Steven Darksyde Interviews Zack Bazzi
When were you in Iraq?
March 2004 to roughly February 2005.
Who were you deployed with?
I was with Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Infantry, a Company sized element based out of New Hampshire.
In the film, your decision to join the National Guard seemed to surprise your mother, why do you think that was?
Well, there’s a little irony in that. I think part of it is an emotional reaction. We left Lebanon when it was in turmoil because of the sectarian violence and the civil war at the time. Naturally, the last thing she wanted was for her son to join the military. By that point I had been in roughly six years. I had served in the 101st Airborne Division for four years, and deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo. That was my third deployment, but she new that this one was a little more dangerous than the first two, so she was extremely concerned. It probably brought memories of the civil war to her mind.
How easy, or difficult, was it to follow how the war was being covered in States while you were in Iraq?
Internet was widely used over there and widely available. In fact, I was amazed, because in my first deployment to Bosnia there was only one laptop in the entire platoon. It was the lieutenant’s and it was Army issued. In the Iraq Deployment there were 3 or 4 people in the entire platoon without laptops, and we have internet hookups within our Company Compound. We had a software internet guru within the unit. Being a National Guard unit you have a lot of guys with civilian jobs, and so he was able to hook a system through satellite and so on, so anybody who wanted internet access could get it. So I had the same access to the internet as I have now in here (inside of Yearly Kos).
Were other soldiers as ‘politically astute’ as you were?
I hate to generalize, but most people focus on their day-to-day mission. The people that follow news over there are the same ones that follow news back home. That behavior stays consistent. So as for myself, I would read the news whenever I could to see what’s going on.
I have my own personal opinions about the war, but when I was told I had to go, I was extremely happy to go. Part of being a soldier is an instinctual desire to experience combat. When I got activated, within an hour I dropped out of school, where I was studying psychology and international affairs. So yeah, I have my own personal beliefs about the war, but professionally I wanted to go, and I was ready to go.
Do you feel your presence, and the presence of the US, is helping the Iraqis?
Me personally, I mean hind site is 20/20, but I think our government could have chosen a wiser course of action. A lot wiser. But that being said, I’m a soldier and I don’t have the right to cherry pick my war, so I go wherever the tell me to go.
Did you view of US involvement change during your tour?
I became a lot more cynical about it. I mean, we’re an amazing Army, the most capable Army ever fielded on this planet. But that being said, just by virtue of us being there, unfortunate things do happen to civilians. It made me a little cynical about our presence there. The more and more I read up about it, things just didn’t add up to me personally. A lot of the theories and premises that we based our invasion on just fell flat. They didn’t hold water.
What is your impression of the immediate chain of command regarding Iraq?
By virtue of being in the armed forces for a few years I do have a sound understanding of how the chain of command works and how the non-commissioned officer support channel fits into that chain.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but the quality of the leadership we have in the military is outstanding- which is just a function of the fact that it’s a professional force, highly trained, highly efficient, and extremely effective. It does what it has to do. A lot of people have their own personal feelings about the war, but their behavior is always at the highest professional standard. I saw that with the 101st Airborne Division, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and I saw it with my National Guard unit in Iraq. Obviously, there’s a learning curve when you deploy a National Guard unit, and that’s why you predeploy or mobilize at a base. We did so at Fort Dix, and we got ourselves completely ready. We were the only company out of the entire battalion, which had 8 companies, that didn’t lose a person. And we were in the Sunni Triangle, so we weren’t in a “playground area,” so I give kudos to my commander and my peers.
You speak Arabic, were a translator?
No. I’m infantry, a soldier. My military occupation specialty is 11 Bravo, which is infantry, and I’m very proud of that. Translator is the last thing I’d want to do.
I’m fairly fluent in Arabic, at least conversational Arabic. So I would do impromptu translating. During my missions I would talk to Iraqis whenever the tactical situation permitted. Ultimately it was a gift because it allowed me to… Well, first of all, relative to the Iraqis, it allowed me to empathize with them and help them when needed. During a convoy or patrol when something comes up, say an accident or something, I can be right there on the scene. I can see what’s going on and try and formulate an answer to the problem.
I found it interesting in the film that holding a hand up with the palm facing forward, which means stop here in the west, means something else in Iraq? Do these cultural difference cause problems?
No, in Iraq you have to kind of cup your fingers together and wave your hand back and forth, and that means slow down. Holding you hand up, like we do in Western culture to get people to stop, means hello. So, sometimes these things, the little nuances and trivial confusions, can cause severe consequences.
Did you notice a change in how the Iraqis perceived US involvement during your tour?
At my level, it’s hard to see. When you’re in the middle of the woods you’re seeing trees. It’s hard to generalize. I was a sergeant and my job was to patrol and escort convoys in certain areas. So, much of the time I was doing tactical duties that didn’t allow for me to communicate with Iraqis to that kind of extent where I can formulate these types of opinions. But my squad was attached to an Iraqi police station for about a month. Those guys obviously support our presence there because their fate is intertwined with ours. They’re part of the institution that we’re helping to build up, so it was in their best interest to help us. I’m glad they’re there to provide law and order for that society. As for the public at large, I think some were passive, many were resentful and a few were supportive. That was my impression and my intuition about it, and that stayed consistent throughout the year. Obviously now, looking at the news, it’s gotten a lot worse and the insurgency has become a lot more severe.
How has the reaction to the movie been at Yearly Kos?
It’s been great. I’m glad that all sorts of people embraced it, and not just the Milblog people. The feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive. Both sides of the political spectrum in America know that soldiers wage war they don’t declare it. They’re sophisticated enough to separate the war from the warrior, as Sen. Kerry said at one point during the presidential debates. And that’s the way it should be. We’re an instrument of foreign policy we’re certainly not the deciders of it, so people cannot hold us to account for the wars that our country decides to wage, for better or worse.
I think it’s important for civilians and citizens of our great country, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, to realize that there’s a war going on. I know it sounds like an obvious thing to say, but I don’t think that most people have a real understanding of what’s going on over there and by seeing this movie and getting inside the soldier’s head and getting a grounds eye view of what’s going on, perhaps they can think about it and apply a more sober judgment to their view. Wherever they fall in the political spectrum doesn’t matter to me, as long as they know what’s going on over there.
What’s next for you?
I think the next stop for me with the film will be Washington, DC, a few more interviews and then they might send me to San Francisco or Chicago, I’m not sure. I do have 3 weeks of annual training for my Army obligation this summer, and that always comes first for me, the movie stuff is secondary.
Are you still in the Army?
Yes. Active Guard. Newly promoted Staff Sergeant. A proud one.
Could you get sent back to Iraq?
Of course. We’re active guard and that’s what we’re there for. If our chain of command decides to send us back, then we’ll go. These things get decided by people with a much higher pay grade then myself, as they should be.
Hiow has your experience been with the VA since you've been back?
I personally have nothing but great things to say about the way that the New Hampshire National Guard and the New Hampshire VA have helped us since we’ve been back. They checked up on us. Anything we’ve needed, they’ve been good at getting us. Obviously sometimes appointments might take a week or two, but I think that’s fairly acceptable. Could they do a better job at the National Level? From being here at this convention I hear a lot of politicians support the war but then cut VA funding, which to me is the ultimate hypocrisy.