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Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part interview with Col. Robert Brown, the American soldier in charge of operations in the Mosul, Iraq area. He runs the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry, to which The Indiana National Guard 113th Engineer Battalion belongs. Sentinel Editor W.S. Wilson was embedded with the 113th for three weeks.

SENTINEL: Who are these insurgents, Colonel?

BROWN: It’s a variety. It’s changed since before and after elections. Before elections you had common criminals, you had former regime element guys who were kind of disgruntled and wanted to get back into power. You had religious extremists and then you had some who were just out of a job and we’d call them terrorists for hire. You know, go fire a rocket-propelled grenade for $200. You had all of those mixed together before elections.

Now we are seeing a huge decline in the former regime element guys. They are starting to realize ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I don’t want to align myself with these religious extremists. I’m not for killing innocent women and children. I don’t agree with that.’ And a lot of the other guys that they used to be able to hire are the same way. They are like ‘We don’t want to kill innocent women and children. That is not right.’

Really you’re left with the religious extremists who are the biggest group now. These guys are the same with ties to Bin Laden and Al Qaida, and they want a return to their sick form of what they call religion. I can’t call it religion to kill innocent people, including again Muslim, Christian. It doesn’t matter. They don’t care. I will tell you that they are evil and they will not be stopped. The idea that you can go away and they will leave us alone – I mean wake up! 911 – they didn’t leave us alone. They are not going to leave us alone again. We have got to take care of these folks, and it is key. But the good news is, I believe, the Iraqi security force is getting stronger and stronger. The government is getting stronger and stronger, and the police are getting stronger and stronger. It will take time, but they will defeat them and it will be a huge progress in the Middle East.

SENTINEL: How much time will that take?

BROWN: I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I will be here as long as we’re told. It’s tough to say. If you’d asked me if we would be able to have an election in January, I’d have said ‘It’s going to be tough.’ We were fighting major battles in the streets every day. I’d have said ‘Probably next to impossible” but it happened.

I could say it will take six years and it may happen in six months. I mean I know that the Iraqi people are fed up with the religious extremists. They are fed up. They are not fooling anybody anymore. They are fed up with it. I know that the religious extremists know that they have lost with the people. All they needed – they didn’t need the people to be on their side. They just needed the people to have enough fear to let them remain anonymous, and they have failed in that, because the people have said, ‘Hey, I need to turn these folks in because they want to kill us. They are killing our innocent women and children. They are killing people. They are indiscriminately, you know, bombs, mortars, fired into crowds, shooting chidren. Just horrible things that no decent human being wants. They realize that.

SENTINEL: Can you tell when you are going to be able to tone back the size of this operation?

BROWN: Again, it depends, in my area, this area, Mosel the Tigris River Valley, we have some Iraqi units that could almost take over today. They are very close to being able to take over very soon. We have other ones that have just formed and will need at least six months, so it varies in each area, so I can’t really put a time table on it, but we will not let them take over until they are ready and we will not leave until they are ready. We are not going to abandon them after all the hard work and, you mentioned earlier, the casualties, and that wouldn’t be right for them.

You know, this is too important for the United States. It is too important for the Iraqi people, the freedom of millions. It is too important for the future of our kids and our grandchildren in the United States that, if we don’t stop these folks here, we are going to be fighting them in our own back yard. No question about it. We will be dealing with this same thing in our own back yard, almost, I don’t want to use an analogy but I’ve been to Isreal and, while they are free, they’ve got soldiers in every corner and check points every where. It is a different type freedom than we know. That’s for sure and I know we don’t want to have to rely on that.

So, I’m all for getting them in their own back yard, getting them somewhere else before they come to ours, but the (Indiana National Guard) 113th (Engineer Battalion) has great leadership, has great soldiers. The other thing I admire about them is that it’s hard to do this type of thing when you are a full time professional soldier. It is hard. When that is all you do, it is hard on families. It is hard on the families back home and it’s hard on the soldiers. It is tough. It’s even harder when you are pulled out of a civilian job. You have to put that on hold. That is even tougher. That is a real challenge.

SENTINEL: The wives of some of these guys are having babies ...

BROWN: Yeah, you know, they have never seen them. You know, again, I don’t think people understand the sacrifices these guys make. You know, we’ve had I don’t know how many babies born and the guys haven’t seen them and what the wives go through back home. They are amazing.

SENTINEL: Speaking of women, I didn’t see a lot of women at the top level there. What is your take on women in combat and the women in top leadership in general?

BROWN: One of my battalion commanders is female. She is right up there among the top six to eight leaders in the brigade, so, I mean as far as rank, she is right up there. So, I think when you look at percentages, you know, women, I don’t know what percent they make up now, probably 14-15 percent. So, you know, you are going to see proportionately in my brigade is female. We have had primary staff officers who are female. Some of them have left. So, you know, there is no issue. In the army it is much like in the past with race. We all are green, and we all do our job. Having three daughters, one of whom is in ROTC and going to be commissioned next year, I have always felt the important thing is: Is the person competent? Can they do their job? I could care less what gender they are as long as they do their job and are competent.

We have extremely competent females. We have extremely competent males. I’m an infantry officer. I know there are boundaries of what branch of service that they go in. On a personal note, I think that females should be able to do any branch that they qualify, they meet the test. I don’t think it should be a separate test for men and women. One test. For example, if you have one physical fitness test for men, women, anybody, the standard you attain, then you can do that job.

I think a lot of people want to have a test for women and a test for men. I don’t think that is right. There needs to be one test. If they can do it, let them do any job they can do.

I know there is a big stink about it recently and all that other stuff. We don’t really pay attention to it. We do our job and everybody is a part of the team. The most important thing tous is to be a team. You know, together each achieves more and we work very hard together, and I’ve got women who have performed fantastic under fire, you know, and been awarded valorous awards. I’ve got men the same thing.

Again, we are all on the same team just trying to do the best we can.

SENTINEL: How about being under fire? I watched Lt. (Elijah) Gray in the 113th when there were bullets flying and bombs going off and he was very calm. He could have been telling me where the men’s department was in Sears. How do you guys do that?

BROWN: It’s practice and training. Really training is the key. In training you learn that panicking doesn’t do you any good. You want to make the tough decisions and you train it and practice it so long and so many times. . .

SENTINEL: Is training the only answer?

BROWN: Well, no. I guess you could go into the whole thing of is a leader born or made and what’s true, you know. But as a leader, it really, it boils down to you are always taught to be the example, to set the example for your soldiers. They are watching you, whether it is a squad leader or a platoon sergeant, a noncommissioned officer, an officer. You are always taught that you have to lead your men and do the best you can. That is ingrained in you and you work it, you train it, you practice it.

It’s what makes our army the best in the world is the leadership training we get and the confidence we have. You know, I think George Patton said it best is, you know, courage isn’t the absence of fear, courage is performing your mission despite the fear. You are going to be afraid. Anybody that says they are not afraid is stupid. You know what I mean, you are going to be afraid, but you have to put that aside and you have to do your job despite the fear and that is courage.

I would say that lieutenant is very courageous because he is putting away, aside his fears knowing he has got soldiers and people to take care of and a mission to do and guys do amazing things.

We have had guys run out and cut wires on IEDs before they blew. We have had guys under fire go save, a 160-pound soldier go pick up a 230-pound soldier and carry him out of fire, got shot carrying him out. We have had guys just do amazing things here. The American soldier is the greatest soldier in the world, the greatest individual in the world, and we are very fortunate. It is humbling to serve along side him.

The only time I get mad is when I don’t think the American people sometimes appreciate the sacrifices the soldiers go through and the ultimate price they will pay with their lives.

When you see a young man, you know, Private Oscar Sanchez – a huge suicide vehicle truck was coming toward a combat outpost and this thing was the size of – was a 2,000-pound bomb, essentially, in this truck, hundreds of artillery rounds. He was on the corner of the building and he saw the truck coming, trying to get over the barricade. He stayed and kept firing, which ignited the thing early. Had it gone over another set of barricades and hit the building, we would probably have had severe injuries or deaths for, maybe over 10-20 soldiers. Forty soldiers were in the building. He stood there until the last minute and kept firing, and Oscar Sanchez, we gave him the Bronze Star for valor for that. He was the only one killed because he stood there out in the open and shot the truck and debris went through his head and killed him unfortunately.

Where do you find men like that, with that kind of bravery? He was 21, 22, you know, and do that for his buddies, for his friends and that type of duty. It’s incredible. Where do you find guys like that? It is amazing.

Editor’s note: W.S. Wilson was embedded with the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Combat Engineering Battalion, based out of northern Indiana and now deployed near Mosul, Iraq. Most of the 113th’s soldiers are from northern Indiana.

To contact Wilson: wsw@rochsent.com.

Published June 25, 2005