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Today I had to drive up to the offices of one of our clients on the north side. Because we were to be discussing a project for which I had brought in some help, I brought along the guy who was working with me. This gentleman, who we will call M, served as a Marine and very recently returned from deployment in Iraq.

For a good portion of his tour, M served as a foreign adviser to a company of Iraqi soldiers. On the way back from the client M told me a little bit about his time in Iraq. Some of his stories centered around the Arab culture. After living with it for many months, he said he was continually amazed at how different their mindset was.

For example, M and his company (along with several other companies of Iraqis) were instructed that they would be working in a given town. This town happened to be home to an abandoned, partially constructed water treatment facility. His company elected to set up their base of operations in that location. As soon as they arrived, nearly a thousand Iraqi soldiers jumped out of APCs and trucks, ran around to the inside of the wall around the facility and squatted to take a dump ... right inside their new home. Not a one gave it a second thought. M and some other American advisers brought in the US Army Corps of Engineers and asked them to build some latrines. The Army came in and put together some wooden stalls and placed halves of 55 gallon drums inside, then bolted on some toilet seats. The idea was to use them until the drums were full, drag the drums out the back of the stalls and burn off the waste. Anyway, after the barrels filled up, M gave the order to burn out the drums. The Iraqis doused their brand-new wooden latrines in gasoline and burned them down.

M said a couple of times that he was very lucky to end up with a (I believe I got this right) Turkoman Kurd as his Iraqi counterpart. This Kurd was very different from the Sunni Arabs that led most of the rest of the Iraqi military in that he was hard working, brave and willing to lead from the front. In fact, M had to advise him a number of times to be less personally aggressive during firefights because loss of a leader could be demoralizing to his men. The soldiers under this particular Lieutenant Colonel tended to have a better work ethic and wouldn't skip out at the first sign of trouble.

One day while on patrol, one of the soldiers in M's company was approached by a Syrian agent. Apparently this was not unusual and Syrian agencies as well as Saudis tended to be the major movers and shakers in the terrorist cells he was working against. The unusual part is that his soldier didn't take the offered $2,000 and went and told his superiors. M rigged up a field-expedient method of wiring up his soldier and had him go back to the Syrian and tell him he'd do it. They got three days worth of recordings from the guy implicating the Syrian government in terrorist contributions. Eventually they decided to take him, but when they moved in to capture him he holed up in a house. Rather than wait the guy out (which M was in favor of, given the potential value as an intelligence source) the Navy decided to JDAM him to hell.

M talked about some other things, including a GPS his company found that identified safehouses, potential targets and weapons caches throughout Iraq, the UK (the Parliament building), Mexico (possibly an infiltration route), and the US (chiefly Oklahoma, and Detroit, MI).

It was, as I say in the title, a fascinating conversation.
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