By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 18, 2007 – Individual roles, actions and operations are essential components of the Iraq war effort, but it is the sum of those parts that defines success in the war, the top enlisted leader in theater said last week. To determine whether the coalition is winning or losing in Iraq, it is necessary to consider three points, said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, senior enlisted leader of Multinational Force Iraq, during a June 15 call with online journalists.
The first target, he said, is "a government that (is) able to take care of its people and be self-sustaining" while generating economic growth.
For the second measure, Hill said, "you can define winning by improving the life of the Iraqi people and bringing some form of normalcy back" to them.
The last element, he explained, is building, training and equipping "an Iraqi security force that's capable of providing security for its people."
Progress against those three measures is best measured through "atmospherics," Hill said, taking the pulse of the environment within a certain area to get a sense of normalcy and functionality. Without such context, he noted, numbers and other specifics can sometimes lose meaning.
"I don't think it's about what we do for ourselves while we're over here," Hill said. "I don't think it's about how many hours an aviation unit has flown, or how many missions an infantry unit has done, and how much fuel a petroleum unit has pumped."
Rather, he explained, the usefulness and efficacy of those actions is measured in how they support the mission of assisting the Iraqi people.
"If you're playing a role in that and if you can see progress in that, I think you can say that you are winning," Hill said. "But through your efforts, if you don't see a change in the atmospherics -- if you see the government moving so slow that it appears that they're going backwards, and if you see an Iraqi security force that exists just to exist and not exist to take care of its people, protect its people -- then we are not winning."
That type of contextual balance is often missing from the descriptions of Iraq provided to the American public, Hill said; there is typically a missing link as to how individual actions or events relate back to the central strategy or reality on the ground.
"From the soldier perspective, probably from some of our leaders, I think we just speak in a language that the American people don't understand," he said. "If you were a ... servicemember you understand, 'Okay, I flew more flight hours than such-and-such.' Okay? They're saying that's pretty good, but still, that's whoop-dee-doo, you know. Well, what did the flight hours ... enable? And once we can say that, then people say, 'Oh, I get it.'"
Unlike the relationship with the U.S. public, communicating with the Iraqi public involves more direct interaction, Hill said. Rather than words, U.S. and coalition soldiers communicate with the Iraqis through actions, he explained.
He described the notion of the "strategic corporal" - a young service member, "mid-grade or junior grade, who's out there on point, whose actions ... would have strategic implications, whether it be positive or negative."
Coalition troops are such critical messengers with the Iraqi public, he said, because of their regular engagement with that public. Generic messages regarding normalizing the security situation and improving Iraqis' quality of life are directly communicated through the coalition's day-to-day activities, Hill said.
"They can tell them that through flyers, they can tell them that through interpreters, or they can tell them that through action," Hill said.
The action piece, he noted, is "assisting in cleaning up neighborhoods, assisting in getting schools open, assisting in getting playgrounds built, assisting in securing the market areas."
They are assisted in that mission by the Iraqi security forces, Hill said. The addition of the Iraqi police and army to the fight are, in fact, one of the biggest developments in the war in the past three years, he noted.
"Now we are partnered with someone, someone who has a vested interest in the Baghdad security plan working, and ... our fight and our cause over here actually working," Hill said.
But it is not an easy mission, especially for the Iraqi police, he said. Because of the severity of the security situation, reports of their performance must be evaluated in context, he explained.
"They are constantly under threat. And they're trying to cure a local population and have law and order, but they are constantly under threat themselves," Hill said.
Understanding that point, Hill said, also makes it possible to understand the U.S. mission of helping stabilize the security situation to a point where the Iraqi police are able to function independently.
Thus, establishing context is once again a central goal and challenge of communication on Iraq, Hill said.
In the case of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq, Hill explained, that challenge entails maintaining their faith in their leadership. For the troops to effectively execute a mission, he said, they must have absolute confidence in their chain of command and their fellow servicemembers.
Hill noted that anytime he is around a soldier's reenlistment ceremony he raises his hand and recites the oath of enlistment. "It just gives you a feeling of being something much, much larger than yourself," he observed.
"I think that serves as a reminder to our young servicemembers that we're enlisting; it serves as a reminder that, 'Hey, as a leader I've got your back and I got your best interest at heart because I need you to blindly obey my orders,' Hill said. "And so in order for you to do that, you've got to know that I've got your back."
(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)