Thursday, December 4, 2008

Looking at Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays and even over in Iraq we find ways to celebrate it. We after all do have much to be thankful for. When one sees the glaring poverty of Iraq and the sheer desperation in their lives (all this existed under Saddam as well), one cannot help but to feel particularly blessed to be an American.

As Americans we naturally feel compassion for them and seek to help them. It is quite typical these days to trash “American imperialism” and also the “selfish spirit of America”, I know I have certainly done the latter; but it isn’t necessarily true. Just witness the response of Americans to a Tsunami in SE Asia or to Hurricane Katrina and one does see the decency of the American people. We give to charity like no other people on earth (except for Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore) and always seek to help out. The charge of “American Imperialism” is really quite laughable and not even worthy of a response (sorry Pat Buchanan).

My Thanksgiving was certainly an eventful day. In the morning I went down to one of our JCOPs (Joint Combat Out-Posts) with my NCOIC and our Law Enforcement Contractor. We went down in the out-going duty platoons vehicles and arrived at the JCOP. The JCOP is Joint because one side of the facility is American, the other side is Iraqi. This is counter-insurgency in a nutshell and an example of the tactics implemented by GEN Petraeus during the surge.

The purpose of my visit to the JCOP was to link-up with CPT Mohammad (not his real name) at the Iraqi side of the JCOP. My team and I walked from the American side into the Iraqi side and met up with CPT Mohammad. After the usual exchange of pleasantries which lasted close to twenty minutes and included the drinking of chai tea (he likes it very, very sweet) we talked targeting. It is important to recognize that as Iraqis, the Iraqi Army has an enormous advantage over us when it comes to working with the local native population. We had an excellent discussion and exchange of ideas and gradually the conversation came to a close. After bidding farewells, we walked back across to the American side of the JCOP.

Our ride back to FOB Warhorse was in the battalion TAC. My battalion commander was circulating through all the JCOPs to talk to soldiers and to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. He spent roughly two hours at each JCOP talking with soldiers and the company commanders. This is personal leadership and definitely plays a role in the soldier’s reaction to orders from the leadership. I was able to see quite a bit of the AO (area of operations) during our circulation from the air guard hatch as well.

At one of the COPs, the Division Commander (MND-N) flew in on a Blackhawk to re-enlist two soldiers. There in a dusty Combat Outpost in Iraq, two soldiers committed additional years to the United States and the Army. As the General noted, less than 3% of Americans do this. It merely highlights what an exclusive and self-selecting club the United States military is. It is a sad fact that more do not choose to serve, but it does mean that those that do are the committed ones, the patriotic ones, the best ones (it sure as heck beats a conscript military any-day).

The last JCOP of the day was where we had Thanksgiving Dinner. After serving chow to the enlisted soldiers, we enjoyed our own Thanksgiving dinner (a Turkey cutlet, crab legs, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, and cranberry sauce) at the little dining facility building they have constructed on their tiny COP. To add to the atmosphere of the day we ate by TAC Light (Tac Lights are small flashlights attached to the M4 for night operations and room clearing). The power had been lost to the building, so weapons were propped up on the table, and their tac lights turned on.

In that wonderful atmosphere, we had a hearty Thanksgiving meal. We certainly enjoyed ourselves and it was a good Thanksgiving dinner. Nothing beats dinner at home with the family, but it was a decent second. After that the officers pulled up some chairs beneath the stars on a back porch and smoked (cigars) and joked. Then it was time to mount up and return to FOB Warhorse.

All in all, it was a memorable Thanksgiving. It was definitely the most unique one I’ve experienced in my life. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving too and had time during the day (between football games and gorging) to give thanks for the blessings in your life.

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