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Pitfalls Await Deploying Oregon Guard Troops Bound for Iraq (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
Poorly thought-out policies in a war can get people killed; some changes in rules regarding convoy escorts need to take place right away.
(SALEM, Ore.) - When I was in Iraq last summer embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation support group, I was taken aside by a few soldiers that I knew and asked not to report on the frequent mortar and rocket attacks that kept taking place at the Balad air base.
They didn't want their families to worry and I understood at the time, so I didn't make a big deal out of the almost daily alarms and loudspeakers relating a "hostile attack", though I mentioned it in passing in reports.
Now the Oregon Guard is preparing to send a massive deployment of 41st BCT soldiers to Iraq 2500 strong, to replace soldiers who have been running convoy escort duty, which is not one of the most sought after jobs in Iraq, you might say.
A soldier currently serving in the Army unit those Oregon Guard will soon be replacing, wrote to Salem-News.com hoping to enlighten Oregon soldiers as to what they have to look forward in their new roles. Unfortunately the news isn't all that good, but hopefully problems currently at hand can quickly be remedied.
Our contact who has been in Iraq for the last nine months says it was suggested by a Sergeant Major that while they are on missions, they can randomly be stopped and inspected to insure that each soldier is wearing all their personal protection equipment, or PPE.
"This seriously concerns us as soldiers," he said.
It seems half insane to assume that the soldiers aren't wearing their protective gear properly; it is their lives that are on the line. They do wear it properly for the most part on patrol.
However, having worn the very gear he is talking about in Iraq on patrol during the peak of summer, I know it's true that you can't always logically use each item like the neck guard at all times, and maintain any comfort at all. People will take them off as soon as someone isn't looking if that is what they have to do.
"They're stopping a security convoy of 6 armored vehicles escorting over 50 plus semis, with that in mind know that sometimes our convoys can stretch into miles long from each other."
I remember being in HUMVEE convoys in Afghanistan and grimacing as our drivers practiced the "no stopping for any reason" policy and went up and over sidewalks in an effort to not stop anywhere outside the wire of the bases.
This is not good karma perhaps, and it really frustrates Afghan cops trying to direct traffic, but it keeps Americans moving toward their destination. Staying on the move always reduces the window of of opportunity for attack. Those were the orders, always keep moving.
I didn't see the same exact thing in Iraq last summer; convoys dismount when they reach destinations where foot patrols have to take place, etc. One thing is certain, every time I stopped anywhere in Iraq with the Army or Marines, there was an extreme level of caution and forethought taking place.
The soldier who is part of the unit the Oregon Guard will be replacing stresses that this new move to stop convoys on the open road in Iraq seems like a clear mistake.
The soldier said, "The danger lies in the fact that you are stopping on a route that has been know for IED's, not only that but now you are having to move traffic feet from you."
Army tactics require soldiers in combat areas assume defensive positions that allow them to maintain visual contact each time they stop. This standard idea is not even possible under if the convoy is halted while underway.
"All the securities vehicles have no line of sight with each other and at the same time every stop or halt that we have well keeping all of KBR and TCN personnel in their vehicles is nearly impossible."
He added, "We do all this so that someone with no real combat experience can be driven around Iraq to inspect others when they themselves don't wear the proper uniform."
He says they have been on numerous humanitarian missions where the Lieutenant Colonel's get out with no gear on whatsoever, and they do it when the sight has not been secured.
Again, I saw this in Afghanistan and I won't use names, but one particular field grade officer I spent time around just took the body armor off when we were in some fairly serious areas. It is nice to be trusting, but not always wise.
"They think that because the people act friendly that we have no worries; from experience we have also been instructed that we can not have an aggressive stance to protect ourselves, that goes against everything that we have been trained to do."
"The threat has lowered out here but that does not mean that some high ranking official should be able to just run around free in Iraq and randomly stop supply lines to inspect if a soldier has gloves on or his eye protection, those are all things that are done before mission, during mission and after mission. If they have the time to do all that well that is just to much free time."
He continued, "The stupidity out here has just gotten ridiculous, that might be why so many soldiers commit suicide, not trying to be sarcastic but the changes and their thought behind them are just stupid."
Bitter words from a bitter and all too often deadly place.
In the Vietnam War, soldiers and Marines were increasingly sanctioned and restricted and that is why so many veterans of that war talk about how they "weren't allowed to win" and that is a tough thing for many to live with.
This soldier said, "The impression that we get out here is that you can do what you have to do when you fear that your life is in danger but you will face severe consequences."
He says that before they are even allowed to leave the wire, they go through 'Rock Drills', all the gear is inspected to make sure all soldiers have the proper PPE.
"The next day before you roll out, you have to go and stage and then get your gear inspected again for all the proper PPE, it gets signed off and then we can head out."
But in spite of that, the roadside safety checks are continuing.
"Not only do we take risks on the road everyday but now they want us to take more. As it is sometimes we have to fight to get all the proper gear for missions."
This soldier says time is used poorly by the Army in Iraq, to the detriment of an already challenging environment.
"We have to attend so many stupid classes on a regular basis that it brings morale down, also they give us all these classes but don't make the time for us as soldiers to attend a firing range to zero our weapons."
"About 9 months now into the deployment and more than half of our company is still walking around with unzeroed weapons. To be able to do anything out here takes qualification but if you haven't done it by now, well good luck."
The soldier concluded with another word of advice for the deploying Oregon soldiers.
"Also, you might want to let the other unit know that they need to get their IPERMS all in order because if they are anything like our unit, well you can have all the points in the world but if they never submit it, well you are gonna have that E3 that has recently been promoted to E4 get his E5 before you do even if he doesn't have the proper leadership skills and you have been promotable for years. That is something very important."
When the Oregon Guard 41st Brigade Combat Team came home from their deployment to Afghanistan that spanned from 2006 to 2007, they were taken to a 'compound' at Fort Carson, Colorado and basically treated like prisoners.
We as reporters and you as civilians and elected officials have to do our part to expose the madness that sometimes becomes official military policy and reach above to the higher ranks and get problems like those mentioned by this soldier, straightened out.
Families reading this should not be overly alarmed by the news; the military is always coming up with something like this. Just use your contact with your loved one to make sure this changes. We'll certainly be keeping up with a few of the 41st soldiers to make sure the right things happen. And just for the record, members of the 41st BCT command have been made aware of this information.
It would be really fantastic to get all of these soldiers home safe and sound. I offer my gratitude to the anonymous soldier in Iraq who took the time to reach out and help members of the Oregon National Guard.
Here are some edited video clips of U.S. military vehicles operating in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Afghan shots are Oregon's 41st Brigade Combat Team:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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