Brave Men was the title of a book by Ernie Pyle, the famous World War II journalist, about soldiers in the European Theater. It was stories about common soldiers and the uncommon hardships they faced.
In my last post someone asked if all of the groups I listed were against us, then who is with us? I have met the brave men who are with us.
We roll out of the FOB as we kick up a huge dust storm as Up-Armored HUMVEEs and M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles enter into the never ending stream of traffic on the major highway. We are somewhat safe and secure in our armor as we maintain a safety bubble around us, never allowing a local national's car to get too close. Traveling in the opposite direction is a most unusual convoy. Brown Nissan pickup trucks and open sided cargo trucks filled with soldiers of the new Iraqi National Guard (ING).
The ING travel without armor in these convoys, with machine guns mounted into the floor of the trucks. Each man carrys an AK-47 rifle. Many wear hoods or face masks to protect their identities. They man posts on roads and overpasses, check points, and key buildings throughout the area of operation. They go into the neighborhoods where we would not and bring terrorists to justice.
In February, I caught my first glimpse of a T-72 (Russian) tank as Iraqi armor patrolled the main highway. At first sight I was a little shocked. I had never seen an operable T-72 tank; let alone one heading towards me with an Iraqi flag on it. Although it has taken time, the Iraqi Army (IA), different in their scope and mission from the ING, is becoming more of a force to be reckoned with here. They are proud of their names; Tiger Brigade, Falcon Brigade, and Wolf Brigade.
I spoke to the commander of the Wolf Brigade. He had just come down from a city to the north where his soldiers had "cleaned up". When asked what he was doing in southern Baghdad he looked at me through his cigarette smoke as if it was my first day in country. "We're here to kill as many terrorists as we can," he replied flatly.
Although not up to US standards of training and discipline, the new Iraqi Army and ING are effective in ways we never will be. These soldiers understand the Iraqi/Middle Eastern mind. They know the people and can identify the subtle dialect differences that indicate someone is not from the area. They are willing to use force in ways we will not. The allegations of heavy handed techniques are probably true. Iraqis understand “the stick” and respond to it. They can go into mosques without the international and Muslim reprisal our forces would. They get the job done the Iraqi way.
Both the ING and the IA are filled with the same types of men our ranks are; many are young men seeking the only work they can find. Others are cut of the fabric that many of the Soldiers I know are cut from. They seek to protect and rid their country from the disease that plagues it. They are patriots and heroes. They are well spoken, proud, and confident. They are serious in the face of their duties but smile wide grins and laugh when back on the base.
They are brave men who pay the same terrible price we do, maybe even more so because it is at the hands of their own people. The face the uncommon hardships of VBIEDS, snipers, drive by shootings, and enemy who enlist into their ranks only to betray them to suicide bombers.
And they are making a difference. The locals we speak to are proud of their new Army. They cheer when tanks and armored vehicles roll into the muhallas. They hope for the Army to be well trained and professional as well as respectful of the ordinary citizens. The people know that the more of them that they see the more the terrorists are afraid. They also know that there more IA and ING they see the less US and multi-national forces they will see.
In time the IA and ING will be the ones who are responsible for the security of this area and the whole country. By this time next year our force will be 2/3 the size it is now. Eventually we will probably have a token force and advisors and the Iraqis will man the ramparts of their own freedom.
Who is on our side? The answer is we are on theirs.