Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Ligers

No, the title is not referring to my uncle's fantasy football team that won the league championship last year (although they did). The Ligers are what we nicknamed ourselves after a surprise visit from a 10-person "Tiger" team sent by our higher HQ. What's a Tiger team? Great question, and it’s the same question we asked upon their arrival. The answer we received is that a Tiger Team is an ad-hoc team sent to fix problems where the current personnel are unable to do so themselves. Ohhh - so basically a group of our peers who have been working in an office for the last 3 months are sent to the field to fix problems they really don’t know much about. As you can tell, their arrival didn’t sit well with us, and so we called ourselves the Ligers, because a Liger will always beat a Tiger.

In actuality, neither group started off on the right foot, and to be fair to that group, we didn’t give them much of a chance. One of my good friends from 10th Mountain was one of the individuals on the team, but I didn't give her much preferential treatment (sorry!). It's hard for us to accept that after 3 months of living and working with the Iraqi's, a team of staff officers is going to come tell us how to solve all our problems. We've suffered through broken equipment, long periods of no power, lack of fuel, and countless other circumstances that have given us a bond with our Iraqi counterparts. We are just starting to really see how things work, and now we are being told everything is broke, falling apart at the seams and it’s more or less all our fault. So yea, we got pretty defensive.

During a negotiation I had with one of the team members, a light switch went off somewhere in my head. We were discussing fuel, and how they (the coalition) were going to put in a request to get us (the Iraqi unit) as much fuel as we ever needed. Well, this pissed me off. For the past 3 months we have been forcing the Iraqi's to manage their fuel situation on their own - and when they run out, there is no safety net from the coalition. Our experience with them has shown us that when we provide the safety net, they don't work as hard to manage their own situation. Why would they, when we'll just bail them out if they fail? Our negotiation hit a tense point, and the conversation then went like this:
After explaining the reason we didn't like to give them coalition fuel, I was asked, "So are you prepared to answer for failed missions and explain that you refused fuel?"

"Damn right I am", I snapped back. "You know what? That’s the problem here. We have a coalition-run HQ coordinating and commanding logistics down to Iraqi-run ground units. How can we make any progress that way??" At this point I barely paused to catch my breath, and the veins in the side of my head were beginning to pulse.

I continued on, "It's like this: If we fail to make a mission here, our coalition HQ comes down on the coalition advisor's here. Who, then, is coming down on the Iraqi's? That's supposed to be our job in a way, but do you really thing the Iraqi's are paying much heed when they know we'll be gone in 8 months?"

No response, so I drove forward. "What needs to happen is our HQ needs to put aside their arrogance and start letting the Iraqi's command the Iraqi's. Then, when a mission fails, have an Iraqi general come down hard on the Iraqi commanders here. These guys are lifers - you better believe they care when their commanding officers bring a shit storm down on them!"

"There's a difference between letting them fail, and letting them fail miserably. We can’t let them fail miserably", she finally replied in a tone to match mine.

"The hell we can’t!” I replied. "How are they ever going to learn otherwise?"

At this, the negotiations pretty much broke up; the other participants were beginning to stare and my voice was getting elevated. Thinking back on the conversation, though, neither of us was really right or wrong. She was absolutely correct in assuming we need fuel, and was simply trying to help me by providing a solution. As I tend to do, I over analyzed the situation and took some pent up feelings out on her. Here's the important part to me, though - there is a disconnect. The coalition wants mission accomplishment first and always, and are willing to throw resources to the Iraqi's to ensure that happens. However, as long as we continue to provide them with unending resources and safety nets, they'll never start depending on themselves to do it.

Where do we draw the line though? Fact is, there are American troops with each Iraqi unit, and if that Iraqi unit doesn't get what it needs, we hurt Americans. That fact is what drives us to continually bail out the Iraqis - we can’t, and won’t, let a mission fail when American lives are at stake. It’s also for this reason I have to somewhat concede the above argument. I obviously don't have all the answers, but I am pretty adept at identifying problems and putting together working solutions. I finally pinpointed our problem here, what I'll dub as the great disconnect, and I feel helpless to correct it.

That being said, we have a whole of working solutions in place. Everything from increased manpower (we are at about 35% strength on the Iraqi side), to longer working hours, to complete refurbishments of the crumbling warehouses. A year from now, this place WILL be better then when we arrived. The question is, will it be good enough?


David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/12/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits. said...

Since I am Marissa's mom, I was interested in reading your account of the meeting after I had read hers. You both are so frank about how you feel and yet in the end, respect each other's thoughts and ideas. I know how special you and your wife are to her and I hope when you went to the IZ, you were able to reconnect and enjoy each other as friends, not soldiers in a wartorn country on opposite ends of the "view". Stay safe and we keep you in prayer.

Anonymous said...

Your insight regarding the coalition "social welfare and dependency" policies towards the Iraqis is right on target. This has been the case more often than not for much of the OIF experience. Expect more strange behavior from higher as the Sept 15th report to Congress draws closer. Until then, don't let the dragons or tiger teams keep you down.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,
I am Marissa's "Aunt Barbara" and I read your blog almost as often as I read hers. Like Marissa's Mom, I am amazed at the insight both of you have for the Iraqi people and the situation in total. Stay safe and amd we will keep you in our prayers as well.

Anonymous said...

I found it helpful to deal with the FUBAR from higher by remembering the part from the Army song "...the Army keeps rolling along..." and noting that it doesn't say it rolls the shortest distance, over flat terrain or even forward in the right direction. The Army just keeps rolling along.

NG said...

indeed that's the problem, in my opinion, the problem can't be solved until they are willing to accept the responsibility and have some kind of judicial system. And this might take a whole generation to do so. Why would a man care to learn how to fish if he doesn't have the sense of hungriness in him?

Joe Donato said...

Your story about the Staff Officers sounds like a group of efficiency experts that really aren’t experts, but have to go through the motions. I hope they listen closely to your experience with the Iraqi top brass and Officers. My guess is they will listen carefully to your team, “the ligers”.
I pray the weather cools down; we send our love and good thoughts. Stay safe.

Andyy Dincher said...

Jason and Marissa,

The black circle on the IRR patch represents the bottom of the barrel. There is no excellence and no competition at the bottom of the barrel. Go along to get along in amiable indifference. You are IRR. Don't forget that!

Thanks for listening,