Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Colonel Logan Barbee: Leading the Way in Iraq

One of the most professional soldiers I worked with in Iraq during my tour in 2004 was Colonel Logan Barbee who was a professor of agriculture at the University of Florida. As an activated reservist with the 350th Civil Affairs Command, he went to Iraq as the Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Chief Intelligence Officer for the 350th. He is also an Army Ranger.

Since that tumultuous year at war, Barbee has retired with 28 years of active and reserve time in the Army, retired from the university after 25 years and volunteered to return to Iraq as a civilian.

I received an email from him and learned that he is once again in Iraq, this time as a Senior Advisor for the State Department. He is still working hard to help the Iraqis re-build their country so they can move on to a better life. He knows, as I do, that the vast majority of Iraqis are kind and gentle and they simply want to live a normal life with their families, make a decent living and enjoy life in peace.

According to Barbee: “Our public doesn’t realize is that this is an agricultural country to the Iraqi people, not an oil country. Oil is a recent commodity and it has been a benefit for the Iraqi government, not the people. Oil only provides jobs for 3% of Iraqis. Agriculture in Iraq was once their major export. They exported wheat, barley, rice, vegetables and dates and, with their large fertilizer plant in operation, they exported fertilizer to the surrounding Arab countries. Saddam changed all that and created a welfare state by importing agricultural commodities and giving everyone a food basket. It killed the markets and farming. Iraq is the Fertile Crescent with two great rivers flowing through its center. Canal systems are everywhere and over 80% of Iraqi workers have, in some way, worked in the agricultural operations at one time or another and it is like rural America in the 1930s.”

He went on to say: “Sometimes we miss the “people’s needs”. We build schools and roads, which are important, but food and jobs come first. The heart is in the stomach when it comes to feeding the family.”

With all the whiners and crybabies among the “celebrities” and the Hollywood crowd, it is refreshing to know men like Logan Barbee who are willing to step forward to make the kind of differences in this world that last for generations.

After all, he is a Ranger and “Rangers Lead the Way”.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Perseverence, Courage and Sacrifice

There is no doubt that thousands of Iranian agents are inside Iraq and they are training, supplying and fighting with the various anti-American factions. President Bush has been criticized by Democrats for saying he will deal with this threat to the safety of our troops.

The recent assault on the compound in Karbala, which we now learn was a highly sophisticated commando raid, resulted in the kidnapping and murder of several American soldiers. Some of the suspects in this incident may be members of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. If so, they almost surely had assistance from their Iranian sponsors.

The Tehran government has been in the shadows of the Iraqi front since the beginning. If we can locate training camps in Iran, they must be taken out. The same rule should apply in northwestern Pakistan and in Syria. We cannot permit these breeding grounds to exist when their purpose is to funnel more terrorists into Iraq and Afghanistan.

American forces invaded Cambodia in 1970 to destroy the staging areas and the supplies of the North Vietnamese who were using that country in the same way today’s insurgents use Iran, Syria and Pakistan. The American government was criticized throughout the world for the “invasion” of Cambodia, but no similar criticism was ever leveled at the North Vietnamese.

This double standard must end. If the Iranians, the Syrians and the Pakistanis want to play this dangerous game and permit safe havens for our enemies, then they must be prepared for the consequences.

This has nothing to do with “expanding” the war. It has to do with modifying the tactics and strategy of the current struggle. Do not put limits on our warriors when you send them to war. If someone is helping our enemies kill our soldiers, then they must reap the whirlwind of our wrath.

Victory against any enemy requires perseverance, courage and sacrifice.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Isolationism is Not the Answer

The emails tell me I am scheduled to go on active duty February 1st. If only a set of printed orders would materialize some time soon, I could take a few days of vacation time. Unfortunately, I can’t risk wasting my remaining personal leave at work until I am sure of my mobilization date, so I must wait for the official word.

The last group mobilized in my unit received about five days notice. I shall continue to press on as a cop until Uncle Sam makes it official.

* * * *

President Bush has made his case for increasing troop levels in Iraq. Although few Americans are united in the best way to handle the situation in Iraq, precipitously pulling out and running away should not be an option.

The Iraqi government has been walking on eggshells trying to find the best way to deal with the Sunnis on one side and the Shiites on the other. The Shiite-led government owes its existence to the very people it must now rein in and this includes Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Failing to disarm the militias will be a catastrophe, but we must also defeat the stubborn Sunni insurgency.

This front in the war on terror has been chosen by the Islamic fundamentalists as the central battleground in their “jihad”. They will continue in their efforts to change the world into a brutal ayatollah-run society. Our enemy believes Iraq is the epicenter of that war and we must believe it as well.

It no longer matters if Iraq was the right war at the right time. The mistakes are history and we must deal with the situation as it exists. Our determination, our courage and our willingness to sacrifice cannot be undermined by a new isolationist mentality. Such a passive attitude can only lead to a cataclysmic clash of cultures that will make Iraq look like a fight on a school playground.

History has shown that hiding within our borders only emboldens our enemies. We must accept that the Islamic militants want to destroy us. When the Nazis and the Japanese set their sights on us before World War II, isolationism didn’t work then, either.

We cannot allow the enemy to have the initiative. He must continue to run and hide from us with neither the time nor the place to gather and renew his strength. These Islamic killers should always live in mortal fear of good and righteous people and we must go after them no matter where that search leads.

The terrorists must remain the hunted; we must continue to be the hunters.

SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's All About Leadership

When I re-read portions of the “War Journal” I maintained during my mobilizations in 2003 and 2004, it is amazing to see that the average service member was able to foretell the future. Soldiers remind themselves that they are at the “bottom of the food chain” when it comes to information flow, but their insight is amazing.

Privates, sergeants and colonels all wondered why we were dismantling the entire Iraqi Army. The civil affairs officers with whom we worked in Baghdad were frustrated that many of the projects they created were not funded by the tight-fisted Coalition Provisional Authority. With only 140,000 soldiers in a nation of 25 million people, we were trying to fight a dollar war on a twenty-five-cent budget.

While we sat in the desert with insufficient body armor and un-armored vehicles, we could see the frustration in the Iraqi people and we wondered if they might eventually hate us for turning their nation upside down. Iraqis needed food, shelter, jobs, electricity and even sewage treatment. We removed their government, their army, their police force and the structure of their entire society, but we didn’t move quickly enough to replace it all. What we did for them was great; it just wasn’t enough.

Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a light and mobile force would have worked if all the battles consisted of heavy bombing and Ranger-style raids where objectives were seized briefly and held only for a short-term mission. That light and mobile force cannot work when cities and nations must be captured, held and re-built.

For an extended war, this country needs a powerful army of battalions, brigades, divisions, tanks and a lot of soldiers. Such an army must be properly equipped, it must have its weapons repaired and replaced and it must have enough reinforcements that its soldiers are not physically and mentally used up after years of combat action.

The battle of the Kasserine Pass in World War II was the first major confrontation between the American and German forces. The in-experienced American army under-estimated a battle-tested German war machine and we got our rear ends handed to us. We lost the first major battle of that war. We learned our lesson, fixed the problems and re-engaged the enemy on our own terms. The battle itself was lost, but the over-all war was won.

Hopefully, our military and civilian leaders will prevent a “Kasserine Pass” defeat in Iraq. They must never forget that the Arabs we are fighting are determined warriors who are descended from desert tribes experienced in the art of war. They are smart enough to wage a relentless, full-scale guerrilla war because fighting is in their genes. Up to this point, we have only waged a “half-war”.

In the end, it’s all about leadership. The war on terror cannot afford a defeat like the Kasserine Pass.

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soldiers of the Street

Police officers hate the term “routine traffic stop”. Anyone who has done our job long enough knows that there is no such thing. Like infantry soldiers who never know what is around the next corner, across the next ravine or over the next hill, cops also must always be ready for the unexpected. That is why they are truly “Soldiers of the Street”.

On Friday, January 12th at 3:22 p.m., 48-year-old Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Nicholas Sottile was fatally wounded during a traffic stop near Lake Placid. He was able to call out over his radio that he had been shot, but he later died from his wounds at a local hospital. His killer has been arrested.

Those of us on duty have put the black bands over our badges once again. All police officers are reminded that traffic stops, domestic violence calls, suspicious person calls or any number of other so-called “routine” situations could turn bad at any time. We must always be ready and we must never forget our training.

Sottile was planning for his retirement after a long career with the Highway Patrol. Our condolences go out to his personal family and to his law enforcement family as well.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Send Us to Win or Don't Send Us

I anticipate that my mobilization orders will arrive shortly. My date to go on active duty is not too far away. It was announced this week that the Pentagon has abandoned the 24 month limit on cumulative service for Reservists and Guardsmen. I already served for 21 months during my two mobilizations in 2003 and 2004. This time limit will no longer be an issue for others returning to active duty, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Arab governments throughout the Middle East are becoming increasingly concerned about the direction of the war in Iraq. Remembering that most Arabs are Sunni, these other countries are not happy with the sectarian violence in Iraq where Shiites have been taking their revenge on the Sunni minority of the late Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia has even threatened to take matters into their own hands should America pull out of Iraq.

Since we first arrived in Iraq, we have been fighting the Sunni insurgents. The question at this point will be how to deal with the Shiite-led militias like the Mahdi Army. Muqtada al Sadr has become a powerful figure and his militia now numbers in the tens of thousands. Fighting this Iranian-influenced and funded militia will be a daunting task, but our forces can do it – if we are permitted to do so by the Iraqi government.

There were two uprisings of the Mahdi Army in Iraq in 2004. This was when Al Sadr’s forces only numbered a couple of thousand or so. We were on the receiving end of many of his rockets and mortars back then and my fellow soldiers fought the black-uniformed militia in Sadr City, Najaf and other places.

Americans have tired of hearing about Iraq. They are weary of the political battles and the issues relating to tactics, strategy, sectarian violence and all of the other problems in that war, but so are the warriors fighting the battles.

Americans must not forget that the politics of the war have nothing to do with the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Continue to honor their service, their sacrifice and their dedication to each and every one of you.

Your warriors want to finish the job and come home to you, but they want to come home as victors. They won’t be satisfied to simply give up, back out of Iraq and spend the rest of their lives regretting that their comrades died for a politically-abandoned cause.

That’s what happened to us in Vietnam. It will be a tragedy to do it again to another generation of young Americans.

When it comes to war, warriors will tell you: “Send us to win or don’t send us.”

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, January 12, 2007

A New American Hero

During my 2004 tour in Iraq, the Marines fought hard in Fallujah and other areas in western Iraq. We worked with some of these Marines and, in fact, a Marine officer signed out an M79 grenade launcher to me for use on our convoy missions in Baghdad as we protected our general.

On April 14, 2004, Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham of Scio, New York, was leading a patrol near the Syrian border when he became engaged in a confrontation with an insurgent. During the struggle, Dunham threw himself on an enemy grenade to protect his comrades. The resulting explosion resulted in wounds which were ultimately fatal.

Yesterday, President Bush awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to Dunham’s parents in Washington, D.C. Corporal Dunham is an example of the professional young warriors that are fighting for their country in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the world. Americans are fortunate to have men like Dunham standing between them and those who would hurt them.

SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Victory: The Only Option

Now that the President’s new plan is out in the open, he has also made it clear that we will have to do something about the support of the various facets of the insurgency by Syria and Iran. It will be difficult to make a great difference as long as the safe havens in those countries remain untouched.

In addition to the Syrian and Iranian problems, the Iraqis themselves must end the sectarian violence and the militias must be dealt with forcefully. We cannot succeed in Iraq without the clear support of the Iraqis themselves.

The following op-ed piece discusses the importance of victory in the various fronts of the war on terror. Although victory is the only realistic option, the fact remains that the mistakes may make that goal difficult to achieve in Iraq.

The next twelve months will probably tell the tale.

Special to the Orlando Sentinel
September 28, 2006

The ghosts of Vietnam are peeking over the edges of their graves. American military forces are now on the defense instead of the offense. In military history, this has almost always meant defeat. American soldiers can kick the butts of anyone they fight, but they can’t prevail in the end without decisive leadership by Washington politicians.

When the decision was made to invade Iraq with a token force of soldiers, when the former Iraqi army was not recalled to provide security for its country and when the Iraqi people did not see their lives improve, the world witnessed the beginning of a host of bad decisions that were not made for military reasons but for political expediency.

Even when I served in Iraq in 2004, we could see the potential danger of Iranian-supported groups like the Mahdi Army, the private militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His uprisings that year killed many Americans, but the Iraqis we put in power would not disarm these personal armies. Add the Sunni insurgents and the foreign fighters to the Shiite militias and our soldiers face a multi-faceted enemy, and each element has its own agenda.

Instead of devoting greater American resources to crushing the insurgency and its external sources of support, we have bounced back and forth across Iraq whenever a “hot spot” erupted. When we left one area to quell the violence somewhere else, the place we left would explode with insurgent activity. This is not a military on the offense; it is a force that is reacting to an enemy that has captured the initiative.

Arrogance has always been the downfall of western powers when dealing with the Arab world. The Crusaders swarmed over the Middle East to spread Christianity but instead they conducted their own “terrorist” campaigns before being driven out by the Muslim forces. The British Empire of the early twentieth century was also forced out of the region.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan the situation has worsened. Afghanistan had been a wonderful success until we allowed the Taliban free rein in northern Pakistan. The old rulers of Afghanistan have used those remote areas to train and recruit new members and to conceal our Al Qaeda enemy. Now that Pakistan has agreed with tribal leaders to stay out of those terrorist safe zones, we cannot continue to ignore the camps that exist there. If Pakistan will not clean them out, we must do so.

In Iraq we know that terrorists and their weapons of war are coming into that country from Syria and Iran. These countries have now become the Laos and Cambodia of this war. In Vietnam such sanctuaries helped the North Vietnamese outlast American resolve. Whatever happened to the American policy of dealing with those who “support, protect or harbor” terrorists?

It no longer matters whether or not we were right to invade Iraq. The Iraqi front is the epicenter of the world war against Islamic fascism. While we fret about the “rules of engagement” or the “rules of interrogation”, the enemy has only one rule: There are no rules.

Winning is the only option in both Iraq and Afghanistan, otherwise we will hand a major strategic victory to the terrorists and their sponsors. We will also fuel the determination of the Islamic fundamentalists to do just what they have promised to do and they will continue to expand their “holy war” to every corner of the globe.

I remain a soldier and I believe in the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as victory in the war on terror. Like the Vietnam veteran generals whose advice was ignored in the beginning, this old Vietnam vet also believes that you don’t fight “half-wars”.

We better do it right because the alternative world of the brutal and iron-fisted Islamic terrorists is too gruesome to contemplate.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Fighting First Sergeant

I received a tentative date for my mobilization, but with my long experience in and out of the military, I believe that I will just wait for the orders to be published before I really believe it.

Tonight the President will speak on national television about his “New Way Forward”. Although it appears that he may use a troop increase to take control of Baghdad and Anbar province, none of it will work if the Iraqis don’t step up and take control of their own destiny. The sectarian violence must end; the militias must be tamed.

No matter what happens in the end, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have served, fought, sacrificed and bled for Operation Iraqi Freedom can look back on their service with pride.

Here is another story of an extraordinary American:

Special to the Orlando Sentinel
February 5, 2006

The concussion from the enemy rocket-propelled grenade explosion threw First Sgt. Jose Berrios to the ground. He was stunned and could not hear anything at first. Then, as his senses slowly returned, he heard the horrible sound of screaming.

This was the scene in central Baghdad in the summer of 2004 as elements of the new Iraqi Army, led by a team of Orlando Army Reservists, engaged in a bloody neighborhood by neighborhood battle with insurgents. Once again, a major action was under way that could not succeed without the unsung heroism of our citizen-soldiers.

Trying to see what was happening, Berrios realized that something was holding him down. He was surprised to discover that he was under the remains of a dead Iraqi soldier. Pushing the body away, he rose to a hellish world of death and destruction. Several Iraqi soldiers were dead and both Iraqis and Americans were wounded. The uninjured Americans and Iraqis were dragging the wounded to safety.

Razor-sharp pieces of steel shrapnel from the rocket-propelled grenade had opened a severe gash to his left leg that would eventually require more than 40 stitches to close. Still, Berrios pitched in to get the wounded soldiers to safety even as the battle continued. With communications destroyed by the attack, the only way to call for help was by cell phone. Rescue and medical assistance had to wait because American forces were involved in saving the crew of a downed helicopter only a block away.

Berrios and the other soldiers continued the firefight with insurgents. It was almost an hour before American Bradley Fighting Vehicles could make their way to the besieged position to escort the wounded to safety. Treated in Iraq for his wounds, Berrios recovered and returned to his team to complete his tour of duty.

When the call came early in 2004 for volunteers to join a Coalition Military Advisory Training Team (CMATT) in Iraq, Berrios stepped forward. As an Orange County consumer-fraud investigator and the father of five children, he had plenty of reasons to stay home. Still, Berrios was a first sergeant in the Army Reserve and he believes in leading by example. Some of his men were going, so he would go with them.

New Iraqi soldiers must first complete their basic training. Then they are assigned to their individual battalions and the real training begins. The Americans guide them as they learn small-unit tactics and prepare to conduct real-world missions. Then the Americans accompany the Iraqis as they participate in combat operations.

As the sergeant in charge of CMATT Team 11, Berrios led his soldiers as they trained members of the 4th Brigade of the Iraqi Intervention Force of the new Iraqi Army. He believes strongly in the success of their mission. He also feels that the American advisors are making steady progress, even if that progress seems slow.

When asked how he felt about the Iraqis, Berrios said, “They are brave and willing to die for their country.” He was confident when he served with them and believes they will ultimately be able to hold their own against the insurgents. Since his return from Iraq, Berrios has served in the Army Reserve with the 3rd Battalion, 347th Regiment in Orlando.

All Americans must remember the sacrifices that have been made by the National Guardsmen and reservists like Berrios who work among us each day. The Army also considers Berrios one of its most valuable assets. After awarding him a Bronze Star for his service and a Purple Heart for his wounds, the Army has given him the ultimate vote of confidence in his leadership ability.

In December he was selected for promotion to command sergeant major, the highest rank an enlisted soldier can hold. He continues to serve his community and his nation. Average Americans must begin to recognize that their neighborhoods are filled with unsung heroes like Jose Berrios.

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, January 5, 2007

Tolerance: A Long Journey Ahead

As I wait for my mobilization orders, I am re-publishing the op-ed pieces that I wrote during and after my 2004 tour in Iraq. I began the “American Ranger” blog on December 17, 2006. If you did not see the entries from last month, please check them out.

This is the latest:

Special to the Orlando Sentinel
August 8, 2005

As wars go, World War II was an easy war. I don’t mean it was easy to fight, but it was easy to understand why we were fighting. When one nation attacks another the solution is obvious: Our military forces must defeat their military forces, we must invade their country and we must remove their leaders from power.

With such a crystal-clear goal in mind, it was easy to sell war bonds, ration food and gasoline and instill in the minds of all Americans that each person was a critical component in the struggle for victory. The nation pulled together, civilians and soldiers, and the spirit of America prevailed over ruthless and evil enemies.

After Sept. 11, America seemed reborn in a 1940s brand of patriotism, with a common national goal of bringing to justice those who had slaughtered so many of our fellow citizens. It was clear to virtually all Americans that the “holy warriors” of al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan would have to be decisively defeated.

Then came Iraq. Confusing issues like weapons of mass destruction made some Americans question how the war in Iraq became a part of the war on terror. As the initial reasons for invading Iraq became clouded, Americans began to have doubts. As in other post-World War II conflicts, public support has become tenuous as the toll of dead and wounded Americans continues to rise.

The brutal homicides of civilians in the United States, Baghdad, London, Spain, Egypt and other parts of the world have only confirmed that this new war is truly a world war between the civilized nations of good and decent people and an uncivilized, perverted group of killers who believe only in hatred and chaos.

This is a war that must be fought and won on all fronts though real victory will probably only come over decades. Unfortunately, with no nation to conquer, no standing armies to defeat and no front lines to move forward on a map, this epic battle is the ultimate guerrilla war.

The Islamic world is filled with millions of peace-loving citizens. Still, in dark corners of that world, hatred and ignorance have spawned men and women willing to kill themselves as they murder innocent people. Understanding why these terrorists continue to pervert their own religion is the daunting task of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The fact remains that it must be Muslims who refuse to tolerate this evil in their own ranks and who educate their next generation that it is wrong to commit such horrible deeds in the name of God. They must also teach tolerance, a democratic ideal not overly prevalent in the Muslim world.

I once told a story to a young Muslim in Iraq. Three men – a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian – were walking down a path to a common destination. They reached a forest and, when they could not agree on the same path, each took a separate way. When the forest ended, the paths converged once again and the three walked together to the end.

I tried to explain to my Muslim friend that those of us who believe in God all want to go to heaven but that we have chosen different paths on which to journey through the forest of life. In the end, we should respect the right of each person to choose their own path to that ultimate destination.

Before I left Iraq, the young Muslim and I embraced shook hands. With tears in his eyes, he said he hoped he would be able to see me again. Being a big strong soldier, I did not shed tears but I told him that, if it were God’s will, we would indeed meet again.

Different races, different faiths, different paths in life, but friends nonetheless. It all seems so simple.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The New Mercenaries

One of my contemporaries recently told me that his son, a former Army Ranger, has joined the ranks of the private security contractors in Iraq.

In 2005, I wrote the following op-ed piece about these brave individuals:

Special to the Sentinel
March 1, 2005

At an undisclosed location in Baghdad, the 32-year-old mercenary stood next to an armored SUV, preparing to escort his “principal”, the high-ranking person he helps to protect, to that man’s next destination. In his civilian clothes and body armor, this professional soldier is armed with a variety of weapons, including an M4 carbine and a semiautomatic handgun. His military and civilian training, along with his experience in the art of war, make him a very dangerous man. That is why he is worth the $15,000 a month he is making – tax free – to protect his “client”.

Civilian or military, spy or corporate wizard, the individual being protected represents part of the large investment that our government has made in war-torn Iraq. It is no secret that a lot of American dollars are being spent on government contracts with such companies as Blackwater, Dyncorp and others. In turn, those companies are hiring thousands of professionals from the Navy Seals, the Army Rangers, Delta Force, Special Forces, the British or Australian SAS and from the elite forces of other countries.

Last year this particular mercenary, who is now known as a “private security contractor”, served in the American Army in Iraq with me. Since our return, he has been recruited, trained some more and then deployed to war again. I tried to talk him out of it, but I must say that I know how he feels. Not everyone can understand the pure excitement or the adrenaline rush from being a warrior in the most dangerous city of the most dangerous country in the world. This is especially true when that job is part of the larger mission being conducted by your country.

Soldiers of fortunes, or warriors for hire, have been part of the fabric of conflict for thousands of years. I grew up in the 1960s reading about the legendary Fifth Commando, a famous group of British mercenaries in Africa led by Lt. Col. Mike Hoare. After Vietnam, recruiters for various groups in Africa approached many of us. I knew only one man who took the job and I never heard from him again.

My mercenary friend, who must remain anonymous for safety and intelligence reasons, is divorced, unattached and reminds me of Errol Flynn. He knows the risks, has weighed them and has chosen to fight for Uncle Sam, apple pie, the many girls he left behind and the good old American buck as well. If he survives, and I have the greatest of confidence in his warrior skills, he will put together quite a nest egg for his future.

There are those who might say it is immoral to hire professional soldiers who seem to be serving only for money and adventure. Having known many of these men, I believe it is more than that for most of them. There is an undercurrent of good among them because they like being the good guys. They all know the deadly price of war, many have lost comrades in battle and most have the look of steely-eyed self-confidence that comes from success in “facing the elephant”.

The stories of “the elephant” came from those mercenary soldiers in Africa. Among the professional big-game hunters of the time, it was said that a man could never truly be called a “great white hunter” until he had faced a charging bull elephant and survived. The mercenaries picked this up as a way of saying a soldier was not a seasoned fighter until he had “faced the elephant” of war and survived that face-to-face battle with Death.

My friend has joined the ranks of the paid professionals who enter the Valley of Death each day with their muscles taut, their jaws firm and their weapons ready. One does not have to approve of these new mercenaries to admire them for their courage, their fighting skills and their willingness to risk their lives in a dangerous and deadly world.

SFC Chuck Grist

Monday, January 1, 2007

Still Leading by Example: Lt. Gen. Hal Moore

The following entry is a follow-up to the December 30th piece about Mike Harrington. In November of 2005 I had the opportunity to meet Lieutenant General Hal Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame. I took Harrington along with me and we had a wonderful visit with a First Cav legend.

(From left to right in the above photo: SFC Chuck Grist, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, SFC Michael Harrington)

This op-ed article resulted from that meeting:

Special to the Orlando Sentinel
November 20, 2005

When the unassuming senior citizen walked up to me and held out his hand, I thought I was prepared to meet retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame. I’m an old Vietnam veteran, but I was still in awe of a man who had been one of my own personal heroes for more than 35 years.

Most average Americans are familiar with Moore because he was portrayed by Mel Gibson in the highly successful movie. What most people may not know is that his leadership qualities have inspired so many for so long, from a young West Point cadet named Norman Schwarzkopf to the terrified soldiers in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley to countless military, corporate and community leaders of today.

Moore came to Central Florida recently to lend his name and speaking prowess to a new scholarship fund in the name of Cpl. Andrew Bowling, a Casselberry Marine killed in the battle for Fallujah last year. The night before the general was to speak at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Oviedo, I was invited to meet him at a private dinner. There is no First Cavalry veteran alive who would not grab an opportunity to break bread with Hal Moore.

I also wanted the general to meet a friend of mine. Sgt. First Class Michael Harrington, who had been attached to the First Cavalry Division in Iraq and who had performed a gallant rescue mission for some of his own comrades. As I related the story of Harrington’s actions during that mission, Moore listened intently. It was a great feeling to see the general put his arm around Harrington in a personal acknowledgement of the sergeant as a fellow warrior.

My friend and I were enthralled as we listened to Moore recall his trip to Vietnam to research the book upon which the movie was based. As he talked about meeting Lt. Gen. An, who led the enemy forces in that long ago battle, it was easy to become drawn into the story. When Moore spoke about returning to the battlefield where so many had died, he was able to take us there with him because he is so gifted with the ability to describe sights, sounds and emotions.

During our evening with Moore, I watched as other guests met and spoke with him. Some of these people were elected officials, law enforcement professionals and others who would give anything to possess the inspirational abilities and leadership qualities of this retired general. It is to their credit that they would even try to follow the example of such a man.

Although he is in his mid-80s, Moore still travels frequently around the country. When he is not teaching leadership to military and civilian bosses, he is reminding Americans of a new generation of young warriors who are standing up to defend this country. Many of them, like Andrew Bowling, are making the ultimate sacrifice.

It is said that soldiers follow commanders because they have to; they follow leaders because they want to. Moore has always led by example. He never asked his soldiers to do anything that he was not willing to do himself, and he understood that rank is something you wear; respect is something you earn. Ultimately, he not only earned that respect himself, he discovered that he had the gift to teach others how to earn it as well.

We often say that young Americans need more real heroes. It is a shame that every one of them can’t spend just one hour with Hal Moore.

SFC Chuck Grist