November 24, 2009

From the Front: 11/24/2009

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

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: Another link in JBad - Hameed and Rahmat are fabbing up a storm with new links these days. As the density increases, we are rapidly reaching the point where the reflectors on the tower in JBad are blanketing the city in every direction with RF and we don't need any more reflectors on the tower for new links. Here's some photos from the latest 4km link: (MORE)

A World Away: Fifteen Purple Hearts later, the 951st Sappers will be back in Wisconsin tomorrow - The most banged-up Wisconsin National Guard unit since World War II is scheduled to return home Saturday. The 108 members of the 951st Engineer Company racked up 15 Purple Heart medals and 100 combat action badges in 250 combat missions in Afghanistan. "What these guys did was route clearance," state Transition Assistance Advisor Jeff Unger said, referring to checking for hidden explosives. "Every time they stopped and got out of that vehicle they put themselves at risk." Unger and Bob Evans, the director of psychological health for the state guard, said since WW II no other guard unit has had as many Purple Hearts and combat missions as the 951st. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: What Does The Taliban Say - ...when they’ve killed 13 people and wounded 42 more in a botched rocket attack? “We didn’t do it.” We were cordially invited to stay at FOB Kutschbach for a few extra days by the rotary wing folks, who bumped our return flight to a day earlier than scheduled. So, as we had some extra time on the ground, we did a foot patrol with the French, the PMT and the ANP through the Tagab bazaar a couple of days after the attack. Being that there were two of us, and we each had an interpreter, we were able to talk with the people we ran into at the bazaar. That is, when we weren’t being hurried along. While asking people what village they were from, if their village and/or family had suffered any casualties, and how they felt about the attack, the story the Taliban was telling came out. First, they insisted that only one rocket was fired… so the other round must have come from either the Americans or the French on the FOB. Right there they shucked off half of the responsibility. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: Talking to the Enemy - So how does a military intelligence gatherer know if an informant’s lying? “A lot of times you don’t know if someone’s lying,” Chief warrant officer Edward Strauss, head of a Human Intelligence team based out of Jalabad, said in a phone interview. “Sometimes they outright tell me the wrong name. A lot of times we have other intelligence signals- (satellite or drone) imagery, that will give us ‘contrary’ information.” “One thing we cannot do,” Strauss said, “we can’t do an operation based on what one person says. Nine times out of 10, (an informant’s motivation is based) on a tribal feud. You don’t go in on one person’s word.” “The hardest part,” Dan, one of Strauss's enlisted soldiers, said, “is to corroborate and vet the information we get. When we hear a specific high-value target is moving in the region, we note it. When we get two or three sources saying it, then we move to find someone who has had direct contact with the target.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: VMO Day 4 – Taliban determined - Before going to sleep, another heater was brought to our tent. The females found refuge in the ANA tent that were burning firewood and their tents were hot in comparison. In turn, we were given their heater stove. I also walked around the tent and sealed off all of the openings I could find to prevent the cold air from circulating through our sleeping quarters. The next morning, we woke up and felt a difference in temperature. The outside temperature was warmer and the additional heater increased our ambient temperature by 5 degrees inside the tent. Before going to chow we shaved, showered, brushed our teeth, etc. The shower tent is a bit of ingenuity. The water heater is rigged to the Humvee engine. Posted on the outside hygiene station are the instructions how to use it. Before we went to the school to set up, we received intelligence of a possible suicide bomber with plans to disrupt our activities. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: VMO Part 3 – Insurgents attack again - As expected, it was a bitter cold and uncomfortable night. I woke up around 3 am and all of my teammates were buried inside their sleeping bags with their heads covered. You could see your breath as you exhaled. It was freezing cold inside the tent. When we awoke early the next morning, everyone complained how cold it was. The ladies in the tent next to us accidentally turned off their heater while trying to adjust it and complained about the freezing temperature too. The chow hall opened early for our visit and we took advantage of the small seating room. The tables and benches were constructed of cheap Pakistan quality plywood, but it served its purpose. The food was lukewarm and the eating area was illuminated by a 6 inch fluorescent tube light. The sun was rising, but it was still frosty inside. We didn’t want to whine because the soldiers who live here have to endure these conditions daily. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: VMO Part 2 – Insurgents Attack - It was a brisk morning and the mercury was holding steady about 26 degrees. We ate a hot breakfast and prepared for the next leg of our trip. We met up with our US escort to finalize the details. The route clearance guys (IED hunters) would go in front of us and actively search for IEDs implanted in the culverts and along the road. As fast as the IED hunters dispose of the IEDs, the insurgents wait until they pass and reseed the road with these lethal home-made bombs composed of two types of fertilizer and diesel fuel. The fertilizer is cheaper than a bag of flour and is abundant in country and available anywhere for resale. We aligned the convoy and picked up additional ANA troops and vehicles along with some commercial trucks transporting food and drink supplies for the troops at the Charkh District Center. In all, we had over 30 vehicles in our convoy. (READ MORE)

Doc H: COMISAF on Board - It was a cool damp day on Camp Shaheen. Camp Shaheen is the Afghan National Army camp of which Camp Spann is only a small part. Usually I spend nearly all my time on Camp Spann, but not today. Today I was to standby in case a brief was needed about my mission here. In the early morning there was snow on the mountains in the distance. I really wished that I had brought my gloves or put on some long underwear. I saw the German helicopters come in low and fast. It was a few minutes until the buses arrived. The Afghan honor guard came to attention and was inspected. He spent quite a while talking with the Afghan Corps commander and his staff. Then he was led to the HEAT trainer. This is exactly the same set up I had to go through in Ft Riley, where you practice rollover drills in an armored HMMWV. The Afghan soldiers who were going through it were laughing as much as I was when I did it. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Eats, shoots and leaves - Thinking back on things, it does seem strange some of the things that went on. You walk around among, shake hands with, and eat and drink in homes of people you don’t really know and may not like you. But I never felt any fear in those situations, though I knew some of these people collaborated with insurgents. Pashtunwali, or “the way of the Pashtun”, simply does not provide for being dishonorable or inhospitable to guests. The concept goes so far that the Pashtun people are equally hospitable to some of our enemies as well. I’d say we returned the favor and were pretty darn hospitable to local people as well, however. On one occasion the local villagers brought men to the base with bullet and shrapnel wounds. They looked like Taliban, with their beards and stares, and my interpreter was absolutely convinced that they were. And how does an innocent get bullet and shrapnel wounds anyway? (READ MORE)

Free Range International: The Tribes - More interesting news is coming out of Kabul as the drive-by media continues its impressive efforts at covering for or trying to explain our Commander in Chief’s continuing dithering on what to do about Afghanistan. His ham-fisted attempt at moving President Karzai out of the way has ended in abject failure straining relations with the Kabul government to the point of breaking and driving Karzai right into the hands of the very people we have been trying to get off the Afghan stage. An excellent explanation on how the administration completely screwed themselves, the Afghans and the rest of us can be found in this Power Line post. But the stupidity of our current administrations efforts are not what got the blood up this morning….what do you expect from a President with no prior executive experience and Hillery Clinton? This article from the New York Times about tribes resisting the Taliban is why I’m pounding away on the laptop in a Dubai hotel lobby. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: A Gilded Cage - So I have been dealing with re-deployment issues for the last two weeks. What a headache. The right hand never talks to the left, let alone the feet. One minute everything is on track, scheduled and everybody is aware. Thirty seconds later, you call back and no one knows anything and its suddenly a rat race to put out the fire. Then comes DCS, the civilians, the contractors, and Navy Customs. I can keep going, but it is giving me a migraine just to think about it. So instead I will focus on something far more joyful, my current transient quarters. Those of you that have been following along on the Twitter site are well aware of the amenities this particular place has to offer. For those that aren’t following… shame on you! I had heard rumor that they were closing down one of the 4 Day R&R sites available to deployed troops and moving it here. Now I can see why. There is a big, heated outdoor pool, PX facilities better than the ones I have back home, fast food joints and fast wifi access. (READ MORE)

Major Richard Streatfeild, OC A Company 4 RIFLES: BATTLE OF WILLS - The start of a tour is always incredibly busy. Every day is a new experience. Yesterday we held a Shura at the base. Or more accurately, we had a Shura come to us. A large group of elders arrived to protest the innocence of a man who had been arrested in a security operation. There was no doubt that they had been sent by insurgents, but they were a notable gathering. In Afghanistan, age, gender, and facial hair are all indicators of seniority in open society. Inside the compound there is alleged to be a matriarchy, outside, in Helmand, mature men with long beards get respect. It was as an impressive bunch of beards as you are likely to find. We talked for about two hours. They are good talkers and the conversation moves at a sedate pace. "You have the watches but we have the time" is a popular Afghan jibe. We sat on our haunches until my western joints creaked and we moved to benches. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): 100k on Sunday, PT Test on Monday - On Sunday my bike buddy had to cancel our plans to ride 100 miles, so I decided to ride 100km. It was a beautiful day yesterday so I did three laps of the base then stopped for lunch. I did another lap then met up with the HHC first sergeant to make sure of road guard placement for the race on Thursday. My first sergeant was part of the meeting also. He told me that I had to take the PT Test in the morning--this morning. So I decided to finish the 100km and use 6.2 of the last 15 miles to time myself on the bike distance for the PT Test. So I got up at 0440 and went to the gym to take the PT Test at 0530. The first event is the pushup. I need to do 56 in two minutes to max--get 100 points for the event. I got 49. Not bad. I was tired. I have done 56 when I felt really good, but after the 100km ride, I did not feel "really good." The situps were next. I needed 66. I got 66 in a minute, 50 seconds. Because I am over 55 I can take an alternative to the run. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Flies That Blackhawk? The Whole Story - Last Month I wrote part of the story below--about the Blackhawk pilot who was a pilot for Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois in civilian life. Here is the four-man crew and their four very different backgrounds. Task Force Diablo is based in Pennsylvania but includes units and soldiers from across the nation. Because National Guard soldiers bring a variety of life and work experiences with them on deployment, even the smallest unit can include soldiers with a surprising array of skills and experience. In September Alaska-based, Charlie 1-52nd MEDEVAC needed a crew for the chase bird for a routine flight to two of their remote sites. Alpha 1-106th from Illinois supplied a crew for a Pennsylvania 1-150th Blackhawk helicopter. The four soldiers who comprised the Illinois crew on a Pennsylvania helicopter following an Alaska MEDEVAC show how different the members of a four-man unit can be. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: A New Baathist Leader? - A lot of Iraq's former Baathists now live in Syria, and another large group of former high-ranking Iraqi Baathists live in Qatar. Many think their symbolic leader is Izzat Douri, the only member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle to escape. But if I were sitting with the ex-Baathists in either Damascus or Doha, I would suggest they pick Juan Cole to head their gang instead. The professor who claims to know so much about Iraq conducts his analysis from Ann Arbor. Today his mission is to insist that the Baathists are still going strong: "US politicians and military men seem reluctant to acknowledge the underground Baath Party as a source of some of Iraq's continued violence, choosing instead to attribute virtually all major violence to 'al-Qaeda,' by which they appear to mean the Islamic State of Iraq or similar Salafi organizations not in fact directly connected to Usama Bin Laden." (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: 20 Million Dinar for a Life - The blood debt is a custom in many cultures, but unknown to many Westerners. In Iraq the tradition of the blood debt helped fuel the sectarian killing sprees that nearly plunged the country into a civil war. In it is purest form, as described by Edward Gibbon in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is truly an eye for an eye a life for a life debt. Everyman, at least every family, was the judge and avenger of his own cause...the interest and principle of the bloody debt are accumulated; the individuals of either family lead a life of malice and suspicion, and fifty years may sometime elapse before account of the vengeance be finally settled. But that is the most base understanding of the blood debt. In Iraq and Afghanistan tribal leaders often negotiate the blood debt to a cash or property settlement. The family and tribe of the deceased agree to not seek blood if they are compensated. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Out Of War, Art Must Emerge - Eric Schmidt has a dream. The former rifle team leader with the 82nd Airbone wants to teach art. In Afghanistan. Now a fine artist specializing in printmaking, Schmidt figures that teaching the art of lithography to a public starved of art would pretty much fulfill a dream of giving back. "What I hear from those on the ground in south and central Asia, and those here in the US is that education is the number one priority in the region. Contrary to popular belief, learning how to draw or paint is not just a way to kill hours in a day. It's very important. It has taught me how to view the world. To question what I see at first glance." He started off working in the facilities department at the California College of The Arts in Oakland, California. While he was there, he worked in their print shop. Ever curious, Schmidt asked the instructors about their equipment. There were stones --what were they for? He'd never seen anything like it. So they gave him a stone to draw him and immediately, Schmidt was hooked. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Angel Flight - Just when I think I have heard it all seen it all experienced it all something will happen that brings it all back. It can be anything but my reaction is always the same. My breath catches in my throat, my heart literally skips a beat then aches and fight the tears back with all my might. Today it was a song on the radio. I had reached over and hit the scan button on the car radio and the song hit me. “Angel Flight” I knew what those words meant. To me those two words hold more meaning than most who had their dial set to the same station. The song is about bringing home a fallen brother. To some this would seem a grim duty but to those who have served this particular mission they understand the honor of it. To those of us who have had a son brought home we understand the comfort of knowing our loved one was escorted and never for a moment alone on his journey home. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Tajik rebels join al Qaeda - Members of a Tajik military unit that turned against the government a decade ago have have joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda. An unknown number of fighters who were loyal to rebel leader Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev joined the regional and global terror groups and have been fighting the Tajik government, the deputy chief of the Tajik National Security Committee said at a regional forum held earlier this month. Khudoyberdiyev was a colonel in the Defense Ministry and led a brigade of troops. He led an unsuccessful uprising in 1997 and took control of a northern city in 1998 before fleeing to neighboring Uzbekistan. It is "unclear" if Khudoyberdiyev himself has joined al Qaeda, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Tajikistan has become a battleground over the past year, as the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have tried to disrupt to NATO's new supply line into northern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 22 Nov 09 - this morning I woke up to another call from the chief…this time it was to tell me that we needed to get some humm-vees cleaned up and prepped to take part in a “Fallen Comrade” ceremony…for those who have joined me recently, this is what we do when we have some KIA and they transport the remains to the airfield…I don’t know the circumstances regarding this death, but it was someone from our unit…the vehicles carry the caskets, draped in the US flag, and make their way from one end of the main street thru the base to the main entrance point on the flight line to be loaded on the aircraft headed to the US…when this happens most personnel on the base line the sides of the street and render proper respect–i.e. standing at attention and snapping a salute as the vehicle passes, acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice this service member has made for our country…so, we headed over to the shop and picked up two vehicles... (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 22 Nov 09 - around 12–noon I was wakened by the sound of my phone ringing… normally I wouldn’t even care, but for some reason I picked it up to see who was calling…it was Chief…dammit man, some work must need to be done…so I answer and sure enough he wants me to find Joe so we can go fill up the the fuel tank on a wrecker…this is a big ass 8 wheeled tow truck–specifically designed for the military to haul big, heavy military equipment…I couldn’t find Joe so I started up the truck to head over there–thinking I might need jumper cables or something…this wrecker hasn’t been started in a while…it’s supposed to go out to a FOB somewhere, but nobody wants it, or has scheduled shipment or whatever…anyhoo, as I get in my truck chief calls back–Joe’s at the wrecker with chief…so I cruise over there and we look over the truck–the fuel tank is eemmmppttyyyyy….almost nothing but fumes… (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Iraq Reconstruction - The New York Times has an excellent article today on reconstruction in Iraq. The article says that US officials fear that Iraqis will not maintain what we've built for them over the past six years with $53B. It goes on to cite several projects, including a $270M water treatment plant in Nasariyah, several hospitals including the Basrah Children's Hospital, and the Fallujah waste water treatment plant, among others. I highly recommend the article - well-written and pretty accurate. A friend of mine sent me a note about it today. I sent him a bit of a long response and decided that I'd post it here as well. John - I saw this article this morning. It is pretty accurate. I'm familiar with the Nasariyah water treatment plant. It was the single most expensive project we've done here. Within months of turning it over to them, it was running at 35% capacity. The reason is that the local government down there is run like a bunch of Tony Sopranos: (READ MORE)

Sarah: Doing Pregnancy Alone - I am ready for a silver linings post, this time about pregnancy. My husband left for a nine month deployment right after we found out I was pregnant with our first child. He will miss the entire pregnancy. I can think of a million ways that it stinks that he's gone: no one to go with me to ultrasounds, no one to feel my belly when she kicks, no one to rub my feet or go downstairs to get me a glass of water. No pampering at all. That is lame. But I have been trying to keep track of the good things about doing this alone. I have come up with a couple. 1) I don't have to cook for anyone else. My husband left four days after morning sickness set in. During those four days, I felt guilty that I wasn't making him his favorite foods or taking care of him before he left. But as soon as he was gone, it was such a blessing. If I only felt like eating grapes for dinner, there was no one else to worry about. When the smell of food made me sick, I just didn't cook anything. (READ MORE)

No comments: