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Journal: Getting ready for ‘very dangerous job’

Editor's note: Tom Deierlein wrote a series of  e-mail updates to his friends, family and colleagues after being called up by the U.S. Army and sent to Iraq. Here are the excerpts accompanying Part 2 of's special report, Charity Begins at War.
/ Source: Special to

DATE: Dec. 21, 2005
TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Happy Holidays — Update from Tom Deierlein


Greetings from Fort Bragg, N.C. Here is my one-month update. This is going out to all the folks who asked me to keep them in the loop.

1.  Executive summary: I was called up on Oct. 13, 2005.  I had to report one month later on Nov. 13 for a period of 545 days (1.5 years) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It turns out that was not a fluke. They had a program to call up IRR soldiers, Individual Ready Reserve, like me. There are about 50 of us that showed up; many people didn’t. Most are like me, having been out around eight to 10 years. A few have me beat with 14 or more years out of uniform.

I am now part of Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF).  My job is to be a Civil Affairs Officer in Iraq.  I basically will be helping with building capabilities and capacity for the Iraqi people to take over so we can leave sooner rather than later.  Things like businesses/economy, agriculture, schools, hospitals and a stable government with services like law, fire departments, utilities, water and sewage (for all). This is really the main effort of all U.S. Forces at this point.

I am scheduled to leave in April 2006 for a one-year tour. I have been assigned to a Civil Affairs Unit out of Utica, N.Y., the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion.

The biggest risks I will face are what you hear about on the news, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), roadside bombs, suicide bombers and snipers taking pot shots. I try not to worry about those things; mainly, I try to get excited about what will definitely be an exciting, challenging and personally rewarding experience.

2.  More details and personal thoughts for those interested: I am still taking it day by day and can’t say that I am thrilled to be back. There are plenty of reminders each day of why I got out of the Army 12 years ago. But, at the same time, I am honored to have the chance to serve the nation and hopefully make some long-lasting changes to improve lives for generations of Iraqis to come. I am proud to wear the uniform once again and I am glad I answered the call rather than figure a way out of it like many did. I felt I had to do the honorable thing.

One thing is clear to me, though — right or wrong — they did need me and do need me and others like me because there are people over there now long overdue to come home to their loved ones, many after their second or third tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this is the top priority right now, you can imagine they are running out of qualified folks who haven’t already served once, twice or more.

In a way it makes sense to call up civilians to get civil systems running. Believe it or not, if my class is any indication, we are actually MORE qualified to do this mission than regular Army guys who focus only on using force and combat operations rather than negotiation, persuasion and non-lethal methods. We are just a little rusty on the important Army skills, like detecting a mine or running a secure convoy.

The reality is this is a very dangerous job since we go out each and every day and work with the locals in fairly small teams. Of the 50 of us, about five will get injured and, according to the Colonel, one or two will not make it home. Needless to say it was a sobering speech. (Don’t tell my mom.)

Still feel a bit like a fish out of some partly familiar waters. More than anything I am annoyed that I can’t do some of the things I used to do in my sleep. I did shoot expert with the 9mm, but barely qualified with the M-16. Three weeks ago I passed the first (physical fitness) test (push-ups, sit-ups and 2-mile run), which is better than I can say for many of my classmates. One of my classmates is over 250 pounds and has a heart stent. So much for trying to get a medical waiver ...

My classmates. We are a real cross-section of America, coming from all over and various jobs.  We have a few businessmen like me: an investment banker, a couple of cops, a fireman, an Air Marshal, two lawyers, a judge from Salt Lake City, a store manager from a Home Depot, a Realtor, a chemist, a journalist, a couple of students, electric engineer — well, you get the point.  We do have a few things in common: honor, sense of duty, commitment and a certain selflessness. Like me, many had to scramble and scrape to put their lives on hold. Too many have small children — even a few newborns. I am particularly in awe of those folks.


DATE: March 7, 2006
TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Greetings from Fort Bragg


No ... I am not over there yet. Still training here in North Carolina. Things have not been as fast-paced over the last six to eight weeks as they were for the first six to eight weeks. I can’t believe it has only been 110 days — it already feels like nine months or year. You ever have those dreams where you are back in high school? Let’s just say reality has finally sunk in and I am no longer waking up each morning and thinking, “Wow! That was weird, I just had the oddest dream, I had a dream that I had to go back in the Army ...”

1.  When. I am currently assigned to 414th Civil Affairs Battalion and will head to Northern Baghdad to support the 4th Brigade of 101st Airborne Division. We are currently slotted to leave for Iraq third week in April.

2.  Physical Fitness.  I am spending an hour to 90 minutes in the gym each day.  I am down to 19 percent body fat working my way to 17 percent. My cardio and sit-ups are much, much better, but arms and chest strength isn’t where it needs to be. Although I can now report that I can successfully complete a few pull-ups, which was not the case before Christmas ...

3.  Army Training.

            a. I just returned from a training exercise in Fort Polk, Louisiana, with the 82nd Airborne Division. It was a 10-day mission analysis and planning exercise, and I learned a lot. The scenarios are realistic and tend to focus the leaders on properly balancing fighting insurgents (less than 1 percent) while also helping the locals with short-range aid and long-term development (99 percent). It was the first (opportunity) for me to be in the Civil Affairs role advising a real Combat Commander about the impact of non-combatants and civilians on his unit’s planned military operations. The biggest thing that is still getting me is the lingo and acronyms.

            b.  Medical. I am now trained to be a combat lifesaver, which is somewhere slightly better than CPR/First Aid yet less qualified than an actual EMT.

            c.  Culture and Language.  I have been in language courses the past two weeks and I have been learning a great deal about Iraq and Muslim culture. I am also using Rosetta Stone CDs to study Arabic.

            d.  IEDs and counterinsurgency operations. I have been studying and learning a lot about the efforts we are taking to locate the bomb-making networks and the people they hire to plant them roadside and in cars. …

            e.  I can now drive an HMMWV (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) and LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle), (or) truck. Well, I should say I have a license to operate them — how well I can actually drive them is another matter.

            f. Weapons.  I am shooting once a week and getting much more comfortable with a 9mm. I will carry a Beretta 9mm and an M-4 rifle with me 24/7 while in Iraq.

4.  Morale. I am feeling upbeat and try to remain positive. Still very frustrated with so much of the old Army BS that many people simply seemed resigned to. As you all know too well, apathy, indifference and complacency bring out the worst in my impatience, which remains my biggest weakness. As with all large organizations change is slower and there are movers and shakers and those who are simply riding the system and simply trying to get by. Right now, most of the call-ups like me just want to get over there and get the “one year — boots on the ground” time clock ticking. May 2007 can’t come quick enough.