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Starting a Partnership Through Logistics Key Leader Engagement

Kirkuk, Iraq, is a quiet place. It does not garner the headlines that Baghdad does, but it represents the ethnic fault lines that may determine Iraq’s future. At and around Kirkuk, Kurds, Arabs (both Shia and Sunni), and Turkmen have fought over land for generations. This makes the military situation very interesting. Iraqi Army divisions with Arab and Kurdish commanders are based next to Kurdistan Republic Government brigades. Each is interested in what the others are doing or what it suspects they are doing. Each unit is flavored by the ethnic makeup of the commander and the soldiers. At the senior level, an invitation or declination of an invitation can be seen as favoritism or a snub between ethnic groups.

Friendship Before Business

I have not had many key-leader assignments in my career, so the Key Leader Engagements Course at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, was an invaluable crash course on Arab life, culture, and politics. The scenarios presented at JRTC helped identify key engagement strategies that were useful during the initial key-leader engagements I had with my Iraqi partners. JRTC provided various strategies (such as the art of saying yes without committing) that demonstrated the complex environment faced when dealing with Iraqi partners. The enduring strategy that I used for all engagements was “friendship before business.” This tactic was invaluable during my initial engagements because I had no target folders to provide valuable background information before entering the engagements.

12th Motorized Transportation Regiment

The 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division, arrived in Kirkuk in January 2008. The BCT filled the gap created when a brigade from the 10th Mountain Division had left 6 months earlier. This meant that many of the 2d BCT units, including those of us in the brigade support battalion (BSB), had to start partnerships with Iraqi units from scratch or renew neglected partnerships. In theory, we should have replaced the 10th BSB as they were redeploying. I was officially tasked to partner with the Iraqi Army (IA) 12th Motorized Transportation Regiment (MTR), but I was unofficially partnered with the 12th IA Division G–4 and the Locations Command. Fortunately, all of my partners were located on the same Iraqi base.

My first opportunity to meet all of my partners occurred at the Locations Command’s monthly meeting at K1 (the Iraqi Army base at Kirkuk that was home to the 12th IA Division Headquarters, the Locations Command, and some other divisional units). My designated partner, the 12th MTR, was the main logistics force for the 12th IA Division. The 12th Division itself was new. Formerly a static pipeline guard force, the division was standing up with new leaders, new equipment, new units, and new locations. Also a brand new organization, the 12th MTR was at 50-percent strength, had 25 International 5-ton trucks, and had a captain (instead of a colonel) as its battalion commander.

I met this captain with the military transition team (MiTT) chief, my S–2, and my interpreter in the battalion commander’s office—a room in the battalion headquarters that was empty except for two desks, seven chairs, and one coffee table. After entering the smoke-filled room, we were seated in the chairs in front of the commander’s desk. Having just been briefed by the MiTT chief, I was aware that this was not going to be easy. We talked with the captain and tried to glean ways to partner and build his capabilities. As we talked with the commander, he repeatedly offered us cigarettes and chai (tea) but refused our attempts to help prepare his unit for the unit set fielding that it was to conduct at Besamia training area.

Because his unit was still forming, he had no functional staff or company organizations, although his modification table of organization and equipment authorized him seven companies. The MiTT chief and I tried every means to convince him to do some logistics training (capacity building) so that his unit would be ready to drive its new vehicles and shoot its weapons. We tried all the rapport-building steps taught at JRTC, but they were not breaking the ice. The commander was very cold and unreceptive to our requests. During the conversation, he said that he had a pain in his arm, so I took note and brought my doctor from my medical company on the next visit.

The doctor diagnosed the commander’s injury as nerve damage and gave him some aspirin. But the effect of our caring about his health was powerful; I had shown him that friendship was more important than business. I had learned this technique at JRTC and realized what a variety of services I was lucky to have available for partnering. The commander then insisted I smoke one of his cigarettes and that I bring my interpreter when I returned. These three things were the icebreaker after a rather frosty beginning.

The interpreter became my main interpreter because she broke the ice with the captain. This cleared the way for some rather tough negotiations for drivers’ training classes, weapons maintenance, and medical training that went above and beyond the training on drill and ceremony that they had been conducting. Every time I returned, I took a Soldier with another specialty from my battalion, smoked a cigarette, drank some chai, and worked on convincing my partner to agree on some partnership training. This became the basis for our working relationship.

Locations Command

My second and easiest partner was the Locations Command commander. A Kurd from Irbil, he was easy to partner with because he had enjoyed the relationship he had with the 10th BSB and often stated how he had missed that partnership during the 6-month gap between U.S. units. He was very open and generous in his spacious office and offered us water, soda, candy, and baklava during every visit. His office was like a train station. Besides the 15 people it could seat on the couches, 5 to 10 Iraqi officers and soldiers were always entering with a foot stomp and salute and exiting with the obligatory signature and seal from the general. Asked when I was going to visit, I told him that, based on my schedule, I could visit on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays. He immediately insisted that I visit him every Tuesday at 1000 (the day and time that the 10th BSB commander had visited) for an office call and that I eat lunch at his table in the Locations Command dining facility.

Unlike the 12th MTR, the Locations Command has excellent facilities, trained personnel, and an experienced leader. The Locations Command had office buildings, barracks, and a clinic that were about 3 years old and fully furnished and equipped. The leaders at all levels of the Locations Command were eager to train and build their capacity. We just had to make sure that we were building their capabilities, not doing the work for them.

The most significant partnerships for us were with the maintenance facility and the clinic. The level III maintenance facility (levels I and II occur at the brigade and MTR, respectively) was run by an IA colonel whose sole concern was repair parts. He had very good mechanics but limited tools and repair parts to repair the vehicles that were provided by six different nations. During my first encounter with him, he was to the point, saying “I don’t need any help if you can’t get me parts.”

The commander of the Locations Command had other ideas; he asked us to evaluate his maintenance system and look at the organization. As a result, and in coordination with the logistics training and advisory team, we provided some organizational help, which included identifying repair parts, organizing locations, validating repair parts on order in the Iraqi Army Maintenance Program, and assisting with acquiring tools from the Taji Supply Depot.

The Locations Command clinic provided a robust partnership opportunity. The clinic’s commander was excited about continuing the partnership after experiencing the void left by the departure of the 10th BSB. Our first event was an invitation to provide oversight and mentorship during combat lifesaver training and a mass casualty exercise. This was followed by visits from our physician’s assistants, dentist, x-ray technician, preventive medicine personnel, lab technicians, and the other specialists in my medical company. The challenge was to teach them or enable them without giving them supplies or doing the work for them. For example, we sent our dentist to teach their dental technician how to do basic procedures, such as exams and cleaning, since they had no dentist. Although they wanted us to do dental exams, we turned it into a training session. We were also asked for medicines, but instead, we pointed them in the direction of their own supply system to order the right items.

One challenge was to get the Locations Command sections to work together. The clinic commander asked us one day for some rash cream that he did not have. After further investigation, we discovered that the cream was in one of six trucks of medical supplies that were at Taji awaiting delivery. The clinic commander had no idea how to get the supplies back to K1, so I convinced him to go to the commander of the Locations Command and request truck support to get the supplies.

12th IA Division G–4

I first met the 12th IA Division G–4 at the K1 maintenance meeting. A former two-star general under the old Iraqi Army, he had his hands full with a new undermanned and underequipped division. His biggest challenge was equipping the division using the current process of submitting the IA Form 101 (the basic IA supply and logistics support request form) through four levels of bureaucracy to obtain the proper stamps. Some of the requisitions I saw were the size of novels because of the number of stamped pages that went along with the request.

The K1 monthly maintenance meeting had disintegrated from a robust meeting that included the brigade commanders of the 12th and 4th Divisions to a poorly attended maintenance meeting of the brigade executive officers and maintenance technicians. The G–4 was not happy about the poor attendance, so the MiTT chief and I suggested that they—

  • Use the division commanders to force attendance.
  • Provide information on what the division was doing to obtain repair parts.
  • Provide attendees with a current picture of open and working maintenance jobs at the Locations Command.
  • Make the meeting a platform to voice unit issues and to provide the Iraqi Ground Forces Command (higher headquarters) with solutions.

Improving Communication

The leadership challenge during the deployment was getting the logistics organizations to talk and work together so that they could be mutually supporting. Once the MTR was capable of doing missions, a logistics synchronization meeting was held between the 12th Division G–4, the MTR, and the Locations Command. This meeting was beneficial to coordinating the movement of supplies and logistics within the area.

A case in point was the challenge of obtaining 44 pallets of tools that the Locations Command needed to have moved from Taji to K1. The Locations Command had signed for the parts and put them in a warehouse, but it had no way of getting them since the 12th MTR did not have vehicles or qualified drivers and the Locations Command had no transportation assets. The 12th Division had transportation assets, but no one asked them for help. When the commander of the Locations Command finally asked them for help, the 12th Division G–4 sent 15 trucks to pick up the pallets. Success! The pallets were at Taji, released and ready for movement, from January to mid-March.

The problem was solved internally by getting the two main players to talk. This struggle continued throughout our deployment as we continued to coach, prod, and mentor the IA logistics staffs to routinely talk and coordinate with each other. Toward the end of our deployment, we saw senior staff members from the 12th Division execute the evacuation of mission-critical vehicles to Taji for repair and return in 2 months—all because of cross-coordination among the various logistics elements. Building and sustaining trust was a constant effort that we worked on through key leader engagements.

The challenge in key leader engagements is to build trust first, then consensus—as the Iraqis say, “friendship before business.” I used a variety of techniques to gain that trust and friendship, and they had varying results and levels of success. Each key leader had a different leadership style that affected how he conducted business. The true art was to switch styles multiple times during a visit in order to interact and aggressively partner while not simply giving the Iraqis supplies. Over the past few years, Army units have simply given Iraqis stuff, and they have conditioned the Iraqis to ask and then try to shame us for not supporting them. This easier path was not helpful in assisting the IA units to become independent.

Having a partnership that helps the Iraqis solve their own problems is more beneficial to them because it allows them to learn to operate efficiently on their own. This was our goal as we partnered with the Iraqi units.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Whittaker is the commander of the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom when he wrote this article. He holds a B.A. degree in history from the Virginia Military Institute and an M.A. degree in management form the American Military University and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

 
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