Off the shelf
By Pete Creighton
Rob Schultheis, Waging Peace, a Special Operations Team's Battle to Rebuild Iraq, Gotham Books, $26.00.
In this 180-page book the reader meets and joins a squad of about a dozen civil affairs soldiers who in other wars are non-combat — but in Iraq are armed and padded at all times. This is the men (and two women) of Civil Affairs Team 13, a company of the 425th CA Battalion (Reserve). They are spread thin to patrol the Al Khadimiyah neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad.
The author, Rob Schultheis, asked to join the CA unit and reports his intimate adventure with this little-known branch of the Army which tries to win over the populace after the bombs have done their damage. He describes Baghdad as "the most wretched city on earth."
The men and women of the CA battalion do all they can to make life a little better for the long-suffering Iraqis. Their theme is: You can't win a war without winning over the people. Whereas most of the Americans in Baghdad are safely enclosed in the well-guarded Green Zone, the CA units are billeted outside where you have to "watch your back" at all times.
A more encouraging statement is that of Team 13 Commander Mark Clark, who says, "90% of Baghdad residents would never do anything to harm an American soldier." Most or many of these realize we are determined to democratize Iraq, and for this tolerate us in their country.
In all four of the "inside Iraq" memoirs I've read, it's the American troops in combat who most want to see this war through to the bitter end. War is their thing and they want to stay with their comrades regardless of the constant strain of facing death from an unseen enemy.
After reporting all the misery seen and strength of the enemy, author Schultheis is "convinced we can salvage Iraq." To do so he would advise to: recruit 10 times more civil affairs soldiers, teach more of them Arabic, triple the overall number of troops, and pay them more.
Many of us wish, after 9/11, the war against terrorism had ended in Afghanistan — where there is still much to do to create democracy. Now we have a much greater challenge, greater sacrifice — and a need for greater leadership of the world's superpower. That's us, staring into an uneasy future.
This book is available at bookstores and at the Galesburg Public Library.