View Full Version : Survival Tips for Iraq

07-03-04, 06:19 AM

Guest Column: Survival Tips for Iraq

Editorís Note: These are comments from a private security contractor in Iraq on how newcomers can survive in that still-hostile environment. The memo was first obtained by NavySEALs.com/BlackNET and Pure Pursuit.

We are a PSD (Private Security Detail) element that is currently conducting a much broader range of mission sets. If I were coming in June? I would bring at least four pair of lightweight boots, so you can swap them out frequently. Itís about a million times worse than August in Niland (California, north of El Centro). Fifteen pairs of socks. At least ten, NON COTTON t-shirts. Two pairs of sunglasses. Non-cotton skivvies, if you wear them. (Comment: cotton does not burn, it chars. Aviators and armored vehicle crewmen are required to wear cotton undergarments. Polyester and nylon, materials in ďwickingĒ garments, melt at high temperature, vastly complicating treatment of burns.) Lots of foot powder. Sunscreen.

Now for serious stuff.

The AIMPOINT as issued is great, but it's a 3MOA (minutes of angle) glass at best. We are consistently making shots well beyond [deleted]. Last night I was slinging at a mortar crew about [deleted]. Luckily I had the PKM on them. My point is? Get an ACOG (ACOG, Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight by Trijicon). Best money is the TA31F. If you have access to the ordnance dept at (SEAL) Team 5 the NSN ACOG is good to go. You can buy one by email. I bought a shorty M4 and brought it with me. I wouldnít come here without a short gun. I also have a 22Ē MK12 (Special Purpose Rifle based on M4) with a Leupold (scope). I use that for long-range stuff.

But at least bring an ACOG.

Bring your own body armor, including a Kevlar helmet. They are hard to come by. As I am writing this we have mortars coming in.

Bring some mosquito netting and a poncho liner for an urban hide. You will want to have a sniper in the hide covering your movements around the GC.

OPSEC is important.

Hereís some heavy stuff!

Here are my lessons learned after spending a year in Iraq as a contractor on conducting public and black side operations.

Yesterday a friend of mine who runs a small security company here in Iraq emailed me. He is standing up a protection detail and wanted my opinion on tactics and equipment and running the roads of Iraq. Tactics, SOPs, hard car or soft? I have been giving it some thought and here is where I am at.

I am willing to speculate. Iím as well traveled in Iraq as anyone Iíve met. Iíve been just about everywhere between Kuwait and Iran, all points in between. And Iíve traveled every way possible.

Iíve gone in military convoy up armored hummers at 40 mph. Iíve run the Fallujah-Baghdad gauntlet in a 15 truck convoy, thin-skinned white F350s. Iíve rolled all over in blacked out (Mitsubishi) Pajeros (SUV) in local dress. Diplomatic convoys with armored Suburbans and helo cover.

Iíve done the whole hide the guns and smile a lot all the way to showing just about everyone the front sight post.

Iíve done 140 kmh up MSR Tampa and weaved through Sadr City at a near standstill.

I, like nearly everyone, have made mistakes and been lucky to be here writing this.

I think the most important and neglected aspect of survival in theater is training. Every day your crew should practice ďactions onĒ (Emergency Action Drills). At least do it on a dry erase board. Actions upon anything and everything. What usually happens is we start going through the ďwhat if'sĒ and all the sudden every guy in the crew has a different idea of what should happen. After all we come from many different backgrounds. After about 30 minutes of that we all end up scratching our head debating which idea is best and say ďLetís get chow.Ē Decide on some fundamental concepts. And stick to them, but of course always remembering that the plan is just something to deviate from anyway.

As long as we all know the end goal and work towards it. For example, if the vehicle is stalled in the ambush, driver flicks it in neutral so the rear car can ram us out and we prepare to un-ass the vehicle on the opposite side of the contact.

So rehearse and practice. Which is easy to say because I am the first to admit that a knock on my hooch at 7 a.m. with ďHey, man, letís rehearse this,Ē makes me grumble.

Iím sure we can all agree that debating your actions on is best done at the hooch rather than on the side of a road in Tikrit while your car is being remodeled by a PKM.

PMCS your vehicles all the time. Being broke down in Iraq is like a scene in a bad movie. Been there done that. Check tires, oil, fluid, etc. And donít overdrive your car. My friend VC managed to put a Pajero upside down and backwards on (MSR) Tampa once because we pushed the cars past their control limits.

Every IC (independent contractor) you meet will tell you he is a great driver. Just because you drive fast and havení hit anything yet doesnít mean youíre a good tactical driver. Go to BSR or some other school. If you haven't been to BSR (basic safety refresher), let the guy who has drive. Conduct driver training. Get the best guy to teach everyone else. OJT.

Practice changing tires. There are a couple guys reading this email right now who know exactly what I am talking about. Realizing youíve packed 300 pounds of gear on top of the spare while on the side of a road in Ramadi is a self-loathing Iíd like not to replicate. Make sure you have a tow strap in every vehicle. Loop it through the rear bumper so itís already attached. When you swing in front of the busted car and they hook up you can be gone in 60 seconds or vice versa.

Get a good jack, itís worth the money. Make sure everyone knows where all the tow, change, repair gear is in every vehicle. Practice it.

In the glove box keep your stay behinds. A fragmentation grenade, a smoke grenade and a CN grenade. The rule is. NEVER TOUCH THE PIN UNLESS YOU HAVE THE GRENADE OUTSIDE THE WINDOW! Hit a bump and it drops on the roadside. Minimal drama. Inside the car? Party foul.

Using CN and Smoke. If youíre caught in traffic and you have a bad feeling about a car behind you, toss the smoke. Most motorists will stop or at least give you a lot of space. It works and itís harmless. Be judicious about using CN and never while in tight traffic. Watching that cloud blow towards your car faster than you can drive is not fun. CN is rough stuff and I only would use it on those rare situations where it just has to be done. And the frag? Well we all know when those need to be used.

Put a rubber band or a Ranger Band on your sling so it doesnít get caught on stuff while getting out of the car.

Always do a proper route plan (strip map). Common sense here. And another note, we are always trying to be sneakier and more clever than everyone else. Avoiding MSRs and roads frequented by convoys as they are frequent targets. Well before taking a road you see on a map that isnít used by the Army. Go see the G-2, ask them why. It may be for good reason.

Think about fuel consumption. Plan your stops for fuel and food. Always carry a gas can, just in case. Track your fuel consumption and do the math. Carry enough fuel.

Always have spare batteries for the GPS, Always have a map and compass just like when we were E1s. Do a map study and make sure everyone in the crew knows the route plan.

Carry as big a gun as you can. Keep it clean. Keep it hot.

CARRY LOTS OF AMMO. On April 4th I went through 14 mags and NEVER would have thought that a possibility before then. Carry more ammo, stage spare mags EVERYWHERE. Like the freakiní Easter Bunny.

I will never not wear a helmet again. If there is a Kevlar helmet, itís going on my head. A dude standing right next to all of us on the roof was dropped from a headshot. Spend the money get a good MICH (Modular Integrated Communications Helmet) or the like. The more comfortable and low profile the more likely it is you'll wear it. WEAR A HELMET. Seeing a friend get blasted in the head was a SOP-changing experience for ALL of us here. Wear your armor. Period.

If you sleep in a trailer or hootch, know where the nearest bunker is. Trying to find it at 4 a.m. while scared (deleted) isnít the answer. And yes, everyone runs for the bunker. The Delta dude who is always giving the evil eye will probably be the first one there followed immediately after by a SEAL in flip-flops. 120 mm. mortars make us all very humble.

Shoot a lot. Keep training. If youíre company get more ammo. MAKE THEM. Dry fire. Practice mag changes. Focus on cheek weld and front site. The basics win every time.

The three guys shot on the roof here were all either changing mags while standing or werenít moving to different firing positions frequently (all were regular military and not contractors). They were doing standard Army range (deleted). And got dropped for it.

In the movie We Were Soldiers, Sam Elliotís character, Sergeant Major Basil Plumly said, ďIf I need one there will be plenty laying aroundĒ in regards to rifles. He was right. During one firefight, a buddy was on a SAW and I had an M-203. There were weapons strewn about the roof by wounded and those who elected to not play on the two-way range. By the end of week two here we all had our choice in weapons. We fired RPK, AK47, PKM, MK-19, M-249, M-203, M-4, Dragunov, and M-60 at bad guys between the eight of us. That was unreal.

Which brings me onto this. Train on all weapons. If you donít have access at least read the FM or TM on them. You never know when youíre out of 5.56 and someone will hand you a PKM. Get familiar with them.


07-03-04, 06:19 AM
Practice shooting out to [deleted]. I know, nearly every fight is within [deleted] but we were trying to bag a mortar crew that was pounding us at [deleted]. And it happened more than once.

In terms of shooting, practice as you did on active duty. Always scrounge ammo.

I will ALWAYS take a hard car over a soft. Itís just common sense at this point. If I have a soft car I will sandbag the floors and jam steel and spare plates everywhere I can. Bolt-on armor is ****, but better than nothing. Remove the LEXAN windows from the gun-trucks. Just like in the old days, nothing breaks contact quite like returning accurate, violent fire.

The rear vehicle is always most likely to be hit. Put your best shooters in there, biggest guns.

THE GOLDEN CONEX BOX Ė it ainít coming dude. If I had a nickel for every time I have been told, ďOh yeah man, we ordered ten of those and they should be here in three days,Ē or my favorite, ďdon't worry, it will meet you in-country.Ē If you donít have good guns, ammo, armor, or comms, ďJust say Ďnoí Ē like Nancy Reagan. Some companies are worthless and will leave you in Iraq with a badly-used, stolen AK and two mags. Some will do you better than a Tier One unit. Personally, I just want the above-mentioned items and the rest to go to my bank account. If I want a three hundred dollar backpack, Iíll buy it. Bottom line. Remember what gear is critical. Demand it be the best and take proper care of it.

Medical equipment: Itís expensive. It has saved lives. The company I currently work for spent big dollars outfitting each crew with great medical gear. Iím sure the bill was hard to swallow. It saved three lives. Each wounded person had life-threatening injuries. The medical kits and our 18Ds (Special Forces Medics) saved them. The Army had a few bandages and an IV. That was it. You know who you are, thank you for spending the money.

Do remedial med training. Canít say anymore on that issue. Do it.

Wherever you go, carry lots of booze. Itís the most valuable item you can have. If I wrote a list of things I have managed to swindle with a bottle of Jack placed in an E8ís hands you would crap your pants.

Donít get drunk and stupid. Be drunk or stupid but never both at once.

Never let the client convince you, ďItís safe. I do this all the time.Ē If itís stupid, itís stupid.

On the same note, remember if we hamper our clientís ability to do their job too much our company can get fired. Itís a fine line. Yeah, your client thinks itís cute to drive to some Hadjiís house at midnight for tea, sometimes you just have to do it.

Learn to deal with all the clients. Some truly think that all Iraqis are great people and that the U.S. Army is the enemy. Some will encourage you to shoot bicyclists who hog the road. Iíve seen both sides. Keep their agenda and egos in mind. Donít make your own life miserable.

Aim-points are great. The EOTEC (Holographic Weapon Sight [HWS]) is OK. The ACOG TA31 is the best by far. The AIMPOINT battery lasts six months. The EOTEC is a little too bright for my taste. Remember that the dot is like 3MOA in size so they arenít any good past [deleted]. The ACOG is the best.

Buy short M-4s. They will save your life. I carry an 18Ē upper on me with glass so when we reach our destination I flick it on the lower receiver and I now have a decent long gun. Itís like having two guns to choose from. Optics, uppers, all that. (Comment: this is a special operations technique suggested by the Army Marksmanship Unit and Fort Benning.)

If youíre doing Green Zone PSD, one or two magazines may be enough, but if you venture into the party zone, you need at least 12.

Speaking of which - weapon, twelve mags, pistol, three mags, MEDKIT, GPS, map and compass, radio, spare battery, $500 US dollars, MREs, water bottle, NVG, armor. Itís a lot. Itís hot. If itís too heavy, get membership at the gym. This job isnít for everybody.

In your vehicle: Put a U.S. flag on the visor so nobody can see it until you approach a checkpoint, then, flip it down. On the passenger side do the same with a VS17 panel. G.I. Joe will shoot you just as soon as a Hadji will.

Carry MREs and water in your car.

NEVER throw food or candy to kids. There are many reasons why, but at the least it encourages kids to jump in front of cars. Smashing a kid would ruin your trip here.

If you find yourself trusting the locals, itís time to take a vacation.

Walk the fine line. Donít be too conservative and donít get blown up.

Listen to your intuition. It has saved a guy who is on this mailing list and not listening to it killed a friend a month ago.

Once you make contact Ė finish it. If you shot a guy and he is limping to cover he can still get there and return fire. Just finish everything you start.

A car door is not cover. In fact, a car is not cover. Cement is. (Comment Ė Humvees are cars).

While doing the workup for my last deployment we did live fire IADs (Immediate Action Drills) and movement from vehicles. It was the best training I have done and the most useful. On that note we did many SIMUNITION runs with vehicle ambush scenarios. We found that without a doubt THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN SURVIVING IS GETTING OUT AND AWAY FROM THE CAR. Getting behind it as though it was a concrete barrier and an RPG HEAT round will get you killed.

Donít work for a company that doesn't vet its ICs (independent contractors). Check their credentials, call the references, and put them through a ten-day selection course. Just because a guy was a SEAL in Vietnam doesnít mean he maintained his skills. On that note, the best shooter in my training class was a Vietnam SEAL. Some of the best guys were 22-year-old Rangers and the worst was a 38-year-old SEAL. My point is itís the individual that counts.

But we donít have time or money to bring a regular Army kid up to speed. You have to have the fundamental skill sets. We canít introduce you to live fire Australian peels. We should just review and coordinate verbal commands and simple ****.

Just because somebody is a good dude isnít good enough. If he canít shoot, think and move, leave him home. Big boy rules.

If a guy doesnít work out in your crew but has talent and skill send him elsewhere, donít fire him. Personalities clash, especially when youíre living together 24/7 for six months. Eating every meal together all that. If I hear the same stupid story from a guy forty times? Thatís cool. Itís the forty-first telling thatís going to be drama. You guys know what Iím talking about.

The contractor community is a sewing circle for men. Remember the DYNCORP guy who shot the principal (person being protected) in Baghdad last winter? The story in its most recent telling over cheap Turkish beer involved a diplomatic cover-up, a magazine change, and several deaths.

Remember how much money youíre making. Nobody wants to clean the latrine on a Wednesday morning but keep in mind youíre the highest paid janitor in the world that day.

Keep a sense of humor. Keep funny people around, they make lousy situations tolerable and are like Prozac when you need it.

Have thick skin. Take criticism. If you suck at something, ask for training.

Always remember that you were once a young dumb-ass E-1. You made $450 a month and werenít allowed to fart without a permission chit ran up and down the chain of command. Keep this in mind when you're *****ing because youíre only making $17,000 a month when guys at the other company are getting $17,500. When the bosses back in the states email you to have a clean shave, do it. You never know when youíre going to be on some stupid newspaper.

The soldiers around us are deployed for a year, sometimes more. They make a fraction of the pay. And are ordered to do stupid, dangerous stuff everyday. Keep that in mind when you are upset that you got extended to 68 days, instead of 60 days.

Keep that in mind when dealing with soldiers. Treat them well, nobody else does.

Yes, we all work for ourselves at the end of the day. At the same end, never screw over your company or teammates who have to stay behind and clean up your mess. Business OPSEC is one thing but always share your info on Intel and tactics. We are all Americans and most of us will work together one time or another. Some of the ďbusiness secretĒ stuff is corny. If you hit an IED on ASR Jackson yesterday, email your colleagues to stay away.

The chow is terrible by my standards. I sometimes eat MREs just for a change. If youíre a coffee drinker bring your own. A bag of Starbucks coffee is worth its weight in gold.

I wear hikers socks, something that wicks the sweat out.

Bugs are hit or miss. One week they are terrible and the next, non-existent. Right now they are moderate. Flies galore though.

No range finder, wish we had one.

Yes, The M-4s have rails, same as the teams basically. Anything that fits on an NSW M-4 will work on the ones we are given.

I bought three different upper receivers myself. I wanted to have different options. I've got a 10Ē, 16Ē with ACOG, and SPR MK12 from Precision Reflex with a Leupold scope and bipod for long work.

Things I wish I had brought: more socks, more rifle magazines, more t-shirts, more boots, spare parts kit for M-4, urban hide site kit, more DVDs.

Things Iím glad I brought: ACOG, short M-4 rifle, personal holster, personal field gear, poncho liner, ground pad, compass, books.