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Long Hard Road: NCO experiences Afghanistan and Iraq

This October 2007 book was prepared by the US Army Sergeants Major Academy. The preface reads "The call to war is often met by young Soldiers who lack an understanding of what they are about to encounter. These young Soldiers must be trained, prepared, and then led in battle by those with experience and understanding---the Noncommissioned Officer Corps. In an effort to preserve the history of the US Army Noncommissioned Officer...."


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The call to war is often met by young Soldiers who lack an understanding
of what they are about to encounter. These young Soldiers must be trained,
prepared, and then led in battle by those with experience and understanding---the
Noncommissioned Officer Corps. In an effort to preserve the history of the US
Army Noncommissioned Officer and to provide future noncommissioned officers
with an understanding of the actions necessary to prepare Soldiers and to lead
them in war, the US Army Sergeants Major Academy undertook a program to
gather and publish the stories of NCOs who had served in both Afghanistan and
Iraq. Most of the papers received were from students of the US Army Sergeants
Major Course who had already deployed to either Operation Enduring Freedom
or Operation Iraqi Freedom. This work highlights a few of those stories. A wide
range of topics have been chosen to allow the reader to understand the preparations,
training, and actions needed for NCOs to accomplish their missions.
The work is prepared in two sections: the first we call Stories from
Afghanistan and the second, Stories from Iraq. Stories from Iraq is further broken
down into “Fighting the Iraqi Army” and “Fighting the Insurgency.” Each story
has a brief introduction to provide the reader with a background and setting for
the story. Timelines are also provided to assist the reader in following the stories
in relation to other events that are taking place during the same time frame. In
addition, maps provide the reader with an understanding of where in Afghanistan
or Iraq those events occurred.
To help readers understand many of the acronyms used by the US Army and
specific units, a Glossary is made available as well; it is by no means inclusive of
all Army acronyms.
Colonel David J. Abramowitz and Command Sergeant Major James E. Dale
charged three members of the US Army Sergeants Major Academy staff to put
this work together: Jesse McKinney (SGM Retired), School Secretariat Director;
MSG Eric Pilgrim, Editor-in-Chief of the NCO Journal and a veteran of Operation
Iraqi Freedom; and L.R. Arms, Curator of the NCO Museum and a Marine Corps
Vietnam veteran. They were assisted in their efforts by Ms. Melissa Cooper,
Museum Specialist, Ms. Jeannie Tapia, Academic Records Technician, and SPC
Joseph Edmondson, Graphic Artist. Together they reviewed more then 683 papers
to determine which papers would be included in this work. Many of the selected
stories were shortened and edited for clarity; however, every attempt was made
to remain true to the author’s original intent. In the future, the Sergeants Major
Academy will hopefully continue to produce works of this nature, ultimately
retaining the knowledge and experiences gained in warfare by noncommissioned

L.R. Arms
US Army Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer



By Master Sgt. Eric B. Pilgrim and Sgt. Maj. (Ret) Jesse McKinney
Army General David H. Petraeus knows Iraq better than most. He suffered
the first casualties of war on March 23, 2003, when a 326th Engineer Battalion
engineer with the famed 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) ruptured three
of 1st Brigade’s headquarters tents at Camp Pennsylvania with grenades, killing
two officers and wounding 14 others before the assault had even begun. Despite
grieving the losses, he led the charge into Iraq shortly afterward, sending thousands
of division vehicles pouring over the border into Iraq and rolling with lightning
speed across the desert from An Najaf through Karbala, Hilla, and into Baghdad,
before eventually settling down in the northern city of Mosul.

While there, then Maj. Gen. Petraeus quickly realigned his Soldiers’ thinking
toward a new strategy shortly after the war ended; a humanitarian strategy
involving rebuilding the infrastructure through mutual trust and cooperation
between Americans and Iraqis. “Goat pulls” were common occurrences under
his watch as commanders sat down frequently with local Iraqi officials and broke
bread in an effort to meet them on common ground. He was so successful at
connecting with the local imams there that the division’s efforts were lauded as
the standard for building real success in the war-torn nation.

He stood on the precipice of history and watched as his Soldiers discovered
the hideout of Saddam Hussein’s two infamously sadistic sons, Uday and Qusay,
before they pinned down the pair, eventually killing them in a fire fight. Two
nations now intricately linked by renewed hope and purpose vigorously applauded
as Petraeus’ Soldiers cleaned streets, rebuilt schools and police stations, turned
electricity back on and pumped clean water into households. Petraeus witnessed
firsthand a reopening of the Syrian-Iraq border for trade. The future looked bright
under his watchful eye.

A year later, he found himself back in Iraq, this time in the “Green Zone” --
the heart of Baghdad -- leading the charge as Commander of the Multi-National
Security Transition Command - Iraq, whose primary mission was to ensure
that this new democratic nation would eventually be able to protect itself from
enemies inside and outside of its borders. Hundreds of thousands of eager, willing
young men and women lined up at recruiting stations, often under the threat of
retaliation by terrorists, in order to receive new weapons, vehicles and uniforms.
More importantly, they were eager to receive real, professional, timely training in
police work, soldiering, and border patrol tactics under his guidance. He faced the
daunting task of rebuilding an entire military, border patrol and police force from
the ground up with minimal manpower and resources while constantly facing
attacks from terrorists, insurgents, cynical politicians worldwide and heavy media
scrutiny. Iraqis knew his reputation for getting results; many knew it intimately.
By the end of the year, he had exceeded the goal.

Now here he is again this year, back in Iraq and back in the quagmire of
political, religious, emotional and physical threats which have become an integral
part of his life. The mission is even bigger and more complex than ever, the
responsibilities are even higher, more is at stake as the commanding general of
all the coalition forces in Iraq finds himself back in the “Zone” – now called the
International Zone.

If given the chance to sit down and talk with him about his Global War on
Terrorism experiences he would probably tell you without hesitation that the
American noncommissioned officer has been the most critical element behind all
the successes and failures. Good NCOs equal victory; bad NCOs equal defeat.
As a commissioned officer, Petraeus is accustomed to the regular rollout of
non-fiction books written and produced by commissioned officers, oftentimes
while at the Army War College, that chronicle military history and often are
credited with shaping the future of military tactics, techniques and procedures.
What he felt was sorely deficient however, was a publication wherein NCOs
were the primary focus, relating their unique perspectives of best troop leading
practices in an operational environment. Thus, the brainchild for this publication
was born.

It was with this firm belief in the importance of America’s Noncommissioned
Officer Corps that Petraeus reached out to leaders at the US Army Sergeants Major
Academy with a proposal. He wanted to see NCOs publish their own book about
their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, good and bad; NCO history written by
NCOs for NCOs.

The Academy’s Commandant at the time, Col. David J. Abramowitz, fittingly
took Petraeus’ proposal to the Academy’s senior NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. James
E. Dale. The two brainstormed and came up with several categories that they felt
covered the uniqueness of major operations in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, the
contents of this publication being the result of their deliberation and direction to
the Long Hard Road Focus Group. The new Commandant, Col. Donald Gentry,
has given life to Petraeus’ proposal by providing the funds necessary to put this
work in to your hands.

The US Army Sergeants Major Academy sincerely hopes that the stories
rendered in this publication will provide insight and direction to all of our Soldiers
now fighting, or who will fight in the future in America’s Global War on Terrorism
– war heroes traveling together on the Long Hard Road ...