When we deployed from Rose Barracks in Germany to Baghdad for the Surge, I had been off of the line for almost eight months; the Squadron Commander (SCO) said he had a ‘special’ assignment for me at the Squadron Headquarters (in reality, despite how much I loved the line and being on the line, I was going through a second bout of ‘adjustment disorder’ as the doctors called it – depressed and dealing with stress by drinking and working myself to the bone. Taking care of a 93 man reconnaissance Troop was how I dealt with my demons when I wasn’t home, which due to the fact, I tried not to be. I digress…) – I rose to the challenge and corrected a directionless and somewhat defunct S1 personnel shop. There were great troopers in there, they just had a bum and lazy NCO who provided them little direction and guidance. Right before we deployed and as we were entering our U.S. Army Europe certification exercise, the SCO said “Bocian I have another project for you. You’re the new Civil-Military Operations Officer.” I had little clue what that was but I wanted anything but having to go drone away as another extra-captain in the S3 Operations shop, so I took it.
Upon arriving in Baghdad and seeing the results of the clearing of Haifa Street (Operation Arrowhead-Ripper AKA fucking the shit out of the place!) I soon found out exactly what a Civil-Military Officer did; Everything. He was your quasi-Civil Affairs liaison (having two civil affairs teams attached to me for this assignment); He was your lay-intelligence person because he talked to the populous and walked the streets; He was a mix of Platoon Leader and Squad Leader, being in the battle space leading troops and subject to the same enemy fires and ambushes as anyone else; He was your local subject matter expert, needing to know the local population, all their quirks and gripes and complaints, who to go to for certain things, etc.; He was your touch-point into the Department of State because he interacted with them routinely to make sure reconstructing a nation was in line with the U.S. Diplomatic mission to Iraq; He was your non-lethal effects coordinator because he reconciled warring sectarian neighborhoods and clans; He was a lay-engineer that specialized in electricity, sewage, infrastructure, commerce, transport – fucking name it, he had to know it; Above all, he was your money man. He held the purse strings for all of the cash that you would, could or should need.
Commanders Emergency Response Program; CERP. It was the little loophole through which billions of dollars poured from the American taxpayers into the Federal Reserve into appropriations by Congress and right into the hands of greedy, dodgy – and more often than not corrupt – Iraqi contractors and their laborers [for the sake of time and my own blood pressure, I won’t get into too much detail about how I HATED paying the Iraqis because with the purse strings came a responsibility, well to me anyways – being a good steward of the American people’s money. I also won’t go into the ‘awakening’ movement and our paying of Al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq affiliates to stop attacking coalition forces, and all the fury rage and bitterness that entailed].
Why am I bringing this all up? Because CERP funds earmarked for the DOD were used for reconstructing Iraq. Eventually it became Iraqi dollars rebuilding Iraq after Congress had seen enough, or weren’t actually seeing enough because most CERP programs were immeasurable black holes where money went and there ultimately was little to show for it (because it mostly got turned into say, a shitty water pump the Iraqi government never supplied power to, so it sat idle, got stripped for parts and rusted away – and the rest of the project money went into Iraqi pockets – this is an oversimplified example). There was a concept know as the ‘model muhalla’ – the model neighborhood. This was the epitome of the over-arching ‘safe neighborhood’ plan whereby we cleared neighborhoods of foreign fighters and insurgents, then repaired the bullet holes and filled the bomb craters, slapped paint on it and turned it into Main Street, Anytown USA.
The pristine model muhalla in central Baghdad was in the Khark security district. It was a neighborhood in sector ‘M208’ alongside the Tigris river and it was conveniently next to an American combat outpost – a bastion of the Surge’s success, living out amongst the Iraq populous to deter attacks, take ownership of ground and maintain a presence 24/7. The neighborhood was painted real nice, had all brand new plumbing and fixtures for all of the retail shops and the two restaurants there. There were street lights, there was a brand new U.S. Supplied 1.75 MW generator with complete tie-in’s and step-down converters to augment power to the neighborhood when the Baghdad grid was down [which it was like, %95 of the time]. There was also rings of Iraqi Army checkpoints to keep out bad-guys. It looked like a lovely place.
Except it was generally empty.
Why am I telling you all this? I am getting to that, so thank’s for bearing with me and reading this far (if you still are that is) and indulging me as I attempt to explain just how FUCKED UP SHIT is.
So because Khark eventually became one of the more safer areas of Baghdad it was a tourist destination for anyone and everyone who wanted to come to Iraq and see the security situation – reporters (Lara Logan comes to mind), Generals, and of course – politicians.
The Squadron received advanced notice that a congressman would be flying to Baghdad to see for himself just how the security situation was going and where the hell all of the CERP money was ending up. For the life of me I don’t remember who the Congressman was, nor what committee he was the chair of (or co-chair, or member – who the fuck knows). But dude was big-enough to warrant a dog and pony show. And anyone who’s served a lick of time in this man’s military knows what a dog and pony show entails – this was a no-shit straight-up motherfucking dog and pony three ring circus.
There were three areas that the entourage would tour, all riding in our SCO’s Stryker detail, know as the ‘tac’. I generally had to accompany visitors with the SCO and answer questions on local projects I had going on in our area and provide my recently-learned subject matter expertise on this area of Baghdad. For this one, I was forward deployed with my Civil Affairs teams to the combat outpost and with a friend who was the commander of the same line troop that I had cut my teeth in as a Platoon Leader in OIF III. There was many-much prep work that went into this visit. We had meetings and of course an FRAGO to the ongoing operations order that dictated our daily lives in Iraq.
The day of the visit, the orchestra was in place and all the players on the stage: Ladies and Gentlemen of America and the World – here is how it went down:
The standing order was ALL American forces were to remain in place, but out of site. Extra patrols and fixed-site security was established that day and we had more men out in sector than since the end of Arrowhead Ripper. I along with the Palehorse Troop Company Commander had contacted all of the local Iraqi’s that lived in our model muhlla as well as business owners. Squadron had escorted out a HEMMT fueler and filled the gas tank of the idle 1.75 MW generator’s tank to the brim. Iraqi Army were manning their checkpoints, in the proper uniform and looking sharp (they were all present for duty, too). We all monitored the radio, and five minutes before the SCO’s tac convoy was due to arrive in the muhalla, the cue of ‘action!’ was given. Palehorse’s Commander told the generator operator to turn on the generator. I told the shop owners to open up their shops. And as the power came on, lighting up the neighborhood, Iraqi flags were hung from windows, store keepers set out their goods and wares; The baker put out old, stale bread but it looked fresh, others put out cartons of fruits and vegetables along with dry goods and other items like snacks, cola (or pop as we call it in Pittsburgh) drinks, etc. The sidewalk along main street was aglo with the fluorescent light from all of the open shops brimming with life. Children ran and played, kicking a soccer ball and laughing. Someone put on music [hajji music as we’d call it] and people poured into the streets.
The tac arrived, and slowly drove through the neighborhood on its way to the combat outpost. When it left the outpost, and turned back down Haifa Street, we waited in anticipation. When we heard the tac clear Nasir Street, the curtain came down. The generator switched off. The goods were put away and the shops closed. One kid grabbed the soccer ball we provided and beat-feet the fuck out of there. Everyone else left. And then we, all the American forces cleverly hidden in the shadows where we were out of site, but still ensuring security, well we left too. And the model muhalla went back to what it was – a nicely painted and well-kept window dressing that was unprofitable for business owners due to lack of traffic and essential services, and too difficult and daunting to get to by the locals because there were so many Iraqi Army checkpoints and shakedowns.
I was completely dumbfounded. Abso-fucking-lutley shocked. We had just faked the funk for Congress – our elected officials who were funding this war, and we just completely put on a show. Pro forma. A falsehood. Make believe. [Where was the third place they took the Congressman, you ask? A very successful and bustling market that America had done NOTHING for; it had been where it was for 100 years and it needed no help whatsoever, yet we touted it as a success]
I cannot express in words to you the dear reader the level of disgust, shame, indignation and anger that I felt about this entire charade. At the end of the day, we had continued to do what we knew best, which was to take what we had just broken and model it in the image of what we knew to be what worked for us, in the Western world, with our concepts and perceptions. And when it didn’t work or it got broken again, we turned on the CERP faucet and sprayed the money-hose at it. That Congressman went home to DC with whatever notion they had from that visit an tour – what they felt or thought I do not know – but I do know that our recently frozen CERP assets that Congress had put a halt to pending a program review were unfrozen and the money flowed once more.
I wasted 4.6 Million dollars in Iraq when it was all said and done. I say wasted because the markup for all materials, labor and other construction goods and services was about %1,000, and who knows what is still there functioning and working. I did my very best to be a good steward of the funds entrusted to me on behalf of the United States – and I also attempted to repair what we legitimately destroyed, and to build or fund projects in my part of Baghdad that I felt would be useful for Iraqis, and that would be supported by Iraqis, and ultimately bring about some increase in quality of life or change the security situation in that area for the better. But at the end of the day (as it’s all water under the bridge now) I lost all appetite for politics and political parties. I registered unaffiliated and to this day I refuse to take part in any politics or political process because I don’t see the point in it. Much like how we faked the funk to ensure we kept getting funding, its all pro forma.