SFC Thomas Nichols is also a fellow blogger and posts at JACK ARMY as well as guest blogging: VA JOE.
He gives his views on his current mission, the Army and even Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Here’s what he had to say:
In which province are you currently deployed (if you can tell)?
I am deployed in the Saladin Province. The area that my unit operates in is relatively calm but there is still a threat. There are people that are taking advantage of the situation for personal gain, but the Iraqi Police in this area are stepping up to that challenge more and more every day.
(NOTE: Salah ad-Din includes Tikrit and Samarra - two formerly very anti-American areas.)
How do the Iraqi civilians view/treat you and your soldiers?
We are generally well received by the civilians in this area. Coalition Forces do not have as large a presence in this area as in some other places in Iraq, but the locals are used to seeing us and treat us well. I think that my commander has a lot to do with that, though. He has worked hard to develop friendships in this area with local leaders and it shows. He treats everyone with respect and dignity and even when we can’t help, he still listens to their problems and offers alternate solutions. A lot of times, just showing that he cares is enough to make the Iraqi people we work with feel better. Of course, he attempts to guide them to solutions to their problems and if it is something that we can do, like provide security during important events, he is quick to offer help. In our time here, we have seen the people grow more and more friendly toward us. When we started waving at passing motorists and pedestrians as we drove by in our up-armored humvee’s, people looked confused and unsure what we were doing. Now, we wave and smile and get waves and smiles in return.
Now, this doesn’t mean that everything is always roses and sunshine. There was one patrol to a small town in our sector and some teenage boys threw rocks at one of our trucks. They were in a schoolyard behind a wall, but there was no doubt where the rocks came from. Nobody was hurt, but we had a stern conversation with the school principal and haven’t had any problems since. It did not seem that there was an “anti-American” thing going on, just some boys goading each other into doing something stupid. I remember doing the same sorts of things when I was that age.
Have you heard or sensed any shift in Iraqis against insurgents (i.e. the Anbar Salvation Council is allegedly fed up with Al-Qaeda and are now battling them in places like Habbaniyah)?
Yes, there is a definite shift in how Iraqis view insurgents. Iraqis are turning in insurgents, calling when they see IEDs and even chasing away bad guys in some cases. Is it enough? No, not yet, but it is improvement and hopefully the momentum is shifting enough to make it a permanent thing. Only time will tell.
How long have you been there; how long until redeployment?
With just over seven months completed, we redeploy back to Schofield barracks in about five months or so. I haven’t heard a specific date yet. I don’t focus on that, though, because it tends to lead to complacency and that is not good. A year is a long time, not nearly enough to finish the work of fighting an insurgency, but for a family it is very long.
(How many of you are willing to spend a full year away from your family?)
Have you had any contact with journalists during your tour? (I read Bill Roggio virtually everyday since he seems to bring the best information without editorials.)
A couple by email. In fact, I just responded to an email interview from a journalist from a magazine called the Global Journalist . There have been a few here in person, but I didn’t conduct personal interviews with any of them.
As a followup -- Have you had any DVs for which you had to put on the requisite “dog and pony” show? Choose one of the following to describe the visit:
• I felt he/she brought a great deal to raise morale to my troops
• He/She asked a few questions, but really didn’t seem all that interested
• He/She just came for a “Photo Op”
We have had a few Distinguished Visitors, but I don’t feel we put on a dog and pony show for them. The highest ranking visitor was a major general… Did we take special care in presenting a professional appearance? Sure, but not the typical garrison “spit and polish” show. My commander and I have the philosophy that we will not change the standard for visitors, meaning that if it is the right thing to do because the brigade commander is visiting, then it is the right thing to do all the time. We really don’t spend much time preparing for distinguished visitors.
(NOTE: Sounds like great leadership philosophy. I expected nothing less from our great military professionals.)
What gives you the greatest satisfaction with your current mission? What gives you the least?
The best part is seeing the Iraqis take charge of situations in the area. From IED discoveries to crowd control to providing security for pilgrims moving through the area, the Iraqi Army and Police are performing more and more of those tasks with less involvement from Coalition Forces. We are able to mentor and guide more than having to take charge and lead them by the nose. The least satisfaction comes on days when we can’t do what we planned, for example, our medic planned and coordinated for a three-day combat lifesaver course for the Iraqi Army troops. The IA medics would train the IA Soldiers under his supervision. He coordinated this training several weeks prior and even confirmed the training the day prior. At the appointed time, nobody showed for the training, not even the medics. When the IA battalion staff was asked what was going on, they simply forgot. Frustrating. Not the end of the world, I know, but a distinct challenge in maintaining motivation and mission focus. Is it merely a cultural difference? I’m not sure, but I am disappointed by it.
If you were General Schoomaker for one day, what changes would you make?
Wow. That is a tough question. I probably wouldn’t make any changes. I don’t have the lifetime of experiences and training that he has and I haven’t had months of briefings and intel dumps that he has received. It wouldn’t make sense for me to make changes without the information that he has.”
(Besides getting rid of Velcro on Army uniforms) the Army is a good organization with good people. There are teams of Soldiers with the job of making recommendations for changes to the top leaders. Those are the guys that should be answering this question.”
Here’s something I would do if I were king for a day: I’d make myself the official blogger for MNCI. I’d travel around the theater of operations and interview troops and observe first hand all the things we are doing and report on them with a military man’s eye for detail. Would it all be good news? Not if I could blog the way I want to. I want to tell the story of Iraq as it is, not as I want it to be. It would mostly be good news, though, because that is what is mostly going on: infrastructure projects, new schools and medical clinics, humanitarian programs, security operations, etc. If I could go home for a couple of weeks every four months or so, this would be my dream job and I’d like to think I’d do a great service to the Army and MNCI. Press releases are great and all, but that’s old school. Blogging is the new media and we (the military) need to get our message out in the blogosphere as well as the traditional media venues.
When you hear those who haven’t served and do not seem particularly informed comment on military operations, what is your first reaction?
I’m pleased that they are even paying attention to what is going on. I feel like too many Americans don’t even know what is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere that they don’t bother to comment because they don’t know. Are there commentators that are misinformed or underinformed? Sure, but at least they are trying to participate in the discussion about what is going on. I do think that many people speak before listening, though. What I mean is that they take one news article or commentary and run with it, forming opinions and making political statements without gathering more information and opinions. I wish more folks would read more and listen more to the folks that are fighting this war.
Among the services the Army has always been known to focus less on facilities and more on warfighting systems. Were you surprised at the civilian media's focus on Walter Reed AMC?
No, I wasn’t surprised in the least. The sudden focus was obviously politically motivated. There is a segment of our country that is engaged in an all-out war against the current administration and the current commander-in-chief in particular. I don’t know why exactly, but it is destructive and demotivating, to say the least. I commented on the crux of your question on my blog, the fact that facilities have always gotten shortshrifted in the Army while equipment and training has been top-notch for the most part. The good news is that despite the less-than-sincere motives, the troops and veterans will benefit from this “uproar”. While I believe that the same media and politicians who’ve been in and out of Walter Reed many times and suddenly find the conditions appalling are hypocrites, the increased scrutiny will hopefully spur Congress to spend the money to make our military and veterans hospitals the quality facilities that they should be. I’m not talking about turning them into hospital versions of five-star hotels, just clean and functional facilities that any American would be proud of.
Thanks to SFC Nichols and all of our warriors who taking the fight to the enemy in this generational Global War on Terror. I have faith in SFC Nichols to keep the troops focused and motivated no matter what the enemy and the defeatists throw at them.
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. -- John Stuart Mill