Powered By Christian Gifts

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

From the Field - A Gentleman Embedded with an Iraqi Unit

I got the following email from a close friend of mine. I'll let his email and the attached newsletter speak for themselves. It is rather long, but I wanted all the info left in place. I highlighted one particularly interesting section in blue. Remember, the islamic references come from the fact that this gentleman is embedded with an Iraqi unit.

The newsletter writer is our company's president's son-n-law. He is training Iraq's for military service in Iraq. He and 9 other Americans are embedded in an Iraqi unit. I thought it was worth forwarding information from the front line that you won't see on TV.

God Bless our Troops,

Gary C

Vipor Newsletter

Hello Team!

Asalaam Alykum (Peace be with you)! Shlon-kum (How are you (pl) doing?).

It’s that time of the month again—another installment of the VIPER newsletter. I hope you enjoy these publications and that they are of some use to you. We have observed a lot of positive activity this month. At the same time, we have experienced a decrease in enemy activity. Both are good for the mind, body, and soul!

Iraq Assessment:
Earlier this month, General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker delivered their assessments to Congress. I assume many of you seized the opportunity to hear what they had to say. Many of us in Iraq watched the two leaders deliver their assessments on television. We had a crew from CNN at our location during the briefing, and rumor has it that CNN put some of our VIPERS on the big screen!

What did you think about their assessments?? I believe most of us had a fairly good idea on what would be said. I think most of us realize the time and sacrifices it will take in order to make a lasting difference in Iraq. For the rest of the world, and I speak on personal opinion alone, they received a message from the ‘guys on the ground’ that the solution to our current situation in Iraq will not be seen as quickly as most of us would like to believe. I think it is important for the world to hear that message from someone other than our politicians.

A few local nationals shared their opinions about the speech with me. Believe it or not, the Iraqis were very interested in hearing the assessments. They realize the fragility of Iraq, and the potential problems of US withdrawal from this area. From the few conversations that I had with these people, they believe General Petreaus offered ‘hope’ to them. His message appeared clear and provided new light on things that were not known by the Iraqis.
Muqtada Al Sadr orders ‘stand-down’:

Prior to the General Petreaus briefing, Muqtada Al Sadr (MAS) issued an order to his militia, known as Jaysh al Mahdi (Mahdi Army, or JAM). MAS ordered the ‘stand-down’ of his militia. They were ordered to cease all attacks against the Coalition Forces for a period of six-months. In Iraq, most of us were caught somewhere in between ‘Relief’ and ‘Disbelief.’ Why would MAS order a stand-down and would his militia follow the order?? Fortunately, I won’t get into all the details about MAS’ militia or its problems. I encourage you to keep in mind that the order of MAS only applies to his militia. There are a lot of bad people (terrorists, criminals, etc…) that do NOT believe in MAS or follow his orders. And I think it is too early to tell if his order will make a difference.

We are in the middle of the holy celebration of Ramadan. Speaking from personal experience, I have heard about this celebration, but have very little understanding about the event. I have always associated the event with ‘fasting’, but always knew that there was much more to it. It is very interesting to have the opportunity to witness this event in the middle of a Muslim country. As a result, I thought it would be helpful if I shared some of the information that I have gathered about this holy event.

The holy month of Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe that God revealed the first revelations of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Qur’an makes observance of Ramadan obligatory for all Muslims. Ramadan is a time for prayer, reflection, and reconciliation. It occurs in the ninth month of the lunar calendar and is the holiest of all months to Muslims. During this month, the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of Hell are closed. ‘Fasting’ is a very important part of Ramadan. ‘Fasting’ is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a process of religious purification. While fasting, all Muslims are required to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex or other acts of the flesh. (Note: the five pillars of Islam, and I will be brief, are accepting that there is one God, and only one God, praying daily, financial contributions, fasting, and the Hajj (visiting Mecca)).

Shiites and Sunnis both observe the month of Ramadan, but usually start on different dates. Of course, you do not have to be a devout Muslim to experience the joys of Ramadan. Many Muslims who do not pray or do not follow all of the rules set in the Qur’an have been known to become very pious during Ramadan, in a belief that observing Ramadan perfectly will erase their past sins. If you are a Shia Muslim, you will also celebrate the ‘martydom of Ali’. Ali was the 4th Caliph and is considered the 1st Imam to the Shia (note: Remember earlier newsletters in which I described the twelve Imams of the Shia faith?)

The work ethic of the Iraqis changes tremendously during this month. Working in the day is minimized in order to rest and pray. However, the activity picks up greatly during the night. There are two important meals that occur daily during Ramadan. The first is ‘Iftar’ (Breaking of the fast). It takes place at sunset after the Maghrib (religious leaders) call to prayer. The second is ‘Suhur’ which takes place shortly before sunrise. Our interpreters prepared a feast for us last week, and together, we enjoyed ‘Iftar’. The food was OUTSTANDING!!! But only if your stomach can handle it.

The last ten days of the month are considered to be the holiest days of Ramadan, prayer and piety in general increases further. The most symbolic event during Ramadan occurs on the ‘Night of Power’, called “Laylat al-Qadr” in Arabic. It is believed to be the night on which the angel Gabriel first visited Muhammad with the first revelation of the Qur’an. On this night, one prayer equals 1000x prayers.

Ramadan ends with ‘holiday of the breaking of the fast’, known as “Id al-Fitr”, which will occur in mid-October this year. It is a joyous occasion. Muslims enjoy being able to eat and drink during the day. Most businesses comes to a complete halt during this three-day celebration. Most Muslims will visit their relatives, and gifts of money and clothing will be given to the children of the extended family and the children of friends.

Well that’s Ramadan in a nutshell.

Are we making a difference?:
“Make a difference” is the motto of the Iraqi Assistance Group (IAG). This is the same group responsible for all Transition Teams (TT), and by logical deduction, this motto serves as a vision for TTs. I think we lived up to that motto this month and I will provide you two examples.

On 08 September 2007, our Iraqi Army brigade, along with assistance from their TTs, conducted a Cooperative Medical Engagement (CME)-- a giant success for the Iraqis and Americans. Traditionally, the Coalition Forces (CF) conduct Medical Operations (MEDOPS) which provide the local people in a community with essential medical assistance for temporary ailments (i.e. Colds, Headaches, etc…). A CME takes the traditional MEDOP to a new level. The coordination required and types of medications and medical support required are much greater. A CME allows the local nationals to receive care for chronic ailments, and affords them the opportunities to be treated at larger hospitals. In order to conduct a CME, the Iraqi staff has to forecast their requirements and coordinate their plans. The CME served as a great tool to force the staff of the Iraqi brigade into developing a synchronized military plan—security, interagency assistance, and logistics are a few of the tasks included in the plan. The CME was a major accomplishment for this Iraqi Army brigade in planning and execution. This operation was Iraqi-led, and brought hope to the people, both Sunni and Shia, of Al-Salaam. In the past, the majority of operations were CF planned and executed, but now we are seeing the shifting of power to the Iraqi Army.

On 22 September 2007, our Iraqi Army brigade graduated their third Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC). In concept, PLDC is very similar to our version of PLDC for the US Army. The intent of the course is to prepare Iraqi Soldiers to become first line leaders—Non Commissioned Officers. At times, we (Americans) tend to take our NCO corps for granted. It is an instrumental capability of our military. However, that is not the case for the Iraqi Army. From a cultural point of view, the Iraqis have never needed or valued a strong NCO corps. The strength came from their officers. Today, the Iraqis are extremely interested in the value of a strong NCO corps, and are taking active steps into making a strong NCO corps for their Army.

I could share numerous success stories of the Iraqi Army. Stories that you don’t get to see back home. To the average American, these stories may seem relatively small, but seeing the ‘hope’ in the eyes of the local nationals and Iraqi Soldiers speaks volumes for the difference that is being made. Success in this environment begins with creating positive momentum, then sustaining it. Events like the CME and PLDC are creating that momentum.

In watching these events with my own eyes, I find it very impressive that the Iraqis are taking ownership of their situation and taking the lead from our Coalition Forces. But I also know in my mind, and heart, that these events would not happen without Coalition Force support. Transition Teams are a prime example of the support that I’m referring to. The CME would not have happened without the great coaching and teaching done by our forces.

And now for the rest of the news, and probably the news that you care most about… Earlier this month, we hosted the incoming Brigade Transition Team Chief. He will be leading the team that replaces us in December 07. I think he had a good visit and took away a lot of useful information as he prepares his team to assume this mission. They are currently training at Fort Riley, Kansas. Do you remember that training? It seems like so long ago!!

Our EML program continues to go smoothly. LTC Martin Welker just returned from his short visit to the United States, and SFC Michael Eaton is currently at home with his family in the United States. SFC Eaton is our ninth teammate (out of ten) to go on EML. I will be the last one out the door on EML, and then we will be finished with the EML program. The next major move will be our re-deployment to Fort Riley.

I’m thankful for everything that you do to support our efforts. I know you contribute so much every day. I know we will never fully see all of the sacrifices that you make, but please know that we appreciate your thoughts and encouragement to make our lives better. I’m especially grateful for all the kids on our team. I don’t think most of them fully understand their sacrifices, and I would tend to believe that we will never fully understand their courage during this deployment. They have sacrificed a great deal, and I feel it especially important to say thank you to them!!


Ed Callahan