Soldiers' Stories Statement
Captain Elizabeth A. Condon, New York Army National Guard, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with daughter, Kate, and mother, Elizabeth; Troy, NY, June 2008
48”x 48” Chromogenic Color Print

One of my missions in Iraq was to check the water levels in remote areas, because the underground water infrastructure had been destroyed by Saddam Hussein. We were curious to find out how the locals were getting water to sustain themselves and what we could do to help them. An Iraqi man approached us and asked if somebody could take a look at his wife or daughter or whoever she was. She was just a girl, maybe sixteen years old. We had a doctor with us, but they didn’t want the male doctor to examine her. They looked to me because I was the senior ranking female person.

I went into this room, and the girl was lying on a runner-like rug on the dirt floor. She lifted her black burka to show me her stomach. She recently had a caesarian. She was cut from hipbone to hipbone, like somebody just took a knife, cut her open, and took the baby out. The wound was held together by thin, one-inch-wide box tape, the kind with little strings in it. It was obviously infected, so I just kind of cleaned up her wound with rubbing alcohol, antibiotic cream, and sterile dressings. It was healing but it was nasty. She was very thankful. No one responded until the eldest woman did. There must have been eight women and twenty kids all watching me. The eldest woman came over and started kissing my cheek and thanking me. One by one, she introduced me to her whole family, never saying a word.

When I came back I couldn’t deal with the welcome home—everyone glad to see me, trying to give me hugs— because I had been so cold, isolated, and nonemotional. A lot of people had died, and I’d been to too many memorial services. I said to myself, “Okay, the Muslims have Mecca, where’s my Mecca?” I’m a Catholic, so it’s the Vatican. So I went to Italy.

I volunteered to go to Iraq when I was told I couldn’t have children. I was 36 or 37 at that time and was engaged and wanted kids. Having a family was always very important to me, but my career in the military and my goals had always gotten in the way because I wanted to be educated. I wanted to be a commander.

In Italy, I went into the Sistine Chapel. It was like the place where it was OK to release my emotions. I walked up the steps to the altar and bawled my eyes out. I don’t know how long I was there. I remember that before I left for Italy, my mother told me, “Sometimes men don’t listen, you need to speak to their mothers. Mothers have a way with their sons. So if you have any special requests while you’re there, talk to Jesus’ mother.” So I did. I went to the Basilica and just prayed, “Mary, I’ve always wanted to have a family, but it’s totally up to you. Maybe I could adopt or whatever, I’ve got my money saved.” That was in December. Four months later in April I was pregnant. I got this wonderful gift out of all that tragedy. I really attribute my daughter to the Iraqi woman with the caesarian.

Elizabeth Condon has been promoted to major and is currently pursuing studies that could make her eligible for further promotion to lieutenant colonel, colonel, and perhaps someday general.

This text was transcribed and edited from interviews conducted by Jennifer Karady in June 2008.

© Jennifer Karady 2022, all rights reserved.