Reflecting on My Iraq Deployment 10 Years Later (Part 3)

2020 marks ten years since I deployed to Iraq with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Tennessee Army National Guard). You can read parts one and two if you’re interested. This week marks the 17th anniversary of the start of the war. I found it useful (and somewhat interesting) to journey back and read some of my blog posts during the deployment. In March 2010, our focus was on the Iraqi elections. Every successful election meant the likelihood of a free and stable Iraq increased. Here are some excerpts which are edited for clarity.

The Iraqi election has proven to be a nail biter for the Iraqi people. The Sunni coalition is in a virtual tie with the primary Shia bloc. The Kurds may end up being the kingmakers or the Shia may unite to form a governing majority. Right now, there is the strong possibility of a recount. A recount would likely intensify political tension in the country.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out on a convoy from Taji to Tikrit (FOB Speicher). Before the mission, we went over our rehearsals and right before we left the wire, Chaplain Saunders read Scripture and prayed for us. Before every mission, the chaplain prays with the soldiers. I wonder how many times God has intervened to protect American soldiers due to the faithful prayers of his people. Leaving Speicher, several Iraqi kids gave us the thumbs up and waved. Sometimes Iraqis throw rocks, so this gesture was a good thing. Seven years later since the start of this conflict, it feels like we are turning out the lights here. The Iraqis are stepping up and taking charge. We are assisting them, but they are doing quite well. I was impressed with how well they coordinated with our soldiers during our convoy up to Tikrit. We encountered Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police on several occasions, and they were always cordial and professional. The insurgency we fought at the turn of the 20th century in the Philippines lasted 7 years. Maybe there is something to the idea that insurgencies often last 7 or more years. I don’t know.

Speicher is the home of the Iraqi Air Force. Located in Tikrit, the northernmost point of the Sunni triange, it is a fairly large FOB. It also houses the infamous soccer stadium where Saddam’s son Uday used to flog and torture members of the Iraqi olympic team after losses. There’s a huge American flag painted at the stadium, and it’s been converted into a soccer field and track. We bombed the stadium at some point during the war. It’s hard to believe 7 years ago this week President Bush decided to pre-emptively attack Iraq. I remember watching the Air Force begin bombing Iraq on television. I was 19.

Last night one of our convoys hit a donkey. The donkey was KIA. We joked about renaming them DONKEY KILLERS 21 (DK 21). The soldier driving the MRAP sadly had no choice. If he swerved he might have rolled the MRAP.

The political news back home has depressed a lot of soldiers...

While I stay pretty busy at work, I occasionally find time to play some practical jokes. One day, one of those wands TSA uses at the airport showed up around the office. Random stuff shows up all the time. We have AK-47s, security wands, Iraqi swords, and other crazy objects that just appear from nowhere. Anyways, the batteries still worked in the wand, so I took it out to the soldier on gate duty. In a serious tone, I told him we had implemented a new security measure. He was now required to wand every individual attempting to access our HQ to include US soldiers. Now the irony in all this is that all US soldiers carry a weapon (an M4 rifle or M9 pistol at the very least) at all times. So anytime someone wands a Soldier in Iraq, it’s going to beep because it detects their weapon. Nevertheless, this Soldier dutifully carried out this absurd order for quite some time. I and several other soldiers got a good laugh out of it. The Soldier “ordered” to wand everyone instinctively recognized the absurdity of it but good naturedly played along.

Well, I ended up donating the giant jawbreaker that the Mondrages sent me to a competition. CPT Stackpole volunteered to suck the jawbreaker continually until it dissolved to raise money for the Army Emergency Relief (AER) program. AER financially helps soldiers return home for emergency leave (e.g. death in the family). The jawbreaker is huge–bigger than a chicken egg. The name for the competition is called the “Embrace the Suck Challenge.” He promised not to break the jawbreaker. It costs $1 per entry to guess how long it will take CPT Stackpole to eat the jawbreaker. The winner gets all the money donated in his/her name.

The only other thing we have interesting going on right now is the “cavalry related” word of the day. Basically, some Soldier make up crazy definitions for cavalry words to demonstrate some of the absurd aspects of military life. I’ve included a couple of entries, but the humor might be lost on you since it contains a lot of military jargon and insider humor.

Adapted from “Cavotology for Dummies”

Cavatologist (n): Kav-a-tall-low-gist – A delusional soldier who spends every military moment studying and imbibing the way of the cav and how to regimentate and cavalanche other soldiers. Very early into his military career, a cavatologist learns to inject cav terms like troop, regiment, John Wayne, buffalos, stetsons, M60s, M240s, M249s, dip and vehicular terms such as MRAPS and hummers into every passing conversation. A true cavatologist would name his dog or his primped up minivan “Saber.” A cavatologist daydreams about driving a MRAP and earnestly studies how to lessen MRAP fuel mileage so, in the off chance, he gets to ride one, he can come in to refuel more often and look cavtastic for SOC guards. Cavatologists frequently complain of headaches if they go more than one or two hours without hearing a passing MRAP.

A cavatologist tries to convince his wife or significant other (to no avail) that they ought to have children in order to name them “Stet,” “Troop” or “Boots.”

The advanced cavatologist has mastered the art of the cavalanche. For instance, he thrives on giving absurd 4 minute (yes-minutes not days) suspenses on FRAGOs and OPORDs and curiously wonders why anyone dared to miss the deadline. The advanced cavatologist will then lecture subordinates about how FRAGOs will win the war, and that if you are late on a FRAGO, you do not pass go and you do not collect $200 worth of AAFES pogs because your PX privileges will be suspended until you begin meeting suspenses.

The cavatologist has no stomach for infantry smack talk. After one soldier told a cavatologist that there were only two MOSs (military occuation specialty) in the Army–“11B* and Wannabe,” the cavatologist in question angrily floored his gas pedal, thereby plunging his golf cart into a sewage canal on the FOB. (Luckily, he was saved by the infantryman and more importantly his PPE (personal protective equipment) which included his shining PT belt that he dutifully wore at all hours between dusk and dawn and all other times).

Generally, these individuals delude themselves into believing all wars have been won, lost or prevented due to the cav. For example, the learned cavatologist vehemently argues that General Custer was deeply misunderstood and had Custer been privy to modern technology, namely an MRAP, he simply would have just run over the Sioux Indians. (The counterargument explaining how the rolling hills characteristic to Little Big Horn and the problems MRAPs would have negotiating them momentarily stump the cavatologist.)

Yet he will quickly rebound by introducing new conspiracy theories about cav moon landings and how FRAGOs won world wars. For example, a cavatologist will try to persuade you and himself that the Japanese surrendered after the Cav dropped the bomb nicknamed ‘Lethal spurs’ on Nagasaki. How the Cav expanded its mission to include air cav capabilities during WW2 remains unclear, lost somewhere in the annals of history…

*11B (normally pronounced 11 Bravo) – is the MOS for an infantryman.

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