September 3, 2010

From the Front: 09/03/2010

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

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Widow Weekend - This past weekend, I headed down to Tybee Island, Georgia for a widow retreat sponsored by the American Widow Project, as mentioned in my last post. Since traveling back up to Maryland with the family, I've had time to reflect a little on that retreat and what I gained from it. The first thing I gained was a sense of normalcy. That's right folks - I'm pretty on the "normal" side of things, as far as being a widow goes. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that everyone goes through things differently. We all feel, think, and do things at different times. However, many of the things we think, feel, do and experience... someone else has thought, felt, done, experienced the same damn thing and sometimes even at the same stage in the journey. I learned that so many widows have been disappointed by people in our lives. I kept blaming myself for how little contact I have with people who'd been there every day "before" and I realized, it's not me. I didn't do anything wrong. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Never Forgotten - “These four selfless Soldiers volunteered to serve in an Army at war. They deployed to combat, some for their second tour and they performed their dangerous and important duties with honor each day. These Sky Soldiers will be remembered for how they lived their lives, which ended too soon, but were characterized by commitment and dedication – their sacrifice will never be forgotten.” - LTC Curtis Johnson, 173d Airborne Battalion Commander. (READ MORE)

David Tate @ Regarding War: The Battle for Kandahar - Like anything in this war, it is impossible to define events, or chains of events, in the same terms as you would define them in other wars. The battle for Kandahar, for example, is different than those battles waged for Hue or for Fallujah. In Kandahar, there will be no decisive battle or last stand. To be successful, not only will ground need to be taken, but a government will also need to be empowered and services provided. Known as Operation Hamkari, the battle for Kandahar is really a series of steps that got underway late last year, shortly after President Obama announced his escalation of the war. The battle can be broken down into three phases: 1. Security in Kandahar City and on the main routes into town; 2. The push into Kandahar's heartland, the Arghandab Valley; 3. The upcoming joint-assault on the districts of Panjwaii and Zhari, which will attempt to knock the Taliban out of the fertile lands surrounding the city and back into the desert where sustenance is difficult. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Operation New Dawn or Yet Another Dawn? - First off, it’s great to be back in the US. After nearly three years of deployed time in Iraq, I’m fairly confident this was my last trip there. Obviously, after devoting the better part of my 20’s to either prepping for a deployment, or actually deployed, I have a fairly vested interest in Iraq; and also the American perception of our efforts in Iraq. Over the last week, there has been a tremendous amount of coverage regarding the formal end of combat operations in Iraq yesterday, 31 August. Yesterday Operation Iraqi Freedom ended and today brought the first day of Operation New Dawn and a new USFI Commanding General. Having worked extensively with the Diyala Provincial Reconstruction Team, I gained a solid and comprehensive understanding of the way ahead in Iraq. For the most part, I am a fan; it’s not perfect but I am just happy the State Department is finally taking the lead in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: attacks on Pakistani minorities kill dozens - At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a blast exploded at a Shia rally for Al-Quds Day, an annual event on the last Friday of Ramadan that expresses solidarity with Palestinians, in Quetta, Baluchistan. The casualty figures are expected to rise since there were some 2,500 people reportedly at the rally. Two members of Pakistan's minority Ahmadi community were also killed today when a suicide bomber attacked an Ahmadi mosque during Friday prayers in Mardan. And a remote controlled roadside bomb at the Ring Road in Peshawar killed a Pakistani policeman, while a female schoolteacher was shot by masked militants in the northwestern tribal region of Bajaur. Qari Hussain Mehsud, a trainer of suicide bombers for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, has taken credit for the deadly attacks on a Shia procession in Lahore earlier this week, a day after the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami also took responsibility. (READ MORE)

Scott Worden: Why the West should care about Afghan election fraud - With little fanfare, and in the shadow of a spate of corruption and governance scandals, millions of Afghans will head to the polls in two weeks to vote in the country's second parliamentary elections. The international community has, to a large extent, adopted a ‘see no evil, speak no evil' approach to the upcoming vote -- hoping that a lack of international media attention will minimize reports of fraud that could further sour Western public opinion on the conflict in Afghanistan and undermine support for ongoing counterinsurgency operations. Afghans, however, are paying keen attention to the upcoming polling. The distribution of power within a province in many ways has more impact on local political dynamics than does the presidential election, and election to parliament is a coveted status symbol (if not a ‘get out of jail free' card) for many local leaders. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: September--Thirty Day Challenges - I was trying to think of ways to make the time of this deployment go a little bit faster. I count trash days still, but I needed something more. Enter "Thirty Day Challenges". So for September I am starting off with a bang. My first challenge is that I will eat vegetarian for 30 days. I love vegetables anyway, and after my kidney stone a few years ago, because it was made of the byproducts of meat, I was urged to eat vegetarian for two meals a day. My second challenge is this: [picture] A little overwhelming, but I sure would like to be able to park in there before the first snow! I'll have to hang all the bikes, but all the rest of the stuff needs to find a home or be tossed. Anyone care to join me in 30 day challenges for the next 11 months? Also, I am looking for another 10 months of 30 day challenges, so what would you want to do? What do you think I should try to tackle? (READ MORE)

Kandahar Diary: Centurion Stands Down - This time tomorrow night I’ll have a cold beer in my hand and a crisp, green, garden salad big enough to choke a horse, in front of me. Today was as different a picture to that as could possibly be. Tanker roll-over, two ambushes, one of my guards shot and killed at close range driving through Kandahar City, meeting the grieving families of my recent KIA (these people give a whole new meaning to the term ‘stoic’), grilled by a commercial compliance desk-jockey from the client’s Dubai office (“why do you stop some of the convoy in an ambush?” “well, ma’am, mostly it’s because there is a crater in the road from the initiating IED but dead tanker and escort drivers also have something to do with it…” {Jesus wept!}, and all wrapped up with one tanker and a guard team brassed up by the ANA outside of a FOB to the west of here. After shooting up the tanker and my guys, the ANA then had the front to confiscate their weapons and demand ‘compensation’. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Transformed in a Moment - One morning in Iraq, I left battalion headquarters to ride across the base and go to a meeting with the Command Sergeant Major of the Garrison. We were meeting about the 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony. We had much of the program in place, but we needed a chaplain for the invocation. When I told the commander's assistant where I was going, two or three people in the office right away said, "Sergeant Major F*&K This!" And smiled. The garrison CSM had a reputation for swearing that was noticeable in an Army unit in Iraq. I had not heard a sentence from him without an F-bomb. The chaplain everyone assumed would give the invocation had just been transferred to the north. Chaplain Valentine, the post Catholic chaplain, taught philosophy at Fordham University in New York City. After 9/11 he decided to volunteer for the chaplaincy. He was on his third tour. From our base, he rode convoys and flew to every outpost in the south of Iraq. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Iraq: Mission Not-So-Accomplished - Back in 2003, a friend of mine, an unabashed liberal was grilling me about the wisdom of the impending invasion of Iraq. He was highly skeptical, and in fact believed the worst about the motives of the Bush Administration. He argued the coming war was ginned up on flimsy intelligence and would be a complete disaster. He wanted to know what I thought, as someone who covered the Pentagon and the debate about the war on a daily basis. As a journalist, I avoided giving my opinion. In fact I wasn’t sure I had an opinion. One of the luxuries of being a reporter, who strives for objectivity, is that you don’t have to have an opinion. My job was to examine all sides of the issue, try to bring facts to bear on the debate, hold people accountable, and let the chips falls where they may. I didn’t need to decide if the invasion was the right thing to do. And honestly, I didn’t know. (READ MORE)

Julie the Army Wife: Prayers During a Deployment - Prayer has always been a part of my life. When my husband is deployed I pray for him. I also know he is on about 5-6 different military prayer lists at different churches around the country. I know his family is praying for him. I know his friends are too. But this is where I am stuck. Will praying keep him safe? I pray all the time he is safe. But the reality is people who have prayed for their husbands (or wives, sons, daughters, etc) have lost them :( It’s hard because I just don’t understand it. And maybe I am not suppose to. Maybe I am just suppose to pray and trust that God will protect him? Will more prayers from more people help him? I know that when people pray for my emotional state, I do feel better. When we pray for families of the fallen, I hope that they do feel a little more comfort. But praying to keep people safe is where I get confused. Not that we shouldn’t do it, I think we should but I just get confused by it all. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Army Fields Updated Body Armor Vest - The Army’s top gear-buying office announced this week it has begun fielding an updated version of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest to Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan. The Gen. II IOTV incorporates more than a dozen improvements over the already pretty well tricked out IOTV. Improvements include a totally redesigned and removable yoke and collar, reversible and detachable side carriers and universal side pouch, and equipment anchor points on the front and rear which interface with items such as hydration systems and the Tactical Assault Panel or (TAP). Finally, the Army has fielded a vest that can go from a full one moon suit for roof gunners down IED Alley to a slimmed down “operator cut” for door kickers humping into mountain qalats. And the service has an added bonus to the new vest: They’re fielding it in both OCP and UCP. The vest is also more adjustable, so anyone from Popeye to Andre the Giant can tweek it to their liking. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Soldiers Used To Make Smoke Cloud For Nada - Yesterday, soldiers were used again as political fodder in a hit piece by Liberal OC blogger Dan Chmielewski. He accused Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson of promoting the killing of heroes by sending cigars to the front lines. Chmielewski cut and paste some stats on the rate of smoking amongst soldiers, and then suggested that next Nelson would be pimping cigarettes for children. While Chmielewski tried to make it appear he gave a hoot for the troops, it was just a smoke shield to air his disgust and contempt for the conservative Nelson. There were the usual Liberal OC comments. Most interesting was the assertion by Gabriel San Roman that "intelligence reports place the number of AQ operatives in Afghanistan somewhere between 50 - 100." Really? I suppose they wear convention name tags that say: "Hello! My Name Is Akbar. My company is al Qaeda." I guess he didn't read Bill Rogio and Daveed Gartenstein- Ross in The Weekly Standard. (READ MORE)

Kudzu's Wandering Through the Vines: Agents of Wrath II - Last year when I wrote “Agents of Wrath” I questioned the use of language from the Bible to justify our purpose. I wrote it because I was conflicted and hesistant to accept such a label. I am a Soldier in the U.S. Army, not an agent of the Christian God’s faithful army. I am not an arcangel sent to strike vengence on the enemies of God. While I do view the current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and against the Islamofascists as a whole to be part of a War for Civilization; I do not prescribe to it being a “crusade” (as my future novel will show). Today I learned of the first Army Chaplian to be killed in action since Vietnam. Captain Dale Goetz of the 4th Infantry Division was killed in southern Afghanistan by an improvised exposive device while traveling by convoy to another forward operations base to counsel Soldiers. He was not the only Chaplian to die because of this war (see previous link) but was the first KIA. (READ MORE)

The Life of a Wife: Still Alive! - Ok, a lot has happened in the past couple of weeks... My hubby redeployed! I picked him up on August 12th at Ramstein. He handled reintegration like a pro and had it done in 3 hours (vs 10 days). We hit Wiesbaden Weinfest 2010 HARD and had a ton of fun. On the 25th, we set sail...err, plane... for Barcelona. We spent an amazing 5 days there. Lots of beach, lots of WODs and lots of sangria, cava, tapas, etc. We got back on the 30th after a layover in Amsterdam (the day the terrorists were arrested there! But we couldn't tell; totally business as usual. When we got back, an RFO was waiting and as of Tuesday, we will have orders to our next duty station. Report date is 30 September, so this is going to be a busy month for us! We're doing a recon visit to the post this weekend. And in 2 weeks...Oktoberfest!! Can't wait. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 20 Haqqani Network fighters killed in failed assault on US base in Paktika - US and Afghan troops have beaten back another attempt by the Haqqani Network to overrun a US base in eastern Afghanistan. More than 20 members of the Haqqani Network were killed after launching an early morning attack today on Combat Outpost Margah in the Bermel district of Paktika province. "The attack began in the early morning with small arms and indirect fire directed against the outpost," the International Security Assistance Forces stated in a press release. US troops repelled the attack with mortar and small-arms fire, then called in helicopter gunships to finish off the attackers. "Aircraft from TF [Task Force] Viper conducted two passes over the area, killing at least 20 insurgents in two separate engagements," ISAF stated. No US or Afghan troops were killed or wounded in the attacks. Combat Outpost Margah is the third US base to be assaulted by the Haqqani Network since Aug. 28. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: 5 Ways to Record Your Deployment History - Earlier this week, I asked for ideas to help capture our collective "Red Bull" deployment history. Everyone has a potential piece of this: The soldiers going overseas; the soldiers and veterans staying at home; the parents and co-workers and spouses and children working to keep everyday life as normal as possible. I'm pleased to say that I've heard from a few people, but I'd like to hear from more. (You can comment to this post, message me on Facebook, or send me e-mail at sherpa [AT] In the meantime, I thought I'd throw out some ideas. Here are five ways you could help record your "Red Bull" soldier's (or family's) deployment history: 1. Write Letters. Not enough people do this anymore--just ask the U.S. Postal Service. E-mail and texting and Facebook and Twitter are all OK, but they're here-and-gone. They are less-than-ephemeral. Ink and paper are also ephemeral--having watched a few episodes of Antiques Roadshow, I believe they are the very definition of "ephemera"--but at least one can touch and feel and hold them. (READ MORE)

Joel Hafvenstein: Insecurity in Badakhshan - Badakhshan province has often been portrayed in the media as a relatively safe place, in large part because the nascent trekking/tourism industry there makes for a great story. After the second of two recent lethal attacks by insurgents on aid workers in Badakhshan, I’ve heard some friends musing on whether this spells a major sea change in security in the province. I don’t think it does. Badakhshan is a big province with an intricate mountain geography; like Afghanistan itself, anything you say about one part of the province is likely to be untrue of another district, and major differences can emerge over relatively short distances. For one obvious example, it contains both the most laid-back gender relations in rural Afghanistan (among the Ismailis of the Wakhan corridor) and some of the most conservative (stonings for fornication have taken place with appalling regularity over the years, and you can’t escape the burqa in the major towns). (READ MORE)

Kabul Expat: Expats Drinking in Kabul: Will the Atrocities Never Cease? - Will drop-in journalists ever tire of writing self-righteous, grossly distorted stories about “wild, partying expats” in Kabul? Probably not. Seema Jilani just published one in the Guardian. Let’s get this over with. “Kabul is the new Beirut.” This frivolous drivel fell from the mouth of a journalist in Afghanistan. She was effervescent with excitement about the prospect of Kabul’s expatriate bars being even more hip than those in Beirut. Beirut – where they dance to the beat of the bombs, where alcohol flows freely and women are freer still. That journalist was being sarcastic, probably obviously so to everyone except Jilani. Journalists working in Afghanistan are a sarcastic lot. Gandamack (Jilani’s link above) isn’t representative of nightlife in Kabul. On the contrary, it’s notorious among expats for being a magnet for the most dysfunctional individuals and the kind of behaviour that isn’t tolerated elsewhere. (READ MORE)

Kathleen Harris Causey: Marriage and War in Today's Military - I had just turned 18 years old in September of 2001. I had begun college classes in my hometown. I had a full-time job and friends I liked. A lot of things about my life during that time were no different than things in any other American's, and I couldn't have even begun to conceive of the thousands of ways my life was going to be affected by That Fateful Day. As a country and a culture, we're still discovering new ways that we've been changed since 9/11. There was a baby boom and now elementary schools are overrun with "post-9/11 babies." Patriotism was bred from the unlikeliest people and places, and knew no bounds. Political parties had something new to focus on during election years. And people who were adolescent children at the time have since grown to join the service, or marry service members and start families with them. There is a whole new generation of military families that have been centered on war, and that is the only life they have ever known. (READ MORE)

AirForceWife: He's Back! Now What? - Air Force Guy has been back from deployment for about a week and a half now. So, on one hand - YAY! It's been great to have him back - that worry you scrunch down to the bottom of your stomach? I feel strangely light now that it's gone. That insomnia that was keeping me up until three or four in the morning? I'm usually asleep by 11 at the latest now. And - as all deployment veteran wives know, the *ahem* frustration level has dropped to nothing (although we still have months to make up for, and I do plan on making them up). Life is good. On the other hand...Now, I don't mean to complain here, and I hope everyone can take this in the vein that it is intended. But Holy Santa on Roller Skates! having another person in the house takes some getting used to! Just for starters, this morning I woke up ready to have at my Raisin Bran with almond milk... and the almond milk was gone! Frustrating. Totally. (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: Climbing out of the Hole - Everyone's life has its ups and downs, and when you live in a military family, things tend to happen big: You don't move houses, you move continents. You make lifelong friends faster than some people make acquaintances. Your spouse doesn't go on a business trip, she goes on a year deployment. You get to see parts of the country and world that your friends from high school will never see. Kids get sick all at once as soon as the ship pulls out. And then there is that Murphy guy. As some smart military spouse once said, "the highs are higher and the lows are lower." As a whole, military families are a resilient bunch of folks. Sometimes, however, it is all just too much. As much as you want to "suck it up," there isn't enough space inside you. I was reading a blurb at Facebook the other day where a group of military spouses was taking one of those "how much stress is in your life" tests. (READ MORE)

Charles Krauthammer: Our distracted commander in chief - Many have charged that President Obama's decision to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan 10 months from now is hampering our war effort. But now it's official. In a stunning statement last week, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway admitted that the July 2011 date is "probably giving our enemy sustenance." A remarkably bold charge for an active military officer. It stops just short of suggesting aiding and abetting the enemy. Yet the observation is obvious: It is surely harder to prevail in a war that hinges on the allegiance of the locals when they hear the U.S. president talk of beginning a withdrawal that will ultimately leave them to the mercies of the Taliban. How did Obama come to this decision? "Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics," an Obama adviser told the New York Times' Peter Baker. "He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration." (READ MORE)

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