Stability Operations

I got stuck in back of an old fashioned at-grade crossing on the road to Quantico.  This is not something you see too much anymore.    I didn’t like the wait, but there is something cool about watching the freight train roll by.   I watched dozens of truck trailers go by loaded on flat cars, as well as the usual box cars and containers.   Rail is a more efficient way to move freight.   It saves energy and gets lots of trucks off the road.

I went down there again to take part in a stability workshop to help the next group of Marines prepare for their time in Anbar.   I told them what I could, but my Anbar is not the Anbar they will face.   There will also be a lot fewer Marines.  We have been drawing down over the past year and will continue to do this, so one of the big questions was what will happen when the Marines are gone or mostly gone.   I don’t know how much of my experience on the ePRT will transfer in this specific situation, but I shared what I could. 

We were successful over the past year.   I think the key to success was the close cooperation between the Marines and our ePRT members.   I couldn’t explain formal reasons for that.  I think a lot  of it was the serendipity of personalities that meshed well.   I also had the advantage of having an office across from the Colonel on the command deck.  We had plenty of opportunities to run into each other and talk informally.   We agreed that ePRT members must be full members of the team.  That meany going out with the Marines and among the Iraqis.   We are not fighters and we should not take unnecessary chances, but it is our job too to be out there, not hunkered down behind the wire.   

We, Marines & ePRT members, also developed good relations with the Iraqis because we got there at the right time and I think we genuinely got to like at empathize with them.   Most at least.  I told the group that I don’t know how to make that happen, but some attitudes help.

Sometimes perception is reality.   When ePRT civilians were seen in talking to people in marketplaces or on the streets, it gave the Iraqis a feeling that things were getting safer.    Sometimes just being there is the accomplishment.   If you hang around long enough and behave well, people just get used to you.   There is no magic, just persistence.

Iraqis in general are not hostile to us, but it is a hard situation when foreign troops are hanging around your country.   We need to show respect for the Iraqis and demand respect from them.  Failure on either side of this equation is a mistake.   We have to recognize that Iraq was once better than it is today.  That was a long time ago, but people appreciate it if you recall it to put the current situation in context.  It also gives hope for the future.   Eye contact is very important.  A simple think like taking off your sun glasses goes a long way.    I shared these and other little insights.   None of them is very profound, but taken together they form a decent tool set.

Partnership is the key: partnership of the ePRT with the Marines and partnership with the Iraqis.  Nobody accomplishes anything alone.    If you work with others in this kind of way, you usually don’t get exactly what you planned, but what you get is usually better.    Anyway, that’s the gist.

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One more thing, somebody used an analogy of taking Lipitor to describe a quick fix solution, i.e. somebody takes Lipitor for cholesterol w/o addressing the root causes.   I disagree with the analogy.  I started taking Lipitor a few years ago and it did a good job of lowering my cholesterol.   I think of it as a ham sandwich surcharge.  For pennies a day, I get to eat many of those foods I like.  I see it as a sustainable solution.     I requested a different analogy.