April 6, 2009

From the Front: 04/06/2009

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

Afghanistan Shrugged: Thanks for your support! - In jujitsu there’s an action referred to as tapping out. It’s when your opponent has reached a position that is so advantageous that you must submit. You indicate this by tapping them or the mat three times. If the Taliban could see this they would simply tap out! A while ago I complained that the food here at the FOB was almost non-existent and of extremely poor quality. Crap would be a generous term to describe its consistency, quality and desirability. My buddy Troy, from Bouhammer, put out the call for support. On top of that Soldiers Angels, Web of Support and Operation Cookiejar picked up the gauntlet to support us. Let’s put it this way, tons and I mean tons of people started sending us stuff. Now, let me step back for a second and put this into perspective. I’m sure some of you by now are saying Vampire 06 has lost it and I have no idea where he’s going with this, well welcome to everyday of my wife’s life with me. Most days she just watches me in pure wonder that I can function in the grown up world without hurting myself. (READ MORE)

Bullet Wisdom: Being There is Easy, Not Being There is Hard - We sat in a long conference room staring at a projection of our counterparts' planned mission. It was a brigade level sweep of a nearby area, plagues of late by an increase in violence and insurgency. A few weeks back, insurgents targeted and successfully assassinated a local Sheik and his family with a roadside bomb. Two weeks later, gunfire killed his chosen successor. The pattern was clear: assassinate influential Sheiks with ties to the Coalition and the Sons of Iraq. Reestablish a stronghold for the insurgency in a rural area where Coalition Forces rarely travel. Different interpretations of events followed and different courses of action developed. The Coalition was in the middle of facilitating reconciliation between the area’s three tribes. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Army planned a large-scale operation intending to break the back of an insurgency operating in the area with impunity. The Coalition plan relied on partnership and finesse. The Iraqi Army’s was the proverbial hammer to the nail. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Timing is everything - Today is a very busy day at the Combined Press Information Center. It is officially the first day of our move from Ocean Cliffs to our new home at Camp Prosperity. We are taking apart electronic equipment, packing boxes, filling conexs, and making this former parking garage look more and more like a parking garage again (yes, the CPIC is really a retro-fitted parking garage adjacent to the Parliment and Baghdad Convention Center). While everyone else here is doing all this moving work, I am busy for another reason. I am headed out on my R&R leave. I leave mid-day on Monday for a short stop at Camp Victory, and then I am on to the United States — to DC, Atlanta and Birmingham. When I first planned to take my R&R leave, the move of the CPIC was planned for March. I though I had it all planned so well: (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: IEDs and Such... - Back in the summer of 2007 my company was conducting a turnover of battlespace in the quaint Iraqi town of Kharma just outside of Fallujah. At the time bad guys in the area were fairly butt hurt as the gun slingers from the battalion we were replacing had been doing pretty much what Marines do ever since they took over the AO from the Army. That being kicking critical insurgent colon right up into the cheap seats. I had been in country about fifteen days and my company commander and I were heading back to our OP and were gearing up our four vehicle convoy. As it worked out, my seat was in Vehicle 1 right behind the Vehicle Commander (VC) in the passenger side of up armored hummer. "First Sergeant," my captain pulled me aside for a moment with that special gleam in his eye. Soft spoken with a generally dry sense of humor, Captain Hanson's tone has been known to trick people into not realizing that he is screwing with them. Not me. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Training Day Zero - My fellow FP and I took 3 flights to arrive at Fort Riley late last night. For the first flight we were amazingly assigned to First Class. I attribute this to this to the fact that there were no other seats available on the plane by the time that our arrangments were made. It was nice. The last government flight I rode in first class was in 1990. The second two flights were in a small puddle-jumper prop plane with 45 mph cross winds during take off and landing. Not for the faint of heart. Now we are inprocessing at Fort Riley. It looks like the remainder of our team is already here. We are currently in barracks, but will move to the FOB by the end of the week to start our training cycle, which may take about 60 days. Still no definitive word on my assignment place in country after training. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Counterinsurgency 101 - My last post raised a few excellent questions in the comments section which I’d like to address over the next few days. Before doing so I’d like to thank my good friend James Saddler for joining the Free Range team and putting up an excellent story. James and I go way back and it is great to have him back in the country - even better to have him hanging out in Jbad with us. The first topic to address is my advocacy of a “minimalist” approach in defining our goals, accomplishing those goals, and leaving as soon as we accomplish what we said we would do. I believe this is the right way to go because I do not think we have the will to really “win” a counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan. Winning means destroying the Taliban’s ability to excerpt control over the Pashtun population. (READ MORE)

Adventures in Jalalabad, Afghanistan: Does Age Really Matter? - So I may have mentioned this in a previous post - but no one here truly knows how old they are. It is rare for an Afghan to know his/her exact birthday. For example, when I first arrived and met the young women at the FABLAB, I was asked how old I was - I said 24, and the women thought I looked as young as 16 or 17. When I asked Wahida how old she was, she answered, "22, maybe 23" and Tawar - a young man who also helps out at the FABLAB said he was 20 (he looks like he could be a few years older); but just the other day him and Wahida were talking about age and he said he was 21. J.D. - who arrived here a few days ago with Keith (who is a children's doctor) - is an interpreter. He is Hazara - which is a minority tribe found mostly in central Afghanistan. He knows his exact birthday only because his father wrote down the birthdays of each of his kids on the back of a Koran, and then JD just translated it to the Western calendar, so he knows he is 25years old. But even he has said that Afghans do not make a big deal about birthdays. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: The Bat that went Splat - We had a two stop MEDEVAC last night, one patient to each of the major theater hospitals north of us. One patient had spinal and neck fractures and was being sent up there for further treatment and evacuation, the other was going for routine medical stuff. As usual the call came right around dinner time. We ran up the birds, loaded the patient, and were off without dinner again. Due to the timing, we were able to squeeze in a little daylight flight though before switching to NVGs. These dual stop MEDEVACs can take us over some of the roughest parts of Iraq, and you have to keep a vigilant eye out. You can never tell if the Bongo truck in the field has a missile on board or not. Its also starting to get uncomfortably warm here, which doesn’t make the trip any more fun when your birds don’t have A/C. However, the trip itself was rather uneventful, if a bit long. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Success at the Doha Summit - "Does the puzzling failure of the Doha Arab summit signal the demise of Arab summitry?" Foreign Policy asks this question even as it shows how badly its writer misread the summit. Actually it wasn't a failure. The Arab leaders agreed to protect each other, remain as thick as thieves, and bully Iraq. The Arab leaders rejected the charges against Sudan's Bashir during the summit that Syria's Assad called a success. Iraq's Nouri Al Maliki told the summit that stability is a must for Iraq. He said he wanted Iraq to no longer be a hideout for terrorists, and he asked for Iraq's debts to be forgiven. The leaders gave him inconclusive [Arabic] answers. Why would they embrace Bashir and offer Maliki polite conversation? Bashir reminds many leaders of themselves, just as Saddam Hussein did. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber kills 24 at Shia mosque in Pakistan - Pakistan has been hit with yet another deadly suicide attack in the heart of the country. A suicide bomber detonated outside the entrance of a Shia community center in the Chakwal district in Punjab province. A young man estimated to be 16 or 17 years old exited a car and was stopped at the main gate of an imambargah, a congregation hall for Shia ritual ceremonies. The bomber detonated at the gate, where security personnel were searching the worshippers. More than 24 worshippers have been reported killed and more than 100 have been wounded, some seriously, according to reports. The Taliban insurgency has spilled over into Pakistan's Punjab province over the past several months. The Taliban conducted two major assaults in the city of Lahore during March. On March 27, a Taliban assault team attacked a police training center in the city and killed more than 30 police officers and recruits before security forces responded. On March 3, an assault team ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, killing six policemen and a civilian. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Cell Phone Throws Up - I didn’t have much to write about this week, until Saturday night. I digress. First, I was greeted last Sunday with the news that half of my unit is in town. I was sitting in the British media office trying to make sure my First Sergeant had a flight on an RAF C-130 (build by Lockheed Martin), I get in touch with my commander and he says, “Oh yea, he doesn’t need that flight now. I put him on the main body flight that should be there right now.” After our experiences of trying to leave New Jersey and Kuwait, I learned that transportation is a fluid situation. If movement goes according to the first plan, it’s the exception and not the rule. When my commander told me that, I had to break the heart of the RAF Corporal who worked his butt off to get First Sergeant a seat on that flight. The rest of the week we’ve been developing story leads, competing for time on our two computers to read email, and seeing what else MAJ Talk Radio can acquire. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: The past few days of my life have been utterly boring - I’m alright with that. I slept in to 10am today, I’m alright with that too. I’ve been inventorying every shipping container on the FOB. I haven’t been able to find any concrete information but from what I understand, the government leases all the containers in country. There are over a hundred on my FOB alone. Some estimates I’ve heard put the monthly bill in the very high millions (6-700 ish). Again, no concrete information so take it with a grain of salt. If any ambitious readers can find something reliable I’d be interested. Onto my favorite topic, the Sons of Iraq. Juan Cole has a guest post today talking about the Sons of Iraq being transitioned to Iraqi government control. Read the whole post. It outlines some of the underlying sources of resentment that are sure to rise to the surface as the GOI takes over responsibility for the SOI. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: 20 years is not enough for some - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – While some Marines consider 20 years in the United States Marine Corps a full career, 1st Sgt. Steven Redfearn, the first sergeant for Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, knew he had at least one more enlistment left in him. Even after six deployments, Redfearn is not yet ready to leave the Marine Corps behind. Currently deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, Redfearn, 40, was nearing the end of his fourth four-year, and had a difficult decision to make -- leave his beloved Marine Corps and head back to Baltimore, or reenlist and lead his Marines for another four years. Decisions like this have been surrounding Redfearn since he entered adulthood. Redfearn, a Baltimore native, worked in a printing factory after receiving his diploma from Patterson High School in 1986. He had no interests in the military and was content with pursuing his trade in print. He never knew the Marine Corps was his calling, until one day he realized he was choosing an easy route through life, he said. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraq:
Soldier Leads Platoon Down Dangerous Roads in Iraq - BAGHDAD , April 6, 2009 – Hours on a route clearance mission can lead to many inside jokes. For soldiers of the 688th Engineer Company’s 2nd Platoon, their platoon leader provided the ammunition. The holder of three types of martial arts black belts, Army 1st Lt. Richard Warehime is fondly referred to as “happy feet” by his soldiers. And while the soldiers joke, they also are quick to explain why their ”LT” is one of the best. For the past year, Warehime has successfully led his platoon, which is attached to the 890th Engineer Battalion, 225th Engineer Brigade, down some of the most dangerous routes in Baghdad, clearing them of explosives that threaten the safety of everyone in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Improving Schools in Zaggurbanya village - FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERNSTEIN, TUZ, Iraq – The Banyas school in Zaggurbanya village has no running water, no playground equipment and a serious lack of chalk. But that’s all about to change. Capt. Mike Keifman, the chaplain for Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and his Iraqi Army counterparts are charged with improving the school before the beginning of the next school year. (READ MORE)

Al Rega students receive much needed supplies - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Security Forces teamed up with Coalition forces to donate supplies to the students of the Al Rega school near Samarra, March 31. First Lt. Daniel Flynn, a platoon leader in 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, met with Maj. Adil Yusef Khalef, director general of internal affairs in the region, to coordinate the delivery of more than 200 backpacks filled with pens, pencils, paper and notepads. (READ MORE)

Bara’ia families receive food, water and farming supplies - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq - – Multi-National Division- North Soldiers delivered dozens of humanitarian aid packages to the Bara’ia neighborhood near Samarra, March 31. Soldiers 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, delivered several cases of Halal meals to families in the neighborhood. (READ MORE)

Reconciliation offers fresh start in Tuz - FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERNSTEIN, TUZ, Iraq - The Iraqi Army reconciled more than 30 people in the Salah ad-Din province March 31, with technological help from Soldiers from the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Through a process that guarantees a wanted man will not be arrested unless he is guilty of murder, shaykhs and other local leaders convinced friends and family who have warrants out for their arrests to come to FOB Bernstein in Tuz, 175km north of Baghdad, to reconcile their differences with the Government of Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iraqi SWAT detains two suspects wanted for ‘aiding, abetting’ - TIKRIT, Iraq – Tal Afar Special Weapons and Tactics, advised by Coalition forces, detained two suspects with ties to terrorist financing through extortion of gas and oil stations during an operation March 31 in Mosul, Iraq. “The two personnel were wanted for aiding and abetting criminals with financial ties to a terrorist organization in Ninewa province,” said the Tal Afar SWAT Special Response Unit officer in charge. “Therefore, they were detained for questioning about their connection with insurgent activities.” (READ MORE)

Multiple contingency operating locations closed or turned over in Anbar - AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – During the month of March, Multi National Force - West demilitarized and closed one contingency operating post and turned over three contingency operating posts and one observation post to Iraqi Security Forces in Al Anbar province. These locations were closed or turned over as a result of the capability and professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces to operate independently of Coalition forces, and in support of the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq signed in January of this year. (READ MORE)

Final SoI transfer in Northern Iraq - FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – Coalition forces turned over complete authority of the Sons of Iraq program in Salah ad-Din province to the Government of Iraq in the final SoI transfer in Multi-National Division-North at Forward Operating Base Dagger, April 2. Iraqi government officials, provincial government leaders, sheikhs and military members from the 4th Iraqi Army and 25th Infantry Division celebrated the formal transfer of control with a signing ceremony in a palace on the banks of the Tigris River. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Flight Surgeons Speak on World Stage - BAGHDAD — After years of sanctions and forced isolation, two Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) officers recently stepped on the world stage to present their study at a NATO conference in Germany. IqAF Flight Surgeons, Maj. Abdulrazzaq and 1st Lt. Hazem, presented their findings on a fatal Iraqi Mi-17 helicopter crash to the annual NATO Flight Surgeons’ Conference held at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 16-20. (READ MORE)

Urban Assault Training for Iraqi Special Ops - BASRAH — It requires practice and training for elite Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) to perform at the highest level. To better their ability to protect the citizens of this second-largest Iraqi city, some ISOF Soldiers recently conducted an urban assault training exercise in southern Iraq. “If we want to be successful on missions it requires us to not only train daily, but it’s necessary for us to do it right each time,” said an ISOF sergeant major. “If we learn from our mistakes now, we will be more effective during the missions.” (READ MORE)

Course Prepares Commanders for Battle - TAJI — Iraqi Army (IA) Brigade and Battalion commanders recently met for the first-ever Tactical Commander’s Course (TLC) to share experiences and learn modern training systems. The course, which lasted 10 days and was conducted at the Counter-Insurgency Training Center here, was designed to provide the attendees with current updates on tactical, operational and logistical trends, provide a tactical operation and plans exercise, and provide an update on senior staff perspectives, trends and policies from Iraqi and Coalition senior leaders. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Contractors Provide Base Security - JOINT BASE BALAD — More than 100 Iraqis were recently contracted to secure the outer perimeter of this base to help protect the men and women serving here. “This contract is a first of its kind,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Reyes, Joint Base Balad (JBB) Regional Contracting Center commander. “Putting a requirement to employ 80 percent of the contractor’s workforce from the local area is an innovative contracting solution to implementing the Joint Campaign Plan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan:
Afghan, Coalition Forces Kill Five Enemy Fighters - WASHINGTON, April 3, 2009 – Afghan and coalition forces killed five enemy fighters in operations yesterday and overnight in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, military officials reported. The overnight operation in the province’s Nad Ali district, targeted a mid-level Taliban commander responsible for attacks against Afghan civilians and coalition forces, including a suicide-bomber attack on the Musa Qala Bazaar and an attack on coalition forces that killed 12 Afghan civilians in Musa Qala, both in December. (READ MORE)

Coordinators in Afghanistan Perform ‘Ballet in Action,’ General Says - WASHINGTON, April 3, 2009 – Air combat operations in Afghanistan are “the most precise” ever used, and airmen are doing “an incredible job there,” an Air Force general said. “This is the most precise combat operation the world has ever seen,” Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commander of Combined Forces Air Component and 9th Air Force, U.S. Air Forces Central, told online journalists and bloggers during an April 1 “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable. (READ MORE)

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