Working with the Kurdish Military

I think this narrative presents important aspects  of training Middle Eastern  military forces. I have found over the years that although there have been hundreds of American officers and NCO’s working with the Arabs and Afghans, few actually record their experiences or analyze them.  The after  action reports found at the various Army school houses  tend to be written in this indecipherable , infinitely boring. stilted language of military speak.  Perhaps it is simply a casualty of twitter and facebook,  and our declining educational standards. When I read the autobiographies of our WWII vets and those of the British,  the difference is appalling.

 

Journal Kept by Stephen W. Richey, Major, U.S. Army Retired, of My Experiences Teaching U.S. Small Unit Tactics for Tanks and Mechanized Infantry to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Junior Officers in Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, Summer and Autumn, 2015

 

Introductory Note to Readers:

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I retired from the U.S. Army in 2010 at the end of a military career that included enlisted service as a tank crewman, graduating from West Point as an Armor officer, and four tours in Iraq.  I was also a student at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg where I was trained to be a subject matter expert in the Middle East prior to my assignment to a PSYOP unit.  I flew to Sulaymaneeyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, in late June, 2015 at my own expense. It was my intention to volunteer my services to the Peshmerga in their fight against ISIS.

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My expertise is as a classroom instructor in tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics.  I envisioned performing in this role for the Peshmerga. To that end, before leaving the U.S., I purchased a miniature army of little green army men and tanks from Walmart.  When I got my little army home, I arrayed it on the floor of my living room. I organized the infantry by fire teams, squads, and platoons, culminating in a rifle company with supporting antitank weapons and mortars.  I organized the tanks into platoons culminating in an armor company. I used little plastic toy cars that came with the toy sets to represent a scout platoon. I used different colors of paint to color-code selected little soldiers and tanks as fire-team leaders, squad leaders, platoon leaders and company commanders.  Having thus constituted my little army, I packed it in my duffel bag.

 

En route to Sulaymaneeyah, at a brief stopover at the airport in Amman, Jordan, by pure chance, I encountered a young American man with military experience (National Guard) who likewise sought to help the Kurdish people fight against ISIS.  He and I became inseparable for the next few days. After clearing customs at Sulaymaneeyah airport, we presented ourselves to the first uniformed individual wearing some rank I saw inside the main part of the terminal. I used what few sentences of Sorani Kurdish and Arabic I knew to introduce ourselves and explain our purpose in being there.  As I anticipated, he, like most officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, was at least partially fluent in English. He escorted us to his superior at the airport to whom I repeated my pitch. I unpacked my miniature tank/infantry reinforced company team and briefly went through the paces of what I was prepared to do for the Peshmerga. This man was warmly sympathetic to my cause.  After some phone calls by this official to his superiors, my companion and I took a cab to a hotel where we stayed for two nights over the Islamic Sabbath weekend of Friday and Saturday.

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On Sunday, which equates to Monday in the West, we moved from the hotel to the quite large Peshmerga base at Formandee on the outskirts of Sulaymaneeyah.  We were introduced to Mr. Amin Ayad who was a high-ranking member of the Peshmerga intelligence organization and who was the designated “handler” for foreign volunteers.  He possessed excellent fluency in English, having lived in North Carolina for some time. He impressed me as someone we could trust. After our meeting with Mr. Ayad, we were billeted in the enlisted barracks.  There we met still another young American man with military experience (Marine, as I recall) who had come to support the Kurdish cause against ISIS and who had already been there for a few days before my companion and I arrived.  After a few more days and some arrangement-making by Mr. Ayad, my two fellow Americans got their wish and were driven to northeastern Syria, properly Rojava, to join up with the YPG. I have not heard from them since.

 

I was kept in limbo at Formandee for two months while the high-ranking Peshmerga leadership went through an excruciatingly protracted process of figuring out what to do with me.  During this time I made my pitch with my toy soldiers and tanks at least one more time to at least one more high-ranking officer, he being General Adnan. I was assisted by a mentally brilliant young Peshmerga enlisted soldier, named Dareen, whose fluency in English was superb.  I spent my days typing up lesson plans on my laptop and perfecting my methodology of moving toy tanks and soldiers around on the floor to make my teaching points. I wrote up a draft field manual for tank/mechanized infantry small unit tactics which was an enormously simplified redaction of the doctrine I had learned back in the 1980s.  Mr. Ayad’s team set to work translating it into Kurdish. Then, quite suddenly one day, I was told to get ready to meet with and make my pitch to General Shemsadeen, who I understood to be the ranking man on Formandee, within the hour. My discussion with General Shemsadeen in his office, with about a dozen Peshmerga officers in attendance, was evidently a big hit.  Shemsadeen was all kindness toward me. He was quite happy to accept my services as I described them. Very shortly thereafter, I and all my gear were moved to the Peshmerga tank center at Khaneegomah, a place slightly farther out from Sulaymaneeyah.

 

At that point, I started the following journal.

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Tuesday, 8 Sep 15

 

I am exiting the officers’ mess after eating breakfast when I see Mr. Amin Ayad (who is visiting from Formandee), BG Fahrayduhn (who is GEN Shemsadeen’s #2), the CO of the IFV/APC Bn., and possibly also (my memory fails me here) the commandant/head instructor of the tank school (who I later learn is named COL Eemahd) conversing in the parking lot.  They are waiting for GEN Adnan. They call me over to join them. We converse briefly and then move inside to BG Fahrayduhn’s office. Much discussion I can’t understand while we wait for Adnan. During a lull in conversation, I ask if the Pesh have a plow or shovel they can fit on the front end of their tanks, and if not, whether it is feasible to improvise or manufacture such devices locally.  The answer is yes, the Pesh do have such devices but they fail to dig deep enough to reach the Daesh IEDs. It is repeated to me that the American MRAPS are ineffective trying to disarm the latest Daesh IEDs. However, during the last operation (says the IFV/APC Bn CO, whose words are translated for me by Amin), a new French vehicle seemed to offer the best solution yet. The Daesh IED is by far the biggest killer of Pesh.  I also learn, to my deep worry, that yes, the Daesh DO have helicopters and that said helicopters carry missiles. We’re still waiting for Adnan. The travelling barber has set up business out in the hall and on the advice of those present I go get a haircut and beard trim. Shortly after I return from the barber, we learn that Adnan is waiting for us over by the tank school classroom/sand table building so we walk over to meet him.

 

I am next surprised by how quickly things move.  About a dozen 2nd LTs are in the classroom.  I am surprised when I am told to sit at the desk on the dais facing them.  Adnan takes the podium to my left and commences a long, windy speech introducing me to them and telling them what he expects of them when they take my course.  Amin translates from Adnan’s Arabic to Kurdish for the benefit of the students and to English for my benefit. At my suggestion, we take a five-minute break after Adnan is done before I give my speech.  I begin my speech with my Kurdish language intro sentences and then go into the rest of my speech in English for 5-10 minutes. Amin translates while Eemahd sits among LTs in audience. I do my standard shtick about how I am not here to throw out what the Pesh have and replace it but rather to augment what the Pesh have with the American style; I expect to learn as much from my students as they from me; I look forward to working with COL Eemahd; what my motivations are for fighting the Daesh (avenging my fallen brothers who died fighting for Mosul and Tikrit, ground which the Daesh now hold except for Tikrit which was recently retaken), etc.  I conclude my speech and the LTs are dismissed. I sit down in the classroom with Amin, Adnan, Fahrayduhn, and Eemahd to finalize how my class will go when I start my first day of teaching (TOMORROW!). Adnan has drawn on a piece of paper an elaborate sketch map of two mythical countries, the more northern of which is controlled by the Daesh and the more southern of which is controlled by the Pesh. He wants to expand my small unit tactical focus into something integrated up into the strategic level and which includes admin actions at Bn HQ prior to operations.  He proposes a scenario in which the Pesh first defend against a Daesh offensive and then launch a counteroffensive. He wants the sketch map to be replicated for my sand table. Apparently he never read or never understood or has chosen to ignore the topic sequence of, and the platoon-company tactical focus of my lesson plan and class schedule. I ask Adnan how many kilometers long each side of his sketch map is. He says fifty kilometers by fifty kilometers. I now—politely—launch into my objections to, and proposed alternatives to, Adnan’s proposal (which he had, from the beginning, with great graciousness, taken pains to announce as “merely” his proposals).  I say that Bn level staff procedures prior to an operation are intensely complex and that it would be folly of me to try to teach Pesh LTs about Pesh high-level staff operations; my focus is, and can only be, purely small unit tactical. I say Adnan and Eemahd should do all the talking about staff work at Bn and above and only hand things off to me when they are ready to go as low as company. I say Adnan and Eemahd should put their 50 km x 50 km map on the white board at the front of the classroom and let me zoom down the focus to a very few square kms on the sand table. Finally, in order to sustain the logic of how I sequenced my classes, we need to change Adnan’s scenario about defend first-attack later to attack first-defend later.  I’m hugely relieved by how instantly and warmly Adnan and Eamahd acquiesce to everything I propose.

 

Next, at my request, we make a recon of the complete extent of the maneuver area; to my delight, we all set off in an APC.  After the recon it’s time for lunch. Via Amin, from across the lunch table, Eemahd sends me a little pin that has an enamel Kurdish flag and some writing on it.  Amin tells me that what Eemahd says is that since I am a Peshmerga now, I should have this pin. We agree it would look best above my right breast pocket. Upon returning to my room at C.O.B., I see that pin says “Kurdistan” on it and I cannot afford to be photographed wearing such a politically provocative and problematic word on my person.

 

Wed, 9 Sep 15

 

I arrive at the classroom at 0715, fifteen minutes early, and find it still locked.  The duty officer arrives shortly to open it. The whiteboard is bare—no sign of Adnan’s promised strategic scenario map.  The sand table is still totally empty of everything, including sand: it’s just the border boards set up in a big rectangle around an expanse of floor.  Amin and Eemahd arrive. The students—all of them 2nd LTs—start to arrive.  I am cheerfully stunned by the extremity of military courtesy they render to me as each one walks in the door.  When I mention this to Fahrayduhn (or was it Amin?) at the end of the school day while walking back to HQ, he tells me to notice what a broken down, shabby, dirty mess this part of the world is.  For a culture obsessed with appearances, the only way to compensate is to be extravagantly correct in military courtesy, bearing, and turn-out. Adnan phones in and tells us he will be an hour late due to a medical issue.  Contrary to plan, I will be the first to speak. I need to use up an hour. I do so, I think, to excellent effect. With Amin translating, I speak for about an hour about Western Military Theory at the “one-over-the-world” (ultra-macro) level.  I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of symmetric vs. asymmetric. I talk about the two different forms of war in terms of the defense vs. the offense. I present a capsule biography of one Carl Von Clausewitz and his huge book On War.  I go on about Carl’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war.  I ask the students their opinion about why Carl would make this assertion.  Several raised hands lead to several good answers. When I clap my hands to applaud my students for their answers, all my students clap too!  I expand on Clausewitz’s idea that the defense is the stronger form of war by asserting the offense is the decisive form of war.  A war will last forever unless somebody attacks successfully to put an end to it all.  I conclude my presentation. A student approaches me at the podium to ask me two questions:  1. Why did the U.S. conspire with Israel to create ISIS in the first place? I damn near explode.  I make clear to Amin that I want him to translate the word “bullshit” as literally as he can while I make a pantomime of a cow taking a squat.  I go on a rant to the effect that ISIS is the cousin of Al Queda and Al Queda murdered 3,000 Americans on 9-11. At this moment, the U.S. is dropping bombs on ISIS.  Why would we drop bombs on ISIS if we created it? That makes no sense. I conclude by dramatically begging the LT to “help me kill this stupid lie” that the U.S. created ISIS.  2. If the U.S. could overthrow Saddam in only a few weeks of combat in 2003, why is the U.S. now saying that it will take “years” to defeat ISIS? I reply that it is a matter of political will.  And this is how American politics work. In 2003, we had a Republican president and Republicans are aggressive about using the military. But now, we have a Democratic president and Democrats are pacifists.

 

NOTE:  Many days before, while still in limbo at Formandee, I had a conversation with Amin in which Amin volunteered the Middle Easterners’ standard take on American politics:  The Republicans are the party of making decisions and taking action. Even if they make mistakes, at least they do something.  The Democrats are the party of weaklings who are forever-in-deliberation and who never do anything.

 

NOTE:  A couple hours later, during a break between classes, Amin confides to me that he took the liberty of changing my answer to the second question.  He tells me that in his opinion, I gave an inappropriately political answer to a military question. He tells me that the answer he gave to the LT’s second question is that ISIS, being a guerilla/terrorist force, is more difficult to defeat than a conventional foe.

 

Adnan arrives wearing civvies and spends a number of minutes drawing the promised strategic fantasy scenario map on the whiteboard.  The rest of the instructional day belongs to Adnan. He talks unstoppably for hours from the whiteboard map. I sit in the back of the classroom and listen while Amin first translates from Arabic to Kurdi and then from Arabic to English.  I am only asked to return to the podium for the last ten minutes of the four-hour-long instructional day to speak from my Lesson Plan book about the questions that a tank platoon commander must have answered prior to going on the attack, and, to speak about pre-combat checks for which a platoon commander is responsible.

 

Eemahd was present throughout the day but said little.  He sat in the front row immediately in front of where I stood at the Podium.  He seemed to approve when I borrowed his copy of the Pesh Tank Platoon Commander’s instructional book, held it up next to my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon (April 1996), and said to the students that the two books are virtually identical, which is true.

 

This day has apparently set the pattern for all that will follow:  Adnan will take the lead and I will be his more-or-less co-equal co-instructor as we conduct the Pesh equivalent to the Fort Knox Armor Officer Basic Course to about a dozen new 2nd LTs.  It’s Boudinot Hall déjà vu.

 

Amin tells me to not worry about not wearing the “Kurdistan” pin from Eemahd when I query him on the matter at lunch.  “Just keep it as a souvenir,” he tells me.

 

Sunday, 13 Sep 15

 

I arrived at the classroom 15 minutes early and found it open but vacant.  Happily, I saw a six-inch depth of dirt now installed on the sand table. I began the day’s instruction by demonstrating platoon movement formations on the sand table.  The Pesh had lots of toy tanks but their turrets do NOT turn; my toy tank turrets DO turn which makes a tremendous improvement in the clarity of the instruction possible.  Also, I color-coded the gun barrels according to the rank of the TC, something the Pesh never did with their toy tanks. Every few lines of spoken verbiage by me generated whole minutes of animated commentary by Adnan with the LTs and others joining in.  As I got toward the end of my presentation, I started to butt heads (politely, but awkwardly and in the presence of the students) over the purpose and role of the sand table. I THOUGHT the deal we had worked out was that the whiteboard at the front of the classroom would be reserved for the strategic map (which is Adnan’s province) while the sand table would be reserved for micro-tactical practical work (which is my province).  But Adnan took over the sand table and during the last half hour of the day directed the LTs in building an elaborate replication of the strategic map on the sand table.  Apparently, he expects me to conduct lessons on micro tactics on the strategic sand table but that would look, and would be, ridiculous.  I’ll have to move my toy tanks (and students) outside onto the dirt to teach the lessons I am prepared to teach. Also, I met BG Muhammad.

 

Monday, 14 Sep 15

 

Today, it all came together beautifully.  Amin could not come this day and Adnan was an hour or so late, as usual.  A young Sergeant named Hussein, whom I had met a few days before during an office call, stood by to be my interpreter.  Eemahd and Muhammad taught the class from the front stage. Eventually, Adnan arrived and Hussein left. Adnan brought me a sack breakfast because he had heard that I routinely skipped breakfast in the officers’ mess in order to be at the classroom on time.  (Adnan has been plying me with big sacks of food for days now.) Then it was my turn to teach. I saw that there was enough open floor space beyond one end of the sand table so I went at it with the toy tanks and soldiers in that location rather than going outside.  (Recall that Adnan had taken over the sand table to build a complex diorama of the strategic situation.) Adnan translated from English to Arabic and Eemahd translated from Arabic to Kurdi. Sheesh, what a situation. Much more important than bringing me breakfast, Adnan brought me blocks of wood to serve as IFVs/APCs.  Each block of wood was actually a 4×6 picture frame with a recessed center within a frame, so, they were perfect for accommodating fire-teams of infantry inside them.  I began by demonstrating how to integrate an IFV/APC platoon into a tank company which morphed in how to employ dismounted motorized infantry integrated with tanks in a hasty assault on a suspected Daesh RPG position which morphed into the pursuit as one post-assault option or consolidation and reorganization on the objective as the other post-assault option.  By now, I knew that the original sequencing of my lesson plan was in ruins but I didn’t care because I was making my topics flow in response to what my audience wanted to know and because I could see that they were learning, even through a double translation process. I’m grateful that the Pesh had toy trucks that I could use for supply vehicles. Crawling about on the floor and pushing around their toy trucks and my toy tanks, I demonstrated the tailgate and service station methods of resupply.  I used my fingers to pantomime transferring fuel and ammunition. I could see that the students were firmly grasping my points despite the double language barrier. Many of my statements that were only of a few seconds duration each generated many minutes of intense conversation between Adnan, Eemahd, and Muhammad. The students laughed and smiled sympathetically as I pantomimed with gestures my dismay at not understanding a word of what was being said about what I had just said. After class, Adnan was effusive in his praise of me as a well-prepared teacher who knew how to get a lesson across in understandable terms.  He conveyed to me the high satisfaction level of the students with my performance which was something I had already sensed from the students. One of the students invited me out for social activities with his friends after class, but I pleaded that I would have to get permission from Adnan first. Upon returning to HQ for lunch, I encountered Shemsadeen by chance in the courtyard as he emerged from a meeting. He gave me my first hug and man kiss on both cheeks. I impressed on him my urgent need to get to the front and shoot a few rounds from a Dishka at the Daesh. At lunch, a captain who has been noticeably friendly to me stated that in the last operation, the Daesh had shown poor morale and training compared to the Pesh.  Adnan raised again the issue that it is Daesh deep-buried IEDs that are killing us, that are causing almost all our losses in both troops and vehicles. And, our engineers have nothing more sophisticated than probing with sticks. I took the opportunity to impress upon Adnan the need to have engineer officers attend the course in order to facilitate brainstorming a solution to this problem.

 

Tuesday, 15 Sep 15

 

Today was all mine and it went splendidly.  Eemahd was not there, Amin, Adnan, Muhammad were there.  I was invited by Muhammad to deploy my toy tanks on the little stage at the front of the classroom.  I did so and taught contact drills and action drills. One of the LTs asked what to do if a Daesh tank suddenly appeared.  I seized upon this question to launch into one of my favorite themes. I said, with Amin translating, “Many people ask which is the better tank, the American M1 Abrams or the Russian T-72.  But this is a false question. The best tank in the world is whichever tank has the best soldiers inside it.” At this point, BG Muhammad, who was sitting in the front of the audience erupted.  He practically shouted the old Arabic saying that “it is not the horse that matters, it is the knight who is riding the horse is that matters.” For obvious reasons, I was delighted to learn of this old Arabic saying.  I was further fascinated to learn that in modern Arab armies, this saying is routinely applied to tanks. Muhammad went on. He said, “You must be the master of your tank the same way the knight must be master of his horse.”  He then passionately related a personal experience from the Iran war. During a close range ambush by Iranians with RPGs, his life was saved by his excellent tank driver who knew enough to instantly turn the front of the tank toward the enemy and charge, which facilitated Muhammad killing the enemy with the machine gun.  I followed up by paraphrasing Doc Bahnsen’s “Inches and Seconds” speech, turning “inches” to “centimeters.” I said that in a tank versus tank duel, you will live or die based on matters of centimeters and seconds. I then went one at a time through the four crew positions on a tank—driver, loader, gunner, TC—and I described the specific ways in which each of the four soldiers must be both fast and precise in their individual duties if the crew is to survive.  I regretted that I did not have the ability to show the tank battle scene from the movie “Fury.”  Next, one LT described his own personal idea for how to deal with an enemy contact scenario. I replied that yes, that was fine, that would work.  Then another LT spoke up to protest that the course of action proposed by his classmate was too complicated and too slow and that he would use a faster, simpler technique, which he then described.  I seized upon this situation as an opportunity to make another of my favorite points: There is no such thing as an absolute standard of right and wrong in tactical thinking. Two equally smart commanders will inevitably come up with two different solutions to the same tactical situation.  I repeated my speech of the day before with greater precision and clarity: “It is impossible for me to teach you every solution to every situation you will ever face. If I stand here and teach a hundred different solutions to a hundred different situations, then, I promise you, when you go out in the field tomorrow, you will encounter the hundred-and-first situation for which Major Richey did not teach you a solution.  God gave you a brain. The Kurdish people need you, the Peshmerga under you command need you, to take the general principles I have taught you in this classroom and to use your brain to adjust those principles to the unique situation you face.” We next moved outside where I directed the LTs in building three parallel ridges out of stones and broken bricks. Fortunately, we were able to build this new, outdoor sand table on the shady side of the building; also, the foundation of the building provided a convenient shelf for the LTs to sit on in a row while I made my presentation.  I used the toy tanks to demonstrate first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding over watch with the company commander bounding his platoons. Several iterations of LTs successfully demonstrated their mastery of the concepts with the toy tanks. [I used platoons of three toy tanks each as per Soviet-Iraqi-Peshmerga practice. Bounding overwatch within a platoon of three tanks doesn’t work well, meaning a Peshmerga tank company commander has to conduct bounding overwatch by bounding his platoons.]

 

NOTE:  When teaching bounding overwatch as part of the movement to contact, it is helpful to stress that recon scouts are NOT available to clear the zone of territory leading up to the enemy front line; therefore the tanks must be their own scouts as they move cautiously forward by bounds.

 

As always, my comments generated multiples more commentary by the generals.  Adnan thanked me for presenting the American technique but was deeply concerned that the American style of bounding overwatch, conducted over American doctrinal distances, was impossible with primitive Iraqi command and control capabilities.  He was adamant that 400 meters was the maximum permissible distance between tank platoons given what Iraqi C2 could handle. If that’s the case, then, a 400 meter upper limit on separation between tank platoons will indeed render American style bounding overwatch ridiculous.  The instructional day ended with an intense conversation that began with my rhetorical question to the leadership of the Peshmerga: would it be possible to conduct a charity campaign among the super-rich of Sulaymaneeyah to raise money to buy the best civilian two-way radios, the best German civilian binoculars, etc. for the Peshmerga tanks with a view toward improving their C2 such that bounding overwatch becomes feasible?

 

Wednesday, 16 Sep 15

 

I arrived at the classroom and was informed through Amin that Adnan wanted to give the LTs a written examination and then go out in the field with real tanks to practice maneuvers.  Adnan was over an hour late. We filled up the time by having me stand on the little stage and answer questions from the LTs with Amin translating. In answer to their questions, I gave the full spiel comparing and contrasting West Point, ROTC, and OCS.  I concluded by referring back to my previous day’s point about how it’s not the tank, it’s the soldiers inside the tank who matter. Likewise, I said, it’s the man who matters, not the name of the school he went to. One person will be a better officer if he went to West Point than if he went to ROTC and he will be better if he went to ROTC than if he went to OCS.  BUT, we are not all the same person. The best OCS grad will be better than the worst West Point grad. I went on to explain how U.S. Army promotion boards work.

 

Adnan finally arrived with yet another big sack breakfast for me.  We dispensed with the written exam and went to the motor pool in a loose gaggle.  I was about to complain to Amin that in the U.S. Army we would march to the motor pool in formation, but I bit back on the comment without speaking.  Then Amin expressed his despair at the Kurds ever being able to be “professional” about anything, and in response to that I said the words I had just swallowed a moment before.  Amin went on to bemoan to the effect that “In the U.S. Army, all this would be precisely coordinated ahead of time, the tanks would be all lined up ready to go, etc.”  The scene in the motor pool was chaotic. Eventually, three APCs were brought forward with enlisted drivers who had had zero connection with the instructional course for the LTs prior to that moment.  The APCs lacked radios to talk to each other but I was able to accept that situation because I had brought the signal flags with which the LTs would take turns being the Platoon Commander in order to practice formations and changing formations while on the move.  What angered and appalled me was that the APCs also lacked intercom communications between commander and driver. We would have to direct the drivers by poking at them and shouting at them. I proclaimed to Muhammad, Amin, and Eemahd, with Adnan out of earshot, that it was foolish and insane to attempt this maneuver without communications.  Muhammad angrily said yes, he knew that, but, Adnan had insisted on proceeding anyway. I pontificated to Amin, but really for my own benefit, that we would do what soldiers and Peshmerga always do, which is, drive forward regardless of the problems and force a good result to come from a bad situation. We were then informed that four little Motorola hand radios would be brought out to us.  In the meantime, the LTs and the three APCs had driven several hundred meters out into the field leaving me, Amin, Adnan, and Eemahd behind! We started walking across the field in pursuit of the APCs but Muhammad chose that moment to disappear until we returned some time later. Amin, Eemahd, and I walked up to the APCs where they were parked in the field. I gave one of the better LTs the signal flags, told him he would be the first to be platoon leader, explained hurriedly and agitatedly that we would practice platoon formations, and told everyone to mount up.  It went much better than I allowed myself to hope. I was in a hatch halfway between the TC/Platoon Commander and the driver with Amin sitting on the top deck behind me. I told the acting Platoon Commander which formations to call for with the signal flags while I guided the driver by tapping his shoulder to get his attention and pointing to him which way to go. We maneuvered rather handsomely across the terrain in spite of everything. We had to pause for a couple minutes when a soldier came running up behind us to deliver the four Motorolas and while Adnan finally caught up with us on foot and climbed up on my vehicle.  We went a little farther and I switched out LTs to serve as acting Platoon Commander. Then, one of three APCs broke down with a broken transmission and would not move. I ordered that the LTs on the broken down APC redistribute themselves to mine and the other remaining APC, which they did at a commendable run. I realized it was ludicrous to train platoon movement formations with two vehicles, so, to do something to fill the time usefully, I ordered a hasty assault on the next hill, which, I said, had Daesh with RPGs on it.  When the two APCs, which were now on line, reached a ditch at the base of the hill, I ordered the APCs to stop and the excess LTs to dismount and serve as infantry assaulting the hill.  We swept over the hill, APCs and infantry on line together, but only after the LTs took at an inordinately long time to sort themselves out from gaggles clustered behind the vehicles and to get into something resembling infantry on-line in the assault.  Adnan was beside himself with frustration and fury as he strove to control things by Motorola. Amin reassured me that Adnan understood perfectly what I was doing and that he concurred fully with what I was doing, but, he was upset with how ineptly it was being done.  When we got to the top of the hill and had performed some sloppy approximation of consolidating on the objective, Adnan called for everyone to dismount for a group discussion. I was happy that he beat me to making that call by all of one second. Once we were all standing in a circle on the hilltop, Adnan went on at length about what a bungled assault it was, particularly about how the LTs had just run up to the top of the hill in a non-tactical manner.  I asked to speak. I began by saying that the day’s activities were an excellent example of how to improvise solutions in situations where the original plan had become undoable. Next, I apologetically explained through Amin that it had never been my intention to practice an assault that day, that I had only wanted to practice movement formations, but, when we lost a vehicle I had realized that practicing formations had become fruitless and that I ordered the assault on the hill just to do something.  (Somewhere in all this, Adnan asserted that we should have played on with the idea that the broken down APC was knocked out by the enemy.)  I continued saying that I knew the LTs were not trained in how to be infantry in the assault, but that I would fix that shortcoming now. I loudly explained that there must be an Infantry Squad Commander on each APC and that it was the duty of the Infantry Squad Commander to control the tactical movement of each of his soldiers in the assault.  I then picked up a stick, I announced that the stick was my Kalashnikov, and, I then proceeded to demonstrate the three-second-rush, the high crawl, and the low crawl with great gusto and lusty shouts of “bang, bang, bang!” I was delighted by how fun and easy it was to perform those moves at the age of 57. I agreed with Amin that it was time to cut things off at that point, remount the vehicles, and return home.  Adnan, Amin, and I tarried on the hill for a couple minutes while Adnan rather apologetically assessed what a muddle it all was and promised we would do better next time with a marked, flagged enemy position to assault. (At some previous point, Adnan had declared that next time, the LTs would have real AKs for the assault.) I requested Peshmerga to dress up as Daesh and Adnan agreed to try to arrange it. We were the last to climb on the vehicles prior to driving home.  En route, my APC drove past the broken down APC. Amin sardonically informed me I was about to witness a uniquely Kurdish way of solving problems. Then, with a loud heavy metal on heavy metal jarring thud, we successfully push-started the broken APC. Walking back up the hill toward HQ from the motor pool, Adnan said we had made a lot of mistakes that day. I replied that I considered the day to be a success because making mistakes is good if you learn from them. I rode back from the motor pool to HQ as a passenger in Amin’s civilian pickup truck.  He confided to me that he had a low opinion of the character of the new generation of young LTs.

 

At lunch in the officers’ mess, Muhammad, referring to my horses, asked me if I was good knight.  I at first mistakenly thought he was talking about tanks, not horses, and I said that I was a good knight on American tanks.  When Amin clarified that he was talking about horses, not tanks, I earnestly informed him that yes, I am a good knight. I went on to proudly explain that my horse Northwind is half American cowboy horse and half Arabian.  I continued, saying that Northwind is the best horse I have ever had. He has the good sense and steadiness of an American cowboy horse, but at the same time, he has the fire and spirit and something else (I can’t remember) of the Arabian.  It seemed to me, through Amin, that Muhammad approved of what I said.

 

NOTE:  Later that weekend, Adnan and Amin treated me to supper at a posh restaurant called “La Vue” in Sulaymaneeyah.  As we were standing on the sidewalk afterwards prior to driving home, they raised with me the fact that the Peshmerga high command wanted me to give a speech giving an outsider’s critical assessment of the Peshmerga.  I said I was willing to give such a speech, BUT, I must visit the front to observe the Pesh in action BEFORE I give any such speech.

 

Sunday, 20 Sep 15:

 

As usual, I arrived at the classroom 20 minutes early.  Today, everyone was about forty minutes late, both LTs and cadre.  Amin was first to arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Adnan bringing his usual sack breakfast for me.  Amin looked at the breakfast Adnan brought me and rather snorted that it was an Iraqi breakfast, not a Kurdish breakfast.  (As noted above, Adnan is an Arab, not a Kurd.) Adnan began the school day by giving the LTs a 5-10 minute written quiz based on my previous lessons.  He gave each LT a different question which he had written by hand on a small slip of paper. I had to loan pens to several LTs who came to class with nothing to write with.  Then we moved to the outdoor sand table where I used the toy tanks to teach travelling and travelling overwatch. Next, I re-taught bounding overwatch, but, this time, I incorporated motorized infantry.  I gave it as Richey’s personal opinion that a wedge of APCs should follow a wedge of tanks at a distance of 50-100 meters. As the tanks approach their stopping point at the end of each bound, the infantry must dismount and go in on foot with the tanks to clear the vegetation and rocks of any lurking Daesh who have RPGs.  As usual, every simple statement of mine became attenuated into a long discussion which involved, first, Amin’s translation, and then, interminable questions and comments from Adnan as he struggled to grasp my concepts and convert the concepts to his own Soviet/Iraqi doctrine. I was deeply gratified that the LTs were grasping everything I said, and, even better, in one outstanding case, coming up with an idea of his own to improve on the technique I was teaching.  Specifically, one LT asked if, rather than have the infantry all dismount at once to go in with the tanks, it would be okay to dismount only a small scouting party of infantry at first in order to investigate the ground at the end of the bound. I was effusive in my praise and congratulations for this excellent piece of original thinking, to include giving the LT a Middle Eastern man hug, an act which drew cheers.

 

Before the LT made this suggestion, the LTs were agonizing over how many meters out the infantry should dismount.  Adnan gave the inflexible Iraqi doctrinal answer of 150 meters, but, when I was pressed, I said that there was no fixed number of meters out in U.S. doctrine (at least, not that I am aware of) but that the answer depended on the situation.  I explained (struggling to get through Adnan’s interruptions) that sometimes the hill to which you are bounding will have high, thick grass and sometimes it will have low, thin grass; sometimes it will have big boulders behind which many enemy can hide and sometimes it will be a smooth dune where no one can hide—the answer to how far out you dismount the infantry depends on whether the terrain on the hill at the end of the bound provides many or few hiding places for the enemy.  “Use the brain God gave you to evaluate the situation for yourself!”—this exhortation has become my mantra.

 

Also, it was difficult to explain to Adnan through Amin that while the maximum length of a bound can be just short of the effective range of the cannons of the overwatching element, the bounds can be much shorter if the hills are closer together.

 

In conversations with Amin and Adnan before class, they told me they wanted me to finish the course before the week-long Eid holiday starts on Wednesday.  (This is NOT Eid-al-Fitr which comes at the end of Ramadan but some other Easter-like holiday week.) I said that as long as it would be nobody but me teaching, I could make that deadline easily.  So much for my course master calendar that called for 28 training days, three-quarters of which would be out in the field with the real tanks. We have, so far, had only the one session in the field with real vehicles, and, we might, if we are lucky, have one more.  There simply aren’t enough real vehicles available. Apparently, almost all the tanks, APCs, and IFVs I see in the motor pool are broken down. Almost all the working vehicles the Pesh have are fully committed to the front. Adnan floated the idea that after the completion of this class, he might employ me travelling from post to post presenting two-day versions of my course to higher-ranking officers.  Amin suggested using PowerPoint slides.

 

I noted to myself, feeling a sense of scorn for Adnan and Eemahd, that the two of them have made absolutely zero use of the indoor sand table they stole from me and then festooned with an almost comically elaborate rendition of the strategic situation.

 

After class Amin drove me back to HQ.  I expressed to him my concerns about my proposed speech.  I’m badly worried about saying something politically incorrect that could lead to my assassination or something less dramatic but still very bad.  I told him, as we were driving to HQ, that my speech would have three parts. (Actually, my speech should have four parts, the first part being me telling the Pesh leadership what they are doing right, what their qualities are that I find admirable, and thanking them for their hospitality.)  I told Amin the first part of my speech would be “Provide for Your Young Soldiers as if They Are Your Sons,” i.e., don’t tolerate water jugs that are filthy inside, buy them new jugs (and, interpolation here) inspect them periodically to make sure they stay clean; don’t make your soldiers break apart the ice blocks for their drinking water by smashing the ice on the dirty ground, buy them proper, clean ice picks; don’t tolerate the generals having toilets with shiny clean enamel while the enlisted toilets are encrusted with dark brown filth that is several millimeters thick.  The second part of my speech would be “Do the Small Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t move from the classroom to the motor pool in a loose gaggle but march in formation (and, interpolation here, do proper coordination ahead of time to ensure the vehicles are ready to go and are standing by when the LTs arrive). (Another interpolation here: when you disassemble, clean, and reassemble two different model machine guns next to each other, don’t leave a small part lying on the floor and then not know which machine gun it goes to nor how it is supposed to fit inside the machinegun. Furthermore, don’t treat the situation as a joke, don’t shrug and laugh about it, and don’t walk away with the problem unresolved—God knows where that stray part is now.)  The third and final part of my speech, as I quickly told Amin while driving back to HQ, would be “Do the Big Things Correctly,” i.e., don’t tolerate among you the corruption that steals the money that is intended for the young soldiers. Also, the idea of the KDP and the PUK having their own private Peshmerga armies is insane; it’s like the Republicans and the Democrats having their own private armies, something that the American People would never tolerate. There must be ONE Peshmerga that is loyal to the government of Kurdistan REGARDLESS of whether the KDP or the PUK is in power at that moment. Obviously, this is the part of my speech that leaves me badly worried about my life expectancy. Amin said no, you of course cannot say that last part.  His parting thought to me was to impress on me that this speech will be something that he and I work on TOGETHER. Later, over lunch (Amin did not come to lunch) I worried aloud to Adnan that I did not want to give this speech on Tuesday (the day after tomorrow!) as currently planned because I insisted on visiting the front and seeing the Pesh in action first, and, because I wanted to spend a long time working on the speech with Amin to ensure that it said the appropriate things and was of good quality. Making allowances for Adnan’s fractured grasp of English (he thinks he understands English much better than he actually does) I think he acquiesced in my desires regarding the speech.

 

After lunch, LTC Rahfid provided me with plastic bags containing the new uniform and boots that Shemsadeen had promised to me.  (Shemsadeen had committed himself to making this gift to me withOUT the least murmur from me on this topic.) I saw that the uniforms were marked size large (I take size small).  I put the uniform on and showed Rahfid the ludicrous looking result. He took me to Fahrayduhn so attired and Fahrayduhn made a call on his cell phone to request a correct fitting uniform.  The boots didn’t fit either. I pleaded that I have odd-shaped feet for which it is very difficult to find boots that make a correct fit and that I had to special order the boots I brought with me from the USA.  I would really, really prefer to continue wearing the boots I brought from the Sates.  Please, I said, give these boots to some young jundee who needs them.  I put the uniform and boots back in their plastic wrappers and Rahfid’s NCOIC took them back with no apparent hard feelings.

 

Monday, 21 Sep 15:

 

Adnan and Eemahd are now apparently done with any teaching on their part.  The day was all mine, again, and we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I taught travelling, travelling overwatch, and then, I re-taught bounding overwatch but this time integrating motorized infantry into the lesson.

 

Then Adnan arrived and told me to come in to meet with Shemsadeen in Shemsadeen’s office.  Adnan and myself, with Amin translating, had a wondrously warm, cordial and friendly tea and conversation session with Shemsadeen that lasted a long time.  I was effusive in expressing my gratitude for the hospitality and support I had received. I was asked how the training was going. I replied that Shemsadeen should ask the LTs how the training was going when I was NOT present to influence their answers by my mere presence.  Shemsadeen replied that he had already done just that and that the LTs had told him that my course was of great value to them. We started talking about tanks. Shemsadeen said that he knew that the Abrams was named after an American general and expressed his curiosity about this general’s career.  I went full bore into my military historian mode. I first explained the American tradition of naming tanks after generals: Lee, Grant, Stuart, Sherman, Pershing, Chaffee, Walker, Patton. I then declaimed about young LTC Abrams being Patton’s favorite battalion commander during WWII, how Patton always gave Abrams the toughest, most important missions.  I digressed to describe the massive German offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium that led to the 101st Airborne being surrounded in a small town called Bastogne.  I then returned to speaking specifically about Abrams. I described him as commanding the first tank to break the German encirclement and enter Bastogne.  Then, I followed Abrams’ career culminating in being successor to Westmoreland as American commander in Vietnam and his at least partial success in correcting the mess that the incompetent Westmoreland had created.  I next reiterated my insistence that I must visit the front and see the Pesh in combat before I make any speeches. I received the strongest assurance yet, and from Shemsadeen himself, that I would get my wish. I concluded by saying that I knew that the very recent previous big operation—that I had missed—had taken back several Kurdish villages and that I wanted to be part of the next operation that would take back the last of the Kurdish villages still under Daesh control.  Shemsadeen said that the next village to be liberated in an offensive operation was not in fact Kurdish but Turkoman. The previous American general had vetoed the operation but the very recently arrived new American general was in favor of the operation. It was a truly fun and enjoyable social call with Shemsadeen.

 

After returning from the meeting with Shemsadeen, I taught the assault.  I assigned a number of LTs to be the company and platoon commanders so they could have a go at it with the toy tanks and soldiers.  I asked the LT who was playing company commander whether he wanted two tank platoons as his base of fire element and one as his movement element or vice versa.  He opted for 2 tank platoons for his base of fire and 1 for the final close assault. I took over moving the toy tanks. I added both available motorized infantry platoons to the one assaulting tank platoon, explaining that the range to the enemy defensive position was too great for the infantry to be effective in the base of fire role.

 

I explained that IF the enemy defensive line was so long it was impossible to outflank, then, the assault would have to come straight on to make a breach.  But, en shah Allah, an open enemy flank could be found. I assumed an open flank as I continued my demonstration.

 

As I launched into the climactic phase of the assault, I opined that the tanks should concentrate on destroying enemy machine guns and the infantry should concentrate on destroying enemy handheld antitank weapons.  I explained that this is so because machineguns can inflict terrible damage on infantry while tanks are impervious to machineguns and because while handheld antitank weapons are lethal to tanks, they are virtually harmless to infantry. 

 

As I moved the toy tanks and infantry to roll up the Daesh defensive line from the flank, the smartest of the LTs objected that, quote, I was “taking a great risk.”  My assault force was vulnerable to attack in the flank and rear by any ***second echelon*** of Daesh defenders. He spontaneously took command of some dismounted infantry and demonstrated how he would deploy them in a quarter circle to protect the flank and rear of the assault force.

 

I was over-the-top effusive in my expressions of praise and gratitude for this LT, announcing to his classmates that he was destined to become a general.  I gave him a Middle Eastern double cheek man hug to the delight of all.

 

I next recovered my authority by saying that this was an excellent reason to employ two, not one, tank platoons for the final assault, contrary to what the acting company commander had opted to do.  I then moved a second platoon of toy tanks into the assault and I then deployed this second assaulting platoon to be the flank and rear guard of the first assaulting platoon.  

 

Throughout the assault lesson, I constantly hammered on the danger of fratricide of the movement element by the base of fire element.  I stated that in the Kuwait War of 1991, more American tanks were destroyed by fratricide than by enemy action. I described various methods of signals that could be used to mitigate the fratricide danger.  When one of the LTs earnestly spoke up to propose a method of using time-distance based phase lines to control the rate of advance of the assault force across the front of the base of fire element, I likewise pointed him out to his classmates as a future general.

 

Still another of the LTs to spoke up to describe something he had seen in his recent experience of combat.  (I felt inwardly humbled to learn that one of my young students has seen more of war than I have.) This LT stated that a standard Pesh technique was to loudly and publicly announce in advance the time and place of the next Pesh offensive to retake a Kurdish village from the Daesh.  The Pesh did this because, apparently, Daesh morale on the Iraqi Kurdish front was so low they would abandon the village in question without a fight, leaving behind only their IEDs to attrit the Pesh. Amin and I quickly agreed with each other in a mutual aside that while this was an interesting idea with regard to the Daesh, it would be madness against a competent conventional foe.

 

I repeated the assault lesson but THIS TIME employed the luxury of having a scout platoon available to make the movement to contact much faster and easier.

 

*** I emphasized the need to have ENGINEERS moving in the company of the scouts to locate and mark Daesh IEDs. ***

 

Tuesday, 22 Sep 15:

 

Again, we moved directly to the outdoor sand table.  I added in doing the bypass of an isolated enemy position.  I explained that this lesson was not in my book but was still useful against a foe like the Daesh.  Next, I taught the positional defense followed by the mobile defense. I talked in general terms about preplanned artillery targets and target reference points from which to adjust both indirect and direct fires.  I showed the LTs the sample range card and defensive sector sketch in my pocket notebook. Adnan arrived late and launched into another of his interminable interruptions in which he questioned my extreme emphasis on the counterattack as the climax of the mobile defense.  I explained through Amin that the Germans and the Americans made a fanatical religion of the counterattack. I asserted that the counterattack had two purposes: 1) Kill Daesh, kill Daesh, KILL DAESH. 2) Retake the ground given up in the delay in sector phase and restore the original front line.  What if there was a village of Kurdish people in the territory that had been temporarily given up, I rhetorically asked. Adnan agreed to disagree from his Iraqi doctrinal point of view but the LTs seemed to side with me—as they have seemed to do with all of Adnan’s bothersomely prolix interruptions since the course began.  The LTs and I had lots of rollicking good fun practicing the mobile defense with me playing the Daesh, slowly walking toward them as they maneuvered their platoons. They were picking up the stones we used to make hills on the sand table and pantomimed throwing them at my feet when I pantomimed kicking at their final defensive line with my feet.  The LTs all had a good laugh when I pantomimed running away from their counter attack.

 

When my smart, astute, free-thinking LTs questioned using the same platoons that had just fought the delay in sector (and which had been thereby depleted) to make the counterattack, I replied that there were two solutions to this problem:  1) IF you have enough forces, have a pre-designated counterattack force sit behind the final defensive line until called for. 2) If you lack the luxury of having such numerous forces as to permit a separate and untouched counterattack force, then, have your support platoon position itself immediately behind the final defensive line to QUICKLY replenish the platoons from the delay in sector before they are sent into the counterattack.  I then made a show of fetching the toy trucks that served as my fuel and ammo resupply trucks and I placed them in the dirt behind the miniature final defense line. The LTs who performed the next iteration of the mobile defense likewise made a show of running the toy tanks that had just returned from the delay in sector past the toy fuel and ammo trucks before launching their counterattack.   

 

The LTs were desperate to leave early in order to be on time for payday activities elsewhere before the start of the holiday long weekend.  They helpfully gathered up my toy tanks and soldiers and lined them up on the concrete foundation shelf of the classroom building. They then quietly snuck away in ones and twos as Adnan went on and on to Amin and I in another of his impassioned and endless rambles.  He was concerned about my lack of mention of countermeasures against aerial attack. I pulled out my copy of FM 17-15, Tank Platoon, and, using my finger, pointed out the paragraphs and illustrations for first passive and then active air defense.  I went through leading a helicopter by half a football field, leading a jet by two football fields, etc.   Adnan was satisfied by my hasty exegesis.  Given the Pesh’s lack of Stinger and Patriot model missiles, we agreed that passive air defense measures would have to be the mainstay of the Pesh. Adnan animatedly described his experience of how massed small arms fire against enemy aircraft had been highly effective during the Iran war by frightening away enemy pilots even if it did not shoot them down.

 

Wednesday, 23 Sep 15:

 

Off for long Moslem holiday.  The pudgy but warmly friendly and helpful Major who is Fahrayduhn’s A.D.C. brought me another uniform from Shemsadeen in a plastic wrapper as well as another pair of boots.  I instantly saw that the uniform was size medium, so, I immediately gave it back without even trying it on. With the help of my Kurdish-English dictionary, I made the major understand that my uniform size is small-long.  The major was cheerfully agreeable about the situation.

 

Thursday, 24 Sep 13

 

This being a Moslem religious holiday, Fahrayduhn invited me to come along with him and several other officers on a handshake and greetings tour of the enlisted barracks and mess hall.  After about 30 minutes walking among the barracks, we ended up at a tea and conversation session at the officers’ mess of the tank battalion. We did not sit at the dining table, but in big, posh chairs and sofas at one end of the dining table.  I sat immediately next to Fahrayduhn. The TV was on, showing a Kurdish news program. I recognized Barzani making a speech and I pointed and said “Barzani” to Fahrayduhn. He said that yes, I was correct, that was Barzani. I used this as an opportunity to say to Fahrayduhn that I was confused by there being two Peshmergas, one KDP and the other PUK.  Fahrayduhn favored me with a concise spoken narrative of the history of Kurdish politics. He and I got into a fairly intense discussion of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to same, the perverse Turkish phrase “Mountain Turks” as a twisted code phrase for Kurds in Turkey, the various ways in which Iraq, Iran, and Turkey helped each other repress the Kurds (in the early 1970s, those three countries made a treaty under the terms of which the armed forces of any of them could enter as deeply as 30 kilometers into the territory of another if in hot pursuit of Kurds), the various times at which Iraqi Peshmerga crossed the border to help Iranian Pesh, Joe Biden’s plan to partition Iraq, etc.  I took the opportunity to impress upon Fahrayduhn that I must never be seen having anything to do with the PKK or I would get in big trouble with my own government. Fahrayduhn explained that the PUK maintained close ties with the PKK but he reassured me that he understood my situation completely and he told me that I would not be placed in any such difficult situation. I imparted to Fahrayduhn the American dismay at the insanity of three-sided wars in the Middle East, such as in Yemen, where the government, the Houthis, and Al-Queda are all fighting each other simultaneously. Ditto for the current situation in Syria.

 

*** Walking back to main HQ, I asked Fahrayduhn where the Iraqi Pesh obtained repair parts for Russian tanks that were 30 years old.  He sort of laughed and said, “black market.” He further explained that at first the Iraqi Pesh obtained parts from the remnants of Saddam’s regime, but now, they were forced to obtain black market tank parts in Syria. ***

 

Fahrayduhn next volunteered the information that he felt frustrated by the inability of the top Iraqi Pesh leadership to understand how to properly use tanks.  He said that the top Pesh leaders were infantry mountain fighters who didn’t use tanks correctly. He complained that the top Pesh leaders used tanks individually as mobile pillboxes, that they failed to employ tanks en masse.  He said that only very recently, with the coming of the Daesh, had the top Pesh leaders started to grasp the need to employ tanks en masse as offensive weapons.

 

Obviously, this last exchange made clear to me the obstacles I face in my desire to be not only the Pesh Von Steuben for tanks but also the Pesh Guderian.

 

Tuesday, 29 Sep 15:

 

First day back in class after the long holiday.  As Adnan told me last week, this week was to be quick review week prior to the final exam.  As he had warned me last week, Amin was not able to come and translate.  Adnan was, as always, an hour or more late. Eemahd and Muhammad were the only authority figures present.  To avoid wasted time, I simply mounted the front stage with the toy tanks and signal flags and started drilling each LT in turn on platoon formations; I would use the flags to signal the formation I wanted and then I would look over my shoulder to see how each LT did.  (It was obvious that I had the silent approval of Muhammad and Eemahd to just jump right into it like I did.) Fahrayduhn showed up just in time (with his XO Major) to translate for me while I put the LTs through contact and action drills. I would set up a scenario such as a few guys with AKs left side or RPGs within effective RPG range (350 meters) right side or RPGs beyond effective RPG range left side or whatever and then I would observe and critique how each LT did with the toy tanks.  (Fahrayduhn informed me that a new and improved version of the RPG had started to appear in the Middle East with a range of 700 meters.) After a break, we went outside where I continued the review by having the LTs execute first the slow and then the fast methods of bounding overwatch. After another break, we returned outside to review the bypass. Fahrayduhn had gone back to HQ to take care of business, so that left Adnan to translate via Muhammad and Eemahd as best as possible. In this review phase, I added two points of sophistication I omitted when I first taught the bypass:  1. Using scouts to first locate and report the enemy position to be bypassed. 2. Using 2nd echelon motorized infantry to totally eliminate the bypassed enemy position after the scouts and tanks had sped on by to reach the vital “oil field” in the short time allotted.  As usual, lots of impassioned discussion between Adnan and Muhammad with Eemahd making his contribution. As the LTs were leaving at the end of the school day (1200 hours) Adnan showed me an elaborate hand written schedule he composed for how the rest of my review lessons would be interleaved with classes he would teach.  No surprise, his schedule made no sense whatsoever in the context of how I had designed the sequence of my classes to go, specifically, he wanted my next topic to be consolidation and reorganization when I had not yet finished the movement to contact nor the assault. He was quite gracious in granting me permission to deviate from what he had written (God love him.)

 

Wednesday, 30 Sep 15:

 

Today was, again, all mine, Adnan’s elaborate schedule which he showed me the day before notwithstanding.  As was the case yesterday, attendance was disappointingly low among the LTs, no doubt due to the fact that this was a work week of only two days duration following a long holiday.  Amin was, as he had warned me, absent all this week, Adnan was an hour or so late, and young Jundee Hussein was not available until the second hour, so, that left it to Muhammad to translate for me, as crazy as that situation was.  It was much less farcical than I feared it would be, no doubt helped by the fact that everything I was saying was review. We went over travelling and travelling overwatch, a.k.a., the two methods of doing a movement to contact when the terrain is perfectly flat, thereby rendering bounding overwatch pointless.  Hussein showed up to translate for the next review lesson which was the assault. Then Adnan arrived, Hussein left, and Adnan translated for my review of the pursuit and consolidation and reorganization followed by my review of the defense. The LTs have it all down quite well by now and I was quite happy that the burden of the review lessons actually was carried by the LTs as they performed all the moves with the toy tanks and soldiers; not much more than a few initial cues were required from me to start any given sequence of moves being carried out satisfactorily.  At about 1130, I announced that I was done, finished, I had no more to teach, and I formally gave the course back to Adnan for which he warmly thanked me.

 

As I was conducting my final inventory of toy tanks and soldiers, Adnan borrowed my repro Civil War Dragoon officer’s kepi and put it on his own head for some lighthearted photos.

 

Concluding Note to Readers:

By this time I was so violently sick from bacterial infections picked up from eating the local food and drinking the local water that I had no choice but to get on the next plane headed toward Western medicine.  I got off the plane in Frankfurt and headed for the medical clinic in the airport to get myself stabilized for the rest of my trip home. Upon returning home, I went to the E.R. and was put on antibiotics for several weeks.  I never made it to the fighting front and I never made my speech to the Peshmerga leadership. I have maintained sporadic contact with some of the people I worked with Iraqi Kurdistan.                 

 

 

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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