Chief Warrant Officer Warren Frank talks to students Jackie Schmidthans (center) and Allison Lucas.“Everyone can argue whether we should have gone to war in Iraq,” U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Warren Frank said. “But it’s a better place now; there is more infrastructure and there are more schools. The biggest sign was the elections held in Iraq.”
Speaking to students in Dave Veazey’s Geography 101 class March 30 at UAF, Frank showed pictures and told stories from his two tours in Iraq as an intelligence officer. He stressed that his tales were from his own personal perspective and do not represent the military viewpoint.
Introducing Frank, Veazey told his students, “He got to know the people and places through the eyes of the people who live there. He really engaged with the citizens of the country.”
And that is exactly what Frank told about: dining with Kurds and Arabs, seeing the smiling faces of young children in the streets and the wariness of teenage boys accepting soccer balls from soldiers, watching shepherds herd their sheep, and attending meeting after meeting to try and develop relationships and make things better for all concerned. He also had to deal with murders, rapes, theft, and corruption. “We had to filter through all this and determine if it was a terrorist act, criminal act, insurgents, or tribal and apply the right remedy to the specific type of action.”
This is a new kind of war and soldiers had to switch their way of thinking from shooting the enemy to building wells, providing transportation, and empowering the government. His duties included counter insurgency, security, development of Iraqi intelligence capability, development of working relationships between Arab and Kurdish security forces, and to provide overwatch to Iraqi security forces.
Explaining to the students the importance of geography in Iraq, Frank said the bordering countries (Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia) all have “a stick in the pot and they are stirring it.”
His “austere” accommodations at a combat outpost in Iraq were shared with an Iraqi brigade. “Every day you walked amongst Iraqis,” he said. “It was a little different but for the most part they were friendly. They are not anti-American like you’d think but they have grown a little bit tired of us over there.”
While the food provided by the Army was less than exciting, Frank found the local food delicious and took every chance he got to enjoy a meal with the locals. They were very hospitable. “They would run out to kill a chicken when you showed up,” Frank said. Staples were chicken, bread, rice, lamb, and vegetables. “Eating with them was part of the relationship building,” Frank said.
Surprisingly, not all females wear burkhas, Frank observed. Often he would see young girls wearing jewelry and western-style clothing. “It depends on their upbringing and their family. The honor rests with the women there.”
Another unexpected thing was the way Iraqis welcomed women soldiers. There were only two women in Frank’s unit but they were admired and liked by the Iraqis. “They wanted to have their pictures taken with the women,” he said.
Warren has served in the military for fifteen years, the first twelve in the Air Force and the last three in the Army. He got his start as a mechanic on fighter planes before switching to intelligence, which has taken him to exciting places around the world. His next move will be Italy, where he and his family will live for three years.
Now that he is home, Frank watches television news programs closely for word from the war zone. It’s not the same as being there but he can’t forget where he’s been.