“It was kind of cooler today — only 107 degrees,” he said during a phone interview Sept. 20. “When we first got here, it was pushing 120 just about every day.”
Danko has been in Iraq for about three months during this, his second tour of duty there.
Stationed in Hilla, 35 miles south of Baghdad, Danko is commander of the Crazyhorse Tank Company — or in more official terms, he commands Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
“What we’re primarily charged with is force protection for our cause, which is counter rocket fire,” he said. “We’re really going out there and disrupting the enemy’s ability to fire rockets at us.”
Danko and his soldiers are not doing that work alone; they’re working with their Iraqi counterparts, he said.
These days, the focus for U.S. troops is advising and training Iraqi forces — “really getting behind them, getting them focused, getting feedback from trainers,” he said.
Danko said he’s seen some significant changes since he was stationed in Iraq in 2009.
“I was there for the very end of the surge,” he said. “That was the point that the Iraqi solders and the Iraqi forces began taking the lead.”
Today, he said, “I would say the situation is much more stable and much safer ... My soldiers comment all the time that the Iraqi soldiers and the Iraqi Army are much more competent and professional than they used to be. I’m constantly impressed with their interactions with those guys. Particularly in the area of security, they’ve definitely stepped up and done a good job.
“I was gone a year and a half, and the change was pretty extraordinary — just the competency of the Iraqi forces and how far they came in the year and a half that I was back in the states.”
Danko said Iraqi soldiers more and more see themselves as Iraqis rather than just members of a region or a tribe.
“They still maintain those (regional) identities, but the overarching one is being Iraqi,” he said.
Despite the difference in weather and terrain, Danko said the Hilla area in Iraq and its people share many similarities with those in the Powell area.
“There’s a lot of really great people — people they would recognize and interact with,” he said. “There’s a lot of rural farm land here, and people they could identify with. It’s so much the same as home. The irrigation system reminds me of the canals back home. They just want to live their lives in peace and security. It’s just the same, I guess, as just about anywhere.
“Making sure they have peace and security is extremely rewarding,” he added.
Last week, Danko, accompanied by other soldiers and by Iraqi police, helped donate school supplies — enough for about 1,200 — to the Tunis Primary School.
“Our goal was to build goodwill with the people and children around here before we head out,” he said in a news article for the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System. “Especially to the kids, to show them that we are not here to harm them or to be in the way.
“It was more than what was needed, but it will help resupply them throughout the school year as well,” he said in the article.
The supplies were provided by an organization known as People to People: Operation International Children, working toward a goal of beginning a relationship with the future leaders of Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, the story by Spc. Bailey Jester explained.
The article notes that U.S. forces are scheduled to permanently leave Iraq at the year’s end.
And that’s very good news for Danko’s parents, Jerry and Carolyn Danko.
“He will be back to the United States in December,” Carolyn Danko said Friday. “We will be so relieved. He won’t be home for Christmas per se, but that’s Christmas enough.”
While the situation in Iraq is better than it was, Carolyn Danko won’t relax completely until her son is home.
“Even though things have calmed down, I’m a fanatic about reading the newspaper and world news about the Middle East, and every day they blow something up,” she said. “You worry. You say a prayer every night, and you ask everyone else to pray.”
Still, Carolyn Danko said she is proud of the work her son and his wife, Emilie, are doing.
“Carl signed up on 9/11 2001,” she said, but that was not directly due to the terrorist attacks that occurred that day. He already had planned to sign up.
“It was just a coincidence that was the day it happened,” she said. “It was already in the works.”
He was a freshman in college then, and he already was a member of ROTC.
“We’ve known since he was about 3 that’s all he wanted to do was be in the military. I was determined he wasn’t going to have any guns, so he made them out of Legos and sticks.”
Emilie, also a captain in the Army, is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where she is the head nurse at the orthopedic clinic.