Sunday, April 27, 2008

Farewells and awards (12 April 2008).

When does this thing start? (end of tour, 'what me, worry?' slouch)

Good to see you again, boss! 3rd time's a charm!

Just got “recognized” by folks who don’t recognize me. Spent my whole year at An Numaniyah, but came up to HQ to get my award, which was presented in front of all of the DoIA. It was nice, they said lots of nice things, and I got some pretty ribbons. It was good to be recognized along with two captains that I got to know at Ft. Riley- sharp guys with some brutal cynicism and humor, who I believe probably served with “extreme valor and fidelity” as the awards state. But I knew very few of the people in attendance, and none of them really had any clue as to whether I deserved the awards or not- nobody up here really knows my job down there, or what I did well or poorly. I did plenty of both good and bad during my tour. And before anyone protests “your bosses had to know what you were doing!”, I’ll tell you simply that I somehow either earned their trust, or they were occupied with the veritable plethora of other issues (referred to by others as “helmet fires”, and between those two reasons, I was left almost entirely to my own devices down there.

Some time with the big man- as with my more immediate leader, the third meeting- on the way out- it doesn't get any better than that.

More meaningful than the IZ awards presentation were the truly heartfelt discussions I had with my friends down at An Numaniyah. It was hard to say goodbye to the National Police that were there. And most of them weren’t even there because of the extended hiatus the Training Center is in. Just as we were leaving the Training Center for my last time, General Sabar arrived. He hurriedly had some of his staff wrap up a couple of gifts, and they are all gifts that are quite meaningful to me. I had requested a set of the National Police patches as a souvenir, and they came through. They also gave me a leather bound poster-like “map” of Iraq, with well-known sites engraved in the leather. Lastly, there was also a smaller box, with inlaid stones, a nice map on the top, with a little genie-style lamp within. It was beautiful, and something that I might have bought myself, which is not a common thought of mine when I receive gifts from my brown brothers. I had to go quickly- almost missed the helicopter because it came early- so I didn’t get to ask them about the meaning behind the lamp. I like to think it represented knowledge and education, a symbol that I’m familiar with. They had always rendered honor to me, at least in our discussions, for my educational background.

That is one thing that I noticed more and more throughout my tour. The people of Iraq I worked with were always generous, gracious, hospitable, and concerned with showing respect and honor. They would always offer “chai”, tea, which I would respectfully decline for my personal religious reasons. They would always escort me to my vehicle or otherwise walk with me to an appropriate parting point, rather than the more cursory American style of “you can find the door.” I’ve commented in previous posts about their customs of gift giving. I have found them very generous with what is by our standards meager means. It is hard to reconcile that with other experiences of hostility and danger, mafia-style business dealings, cheating, and the rampant mistrust in this country. But here, like anywhere, it appears we all retain an ability to live lives of incongruence and contradictions apparent to everyone looking on from the outside. A silly parallel from the states would be the person driving an SUV with a “save the environment” bumper sticker. I also hold out the hope that these experiences are with different people- that the ones that are so nice to me are not also the ones participating in all of those other less friendly activities.

I wish the National Police well, and hope the Training Center can someday once again be a major contributor to increasing the personnel strength and skill sets of the National Police. It really has great potential if it can get the proper level of support and can enjoy effective management. Those are contingencies at this point, however.

And Steve and Tim, I pray it goes well for you as you try to clean up the mess I’ve created down there!

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