Army Major Shares Experiences
"Why did your army go there?" asks one of the youngest of the 80-some home school students ages 5 to 18 gathered for a unit study on Iran, Iraq and Afghan-istan.
Infantry Major Rob Griggs, Brigade Operations Officer of the Second Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, gamely faced this and other questions from CHES (Christian Home Educators of the Sandhills) students after his presentation covering his 15-month tour in Iraq.
Before answering questions, Griggs shared his observations and experiences of living with the Iraqi people. They are "friendly, curious people," he said. "The stereotypes are overblown."
Griggs compared stereotypes we have of Iraqis with the stereotypes New Yorkers have of North Carolinians. Mentioning that those types of stereotypes are like "looking through a straw," Griggs talked about how Americans sometimes disparage Iraqis for separating the girls from the boys in school. Iraqis may separate boys and girls in school, he said, but if we gave the choice, "most American girls and boys at a young age would seat all boys on one side and girls on the other, too."
"They give deference to others," Griggs said. "They have strong families and family support. Moms are strong-willed and focus on being moms. They will get mad if you cross the line."
After being told that the Iraqi women would never make eye contact or speak to him, Griggs quickly learned that that was a misnomer.
"They have commitment to family and handling family problems," he said.
He described how Iraqi women would loudly and face-to-face express their discontent if they disagreed with the way something was handled.
"Sometimes I wished the stereotypes were true," he said with a smile.
Stationed by the Euphrates River, Griggs was able to get to know the farming communities, as well as the tribal system in non-urban Iraq. Though the tribal leader is a male, he is not necessarily the eldest. The tribe "transcends community but also shapes community activities."
"For the most part," Griggs said, the people "just want services to continue. But families need to agree. Local governance is an emerging concept."
Griggs elaborated on how the United States originally said we wanted democracy in Iraq.
"They (Iraqis) want tribes to have influence on what they (government) do," he said.
With that in mind, Griggs said the army is now developing roles of tribal members as part of government councils.
"It's similar to the executive branch at the city level being the elected leaders, with the legislative branch being the tribal leaders," he said.
When CNN anchor Anderson Cooper came to spend time with Griggs' troops, Griggs said Cooper was surprised to see how comfortable he and his men were with the Iraqi ways of life, including eating Iraqi food.
"Your army guys sure are into the food," Cooper commented to one of the soldiers.
Griggs explained that when he and his men committed to defending the Iraqi people before they even knew them, he knew that if he and his troops were willing to sacrifice their lives for the Iraqis, they wanted to get to know them, and not judge them.
"Are they happy you're there?" asked a CHES student.
"People liked us when they saw two things," Griggs replied. "We're going to live in your community and support you; we'll keep you safe from the bad guys -- schools and stores opened. And we're not here to stay and make this part of America. We're your guests."
Griggs described the progress that's being made in the streets of Iraq by telling about how in an Iraqi marketplace that once was too dangerous to walk in, he'd recently borrowed a child's bike for a few moments and ridden the Iraqi streets.
"With all the military gear I was wearing, I was too heavy for the bike, and popped both the tires," he said. "But fortunately there was a bike repair shop nearby and I could get the bike fixed. It would have broken my heart if I couldn't have!"
All of Griggs' presentation, from the lifestyle of the Iraqi people to the emerging governance, still comes back to one of his hardest questions: Why did his army go there?
With ramrod-straight posture and direct eye contact with his young questioner, Griggs said, "Our country has done such a good job. If we can help other people have better lives, we do that. If others hadn't helped our country early on, like France, believe it or not, we might not have made it."
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