February 11, 2009

From the Front: 02/11/2009

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

A Battlefield Tourist: Early Bird Gets the Worm - Feb 9, 2009 - After getting a few hours to adjust the day before, I was awaken at 0330 for an operation that was the culmination of nearly two months of intelligence gathering regarding a particular village, the Marines believed, housed an IED cell. Time and time again the target of this operation’s name has surfaced and now was the time to act. After all, the Marines here have faced more than 40 IED attacks since arriving in November, which have killed and injured a handful of the young Americans. Cordon and Search - The operation kicked off even before I was out of bed with various elements establishing a cordon around the target village and two other nearby compounds. The goal for this is to use the night as cover and to prevent anyone from coming or going as the remainder of the force moved into position. (READ MORE)

Army Poet: Children...(Ex Post Facto...from Iraq) - Iraq has a very young population with lots of children. Here is a waif in a Northern village... Many children may have developmental, emotional or physical afflictions. In the same Iraqi town there was a school, and we were waiting in the large courtyard. An old man served us tea off an ancient brass tray. He had a haggard and lined face, and was clad in the typical long Arab-fashioned dress. With him was a child, dressed in similar clothes, but he the child was burned... What I mean to say is, that he had old healed burn scars on his trunk and arms. I saw them under at the edge of his clothing. I saw the wrinkled flesh, like scorched cheese, under the lines of his smock as he turned and helped the old man. Perhaps it was his grandfather. ...There are also old burns on the child’s face. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): "That's What a Soldier Looks Like" - Today I had the biggest anxiety attack since this whole deployment started. It was first of two days of live fire with the M-16. Although I spent 11 years in the military back in the 70s and 80s, I have not fired an M-16 on a qualification range since Air Force basic training in February in 1972. Worse, in AF basic we did not go through the whole qualification process: zeroing the weapons, pop-up targets, night fire, firing in gas masks. In the Air Force, they handed us a weapon, we shot at some targets, they took the weapons and that was the one and only day in my Air Force career I handled a personal weapon. When I joined the Army, I went straight to tank training. For the next eight years my personal weapon was a 45 cal. pistol. So this morning we boarded a bus to go to the range wearing our new bulletproof vests and helmets. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: [Hack] - The dust has returned. It was hazy this morning, outright dusty by afternoon, and it's now best described as thick. We don't tend to run non-essential missions when the visibility is limited, so if doesn't lift, my entertainment for tomorrow is in jeopardy. That's no good, because I'm on a roll this week - two for two at getting lunch provided by someone other than the US Army. That's the thrown-together version of lunch we stumbled upon Monday, out looking at canals and counting sheep. You'll see chicken (cooked on one of those big rotating sticks that I can't spell), rice, tomato-based soup of some sort, and that wonderful bread that might well be the only thing Iraq really has going for it. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: When The Water Reviles The Fish - Galula and Trinquier, two of the French authors of counterinsurgency texts back in the 1960's, tried to describe how the insurgent hides among the people, they described the people as the water in which the insurgent... the fish... swims. They described the problems of separating the fish from the water. Trinquier had a more active solution. He's the guy who advocated "strategic hamlets." He coined the phrase, actually. That phrase became famous during Viet Nam, when the US created strategic hamlets in some areas of Viet Nam to protect the villagers from the predations of the Viet Cong. It was actually somewhat successful where it was used, but our understanding of counterinsurgency was incomplete and we substituted counter-guerrilla for counterinsurgent a lot, reaping commensurate results. We do a lot of that now, and it's part of the reason that Afghanistan is in such shape. That's a long story, but history will prove this assertion correct. (READ MORE)

Bullet Wisdom: Mending Fences - The Army is not all Kevlar and testosterone. Over the years I have come to the realization that people, not tanks and helicopters, make the Army go. Of course, it's the same as in the civilian world. You have to work with people in order to accomplish your objectives. Over the last week, we had two objectives. First, we had to get out into our battle space and find where we fit in the grand scheme of things. Just tackling the weekly rhythm alone was a daunting task. There were meetings scattered all over the calendar and the map. We quickly realized was that with a small, geographically isolated team you could not get everywhere for every meeting. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau - Blogs Over Baghdad: Sneeze alert! - I’ve heard that some people can tell when it is going to rain when their joints begin to hurt, and sometimes dogs start to pace when there is going to be an earthquake. Well, I don’t have either of those odd abilities, but I do have one other — I can tell when a dust storm is on the way in Iraq. Whenever there is dust in the air, I begin to sneeze…..and the more dust there is, the more I sneeze. Just in case you were watching the weather forecast for Baghdad today, you would have noticed a big sneeze attack approaching from the west. Yes, we officially had a dust storm (or maybe it was a sand storm). On a regular day here at the Combined Press Information Center I sneeze three times in a row — translation: normal dust amounts. The commander waits for the third, and when I stop he knows all is well. When the wind has picked up over the past month and the dust began to swirl, I usually delivered 4-5 sneezes in a row. (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: Boots On The Ground - Boots On Ground is a term often used in the army vernacular. Essentially, it refers to a Soldier actually standing on the soil or location of a military operation. The 211th MPAD is now in a state of having Boots On Ground. We are here, in Iraq, a war zone. For some of us the experience is not new, we've passed this way before, for others it is a first. Either way it's always a memorable experience, and until you have been through it, explaining the feeling is difficult. To start, i've noticed over the years that, other than a few stress relieving humorous comments, Soldiers rarely talk on that last leg of the journey, that flight into a war zone. To begin, the noise level in the plane is too loud for a lot of conversation, but even if that weren't the case, I think the silence would be the same. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Observations on Kabul and the private security market - Private security contractors have been in news lately mostly due to the ongoing Blackwater saga from Iraq. Afghanistan has had its share of security contractor issues too but the market has never been as big or as wild as the Iraq PSC market. I cannot comment on Blackwater’s operations in Iraq but do know a few of their contractors working Afghanistan. They seem to be above average in the quality department and better yet (the ones I know) are on interesting contracts. The Blackwater country director is a former FBI agent who has been in Afghanistan a couple of years longer than I have. He is unquestionably one of the most knowledgeable Americans on Afghanistan and one of our Ivy League betters from the current administration should spend time talking with him. The problem contractors in this country come in two flavors, local companies that are unable to perform and companies spawned directly out of the Department of State. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Displaced Iraqis Returning Home - There's some more good news out of Iraq. Around 150 displaced Christian families have returned to their houses [Arabic] in Mosul since the beginning of February, the deputy chief of al-Hamadaniya police said. There are 10,000 displaced families in al-Hamadaniya district, according to the displaced and immigration office. That means this number is rather small, but it still signals a start. “150 displaced Christian families have returned to their house in Mosul since the beginning of February 2009, after filling out the return applications,” Brigadier Fares Ablahad told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: You don’t say no to an adventure - After reading Steve’s wonderful post, I thought I should pipe in too and answer the question I’ve heard so often in the past two weeks: What on earth possessed me to travel to Afghanistan? The answer is in the form of a story. Amy contacted me late one night in December and asked me if I was busy in January. I said no. Experience has taught me that this kind of question from Amy is always followed up by an interesting proposition. She asked me if I would be willing to come to Afghanistan and help her out on this little project she was working on. A good friend of mine recently described my intense longing to repeatedly outdo myself as not-so-slightly manic, so of course I immediately said yes. You don’t say no to an adventure. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban assault ministries in Kabul - The Taliban launched a coordinated assault on two Afghan ministries and a prison headquarters in the capital of Kabul, resulting in 19 people killed and more than 50 wounded. The attack took place one week after Afghan security forces broke up a large terrorist network in the city. The assault consisted of three teams of suicide bombers and gunmen who fanned out in the early morning to attack the Justice and Education ministries in the heart of the city, as well as at an office of the Prisons Department on the edge of the city. The opening salvo took place at the Justice Ministry, where the heaviest fighting occurred. A suicide bomber detonated at the main gate, allowing three other attackers armed with AK-47s and hand grenades to enter the compound and the ministry building. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: A Dispatch from the Border with Gaza - Not since the Second Intifada, when more than a thousand Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers, have Israeli civilians suffered in a way that makes for compelling news copy or TV reports. The southern Israeli city of Sderot sits right next to the border with Gaza, and it is the target of choice for Hamas and Islamic Jihad's Qassam rocket barrages. The first time I visited the city under fire was immediately after the Second Lebanon War in August of 2006. Israeli civilians were still on their way back to Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, and other urban areas that had been emptied of people when Hezbollah turned the northern sixth of the country into a free fire zone. Lebanese villages were still smoldering, and their dead were still being cleared from underneath rubble. Sderot, by contrast, seemed downright sedate even though rockets packed tight with metal fragments and ball bearings still fell from the sky every day. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: That Duffel Bag Drag - ...everyone in the Army knows what I'm talking about. It begins inocuously enough...just put your bags in the truck, load your equipment and head to the terminal for that flight overseas. Then you have to load the plane. And then unload the plane. Then load the bus then unload the bus. Then load the truck and then unload the truck. Then load the truck then unload the truck onto the pallet. Then load the pallet on the plane. Then unload the pallet off of the plane onto the bus. Then load the truck then unload the truck at your new office. Overall, not a bad deal if you're just dealing with 3 - 4 bags per Soldier. But we moved with all of our mission essential equipment (and some not so mission essential)...about 4,000 pounds of gear. But here is the end result: we are moving into our building at Camp Liberty in Iraq! It's finally happening. (READ MORE)

SSG Burrell - My Point of View: What's our secret? - It's been a rough ride getting into Baghdad and moving all of our hundreds of boxes and bags. Coming from Dix to Germany to Kuwait to Iraq has really taken a toll on all the Soldiers. Luckily, we have been growing moustaches. These aren't normal Tom Selleck or Ron Jeremy 'staches. These are power wisps o' hair. Like Samson, we derive our incredible power and tireless energies from these incredibly sexy caterpillars inching along the top of our lips. We could never have been able to move these hundreds of boxes more than a half-dozen times if it weren't for the hairy prowess of our newfound friends. Yes, all the 211th MPAD males have succumb to the mystical calling of this seductive generator of power and suaveness. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Welcomed By a Dust Storm... - We're finally here in Baghdad, and we were welcomed by a dust storm. When we flew in, which was via a C-17 (yay, seats!), the weather was nice. Calls were made and people started freaking out because we were in country so quickly. I've deployed once before and have had to ferret media around in aircraft and I've never been so 'lucky' in getting mil air transport so quickly. We off-loaded and loaded all our crap again and arrived at our tent. We made it to the main chow hall before it closed and were off to sign in. The guys at the S-6 were also surprised at how quickly we got here. So, we got back to the big ole tent, got settled in somewhat and crashed. Ahhh sleep...I woke to what I thought was rain. It wasn't. The tent was being rocked back and forth and I knew that we were in for a day of gusty winds and blowing sand/dust. It remained like that until late afternoon. Gotta love the Middle East. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: A Signing Ceremony - Today was the culmination of the working group that I was involved with over the weekend. There was a ceremony in which the US transferred ownership of the Basrah Children's Hospital to Iraq's Ministry of Health. The Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, and the Iraqi Minister of Health, Dr. Salih, were the two officials signing. It went off very well, much to my relief, since I did much of the coordination for it. The event was held in a small courtyard at the Al Rasheed Hotel. We had Iraqi and international press front and center, with a lot of people who've been involved with the hospital in one way or another observing. Here's Ambassador Crocker giving some very well-spoken remarks just after the signing. Dr. Salih is pretty pleased, having just been given ownership of a very expensive, as yet unfinished, hospital. (READ MORE)

Dispatches from FOBistan: The Kyrgyz Magiciennes of Bagram - BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN — It is perhaps no surprise that I can be a rather stressful person. I thrive in stressful situations, and when a vacation or pause in work lasts for too long, I tend to go batty (and panic about becoming mentally soft). I function best with tight deadlines, rarely sleep more than 5 or 6 hours at a time, and collect every ounce of pressure right between my shoulder blades. Which was why, when I ran across this article in the Washington Post, I thought, “why not see if it’s as awesome as it sounds?” First, a few caveats: most importantly, while I was stuck at Ali Al Saleem Air Base in Kuwait, I was so frustrated with trying to get into Bagram that I tried putting my name on a flight to Kandahar instead. When I called one of my friends there and told him I’d be popping into KAF for a while, he told me that, “when you get up to Bagram, be careful of all those cute Kyrgyz girls. They are dangerous.” (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Rain - It rained today, but I missed it. It happened sometime between dinner and when I left the office. There’s a nice smell of wet dirt in the air, and it’s a little refreshing. The pilgrims are in the midst of making their march to Karbala. It’s a journey they make to a holy shrine in memory of one of Mohammed’s grandsons. They’re everywhere, walking from all over. The women I’ve seen are dressed in black from head to toe and the men are in normal clothes, some in their man dresses. It’s pretty cool that they’re that dedicated to get out and march miles and miles for tradition. My mission with the Iraqi Army is cancelled once again. I’m stuck inside the wire for another day… the saga continues. (READ MORE)

Two Brothers, Two Countries, One Army: ALMOST HOME!!! - Jeremy is almost home. I should have done this last night when we got the word, but he will be in Tennessee on Wednesday at about 3pm. That is when his flight is due in Knoxville. I encourage all that can to come to the airport and welcome him home. I am so excited and proud of my brother that there are not words to describe it. I did not get the big homecoming due to my health issues, but I am making up for it by welcoming my brother home. I encourage everyone to email him, call him or post a message on here for him when he gets home. The time has arrived when the blog will not be based on two brothers overseas, but now our daily lives and more opinions on the world events now that we are in touch with them. I promise that I will do my best to post at least once a week even if it is to say hi to everyone. I hope that you do not stop reading our blog now that we are home. I am sure there will interesting things to read and hear about, like the homecoming for Jeremy. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: Tibor Ruben - I wrote this while smoking a La Gloria Cubana Series R. Author's note: This sounds way better if you read Rubin's sentences in a Slavic accent. “I'd like to go on the missions with The Other Company, sir.” I ask my lieutenant. My lieutenant stands in the doorway. “I think we can make that happen now that we're getting some people back from leave. We want to rotate all of the eleven bravos through so you everybody gets to go outside the wire at least once. You'll get out of here like the rest once we get our manning back up.” “Thank you, sir.” People have wondered about my chain of command. I assure you that there is nothing wrong with my chain of command. Everybody knows that our company was tasked with the most mundane job in the battalion. We saluted, said roger, and rose to the occasion. But that doesn't mean we all aren't itching to get outside, my lieutenant included. (READ MORE)

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