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Thread: A Soldier's Story

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default A Soldier's Story

    29 November The Nation commentary - A Soldier's Story by Major Bill Edmonds.

    For just a minute or two, step into my life. I am an American soldier in the Army Special Forces. I have just returned from a one-year tour of duty in Iraq, where I lived, shared meals, slept and fought beside my Iraqi counterpart as we battled insurgents in the center of a thousand-year-old city. I am a conflicted man, and I want you to read the story of that experience as I lived it. In the interest of security, I have omitted some identifying details, but every word is true...
    Well worth the read...

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    Default Forget the Strategic Corporal

    If you concur with MAJ Edmond's thoughts and observations, then I think this article seriously challenges our ability to produce strategic corporals. I still advocate continuing the education process on cultural awareness etc., but like many training programs the military implements, if it doesn't translate clearly in A, B, then C baby steps according to some task, condition, and standard evaluation methodology, then we're not very good at teaching it. Transformation means more than new technology and battle formations, but transforming the way we develop our soldiers.

    The bottom line is we're an Army of occupation in the eyes of the Iraqi people, and civil military projects and the like are not going to change that perception. It is highly unlikely we will be able to cultivate the cultural awareness and skills in our conventional military ranks to the extent that they'll be effective in this type of fight.

    We have the best hammer in the world, but you can't use the hammer as paint brush. Our strategy needs to fits to our tools or means available. While many think our conventional forces should be living among the Iraqi people (and in many cases they are), so they can secure the population 24/7, vice launching patrols from U.S. base camps, the risk with that course of action is that we'll simply piss off the Iraqi people even more with PFC Smith and SGT Rock taking their frustrations out on the Iraqi people, because they can't distinguish between the good and the bad or the neutral.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    I've seen most of what he's talking about, but we're on the third BCT to come in here now, and they have progressively gotten better about their attitudes towards ISF and the problems with COIN. What I mean is that: on the first BCT it was tough to get a wounded IA or IP into the CSH for a serious wound, now its routine; on the first BCT it was tough to get our counterparts (even our interpreters) into the CF DFAC, but now its routine (although they do go get wanded). Before I had to pull teeth to get things for the IA, but now it comes much easier. I attribute the change to a couple of things: 1) Guidance from the GOs that ISF is the priority; 2) Train up and number of rotations (experience) among units is starting to reflect a better sense of how to work in this environment.

    I still see problems, but the TTs are no longer viewed as odd step children, the word has gotten out that we provide both continuity and a closer perspective to that of the ISF. One of the problems I concur with in regards to lack of understanding is our tendency towards cultural isolationism when deployed here. In our pursuit to provide our soldiers the very best accommodations and quality of life while repeatedly deployed, and provide them with a "safer" environment to power down, we inadvertently shield them from cultural immersion.

    Going on a patrol from a FOB then returning to that FOB where most of those you see are Americans creates an atmosphere where everything "outside the wire" is bad, and everything inside is good. When a BCT CDR came out awhile back to visit us here in our IA compound he remarked that we lacked a gate to our floor and that we had to fix it. He remarked that we were in "Indian Country - good Indians, but Indians still". Because he had given us some of his RTOs and because he was the BCT CDR, we complied, but for 7 months we'd been fine without it. In fact we'd come to grips long ago that if we were unable to trust our IA BN, and were worried about them, we were in bad shape. He meant well, but he just did not have the same perspective as us.

    I've been out with CF some, IA allot, and Combined missions on occasion. Each one is different. When you are the minority, the civilians treat you much better. They are more at ease among you. Parents allow their children to come up and see you. Its different. We get CF RTOs rotating in and out, and patrols occasionally camping out. We usually get E-4 to E-6 fillers from the CF partner unit that will stay 3-6 months. It seems to take about 1-2 months for soldiers to adapt and see the IA and Iraqi civilians as people and not just part of the job. The RTOs are in and out so quick, they just get an inkling of it, but its still good for them, they talk to our interpreters, see IA all the time, and see that soldiers are to a great degree soldiers where ever they are from.

    What he said about advisors is true. Some people are not suited to it. It may be more military culture then anything else. Some seem lost as to what they are supposed to do. If it is out of their job description, they get nervous. It is a very personal job. It requires you to be a person, and to have people skills. It is not something we emphasize enough in our culture, but the best leaders I've seen are the ones who had them. I'd also say you need a sense of humor out here, or you'll drive yourself nuts. I think the "strategic corporal" concept is not unattainable, but it is not free. When I say that, I refer back to retired General Scales' comments about emphasis on people.

    I think we are getting better at understanding what to do here, but it has been out of necessity, not really out of desire. It is easier to wield a hammer than a paint brush - the weight of the hammer does allot of the work for you. We'd probably rather return to the days when sabots and MLRS fixed most problems. But I'm not sure we have that luxury. I think we'd better learn to be as good with the brush as we are with the hammer. My question is will we be resourced for it?

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    Council Member 979797's Avatar
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    Great read. I printed it up and added it to my "COIN notebook" that I'm building.

    I remember an incident from when I was there... I had been there for about two or three weeks when we accompanied our supported unit on a knock-and-search operation. In one house, we were moving the women into one room and a young woman was blocking a doorway. One of the soldiers touched her to get her to move towards the room where the women were being placed. She moved, but had this look of horror and indignation on her face. I talked to the soldier's squad leader about it and he gaffed it off... I was the new TPT chief and, not wanting to poison the relationship with my supported unit, I said nothing more about it. But I knew that, if there were no insurgents or sympathizers in that house before, there would be now.

    I don't know if thorough cultural training and language training are necessary for EVERY soldier, but I believe at the very least line leaders need thorough indoctrination in it... and their leaders need to be watchful for the "cowboys" who gaff it off and don't take it seriously.... and remove them from the equation before they do any harm.

    At this point though, I think the whole discussion is really academic. The mistakes made at all levels in Iraq are irreversible at this point (I believe), but I hope the Army really does a THOROUGH evaluation of what went wrong and apply the lessons for the next time... because there will be a next time.

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    Default Let's hope we learn rather than compile a bunch of lessons noted...

    Quote Originally Posted by 979797 View Post
    ... I hope the Army really does a THOROUGH evaluation of what went wrong and apply the lessons for the next time... because there will be a next time.
    I agree and hope the same (to include the Marine Corps and our National Command Authority).

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    Council Member jonSlack's Avatar
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    Last night the Iraqi Army captured Ibrahim's cell leader and brought the two together in the same small room. For Ibrahim, this was a very traumatic moment, for he saw that the pious Muslim man, whom he followed but had not met, was in fact a 27-year-old tattooed common criminal. Ibrahim began to weep when he realized he had been deceived. A greedy and immoral man who killed for money while pretending to be religious had skillfully manipulated Ibrahim's anger at Americans. Before Ibrahim was turned over to the Iraqi authorities, I saw him teaching soldiers to use their new office computer. He was helping them to type up his own written confession. But Ibrahim's transformation is an anomaly.
    Is there a Kit Carson program in Iraq or Afghanistan where guys like Ibrahim could serve?

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonSlack View Post
    Is there a Kit Carson program in Iraq or Afghanistan where guys like Ibrahim could serve?
    If not, there sure as hell should be.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default No Kit Carson that I'm aware of

    Steve, I did some asking around. The closest thing we have would be turning the guy into an informant, but even that has issues - can't discuss too much about this on NIPR. I think its a great idea though and I will bring it up. Keep in mind though, the CF does not tell MOD how to recruit, they are more and more in the lead, and if that means they don't like all of our advice, then we just have to swallow hard. There are many AIF though who find out the hard way that Jihad was just about somebody getting paid. There may be a Kit Carson style program elsewhere in Iraq, I'm not sure. As for us, we missed the boat on it during the last couple of years I think.
    Rob

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    I think you're right, Rob, and it's a shame. There were some problems with the KCS program to be sure, but it was a step in the right direction.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton
    Steve, I did some asking around. The closest thing we have would be turning the guy into an informant, but even that has issues - can't discuss too much about this on NIPR. I think its a great idea though and I will bring it up. Keep in mind though, the CF does not tell MOD how to recruit, they are more and more in the lead, and if that means they don't like all of our advice, then we just have to swallow hard. There are many AIF though who find out the hard way that Jihad was just about somebody getting paid. There may be a Kit Carson style program elsewhere in Iraq, I'm not sure. As for us, we missed the boat on it during the last couple of years I think.
    Rob
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair
    I think you're right, Rob, and it's a shame. There were some problems with the KCS program to be sure, but it was a step in the right direction.
    Unfortunately, there is no equivalent of Chieu Hoi, as regards a nationwide amnesty program focused at depleting the ranks of the bad guys. Strickland brought that up a few months back - but it hasn't been discussed at length here on SWC.

    The pathetically disjointed efforts at turning sources that Rob alluded to is not even a pale reflection of concerted amnesty program aimed at recruiting former bad guys against their erstwhile compadres.

    It takes a concerted nation-wide program, with a lot of dedicated support assets - not least of all PSYOP - working hand-in-hand with the indig to leverage bad guys who may be at the tipping point over to our side. As only a nationwide program will be successful in permitting us efficient screening of the line-crossers so that we can more effectively select individuals to be "informants", act as scouts, or simply be re-integrated into "peaceful" society.

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