Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Media and Congress

What I wouldn't give to be a member of our esteemed media or congress, because if I were, I would get to write articles like this: Report: Iraqi force training producing 'mixed results'.
This has got to be a joke. Like this quote: "The bottom line is that after three months of studying the U.S. effort . .. we cannot assess the operational capability of these forces," the report said. "We are actually left with more questions than answers." Of course you are - I still don't even know what the hell I'm doing and I've been here over 2 months! I can assure you that 3 months would not be close to the amount of time required to write a congressional report. "And we've seen over the last few days and weeks that they are not even operating in the lead." Wow, you've seen that over the last few days! Great job - so statistically speaking, those few days with one or two small size units are representative of the entire Iraqi Security Force (ISF) and Army (IA)?

What I get from this article is that the congressional "subcommittee" and the Department of Defense are having a little power struggle and so to emphasize this a report is published criticizing the DoD. I am by no means saying that I believe the ISF or IA are ready to take full control. However, that doesn't seem to be the focal point of this article and that's what pisses me off. Instead of highlighting all the negative opinions that we are so tired of hearing repeated by congress over and over, why not list some factual stats that illustrate where the forces are and where they need to go? Instead, this media article, like so many others, seems to be written to further fuel anti-war sentiment and public opinion. But hey, that's what we're over here trying to protect. The right of the media to publish biased articles and fuel public opinion. It could be worse - our government could be controlling the media and influencing everything they write . . . (sinister laugh)

If you are looking for a better written article, read this one about the ongoing operation in Diyala. In this now volatile province, members of the 1920 revolution brigades, once bitter enemies of the US military and Iraqi government, have become unlikely allies to US and Iraqi military, even though the majority of the Iraqi Army there are Shia. This same "about-face" is why we hear so little about Anbar Province and Fallujah lately, and is something I've touched on in previous posts. The people of Iraq are sick of living in fear and are starting to recognize the real enemy among them.

Feel free to comment or disagree with anything I have written, and remember, the views expressed here are my own personal ramblings and do not reflect the opinions of the US Army or the our government!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

bitch session

For the time being, I am stuck in Taji, which is about 20 miles NW of Baghdad. Compared to the IZ, Taji has much more open space and is more country-ish, albeit a brown, junkyard country. I say I am stuck here for the time being because we all know that in the military, jobs can change at the drop of a hat. SO I hold out hope that my job will change . . .

It's not that I hate my job; I just don't like it. There are some people here who make it a little worse - One person has a tendency to try and belittle people and their rank, which makes us ineffective and pissed off. Especially me, because I am the type of person who likes to be proactive and make decisions. I guess I have to be careful because this blog is a public forum and anyone can read it, but in actuality I don't care so much. It's not like my Army career will be ruined - that happened 2 and half years ago when I tried to quit. (insert laughter here). I didn’t actually quit - that's just the running joke amongst us IRR call-ups. In reality, I ended my service career over 2 years ago on a good note after four years in the 10th, a period of time I am very proud of. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of what I'm doing now, it's just . . .different. The camaraderie we had in the 10th just isn’t there, although, we are starting to develop some . . .

So what is it that we do? In short, we advise the Iraqi Soldiers and officers at the National Supply Depot. There are over 100 large warehouses that store everything from vehicles to weapons to uniforms and body armor. I should use the term store very loosely; I would do more justice by describing these supplies as thrown into the warehouses. When I was a kid we used to have the dreaded "playroom closet". It was where we would chuck all of our toys, games, sports equipment, and sometimes clothes when we "cleaned up" our room and playroom. It was dreaded because cleaning this closet was a thing of nightmares for me and my sister. Well, Mom, I am getting paid back for this closet now - I have over 100 "playroom closets" here in Iraq and now I am the one trying to do the convincing to clean it up!

It is a tough job. The Iraqi's are pretty set in their ways, and often don’t see a need to change anything. During the summer, they take lunch from 11:30am - 3:30pm, and are typically done by 6pm. This bothers the crap out of me. I've done combat logistics in Afghanistan, and my motto then was always that we support the customer 1st, worry about ourselves last. I think some of these guys have an opposite mentality, and I find myself getting heated trying to explain that combat units face enough resistance on a daily basis, they don’t need to come here to get re-supplied and face it from their own people! I think, though, that I am starting to get that message across. It might really sink in when I start requiring my advisees to roll out on a few missions with me and the combat units, just so they can see what these guys face and change their perspective a bit. That will be an uphill battle, though, but one that I think will pay off in the long run.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The IZ

The air coming through the open window of the UH-60 Blackhawk felt like someone was pointing a high-powered hair dyer in my face. The heat, the random foot locker that was shoved on my lap and the dozen or so passengers crammed into the small space just confirmed the reason I hate flying via Blackhawk. I'd take a CH-47 Chinook or convoy any day. The reason I was on that helicopter was to travel to the International (Green) Zone in Baghdad to conduct face-to-face meetings with many of the people I will be working with over the next year. The other part of my job, besides being an operation officer advisor, is to act as the US Contracting Officer Representative at my location. What this basically means that I am QA/QC for every US contract at our location. I need to ensure that the local national workers are cleared to work at our location and that the vendor is adhering to all the standards set forth in the contract. There are many projects going on here for me to manage - over $200 million worth in all! Some of these are merely the receipt of vehicles or supplies that have been purchased via a contract, but many are physical construction and improvement projects for our area.

The IZ was vastly different from where I have been living in Taji. To start with, it is a city, and Baghdad is a huge city. Roads, traffic circles, people, noise and alot of cement T-walls everywhere to protect from indirect fire. Taji is more like the outer suburbs of Baghdad; the brown, dusty, junk-filled suburbs. As soon as my bird touched down I called my friend Scott who came to pick me up at the landing zone. He took me around and then we met up with my other IRR friends, all of whom are stationed in the IZ. I was pretty amazed at their accommodations, which are definitely a step up or three from ours. Granted, they have to work in an office for 12 hours a day and don’t get the experience of working with Iraqi's, but they all work in the same area and get to hang out together everyday. I really missed them (being bitter is a great for bonding), so my 4 days there were really great because I got to spend time with all of them. I also got to drive around to the different bases within Baghdad and see some of the more famous monuments like the crossed swords, the tomb of the unknown soldier, and the July 14th monument. Noon my 4th day, I had talked to everyone I will be working with via email all year and it was time for me to go. I loaded up some ECW (enemy captured weapons) and jumped on the 1st convoy headed north; unfortunately, it wasn’t really that easy. I had to make sure there was room on the convoy and then sign for side armor plates for my body armor, which easily add another 10 lbs, so my vest probably weighs in around 60-70 lbs now. It's not bad though, and the HMMWV is air conditioned, which makes it that much better than the blackhawk!

Driving through Baghdad at rush hour was, well, a rush. It was crowded and our convoy security team really drove aggressively, as they should. These guys are real professionals - I know most of them from training at Riley and I was very impressed. I won’t go through all their tactics, but let’s just say I was on my toes the whole ride, and when I got back to Taji I was all smiles. It was the most fun I've had since I've been here!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

early frustrations

It's been a while since I last posted, as I have been struggling with what I want to write about when I do post again. The last few weeks have been more frustrating then not, but there are some good days mixed in.

Much of the frustration I have been feeling stems from my job here. To begin with, I'm not even 100% sure what the full scope of my job is. Officially they call me the OPS O, or operations officer, for the Iraqi National Supply Depot. This part of my job involves coordinating the receiving and shipment of just about all the supplies for the Iraqi Army. Correction: I am the Ops O advisor. Actually, there are two officers in this job, both Iraqi majors. One is awesome to work with - humble, smart, willing to learn and also willing to teach. We have a very good relationship. The other Major, however, is a little more difficult. He is a good enough guy, but my perception is that he wants to fight everything and he wants to me to agree with him about it. For example, when we receive a shipment of supplies, its common practice to go inspect a few things and make sure that we aren't getting crap. Everytime I go out with this major, though, he says "no good". "What do you mean 'no good'", I ask. "No good! Crappy Material - made in China!" Everytime! I cant convince this guy that some stuff IS good! I understand wanting to receive good supplies, but I cant quite pass along the concept of getting what you pay for. If we buy $15 desks, they aren't going to be solid oak construction! I often find myself wondering if he wants to reject it so they don't have to offload it in the hot part of the day. Cynical of me, but I still wonder. Granted, it's been around 115 degrees consistently, but we all have a job to do. Which is why the 1st Major and I get along so well - when something is truly shoddy, like sneakers with soles falling off of them, we reject it. If there is work to be done and 75 vehicles to be offloaded, we work through lunch or late into the night and get it done. I suppose its like any where - you have your good people and your bad people.

On a positive note, we have had a couple fun nights with the Iraqi officers. One Friday night they invited about 6 of us to dinner and told us they killed a sheep fresh for us. It was funny to watch everyone's face try to pretend to be excited when inside their thinking - a sheep!? We got to their area around dark and they had a big fire pit going nice and hot, while another person was cutting the sheep meat into little cubes for kabobs. They skewered the meat and cooked it over the fire until it was pretty charred, and then served it with flat pita like bread, vegetables, olives, and some hummus. It was actually a very good meal - I ate alot! Almost as surprising was that my stomach did not feel any worse for the wear afterwards. The conversation was also pretty interesting. Some of the Iraqi officers speak decent English so they acted as interpreters for the rest of those who don't speak any English. I continue to sharpen my Arabic, and I was pretty happy when they commented on how impressed they are with my progress. We talked about everything from Soccer to politics and it's really interesting to get their point of view. For example, the officers we were talking to are fully aware that outside influences are causing havoc trying to ignite sectarian violence, as in the mosque bombings in Samarra. It's interesting to me, at least, because it offers at least a faint glimmer that people in Iraq understand. I know that the opinions are coming from officers in their army, so they are a little more educated and have access to info that others don't, so they are able to comprehend the situation better too.

I still have more to write but I am going to close out this blog because we are due for a power outage here soon. I still have to write about my trip to the IZ in Baghdad and the other 7 jobs I am doing! (ok, its only like 3 other things, but they keep me busy!)

Friday, June 15, 2007

quick note

Sorry I haven't updated lately, been pretty busy, but I did upload some new pictures so check them out! I will post again soon because I have alot to write about, including a trip to Baghdad and our sheep barbecue!