April 13, 2010

25% Done - MidSummer News from Baghdad

The letter below was received recently from Tom Deierlein, COO, Dynamic Logic, Inc., a well respected executive and friend to many on Madison Avenue. Tom was called to active duty earlier this year as Captain (CPT,) U.S. Army, and is currently stationed in Iraq.


(TD with Nsaif, the Director of the Iraqi Assistance Center reviewing the location of 2,800 homeless (Shia) displaced by the ongoing sectarian violence and war.)

ALCON, (That is military speak for All Concerned)

Still alive and kicking.

I have now been boots on ground for 13 weeks, or 92 days out of the required 365. We have been here long enough that people are actually already taking their mid-tour break. Specialist Britney from my team starts his leave on Sunday. I arranged for him to get a special welcome at the Yankees game on August 12th.

This has been a rough month for the war. The month started off with the bombing of a crowded marketplace in Sadr City killing more than 60 people and wounded even more. The hard part to deal with is that women and children shop in markets so the person who planned and executed the bombing was clearly targeting women and children. I had been in that exact market only days earlier meeting vendors, talking to locals, and collecting "atmospherics". Unfortunately, that was only the first of a few market bombings this month in Sadr City, the latest this week also killing more than 30. Sadr City is a Shia and a jaysh al-Mahdi militia (JAM) stronghold, so when the Sunni's want to strike back they plan attacks there.


Personally, it just gets harder and harder to swallow. So, why all the violence you all are reading about? Well, as reported quite a bit in the past week, and I have mentioned numerous times, we have been trying a strategy of letting the Iraqi Police (IPs) and Iraqi Army (IA) (collectively called the Iraqi Security Forces - ISF) pick up security. They have been in charge of all crimes, including the multitudinous sectarian motivated murders and bombings. The bottom-line, is that they are not yet up for the task, are failing miserably, and we need to step back in. Thank God. I have lamented to my friends here that is down right un-American to stand by and let innocent people get hurt. Isn't that part of why we are here? I believe it is. I for one am VERY happy that we are beefing up the military forces here in Baghdad to help isolate and protect the neighborhoods where this violence is occurring - both sides. We can continue to build, train, and equip the IPs and IA in the meantime until they are ready to handle it on their own.

If you haven't read the book 'The Tipping Point", by Malcolm Gladwell, I highly recommend you do. We "roll up" and "detain" bad guys instead of killing them. We have to let them go if we don't have enough witnesses and evidence. We are treating them as only criminals instead of combatants and granting them too many rights. This is war, I know that many times the insurgents just laugh as we arrest them knowing we are going to have to let them go. We are playing by a completely different set of rules. I recommend more teams proactively going after not just the big names and key leaders, but anyone that commits crimes. According the book Tipping Point, that is how law and order was established in the subways of NYC - non-tolerance of even the most minor offenses like fare skipping or toll jumping and cleaning up the subways the very same night that graffiti went on. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned the Police and Army are infested with men loyal to various insurgency groups and tribes. By American standards, they are 99% corrupt - even the goods ones. But, before we judge the Iraqi's let's not forget our own recent history, especially the large cities - corrupt politicians, corrupt police, rival religious and tribal based gangs. Civil War. Sound familiar?


On the Civil Affairs governance front, which is actually "my lane" it has been a rough month as well. After the first market bombing, the Sadr District Council blamed and boycotted the American Forces. That means they are not allowed to meet or talk to us. We basically ignored it for the first two weeks and kept showing up at meetings anyway. Then we conducted a few raids and captured some Hats (High Valued Targets) creating some collateral damage in the process, so they asked us nicely last week not to embarrass them - and so we honored the boycott - it is a delicate little dance of position, power, influence, and authority. The reason this was such a bad time for a boycott is that the Iraqi's are working on the 2007 budget - this is actually GREAT news - not the Americans but the Iraqi Provincial Council working in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance is putting together budget for reconstruction projects. As small an accomplishment as this seems, it is actually a great sign of progress that the government is working and more importantly, soliciting feedback and guidance at all levels prior to submitting projects and budgets including local government where democracy starts and truly lives. Unfortunately, Sadr City Council was caught flatfooted yet again, and with the boycott I couldn't work and coach the people I needed to. I have attached the quick "Assessment Guide" I put together for them to use (translated into Arabic obviously). This gives you a sense of where these folks are at. I am trying to tell them that the education committee chair needs to be the expert on all educational institutions and employees, the health committee members' needs to be expert on all the health facilities and staffing, etc.

But, in the last meeting prior to the boycott they talked about furniture for the Council Hall for 25 minutes of a 90 minute meeting and failed to talk at all about how we should help the 2,000 dislocated Shia families sleeping in the schools and in tents. By the way, I am working on that issue. I say it is a boycott, but certain council members including the Chairman, have been willing to meet in secret away from Sadr City in the International Zone.


The War Strategy and Recent News

The best way I can describe our current strategy has been one of "Ready or not here transition comes...'. Once again I feel that the military has been caught right in the middle of a game of political and media positioning.

Everyone wants to do the right thing, and wants to help us get to the transition point, but they are afraid to admit that things aren't going well or on track. Not me, I put status=RED on a bunch of things, I don't have a career to worry about. Many people want us out of here - I understand that, I truly do. But, a vocal minority is pushing policy and the military is asked to act upon those ideas. In my opinion, we are far from ready to leave this place if we want to leave a stable, functioning democracy. I do not want to see more American soldiers die, but we simply have to finish (properly) what we started. Who knows, the end solution may not be a unified Iraq, but instead the three separate states everyone has been talking about, one Sunni, one Shia closely aligned with Iran, and one Kurdish in the north.

The key to defeating an insurgency is to drive a wedge between the people and the insurgents, in psychological speak "remove the dissatisfiers". That is why the lack of decent essential services (water, sewage, electric) is so frustrating. The key is to create an environment of opportunities for advancement both socially and economically for the younger men, so they have something positive to associate and affiliate with - something or some group that they can positively identify with.

To that end, there has actually been talk of trying some programs akin to the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Those depression era programs were designed to have people work on public works projects like road and building construction.

All I can repeat is that it is very complex. If it were simple, it would already be done. It is odd living under this microscope - picture yourself personally and your company under the microscope everyday, someone analyzing each move, highlighting each mistake. It would be tough. A friend of mine gave me a quote before I left that I carry with me each day: "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly...who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt.

Here is another I am using for motivational purposes: "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." - Albert Einstein.

Speaking of what I carry each day, in addition to my St Michael medal and prayer card, a buddy gave me a small flag that I now carry and my new TM SGT added a small biker bell the ward off evil spirits to the front of our HMMWV. No rabbit's foot yet, but I am not discounting ANY ideas at this point ;-)

EFPs, IEDs, and ADDs

Still the number one threat out there and being used quite effectively this month in Baghdad. Three different times this past month my unit missed bombs by minutes or by choosing an alternate route. Many of the routes we traveled regularly got hit in the past few weeks. We go through hours of analysis and planning each day, just to get to a 1/2 hour meeting.

Once again that is why I think at this point we need to re-kick start our offense instead of relying our defense. I think the generals and politicians are so worried about media coverage of US KIA's that it affected proper military planning. Everyone is in such a hurry to leave. I feel that in the end we will lose more unless we execute well-planned, well-timed operations that strike now at the heart of these cells (all members) rather than let them knock us off using the EFPs. When people wonder why there isn't more progress, it really does go back to security and establishing a safe environment for infrastructure projects, government meetings, and the local population to get on with their lives safely.


Economic Development Visit

The big event for my unit this month was a 4 day visit from the US State Department and some high ranking officers down from Division to visit seven SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) to see what we could do about revitalizing or even privatizing these plants and factories which included a clothing and uniform factory, a detergent and soap factory, a cigarette factory, and a small motor production plant. I was chosen to lead the VIP visit overall.

One the first day, while visiting the small motor factory a firefight broke out about 300 meters outside the gate of the walled factory complex. A group had tried to ambush the local police as they were on line to get gas.

It lasted a good 10 minutes. We did not get involved, but safeguarded our VIPs instead. I know that 300 meters sounds close, but with the number of police, the high walls and the facility protection cadre (20+ guys) were we never really in harms way.

The Dept of State guy was so impressed he sent a cable to embassy specifically mentioning us. The Officer in Charge of the visit sent this note to our Brigade Commander:

"I led the assessment team into seven of the state-owned enterprises (SOE) in your AO this week. We collected a great deal of data that will help us make recommendations for follow-up economic development. Hopefully, improved security will follow. I was extremely impressed with the planning and execution of this event. The credit for this goes largely to the members of A Co, 414 CA Bn. My team has assessed quite a few SOEs in the past couple of months but the professionalism of this unit stands out.

In particular, CPT Tom Deierlein coordinated a very thorough plan and was truly instrumental to the success of our mission. I can't recall working with a more diligent junior officer than CPT Deierlein. Also of note were the flawlessly executed missions to the State Company for Electrical Industries and Modern Sewing Company on Monday (led by convoy commander CPT Drew Corbin) and the assessments of the State Company for Tobacco and Cigarettes and State Company for Vegetable Oil on Wednesday (led by convoy commander CPT Dixon). Both missions went off without a hitch, despite some unforeseen circumstances, including a sustained gunfight that broke out between militiamen and the IPs outside the gates of the Electrical Company and a last minute site change at the Vegetable Oil Company. The unit adhered to SOP and maintained a very high degree of professionalism throughout."

I am proud of that email (obviously) but it was important for our troops to see that people appreciate our hard work and diligence. I force my team to do things by the numbers EVERYDAY, things other have long since ditched or let slip. I still give a full blown detailed Operations Order (OPORD) each night before a mission. I still push documenting and reviewing our evolving SOPs. I firmly believe at this point, based on feedback from outsiders we have let join our convoys, that we are doing this as well if not better than anyone out there. The trick now is to keep up the vigilance, the alertness, and the standards. There are two phrases we keep repeating before missions to remind ourselves: "Complacency Kills" and "When you half step, it could be your last step". The devil is in the details and that is why I miss SFC Ryan so much.

The follow on visit is in two weeks. Hopefully, we can use some funds, some coaching, and some resources to get a few of these places working to capacity and employing big numbers they are capable of. The visits made me harken back to my PTC days of selling engineering software and visiting stamping and machine shops.


Morale and the Media

I read an article this week in the Washington Post where one soldier felt that he was just waiting to get blown up. There are days that I can certainly empathize with him on that. I see it all the time right after a soldier, a friend gets killed, a unit or group feels it, and it gets harder for them to maintain a positive attitude. I haven't been faced with any injuries or incidents so I can't comment, but keeping a positive attitude is so important. I find myself counting the days - look at the title of my emails - but each day I am still out there trying to get some things done.

It is hard to continue day after day without seeing faster progress, or having little successes. But, when you look, truly look, they are out there. In my short 90 days the streets are cleaner, there is more fresh water, less sewage in the streets, and more electricity every day and the government is actually starting to work. There are also now two more planned Health Clinics going up in Sadr City bringing the total for Sadr to 7 within a year's time.

Last Saturday, the Battalion I am assigned to lost a soldier to a road side bomb. It cut him in half. Members of my company were on a different mission, but diverted to the scene to help with security during the casevac (casualty evacuation). Some of our guys saw that soldier and have been deeply effected since. It was bad the first couple of days, but you can sense it still lingering. It is natural to question your purpose and your resolve. But that is part of what makes a soldier special, the ability to shake off those horrors, the doubts and drive on with the mission assigned to us by the US and our leaders. When the unit we replaced lost two soldiers it tore them apart, they basically stop functioning for the last part of their tour and in the end it was rumored they were throwing Gatorade bottles filled with urine at cars that wouldn't get out of the way fast enough - and this is a CIVIL AFFAIRS teams, you know, winning the hearts and minds!

Those that have read my monthly updates know that like many US citizens I have my doubts about how and why we ended up here, but you also know how committed I am as a soldier called to duty to doing this right and how much I believe in completing the mission here properly. As you drive through certain neighborhoods you see people smiling and waving, thanking us for being here. These folks have had tumultuous history by any standard. They deserve the right to be free. They deserve the right to be safe.



On the progress front, the Ministry of Electricity has finally picked up speed and is laying in $90M worth of electrical cable throughout Sadr City.

I see new ditches opening and closing all the time. People still have intermittent services, but they also have a fivefold increase in demand since pre-war with air conditioners and satellite TVs.

As far as water, we are still working the joint project with the Baghdad Water Authority and are getting project bids in from vendors/contractors as we speak. The bigger project the R3 treatment facility is not going as well due to some security issues (ie workers being kidnapped and killed) at the site.

Women in Combat Part II

I stand by my original statements on the quality of all soldiers serving here. But, I may have jinxed us by speaking too early in the tour about no issues. Both our female soldiers were involved in a drinking and sexual misconduct incident. One involved a married man. Adultery in the military is still a jail-able offense.

Israeli-Hezbollah Conflict

To understand the linkages one need to look no further than this article that appeared in the Telegraph.co.uk from back in March:

"A multi-charged roadside bomb, developed by Hezbollah in Lebanon, is being used against British and American soldiers by Iraqi insurgents linked to Iran, according to military intelligence sources."

I will write more on this next month as the situation develops, but suffice to say, it could really open things up here with Syria and Iran involved. Arms and militia are already flowing in into the region. Not good.

Also, some may have missed that Ethiopia joined the fray this past week as well, sending in troops to fight against the Muslim fundamentalists and Al Qaeda influence in Somalia.


Iraqi Assistance Center (IAC)

On the bright side, I am working much more closely with these folks to get help and aid to those who need it. Our mission is simple: provide free or low-cost assistance to the Iraqi people so that they may rebuild their livelihood. We've been able to do this by developing relationships with various non-government organizations (NGO), international organizations (IO), private voluntary organizations (PVO), foreign embassies, ministries and civil military entities to acquire and distribute humanitarian assistance. We truly believe that cooperation is essential in effecting our mission [in areas such as the following:]

HA/NGO Coordination
Women's & Children's Issues
Medical Team
Ministries LNO

10 Year Old Girl That Needs Heart Surgery (Hend Najim Mohammed):

Like many things over here, we are making headway, but the going is slow. A mother of a friend actually helped me get in touch with Gift of Life a non-profit that also helps in these situations. I began to run the process in parallel. After two weeks I was ordered by the LTC (the battalion surgeon) to stop working the side angle because that organization was already involved in Jordan. I can see his point that people would be reluctant if numerous organizations got involved and they committed time and resources only to find out that someone else took care of it - but - it kills me to sit by and wait for the series of medical exams and paperwork necessary. I feel helpless, but I am pushing for frequent updates. We have all the info and I know the process is moving, but I can't help but feel we are racing the clock on this one.


Humanitarian Aid

Thanks for all the packages - keep them coming. We went to an orphanage of 50 boys last week and dropped off a bunch of items including clothes, toys, vitamins, school supplies, and of course soccer balls. Right now, I am working with the IAC to locate all the orphanages in Sadr City and find the neediest neighborhoods for us to do a drop.

Please send all packages "book rate". It is the cheapest route I have found so far - sorry. So, no matter what you are sending put "books" on the label and send them book rate.

We need: clothes all children's sizes including teens(non-winter), shoes all sizes, children's vitamins (generic in volume is best), toys, blankets, basic school supplies, coloring books and crayons, used musical instruments.

Blankets are the newest addition to the list - I will give these to the IAC and have them give out to the poor seeking aid. While my soldiers like doing the drops and it is good for troop morale this is one avenue we are using the help the neediest AND help legitimize the local government at the same time.

Thomas J. Deierlein
A/414 CA BN FOB Loyalty
APO, AE 09390

Mundane Things

All in all I am doing quite well and remain excited about the challenge of helping the people of Sadr City. I am in the best shape of the last ten years: My two mile is now well under 13 minutes, my 4 mile is well under 30 minutes I can do 80 sit ups in two minutes, I can even knock out a few pull ups finally. I hit the gym 2 to 3 times a week.

The main thing people do around here to kill time is play video games and watch movies. I thought the "Inside Man" with Clive Owen, Denzel, and Jodie Foster was excellent, "The DaVinci Code" didn't disappoint, but the book is better (as always). I actually spend time each night on the web keeping up with events and following trends.

I guess I have officially settled into a routine and I barely notice the fact that my barracks is located 100 meters from where they burn all the smelly trash. I am being as safe as I can - keep up the prayers from the luck we have had so far they must be working. July seemed to fly by. I hope everyone back there is enjoying some quality beach time - the summer is never long enough is it??

I have also become the acronym police. I have been frustrated (and too embarrassed in the beginning to ask). Now, I ask anytime someone uses ANY acronym. I put a bunch in this email to give you a sense. About 50% of the time the speaker or author themselves doesn't know the origin or proper explanation of the acronym. I am not alone, but it does point to communications issues. In July alone I witnessed the invention of two VERY unnecessary new acronyms that do little more than confuse the reader/listener.


On The Home Front - First Officer Hiwot

My lovely wife passed her "type rating" for the 50 seat Regional Jets and completed her first three flights as a copilot yesterday, landing it twice. The exam was an 8 hours grueling experience - 4 hours oral and 4 flying - 10% of the class failed including a guy who has been flying with the airline for 4.5 years. She passed with flying colors (pun intended), the tester said she really knew her stuff.

Talk to you soon. Send me an email and let me know how things are going in your world. Nothing is too trivial - you'd be surprised what some people are eating for lunch.


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