A New Scene
Behind the Sticker Price
Serving the People
Work & Play
Passion for the Climb
Life of the Mind
Arts & Culture
New, Noted & Quoted
Get to Know
Alumni Bulletin Board
Marriages & More
Update Member Profile
Passion for the Climb
A Patriot's Travelogue
Jim Carrier ’84 has a patriotic fervor
that goes back to age 5, when he planted the American flag on the dining room table and made everyone recite the Pledge of Allegiance before dinner. The Greenwich, Conn., resident leads the Veterans Appreciation Council, raising money and awareness for the families of those wounded or killed in action, for which the Department of the Navy gave him the Superior Public Service Award (the second-highest civilian award) in May. What follows is an adapted version of his report of a tour with the U.S. Army in Iraq, sponsored by
Leaving the comforts of my routine as a partner in a Manhattan money management firm, I took off for Iraq in December 2007. Feeling driven to gather my own observations of the job our servicemen and women were doing, I had applied to the U.S. Army for clearance. My father-in-law, a former diplomat, said, “You will have a unique opportunity to take in all of the sights, smells, and sounds of history.” He was right.
Jim Carrier '84 (right) with his escort, Army Specialist Dogman
I took a commercial flight to Kuwait City, then flew to the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in Baghdad. Being the only American there and the new guy on the block, I listened attentively while a string of European reporters chatted. They had just completed private interviews with General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force.
Two days later, I traveled northwest in a Blackhawk helicopter over sprawling meadows and small farms and landed in what looked like a goat pasture. My host, Major Randy Baucom, said, “We’ve brought you out to one of our Coalition Outposts [COPs] so you can see where the rubber meets the road.” The mission of the COPs scattered in and around Iraq is not only military, but also diplomatic: We act as ambassadors, befriending villagers and teaching them that we’re there to help push al Qaeda out of their homes. It’s all part of the plan to develop trust and confidence one village at a time.
Our destination was a COP located near Al Raood, home of the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion — 5th Regiment, 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. I was particularly taken by the senior NCO, First Sergeant Erik Marquez, a take-charge guy who shared with me every nook and cranny of his COP. He had managed the construction six months prior, when tensions were so high that villagers would not leave their homes. Four short months later, there was trade in the streets, children playing outdoors, and farmers tending their crops and animals.
We headed to Al Raood, to a negotiation with the village elder who was the sheik of the local Sunni tribe. In their society, village elders know all, including in which houses the al Qaeda are holed up. My hosts pointed out 75 small markets open for free trade and neighborhoods being policed by organizations called Concerned Local Citizens — Iraqis who work with the American military and provide intelligence from local people who want to rid their neighborhoods of al Qaeda. One little boy peered into the rear window of my Humvee, patted his heart, and with a smile flashed me a thumbs-up sign — a “Thank you,” perhaps for the soccer ball he had just received from our troops.
I stood alongside company commander Captain Brian Bassett and his fellow soldiers while they communicated with the sheik. The objective was to secure the sheik’s handshake on encouraging his fellow villagers to resist the threats of al Qaeda, who were pushing the natives from their homes. In exchange, the sheik would ask the Americans to rebuild the school that al Qaeda had bombed and burned. I was an eyewitness to the skilled acts of diplomacy conducted by these gracious troops.
In a turn of fate, an American flag I had brought from home played an important role in my trip. Thinking it could be briefly run up a pole at the COP, I told my hosts I had brought it. I learned that the military does not fly our colors in Iraq because the United States is not an occupying force; however, when the soldiers decided to use my flag as a backdrop in a re-enlistment commitment by Sergeant Alen Alexander, an eight-year army veteran from Brooklyn, N.Y., my heart nearly busted out of my chest.
As our time together was nearing an end, Marquez reached over to his right shoulder and swiftly peeled away from its Velcro backing his unit patch featuring the iron horse of the 1st Cavalry Division. He said, “Thank you for coming out to visit me and my fellow warriors. I have worn this patch for the last 14 months on this combat deployment, and I want you to have it.” I was speechless.
Looking back on my arrival in the CPIC, I thought of the Swiss journalist who pulled me aside and asked, “May I offer you a bit of a heads-up before you go out there? I don’t want to offend you, but if you’d like to hear the real story, I am happy to tell you.” I said, “Sure. Any orientation would be great.” But I was thinking, “Uh-oh, this guy is going to tell me how fouled up the Americans are.” But putting his arm around my shoulder, he went on: “The Americans have actually turned the page in Iraq in terms of security, and I am impressed by the brilliance of your General Petraeus.”
It’s a story I thought the American people and our troops deserve to hear. I was honored as a common man to be able to thank so many of our uncommon heroes and shake their hands.
Read more essays from our
Passion for the Climb series, or see how you can submit your own essay,