As promised, this article comes to you from warm Iraq. No, it has not yet reached 130 degrees F., but it was a balmy 70 and sunny. Much different than the 15 degree weather we left at Ft. McCoy. Our trip over took about 16 hours as we stopped for fuel in Bangor, Maine and Leipzig, Germany. We next arrived in Kuwait, but our visit was quite abbreviated. Sleep was elusive this day as we arrived at Ali Al Salem Air Base late at night, and at zero dark thirty the next morning we were on a C17 headed for Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).
One of the more remarkable items of note is that the Public Affairs Office for the Gulf Region Division (GRD) spoke to us about how important it is to inform people in the United States about what is going on over here, especially by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). She highly recommended that people from small to medium size cities get articles and pictures out and inform people of our mission here in Iraq. She did state that bigger media markets simply do not find these kinds of stories very newsworthy!
Much of what is seen on television is not exactly what is happening over here. Much of the good news is shielded from the American public for reasons known only to the executives of the larger media markets and United States politicians. You certainly hear the bad news; you hear when a rocket falls inside the international zone; you hear about any soldier that is killed; and you hear about the suicide bomber in Mosul. What they don’t tell you is the surge has clearly worked to clear, hold, and build the country of Iraq. This simple phrase means that the additional troops that were sent in early 2007 have allowed coalition forces to clear out the insurgents and extremists from their hiding places, then hold this territory so the insurgents could not return to these same neighborhoods as was the case early in the war, and then build the neighborhoods and essential services so that people would be less prone to violence due to the lack of services and vital infrastructure. It has also meant putting Iraqi citizens to work so they would be less apt to join the ranks of the insurgency because they needed the money being offered to feed their families. These are the base concepts of COIN (counterinsurgency) operations and they are taking hold in Iraq.
The media is also not showing the public the hospitals that are being repaired and built, or the schools and colleges, or the water treatment plants, etc. There is so much good news here that it would take a very large book to present all of these feel good stories. Typically, if the American media does show something good it is only about a 30 second blurb. This is a crying shame, but it is just the way it is. So I feel it incumbent upon me, through these articles and the book I am writing called 400 Days, to try and begin to tell the good news stories that will hopefully reach many Americans. You will get the real story from a soldier on the ground that has access to all of these good stories occurring throughout Iraq. Of course, the naysayers will say that this is only one man’s perspective and that I am ignorant to the grand scheme of things, or the nuances of our national security interests. I will not argue the point with these people, but I believe I owe it to the brave men and women that have died in this foreign land, and the many others that have come here to serve, to tell the good news that has occurred throughout Iraq.
For those parents, spouses, children, and friends who have lost someone here, I must tell you that it has not been vain. The pain of this loss is permanent and often, as is human nature, other than the families and friends of the fallen, people tend to forget about those kinds of sacrifices unless they are watching a documentary on the war, or visiting a war memorial. The key to success in counterinsurgency and this war is to see if Iraq can make it on its own once coalition forces leave.
The fate of Iraq will ultimately lie in the hands of the Iraqi people. Realistically, it can only turn one of two ways. The Iraqi people can take the freedom they now have, build upon this foundation, and ensure a better quality of life for all Iraqi citizens. Option two is to disregard this opportunity and the country is apt to fall into chaos and civil war. The first option will take strong and effective leadership from government officials. Without this leadership, the second option is to spiral into chaos and erode all the success that has taken place here thus far. This is what the insurgents are hoping for. But those who have served here, both civilian and military, and especially for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, they have given the Iraqi people an incredibly unique opportunity and the hope for a better future. In the short-term future, it will be up to the Iraqi people to determine what they want to do with this opportunity.
Once we arrived in Baghdad we received several briefings during our in-processing. After these briefings I visited with the G3 (Operations) personnel to discuss my upcoming duties. The news I received was interesting to say the least. To set this stage, the Gulf Region Division (GRD) had two LNOs (liaison officers), one assigned to MNF-I (Multi-National Forces-Iraq) and one to MNC-I (Multi-National Corps-Iraq). There is some uncertainty if the GRD established these positions, or if these units requested them. In either case, the two positions were being combined into one and I am was lucky one! If you recall the Army’s recent marketing campaign of ‘An Army of One’, which quite frankly never made much sense to me, I was now an ‘LNO of One’! Great. The good news was that my days would be full and productive, which would make the time appear to go by more quickly. I was also excited because I would be briefing the four-star general, and the Commander of MNF-I, General Odierno. I had now become the new voice of the Gulf Region Division (GRD). I even had to audition before the GRD Deputy Commander and I didn’t even ask for the job! Anyway, it will still be a unique opportunity to be sure.
I am working in the Al Faw Palace on Victory Base Complex (refer to picture). Al Faw is a beautiful palace with 450,000 square feet of space, including 62 rooms and 29 bathrooms. The four-star works in the palace and there is more brass here than a large antique store!
blog post photo
As I worked with my two outgoing liaison officers, LTC Dave McCracken and LTC Ron Roberts, both from the 412th Theater Engineer Command out of Vicksburg, Mississippi, I was tasked to create a condensed battle rhythm (routine). This was necessary because we were combining two positions into one, and also adding on the briefing task. As I become more familiar with my surroundings and more comfortable with my new duties, the routine will fall into place and the days will blend together and pass by quickly. When you read this article I will have been in Iraq for 42 days and been mobilized for 73 already!
The weather has been much better here than back home. It has consistently been in the low to mid-sixties. We have had little rain but several windy days. The real test will come in the spring with the rainy period and the dust storms, followed by the sweltering heat of summer.
The food has been very good here as there are several dining facilities on this huge complex. These DFACs (dining facilities) typically serve four meals a day and you have several choices of food to select from. If you do not exercise good self-discipline it would be very easy to gain a lot of weight. My plan is to exercise frequently, eat healthy, and continue to lose weight. I will let you know how that plan worked out upon my return!
I have also been able to Skype my wife Shari almost every day. Skype is a free internet program that allows you to call home, and through the use of a webcam, you not only can talk with your loved ones you can see them on the computer screen as well! It is very cool and many soldiers here use Skype. Cell phones do not work all that well over here and many places do not have land lines for use.
What I have found thus far here in Iraq is that the people are friendly, many want this democracy to work, but you also need a lot of patience here. From dealing with day to day operations, to waiting for your computer to come on-line, everything is slow and it takes time to get things accomplished. And while things are going very well over here, the insurgents are always lingering around and every so often they remind you that there is a still a war going on.
As I already mentioned, the clear, hold, and build strategy is taking shape here. Combat units conduct the clear and hold operations. The building part, for the most part, is where the Gulf Region Division comes in. The Gulf Region Division is all about building. From infrastructure, such as electrical towers and substations, to water and sewer lines, to hospitals and schools, GRD does much of this building. Combat units with engineer assets also assist in this building mission. Commanders in the field also are an integral part of COIN (counterinsurgency) operations and the success here. Their units are embedded in many of the communities around the country, and they have the authorization to use funds from the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) for smaller projects to assist the local populace and improve the quality of life in that area. By so doing, they have won the support of the populace and severely dampened the momentum of the insurgency. And with seven elections scheduled for this year, from provincial to national, 2009 will, as GEN Odierno has stated on several occasions, be a year of transition. The upcoming year will also go a long way in determining how long US Forces will remain and how well the Iraqi government can manage things on their own. Even now, coalition forces are transitioning to more of an overwatch position and advising and assisting the Iraqis to manage things on their own. So indeed, serving you here will be a rare, historic, and unique opportunity to be a part of.
Next month: A typical day for me in Iraq and any noticeable changes in the newly signed Security Agreement.
In: Iraq, Middle East
Tags: Iraq, truth, media, good, progress
Location: Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, United States (load item map)
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