Got another e-mail over the weekend from my buddy Drew, who is lieutenant commander of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 27th infantry.
I think you know me pretty well in terms of personality and I have been “Living the Dream” as the Commander of not only this historic Infantry Battalion, but also my own Forward Operating Base here at FOB McHenry. Despite being the Big Man on the FOB, we had some visitors yesterday that added a whole new meaning to the term Big Man.
Meet Greg Minor, Thurl Bailey, and Shawn Bradley (From Left to Right with my little Frame in the middle). They joined up with Army MWR as Professional Basketball Players and took some time to come to Iraq to visit with Soldiers only to find themselves on my remote Forward Operating Base. I am not a small man, but I paled in comparison to these guys. Despite their stature, I am still the Big Man on My FOB!
Thurl Bailey played for NC State and was on the 1983 National Championship Team. Despite being a Die Hard Canes Fan, and you being a Die-Hard Gators Fan, I knew you would appreciate the “Money Shot” below.
What makes this story even more interesting is the fact that during their visit, there was a suicide attack on a tribal sheik meeting in one of my town. The tribal meeting was called for and conducted by the tribal leadership to unite the tribes against the terrorists that are doing nothing but harm to this country. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Iraqi Police, The suicide bomber did nothing but kill himself and make a large mess for the janitorial staff to clean up. The two police that stopped the bomber received minor wounds and were at our Aid Station when these 3 giants went in to visit. I thought we were going to have to give them oxygen when they saw these 3 men in Army uniforms (Custom made to fit them) enter the Station. I presented both the police officers with Wolfhound Battalion coins with our guest towering over in attendance.
The professionalism and accomplishments of these brave men typically go unnoticed by our mainstream media despite their competence and desire to rid their country of these twisted terrorists. So in one day we had the opportunity to see not only stars from our own nation's eyes, but real stars from the Iraqi Security Force.
I miss you all and look forward to talking to you again soon.
DREW R. MEYEROWICH
Commander, 2-27 IN "Wolfhounds"
Then today, I got a note from Drew's wife, Susan, who passed along a front-page story that ran last week in the Kansas City Star.
Here's an excerpt. It's vintage Drew:
HAWIJAH, Iraq - Amid the sandbag maze of Forward Operating Base McHenry, two occupied body bags rested beneath sacks of ice aimed at delaying the inevitable.
The bags held brothers, killed together in a gunfight against Americans.
The bags also represented the tough-minded and more flexible counterinsurgency efforts that U.S. commanders are using as the troop surge continues.
The fight had taken place on a Sunday. The next morning a muqtar, or neighborhood leader, from the village of Abassi showed up at McHenry. Could he have the bodies for a proper burial? The answer was no.
On Tuesday, the father came for his sons' bodies.
"No way in hell," said Lt. Col. Drew Meyerowich. "I wanted to find out who their buddies were, and he wasn't giving me that."
Wednesday, Meyerowich relented. But he turned the bodies over to a local sheikh of modest influence. The sheikh, in return, agreed to deliver a third brother suspected of being in the same gun battle.
Points were made.
"I increased his prestige because he was able to deliver the bodies to the family," Meyerowich said. "Now he was in debt to me."
Just more of the carrot and stick, the tools of counterinsurgency tactics Meyerowich uses in the part of Kirkuk province he oversees.
The carrots can be U.S. dollars to restore water and electricity (efforts that still prove a mighty struggle four-plus years after the war's start).
A third factor is just talking. Meyerowich talks of the importance of getting his soldiers out of their Humvees and into conversation with Iraqis. It's a tactic that increases short-term risk in a quest for a longer-term progress.
Quite often those chats are guarded affairs, where Iraqis insist they know nothing about the attacks regularly made against U.S. soldiers from their neighborhoods. Yet now and again, a tip comes up, a raid is made and the Americans feel they've inched the security needle in the right direction.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander, wrote in his Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton University that the wrong lessons had been learned by the military in Vietnam when it failed to recognize that brute strength is an awkward tool against insurgencies.
He oversaw the completion of a new counterinsurgency manual while commanding the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center in Leavenworth before taking charge in Baghdad early this year.
The new doctrine calls for American troops to act less like burly occupiers and more like partners. It makes gathering intelligence a priority over scoring casualties against an enemy. It calls for handing over ever more of the work to friendly forces in the country, because they'll be in charge eventually anyway.
Progress can be slow. Units that preceded the 2nd Battalion in the Hawijah area relied mostly on force to try to stem growing violence. Bitter feelings toward Americans became pervasive.
So Meyerowich has downed many glasses of tea with Lt. Col. Abdul Rahman, the commander of an Iraqi army battalion that shares space in McHenry with U.S. Army troops. By working with Iraqi forces, Meyerowich said intelligence has improved dramatically and civic projects have made gradual, if halting, progress.
One night this month he showed up just before midnight at Rahman's office tent to plot new operations, to talk about the bodies he had on ice, to plan an upcoming ceremony for 90-plus men graduating from police training and Iraqi soldiers receiving medals. (Two days after the ceremony the bodies of three men in police uniform were found bound, tortured and killed in Kirkuk. And west of the provincial capital an Iraqi army officer and his 2-year-old daughter were killed.)
The two officers talked about a project to build a wall around an industrial park in Hawijah. The wall construction would provide perhaps 200 jobs and make it possible to get a couple of small factories running in relative safety. But the contractor, Rahman complained, was doing nothing. Another contractor should have been hired.
Thirty-six hours later the slow-moving contractor had been summoned to the base.
"We've got to get lots of workers there, lots of men employed and get the work done," Meyerowich told the contractor. "You'll have security."
"But," responded the contractor, "I'd like to keep this project a civilian affair."
"This is not a civilian contract," Meyerowich shot back. "It's a military contract. If you can't this work done ... we'll get somebody else."
PREVIOUS LETTERS FROM IRAQ:
'Not the same Hawijah.'
Time out for toys.
Coffee and sunsets.
Get your motor runnin'.
"Wolfhounds don't do anything small."
Thanksgiving in Iraq.
"What sacrifice for the sake of freedom feels like."
"I am amazed by them every single day."
It's who you know.
Month two of deployment.
I'd walk a mile.
Boots on the ground.
Once more into the breech.