In Iraq for my second tour in just over 3 years, I find myself and my charges contemplating the current state of affairs. The situation on the ground is vastly improved from when I was last here, which is a good thing – dare I say a sign of success? But successes across the country have led to a definitive slow down within my sphere of influence, in some circumstances, outright boredom. Boredom at the war brings with it a multitude of problems, albeit in most cases, good problems to solve. When things are slow in my world, it means that the situation in Iraq is far closer to where we want it to be (peaceful, orderly, democratic… etc., for those who aren’t exactly tuned in). It means our Warriors and as importantly, the Iraqis are achieving those signs of normalcy that we so cherish in the United States. In many ways my current challenge is to fight boredom without turning on the “make stuff up” switch and trying to limit the “Crisis du Jour” – “I don’t know what it is, but we have one every day…..”
For the obligatory who am I, and from what basis do I speak. I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the North Carolina Army National Guard, with just over 25 years of service to our great nation. I’ve been on Active Duty and in the National Guard as both an Enlisted Soldier and Officer. I have spent the majority of, if not all of my career in the Aviation Branch in one form or another. In an attempt to avoid the dreaded military jargon that is so often unintelligible to the civilian populace, I’ll try to equate most of what I do to the civilian world – for hopefully they’re the ones reading this. (That may be probably the only ones reading this since the military limits access to blogs due to bandwidth concerns in the military IT infrastructure – at least that’s the party line!) For a time, I was a traditional National Guardsman with a civilian job, but found myself doing both about 50% of what I thought I should be, so I chose the Guard and a full time vocation. I am currently the Director of Operations and Training for an Aviation Brigade comprised of several thousand Soldiers and numerous helicopters – of all types. I am also fortunate enough to fly several of those helicopters – the UH60 Blackhawk (flew last time I was here), and the AH64D Longbow Apache (currently flying across the skies of Iraq). The two types of helicopters have completely different and absolutely essential missions to the current fight. Fortunately, I think flying them both over here has given me a tremendous appreciation of the range and breadth of missions going on over here and absolute and total respect for our Warriors from all the services who leave secure bases daily on the ground in order to accomplish the mission.
On the home-front, I live in Cary, North Carolina and am married to a strong, wonderful woman, Jennifer and have two of the best children ever – Jordan Taylor and William Charles. Yes, everyone thinks their kids are the best, but I really believe it. The sacrifices that our families, friends, and loved ones endure as a result of our chosen profession, can never be underestimated, and are truly a combat multiplier for all of us here. In many ways they have the toughest part of the war and should be recognized and cherished for what they do. Knowing that “all is well” though often times it’s not, allows us to focus on the task at hand. I’m sure most of our Warriors feel the same way, and I pay constant tribute to what those on the home front continue to do while we’re at the war.
As for being at the war, there are definitive differences from the last time I was here, clear improvements and a significant change to the mindset and attitudes of those people (US and Iraqi alike) that I come into contact with. But we are still “at the war”, and Iraq is still a dangerous place, in some quarters more so than others, though by any objective assessment, far and away less dangerous, less violent, and clearly more prosperous then years past.
The first time I flew into Iraq in early 2005, I was struck by a few things: the sheer magnitude of the irrigation systems (some as old as biblical times – yes, the Fertile Crescent) that made up the vast agricultural landscape, and how a mud hut (possibly as old as biblical times, but certainly built in the same manner) could support a satellite antenna. I was also struck by in a country this size how few automobiles and people were out and about. Though slowly growing in numbers during my last tour, my first flight in country this time put an immediate end to the notion there were not many people or cars as one would have thought. As an Army Aviator, I am able to have a unique perspective as I fly across Iraq. Flying the friendly (or more aptly – semi-friendly) skies of Iraq allows me to see most of the country at one point or another and to a point, whether it be city, country, or desert – there are exponentially more people out and an almost unbelievable number of cars. (I won’t go into the driving habits of Iraqis, that would take an entire webpage and several hours, but suffice to say lanes painted on the roads, road signs, and even directions of travel are but mere suggestions most likely not to be heeded).
While us Americans, and most in the global economy are experiencing a slowdown in the building sector, that certainly does not pertain to Iraq! There is a veritable building boom going on here, and no, it’s not just on the military bases. I’ve had the opportunity to track the progress as entire apartment blocks are built, new neighborhoods rise of the arid landscape, and infrastructure is put in place to support it all – absolutely definitive signs of progress. Please don’t ask me why if we can advise and assist the Iraqis in their building boom, we are having so much trouble in the US, that’s opening way too political of a door, and although my world may be somewhat slow, it’s nowhere near slow enough to go down that path …..
Yes, slow in my world is good, that means that bad people aren’t doing bad things to good people, at least not that often. It means that our Iraqi partners are getting it done and we’re stepping back to advise and assist. It means that the conditions are being, and have been set for success in this endeavor. During a somewhat slow period just the other day, I had the opportunity to watch a “talking head” on some news show. I turned it on half way through the conversation with the other supreme intellects on the show and only caught the part where he justified us leaving Iraq immediately because the Iraqis had a successful election and the threats just weren’t here anymore. In some ways I don’t disagree, as a matter of fact, the closer we get to boredom is the closer we get to going home. But slowness and boredom can also be fleeting and can turn to the “Crisis du Jour” without notice, very violently and rapidly. Unbelievably, I was tracking with this gentleman right up until he said it did not matter that Saddam Hussein was no longer the Dictator of Iraq. What …?!?
I’ll close with my own personal “moment of Zen” – the epitome of slowness. I was flying over- head security and reconnaissance in that tandem seated, all weather, day, night, freedom fighter, chariot of death – also known as the AH64D Longbow Apache. A convoy of our Warriors was on the ground executing one of their daily missions on the roads of Iraq, with their Iraqi partners – again those who are getting it done on a daily basis outside the wire, those who are on the ground have my unwavering respect. As I flew forward of the patrol, clearing their way, I came across a gathering of people close to a traffic circle that they were soon to pass through, and became somewhat concerned. Generally, a gathering of people near a convoy is not such a good thing on the good/bad scale of convoy things. But in developing the situation, I was able to utilize my sight systems to zoom into what was happening, and to a pleasant surprise I found a playground. That gathering of people was families at a playground! No different than me and my wife taking our two little monkeys to Bond Park on a Saturday afternoon. I was momentarily taken back; I had immediately thought the worst (of course then my Warrior/Freedom Fighter side took over and I told myself how good it was of me to be wary in support of our Warriors on the ground). As soon as I got over myself and my internal conflict, I reflected that Iraq had changed, certainly in that time and space, and continues on a path where slowness and boredom will be the only fight in sight.
Lt. Col. Brian Pierce, Task Force 449 Operations Officer, is currently serving in Baghdad. Pierce, a Cary, N.C. native, has been in the Army for more than 25 years and flies AH64D Longbow Apache Helicopters across Iraq.