NCOs Note Differences Between What They See and What They Hear

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, May 10, 2006  - It's the e-mails and calls from home that gave the soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division their first clue that something is becoming different about the will of the American people.

"All this time I thought we were winning," said a sergeant first class sarcastically. "Seems folks back home have already run up the white flag."

Some 4th Infantry Division noncommissioned officers were discussing the flood of e-mails they receive from family members and friends about the constant danger they are facing in Iraq. Though they asked not to be identified by name for this article, the NCOs said they believe the news media highlight explosions and murders over any sign of progress in Iraq.

"I see progress every time I go outside the wire," said a platoon sergeant. "Just look at the progress the Iraqi army has made."

The NCOs, many with years of infantry experience, said the Iraqi army has made tremendous strides since standing up just two years ago. The difference between the Iraqi National Guard that first stood up in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein and today's Iraqi army is night and day, said an NCO who served with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003's initial combat in Iraq.

He said the old Iraqi military hardly even fired its weapons. "We joked that the safest place to be was where they were aiming," he said.

But today's Iraqi army has developed the professional warrior ethos needed to be an effective fighting force. The men said the Iraqi NCOs are taking charge of their units and tending to 'NCO business.'

"In the old army, being an NCO just meant you were paid more," said an NCO. Now the Iraqi NCOs are serious about training their troops and ensuring they are cared for.

One NCO spoke about an incident in Baghdad that the Iraqi army handled without any help from the coalition. "There was a (car bomb) attack and the Iraqis handled it," he said. The Iraqi soldiers rushed to the scene, delivered aid to those wounded, cordoned off the area and searched it for other threats, and secured the site while Iraqi police conducted the investigation.

This is not to say there aren't problems, the NCOs said. While the Iraqi army has made tremendous progress, the Iraqi police - especially the local police - have a long way to go. But they're continuing to make progress, the NCOs said.

The special police units - now called the national police - are almost as professional as the military, the NCOs said. And the young recruits to the local police understand what is required of them and have embraced the training. "If that continues when they get on the street is the test," an NCO said.

These NCOs are not ready to leave Iraq, and they resent suggestions that they aren't doing good in this war-weary country.

"I have yet to speak to (an American) here who thinks we're losing," an NCO said. "Trust me. (No soldier) wants to be here, but no one wants to cut and run either."

"Leaving would just send the wrong signal to our enemies," he said.

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