Forward Operating Base in Haditha

I am piling on a couple of days, so please look below and above.

It was lucky that I made this travel error.  I got to see an FOB before I was a VIP.  When the captain at the FOB came to understand that I would be PRT leader and not just a member he was a little circumspect.  My predecessor is an OC, which translates to a two star general.  I assured the captain that I was a significantly lower rank and that he need not worry, but I can see that when I travel as PRT leader people will make special preparations.  Good to see the real world first.

This FOB is firmly ensconced with the Iraqi police in the district.  Cooperation looks good.  When I arrived, they were running some sort of readiness exercise and evidently doing very well.   The Marine captain from Florida respected the Iraqis and seemed to get it back from them.  He explained that the local Sheiks had allowed/instructed their young men to join the police and the military.   Many at the station were kin.  The captain compared that to an extended Boston family where many of the relations are cops and some branch off into municipal affairs.

The police I saw running the exercise using radios and plotting things on maps and charts looked professional and competent.  They were neat and their building was as neat as possible.  It does need renovation.  Many of the buildings were casualties of war.  There was a lot of fighting here in Haditha, first between U.S. and insurgents, later insurgents and Iraqis, then the Marines and the insurgents.  This place was essentially lost, but now it is returned thanks to good Iraqis, the Marines, the terribleness of the insurgents and good luck.  

I spent the night with the Marines on a hard cot.  I did not want to make too much noise.  These guys work hard and deserve their sleep.   I figured the Marines could defend themselves, and me too.  I did not want to interfere with their fighting prowess in any way.   

We were up early the next day.   I talked to a Marine sergeant  from NC who told me the way things were in Haditha. It had been a real war zone just months ago.  The Marines kicked out the bad guys and then stayed to get to know the good Iraqis.  As the Marines got close to the people, they got to know who the bad guys were.  They also learned to tell threatening from normal local behavior.  The local Iraqis learned the same things about the Marines.  Trust, or at least predictability, was the result.  Attacks have dropped to almost none.  The latest was a roadside bomb that managed only to kill a 70 year old man.  This just made the local Iraqis angrier at the insurgents.  No Americas or Iraqi forces where even nearby.  It was probably a terrorist mistake.

With security comes peace and then projects.  The Marines, Iraqis and various others, including our PRT, are rebuilding infrastructure.  Fresh water and power are priorities.  Life is assuming a normality.  After a war, people appreciate normality.   

The young sergeant was truly impressive in his understanding of human affairs.  That is him in the picture.  You can see the real warrior and the State Department version.   It might be hard to tell the difference, but try.

We set off in a Humvee column to Haditha Dam.  There is a bigger base there.  The Marines guard the dam.  This was my first convoy, so I was afraid of everything as I looked out the window.  We passed some boys, who smiled and waved.  I was scared.  We passed some rocks.  I was scared.  We passed some … you get the idea.  But the trip was completely uneventful. 

Haditha is not attractive these days, but probably will be all right when it is fixed up.   The area near the Euphrates is green, with fields and palm trees.  The green stops abruptly and turns to desert, where nothing at all grows.  There is no transition.  It is either green or yellow-brown dirt and rocks.  I prefer green.