Friday, April 25, 2008

American and Iraqi Cooperation

I had someone take a picture of Ali, the Iraq Army officer, and me. Ali was delighted when I presented a printed copy to him. He said he speaks about me to his family all the time when he calls them. I told him that I also mentioned to my wife that we had our picture taken together. Ali told me he was anxious to show the picture to his family when he goes home for a vacation soon.

Tonight, David, an American-Iraqi interpreter from Michigan, was with us. Ali and I were able to speak more freely and in-depth with David's help.

Ali said he'd like to come to America. I told him he could stay in our home with his family. Although I'm sure it would be too costly, I suggested visiting New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, and Hollywood. I thought of the Grand Canyon and the new glass bottom of the walking bridge that extends beyond the precipice. Ali added that he'd like to visit Texas, then said, "All of America," with a great big smile.

Ever since we met a few weeks ago I had wondered what gift I could give my friend. I don't have to luxury to go to an American store to buy a U.S. memento, nor do I have much with me. Nevertheless, I found something he'd really like and I presented it to him. Today he gave me his watch. A little stammered, I put my hand over my heart (a Middle Eastern gesture of kindness) and tried to resist such a nice offering. I was overwhelmed at such a large token for a gift to me.

Seeing my resistance to the gift, with gratitude, I might add, Ali spoke through David who said, "Please take it so you will have something to remember me by."

I'm going home soon. I only wish I had met Ali long ago. We have so much in common. He is truly a brother and a friend. I didn't want to offended him so I took his watch and will treasure it. It's like the widow's mite -- the story in the Bible where the indigent widow gave some of the only money she had -- in that Ali's watch is probably one of his most valued and needed possessions. Suddenly, I wished I could give him more. I imagine even $100 U.S. dollars goes a very long way in Iraq. But I didn't give him money. I didn't give him anything else, but a hug.

Since David was there interpreting, I told Ali I was looking for a job. "What do you mean? Are you not going to stay in the Army?"

I explained that I was a Reservist and that since I was self-employed when I was called up that I lost a great deal of money and solid business infrastructure. But first I replied that the Army wasn't for me.

We're our own worst enemy, and from my experiences here, it's no wonder the Army is hurting for Captains. As a Captain, I want nothing more than to get out. All the big signing bonuses in the world couldn't keep me in. I thought of my wife and her extreme difficulties by me leaving her to come to Iraq. I thought of my children. The thought of spending multiple years and multiple deployments away from them is repulsive. Besides, I don't believe I've ever been treated more cruelly in my life.

Just the other day an officer senior to me said, "You were labeled when we got to Fort McCoy (Wisconsin) and I don't know why. They've treated you like a 6-year-old ever since." Cruelty destroys morale and injures self-worth. It is the antithesis of cooperation and teamwork, and despite what some may think, it is a military weakness not a strength.

When the good officer told me his observations, the weight of the entire year's struggles wanted to burst out in the form of tears from my eyes.

I met a stranger the other day here, but I gained instant rapport with him. He's been with the government for 30 years now. He confided in me that he's never been around so many people but felt so alone in all his life. He took the words from my mouth. I've made friends, but have lacked real companionship. We both spoke of our wives and children.

As a retired military officer, he emphasized that I should definitely get out. "They treat young officers horribly. I see it all the time," he added. I'm not that young, but my rank and status somehow show that I am, though my receding hairline suggests at least some level of experience and maturity.

When I was in South Korea as an enlisted soldier well over a decade ago, I was awarded the Korean-American Ambassador and Friendship Award by a General Officer. Only five soldiers in the entire country were given the award. It was a wonderful honor to receive. The Korean Augmentees to the United States Army (KATUSAs) nominated me for the award, and after meeting with the First Sergeant he told me the same thing the Command Sergeant Major told me when I was in Basic Training. Each of them said, "You should be an officer. You present your self like one. You look like one."

Well, now that I am a commissioned officer, I've learned that even officers still get treated like Privates. Unfortunately, people who get rank and authority, as they suppose, too often abuse authority. And those who lust for power and control often join the military to display it. Sadly, there are many, many good men and women in our Armed Services. But the rotten apples often spoil the bushel.

Ali said that if I got out of the Army that he'd be very disappointed. Then he suggested that I come work as a liaison officer with the Iraqi Army. Had that been the case, this entire deployment would have been a different experience. "If I come back to Iraq," I said, "I would absolutely love to do that." And, I meant it.

Ali smiled and said, "Just call me. We can work together fighting bad guys."

Now there's the kind of cooperation and friendship that I like.

1 comment:

B D. Bell said...

Hang in there!

The Army has some real winners in command at times. My platoon received a mission to build a wooden bridge during a two week training exercise while I was in Germany.

The Major at Battalion called me on the radio at 1 am and told me to get my men moving on the bridge. We had just got off another mission and my men needed some rest. I knew what my new mission was and I had planned out how much time I needed to complete it. I felt the men needed a few hours of sleep before starting. The Major started laying into to me on the radio, so I got one of my squads to go get the needed supplies to build the bridge. When the squad got to the area to pick up the supplies it was closed until 6 am. (what a wasted trip)

As my platoon was under way building the bridge my Battalion commander dropped by to see how we were doing. I told him about the Major getting into my face about the mission and asked him if the mission was a test to see if we as the platoon could get the job done in the amount of time given to us. I told the LTC that the Major seemed to be the one that wanted to lead my platoon and complete my mission.

The LTC left the site and within about one hour I had a very upset Major on the mission site screaming all sorts of great things at me (1LT). My Battalion Commander had gone back and chewed out the Major. Now the Major was going to try everything within his power to make our mission to build the bridge fail! The Major started barking out orders to my platoon Sgt. to pick-up trash that he had seen all through the woods around the work site. To put all the wood beams etc. in nice neat stacks etc. etc.. I walked up to the Major and said sir I will make sure all that you ask is done. But I have a very important mission to accomplish and I need every man I have to get it done within the time I had. The Major was now about touching my nose with his and had the most evil look I had ever seen in is eyes, told me that I was to get the things he had asked to be done right now.

My platoon Sgt. seeing this had already pulled all of the men away from the bridge mission to start picking up trash in the woods. I stopped my platoon Sgt. and told him to get everyone back on the bridge mission and only send two men into the woods to pick-up trash. I then turned my full attention to the getting the bridge built as the Major stomped around the job site screaming "you will never get this bridge built with-in the time limit".

Finally the Major gave me that look like if we were at war you would be dead, and got into his truck and left.

My platoon went on to complete the bridge on time and the mission was a success.

I had another Battalion Commander that within the first week of taking over the command had an officers call. When all the officers in the battalion had arrived he told us that he was going to make full bird Col. and he didn't care how he was going to get it. If that meant stepping all over us to get there that was not a problem at all to him.... Then he said that was all and walked out.....

I fill your pain!

Be careful man, Love ya!!!!!!!!!

Bill