AgapePress recently interviewed Thomas Hamill at a book signing for his book, "Escape in Iraq" (Stoeger, 2004). The Macon, Mississippi, dairy farmer went to work in 2003 for Kellogg Brown and Root driving a truck in Iraq. He took the high-risk job delivering fuel to U.S. troops in an effort to avoid bankruptcy and save his farm. His imprisonment by Iraqi rebels and his miraculous escape made top news in 2004.

Q:  What circumstances took you to Iraq?

A:
  I was hired to go over there. I had a dairy farm and drove a truck at night. I bought this farm from my dad and my uncle. I grew up on the farm, and I enjoyed working on it. I had been away from it for a little while when I started driving a truck. There just wasn't enough there for my dad, my uncle and me to make a living. I bought them out in 1994. It was an uphill battle.

There was a point when we had increased the herd and we were milking a lot of cows and we were doing pretty well. We had two good years in a row; I said, "One more good year, I'll have this thing so I can quit this driving job at night and come back and stay here on the farm."

But all of a sudden, the bottom fell out of the milk market and we were getting a 30-year low on our milk prices. Everything I made off my driving job went right into that farm. That was the only thing keeping the farm afloat.

Q:  But you wanted to keep the farm?

A:
  I wanted to keep it. I sat down in July [2003] and said, "God, this is my grandfather's farm, this is my dad's farm. I'll work my fingers to the bone if this is what You want me to do, but if there's something else I need to be doing, if I need to leave the farm, just let me know it some way."

Less than a week later, I ran into a good friend I hadn't seen in six years. I was telling him about the trouble I was having with the farm and I was wanting to make a change.
He said, "There's an opportunity for work in Iraq as a truck driver making some good money."

The next day I was at one of the barns where I pick up milk, and I was telling the farmer the same story. He said, "Well, there's a guy who lives nearby who's over there working right now."

I said, "Well, I need to talk to his wife." I called and talked to her. Everything just fell into place real quick. I felt like I was being steered in that direction, I had to go to Iraq. I could have done things the good old American way. I could have filed bankruptcy and got out from under that debt and said, "Sorry, I can't pay you." But that's not me. It's my debt and it's my responsibility.

Q:  How long were you in Iraq?

A:
  I got to Iraq the seventh of October, 2003. I was there until February. That's when Kellie [my wife] had to have an aortic valve replacement. Kellogg Brown and Root got me back to her before her surgery. I stayed with her for a little while, then said, "I've got to go back." We had friends that were taking care of her, bringing food, checking on her.

I went back when it was starting to get a lot worse. On April 9, our convoy went out. About an hour into our mission – we were just north of Baghdad, by the Abu Gharib prison – that's when the attack occurred. I had run that road every day my first three months over there. Every week or every two weeks, convoys were getting hit on that road, about a five- or six-mile stretch there north of Baghdad.

It's a kill zone. We get past it and we check in to see if everybody's okay. If everybody made it through all right, then we continue.

But that morning they had an attack planned to take on a whole convoy, something that had been worrying me the whole time I was there. I was thinking, "Why are these guys not just hammering the daylights out of a convoy? They know that all we do is just drive through it. The soldiers don't get out and run after them and try to go get them. We just drive through it."

Q:  When you came home after your escape, you were trying to avoid the media, right?

A:
  I was. But God wouldn't let me. A lot of people said, "God's not going to let you stay [away from media]. God brought you through this; you're alive because of that. He doesn't want you to go back and get in your shell and not tell people why you're here.

Q:  How did your book deal come up?

A:
  Kellie said we'd had a number of publishers contact us, but I hadn't even bothered to consider them, because I wasn't going to do this. That's when Paul [Brown, my co-writer] called. He came up and brought some of the books he's published on wildlife.

I told Kellie, "I'm going to just think about this, I'm going to pray about it. I'm not going to make a decision. If something tells me not to go with Paul, I'll know."

For about a month, Paul would call and nothing ever told me not to keep heading in this direction. That's the way I am, now; God [has to] open and close doors in front of me. It's a blessing that Paul showed up and I got him to do the book just this way.

Q:  What do you want this book to do?

A:
  First, I want people to understand [that they can handle] adversity. We were facing adversity [with our farm]. I could have taken the easy way out and filed bankruptcy. I think that's one of the main reasons I'm still here – because God said, "This man is willing to go to war and work in a war zone when he could take the easy way out."

Q:  What else?

A:
  Well, trust, I mean total trust in God. I had this severe gunshot wound. I knew there was going to be severe pain. But I was still hoping I would be going home. I've got a family. I can't go home and be a man that's a nervous wreck. I was praying for this.

I was trying to figure how to get out of those buildings where they held me. I was actually able to get out [of one], but couldn't flag down the U.S. helicopter right over my head. I couldn't flag it down. I mean, I'm out there with my shirt off – a white man standing out in the middle of Iraq. How obvious is that? This man is not supposed to be here.

When that happened, I sat down and looked at that building I'd just gotten out of. I'm looking out across that desert and I'm thinking, "Well, God, I'm supposed to be able to walk out across this desert and You're supposed to help me." But for some reason, I just kept thinking, "Get back in that building and shut that door." That just kept playing over and over in my heart – "Get back in that building."

I assumed that God had another day planned when my escape was supposed to happen. So I put myself back in that building, shut the door and locked myself in again.

Q:  How difficult was that?

A:
  It was easy. I can't explain it, it was just something that God gave me. There was so much peace. I didn't have an anxiety attack. Here I am out, nobody's watching me and I put myself back in that building. I said, "God, I know You've got a day picked in the future. And I'll know that day when it comes."

That's what happened on May 2. They had taken me from this place where I had nicknamed the guards, "guards on death row" – because they were really strict. They [had] found out about the Abu Gharib prison, they asked me about it, and from that day they shackled my hands. At night, they put dog chains around my legs and put a bolt through them and tightened them down. They squeezed my legs, and the circulation was cut off by morning.

I could not have gotten out of that place. No way. That was one of my darkest hours. If I looked up at them, they pointed a gun at me like they were going to pull the trigger.

When they moved me from that place to that little mud hut out there in that desert, I was expecting the place they were taking me to to get worse, not to go to a place where there wasn't even a door affixed to the wall. They put a metal frame over it and barricaded it when they put me in there.

[The next morning], I dozed off for a few hours. I woke up and they [had] left a pan of water and a few cookies. I sat up and opened the package of cookies, and then I heard this rumbling sound like a convoy on the road. I looked out and saw that convoy.

Q:  So you were able to get out of the building and reach the convoy?

A:
  Yes. There are just so many things [that happened by God's hand]. It's kind of like the Bible with parables. You have to read between the lines on a lot of this. You have to really look deep to see what I experienced and how God gave me the peace to get through this and the trust I needed in Him.

Q:  How did your Iraq experience affect your faith?

A:
  Going to Iraq has made me stronger. When I first went over there, I thought "I've never been trained for this." I'm an avid hunter, and I've heard a lot of gunshots but I've always been shooting at something. When you hear that sound, the crack of that gun and you don't know if that bullet's headed for you or not, that's a big feeling. When I first heard that, I thought, "Is that bullet headed for me?"

When I was captured, they put me in the back seat of a car and did a video. I'm thinking, "This is not me. I'm an ordinary guy; I have fears, too." I should have been scared out of my mind, but I spoke to that camera when they put it in my face.

God builds our strength. I put it all in God's hands. I've always believed in Jesus Christ. Always. But there was a time when I just rebelled, didn't care whether I went to heaven or to hell. Didn't care. Now, I care where I go.

Q:  How do people respond to you? Like an American hero?

A:
  They do, but I keep telling them, I'm not a hero, I'm just a tool that God used. All I am is a tool. This could have been anybody else in the same situation and they'd have handled it the same way.

Q:  Who are your heroes?

A:
  Well, Jesus Christ is my hero. He's the one thing that got me through it. I said, "I'm not going to beg these people for anything. Jesus did not beg for his life when they took Him to the cross and I'm not begging these people."

People are going to have to dig down deep [inside themselves] when they read my book for it to change their lives.


Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.

© 2004 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.