Half-jokingly, I asked my Sergeant Major if he could get me an ax handle for crowd control. He was a Sergeant Major, so he can do and get anything he wants if he put his mind to it.
The next morning, there was an ax handle on my desk.
“Walk softly and carry a big stick” has been attributed to my top three US President, Teddy ‘Rough Rider’ Roosevelt. For me, in Iraq, carrying a big stick was a way of life.
I was a doing civil affairs as my primary duty: visiting villages, conducting village and school assessments, distributing humanitarian supplies, collecting intel and eventually finding five weapons caches and I personally handled numerous unexploded munitions. They were not leaving the battle space by themselves. Over all a very cool job versus being in the logistics management section from whence I came.
But then again any job is cool until you get shot at.
Teddy Roosevelt was a man on a mission. He was never satisfied. He quit his position as an Under Secretary of the Navy to serve in Spanish American War. Teddy formed the ‘Rough Riders’ from essentially every walk of life: gentlemen horsemen, cowboys and whatever rift-raft was allowed to enlist. He formed the unit then handed it off to a ‘real’ Army officer to command the “Rough Riders’. Teddy knew enough about his abilities and weakness to do the right thing, not letting his ego get in the way- a lesson we all can use.
Crowd control during civil affairs missions is no joke- the Iraqi villagers outnumbered my team 50 -1. They would not form lines but rather crowd around any distribution effect, sometimes getting a little unruly.
The Iraqi young males would gather around any female soldier they thought they could get a date. None ever succeeded, but they did make our female soldiers uncomfortable.
The Iraqi civilians never feared our weapons; they knew we would never shoot someone for taking an extra pair of socks or whatever they got their rat paws on. Frankly, the Iraqis were right- we were not going to shoot.
I was concerned about accidental shootings or a soldier getting scared and butt-stroking an aggressive teenage boy. The longer we were in country, the shorter our tempers became. “Do not make me asked you a third time to settle down…”
The ax handle wonderfully worked . All I ever needed to do was point the handle to any Iraqi getting out of hand and they would settle down. Village leaders knew I was in-charge and the person with whom to deal.
Two terms in office was not enough for Teddy, who formed his own third party attempting to run as an independent- Bull-Moose Party. An appropriate name for the party founded by a man who was both a bullish and moose like.
Not surprisingly, Teddy lost the election and settled into a restless retirement. He and his sons attempted an Amazon River expedition; trying to find the source. Teddy was over 50 years old and the expedition was too much and he returned without finding the source.
Selfless service was a Roosevelt way of life- Teddy’s son, Teddy Jr. serving as a Brigadier General in the Army National Guard, participated in the Normandy Invasion. General Roosevelt passed away due to a heart attack.
Years later, some of my former soldiers still joke about the ax handle. Like a knucklehead, I did not have my team sign it and take the ax handle home.
The ax handle would have been a great conversation piece.
When my future grandchildren ask ‘what I did during the Iraq War’, I can look at the ax handle and reminisce about my time when I walked softly and carried a big stick.