U.S. soldier's aid to Iraqis earns him title of sheik
QAYYARAH, Iraq - Sheik Horn floats around the room in white robe and headdress, exchanging pleasantries with dozens of village leaders.
But he is the only sheik with blonde streaks in his mustache - and the only one who attended country music star Toby Keith's recent concert in Baghdad with fellow U.S. soldiers.
Officially, he is Army Staff Sgt. Dale L. Horn, but to residents of the 37 villages and towns that he patrols he is known as the American sheik.
Sheiks, or village elders, are known as the real power in rural Iraq. And the 5-foot-6-inch Floridian's ascension to the esteemed position came through humor and the military's need to clamp down on rocket attacks.
Late last year a full-blown battle between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces had erupted, and U.S. commanders assigned a unit to stop rocket and mortar attacks that regularly hit their base. Horn, who had been trained to operate radar for a field artillery unit, was now thrust into a job that largely hinged on coaxing locals into divulging information about insurgents.
Horn, 25, a native of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., acknowledges he had little interest in the region before coming here. But a local sheik friendly to U.S. forces, Mohammed Ismail Ahmed, explained the inner workings of rural Iraqi society on one of Horn's first Humvee patrols.
Horn says he was intrigued, and started making a point of stopping by all the villages, all but one dominated by Sunni Arabs, to talk to people about their life and security problems.
Moreover, he pressed for development projects in the area: he now boasts that he helped funnel $136,000 worth of aid into the area. Part of that paid for delivery of clean water to 30 villages during the broiling summer months.
Mohammed, Horn's mentor, eventually suggested during a meeting of village leaders that Horn be named a sheik.
Some sheiks later gave him five sheep and a postage stamp of land, fulfilling some of the requirements for sheikdom. Others encouraged him to start looking for a second wife, which Horn's spouse back in Florida immediately vetoed.