June 18, 2014 at 7:15 am #16889
I thought after introducing myself I would provide this first story of my experience in Baghdad in 2005. I was there for 9 months. I was in the IZ (international zone), originally referred to as the Green zone. I lived in a Connex box type facility. I was not allowed to possess a firearm, but was allowed to have a knife. We had guards manning our compound and others that would transport us around town. We were regularly mortared, though it tapered off as time went by thanks to a regular patrol of Apache helicopters most nights.
It got to where it was hard to fall asleep if you couldn’t hear a chopper, unless the mortar attack had occurred and the bad guys were running for their lives shortly thereafter. Sometimes we would get shot at while we were being transported. Polycarbonate makes a very distinct sound when hit by AK 47 rounds. Sometimes we had to dance across the street as stray bullets bounced along the concrete and asphalt between us.
Sometimes the mortar attack would come late and we would have to grab our body armor and BOB and run like hell for the bunkers in our skivvies and boots. I saw terrific explosions and people who died in pieces and others who just disappeared. I saw a little girl who one day was joyful and happy, then two weeks later I saw her with her arm missing because a stray bullet tore it off. She was no longer happy, and I had to bite my lip, hard, when I saw her to keep from crying in front of her and her dad. I saw Iraqi co-workers walk into the office with the look of death on their faces after having survived a suicide attack or gunfight while standing in line to enter the IZ. I never want that look on my face. I got to make friends with many of our Iraqis.
They told me stories of standing in the street in their neighborhood while tomahawk cruise missiles flew into town and some would hit the wrong spot and blow up one of their neighbors houses. They said when that happened they all laughed; what else could they do. It was either laugh or lose it. They told me about friends and family who refused to cooperate with bad guys and their houses would get over run and everyone inside would get killed. Despite the fact that everyone in the house may have been well armed, they cannot defend against hundreds of men with full auto AK 47s and explosives and incendiaries attacking them from all directions. This is a reality most of us do not realize until after the fact. I saw great courage, and had the chance to demonstrate a small amount more than once. Courage is not fearlessness. It is facing fear and working through it and being able to keep going. It is okay to be afraid. It is normal. Find a way to use it to your advantage.
Don’t let it take over your reasoning. I had my wife send me a good regular supply of candy and beef jerky. This was not for me, but for the Iraqis I worked with and the South African guards that were responsible for keeping me alive. All Iraqis crave sweets. South African ex military prefer American beef jerky to biltong. All the guards knew my first name and where I was from and that I had a wife and kids back home. All the Iraqis treated me like family. It is important to make strong alliances, but they must be sincere. People can tell when someone is genuine. I had no doubts that both the Iraqis and the guards would go out of their way to keep me safe. I felt bad when we were under alert for possible gas attack, and we were told to don our masks, but our Iraqi co-workers were not provided with any. It is difficult to sit across from someone who might die at any moment, knowing you are safe from what threatens them, and can do nothing to help them. I will share more later. Time for bed.June 18, 2014 at 9:55 am #16894
One thing I beat into my folks was to introduce themselves to the local Police. We were never in any one place for a length of time to fully develop relationships. It did help however if you got into trouble you were not “That American” but “I remember that face.”
RobinJune 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm #16909
Thanks for sharing your experience Benjamin.
Looks like you learn lot of good stuff from it. War is full of nonsense, but you must keep your common sense in order to survive it.June 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm #16911
Robin, I want to hear from you why you think about the middle east since you were there. Is there any solutions? I personally do not think there is a solution. Religious wars never end and the middle east is the center of this.
benjammin, what were you doing there? I ask since you were only able to have a knife and not a rifle. Also I like to hear your opinion on the same question I asked Robin.June 18, 2014 at 3:36 pm #16926
Freedom, in the “ISIS” string Selco had a great answer:
“Things are going just too fast there.
That ISIS militia have just lot of success there, OK of course reasons are too in fact that other side is not so organized, not able to organize anything big without outside help.
But there are logic in those ISIL horrible killings and executions. It is sick logic but it works.
From my personal experience, when your first neighbor (or your fellow soldier or similar) says “they coming, and they killing every man, raping women, and torch everything!” fear can be overwhelming and you just forget everything else.
Reasons, logic, courage, high words, everything goes away when horror coming.
It just work.
It my sound wrong, but good way of dealing with that kind of folks is raising other horror against them by using quick and swift justice, without too much talking. Just destroying.”
One of the MAJOR screw-ups at the end of WWII was the slicing up the Middle East along lines of politics. For long time the lines were drawn along religion. There were fewer major conflicts.
RobinJune 18, 2014 at 5:24 pm #16931
Robin, I also agree with Selco on this. I just do not see a solution in the middle east. It is a war that has been going on for thousands of years. They do not get along and will never get along. Power and killing them is the only respect they know.June 21, 2014 at 7:49 am #17074
Power is hope in this sense. Without hope, all you can really do is run for your life, hide, or die. When I was there, we had hope because we had Apache helicopters that could fly day or night, find the bad guys that mortared us, and send a hellfire missle into their laps. It didn’t take long for the mortar attacks to slow down and instead of 5 or 6 they would send one or two. With the advent of drone use, it became very difficult for IED attacks to succeed.
I was a civilian contractor trying to help build bridges, hospitals, schools, police stations and such. But we wasted a lot of money on security; we had to. We fought the war there all wrong. The problem was the ones making the decisions were following the same bad model we did in Vietnam. It didn’t matter if it was political or religious ideology. Our approach was unsustainable. Sadaam was not the problem. Beating him created a power vacuum and we let it backfill with criminals disguised as Imams. We failed to understand how their society is built and how it functions, so naturally it wouldn’t work.
I believe there is a way to straighten things out in the middle east. We were figuring it out right before our president decided to neutralize our influence and let the bad guys move back in. There will always be conflict, but it can be controlled. Unfortunately, the powers that be don’t want peace in the middle east, not really. So it will go on like it is. Lots of people suffering needlessly. It could get fixed, but no one seems interested in doing that anymore.
Desperate, poor, ignorant, people are easy to control. Just use a carrot and a stick, and you will get them to do whatever you want, including run off the edge of a cliff. Most Americans refuse to realize how thin the veil of security is here. I believe there will come a time when the veil gets ripped wide open, and we will have to face a cold reality most people in this world are already dealing with. I believe the theme of this forum is appropriate. When trouble comes, it is best to be somewhere else at the time. If not, then as invisible as possible. There is no real way to prepare for what is coming. No supplies, no money, no silver or gold or bullets. Your wits and your luck will be what keep you alive, and a willingness to do things other people can’t, or won’t.
I suggest watching the movie Papillon, with Steve McQueen, from the perspective of how much a person can go through to stay alive and keep pushing for a goal. It’s going to get miserable when our little empire comes crashing down around us. Being able to get through the day may be all a person can accomplish, one day at a time.
If there is anything that will save us, it will be how devoted we are to caring for one another. I just don’t see that happening for a while. Everyone seems to be out for themselves now. Our political leaders, our major corporations, all they see is the bottom line. It is unfortunate that something really bad has to happen for us to figure out what is really important. I guess you can’t just study misery from a historical perspective and really learn from it, you have to experience it for the knowledge to be of any use. We have good examples of bad times, Stalingrad in WWII, the great depression, Ethiopian famine. We don’t seem to be able to learn from other’s mistakes. We have to make them ourselves by and large.
In Baghdad, people in neighborhoods survived by devoting themselves to one another. They were able to fend off all but the worst gang attacks. But theirs is a different setup. Neighborhoods there are occupied by relatives, so they had a reason to look out for one another. I don’t know any of my neighbors, and likely won’t because we have nothing in common except for the view. They are pleasant enough people. But they just don’t share my views on life, and would find my priorities alarming, if not offensive. It would be nice to find a few like minded folks to live next to. But our situation here is not the same anyways, and I doubt it will make a difference when the tanks come rolling down the street. Better to be somewhere else then.June 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm #17092
Thank you bejammin for opening up to us. America has never gone though what will happen. If America comes out of this then it will become even stronger then it has ever been.
I still believe in America and believe that many will fight for it. Many neighbors will get together and fight, I know this for a fact. When hurricane Andrew when though South Florida neighbors that I never talk to came out to help like you have never seen, and all of us were doing whatever we had to to help others. When SHTF this maybe what the government is not prepared for. They truly think we are only for our self’s and do not care for our neighbors but this is not true. Americans just live a life of not having enough time for our neighbors but when the SHTF there will be more time then we can handle which will change everything.
I saw this! and that was just a hurricane. So we have to have hope and prepare not only for your self but prepare for your neighbors which will need us when SHTF and believe me they will help you back, I saw it here when I had extra water and can foods and helped them they did many thing back for me, they opened up and some of them when they have time still remember the bond that happened. I do think that South Florida will do a little better because of all the hurricanes. But I think this is going to happen all over the country neighbors will become real neighbors helping each other.
So remember to prepare for others too, our neighbors are asleep right now but when the time comes they will awaken.June 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm #17094
Yes, I believe this will happen as well. There will be pain and suffering first, to remind us of our frailty. But our strength is in our congregation. If whatever catastrophe we face isn’t so severe that it wipes us out, then it is likely we will come together and deal with whatever adversity we must.
Too bad we forget the bad things so easily. Lots of people will be hurting that didn’t need to. But that is the way we are built I suppose. When life is good, we get complacent. That will make some folks desperate enough to do bad things. I too hope we can get past that.September 2, 2014 at 2:42 pm #23965
Thank you, Benjammin for sharing your knowledge and insight.
I’ve got a few friends still working in Iraq, Sudan.. Northern Africa.September 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm #23971
benjammin, When I went though hurricane Andrew it wiped a very large area. I saw many standing together and helping everyone and this lasted more then a year. In my area it was not as bad as the center. In my area we all got together and helped each others for three months. It didn’t matter if you were left or right or whatever everyone helped each other.
I think that in a SHTF there will be some of that but when food ends all will turn to bad things. Many that I talk to here do not trust the government even the left wingers are turning, they believe they have been lied to.September 5, 2014 at 9:31 pm #24231
I was in Baghdad in 2003. We weren’t supposed to talk to the local nationals about politics or religion, but how do you avoid it? I asked our Iraqi interpreter how he felt about Sadam being taken out of power. He laughed and said “You Americans don’t get it. Sadam was a bad man, but he understood Iraqis. People in this country must be ruled with an iron fist; they understand power and authority. I saw a man who had killed another man and stole his car. He shot that man in the head. The American soldiers caught this man and put him in jail, but did not have evidence against him. So they put him in jail, and ‘torture’ him by making him stand in the sun for 45 minutes, then he can go into the shade for 15 minutes, then back into the sun. This is not torture to us! We live in this sun! Now this man has a bed off the floor. He has three meals every day. He has a fan on the ceiling. He is living good! And you Americans think this is punishment! Sadam’s people would have just shot him and be done.”
Every day I watched a local national come onto our compound with a janitorial crew. He really stood out, because he was immense! I mean really big, especially compared to most of the others, who werre very thin. And he always had the glower on his face. I finally got curious enough to ask another one of the locals about him. Turns out, he used to be a colonel in the Iraqi Army, and now here he is, coming onto the base of the people who turned his country upside down so he can clean the waste out of their port-a-johns. That really struck me, how drastically things can change, and how quickly.
In Afghanistan, I traveled to a lot of coalition compounds. I learned very quickly that the compounds that put up fortress-like walls and did all the expected military things were getting hit hard, but the ones that blended into their surrounding communities, both socially and physically, often went unscathed. At one, the local villagers actually set up their own checkpoints on the road and stopped strangers and checked their vehicles for IED materials in order to protect their foreign “guests”.
I got to one compound that, compared to most others, was a paradise. It had been built on top of what was once a Russian “rest and recoup” base during their war. It hadn’t been attacked in the previous seven years. The men guarding the entry control point were local villagers, mostly goat farmers. The compound had a problem with tall grass around their perimeter, and I pointed that out to them. The soldiers complained that they had no way of keeping the grass cut. It absoultely baffled me. I asked why they hadn’t talked to the men guarding their entry point and asked if they would like to bring their goats in to crop the grass. It was an obvious win-win. These guys looked at me like I had just grown a dick out of my forehead, but the next day, sure as hell, there were goats in the yard, cropping the grass down. Later, I bought a huge bag of local-grown raisins and almonds, and went to the chow hall and loaded up on fruit. I took all this to the main entry point and asked the guards if we could share the fruit and nuts. They very graciously accepted and everyone sat on the ground next to the road. I sat down with them, and all of a sudden there was a big fuss as they dragged a chair over and insisted I sit in it. I refused, saying if they couldn’t sit in chairs, then I wasn’t going to either. I was amazed at how much it meant to them that I was “like them”. When I asked why one guy wasn’t eating with the rest of us, they explained he had been sick during Ramadan and couldn’t fast, and so was making up for it. I made sure he put some of the goodies in his pocket to take home for later, and we all ganged up on him to make him sit in the chair. Before I knew it, they had someone make up a huge platter of the local cuisine (sort of a stew on a bed of rice with tons of flat bread). They even gave me extra bread to use as a scoop since they knew we as Westerners don’t like to eat with our hands. I never saw them again, and I’m sure I never will, but I’ll always remember that meal and I have no doubt they’ll remember the crazy American who wouldn’t sit in the chair.
We in the Western world have a hard time understanding the sense of tribal community they have. We can’t go over there for a few months or a year and expect to make lasting change. They never learn us, we never meld into their community. They see us as one huge “tribe”, the Amriki (American) tribe. According to their code of honor, if an Amriki kills a man without justifying it to the tribe, his brother must retaliate, but the brother doesn’t have to kill the Amriki that killed his brother…any Amriki will do. If you visit, you are a guest for three days. After that, you are either accepted as part of the family/tribe and are expected to chip in, or you need to move on. Any lasting change will take years of the same people being present, showing they care, that they are committed, that they have skin in the game, so to speak. Otherwise, we show we don’t care, we don’t trust, we just want <name a resource>.
Benjamin, I feel for you. I’ve seen the same kinds of things, felt the same paralyzing fear listening to the mortars walk in, felt that fear go numb and jaded. My heart has bled for the good people of that region. At least I was armed, though. I can’t imagine not having that small amount of comfort. Unfortunately the people that make the decisions don’t talk to those of us who’ve been on the ground, who’ve made those interactions. Hell, one of my missions was to tell the combatant commanders what changes we could make to be more effective. They were only interested in what technologies we could deploy, what resources we could transfer from region to region. They didn’t want to hear the human aspect.
Freedom, you asked if there is a solution. Yes, there is, but no one wants to hear it.September 5, 2014 at 9:58 pm #24235
WarpedRazorBack – Very early in WWII America went to Very Important Person in a foreign country and asked for his and his peoples help in defeating the Japanese. The folks did a great job of doing as asked.
At the end of WWII in the Pacific the Allies gave this country to the French. This country was Viet Nam. The VIP was Ho Chi Mein (sorry, my spelling sucks.)
This happened in many countries at the end of WWII. Countries were given to one of the Allies as spoils of war.
What you experienced in-country during your tour was also felt by many GI’s during the Viet Nam War. At one time it was tried, called “Hearts and Minds”, but was a half-assed effort.
If someone is walking around inside your compound make sure that person is not counting his steps. Would be a ***** to find out later he was getting information for a mortar attack!
RobinSeptember 5, 2014 at 10:00 pm #24236
***** – Jeez, be careful of what you ask for, just might get it!
RobinSeptember 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm #24238
warpedrazorback, I read all of your post. I think that the problems you had with the higher ups is common. We can’t change these people. They have only respect for absolute power and we have a problem with absolute power.
I have a lot of respect for what you have done and gone though. I thank you for opening up and telling us.
Americans that have not gone to war like you will never understand this. They need to understand what it takes to win a war in the middle east. We go with absolute power or we do not go at all.
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