"On the ninth of March our hotel was blown up. It knocked me out. I had big chunks of debris on top of me," said Salem resident Charles "Dennie" Bost who recently returned home after a 32 month stint in Iraq. Bost, who was staying at a hotel in Baghdad, said the blast came after a garbage truck filled with explosives barreled its way past a guard tower and detonated outside Bost's hotel window.
Bost spent 32 months in Iraq as a private contractor for Dyncorp, providing advisement and training for the Iraqi Police.
During his time in Iraq, Bost experienced a cross section of culture, politics and war.
Bost retired in June 2002 after nearly 21 years of service in the Army and Army National Guard. With years of military training, he had the opportunity to share his experience and training in the field of law enforcement with a country in need of law and order. With a new law enforcement mission needing qualified individuals, Bost's resume fit the criteria. January 2005, his journey began.
He flew into Kuwait City and waited nine days until transport was available to Baghdad, where he began the process of getting his paper work in order. It was in these early days in Iraq, Bost said, when the hotel bombing occurred.
On March 9, 2005, Bost was on the sixth floor of the Al-Sadir Hotel when a 2,000 pound bomb exploded on his side of the structure.
"They got within 50 yards and just destroyed an eight story building," Bost said. Barefoot and battered, Bost found his weapon and struggled to see through the black smoke. "It was total chaos," he said. The blast killed two Dyncorp personnel and injured 38 others.
The bombing didn't deter Bost from forging ahead. Traveling with a military transport team, he moved to his first assignment in Al-Anbar Province to Ramadi, which at that time was hyperviolent.
Upon arrival Bost and his fellow personnel set up a local headquarters team and moved into the government center in downtown Ramadi.
"That place was under constant attack. Every night, mortars, rockets and small arms fire," Bost said.
Bost and his team mentored and worked with the Iraqi leadership for Al-Anbar Province where 250 to 300 Iraqi Police officers worked out of the government center.
"At that time, the most dangerous job in the world was to be an Iraqi Police officer. There were 12,000 Iraqi Police officers killed the first year I was there. I admire them greatly for going to work everyday," Bost said.
The Dyncorp team worked with the new Iraqi Police force, training them in weapon handling, marksmanship techniques, handcuffing, searches, vehicle searches, how to handle prisoners, how to take people into custody, making arrests, report writing and other basic police procedures.
In addition to basic police training Bost worked with leadership to help develop the police department's infrastructure. "We worked with them on things like logistics, how to handle finances, fuel, vehicle battery if they need one, work with their budget, just all aspects of a police station and governmental police operation. It wasn't just all police training classes," explained Bost.
After five months working within the Al-Anbar Province, Bost transferred to Baghdad to work on a partnership program where he had much of the same duties. During this time in Iraq, Bost was responsible for overseeing police headquarters, including subordinate stations. After three months he took control of an advisory team for the eastern half of Baghdad, called Rasafa. This new position in Rasafa consisted of seven district headquarters with 32 Iraqi Police stations, and about 8,000 Iraqi Police officers.
Later, Bost moved his living quarters to Forward Operating Base Shield where he had to travel daily to the Baghdad police headquarters. "I had to drive out through our security and make a U-turn and come back up the street to our headquarters. We provided our own security; we carried our own weapons, and drove our own armored suburbans," Bost said. "We traveled in our own vehicles for about the first eight months I was there, but we had about 14 of our guys killed and twice that many injured."
That is when Major General Joseph Peterson, the leader of the allied forces at that time, stopped Dyncorp's independent travel and ordered military escorts for Bost and his team.
The time spent in Iraq gave Bost first hand experience with the citizens of Iraq.
"The Iraqi people want the same thing we want," he said. "They want a decent home to live in, they want to lay their head down on a pillow at night and not worry about their security. They want a job, to make a better life for their children. It's the extremists, the criminals, who are causing all the problems.
"The private citizens are beginning to get sick of being pushed around. They are beginning to cooperate with coalition forces, to give up some of these people who move into a neighborhood, these foreign fighters. People know who belongs and who doesn't. These guys launch their attacks from a house within a neighborhood. The citizens know what these guys are doing. They observe them; they turn them in. If they can't get the Iraqi Army or the Iraqi Police to do; anything, they will do it themselves," Bost said.
"That's what they have got to do, but they are so timid and meek, the average people are, they have no backbone. They won't stand up and that's what the problem has been. It's a product of 30 years of his (Sadam) not allowing them to take any responsibility for themselves. He imposed everything on them like sheep. Part of it is culture, some of those people can be so brutal, so terribly disregarding of human life. They blow up children and families and don't care," Bost said.
The Iraqi Police Internal Affairs office in Baghdad had the duty of spotting terrorists that might have joined the Iraqi Police in order to do harm to the department.
"We worked with them and the military worked with them. They would collect information. They had informants that would give them information also. They had people undercover that would go out and watch the police, and there were always people sympathetic (to the terrorists), but sometimes they were sympathetic because they kidnapped a member of their family. They would tell them you put a bomb in this truck or we are going to kill your son, daughter, your wife, whatever it is. What do you do when someone comes to you and says they're going to kill your wife? A lot of them didn't want to have to cooperate," Bost said.
Because of work done by Dyncorp's personnel the infrastructure of the Iraq Police force down to the individual officer has been strengthened, nurtured and brought hand- over-fist closer to a self secure Iraq according to Bost. "We made a measurable and positive impact on the police forces," he said.
"My kids thought I had lost my mind when I told them I was going to work in Iraq, but it was worth it. It was a very rewarding experience. I wouldn't trade anything for it," Bost said.