Marine Col. Oliver Grant's command surprised him recently when they took him to visit his stepson, a Marine also serving in Iraq. As the deputy director and chief of staff for the project contracting office for logistics based in Baghdad, he oversaw 1,400 Iraqi nationals and civilians who move cargo throughout the country.
Based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Grant was finishing his seven-month deployment. In a telephone conversation with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan, he discussed the logistical operation, his reunion with his stepson and an extraordinary story of Iraqi sacrifice.
Can you tell us about your assignment? We move all freight and cargo in support of the Iraqi reconstruction effort for the Iraqi ministries. Our cargo comes through the ports and we move it to five different warehousing concerns that we operate.
For example, every police vehicle you see in Iraq, we brought in country; we shipped it, we received it and we transported it to different locations. Every set of uniforms for the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army, Iraqi ministry organizations, we brought in. Kevlar helmets, Kevlar vests, millions upon millions of rounds of ammo, desk sets, hospital sets, hospital beds - anything whatsoever to support the Iraqi ministries to maintain their organization and infrastructure and to build or rebuild their security organizations, we supply.
To date, we've suffered over 100 casualties in the last two years. Every one of those deaths is indicative of another soldier, airman, Marine who did not have to die moving this cargo, because [the casualties] are civilian expatriates and Iraqi nationals.
Tell us about your visit with your stepson in Iraq. Adam [Cpl. Craig- head] was just here for his third tour with the same battalion, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. This is my second and his third tour.
My buddies took me out with the pretense of showing up at the [landing zone] to plan my flight schedule. Adam did not know I was coming.
The first thing we did was hug and a kiss. They gave me the VIP trailer, and my son stayed with me that night. So we had about a day and enjoyed a dinner that night and breakfast in the morning. Then I got on the helicopter and flew back.
What does Adam think about military life? Adam is real fine man and didn't have a lot of focus until about five years ago on 9/11/2001. He said, "Dad, I got to do something. I just can't sit around while my country's getting attacked." He asked questions, I answered and he came to his own conclusion. He was in college and taking classes, just turned 21. And he enlisted in the Marines.
His longest time home has been 10 months. He's been in the same battalion, and their operational tempo is high. [Three deployments] is high but other folks have been here four or five times.
He's ready to get out of the Marine Corps now and join the reserves. He's got a plan for the future that he didn't have before. And he has a lot of maturity; of course he's seen a lot of things that normally you wouldn't expect a young man to see at that age.
Your logistical role allows you to see a lot of the country and interact with many Iraqis. What's their impression of the war? Iraqis aren't portrayed in a true light. Let me share an example. Adam and his friend who's also a corporal rounded a checkpoint. Iraqis would come in and the Iraqi soldiers embedded with them would check their own people. They searched them before they allowed them inside the base.
Adam's friend was standing within 15 meters of the checkpoint when the Iraqi soldier checking one of the men coming through found a suicide bomber wearing a suicide vest. What that Iraqi soldier did instead of running - he wrapped his arms around to absorb the force of the explosion so it wouldn't hurt as many people. There was nothing much left of him.
After the assessment of the scene, it was determined if [the Iraqi soldier] hadn't done that, it probably would've killed at least three or four more people, including my son's friend.
If an American soldier did that, that's Medal of Honor stuff.
You can't say these people are cowards because that was a very brave act, and because of it, although my son's friend was severely wounded in the leg, he was not killed.
I work with Iraqis; they work for me and see me every day. I see what they have to deal with. They long for a secure country and live in a constant state of fear in some areas. They are a very grateful, courageous people who risk their lives every day. My workers have had several death threats. We've lost some Iraqi friends that have been kidnapped and murdered.
It's the five-year anniversary of 9/11. What changes have you seen since 2003 and the second Gulf War? I've seen some degradation, some increase in potential or capacity development. In Mosul and Kurdistan, that's a completely secure area. I see that growing in leaps and bounds. Government here's in place. Brave railroad men trying to run their engine down the road and finding IEDs the hard way, then learning by themselves to defuse IEDs because they want to run the railroad.
I see, after the elections, so many different people happy because they have [a chance] to vote. I see it slowly moving for the better, not slipping too much.
Public sentiment is divided over the war with concerns about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and violence in Baghdad. Do you think the Iraqis can achieve a democratic government? There's an old saying that says evil exists when good men do nothing. Good people here want to have a safe democratic country. Just like [ours], I don't know, but more free and open than they had previously, and anything's better than under Saddam.
Everybody I've talked to is so anxious to have him found guilty. It's amazing. There's no love lost for Saddam. [They] did not like the former regime. This is better for them.
Regardless of what kind of government foments here, they want the right to liberty, pursuit of happiness, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, their women to be able to vote, go to college. And not have to worry about getting killed, assassinated or held up for ransom.
What's the worst aspect of this deployment? What I have a hard time dealing with [is that] I don't see a whole lot of indignation from our country. I have two soldiers kidnapped and butchered alive, and that disturbs me greatly. Where is the outrage for what's been going on? [Instead, I'm] seeing people making excuses for bad people or my men getting wounded or killed.
I think that as a society we've become a bunch of weak sisters. We're not in it for the fight.
On one hand, [the American people] support the troops, but it's only to a certain extent. They have a misconception that all wars should be fought in three days, no casualties. Declare victory, come home and have a parade. In World War II they sent you to combat and you came back when the war was over. It wasn't for a seven-month or 13-month tour. And [America] saw you through the duration.
What really hurts is when I see my country torn in half over a political issue. Let's get behind it regardless of what you think. People are unwilling to see what we're doing is worthwhile.
It's a classic good vs. evil battle. And the evil is the terrorists and they can strike us anywhere. They're not going to go away. We're in here for the long haul.