Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Word from Al Anbar

Earlier this summer I drove down to Anapolis to see the wedding of one of my former students. She was marrying a Marine lieutenant, a graduate of the Naval Academy. The ceremony was held in the Academy Chapel and followed by a banquet over in Alumni Hall. All in all, a most impressive occasion.

When you're a teacher, you try not to have favorites, but of course you have them anyway. Jada is one of mine. She was a physics/philosophy double major here, graduated top in her class, after which she went off to Oxford as a Marshall Scholar. Jada is a person of deep faith, sharp wits and a highly developed sense of fun -- a nice combination. And her husband Tim, who was also a Marshall Scholar, seems cast out of the same stuff, with plenty of Marine-grade steel added to the mix. I have only met him once, on the day of the wedding, but I guess I'd have to include him among my favorites as well.

Jada has now started her Ph.D. work at Princeton in philosophy of physics, and Tim has now deployed back to Iraq for a second tour there. A few days ago he sent an email to various friends and relatives with some news about how things are going. He reports some similarities and some differences from his last deployment eight months ago.
Similarities:
  1. What has not changed is the experience of the five senses in this country. The potent stench of sewer and garbage continues to pervade the urban areas. The sight of the barren, endless desert that surrounds the villages certainly is the same here as it is near Falluja. The early morning song-chant of the call to prayer and the whistle from an incoming mortar or rocket continue to be all-too-familiar sounds. The feel of 50 pounds of gear on your shoulders at the end of a three-hour foot patrol in 100+ degree temperatures certainly has not changed. (If anything, that gear seems to be feeling even heavier!)
  2. The insurgency continues to be active within the Al Anbar province. This area is still a dangerous place for both US and Iraqi Forces working to thwart the insurgency. The challenge is staying one step ahead of the insurgents so that they are kept off-balance in their attempts to intimidate the local populace and inflict harm on Coalition Forces.
  3. A taxing tension persists for Iraqi citizens, hamstrung between ruthless insurgents and the daunting presence of US Marines. The long-term solution remains the same: increase the Iraqi security forces' responsibility in providing security for their own populace.
Differences:
  1. The Iraqi Army has made significant progress over the last year. For the first three months of our last deployment, we did not train or work with indigenous forces. Now we are patrolling on a daily basis with proficient, capable Iraqi soldiers. Progress is certainly being made, but patience continues to be a virtue in the development of Iraqi security forces.
  2. As Marines, we have learned much from our experiences in Iraq; so have the insurgents. The enemy we fight is smart and adaptive. The lethality of IEDs and VBIEDs (car bombs) has certainly increased in the past year.
  3. A few years down the road, when tourism picks up in Iraq, I highly recommend visiting in the fall instead of the summer. Words cannot express how great it is to be avoiding June, July, and August this time around. I certainly do not miss temperatures in the 130s!
Today I hear from Jada that Tim is part of Operation River Gate, the new offensive to seize control of three Euphrates River towns from Al Qaeda. So for a while, he will be in some of the hottest fighting in that whole theater of war. God shield him.

You know, we are sending some of our best over to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight this war. That is a thought that fills me with admiration, pride, confidence, and (yes) a little apprehension. This is serious business. It's a good thing to keep people like Tim and Jada in mind -- and in your prayers, if you say any. And it is a good thing to remember how terribly important it is that we prevail.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:54 AM  
Blogger aram harrow said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:08 AM  
Blogger aram harrow said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:10 AM  
Blogger aram harrow said...

Hi Ben,
1. You can get rid of comment spam by using word verification. Click on "settings" then "comments."

2. From the fact that so many talented young Americans are in Iraq, why does it follow that we must "prevail"? Once you've lost your car at the casino, it doesn't make sense to bet the house to get it back.

This idea that the sacrifices of our troops shouldn't be in vain always reminds me prospect theory, in which one's utility function is more sensitive to the expected sign of gain/loss than to the possibilities of large losses.

Here's the prospect theory URL: http://prospect-theory.behaviouralfinance.net/ For some reason "a href=" wasn't working.

4:12 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Aram:

Thanks for the tip about the comment spam. I will look into it and try to resolve it this evening.

I would certainly not suggest the logical connection in your point (2). In financial terms, it is proverbial not to throw "good money after bad". Sometimes you should simply write off the investment and limit the damage. Those who believe that our goals in Iraq are wicked, or impossible, hold this view. It seems a reasonable deduction from their belief.

But I believe, on other grounds not connected with my admiration for people like Tim (and long pre-dating my acquaintance with him) that it is both feasible and morally imperative to achieve success in Iraq. I also think that we have already accomplished a lot toward that goal, and that the situation is far from hopeless. Given this, I think we do need to remember the personal and historical stakes involved. That was the only point of that passage.

1:39 PM  

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