April 7, 2009

From the Front: 04/07/2009

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

Afghanistan Shrugged: COIN: The Flipside - There are always two sides to every fight. Often the side that’s most neglected here in Afghanistan is the battle we fight within our own forces. Overcoming the fear and xenophobic tendencies that quite a few of the soldiers deploying here posses is a decisive point in the fight that not many discuss. A new unit just arrived here in our battle space. I say “our” in that it’s the ANA’s country so it’s their battle space; I count the ETTs with the ANA. Now, the commanders that arrive here continually refer to themselves as battle space owners, I’d advocate for a rebranding as battle space renter. But, as in all good COIN fights the battle isn’t at the Battalion level it’s really with the individual soldier that interfaces and spends that most time with the Afghans. Some of the soldiers that have arrived here have previous experience working with indigenous forces. That experience is with the Iraqi Security Forces and I’ll borrow a line from my friend Troy at Bouhammer, “Afghanistan isn’t Iraq”. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Remedial PT Success - We ran a PT Test this morning for 12 soldiers who failed the test last week and one who just recovered from an injury. The injured soldier passed, but he was in great shape before he hurt his shoulder. More importantly, 6 of the 12 re-tests passed and three of the people who did not pass missed by seconds or in one case a single pushup. When we get to Iraq, the Remedial PT program will continue for the soldiers who still need to pass the test, at least for those of us who remain on the Air Base. It's great for the soldiers who have been doing PT six days per week pretty much since we got here. It's not easy to go from being a civilian with no fitness requirements to active duty soldier, but most of the soldiers in our unit have passed the test and many who just passed before are now doing much better. I paced one soldier who made his time by 13 seconds. That was a good feeling. I have a friend who is an engineer who said he hated wearing respirators when he worked in industry. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: It Is Time To Call Or Write Your Congressman - Something ugly is going on in Afghanistan. I don't know who the perpetrator is, but that's up to your Congressman to find out. Here's what I can tell you; at FOB Gardez and Camp Phoenix (and I'm checking to see if this has happened elsewhere as well) there used to be MWR internet facilities, complete with computers for the Soldiers to use. "Permanent" residents of the FOB could buy monthly internet access for a fee from a private provider, usually a bunch of Indians with a satellite dish. The fee varied, and while it was high, it just got higher. It just got insane. Now our Soldiers and Marines can buy internet by the hour, costing as much as $200 per month for pathetic speed. That is patently ridiculous! As I wrote when I was in country, my priorities for being a happy camper included internet in the top three. Most Soldiers don't send snail mail because you haven't seen a snail in your life as slow as mail to and from Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: The Longest Day - Everyone who has spent any time in the military is familiar with the concept known as 'hurry up, and wait.' Waiting is fundamental to Marine Corps doctrine. Why, you may ask? Because if we eliminated waiting from our planning and operations we would be back from our deployment already and that is just not acceptable. Case in point, the longest day. This is the day you leave for your deployment. How is it the longest day? By all means read on... Our longest day began with the planned chartered flight that was scheduled to take off at 08:30 in the morning. The abhorrent trolls that run operations at the air field (US Air Force) demand that we show up 4 hours prior to departure. So then we had a show up time of 04:30. But wait there's more... (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Training Day 1 GEAR - Started our processing at Ft Riley. A few benign briefs and then issue of gear, including reciept of my uniforms from Port Hueneme. It is a truly amazing amount of gear and we still have a seabag or two to draw still. We will leave the barracks and move to the FOB (forward operating base) later this week. We will be going through 60 days of in depth training before we are done here. Weather report light flurries of snow yesterday. Cool and windy but clear today. (READ MORE)

The Intrepid Reporter: WTF? Home? Iraq had less problems... - OK Dear and Gentle Reader, The Intrepid Reporter is back and has all sorts of 'fun from the home front' stuff going on. Needless to say, I made it home for my well deserved R&R (Rest and Relaxation to you civvies) or my historical fave, I&I (Intercourse and Intoxication) both of which I've been attempting at a new land-speed record. Household Six and the Chilluns have been thrilled to have me home, but nonetheless, there have been a few 'wrinkles' in an otherwise pristine time. What? Problems you say? Problems? Aye... A whooooole LOTTA identity theft of the I.R. and specifically my bank/debit Credit Card. Seems that for the past 5 years I've been bouncing around the Middle East and dealing with "The Ali Baba Credit and Trust" banks of the area. The Baghdad International Federal Credit Union issued me a personal draft good up to 40 Million Iraqi Dinar (which is worth about 450 pesos or 12 US Dollars when rounding up on the centavos, 'course if I get it in Canadian Dollars... (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Obama and the Muslims - A series of six car bombs killed at least 30 people in Baghdad today. The NYT credits the Baathists, who would be proud to claim the attack: "Monday’s wave of bombings occurred three days before the April 9 anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government six years ago, a day that evokes wildly divergent emotions among Iraqis. Those who remain loyal to Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party view it as the beginning of a war against occupation. April 7 is the anniversary of the party’s founding in Iraq." The killers aimed their attacks at civilians: “We are all so simple,” said Hussein Jawad, a 40-year-old construction worker, who returned to street afterwards, his head swathed in bandages from his injuries. “We are all workers. We are not a military outpost. This is a public place.” The NYT might well have a point. The terrorists could be Baathists. (READ MORE)

Thomas Joscelyn: DC court finds Gitmo detainee properly held - On Thursday, April 2, a federal judge ruled that Guantánamo detainee Hedi Hammamy is being held for good reasons. Judge Richard Leon of the DC District Court found the US government’s evidence was sufficient to show that Hammamy supported al Qaeda and the Taliban. Hammamy, who is also known as Abdul Haddi bin Hadiddi in the US government’s unclassified Guantánamo files, was arrested by Pakistani authorities in April 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo months later. Government prosecutors demonstrated that Hammamy’s passport was recovered in a cave in the Tora Bora Mountains, which were the main fallback zone for fleeing al Qaeda and Taliban forces after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Judge Leon concluded that Hammamy offered no plausible explanation for how his paperwork ended up there. Prosecutors also argued that Hammamy took part in the battle of Tora Bora. (READ MORE)

A Surgeon's Letters Home From Iraq: Remember Phillip - From the perspective of our little world in Texas, this weekend was easy. Saturday was a lazy day of working around the house, watching the kids run around the living room, and then after kicking them out of the house, watching them run around the back yard. Had a few calls from the hospital, but the residents were doing such a good job, all I had to do was tell them to keep up with their plans, and call me if there were unexpected changes in course. Sunday was smooth too. After checking in with my team, I competed in a fencing tournament and took 8th place out of 20. Not bad considering that 18 of them were college students! Tonight I sit down to work and I read about SSgt. Phillip A. Myers. While my family and I were relaxing at home and enjoying the blessings of liberty, he was killed by a roadside bomb near Helmand, Afghanistan, as he served faithfully to defend our way of life. He was 30 years old. He was from Hopewell, VA. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Cuts Like a Razor...na na na nana naaaa na na nana... - We all know that razors are sharp. What helps us guys is when a company slaps 4 or even 5 little razors on a handle and says it's a technological breakthrough. Why does it help? Well for one, it cuts down on the razor burn and the amount of cuts you get because the razors are close together. So, yeah, what I'm getting at is....last night I went to the showers to shave my head and take a shower. When I walked in I saw my first sergeant. I put my stuff on the shelf and proceeded to lather up. After that, I began shaving with my handy little Headblade (love that thing, it's got 2 razors on it). The Headblade makes it easier to shave our noggins...obviously, just look around the chow hall sometime and noticed the guys walking around sporting their baldness. It looks like a little car. So, 1SG then asked me if I was aware of who he and the XO ran into earlier in the day. (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: First Impressions - After almost one month of sitting around, I finally saw Iraq first hand. Not from within the base or from within a helicopter but via a convoy. Our move from Camp Taji to Camp Liberty made this happen. With all our gear, equipment, and possessions packed we left the wire. Our hymen finally broke…sorta speak. Granted many soldiers here are already combat veterans; as a company it was a first. In all my military experience, nothing ever goes right the first time. Thankfully, this was not the case and our convoy went perfect. Not one wrong turn. Not one communication problem. Not one IED going off or bullet being fired. We arrived just as we left with not one iota of surprise. Shove that one up yours Murphy! :D (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: Farewell 2nd Platoon Paladins - I returned from EOD to find my company had completely restructured to be more like a front line infantry company. Being AT (Anti-armor) we originally had an abnormal set up. We only have enough people to make a HQ platoon and one additional platoon. We jokingly refer to ourselves as Delta platoon now. This restructuring meant we would have some extra NCO’s and officers. Two of our platoon sergeants, and two of our platoon leaders were handed off to the battalion to fill in somewhere else. This whole change was like a gift from god for some (old 1st platoon) and upsetting for others like my old platoon (2nd). My old platoon leader and platoon sergeant gathered us first one last meeting. We shared our experiences and joys with each other and passed our Paladin hammer on. Thanks to a 16 gig SD card, my camera was able to record it all uninterrupted. It turned out to be a really great vid and look forward to uploading it at the end of the deployment. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqi Security Forces Improve Amid ‘Astounding’ Security Gains - WASHINGTON, April 6, 2009 – The improved security and reduced violence in Iraq today is far different than the situation that existed there just a few years ago, a senior U.S. officer posted in Iraq said today. “This is my fourth deployment in Iraq, and I can tell you that the improvements that I have seen –- that I’ve personally seen -- have been astounding,” Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, commanding general of 2nd Marine Logistics Group, told reporters during a satellite-carried Pentagon news conference. (READ MORE)

1st Corps Soldiers Relieve Fort Bragg Troops - BAGHDAD, April 6, 2009 – Army Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. took the reins from Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as the Multinational Corps Iraq commanding general in a transfer of authority ceremony April 4 at Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace here. Jacoby serves as the commander of 1st Corps, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Austin as the commander of 18th Airborne Corps, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. (READ MORE)

Family of slain Soldier opens hearts to school children - FORWARD OPERATING BASE BRASSFIELD-MORA, SAMARRA, Iraq – Coalition forces teamed up with Iraqi Police March 26 to deliver more than 300 backpacks stuffed with school supplies to children in Taraysha. Soldiers from 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, traveled through Moa’tusm, a small town outside of Samarra, to the village of Taraysha, to visit with and give gifts to the children in the area. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army distributes aid to four South Balad Ruz area villages - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – Soldiers with the 5th Iraqi Army Division recently conducted a humanitarian aid distribution in Diyala Province to four South Balad Ruz area villages to help improve the quality of life for residents there. The villages of Nissan and Shannanah received a humanitarian aid distribution last month of food and supplies from the Iraqi Army soldiers. The next day the same soldiers visited Tawhilla and Turki Village to distribute aid. (READ MORE)

Family of Major KIA support Iraqis, deployed military - BAGHDAD – On April 6, 2008, an incoming mortar round hit the Fitness Center on Forward Operating Base Phoenix in the International Zone. U.S. Army Maj. Stuart A. Wolfer and U.S. Army Col. Stephen K. Scott were killed in action, and a total of 17 other soldiers were wounded. For the family of Wolfer, support of the effort since their loss has never been more important. (READ MORE)

IA delivers toys, freezer, message to local school - AL HARIWAB, Iraq – While many humanitarian missions in Iraq only provide supplies to communities, one recent mission here also had a message to deliver. Iraqi Army Soldiers from the 33rd Iraqi Army Brigade, 8th Iraqi Division, supported by Military Transition Team 336, delivered toys, school supplies, backpacks, a freezer and a message to the girls, ages 6 to 12, at Al Bestor school in Al Hariwab April 2. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Ministry of Defense officers graduate from Public Affairs Course - BAGHDAD –16 officers from the Iraqi Army and Air Force and one Ministry of Defense civilian, will embark on a career in public affairs after graduating on April 1from a three-week long Iraqi Joint Headquarters Public Affairs Course taught at the Ministerial Training Development Center. The newly minted public affairs officers will return to their respective divisions and brigades to pursue public affairs activities and advise their commanders on interacting with the media. (READ MORE)

Improving Schools in Zaggurbanya Village - FOB BERNSTEIN — 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. Chaplain (Capt.) Mike Keifman and his Iraqi Army (IA) counterparts are charged with improving the school before the beginning of the next school year. (READ MORE)

Uday’s Baghdad Villas Demolished, New Saudi Embassy Slated for Site - BAGHDAD — It has been said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But a group of Iraqi contractors, with the help of a U.S. Airman, are taking a different approach. They are burying the past to rebuild a new future. The past, in this case, are three villas located here in the International Zone, two of which once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s eldest son Uday. Known for his brutality, Uday often used these villas to torture, rape and murder many of his victims. For the Iraqis still here, the buildings have become an eyesore and constant reminder of the tyrant, until now. (READ MORE)

U.S. brings roads, cows and chickens to the Panjshir Valley - The Panjshir Valley, 120 miles north of Kabul, figures big in the modern history of Afghanistan. It was from this lush valley that the guerrilla movement that chased the Russians from Afghanistan was centered. The U.S. is making major efforts to win over the villagers, who are notoriously suspicious of outsiders. New roads will cut down on isolation, radios will allow news from the central government in Kabul to filter in. (READ MORE)

Team Fosters Self-Sufficiency in Afghanistan - PANJSHIR, Afghanistan, April 6, 2009 – For more than eight years, the Afghan government has been building the country from the ground up, using millions of dollars in aid from foreign governments and private groups. In northern Afghanistan’s Panjshir province, however, progress is not measured merely in dollar signs and projects completed, the members of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team are using these capabilities to move residents toward self-sufficiency. (READ MORE)

Forces Kill 52, Capture 17 in Afghanistan Fighting - WASHINGTON, April 6, 2009 – Coalition and Afghan forces have killed at least 52 insurgents and captured 17 others in four days of fighting in Afghanistan, military officials reported. The firefights mostly have occurred in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand and Zabol provinces, where military officials say the Taliban is increasing its presence. (READ MORE)

UN agency calls for safety of Afghan hospitals and medical staff - 6 April 2009 – A senior United Nations health official today called for medical facilities and staff to be protected in Afghanistan, speaking on the eve of World Health Day, which this year focuses on ensuring the safety of hospitals. “WHO would like to take this opportunity to call on all actors involved in the conflict to respect the neutrality of health facilities and health workers,” Peter Graaff, the Country Representative for the World Health Organization (WHO), told a news conference in Kabul. (READ MORE)

45 bodies handed over to Afghan officials - QUETTA: The bodies of 45 Afghan nationals, suffocated to death in a container on Saturday, were handed over to the Afghan authorities on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at Chaman on Monday. Afghan Minister Maulvi Muhayuddin, Minister for Refugees Muhammad Omar Mayar, Adviser to the Aghan President Shahzada Masood, the Afghan border force commander and General Abdul Raziq received the bodies at the Bab-e-Dosti in Chaman. (READ MORE)

Firing erupts between Lashkar and Taliban, two injured F.P. Report - BUNER: Heavy firing erupted between the Awami Lashkar and Taliban in the Gokand valley here on Monday evening in which two members of the Lashkar were injured. According to the head of Lashkar the firing between the two erupted when the Awami Lashkar tried to enter the valley from Pir Baba side via Rajgalay Kandow. The already well-positioned armed Taliban started indiscriminate firing from their hideouts. (READ MORE)

Romanian, Dutch soldiers killed in Afghanistan - KABUL -- A Romanian officer was killed in a roadside blast Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, where a day earlier rockets killed a Dutch soldier and wounded five others, officials said. The Romanian vehicle patrol was hit by a roadside bomb northeast of Qalat, the capital of the southern Zabul province, killing the officer and wounding four other troops, the Romanian Defense Ministry said in a statement. (READ MORE)

Flogging of Girl by Taliban Causes Uproar - CBNNews.com - The video of the flogging of a teenage girl by the Taliban in Pakistan is causing an uproar. The girl was accused of spending time alone with a man who wasn't her husband. The 30 lashes she received were punishment administered under Sharia law which is now in place in Pakistan's Swat Valley. (READ MORE)

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