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thedrifter
07-05-08, 09:03 AM
Published: July 04, 2008 09:17 pm

Proud to be an American: Retired Lt. Col. Gipe talks about time in Iraq
By DANIEL SUDDEATH
Daniel.Suddeath@newsandtribune.com

Retired Lt. Col. Gipe talks about time in Iraq



BY DANIEL SUDDEATH

Daniel.Suddeath@newsandtribune.com

From the battlefield to the classroom, retired Lt. Col. Benjamin Gipe believes the nation has much to be proud of and look forward to.

During a planning period at Floyd Central High School, Gipe sips coffee and talks with his fellow Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor, Senior Chief Mike Beal, about how proud he is to be an American, as well as common misconceptions about their program at the school.

“We want kids to be prepared for life,” Beal said.

Gipe nods his head in agreement. Parents sometimes refuse to let their children join the NJROTC, though they want to. Gipe believes concerned mothers and fathers believe the instructors are trying to sign their kids up for active military service.

But Gipe says that’s not the case.

“What we teach are life skills. We teach kids how to get themselves organized and how to be a leader,” Gipe said.

Out of 76 students last year, Gipe said only 2 joined the Marines, though many others have accepted leadership positions around the county.

But make no mistake, Gipe knows plenty about preparing soldiers for battle.

After being retired for 14 years, Gipe accepted an offer to rejoin the U.S. Marine Corps for a special assignment last year. He went to Iraq — a place where his son, Brian, had only recently returned from military duty — to train Iraqi police forces in the hopes they could one day protect their own country better.

Gipe has plenty of police experience after working as jail commander at the Floyd County Jail and as a drug probation officer in Clark County, among other police-related duties he has performed.

Gipe recently sat down with The Evening News and The Tribune to answer questions as part of the weekly Q&A series. Here’s what he had to say:

Question: What were some of your duties before retiring in 1993?

Ben Gipe: “Primarily, I flew fighters and I was fortunate enough when I wasn’t flying, I worked with Marine and Army airborne.”

Q: How did you end up going to Iraq and coming back to the Marines?

Gipe: “I have a friend here who is a Marine Corps officer — a reserve major. He said they needed guys with police experience to go to Iraq and help train Iraqi police and be advisers. I talked it over with my wife and she agreed to it.

“So I kind of threw my hat into the ring. I’m a Christian, so I figured if it was the Lord’s will, then I would be asked to come out of retirement.”

Q: Describe your experience in Iraq?

Gipe: “I ended up with seven police-transition teams. We had a special-operations-forces mission to train indigenous forces. Our job was to train, mentor and advise the Iraqi police. I was the senior adviser for an Iraqi police district. It had 1,400 Iraqi police, six police stations and covered 250 square kilometers.”

Q: Where were you based?

Gipe: “The Al-Anbar province. I had seven police transition teams and we lived in the police stations with the Iraqis. We ate with them. We trained with them. We went out with them. We were gainfully employed and the time went by quickly.”

Q: Describe the forces you trained?

Gipe: “It was a combination. Most of the leaders were prior Iraqi Army in various ranks. A number of the policemen — probably a third to 40 percent — were civilians and they went through a police academy.”

Q: Talk about the Al-Anbar province where you were stationed.

Gipe: “Al-Anbar province is only 1 of 18 provinces in Iraq. It used to be the most violent province in all of Iraq, and now it is the model of how Iraq can take control of their own security situation.

“When I left, all the markets were flourishing. Lots of people were on the street, which is good and bad because you’re more exposed, but that’s OK. It’s a huge success story and I’m very honored to be a Marine. I served with Marine and National Guard teams that did an outstanding job.”

Q: Talk about the accomplishments of your mission?

Gipe: “The marines that had gone before us, they shed their blood so that it could be more peaceful where we were at. We lucked out in coming to a situation where it was more stable for police to take over as opposed to the Iraqi army.”

Q: What about misconceptions you see from what is reported in the media and what you saw in Iraq?

Gipe: “The first misconception is that everybody in Iraq is a terrorist or an insurgent and Iraqi people want that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, their culture is extremely different from our, but they are like us.

“I want to grow up and watch my great-grandkids and everybody have a great life and I think that’s what they want. The cool part was they were the reason we didn’t get any (improvised explosive devices). The Iraqi people would tell us there is an IED around the corner, so we found the IED instead of it finding us. Though we heard gunfire everyday, I think we were only targeted a few times.”

Q: You were raised in a military family and served for many years before retiring. After coming back, what are some of the differences between now and then?

Gipe: “The part that blows me away is that I’m a lieutenant colonel because my Marines made me look good. I was smart enough to trust them and listen to them. The part that blew me away about then and coming back now is I swear, I think the young Marines are even better today.”

Ellie