[June 30, 2021] I have always had the personal philosophy that if something can go wrong, it will. There is nothing bad about it; the fact is the world is an imperfect place and, well, I like it that way. Challenges are what make us better, force us to adopt responsibility to be more – certainly not less – satisfied with our lives.
Over the past few weeks, I finally put pen to paper and start writing about my first combat tour in the Iraq War. The task at this point is not difficult. Reading my notes from that time, back in 2003 and 05, I discovered many examples to support my philosophy. How could so many things have gone wrong?
One example stood out. Early in the war, Army Engineers were used for guard duty. This is not typical. Indeed, the need for building up our bases and supporting offensive operations was crucial. Why, then, were engineer soldiers underutilized? Ignorance? Yes, of course, it was. Something had to be done about it, and the senior Theater Engineer did not do anything about it. He probably didn’t even know it was happening.
We put a stop to that practice, but it took some convincing. Finally, I told the 1st Cavalry Division commander that he would not have his soldiers housed or feed properly if this practice continued. Construction was everywhere, but the equality of it was abysmal. Engineer soldiers were necessary for quality control. Only by using them properly – for what they were trained to do – would we get our housing and feeding systems online, on time, and without fear a structure would collapse.
I discovered quickly, being new to Iraq, to never make an assumption. “Doug always assumes everything will not work out,” my good friend and mentor, the Division Engineer, told me one day. There is a different culture here, a rugged desert environment, and an insurgency that wants us out. “You are standing on the edge of chaos.”
Even our Coalition forces worked against us … at least that is what it seemed like to me. First, there was the typical red tape: meetings and more meetings. Second, getting approval for any project was like pulling teeth, and on an approval board, non-Engineer officers would oppose a project because we did not convince them of its worth.
Priorities were established, and we were adamant that those priorities were correct. We stuck by them. Life was more manageable with our internal bureaucracy, but there was always the enemy. I’ll save a few stories about that for later.
Remember, as a leader, expect everything to go wrong because it will. Be prepared to deal with it with proper plans and prepare those who work for you. And, don’t take it personally because that is what life is about.