Soldier's Diary: Making Progress in Iraq Makes the Time Go by Faster

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

14 August

We are getting a little bit closer to our redeployment. Some members of our replacement unit have started to arrive to see and learn what is going on in the AO [area of operation] they will take over.

Seeing soldiers from this unit start to arrive makes you reflect on where they will go, and what they will accomplish once we are gone. We will not leave South Baghdad as a completely secure environment; there will still be a lot of work with numerous missions to be done. They will start their fight where we finished ours.

I think the rotation of units is a good way to fight this battle. Having fought this fight for nearly a year now, bringing in a new unit will force a new set of eyes with fresh ideas to solve the problems we face. They will look at how we operated, adopt some of the same techniques, and of course over time, they will completely change direction in regards to some tactics we may have used.

When we finally get home it will be inevitable that we will hear, see, or read in the news the latest happenings in South Baghdad. Some of the news will be good, some of it bad, and at times there will be a moment of armchair quarterbacking from home. It will be momentary, as we know the enemy and the situation we turn over will be completely different than the one our replacements will face after we are gone. It's just the nature of this fight.

One major accomplishment is the turning over of the city of Mahamadiyah to the Iraqi forces there. Nearly 10 months ago, the police force was practically non-existent, and the Iraqi army presence was negligible. Today, we had another ceremony where we gave the security responsibility of Mahamadiyah to the Iraqi army. If I had told you 10 months ago the Iraqi army would be ready to take control of the city, I'd have been locked up in a padded room. This really reflects the hard work of our MiTTs [military transition teams] and battalion that have been working in Mahamadiyah over the past year.

Turning AOs over to the Iraqi army is long, arduous process. We gave to them one AO, a result of nearly a year of our time as well as the time our previous units have put in. Our follow-on unit will pick up where we left off, continue to train them, and eventually have the IA take over more battle space. We are talking years, not weeks or months, for this process to continue. Most of us expect to be back here working with them again.

15 August

Today marks the 365th day for both my XO [executive officer] and I. One year complete, we acknowledged it at our morning meeting, but other than that, little else was said. As busy as the XO has been over the past week, I imagine today will be just another X on the calendar. As long as we have been here, we still have a quite a bit left to do. Property transfers with our replacements, packing containers, inspections and accountability of all our property that is returning with us and of course, our continued steady state operations.

I would love to say all 365 days have flown by. Some have, and others have not. In this aspect, the year has been similar to any other year. What differentiates it is the big events, the marks on the wall that you remember for a long time. It may have been an IED on a convoy, our missing soldiers in Yusifiyah, or a transition ceremony with the Iraqi army. After going through these events, you don't even look at a calendar to see what day you're on.

When nothing of significance is going on, you look at the calendar four or five times a day, waiting for it to end.

I think back to my college years, each semester went by, but the short semesters were defined by a series of large events — weekends in Boston and Montreal, nights at the local pub (specifically, $1 burger, $1 draft night), and time spent with the girlfriend. The long semesters were defined by long intervals of the daily grind with few significant or really memorable times.

My XO, when I asked him about our time here, said it best: It's kind of like swimming across a lake; while you're doing it, you don't look around, you just focus on making forward progress. It's only occasionally that you stop to rest and check out where you are. The busier you keep yourself moving forward, the faster it goes.

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