April 1, 2008

From the Front: 04/01/2008

News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

In their own words:
LTC Rich Phillips: The Redeployment Continues… - Well, I finally made it to BAF, the next step in my redeployment process. In many ways I think this long, drawn out, impersonal redeployment process is a good thing. I only have my personal experience to go on, but for me it is a nice transition from the deployed life to real life. The process was the same when I left Iraq and now as I am leaving Afghanistan; going from my “permanent” lodging at FOB Apache to temporary, or RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration) lodging at Bagram Airfield. So now I’m living in BAF, in a “VIP” tent with 50 other senior officers and NCOs, waiting for a flight to Manas AB where we will wait a few more day for a flight home. (READ MORE)

Hard Soldier: PTSD Post Tremblay and Shoe Disorder - Only one thing is certain during a career in the military a soldier will definetly meet some of the funniest people he will ever meet, and experience comedy unlike any other way it can be experienced at home. So I have a new squad now, at first I wasn't too happy only because I had been through a lot with my last squad and it really cut me pretty deep to part ways with them. Change is sometimes a good thing however when one can put the past behind them and embrace the inevitable future to come, it makes it easier to transition to change. Specialist Tremblay and Specialist Schoephoerster, Schoephoerster try saying that ten times fast at the top of your lungs, we just call him Shoe. (READ MORE)

Yellowhammering Afghanistan: Consider the calendar - Dear Alison, I've been trying to decide the best way to tell you what I am about to say, and I determined the easiest way is to do it as an open-letter on my blog. It looks like I will be in Afghanistan longer than we both thought. Actually, it's going to be much longer than we both thought. The new calendar has me in Afghanistan through August 2009. I'm sure you're wondering how this could have happened. I was as surprised when I saw the new calendar and saw the months that included me. I'm not sure what else to say to you, my loving and supportive wife. I guess all there is left to say is: APRIL FOOL'S! Actually, this is only a partial April Fool's. I personally will not be in Afghanistan through August 2008 (you can exhale now, Honey). However, one of my photos will be. (READ MORE)

Yellowhammering Afghanistan: Front of the line - I recently made what may end up being my last visit to Ghazni's much-talked-about Andar District. Andar has quite a reputation. Historically it has been the most active area for Taliban. It is the most populous district outside of the central Ghazni District and most are Pashtun, the tribe that dominates Afghanistan and Taliban membership. Though Andar has improved over the last year, it always perks the ears and makes the hair on you neck stand up when you are told you're going there. We recently went there as part of visits we are making to nearly all of the 19 district before we leave. We also worked with the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army in a joint humanitarian assistance drop for the people of Andar. (READ MORE)

Yellowhammering Afghanistan: Return to sender - It is with a great mix of emotions that I write this blog post. This is the one where I tell you to stop sending me letters and packages. If you want to send something to me personally, you probably need to do so by April 1. The reason is that obviously I won't be here to receive your mail. I can't tell you exactly when I will be leaving Camp Vulcan because of security reasons, but it's sooner than I had expected. On one hand, I'm glad that there is a definitive date for me to begin my slow trip home. On the other hand, your letters, cards and packages for me, my fellow soldiers and the Afghan people have been the highlight of my deployment. I can't thank all of you enough. If you only sent me one package, I am grateful. There are many of you whom I have named often who sent multiple packages multiple times and bolstered my faith in my own country as I place more and more hope into this one. I haven't the words to express how appreciative I am. (READ MORE)

James Aalan Bernsen: Back in Baghdad - Just got back from leave. Had more fun and adventures than I can possibly describe, though I will post at length shortly on my trip to the D-Day landing beaches. Flew in on a C-17, which is like a luxury liner compared to the C-130. Of course, you're still squeezed in like sardines in seats designed for normal-sized people, not people wearing body armor. And ultimately, you're still cargo. But hey, I'm here. (READ MORE)

Omar: Iraq: Whither Sadr and the Mahdi Army? - As fighting rages between government forces and Sadr’s militia in several cities, senior clerics from the hawza (senior Grand Ayatollahs) made a debut in the conflict. Ayatollah Fadhil Al-Maliki issued a fatwa in which he openly called on police and army to abandon their duty, adding that operation Knights’ Charge is not targeting criminals but an aggression against “the majority of the Iraqi people.” Although there is news about a handful of soldiers and policemen abandoning their posts and joining the militia, this fatwa is not going to have a significant effect on operations. However it’s a reminder that there are still people who bet on fatwas as long as some are willing to offer allegiance to the sect instead of the country. This fatwa revives the old conflict over legitimacy between the ethnic Arab and foreign clerics of the hawza. (READ MORE)

Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal: Mojo's World - The day before Muqtada al-Sadr lifted the Mahdi Army's freeze of attacks on Coalition Forces, things were obnoxiously normal in Anu al-Verona. Kids playing in the dirt, women shopping in the market, old men casting geriatric judgements from front porches, teenagers leering for the sake of leering - you know, the works. It all seems so distant now. Multiple 24-hour plus missions tend to have that effect on the memory. As usual, Mojo was found near the combat outpost, on the front steps of the governance center. As the mayor’s son, he has the unofficial responsibility of hawking as much crap obtained by less than legal means as possible our way. Phone cards, cell phones, movies, iPods, and various forms of porn far more creative than necessary are always readily available through him – and that’s what he’s willing to try and sell in front of the LT. I’ve been informed there are even less refined aspects of the Mojo inventory. This isn’t exactly your friendly suburban neighborhood lemonade stand. (READ MORE)

LT Nixon: Iraq News (1 April) - The Good: Things have pretty much calmed down where fighting was the worst in Baghdad and Basra due to the Mahdi Army uprising. That's of course after a thorough shellacking taken by the militia thugs (the body count of enemy KIA from the Ministry of Interior is well into the triple digits). Sadr and Friends made a smart move to stash their weapons and conduct politics instead of violence. I just don't know how long that is going to last. The Bad: LA Times takes a stab at dissecting some of the messy politics behind this whole fiasco. I thought the Quds Force commander in Iran orchestrating the Sadr ceasefire was a pretty interesting twist. I'm waiting for the dude in the clownsuit to show up and grant 24/7 electricity to Iraqi citizens with one toot of his clown horn. This region never ceases to amaze me. (READ MORE)

LT Nixon: And a Big Fuck You to American Media - The American media's use of freedom of speech has long been an ideal protected under our constitution, which we in the military are sworn to defend. But what about when the media actively engages in undermining the security of US forces abroad? I think that entitles me to flip the bird to the media outlets in question. And I'm not talking about jackass Mahdi Army lovers over at Kos (this draft-dodging asshole accused my buddy Brandon Friedman of being a neo-con, the last guy on earth I would label such), but rather large-time rags like CNN. They published the story about security precautions being taken in the Green Zone following numerous rocket attacks. There's the news, and then there's sensationalism and relishing of violence. Do they not understand that the reason the enemy does this is because it gets such huge press? (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Color of War - Desert Battles are unfolding in hidden and faraway places. Bullets snapp through air, then splap through flesh and men fall. Bodies crumple onto the desert, a fly lands on the lip of an open mouth, fingers twitch as the flesh dies and the winds kick up and dust settles on unblinking eyes. The dry earth drinks their sticky blood and they are forgotten. Their families do not know they are dead. They came to kill Americans and innocent Iraqis. Instead, they were killed themselves. In a desert landscape, sometimes the color of a war can bleed out into black and white. Interestingly, the people who accuse Yezidis of being devil-worshippers are responsible for the deaths of perhaps a million people in the last few decades. They are the ones who put Yezidis on “reservations,” poured chemical gases on Kurds, set oil wells ablaze, poisoned the water with oil, and encouraged suicide attacks. What do Yezidis want from us? Not much. They want to thank Americans for beating back Saddam. (READ MORE)

ETT PA-C: 1 Month - Yep, here it is. Minus one month before I depart from this phenom that some call a country. It's more of a conglomerate of peoples that live close to each other and do their best to disturb peace. Anyway, enough of that. I've seen war movies about how hardened vets get close to the end of a tour and get all pent up with caution. Well, that's so real with the caveat that you actually have to operate off the "day spas" in a less than hospitable environment. The desert holds many secrets and a few of them I'd like to see stay put. I find myself much less willing to go and do risky missions and more than that I don't want to leave the asphalt when moving from place to place. My father always taught me to "FLAP" (Finish Like A Pro) and I'd say of done my fair share of that this year but I find myself wanting to "FLOP" (F the Last OPerations). (READ MORE)

Fearless 1st Marines’ blog: Fallujah citizens’ voices heard over airwaves - FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 27, 2008) – What seems like a simple civil right to Americans and often taken for granted, the freedom of speech is a new concept for the people of Iraq. The Iraqis have lived under dictatorship and tyranny for decades, unable to voice their opinions or disapprovals towards the government unless they were asking for prison time or a death sentence. Now that the Saddam regime is out of the picture, it’s a much different Iraq. The citizens of Fallujah have taken advantage of their new found right and are speaking out over the airwaves on Fallujah Public Radio where their questions are answered live by city government officials on a weekly call-in show. (READ MORE)

Fearless 1st Marines’ blog: Unexpected reunion for ‘Spiteful’ Corpsman - CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 29, 2008) – With a beaming smile plastered across his face, it would seem HN Mark J. Scopa is anything but “spiteful.” The reason for Scopa’s unshakable smile was a joyous reunion with his father, Frank V. Scopa, during a fortunate crossing-of-paths. Mark, a hospital corpsman attached to Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment; nicknamed ‘Spiteful Artillery,’ met with his father, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, aboard Camp Fallujah, Iraq shortly after Frank arrived in-theatre for his third deployment with the Army Corps of Engineers. Frank said seeing his son out here caused a flood of mixed emotions. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Last Look At Afghanistan Up Close - I remember arriving in Kabul just about a year ago. It was night, and we did a short convoy from the airport to Camp Phoenix. Today we left Phoenix for the last time and moved to another location from which we will leave the country. Last year, there was nobody out and about as we rolled through the streets in the back of a five ton truck with a bench seat down the middle of the bed so that we faced outwards. All of the smells of Kabul were there in the night air; the strange not-quite-woodsmoke smell that I would smell thousands of times over the course of the past year, the occasional whiff of sewage, the smell of dust and exhaust and poverty. The woody smoke smell would turn out to be a combination of wood and animal manure, shaped into round patties. Afghans make great use of animal manure as fuel. (READ MORE)

Badger 6: Do Valor Awards Mean Anything? - In January I wrote this post about Xavier Alvarez, a member of a California water board who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1987. Mr. Alvarez was charged with a federal crime for falsely making the aforementioned claim and I took Mr. Alvarez's defense counsel, Briana J. Fuller to task for her assertion the Federal government did not have " a compelling enough reason" to regulate claims to military awards and such false claims should be protected as freedom of speech. The story is one again in the news - (READ MORE)

Doc in the Box: I missed an afternoon - Last Sunday, I took most of the afternoon off and went to my room and watched SciFi channels Children of Dune in its entirety and ate sweet rice with fish sauce and crushed red chili. Basically disconnected from everything behind the comfort of my blue walls and kicked my feet up. Little did I know that outside a storm was raging, the dust had got so bad inside of my work that fire alarms were going off and there had been a classic “Mummy” style wall of dust that overtook the base prior to a rain storm but I didn’t feel or sense a thing. When my room mate and I moved in, we turned the pink room into a fortress, insulated windows, automotive grade blue paint and almost airtight doors. When the door shuts we’re cut off from the rest of the world. (READ MORE)

The Angry American: Fuck the Militia - "You guys have to go check out National Police check points that have been over run." "Wow that's gay." "After that we are linking up with 1st PLT to raid a Mosque in [Nasty Part of Town]." "Okay that's not so gay." The main route we had been working on recently was empty and it was the middle of the day. Smoke from tire fires was in the air. Lately Sadr's militia went buckwhile coming out to fight. Fighting from Sadr City spilled east into Bravo Company's sector. Alpha, and Bravo and some elements from an Armored unit were in the midst of a heated battle in Bravo's sector uprooting militia men from the check points. We drove by a check point tower we had built and the side of it had been hit by an RPG. We drove past numerous check points that were abandoned. Reports of a certain checkpoint that had been taken over by JAM came across the net. We drove to the checkpoint and it was manned by a bunch of National Policeman. Maybe they were JAM but they were in uniform so it wasn't cool if we smoked them. (READ MORE)

Major John: Aw nuts - Looks like I am movin' on. I will be at a new location for a number of months. Allah willing and the wadi don't rise, this shan't be as weird an assignment as I think it could be... As it is, uh, forward, so to speak, I do not know if I will have internet access. If I do - hopefully I have some interesting things to post. If not, I charge CSM Bones and the Inner Prop with keeping this thing up and running until I get back. (READ MORE)

CSM Bones: Return to Afghanistan - Just returned from a short trip to my next mission. Bagram, Camp Eggers andPhoenix have changed much since we have been away. Task Force Phoenix VIII here we come. Everything is up armored now, I did not have my pick up with the sand bags anymore. Wish you were with me again Major John. (READ MORE)

That Krazy Korean: Anticipation - I’ve been a little restless. It could be the anticipation of going home or the mosquito in my trailer that has kicked my ass for the past 3 nights. Whichever it is, I’m up before they call everyone outside the wire to morning prayer and I’m sitting in the TV trailer listening for tell-tale signs that I should be someplace containing more concrete. Thank God I don’t have much more of this to go. I’m what you’d call a short timer. I have completed 336 days in Iraq and only have a few more to go before they ship me home just days shy of a year. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, I’ve spent the last few days packing things up, throwing things out, out-processing and generally trying to stay focused on the things I need to do (like not getting blown up). I have a lot of thoughts about my deployment, most of which I’ve already written about, but as my days here number in the single digits, I’ve oddly spent a large portion of this week looking back on my last year instead of looking forward to my trip home. (READ MORE)

In Iraq: Veterans prepare newcomers for life in Iraq - BALAD, Iraq — The duties carried out by the National Guard in Iraq might be less deadly these days, in part because of training by fellow Guardsmen who have done it all before. The 130 soldiers of Gulf 1/293rd of the 76th Indiana Brigade Combat Team, are taking over for the 1/143rd California Guard. But first the Californians spend about two weeks transitioning their Hoosier replacements on the mission — security for the recovery of broken or bombed vehicles in this farming heartland close to the Tigris. "I can’t say enough about these guys who are training us,” said 38-year-old Cpl. Ray Eber of Twelve Mile. “We’re very fortunate to be taking over for them.” (READ MORE)

The Satirist at War: An Incident in New York City - Before I enter into my post, I’d like to give a quick shout out to two veteran characters from this catalogue of immaturity and failure—two officers to whom failure and frustration are great, old friends—“Graham” and “Carson.” They were in Iraq on 15 month tours, and have since returned to Ft. Benning, for the Captain’s Career Course in the first case, and as a “M.I.” whacker in the second. This would be an ideal occasion to wax eloquent on any number of topics having to do with friendship, but the fact is, I mention them only because they threatened to stop reading my blog if I didn’t put more of them in it. Two readers is, I think, something like 75% of my total first-year readership (Carson claims to read each post twice, so he’s been counted twice—add Graham and me and you have the Four, which constitutes the 100%, taken together). (READ MORE)

Heading Out:
Big Tobacco: Walking the Firing Line - I did not smoke while composing this although I just had an El Ray Del Mundo. It's tough to explain exactly how I screwed up yesterday, but I will try. If I don't get fired over this, it will be a miracle. We went shooting on the pistol range. My scores are all screwed up for my people, and in the end, it really is my fault. I've been making an incredible amount of mistakes, and then making more mistakes to correct the mistakes I made before. Mistakes build on mistakes. Hilarity ensues. Am I doing a good job? I think I am doing a reasonable job. My soldiers are where they are supposed to be, I am supporting the mission with transportation and food, and there have been no accidents. (READ MORE)

Back Stateside but still writing:
Jason's Iraq Vacation: There's no place like . . .Kansas? - I am back in the US. Not quite home, but I am in the US and happier then I can describe. We arrived at Fort Riley early in the morning a couple days ago, and haven't even really slept since then. A combination of de-mobilization, equipment turn-in and jet-lag has prevented most of us from getting any sleep, but we really don't care. Tomorrow I will be back in Philly and while it it will be sad to say goodbye to everyone, the sense of relief I feel about being home is overshadowing everything. (READ MORE)

A Surgeon's Letters Home From Iraq: A Farewell to Two Heroes - I wish to offer my remembrance, thanks, and admiration for two fellow troops who are no longer with us. They gave all in their service of country and I feel that I am forever in their debt. Though I can never repay them, I can remember them and try to honor them for giving of their youth because they believed that our country was worth it. Sgt. Matt Maupin was taken prisoner by insurgents near Baghdad international airport in 2004. Although he was seen to be in the custody of insurgents on a video, his fate remained unknown. He was 20-years-old at the time. In 2005, during my deployment, I walked by his portrait every night when I went to the DFAC for dinner. I wondered where he was and I hoped that maybe he was getting a hot meal or some little comfort. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: Inside the Surge - Iraq, September 2007 - Here I’m posting the complete presentation that I put together that I use in giving live presentations. This film simply consists of the images I captured with my camera. Additional narration is for historical perspective based on my knowledge, experience and conversations with many, many servicepeople. Filmed on location in Iraq (Haswa, Dora (Baghdad), Mahmudiyah and Arab Jabour). This footage was shot for Getty Images and is currently being processed for their website. Part 1 is a partial repost of “The Concerned Citizens” segment. (READ MORE)

Desert Dude: I’M HOME!!!!!!!!!! - ok– so I made it back to Hawaii safe and sound and I have been partying like a ROCK STAR since I got back … I am either still drunk or way too hungover to function properly…but, it is now Sunday afternoon and I am taking it easy tonight as I have to go in to work tomorrow morning to begin my in-processing…should only be a couple days of breifings and paperwork and a couple of appointments…I am sitting in Hawaii on the nice side of the island and there are some friends sitting out on the lanai talking story–that’s Hawaiian for “sitting on the back porch bullshitting”… (READ MORE)

John: Travel’s end - This entry is actually a few days late, but in my own defense I’ve been pretty busy. We left Gardez on March 15th, then spent the better part of 10 days jumping around Afghanistan and the surrounding countries, trying to catch a ride back to the States. We finally landed in Baltimore on the 26th, and the team split to go their separate ways on the 27th. For me, that meant flying back to Omaha and Offutt AFB, the station I left 15 months ago. A lot changed back at Offutt. Only a few people were left in the office from when I was there, but they were happy to see me back. The entire command staff up at the wing had changed, and new buildings had sprung up all across the base. I only stayed at Offutt two nights, just long enough to in- and out-process. Normally people don’t do both at the same time, but I already have orders for San Antonio, and it’s time to start heading that way. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Five wanted individuals, six others detained in Coalition operations - BAGHDAD – Coalition forces detained eleven suspected terrorists using information from previous operations to target al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists in two of the country’s major cities Monday and today. Monday in Mosul, Coalition forces targeted a suspected terrorist allegedly involved in the al-Qaeda in Iraq – or AQI – propaganda network and smuggling operations. When the ground force arrived at the scene, the wanted individual turned himself in and was detained. (READ MORE)

MPs assess IP stations, checkpoints in Diyarah - BAGHDAD – Soldiers from the 230th Military Police Company conducted station assessment visits at two Iraqi Police stations and one Iraqi Highway Patrol checkpoint in Diyarah March 24 and 25. As part the assessment, a military police platoon conducted a joint patrol with Iraqi Police through a local market in Diyarah. The IPs and MPs demonstrated their ability to protect the community under the common rule of law. The joint patrol gave the MP Soldiers an opportunity to see the IPs interact with citizens. (READ MORE)

6-8 Cav. Regt. holds first Combined Medical Engagement in Busayefi - FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Working with Iraqi civilian and U.S. military medical personnel, Coalition forces in Busayefi hosted a Combined Medical Engagement March 29. “We just came into this area and we’re trying to build a relationship with the people,” said 2nd Lt. Josh Duke, medical platoon leader, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment. More than 260 Busayefi residents, including 115 children, were treated at the makeshift health clinic for aches, pains, rashes, nausea and other minor illnesses. (READ MORE)

IA, CF kill 3 AQI, destroy bunker near Baqouba - TIKRIT, Iraq – Multi-National Division – North Soldiers killed three enemy personnel after locating a weapon cache and an al-Qaeda in Iraq bunker in Bojima, near Baqouba, Iraq, March 30. During a joint clearing operation, Iraqi Army Soldiers began taking small arms fire. A Coalition air weapons team spotted the armed personnel fleeing from the contact location and engaged the individuals, killing three and wounding a fourth. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army leads push to restore security in Mahmudiyah - BAGHDAD – Iraqi Security Forces are taking the lead in securing the city of Mahmudiyah against criminals. Iraqi Army soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 25th Brigade, 6th IA Division are securing the city’s neighborhoods with support from Red Knight Rakkasans of 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). This effort, which began March 27, has already proven successful. (READ MORE)

MND-B Soldiers kill criminals, hand over suspects to Iraqi Army (Baghdad) - BAGHDAD – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers engaged a criminal rocket-propelled grenade team in the New Baghdad province of eastern Baghdad at approximately 4 p.m. March 31. Reports indicate one criminal was killed and three were detained. Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, engaged the criminals with small-arms fire. They detained three suspects at the scene and held them for Iraqi Army soldiers to take in to custody and question. The IA found seven assault rifles while questioning the suspected criminals. No IA or MND-B Soldiers were killed or injured during the incident. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army finds large munitions cache in truck (Hashmiyah) - FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Iraqi Army Soldiers found a large munitions cache inside a truck in Hashmiyah, Iraq, March 30. The cache contained 23 anti-tank mines, three crates of approximately 40 pounds of explosives, three crates of pellet-shaped explosives, 15 81 mm mortars, two 120 mm mortars, 1,500 DSHKA rounds, one can of 120 mm mortar fuses, 10 explosively formed projectile housings, 10 EFP discs ranging from 4 to 12 inches, one complete EFP - 6 inches in diameter, and three grain bags full of EFP rings, tubes and back covers. (READ MORE)

Sight to the Blind: Soldiers Hope to Help Iraqi Girl See a Brighter Future - FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — Her hands run across his hand, her fingers explore his features. She asks her father: Is he fat or skinny? Tall or short? She is trying to learn about the man she cannot see, the one who strives to end the mystery surrounding him and the world around her. First Lt. Michael Kendrick, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said it is his goal to replace the mental picture young Noor Taha Najee has of her father with the actual image. (READ MORE)

TF Gladius transfers authority to TF Gladiator - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Task Force Gladius transferred authority of full-spectrum combat operations in Parwan and Kapisa Provinces, the mentoring of provincial and district government officials, and the overall security of BAF, to Task Force Gladiator at a ceremony March 29. Army Lt. Col. David L. Dellinger assumed authority of the new Task Force, which has been named “Gladiator.” Command Sgt. Maj. Brenda J. Kadet assumed responsibility as the senior noncommissioned officer for the task force. (READ MORE)

GIRoA, CF build clinic, district center, refurbish school in Kandahar - KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Government officials of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan held opening ceremonies for a new medical clinic, district center and refurbished school in Khakrez, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, March 26. Coalition forces, who facilitated the development of these projects, were also in attendance. The Khakrez District Chief Haji Wahab and Dr. Zamai, district health officer, presided over both ceremonies. The district chief and local government officials performed the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new medical clinic, which will provide services to approximately 23,000 people. (READ MORE)

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