Mindset one of the challenges in training Iraqi police force, Cape native learns

Sunday, September 3, 2006

A police supervisor faced a tough situation. One of his officers severely beat his wife and stole $30,000.

The solution: Ask for a 50 percent cut of the cash. Do nothing about the beating; the wife probably cooked a bad meal.

Quickly Bill Adams realized he was far from home.

The responses two Iraqi police commanders gave to him in a role-playing scenario showed Adams he had a long way to go in teaching ethics in this Middle Eastern country.

In April 2005, Adams was one of 20 Americans who went to Iraq to help train the country's police force. Adams, a 68-year-old Cape Girardeau native, is the former police chief for Poplar Bluff, Mo., a retired Missouri State Highway Patrol officer, and has served in the Army and National Guard.

Persuaded by a former highway patrol classmate to apply to the teaching program, Adams, who holds a master's degree in education and taught at the patrol's academy, was accepted to go the Middle East country to teach for six months.

After some serious thought, he made the choice to go.

"I think if the decision had been left up to my wife, I wouldn't have gone," Adams said with a laugh. "But in the Adams household, we've always felt it's better to serve than to be served."

Adams taught several classes to Iraqi police officers, including constitutional law and ethics, where he quickly learned the challenges of his post.

One of those challenges was simple day-to-day living in Baghdad, where, Adams stressed, there were no safe places.

At one of the coalition's checkpoints, a vehicle sped toward troops without slowing down or stopping. As suicide bombers are common in Iraq, the Marines at the checkpoint opened fire on the vehicle, causing it to crash, Adams said.

Two men in the vehicle jumped out and began racing toward the checkpoint line. Adams drew the 9 mm pistol he always carried from his shoulder holster, but he didn't need to.

"The Marines are very good shots," Adams said.

His entrance into the country was also about as carefree.

High above Baghdad, his C-130 twisted and spun toward the ground in a corkscrew, making Adams believe it was struck by a surface-to-air missile.

But in the third rotation, Adams noticed the plane's engines were still humming and working just fine.

Following the corkscrew landing, a maneuver safer than the typical long, straight glide in terms of avoiding enemy fire, Adams and his colleagues spent the night at the airport because of nearby fighting. Explosions and AK-47 fire could be heard.

From some of Adams' classes, he learned the mindset of Iraqis, demonstrated by the police commanders in the role-playing scenario. Adams said he heard many stories of graft in Iraq, including such extremes as bribery at local hospitals to be treated and at banks to withdraw money.

Lessons of U.S. history

In a constitutional law class, Adams told the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, stressing the importance of equal rights for all and officers upholding that.

Before the country can improve, Adams said, many changes are needed, mostly at the leadership level.

"They're going to have to have somebody stand up and say this is not right, this is wrong and here's what we're going to do," Adams said. But so many Iraqis believe overthrown dictator Saddam Hussein will return to rule again, many are afraid of taking charge.

But not every day in Baghdad was an uphill battle.

Adams recalled one day walking outside near a group of 15 to 20 of his students who were sitting beneath a shade tree.

As he walked by, the students stood up in a sign of respect.

"I looked over at them and it touched me," he said.

At the end, Adams said his main goal was to make a difference. Thinking back now, nearly a year after his return, Adams hopes that difference was made.

"I hope I opened the door for some of them," he said. "I pray and hope that I did."


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