Disconnecting the Flow
2 Jun 2004 1210 hours
(Note: I changed the Iraqi names for security reasons)
Over the past few days, I have had direct contact with local nationals. The Army pays men $5 a day to pick-up trash, fill sand bags, and place the sandbags where we tell them. Most of the Iraqis that show up are 15-18 years old. There physique is much smaller than that of the average American soldier. They have very little mass on their visually weak skeleton. I hesitate to call them "kids". There is experience in their eyes. They have seen things that few people where I come from can relate to.
Given the proper motivation and direction, they work very hard. There was one kid, Rami, who wore old sandals. One of his toenails was broken with a blood blister formed under it. He had several cuts on his feet from the jagged rocks. He asked for shoes. One of the soldiers who I assigned to supervise the Iraqis had recently purchased new running shoes. He gave his old ones, which were serviceable, to Rami. The kid told me he would come back the next day to work for us again.
The next day's batch of workers arrived in a large group. I began to search the ground, looking for the shoes from the day before. Rami was standing there, proud of his shoes, smiling when he saw me looking for them. I gave him thumbs up and pointed him into my work group. He works diligently the entire workday, only resting during the breaks I scheduled.
The first time I made contact with the workers was challenging. Every time I said something to one person, all of the workers would quickly come over and try to be a part of the exchange. But quickly another local, Dilshad, has made himself a "boss" by providing leadership. The task is simple, fill sand bags, put them on a truck, American soldiers move the truck where the bags are needed, then the Iraqis stack them where necessary. Dilshad has shown that he is capable of keeping the others from slacking off and gets the mission done smoothly. I allow him to direct the work force because he increases efficiency. Now, everyone knows to go to Dilshad if they have questions.
I brought each worker a bottle of cold water at the end of the day, and a Pepsi for Dilshad. Another Iraqi, Hassam-Sali, asked for shoes a few days ago. We only had one pair of shoes the other day; Rami's feet were in worse condition. I called Monika, my wife, and explained the situation. Most of the Iraqis wear dilapidated sandals that afford little protection for their feet. The shoes that Americans give out are appreciated, and worn on a daily basis. Several workers show up wearing old desert boots or black Army boots. I have some old shoes in the basement that she mailed out. She also called her workplace, School Age Services, in Schweinfurt and started a shoe collection program.
I showed Hassam-Sami a picture of Monika and explained that it would be a few weeks before the shoes arrive. He smiled and vowed to work hard every day. He told me that I am his friend and made the symbol with his fingers. I just want him to fill sandbags and go home. It has been over 110 degrees every day for the past week. If giving them shoes will help them work harder, by all means, give them some Air Jordans.
I drove a Hummer to the front gate yesterday to pick up my workers. My Point of Contact at the gate told me that the workers were outside the FOB and would be in shortly. We arranged for a meeting place to divide them into work groups. I saw the Iraqi dump trucks outside of the gate, heaping with Iraqi workers. It would be about 10 minutes. I informed my POC that I was heading over to the local national shop to buy a Coke, and then meet him at the exchange point. (Note: the local national shop is on the FOB; next to the "px") I turned the Hummer around and drove away. A few minutes later, I heard a massive explosion and saw smoke rising in the direction of the front gate. I headed back to the gate to see what was going on. From the safety of the FOB I saw the aftermath of the carnage. A suicide bomber drove a car laden with explosive toward the front gate of the FOB. It exploded only a few meters away from the dump trucks and ICDC personnel; many were lost. Many Iraqis were killed, including members of the ICDC, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. As a matter of fact, only Iraqis were killed. I was informed that the total number of dead is at least 11, 32 wounded; one reliable source said that the number has climbed to 17. I do not know the exact number; I think that is irrelevant anyway. It does not matter if 1 or 10 were killed. Some of the dead were the workers coming to the FOB. What kind of sick fuck kills innocent people deliberately? The workers had been quickly shuffled into a holding area. I saw Dilshad, he approached me with wide eyes. He said, "no work today, no work today", in a voice that I can only describe as petrified. I told him that we were not going to have them work and to standby for instructions.
My heart sank as I looked at the group of young Iraqis. Their eyes did not show emotion. I expected to see fear, hate, rage, or loss in their expression. They have been through so much in their lives; they just stood still waiting to see what we were going to do with them. I was told that one of the Iraqis lost a brother in the attack. They were supposed to feel safe with us overwatching them. It was such an ugly moment; unable to change the course that evil took.
None of the workers showed up at the gate today. How am I supposed to give Hassam-Sali his shoes?
Posted by Critt Jarvis at 07:36 AM | Permalink
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Phillip, we in the states heard aout the car bomb and are saddened to hear that these Iraqis you have been working with were killed, and that many were injured. We also know that two American soldiers were injured; our prayers go out to their families and loved ones. Please know that we pray for you and the rest of our men and women who are in Summerall, that God will protect you and keep you in peace. I will send athletic shoes in the next care package to my son for one of the workers.
Posted by: Kim Spangrude | Jun 3, 2004 8:48:37 AM
It's sad when soldiers work so hard on the ground, have to do ALL the work of "connecting", and are forced to rely on their own families back home to provide things that ought to be considered to be basic rights and work prerequisites of those who are working for reconstruction.
Of all those billions going to various kinds of "reconstruction", one must ask "why after one year of US administration is there no organized way to ensure that those working for that administration have appropriate clothing for the work being done?" It speaks to the overall disorganization of the effort, the lack of planning by Rumsfeld and his staff (which took the entire matter out of the hands of the State Department which had planned reconstruction of Iraq for a decade) and the heroic (but hardly compensatory) devotion of those on the ground doing the actual work, from US, UK, Iraq and other countries. This is a fit body with no head.
Unfortunately, it is too easy for insurgents to point to the looting of the Baghdad Museum and liken it to the Mongol invasion in 1258 when the 36 public libraries in the city were destroyed - casting the US as invading, marauding, cultural destroyers or the direct facilitators of same.
Unfortunately, it is very easy for insurgents to point to the lack of water, lack of power, looting, lack of organized distribution of clothing and food relief, that has plagued some areas for the full year of the US/UK occupation.
It's hard to answer the claims that there are billions being spent on other things, and that the very top level of the US administration simply doesn't care about Iraqis' actual basic needs - even those working for it directly. It took a year for the insurgency to get to the point of making serious attacks that threaten the viability and credibility of the administration and reconstruction. During that year, if the advice of the UN, of MSF, of the Red Cross, etc., had been heeded, it is hard to imagine that the insurgents would have so many to recruit from now.
Even if most of the insurgents are actually foreigners, they'd be quickly rooted out and lose support if ALL the workers had shoes and medical treatment for their broken toenails, and if ALL those working for the administration directly in any capacity had a route to ask and receive help from those ostensibly in charge, funded to take care of these things, rather than having to ask the individual soldiers that they happen to work with. There must be literally millions of shoes and boots too worn for soldiers but just right for workers - why is this happening only one unit at a time? It's a certainty that those who sign up with Al Qaeda and the insurgents have shoes, clothes and every other tool to do the job they are asked to do: and, when they do it, they and their family receive some reward just as promised.
Most oppressive regimes have risen by being more honest and reliable in what they have promised to people than the more open and democratic ones that they replaced. For instance, the Nationalist Chinese lost China simply by being so corrupt that people seeking simple honesty and a straight forward deal were forced into the Communist camp. Similar story for South Viet Nam: the deal may have been lousy, but the Communists kept to it, and delivered on what was promised, little as it was.
Congress should be asking why its Iraqi employees in Iraq are begging for shoes from its soldiers, and what other aspects of human well-being and basic needs are being filled by compassionate individuals, instead of by the well-funded reconstruction effort that they have paid for.
Posted by: C. Hubley | Jun 3, 2004 2:45:27 PM
Craig, you have been alone for too long in the backwoods of Nova Scotia. It is not as simple as you would like to believe; don't you think Rami was used to wearing dilapidated old sandels, and just did not realize how great and comfortable American (oops, sorry-U.S.) tennis shoes were until he actually wore them? Yes, of course Iraqis are very poor and have basic needs that are not being met. Why do you think the military pays them $5 per day? Maybe to help them, maybe to build connection and relatedness? the soldiers are giving them tennis shoes from home as a perswonal gesture, which in my opinion goes a lot farther than if the military uniformly gave out tennis shoes, clothing, etc. I can't seem to find respect for a long-winded diatribe from a person who sits back in his comfy cabin in his private woods, and never really puts his money or body where his mouth is.
Posted by: Kim Spangrude | Jun 4, 2004 12:52:07 AM
I just want to thank Philip Jarvis for his letters. His observations of life and people around him, are what I want to know that you don't read in newspaper stories. My son there at Camp Summerall does not write home at all, doesn't have an email address, and only occasionally calls. The void of news is being filled by SSG Jarvis and the weblog Blue Star mom created for the families and soldiers of Camp Summerall. I thank you both. And thank goodness for the Internet!
Posted by: Denise La Lande | Jun 4, 2004 1:28:43 PM
Kim: Perhaps I was not clear, but I stand by what I said. When anyone hires people to do a military support task, proper medical attention, and equipment is part of what is owed in return. No, $5/day is not adequate to pay for the risks they undertake, but then, no amount would be, and what the soldiers are paid is not adequate either. I am concerned more with the question of protective equipment, the image it projects, and what that says about reconstruction priorities or management competence, to enemies and to friends:
Yes, "the soldiers are giving them tennis shoes from home as a personal gesture, which in my opinion goes a lot farther than if the military uniformly gave out tennis shoes, clothing, etc". That is quite true. But the soldiers could give them other things that are less basic to the task at hand, more appreciated, more personal, and the administration could do more to equip those who are working for it to do essential protective jobs - both of these measures are part of "hearts and minds" strategy.
What you and your family are doing is not wrong, it's what everyone should be doing: With tax dollars you are already paying to reconstruct Iraq. Rather than lecturing me, it would make more sense to make this point to your Congressman.
Rather than comment on me or my opinion further here, you'd probably gain more from reading what I and my colleagues in the Green Party of Canada actually advocate as the way to organize military interventions and reconstructions and what this would mean for military families. I'm happy to debate either by email. And I'm very open to any criticisms from anyone praying for those patrolling Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, or other dangerous places, or of course, from the soldiers themselves. If you don't want to debate it with me, then, you can just click "thumbs down" on the "rank a plank" on that policy, or email the Party, or email this to any US politician for criticisms.
If citizens can agree on how it should be done, then, governments can too, and there might be more solidarity in this effort to bring Muslims back into their right as a great civilization. Which starts by getting them on their own feet, and treating that as an obligation to friends and neighbours, not as gifts we might have withheld.
Posted by: Craig Hubley | Jun 4, 2004 2:17:37 PM
Thank you for your support. You are not the first concerned mother to not be contacted by thier child. Sometimes soldiers do not contact home because they don't want thier families to worry. Kind of a jacked up catch 22.
Send him some chocolate chip cookies. Noone with principles would not send a thank you note or make a phone call.
Posted by: Philip Jarvis | Jun 5, 2004 2:16:42 PM
Thank you Phillip, for putting a more perosnal face on what I hear in the American press everyday. I have two soldiers both at Summerall, and although I do hear from them occasionally, it's good to have a different viewpoint, a retelling of events as seen thru different eyes. You are cataloging history; please continue!
I hope you know that you, and all the troops have the full support of many of us here at home, regardless of our personal or political belief. My guys have very little contact with the locals. If you can tell me where to send shoes, (or chocolate chip cookies!) I'll happily add those items to my care packages!
God bless you, and all who serve.
Posted by: H. Mitton | Jun 12, 2004 1:33:08 PM
I was there (at Fob OMAHA)on that day, i was part of A-Tank (A Co 1-77 AR)attached to 1-18IN. There was never an attack on the front gate during the year i was at OMAHA . And on another there were no ING/ICDC/IA (different names for iraqi soldiers) helping with security until right around the time of Baton Rouge. On several occasions I also worked with the "Sand Bag kids" they were very cool as you say. But stick to the truth, and dont try to make something of nothing. May be you are confused with the VBIED/suicide bomber/car that hit Fob Razor on July 8th.
Posted by: longgunner762 | Mar 8, 2006 7:15:08 PM