By Air National Guard Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard Public Affairs
/ Published April 10, 2013
ASH SHAJARAH, JORDAN -- A simple blue kite punctuates the sky in Ash Shajarah, Jordan; a land of rolling hills pinstriped in olive groves and tree-lined streets.
Just a few kilometers north, in Al Ramtha Governance, a man who has been shot by a sniper is carried into Jordan from across the Syrian border.
Now lying on a litter inside a medical trailer at Tal shehab Reception Center, his every breath is a guttural, agonized moan. Jordanian authorities don't yet know the man's name, but today, April 2, he is just one of more than a million civilians who have escaped the violence in Syria that began two years ago between forces loyal to the country's ruling Ba'ath Party and opposition forces fighting to expel it.
Outside, just 20 meters away, American journalists have arrived at the reception center. Cameras in hand, they're immediately swarmed by joyful children begging to have their pictures taken.
"They are happy now because they are safe," said Jordan Armed Forces Lt. Col. Salah Aldraidi, who leads the 10th Border Guard Battalion at this border crossing.
Back in the medical trailer, it's unknown how long the man has been suffering from the bullet that travelled through his left leg. After quickly and efficiently dressing the wound, JAF medics transport the man dressed in slacks and a collared shirt - clothes more befitting a day in the office than escaping civil war - to an ambulance waiting outside. Emergency lights flashing, the vehicle speeds away.
All the while, Aldraidi's soldiers are sure to provide proper Jordanian greetings when visitors arrive at the center's headquarters. They are welcomed inside and offered coffee - the cups just big enough for a sip or two. The drink is served hot and bitter, and once consumed, a simple shake of the cup indicates that the guest has completed the protocol and is ready for the next stage of business. In this country, rich in Bedouin tradition, hospitality is a way of life.
Agape in action
On order from His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the Jordan Armed Forces is supplying its Syrian brothers and sisters essential food, medical care and housing - and perhaps most important, the security - the people desperately need. For his part alone, Aldraidi has more than seven months experience here, in addition to previous United Nations peacekeeping tours in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, where he also worked to protect refugees.
Here at Tal shehab and other border crossings, helping refugees is an ongoing act of agape - brotherly love. National identity be damned, the border mission has always been about more than just accepting refugees - it's a moral obligation - because in Jordan, everyone is someone's child.
"The essence of love isn't just showing love to your own children. It is to show it to other people's children, as well," said retired JAF Col. Saleh Obeidat in an October 2012 interview, describing the national ethic in his country.
"We are all Arabs or Muslims. Brothers or not, we are a brotherhood," said JAF Staff Sgt. Khitam Alrefai, who, in early 2013, produced a video about the JAF's response to the crisis; a graphic reminder of the depths of human depravity. "It's painful for people here to see that. We are an emotional nation. It injures the heart."
Not long ago, to avoid being attacked or killed by Ba'ath Party loyalists, Syrians dared to cross the border into Jordan only at night. However, as the situation in the war-torn nation continues to deteriorate, its citizens now pass through the border at all hours, as they can no longer afford to wait for the cover of darkness to escape.
At the Tal shehab Reception Center alone, JAF soldiers receive a thousand to 1,500 Syrian refugees daily, a number that has continued to grow as the desperation inside Syria increases. And now, even the most casual observer would notice the toll this mission takes on the JAF soldiers who necessarily perform it.
Intermixed with the appearance of cautious satisfaction at helping a brother, is indelible sorrow at the knowledge of what their fellow men, women and children have risked, suffered and lost, just to stay alive. At this, these soldiers don't smile often.
According to an April 2 United Nations situation report, more than 1.2 million refugees have fled Syria by way of bordering countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, while a few others have made their way to Egypt and Europe. Of that 1.2 million, at least a third of them have found refuge in Jordan.
On March 31, nearly 9,100 Syrians refugees made their way to reception centers in Jordan. They are a small part of the approximately 470,000 Syrians who have registered or are awaiting registration as refugees. An estimated 100,000 more are undocumented. Among this total, 75 percent are women and children who are often left traumatized by their experiences in the nearly two-year-old conflict.
According to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, in an editorial published by the New York Times March 6, the organization is receiving increasing reports of children being deliberately targeted - physically and sexually abused, and killed. He also stated that women tell harrowing stories that corroborate reports that rape is being used as a weapon of war.
To reach any measure of safety, he said, they must literally run for their lives. Yet many of these civilians, like the man who arrived at Tal shehab today, are killed or wounded by gunfire as they attempt to escape.
In remarks published April 3, Prime Minister Abdullah Nsoor announced Jordan's intentions to declare the north part of the country a "disaster area."
The Jordan First principle states that Jordan's national interest is its highest priority. It aims to spread a culture of respect and tolerance, and strengthens the concepts of parliamentary democracy, rule of law, public freedom, accountability, transparency, justice, and equal rights.
But in a land already short of water resources - this mostly land-locked nation's only source of fresh water, the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River, have been subjects of ongoing disputes with Israel and Syria, respectively. Further, the Dead Sea is evaporating by a meter every year. What is a government to do with a 10 percent population explosion in less than two years?
To that end, Obeidat said that this challenge, along with the rising economic concerns associated with the sharp population increase in Jordan, will be mitigated.
"Even though their presence is burdening our infrastructure, deep inside we know we have to work with it until there is a final solution," he said. "It's not a political problem. We don't meddle in others' affairs. The refugee issue is internal and we are doing our moral part in dealing with the consequences of the situation."
Editor's note: The Colorado National Guard and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have been partners in the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program since 2004. The State Partnership Program supports U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations via military, socio-political and economic conduits at the local, state and national level. The preceding story is a result of a recent SPP exchange.