Iraq: Another Viewpoint about the war

Istvan Simon writes: A friend of mine forwarded  me an e-mail from Col. Michael Howard, originally sent to his Friends and Family. Apparently, this e-mail, like Wall Street reporter  Farnaz Fassihi's e-mail has found a life of it's own on the Internet and wider distribution --that's how it reached me too. Col. Howard is currently deployed in
Iraq. His words touched me deeply, and I wrote to him asking if he would authorize me to forward his  e-mail to WAIS, where I think his words would be  a valuable counterpoint to the view expressed in Miss Fassihi's e-mail.  I quote from his response:

Thank you for your support and encouragement. There are so many good things going on here in the new Iraq that we are sometimes disappointed when the media gets fixated on the negative. Oh well, they have a bias and an agenda. Just wish they could focus on the facts like professional journalists do. Yes, you are more than welcome to share the story of our recent combat patrol. As a Marine, I most wanted to share this great story of our fellow Soldier comrades at arms with other Marines who don't always get to work as closely with the Army as I do. I believe the term "One Team One Fight" says it best on the way both services approach this war (between our Army & USMC, we take 98% of the casualties ... Navy & Air Force run 1% each). All the credit for the tough Grunt work goes to that young Marine or Army rifleman on the front line of freedom. America must always realize that these are the wonderful patriotic kids who have kept the wolves away from America's front door for some 230 years! Again, thank you for your patriotic support as we work to help the wonderful Iraqi people reclaim their fascinating, historic nation. If there was any message I'd like to ask you to convey it is simply this: "Freedom Isn't Free."

The message that Col. Howard wishes us to remember, often quoted, "Freedom is not Free" is something that
all of us must ponder. For the price for our freedom is undoubtedly being paid by men like Col. Howard.  I  gratefully acknowledge this. But perhaps even more important is his opening quote in his original letter , the famous words of Edmund Burke: ""The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

 Just today the subject of Mengele's drowning  in Brazil was mentioned in WAIS.  I was in Brazil when Mengele drowned, and Burke's wise words apply to that event perfectly. For Mengele could not have died as he did, if
men of conscience had brought him to justice for the unspeakable crimes that  he committed against humanity. Instead, this disgraceful unconscionable callous monster was harbored and aided by people  in both Paraguay and Brazil, which allowed him to go swimming in the ocean in Santos that day, uconcerned about the millions of poor defenseless unfortunates, mostly children and babies, or  those infirm, that he so callously and indifferently sent to their deaths with a flick of his finger. How could they aid such a man?

Col. Howard's original e-mail follows: It is late and I am very tired, but I really want to share my yesterday with you as it was unique. I hope it will shed some light on what America is accomplishing here in Iraq.  I had arranged through an Army buddy here at Camp Victory to accompany a combat patrol with his old unit, specifically under a lieutenant he had trained with a special unit here. It is called "Task Force Iron Claw" of the 1st Cavalry Division, and consists of a platoon of soldiers in five vehicles: four up-armored HMMMWVs (High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles or simply Hummers) and one huge Buffalo: a wonderful South African designed anti-mine vehicle.

After 30 years as a USMC combat engineer, I never get tired of seeing and observing how our young Marines and Soldiers operate. In the military we have a fancy term for it: TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures). Here in Iraq, we not only have a wide range of new equipment which we have collected from duty experts like Israel and
South Africa), but we also have a committed enemy who will do anything to defeat freedom. Their "TTPs" always endeavor to meet and surpass ours and they can be creative … lately, they have resorted to using even garage door openers as devices for setting off their Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). One of my main jobs as the senior USMC engineer at the Army HQ here (in the C-7 Engineer section) is to make sure that the USMC and Army are sharing this info and comparing notes (yes, Marines and Soldiers on the front line genuinely like each other)!

I was up at 0400 and with my complete "Battle Rattle" (flak jacket, helmet, war gear and extra ammo) reported to the assembly area of 3rd Platoon, Company A (Alpha Co), 458th Engineer Battalion, commanded by 1st Lt Ryan Strong, from Des Moines, Iowa (where Lynn spent her first year of college; while his wife is from Tucson, Arizona, where I was born). Small world.

I was introduced to his entire 22 Soldier platoon (I don't say "man" platoon as their medic was a young female, Sgt Burkheiser (22) who is exactly in between the ages of Jessica and Rachel, my two oldest daughters). I also point this out as 22 is the average age of Soldiers and Marines serving here in Iraq. The average would be much lower but for old farts like me!

Following a very professional mission brief, we loaded up (yes, I got to ride in the Buffalo most of the way) and got to work.  Shortly after departing, some 5 miles outside our camp, our staggered column's lead vehicle noticed a suspicious box by the side of the road. This is where the Buffalo comes in. It has many capabilities (some I can't talk about … as unique electronic tricks that help us defeat the bad guys) but one great one is a huge arm which allows us
to investigate at a distance, any suspicious item that could be an IED (these can be under curbs, behind barriers, inside animal carcasses, under garbage, inside vehicles, … you name it, the enemy will try it, and then some). The Buffalo has an external Vee shaped hull with thick armor & glass, so as to deflect a large explosion. We have a precious amount of them here supporting Marines and Soldiers (and we are getting more). Buffalos have been damaged, but they have a great record for protecting their crews. The huge arm swung out (it is also equipped with a camera) and its claw gingerly inspected the box … in this case innocent trash. What I was impressed with was not just the skill of this Buffalo crew in handling their equipment, but also their knowledge, experience and memory of this specific road and area. When they found IEDs (and we find a high percentage of those out there) it was almost always due to their natural eyesight and "combat experience" at judging the situation.

We spent the next eight hours, covering over 100 miles, doing this "routine" (there is nothing routine about a combat patrol IED sweep where bad guys want to kill you). By the end of the day, we had been attacked once by mortars while north of Baghdad near the town of Taji.  We had found a 120mm mortar IED and marked it for destruction by an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team in trace. And we had made sure that our supply convoys had a much safer series of roads to negotiate. The TTPs of these young Army soldiers was impressive and we got safely back to Camp Victory. I also want to point out that this is an Army reserve unit out of Johnstown, Ohio. "Weekend Warriors" who have been on active duty over a year.

1st Lieutenant Ryan W. Strong used to be a sergeant, until identified and mentored by my Army buddy here in the C-7. He exemplifies to me what is best about US Army leadership at the lower level … he knows his job, does his job, knows his Soldiers, and takes care of them while accomplishing a dangerous series of missions over a very long year.  These are the kids I brag about, for they do all America asks of them and more! They are doing the heavy lifting on the front lines of freedom!  As an old guy, I walked away from this as I have from similar USMC units back in my old command, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, which still has reserve units serving out west of us here in support of 1st Marine Division. This young generation has what it takes, and I am proud and privileged to serve with them, support them, and in this case, tell a small part of their story.

On a sad note, when I returned to my billeting area (we call it Dodge City), I found out that soon after I had left that morning, a series of enemy 127mm rockets had slammed into our area. These mortar and rocket attacks occur several times a week and we grow used to them and their usual inaccuracy. But sometimes the enemy gets lucky, as they did in this case. One was a direct hit on a trailer about 100 yards from mine. A young Army sergeant was KIA and 8 of his buddies WIA (two seriously). Please remember them in prayer.  Hope this has made sense to most of you. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. We are very busy and the pace will pick up. Thank you for your faithful support.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 25, 2004