What is a pogue?
It’s difficult to explain my job to people in the military, more so than civilians. Most civilians think any job in the military is dangerous, but soldiers classify folks who work in the office as pogues. Don’t ask me what it stands for, but if you’re not out getting shot at and you sit behind a desk than you’re classified as a pogue. Sometimes, I sit behind a desk and sometimes, I’m out with the infantry, special forces and or support units. So I guess you could say I’m a part-time pogue. But most of the time, my head is in the mud right along with the infantry. If you’ve ever seen “Full metal jacket” or “We were soldiers,” I am the guy with the camera. I go out, get the story, take the photos, go to the office and write it. I’ve repeated that scenario about 80 times the past 10 months.
However, in this war, it doesn’t really matter what your job is or your rank, anybody can die or be put in a position where they have to kill. In basic training, they give you this mentality, but in Vietnam, Korea and the World Wars, it’s always the combat occupations who are killed and or do the fighting. In this war, I believe, more support soldiers, such as cooks, truck drivers and mechanics (etc.) have been killed than the infantry.
I got to thinking about this when I was taking care of some “business” in the Port-a-potty, which is a haven for army graffiti. This note called an army office worker a pogue. While sitting on this fine plastic toilet lid, I pulled out the pen in my shirt pocket and simply wrote “Pogues are soldiers too.”
Below is a recent story I wrote. Enjoy…
MOSUL, Iraq – With thick rain clouds looming over northern Iraq and random heat lightning crackling in the night sky, a company of infantrymen prepare to walk onto the streets of Mosul, grab suspected terrorists and call it a night.
The leaders of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment spent the previous 12 hours planning for this joint operation that featured the best soldiers of the 101st Iraqi National Guard Battalion. The raid, on a local market suspected to be a terrorist haven, would be Company A’s second major operation in the short month they have been in Iraq, but the Soldiers were prepared for whatever challenges lay ahead.
“Are we up on comms, ammo and NVGs?” said Sgt. Rommel Fafanan, a team leader with 2nd Platoon, Company A, 3-21, as he ran through his pre-combat inspection with his Soldiers. “Alright, load up and let’s go.”
As they climb inside the Stryker, the Soldiers joke and talk about far-off future plans.
“We should definitely go to Seattle when we get back,” one Soldier said.
But when the vehicles leave the gate, the Soldiers’ mood shifts. They are quiet and focused, and the air sentries are scanning for suicide bombers, roadside bombs and ambushes. Company A Soldiers had already endured six roadside bombs, detained 30 suspected terrorists and been involved in several fire fights, including a two-hour skirmish in downtown Mosul.
“We have definitely become combat veterans in a short period,” said Capt. Robert Lackey, commander of Company A. “Our Soldiers are ready for anything when we leave that gate.”
On this chilly November night, the storm clouds are active. Large beads of rain splash across the air sentries’ shoulders. The paths leading to the objective are surrounded by large water puddles. With nearly every step, the Soldiers splash themselves and their buddy. Their uniforms, equipment and boots are soaked. However, it doesn’t matter to these infantrymen. “We’re infantry,” proudly said Spc. Michael Sullivan. “We can handle the rain.”
They can handle terrorists too. When Company A reaches its target area, the Stryker ramps drop and the Soldiers quickly move into position, cordoning off the market square. Company A Soldiers secure a thick woodline that borders the marketplace and block off all entrances, leaving the anti-Iraqi forces no place to run. Spc. Jonathan Mair said their goal is to catch anybody who runs away from ING soldiers, who are searching and conducting identification checks on more than 50 suspects.
“Get down and don’t move,” an Iraqi soldier said to a suspected terrorist identified in the market.
The suspected terrorists obey the orders and none attempt to flee the area. The ING and Company A Soldiers detain 19, including an individual on Multinational Forces’ most wanted list.
“Every time we work with them (ING), they get better and better,” Lackey said. “It’s great conducting these types of operations with Iraqi Security forces and seeing them get motivated to do the job. We have built a great relationship with the 101st and they continue to impress me. And I just can’t say enough for the job my Soldiers have done. We have become subject matter experts of Mosul. Our situational awareness gets better every time we leave the gate.”
After the Soldiers processed the detainees and begin to head back to their headquarters, Forward Operating Base Freedom, they reflect on the job well done, their short time in Iraq and their families.
“That mission went by a lot quicker than the last one,” Fafanan said. “When we take a terrorist off the streets, that’s one less thing I have to worry about for my family. That’s why I’m here – for my family.”
A veteran with the 3rd Infantry Division during the initial ground war in 2003, Sgt. Clayton Allison said, “These guys (3-21 Soldiers) know what they’re doing. We are fighting a different war than when I was originally here, but we all work together to accomplish the mission.”
Mair said, “When we first got to Iraq, the size of Mosul and attitude of the Iraqis are what surprised me the most. It’s such a large city and the people want us here, despite what we saw from the media a couple months ago. The most satisfying thing is when we patrol the streets and kids wave at us. That let’s us know that we’re not hated by the people and what we’re doing is not a waste of time.”