Update on Capt. Rawlings
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. A while back on this program, writer Whitney Terrell introduced us to a soldier friend of ours, Captain Nate Rawlings. Since then, we've been checking in with him from time to time. Captain Rawlings is stationed near Sadr City on the outskirts of Baghdad. He joined us recently by a pretty scratchy cell phone from his military base.
BRAND: Nate, this is your second tour in Iraq. Last time, you were hunting down IEDs, improvised explosive devices. This time around, what are you doing?
Captain NATE RAWLINGS (U.S. Soldier in Iraq): This tour, I'm with soldiers that live with and train Iraqi army troops. We're what's known as a military transitioning. The Army calls this the mit for short.
And mit teams across Iraq are partnered with Iraqi army soldiers. And we live with them, and then we accompany them on joint patrol and joint missions, where we're with them to provide air support, enablers, and also to observe their process, so that eventually, we can turn over inspections of Baghdad to their control.
BRAND: So you're training Iraqis to take over when you leave. How are they doing?
Cpt. RAWLINGS: They're doing much better. Last tour, we did a sort of disorganized version of this. It was all that we could do to get them to shoot in the same direction. And now, the entire battalion has a good staff process. All those things that American soldiers take for granted as happening automatically is starting to come to fruition. So wee really have seen some big improvements in the three months since I've been on the ground.
BRAND: So you think things are better now than they were last time you were there, in 2006?
Cpt. RAWLINGS: There's not even a comparison. We were here when the Golden Mosque was bombed at the end of February in 2006, and it started the sectarian war, really, that raged for about a year and a half. Whereas every other patrol we seemed to find a dead body in the streets from one sectarian conflict or another last tour, this tour, the people are starting to realize that sectarian violence isn't going to solve anything.
BRAND: Now, our listeners have been writing to you. We have a special web feature where you take questions from them and answer them. What kinds of questions are you getting?
Cpt. RAWLINGS: I've gotten a real variety of questions. People have been asking what we do in our spare time. What food we eat, magazines we read. And all the way to kind of heavy-hitting questions about policy for homosexuals in the military, overall motivation for the war from the Bush administration. So the questions have been really interesting so far.
BRAND: What's your favorite?
Cpt. RAWLINGS: My favorite question so far might be what we read because I have a really diverse group of soldiers, and it was great to be able to talk about them. And because they love all kinds of different books and movies and video games. And in the future, for my future questions and answers, I'm going to try to write about my troops as much as I possibly can.
BRAND: So what do they read? I'm curious now.
Cpt. RAWLINGS: As far as magazines, they read everything from Sports Illustrated to Esquire, Maxim magazine. My mother's a librarian, so she sent me every kind of book imaginable from non-fiction. I tend to read four or five things at the same time, so I'm reading a textbook on macroeconomics, "Last Exit to Brooklyn."
My team sergeant has been reading "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," and then at the same time, he's reading a book by John Keegan about the history of military conflicts. So we've got a pretty well-read and diverse guys.
BRAND: That's Captain Nate Rawlings. He is stationed in Baghdad, and he will take your questions at our website, npr.org and answer them between his assignments out in the field. So Captain Rawlings, thank you very much for joining us.
Cpt. RAWLINGS: Thank you for having me.