March 3, 2009

From the Front: 03/03/2009

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

A Battlefield Tourist: Op Ed: A Surge or Not a Surge? - Ok… I can’t take it anymore. Surge this, surge that. Whatever. Ever since the surge of 2007, as the Battle of Baghdad was raging, the media has had a penchant for this word and it is making me dizzy. Let us get this straight because history needs to know what is, and what isn’t, a military surge. God knows, the media is back with this darling of a word and I’m going to get them to make this right. surge sərjnoun - a sudden powerful forward or upward movement, esp. by a crowd or by a natural force such as the waves or tide : flooding caused by tidal surges.• a sudden large increase, typically a brief one that happens during an otherwise stable or quiescent period. Simple as that: ”A sudden large increase, typically a brief one that happens during an otherwise stable or quiescent period.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: VAMPIRE ETT Wants YOU! - Now’s your chance to get your own little piece of FOB Bermel and help out a great organization, no not the ETT somebody else! Read on and you shall see. Upon my return to the FOB, thus concluding my journey across the Styx; I was greeted by a large brown box containing our unit t-shirts. We’d ordered these to replace the ghetto unit t-shirts created by infringing upon the Bacardi trademark and a can of black spray paint. Classy is an understatement. Bacardi you can sue me if you want but you're going to have to get someone to come over here and serve me. So good luck with that. Well, the new shirts are HOT and going like gangbusters here! Not approved by DOD, DA but feared by the ACM. The design was originally created by SFC Mike “SWEATY” Kennedy, an NCO from the Nevada National Guard. A great tattoo artist if you ever need a tattoo and are in Reno, NV. (READ MORE)

Armed and Curious: The beginning of the end - The president announced his plan to withdraw the majority of our forces from Iraq by August 2010 Friday at Camp Lejeune. There will be a residual force of some kind providing training and support to the Iraqis as well as other unspecified missions but for the most part our ability to mount major combat operations will be completed in a year and a half. I would love to say that there was some sort of emotional reaction to this. I didn't even find anyone at work talking about it for the most part. Its not a surprise really because most of us who have been there have already figured out this thing is about done. I am sure politicians on both sides will claim some kind of victory. The anti-war types will triumph how they finally ended "Bush's war". The supporters of our efforts will crow how the surge and renewed counter-insurgency strategy made it possible for this president to pull us out in victory. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Conversations from my CHU - Dude, I said to my sergeant as we were cleaning off the table for another cookout. What are you using to wipe that? Uhh...these wipes, he said, gesturing at a plastic package. Why? Man, I yelped. Don't use those! Use the Clorox wipes! Those are butt-wipes! I can't use Clorox wipes on my butt if you waste all the butt-wipes on the table! The sergeant blinked, then reached for the Clorox wipes. You have really, he said, got to start stealing toilet paper again. If you're out there, whoever keeps stealing the toilet paper from the porta-jon, I hate you. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Welcome Back To The Suck, My Friend - Months ago, I read my first post by Vampire 6. I commented, and he emailed me back to tell me that he had read my posts while preparing to deploy. As Bouhammer pointed out, we are links in a chain. Vampire 6 is the current baton-carrier for the embedded trainer types in Afghanistan. He's done some fantastic posts, sharing the experience and the frustrations wonderfully. His "Illum, Illum, Where Art Thou?" should be required reading for battalion commanders deploying to Afghanistan. I've had the privilege to get to know Vampire 6 over the past months not only through his posts but also through emails and a brief phone conversation that he squeezed into his leave. Vampire 6 is now back in The Suck and posting again. I told him that when he got back it would feel different, and he told me via email from FOB Bermel that he feels it, but can't put his finger on it. It took me back to my own return, fresh from the normalcy of home, family and the mall. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Northern Exposure Part Two - Over the last couple of weeks I have been conducting a Regional Security Assessment throughout the Northern Region. I approached this task with minimal planning as far as geographical objectives were concerned. Since it was conducted by myself and my driver only, I didn’t feel the need to generate a formal and extensive plan. A vehicle, map, GPS, med kit, water, MRE’s, overnight bag, and personal protection equipment was satisfactory enough for me to hit the road. Our journey began with the objective to reach Sherberghan City in Jowzjan Province approximately 140km west from Mazar-e-Sharif . One of my aims was to try and organize a meeting with Gen. Dostum, however that plan didn’t work out since he happened to be on an overseas visit at that point in time. So, from Sheberghan we moved further west toward Andkhoy, Faryab Province which is approximately 75km from Sheberghan. In Andkhoy, I decided to visit Aqena, the border crossing between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Is Obama Stumbling? - As Iraqis enjoy a slow return to normality, they remain wary of others in the region who are busy making their plans for a post-withdrawal Iraq. I'm not sure the White House is thinking about the same. This story talks about the rise of shisha cafes in Baghdad. "Although hookah cafes have enjoyed a fad in Western cities from Los Angeles to Berlin in the last few years, and smoking establishments are common throughout the Middle East, Iraqis have only recently embraced them." The reason, according to the LAT: "Under dictator Saddam Hussein, the smoke-filled shisha clubs were seen as a breeding ground for conspiracy and dissent. The few restaurants and hotels allowed to open the cafes required numerous government permits and attracted a corps of eavesdropping intelligence agents." (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Teacher, Student Reunite in Warzone - I had a reality check of sorts the day before yesterday. A former student of mine, Pfc. Johnny Cunningham, a combat engineer with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division has kept in touch with me through the years after his graduation from North Shore like many others have. He joined the Army after high school. Back when he was in 7th and 8th grade, he joined a new program that I started at North Shore Middle called LOTC (Leadership Officers Training Corps). It was like JROTC for middle school. I taught it using Army basics with lessons in D&C for parades/formations, the Army values to build character, learning what leadership and the styles people use when they apply it, how to be a good follower, land navigation and orienteering, platoon team-building activities, armed drill team, unarmed drill team, color guard, and cool field trips to round it out. On the left is my group marching during a pass and review back in 2003. All of those kids are in college now. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: The Trek - You sit sideways on a C-130, on red nylon fabric stretched like a cot, and lean against red nylon webbing. If you're on the outside rows, your back is to the inside of the airframe. If you're in one of the two inside rows, your back is probably against somebody else's. You're crammed in about as tightly as the cargomasters can cram, knee-to-knee with the poor slob in the next row. Your carry-on items aren't under the seat in front of you nor in the overhead bin, since neither exists. Rather, it's in your lap. Earplugs are stuffed in your ears because the plane is loud. And to top it all off, when you're flying in and out of Iraq, you wear 35 pounds of kevlar body armor and helmet. It's like strapping big frying pans to your front and back and wearing a football helmet made out of concrete. But C-130's are reliable. Baghdad was covered with a thick, dusty haze that seemed to grow thicker by the hour. I was concerned that the flight would be cancelled, particularly when the guy in the terminal said "well, planes are landing ..." but I didn't see any leaving. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Coalition Forces continue to decrease footprint throughout eastern Anbar - RAMADI, Iraq – The number of coalition installations is dropping steadily throughout the eastern part of Iraq’s Anbar province as Coalition Forces continue to hand over authority of combat outposts to Iraqi Security Forces. As part of this ongoing process, Marines with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, said farewell to their former home at Combat Outpost Karama, a few miles east of Ramadi, after demilitarizing the post Feb. 22. The improved capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar have made it increasingly unnecessary for Coalition Forces to maintain a heavy footprint across the province. Since RCT-6’s return to Iraq in January, they have demilitarized five locations and turned over 17 entry control points, forward operating bases, and combat outposts to Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: I Hate My Job - Seriously, I do. I have ample time to go to the gym, read, shoot the shit with fellow staff officers-one of whom I like, the rest of whom I can hardly tolerate-but my actual job is pretty ridiculous most of the time. A few days ago I was sitting in front of my computer at my paper strewn desk talking to a couple of my Soldiers and another officer about their plans to leave the Army. Without a hint of irony I emphatically stated my refusal to ever have a job that requires me to sit at a desk and do paperwork. Which brings me back to the title of this post. I spent the majority of the day today coordinating for chemical latrines (the previously mentioned port-o-pottys, to you silly civilians) and signs to put on our trucks announcing that our convoys are provincial approved, and that Iraqis are free to pass if its safe to do so (Note to Iraqis: “safe to do so” does not mean high speeds on the opposite side of the median into oncoming traffic). No day is complete, however, unless civilian contractors make it more difficult. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Stripes - We went before the promotion board in December. It’s now March and we have yet to hear anything. Apparently our orders are sitting on someone’s desk, begging to be set free. I’m told our Commander’s boss is working the issue, as well as his First Sergeant. It’s a little ridiculous to have to wait this long without any kind of explanation or at least a memo letting us know the results of the board. GI Joe said on active duty, you had to get promoted or counseled on why you didn’t get the promotion within a month of the board… here we sit, no news, almost three months later. If it was only my orders that were held up, I wouldn’t have such a problem. But, I really want Stone to get promoted. He’s awesome and deserves to be a Sergeant. Plus, he has to watch other people get promoted ahead of him who aren’t near his caliber. I really hope these orders come through soon. I want to see Stone get his stripes. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Promotions - The good thing about Sorority Soldier having a blog is that she’s very popular in the Army Public Affairs circle. I like it when her blog topic and my interests intersect. Today those interests revolve around promotion. I left active duty as an E-5 Sergeant. For reasons I’ve explained in the past, I came back into the army as an E-4 Specialist. I couldn’t get promoted until I was job qualified and then attend a promotion board. For all you non-army people, it involves points and I got so many points from my commander, the board, awards, military and civilian education, and physical fitness and weapon scores. I essentially filled out a ton of paperwork showing how awesome I am and deserve to be an E-5. The board met on December 9th, 2008. Today is March 1, 2009. We’ll be coming up on 90 days this month since the promotion board met. The fine folks at the 90th Sustainment Brigade in Little Rock say the hold up on cutting our promotion orders is above their level. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Tactical Success, Strategic Defeat - 02 March 2009 - This Washington Post story rings true with my experience from October 2008. I was in Afghanistan, and embeds with U.S. soldiers in that particular area were hard to come by, so I endeavored to hear the other side of the story, which was much easier to accomplish. It’s amazing that it’s easier to interview potential enemies than to embed with U.S. forces. Anyway, I went to the area near the village of Sper Kundy, just near Sarobi, where 10 French soldiers had recently died, and interviewed two men from the village. Interestingly, I am told, that after I went there, a journalist tried to do the same thing and got kidnapped. Apparently he was released without harm. I was told that the journalist had used the same interpreter, though I have no verification of this. In any case, the interpreter disappeared. My story: The Road to Hell - And today’s Washington Post story. See the similarities? (READ MORE)

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