Idaho Vet Shares Life Lessons from Saddam Hussein
By Barb Law Shelley
Photos by Rase Littlefield
Invite Eagle author and retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bill Riley to coffee, and you’ll soon learn to buckle up, hold on, and let him drive — the conversation that is. He fills the time with engrossing, high-energy stories that demonstrate the many lessons he’s learned from life. No matter what experiences life throws at him – he learns from – and life has thrown him some doozies.
He shows me the scars his mother left from putting cigarettes out on his hands. But now, those scars have been replaced by new scars where life threw more chaos at him. His mother was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, while his hard-knocks father was often absent, and suffered from undiagnosed Vietnam War post-traumatic stress disorder. Misguided teachers thought humiliating and bullying him for his weak reading skills would motivate him, but in reality, he had dyslexia at a time when the condition was largely unknown and rarely treated. To reduce tension and deflect abuse, he learned to be funny. Because his mother told tales about her own delusions, he and his sisters were often confused about what was real and what wasn’t. Journaling, reading repetitiously and reprogramming himself saved him.
“Reading was an escape, a way to survive, to get through the day, as was humor,” he said. “In combat, you have to find the humor or you will get overwhelmed. I pick humor and joy every time over despair.”
After his 22-year career in the Air Force, he aptly titled his newly released memoir, “Baghdaddy: How Saddam Hussein Taught Me to be a Better Father.”
His book is both a survivor and coming-of-age tale. Remembering his childhood, and the grueling reality of war in countries where citizens use their children to kill Americans, Riley said, “A horrible experience can get you to a wonderful life. We can persevere and get ourselves out of a bad situation.”
Riley’s resume of service is long. He was a strategy consultant who specialized in global multinational communication, which entailed getting military and intelligence operations back on track after delays or problems. During the Cold War, he was an intelligence analyst, and in Iraq, he was the first U.S. Electronic Warfare Officer for Task Force Operations. His mission, among other assignments, included diminishing Hussein’s ability to wage war against neighboring countries and to let him know that violating international law has consequences.
What life lessons did Hussein teach him?
“We all want to learn from heroes, but they are rare in life, so we can choose to learn from the many bad examples all around us,” Riley observes. “We can change ourselves and learn not to be them. Saddam Hussein is a bad example of a dad, a neighbor, a leader. He is a good example of what not to do.”
Riley’s book is available at your local Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon. Learn more by visiting www.billrileyauthor.com.