Five months into his third tour in Iraq, U.S. Army Col. Jeff Jerome has noticed an improvement in the capabilities of the Iraqi military.
But the former operations division manager for the Douglas County public works department says many challenges remain, and he blamed Iran both for smuggling weapons across the border into southern Iraq and trying to undermine the Iraqi economy.
Last Tuesday one of his unit’s vehicles was destroyed by an improvised-explosive device near Basra in southern Iraq. No one was injured, he said. Jerome wasn’t in the convoy, but he said the components to the device aren’t manufactured anywhere in Iraq, leading him to suspect they were brought across the border from Iran.
“The goal here is to give the Iraqi government the opportunity, the opportunity to govern themselves without interference,” said Jerome, who is the chief of a stability transition team with the 3rd Brigade in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. “But we see a lot of Iranian subversive (action) and operations to undermine everything from the economy to the security. And that’s the biggest challenge.”
Advising in Iraq
Jerome, 51, conducted a telephone interview with the Journal-World last week from Basra for Memorial Day as a way to get a message out to family members, including his son, Josh Edwards, who now works for the county’s public works department.
Jerome managed the Douglas County department responsible for maintaining county roads and conducting snow and ice removal for seven years before he moved in 2000 with his family to Colorado.
This is his third tour in Iraq after a 2003 deployment for the initial invasion and in 2007 as part of the troop surge. President Barack Obama declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq last year. About 46,000 American troops remain in Iraq to support security forces there, and although negotiations with Iraqi leaders haven’t yet begun, U.S. military leaders have said Obama is seeking to keep thousands of American forces there past 2011.
Jerome’s main responsibility now is to advise top commanders of the 14th Iraqi Army division in Basra, which is a key Iraqi city because of oil production in the area.
“We’re out and about and we get to see a lot of the changes in the area,” Jerome said. “And yes, there’s been a lot of improvement since the end of combat operations and definitely since the invasion.”
But there’s still work to do, he said. Training for Iraqi troops has improved, but Jerome said many are young and still learning.
“They still learn and get better in the way they are doing things, but there are some areas that will be lacking,” he said. “They’re young in intelligence collection and their ability to logistically sustain the army. That’s something that still has a long way to go.”
He also worries about Iranian interference and said Americans are trying to help the Iraqis with more sophisticated intelligence and with planning and patrols.
“They are a strong enough force physically to where the violent extremist networks, the terrorists, don’t really square off with the constant mobility of the Iraqi security forces,” Jerome said.
But it’s hard to catch everything, and he worries about other disruptive actions to the new Iraqi government and economy behind the scenes, such as Iranians smuggling goods into Iraq to sell.
“Then all of the Iraqi business can’t survive unless they start supporting the Iranian regime,” he said.
Jerome said his unit is also pressed for time with only a few more months to help the Iraqis. His tour is scheduled to end later this year, and, because it’s been 30 years since his commission, he will also head into retirement when he returns.
Jerome’s wife, Kim Jerome, lives in Greeley, Colo., with his youngest daughter, Laura Jerome, who was born at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Another daughter, Kaitlyn Jerome, attends Kansas State University, and his oldest daughter, Brittney Jerome, recently moved to Charleston, S.C., from Lawrence.
Jerome has a Memorial Day message for his son, who still lives in Lawrence and will turn 28 this year.
“I’m probably thinking more about him than he is of me, especially as I go through my daily grind with all the young people,” Jerome said. “He’s just real connected and focused on service with his job in public works. He really accepts the importance of that.
“And happy hunting. He really has a new interest in turkey hunting. He’s in the right place.”