March 13, 2009

From the Front: 03/13/2009

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

Army of Dude: A Man at Sunset - As the days turn into months that become years, it becomes difficult to imagine that the collective experiences of second platoon Bravo company grow more distant from the present, drifting in a sea of time away from the shores of what was known, and loved. One fights to recall the names and faces of certain characters that were surely there, but not so easily remembered. Firefights and shootouts, dismembered bodies covering the earth (and below it), and uproarious fits of laughter grow fuzzy, their events occasionally muddied in skepticism - did they happen quite the way I remember, or did I simply fill in the gaps with piecemeal memories? Some events transcend space and time, full of vivid color and smells and gut-feeling that will never go away, no matter what the calendar seems to read. Soon it will be two years since March 14, 2007 - a day that has been on the minds and hearts of everyone that knew and cared for Brian Chevalier. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: Time to Go - February 22, 2009 - Musa Qala, Helmand Province - The Marines like to move early and my embed extraction would be no different. In pre-dawn darkness, you could hear the huge CH-53 “Super Stallions”, but couldn’t see them. They were supposed to be bringing in some vehicles that would be dropped onto the landing zone (LZ). Once the vehicles were dropped, the huge heavy lift choppers would be offloaded, and then loaded, for a trip to Bastion. This would be the first of several support trips for these chopper crews in what sounded like a busy day. The choppers made several passes before finally dropping their loads; each time we would hunker behind a HESCO or vehicle as ill fated protection against the wind and sand blasting us as a result of the heavy blades coming in. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Click Click Boom - When we first arrived at Fort Sill, we got a very dull General Orders briefing. It was one of several PowerPoint presentations that were read aloud saying we can't drink, leave Fort Sill, fraternize, etc. But before that PowerPoint started our commander, who first served in artillery, played one of his favorite videos: Fire Mission. It is available on You Tube and uses the song "Click Click Boom" by the group Saliva (first I have heard of them). With artillery, as with the cannons in the tanks I was in, click click boom is the sound. The round slams into the breach of the gun (click). The breach closes (click). And the gunner pulls the trigger (BOOM). Fort Sill is the Army's training base for artillery. A lot of the footage in this video was shot on Fort Sill. When we first arrived I saw a Fire Mission on the very same hillside as you will see in the video. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Things that make you say "Huh." - In true lead-from-the-rear fashion, I was doing paperwork on the FOB today while my boys were out battling the forces of evil. SGT C was out doing a "Key Leader Engagement" in a village nobody remembered visiting. SGT B went to look at a couple of schools. I was standing around when SGT C got back. He caught my eye and rushed over. "Hey, man," I said. "How was the mission?" "You'll never believe what we found," he said, more or less bouncing up and down. You kind of have to KNOW SGT C to realize how odd the bouncing is - he's a Very Large Man, a prison guard in real life, and is NOT prone to excessive enthusiasm about...well, anything. Great NCO and smart man, but...low-key. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: Going Green - Friday 13 March 2009 1000 - No, I haven’t turned into an environmentalist! Although I love the wilderness and consider myself a conservationist, I am absolutely *not* an environmentalist. The philosophy at the core of the environmental movement is deeply malevolent, and very destructive to man’s ability to live here on earth. The people who buy into it wholesale are seriously deluded, and the hard core “deep ecology” advocates are downright evil. But that’s a whole different discussion… I am “going green” in another sense. Yesterday we had a professional development session which consisted of a visit from the nutritionist assigned to the USARCENT surgeon’s office. He gave us a very interesting presentation on the effects of different types of foods on weight gain and weight loss, blood sugar levels , blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall health. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Death in Iraq - I'd be interested to know how many people's comments the WaPo reporter dismissed because they didn't support his story. In today's paper, the reporter writes that death has become so mundane in Iraq that nobody gives a damn anymore about the victims. "In 2003, when America began its occupation, bombings with half the casualties of Tuesday's suggested the United States might not prevail. Today, when America and its Iraqi allies seem to be winning, the attack failed to make the front page of the government newspaper." Since when do we care what the government newspaper says? Other Iraqi media outlets covered the suicide bombing. But why mention it when you're trying to prove otherwise. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US missile strike in Kurram agency levels Taliban training camp - The US targeted a Taliban compound in a cross-border strike into Pakistan's tribal areas today. The strike took place in the Kurram tribal agency and was the second attack there since December 2008. The Predator airstrike hit a Taliban compound and training camp in the Barjo region in Kurram. "The training camp was completely destroyed," a villager told Reuters. At least four Hellfire missiles were reported to have been fired at the camp. Unconfirmed reports indicate up to 14 people, including "foreigners," were reported killed in the attack. The term "foreigners" is often used to describe al Qaeda operatives sheltering in Pakistan's tribal areas. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported at this time. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 12MAR09--Virginia Peanuts - On my first day back with the team, we went on a combat patrol to visit our Iraqi Army counterparts. En route, I was quickly reminded where I was, as a herd of sheep traveled down the road toward us, parting closely to our stopped vehicles. Not a common sight in Virginia. While on leave, I thought long and hard about what to bring back my Iraqi counterpart from the States. What is a signature gift from Virginia and travel well? Liquids and perishables would not travel well at all. I visited a Virginia shop in downtown Charlottesville to make up my mind. I did not want to bring him something that was too much like a soveigner, and quickly settled on a bag of salted peanuts in the shell and some chocolate-covered peanut brittle. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: On the Roads Again - FOB SALERNO, AFGHANISTAN — Remember last year, when we had the long series on the coordinated “roads improve security” claim? It started with a critique of David Kilcullen’s dispatches from Kunar, went through an examination of the effectiveness of PRTs, to a plea to think critically about the whole concept. I even wrote an article in the Columbian Journalism Review on how this was coordinated quite probably by the U.S. Military. Judah Grunstein pointed to this Nightwatch issue that argues roads are unwanted intrusions into village life. That’s not necessarily true, though the point about making sure we’re actually providing tangible benefits to the population is appropriate. Grunstein then followed up with an excellent post about how the appeal of roads is an American one, which was itself an interesting take I had never thought of: (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Another Week Complete - It’s been a busy week. I just finished a story on Joyful Noez, the praise group at Hope Chapel. They sing contemporary Christian music and I love listening to them every Sunday. I’m also working on a story about the Baghdad Badboys, a group of mostly Chaplains who sing a mixture of “salvation and sinning songs,” depending on their location. They’re recording their second bluegrass CD right now with songs like Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Folsom Prison Blues and a sock about knifing a girl and throwing her in the river. Good stuff. The other story in the works is about married couples in Baghdad. I’m interviewing two couples deployed together. One couple, the Haberlands, are lawyers and work just 3 cubicles away from each other. The other couple is two LTs and they actually got married so they could deploy together. At the last minute, the husband’s orders changed sending him to Baghdad instead of Tallil where his wife went. Once the wife’s Brigade commander found out her husband was in Baghdad, he reassigned her as the logistics LNO to be closer to her hubby. (READ MORE)

Tyler Maulding: Long over-due - Ok I know that in the past I have said I have more stuff getting ready to post and didn’t follow through with it.. I apologize. This time I mean it though. Within a week I will post several things. I promise. In the mean time check out my Flickr, I just uploaded a bunch of pictures. More pictures and the stories behind them are to come. I didn’t anticipate how much writing I would be doing (which was dumb on my part.. I’m a journalist..) and didn’t realize how little free time I would have, that said, the last thing I feel like doing with my precious free time is more writing.. I don’t feel up to posting as often as I would like but when I do post I will try and make them nice and long. I would really like to encourage everyone who checks out my blog to take a look at Sgt. Stone’s blog (Stone Report) and Staff Sgt. King’s (Sorority Soldier) blog. They are broadcasters in my unit and they both post several times a week. Between the two of them not much that happens around here goes undocumented. (READ MORE)

The Unlikely Short-Timer: The Final Word - I tried to gather a list of reasons why I should be exempt, allowed to leave. Tried to think of a way to present them that would somehow persuade them. Then it dawned on me that it wasn't going to happen. No Poor Me excuses are going to work. As I stepped back and looked at the case I was trying to present, it just looked weak. Feeble. Selfish. Then, for the first time, I REALLY realized the gravity of the truth. I really did sign a contract. See you in Part Four. (READ MORE)

Whatever It Takes: The heat is definitely on it's way - It is still relatively cool at night but we are sweating through our Army Combat Uniform (ACU) jackets under our body armor during the day. Soon everyone will look like they were pushed into a swimming pool after a few hours on patrol. You would be amazed at how much bottled water you can drink in a day. Thankfully we are well supplied with drink packets to give it some flavor. We also get in regular shipments of Gatorade, sodas, juices and other drinks. All of the platoons have been working really hard every day. There is always something to do here. Luckily we have a great gym here at the JSS and the Soldiers are taking advantage of it. We have 2 ping pong tables and there seems to always be a game or two going on. The SPAWAR phones and internet are the biggest morale booster we have here. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Afghanistan Policy review - Well it hit the wire officially yesterday that the President and his military advisers are close to revealing their new policy for executing the war in Afghanistan( Rumors of this surfaced a few weeks ago and I talked about this on You Served radio a couple of weeks back. I am in favor of this review, because a change needs to happen. I have been saying for a while that 200+ years of Government and culture maturing cannot be crammed down the Afghans throat in a few years. These people are coming from the stone-ages and it will take time and patience. When I give briefings to Embedded Trainers going into Afghanistan I tell them that they will need more patience then the human mind possess. They have to step back and constantly put things into perspective. The idea that we (America) would come in and turn them around on a dime and get their government as close to ours as possible is ludicrous. This is a culture that is nowhere near ours and never will be. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

U.S. Team Helps to Plant Seeds for Afghan Farmers’ Success - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 12, 2009 – As the noon sun crept toward the mountains west of Janquadam, children ran from all corners of the village, greeting the group of soldiers from the 28th Forward Agribusiness Development Team. On this warm, late-February day, the team was on a mission to help a blind farmer develop his fields so he eventually can build a new grape vineyard. (READ MORE)

Kalamat Village now has fresh drinking water - FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq – Thanks to an Iraqi Commanders Emergency Response Program water filtration project, residents of Kalamat Village now have clean drinking water at the flick of a switch right in the heart of their village. Previously, village residents had to travel eight kilometers on dusty dirt roads to fill plastic containers with drinking water in nearby Badra. (READ MORE)

Iraqi, Chinese Oil Deal Begins in Wasit - FOB DELTA — Iraq’s Oil Minister and Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) delegates cut the ribbon at the Ahdeb oil field near here, March 11. “This project will provide a number of jobs and opportunities for investment which will provide the province with electricity and power to operate the power station in Zurbadiyah and to help to contribute to the development and prosperity of this province,” said Hussein Al-Shahristani, Iraqi oil minister. (READ MORE)

Louisiana Engineers Invite Iraqi Partners to Mardi Gras Celebration - BAGHDAD – U.S. Soldiers with the 225th Engineer Brigade didn’t get enough of Mardi Gras on the actual holiday — so they celebrated two weeks late with their Iraqi engineer partners here, March 7. “Engineer Call,” a monthly social intended to bring both U.S. and Iraqi Army Engineers together in a casual atmosphere, aims at forging a strong relationship between both groups. This month’s social, the first held by the Louisiana-based engineers, did not disappoint. (READ MORE)

Iraq Takes ‘Huge Strides’ Toward Independence, Coalition General Says - WASHINGTON — Building a nation takes time, and progress shouldn’t be measured through Western standards, a senior Coalition commander said March 9, referring to Iraq’s future defense capabilities. “There have been some huge steps forward, but there are a number of areas that we are going to have to develop … in the near future to actually understand and allow the government of Iraq to … go forward as an independent nation,” British Army Brigadier Mark G. Lacey, deputy commanding general of Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I), told bloggers and online journalists during a “DoD Live” roundtable. (READ MORE)

U.S. seeks new Afghan supply routes, even in Iran - WASHINGTON: The United States is seeking new supply routes for the war in Afghanistan that would bypass Russia, and has even had logistics experts review overland roads through Iran that might be used by NATO allies, according to military planners and Pentagon officials. (READ MORE)

Afghan President's Brother Denies Business Success Built On Family Ties - In a recent profile of Mahmoud Karzai, "The New York Times" described the 54-year-old brother of Kabul's preeminent politician as "one of Afghanistan's most prosperous businessmen." But Karzai sees himself a bit differently, as a hardworking and law-abiding businessmen who is investing in his country's future and wouldn't even count himself among the top 1,000 wealthiest Afghans. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Troops Kill 18 Suspected Militants On Afghan Border - PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP)--Paramilitary forces backed by jets and helicopter gunships Thursday killed 18 militants in a restive Pakistani tribal region bordering Afghanistan, a security official said. "At least 18 militants were killed, including one important commander," a security official told AFP. He didn't disclose the identity of the commander.(READ MORE)

Estonia to boost support to Afghanistan - Visiting Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on Thursday met with his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfer Spanta and promised to boost support to the war-torn country. Paet told Spanta that Estonia would provide scholarships to Afghan students, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said. (READ MORE)

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