August 4, 2010

From the Front: 08/04/2010 - Dispatches:

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

Army Blogger Wife: Wordless Wednesday--Saying Goodbye (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Qandahar, pt. 2 - Continuing to recap the great trip to Qandahar's 205th Corps and its advisors, my first-ever visit (and hopefully not the last) to the south of the country...the freedom of action and movement that comes along with being further from the land of many headquarters simply was a breath of fresh air, even if the air itself was hot and muggy. Advisers at this command put up with hardships but get to just make shit happen in return...a foreign concept to some of the entrenched Kabul hands! It's not that colleagues here don't work their tails off; it's just that it's usually much harder to achieve results at this level. The big day for the Afghan National Army 205th Corps Public Affairs Office came on July 28, as they hosted their first-ever Regional Communication Conference. The following photos are of that event, which may be considered a success in that the Afghans truly led it, and that different (and often competing/squabbling) agencies, organizations and departments came together to better coordinate their communications and public affairs efforts. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: Pakistan flood conditions worsen - Flood waters across Pakistan have destroyed 980,000 homes and affected over 3 million people, even as meteorologists predict more torrential rain in the coming days. The flooding has destroyed towns in Pakistan's Punjab, it's most populous region and agricultural heartland, which could prompt a food crisis as farmland gets inundated. With more rains in the country's south, the devastation could soon spread to Sindh province. Anger at the government's response to the crisis continues to grow, and police have reportedly had to disburse crowds that attacked trucks carrying aid. Authorities began evacuating people from Peshawar's outskirts yesterday, as flood waters threaten to destroy Pakistan's third-biggest dam. The Pakistani army defended its flood response efforts, as the U.S. military announced it was sending Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters to help rescuers and aid reach areas cut off by the rushing waters. And charities associated with banned militant groups continue to provide flood aid. (READ MORE)

Jeffrey Stern: Dispatch: the politics of policing Kashmir - Last summer, I sat by a pool at an old hotel in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir. Mock stucco and wood paneling vaguely recalled the architecture of the Tudor era; this building looked like one of the characteristic Kashmiri houseboats had sprouted roots and grown widthwise as well, except that the houseboats float on Kashmir's glass-still Dal Lake; the Broadway Hotel is moored to the earth, while Kashmir moves on around it. This is the kind of place where British bluebloods and the privileged Indian castes came on holiday to socialize amidst the Himalayas, but the life of the freelance journalist is a more solitary enterprise, an exercise in incidental contacts and friends of sort-of-friends, depended on for life and livelihood. And so I sat in a relic of the Raj years, kept company by 22 ounces of lager and a pad of neatly scripted names, belonging mostly to separatist leaders. (READ MORE)

OMAR FADHIL AL-NIDAWI AND AUSTIN BAY: Iraq's Blessed Affliction - Don't worry about the gridlock in parliament. Democratic habits are taking hold: As President Barack Obama focuses American attention on this month's drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, the result of Iraq's last national election remains uncertain. No clear victor emerged when ballots were cast in March, as the opposing blocs of former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won 91 and 89 seats, respectively. No governing coalition has formed in five months of political jockeying, and the Iraqi people are frustrated. Frustration, however, is not cause for despair. Compared to the tyrannical certainty governing Iran to the east and Syria to the west: (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Missing It - I woke up the other morning to a text from a good friend who, like me, served in Iraq as a platoon leader, and like me, separated from the Army at the end of his initial commitment. "Don't you just feel like kicking in a door again?" he asked. Though platoon leaders tend not to be the door-kickers, I understood his broader point, and replied with "damn straight." I've been out of the military for just over a year now, and I've been shocked at how much I miss (parts of) it. The camaraderie, of course, can't be replaced in the civilian world, nor can the ability to act like a boorish 16-year old with a gun. (I'll leave it to the reader's judgment whether or not the latter is a positive or a negative). But the pure sense of purpose we had in combat is what I long for the most. The missions changed day-to-day obviously, as did our tasks and purpose, but at its base level, soldiering in Iraq offered a clarity normal life can't. "Kill or be killed" felt a lot more pressing than "Pick up a gallon of milk," you know? (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Army Deploys Solar Charger to Troops in Afghanistan - It’s the biggest pain in the butt ever… You’re working a patrol and the battery on your MBITR starts to sh&t the bed. Did the radioman pack an extra? Two extra? The weight and lagging life of batteries to power the ever increasing assortment of battlefield military technology is a constant source of frustration for troops in the field and a serious technical challenge for scientists on the quest for the most efficient, light and longest-lasting portable power on the planet. Well, the folks of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command haven’t cracked that nut yet, but they have found a way to power your gear from sunlight — at least for a little bit — and use the solar rays to recharge a variety of portable power sources. Called the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System, the 10 pound kit of solar panels and adaptor cables can power or recharge anything from your iCom to your Toughbook. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: I Love the Smell of Cordite in the Morning - I'm not regular reader of The Guardian, but a friend of mine in DC alerted me to this video report on their website from last Thursday. It covers over a month that the reporter spent embedded with USAF and US Marines in Helmand Province. Note that a significant portion of the video shows US Marines on a combat patrol, so don't expect polite language. They are Marines, after all; they're not hired for their decorum. The one flaw is that the reporter, Sean Smith, keeps incorrectly referring to the USAF Pararescue Jumpers (aka PJs) as "Prepared Jumpers." I'm sure they are "prepared" but that's not what the "P" stands for. Hey Sean, perhaps a quick Google search would be in order before you do your next voice-over. Best line in the video (at the 5:30 mark): Call over the radio to the Marine patrol leader: "We don't know if it's your position or not, but there is a possible imminent attack" Response: "Hey, you're using a double negative, dickhead. 'Possible' and 'imminent' are two different words. Which is it going to be?" (READ MORE)

Kudzu35: The Army… - So a few weeks ago I told myself I’d work on getting a blog a week out about the Army, my unit, and anything else military. So let me start… I need to explain that being in the military is like being in an exclusive club with good benefits and terrible consequences at times. One benefit is shopping at the shops on posts to include the gas punps. Usually they are a out ten cents lower than most other gas stations. There’s the uniform and the all important health and dental care and a good life insurance policy, equal to $450,000. On to what I did lately in my job. Last week I started preparing training for my unit to go through improvised explosive device (IED) awareness and drills. Hopefully it’ll come off without a hitch…but I guess I should say I hope it actually goes off. There’s always changes from the top that affect our training which require us to flex to their needs. This lack of command communication hurts unit prepardness and trust. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban suicide assault team repelled at Kandahar Airfield - A Taliban suicide assault team was repelled today while trying to breach the perimeter at Kandahar Airfield, one of NATO's largest bases in Afghanistan. A team of six heavily armed Taliban fighters, two of whom were wearing suicide vests, were stopped by Coalition troops outside the main gate at Kandahar Airfield, the largest logistics NATO hub in the Afghan south. More than 10,000 Coalition soldiers and contractors are based at the airfield. "Six suicide bombers penetrated into the Kandahar airport," a statement released by the provincial administration read, according to Xinhua. "Two of them blew themselves up and the four others were killed by security forces." The Taliban started the assault with a rocket attack on the airfield. The six Taliban attackers were killed after a gunbattle that lasted for nearly an hour. During the fighting, one Coalition soldier and two civilians were wounded. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Convoy Communications 2.0 - The bus ride from the middle of Iowa to Camp Shelby apparently takes about 16 hours, judging by this week's "radio traffic" on Facebook. The brigade has been moving out, piece by piece, unit by unit, on a nearly daily schedule. Watching the Facebook news feeds has been a little like eavesdropping on the radio, with my fellow soldiers conversing between buses. Sometimes, they're even on the same bus. Messages such as "I'm so glad that dog-and-pony send-off ceremony is over" to "Welcome to Camp Shelby, where there is no gravity, but everything sucks," clued me in to where people are on the map. Time between "dog-and-pony" to "Camp Shelby" message? Approximately 16 hours. When I first learned how to do stateside convoy operations, we maintained communications via our FM radios. We were lucky to get a few miles out of them, from front of our first serial (or "stick) of vehicles, to the middle of our convoy. To talk from the front to the rear of our entire battalion, we'd have to relay messages, like a big game of tactical "telephone." (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: What should we make of the shady fuel deals at Manas? - I have a guest post over at the Stimson Center’s Budget Insight blog, discussing some of the bizarre issues surrounding the contractors hired by the Pentagon to supply fuel to the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. “Manas has long represented a financial windfall for local contractors. In 2006, the FBI revealed that the family of Askar Akiev, who was President of Kyrgyzstan until a coup in 2005, maintained a vast criminal network extending to the administration, and in particular the fuel costs, at Manas. After the Akiev family was forced out of Bishkek by an angry mob, Kurmanbek Bakiyev took over rule of the country. Only, Bakiyev’s family was also involved in the overcharging of fuel at Manas—sometimes by as much as 100%. The corruption around this contract grew so severe it wound up playing a substantial role in this year’s latest revolution in the country. Yet, the U.S. has very little idea of who owns the companies licensed to sell fuel at Manas.” (READ MORE)

airforcewife: To Tell or Not to Tell - My husband is gone right now, on an all expense paid vacation to an exotic locale. Which really isn't anything unusual in this household. And, really, I'm okay with it. I've got the routine down pat at this point. The kids have their chores, I keep up on my things, and for those frustrations it sometimes feels like I can't talk about to anyone - you know, those ones I would normally talk out with my husband in bed at night? Well, I go hit things at the gym. That heavy bag, it's an amazing therapist. But. There's always a but, right? There's always a monkey somewhere with a karmic wrench to throw into the works. I got one of those two weeks ago. Two weeks ago my coach told me in no uncertain terms that I either go see my doctor for a breathing problem I'd been having in class, or I wouldn't be welcome back in class. They take near-fainting spells pretty seriously, I think it might be a liability issue. (READ MORE)

Adrian MacNair: Well, They Are, In Fact, Criminally Inadmissable - The Canadian “War Resisters Support Campaign” is crying foul over a new rule by the Citizenship and Immigration Ministry that requires immigration officers to contact the government when a U.S. military deserter applies for refugee status in Canada. They call the move “unnecessary and mean-spirited”: “They’re calling these cases high-profile and contentious. They’re saying (the soldiers) may be criminally inadmissible, creating this perception that they’re criminals,” said Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign. They may not be felons, but they are, potentially, criminals under the eye of the U.S. government. These deserters agreed to an unbreachable contract with the U.S. government when they signed their name on the dotted line. The fact is that the U.S. Army isn’t just concerned with the prospect of a soldier abandoning his or her post, but it presents a serious financial burden in the attrition department: (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldier: 'I will go to battle' - As a first grader, Spc. Michael Stansbery wrote a letter that would serve as a blueprint for his life. "I will go to battle and have a bunch of men with me to help. I will go to the ocean and save someone from trouble." In June, Spc. Stansbery crossed an ocean with fellow soldiers to battle terrorists and protect the Afghan people. Even as he adjusted to extreme heat levels and asked for a care package of headbands for his fellow troops on Facebook, the 21-year-old soldier worried about children caught in the war zone. "Playing the gunner role today and seeing the country from the high points," Stansbery posted on June 29. "It still sucks seeing kids washing themselves in the dirtiest water I've ever seen and even standing out in the open naked. Where are their parents I wonder?" WTVF-TV reports that military service was always in the back of Stansbery's mind while growing up in Wilson County, Tennessee. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Disneyland - I’m not sure where the summer went, but I know for the Yllescas girls it has FLOWN by! Although Julia said she’s “bored” and ready for school to start, we actually did quite a bit this summer! We finally got our boat back out in the water. As much work as a boat is to have, it’s all worth it when we get out in the water. We sure missed the fun we’ve had on the boat. I wasn’t sure how Eva would be on the boat since the last time she was on it, she was only 4 months old. But, she is so calm and relaxed on it! I couldn’t believe it! She sits there and watches as we tube and will get out and play in the sand with all her water toys. This summer, Julia really has gotten brave and is tubing by herself. Before, she was unsure and wanted us to go slow but this past weekend when we went out, she was by herself and kept telling us to go faster! J I haven’t been able to get my wakeboard out this year yet because I’m trying to refamiliarize myself with the boat, but hopefully next year, I’ll get up and “running” again. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Marjah: A Cautionary Tale and Lessons for the Future - If you can get past Jean MacKenzie calling U.S. forces in Marjah Soldiers instead of Marines, there is some useful perspective in this report. As if to unnecessarily repeat ourselves or lay the painfully obvious out all over again, this stupid idea of a government in a box that McChrystal and Rodriguez thought would work is a fool’s errand. I am also told that the British officers to a man believe in the “government in a box” strategy. In spite of the continued questioning of whether Marjah deserved the effort put into it, if the Taliban are there and can be found and killed, it’s worth it. But instant government from a military magician yelling ‘presto’ won’t do the job. Second, recall that the Taliban who eventually found themselves here began in other parts of Helmand, including Now Zad, Gamrsir, and so forth. They don’t belong here. That is, they don’t have families in Marjah – or at least, if they do, until now they have been wandering troublemakers. (READ MORE)

John Donovan: Voting Rights: For Felons But Not Soldiers? - I know the issues involved with trying to improve the ability of deployed soldiers and civilians to actually get an absentee ballot in sufficient time to vote it and return it are multi-jurisdictional, cost money, require civil servants at the local level to actually *change* how they do things (shudder) and require the people who want to run for office to decide a little earlier, and politicians who want to convince voters to vote for a sales tax to actually draft the verbiage earlier, etc. Oh, and the County Election officials have to actually get the ballot to the printer in time. None.the.less. These are the guys and gals who are out doing dangerous stuff at the behest of the government and are engaged in a pretty serious demonstration of positive citizenship. But, according to the Washington Times, it would appear that the Justice Department is ready, willing and able to assist the States in kicking that can down the road this election cycle, rather than reminding them that it’s the law of the land. (READ MORE)

CDR Salamander: Afghanistan d̩nouement - Those closely involved with operations in Afghanistan have known since 2008 that there was a better than average chance that our very good allies, the Dutch, were going home in 2010. It was also known that the Canadians were looking for the door as well, and were going to go a year later. There was some hope that with the right leadership and perhaps a little luck, they would change their minds. Unlike the caveat laden Italians, Spaniards, Germans and others Рthe Dutch and Canadians were relatively caveat-free maneuver forces doing a very good job to the extent they could Рfighting on par with their British, American and smaller allies in the South. Together, the Dutch and Canadians provided roughly a Brigade sized force performing full-spectrum Counter Insurgency. The numbers are not what is important Рit is having allies with skin in the game. Most allies in AFG do just enough to get a flag outside HQ ISAF, but make little impact on the ground to create a safe and secure environment Рmuch less protect the population. (READ MORE)

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