Update from Eric

Eric is a friend of mine from college and I post his letters from time to time.  It’s been six months since he last wrote, and in this letter he talks about his promotion from Captain to Major and leading his solders in breaking in a new Iraqi Army Infantry Battalion and learning just how different their culture is from ours.

You may disagree with some of his view regarding the war, but it is interesting reading.

My friends…where did the time go? As well intentioned as I planned on being…I did not even come close to my best intentions promised. I wrote my last letter to everyone in early October. Well the last time I checked it was January…late January at that, and I have been here in Iraq for almost a full six months. Where did the time go?

I can tell you this my friends…God has a funny way of answering prayers. I prayed and prayed that somehow, some way, in some fashion, I would leave my job as Assistant Operations Officer for the Fires Squadron, 2d Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Well Praise the Lord and pass the peas…He does answer prayers. Not always to our exact specificities, but He answers them nonetheless.

As I wrote last, I seemed to be in a deep doldrum of hopeless despair. I was chained to a desk, chained to PowerPoint, and was never allowed to go out and breath fresh air. From October to November a host of other events happened to truly make me desire another course for my life here in Iraq. So I prayed, and prayed……and prayed. And as I waited for God’s answer, another event took precedence in my life for a short while. My misery was replaced with anticipation of a long awaited right of passage. An event in an officer’s career that flips his known officer world upside down.

As in all other career officer’s lives, a natural career progression takes place. On the 1st of November, I was promoted from Captain to Major. My life as a company grade officer was over. No longer can I shrug my shoulders and simply act unaware. I am now assumed to be an expert in my craft. Assumed to know what’s going on…all the time. Assumed to be fully capable and fully experienced. I have crossed that threshold from young officer to old officer. Though truly not that old in comparison to my peers…I am, compared to a 22 year old Lieutenant. During my last week of Captain-dom, I contemplated my last 10 years of service. Growing from a young energetic “Butter Bar,” to the junior ranks of the Field Grade Officer. I reflected on my many experiences, my many successes, and my many mistakes. And then for some reason…I became sad. Sad that such an interesting part of my career was now over. My greatest successes and greatest defeats were as a Captain. I now move from my reserved seat of seniority at the Captain’s table, to my stand-by seat of junior-ness at the Field Grade’s table. Oh…how the circle of life always comes around.

Then…I felt even more miserable. I was now a Major doing a junior Captain’s job. And I felt useless. Pause for effect here….God help me as I wallow in my own self pity. Poor me.

Well, He did. He helped me and He answered my prayers.

Tasking – A term soldiers know and hate. If you are tasked, 9 out of 10 times this is probably going to be bad. No one wants to be tasked. It usually means, you will have to do something you do not want to do, for a purpose you could care less for, for a length of time you do not know. This is why it is a tasking. Because no one will volunteer for it.I was tasked. Tasked by the Regiment, by the Dragoon family, because I was now considered an “extra” Major filling a Captain’s job. And you want to know something…I praised God for my tasking. I almost jumped out of my skin I was so happy. The kind of happiness where you don’t tell anyone because you don’t want that feeling to end…just in case you are dreaming…or just in case it was a mistake. I was tasked to change jobs for the next year. And not only change jobs…but take a Major’s job, in charge of a team of officers and NCOs, and be expected to go out on missions. That’s right…leave the FOB. Break my chains from the desk and the PowerPoint and roll out the wire. I think….no…I did…cry tears of joy.

My tasking was to become the Team Chief for a group of eleven officers and NCOs called a MiTT. Military Transition Team. Our primary job is to advise, train, coach, and mentor our given Iraqi Army Battalion in order that the United States can successfully “transition” out of Iraq. So…just understanding that fact alone, I knew we’d be in for a wild ride. That was about the 5th of November. On Thanksgiving Day I met my team of advisors; all coming from within the Regiment as I. Some being pulled un-willingly from their jobs, some jumping in with both feet as I was. This would truly be an interesting next few weeks. The next day we began our training as a MiTT. For the next three weeks we trained on a host of topics; Arabic language and culture, Iraqi Army processes, radio maintenance, HMMWV driver’s training and maintenance, close quarters combat, medical training, and so much more. For you see, a MiTT must be capable of performing on their own, with no US Forces assistance. You must know your equipment and your capabilities because at times you could be on your own, surrounded by just your Iraqi Army Battalion. Un-nerving if you think of it.

On the 15th of December, we began our journey for the next eleven months. We took our first trip off the FOB as Team “Desperado” and drove to our new home. We drove from the south of Baghdad to the north central part of Baghdad. We ended up at FOB Justice, Kadhimiya (Kah-di-mee-ya) District , Baghdad, Iraq. (You could read it like: Camp Somewhere, Queens, New York City, New York) We met our brand new Iraqi Battalion, new to Baghdad themselves and straight off the press. The mighty 2-3-11 IA (Iraqi Army). 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 11th IA Division. Commanded by a strong and unusually disciplined and professional Iraqi officer, Colonel Ahmmed. We found ourselves a world away from where we were just a month ago.

My Team, still newly formed ourselves, we have the usual growing pains. Learning each other’s weaknesses and strengths, likes and dislikes, pet peeves and favorite pastimes. I thought it important that we learn to be a family. For the next 10 months we would be all each other had for as far as we knew at the time. We did not know what circumstances we would find ourselves in together. Early on, I forced the Desperados to eat every meal together and to sleep right next to one another. Like all families…we didn’t have to like each other, but we had to respect each other. So far, so good. We’ve now been together for almost exactly two months, been on several missions together, worked out many issues of our own and spent countless hours with our Iraqi counterparts together. And life in our world is just getting started.

Iraq Army…frustrating at times, painful at other times. More than ever, you realize that the United States is a culture all unto its own. Obvious statement you think, until you actually have to live it everyday. The way we think, the way we act, and simply the way we look at life. Our culture differences from other countries do not exactly pop out until you come to a place like this. Living in Germany for many years of my life…Germans are truly not that different from Americans. Even living in Korea for a year, the eastern Asian cultures aren’t really that different from ours. The Arabic culture……totally, completely, and absolutely different. We cannot even attempt to approach any topic, any problem, our any situation with the same angle and thought process we would ever assume to approach it in a western culture. This is our biggest problem. This is what Americans do not understand. This, is what I am just now chipping away at. I have now just realized that under the surface of this small ice cube is a ten ton iceberg. The American population has no clue why the problems that are, are the problems they are.

Last week, I took several pictures of my Iraqi Battalion XO, Lieutenant Colonel Fahmi, and showed him the pictures on the back of my digital camera. To which he replies, “Can I get a copy of these pictures to hang on my wall?” To which I reply, “No problem, let me work on it and I will get it to you as soon as I can.” Fast forward to the very next day. What do you think his very first question was for me as I met him? “Major Eric, where are my pictures?” To which I replied, “Whoa, okay, I told you I would get them to you as soon as I could.” To which he replies, “Yes, you are correct, you promised them to me today.” “Nooo, I didn’t, I told you I would work on it.” “Yes, you’ve had overnight, where are my pictures…you promised me?” This is just the ice cube. Now imagine trying to guide, mentor, and coach along an entire Iraqi Army Infantry Battalion when this is exactly how your Battalion XO (second in command) acts, according to his culture. Oh…and remember…we have to do all this through an Iraqi interpreter, everyday. Frustration is our watchword.

Do not let me kid you though…I actually am enjoying this. I enjoy other cultures and weird experiences. This is a major reason I love the army life. I enjoy learning new languages and why cultures do the things they do. I truly wish all Americans could come over here and meet these people. As different as our cultures are, people are still people all over the world. I see them get just as emotional and sad when their soldiers die, I see them get just as frustrated when something goes horribly wrong. The average Iraqi citizen admires and respects the United States. They are not mad at us for doing what we did. They love us for it. They understand that new government takes time and that there are bad people out there that will always try to prevent progress. They love the fact that they can now own satellite TV and they see things in Iraq that they have never seen before…they only heard about it from stories from rumors of stories. They can voice their opinion and they can speak their mind. I would invite the cynical and pessimistic American citizen who complains about the war in Iraq to come on over. The same American citizen who will never know a true Iraqi, who will never visit any middle eastern country let alone Iraq, and only knows about Iraq, because they watch TV. All my interpreters are local Baghdad citizens and obviously the entire Battalion are true Iraqi patriots. In their eyes, a few years of painful progress is worth the cleansing of a poisoned nation and the ridding of one rich and selfish tyrant. When and if I hear of ignorant Americans talk of Iraq, I will just simply shut my ears off. For they do not know of what I know and they have not seen what I have seen.

I am a world away from where I was before.

And I praise God for it.

God Bless,

Major Eric

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2 Responses to Update from Eric

  1. DB says:

    Thanks for the post.

    One ‘blog’ you might want to view if you get the chance is http://www.michaelyon-online.com. Michael Yon is a former soldier that has been deploying with and reporting on troops in Iraq & Afghanistan. His is a VERY unique perspective that is usually missing from the main stream media. I could almost see him writing the words in this post.

  2. Satan (aka CCC) says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Sounds like he hasn’t changed much! Good guy…good friend.

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