(Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a three-part examination of the consequences of the Obama Administration’s Iraq policy through the eyes of those who were on the ground in Iraq.)
As the 45th President of the United States acclimates to the swamp that is Washington, DC, he will do what every Commander-in-Chief before has done: inherit the unfinished business of his predecessor. In the baton pass from Barack Obama to President Trump, a veritable mountain of postponed, muddled and unsystematic military strategy in Iraq is a pressing issue that the new administration must tackle head-on. Of immediate and paramount importance in terms of trouble ahead is dealing with – or eradicating — the terrorist organization known as ISIS.
To better understand the way forward, Liberty Nation will explore the evolution of this situation and the consequences of the Obama Administration’s Iraq policy through the eyes of those who were on the ground in Iraq. In this three-part series, we plan to provide you three different perspectives: that of an active duty Army officer, a civilian contractor, and a Former Marine who volunteered to fight ISIS on his own dime.
In part one today meet Captain P, Army Officer and veteran of the Iraq War. As CPT P. is currently active duty, it is important to remember that the following opinions are his own and not reflective of the sentiments of the United States Army. Per his request, we refer to him only by last initial.
LN: CPT P, tell us a little about your career.
CPT P: I have been in the Army for six years, seven in May, and I am thirty-one. I joined after college, enlisting with the intent to go to Officer Candidate School. After OCS, I completed BOLC (Basic Officer Leader Course), Airborne School, and reported to my unit.
LN: And you deployed soon after, correct?
CPT P: Yes. I deployed within one month of arrival to my first unit in the 82d Airborne Division. The rest of the Brigade had left while I was in Airborne School, and I met my company and platoon upon arrival. The deployment was to Iraq, in support of Operation New Dawn, the drawdown.
LN: What year was that?
CPT P: 2011.
LN: So, it is 2011, your first unit and first deployment, and you are fresh out of training. That must have been challenging.
CPT P: It was challenging, but no more than any new officer getting to his or her first duty station and leadership position. The extra few weeks of training and view of the Division itself was invaluable. It helped my confidence, which I would need to travel to Iraq, as an individual.
LN: You said you arrived during the drawdown. How did that affect your unit? What was our mission?
CPT P: My company’s specific mission was area maintenance support for the Al Anbar province. However, the maintenance requirements steadily increased as more units left the theater. As far affecting the unit, it allowed my soldiers and I to meet and interact with many other active duty, national guard, and reserve units, as well as Iraqi maintenance units. That gave us all a unique perspective.
However, due to the shuffling of higher units, and the nature of a general support mission, most of the maintenance was done on a person to person level, as opposed to a unit or organizational level. More like a Pep Boys than a commercial fleet maintenance service.
LN: Interesting. You mentioned working with Iraqi units. What was that like?
CPT P: The Iraqi units that we worked closely with were very helpful and very happy to have whatever supplies we could give them. Working with them did cost me about three pairs of sunglasses, but the experience was very positive.
LN: How proficient were these units? Did you find yourself in a training role? How reliant were they on US support?
CPT P: I can only speak to their support units, but their allied trades and electronics repairers were very competent and professional. Well trained is a bit of a sliding scale, as their maintainers simply did not have the opportunities to learn, that our incoming soldiers do. But they quickly picked up on any training we gave and made great strides.
I was not personally in a training role, however, one of the warrant officers and several of the soldiers on my platoon lived and worked with the Iraqi Army over a six-week period. They were not particularly reliant on US support; however, we are much better supplied and they were very grateful for anything we could give them.
LN: Thanks for the clarification. What were some specific challenges your unit faced?
CPT P: Vehicles were at a premium in the drawdown, which was a bit strange since there were so many lying fallow. The main vehicles we had were for missions, the RG33 MRAPs. Getting around on base was done on foot, typically. Although there were some exceptions. My maintenance shop had an F-350 used to pick up parts, the supply section had a small local truck, a Chevy LUV, to make supply runs, and the Company Command Team had a Trailblazer.
Since we were a stationary maintenance point, most of the time, the lack of transportation was not an issue. Units would bring their vehicles to us. But as units were convoying out of the country, the need to move around the battlespace became greater. Broken down vehicles became more of a problem, and the time to tow them to our area just wasn’t there. So, I had to spend quite a bit of time securing civilian, work trucks, or signing for abandoned Suburban to put tool boxes in.
LN: It seems like you were stuck with cleaning up the mess left by departing units.
CPT P: It wasn’t as much of a mess as just the mess that comes with a lot of moving pieces and not a lot of thought put into the support plan at the tactical level.
LN: I’d like to go back to the point you made about perspective and the lack of thought put into the logistics of the drawdown. In your mind, was the drawdown rushed and were the Iraqis ready to handle things on their own?
CPT P: I feel like it was very rushed. I feel that there could have been a more concerted effort to drawdown over a period of a few more years. And while I can’t speak to the tactical situation, the actual fighting was getting better, it seemed.
LN: With everything that we’ve seen developing in the years since then, the rise of ISIS, the return of US forces, etc. what do you think went wrong?
CPT P: I feel like the quick drawdown gave power to negative elements that had been sitting beneath the surface. Had American forces stayed in the country even in a reduced manner, they could have discouraged the negative presence.
LN: So, what’s the answer?
CPT P: I still think that a permanent garrison, while unpopular, is the right answer.
LN: If you broke it, stay and fix it?
CPT P: Exactly. We have inserted ourselves into so many issues, it is irresponsible to leave.
LN: Interesting perspective to be sure. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, and thank you for your service.
CPT P: You were worth it. Thank you for having me.
CPT P’s experiences illustrate the rushed nature of Former President Obama’s politically driven decision to withdraw from Iraq, despite the advice of top generals. In our next installment, we’ll meet Jon Harris, who served as a civilian contractor in both Afghanistan and Iraq handling explosive detection dogs.