October 26, 2009

From the Front: 10/26/2009

[Ed Note: It is already 1444 and I still haven't finished compiling the post for today. So before I end up not posting anything at all, here we go. This also gives you a little insight into how I compile the From the Front postings.]

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New complete posts come in below)

In the NARMY now: Qatar Pics - Few more pics from Qatar I got from the guy I went with. (VIEW PHOTOS)

3rd Time, New Country: Presidential Elections Round 2, - It’s been another odd week here in Kabul. I guess there isn’t really any reference for a “normal” week, but I will still call it an odd week. I have been on 3 convoys, the team presented what we are doing to the CG (Commanding General) and I woke up in the middle of the night to an earthquake. Lastly, Karzi agreed to a second round of presidential elections for 07 Nov. We will have to wait and see how that turns out. The team has been back and forth to Camp Eggers three times this past week. The first time was to practice our brief for the CG. The second time was the actual brief. Not only was it for the CG, the ANA & ANP Surgeon Generals were present as were two other US Army 1-stars. There were approximately 60 people in the room. Because we didn’t have enough time for everyone to brief, only 3 from my team actually spoke. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: The Warlord and The Election - Haji Jan Dad is riddled with the scars of some 20 years of combat as a mountain fighter. Shrapnel is embedded in the back of his head, his arm has been ripped open by bullets. He has a PKM machine gun round lodged between his thumb and index finger that he's never bothered to remove. On a sunny day at the end of August, dozens of Afghan elders in traditional dress and long beards were facing a few American soldiers on the terrace outside Haji Jan Dad's compound. They were assembled under the auspices of a truce. One of the questions underlying Barack Obama's Afghan strategy review is the extent to which the U.S. can win the support of Afghanistan's fiercely independent tribes, particularly in rural Pashtun areas along the Pakistani border. The area remains one of the most dangerous in Afghanistan: Earlier this month, Taliban fighters overran an American outpost in Nuristan province, killing 8 American soldiers. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Shaken, but not stirred - Last night I was struggling to fall asleep. It was R&B night at the MWR center which is approximately 2 B-hut lengths away. The participants had the bass turned up and the vibrations made it difficult to sleep. Just as I dozed off, at 12:21 am my bed started shaking and I immediately sat up in my bed. I was certain the MWR sound system wasn’t responsible and narrowed it down to an earthquake tremor. This morning I confirmed my suspicions. Afghanistan experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was located approximately 167 miles northeast of Kabul and shook buildings in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Islamabad. Because it happened in an extremely remote area, it may be awhile until officials can determine if there were any casualties or damage. Today our ETT team leader directed an inventory be conducted for missing property book items. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Village Medical Supplies drop - Two days ago, we were supposed to visit this village, but didn’t and had to reschedule for today. Only a handful of my teammates would accompany me on this visit as we joined forces with the camp medical personnel. Even though the village was friendly and the camp has been supplying clothing, food, hygiene items, etc., we still traveled with an armed convoy along with some ANA soldiers. Today’s mission was to deliver some badly needed medical supplies to the village medical clinic. I was responsible for taking pictures and also served as a gunner with a mounted M-240 machine gun. I really don’t like to be a gunner, but you get a different perspective when you are elevated up in the turret. The dirt road was extremely dusty and our HMMVWs stirred up the dust making limited visibility for me as a gunner. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: In the middle of Afghan demonstrations - After several hours of delay, our convoy departed the camp for our mission. Much of the delays were caused by our unfamiliarity with the various MRAP models. For the past 5 months, the armored HMMVWs have been our vehicle of choice and we are intimately familiar with them. Yesterday we were supposed to have the vehicles by afternoon, but they didn’t return until dark. So we used the shotgun approach and familiarized ourselves with the equipment and communication items before we departed. Today’s mission called for a convoy of MRAPs and I was the convoy commander in the lead vehicle. This was the first time I have been given this opportunity. I was a bit nervous because we were going to travel a brand new route and as convoy commander I was in charge of making decisions, even though officer teammates outranked me in the convoy. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily Brief: multiple chopper crashes make deadliest day for U.S. in Afghanistan since 2005 - The battle rages on - After more than a week of fighting, the Pakistani Army has reportedly recaptured the strategically and symbolically important town of Kotkai in South Waziristan, and is making gains against a series of Taliban bunkers in a mountain overlooking a key junction in the wild tribal region. Jets and attack helicopters are providing support to the some 30,000 ground troops battling some 12,000 Pakistani militants and foreign fighters in the agency, and the military says 178 militants and some two dozen soldiers have been killed since the offensive began, though independent verification of casualty figures is impossible. And several Pakistani soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Bajaur earlier today. A suicide bomber struck Pakistani police Sunday, killing one police officer on a highway near Jhelum city, 60 miles south of Islamabad. (READ MORE)

Norine MacDonald: The election hurdles in Afghanistan - With the Afghan election run-off just sixteen days away, much hangs in the balance. The good news is a resolution to the Afghan election standoff has been reached -- a true success story for the domestic political agendas of the West. Whether or not the international community and the Afghan government can, in just two weeks, pull off a clean and legitimate election is another matter. The fact of the matter is that holding any election in Afghanistan is an incredibly difficult task. Huge efforts were made to tackle the many challenges posed by operating thousands of polling stations in a rural and unstable country for the first presidential vote, held on Aug. 20, and still the election was marked by poor turnout, hundreds of Taliban attacks, and extensive fraud. (READ MORE)

Alex Strick van Linschoten: An Invitation - I read in Friday's Independent that: "Three judges of the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal ruled on Wednesday that the level of "indiscriminate violence" was not enough to permit Afghans to claim general humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom. Hundreds of asylum-seekers a year are returned to Afghanistan if they have not convinced a court they are in fear of persecution or that their lives are in danger. The ruling on Wednesday prevents them from arguing that the country is a dangerous place." The headline ran, "Immigration judges: 'Afghanistan is not in a state of war'". I didn't really know what to do with the article except to formally and publicly invite the three judges who sat on the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal to stay with me down in Kandahar and take a look for themselves… Come have a stroll with me in the local market… Lovely place… and no war at all... (READ MORE)

SGT Kellena Leech: Just a reminder… - SGT Kellena Leech, one of the 314th PAOC soldiers, put together the video at the bottom of this page (click on the link to see it on Youtube — sorry, not viewable on U.S. government computers). When I talked to her about it, I knew our family and friends back home had to see it. First, because it reminds all of you that we will be coming home — maybe not as soon as we all hope, but eventually (those extra couple days caused by sandstorms, paperwork and the unexpected are trying on all of us). When we finally do see each other, it will be worth the wait. Second, I wanted to post it because a couple of you requested to see what kinds of things Soldiers do here during their “free time.” The options are definitely more limited than they are almost anywhere else (except our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan). (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Mail call brings smiles from home - Mail call. Two bitty words can bring a lot of happiness to a person far from the swooshing doors of a local store. The Marines and Sailors of the USS Bonhomme Richard got their first mail call weeks after setting sail from San Diego. Daniel e-mailed his thanks and says he's thinking of ways to put a package of fake mustaches to good use along with the more mundane items in his box…can’t wait for pictures! Now, more waiting to hear where the ship is headed in that big ol’ sea out there, and it’s time to start putting together the Christmas care package. Hmmm…ideas, anyone? (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Project Valour IT: Giving Dignity and Strength - For most of my adult life, patients have held a special place in my heart. And so it's with pleasure that I write about Project Valour IT, one of the many worthwhile programs that Soldier's Angels supports. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Major Chuck Ziegenfuss, seen here speaking with CNN's Don Lemon. The project started as Chuck was recuperating from major wounds sustained from an IED while serving in Iraq. While recovering from severe wounds, which included the loss of several fingers, he asked for a voice activated computer so that he could keep up with those who served with him. Thus, a serious tragedy kicked off a major charity. Project Valour IT helps to supply three key pieces of equipment that greatly booster the self confidence, and recover process after a significant injury. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bombers target Iraqi ministries, kill 132 - A pair of suicide bombers driving trucks packed with explosives detonated outside the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial administration, killing 132 Iraqis and wounding more than 500, police officials told Voices of Iraq. The blasts set nearby cars ablaze and blew out windows in nearby buildings, adding to the casualties. The facade of the Ministry of Justice was smashed, and the building flooded after water pipes burst during the explosion. Blast walls around the government buildings, which could have prevented some of the devastation, had recently been removed by the government. The attacks are similar to the Aug. 19 bombings in Baghdad earlier this year. On that day, suicide bombers detonated their explosive-laded vehicles outside the Foreign Ministry and near the Finance Ministry and the Baghdad provincial government building, killing more than 100. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Another fulfilled request….for Karaka - I wish I could take credit for this sunset picture, since it is very nicely done. I got it from the archives of previous CPIC units. It was taken back in 2008, so it has be one taken by a Soldier in the 126th Public Affairs Operations Center. I looked for information identifying the photographer, but couldn’t find it. Perhaps someone will comment and tell us who it was. The picture is taken not far from the previous location of the CPIC, in an area we called Ocean Cliffs (there was no ocean and no cliffs, but the British were there, so they probably named it for their Cliffs of Dover). Nearby Ocean Cliffs is the Convention Center, the Al-Rasheed Hotel, the Parliment, and offices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Lot of stuff going on it that neighborhood! (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: Thank You For Your Support - I would like to thank everyone for the support they have given me since I started this blog. There have been many changes here over the last few weeks: New teams in, old teams out. New people in charge, new way of doing things, and as for our team, we are wrapping things up and getting ready to come home. I hope everyone enjoyed reading the blog, I wish everyone the best, and most of all, I look forward to getting back home. Thanks again for all your support. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War--Retiring to a Gun in the Sun - If you’re looking for retirement advice, don’t ask Master Sgt. William Foster, 55, a door gunner in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment. The former Punxsutawney, Pa., police department patrol sergeant did not move to Florida and did not take a part-time job like many retirees. ‘Punxsutawney Bill,’ as he is known in the town he has lived in all of his life, decided to volunteer as a door gunner and go to Iraq for retirement. Granted, he got the sun retirees crave back home. But most retirees don’t load a Gator with a half-dozen guns six days a week in the afternoon sun and help prepare a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for a long, possibly all-night, mission. Although Iraq is low on the list of destinations retirement planners recommend, Foster believes this is the right place for him to be and the right time for him to be here. “My younger son deployed just ahead of me as a sniper with 112th, said Foster. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Coyote Weddings - It's coyote wedding season for Iraq's political parties. Any short-lived union is called "irs wawee" in Iraq. The expression means coyote wedding. When a couple get married only to divorce a few weeks later, it is called a coyote wedding. The Iraqi election scene has witnessed a few of these coyote weddings among the different politicians who are testing alliances in time for the elections. Reportedly an alliance was formed between Ayad Allawi and Saleh Mutlak, which people say already fell apart. Another was formed with Mutlak and Adnan Janabi, but it also went south. Some of these unions lasted just a few days, which is they're coyote weddings, meaning everyone knew the alliance would never last. There is talk that Allawi and Mutlak are under pressure to patch it up. There was a rumour that Ahmad Chalabi and Allawi would form a united front. New alliances or coyote weddings are expected to be announced soon as the Iraqi people wait patiently. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: "Hardly Mission Impossible" - Max Boot goes to Afghanistan and reports back in The Weekly Standard: “Tremendous obstacles abound, ranging from the resilience of the Taliban to the ineptitude and corruption of the Afghan government. But it is hardly mission impossible. In areas such as Baraki Barak, U.S. soldiers and civilians have been making impressive progress ever since this summer, when the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan hit 64,000--up from just 32,000 in 2008. (There are now 68,000 troops with the arrival of another brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division devoted to training Afghan soldiers in the south.) But there are still far too few U.S. soldiers here to roll back years of gains by the Taliban in the south and east of the country.” He's right-- it ain't easy but it's not impossible either. But as we have pointed out (and tens of thousands of good men on the ground are proving every day), it's straightforward. Give them the right tools, the right guidance, and good solid leadership and turn them loose. They'll win every time. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Food for thought (and action) - A few of our regular blog readers recently asked us to give you a tour of our dining facility. That’s DFAC in military-speak, although some of our older readers might remember the military calling it a mess hall (ours is very clean….no mess here). It took a few days, but I got permission to take pictures in the DFAC. Our facility is very nice — well lit, clean, and lots of room for all of us Soldiers, civilian employees, contractors and even some local nationals. It’s also a very secure building and well protected from enemy attack. After you enter the building, the first step is to clean up. Signs announce that the best way to avoid disease is to wash your hands. From my personal experience, the DFAC is the cleanest place on the FOB (and it also has the cleanest latrines), so I am more than willing to follow through on that request. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: A.W.O.L: A Warrior on Liberty - Decompression, relaxation, and multiple cups of joseph are all in order. I have no interest in making any decisions, thinking, or anything resembling taking responsibility for myself or anyone else. Waiters and staff are making all decisions for me: "Sir, would you like to try our…" "Yes, I would." Still getting over the time difference. Was a walking corpse early last night and crashed around 9pm. Instantly awake at 1am and finally crawled out of the rack at 03. Breakfast doesn't start until 0630. Man! It will take a couple more days to transform back into something resembling a human being. In the meantime I will still appear as some kind of specter roaming the grounds of the resort at odd hours. Oh well, I guess I'll do some pushups. Will also take a stab at recounting the joyous adventure which was our 3 to 4 day flight home and hope to post that soon. (READ MORE)

Combat Boots for Artemis: Debutante Denoument - I got a call from our soldier today! We got to talk for an entire 12 minutes and 38 seconds!! Okay, they're all back from Victory Forge and the result is... She passed everything and is all set to graduate on Friday! So Victory Forge wasn't hard and in fact was a lot of fun. The big disappointment was that she wasn't allowed to march back with her platoon. She'd hurt her ankle again during some of the exercises and the drill sergeant made her ride back. She tried to insist and even begged a little. She wanted to be with her platoon as they marched up Victory Hill. But the sergeant patiently explained that he couldn't send her to AIT broken and that if her ankle were injured any more she'd be held over. So she rode back and cheered her platoon on as they marched up the hill. (READ MORE)

Doc H:
On the Road - Sorry no pictures, technical difficulties. I started my trip to Kabul yesterday. We stayed on the German run base at Marmol, which has an airport. We had to wait until the next day for a flight into Kabul. Like all people who live on a small sized Camp we had to tour around the "big city" and observe all the ammenities available. The Norweigans have a nice PX and will actually accept dollars. There is also a small pizzeria as well. I think the Norweigan chow hall was the best part of the base though. Their food is catered through SODEXO. As further proof that it is the best chow hall on the camp, I noticed almost all of our Italian brethren eat there. The food was good. One difference between the US chowhalls and the Norweigan one is desert. There is no desert in the Norweigan chow hall. In US chow halls you can make an entire meal out of deserts. I got to talk a little Italian to some Italian soldiers at Marmol which was both fun and humbling. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Kandaks - In Afghan languages a kandak is a battalion. I can remember visiting a base outside of our area and talking to a someone who during our conversation remarked to me, "Oh, you're with 3rd Kdk? Is that an infantry battalion?" I was a little taken aback by the question and almost remarked in Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men fashion "Is there any other kind?" But I caught myself, as I remembered that there are indeed other types of kandaks out there, just like in our military. The ANA do have tanks, artillery, Afghan Commandos, and other types of units, to include aviation. We had a small detachment of ANA artillery soldiers at one of our bases, complete with two D30 122 mm howitzers. In the month I spent at that base, we never once fired those guns...and not for lack of enemy contact. We were firing mortars from the base nearly daily. It was a little tough for the ANA to get into the act of firing those indirect fire assets when they needed the approval of the Kandak Commander, located some 25 km away, in order to fire. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: 3 SCOTS thwart Taliban to recover US Chinook - Soldiers from Alpha (Grenadier) Company of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), have fought off Taliban attackers in order to facilitate the recovery of a US Army Chinook helicopter. When the helicopter of the US 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade suffered a hard landing on difficult ground in the Upper Sangin Valley, troops from 3 SCOTS were mobilised at short notice to secure the crash site. A number of UK and Afghan troops had been on the troop-carrying aircraft but thankfully, although it was badly damaged, no-one was injured. In a bid to secure the area, recover the airframe and to prevent it falling into Taliban hands, 120 men of Alpha (Grenadier) Company were flown to the desert site. However, as a specialist US recovery team set to work to prepare the Chinook for extraction, insurgents began to mass. (READ MORE)

Misuchan's Milblog: Happy endings do come true - Misuchan’s Milblog is now closed. I’m keeping it up for further commenting, but I will no longer post to this blog. I have safely skirted my way out of the Army with an honorable discharge, even though I probably don’t deserve it since I’ve never been the type to keep my mouth shut when I see bull going on. I will never regret joining the Army as it has opened some nice doors for me. Korea will always be my favorite part of my short 6 year stint, and it will always hold a place deep in my heart. The unit I went to here in the states right after Korea, well it taught me a lesson on how messed up and evil people really can be - and I had to go through Afghanistan with some of those low-lives. Afghanistan, well it was interesting to say the least. Serving the French military and learning their culture and language was really an honor and a privilege. My most memorable experience there was visiting the site of the Buddha statues in Bamyan. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: On a sad day for Iraq, things are quiet at CKV - CKV holds about a thousand people, including members of other branches and contractors. But about 120 Oregonians are running the place, which, as you can see from the picture below, ain't exactly paradise. But their goal is to be the unit that sees it closed down and returned to the Iraqis ... assuming the political and military process works the way it is supposed to. With the explosions in Baghdad yesterday and the uncertainty about the January elections, that's a big If. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Q & A with Shiite religious and political leader Ammar Hakim - Ammar Hakim sits in a mansion alongside the Tigris River. The 39-year-old cleric became the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly referred to as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council) in late August after the death of his father, Abdelaziz Hakim, from lung cancer. Now the party’s future rests on his shoulders; Hakim may also very well help choose Iraq’s next government and decide whether his rival Prime Minister Nouri Maliki gets a second term in office. (READ MORE)

A Shout Out to the ‘Other Place’ - One of the most popular shows on the base radio station here is Country Music Countdown, with Kix Brooks. Recently, soldiers were shaking their heads over the otherwise popular D.J.’s latest “shout out.” “He said, ‘Let’s have a shout out for all you guys over in Afghanistan and other places around the world,’ related Specialist Christopher Bruce, who is halfway through his tour in Iraq at this FOB in Diyala Province. (READ MORE)

Iraqis angry at security lapse, bombs kill 155 - Iraqis vented anger Monday at a major security lapse that allowed two suicide truck bombers to penetrate what was supposed to be one of Baghdad's safest areas, killing 155 people including 24 children on a bus leaving a daycare center next to one of the government ministries targeted. Sunday's twin suicide blasts in the heart of the capital struck the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Administration, the worst attacks in more than two years. (READ MORE)

Islamabad on Edge - Islamabad, once the safest city in the country, feels under siege, as the war has crept across the border from Afghanistan, now slowly into the capital with near daily Taliban bombings and shootings. Constant threats of suicide attacks have spread unaccustomed panic. Schools are closed. Shopping malls are deserted. Traffic has thinned. With winter approaching, evenings are darker and quieter with a foreboding air. (READ MORE)

14 Americans killed in 2 Afghan helicopter crashes - Helicopter crashes killed 14 Americans on Monday, including three DEA agents after a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers. It was the deadliest day for the U.S. in Afghanistan in more than four years. The casualties also marked the Drug Enforcement Administration's first deaths in Afghanistan since it began operations here in 2005. (READ MORE)

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