An American Tale

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Relaying the goals and intentions of the United States and its military to the local Iraqi populace would seem like an all-consuming task, and according to the son of a GCC professor, it is.

Army 2nd Lt. Richard Williams, son of GCC Professor of Political Science Richard Williams, has been serving with the Army’s Psychological Operations, or PSYOP, in Iraq since Memorial Day.

In a series of e-mails, Williams told of his experience in Iraq, omitting various details for security reasons. His story is one of long work hours and an extremely unique military objective. With casualties being reported on an almost daily basis, security around U.S. military installations always tight.

“When we move around outside of the various compounds, we have to travel with multiple vehicles and personnel,” wrote Williams. “We wear protective body armor, Kevlar helmets and carry various loaded weapons from a pistol to heavy machine guns; driving around the city with guns pointed out the windows took a little bit to get used to.”

Gritty street patrols are not Williams’ primary task. He serves as the PSYOP Support Element Commander, overseeing a staff that in turn oversees tactical teams throughout Iraq, who work face-to-face with Iraqis. These teams depend on Williams and his staff for intelligence and supplies.

Using pamphlets dropped from airplanes, radio broadcasts and posters, PSYOP troops seek to fulfill their goal of “convincing the local population to support American troops,” according to Williams. A recent, highly publicized example of PSYOP work was the unveiling and promotion of the new Iraqi Dinar, a joint venture with the Civilian Provisional Authority, or CPA. PSYOP troops relay the goals of the CPA and constantly give military commanders intelligence about the civilian population.

The daily work is time-consuming, and like the majority of military personnel stationed in Iraq, Williams works seven days a week, an average of 10 to 12 hours a day. Since his arrival almost five months ago, he has had only one day off.

A common joke among soldiers stationed in Iraq, is that each day “is just another day that ends in `y,'” wrote Williams. “Days truly have no meaning here.” His day off was spent in the home of a local Iraqi, playing cards, eating and generally enjoying the time off.
Williams’ most recent tour of duty in Iraq is the latest in a military career as a reserve officer that has spanned almost 20 years.

Born in 1966, Williams grew up in Southern California, eventually attending Cal State San Bernadino. He enrolled in the school’s ROTC program and was commissioned in 1987 as a second lieutenant. He went on active duty two years later and worked as a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) Officer. He served in Operation Desert Storm as an NBC Officer commanding 125 troops. After working in the office of a two-star general, Williams joined PSYOP. William’s military career has been varied, as has been his experience in Iraq. Daily life in Iraq is unpredictable, providing both comic and tragic situations.

In his time serving for the United States Army, Williams has encountered a variety of unique situations such as, riding in a Black Hawk Helicopter, equipped with .50 caliber machine guns manned by soldiers “not old enough to drink in the United States.” Iraqi children have crowded around military Hummers, yelling “ateeni, ateeni,” which is Arabic for “candy, candy.” An Iraqi youth even tried to sell Williams a U.S. military-issued MRE (meal-ready-to-eat) for $1.

During an average night on the base, a group of soldiers will pull up their “lawn chairs, grab a bottle of water and a cigar and watch tracers fly into the night sky, listening to the exchange of gunfire while helicopters fly overhead.”

Comforting a fellow soldier who just returned from identifying the body of one of his friends was one of the most difficult situations Williams has encountered.

When asked gauging the overall morale of soldiers in Iraq, Williams says that it is “tough.” A former first sergeant under him once said, “if the soldiers are not complaining, then there is something wrong.” Most of the soldiers understand their duties and are dedicated to filling them.

“Being a soldier is like no other profession in the world,” wrote Williams. “There is no quitting, calling in sick, being tired, being hungry or going on strike. The conditions we live in are at times deplorable, yet we understand that and just accept it as part of what we do.”

As far as Iraqi sentiment, that is a bit easier to judge. In his first encounter with an Iraqi, he was spat on. But, as he put it, this “proved to be the exception rather than the rule.” He has received cries of gratitude as well as offensive gestures.

“I have traveled the country from the far north to the far south and have almost always been greeted with a smile and a wave from the children and more times than not, a smile by the adults.” U.S. military is now vital part of Iraq and Williams and his staff are working hard to persuade Iraqis that they are there to help.

Examples of life in Iraq improving are appearing everyday, said the lieutenant’s father, Professor Williams, who has communicated extensively with his son since his deployment. “More hospitals and schools are opening everyday and more Iraqis are being employed everyday. We are not out of the woods yet, but progress is being made.”

Williams was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Nov. 13 to finish his year of active duty. His status will be re-evaluated at the end of that term. More than 130,000 of his American comrades are still stationed in Iraq.

[Editor’s note: Due to space limitations in the print edition, this story represents the entire original draft that is not seen in the printed edition.]