August 23, 2010

From the Front: 08/23/2010

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

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 23 AUG 2010 "Oasis" - This photo continues on my "it's not always that exciting at FOB Shank" theme. This isn't the best photographic composition that I've ever done. But there's a couple things that I really like about this shot. First, this is just a tiny coffee / smoothie / gadget / barber / manicure / massage shop on FOB Shank somewhere on the swanky "west-side". It's about the size of my first apartment in college (it ain't all that big) and while I was there it was run by the two Philippine ladies (above photo). LTC B. (Codename Papa Shank) really liked to go to this place (there wasn't much of a choice). The ladies behind the counter loved to see him (BTW.... they are standing ... they're only about 4 feet tall each!) ... They would giggle and call out "Papa Shank!" when he came in. After he went home, I would go there to buy my long-distance minutes for my cell phone. They would ask me "How is Papa Shank?" (READ MORE)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Alone - It's the first time I've been alone-alone in quite some time. Since like, deployment basically. Because then Ariana was born, so I had her, and even when someone is watching her I'm typically with family or friends. So I took a little trip down to NC by my lonesome and Ariana stayed with grandma (I'm sure grandma is SO upset about baby time, right?! haha). I had quite a few things I wanted to get done, some legal junk, pick up the truck so we can get back and blah blah blah and it was just easier if I went sans baby. Although I'm missing the crap out of her and ready to be back with my little poops asap. It was actually a pretty decent trip. The first night back I think I was just so relieved to be in my own house. I slept in our bed (!!!) and got a pretty good night's sleep. The next day I woke up and started some of my errands and hung out with some friends I hadn't seen in what felt like forever. I hate being away from my good friends lol. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: A deserving vet and Victim of the Ft. Hood shootings needs your help - The fine folks over at Woodhouse Auto Family are giving away a car to one deserving person out of four that were nominated. Choose the family that you feel is the most deserving of the new car. Only one vote is allowed per person. The family with the most votes at 11:59pm on Tuesday August 31st will be the winner of the Mercury Milan from our Woodhouse Mercury store in Omaha. Thank you for participating in our campaign. Together we can make a difference! Well one of the four finalists for this new car is one that truly needs it and deserves it. This candidate was at Fort Hood, TX Army Base Soldier Readiness Center checking in after returning from a second tour in Iraq. He was 5 days away from going to Officer Candidate School and pursuing a long time dream of becoming an Officer in the army. That all changed that day when one man that this candidate had never met, came in and started shooting. (READ MORE)

Kandahar Diary: Random Thought #561 - Cigarette and time for reflection after another mental day. Same place, same time. Looking up into the dusk sky I could see a contrail high above the dust haze (maybe 35,000 feet) and moving fast. Probably an airliner – unless, I thought fleetingly, it’s a nuke. I watched as the trail passed overhead heading NE then as it slowly banked left to head off to the NW. Where’s it going? London... Paris...? Who flies over Afghanistan to get to Europe? They’ll be breaking out the canapés and red wine for dinner around about now. Crisp white napkins on the drop-down tray (yes, I’m thinking Business Class), polite and attentive cabin crew. Maybe an entree of prawn and lemongrass salad, followed by medallions of beef and stir-fried Asian greens. A Châteauneuf du Pape from Côtes du Rhône I think. Finished off with a white chocolate soufflé and a glass of cool, sweet white from Languedoc-Roussillon to wash it down.... (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Bigwigs & VIPs - August 19 was Afghanistan's Independence Day: a fine day to be a friend of the Ministry of Defense, where they hold the largest commemoration of it. As it turns out, it's a short ceremony...and if you're stuck collecting up weapons and sitting it out because your 'friends' didn't tell you that President Karzai's security detail is calling the shots and won't permit them anywhere nearby -- even on Coalition troops -- well, you just might miss it. But at least you could still get to see lots of colorfully attired folk mingle on their way out from it! Standing center group, just to the right of the bold Navy chief in cammies, is Minister Wardak, one of the country's most powerful figures. The Soviet-style uniforms are something that a lot of us would love to see change. To many Afghans, they are still indicative of a dark era...and to many Coalition advisors who work to build and modernize an Afghan army, they are too indicative of an overly centralized system of patronage. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: suicide attack kills 17 in Waziristan - Flood waters in Pakistan's Sindh province continued to rise over the weekend, with at least 300,000 people forced to evacuate from Shahdadkot as levees on the eastern side of the city struggled to hold up against nine feet of water, which broke through on Sunday. Authorities say Hyderabad, Sindh's second-largest city, is not in danger from the torrents. The Indus River has flooded five to seven miles beyond its banks, and floodwaters are expected to empty into the Arabian Sea over the next few days. Communicable diseases like malaria, scabies, and respiratory infections are spreading across the country. In Punjab province, a flood plain "criss-crossed with canals" where the government reportedly had 48 hours notice of imminent flooding, locals have accused authorities of failing to act in time or powerful landowners of protecting their interests "at the expense of others". (READ MORE)

Mark Larson: Our Lesser-Known Allies in Afghanistan - KABUL — What do the Greek, Mongolian, Latvian and British Armies have in common? They’ve all been in Afghanistan before: the Greeks under Alexander; the Mongols under Genghis Khan; the Latvians as part of the Soviet Union; and the British more than a few times. They are also current members of the International Security Assistance Force, and contribute troops to the coalition mission in Afghanistan. One need only look to the flag poles at Camp Eggers in Kabul to see a record of the contributing nations (47 to be exact). Not every nation’s forces are substantial in number — in some cases they are no more than a handful — and of course very few are engaged in outright combat operations. Most are assigned to training, mentoring or other critical support operations. The Georgian troops, for example, have been used to protect entry points into forward operating bases around Kabul. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Not Quite the Average Day... - When you operate in these hostile places, time and again you have the most surreal day, by that I mean a day that is so far beyond the ordinary that it almost seems unreal. This happened to me just the other week. It started like any other day out here in the Bolan, get up, wash and shave, get breakfast and do my washing and all before 8am. I knew that today we were having a visit from the Armed forces Imam, the spiritual leader for the armed forces Muslim community. That wasn’t going to be until lunch time. Firstly though I’d been asked to go and look at an experimental farm not far from our location and get some background information and have a chat with the locals running it. We mounted up in our vehicles and took the short drive, we were warmly received by the private security guarding the complex (it would seem if you have a sand coloured monster truck you can get in anywhere) and directed along the narrow tracks to what can only be described as an oasis. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: The Dog Days of Summer - Many apologies for the delay on posting. I was laid low by some sort of viral affliction which mimicked malaria. Like most people who get sick maybe once a decade, when I do catch a bug you would think I was on death’s door I’m such a sissy about it. But the fever is gone and I am long overdue on bringing a little insight into the stories of the day and what the situation on the ground is like in the rapidly destabilizing Nangarhar Province. To follow up on my last post – I did another episode of The Aloyna Show where I took a swag at who I think is responsible for the murders of Dan Terry and the other nine internationals including the fiancee of a good friend of mine and super all around human being Dr. Karen Woo: I think it is fair to say that I did not have really that much to say because I remain stunned at what happened to that medical team. But the bad news just keeps getting worse. The villains set up and took a shot at the Skipper last week. (READ MORE)

HERMANEUTICS: AFGHANISTAN: R&R!!! - Some of you may have been wondering why it has been a while since the last blog post. Thankfully, there was a VERY good reason...Mark's long awaited R&R finally arrived, after over nine months of waiting. For those of you who know our "story," waiting in that airport a few weeks ago was filled with as much anticipation as our airport meeting in Hawaii over three years ago!! DFW is known for honoring the in-bound soldiers with a "shower of affection," also known as a Water Salute. This consists of two water turrets carrying 3,000 gallons of water with nozzles discharging 1,500 gallons per minute in an arc over the plane as it taxis toward the gate. Once in the airport, the soldiers are greeted by rows of volunteers, many of whom are veterans (primarily WWII and Vietnam), who are eager to welcome them home. Of course, no one could be more eager than the families, and I was given the opportunity to stand right in front while I waited to see Mark walk through the passageway. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Afghans Kitting Up Afghans - Yesterday we spoke with Air Force Col. Larry Avery who is in charge of equipping the Afghan security forces with clothing, guns, ammo and vehicles during a DoD blogger round table. We’ve already blogged about the “light infantry” weapons and combat equipment load, and Avery said that TE list hasn’t changed. But what he wanted to highlight was the business development he’s involved with in helping local companies compete for, test and manufacture gear for the Afghan army and police forces. This year, the so-called “Afghan First” program has spent $150 million on helping local companies start up equipment operations. Avery said about 10 companies have contracts so far, including six women-owned outfits that manufacture “backpacks, socks and underwear,” Avery said. He pointed to one company called Kabul Milli as an example of what can be done in a country devastated by war but populated by locals with a strong work ethic… (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: A New Sniper Duel in Helmand - Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Michael Phillips discloses that it seems we have an Afghan Zaitsev in Helmand. According to his reports with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, a sniper has been plinking at Marines and Brits this month near Sangin, killing one Marine and one Brit and wounding another Marine. Two other Marines were hit and survived. Somewhere in this dusty town, concealed among the cornfields, irrigation canals and mud-walled compounds, is a man the Marines particularly want to kill. They don’t know what he looks like. But they know he is a very good shot with a long rifle, and, every day he remains alive, he is drawing Marine blood. In the seven days since the men of Lima Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment arrived in town, the Sangin sniper has persecuted them with methodical, well-aimed shots, fired one at a time. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Updates - As some of you may have noticed, I haven't been writing much lately (for this blog or for other projects). Things have been a little thin around here lately. A recurring problem. There's no shortage of things to write about, and discuss, but frankly, I'm too tired to do the issues justice. I'm tired of this job. I'm tired of this company. I'm tired of this industry. I'm tired of the Afghan government. I'm tired of this war. And not all that enamored with the U.S. government at the moment. Most of all, I'm tired of this place. I've always been ambivalent about the mission here, but lately I find myself wandering to extremes. One day I'm convinced that we can do this right and that someday this country will be better off. The next day I'm emphatic that this country deserves it's self-inflicted fate. Whether either position is correct, I have no idea. Maybe I just need to get out and recharge my batteries. Or maybe I'm just done. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban strike at mosque and tribal leaders' meeting in Pakistan's tribal areas - The Taliban targeted pro-government leaders in coordinated attacks in Pakistan's troubled northwest, killed 25 people in three bombings and suicide attacks. The largest strike took place at a mosque in the town of Wana in South Waziristan. Eighteen people were killed in the blast. “Apparently it was a suicide attack and Maulana Noor Mohammed was the target,” an intelligence official told Dawn. Mohammed served as a member of Pakistan's parliament and served as a negotiator between the Taliban and the government in the past. Over the past few years, the Taliban have shown no reservations about striking inside mosques and other religious sites [see list below]. There have been 23 major attacks on mosques and other Islamic institutions in Pakistan since December 2007, according to information compiled by The Long War Journal. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Red Bull on a Stick - "You know, Camp Shelby is an awful lot like the Iowa State Fair," says one Red Bull soldier. Back home, the Iowa State Fair is going on, and we're talking over a lunch of greasy food here in Mississippi. "We've got the food trailers, the stifling heat coming off the pavement, and," he sniffs at himself, "we certainly have the smell of livestock about us." "Yeah," says Saber2th, "and we've got the 'freak show' thing down, too." You want Midway rides? There's even a vehicle-rollover simulator that spins you around. It's another 100-plus-degree-heat-index day, and the Mississippi sun feels hot enough to strip paint off a barn. We're hanging out under the tin roof the "tactical food court," where a collection of food-vendor trailers sits in a gravel parking lot alongside a 100-foot-long temporary picnic shelter. You can take the Red Bull out of Iowa, but not the Iowa out or the Red Bull. (READ MORE)

Stacy Bannerman @ Regarding War: Beyond Repair - Sometimes you can do everything right, and it still won't be enough. Will never be enough. Some combat injuries are beyond repair. Such was the case for Kortney Jensen, an Army Reserve Sergeant and a decorated Iraq War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained while serving two combat tours. By all accounts, Jensen did everything right, as did his family, friends and the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs hospital that was providing his mental health treatment. According to reporter Matthew D. LaPlante, who was invited by the Jensen family to tell their story, Kortney Jensen "was looking forward to the future." But the past — the years of war and the post-traumatic stress that followed — pulled him back, tugged him under and, finally, refused to let go. On July 31, Kortney Jensen ended his life. Kort served his first tour at Balad, Iraq, then the most-attacked base in the country, from 2004-05. (READ MORE)

airforcewife: The Meaning of Sacrifice - My grandmother is 93 years old. She's a remarkable lady - when I describe her as a pistol there is no exaggeration in the phrase whatsoever. Recently my mother had to shoo my grandmother down off the roof where she was sweeping off leaves and detritus that Grandma had deemed a fire hazard. And mentally? My grandmother makes it a regular practice to be the terror of the local bridge club - regularly beating members thirty years younger than she. And I don't think my grandmother - although blessed with uncommon health - is an outlier for her generation. She lived through The Great Depression and she lived through World War II. She sent two sons off to fight in Vietnam, and she has seen her grandson and her grandson-in-law repeatedly deploy in the GWoT. She has traveled to nearly every country represented in the United Nations, she still enjoys a cold beer several times a week, and she has had an ongoing mental love affair with John F. Kennedy since 1958. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: The adventurer - Cpl. Paul Miller was 13 years old when terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Had he been allowed, he would have joined the Marines on September 12. "Upon Paul graduating high school, there was no hesitation to join the Marines," Gavaldon said. "He didn't seem to even toss around the idea of doing anything else. He was adventurous and anxious of his deployment to Iraq, as well as Afghanistan." The Traverse City Record-Eagle reports that Cpl. Miller thrived under pressure. While playing baseball growing up, he wanted to step in the batter's box with the game on the line. Most people avoid danger, but Miller would often seek it out. But instead of speeding around Traverse City, Michigan, in his car, which sometimes got him in trouble with his parents and the local cops, he would deploy to some of the world's most dangerous areas. Instead of worrying about the outcome, the combat engineer revelled in the excitement of the battlefield. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: If Afghan Troops Can’t Read ‘Cat in the Hat,’ This War is Screwed - By next October, if everything goes right in Afghanistan — like, almost perfectly — just about every local cop and soldier there should be able to read like a first grader. The American-led strategy in Afghanistan relies on training enough local forces to let the Afghans take over their own security. Right now, only 18% of those 243,000 cops and grunts have more than a Kindergarten-level ability to read. Which means they’ve got major trouble doing everything from keeping track of their gear to following a battle plan to getting paid, the general in charge of the NATO training effort says. In other words: if these local troops can’t learn their ABCs, this war is stuck. “Unless we take on literacy, we’ll never professionalize this force,” Lt. Gen William Caldwell tells reporters. It’s one of a host of problems Caldwell faces, as he tries to meet an October 2011 deadline of adding another 56,000 local security forces to the Afghan ranks — while shaping up the rest. (READ MORE)

Spencer Ackerman: East Afghan Plan: Choke the ‘Rat Lines,’ Secure the Roads - Make the main roads safe. Stop commuting to the fight. Choke the insurgent “rat lines” that supply attacks on Kabul. Shut down bases where they’re not needed. And get ready to hand off more places to Afghan control. That’s the gist of the campaign plan for securing eastern Afghanistan, designed by Major General John Campbell (pictured, left). His 101st Airborne Division is largely responsible for keeping the region secure. Which means Campbell and his troops carry a lot on their shoulders. The so-called “rat lines” carrying insurgent fighters, weapons and cash from the tribal areas of Pakistan up to Kabul remain open. And the U.S.’ overall strategy for Afghanistan focuses on southern provinces like Helmand and Kandahar; Campbell and his men have to make due without as much help from HQ. To some degree, that focus — a shift in course from the first eight years of the war, when the east was the central front: (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Why Marines in Afghanistan Want the Taliban to Open Fire - A lot of water has fallen over the dam since the issue of rules of engagement first started to show itself for the campaign in Afghanistan. My category has many such reports, but in lieu of rehearsing all of them again, it is enough simply to say what this example demonstrates for us again. The ROE in Iraq was different than it is in Afghanistan, period. Do you care to take issue with this characterization? Recall our conversations on The Anbar Narrative, including a report still profiled on the Department of Defense web site, no less. To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades. But the generals know better than that now, and the Marines can’t be trusted to make good decisions under pressure. (READ MORE)

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