February 3, 2009

From the Front: 02/03/2009

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

In their own words:
SGM Troy Falardeau - Blogs Over Baghdad: Warmer days are not far away - It might surprise you, like it surprised me, that it really can get cold in Iraq. You always hear about the incredible heat — sometimes more than 130 degrees in the summer. The afternoon we arrived at the Baghdad International Airport, it was about 65 degrees. By the time our Rhino (for lack of a better description, this is an up-armored bus) arrived, it was down into the 30s…and by morning, it was in the 20s. I grew up in northern Minnesota, so the cold was not so bad for me, but for most of the soldiers from Alabama, that is darn cold! But, those days of cold weather are already starting to fade. A couple days ago, it got up to near 80 degrees. According to the local residents (and soldiers and contractors who have lived here at least a full year), the really hot days are not that far away. By March, the temps will be into the 90s, and in the middle of the summer, the lows will be in the 90s at time. Yep, Baghdad is one of the hottest places on Earth! (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: Best of Friends - The two car convoy came to a stop at the departure section of the Seattle International Airport. With the engine running, I climbed out of the car and waited on the sidewalk as Steve grabbed his bags from the trunk of Chris' car. The loudspeakers reminded us to make it quick - "This area for loading or unloading only" played on a constant loop as security guards leered in our direction. After seeing Steve nearly every single day for three years, I was there to see him off on his one way trip back home to Chicago. The brisk December wind whisked around us as we cracked our final jokes together. Being tough infantry types, I thought a couple of handshakes and a "Later, dude" would be enough before we parted ways. Instead, Chris and Steve came together for an emotional embrace. Then it was my turn to hug my best friend for the first and only time. "Take it easy, man." My voice cracked as the words came out. He turned and walked through the automatic door, leaving Chris and me on the sidewalk. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: The Island of Kabul - For years I have kept faith that the experiment in democracy here in Afghanistan would lead to better lives for millions of Afghans. While this is true in many ways, there is a lot of concern in the capital that this experiment is moving rapidly toward failure. As I sit here and brainstorm what is happening around, I find myself shaking my head in confusion because the elements that compromise this problem are so numerous that even optimistic people, like myself, are starting to doubt in a major way. My former colleague, Nadir, has lived in Afghanistan his entire life. Together, him and I have travelled the Kabul-Kandahar road several times back in 2004, and while we had reservations then, those days are long gone. “Oh no, David… it is far too dangerous. You can’t even drive to Ghazni anymore.” (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: Good To The Last Drop - There are moments, sounds, smells, tastes and touches in a Soldiers life that linger. For example, ask any Soldier if they can imagine the smell of a green canvas tent or the smoke created by small arms fire; diesel generators or CLP oil while cleaning a weapon. Ask them if they can remember the taste, feel and smell of riot gas from when they were in basic training. Ask them if they can feel the recoil of an M16 or the feeling of firepower behind a 50 cal. machine gun and the sound of the metal retaining clips falling all around you while you fire 550 rounds per minute nearly 1900 meters in front of you. Ask them if they can tell you what Chili Mac is or SOS or grits or heater meals or what some call "the distinctive taste of Army coffee". Have them explain that first day in basic training or the meaning of the phrase "hurry up and wait", or what it means to stand at attention and hear the national anthem while the stars and stripes are ceremoniously hoisted up the flag staff. (READ MORE)

SFC Benari Poulten - Blogs Over Baghdad: Groundhog Day - There’s a running joke in the Army, that every day is like the movie Groundhog Day. We just keep re-living the same day again…and again…and again…except when we don’t. Today, on the actual Groundhog Day, I realized how different our days have been so far. From our sleepless arrival and the unending BaggageFest ‘09, to our transition into our CPIC jobs, to our move from the transient tents to trailers, every day has been a little bit different. And a little bit historic, even. When we landed, the first thing I noticed were the trees. I don’t know why that surprised me, but flying from the barren desert of Kuwait to the Fertile Crescent really drove home the fact that we were some place extraordinary. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Back To Ft Campbell - In a few days I will be making yet another trip to Ft. Campbell. The official reason is to be present for a memorial dedication. The Army honors their own in many ways. I remember touring the existing Memorials when we were there in may of 2008. I found great comfort in knowing that those who have fallen are remembered and honored. I found bittersweet comfort in knowing that my son's name would someday join the names of so many honorable men and women. The unofficial reason for my visit is much more joyous. I get to go hang out with my soldier son's. The text and phone calls increase daily as they call and check to make sure Momma Ang is really coming. It does my heart good to know they are as excited for me to come as I am about going. So far the best stories are about how the NCOs and officers announcing I will be there and a chorus of "Yes we know" goes up and it causes confusion. (READ MORE)

FC Burke - My Point of View: From a Party to a Jet Plane - After over four months of pre-mobilization training, we are set to board the jet that will carry us to a faraway land. My phone is on 'suspension', my extra stuff has been mailed home, and all the last-minute items have been purchased. Yesterday the field house here (the gym) held a Super Bowl party for mobilizing and demobilizing Soldiers. We went and had a pretty good time. As you can see by the photos, there were some very good sponsors. We had everything from the Olive Garden to On the Border and Starbucks to Hooters. So I heaped Italian food on my plate, grabbed some wings from the Hooters table, and snatched some donuts from Dunkin Donuts for dessert. After downing all that, the game came on and I settled in with some iced coffee from Starbucks. Lieutenant Douglas and I are the die-hard Starbucks members of the unit. We freaked when we found out they were here. After the game (the end was great!), we prepared for a day of packing. Most of us have two duffle bags, a large rucksack, and a personal bag/computer bag/footlocker. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 02FEB09--A Super Farewell - Today, my team not only celebrated the Super Bowl by grilling out at midnight, we also wished farewell to one of our interpreters. Evan (aka 'Eazy T') will depart Iraq in order to make the trek to the States in a few weeks. He will set up residence while he waits to be issued his green card, upon the receipt of which he will enlist in the U.S. Army. You might wonder if the Iraqi Army officers felt less than complimented by his departed Iraq to join the U.S. Army. The answer is a definite 'yes.' I was present for more than one uneasy conversation on this topic. In reality though, this opportunity is awesome for Evan. And, to be honest, the United States is getting the good end of this deal. A solid guy. I hope that he finds time to visit me at my home in Virginia. (READ MORE)

Pink's War: Going To The Chapel and We're Gonna Get Married... - You can pick your jaw up off the floor. I am not getting married. But the title caught your attention didn't it? hehe I have gotten quite a few marriage proposals since coming to Iraq. Here's two of the most memorable ones that I have had. I was in the barber shop, letting the guy cut my hair, shape my eyebrows, and give me a facial. He asked if I had a boyfriend or husband, to which I said no (at that time I didn't yet know W and I were dating). He then asked to marry me. I said, "Ummm, no." I know my gramma wanted me to bring back a souvenir from Iraq, but I don't think this is the kind of souvenir she was talking about. He then tried to talk me into it by saying, "We could own barber shop, I be barber, you be cashier!" Yeah, my answer is still no, sorry dude. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: Gunny Tritt - Gunny Tritt was definitely Old Corps. He came to my National Guard unit after sixteen years in the Marine Corps in one of the oddest fish-out-of-water stories ever told. Gunny Tritt wore Marine Corps Globe & Anchor BDUs with U.S. Army Name Tape. Our hands became “dick-beaters.” My commander was now “The Skipper.” My first encounter with his leadership style was as a young specialist after I almost killed fourteen men in a vehicle accident. What makes me mention Gunny Tritt now? Devil Dog Brew, a coffee company run by a retired Marine, offered to send me some coffee and help sell my t-shirt. I told them that I had plenty of coffee and instead to send it Vampire 6 in Afghanistan. They told me that this was not optional, they will send coffee to Vampire 6, and they sending me some anyway whether I liked it or not. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Reenlistment - When I enlisted in the army again in 2007 it was for one year at a time. They couldn’t give me a contract for the job I wanted, so the enlistment NCO got me into my unit as a supply clerk. This ended up being a pain in the butt because I couldn’t go to school unless I had a year left in the army. After I finally got to school and I got into a unit and I then got to Iraq, I could properly reenlist with a bonus and everything. I’m now committed to the Army Reserves until 2012. Now committed just means the one weekend a month two weeks a year thing. It does extend the possibility of being deployed one last time, but I like my chances right now. Lockheed is a good company and I want to have a good career there. I now get my bonus tax-free and a little student loan payment help. It’s not all in one lump-sum, but that’s OK. My new favorite Lieutenant, Jeffrey(spelled the unamerican way) Gruidl, performed the swearing-in ceremony in between his escorting media duties. (READ MORE)

Whatever It Takes: A new baby - SPC West and his wife Christina were blessed with healthy 11 lb, baby girl, Alexandra. Thankfully we were able to get him out on emergency leave so he was there for the birth. (READ MORE)

Mrs Lieutenant: Specialist Gerardo Llamas Makes First Delivery to Orphanage in Afghanistan - Here are some pictures of my first delivery to a local orphanage. It was a great experience. I can't believe how happy these kids were. The smiles on their faces said a lot, and I, of course, was touched by this. When we got there we were received by the people that run the orphanage. They told us the kids were all outside waiting for us and that they were really excited. They helped us unload the boxes from the vehicles and took them inside the orphanage. As I was walking in I realized how much these people needed. As you can see in the pictures even the walls are falling apart. When I got in I saw all the kids lined up; girls on one side, boys on the other. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban sever NATO supply line through Pakistan's northwest - NATO's main supply route through the Khyber Pass in the northwest has been severed after the Taliban destroyed a vital bridge. NATO confirmed the route has been closed but said its forces were not in danger of running out of supplies. The Taliban detonated explosives on the bridge which is located in the Jamrud region in the Khyber tribal agency. The bombing has made the bridge impassable to vehicles and pedestrians, Geo News reported. The route may not be closed for long, according to officials from Pakistan's National Highway Authority who told Geo News that an an alternate route will be completed by Feb. 4. Repairs on the bridge will begin shortly but there is no estimate on when it will be completed. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqi Counterinsurgency School hosts Civil-Military Operations Course - TAJI, Iraq – Iraqi Army Col. Ahmed Jassim Saleem, Commandant, Iraqi Counterinsurgency School at Camp Taji, Iraq recently announced the successful completion of the latest Iraqi Civil Military Operations Course. The course was held at the ICS headquarters at Phoenix Academy, an installation within the greater Camp Taji Iraqi Army Training Base. The course took place Jan. 18-22, and is the fifth such course to be conducted. (READ MORE)

USMC teaches martial arts to Iraqi Marines - UMM QASR, Iraq – Hand-to-hand combat training is now a reality for Iraqi Marines training here as they continue to become well-rounded in all aspects of combat. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program developed here teaches the Iraqi Marines various armed and unarmed martial arts techniques, both lethal and non-lethal. (READ MORE)

MND-B hand Joint Security Station to Iraqi Ministry of Trade - BAGHDAD – As per the recently signed security agreement, Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers handed over responsibility for a Joint Security Station to the Government of Iraq in hopes it will once again serve its intended purpose: shopping. The 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, MND-B transferred JSS Adl, which was once a four-story shopping center, to the Iraqi Ministry of Trade in the Mansour district of northwest Baghdad Feb 2. (READ MORE)

MoD hosts first Iraqi Senior Leader’s seminar for Intelligence - BAGHDAD - The Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Director General for Intelligence and Security hosted a Senior Leader’s Seminar for ranking military intelligence officers and senior ministerial staff at the Ministerial Training and Development Center here from Jan. 25 – 27. The seminar, the first of its kind, was designed to teach senior Iraqi officials the importance and implications of understanding and applying intelligence in the national strategic decision-making process. (READ MORE)

Basic Trainees moving out of tents and into barracks - TAJI, Iraq – Iraqi Army basic trainees at the Taji Regional Training Center will be moving into barracks for the first time this spring. After living in tents, the quality-of-life for new recruits will drastically improve. The Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq is constructing not only new barracks, but also new dining, administration, latrine and laundry facilities to support as many as 2,300 trainees. (READ MORE)

Historic Iraqi Elections End Peacefully - CAMP TAJI — Hundreds of Iraqi citizens pass through razor wire checkpoints manned by Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police on their way to prove their support for a democratic society. "This is a day for democracy,” said a Taji resident, after he left the voting site. Residents of the Taji and Tarmiyah Qadas, northwest of Baghdad, went to one of approximately 65 sites to cast their vote for their future provincial leaders, Jan. 31. (READ MORE)

U.S. Marines Help Build Water Canal - RAWAH — Sagrah is a small, impoverished oasis in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The landscape is flat, cold and dry, and the small town has one hospital, but no emergency room. Friendly waves greet the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces as they patrol the neighborhoods where old men sit on plastic lawn chairs outside small stores smoking Jordanian cigarettes and returning complimentary gestures of “Salaam” (meaning peace, hello, and goodbye) to the patrollers. (READ MORE)

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