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.

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