Friday, August 10, 2007

The reoccurring question

The sweat rolling down my back had turned from a leaky faucet to the Tigris River by mile 1. It was 122 degrees out and I couldn’t help but think that I was wearing an oven as opposed to body armor. As the sand blew into my face and the hotspots on my feet grew into raging inferno's, I again asked myself, "What the hell am I doing here?"

The past couple weeks have been interesting. Not really a good interesting, although we did have our moments of laughing at the absurdity of our situation. No, it was interesting because I think I can now write a book on poor leadership and failed execution, from the top of the chain straight through to us.

It began on a Thursday night, when my favorite senior advisor came knocking on my door at 10pm demanding that I write a justification for why we need vehicles, phones, and computers. Not liking the dumbfounded smirk that overtook my face, he snapped and mumbled something to me that I am sure would have pissed me off had I been paying attention. I, however, was too lost in my own thoughts, which were screaming at me to make a smart-ass remark like "No problem, Sir! I'll get the justification for why we need oxygen to you right after that!"

It wasn't a hard document to write; we are the main logistics hub of the Iraqi Army, so without simple communications like computers and phones we would be almost completely ineffective. Vehicles are needed in part because we have live 3.5 miles from the depot, and in part because the depot itself is over 5 sq. miles. Without vehicles we would have to walk to each of our 70+ warehouses, which would take an unnecessary amount of time and be really inefficient. So I wrote the justification, and the next morning we lost everything.

There are alot of things that need to be explained here. I'll start with how and why we lost all of our stuff. Apparently, a general from cubicle-land (i.e. the IZ) ordered that all outposts where Americans were advising Iraqi's must turn in their vehicles and equipment to the Iraqi Army. This order sat in limbo for a couple of weeks and then all of the sudden people starting saying, crap - he's serious. Our leader's crap he's serious moment apparently came at 10pm on Thursday night when he asked for the justification. I can tell you from past experience that trying to justify something the night before is usually a bad idea. As it turned out, this experience held true.

I can understand why the general wanted this. Since we are embedded with the Iraqi's we are forced to use much of their equipment to help them do their mission. Problem is, we are doing most of their mission. So by turning everything back in and leaving us helpless, we more or less leave the Iraqi's to do their own mission. Here's the problem with that, though: All of our orders come from the American Headquarters! So, in order for the Iraqi's to do their own work, they'd have to be able to coordinate with the American HQ element, which, of course, they can’t do. So for 5 days, we walked to work, advised the Iraqi's on what we thought needed to be done, and the walked home. It was almost impossible to get anything done since we essentially blacked out from communications, and therefore had no access to real-time logistical requirements. I didnt really mind the walking part; there are thousands of other troops here who have to do alot of walking in alot more dangerous situations, so if this is as bad it gets for me I am a very lucky man (although those of you who know me also know that I am dying inside here and would give my left nut to be on the streets!)

After 5 days of absolute mission failure, our command decided that we needed at least basic access to phones and computers. Brilliant! They also gave us American-bought vehicles for transportation, although I am still walking occasionally. I like walking with my Soldiers - it's sucks, so its bonding time. There is alot of work to be done now, since we fell way behind during those 5 days. There is also talk of us moving from an advisor role to full time operations, since the Iraqi logistics system is still perceived to be broke. However, I still struggle to understand how we can advise them when we operate under an American command. No progress is going to be made until the American staff starts advising the Iraqi staff, and logistics are coordinated by the Iraqi's, not the Americans. It's odd how no one seems to realize this. It will also be extremely disheartening if we have to take over daily operations. This will set us back at least a year and will throw out almost all of the trust we’ve built with our counterparts. I do agree that things here need to be done differently, but much of that has to do with leadership (both sides). The Iraqi leadership is, well . . .shady, to put it nicely. In any event, I hope someone up higher soon realizes this and doesn’t set us back in our advisory roles.

I hope to update again soon and post new pics, especially since its been about two weeks since my last post. Until then, I am going to practice biting my tongue a little more!


David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/10/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

meg said...

Jason, you seem to share a similar view with the 7 soldiers who penned an OpEd piece in the Aug 19th NYTimes. They said "Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities."

If you haven't read it, you should. I'll link to it, but you might have to log in to read it (it's free). If the link doesn't work, google "The War as We Saw It" and you'll find it.

meg said...

And the link....