November 17, 2008

From the Front: 11/17/2008

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

In their own words:
Knottie's niche: They're Home... - On Nov. 11th we packed our car and loaded up the family to head to Ft. Campbell. The men my son served with were on their way home from Iraq and I was finally going to get to meet and hug these men who have become so important in my life. As we drove on Veteran's Day I thought about how lucky the people in this country are to have the men and women of our military. Between it being Veterans day and where we were heading I had no choice but to see things from a perspective most Americans fail to look at. We drove without fear of IEDs. There were no check points. We could stop along the way and not fear snipers or suicide bombers. When we were hungry we had a multitude of options. And I knew without a doubt that these freedoms and this security are due fully to the fact we have such an outstanding group of people who made the choice to wear the uniform and defend these things. (READ MORE)

1st Marine Logistics Group: EOD, Engineers level city block - AT-TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 30, 2008) – When Marines leave the wire carrying nearly a ton of C-4, the result is sure to be explosive. Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, Engineers and Heavy Equipment Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), leveled the equivalent of an entire city block here July 30. The aptly named, long deserted “Pancake Village,” dubbed so due to the high amount of demolition the village saw during previous engagements, had become a jump-off point for insurgent activity, as well as an eyesore to local nationals. Graffiti, uncertain structural integrity and strategic location made the town a growing danger to Iraqis and Coalition Forces; so, the Marine Corps turned it into dust. (READ MORE)

Annex B: Taking Amtrak to Taji - Our crew made it back from Taji. Taji is a huge operating base that lies just north of Baghdad. I’ll write more about it in another entry. This was one of my last trips north because my unit is getting short. A couple of us have been wanting to get back on the road for a few weeks so we pulled a Nike and just did it. The team went with was Bandito 16, they are a convoy security company based out of Magnolia Arkansas. Bandito 16 is a pretty good collection of very capable soldiers. Their six original vehicles had the internal call signs of “RICKY BOBBY”, “CARNY”, “5-O” (the TC is a real-world police officer), “MINNIE”, “SEX PANTHER”, and “REHAB”. Obviously there is a draw to Will Farrell movies for these guys. They gave my truck the call sign of “AMTRAK”. That’s because two of my crew are Captains and since our ranks look like railroad tracks….well, there you go. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: I have seen the enemy - ...and he is tiny and furry. We've known there were mice. My dudes, in fact, have a rather robust and interactive population in their hooch (interactive as in they're so visible it was like having additional roommates). It got bad enough that my sergeant has taken to trapping them in water bottles using peanut butter and a string. He's gotten ten. In three days. But the infestion in our hooch has been more understated. Oh, I've seen a couple from time to time while I've been drinking coffee at night. And I've heard them in the walls. But out of sight is out of mind. Or it was. Until last night. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Peter Marton's Question About Afghans: Part 2 - A post or so ago I referenced Peter Marton's post about Wech Baghtu and addressed one issue on that post that I found significant. It wound up being a lengthy post, mostly about terps (interpreters,) who I have nothing but respect for. That article concerned an assertion by an alleged airstrike victim who claimed to have had his phone, papers and four dollars in Afghanis stolen from him by an interpreter. I don't buy it, and I explained my experiences with terps to illustrate my skepticism. Marton ends his post with a deep question. At least I think it's deep. It's not a cornerstone type of question; it's a keystone type of question. (READ MORE)

AFGHANISTAN SHRUGGED: The Stair Master Scenario (You will need tape for this) - Slow day today. But it gives me some time to comment on things I've seen and experienced. Especially, the terrain and people of Afghanistan. In military terms we call this the operating enviorment, this sounds way cooler than people and terrain and I'm positive somebody used that as a bullet on their Officer Efficiency Report, "Renamed people and terrain into operating enviorment, thus streamlining the doctrinal template". I call this the happy to glad syndrome. First, the greatest enemy we face here in Afghanistan. The terrain. It is vicious, cruel, unforgiving and beautiful. This may seem like a strange dichotomy but how do you describe something that's wonderful and can kill you faster than a bullet from an AK. Afghanistan is a country of mountains, these great dividers determine where, when and how you go somewhere. (READ MORE)

Long Warrior: Wheels up - Pack your bags. Decide they are good enough. Stare at them for five minutes. Dump them all over the floor and start over. Make a mental checklist. When this fails you, make a written one.Keys, wallet (don’t need the Sam’s Club or Blockbuster cards anymore), stabil in the fuel tank (like your car is going to start right up in 12 months anyway), check your watch, check it again. Go drop off your car. You’re officially locked down. Get accountability. The army loves accountability. You will continue getting accountability every three seconds for the rest of the year. This is the civilian equivalent for keeping an adventurous child within eye sight at WalMart. (READ MORE)

Cheese's Milblog: A cold wind is blowin' - It's getting a lot colder here. As an upstate New Yorker I'm pretty used to the cold, but it's like all of the sudden my ears are freezing off the side of my head. We're still rotating to one of the overstaffed bases in the area to sit in towers while they have parties and poker tournaments. Thankfully, there was a false alarm during their Halloween party so some of our guys got to see a bunch of Majors running around wearing Hadji dresses and body armor. Unfortunately, there was a full moon during my last rotation there. Granted, it makes my night shifts easier, but it eliminated my favorite nighttime activity; sitting in the smoke shack and watching night-blind troops walk into concrete barriers and trailer tongues. Gotta love blackout FOBs. We had our final awards ceremony the other day. At long last, my Infantry company was awarded our cavalry combat spurs. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Further update - Ok, first of all I want everyone to know that I got word that my aunts and uncles will be fine. A few of them have several broken bones but they will all be ok. GOD IS GOOD!!!!! Thank you for the prayers. Also, I just got back from being with Rob. The dr said that when they did the scope, they did not find any blockages. The gall stone is still there but it is not what's causing the problem. She feels that, again, it's from all the blood Rob has received and his liver is just trying to adjust to it. She said at this time there is no permanent damage to the liver, it's just slow. She also said they did a full body CT scan on him. He has no active bleeding. His head CT also showed no active bleeding or new spots and the swelling has decreased. (READ MORE)

Embrace the Suck: First Day, First Mission Or Hello Mr Afghani Man, I Like Your Goat… - November 14, 2008 1149 HRS. So we actually, finally, after so damn long made it to the FOB where we are supposedly going to spend our deployment to Afghanistan. I must admit. Not half bad. I expected a lot worse. Once again though, I would love for the vets from Vietnam and WWII and all that to see what we live in now and how we eat and all the luxuries we've got. I promise you that they would absolutely shit. But whatever, I'll probably find something worth bitching about soon, but so far I've got nothing. We've got 6 computers hooked up to the internet. So I guess I could bitch that I have to share, but I am already getting used to the communal living thing again. My years as a dirty hippy are finally paying off. (READ MORE)

Lt. Col. Paul Fanning: 50 Guardsmen earn awards - Nearly 50 members of a New York Army National Guard infantry unit assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix received awards and combat badges during a ceremony at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday. The soldiers are assigned to the Ithaca-based Company D, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry and are serving as Security Force Delta with New York’s 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry. The unit is assigned to Afghan Regional Security Integration Command-Kabul, also based at Camp Phoenix. “This has been the highlight of my career to command Company D,” said Capt. Joseph Merrill of Binghamton, company commander. “It was an honor to command you and we are all now brothers. If there ever comes another time when you need to dodge bullets again, just call me and we’ll do it together.” (READ MORE)

Fobbits need ice cream too: The Car Wash - I'm woken up at 0600 by ShittyTC. "Go to the wash rack and wash the truck before we go out tonight we the new guys. The truck needs to be washed inside and out. Clean the deckplate where Misfit stands and also dry off the seat where we normally keep the cooler. Rearrange the truck so that we have all 4 seats open." Not what I wanted to hear at 6 in the morning before a 1500 mission. Whatever. We've never been to the wash rack and I wasn't even sure the base in Kuwait had one. I ride around for an hour until I approach the AHA (ammo holding area) gate. Once I convince the civilian rent-a-cop at the gate to stop pointing his rifle at me, he tells me where the wash rack is. I roll up and am not surprised to find that the wash racks are just big tubs of water with a hose coming out of the top. I turn around and go over to the PX and buy a mop and some dishsoap before returning. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Sure hate the way, but why hate the victory? - The Iraqi cabinet voted overwhelmingly Sunday to approve the security agreement that sets the conditions for the Americans' continued presence in Iraq from Jan. 1 until the end of 2011. Next the measure goes to parliament, where it is expected to be approved as well. Iraqis are telling each other the worst is behind us, and now we can look forward to the future. People are hoping to vote at the Jan. 31st provincial elections. And the economy is improving. In fact there are so many jobs available that Iraq has asked the Philippines to lift its ban on sending workers to Iraq. In my own extended family people are mostly optimistic. (READ MORE)

IN-iraq: The See-Saw that is Baghdad - If Baghdad is symptomatic of a nation, Iraq is a paranoid schizophrenic. Today was the third straight day of bombings in Baghdad according to the AP. The news agency also reported that in the first nine days of November there have been 19 bomings in the capital, whereas there were 28 bomb attacks in all of October. One of these bombings two days ago, which struck during morning rush hour that backs up for miles as cars are checked at checkpoints one by one, making them virtual sitting ducks if a suicide car rams in, such as this one did killing 28 and wounding. Yet if we are to believe other news from local and international news agencies, the outlook in Baghdad is still optimistic: (READ MORE)

The Left Captain: Winter - I haven't posted to the blog in a while, having lost some motivation for doing anything other than the minimum. I'm at day 129 in-country and a general lassitude has set in over the past few weeks. I have been seeing a lot of patients, which keeps me busy, but a new conflict with the local Army chain of command has left me slightly demoralized. I won't get into it in this public forum but this is the third or fourth "conflict" I have had with a group of Army officers and senior enlisted. At every turn it seems that I am reminded that the culture of the USAF and the US Army are very different. Someone who would know emailed me and said the air cavalry are "all about butt sniffing and dick-measuring". I don't play those games very well, so that puts me at odds with the senior butt-sniffers on this FOB. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan reopens Khyber crossing to NATO convoys - Pakistan reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO traffic destined for Afghanistan today. The border crossing point in the lawless Khyber tribal agency was closed Saturday after Taliban forces hijacked and looted a convoy of trucks containing supplies and equipment for NATO forces, including two US-made armored Humvees, on Nov. 10. The Pakistani military is now providing armed escorts for the NATO convoys, which are driven by Pakistani truckers. Prior to this, the government relied on Frontier Corps and checkpoints manned by the Afridi tribe that are dotted along the road stretching from Peshawar to Torkham. (READ MORE)

Lt. Nixon: Obama Gussies Up Website to Take Credit For Iraq Withdrawal - The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq was put together by the executive branch of the current administration and is currently in the approval process by the Iraqi government. It was just approved by the Iraqi Cabinet today [AP], and awaits Parliamentary approval. The agreement requires that Coalition Forces be withdrawn from Iraq by 2012. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the surge in crippling the enemies of Iraq, the improvement of the Iraqi Security Forces, and highlights that the Iraqi people are comfortable that the worst is behind them. Journalists familiar with being on the front lines are saying that the war is essentially over. Obama has been advocating for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq for quite some time; however, he did so when violence in Iraq was at its peak in 2007 and he even suggested that some level of genocide would be acceptable if troops were withdrawn early. (READ MORE)

Notes from Iraq: 15NOV08--Revenge of the Cheese - Today I paid for my actions yesterday. Yesterday, I went to observe SOI payday operations. The Iraqis fed me breakfast and lunch. I eat what they eat and how they eat it--standing, with my hands, ripping meat or bread off the same piece as somebody else. I did not think twice to rip off a piece of bread and use it to scoop up some cheese and then dip it in jelly just like my Iraqi counterpart. As a matter of fact, he looked quite contented that I tried the same combinations that he did. The breakfast included bread, cheese, eggs, jelly and tea. The cheese looked like a ball of cream cheese scooped out with a giant ice cream scoop. It set on a saucer in what looked like white water. I liken the taste of the cheese to nothing. Not as in a taste that I had never experienced, but as in it had no taste. But I enjoyed the creamy texture, so I was not shy about eating my fill. (READ MORE)

Notes from Iraq: 16NOV08--'Kamer' - Today, one of our interpreters came back from leave, and I filled him in on the past few days. In particular, I asked him about an Iraqi dish, a white cheese that looked watery. I asked if it was goat cheese. He informed me that it was not cheese at all. Michael explained to me that the dish could be made from goat’s milk or maybe sheep’s milk that the product was the same. It is called ‘kamer.’ As soon as he said it, I remembered my Iraqi counterpart teaching me the word. I had assumed that ‘kamer’ was the Iraqi word for cheese. I was wrong. Next, Michael warned me, “Be careful, kamer will make your stomach runny.” To this I looked at him funny. “You know…diarrhea, if you eat too much of it,” he explained. I responded that I had tried some a few days ago. His eyebrows raised, “I hope you did not eat too much of it.” I replied, “I did.” (READ MORE)

Notes From Tommie: Almost Home For R&R - So right now I’m sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth USO computer lab with little less than an hour before my final flight for the day, and hopefully for a good long time yet. After this flight I will have spent the last 20 hours, more or less, in constant flight with relatively few breaks inbetween. That isn’t even to mention before I got to Kuwait! On my way to Iraq I made my first stop in Germany, but on the way coming back for R&R I made my first stop in Ireland. It was very sad indeed. In Ireland and not allowed to drink any whiskey or beer, but dang it to all these laws and etc. If only there weren’t all these restrictions on people I swear the world would be a more friendly place to live in. (READ MORE)

Photography, Software, and Sand: Almost back to Baghdad - My whirlwind tour of Iraq is almost complete and I am waiting on travel back to Baghdad and should be there by dinnertime tomorrow. I've been to 13 air bases, COBs, FOBs, or Camps, flown on Blackhawks, Chinooks, Pave Lows, and C-130s, and been in a convoy through the most dangerous city in the country. I've even had a chance to stay in a house, visit a restaurant, and walk around one of the quietest and safest cities in the country as well. I've met face-to-face with over 50 customers to give them personalized training and elicited over 25 suggestions for features to our application. At least 90% of the folks that I have met with would say that they're happy with our system, which is a pretty good success rate for such a wide range of user roles and technical capabilities. (READ MORE)

Playing in the Sandbox: Epilogue - I think it's time for me to stop writing here. The stylistic concept I strive for in just about everything is simplicity via elegance - say what you need to say with minimal words, but make each word as full of impact as possible. This concept extends to the music I write as well. In the course of the relatively short time I was deployed, I didn't write about everything that happened or everything I felt. I wanted to save what I wrote for when I actually had something to say rather than flooding the internet with more meaningless drivel than it already has. The war for me, for now, has ended, and so in the interest of brevity I'd rather let my work stand as it is than push it past its welcome. Again, I want to thank everyone for their comments, positive thoughts, and well wishes throughout this whole thing. Writing provided a constructive form of escape that I was happy to share with others, far more than I'd originally anticipated. (READ MORE)

Rocinante's Burdens: NEAR BEER. BLAH! - I chanced upon a six pack of Coors brand beer substitute beverage in the team cooler yesterday so I thought I would give it a try. (sip) (holds sip in mouth while looking for a place to spit it out) What kind of moron would invent such a vile concoction? It certainly wasn't anyone who actually drinks beer. This swill is worse than Zima , and that tasted like Lemon-flavored ferret urine. How has this "product" managed to have enough sales to even stay in the marketplace? Is there some kind of government agency that forces people to buy some of this? (READ MORE)

Two Brothers, Two Countries, One Army - Numb.... - Well, hello!! Hello to all of those who continue to check our blog and show your support to my brother and I. Thank you! Thank you to all of those who sent Veterans Day cards and kind email wishes. Thank you. They are and were greatly appreciated. Numb...I'm not sure where to start this... first things first. Please stop and take 30 seconds and say a prayer for those who have made the ultimate sacrafice in efforts to protect your freedom. I said mine....I hope you did too. Please also remember those whose lives are forever changed. Those who have been injured, scarred, or emotionally hurt. You know, I was sitting around today talking to a few people. They mentioned that every one of us that signed the dotted line and raised our hand knew the possibilities of what could happen. Sure, we know. We don't expect it, but we know. Today was a long day....a long day to say the least. I couldn't think of a better name for this post....I really don't think that numb is the right choice. (READ MORE)

Two Brothers, Two Countries, One Army - Yesterday...cont'd - Hello to everyone again! Thank you for your continued support that you show to my brother and I. I'll get to this kinda quickly. Usually if something happens and I want to talk about it, but I can't... I can't. And I usually reference the phrase, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you." Well, you want to know what happened yesterday? Here it is. This is not my recollection of yesterday's events, this is how it was reported to you. I wasn't there for the actual fire fight, I only saw the aftermath. You can read the following report and know what brought 7 Soldiers to the hospital for treatment. Basically you get half the story. My half, the part I was involved with, I still can't tell you. I'll let your imagination take you where it wants. It wasn't pretty, I will say that. Enough delay, here's what happened: (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: The Sandbox Part III : Dream Warriors - I’m in the porta-potty. Someone wrote graffiti on the wall: Chuck Norris doesn’t do push-ups, he does earth-downs. I sigh. Ok, this was funny back in 2004, but four years later, reading the same damn Chuck Norris jokes is lame. Who the hell keeps writing this stuff? I leave the porta-potty and see my lieutenant. I salute him. “Going to chow, sir? “Yeah, you?” “Yes, sir. Want company?” “Sure, BT.” We walk to the chow hall together, making small talk as we walk. I enter the chow hall with my lieutenant. I stop at the hand washing station and nod to The Sandbox Blogger while I wash my hands. I see he wears a splint on his finger. “Dude,” I say to The Sandbox Blogger. “How did you hurt your finger watching people wash their hands?” (READ MORE)

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