Two days before I wrote this column, the nation suffered its worst single loss (we hope) in the Iraq War. A terrorist, guerilla, Baathist, or "thug" by any other name launched a shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile at a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter. The big twin-rotor chopper was mortally wounded and crashed, killing at least 16 of its passengers and crew and wounding many others. To make the loss all the more tragic, the soldiers killed in this attack were on their way home for some well-deserved R&R.
This was sobering news. And it was all the more sobering for the Police staff because as we learned of this and many other recent lethal attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, we were wrapping up a story about Iraq. In this issue, you'll see the story of how Southern California police officers serving with the 1st Marine Division were given the almost impossible task of rebuilding the Iraqi police following last April's fall of Baghdad. And remarkably, you'll learn that they were starting to be successful when they were reassigned.
You're probably really tired of reading about Iraq. But I promise you there are things in this story that you won't see in any other magazine. First, it's written by a Marine, Maj. Mark Stainbrook, USMC Reserve, a ground-pounder who fought his way from the Kuwait border to the streets of Baghdad. Second, it's written by a cop, Sgt. Mark Stainbrook of the Los Angeles Police Department. And third, and I think most distinctive, there's optimism in this story. It's a story of hope.
With all the bad news coming out of Iraq on the 24-hour-a-day news cycle of cable TV and the up-to-the-second news cycle of the Internet, it's easy to imagine the country as one boiling cauldron of violence and hate. But Stainbrook paints a different picture. From reading his story, you'll realize that winning the peace in Iraq has much in common with how police work with a hostile community in the United States.
There's an old saying that I'll sanitize to read as follows: "Grab them by the testicles and their hearts and minds will follow." That's funny. But in the real world, hearts and minds are not so simply influenced, and you're likely to win more support with a pat on the back and with a willingness to pitch in and help than with a punch to the face. That's true whether your beat is Philadelphia or Fallujah. And the good things that are happening in Iraq are the result of Americans and Iraqis rolling up their sleeves and working together.
Any American with more brain matter than the average ant can see that much of what we hear about Iraq on the homefront is colored by the media's belief that there's no such thing as good news. Good things happen in Iraq every day, but they are lost in the deluge of the tragic and terrible.
This unfortunately leaves many people with the misguided impression that the situation in Iraq is hopeless. But as you'll read in our excerpt of Stainbrook's journal, although the situation in Iraq is not good, it's far from hopeless, as long as good Iraqi cops and good U.S. and Coalition soldiers and Marines are on the job and working together.
You may think it sounds a little too optimistic to believe that Iraqi police and American soldiers and Marines can work together, but Stainbrook will tell you that it happened. It not only happened, it happened just a day or two after the Hussein regime fled Baghdad. And it even happened under combat conditions.
In our cover story, you'll read about how Marines and Iraqi cops assembled a patrol to rescue a group of Iraqi cops pinned down outside a bank. As they approached the location of the trapped Iraqi police, the Marines and the Iraqis (enemies just a few days before) covered each other, returned fire against their common enemy, made arrests, and returned safely to their headquarters.
As Stainbrook stresses in his journal, good cops are good cops, and they recognize each other worldwide. Even in a war zone.