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Mon June 7, 2004
Ft. Leavenworth soldeirs help write Iraq War history
By Matt Hackworth
Ft. LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Fighting is still underway but the U-S Army has already published what could become the first volume in the official history of the war in Iraq. As K-C-U-R's Matt Hackworth reports, the task of researching and writing the report falls to a group of Kansas City-area soldiers.
The officers in charge shirk at calling the report an official history. Rather, they call it an initial report of how the U-S Army fared during major combat operations in the Iraq war. Lieutenant Colonel E.J. Degan says that even though the conflict clearly isn't over, the process of cataloging history needed to start immediately.
"If you leave something like this on the shelf and you dawdle over it five or six years, you've already missed the wagon of change. If we don't get a book out like this that captures things at least thru one may of 2003, we're wasting an opportunity to do an initial analysis on that data."
That initial analysis is called On Point, a more than 500-page volume that tells the story of the U-S Army in Iraq. A study group of about 30 officers and enlisted men and women compiled the history of the war in Iraq at Ft Leavenworth. The Kansas post is sort of a nerve center for the Army, home to resources and streams of information. Retired Colonel Gregory Fontenot led the historical team, which quickly trained in how to conduct and record interviews, follow historical threads and make reports before deploying to Iraq. For two months, the team had carte blanch to travel wherever they wanted, and talk to anyone they needed. The recorded more than 3,500 interviews and pored over more than 236,000 documents, searching for the most miniscule of details. For example, Fontenot asked a soldier to follow the trail of a bad part all the way back to its U-S origin.
"If you go down to the Ford dealership and you have a part requirement, you get frustrated if you have to wait 24 or 72 hours to get it put in. Now picture yourself on the end of a long supply line being shot at, and now you understand why soldiers complain bitterly when parts don't arrive on time."
The team found other problems, too. There's the story of soldiers who arrived by the planeload on a dark desert night with no one in charge to meet them. And, there's a thorough examination of the mistakes surrounding the ambush on the 507th maintenance company that led to the subsequent capture of POWs, including Jessica Lynch. Of course, successful raids and well-working supply lines are highlighted as examples for the future. Personal stories, told in the soldiers' own words, are featured throughout the report. Fontenot says those personal accounts of battle are invaluable teaching tools for the future:
"That's the reason the chief of staff of the army directed it. He wanted to have in the hands of soldiers an operational assessment of a recently concluded combat operation done about soldiers, by soldiers for soldiers. And that's what this book is."
Both Fontenot and Degan have master's degrees in history. But they're also combat veterans. The officers say the Army has changed a lot in the wake of mistakes revealed by its last test in the Gulf War. By preserving the successes and mistakes in this war, they hope this first volume of history will shape the change that will inevitably come in the future. Officers who want to make the Army a career attend school at Ft Leavenworth, and they'll likely study the history of the Iraq war that was written at the post in the years to come.
To view the report, click here