MICHELE NORRIS, host:
We wanted to get a snapshot of life in contemporary Iraq as seen from the eyes of some of those from this country who've lived and worked there recently. Today, we began with Lieutenant Colonel Robbie Robbins.
In civilian life, Robbins is an assistant school principal in North Carolina. In Iraq, he was with the 108th Division of the Army Reserve, assigned to a base about halfway between Baghdad and the southern city of Basra. He's just back from a year monitoring an Australian contractor that's training local recruits for the Iraq national police. I asked Colonel Robbins why in Iraq he would want to join the security force with the constant attacks on police recruits.
Lieutenant Colonel ROBBIE ROBBINS (U.S. Army): I believe it's the loyalty of -some Iraqis want to see their country do well, you know, in a democracy. They want to see their country as a safe place for their children to grow. And to say they're not, then why come down to a police station and stand in line, knowing the chances are at least fifty-fifty that you're going to get blown up that day, they keep coming back. And it's amazing how resilient they can be at times. And it's a paycheck. I mean, they pay pretty good, it's a way to make a living. Plus, I think it's loyalty to the country. At least we hope it is.
NORRIS: Throughout Iraq, there had been continual problems with radicals infiltrating the ranks, whether it's the national police or the security forces. How much of a problem was that where you were based?
Lt. Col. ROBBINS: I think it's a problem throughout the security forces, but if you would bring them together and ask how many of you guys are in the militia or a part of the insurgency, you know, no one's going to raise their hand, of course, and we just don't have a number. I couldn't tell you. But we knew they were there and, and that's just a part of Iraq.
NORRIS: You said you know they were there. Are there signs? What do you look for to try to weave them out?
Lt. Col. ROBBINS: Well, just like in any school system - as an assistant principal - if you're not going to class, you're not participating, you're causing trouble, it was the brigade commander's job to send them home. So we look for people just like you would in a school system, you know? He's not participating. He doesn't answer questions. He doesn't seem like he wants to be here. Except, we can fire them. In a school system, you really can't fire your students. They would send them home. So if eighteen hundred started, eighteen hundred didn't finish.
NORRIS: Of the eighteen hundred in each class, about how many would be dismissed?
Lt. Col. ROBBINS: Fifty. And, and some wouldn't come back. We would go on leave. Some would not return. But most of them would come back, but some decided they don't want - they do not want to be a national policeman. This is too hard a training or for whatever reason, just would not return from their three-day leave. And for violating the police academy rules, you can be dismissed. You can be sent home. And the brigade commander made that call along with our recommendation, along with the instructive recommendation. This student does not seem like he wants to be here. Let's send him home.
NORRIS: Being back in the U.S. and now reading about Iraq, what's missing in that picture? What don't people here understand about life in Iraq?
Lt. Co. ROBBINS: Well, for me, I don't think that the American people understand where Iraq has come from. If you go back in history and look at the beginning of Iraq and what they've been through with Saddam, we wouldn't be the people we are today if we'd lived the way they have lived. And you have to have a lot of patience. You know, two steps forward, one step backwards.
It's what they told us when we went there, whether it was - sometimes, two steps forward and four steps backwards, but you must have patience. And I think the American people don't have the patience that we all need. And I know I have more patience now. And I see the missing part, but I don't know if you can ever articulate that to the American public unless - you have to go there. You have to live with them. You have to eat with them. Then, you get a feel for where they're coming from, why it's the way it is, and what it's going to take.
NORRIS: What's your lasting impression of the country?
Lt. Col. ROBBINS: Well, it makes me glad I'm an American. I can honestly say that. When I lay off, I just felt like I left the country that if it survived, it'd be the greatest thing in the world for all of us. But if it doesn't, then it could affect my children, you know? And my lasting impression was how a country can get over years, over how long Saddam was there, how one man can tear a country apart. It's unbelievable how much power that man had over the Iraqi people.
I had one guy come up to me, he was one of our cooks, and just hug my neck about every day, just thanking me for being there. He lost his father in the war to Saddam. And he was always grateful to me, as an American soldier, for being there. So I usually get a big hug from him every morning just to thank me for being there. And so a guy like that, you know, wants to see the country succeed. But, you know, where he'll be 10 years from now, we'll never know.
NORRIS: Lt. Col. Robbie Robbins, thanks so much for talking to us. All the best to you, sir.
Lt. Col. ROBBINS: Thanks for having me, and God bless.
NORRIS: Tomorrow is part of a series: A Different View of Iraq.
Ms. KAREN JOPE(ph) (Aide Worker): At some point, the country is going to fall apart. And what we're trying to do is to get people to a point where they're going to be able to cope and help it move forward.
NORRIS: We speak with aide worker Karen Jope tomorrow on the program.
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