A few weeks ago I was contacted by a soldier working for CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida. He found my blog and asked if I’d be willing to interview a soldier with experience in the Middle East and post it. I said, “Of course,” and submitted fifteen questions. The other day, I got the answers posted below. It was my pleasure to exchange words with Marine Captain Charlie Benbow, Firepower Control Team Leader, 2nd Air / Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, II Marine Expeditionary Unit. He’s a veteran of four deployments in and around Afghanistan and Iraq. Right now, he’s stationed in Camp Lejuene, North Carolina.
As you probably know, I got your name from Spc. Chris Erickson in Tampa. I’d like to first thank you for your service to our country - which seems to be more than most, based on what Chris told me. My questions are:
What does a Firepower Control Team Leader do? Coordinate airstrikes? Artillery from ships?
“The Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) mission is to plan, coordinate, and conduct terminal control of fires in support of allied and coalition forces. By fires, we mean the entire spectrum of fire support, from close air support to artillery and naval gunfire. The Firepower Control Team (FCT) is where the rubber meets the road in ANGLICO. We walk the ground with those allied forces (in this case, Iraqi Army) and provide access to Coalition fire support, mostly U.S. air support and artillery, for the supported unit. I am also a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller, which means that I am qualified to control aircraft engaged in close air support. My primary role on the last deployment was to control aircraft in support of an Iraqi Army battalion near Habbaniyah.”
How long were your tours in Iraq and Afghanistan?
“My first tour in Iraq lasted for six months, but only two of those were actually in Iraq. We spent a month and a half in transit to Kuwait aboard amphibious shipping, then another month in Kuwait during the buildup to the invasion, and finally another month and a half in transit back to the U.S. My tour in Afghanistan lasted for six months. My third deployment was as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), that one lasted for six months as well. I did not actually set foot in Iraq on that deployment; we trained in Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti, but only sent a partial detachment into southeastern Iraq to work underneath a British task force. My last deployment only lasted for four and a half months, all of it spent in Al Anbar province.”
How old are you?
Do you have a family? If so, how have they dealt with your deployments?
“I am not married, yet. My immediate family (parents, brother, and sister) had a difficult time with the first deployment, particularly when my battalion was involved in the Battle of An Nasiriyah. The second deployment was much easier for them, as they initially had an impression that Afghanistan would be safer. Ironically I was wounded less than a month into that deployment, after coming through the invasion of Iraq without a scratch or even a close call. On the last deployment, they were a bit more anxious since I was going into the heart of Al Anbar province to work with the Iraqi Army. Also, for the first time I had a serious girlfriend. She knew early on in our relationship that I was expecting to leave for Iraq just two months after we met, but dealt with it fairly well. She had a couple of rough spots, like one night after visiting with some friends in Richmond, VA. My friend returned from Hadithah, Iraq about the same time that I got back from the MEU deployment, and when I told him that I would be working with the Iraqi Army, he cringed. Although she didn’t tell me until much later, his reaction deeply troubled Stephanie. However, she was very supportive, and my family was very supportive of her throughout.”
How long is a deployment?
“Most of my deployments have been 6 months, but the typical rotation for a Marine unit in Iraq is 7 months. I will be returning to Iraq in the fall for the full 7 months.”
Having volunteered for four tours, you have a long view of America’s response to the terrorists who attacked us. Were you commander-in-chief, how would you handle things now?
“Tough question, and I’m hesitant to go ‘outside of my lane,’ but here goes nothing. Iraq is obviously the center of gravity in the current War on Terrorism (on an aside, a great quote I heard from a professor from Sandhurst: 'Never declare war on an abstract noun.'), so it is where we need to focus our efforts on defeating the Islamic extremists. Al Qaeda and their associated movements apparently see Iraq as a center of gravity as well, as they have devoted extensive resources to fighting our troops there. I would direct the military to focus efforts on supporting the Iraqi Army with training and fire support. More boots on the ground is crucial, but we have reached the point where drastic increases in U.S. troop strength are nearly unsupportable. The most effective means would be continuing to increase the number of Iraqi troops and provide them with the necessary support to establish footholds in and around the major population centers. On a global level, keep the pressure on international terrorist organizations through the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”
How is the morale of the Marines you serve with? Do they feel the support of their country?
“The morale is very high, but the Marines are starting to wonder what the changes in Congress and the Secretary of Defense will mean for the war effort. Most of us feel the support of the average American, but are very skeptical of the media and the political leadership. There is almost a sense that the latter two are working against us.”
When so many say, “We oppose the war, but we support the troops,” how does that make you feel?
“I think it’s a superficial gesture, designed to make the so-called supporter feel better about themselves. If you really support us, just let us win this damned thing. Whether you agreed with President Bush’s justifications in 2003 or not, we are committed to this war and we need to win it. Congress has passed several bills that support the troops, yet many of them are calling for withdrawal. Again, if they really supported us they would give us what we need to win the war, and accept nothing less than victory. Instead, many of them want to forsake the sacrifice of our dead comrades and withdraw without finishing what we started.”
Why did you become a marine?
“Originally because I wanted to fly fighter jets. I changed my mind a little over halfway through college and decided that I wanted to lead Marines on the ground. I’ve stuck around because I truly enjoy being around the guys I serve with.
What do you think of the Iraq Study Group report?
“I have not read the report yet, I have only heard discussions on TV and read more discussions in the blogosphere. However, my impression so far is that it is worthless, as they apparently discarded the advice they got from their military advisors. I do think it makes some good recommendations with respect to the military advisor teams in Iraq, but the overall strategy (majority of combat brigades out by 2008) is inherently flawed. It is not a strategy for victory, it is a strategy for capitulation and submission.”
Do your fellow soldiers discuss the report? If so, is there a consensus about it?
“There has been some discussion at work, but most of the opinions reflect what I wrote above. Mostly, we are just watching and waiting to see what the Democratic Congress will do.”
How would you define victory in Iraq?
“When the Iraqis have a stable, functioning government and military that can operate without a large U.S. presence to back them up. They do not currently have that.”
Is this war like any others America has waged? If so, which ones?
“There are similarities with many of the wars in our history, but none so closely that they can be used as a model for strategy or tactics in Iraq. The parallel with Vietnam that most concerns me is the erosion of our national will to continue this war. We are continuing to validate the strategy of engaging us with protracted, low-intensity conflict.”
What do you think about talk of renewing the draft?
“Complete and utter nonsense. Why force us to accept people who do not want to do this job? The drivel about lower economic classes being overrepresented is just that, when you take a look at actual combat forces the socioeconomic breakdown is very similar to civilian society. There are quite a few children of the middle and upper classes that join the military looking for adventure, and when they do they typically sign up for combat arms.”
What can ordinary citizens like me do to help guys like you?
“Convince your elected representatives that you will not accept anything less than victory in Iraq, and do not allow the politicians to redefine victory into some sort of easy exit strategy. Care packages are great too, but what I really want for Christmas is for Americans to wake up and realized that we are committed to this war and can not afford to quit now.”
Clearly, we’re fortunate to have such brave, intelligent young men in our armed forces. People like Charlie Benbow give the lie to Senator Kerry’s remarks about those who don’t do well in school being “stuck in Iraq,” or Congressmen Rangel’s about poor Americans in the military because it’s their only choice. These men make me proud to be an American.
Labels: Islam, Radical Muslims, war