New York Post
December 19, 2007
The Sergeants’ War
Top NCOs talk from Baghdad
By Ralph Peters
If you want the wide-angle-lens view of a conflict, ask the generals. But if you want up-close-and-personal snapshots of war, talk to the street-level NCOs.
Three senior sergeants serving with the 1st Infantry Division’s Dragon (4th) Brigade took time away from leading their troops in Baghdad’s former badlands to share with The Post their views of where we are in the war – and where we’re headed.
First Sgt. Todd Hood is “Top” in the Delta Destroyers of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry; 1st Sgt. Travis Wewers has the Bravo Barracudas of the 4th Brigade’s Special Troops Battalion, and Master Sgt. Michael Clauss is the brigade’s senior intelligence sergeant – soon to take over the Barracudas from Wewers.
Between them, these veteran soldiers have seen it all.
Question: 2007 has been a year of impressive progress in the Dragon Brigade’s sector. Where are we now?
Hood: “We’re on the road to stability and prosperity, but we’re not there yet. Al Dora has been one of the toughest areas in Iraq and Destroyer Company operated in the “Northern Mahallas,” the neighborhoods viewed as the sanctuary areas for the Anti-Coalition Forces.
“We had to have a more intel-driven operation and we created a network of dependable local informants who want to see their neighborhoods come out of the ashes. Enough locals presented themselves to us from the beginning . . . to take their lives back from the terrorists and criminals.”
Clauss: “We’re at a delicate juncture. Combat operations have the enemy back on his heels. The Iraqi citizens are throwing off the yoke of al Qaeda and the militias. [Iraqis] are tired of the violence . . . ultimately, the Iraqis have to decide what they want to do with their country.”
Wewers: “I see us being at the midway point of the over-arching effort. All areas of our sector are getting better, though some are slower to recover than others. I’ve seen a significant change for the better, though. The quality of life for the Iraqis has improved!”
Q: What remains to be done? What’s the most challenging part of the mission now?
Wewers: “We’ve come a long way, from daily rocket attacks and murders to relative peace in the streets, shops opening and people buying things such as cell phones – which had been forbidden by the insurgents.
“What remains to be done is the collective piece – until Iraqis come together behind a unified Iraq, long-term security and stability is nothing more than a pipe-dream. The most-challenging part is getting the separate factions to work together.”
Hood: “We’re moving toward a more capable Iraqi army and police force, but improved security alone isn’t the answer. Iraqis have to work together for the common good. We’re at a very fragile time in Iraq right now and must capitalize on the positive momentum.”
Clauss: “Maintaining momentum . . . we have Iraqi cooperation with us, but they’re enjoying only limited cooperation with each other. They lack trust in the government, in the police and in each other. The Iraqis will do fine, once they decide they’re for Iraq, instead of a sect or militia.”
Q: What’s the toughest thing for our soldiers when dealing with the Iraqis we’re trying to help?
Wewers: “The uncertainty of who’s actually for us or against us. Previously, it was one person shaking our hand and then working a plot to hurt us. Ninety-nine percent of Iraqis want to have a unified Iraq, able to stand on its own – but that other 1 percent is what keeps us here.”
Hood: “The biggest task we faced was finding the right locals for the job of weeding out the bad ones who were actively working against us.”
Clauss: “Seeing what some Iraqis do to each other, it’s hard to keep soldiers from getting jaded. Most Iraqis are just trying to survive in their culture and do the best they can for their families.”
Q: What’s your top-sergeant’s view of today’s men and women in uniform?
Clauss: “Our soldiers are amazing. The American people would be amazed to see the level of responsibility we place in the hands of these young men and women in uniform.”
Hood: “Today, soldiers are hardened from so much combat time. I’ve become a more adaptive soldier in the past four years than in the previous 12. There are many soldiers with three combat tours right now who are just on their first or second enlistments!
“My soldiers have done eight-hour combat patrols every day for 15 months. I cannot express how difficult a feat that is. Yet, they find their “battle rhythm” and just do it, day in and day out. I can’t say enough about these great Americans!”
Q: Christmas in Baghdad. What’s the holiday season like for our troops in a war zone?
Wewers: “On one hand, you have the young soldier who’s newly married, either with a brand-new baby he hasn’t seen yet or one born just before he deployed. Then you have the seasoned soldier who’s deployed a lot and takes it in stride. Regardless, they still yearn for home and want to be back with their families and friends.
“The Dragon Brigade does a great job of keeping morale up – lots of food, phones and the internet open so soldiers can talk to their families.”
Clauss: “The holidays are tough. Leaders try to do what they can to make it special, but, in some respects, it makes you miss it more. As a husband and father of three little ones, I can tell you that nothing replaces that time away from home and the ones you love.”
Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Wars of Blood and Faith.”