19, 30, 75, 365

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.

March 25, 2006
2115 hours

I will explain those four numbers in the headline momentarily. First I want to describe how we spend some of our free time here.

One way a number of soldiers spend their downtime is by watching movies on their laptop. Sometimes it is a crowd gathered around one computer trying to hear despite a lousy speaker system. Other times it’s a staff officer taking a break in his office, watching bits and pieces of a movie over a couple of days until he or she finishes the flick.

• Readers write to Capt. Dan

Almost all soldiers enjoy watching war movies, and I am no different. My favorite war movie is "Rocky IV." Yes, you read that correctly. Most people would argue that all the Rocky films are sports movies, not war movies. I disagree.

Most sports fans like to argue that one of the biggest battles of the Cold War occurred in 1980 on an ice rink in Lake Placid, N.Y. That was when the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3, in what some would say was the catalyst for the eventual demise of the Evil Empire. Up until 1985, an event of this magnitude was not seen on the big screens of Hollywood. This all changed when Rocky Balboa defeated Ivan Drago by knockout in 15 rounds.

If a hockey game can be considered a victory in the Cold War, "Rocky IV" counts as a war movie. When you include "Victory," in which Sylvester Stallone helped defeat the Nazis, he is the greatest hero of the 20th century.

Three hundred and sixty-five is the number of days soldiers are deployed to Iraq. Many soldiers have completed their 365 more than once. Seventy-five is the number of Iraqi police recruits our unit, in conjunction with a military police company from Fort Bragg, N.C., took up to the Baghdad Police Academy for their entrance exams. Nineteen is the number of recruits who passed all the testing and were allowed to start training with the next class.

The 21st MP Company is the unit that works with the Iraqi police in our sector, training them on the ground Monday through Sunday. Today they worked with our transportation unit and the Iraqi police to get the recruits up to the academy to be trained. For the soldiers on this mission, the day started at about 0100 hours and did not end until about 2000 hours, after having worked “normal hours” the day before.

We dropped off the recruits at the academy early in the day, then waited until the testing was complete before heading back to base. Once again, like so many other days, we all had some downtime to kill. No matter what our jobs are, all soldiers think about and often discuss what we would be doing if we were not in Iraq — watching TV, drinking a beer, taking college classes, kissing our spouse, playing with our children, going to a ball game, arguing the merits of "Rocky IV" being a war movie.

But days like that don’t belong to soldiers over here. Days of spending time with our wife or playing with our dog are owned by someone else. For 365 days, soldiers are working hard, for long hours. Today, soldiers of the 21st MP Company and the transportation company within our brigade worked almost 12 hours straight, before they even had lunch.

In the days prior to this mission, some soldiers arranged for the entrance exam testing and others fixed the trucks to transport the recruits. Some soldiers guarded the base where the mechanics fixed the trucks, and other soldiers were out on patrol or at a checkpoint searching for the enemy, while still others worked in a field hospital caring for a soldier who caught some shrapnel in his leg from an IED.

A lot of time and effort went into the mission to take the Iraqi police recruits up for testing. Of the 75 that came up with us only 19 passed, but all the effort was worth it. There will be 19 more policemen on the streets of Iraq sometime soon.

You will never see these soldiers in a headline. The staffs coordinating testing, the mechanics working on trucks and soldiers driving 75 Iraqis to take a written exam will never be breaking news, but they are important in this war.

Thirty is the number of recruits who lasted five minutes in the exam. Thirty is the number of recruits who could not read or write, or fill out the forms to even start the process. Thirty out of 75, that’s 40 percent. I can understand the argument that some problems in Iraq were the result of us coming here, damaging infrastructure and such. I may disagree, but I can understand it.

I will never, however, accept that 30 of 75 Iraqi police recruits being unable to read or write is the fault of any soldier. Everyone should be required to see the palaces that Saddam and his cronies lived in and THEN talk with the 30 recruits who could not read or write. Forget schools in Iraq; Saddam needed another palace made completely of marble and gold. Never tell me that soldiers helping Iraqis build a school is not a strategy for victory in this country. Thirty — these guys never had a chance.

Seventy-five, 30, 19: those are the numbers of Iraqis that, despite all they had going against them, want to give us our 365 back.

E-mail Dan at soldiersdiary@gmail.com. Click here to read his bio.