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Video-teleconference Briefing from Baghdad

Presenters: Kenneth O. Preston, Command Sergeant Major, V Corps
August 22, 2003

(Video-teleconference from Baghdad. Participating were Sgt. Maj. Kenneth O. Preston, Command Sgt. Maj., V Corps; Sgt. Maj. Michael Bush, U.S. Army 1st Armored Division; and Sgt. Maj. Charles Fuss, U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division.)

Moderator: Today, we have the unique pleasure of having the 5th Corps command sergeant major, Kenneth O. Preston -- and sergeant majors, I'm going to spell your names as I have them. If that's incorrect, please correct it for the record so that they make sure they report your names properly. K-E-N-N-E-T-H O. P-R-E-S-T-O-N. That's the 5th Corps command sergeant major. (Word inaudible) -- by Command Sergeant Major Bush, B-U-S-H. Sergeant Major Bush, what's your first name?

Bush: Michael.

Moderator: Thank you.

And from the 1st Armored Division, Command Sergeant Major Fuss. Is that right, Sergeant Major?

Bush: I'm from the 4th Infantry Division.

Voice: He wishes he were in the the 1st Armored Division. (Laughter.)

Bush is the 1st Armored Division commander -- (inaudible).

Moderator: Right. I stopped reading there. Sergeant Major's from the 4th Infantry Division. And Sergeant Major Fuss, your first name?

Bush: It's Charles.

Moderator: Okay. So we have Command Sergeant Major Charles Fuss from the 4th Infantry Division and Command Sergeant Major Michael Bush from the 1st Armored Division, who wishes he was in the 4th Infantry Division, according to Sergeant Major Fuss.

Bush: That is correct. (Laughter.)

Moderator: Yeah. Fuss. F-U-S-S.

Michael, I assume spelled like normal Michael.

Bush: (Off mike.)

Moderator: Okay. So with that, sergeant majors, we are going to give you an opportunity to make any opening statements you'd like about how you see operations in Iraq and what you're doing to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. And after that, we'll open up for question and answer.

So Sergeant Major Preston, why don't you lead off? And then, the other two sergeant majors can go in turn as they'd like.

Preston: Sir, yeah, I'd just like to start by saying that all the folks over here are really doing a magnificent job. And I think that all of you should be very proud of what folks do on the ground and what they're doing in support of the people in Iraq and for the people of the United States.

I'll tell you that the attitudes and the morale of soldiers is very high. The soldiers right now are proud of the mission they're right now a part of. The soldiers here on the ground understand the importance of the mission that they're a part of, and they're looking forward to at some point rotating back to the States -- (off mike).

I'll tell you that the units that are here right now are fit and disciplined cohesive group of all the units that are here right now. The soldiers, despite working in difficult conditions, and whether it's difficult terrain -- and you can take the terrain that's out along the borders of this country -- it's tough and rugged -- all the way to the terrain of downtown Baghdad; the soldiers are doing well, very, very well in those conditions.

We're also doing very well now in the -- just the conditions of the environment. The heat over here on average in just the last couple days has been 123, 124 degrees. And even in their full uniform, out on the ground, the engaged with the populace everyday, their spirits are high and they're doing a great job.

I'll also say that all the senior leaders of all the units that are deployed here in theater remain focused on the mission, taking care of the soldiers. And I know that one of the purposes of this briefing is to respond to all of you and answer your questions on morale of the soldiers and talk about some of the initiatives now, what we're doing with the soldiers here on the ground and help them with their mission.

In a lot of ways, you know, people ask the question, you know, how do you take care of the soldiers? Probably as part of my opening statement, I'll just say that the number-one way to take care of soldiers is by assuring that they're trained. When you've got soldiers here on the ground that are doing a real-world mission, the best way to take care of the soldiers, first priority, is to assure that they're well-trained. And even the soldiers that have been here for a while and their training has continued, ongoing soldier-level proficiency in everything from what we think of the first stage/aid to situational of training exercises.

I'll also say that probably the most prominent question that I was asked up until a couple weeks ago as I made my rounds and talked to soldiers, the number-one question was, "When am I going home?

And since General Keane has made the announcement of the rotation schedule for the divisions here in theater, morale has actually improved a great deal because that is now a burden that's been lifted off the soldiers. It's information that we can now pass on to families back home to give them an idea of when they will leave this theater and return back home.

With that, I'd like to go ahead and just turn it over to Command Sergeant Major Bush and Command Sergeant Major Fuss for any comments they might have.

Bush: I'll go ahead and start. This is Command Sergeant Major Bush. I'm the – Task Force Baghdad sergeant major also. And I'll elaborate a little bit on Sergeant Major Preston’s comment on individual training.

You can be proud of these young soldiers over here. Our process, on how our training goes about before we came over here, and the constant training that we do here, the adaptability of these young soldiers in this environment, it will make you proud. They're becoming seasoned soldiers and they react better than anybody could ever have thought they could react to any situation, actual combat fire and patrols.

So, you can be proud of these young Americans that we've got. We're doing our best to take care of these sons and daughters of the United States, and they're doing good -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

Moderator: Sergeant Major Bush, we have a question for you specifically. Is it all right if we do that before Sergeant Major Fuss goes?

No, never mind. They'd like to hear Sergeant Major Fuss.

Bush: I'm the command sergeant major,Task Force Iron Horse, who has responsibility of the northeast portion of Iraq. And I share the other sergeant major's sentiment on our soldiers. We're proud of them. They are doing very well. They're disciplined, they're trained. They are taking a fight to the enemy every day, and we're winning on this fight over here.

And one thing I do want to open with is that we owe a great thank you to our families back in Fort Hood for what they're doing, and for (inaudible) who are taking care of our families, and the families that are taking care of each other, and for the sacrifices that they are making for their country as well as the sacrifices our troops are making.

Moderator: All right, Sergeant Majors, we appreciate your opening comments. At this time, we're going to turn it over to the reporters for Q&A.

I'd remind you all that there is a delay, due to the scottie technology, so please be patient as the questions are asked.

We'll first go to AP. Please let them know who they're talking to.

Q: Hello. This is Matt Kelley with the Associated Press. You mentioned that morale is high. Yesterday, General Abizaid said that terrorism is the number one security threat in Iraq., and I was wondering how the attacks on U.S. forces have affected the morale of the troops?

Preston: I'll start out by -- you know, terrorist acts could occur anywhere in the world, and for -- whether it's soldiers here in Iraq, soldiers in Afghanistan, or soldiers in Germany, terrorist acts can occur anywhere in the world. It's one of those things that, you know, we learn from. Anytime there is a terrorist act we become -- we focus to try to learn from the TTP, the techniques, tactics that the enemy has used to conduct these terrorist attacks.

It's interesting that, you know, the soldiers understand the threat and the environment which they work in and, you know, they walk with death every day out on patrols.

So the level of experience that a soldier gains living and working in an environment like this, there’s no substitute for experience. As we work through this process, I think that the morale continues to stay high. I haven't, you know, heard any real issues of concerns with that. The soldiers learn from the experiences and we deal with the terrorist -- (inaudible).

Moderator: Command Sergeant Major Bush or Command Sergeant Major Fuss, do you have any comment, or would you want to move on to another question?

Bush: I just want to add one thing to what Sergeant Major Preston said. That is, the resolve of our soldiers is great. And what the enemy doesn't understand is, the more they attack us, the more fight we'll take to them.

Moderator: Thank you, Sergeant Major. Next will be Reuters.

Q: This is Will Dunham with Reuters. I'm interested in your thoughts on how helpful it would be, if helpful at all, to have more troops over there to help out with the security situation and any other tasks. (Off mike) -- troops or any other troops.

Preston: I think that right now, the initiative right now that the command is working on with coalition forces right now flowing into theater. And already, you know, here on the ground we've got many units that are flowing in. Their advance parties are on the ground.

I was just down and visited with the Polish division, who are moving into the Marines sector. We're doing a wonderful job down there. We've had soldiers down there out of the CJTF7 headquarters that have been very helpful in helping the Polish division in their transition with the Marines.

And we could talk about more forces coming in. We do have more forces coming in. And I think that, you know, we've built this team of coalition forces its going to be even better as the days go on.

Moderator: Okay, next question.

Preston: Did that answer your question?

Q: Hi, Brian Hartman with ABC News. You mentioned training. Could you talk a little bit specifically about how the training your soldiers got before they got over there prepared them for the kind of peace enforcement responsibilities they have now, as opposed to, you know, the slogging their way up and fighting their way to Baghdad. And if you had any advice for the commanders who are training the soldiers who are going to be going over there to relieve folks now about what kind of things they should be training the soldiers who are going to be going over there that maybe your guys didn't get, what would it be?

Preston: I think one of the successes that we can really focus in on is the focuses of our training doctrine - whether it's the new training centers, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, or the training center in Germany, I think, you know, all the training centers right now are very good at teaching, you know, our doctrine, and our doctrine -- (inaudible).

The battle command training program, as far as training staffs at headquarters is also a sound program. It's worked very well in preparing us for this mission, not just for the fight that led us into Iraq, but also to the ongoing operations that we're currently involved in right now.

Every day I think there's lessons learned that come out of this environment that are passed back to the follow-on troops that will come and take our place. I mean, naturally, what we wouldn't want to happen is the follow-on forces that replace us to start in the basement and learn the experiences once they arrive. So, creating and building the environment and the training mechanisms to train the units that will follow on -- as an example, the 1st Infantry Division right now in Germany, that will replace the 4th Infantry Division, is already ongoing with their plan to do mission rehearsal exercise at the training center there in Germany. So the lessons learned and the training mechanisms to train those units up specifically for where we are in this environment, when that transition takes place, is already in place.

I think that across the board with all the units that are out there, you know, what we do right now for the individual skills and the collective unit type skills that we teach out there are very good, all tied to our doctrine. Naturally, we've passed on a lot of lessons learned. We've got some other follow-on forces, like some of the artillery units out there now that are serving in actual -- (inaudible) -- patrols, doing -- (inaudible) -- operations. With those kind of -- (inaudible) -- out there, naturally, as much training as we can give them prior to them moving into theater, will be very beneficial.

(Off mike.)

Bush: Yeah, this is Sergeant Major Bush. Not only do we pass it along to units that are coming in here, on a daily basis we pass anything that we learn on throughout the theater and within our task force here in Baghdad. And I picked up stuff from the 4th Infantry Division on techniques they've used up there.

An example, there's the IEDs [improvised explosive device] that they set on the side of the road. We just start driving down the middle of the road. So we try to mitigate whatever we can as far as the blast effect of those by avoiding running over stuff, by driving down the middle of the road instead of along the curb or on the center line -- or the left-hand side of the road. So we pass that along, I mean anything that we learn, on a daily basis throughout the theater.

Fuss: I have just one comment. That is: I would pass on to leaders that are preparing to deploy their organizations over here, and that is to empower the young sergeants and the young lieutenants. They're the ones that are really the ones that are making the fight every day, the ones that are on the ground making the decisions on how to react to what the enemy is throwing at them. So I think we've got to focus on the small unit operations and the small unit leaders to empower these young soldiers.

Moderator: Thank you, gentlemen.

Q: This is Sandra Erwin with National Defense Magazine. I have a question about logistics. There is some criticism that the Army has not really done very well in providing adequate supplies, spare parts, and maintaining vehicles in the field has been a challenge for you guys. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys are managing with maintaining the equipment and getting adequate supplies for different types of vehicles and equipment that you guys need on a daily basis?

Preston: From our perspective as a solider on the ground, I mean I can't say that it's the Army's fault if they're not -- whatever you've heard -- (inaudible) The lag as guess that’s the best way to put it and the parts start coming in. I'm not sure if it's -- it's distribution or just a manufacturing boosting -- parts boost based on the demand. You know, as an example, for a lot of the tanks they’re driving out here right now, we've, over the last four or five months, put several -- or two to three years worth of mileage on the vehicles. So you're putting all the load of work maybe miles that you would generally spread out over a two- to three-year period.

And naturally, the use of parts within that time frame increases. And probably the best example is probably one of ordering tires for Humvees. You know, we're putting a lot of miles on the Humvees. So naturally, the tires are going to wear out. So the tire manufacturer to the distribution process to get the tires into theater.

Right now, I mean, the units out there have often -- (inaudible) -- on the ground. You know, we're doing -- (word inaudible) -- on aircraft faster than normally back in Conus or back in central (inaudible). The same thing with performing services on the vehicles. You know, we maintain the vehicles so that the mission -- (inaudible).

Moderator: Command Sergeant Major Bush or Command Sergeant Major Fuss, do you have any response to logistic support?

Bush: Just a personal note on mileage and uses of vehicles. In the first 90 days here, my Humvee had over 5,000 miles put on it just in Baghdad. So I have to tell you that we're putting a lot more usage in the vehicles, I think, than we have in the past.

And the system -- I'll tell you the system has gotten a lot better there. We're starting to -- in fact, in the last three, four weeks, we've started to get a lot more parts that have started to come in, so that the system is catching up with us and what it is that we need and what we are ordering.

Moderator: Thank you, gentlemen.

Q: Hi, it's Brian Hartman with ABC News again. We've been hearing back here at the Pentagon that Iraqi -- the new Iraqi recruits would be going out on patrols with U.S. soldiers, would be training with U.S. soldiers and getting more familiar with how you all do your jobs. Could you tell us whether that's something that's already begun; if it has begun, how it's going; and if it hasn't begun, when you expect it will?

Preston: No, it hasn't begun. And I don't know specifically the details of what the plans will be and what the intent is. I mean, naturally we want the new Iraqi army in place and to do missions along the borders. And so, as that army matures and as the situation here matures, and naturally, we will continue to -- (inaudible).

Bush: I could add one thing, too, though. We have started -- early this week, we started training of the Iraqi civil defense corps. That training is going very well. We also have a -- and what -- maybe what you're hearing is the fact that we are doing joint operations with the local police that are going out on patrols with our soldiers, and that has been very good.

The Iraqis are picking up a lot from us. I think we're picking up stuff from them. And I think it's a great joint effort in trying to keep things under control here.

Moderator: Okay, thank you, Sergeant Majors.

Just to clarify, Brian was -- asked about the Iraqi army, but there are other --

Q: That’s a good answer.

Moderator: Okay, I think he got the answer he was looking for: Are you cooperating and coordinating with any Iraqi security elements? And obviously you are, and we appreciate that. Thank you, Sergeant Major Fuss.

Q: Again, this is Will Dunham with Reuters. Could you amplify a little bit, please, on -- you mentioned the starting of the training with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Could you say specifically what that has entailed and what duties you expect the Civil Defense Corps to take up when it's mature?

Preston: What we've done is implemented a training program that runs seven days. There's physical training that is involved in it, and then there are some very basic things like understanding what the rank structures are; weapons qualifications; understanding what an IED is, which is the bombs that they are planting and trying to ambush us with, and how to react to those things; how to identify different weapon systems that they may encounter. Very basic military-type training. And so far, it's going very well.

Q: Just to follow up, could you tell us a little bit about what the responsibilities of the Civil Defense Corps will be, once it's a mature force?

Preston: We're looking right now at the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, really company-sized elements, and it's really pretty limited as of right now, mainly just joint operations with us. Really it is to help to secure their country and to help us to get things under control here.

Bush: This is Bush again in Baghdad. We have a similar training program ongoing at the same time. I think we're doing this pretty much throughout the theater. I've taken some of my ex-drill sergeants, my sergeant majors and senior NCOs, they're currently out at Dogwood, one of the bases I've got, going through kind of a basic-training scenario with the civil defense forces, kind of ready-to-go interoperability training -- (inaudible). It's always good. We've done this for a while in Korea. It is good for the local population to see Iraqis in there with us going on patrol with police forces, and I guess probably most near Baghdad, been doing this a while with the local Iraqi police force in joint patrols. So it's working good. And we haven't got a -- I guess there's a due-out on how well it will work.

The theory is good. We're training them up. But we haven't physically got them on the ground with our soldiers yet, but we're going to -- (inaudible).

Q: This is Geoff Morrell, also with ABC News. We've heard some stories back here of some disparity in some other logistical matters, particularly creature comforts among the different units; some units having prepared meals rather than MREs [meals ready to eat], water supplies; some units having air conditioning, others not. Is that true, number one? And number two, what's being done to make it more amenable to all the troops over there?

Preston: Okay. I guess -- and probably everything you've heard, there's probably a great deal of truth to a lot of it. And I'll try to give you the laydown on where we are -- (inaudible) -- the theater, the quality of life for the servicemen -- on the ground.

Imagine if you go back to April, to the first of May, when the ground conflict kind of ended. You know, we had soldiers that were based -- you know, spread out across the country. And the soldiers that I've talked to -- you know, specifically a little bit about kind of the Baghdad area, just to kind of give you a snapshot of what we've got here -- you know, soldiers here in and around, say, the Baghdad area are in hardstand shelters -- you know, former state-owned properties that were left vacant, abandoned. And a lot of them refer to them as -- "marble tents." And they are buildings in most cases that have no power. In many cases, the windows were broken out, the building was looted. But at least it's a hardstand with concrete under your feet, a place to stand.

And we've been doing a lot of work right now with local contractors, putting people back to work again by putting windows back in buildings, putting air conditioning in buildings, and trying to get some of that infrastructure fixed back up again for soldiers to live.

Then, you've got the remote sites, you know, say, out in the west desert where -- you know, along the Syrian border; some remote sites out there where it's just open desert, and the soldiers out there live in tents.

It's pretty harsh, austere kind of conditions. But again, you know, there's a push there to get air conditioning and improve the quality of life for those soldiers that are out there. I think that as far air conditioning goes, the fact that air conditioners are being manufactured, those air conditioners are being pushed out, put in places, living quarters, so that at night when they're off, during the period between their shifts, they've got the opportunity to get some sleep and rest.

The question you asked about dining facilities, we've got a contract with Brown and Root – Kellogg, Brown and Root is doing the dining facilities. Right now we're in the process of installing them throughout all the major base camps throughout Iraq. And the intent is that from these large dining facilities, those smaller operating bases that are satellites off the largest facilities, they will, what we call – mermite [an insulated food] container -- or transport chow, food, beverages, out to the smaller base camps. The intent, by the first part of September, is to have all the dining facilities in place so that soldiers here on the ground are getting quality meals.

I guess the future, as you look out, there's a number of initiatives out there right now. I'll let Sergeant Major Fuss talk here in a minute, he'll talk about, you know, some of the containerized living areas right now that are being put in place up in his area, some of the remote sites.

But right now, across the board, I think that if you were to talk to a soldier, any soldier, they would tell you that in the last 30 days, they've seen great improvements both in the quality of life, the place that they actually live, to their conditions and how they live.

You know, of course, with the living environment, they need showers, latrine facilities, bottled water for the soldiers. I think that, you know, as the theater matures, we get the logistic support structure set, we support the soldiers now over there in their final base camps. The quality of life has improved substantially.

Now, I'll let these guys talk about their issues in their areas.

Bush: I'll just make a comment. I deployed to Bosnia initially in '94 as a brigade command sergeant major. I'll tell you, we're light-years ahead. It's an environment that's a lot more full as far as trying to get stuff in. There's not very many things available here compared to Bosnia or to Western Europe, like it can be thrown on a flatbed and drove into country without worrying about hostile fire.

I'll tell you, the only issue that I've got is power generation. I've got air conditioners stacked up all over the place, and there's a problem with getting the electricity and power generation in the quantity and size that we need to power everything that we're trying to provide for our soldiers. So, I know there's a backlog, and we're working on getting all of them to come in. So if you could send some power generators, we'd appreciate it.

Fuss: This is Sergeant Major Fuss. One of the things that we've started doing is purchasing containerized housing units. And what that is, is a 20-foot meal van that is set up with both air conditioning and heating that we can put four soldiers in. You know, we're buying those things in pretty large quantities. We've got a little bit -- a little under half of our organization that we're trying to house.

And I agree with Mike Bush on the power generation. There is not enough generators in this country to go around, so we're having to go outside this country to try to purchase them because the commercial power is not dependable. You can maintain commercial power for three hours, then it shuts off for the rest of the day, or you may get lucky and have it on all day and then it will shut off for a few hours.

So, those are some of things that we’re doing. But I think one of the great things is that every day, soldiers -- (inaudible) -- the leaders of their units' ability to make their quality of life better, and we're working on it every day.

Moderator: Command Sergeant Major Preston, Command Sergeant Major Bush, Command Sergeant Major Fuss, we appreciate you being with us today. Our time is up. And we hope that you continue to have success. And I know that great NCOs like you gentlemen are making a difference in Iraq and will take care of the soldiers every day. Appreciate you being here.

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