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Could a watermelon mishap a seedy mistake take down plans for building up the Iraqi Air Force?


Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

Could a watermelon mishap a seedy mistake take down plans for building up the Iraqi Air Force?

“I took a piece of watermelon and then froze as I pondered what the proper etiquette was for dealing with seeds in Iraq,” Major Brad Head emailed his wife.

The meeting was one of the most if not the most important meeting of Head’s deployment. He had come to Iraq with the mission of rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force by establishing their accessions and training pipeline. Scarce resources nearly killed the mission, but they had somehow managed to start the program on time. After moving from Taji to Baghdad, Head arranged several meetings with key players to obtain “buy in” for the long-term acceptance of one key element of the Iraqi Air Force training program. One important person not yet on board was the Iraqi Minister of Defense. Then the call came. Head was asked to grab his slides because he and General Allardice had been invited to brief the Iraqi defense minister.

When they arrived, the defense minister invited them to a traditional Iraqi lunch of roast lamb, rice, kabobs, and flat bread. Desert was watermelons and oranges. That’s when Head’s “near international incident” over watermelon took place. How do Iraqis handle the seeds?

“I fell back on some basic etiquette classes we received that said, ‘when in doubt just do what your host is doing.’ I looked down the enormous conference table (it could easily seat 25) just in time to see the minister lean forward and let several seeds dribble out of his mouth. Relieved that I wouldn’t cause an international incident, I chowed down on my piece of watermelon, happily spitting my seeds on the plate.”

After dinner the minister excused his other guests and settled down on one of his six leather couches to hear the Americans’ pitch for creating a new interim Iraqi Air Force Academy. The briefing was short and to the point. All of the prep work they had done, including a letter Head had helped to draft that was signed by General Dempsey (Commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq) paid off. The minister approved the program and offered whatever support he could provide to help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force Academy.

“General Allardice was almost skipping as we left,” Head shared, “This was a huge victory for us!”

“I’ll say it again for the millionth time. This has been one of the most surreal experiences in my entire life. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to engage at the level I’ve been working to accomplish some of the things we are getting done. We are building the Iraqi Air Force, as Gen. Allardice likes to say, ‘one brick at a time.’”


Thank you for the times in life when hard work brings a tangible reward.

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