The world knows Ted Spain as the Army colonel commanding the military police force in Iraq during the ground war and first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Spain also is the author of “Breaking Iraq: The Ten Mistakes That Broke Iraq.” Spain recently spoke with seven U.S. and Canadian radio stations and then the newspaper covering the small town where he grew up before a late-evening interview with The New York Times.
“I’m just amazed by the whole thing, to be honest with you,” he said by phone from his Aiken, S.C., home, marveling at the interest in his book but a lack of attention to the 10th anniversary of the bombing of Baghdad.
Published by History Publishing and co-written by Terry Turchie, retired deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, Spain’s book focuses on 10 mistakes made in Washington, D.C., and on the ground in Iraq. Spain, who commanded the 18th Military Police Brigade, says the mistakes led to the failure to build a dependable Iraqi Police Service and contributed to a multitude of other problems.
Spain was inspired to write after Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks interviewed him for a book called “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”
Typing up details he kept in 17 notebooks – and adding hindsight-sharpened descriptions of how scenarios played out – made Spain realize what he had been a part of, he said. A chance meeting with Turchie at a California fundraiser for a fallen Marine’s family provided the opportunity to turn 317 pages of notes into a manuscript. Ricks wrote the foreword.
Spain’s classmates at the long-closed Vaiden Whitley High School in Wendell, where he earned a reputation in the late 1960s and early 1970s as class clown, seemingly have boosted preorders of the $28.95 book.
In the class of about 160, “I don’t know of anyone who has accomplished as much on a national scale, and I don’t know of anyone who has done as much to serve his country as Ted Spain,” said David Arnold of Wendell.
The Wilson-born son of a game warden, Spain spent 13 months on the Greenville police force after graduating from East Carolina University. He had spent two years at Appalachian State University with the goal of becoming a math teacher but found that wasn’t his passion. After a year’s break that included a job playing a Wild West sheriff at Tweetsie Railroad theme park, he earned a criminal justice degree at ECU. He enlisted as a private to start his Army career.
Spain, who will visit Wendell this week for a book signing, credits his upbringing in the town “like Mayberry” with helping him succeed as a leader.
“My parents taught me the difference between right and wrong. And they taught me to treat people the way I want to be treated,” he said. “That’s what I did my entire military career, and it made me very successful. I treated the private the way I treated the general. It worked very well for me.”
Asked if he really was class clown, Spain laughed hard.
“Yeah, I was,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll find a single person in my high school class that ever thought I would reach Army colonel.”