Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Army Life

I left Camp Fallujah this morning, boarded a US Army Blackhawk helicopter at LZ East and traveled southeast toward Al Iskandariya. I arrived at the forward operating base, or FOB, well before noon. This particular FOB is the home of the 155 Brigade Combat Team (155 BCT), and is much less built up than the relatively stable Camp Fallujah. Until a month or so ago, soldiers at the FOB were still wearing their body armor 24/7, as the insurgency is still alive and active in small pockets around the area of operation (AO). Since January 1st, the insurgents have fired over 130 mortar rounds and an occasional rocket into the confines of the base, causing a number of casualties and a decent amount of damage. Recently, an extremist drove an SVBIED (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) into the entry control point (ECP) and detonated the bomb. Fortunately, an Iraqi vehicle in front of the suicide bomber suffered the brunt of the damage. However, the poor soul driving the vehicle was killed in the blast. He was simply a local worker who earned his living selling trinkets on base to U.S. soldiers.

The journey to the FOB was quite a rush – certainly more exciting than flying Marine Air, which flies almost exclusively at zero dark-thirty. The Blackhawk is incredibly smooth and quiet, much like comparing the ride in a Mercedes to that of an old Dodge pick-up. Army pilots, I am told, enjoy tree-top level flying and hugging the ground during their daylight runs. In pairs, we glided effortlessly over the tops of palm trees, across the roof-tops of crude brick houses that dot the landscape. An occasional updraft signaled an oncoming power line or other man-made structure of considerable height. Looking down, it seemed we rarely reached altitudes of more than 200 feet. Despite the threat of small arms fire, the ride was smooth and uneventful. Knock on wood.

I was greeted at the LZ by Major Erby Montgomery, the Public Affairs Officer, or PAO, for the Brigade. Maj. Montgomery offered to set up my visit and I could not have asked for a better way start to my TAD. With my helmet in hand, we walked from the LZ into the base camp and straight to the Major’s office. Maj. Montgomery had already secured a spot for me to work and immediately introduced me to a number of the Brigade staff, including the Commanding General. On deck for less than 15 minutes, I was already briefing the General on my objectives for the week. By sunset, I had completed a number of oral histories with the Brigade staff, finishing the first days’ collection by dinner. In the morning, I’ll meet with soldiers of the 2/11 ACR, or Armored Cavalry Regiment.

October 10, 2005

The FOB is much smaller and more rustic than the major camps found at Al Asad or Camp Fallujah. FOB’s are temporary in nature, often torn down or dismantled after a set period of time. Several have already been turned over to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and are now homes to the newly created army or Iraqi police. A tangle of Hescoe barriers, concrete bunkers and tents, the FOB is a miniature “tent city.” Most working spaces are housed under canvas and cammie netting, with the Headquarters element utilizing the few hard-stand buildings found within its perimeter. Thousands of sandbags dot the landscape since incoming mortar fire tends to destroy or damage anything not protected by layers of dirt and concrete. Only one explosion awoke us last night, most likely an IED going off somewhere outside the FOB. It detonated at exactly 0032 hours (my watch glows in the dark). I’m glad it was the only one for the evening - I didn’t have to get out of the sleeping bag and head to the bunker. I’m told it’s been unusually quiet…I must have brought the “calm” with me.

The Brigade arrived last January to an area that was rife with insurgent activity. Task Force 2-11 (ACR), the ground maneuver element headquartered at the FOB sent its subordinate units throughout the AO to conduct kinetic operations for the first 4-5 months on deck. Virtually every Brigade soldier from cook to supply clerk earned his combat action badge since arriving. Cordon and knocks, raids, presence patrols, TCP’s, vehicle and personnel searches, dynamic building entries – all have been utilized in the AO. As the insurgency is displaced, operations shift from a kinetic to non-kinetic environment while civil-military operations (CMO), information operations (IO) and humanitarian aide take the place of traditional war-fighting, shifting it farther out of the AO.

CMO and information operations go hand in hand and support the adage of “winning the hearts and minds of the people.” With any CMO action, we seek to improve the critical infrastructure of the towns and cities. We must convince the Iraqis that they are in a better situation than they were before the fall of Saddam. We will fail to win them over if we do not fulfill the promises we’ve made to them; mainly security and income. Democracy and freedom are empty words to many, as they have never lived in an environment that permitted free speech or freedom of action. Unfortunately, I believe the concepts of freedom and democracy are forever lost on the current generation, while security and stability will be the primary factors that influence the mindset of the average Iraqi.

The average Iraqi understands the irony of American presence in their country. They want us to leave, yet understand their organic security forces are neither strong enough or mature enough to protect them and their families. The Americans provide food and water, without which they would starve. However, we continue to provide free hand-outs vice forcing them to cultivate their fields and produce crops. We are unwittingly creating an overly-dependent population rather than a self-sufficient population. Only time will tell if our continuing CMO and IO will change that situation. Around FOB Kalsu, CMO and IO continue to occupy the minds of the senior staff.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Sarah C. said...

Thanks for the pict. - even tho I'm not mom :-)

Anonymous said...

Craig,

Why are you with an Army unit? Did I miss something?

Let us know is you need anyhting there.

Ed

Anonymous said...

Thank you, as a soldier of TF 2/11. I was there at that time. One of the cooks you mentioned in your blog. I don't know who you are but for someone to put the difficulties we had out there is good to hear. I just want to let people who read your blog to always remember. Freedom is not free. I know I lost a couple good friends out there. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Great Blog. I was PSD for the Task Force Commander and Sergeant Major. If I'm not mistaken, I believe I had the privilege of being interviewed by you in the Chaplain's tent at one point. Anyway, I really just wanted to say I enjoy the blog.