April 14, 2009

From the Front: 04/14/2009

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

A Battlefield Tourist: A Battlefield Tour of Musa Qala District Center - In mid-February I was invited to go to Musa Qala, Helmand Province and embed with 3/8 Marines who make up the Police Mentoring Team (PMT) there. These Marines come from a variety of places throughout the battalion, including from the battalion commanders own Personal Security Detatchment. The mission here is basically a legacy mission that began when the preceding Marine unit came here to help pacify the district center. Since then, 3/8 Marines have been strict on their mission of training and mentoring the Afghan National Police who secure the District Center. For 7km in each direction, British and Afghan troops secure the rest of the district center. Beyond that, the territory belongs to the Taliban. (READ MORE)

A Year in the Sandbox: Catching Up, A Picture Post - I’ve been pretty bad about updating lately so I’m just going to put up pictures from the last month or so to catch back up, then I’ll start writing again. Click the pics for a bigger version. (READ MORE)

Adventures in Jalalabad, Afghanistan: Women - Wahida invited Kate and me to her home on Friday. It was one of my last days, and Wahida wanted me to come by to say bye to her and her family. We were picked up by Wahida & her younger brother in a 'local car' (taxi-type service) around 11am, and spent the morning and afternoon with her family. We hung out in their 'living-room' with all the sisters and daughters. Wahida had 2 of her sisters there, (one is about 24yrs old and has 5 children; the other is 10years old); and then 2 of her cousins, one was 21yrs old and the other a teenager. Wahida's mother also hung out with us. We talked about numerous things - to include the subject of women. The older sister who has 5kids, was married off to her cousin, at the age of 13 - the cousin was 20yrs old. Her marriage arrangement occurred b/c the future mother-in-law approached Wahida's father; they agreed on the father giving his daughter's future in-laws a set price for the marriage. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: Double, Double, Toil and Trouble - The white flash splits the Afghan night and I see the world in reverse color for several moments. Then the concussion hits me and I feel it through chest into my heart and lungs. KARUMPH! Our little cabal is huddled in the lee of a high ridge doing our best to avoid an enactment of Kipling’s on Afghanistan’s plains. An airstrike just crushed the ridgeline beyond the one currently giving us shelter. Our ridge rises above us and perched on top like Masada is a Combat Outpost (COP) occupied by US soldiers. Three of us are kneeling around a map our ACHs touching; actually putting our heads together to stave off the enemy. Pools of red, green and blue light spill from our headlamps lighting the map in a mosaic of color. Two armored vehicles are parked to our front, their doors standing open and red light oozing from them. The radios they contain barking and hissing information. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Where the Wild Things Are - During my previous deployment to Iraq I had to contend with all types of exotic creatures that made our lives that much more interesting. These included mosquitoes that extracted blood by the pint, chupacabra sightings that turned out to be feral cats living in our garbage can, and an army of mice that could chew through armored bulkheads if they thought something edible was on the other side. This trip I have had to contend with swarms of gnats that blow into your face like an winged tornado. The phenomenon becomes quite interesting during physical exercise. So far I have only swallowed seven of them. It is a far more pleasant experience than keeping your mouth firmly closed and snorting one up a nostril though. Trust me. As spring moves into summer we are expected to see an increase in snake activity. Among the various neuro and hemotoxic fiends that inhabit the area are the Desert Black Snake, the Persian Sand Viper, and the Blunt-Nosed Viper. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Cultural and Language training - This week we are in classroom training. Language training in Dari, Cultural training, Introduction to Islam, readings on the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan constitution and so forth. We have military instructors for about half of the material and the other half taught by contractors (ie former operators) and Afghanis, most of which served as Interpreters with our forces for the last several years. The goal is to allow us to interact favorably with our Afghan counterparts. We are to work by, with and through our counterparts, not just take control as is our natural inclination. Reading list: the Army has provided some free books. Currently I am working on "Afghanistan A Military History" by Stephen Tanner, and "The Bear went over the Mountain" edited by Lester Grau. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Some Good News from Southeast Afghanistan (after another unfortunate event) - There has been a flood of RFP”s (request for proposal’s) hitting the street of Kabul concerning FOB Sharana. Sharana (spelled Sharan on UN AIMS maps) is the capitol of Paktika Province and a relatively small city of some 2,200 people. Here is an assessment done in the not too distant past on Sharana: The dominate tribe in the region is the Suleimankhel who are Ghilzai Pashtuns and inhabit all of the eastern districts of the province, from Wor Momay up to Sharan district. According to former provincial Governor Ghulab Mangal, the Suleimankhel provide the majority of recruits for the Taliban in the province. As a result, the level of anti-coalition militia activities remains high in areas dominated by Suleimankhel. In most areas of Afghanistan the “Taliban” is a collection of indigenous narco-jihadi-tribal guerrilla forces. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan signs sharia bill into law - The Pakistani government has approved the controversial bill that will allow for the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, into a large region of northwestern Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation into law today after a majority of the Pakistani Parliament passed the bill. The regulation allows for the establishment of sharia courts in the Malakand Division, an administrative region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province and includes the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan. The sharia law was referred to the Pakistani government after the government negotiated an agreement known as the Malakand Accord with the Taliban in Swat. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Leave, R&R, EML...Whatever You Call It...I'm There - Today is the day that a lot of service members look forward to when they're deployed. Well, actually, it's when you get home...but today is the day I leave Baghdad for home. The process that gets us from here in Baghdad to home is something that we don't look forward to. It's long, it drains you mentally, it leaves you exhausted after traversing eight time zones...but it is sooooo worth it. I'm looking forward to being in my own house, being with my wife, playing with my daughter and our crazy dog. I'm going to pack some good food in my belly, see a lot of friends, visit my students at both schools, and relax. So, here I come... (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: Arrest Order for Civilians Yelling Insults - Last week, an Iraqi Army commander ordered his battalion of Soldiers to not respond with insults or physical force when civilians yell insults at the Soldiers. Instead, he ordered his Soldiers to arrest the civilian on the spot. As Americans, my team was shocked to hear this order. The notion of an American Soldier making arrests on the streets of downtown Roanoke for yelled insults is laughable. In the States, members of the armed services are barred from making arrests. More specifically, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids any military involvement in domestic law enforcement. American citizens are guaranteed the writ of habeas corpus, protecting them from unlawful arrest, except during periods of martial law, such as in Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor from 1941 to 1945. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Chilling at Ali Al Salem - So here I sit in an internet cafe on the world's slowest computer. I think this thing is running Windows 95 ... the original version ... as originally installed on this antique clunker of a machine. The monitor is about as sharp as a Q-tip and the keyboard clatters like a silverware drawer. But what the heck, it's working, and I'm not doing anything high-tech anyway. We had a decent flight from Dulles to Kuwait. United Airlines is not exactly my favorite customer-service company right now. We got there pretty early and tried to check in. United has gone over to the Dark Side, making customers do their own checkin as much as possible, and actual agents are hard to find since they're running back and forth between four or five open counters each. United's computers didn't like any of the documents or information that I provided - not my passport, not my last name, not my confirmation number. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th marines: Iraqi Security Forces discuss security concerns with 2/9, 2/23 - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq –Lt. Col. Thad R. Trapp, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, recently hosted a security conference aboard Camp Ramadi, Iraq, with several Iraqi Police chiefs from precincts throughout eastern Al Anbar province. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce local Iraqi police chiefs to the Marines of the 2nd Bn., 23rd Marines, the unit that will be replacing the Trapp and his Marines. The event gave Lt. Col. Joe A. Cabell, the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, an opportunity to meet key Iraqi leaders he will be working with throughout his deployment. During the conference, Iraqi security force officials and the two battalion commanders agreed that safeguarding the populace would continue to be the main concern in the eastern Al Anbar province. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: FEPP - Part of closing a FOB is to inventory all the property you plan on leaving behind and giving to the ISF or GOI element moving in (FEPP Inventory=Foreign Excess Personal Property). On a small Patrol Base its a pain in the ass, on a big FOB its daunting at best. Before we get authorization to give the property to the IA it has to be offered up to any Coalition element that might want it. It makes sense, it seems imprudent to wantonly give away property simply because one unit no longer needs it. The problem, however, is that we tend to synch the closing of our bases with the ISF and their needs. We’re not leaving altogether and its helpful if we leave behind a functioning property. If we don’t, then instead of a fully capable ISF element taking over there is a gap in capabilities, a gap which is difficult for the ISF to close given their limited supply system (it all comes back to logistics). There is an art, I’m learning, to handling the FEPP inventories. (READ MORE)

Sergeant Grumpy: Happy Easter Infidels - Whoomp - This Easter I am quite happy to be at home for a quiet day with the wife and kids. Last Easter was very different, and it was the start of a series of events that led to a big drop off in my writing. Actually, it all begins a few days before Easter, but that will wait, because since it is Easter I want to recount what it was like for us last year. We had recently made a big capture and a significant haul in XXXX[insurgent group] ordinance to include rockets, mortars, ammo, etc. - but the real shocker was the plates and explosives to make over 200 EFPs. This was a major blow and threatened to undo a lot of back-channel bridge building that we had been working on for months. But our message was clear - come into the open and join the political process, or we will continue to support and encourage Iraqi Forces to hammer you. Losing the EFPs was really bad for XXXX[insurgent group], because they were provided by Iran, and losing them means answer to their Iranian masters. (READ MORE)

Stop-Loss And A Wakeup: The Line Begins To Blur - At this point, I'm the only dude on God's watery blue testicle that isn't still shitting a brick wall over this stop-loss deal. Angry, embittered Suspect, yeah yeah, we get the point. Saw that routine a few dozen times. Fact of the matter is that I'm stuck. They got me, period, the end. After the initial rebellious phase, I decided that I wasn't going to draw attention to myself. Under the radar, stay out of trouble and escape with what little dignity I could pick up on my way out. Now, things are different. I just want to do it. Get in the game. Play it by the rules. Suck it up and do the job. Hell, college is just a noun to me now. Not the near-tangible salvation it was a couple months ago. For the time being, I think it might not even exist. There are no schools. No careers. There's only desert boots and green infantry carrier vehicles. 5.56mm tracers and cheat sheats with Arabic phrases on them. All it took was one little trip to Yakima to get that deployed feeling, and I was back. Loved it way more than being in garrison. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: The Running of the … Water Buffalo? - A few days ago my platoon was conducting a patrol through a semi rural area (i.e. its still crowded but the people are heavily agrarian) filled with narrow alleys, shanties thrown together from scraps of tin and mud bricks, open trenches of stinking sewage and donkey carts. The afternoon was hot and dusty and found most of the residents squatting next to the high walls seeking what little shade there was to be found. We threw out the occasional “Asalaam Aleikum” to people we passed and chatted about the security in the neighborhood, noting the dramatic improvement over the past year and fielded concerns about things like fresh water supply in the area. All of the sudden from an alleyway perpendicular to the one our patrol was meandering down a herd of water buffalo peaked its head around the corner and started picking up speed. Soldiers wondered if they were caught in the running of the bulls. There were a lot of water buffalo and not a lot of places to go. (READ MORE)

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