After nearly three weeks of desert combat and enough death to jangle his brain for a lifetime, Pvt. Earl Coffey arrived in Baghdad in April 2003 thinking he'd discovered an oasis.And, so begins the story of the beginning of the end of a military career of a young soldier from Harlan Co., KY. The article, which includes a photo of Earl Coffey as a civilian, was authored by Billy Cox of the New York Times News Service and, printed in the online edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
It was Palace Row, one of the most exclusive tracts of real estate in Iraq, and not even major bomb damage could dim the luster of a tyrant's decadence. Coffey was among the first U.S. troops to secure Saddam Hussein's inner sanctum, the postwar "Green Zone" now hosting diplomats and government authorities. Its allure was intoxicating.
Coffey, who grew up in Harlan County in the shadow of coal mines, was in awe at seeing gold-rimmed toilet seats, 30-foot wide chandeliers, and Swarovski crystal collections. Over the next few days, he sampled Dom Perignon champagne and Monte Cristo Cuban cigars, and heard the roar of captive pet carnivores.
He watched as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle rammed and collapsed the wall of a windowless bunker just outside Hussein's palace. The building concealed bundles of U.S. currency stacked floor-to-ceiling.
Staring down all that money "was like hitting the lottery," recalls Coffey.
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