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'Hooters girl' trades hot wings for Humvee
Blonde American women serving in war'* aftermath are capturing the hearts of Iraqi men
October 24, 2003
By MARCUS STERN
of Copley News Service
When Spc. Danielle Middleton rides through the streets of downtown Baghdad standing in the turret of her Humvee, blonde hair flows from beneath her helmet and gloved hands finger a loaded assault rifle.
When she'* not doing that, the second-year student at Illinois Central College in East Peoria can be found sporting shin guards, a transparent shield and baton to drill with the rest of her MP company for the day they might have to contain an Iraqi riot.
As part of the Illinois National Guard'* 233rd Military Police Company, Middleton, 20, of Eureka must feel a bit like Alice after falling through the looking glass. She and her unit were activated in February and arrived in Baghdad in April, days after the fall of Saddam Hussein. They expect to be here until next April.
Her MP duties along banks of the Tigris River are a far cry from her days not long ago waiting tables at Hooters along the Illinois River in Peoria.
"Yes, I was a Hooters girl," she said, standing on the rooftop of the barracks of the 233rd'* 1st and 4th Platoons, the Reapers and the Crusaders, respectively.
Last April, the company made a two-day dash from Kuwait to Baghdad. There was no electricity or running water when they arrived. Buildings were still smoking and looting was rampant.
The company moved into a compound along the Tigris in central Baghdad. For toilets, they sawed-off 55-gallon drums and put toilet seats on them. When the drums were full, they carted them off and burned them.
They're jammed eight and nine to a room. But today, they have bathrooms, showers, DVD players, an Internet cafe, two billiard tables and even a pool.
Their lives have been disrupted, and they are constantly at risk.
But day by day, amid the destruction that surrounds them, they are using their skills and ingenuity to reshape their primitive, new world into a tolerable facsimile of the life they knew back home.
The compound the 233rd occupies used to belong to Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, a longtime trusted aide and confidant to Saddam Hussein. Today, Ibrahim is sixth on the coalition'* most-wanted list, the King of Clubs in its deck of cards and a man on the run. His daughter was briefly married to Hussein'* now-deceased oldest son, Uday.
Of the 156 members of the 233rd in Baghdad, 26 are women.
For them, policing a Muslim community carries an extra burden.
In a culture where women are expected to be less visible in public, the sight of a woman standing in a Humvee turret or shouldering an M-16 rifle on the street is an outright spectacle.
Spc. Erica Clark, 21, of Belleville said one man offered five goats for her hand in marriage. Angela Carner, 20, of Dupo said one Iraqi told her she should respect him just because he'* a man.
Spc. Rebecca Power, 22, of Springfield has treated two civilians, one for a gunshot wound and another for a heart attack.
"They're amazed by American women," she said of the Iraqis she encounters on patrol.
Blondes especially strike them.
"They try to reach up and touch it," Power said of her own blonde hair. "I hear them say, "Will you marry me? I love you.' It happens all the time."
Middleton discounted those kinds of encounters.
"I get more of the cheek pinching thing," she said. "They say I have a baby face."
She also said she made friends with a number of young Iraqi boys who helped fortify an Iraqi police station where she spent part of her time. They would help carry sandbags up three flights of stairs to be placed in windows for security.
She said she joined the Guard at 17 to help pay for her education. She is studying art with an emphasis that is shifting from graphic design to interior design.
"I really wanted to go to school, and (joining the Guard) was the easiest way to pay for it," she said.
She has no regrets after being activated and taken away from classes in the second semester of her sophomore year. A month ago, she and the others learned that they are likely to remain in Baghdad until April, meaning they will have been away from home for more than 15 months by the time they return.
She was prepared to drop everything and come, Middleton said.
"I was pretty ready," she said. "I felt like they were giving me all this money and so I better go and do my job."
But, she added, "I really didn't think it would be this hard being away" from friends and family. "Home seems like just a dream to me now."
And what one food does she miss most?
"I'm a big fan of Hooters Hot Wings," she said.
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