This post was originally featured on CleanTx
For Americans and veterans alike, Memorial Day serves as a day to pay tribute to our fallen service members. The millions of men and women that have served in combat overseas understand that the price of freedom is not free, and that the pursuit of freedom does not always lead to the gates of victory. Many of our recent combat veterans returning home from wars in the Middle East understand this notion quite well. For many Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, the war in Iraq was as misconstrued on the front lines as it was misunderstood back home. During the starting point of the “Surge”, nearly 50% of Americans supported the immediate return of troops from Iraq, with 83-98% Iraqi citizens opposing the presence of coalition forces in their country. During this point in the war, many soldiers on the front lines frequently asked themselves and each other one simple question. “Why are we here?”
During a fifteen-month tour as part of the “Surge” in Baghdad, my platoon performed nearly 1,000 combat missions in an area of intense contention between an Al-Qaeda cell and a highly militarized insurgent group known as Jaysh al-Mahdi. Both competing organizations engaged in a blood feud against each other, while waging war against unaffiliated Iraqi citizens, the Iraqi government and our coalition forces. During that period of the war, the bloodshed incurred in my platoon’s area of operation resulted in hundreds of Iraqi citizens being brutally murdered, with thousands more becoming displaced only to escape to other war-torn neighborhoods and cities, or worse, to other countries that shuffled them to war refugee camps that resembled a dystopian nightmare more than a place of solace. Our platoon saw more than our fair share of close quarter battles, and experienced too often the anguish of carrying our fallen brethren off the battlefield. However, through all our hardships borne, we managed to spearhead multiple counterinsurgency strategies with our fellow Iraqi Army partners and local Iraqi leaders that brought about a relative level of peace and normality to our area of operation. Indeed, the price of freedom was not free, but why did we find ourselves in such a precarious situation in the first place?
During the first six months of our tour, there was a major dispute occurring between the U.S. Department of State and the Iraq Ministry of Oil. The dispute was split into two primary points of tension- petroleum product shortages throughout all major Iraqi cities and the overwhelmingly increasing oil revenues being generated by the Ministry that were not being adequately appropriated toward post-invasion development efforts. One of the greatest crises experienced by Iraqi citizens during the war was lack of power, or rather the lack of national grid power being supplied to their homes and businesses.
Upon assuming command of our area of operation, our platoon was tasked with the incredulous mission to bring power to Iraqi homes and businesses in an area that only yielded an average of two hours of national grid power per day per capita. For two weeks, we followed transmission lines to transformers and transformers to substations in an effort to discover the disconnection between upstream generation and downstream users. By the end of the investigation, it was overwhelmingly clear that there was little or no power generation being supplied by the power stations around the city. Moreover, the transmission lines were being cut and gutted by local citizens for their copper to be sold to scrap yards in a city that was experiencing 25-40% unemployment according to many internationally accredited sources like the Brookings Institute. In other words, there was nearly no production or transmission of power in a city of four million people with average summertime temperatures north of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Instead, neighborhoods, business and homesteads relied on local generation from diesel generators that were spread sparsely throughout the streets of neighborhoods, where thousands upon thousands of spider web-like electrical lines spun back and forth across homes and streets to connect with the generators. Around every generator a cloud of black smoke would plume like a diesel powered locomotive engine forming a thick, black chalk-like residue around the dense neighborhood streets where they were usually located. The soot and particulates from the generators, as reported by local hospitals and clinics, were the root cause in the significant rise of respiratory illnesses.
As we investigated the localized generation paradigm, we begun to receive many complaints about price gouging from local citizens who would bring us their bills from month to month to compare the price per kWh. The price differentials were staggering, so we brought these complaints to the local leaders and government officials to find a way to resolve the erratic pricing behaviors of generator owners. It was during these engagements that our platoon discovered the consequences of war and the influence of controlling the power supply.
Following the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein and his minions used controlling tactics like cutting off the power supply in contended Shia neighborhoods to keep the citizens in those areas from forming an uprising against him and his regime. Following the invasion, Al-Qaeda cells and insurgent groups used similar tactics, but with more brute force. Like many other oil-rich OPEC countries, the Iraqi government was required to supply petroleum products to Iraqi citizens and business at subsidized rates or no cost at all. The supply of those petroleum products, as we learned, were being sabotaged and hijacked by both Al-Qaeda and insurgent operatives who would then illegally sell the fuel to local generator owners, businesses and citizens. Upon assuming control of the petroleum supply, they would increase demand by withholding fuel from the market, which would then drive up local generation prices. Thus, we discovered the genesis for price gouging in our area of operation.
It was also during this period of time that the Ministry of Oil had fallen under great scrutiny by the U.S. Department of State for not adequately appropriating oil production revenues towards post-invasion reconstruction, which were generated from the sale of oil resources to global oil companies and developing countries as initiated by the Iraq Hydrocarbons Law. Revenues from multiple non-bid contracts to top global oil developers and producers reportedly lead the Ministry of Oil to generate over $20 billion in revenues during the first six months of the “Surge” – more than five times the average annual budget for the entire Iraqi government. As such, a portion of these revenues were appropriated to supply petroleum products in our area of operation to Iraqi citizens, which were then being hijacked and controlled by Al-Qaeda and insurgent operatives. In other words, not only was the Iraqi government failing to provide necessary national services to their citizens, they were also inadvertently funding the extremists and insurgents who were waging war against their government, their citizens and our coalition forces.
Our platoon executed an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign against the two extremist organizations, which was supported and lead by our Iraqi Army counterparts and local Iraqi leaders. These efforts eliminated the two extremists groups from controlling the petroleum supply lines, which in turn stabilized local generator pricing and extended average daily power supply from two hours per day to twelve hours per day per capita. The stabilization of power supply and pricing then lead to increased business development and economic activities, which spurred greater growth in other service areas like trash collection and sewage line installation. The generators that were located along the dense neighborhood streets were relocated to large ventilated areas, and were protected by locally hired citizens. As a result of all these activities, local hospitals and clinics reported a significant drop of dysentery cases in our area of operation, constituted by the new sewage lines and trash collection, and a near complete reduction in reported respiratory illnesses caused by poorly ventilated areas around generators.
The increased quality of life for the Iraqi citizens in our area of operation was palpable, and it came at no added expense to American taxpayers beyond the salaries of sixty American soldiers deployed to Western Baghdad. Rather, it was paid by the blood, sweat and tears of our platoon and company, along with our Iraqi counterparts, for which six of our beloved brothers lost their lives in pursuit of these efforts – with many others being severely injured. Yet, this is just one story from the thousands and millions of similar stories and experiences shared by Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. Moreover, it is ever apparent that these veterans are ready and willing to lead our country beyond the Iraq War era, while protecting their fellow countrymen from experiencing the same crises they personally witnessed and experienced in Iraq.
The energy security and development experiences gained from Operation Iraqi Freedom, now serve as the foundational strength of returning Iraq War veterans that are pursuing careers toward a new American freedom – energy independence. Perhaps, the single greatest benefit to America from those ten years of war in Iraq is the knowledge and experience gained by young veterans who lead energy security and development efforts while combat. Under those extreme environments and conditions, they polished and refined their energy-market knowledge and leadership skills, and are now well equipped to lead the Age of Sustainability. It is these men and women who best understand the consequences of our country’s dependence on foreign fuels, because they bare the scars of those consequences. Indeed, they have heeded our nations’ call to action against terrorists and tyrants, and are now heeding the call to secure our nations’ energy future. It is this same decree that lead to the creation of HEVO Power and many other veteran-owned businesses alike.
There is a new vision of energy security quietly being developed and deployed in our country by many Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, with the mission to secure our energy independence. It is a mission that began on the battlefields in places like Baghdad, Fallujah, Basra and Mosul, and is now fueled by the tenacious spirit of the men and women who more than understand the ultimate cost of not securing a sustainable future in America. As they trade their uniforms for suits, and their helmets for hardhats, they will continue leading our country to finally free ourselves from the terrorists and tyrants that disrupt our way of life and threaten our national security efforts. As such, they do so with the everlasting memories of their fallen brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of freedom, while shouldering the burden of preventing our next generations from experiencing the same fates.
In keeping the memory of my fallen brothers alive, and to the heroic men and women of 1-64th Armor Regiment and Delta Company, I say to you all:
“Mission First, Men Always.”
Written in memory of SFC Shawn Suzch, SSG Ernesto Cimmarusti, SSG David Julian, CPL Robert McDavid CPL Scott McIntosh and Interpreter Saif Shakur.