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Apr-30-2009 07:33printcomments

Pitfalls Await Deploying Oregon Guard Troops Bound for Iraq (VIDEO)

Poorly thought-out policies in a war can get people killed; some changes in rules regarding convoy escorts need to take place right away.

This is what a vehicle looks like after it has been exploded by an IED.
This is what a vehicle looks like after it has been exploded by an IED. The idea of stopping military convoys on the highway for inspections sounds like a death sentence waiting to happen and it must stop. Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(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: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Anonymous May 4, 2009 2:49 am (Pacific time)

The Oregon National Guard is also replacing my unit in Iraq. And we don't have the same issues as this other unit; we do have to wear our PPE but we know why, and don't really complain. Most of those issues are with their command not an overall army issue.

Editor: Thanks for taking the time to write and for mentioning the details.


Vic May 2, 2009 7:09 am (Pacific time)

I'm with stephen...this abuse and misuse of the National Guard is going to have repercussions for some time. Who would join the Guard now? I think the National Guard is a very honorable and noble choice..for very little compensation, people choose to work for their communities, their states and their country. But that has all changed now...joining the Guard means fighting overseas...repeatedly, and as I understand it, for less pay than the "regular" military. Who wants to sign up for that? I wish Kulongowski had the cajones to stand up to the feds and refuse to send our Guard, as there is no national emergency that would justify their deployment, and the original justifications given (WMDs-killer drones-anthrax labs, yellowcake uranium,etc) have all been proven to be LIES !!! Why are we supporting lies? Why is the National Guard being torn away from their families, their homes and jobs when the reasons for their deployment have all been proven to be false?? I dont get it.


Guard Grunt May 1, 2009 10:42 am (Pacific time)

Nothing will ever be accomplished by a punk on a power trip stopping a convoy in Iraq on the open road. Soldiers will wear what they wear and if they make a mistake they live with or don't live with the results. Never stop a convoy on the open road in Iraq


stephen May 1, 2009 10:16 am (Pacific time)

The real issue here is more than what is told in this article. To me, the real issue is why the National Guard is going overseas in the first place. 4000 more from Florida are leaving also. This is not what the National Guard was created for. They were created to be NATIONAL, not international. They took oaths to protect the people and the Constitution in their specific areas/state. If we were to sometime get ourselves a rogue government, who would be here to protect us? Foreign soldiers? I dont think so. With all the army military training going on all over the U.S., huge multinational forces training in Florida, the failing economy, the torture issue, complete chaos in the middle east, now this panic about the flu, well, something is up. Keep on your toes.


Scott May 1, 2009 9:34 am (Pacific time)

Donald, I'd venture a guess that if the field grade officer was in violation of his commanding general's policy for "wear of body armor" in that given geographical area or status of alert, then he'd be begging for a letter of reprimand.


Donald Sheldon May 1, 2009 8:29 am (Pacific time)

Surely there are some statistics on the value of body armor v the value of the additional mobility of operating without? If a field grade can walk around without armor why not enlisted being allowed to choose? I see no advantage to causing suffering needlessly. If it does no good why use it? Not zeroing weapons is criminal. Shame on the CO that allows men into combat without this preparation. What are the facts about armor? keep up the great work. Donald Sheldon


Scott April 30, 2009 9:19 am (Pacific time)

Tim, I feel conflicted as I read this story. There may be some local guidelines in place regarding the time, place, convoy size, etc, that must be considered before executing a "halt and inspect" action - I hope so. That would be common sense. Military members often have to come up with sensible ways to perform the mandated actions coming down from "higher". I also have been close to the unfortunate situation of informing a family that their recently injured loved one wasn't wearing all of the body armor that he should have been. At a time like that everyone wonders what could possibly have been done differently. There's bound to be a conflict where policies and personal choice intersect. I appreciate that you brought up other points in this article such as the post-deployment treatment of reserve members while on active duty bases. A citizen reading this article could go away with a few great talking points the next time they have a chance to interact with a public official, or military leader.

Tim King: Scott, I hear you, but surely we both agree that there are no patrols going out without their body armor.  I don't want people here in the states to get the idea that soldiers are just out there writing their own ticket every day; that isn't true.  I have a friend who was shot directly in the chest with an AK and lived to tell about it, but that stuff isn't going to mean hardly anything if your vehicle hits an IED.  Then you get to think about things like several hundred pound doors with combat locks that probably won't let you get out as the vehicle burns.  If an individual soldier chooses to forgo a piece of the IBA then I say more power to 'em.  People in previous wars didn't have anything close to what we have today, and I think anal little morons running around in the Army trying to "catch" people doing things wrong are just a total joke.  IN the end the article allows them to know more about where they're going and for that reason I'm grateful to be able to put it out.  Thanks

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