An Interview with PFC Alanko
While in Iraq last December, I was made aware of Acute Politics, a military blog (or MilBlog) from a soldier in the field. Acute Politics is written by Private First Class Gordon Alanko, an engineer serving in the Fallujah region with Alpha Company, Task Force 321 Engineers (Task Force Pathfinder). PFC Alanko and his fellow engineers are tasked with route clearance on the Iraqi highways, and are on the roads daily. His blog is a must read for a window into the daily life of a soldier in Iraq. Below is an interview with PFC Alanko.
How do you feel about the plan to surge more troops into Iraq? Would more troops in Anbar province improve or degrade the security situation?
It seems to me that we're playing a big game of "whack-a-mole" here in the Anbar province- where we hit, the insurgents fade away, and when we lower patrols in an area, they come back. Obviously, everyone's hope is that with more troops, there will be fewer places for the enemy to run. There's no way to tell for sure that it will work, but I think it's definitely worth a shot.
Do you interact with the Iraqi Army or police on a regular basis? If so can you share some impressions of the IA/IP?
Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to work directly with either the IA or IP. The news is reporting that more and more of the Anbar province will be handed off to Iraqi forces over the next few months, so hopefully I'll get the chance in the months to come.
In Walking on History, you state "I am a shameless romantic, a slightly better than average student of history, and there is a current of idealism under my skin that has not yet been dulled by reality." Do you fear your experiences in Iraq will cause your idealism to fade?
No, I don't think they will. I'm here in part because of my idealism - because I believe everyone should be given the chance to choose their own path in life, and because I felt I needed to back that belief with action. I don't see my time here changing that.
What is your greatest challenge as an engineer serving in Anbar province on a daily basis?
Well, not getting blown up is a big concern of mine, personally! Seriously, though: I would say that the biggest challenge I see is balancing operational concerns against humanitarian concerns. When we go looking for IEDs, we have a twofold mission: secure the route for coalition forces, and limit damage to Iraqi civilians and civilian infrastructure. If something goes wrong while we're trying to neutralize an IED, it can damage our equipment, but it can also injure the ever-present gawkers, or damage roads, power lines, or canals. If we're pushing hard to clear a route for an operation, we may have to make a decision on where we destroy the explosives to take as little time as possible, and yet avoid damaging infrastructure. I've posted a story on my blog, A Village Named Karma, which illustrates the type of things that can happen.
How do you and your friends blown off steam after a mission?
The tent is pretty noisy for half an hour or so after a mission. Everyone gathers around talking about the trip, the close call we had, or the funny event that transpired. After the excitement starts to wear off, a lot of us will head down to the rec center to check email, play X-box, or call home and let loved ones know we survived another one. Some days there's no steam to burn off- it's the third mission in 48 hours, and it was an 11 hour trip on which we found 7 bombs, for example. When we get back from something like that, no one wants anything more than a quick bite to eat and a soft pillow.
Are you still playing "Crete-put" before you roll out the gate, or has this been banned yet?
We sure are! Get ready to see this platoon of superstuds playing shot put at the next Olympics!
How has blogging affected your soldiering experience? Does this help you keep in better touch with friends and family?
Blogging has been great for me. I started writing my blog as a hobby to pass the time and give me some memories when I go back home. I'm not usually very good about writing and returning emails, so the blog has also served to keep my family informed and worry-free.
Do you worry the military will shut down you blog, and other MilBloggers? If this happened, how would this impact your morale, and your contact with the outside world?
I'm not worried about the military shutting me down. I've always been very careful not to post information that could create risk for myself or others. It's happened to other Milbloggers on occasion, but it's rare, and usually follows some breach of operation security requirements. If for some reason the military started to shut down the blogs of deployed soldiers without a security issue, I would be very disappointed. In the past, I've gone so far as to say that the military should actively promote deployed bloggers, because I feel that those of us writing from Iraq and Afghanistan bring a vital piece of the overall picture into view. I think it would be a terrible mistake to cover that picture without good reason.