Contemporary Operations Studies Team
Combat Studies Institute Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
A project of the Combat Studies Institute, the Contemporary Operations Studies Team (COST) archives firsthand accounts from US Army military personnel who planned, participated in and supported Operation Iraqi Freedom from May 2003 through the Iraqi national elections in January 2005.
Interview with CPT Bill Meredith
24 January 2006
Captain Bill Meredith served as the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) for 2-12 Cavalry, out of 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, for the majority of his deployment to Iraq from January 2004 until February 2005. He was located at Camp Victory and operated out of the town of Abu Ghraib. He and his unit provided security and conducted route patrols. Meredithís unit provided security for many of the projects that the attached civil affairs unit worked on, such a rebuilding schools. Meredith was surprised that many of the Iraqis were not more supportive of the American troops in their efforts against the insurgents. He stated that, ďThey didnít do anything to help us find them and bring them down as a whole.Ē The biggest challenge faced according to Meredith was cultural. He stated that how he believes the population was most highly affected by their religious beliefs and the teachings of the imams.
Since many Iraqi citizens were illiterate, they believed everything the imams said. ďIf [the imam] told you the sky was purple, then you would change your whole belief to the sky is purple. So I think that is one of the lynchpins we were unable to sort out.Ē In an effort to overcome this cultural barrier, Meredith stated that his unit established ďmedical outreach teams for women and children.Ē That said, he added, ďIt was frustrating because you were trying to do all the right things, but it seemed like no matter what you did somebody was waiting around the corner to blow you up.Ē There was also the challenge of the cell phones and media in Iraq: messages got out very quickly that were often negative towards US troops, especially since this was the same time period of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The Iraqis blamed all US soldiers for the actions taken by a few. Meredith stressed that the most critical factor in preparing for this situation was to know your squad. That way, he said, you will know what to expect from each person and what he will do in any given situation.
DV: My name is Dennis Van Wey (DV) and Iím with the Contemporary Operations Studies Team at the Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, currently researching for the follow-on book to On Point. Iím interviewing Captain Bill Meredith (BM) on his experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The time is approximately 1205 hours, todayís date is 24 January 2006, and we are at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This is an unclassified voluntary interview. For the record, I would like to say that if you feel at any time weíre entering classified territory, please couch your response in terms that avoid revealing any classified information or simply say youíre not able to answer. Letís go ahead and begin. Please tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, your education, any experiences or training you had prior to your deployment, and anything you feel might be beneficial to the interview.
BM: My name is Bill Meredith. I was the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 2-12 Cavalry, out of 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, although I was initially attached to the 1st Armored Division during the transition time while we were in Iraq. I later commanded Bravo Company, 2-12 CAV, after the transition between 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Armored Division. That took place in December 2004, that change of command, while we were still in Iraq. My background history, I am a 1997 graduate of Texas A&M University. I am an armor officer. I attended the Armor Officer Basic Course here in Fort Knox. My first assignment was with 4-7 CAV in Korea for a year there and then back to Fort Stewart, Georgia with 3-7 CAV as a scout and tank platoon leader there. I attended the Armor Advanced Course and then went on to Fort Hood, Texas where I served on the III Corps staff and then the 2-12 CAV battalion staff prior to taking command.
DV: How long were you actually in country? What was your timeline?
BM: We left Fort Hood on 8 January 2004 and came back in 22 February 2005.
DV: What training did you receive prior to deployment that prepared you for your missions?
BM: The officers and all the way down to staff sergeant level received a cultural awareness brief from some Jordanian officers who came over. It was a couple of majors and a lieutenant colonel who came over and gave us a briefing on Islam and the Arab culture in general. We also, being tankers, conducted several dismounted individual training exercises as well as squad, platoon and company level exercises in a dismounted environment, which was new to a lot of us. They were dismounted and Humvees mounted as opposed to tank mounted. We used the military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) site there on Fort Hood. There are two of them, but we used one of the two MOUT sites there to conduct training and we had roleplayers from all across 1st Cavalry Division acting as mullahs and sheriffs and this, that, and the other, roleplaying the Arab population.
DV: How well prepared did you feel you were prior to arrival in Iraq?
BM: I thought we were pretty well prepared. We had gotten to see, obviously, the ground war from what was happening on CNN and we went over at a time when the transition between high intensity conflict and stability operations had already taken place, for the most part, so we were seeing some of the things that the enemy was able to adapt to like the emergence of the improvised explosive device (IED) and those types of tactics. So we had gotten to see that both on the open source news as well as some briefings, I think they were classified, showing the techniques that the enemy was using, the type of equipment they were using, and the way they were building these bombs, because that was what we probably considered the most dangerous threat going over there.
DV: Did you have any mission surprises once you arrived in theater?
BM: You know, I think the only thing that kind of upset us when we arrived in theater was the establishment of the base camps when we got into western Baghdad, just outside of the airport. Going in, the battalion we took over for, we did a relief in place with 2-70 Armor out of Fort Riley, Kansas and those guys had established several small bases. Well, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, we were pulling back into one larger consolidated base camp, so there was some ambiguity on who was going to be doing what. As the HHC commander there was some talk of being the ďmayorĒ of the living area and all that type stuff or organizing the scout and mortar platoons into a fourth maneuver company basically and maneuvering on a daily basis as one of the other maneuver commanders. What ended up happening was a little bit of both. I had responsibilities from the logistical standpoint and the support of the rest of the battalion and at the same time, on occasion, I would say maybe 30 percent of the time, maybe a little less, I would act as a maneuver commander during certain operations depending on the mission, enemy, troops available, terrain and time (METT-T) of the situation and what it required.
DV: Did you have any operational surprises?
BM: Well, I think the attitude of the people was different than what I personally kind of expected.
DV: In what way?
BM: Well, I think reluctance to cooperate by the majority of the population and the - support may not be the right word - non rejection of some of the insurgents.
DV: I see. Supporting the insurgents?
BM: A lot of the population we saw there didnít necessarily support directly what the bad guys we were chasing were doing, but at the same time they didnít do anything to help us find them and bring them down as a whole. That kind of surprised me. I thought we would have a little more support from them, wanting to rid their community of these people who were causing all this damage. But I had been to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq before, and having some background on the Arab culture, which you can separate from Islam to a degree, I probably shouldnít have been that surprised by it. But I was a little surprised by it because I had assumed that being a liberating force from Saddam Hussein, we might be more well received than what really happened.
DV: What really happened?
BM: We had a small core of interpreters who were phenomenal. Those guys were dedicated and it was amazing to learn that some of these guys had been university professsors, electrical engineers or something you would see in the United States as a fairly prestigious professional. Now they were working as interpreters for the US Army making what we would consider a pittance, two or three hundred dollars a month.
DV: But that is a lot of money by Iraqi standards.
BM: Right. When you consider the difference in the amount of how far that goes over there, that still a considerable amount of money. But it was just kind of mind boggling when you think of an electrical engineer earning $300 a month. It just doesnít really correlate sometimes. But what we found, knowing I didnít get to interact in Kuwait as much with the Arab population as in Saudi Arabia where I dealt very closely with several of the ministries and things like that where I guess I saw a more privileged side of the population. Much more talkative, much more candid, as much as you can apply that to that culture, and the ability to extract information and talk back and forth with them, when you dealt with the average Iraqi citizen it seemed like, number one, they were much more secretive in general, and I guess that goes to the fact that in their whole culture everybodyís house has a wall around it. You canít see into your neighborís yard, so they could always use that as an excuse. You could say, ďThe guy right next door to you is building bombs and blowing people up and you donít know anything about what is going on?Ē and they would say, ďNo. I donít know anything.Ē So you would be sure they knew something, but they could use that as an excuse to isolate themselves. I found it hard to believe, but I guess there was a slim possibility that they didnít know anything that was going on. So that kind of shocked me. But from an operational standpoint, with the increasing intensity of the attacks against the Americans, when we first got there our resources at the brigade level were obviously limited in the amount of uparmored Humvees and things like that. The truck I rode to Baghdad in from Kuwait was a straight M998.
DV: With a soft top?
BM: Right, with a quarter inch piece of steel about 18 x 18 inches in size hanging on the door. DV: And you didnít feel real safe in that?
BM: Well, you know, rolling up there I thought it was better than nothing. I had two MG40B machine guns and two machine gunners in my truck and it worked out pretty well, but, of course, that route was relatively safe when compared to western Baghdad. So there was a lot of lobbying and jumping up and down. I had a scout platoon that didnít have M1114s. All they had were their M1025s, which is the unarmored scout Humvee. And then I had a mortar platoon that was rolling in M998s, just like mine, with the same type of protection, with kids standing in the back with the old jeep style pintle mount and things like that. Obviously, there was concern for their safety with the IED threat, but once we got there and really got into the mix it became evident to everyone that this type of protection wasnít going to cut it. We ended up repurposing those vehicles and to some extent motor pooling our uparmored vehicles to where we shared them and then to some extent scrounging them from every unit we thought we could possibly get them from. So that was a surprise that the intensity really spiked up quickly and the equipment we had going into it was less than optimal. But I donít point any fingers at anybody. At that point it probably didnít appear that it was going to do that. We only took one tank companyís worth of tanks. But by the time we left, we had three companiesí worth of tanks in addition to our Humvees. So to the casual observer sitting on this side of CNN, the appearance and the idea you want to draw down your force, draw down your presence, and you want to ride around in Humvees versus tanks and start transitioning over to the Iraqi government, well, by western standards, I think thatís something that in a different culture might have worked a lot easier. The struggle there was not over yet. The struggle was not complete. Now, there was definitely a movement in the right direction in my opinion, but the struggle, although you were not shooting tank-on-tank or rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) ambushes against tanks in the middle of the desert against the Iraqi Army, and the idea of projecting that out into an insurgent battle before you could actually fully transition everything over caught me by surprise. I thought it would get better as we went and it spiked and then started to get a little bit better depending on where you were going.
DV: Did you notice any differences between regular Army and Reserve or National Guard forces, soldiers or officers, either way, in terms of training or anything?
BM: I think maybe in terms of available equipment, depending on where the unit had come from. The 256th Enhanced Separate Brigade out of Louisiana that came and replaced us had all the latest and greatest stuff. Some of the equipment they had was better than what we had. So as far as equipment went, they were good to go. Now, there was a corps logistics base just outside of our area of operations (AO) and our AO had a lot of influence on what was happening with them, so we developed a very symbiotic relationship with those guys. They had an Active Duty headquarters, but they were kind of cobbled together from Reserve and Active Duty units from all across the force because there was quartermaster, transportation, medical and all this corps level stuff. So they had some reservists and some Active Duty guys and they were top-notch. Now, was the discipline a little bit different? Yes, sure. It was the standard kind of thing that you see. Were the interactions between people a little bit different? Sure. There was a little bit of a difference there.
DV: What kind of difference?
BM: Well, things like these guys had been in the same unit for 15 years and they were calling each other by their first names and things like that.
DV: Is that a discipline issue or is that being more personal?
BM: From an Active Duty perspective, an Active Duty sergeant major or lieutenant colonel or colonel might say, ďWell, you guys donít have any discipline.Ē From a captainís perspective, as long as the guys are getting the job done and they are good at their job, I donít really care what they call each other. Thatís my opinion. Now, if I was working with them on a daily basis in garrison, I would probably say that doesnít have a place there. If Iím working in the middle of a combat zone trying to get something done, as long as the job is getting done and nobody is doing anything illegal, Iím good to go with it. But as far as that particular unit, I canít speak for many other ones because I didnít see a whole lot of National Guard and Reserve units, their willingness to cut through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy to get things done was good. It was a symbiotic thing, though. If they could help us weld steel on our big five-ton trucks that we were transporting our Estonian platoon in, to help protect them, if they could help us do that, that was more infantrymen we could put on the ground to help find the guys who were shooting mortars at the logistics base. So it was a very symbiotic relationship, but they were good people. I was really happy to work with them.
BM: Right. There was a civil affairs company attached to the brigade.
DV: Where were you located? Which camp?
BM: We were at Camp Victory.
DV: Did you have any interaction with special operations forces (SOF) like civil affairs (CA) or psychological operations (PSYOP)?
BM: We had a civil affairs detachment attached to us, almost exclusively. They occasionally got pulled to go do stuff in brother battalions. We had a PSYOP detachment for the brigade that worked with us a lot. Whenever we needed PSYOP, we could almost always get it because it was a brigade asset and it had to be shared. But these guys were a pretty good group of folks. The CA guys were really good and those guys had a tough mission over there. Like we talked about before, the extension of the transition and establishment of Iraqi civil authority and things like that were very difficult tasks and they worked a lot of long, hard hours. At the same time, we were out there trying to support them and also trying to fight off the enemy. So it was almost like you were fighting two battles. You had these guys who were trying to set up and get us moving down the path that we wanted to go down and, of course, we were involved in that effort, wrapped into it and intertwined in it, but at the same time we spent a lot of time that we could have devoted to helping them in moving that process forward looking for guys who were blowing up buildings, blowing up cars, blowing up people, shooting mortars, and firing RPGs. So there was effort that could have been expended down the long term path that had to be expended at the here and now just to keep everybody alive.
DV: Did you have any experience or what efforts did you have for reconstruction projects?
BM: We dealt mostly with resourcing, supplying and helping secure the CA detachment. The way our battalion was laid out when we first got there, each commander had his own battlespace, and within that battlespace he was responsible for not only the direct fire engagements but also all the CA and public works type stuff that was going on in there. He coordinated with the battalion civil affairs officer.
DV: What was the CA unit that was there? Do you know? They were based right there with you?
DV: So they were there also?
BM: Right. There was a company attached to the brigade. I donít remember the company designation, but I do know that they were out of California.
DV: The 425th?
BM: That sounds right. Yes, that does sound right. The major who worked with us was Major Paul McBride. He is actually a judge advocate general (JAG) officer by branch. But I didnít have my own AO because I wasnít acting as a maneuver commander most of the time. So those guys would go out and set up to rebuild schools, rebuild soccer fields or rebuild government buildings and then do grand openings and things. We also designed a whole new market for the community we were working in and did the building of that.
DV: This is western Baghdad?
BM: Western Baghdad, right. The town of Abu Ghraib.
DV: That is where Camp Victory is at?
BM: Camp Victory is right outside of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).
DV: Okay. What was at Abu Ghraib? I missed that, I guess. That was where they operated out of?
BM: Right. We operated out of Camp Victory and our operational area was the town of Abu Ghraib.
DV: Okay. The camp was Camp Victory but the AO was Abu Ghraib. Got it. So you werenít involved with any of the contracts then I presume?
BM: No. I did not execute any contracts.
DV: What approach would you recommend for reducing corruption? Did you witness any types of corruption?
BM: Are you talking about within the forces or what?
DV: Iraqi forces, coalition forces, contractors, any and all.
BM: I didnít personally witness any corruption. But based on my previous experience in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq I wasnít involved at any level that really was prone to corruption because I was so far on the micro scale of community leadership. Corruption is prevalent within that society and that culture. So to reduce it, I donít know. That is a good question. I donít have any idea because it is so pervasive. Like if I was a government official and you wanted just a decision to be made, not necessarily a decision to be made on your behalf. For instance I told you we dealt with some of the ministries in Saudi Arabia, it was, ďWhatís in it for me?Ē So you could ask several times and you could wait several months to get an answer and it was like, ďWell, give me a little bit of something,Ē but it was like, ďNo. We donít work that way.Ē
DV: Did you have any interaction with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or international organizations?
BM: I think the only NGO we dealt with and it was very limited was with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The brigade mainly had the lead on that and they would help us secure funding for projects. We would go to the brigade with a project concept like, ďWe want to rebuild this school and this is how much it is going to cost. We have bids out for contractors and this is kind of in the ballpark of what we think it is going to be.Ē So they would go, ďOkay. USAID is giving us $20 million and here is $5 million towards your project.Ē But at the battalion level, we didnít deal a whole lot with NGOs unless you count the press. There was a lot of press that we dealt with.
DV: How did anti-coalition forces impact operations, specifically the disbanded Iraqi Army, Iraqi intelligence organizations, al- Qaeda, Fedayeen or former Baíathists?
BM: The enemy we faced in our particular area was kind of a combination. We had dealings with hardcore al-Qaeda guys influencing the guys in our AO.
BM: The locals, right.
DV: In what way?
BM: I think they were providing training and money and also, for a lack of a better term,
BM: I think they were providing training and money mostly and also, for lack of a better term, dogma and inspiration. But we didnít encounter a whole lot of those types of guys on the actual battlefield. We had a criminal element, we had basically a disaffected youth element, and then I think one of our biggest challenges was figuring out how to deal with the religious element. What goes on there is that these al-Qaeda guys, who are fringe al-Qaeda guys, maybe guys who arenít in the circle but on the edges of it, and those guys will influence the local imams through either money or coercion, obviously their two biggest tools. When they do that and when you have a population that is, I want to say, something like 78 percent illiterate and canít read and canít write and are so grounded in their religion, whatever that imam tells them over the loudspeaker might as well be the truth. If he told you the sky was purple, then you would change your whole belief to the sky is purple. So I think that is one of the lynchpins we were unable to sort out. I donít think anybody has been able to sort it out to protect these guys enough to where you can show them that we are not bad guys and whoever is telling them that we are bad guys is not right. So you have to protect them from being killed and, at the same time, you have to find the guys who are trying to pay them off and capture or kill them. Because that is their information operation (IO), their way to get the information out, and it was amazing to me. It was like the game of telephone only that it was much more accurate than anything here in the United States. I could tell you X and you could go 25 people down the line an hour later and he would have the exact same message. There is no garbling like there is in the United States. Nothing is open to interpretation because everybody repeats exactly what they are told by whomever and word could spread in a matter of minutes from one side of town to the other. It was amazing to me. So I think the introduction of widespread cell phone technology has been a big deal in the Iraqi infrastructure. As soon as you tell them something needs to be done, they are instantly on their cell phone and, bang, it is out.
DV: What actions did you or your soldiers consistently follow to overcome cultural barriers and build bridges of goodwill?
BM: I think we did several things from my unit level perspective. We did a lot of medical outreach. Being that I was the HHC commander, I had the medical platoon that worked for me. We also had the good relationship I spoke about before with the corps support battalion right around the corner from us and they had almost exclusively female medics, whereas we obviously had none. So one of the things we did, because for an Iraqi woman to get help there is nearly impossible in their culture, we would go out and set up these kinds of medical outreach teams for women and children. But it almost got riotous at points, them trying to get in to be seen. So that was one thing we would do. And of course, at the same time we would get donations from back home. People would send soccer balls, footballs, stuffed animals or toys, so we really tried to work as much as we could with the youngest people. But it was frustrating because you were trying to do all the right things, but it seemed like no matter what you did somebody was waiting around the corner to blow you up. And unfortunately, unlike in the western culture where if you can get 52 percent of the population on your side, the female side of it, you have inroads. You might not have success, but you have inroads because we share decision making equally in our culture, or somewhat equally. That culture, no. Just because we made an inroad with the children and the women didnít mean we were going to make any with the men in the society. It was frustrating because we would do some of the things that we trained to do from an operational perspective, like we never made any kind of threatening gestures or we never even searched most of the females any place we were at because, number one, they werenít involved in anything, they werenít seen as smart enough and they werenít seen as legitimate targets in our particular area. Now, that is different in different parts of the country and different parts of the Arab world. So we just took all the women and children if we were searching a house, put them in a room and put a guard on them. We didnít touch them, we didnít say anything to them, we just left them there, and then we conducted our search, so we were sensitive to those kinds of things. And whenever the tactical situation permitted, we would frequent some things like their markets. If we were out on a patrol and we were walking out in the market, the vendor came out and it was an amicable thing going on there and he wanted to sell us some sodas, a squad would stop and everybody would buy a soda and they would sit there and talk back and forth with the interpreter. So we tried to encourage things like that, but in our particular AO it became very ugly with the small minority of insurgent groups there that it was almost unsafe to stop and do things like that. I would say for you as well as unsafe for the people you might be trying to interact with, and that might be a place where they were somewhat successful in keeping us from interacting with the population and building those kinds of bridges towards the end result because we spent so much time, especially after October, in direct action against insurgents and almost no time in the reconstruction/rebuilding of Iraq.
DV: Did you have any interaction with the private medical clinics?
BM: I personally did not. We had one in our sector.
DV: Or the public hospitals?
BM: We did have some with the public hospitals. I sent my medical platoon leader around. I had a top-notch physician assistant (PA). He was a former enlisted engineer guy, a staff sergeant. He was a PA, first lieutenant, promoted to captain while we were over there, and he had both sides of the fence in the Army. He had the common sense side and yet he was super smart too as far as the medical side went, in general, but additionally as far as the medial side went. But we went around early there, before it started getting real hectic, and identified all the places that were close and needed assistance and started sharing information on what we could do for them, what we did have that we would give them, what did they need, and we funneled all that stuff, more as information gathering, up through higher. Those in our AO, we worked directly with. The other ones we found, we passed that information off so someone else to help them. So we built a pretty decent relationship. We knew where everything was. We knew some of the key players in a lot of places and we knew what we could do to help them and what we could offer them for help if we needed help from them. We had one particular place called the Islamic Health Clinic, which was a private type deal, in our AO. We had identified it as a very likely source of insurgent activity.
DV: Why was that?
BM: We had informants telling us that and we had observation posts watching it and watching stuff that was going on around it, timing and things like that. So we were pretty sure and we had also gotten intelligence from higher saying they thought it was a bad spot. In April 2004, we had about a 72-hour nonstop firefight in town, everything from M16 to tank main gun.
DV: Was it in this area?
BM: It was pretty much throughout the whole town. There were a series of ambushes that happened right when Sadr City got hit. This was like 4 or 5 April 2004.
DV: This was Abu Ghraib city?
BM: Right. The town of Abu Ghraib. Then, about two days later, basically on the opposite side of Baghdad, for lack of a better term, all hell broke loose and during that timeframe that place was searched and we found a lot of stuff in there that led us to believe that, if nothing else, they were patching up and returning to duty guys who had been fighting against us. I wasnít there when that happened, but that is kind of the basis of what went down.
DV: Were you there during the Abu Ghraib scandal? Were you there on that timeline? BM: Yes.
DV: How did that affect your missions in the city?
BM: We talked about how one thing that absolutely surged there, in my opinion, was the cell phone, but it was also their news media. You had Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia and several Iraqi news agencies that didnít exist before. So with those, in concert with the religious IO campaign, it was difficult trying to overcome that because they donít see a distinction between this guy standing here in desert camouflage and that guy down the road in desert camouflage.
DV: One represents all.
BM: Right. One represents all, absolutely. So trying to overcome that and trying to explain to them that this was an isolated incident of a small group of American soldiers, which we do not accept what they did and they are being punished for it, was tough. It was real tough. But we had a lot of interaction with the media. One of the things when I was the HHC commander that I kind of got put in the lead for was the prison releases. We had imprisoned several thousand people. But with the judicial system being in its infancy, we had a lot of guys who were in there for a while before anybody had gotten to review the circumstances of their arrest. And so, at the point in time we were over there, they decided that some of these guys who we had we could go ahead and let them go because either they were not guilty of anything that we thought they were guilty of or we didnít have enough evidence to convict them of anything or whatever. So we were doing releases of these guys, a couple hundred at a time, and we tried to use that as a positive IO campaign to get the news out to the Iraqi media and the western media. So we set those things up and we conducted those releases, but any time my battalion commander would have to do a press conference with the Iraqi media, because this was happening roughly at the same time that the Abu Ghraib thing came out, although we had started it before that, he would get pummeled. He was a great guy.
DV: Who was this?
BM: Lieutenant Colonel John T. Ryan. He goes by Tim. He works up at the Pentagon now. DV: His name sounds familiar.
BM: He penned a couple of articles I think that were published. There was one that got circulated pretty widely talking about how the western press was not reporting accurately everything that was going on over there. That got some pretty widespread distribution, for good or for bad. But he kept his composure better than I think I would have. It would be like the White House correspondents up there asking what about this and what about that, and you were trying to tell your good story and all they wanted to know about was the Abu Ghraib scandal. I would sit there and watch him, thinking, ďThank God that is not me up there because I probably would have choked somebody by now.Ē
DV: There are some questions that the armor historian has. Some of these we may have touched on. What were the most significant challenges posed by the threat or the operational environment?
BM: I think the most significant challenge was more with the environment than the threat. The reason I say that is because they have a homogeneous society or culture, or to us it appears homogeneous. But it was amazing. I had a medic whose mother was Puerto Rican and his father was Palestinian and he spoke both Spanish and Arabic. He became one of our key guys. He and even our other interpreters would say this guy is not Iraqi. He is Syrian or Egyptian or Kurdish. These guys are not from here. These are outsiders. Or they could tell you that these guys live around here. They are pretty close. They live somewhere in Baghdad. They could tell by dialect and physical features and things like that.
DV: Kind of like how we can people from the north and south.
BM: Exactly. But to us, to a US soldier standing there, you canít tell an Egyptian from a Syrian from an Iraqi at the drop of a dime. So in that environment, number one, being an urban environment, number two, being a homogeneous type society, you canít say it was a black guy or a white guy or an Asian guy who committed this crime. It was one of the Arab guys and they all look ďthe same.Ē So that was the biggest challenge because it was difficult to identify someone. First of all, they had their traditional headgear and they always wrapped their face wherever they committed a crime. Even the Iraqis would tell us, if a guy has got his face covered, there is a 99 percent chance he is up to no good. So you have that, then on top of that you have a homogeneous society who all look the same, and you have you closed society that insulates itself at least on the surface from things that are going around it. If it doesnít happen in my yard, then it is not my responsibility and I have no idea what is going on. Then it was just the very effective IO campaign waged by their religious leaders, in conjunction with their extremist terrorist organizations. So that was the biggest challenge. It was the environment you were operating in. The bad guys, the individual foot soldier of the insurgency, was a guy with a machine gun or an RPG or a detonator. So if you could identify him, we had all the means in the world to take care of it and to take him out, whether it was an M16 or a grenade or whatever. So from that perceptive, once you find them and identify them, it is no problem engaging them and killing them. The environment ,though, precludes you a lot of times from identifying them.
DV: So what techniques or procedures did you develop to overcome those challenges?
BM: One of the things we were fortunate to do, we talked about having our medic who was also Palestinian. We used him in an interpreter role and we also used him in conjunction with one our intelligence (S2) lieutenants. They built this ungodly database and wire diagram of who this guy was and who that guy was and how they were connected. And it was amazing the amount of intuition that Private Morrow and Specialist Mohammed had. He could be talking to a guy and say, ďThis guy, I know he is not telling the truth. He is not telling the truth.Ē We werenít trained to do interrogation and we werenít allowed to do interrogation. We could do what was called field questioning.
DV: Right, tactical field questioning.
BM: Tactical field questioning. And we could keep guys for like six hours, the standard then. But I think they have since changed that to say if you have relevant information and something you can action on and you can either prevent something from happening or find and capture or kill bad guys, then you can hang on to them for a little bit longer. But that was something that was always in our forefront. To an extent, we constrained ourselves in some respects because in the beginning if you didnít have that guy to the next level in six hours, there were innumerable people jumping and down on your desk or screaming at you over the radio, ďYou have got to give that guy up right now.Ē So having him to be able to use in that capacity. Then, we also built a fair amount of trust, I think. One of the things a guy from 2-70 Armor told us when they left and we came in was that we would get close to our interpreters and they would become part of our organization so be careful, number one, for operational security reasons and, number two, for personal security reasons. So just be really careful who you trust and what you tell them. We basically boiled it down and you could tell because we went from about 20 interpreters to about 12 or 15, and then in October 2004 we started making some moves from Baghdad. We moved from Baghdad to the Taji and Tarmiya area and then we came back to Baghdad for about a week and then we went to Fallujah. Then we left Fallujah, came back to Baghdad for six or seven days and then we went to a place called Camp Dogwood, which was outside of Mahmudiyah, southern Baghdad. But each time we went, there were less and less people willing to go with us, and by the time we got done there we had four guys.
DV: Out of 20?
BM: Right. There were about 20 that we started with. But those four guys I would take anywhere and do anything with them. The rest of them it was at varying degrees. But it was developing that core understanding and they were all about, ďIím doing this for my country.Ē They had internalized it and that was really good. I wish we had been able to do that a little bit more with the whole public, but that was a good technique, I think.
DV: What was your opinion of the reliability, quality and effectiveness of the equipment issued the soldiers: weapons, boots, body armor and personal gear?
BM: Body armor was phenomenal. As a matter of fact, I have been severely aggravated the last couple of weeks with the news reports about less than adequate body armor. That body armor is phenomenal. It is heavy. It is a pain in the ass, but it works. One of our infantry platoon sergeants in an infantry company who was attached to us had a hole in the back of one of his plates that big around and there is no doubt in your mind that if he hadnít been wearing that, he would be dead.
DV: Was it through the plate?
BM: No. It took a chunk out of it. It was from an RPG explosion. He didnít want to get rid of it because it was his good luck charm, but I was like, ďNo. You have to get rid of that thing because if you get hit again it is not going to do its job. You have to get a new one.Ē But the guys believed in their equipment as far as that goes. Weapons, the 9mm pistol, people didnít have a whole lot of confidence in it. We all carried it for the simple reason that itís better than nothing. If you had a malfunction with your rifle, you had your pistol as a backup.
DV: Did you have the M16 or the M4?
BM: We had M4 rifles. We loved the M4 rifles. We absolutely loved the red dot scope, the M68, it was phenomenal, and also the SureFire flashlight, which you can buy it through General Services Administration (GSA). Itís not something that is regular issue. It is a tactical flashlight. They are super, super bright and you can use it for a couple of things. Number one, if you are on a checkpoint, you can blind a driver with it. If for some reason someone comes up and they are not slowing down, it is like an escalation of force. You can use your flashlight to get their attention. You raise your rifle, put your flashlight on, if they still donít stop, you can engage them with a machine gun or whatever. But the M68 sight, the SureFire flashlight, and the M4 were phenomenal. The body armor was great. It was a mixed bag on the new helmet, the advanced combat helmet (ACH). For comfort wise and mobility wise, absolutely an improvement.
DV: This was replacing the Kevlar?
BM: Right. The ACH replaced the Kevlar. They cut the back to allow you, if you are in the prone position, to lift your head up easier, especially with body armor on. They reduced the amount that goes over your ears so you can hear better. And they also reduced the amount that comes over your eyebrow so that when you look up you can see up without having to rotate your whole head up. You can look up and see because you donít have the brow of the helmet. A lot of these changes were particularly for an urban environment. Now, there were tradeoffs that came with that. They say that the helmet can actually withstand a higher impact than the Kevlar helmet. It is maybe fourth generation or whatever of the Kevlar. But I wouldnít wear mine. I wore my old Kevlar helmet because I have seen the Kevlar helmet in action. It might do those things, it might make you feel better, but it doesnít cover as much of your head. Some guys wore it and some guys didnít wear it. We had a kid who got hit with a piece of shrapnel right in the helmet.
DV: In the Kevlar?
BM: In the Kevlar, right, and it left a goose egg about that big around on the inside of his helmet, but it didnít penetrate and he had a lump on his head about the same size. But it was a piece of metal about the size of your little fingernail and it went into that Kevlar and it did not penetrate. That same IED incident, we had two people killed. He was in the same truck and he was not killed. So the Kevlar helmet was good. One of the other big things is, and you will get this from about anybody, the magazines for the 9mm pistol are worthless.
DV: Why is that?
BM: They fail to feed. They get dirty too easily and when they get any amount of dirt in them at all, even the smallest amount of dirt, they wonít feed properly. They are horrible. But overall, the M1114 truck, unless you are up against a serious IED, it does a really good job. Single and double artillery rounds, it can withstand that kind of IED. If you start packing on shape charges and things like that, that it is a moot point. And of course, the tank, we couldnít wait to get them. They started shipping our tanks over, the tanks that we left behind, and it was late April when we got them.
DV: Did you ever have any problems with the M1s and the wheels shearing off?
BM: Yes, we did. I want to say it was the number two arm. I canít remember exactly. This was before I took command of my tank company. They had several problems with road arms. I donít remember which position it was, but there were several issues. Also, a lot of track issues, but those tracks werenít designed to run 12 hours a day at 30 miles an hour up and down blacktop roads.
DV: Did your unit make modifications to the vehicles to fit the operational environment, and if so how?
BM: We made very few modifications to the tank. The only modification I can think of off the top of my head was to extend the bustle rack so we could carry more water and ice. We also put on the RPG shield, which is a slatted guard that goes over the engine grill doors on the tank. On the M1114 Humvee, we put in things like Kevlar blankets and to some extent sandbags. For our scouts, we had to modify the turret rings in order to use our long-range advanced scout surveillance system (LRAS) and our weapon. In other words, if you had an M240 machine gun here and your LRAS here, the M1114 is not designed for that. What we did was we cobbled together a mount from the M1025s and the M1114s and we kind of made a hybrid to make it work. Then with our trucks, our light medium tactical vehicles (LMTVs) and two and a half ton trucks, we had a lot of welded on extra protection type stuff.
DV: Did soldiers follow established load plans or did they modify them?
DV: Did soldiers follow established load plans or did they modify them?
BM: No. The load plan was changed on every mission, depending on what was most necessary and whether it was a move with the possibility of contact or whether it was a tactical operation. If we were moving, our biggest concern was ammunition and water. If we were on a mission, it was medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), first aid and ammunition. So it depended on what we were doing. Ever since I was a lieutenant I have said that standard load plans are bogus because everybodyís needs can be different. This four-man tank crew runs their tank a little bit different from this four-man tank. They want things in a little bit different place. The tank commander might have short arms so instead of putting the fire extinguisher out here, he puts it down here by his feet.
DV: What about ammo? Was that standardized in location so if somebody needed ammo from another vehicle?
BM: The short answer is no. It wasnít standardized. The long answer is we carried so much ammo that if you ever needed some off another truck, you wouldnít have any trouble finding it.
DV: Did you have any use with the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2)? BM: Yes.
DV: What did you think about that? How effective was it?
BM: From a situational awareness standpoint, from an ability to use it as a map and see your forces on the battlefield, an absolutely phenomenal tool. For the ability to communicate with forces out of FM communications, awesome. For instance, one time I had scouts operating three and a half hours away from where I was located. I couldnít talk to them all the way out there, but while they were going that way, well after I lost them on radio comms, I could still message them from my FBCB2. Now, once they got out of that umbrella that was providing the FBCB2 coverage, then I lost them completely. But I still talked to them at a much more extended range than I ever could have talked to them by FM. As far as reporting, some of the reporting is pretty easy, but from the things like combat service support (CSS) management and some of the standard format operations orders (OPORDs) and things like that, some of those kinds of things can either be refined or just gotten rid of to make the other things that are working well work better and save space, whether it is in your processor or your hard drive or whatever. So use that additional space to make that better. The moving map, the ability to see icons and the ability to talk at greater distances was great. For instance, whenever I did a fragmentary order (FRAGO), if I had to send a FRAGO out to guys, I would type it on my keyboard. In a Humvee it is easy. I would type it on my keyboard in what they call like free text mode. It is just like opening up a word processor and typing and then you send that out. They have a pre- formatted OPORD, but it is very cumbersome and it takes forever to fill out, so they could just junk that, in my opinion.
DV: So you just send it out as free text?
BM: Right. The FBCB2 in a tank is little more challenging because it doesn't have a keypad. It has a number pad that has letters on it, kind of like a cell phone, which is considerably more challenging than a keyboard. The other thing on a tank is the scroll to move your map around; the control is on your commanderís override, so you are doing it with a thumb pad. If you can imagine playing a video game, like an airplane game where you have all the controls on a joystick, it becomes a little more challenging to do that. On a Humvee, it has a string like this and you can touch it, move it like this and it will scroll with your map in whatever direction you go. On a tank, you have to fight with the cursor while you are moving down the road or moving across country and it becomes more challenging. But it is still a good tool.
DV: What from your experience were the most important lessons learned you would to share with the greater Army?
BM: I wish I had that one ahead of time. I could have given you all kinds of stuff. I think the most important thing is to develop strong teams from your squads all the way up through your battalion command, and I will stop there because thatís the extent of most of my knowledge. Develop a strong team, train a lot and know what the guy next to you is going to do in a certain situation. Obviously, you canít replicate everything thatís going to happen, but stress the organization before you ever get there so that you know what you should do and what you will do.
DV: Are you talking about just automatic reactions?
BM: Right. Automatic reaction, but not so much the idea of crew drills. When you get guys together for a long period of time, they get to know each other really well. Like I can start finishing another guyís sentence or I can tell if this is the situation that Smith will do this if he is standing there and this goes down. Then, what is Jones going to do? Well, Jones will probably do this or that a little bit differently. Well, what is Johnson going to do? Well, Johnson will probably think about it for a minute and will then come up with an even better idea, but it is going to take him a little bit longer. So itís things like that and just knowing your organization and knowing your people. That is the absolute most important thing people can do because it comes down to knowing how everybody is going to react, and then at the same time you are able to determine who can be pushed the hardest and who is going to last the longest. That is not to say that one person is not as good as the other person, but if you have a critical situation you need to handle, you know who the guy is that is going to take care of it. You have already determined that in your mind. From a battlefield perspective, undoubtedly combat lifesaver/first aid training and the ability to conduct swift and precise combat lifesaving techniques. I had a mortar platoon sergeant who was hit by an IED on 9 March 2004 and from the time the IED exploded, his crew and his squad leader secured him, moved him to the helicopter pad on the logistics base, stabilized him, got him on an airplane, got him to the combat support hospital (CSH) in Baghdad, and then off the airplane in 47 minutes. The doctor almost didnít operate. When he saw him, he wasnít going to operate on him because he didnít think he could be saved. But when they took the X-ray, he determined he would be able to save him. If it had been five minutes more or 10 minutes more, he might not have made it. Now, unfortunately, he is still in a coma, but he would undoubtedly be not alive at all.
DV: How long has he been in a coma?
BM: Since 9 March 2004. So thatís something I think about often. DV: What is his name?
BM: His name is Staff Sergeant Colin Band.
DV: Where is he at, Washington?
BM: No. He went from Iraq to Landstuhl to Walter Reed to Brooks. He was in a rehab facility in Brooks, and right before I left Fort Hood they were going to release him from that facility to his parentsí home in San Antonio, Texas.
DV: Where is Brooks? Is that in Texas?
BM: Brooks is in San Antonio, Texas. That is the big Army hospital in San Antonio. As a matter of fact, he had just come to us two months before we left from the 24th Infantry Division. I had a mortar platoon with issues and he got those guys straightened out. He would have been proud of the way they reacted that day. Thatís for sure.
DV: Well, that concludes our interview with Captain Meredith. Thank you very much for your time and your willingness to support the Armyís mission in chronicling its current history of OIF.
END OF INTERVIEW Transcribed by Kim Sanborn