December 22, 2008

From the Front: 12/22/2008

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

In their own words:
Afghanistan Shrugged: Get Thomas Jefferson on SATCOM! - I must have slept through this block of instruction in Infantry Officer Advanced Course. Setting up a voter registration site? I don’t really recall any such training in all of the courses that I’ve attended. I studied polysci in college but that was only because it was easy and didn’t interfere with my beer drinking and getting tan. Man, if I’d only know that I was going to need it 20 years later I’d have paid better attention. I’m standing on a dirt soccer field in front of a school in the northern part of the Goumal district. The school is the only symbol of the centralized government in Kabul, in fact neither the coalition forces or the ANA have even been here in the last two years. The school is simply built, small a couple of rooms; unusable in the winter month because there’s no central heat, heck there’s no decentralized heat. It’s the symbol that Kabul is doing something for the people. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: The First Step - Getting ready for this embed will be relatively easy since I still have all my survival gear from Iraq, 2007. The biggest hurdles come in other places, like juggling finances, profession and everything else needed to be a “family man”. As I mentioned earlier, I was hoping to be in a position to take this part time job back to full time, but economically, it just would not be a prudent move at this time. So like last time, I needed to hope for the blessings of others in order to make something happen. People often ask how I do this, or do that, or whatever, and it is a hard question to answer because I am sure I do it my own, unique way (relatively speaking). (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: [grumble grumble] - I finally dragged myself out of my nice cozy rack around...oh, well, suffice it to say it wasn't early. Not even remotely. With nothing on the horizon until a 1300 "chat," I made coffee and stood on my porch, surveying my (limited) domain. Things appeared...hazy. I climbed up on a pile of sandbags and looked across the helopad. Quite hazy. Things developed. The weather progressed from slightly hazy to downright dusty. It's nasty - the dust doesn't seem that bad outside until you look down and realize there's a thick coat on everything. You go indoors to escape it, and realize it's working its way around the door, in through the air conditioner, around the taped windows. Dust sucks less here than it did living in tents, but it still suck. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: And The Winner Is... Substance - I differed with Andrew Exum of Abu Mukuwama in my review of Nir Rosen's article in Rolling Stone detailing his "embed" with the Taliban, which turned out to be, I thought, totally lacking in substance. It was more a tale of how his life was in danger as he was shuttled about by "Taliban" underlings. He in no way delved into the subjects that Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi journalist who is published in The Guardian this week, plumbed thoroughly. Ghaith Abdul Ahad blows Rosen clean out of the water and shows Rolling Stone up for the pop outlet that it is, rather than a serious source of information. Ghaith Abdul Ahad has produced an excellent look at some insurgents who have their act together. They know what they are doing. Read the article for a quick course in Insurgency 101. Qomendan Hemmet is the real deal. (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: Breaking Contact - In the Army we use an operational term, generally reserved for tactical situations - "break contact". We use this term as a directive during tactical situations in order to discontinue any contact with an opposing force. However, like so many aspects of military life the tactical starts to merge with the practical. Today, the term "Break contact" is used in everyday army life too. Someone might say, "okay, let's break contact," to signal the end of a conversation or meeting. In general, the term signals an end to any contact with another individual or group (informally speaking). So, here we are at the end of phase one of our deployment - phase one comprising of our time here in Bryan for our pre-mobilization training (to include our three weeks at Ft. Dix). (READ MORE)

Embrace the Suck: Institution of Imbeciles... - Saturday, December 21, 2008 0044 hrs. - Which institution am I talking about? The United States Army. But I am going to combine that with a laundry list of other shit that I have been planning on writing about. So get ready for a wild ride of me pissing and moaning about this or that. First on the list of things that are pissing me off. Paperwork. This truly sucks. The government and its paperwork. I never knew that this entire war was going to have to be justified on a statement. Every single thing you do, if it involves enemy contact has to be written down on a statement. Why? So the Army lawyers can examine and dissect every little word you write and find a way to nail you to the wall. I thought we had a lot to fear from the media when it came to our actions in the heat of combat. As it turns out we have a whole helluva lot more to fear from our own superiors and the military legal department. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures - This will be a long post because the topic is important requiring that I be 100% clear concerning my observations, recommendations and opinions. In previous posts I have made my case regarding the speed and efficiency with which we are conducting stability operations in Afghanistan. I believe our reconstruction efforts are flawed; we are wasting time while spending billions of dollars (we do not have) without impacting the majority of the population. We are not conducting meaningful infrastructure projects nor establishing security to the vast majority of the Afghanistan which is reflected by the growing percentage of the country falling outside the control of the central government. In these areas the Taliban is “outgovernoring” the Karzai administration which is the worst thing that could be happening after seven years of effort by America and her ISAF allies. These are facts beyond dispute. (READ MORE)

Big Country: Meanwhile, Back Home.... - A bit of a change, as things are so insanely boring here in Baghdad. This dispatch will be about home, specifically one of the unintended consequences of the housing collapse. Specifically what I saw when I was home, and how I had to deal with it. That being said, sit back as the IR has got a couple of funny ones for you. Ok ALL of my neighbors, all the Mil folks, my marines, Air Force Para rescue kids? I’ve mentioned them previously. To whit: I had two sets of wing wipers from McDill and a Prior Service Marine Recon kid living directly across from me and around me... we had a "watch out for each other thing" going... when the housing market crashed, a lot of them moved, they either had some divorces (real “Wisteria Lane Stuff”,) or walked away like a bunch of other people. The Bank, in its infinite wisdom, then rented them to: (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Ask ..Just Ask... - One of my son's former teachers dropped by today. Magazine in hand... " Have you seen this?" There it was.. my son's picture. His bright smile. He was in the lined up of Fallen. The first fallen in Oklahoma this year. Now while I am glad he and the others are being remembered and honored, imagine if I had not been in my livingroom when I saw that but at the Doctors office or the nail salon. No one asked me if they could use my son's imagine. No one warned me I may open up a magazine and see my son staring back at me. Do these people not realize how hard something like that is on the families? How it blindsides us and knocks the very strength out of us? And to top it off they are making money by adding my son's picture to their magazine. Did they offer to donate anything to a troop supportive organization in his name? I don't want the money but by God if they are going to make money off his picture the very least they can do is help his brothers and sister out. (READ MORE)

The Left Captain: Improved weather... - Woke up this morning at 0500 and saw a sky full of stars and the partial moon for the first time in almost four full days. The weather system had broken. Last night we knew things were improving because we heard a pair of Blackhawks buzzing the base, coming in for a refuel. Today the sky is clear and the mountains that enclose the valley are completely snow-covered. The air is cold and hard, and it reminds me of the dry winter mornings in Utah and Colorado. It would be a good day for skiing if I were someplace else. People are making attempts to bring holiday cheer to everyone at the FOB. There is holiday themed decor in the chowhall and a variety of inflatable cartoon characters in Santa suits here and there. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US strikes in two villages in South Waziristan - US unmanned Predator strike aircraft fired missiles at Taliban safe houses in two villages in South Waziristan, according to reports from the region. At least eight people were killed in attacks on the villages of Karikot and Shin Warsak near Wana, AFP reported. "It was not immediately clear if the twin strikes, only minutes apart, targeted any senior Taliban or Al-Qaeda fugitives," a senior Pakistani security official told the news agency. The Wana region is a stronghold of Mullah Nazir, a Taliban chieftain and rival of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The US targeted Nazir and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a strike near Wana on Nov. 7. Nazir was wounded in the attack. Yuldashev's status is still unknown. (READ MORE)

Long Warrior: Afghan fever dream - It's the middle of the afternoon and the streets are a few degrees under bustling. You know you're supposed to be looking for a red sedan, but can't remember why. The MRAP is cavernous like the inside of a submarine, and there is a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Somehow, the gunner managed to hook up his iPOD to the intercom system. Now, as you scour the streets looking for a red VBIED, all you hear is Lesley Gore singing "Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows." Without warning, you smoothly transitioned back in the FT Riley area outside a piece of shit bar known as "The Rockhouse" in Ogden. The other vehicles in your element are gone and it's just your MRAP and your soundtrack. Like any good dream, nothing needs to make sense, so it seems to make perfectly reasonable that you're driving around Afghanistan in Ogden, KS. You spot the red car, its right next to you. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - From My Point of View: Reflections - I remember it distinctly.... The day I walked into the office of the newly formed 211th MPAD. I was on my way out of the Army, and it was a last-ditch effort of a certain Major that I knew to keep me in. I'd been with the 7-6 Cav for the past six years and my time was up. "Just go talk to the command and get a feel for the MOS choices there," he said. I'd driven the 120 miles from Houston thinking, "I'm done, why is he sending me here?" As I said, I walked in early that morning and introduced myself to a 1st Lt. Tony Lopez who asked a lot of questions and joked around quite a bit. I also ran into Staff Sgt. Tim Williams, Staff Sgt. Robert Ramon, and Spc. Alex Delgado. Williams and Ramon introduced me to the 46-series specialties (print and broadcast journalism) and I fell hard. I realized that I can stay in the Army and do what I enjoy (photojournalism, which I taught at school) and 'retire' from aviation (the Cav). (READ MORE)

SFC Quebec - My Point of View: Winning & Losing vs Victory & Defeat - I'm finally contributing something of some relative value to the blog. As with many of us we have lives (of sorts) outside of the military. SFC Burke is a high school English teacher, SGT Risner is a musician, etc. While I was still a TPU (Weekend Warrior), and in college I coached youth soccer for the American Youth Soccer Organization. My miltary training and civilian experience meshed well together for that activity. I also got a Volunteer Service Medal for it. During this time, I also studied coaching and other sports in college as well as continuing practice in Martial Arts that began in 3rd grade. All of this has contributed to my views on the concepts of winning & losing as opposed to victory & defeat. Many people put winning ahead of everything, even their ethics. Winning becomes an all-consuming goal without regard to others (or even self). Some view not winning as a complete and utter failure, not only of the task, but a personal, internal failure of the self. (READ MORE)

Pink's War: Home Sweet Home - Since I've been here at the new FOB I've slept in my own room about 4 times. For the first week and a half I was sleeping in my Sergeant's room. He had his own room, quiet and peaceful, lots of privacy. I enjoyed his company and the sex almost every night was a nice bonus. After he left I tried sleeping in my own room for a few nights. My roommate is okay, but she keeps the room at about 90 degrees and turns the light off whenever I turn it on. I have horrible allergy and sinus problems and I can't breathe when its too hot and I like to have the light on to see what I'm doing. Needless to say, that living arrangement wasn't working out for me. So instead of fighting with my roommate, I carried my ass over to J and W's room. They're good kids, from the old unit with me, and a lot of fun to be around. (READ MORE)

Rocinante's Burdens: Day 183. NSTR - Again. Nothing is happening. I have been here 183 days now. If I were USMC, my tour would be over and I would be on my way back home. If I were Air Force, I would be half way through my second tour. As Army, I am only half way. As a recalled reservist, I only have 90 days left, if that. I am mired in the quagmire of mindless staff work. There is no end to that. No honorable retreat, only the small victory of another briefing ended, and the slides safely shredded. When did my life get so pointless? My life used to have a meaning and a purpose. I don't remember where I put it. Maybe it is in storage back in the USA. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: A PA disappointment - A few days ago, I was kinda looking forward to our public affairs training and the chance to actually practice my craft. Now that the little exercise is over, I’m thrilled. It was more a test of patience and how much we could actually handle being jerked around by the PA office on Fort Dix. We weren’t allowed to follow any of our own leads and story ideas, but rather had to cover the missions they wanted (they actually tried to get us to cover a food drive and ribbon cutting ceremony - things they should be doing, but figured they’d use us for). They also tried to force us to work out of their office for “accountability”, but I think it was a way to have us around for those “hey you” missions. I ended up working there for a couple of hours, but SSG Pat got us out of it after that and we moved back into our warehouse/storage building. The PA office has a furry office pet and I’m allergic to cats, so forcing me to work in that building was absurd. (READ MORE)

S45at War: Mitigating Withdrawal: The more we partner with the Iraqis the more involved we become with their economy. I spend large sums of money each month with Iraqi contractors, on individual purchases and on re-occurring service contracts. Its similar to a tourist economy where there is essentially two separate pricing schemes, the one for locals and the one for tourists (or, in this case,military). For example, I recently bought two digital senders which sell for $2,900 each on Amazon, I paid $4,000. The problem is that when the tourist industry dips for whatever reason those economies reliant on that over-inflated pricing scheme are hit hard. Fortunately, most tourist destinations don’t unexpectedly cease to be tourist destinations. Coalition forces, however , will be leaving here and we’re taking our tourist economy with us. The U.S. contractors making a fortune off of the war will survive, local Iraqi contractors are going to take a major hit. (READ MORE)

Tragically Famous: 82 reasons to stay in Baghdad - I have just downloaded a new gadget for my Windows Vista side bar. The magic eight ball continues to tell me to ‘ask again later.’ Damn. My future is uncertain. I came down on recruiting orders from the Department of the Army. This means that I have been picked by the 'Big Army' to personally select recruits joining the force. However, I still can’t foresee myself being a salesman for the Army. What if the Army made a mistake? What if my purpose is to lead soldiers in combat? What if... Every moment in my life up to this point has been a preparation for this. On R & R leave, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to be doing something. I felt the need to continuously be on the road. I drove my car around several hours a day with no purpose, aimlessly. I’d get to one place, and decide to go to another. I was still patrolling in my mind. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: Milking Hanukkah - I wrote this while smoking a La Gloria Cubana. She is on me as soon as I open the door. She envelops me with a kiss, forcing me to search with one hand for the door while blindly exploring with the other for her belt buckle. I slam the door. She is older than me at twenty-seven and a first lieutenant. I am a nineteen year old private. It’s a million years ago and the two of us assault each other in a tiny room, jockeying for position, trying to establish dominance. We are torn between backing away to let a piece of clothing fall and allowing our lips to remain together in passion. We can’t have both but we try really hard, our lust building between frustrating rubbing, grunts and moans. Her name is Karen. I pull her underwear off. Her pubic hair is very long, blonde and wispy as opposed to the tight curls of previous girlfriends. I dive in, my mouth seeking her out. Dank. Musty. Overflowing with excitement. My hands work their way up the sides of her body. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

ANSF, Coalition forces attack an IED cell in Helmand - KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition forces, responding to an IED explosion, were engaged by and killed one insurgent in Nahr Surkh district, Helmand province, Dec. 21. An Afghan man driving a tractor was seriously wounded when the tractor struck an IED. Upon arriving at the scene insurgents attacked the combined forces with small-arms fire. (READ MORE)

Coalition forces disrupt roadside bomb network in Zabul - KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition forces killed four armed militants and detained five suspected militants during an operation targeting the Taliban’s roadside bomb network in Zabul province, Saturday. In Qalat District, approximately 120 km northeast of Kandahar, Coalition forces targeted a Taliban militant known to traffic weapons and coordinate roadside bomb attacks along Highway One. (READ MORE)

ANP and Coalition forces disrupt al-Qaeda cell in Khost - KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan National Police and Coalition forces killed three armed militants and detained five suspected militants, including the targeted individual during an operation to disrupt the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Khost province, Tuesday. The combined operation in Khost District, located approximately 150 km southeast of Kabul, netted an al-Qaeda liaison believed to facilitate the movement of foreign fighters into Afghanistan to conduct terrorist activities. (READ MORE)

Afghan National Commandos, Coalition forces capture two Taliban Commanders and one militant - KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan National Commandos, assisted by Coalition forces, detained Taliban commanders Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rahman as well as one militant, Ishmail, during a security patrol in Jalalabad City, Nangahar (Nangarhar) province, Dec. 15. Abdul Rahman is a Taliban commander associated with facilitating IED activity in the Korengal Valley, Konar province and is also directly linked to more than 50 attacks against Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition forces. (READ MORE)

IED kills three insurgents in Oruzgan - KABUL, Afghanistan – Three insurgents attempted to plant an IED in Deh Rawod district, Oruzgan province, approximately 200 km southwest of Kabul, along a well traveled road when it detonated, killing two of the insurgents. Local villagers reported an explosion to the ANSF, who discovered the dead and wounded. Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition forces provided medical attention and transported the wounded insurgent to a nearby Coalition forces medical facility for treatment, but he subsequently died of his injuries. (READ MORE)

PRT well project brings water to Afghan villages - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – The Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team recently completed an eight-well project that will provide much-needed water sources to six districts throughout Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. The PRT-funded project, which combined several individual well projects into one, cost $30,000 and was completed by a local Afghan construction company. “As we travel throughout the province, the Afghans tell us water availability is one of their biggest concerns,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Cabosky, Nangarhar PRT commander. (READ MORE)

Nangarhar Agri-business Development Team changes command - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – The first Agri-business Development Team in Nangarhar province changed command in northeast Afghanistan, Dec. 15. Outgoing ADT commander Lt. Col. Greg Allison relinquished command to Lt. Col. David Boyle, of the Missouri National Guard. “The ADT is a unique complement to direct action combat operations in the global war on terrorism,” said Boyle. Transfer of authority from one command to another is a traditional event, rich with symbolism and heritage. (READ MORE)

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