Division Commander's Lessons Learned

Went to an AUSA dinner last night at the Ft. Hood Officers' Club to hear a speech by MG Pete Chiarelli, CG of the 1st Cav Div. He and most of the Div. have just returned from Iraq. Very informative and, surprise, the Mainstream Media (MSM) isn't telling the story. I was not there as a reporter, didn't take notes but I'll make some the points I remember that were interesting, suprising or generally stuff I had not heard before.

It was not a speech per se. He just walked and talked, showed some slides and answered questions. Very impressive guy.

1. While units of the Cav served all over Iraq, he spoke mostly of Baghdad and more specifically Sadr City, the big slum on the eastern side of the Tigeris River. He pointed out that Baghdad is, in geography, is about the size of Austin. Austin has 600,000 to 700,000 people. Baghdad has 6 to 7 million people.

2. The Cav lost 28 main battle tanks. He said one of the big lessons learned is that, contrary to docterine going in, M1-A2s and Bradleys are needed, preferred and devastating in urban combat and he is going to make that point to the JCS next week while they are considering downsizing armor.

3. He showed a graph of attacks in Sadr City by month. Last Aug-Sep they were getting up to 160 attacks per week. During the last three months, the graph had flatlined at below 5 to zero per week.

4. His big point was not that they were "winning battles" to do this but that cleaning the place up, electricity, sewage, water were the key factors. He said yes they fought but after they started delivering services that the Iraqis in Sadr City had never had, the terrorist recruiting of 15 and 16 year olds came up empty.

5. The electrical "grid" is a bad, deadly joke. Said that driving down the street in a Hummv with an antenna would short out a whole block of apt. buildings. People do their own wiring and it was not uncommon for early morning patrols would find one or two people lying dead in the street, having been electrocuted trying to re-wire their own homes.

6. Said that not tending to a dead body in the Muslum culture never happens. On election day, after suicide bombers blew themselves up trying to take out polling places, voters would step up to the body lying there, spit on it, and move up in the line to vote.

7. Pointed out that we all heard from the media about the 100 Iraqis killed as they were lined up to enlist in the police and security service. What the media didn't point out was that the next day there 300 lined up in the same place.

8. Said bin Laden and Zarqawi made a HUGE mistake when bin laden went public with naming Zarqawi the "prince" of al Quaeda in Iraq. Said that what the Iraqis saw and heard was a Saudi telling a Jordainan that his job was to kill Iraqis. HUGE mistake. It was one of the biggest factors in getting Iraqis who were on the "fence" to jump off on the side of the coalition and the new gov't.

9. Said the MSM was making a big, and wrong, deal out of the religious sects. Said Iraqis are incredibly nationalistic. They are Iraqis first and then say they are Muslum but the Shi'a - Sunni thing is just not that big a deal to them.

10. After the election the Mayor of Baghdad told him that the people of the region (Middle East) are joyous and the governments are nervous.

11. Said that he did not lose a single tanker truck carrying oil and gas over the roads of Iraq. Think about that. All the attacks we saw on TV with IEDs hitting trucks but he didn't lose one. Why? Army Aviation. Praised his air units and said they made the decision early on that every convoy would have helicopter air cover. Said aviators in that unit were hitting the 1,000 hour mark (sound familiar?). Said a covoy was supposed to head out but stopped at the gates of a compound on the command of an E6. He asked the SSG what the hold up was. E6 said, "Air , sir." He wondered what was wrong with the air, not realizing what the kid was talking about. Then the AH-64s showed up and the E6 said, "That air sir." And then moved out.

12. Said one of the biggest problems was money and regs. There was a $77 million gap between the supplemental budget and what he needed in cash on the ground to get projects started. Said he spent most of his time trying to get money. Said he didn't do much as a "combat commander" because the the war he was fighting was a war at the squad and platoon level. Said that his NCOs were winning the war and it was a sight to behold.

13. Said that of all the money appropriated for Iraq, not a cent was earmarked for agriculture. Said that Iraq could feed itself completely and still have food for export but no one thought about it. Said the Cav started working with Texas A&M on ag projects and had special hybrid seeds sent to them through Jordan. TAM analyzed soil samples and worked out how and what to plant. Said he had an E7 from Belton, TX (just down the road from Ft.
Hood) who was almost single-handedly rebuilding the ag industry in the Baghdad area.

14. Said he could hire hundreds of Iraqis daily for $7 to $10 a day to work on sewer, electric, water projects, etc. but that the contracting rules from CONUS applied so he had to have $500,000 insurance policies in place in case the workers got hurt. Not kidding. The CONUS peacetime regs slowed everything down, even if they could eventually get waivers for the regs.

There was more, lots more, but the idea is that you haven't heard any of this from anyone, at least I hadn't and I pay more attention than most.

Great stuff. We should be proud. Said the Cav troops said it was ALL worth it on Jan. 30 when they saw how the Iraqis handled election day. Made them very proud of their service and what they had accomplished.

John Bell
Research Analysis & Maintenance, Inc. ( RAM, Inc.)
1525 Perimeter Parkway, Suite 110
Huntsville, AL 35806
Phone: 256-895-8402
Fax: 256-895-8452