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Talking Raven Who Became a Hero
(Omar the Amazing Raven)
By Phil Rowe
Sitting in the shade outside his barracks on the edge of the airport in Baghdad,
Corporal Terry King relaxed with a paperback book. He only an hour earlier completed
a dangerous drive to bring outgoing mail from the Green Zone to the postal facility
on the airfield. Now it was time to unwind from the tensions of those hazardous
trips he made twice each day. Terry was a truck driver and that is far from
the safest job in Iraq.
Terry paused to watch a large black raven perched high above him on a lamp post.
It was a series of strange sounds that the raven made that turned his attention
from the book. He wasn’t quite sure what the sounds were but it almost
sounded like “turn the page already”. Surely he must be mistaken
he thought on reflection.
He turned back to his book and did in fact turn the page to continue reading.
So intent was Terry now on the story that he didn’t notice the raven descend
to the back of the empty chair next to his. After reading a page or two more
Terry paused and realized that someone or some thing was watching. He turned
around and was startled to see the bird gazing back at him, its head seemingly
cocking one way and then the other as it examined the human reading there.
With the book now on his lap, Terry paused to look at the bird more closely.
Its shiny black feathers appeared almost iridescent. The glossy black eyes looked
back at Terry in a curious way, almost as if it was about to call out or say
something. And then it happened, much to Terry’s amazement. The bird spoke,
actually spoke in a manner that Terry understood.
“Aren’t you going to turn those pages?” the raven asked. “I
was reading too.”
“What? What did you say?” Terry asked incredulously.
“I believe you heard me. I was reading along with you but I must say you
are much too slow a reader for my taste. That is a very good book.”
“Bird can’t read,” Terry declared. “And I must be hallucinating
if I am actually hearing you talk.”
“No, it’s not your imagination, Corporal. I can indeed talk and
I do read quite well. My eyesight is better than that of humans like you. I
could easily ready the pages of your book from atop that lamp post, but it would
have been more enjoyable if you weren’t such a slow reader and took so
long to turn the pages.”
“Well, I’ll be,” Terry muttered. “I’ve heard of
a talking horse, the one they called Mr. Ed on television, but never a talking
bird. No, I take that back. I have heard parrots talk.”
“So then you should not be too amazed that a raven, like me for example,
can also talk. But what did you mean ‘I’ll be”? You’ll
be what? Saying ‘I’ll be’ makes no sense at all.”
For several seconds or even a minute or two Terry said nothing. He was too flabbergasted
to respond. But soon Terry came to realize that this was really happening, strange
as it was. He decided to continue conversing with the raven, saying “What
is your name, raven? Should I address you as simply bird?”
“My name in human terms is Omar, Omar the talking raven.”
“That certainly fits. So how did you learn to speak? Did you mimic human
sounds when you wanted to be noticed?”
“Yes, in the beginning I suppose, yes that’s probably how I tried
to communicate with my first human contact. My first conversations where I did
much more than repeat words came when I began to realize that I actually understood
and could convey thoughts, as well as understand what my contact was trying
to say. His name was Omar too, and I adopted that name out of respect, though
it was he who added the talking raven part.”
“Who was that man? Was he an Iraqi?”
“Oh no, he was an Englishman. I encountered him in Egypt on my seasonal
migrations down that way. When the heat gets too much for me here I go down
to Egypt where the coastal breezes are much more to my liking.”
“The Englishman you say was called Omar? That’s unusual, for Omar
is clearly not an English name. Are you sure that was his name? And what happened
to him? Is he still alive and in Egypt?”
“Alas no, my first human friend was an old man and he passed away a few
years ago. But his name indeed was Omar. He was a rug merchant whose mother
was Egyptian and his father a British soldier. And it was he who taught me to
read. In his last days his eyesight failed and I would read to him. That made
him happy. I miss him.”
“Interesting,” Terry mused. “Can you speak or read other languages
“No, only English and it took me quite a while to make the connection
between spoken words and those in print, like your books. I actually welcomed
the arrival of you Americans and coalition people because I heard and understood
speech once more. These Iraqis seldom speak in words I can understand, but now
I hear and see English. That is why I stopped to see what you were reading.”
Terry smiled and decided to ask his new raven friend some other things. “You
say you have better eyesight that humans and I don’t dispute that. I know
of eagles and falcons that can spot small prey at long distances, though I was
not that aware that ravens like you could do that too. Could you see people
who shoot at Americans? I mean, can you tell if someone is dressed differently
and likely to attack a American in uniform or in a vehicle?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I have often seen from high above the scurrying
of men carrying guns and rocket launchers trying to position themselves to attack
your soldiers. I have also seen where roadways have been altered to hide what
your people call explosive devices, improvised things that explode when trucks
and even tanks approach.”
“Do you warn our soldiers? Or do you simply observe?”
“The latter, I’m ashamed to say. You are the first American I have
ever conversed with.”“So would it be possible for you to fly over
my truck and warn me if you see any threats along my route from the Green Zone
to the airport here? If you became my friend you could show it by looking out
“I suppose I could do that, Corporal. But you have to understand that
I have no particular loyalty to you or to the locals here. I am a transient
and will be gone when hot weather returns.”
“All I’m suggesting, “Terry continued, “is that it would
make my life a whole lot easier if I knew in advance where a particular threat
or hazard in my path might be. Having you alert me to possibly dangerous roadway
ahead would be much appreciated.”
“You realize, Corporal, that I might not be able to make myself heard
over the roar and clatter of your truck, even if I did see something ahead of
“You are right, my friend. Perhaps we need to create some signals you
could use, like zooming low in front of me when I should stop or perhaps having
you circle above suspicious enemy on the side of the road ahead. Would that
work? Oh, and my name is Terry. Okay?”
“Whatever, Terry. First, I need to be able to identify your vehicle from
up above the road. Can you place a cloth or something onto your radio antenna,
something distinctive that identifies your vehicle from all the others on the
“Yeah, I could do that. I have a bright green scarf that I could use.
Can you tell colors or is everything just shades of gray to your eyes?”
“Sure, I can see colors. You are right now wearing tan and green camouflage
army pants, white undershirt and a red baseball cap. Right?”
“Okay, so you can tell colors. That’s good. I’ll try to tie
my scarf to the antenna atop the cab … or if that doesn’t work I’ll
hang it out the right front door, either by closing the door to an end of the
scarf or tying it to the door handle.”
“That should work. So? When is your next trip down the road to the Green
Zone?” Omar asked.
“Tomorrow morning early, just about sunrise I’ll leave here to drive
from the airport to pick up the embassy mail. The Marine guards at the embassy
will load the mail pouches into my truck and I will head back here to the airport
without delay. I want to get back here to get some breakfast before they stop
the chow line at 9:30.”
“Chow line?” asked Omar, cocking his head back and forth, side to
side. “What’s that?”
“It’s where I get my breakfast, in the dining hall over there beyond
the parking area. It’s that low building toward the fence there,”
Terry explained while pointing to the North.
Suddenly Omar flew up from the nearby chair to the lamppost, startled by a loud
voice calling, “Corporal King. The Captain wants to see you … now.”
It was the sergeant’s bellowing voice that interrupted Terry’s conversation.
Soon the big burly sergeant appeared around the end of the building and motioned
for Terry to get a move on. Omar watched from his perch.Terry reached his unit
headquarters, paused to tuck in his T-shirt and remove his cap on entering.
Another corporal sitting at a desk just outside the captain’s office greeted
“ Go right in, Terry. The captain wants to tell you something.”
Terry saluted and respectfully asked, “You wanted tom see me, sir?”
“Yes, Corporal King. Tomorrow morning you are to be at the U.S. Embassy
promptly at 0700 hours to bring a special diplomatic pouch straight to Base
Operation. There you will locate the pilot of the VIP flight bringing some State
Department folks back to Washington. You will hand the pouch directly to the
pilot, get his signature on the transfer forms and then take the rest of the
usual mail to the normal place. Got that? Any questions?”
“No sir. I understand. Do you have the name of the pilot?”
“Not a clue, Corporal. You can ask at the dispatch desk.”
“Right, sir. Will do,” Terry acknowledged.
“Oh yes, one more thing. You will take two armed guards with you. This
diplomatic pouch is high priority and mustn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Sergeant Kaminski and Private Lopez will meet at 0600. Be sure you’ve
checked your vehicle and have plenty of fuel.”
“Got it, sir. Kaminski and Lopez. Have they been briefed?”
“Yes, they have. That’s all, Corporal.”
Terry saluted, turned smartly and left the captain’s office. This was
not the first time that he had carried diplomatic materials so he knew the drill
quite well. As Terry passed by the desk of the fellow who’d greeted him
on arriving a few minutes ago, the corporal said, “Good luck, Terry. This
will probably be your last mail run for a while. Your orders to transfer down
to Kuwait just arrived. You’ll finish out your tour over here with two
months duty in Kuwait. I guess you’ve earned a cushy assignment after
all the dangerous mail runs you’ve made to and from the Green Zone.”
“Really? Kuwait?” Terry exclaimed in surprise. “I never expected
this. How do I rate getting out of here before my tour is over?”
“The captain arranged it, you lucky stiff. So be careful tomorrow.”
“That’s for sure … how soon am I supposed to leave for Kuwait?”
“Next week. You’ll go down on the courier flight next Wednesday,
I think. Yeah, you leave at 0930. I’ll have your paperwork ready by Monday.”
“Thanks Mike,” Terry replied. He left the headquarters with a new
spring in his step and returned to the chair where he’s left his book.
He looked up toward the lamppost looking for his raven friend, but didn’t
see him anywhere. Deciding not to sit and read any more, Terry turned to go
to his barracks cubicle, somewhat disappointed that he could not tell Omar about
tomorrow’s special run to the Green Zone and embassy.
Bright and early the next morning, even before breakfast or even a cup of coffee,
Terry had to be satisfied with a candy bar to hold off his hunger. He checked
out his vehicle, a typical desert camouflaged 6-by-6 truck with canvas cover
over the cargo bed. Kaminski and Lopez soon appeared, each wearing armor vests,
helmets, and carrying semi-automatic weapons.
“ You guys ready? “ Terry asked his armed guards.
“Yeah. Let’s go,” Kaminski urged. “Maybe we can get
back before it gets so darn hot. All this armor we’re wearing is really
uncomfortable when it’s hot.
“Sorry, guys, but this limousine isn’t air conditioned,” Terry
smilingly retorted. “Okay, let’s go.”
The drive from the airport to the Green Zone security control point was uneventful.
The weather was warm and skies clear, typical for this April morning. After
gaining access to the Green Zone and driving toward the embassy, all three men
felt they could relax a bit inside the protected area where Iraqi and coalition
VIP’s work and live. It is so different from the world outside the zone.
Two armed Marine guards greeted Terry as he pulled up to the pickup point next
to the embassy. First they rolled up a wheeled pushcart with several mailbags
and some cartons of regular outgoing mail. Then a fellow in civilian clothes
approached carrying two suitcase-size dark leather pouches, each bearing a chain
and padlock plus a metal railroad type seal.
“Sign here, Corporal,” explained the civilian. “Take these
pouches directly to Base Operations and get the pilot of the Washington courier
flight to sign for them. You can bring the signed receipts back here on your
afternoon mail run.”
Terry dutifully signed for the pouches and placed them within the truck cab.
Only the regular mailbag and boxes went in the cargo bed under the tarp. Because
the pouches took up so much room, Kaminski told Lopez to rive in the back of
the truck with the mail. Reluctantly, the junior Lopez complied.
Then Terry took out a long green scarf. He tied it to the door handle, on the
right side of the vehicle, before heading out of the security zone. Kaminski
watch and was puzzled by Terry’s actions, asking, “What is that
“That’s just my lucky charm. Maybe with that out there we won’t
be ambushed or run onto a roadside bomb,” Terry responded as they headed
for the airport road.
Shortly after reaching the airport road, Kaminski saw a raven sitting on a wall
along side the four-lane highway. It flew off and headed in the same direction
they were going. Terry smiled, knowing that it was most probably Omar.
“What’s that dumb bird doing?” Kaminski asked on seeing the
raven fly ahead and at about fifty feet over the pavement. Terry didn’t
Traffic was light on the airport road at that early hour. Terry drove along
at a steady forty miles per hour. His nervous armed associates were a bit nervous,
knowing that ambushes or worse might lie ahead. They still had fifteen miles
to go to reach the airport security perimeter.
“Look at that crazy raven,” Kaminski declared. Then shouting he
added, “Watch out. That dumb bird is headed straight for us. It approached
the windshield within a few feet before veering off to the left. Terry slammed
on the brakes and stopped his truck in the left lane.“What in the hell
??” Kaminski yelled. “Why did you stop? Why here? This is a dangerous
section of this road.”
Terry calmed down in a second or two, his heart beating fast and furiously.
“That’s why. There’s a bomb just ahead on the edge of the
pavement. Call the bomb squad on your walkie-talkie radio. Tell ’em where
we are and that there’s a roadside bomb just ahead,” Terry demanded.
“What bomb? I don’t see anything ahead. All I see now is that crazy
raven strutting in circles over there.”
“That crazy raven, as you call him, just saved our lives,” Terry
replied. “He’s walking around to point our where the bomb is. If
he hadn’t warned me we’d have been blown to bits in just seconds.”
“What do mean he warned you?” Kaminski pressed after making the
radio call to the EOD (explosive ordinance demolition) alert team. “How
in the hell do you know what that dumb bird was doing? He almost smashed through
our windshield just a few seconds ago.”
“Believe me, Kaminski. I know. I know that bird and he just saved our
Then Terry declared, “But we can’t hang around here. The bad guys
could be nearby waiting to blast us .” Then, on opening his side window,
Terry shouted at the raven. “Thanks, Omar. Thank you my friend. You did
Kaminski was certain that his driver was bezerk, just plain nuts to be yelling
at a raven. “Are you nuts, Corporal? What do you mean that bird saved
“Believe me. I know it sounds crazy, but that is one very smart raven,”
Terry responded while motioning for the raven to approach. Kaminski just shook
his head in disbelief as the raven flew over and landed on top of the cab.
“Omar, can you go up and look around? Are there any bad guys around that
might soon start shooting at us.”
The raven flew away just a bit and circled along both sides of the road, first
ahead and then behind the truck. It returned and landed on the hood of the truck.
Then to the even greater amazement of Kaminski, Omar declared, “Not to
worry, Terry. There’s nobody around, but I’m glad I noticed the
recently disturbed dirt along the edge of the pavement. Somebody placed a big
explosive device there recently. It wasn’t there when you went to the
Green Zone earlier.”
Kaminski’s jaw dropped in disbelief. And from the back of the truck Lopez
shouted, “Are you actually talking to that big bird in front of us? What
gives? Why are we stopped here?”
Terry calmed his two armed escorts as best he could, explaining that the raven
spotted what was clearly a likely explosive device that could have blown them
all to bits. And then he added,
“My raven friend says there are no bad guys in the immediate area. We
can wait here until the EOD boys arrive. You guys make sure no other vehicles
come too close. That bomb in right up in front of us.”
While waiting for the EOD team to come and disarm the roadside bomb, Terry had
to explain about Omar. The raven remained on the hood of the truck, listening
to Terry and carefully eyeing the other two men in the truck.
“This is nuts, just plain nuts, Terry. I see it and I hear it,”
Kaminski declared, “but I can’t believe it. You and that big bird
are actually talking to each other and it showed you that there is a bomb out
By this time Lopez had stopped a couple vehicles approaching from behind them
and explained about the bomb. Soon an EOD team approached and took control of
the area, but Terry told them that he couldn’t wait because he had to
get the pouches to the airport before the plane to Washington took off.
Finally, Terry asked Omar, “Can we safely drive onto the median and then
continue on to the airfield?”
Omar flew around a bit and then returned declaring that it looked clear. “Great,
Omar. You lead on and we’ll follow. I have to get to Base Operations as
fast as possible. Thanks again. I’ll see you outside my barracks in a
“Are you going to the chow line like you said?” Omar asked.
Terry laughed and admitted that he’d forgotten all about being hungry.
“ Yes, I’ll see you after my breakfast. Let’s go.”
On arriving at the Base Operation building on the flight line, Terry and his
guards entered carrying the important diplomatic pouches. The fellow behind
the dispatch counter pointed out the pilot of the courier flight and Terry turned
to approach the major who was filling out some paperwork related to his flight
But before he could cross the room to reach the pilot the captain from his unit
came up to question why Terry was a half-hour late getting to Base Operations.
The two guards were still at Terry’s side. Before Terry could explain
about being delayed by the discovery of a roadside bomb, Sergeant Kaminski interrupted,
“You aren’t going to believe what happened, Captain. It’s
the wildest thing I’ve ever seen.” Then Lopez added, “We wouldn’t
even be here if it wasn’t for Corporal King’s raven.”
“Hold it,” the captain said, holding his hands out in front of him.
“Raven? Bomb? What’s this all about?”
Before answering, Terry suggested, “Excuse me, sir, let me first get the
pouches over to the pilot of the courier flight. He’s standing right over
“Uh, yes. Go ahead and get that done, but don’t go far. I want your
explanation for all of this and your delay.” Terry and Kaminski moved
over to the major and took care of the transfer of the
pouches and attendant paperwork. But in the meantime and very animated Private
Lopez tried to explain the incident with the bomb, the raven and Corporal King’s
conversations with the bird.
“Lopez, have you been drinking?” the captain demanded.
“No, sir, not a drop. I never drink. I don’t drink at all.”
By the time that Terry and Kaminski returned to the captain, they noticed he
was agitated and shaking his head in disbelief. “What kind of bull crap
are you three trying to hand me?” he barked.
“It’s the honest to god truth, Captain,” Kaminski replied.
“That bird warned us of the bomb being on the edge of the road and Corporal
King wisely stopped the truck. Then the EOD guys came and sure enough there
was an improvised explosive device there just below the dirt. That bird saw
it and King knew what the bird was telling him. But the strangest part was Corporal
King actually conversing with the critter. I’ve never heard of such a
thing and wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen and heard it
“Okay, okay you three. You all be in my office at 1300 hours. I want a
full report, the captain insisted.
“Yes, sir,” the three replied in unison.
“I’m starving,” Terry declared. “Let’s hustle
over to the mess hall and see if they are still serving breakfast.”
In about an hour, by the time that Terry finished his meal and started walking
back toward his barracks, the rumors were flying about the experience. It was
just noon when Terry’s sergeant strode into the barracks and reached Terry’s
cubicle. “The captain wants to see you, Corporal”.
“I know, Sarge. He told me to be in his office at 1300.”
“No. He wants to see you right now. Get your butt over there.”
Terry replied, “Okay, okay. I’m on my way. But why in the hell does
he want me now and not when he told me earlier. Let me get my clothes changed.”
The sergeant didn’t respond, except to motion with his hand, which clearly
said “move it.”
On the way out of his barracks Terry noticed a raven perched atop a telephone
pole. “Omar, is that you?” he called out, but the bird didn’t
respond. It was then that Terry saw three more ravens flying high above. “Where
are you, Omar?” Terry muttered as he continued over to his headquarters
When Terry reached the captain’s office he noticed that there was another
captain and a lieutenant in there too. “Come on in, Corporal,” the
captain said and motioned with a wave of his hand. “Have a seat there
next to Lieutenant Howard. He’s from the intelligence office. Captain
Cromwell, next to him, is from the security section.”
nodded to the other officers and tentatively sat down. It was a bit crowded
in that small space in front of the captain’s desk. “I suppose this
is about what you heard over at Base Ops,” he nervously declared.
“That’s right, Corporal. We want to get the whole story. What actually
So Terry explained everything, recounting the whole story from first meeting
with the talking raven, the events of the trip to and from the Green Zone and
the verified discovery by the EOD team of the roadside bomb. The officers listened
intently, though the lieutenant clearly showed doubt in his facial expressions.
When Terry was done there was a disturbing long silence in the room.
“Can you show us this raven friend of yours, Corporal?” asked Captain
“I’m not sure, sir. I don’t know where he is. He usually finds
me but doesn’t respond to my calls. I do know that he is very wary,”
“You must realize,” Cromwell continued, “that this amazing
bird of yours could be a valuable asset for us. He could save lives and perhaps
even perform reconnaissance that we couldn’t do in many areas. It’s
important to us.”
“I understand, sir, but believe me when I say I can’t just bring
him in anytime I want. It’s up to
him, not me.”
“Okay, but we want to know the very next time he comes to you,”
“What are you going to do? Capture him and put him in a cage like a trained
monkey? I won’t help you do that, no, not at all.” Terry replied,
a tone on annoyance clear in his voice.
“We’re done for now, Corporal. You’re dismissed,” Terry’s
captain declared. “We’ll discuss this and get with you later.”
After Terry left, his captain explained to Cromwell and Howard that King was
scheduled to be transferred to Kuwait next week. He even suggested that they
should perhaps forget the whole thing and save themselves some problematic discussions
up the chain of command. “By next week at this time the whole matter could
Terry didn’t sleep very well that night for worrying about Omar and what
his superiors might choose to do with him. So before sunrise he got up, dressed
and headed for the motor pool and the adjacent salvage yard. He hoped to fine
Omar still roosting for the night in one of the several derelict Humvees.
The sun was just beginning to rise and twilight now bright enough that Terry
could see across the open area toward the collection of battle damaged vehicles.
“Omar, it’s Terry. Are you in there?” he called out. A variety
of small creatures, mice or rats or something could be heard scurrying about,
disturbed by the morning intruder. “Omar, where are you?”
Soon a flapping of wings and the scratching of claws on metal parts could be
heard. “Yes, Terry. I’m over here in the Humvee by the barbed wire
“Oh good. I’m glad I found you. We need to talk.”
“Have you anything to eat?” Omar asked. “Have you been to
that chow line thing you told me about?”
“Sorry, no. I haven’t had my breakfast yet. But oh, I do have a
candy bar here in my shirt pocket. Do you eat candy?”
“Yes. I eat most anything I can find but generally prefer meat or fish.
We ravens are practically omnivorous. Sometimes we capture small rodents or
eat dead animals killed on the roadside, but I haven’t been out yet to
see what’s available.”
“Well here, you can have this if you like,” Terry responded as he
tossed his candy bar onto the hood of the Humvee.”
“You might have at least unwrapped it for me,” said Omar as he scurried
over the vehicle to grab the offering.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Here, let me unwrap it.” And Terry continued,
explaining about his meeting the three officers yesterday. But he hastened to
add, “I won’t let them capture you or exploit your unusual abilities.
I value you too much as a friend, one who saved my life on the road yesterday.”
“This stuff is pretty good,” Omar commented as he pecked enthusiastically
at the candy bar. “I see from the writing on the wrapper that it’s
called Baby Ruth. I never heard of food like this.”
“Listen, Omar, I have another trip to make to the Green Zone this morning,
for the regular mail run. Could you see your way to escort me again?”
“Of course, Terry. Yes, I can see quite well, but to your request for
me to accompany you, yes I’d be happy to go with you. I do have one minor
“Could I ride part of the way in your truck? I am intrigued by what I
see in this Humvee where I spend the night and I imagine myself driving down
the highway. It must be a lot easier than flapping my wings all the time.”
Terry laughed. Sure, you can sit in the cab next to me, but would it be easier
if you rode on top. You could dig your claws into the canvas over the cargo
box and hold on while I drive down the roadway. That would make it easier for
you to fly up to check on things ahead of us, don’t you think?”
“I want to ride inside the cab at least for a bit,” Omar declared.
“Okay, but let’s do it here within the airport perimeter where it’s
safe and you don’t have to be on the lookout for dangers ahead,”
“Are you going to tie your green scarf on the side of the door again?”
“Yes, I’ll do that gladly. I am scheduled to leave here at 0830
hours, so look for me here in the motor pool area at that time and you can ride
with me, inside the cab until we leave the fenced area. See you later. I’m
headed to the chow hall now. Bye.”
Omar was waiting when Terry opened the door to his truck. He’d left the
passenger side window open and there was Omar perched on the steering wheel.
“You can’t ride there, my friend. I need to drive. Maybe you should
sit on the top of the seat back beside me. That way you can see where we are
And that’s exactly where Omar decided to ride, fascinated as he was by
the things that Terry had to do to make the vehicle go and steer along the roads
within the airport grounds. When they got to the security gate to leave the
airport complex and head toward the Green Zone, one of the guards noticed the
big black raven inside the truck cab. It was only after waving Terry on through
did the guard think that he had just seen that raven everyone was talking about,
but it was too late to stop the mail truck. The guard did observe the bird soon
fly out of the window and then land atop the canvas cover, somehow managing
to hold on as the truck sped away.
When Terry arrived at the usual mail pickup point within the Green Zone, Omar
was no longer atop the truck. He had flown up onto a power line pole just outside
the security check point to await Terry’s return. There was a surprised
awaiting Terry as he loaded the day’s mail bags and boxes into the back
of his truck. An Iraqi civilian approach him saying an important passenger would
be going along on the drive back to the airport.
“Yes sir, I have room for a passenger. Who is it?” Terry responded.
“It’s the government’s minister of finance, a very important
man,” the civilian explained. We are having him ride with you to prevent
an assassination attempt that might occur if he traveled in his usual limousine.
We will send that car on ahead of you, but the minister will be riding in your
truck and the enemy will not suspect that such an important person to be riding
there. I have cleared this with your headquarters.”
“Uh, well yes, I suppose that’s okay, but I have a suggestion,”
Terry proposed. “It might be even safer if your minister’s limo
followed me rather than leading the way. I can’t explain but it would
be much safer following me.”
“Very well,” the civilian agreed. He had no way of knowing that
Omar would be alerting Terry of hazards ahead.
Soon a well-dressed and distinguished looking man arrived and entered Terry’s
truck, sitting himself in the passenger seat. The man was helped by the civilian
who inquired about the green scarf that was tied to the door handle. “Do
you want me to remove this rag?” the man asked.
“No, please don’t. That’s my luck charm that I keep there
on all my mail runs. Leave it there, please.”
The minister seemed curious but said nothing other than to tell Terry that he
was ready to go to the airport. Soon Terry headed out of the Green Zone security
area and toward the airport road that he had driven so many times. It comforted
him to see Omar flying above and ahead as the truck sped away. The black limousine
followed some fifty yards behind.
They had driven no more than three miles from the security of the Green Zone
when Terry noticed Omar circling high above a walled fence ahead and off to
the right. That was a signal that there might be dangerous people waiting in
ambush. Terry pressed the accelerator all the way to the floor and suggested
to the minister that it would be wise to get down and out of sight.
“Why do you tell me that, driver?” the minister asked. “The
floor of your truck is dusty and dirty.”
“Forget about the dust, sir. There might be attackers up ahead. Get down,
Dutifully but not confident that there really was something ahead that his driver
knew about, the minister followed Terry’s suggesting and huddled down
so as not to be visible to possible assassins along the road.
Terry was now going over 60 miles per hour and the truck bounced quite a bit
over the occasionally broken pavement. The limousine soon accelerated as well
but remained now a quarter mile behind. As it reached the walled area that Omar
indicated gunfire broke out and a rocket propelled grenade struck the limousine.
A loud explosion ensued as the vehicle behind Terry blew apart. Terry kept his
accelerator pedal to the floor and the truck safely passed by the dangerous
area that Omar warned about.
Terry reached for his portable radio and reported the attack, but said nothing
about the minister being safely within the cab of his truck. Cautiously the
minister returned to his seat, saying “How did you know that there were
enemy attackers back there?”
“All I can say, sir, is that a little bird told me. Make that a big bird.
Are you okay?”
The minister suggested, “Are you sure it wasn’t that luck charm
of a green cloth or rag you tied to the door handle?”
“Must have been,” Terry quietly responded.
Terry dropped the Finance Minister off at the passenger terminal and then took
the mail to the postal facility, as was his usual practice. Waiting for him
was a message from his commanding officer telling him to go ASAP to Battalion
headquarters and to report to a Colonel Addams in the intelligence office. That
puzzled and worried Terry a great deal, for he felt sure that it meant he would
be ordered to bring his raven friend, Omar, for some kind of examination and
likely exploitation. This was not good.
He returned his truck to the motor pool, but before heading to the office of
Colonel Addams he headed to the area where Omar was that morning in the derelict
Humvee. The sun was high and it was getting hot. He approached the vehicle and
called out Omar’s name but there was no sign of his winged friend. In
fact there was no sign of life at all in the mid-day heat. Reluctantly he returned
to his barracks, deciding that it would be prudent to change into a clean uniform
before reporting to the colonel.
Terry put his little MP3 music player in his pocket, the kind with a digital
voice recorder and barely bigger than a ten-pack of chewing gum. He hoped to
be able to record Omar’s voice if they ever met again. He was hopeful
but note sure at all.
Just as he rounded the corner of his barracks he spotted a pair of ravens perched
atop a lamp post, the very same one where Omar first appeared several days ago.
Then he heard Omar call to him. Because the two ravens looked pretty much alike
from that distance he wasn’t sure right away which one was Omar. It wasn’t
until one of the birds flew down and landed on the back of the lawn chair where
Terry usually went to read in the shade of the building that he was sure.
Quickly Terry turned on his little recorder. And called out Omar? Is that you?”
“Yes, it is. Too bad about the big limousine getting blown up.”
“Yeah, and I don’t guess the driver survived the rocket blast. I
sure am grateful for your warning me of those bad guys behind that wall. Once
again you saved my life. Did you know that you also saved the life of the VIP
who should have been in that car?”
“No, I didn’t. I saw that you had somebody with you, but I had no
way of knowing it was somebody important,” Omar added.
“We have to talk, my friend. I have been ordered to talk with some colonel
over in the intelligence section. I’m sure it concerns you and I’m
worried that my superiors are intent on using you.”
“Not to worry, Terry. I’m about to leave for Egypt. It’s getting
too hot around here. My friend, the one up on the lamp post there, and I are
just about to leave and I wanted to stop by to bid you farewell. I don’t
think we’ll meet again.”
“It’s probably for the best. I’ll be leaving as well, next
Wednesday in fact. The last weeks of my tour here in the Mid-East will be spent
down in Kuwait. Do you know where that is?”
“I know it well. It’s about 500 miles South of here and sometimes
I go to and from Egypt that way because there’s water along the way and
usually food as well. I follow the river.”
“Safe journey, my friend. I will always remember you,” Terry declared,
with a sense of sadness.
He watched the two ravens take flight and climb up high in the southern sky.
They gradually disappeared from view as two black specks, Terry returned his
barracks. Terry turned off his recorder believing that he would not again hear
his friend’s voice live.
After changing into fresh clothes, Terry headed over to Battalion Headquarters
and to the office of Colonel Addams. Soon he was standing before the stern-faced
colonel who began interrogating the nervous corporal about the talking raven.
It wasn’t until after a long series of questions that Terry was allowed
to explain that Omar was gone and not likely to return for some time, at least
until the summer hot weather was over.
The colonel was not at all happy, but he finally explained that any usefulness
of the bird and Terry’s relationship with it was lost forever. “I
suppose, Corporal King, that we should be thankful that your bird friend saved
you twice and the Finance Minister as well. That’s all. You are dismissed.
Terry couldn’t have been more relieved than to get that meeting over with.
Omar’s departure clearly solved what could have become a stressful situation.
He headed by his own unit’s office to see if his paperwork was completed
and the Kuwait transfer was confirmed.
“Here you are, Terry,” the administration clerk said as he handed
Terry his orders and explained the details of the transfer to Kuwait. “You’re
to fly down on a C-17 transport at 0700 hours this Wednesday. Report to Base
Operations at least a half hour early.”
Just as Terry was about to leave, his captain came into the room. “I heard
about your close call on the trip back from the Green Zone this morning, Corporal.
Was it your bird friend that came to your rescue again?”
“Yes, sir. He warned me in time to escape before the shooting started.”
“The Finance Minister told the folks in the passenger terminal all about
it. He was impressed by your lucky green scarf, your good luck charm he claimed.
In fact, he suggested that we give you a commendation for saving his life.
“Not necessary, Captain. The real hero was Omar, my amazing raven friend.
I’m just glad to be getting out of here in one piece. That’s the
“Well, if I don’t see you again before you leave for Kuwait I want
to wish you the best of luck and a safe journey. You’ve earned the chance
to get out of here and not to have to run the gauntlet to the Green Zone again.”
Terry thanked the captain for his words and returned to his barracks.
Wednesday morning Terry reported to the flight line with his duffel bag and
backpack for the trip to Kuwait. He had to wait until the cargo was loaded aboard
the huge C-17 transport. The loadmaster was supervising the ground crew in placing
three wrecked and battle damaged Humvees into the cargo bay. Soon the vehicles
were tied down and walk-on passengers permitted to board.
The loadmaster briefed the passengers and made sure their luggage was properly
stowed for the flight from Baghdad to the joint Kuwait-Coalition force airport
West of Kuwait City.
Soon the massive cargo door and ramp at the rear of the plane closed and the
jet engines roared to life. Within fifteen minutes they were airborne.
When the loadmaster gave the word that passengers were allowed to move about
the cargo bay, Terry walked over to inspect the three badly damaged Humvees
strapped securely to the deck tie-downs. He looked curiously around and into
the vehicles and was told that they were being taken to a repair facility to
be fixed up and later returned to Baghdad.
When Terry looked within the middle Humvee he noticed something that immediately
got his full attention. It was a feather, a black raven’s feather. “Was
this the same vehicle that Omar had used for night roosting?” he wondered
aloud. And then he spotted something else, clear evidence that this indeed was
that very Humvee. On the floor on the driver’s side he spotted a Baby
Ruth candy wrapper. “Oh my god,” he gasped. “This is amazing.”Terry’s
assignment in Kuwait was to the repair facility’s driver section. His
job was to test drive vehicles coming out of the shops before their shipment
back to Iraqi bases. It was very easy duty and much safer than his previous
mail runs to and from the Green Zone. But what he really thought about was finishing
this duty and returning to the good old USA in just a few weeks.
Then one day, just a week before he was scheduled to fly home, he was instructed
to test drive a Humvee. It was one just repaired and ready to be returned to
Baghdad. Terry reviewed the list of things to check. This would be the final
step before the vehicle would be loaded onto another C-17.
To his great surprise he discovered a Baby Ruth wrapper under the driver’s
seat. He couldn’t believe that the crew in the repair shops had left the
wrapper there. Everything else about the Humvee was obviously re-worked and
fixed. Yet there it was. That brought a big grin to his face.
Out on the test track, really just the perimeter road around the airfield, Terry
drove the vehicle and tested everything indicated on the checklist. He listened
to some music on his little MP3 player as he drove around the course. He stopped
and dutifully filled in the forms required before signing off the completion
of the test. Then he parked the now-certified and ready-to-go vehicle in the
lot where others stood prior to being transports back to Iraq.
Just as he got out and started to walk across the lot to the office where he
would turn in the paperwork, a voice called to him saying, “Hello Terry.
Fancy meeting you here. Is that the Humvee I slept in back up in Baghdad?”
Right away Terry recognized his friend’s voice. Quickly he turned on his
little player-recorded once more.
“Well, I’ll be,” Terry answered. “It’s you.”
“You’ll be what?” Omar responded.
“I’ll be …. nothing, I am so delighted to see you again. How
long have you been here in Kuwait?”
“Not long. My companions and I took our time coming down the Tigris and
stayed a few days near where the Euphrates joined it. It was hot but at least
there was water and we found ample food in the marshes and lakes.”
“How long will you stay here?” asked the amazed Terry.
“Not long at all, I’m afraid. It’s even hotter here than up
in Baghdad. We head West to Egypt before sunrise tomorrow, but I wanted to take
the chance of stopping here in hopes of seeing you once more. “
“Well, I’m glad you did and that you have safely gotten his far,”
Terry exclaimed happily.
“We almost didn’t make it,” Omar declared.
“Oh, what happened?”
“As we were flying low over Basra, down in the very southern part of Iraq,
there was some sort of celebration going on. Dozens of people were firing their
guns randomly up in the air. I barely escaped getting shot. One of my companions
was struck and killed so senselessly. Those people are idiots to shoot like
that. It wasn’t hazardous just to us either. Some of their bullets fell
back down onto people in the streets. More than likely some were hit, maybe
even killed. ““That’s too bad. I am so happy that you are
all right. Are there more hazards along the rest of your route to Egypt?”
“Not that kind, thankfully. Our main concern is finding water and food
across Saudi Arabia. There will be long stretches between oases and even the
smallest of streams. We’ll take our time and hope to be there in a few
weeks,” Omar explained, adding “Too bad we can’t ride in your
airplanes. We would be there in hours.”
“I am confident you’ll make it okay. After all you’ve made
the trip before,” Terry responded. “But will I see you before you
“I’m afraid not. We have a place on the coast just north of Kuwait
City where we rest and feed on fish. We need to leave here with full bellies
for the long trip over the desert.”
" At least I got to see you once more, my friend. I hope you can meet another
human and talk more with my kind one day. You are indeed one very special raven."
Omar once again bid Terry farewell and took off toward the coast. And for the
last time Terry knew it would really be their final farewell. He waved as Omar
headed into the eastern sky. But at least he now had more recorded conversation
that he could listen to whenever he felt lonely for his feathered friend.
One morning about a week before Terry was supposed to be shipped back to the
States his Sergeant called him into the Motor Pool dispatch office. Terry didn’t
think too much about such a command, but when the Sergeant started talking,
Terry was amazed. “Corporal King,” the sergeant began. “Is
it true you used a raven to protect you on your road trips up in the Baghdad
area, and that you actually talked with that bird?”
“Yes, that’s right Sarge. How did you find out about that?”
“There’s some guy from the press who’s been tracking you down
and wants to interview you about that. He’s in the major’s office
right now and you need to get over there right away.”
“Do I have to Sarge? I don’t want to talk to anybody about that.
I though this was behind me when I came down here.”
“You don’t have a choice, Corporal. The major says he wants you
over there right now. So get a move on.”
On arriving at the major’s office, Terry tucked in his shirt, wiped his
hand over his forehead to straighten his hair a bit and knocked on the office
door. “Corporal King reporting as ordered, sir.”
“Come in Corporal. This fellow here is Martin Kovacs from the World News
Service. He wants to with you about your experience in Baghdad. It seems your
reputation has followed you down here.”“I don’t have anything
to say to the press, Major. I explained all that I had to the Intelligence people
back up there. Are you ordering me to be interviewed?”
“No, Corporal. It’s strictly up to you whether you want to talk
to the press,” the major answered.
Kovacs extended his hand and spoke to Terry in a friendly manner, beginning
by saying “Your life and that of an important Iraqi official was saved
by the raven that warned you of dangers along the road to the airport from the
Green Zone. That makes you a hero and Americans need to know about all of this.”
“Sorry, Mr. Kovacs, but I ain’t no hero. If anyone is it is that
bird, not me. And I have no idea where he is now. The last I saw of him he was
headed for Egypt along with some others.”
“I understand Corporal. Your modesty is refreshing. Perhaps you can at
least tell me whether or not you actually spoke with the bird. I’d been
told by my associates up in Baghdad that such was the case. Can you confirm
that much at least?”
“Yes, I did speak with him and he spoke we me. We understood each other
perfectly. But I say again that Omar is the hero here, not me.”
“Omar? Did you say his name is Omar?” Kovacs inquired, writing notes
in a little notebook as Terry said what little he intended to say.”
“Yes, that’s right, but I really don’t want to say any more.
That’s all behind me and soon I’ll be back home in the States and
just forget everything about this got forsaken part of the world.”
“Are you sure about this, Corporal?” the major asked.
“Yes sir, I don’t want to be interviewed or say anything more. Can
I leave now?”
The major shrugged his shoulders, looked at Kovacs and declared, “Corporal
King is not obliged to say anything that he does not want to, Mr. Kovacs.”
Slowly and tentatively Terry backed toward the door, saluted the major and then
quickly left the office.
“Major, that man has a great human interest story to tell. Can’t
you order him to answer my questions or something. I also need some kind of
proof that he really did talk with the raven.
If this hits the wires it would be very embarrassing if the story can’t
be proven. I am not sure I want to put this out without more information.”
“Sorry, Mr. Kovacs. I’m afraid that’s your problem. I can’t
legally make him talk.”
Kovacs thanked the major for his bringing Corporal King by and hastily left
the office. He wanted to catch Terry before he got away. A few yards short of
the Post Exchange snack bar he overtook Terry and asked, “Wait up, Corporal.
I just want to know if you are acquainted with a Sergeant Kaminski or Private
Lopez. Are you?”
Terry stopped, obviously irritated that Kovacs was following him. “Yes,
I know those guys. What of it?”
“Look Corporal, let me buy you a cup of coffee or a soft drink here in
the snack bar. I promise I won’t badger you about this, but there is something
you ought to know.”
“All right, but under two conditions. First, whatever I might say is strictly
off the record. I will deny every saying anything.”
“Agreed,” Kovacs replied as they walked over to the outdoor snack
bar patio. “And your second condition?”
“No notes, no secretly recorded conversations. I want to frisk you to
be sure and you’re to put that bag way over at the table by the trash
can there. You’ve probably got a recording device in it.”
Kovacs threw up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay … whatever you
say. Let’s sit here a few minutes. I’ll tell you what I already
know, much more than I explained to the major back there.”
Kovacs stepped over to drop off his bag and then went to the window to order
drinks for the two of them, On returning he began, “You say you’ve
heard of Kaminski and Lopez. Right?”
“Yes, I knew them briefly. They were guarding my vehicle when I picked
up some diplomatic pouches from the U.S. Embassy. But I suspect you already
“Yes, Corporal, I did. But did you know that they told me the you were
part of a special team training ravens to work with our troops? They said that
your raven friend was part of that project and you trained it to do reconnaissance.”
“Are you kidding?” Terry responded in amazement. No way. That’s
a load of crap.”
“Is it? Then why did the Iraqi Finance Minister disclose that you and
your raven saved his life on that drive from the Green Zone to the airport?
He even told State Department people that you should get a medal. Did you know
“We are off the record. Right?” Terry asked.
“Yes. Look, see I am not taking notes and you have already determined
that I am not recording our conversation. So what can you tell me?” Kovacs
Terry took another sip of his cola and said. I tell you what. I’ll let
you hear part of my conversation with my raven friend, Omar. But that’s
all I intend to do. You’ve got this all wrong?”
“Don’t tell me that you actually recorded your raven talking to
you,” Kovacs excitedly retorted. “Yes, yes indeed I would like to
hear it. Where is the recording?”
Terry reached into his pocket and pulled out his little MP3 player and voice
recording device. Then he said, “If I let you listen to this will you
agree to leave me alone?” And Kovacs nodded enthusiastically. Then Terry
put the ear pieces into Kovac’s ears and turned on the player. Kovacs
heard the two conversations and was amazed but still skeptical.
Terry retrieved his player and returned it to his pocket. “Well, now do
you believe me? What you heard were the last two conversations I had with Omar
before he departed for Egypt. Are we done now?”
Kovac’s mind was racing to figure out how to glean more information from
Terry. “Well, Corporal, I heard what you claim to be the raven talking
and I guess I don’t have any reason to doubt your word. This is amazing.
The only other knowledge I have of any raven talking was from some of Edgar
Allen Poe’s writings. That was a bit of fiction, I think, about Poe’s
pet raven named Grip. Back in those days there weren’t any recording devices
“Never heard of him,” Terry replied. “You’ll just have
to take my word that what you heard was Omar’s voice.” And now Terry
was growing impatient for he sensed that Kovacs wasn’t going to let the
matter drop. He decided to string Kovacs along, remembering what Omar had told
him about the British officer who’s taught him to speak and read. And
before Kovacs could ask more questions Terry continued.
“Okay, I’ll tell more about what Omar explained to me when I asked
him how he learned to speak.” Kovacs leaned closer, his interest peaked
at the prospect of Terry giving him an exclusive account, regretting deeply
that there would be no note-taking or recording of this exchange.
“Yes, please do tell me more,” Kovacs urged intently.
“Well,” Terry began with his imagination now running rampant and
hoping to spin a yarn that Kovacs would have to chase down elsewhere. “Omar
told me that there was once, years ago, a secret British Intelligence project
in Egypt. That was around the time of the Suez crisis. Anyway, the Brits captured
several ravens, including Omar, and worked with them for some time to train
them to speak and perform useful things for the British army. Omar was the last
bird in the project before it ended and apparently the best trained. But one
day he escaped when a keeper left the cage open. Yet Omar retained his ability
to speak and understand English, though he never learned Arabic or other languages.”
Kovacs sat stunned at the words Terry spoke. He believed it all and felt he
had to research the story more. Terry could tell that the reporter was swallowing
the tale hook line and sinker. He fought the impulse to smile or laugh out loud.
“So you see, Mr. Kovacs, that’s the whole story. And now Omar is
gone and free from exploitation by either the Brits or Americans. And that’s
why I am reluctant to say any more about it. But remember your promise, you
said all of this is off the record.”
“Yeah, sure. Off the record. That’s what I said and you see that
I have taken no notes. It’s quite a story though, you’ll have to
“Yes, but it’s Omar’s and not mine. Remember that. He’s
the real hero here,” Terry reminded as he stood to leave. Kovacs simply
stayed there in the chair on the deck of that snack bar as Terry left to return
to his duty station. Terry knew that Kovacs wouldn’t let the story go.
Within a week Terry was on his way home, back to the good old USA by way of
Ramstein, Germany. It was a marvelous feeling to be away from the Middle East,
the oppressive heat, dust and ever-present dangers.
When the contract carrier’s airliner landed in the wee hours of the morning
at that huge and very busy air base, Terry and his fellow passengers were told
to proceed to the military passenger terminal and processing center. There he
could convert his military script and local currency into dollars, stop by the
cafeteria for breakfast and wait for the afternoon flight to take them all across
the Atlantic to the States. The only purchase Terry made at the Exchange store
was a couple paperback books to read.
It was 2:00 in the afternoon before the dozens of troops were once again loaded
on a plane for the flight home. They would be in the air more than eight hours
on their flight to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Instead of reading,
as he though he might, Terry managed to sleep most of the time, except for the
meal service provided. That was another breakfast.
On landing at McGuire the passengers were herded once more into a processing
center. There most could arrange for other flights to their home bases around
the country. Terry hoped to be mustered out and returned to civilian status
right there, but the Army had other plans for him. He would be sent down to
Texas to Fort Hood for final processing and eventual discharge.
During the several stops though the McGuire processing area, Terry was accosted
by a Captain Gibbs. who insisted that he accompany him to a special debriefing
area. Dutifully Terry followed the captain and was told to sit in a chair opposite
a standard gray G.I. desk. The captain then sat behind the desk, opened a manila
folder and began, “Corporal King, you appear to have become somewhat of
a celebrity. The State Department has forward to the Department of the Army
a citation for your special services to the Finance Minister of Iraq.”
From the officer’s name tag Terry learned the captain’s name was
“Oh no, sir. There must be some mistake. I don’t know anything about
that. All I want to do is get back home, get discharged and get on with my life.
My parents are expecting me.” Terry pleaded.
“Don’t be so modest, Corporal. You must certainly know that what
you did in Baghdad has been recognized at the highest levels. You are being
awarded a special Iraqi government medal. This brings great credit to you and
the U.S. Army. So, I am therefore instructing you to proceed to the Pentagon
and to report to the office of the Secretary of the Army at precisely 1000 hours
two days from now. That will give you time to be issued a new uniform, get yourself
a haircut and presentable for a ceremony and photo session with the Secretary
and the Iraqi Ambassador. Any questions?”
“But sir,” Terry replied.
“No buts, Corporal. This is an order. You will report as instructed. Is
that clear?” the captain declared firmly.
“I guess I don’t have any choice, do I, sir?”“None at
all. We will have a car take you to Fort Meade within the hour. There you will
be given your new uniform and put up in the NCO guest quarters awaiting another
car to bring you to the Pentagon. You may, of course, call your parents from
there. Do you need any money? Have you received your pay?”
Terry’s head was swimming, he was overwhelmed by what he’d been
told lies ahead for him.
“This is all a mistake, Captain. I don’t deserve any medals or to
be dragged before the top brass.”
“Yes you do, son. And I’ll be accompanying you, so relax end enjoy
your moment in the sun. It’ll all be over in two days and then we’ll
get you homeward bound. Relax.”
The evening before Terry as supposed to go to the Pentagon for the awards ceremony
he received a phone call in his room. It was from a Marylyn Cohen who identified
herself as deputy assistant producer for the Night Talk television show. She
invited him to come up to New York City for an appearance with show host Allen
Kimball, a nationwide late night show often featuring celebrities.
“I’m sorry, Miss Cohen,” Terry explained. “I’m
just not interested. Just as soon as the Army gets me out of here and finally
discharges me, I’m headed home to see my family. Sorry but I never heard
of Night Talk and in any case doing a TV show is not my thing.”
“But Corporal King, this could bring you nationwide notoriety and perhaps
help ease your transition into a civilian career. You might even land a good
job after people see you on national television. It never hurts to be known
and as a war hero you owe it to your fellow soldiers to promote the U.S. Army.
Don’t you agree?” pressed the exuberant assistant producer, whose
job it was to line up guests for the show.
“Sorry, I am just not interested. Goodbye.” The feeling of being
pushed one way and then another by all kinds of people, reporters, Pentagon
officials and now TV producers was greatly upsetting.
The Pentagon ordeal was finally over by 11:30 the next morning. Terry followed
Captain Anderson down the hall toward the escalators, hoping to be at last on
his way out of that place. But it was not to be. Soon the two were stopped by
an Army colonel who introduced himself as an assistant to the chief of intelligence
for Middle Eastern affairs. Terry was instructed to go with the colonel. The
captain was told to wait down in the lower lobby and advised that Corporal King
might be delayed for an hour or so.
In the offices of the Intelligence section Terry was immediately confronted
by four other officers, two majors, a captain and a lieutenant. There was also
a gray-haired civilian present when Terry was asked to take a seat at a large
conference table. The colonel sat at the head of the table and Terry told so
sit on the opposite end facing the colonel. This was really intimidating for
the young corporal and made less so by the lieutenant’s inquiry as to
whether Terry would like some coffee, a soft drink or water. He declined.
“Well Corporal,” the colonel began. “Congratulations on being
awarded the Iraqi Meritorious Service Medal. But you are not here now for further
congratulations. It seems that you may have divulged classified and very sensitive
information. We are here to examine your role and determine just how much information
you may have disclosed.”
The civilian added, “Yes, Corporal King, we want to know what you told
one Martin Kovacs of the World News Service.”
“Nothing much, sir. We chatted a bit in Kuwait and I explained to him,
off the record, about my friend, Omar the raven. That’s all.”
“The talking raven you used for secret reconnaissance missions in Iraq?”
Pressed the civilian.
“No sir. I never had anything to do with secret stuff like that, nothing
at all,” Terry loudly exclaimed with annoyance and clear frustration in
his tone. “What do you mean?”
“Look Corporal,” the colonel interrupted, “we have been told
that you were part of a special secret operation to train birds, in this case
ravens, to gather intelligence in Iraq. Do you deny that?”
“No way, Colonel. I don’t know anything about operations of that
kind. All I did was become a friend of one raven, one calling himself Omar,
and he voluntarily accompanied me on my drives to and from the Green Zone from
the Baghdad airport. That’s all there was to it. “
“Do you know a Sergeant Kaminski or a Private Lopez?” the civilian
“Yes, sir. They were two guards that accompanied me on one trip to pick
up and deliver diplomatic pouches from our embassy to the courier flight returning
VIP’s to the States. That’s all I know about them.”
“We have a report from Martin Kovacs, who interviewed both of those soldiers,
that states you were a member of the special bird training and intelligence
team. Do you deny that?” If you divulged anything about that secret operation
you are in a great deal of trouble,” the civilian pressed in a now threatening
“I do. Nothing of that sort ever happened. If there was a special team
trying to use ravens like that, I never heard of it,” Terry replied. And
now Terry was wishing he’d never talked to Kovacs at all. He also didn’t
know why Kaminski or Lopez would say such things about him.
“All right, Corporal. Let’s try this,” the colonel suggested.
“You tell us everything about how you first encountered your talking raven,
how you managed to use his services and how he saved the Iraqi Finance Minister
and you. We know that Kaminski and Lopez confirmed that you conversed with the
bird. They heard you and saw how it warned you about a roadside bomb. Let’s
hear your story from the beginning.”
Terry was now red in the face with frustration. He decided ask the lieutenant
if he might have a can of cola or maybe some water. That, Terry felt, would
give him a chance to gather his thoughts before yet again telling his story.
The lieutenant got up and left the conference room, soon returning with a drink
from a nearby vending machine.
After taking a small sip of the cola, a refreshing pause in the proceedings,
suddenly Terry started talking. He recounted everything from that first encounter
with Omar to the final trip with the Finance Minister. But then he paused and
began laughing. The colonel and the others were puzzled and interrupted, demanding
to know what was so funny. “Don’t you realize that this is a serious
matter, Corporal?” the colonel admonished.
“Sorry, sir, but it just struck me how ridiculous that minister looked,
in his expensive business suit down there on the floor of my very dusty truck.
There was that VIP, hunched down and getting his suit all dirty and rumpled
while I drove at breakneck speed past those bad guys. I just now realized how
badly he looked when he later got out and went into the terminal to catch his
flight.” It took Terry a moment or two to stop smiling and get serious
once more.“Yes, I guess that was a sight, Corporal. But at least he was
alive and safe thanks to your quick thinking.”
“No sir, thanks to Omar’s warning and probably thanks to the decision
back in the Green Zone to have the minister forego his limousine for my truck,”
Terry replied. “I had nothing to do with that choice.”
After Terry completed his full and detailed account of his relations with the
raven, the colonel added, “Well, you certainly did have an interesting
and unusual set of circumstances, but I didn’t hear anything about your
participation in an intelligence project or training of birds. Do you have anything
“No, Colonel. That’s it. That’s the whole story and as I told
you before I don’t know about any
secret projects like that or anything else. I was just a truck driver.”
The officers looked at each other and soon the colonel said, “We want
to talk about this for a bit, Corporal. Would you please step into the next
room and have a seat? We’ll be with you shortly.”
“Yes, sir,” Terry replied. He stood up and started to leave, but
turned back nervously and decided to salute the colonel before leaving. The
colonel belatedly returned the salute, a bit surprised that the corporal would
do that, as the proceedings were not yet complete.
While Terry was out of the conference room the assembled officers discussed
his testimony and concluded that Corporal King was probably actually part of
any secret project. They were pretty much convinced that he was indeed just
a truck driver who by chance encountered a talking bird. The civilian was the
only holdout, but he acceded to the others and finally declared that they could
let Terry go.
The lieutenant got up and went to call Terry back into the room. Terry was really
nervous as he stood facing his interrogators. Great relief came over him when
the colonel announced that the proceedings were over, that Terry could return
to his unit. At last his ordeal seemed to be over.
“Lieutenant, would you please escort Corporal King to the lobby and tell
Captain Gibbs that we have no further need to detain the man,” the colonel
instructed. Terry saluted again, did an about face and followed the lieutenant
out of the room. Soon they joined Captain Gibbs and the lieutenant explained
that Corporal King was free to go.
After what seemed like an endless ordeal, Terry finally made it down to Fort
Hood, Texas for his discharge and eventually arrived back home in Harlowton,
Montana. Never did the rolling country just West of the mountains look so good
to him. At last he could put the war in Iraq behind him, or so he thought.
Unfortunately, Terry’s old chums were frequently at him to describe what
it like in Iraq, the war and what seemed to them as an exotic part of the world
they never would know. His boyhood pals were grown up now, some with families
of their own and others getting on in their careers.
Most were involved in ranching, though others found jobs in town. At the local
cafe Terry was often greeted as a war hero, something he tried to dissuade.
Soon it became clear that he must decide on a job, career or something to do
with his life now that the Army no longer provided a paycheck. All he really
knew how to do was drive a truck and there weren’t very many opportunities
along that line, not in his little home town. His father and mother told him
there was no rush. He could stay with them as long as he liked. They were just
so happy and relieved to have him safely back home. Yet he had to find something.
One day he read in a Post Office flyer that there were openings for rural delivery
route drivers, the RFD folks who delivered the mail throughout the vast region
around Harlowton. The notice even said that applicants with military service
could receive preferential treatment in hiring. That seemed appealing to Terry,
so he filled out some paperwork and applied, not really expecting to be chosen.
Yet he was and could start work almost immediately. Life was suddenly good and
it didn’t hurt that paychecks would again appear.
After a short period of training and learning his postal route under the supervision
of the local post mistress, Terry was once more in the mail pickup and delivery
business. This time he didn’t have to face the hazards of roadside bombs,
bad guys shooting at him or the incessant noises of a combat theater. He quickly
became intimately familiar with the 100 miles of his mail route and got to know
a number of the postal patrons along the way.
He stopped to partake of his sandwich lunch at a roadside picnic area halfway
along the route
one day and noticed a flock of ravens gathered around the overflowing trash
barrel. He sat there in his mail truck, intrigued by their antics, raucous calls
and occasional fights over choice bits of edible trash. Immediately he thought
of Omar and began wondering about his old friend.
Did Omar ever make it all the way across the Saudi desert to his Egyptian destination?
Was he getting acquainted with another human and conversing once more? Or was
he reverting to his ordinary bird-like ways and interactions with other ravens?
He would never know.
These and other thoughts often came to mind on Terry’s frequent lunchtime
stops there. In fact he even mused about the whole idea of using ravens like
Omar to carry little digital cameras. It might be possible, he thought, to have
a little camera operated by a timing chip that took pictures every 30 seconds
or so. It wouldn’t be a very large or cumbersome thing for a raven to
carry, perhaps no bigger than a pack of chewing gum. It could be equipped with
a memory chip for downloading onto an ordinary laptop computer. It could even
be powered by a common AA battery. Omar, he was convinced, could be asked to
fly over specific places to take pictures and return to his human colleague
on a pre-arranged time table. Unlike a motorized drone aircraft, a circling
raven would not attract attention of the enemy and therefore not to be shot
By Phil Rowe
Omar, the talking raven, finally reached his destination following a grueling
week-long migration from Kuwait. Crossing the Saudi Arabian desert was an
arduous journey, requiring stops at several oasis rest and watering places.
Some were over 200 miles apart. The trip was too much for many of the several
hundred ravens on the annual mass flight to escape the brutal summer heat
of Iraq and environs. Dozens perished along the way.
Now it was time to rest, recuperate and settle in for the next half year before
once again returning to the traditional wintering grounds up and down the
Tigris river valley and around Baghdad. Here in Egypt Omar and his fellow
ravens could enjoy the cooler climate along the Nile River and coastal lakes
north of Cairo. Water and food were plentiful here.
One day on one of Omar’s frequent short trips up to the huge lake near
the Nile River estuary, he chanced to see members of the U.S. Embassy Marine
guard stopped along the shore. Their vehicle displayed an American flag which
immediately reminded Omar of his encounter with a soldier back in Baghdad.
Corporal Terry King befriended Omar back there and even shared a delightful
Baby Ruth candy bar. Hoping that one of the marines down below might just
happen to have such a treat, Omar flew down and landed near the military Jeep.
At first none of the four Marines noticed the appearance of that large raven.
They were more interested in relaxing, taking a sun bath and reading some
magazines. Perched atop a post just a few yards from the men Omar noticed
that one of them was reading a newspaper called Stars and Stripes. And on
the page opened to view was a story about Corporal King receiving an award
for saving the life of the Iraqi Finance Minister.
“I know that soldier,” Omar declared. “I knew him over in
Iraq. That is my friend Terry.”
One of the Marines looked over in Omar’s direction and without thinking
responded, “Is that right? It says here he was able to save the minister
because of a raven that pointed out bad guys along the road to the airport.
Was that you?”
Before Omar could respond, another of the Marines there spoke up. “John.
Are you actually talking to that dumb bird? What’s the matter with you?
You’ve been out in this sun too long.”
Then Omar turned on the post and cocked his head, replying indignantly, “Dumb
bird indeed. If I understand your language correctly, dumb means one who cannot
talk. You can plainly hear that I am talking so I can’t be dumb. And
yes, I am that bird.”With that all four Marines looked at Omar in disbelief.
“The Lieutenant isn’t going to believe this guys. If we ever told
him about this he’d put us in for a Section 8, a discharge for being
nuts,” pronounced Private Simms, the youngest of the group.
“Hey boys,” another of the men added, “if we also said that
bird can read too, I know he’d pack us off to the loony bin. We can’t
“Say, bird, are you really called Omar?” inquired the one called
“Yes, that’s my name. What’s yours?”
The Marine who spoke first with Omar answered, “I’m Corporal John
Babcock.” And then pointing in turn to the others he added, “That’s
Private Simms, over there is Private Terry and the blonde one is Corporal
Politely and respectfully Omar replied, “A pleasure, gentlemen. What
are four Americans doing here in Egypt? Are you fighting some enemy?”
“No, Omar, we are Marine guards from the U.S. Embassy. Today is our
day off and we just came here to relax along the lake. There’s no fighting
around here. Our duty is to guard the American embassy and it’s staff,”
“Interesting,” murmured Omar.
“Say there, Omar. How did you get way over here from Iraq? It’s
over 1500 miles to Baghdad,” Terry inquired.
“Tell me about it. It took me more than a week to fly across Saudi Arabia
from Kuwait City. I last saw my friend Corporal King there before he left
for the U.S.A. on completing his tour. Say, you wouldn’t happen to have
a Baby Ruth candy bar, would you?”
“A what?” Germaine blurted. “How do you know about Baby
“Corporal King gave me one just before he left Baghdad. I guess it was
a reward for helping him out along the dangerous drive to the airport from
the Green zone. Would any of you perhaps have a Baby Ruth?”
“Sorry bird,” replied Germaine. “All we’ve got are
some crackers. Here,” he explained tossing few over toward Omar. And
quickly Omar dropped down from the post to grab one in his beak. Then he twisted
off a small piece and swallowed it.”
“Thank you, my friend. It’s all right I guess, but I’d really
prefer a Baby Ruth.”
“Not only is that dumb bird talkative,” Terry declared, “he’s
picky about what we give him.”
Clearing his mouth from the crumbs of the cracker, Omar snapped “I told
you I am not a dumb bird. As you can clearly hear I speak, albeit with a slight
British accent. But that’s because I was taught by a British soldier
here many years ago. It was he who also taught me to read, but only English
I’m afraid. I never did learn the language of the locals, no Arabic
“Well maybe you should,” Babcock suggested. “That way you
could inform us of any plots by terrorists or other bad guys.”
“It’s not my place to take sides in your disputes with the so-called
terrorists. If I helped you then I would have to help others. No, it’s
best that I remain neutral.”
“But it says right here in the article by some reporter called Kovacs
that you helped Corporal King and the Iraqi minister. That’s taking
sides, isn’t it?” Babcock retorted.
“That’s different. I was friends with Corporal King, Terry. And
when he was in mortal danger I felt it only right to warn him. It was the
least that I could have done.” Omar explained.
“Does that mean you would also help Arab terrorists too?” Simms
“No, I never became friends with any of those Arab speaking people because
I don’t understand their language and they don’t speak English.
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have if we became friends. Friends
look out for one another.”
“Don’t you understand, bird, that you have to take sides. It’s
us or them and you have to choose,” Simms continued.
“I’m not sure I agree with that,” Omar slowly and pensively
declared. “One can have friends anywhere, on either side or both sides.
I have no human enemies that I know of, so why choose sides. My only enemies
are hawks, eagles and other creatures that would eat me.”
“Don’t people eat ravens around these parts? Haven’t you
ever heard of four and twenty blackbirds in a pie?” Terry asked laughingly.
The others joined in the laughter at that bit of humor.
“Not funny,” Omar responded.
“Okay, so you won’t take sides. I guess that’s your choice,
but we would like to be friends with you. Is that okay?” Babcock asked.
“What would it take to make that happen?”
“Of course, we can become friends. Can you get me a Baby Ruth?”
“You’ve got a one track mind, bird,” Germaine responded.
“So tell us, bird, how did you help make Corporal King into a hero?”
“My name is Omar … so don’t call me bird. Okay?”
“All right, Omar it is. So tell us about this story in the Stars and
Stripes. How can a bird help a GI?”
“GI? I don’t understand GI, but if you mean my friend Terry, it
wasn’t much at all, really. All I did was fly up and ahead of Terry’s
mail truck and look out for potential hazards, like disturbed roadside dirt,
armed and apparently hostile Arabs laying in wait to shoot at Terry. And if
I saw anything threatening, I’d signal Terry.”
“How did you signal?” Simms pressed.
“Well, if something suspicious in or along the roadside appeared up
ahead of the truck, I’d simply land in the area and turn around repeatedly
to mark the potentially dangerous area. I am light enough and don’t
have anything metallic on me, so there was no chance of my setting of a bomb
or improvised explosive device. If I thought it important for Terry to stop
quickly, I’d fly straight toward his windshield and veer off to the
side at the last second. I never spoke or shouted loudly because I knew he’s
never hear me over the roar of the truck’s engine.”
“And what about the incident here in the paper about the Finance Minister?”
“That was a bit unusual because the minister was in Terry’s truck
and not in his limousine following behind. Some humans in the minister’s
group felt it would be safer if he rode inconspicuously in the truck and not
the fancy limousine. Apparently that was a smart choice. As we went toward
the airport I spotted some guys with weapons behind a wall up ahead to the
vehicles. I circled over the heads of the bad guys that Terry couldn’t
see, but that was enough for Terry to speed up and get past that spot. It
turned out that the bad guys shot at the limousine and actually blew it apart
with a rocket launcher of some sort. The driver and a couple of the minister’s
aides were killed, but Terry safely got past that and delivered the minister
to the airport. That’s about it.”
“We could use your services at this embassy,” Babcock suggested.
“And you help out in exchange for Baby Ruth’s? Sounds like a good
“I help my friends,” Omar responded.
“We can definitely be your friends, Omar. Is there anything else you
like besides candy bars?”
“Yes, John … I like riding in your vehicles, or on top if I have
a place I can grip onto. Terry gave me a ride around the Baghdad airport road
once and then on into the city too. That was great fun.”
Simms thought about Omar, his helpfulness to Corporal King in Iraq, and the
potentially useful things Omar could do for the Marines. But he also wondered
if there could be more Omars out there or possibly ways of training other
ravens. Soon Simms asked, “Say Omar, do you know of any other ravens
with your abilities? And could you help us teach others to have the skills
you obviously have?”
“Not off hand, Private. But that isn’t to say there might not
be others. Ravens are pretty smart creatures.”
“Well you certainly are,” Simms responded. “I was just thinking
of the possibilities if my fellow Marines could be aided by a number of talented
birds like you. Is there any way you could identify some ravens with the potential
for learning to speak and even read?”
“Never thought about that,” Omar replied. “But then you
would be recruiting some of my fellow ravens to be on your side. I’m
not sure taking sides is in our best interests. It’s one thing for me
to have helps a friend. It’s quite another matter for ravens to be recruited
and trained to be on your side in various conflicts. I’m just not comfortable
about helping you put ravens in that position.”
“Even if we supplied all the Baby Ruths you and your companions could
ever want?” Germaine jokingly asked.
“Even if I agreed to the concept, it’s not an easy thing to communicate
such an abstract notion to other ravens who haven’t been exposed to
human thought, languages and the like. I can say with some certainly that
you won’t find any others as experienced in human communications.”
“So how did you learn?” Babcock pressed.
“Mostly out of curiosity. The British officer who taught me began by
simply speaking to me. Over time, several months as I recall, I connected
the sounds with ideas and thoughts. We began with simple exchanges like greetings.
I think the first English words I learned were good morning. It took me two
years to learn how to meaningfully converse and another to associate printed
words with sounds and meanings.”
“Well Simms,” Babcock observed, “And if Omar found a few
super-intelligent ravens we might recruit, it could take years to teach them
even the basics. Even with Omar’s help we might not develop a flock
of talking ravens, assuming they could be convinced to work with us.”
“And what’s more, “Germaine suggested, “it wouldn’t
be chicken feed cost-wise to start such a program.”
“We ravens don’t eat chicken feed,” Omar chided.
“Yeah, I know you’re partial to Baby Ruths and that’s even
more costly. And now you appear to have a sense of humor. I’m impressed.”
“I’ll ponder you suggestion and weigh the pro’s and con’s.
I’ll let you know in a few days,” Omar declared, though his first
inclination was not to do what was suggested. His main concern was not wanting
himself or any other ravens to be taking sides in human conflicts.
Omar flew back down along the Nile to the grove of trees where he’d
first spent the night after the long and dangerous flight from Kuwait City.
He was now among dozens of his fellow ravens, males, females and recently
fledged little ones.
Over the next few days of trying to communicate with other ravens, using a
variety of calls, murmurs and body language signals, it soon became clear
that the most rudimentary exchanges of ideas and messages, even in raven talk,
was seemingly impossible. The abstractions of voice communications, between
birds and humans was clearly beyond their ken. Even when Omar tried to say
the few words of Arabic that he’d picked up, nothing registered with
his fellow birds. He’d hoped that perhaps one or two of the most intelligent
ravens might respond to words they may have heard spoken by humans. Nothing
elicited even the slightest sign of recognition or understanding.
Omar even tried to communicate with other kinds of birds in the area, including
hawks, vultures, doves and waterfowl. No birds responded in any fashion that
Omar felt would give the slightest hint of comprehension. He soon came to
the conclusion that he must be a freak. He didn’t feel special or superior,
just weirdly odd some how. Was his ability a blessing or a curse? He could
not be sure. Yet still he felt good about being able to talk with and even
become friends of a few humans.
In a few days he chanced to fly over the American embassy in Cairo. His sharp
eyes detected a couple of the men he’d met at the lake, so he flew down
low and landed atop a nearby lamp post. After confirming his initial thought
that the men were the same who’d hinted they might provide a Baby Ruth
treat, even though they were now dressed in uniforms, Omar called out, ”Hello
there, my friends. Do you have a Baby Ruth for me?”
Omar engaged his new friends in conversation, unaware that their sergeant
was close by listening. Corporal Simms asked Omar, “Well my friend,
have you recruited any other ravens? We sure could use the help of you and
some of your raven pals.”
“No I didn’t and it’s most frustrating. I couldn’t
even get one to comprehend the idea. They are just not interested or able
to understand the idea of conversing with any others, not even other birds.
And I tried very hard to communicate in various ways to get the idea across.
Yet none showed the slightest inclination to talk or even respond to words
in English or Arabic. I just don’t think it’s going to be possible.”
Simms was disappointed and simply shook his head slowing. He was not aware
of his sergeant’s fascination with the conversation between Simms and
the bird. Sergeant Gibbs, a big burly fellow who had served two tours in Iraq
in the early stages of the war against Saddam, immediately recognized the
potential value of ravens that could communicate with people. Soon Gibbs came
over to where Simms and Germaine were standing.
“Were you two actually talking with that bird, or were you just joking?”
Simms responded, “Sarge, we really were talking with him. And did you
know that he really likes Baby Ruth candy bars?”
“Really? Well go get a box of those candy bars and use them to lure
the bird into a cage. There’s an old cage that the previous ambassador
used to keep his pet parrot. It’s in the basement of the annex building.
Wait up. Simms, you keep that bird here and talk to it while Germaine gets
that cage. I’ll go get some candy bars. Move it, Germaine.”
But Omar, being the unusually smart bird that he is, readily understood what
the Sergeant was up to. When he was left alone with Simms he exclaimed, “That
won’t work, my friend. Or at least I thought you were my friend. I am
disappointed by you Americans. I never thought you would try to trap me. My
friend Terry back in Baghdad never would have considered such a thing and
my British officer mentor would never have treated me that way.”
“Don’t blame me, Omar. I can’t be held responsible for what
Sergeant Gibbs does or thinks. I don’t believe he intends to harm you
“Maybe not, but I can’t be sure and now I can’t trust any
of you. I’m leaving now because I no longer feel safe around Americans
and that makes me sad. I enjoyed conversing with some of you and thought we
could be friends. And as much as I like your Baby Ruths, I value my freedom
“Don’t go, Omar,” Simms implored. “I won’t let
Gibbs or anyone else put you in a cage.”
“You may say that, but if your sergeant or other superiors order you
to do it, you’ll have no choice. I can’t take the chance.”
Just as Gibbs returned, carrying a half carton of candy bars, and was quickly
joined by Germaine carrying a large parrot cage, they heard Simms bid farewell.
Omar took flight and headed back toward the river.
“Damnit Simms, I told you to keep that bird here and talking to you.
Where is he going?”
“He’s gone, Sarge. He understood you when you told Germaine to
get a cage and he wanted no part of being a prisoner. I think that Omar is
gone forever and may never again trust humans. I can understand his feelings.”
“You idiot,” Gibbs bellowed. “Don’t you realize how
important a talking raven could be? He could have been a valuable source of
intelligence for us.”
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Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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