Leadership: May 19, 2004

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One of the less publicized benefits of the fighting in Iraq is the building of long term personal relationships between officers from the many countries that have sent troops there. Iraq is enough of a war zone to build that were all in this together spirit that is never forgotten. For many of the countries sending in troops, its the first time their armed forces have been in harms way for decades. Aside from some generally peaceful UN peacekeeping assignments, this is the closest to a war zone most of these troops will ever get. Troops in combat get to know each other real well. The shared hardship and need to cooperate to survive builds relationships that last. 

While many of the nations sending troops to Iraq did so despite generally negative public opinion at home, the troops themselves were quite eager to go. As the old saying goes, its the only war weve got. Soldiers, especially career soldiers, are not eager to be in combat, but the vast majority want to risk it at least once for professional (combat veterans get promoted faster) and personal (could I handle it?) reasons. Many of the foreign officers sent to Iraq speak English, as this is seen as the international language of commercial, and military, affairs. This enables the American and British officers to work directly (and not through an interpreter) with most of these officers.

The foreign troops were also eager to work with the Americans and British. Professional soldiers the world over watched in awe in 2003 as American troops marched on Baghdad, and conquered the city within three weeks. It was an impressive performance, and most professional soldiers wanted to work with those guys. Now they have their chance, and the foreign troops are making the most of it.

American soldiers have been favorably impressed with their foreign counterparts. In most cases, when the going got rough, the foreign troops came through. In several cases (the Spanish and Dutch, for example), their governments ordered them to stay out of the fighting in April and May. This was bitterly resented by the troops involved, and the Spanish troops often bent their do not get involved orders and got involved anyway. The Spanish troops, ordered home early, openly told the Spanish media that they were bitter at having been ordered to abandon their comrades in Iraq.

Even the peacekeeping duties, which is what the foreign troops spend most of their time doing, have been useful in building good working relationships with American and British troops. Everyone who is over there quickly realizes what a bloody tyrant Saddam was and how much the average Iraqi needs, and appreciates all the troops who came to toss out Saddam and help rebuild the country. But it isnt only Iraq that it getting rebuilt. Many of the foreign officers will go back home with their career prospects much enhanced, not just for having experienced combat, but because they are now guys who, know how to work with the Americans. Ten or twenty years down the road, that becomes a two way street that can make life easier for everyone.

 


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