Last Saturday, I joined Cpt. Bumgardner, elements of fourth platoon, and some Special Forces officers on a mission assessing a number of Kurdish villages. Anyone who doubts the merits of Special Forces need only see the response of ordinary soldiers to them. There is a sort of awe and respect. To give you but a taste, one trooper I was with exclaimed that "If I am to get into a firefight in country, I hope it is today. Id like to see these guys at work."
Early in the mission, one of the SF guys called me over. He noted that he had seen me on a previous day wearing a baseball cap (Yankees, of course), civilian clothes, ceramic body armor, and a beard. He explained that this was the profile that terrorists are using for Coalition intelligence officers. As case in point, another of the guys in his truck had a beard, something which is prohibited to the rank and file soldiers. I had been told something like this once before. When I arrived at the Joint Operations Center one day, a couple of the soldiers mistook me for SF from a distance (I assure you that no one would mistake me for SF up close), because the body armor and clothes I wore were similar to what they wear. To remedy this, the SF officer recommended that I shave down to a mustache. While I appreciated his advice, I do not intend to follow it. First, in Baghdad, I generally dont wear the baseball cap outside, because it does make you stand out. Second, the beard (which is not a recent addition, but is something I have sported for more than a decade) contributes to locals having to take a second look to tell whether I am from the region (Arab or Kurdish) or foreign. I have been mistaken for an Iraqi on numerous occasions in the north and in Baghdad. I take these mistakes to be a good thing: even if it just takes the bad guys a second look to figure out that I am not local, that is a split second in my favor.
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