Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sons of Iraq

Last week, my team travelled to Tikrit to sit in on a transition meeting between the Iraqi Army, Coalition Forces and contractors representing almost 10,000 Sons of Iraq contractors from our province. On March 1, the process for transition supervision and responsibility for Sons of Iraq (SOI) formally begins in the Salah ah Din province. There are over 2,000 alone in my area, and over the next several months, the Prime Minister ordered all to transition to the employ of either the Ministry of Defense or Interior (Army or Police) or to a position somewhere with the Government of Iraq.

So who are these Sons of Iraq guys? Listening to some, you would believe that a good deal of these individuals where the guys we fought pre-Surge, back in 2005-2006. There is a good deal of truth to that. For young men trying to put food on the table for their family, they based their roles as insurgents almost as much on economic opportunity as they did idealism. Now they are beneficiaries of Iraq’s National Reconciliation Program. Formerly, the insurgents and terrorists were among the few available employers to young Iraqi males.

Enter the Surge and the Sons of Iraq. Part of any decent counterinsurgency, is figuring out how to convince insurgents to lay down their arms and take up jobs. The brilliance of the Sons of Iraq is that now you let them to do both. Hundreds of thousands of Sons of Iraq took their weapons and under the guidance and supervision of Coalition Forces, boldly stepped into their new roles of providing security to the people of Iraq.

Many of them, who were part of the problem, became part of the solution. Together, they provided security coverage far into areas of Iraq where Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Army did not. The fought insurgents bravely, sometimes in spite of themselves, and ultimately many sacrificed their lives in the name of the Iraqi People.

Not all SoI were part of the insurgency that swept across Iraq. Many are hard working Iraqis taking advantage of classic economic theory. We had a demand for security, many of those young men stepped in to fill it. Some came from the other side as part of reconciliation, but most were just looking for jobs.

Back to this week, many were represented in that room in Tikrit. Their sheiks were there to receive a briefing from the Iraqi Division Commander and provincial Governor on the details of the transfer. When they opened the floor to questions, there were many: Complaints of inconsistent pay; unfulfilled promises from Coalition Forces; logistical support; compensation for fallen SoI. The sheiks asked hard questions and unfortunately, there were few answers.

Cameras lined both sides of the meeting room. Interviews conducted after the meeting indicated high degrees of both hope and pessimism. There is no question that the SoI were part of the formula that greatly reduced the violence. Some were argue that they were THE critical part.

The mission now is transitioning them over the Iraqi military control. It will not be easy. Our Iraqi counterparts have difficulty dealing with their own pay and administration. Now we will gradually load thousands of additional SoI and their related issues on the shoulders of the Iraqi Army.

Our counterparts appear to be up to the challenge. In the last week, they worked late into the night to come up with a plan to focuses on integrating control of the Sons of Iraq into our brigade, while emphasizing the treatment of SoI with dignity and respect. The latter is a difficult task, not so long ago many of the IA and SoI were on opposite lines of the counterinsurgency campaign.

Now, the leadership see the SoI as an extension of their operational reach, capable of providing additional security and intelligence to the Iraqi Army. This will be our most important mission over the next several months. So far, all is well. Personally, I want to see all the SoI integrated into their new positions within the Iraqi Security Forces or government employ. Count me in the crowd that does not want to see them cross back over to the other side.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mending Fences

The Army is not all Kevlar and testosterone. Over the years I have come to the realization that people, not tanks and helicopters, make the Army go. Of course, it's the same as in the civilian world. You have to work with people in order to accomplish your objectives.

Over the last week, we had two objectives. First, we had to get out into our battle space and find where we fit in the grand scheme of things. Just tackling the weekly rhythm alone was a daunting task. There were meetings scattered all over the calendar and the map.

We quickly realized was that with a small, geographically isolated team you could not get everywhere for every meeting. If we did, we would spend all our time on the road going to meetings rather than performing our primary duty: advising an Iraqi Infantry Brigade.

That process is still ongoing. We're whittling the large list of meetings down to a few. We're figuring out where we need to plug in to maximize our effects. It'll be another couple of weeks, but it should pay off for us in the long run. The important part is trying to find the right forum for connection our Iraqi and Coalition counterparts. That's the key to success and will require additional work.

Our other objective was to get out and work on relationships. Before coming here, we were told that our primary problem would be lack of support from coalition partners In other words, don't bother asking for help because none will come.

The reality we discovered was very different. Coalition units have bent over backwards to provide the support needed for us to execute our mission. The primary difference between what I'll categorize as 'then-and-now' is simply personalities. We've made it a point of emphasis to get out there and shake hands with units throughout our area of operations. Already, the payoff is huge.

It is yet another reminder that an e-mail is never as good as a phone call or a handshake. Oh, and that you get more with sugar than salt.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Election Day

Yesterday was a great day.

For the past week, out RIP/TOA focused on integrating our new team with our Iraqi counterparts and preparing for the 31 January Provincial Elections. The Iraqi and Coalition Forces managed to exceed all expectations in providing safe voting locations for the Iraqi people to come and practice their freedoms. For weeks in the region, enemy insurgent activity has been on the decline. There were two schools of thought on why.

First, pressure on the insurgents is intense. In the weeks up to the elections Iraqi and Coalition Forces continually applied pressure throughout our region. Coalition patrols and a huge amount of checkpoints run by the Iraqi Army and Sons of Iraq denied insurgents freedom of movement throughout the sector.

Second, most of our experts predicted that the downturn in violence was a tactic by insurgents to save up for large, attention getting strikes against the coalition and populace on election day. It made sense. Given the pressure placed on insurgent by Coalition and Iraqi forces, the natural assumption was that insurgent would be desperate for attention and go for the big election day hit.

What was my team's role in all this? After all, we were only on the ground for one week. This time, we were the observers. We integrated ourselves with our Iraqi counterparts. We checked and double checked their preparations. We coordinated with our Coalition counterparts throughout the region to ensure that everyone was on the same sheet of music.

When election day came, we watched, and we prayed.

Nothing happened. There were reports of a few small incidents regarding celebratory gunfire, but on whole, it was a rather quiet day. As the clock ticked, we bit our lip and held on. Everyone waited by the radio, waiting for a report from a polling station of a monstrous attack. Coalition and Iraqi Quick Reaction Forces stood by, ready to handle the worst.

The worst never came. The Iraqi people again pointed their signature ink-dipped fingers in the air, again showing a sign of victory and defiance. We still hold our breath, waiting for that big, attention-grabbing attack. Waiting for someone to break the quiet. When it comes, our Iraqi counterparts are ready, and we will be there alongside them.

Again, yesterday, was a great day.