In Iraq for 365

About my experiences in Iraq... the frustrations, the missions and this country... and the journey home

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

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.”
Soldier Reflection
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.”

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At 9:56 AM, Blogger Drew said...

If I were to have written something on a latrine wall when I was in the Army , it would have been "Combat arms soldiers are humans too" and everyone in 1-64 AR at Ft. Stewart would know exactly what I meant. After we had fought for and secured the center of Baghdad, the area that those that came after us started calling "the Green Zone", we had to clean up some collateral damage. We had suffered casualties in taking Baghdad, and had been promised for th6 months prior to the invasion that Baghdad was the ticket home. Take Baghdad and other soldiers will handle the peacekeeping, warfighters should not handle peacekeeping untill they have time to decompress. All lies. We ended what would be the conventional war (with front lines, against a nation believed to have enough chemical weapons to wipe all of us in the first wave out, as well as Republican Guard divisions with men numbering in the tens of thousands )in just 2 1/2 weeks instead of the 6 months predicted. I lost a friend in combat, knew several others who were wounded, had to bury decomposing civilians, including women and children. One might say this is what combat arms should expect to go through, and I wouldnt disagree.
Bur afterwards , more than 2 months later we were in Fallujha on a former Republican guard base, in the worst of quarters, with no windows, no shower, no latrine, and nothing but iodized water, while the non combat soldiers were quartered in buildings with air conditioning, running water for showers and latrines, bottled water to drink, a mobile PX, phones, internet, and even a swimming pool. We didnt have access to any of these things, were denied access, not even to call home, because the Army figured we were a bunch of animals and if we got around any of the female soldiers, we would rape them. And on the Forth of July, a big catered banquet was held in honor of the victory we won, and in honor of the fourth. We werent invited bacause we were considered pootential rapists. They served us soda for the fourth but it was hot, bacause the party used up all the ice the Iraqi merchants had to sell.

We didnt get to share in the spoils of victory, and we were alienated. There have also been many Bronze Stars handed out to supply sergeants for things like keeping toilet paper stocked in the latrines in Camp Doha, Kuwait.

I was awarded an ARCOM for serving in combat as a tank crewman during the 2 1/2 week war with front lines. I dont think anyone who has never been up in the enemies face when he is massed in signifigant numbers in a conventional war should get more than the ARCOM that I got, but thanks to the Army, someone who has never seen combat can swagger over to me and show me his big bad bronze star. Now you tell me how I am supposed to feel about that? There is a reason why I feel dehumanized after all of this. Combat arms are good people too and not the bad people some think we are. Some of the misplaced contempt on our part towards you could be attributed to legitimate factors, such as PTSD. Unfortunately, the warrior culture among us does not allow many of us to address PTSD as freely as a non combat arms soldier, so we often dont get the help we need. This too, is an injustice.

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger Drew said...

Well , in my last comment I would have to exclude anyone who gave or risked his life directly under fire for another person or for the mission, including simply staying alive. Those people deserve more than an ARCOM, naturally, but if someone didnt do anything like that ( which includes me) they shouldnt get more than an ARCOM. The Army needs to restore the sanctity of its award system but tightening things up in the future.

 

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