Monday, 19 May 2008


Today, we walked outside of one of our gates. The Iraqi Army unit that guards this post told us they found something that might be an explosive. They lead us to a building that had been imploded by Coalition Forces back in 2005. I had my camera with a long zoom lens. We wanted to get a look at this device from a good distance. As we got closer, I felt all my senses heighten. If felt we were pushing our luck a little. I figured I would have a long-lens look, snap a shot and get back to the gate. They walked us up to the building. I thought they were going to point down a hall at something. Instead, the guy all of a sudden leans down and shows me a wire! It was right at the corner of the building where we were standing. Under some rubble was a black device and the wire was running into it. It’s possible that this was a piece of explosive that didn’t go off when they imploded the building. I had no idea. All I knew was that we were too close. Needless to say, we got the hell out of there and reported it.

Walking back, we asked how they found it. “One of the children told us about it.”

Across the street from the building is what looks like an apartment complex. There are plenty of children. We told the IA guys that they needed to secure that building better. We noticed where razor wire was flattened and anyone could walk in. Apparently, that’s what some kid did.

Fortunately, I had my camera. The thing you notice is that these are good looking kids. There was one young lady that looked no older than 11 or 12. All the younger kids paid attention to her. I had some of my mother-in-law’s homemade cookies on me. I gave a bag of them to the girl and she handed the cookies out. Little hands took cookies one by one until they were gone. I’m not sure if she even saved one for herself.

I can’t imagine growing up the way they do. The place is a dump. What you could call a back yard is filled with trash, razor wire and an old car. Dogs forage there looking for food. Who knows what these kids eat on a regular basis. It truly bothers the interpreter I worked with today. I’ve seen him put Dinar into tiny fists before. He told a little boy once to go home and give it to his mother. The boy, who could have been no older than 4, obediently ran home.

They all smile. They have to be aware of the ugliness around them, but their brown eyes are wide and even the ones missing teeth have a nice smile and are friendly. We told them all to stay away from the building.

I was nervous. We’d come too close to a possible explosive. We were outside our gate on the town side. I was scanning every window I could see. We headed back in. I walked away and amid the trash, the razor wire, the filth and the poverty, their little smiles stood out like a stood out like jewelry.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


The Iraqi Command Sergeant Major here is a good man. By rank, he is referred to as “Chief.”He is a fatherly figure who struggles through the Iraqi Army system of the officers believing NCOs are inferior. I have talked to him at length about staying the course. The way it’s supposed to work is the officers oversee the training and make sure it is being done correctly. They have to be experts at the training. They have to recognize when something is being done incorrectly. When they see something, they are supposed to pull the Sergeants over and correct the problem. What we see too much is officers who get in the way of the training. They think they have to do “Hands on” with everything. It’s always been that way in the Iraqi Army. If you are not an officer, you are a second-class citizen.

But, things around here are starting to change. I keep telling the CSM to hold his Sgts. accountable. They have to do the training. I told him about last week on the range where I asked why the jinood were missing the targets and the Sgts didn’t know. He says that was disgraceful and will change. Even the officers are changing a little. The executive officer here ran the weekly training meeting the other day. He addressed the NCOs directly and told them the compound needs to look like a training center and that he doesn’t want any of the jinood lying around. The CSM is making the same point.

When I met with him, I told the CSM that what I saw the other day was fantastic. Soldiers were learning squad movements. They were walking in a wedge with rifles at the ready, the last two pulling rear security. There were two areefs (sergeants) in the middle of the wedge coaching them. I only saw one young lieutenant out with the troops. The rest of the officers were on the perimeter watching and taking notes. Hopefully, to talk to their Sgts. later about how things went.

I couldn’t believe it. Even the one of our contractors said he had never seen that before. It’s been a combination of things that are making this happen. Our contractors are doing a good job working with their instructors. I think we made an impact at the range the other day too. All of our NCOs went to the range to observe their qualifying. None of us liked what we saw and started pulling them aside and asking them what the hell was going on. When we found somebody doing it right, we made sure to pat them on the back.

We climbed all over the officer in charge of the range. He was on a megaphone moving troops around while the Sgts were trying to conduct training. We pulled him aside and grilled him.
“Why aren’t the soldiers qualifying today?”
“They are.”
“Who has the best score so far?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have a list.”
“How are you tracking who is qualifying and who needs re-training.”
“We’ll do that later.”
Anyway, their XO asked my Commander why I was grilling so many people on the range the other day. I think my commander told him it was my job.

I’m not here to cry for these guys. I have to get them ready to go into the fight. If these soldiers can’t shoot straight, they will get killed in an ugly way…bottom line. Way more Iraqi Army soldiers are dying in this fight these days than U.S. Soldiers. I want them to stop dying and be able to defend themselves and kill the bad guys.

All of them take a risk joining the Iraqi Army. On a daily basis I have jinood tell me that they and their families are threatened. There are still enough bad guys out there to make it ugly and I don’t want these guys going into the fight unprepared. If I have to grill a few of the trainers…so be it.

I realize I’m walking a fine line sometimes. I always talk to my interpreters after an encounter with my Iraqi friends and ask how they thought it went. I’ve got a learning curve here to deal with, a language barrier, a lack of myself being a truly good soldier. I wear a lot of hats around here including admin, sewer truck guardian, trash man and gatekeeper. Every U.S. Soldier working on this small compound is in the same boat. We give it our best shot and when we see things like the good training we saw the other day, it makes it seem like we are starting to turn this Titanic.

The CSM told me he has 8 children and that three of them play soccer. When we wrapped up our conversation, I gave him one of my bags of Dunkin Donut coffee. I told him that my wife heard that he liked coffee and she told me to give him some. I told him I have to keep my wife happy because in the United States, men have an expression… “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
He said it was the same way here. He also said to tell her “Thank you.” “Shukran!”