TD Blog Interview with Staff Sergeant Shanona Gregozek

The reports Americans receive from Iraq consist of a number of varieties, either (and most frequently) casualty reports of car bombings or attacks on convoys resulting in Iraqi and American deaths, or (on occasion) reports from the President or the Pentagon or other “official” sources that our media “is not reporting the good news out of Iraq.” Somewhere in that spectrum, as usual, a great many “human stories” are not being reported. I have the good fortune of being able to convey at least part of one of those stories to you.
After an e-mail “introduction” from Mark Goldrup of Spirit of America, I was “introduced” to Staff Sergeant Shanona Gregozek, now serving with a Civil Affairs unit stationed in and about Mosul, Iraq. Sgt. Gregozek was kind enough to provide thoughtful, detailed answers to some questions I posed to her concerning herself, her mission, and a notable project, specifically her work with the KWU (Kurdistan Women’s Union).
The “interview” consists of an e-mailed “Q&A”; I have not edited Sgt. Gregozek’s responses in any manner.
Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th, 2001?
Shanona Gregozek: I was on vacation in San Luis Obispo california- woke up in the morning and found out.
Talking Dog: I understand in your civilian life, you’re not exactly a
civilian; can you tell me what you do back in Huntington Beach [California] for
the Police Department there? When did you join your reserve unit?
When were you activated for your current mission?

Shanona Gregozek: I work as a patrol cop in HB- been on the job about 8 years now. I first joined the national guard in May of 1993. I left the National Guard in May of 2002 and took some time off. The war started in March 2003- I couldn’t sit by as it happened- so I signed back up. I joined this unit to get deployed to Iraq. I got notified in February 2004 I was most likely going to be deployed. In June we learned we were definately going- and in July we left for our pre-deployment training- we were in Theatre by early September.
Talking Dog: Do you have a significant other and/or children back
stateside? How difficult has it been for you to be away from your
loved ones?

Shanona Gregozek: I don’t want to give detailed info on my homestead– but I do come from a large family. I love them and miss them. My mother and a cousin of mine have been exceptionally supportive. Some members of my family were not happy I was coming here- they didn’t believe in the war- but I do, and my convictions were strong to stay in this unit and deploy. It’s not been very difficult- I’ve lived away from my family for many years- so I am used to only communicating thru emails and phone calls. This isn’t much different than normal.
Talking Dog: I understand that you are in a “civil affairs” unit. How important do you believe public affairs are to the overall
American and coalition mission in Iraq in particular, and the war
on terror as a whole?

Shanona Gregozek: The bad guys have excellent Public Affairs resources, such as Al Jazeera. I believe getting the word out about what the Coalition forces are doing in Iraq is an excellent way to combat the negative media we hear a lot of. The truth is in war, people are going to die, they are going to get hurt- but there is also a lot of good that no one seems to know about. You know, as a writer, that there are many people who believe everything they read. If the only thing for them to read is the bad stuff, they have only negative opinions- if anything, good reporting creates doubt about which is real and causes people to look into it more if they care enough.
Also- on a sidenote- you know Civil Affairs and Public Affairs are completely different branches? Look up CA on the Army website- it’ll fill you in.
Talking Dog Do you believe we are devoting enough effort to civil affairs, public relations and other efforts to get the Iraqi people to “buy
in” to our mission there, as opposed to winning military victories
on the ground– or more specifically, do you believe that we would
be well served to increase resources, people and money that we
devote to the types of missions that your civil affairs units and
others like it are engaged in?

Shanona Gregozek I believe the Army is dedicating lots of effort into CA missions. It is difficult to do CA work because we are trying to re-structure a country that is still in turmoil. Our units frequently come under attack, and the work we do is sometimes destroyed- which is very frustrating.
The ground mission- winning military victories- is still crucial. Soldiers are dying every day coming under enemy attack. We’re not safe on the bases because of mortar fire, sniper fire, and threat of suicide bombers (several successful strikes have occurred since I’ve been here). Finding and destroying the members of the insurgency is vital. It is vital for our lives as well as the lives of the Iraqis- who have been targeted more frequently as of late.
Civil Affairs is short handed- they have high standards to get in, so it’s not available for everyone- it’s good because we get higher quality soldiers- but also it hurts us because we are low in numbers.
I cannot pick between the combat forces and the CA elements to say who needs more resources- I just know that those two branches are extremely important at this point in the war. CA is important because of the huge impact on restructuring efforts, and combat troops are important because they are making the cities safer for us to do our work. We are symbiotic.
Talking Dog Please tell me about your work with the Kurdish (Kurdistan?) > Women’s Union, and especially about its work. How did this come
to be your mission? Without disclosing anything sensitive, can
you tell me what other types of functions you and your unit are
performing, and in what parts of Iraq you have been involved in?
Was the KWU project in place before you arrived in Iraq, and is it
something that will continue after your tour ends?

Shanona Gregozek: The KWU has a website that will give you tons of info. Just google them. You can also get the info from Mark Goldrup. But in a nutshell, they were in place long before we got here. The KWU knows exactly what they need and what to do with what they get from us or other sources. They are very resourceful, take care of property in their charge, they are motivated, and very effective. They are taken seriously by the government in their region. They were hugely intrumental in getting the women in the population to vote- if you are aware the new leader of Iraq is Kurdish. The Kurds understood to get the women, who are 51% of their population out to vote to get their numbers (they are the minority in the country) up high enough to elect their own guy into office. It was smart and it worked.
This came to be my mission because the town we worked in as the sole CA element there- I was the only female NCO. However, because I am a police officer back home, I was also assigned to work with the police department. Also, I was on a four soldier team assigned to work two districts in our governorate. In those districts we looked after school renovations, well digging, donations, etc. So I was very busy and could not dedicate all the time I wanted to the KWU. Also, which I agree to, the Army felt National Security of Iraq was most important. So my work with the PD was priority.
My AO was the north Iraq (Kurdish) region. The rest of our battalion is spread through the Arab areas of North Iraq- Mosul and Samarrah.
Talking Dog Are you aware of similar women’s groups operating elsewhere in Iraq (or the Islamic world, for that matter)? Anything additional
we should know about the group? Anything additional we should
know about Spirit of America and its projects?

Shanona Gregozek: The KWU actually has branches all over Iraq- 81 total. There’s even one in San Diego California. The HQ is out of Erbil and run by a woman named Shirin- who is also a member of the Kurdish Parliament. They are equal opportunity, although they are called Kurdish Women’s Union, and most Kurds are Muslim- there are members who are Christian, Arab Muslims, and Yazidi. I know Spirit of America does many projects in this country. I am not affiliated with them. I know there are women’s groups in Afghanistan- I have read articles about some amazing women.
Talking Dog Have you been involved in any combat operations, or combat situations? Has your unit?
Shanona Gregozek: Yes. Unfortunately we have lost soldiers, and had several significant injuries in our soldiers from enemy action. There are many units that have suffered heavier losses- but losing any American soldier is a huge tragedy to units here.
Talking Dog: Have you encountered any journalists, embedded or otherwise, and how many? Has your story, or your work with the KWU been
widely reported… or reported at all? Have you observed any
journalists operating in Iraq?

Shanona Gregozek: Yes. Nic Robertson of CNN came to stay with us. I took him to interview the Chief of Police I work with (Brigadier General Chief Nazar Aziz) as well as the KWU director Jula Haji. He had both stories on his broadcast later. I have had other reporters request interviews but I turned them down- for various reasons. Mostly because I want good publicity for these groups.
Talking Dog. What kind of access do you have to how events in Iraq are covered here? As far as you are aware. do you believe the
reporting is “fair”? Is there anything in particular that you
believe people here should know, or need to know?

Shanona Gregozek: I have lots of access to reading the news. The bases have lots of amenities now compared to the start of the war. We have satellite TV, Army Times newspaper & internet.
No, not all reporting is fair, but that’s well known. There are many groups out there with their own opinions and agenda and either report false stories or don’t include all the facts in order to make the story go along with their way of thinking. Frankly that pisses me off- reporters should be objective. As people, we can’t help but have opinions, but we need to swallow that when reporting the news. They should state facts and let people form their own opinion. Now, that’s my opinion..
There’s so much people should know. For starters- soldiers are human, most of us are compassionate, patriotic, and consider all fellow soldiers their family. A lot of people paint us as heartless murderers, occupiers, etc. There are harsh penalties in the military for anyone who violates rules of engagement, or general orders. I get the feeling some people think we cover up bad things, we don’t. No soldier wants a bad seed in their company, it ruins morale and drags us all down. We correct each other if there’s problems. I could go on forever. But I won’t.
Talking Dog: I’m sensing from the tone of your e-mails that you’re very upbeat; can you tell me what you’ve observed morale among American
and coalition personnel to be?

Shanona Gregozek: Soldiers are amazing people. We deal with death, stress, being away from home, injuries, extreme weather, etc- there are individual cases- sadness happens, people get down, we’ve all been there- it sucks. But there is always someone who will recognize it and lift you up. Overall, we take a really potentially lousy situation and have as many good times as we can out of it. Comraderie helps, exercise is extremely important, friendship is extremely important, respect for each other is also important. I could go on for a while- but overall my experience has been good. Most of the people I have met here have been accomodating, professional, and very good at what they do. I am honored to be in their company & I feel like most of them feel the same way.
Talking Dog: How long is your tour of duty?
Shanona Gregozek: It’ll be 10 months in Iraq once we leave here- then we have 6 weeks til we’re off orders we’ll spend that time getting our equipment cleaned and fixed- I’ve trashed most of my stuff!!!
Talking Dog: Any other questions I should be asking you?
Shanona Gregozek: Nope. Can’t think of anything right now.