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February 25, 2008

Letter from Baghdad

Todd Morris ’08
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The text below is from an email sent by Todd Morris ’08 to his fellow EMBA students. Morris is a lieutenant in the US Navy and is currently serving as Operations Officer for Task Force Hurricane, which is a battery of 135 Navy personnel running a Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) base defense system for the Army. Reprinted with his permission.

After spending a few months over here, I wanted to offer some perspective on the situation.

The surge and its underlying counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy seem to be making gains. I see the impact each day during intelligence briefings on local area operations. The shift in media attention away from Baghdad, and toward Afghanistan and Waziristan, serves as further evidence of the muted successes of COIN.

Recent improvements aside, I stand quietly skeptical as the postsurge drawdown looms in the near term. A key tenet of the COIN strategy has been battle-space denial through troop presence. Simply stated: peaceful gains have been made by increasing our presence in the neighborhoods of Baghdad. America’s forthcoming surge drawdown will increasingly foist the burden of peacekeeping upon local Iraqi leadership.

Unfortunately, lasting strategic success relies largely on the Iraqi people’s ability to assume control of security. Reviewing Iraq’s formation, and the eight decades of sectarian rivalry that ensued, would force most objective observers to wonder about the likelihood of peace in the wake of troop drawdowns. Furthermore, our military is incapable of sustaining current troop levels.

On a personal level, this has been an eye-opening experience. Life in Baghdad is surreal. My unit has not been tasked with off-base operations, so the largest threats remain rocket and small-arms fire that insurgents shoot into the base.

I live in a trailer park named Dodge City North near the base’s eastern edge. Typical mornings include the sound of explosions and automatic-weapons fire in the neighborhood to my east. Low-flying helicopters zoom overhead around the clock, the thumping of their rotors vibrating the walls of my trailer as they pass.

Peppered about the base are trailer parks similar to my own with other choice names like Freedom Village and Liberty East. Among the maze of trailers sits “The Oasis” chow hall. Though the menu varies each day, corn dogs are readily available year-round, and the facility’s Sunday morning telecast laughably features Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts aimed at keeping the warrior spirit freshly invigorated.

I recently made a trip to visit our few remaining British allies near the Iranian border in Basra. Basra is different from Baghdad, as the Iraqi Army has already assumed control of the southern portion of Iraq. The Brits are paring down their forces. At present they have just 5,000 service members remaining, and those souls are getting shelled regularly by Shiite militia in the area. The threat of rocket fire requires sleeping in steel and cinder-block coffins. These truly unique confines allow one to rest knowing that only a direct hit will bring harm.

It is amazing to think that you are now just a few short months shy of graduating from EMBA. I wish I was there with you all. Hopefully I will be home in time to crash a Friday evening social event in May.

With that I leave you with this quote:

“The deepest fear of my war years, one still with me, is that these happenings had no real purpose.”

J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle

(J. Glenn Gray was a WWII veteran who received a PhD in philosophy from Columbia before the war.)

Best regards,
Todd Morris


by DS | February 26, 2008 at 9:41 PM

Todd: God Bless! You and your fellow service members make America proud.

by Carolyn Blashek | February 26, 2008 at 10:03 PM

Todd, My deepest thanks for your courageous service to our nation and the cause of freedom. I am a Columbia Alum (Barnard '76; Law '79) and the founder of Operation Gratitude (www.operationgratitude.com), the non-profit organization that sends care packages to troops deployed overseas. We would be honored to send a package to each of your personnel. Please contact me for more information. THank you again for your service. We are forever in your debt. Carolyn Blashek cblashek@aol.com

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