By KEVIN LILLY
Pharos-Tribune staff writer
An Indiana National Guard major who recently returned from the war in Iraq spoke of his experience while there for 12 months.
Major Kelly Rosenberger of the Indiana National Guard’s 163rd Field Artillery Battalion based in Evansville spent from October 2005 to October 2006 in the hot landscape of Iraq dodging homemade explosives, training Iraqi police officers and keeping the peace. The Logansport resident spoke at a Rotary Club meeting Monday.
Rosenberger arrived in Baghdad on Nov. 17, 2005. He was stationed on the eastern side of the city in a place formerly known as the Baghdad Military Academy.
For the first three months, he was responsible for training 400 Iraq police officers in Sadr City inside Baghdad. Keeping the peace among the millions living in Sadr City was a responsibility that proved difficult.
“Anything bad that is happening in Baghdad is coming out of Sadr City,” Rosenberger said.
His company was in Baghdad until January when more than 152 U.S. soldiers and 34 interpreters moved three hours south to Najaf to run the largest international police liaison officers operation in the south. The interpreters were among the bravest people he worked with, Rosenberger said.
“I was responsible for all the police in Najaf and Karbala provinces,” Rosenberger said.
He trained there until August 2006 when his company moved again. This time to Diwaniyah, 1 1/2 hours east of Najaf.
Rosenberger said he was proud to say that in 60 more days the Iraqis would be taking over control of their own government offices in Najaf. This is a place where marines were fighting in 2004.
“Progress is being made,” Rosenberger said.
The violence is mainly between the Shiites and the Sunnis, two branches of Islam, Rosenberger said. He said he mostly dealt with the Shiites.
Speaking from experience, Rosenberger said, the militias, para-military operations, “will kill their own in order to create violence.”
“They’re a bunch of thugs,” he said. “They prey on the disenfranchised.”
There is a long list of terrorist organizations operating in Iraq. Iran and Syria’s influences are heavy, Rosenberger said. The U.S. needs both countries to go to the table to try to calm them down.
On a typical day in Iraq, Rosenberger got up at 5 a.m. He went at 7 a.m. to a meeting called Battle Update Brief, which lasted an hour. Then he went to his Tactical Operations Center for an update on what patrols were going out. At 9 a.m., he got into his own convoy of four vehicles, “which is pretty cool being a major. You get have your own personal security attachment.”
A squad was assigned to Rosenberger for anytime he went outside the wire, a fence surrounding the military compound.
He stayed outside the wire until sometime in the afternoon when he returned to camp and went to dinner, the gym and then to bed. He compared his life in Iraq to “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray.
“It was Groundhog Day in Iraq,” he said. “Just like that every day, seven days a week.”
To get a sense of the heat in Iraq, Rosenberger suggested going into the bathroom, closing the door and turning the shower on as hot as it will go for 30 minutes. Then grab a hair dryer turned on the hottest setting and let it blow onto your head a few inches away.
He said his unit had a thermometer that registered 140 degrees Fahrenheit. One day it was “pegged out.”
There was air conditioning, but in full uniform loaded with body armor and gear, it provided little comfort. Rosenberger said the way he got any AC while patrolling was to put his wrist to the vent.
Rosenberger was in Sadr City in December during the elections. He lived in the city for seven days.
“Nothing happened,” he said. “Just some minor rocket fire.”
It was minor compared to the other things his unit had experienced.
Soldiers would talk about what happened while on patrol: “What’d you get hit with? Oh just a homemade explosive.”
An IED is an improvised explosive device. While in Iraq, Rosenberger’s 163rd was hit with nine of them. Those hit suffered only minor injuries.
“Everyone returned to duty,” Rosenberger said.
Many IEDs are propane tanks. When one exploded underneath a military vehicle, it usually did little more than crack the windows and take out the transmission, Rosenberger said. “That’s about it.”
Rosenberger said the insurgents could make IEDs out of anything, such as garage door openers and washing machine timers.
Rosenberger’s company had more than 1,200 missions outside the wire. Its members were hit by IEDs nine times, and there were no fatalities.
“The hand of God is on the 163rd,” Rosenberger said.
Question of equipment
“Everybody talks about we don’t have the best equipment,” Rosenberger said. “That’s a lie. We have the best equipment out there.”
He cited the electronic counter measures as an example.
“It is what we use to jam the IEDs” and is a better defense than a soldier’s weapons.
“Some of the stuff I cannot talk about, but it was awesome,” Rosenberger said. “So don’t let anybody tell you we don’t have the best equipment.”
The major went on to say that American soldiers have the best body armor, the best weapons and had a catalogue to choose from.
“Anything we wanted, we could get it,” Rosenberger said. “It’s almost like a Wal-Mart for war.”
One Rotarian asked Rosenberger what would happen if the United States were to pull out immediately.
“It would be very bad,” Rosenberger answered. “We don’t have control of the militias,” which are death squads that are kidnapping and killing anyone who opposes them.
To leave now “would defeat everything we have done,” Rosenberger said. “I think we are close to success there.”
There are 14 provinces in Iraq, most of which are headed to Iraqi control in the next six to nine months.
“They’re not ready, but they’re getting there,” he said. “It’s just going to take time.”
A lot of politics are involved and a lot of healing is needed from the years of Shiite oppression. Hope lies in the future with a focus on the children. He pointed out it took more than 10 years after World War II to sustain Germany.
“I hope it doesn’t take 10 years in Iraq,” he said, noting that the U.S. military says it is going to start pulling out in 2008.
Infrastructure is the process of being built.
In Najaf, they know the United States is there to help, Rosenberger said. There have been 12 new police stations and a new jail built.
“We’re there to get out,” said Rosenberger, who is starting to see a decrease in the United States’ footprint in Iraq. “It’s just going to take time.”
“Why is it taking so long to train Iraq soldiers?” is a question many people are asking, Rosenberger said.
“They’re training them as fast as we can,” he said.
The Iraqi government was completely dissolved so the Iraqis are starting from scratch.
“It takes awhile to rebuild forces to secure Iraq, but it is getting better,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger says there is a consensus among the soldiers about the way things are going in Iraq.
“I believe in what I am doing,” Rosenberger said.
There is a lot of violence in Baghdad, so that is primarily focus of the media coverage.
“When I’m at home, I don’t watch the news,” he said. “It’s just too close to home.”
If anything involving Iraq comes on TV, he turns the channel, he said.
Kevin Lilly can be reached at (574) 732-5117, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
By KEVIN LILLY