June 2005 -
War Stories: Huskies In Iraq

Rich Eyrish, '00
Captain, Army, NATO Allied Joint Force Command; Time of service: August-October 2004; Stationed: Green Zone, Baghdad; Currently: Fort Gordon, Augusta, Ga.

Rich Eyrish, '00I was part of a NATO training mission in Iraq. The Iraqi government asked NATO to go down there and provide some training support for the military, in addition to what the coalition was already doing. My business in all of this is communications. I do computer networks.

It's an odd thing, because it's a circumstance you don't see anywhere else. Everyone's got their own secret network. The U.S. has its own secret network. NATO has its own secret network. And an entirely separate secret network was built just for Iraq. And trying to set up communication between all these guys can be quite difficult sometimes. NATO, as an entity, doesn't really have the experience or the equipment to go down and do what we did. So we were constantly making stuff up-trying to figure out how we could hash stuff together to get anything working. So that was plenty to work on in between stuff blowing up.

In Baghdad, it's just a weird situation, because no one is shooting directly at you. The only thing coming in is whatever gets lobbed in there. And after a while you just get kind of numb to it. You just get used to what's out there around you, and try to remember, when you're doing stuff, not to leave yourself in exposed areas. But most computer work is all inside buildings, inside hardened facilities. There's lots of guys between me and them.

The Western sense of Arab folks-at least the one I've read about-doesn't quite hold true in Iraq. They're a lot more secular than people think. They really do admire some of the Western models . education, and even our military. But a guy was telling me he was talking to the Minister of Defense, who was saying, 'You know, we've had 25 years,'-or however many it was-'under Saddam, and now we've got to unlearn everything and start over from scratch, to build a military back up that has a real structure to it.' They're certainly willing, but it's hard. There's no ability to mentor within their own. We have to get to the point where they teach themselves.

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