John Matel Goes to Iraq

I am going to Iraq to be a provincial reconstruction team leader in Al Anbar province.  I am starting this blog to keep track of my experience.  Maybe it will be interesting to people who know me.

This is John Negroponte and me at a meeting of PRT personnel.  I am the bald guy (among bald guys) in the lighter colored suit.

Follow this link for the NPR story with one of my comments.

Why I Volunteered to Go to Iraq
In thinking about why I decided to go to Iraq, I decided first to eliminate things that were NOT key factors.  I do not feel pushed to go to Iraq.  On the contrary, I am happy with my life in Virginia.  My family is great.  I have a job I love, probably the best job I have ever held.  I own a home, a forest & just about everything I really need or want.  Money is not a problem for me anymore.  My retirement is reasonably secure.  The State Department did not push me to go.  On the contrary, I got to my current job for the next two years and one of my biggest regrets has been that I am leaving bosses and colleagues who want me to stay. 

So what is pulling me to Iraq? 

Patriotism is my biggest pull.  I feel a little embarrassed to put this front and center.  Our ironic age tends to dismiss these sorts of things.  It is not the patriotism of the Sousa music and the grand parades.  Perhaps more a call of duty.   It is something I should do.  Others are doing their part; it is time for me to do mine.  I supported an aggressive policy in Iraq back in 2003.  It did not play out as I hoped, but I think there is still a good chance for success.  Beyond that, the consequences of failure are terrible.  My contribution to this success will be small, but we all need to make our small contributions to make big things happen.

Professional growth is my second reason.  The PRT job description sounds exciting.  Leading a multifunctional team like this is what my experience prepared me to do and it is the kind of opportunity you cannot get anywhere else.  A person should do what he does well.  My FS career has been good, but it is almost over.  I doubt I would ever have another opportunity to lead an operation overseas, certainly doing nothing as complex or important as the PRT leader.  

I do not see this as an opportunity for career success IN the FS.  I cannot think of many jobs in the FS that I still want.  Unlike most of my colleagues, I have not made the big deal for the follow on dream job.  In fact, I have not even bid at all on any positions at State after Iraq.   I plan to retire at the end of 2008.  I do hope that this experience will help me with a post FS life.  However, it will be indirect.  

I cannot leave out the money I will make.  State Department gives significant financial incentives for service in Iraq.   But money is not a motivator.  I am not doing this for the money, but I think that w/o the money I would feel like some kind of chump.  It is what organization behavior people call a “hygiene factor”, something you need to have to go forward, but not something that causes the action.  I will try to save almost all the additional money for retirement (Chrissy will be able to put her TSP to the maximum.   Mine is already there @ 10%) or forestry.  For example, I am already getting some wildlife plots put onto my land.   W/o the Iraq money I could not afford to do that.

In summary, my reasons are complex.  I am not sure myself why I am doing it.  I suppose that I will have lots of time to think about these things in Iraq.  Frankly, that is also one of the draws – time to think.  My predecessor tells me that the job consists of periods of intense and sometimes scary activity punctuated by periods of profound boredom.   My quarters are a 9×17 shipping container (w/o a bathroom) in the middle of a desert.  I figure this will create some forced introspection.  In the past, whenever I have been in these lonely and/or disrupted situations, I have come up with some new ideas that have worked out.
I am not very worried about being killed or seriously wounded.  I understand the danger and am aware of the risks, but I also can figure the odds.  I could be wrong.  If that does happen, I will have led a good life and gone out when things were still good. 

That is the story so far.  My year in Iraq is about to start; let’s see how it ends.