Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, a fact that probably helps to explain why it's so easy for me to put on weight. Be that as it may, I still enjoy taking a little time to think about just how fortunate I am. As I look around the dining facility at my team while we enjoy our Thanksgiving meal together, I can see a lot to be thankful for. While things are far from perfect, the team may be making some progress towards getting the Iraqi Army to start moving onto the offensive against the enemy forces in our area.
This week we managed to get two things that we've never before seen. We managed to get our Iraqis out training en masse, number one. For reasons I've never quite understood, the IA doesn't seem to like training. They tend to think that, since they're fighting in war every day, they don't really need to train for it, a mind set markedly different from that of the American Army. However, it seems that they can get into the mindset under the right circumstances. Our NCOs have spent a lot of time working with the IA NCOs, talking about the importance of training, and the IA seem to be coming around to our point of view. We had about 40 IA soldiers out training this week, and they were remarkably enthusiastic about the training. We still have a long ways to go before they'll be really well-trained, but the journey has to start somewhere and this week was a great first step.
Even better, the IA and Iraqi police may be starting to work together. IA and IP, for whatever reason, don't always get along well, no small problem when the country needs both of them working in concert to provide real security for their countrymen. And at a meeting between the two of them this week, we saw that in spades. Our IA leadership sat down and talked with the local IP leadership for more than an hour, working out the beginnings of some plans to ratchet up the pressure on the enemy forces they both face in our AO. There is still a long ways to go before they'll be fully comfortable operating together, but as with the training, they're taking some important steps in the right direction.
I won't pretend I wouldn't mind being back in the U.S. with my family today. But I'm blessed with a great team and doing a job that I think is very important. I can't call this a bad Thanksgiving.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 06:07 AM | Comments (3)
Every day I'm on the FOB, I walk into the squadron headquarters building to check in. That was was easier in recent weeks, because the pictures were gone. For the first few months we were here, every time I walked into the building I had to walk by the memorial to all the soldiers from the squadron who had died during the deployment. It was impossible to walk by and not notice them. Brave young men who died long before they should have, far from home. When that squadron rotated out of our FOB, though we had a very good working relationship, I did not miss seeing that wall every day.
Better yet, for the first four months we were here, not a single soldier affiliated with our FOB was killed, and few were even wounded. Things were still dangerous, but luck was with us. That luck ran out last week.
A convoy heading back from a mission took a hit and lost a man last week. They evacuated him very quickly, but the damage was too severe, and he died of his wounds within a few hours. The squadron continued to operate, of course, but they also prepared for their first memorial service. It was hard.
Several soldiers and the soldier's commander spoke of the deceased. Naturally, one expects nothing but good things to be said at a memorial service, but these soldiers made it pretty clear that they had lost a dear friend. He had done quite a bit in a short career in the Army; this was his second trip to Iraq already. He had been planning to go on to college soon, and hopefully, to get married. His whole life was arrayed ahead of him. Now all that remains is the memories of his friends and family.
After the remembrances and a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace, the ceremony closed with the salute to the deceased. In small groups, all of us came up to the display commemorating the fallen, took a moment to gaze down at the dog tags, the helmet, the empty boots, and then we came to attention and saluted our fallen comrade. There was no time period allotted; one could stay as long or as short a time as one wished. I had never met the soldier, but I found it very difficult to keep my eyes clear as I saluted a good man who had so much more to offer the world.
We are in a dangerous business. Soldiers die in war; there's no way around it. But that knowledge does not make those losses any less bitter.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 10:34 PM | Comments (6)
One of the best things about this job, at least for me, is that I'm blessed with such an excellent team. My job might be pretty difficult if I was saddled with a bunch of guys who need a lot of external motivation and oversight. But I have a team filled with guys who figure out what needs to be done and go and do it. I suspect that a lot of the officers and NCOs from the team will end up being big stars for the Army down the road thanks to their combination of work ethic and basic intelligence.
Unfortunately, sometimes their hard work can run into some tough sledding. Earlier this week we were all set to do a big project that would have meant a pretty major improvement to our area of operations. As I just noted, my contribution to that project was pretty small: the guys came up with the concept and conducted an incredible amount of coordination to pull all the support together for the mission. It took several weeks, as this was no small project, but they got it all, and at no cost to the Army.
Our mission relied, among other things, on some assistance from our IA unit. They work well with us and they had no trouble helping us out, but when push came to shove, something came up at the last minute and we had to turn off the mission almost immediately after we started. A bit frustrating, to put it mildly.
Does this mean we're giving up? Far from it. Besides, even if I wanted to, I suspect the guys would insist on doing the mission because it's the right thing to do. So, with a little luck, in due time I'll be writing up a diary of a fully-successful mission soon.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 01:38 PM | Comments (4)