Fondow helps Iraqis daily

? Editor's note: A writer, embedded with the 101st Airborne in Kirkuk, Iraq wrote about Jonathan Fondow, son of Don and Connie Fondow of Park Rapids. Jonathan is on his second tour of duty in Iraq, which may end this fall. Then he will be station...

  • Editor's note: A writer, embedded with the 101st Airborne in Kirkuk, Iraq wrote about Jonathan Fondow, son of Don and Connie Fondow of Park Rapids. Jonathan is on his second tour of duty in Iraq, which may end this fall. Then he will be stationed stateside for a year and go to Afghanistan.

It is amazing how quickly a place becomes home. I can find my way from my CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) to the latrine in the dark. And the base is dark at night - no point making it easier for the enemy to find his target. The Giant Voice has not spoken for a few days, although the sound of gunfire is part of daily life.
After allowing me a week to get settled, Sgt. Schultz, from the Public Affairs office at FOB Warrior, arranged my first interview, with Maj. Greg Ford. As I had never interviewed anyone before, I hoped Maj. Ford would be accommodating. He was.

Serving as a Staff Officer for Intelligence, Maj. Ford said his concerns can be summed up with the acronym "WET," which stands for Weather, Enemy and Terrain, all of which require constant monitoring.

Also on Maj. Ford's mind are the soldiers of the 1st Brigade. "Our soldiers are the finest representation of our nation there is," he said. When asked to describe the mood of the Iraqi people, he said, "The historical sense of being wronged still lingers." But he believes our soldiers are making progress in helping the Iraqis overcome their "lack of knowledge and awareness."

"They don't know how good it can be," he added.

Every day our soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division work to make Kirkuk a safer and more self-sufficient province. Very often their good work goes unreported, possibly because it happens over time, each day bringing a small amount of progress. This sort of work requires patience and courage because the insurgents would like to see that no good deed goes unpunished.


Just one day after my interview with Maj. Ford, I took my first trip outside the wire - off the base, and I got to meet several examples of the fine soldiers he talked about. Three soldiers were responsible for transporting me and another passenger to the Kirkuk Government Building (KGB). We were part of a small convoy of Humvees. Everyone was required to wear flak jackets and helmets, and of course the soldiers carried their weapons.

On the inside of the windshield, I noticed someone had written the steps that should be followed in the event of an attack on the vehicle resulting in injuries to its passengers. I thought about the enormous responsibilities these boys are given, in this case putting themselves in harm's way to protect us and get us to our destination. I felt very protective of Valero, Elfer and Hart. Valero was the gunner, Hart the driver and Elfer rode shotgun. I wondered if they resented us for requiring their services, but I don't think they did; it was just part of their job. They were very friendly and welcomed us to their vehicle.

After a short and, thankfully, uneventful trip, we arrived at the KGB. I wasn't sure what to do once I got there, but I was not supposed to wander off on my own. Following my roommate's suggestion, I decided to see what a day in the Claims Office looked like. Jonathan Fondow, a soldier from Minnesota, graciously invited me follow him. Fondow works with the JAG (Judge Advocate General) branch of the 101st, and it is one of his responsibilities to spend time at the KGB, processing claims filed by Iraqi citizens who feel they have suffered damages due to the actions of Coalition Forces.

Fondow is 24 years old. He is poised and intelligent - another exemplary soldier. He said he had recently signed up for five more years, and I thought how lucky the Army was to have him. Fondow works with local interpreters to make sure people who want to file a claim get the paperwork filled out properly. He never forgets that many of these people have suffered terrible losses, and he, together with the Army, wants to be sure they get the help they deserve.

Each person who entered the office came with a story. The day began with the examination of a shell, all that remained of an explosive that a local woman claimed had destroyed her home. It was up to Fondow to determine whether or not it could have been one of ours. He sought the opinion of artillery experts, consulted schedules to see if there had been activity on that day and ultimately it looked like the shell did not belong to us. He knew the woman's home truly had been destroyed and felt badly that when she returned to learn the outcome of her claim, he would not be able to help her.

In another case, a 51-year-old man arrived with a relative, who helped him remove his shirt, revealing a massive scar running almost entirely around his shoulder and under his arm. He had been shot by Coalition forces after stopping his truck. When they realized he was not a threat, the soldiers took him to one of our hospitals. In this case, the fault was ours, and the man will be paid damages. In spite of having lost the use of his arm, the man was friendly and seemed to hold no grudge. And the amount of money he is seeking is very small by American standards.

In just a short amount of time, I have had the privilege to see many fine soldiers at work. I look forward to following up with Fondow and some of the claims that were filed that day. Maybe I will get to ride with Valero, Elfer and Hart again, or maybe I will meet three more soldiers doing their best here in Iraq.

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