In 2010 the situation on the ground in Iraq was getting increasingly…convoluted. Even veteran Special Forces NCO’s were saying that it was the most difficult operational environment that they had ever seen. The difficulty was two fold, by this stage in the war the United States military had a heavy hand in Iraq while simultaneously the Iraqi government itself was attempting to exert some semblance of authority. What this meant for soldiers who did the day-to-day grunt work was that they had to navigate an increasing level of bureaucracy coming from both the US and the Iraqi government. Seriously, you needed a memo signed by a Colonel to train your own soldiers, it was getting ridiculous.

This was the situation that led to the LRSC unit stationed on our FOB to approach our ODA and ask for some assistance. I believe this unit was C/co 2/152nd Long Range Surveillance Company out of Ft. Knox but my memory is already a little faulty. Maybe a soldier from this unit can correct me if I’m wrong. At this time in Iraq, it was required that Iraqi soldiers “action” objectives. In other words, US soldiers were no longer permitted to kick in doors and shoot terrorists unless they were already coming under fire. For this reason, they asked my ODA for some support during their upcoming Area Reconnaissance mission.

I was happy to volunteer myself as I had established some good rapport with our ISWAT unit and felt that we weren’t seeing enough action on our own missions. It was decided that myself, one other SF soldier from our team, and five ISWAT members would accompany LRSC on their 5-day mission out in the desert.

LRSC on patrol with SF and Iraqi attachments
LRSC on patrol with SF and Iraqi attachments

Hitting the road in about a dozen armored Humvees, this was a little different from how most of us traditionally think of LRS units but as I’ve said before, everyone has had to adapt as the GWOT has changed forms, myself included. Area Recon with our CF brothers isn’t really a Special Forces mission but as it turned out this mission was well worth our time.

Hitting the road in about a dozen armored Humvees
Hitting the road in about a dozen armored Humvees

It was absolutely freezing during the nights, that’s one thing that remains the same as always. Travel heavy (up-armored) and still freeze at night! I had also forgotten how wild young Infantry dudes were but really enjoyed working with them. One aspect I missed as I made the transition from a Ranger Team Leader to a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant was working with and leading Privates in a Fire Team. It was the best job I ever had, before or since. These kids were also lucky to have a strong Platoon Sergeant to hold them back a little.

While the Platoon Leader was off conducting leadership engagements in the small villages that we traveled to, I took the opportunity to walk around for myself and meet the locals. It turned out to be a great opportunity for me to introduce my Iraqi SWAT team members to the villagers. You see, these villages are spread out like an archipelago through the desert, known locally as the jeezera which actually means island, and serve as ancient smuggling routes for those crossing the Syrian border.

No need to fear Americans and ISWAT

Many of these villagers knew nothing of the Iraqi military and what they did know probably wasn’t good. Getting some actual face time with ISWAT guys who could help them repel terrorists and criminals was definitely a good thing.

Italian military helps keep up continuous engagement with Iraqi Special Forces

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The big find on this mission started with a young PFC identifying a massive cache while we were making a recce of one of the many wadis that crisscrossed the desert. I was probably a little reckless when I jumped into the pit with a LRSC Sergeant and started digging up the weapons. My ISWAT guys stood a safe distance back making little explosive motions with their hands to try to warn me! We ended up digging out dozens of AK-47s, PKMs, three mortar tubes, Egyptian grenades, a couple SVD sniper rifles, and detonation chord smuggled from India. I wished that I had brought more demo…all I had was my “dropkicked” Claymore mine which wasn’t adequate for the job. We ended up calling in EOD to demo the entire cache.

So the moral of the story here is that Special Forces and Conventional Forces can work together if both units want to work together. Simply put, to much is at stake not to collaborate whenever and wherever possible. In my experience, weak leadership ostracizes every one around them while strong leaders bring everyone into the fold and make them part of the team.

Wherever our LRS guys are at today, I hope they are kicking some ass!

 

This article previously published on SOFREP 02.08.2012