March 16, 2009

From the Front: 03/16/2009

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

Bouhammer: ETT team needs your help, AGAIN! - Back on December 2nd I wrote the following post, and many readers of this blog either stepped up to help or circulated the word to their friends, communities and churches. Well this team is in bad shape right now and needs help again. Below is the latest email I got from their team chief. “Troy, Hey brother, I feel bad asking you for help again but we’ve got an issue. The 101st is ripping out and has decided that they really no longer need to order UGR-As nor really serve chow, thus we’re having to live off of the stuff we’ve stockpiled from your readers that sent us stuff. Needless to say we’re running low again and need a class 1 push if you can wrangle some up for us. Your readers were awesome last time we just didn’t foresee having to live day to day off their generosity. Additionally, our BDE (Brigade) has given up pushing any kind of supplies to us. We could use any kind of microwavable food, ramen, mac & cheese, rice, pasta anything we could eat for meals. Thanks for anything you can do to help us out, we really appreciate it!” (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: A Battlefield Tour of Bakwa, Farah Province - Operation Pathfinder: Here are all the pictures from my time in Bakwa, Farah Province. The unit is 3/8 Marines from Camp Lejeune. While I have been putting out a lot of content, it has been tough going, so in the following weeks, please be patient and check back often. These pictures are from the second week of February 2009, and unknown to me at the time, part of Operation Pathfinder. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: At the Front in Musa Qala - This is the first of maybe 10 videos that I’ll be releasing in regards to my recent trip to Farah and Helmand Provinces. This particular story is a video version of this post: Four Hours With Brits and Afghans. This 5:00 story is a natural sound package and has no voice track in it. Hope you like it. (READ MORE)

Armed and Curious: A unique parade - There are actually days that working at the Pentagon is a real privilege. Bumping into old colleagues every time you step into the hallway or witnessing a bit of history from the cheap seats in DC are a couple of those privileges...but then there are moments you kind of shake your head at your luck. One of those events was Friday when by luck of timing and place I was finally privileged to attend a Wounded Warrior March for the first time. Taking place every six weeks or so it brings about a dozen wounded service members and their families down from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit the Pentagon for a tour and to be honored by the employees of the Department of Defense. No cameras are allowed and no media coverage is invited. Just the wounded warriors and the people who labor in Washington so far away from the battlefield. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Knowing Jon Stiles - The shock of learning of Jon's death has worn off a bit. I called a mutual friend, a retired Master Sergeant who now works as a representative for a company that sells systems to the Army, the one who introduced me to Jon Stiles. They had been next door neighbors in Dayton before Jon had moved with his wife, Launa, back to Colorado. I asked if he had heard about Jon. He hadn't, and I became the bearer of bad tidings. Jeff was shocked. We spoke only briefly before he had to go, but he promised to call me back this weekend. We spoke together about how Jeff's kids cried to find out about Jon's death. We talked about Jon and how much effort he put into getting downrange. We talked about how hard Jon had to work to get back into the service. Jon sought out his service, he struggled to get back in. He jumped through many hoops, he ran into walls, he ran into lazy people who didn't want to do their jobs, he ran into bureaucracy and botched paperwork. Jeff and I talked about how Jon kept his purpose in mind and never quit. (READ MORE)

Blogs Over Baghdad: Muchas gracias Mike Richards! - A week of so ago, our unit had a visit from one the Peruvian guards who provide contracted security services to the U.S. government here at the Combined Press Information Center. The visitor was one of the supervisors and spoke English very well. We ask a lot from these guards; in some cases they are the front line of defense against those who wish to do harm to others in the International Zone. They are also our de facto Spanish-language teachers during breaks and lunch. When the commander and I visit with the guards, we ask that they let us know if they have any issues that need our assistance (SPC Mary Lee mentions them in one of her blog entries). Though they did not specifically ask for help in the past, we have passed on some basic first aid items and shared some of the homemade treats we receive from friends and family (you really did not expect us to eat ALL those cookies, did you?). (READ MORE)

The Gunline MkIII: *Whew!* Glad That’s Over! - Part of the reason for my prolonged silence is that I’ve had my evenings taken up by two college courses, both geared toward Microsoft Networking Certification. Now I’m not sure if I’m going to continue that effort, but I have earned an awful lot about the way computers talk to each other! Pulled own a “B” in “Implementing MS XP Pro”, and a “C” in “Network +” (it was a battle!) The idea was to do something to better myself while here at Balad. If you don’t have something occupying your time, you wind up in a rut, going to work, going back to the CHU and doing the couch potato thing… You tend to stagnate… But now, as we progress into the backside of the deployment, there will be more than enough things to keep me occupied: I’m working on a database that will allow me to keep track of our ammunition inventory, and print out a variety of reports on demand… I’ve been practicing on the Pipes, but I’m going to ramp it up (expect recordings)… I’ve got some financial planning to do as well… (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iraqis' Role - CNN reports that Americans are sick of the Iraq war. If you look at the coverage, you can't blame them. The media have misreported, misreprestented, and misinformed so badly that even some members of the media have started to show twinges of guilt about their work. In today's WaPo, there is this feeble effort to discuss Iraqis. The writer says Americans don't know Iraqis. Well, how could they with the sort of information available. "As the war has gone on, Iraqis' stories have been overshadowed by the towering drama of our own experience. The imbalance struck me as I recently read and revisited some of the best books to grow out of American journalism on Iraq since the invasion began on March 19, 2003." Wonder if he noticed that the books he read were by journalists. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US launches second strike outside of Pakistan's tribal areas - The US attacked an al Qaeda and Taliban compound in the Bannu district in Pakistan's insurgency-infested Northwest Frontier Province. Two al Qaeda operatives and two Taliban fighters have been reported killed after an unmanned aircraft Predator fired a Hellfire missile at a compound in the town of Jani Khel. "According to initial information, the identities of those killed were unclear," an unnamed intelligence official told Geo News. "Neither is it confirmed if there was any high value target" killed in the airstrike. Bannu, a Frontier Region, is outside of Pakistan's tribal areas. Bannu borders the Taliban-controlled North and South Waziristan tribal areas to the east. According to US intelligence officials and reports from the region, Bannu is effectively under Taliban control. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: What Lessons Do We Already Have On “Tribal Militias? - FOB SALERNO, AFGHANISTAN — Here is some neat research: “Tariq, Mohammed Osman (2008). “Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan,” Crisis States Research Center [PDF] The issue of raising up tribal militias to do our fighting for us has caused me a great deal of worry. In 2006, for example, the Afghan government thought it needed to try this in the South. Needless to say, few received it well: Plans to fill the gaps in Afghanistan’s overstretched police force by hiring local men from southern communities may make sense given the insurgent threat, however some commentators believe the move could given members of illegal armed groups a new lease of life… The merest hint that the government might consider reversing four years of intensive efforts to disarm and demobilise unofficial armed groups was bound to set alarm bells ringing.” (READ MORE)

Dispatches from FOBistan: Can the Adults Please Start Discussing Afghanistan? - FOB SALERNO, AFGHANISTAN — In the latrines on FOB Salerno, there are truly entertaining signs: about urine color (no matter the color, and therefore level of hydration, drink more water), not putting your boogers on the wall, and so on (I haven’t been able to take pictures yet because it would look damned suspicious). While amusing, those signs are the least of the worries people have here, which range from how to access districts when MRAPs get disabled by IEDs to how the U.S. might put into place long-term stability programs. Indeed, the thinking out here is rather immediate: how to do this operation, how to understand that local conflict. The discussion back in the United States makes for a marked constrast for its sheer infantilism. I don’t mean stuff like this bizarre Tom Johnson “cable from teh futurez” (if only we had district reconstruction teams!) (READ MORE)

The Torch: US really starting to shape things in ISAF Regional Command South - Or should one say "shape more than the battlefield"? Further to this post, it looks as if the south will be pretty Americanized pretty soon. One would never realize from the story excerpted that the US Army battalion covered has been, at least formally, under the Canadian commanding officer at Kandahar. Nor that the unit's deployment was critical to fulfilling the conditions for extending our mission until 2011; not interesting to the American readership, I guess. In any event, the new US Army Stryker brigade combat team coming to Kandahar will definitely not be under our commander for the province, Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance. I also think it telling that there is no mention of the Dutch general now formally in command of ISAF RC South. Excerpts from a pretty revealing article in the Washington Post: (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: FOB Kalsu: Part One - Two weeks ago, I spent most of my time at FOB Kalsu. It’s a large base just south of Baghdad in the province of Babil. Right now it houses the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade out of Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt Germany. It has a chowhall, motorpool, haji mart, blah, blah, blah. Reference what I’ve said about Camp Victory and take out the paved roads, good PX, and serviceable internet. Bammo, there’s FOB Kalsu. Here’s the most important thing. On my last day at Kalsu and my last day as a Specialist (E-4), I got my ass chewed by a First Sergeant. It was so great. I was walking back from the chow hall to the PAO office. I had my head down because the gravel was so deep, I wanted to see where I was going. All the sudden I hear, “Hey, Stone!” I look up and it’s a Captain. I wasn’t watching maintaining my military bearing and let him pass without a salute. I then stop and salute him and move out. Not two seconds later I hear “STONE!” (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Sobering Stories - In the last few weeks I have run into sobering story after sobering story. I have talked to at least five separate families who have had family members (Fathers, sons, brothers, daughters and sisters) kidnapped and in almost every case murdered by extreme Shia Insurgents. They all come to me, the face of the United States of America at the Joint Security Station hoping that I will be the one to bring them justice. They all complain that the Iraqi Police have done little to find the perpetrators of these heinous crimes or bring them to justice. Unfortunately there is little I can do as I am not a detective and even if I find out beyond any shadow of a doubt who has committed what crime the security agreement means it is up to the Iraqi Police to pursue justice. Even when I can find out who the perpetrator is getting a warrant for them is difficult, and if I get a warrant finding them is nearly impossible. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Mosul terrorist resists warranted arrest, endangers civilian in crossfire - TIKRIT, Iraq – One Mosul Special Weapons and Tactics member was wounded and one civilian was killed when SWAT, with Coalition forces advisors returned fire during an operation March 15 in Ninawa Province pursuant to a warrant issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. After arresting two suspected terrorists listed on the warrant, the SWAT team moved to arrest a third suspect, who resisted with small arms fire from inside a house. (READ MORE)

Police and Security Forces find IED and weapons caches - AL ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq – Provisional Security Forces from Rashad and the Lahib Iraqi Police discovered two weapons caches and one improvised explosive device in the Karmah region during separate cache sweeps partnered with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, March 13. The cache sites yielded 16 rocket propelled grenade warheads, two rocket launchers with accessories, four 120mm mortars, and one grenade. One IED was also found and reduced as a result of reporting by local citizens in Karmah. (READ MORE)

Hundreds Graduate From Iraqi Warfighter Training Course - KIRKUK, Iraq – According to Iraqi Army Staff Lt. Gen. Husayn Jasim Dohi, deputy chief of staff for training, the soldiers received small and intermediate weapons training, IED awareness and prevention training and check point procedures training. The battalion also practiced patrolling in a MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain), that simulated a village with homes and a hospital. The soldiers also had ethics training. “Good training without values is not good. You become an army of criminals and the people don’t respect you,” Husayn told his officers. (READ MORE)

National police train to protect Iraq’s people, resources - BASRA – The 2nd National Police Battalion, Basra Brigade patrols the roads and pipelines that move Iraq’s oil resources daily, and on March 11 at their Rumaylah headquarters, they trained to improve their police officer skills. Their day started with running as part of their physical conditioning program prior to getting into the day’s training, which included effective search of detainees and evidence collection. (READ MORE)

Mahmudiyah Judges, Iraqi Police Meet to Discuss Rule of Law - BAGHDAD — Iraqi judges met with Iraqi Police (IP) at the Mahmudiyah public library March 12 to learn proper investigative techniques in order to protect human rights and adhere to the rule of law. Brig. Gen. Abed, Mahmudiyah IP district commander, and Brig. Gen. Talib, IP battalion deputy commander, brought 40-50 IP to the conference with judges from the Mahmudiyah court house. The meeting was the first between the two groups. (READ MORE)

Kirkuk Silo Upgrades to Boost Regional Agriculture, Economy - KIRKUK — Provincial leaders here can’t control the weather, but they’re preparing for it as 2009 marks the fourth straight year this northern Iraqi province has received diminished rainfall, according to weather data from the U.S. Air Force. The anticipated drought is expected to hinder the agricultural economic market throughout the province. However, a new construction project will help the province more efficiently manage its agricultural production by expanding the capability of the grain silo in Kirkuk city. (READ MORE)

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