submitted by Tom Linehan [Email address: tlinehan #AT# austin.rr.com - replace #AT# with @ ]
I sat down with First Lieutenant Alex Hooper in mid-December, two weeks
after he returned from Iraq. His parents, Mike and Vera Hooper live in
Allandale where Alex grew up. He went to Gullett, and to high school at
St. Michaels. He graduated from West Point in 2005. Alex is 25 and
single. He is a First Lieutenant with the third battalion, eighth
cavalry regiment at Ft. Hood. What follows is an interview I conducted
with Lt. Hooper to learn firsthand what it’s like to be stationed in
Iraq. Alex is a very fit and bright individual. He has a good sense of
humor but also impressed me as being confident in his role as an
officer in the army. I read about the Iraq war in the newspaper
everyday and listen to it on the news but Alex is the first person I’ve
talked to who has been deployed to Iraq who could talk about it from a
Q – You just returned from Iraq after a 14 month tour of duty, where were you stationed?
Lt. Hooper – I was stationed in the Salah ad-Din province in central
Iraq. It’s about 30 miles north of Baghdad. One of the more well known
cities in the province is Samarra City. I lead a platoon of 32.
Q – What was your mission in Iraq?
Lt. Hooper – Our mission in general was to provide a safe and secure
environment for Iraqis in the region. My platoon’s responsibility was
to secure the area I was assigned. It’s kind of like being a cop in a
really bad ghetto. I would gather as much intelligence on who the
troublemakers were – the movers and shakers committing the terrorist
acts? The terrorists in Iraq didn’t just attack Americans, they
terrorized the people. The objective of al-Qaeda in Iraq is to create
A lot of the insurgents started putting down their weapons by the
end of my tour. They started reconciling with us and fighting al-Qaeda
A side mission was to work with the Iraqi army company in the
sector. It was necessary to get them involved in the fight. When I took
over they were the most corrupt and worst Iraqi company. They weren’t
trusted. The last 2 commanders were detained for terrorist activities.
It was a big undertaking. I was blessed with the right personnel and
with the right attitude and right team. That’s what I’m most proud of,
getting this Iraqi Company to work with us.
When we first got there the Iraqi platoon wouldn’t even go out on
patrol with us. By the end they were planning the mission, gathering
the intelligence and only asking us for support. They took over and
took ownership of the land. They got a lot of support of the people.
People started going to them with intelligence on the bad guys. People
started feeling safe when they were around.
Q- What kind of timeframe are you referring to with regard to this turnaround?
Lt. Hooper – It took every single day of all 14 months I was there.
It was slow and sure. It’s like a new teacher taking over a class or a
coach taking on a new team. You have to build a rapport with them. You
have to share suffering with them. If they were out pulling security in
the cold you had to be with them. Slowly but surely their attitudes
Lt. Hooper – It was probably about a 20×20 KM area. I had 32
soldiers assigned to my platoon. It was a large area and that’s why we
really leaned on the Iraqi soldiers. Sometimes it would just be me and
three or four other guys with a platoon of 20-25 Iraqi soldiers.
Q – What kind of impact did the surge have?
Lt. Hooper – The surge was concentrated in two areas: Baghdad and up
north in the Baqubah area. Actually, the surge pushed the bad guys into
our area. Our battalion was successful in finding and bringing the bad
guys out and gathering intelligence to figure out who the main players
were. We sought them out and were able to neutralize the threat.
Q – Was everybody in your platoon new to Iraq?
Lt. Hooper – No, we had a number of returning veterans who had
experience in other parts of Iraq. I had a lot of experienced vets.
Q – What was the day-to-day routine for your platoon?
Lt. Hooper – It depends on the tempo. You go in cycles. When we
first arrived there we went 8 hours on and 16 hours off. That’s 8 hours
on patrol outside the wire, 16 hours inside the wire sleeping, fixing
your vehicles, eating, trying to unwind as best you can before you have
to go out again.
There’s really nothing typical about it. You go out on patrol to do
what you have to do. Every day you wake up and you have a purpose. You
go out and do your mission, you engage your bad guy, catch or kill him
and you come back in and you’ve affected some positive change.
Q – Every time you go outside the wire, do you go with a specific purpose?
Lt. Hooper – You always go outside with a purpose and a task behind
that purpose. Otherwise you take a casualty and how do you justify
that. How do you live with yourself? We’re going out the wire just to
go out the wire? That’s not right. I can’t tell someone’s mother that
we took her son outside the wire just because we were in Iraq and we
had nothing better to do.
Q – What was the hardest thing about being in Iraq?
Lt. Hooper – I never really thought about that. For everybody it’s
different. One of my sergeants has a wife and seven kids. For him it
was hard being away from his family and trying to do it over the
internet and over the phone. For others it was missing their girlfriend
or their wife or their parents. I was lucky in that I had 3 of my best
friends from West Point in the same battalion and I worked with them
everyday. I would go out on missions with them. I really missed my
friends and my mom and dad.
The hardest part for me as a leader was dealing with one of my guys
getting hurt because you’re always replaying in your head what could
have been done differently. Did I make a mistake in my planning or in
my decision making that ended up getting this guy hurt? That was the
hardest thing for me was dealing with my guys getting hurt. Dealing
with the emotions you have that usually manifest itself in anger. You
always want to go out kill the bad guy. That was the hardest part for
me – dealing with the reality of the war. War is terrible.
Q – I gather that where you were you saw a lot of action?
Lt. Hooper – Yes, we did. It’s all relative. I saw enough action to
keep me on my toes but it wasn’t like I was – and this may just be me –
scared for my life everyday. I was always confident that whatever the
insurgents threw at us they would not overwhelm us. We would close with
them and destroy them. It wasn’t something our unit couldn’t handle. If
you look at where we started and where we got at the end of the
deployment. You can argue all day about whether we should be there or
not but you can’t argue we made Iraq, and certainly the little area
that I was responsible for a better place. I know that we made a
difference and that made it good. That justified all of the hardships
we endured, all of the things we gave up, all of the sacrifices my men
made. One of the Iraqis told me right before we left that for the first
time in 4 years he could take deep breath. He said, “I’m not worried
about people hurting me or my family.”
The terrorist don’t just terrorize the Americans as I said before
they terrorize the local people. They disrupt the local influencers,
the shieks, the ex-Baathists, the police chiefs, the leaders in the
community. They try to undermine them. The militant al-Queda want Iraq
to follow strict Islamic law. Under Sadam it was secular. They want to
make the area so bad for the people that they just cave to their will.
Q – In your opinion will the religious extremists prevail?
Lt. Hooper –al-Queda in Iraq is losing ground. The whole surge did
work. Let’s pray and hope we can maintain that momentum. Baqubah is
safe, Al Anbar is safe, Basera down south is being turned over to the
Iraqis by the British. Ramadi is light years ahead of where it was. My
area is good. Bhadgad is getting safer everyday. I think a lot of our
success is due to the feedback of the people on the ground and people
at the top who understand the culture and understand the way these
people think. Through just the 5 years over there we’ve learned their
tribal system and can relate to them better. The vast majority of the
populous have learned that things are going to get better slowly but
Q – What’s next for you. You’re on leave for a month and then back
to Ft. Hood. I understand you may possibly be deployed again in another
Lt. Hooper – Not sure. Everything is up in the air. In the army you
just try to be as proactive as you can. I’m putting together a packet
for the Special Forces. That said, I don’t mind my job at all. I don’t
mind being deployed. It’s an adventure and I’m kind of good at it. You
just got step up to the call and do it. With regard to whether and when
I’ll be deployed again, it’s too early to say.
Q – Alex, I do want to say on behalf of the Allandale Neighborhood
Association we appreciate your service to the country. It’s an honor to
spend this time with you and thanks for sharing your experiences with