Soldier's Letter from Iraq
15 September 2003
Ma, Pa, Grandma,
A lot of concerns right now about re-enlistment and recruiting. I don't think there are any problems with recruiting right now. The military is probably being flooded with recruits who feel a newfound sense of patriotism. I have a hard time believing that retention rates are anywhere near normal. All I know is that I am losing personnel on a ratio of 3 to 1 versus new personnel coming in. I think the Army is in real trouble. I can't get sergeants to re-enlist, the Army's re-enlistment incentives are awful, and every soldier in the Army knows that they will either be in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Korea, or on a 6 month hardship tour in Germany within the next two years.
The problem with that is something I've been saying since I went to Bosnia. Soldiers train to fight and win wars. All of the missions listed above are or will be police missions in the next 6 months. It is easy to see that the Army has crumbled under pressure and spends more time training for police missions than for combat. If the Army trained for combat, than we wouldn't sit through classes on equal opportunity, sexual harassment and personal injury prevention (my favorite). Instead we would be at the range honing our marksmanship skills daily, training sniper teams, allowing tank platoons to go to the field unsupervised for days at a time and shooting tank gunneries with much more emphasis on machine guns than on the tank's main gun.
Instead, Fort Hood concentrates on gate guard, red cycle taskings and area beautification. That is why I believe soldiers will not reenlist. They haven't been trained, taken care of or given the responsibility they deserve. There are always exceptions, but I'm talking about the fighters, the infantrymen, scouts and tankers: the guys who are actually out on patrol in the streets and desert of Iraq and Afghanistan. The ones who don't live in a palace, don't have air conditioning, are responsible for securing themselves and others day and night. Those are the soldiers that we will lose. And when we lose those experienced soldiers, the Army will claim again that recruiting number are high and its no big deal. So much for experience and lessons learned.
The answer to this problem is simple, yet nobody wants to see it. Go to regimental systems with unit replacement and not individual replacement, cut red tape, get rid of unnecessary paperwork, give units a solid training schedule, get rid of area beautification, gate guard, and concentrate on training. Give units the time and resources to train, get GOs out of battalion level business. General Officers need to be more concerned with providing battalions time and resources to train rather than filling up our training schedules with BS that enhances careers but does the Army no good. Battalion level units should dictate training schedules, not Divisions and Corps.
I don't think the Army will have to go to a draft system, there are plenty of young people who need the Army.
We've had a few more incidents in the past couple of weeks. August was relatively quiet compared to September. Mortar attacks are more common. The Iraqis got smart and built hidden mortar firing points. I believe they dig a large hole near a cinder block wall and put the mortar tube on its bipod in the hole with ammo, then cover it with a rock, trash or a straw mat. All they have to do is walk up to the hole, remove the cover, drop some rounds and high tail it back to their house. We know they are doing this because we've isolated a town and watched them. No one could see the point of origin for the mortar rounds, but it was obvious where it came from. There was no vehicle traffic into or out of the town before or after the mortar attacks (around 0200).
Come to find out, the local sheiks know who is conducting the attacks. Of course, they want tit for tat and won't tell us unless they get what they want. If we give them what they want, we lose face and become incompetent while the sheiks become more powerful. This is one of the reasons I don't talk to Iraqis. They are all cousins, they all lie to protect each other, and they refuse to police themselves but complain about their own police. I firmly believe that the local sheiks assist the terrorists in one way or another to get what they want. Of course, these are the same guys who will be in charge of the local governments once they are established.
Had another mine strike the other day. We were lucky that nobody was hurt, but thank God for tanks. Any other vehicle would have resulted in casualties. I see that the LAV and other light vehicles have a role here, but with the AT mines and RPGs [ed. note: anti-tank mines and rocket-propelled grenades, which can destroy lightly armored vehicles], our only protection is in a tank. The other day you sent me the 1976 TRADOC PAM on RPGs. It says that chicken wire will disable the explosive warhead on an RPG. I didn't know that, so I had my guys living downtown put up chicken wire over the windows. I'm just glad that the terrorists here are poor shots (for the most part) with machine guns and RPGs.
You will be happy to hear that we are not afraid to change our tactics to find the bad guys. I am lucky to have battalion level leadership that is willing to listen to the guys on the ground and make suggested changes in tactics. I believe our changing tactics saves soldiers lives and increases the number of bad guys captured, turned in or otherwise.
Relearned a valuable lesson the other day; always change routes in and out OP positions—heck, routes need to be varied for everything. Can't stress that one enough! Need to let others know about it. I'll take a 1 hour detour to get back to my CP if it will throw off any pattern I may have created. This is especially true for LOGPACs [ed. note: "logistics packages," that is, resupply missions.] I firmly believe that LOGPAC should be run by a combat arms guy with as much protection as possible. Our LOGPAC has been ambushed a couple few times, as have other LOGPAC missions. Our loggies tend to be a little too relaxed on the highway. I've seen this from my unit and just about every other unit around here. Its not a pretty sight driving by a military vehicle on the side of the road that has been burnt to the ground after an ambush.
For the most part, the enemy is reverting more and more to mines, IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and mortars. They know that we will make them pay heavily if they open up in a direct firefight with us. Just the other day some guy tried to lob a 60mm mortar round at us with his hands. He somehow lit the thing on fire and tossed it at us thinking it would explode. Too bad for him! Apparently, we are going to go ahead with a 2-week leave policy. There are a couple of catches, of course, and I doubt I will have the opportunity to go. Don't know how it will be run yet or how many soldiers will be gone at one time, but it is nice to see that some soldiers may get a short break.
I am amazed at how much money we sink in to Iraq on a daily basis. Local civil affairs projects in our own little town are up over $500,000 and are continuing. Add on the money we are sinking in to making this place livable for soldiers and the cost of daily operations and the dollar amount is mind boggling. Of course, I still live and work out of a tent in the sand. The weather is improving. It is only 100 degrees on average during the day, and 70 something at night. I've got to tell you that 70 degrees is pretty cold right now. I can't imagine what 60 degrees will feel like.