sentimental history behind its existence.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nainoa Hoe, a native of Hawaii, was a platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Company C, 3rd Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment who was shot and killed in January 2005 during his deployment to Mosul, Iraq.
Proud of his Hawaiian ancestry, Nainoa graduated from the University of Hawaii with a master’s degree in business administration.
“Hoe would hand out the dolls on missions, and the kids loved them,” said Brown. “The dolls are hand-made by women and young girls in Nainoa’s honor.”
Nainoa’s father and a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, Allen Hoe, has continued to send the dolls to Iraq in his son’s honor.
Before sending the dolls to Iraq, they are blessed at St. Andrews Priory School in Honolulu where they are made.
The Beanie Babies that were being handed out were donated by Students from the First Presbyterian Weekday School in Granada Hills, Calif., where Brown’s aide-de-camp, Capt. Melissa Lewis’ mother teaches. Each student brought in one Beanie Baby during their last chapel of the year.
“A lot of the parents felt like it was a good lesson for the kids to share with the Iraqi children,” stated Lewis.
With smiles on their faces, the children at the orphanage gathered around Brown and the Soldiers to get their gifts.
“It was really cool to be able to hand out the beanie babies and dolls and see their faces light up,” said Calway. “It was nice to be able to bring some joy into their lives.”
The Soldiers enjoyed their time at the orphanage as they talked with the children, gave them high-fives, and even played ping-pong with some of them. Before leaving and heading to the monastery, the Soldiers gathered all the children together with their Nainoa dolls and Beanie Babies in hand to take a photo.
It’s an incredible honor to be able to continue the small, symbolic gesture in Nainoa’s honor, stated Brown.
After loading into vehicles, the group started their steep drive up a winding road that ended at Hermos Christian monastery, which is set near the peak of a close by mountain.
Like the temple in Lalish, Hermos monastery is built into the mountainside and opens up to many ancient underground caverns and tunnels, and the Soldiers spent time exploring and taking photos of the crosses that were etched into the rock.
“To see the cross up in Iraq was really cool because you don’t see that around here,” stated Calway.
Before departing back to Forward Operating Base Marez, in Mosul, Iraq, the mayor of Al Qosh invited the Soldiers to his house for a lunch. The presence of the Soldiers drew a gathering of people from the neighborhood as the people were curious to see what was going on.
The Soldiers met with the people and began handing out what was left of the Beanie Babies they had brought with them on their mission. Some of the Soldiers even took time to play soccer in the streets with the children.
Story by Spc. Daniel Nelson