Retired Lt. Col. Charles Elvis Davis III flourishes an Iraq Campaign pin on his lapel and a pair of cufflinks that reads, “Embassy of the United States of America, Baghdad Iraq,” that he received from the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, “who presented them with the reminder that they could not be purchased anywhere, only earned,” Davis said. Davis, who served two tours in Iraq, jokes that they’re how he proves he’s a veteran.
“I fought Operation Desert Storm from Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs,” Davis said, using his fingers to put air quotes around ‘fought.’ “I was part of the missile warning wing. … We tracked every Scud missile launch.”
In March 2009, toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Davis headed overseas for his first tour in Iraq with the embassy. He was assigned to the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq, or MNSTC-I.
In Baghdad, Davis worked with and trained Iraqi officials as part of the United States’ objective to set up a Westernized government in the country.
“We were doing cultural affairs with the Iraqis," Davis said. "We were building an English language academy; we were trying to show them how the Western world operates,” Davis said.
In August 2009, Davis returned to the U.S. for about a month before heading back to Baghdad on his second tour. This time, he was assigned to a different section of
“That was quite awesome,” Davis said. “We were, to put it in a gentleman’s terms, we were the minister’s Americans. … Anything he needed from the U.S. or from the coalition, we provided it.”
Davis also helped keep tabs on the Iranians. He discovered that if he grew his dark hair a little longer and his mustache a little bigger, he looked like one of the natives.
“As long as I didn’t speak, I could pass very easily for an Iranian," he said. "So we started using that to our advantage."
Davis spent a lot of time in Sadr City, a district of Baghdad, accompanied by an Iraqi interpreter and an Iraqi cultural advisor, who spoke for him and got him into places.
“Especially in Sadr City, there were a lot of high-level Iranian operatives, and they were not good people, they were not good guys,” Davis said. “And we were trying to keep up with them and identify them and figure out what they were doing. So it was important that I not let on or let them find out that I was American.”
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Davis had to learn Arab cultural customs, especially when it came to social classes and behavior toward women.
“The vast, vast majority of the Islamic women outside of Baghdad, you do not touch them; you do not speak to them; you don’t look at them,” he said.
Although diplomacy was beginning to replace combat in the Iraq War when Davis went on tour, he was constantly aware of the danger surrounding him and came very close to having to use his weapon many times.
His unit was attacked with improvised explosive devices and rockets. He often had to drive on Route Irish, sometimes called “the world’s most dangerous road,” between the international zone where he lived, and the U.S. headquarters at the Baghdad International Airport.
“If I was on Route Irish, I had my weapon in my hand," Davis said. "Bad, bad things happen on that road every day."
Davis said they often had to flash their weapons as a warning to suspicious-looking men. This was necessary many times, he said while traveling along Route Irish with his boss.
“He would look over, and he would say like, ‘Elvis, wave your weapon out the window at that guy behind me,’” Davis recounted. “Just a sort of a, ‘Yes, I’m an American, and yes, you know I will use this thing.’”
Another time, Davis and his boss were walking back to their forward operating base around midnight after being in meetings all day.
“We were tooting along and here comes this vehicle,” he said.
When the vehicle slowed down and stopped next to them, Davis and his boss hit the ground and drew their weapons.
“You produce a weapon, they know you’re going to use it, and they just bolt,” Davis said, recounting how the vehicle then drove on.
Davis said that truck-bomb attacks were the worst thing he saw overseas. One he witnessed occurred as he and his boss were walking to the ministry one day.
“We see this truck come over the bridge, coming out of Sadr City," he said. "And you just sometimes you get this feeling, like 'That truck doesn’t look right,' … and sure enough, that moron drives that thing across the bridge, goes right up into a big market city square and bam, blows the thing up.”
Davis said they dubbed 10:30 in the morning as PBT or “prime bomb time,” as that was when the markets would be full of Iraqis shopping, making large targets for the terrorists.
“Honestly, I’ll never forgive those guys for doing that,” Davis said. “It’s just the worst stuff I’ve ever seen,
Davis said he was fortunate to have some hospitable encounters with the Iraqis, though.
He once attended a large dinner party at then-Prime Minister Nouri
“To go to someone’s personal residence and be invited in, I was very honored that they would have me in to do that,” Davis said. “That was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know them on a completely human side, much different than we had before. So that was very special.”
Davis said that the two things he doesn’t do since coming home from Iraq are war movies and fireworks shows.
War movies are "as accurate as they can make them,” he said.
“But really, and I learned this in Panama, I learned this as a young buck … It’s one of those things that, until you’ve been there, there’s no possible way to imagine it,” he said.
Davis retired from the air force in October 2014 and came to Auburn to complete his Ph.D. in public administration and public policy.
He teaches American government in a multicultural world in the political science department and is currently writing his dissertation comparing California's, Arizona's and Alabama’s immigration policies.