Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Or at the least the Army has determined that I am deadlier with a word processor than with an M-4 or 9mm.

Today, after months of bureaucratic wrangling, it became official that my first duty position in Iraq will be as speechwriter for Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. I was involved in Amb. Khalilzad's "murder board" for his confirmation hearings last year as DoD's representative, and came away extremely impressed by both his intelligence and his demeanor. He has earned justly deserved praise from all quarters -- Republican, Democrat, and Iraqi -- for his efforts to broker critical agreements between the various communities within Iraq's nascent democracy. So I am both grateful and excited to have the opportunity to work with him at such an important juncture of our mission in Iraq.

This also explains why I am at Ft. Bliss now rather than Ft. Bragg. When the Army recalled me to active duty, they did so with the intent that I would be a Civil Affairs (CA) officer, and they refused to deviate from this plan even as three separate commands in theater made by name requests for my services. Consequently, I was sent to Ft. Bragg to be a CA operations officer with a CA battalion deploying at the end of April.

Although various officers in Baghdad and I tried to figure out how to get me transferred out of CA, various Army officers either belittled me (a Major at Human Resources Command asked "What do you think you are, special?"), refused to help because it didn't benefit them personally, or pled ignorance about how to work the system even though it was their chain of command. Finally, in mid-February, a Major at Ft. Bragg suggested I write a letter to the Commander of USACAPOC requesting an exemption to the policy that IRR officers activated for CA could not be released to other commands.

To make a long story short, the request was approved, as USACAPOC realized that I did not have any special qualifications for the CA job compared to the other commands that were requesting me. (The S-1, to whom I am deeply indebted for his help, said, "Young man, you are trying to buck 225 years of Army tradition by asking to be put in the position you are best qualified for. But I'll tell you what, you are one helluva persuasive writer, so I'm gonna' make this happen for you.") So last week I was finally sent to the Replacement Center I should have been sent to after Ft. Jackson in January. But unfortunately, becuase of either the selfishness or ignorance of certain officers, I lost six weeks that could have been spent with my wife and baby that I can never get back.

Perhaps the worst part of those six weeks was what it did to my spirits. I embarked on this deployment with a great deal of patriot fervor. Additionally, during my years in academia and at the Pentagon, I came to idealize the professionalism and efficiency of the military and the officers who comprise it. But the sheer incompetence of the "Warrior Brigade" at Ft. Bragg, and the dreadful living conditions endured during those six weeks, managed to crush any idealism I had. (I will not go into detail on this point, but it suffices to say there have been over 40 Congressional inquiries about the conditions and training at Ft. Bragg, the result of more than just your run-of-the-mill disgruntled soldiers).

Fortunately, my spirits are starting to improve as my actual departure finally appears to be imminent. It is likely that by this time next week I will be in theater. (The command here at Ft. Bliss, which is exponentially more squared away than the Warrior Brigade, has not given us the precise details of our flight yet, which would be Confidential anyways). The news that I will be working at the hub of our political/diplomatic effort in Iraq, and hopefully will be able to make some small contribution to this crucial endeavor, only increases my enthusiasm.