Iraq: A nation at war
Nimrod “Rod” Frazer of Montgomery, whose family hailed from Greenville, is the former Chairman and CEO of the Enstar Group. He recently returned from Iraq, where he was part of a group briefed by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The first of a three-part essay by Frazer follows.
By Rod Frazer
Atlanta to Dubai, by Delta, took fourteen hours non-stop, departing Atlanta in the dark, flying all day and arriving at Dubai on the Persian Gulf in the dark. The airport is huge and the terminal is one of the most modern in the world.
Though late at night, it was busy with people of every description, including sheiks in flowing white robes and women covered in black, some with total face covering. The night activity was not unusual.
Most international flights in the Middle East arrive and depart at those hours.
American military was conspicuously absent at the Dubai airport.
But, American civilian contract employees were there and later at the Kuwait City airport.
A number of companies providing services to the war zone have offices in Kuwait.
One weary fellow was returning to his job as a traveling metal worker.
He goes from unit to unit up-armoring Humvees right where they serve. He spoke of occasional mortars with an accepting familiarity but said he would sign up for another tour after his one year runs out.
Most of these contract workers were clean-cut, fit, confident looking guys in their thirties or forties. Some had the weathered look of construction or oil people. All looked like workers you would be glad to have around.
They are said to be making money in six figures.
A group of about twenty included two African Americans.
From Dubai to Kuwait City was an hour and a half flight by Emirate Airline. Though oil rich and having high-rise buildings along a palm lined Corniche on the Gulf, Kuwait City has few of the stunning and ornate qualities of Dubai. Neither does it have the traffic problems.
Like Dubai, however, it has a large Indian, Philippine and Malaysian population of guest workers who covered a downtown park on a religious holiday.
A group of five businessmen from around the US, along with a retired four star Marine, Mike Hagee, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, joined General Chuck Boyd (Retired) in Kuwait City. Boyd is a much-admired former fighter pilot, POW and senior USAF Officer (four stars).
He organized the trip. General Boyd is associated with a group called Business Executives for National Security.
He was accompanied and assisted by an indefatigable young academic, a former Marine Captain; they did the complicated planning for a whirlwind tour of Iraq that took place over three days and two nights.
An embassy van provided transportation to a joint military facility at Kuwait City. After flak jackets and helmets were handed out, a briefing described the hour and a half afternoon flight to Iraq.
It was desert weather in Kuwait, hot, dry and windy.
Visibility was less than a mile in the blowing sand. The United States Air Force people at the facility were very professional.
About half of the people guarding the multiple gates were female. We were later to see many more women in a military that makes full use of them.
It was hot in the canvas bucket seats of the worn and faded Hercules C-130. Bottled water was handed out by the crew chief and a young female loadmaster. Everyone used earplugs to block the screaming engine noise.
Static lines hanging along the walls were testimony to the array of missions this plane could perform, to include dropping parachutists.
Baghdad appeared below on the white and tan desert. Two large blue lakes surrounded by green fields lay along the Euphrates River. There are no high rises for a skyline in Baghdad.
Everything is mud colored and low.
Reeds border the river.
Palm trees along city streets make a peaceful first impression.
From altitude there are no signs of a shredded city with everyone holding on for dear life.
The Captain in the pilot's seat was a woman whose face was nearly covered by the green sun visor of a crash helmet. While working switches, levers and dials, she pushed the controls of the powerful plane into a sharp descent on the base leg and final approach.
On the ground she gave her male copilot a smile of satisfaction from having brought that huge prop plane in for a perfect landing.
Concrete barriers and security walls protected the ramp area where the Hercules shut down. Beyond was field after field of cargo pallets wrapped in protective covering.
In other fields there was war materiel of every kind.
Huge forklifts, vehicles, and tractors were working all over the place. Roads were rough and potholed. The Baghdad airfield is an immense supply base with acres of armored vehicles and supplies for war.
A National Guard Sergeant who knew his way around provided a van.
two armed soldiers, one of whom was a medic with a huge kit, were to be with us for three days.
The first briefing covered the Army's situation throughout the country and in Baghdad.
It was given by a newly arrived Marine Major General and an Army Major General who had been in country ten months. They explained the complex intersection of religious groups and secular Tribes.
We were to hear much more about this.
That session was followed by more than two hours with the Deputy Corps Commander, an Army Major General with long service and experience.
He had more than four years in Iraq during two tours, all of it as a Deputy Corps Commander, and appeared to know the country and the troops in and out.
He was loquacious and had opinions.
Spirited questions were allowed and a frank but classified discussion took place. What was not classified was the present emphasis on (1) quality intelligence as to the activities of Tribes against each other and (2) al Queda tactical intentions toward the US and Iraq Armies.
Emphasis is also being placed on assisting with humanitarian and municipal services where possible.
Casualties were discussed along with the Army's attempt to put more of the load on the Iraqi Army.
There was mention of the extent to which our forces are putting meaningful pressure on the al Queda enemy. Estimates of the size of al Queda were made and possible future battles were mentioned. It was significant that the last of five Battalions provided by the recent force surge had just moved into place, two of them in Baghdad.
They were prepared to make large scale sweeps with the objective of quickly lowering sectarian violence.
Camp Liberty had a place for transits. One building out of a cluster of former palaces around a lake was used as a hotel. It had double deck bunks in a former palace bedroom having a bathroom with a shower and no tub.
The toilet and bidet were covered with exotic ceramic flowers,
A Navy Lieutenant's briefing of the coming schedule was followed by a simple Army dinner.
It was dished out by a cook for the small mess that served visitors and support troops in the neighborhood.
Surprisingly, some ones and twos of headquarters soldiers drifted in after training runs.
Everybody looked fit.
The night was totally quiet but anticipation and excitement made real sleep out of the question.
A single shot of unknown origin was fired somewhere in the distance.