Web Exclusives: PawPlus

November 7, 2007:

Stories from the war zone
Four alumni and a grad student describe their time on the front line of combat

By E.B. Boyd ’89

Jason Kivett ’03

It was almost midnight. Day Four of Operation River Gate. Four days since Lt. Jason Kivett ’03 and his platoon of Marines had first met the Iraqi soldiers to whom they were now giving on-the-job training. U.S. forces were working their way up the Euphrates. They had cleared insurgents from Fallujah the previous year and from Ramadi that spring. Now they were in the Haditha region, doing the same.

Kivett’s Marines and the Iraqis were sitting in a half-demolished house, their home for the night. They were killing time before changing shifts on the watch. And so they were doing what soldiers do: They were telling war stories. It was October 2005. By now, some of the Marines, including Kivett, were on their second deployment. Some had served in the initial invasion. So had some of the Iraqis – but on the other side. The two groups started comparing notes about where they’d been. The Iraqis’ lieutenant mentioned a certain battle. Kivett’s chief scout cocked an eyebrow. He’d been there, too. They compared more notes, and then they realized they’d been in the same firefight. At the same time. Firing at each other. Each had been injured in the battle, and each had lost friends.

Kivett was responsible for getting the two units to work together. They still had weeks to go on this operation. He wondered how they would react to this new wrinkle. It didn’t take long to find out. They laughed. And then they started dissecting the battle. Like two old football players comparing notes on a Super Bowl game in which they’d played on opposing teams, the American and the Iraqi asked each other about the different movements during that battle and plumbed the assumptions each carried into the fight.

It’s no secret that soldiers who served in the army under Saddam Hussein are now serving in the new Iraqi army. But for Kivett, it was an eye-opening experience. An economics major, he hadn’t studied much history or politics. The experience taught him the power of “the desire to survive”: “One moment they’re fighting against the occupying force and then somehow, emotionally or psychologically, they’re able to work with us.” He also was surprised at his scout’s reaction. “One moment, you hate your enemy while you’re fighting them and, less than a year later, they’re talking to each other. And there weren’t any real qualms about it. There wasn’t any bad blood there,” Kivett says. “It’s like one of those things you read in a Hemingway novel.”

Kivett decided to join the Marines after a family friend spoke fondly of the loyalties and friendships he developed during his own service. Then there was the Princeton motto – “In the nation’s service, and in the service of all nations.” Plus, Kivett was a lifelong athlete, a hockey player, and an Outdoor Action leader. But in college, he was on an economics track that led straight to investment banks and management consulting firms. If nothing else, a stint in the Marines would save him from being chained to a desk immediately after graduation.

Kivett spent his first tour in Fallujah, from October 2004 to March 2005. He landed as the U.S. military was preparing to retake control of the city from insurgents who had attacked four American security contractors the previous spring and hung their burned and mutilated corpses from a city bridge. Kivett was a targeting officer, helping his regiment decide where to lob bombs and where to drop propaganda.

Soon after returning to the States, Kivett started preparing to head out again, this time as the leader of an armored reconnaissance unit. But he wasn’t satisfied with the official Marine curriculum on Iraq, which, for example, included only a single-page write-up of the country’s tumultuous history. With no formal teaching experience under his belt, Kivett drew on his Princeton education to teach his Marines about the place they would soon be patrolling. He reviewed the bibliography of a course he had taken at Princeton with professors Michael Cook and Michael Doran *97, “The Historical Roots of the Bin Laden Phenomenon,” and started assigning homework. One Marine had to research the differences between Sunnis and Shi’as, another how the boundaries of modern-day Iraq were drawn. The senior Marines had to read Princeton professor Bernard Lewis’ book, The Crisis of Islam. Kivett would draw the unit together periodically and hold a Princeton-style precept. “I would sit them down and call on the youngest, most junior guy, and say ‘What did you think?’” he says. “I would tell them there was no right answer. It got them talking.” To test their knowledge, Kivett sometimes refused to let the unit leave on weekend liberty until the Marines could point out three errors in a recent newspaper article about Iraq.

As part of Operation River Gate, Kivett’s team was assigned to patrol the town of Barwanah, a sleepy hamlet of 400 homes scattered among fig trees and fields. After a few initial raids to clear out remaining militants, the platoon mainly acted as a police force, patrolling the area, getting to know the local leaders, and occasionally searching for caches of weapons insurgents had left behind.

Because the objective was to build a presence in the town and discourage militants from returning, Kivett’s platoon was required to stay in Barwanah around the clock. With no outpost of their own, they initially slept in abandoned buildings. But because they never returned to the same place twice – for security reasons – the platoon soon ran out of new places to crash. So they started knocking on villagers’ doors and asking for shelter for the night. They would arrive after dark and promised to leave before first light, to minimize the chance of being spotted. Kivett nevertheless initially worried that this billeting would put the host families at risk for revenge attacks. But news among the villagers traveled quickly, and the Iraqis soon realized the Americans were simply choosing houses at random, and not those of collaborators.

Though the families were careful not to show any friendliness out in the open, Middle Eastern hospitality at times would kick in behind closed doors. Sometimes the Marines were served tea. If they got really lucky, the family would offer them a dinner of lamb stew and flatbread. And all this, even though Marine standard policies required Kivett’s team to initially treat the family no better than they would the family of a home they were raiding. The Marines first would ask the family to gather in a single room while they searched the house, looking for weapons or other signs of potential hostility. Then they conducted body searches of the family members themselves, first patting the men down and then requiring the women to pat each other down – fully clothed – to look for telltale bulges indicating a concealed weapon. The experience taught Kivett a hard lesson about cold-eye pragmatism. “It’s a tactical problem,” he says. “You don’t feel guilty about it, but you wouldn’t want somebody to do it to you.”

Kivett’s active-duty commitment to the Marines ended this spring. This fall, he enrolled in MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He’s eager to dive into his civilian career and hopes business school will help him catch up to peers who already have chalked up time in the private or nonprofit sector. Kivett will remain in the reserves until 2011, however, and given the military’s staffing shortages, it’s not unlikely the Marines will call him back – a prospect he does not relish. Based on his experiences trying to quell the insurgency, Kivett doesn’t believe there’s much chance that stability will come to Iraq any time soon. “If we continue on the path the administration is on right now, my generation better be willing for their kids to fight in this war,” he says.

Raj Shah ’00

Raj Shah was 15,000 feet above Baghdad when he got the call. A mortar had just been fired: Could Shah locate the shooters and follow them? Shah typed the coordinates into his F-16’s navigation system and headed for the specified location. Through his targeting pod, he saw a truck racing away. He followed it, watching the vehicle drive through farm roads and small villages, then turn off into a grove of palm trees. With the trees blocking his view, Shah switched to his thermal imaging system. He followed the truck’s heat signature until it stopped in a grassy field. Shah descended to 3,000 feet to get a better view. He saw the occupants get out, unload a 10-foot-long mortar tube, and hide it under branches and grass. Then they got back in the truck and drove off.

Shah radioed back to command and was instructed to continue following the truck. Ground troops were dispatched to locate the mortar tube. But by the time they got there, it had been moved. The experience taught Shah about the limits of technology. “Our high-tech capabilities to detect activity and deliver precision weapons are astounding,” Shah wrote in a journal he shared with family and friends. “But they can sometimes have limited effect against a dedicated and decidedly low-tech enemy.”

Shah, whose doctor father immigrated to the United States before he was born, developed a desire to serve at a young age. “My family came from a very poor background in India, and you come here and see that, for all its flaws, [this country is] as close to a meritocracy as you can get anywhere in the world. That’s something I felt was important to defend and protect.” Growing up next to an Air Force base in Georgia turned his interest to the military. In college, Shah earned his wings at the Princeton Airport. His senior year, he joined the New Jersey Air National Guard. He was in the reserves when he was called up to serve in Iraq. For two months last year, Shah flew missions supporting ground-combat operations, taking photographs for military intelligence, and hunting for roadside bombs.

At Princeton, Shah majored in the Woodrow Wilson School and wrote his thesis on air warfare. In part, he explored a question that arose in the wake of the first Gulf War: Can a country win a war through air power alone? His thesis argued that it couldn’t, and his experience in Iraq appeared to confirm that. “It validated that air power alone is not a panacea, and you need close coordination with troops on the ground,” Shah says. He also learned first-hand how dependent the types of grand strategies he wrote about are on the ability to execute them on the ground. “While strategy is great and you have to have it, you can’t just create a strategy without also paying heed to the required tactics below it,” Shah says. “Sometimes you just don’t have those capabilities. It’s just not that easy to get something done as you’d like.“

Shah’s family often talked about current events and politics when he was growing up. He remembers dinner-table discussions about elections and about the first Gulf War. His father used road trips as an opportunity to teach his children about American history. And some of Shah’s fondest memories of Princeton are of “being in my dorm room at 4 in the morning with a beer, pontificating with my roommates about the world.”

Iraq, though, put a human face on what until then had only been theoretical. On his days off, Shah volunteered at the hospital on Balad Air Force Base, where he was stationed. He carried stretchers from arriving helicopters into the operating room and put injured soldiers on planes headed to hospitals in Germany. He often visited recovering troops on the wards, shooting the breeze with them and sharing the contents of care packages. He was impressed by the men he met. “The average Marine had two questions he asked the doctor after he first came in. He may have had a serious injury from an IED, but his questions were, one: ‘Doctor, I’m OK. Make sure my buddy down the hall is OK because he’s doing worse.’ And two: ‘When can I return to my unit?’”

“It was very humbling to see what motivated the average guy on the line and how much he believed in doing his task to the best of his ability, regardless of the political discussions and debates happening back home,” Shah says. “He was focused on accomplishing and serving because his country asked him to.”

When Shah returned to the States, he returned to his job at McKinsey & Co. He had planned to head to business school in the fall, but he decided to put those plans on hold in order to work at the Pentagon for a year. He wanted to fill a gap in his education. His family had imbued him with respect for the U.S. government, and college had taught him the theory of policy-making. But after seeing the effects of policy on the ground, Shah wanted to learn how it was made in practice. “You see the impact of decisions made in Washington and the direct impact they have on people’s lives,” Shah says. “Do we send 20,000 more troops? In the news media, maybe that’s just a number. But when you’re there, you realize that means there’s this many more people getting shot. … You’re better able to understand the gravity of the decision. … If the Pentagon is telling us to do all this stuff, [I wanted to understand:] how are they coming up with this and who’s developing these plans and what’s the thought analysis that goes behind them?”

Though Shah worked on technology issues rather than Iraq policy, what he saw both sobered him and renewed his faith. He learned that the federal government is a slow-moving oil tanker: really hard to get to change direction, but able to move forward with immense impact once it does. “Guys there really do care, and they’re working hard,” Shah says. “It’s just that managing an organization of that size brings its own challenges.”

Shah enrolled in the Wharton School’s MBA program this fall. He plans to get private-sector experience, perhaps in the aerospace industry, before returning to public service in about a decade. “[Working in the Pentagon] was a test for me: Can I see myself doing government later in life?” Shah says. “And the answer is clearly yes.”

Jeanne Hull *07

The helicopter Jeanne Hull MPA *07 was in was going down. It was day two of the invasion of Iraq. A vicious sandstorm had kicked up. The pilots of the two helicopters in Hull’s convoy could barely see. They had to take the birds down.

Hull’s helicopter bounced violently against the sand before coming to a stop. No one was hurt. But the real danger was just beginning. The helicopters were carrying members of the 101st Airborne’s division staff – the headquarters guys. Guys who only carried pistols. Only Hull, who as a junior officer wasn’t issued a pistol, and the two Special Forces soldiers accompanying them had rifles. It was early in the invasion. What if Iraqi forces found them?

Hull and her colleagues spent a tense six hours hunkered down on the ground before the storm abated and the helicopters could take off again. The enemy never showed, and the team reached their destination safely. But the experience was emblematic of the situation that many military women have faced in the ongoing conflicts. Traditionally, women were kept out of roles that the military considered “frontline.” But given the unconventional nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, any job is potentially a frontline job, and women are often as vulnerable as their male colleagues.

For Hull, an active-duty Army captain, this turn of events has had fortuitous consequences. Combined with the fact that the military is short-staffed after six years of war on two fronts, the Army is starting to let women take positions previously barred to them. This winter, Hull, who completed the Woodrow Wilson School’s Master of Public Affairs program in the spring, will head over to Iraq for a third deployment, this time joining a traditionally all-male unit to help train the Iraqi Army. Hull, an intelligence officer, will be one of the first two women to formally hold a position on a Military Transition Team. “There are so many more things that women can do in the military than they could in 2000,” when she graduated from West Point, Hull says. “Gender matters less, and competence matters more.”

Hull grew up in a military family and studied International and Strategic History at West Point, where she graduated fifth in a class of 948. She hadn’t expected to serve in a full-scale war. At most, she thought she’d pull peacekeeping duty in a place like Bosnia or Kosovo. While the military’s leadership training proved useful on the ground, Hull says that the traditional military curriculum, which focused on waging conventional wars rather than fighting insurgencies or rebuilding nations, left forces scrambling to develop effective strategies in post-invasion Iraq.

In her first deployment, which started with the invasion, Hull ended up in the northern city of Mosul. With hostilities over, the 101st, under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus *87, began trying to bring stability to the area and put the city back on its feet. To succeed, they had to work with local leaders. But initially, they found it difficult to form connections, particularly in rural areas. It was the first time the Iraqis had seen American forces up close, and rumors swirled that the soldiers had exo-skeletons (what else could those panels that they wore on their torsos be?) and that their glasses were designed to see through women’s clothes (the Iraqis didn’t wear sunglasses, so why else would the Americans?). A savvy U.S. commander quickly improvised, Hull says, organizing a feast for local leaders and inviting them to try on the soldiers’ body armor, sunglasses, and night-vision goggles. This kind of improvisation was typical of how U.S. forces often had to make it up as they went along as they tried to help get the country back on its feet. “We hadn’t trained to work with the Iraqis on anything,” Hull says.

U.S. forces were also stymied, Hull says, by a natural assumption that they would know better than Iraqis how to manage the post-war phase. “There’s a certain amount of cultural arrogance from our side when we go and deal with other countries,” she says, an arrogance bolstered by the trumpeting within the U.S. military that it is the best in the world. While that might be true on the battlefield, Hull says, her team learned the limits of that mind-set on the nation-building front one day when an Iraqi minister announced de facto that he’d invited former members of the army under Saddam Hussein to form an elite police force. U.S. leaders were taken by surprise. They had confidence in their own methods.

But the new unit ended up performing so well that they eventually were used to fight some of the toughest insurgencies in Fallujah, Mosul, and Samarra, Hull says. Because the unit had been set up by Iraqis, the soldiers avoided being stigmatized as American stooges. And because the minister had called it a “special” force, it enjoyed a certain prestige. The Americans learned that the minister’s approach had better results than theirs. “You were more likely to get high-caliber people with the right kind of experience to join, and it was considered an honorable profession so you had less propensity for defection,” Hull says.

“One of the things we really had to learn, and Gen. Petraeus certainly was one of the first people to get on board with this idea, was how to do things the Iraqi way,” Hull says. “That sometimes American methods and American ways of doing things would not function in a society like theirs and that the Iraqis really had some very good ideas and some good initiatives. Sometimes the best solution was to take those initiatives and merge them with our resources.”

The Army has started incorporating more of these lessons into its training, and Hull hopes it will prove useful on her next assignment. Irrespective, she’s glad the military is relaxing its rules about where women can serve. Hull, who also is pursuing a Ph.D. at the Wilson School, doesn’t believe that servicewomen will lose the ground they’ve gained. “Warfare has changed,” she says. “The nature of warfare that our military is going to be involved in is more likely to be civil war and insurgencies. … I don’t see whole lot more of frontline wars being something that our military fights. I don’t really see a situation where you can just exclude women from participation.”

Pete Hegseth ’03

In early July 2005, Pete Hegseth ’03 was sitting at his desk at Bear Stearns, the New York investment bank. He took a sip of coffee and picked up The Wall Street Journal. A short blurb about a suicide bombing in Iraq caught his attention. Eighteen children had been killed, along with one American soldier. Hegseth, a lieutenant in the New York National Guard, had just completed a year in Guantånamo Bay, doing security patrols. After the boredom of that assignment, he thought he'd never want to put on his uniform again. After reading the story about the bombing, however, he put down his newspaper and shot off an e-mail to an Army captain he knew, who was headed to Iraq. “Do you have any open platoon-leader positions?” Hegseth asked.

“That story resonated with me, more than the academic stuff I had read,” Hegseth says. “To me, that was the face of evil: someone who’s willing to go among 18 children… and kill them for their cause. That sent me a signal that I need to do my part to not let that ideology win in Iraq.” Two months later, he was on a plane to the Middle East.

Hegseth served in ROTC at Princeton. He had grown up in a Baptist family in a small Minnesota town, and it had been impressed on him that Americans were lucky to be living in this country and that its freedoms and blessings had been paid for by those willing to fight in order to safeguard them. The grandson of men who fought in World War II, Hegseth always expected that when his time came, he would serve as well.

Hegseth shipped out to Iraq in September 2005. Initially, he pulled standard infantry duties – guarding a base in Baghdad, conducting raids to capture insurgents. In January, his unit was sent to Samarra, a predominantly Sunni city north of Baghdad most known for the bombing that destroyed its golden-domed Shiite mosque that February. A new job came up for someone in his unit: civil-military officer. Whoever took it would be working with local leaders on reconciliation and reconstruction projects. It wasn’t the kind of thing the average infantry officer wanted: Combat was the way to advancement in the infantry, not this kind of “office” job. But Hegseth, a politics major at Princeton, was intrigued. He raised his hand.

A young man Hegseth met through that work gave him hope that success was possible in Iraq. “Little Omar” was a 19-year-old bodyguard for a local leader. The young man stared bullets into Hegseth the first time they met. Hegseth would later learn that the teenager had become an insurgent in the years after the invasion. Imams, he told Hegseth, had preached that the Americans were there to occupy the country, steal their money, and rape their women. Little Omar saw it as his duty to resist. But now a distant cousin was serving on the city council, so it was Little Omar’s duty as a member of his clan to protect his relative, irrespective of his personal beliefs.

Hegseth remembers Little Omar watching the Americans intently. One day, Hegseth sensed a shift in the young man. Through an interpreter, Little Omar told Hegseth he was having a hard time believing that anyone would travel halfway around the world just to help. But he must have been convinced. The Iraqi teenager started tipping off the Americans about where to find insurgents and their weapons. Eventually, he offered to infiltrate a local al-Qaida cell. “That’s how we dismantled a lot of the insurgency,” Hegseth says. Little Omar helped the Americans even though he knew it put him at great risk. Indeed, one day, the teenager did not show up for work. He had been driven out to a field and shot in the head, presumably by militants. Despite his death, Little Omar’s about-face gave Hegseth hope. “He’s the reason why I think we can reconcile,” Hegseth says.

Getting rid of militants was half of the problem. Getting Iraqi leaders to step up was the other. Hegseth said that, over time, he saw the same shift in local leaders that he saw in Little Omar. “I don’t know what to think about you guys,” Hegseth recalls the tribal leader who was the city’s liaison with the Americans telling him when they first met. “I don’t love you. I don’t hate you. But I’ve been told, ‘Don’t work with the Americans because they don’t deliver on their promises. They’re a lot of words and not a lot of action.’ ” Over time, Hegseth said, the Americans gradually gained the man’s trust, first by providing him and his bodyguards with armor, weapons, and other forms of security (by now, Iraqis knew that anyone who stepped up to lead would immediately become targeted by insurgents), then by supporting him and other leaders in their plans for rebuilding the city. A comparative peace returned to Samarra, and the city began to get back on its feet.

The background Hegseth gained in politics courses at Princeton proved useful in understanding the principles underlying how governments are put together and run. But he learned something on the ground he hadn’t been taught in class. “I learned a lot of theory at Princeton,” Hegseth says, “but none of it matters if you cannot provide security. Guns and violence have the potential to override any theory, not matter how sound.”

In Baghdad and then Samarra, Hegseth saw firsthand the two strategies the U.S. military has used to try to bring that security to Iraq: the conventional military strategy, Hegseth says, of “trying to kill and capture our way out of this war,” and the new strategy, the one detailed by Gen. David Petraeus *87 in his report to Congress in September, of trying to rebuild the country through supporting local leaders and building trust with civilians. Hegseth’s experiences led him to believe that the second strategy was the key to success. When he returned to the States in the summer of last year, Hegseth drafted a 10-page memo on what had worked in Samarra and tried to circulate it in the Pentagon and among the Iraq Study Group. Junior military officers aren’t usually asked their opinions on questions of strategy, however. They are expected to function at the tactical level – to receive orders and carry them out. Hegseth’s memo met, as he put it, with “limited success.”

Earlier this year, Petraeus was tapped to head military forces in Iraq. The general recently had rewritten the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, and it reflected the principles Hegseth had seen work in Samarra. Hegseth jumped back into the fray. This time, he joined forces with a public advocacy group called Veterans for Freedom. Hegseth became executive director of the organization earlier this year and went on a mission to create support among the American public and the congressional leadership for sticking it out in Iraq and giving Petraeus’ strategy time to work. Through the spring, summer, and early fall, Hegseth led an assault on public opinion, appearing repeatedly on CNN, FOX, CSPAN, and network television, charging up Capitol Hill to lobby senators and House members, and spreading out through individual states to influence the constituents of key congressional representatives. “If veterans who have been there and seen it don’t talk about it, then someone else will,” Hegseth says. “And most of the time, it’s someone who’s kicking and screaming about how we need to leave Iraq immediately.”

Hegseth’s involvement in Veterans for Freedom represents a broadening in his thinking about how best to serve his country. He now wears a suit rather than a uniform, and speaks into a microphone rather than wielding a gun. Instead of being out on the front line in Iraq, Hegseth believes he can best fight for Iraq by focusing on public opinion at home – the “exposed domestic flank,” as he calls it, that he believes is the key to winning or losing in Iraq. “[My experience in Iraq] made me think a lot about the big picture and the need to be involved in the big picture,” Hegseth says, “about the decisions that are made in this country, and how we go about them.”

Mark Crow GS

It was the wee hours of Oct. 7, 2004, Iraq time. Mark Crow was dead tired. Five hours earlier, he’d received word that his wife, back in the States, had gone into labor. She was about to give birth to their second child. Crow borrowed one of his brigade’s satellite phones and started calling home every hour or so. By now, it was 3 o’clock in the morning. Still no baby. Crow set down the phone, programmed his alarm to wake him up in 30 minutes, and lay down on his bed. He’d give himself a little shut-eye, and then try again.

It was the second tour in Iraq for Crow, a 1998 graduate of the University of Michigan who is currently pursuing a master’s in public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. Crow’s first tour had come during the invasion itself, when he served as a battalion air operations officer, coordinating the helicopters that moved the 101st Airborne across the battlefield. Crow left Iraq in July 2003 but was sent back again barely a year later, in August 2004. This time he went to Ramadi, one of the cities in the majority Sunni Anbar province where a bloody rebellion had erupted in the spring.

The alarm went off. Crow went outside and called his wife’s cell phone again. And again. At 4:30 a.m., he reached the delivery room. Someone held up the phone. Crow heard his wife pushing. And then a scream, and a baby’s wail. His son had entered the world. His wife told him the baby was beautiful. Crow told her he loved her and missed her. They hung up. And Crow was back in Iraq. He stood in the dark, outside the former Iraqi Army artillery brigade headquarters where he slept. There was no one around to tell. His fellow soldiers knew the baby was coming. They were happy for him, and supportive. But fighting a counterinsurgency in a place like Ramadi is exhausting. They needed their sleep. Crow looked up at the stars. And then he went to bed. In a couple of hours, he’d have to be back at work.

Crow’s is one of many sacrifices American families have made in the six years that soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was glad it wasn’t his first child. At least he had a sense of what was happening in the delivery room. Still, there was a tremendous disconnect, he said, between the intense emotions he was feeling and the banality of his surroundings. In Ramadi, it was just another day. But he felt lucky he was able to get a satellite phone and connect into the delivery room. “People in the first Gulf War would not have had that opportunity,” he says.

Access to satellite phones for family births is one of the things you don’t think about when you’re getting ready to go to war, Crow says. In Ramadi, Crow served first as a brigade planning officer, translating operational objectives into tactical plans, and then as a company commander in charge of 130 soldiers. The positions gave him a vantage point on the myriad tasks the brigade had to perform that had nothing to do with, as he put it, “getting the bad guys.” Tasks like guarding the bases, transferring detainees, burning human waste, and transporting laundry and food to smaller bases that weren’t self-sufficient. “There are really all these other demands on troops’ time that you never really understood prior to getting there,” Crow says. “It becomes very hard to do the missions that you think you should be doing because you have so many other requirements you need to do. … When you see Platoon or Saving Private Ryan, that’s not the stuff that’s in the movies. It’s not sexy and glamorous, but you spend a lot of time worrying about it.”

Interacting with Iraqis also gave Crow unexpected insights into what the country really was like. When he was stationed in Mosul on his first tour, the city was calm enough directly after the invasion that soldiers were permitted to attend Sunday services at a local Iraqi Catholic church. Crow would chat with other parishioners after Mass, and became friendly with one family in particular. The mother was a civil engineer. One of her four daughters was in medical school, and another daughter was studying architecture. “It shatters all your conceptions,” he says. “If you had asked me would I attend a Catholic church in Iraq before I went, I would have told you no. If you had asked would I run into a big family like that, of almost all professional women, I would have said no. But there they were.”

One of the daughters, a teenager, about 17 years old, was particularly interested that Crow was so far from home when he had a wife and baby daughter back in the States. Iraqi Army units often prefer to serve in their home districts, so they can be close to home in case their families or clans need protection. On the last Sunday before Crow’s unit moved out, the girl handed the captain a gift. It was a rosary. She said it was for his daughter, a present to thank her for letting the Iraqis take her father away for a while, to protect them.END