Better the Second Time Around

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Army photo / Staff Sgt. Raul Elliott

Iraqi schoolchildren prepare to re-open the Al Alam Kindergarten School in Tikrit, renovated in 2009 with help from the U.S. Army.

Army Major Jeremy Hall pulled two tours as an Army engineer north of Baghdad – first in 2007 and 2008, and then again in 2010 and 2011. He faced challenges during his initial deployment, but was glad he went back for a second tour.

He spoke about the change he witnessed during his two deployments in this recently-posted May interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth. Highlights:

With the counterinsurgency doctrine, part of it is using the carrot versus the stick. The thought is, if I build you a hospital, school or whatever, that’s going to influence you to not have as much violence and so on and so forth.  I don’t know if that’s the case. It doesn’t always work.

Plus, when you’re trying to put the Iraqi face on it, and people don’t even know that the United States is doing it, it presents lots of challenges. The locals don’t really know. All they know is that they see a Turkish contractor or a local Iraqi contractor doing the project.

It’s hard. If you publicize it too much, then someone can come in and just blow up your hospital, which happened. It wasn’t uncommon. Right as you were about ready to finish a school it would get blown up because you gave it too much press. You have to ask yourself the question, should you have done that project to begin with, knowing the poor security in that particular area?…

I do know that we were able to provide equipment, needs and capacity that they didn’t have. A lot of the factors were people disgruntled, saying, “We need help here. We need this and that.”  We were able to meet a lot of those needs, so I think looking back on it, if we wouldn’t have done some of these things, we may not have been as successful.

The people’s needs wouldn’t have been met as much, maybe there wouldn’t have been as great of an environment for people to reconcile. If people’s basic needs aren’t being met, they’re angry. That affects the security situation, how they view their government, whether or not they want to try to turn over a new leaf and start cooperating with other groups, things like that. I have to believe that some of what we did had an impact on the improving security situation…

Between 2008, when I got back [home] the first time, which was technically the surge, and then 2010 and 2011 and Operation New Dawn, I was in generally the same area. I was based out of Kirkuk…I did see that there were lots of improvements…

I was happy to have gone back to the same general area, just to give me a sense of closure. Like many, there are friends that I have lost, who gave their lives for this effort. For their sake, it’s good to see that there are some positive things that have come out, that I got to physically see. If I would have just been there in 2007 and it was all open-ended in my mind, I probably wouldn’t have felt as satisfied about the mission as I do now.