Sunday, July 29, 2007

The contrast of cultures

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Defying orders from authorities, celebratory gunfire resounded across Baghdad and revelers poured into the streets after Iraq beat Saudi Arabia to clinch its first Asian Cup soccer championship on Sunday while mosques broadcast calls for the shooting to stop.

The warnings that get e-mailed to me from the confines of the International Zone about the need to wear full protective body armor and kevlar helmet to protect the Fobbits from the potential of getting hit by falling celebratory gunfire must sound ridiculous to those who receive it that are actually out in combat areas frequently. And the AP article illustrates one of the issues we have in trying to understand the culture we are working with.

Celebratory gunfire is a common practice here, and in many Arabic cultures. The Iraqis could not seem to care less if the practice is dangerous. And when dealing with army and police, our culture is accustomed to soldiers and police that are trained to fire only when they have "positively identified" a target- they see it, and identify it as a threat, and shoot to kill. They don't fire into the air, etc. And when the Iraqis won the Asian Cup today, they once again ignored laws, the pleas of their religious leaders, and everyone else, and the celebration began, safety be damned.

We don't really understand this. It comes across as a lack of discipline, and I claim no insight into it. Thankfully, we disarm all of the police before they come into the Academy, or we'd have been, like the coalition forces in the IZ, putting on our protective gear, as they finished watching the 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.

Congratulations, Iraq, on your victory in soccer. Hopefully there will be not be casualties from the celebration, and there will be some positive spillover into the Iraqi political scene, where the Kurds, Shia, and Sunni are not nearly as cooperative with each other as the Iraqi soccer teammates were.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good question!

Much of what I do here is watch people- it is actually a major part of my job as contracting officer representative- watch the contractors, evaluate their performances. But I also watch the multitude of VIPs that come here to assess our program.

I was encouraged by a visit today. The visitor came, outranking everyone here, soon to be my commanding general. But he sat and listened. And asked good questions. The types of questions that reflected two things: 1, that he has experience in Iraq and training both, and 2, that he listens actively and thoughtfully and gets to the areas that really need attention.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing folks ask the right questions. Except for perhaps watching those same people listening to the answers people are giving to those questions, and integrating them into their thought processes.

I'm often quick to criticize, so I wanted to take this post to praise. We were focused on having a successful visit and giving him a good impression of what we do here. He likewise did a fine job providing us a first impression of him, and we'll welcome him back for as many visits as he'd like to make.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

JJ and Hurstie memorial day

This month was officially declared the month of Tad because of his Mad MS Office SkillZ, which have been in great demand by CPATT up at our headquarters as they do all their slides and spreadsheets. I don't miss that, by the way. I'm happy to be down here in an active training environment. I spend plenty of time at my desk, but I have ample opportunity to escape- watch training, exercise, and....well, that's about it, but I do get away from the desk quite a bit. I digress.

While this month is Tad's, today belongs to JJ and Hurstie. I mentioned them last week, a couple of my contractor friends who were killed by an attack on their vehicles in a convoy up to Baghdad. Today we had the memorial service, one planned and run by BLP with a wide range of participants, to include BLP employees, local nationals, an Iraqi Army officer or two, the U.S. forces, including the CPATT commander, and some Australian forces, including their chaplain, who tag teamed with the U.S. chaplain.

I wish I had the words to do them justice, the eloquence to honor the sacrifices each of them made in their service to their company and to the country of Iraq in training their police. But I don't. After 10 days now, the energy and emotion is gone, and I feel empty- I'm not sure if it is fatigue, numbing, or knowing that we've got 2,000 trainees coming tomorrow and 9 months to go before I can rest. But I was present, and that is what I had to offer at that point. Many honored them by their attendance and efforts today. We also hope to honor them by continuing to improve in doing the work which they were doing, and do it in as professionally a manner as possible. Both the police ode and the military odes recited at the end of the service had similar refrains for the audience to utter in reply to promptings from the readers: We will remember them. We will remember. Lest we forget.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fame or notoriety? An article on the COR in his current hometown newspaper

An article by Michael Rigert of the Daily Herald, a local paper in Utah County, Utah-

On the whole, I compliment Mike on the article. I think he did a good and fair job, I can appreciate how hard it may be from his end to get a feel for what is happening out here.

Only 2 disclaimers, modifications from my end:

1. The contract is between U.S. government and BLP, and I serve as the Contracting Officer Representative. I also serve as liaison between the U.S. forces, BLP, and the Iraqi National Police on the ground doing the training.

2. The Iraqis I've talked to who yearn for a strong, authoritarian leader are not exclusively BLP employees or subcontractors. There are other Iraqis that I have talked to who feel the same way, not affiliated with BLP. Further, their personal opinions do not represent positions or training that BLP provides.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Surf and Turf in southern Iraq. Who-da-thunk-it?

I'm certain that many of my colleagues in the military have suffered in terms of cuisine during their tours here, but that is not the experience I have had, nor any of my cohort that is working up at Phoenix Base in the International Zone in Baghdad.

Now those guys up there eat pretty good- they have more variety of all kinds, and I imagine I'd be pretty huge by now up there were I there during the past 2-3 months. But we do OK down here, too. By the way, my fascination with food today is related to being put on The Hammer's fitness plan. My buddy likes to remind me that diet is key as well.

We can always count on chicken at every meal in some form or other, and there are some other typical standbys, but on the whole, we have a great dining experience. Today we were treated to lobster mornay (spelling?)- huge pieces of lobster in this white sauce- for lunch. I'd told the catering manager how much I had enjoyed that dish, and I've been seeing it more often- joy! And tonight, two hefty steaks, and they were quite good. We eat lots of steak here, but sometimes its not so tender, but tonight, ahhhhh.

And to meet the incredible sensibilities of the Iraqi students here for fresh samoon bread, BLP actually built a bakery at the back of the Academy. I could eat that stuff all day, but again, I need to be able to fit in my military uniforms- I won't be able to buy any of a larger size at the local PX down here. The PX here is a blog story all by itself, for another time. We've also profited from some incredible pizza from that bakery- not the greasy garbage like you'd get at Pizza Hut or Dominos. I love Uday and Collin because they take care of my stomach.

Now the plate presentation isn't often to the standard in the stock photo stolen off the internet that I've posted here, but it can get pretty fancy, especially for our VIP visits. And our higher up leadership actually seems to like to visit here, I suspect to some degree they look forward to the meals, because they often integrate lunch into their visits, even though they are a quick flight from the IZ down here. In fact, one of the few times I've been scolded for things down here (most of the time we are left to our own devices, I assume, because we do a good job), was because someone didn't like how the food was laid out during a VIP visit. The irony was apparently lost on them- this isn't a fine dining establishment, it is a training facility for Iraqi National Police, and our efforts to keep VIPs happy in the gustatory arena we hope are secondary to the quality of the training we are providing down here.

And I guess this is where it would be inappropriate to mention, "Gee- I haven't had any salmon in a while...."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Hammer!

I never planned to work with a guy that had been highly ranked in mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting championships. But here I am.

I manage a contract here at An Numaniyah where the contractor, BLP, has assigned "The Hammer" as their project manager. His fighting skills aren't his primary qualifications for the job, he has a career which includes time as a police officer and extensive experience as a police trainer in Iraq. But being able to beat people up never hurts.

This week my NCO decided to put us on The Hammer's physical fitness program. I was warned by my predecessor to stay away from these workouts, that The Hammer was merciless. We have decided to label the program "shock" workouts- fast and furious, done in about 30-40 minutes, but with plenty of suffering. Thankfully, MSG Merrell hasn't volunteered us to work on the martial arts and fight club stuff.

So you better not mess with me. I'll tell my project manager, and he can beat up your dad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Well, they made it through the Police Academy. Here's to hoping they take some of what they learned and put it into practice.

Congratulations, 3rd Brigade police!

I've never made it completely through watching any of the Police Academy movies from a few years back, but sometimes I get to see things here that make me laugh pretty good. People do sillier things in real life than in those movies. I don't have a specific example, just wanted to mention the Police Academy movies because I'm devoid of any deep thoughts being on 2 hours of sleep today.

Too much time on the LZ waiting for birds that weren't flying.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nothing to say, really.

The media has gotten their names now, so the news is readily available.

We miss them, and we get back to work. Their families will miss them more.

Our work is in some ways a merciful distraction, and we'll keep Justin and Brendan in our minds as we finish up the next day and a half and get this class out the door.

Then we'll have some more time to think about them, but we also have a short turnaround to get ready for the next incoming class.

Our thoughts and prayers to their families.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Mourning Stripe

Last night my BLP contracting friends lost 2 family members. I will miss them, too. There is nothing just in what happened to them, and it will take time for us to come to grips with it. We all have their families in our thoughts and prayers.

The dress uniform for the U.S. Army has a black strip running down the sides of the pants, from the waist down to the bottom. It is referred to as the mourning stripe. I've not had to this point anyone to mourn from my military experience. Until now.,23599,22083026-2,00.html

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Allons, citoyens! Formez vos battalions!

Bastille Day just isn't quite the same in southern Iraq. I tried to sing La Marseillaise a couple of times, but none of the Aussies or the Iraqis seemed inclined to join in the celebration. I was left to remember my favorite Bastille Day, watching the feu-d'artifices around the old city of Carcassonne, way back in 1991.

Another day down, celebrating the 20% mark of my deployment, assuming 1 year boots on ground, which is at this point far too early to count on. I continue to enjoy my working relationships here with BLP. They work hard to do a good job, keep me happy, and also have a good experience overall.

S'truth, mate!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Iraq 3, Australia 1 Soccer Match Today

3-1! Iraq stun lethargic Australia!
Fri Jul 13, 2007 3:21PM BST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Iraq pulled off a stunning 3-1 upset win over Australia at the Asian Cup on Friday to leave the tournament favourites in danger of an embarrassing early exit.

I may have mentioned the high level of banter the Aussies here dish out. Oh. My. Goodness! The only unfortunate part of this clear opportunity to harass them mercilessly is that while they are crazy about their sports, they aren't crazy about soccer like they are rugby and Aussie football. So the teasing is still fun, just not as painful as we'd like.

And it helps with the morale of the academy, allowing the Iraqis to celebrate at the expense of their instructors, with whom many of them have built up pretty good relationships over the 3 + weeks they have been training together. Smiles all around.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Walks with Binksie

Almost as poetic as "Dances with Wolves", no?

My Welsh buddy that works for BLP here at An Numaniyah, before he left on his break just recently, would drag me out for training walks around the base. We are generally the target of much teasing by the rest of the crew here, who find us ridiculous for putting all the gear on for walks around the base when most sane folks are down to shorts and t-shirts.

I need to burn calories given how well they feed us here, so that is one reason to subject myself to the torture. I also feel a bit of a desire to train for the unlikely but always present possibility of a reassignment to a more physically taxing job such as those that the NPTTs do. I could get really soft here, but I'm trying to get into decent shape and maintain it. While I do stay busy with my regular work here, I doubt I'll ever have a better time during my working career to stay in shape and exercise like I do here at the Academy. And getting in really good shape helps me in my relations with the Aussies, most of whom are in fabulous shape- so I've got to get it together just to fit in- or at least have them pretend I do.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Absurdities of military life- photographic evidence

I have figured out one of the reasons we're not getting much done out here. Let me rephrase that. I've figured out why it takes us so long to get ready to come out here. The photo is exhibit A. I did "soldier readiness processing" (SRP)- a multiple day exercise where all personal documents are checked and updated. This is a good thing- wills, life insurance, pay, medical records, etc- all checked out. As part of that, they make sure you have your ID tags. So we went through this process last September at Hunter-Liggett. When asked if I had my ID tags, I replied "Yes, I have mine, I don't need any more." I still have the pairs from when I went through BASIC training back in 1992. We went through the same exercise again in November at Hunter Liggett, and I gave the same response about ID tags. And in January in Camp Parks- same response. Then a week later, again the same process, this time at Ft. Riley. Then one more time at Ft. Riley before we left. 5 SRPs. Each time I told them, "don't need any more ID tags, thanks."

There was a day about a month ago where I decided to take some time to dig through the pile of official documents and papers I had accumulated during my travels from the US to my current Numaniyah location. And I found my SRP packet. I thought to myself, wow, this packet is heavy- I know it can't be heavy because I have a hefty dossier full of all my black ops and Delta force missions, because, well, you don't document black ops, and I've never done anything in the military anyway.

So I opened it up, and Exhibit A is the explanation for the heaviness of the packet. 14 tags and 4 or 5 chains. I've got so many ID tags, I've attached one to every one of the boots I have out here right now- that took care of 8 of them. I don't know what to do with the other 6 just yet, and won't appreciate any rude recommendations that I know some of you have about where to put them, related to lack of sunshine and whatnot.

If you know me, you can imagine how mature and well-behaved I was as I went through these 5 SRP sessions, all doing the same thing, all representatives I worked with ignoring whatever I told them about my pre-deployment needs. They must think in their heads, "Silly Major, he thinks he doesn't need these tags. Poor deluded fellow- all that education has left him addled. We'll fix this and get him the ID tags that he so desperately needs to bring peace and security to the troubled citizens of Iraq!"

It is always a pleasure to feel like someone is listening to you, like in these SRP sessions, when you say "I don't need x." And you get it anyway. Service with a smile.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Recommended article of the day

Unit's Mission: Survive 4 Miles To Remember Fallen Comrade

By David Finkel
Washington Post
Monday, July 9, 2007; Page A01

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty- A Sunday Posting

picture pasted from

I'm often finding that I'm not feeling very Mormon during my time here in Iraq. For starters, there's no LDS church or even small LDS group anywhere near here. We've got 29 US forces on an Iraqi army base, and I'm the only LDS member except when some come from training teams that are here temporarily, like they happily are this month. One gets a sense of the community aspect of the church when one is removed from that community for an extended period.

One thing I have noticed though is something fairly personal to me. When I was an adolescent trying to find my way, one evening my father asked me who my heros were. I stopped and thought, and realized I had none. I didn't idealize great men, nor did I respect lesser men. Well, I haven't gotten that much better since then, but I have reached the point where I can point to some men that I would consider heros. Captain Moroni stands to me as an example of someone who did not delight in the shedding of blood, but was entirely committed to protecting the memory of his God, his religion, freedom, wife and children. As I discuss the Mormon faith with all of the "infidels" (see South Park clip on "Mormons- The Correct Answer" for a giggle), the question of the LDS attitude towards war comes up- if we are a peace loving society, how can I justify my participation in the military? Captain Moroni provides a great example. Another is Ammon leading the 2,000 stripling warriors. They clearly had the moral imperative as they protected their families against criminals. The LDS church website actually has a subsection dedicated to service members, and it has a treasure trove of LDS talks and statements about the church and the military. I've got my DVD copies of Saints at War, Saints at War-Korea, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, and Saints and Soldiers, too, to help me keep in touch with my spiritual/emotional side.

These are men, Ammon and Moroni, who serve as models for me in my current circumstances. I don't aspire to killing, but I've been training with my firearms almost every week I've been here. If I need to defend myself or my colleagues, I will do it, and I believe that I may be the best marksman among all LDS psychologists in all of southern Iraq, so enemies beware! And even if I'm not that good at it, my battle buddy is a U.S. Federal Marshal, and we've got 70 Aussie marksmen also ready to do battle.

Do I know that my faith will protect me during my time in Iraq? No. There is a frightening feeling of almost randomness in the fatalities experienced here. The likelihood of my facing combat is lower than most, but always possible. I've only had to participate in one convoy so far, and I'm not in an area experiencing the indirect fire that is common in many other areas, so the real probability is actually very low relatively speaking. But what I do believe is that my faith will help me work through the inevitable emotional peaks and valleys I experience during my time here, and I have no doubt that it has helped my family during my absence. They have shared with me some of the blessings they have experienced as church friends and family provide them support during my time away.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Straighten up, guys!

One of the funnier moments I had this week was listening to my battle buddy the other day. He's not really sold on some of the components of the bigger picture of what's going on here in Iraq. Sometimes, I'm not either, truth be told.

His typical line in doing impressions of leadership is "Hey, guys, you just don't get it. Everything will be fine, just be patient. There's no problem here that can't be solved with a little bit more time, a little bit more money, and a little bit more troops."

I laughed out loud with his delivery the other day, role playing a U.S. leader talking to an Iraqi leader: "If you don't straighten this thing out and get it right, we're going to bring more troops to support you and spend even MORE money!"

He'd perfectly captured some of the perverse performance incentives at play here. If the folks here start showing signs of things working, we're going to start pulling out. And our "we don't quit if you fail to come through, we throw more resources at the problem" attitude means that we tolerate lack of progress much more than I ever would in personal or business relationships.

Our being tied in to the economy of the country is out front and center in the contracting picture:

Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq
New U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation.
By T. Christian Miller, Times Staff WriterJuly 4, 2007

As you may be able to tell at this point, the NNPA boys are a bit sour about the larger picture right now.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July and The Exfil

First, happy fourth of July.

I celebrated by doing what I usually do right now, working with the police academy. It is not too hard, but I'm doing my part here in southern Iraq. I further celebrated by listening to some of the oompah-oompah of John Phillip Sousa and annoying all of the Aussies by putting it over the motorolas for a few moments just because I could. Blatant violation of radio protocol, but nobody will chastise the boss. Arrogant Americans!

The Exfil

There comes a period two times each training cycle which we call the “exfil”, short for exfiltration, when the shurta, the Iraqi National Police, are leaving the academy. There are always opportunities for volatility in that these occasions which are times of great joy and happiness on the shurtas’ part during the mid-course leave break, and sometimes of fear and trepidation after graduation as they anticipate getting sent to potentially very dangerous areas. They leave the peace and security of the academy and go back into the fearsome battle that they likely have experienced already.

The contractors have developed a fairly simple yet elegant and sophisticated approach to crowd control which has proven helpful in moving 2,000 emotional Iraqi men through certain chokepoints and checkpoints. In some ways it is an interesting study in operations, with a touch of just-in-time delivery approach as the shurtas move through chutes and gates at an almost constant and controlled flow. In its earliest iterations, I’m told this process was initially not much more than a cattle call as the shurta, in their eagerness to leave, essentially overwhelmed the outnumbered contractors, who opened the gates and got out of the way to ensure their safety. Even now, the contractors’ main efforts are to keep the enthusiasm of the crowds from creating a safety hazard to themselves or to the contractors.

I am forced to smile each time, though, as I watch the process. At the beginning, there is a huge crowd pressing forward to get into the initial chutes, and one has to watch for being trampled. With time, the shurta recognize the value of getting a bit more organized, and lining up to get through the gates- by the end of the 2000, there are nice lines preparing to go through the initial point. The friendships have already developed between the contractors and many of the shurta, and they wish each other farewell in English and Arabic as the shurta flow through the various checkpoints. Some of the shurta are more patient than others, and those patient ones seem to endure the process the best, with smiles as they say goodbye to the contractors and think of their leave activities. Others, you get the impression they find ways to be unhappy most of the time.

I haven’t watched the exfil process on the back end, at the gate to the military base yet, but I hear the radio traffic of the Iraqi Army guards giving the exiting national police a hard time at the military convoy gate. There is an unwritten standard operating procedure born out of their distrust for each other, and here it plays out with inspections and other delay procedures which keep the National Police from getting on their way in a timely manner. Their police vehicles are searched, ostensibly for any gear or equipment that belongs to the Army, and their weapons are counted, and other silliness that serves no purpose other than harassment and the off chance that they can convince the police to give them something in the form of a bribe to let them get through quickly. Frankly, though, the police have little to give, and they wouldn’t take time to steal anything from the base because they aren’t allowed to leave our compound other than for leave, and they don’t waste any time getting to the gate to get out on the road when leave is granted.

These types of events, exfil and infil (infiltration, when they are coming in), are actually some of the most exciting events in the life of the academy. They have the most potential for danger and disorder between the many moving parts of getting the police onto the army post and into the academy, and then on the exfil, getting them out of the academy and off the army post. The juxtaposition of order and disorder in the whole process is handled professionally by my contracting friends, and the main tasks of the day are completed without major incident. We’ll get to do it all over again with the infil in a few days, but until then, a bit of a break from a full academy- we can take a deep breath and catch up on some sleep if we’re short. Or even if we’re not.

The photo is of a sheeted crowding tub and curved alley, a cattle herding device not much unlike the crowd control alleys implemented here at our very own academy. Maybe the comments above have provided some insight into why such controls became necessary.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Training isn't the answer- remember what the question is.

Last week a subcommitte on oversight and investigation for the House Armed Services Committee published a report about the inability of the U.S. armed forces to provide a good accounting of how many of the over 300,000 Iraqi army soldiers and policeman that have been trained are actually "operational". ( report on 27 June 2007)

From my vantage point, they've got a lot right. There are some serious problems within the Iraqi army and police in their ability (and in some cases desire) to account fully for all of their people and equipment. As a result, the U.S. military also has a hard time with it- if we controlled them totally, we could easily account for them, but we're trying to train them to do things themselves, and thus the loss of full accountability with the full control. Likewise, in an assessment of their operational abilities, we'd have to be embedded to a much greater degree than we are now to be able to fully assess everything. The training readiness assessments in some cases are more valuable than others in getting an accurate picture as well.

Getting back to my title, though, I agree with a thesis presented by Felicetti (The Limits of Training in Iraqi Force Development, Gary Felicetti, Winter 2006-07, Parameters, 71-83.).

Training is appropriate in the case where someone doesn't necessarily know how to do something. It is my judgment in watching activities of police units from squads up to Brigade size, and in discussing it with others working with those units, that their problems have much less to do with training than they do with other concerns such as their desires and allegiances, the environments in which they operate, and their logistics structure or lack thereof. Many of their problems are more associated with culture and environment than they are with not knowing how to do something tactical like clearing a room or performing a cordon and search.

Felicetti then points out that such culture changes take time. Patience is not something that seems to be in great supply among the U.S. legislators. Legislators who during this weekend are interacting with constituents pointing out to them the tremendous costs in treasure and blood that are being exacted on our military.

Some even argue that where we need to place our efforts is in the children- educating them and also allowing them to be raised in an environment conducive to what we are hoping to accomplish with the Iraqi people in general. The current generations will be much more difficult to influence in terms of culture change, but the younger generations could be a better leverage point.

Monday, July 02, 2007

What's your call sign?

This is kind of a variation on the old "what's your sign?" pick up line. Except I'm not really attracted to my work colleagues in that way. Except for Binks. He's quite the specimen. OK, I don't like Binks in that Thursday kind of way that many of us get warned about with the local culture, either.

In an effort to give you a bit more of a feel for my everyday world.

When I'm being industrious and hard working, I make sure I carry my motorola radio with me (see a funny bit about "walkie talkies" on Brian Regan's DVD) . Sometimes I don't carry it, because if someone really needs me, they can come to me in person. I've got a big ego, that way.

In any case, the crew here communicates quite a bit via the motorola. And doing so requires call signs, which sound all the more interesting in the various accents- Australian, New Zealanders, Welsh, Irish, Arabic, etc. And the call signs are interesting in some cases as well. Binks. Batman. Eagle. Falcon. Hippo. Peanut. Yahoo. Professor. Red. Needles. Wombat. Platform. Borat. Diesel. Banger. Turk. Sidney. Sunny. Chuck Berry.

I have a call sign that evokes nothing really, other than an understanding of my status as the contracting officer representative- CPATT 1 (someone so important, no one talks bad about me to my face). So if you come up with a good call sign for me, please let me know, so I can be as cool as the rest of the staff here. You can also think: what should be your call sign? I'm thinking of revisiting our call signs from back at Fort Riley- we were the Fobbits. I can be the "6" here. Woo-hoo!

This is Fobbit 6. Out.