On this Independence Day, say howdy to some American soldiers who believe in their mission of putting their lives on the line for you in Iraq
so you can keep that freedom.
MAJ. SCOTT NAUMAN: From Spearfish, N.D., the 36-year-old operations officer of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, has been instrumental in making sure the handover of security sovereignty to the Iraqis went smoothly in his corner of the war.
The Vanguard Battalion, as it's nicknamed (the brigade's is Dagger, the division's is the Big Red One), has been patrolling northwest Baghdad since it landed in Iraq last November from Fort Riley, Kan. The outfit also has been busy planning, if not its own obsolescence in the war, clearly a much smaller role in it.
On May 15, for example, the battalion changed its mission statement from "control, follow and support" the Iraqis to just plain "follow and support."
Nauman has been one of the main planners. A West Point grad, the 5-foot-9-inch blond comes across more as a college tennis coach than a warrior. But just ask the 11 Americans detached to Nauman's unit who went missing for a dozen hours about the rear-chewing they got when they finally reported in to him at 3 a.m. Something they should have done long before a Baghdad-wide APB was nearly issued.
It's with Iraqis that Nauman shines. The soft-spoken officer has eaten sheep's brains, boiled for 12 hours and scooped out of the head, with his Iraqi counterparts. He's picked through the cartilage of carp caught near a raw sewage discharge pipe in the Tigris River. He's drunk thousands of cups of chai tea, with a quarter-inch of sugar at the bottom of a two-inch cup.
All the while, Nauman has built his cred with the Iraqi army officers now in charge of their nation's security. The major's mantra to them: We're just a radio call away. When an Iraqi army or national police unit gets in the manure, the Americans can be on the scene fast with sniffer dogs, an unmanned surveillance flying machine or a helicopter gunship.
If, as Napoleon said, an army marches on its stomach, in the 21st century, it fights with information. Nauman's talent lies in cross-pollinating real-time information and probable scenarios among U.S. and Iraqi forces. And how will the Iraqis do with this military Onstar capability? Says Nauman: "I'm pretty confident they can handle it."
STAFF SGT. MARK EVAN LANCASTER: Techno-thriller novelist Tom Clancy wrote that noncommissioned officers are "the guys who make the army work." Staff Sgt. Lancaster does that every day and night in northwest Baghdad. He's a liaison with his NCO Iraqi counterparts in the National Police, keeping them in the American intel loop and showing by doing.
One recent afternoon the Nashville native spent three hours sitting on a sofa with a changing cast of Iraqi noncoms. Touchy-feely folks would call it bonding. Lancaster, basically a grunt with a higher-echelon mission, knows that to go along, you've got to get along.
So he schmoozes with these guys from another culture -- who, when you get right down to it, aren't so different from the Scotch-Irish ridge-runners among his ancestors who wore Confederate gray in the Civil War. "I've heard it takes some guys eight or nine months to get anywhere" with the Iraqis, Lancaster says. "Took me less than a month."
As he enters the 6th-floor room of the national police building in northwest Baghdad, the Tennessean kisses five Iraqi police sergeants on both cheeks while shaking hands, just as they do one another. Then he sits and shoots the bull. Another U.S. sergeant drops by with beef jerky and a foot-long chew bone for one of the Iraqi's pet dogs. A series of dirty jokes, some with the chewy toy as a prop, follow.