Saturday, November 15, 2003

Confusion in the Operations Center and Combat Uniforms Ironed to Perfection

15 NOV 03 0219

‘Sir, we’ve got a report of a group of men messing around the fence line. We should call the QRF (Quick Reaction Force),’ I said to Captain Nash. The issue was that one of our towers along our base saw men digging and doing something to our fence line. That is grounds for deadly force. ‘Sir, we need to get someone out there now,’ I said again.
Captain Nash doesn’t seem too quick witted. An Asian-American who reminds me of a Pentecostal preacher with brain damage from an aneurism. Either that or a young, wondrous child, but a child nonetheless. I don’t want to be brutal here, but it’s true. The quality of our officers is steadily declining – both in character quality and in logic and reasoning. It seems much of this is due to declining standards in colleges and the practice of granting athletic scholarships liberally. It’s beginning to show more and more. Now, imagine this conversation – it really happened – and this is only one example out of hundreds of possible examples. CPT Nash is talking in a stutter at times, hesitating in speech, over compensating shortly following a break in conversation or speech delivery, and using a quiet, ineloquent, and utterly disappointing voice.
“I can’t send the QRF unless I ask the commander,” he said looking confused.
‘Well Sir, I suggest you ask the XO because the commander and Knight 3 (operations officer) are out in the city,’ I said, trying to be patient. The captain left the command center to go “get permission” to send our ready team to the fence line. Again, during a week like this, you take 5 guys digging by your fence and trying to get in pretty seriously. The captain returned.
“Do not send the QRF, wait and see what is going on.”
I got another call from the guard tower observing the man digging in the darkness. The guard sounded concerned.
“Roger corporal, the men look to be loading something – maybe weapons – into a car parked next to them. They are loading something from the ground into the trunk of the car. The wire is also being hit. They are continuing to dig. We need someone out here, is anyone coming?”
‘Roger, we are working the issue – continue to stand by,’ I told the guard. I turned to the captain, ‘Sir, the guards report the men are digging what appears to be weapons out of the ground, and placing them into a car trunk.’
“OK, OK. So – these men are taking, um,” he continued with a stutter and an air of confusion – looking as if he’s running the info I gave him over in his head over and over again. “Weapons from, you say, the trunk of the car into the ground, putting them into the ground?”
I couldn’t believe he couldn’t get what I just said straight. ‘No, no Sir. Sir, the weapons – suspected weapons – are being taken FROM the ground and being put INTO the trunk of the car parked there. DO YOU WANT TO READY THE QRF?’
“No, let me ask the XO,” he said and left to command center again to ask the XO what he should do. About 20 minutes had passed. I called the tower again.
‘Are they still digging?’
“YES, they are still digging,” he responded sharply. “Are they sending anyone?”
‘I’m still waiting,’ I said in an apologetic tone. ‘Hey, I’m going to ready the QRF just in case,’ I told Sergeant Lawson.
“No, wait until the captain comes back,” he said, showing some concern.
‘Well, people may be coming across our wire, we can wait all day and it’s only going to get someone killed or cause a breach in the wire we are going to have to guard later. It should not take this long,’ I said in a way to show I was getting pissed. I finally got on the radio and called the Muleskinner Base (our base) security team and told them what was going on. They told me they were sending military police to our location.
“Yes, they are going to come to your location first, then go to the entrance site – BUT, only after we link up with your QRF.” Of course, the QRF didn’t even know about the breach yet! Then CPT Nash and the XO came into the command post. The captain started talking.
“Sir, we got some men digging and putting explosives and AK-47s into the ground from the back of a car. It’s on our fence line,” the captain said, again, incorrectly.
‘Is he serious?! Where did the explosives and AK-47s come from? Didn’t I just finish telling him the situation?! This guy is a college graduate and my boss?’ I couldn’t believe it. It seems like ever since we got deployed, I have had to constantly monitor all information being passed just in case it gets distorted. So here I am repeating myself over simple information. This guy is a CAPTAIN?! Major Stanton looked at me knowingly.
‘No, no, no,’ I said to stop everyone from talking – because it was just adding to the confusion. ‘Sir, this is what’s going on. Some men are on the fence line, they are taking SUSPECTED weapons FROM the ground, INTO the trunk of the car.’ By now, about 40 to 45 minutes had passed.
“OK,” the major said, “Go ahead and alert the QRF.”
‘Wow, have I been saying that all along,’ I thought to myself. I realized that all of this blatant stupidity and lack of initiative could get someone killed. As I watched the group of men before me spout off misinformation, all trying to look as if they knew something in front of the major – even though it was all false and the major didn’t care, I realized (and very clearly) that it’s time to get out of the Army. Not only can this stupidity cause frustration, even worse, it could get someone killed.
I don’t remember the quality of officers being so poor. We had some really great men – men of character. If they were otherwise, they kept it out of sight. All and all, they were men I looked up to. 2LT Prescott, Major Masters, CPT Aachen, CPT Riley, Major Leigh, Major Day, LT Bodanis, Major Braun, and most of all COL David Wolf. Colonel Wolf was unforgettable and someone of superstar proportions for me. And it was based on working regularly with him, conversations with him, and his help in getting into VMI. I recall before I ever came into the Army, a dream where I was standing with a commander on a hillside – overlooking a rolling olive green landscape, rugged, with a grey-blue sky. Across the field were armor vehicles sitting still, like M1A2 tanks and M2A2 Bradley vehicles. I remember us standing next to some Hummer trucks. After waking from this dream, I thought it was odd – because I wasn’t interested in the Army or tanks at all. I wanted to fly. I always wondered if he was that commander in my dreams. As time passed under his command in Germany, I was pretty sure he was that person. It’s time to move on – to become a person that someone else can believe in. I know you believe in me Nora. That is the most important thing. For other young men and all – we need some good role models or something. Sometimes it seems like mediocrity or weak convictions are fully acceptable. At any rate, having good people to work for is always a wonderful thing, and it makes like a bit sweeter.

“Thompson, you should be an S-3, or a battle captain – I tell ya! Battle captain, you see what he is doing – coordinating forces, using combat power?”
– Knight 6

“You’ve made us the world’s most respected and feared Air Force.”
­– Some general on T.V.

“That’s something I could have did.”
– Captain Nash

“Can you do me a favor?”
– Sergeant Rush’s #1 saying

At this stage in the deployment, people were starting to get on each other’s nerves. We moved to a new TOC building, and Sergeant Newsome came to be the operations assistant NCO. This created a miniature chaos in the TOC, with his poor planning. One day I wrote on the future events board, “Off base Spirit Run, 0800.” It was a joke. It meant that our battalion was supposed to do a group run through Baghdad the following day. Of course, that is insane. He believed it though (illustrating the point that many people maintained a garrison mentality in Iraq), and briefed Sergeant Major Walker the following morning about the planned spirit run.
There developed several trends as we entered November. One of the most ridiculous was the combat patch obsession and pressed uniforms. We were in a field, almost combat environment, but many people insisted on ironing uniforms or having them ironed to crisp perfection. I understand the need to appear professional, but to the point of maintaining an immaculate uniform? Foley’s pants were already falling apart at this point, and several people would walk around in perfect boots and uniforms and make on the spot corrections to others. Sergeant Albert and Sergeant Ramos (also called Alberamos, because they are always together), spend many hours in PT uniform washing their gear and keeping it immaculate for all to see. Other soldiers don’t have that luxury, but the sergeants would say, “If we could do it, so could you!” It seemed there were more important issues to concentrate on.
Alberamos were also pioneers in the combat patch arena. They were among the first in the battalion to sew a combat patch on. Foley and I observed this from behind our radio desk. Ramos had hardly been off the base and in Baghdad. Later, the battalion held a formal combat patch ceremony, and all were welcome to wear the 2nd ACR “Toujours Pret” patch. Everyone went out and had the patches sewn on. A few days later, the brigade commander from our 1st brigade made a fuss about 1st Armored Division soldiers wearing 2nd ACR combat patches. The order was given: take the patches off. It was a carnival.
Around this time, a girl was spotted crawling through the razor wire and attempting to enter our perimeter. She was immediately detained and questioned. It was thought that she was running away from home, but there was also a more sinister possibility: she was a spy. She was taken to the holding facility and further questioned. Soldiers heard about the girl and came to see her. An officer stood outside and impatiently told the gathering crowd that there was nothing to see, and that they all should leave. They were just curious to see the teenage girl, and after several months away from home, that sparked some soldiers’ interest. It was decided that the girl be deprived of sleep in order to determine what her true motives were. She was kept up all night, but her story did not change. The chaplain then coordinated for a local Catholic orphanage to receive the girl. He departed the next day in a convoy with the girl headed for northwest Baghdad. She would be OK.


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