View Full Version : Inside the Wire

07-21-04, 08:04 AM

Guest Column: Inside the Wire

By Pat Smith

When I read the dispatch from Chris Murphy on his unitís ambush I was shocked, and somewhat ashamed, to learn what happens outside the wire (ďA Soldier Reports from Iraq,Ē Special Reports, SFTT, July 13, 2004). I felt compelled to present another side of this war that Iím not convinced many people know about.

Iím a 1st lieutenant in the Army Reserve assigned to a combat service and support unit also based at Camp Anaconda near Balad. Unlike Murphyís unit, however, we literally do nothing. We have been mobilized, sent here to live in an impact area and are bored stiff. It has been weeks, literally, since Iíve done anything productive. Thatís hard for me to deal with having just come back from OBC and OCS before that.

It is harder still to be shot at and not to be able to shoot back. I thought it might be just me, since Iím new and inexperienced. But it is not the case. My CO sits across from me every day engaged in what I am in engaged in, the perpetual pursuit to keep from being bored. My 1st sergeant is one squared away troop and is about going nuts because of the lack of activity. He manages to keep busy, but just barely.

We have internet access, we have our books, DVDs, air conditioning and games. Ours is an existence of relative ease, punctuated by indirect fire attacks such as the one Murphy described. We usually get hit twice or more a day, but not always, and rarely are there casualties.

But several weeks ago a rocket attack struck the camp PX, killing several soldiers. The maddening thing is that it didnít have to happen. A couple of those fatally wounded had decided to go outside without their body armor on even though they were under cover after the alert sounded. Itís something that everyone here is guilty of. Typically, the alarm sounds minutes after a round or rocket impacts. The incident on June 22 was not a typical attack, however. They paid for this complacency with their lives.

It turns out that the MPs took some Iraqi workers into custody over the incident, they seemed to be adjusting fire. It was a sobering day for us REMFs, indeed. Weíve since ditched our body armor unless we are under attack, due to the heat casualties caused by wearing it about in this 115 degree heat, so Iím not sure any lessons were learned.

While young soldiers fight and die less than five miles from our comfy beds, we sit and complain about the internet being down, or not being able to use the MWR phone because it's been abused again. We share this base with the Air Force, and it is not unusual to see trusty, dusty troops from the QRF or some other combat arms unit having to search for seating in our DFAC because some Air Force REMF has saved a seat for his or her superior. Some of these warriors only get to come in to eat at our hot food DFAC once or so a week, but hey, they didn't get to the seat first now, did they?

Letís discuss the DFAC. Itís run by none other than KBR. During those periods of indirect fire attack, the alarm sounds and the games begin. If you are inside the DFAC, you must remain inside. KBR will no longer serve any food and you may find yourself in a position to be sitting mere feet from lunch or dinner, but unable to get all of it while the third party national KBR employees enjoy their unscheduled work break. But the really unlucky folks are those outside waiting to get into the DFAC.

The policy is that you cannot get inside once an attack begins and must walk, wholly exposed, around the building to the concrete bunkers. I was one of these unlucky souls once with a group of enlisted troops in front of me. Having heard the rounds come in, I was eager to get us indoors and under cover. When the young airman at the front of the line tried to get in, the door was slammed on him, twice.

I finally went back outside and came through the back door and opened the door for the troops. While they came inside, a KBR employee read me the riot act for violating their policy. I was less than impressed with her and gave it right back, especially since she was one of the few U.S. citizens on duty there that day, so I knew she'd understand my English. Itís simply a little something they taught me at OCS about troop welfare. I got away with it, while I was having it out with this civilian, I saw the troops grinning and getting grub. Mission accomplished.

Next gripe? Professional development. Iím a new guy, but prior enlisted, and long to be an NCO again. Essentially, I am ignored and marginalized while the business of the battalion goes on around me. After two months in-country and one month at the mobilization site, I finally got an OER support form Ė the form that sets out my duties, my place in the battalion.

Iím expected to know what Iíve not been taught, and to learn what has not been presented. I truly donít know what it is that I donít know and that makes for a nerve-wracking experience those few times I actually do get to do something official and productive. Again, I thought maybe it was just me, so I checked around. Seems that all my buddies from OCS have a variation of this story to tell. I hope itís just Reserve Component, cause I know lots of us are out of here as soon as this deployment is up. Me? Iím going Navy, perhaps I can actually learn and grow there. But thatís many months from now. Good luck in trying to lure Navy and Air Force guys into the Army. Hearing about the Blue to Green program was good for a laugh in an otherwise humorless existence.

I trained long and hard to be a warrior and am having quite the difficulty making the transition to REMF. Itís made more difficult by the knowledge that while I sit here on a paid vacation in an impact zone, there are folks in the IRR being rousted into mobilization sites.

This leads me to my final gripe: combat pay. Iíve tried to illustrate some of my ďcombatĒ existence through this post (word is weíll wind up with Bronze Stars galore for our ďdutyĒ here). I get the very same combat pay as the young soldier beating bush and bullets as Chris Murphy recounted. Itís hard to feel right about something like that, especially since soldiers like Murphy have done more for this war in one day than I will in six months. Something must be done about actually rewarding the real warriors if you want to keep them around. Many of us here are little more than spectators but get the same pay as the prowlers and growlers, and shooters get.

I look forward to getting my local news from someplace other than Fox or MSNBC (I remember our hearing about Chris Murphyís incident only in terms of what Fox put out on a crawl message. We were all skeptical since CNN claimed just weeks prior that weíd taken one KIA at Anaconda when it didnít happen Ė try explaining that to the wife back home.)

But what I really look forward to is getting the hell out of the Army and going someplace where I can actually contribute to the defense of my country. I feel like a very highly paid welfare recipient here Ė and I think those folks actually have to work now to get their money now.

Please keep supporting the grunts, they are the real heroes out there for all of us and are the reason for any of us other ďsoldiersĒ to be here at all.

Pat Smith is the pen name of a U.S. Army lieutenant serving in Iraq.



07-21-04, 09:15 AM
In some ways his story is a lot like Nam and at the same time not at all. Things have changed. Maybe the Marines need this young man.

07-21-04, 09:29 AM
Hand salute to this Army lieutenant that tells it like it is.