The Tough Love Colonel of Iraq

sassaman.jpgIn today’s New York Times, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman had some helpful hints on how to garner respect from Iraqis: “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”

Forget homebaked brownies or even a mellow guitarist singing “Kumbaya” just outside a shelled building. Apparently, the way to secure peace, love and understanding is to scare the shit out of the people you’re trying to befriend. So far, this has been accomplished with signs reading, “Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot” and by arresting family members of suspected “terrorists.”

I may have been too busy laughing my ass off when I read How to Win Friends and Influence People years ago, but I don’t think these unique approaches were mentioned by Mr. Carnegie.

Sassaman is 40, a pizza lover, and a former all-star quarterback for the Army, reportedly described as “cocky” by his peers. Some of his thoughts on handling situations can be found in this interview (user: dr_mabuse, pw: mabuse): “One of the seven rules I live by is, ‘Never let a fat guy pass you.'”

The colonel, to his credit, is trying. Back in October, he spent weeks educating his soldiers on Ramadan. A pamphlet entitled “Ramadan: A Guide for Soldiers” was disseminated among troops. ABC News reported one of the helpful hints: “After sundown when the fast is broken, do not be alarmed if you see large groups gathering to share a meal.”

In early November, Sassaman led a frenetic search through 70 homes for guns and suspects. The results? No weapons and resentment from the Iraqi people. In the same article, Sassaman was also reported as doing something highly undemocratic. As the Balad City Council was determining whether or not to get rid of a police chief, Sassaman grabbed the mike and boomed, “I hereby confirm the police chief to a six-month term.”

Sassaman has a firm maxim: “Our policy from the start has been: If you don’t shoot at us, you will be rewarded.” But how have the non-shooting people of Abu Hishma been rewarded? Israeli-style fences, checkpoint cards written only in English, and buildings destroyed with a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality.

There’s no possible way that any of us here on the homeland can be completely aware of the dangers in Iraq, or how the high-stress environment has taken its toll upon the soldiers. (To date, there have been nine suicides, most of them after combat operations were halted.) But last I heard, the whole idea of being in Iraq was to ensure democracy. While the deaths of soldiers has dwindled because of this new hard-line approach, I can’t help but ponder the long-term implications Sassaman’s actions will have: both for our troops and the people of Iraq.

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  1. unfortunately, the deaths of soldiers haven’t really dwindled (if recent mortar attacks and the downing of a helicopter are any indication), so there isn’t even an upside to all of this.

  2. You sissy. Who do you think you are? Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman is doing his job and he is doing it well. How dare you make such statements. What do you do for a living besides people pleasing? Our country should be proud of Nathan for doing what he does. He has a job to do and he takes that job seriously. He is a confident leader who knows his responsibilities. Any good athlete or good leader knows that if you want to win you need to have confidence in your abilities. Who wants to follow a scared sissy who looks for others to make tough decisions. You should write a letter about all the whimps who signed up for the service and get upset that they actually have to serve their country. Nathan is a good man and a great witness. Maybe you have a problem with people like Nathan because you were teased by the athletes in High School. And now since you are still traumatized by the memories of the endless beatings, you feel that the best way to get back at the good guys is to finally atack back. Of course you still choose the whimpy way, you use your computer. Instead of trashing someone like Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman you should be proud. Whether you agree with the war or not, our soldiers are in good hands. I bet their families would agree.
    (If sections of the above letter are out of line , or you are actually some big tough guy, I was only kidding. If not, plth.)
    Give Nathan some credit and realize that you will never really know what is going on inside the man. This is the life he chose, just like you are living the life you chose. He just happens to be in the public eye. If you are out there Nathan we love you and are praying for you. Keep on serving your country and God. God bless.

  3. Janor: As my post clearly indicates, I have given him the benefit of the doubt. But as justified with the news items I included (as opposed to, say, your half-baked theories), the doubts clearly outweigh the benefits. And, as such, Sassaman’s lucidity is fair game.

  4. I served under Nate Sassaman when he was my company commander at Fort Lewis, Washington, in the early 90’s. He has got to be the strangest character I have ever known. Not necessarily in a bad way, though.
    True story (one of many I could tell):
    Because we were a line infantry unit, we did PT first thing every morning. Friday morning was what was called “sports day”, kind of a break from the usual calisthenics and unit run. Capt. Sassaman’s favorite sport was, of course, football, but his preferred activity on Friday mornings was what we called “flicker ball”, which was played with a pigskin, but had more in common with that schoolyard fave, “smear-the-queer”. Before every game, Nate would state some very simple rules:
    1) E-6 & above (including officers) against E-5 & below.
    2) No hitting below the belt
    3) What happens in the field stays on the field.
    4)We play until someone bleeds
    Someone always bled.
    I’ve never known anyone more balls-to-the-wall intense. I never served under him in combat, but I always got the impression that his main goal at that time was to convince all his men that he was totally fearless, and I got the impression that it was no act. I also always felt that he was, like all leaders should be but so many today are not, totally dedicated to his men. He was most fearless when standing up for his soldiers. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, I personally witnessed him hang his ass out to protect his soldieres many times. That’s what a good leader does.

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