Archive for Thursday, February 17, 2005

Provost marshal with Big Red One looks forward to return from Iraq

February 17, 2005

If Rodney Morris were home in Lansing, he'd be spending a lot of his time helping his wife raise their four children, including their baby girl.

Instead, though, the lieutenant colonel is a half a world away, in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq, overseeing about 400 people, including military police with the Army's 1st Infantry Division and a National Guard unit, and working with an Iraqi program that seeks to reform former insurgents.

Morris is provost marshal for the 1st Infantry - the famed Big Red One, and he's been in Iraq since July 2004. Before then, he was director of operations at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

The work in Iraq is dangerous, Morris said. His MPs, he said in a telephone interview last week from Iraq, "have been attacked with everything from small-arms fire to rocket-propelled grenades to mortar fire to improvised explosive devices."

There have been close calls, he said, but none of the men in his charge have been killed or seriously injured.

Though the work has been dangerous, Morris said, it also has been rewarding. That's been especially true, he said, of his work with the Civil Education Center, a sort of halfway house for former detainees of the U.S. and coalition forces.

The 1st Infantry operates in four Iraqi provinces: At-Ta'min, Diyala, Salah ad-Din and As-Sulaymaniyah. When a detainee from one of those provinces is released, he first attends a three-day program at the center. One of the tasks for Morris and his MPs is to deliver the soon-to-be-released detainees to the center, in Al Alum, near Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit.

Most of the detainees, Morris said, have a mentality instilled in them by Saddam's regime that "the American forces are here to occupy Iraq and to take our oil." A big part of the center's program is focused on countering that view and showing the detainees the good works being done by the U.S. and coalition forces.

There is an orientation the first day, when the detainees are given a new set of clothes, a shower and shave, medical examination and traditional Iraqi feast. At the end of the day, they go to spend the night with an Iraqi family that has been touched in a positive way by the coalition forces.

The second day is filled with basic computer classes, introduction to the Internet, classes on reintegration into society, the difference between terrorism and Islam and lectures on public works projects in which the coalition forces are engaged in the region. The second night is spent with another Iraqi family.

The third day is show-and-tell time in which the detainees are bused around to the schools, electric plants, water plants and sewer plants that are being rebuilt by the Americans.

"They get to see it all first-hand," Morris said. "They get to see, 'Hey, the Americans are here to help.'"

The center, Morris makes clear, is run by Iraqis. "Everything we're doing is behind the scenes," he explained. "We want them to run the program. It's important for the former detainees to see that this is Iraqi-run."

Rodney Morris in Iraq.

Rodney Morris in Iraq.

Though Iraq still is a dangerous place to be, Morris said he sees some light at the end of the tunnel. Violence continues but is down since last month's elections. The tide of the insurgency is turning, he said, as democracy grows.

"The insurgents got hit really hard with the reality that 60 percent of the country voted in democratic elections," Morris said.

As the military's work continues in Iraq, Morris will contribute to the effort stateside. He said his tour of duty was scheduled to end in March.

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