Iraq veteran talks about his Tamir Rice moment

Terron Sims II

I met Tamir Rice in Baghdad. Not Tamir himself, of course, but a boy very much like him. My situation, however, played out a little differently than Tamir’s.

It was March 2004. My civil affairs team and some of my soldiers were traveling in a fiberglass, doorless Humvee. We rolled into a small market area that was a little busy with pedestrian traffic. The route was routine and so was the bustle.

Then one of my soldiers shouted that he spotted a kid off to our right on the sidewalk with an AK-47. Without hesitation, the civil affairs team leader brought our vehicles to a halt and led us on foot to the area in question. He was standing among a small group of older men who all were drinking tea.

Our presence startled the group. We immediately lowered our weapons, which put them all at ease. As our soldiers passively stood guard, the civil affairs team leader and I inspected the kid’s rifle and instantly realized that it was a toy. There was no threat. We were, of course, relieved.

With the assistance of our interpreter and using positive body language and hand gestures, we told the kid — and the adults present — that though the AK was only a toy, he should be careful in case soldiers who were not familiar with the neighborhood and its people happened to drive through. The civil affairs team leader and I lightened the mood by explaining to the kid that we too had played with toy guns when we were kids, just like every American boy. We patted him on the head and gave him a fist bump, shook the adults’ hands, and rolled out without any incident to report.

Avoiding unnecessary violence on that street was no accident; in fact, it was part of the “rules of engagement” for how the U.S. military operates every day. We are trained to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations by making ourselves visible and approachable and communicating first (either verbally, or through use of signals). Only as a last resort do we aim our weapons at anyone, for doing so means that we are preparing to pull the trigger.

It is sad that I, an officer in the U.S. Army operating in a combat zone, was able to consistently show on an everyday basis more constraint and compassion than police officers. If we soldiers can slow down and use our training to diffuse the tensest and most dangerous of situations and make the right call, it’s time for police officers across the United States to do the same.

Terron Sims II is a fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a graduate of West Point, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.