Monday, August 29, 2005


I was surfing around a few blogs this weekend and came across one via Mudville that really grabbed me. Sunshine is a 14 year old girl from Mosul, writing about life as an Iraqi child growing up in war. I fervently hope it doesn’t turn out to be something like this.

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

Jeeb Ginsea Jedeeda

This country loves forgeries. They aren’t very good at it, but they love insisting that their forgeries are in fact authentic. Whether it be watches, DVD’s, or identification, they love to make knock offs.

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


I was going to write a post today celebrating going a week without any indirect fire attacks (rockets or mortars) on the FOB, but this morning a soldier walking out to his vehicle found an unexploded 57mm rocket sticking out of it. He is pretty confident it wasn’t there the day before, so….Hey we went 6 days without any indirect fire attacks!

Contractors: Can’t live with ‘em…..

One of my daily challenges is dealing with the multitudes of civilian contractors performing work on our camp. This article in the Tampa Tribune discusses some of the reasons that people decide to come to Iraq to work, and it focuses on the biggest; the money. Lots of money. The individual employees of these firms are making money hand over fist, and loving it.

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


My thanks to Greyhawk at Mudville, and Sandy at the M.A.W.B. Squad for their kind words about my Blog. I am humbled by the attention.

Body armor Redux

This headline in the NYTimes caught my eye : U.S. Struggling to Get Soldiers Updated Armor. This is the opening sentence:
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

Baseball, Apple pie, and Texas hold’em

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, Texas hold’em. After watching a couple of hands, he wisely decided to remain a spectator. Can’t say that I blame him, I don’t quite get the game either. But he hung out, told jokes, and listened to some good old American trash talking around the card table. For a few hours, this corner of Baghdad was transformed into a backyard deck in southwestern Minnesota, and Junior got a glimpse of who we are.

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

The Dust Weather

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 Iraq and Syria. Sand worn to the consistency of baby powder by eons of wind erosion is carried by the hot desert breeze from Anbar through Baghdad and into Iran. Breathing is painful, as each inhalation is accompanied by what seems to be a pound of desert sand. You can’t see unless you are wearing glasses or goggles, because no matter what direction you move, the sand buries itself in your eyes. Clothes, skin, hands and teeth are immediately coated with a gritty dry film. But duty is duty, so we trudged off towards the gate. As we drove, I noticed that the headlights of other vehicles took on an eerie, ghostly blue color, but everything else blended together in a orange and tan swirl.

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

OpSec and idiots

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 Iraq, because lets face it, on occasion we dis on our commanders, and we would rather they didn’t read our words. I admit that knowing the boss might be reading does cause me to hold my tongue a little, or at least choose my words wisely. I understand the reasons for the requirement, and as long as it is not used as a tool to censor viewpoints and opinions, I have no problem with it. The stated reason for registration is to make sure that Bloggers don’t violate operational security requirements. This concern is valid. If you notice, I have never mentioned the specific FOB I operate out of, nor do I use the names of people I am here with, the names of villages in the area, or ever discuss upcoming operations. My name is not easily available here. Those of you who know me know where I am and who I am, and for the rest of you, as much as I would love to be completely transparent, it would not be safe for me, my family, or the soldiers I am here with to do so. I use Tracksy to track hits on this site, and I have seen hits here from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, and several other countries around the world. And my Blog has only been up for a couple weeks! Now I’d hate to be accused of profiling, but this information makes the intel sgt. in me think that perhaps the bad guys could be using Milblogs to troll for information. Well they ain’t gonna get it from me.

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 Clark is, but doesn’t answer this question; why is he a 40 year old E3? He deployed as an E4, which means that he either joined the Guard recently, or he has not been promoted in about 20 years. Not exactly a normal situation in either case. I haven’t been able to find out how long Clark has been in the military but I am curious. It would fill in a lot of questions I have about this guy.

Clark accepted article 15 punishment for releasing classified information. Additionally, he is a bad soldier with a lousy attitude. Either way, he is endangering other soldiers and hurting the morale of his unit. I am all about free speech and have spent my adult life defending it, but get a clue Private! If you have in fact experienced all you claim, you know that this is the real deal, and your actions have consequences. Think about them before you hit the “publish” button.

Seriously, the brass is hot.

Even in Iraq, Army training continues, and the best Army training involves getting to shoot, any weapon, anywhere. Today I got to fire on an Iraqi army rifle range, quite a change from the huge automated pop-up target ranges soldiers normally train on. Here it’s just a berm, a few lines of sandbags, and target racks made of old pallets held up by metal fence posts. But marksmanship is still marksmanship, and while the automated ranges are great, it was a hell of a lot of fun to shoot on that little, beat up, and heavily used range. Our camp hosts one of the Iraqi army basic training sites, along with several battalions of trained and operational Iraqi army units, so the ranges are always busy and the times that we can squeeze in are rare. We have had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with AK-47’s and PKC Machine guns, which basically means taking them out and shooting them until we got bored or run out of Ammo (always the latter). Today we qualified again with our M16’s, which is a far more structured event. It went well for the most part, with one exception; since the range is small, the firing points are very close together. When you fire an M16A2, the brass ejects out the right side of the weapon, usually slightly forward but not always, and normally flies 4-6 feet. So today I found myself attempting to fire in the prone position, 5 feet to the right of another soldier. Brass, when ejected from an M16, is really, really hot. I mean really hot. Like branding iron hot. It also has the uncanny ability to fly down shirts, up sleeves, and occasionally down the back of your pants. I experienced all of the above. I did manage, is spite of the constant pelting of brass, to shoot a decent score, but significantly lower than I am used to. I was a little pissed at the time, but now that I have had a few hours to tend my wounds, I have calmed down. Hey, I got to shoot. The burns will heal. It could be worse, a lot worse. It could have gone down the front of my pants.

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.