BAGHDAD, Iraq—The fate of the Iraqi people and the reconstruction of Iraq are a common question for many people in the world. The United States Army directly interacts with the Iraqi people through the Army Civil Affairs (CA). They are the eyes and ears of the commanders with the Iraqi people.
For Maj. Raymond Pfahl, Jr. from Warsaw, Ind., the Iraqi people are no mystery to his soldiers. Pfahl, 50, is Company Commander of Charlie Company of the 414 Battalion CA, from Syracuse, deployed to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Camp Taji, 30 km north of Baghdad.
While many soldiers who serve in Iraq have limited interaction, or at best, hostile engagements in Iraq, Pfahl's company of soldiers works with the Iraqi people outside the comforts of the base nearly everyday.
“I think we are doing a wonderful job a lot of people do not hear about.” Building schools, fixing water pumping and treatment plants, building women's centers and helping maintain the gas and electricity for the Iraqi people in the Taji area are a few of the successes.
Pfahl was laid off from his job with a medical company in Warsaw prior to his deployment. He retired from the military but stayed on the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) list. Had he not been on this list, Phafl wound not have been called up for duty.
His wife, a retired a captain in the Army, is used to his deployments. Pfahl previously served in the Special Forces, but he said, “That was many moons ago.”
Although CA are deployed to help the Iraqi people, they do get attacked.
“I did have a team get hit up here in May,” said Pfahl. “The Humvee took most of the blast and people were able to walk away.”
Over 95% of the of the CA are reservist. The theory is that CA works best with reserve soldiers because they need to think outside the box of the military and interact with civilians in foreign lands.
Like Pfahl, most of his team was on the IRR list. Some of the soldiers on the IRR stay on the list and get money from the Army to be ready for call up. Others, such as officers, are committed to several years of IRR after they serve active duty.
Just after Pfahl and his company arrived, their sister Unit the 490 Civil Affairs lost three soldiers from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED.)
“I try not to go out as much as possible,” said Pfahl. He added that the mission requires the CA to go out and work with the Iraqi people, so his team has no choice but to drive around the Northern Baghdad area, where they work.
I spent a week working with three of the five teams in Charlie Company. I regret that I do not have many photos of the CA working with the Iraqi people. This is not because they were not with the people, but rather a matter of survival. A photo is death, at times. If one of the insurgent groups acquires a picture of an interpretor, or someone else working with the US troops, they, or their family, will likely be killed.
One writer here in Baghdad told me that two of his stories in a row resulted in attacks on the places he wrote about, where Iraqis were working with the US Army. Regardless of the dangers, the reconstruction of Iraq continues, just as it has after other wars.
The type of work that Civil Affairs started after World War II. With the need for a temporary military government to reestablish water, sewer, transportation, police, fire, and other basic services to war torn Europe, North Africa and Japan. In Vietnam, the Special Forces were tasked with Civil Affairs job as part of the “hearts and minds” campaign.
The U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command of today officially began in October 1985 with the formation of the 1st Special Operations Command Augmentation Detachment, which evolved into the United States Army Reserve Special Operations Command (USARSOC). On Nov. 27, 1990, USARSOC was renamed United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (A), coinciding with Operation Desert Shield.
Fathers and Sons on the Battlefield
While Pfahl was in training at Fort Bragg, he crossed paths with his son, Raymond Pfahl III, who also serves in the Army. His son was preparing for a possible deployment as well. Like Pfahl, Sgt. 1st Class James Lefurgey, 58, has a son in the military. Lefugey's son deployed to Iraq a little longer than a year before his father.
Lefurgey, a mortician at Palm's Funeral Home in Angleton, Tex., retired from the military after over 20 years of service. His first combat tour was in Vietnam. In Iraq, he holds a variety of jobs in and outside the wire from driver to gunner to acting Non Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) for the company. He is also in charge of security for his team.
“I am a man of many hats,” he said.
His impression of Iraq is simple: “Hot—everyday it's hot.”
“Some days you step outside and it feels like you got your clothes pressed and you are still in them,” he said. “Anytime you come back and haven't lost any one that is a good day.”
Lefurgey stayed on the IRR list and knew he could be called up to serve his country again. “I think that everyone had it in the back of their minds that there is always that possibility,” he said.
Almost everyday Lefurgey is outside the wire with his team. He has the opportunity to interact with Iraqi people—and children.
“The children are the future of Iraq,” he said. “I have to admit some have minds that are poisoned. Ideology is a hard thing to fight.”
This is Lefugey's 8th trip over seas with the military and his third combat tour since 1968.
“I'm like everyone else—everyone wants to go home,” he said.
Capt. Mario Tovar, 29, worked as a Production Supervisor at Hill-Rom Hospital Beds in Batesville, Ind.
“I was always interested in the military as a kid,” he said, adding that he collected military patches.
“My dad spent a couple years in the Marines,” he said. “I could tell how much he loved it even though it was just a snap shot of his life.”
Tovar said he was “a little terrified” of working with the Iraqi people. He served previously in Operation Iraqi Freedom I as an Armor Officer but had limited interaction with the Iraqi people. Now, he has become more at ease with his job.
“In a lot of ways it is kind of fun,” he said. “I feel like I am making a difference.”
Tovar was on the IRR list as an part of his commitment as an officer and called back for this deployment and retrained in Civil Affairs.
Sgt. John Prince, 36, had already served in the Army as a MP from 1987 to 1992. But after hearing on a radio talk show “that no one wanted to serve our country,” his sense of duty and patriotism inspired him to reenlisted in the Army Reserve as part of the Civil Affairs (CA). Prince works on Tovar's team.
“We do everything from water, school repair, bridges and road pavings to handing out medical and school supplies,” Prince said.
Staff Sgt. Harris Stanley Dail served the last 12 years in active duty with the Army Reserve.
“I love the work,” he said, about being in Iraq. “It makes getting out of bed a lot easier.”
Dail worked in logistics for his Army Reserve battalion in North Carolina. In 1992, he served in Cuba at Guantanamo doing CA work with Haitians refugees. Ironically, he was deployed for the work, then afterwards sent to CA training.
Dail likes hunting and camping, misses his fiance back in Greenville, NC. He keeps in touch with his two daughters and lets them know he is OK.
“My main job is operations NCO,” he said, adding that he is also acting motor sergeant and “jack of all trades.”
When I went on a mission with Dail, he was working as a gunner.
“I'll be outside sweating to death in the turret,” he said.
Dail choose to come to Iraq and like Prince, was one of the few that choose Civil Affairs as a job.
“It's alright,” he said. “The days are long and the nights are short.”
Capt. Holly Hanson, 31, leads another CA team at Taji. She had no previous experience in CA, like her NCOIC, Staff Sgt. John Crawford, 34.
Crawford wants to focus on his medical career and family as soon as he finishes in Iraq. He was called up on the last month of his commitment to the Army Reserve and retained for the deployment as part of the “Stop Loss” program in the Army. He worked at St. Luke's in Kansas City as a nurse. Now he is a driver for his CA team.
“I'd like to be home,” he said. “But I can't let the team down because I don't want to be here.”
“You still have an obligation,” he said. “I work with a good team.”
“Initially, when I was called back, I was disappointed, ” said Hanson. She was working in Europe as a school teacher and had to give up that job for this deployment.
“If I want to change careers, now is the time,” she said.
I've taken the time to share with you the profiles of some of the soldiers I meet who are working in Civil Affairs to show you what is going on. These soldiers were for the most part living civilian lives and most of them had no experience in Civil Affairs. But all of them have survived the steep learning curve once their boots hit the ground, and their mission tasked to them.
I was surprised at the high level of morale for soldiers tasked for such a difficult and dangerous job—a job that most of them did not sign up for, or ever want to be a part of.
My first mission with CA at Taji was with Hanson. She was meeting with the local representative for the Ministry of Oil, checking up on propane distribution. Iraqi citizens are alloted a certain amount of propane by their government for home us. Unfortunately, we learned that insurgents had blown up the propane gas line. The Iraqis sent into to repair the damage were killed. Propane was trucked in, but often the trucks did not make it for their deliveries.
Over the next week, I went out on several other missions. With Tovar's team, we were going to a local government meeting, called a Nahia. The day before, 85 Iraqi civilians were kidnapped on the buses they took home from work. These people worked in a factory in the same area. No one showed up to this meeting. We stopped at the local Iraqi Police station to check out some of the repairs going on there. This day was cut short.
The next mission, we went to check on the water pumps. Farming in the Taji area is an important industry. Water is pumped all over from canals connected to the Tigris River for alfalfa, wheat, barley, animal fodder and cucumbers. Hanson along with other CA teams were checking out this water distribution problem. We learned, through a series of interviews and investigations that the destruction of the propane line also cut the production of electricity for the Taji area. The electricity was produced at a propane plant. This cut the availability of water that could be pumped. Also, illegal tapping of the power lines caused numerous power outages. Water was only pumped to farms for about three hours a day.
I asked Hanson while working with her if she had any troubles doing her job in Iraq, with Iraqi men in particular, regarding the different roles women play in that culture. She said that before her deployment, another female officer had served before her and the men were used to dealing with female US Army soldiers.
“I think they know that women are treated differently,”she said.”For the most part, I haven't had any issues.”
While I was working with the CA, I was able to get a break down of the Iraqi economy in the area.
Gas was about 45 cents a gallon three months ago. In June, it was about $2.75 gallon. Skilled labor pays about $25 a day and unskilled is $10. Most of the food is very inexpensive. With constant attacks by insurgents, gas and electricity are at a shortage. This is very unpleasant and frustrating for the Iraqi people.
CA works hard to breath life into the nascent Iraqi Government. They assist the Iraqi government, but do not act as a government agency. For instance, at one meeting, an Iraqi man on crutches approached Hanson requesting a wheel chair.
“It was the council's responsibility to hand them out to the people,” said Hanson. She knew of a wheelchair in a near boy town and suggested to the man that he ask his government council to ask the other council for a chair.
Many times, the CA help Iraqis get together to solve problems, instead of solving the problems for the Iraqis. The government of Saddam Hussein was not democratic, or geared for the needs of the people. Many new skills are being learned by the Iraqis, daily.
Two other projects I visited with Hanson were a girls school and a women's center. Both were newly constructed buildings, near completion. The Iraqis segregate their genders. Unlike Afghanistan, females attending school is not as controversial for the Iraqi people. The Women's Center will provide vocational skills for women, and was harder to get together.
“Some people question the value of the project,” said Hanson. “I was surprised it even got funded.”
Outside the Women's Center, sewage flowed in an open trench in the street. Hanson said that was another project that needed to be looked into.
One afternoon, we stopped at a local contractors house. He did a lot of work helping reconstruct Iraq, and was able to work in dangerous areas, and sometimes worked for free. His grandfather had 11 wives, he said. This gave him a lot of family connections in the Baghdad area.
We had a late lunch at his house of lamb and rice. The portions were very generous. He did provide us with silverware. Iraqis eat with their hands. He served us with his hands, breaking off pieces of meat and placing them on our plates. We ate a table without chairs standing up. He said that is a normal way that Iraqis eat, sometimes.
“We like Americans,” he said through an interpretor. “Iraqi's need to forgive each other and rebuild.”
“Insurgents are every where,” he said. “They see you and you don't see them.”
He told me that most Iraqis appreciate the US helping the reconstruction. He said one of the biggest problems in Iraq is the border needs to be protected from terrorists crossing into Iraq and waging war in his country. He and some of his friends also asked me if I could help them immigrate to the US.
“We want you to stay here until everything is done—then we will be friends. Coalition forces are good. They don't hurt people.”
Throughout the entire week I was pleased to find out that at least in Iraq, public smoking is OK. In the public and private meetings almost everyone smoked. Iraq has some freedoms over California, for sure.