A message for the president

Steve McGregor
Mail call came about once a week at Patrol Base Dragon-a US Army outpost along the Euphrates River near Yusufiya, Iraq.  While stationed there in 2007, as a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, I received a letter I wish I could send to President Obama today.

It was a simple piece of paper, folded in half to make a card, with the American flag drawn with magic marker on the front.  Inside, it read: "Captain McGregor, Go Get Them!"  And drawn at the bottom were several green hills and a stick figure with a helmet and machine gun, firing off into the sky.  In small print, the letter was signed, "love, Conner."

I've never met Conner.  His letter came in a box of many, addressed to the men in my platoon, sent from students at Teague Middle School, Altamonte Springs, Florida. 

Conner's letter struck me because of its simplicity and I remember feeling a range of emotions after reading it.  First, I felt humbled that he thought of me. At that time in the deployment, our main source of news was the mail and brief phone calls home.  Almost every week we received letters from strangers, wishing us well, saying they were praying for us, and encouraging us.

But then, my pride swelled, and I became indignant.  What were these kids learning in school?  As if the war was as simple as a lone soldier on a hillside.  Yusufiya was a patchwork of potato fields and palm groves-dotted with farms and houses.  The Iraqi tribes were a motley assortment of farmers and tradesmen, frequently shifting their allegiance.  Only recently had the most powerful Sheiks in the region begun cooperating with the US and Iraqi military to fight the insurgents. Yet we uncovered hidden weapons caches and explosives on a daily basis.  We found ourselves eating lunch with Iraqis and talking with tribesmen more than we were catching ‘bad guys.'  Many soldiers wondered, what was the point of coming so far from home if we were only going to eat goat in the hot sun or get blown up by IEDs?

Then I realized that Conner's letter expressed something powerful.  Yes, the war was complex. But if we were going to win the trust of local Iraqis, we needed heart.  Conner didn't know Galula's Principles or T. E. Lawrence's 27 Articles or any counter-insurgency doctrine.  But he understood that when faced with a challenge, America responds with energy and determination.

As it turned out in Yusufiya, the locals were most concerned that after a brief improvement in security, we would leave and Al Qaeda would return.  They doubted our resolve.  But after fourteen months of daily patrols, several casualties and one fatality, the hard work and sacrifice of men in my battalion, and many other units, convinced the Iraqis otherwise.  In some ways, my unit capitalized on years of sacrifice in the region. As General Ulysses S. Grant said, "There comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins."  In Yusufiya, we continued the attack.  And before our tour was complete, total control of the region was transferred to the Iraqi government.

It seems we face a similar challenge in some parts of Afghanistan.  The locals still are not convinced of our resolve, the battle is wearing on, and according to many on our side, we are considered beaten.

President Obama has waffled for over 80 days on a report that took General McChrystal only 60 days to author.  At President Karzai's recent inauguration, Obama confessed he remains concerned with, "how we are going to succeed... and most importantly what's the endgame on this thing."  This ‘thing'?  Could it be that President Obama still views Afghanistan as a campaign issue and not... a war?  Like any other challenge in life, war isn't won simply with a brilliant plan.  We also need resolve-the same perseverance once expressed to me in a letter from a young student in Florida.

President Obama, "Go Get Them."

 

Steve McGregor is Special Adviser to the Shadow Defence Minister in the British House of Lords.  He is also a post-graduate student in Social and Cultural Anthropology at University College London.  His writing appears in Small Wars Journal, Military Review, American Thinker, and Publius Forum.

Mail call came about once a week at Patrol Base Dragon-a US Army outpost along the Euphrates River near Yusufiya, Iraq.  While stationed there in 2007, as a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, I received a letter I wish I could send to President Obama today.

It was a simple piece of paper, folded in half to make a card, with the American flag drawn with magic marker on the front.  Inside, it read: "Captain McGregor, Go Get Them!"  And drawn at the bottom were several green hills and a stick figure with a helmet and machine gun, firing off into the sky.  In small print, the letter was signed, "love, Conner."

I've never met Conner.  His letter came in a box of many, addressed to the men in my platoon, sent from students at Teague Middle School, Altamonte Springs, Florida. 

Conner's letter struck me because of its simplicity and I remember feeling a range of emotions after reading it.  First, I felt humbled that he thought of me. At that time in the deployment, our main source of news was the mail and brief phone calls home.  Almost every week we received letters from strangers, wishing us well, saying they were praying for us, and encouraging us.

But then, my pride swelled, and I became indignant.  What were these kids learning in school?  As if the war was as simple as a lone soldier on a hillside.  Yusufiya was a patchwork of potato fields and palm groves-dotted with farms and houses.  The Iraqi tribes were a motley assortment of farmers and tradesmen, frequently shifting their allegiance.  Only recently had the most powerful Sheiks in the region begun cooperating with the US and Iraqi military to fight the insurgents. Yet we uncovered hidden weapons caches and explosives on a daily basis.  We found ourselves eating lunch with Iraqis and talking with tribesmen more than we were catching ‘bad guys.'  Many soldiers wondered, what was the point of coming so far from home if we were only going to eat goat in the hot sun or get blown up by IEDs?

Then I realized that Conner's letter expressed something powerful.  Yes, the war was complex. But if we were going to win the trust of local Iraqis, we needed heart.  Conner didn't know Galula's Principles or T. E. Lawrence's 27 Articles or any counter-insurgency doctrine.  But he understood that when faced with a challenge, America responds with energy and determination.

As it turned out in Yusufiya, the locals were most concerned that after a brief improvement in security, we would leave and Al Qaeda would return.  They doubted our resolve.  But after fourteen months of daily patrols, several casualties and one fatality, the hard work and sacrifice of men in my battalion, and many other units, convinced the Iraqis otherwise.  In some ways, my unit capitalized on years of sacrifice in the region. As General Ulysses S. Grant said, "There comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins."  In Yusufiya, we continued the attack.  And before our tour was complete, total control of the region was transferred to the Iraqi government.

It seems we face a similar challenge in some parts of Afghanistan.  The locals still are not convinced of our resolve, the battle is wearing on, and according to many on our side, we are considered beaten.

President Obama has waffled for over 80 days on a report that took General McChrystal only 60 days to author.  At President Karzai's recent inauguration, Obama confessed he remains concerned with, "how we are going to succeed... and most importantly what's the endgame on this thing."  This ‘thing'?  Could it be that President Obama still views Afghanistan as a campaign issue and not... a war?  Like any other challenge in life, war isn't won simply with a brilliant plan.  We also need resolve-the same perseverance once expressed to me in a letter from a young student in Florida.

President Obama, "Go Get Them."

 

Steve McGregor is Special Adviser to the Shadow Defence Minister in the British House of Lords.  He is also a post-graduate student in Social and Cultural Anthropology at University College London.  His writing appears in Small Wars Journal, Military Review, American Thinker, and Publius Forum.