Friday, December 16, 2005
My Darling Wife, Pam.
This year has changed me. Pam and I have talked about those changes, and I know she fears them a little. Physically, my knees hurt more, my hearing is shot, and my hands get numb from the constant weight of body armor. My hair is greyer, the bags under my eyes darker. Emotionally, I have changed too. Don’t worry darling. I am returning home a different man, but I believe a better man. Certainly a man far more thankful for the blessings in my life.
We have had our challenges this year, and we have overcome them, I hope. Trying to remain connected and together across 9 time zones with unpredictable internet connections, messaging software that works intermittently, and dreaded communications blackouts is difficult at best. Add to that the challenges of raising 3 children alone, sometimes having to be in 3 places at once, and having to answer the inevitable “so how is he doing?” question and I marvel at how she has remained sane. She may tell you that she really hasn’t, but what else can she do? Life goes on. But my darling, you are amazing.
Each time I leave, she stays. She is there when I return. I smile and promise never again, and a few years later I am off to save some little piece of the world again. And still she stays, raising the 3 most precious human beings God has ever graced the earth with. I can hear in their voices and see in their eyes the question each time I return; “When is he leaving again?” And this time the answer is I am done. This is a younger man’s game. I can teach, I can mentor, and I can counsel, but for me the fighting is done. They have paid too high a price already, and the world needs to be grateful for what they have sacrificed too. It’s their turn. It’s Pam’s turn.
What have we shared over this year? We have shared being alone. We have shared each others challenges and emotions and outbursts. We have shared the pain of missed birthdays and anniversaries and holidays. We have shared angry moments that have come and gone, and anger that may be yet to come. In a very short time, we will share the connection of staring into one another’s eyes again at last. And such beautiful eyes they are.
In the months to come, there will be times that I need to sit in silence. And we will sit together, holding hands, and share the solitude.
I love you, my darling. See you soon.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I have had conversations with interpreters who tell me that this time they really believe that they are making a difference, that the first 2 elections bolstered their confidence in the process. Fox, one of our interpreters, reaffirmed that today when he told me that he was most excited that he could vote however he wanted, even though some in his family would vote for other candidates, “because I am free”.
The most inspirational thing Fox told me today, which was also the most important thank you I could ever get, happened as he was about to go to the village near the camp to cast his ballot. Interpreters normally wear U.S. Army DCU uniforms while at work, and Fox was wearing his today. When we asked him if he was going to put on civilian clothes to go into the village to vote, he said “No, This uniform is the reason I can vote. I will wear it.”
Thanks, Fox. You don’t know how much I needed to hear that.
Monday, December 12, 2005
It has been a tough couple of weeks since I last posted. The day after my last post, 2 soldiers I knew were killed by a massive IED, and another was gravely wounded. He will survive, minus an arm and a leg. I can’t bring myself to describe the event, but I will talk about the emotions I had, and why I am ashamed by some of them.
The initial report was of an IED strike that with several U.S. KIAs from an Artillery Battery I had worked with extensively. I knew almost all of the soldiers in the unit, and the Commander, XO, First Sergeant, and Platoon Sergeants are all men I consider friends. I was crushed by the news and tried to get as much information as I could without seeming like a vulture. When I heard that the KIAs were soldiers attached from another battalion, I felt a surge of relief for a moment when I realized that it wasn’t anyone I was close to. As it turned out, once I learned the names I realized that these were soldiers I had gone on patrols with before. I have had some difficulty processing guilt over the relief I felt when I realized that they were not friends, just acquaintances. It will take some time to work through that.
Our replacements arrived a few days after that, and I have been swamped with work getting them trained and prepared to take over our mission. We will be on duty until a few days after the elections, and then we will begin the journey home. I will not make it home for Christmas, but with luck I will spend New Years at least in the United States and hopefully in my living room. Many of our replacements are veterans of OIF I, and they have returned to a very different Iraq. I do have confidence that I am leaving the place in good hands.
The most difficult part of leaving happened a few minutes ago. I said goodbye to Junior. He has decided, actually had decided months ago, that rather than go through watching another rotation of friends leave, and getting close to another group of soldiers, that he would quit when our replacements arrived. Today was his last day. He gave us only a few hours warning so that we wouldn’t have time to try to talk him out of it, or time to plan an elaborate goodbye. As he left us, we talked a few minutes, took some pictures, laughed, and cried a little. His last words were “I want you to travel safe to your families, and I hope to visit you someday in America, but I wanted to leave while you are all still here so that in my mind, you are always here.” Then he hugged each of us, and walked away.
After I wrote the last paragraph, I looked over at the 19 year old PFC sitting in my office, plugging away at a spreadsheet. He is a good kid, a 13F (Forward observer) who probably never imagined in a million years that one of his jobs in Iraq would be to spend half his day hunched over a computer tracking access rosters. I got up, walked out and went behind the building, and cried. Emotions I have bottled up for a year just poured out. I don’t exactly know why, but for 15 minutes I just cried.
I work with a Lieutenant Colonel who was assigned here as a project officer for our new access control system. His previous assignment was as the assistant chief of staff for the 3rd Infantry Division. He is retiring at the end of this tour, after 27 years in the Army. He is opinionated and outspoken, and some of the Chairborne wonders in the marble palace of a base headquarters here look down on him because of it. He just isn’t a good enough politician for them. What they don’t know about him, and probably wouldn’t recognize the significance of, is that he can tell you the name of every soldier in the Division killed during his tour. I’ll take that over a politician any day.
One of my duties when I get home will be to give advice to units from Minnesota preparing to deploy here. We are sending 2500 Guard troops here early next year. If I have the opportunity, I will take every First Sergeant and Sergeant Major deploying into a room and tell them this story: when we lost those 2 soldiers last week, when it came time to recover their bodies, the men lifting them off the ground were the Battalion Commander, the XO, the S3, and the Sergeant Major. They did that because soldiers who just lost friends shouldn’t have to. Because they were out there, patrolling that road, on their orders. Those soldiers did their duty, and those leaders recognized theirs.
I will tell those leaders that is their duty. And I will promise them that when they lose soldiers, I will be there to carry them home.
I believe in my mission, and I am proud of what I have done.
I hate this fucking war.
Monday, November 28, 2005
The last few days have been very emotionally draining. Thanksgiving was tolerable, a good meal but a 45 minute wait to eat it. I found out on Thanksgiving afternoon that an old friend, who had deployed with another of our Batteries only to be sent home when he was diagnosed with cancer, had died. He was my age, and his sons are the same ages as my daughters.
I was still dealing with the loss of a friend and the simultaneous peek at my own mortality on Friday when I heard that 2 soldiers I knew and had worked with at the Gate had been hit by an IED and were Medevaced. The patrol captured the suspected triggermen, and was bringing them in for questioning, so I grabbed my Intell Sgt and volunteered our services to help question the bastards. They never talked, but their clothing did. It was covered in TNT residue, which was adequate evidence to send them to jail. The wounded soldiers will survive. I won’t say they’ll be fine, but they will survive.
Saturday morning, after only a few hours of sleep thanks to a late night of interrogations, I mounted up for a Civil Affairs patrol. During the mission brief we were reminded of an attack on a hospital in south Baghdad, which hit members of the same CA group we were supporting. We were also briefed about the tired tactic of booby trapping toys being used by the insurgents, dusted off from Soviet tactics in Afghanistan and again by the Serbs in the Balkans. We hand out toys, the terrorists take those same toys, booby trap them, and when innocent children are killed by them somehow we are blamed for it. I don’t have the energy to try to figure out a positive way to look at that. Fortunately the mission was uneventful.
Later in the day I heard that some more detainees were inbound, suspected of shooting one of our interpreters, but the biggest reason they were being detained was the contents of their car, which included several 107 mm rockets and a few mortar rounds, assorted AK 47’s, things like that. The excuse they gave for the presence of the weapons? “I just bought the car yesterday and didn’t know the rockets were in the trunk” Oh, in that case no problem, sorry for inconveniencing you! The fact that you had a freshly fired AK and we have an interpreter with a GSW, and the road you were driving on leads to an area from which rockets had been fired at our camp just the night before, total coincidence. We’ll let the guys at Abu Ghraib sort out the details.
I’m tired, I’m cynical, and in a month I should be on U.S. soil. The Artist is now a cheerleader, the Athlete made the “A” hockey team, and the Jedi has gone from barely reading to typing faster than me. I can’t get home soon enough.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I received some initial resistance to detailing soldiers to do a contractors job, in spite of the fact that accomplishing this task will greatly increase the security of the camp. Fortunately the Brigade Commander, upon reviewing the details of the program, agreed that it would be irresponsible to wait for civilian labor when we had all the necessary equipment on hand to do the job ourselves. We had the troops a week later, and after a few days of training we got the program off the ground. If we don’t run into any snags, we will have the initial stage of the program, the most labor intensive portion, done before we ever get the “labor” that your tax dollars are so injudiciously getting spent on.
We also have new office space, finally, several months after the rest of our unit moved into a new building. The building seemed sound when we moved in, but it is starting to turn into an Iraqi version of “the money pit”. Every improvement or repair seems to uncover another flaw that requires more labor to repair, which uncovers another problem, which…..yea you get it. Started out with network wiring, which I was promised was working. We spent the better part of a week troubleshooting wiring before we had active network connections in each office, which uncovered a break in a fiber run, which rather than splice the fiber that costs several dollars a foot, the contractor replaced a 1500 Meter run. $10K of your money. We also discovered that the heat pump units in each of the rooms, which are supposed to both cool and heat the rooms, only would cool. For ten months a year this is not a problem, but November is not one of those months. It’s friggin cold at night, especially if you have been acclimated to 120 degree heat for almost a year. Now you would think that replacing these units with units that also heat, like every other building on the camp, would be pretty easy. Nope. Apparently the wiring in the building won’t handle the additional load, so the wiring needs to be replaced, and oh by the way we have to cut through the sidewalk we just poured 2 weeks ago to replace the wiring. That will be $24,000 please. Those new laptops that we are plugging into the network connections that don’t work, which cost $1495 on Dell’s website? Yea, we are buying them from a local vendor, to help rebuild the economy. And at $4500 each, we are helping a lot.
This wasn’t the post I set out to write, but it is the one that ended up on the page. I think that is one of the truly wonderful things about blogging. I often start out wanting to talk about one thing, and find myself an hour later looking at a page full of something else. It must be because it needed to be said, or at least I needed to say it because it’s really pissing me off. I have a lot of other things pissing me off, and you will all get to hear about them later. But for now I have to get some sleep. More to follow.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
| You scored as Combat Infantry. Your a combat infantry soldier,a grunt, a dogface, a footslogger. While some say your common, your a really a disciplined person who realizes the importantce of working in a team, and in reality you and your comrades get most of the work done. This country needs more people like you. Your a brave selfless person. And I salute you.|
Which soldier type are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
There is no job in the world that is more paternal than that of the First Sergeant. The First Sergeant is the Senior NCO in a Company sized unit, the NCO everyone else looks to for answers on everything. It really is like being everyone’s Dad. No other position in the Military directly affects the day to day lives and well being of soldiers as much, not even Command. At least in my humble opinion.
I have been a First Sergeant twice. I like to believe that I left my mark on both of the units I led, some sort of lasting legacy or at least an organizational, collective memory of the lessons I tried to impart or the attitudes I tried to exemplify. My first unit was a Target Acquisition Battery, a Field Artillery unit whose mission is to find hostile artillery and direct fire against it. I “grew up” in this unit, moving from an E4 just out of the Marine Corps, through section leader, Platoon Sergeant, and finally First Sergeant. I deployed twice with them, and brought all my soldiers home twice. After I moved on, the unit was activated for OIF 2. I watched them leave, some of them for the 3rd time, soldiers I had trained, soldiers I consider family, and I felt a combination of pride and guilt.
My second battery, my howitzer battery, was a very different experience. I arrived an outsider, hardly knowing anyone, having to earn their respect without the advantage of years of shared history. I must’ve done something right, because within a year by every measure I was the First Sergeant of the finest unit in the battalion. In all honesty it was luck on my part. I walked into a great unit and reaped the benefits. I was transferred out of that unit way too soon for a dreaded staff job. Six months after I left they were alerted. Two months later, I was. And again I watched soldiers I had trained leave.
When I arrived in country last January I was fortunate enough to meet up with “my” target acquisition battery, as they were completing their tour. We had one night together as I was transiting their base on the way to mine. I had dinner with some of my old NCO’s, and they told me the stories of the close calls. One of them told me” Top, it’s a miracle we didn’t lose anybody”. A week later they were all home safe, and I could breathe a little easier.
Over the last ten months I have had the opportunity to spend at least a little time with soldiers from my howitzer Battery. They had been retrained and were performing MP duties in southern Baghdad. They’ve had close calls. Soldiers have been wounded. On Sunday, I got confirmation that every one of “my” soldiers were back in the United States alive. Breathing gets easier still. One of our other Batteries was not so fortunate, and one of the first things I plan to do when I get home is to visit the graves of the 3 men they lost.
I know I am not the perfect leader by any stretch, but I have always cared about my soldiers. When I was in the Marine Corps, I came across a series of books by Major Gene Duncan, USMC (Ret). He ended a book on leadership with the following quote, which I have learned applies equally to my soldiers as it does Marines:
I have grown to look upon Marines as something sacred;
I have laughed with them and cried with them;
Cursed them and prayed for them;
Shivered and sweltered with them;
Suffered with them;
Fought with them, bled with them, and held them in my arms
While they died.
I have buried them.
And all the time, I have loved them.
If I have been that kind of leader, I have been a success.
Monday, October 31, 2005
I was sitting in the S2 shop (intelligence office) waiting for a meeting to start when the S2 got a call from a patrol. They had a suspect in custody and were looking for verification that the guy they had was who they thought he was. The S2 gave them a physical description which was, well, pretty generic. Iraq is full of 5'6"160 pound dark haired males, so the patrol asked for some more specific information. A few more minutes of research told us that the guy we were looking for had a pretty specific injury, so he told the patrol "If he is missing 3 toes, he's the guy. Go ahead and bring him in." The patrol, not wanting to arrest the wrong 7 toed guy, promptly asked us "from which foot?"
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
..."because as I look around at the state of this nation and see all of the weak little pampered candy-asses that are whining about this or protesting that, I'd be afraid to leave the fate of this nation entirely up to them."
Thanks LT! I hope you don’t mind if I use this as my stock answer from now on when asked why I keep doing this. Priceless.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
When I first arrived here, and began learning the ropes at the gate, the first Iraqis I came to know were our gate interpreters. Interpreters are mostly known by nicknames, for their own protection and for ease of pronunciation by Americans. We have a really hard time getting our tongues around Arabic names. They have nicknames like Doc, Navigator, Bulldog, Cowboy, and Caesar. Some speak what I call “Hollywood English”, which they clearly learned watching American movies and TV, filled with slang and expressions they may or may not fully understand. These interpreters are always entertaining, not always for the reasons they think they are, and are very easy to get along with. New interpreters often speak very limited, literal English with little understanding of the subtleties of the language. Once they have spent some time around Americans, they grow into effective and trusted interpreters. Some, like Neo, speak fluent and proper English, sometimes better than the Soldiers they are interpreting for.
I met Neo the same day I met Fox and Junior, “my” interpreters. Neo, before he transferred to another job, worked the gate with about 12 other interpreters, and we considered him one of the best; intelligent, eloquent, and principled. He owned a jewelry business in Baghdad before the war and my predecessors introduced us quickly, advising me to talk to Neo before buying any jewelry, because he had the best quality at the most reasonable prices. After about a month, Neo left the gate to work at the base contracting office. This was the perfect match for him. His business experience and knowledge of the Baghdad economy allowed the contracting office to drive the hardest bargains and find the best suppliers. It also allowed him to get a little less face time in front of the other Iraqi workers, which he hoped would reduce the risk associated with working here, and the constant threats he received. Neo moved his family four times since I arrived here to protect them from those threats.
I found out this afternoon that two days ago, Neo was driving to work when his car was stopped by terrorists. They pulled him from his car and shot him in the back of the head. They left his body lying in the ditch alongside the road. Neo’s real name was Nabeel. Nabeel lived his life with more courage and honor than the cowards who murdered him will know in a thousand lifetimes.
Nabeel stayed here in spite of the danger because he believed that he was building a peaceful and free Iraq. I will miss you, my friend. May God grant you the peace you sought.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Greetings!I've been follow troops morale and deployments and developments since the war began, and I've felt very upset about the ideas this country has about how best to "support the troops"...
As a social psych major in college, I spent a lot of time studying how good people can come to do bad things. And, unfortunately, war is the best petri dish for these kinds of occurences. Leave aside that I think the strategy in Iraq was flawed from the beginning, my concernis that the Administration continues to cut benefits and psychological support for the men and women defending our country. I think it's a disgrace that they will send soldiers overseas without proper equipment, under false pretense, and then, they won't even take responsibility when things go wrong.
Anyhow, I put my skills to use and made a 4-minute short film, and I built a website to provide information. I'd love for you to check itout and pass it along, if you think it holds any merit.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I wanted to share mine.
I followed the link and watched Kaz’s little cliché of an anti veteran film. It purports to be a psychological evaluation of a combat vet charged with murder. I’m sure they think they are being clever with the not so subtle ways that they make the vet look ignorant and brainwashed, but the effort was laughable. In the first few moments of the film, the “vet” refers to the president as “George Bush Jr” (because vets are too stupid to know the presidents real name). It heads downhill from there. I checked out the “learn” link on the page and was shocked, shocked I tell you, to find a page full of anti war links, running the gamut from MoveOn.org to Poets against the war.
One of the links led to “The Stanford Prison experiment”, detailing how dehumanizing the prison system in the U.S. is, and how it parallels the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners. This experiment lasted 6 days. I was particularly interested in a statement on the main page about how guards in the experiment became sadistic after only a few days of experimentation. Before I decided to make a real living, I spent 9 years as a Corrections Officer. I worked in a segregation unit for most of that time. I also worked on the security squad and was a SORT (Special Operations Response Team) member. If anyone was in a position to become a sadistic thug, it was me. I won’t pretend for a moment that I wasn’t changed by my experience “doing time part time”, but I certainly wasn’t turned into some kind of sadistic monster. Psychological evaluations prior to hiring, weeks of training prior to inmate contact and ongoing training while working prevent this sort of devolution. Before anyone disparages Corrections Officers, they need to walk a tier, alone and unarmed, among a couple of hundred felons.
This is how the anti war crowd discounts the inconvenient reality of troops who believe in their mission; depict them as ignoramuses, or worse, as Psychos. Another favored tactic is to call them liars, like this little gem over at Huffington. I have no problem at all with those who disagree with the war, so long as they thank a veteran for the right to do so, but I have a big problem with the idiots who paint us with these stereotypes. If you believe the war is wrong, fine. Don’t pretend for a second that you are supporting the troops by calling them stupid insane liars.
If you believe the war is wrong but honestly want to support the troops by getting them home, here is what you can do: find a charity that is helping the children of Iraq and Afghanistan by providing medical care, school supplies, clothing, or shelter. They are out there. Donate to them. Send me an email or comment with a link to the charity; I will build a Blogroll of them. Everybody wins.
One more note to Kaz: Spell check, Grammar check, read it out loud to see if it makes sense, and then hit send. Oh, and put down the Kool-Aid.
Monday, October 17, 2005
My job on Saturday was to handle any detainees picked up in our sector, questioning them and making recommendations regarding what to do with them. Take a guess at how many people I questioned. Not one. I spent the day doing redeployment planning and talking to soldiers coming off of patrols, who all reported happy crowds waving purple fingers at the passing Soldiers. No violence. No IED’s. No detainees. It was so quiet in our sector that the Brigade commander personally escorted the family of an Iraqi baby with a broken leg to a hospital, because he had nothing else going on. It was actually boring. Boring is good. My seat as a witness to history was a quiet room, watching AFN News and waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened, and that is News. Nothing happened!
Something I haven’t seen mentioned in press reports of the election is the fact that no American troops were guarding any of the polling sites. Security was handled entirely by the Iraqi Army and Police. We had patrols sweeping the MSR’s, but no one was even allowed within sight of a polling place. It was the Iraqi’s election, not ours.
It was a success. I know, I was there.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Sunday, October 09, 2005
The threat is real. They want to take over the world. TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Say it with me. THEY WANT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Internalize it, breathe it in, and contemplate it. The frontline terrorists are Pinky to Al Qaeda’s Brain. The Islamic masses listen to the Imams on Friday, asking “what are we going to do today, Brain?” and the Imams answer “the same thing we do every day Pinky, try to take over the world!” The intellectual elites pretend this reality is alarmist, reactionary, and must be exemplary of some sort of dim fundamentalism. After all in the real world, adults are more reasonable. Intelligent and enlightened people can be reasoned with, and after all isn’t the United States is much guiltier of trying to force our brand of freedom (since when is individual liberty a brand) down people’s throats? Well, elitist pipedreams notwithstanding, in Al Qaeda’s own words, their goal is to take over the world by 2020. There is no negotiation that will dissuade them from this goal. There is no appeasement that will change there minds, short off every human being on the planet converting to Wahabbi Islam. My daughters are not going to put on Urbayas, so no deal. The consequences of fundamental Islamists succeeding are unthinkable. In the Presidents words:
“We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers -- and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.”
Why does the President believe that these are the goals of our enemies? Because they said so, and have demonstrated that they mean it. The questions that raise disagreement are the problem we face now. I believe the following to be established facts; Al Qaeda and by proxy much of the Muslim world desires the destruction of the United States and Israel. This same enemy desires and has a plan to install a Muslim Caliphate to rule the entire world, and will murder anyone who they define as an infidel or apostate. Many of our enemies are currently concentrated in Iraq. They were in Iraq before we invaded. If what I believe is true, then this war is the most just and necessary war the United States has fought since the Second World War.
We have a plan to win. It’s not easy and it won’t happen quickly. But we will win. By applying a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and educational strategies worldwide, we will destroy both today’s active terrorists and tomorrow’s potential terrorists. 6 methodologies, 8 pressure points. Not just Iraq, but worldwide. Not just Al Qaeda, but Islamic extremism. This war is bigger than 9-11, but some people just can’t see the bigger picture. We are not at war to bring the perpetrators of 9-11 to justice. We are at war to prevent Islamic extremists from taking over the world. We have been fighting this war since the creation of the PLO in 1965, only we didn’t know it. We continued to run around denying the significance of the threat in the face of the Iran hostage crisis, the Beirut barracks bombing, hijackings, kidnappings, assassinations of Americans, and attacks on our own soil. Most of America is now aware of the reality of the threat. Unfortunately, many of our countrymen can’t think in terms beyond that of a 10 second sound bite. So hear this sound bite:
Islamofacists are like Pinky and the Brain; they want to take over the world.
Not on my watch.
UPDATE: in case you are wondering, Religion of peace has a rundown of terrorist attacks perpetrated by militant islam since 9-11
HAT TIP: Little Green Footballs
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
This is good news, and news you likely won’t hear about on TV. You probably heard about this all weekend, they were babbling about it on all the Sunday news shows. I have a few things to say about it, but Major K. says it better.
This from Iraq the model is a good post with a spectacular title. I had to link it just for that.
Jamie Hailer in St Petersburg is running a business I am envious of. Oh to find that perfect niche.
Dueling statistics: this seems to contradict this. Or not, depending on how you bend the numbers and demographic assumptions to conform to your personal preexisting biases. My bias leans in the direction of asking Congressman Rangel to stop running his soup cooler.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
We got loaded up and started rolling. We hit the MSR (Main supply route, really a highway) and headed for the link up point. Traffic sucked, but US patrols don’t get stuck in traffic. We just jump the median and drive into oncoming traffic, horns blazing. They move. They have learned. We own the road. We zigzagged our way into downtown, crossing medians as traffic backed up, jumping back over as traffic subsided. It’s actually very efficient. It also pushes your heart rate up a bit. As we were heading into the city, at one point I saw a taxi on the side of the road, pointed towards traffic, and a bunch of cars parked off the shoulder behind the taxi. It just didn’t feel right, so I yelled to the gunner to watch him and I swung over to the center of the road as we passed. Nothing exploded. A few minutes later, we hit the intersection for the link up. No trucks. Big surprise. We orbited the intersection a couple times, driving a bit past it, turning around, heading north and then south past it. On the second orbit, another patrol passed us going in the opposite direction, back towards our camp. I turned us around, and we headed back up the road. We were a couple hundred yards behind the patrol we had just passed. As we approached the point where I had seen the taxi, an IED detonated on the patrol in front of us. We heard the explosion, and traffic stopped. I swung towards the center of the road, hit the center island, and gunned it past the traffic. One local wasn’t paying enough attention, and tried the same move. He was pulling directly in front of us. My gunner tossed a water bottle at him, hitting his door. That woke him up. The look of shock in his eyes when he saw 3 Humvees headed right for him was unforgettable. We swung past the traffic and pulled in behind the patrol that had been hit, and set up rear security. Junior, our interpreter, began redirecting traffic to another route. The vehicle that was hit was torn up pretty good, all 4 tires were shredded and there was shrapnel damage to the left side of the vehicle, but no one was wounded. Armor rocks.
The IED had been buried in the center island, directly across the road from where the taxi had been parked. When I swerved to avoid the taxi, I had driven within 10 feet of the IED. I never saw it. If that patrol hadn’t passed us, we would have been the next patrol on the road. It would have been us.
We continued to pull security while the damaged vehicle was recovered. We escorted them to the next US checkpoint, pulling security for them as they towed the damaged vehicle, at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, through Baghdad. Loads of fun, I recommend it to everyone. At that point, we aborted trying to find our trucks, as we had long missed the window to meet them. We headed back to the FOB. The rest of the trip was uneventful, thankfully. When we got back, we discovered the trucks we were trying to escort had arrived. They had passed us while we were pulling security.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
We hit the road and pulled into our first stop, everything went great, happy smiling kids waving, yada yada yada. The poverty in this little squatter’s village, alongside a canal leading to the Tigris, is as abject as it gets. One of the “homes” we parked beside was an old conex container with a door and window cut out of it, with a satellite dish on the roof. One of these days I will get around to posting about the post war Baghdad real estate market. Anyway, as we were leaving that village, rounding a line of buildings that border the highway, we spotted a guy digging a hole next to the road. Now in Iraq there is only one reason why some guy would dig a hole next to the road, and that is to throw an IED in the hole. Imagine his surprise to suddenly find 3 humvee’s surrounding him, and 3 M240 Bravo’s pointed at him. We searched him and his car, and turned him over to the Battalion QRF (quick reaction force). A short lived success, 2 days later another US patrol was hit by an IED in the same spot. We moved down the road to our next stop, a school we are renovating. We were supposed to meet a civilian contractor there, who was going with us to the “nasty” village. The contractor showed up without his car, and asked if he could ride with us. The fact that he was unwilling to drive his own car into that particular village was enough to make us reassess the necessity of going into that village that day. We decided the work could wait for another day, when perhaps we weren’t expected. In Iraq, dropping by unexpectedly is a good way to do business.
We revised our route, and stopped into another village to talk with some of the local civilian leadership. This village is reasonably friendly, and full of happy smiling kids, yada yada yada. We started handing out toys and goodies, which always causes a near riot of kids fighting over the best stuff. We had a couple of soccer balls to hand out. These are the prime items for the boy in the village. Scoring a “futbul” makes their week. One of the things I have learned over the years is that if you want to know what is going on somewhere, ask the kids. So I did. I asked, in Arabic, one of the preteen boys surrounding us if there were any problems with bad guys. He replied in perfect English, while rolling his eyes and pointing to the village across the highway, “yeah there are wahhabis in that village, now give me a F#*&ing futbul”. OK then, I guess I am not the first American soldier this kid has had contact with!
Finally, the glad handing is over, the goodies are distributed, progress is made. We mount up, and head in. Final tally: an IED delayed, a terrorist in jail, a school gets just a little closer to complete, and a village gets maybe too Americanized. Not a bad morning.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Missing another anniversary reminded me of all the other moments I have been missing. A couple of weeks ago, school started. Our oldest daughter (the artist) started high school. Our middle Daughter (the athlete) started middle school. And our youngest Son(the Jedi) started second grade, his first year of being “alone” at school, without the burden of a big sister running around the school creating oh so unreasonable expectations for him. The Artist is keeping my absence a secret from her teachers to avoid any special attention it may bring, because talking about it with people who lack a mutual perspective just doesn’t help her deal with it. She made me very proud the other day when she told me that she doesn’t like her government teacher because “Dad, she is really liberal”. I get the feeling that if this particular teacher knew that The Artist spent Election Day 2004 waving a Bush/Cheney sign over Highway 10, it may cost her a few points on the final. She is currently scheming to create the perfect moment to inform this teacher that “My Dad’s in Baghdad and he says wishing failure on his mission does not support him!” She chuckles with glee when she talks about this, and at the same time feels bad that I am not there to share the fun. Her confirmation is next spring, and I will be home.
The Athlete doesn’t share too much with me about how she feels, until it is time to say goodbye, then the emotion comes surging to the surface. She has always been the fiery one, tough as nails and determined, but still a little girl when faced with a father going to war for what seems a lifetime. The single most painful moment of my life was in 1996, as I was leaving for Bosnia, when my name was called to get on the bus. The athlete, who had been tough through the whole thing, asking questions and taking in answers with little comment, watched me turn to climb on the bus and screamed, as only a 3 year old can, “Daddy Noooooooo!” as I walked away. How I climbed onto that bus I don’t know to this day. Subsequent goodbyes have gotten easier, sort of, if only through repetition and familiarity. Hockey tryouts start in 2 weeks. I won’t be there.
The Jedi, named that because he is 7, and what else could a 7 year boy old be? While I was home on leave, we saw “Revenge of the Sith” together. It was all he would ask me before I came home. “Dad, are we going to see Star Wars together?” As far as he was concerned, once we checked that box, it was a successful vacation. The rest was icing. His current plan involves building a clubhouse in the backyard together when I get home. The plans are elaborate, as they should be. When I asked him how we would build the clubhouse in the middle of winter, when I get home, he applied perfect 7 year old logic: “we can build it in the garage, and then move it when the snow is gone”. As far as I am concerned, it is a perfect plan. A few minutes a day of sweeping snow off of cars, and scraping windows, is an insignificant price to pay. Cars come and go; clubhouses last forever in a son’s mind.
Four more months. I get to be a real Dad again in four more months.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
The saving grace of the last week has been the temperature. We are starting to see perceptible dips, at last. Now I never in my life thought that I would be calling highs of 115 cooling off, but amazingly enough that is the case. It has been getting down into the low 70’s at night, and staying below 100 until late in the morning. Just a couple of weeks ago it would start at about 98 in the morning and head up into the mid 120’s by 11:00, and stay there until sundown. Hopefully in a few weeks the temperature will be bearable around the clock, and we can start to open windows, and get some of the summer funk out of our rooms. In Minnesota, we look forward to spring so we can throw open the windows and get some fresh air after a long winter, after surviving in heated spaces for 5 or 6 months. Here, the cycle is reversed, and autumn gives us the chance to air out rooms that have had air conditioners running non stop, not staying ahead of the drying sweat smell in the rooms. After 6 months of sweaty socks, boots, and t-shirts, my room REALLY needs to air out. Gold Bond can only do so much.
When I think back over past deployments, there is always some environmental factor that stands out, some unpleasant memory that defines that particular place. When I was on the USS John F. Kennedy, it was the constant noise, hum, and motion of the ship. In the Balkans, it was the mud. And here, it’s going to be the heat, the pain of inhaling mouthfuls of dust and fire, and feeling the water leave your body faster than you can replace it. I believe in what I am doing here, but I will not miss this place.
I thought I would throw in a few links to some great posts I read this week. I have decided that this essay in particular, Tribes, needs to be read by everyone. Bill Whittle is a genius. Read it, and then take a moment to define yourself. I have decided that after 22 years of military service and 9 years working as a corrections officer, I have probably earned the right to call myself a sheepdog. I am somewhat at peace with the fact that even if the sheep do not want saving, and may curse being saved, save them I will, because it is my nature. I know the wolf when I see it.
Ben Stein does a great job of stating the obvious here.
Here is a great timeline of Katrina and the aftermath, and here is a nice “grey” look at the math.
For those who toss around the “chickenhawk” label.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
The events of the last week in
I do want to spout off a little bit at some of the critics who are attacking how long it took for the military to arrive. There seems to be a perception that the National Guard is available at a moments notice, capable of just rising out of the ground where they are needed, instantly capable of providing food, shelter and medical care. Reality is that it’s going to take 2-3 days from the time the Governor decides they need large numbers of Guard troops until any are available. Think about it. What needs to happen? What are the troops needed for, what’s expected of them, what expectation is there of the need for force, how long are they needed, what facilities exist to support them logistically, who is in charge….these are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before the first phone call is made. Then units start to get called up. 24 hours minimum to get 75% of your soldiers to the Armory. The other 25% are out of town, or they moved, or gave us a bad phone number, or any one of many other excuses. Then you start getting trucks loaded, weapons issued, ammunition drawn, food and tentage loaded, life support for the troops coordinated, turning the probably very general deployment order into an executable Operations order, and finally start moving. That’s another day, minimum. You’re looking at 72 hours from the time the Governor says “we need the Guard” until you can put any troops on the ground. Logistics convoys that can actually deliver relief supplies will take another 24 hours to load, minimum. If everything goes right, and the relief supplies needed are actually on hand in the quantities needed. So 4 days to get relief supplies delivered.
If I recall correctly, the Governor of Louisiana asked for troops on Tuesday. Troops began showing up on Wednesday, were providing security on Thursday, and food showed up on Friday. That is actually a phenomenal response time. Now those troops need to be supported logistically, meaning tens of thousands of meals daily, thousand of gallons of water, medical support just to keep the troops healthy not to mention the victims, billeting, toilets, and trash removal. Add to that fuel and maintenance requirements. Not an insignificant task.
I just ask people, before you get too critical of the response, to consider the scope, the numbers, and the reality of how long stuff really takes to get done. It may not seem fast enough, but it is as fast as it can be.
Monday, August 29, 2005
What really grabbed me about her blog was how much she reminds me of my own 14 year old daughter, the same tastes in music, movies, books, and the same sensitivities and optimistic hope in the basic goodness of humanity. They even have a younger brother and sister in common. As I read Sunshine’s words it was my daughter’s voice I heard, and I imagined her caught up in this madness. I admit that thinking about her, going through what Sunshine has gone through, brought a tear to my eye. No father wants to imagine his child living a life like that, I mean, that’s what we are supposed to protect our children from, that’s what I tell myself I am here for. Like the quote on the top of the page says, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” I believe to the core of my being that I am helping to bring my children peace. I only hope that along the way, Sunshine can know peace too. In spite of what some are telling you, that day is not so far away.
This post did bother me. Here, Sunshine tells of an American patrol searching her home, and while most of the soldiers were respectful and courteous, one did damage some of their belongings. This bothered Sunshine, as she believed that if she was polite and welcoming to the Troops, they would respond in kind. I hope she still retains some of that belief. Her story reminded me of the first Cordon and Search operation I participated in, a joint U.S. & Iraqi army operation in a village near here this past April. We received intelligence that several “persons of interest” and information we were interested in were located at a house in the village. Now again, I am not going to give out operational details, but we went in, secured the area, and searched the target house. Turned out the intell was close, but not perfect, and the first house we searched was the wrong one. We wanted the guys next door. Luckily, because everyone searching, U.S. and Iraqi, was respectful during the search, we didn’t alienate a house full of innocent people. They went back to bed, we took down the right house, and got what we were looking for. That was the first time I was in an Iraqi’s house, and what struck me was the fear in the eyes of the children. 10 soldiers going through your house at 5 in the morning is a scary thing no matter how nice the soldiers are. I didn’t let it bother me at the time, but those eyes haunted me for a while afterward. Maybe they still do. Knowing a mission is noble doesn’t mean you don’t feel guilty about how it’s accomplished sometimes.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I see a lot of Iraqi ID’s in a day, and the phrase above, which literally translated means “get Identification new”, is a sentence I have mastered. I utter it several times a day, and then smile as I hear the onslaught of excuses. “No meestah, is good ginsea!” “Not fake, I’m from Basrah, this is how Basrah ginseas are.” ”Iraqis only get one ginsea, you cannot get new one.” Sometimes, they get a perplexed look, and say “how could you know this?” as an incredulous Iraqi wonders how an American infidel could possibly tell that the piece of paper in my hand was not legally issued by any Iraqi government office. I am not going to get into the specifics of how we identify the forgeries, but I will say that if they ever master “spellcheck” my job will get a lot harder.
Add to this an apparent cultural belief that if you forge the document yourself, that somehow makes it authentic. Many times I have turned someone away because the picture on their ID was unrecognizable, for instance they are 30 years old and the picture is of an 8 year old. The next day they are back, with the same ID, and a current picture of themselves laminated right on top of the old one. When I explain that this is not adequate, they indignantly point to the picture and say “But this is me! I change it!” They simply cannot understand how I can have a problem with that logic.
They get these fakes from local Souks, or markets, that look like a cross between the sets of Casablanca and Mad Max. These outposts of capitalism give me confidence that freedom can work here, because they certainly have the instincts for it. According to rumor, any document can be created in 15 minutes for 5 dollars, as long as you are not too picky about the quality. I joked with one of my NCO’s recently that if he needed to get his passport renewed, he should do it in the Market, as long as he didn’t mind a passport from the “Unitted Stats of Amrika”.
By the way, if you see me back home wearing a Rolex, rest assured: “is real meestah, very good watch!”
Saturday, August 20, 2005
My issue with contractors is not their paychecks, because I can make a strong case that paying someone $120k to work in Iraq for a year, costs less than recruiting, training, equipping, and paying a U.S. Servicemember to do the same job. When we eventually drawdown forces in Iraq, those active duty troops still have to be paid, housed, and trained. They will continue to cost the taxpayers money. The contractors, on the other hand, are a pre-trained no strings attached package that stops costing you, the taxpayer, money as soon as they are no longer needed. Since I do pay taxes when I am not deployed, I worry about things like that.
As for the argument that “this war is all about making money for Bush and Cheney’s Halliburton cronies”, the financials just don’t bear that out. Here is Halliburton’s income statement; their net income was NEGATIVE $979 million in 2004. Hard to get rich losing a billion dollars a year. And by the way they have been providing logistics support to the Military since well before Vice President Cheney ever had any association with them. The reason that they get these contracts is that no other company on the planet can do what they do in the environments they do it. They do need to hire some better accountants though. Great company to work for, not so great to own.
No, my problem is not with the money, I think it is likely that they save us money in the long run, my problem is their mindset. My job in a nutshell is deciding who gets past my gate, either on foot or in a truck. The Contractors need to get their local workers on to complete projects that they have deadlines on. If I decide that the person on the other side of the gate represents a security problem, I say no. This puts the contractor, who claims to “need” this guy or his cargo, in a bit of a pickle. I have had several confrontations with contractors who found our security procedures inconvenient. I had one several days ago which resulted in a contractor saying “I am never coming down to this gate again!” Well, good riddance buddy. I had one yesterday tell me that because of me, we would have to close down a chow hall because I wouldn’t let his one indispensable worker on the camp. Turns out the real reason he “had” to have this worker was because he had already been paid for the job, not because he was the only guy in Iraq who could rig a crane. He actually had the cojones to go over my head to try to get his worker on; thankfully the “3” backed me up.You know, they have to sleep here too; I would think that they would value their security over their paychecks. Tough to spend that money with a 107mm rocket sticking out of your chest.
Well, I am ranting here so I better get to bed. Need my rest so I can protect this camp from itself again tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks by insurgents.
Now I would hate to accuse the “newspaper of record” of displaying bias in it’s reporting, but it would have been equally as accurate to say this: U.S. upgrading Body Armor to protect servicemembers.
For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is upgrading what is already the best body armor in the world to further protect American troops. The current armor, which has saved countless soldiers lives, is being upgraded with better protective inserts, in response to the increased lethality of insurgent attacks, primarily from weapons being provided to the insurgents by Iran.
Both stories would have been equally accurate. Both are biased in a particular direction. At least I admit it.
I have worn a lot of body armor over the years, and I can state as an expert that the Interceptor body armor (IBA) I wear for 10 hours a day, every day, is the best I have ever used. In the Marine Corps, and in Bosnia, I wore the standard PASGT “flak vest” which provided good protection from fragmentation and shrapnel but was worthless against rifle fire. In Kosovo, I wore “ranger body armor” (RBA), which was considerably heavier and more difficult to move in, but provided protection from rifle fire, through HEAVY front and back plates inserted into the vest. Unfortunately, this armor was not effective against shrapnel, as it lacked adequate side and neck protection.
Now I wear IBA, and it provides better protection from both rifles and shrapnel than either of the types of armor I have worn before, and it weighs less than RBA. It is modular, meaning that I can add or subtract the components I need for a particular mission. It includes a modular neck collar, pelvic protector, shoulder armor, and side armor. It also integrates my rifle and pistol ammunition load, first aid equipment (I carry 4 field dressings, a tourniquet, a chest seal, and a chest tube), 1.5 liter Camelback, and any other equipment I need to carry without having to strap on any more harnesses or suspenders. When I walk out the door in the morning, I am carrying close to 50 pounds of armor and gear. I for one appreciate the Pentagon taking its time analyzing the payoff of adding any more weight to my load! I’d hate to end up like the knights of old, having to be hoisted into my Humvee because my armor weighs so much I can’t walk.
So, I will say it again. We have the best body armor on the face of the earth. I am grateful for whatever improvements we can get, but I don’t feel woefully underprotected if it takes until December.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Junior, one of our interpreters, is a man I consider a trusted friend. One of the rare joys of my job here is learning about Iraqi society and culture from Junior and his brother Fox, one of our other interpreters. Something that is even more fun is introducing American culture to them.
Working as an interpreter is an incredibly dangerous and difficult job, and very few are cut out for it. Interpreters are a key piece of our eventual success here, and all of the various insurgent groups are aware of this. Interpreters are threatened continually, kidnapped often, and murdered occasionally. Our interpreters live on the camps with us, leaving only occasionally at random intervals for extended breaks. They are at their most vulnerable at these times, when they can be identified and followed. For this reason many cover their faces with masks or bandanas when working to avoid being identified as interpreters, and attempt to blend in with the day laborer crowds when they come and go. A stressful undercover existence made tolerable only by the compensation, which in terms of the Iraqi economy is very good, almost $1000 per month. Considering that the 2004 median income in Iraq was $144 per YEAR, this is a princely sum. They answer the question “is it worth it?” every time they come back to work. To them, apparently, it is.
Today, after we finished up at the gate, I headed off to a nightly coordination meeting, and SGT C and Junior went to a softball game our unit’s team was playing in. SGT C went as a player, Junior as a bemused spectator, trying to figure this very foreign game out. During the course of the game, which we were losing badly already, one of our MP’s had to respond to a call. Junior was pressed into service as catcher, ironic because he had never put on a glove in his life. He learned the basics of catching and throwing rapidly, and thoroughly enjoyed the game. Unfortunately, despite Junior’s strong performance behind the plate, we still lost. Base running remains a mystery to him. He asked me after the game “why, after they hit the ball and run, do they just stop running for no reason? How do they know where to stop?” Those lessons will have to be covered before the next game.
Later, after dinner, Junior was introduced to another great American game,
Afterwards, he thanked us for a great day, and told me “Today I felt like I was with family.” So maybe what we really need here is 25 million softball gloves. You never know.
Monday, August 08, 2005
When I reluctantly woke to my alarm clock this morning, I noticed my room seemed unusually dark. My first hope was that I had set my alarm wrong and still had an hour to sleep, but a glance at my watch showed it was indeed time to get up. I staggered to my fridge to grab a Redbull to start the day, and cracked open my door. I was greeted by a wall of sand. It’s called a Shamal.
One of our interpreters, Junior, calls this “The dust weather”, sandstorms that begin in the western deserts of
Junior warned us on the way to the gate that no one would be coming to work that day, and he was right. A handful of Iraqis came in, but for the most part everyone stayed home, except the soldiers. We manned our posts, wrapped our faces up and toughed it out. All I can say is that it has been a long day. When I got back to the “pod”, the collection of trailers that we live in, I climbed into the shower and attempted to scrub the sand off. It had penetrated every pore, through my armor and uniform, into every inch of my body it seemed. Now, a couple hours later, I still feel the film of sand working its way out of my skin, and as I am typing this I am coughing up chunks of the western desert. Junior, ever the optimist, showed me the silver lining; he assured me as we were leaving the gate “the dust weather is not all bad, you’ll see tomorrow the flies will all be dead!” Thanks, Junior, for giving me something to look forward to in the morning when I stagger to the fridge for the next Redbull.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
You may have noticed the disclaimer at the bottom of the page that states “In accordance with Multi National Corps-Iraq policy, this website has been registered with my command.” The requirement for this registration is a little controversial among Milbloggers in
However, it does seem they were getting it from this guy: PFC Leonard Clark. If nothing else, this guy is guilty of being an idiot. Looking through some of his writings, and the writings of some of his supporters, gives me a lot of insight into who
As an aside, if you are interested in taking a look at training of the Iraqi army from a soldier training them, I recommend checking out Making the NIA. He was here on our FOB until recently, when "his" battalion of Iraqis was relocated. He tells the straight story, good and bad. His blog unfortunately doesn’t do justice to his sense of humor. He is by far the funniest person I have met here, able to make light of any situation. He hasn’t posted recently due to very intermittent internet access at his new FOB. I hope this improves soon; I miss his wit, insight, and company. Good luck, my friend. Stay safe.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Yesterday, I began looking for “real estate” in the new building, talking with people from each section moving in and explaining our plan. Everyone thought it was a great idea, as long as we didn’t move into “their” space. Our MP detachment thought it was a brilliant plan, and we should move into the operations office. Operations thought that base support would be a great place to move, and base support thought the MP office was the obvious choice for what was clearly a law enforcement function. Everyone loves the idea, as long as it is placed somewhere else! FRUSTRATING!!! My fear is that, in an effort to not ruffle any feathers among those who are gaining several thousand square feet of space and don’t want to give us 30 square feet, the powers that be will come up with a compromise solution that puts us in a parking lot somewhere, rather than the much more palatial digs the rest of our unit will gain.
So, it appears the battle lines are drawn, the die is cast, and the gauntlet is thrown down. We’ll see how it works out, but for today I feel a bit like a toxic waste dump; everybody agrees we need it, as long as it’s “not in my backyard”.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
In reference to the post Vietnam transformation of the armed forces, this article from NGAUS, regarding SECDEF Rumsfeld’s opposition to the total force concept and the origins of the policy, and this from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, regarding the total force policy and the Abrams doctrine in the 21st century. I didn’t just make this stuff up, it is in fact policy. If you are a fan of PowerPoint, this presentation from OSD (RA) may provide some additional illumination regarding the make up, mission, and future of the Reserve components.
Regarding the belief that prior to 9-11 the longest a reservist could be overseas was 6 months cumulatively; I wish I had known that before I spent 14 months in the Balkans on 2 separate presidential selected reserve call ups (PSRC), both with a maximum duration of 270 days. This FAQ sheet from defenselink shows the specific guidelines and legal authority for the 3 separate types of reserve call ups, PSRC, Partial mobilization (which we are under now) and Full mobilization, last used in the fall of 1940, prior to Pearl Harbor, mobilizing the entire National Guard to active duty for the duration of the war plus 6 months.
I understand Mary’s anger at what she perceives to be an injustice, her daughter’s involuntary extension of obligated service. I often share it when I sit alone, missing my Wife and Children, and think of the sacrifices they have so unfairly had to make with my all too frequent absences. I can’t go back and change the words of a recruiter who glossed over the reality of being a soldier in any component of the Army, but the rules haven’t changed; it’s just that most people didn’t know them.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Thursday, July 28, 2005
My family and I went to Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. One morning we were walking along Michigan Avenue, and my Wife and daughters decided it was time to do some shopping. My son and I decided that this would be a good time for some male bonding, so while the ladies were enjoying the multitude of shopping choices, we popped into a nearby Starbucks. I got a mochachino, he got orange juice. We grabbed a table outside and sat down to people watch, and the gentleman at the next table struck up a conversation. Eventually, after he discovered I was a National Guardsman home from Iraq, he asked a few questions about the war. He was a Chiropractor who had joined the Army reserve during the Vietnam war to, in his own words, "dodge the draft". He asked me if, when I joined the guard, I had expected to serve overseas, because "after all, the Guard is really for floods and things like that". I explained that I was a member of a Field Artillery battalion assigned to an Infantry Division, not a sandbagging battalion in a flood fighter division, and that the primary mission of the National Guard is to provide combat units for federal service, with a secondary mission of providing military support to our respective States. I further explained that I had drawn more combat pay in the National Guard than I had while on active duty in the Marine Corps in the mid 80's, having previously deployed to both Bosnia and Kosovo in the 90's, before deploying to Iraq. He continued down this track, and asked "Well, shouldn't we have a bigger active Army then?"
A great question, with more depth than he realized. The answer to the question, and it's implication that Reserve component troops should not be fighting, goes back to his own Vietnam experience, and also illustrates the fallacies in Kennedy's editorial. First, to counter Kennedy's assertion that today's military does not reflect mainstream America: in just my small unit here, we have teachers, college students, police and corrections officers, network administrators, engineers, a car salesman, a stockbroker, a farmer, truck drivers, and machinists, just to name a few. We represent mainstream America, and we have families, communities, and employers who are sacrificing while we are here. This reality, this representation of America, is why, after Vietnam, the military leaders of the time decided to rebuild our Armed forces in such a way as to prevent our political leaders from ever being able to do what LBJ did in Vietnam; fight a major war without mobilizing the citizen-soldier. You can talk smack about Generals all you want, God knows I do, but they recognize that war needs to cost politicians political capital, or they will be far too quick to wage it. Today's military cannot fight without the Guard and Reserve, and that is a GOOD THING. The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.
Regardless of your opinions of the war, it is likely that you know someone who is serving or has a family member serving. It is also likely that they are Citizen-soldiers. We are volunteers who knowingly accepted this burden. Our communities and families are sacrificing. We are mainstream America. And that is how it should be.
Monday, July 25, 2005
The most rewarding part of my job here is the occasional opportunity to participate in Civil Affairs missions. Our unit is currently refurbishing a school near the base, and we are using some of the civilian expertise of our soldiers to help plan and execute infrastructure repairs to several villages in the area. I got to roll out on one of these missions today as part of the security element for several officers who were meeting with local village leaders to discuss their needs and how we can help. It was a straightforward mission from a security standpoint, roll in, establish a perimeter around the meeting place, sweep the area and clear the building, and provide local security while the meeting was going on. We rolled out as a mixed element, vehicles from several units that all were participating in the meeting. The village hosting the meeting is within sight of the front gate of the camp, and many of the locals work on the camp, so we felt marginally safe in the village but we certainly had no room for getting lazy. Everything went well, except for getting mobbed by kids looking to score whatever goodies they could from us, since they know we are soft touches. My limited Arabic is always a big hit with kids, I think they enjoy making fun of my butchered pronunciation. We didn't disappoint them, they got to load up on candy and Beanie Babies donated from the States. Thank You to everyone that sends that stuff, it goes to good use! Even the minor sandstorm going on was welcome, as it kept the temp down to "only" 110, a welcome break from the 125+ we have endured the last few weeks.
We had a moment of concern when we heard an explosion at the gate. I looked over and I saw tires and a bumper flying through the air above the explosion. Our first thought was "VBIED (Vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) at the gate" so we cleared the kids away from the area towards safety. After a few moments of radio traffic we discovered that it was a controlled detonation of a suspected VBIED, a suspicious vehicle parked near the entrance of the gate. I won't go into details about what made the car suspicious, but based on what I heard from the soldiers at the gate later, I would have blown the car up too.
The meeting continued, and concluded well. We identified several key infrastructure improvements, and everyone was happy. After returning to the FOB, we stripped off our body armor and aired out our sweat-soaked uniforms. I got to enjoy one of those rarest of feelings here, the belief that today, we did good. One village will have cleaner water because of today. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but today one more drip fell into the bucket.