Most of us are fortunate enough to never see a warzone. We in America have been blessed in the fact that for the most part the fighting we have been involved in has mainly occurred on foreign soil. However, it is still real, and with ever increasing technology it has been brought into our homes and lives in a very real sense. While I hate the realities of war the pride I feel when brave men and women accept the duty and responsibility of serving is never diminished. I am proud to come from a family with a long history of service, but it is not just military personnel that travel to warzones and put themselves in harm’s way. Contractors, foreign aid workers, medical professionals and missionaries also go to help rebuild, and their stories often go untold. Jerry Williams is one such person.
Jerry is a true patriot if I have ever seen one. After serving in the Army National Guard he returned home and joined local law enforcement. After retiring as sheriff from Wayne County Indiana Jerry was contacted by a private contractor working with the US State Department and asked if he was interested in going to Iraq and assisting in the training of local law enforcement. He said yes.
Williams in Sammara outside his MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles)
I am honored and privileged to be able to share his story and experiences in Iraq with you, and not just because it is a story worth telling but because he is family. Jerry is my husband’s uncle and thereby my uncle and we are so proud of the sacrifices he chose to make in order to serve a great cause.
SM: How did you come to the decision to work as a civilian contractor in Iraq?
JW: I was contacted and advised of the CivPol International Police Advisor program which recruits retired and active law enforcement officers to go to Iraq, Afghanistan and other host countries to train and mentor civilian police in democratic law enforcement policy & procedures. I, being a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and a retired Sheriff of my county saw the offer as a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in promoting democratic law enforcement at an international level.
SM: What was it like to tell your family that you wanted to serve in this capacity?
JW: At first there was family resistance and concern for my safety while working in a war zone, but once my wife and family realized how much the opportunity meant to me and that I would be imbedded in U.S. Military Police units for safety, they signed on.
SM: What was your main job, and where were you stationed?
JW: The first mission I was stationed at F.O. B. Summerall just outside Bayji, Iraq. I and other IPA’s (International Police Advisors) traveled in Military Police patrols to an Iraqi PoliceDistrict Headquarters and eleven Iraqi Police Stations where we provided training in democratic law enforcement policy & procedures and firearms proficiency training. The U.S. military also provided to the Iraqi Police much needed police equipment and materials to improve security at the police stations. The second mission I was stationed at P.B. Ft. Apache in Samarra, Iraq. I, other IPA’s and the MP’s mostly worked at the local I.P. District Headquarters responsible for several hundred I.P. in the area and assisted the I.P. upper management in writing Policy & procedure for the district.
Williams with fellow IPAs (International Police Advisors)
SM: What were your expectations before leaving?
JW: I would go to Iraq and teach the Iraqi Police democratic law enforcement that they would soak up like a sponge and change the way they conduct business in a year of two! Boy was I wrong! Customs, culture and previous training are not easily changed!
SM: What were your first impressions upon entering Iraq?
JW: Miserably hot, dusty and poor sanitation compared to home. Iraqi people mostly friendly and polite
SM:What was the hardest obstacle to overcome?
JW: Being away from my wife and family for months at a time.
SM: What was your impression of how the Iraqi people felt about the US being in country? Did this change over the course of your stay?
JW: The majority of the population was happy we were there when they saw the improvements we were making. As we gained their trust most became outgoing and friendly. The others wanted us to leave or worse.
SM: How were you treated by the Iraqi people?
JW: Generally they were friendly and courteous. Some became close friends that I still communicate with and some you could tell would like to remove your head.
SM: When things got tough what kept you going?
JW: Family support from home and the close friendships developed while in mission.
SM: What was your best experience in Iraq?
JW: Being invited to the home of an I.P. District Commander friend of mine for an Iraqi holiday banquet and being introduced to his relatives as his brother from the U.S.
SM: What are some misconceptions that people have about the war in Iraq?
JW: That nothing positive has come out of the post war liberation and that we are occupiers rather than liberators.
SM: There are those that say we never should have gone and we are just making the situation in the Middle East worse, what do you say to those individuals?
JW: They should be thankful they live in a country where they can safely express their opinion (right or wrong) and criticize the government. Before the coalition forces intervention people in Iraq died or disappeared daily for expressing their opinion.
SM: Some have said that the only reason civilians choose to go overseas is for the money, how do you respond to that accusation?
JW: In some cases that was true if the person was not in a combat zone such as Iraq. As for me my life did not have a certain dollar amount attached for me to go. The money was good yes but I was drawn to the missions by the opportunity to share my knowledge and make a difference at an international level.
SM: If you could tell people one thing about your experience what would it be?
JW: [That it is] a once in a lifetime opportunity to make positive changes in people’s lives at an international level.
SM: One of your interpreters was killed, would you like to share anything about him?
JW: He was a wonderful, intelligent 60 year old retired Chemical Engineer from Bayji, Iraq who had a loving wife and two beautiful children. His love of his country was so great he was willing to risk his life and the safety of his family to be a translator for me and the area I.P. Our friendship was so close that in the evenings we would sit and talk about our families and share pictures while sipping Chi Tea. While he was home visiting his family one evening, four gunmen broke into his home, dragged him outside and forced his family to watch as gunmen proceeded to shoot him to death for working with the coalition forces. What greater sacrifice is there for your country? I think of him regularly. For his family’s safety I shall not give his name.
SM: What were your thoughts as you left Iraq for the last time?
JW: I will miss my IPA, Iraqi and M.P .friends that I worked so closely with.
SM: Do you keep in touch with any of the Iraqis you got to know? How are they doing? Have you considered returning to Iraq?
JW: From time to time I communicate with a couple of I.P. command officers and a couple of translators. They are all doing well and the young translators call me grandpa! I would like to return someday and visit with friends and eat some more great Iraqi food with Chi tea!
Williams with his interpreter
SM: Is there anything that we as Americans, who for whatever reason cannot physically go, do to help the people of Iraq?
JW: Be patient and support them as they work on improving their fledgling democracy! Remember it’s been over two hundred years and we are still working on ours!
Even with all the media coverage that can come from places like Iraq and Afghanistan we can never truly know what goes on on the ground until we have been there ourselves for talked with someone who has. Democracy does not grow overnight, and real change takes time. Whether you agreed with the war or not our support for those like Jerry, and the hundreds of other men and women serving in this type of capacity, should not waver. And it is my personal opinion our support for the people of Iraq should not waver. We went into Iraq with a mission of freeing them from a repressive regime and helping build a democratic government. It is easy to give up when it looks as if progress is not being made, but every small step is still a step. “Rome was not built in a day,” and neither was America. Whether support comes from people like Jerry, groups like Global Hope, the US government or people like you and me doing what we can our support can make a difference!
Jerry in Sammara with local children
**An adapted version of this blog was published in the August issue of Smart Girl Nation. Click here to view that article: http://sgpaction.com/sgn