Open letter to the constituents of Stanislaus County:
Why Jeff Dirkse will be a great sheriff
I am writing my personal endorsement of Jeff Dirkse for Stanislaus County sheriff and to share my insight about his leadership abilities, character and managerial skills.
I was one of the soldiers he led into combat during as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from January 2005 to January 2006, and our last training evolution prior to our deployment.
I served about 14½ years as an active duty U.S. Marine. I was an aircraft electrician and explosive ordnance disposal technician. I also served in the California Army National Guard for about 16½ years as a forward observer, infantryman and explosive ordnance disposal technician. I held various leadership positions and retired as a sergeant first class.
During my time in military service, I served alongside, under and for all manner of non-commissioned officers and officers, with all manner of leadership styles and traits. With my dual branches of service and myriad of specialties, I have a unique perspective that most would be unable to garner from just one branch of service or assignment.
I met then-Capt. Dirkse in January 2005 as we began our final training at Fort Polk, La. I was the platoon sergeant of 4th Platoon Delta Company. He became our commanding officer due to life circumstances that befell our original C.O., but this was to be a true blessing. Capt. Dirkse took command of Delta Company with vigor and a style we all came to love and appreciate. We knew little of him. All we were told was that Capt. Dirkse was a former Ranger and platoon leader of a Delta Company in the Ranger Battalion and a West Pointer.
To take command of a unit just weeks before going into combat can be taxing on a unit and the new commander. There was little time to become acquainted with him and his style. Capt. Dirkse gave us a quick synopsis of his background and off we went for our final training. However, his first impression was a positive one, for Capt. Dirkse exuded a positive attitude and confidence, not arrogance.
I was pleased, and grateful, to have a former Ranger and Delta Company platoon leader leading us. He knew how to employ us, to use our mobility and flexibility as an asset to accomplish the mission at hand. He had us train as hard as humanly possible. He pushed us to the maximum — physically, mentally and tactically — so that we would be prepared for what lay ahead. For at this time, we still did not have a firm mission or a known area of operations.
Once we completed the training at Fort Polk, we headed to Kuwait. During this time, I noticed that Capt. Dirkse did not micromanage his key leaders. He also took the time to personally get to know all his soldiers — their strengths, weaknesses, prior jobs, etc. He kept us informed to the best of his ability, as to whatever information came to him from higher up. His orders were without ambiguity and well understood.
Once we arrived in Kuwait, he continued to have us train for many possible missions. He gave the platoon leaders their tasks and we executed. At just a few days before we were to head to Iraq, we were told our battalion would be assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, 4th Brigade, with Delta’s Company’s focus to be central Baghdad.
We began patrolling as a “mechanized rifle company” in the Karrada District of Baghdad. This mission was to last about three months, with little enemy activity directed at our unit. There were some rocket attacks, IEDs and next to no direct small arms fire. Up to this point, Capt. Dirkse had shown his ability to lead and manage his company for the mission at hand in a manner that provided a great amount of coverage and allowed the men ample time between patrols for equipment maintenance, rest and recovery. All while still providing security for our assigned Forward Operating Base (FOB).
However, the mission would change, the AO would change, and the operational tempo would increase dramatically very soon. These changes would soon challenge his leadership, tactical skills, equipment and personnel management, stamina and emotions to the utmost. And it would be this change that would forever change us all. It was literally a trial by fire when I fought alongside Capt. Dirkse many times.
Our new mission was to replace 6-8 CAV in an area known as Zone 47, which encompassed mostly farmland along the Tigris River (our eastern boundary), south of the Dora Expressway, with the villages of Karrara, Al Boetha, Arab Jobour and Al Dora. The terrain was mostly date palm groves, mixed with citrus, and open farmland. It included many irrigation ditches and canals, which were difficult for the Humvees to navigate.
This new area of operations as fraught with danger, enemy tactics and indigenous people who differed wholly from those in the city, and terrain we were unfamiliar with. The outgoing unit gave us their insight (which was bleak), and our group of local interpreters dwindled out of fear. They knew of the dangers we were about to encounter.
During this transition, Capt. Dirkse had the foresight to reorganize the company from five platoons to three; thus, giving more manpower and firepower to the individual platoons. He also sought out and procured newer and better up armored Humvees. He also acquired two M113 tracked armored personnel carriers. He knew that I and other platoon leaders were experienced in the mechanized infantry and that our knowledge and use of the “113” would prove to be an asset. His knowledge of all his soldiers’ specialties and civilian employment would play a great part in our successes. It gave us a huge tactical advantage.
Capt. Dirkse eventually acquired more APCs and the needed support for them. This allowed his troops to traverse the terrain with greater ease and to travel off the main roads, allowing us better mobility, and more men and firepower per vehicle.
Up until this point, we had little external support regarding air assets, armor, artillery, etc. However, Capt. Dirkse continually pressured (tactfully) the chain of command for these assets. It was also at this time our enemy stepped up the pressure.
We initially had sporadic IED strikes and short engagements with small enemy teams. These proved little match for our unit and were quickly dispatched. We learned the enemy’s tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). Capt. Dirkse continued leading Delta from the front, literally. He would have his personal squad, and himself, assigned to the patrol schedule, giving us a 4th platoon. All while still preparing, planning and developing operations orders for missions coming from higher, and counseling with the local leaders in our assigned area of operations.
As time progressed, the enemy would evolve its TTPs. Engagements became more intense. The enemy picked up the pace and changed tactics, and we started taking losses. Soldiers were killed and wounded, and equipment and material was damaged. Capt. Dirkse’s squad suffered our first fatality and his forward operating team all were wounded. It really hit us all hard. However, this was to be just the beginning of our, and his, trials.
In the following weeks and months, our losses mounted. From September through December 2005, our company had five KIA and 28 WIA, along with the loss of associated vehicles and equipment. It was at this time Capt. Dirkse’s leadership was put to the ultimate test. He was our company commander and we all looked to him for leadership, guidance and tactics. We needed a pillar of strength. Capt. Dirkse was all of that and more.
He would inquire of his key leaders on any TTPs we might change and/or implement. He would inquire as to how our soldiers were holding up. He wanted us to give honest options, ideas and opinions. He would take all the ideas and thoughtfully process the information. From my perspective, this was one of his greatest characteristics — asking of his key leaders and juniors their thoughts and ideas.
We needed to replace our personnel and equipment, we needed more combat assets, and Capt. Dirkse managed the battle space, garnered more support from higher, replaced our losses and did not waver in the face of adversity.
During this trial, he had us reconsolidate and reorganize. We stepped back and took a deep breath (shall we say) and together we developed TTPs and plans. It was aggressive. He took an idea of placing a patrol base and placing it right smack dab in the middle of our most contested area. He took that idea up the chain of command and it eventually came to fruition.
Capt. Dirkse planned and executed many air assault missions, integrating armored assets, Bradley fighting vehicles, a SEAL team and M1 Abrahams tanks. With all these various “outside” assets managed and implemented by Capt. Dirkse, we were able to turn the tide in our favor. Our tempo increased exponentially. Delta Company’s demeanor had changed for the positive. We went on the offensive and took the fight to the enemy. The momentum shifted in our favor. All this due to Capt. Dirkse’s leadership, intestinal fortitude, decisiveness and unwavering faith in his soldiers.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Capt. Dirkse’s wife, Sandi, and his children. For while we were deployed in a very hostile environment — fighting, suffering the losses of brothers — Sandi Dirkse showed unwavering support of her husband and his soldiers. This I know firsthand. For as our WIAs and KIAs returned stateside, Sandi and my wife represented us at the services for some of our fallen and coordinated communication with our WIAs who were at various military hospitals around our nation. A great leader such as Capt. Dirkse is supported by a wonderful spouse, and Sandi is that woman.
So, know that when Jeff becomes your sheriff, the people of Stanislaus County will elect a complete leader, well-rounded and grounded, and a family man with complete support from within his home.
Christopher D. Chebahtah