Greenville native heads to war

Published 11:42 am Monday, May 18, 2009

Roughly 90 days ago, I embarked on a new type of mission as part of a Provincial Police Transition Team for deployment in Iraq. Today, advisor teams are deployed all over Iraq and Afghanistan. They are tasked with the mission of mentoring the military, the police, to include national and provincial, and the border patrol. Some media sources attribute the drastic drop in violence in Iraq to the work of these advisor teams.

To be honest with you, I was not exactly happy or excited when these orders came to my inbox. In my traditional role as an artilleryman, I am trained to lead soldiers, shoot howitzers, and direct fire from howitzers or aircraft, not to train someone else in a completely different specialty. For those who have trained and deployed with any military unit, you know there is a bond that is formed among soldiers as they prepare for deployment. You have a chance to find the strengths and weaknesses of each man and learn ways to overcome these deficiencies through teamwork. There are also enough people in the unit that minor imperfections are not noticed. Now, I’m being thrown into a small, 11-man team and tasked to do something that I’m not completely familiar with. Not only will I be mentoring someone in a different job and skill set, but I’ll also take up the position of gunner, a job that is not usually held by senior leaders.

Transition team training is currently held at Fort Riley, Kansas. During the short 90-day training session, teams are formed, trained, and deployed. Over the past 12 weeks, my team has gone through all the training necessary to be certified to deploy. We have conducted cultural training, language training, and advisor training. We have spent countless hours in simulators, on mounted combat patrols (MCPs), and on small arms and machine gun ranges perfecting our skills. We have all been certified as Combat Lifesavers (amateur medics). Like I said, we are only 11 men. We have to be able to protect ourselves at a moment’s notice.

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As we finally prepare to get on the airplane, I can say with confidence that this next year is going to be an experience that I will not soon forget. Through daily interactions with our Iraqi counterparts, I hope we are able to help them perfect their skills and grow closer to self-sufficiency. It will also be a great opportunity to interact with a new culture. The days of rolling down the road, keeping to yourself, with little to no interaction with the public are over. Today, Military Transition Teams are out in the community working with local leaders and interacting with the public; they live with their Iraqi units or close to them; and they are helping the Iraqi Security Forces prove to the people that they can and will provide basic needs and security for them.

Over the next year, I hope to be able to provide you with access to the life of a soldier in Iraq. I am excited about the mission and this opportunity to share it.

Cpt. Joshua Whiddon, 27, is a native of Greenville and the son of Joreka and Allen Pitts. He attended Greenville Academy until 1997, and then moved to Niceville, Fla., graduating high school in 2000. He graduated Troy University in 2004 and was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. As his time permits, Cpt. Whiddon will be sharing his experiences with readers of The Greenville Advocate over the next year.