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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An Interview with a Soldier by a Blogger

This is an interview given to blogger Frank Warner by Cpt. Coulson, arranged by CENTCOM. You should really go visit this site, because he is a proud liberal. A very patriotic one, as far as I can tell! Yes, we may differ on home politics, but he is truly FOR our troops.

The only reason I have copied the whole article is because it would be a shame to lose it in case he moved on to bigger and better things. I would really appreciate it if you would leave your comments and thoughts for him with him. After all, he did all the work. :)

U.S. Army Capt. Eric Coulson is commander of A Company, 321 Engineer Battalion, based in Ar Ramadi, al-Anbar Province, Iraq.

Today he took part in an e-mail interview, which Central Command helped to arrange, with me. Among his observations: Iraq can keep its democracy if we are patient. And the food is great in Falluja.

Capt. Coulson, who also has his own blog, Badgers Forward, answered a lot of questions, and I thank him for his thoughts:
    FW: The Department of Defense tells me you’re commanding A Company, 321 Engineer Battalion, and your blog says you are a lawyer in the Army Reserve, 38 years old. Is that correct? Of the 111 people in Company A, how many are men, how many women?

    Capt. Coulson: I am an attorney and was in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri prior to deployment. I am married, I have two dogs and a cat. I am one of those crazy people who consider them my kids. Yes we have 111 people here including detachments; that includes two women.

    FW: Your blog reports that one of your platoons found a roadside IED near Ramadi on Sunday (Dec. 3), and detonated it safely there. Were you there when that happened?

    Capt. Coulson: Yes, I was with my 2nd Platoon when we found both IED’s on Sunday.

    FW: When did you arrive in Iraq?

    Capt. Coulson: I arrived in Iraq on 1 October. I left home in January to work with the unit in Boise, Idaho prior to deployment. The unit officially mobilized in July, but spent two months at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin training for deployment. We also were in Kuwait for several weeks prior to arriving in Iraq.

    FW: What sets an engineer battalion apart from other Army battalions? Do you patrol a lot? Do you build things? Is it your principal job to hunt IEDs? Or is that just a necessary part of your duties? How often does your company find IEDs?

    Capt. Coulson: I’m not sure how to answer the first question. My Soldiers for the most part have an Engineer MOS as opposed to being Infantry, Armor or some other job. My Soldiers patrol almost daily. We are a Sapper unit, Combat Engineers -- we leave building to the construction folks. Our job it to hunt IED’s. IED finds seem to come in spurts.

    FW: You sound fairly confident you can avoid most IEDs. Is it so easy? Don’t give away secrets, but aren’t some IEDs just too hard to detect? They could be buried, or hidden under something else.

    Capt. Coulson: I am confident that we can detect most IED’s; no it is not easy - but we are well trained and highly motivated. Occasionally the enemy gets one by us, but even then we review things tell tale indicators become obvious. Yes they can be buried and hidden under something. That does not defeat detection.

    FW: How were your recent three days in Falluja?

    Capt. Coulson: Great. I like Falluja. Food is better than here in Ramadi and they have postcards to send to my wife and dogs.

    FW: Has your company suffered casualties during your tour in Iraq?

    Capt. Coulson: Yes.

    FW: How often does your company come in contact with the enemy? Describe one of your more dangerous days in Iraq. What was your closest call?

    Capt. Coulson: The enemy is always watching so technically speaking, we are in contact when we roll out the gate. The day we found the two IED’s you read about was my most dangerous day in Iraq. The mission was poorly thought out. The IED that blew up while we were interrogating it was my personal closest call.

    FW: Can you say anything about your reaction or your fellow soldiers’ reactions to President Bush’s suddenly accepting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation on Nov. 8? Were many happy about it? Or is there a stronger sense that a good wartime leader has been cast aside?

    Capt. Coulson: I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to answer this question at this time.

    FW: Is the Iraq army’s lack of training and confidence a big problem? What signs of progress have you seen in the training of the Iraq army?

    Capt. Coulson: I have no basis to answer this question.

    FW: What is the most heroic thing you’ve seen Iraqi soldiers do since you’ve been in Iraq?

    Capt. Coulson: Go out on patrol with out the Personal Protective Equipment we have.

    FW: From your blog, I got the feeling you have no doubts about your mission in Iraq. Do most of the American soldiers you’ve met there share your sense of the mission? Do many have doubts about the need to build a stable democracy in Iraq, or about the chances of success?

    Capt. Coulson: I think there are as many opinions as there are Soldiers. Some are here to do their duty merely as Soldiers, others have a deep belief in the mission. I have no doubts about the need to build a democracy in Iraq, and have no doubt we can be successful given the time and patience to do so.

    FW: You’re in al-Anbar, which we know to be dangerous territory. How can you tell when you’ve made friends with the Iraqis there?

    Capt. Coulson: I have not had enough interaction with the locals to honestly answer this question.

    FW: Which is the most dangerous city in al-Anbar? Why?

    Capt. Coulson: IMO Ar Ramadi is still the most dangerous city in al-Anbar. The government structures are weak and AQ has been very successful in their Murder and intimidation campaigns.

    FW: Is al-Qaida influence or presence noticeable there? Or is the insurgency based primarily on common criminal elements, or tensions between former Baathists and the newly empowered Shiite majority?

    Capt. Coulson: AQ is the biggest insurgent threat here, aided by ex Baathists and common criminals. There is virtually no Shia presence here.

    FW: Is blogger Bill Roggio, of the Fourth Rail, in Iraq with you right now? If so, what do you plan to show him? How long will he be there? Why wasn’t he embedded in your unit?

    Capt. Coulson: Bill is in Falluja, we should hook up in a day or so. I am not sure what we will do as we could not get permision for him to embed with us. I hope we talk about writing, the military, and what I am going to do when I leave Iraq. I think Bill is here till Christmas. Some people think our mission is too sensitive to have reporters involved with. Of course Bill embedded with our predecessor unit last year, but such is the military decision making process.

    FW: Had you been deployed to combat before? If so, when?

    Capt. Coulson: No.

    FW: How did you get into the Army Reserve? Where did you get your Army training?

    Capt. Coulson: I came back into the Army Reserve in 2004 after being in the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] through law school. I have recived army training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. That is just the formal schools. I have been to another dozen Army posts for training as a unit.

    FW: What’s the weather like there today? Does the weather vary much? How do you keep cool in that heavily armored gear? Drinking lots of water? Cool packs? Air conditioned suits?

    Capt. Coulson: Pretty cold. It was below 40F this AM; it will peak at about 65 today, but as soon as the sun sets I will be back in my black fleece jacket. When it was hot in Kuwait we drank a great deal of water and our vehicles are equipped with a/c.

    FW: What’s the most beautiful thing you've seen in Iraq so far? What's the most horrible thing?

    Capt. Coulson: The sunsets are gorgeous. Watching an IP [Iraqi policeman] die was pretty horrible.

    FW: Can the Iraqis and the Americans communicate a sense of humor to each other?

    Capt. Coulson: I have not had enough interaction with Iraqis to comment.

    FW: Badger 6 appears to be your nickname. What does that mean?

    Capt. Coulson: All units have call signs. A Company is Badger. The Company long ago adopted that nickname because the Orchard Training Area in Boise, Idaho is lousy with them. 6 is the traditional designator of a Commander. The six element refers to the unit commander. Hence the occasional reference to my wife as Household 6.

    FW: Is your blog Badgers Forward censored before you post your observations?

    Capt. Coulson: No -- not so far. I have registered it with my Battalion S6 and have had no comment from higher command. I self-censor for operational security and Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures, but I try to get out an honest view of what the situation is like here.

    FW: Finally, my blog tries to make the liberal case for liberating Iraq: that transforming a nation from tyranny to democracy is in the best liberal spirit of defending the defenseless and freeing the oppressed. Do you see any incompatibility between liberalism and what the U.S. armed forces are trying to accomplish in Iraq?

    Capt. Coulson: Liberalism as currently understood by much of the mainstream political community is incompatible with the objectives of the US in Iraq and the military option in general. But one must understand that “Liberalism” today as embodied by the baby boom generation that came of age in the 1960’s during the Vietnam war has nothing to do with classical liberalism as one might recognize from an earlier time.

    One will note that the “anti-war” protests of the Vietnam War ended as soon as the draft did. One has not seen protests on that scale this time because there is no draft. It’s not about the correctness of the endeavor, it’s about being personally convienent to the person.

    I closed down a law practice in St. Louis to come do this. I do not have a job to go back to. I know others that have done similar things, but not one has been what I consider to be a liberal. I have looked at your webpage and have concluded that your world view has many similarities to mine and I would not consider myself “liberal” in today’s sense and understanding of the word.
Thanks again to Capt. Coulson. Good luck to him and Company A on their mission. I hope America is smart enough to match their bravery with the patience needed for success.

All sane people oppose war. But the only way to end a war permanently is to win it in freedom’s favor. Thanks to Americans like Capt. Coulson, freedom has a chance.

Frank Warner

Free Frank Warner.
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