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Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher is one of the men portrayed in Evan Wright's Generation Kill. A U.S. Marine and member of the First Reconnaissance Battalion has received two purple Heart[…]

Eric Kocher on life and death in Iraq

Question: How did Abu Gharib effect the morale of the troops?

Eric Kocher:  It was kind of frustrating for me, ‘cause it changed the way we do our interrogations.  We do a lot of field interrogations and everything, and you got this one guy, it’s sad to say, he’s probably just mimicking other people that he saw doing interrogations, probably guys at a much higher level than what he was doing, and he probably, in his head, thought he was doing the right thing.  I know deep down in my heart he thought he was doing the right thing.  That was his piece of the war, and he was going to contribute, because he wasn’t out gun-slinging, he was in here keeping control of detainees, but the problem is he was misguided, and he didn’t realize that his decision was a strategic level decision that affected the world.  He thought it just a little tactical level decision, and that’s why these guys, these corporals, which the term that you always hear that’s coined a lot is the strategic level corporal.  It’s true.  Every guy that’s 22 years old, 23 years old is making levels...making decisions that can change the world, and that’s what a lot of people don’t really understand.

Question: Is the senior leadership as incompetent as its made out to be in Generation Kill?

Eric Kocher: I think it is a lot of the officers that are over there.  Let’s be honest.  They don’t have the practical application, the actual training where they’ve actually done it.  They’ve read about it, and I know the Officer Program has changed dramatically since then, but yeah they’re put in a position... I mean my last deployment, my battalion commander’s never been to Iraq.  I’ve been there four times already.  I live in Ziadon.  I think I have a house down there near the Euphrates River I gotta go check on here.  Let’s be honest.  The guy’s never been there, and then he’s telling me how to do my job.  It’s very frustrating.  He doesn’t want to listen to my ideas or anything, because he thinks he understands what’s going on, and don’t get me wrong I know still even as a platoon sergeant I have a very myoptic [sic] view of what’s going on, but let’s be honest.  When I spend three years, I think two years in Ziadon specifically, I know what’s going on in that area.  This guy doesn’t, and we made a lot of mistakes because being pushed down from the battalion.

Question:  How has the media covered the war in Iraq?                                                                   

Eric Kocher:  The problem is the media likes to jump on all the negative stuff right away.  I mean, look how many people like jumped onto the Abu Garib, the Hadifah massacres and some of the other stuff that’s gone on over there.  You know, event the Jessica Lynch stuff.  Everyone jumps on and they love to have this drama and the subplot and all this other stuff, but how many times do you hear about, you know, the 5,000 whatever schools we started up over there?  You don’t hear about all the small things we’ve done, all the medical shops that we’ve done to help people.  You don’t hear about that, because nobody wants to hear about it.  You don’t hear about units like recon, and there’s a thousand other units out there doing phenomenal jobs out there, because they are working in more of an asymmetric role, and they’re not going in there strong fisting the locals.  You know what I mean?  They’re going in and helping at the smallest level of bringing water, bringing food, but you don’t hear about that.

Question:  What needs to happen next in Iraq?                                                              

Eric Kocher:  I don’t know.  I think we’re kind of hurting right now.  I think overall, our military needs to evolve to the 21st century, and it’s going to be very hard to do while we’re in this war.  If you look at how many troops we deployed in the Gulf War compared to what we have now, it’s, I think, like 1/6th of what we
used there, because the technologies are our force multiplier right now.  Our technology is so advanced and so precise, but the truth is the guys on our troop level, I don’t think they’ve evolved to that point.  So we need to, I think, look at that, which is going to be very hard to do during this war.  These guys need to be sharper individuals.  They need to be older, more mature.  And this is my personal opinion, but a 22 year old kid making these decisions-- it should be a 32 year old man with a very sizable paycheck so you’re not seeing all these guys leave to go contract, ‘cause that’s what you’re seeing.  A lot of your real sharp guys, your critical thinkers are like, “All right.  $42,000.00 a year or I can go work for Blackwater MVM and make four times this.”  What are they going to do?  You know, so there’s not really that incentive to stay in the military.  For me, I got out because I was filling a Staff Sergeant billet, or I was filling a gunnery Sergeant’s billet, and I was a Staff Sergeant, you know.  If you really look at what I was asking for is a $5,000.00 a year raise, which is nothing, and I’m on my fifth tour, which is—- I mean, you can’t even put a price tag on that, but yet they won’t give me the raise.  All right.  I’m going to leave, and I’m going to find another job.  The truth is I was getting out to go contract, but there’s a thousand guys out there like me that are just, you know, not saying we’re all doing it for money, but the truth is when Oceanside, California garbage man makes more pay than I do, there’s a problem.

Question:  What are some of the misperceptions of the war?

Eric Kocher: I mean, you know, even though Rumsfeld been everyone’s scapegoat, he does have a very good idea of what he was doing with our Special Operations Community and with our military in general, and the problem was is we were doing it during the war, which is very hard to do, and then everyone started to bombarding us with throwing all this armor on the vehicles, which was costing us a lot of money,
and the truth is we didn’t need armor on the vehicles.  You know, what we needed to do is secure our main service routes, secure them so they couldn’t be IED’d, not just keep throwing armor on, and it’s like a ping-pong match.  We throw more armor.  They just make bigger roadside bombs.  What if we just had the troops to lock down these MSRs that we needed, and come up with a more, I think, articulate plan on what we were going to do there, but his concept of what he started to do and of what we need to do, and then there’s a lot of other geniuses out there.

Recorded on: 7/17/08

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