Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Letters from the Front

January 2nd, 2008 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

Happy New Year to all of you out there in Cyberland!! I’m very lucky to have a guest writer on the SandGram. Major Brooks Tucker, USMC. He is a fellow reservist that I served with on recruiting duty who has also volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq with the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned. His writing is awesome and it tells the story that the media has hidden from the public about our progress over there since it’s going so well. There are three letters and I’ll post the next two shortly. I hope that you enjoy his insights as much as I have. Feel free to pass these along.
Semper Fi,

Dear Family and Friends:
I have been in Iraq for nearly three weeks now and am beginning to find a rhythm to my work days and nights and have seen just enough to have some sense of awareness concerning the complex nature of the war and our role in it. Before I begin to cover some of the latter, I would like to dispel some of the lingering misconceptions that remain in the American consciousness on the home front. First and foremost, it is instructive to note that as of two weeks ago there were less than 20 journalists embedded with US forces across all of Iraq. There are approximately 165,000 US troops in Iraq, so that is 1 reporter for every 8,250 troops, roughly the equivalent of almost two regiments. If the media has been our window, no matter how opaque or transparent, into this war, the media is not in a physical position to report with much authority at this stage, in my opinion. Which leads me to one of the changes the media has not covered well, what is going on and has been going on for almost six months in al Anbar Province, where the US Marines and US Army are working day and night to set the conditions for transition of security to Iraqi Police and Army.

Within days of my arrival, I Iearned that our base outside the once violent and impenetrable city of Fallujah had not received incoming fire since April of this year. In the past several months, the Marines and Army have taken many casualties while making great strides finding roadside bombs, defusing them, and training the Iraqis to find them and report this to US forces. The number of violent incidents in the provincial capital, Ramadi, has declined 95% in the past year and Marines now patrol both Ramadi and Fallujah on foot without the ever present fear of being shot. Neighborhood watch programs manned by Iraqis proliferate and it is common for a Marine security patrol to encounter numerous checkpoints throughout the city of Fallujah, where Marine platoons man Joint Security Stations alongside Iraqi Police. I spent a day and a night with one of these platoons two weeks ago, and found the perimeter guarded by Iraqi Police, the interior manned by Marines and Iraqis in observation posts, and the outlying neighborhood patrolled at night by squads of young Marines on foot searching for signs of insurgent infiltration from outside the city limits. I sat in on a gathering of Fallujan leaders and Marines to discuss better communication and cooperation and found that their relations were professional and cordial. The Marines and the city leaders in Fallujah have brokered a way forward that respects the local muhktars, or religious leaders, vests much power in the city council, and allows the Marines to step back from their prior role as the key power brokers. The Fallujans are smart and they know the Americans have money and resources or at least can lead them to money and resources for their badly damaged neighborhoods and inadequate infrastructure, especially sewer and power. They also know that the insurgents have neither the money nor the resources to rebuild their city and will not help them gain leverage with the central government in Baghdad. This bottom up approach is a key component of our counterinsurgency strategy and tactics, for it empowers local and municipal leaders who are very wary of the civil servants in Baghdad. Furthermore, the Iraqi constitution gives significant powers to the provinces, so a strategy that builds the capability of the provinces is in keeping with that document. I have just returned from Hit, a city north of Fallujah, along the Euphrates River, where much the same story is playing out, Iraqis and Americans joining forces to defeat remnants of the insurgent cells that are still active, but are finding it increasingly difficult to locate safe havens free of the 24 hour US and Iraqi security presence on the highways, in the streets, alleyways, all under the watchful eyes of unmanned drones circling aloft.

Now a few words about quality of life for me and the other Americans serving and working here. I live in what is called a “can”, a basic trailer type living space, with a couple beds, lockers, and maybe a camp chair. Most have AC. Showers and toilets at main bases are like you would find in a basic locker room, but showers are individual stalls. Third Country Nationals, Pakistanis mostly, clean the toilets and showers twice daily. Laundry service usually has a 24 hour turnaround. At more remote bases, or platoon and company outposts, showers are more primitive and porta johns are the rule. Food on main bases is plentiful and well cooked, to include fresh fruit, salad, Gatorade and pastries. Even at the remotest locations, the logistics folks manage to deliver some semblance of good food, although it is not as well presented. People here work long hours, mostly because there is little else to do, and most battalion and company bases have some form or internet access for official business, at least. The weather is cooling off now, temps in the high 80’s during the day, high 50’s at night. No rain yet, but when it comes the “moondust” will turn to slick muck. Until then, we are enjoying the fall like weather.
Best regards,