It's amazing how by just looking at pictures like this I can just melt my anxieties away. Whenever there's something stressing me out I can just look at a picture of my family for a minute and everything else will come into focus. Those big looming monsters threatening to make life suck suddenly become nothing more than pesky annoyances.
30 September 2006
My sweetie and my son made it back to Germany in one piece and I'm another week closer to seeing them again. I've found that by focusing on weekly occurrences rather than daily ones, that time here seems to go faster. Every Saturday I can't help thinking, "Is it FAMILYDAY again already?" I'll have to remember to do the opposite when I get back so that time seems to take longer.
It's amazing how by just looking at pictures like this I can just melt my anxieties away. Whenever there's something stressing me out I can just look at a picture of my family for a minute and everything else will come into focus. Those big looming monsters threatening to make life suck suddenly become nothing more than pesky annoyances.
29 September 2006
Sorry for yesterday's absence. I was out of action as a result of a flu that seems to be going around. My brain still doesn't feel like it's firing on all cylinders so the charm and wit that is such an integral part of the B36 News will be somewhat lacking today.
Baghdad Press Conference
In this week's press conference, MG Caldwell released the newest graphics showing the progress that's been made with regard to the Baghdad security plan, more formally knownas Operation Together Forward. This has been an ongoing update for the last several weeks and if you compare this map with previous maps, you'll notice much less of the shaded yellow areas. The shaded yellow areas were used to help visualize the neighborhoods that we were operating in so just because you don't see it doesn't mean that we've scaled back or abandoned those areas
In the same press conference, this graphic was also released that shows what areas in Iraq are currently under control of the Iraqi security forces. It also highlights the two provinces that are completely under Iraqi control. Remember where we were three years ago? Precisely zero square miles were under Iraqi control.
In Wednesday's update, I wrote about the NY Times constantly violating the integrity of classified information and I always check what I post to make sure that I'm not giving away information that could be used against my fellow troops. Wrapped up in MG Caldwell's press conference was a subtle example of just how seriously we take OPSEC.
At the very end of the conference, a reporter from a local paper asked MG Caldwell about a recent raid that left nine people dead including four women. You can read about the operation here to get the whole story, but I want to focus on the follow up question that was asked.
The reporter asked if he could clarify whether a plane or a helicopter was used to attack the house to which MG Caldwell said:
We -- it -- no, I'd have to get -- I'm not sure -- I do know what the asset was, but I'd have to go back and get clearance on the exact -- but it was an aerial asset that was used.A plane or a helicopter? The point is that even General Officers check themselves when it comes to OPSEC and divulging potentially classified information.
Give me a second so I can set my hair on fire and put my running shoes on
Ok, now I'm ready - SECTARIAN CIVIL WAR QUAGMIRE!!! BLAHHHH WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!
Just don't tell that to the 15 Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar who just took the first official steps towards working with the elected Shia Prime Minister to kick al Qaeda out of Iraq.
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis
Regimental Combat Team 5
Navy Seaman Samuel L. Blanco is a healer. The hospital corpsman, geared up in layers of body armor, has a bag of tricks he carries that heals not just bumps and bruises, scrapes and cuts, but also relations and trust between Americans and local Iraqis.
During a Sept. 23 patrol with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Blanco provided health care for dozens of Iraqi villagers.
“From an American view, it gives us a sense of pride to know that Iraqis would come to us,” said Blanco, a 26-year-old from Justin, Texas, assigned to Weapons Company.
He said less than two months ago, at the start of his service under Regimental Combat Team 5, Iraqis in this area west of Fallujah were hesitant to even speak to him or the other Marines. But over time, the mood has changed. Now, instead of leery stares, parents are bringing their children forward to get a once-over from “Doc” Blanco.“When they get a serious problem they can come to us,” said Lance Cpl. Paul J. Burns, a mortarman. “They’re starting to get close to us and recognizing the ‘doc.’”
Burns said the locals could pick out the Marine's resident medical expert by his calm persona.
“Soon as they found out that I was a ‘doc’ everybody was like, ‘fix me, fix me, bandage,’” Blanco said.
Blanco said he enjoys regular contact with the Iraqis, while his teammates appreciate the benefits of his relationships.
“Doc’s not afraid to get hands-on with the residents,” said Lance Cpl. Liam E. Izar, a mortarman with Weapons Company. "He helps us focus on doing our job.
27 September 2006
Ever wondered what the American version of the RPG is? Here it is! A high-ranking, anonymous military official leaked this picture of a new weapon that is described as a shoulder-fired bad-guy-blower-upper, or SFBGBU (pronounced es-ef-bug-boo) as it's known by its developers. The troops who have tested it have affectionately named it the 'bugger' not only in reference to the acronym, but for the effect it has on the bad guys.
Yeah, and if you believe that I've got some seafront property in Afghanistan to sell you too.
On the topic of leaked sensitive information, the NY Times is at it again. The NY Times is not a friend of America or those of us who defend her. Their track record of violating the integrity of classified information is proof of this. This organization isn't operating under the freedom of the press, it's abusing it and those responsible for these injuries to America should be held just as accountable as the terrorists who use the information they divulge to attack our country and my brothers and sisters in arms.
As a result of the leak the President declassified a portion of the report which you can read for yourself here.
Doing My Part
While not news from Iraq, this story is something near and dear to my heart. When asked by Marine CPL John Stukins was being done to counter the negative media coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan, GEN Pace replied with the following:
[It's necessary] to make ourselves more available to the American people so that we can, in fact, get more of the story out here so that the American people -- whose center of gravity is really very, very solid -- have the opportunity to digest all that information and judge for themselves what’s really going on.Anbar Assessment
Fellow Military.com/Blog contributer Noah Shachtman published a letter he received from a Marine in Anbar that worked in an intel section during his most recent deployment. The email was a sort of 'Most Amazing' list of people and events that the Marine encountered and I though I'd share some of them here. You can read them all at DefenseTech.org.
by SPC Joshua R. Ford
3rd BCT, 82nd (AA) PAO
...Full story posted in comments.
26 September 2006
Lining the walls where we line up for chow are several bulletin borads with the usual lost & founds, ads for people selling stuff, notices for various religious and social gatherings. Today as I was walking past I noticed one in particular. It was a newspaper clipping that someone had laminated and pinned up with a short note. This is what I saw:
It's a big picture, but it's well worth your time to download and read.
This and Sunshine's post from a couple days ago is the kind of thing that make it worth it.
A couple days ago I was reading a post on Days of My Life, a blog written by Sunshine who is an Iraqi teenager. In this post she describes her experience while a gun battle took place near her house and one passage in particular made me nearly pop with pride:
I remembered the old days when we used to hide under the stairs or stand near the corner for 5 and 6 hours , everyone was praying for the policemen, national guards, and the neighbors safety, and that the good guys win the fight against the bad, and that’s what happened , after an hour our policemen and national guards with the help of the US troops who came after an hour with many helicopters defeated the terrorists.This is exactly what we're here for, to protect Sunshine, her family, and every other Iraqi who just want's to live free and peacefully.
There are those who would hold up continuing violence in Baghdad as proof that Operation Together Forward has failed. I would say that these people need to understand that unlike your microwave, we can't just turn a knob, wait two minutes, and have a murder-free city. The bad guys don't want to lose and they're going to do what they can to avoid losing, this means shifting their operations to uncleared areas and killing people there.
I've been saying this since OTF started, and now you're hearing it from MG Thurman, commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad:
Why are we seeing an increase in attacks? Well, we have twice as many forces operating throughout the city now. We're challenging the anti-Iraqi forces where they live and operate. We anticipated the enemy would push back as we moved into their sanctuaries, but we are disrupting and defeating them by forcing them to fight on our terms.Bad men with guns don't just quit. We have to find and kill or capture them and guess what, get ready now, this may be a suprise; sometimes killing or capturing bad guys gets a bit violent!
MG Caldwell's 'Winning in Iraq'
A while back I published my article, "Winning in Iraq", in an attempt to help portray the ground truth of our successful campaign here in the desert. Yesterday, MG Caldwell released his explanation for our impending victory here in Iraq. I'd recommend you read the whole thing, but allow me to post the highlights:
Sadr - "Roger, Got It."
It would seem that the infamous Muqtada al-Sadr got the message. First off, a quick history lesson for this guy: Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric who commands the Mahdi Army, widely recognized as an illegal militia. The Mahdi Army has had repeated conflicts with the Coalition and the Iraqi government, most recently in Diawaniya where 24 policemen and 50 militiamen were killed.
Now, as Operation Together Forward closes in on Sadr City, his stronghold in Baghdad, the guy is starting to talk some sense:
[Wage a] peaceful war against them and not to shed a drop of blood, so fight them by popular, peaceful war. Do raise your voices to get them out, boycott them and ask a government you have elected under the occupation and terrorism to do the work for you, and not to leave your enemy on your land.Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy that this guy is hating on us, but I am happy that he's starting to get the message that Iraq's future is rooted in the rule of law, not muscle. It's likely that this isn't the end of this guy's fight, but at least now he's talking rather than shooting. Let's just hope we can beat him as handily with words as we can with bullets.
25 September 2006
Sunday was a slow day and I decided to get out of the office again and see more of the IZ before it's time for us to head home. I figure I'm never going to get a chance like this again, or at least for the next 15-20 years, so I ought to make the most of it now.
I traveled around the IZ for a few hours, stopping at the various shops and souvenir stands to see if I could pick up a cheap set of hand-held radios. I have no reason in particular that required a radio, but there's often a moment when I think, "Man, this would be a lot easier if we had radios," so I figured I'd use it as an excuse to go get a couple. After hitting all of the shops that I usually go to and taking a short break to explore the half-stadium at the Crossed Swords, I decided to try some of the shops I had seen at the al-Rasheed Hotel.
I've been to the al-Rasheed a couple times with friends and noticed that there were several shops selling the usual trinkets, jewelry, rugs, and the ever-present pirated DVDs. I never really understood what that meant until I came here. You can get almost any movie ever made and most before they're even released in theaters in the States out here. I took a few laps around the shops checking out what they had to offer paying special attention to the electronics since I was looking for radios. Alas, none were to be found.
I did, however, work up a slight thirst and decided that I'd try and track down a drink of some sort at one of these shops. Again, I didn't find what I was looking for. I did, however, find a nice little cafe. I don't think I've shared this yet, but I figure now's as good a time as any - my ultimate objective in life is to own a nice little cafe, sort of my own little haven where I can sit and read all day while sipping whatever brew I happen to choose and not have to worry about making a profit, just paying the bills and drinking coffee. Planning ahead, I've been trying to visit as many cafes as I can get into to get ideas for how I want my place to be and I figured that this would be a great time to try out some Iraqi fare.
I walked up to the greeting stand and asked the waiter if I could get something to drink. He mumbled something that sounded like "Yes, sir" and motioned to one of the open tables. Shortly after sitting at a nearby table the waiter came by and asked what I wanted. Since I was thirsty I was looking for something cold and since I was doing research for my coffee shop I wanted a coffee. The waiter politely informed me that they had any kind of "Coke soda, Pepsi soda" and that they only had "Turkish coffee." I asked for a Pepsi and a Turkish coffee and he then asked if I wanted sugar or cream to which I replied that I just wanted it regular and he went off to the bar.
I pulled out my camera and busied myself by looking through some pictures that I had taken while at the Swords. A few minutes later, I heard the clicking of shoes hitting the pseudo-marble floors behind me. When I turned to see who was there I was a bit surprised to see another waiter dressed in a formal black tuxedo, bow tie and all, holding a tray with a can of Pepsi, a glass, and a cup of coffee. He walked around in front of me and, bending at the waist, lowered the tray almost to the level of the table so he could drop off the drinks. I smiled and said "thanks" and he gave me a sort of sideways nod, stood back up straight and clicked away.
As I was pouring the Pepsi into the glass I was struck by the surreality of it all: I was sitting in a cafe in the middle of Baghdad with a pistol on my hip drinking coffee that had just been served by an Iraqi man in a tux. It would get odder.
I decided to drink the Pepsi first since it was a known quantity and my mouth was dry. I slowly sipped it and looked around the cafe, taking it all in. The only other customer was a portly, older, well-dressed Iraqi man who was engaged in lively conversation with the staff as he ravished the bread in front of him. While I was casually watching how he handled himself I looked out the window over his shoulder and noticed that I could see the Convention Center. The Convention Center has become the seat of the Iraqi government much like the Capitol building is in the States. Inspired by the sight of several Iraqi Army HMMWVs topped with PKC machine guns parked in front of the Convention Center, I tried to imagine the Capitol building with US HMMWVs stationed to defend it. It's easy to imagine the HMMWVs and the building, but not the two together.
While contemplating the parallels between Iraq and America, I finished the glass of Pepsi and decided it was time to take the plunge and try the Turkish coffee. I gently stirred the brew to get an idea for its composition and was surprised when I saw a slight ... something attached to the tip of the spoon. I dug the spoon along the bottom of the cup and collected quite a load of what I can only describe as sludge. "Well, okay, I guess this is what a Turkish coffee is like then," I thought while trying to stir up the bottom in hopes that I would dissolve the sludge. Once I was satisfied that I had gotten it all mixed up I took my timid first sip.
And it tasted like coffee, at least until I rolled it to the back of my mouth where a taste that is best described as ash invaded my taste buds. Yuck. I was determined to drink the whole cup though, remembering a similar reaction the first time I tried coffee in America figuring that the taste would grow on me. I put the cup down hoping that I had just made a mistake by mixing up the sludge and that it would settle back out of the rest of the drink and I could get just the liquid coffee. I let it sit for a few minutes and tried again. Sip, swish, gulp, eughh! I did my best to not make a face as I forced it down.
Over the next 15 or so minutes I sipped and sipped until all that was left was the sludge and put my cup down. It turns out that drinking the Pepsi first and last was a good idea since I knew what to expect and could rinse the ash taste out of my mouth.
I decided to take the second half of the Pepsi slow, I had nowhere else to be for hours and this place was as good as any, better than most in the area probably. It was getting to be late in the afternoon and I guess it was close of business for a lot of the locals because in the space of a few minutes three groups of Iraqis came in and sat down, some talking quietly amongst themselves, some in very boisterous conversation with their group. I was most struck by one couple in particular. I would guess that they were in their late 50's, he was dressed in a nice grey business suit and she was dressed in a long-sleeved pant suit and a thin black cloth that kept falling back off her head onto her shoulders. He pulled out a bottle of water and poured them both a drink as a waiter served them a bowl of bread which they daintily broke into bite-sized bits and nibbled on. Their conversation seemed light hearted as he would break into laughter and she would make a seemingly exasperated sigh while shaking her head and suppressing a smile.
I sat there for about 10 minutes just people-watching and sipping at my Pepsi. While doing this I thought that the coffee set would be a cool souvenir and I picked up the cup and saucer to check the label on the bottom to see if it was locally made. Unfortunately it wasn't, it was just some generic "Made in China" set, but I still figured it was cool, how often do you see a coffee set from downtown Baghdad. Once I finally finished the glass, the waiter that seated me appeared from nowhere and started to scoop up the cups. I stopped him and asked if I could buy the cup and saucer. At first he didn't understand and thought I was just asking how much the coffee cost, but when I grabbed them both and motioned that I was going to walk away with them he realized what I was after. Understandably, he didn't know if I could buy them so he had to go ask his boss. When his boss came out I explained to him that I wanted to buy the cup and saucer and wanted to know how much it cost. He pointed in the cup and at the Pepsi and said, "Coffee is $4, Pepsi is $2. For drinks and cup you give me $10." I flinched at the $4 cup of ash flavored coffee, but I figured that it was worth the experience so I handed over my $10 and walked out with a brand new (to me) coffee set.
While the set is nothing special to look at, I'm going to find it a nice place of prominence in my coffee shop years from now.
I had another "Unplugged" episode over the weekend during which I spent several hours out and about at various locations in the IZ, one of which was the Al Rasheed hotel cafe pictured here. I'm working on a write up like I did with the last one though this one will have fewer visual aids.
The surreality (if that's a word) of life here in the IZ is starting to set in now that I'm starting to readjust my perceptions for the redeployment. Redeployment is Armyese for going home.
Over the weekend the Iraqi government came to the conclusion that breaking Iraq up into seperate autonomous regions isn't the way ahead. This shows continued commitment to creating one Iraq. The way ahead that has yet to be finalized, but looks like it will be very similar to what we have in the States as far as the federal and state government. The plan on how this will look exactly should be voted on and released within a week and we'll get a look at Iraq's future.
I've been talking about Operation Together Forward a lot for the last couple months because I believe that it's going to be the pivotal battle in the war. Baghdad is the center of gravity for the country and once we secure the city we will have knocked the bad guys out of their strongholds.
After clearing roughly one third of the city's most violent neighborhoods, we're winning this battle. While our guys and the ISF are out securing neighborhoods, they're also collecting census data and asking questions. Questions like "Do you think the Baghdad security plan will be effective?" The most recent poll shows a 20% increase in the number of "yes" responses to that particular question for a grand total of 60%.
Hearts and Minds of Anbar
Baghdad isn't the only place where our guys are getting out and talking with Iraqi citizens. The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment have been getting a lot more face-time with the locals in an attempt to win their trust and support. Just as in Baghdad, it's working in Anbar as well.
Based on intel collected from chats with the locals, the Marines were able to put the zip-cuffs on one high-value target and 70 of his buddies. Just as important as the intel that local Iraqis provide to the Marines is the support that the Marines give back. In addition to the security and protection from bad guys, Marines are there to listen to their problems and to do what they can to help out whether the problem is power, water, or health related.
This is how the fight is fought.
A couple weeks ago I introduced The Liz as a new member of the B36 News team as a "stringer" which resulted in the question, "What's a stringer?"
A stringer is a local who, for obvious reasons, has a much easier time running around outside the secure areas bringing news stories to journalists who are cooped up in fortified compounds and only step outside the wire if they're on their way home.
Today I found a story on The Strategy Page that gives a bit better idea about what stringers are and how they operate as well as the affect they have on the "news". Well worth the read.
24 September 2006
I saw this sign at Victory Base on one of my visits there. It's on an "L" shaped corner where the only way you can turn is left... in the middle of nowhere, I couldn't see any other traffic anywhere. It was so random that I felt it needed to be photographed.
Today is the day that I open up the comments section for anyone to say anything they like. Throughout the week I somewhat moderate comments by deleting ones I deem to be idiotic. Mind you, I don't get rid of those that I disagree with, just those that are baseless, pointless rants, or personal attacks. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me as long as they can explain why, otherwise the discussion devolves into a did-not-did-to war which I'm sure we can all agree is just stupid.
"Ask A Troop Sunday" however is different. Today is the day when we can all regress back to elementary school and tattle, point fingers, and eat glue to our heart's content. Just don't run with the scissors.
23 September 2006
I apologize for the old picture, my son and my sweetie have wrapped up their trip to the States so I should be getting a new batch of pictures shortly.
The thought of going home is always on my mind now. Whenever I get a moment where I'm not actively engaged in something I'll start thinking about my family - going to that nice little pizzaria/ice cream parlor with them, going to the coffee shop in town, going on walks by the river with them... well I guess it would be more of a "carry" or "roll" for Mark. In any case, being able to go home at the end of the day and see them is going to be nice.
22 September 2006
In a press release yesterday, the US Army (hooah!) announced that it will reach its recruiting and retention goals for the year ... in the middle of an "unpopular" war. This is an amazingly positive and morale-boosting bit of news for me personally as it shows that there are enough Americans out there who not only support us and our efforts, but are willing to give up their lives of relative comfort to stand by our side and help out.
In the face of a ruthless onslaught of negativity by the media, 80,000 Americans have raised their right hand and said, "Send me." Send me to the desert of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. Send me somewhere where I will have to wear a kevlar and a plated vest in the scorching heat. Send me somewhere where I may get shot at, or have IEDs explode as I drive past, or have rockets and mortars launched at me. Send me somewhere where I can make a difference. Send me to defend the helpless and weak. Send me to make the world safer. Send me.
On top of the 80,000 Americans standing up and volunteering for the first time, the Army will also meet it's goals for re-enlisting those of us who have already raised our right hand.
It has been my distinct honor to have administered the Oath of Enlistment to three of my Soldiers while we've been deployed to Baghdad. These troops decided to raise their right hand and say "send me, again".
The first re-up picture was taken at the Crossed Swords, formerly home to Saddam's parades and shows of military might. The second is taken at our company headquarters on the grounds of Saddam's Republican Guard Palace. The third is in the pool behind the US Embassy, the troop re-enlisting was told he could do it anywhere where security allowed it. He wanted to get us all in the pool while in uniform. In we went.
21 September 2006
This is a clip of a video that I watched that was linked on NewsBusters.com that featured CNN correspondent Michael Ware blabbering that the US military doesn't know what's really going on in Iraq ... and of course he has the real insight.
Rather than rip his arguments to shreds, I decided to focus on what President Bush had to say in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.
"... I've got to learn it from people who are there on the ground."If only more Americans would do the same.
Today, the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar was returned to Iraqi control. It marks the second such transfer in Iraq and represents another milestone passed on our way to victory.
Two down, 16 to go.
OUTSIDE cleared areas.
As we continue to clear Baghdad and deny bad guys safe havens and logistical support you will see attacks decline city-wide. The increase in violence outside cleared areas is the bad guys attempts to discredit the efforts of Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. Think high school physics here - action and reaction. The more we squeeze them, the more they fight back. After enough squeezing they will break and we'll win.
Iraqi Police Force Nearing Completion
Much like the US police force, the Iraqi police force is the civilian agency that will ultimately be responsible for domestic security. Right now the Iraqi police force is one training cycle from being fully trained and manned. The IPs are authorized 135,000 man force and the 135,000th IP is now in training. While there are still many tests ahead for the IPs, remember where we started - about three years ago we had precisely zero IPs nation-wide.
Marines Save Innocent Iraqi Girl
No, you didn't misread that headline. Despite the MSM pounding us with stories of "atrocities" and "massacres", these Marines and many like them are still driving on and risking their lives to make life better for Iraqis.
These Marines got a call from a local police commander that a young girl had fallen from a three-story building and that they lacked the ability to provide her the aid that she needed. The Marines responded by arranging a medevac convoy to take the girl and her uncle to a field hospital in Fallujah. Once at Fallujah it was determined that her injuries were so extensive that she neede to go to the hospital in Baghdad and guess what? They medevaced her and her uncle to Baghdad where Coalition doctors could better diagnose and treat her.
The next time you hear about cold blooded murderers, think of this little girl and the Marines that risked their lives to save hers.
Survivor - Iraq
I'm not really a fan of reality TV. In college I watched Joe Millionare with my wife and some friends and of course I see the highlights of American
The Marine you see here knows what the word "survivor" really means. He got shot in the noggin, but thanks to his government issue helmet all he has is a cool scar and an awesome story to tell his buddies.
By Lance Cpl. Erik VillagranThank you to the American Taxpayer for buying this Marine a helmet.
20 September 2006
I'm hearing a lot of talk in the news about a recent survey aimed at gauging public opinion for the upcoming elections. Thanks to a tip from The Griper, I got a look at just the numbers of the poll and managed to avoid associated observations.
Here's the question I found the most striking about the poll:
Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer?What's so striking about this? Tell me, do you see the option "Win and withdraw"? I hold it against the people who wrote the questions for failing to include winning as an option. However, to the credit of those surveyed, the great majority supported the options that most resembled winning.
The troop you see pictured here stopped to talk with some kids while on a presence patrol in Tal Afar. A presence patrol is a tactic that we use to help remind people that we're here and looking out for them and is used mostly in rural areas, it goes to the heart of the adage that "peace is not the absence of violence, but the presence of justice".
As President Bush has said, and the US military has made clear - we are delivering justice.
We Are Winning
I stumbled across an amazingly insightful article written by Mackubin Thomas Owens in which he explains why he thinks that we're winning here in Iraq. If you have doubts or questions about the strategic outlook and my Winning in Iraq didn't convince you, I'd suggest you read the whole article, it's really well written and, well, insightful.
I was very pleasantly suprised to see that he and I shared many of the same conclusions even though we arrived at them seperately:
The likelihood of success in Iraq has been improved in direct proportion to the recognition that what is happening in that country is a classical insurgency and that the correct response is the proper application of counterinsurgency techniques and operational approaches. But as was the case with Vietnam, success in Iraq will also depend on the vicissitudes of American domestic politics.If You Give A Mouse A Cookie...
If you've been reading B36 News for a while, you've probably read many articles about US troops helping out Iraqi school kids. This story from the Stars & Stripes focuses on how the supplies US troops delivered to a particular school in Sadr City in Baghdad wasn't enough to distribute to all the kids and portrays the whole thing in a slightly negative light, making it seem like we're not doing enough. At least that's how I read it.
I think this story was approached from the wrong angle though. Think of it like this - there are so many kids going to school in "dangerous Baghdad" that we didn't have enough supplies to hand out. Would you send your kid to school if you feared that something terrible would happen? The parents of the roughly 700 kids attending this school seem to think conditions are good enough in the city to warrant their attendance. It's things like this that get overlooked or dismissed as inconsequential that can provide some real indicators as to conditions on the ground.
19 September 2006
After reading the replies from my family and friends to my 'Bandit Unplugged' post, I was reminded of why I started this blog in the first place - to keep my family updated on how I was doing. I got so caught up in trying to help show the progress that we're making in the war that I forgot to add personal stories.
So with that in mind, I'll start off this post with a bang, literally. It's been about a month or so since we've taken any mortars or rockets, but today that streak broke. When we first got here we averaged about an attack a week, now it's closer to one attack per month or two. I remember the first attack I was here for. We heard a couple booms and half of the people in my office grabbed their kevlars, the other half dove under desks, I think I went under a desk. I tried to set a good example for everyone and was the first to venture out and try to make sure everyone was ok. I figured that if the troops saw me walking around they would feel more confident.
Now the booms are more of an annoyance than anything else, much like a fly buzzing around your head. At first it was sort of a macho thing to treat them casually, but as I thought about the threat of indirect fire (mortars & rockets) I began to realize that I had two choices: 1) have a nervous breakdown worrying about something I have no control over, or 2) pray that no one got hit when they did launch at us and forget about it. I chose not to see the shrink. You can either make peace with the fact that one day you're going to die and enjoy the time you have or you can worry about dying until you do. The choice seems simple to me.
About a week ago I posted a story about the province of Dhi Qar which borders the province of Muthanna to the northeast. What's so significant about these two provinces? Well, on Thursday Dhi Qar will be the second Iraqi province to be controlled by Iraqis. Muthanna has already been under Iraqi control for the last month or so and has seen a large measure of peace and tranquility with very few acts of violence and now Dhi Qar will follow suit.
Yesterday I mentioned that watching Iraqi Army Divisions transition to IGFC control would be a good indicator of mission accomplishment and our departure from Iraq. This is also a good barometer of victory. And by the way, Iraqi Security Forces outnumber Coalition forces by nearly 2 to 1.
This is good news.
I've had a few questions about this unity government. People want to know why it's such a big deal that Iraq has a 'Unity Government'. Most Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, don't realize that for many Iraqis, loyalty to tribal groups trumps that of loyalty to country.
Years ago, some guys looked at a map and drew lines and said, "We'll call this one Iraq" and poof, we have what is today called Iraq. Before that the land belonged to whomever could defend it. If a tribal group wanted some resource that another group had taking it by force was a valid option. This is where a Unity Government comes into play.
A Unity Government will unite Iraqis under a single flag and cause and will result in reconcilliation among Iraqis which is a source of most of the violence today. This is the major hurdle that faces the new Iraqi government right now and PM Maliki's reconcilliation plan is aimed at leaping straight over it.
Ramadi Tribes Unite
A sparkling example of what can be accomplished with a Unity Government was seen recently in the Al Anbar province. Of the 18 prominent tribes in Ramadi, 15 have signed a pact agreeing to actively fight the "infidels that use Islam as a cover for their crimes". These leaders are uniting to defeat terrorists. We'll see in the coming months how this will translate to effects on the ground, but the overt political support provided here lends considerable weight to the Iraqi government.
18 September 2006
In light of my absence this weekend, I figured I would share one of my experiences while I was "unplugged".
On Saturday night, I was walking around the housing area talking on my cell phone with my sweetie back in the States (I’m a commo guy, remember?). I had about an hour and a half until midnight chow opened. For no particular reason, I’ve started skipping breakfast and dinner during the week and taking midnight chow on the weekends so I figured I’d chat her up as long as I could while I waited for midnight chow to open.
We talked about what we’re going to do when I get back, where we wanted to go, who we wanted to see. We talked about financial plans and how to account for money matters. We’re both savers and we’re doing alright financially so money-matters aren’t a touchy subject between us. And of course we talked about Mark. Everything includes Mark anymore, but it’s nice.
I managed to keep her talking for about an hour so when we hung up I still had 30 minutes until the doors opened so I decided to go hang out by the pool and wait. As I got closer to the pool area I could hear someone singing very bad karaoke (is there another kind?) at a birthday party and the sounds of a volleyball being hit back and forth. The pad on the first lounger I picked had absorbed the water that had been splashed from the pool and sponged it off on me when I sat on it. Once I felt the wetness soaking my back I jumped up and moved to a lounge a bit further away from the edge of the pool and dragged it back poolside.
I cautiously settled in to the lounge making sure that this pad wouldn’t trick me like the last one did. As I started to relax a bit I began to be amazed at it all. There I was, sitting on a lounger by the pool at what used to be the Whitehouse of Iraq. In the distance across the pool I could see a couple troops playing an energetic game of ping pong while some South American security contractors from Triple Canopy watched and waited for their turn to take on the winner. As I scanned to the left I saw a deployment queen chatting with several burly looking guys in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops each hoping she’d choose him. A deployment queen is any woman in a forward deployed area who wouldn’t get a second - and in some cases a first - look back home, but since she’s one of the few females on the FOB she gets all the looks.
Behind me I could hear other people chatting on cell phones, some angrily, most quietly. In front of me I watched several Iraqi men trying to teach one of their buddies to swim. After a while, the guy being taught got tired and just hung on the side of the pool while his buddies tried to do back flips into the deep end. They never managed to hit the water feet-first, but they did manage to splash the troops who had been playing cards nearby. After the first few light splashes, I could tell the troops were starting to get annoyed. Finally after one particularly large splash, one troop got up and started to walk towards them while wringing his shirt out. One of the other troops at the card table yelled out, “That’s cold!” with a chuckle and the Iraqi guys took notice and politely apologized. The troop that had stood up sat back down and they kept playing. Less than five minutes later, one of the Iraqi guys got back on the edge of the pool and leaped with all his might. He almost completed the flip, but he totally soaked the troops playing cards. I was worried that there might be a confrontation and was worried that the Iraqi guys ranked highly in the Iraqi government or military, they pretty much had to in order to hang out at the Embassy pool. The troops leaned in close around the table hatching their plan of attack. Once they had agreed on a plan, they started to sit back as though they were going to start playing again. One of them started to pass bottles of water from his stash to the rest and once they were all armed the attack began.
With grace and speed, the troops launched from their chairs with freshly opened water bottles in hand. The Iraqi swimmers watched with shock and awe as the Americans closed the distance between them. Once in range, the Americans unleashed their vicious assault by turning their bottles upside down and vigorously shaking the bottles empty on the heads of the floating Iraqis. Once the Americans completed their attack, both the American troops and Iraqi swimmers had a good laugh about it and went their separate ways.
Once the threat of an international incident had passed I continued to look around. While I had been focused on the swimmers and card players, I missed the Italians that had sat down next to me. While I couldn’t make out what they were talking about I could tell from their body language that they were really in to it. After a few minutes of heated debate, one stood up and started walking around the pool. Not wanting to be too overt, I kept an eye on him as he made his way around the pool and grabbed a sign that had been hung by the karaoke singers, looked back to make sure his friend was looking, and held it up. The sign had something written on it that I couldn’t make out, but it obviously had been mistaken as an Italian flag. If you didn’t know it, the Italians won the World Cup this year; these guys won’t let anyone forget it either.
As the Italian was walking back to his friend, I was distracted by one of the tables he passed. More accurately, I was distracted by the guys sitting at the table. Without too much room for error, I pegged them as OGA guys. The neatly trimmed beard, ball caps, and sunglasses at night are kind of a dead giveaway. These guys probably have a very interesting job.
The smoke from their stogies mingled with the smoke from the cigars the colonels and generals were smoking as well as the smoke emanating from the hookah that was being shared amongst several Iraqis and American troops.
It was as I was watching their combined smoke rising and dissipating into the night that the medevac bird flew over puncturing the illusion that I was sitting by some tropical pool while on vacation. The white square with a red cross on the underbelly of the helicopter left little doubt as to its purpose or cargo. There are only three questions in my mind every time one flies over; 1) Is the patient dead or wounded? 2) Is the patient Coalition, Iraqi, or a bad guy? 3) Did his buddies get the guy who did it? I have yet to get an answer to any of these questions no matter how many times I ask myself. I like to think that every time it’s a wounded bad guy who recovers and spills the beans.
Once the medevac had passed on to the hospital, I checked my watch and found that midnight chow had been open for 15 minutes already. I collected myself up and headed towards the chow hall to get my mushroom and cheese omelet.
This video shows sort of how things looked from my perspective.
I've been reading a bunch of stories and articles lately citing "anonymous sources" and "high-ranking government officials" that are critical of various aspects of the war and its prosecution. Treading delicately here because I know when I point this finger I'll have three pointing back at me; I wouldn't be the slightest bit suprised if most of these unattributable citations were, in fact, invented by the author.
Think about it like this: "High-ranking, anonymous government sources claim that American troops aren't actually in Iraq and that the funding that supposedly supports the American war effort is actually being used to pay for billions of hot-dogs for Whitehouse barbeques on the Great Wall of China." -- yeah, right.
Step 1 - Make wild claim.In light of the fingers pointing back at me on this one, consider this - how many articles have I authored vs. commented on?
IGFC to Assume 4th IAD
If you understand the headline then congratulations, you win the 'Armyese Speak' award for the day. What that means is that the Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC) will be assuming operational control of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, a transition that is slated to happen in about a week or so. A couple weeks ago, the IGFC assumed responsibility for the 8th IAD and when the 4th IAD is assumed it will mark the second of 10 Army divisions that will ultimately be responsible for securing Iraq along with the police force.
Watch this kind of thing closely if you want an idea of when we'll be coming home. It's not the only indicator, but it's a good one.
OTF - The MSM's POV
The acronyms just keep coming. One of my bosses recently forwarded me a link to an artical written by Rod Nordland of Newsweek in which he writes about a trip he went on with GEN Casey to the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya which used to be one of the most violent areas in Baghdad. That was until Operation Together Forward (OTF) brought Coalition and Iraqi security forces in to secure the area. Now 4-star generals commanding the entire fight in Iraq can walk the streets in broad daylight.
Overall I'd give the article a thumbs up. I think it does a good job of staying honest, impartial, and just presents the facts without a slant one way or the other.
Here's another one you probably didn't hear about. Irbil is what would classify as "the other Iraq" and hosted an international auto show over the weekend. That's right, a car show in Iraq. And do you know why you didn't hear about it? Beacause it was a success. No one was shot, no one was blown up, no one bled, no one outside Iraq heard about it. Except for the 800+ companies that had exhibits of course.
... er, I mean Monday.
Yeah, sorry for the lateness. As I said in the previous post, I was starting to feel burnt out and I needed to get away from the office for a while.
For those who are new to the blog, "Ask a Troop Sunday" is the one day a week when I don't delete the stupid, idiotic, and/or unsubstantiated ramblings of some of my readers. It's when I let the moonbats out to stretch their wings and bark until they're hoarse. Luckily, they rarely take me up on that so we all get some peace and quiet.
So if you want to tell me I lack the moral courage to oppose the imperial death march or that I'm actually a CIA plant sent to spread propoganda (I've gotten that one once so far), now's your chance.
Sorry for the weekend absence. I was feeling pretty burnt out so I did my best to stay away from the office as long as I could. I managed to only stay in the office for a couple hours both days.
As for the family; they're still in the States hanging out with the rest of the family. I'm really glad that they're getting to spend so much time with familiar faces.
And speaking of familiar faces, check out the little Bandit!
15 September 2006
If you didn't know it, now you do; today is POW/MIA Recognition Day.
SGT Keith Maupin is currently the only member of the American military that is listed as missing during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was captured on 9 April 2004 when his convoy was attacked by insurgents. In late June 2004, a video surfaced that supposedly showed SGT Maupin being executed, but the video was determined to be inconclusive by US authorities.
SGT Maupin, you are not forgotten.
Progress of Operation Together Forward
This video shows the progress that's been made over the last 4 weeks with regard to OTF. You'll see the various maps that have been released by MNF-I during the weekly press conference sequentially.
In the same press conference, MG McCoy who commands the US Army Corps of Engineers - Gulf Region District, spoke about the reconstruction progress that's being made in Baghdad. The strategy is to clear, hold, build and in the areas that show up as green on the maps above, the holding and building has begun. Also, if you recall during PM Maliki's address to congress he said that he wanted Iraqi companies to be given priority when selecting contractors for rebuilding and that's exactly what's happening
“We are making incredible headway in Iraq and in Baghdad,” he said. As of Sept. 12, more than 2,800 of more than 3,800 projects planned under the Iraq Reconstruction Program had been completed. Work has started on another 600.Dominoes
You may have heard the term "actionable tips" or "actionable intelligence", but do you konw what it means? When something is actionable, what that means is that you can do something with it.
Take, for example, the recent capture of a personal buddy of Al Qaeda in Iraq's new leader. His capture provided actionable intelligence that allowed us to snatch up another 70 bad guys in 25 seperate raids in just a couple days (think dominoes here). Of course every chain of dominoes has an end and the fact that his capture has been made public indicates that this chain has come to that end.
The great thing about these dominoes, however, is that they set themselves up and we just have to knock them down.
14 September 2006
It's a proud day for B36 News! A couple months ago, JP from Milblogging.com made B36 the featured blog on Military.com/Blog which is a weekly (or so) honor paid to various milblogs from around the internet.
Yesterday B36 was added to the "standard issue" list of blogs featured on the Military.com blog list joining a group of bloggers that I personally highly respect. It's an honor for me to be included with a group like this.
Assault on Patriotism
Normally I don't address issues that don't have a direct impact on our mission here in Iraq, but this one hits close to home and is the second such story I've heard.
Michael Beckett owns a home in Tennessee. A patriotic guy, Mr. Beckett wanted to fly an American flag, that had been given to him by a troop who carried it in Afghanistan, on his own property. The home owner's association, however, has taken steps to force him to remove the American flag from his own property.
If you want to do something about this you can contact the home owner's association management and tell them what you think, their contact info is available at the above link. If you do, I'd encourage you to be polite as yelling at them probably won't encourage them to agree. I'm sure (I hope) they've had plenty of people yelling at them already so just add your 2 cents to the pot and maybe we'll convince them.
Let me leave no doubt in anyone's mind - if anyone tries to pull this kind of crap with me they will quite literally have a fight on their hands and I'm very well armed, trained, and willing to use both to make sure my country's flag still flies.
Squaring the MSM Away
MG Zilmer of the USMC is the commanding general of MNF-West, the coalition group in charge of the Al Anbar province. Anbar recently received a lot of attention from the media when a report was published that made it seem as though the province was being lost to the bad guys. The report was so wrong that MG Zilmer decided to set the record straight:
The Other Iraq
Saddam is currently on trial for his attempts to exterminate the Kurds of norther Iraq. You want to know how the Kurds feel about the war in Iraq?
13 September 2006
I'm a Soldier and I'm not supposed to publicly criticize elected officials, so I won't, but if I could, oh man would I be firing both barrels today.
Why is it so difficult for people to realize that we need to finish our work here? Perhaps I lack a strategic political perspective, but I just can't understand why Americans don't want us to accomplish our mission. They may say they support us and I've said my piece on that issue, but opposing our mission while we're fighting and dying for it is just plain nuts.
I fear that petty politics and short-sightedness at home are now our biggest obstacles to victory here in Iraq.
On another issue, I was talking with a buddy a while ago and we started talking about staying in versus leaving Iraq. He brought up the point that people say that we should leave Iraq so that the money used to support us here could be spent on things like health care. He then made the point that defense spending IS health care spending, it's a national life-insurance policy.
What It Means
I read a report on MNF-Iraq.com that was headlined "Coalition forces deliver precision munition in response to insurgent fire" and naturally I was interested. After clicking the link I was very underwhelmed. Here's the entire article:
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – In response to insurgent small arms fire, Coalition forces delivered air precision munitions on the houses used by insurgents for the attack west of Habbaniyah today.Yep, that's it. I figured I'd help it out a bit and provide some visual aid to help explain exactly what this rather sparse article says.
Below is what "delivered air precision munitions" probably looked like for someone on the ground (note - not footage from the actual event):
Hearts And Minds
Winning the hearts and minds translates directly to popular support (something that is seemingly lacking in the States). The Coalition goes to great lengths in order to win this battle here in Iraq, and it seems to have rubbed off on the Iraqi forces as well. One of the bigger hurdles to overcome in the fight to secure Iraq in general and Baghdad in particular is to convince people that the government sanctioned forces are capable of providing security and basic services to the public.
ISF in Gharma are winning this battle by handing out clothes, toys, and school supplies to under-privileged kids in their neighborhoods. This story also highlights how vital and critical a role people back in the States can play in winning the war. Friends and families of the Marines on the ground sent in the supplies that the ISF then handed out. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you can help win the war.
There are many organizations here in Iraq whose goal is reconstruction. These groups get their support from various government agencies, private companies, and non-profit organizations, but they are all working for a common goal - building and rebuilding Iraq.
The Gulf Region District - US Army Corps of Engineers is one of the larger groups that works daily to help build Iraq's infrastructure. From hospitals to banks, from roads to oil pipelines, these guys do it all. So the next time you hear me or anyone else talking about rebuilding Iraq, know that there's a good chance that the GRD-USACE guys are the ones making it happen.
12 September 2006
As I watched the various specials about the 9-11 attacks yesterday, I was suprised at how much of an impact those images still have on me, and I'm very glad that they do. I watched replays of the planes smashing into the towers, people jumping to escape the fire, people running from the falling debris, people dying. Innocent people.
After a while I couldn't watch any more, but I made myself. I got angry all over again. I could feel my chest tightening up with a desire for vengence, for justice. I wanted to make things right, to make my friends and family safe again. Then I heard an explosion in the distance (probably an IED) and was reminded that I am.
The terrorists want to see America weak, broken, afraid. They will not see that day. The harder they hit us, the stronger and more determined we get. We will only run to engage the enemy. We will only hide to ambush the terrorists. We will only fall to our knees to take steady aim at the bad guys.
We will drive on and we will win.
Here's one that I bet you didn't hear about. Between 8 & 9 September, more than four million Shiite pilgrims celebrated the birth of the 12th Imam in Karbala in Baghdad. Yep, a religiously motivated public gathering in Baghdad with security provided by the ISF and guess what? You didn't hear about it. You may be asking yourself, "Why is this a big deal?" If you are, pick up the mouse and smack yourself in the forhead right now.
Four million Shiite pilgrims participated in Baghdad in a public religious event under security provided by ISF with zero significant attacks. This is a significant example of the progress of security situation in Baghdad.
The following is an operational roll-up of actions against bad guys from the last several days:
Residents of a neighborhood in Baghdad have begun to help secure their part of the city. Rather than picking up weapons and forming militias as has been seen in other areas, residents of the Mansour neighborhood have been tipping off the ISF when they suspect terrorist activity thanks to a concerted effort by the Iraqi commander to build relationships with the locals. Additionally, residents are ignoring terrorist threats and going about their daily lives. Going to the markets, repairing roads, cleaning up the streets, rebuilding - they're driving on.
Iraq the Model
Iraq the Model is a blog that I read that is written by Omar and Mohammed, two Iraqi brothers living here in Baghdad. I really appreciate how they take an honest and critical perspective on events, placing criticism where they see it's due regardless of politics or favoritism.
Recently I've noticed that a lot of their posts have been aimed at the American public in an attempt to explain their (our) situation to them (us). Try this on for size:
This is our war first, it's our war as citizens of this region to preserve our humanity so as not to turn into violent, death-spreading mutants.I'd suggest you read the whole thing.
11 September 2006
There are a lot of ways to commemorate this day. There are a lot of ways to remember what happened.
I think the best way is to remember and drive on.
Remember the sight of towers burning.
Remember what you felt when you saw people jumping from the towers to escape the fire.
Remember the towers collapsing.
Remember the rescue workers running towards the wall of debris and not running back.
Remember the Pentagon burning.
Remember the crater in Pennsylvania where brave Americans died.
Remember the horror.
And then drive on.
Get your morning cup of coffee.
Read the daily paper.
Do the things you always do.
Evil people hate us for who we are.
They want us to live in fear.
They want us to bend to their will.
They want us to give up.
Remember and drive on.
Five years ago today, I sat in the common area on my college campus and watched on TV as my country was attacked.
Today I stand on top of what used to be Iraq's equivalent to the Whitehouse and I fly the same flag that I presented to my wife the day I was commissioned along with the promise that if I ever deployed that I would be the one to return it to her.
10 September 2006
Today is a special day as it marks the first ever "The Wiz Interviews"
This interview was inspired by an article in the Stars & Stripes featuring SGT Star, an online avatar designed to help Army recruiting. After reading this article, I sat down with SGT Star and asked the tough questions.
SGT STAR: Welcome The Wiz. How can I help you today?After that, the interview went downhill fast. I had to resist the urge to poke the screen with my walking stick. In the end I won by vigorously and repeatedly clicking the "close" icon.
Take that SGT Star!