I'm back in D.C. and just finished my first week of training. My first course was an Iraq Area Studies class, which covered everything from an overview of Iraqi history and current events, Iraqi language and culture, life at the embassy, administrative tasks unique to serving in Baghdad, and security. The information we learned was very broad and not very deep. In other words, I learned just enough to realize I don't know anything. That's not to say that this week wasn't interesting and helpful. But, trying to cover the complexities of Sunni-Shi'a conflict, Shi'a-Shi'a conflict, Iraqi Kurds vs. Iranian Kurds, tribal relationships, not to mention Iran, in the space of a few hours is tough.
The diverse reading materials included sections on "Building Cultural Competency," "Factions in Iraq," "Counterinsurgency Doctrine," "Managing Stress in High Threat Environments," and "Ambush Awareness." It was an intense crash course in understanding Iraq.
Strangely, the most stressful part was not the information overload on current events in Iraq or even the security issues we're facing, but the administrative stuff. There is an overwhelming amount of checklists and guidelines and requirements that need to be fulfilled before you ever get on the plane. A lot of this is normal stuff anyone does to prepare for an overseas assignment - arranging your pack-out and flight, making sure your medical clearance is up to date, etc. But serving in Iraq adds another page to a person's To Do list - arranging the military flight into Baghdad, getting the CAC badge from the Pentagon, making sure my medical insurance covers me in a war zone...
Next week I start the Political/Economic Tradecraft class, which should be less taxing.