Paying the Cost of Security in Iraq

This is a guest blog and reprint from Todd Rosenfield, a graduate of the UConn EBV in Sept 2011. He published this blog at the NY Times blog At War: Notes from the Front Lines by James Dao.

JANUARY 9, 2012, 12:54 PM

Paying the Cost of Security in Iraq


In 2008, I returned home from Iraq, having served a year tour as a civil affairs sergeant attached to the 82nd Airborne. Back home for over three years now, I have had time to reflect on the war and my role in it, and to search for meaning amid the chaos and destruction of those days. My deployment, during what came to be known as the surge, was quite different than what I had hoped or expected it would be.

I had previously served in the Army Reserves while a college student, during peacetime. After 9/11, and specifically the week of Pat Tillman’s death in 2004, I decided to re-enlist. I had had a good job working for a medical company in the Boston area, but felt I needed to do something more. I thought that my civilian work experience, and desire to serve my country, would make me a perfect fit for civil affairs, a special unit that tries to alleviate suffering by building essential services and infrastructure in war zones.

Before I deployed in 2007, most of my training involved learning about things like opening schools, restoring hospitals and restarting electrical service. At that time, casualties were reaching record levels and the United States military wanted to shift control of the government back to the Iraqis. I thought I would play a role in doing just that.

Todd Rosenfield at Forward Operating Base Justice in Iraq in 2007.
Todd Rosenfield at Forward Operating Base Justice in Iraq in 2007.

But once we hit the ground, it was another world. During my first week in country, my team was sent on a mission to a local health clinic where United States Army medical staff provided medication, food and other essential supplies to civilians. The neighborhood was in a Shiite enclave in West Baghdad. It had been a hot spot of attacks, and we needed to “win hearts and minds.” After the operation, less than half a mile from the health clinic, my patrol came under attack, first with a roadside bomb and then with small-arms fire from militia hidden nearby.

We all made it back to base, leaving the ambush site littered with dead attackers. The idea of being ambushed so close to the health clinic, and the fact that we were attacked in an area usually crowded with civilians, made it clear to us that not only Iraqi civilians but also the military — which had deserted a nearby checkpoint — were probably complicit in the ambush.

Numerous other missions had the same outcome. We would rush in to protect fellow soldiers who had been attacked, only to find crowds chanting anti-American slogans and taunting us in the streets, or children hurling rocks at us as we tried to deliver food and medical supplies to communities.

These attacks occurred despite our best efforts to buy support from local leaders. Indeed, we regularly employed a strategy very different from what I had been taught in training. It was known as nonlethal targeting, and it went something like this: rather than killing or capturing potential insurgent leaders, we tried to buy them off.

My team would routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars a month to various sheiks and warlords. This was supposed to ensure that their tribes did not attack American forces in our area. It was nothing more than protection money. It often worked. But when the money dried up, the blood began to spill again.

I would regularly carry in excess of $50,000 in my cargo-pants pockets to be handed over to sheiks and warlords. To provide a “cover story,” we always said it was for some community improvement program, picking up trash or painting sidewalks and so forth.

But the real story is that the sheiks and warlords would skim half or more of the money for themselves, and, in exchange, provide their tribal support to assure our patrols were not attacked. Cash for safety was the formula.

In the many times I met with those sheiks and warlords, who I knew were wanted in connection with attacks on American forces, and the dozens upon dozens of times I handed over money to keep paying them off, the mantra I kept repeating to myself was that I was somehow, in some way, helping to keep a soldier from getting killed.

This mantra was, sadly, all we had to cleave to, because the killing and maiming simply did not stop. In our last week alone, there were two separate bomb attacks, one within earshot, which killed four more of our soldiers. These four soldiers were from the 101st Airborne, which was the unit I was attached to during the last months of my tour. Two thousand seven was to become the deadliest year for United States forces in Iraq. As an Army buddy once told me, “We went there to win their hearts and minds, and we ended up losing ours.”

In all this, my team and fellow soldiers performed exceedingly well. We were tasked with nearly impossible missions, and asked to serve our country amid sheer lunacy and brutality that I would not wish on anyone. I am proud of these soldiers, and of the work we accomplished despite the odds. These soldiers are the best of our country, our sons and our daughters. They deserve support, recognition and praise for doing exactly what our elected officials asked of them. But I wonder sometimes whether those elected officials learned anything from the war. Do any of them now ask themselves whether they were too reflexive in supporting the war? Do any of them regret not having a clear sense of what victory in Iraq should have looked like, or how we might have achieved it?

Since returning home, I have had time to reflect upon the war and its repercussions. I have learned that the nation’s focus shifts quickly, and that many people are now mostly concerned with the tough economy. The best place I can put my time and energy is helping fellow veterans. I have volunteered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a service officer for the last three years, assisting veterans to obtain health care, disability compensation and other benefits. This is now the most important mission for me.

Todd Rosenfield served with the United States Army in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 as a civil affairs team sergeant, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was awarded the Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal, and was honorably discharged in 2010. He is 41 years old and lives in the Albany, N.Y., area, where he works for state government.


The War to End all Wars?…Or is War a Good Analogy for Business?

I was reflecting on the juxtaposition of the recent and rare palindromic Veteran’s Day 11-11-11, and the origin of that day, known as Armistice Day. On that day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – hostilities in the First World War ended. The war was so brutal and costly that the day became a holiday in many countries around the world. It was also known as Remembrance Day.

We are presently working on creating a reading list for this website for veterans. I conceived of the idea from several sources. First, my experience in my Marine Corps career. Regular professional reading was an ongoing requirement. This is a link to the Commandant’s Reading List. Second, on my Linked-in account, there is space for books and book recommendations. Third, and finally, from a series for entrepreneurial education by the Kauffman Foundation called the Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

One of the foundational skills around which we plan our curriculum at the UConn Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is business communications. I believe the entrepreneur’s ability to communicate precisely his/her plan to create value via a commercialization plan, a formal business plan, a 30-second elevator pitch, a 30-second youtube commercial, via social media or via a $50 advertisement in a local newspaper, or a 1-minute brief to an angel investor is the single most crucial skill. The ability to sell your value idea to everyone in the value landscape – customers, vendors, suppliers, investors, creditors, competitors – is the decisive competitive advantage for the entrepreneur. All things being equal, that is how one start-up distinguishes itself from every other start-up. The ability to communicate with the marketplace will make or break a start-up.

This recent article in INC Magazine Is War a Good Analogy for Business struck me as a profound misunderstanding of what Sun Tzu wrote in his timeless classic The Art of War. Sun Tzu believed that war was a failure of politics, that is, a failure of political communication to reach rational compromise. Rather, Sun Tzu believed in winning without fighting; he considered that the greatest accomplishment of the general. Less than victory without fighting was failure. Failure was the result of the general’s inability to correctly account for the five knowledges necessary to achieve victory: knowledge of self, knowledge of the enemy, knowledge of the people (nation), knowledge of the army, and knowledge of the terrain and weather. Anyone with military experience reading this will recognize the similarity to the acronym METT-TSL: Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain/weather – Time, Space, Logistics.

Master Sun understood one simple, ineluctable and timeless truth: wars are expensive. Wars cost money, and to quote the master “Avoid long wars. They deplete the treasury and exhaust the nation.” To offer a quote from a famous movie “I don’t like blood. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.”

Currently, a brief sojourn through popular literature and television show dozens of examples of endeavors now considered wars. There numerous reality tv shows, including Parking Wars, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Food Wars, Insect Wars, and Whisker Wars, to name just a few. I submit that the current fascination with and mis-use of the concept of “war” as entertainment may be a pop cultural reason for the decline of entrepreneurship and value creation in this country. After a decade of two wars, people would rather be entertained by the spectacle of war, rather than create value. But this is Sun Tzu’s point – war is a failure to communicate. These reality tv shows create drama for entertainment purposes not from people communicating and compromising to work and live together – but rather from confrontation and zero-sum, winner-take-all destruction of the other. This is exactly what Sun Tzu meant when he wrote: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it. Perhaps the past decade of two wars has created an idea of war as entertainment, as spectacle, and desensitized our national consciousness to the pain and suffering and the true cost of war?

So as our nation just celebrated its 10th Veteran’s Day while at war, those of us who aspire to become entrepreneurs would do well to heed Sun Tzu’s observation: Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

War destroys value; entrepreneurship creates value.

UConnEBV Social Media Frenzy – We’re on Twitter!

A Social Media Neophyte Learns to Love Google+

I found this article by John Warrilow at BNet the Interactive Business Network

This is an interesting comparison between Facebook and Google+. Google is getting into the social media game, with a business focus.

Please take a look at this article. Maybe you'll find Google+ fits your social media needs as a start-up vetrepreneur.

And while you're at it – sign up to follow us on Twitter @UConnEBV