24 November 2006

I'm Home

As of the day this picture was taken, I had been deployed for just over a year. The last time I had seen my son (on R&R) he was 10 days old, now he's almost 5 months. My sweetie, bless her heart, is no longer a single-mom, though I must say that she did a great job while she was. Now I get to learn how to be a dad.

I would like to thank the friends I've made over the last year through this blog, your support has helped me immeasurably and I thank you all for it. My plea is that no one forgets that we still have troops in harm's way and they still need your support. They need to know that there are people back home who still think that what they're doing is good and right, because it is.

Thanks again for all your thoughts and prayers, they DO make a difference.

10 November 2006

Letting Go

*** I had originally titled this post "Hurry Up & Wait", but after writing it I thought I should rename it to something a bit more appropriate ***

It's all over but the flying now. I have officially been replaced. I've turned over my key, my cell phone, my desk, my computer, my responsibilities. I am now excess baggage as far as Iraq is concerned. But that's ok, the military is funny that way. It's the goal of the military to work itself out of a job.

Take Iraq for example - when we accomplish our mission here we will no longer be needed. We're building an Army and taking out the bad guys. Once the Army that we're building is capable of taking out the bad guys without our help, we'll be able to go home. We're working ourselves out of a job.

Anyway, I'd rather not get too deep in thought right now. It's still taking some getting used to to realize that if there's a problem that I'm not the one to fix it. Phones ring and I jump to answer it. People knock on the door to ask for help and I turn to assist. It's tough to give up that responsibility, to not be the go-to guy. I have to keep reminding myself that it's someone else's turn, that it's not my show anymore, that if I see things going a direction that I don't think they should go that it's not my place to adjust their course. It's what I think it's like to drop a kid off at college, you're confident that they'll do well, but it's not in your hands anymore to make sure they do.

So now I just sit and wait. Predicting the next several weeks is fuzzy at best. We have general ideas for when things will occur, but they're all subject to mission requirements. I've learned that when you're in transit you MUST have something to occupy your time that isn't battery operated as the bateries will likely die before you get where you're going. Books fill this void nicely, so does planning. Planning for the future, for things I want to do with my family, people I want to see again, people I don't, places I want to go, clothes I want to wear that aren't ACU patterned, so on and so forth, it's one of those 'set your mind free' kind of things.

Unless something happens that is really interesting and is something that I can share, I likely won't be making another post from here in Iraq. Don't be mistaken though, this doesn't mean that after publishing this post I'm going to go get on a helo out of here, I just think it's a good thing to sort of make a clean break, I think it helps with letting go.

07 November 2006

When Nicknames Stick

I think I did a bad thing during the handover. Ya see, the new guy bears a striking resemblance to me - same haircut, same glasses, same general features though my face is a bit thinner. The main difference between us is that I'm about 10 inches taller than he is.

I was introducing the new guy to a couple of the people I work with who still have some time here and one of them (we'll call him Bill) commented on how similar we looked. I responded by chuckling and saying, "Yeah, he's my very own 'Mini-Me', haha."

A couple days later my replacement was sitting at my desk (as he should be) so I decided to go for a walk. I ran into a group of people I work with and started chatting with them when Bill walked up and asked, "Hey, where's the new guy?" Before I could answer, someone else who hadn't been introduced to the new guy yet asks, "Who? You mean LT's Mini-Me?" I looked over at Bill who was cringing because the other person had made such a blunder as to call the new guy by his nickname in front of me.

I stood there for a moment trying to comprehend what I had done. People who had never even seen him already knew him as a smaller version of me, as my 'Mini-Me'. With one simple reference to a popular comedy linking my replacement with a bald, pale, pinky-nibbling dwarf, I had set the new guy up for failure. I looked down to aviod making eye contact with anyone and shook my head in disgust at what I had done while doing my best to stifle my laugh which only made matters worse. I fear that I have branded him before he had the chance to brand himself.

05 November 2006

Saddam Guilty

1201 - Just heard it on the news, Saddam is guilty and the sentence is death. I'll post updates as the day goes on. Now where'd I put my kevlar...

1230 - First sound of gunfire. Sounds pretty close.

1315 - Initial celebratory gunfire didn't last long, though I'd be willing to bet that it was only the first round. I bet that when night sets in there will be a lot more, you can't really see tracers so well during the day.

1430 - Still pretty quiet, haven't heard any gunfire in the last couple hours.

1500 - Ambassador Khalizad releases a statement on the verdict. Read it here.

1800 - Night fell about a half-hour ago and still no major gunfire. A few pops every now and then, but nothing unusual.

2215 - I've heard a few explosions over the last few hours, but nothing that I'd say is extraordinary. On my end it seems like the heightened security did it's job. Now we just have to see how long until the die-hard knuckleheads start shooting again, but I'm willing to bet that following the verdict that a good portion of the Saddam loyalists will call it quits. I'm hoping that the appeal will be handled quickly and that we'll see this guy swinging from the nearest palmtree sometime soon.

02 November 2006

Stuk in Irak

Won uf my Soldjurs cent me ths pikshur and i cudnt stop laffing!


These troops inspired me! ... to post my own picture, but I chickened out. I know, I know, I don't get to have any fun.

And can you believe they're already making T-shirts?!

My Bags Are Packed

What you see here is everything I'll be heading home with. A backpack with a map sack attached, a duffel bag, a laptop bag, and a foot locker (the black case on the bottom). I've moved out of my room into a tent and I'll be living out of these bags until I get home. I won't actually be traveling with the foot locker because I like to travel light so I'll be mailing that right before I roll out. That way I can still pack things up until the last day and my sweetie won't have to try and drag it home from the post office.

The 'go-home' day isn't here yet, but it's quickly approaching. Each day I'm getting more and more out of the operations loop and my replacement is taking over. I find that when the people we work with here go to him for something that I start to feel slighted, but then I remember that this is what's supposed to be happening and that the more it happens the closer I get to going home. It's tough to let go of the leadership position, but I just have to remind myself that letting go here means grabbing hold back home.

The unit that will be replacing my guys has finally landed. The guy who will be my replacement has been here for a while to help get thins set up for when the rest of his unit arrives. Now that they're here we can really start making a transition. It still doesn't feel real to me that I'll be getting out of here for the last time soon. Maybe it will set in when I'm actually on my way back, maybe when I set foot on home soil, maybe when I hug my wife and son, maybe weeks after that. I know in my head that I'm going to be going home soon, I just don't feel it yet.

30 October 2006

One Day Closer

Well, I'm no longer accountable for any property here in Baghdad. At least none that I signed for while I was here. It's a good day when your replacement can sign what used to be your property book and everything is accounted for.

Inventories are the bane of just about everyone in the military. I hesitate to say everyone because somewhere out there is a masochist who just loves to crawl through dusty storage closets and squint his beady little eyes to read serial numbers on widgets just so that he can get another bullet on his evaluation. I, however, am not one of these creatures, but I do make a concerted effort to do a good job because if I don't I could go to jail.

There are some pieces of equipment that if lost through my negligence I could become a guest of the federal government at sunny Ft. Leavenworth where I would get to make big rocks into little rocks for a number of years. I keep this cheery thought in the front of my mind whenever it comes time to do inventories and it does a lot to motivate me to do a good job. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some things that if lost I would simply have to fork over the money to replace them. While this isn't as motivating as not going to a federal "pound-me-in-the-_ _ _" penatentary, I'd still rather not have to spend the money.

For this inventory, not only did I not lose any equipment, but neither did any of my Soldiers. None of us have to pay for new equipment and none of us will become Bubba's special lady. That makes me happy.

In much more significant news ... when was the last time you heard a civilian body count? I sure haven't been hearing those headlines of "Hundreds die every day in Baghdad" like I used to. Could that maybe be because civilians aren't being killed by the hundreds? ... curious

Maybe it has something to do with the Iraqi Security Forces. Listen to what MG Caldwell had to say about them:

In total today, there are six of 10 Iraqi army divisions in the lead, 30 of 36 Iraqi brigades, and 90 of 112 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And we operate in support of them. All across Iraq, we continue to see an increasingly capable Iraqi security force continuing to take the lead. [And let's not forget two whole provinces!]

There have been isolated clashes recently in locations around Iraq between the militias and government of Iraq forces, such as in Amarah, Diwaniyah. We've seen sectarian violence in Balad and Saba al-Bor, primarily between Sunni and Shi'a. These clashes have garnered sensational headlines, however, they are not clashes that had uncontrolled continued violence. What we saw, to the credit of Iraqi security forces and local leaders, was some action. In each case, Iraqi security forces, acting on their own, played a critical role in quelling the violence within days. Local leaders, both political and religious, in coordination with Iraqi security forces, came together to take action necessary to prevent the violence from spiraling out of control.

So what we see in actions taking place all over Iraq is that Iraqis are taking charge of their country, and they're doing it valiantly. Violence will flare up again in areas that are under Iraqi control. The question will be, can they handle these situations themselves? In all these incidents they did; they responded and they returned calm to the areas. The Iraqis brought an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem, which is precisely the strategy for Iraq.

Yeah ... it's quite the quagmire here. Ya know, I don't claim that the strategy or our execution of it is perfect, but what I do claim is that it is working. People portray things as lost and beyond control, that everything we're doing is 180 degress off course in order to further their agenda, whatever it may be. These people are wrong. There may be a better way to win this war, but this is the way we're doing it and we are winning.

25 October 2006

B36 News - 25 October 2006

PT tests, inventories, weapons ranges... we've been really busy here lately. The busyness comes in bursts though. Half of the day will be spent twiddling our collective thumbs, something will happen and the rest of the day is spent running around like madmen with our hair on fire.

It's all ok though. Whatever hoops they put me through, I jump with a smile on my face because I know that I'll be headed home soon.

The news has been looking pretty good lately too. Of course all you're hearing in the MSM is body counts, car bombs, sectarian violence, blah, blah, blah... To the collective 'Chicken Little Media' I only wish to quote General Casey:
The tearing down that our enemies do is infinitely easier than the building up that Iraq requires after three decades of neglect. But building is what Iraq needs, and we have committed $400 million already to projects in support of the Baghdad effort, with almost 600 more million dollars in additional projects to kick in here over the next couple of months

Make no mistake about it, we are in a tough fight here in the center of the country and in Anbar province. But I think it's important to remind people that 90 percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq takes place in about a 30-mile radius from the center of Baghdad; and that secondly, 90 percent of all violence takes place in five provinces. This is not a country that is awash in sectarian violence. The situation is hard, but it's not a country that's awash in sectarian violence.

The American people already know what a magnificent job the men and women of their armed forces are doing here, and we continue to be grateful for their continuing support. But they should also know that the men and women of the armed forces here have never lost a battle in over three years of war. That is a fact unprecedented in military history. They and our Iraqi security forces continue to carry the fight to the enemy every day, and I continue to be in awe of their courage, their agility, their resourcefulness, and their commitment. You can be confident that our service men and women are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led.

And here's my challenge to the American media:
How about you take the knife out of the back of the those of us who protect your freedoms and stick it in the evil-doers who would pull said knife from our back only to cut our head off with it.

These Chicken Littles say that troops are doing a magnificent job in spite of our civilian leadership. I say we're doing a magnificent job in spite of the subversion of the media.

General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, held a press briefing in which he tactfully and subtly leveled the same accusation at the media. Basically he said that the bad guys know that the will of the American people is what allows the military to do its job and that the media was doing a good job of helping them defeat that collective will. To all you 'average Americans' out there, this means that the bad guys are trying to make you think it's not worth it and we should come home... this is what the bad guys are saying, sound familiar?

Oh yeah, let's not forget Anbar. The Iraqi Army assumed security responsibility for more of Anbar during the week. This is in spite of media reports claiming Anbar was 'lost'. Also, in the Salah ad Din province, which borders Baghdad to the north east, the tribal leaders followed the example of those in Anbar and are coming together to help secure their province. Shia and Sunni working together to make life better for everyone.

23 October 2006

The New Guys

Well, my replacement has been here for a few days and I've almost totally got him spun up on how to do my job, but that doesn't mean that I'll be leaving any sooner though. There's a date in the near future that someone picked from a calendar as the magic day when I pass off my cell phone to the new guy and put him in charge and until that day comes it doesn't matter how competent he is, I'm the one who get's poked in the eye if something goes wrong.

It's interesting to talk with him and listen to how he thinks things should be run. I remember when I first landed here and talked with the guy I was replacing. I listened to all the things he complained about and worked up solutions to his problems in a matter of seconds. "Wow, this place is messed up! I'm going to turn this place around! I'm going to fix everything!" I said to myself back then. Now as I hear him saying things much the same as I did I realize that it's more of a relay race than a contest of who can do better. The guys before me started from zero and handed me the baton at 50 meters which I percieved to be zero. Now that I've moved it forward another 50 meters, the new guy thinks that he's starting at zero again just like I did.

I guess it's a good thing though. If he landed here, looked around and said to himself, "Ok, I just gotta go through the motions for a year and go home," then nothing would improve. One day, about a year from now, he'll look back and think something simliar to what I'm thinking now as he's getting his replacement ready.

The countdown to home continues.

18 October 2006

B36 News - 18 October 2006

The days are starting to run together now and I imagine that this phenomena will only get worse ... or better depending on your point of view. It's nice because time seems to go faster, but that also means that I run the risk of missing deadlines. I haven't yet, but only because of reminders from my NCOs and my To-Do list.

When I first deployed I had two foot lockers, a ruck sack, a laptop bag, and a duffel bag. A year later I'm headed back with four foot lockers, a back pack (smaller than a ruck sack), and a laptop bag. Some stuff I used up, some I already sent home, some stuff is in the same wrapper it was when I was first issued it, some stuff I'll wear until I step off the bus at home. Both coming and going, the foot lockers were shipped so I didn't have to mess with transporting them myself, but stumbling off a bus while balancing a ruck sack, duffel, laptop case, a weapon, and body armor isn't what I'd call a good time. On the way back I plan to limit myself to the back pack, laptop case, weapon, and body armor. Each piece can be worn or slung over a shoulder and I will still have use of my hands so I can squeeze my wife and hug my kid when I see them.

Anyway, good things are still happening in Iraq, check these stories out:

Anbar Progress
Remember this map? It shows you how much of the country is under Iraqi military/police control. Notice Anbar? Yeah, it's the big white area on the left. No worries though, the 7th Iraqi Army Division responsible for the province is beginning to assume more and more of their territory.

1st Battalion of the 1st Brigade of the 7th IAD assumed a portion of the Ramadi area on 14 October. Let me remind everyone that our goal here is not to kill every last terrorist in the country, but to diminish their (the terrorists) capacity to operate while building the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can maintain security in Iraq and free us up to come home. These kind of events are excellent milestones along that path- along the path of progress and victory.

Without supplies no military force in the world can operate, including the bad guys. Troops from the 10th Mountain Division conducted Operation Commando Hunter in the Yusufiyah area which is 20 miles southwest of Baghdad and rounded up 78 weapons caches. Rocket launchers, RPGs, dynomite, 82mm mortars, IEDs, machineguns, AK 47s, Dragunov sniper rifles... the list goes on and on. Think of this kind of stuff as preventative surgery - there will be that much less of a body count now because these troops captured this stuff.

Tying the previous two stories together is this one. Supplies do no good if they can't get to where they're needed, but thanks to the 4th Motor Transport Regiment of the 4th Iraqi Army Division that will be less of a problem now.

The 4th MTR recently took the lead of it's own operations which means that it now answers to an Iraqi command structure or more importantly, it takes orders from the Iraqi command structure. Without the beans and bullets in the right place at the right time, the troops that conduct combat operations won't be able to do their job. With the 4th MTR in the lead now, the Iraqi military is that much closer to sustaining itself.