The ability to secure and protect the Iraqi people is essential for a free Iraq. Each day Iraqis risk their lives, as well as their families' well-being, to serve in the Iraqi army.
U.S. soldiers make their own sacrifices to train them. This Thanksgiving the Carroll children - Aiden, 8, Shane, 6, and Riley, 3 - missed their father and had to travel to see their mother, as both are currently deployed.
Maj. Steven Carroll, an artillery officer, and his wife, Capt. Lora Carroll, are based out of Fort Sill, Okla. Lora Carroll is deployed to Operation Hope for Hurricane Katrina, and Steven Carroll serves as the training chief for a military transition team (MiTT) embedded with an Iraqi tank battalion.
Steven Carroll arrived in July on his second deployment to Iraq and is based out of Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. He shared his insights on training the Iraqi army with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan.
Tell us about your assignment. My job, battalion MiTT chief, is designated to be filled with a combat arms officer only - infantry, armor, field artillery - which precludes women officers from filling my particular position. I only say that because I think my wife is 10 times the leader I will ever be.
Our job as a team is to advise, train and fight with the Iraqi battalion we are embedded with. Our other role is to liaison with coalition forces in order to provide the Iraqi army with "effects" that they cannot provide themselves, like attack aviation, indirect fires, air medical evacuation, information operations and intelligence operations.
I am the primary adviser to the tank battalion commander. I spend the majority of my time with him, and with his staff officers to a lesser degree.
How does this role play into our efforts to stabilize Iraq? Our efforts are quickening the process of developing an Iraqi Security Force that is capable and willing to provide the necessary security and protection to the people of Iraq, such that the rebuilding process can continue unabated.
Sen. [John] McCain says more troops are needed and Gen. [John] Abizaid recently announced he would increase the number of our embedded trainers with Iraqi troops. Do you need more trainers to do the job? Personally, no, I don't. My team has enough members when we are all here to do our mission. We are an 11-man team of active-duty U.S. Army officers and noncommissioned officers.
What progress has your team made? Much of my experience, frankly, is frustration followed by brief episodes of real job satisfaction. We are not trying to teach this army how to be or act like the American Army. Instead, we are trying to help them do what they do better, more effectively and more efficiently, all the while trying desperately not to fall into the trap of doing it for them.
This, I assure you, is much more difficult than it sounds, especially given most of our "type A" personalities. We have a saying: Better to let them fail (not catastrophically) than to do it for them.
I have seen progress. I see it every time the operations officer stops himself from doing a task alone and instead moves to delegate the action to a subordinate. I see it when we arrive at a checkpoint and seven out of 10 soldiers there are in the proper uniform. And I see it when the soldiers working the checkpoints treat their fellow citizens with respect and courtesy and are, in turn, admired by those whom they are delaying.
We hear reports of corruption, especially in the police force. How effective is the Iraqi army? The answer is somewhat. We have made progress in some areas: staff actions, soldier skill proficiency and leadership. But we have not made as much progress as we'd like in others: soldier-officer divide, planning for future operations, developing a noncommissioned officer corps and utilizing the new logistics system.
It is difficult for the Iraqi army officers and soldiers to find the incentive for the type of commitment it will take to make this force effective. For example, nearly every officer in the battalion has lost an immediate family member. Just consider that for a moment. Every one of them, and more importantly, every one of their families, are at risk of torture and death simply because they are a member of the Iraqi army. They leave the camp in disguise to take leave and are still not safe.
The Iraqi army is new but there remain many of the problems from the old army: favoritism, corruption, class system, etc. Additionally, much of the logistics system is still being rebuilt. Thus, measuring the readiness of the Iraqi forces may have more to do with their capability to sustain a fight than it does their capability simply to fight.
How are you treated by the local Iraqis? That depends on who you consider the locals to be. Some of them dig holes in the side of the roads and bury nasty little surprises for us. We wish they, in particular, would treat us better.
Seriously, though, most of the locals we talk to when we conduct "atmospherics" are sincerely pleased to see the Iraqi forces out protecting them.
What's the best thing about serving there and the worst? This is the opportunity of a lifetime. This will be an experience I never forget, especially if in the end we really have made a difference. The worst part is missing the entire third year of my little girl's life. I swear to God I am crying now just thinking about that. I remember both of my boys when they were 3; it is such a beautiful time in their lives.
When do you think they can fully assume the mission? Speaking only for my battalion - Insha'ala [Arabic for God willing], soon.
Have you seen combat or been fired at? We have our families convinced we sit around all day drinking Chai with our Iraqi brothers within the safe confines of the camp, and we'd like to keep it that way. Off the record, I'd be happy to share the stories with you - you just can't tell my wife.
What is your wife's assignment? Lora works for the Corps of Engineers as an engineer officer. She'll be promoted to a major on Dec 1. She was deployed to Operation Hope, Hurricane Katrina recovery and rebuilding in New Orleans, on Oct. 1. By the grace of God, she wasn't deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan because this deployment popped up unexpectedly.
Your situation is a unique story of personal sacrifice with both of you in the military and deployed at the same time. Can you tell us about that? You know, with all we have been blessed with, I don't think Lora or I feel like we are sacrificing. Don't get me wrong, every day that Lora and I are apart feels like a lifetime. The Army has been very good to us and our family and we both serve because we love soldiers and what they stand for.
Military service is unique in that every time you start to take things for granted, like your wife, children, restaurants, smooth roads … the Army snatches you away from them. Absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, and every time I return home, it's like seeing them all for the first time again. In that way, soldiers really learn how to appreciate, respect what they have.