A few weeks ago, I blogged about my deployment to Iraq ten years ago. You can read part one here. I arrived in theater in January 2010 when combat operations were winding down. We had a two-fold mission: operating the base defense operations center (securing Forward Operating Base Taji) and providing convoy escort security for logistics missions. I supported the convoy security mission for the majority of my deployment.
Here’s another excerpt from a blog post I wrote in February 2010. I edited it for clarity and brevity to make it more readable and less boring.
Well today I had a dumb-dumb moment. I went to go to the latrine to brush my teeth and shave, and I was trying to hurry up so I could finish cleaning up my CHU. Well I have a few keys to my locks that look like my room key. Long story short, I grabbed the wrong key and locked myself out. I had done pretty good on avoiding typical rookie lieutenant behavior. The guys love teasing lieutenants (LTs), and since I’m the newest one on the block, I get my fair share. “You can’t spell lost w/o LT etc.” If I had a dollar every time I heard that one…
So I’m sure I’ll hear more about this episode tomorrow. It’ll help me remember not to do that again. A lot of guys have to lock their doors from the outside. I am not so fortunate. Anyways, a senior non-commissioned officer (Sergeant First Class Porter) ended up helping me out –after razzing me about it of course. Gotta love the NCO corps. Anyways, I usually catch on to their shenanigans before too long. One time, I had my ACU backpack w/ me in the DFAC. I got up to go get a refill, and it had disappeared upon my return. I scanned the room and quickly decided on who the most likely burglar was. I had a Sherlock Holmes moment, noticed that something was awry and walked directly toward the guilty party. SFC Anderson had swiped it. I caught him trying to hide it, and I quickly snatched it back. I’d had my two scoops of Hooah that morning and quickly caught on to that prank in the making.
On one occasion, some NCOs managed to reposition a Soldier’s velcro name tape on his patrol cap, so it was upside down. Classic prank. I decided against informing the LT, because attention to detail is crucial in our business. Noticing something askew like that is a must. Anyways, the lieutenant continued on his day for several hours oblivious to the prank. It was definitely amusing.
The March 7 elections will have a critical impact on the country. The three religious/ethnic groups vying for power are the Shia (majority in Iraq–about 55-60% of the population, the Sunnis (roughly 20-25% of the population), the Kurds (10-15%) and the Chaldeans and other minorities (2-3%). Right now the Shia have the most power. So the violence has increased leading up to the elections because of the power struggle still being waged in the country. It’s completely opposite in the US military. Junior leaders (lieutenants and captains) are empowered to make spot decisions and are generally backed by the chain of command. Senior officers realize that the junior officers and NCOs are on the scene and they trust them to handle situations appropriately.
During the Cold War, the Russians feared our military, because they perceived this different military culture as a decided, western advantage. Anyway, as a result of this flawed Iraqi mindset, you’ve got high ranking sergeant majors in the Iraqi Army going around picking up trash. It’s just bizarre. Speaking of trash, the Iraqis have not jumped on the “go green” bandwagon. The country literally stinks. They don’t trash their trash. You’ll see huge columns of smoke outside the wire. The first time I saw that–I noticed some blackhawks flying that direction–I thought it was the aftermath of an IED attack. Nope. Just Iraqis burning trash.
To fight and win wars, you have to trust your adjacent units–those soldiers from other units fighting along side of you. You have to trust they have your back and view you as brothers-in-arms. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqis have developed that kind of trust with us.
The Iraqi mindset is just completely different than ours. They have thousands of square miles of junk yards full of trash and destroyed vehicles. If you want to see what Iraqi motor pools destroyed during the Air Force bombings from 2003 looked like, you still can–just add 7 years of rust and American military graffiti and you can see it.
While the Iraqi security forces (ISF-Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army) have serious challenges, they also have great promise. They have come A LONG way since the war began. The IA does most of the patrols throughout the country, and they are in most respects holding their own. They are taking the lead on raiding insurgent hideouts and have many brave and capable soldiers and police.
One thing I’ve had to adjust to is the call to prayer. It’s eerie sounding. We make jokes that it’s the local radio station around Taji. A guy at the local mosque (there’s one right outside the wire) sings on the loudspeaker for a couple minutes. I guess it’s the equivalent of ringing church bells in America. I’ll take the church bells over eerie sounding dude on the PA any day.
Got my CHU pretty much set up now. Got my MT Blue Raider flag prominently displayed in my room. Still need my University of Tennessee one. Gonna try to work a deal to get a fridge to store my gatorades and diet cokes I get from the DFAC. Might be able to trade an extra converter and some cash for a fridge. If not, I think I can get one for maybe $30-$40…