August 2, 2010

From the Front: 08/02/2010 - Dispatches

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

[Ed Note: I'm doing something a little different this month, as each section of the standard From the Front post will be it's own post. This is the dispatches post where you can find personal dispatches from the front and the home front.]

LT McBain: Two Choices - Charlie Foxtrot (aka. clusterfuck)… Maybe that is a little harsh, and I am whining a little bit. Not my first rodeo with hurry up and wait, but when we landed there were only enough buses for half of us. Waited 1.5 hrs, then got to where we had to wait for our next bus. While there I was approached by MAJ Tango (S-3 — Supply) and informed I would be having some extra time at Kandahar Airfield until all the planes had arrived. He said, “You just became the new temporary assistant S-1 (Admin).” He told me to fix all. Figure out the squadron’s number by location, where they are going and when, how to get more buses next time — essentially become an S-1 for a few days. MAJ Tango’s ‘UNFUCK this mess” pretty much summed it up. He wanted to know this information by tomorrow at 0700. It was currently about 0100. Ouch. 0700 hrs: Early day. I was pretty wasted, so I was running late and only got to hit my face briefly with the electric razor. (READ MORE)

LT McBain: Green to Red - 19JUN10: I’m only minutes from crossing into the combat zone of Afghanistan. We are all on the C17 headed for Kandahar Airfield. It was a painful merry-go-round of putting your stuff on, taking your stuff off… We kept getting delayed when we were waiting for this flight. When we were taxiing to the plane on the Tarmac, the bus’ side door was open and LT Jerome’s helmet went rolling out. He was like “Shit! Shit! Shit!” but it turned out not being that bad since the bus behind us stopped and picked it up without anyone noticing. Oh I remember though; guaranteed I won’t forget. We fill up pretty much the whole bird. I was lucky enough to get a seat on the side between LT Jerome and CPT Ku, not crammed in the middle four-wide seats like sardines. We get to take our gear off until we enter the “hostile area”. At that time, the dimmed interior of this bird will have green lights switch to red, and it will be official. I’m really not too worked upright now honestly. (READ MORE)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: I am Lucky - It may not seem that I am grateful or knowledgeable of the good things I have in my life at all times, because honestly, it is hard to remember all that I have at all times. Sometimes, it's easier to see all that I have lost, all that I am living with out, and all that I miss so much. But sometimes, I have to stop and think that I am lucky. The number one reason I can say this, is because I, little ol' Mrs. P, got to be Jonny Porto's wife. I am a lucky girl, I got to know a love like no other. I was loved and adored by a man that I loved and adored right back. I got to know what some people may unfortunately never know. When I am feeling down, I try to focus on that love. Not how much I miss it, although that is hard to push aside, but how fortunate I had it, no, STILL have it. I had a fairy tale romance with a hottie tottie, brave, honest, honorable, genuine, simply amazing man. I will forever be in love with that man. True Love stories have NO endings. (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Qandahar - So I finally made it to the south of Afghanistan, albeit briefly. In my head all along was the idea that I just couldn't NOT see Qandahar (preferring the Q spelling over the K, as it sounds more like how Afghans say it), and I even tried every lever I could to serve down here for the last couple of months of my last deployment. This time I traveled for an advisory mission, and wish I could have stayed longer for the 3 days I squeezed in. Above is my first view of the area beyond the gigantic airfield: an expensive-looking foot bridge I deemed the area's own "bridge to nowhere" and the Soviet era apartments beyond, which are used for senior officer (+ families) housing...despite still being visibly bomb-damaged from the war. Another night spent in an airport was this time a rewarding one, as I spoke with my travel companions Dagarwaal (Colonel) Sobhan and Jagran (Major) Akhtar about the extensive problems inhibiting Afghanistan's progress, and how we should best work together to counter them. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: floods kill over 1,100 in Pakistan - Pakistani authorities estimate that over 1,100 people are dead and over 1.5 million affected in flooding that has swept across much of northern Pakistan and Kashmir, hitting the province of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa particularly hard. More rain is predicted, which could impede rescue efforts for the tens of thousands of Pakistanis and tourists cut off in the Swat Valley and elsewhere. The Chief Minister for Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa told reporters, "We are facing the worst-ever natural disaster in our history that has pushed the province almost 50 years back". The Pakistani army has contributed 30,000 troops as well as dozens of helicopters to the relief efforts, and the United States has pledged $10 million, 50,000 meals, helicopters, portable bridges, and water-filtration units to affected areas. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Things your 1stSgt hates... - Leadership by e-mail. "Didn't you get my e-mail?" This is a common statement made by those in the military who are too enamored with 21st Century technology to leave their desk. Perhaps they don't possess the fortitude to actually speak to flesh and blood humans face to face. Either way, it is an unsatisfactory way to lead and if you are guilty of it just know that I hate you. Desk jockeys can e-mail their subordinates all they want but when is actual leadership applied? It isn't. Our Leadership Principles remind us to ensure orders are understood, carried out, and supervised. None of these requirements are met by merely hitting the SEND button. Sorry, it's true. Getting a read receipt does not mean anyone has complied with the alleged electronic missive either. "Well he read my e-mail."; is a cowardly excuse for a lack of direct supervision. I say again, hitting SEND does not end our obligation to ...(wait for it)... FOLLOW UP and make sure tasks are getting accomplished. (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: UDT (Useless Deployment Training) - From the Soldier side: Back in Jan 2003 a bunch of us from the National Guard unit I was in were called up. We were told that we were being attached to another unit for Pre-mobilization Training for possible deployment to Iraq. So off we went for a few weeks of fun and paper work. Then we went home and waited. The wait was not long when our own unit told us “you’re not going with that other unit because our unit has now been tasked with going to Bosnia.” Oh cool! So I would get out of the job of going to Iraq. Great…I thought that meant that whatever happened in Iraq would all be over with and I’d never have to go. (I did go the next year, but this is not about that.) This posting is about the Bosnia Deployment. The strangest thing I can say about going to Bosnia is I actually loved it. The job I got to do there was the absolute best damn job I ever got to work on in my entire life!!! (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: There's no place like home - I arrived home in California last night! Many thanks to the California Guard Chaplain and his wife and children, along with six members of the California State Military Reserve Chaplaincy, who met me at the airport! My friend Mary, representing friends from church, was there as well. I'm especially grateful to Top, the first First Sergeant who attempted to square me away upon my joining the Army, who collected me and my gear at the airport. I was glad that he could go with me to Elaine's house, where Elaine had made her spectacular grilled cheese sandwiches for the two of us and my good friend Elizabeth, who joined us there. There's no place like home! Gratias tibi Domine. Blessings and peace to one and all. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British and Afghan forces build relationships with locals around Sayedebad - Soldiers serving with Somme Company, the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, working jointly with the Afghan National Army and the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland have continued to push out and clear villages surrounding the town of Sayedebad. On day three of Op TOR SHEZADA the ongoing patrols around the town have allowed forces to interact and re-assure local nationals about the operation and the increased security it will create. Captain Brad Pino, 13 Platoon Commander said, “We had reports yesterday that two insurgents had moved into these compounds to get eyes on to what we were up to… and they moved in with weapons. So we’ve moved down with the ANA today to go through the compounds, check that there are no signs of insurgents and just ask the locals what they know of it. So we’re out now providing protection for the ANA to go and speak to the local nationals.” (READ MORE)

Omar at Iraq the Model: Realities, rules, relationships won't help surge succeed - Debating the surge in Afghanistan, on The Hill. Here are my two cents. When the Bush administration unveiled the Iraq surge and new war strategy, then Senator Barak Obama opposed the plan, arguing it was bound to fail and increase the violence. He was proven wrong. A few years later, President Obama, faced with a dismal situation in Afghanistan, is trying to copy the same approach, minus the right strategy and necessary catalysts. Although it may take many months before a reliable assessment of success or failure can be made, there is little reason to expect Obama’s plan to meet with the same success of the Iraq surge. Let’s look at some of the enablers of success in Iraq and compare those with the situation in Afghanistan. First, differences in the capability, resolve and reliability of local partners matter. In Iraq's case, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acted as a resolute, if sometimes reckless, partner. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Restrepo: Reaching Beyond The Wire To The Left & The Right – Restrepo continues in theaters across the country. I think it's a pretty fair bet had it not been for the vast military support community, it might not have been picked up by theater owners in smaller communities such as Davenport Iowa, Little Rock Arkansas, or Columbia South Carolina. When doing outreach, we chose the community who would work the hardest for the film. It's wasn't rocket science that it would be the men and women --both veterans and civilians, who on a daily basis send boxes, raise funds, visit soldiers in hospitals and provide a steady stream of reassurance for those of us left back to hold down the fort while our loved ones are in harms way. Still, as Tim Lynch of Free Range International wrote: "It is, in my opinion, important that this film be screened in as many theaters in as many states as possible. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Taliban Justice - Note: The links below connect to a disturbing story, and an even more shocking photograph. Not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish. A while back, I asked to be reminded of what we're doing here. Ultimately, is the cost of so many allied and Afghan lives, not to mention the financial burdens, worth it for what we may accomplish here. I still don't have an answer to that, at least not one that I find satisfying. My own opinion changes from day to day. Time Magazine has a cover story about one Afghan girl's experience with Taliban justice. Time even used a photo of the girl on the cover of their latest issue. Needless to say, both are disturbing. The other day, in a post about WikiLeaks, I mentioned the Taliban's concept of "justice." That concept is on display in the Time story. I won't editorialize the story here, except to say that it is A) one individual's story and should be read as such, and B) it certainly highlights one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with this place. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: The Dutch Go Home - This has always been an "American" war, with insufficient attention paid to the other nations whose troops fight and die as part of ISAF. The Brits, Germans, French, Italians, Canadians and Poles all have sizeable contingents here, as does Australia, Turkey and Spain. Click here for a full list of ISAF contributing nations. Granted, not all of them are engaged at the same level of intensity. Most of the Turks are in Kabul, and most of the Italians are stationed in relative calm of the western provinces. In contrast, the Canadians and Brits are stuck in Helmand and Kandahar, two of the worst provinces in the entire country. And before anyone makes jokes about French military prowess, try and survive a week in Kapisa Province, where the Brigade de La Fayette keeps the bad guys mostly on the run. *Note the historical allusion in the name. Some people accuse the French of forgetting the long and firm ties of friendship with the US. Not true of the fusiliers in Kapisa. (READ MORE)

Bill Ardolino: A counterinsurgency conundrum in Salaam Bazaar - On Monday, July 13, at the Salaam Bazaar in northern Helmand province, a group of Afghan soldiers quietly lectured a Taliban detainee before his release; the 16-year old was considered too young to be sent on to the overcrowded prison in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. The teen squatted awkwardly on the ground with his hands over his knees, his face broadcasting a mixture of sheepish and relieved looks. The exchange resembled scenes of authority figures wagging their fingers at young miscreants the world over, with an Afghan wrinkle: Jalil hadn’t committed petty theft or vandalism. Rather, he’d taken part in a nearby Taliban ambush of the soldiers who were now scolding him, and almost certainly pulled the trigger on an AK-47 before his capture. After the lecture, followed by a shorter one from a US Marine, the Afghans handed the boy a small plastic bag containing his confiscated possessions, stood him up, and walked him through the dusty expanse of the bazaar. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Scenes from a Send-Off Ceremony - The vibe at a unit send-off ceremony is like a funeral, a graduation, and a wedding all rolled into one, except that there isn't as much beer involved. Don't believe me? Consider this: There are bagpipes, there is marching, and the National Anthem is played. From where I come from, that's halfway to a party right there. Here's how it went down for me: First, there was freakish line in the sky immediately preceding our brigade headquarters' official send-off ceremony last Friday. It seriously went from black to blacker in 60 seconds flat, and dumped Biblical amounts of water on Boone, Iowa: Flash-flood, dogs-and-cats, use-your-seat-as-a-floatation-device while you hydroplane-at-highway-speeds weather. I'd like to report that it got sunnier after that, but it would be more accurate to say that the rain stopped. It was misty and cloudy and almost muggy. Perfect weather to match my overall mood. (READ MORE)

ArmySailor: I AM IN A WORLD OF SHIT - Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 cult-classic Full Metal Jacket was a brilliant piece of work. It nicely encapsulates the maddening experiences of the military, and war. For better or for worse, war changes a man, and there is no way to escape that reality. Anyone who witnesses the horrors and triumphs of war cannot possibly expect to walk away from the experience unchanged. My experience in Afghanistan completely changed my own outlook on the world and life. In Afghanistan I discovered what real poverty and true desperation really is. I saw grown men cry, I sent friends home to their families in boxes. I saw the results of people who believe in absolutes, and follow the most extreme form of a religion zealously. I witnessed men do unspeakable and horrifying things to other men, and rationalize it with expressions like “war is hell” or celebrate it with “Allahu Akbar." When I left Afghanistan I knew, with a good deal of certainty, that I was in “a world of shit”, but I also knew I was not alone, and I was not afraid, for I had grown stronger from the experience. (READ MORE)

Dave Lannen: Condition Black: Afghanistan’s Wounded Noncombatants - On any given day NATO hospitals in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan enter “CONDITION BLACK” – a status that alerts military tactical commanders that hospital beds are full and patients should be diverted elsewhere. Commanders’ options are limited however – in the south NATO has only two Role-3 hospitals – those that are capable of dealing with complex polytrauma that is a common result of IED blasts. It’s typical for a soldier to arrive from the battlefield with injuries requiring vascular, orthopedic, burn, and general surgery. The most seriously wounded will stop Helmand or Kandahar for stabilization surgery prior to the long flight to Europe for further care. These hospitals are modern-day “trauma factories” dealing with scores of brutally battered patients daily, not all of whom are soldiers. Many of the wounded are innocent Afghan civilians whose neighborhoods have become battlefields. (READ MORE)

Terry Galvin: Not For Nothing Was Kabul Once Called 'The Paris Of The East' - Down the Murad Khane's busy flagstone passageways you will still find old, richly filigreed window frames, door screens and facades in the Nuristani and Kabuli styles. There are still "hammams," the old domed-roof bath houses, and relics of ornate Simgili plasterwork in walls that surround cool and quiet courtyards. Some of the old houses still tilt and groan against elaborately carved Kandankari veranda posts, and there are still faint echoes of the grand Mughal style in the great serai, the central gathering place. Through winding corridors and up and down staircases I was led by Zabi Majidi, a 30-year-old Afghan architect, raised and schooled in Germany and Britain. Zabi is the youngest of Afghan journalist Mohammad Shah Majidi's five children. Kabul's old city was Mohammad Shah's boyhood neighbourhood, and Zabi grew up on its stories. Not for nothing was Kabul once called the Paris of the East. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Cultural Relativists Of Both The Left And Right - Reading through the internal conservative squabble here, I realized that the reasons for staying or leaving Afghanistan are varied and multi-layered. There are people whose ideologies are polarized in almost every respect, except when it comes to Afghanistan. Then there are people who agree with each other on just about everything, but are continents apart on the mission. What it basically seems to come down to with respect to Afghanistan, is a belief in cultural relativism, and both sides of the coin are wrapped up in it. Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human’s beliefs should be viewed through the prism of his culture. Though the term is anthropological in reference, it has come to be known more politically, to describe those people who view cultures within different stages of anthropological evolution. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: The big picture - Various media outlets report that July is now the deadliest month of the nearly nine-year war in Afghanistan for American forces. NATO announced the deaths of three more coalition troops in the south on Friday, which The Associated Press reports are American casualties. National media outlets, including NBC News, are also reporting on an apparent riot in Kabul after a tragic automobile accident involving a U.S. Embassy vehicle. The large NBC headline said "Kabul rioters burn SUVs, yell 'Death To America.'" Losing fine volunteer warriors in combat and coping with unintentional deaths of Afghan civilians are enormously painful for members of the United States military. Our thoughts and prayers go out not only to loved ones of our fallen heroes, but to innocent Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire as a result of the Taliban harboring al Qaeda terrorists who ordered attacks on the United States. America did not choose this war, yet has spent every day since September 11, 2001 fighting to win. (READ MORE)

Ackerman In Afghanistan: See You Guys On Disney Drive - On Monday, I’m getting on a plane at Andrews Air Force Base. A couple days later, I’ll be in Afghanistan for nearly three weeks. It’ll be my first trip back in two years, and my fourth warzone visit since 2006. When I was last in Kabul, Khost and Paktia, there was no troop surge, no population-protection strategy and no one combining Afghanistan and Pakistan into a flip bureaucratic shorthand. So it’s time to return for a ground-up sense of what’s changed and what hasn’t in America’s longest war. The contingencies of embedding with the U.S. military make me reluctant to promise exactly where I’ll be. But I can say that I expect to get back out east, near the Pakistani border, in order to make sense of what’s happened to an area that used to be central to U.S. strategy against al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies — and how U.S. troops protect a population that’s dispersed in rural, austere areas. That’s not to say I’ll only be focused on the groundpounders: (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Is GD’s New TacSmartPhone Grunt Proof? - Our good friend Matt Cox, who recently pulled up stakes at Army Times to launch into a full-on freelance career, posted an interesting piece over at our sister site DoD Buzz on the development of a battlefield smartphone. As we reported a month ago, our boy Colin Clark talked to the folks at Boeing who are honchoing the whole Brigade Combat Team modernization (the remnants of the FCS program) and developing a tactical App Store with programs for in-processing detainees and calling in 9-lines. One of the problems is architecture — Droid, iOS4, Microsoft — and Clark reported that the folks at Apple might be a bit on the anti-military side, charging $200 setup for mil-related apps. Well, Cox reports GD has stepped into the breach by developing a combo-pocket computer/smartphone that puts in its lot with the open-source Droid OS. The GD3000 is a downright brianiac of a smart phone, allowing troops to plug in their secure comm devices and flow whatever info back and forth through it. (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: More comments from grunts in the infamous Ganjgal ambush - Today, Marine Corps Times published online my story outlining the heroism of Cpl. Dakota Meyer, a rifleman and scout sniper who found himself in the middle of horrific ambush in eastern Afghanistan last year that ultimately claimed the life of five U.S. troops. To get that story, I relied heavily on more than 300 pages of sworn witness statements and other documents compiled by Combined Joint Task Force 82, which conducted the investigation in Afghanistan in the days following the Sept. 8, 2009, attack in Ganjgal, a remote village in Kunar province. Even though the documents were already redacted when I received them from an outside source, the military has repeatedly declined to release them despite a Freedom of Information Act request that has been pending for months. The statements of Meyer and a few other troops made it into the story, but given the gravity of the situation, it seemed relevant to share additional comments from some of the other troops who survived here. (READ MORE)

270 Days in Afghanistan: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve - After soldiers come home from deployment, their first order of business is to re-connect with their families. However, another pressing concern (especially for me) was getting a new job! With the job market like it is, I felt very fortunate to have been hired by a great company only a hop, skip and a jump from my home. Zayo Enterprise Networks is a managed communications company which tailors business solutions for clients ranging from ethernet fiber optic data and voice networks to installation of T1 lines. Having never been in the Telecom Industry before, my learning curve is quite steep, but I am progressing apace, and I am very excited about my first real civilian job! Part of being a guardsman and a good employee for a civilian firm includes maintaining that relationship between the Guard and the Employer. The ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) Program has been around for some time now, and does great work at educating civilian employers about what they can expect of their soldier/employees. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Concerning Senior Leadership in Afghanistan - LTC Tad Sholtis seems a bit indignant over how the past several months in Afghanistan have turned out. So be it. I encourage everyone to visit his site and determine for themselves what they think, since I will not tell them. What I will say is that I think LTC Sholtis’ biggest problem has been his commander, General McChrystal. My problems with his tenure – emphasis on HVT hits, denigration of so-called general purpose forces, highly restrictive ROE, and micromanagement of the campaign – are well rehearsed and I won’t repeat the detail I have laid out. But that doesn’t prevent me from reiterating them via other means and using other sources. One particularly depressing but interesting comment comes to us from the Small Wars Journal blog. Take with the caveat that this is how it appears to me, and I’m near the bottom of the pyramid, but the previous commander didn’t seem to think very highly of the conventional force. (READ MORE)

Armed Liberal: Why We're Just Flatly Screwed in Afghanistan - I badly want our project in Afghanistan to go well, because I do believe it is important to our national interest, and personally - my son is there as I write this. Over this past eleven months of his deployment, I've gotten to know his fellows, their families, and the widows and parents of the heroes from his company who have died there. I want their effort, their blood, their lives - the risks he has taken and is taking today - to matter by bringing us closer to some national goal. And yet, they're not. Who - seriously - believes that the path we're on in Afghanistan today will be looked on in a decade as a victory? The problem isn't the troops - they are incredibly brave and competent. It isn't even the grand tactics - CounterTerror or COIN anyone? Tactics matter, but the reality of either as applied on the ground blurs the distinctions our strategists dispute so seriously in Washington or Kabul. (READ MORE)

ROFASix: Old Comrade in Afghanistan - Imagine my surprise to see the picture of an old friend on the DoD media website. I have known Mike (right)for a decade now. I have lost track of the number of deployments he has done. On my wall I display proudly the US flag that he flew over Baghdad in 2005. Stay safe sir! His picture got me pondering what we ask our warriors to do in our name. I realized that there are others that I have shared a beer or a cockpit with now serving in either OIF or OEF. Hence, I expect the post that follows (above) will be a rant on our debt to these men and women and our complicity in the crime that we continue to let them be sacrificed by our politicians too easily. Their warrior ethos will never allow them to agree with my feelings today about their mission. I understand that. I have said and felt the same thing they say now. A warrior fights to win. Any other outcome is unacceptable to them. They will always respond, "Drive-on, finish the mission! Our sacrifices of our comrades demand it." I get it and so do they. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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