Band of Brothers
But the 206th ING was reliable and courageous. We had almost zero desertion and most held their ground when “shit hit the fan” (excuse my authentic military language). The 206th ING suffered three times the casualties we suffered despite having only a third of our man power. It is also important to put thing into context. We get to go home after 365 days of war. They live the war everyday; their homes are in the war zone.
I watched with amazement as the 206th ING grew from a ragtag band of undisciplined armed men into a cohesive and effective fighting force. When I left at the end of 2004, they were operating mostly on their own – either as a category 2 or 3 unit. They were quite aggressive – sometime a bit reckless. But Iraqis believe that their lives are in the hand of God. “Inshalah,” “God willing” they say. I and my section worked very close with the 206th. We even participated in several of their raid – raids that they independently initiated and we just came along for the ride. You do not ride with a unit that you cannot trust.
And what I remember most about the 206th is their hospitality. We were the first unit to arrive at the area and we had to build the base from nothing. So for the first 6 months, we ate T-ration. If you know anything about food, you know MRE (Meal-Ready-to-Eat) is the prepackaged military ration, and you also know that it taste terrible. Well, T-ration tastes even worse. So we were happy when the 206th insisted that we eat with them whenever we work at their compound. They had fresh bread and rice. We then discovered that their food budget was limited and that we were eating into their budget – the Coalition Provisional Government was quite stingy when it comes to Iraqi units funding. We stopped. Colonel Khaki was offended that we stopped eating with his unit. We explained to him that the food was for his men and it was limited, and that it is not right for us to eat food that was meant for his men. Colonel Khaki acclaims, “But you are my men too.” And a bunch of other Iraqi soldiers joined the colonel in insisting that we share the meal with them. I was quite moved and so were other in my section. Here are people who have very limited resource who are willing to give the shirt of their back for their friends. This behavior was consistent from the 206th ING throughout our deployment. They were generous and hospitable.
In the armed profession, the greatest praise that can be said to a man is “I will go to war with you.” It is a statement of confidence, in his commitment, his loyalty, and his ability. Concerning Colonel Khaki and the 206th ING, I would go to war with them and I did.
(I am the little skinny guy on the right and next to me in the middle is Colonel Khaki. This picture was taken the day before we went home.)