After much thought and discussion, I don't think I am ready to give up blogging. What is important here is to keep my audience in mind as I write. I will also think about who I am writing about and how it will effect them. Sometimes there will be mishaps. There is always a chance that someone will not like what I write about or will distort my words and get the wrong impression. For those people, I guess you have two choices: talk to me about it or stop reading my blog. There are probably other choices, but those are the two that come to mind.
Here is another report from my Marine cousin. It is similar to his last letter. He also sent pictures of the Iraqi people working with the soldiers in reconstruction efforts, but I cannot seem to get them on my blog.
Greetings from Ramadi!
Back in October 2006, on our very first day here in Ramadi, we conducted a dismounted patrol with some Iraqi soldiers and some US soldiers from the transition team that our team replaced. The patrol started at 0830 in the morning. There were no people on the streets and we moved quickly across intersections and did not stay on the streets more than 2-3 minutes before moving into a building or a courtyard. The Iraqi Army patrol leader took us to a small municipal complex that included a small children’s clinic and the old Iraqi police station. The clinic was closed and there was no sign of Iraqi police at the station. Our inspection of the clinic revealed that many of the supplies were missing – apparently taken by insurgents to treat their wounded. The Iraqi police station was completely rubbled from months of insurgent attacks. Later in that patrol we had a few rounds from local enemy action snap over our heads. All in all it was quite an interesting first introduction to our area of operations.
When our team arrived here in October insurgents had freedom of movement in our area and they attacked us at will throughout our area of operations. There were no friendly sheiks or tribes and there were no Iraqi police stations or police. Our convoys were attacked daily, our bases were mortared daily and we could not conduct patrols during the day without guaranteed attacks from some very skilled insurgent snipers. Civilians would not talk to us - those who did were often tortured or killed by insurgents. Within our first 30 days here, the Iraqi Army battalion I am advising had over 30 casualties, including 5 killed. The Ma’Laab district of Ramadi was a dangerous place with little hope and even less security.
It is now springtime here in Ramadi and appropriately enough, things are looking up. After six months of some tough combat operations, fighting to get to know the people and search for local leaders, we now control our area. Our Iraqi Army battalion runs close to 30 patrols a day, ten of them partnered with Iraqi police. There are close to 10 large civil affairs projects including sewage repair, rubble removal, school clean up, street repair and work on the electric grid. We recently reopened a large mosque in the area that had been used by insurgents to conduct attacks. All of these projects are providing jobs for local Iraqis. Food convoys, unheard of for the last six months because of poor security, now come in every couple of days. The civilians have restarted their soccer league and our efforts to enforce the curfew usually end up getting kids off the streets from their nightly volleyball games.
We now have dozens of friendly sheiks and tribes. We recently held district council elections in the Ma’Laab district. Our Iraqi Army battalion now has its own battlespace and continues to prove its ability to conduct independent operations. Colonel Ali, my advisee, was recently praised by the mayor of Ramadi for his efforts at building security and starting the reconstruction effort in his area. Just today one of the district council members invited me to his house for dinner. People now dare to hope things will return to normal. I cannot speak for all of Ramadi, and certainly not for the entire country, but in the Ma’Laab district of Ramadi, we’re winning...actually, the Iraqi people are winning and it’s exciting to be a part of.
The team is doing very well. As most of you have figured out by the drop off in phone calls, we’re out in zone much more – and that’s a good thing! That’s because it is now safe enough for us to do the work we came here to do. Everyone on the team is supporting the reconstruction effort and it is exciting to watch. 1stLt Tierney has organized work projects in his IA company’s area. MSgt Arnold and SSgt Jones single-handedly organized and completed very large trash and debris clean up projects along some roads in our area. HM3 Drake supervised an Iraqi led medical care program which treated over 100 locals. 1stLt Palmer and Sgt Craft are doing a great job training our Iraqi counterparts on intelligence work and they’ve successfully detained several local bad guys. I could not be more proud of our team. Our US Army augments are superb. They are unselfish and hardworking. This team is having a very significant impact on our partnered Iraqi Army battalion and on the citizens of the Ma’Laab district.
Back to that clinic from our first patrol back in October: I visited that clinic about a week ago and it was teaming with people. I counted close to 20 women and probably 30-40 small children and infants coming and going. The supplies in the clinic were sent there by the Iraqi Ministry of Health on a convoy provided by the Iraqi Army and Colonel Ali. That police station is still in ruins, but that’s o.k. There’s a new police station and 50 Iraqi police that are patrolling the streets. There are also close to 200 men who have signed up to join the police force and we’ll start training them next week. Things are going well here! Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers!