Ayres is a 1989 Dickinson High School graduate. He returned to Texas City on Tuesday after spending 74 days in the hospital and undergoing more than 20 surgeries.
“A month ago, I was still bed-ridden and in a wheelchair, but then I moved to a walker, and now I have walking crutches,” said Ayres.
While looking for insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, Iraqi soldiers against the occupation attacked Ayres’ unit. A blast from a rocket-propelled grenade nearly blew his leg off, while his arms, legs and back were severely burned.
Two things kept Ayres going as he slipped in and out of consciousness.
“I just kept praying and asking God to please let me go back to see my wife and my daughter,” he said.
BAGHDAD Sa'ad Saddam, a 35-year-old clothing merchant in the Iraqi capital's notorious thieves' market, normally has nothing polite to say about his country's rulers.
So he was surprised on Monday to find himself being optimistic about Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's new government - not because Saddam cared about the symbolic passing of sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqi leaders, but because he was thrilled to see Iraqi police officers pistol-whipping suspected carjackers near his clothing stand.
"Allawi is a strong, powerful guy," said Saddam, who added that the police crackdown on two carjacking and kidnapping rings here indicated that Iraq's new leaders were starting to impose order in the streets.
Most Iraqis are withholding judgment on the new government, which officially and unexpectedly took the reins of power on Monday, two days before the scheduled transfer. People here say they want to see results, first and foremost in the field of security.
But, at least so far, many indicated that they like what they see.
Allawi has offered tough talk, dismissing a televised assassination threat by the Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a "cowardly" attempt to intimidate all Iraqis.
Unlike occupation officials and members of the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council, Allawi has stepped outside the security bubble to visit the scenes of deadly suicide bombings and urge Iraqis not to surrender to fear.
And on Sunday, his interior minister led a platoon of police commandos into the thieves' market, where they arrested dozens of suspected criminals, pointedly kicking them around in front of Iraqi reporters so the message would get out.
"The police have to show some force so that people develop a healthy fear and respect for the law," said Captain Abdullah Muhammad, 48, the traffic policeman in charge of Tahrir Square, the central roundabout in Bab al-Sharji, Baghdad's historic eastern gate that borders the thieves' market. "That's how we can terminate the bad elements."
Tahrir Square, a busy traffic circle in central Baghdad whose name means Liberation Square, was the location of a major suicide bombing on June 14 that killed 13 people and spurred an outpouring of anti-American anger.
The Iraqi police seem eager to prove their mettle. Muhammad, the traffic police captain, proudly showed his ticket book, with carbon copies of several $14 fines issued to motorists who had parked illegally.
"If the police see a gang on the street, they should shoot at them," said Muhammad Yassin, 22, who sells video discs. "The Iraqis have to prove they're in charge."
Yassin said the police commandos had swooped into the neighborhood "like a little army," confiscating weapons and drugs and arresting crime suspects.
If Allawi's government continues to take strong-arm steps - as the prime minister has promised, even suggesting he will impose martial law in some areas - the merchants near the thieves' market said they would be patient in waiting for action on other pressing needs, like electricity, job and housing shortages.
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