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Capt. Jonathan Shine

Capt. Jonathan Shine with a morning cup of coffee at Camp Liberty, just outside Baghdad International Airport.

Capt. Jonathan Shine

In central Baghdad, Capt. Jonathan Shine with two Iraqi children who approached a U.S. Army patrol to play and ask for candy.

November 16, 2005:

‘A great day to be a soldier’
Army Capt. Jonathan Shine ’98 on referendum day in Iraq

by Army Capt. Jonathan A. Shine ’98


I am in the middle of my second tour of service in Iraq with the U.S. Army.  Last Saturday [Oct. 15] I had the unique opportunity to participate, in a small way, in the Iraqi constitutional referendum, and I wanted to share a little “from the ground level” about that day. I spent the day with one of my Personal Security Detail teams, escorting a senior U.S. Army officer around to various polling places (I was mainly responsible for an Iraqi general who rode with us for the day) throughout Baghdad.  We went all over the city, which was shockingly quiet all day – in large part, I think, because there was no civilian vehicular traffic allowed at all.  At every stop, we got to see hundreds of people walking into the polling stations and coming out with huge grins on their faces as they held up purple-stained index fingers, indicating they’d voted.  Most had their children with them; they also had stained fingers and would run up to show them to me and ask for candy.  We draw large crowds of kids whenever we stop, so as always I had great fun teaching them to “give me five,” giving them piggyback rides, and trying to communicate.  

At one stop, an old woman in full veil approached our patrol on her way into the polling site, making all a little nervous (we were most concerned about the possibility of suicide bombers coming into the polling stations).  She went right up to the general’s aide, pulled out a pink gerbera daisy, and handed it to him with a big, toothless smile!  He wore it all day in his body armor vest, and she too made a point of showing us her purple finger when she came back out.

  At another polling place I was playing with a group of older children who wanted to practice their English on me (“Do you like apple?  Do you like banana?  Do you like Baghdad?”). The mother of one little girl called her over to their yard, whispered to her, and then went inside the house. The girl came over to me, grabbed my hand, and started to pull me toward the house. When I got near their fence, the mother came back outside carrying a little baby girl. She gave me a big smile, and let me hold the baby and tell her what lovely children she had (at least I hope she got that general idea, anyway).  It was really touching.

In the end, it was just a great day to be a soldier in Iraq.  I haven’t seen any news to know what the so-called insurgents are saying about why they chose not to attack on that day, but I do know that voter turnout was even higher than in the January elections, which I think took great courage given the threat.  I know that there will continue to be lots of debate about why we came here and when we should leave.  Seeing all those happy people with ink stains on their fingers and tears in their eyes, there was no doubt in my mind about the value of the sacrifice, even if it is unequally borne by a relative few.

  I’m desperately looking forward to coming home to my little family soon (Ashley P. Shine ’97 and baby Bennett, born in April – three months after I arrived in Iraq), but what a privilege to be able to serve here at this time.  Thanks to all the Princetonians who have prayed for and supported us.



In January Jonathan Shine returned to Iraq, where he commands an interrogation facility and a field artillery rocket battery of about 130 soldiers and provides security escorts for senior Army and embassy officials throughout Baghdad. In 2003, he took part in the initial invasion of Iraq with the 3d Infantry Division, coordinating the operations of a rocket/missile battalion during the attack from Kuwait to Baghdad. He has served as an Army field artillery officer since graduation.