A US Warrior's Diary of Iraq

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reservists, Guardsmen Bring Valuable Skills to Special Missions



American Forces Press Service

Reservists, Guardsmen Bring Valuable Skills to Special Missions
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2005 – Air Force Reserve Maj. Eduardo Alzona speaks eight languages -- nine, if you count "legalese."

As an undergraduate, Alzona studied languages and later attended law school. So when the Defense Department asked him to teach Spanish to police officers in South Florida, it seemed like a natural thing for him to do, although he had never served as a language instructor for the military and he was a practicing civilian attorney.

"I was the chief instructor for the team of an intensive course where we taught counternarcotics officers to interrogate and arrest in Spanish," Alzona said. "It was very rewarding. The final exam was a mock arrest and interrogation scenarios followed by lunch in a Spanish restaurant where they spoke entirely in Spanish to each other, the wait staff and me."

Alzona, an Air Reserve attache with the U.S. Defense Attache Office at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, is proficient in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Tagalog and Arabic. And DoD is targeting people like him -- reservists and guardsmen with specialized skills -- more and more to fill specific unique positions.

With about half the troops in Iraq composed of Guard and Reserve personnel, the DoD relies heavily on its reserve-component forces. In between the worlds of the active-duty and reserve-component forces, special projects and missions require manpower. Reserve-component personnel on active duty fill those missions, like Alzona's language training tour, for short or temporary durations.

Army Capt. Gary Good is deputy director of the Partnership for Fiscal Integrity in Dayton, Ohio. PFI is a program that helps agencies find qualified reservists and helps reservists find professionally fulfilling tours. Each year the program has at least 80 to 90 tours available, Good said, adding that his organization draws from a pool of more than 1.5 million reservists from all services.

Currently there are 159 Army, Marine and Air Force reservists on PFI missions and 37 positions that need to be filled, Good said.

The program operates under an undersecretary of defense (comptroller) charter to use reserve-component personnel on a fee-for-service basis supporting DoD activities when regular active-duty personnel are not available. PFI reservists can be more cost effective than civilian employees or contractor support.

Agencies select which applicant they want and have the option to decline applicants. Agencies can also submit a by-name request for certain individuals.

Alzona said he has mostly "networked" his way into the tours he has performed or contacted the Air Reserve directly to apply for missions. The small group of reservists who make careers out of performing these special tours affectionately call themselves "reserve bums" and routinely share information about duty assignments.

The unofficial nickname they've given themselves is a misnomer, considering the contributions they make and the impact they have on the projects they work.

Lt. KC Choi, a Naval Reservist from New York assigned to the Navy Office of Information East, volunteered and was selected to work on Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. He worked on the team that supported President Bush's inaugural ceremony.

Choi, a seven-year veteran of the Naval Reserve, learned of the opportunity online. He said the four-month mission gave him the chance to "work in a joint environment and learn about the different services."

Alzona said the temporary nature of these missions is what makes them appealing. His current mission, his seventh, is six months long and will put his active-duty service beyond the 10-year mark.

"I have control of when tours start and stop, and I have the choice to accept them or not," Alzona said. "The flexibility is great, and you remain in the honeymoon stage of the marriage always." He added that the work is "challenging, exciting and always different."

All the military services have reservists and guardsmen engaged in special missions throughout the world. Alzona said he prefers these missions to an active-duty commitment because of the variety of assignments and the brevity of the commitment.

There is no limit to the number of tours a reservist can perform each year, and the number of days a reservist performs on active duty depends on the funding agency's budget, mission, the military service and funding source -- the variables are as different as the opportunities. Currently, for example, the Army is seeking personnel for operations in Germany, South and Central America, and Iraq.

Tour lengths vary from as short as 30 days to more than a year. Some tours even pay moving costs. For example, Marine Reserve Forces currently has three-year tours available for volunteers willing to perform special work in contingency operations.

According to officials at PFI, customers fund the cost and determine the tour length, rank and duties of the reservists. And while PFI is a centralized program for reservists seeking tours and agencies who need manpower, each service has its own special missions for reservists. Those missions are often advertised through the service component's Web site.

PFI can use servicemembers from any branch to fill open positions, and reserve-component members on PFI tours can utilize civilian or military skills in their missions. For example, Good said, "We could hire an Army armor sergeant who has experience working on vehicles in his civilian position and place him on orders in a Marine depot repairing Humvees.

Or an Air Force medical administration lieutenant colonel could end up in the Defense Finance and Accounting Service because of his training and certification as a certified public accountant, Good said.

Army Reserve Maj. Elton Johnson, a member of the inactive ready reserve and a California stockbroker when he's not wearing a uniform, used his professional financial experience to secure a nine-month assignment in Iraq as a military adviser with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.

"I was the money man," Johnson said. "I controlled the money, and I paid everyone in the Iraqi armed forces. Then for five months I basically assisted and monitored the Iraqis who took over my job after the Coalition Provisional Authority ceased to exist," the career infantry officer said.

Johnson added that his war service is a good example of how reserve-component personnel can effectively be utilized outside of their military specialties.

"It shows what reservists bring to the table. In many cases it's an indicator of the adaptability of the reserve-component forces to unique missions," Johnson said. "We simply bring more than our military training to the table; we bring civilian academic and professional experience and skill sets that may not be found or exploited in the active-duty components."

And there are other benefits, Good said. Uniformed personnel can represent the government when necessary and can provide a cost savings over contractors, and reservists gain the opportunity to earn active-duty credit toward Reserve or National Guard retirement.

However, reservists ordinarily cannot seek active-duty retirement while serving on these special tours. Reservists with 10 years of active-duty service will only be allowed to perform tours up to a certain threshold, preventing them from earning retirement from active duty. Each situation is different, and there are waivers, but generally most tours are for short durations that prevent reservists from retiring while on these tours.

Army Reserve 1st Lt. Baron Mason said he hopes that the current operational tempo and frequent use of reservists and guardsmen will spawn a lift of what reservists call the "glass ceiling."

For now, Mason said, he is more than happy to serve in the temporary tours. He is an Army Reserve logistics officer assigned to Army Material Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., and is currently serving in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Policy and Procurement at the Pentagon.

"I'm currently on a one-year (temporary tour of active duty) with the Project and Contracting Office, which is a transitional organization that came about for OEF/OIF," Mason said. "We basically support contractual matters in Iraq," he said.

Like Alzona and Choi, Mason applied and competed for his current position and said he believes he was selected for the position because of both his civilian and military background.

"Most reservists have more training, education and a wealth of experience in different sectors of the workforce -- private, government, state, county, etc.," Mason said. A 20-year veteran with two special tours under his belt, Mason has compiled roughly four years of active duty from performing these missions.

Both Mason and Alzona are currently supporting operations that came about as a result of Sept. 11, 2001, and believe their current tours have been the most rewarding in their careers.

"It's part of the global war on terrorism and great to be contributing to the effort from the home front," Alzona said.

Mason said he feels his work now helps others who are deployed, something he appreciates because he served as a logistician in Kuwait in 2003.

"I feel my contributions at this level can provide more for the military members on ground and in theaters of operations," Mason said. "You have to be there to truly understand the needs of personnel in war. My experiences there motivate the work I do here with a dedication that is unyielding."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Iraq Pics

Germany 087
This was a wall locker that I used in Iraq as a temporary safe. There is approximately $300,000 US in Iraqi dinars in this wall locker. I kept this wall locker in the CMATT briefing room with just a simple combination lock to secure it. By the time I turned the payroll function over to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, I was using six safes and Saddam Hussein's own personal vault in the Presidential Palace for storing all the dinars signed over to me.

Germany 114
This is a truck belonging to the Iraqi 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Iraqi Intervention Force (IIF). At the time, the 2nd IIB (Iraqi Infantry Battalion) was in An Najaf mopping up remnants of Muqtada al-Sadr's Army which were still in the city after the major fighting had ceased. This truck received a direct hit from an RPG round but as you can see, the improvised armor plating prevented major damage and loss of life.

Germany 116
My security escort from HHQ, 1st Infantry Brigade, An Najaf, Iraq. These were very sharp troopers. The Iraqis can be VERY good soldiers if properly led, trained, motivated and equipped. I worked almost exclusively with Iraqi soldiers during my tour in Iraq and I felt completely confident in their ability to hold their own if and when the stuff hit the fan.

Germany 124
The Wild Bunch, An Najaf, Iraq. These were the Iraqi soldiers who helped me cart around close to 1 billion dinars in An Najaf, Iraq for purpose of paying soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 2nd battalion and 4th battalion. Unlike U.S. soldiers who are paid via direct deposit, all the Iraqi soldiers are paid in cash!!! For a three month period, I was the official paymaster for the Iraqi Armed Forces so it was my job to make sure everybody got paid. Needless to say, it was an extremely difficult, dangerous and interesting job. The lowest paid Iraqi soldier makes about the equivalent of $50 US a month while the top ranking officers (e.g., generals) make about $600 US. This might seem low to us but the cost of living is really low in Iraq. A person can live like a king on about $600 a month (876,000 dinars).

My boss in Iraq, LTG David Petreaus, the CG of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I). This is the command tasked with training the new Iraqi Army. LTG Petreaus is one of the sharpest Generals I have ever met. He even remembered me from my US Army Europe (USAREUR) days when I ran all the Force Protection VTCs for US Army Europe and he was Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations, SFOR. It was LTG Petreaus who put a stop to the practice of rear echelon staff officers receiving the Bronze Star Medal as an exit award for completing their tours of duty in the Green Zone (i.e., not putting one foot outside the Green Zone during their entire tour of duty in Iraq).

Albania 045
One of my Iraqi workers in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense J8 Section (Finance Section). While in Iraq, I used code names for all soldiers and civilians working for me for security reasons. I called this individual Mr. A for Mr. All-Knowing. It was Mr. A who told me that I had a $20,000 price on my head because of my job as Paymaster for the entire Iraqi Armed Forces. I was extremely lucky and never did get caught. My Iraqi driver, Mr. W., however was captured and held for four days before being released. He had to quit because the bad guys threatened to not only kill him if he continued to work for me but also kill his two wives and his seven children (In Iraq, it is legal for a man to have up to four wives). On the trip where he was captured, I was supposed to be with him but a last minute change in my plans prevented me from going. As a result of this, I was saved from being a guest star in a terrorist beheading video.

A Wagon Train run from the Green Zone to Taji Military Training Base (TMTB). Wagon Train was our code word for a payroll run where we had an armed escort (Humvees; code word: the "Cavalry"). A Pony Express run was a payroll run where it was just me, my Iraqi driver and one or two shooters ("shooters" is the term that I used for the armed soldiers riding with me; I also used the term, "gunslingers") in our UNARMORED SUV. We carried billions of dinars on both types of run. On this particular run, we are in the white SUV in the background. As I recall, we had about 1 billion dinars in the back of this SUV stuffed into cardboard boxes. That's how unsophisticated things were at that time. FYI, the 18-wheeler in the background had been shot at minutes before we passed. The dead driver was still in the vehicle as we drove past.

Germany 102
A Wagon Train run on the Mosul Highway to Taji Military Training Base. The Mosul Highway ran from Baghdad straight to Mosul (about 200 miles north) right past Taji MTB. We are stopped right in the middle of the road because one of the Humvees had a flat tire. While it was being fixed, traffic was stopped in both directions. Needless to say, this caused traffic problems which only compounded the traffic problems that already existed due to the fact that some of the worse drivers I have ever seen are in Iraq. Anyone who has served in Iraq and seen how Iraqi men drive should know what I am talking about.

Germany 069
The Bone Yard at Taji Military Base (TMTB). The Bone Yard at Taji Military Base was HUGE due to the fact that this is where all the armored vehicles from the old Iraqi Army were stockpiled in order to be scrapped. This is actually a poor picture because it really doesn't show just how big this bone yard was. I estimated that the armor for at least three full armored divisions was lined up in this area. This is the tank section. There was also a section for self-propelled artillery and a section for armored personnel carriers (APCs).

Albania 100
This is what the suicide bombing of the Haji Mart looked like a few minutes after the bomb went off. You can clearly see the smoke rising from the target area. When I left Iraq a couple of months after this incident, they were still trying to figure out how the two suicide bombers got their explosives into the Green Zone.