Footage with commentary by Paul Mysliwiec, a US soldier; Todd Swift, a poet; and Craig White, a journalist. George W. Bush announces the invasion.
Paul Mysliwiec was a US Army First Lieutenant in the First Brigade, Third Infantry Division who led his unit through the invasion and first months of occupation of Iraq in Spring 2003.
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
What thoughts were going through your mind as you prepared to cross over into Iraq?
When I was getting ready to cross into Iraq I knew that, with the weapons we had, if we found the enemy we could do well. We could protect ourselves; we could kill them. It was finding the enemy that was going to be the problem.
Not only seeing the guy camouflaged in the desert but seeing the guy camouflaged in civilian clothes next to all the people he’s trying to hide among, which had historically been a problem in that area. I knew that once we found and could discriminate which were the bad guys and which were not we’d be okay. That was the real worry.
As we crossed in we saw a lot of destroyed vehicles through our thermal sights. If you saw a destroyed vehicle next to a live one you could tell which was which, but if you saw a destroyed vehicle next to the cold desert you had no way of knowing whether it was live or not. So we ended up shooting a lot of destroyed vehicles just to make sure.
What were the first days of the invasion like for you?
The first days were bizarre because after shooting at those burned-out hulks I told you about the sun came up and we were able to see what was actually going on. We saw they were burned-out hulks. We didn’t get attacked all night. We didn’t get attacked all the next day.
The next night when we were rolling out, the First Brigade combat team was in a column, which is just a massive formation of hundreds of vehicles – 200 track vehicles and an extra 200 wheeled vehicles moving through the desert towards our objective.
The brigade commander made the decision to go white lights. Usually we do everything with either no lights at all or very low lights that can be seen through our Night Optical Devices, we call them NODS, night vision goggles, called blackout drive. Usually we go in like that. It’s difficult to coordinate but it’s much safer. The brigade commander made the bold move to go white lights, which is like turning your brights on on the highway in a brigade column in the middle of Iraq when we’re supposed to be at war.
It was exhilarating. I thought we were being attacked every once in a while because I would see these flashes. Then I realized that people were taking pictures because it looked so spectacular. It’s indescribable. It looked so amazing – a white lights brigade column moving through Iraq.
The first couple days were like that. We heard that Sledgehammer, the Third Brigade, had taken their initial objectives, the first airfields, and that the First Brigade had taken theirs, which were regular Iraqi Army.
The regular Iraqi Army either capitulated or deserted. They mostly went home to their grandparent’s house or whatever where it was safe, which is fine with us. We don’t have anything against them individually, we just don’t want them shooting at us. So we bypassed them and we got onto Highway Eight, which is the only decent highway in the country, really.
Highway Eight is like being on the interstate. It’s like interstate 95, me driving home to see my parents in New York, except that we were in track vehicles. It was that way until we got to as-Samwah and that’s when we finally started getting into some fights.
Did you take any prisoners on the way?
My platoon took what I believe to be the first general of the war, though we didn’t get any special credit for that, at the weapons storage depot at al-Najaf. It was about 24 kilometers northwest of al-Najaf itself, right after the al-Najaf escarpment. The escarpment is kind of a miniature cliff that we had to drive up. It was a 12.5% grade, which is no problem if you’re in your Volvo or your Taurus or anything like that. But when you’re in a 33-ton Bradley or a 70-ton Abrams it’s a big deal to have to go up a 12% grade. That would have been a great place for them to attack us but they didn’t.
We rolled up into the weapons storage depot and we saw a lot of old hangers. I dismounted and led my platoon around to look through the hangers. I was the NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) officer for the company, so I was the guy who was on the ground to determine if there were weapons of mass destruction present there or not.
I decided that if there were chemical weapons there, there would not be the hideous, horrible swarms of gnats that would not leave us alone. So I called up on the radio and said “Black Sticks this is Green One – with all these bugs, I’m sure we’re okay on chemical.”
After that we saw that there were admin buildings off to the side. Whenever you have anything in an army – be it the U.S. Army or the Iraqi Army – there’s going to be paperwork to be done. We saw that there were people coming out of the admin buildings. They looked like they were going to their cars, so I called up on the radio and said that I was breaking off our regular search pattern to go capture these guys.
My platoon raced through the desert and I lost my map at that point. It flew up and disappeared, which was really unfortunate. We broke down the chain link fence, just drove right over it. There were all these guys there in their foxholes. There was about 100 guys and they had weapons; they were ready to fight. But as soon as they saw the Bradley’s, they were like, “I didn’t sign up for this,” and they gave up right away. My platoon captured 96 guys including a general, two majors and a bunch of other officers.
That was the first big engagement we had and they didn’t fight a lick. Unfortunately since I was the first platoon to capture all those people, we became the platoon that had to deal with everybody else’s prisoners. They’d call up their battalion and say, “Hey, I have four guys, hey, and I have five guys.” They’re, like, well, “Bravo 27 already has 100 guys; just toss them in with theirs.” So we had to guard everybody’s prisoners for a couple days until the engineers were able to make a containment yard and the MP’s came up from the rear to take over.
What was your feeling about these prisoners when you took them?
I know that if they’re not Republican Guard they’re pretty much conscripts in Iraq. These guys didn’t have the red triangle on their uniforms. We could identify that their unit wasn’t a Republican Guard unit. After that it was a hassle for us to deal with them because, like I said, we’re riflemen. We’re not policemen, we’re not babysitters, we’re there to attack the Republican Guard and destroy them by fire and maneuver and move on and seize Baghdad and do all those super heroic movie things.
That being said, we knew that some of these prisoners would have info that we wanted. Like, for instance, what’s in those bunkers that are locked? Can we blow them open or will that cause some kind of catastrophic biological issue? I, of course, don’t speak Arabic and they didn’t speak very good English but we did our best to communicate with them and try to find out what was there. Then we called in that we had captured the place and that we were waiting for the inspection teams or whatever to show up.
But about the people, I can’t remember feeling anything much about them except that I was annoyed that I had to look after them, as bad a person as that might make me. That’s just how I felt.
What happened to you guys after you were at the weapons depot?
After the weapons depot we moved up to attack position where we were waiting to go through Karbala. The main thing that was causing us trouble in Karbala was that Karbala is right next to a giant lake. We knew that a dam was holding the lake back and if the bad guys wanted, they could blow the dam and it would have flooded the entire Karbala Euphrates River valley.
That would kill many, many people in Karbala but we knew Saddam didn’t care about killing his own people. If it would keep him in power a week more we figured he’d do it. So we were waiting there while the Air Force attacked and softened up the Medina division in case we were going to be attacking there. To see what the situation with the dam was we had engineers analyzing satellite photographs.
While that was going on the exploitation team, the guys who find out where the downed pilots are, was looking for weapons of mass destruction and searching Saddam’s palaces. I went to the weapons storage depot with half my platoon and the executive officer and we were guarding them and the chemical guys while they searched through the weapons storage depot that we had found.
That lasted for a couple days. They said they found some stuff but they needed to send it to the Pentagon so they could test it because they wanted to be sure. They didn’t want one of my privates saying they found something and get on CNN until they were certain.
From there we moved to a position south of Karbala and that is where the first major car bombing happened. My friend Lieutenant Johnson and four of his guys got killed in a car bombing when, I’m sure you’ve heard about this in the news, a guy in a taxicab had his hood up and motioned like he was having car trouble. When the soldiers went to help him he detonated a car bomb.
Now, when we first heard this, our concern was that the soldiers were bunching up, that the soldiers were doing the wrong thing and they hadn’t protected themselves against attack. But we saw the area a couple days later and the crater was enormous. I can’t really describe it but it was clear at that point that no matter how far away you had been – if you’d been behind cover or trying to be safe or doing the right thing and properly supervised – no matter what happened that bomb was going to kill a lot of people. We were fortunate that it killed as few as it did. But still, we were very saddened by their loss. We didn’t take any prisoners after that, for the most part.
Was the incident with the car bomb a defining moment for you guys in terms of how you worked?
Oh, absolutely. Rage Six, who is actually my current company commander in my job as the executive officer of the headquarters company, he came on the radio and said on the battlefield update brief the next day, “Listen, I’m sure you guys know, we lost four members of the Rage family yesterday. That’s got to bring into focus part of why we’re here. It’s not only that we’re here because the President sent our division here but we individually are fighting to get our soldiers home as safe as possible. That’s the focus.”
What that meant to me was that the focus is not staying out of trouble or not having CNN expose you for not doing something by the book. The focus was on getting your guys home by hook or by crook. It kind of put us into a hardball mentality, which worked pretty well, at least for my platoon. We didn’t have any casualties. In the company we had very few casualties, even after a lot of heavy conflict from then on in the war.
Invading Iraq, part 2
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
What was your first major combat?
Our first major combat was when we passed Karbala. We had heard a lot of things about Karbala. I already told you Karbala had that big lake. The engineers told us the day before that the lake was too low, that even if they blew the dam it wouldn’t flood the valley, so we were ready to attack.
The only thing we were worried about then was that we had to go through a very small gap – the Karbala gap is a six-kilometer gap between the city of Karbala itself, which we did not want to mess with, and the lake, which low as it may have been was still a lake and we couldn’t drive through. We had at least a division to move through a six-kilometer box, which is very narrow. If they were going to strike us with chemicals, that would be where they would do it. That would be the logical place to do it.
Another thing we had heard about Karbala was that they had blockaded the outside of the city. Not so we couldn’t get in – they wanted us in – but so that the civilians in the city couldn’t get out. If we had to do any fighting in the city, it would maximize Iraqi civilian casualties.
That’s one of the reasons we enjoyed having the embedded reporters there. They were able to be on the scene and report that so that god forbid anything like that happen, they would know that it’s because all those people who wanted to flee to the city and go to their grandma’s house in the country weren’t allowed to do so by Saddam and by Saddam’s guys. So the First Brigade basically contained Karbala.
We were on the southwest side and our companies leap-frogged up to guard from enemies in Karbala while the rest of the division and the support troops drove on our left, on our west, to go north to cross the Euphrates River.
We had a lot of suicide car bombers – I would call them crazy mad bombers on the radio, which seemed to amuse people. We had like 20 or 30 that our company took out. Fuel trucks as well.
Third Battalion, Seventh Cavalry Regiment, was moving to the east of us on Highway Nine and were having heavy contact. They had lost two Bradley’s and a tank so far by fuel trucks ramming them and then being set on fire.
You can’t stop an Abram’s tank with anything but a direct artillery hit but you can burn them, because the engines are gas turbines. The Russians learned that the hard way in Afghanistan and we learned some tough lessons there. So any fuel truck we saw that wasn’t driving away from us we shot. We were going to shoot any car that was coming towards us after they saw us.
After that, we refueled, rearmed and – well, we didn’t get any more rifle ammo because they didn’t have it. We rearmed with whatever coax or machine gun round we could use. Then we moved east into al-Musayyib.
Al-Musayyib was the first time that my unit went into an urban area, which was very scary. We saw that there were leaflets distributed around and they had been translated for us. The leaflets had a family sitting at home peacefully. It said “Stay in your house,” in Arabic. It said, “Stay in your house, don’t drive at night, don’t be outside your house near American vehicles. It’s very difficult for them to tell if you’re a bad guy or not, especially at night. Just stay in your house and you’ll be fine.”
We were driving through and we saw people who were in their houses looking at us. It was clear they didn’t want us to be there. They were kind of like, “Who are these dorks?”
We were invading their territory and their homes and we were sorry about that and didn’t want to be there, but they weren’t scared of us. They didn’t have the fliers in their hand but we knew they had seen them. We dropped millions of them. We knew that if they were in their houses and looking at us they knew we weren’t going to hurt them. There wasn’t any kind of trust but they knew we weren’t going to hurt them.
We had one car that came towards us on a road at the outskirts of the city and we laid our guns on it and it stopped. We couldn’t see the guy behind the windshield but he looked out, turned around and ran away. That was okay with us. We didn’t have any problem with him. He clearly didn’t want to mess with us so we let him go.
There was another car who rolled up, saw us, stopped, and when we laid our guns on it he sped towards us as fast as he could. That didn’t go well for him. That happened a couple times in the city. We had heard reports of black-clad figures dismounting from white pickup trucks and white pickup trucks doing a lot of suicide bombing so we were especially on the lookout for that.
We saw a couple of those. The ones that were far away or running away we let run away. The ones that were coming towards us or whatever we didn’t let run away. That’s kind of how that was. That was the major action for that day.
You guys are at the airport, having a quiet night, and then all of a sudden you’re attacked by Iraqi tanks?
Yes. Yes. The Iraqi tanks were moving towards what turned out to be our battalion headquarters. We didn’t know it was there. Right after I made sure my guys were okay I got our missile teams, our Javelin teams, and me and Third Platoon went on the overpass where we could engage the tanks from there.
They would have trouble seeing us because we have a much lower profile than a Bradley, which is about three meters tall, and we have the missiles to be able to take them out. When we got there we realized it was our battalion headquarters over there. All the sudden it’s not just that we were defending the flank of our company – they were attacking our battalion headquarters. That’s when we attacked them and shot all the Javelins we had.
Then we heard over the radio that our medics and our engineers were being attacked by a company of special Republican Guard infantry so we went down there and assaulted through their barracks to drive them out. Later we found out that as soon as we breached their wall and started attacking their barracks compound they left the engineers alone and retreated.
Tell us a little bit about what was going on there. What was happening to you and your men?
The airport was the heaviest engagement of the war for us. It was a quiet night. We went to sleep. We woke up. It was a quiet couple of hours. We were screwing around and then all this goes down.
We go after the tanks and all of a sudden my wingman’s blown up and they’re okay but the vehicle is destroyed. Now I’m down to one track out of four. So we’re trying to find the enemy and there are these high walls everywhere and palm trees.
We can’t really see anything. We’re taking sporadic fire and every once in a while a bullet will land but it’s not anything that’s like they’re shooting at us. It must be from this direction and we can go attack them, so we sent out the riflemen on skirmish lines to try to find out which walls the bad guys were behind while we were up there with the Javelins.
When we came back with the Javelins we were trying to move on to the assault and all of a sudden this fire truck comes down a highway towards our formation and they don’t stop so they get lit up by two Bradley’s and a bunch of riflemen. We haven’t yet learned why that fire truck charted our formation. There wasn’t a bomb in it or anything but it was loaded with diesel fuel. If it had gotten into our formation it could have caused trouble and we were right to shoot. We had to deal with that for a while.
Then we assaulted the barracks and broke into the wall so we could attack – it was my squad and all of Third Platoon but I led the company assault through the barracks compound. It took a long time and it was super, super hot because we had our body armor on, which weighs close to 50 pounds. It’ll stop bullets, we love it, but it’s heavy. Plus we had our full chemical suites, which make it 10, 15 degrees hotter. We were absolutely dying from the heat.
Then we ran out of water; my platoon completely ran out of water. I went back to my track and there was no water on the track either because we had filled our canteens with all the water that was in our water cans. We hadn’t gotten a water re-supply in two days. We had totally drunk all our water. At some point I found one water can and I strapped it onto my Bradley and went back to try to find my guys.
We had been assaulting the barracks compound through all this brick and all these walls and through this maze of buildings for two hours by that point and I didn’t really know where my guys were. So I drove out, alone, in the middle of the Baghdad airport. I had my GPS and I had a grid to where my squad leader was, so I was finally able to break through a couple walls and get to them.
When I found him we were overlooking Saddam’s palace and there was this broken water pipe. At first everybody was, like, “I don’t know if I should drink this water” but then they were like, “If we’re going to die we’re going to die.” So we started drinking the water. The first person who drank the water didn’t die in 15 minutes so the whole company started taking water from this one broken pipe that we happen to run over with one of the Bradley’s. That was the water that we were drinking for a couple days.
We were at Saddam’s palace and we had five Bradley’s and four squads worth of guys so we were ready to go assault the palace. We called for fire on the palace but the forward observer didn’t have his track there – it was in the back. My wingman was putting his gun, which still worked, on the forward observer’s track because that gun had been messed up.
While they were doing that switch the forward observer was on the ground so he couldn’t really see past the palm trees, but I was up in my Bradley and I could see so I got to adjust fire on Saddam’s palace, which I got a kick out of. Then the company commander, the voice of reason, said listen, we have a degraded company. We can’t assault Saddam’s palace. Let’s just keep a perimeter here and wait for the 101st to show up. Which was going to be in a day or two.
Did one of the missiles actually destroy more than one tank? What happened at that point?
When we got up there the Third Platoon Javelin gunner had destroyed one or two enemy tanks but then his remaining missiles wouldn’t fire so we took over and my guy, Ronnie Davis from Oklahoma, got up there. The problem with Russian vehicles is their ammunition magazine is stored in a ring around the turret, so it catastrophically detonates if you hit one there.
On an Abram’s, our tank, if you detonate all the rounds it vents out the side and the crew is okay. In a Russian tank it blows the whole tank up, movie explosion, really serious. His first missile hit a tank that was pulled up right next to another tank – the tank commanders were talking or something like that. It hit the tank and the explosion was so huge that it detonated the other tank’s ammunition reserves and both tanks were destroyed by one Javelin missile. It’s the only time it has happened in the world.
But Ronnie wasn’t done. We got him another guy’s missile from another platoon because he hadn’t taken the Javelin course and didn’t know how to shoot it. We got his missile, gave that to Davis, and though he missed the next tank by a couple meters, the explosion from the Javelin was so big that it set the tank on fire. We watched the tank burn and that third tank crew abandoned their tank as it burned. So one man, specialist Davis, destroyed three Iraqi main battle tanks. In the Iraqi table of organization that’s a whole platoon, so it was a very, very impressive effort from him.
What was the reaction of the Iraqi civilians when you were doing all this?
At first the Iraqi civilians when we were passing by were thrilled. They all were giving us the thumbs up, even though apparently in the Arab world the thumbs up is not a nice thing – they had learned from the Americans who were doing it that it was a good thing. So they were all smiling and waving and cheering at us.
Except for a third of the older guys. They were just kind of leering at us. Not threatening us but it was like they were thinking, “Who are these guys? What are they really here for? Why are they in our country?” Which is fine. I didn’t want to be in their country. I understand they don’t want me there. That’s okay.
Nevertheless, they were waving us on towards Baghdad to “Go get ‘em.” They were suspicious of us but they weren’t overtly hostile and most importantly they weren’t scared of us. They knew that if they weren’t trying to hurt us we wouldn’t try to hurt them.
Then once we had won the war, after April 10 or so, the people in Baghdad were cheering us on and became a lot friendlier in general. The kids were always really friendly to us because they didn’t understand that it’s a more complicated thing and they were just glad that they wouldn’t have to live under Saddam anymore.
Did you have any major engagements after the airport?
After we destroyed the tanks, the major engagements were finding the people that were attacking the medics and engineers and that company of special Republican Guard infantry. While I was trying to find my squad we stumbled upon a fire team of special Republican Guard infantry.
We were all alone and we didn’t have any power in the turret so my gunner had to work it manually while I was suppressing them with my rifle. I had taken the scope off of my rifle for some reason a couple days before to clean it or whatever, and I put it back on and hadn’t had a chance to zero it in since then so I wasn’t hitting anything and I just had to suppress that fire team of Iraqi’s until my gunner was finally able to lay on them for a couple of seconds. My heart went pitter-patter.
From there we linked up at Saddam’s palace, which pretty much was the major combat of the war for us. We were mortared all night. We were mortared for days. Once the Q37 radar made it up and linked into the MLRS, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, it wasn’t as much of a problem.
The MLRS, I’m sure you’ve heard about, is a counter battery radar that at a certain altitude sends out a pulse and whenever an enemy artillery round comes in they calculate where it was fired from and the multiple launch rocket system levels that entire area. They wouldn’t be able to get out in time after firing their mortars at us after that. Either we killed them all, which is unlikely, or they figured out that they couldn’t shoot at us anymore and they stopped, which was good.
Invading Iraq, part 3
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
Did the Americans have an overwhelming advantage in terms of firepower?
Well, the key to warfare is – it might have been Stonewall Jackson who said it – hit them where they’re not. The key to warfare is not to get a fair fight – it’s to get an unfair fight. Which is to say you want your attack helicopters to blow up his tanks. You want your tanks to blow up his armored personnel carriers. You want your armored personnel carriers to shoot at their infantrymen. You want your Javelin gunners to shoot at their tanks when they can’t see you. You want an unfair fight.
Throughout history the key to warfare has been starting off with even forces and making engagements that are unfair so that overall you win even though the armies in general are equal. The enemy had a battalion that day and we had a battalion. They had two companies of infantry and a company of tanks. We had two companies of infantry and a company of tanks. So overall, if we had all lined up at 50 paces and started shooting at each other it would have been really bad for everybody.
What we had to do was create overbalanced engagements within the main battle. That’s what leaders at the lower levels and leaders at the higher levels are coordinating. They’re seeing where the bad guys are and aren’t and hitting them in their weak spots, just like the enemy tanks coming after our relatively unarmored battalion. If they had been able to get through, if Ronnie Davis hadn’t stopped them with those Javelins, they would have been able to wreck our battalion coordination. It would have put a real hurtin’ on us. It’s creating overbalanced engagements within a larger battle that lets you win.
Like with our visual advantage – our optical advantage over them is much greater at night, which gave us the battlefield advantage. Iraq was an odd situation because it wasn’t that we needed the best optical advantage – our equipment dominated theirs so thoroughly that all we needed was to make it as easy as possible for us to tell who the bad guys were.
If we were going up against a better-equipped army, we would have wanted to do more at night. Here we wanted to do less at night because the danger wasn’t that we wouldn’t have enough of a visual advantage or be able to shoot them first. The danger was that we’d shoot the wrong guy. Once we could tell who the bad guys were, it wasn’t a problem.
Clearly you refer to these guys a lot as the bad guys, but are there gradations in the bad guys? Those three guys on that fire team, for example.
Those guys were special – those three guys in particular were special Republican Guard infantry. That doesn’t mean that they’re better marksmen or they get better funding for training. What it means is that their families get nicer houses and they get to abuse the other people of Iraq because it’s martial law there.
So it’s like the S.S. in Nazi Germany getting to abuse regular Germans who didn’t give them hot coffee when they ordered it. That’s who the special Republican Guard guys are in the Iraqi military scheme. They get much more personal benefit out of their close association with Saddam’s regime. I’m even less likely to feel bad about killing them than I am any other uniformed Iraqi.
Was the situation chaotic? Did you feel your commanding officers were in control of what was going on?
I think the officers in charge of me, up through the company command, battalion command, brigade command, and division command had a pretty good idea of what was going on. That is given that battle is always going to be chaotic and you’re not going to know where the enemy is and they’re going to come at you and you’re going to have to react quickly.
The key is that each leader is on two radio nets. He’s on the radio net to the people he controls and he’s on the radio net to his boss. One of the big coordination drills we did was that when a company commander said something, somebody had to tell him, “Roger, I understand” and somebody had to tell the soldiers what was going on.
So when Black Six says something, I’m on a platoon net telling them what he just told me and what that means to us. My platoon sergeant at the same time is on the company net saying, “Black Six, this is Green Four, we got it” so he knows that we know what to do and my men know what we have to do. That happens between the company commanders on the battalion net.
America is really good at that drill in general. That’s how the commanders can let the lower units run the fight. Because it’s the riflemen on the ground who run the fight; the same guys who fight the fight. The higher commanders coordinate and help with assets like artillery or air cover or anything like that and bring other assets to bear to help those guys on the ground. It’s the communication both up and down that lets those commanders coordinate. I think our commanders did a great job at it that day and throughout the war.
Wasn't there a time when you were actually temporarily relieved of command? What happened then?
Oh, yes, yes. There was a time when I was relieved for a day. It happened after we moved into al-Musayyib, which was the first town we were in. Over the radio we'd been getting reports of black-clad figures dismounting from white pick-up trucks and ambushing American forces and white pick-up trucks being car bombers. We were going through and my wingman and I were the lead section, and there was this white pick-up truck zooming towards our formation.
We were moving forward and they were off to the left coming towards us so that they would meet us where the roads met. My wingman called on the radio, "You see that white truck?" I said, "Yeah. Roger, Green to engage." So he started shooting at the white truck and as they were getting shot the driver managed to pull off the side of the road and all these black-clad figures got out of the back.
I had my gunner shoot them with a coax but it turned out that they were not combatants at all. Which is, of course, highly unfortunate. It's not something anybody wanted, but when they asked about it later, I told them it wasn't my wingman or his gunner or my gunner’s fault. I told those men to fire. I saw a white pick-up truck moving at high speed towards my formation and we killed them.
My commander said, "You know, there were women and children. I have to relieve you." He read my rights and I guess if I can remain silent, I will. So I just hung out for the rest of the day. The next day he came back and said, "Okay, Paul, you're Green One again."
He pulled us into the operations order and afterwards he said, "You know, I talked to them and we had been getting reports from battalion that there were female Saddam Fadaian, and there are female combatants on the enemy side, so we figure you followed the rules of engagement, Paul. You were threatened, and I just wanted to let you know." I said, "Sir, I know. I know there are women Fadaian. I know they're involved.
I know that it was a pick-up truck zooming towards my formation at high speed with black-clad figures in the back, who for the past two days have been attacking us. I know all that." He's, like, "Get back in the fight." So I did. That's what happened there.
Then we moved from al-Musayyib north, across the Euphrates. At this point it was very dark and my thermal sights were broken, so my gunner and I were out the top just looking into the night when we got the order to seize the airport. So we headed to the major intersection where Highway Eight entered the airport, which is the main way people get from Baghdad to the airport.
We rolled in and nobody was there. By the time we got there we were dead tired. On the way there we had to cut across along the Euphrates River and north of that the Tigris River and though there are highways that cut across them we weren’t using them because it would have taken much longer to get there and it would have put us into the heart of Baghdad, which is not what we wanted at that time, so we took these little canal roads.
Of course, we have these immense 33-ton track vehicles that tear up dirt roads and there were all these turns we had to do to get around the little canal bridges. I was the last platoon in the order of movement and the platoon that went ahead of me, First Platoon, had made some wrong turns and it caused us to turn even more on the roads than we usually would and my platoon sergeant got stuck and he couldn’t get out. Then his wingman tried to get him out and he got stuck.
That was a big deal. That wasn’t cool because the vehicles that we use to get them out are 88’s, which are basically a wrecker on an old school M60 tank chasse. We had only one of them left in the battalion that wasn’t broken out of the five that we started with because we were moving so fast and so long that the track vehicles were bound to break down. It just so happened that our 88’s broke down faster than anything else. We had one 88 and it was behind all the tanks.
So if a Bradley that weighs 33 tons can’t get through, a 70-ton Abram’s is going to have no easier a time. My first sergeant, who was in a 113, which is a much lighter track vehicle, went around to the right to try to find out where to go and he just disappeared – I’m looking at him in the night goggles and he just disappears. The medic calls over the net, “Black Seven this is Band-Aid, are you all right?”
It turns out he has fallen into some giant ditch but everybody’s okay, which is really fortunate, but they can’t find a way out. He’s stuck and there’s no way he’s getting out without an 88 and my platoon sergeant and my sergeants’ wingman are stuck and they’re not getting out without an 88.
So we had their rifleman dismount and pull security on those three and we had to drive on towards the airport without them. We couldn’t stop. They were able to take care of themselves; they’re grown men and they’re professionals, but we definitely missed having half my platoon with us.
We moved on towards the airport. We got to the highway and stopped so the tanks could fuel before the assault. They burn fuel six times as fast as we do because they have a gas turbine, which is like a jet engine. Then this Humvee rolls up.
I’m talking to my guys, encouraging them, shooting the jive, whatever, and this guy comes up and he says, “Hey, do you guys know where 464 is?” 464 is in the Second Brigade. I say “I think they’re somewhere off to our southeast – I’m sorry man, I don’t know.” He says, “Well, I’m Tusker Seven,” which means he’s their battalion sergeant major. I said “Well, I’m Butch Master Green One, we can’t take you there.”
He says he doesn’t want to go in just a Humvee. We got him on the radio and my commander tells him my first sergeant got stuck and would he like to take a pay cut and be a company first sergeant for a while? He said “Sure.” So we picked up Tusker Seven and a medic vehicle that was with him, which was fortuitous because we only had a couple medics and he had doubled the medical capacity of our company, and we drove on.
We took our position in that major intersection of the airport and we were dead tired. We had been going for something like three days. We may or may not have slept. We got there and nothing happened so we tried to rest. We set up our guard shifts and went to bed and woke up a couple hours later. We weren’t able to get much sleep because we were pretty tense.
Nothing was going on, so we got out and there were these pictures of Saddam and guys were posing with the pictures of Saddam. I took a picture with me pointing to where we were on the map next to the sign that says “Welcome to Baghdad, the capital of the Arab Saddam.”
To our west was another unit of Bradleys who were supposed to be like 400 meters over that way and we didn’t want to get into their area too much. We had pulled back a little bit to the east so there’d be some space between our areas. We wouldn’t get mixed up there.
On the radio they said there are these two T72’s to the southwest over there that were shooting at us. Well, they missed, so they can’t be that close. So I went with my wingman to go check them out. Unfortunately my turret power had been broken for three days so I took the low road and my wingman, who had the best gunner in the platoon, took the high road to be able to track and kill the tanks.
They were a lot closer than we thought. I heard over the radio, “Oh my god, look at Green Two.” I turned to look at Green Two and there’s all this big cloud of stuff in the air and it’s the bags that were attached to the side of our vehicles. There’s no room in the vehicles so we strap all our baggage to the outside. The bags had exploded into the air and my wingman was blown out onto the front turret. I was not feeling good about life right then.
The driver recovered first and he put the vehicle into reverse and backed up off the overpass to put ten meters of concrete between them and the tanks. He saved that Bradley crew. We went back and made sure that they were okay. They were at the medics. The worst thing they had was some debris in their eyes from the explosion.
The enemy tank crew had been aiming for the back of the Bradley, because that’s where all the guys travel, to kill the soldiers and the riflemen in the back of the Bradley just like I had talked about. You don’t want to get sucker punched. They were trying to sucker punch us. Fortunately because we knew that they were nearby all the guys had already dismounted so nobody died there, but the track was screwed.
Preparing for war
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
Does your division have any special expertise in desert warfare?
The Third Infantry Division, which is the division I’m in, is the army’s desert warfare division. In addition, it is the heavy division in the 18th Airborne Corp, which is the rapid deployment Corp of the army. We train at the National Training Center in California, which is in the Mojave Desert and is much like the desert in Iraq. I was in the Second Battalion, Seventh Infantry Regiment, the most decorated regiment in the army, which was a benefit.
One of the interesting things about the war, with regards to organization, is its very difficult stateside to train very large units at once. I was intimately familiar with my platoon and I lived with my company. The company was very familiar with training together and we had a couple of training events every year where the battalion got together. But the whole brigade would only ever get together once a year at the National Training Center, and just for a couple weeks. Then here we are in Iraq with multiple divisions, basically a corps, which is two levels above brigade. What made me happy during the events in Iraq was how well the higher echelons were able to coordinate, never having done so before.
Did you guys have Arabic speakers with you? Also, how valuable was the preparation you had once you actually were in the countryside?
Well, if I had known that we were going to Iraq I would have taken Arabic in college instead of German. I love German but there wasn’t a lot of German speaking going on over there. One guy in our battalion, our scout platoon leader, had taken a year of Arabic in college and he was able to tell us how to pronounce some of the words that were on our quick memorization sheet, like “drop the weapon,” “I’m a lieutenant,” whatever.
But our inability to speak Arabic hit us really hard. We had civil affairs people attached to the battalion and brigade who spoke Arabic but at the company level we didn’t have anyone who spoke any Arabic. Did it really matter? Maybe, maybe not. Even if you speak the language they could still lie to you. We didn’t get training in interrogation or anything like that to be able to really interrogate people so it wasn’t completely devastating to our operations but it didn’t help that nobody spoke Arabic.
Was the combat you were involved with like what you had been trained for or expected? How different was or similar was it?
We were looking for combat that was like we had trained for. Those are the engagements we wanted. We wanted their armored formation versus our formation. There was only one time that they gave us that; the rest of the time, not at all. Not any of the type of engagements we had trained for. It was in the desert, which we had trained for, and we were in our unit and working together like we had trained.
However different the missions that we trained on were from what we actually had to do, having practiced working with each other mattered no matter what the mission was. That helped out. But as far as the battles that we had fought, they weren’t at all like most of what we had trained for.
The key really was that we had trained with each other, even if we were now doing a completely different mission than we had originally trained for. We’d originally trained on a company attack against a bunch of other tanks and armored personnel carriers. Now we were on a search mission looking for taxicabs.
We are still working with the people that we had learned how to communicate and coordinate with. That was what we were able to take with us no matter what the mission was. Another way the training we did was valuable was how we had learned HOW to accomplish our missions – what the planning process was, how to communicate during a mission, how to give FRAGOs (FRAGmentary Orders) and changes to the mission in the middle of it, how to execute those FRAGOs smoothly. We were able to carry to every mission we did something that made that training worthwhile.
You’re talking about being in action at the airport and from the things I’ve read it seemed like you almost had a sense of exhilaration that this was sort of what you had trained for and planned for. Is that true? Tell us about how you felt in the midst of all this.
More than anything during the midst of those battles I felt tired, because we were, and because the battle was in the middle of the day I felt really hot. But as far as the battle going on, I definitely felt like it was what I was there for. I felt excitement because I was finally doing what I was supposed to be doing, plus the fact that it was the first set of battles that I’d ever been in.
I’d never been in a war before and even in the field you wonder what your place on the battlefield is going to be. You wonder what your job is and how you’re going to be able to help your buddies, how to be able to help your boss, or the guy to your left and right during the battle.
I saw it coming together during the battle: the talk on the radio, how I controlled my squads, how the tracks were suppressing the enemy and supporting us and allowing us to maneuver around. I saw the pieces fall into place and that gave me a sense, not only of accomplishment because I had been able to train with that platoon for the previous year to get to that point, but also excitement because it was working and I felt comfortable because I was finally in a battle in a mode that I had been ready to do. Once we find out where the bad guys are and I get to start to formulate a plan on how to get them, that’s now something I’m familiar with. That made me feel comfortable.
The experience of war, part 1
The experience of war, part 1
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
How did your troops feel as they were getting ready to enter Iraq – were they nervous?
Yes, my men were definitely nervous before we went in, but we believed in the reasons we were going. Not only because we thought there might be weapons of mass destruction there or because he had used chemical agents on the Kurds in previous years or because of the various United Nations resolutions that were ignored, but also just because he was a bad guy and we were doing what we could to be good guys.
I gave my guys a couple quotes from The Bible that I knew, namely Ezekiel 7:3 and 4, and it helped motivate them. Plus, they know that they’re the best around. The Third Infantry Division and specifically Two Seven Infantry in First Brigade knows that they are an extremely lethal, well-trained, and well-equipped bunch of guys. That gave us as much confidence as my quotes or poems or Bible passages.
When you’re in that kind of situation, what is the loyalty like that you have to the other members of your platoon?
As the platoon leader, my loyalty to my guys is pretty much absolute. My company commander is the guy who tells me what to do. He says “Paul (on the radio it’s Green One), you’re going to move around to the right to protect Red One’s flank while’s he’s attacking.” Or “You’re going to go check out that ADA (Air Defense Artillery).” But what I’m thinking about is how I’m going to array my platoon. How are we going to be able to discriminate the good guys from the bad guys and how are we going to be able to shoot them? Do we mount or do we dismount?
One of the main challenges for mounted infantry is that you’re going to lose guys. You’re going to take losses, you’re going to take casualties. That’s just the way things are. The better you are maybe the less you’ll take casualties or maybe it’s just the luckier you are. You don’t know. But what you don’t want is to get sucker punched.
You don’t want to get tricked; you don’t want to lose a lot of your guys. My riflemen are most vulnerable when they’re in the back of the Bradley. You can fit six or even seven, if they don’t need to be comfortable, in the back of a Bradley. If you get hit by an AT3, AT4, or AT5 Soviet missile and it destroys the track, you’re dead and your crew is dead. That’s the price you pay but your guys couldn’t do anything about it. They were just waiting for you to let them off so that they could do their job.
A lot of guys don’t like being mounted infantry when they come from a light unit, because they feel helpless. They feel like they’re in the back there and they could very likely die from a tank round or a missile or something like that. It wouldn’t be a reflection on their ability as soldiers, just bad luck or just getting beaten.
The way I described it to them, and this helped a little bit, was I told them that they were like hunting falcons who are so vicious that you can’t let look around. You have to hood their eyes because they’ll kill everything they see. I tell them when I’m lowering that ramp that I am taking the hood off the falcon’s eyes and it’s time for them to just kill everything they see. They seem to like how I describe it.
As platoon leader I dismount to lead assaults as long as they’re larger than a squad. If it’s the main effort I’m going to be there leading it. You drive as close to the objective as you safely can because you don’t want the guys to have to walk five kilometers in all their heavy body armor in the middle of the desert in their camouflage suits.
But at the same time, you want to dismount while there’s still time before you start taking heavy fire because you don’t want to get sucker punched like that. That’s one of the hardest things you have to do as a rifle platoon leader. That’s my duty to my guys. I don’t know if that describes how I feel about taking care of my guys, but I hope it gives you some idea.
Had you ever felt that kind of emotional responsibility before? What is it like?
Having responsibility for all those guys is absolutely an emotional thing. One of the problems is that in the rifle infantry it’s not so much that you can tell people how you feel. A problem with men the world over is exacerbated here in that it’s very tough to describe your feelings.
As a 23-year-old two years out of college, it is very rare that you find yourself in charge of 40 grown adults who all have histories and parents who love them and you’re going to be leading them into battle. The best you can do is to prepare yourself for that and keep them in the forefront of your mind whenever you do anything.
It’s not about your career or not getting in trouble but taking care of those guys who are looking to you – once you tell them where to go or what to do they’ll be able to do it. They can execute. But it’s not their job to find out whom to attack, it’s your job to tell them. That relationship between my finding the priorities and finding the enemy and giving them their task and them accomplishing the task builds a pretty serious bond.
Especially when you get into the peacekeeping side, when it’s not the five battle drills they’ve been training since basic training but a totally new situation. They are still good at the same things but they have to apply them differently. They need more guidance – all soldiers, not just my men, not just riflemen. They need guidance on how to use their skills to accomplish this new different mission. You as the leader have to figure that out for them or get guidance or know who to call to get the guidance to be able to tell them the right thing to allow them to be efficient in their new job.
What about loyalty?
The thing about loyalty to the guys is that, in the battle during the war, you have a job that will help them out if you do it the right way. In garrison for a platoon leader it’s not really that way. There’s training you can plan or you can do the physical fitness plan, stuff like that, but it doesn’t take up a lot of your day. A lot of what you’re doing is waiting to train or waiting to go out into the field or even waiting to go to war.
The question is what can you do for your guys during that time. What I was able to do was keep my guys out of trouble with the law. I’m sure you’ve read “Tommy”, by Rudyard Kipling.
I don’t know that I know what it’s all about, but what it means to me is that soldiers are highly underappreciated and poorly treated at home. Then all of the sudden everybody wants to know a soldier or wants to have one in their family or wants to treat them well when the war is going on. “For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’ But it's ‘Saviour of 'is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.”
My parents are attorneys and what that has enabled me to do was get my guys out of trouble with the law. They’d get arrested for this or they’d get arrested for that and I’d go to court with them. You need an NCO escort, a Non-Commissioned Officer or a sergeant, to take you to court to make sure you get there on time.
But when an officer shows up in court it’s different. I would do it from time-to-time when my guys would get in trouble. I’d be the only officer in there. The judge would be, like, “What are you doing here lieutenant?” I would say, “I’m this guy’s platoon leader and I just want to tell you that he’s the best gunner in the platoon. I think he’s the best gunner in the company and he’s a great guy and he really helps us out and he works hard every day.”
His sergeant, his NCO escort, could have said the same thing and he could have said it just as eloquently, but when the officer shows up the judge gives that some thought. Either he gets off or he gets another couple weeks to get his ex-wife to call and straighten things out or whatever the case may be, but it works and it makes a difference. That is one of the things that makes me feel best when I’m in garrison is when I’m able to make a difference like that for one of my guys in a way he’s not used to.
So it's all about your loyalty to your guys?
I think my motivation is to be good at what I do. Everyone growing up has to compare themselves to other people and the easiest thing to compare, maybe more for Americans than other people, is success. But success is measured in different ways.
As a platoon leader I measured success by how many casualties I was able to inflict on the enemy and how few casualties I was able to take on myself. My goal was to be as successful as possible as a platoon leader in those things. That is necessarily related to taking care of my guys and making them as effective as possible.
Every officer has similar measures of success. There are different direct measures: maybe a maintenance officer wants to keep a certain percentage of the vehicle fleet running at the same time, whereas I want to destroy a certain number of enemy tanks. They are different but there's doing your job and maintaining your force to be able to keep doing your job and taking care of the people who allow you to do your job.
Because even though I'm in charge of a maintenance section of 20 people, I don't turn wrenches. I try, but I’m really not very good at it. It's not a talent I have. But I can make sure that the guys who turn wrenches get paid on time. I can make sure that I coordinate with the food service sergeants so that the food gets there on time and they have hot food and they're motivated to keep turning those wrenches day after day after day to keep the vehicles running. So whatever effect I can have on the unit to make it better, to make it work better, that's what I want to have.
The experience of war, part 2
The experience of war, part 2
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
This might sound like a bleeding heart liberal question, but it’s something I can't imagine because I've never done it – you have your rifle sighted on someone, what is that like, that moment? Do you see them as a human being or do you have to close that off? How does that work?
Well, I don't like to talk about it. I feel like a bastard, and I also don't want to be that guy who's like, [in a deep fake, macho voice] "Yeah, I'm great at killing people. I'm a total Rambo." I just don't want to get into all that. Either because of the way other people are socialized or because of my inability to describe it, I don't think I can convey how I feel about it in a way where people take it the way I mean it.
Either it's, "Paul sounds like he's blustering. He's really all torn up inside," which is not the case. Or "Paul thinks he's a total badass," which is kind of the case, because I really can kill people really well with a carbine. But that's also not the point. The point is more that it’s my job and I happen to be really good at it.
Whenever anybody else is really good at their job – like if they're a great attorney and they win a huge case and they go out to dinner to celebrate and people tell them stories about how great their case was they can bask in that glory -- back to glory -- but when I'm really good at what I do and I do it, I'm not allowed to be happy about it 'cause then I'm an asshole 'cause I'm taking human lives. It's very complicated. It's a tough one.
It's not like with certain systems where you aim at the truck or the area or in the window you think someone's in. With small arms you have to aim at someone and shoot them if you actually want to hit them. One of the things that I think makes humans so amazing is that whether you believe in religion or not, the idea behind Christianity is that God gave humans free will. They have the will to do whatever they're doing or to not do it.
Like I told you, the worst I felt during the war was when I had to shoot that dog. I didn't have anything against that dog. The dog never did anything to me, and whatever situation the dog is in is probably not his fault. He's a dog. He didn't have much choice in the matter along the way. But when I have someone who's attacking my formation or someone who is attacking other innocent unarmed people that I have to stop, I don't feel badly about that.
Not only is it my job and not only am I the guy who's able to do it because I happen to be pretty good with a rifle, but it's something that has to be done. When we are at war, the only change in our rules of engagement is we're allowed to shoot uniformed enemies who aren't shooting at us.
During the peacekeeping phase and before the war and during the war most of the people we shot at were people who had either threatened, engaged us, or looked like they intended to do that, like if there was a bad guy with a weapon who isn't shooting at us per se, but he kind of looks like he's taking aim at you. If you feel threatened, you're able to defend yourself.
When we have to shoot people who are shooting at us, we may feel badly about that because it is taking a human life, and I certainly view them as a human – I don't view them as a target once it’s down to an actual person – but it's certainly not the same as shooting someone for no reason or an act of murder or anything like that. It's definitely different and we can tell it's different.
Part of what the chaplains do for us is they describe to us the reasons why it's not murder in the criminal sense when we do what we have to do. It's certainly tough on us as riflemen because that is our job. A mechanic or someone in the support sector who's not by profession a combat guy any more than any soldier is will only be shooting to defend himself.
We as infantrymen are attacking people on purpose, whether or not they're attacking us, a lot of the time. It's something that's tough for riflemen to deal with and they're definitely tough guys and girls for being able to internalize that in their own way.
You were decorated in Iraq. What were you decorated for? Tell us a little bit about that.
It was for when I led the assault into the special Republican Guard barracks. My commander thought I acted well and did a better job than the average guy could do and they wanted to let me know that they commend me for that. I got the only commendation medal of that assault.
I think it might be the lowest award for valor you can get, but that's okay with me. I mean I know I'm a good shot and I know that people do what I say because they know I have their best interests in mind; they think I'm a smart guy and I'm going to make the right decisions most of the time. So when the army says, "Okay, Paul, you get this award," I say that's okay.
What I spend my time worrying about is getting the correct awards for my men who don't have the background I have; didn't go to prep school, don't have the things to fall back on that I have and so are necessarily going to put more stock in how well they perform in the army and how well that performance is recognized.
They know I recognize that performance; I'm the officer on the ground and I'm able to see how well the soldiers do. I saw how amazing Ronnie Davis is for taking over a fire team in the middle of the war, three days before our attack on the airport, and killing three tanks with Javelins, two with one missile. I'm the guy who saw all that and I want the army to see that too.
So I use that prep school training and I use my University of Virginia education to write well when I write the citations for their awards and try to push those awards up and get them recognized by the army as well – because everyone who knows these guys knows how amazing they are.
What the awards say, for valor or just for service, is that the army recognizes this guy's accomplishments and that everyone who sees them in uniform and sees them with that medal needs to recognize their accomplishments as well. That's what awards are about to me. It's conveying information to other people who just see you on the street and see that you happen to have a certain medal.
Were you nervous? Obviously you couldn’t show it to your men – or could you?
Well, I was nervous, yes, but I was much less nervous than I was excited. Most people, of course, get to do their jobs all the time. An attorney practices law full time; a doctor is always helping people get healthy. A soldier very rarely gets to actually do his job.
We had been training to do our jobs for a very long time but except for the squad leaders and the platoon sergeant in my platoon, no one had actually gone to war before. Those guys were in Desert Storm. So my guys were pretty excited to see if everything we had been taught would actually work. Given the confidence we had from various sources, we were more excited than nervous in general, though of course there was uncertainty and that doesn’t make anybody comfortable.
What was the reaction of your men when they were actually shooting people as opposed to targets?
The first thing that we had to worry about in modern warfare was if it was a good engagement, which is to say if we are suppose to have shot them. Every engagement we had was good, which helped, but it was really more business than anything else.
During the fighting part of events it was that they were either threatening us in some way or were uniformed members of the armed forces – we were supposed to shoot them, so we shot them. Hey, good job, you didn’t miss, it was great. It was more of a commentary on gunnery skill than the humanity because we didn’t want to be there. We didn’t want to have to be part of that war.
Given that we were put there, it wasn’t like we were going out and causing harm to people because we wanted to. The more efficiently, the faster, the better aim we had while killing people, more likely the faster we’d get to go home, which is what we wanted to do. So it was more trying to do it well than worrying about the metaphysical aspects of it.
Once we were in the peacekeeping phase, the guys who were causing trouble that we were shooting were the people that were keeping us from going home because they were the people making it a chaotic area in need of peacekeeping, such that we had to stay. So, again, there wasn’t much, “Oh, the humanity.” It was more like that’s one step, that dead troublemaker is one step closer to getting us home.
I think the worst I ever felt about shooting someone in the whole war, and I shot both uniformed members of the armed forces and people who were just threatening us in whatever way, and I shot them both with my rifle and with the track weapons, was I had to shoot a dog one time when we were at the weapons storage depot at al-Najaf.
Now, Iraqis – it may be a religious thing, I’m not certain and I certainly don’t want to speak for all of Islam – but they don’t keep pets like cats or dogs because for some reason they think it’s unclean. Americans of course love pets. Because they don’t take care of them and their sanitation is so bad there are hordes of wild dogs that run around Iraq.
Anybody who was in Desert Storm I’m sure will tell you about it. If a horde of wild dogs comes through you just need to get off the ground, get on your vehicle, because anything on the ground is going to be eaten by these ravenous beasts. We were kind of being skirmished and surveyed and about to be attacked by a pack of wild dogs when we were staying at that weapon storage depot guarding those people, so I had to shoot one of the dogs. That’s the most emotional I got during the war.
Had you been prepared at all for car bombers and that type of warfare?
Every morning at six we did a battlefield update brief where the intelligence guy, the staff, and the operations guy would talk about what we had seen so far and what was coming out across the division, what we had to look out for. They told us that one of the things we had to start looking out for was the black-clad figures dismounting from pickup trucks, the pickup trucks themselves, suicide bombers of all sorts. But we didn’t have any real training for it.
Like I said before, the main thing was I was confident of was that once I was able to identify a bad guy and know he was a bad guy he was done. My guys would be okay. We outranged them, we had better accuracy, our weapons are more lethal, I was okay once I figured out who was the bad guy. This is another element, the suicide bombing, the mortars out of the back of pickup trucks instead of regular track vehicles. Those are all things that make it harder for me to distinguish who’s the bad guy. That made it very tense for everybody. On top of that four guys in our battalion had been destroyed by a car bomb by some guy asking for help in a taxicab. That really put us on edge the whole time.
People think it’s the desert and it’s very desolate and nobody’s there, and there are parts of Iraq that were like that, but since we were trying to get there as fast as we could, even in track vehicles it’s faster to go on a road than it is on sand. We were going on areas with roads the whole time. If they have roads people are going to be living there.
So we were camped out around people’s houses. We didn’t want to run over their houses because they’re people just like anybody else. No reason to run over their house. But at the same time, if they really wanted to, they could suicide bomb us and the only way to keep that from happening was to raise every house and kill every person – man, woman and child we saw. Which we didn’t, we weren’t prepared to do, we didn’t want to do, that wasn’t the point.
But it meant that we couldn’t 100% protect ourselves from that danger. That – not the fear of uniformed enemy in an actual regular combat but the fear of just being terrorized or suicide attacked was always lingering through the whole operation and into the peacekeeping phase. It hasn’t ended.
The experience of war, part 3
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
What is battle like?
I don’t know what battle is like in general but I know that a German general, I think it might have been in World War II, said Americans are so good in battle because battle is chaos and Americans practice it on a daily basis. Germans of course are famous for being very orderly and we are not. Really, that’s what it’s about.
One thing you learn in airborne operations is that when you drop out of an airplane, you’ve seen, I’m sure, some World War II movies about the 82nd and 101st jumping into Normandy, you land and you find the three guys next to you and you go off toward your objective. You don’t have a company formation and then move out in any organized manner. You just march to the sound of the guns and kill everyone who doesn’t look like you.
That’s what we had. We didn’t know where any of the bad guys were when they started shooting at us. We learned the hard way where the tanks were. We gathered the guys that were around us, went, and we killed the tanks. Then we found out where they were attacking the medics so we went there. Then we gathered the guys who were around us and we assaulted that compound.
The key is that everyone can read a quarterback’s playbook and know what the plays are and know who the receiver is supposed to be but it takes a real quarterback to, in the middle of a play when things are going all wrong, pull something out of that and make it work anyway.
That’s what leadership in the American Army is about. It’s about total chaos, you don’t know where the bad guys are, then someone says they found the bad guys so you gather the guys, make a plan fast, and attack. You make it happen fast enough to be in time and make it planned enough so that you’re not just bum rushing the enemy, which has never been successful. That – trying to carve out some little piece of order in the middle of the chaos of battle – is what battle is like for the leader on the ground.
What kind of frustrations did you experience?
During the war frustrations were mostly mechanical. My platoon sergeant’s vehicle lost all radio power so we had to talk to each other with walkie-talkies in the middle of the night at as-Samwah. Our 88 – I already told you the 88’s were essential for recovering vehicles that were stuck – our 88 went down and had a fuel leak or an oil leak or something like that. The commanders’ Humvee driver stayed with them so that they wouldn’t be alone. We didn’t see those guys for four days. They were missing in action for four days. We didn’t know where they were. They just rolled up on us four days later and we were, like, “Oh man, I’m glad you guys are okay.” But, again, mechanical frustration caused us heartache. Once the occupation started the frustrations were a lot more interpersonal.
First of all, we thought that the better we did the faster we’d be able to go home. On April 14 the company commander pulled us in and he said that we were transferring from wartime operations to civil support operations. There was a collective moan from the crowd taking the operations order because it meant that we were then the peacekeeping force.
There were a lot of frustrations around knowing when we’re going home and then not knowing when we were going home. One time they stopped our mail because they thought we were supposed to go home. Until the week we left we didn't really know when we were going home.
Some of the worst frustrations we had involved the mail taking a long time to get there, not knowing when we were going home, and not really having a clear mission while we were there because we were still trying to figure out what was going on. In part that was because we misjudged the Iraqi people and the way they would handle becoming free from Saddam's regime and what that would mean for us. That definitely caused a lot of frustration.
The confusion between uniformed soldiers and non-uniformed soldiers creates a very difficult situation. Did you have much time to make these decisions?
No, not at all. The white pick-up truck in that example was coming towards us at 40 mph and it was 200 meters away. Do the math. You don't have much time. Given that it takes time to lock on and time to actually shoot the target once you've decided to shoot, the only frustration I had during the engagement was that Green Two had asked me before shooting them.
I told my guys, "If you see someone who's threatening you, kill them, then tell me about it, because I don't want you to wait for me to say something, or I can't hear you on the radio or I'm listening to the company commander or something else and then boom! You get blown up just like those other poor souls."
That’s what I told them and the battalion commander said the same thing in his briefing. He said, "If you have contact, you destroy and then report. You engage and then report." I said the only frustration I had was that Green Two asked me before shooting them. As soon as I had them on the radio I told them to shoot that truck.
Basically what's happening is you're making decisions very quickly. It sounds like you have a lot of downtime and then all of a sudden there's a moment of tremendous stress and a very fast decision that you have to make. Do you make it with complete information?
No. You make the decisions you make in combat with the best information you can get. If the best information you have is incomplete, that's still better than nothing. In combat you make decisions off the information you have. The decision made with your full decision-making authority with only having half the information is better than no decision because you don't have all the information.
You need to tell your guys what to do, and if what you tell them is based on information that then turns out to be wrong, that's just a fact of life. Hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes you need to make a decision in the dark. Hopefully, your training and what you know about how to assess a situation in a very short time and all the training you do at the national training center or in the swamps of Georgia is going to train you to make the right decision there.
My priority was making sure my guys got home safe. My priority was not making 100% sure that every engagement was clean and I never got in trouble, whether or not it cost my guys life or limb. My decision-making process was, “Are these guys threatening my men? Maybe?” You know you gotta protect the force.
Is it impersonal, war, with these high-powered weapons and the distances at which you're fighting?
Weapons have made the war impersonal for some people, but I as a rifleman still have to be within 300 meters of the guys I'm shooting to be able to hit them with my rifle. I still see their faces. Whether we have technology and our weapons are more accurate than they used to be, or whatever, it doesn't change the fact that a lot of engagements are going to happen at very close range.
I'm not an Air Force pilot. Even an Air Force pilot sees the thing he or she's blowing up. Helicopter pilots are very close to what they're attacking. Tankers can shoot things from farther out, but they also have high-magnifying sights to let them zoom in on what they're shooting. It's not personal combat. It's not like the British and the French used to be way back in the day when they would capture each other and ransom the knights to their families to get money. It's definitely more impersonal.
Talking to people from World War II or Vietnam or from the Persian Gulf, they describe combat trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. Do you think that the war is going to affect the men you were fighting with? Has going into war affected them? Do you think this is going to be something they need to deal with in the future?
As Clint Eastwood said, I think it was in The Outlaw Josie Wales; we all died a little bit in that war. Iraq is no different. Everybody who has seen combat or even just high-intensity peacekeeping operations is going to be affected by it.
The American Army spends a good bit of time now, and the chaplains, especially, do a great job, on counseling soldiers about how to do deal with that when you get home; how to assimilate combat stress when it happens. It's still going to affect some people more than others, and it's going to affect some people very strongly, even after they get out of the army.
I'm sure you know about Vietnam veterans who commit suicide afterwards, not being able to get onto the Wall, and not only does that apply to someone who, 13, 14, 30 years later takes his own life, but men who were captives for years and years in the Vietnam prison camps and then six weeks after getting home, kill themselves and the army doesn't consider that a combat loss.
We are making progress on that. Dr. Shay's books, Achilles in Vietnam, and Odysseus in America, I read them when I was in Iraq and they made a big difference for me. I refer my soldiers to them when I can. It's something that the army is trying to get better on.
Are you a different person than you were when you went over there?
I don't really know if I'm a different person now than I was when I went over there. I don't know if it's made me more or less callous, or how it changes the way I view human life in general. For me, personally – I certainly can't speak for anybody else, but I was always kind of like that, which is part of what drew me to this profession in the first place. You have a lot more trouble combat trauma in the people who less-deliberately join the army.
Now everybody's a volunteer but some people were coming out of school didn't really know what to do. The army had a good plan. They joined up. They liked the guys. They stayed in. The guys are great. They continue to stay in. They go to war.
Whereas some other people, and I include myself in the second group, kind of had a vision of themselves a certain way that involved military service, involved structure, involved possible combat, and then went to combat. I did that. That was my job. It was the job I signed up for. I think it certainly affected me less than other people, but it affects everyone. I fully expect to not understand how it's affected me until far later. I mean, I just six months ago got back from Iraq and I'm going to go again. So I'm not done…you know, Iraq is not done having its affect on me.
When you guys are being fired on in action, how does that affect you?
The only time I had time to reflect during a battle on how I felt about it wasn't in the airport battle, because that was too hectic and I was busy the whole time. I was always doing something and I didn't have time to stop and think.
One thing that really hit me was when we were attacking an air defense artillery training and barracks area after going through Karbala. On our way to al-Musayyib, right before we went into the town, we started taking fire from the north, which was to our left. I radioed that we were taking fire and that we needed to maneuver a certain way and my wingman didn't radio me back.
We were in position and I called and said, "Green Two, Green Two, this is Green One, are you there? Over," and he didn't call me back. I was terribly worried that something had happened to him. So I get up out of my turret and I look over to him and I can't see him. He's not up out of his turret like he usually is. It's not like I could see any blood or he was drooped or splayed out – I just didn't know how he was and I knew that we were fired on. Not only is he a great guy and he has a family and a bunch of dogs that I care about but he's my wingman and I have to take care of him.
What I ended up doing was I got out and I was running down the front of my Bradley, which, like I said, is really high, and I caught my toe on something and took a huge fall and I almost broke my wrist. I couldn't lift anything for a couple months after that. When I got up I saw that my wingman was in his turret chuckling at me for having taken that big fall, and it felt really great when I saw Sgt. Root out of the turret just then. It turns out that he had bumped his radio and it had come out and he was down in the turret screwing it back in. I felt really good about life when I saw him get out of that turret and laugh at me for falling.
Is there sort of an adrenaline rush? Is there an attraction to war?
Whether there's an attraction to war that's involved with adrenaline or not, is very difficult for me to say. I guess part of the problem is that I never really made a conscious decision to join the army. I expressed interest in it when I was in high school and when I showed up at the University of Virginia I was in the Engineering School, and they gave me my schedule and it was on my schedule. So I went and I liked it. I continued to like it, so I stayed in.
Then there I was in a platoon and I was training my platoon and there I was in war. I don't know if there was ever a conscious decision I made to get into that path except once I was in training and I really liked it – we were doing labs on first aid and placing claymore mines and rocket launchers and it was cool stuff.
It was cops and robbers, like ever since I was six years old. I thought it was cool then and I continue to think it's cool. Whether that attracted me to war in general or to being in the service, I don't know. I'm sorry I can't answer it better, but I guess I haven't been able to figure out yet what it is that put me on this path in the first place, so I can't answer if adrenaline or an attraction to war is one of the things.
Whether or not adrenaline or an attraction to war were part of what caused me to sign up is an important question. I, of course, can't speak for anyone else and it's a very difficult question to answer but I think the key is to create good in the world. There are two ways to create net good in the world. One is by creating things that are good and one is by destroying things that are bad.
Everyone is different – I have always had more talent at destroying things. So I've been learning to live with that because, of course, it's much more popular to create beautiful things. William Shakespeare, everybody likes him. He created amazing works. It's harder to like people who destroy things, but that's who I am.
What I've thought is that if I can find things that need to be destroyed and destroy them, even if it's in a less popular way, I would have contributed to humanity. So that attracts me to war because war is one of the ways I can destroy things that are bad, like Saddam's power base, for instance, with which he completely oppressed and murdered and ran the Iraqi people for so long.
Do you think people who haven't been in war can really understand what you went through over in Iraq?
I don't know that people who haven't been in war can understand it. I also don't think that it is outside the realm of possibility that they could. I remember I was in Fifth grade with my friend Robert and we had to write poems for our English class. We, of course, weren't poets. I wrote something-or-other about a weapon that defoliates areas that I had seen in the movie Predator.
My teacher said to me, "You can't write that. You can only write about things that you've experienced. You have to write about things that you've been there for." I said to her, "Ms. Barry, I'm 10 years old. What have I experienced that I'm going to be able to write about in a decent poem? I mean, how much do you care about my lunch money?"
So I don't think we can restrict people to writing about war that have been there, because everyone experiences this war, especially in America, and I'm sure in the Middle East as well. Whether or not you know anybody who is in it or you have a distant cousin or your brother or you've been there or all you know is what you see on the news, everyone has feelings about this war. If they put those feelings on paper, in the form of poetry, it's going to be as worth reading as me in a foxhole writing a limerick.
You wrote to your parents right before the invasion of Iraq and you quoted some lines from The 13th Warrior. What were they and what was the relevance?
I wrote my parents on the day before we crossed on the 19th and it wasn’t one of those “If you’re reading this letter I’m probably dead” letters because I knew that it would take like a month for the letter to get home. It took a very long time for letters to travel at that point and I knew that they would have heard about it one way or another. If I were okay I probably would have called them but if I weren’t then someone else would have called them.
I wanted to give them some final thoughts on how I thought things were going to go. I wrote some general “hi mom” stuff and I gave them a quote from The 13th Warrior, which is a movie. The quote was an old Viking saying that I had translated into English. It said, “Lo, before me do I see my father. Lo, before me do I see my mother. Lo, before me do I see my brothers and my sisters and my cousins and a line of all my people back to the beginning. Lo, do they call to me. They bid me take my place in Valhalla where the brave may live forever.”
Now in America a lot of times you have parents that are proud of their kids going into the service or whatever. You have a lot of parents who want their sons and daughters to come home. It’s rare in America that you would have your siblings or your parents ask you to be as brave as you possibly could so that perhaps the Valkyrie could chose you to go to Valhalla. But that’s what that’s about. Looking over the berm into Iraq, it was very much like that. Before me do I see my father. Before me do I see my mother. Lo, do they call to me. They bid me take my place in Valhalla. If that’s the way it ends up I figured I was all right with that. I wanted them to be all right with that too, to the extent I could make that happen.
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
Let’s talk a little bit about Alan Seeger. He wrote a poem called “Rendezvous.” Did this have any importance for you and why?
Alan Seeger’s poem, “Rendezvous” had a lot of importance to me. One of my favorite parts of that poem was the last, and I may or may not remember it correctly. It’s the part where he says,
God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
I’m not going to say I understand everything about what he’s saying, but what it means to me is he’d rather be in bed with his wife or girlfriend. He’s not talking about sex. Sex is irrelevant. It’s just being in bed with someone you care about.
But that’s not what he has to do. He has to go to war. He’s not going to war with the possibility of death. He’s not going to war to be as brave as he can. He simply has a rendezvous with death.
One of the ways the poem is important to me is that we all now volunteer for the army. There’s no draft anymore. There hasn’t been for a while. It’s not particularly pleasant that we have to go do these things. Now that’s it’s a peacekeeping mission it’s even less pleasant.
Before, when I talked about how we were excited, it was because we were going to actually get to do our job as riflemen. We don’t really get to do our job as riflemen when we’re there now. When my division re-deploys either later this year or early next year, whenever it does, we’re not going to be deploying as riflemen to win a war. We’re going to be deploying as stand-in policemen because there aren’t enough policemen there to police the population and try to keep the peace there. That’s not our job but we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it as well as anybody can do it.
The thing about the army that’s interesting is that if what is really important to you is getting out of the army, and that’s really all that’s important to you, you can make it happen. There are ways you can get out of the army. They’re pretty foolproof. They just have to be that important to you. They’re not that important to me.
I know it’s unpleasant to go over there and I know I have to go over there and I know that unpleasantness in general and danger in general is a part of it, but I’m willing to do that. Alan Seeger’s poem, “Rendezvous,” as well as anything, describes how I feel about my duty to go over there. It’s very much that I to my pledged word am true. I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Do you know what happened to Alan Seeger?
I believe he did not fail his rendezvous.
At your welcoming back party, you read the first part of a poem by Houseman. Why did you choose those lines? What did they say to you?
At my homecoming party what I chose to read was the first stanza of “A Shropshire Lad,” by A. E. Houseman. First of all, I read a poem because I followed my father, who is a far more accomplished public speaker than I am and a very tough act to follow, and also partly because I think it's really relevant to not only why I went but why I had that party when I came back.
The theme of the party was it was everyone that I had gone to school or college with or knew my parents, who were a pretty high-powered bunch of people, who all asked, “Why did Paul go to Iraq? He didn't want to go to Iraq, right?”
The poem is about the British Empire. It's about men dying in foreign lands and it's about appreciating them for the sacrifices that they've made. It's also asking the reader to decide if he's ready to make that same or a similar commitment. I think that was as relevant as anything to why I was in Iraq in the first place. If they understood that poem, they'd understand a lot about me and why they were invited to that party.
Do remember that first stanza?
Oh, yeah. It's a little difficult because it's an English poem, from I think 18-something, but it starts out,
From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.
Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.
Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.
To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.
It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn's dead.
We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.
"God save the Queen" we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.
Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.
I thought that that poem more than any other would allow someone to understand why I actually went to Iraq in the first place, which was really the big question. At the party it was “I'm glad you got back from Iraq, you did great things,” but also, “Why'd you join the army?” “Why'd you go?”
The poem starts out about a celebration that they have every year at the Queen's birthday where they light these beacons and they always say, "God save the Queen." The poem gets into what it means when they say "God save the Queen." How men on the ground, regular men, make that happen. How we as a nation can continue to make that happen.
How, for guys who don't have to go to Iraq, guys who went to prep school and studied Economics at the University of Virginia who don't have to go to war, choosing to join the army and serve over there is part of what makes America able to defend itself. I thought that poem was the way to tell the crowd about that, and that if they understood that poem, they'd understand why I went.
Is that poem about duty?
If I had to describe what that poem was about, it's about continuing to recognize the duty to defend our country that increasingly gets more pleasant to live in. War is not any less pleasant than it has always been, whether you're in a quay and fighting against the Trojans in Troy in 1250 BC, or in the Civil War in the rifle infantry, or you're in Iraq now in the armored Calvary. It's really unpleasant to be at war, and it's always been really unpleasant to be at war. But as America grows -- and you saw this, too, with the Roman Empire as it grew -- it grows more fancy.
The Romans started out with very little and then they conquered the Greeks and they took all their technology, and then they had the Roman baths and they had women feeding them grapes and they had the Coliseums and it was really great to be a Roman. But it was still really unpleasant to go campaign. It increasingly became nice to be Roman, and it stayed miserable campaigning.
Fewer and fewer Romans wanted to join the army so they had to go farther and farther outside into the uncivilized lands to find people who still didn't mind fighting. In America you see the same thing. The Minutemen in 1776 was unpleasant. The people who came over in the Mayflower to farm in New England was very difficult.
You know, one of the reasons they had so many children, up to 10 children per family back then, was not only because you needed them to farm, but also because half of them would die before they were able to work. So if you wanted to have five farmers to help you need to have 10 children because half of them would die. It was really unpleasant.
War at that time, the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, was unpleasant. You get to the Civil War and you get into the mint julep era and for most people it's nicer to be around and war is still totally miserable. You get to World War I and now you're starting to see motorcars, you're starting to see electricity. Things like that are coming into the world. War, still totally miserable. World War II, most people have cars, they haven't really gotten into air travel yet but it's started. People have telephones, there's TV; life is really pleasant. They have vacuums to make cleaning the house easier. Everything's easier, except going to war.
Now we have the Internet, video games, and Hollywood is making movies all the time, Detroit's making great cars, life is really nice in America. Life is really awesome, unless you're at war.
The farther we progress as a nation and the nicer it is to be an American, the less likely people want to join the army. You've seen that in the recruitment numbers. It's really tough to get people to join the army now. We have college funding programs, enlistment bonuses, re-enlistment bonuses trying to make it worth people's while to be in the army, trying to make it worth their while versus how totally spectacularly nice it is to be a civilian.
A.E. Houseman, what he says to me is, no matter how nice it gets to be a civilian; God's not going to be able to save the Queen on his own. There are going to be men, and women now, too, who need to put all their own personal enjoyment and put their very life on the line to keep all those things the nation gets for itself to defend all that. You know, they say that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. That's what that poem means to me.
Has the poem “Tommy” meant a lot to you?
Tommy has meant a lot to me even beyond that, even beyond the treatment of soldiers in general by the law or by the cops or whatever. I went to the University of Virginia, which is in the South, south of the Mason-Dixon Line. On Tuesdays we had our lab and that meant that you needed to wear your uniform all day for every one of your classes – your battle dress uniform. You’d go into a class that you’d only been to on Thursdays previously and people would treat you completely differently. Pretty girls wouldn’t sit with you. Everybody kind of looked at you funny. You’re the same person but you’re in uniform. When you go to your Monday, Wednesday, and Friday classes you notice you’re the same person and they’re more or less the same people. The ones who don’t know you are in the army treat you differently.
When I had to wake up at six in the morning so I could do PT three times a week I was not able to stay out as late. The people who stayed out really late would say, “Paul, man, you’re really lame. You never stay out drinking very late.” I’m, like, “Sorry man. I have to run at 6:30 in the morning.” That’s hard.
Now that the war started or after September 11 and they know I’m a Lieutenant in the army I get very different treatment. I don’t know if that means that I should be really happy that they treat me well now that they know I’m in the army or I should be upset that everybody in the army doesn’t get that treatment in peacetime or a combination of the two, but I definitely feel it. “Tommy” is what describes that experience to me.
Kipling has been called the Bard of the British Empire. What relationship do you think that has to what we’re doing in Iraq?
Well, a lot. A lot about the British Empire is like what we have now. The British Empire, of course, actually had colonies and wanted to own things and that is the way it was back then. The modern British are very similar to modern Americans, the things we want. Modern America, the empire, is not a military empire. It’s more of a trade empire. We really like capitalism and we feel that capitalism is the way for everybody to get the fairest deal and we want other people to be able to be capitalists.
For a very long time the Soviets didn’t want that and we butted heads on that in various places around the world much like the British colonists and the British Navy and Army did around the world. Even though the American empire is very different from the British empire, both in intent and in how it affects the world, they are both empires and they have a lot of things about them that are similar. If you die in service to the American Army, there’s a good chance you’re going to be 10,000 miles away from home. That has a lot of similarity.
What does Wilfred Owen mean to you?
I don't know much about Wilfred Owen’s poems in general, but I am familiar with “Dulce et Decorum est,” and I think that's a pretty important poem in how it talks about how tired soldiers are during war in general. Also, one of the big themes in World War I -- this didn't happen as much in World War II -- was that the teachers of graduating high school classes would tell everyone to charge forth and do the right thing and join the army and go off and get killed.
One of my big inspirations since I've been in college has been my Greek and Roman and ancient warfare professor at the History Department of University of Virginia. I wrote him and told him about how the poems that he introduced me to had motivated me. He said his main fear was that he was that guy who, by teaching this class, was motivating people to join the military and go off and get killed. I assured him that the die had been cast long before that for me.
Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” describes it very clearly. By describing the guy who had to walk behind the cartful of bodies of people who had been gassed takes the whole notion of the glory of honorable service to the Fatherland out of the picture and brings into focus how totally miserable it is and what an ignoramus you might meet in the army.
Do you think poetry has a special way of communicating about war? What role has it had for you?
Poetry has had a really important role for me, ever since I started my education. You may or may not have noticed that I'm really long-winded in my own words. Quotes are really important for me because they're a tried and true way of saying a certain thing. Poetry on top of that is an art form. It's an efficiency of words, but at the same time it's art. It's beauty in and of itself.
By memorizing poems or learning how to reference poems and using them in my life, I've been able to be somewhat of an artistic person, whereas on my own merit I would not at all be artistic. It improves me to be familiar with poetry to the extent that I am.
You mentioned quoting from Ezekiel. Tell us what you said to your guys.
Right before we crossed the border into Iraq we were all in a, "Why are we here?" moment. I wrote down for my men Ezekiel, Chapter 7, verses 3 and 4 and I showed it to one of my NCOs. Later they said, "Hey, sir, people want a copy of that. Can you give us some more copies?" I said, "Yeah, sure." I had it memorized. It was about what we were there to do. It reads,
Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations.
And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am the lord.
You also have a quote, I think, from Nietzsche, too. What was that?
When I graduated from ROTC and got commissioned, everyone gets a picture of themselves being commissioned and a little paragraph to write some kind of motivational passage. I've never been particularly motivational in my own words so I had a collection of quotes.
One of my quotes was Friedrich Nietzsche who said -- in German originally -- but who said, roughly: "Those who fight monsters should look to it that they not become monsters themselves. Because as you gaze too deeply into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
Do you think that's a danger for us in America?
It's certainly a danger for us in Iraq – we need to watch that we do not become monsters ourselves as we fight the terrorists. Because one of our main problems in Iraq is that it's difficult – and we know that people are putting bounties on us, on the heads of American soldiers.
It's difficult for us to find them and we realize that a really effective way to find them would be exactly the way that Saddam found them, which would be acting like Saddam. That worked for him for a very long time but the whole point of us being there is that we wanted it to be different there. We have to make sure that we don't do things that way. It's of the utmost importance that we pay attention to Nietzsche there.
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
How many people are in a platoon, for those of us who don’t know the military? What are you, as a lieutenant, seeing? What’s your world view?
As a mechanized rifle platoon leader in the Third Infantry Division, I am the youngest, newest officer that’s going to be in charge of a unit. A platoon is the smallest unit that has an officer in charge of it. My platoon consisted of my platoon sergeant, three squad leaders, one mounted squad leader, four tracks, and myself. Our tracks are Bradley armored fighting vehicles in infantry platoons. I had 38 enlisted guys and one officer in four vehicles. That was my platoon.
My company had three platoons, pretty much like ours, and a small headquarters section of two tracks and maybe 10 other guys. A battalion has three companies, a headquarters company, which has all the support elements and the staff, which is another 20 guys, and then the support guys are about another 100. So there are about 450 people in 44 vehicles in a battalion.
A brigade is three times that large and includes all the other elements like the signal guys, the military intelligence guys, and the civil affairs guys. When I say guys, of course, I mean guys and girls because at that level there are females in those units. The division is three times the size of a brigade. The Third Infantry Division has 20,000 people total, to give you an idea of numbers.
Were there any women in your platoon?
I mentioned women in the service at the brigade level. There are no women in my platoon, no women in my company and no women in my battalion. We had two or three women medics that were attached to my battalion from Charlie medical unit. Plus one of our embedded reporters was a woman.
You were traveling in four Bradley’s, right?
Right. It’s a pretty amazing vehicle. The armor on it can stop pretty much everything up to a 50 caliber round. We had RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, shot at us and they just didn’t work. They bounced off the hull.
The Bradley’s main armament is that it has a TOW launcher, a Tube-launch Optical Wire guided missile, which has a long range but is very slow, so we never really use it because it’ll take 10 seconds to reach its target. If you blow up the Bradley that’s firing the TOW before the TOW hits it’ll just go into the ground and miss because it’s wire guided. So we never really use those.
The Bradley also has a 762-millimeter machinegun coaxially mounted to a 25-millimeter main gun. The 25-millimeter main gun is this really amazing chain gun that feeds two different types of ammo at the same time and you can switch between them pretty much whenever you want, so you can fire either armor piercing ammunition or high explosive incendiary ammunition. You don’t have to carry the coaxial machine gun so you have a much higher rate of fire and it’s a lot more accurate. It’s great against anything except well-armored battle tanks. Because America uses depleted uranium ammunition for armor piercing we can take out any battle tank that the Iraqi’s can field.
Why is depleted uranium used?
Depleted uranium armor piercing rounds are very, very hard and very, very dense. So, much like you can stab through your fingernail with a knife but you can’t poke through a steel plate with your fingernail, the hardness really matters in a material. Unless you have armor that is depleted uranium – depleted uranium is harder and denser so it can punch right through it, which makes it able to pierce any kind of armor.
What’s it do once it gets through the armor?
Once it gets through the armor, if it goes through a significant amount of armor, the resistance of the armor heats the round up and whenever metal gets heated up it starts to spall. What that means is little pieces of hot metal kind of jump off it as it’s passing through.
When you shoot a vehicle with an armor piercing round it doesn’t do super catastrophic damage to the vehicle. It doesn’t blow parts of it all over the place. What it does is it penetrates and then, because of the spall factor, it spews off hot bits of metal inside. Then when it penetrates out the other side, the speed at which it goes through creates a vacuum that – if it’s a big enough deal like a tank round – can suck bits of people out the other side.
If you come upon a vehicle that’s been destroyed by armor piercing rounds the vehicle looks okay except for little holes in it and the crew is dead. It kills the guys inside the track, as opposed to explosive ammunition like the old school tank ammunition or the heat rounds we use now that cause really tremendous, movie-like explosions when they hit vehicles.
I think the image that a lot of people have is that a bullet goes in, there’s a little stain of blood, maybe you get killed, but what really happens to people when they get hit by these weapons?
Getting hit by any bullet is – not a lot of people understand it even though some movies have tried to describe it and some science classes describe it – but it’s really based on hydrostatic shock. It’s like if you have an empty soda can and a full soda can that you haven’t opened yet at the range – I did this with some friends of mine recently. If you shoot the empty soda can, it puts a hole in it and it may knock the soda can over; it’s not so big a deal. But when you shoot the full soda can it explodes spectacularly. The reason it does that is the soda inside can’t be compressed.
When the bullet goes through, and it goes through extremely quickly – like mach 1, mach 1.2, faster than the speed of sound – the energy reverberates around inside the can until it’s more than it can handle and the can explodes. When you get shot, because your body is 70% water, a very similar thing happens. The bullet enters your body and the shock that radiates out from that, because of the water in your body, disrupts all your cell walls and causes a lot of flesh trauma that you can’t see. You look at a guy who has a bullet hole but you can’t see all the damage it caused inside. It’s that damage and that shock trauma that is what kills people from gunshot wounds.
What is a Javelin?
A Javelin is a new version of an antitank missile. What the enemy mostly uses is RPGs, Rocket Propelled Grenades, which are 73 millimeter unguided rockets. It’s aim and shoot. The sight on it is not magnified or anything like that. There’s no tracking system. They just aim it and fire it. It’s a lot like you see in American Vietnam movies – they had the LAW (Light Antitank Weapon) rocket, which is the one where you pull it out and then you fire it.
What we have now is the AT4, Antitank 4. Which is an 84-millimeter. It’s more accurate and it’s more powerful than the RPG but it’s basically the same idea. The difference is the AT4 is disposable and the RPG has rounds. The launcher stays and you launch different rounds in it, which means you can carry more of them.
But the Javelin is entirely a different thing. It is a computer-tracked missile and has pretty good range. The RPG has range between 300 and 700 meters. Of course it’s harder to hit moving things and it’s harder to hit things that are far away. The Javelin has a range of clearly better than two kilometers. It’s a top attack weapon, which means that it hits tanks in their least armored spot.
What happens is, it has a guidance unit and a computer in the missile itself. The tracker gets all the information about the enemy vehicle and it transfers it to the missile and the missile fires. It’s fire and forget. Since the missile already has all the information about the target, you fire the missile and you leave while it’s in the air, which makes a big difference.
Before what we used was the Dragon, and any old Dragon gunner can tell you that the average life expectancy of a Dragon gunner after he pulls his trigger is four seconds. When the tank crew that you’re firing at sees the big puff of smoke that’s the anti tank missile, because it’s a wire-guided thing just like the TOW, all they have to do is kill you and the Dragon missile falls off and they’re okay. It’s not as though they have to choose between protecting themselves and killing you. Killing you protects them.
With the Javelin it’s fire and forget. The signature is a lot less because there’s a launch motor and then a drive motor. You can leave as soon as the drive motor starts so you’re out of the line of fire and behind an overpass by the time the enemy can find you and track you with their tank rounds.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t shooting at us with tank rounds. They just luckily didn’t hit us. We definitely felt the shockwaves from the tank rounds passing overhead. We were getting shot at on the overpass from both sides. By this time we still couldn’t see where the bad guys were. We hadn’t broken through the wall to assault the barracks compound yet, so we didn’t know where they were. Sparks were flying off the guardrails. You could hear the bullets hitting them. Luckily nobody got hit up there. We knew that was the place where we could see the tanks and we had to kill the tanks to protect the battalion headquarters and to protect the rest of our tracks. So that’s where we were until all the missiles were gone.
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
Tell me, how did your role change once Baghdad had fallen and how did you deal with that?
Once Baghdad fell, all our roles changed and we were all unhappy that our roles did not consist of getting the unit ready to go home. Beyond that we did the best we could.
My favorite time in Baghdad was when I was guarding the Central Bank of Iraq, and there are also a couple other banks there. It was a platoon-size area. For a couple weeks we rotated platoons in and out. Then the company commander – this was a new company commander; we had changed command – he decided he may as well have a platoon get familiar with an area and operate in that area for a longer period of time.
I was the only officer there, of course, because I'm the only officer in the platoon, at the Central Bank of Iraq. That was, of course, when the story broke about when President Bush gave his ultimatum to get out in 48 hours. The next morning, Saddam's son showed up with all these trailer trucks and pulled all the money out of the Central Bank and drove it maybe towards Syria, who knows? When that story broke, though, I was the guy guarding the Central Bank.
Germans, who are excellent engineers, built the Central Bank building, but what they had done was put the vaults underground. The city of Baghdad is for the most part below the water table of the Tigris River, so whenever an emergency happens in the Central Bank it floods the vaults with water from the Tigris. Even if you can get down there with divers and open the vaults you're going to flood everything that's inside, which you don't want to do, so you have to pump the water out first.
I had taken two years of Physics at St. Paul's in high school and I knew that you couldn’t suck water up more than 10 meters, because that's one atmosphere of pressure. You have to get the pump under the water level and push the water out. The Iraqis didn't know this to start, and I was one of the guys who helped the National Geographic team and the Homeland Defense teams coordinate the efforts to pump that water up.
I read in the news a couple days after I had been moved out of the area – my battalion switched out with the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment – that a couple weeks later they were able to get into those vaults and found the lost treasure of Nimrod, which was a pretty big deal. I was a part of that. That was my favorite time in Baghdad.
What about the rest of the time? How was it coordinated with the civilians? Were you and your men prepared for that?
My men and I weren't very prepared for interacting with the civilians, but we were able to make it work. We had translators and in the Central Bank we had Homeland Security guys who wanted to get the banks up and running so people could have money and the economy could start working again.
The Iraqi director of the bank came in and we said, "Listen, who do we let in?" and he said, "Well, let me get a list." He came back the next day with a list and he gave it to our translator and said, “These guys can get in. Just check them off when they come in every day, and if someone comes in and says they should be on the list that isn't, put them on this list.”
We spoke English and the people spoke Arabic and he spoke both, so we were able to communicate that way. What my men were able to do is create a safe environment in that two or three block radius to allow all that to happen. Because my guys were good at creating that safe environment, we made it work.
What did you think of the whole peacekeeping process?
As history has shown us, no one is very good at it. The notion is that America is too cowboy and too gung-ho and when they try to do peacekeeping it doesn't work. Peacekeeping is tough to make work for anybody. You know, we had that UN delegation that got captured and ransomed a couple years ago. At least that hasn't happened to us.
We had the UN try to move in to Iraq and the Americans said, "Hey, we know a lot of security stuff, 'cause we've been working in this area for a while. We know how we get attacked. Do you want us to help secure your area?" But the UN said “No, we don't want to be hard like you Americans. We want to be a kinder, gentler peacekeeping force.”
Two days later, or however long it was, they got blown up and lost all their guys and pulled out. They're not there now and we are. America will persevere. Like the President said, we will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail. We are taking losses – our soldiers are dying over there every day – but they're fighting hard and they're learning from their mistakes and they’re not going to quit. That's the key to making it work.
Tell me a little bit about the peace. From your on-the-ground experience with the occupation after the major fighting, what kind of a situation is that like for the American soldier?
The beginning of the peace, from the 8th when we were attached to Second Brigade and they told us that Baghdad had fallen until we left was tough on us because we didn't know what the conditions were that would let us leave. We saw a lot of stuff that frustrated us.
For instance, we never would've expected that the Iraqis – not all Iraqis, of course, but some Iraqis – would loot and destroy the medical equipment in their own hospitals. They'd pull the wires out of EKGs to hook their electricity up in their house. It was unfathomable to us the extent to which they would destroy everything that wasn't personally theirs and how much that put a complete freeze on the reconstruction of Iraq.
One of the measures we used to describe how well the power or the sewer systems were doing or whatever was to say that it is now up to “prewar levels.” When we say that, every once in a while we mean a stray bomb hit a power plant. We had new weapons in this war that allowed us to knock out a power plant without destroying it so that it was off for 24 hours so they wouldn't have power when we attacked.
Whereas in the first Iraq war we just had to blow up all their buildings. We didn't do that this time. So it may mean that a stray bomb or by military necessity we needed to blow up their buildings, but 90% of the time it meant that we had gotten it back to the level it was before we had won the war and the Iraqis completely looted all of the support systems in the major cities.
In a town it's not as big a deal – you have your generator and it runs your electricity and you do your farming, you live your life. In a city – Baghdad is a city of 5 million people – you need a very complex system of electricity, water, sewage, and garbage and it was all destroyed when we got there. It took us a couple days to get in and the Iraqi army fled when they heard we were coming.
So for a couple days these people who for 30 years had absolutely complete authority over everything they did all of a sudden had no authority over anything they did. Not all of them, but a lot of them looted and destroyed a lot of important infrastructure that we then had to rebuild. That was definitely really frustrating for us.
The rest of the time was spent either being miserable and waiting, or being miserable and waiting without a job, or being miserable and waiting after being told we were going home but we weren't.
Being a soldier in America
This conversation is excerpted from Paul Mysliwiec’s interview for the film Voices in Wartime.
Do you think it's good that we have a professional army or do you think we should have the draft?
I think it's absolutely instrumental that we have a professional army. You saw in the 4th Century BC that the very first professional army in the world conquered the entire known world. Alexander of Macedon, Alexander the Great, led the first professional army ever. Before that it was what we refer to as "weekend warriors."
A professional force that trains year-round is essential to be able to have that coordination – no matter what the mission is. If you’ve done other missions with the same unit, you know how to coordinate and how to plan and how to act with that unit, you're going to be more successful in anything you do.
Furthermore, when you go into battle you want to know if the guy to your left and right isn't there because someone forced him to be there. You want to know that as little as you want to be there, they want to be there, even if for different reasons, they signed up and they volunteered the same way you did. They volunteered for the infantry the same way you did.
They didn't get stuck there because the judge said that they had to go to prison for 10 years or go to Iraq. Some of those guys were great in Vietnam and some of those guys were great before, but it gives soldiers now a lot of confidence to know that the men and women they go into battle with are volunteers just like they are.
How do you feel about going back?
It's my job to go back. I don't want to go back because it's miserable, but nobody wants to go back. The problem isn't going away. We need to stay there and keep the peace until the Iraqi people are able to get on their feet. They have the interim Constitution now until they can get something more permanent. It takes a while for government to learn how to function a new way. We just need to keep the peace while they do that. Our job there is to give them ideas on how we do things or how other countries might do things that they can use and to keep the peace.
Now my motivation for going back, other than the fact that I have to, is I want to take care of my guys. I know that as the Ex-O of a headquarters company, it's not like being a platoon leader where I'm totally in charge of this many people all the time. Rather, if I make good maintenance systems now that keep vehicles running or I make good chow plans that keeps hot food coming so the morale's high or I help the non-commissioned officers in charge do those things, it can have an effect on the troops' effectiveness. Since I support the brigade it could have an effect on brigade operations. I to my pledged word am true. I shall not fail that rendezvous.
What about this idea of glory?
Glory is an interesting thing. Every kid starts out playing cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, shooting toy guns or whatever, and I just didn't stop. I guess that makes me special now. I don't know if, when I go to the airport in uniform or walk by the New York Stock Exchange to meet my mom's boss in uniform and people stop me and thank me, if that is glory. If I earn an award for service and get pinned with medals, I don't really know if that is glory. Napoleon said that he was amazed at what great lengths a man would go for a bit of metal on his chest but I don't know if that's glory in the way that we talk about it in poetry or discuss it in literature. Certainly fame is part of glory.
Audie Murphy, one of the most highly decorated soldiers – I think the most highly decorated in American history – and in the Third Infantry Division, got a lot of glory from his experiences in World War II against the Germans. I don't think that's as much a part of the world now. We're not looking for heroes so much now, I don't think, as people who are willing to make big sacrifices, do heroic things.
It's not so much whether I single-handedly kill this many bad guys, so much as I stood up and joined the army and the other guys and girls who stood up and joined the army with me and served and are serving now, are deserving of recognition.
I think we're making a positive transition in America now towards recognizing that sacrifice and away from expecting glory in a way that helps. The media on the battlefield as embedded reporters with my battalion were at every conflict, reporting how things really are. People kind of understand that it's pretty stark and it's pretty mean and it's pretty cold how war actually is. They expect it less to be storybook and gallant and all that, and they kind of know how tough it is, to an extent that they haven't before the media involvement.
Has your attitude towards noncombatants in the United States changed since you were over there?
It's a difficult thing. My view is that every empire – and by describing America as an "empire," I just mean that we're the biggest, baddest thing around, not that we want to be in charge of other people, just that we are the only remaining superpower. That's what I mean when I use the word, "empire." But every empire needs to have people to defend it, and it needs to have stuff worth defending.
Let’s face it – the army isn't for everyone. I don't even know how much it's for me. I know there are other people who are better at it than I am and other people who aren't as good at it as I am, and it's what I'm currently doing.
As long as someone else who's not in the army or not in the navy or whatever service is doing something that makes America more worth defending, be that writing great poetry, helping people file their taxes, putting out fires in a volunteer fire outfit, medics, or someone who cleans hotel rooms, as long as they are performing a service or building something that makes America better, makes America more worth defending, I don't have a problem with their not being in the service.
Are you going to stay in the service?
I don't know if I'm going to stay in or not. I can't get out at all for another year and a half or so. After that I may be stop-lossed, which means that I can't get out until the end of that deployment, which would push it out another six or seven months. Then after that, the real question isn't, as my company commander said at a recent re-enlistment for someone who signed up for another three years, "Whether you decide that the army continues to be right for you or not is not what I want you to focus on. What I want you to focus on is, if you do get out, that you have a plan – that you don't just say, 'Hey, I want to get out of the army 'cause I don't like it,' and then you're coming back a couple months later 'cause you realize you're unemployed."
The army takes care of you. If you have an instance where the army's not taking care of you, it's most likely someone who is supposed to be supporting you isn't doing the right thing or isn't as good at their job as they could be, but the army systems are there to support you. The outside world is pretty harsh.
So it's not so much that you stay in the army or don't stay in the army, but it's that if you get out, you have a plan. Now I have to ask myself what my plan is; how I'm going to be able to reach those goals and win. Do I need to get out or stay in the army to make that plan happen? That's the decision that I still have to make. But the focus is going to be on the future, not membership in the army.
How do you feel about having people come into the army from other countries with the hope of getting American citizenship?
Part of the American dream to me has always been that no matter who you are or where you're from or what you were born with, under the law in America, all men are created equal. If you come to America and you work hard you can make a success of yourself. You don't need to inherit it, you don't need to win it in a lottery, you can be successful as an American no matter who you are if you work hard.
Throughout history, people who have immigrated to America have continued to remind us of that. Back when we had the riots in L. A. in the 90s, it was often the stores owned by Hispanic or Asian immigrants who were the least looted 'cause they risked the most to defend what they had built for themselves.
Here in the armed services now you have a lot of people earning their citizenship posthumously, and President Bush has made an expedited process for people who served in the war to become citizens a lot faster than they otherwise would have.
We as Americans need to recognize that America is not just for people who grew up here, people who lived here, people whose families have been here for a long time. That America, and the American ideals and the American way of doing business, need to be available to everyone who wants a shot at them.
I personally am grateful for all the people in my company who weren't citizens when they fought and who have been able to get their citizenship since and are still trying to get their citizenship, for being part of the service and for part of what reminds us of what we need to lay on the line to defend everything that we enjoy everyday.
A lot of people we've talked to have said they're not against war, necessarily, but they were against entering this particular war because we weren't really going after Osama bin Laden, but it was about overthrowing a government – it wasn't really related to terrorism. How do you feel about that?
First of all, we are going after Bin Laden. There are forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan right now, both American and Coalition forces, who are going after Bin Laden. Second of all, Bin Laden has an active effect by attacking America, and what I've said before is that American values and American possibility need to not just exist for Americans.
People who want to come to America can experience those freedoms, and I think people in the world in general should be able to experience some of those freedoms. Saddam Hussein, every single day, was having a severe and adverse effect on 25 million people. He wasn't murdering all of them but he was having an effect on each and every one of their lives, in addition to threatening America, in addition to threatening the Kurds.
When I went to Baghdad, one of the things that was most interesting to me was that, in the University of Baghdad, whenever they had an Iraqi flag, they had a Palestinian flag right next to it. A lot of the literature around that we got translated was talking about how they supported the Palestinians whenever they bombed the people of Israel. It was Saddam Hussein who bought the suicide bomber's families houses.
I'm sure you heard in the news that Israel bulldozed a bunch of houses. Israel had found out which houses were bought by Saddam Hussein for the families of suicide bombers who had blown bombs up in malls and buses and schools in Israel. So, "A" we are going after Osama Bin Laden. "B", Saddam was involved in terrorism, whether with Al Qaeda or Palestinian terrorists, to try to hurt people's lives. And "C", even terrorism aside, he as a dictator was having a severe negative effect on the lives of 25 million people every day for 30 years.
What about a little place called North Korea?
We have an entire division in South Korea and Iraq doesn't have nukes.
Can the United States be the world's policeman?
You've seen an increase in the United States acting as the world's policeman, but should we be the world's policeman? We are the one superpower. If there is a country that is going to be able to lead coalitions to set things right across the world, we are going to be the one, the nation to lead that. Should we?
The question is how badly do the people in other countries need the things that we have? What is our ability to get those freedoms and those services for those people, and what will the cost be? We have to make that assessment on a case-by-case basis.
In Korea, when North Korea invaded South Korea, we went to secure for the South Koreans those freedoms they wanted. When North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, we did the best we could and we took a lot of hits and we lost a lot of good soldiers trying to give them the freedoms that we have.
When we saw how the people of Iraq were being treated and who they were being treated so by, and all the UN resolutions that were being ignored, we went to rectify that. We're not done. You know, there are going to be other places in the world where we can have a positive effect and we think it's worth it to have a positive effect, and the cost is going to remain great and I don't know the answer to whether we can keep doing that in each situation or which situations we can and which situations we can't.
To sum up, how do you feel about having been in Iraq? Was it worth it?
I think it was absolutely worth it for me to go to Iraq, as totally miserable as it was 95% of the time. The mission needed to happen.
What I've always said about being in the army is that I think that I do my job better than the next guy can do my job. Maybe that's not true – maybe that's just me being prideful or arrogant or whatever, but I believe it. I believe that if you picked a guy off the street and said, "Hey, you have to do Paul's job," it wouldn't be as good for the guys under my command. So that's why I'm there.
Do I know if we would have had any casualties if we had a different platoon leader? No, I don't know that. We might have been just as successful but I know that we were successful and I know I was a part of it, and I know I wouldn't take that back.