Sunday, March 11, 2007

1-501st Commander's March Comments

Sgt. Joseph S. Singleton plays with an Iraqi boy in Al Angur, Iraq. Al Angur, a town that American forces starting patrolling in October 2006, has opened its arms to the Coalition Forces. Soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army Division patrolled alongside the soldiers and Marines assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Wayne Edmiston.
Geronimo Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 3 MARCH 2007
LTC Robert Balcavage
Commander 1-501st PIR

GERONIMO Families and Friends,

Well, one thing for sure, in February the Adopt-A-Platoon / Platoon Partner packages came rolling in. To all those helping us with that effort, thanks! We have so much from home that we are able to spread it around the battalion and to the neighborhoods and schools we frequent as well. We truly appreciate your efforts. I would like to give a special thanks to Tom Morgan of Anchorage AUSA and Eric Balcavage from Glen Mills Rotary for organizing the support. No matter who you are, it makes a huge difference to come back in and find mail waiting for you. The magazines have been great. The soccer balls go a long way and so far no insurgents have found a way to turn them into Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs – roadside bombs), so that’s a good thing.

Well this month I thought I’d let you in on a little bit of Governance in Iraq. As I watch a society come to grips with governing itself after a history of tyranny, oppression, and to complicate matters, a tribal system, I can’t help but ask myself if we struggled similarly with this concept of self-governance when we got started. Yesterday I sat in a ‘town hall’ meeting (see picture) that consisted of the ‘town elders’ (sheiks) and the Nahiya (town) council. There was a lot of flailing and gnashing of teeth – but there were some high points too. The meeting had an agenda, it had press, key leaders were present (to include the governor, the area Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police Commanders). I almost wept (okay, not really) when I saw one man actually stand up and proclaim that, “we must take responsibility for our tribes and our lands, we must report the violence”. The fact is, this country is trying to adapt to a system that’s different from what they experienced for years and years. They are not going to become ‘America’ overnight.

Sheiks and tribes are an entirely other matter. I am not sure I have the whole concept down right, but here goes. In the tribe, the guy with the most ‘wasta’ [influence] is the senior Sheik. There’s a lot of difference and power in being a sheik (I think there is a romantic tie to the notion of being a Bedouin). There’s ‘fake’ sheiks (sheiks that act like they are in charge but really are not) and there’s major and minor sheiks. But there’s no sheik ‘by-laws’ that I
know of, so you ask a lot of questions and try to sort out the truth from the perceived truth. Overall, sheiks try to make things happen for their tribes. The more a sheik makes things happen, the more ‘wasta’ he has.

Usually, any sheik meeting includes the totaling of some chai (super hot tea with LOTS of sugar poured into the bottom of the cup for you to make the decision to stir in or not). Most meetings with ANYBODY include chai. The
British were here in the 1920s, but the Iraqis I have met claim that chai was part of their culture long before the British came. Many sheik meetings include a meal at the end since it seems nearly everything in Iraq starts at 1000 and lasts for two hours, whether or not you solve anything. Lunch is usually a lamb, goat, or fish on a large bed of rice. The rice here is exceptionally good for some reason. There always seems to be a bowl of red bean soup and a yellow broth soup. Everyone puts their hands into the meat or fish, pulls it apart (with their right hand only – there’s a very good reason for that) and then puts it into a pita with some rice and vegetables. You wash down all of that with the cold refreshing taste of Karbala Cola (think Pepsi knockoff).

Enough culture…Your GERONIMOs are performing exceptionally well. We’ve had several outside sets of eyes come in and tell us that. You are always looking for ways to improve, so you are skeptical when someone says, “…this is the best unit I have seen in three years here,” but I also know that we have some exceptional Paratroopers. We have had some great ‘scores’ lately with minimal Paratrooper injury and we are learning more and more about our environment every day. Paratroopers are finding more and more innovative ways to fix problems. While we struggled to find the legal way to tear down a building, LT Spade and SFC Ralston’s platoon told the locals they could have keys to a new shop only after they tore down every brick of the old one. As Staples would say, “that was easy” – the buildings came down almost overnight.

Every Paratrooper has a rough day or two. If you know yours is down for a while and you are concerned, contact the Rear D commander and he’ll let us know. We’ll get him/her someone to talk to. We have some great ‘counselors’ here in the form of our Chaplain and our attached Combat Stress Advisor and if we know there’s a problem we’ll get the Paratrooper to help so that we can get him/her back into the fight.

Thanks again for all of your support to our GERONIMO Paratroopers. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We can’t wait to finish our mission and get home to see you.

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