November 9, 2009

From the Front: 11/09/2009

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

3rd Time, New Country: Overdue Pictures

Nick Druecke at Camp Taji: Don't blame MPs for Fort Hood shootings - From Nick Druecke at Camp Taji, Iraq, roughly 6,339 miles from home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Before we deployed, Ft. Hood was my duty station, and I will be returning there upon redeployment. When I heard about that shooting business, I thought they would blame the security guards or the MP's for what happened, and that simply isn't fair. Ft. Hood is one of the largest military bases on the planet. Every day over 60,000 people come and go to work on base, and there are only a handful of gates for people to enter. So in the mornings for the start of the day, the afternoons for lunch, and the evening for the end of the day, you have that many people driving through those gates. Yes they have guards stationed, and they check the ID of everyone in the vehicle. If you don't have an ID, you get turned around. If your vehicle doesn't have a military base sticker visible, you get turned around. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Multi-Missions take a toll - I’ve been on multiple missions these past few days and have fallen behind with my writing and pictures. My Internet connection has been spotty and today the server went down. Friday for the most part we had off and I spent most of my time cleaning and organizing my room, doing laundry, and resting. These missions can really drain your energy and my room looked like a hurricane came through it. But now I have managed to restore order to my space and my Internet connectivity is cooperating a little bit better. Yesterday after mentoring our ANA counterparts, we spent the afternoon inspecting our MRAPs. We went over each vehicle with a fine tooth comb and identified all of the minor and major deficiencies we could locate. The Marines were not gentle with these vehicles and they have some problems that need to be fixed. I suppose in the areas where they traveled, a speedometer was not required. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: MRAP Swap - A decision was made after pulling into the camp parking lot that we roll out in the morning and drive to FOB Airborne to swap out these refurbished MRAPs with the Marines. In addition, we would be accompanied by the ANA General along with his security detail. Personally I like traveling with the ANA because they know how to get through the traffic and when traffic is gridlocked, they will dismount from their trucks and direct traffic so our convoys can get through. As we anticipated, traffic was pretty heavy through the western side of Kabul, specifically in the market area. Our ANA brothers jumped out of their trucks and started waving traffic off to the side and we squeezed our MRAPs in between cars, trucks, livestock, and throngs of people shopping in the crowded market place. Once we departed the city and drove west, the traffic was minimal and we made good time. We pulled into FOB Airborne and the Marines were waiting for their upgraded MRAPs. (READ MORE)

Joshua Gross: The forgotten front - Kashmir is a void in U.S. foreign policy, all the more noticeable for its absence in our diplomats' discourse. Ashley Tellis, a former political adviser in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, told journalist Steve Coll earlier this year that the best advice for the Obama administration was to "keep hands off." The conventional wisdom holds that prospects for peace are too fragile for a ham-fisted American mediation that pushes India and Pakistan too hard, too fast. In a region where capitulating to the Americans is political suicide, our good intentions would surely backfire. However, the "hands off" approach ensures the prolongation of a perilous status quo. A perpetually unstable South Asia flooded with jihadi groups, with two combustible nuclear powers, undermines U.S. national security. In the interim, American troops are caught in the web of a conflict dynamic that extends far beyond the borders of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: AHHHH…PARADISE…not as advertised - Back to work in the middle of week two and everything as returned to a state of raw madness as there are only about 11 working days in the entire month of November and we just HAVE to do two months worth of stuff during this time. This includes a regimental run, a regimental change of command, the Marine Corps Ball, a Combat Fitness Test, turning in equipment issued for the deployment, administrative audits, shots, dental appointments, a regimental PME (professional military education), promotions, NJPs, the rifle range, redoing emergency data sheets for families, platoon commander notebooks for all new Marines. Oh did I mention that 357 Marines were added to my company today? Everyone that is getting out or transferring to other units were dropped in my lap to keep track of. This puts me at 580 strong. I even get all the clowns with administrative and legal issues. Tomorrow in fact I have four going to NJP that I didn't have yesterday. Hooray! (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: All those colors on your chest - The next time the Soldiers of the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center put on their dress uniform, you will notice a lot more color on their chest. That is because they have earned several new military awards. In two separate ceremonies — one at the Combined Press Information Center and one at the U.S. Embassy — our Soldiers were honored for their service and achievements. The military has a tradition of presenting awards for a job well done, for a specific achievement, or for length of service. All of our Soldiers received at least some of these type of awards, and those who had never deployed before, or were new to the Army and Army Reserve recieved even more of them. Here are some pictures of the awards you might see on your friend or loved one’s dress uniform in the near future: (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: Grief, again - About a year ago now I found myself writing about grief on my blog. Here we go again. This morning I have to host a "Command Breakfast." The Battalion Commander (BC) wants all his primary staff Officers and NCOs to show up once a month for a breakfast together in the DFAC. The Chaplain runs things, but because it's a Command function, it's not an overtly sectarian, religious event. I found out two days ago that Task Force Sabre is having their last Command Breakfast this morning; I found out yesterday that *I'm* doing it. So, in a few moments I'll be going over to the DFAC to smuggle in my portable iPod speakers so that I can play a snippet from Handel's "Messiah": After playing the last section of the piece, I'm going to talk about grief. This seems especially timely, given the massacre at Ft. Hood this week. It's also timely for me, because I find myself reliving the afternoon and evening last spring when we had five murders on Camp Liberty in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Fayzabad - Feyzabad is the largest city and the provincial capital of Badakshan. The population of Feyzabad is approx 50,000 and is located about 4000 ft above sea level. Badakshan is one of the largest and least populated of Afghanistans provinces. It is the province which the English and Russians made with the finger which stretches out to touch China. The German led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) base is near Feyzabad at the site of an old Russian air strip along the Kokcha river. Feyzabad is along the path of the old Silk Road. It is a place of interesting landscapes. The glacial river is the cleanest river I have seen in this country. The rolling hills nearby are obviously farmed and now bare except for the scavenging herds of goats. Even the chaff has been carted off the slopes to make mud bricks. The herds of goats and sheep can be seen leaving early in the morning to spend the day grazing high on the mountain. Every evening they come back down to the safety of the valley. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-today life of a female marine: Military Women in the Media - 27 - Female Marines: ‘Their stories go with them', Vets share experiences during Salute to Veterans: Now retired Gunnery Sgt. Rose Noel was riding her bicycle to the armory at Al Asad Airfield in Iraq on a typical August 2005 morning when a rocket hit nearby and she was struck in the face with shrapnel. “I wasn’t knocked off my bike and thought I’d just been hit by debris until I felt warm dampness of blood on my neck.” Two short tidbits: Over the years, I’ve had the honor of meeting many wonderful veterans, all woven into the tapestry that makes our country great. One was an elderly woman from Tyrone, stooped from age and from years of farm work. But she remembered her years in the U.S. Marine Corps with pride. She was among the very first females allowed into the Marine Corps, serving during the World War II era. She laughed when she told that a cosmetic company patented a red lipstick for the female Marines designed to match what’s called the “blood stripe” on a Marine’s uniform. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Turkey Shoot - While enjoying a morning cup of coffee and checking email up on the Baba Deck with a group of friends who are in from the States we saw what was clearly the signature of a tanker attack just up the road. That has never happened this close to Jalalabad before so we conducted a brief staff meeting which consisted of saying “let’s go” and headed up the road to see what was what. The ANP had closed the Duranta Dam tunnel but recognizing us they waved us through – as did all the ANP on the other side of the tunnel and 300 meters down the road we broke into the open. We had been passed through right into the ambush site which was still active so we pulled over to get our bearings. We parked the truck in dead space and continued forward on foot. The firing was sporadic with just a few incoming rounds. The villains had a belt fed machinegun (probably a PKM) which fired just a few bursts during the 5 or so minutes it took us to reach the kill zone. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: The Tribes – A Bottom Up Approach - The last post generated quite a few interesting comments about the Steven Pressfield Blog, Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, and the prospect of using specialized troops to embed with the tribes and possible be used for cross border sanctuary denial work. With the election now decided this is an excellent time to talk about the tribes and more importantly a bottom up approach. The government in Kabul is not going to change – in fact they are already firing a shot across the bow of the entire international community sending a message that is easy to decipher. Check out this email which came from a senior security manager in Kabul last night: Dear All, Last night the Lounge Restaurant in Wazir Akbar Khan was raided by police and all their liquor confiscated. They were also on their way to Gandamak but it was already closed. I made a phone call to the Regional Police Commander for Kabul who confirmed that the police is indeed conducting raids on restaurants for 2 reasons: (READ MORE)

Major Richard Streatfeild, OC A Company 4 RIFLES: HOPES AND FEARS - It's finally here, day one on Operation Herrick. It's been some time coming as I was first told that A Company would be going to Afghanistan in early January. A Company is usually part of 4 Rifles. For this tour we are under command of another Rifles Battalion, 3 Rifles. We are to form part of Battle Group North in Helmand which is based around Sangin. A Company is over 100 strong and with attachments from other branches of the army is considerably more than that. We have been training together since Easter. As I look back it seems like an incredibly long period of training for the mission we are going to undertake. That said I've never heard anyone in my position say we were too well trained for the task. The training has many aspects. Everyone going to Afghanistan needs to know how to operate safely. They need to know enough about the culture to avoid inadvertent offence. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Militias: fail, repeat, fail, repeat… - Local militias, tribal militias, ethnic militias, arbakais, Social Outreach Program, community defense and happiness brigades – whatever you want to call them – have failed and failed again throughout the history of Afghanistan. Some worked short term and then ended in disaster while others went straight to disaster (1840s, 1880s, Nadir, Dostum, auxiliary whatchamacallits down south). Some appear to be a joke. For example, the AP3 in Wardak. In regards to that, I’ve got one: Q: What do you call 4 Hazaras with AK47s in a Ford Ranger? A: A Pashtun tribal militia. So the AP3 doesn’t have enough Pashtuns and I couldn’t bring my ‘89 Ford Ranger to Australia. That means immediate fail. However, the AP3 was never advertised as a tribal militia. It is just a derivative failure in the making. On the other hand, I no longer have to put up with snobby grad students mocking my “redneck” truck right up until the date they need me to drive their furniture across Bloomington. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: UK soldiers remember the fallen - A Remembrance Sunday service has been held at Camp Bastion in the Afghan province of Helmand on the day another British soldier has been killed. Later the Queen is to lead the Remembrance Sunday commemorations at the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall. Representatives from the Commonwealth will join Prime Minister Gordon Brown, military leaders and religious heads for a service and military march-past. The latest soldier to die was killed in a blast in Helmand, the MoD said. He was the 94th British fatality in Afghanistan this year. A two-minute silence will be held at 1100 GMT across the country to remember the UK's war dead. Earlier 2,000 British servicemen and women gathered on a dusty, windblown patch of open ground at the camp in Afghanistan to join in prayer, lay wreaths and remember fellow soldiers killed serving their country. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Flags at Half Staff - All the flags on Camp Adder are at half staff to honor the dead at Fort Hood. One of the national guard brigades where a friend of mine works flies the Texas State Flag next to Old Glory. Last night at dinner she was saying everyone in her shop mobilized out of Hood and went through the facility where the shooting occurred. Many of the national guard soldiers are full time and work at Hood. They know people, civilians and military, who work at that facility and were frantic for a while wondering of someone they knew was a victim. No one was. It seems the victims soldiers getting ready to deploy. How horrible for their families to lose their soldier before he or she even gets on the plane. Earlier this year when an American soldier was captured in Afghanistan, most soldiers turned and watched the news when there was something about that soldier, then turned back when that segment was over. It has been that way since the shooting. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Still No Vote - The parliament missed yet another deadline because it has not agreed on an election law. The disagreement remains over Kirkuk. There are so many rumours that it's impossible to know what really happened. The most widely circulated of the stories is that the Sunnis and the Shiite Alliance joined forces to oppose the Kurds on Kirkuk. The bottom line is the politicians have yet to reach an agreement. The elections remain scheduled for January 16, but the head of the electoral commission reportedly has requested that they be postponed until February because he needs the time to make proper preparations for the vote. This would violate the Iraqi constitution, which requires that the vote be held by the end of January. But these politicians have violated the constitution on numerous occasions, and there is no reason why this should be different. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Is This What Victory Looks Like? - I do not know what victory looks like in a counter insurgency. With the recent bombing in Baghdad it is hard to say that a true victory and a true peace has been achieved. There are still deadly attacks on US troops. The true success of the war in Iraq will be revealed in the coming months and years. But what is for sure is that the fight is now being waged by the Iraqi police and, to a lesser degree, the Iraqi army. After full implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement on June 30th 2009, the US role in the remaining counter insurgency has dwindled. The US Forces in Iraq are no longer waging an active war against violent extremist networks, their role now is stability, economics, governance and training. The US Forces Iraq fill a gap between the central government of Iraq and local government. Here in Saladin province north of Baghdad the 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division is rapidly adapting to the new normal. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber kills anti-Taliban leader, 12 others near Peshawar - A suicide bomber killed 13 people, including an anti-Taliban leader, in an attack at a market outside of Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar. The Taliban suicide bomber detonated his vest at a market in the town of Matni. Pakistanis were shopping to prepare for the festival of Eid al Adha. That attack also wounded 36 others, nine of whom are reported to be in critical condition. The attack appears to be a targeted assassination. Among those killed in the blast was Abdul Malik, the mayor of Adizai. Malik had raised a tribal lashkar, or militia, that stood up against the Taliban. "Malik had survived several attacks on his life in the recent past, since he turned against the militants," a senior official in Peshawar told Geo News. "But today the militants have finally killed him." Local Pakistani tribal leaders have raised lashkars to oppose the spread of the Taliban throughout the northwest. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Iraqi forces search for Qods Force agents - Iraqi officials in Al Kut are seeking four suspected Iranian Qods Force operatives behind attacks on security forces. In an effort to detain the men, members of the Iraqi security forces have put up wanted posters in the streets with photos of the Iranian operatives. The Qods Force agents are wanted for "armed operations against Iraqi security personnel and civilians," an Iraqi security official told Voices of Iraq. "The security authorities in Kut appealed to local residents to report these dangerous persons who are wanted on charges of involvement in terrorist operations in Iraq." The campaign was announced the same day that Iraqi security forces detained four Special Groups operatives in Al Kut and three members of the Mahdi Army offshoot Promise Day Brigade in Baghdad. Al Kut has been a major hub for Qods Force operations in central Iraq. The city was one of five that served as "distribution centers" for Iranian-supplied weapons, according to the US military. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Another heaping helping of Marine Corps life, please - Sometimes my son surprises me. Not often, but it happens: “I got my re-enlistment papers to fill out. It’s too good to pass up and I’m good at what I do here. Plus, no civilian job would allow me to be me. I hope to have your support, which I’m sure I will. I know you'll have questions and concerns, but hold off on any doubts and worries.” That he was re-enlisting did not surprise me in the least; he is good at what he does and is well-suited for the Marine Corps. The surprise was his concern over my reaction. Typically, Daniel is considerate of my feelings. He is a thoughtful young man and tries hard to think of others — except when it comes to the Marines. That’s a whole different world where mom holds no sway. I was touched to read his note, explaining the training he would receive and how it would affect the future of his and Ashley’s life and their plans. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: An Iraqi Celebration - Some of the unit is already in Kuwait, but those left behind indulged in a traditional Iraqi feast last weekend. The command ordered food for 10 people, but the Iraqis were more prepared for the Last Supper, providing food to fill the tummies of at least 40 hungry Soldiers. We had lamb, fish, ground beef fried into a patty, kabobs, bread, hummus and all the fixings. We ate on the ground with our fingers under a tent at the new Oasis Bazaar (several Iraqi shops on base). After filling up on food, they brought out the hookah with apple flavor shisha. We passed that around and visited for about an hour and then played dominos with our new Iraqi friends. It was a great night, and I’m so glad we have this to remember. Our replacements have made it to Iraq. We’ve only got a couple of days to train them, but since the division staff stays here it’ll provide some continuity. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Tradition - This is the last entry from "beautiful" Kandahar, really this time! There will be more entries to follow from the trip home. Very short entry this time, but needed to close this trip out. I don't know if it is an official tradition to have a cigar at the end of a deployment, but it has been the case on my three deployments. The first picture is of me having a stogie at the end of the Ramadi, Iraq deployment in 2007 and the second is of some of the 10 last survivors of our original group enjoying a stogie last night. Again it's been a challenging and rewarding experience here and I'll miss some things, but definately not enough to extend! haha. Shayna, I'm almost there and can't wait. Everyone else take care and I'll be in touch. (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: Ambushed! - It started with a threat. At a checkpoint in Baraki Barak district, Afghan security guards protecting the American combat outpost stopped a driver. When they insisted on searching the car, the driver rankled. “Fine,” he said, “you won’t be here in two days, anyways.” At the outpost, soldiers speculated. Maybe the driver meant he would try to get the Afghan guards fired. Maybe he was hinting at a planned attack on the outpost. Maybe something else, something more dangerous for the roughly 100 Americans in Baraki Barak. Two days later, Able Troop’s 3rd Platoon rolled into a district village to check up on some mosque refurbishment projects. As 1st Lieutenant Kevin Ellerbrock chatted up the village mullahs, a worried-looking man approached the soldiers guarding the platoon’s vehicles, idling on the main road through the village. The man spoke only a little English and the soldiers spoke no Dari; the platoon’s interpreter was with Ellerbrock. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Never Trust a Skinny Cook - You know that something is wrong if a soldier isn’t complaining, so here’s my little take on chow. The chow we’ve been eating here at the little JSS I’ve been at for nearly a half a year now will keep you alive, but it won’t do too much more than that. There is junk food (i.e. potato chips, packaged cookies, and sodas) aplenty so you won’t starve, but the actual chow they serve won’t do too much more. It consists mainly of just add boiling water Chicken Alfredo Pasta (which I will never order again in my life) very well done cuts of Standard (yes the grade beneath Select) beef, and powdered eggs. I thought it was the supply system simply not being able to get us the ingredients for healthy eating but turns out it was just lazy cooks. I hadn’t eaten a salad in over four months, early in the deployment we’d get fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis, but suddenly the flow of fresh greens shut off entirely. (READ MORE)

J Alexander Thier: Prioritize in Afghanistan - Mr. President, be practical, but do not abandon hope. Is the continuation, or even expansion, of the American engagement in Afghanistan worth the investment? I believe that answer is yes. The Afghan people, and those who have lived and worked among the Afghans, have not given up hope for a peaceful Afghanistan. In every part of the country there are Afghans risking their lives to educate and vaccinate children, to monitor elections and investigate war crimes, to grow food for their communities. They are not helpless without us, but they rely on us for the promise of a better future - a promise we have made repeatedly over the last eight years. I understand that remaining committed to the stabilization of Afghanistan is not easy. It will be costly, in lives and taxpayer dollars. It is a challenging mission, in every way. Yet the alternatives, when examined honestly, are unbearably bleak. (READ MORE)

Graeme Smith: More talking, not more troops - More foreign troops will not help Afghanistan. As the United States considers another surge, it's worth remembering that the number of international forces in Afghanistan has already increased dramatically. Every year I spent in the country, from 2005 to 2009, saw major troop surges -- and terrible surges of violence. With every fighting season, more women and children were killed. I saw their faces, I smelled the death. What did we buy with so much blood? Nothing worth the price, sadly. We tried to make it safer for the United Nations and aid agencies to help the people, but instead it became more dangerous. We tried to set up a democratic government -- but it's not democratic, and it doesn't govern much territory. Building a country at gunpoint has failed. We need to acknowledge this failure if we're going to think clearly about what's next. (READ MORE)

Stephan Pastis: Saddamapalooza, Day 5; or The Last Time Ever I Saw Garry’s Face - I am sitting in a Blackhawk helicopter flying over a war zone. Here is a Blackhawk. Here is me: And sitting across from me, helmet slightly askew, is this guy: And sitting across from me, helmet slightly askew, is this guy: He is Garry Trudeau, creator of the legendary comic strip Doonesbury. And I am sitting there thinking, “How the hell did I get here?” You see, I have six main comic strip influences: Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, Doonesbury, Far Side and Dilbert. I was fortunate enough to meet Charles Schulz and Berke Breathed. I’m friends with Scott Adams. I’ve never met either Gary Larson or Bill Watterson, but then neither have most cartoonists. And I had only seen Garry Trudeau once at a Reubens convention (cartooning’s annual awards weekend). (READ MORE)

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