Two years ago Capt. James Haunty went from living in his Ohio home to serving in the Middle East in the thick of the Iraq war. He was plucked from the U.S. Marine Forces Reserves in early 2005, trained for three months, and then placed into active duty in Anbar province by March.
Haunty served a seven-month tour, and his unit’s experiences in Anbar were documented in the 2006 Emmy-nominated documentary Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company. He’s now studying at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and talked Monday night in University Hall about his time in Iraq.
Emphasizing he was just one Marine serving at a specific time during a long war, Haunty outlined the U.S.’s strategy in Iraq and his unit’s specific goals.
The three main goals were to clear out pockets of insurgents, to hold key cities and to build up the Iraqi security force, Haunty said. Typical missions included surrounding Iraqi villages with U.S. forces, then methodically searching houses for signs of the insurgency.
Before going to Iraq, Haunty went through Support and Stability Operations training, or SASO.
“In SASO we were trained pretty much how to go into Iraq and try and win over their hearts and minds,” Haunty said. He received cultural training, language training, and “just every-day nation-building training,” he said. But cultural barriers and a lack of interpreters made it hard for Haunty’s unit to reach out to Iraqis.
After one of Haunty’s operations, he saw Iraqi kids playing and throwing rocks outside a village. He approached the kids and greeted them with a friendly “How’s it going?” The children replied, “Israel,” pointed into the distance, and kept throwing the rocks in that direction.
“We’re not really suited to be a police force because we don’t speak the language. We don’t understand the culture. That limits our ability to protect the civilians,” Haunty said.
The cultural challenges in U.S.-Iraqi interactions made Haunty realize the complexity of the situation on the ground. Before he went, he had felt he had some grasp on the situation.
“I was more of an expert on Iraqi national affairs and Iraqi culture then than I am now,” he said. Haunty discussed the struggle of recruiting police officers when they were constantly killed and intimidated by insurgents. He also explained how insurgents would set up check points, search cars, and kill anyone with U.S. paraphernalia, especially if they seemed to be translators.
Though the audience asked him about his opinions on the war, Haunty declined to discuss his political stances or possible courses of action in Iraq. When asked about international diplomacy in the resolution of the war, Haunty said that it would take “some pretty serious incentives” before countries like Iran and Syria would help out the United States.
Until then, the military is preparing for a long battle, Haunty said. He noted the U.S. Air Force has extended its leases on some fighter bases in the region until the year 2020.