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Report from the Front
Discussion Board on this Respect item
Subject: Update - 1 September
allykoom. Greetings from Iraq!
have been "in country" for two weeks now and at our Iraqi army units for 5
days. Since Internet access is extremely
limited for all members of the team, I figured it was time for an update.
Our training workup for this
assignment ran from 10 July until 24 August.
We trained in Quantico and Danville, Virginia, traveled to Cherry Point,
North Carolina to await transportation, flew to Ramstein, Germany where our plane was grounded for a
few days (allowing us to relax in cool,
green, beautiful Germany where they have beer), and then flew to Baghdad and
trained for a week at Camp Taji. All of
us were sick of training by that point.
We had "lost the will to learn".
The outgoing team picked us up and convoyed us to our respective units on
We are advisors to the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Brigade of
the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army. If
you are "savvy" to military jargon and what I just wrote makes sense to you,
skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise,
I'll try and explain here. The
structure of the Iraqi Army is somewhat similar to the U.S. Marine Corps. The Corps has four divisions, each division
has three or four regiments/brigades, each
regiment/brigade has three or four battalions, and each battalion
has three or four companies. The Iraqi companies are smaller than typical
USMC companies and, on average, have about 75 troops or "jundi". Do the math and you can figure out the
general size of the Iraqi units.
The battalion is based around Fallujah
in a number of "firm bases". These are
typically abandoned residential houses, schools, or municipal buildings that have been fortified
significantly. This battalion has four companies (plus a headquarters unit) and
I have one or two advisors assigned to each company. We have four advisors, including myself as
the senior advisor, assigned to the battalion staff. The battalion CP is in what used to be a
beautiful residential home. It was
ventilated significantly by tank and .50
machinegun bullets in November, 2004 but it is structurally sound.
living conditions are not too bad. We
all came over here prepared to live in
the dirt for six months or more so having a roof over our heads, even if the
roof has some holes, is relatively luxurious.
There is electricity (via generator) most of the time, running water some
of the time and, at most firm bases, sanitary facilities to accommodate our
Western routines. I'll spare the details
but suffice to say that the bathroom practices here in the East differ greatly
from what we're used to.
firm bases have cable TV and, although the channel selection is not great, we
are able to get occasional news updates on BBC. The only other thing I have watched is
Iraqi MTV. Hilarious.
Most of us
eat at least one meal every day with our Iraqi counterparts. I can only speak for myself but the food is
pretty good! Breakfast consists of
flatbread with a spread of cream cheese and honey. Lunch
and dinner typically consist of a stew of meat (mostly lamb/mutton)
or kebobs over rice with vegetables.
Flatbread (the stuff is delicious) is served with every meal and chai (hot,
strong, sweet tea) is served after every meal.
The tomatoes they grow here are terrific. I haven't seen a fork or a napkin since I
have been here. You can have at the
chow with a spoon but if you're not
ready to grab with your hands, you're
going hungry. We do have American
food supplements (cereal, MREs, etc.) if
the meal is particularly unappealing.
Not unexpectedly, most have us have broken into our Imodium
To say goodbye to the outgoing advisor team and hello to the
incoming team, the battalion commander
(Colonel Raad, aka Tony Soprano) had a
couple of sheep slaughtered and roasted into kebabs. Several of us witnessed the whole production and, although
pretty gory, it was educational. The details would probably gross a lot of you
out, so I'll skip them.
received a 3-day turnover with the team that preceded us. It was a whirlwind tour but all of us were
ready to take charge by day two. The
teams that preceded us have done a fantastic job with this battalion and it is, by many standards, the best
battalion in the Iraqi army. The mission of this battalion is to establish and
maintain a peaceful environment in our
zone in order to set the conditions for transition to legitimate civilian
authority. There are many people in the
area who are trying to thwart these efforts and the battalion is on the
offense against them. As Marines, we are much more comfortable
when we are on the offense and we are much safer too. Our Iraqi counterparts have fully embraced
this concept. Like the Roll Sergeant on
Hill Street Blues used to say "do it to
them before they do it to you".
In November, 2004, Fallujah was the scene
of a major battle led by the USMC. Many
of the houses, buildings and mosques were damaged. Some were rubbled. There is trash and destruction all around the
city. Packs of wild dogs roam the
trash heaps. Runoff from houses flows
directly into the streets (although, thankfully, most of the sewage flows to septic tanks). There is a curfew from 10 PM to 6 AM. Amazingly, there is some semblance of
normalcy. People go to work, kids play
in the streets and alleyways, the shops are open. I have seen
a number of homes that were not destroyed and many of them are spacious
and beautiful. I'm not planning on
buying real estate here but it is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
The kids, like kids everywhere, are adorable. We always wave to the kids as we drive or patrol by and most of
them wave back. Some of them check over
their shoulders to see if mom or dad is watching before waving. Those are usually the houses we go back and
The daytime high temperatures have fallen off a little
bit. We have been peaking at around 110
and it drops to about 90 overnight. 90
degrees feels downright chilly. Every
firm base has air conditioning that
works as long as the electricity is functioning. From what we hear, it gets into the 30s during the winter
months and there is a need for heat in
the bases. We are all looking forward to
I am sure you are all worried about us. None of us has experienced anything even
remotely resembling a "close call" so far.
This place is ugly but not scary.
We are early in the game but I hope it stays that way. There are plenty of bad guys all over Iraq
but they are cowards and tend to prey on the weak and ill-prepared. At all times, we are presenting a "hard
target" to those who might want to do us harm. Anyone who chooses to mess with us will pay
a price. We have fully embraced the
motto of "no better friend, no worse enemy than a US Marine".
The team we replaced trusted
their Iraqi counterparts implicitly. We
are not at that stage yet but trust is building daily. Most of the
folks I work with are sincere, hard-working, polite, and
professional. Like any military
organization or any institution for that matter, they have their share of
knuckleheads but they are in the minority.
As I mentioned earlier, we
have no Internet access from any of our firm bases. I am typing this on the computer at my firm
base. In order to send this out, I have to save it to disk and
then bring the disk with me when I
travel to higher headquarters which is outside the city. We
are working on setting up a
schedule to rotate the advisors out to this
camp so they can shower, use
internet, do laundry, eat American food, get to
the PX, etc. We are also working
on getting cell phones to each
company position so your loved
one can call home.
In closing, I can honestly say that we are enjoying
this mission. It is challenging,
interesting, important work. Hopefully,
it will lead to a safer, more secure Iraq. Every time an Iraqi battalion becomes mission-capable and self-sustaining, that
means one fewer US Marine or Army unit has to rotate over here. Our stated mission as advisors is to help
our unit become mission capable and irreversibly self-sustaining. As I told my team, however, our number one
priority is the safety and security of each member. We are watching out for each other and our
heads are in the game. I am
overwhelmingly proud to be the leader of this team and I could not have
hand-picked a better, more capable bunch.
We welcome your thoughts and
es-salama and Semper Fidelis,