Tom Deierlein Update from Iraq

Note:  This newsletter from Tom is posted to the class website for access by classmates only.

It has been 9 weeks since I put boots on ground.  That is 63 days out of 365, or 17.3% of the total.

In this month’s newsletter:  Women in Combat; The War; SFC Ryan, A rant on progress, patience, and true debate; Life; and finally some projects I am working on.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all who have sent supplies.  I did my first two successful humanitarian aid drops using the goods I have been sent, and even better I have found a true philanthropist who can help me find the most needy.  She is a wealthy Kurdish woman from an influential family in West Baghdad and she works with a dozen orphanages and tons of various charities. 6 months ago she almost single handedly stopped a corrupt sheikh who was using orphan boys for child labor and the girls for prostitution.  Pretty good credentials.

If you are interested in seeing some the pictures from the recent HA drop send me an email or go to: Ben Saitz of DoubleClick put it up for me.

Special thanks to Jo, Mike, Rick and the entire crew at iMedia for continuing to be my biggest supporters and getting the word out about my efforts here. I loved the video.

Women in Combat: I think this war has put the nail in the coffin on that hotly debated topic. I serve next to women everyday and they perform admirably and just as well as the men. In terms of living arrangements, showers, and sleeping quarters- we worked it out.  In the case of my company, we even have them in the HMMWV Gunner position, the most dangerous and critical in the convoy. Here is an excerpt from my journal from my first few days in theater when the team we were replacing took us outside the wire for the very first time and we rode in their vehicles:

So much for women in combat, because my first gunner was introduced to me simply as "Dee".  I later found out it stands for D’Angelis.  She looked mean, real mean.  Junkyard dog mean.  She had the look of a killer, a confident, cocky killer.  She was pulling all her gear on and not doing much talking.  I really didn’t know how I was going to react to women in combat. But, when it came, it was a non-event.  I didn’t see Dee as a women, I saw her as a soldier and something in the way she walked, she talked and clearly something in her eyes told me she was a warrior, not a girl, not a women, a warrior.  The gunner is the person who sits up in the turret and mans the mounted machine gun for the convoy.  It is the most dangerous and most important position when and if we get into a fight.  I dropped my weapon into the front right seat – the spot for the TC or Truck Commander also called the Vehicle Commander (VC), not venture capitalist. Dee politely but firmly turned to me and told me to turn the weapon down, into the floor "I don’t want you to shoot me during the trip Sir, muzzle down please."  She quickly, expertly, and almost nonchalantly grabbed it and spun it upside down.  Damn!!  I looked like an idiot.  My first trip, trying to look competent and solid, and the gunner sees me make a rookie mistake. BTW, I saw Dee about an hour after the convoy.  She lost her stare, her cockiness, and as she sat in her PT uniform, she looked more like a young woman (still tough) as she dragged on a cigarette in the open bay of the barracks.  Her hair was down and a smile was on her face.

The War: I have not even come close to any action – and I plan to keep it that way. I did have a chance to shoot both my 9mm and my M4 though the other day…I was on a range zeroing my scope and conducting combat reflexive fire drills.

The real threats are not necessarily the Iraqi nationalist insurgents.  The true current threats are the jihadists using Iraq as a frontline for their pan-Islamic war against the US and the west in general and the growing (but increasingly fragmented) sectarian insurgents groups and militias seeking instability and working 24/7 to leave the new Iraqi government off balance, vulnerable and eventually unsuccessful. Once again, our job is not to control this new country, our job is to give them the capability and capacity to operate on their own, without US, so we can go home.  Plus there are a lot of Iranian and Syrian tourists visiting Sadr City these days…oops, did I say tourists?  I meant terrorists.

A CA Team Leader was going to attend a meeting at a government center 100 miles south of here and was shot in square in the chest by a sniper just as he stepped out of his vehicle.  Armor plate stopped the round – no injury, not even a bruised chest, thanks god for the body armor!!  But as with many events that take place all around us each day, it serves as a warning that people are watching our every move and waiting for an opportunity to kill us.

A gunfight broke out the other day just outside our FOB, less than a 1/4 mile away. No one even blinked, including me.  Two days ago, I was sitting in an Iraqi government building downtown and a fire fight broke out across the street (I was on the sixth floor).  No one even got up from their chair, except me. Strange, very strange.

IEDs (road side bombs) are decreasing in Baghdad, but sectarian violence and attacks on the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army are on the rise.

Those two young soldiers who were captured, tortured, and then killed certainly took all our collective attention and efforts that week.  Man, I wish they had found them alive. When you lose people like that somehow it is more personal and more painful than a road side bomb, or gunfight. I can’t imagine what they went through.

SFC Ryan: Well, the match made in heaven has ended.  Last week, SFC Ryan got snatched up to become a 1SG for a company headed off to Ramadi.  I actually tried to get the company commander slot, but it is a MAJ slot.  He is missed everyday and my job just got a lot harder.  His replacement is competent, but not the superstar that James Ryan is.  I am glad he is leading that company, heading into the belly of the beast, they need good men in that fight. That said, I had been preparing myself mentally since the second day after I met to lose him.  I realized he was too talented in a battalion with a dearth of experienced and combat proven talent for me to be lucky enough to keep him the entire tour.  I knew he would get moved eventually.  I am glad I had those two months to learn from him and both my team and I are better for it.

Progress: I see progress everyday – EVERY day.  It is happening in little increments, but slowly and surely things are improving.  The issue with the expectations of the US is that we are applying our timelines and our expectations, in the Arab world, things move more slowly, and there are cultural, religious and social issues in play that the vast majority of people don’t understand. One small example, it is dishonorable to say "I don’t know" so it is difficult to know if someone truly understands a project or issues you need them to deal with. Also, time is a fluid thing here (which you all know drives me nuts!).  There is a omnipresent saying "enshala" meaning "god willing", it is really just a fatalistic built-in excuse not to get things done in time or to miss a meeting you promised to attend, or not do a task at all. It didn’t get done – oh well, god must not have wanted it done. Another example, most manual labor/work is VERY dishonorable – money does not have nearly the value that honor and respect do.  Therefore, someone would rather have an office job that pays them $10/day, than pick up trash for $10/hour or $100/hour for that matter.

If you spend 80-90% of your energy on planning and operations just staying alive, that only leaves you 10-20% to focus on actual work, improvements, and projects. Oh, by the way, if there are outward signs of progress, the insurgents target and attack those installations and key locations. Or, they kill the key Iraqi people working there, or their families.

There are no good guys and bad guys.  There are truly great Shia’s and also truly great Sunni’s – there are evil Shia and evil Sunni.  It is not black and white.  Just the other day, after attending a meeting with an officer in my company, a leading community sheikh, sunni imam, and government leader was shot three times on his way home. Why?  He was effective, he was making a difference and helping with progress.  He was a good man and will be missed by the people in his neighborhood.  His crimes? Being effective, making a difference, refusing to cower to threats and intimidation tactics. There are still powerful and well organized groups trying to prevent short and long term success.

Don’t get me wrong, I rarely disagree with the key facts in the articles I read, I simply disagree with the tone, analysis, opinions, and conclusions. Keep in mind these are not Americans working on the sewer or electrical projects for profit, it is Iraqi’s. There are tribal issues, religious issues, corruption issues, outright theft issues, and quite frankly abysmal work ethic.

Next time you hear someone at the café or dinner party say they want our troops home you ask them what they really know about what is going on over here and what the consequences of leaving now would do for the long term reputation and security of the United States.  Once again, I am not sure which side of the fence most of the readers of this email fall, (except you Dad, and Scott R – I know your opinions) but we as Americans need to think about the future and what message we are sending if we leave this half done. Tell that person at the cocktail party to ask an Iraqi if they want us to leave now.  I already know the answer and see it their eyes everyday. I simply wish each of you to open the dialogue and true debate armed with the facts. It is too easy mentally to say you are against the war.  Who isn’t against killing and Americans dying? I am – and there is one particular tall, thin, ugly American I know I don’t want to die.  I simply ask people to expand their views and truly understand the issues, and engage in a true debate.  That is what makes America great.  Interesting article on the topic: TERROR’S NEW HOMELAND SOMALIA & THE FRUITS OF U.S. RETREAT

I am not trying to change anyone’s mind on the war – I am truly not, especially since I don’t have a fixed opinion and I am here. I am simply asking each person to truly understand the real issues, all the facts, and think through anticipated consequences and implications of premature withdrawal. (Although I must admit I say a little prayer each night that if they do draw down, my unit is earmarked for early departure)

The new government has only been in place less than a month and already people are writing the obituary.  Relax, be patient. "I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy." Marie Curie (1867-1934) Polish-born French chemist, Nobel Prize laureate

Security and Incidents: Well, the news outlets and media folks are really having a field day with this one.  The reality is that at some point, we have to let the Iraqis’ solve their own problems.  It isn’t that we don’t care or don’t want to help, but we have to let them do it on their own, or it will never get solved. The fact that the Mahdi militia and various insurgent groups have so infiltrated and infected the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army only complicates the issue.

By the way, I read all the SITREPs (situation reports).  We are not sitting on the sidelines, we are hunting down and killing A LOT of these guys, crippling cells, movements, and groups. Somehow they rarely make the press. Black Ops and all that secret stuff.

Life: I spent two hours by myself earlier this week cleaning both my 9mm berretta and my M4 rifle.  It was surprisingly calming and quietly enjoyable.  I found myself reflecting on how many different times and places I have found myself cleaning weapons over the years.  I certainly thought that part of my life was done – but for some strange reason I enjoyed it that day and took pride in taking the time to make each of them meticulously clean.  I got them even cleaner than when I was originally issued them.  I still find myself asking the question each day "How did I end up back in the Army?"  It is still a bit surreal for me from time to time.  I still haven’t quite committed to being back in, even in a war zone, strange but true.  I feel like this is some giant pause button and I can’t wait to hit play again in my real life.

In my free time at night, I am not pouring over SOPs and Army manuals, instead I am reading industry newsletters and attempting to stay connected back home. I have also watched the first three seasons of Seinfeld and almost every movie Clint Eastwood has ever made. You can get DVDs here for $2 or a collection of 20 movies for $20.

The heat isn’t so bad.  I do really want to claim that I am dying out here in the 118 degree sun, but the reality is you simply have to drink a BOAT load of water.  When we leave on missions everyone brings with them two 2-liters bottles of water – frozen solid. They melt soon enough believe me. By the end of a typical 3-4 hour mission they are boiling hot. We have all heard the expression "we ran out of hot water", well now I know what it is like to run out of cold water. The water tanks cook in the midday sun and by 10 am there is only very warm and hot water in the barracks, no cold.  Also, when the wind blows, it feels exactly like when you open an oven to check your food and the air pushes into your face.

I am wrapping up work on our unit Tactical Standard Operating Procedures (TACSOP). It covers everything from pre-combat checks like flashlights, radio checks, and different color smoke grenades to battle drills for sniper fire, roll over drills, car bombs, dismount under fire, and of course emergency casualty evacuation. We’d been developing/reviewing them orally – anyone that knows me knew it wouldn’t be long before I forced it to be written down and trained on properly.

Time does fly though, no complaints.  This is already the end of my 9th week.  Half of me thinks wow, that is almost 20% done, the other half says, you gotta get to work, double your efforts and start making some real progress.

Feeling Old: I just realized the other day that the class of 2006 that just graduated West Point last month wasn’t even born when I first entered in 1985.  Ouch.

Projects: Young girl – We are working very hard to get a 4-year old girl with a heart condition out west for surgery. I have my fingers crossed.

Media – I am now officially a journalist.  I wrote an article that was published in the "Baghdad Now" weekly newspaper – circulation 200,000.  It was on democracy, the role of local government and the importance of a true democracy being driven by individuals in each community "for the people, of the people, and by the people".  Keep in mind democracy is a VERY foreign idea to these folks who have been conquered, occupied, and dominated for most of the last 500 years, first by the Ottomans, then the British and most recently Saddam.  Also, historically and culturally most decisions dating back to nomadic times were reserved for the family heads and key sheikhs. Religiously, a few powerful and key Imams and Ayatollahs make policy and give direction.

Baghdad Water – 38 sectors water.  If you haven’t already, please use google earth to take a look at Sadr City.  It is one giant rectangle subdivided. Well, this 21 million dollar project is the first of many joint ventures that will be co-managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Amanat (municipal workers), in this case the Baghdad Water Authority division of the Amanat.  For this project, we are hiring 10 contractors to work simultaneously in various sectors to put water networks in place including main road lines up to and including piping/network connections into approximately 50,000 buildings.  I was supposed to be simply observing at the most recent kick off meeting, but I had to intervene because the two groups were arguing about $25,000 worth of material testing. It was ludicrous.  I simply made everyone in the room realize how ridiculous it was to hold up and delay an important $21M infrastructure project over 25 grand.

When completed, it will provide water for 1 million people.

School Renovations (10 schools).  Mostly bathroom upgrades, but good time to do it while school is out.

Al Baladi Hospital (maternity hospital).  Still a work in progress and I plan on dropping off baby clothes and medical supplies there this month to the Chief Surgeon/Head Nurse.

Quickie Summer Projects.  I am currently soliciting bids for quick high impact projects (90 day projects) ranging from fuel stations to playground for kids. I am evaluating those and proposing them to the Sadr Council to prioritize and nominate some. Meeting the contractors/vendors this Saturday to discuss their ideas in person.

Micro-Finance Center. Right now this is my big economic push.  There is an international organization that is setting up these loan centers.  They provide small loans to small businesses and the poor. Bill Gates referenced this program in his recent press about Warren Buffett’s billions. Here is a link to the organization for those interested: a0/

Two items to add to the request list for this month: Old musical instruments and paint sets (coloring books are great).  The woman I mentioned above goes to the orphanages and finds talented youngsters and she is trying to start a special art and music school just for them. Clothes, school supplies, and vitamins (generic are fine) are a big hit – keep them coming.

My Address:
Thomas J. Deierlein
HHC 506th RCT, 101st ABN DIV
A/414 CA BN FOB Loyalty
APO, AE  09390

Take care all.  Have a fun and SAFE weekend.  Take joy and run to WalMart or wherever – buy the biggest and best fireworks you can get – I still win – I KNOW that what I carry on my vest everyday beats your best this year


Comments are closed.