Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ramadi, Part One

It has been brought to my attention that one of the most vital contributions that can be made by Educated Soldier has been short in coming since its inception. Readers have suggested that this site has lacked proper expressions concerning the author’s experiences in Iraq.



This submission has not fallen on deaf ears. After all, any blog can offer opinion on the world of politics. Any site can analyze and criticize the latest news with its daily posts. And I intend to continue to do just that with future updates. However, tonight, I want to take a brief reprieve. I want to go back to why Educated Soldier started and why this blog should stand apart. Tonight, I want to take you back to Ar Ramadi, Iraq.




I don’t want tonight’s post to be a singular entity. Two years experience in Iraq can not be expressed in one blog post. If it could, reader interest would surely wane around the account of day three- especially given the surprising lack of action that would, no doubt, constitute a continuing theme. Instead, tonight is going to be the preamble to something much larger. Intermittently, I intend to post follow-ups to this introduction; a continuous series of war stories, if you will.




This Iraq story was referred to during last night’s post. I had intended to publish it then but it was bumped to allow space for more time-sensitive news concerning the Defense Funding Bill. Also, as expressed last night, the motivation for the authoring of this story was drummed up by the reaction that I have been witness to over at Michael Totten’s Middle East Journal, where readers are in a furor over Mr. Totten’s first Correspondence from Baghdad. His readers are afire because his report was surprisingly positive. Supporters of the war in Iraq are interpreting this message far differently then those who oppose the ongoing conflict. In Mr. Totten’s post from Iraq, I saw similarities to my own time in the country. Hence, I became quickly convinced that people needed to hear this soldier’s story…






Iraq...







Before entering the military, I had been an avid reader of war stories. Two books, by the same author, stick out as being particularly influential: Gary Linderer’s Eyes of the Eagle and Eyes Behind the Line. Both of these books told of the author’s harrowing experiences as a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit member in Vietnam. I read these books with furious enthusiasm and decided that I wanted to be a “LRRP.” I eventually ended up in the Army as a Forward Observer, a job that I found satisfactorily close in its entry-level description to those that I read about in Linderer’s books.




Linderer did a thorough job in his books of describing conflict in detail. Yet, I found myself always wondering about Vietnam: if every mission ended in violence and the conflict was as vicious as portrayed in movies and television, how did anything get accomplished? And surely things got accomplished. Logistical bases were built, supplies traveled back and forth, and the daily life of soldiers somehow managed to continue. While my experiences surely can’t compare to those that were earned by the LRRPs of Vietnam, I feel that I have learned something about the general dynamic of war that can be applied to all associated situations.




Before participating in Iraq myself, from the reading that I had done, I had the same perception of war that I think most Americans do now. I had been under the impression that war was some crazy phenomenon that was absolutely unlike anything we recognize in our own little niche of the world. If I can make one thing clear tonight and during any of my Iraq-related posts, it is this: war, on a daily basis, lacks excitement for the fighting man and is, indeed, more like home than one might imagine. This is to say that people in Iraq, for the most part, do what you and I do in America. They go to work. They shop. They socialize with neighbors and their children play in the streets.



I was deployed to Iraq twice. The first tour was during the invasion with subsequent duty taking place in Baghdad. The second tour was in Ar Ramadi, when Ramadi was considered the hotspot for enemy activity. It is this second tour that will be the focus for all associated comments during tonight’s text. Even Ramadi, during this conflicted period in 2005, was- in retrospect- less violent than one might imagine. Let me be clear; every time I make such a declaration, I have to take a big swallow of pride. I take a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that I served, on the ground, in an area that was considered the worst of the worst at the time I was there. And I don’t want my minimization of the violence in Iraq to be, in any way, misconstrued as some sort of softening of the respect that I have for those who made far greater sacrifices than myself. But, for one to understand Iraq from the outside, one must first understand this paramount detail: it is not the cacophony of constant explosions, bullets and bloodshed that you may have been led to believe.







A Fortunate Ride Home








This particular phenomenon became known to me late during this second tour. As most readers know, most American soldiers in Iraq are afforded two weeks leave during their deployment to return home, travel the world, or do whatever it is that they choose to do. Because of my position within my company, I was given a leave date that was late in the deployment and very close to the time that we were scheduled to redeploy home as a unit. To clarify this detail, it sort of worked like this: I was the second highest ranking enlisted man in the duty that I performed for the company. The highest ranking enlisted man had to be present during the last weeks of the deployment to ensure a smooth transition with the incoming unit. This caused the necessity for the highest ranking individual to take leave before the man that followed him in authority. Basically, I was going home last.



The interesting part is that, with such a late leave date, I was pretty well assured that I wasn’t going to be afforded the opportunity to take leave at all. The continuing rumor in Ramadi was that leave was being canceled; the last scheduled people weren’t going to get such a luxury, etc, etc, etc… This is a particular phenomenon in the Army caused by something that we like to refer to as the “Joe Network.” Because of my anticipated lack of leave, I decided never to inform my parents that such an event might occur. I figured that the disappointment of not coming home would be far greater then the anticipation that they could gain from knowing a tentative date.




Of course, this all resulted in me, indeed, receiving leave. So I flew out of Iraq and, after a few stops, eventually arrived in Tampa, Florida. Still in my fairly dirty combat-worn uniform, I traveled by cab to the distant suburb that my parents resided. This is when it became sickeningly apparent that the situation I understood in Iraq was being misrepresented in America. My cab driver maintained his respect for an individual in uniform while, nonetheless, detailing me on the dire state of affairs in Iraq. Not only was the war lost, but we weren’t making progress, the Iraqis didn’t want us there and the establishment of a stable democratic Iraq was completely unfeasible. It was at that point, listening to this cab driver, that I realized that there may be a major disconnect between the ground truths that I knew and what Americans thought they were aware of.




While it digresses from the point of this story, it wouldn’t be fair to move on without concluding this tale. My trip with the cab driver eventually ended, thankfully, at my chosen destination: the front door of my parents’ apartment. Still in uniform, bags in hand, and my parents totally unwitting, I rang the doorbell. My Dad answered. My Mom quickly followed and I remember her vividly being frozen in place by the shock of seeing her son temporarily home from Iraq. For one of the few times in my recollection, my Dad’s eyes welled with tears. That was a moment that I will never forget. For all the sadness that is associated with war, it has given me about three different days of my life where I was completely filled with absolute happiness and overwhelming emotion that can only be understood by those that have returned safely from combat.







"Chaotic" Ramadi







My year in Ramadi was difficult. We patrolled daily. Those patrols lasted for hours and it was typically hot and the soldier usually found himself in some position that lacked comfort. Our battalion owned a large section of the city and we were tasked with maintaining stability in various ways. We walked the streets every day in an attempt to do little more then mingle with the people, gain information and provide any service within our ability. To this day, if given a decent satellite image of the area I patrolled, I can tell you with a great deal of confidence who, in 2005, lived in most of the residencies pictured. I dealt daily, and with an intimate amount of detail, with the citizens of Ramadi throughout my tour. And here is the point that bears expressing repeatedly: I hardly ever felt in danger. In fact, more times than not, my complacency during missions put me more in danger of the First Sergeant’s reprimand than the enemy’s wrath.



Here is where my duty as an author tonight becomes difficult. I need to express to you a dynamic that can only be totally understood by those that spend months to years on the ground, meeting Iraqi citizens, learning the social dynamic, and genuinely experiencing the strange wonders of war. As an observer of war, if you have ever questioned what motivates soldiers to continue to “drive-on” mission after mission and day after day, then this is your opportunity to truly understand how war works. We drive on because, typically, we have no fear.




This lack of fear isn’t developed because we are superhuman. It is developed because, typically, there really is nothing to fear. Readers must understand that, while my unit lost many men to death and injury, most of these soldiers were lost in highly isolated events. Typically, it worked like this: we would patrol for a week or a week and a half throughout our entire sector. We would not see any sign of danger or misfortune. The Iraqi citizens that provided us with dependable information would be totally short of warnings for these periods of time. This occurred because there was nothing to report, and the lack of danger and misfortune was because these peculiarities were, indeed, absent. And then, one day, you would go on patrol, the entire environment would be different and, suddenly, you would have a fight on your hands. More often than not, the battle would be over before your senses came to the realization that you were actually fighting and then you would be left with another week or longer of prolonged peace.




And this was in Ramadi… in "chaotic" 2005. This was just after the stronghold in Fallujah was eradicated and the insurgent focus was steadily on this city in Al Anbar province. While it probably was the deadliest place for American troops at the time, it just seemed like another location many miles from America to those us that were there.




There seems to be some sort of necessity in America to express everything in extremes: you are either rich or poor; it’s cold or hot. Nobody ever “sort of” likes a movie; it either “sucks,” or was the “best movie seen in a long time.” Unfortunately, many times such explicit terms don’t adequately describe the condition of war. War can, very well, develop in mild forms. And this is the state of Iraq as I know it. It’s hardly peaceful. At the same time, if war is constituted by constant fighting and death, than I am still a virgin of war myself.








It's NOT About Left or Right









None of this is to suggest that “Big Media” is lying to you. I have considered the role of news providers and, after some inner-debate, I have mostly concluded that they are innocent in their intentions. I recently ran across a report that suggests that “Leftist” media surely were on the side of the Right circa 2001. The more I considered such as example, the more I concluded that it was reasonable to assume that media have honest intentions. Of course, for every Keith Olbermann, there is a Bill O’Reilly, but I am going to suggest that most media outlets are more moderate, if one were to assess, then either Republican or Democrat.




However, typical journalists of today do have a major shortcoming. They are, primarily, reactive types instead of proactive. When news occurs, they travel to the site and report in retrospect. This is what occurs in Iraq. Every car bomb attracts a small company of reporters. And, therefore, every car bomb becomes sufficiently accessible by the average American. There is much less for the reporters to gain by actually embedding with a unit and chancing a situation like that described in Ramadi. Journalists can not afford weeks on end with little to report. The money is made by staying stationary in Baghdad and delivering a synopsis of newsworthy material from there, occasionally traveling to the site of actual violence. This is how journalism works. Unfortunately, typical Americans fail to understand the process of journalism and somehow end up attributing one explosion in Mosul, Iraq to a fallacy of explosions throughout Iraq. I hope this much is clear; a single explosion in Mosul is just that; a single explosion. Meanwhile, it is very likely that Iraqis in Basra are simultaneously buying their groceries, interacting peacefully with Coalition troops and, more or less, continuing with their on-going lives.




When I arrived in Ramadi, it was a pretty ugly place. The safekeeping there had been neglected in favor of places like Fallujah. The main thoroughfare that dissected the entire city, east to west, was completely barren. Vehicles rarely traveled it. Most of the markets in the city’s center were empty. American neglect was so absolutely evident. Also evident was how badly the Iraqis yearned for our attention. This manifested itself by citizens' quick return to the streets and markets as soon as we made continuous presence known. I saw tangible difference in the condition of Ramadi, Iraq in six months time. By the time I left the city, Iraqi Army and Police bases were established and large portions of our former jurisdiction was in their hands. Imagine my surprise to return home and find out that we were “failing.”





I implore you to trust in what I am expressing to you. Read Michael Totten’s most recent report from Iraq with an open mind and consider that all might not be lost. I saw progress in 2005’s Ramadi. My old unit returned to the same bases in Ramadi and is still there today. I talk to old friends several times a week. The progress that was started during my tour has manifested itself in ways that are difficult for even a fervent believer such as me to conceive. My friends consider the city safe with no qualifiers; just safe. Along with these word-of-mouth reports come others from Al Anbar telling of Iraqi citizens fighting on their own behalf and, subsequently, terrorists exiting the area. Why the need to spin these stories into anything different than what they are? They are tales of success. I tried to express my belief in success in 2005 and found deaf ears. It’s unfortunate that these same positive tones are meeting their own troubling responses…




I appreciate your following with this first account of my experiences. I can’t hide the emotion or frustration that builds when I consider American assumptions of Iraq. These are my very real tales. For those of you who have only television, radio and the internet to make you aware of the situation there, please use these truths as a portion of your overall visualization of what is occurring. I have no reason to lie to you and no motivation to encourage you to buy into something that isn’t genuine. I am enthusiastic in my approach to telling these stories because I dearly want the world to be aware of a truth that I think is often, unfortunately, and many times unintentionally, hidden behind a fog of unreliable reporting and uninformed accounts of events.






Look for more reports of my time in Iraq in future Educated Soldier posts. Thank you.

5 comments:

John said...

In fact, more times than not, my complacency during missions put me more in danger of the First Sergeant’s reprimand then the enemy’s wrath.

Having been senior enlisted myself, I just find that humorous.

Thanks for relating your experience. Anecdotal evidence like this is invaluable.

I do disagree with your debate outcome that the mainstream media is not liberal, or slanted left. I've just seen way too much evidence to the contrary.

OTOH, you could be right that in 2001, the media may have been accepting or sympathetic to the Administration. Even the driveby is capable of moderating it's output at times. However, even before 9/11 the MSM was busily advancing the theory that the Supreme Court had selected Bush as President, pillorying him for pushing tax cuts at the same time we were in a mild recession even as they were trying to pin the recession on Bush that had begun in the first quarter of 2001. As if the day he took office the economy stalled.

The media slants it's coverage not always so much as it being blatantly liberal, but in what it reports and how it reports, and often in the amount of coverage devoted to something.

I know you're a busy guy, but if you've never looked at Media Research Center and have some time, take a few minutes and look at what they produce on bias in the media. Newsbusters.org is another place - it is an outlet of MRC.

Thank you for your service to our Nation.

Diana said...

What a well written blog.

You have kept my interest and I am patiently waiting for part 2.

As a civilian I can see the situation in Iraq from your eyes and understand a little better.

You should consider writing a book about your experiences and ideas, as I am sure I am not the only one who would be interested in your story.

Please, post part 2 as soon as you can.

Waiting with baited breath,

Diana

J_fly said...

Hello, Steve

Welcome home and thanks for your service and for taking your time to create your blog.
I'm J_Fly. I caught your post at MJT's blog and decided to buzz over.

I felt that the MSM wasn't giving a clear picture on Iraq for some time. As I would come across other information that would lead me to believe that, "That the actrual conflic in Iraq was minimal n isolated to a portion of Iraq. As it look like "To me that is" That the fighting is with pot shoot bullies. which I don't think they are of any military real treat or really have a direct objective other then to cause discontent n fear among the the Iraqi's and world view as well as the majority are being farmed in and do not represent Iraq. In no way do I mean to minimize the possibility of injury or deaf and the need for continuous defence, reconstruction effort or just the general presents of our Troops for assurance in the Iraqi's hart mind. But I feel that the war on Iraq has been WON Iraq has been liberated in which many Iraqi's n other sects are taking advantage of. As well as stepping up to their own defences. There may still be much work in reconstruction of Iraq's infer structure and convincing some of the Iraqi's of such. But what can one expect after they have live with the oppression
that they have had in the past decades.

So Cough up that pride you thought to swallow Steve. Your service and/or any other solders service was not in vain. You all have made a difference !!!

buzz buzz

MichaelBrazell said...

I caught your replies at MJT yesterday and was going to comment on the DNC Debate post but lost track.

Anyway, compelling account and I look forward to any and all others. I'll be giving you a shout-out on my blog as well... keep up the good work and thank you for your service.
-Mike (michaelbrazellmurray.com)

Tom said...

Thought you might see some parallels in this unbelievable article (considering the source) from the new York Times. One paragraph stood out, the content of which you are familiar, opining of the Salafist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army:

"These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor."

This from an Antique Media source that has not only been constant in its Bush bashing, but also seemingly treasonous in the items it chooses to reveal, despite the national security implications.