Tom Ricks’s In­box

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook -

Some of the most in­ter­est­ing ac­counts of the Iraq war have come in notes from young sol­diers writ­ing to com­rades who are pre­par­ing to de­ploy to the coun­try.

Here, Army Lt. Bren­dan Ha­gan, a res­i­dent of Ar­ling­ton and a re­cent grad­u­ate of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, ad­vises an ROTC buddy on what to bring with him (the let­ter has been edited slightly for space). Ha­gan is now a highly re­garded in­fantry pla­toon leader with the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion, op­er­at­ing near the town of Sa­marra: Date: Mar 24, 2007 8:02 AM Sub­ject: Could be use­ful to you, could be crap - Hi Adam, Well, I am fi­nally sit­ting down to try and put some stuff on pa­per. Th­ese will be ram­bling thoughts so you will have to take them or leave them. . . .

What are the top pieces of equip­ment you wish you had/didn’t know you needed?

K Desert ghillie suits or ghillie blan­kets [used to cam­ou­flage snipers]. We use aban­doned houses and shacks when pos­si­ble, but it does not al­ways work out. So the abil­ity to hide in the open is crit­i­cal for en­gag­ing IED em­plac­ers. Be­sides you can only use an aban­doned house a few times be­fore the en­emy will catch on and booby trap them.

K Spot­ter scopes or good binos are a must. Ev­ery ve­hi­cle needs to have a good set of binos. IEDs are usu­ally sur­face laid, but the en­emy uses trash, bushes and even sand­bags to hide them. Af­ter a while you learn what to look for, but the binos give you stand­off for sus­pi­cious ob­jects and al­low you to as­sess whether it is an IED or not.

K Al­ways carry ev­ery­thing you might need in the ve­hi­cles. Think of as many con­tin­gen­cies as you can and be pre­pared to ex­e­cute any of them at any given time. Ex­am­ple: con­duct­ing a hasty raid. To start with you have to get in, so you need shot­guns. Have at least one on each pa­trol (I have one in each team). In ad­di­tion, some­times you run into steel doors and a picket pounder is more use­ful to bat­ter it in. As for flash-bangs [non-lethal grenades] use them when the sit­u­a­tion mer­its. Also un­der­stand that raid­ing tools are dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments. Out­side the City of Sa­marra a shot­gun is usu­ally all that is needed be­cause the houses are not usu­ally walled and the doors are mostly wood.

K Al­ways have all your night fight­ing equip­ment with you (i.e. ther­mals, NVGs [night vi­sion gog­gles] and tac lights). The sit­u­a­tion is al­ways chang­ing, you might go out on a short pa­trol early in the morn­ing and get di­verted to some­thing that lasts all night long. Just be pre­pared for it. . . . If we strike an IED the ther­mals are back up in­stantly scan­ning to the flanks for move­ment. I also have an LRAS on one of my truck. This is an amaz­ing ther­mal [im­ager] that can see a man pick­ing his nose at 3 km. It is an awe­some tool, which stays on at night and scans ahead and to the flanks con­stantly.

K Make sure all ex­tra ammo for the crew-served weapon is NOT inside the crew com­part­ment. The two cat­a­strophic kills we had on Hum­mers had ex­tra .50 cal rounds inside the crew com­part­ment. As troop­ers came to aid and get sur­vivors out, rounds were cook­ing off in the fire, cre­at­ing more of a dan­ger. Keep them in the trunk, be­hind the blast doors or make buz­zle racks on the sides of the tur­ret. I like them on the tur­ret, that way the ammo is at hand for the gun­ner and in the event of a cat­a­strophic IED the rounds will most likely be blown away from the ve­hi­cle, caus­ing less of a haz­ard for ev­ery­one.

K Have fire blan­kets on all ve­hi­cles in a stan­dard lo­ca­tion. IEDs of­ten are Arty [ar­tillery] rounds with some kind of ac­cel­er­ant at­tached (mean­ing cans of home made na­palm or gas). They do this to try and burn the ve­hi­cle down. The IED will prob­a­bly not de­stroy the ve­hi­cle, but if the ac­cel­er­ant gets on the tires, it will burn the truck to the ground. The blan­kets will let you ex­tin­guish burn­ing per­son­nel and help you get them out of the truck.

K Be very care­ful when driv­ing on dirt roads. Don’t do it if you don’t have too. That is where the en­emy kills us. Dirt roads fa­cil­i­tate large cat­a­strophic IEDs and al­low the en­emy to dig them in right un­der the ve­hi­cle. The hum­mer does not take a mine strike well. My pla­toon struck a pair of large AT [anti-tank] mines dou­ble stacked and rigged with pres­sure wire.

The ex­plo­sion killed ev­ery­one inside, the only thing left was the trunk sec­tion of the ve­hi­cle. Our Char­lie com­pany had a sim­i­lar event, but in ad­di­tion when their bud­dies came to their aid, one stepped on a sec­ondary pres­sure wire, killing sev­eral more. In all they lost eight dead from that event and two wounded. Huge loss. To help mit­i­gate this, do an as­sess­ment of the dirt road you want to use. Do lo­cal na­tion­als use that road fre­quently or do they avoid it? Is it a road that only mil­i­tary traf­fic uses? Can I get there a dif­fer­ent way? Do I set a pat­tern when I use it? Ways to avoid get­ting hit with a big killer are to vary your routes. Dis­mount and go in across coun­try, air as­sault, boat ops, etc. Re­mem­ber the en­emy is smart and adap­tive, they have been do­ing this for five years and the dumb ones die quick.

K When a ve­hi­cle does get dis­abled by an IED or mine, slow down and look for sec­on­daries be­fore you move up to aid. Don’t rush up to them, approach with cau­tion and make sure there are no more IEDs. Al­most all sec­on­daries are within 35 me­ters [yards] of the first one. I know you want to get to them but you might get more troop­ers killed by rush­ing.

K Don’t be afraid to dis­mount. Many units don’t want to get out of their ve­hi­cles and are afraid to do so. Luck­ily, my para­troop­ers pre­fer to be out of them. Ve­hi­cles limit you to roads, and roads are where IEDs are. Ve­hi­cles are also large and noisy, they al­low the en­emy to keep track of you eas­ily. Mov­ing dis­mounted in the dark, helps us get where we have to go un­de­tected. . . .

K When­ever you talk to some­one get their full name. There will al­ways be three. Their name, their fa­thers name and their grand­fa­thers name. It seems te­dious, but it is very use­ful. Through names we know who their brothers are, cousins, un­cles etc. Their nam­ing sys­tem helps to make con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple. On top of names, you must un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of tribe/sub-tribe. When we showed up here we had a ter­ri­ble RIP [re­lief in place, or turnover from one unit to the next]. The com­pany we were re­plac­ing had been con­fined to the FOB [for­ward op­er­at­ing base] for the pre­vi­ous three months, be­cause of bad stuff. . . . I’ll leave it at that. Cov­er­ing the sec­tor was one pla­toon from an­other com­pany and they knew very lit­tle. Bot­tom line is the pre­vi­ous unit never learned enough to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of sub-tribes. Ev­ery­one here is a mem­ber of a tribe, which is a large unit. What is im­por­tant to know is their sub-tribe, the clan or group of fam­i­lies within the tribe. With this in­for­ma­tion and a per­son’s full name you can track most peo­ple down. . . .

One way we’ve used sim­ple info to get great re­sults was with a [weapons] cache we found in an un­used or­chard. We stum­bled onto the largest cache ever found in our di­vi­sion’s his­tory, by ac­ci­dent. But we used sim­ple rea­son­ing to lead us to an­other of equal size. When we found the first one we grabbed the lo­cal sub-sheik and showed him what was within his area of in­flu­ence, then used him to tell us who owned ev­ery piece of land from the river to a ma­jor road in the re­gion. It turned out that the land the cache was on and nu­mer­ous other tracks of land were owned by a fa­ther and se­ries of brothers. We used this info to search other or­chards owned by the brothers and found a sec­ond large cache.

Seems sim­ple, but most peo­ple would not have asked who owned all the ad­ja­cent land and put the fam­ily con­nec­tions to­gether. This al­lowed us to re­fine our searches to spe­cific fields and or­chards.

. . . One last thing to re­mem­ber is to use your per­son­nel that have been here be­fore, but do not get sucked into the that’s-not-how-we-did-it-last-time thing. Their ba­sic knowl­edge is good to have and they should be a de­pend­able per­son when the bul­lets start fly­ing, but your de­ploy­ment will be ex­tremely dif­fer­ent from their last one. Re­mem­ber to change your TTPs [tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures] when it is ap­pro­pri­ate. The sit­u­a­tion here changes all the time. IEDs be­come more com­plex and the en­emy be­comes more in­ge­nious as time passes. When your guys were here be­fore, the rule was to drive as fast as you can so that the IEDs blow up be­hind you. Well, now we drive very slow (any where from 15-35 mph, sit­u­a­tion de­pen­dent), so as to see them first and not get blown up at all. Ev­ery­one will have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion on this, but that is what works for us. . . . Good luck and I will look af­ter your girl for you when I get home, don’t want her to get lonely. Bren­dan

Tom Ricks is The Post’s mil­i­tary correspondent. This fea­ture aims to give read­ers a snap­shot of the con­ver­sa­tions about Iraq, Afghanistan and other mat­ters that play out in Ricks’s e-mail in­box. Have an in­ter­est­ing doc­u­ment? Send it to TheIn­box@wash­ Read the full text of this let­ter at www.wash­ing­ton­­look


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