Monday, November 28, 2005


I am so tired I can hardly see straight, so I will make this brief.

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

Apparently it's not all going for body armor

It’s been really tough to find the time to post lately. We’re in the midst of a project that involves gathering fingerprints and iris scans from every Iraqi who works on the camp, and it’s a little daunting. This project was supposed to be performed by contractors, but the company hired to provide the labor hasn’t been able to deliver in a timely manner, so we have pressed soldiers into service gathering the information. The soldiers I had detailed to me are loving life. They are more than happy to spend their last two months in Iraq rolling fingerprints, since they spent the last ten months doing dismounted patrols on Haifa Street. If they hadn’t been detailed to me, they would have been assigned to tower guard.

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

A grunt at heart

Even though I am actually an Artilleryman, I have always been a Grunt at heart.

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.


Combat Infantry


Special Ops




Support Gunner










Which soldier type are you?
created with

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bottom of the 9th and batting .1000

Some people have asked me where the name Mustang 09 comes from. It was my call sign when I was the First Sergeant of an M198 howitzer Battery. I’ve had many calls signs, but that one, for some reason, has always been my favorite.

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.