Jewish World Review May 19, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763
Dispatches from the Desert: The truth tellers
NEAR THE SYRIAN BORDER, Iraq Sgt. Mark Hadsell noticed that when he was talking to Iraqis in Baghdad, the
men would try to stand behind something, or would stand in front of their
women. He thought this was curious. So he asked why.
"They'd been told that when they wear their sunglasses, American soldiers
can see through clothing," Hadsell said.
Hadsell handed his sunglasses to the Iraqi who told him this and had him put
them on. One more rumor dispelled. Another small victory for the team from
the 361st Psychological Operations Company, a reserve unit based in the
Seattle suburb of Bothell, Wash.
It's already been a long year for Hadsell, 38, a mechanical engineer in
Lacey, Wash., in civilian life, and his teammates, Cpl. Kent Yost, 29, a
buyer for Amazon.com in Seattle, and Pfc. Joseph Knitschuk, 23, an auto
restorer in Sammamish, Wash. The trio spent January and February on a
mission in the Philippines, and had just enough time in the United States to
trade in their jungle green uniforms for desert brown before shipping off to
"We finished up that gig, kissed the tarmac, and jumped on another plane to
come here," Yost said.
The team was always slated to support the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, but
arrived in country before the regiment did. So the psyops soldiers went to
work for the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.
The chief task of the psyops soldiers is to communicate to the Iraqis the
broad themes the coalition wants them to know. They have a loudspeaker atop
their Humvee, and pre-recorded tapes in Arabic warning Iraqis to stay away
from U.S. military operations, informing soldiers how to surrender, and so
forth. But most of their communication has been face to face.
Hadsell, Yost and Knitschuk do not speak Arabic, but, Yost said, "in Baghdad
there were enough people who spoke English that it was helpful to have
interpreters, but not essential."
The chief messages the psyops soldiers have been communicating is that
Iraqis should go back to work, and that it is up to Iraqis to determine how
long U.S. soldiers remain in their country.
"When you tell them that we don't want to be here, they are in awe," Hadsell
Since Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a thoroughly totalitarian state, few
Iraqis have any idea what freedom is like, Hadsell said.
"They couldn't leave one job for another without having a both a letter from
their old employer releasing them from their job, and another letter from
their new employer accepting them, Hadsell said. "It blows their minds when
we tell them they should just do what they want, they don't need our
permission or anybody else's to change jobs."
"They're good people, but it's going to take some time on training wheels,"
The chief job of the psyops soldiers is to disseminate information. Each
week Alf, the lead Iraqi interpreter for Tiger Squadron, goes to Baghdad and
buys every newspaper he can find. Hadsell, Yost and Knitschuk then
distribute them. The psyops soldiers also hand out cheap radios and
schedules printed in Arabic of Voice of America broadcasts.
"The only satellite TV channels the locals can get are Syrian, and they are
always bad-mouthing the United States," Hadsell said.
Hadsell's team also specialized in "snatch and grab" operations in Baghdad.
"When we'd get five people to identify someone as Baath or Fedayeen, we'd
take him down."
Since psyops is normally associated with kinder, gentler means of
persuasion, Hadsell's fondness for "snatch and grab" operations may stem
from his earlier service as a Force Recon Marine.
"You've got to get into the face of the tough guys. Otherwise, they'll think
you're weak," Hadsell said.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan
administration. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly