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Opinions on Attire Not Quite Uniform

Combat Forces in Northern Iraq Bristle at New Command's Focus on Rules

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 4, 2005; Page A11

MOSUL, Iraq -- Famished and sleep-deprived after a 48-hour combat mission, Spec. Rusty "Doc" Mauney shed his heavy body armor and headed for the chow hall. He was near the door when a booming voice halted him.

"Where's your headgear, soldier?" said the sergeant major.

Mauney stammered that he had been out on a mission all night and hadn't brought along his cap.

"You're not coming in here," snapped the sergeant, according to Mauney. "Just because you're in a combat zone doesn't mean you can blow off Army regulations."

A change in command last month at the forward operating base, or FOB, that serves as headquarters for U.S. forces in northern Iraq has dramatically altered the military culture here. A corps of disciplinarians that has come to be known to soldiers as the "Nine Disciples of FOB Courage" has launched a crackdown on inappropriately tucked-in shirts, improper use of sunglasses and even swearing.

The changes have led to a classic clash between the infantrymen who spend most days "outside the wire" and the vast number of rear-guard soldiers who rarely leave the base. Although many of the noncombat troops perform such critical functions as military intelligence and communications, the infantrymen lump them into a broad category known variously as "FOB Dwellers," "FOB Goblins" and "Fobbits."

"We call them 'Wire-Inees,' 'cause they never leave the wire," said Sgt. Michael Lukowksi, a 21-year-old infantryman from Portland, Ore. "They don't know what's out there."

The attire flap had nearly blown over before an unfortunate incident last month that confirmed many infantrymen's worst stereotypes. An information operations officer venturing outside for just the second time discharged his M-16 assault rifle inside a Stryker attack vehicle. About 20 bullet fragments and pieces of the metal floor lodged in a battalion commander's leg.

The major who fired the weapon belonged to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the new unit that instituted the disciplinary changes. Many soldiers quickly seized on the irony.

"It's almost humorous how far they go with this stuff," said Staff Sgt. Steve Siglock of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. "I mean, you're coming back from a patrol. You might have been shot up, you might have had your vehicle blown up and you've got some dude telling you to fix your uniform.

"Let me put it this way: They shot our B.C. in the foot. They got bigger problems than how we blouse our boots."

The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment took command of northern Iraq shortly after the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, moving into a palace headquarters once occupied by Saddam Hussein's notorious sons Uday and Qusay. The unit normally runs the military's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where it scrutinizes other units in microscopic detail and brooks no deviation from military discipline.

The 11th ACR appears to have applied that mentality to the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of Fort Lewis, Wash., which does most of the actual fighting in northern Iraq out of 21-ton armored personnel carriers called Strykers. Shortly after the latest Stryker unit, the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, arrived last fall, Mosul was convulsed by insurgent violence in the form of bombs, mortars and small-arms fire.

In some ways, the renewed attention to uniform standards is a measure of the Stryker Brigade's progress, particularly in Mosul, where attacks have plummeted since the elections.

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