June 1, 2009

From the Front: 06/01/2009

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

A.L.L.: Dust Devils Spawned of Candy Sins - A story inspired by memories dusted off by the Delta Bravo Sierra cartoon of 5/29/2009 and articles in Afghan Lessons Learned. It takes only a single pencil, a single piece of brass hitting the desert floor, a single piece of candy thrown to the single kid in the middle of the nowhere for hundreds or thousands of kids to pop up out of the desert dust. Kids are cool. Troops like kids. But they're curious and they can easily get out of hand in large numbers while standing still. Our policy was NEVER EVER give stuff to kids while stationary. Our team clown broke this rule once or twice, re-inforcing need and enforcement of the rule. Now, there are people out there that say we shouldn't give stuff to kids, period, and others that say it shouldn't be thrown from a moving vehicle. I will strongly disagree with both. (READ MORE)

A Year In The Sandbox: Videos Are Coming… - I severely underestimated the time it would take to upload my videos. The internet connection here moves at the speed of smell, and on top of that I keep getting errors from YouTube just as the videos are about to finish. I have a few uploaded but I was hoping to group them in to a few posts of similar videos. If I can’t get enough uploaded for that by tomorrow I’ll just post what I’ve got uploaded so far. Sorry for the delay! (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Changing Commanders, Changing Tactics - Well I must say I expected this to a degree. You put a Spec Ops Warrior like McChrystal in place and he is going to do what he has seen work. However I hope he does remember the words of Bouhammer, “Afghanistan is not Iraq” and he is ready to adapt and tweak the previous tactics to better fit the Afghanistan war zone. There is a lot of talk about Counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare in Afghanistan, not because of the incoming commander but because that is what is needed now. There are talks of a COIN Center of Excellence existing in Afghanistan now, and I am hearing from sources that the Commander of 4th BCT, 25th ID (ABN) is one of the first Sr. Field Commanders who truly understands and executes COIN operations on a daily basis. This should be an interesting next few months in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Back from mission with a little traffic mishap - We all gathered in a circle and placed our hands on top of each as the customary prayer was recited. We also repeated our motivational chant and then jumped into our armored vehicles. We would cover a lot of ground today, so it was going to be tasking on the drivers. Our first stop was an ANA outpost and chatted with their American mentors. It was a good place to take a break and munch on some of the beef jerky my wife included in my care package. I shared with my teammates and they eagerly consumed it. Along the way we passed by an old Soviet base. I envisioned the Soviet Hind helicopter gunships departing from this area in search of the elusive Mujahedeen during the 1980 era. Now the base sits in ruins as a constant reminder of the former occupation. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: More mentoring, “Darkness” – the dog and my 1st care package - This morning was a productive mentoring session with my ANA SGM. We delved into the problems causing the greatest unease for his soldiers. Receiving combat boots made with second-rate quality was a concern. The boot contract is local, but I surmise they are manufactured in another country. Using my translator, I explained about contracting and capitalism. Just because Company A was awarded the contract, doesn’t mean they will manufacture the goods. Instead they will subcontract with Company B who often subcontracts with Company C and D. As a result, inferior quality is sometimes substituted so each company layer can claim their profit margin. He seemed to understand. The SGM also mentioned ANA like to play volleyball. Well this sport is near and dear to my heart. He wants to schedule a volleyball match between the ANA and coalition forces. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, - In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry? I was sitting on my porch, reading. SGT B was sitting on the other side of my porch, reading. The sun was down, darkness had settled over FOB McSleepy. Since we were reading, my porch light was on. One of the laundry gals who lives across the way stepped outside and headed in my general direction. There's a very nice porta-jon next to my area, and the quickest route there is either across my porch or the porch of the first sergeant who lives behind me. The laundry gal, seeing my porch occupied by NCOs, altered her path to cut across the first sergeant's vacant porch. Then she stopped and switched back. "Can I cut through here?" Sure, I replied. Public property, cut through any time! As she crossed my porch, she looked at me, shame and terror in her eyes. "I'd go back there," she indicated the first sergeant's porch with her chin. "But there's cats back there. I don't like cats." (READ MORE)

Doc H: The URF - This post is dedicated to my URF. Phonetically "ur-f". The actual acronym is "Unit Request of Forces", meaning the Army, which is pretty strapped for people, asked for assistance for each mission and billet to accomplish that mission from other services. Each URF has its own number to track its mission, personnel and status. An URF can be as big as 18 or so, but our URF is only 2 people. So my bunkmate, Steve, and I are an URF. As a nickname I call him URF a lot. It is good to have a battle buddy you can count on in these types of situations. Thanks URF. Friday and Saturday were Afghanistan specific big picture medical lectures, with lots of reference material on disc in case we need it later. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Mustache May is over…let the voting begin! - It’s June 1st, which means too things. The first is that the 314th PAOC has only 6 months left on its 1 year deployment. It also means that Mustach May is over and the voting for your favorite hairy upper lip now begins. For the past 31 days, eight Army Reserve Soldiers in the 314th have used all that pent-up testosterone to sprout mustaches. For some it was a welcome improvement to their looks, while others provided us some comic relief, and some we were not sure what to say. That is why we are leaving it up to you — our faithful blog readers–to decide which mustaches receive which of our three awards: Category1: Best-looking mustache - Catergory2: Funniest-looking mustache - Category3: Please shave that thing off! (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Flags of Life - I tried to write this long post about patriotism and honor, but I couldn’t get it right. So I’ll stick to the basics and hope it comes out right. I sent flags I flew during medevac missions to a few friends, family, and organizations I used to belong to. I expected a nice thank you and maybe “We support the Troops” type attitude out of the whole thing. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of gratitude for the flags I sent. It was a simple program here where we purchased flags ourselves and flew them on medevac missions. Then we could print a nice certificate, get the crew to sign it, and “present it” to the individual or organization with a picture of the crew holding the flag. What ended up happening was very humbling for me. I flew about ten flags, three for family, the rest for friends and a couple of organizations I felt would appreciate a flag flown on a medical mission in Iraq. Its not an uncommon thing for aviation units to do. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Tanks for the Memories - Shortly after joining Echo Company I realized that part of my suffering in 2009 would simply be showing up in the motor pool. The glacial pace of motor pools, the problems that can only be diagnosed by experienced mechanics, the whole fellowship-of-the-falling-apart-truck is something that excites me just as much as death-metal music, sitcoms, comedy movies, and zombie movies. So I spoke to my squad leader already about the form 4100 evaluations we will be receiving in the fall, that's when Sergeants are evaluated for promotion to staff sergeant. I am already at the top grade of 63J so I will have to be retrained to be promoted, as an air conditioning mechanic, a wheel mechanic, or a generator mechanic. Right. So I had the bright idea of submitting my paperwork in my job specialty from before 19E--actually 19E30, tank commander/section leader. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban attack paramilitary camp in South Waziristan - Fighting has broken out in South Waziristan after the Taliban attacked a paramilitary camp and outposts in the lawless tribal agency. The clashes broke out after a Taliban force attacked a camp and checkpoints run by the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the town of Spinkai Raghzai. Reports of casualties range from 25 to 50 Taliban, and seven Frontier Corps were killed in the fighting. The military reported in a press release that 15 Taliban fighters and three troops were killed in the attack on the encampment. "The attack was repulsed successfully, inflicting heavy casualties on militants," the military said. Unnamed intelligence sources said 40 Taliban fighters were killed during the battle. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: I'm with the band - So, last week I decided it was time, again, to get out of the office and see "outside the wire". As the commander of this fine detachment I don't get to venture out on missions like my journalists. It's their job to get out and get stories, photos, and videos of units around Baghdad doing their missions. It's my job to organize, attend meetings, and make sure everything runs smoothly. But it was time to put on my "battle rattle" and climb into a large, armored vehicle and see Baghdad. I went up north to Camp Istaqaal with the 1st Cavalry Division rock band. I served no purpose, just a straphanger. I was, in essence, a groupie. Not a roadie. Nope...they're the ones that set up and tear down. They do work. I was just along for the ride, enjoy the music, and take some photographs. The 1st Cav has a large band and it goes with them where ever they go, even to Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Memorial Ceremonies - There were memorial services on Thursday and Friday for my two friends, Terry Barnich and Maged Hussein, as well as Navy CDR Duane Wolfe. All three of them were killed in Fallujah on Monday. The services were exceptionally well attended. My command held one in our DFAC on Thursday for CDR Wolfe, since he came under our Army Corps of Engineers umbrella organization. It was a very moving ceremony, well done. On Friday, the Embassy held a service for Maged and Terry. They were expecting about 500 people, but my guess is about three or four times that many showed up. In addition to Ambassador Hill, we had General Odierno, the Japanese Ambassador, the Iraqi ministers of water and electricity, and many many others. I found the service to be exceptionally moving, particularly the tributes from my boss at the Embassy and her husband, who each talked about their friendship with Terry and Maged. Their testimony and their personal pain was heart-wrenching to experience. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Framing the Threat - So Philip Smucker just conducted a “three-month investigation of al-Qaeda’s activities, from Nuristan in the north to Paktika in the southeast,” and based on this investigation concludes, “bin Laden’s terror network - working through Afghan and Pakistani partners - is present in almost every Afghan and Pakistani province along the fluid border areas between the two countries.” Well, yes. But how is this new information? It’s not really, except at the margins. And that is where this gets interesting. Smucker includes troubling assertions in his report, like the widespread presence of “Chechens” amongst the fighters in Afghanistan. For years, since the start of the war, the existence of Chechens inside Afghanistan has been repeatedly asserted in the press but no one has ever presented proof of their existence. Indeed,that Smucker relies on an anonymous Afghan monitoring radio broadcasts to claim the presence of Chechens is telling: (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Sailor escapes hardship to thrive in U.S. Navy - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – Coming of age in a broken home cluttered with adversity and hard-learned lessons, the struggles of a young corpsman from Regimental Combat Team 6 forged character that has proven useful on his path upward in the U.S. Navy. Once he realized his life needed direction, Petty Officer 3rd Class Randy L. Nash, Jr., the RCT-6 Regimental Aid Station supply petty officer, focused his efforts toward a new life as a corpsman. Today, he serves as alongside the Marines and sailors of RCT-6, though, not long ago, he was struggling to keep his feet planted in one state. Nash experienced life on the road at a young age, constantly packing bags and relocating. At age14, Nash entered Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn., for the start of his freshmen year. Before the end of his first semester in December of 2000, disputes with his father forced him to relocate to Old Town, Fla. (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: Videos From Camp Taji - Yes I finally have videos to post! I wasn’t expecting to get these up till my return home however my step-mom was willing to help out. After several failed attempts and over a month delay in trying to get a flash drive mailed home, it arrived back in the states. I sent several gigs worth of videos so expect many more to follow. Thanx again to my step-mom! Our strykers were in severe need of being repaired upon arriving to Camp Taji. So most days we found ourselves waiting in the motor pool for our vehicles to get fixed. The civilian mechanics had jimmied a basketball net together. Didn’t take long for us to find it and play to pass the time. A few of the guys got together and built a craps table to help pass the time. Gained a lot of attention and became a place to hang out at night. Note, no real money was ever used. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: R and R - Rest and Recuperation, the best two weeks of a long year, an oasis in a desert if you will. After five months in Iraq you almost forget how nice America is and how great every day life is. As my flight touched down in Atlanta I gazed out the window, awestruck by all of the greenery. Then I wandered through the airport, astounded at it’s cleanliness and modern engineering. Truly a feat of engineering. I spent my two weeks back catching up with my wife, seeing family and friends, and relaxing in the Florida Keys. I had a great time and made the most of it, but it was far too short. I could have used an extra month of leave. Coming home to my beautiful wife definitely made me want to stay home forever. With about four days left on R and R the thought of having to go back began to sink into my head and haunted me for the last few days. I definitely didn’t want to return to the Sand Box. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Food, Fiber, Friends and CS Lewis - Last week it became clear to me that the endless bounty of food at the DFAC (dining facility) was not providing me with enough fiber. So I went to the only store in town--the PX--and found that they sell every conceivable sugared snack, but no high fiber food. Coincidentally, I got an email from my 20-year veteran uncle asking if there is anything I need. I asked for a case of Grape Nuts cereal. I was already eating the top five high-fiber foods on the web lists. Then I thought I could go on sick call. But that thought only lasted a second or so. I don't mind going on sick call for a bone spur or an acute illness, but the medical unit is mostly staffed by women in their 20s. So I did not want to go on sick call and explain my problem. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqi Command Sergeants Major Step into Leadership Roles - CAMPT TAJI, Iraq – The Iraqi Army is breaking with its past and is creating a strong class of Command Sergeants Major. The first step was taken March 16, 2009, when the Taji Sergeant Major Council was formed. The senior non-commissioned officers meet to discuss training issues and develop a single professional standard for Iraqi soldiers. The next step was the creation of the Command Sergeant Major Course. (READ MORE)

Interior Ministry Logistic Team Tours Balad Air Base Warehouse Operations - BALAD – A team of logistic leaders from Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, responsible for supplying the rapidly growing 480,000 member agency, recently toured Joint Base Balad to view a large-scale warehouse operation. The Iraqis toured the warehouse with their coalition logistics counterparts from the Ministry of Interior Training Team, directed by British Brig. Gen. Max Marriner. (READ MORE)

Three detained in grenade attack - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – Three suspects were detained today, in an attack on Coalition forces Soldiers training with the Mufiqiyah Iraqi Police in West Basra. The suspects allegedly attacked the joint training site with a hand grenade. The attackers were immediately detained by Coalition forces and turned over to the IP. No U.S. forces or Iraqi Police were injured. (READ MORE)

Security Ministry Officials Discuss Human Rights Issues in Iraq - BAGHDAD – Officials from the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior, and the Counter Terrorism Center discussed human rights issues and teaching methods at the day-long “Human Rights Teachers Conference” held at the Ministerial Training and Development Center May 27. The conference was designed to facilitate a sharing of information and greater collaboration among those officials charged with human rights related training within security ministries and organizations. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Senior Non-commissioned Officers Course Graduation - CAMP TAJI, Iraq – After nine weeks of training, the Iraqi Army Senior Non-commissioned Officer graduation ceremony was held at Camp Taji May 28. The 19 graduates were greeted with words of congratulations from several dignitaries including Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Abani, Ministry of Defence deputy chief of staff, Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Sammeer, commander, Iraqi Basic Tactical Training Division, Italian Brig. Gen. Pasquale Martinello, commander, NATO Training Mission-Iraq Training, Education and Doctrine Advisory Division and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Joint Headquarters Army Advisory Training Team. (READ MORE)

Coalition Transfers Badger Maintenance Facility to Iraqi Army - CAMPT TAJI, Iraq – In a step forward for Iraq, the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq, has turned over the Iraqi Light Armored Vehicle Maintenance Center here to the Iraqi Army. Iraqi Air Force Staff Gen. Naseer Abadi, deputy chief of staff, Ministry of Defense participated in a ceremonial ribbon cutting with U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, commanding general, MNSTC-I Joint Headquarters Army Advisory Training Team. (READ MORE)

Tournament Fosters Unity in Baghdad District - BAGHDAD — Cheers, music and fun filled Shaab stadium here recently during a soccer tournament in eastern Baghdad’s Rusafa district. The London-based soccer organization FC Unity, along with U.S. and Iraqi officials, provided this platform for development and education through a series of soccer programs. As a sense of normalcy continues in the Iraqi capital, U.S. officials, along with their Iraqi partners, wanted to show that security is here to stay. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police in Mosul Take Operations to a Whole New Level - MOSUL — Iraqi Police gathered with their counterparts from the Iraqi National Police and Iraqi Army at the 3rd Iraqi Police Division’s new operations center for a situational update briefing on the morning of May 26. The IP realized they could leverage significant operational gains with their own operations center to conduct mission planning and tracking, while working with key personnel from the Iraqi Army and Iraqi National Police. (READ MORE)

Getting a Taste of Iraqi Food, Culture - BAGHDAD — Multi-National Division - Baghdad food service Soldiers had the opportunity to experience a meal that isn't served in the dining facility where they work. Soldiers serving with the Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, MND-B, who help feed 2nd HBCT Soldiers at the Dagger Inn Dining Facility on Camp Liberty, took a trip to Forward Operating Base Constitution, May 26, where the 24th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division is headquartered. (READ MORE)

Cemetery Opened for Iraqi Families - KIRKUK — More than 50 local Iraqi family members stepped foot inside the green gates of the Sultan Saqi cemetery to pay respect to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and beloved ancestors, May 27. For some, it was the first time in decades they have crossed the sacred threshold. After Iraq's old regime barred relatives access to this site for almost 35 years, they were granted official visits to two on-base cemeteries here thanks to a partnership between the U.S. Air Force, Iraqi Air Force, a Defense Department Human Terrain Team, and the Kirkuk Provincial Council's Religious Affairs Committee. (READ MORE)

Security Forces Airmen Train, Mentor Iraqi Police - CAMP STRYKER — In a crowded briefing room more than two dozen security forces members sporting flight suits casually sit and wait for their squad leader to start the briefing for the day's mission. As the squad leader makes his way to the front of the room the lightheartedness quickly turns to seriousness, because these Airmen will be going outside the wire within the hour. (READ MORE)

Petraeus: Video Shows Air Strikes Aimed at Taliban Targets - WASHINGTON, May 29, 2009 – Footage of a controversial U.S. aerial bombing in Afghanistan this month shows the strike targeted Taliban militants, the commander of U.S. Central Command said today. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told National Public Radio that he recently watched a video recorded by an aerial bomber involved in the May 4 firefight in Farah province between a joint U.S.-Afghan force and Taliban insurgents. The battle resulted in the death of Afghan civilians -- with U.S. estimates ranging from 20 to 30, but the Afghan government’s as high as 140. (READ MORE)

Afghan, Coalition Forces Kill 35 Militants, Wound 13 Others - KABUL, May 29, 2009 – Afghan soldiers, advised by coalition forces, killed 35 militants and wounded 13 others in the Deh Chopan district of Afghanistan’s Zabul province yesterday, military officials reported. The Afghan-led force was conducting an early morning combat reconnaissance patrol when the convoy came under heavy fire from militants using small arms and mortars. The combined forces returned fire and requested air support, killing 35 and wounding 13. (READ MORE)

18 Taliban killed in Afghanistan fighting - KABUL (AP): Afghan and NATO troops killed 18 Taliban militants Sunday after insurgents attacked a joint patrol, while four police were killed in a separate militant ambush, Afghan officials said. Militants attacked the troops in the western province of Farah, the site of a major battle with numerous civilian casualties in early May. (READ MORE)

More than 50 killed in two days’ fighting - KABUL (NNI): A series of clashes in various corners of this fractured nation left more than 50 people dead in two days, Afghan and NATO officials said. In a battle, Afghan troops killed at least 30 militants in the northwest province of Badghis, according to the Afghan Defense Ministry and NATO officials. (READ MORE)

Extra US troops in Afghanistan by mid-July - KABUL (Agencies): The majority of the 17,000 extra U.S. troops being sent to fight a growing Taliban-led insurgency in southern and western Afghanistan should be on the ground by mid-July, the U.S. military said on Sunday. A further 4,000 troops are arriving to train Afghan security forces and they will be deployed by August. (READ MORE)

Canada great contributor to Afghanistan rebuilding - WASHINGTON (NNI): The outgoing Afghan Ambassador to Canada Omar Samad has said that there was a great contribution from Canada for the rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan. “Canadas contributions over the past eight years or so have targeted a diverse set of needs and activities, not only in relation to counter insurgency and anti-terrorism, but also in such areas as humanitarian, governance, gender and rural development aid, to name a few: (READ MORE)

Students learn of Afghanistan through soldier’s blog entries - LA CENTER, Ky. (Agencies): Sixth-grade social studies students at Ballard County Middle School know what time it is in Afghanistan and what the weather is like there on a given day. The students have become acquainted with the Asian country through Aaron Connor, a Ballard Memorial High School graduate now serving near Ghazni City, Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

Laconia woman making a difference in Middle East - KABUL (Agencies): Jessica Harris, daughter of Paul and Linda Harris, is winding down a six-month tour as project engineer on the Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) project in Kabul, Afghanistan, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (READ MORE)

Pakistani troops close in on key Taliban town - Pakistani troops on Monday pressed their offensive against the Taliban in the northwest Swat district, closing in on a key town after pushing into a strategic valley, officials said. Pakistan launched the air and ground assault in late April, after Taliban fighters advanced to within 100km of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace. (READ MORE)

Pakistan’s war against Taliban ‘may end in days’ - People trapped at home for weeks emerged in search of food at barren shops while corpses lay exposed in the Swat Valley’s main city yesterday as a Pakistani official suggested the army offensive against the Taliban in the region could end in days. Elsewhere along the Afghan border area, dozens of militants died in clashes with soldiers in a tribal region, fighting that could nudge the military to expand its offensive beyond Swat. (READ MORE)

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