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Straight From Iraq Feb. 28, 2008
By Richard Rubright / Special Correspondent
Feb 28, 2008 - 7:31:11 PM

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Richard Rubright
A Ten Day Odyssey

Let it never be said that getting to a specific unit in the middle of a war is an easy or quick thing to happen.  It literally takes ten days and, if you eat a bad fish sandwich in Dubai, rolls of toilet paper.  But, after ten days, six aircraft flights, two armored bus convoys and a helicopter ride I have finally arrived at Forward Operating Base Warhorse; home of the 4th Brigade 2nd Infantry division.

Most of the ten days have been spent waiting for something; in true military fashion.  The old adage of “hurry up and wait” is very much alive and well in our armed forces.  If it were any other way I would have to question the state of the universe as a whole; and, as ex-military I had no illusions of this. 

It can be very easy to lose yourself to impatience as I have seen several self important reporters do.  They yell and demand that they get to where they want to be faster than the bureaucracy will allow.  It can be easy to look at the time spent in transit as “wasted” or useless “down-time”.  It is only natural to become exasperated with military inefficiency and wonder what could be so hard about getting across Baghdad; it is after all just a city, so why should it take 3 days? 

However, the ten days spent were not a waste by a long shot.  For example, it may seem shocking that I was forced to lay vomiting outside of a Post Exchange (a military store where most things can be bought) by a Ugandan guard who wouldn’t let me enter because I am only a US citizen with my passport.  Your tax dollars at work apparently because the Ugandan guard is a mercenary paid for with tax dollars.  I had to get a soldier to go in and buy me Pepto-Bismol.  Thank you Sergeant Rutter from the 101st Airborne at Camp Striker, I owe you.  He was as disgusted with the Ugandan Guards as I was. But it begs the question, why are we employing Ugandan mercenaries to guard and deny or allow entry of soldiers and US civilians into US military facilities?

In the ten days I also met with and talked to numerous US soldiers.  Expecting to find the disgruntled grunt who is so often portrayed by the US media I braced for bitter torrents and resentment.  When I found soldiers with high morale in Kuwait I told myself not to draw conclusions, as those soldiers are far from any fighting.  When I got to Baghdad and soldiers directly involved in combat operations I thought perhaps they would be more of the portrayed unhappy US soldiers; but I didn’t find them there.  Even here at Warhorse where there have been casualties from almost a year of cleaning Al Qaeda from the Diyala province I still haven’t found the so often portrayed unhappy soldiers. 

Of course soldiers do complain.  It really is almost like a sport in the US Military. But there are different kinds of complaining.  When soldiers complain that they have gotten sick from the chow hall once or twice, or that they are bored, or that they have been on a waiting list for a long time for a new Sony Playstation 3 it is different from real complaining (and yes a soldier did complain that he hadn’t got his playstation yet).  What I haven’t heard is soldiers saying that they don’t believe in the mission.  I haven’t heard anyone ridiculing their top commander.  I haven’t heard a bitter angry soldier yet.  I am not saying they are not here or back in the states.  A VA hospital will have plenty of bitter soldiers who have to cope with wounds and disabilities, but I simply have yet to find them in Iraq.  Maybe that will change, but I am starting to doubt it.

Ten days have already been a journey at the start of my journey.  I have no idea what lies ahead; but if it is as interesting as dealing with soldiers with high morale and Ugandan guards it will surely be most surprising.

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