Face of Defense: Soldier Sees Vast Changes in Iraq
American Forces Press Service
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, March 12, 2009 A 44-year-old soldier here is serving in Iraq for the second time, an experience he says is considerably different from his first.
An Army Ranger and veteran of operations Just Cause in 1989 and Iraqi Freedom in 2004, 44-year-old Army Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ross has seen a lot more than many of his fellow soldiers in his 22-year Army career.
Being an “old” soldier, Ross, the 2nd Platoon sergeant for Company H, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, has seen many changes throughout the Army and throughout the struggle here in Iraq. He has witnessed the evolution of this conflict -- from the initial stages in 2004 to the situation today, in what many consider the closing months of the conflict.
In 2004, Ross was a platoon sergeant of an infantry platoon stationed at Forward Base Prosperity, a coalition camp in central Baghdad. The soldiers in his platoon experienced daily insurgent attacks, conducted raids on local insurgent hideouts, and acted as peacekeepers, trainers, negotiators and nation builders in Baghdad. All the while his platoon attempted to gain the Iraqi people’s support and encourage them to take responsibility for their own peace.
Back then, basic services were rare, and the Iraqis’ trust in Americans and their own government was close to nonexistent. The tactics and procedures used during convoy operations were firm and aggressive. Warning shots were a common way to get through traffic. If the vehicles were stationary too long, they risked being the target of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices or grenade attacks.
Today, Iraq is a much different place, Ross said, noting that he has seen tremendous progress, in both the Iraqi way of life and the security forces he encounters. As a convoy commander, he said, he’s noticed the way the U.S. Army does business has changed too.
“The way you point your weapon is different, where you drive on the streets of Baghdad is different; and now we share the roads in Iraq with the Iraqi people to maintain the trust,” Ross explained.
"Although many things have changed, there are still parts of Iraq that are struggling,” he added. However, “trust between the Iraqi government and its people is growing, and there seems to be an understanding that the sustainment convoys are an inconvenience, but necessary to the rebuilding of Iraq,” he said.
Ross noted that each stage of the war has been different, “and we had to adjust quickly.” Ross recalled an encounter that happened on a recent convoy recovery mission that illustrated a new way of thinking and the progress Iraqis have made.
Ross and his soldiers were just north of the base here to assist in the recovery of a damaged convoy vehicle. “We were tasked with blocking the road so the recovery vehicle could get the damaged vehicle back to the base,” he said.
A group of Iraq police approached the soldiers wanting to use the road; they were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and new police uniforms. “I had to explain and negotiate with the Iraqis that they could not use the road due to a broken vehicle and offered an alternate route,” Ross said. “It seemed the police understood the situation, were friendly, and also seemed to have a more informed approach to the situation than in years past.
“The Iraqi police agreed and used the alternate route,” he continued. “This would have been a different story in 2004, and it would have involved much less understanding or cooperation.”
Ross is now more than halfway done with his second and most likely last tour in Iraq. He said he looks forward to returning home to his wife of 20 years, Fiorella, and his 10-year-old son, Austin.
Looking ahead, he said, he also wants to take on a new responsibility -- the training of the next generation of warfighters and leaders of his unit.
(From a 3rd Sustainment Command news release.)