August 13, 2010

From the Front: 08/13/2010

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


Kandahar Diary: Ramadan: the Insurgent View - Ramadan has started and, with it, a noticeable up-tick in insurgent activity. INT is telling us of suicide bomber teams crossing from Pakistan in increased numbers, and ambushes on our convoys have increased along the usual bad spots (Hawz-e Madad – Zheray, Qalay-e Now). Insurgent assassination teams are roaming Kandahar City looking for opportunities to take out provincial officials and any other high-value target that lets his guard down. All of this, reportedly, being the insurgents’ way to mark the advent of Ramadan. This got me thinking. Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance in refraining from evil, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. I’m sure that a few billion Muslims around the world follow the precepts of Ramadan for peaceful and spiritual purposes – certainly my Muslim friends and colleagues do. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 13 AUG 2010 "House Call" - CPT T continues to show us the Afghanistan "outside the wire". Here, we see a 173d Airborne medic treating the men (and children) of a village during a village medical operation (VMOP) in Logar, Afghanistan. The scene is wonderful, and reminds me of how a doctor of the 1800s or early 1900s in America might have seen his patients. And although this medic has little at his disposal, he has vastly more "real" medicine than a physician had in the beginning of the 20th century. (READ MORE)

A Yummy Mummy On A Pink Park Bench: MilSpouse Fill-In Friday: Starlite, Eat Your Heart Out - It's that time of week again when Wifey at Wife of a Sailor brings out the big questions! 1.What is ONE thing you’d like civilians to understand about being a military family? Being a National Guard family, this is something I would like civilians and some active duty families to understand...They do work hard, this life of constantly straddling the line between civilian and military isn't easy or better, some of them do give it all, all of them give just as much as the next servicemember, and they deserve your respect because they earn it every time they put on that uniform. Oh, and if you insult the National Guard online I'll just rip you apart verbally. (I've done it know who you are.) If you insult the National Guard to my face I will do something nasty like scrub your toothbrush with my lady parts. (I've also done that before...and you DON'T know who you are.) (READ MORE)

And You Never Did Think: Milspouse Follow Friday #8 - It’s that time of the week again… head on over to Wife of a Sailor if you’re a milspouse and want to link up! What is ONE thing you’d like civilians to understand about being a military family? Not being an officer doesn’t mean you’re dumb or unmotivated or that you can’t provide for your family. People join the military for different reasons and not everyone wants to be an officer. A couple of people I know scoffed when they first found out that Chris was enlisted instead of an officer, and it pissed me off. Don’t make judgment calls based on something you don’t even understand. Thanks. What is your favorite mistake? Getting a second puppy One would have been so much cheaper and less time consuming… but then I look at crazy Shecky running around my house with nectarines in her mouth and I just love her. What indulgence could you give up for a year? (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: World Bank to give $900 million for Pakistan flood relief - The World Bank on Thursday committed $900 million to help Pakistan's recovery effort, and will perform a "damage and needs assessment" next week. Continued heavy rains in Pakistan will likely cause two "surges" of water in the coming days, leading to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands from the Punjab and Sindh province, and potentially endangering the city of Hyderabad. Over 17 million acres of agricultural land are under water, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick said yesterday that crops worth an estimated $1 billion had been destroyed in the flooding. And illnesses such as fever, skin problems and diarrhea continue to spread amongst flood victims. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari toured flood-affected areas for the first time yesterday, visiting a dam and displaced persons camp in Sindh province and promising that the government was doing all that it could for victims. (READ MORE)

Imtiaz Gul: Helping Pakistan, despite its government - Since it was established over a week ago, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's Emergency Fund has attracted less than 50,000 dollars in donations. The same goes for a similar fund created a few days ago by chief minister of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province Ameer Haider Hoti. Flood waters are not the only bitter reality currently sweeping across Pakistan; mistrust in political leaders is spreading just as rapidly. President Asif Zardari's decision to commence a ten-day foreign tour -- despite solid warnings of an impending disaster and despite reports of hundreds of deaths -- has dealt yet another severe blow to the credibility and commitment of the head of the state. While private television channels kept flashing ever-mounting casualty figures and destruction stories, the state-run Pakistan TV obediently followed Zardari to Paris and London, sending home images that poured salt in Pakistan's wounds. (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Marines with 15th MEU to the rescue in Pakistan - Above, a scene today from Pakistan, where millions of people face a dire situation following monsoon rains that have caused catastrophic flooding across the country. More than 1,500 people have died in flooding that dates back to last month, and worsened in the last few days. Pakistani officials have said it’s the worst natural disaster in their nation’s history., and evacuated villages in several parts of the country. This Time story details the devastation well. With that in mind, the U.S. is sending in Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. The amphibious assault ship Peleliu arrived off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan’s capital, within the last 24 hours, and CH-53E helicopters already have made trips to deliver supplies and water. I’ve reached out to 15th MEU spokesmen for additional details they might be able to share. (READ MORE)

LTC Scott E. Rutter (USA, Retired): Fighting for ROTC on College Campuses (Part 2) - What about our future leaders? The Senate just confirmed our newest Justice of the Supreme Court – Elena Kagan. Nominee Kagan served as the Dean of Harvard Law School. The Washington Post reported: Four months after becoming dean of Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan sent an e-mail to students and faculty lamenting that military recruiters had arrived on campus, once again, in violation of the school’s anti-discrimination policy. But under government rules, she wrote, the entire university would jeopardize its federal aid unless the law school helped the recruiters, despite the armed forces’ ban on openly gay members. “This action causes me deep distress,” Kagan wrote that morning in October 2003. “I abhor the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy.” It is, she said, “a profound wrong — a moral injustice of the first order.” (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Ask America's 1stSgt: What does it all mean? - The New Magoo asks about uniforms and accompanying paraphernalia. "Back in primary school we had a project about WWII. My dad told me about my granddad and I took his medals in and talked about D-Day and tanks and stuff. I remember my teacher saying something along the lines of how a soldier's medals and his uniform can basically tell you everything you need to know about his career, if you knew what to look for. So my question is, what can your (or any general non-specific Marine's ) uniform tell us? What does it all mean?" In my opinion, your teacher was basically right. Everything you need to know is right there pinned on to the chest. We often refer to awards, ribbons, and badges as "chest candy". This is because it's very colorful and much of it doesn't always mean anything monumentally significant except that America likes to recognize service members with lots of bling (and that's kind of cool really). (READ MORE)

Charlie Simpson's War: Worry Dolls - I don’t know what normal people worry about before they deploy. Safety, maybe. How to manage the household while they’re gone. If they’re going to make a difference. These things are hugely important. But you really have no control over them. I prefer to fret over the smaller bits of minutiae: – What will this haircut look like in three months? – How much winter weather gear do I need this time? – Has General Petraeus managed to make the ISAF chow hall suck less? – Will there be a Birthday Ball in Nov? Do I need to bring a dress? — Don’t forget the heels. – Where did I put my plate carrier and chest rack? You know, only the important things… (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Even our Afghan Base is called Nightingale - CELEBRATED as the Lady With The Lamp for her tireless work helping injured soldiers in the Crimean War, she remains the most famous nurse in history. And while today marks the 100th anniversary of her death, Florence Nightingale’s incredible legacy lives on. The inspirational figure helped to transform nursing into a highly respected profession. And the school she founded in 1860 – now Florence Nightingale School Of Nursing And Midwifery at King’s College London – is today regarded as a centre of excellence for nursing education. The Sun today meets modern day nurses who have followed in Florence Nightingales footsteps. Flight Lieutenant Vanessa, 41, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, is on her second tour in Afghanistan with Princess Mary’s RAF Nursing Service. She has also served in Iraq. “Every day I witness something memorable – the bravery of the injured soldier, the life-saving work done by medics or the monumental effort the troops put into stretcher-bearing their injured to safety." (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Dual-Military Couples Serve Together - Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked to look at my wedding album. As we paged through the pictures, I was struck by the contrast between my wedding photos and one I had seen earlier that day on the Air Force news website. The difference in those images, one of a couple in traditional wedding attire and the other in camouflage, and what that represents, made an impression on me. When I got married, and to this day, I’ve never worried about whether when my husband goes to work, he will be injured or worse by an enemy in a war zone. Military couples don’t have this luxury. Often it is just one spouse sending another spouse off to serve, not both spouses, even newlyweds, serving. But the picture I saw along with the story written by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing gave me a new appreciation on my own wedding photos. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Army’s New Camo Could be ‘Joint’ - We reported back in July that the Army was looking for industry’s ability to come up with three different camo schemes: a “woodland” pattern, a “desert” pattern and a “transitional” pattern — thanks to a tip from our friends at Soldier Systems Daily. Well, officials with PEO Soldier fleshed out the current status of Phase IV during a roundtable interview with reporters on August 10. Apparently, they’re ultimately looking to test three different patterns from three different companies against two government-designed patterns. And a final decision is due to be handed to the Army COS in 2013. Officials left open all possibilities, including that only one “universal” pattern is chosen, that one is used for garrison and two others are kept in the warehouse for certain AOs or that the Army goes with two patterns worn interchangeably like the Marine Corps. But PEO’s Jeff Myhre shocked this blogger when he seemed to leave open the possibility that the solution could be joint — i.e. a family of camos worn by all the services. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Kidnap & Ransom - Last Sunday night I got the sort of text message that everyone one in this business dreads. "Incident in Kabul. One of ours down. Details to follow." A message like that sets off several hours of frantic activity trying to trace the course of events, determine the casualties and sort out the next step. The Ops Manager, the Duty Officer, myself and the Deputy President all traded calls and texts for the next two hours until we pieced together the story. A kidnap attempt of a local national in Kabul had resulted in one of our guys being shot, and his protectee snatched by four men in a dark SUV. The puzzling thing was that the name of the protectee was not on our list of clients. WTF? What was our PSD doing with a high-risk target when we didn't even have a contract or an agreement to provide the service? And what exactly is the fallout when someone you are protecting is snatched when you weren't supposed to be protecting him in the first place? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 20 Haqqani Network fighters killed in raids in eastern Afghanistan - Afghan and Coalition forces killed more than 20 Haqqani Network fighters and detained several more during a raid on a district known to harbor al Qaeda and other foreign fighters in eastern Afghansitan. The Haqqani Network fighters were killed "during an on-going clearing operation aimed at disrupting the Haqqani Network's freedom of movement" in the district of Zadran in Paktia province, the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. The Haqqani Network fighters were killed as Afghan commandos backed by US forces were engaged by "dozens of insurgents occupied entrenched fighting positions throughout the mountainous area" with "machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons." The combined force called in airstrikes on the Haqqani Network positions, killing more than 20 fighters. ISAF described the district of Zadran as a "known Haqqani Network safe haven" which is "used to stage attacks into Kabul and the Khost-Gardez pass." (READ MORE)

Magnolias and Mimosas: News For The Day - I figured out my home phone number! I'm not quite sure why I find this so exciting, but I'm glad that I can start giving it out. Now people can actually have a chance of getting ahold of me when they call. I have officially decided that Wal-Mart brings out some major anger issues with me. Why is it that I find the only twenty item or less line that does not move with "express" timing? Or that all three people in front of me can't seem to figure out how to work the debit/credit machine? And clearly, the woman in the line next to me had more than twenty items, how is she allowed to check out in this line. Yes, I am going to judge you Mrs. Ibuyonlyoatmealcreampiesandotheredprocessedcrap I'm sorry you felt like you could sneak in another five boxes of Ring Dings but you need to get in the other line. See, anger issues. Speaking of anger issues, we drove all the way to post tonight for a FRG meeting only to discover that C left his wallet at home. (READ MORE)

Military Mommy: Happy Anniversary - Happy Anniversary to the love of my life! Since we can't be together, I thought I'd post pictures of us together during our honeymoon in Hawaii! (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: We are Never, Ever Moving All This Stuff Again - Ah, the joys of PCS. Today was the highly anticipated, and also highly dreaded, delivery of household goods. First the good news: almost no damage, and it all will fit in our house! Let the rejoicing begin! Before you get too excited, however, consider how much of this stuff came off the truck and my first thought was a sarcastic, "Great." "What are we going to do with that?" "Really, that came?" "Didn't we get rid of that before we moved?" and my most personally discouraging, "How many moving stickers are on that unopened box?" The fact it, when taken as a whole, we have too much stuff. I swear it is sucking the life out of me and preventing me from being all the great things I can be. The problem enters when you stop looking at it as a whole and start looking at it as individual things. Things that are useful, or loved, or bring back memories, or represent hope for the future. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: A new hope - As reporters chase a JetBlue flight attendant and even debate whether he is a "hero," another worthy story from Afghanistan has been ignored by the mainstream press. On August 10, the U.S. Army joined with Afghan military and government officials to dedicate a new school building that will give over 9,000 young Afghans a chance at better lives. Despite being surrounded by the chaos of war, American soldiers and Afghan officials completed The Mehrabudin School project in Kabul province in less than six months. Soldiers from Camp Phoenix, which is located on the outskirts of Afghanistan's capital city, teamed up with Operation Outreach Afghanistan, an organization made up of U.S. troops volunteering their time to help civilians in local villages. Judith's Reading Room also jumped on board to help The Mehrabudin School, donating dozens of boxes of books to help create the learning center's first-ever library. (READ MORE)

Spencer Ackerman: Afghan Government MIA at American-Backed Farm - The rows on the farm were neat and parallel, just as they should appear: red tomatoes that started out as Iranian seeds; bulbous watermelons ripening on the vine; even peanuts. Peanuts aren’t typically a crop grown in Afghanistan, but they’re cultivated here in almost 20 rows. It’s an apparent tribute to the peanut farmer and Virginia National Guard officer who’s sponsoring this Kapisa Province agricultural project. Only one thing was missing: the Afghan government’s agricultural chief for the province, who was supposed to inspect the crops. And it’s for his benefit that the farm is around in the first place. Consider it another example of how America’s costly counterinsurgency formula lacks a central ingredient: an interested, functional host-nation government. The farm is the project of the Agribusiness Development Team attached to Task Force Wolverine, the brigade-sized unit responsible for security in Bamiyan, Panjshir and Parwan provinces. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Restrepo - Yesterday I watched Restrepo, the movie about the worst corner of the war in Afghanistan. Both the movie and the book War both by Sebastian Junger, are about a year in Afghanistan with an infantry company assigned to the Korengal Valley. Although based on the same year, the book and movie are very different, even focusing on different soldiers. The movie is a documentary, but faster. It doesn't explain, but shows what life is like. And the soldiers on camera are more candid than I ever would have expected. The commander of the unit busts on his predecessor so much I hope those two are never assigned to the same unit in the future. I watch so few movies--this is my first in 2010--that I can't compare Restrepo to other films. But I can tell you that I find many war movies silly or funny or both. I wasn't laughing during Restrepo. I was leaned forward in my theater seat and stayed all the way through the final credits. (READ MORE)

ACU's, Stiletto Shoes, and Pretty Pink Tutus: The wife of a... - As soon as I knew I was doing this guest blogger series about branch pride I knew this story absolutely had to be included. Let me intro my friend R with a little story... On Easter Sunday Morning my {large} church showed a video interview with a member I'd never seen. We'll call her Ms. K. I started bawling and squeezing G.I. Joe's had when Ms. K started describing things like: "a knock at the door" "your husband isn't coming home" "went home with a flag" At lunch I told my mom that it was heartbreaking to hear a Milie describing my worst nightmare. Then my mom informed me of something~Ms. K was NOT a Milie at all! Now I'll let R take over because her husband wears the same uniform Ms. K's husband did... Let me start by saying this: I'm not military. My parents aren't, my husband isn't, I don't have siblings or cousins in any branch of the service... the closest it comes to me is that my father in law was in the Army, as was my maternal grandfather... (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Showcase Afghan Army Mission Turns to Debacle - There is no indication whether the Taliban massed forces as is their practice when encountering larger concentrations of U.S. troops. But it’s probable that they did, and that gives us a good basis for comparison of the performance of U.S. forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA). I have detailed the drug abuse, refusal to go on night patrols, lack of discipline and refusal to obey orders, sleeping on post, poor marksmanship and other catalog of problems with the ANA. But even granting the assumption that these problems didn’t effect their performance in this engagement with the Taliban, this example speaks poorly of the capabilities of the ANA. The loss of operational security is unfortunate and still shows how easy it apparently is to corrupt the individual members of the ANA. But that’s not the salient point here. Engagement with the Taliban was bound to happen: (READ MORE)

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