Iraq Part 3
It has now been several months since I went to Iraq and my life seems to have returned to normal. I remember the day several months later, I was very relaxed and letting my mind drift and the thought came thundering in, “Did I really do that? Could I be hallucinating…..dreaming? Did I really go to Iraq and I am sitting here now like it never happened? No, just a minute, it was real because I have photos with someone in them that looks like me in combat uniform. Wow! Unbelievable! I called fellow Vietnam vet Gerald Williamson who accompanied me and asked the same question. I remembered that each time we geared up to go on a mission; Jerry would look at me and repeat the same phrase. “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”
When I reflect back on that time I wonder how I was so lucky to be surrounded by all that violence and still be standing here today. The close calls. Incoming mortar rounds at FOB Kalsu. A bridge checkpoint you just visited hit by mortars within minutes after you moved on. A rocket found beside the road you just went down aimed to hit and destroy a vehicle on the road. Walking the streets and market in Diyarah and brushing elbows with the Iraqi people. Any one of which could have detonated a bomb and ended your life and those around you. Riding the highway looking for roadside bombs hour after hour. A suicide car bomber ramming one of our Humvee’s and detonating it on a busy street.
We experienced this and more in about three weeks time. Imagine how much our fellow 11th ACR troopers went through in a year. Their daily duty time is in twelve hour shifts with equipment and personal maintenance after that. It was no picnic, but I didn’t hear our troopers complaining. They were always ready to go and anxious to get into any action that would make a difference in Iraq. By the time we arrived at our final stop in Mosul we had seen everything but a gunfight. We did hear the familiar AK crack very close a few times while on foot patrol in downtown Diyarah but could not determine if the rounds were headed at us.
MOSUL, Iraq. THE FINAL WEEK
My good friend Jerry mentioned the fact that we hadn’t seen a firefight yet when asked by CSM Rickey Pring how the tour had been so far. With that, the CSM said he would personally see to it that he found us one. So the next morning we mounted up with Regimental HQ’s and hit the streets of Mosul. Thanks a lot Jerry! What seemed to be more of the same we had just been through the past several weeks was just a calm in the storm. We later overheard someone saying that the CSM took us the very worst places in Mosul for two days and couldn’t get a firefight started. A common saying among the troopers was that, “all the dumb ones are dead and the rest won’t stand and fight.
Without a formal functioning government in Iraq, very little would get done for the people if not for the management efforts of our own military. Therefore not only are the Coalition Forces charged with fighting terrorists, they must act as civil servants. Their additional duties task them with the management of schools and power plants while overseeing and maintaining the Iraqi infrastructure. Most of the newscasts you see show devastation throughout the film clips which leave the viewer with the impression that the country was destroyed in the war. The real story is that very little damage was done to civilian buildings. The urban decay is from the years of neglect at the hands of a ruthless dictator who cared only to live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of his people. Remember that the vast majority of Saddam’s military cut and ran as Coalition Forces rumbled across Iraq. Therefore there were no running battles that tore up the cities. It would have also been foolish to indiscriminately level buildings knowing we would have to rebuild them. The plan was to keep as much infrastructure in tack to aid in the speedy recovery after the war.
We went on many trips to check on power plants, police departments, military training facilities and schools. Our troops were even in charge of overseeing contracts for improving schools with ceiling fans and electric outlets being installed in each classroom.
On one trip our troops worked jointly with the Iraqi army to pass out school supplies and toys to the students. Medical teams regularly visit schools and communities to treat the sick. Winning the Hearts and Minds is at work and working in Iraq. This is evidenced by the increased number of reports from civilians who now feel comfortable with our presence and are reporting terrorist activities on a regular basis.
Each and every interview we did with our 11th ACR troopers was positive. Each warrior expressed a deep commitment and belief that they were making a difference in Iraq. None wanted to cut and run. Most commented that as much as they missed their loved ones back home, they would return for an additional tour if that’s what it took to finish the job.
While in Iraq I shot 18 cassettes of high quality movie film. The film was turned over to Blackhorse Productions in Beverly Hills, Ca. to be made into a documentary. This is the same producer that made the documentary, The Blackhorse in Vietnam, In the Words of the Men Who Fought. The new DVD is to be released in time to be distributed at this year’s reunion in September. Talk of a television series is also being tossed around. With that, I was asked if I would lead a team of three combat photographers back into Iraq to capture additional footage. I want you to know that I was at ease when in the presence of our own 11th ACR troopers in a country that is listed as the most dangerous in the world for journalists. Our troopers are without question the best in the world. I was so proud of each and every soldier I met that I can’t express my feelings in words. The thought of going back and being with any unit other than the great Blackhorse Regiment is no doubt very scary.
11th ACVVC Public Affairs Officer