Sunday, July 31, 2005


My office has several responsibilities here, primarily dealing with controlling access to our FOB. One of those responsibilities, which really bears no relation to the rest of our work, is to register the non-tactical vehicles on the FOB. This is a very important security related task, as unidentified vehicles are obviously a security concern. None the less, it really bears little relation to our primary job of interviewing and screening Iraqis coming on to the FOB. I came up with the idea of moving this piece of our operation to a building our unit is refurbishing and will be moving into shortly. This building is about 4 times as large as the offices they are currently working out of. Our office, located at the main gate, is about 12 by 15 and we have 4 soldiers and 2 interpreters working there. Everyone in our office thought it was a great plan, free up space at the gate and allow 1 of us to work away from the gate, and out of body armor, each day.

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

Point Counterpoint

Mary, whose Daughter, 1LT G, is my OIC (Officer in charge) here, disagreed rather adamantly to some of the points I raised in my post regarding Citizen–Soldiers serving in Iraq. In response to her concerns about the accuracy of my assertions, I feel it is important to provide some references in defense of my comments.

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

How does she do it?

Reading this post over at M.A.W.B. made me think of My Darling Wife back home, and everything she is going through keeping our family going without me. You are amazing! Of course, it may be easier without me there, one less "kid" to take care of. Either way, you are incredible. Thanks for all you do, and I love you completely.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why are Citizen-Soldiers in Iraq?

Reading this OP-ED Piece in the NYTimes by Stanford history professor David Kennedy, claiming that today’s Army does not reflect the mainstream of America, brings to mind a conversation I had while I was home on leave.

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

One more drip

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.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Who knows the truth?

As I was surfing through several news sites yesterday, I read a couple of editorials I found interesting. One, from National Review, detailed a tour of Iraq by conservative radio talk show host Michael Graham. During his tour, he spoke to at least 100 soldiers on the ground throughout Iraq and Kuwait. All, according to him, support the war and believe we are ultimately winning. The other editorial, from my hometown StarTribune, had a very different view, believing that our swift departure from Iraq is the most likely way to ensure progress here. I have always believed that when you hear widely divergent views, the truth lies somewhere near the middle, and that is probably the case here.
What angered me about the Strib's editorial was not it's conclusion, although I do disagree with it. I was appalled at the implication that the soldiers in Iraq are somehow shielded from the reality of the war: It's "not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq," she said. "The [Green Zone's] maze of tall blast walls and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too."

Pardon me? The soldiers fighting this war are blinded from the real Iraq? I am shielded from the real Iraq by nothing more than a SAPI plate and a pair of WileyX's. I deal with hundreds of Iraqis a day. I have dealt with Iraqi civilians, Iraqi soldiers, and have been inside Iraqis homes. I have lost friends. My unit is rebuilding and expanding a nearby school, and we are maintaining and improving this FOB, which will be turned over to the Iraqi Army in short order. How dare a journalist, from the comfort of a hotel in the Green Zone, make the implication that we are blinded from the real Iraq! Whose opinions of the violence are really more valid, that of the journalists risking their lives to chronicle it, or the soldiers risking their lives to fix it?

I wonder if the Strib's editorial board, when faced with the reality that most (but admittedly not all) of the soldiers in Iraq believe we are making progress, made the decision to attempt marginalize our experiences by finding an excuse to discount them. Yes, we have a Burger King, we carry pictures of our families who we do miss terribly, and we surround our FOB's with blast walls and concertina. The Strib says children aren't going to school, but I see them in school. The Strib says we are making progress in drips and drabs. Progress is progress, and if you are patient, a bucket can fill a drip at a time.

So who knows the truth? I choose to believe my own eyes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back on my FOB

The return trip from a wonderful 15 days of R&R is a voyage that I believe is designed to inflict the maximum agony possible on soldiers. This may be to get our heads back in the game, to get us thinking about our jobs and not dwelling on how wonderful it is to be away from here for even a fleeting moment. Or maybe it is just bureaucratic laziness on the parts of those soldiers and contractors whose job it is to move soldiers back "up north". Either way, it's a journey to be endured, not enjoyed.
After the pain of saying goodbye again to MDW (My Darling Wife) and our kids, a task that never gets easier or less painful, the journey began. I flew from Minneapolis to Dallas on a commercial flight and connected there with a military charter to Kuwait. As an aside, the veterans groups in the Dallas area that assist soldiers on leave in the DFW airport are SAINTS! Helpful, appreciative, and generous. I cannot thank them enough. Anyway, after a halfhearted attempt to miss the flight and get a night in a Dallas hotel on the Army's dime, I boarded a Military charter flight to Kuwait. I scored here, as an E8 Master Sergeant, I got one of the few First Class seats on the 18 hour flight! It all went downhill from there. We landed in Kuwait 18 hours and 8 time zones later, and boarded busses for the 30 minute ride to Camp Doha. It was about 10:30 at night local, I have no clue what time my body thought it was. Our first stop at Camp Doha was at a warehouse where we were re-issued our Body Armor and Helmets. I hadn't missed those 35 pounds at all. We then formed up according to our final destination in Iraq. I had departed Iraq via BIAP (Baghdad international airport) and was under the impression I would return via BIAP, but at this formation all of us bound for my FOB (Forward Operating Base) were told that we would be returning via another airbase, Balad. No problem. We moved into a large auditorium for a return briefing and to get our flight schedules. I requested a flight to Balad and was told to be back at 9:00 am for my flight. Great. We picked up our baggage and got billeting. They "stored" us in huge warehouses filled with bunks, and because it is a 24 hour operation, they never shut off the lights. So, by now it is about 0230 local time, and I have no idea what my body clock thought. I got about 4 hours of sleep, then headed of to find out about my flight. That is when I discovered that flights to Balad were backed up 5 days. 5 Days! In a warehouse under blazing lights on a postage stamp of a camp with nothing to do. The only way to get out faster is to go to every "roll call" for flights to your destination and hope someone doesn't show up so you can jump in their seat. Not a very effective strategy, but you gotta try! That was not successful. 4 days later, 1LT K, my traveling partner, and I thought we were finally getting on a flight. His name gets called, mine doesn't. Turns out I am not even on the waiting list! I proceed into a major First Sergeant like rage, which doesn't get me on the flight but does get me assured that I will be on the next one. Another LT told me later that day that my name was called at a roll call for BIAP! That certainly explained why I was not on the Balad list. I check that evening and I am again assured I am on the next flight out in the morning. So at 0700, I check again and I am NOT on the list for the 0800 flight. This time the problem gets fixed, probably out of fear of my reaction if it's not, and 6 hours and an uncomfortable C130 ride later, I am back in Iraq. In Balad, a very helpful E4 schedules me for a flight the next night and gets me billeting in a room with a light switch! Finally, a decent meal, a good night's sleep, and a flight that leaves on time. And I had to go to Iraq to get it. 24 hours later, I am back on my FOB, far more appreciative of it's limited charms. Who knew.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Launching, christening, inauguration, birth, the First Time.

I just returned from my mid tour 15 day R&R leave, and as I talked to my Family and Friends, a common theme emerged. Several times I heard variations of this question: "You must be really busy over there. Are you getting my Emails?" Yes, yes I am. I just do a horrible job of replying to them in a timely manner. So I decided to attempt a new method of staying in touch. This Blog should give me a forum to keep everyone who is interested in what I am doing updated, and give me a forum to run my mouth about whatever particular issue is bugging me that day. Everybody wins!
So, to those who have emailed, written, and sent those oh so wonderful and appreciated care packages, THANK YOU! I have received them, and I apologize profusely for not doing a better job of keeping in touch. I invite you to please visit this site often, and comment, especially with your questions and suggestions for future post topics. Also, does anyone have a copy of "HTML for Dummies" laying around that they aren't using? I need some help!