December 31, 2008

From the Front: 12/31/2008

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

In their own words:
Afghanistan Shrugged: Santa Gave us C4! - Those of you that have been reading Afghanistan Shrugged for a while or if you've looked through my posts; may remember a post in November about finding an IED underneath a building and then discovering that the building was an ACM headquarters. Yes, I'm still calling them ACM despite the popular move to call them EOP, Enemies of Peace, by our higher headquarters at CJTF-P. Boredom must have set in at Kabul and for Christmas they decided to give us a new acronym to call the bad guys. I'm still unsure why bad guys isn't descriptive enough, it's accurate (they're bad), simple ( we all know who we're talking about) and Infantry proof (even I can rememeber it). I'll drop this line of thought as it will force me into some tirade. Anyway, we'd visited this abandoned town previously and discovered a large IED. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: Loose Interpretation - "Battle Five, Battle Five, this is White 7 Romeo. Radio check, over." "Roger out." Besides the soft, quiet hum of the radio at my side, there wasn't a sound in the makeshift combat outpost in the heart of Old Baqubah. After an impossibly long day of patrolling in the summer heat, we bedded down in an occupied house to await the next groundhog day of patrols, weapons cache destruction and ubiquitous firefights. At sundown we had filled a filthy kitchen sink with ice to cool down bottles of water and Gatorade. Hours later, only a warm pool remained in the sink, the bottles offering little relief from the torrid wind that swirled in from the open front door. It was barely fifteen minutes into my one hour watch when my eyelids began to betray my only task: to keep my sleeping platoon safe from anyone who might come through the courtyard gate. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: Rule Number Two - Monday 29 December 2008 - 2100 - Yesterday did not go the way I had planned. Sunday is a regular work day for us, but is usually a relatively quiet one when I can get some things done without too many interruptions. I had several important tasks that have really been needing to get done and that keep getting pushed aside. Finally I had dedicated time for them, and was determined to get them knocked out. Unfortunately one of the NCOs in my section developed some alarming medical symptoms and had to be taken to the TMC (Troop Medical Clinic) for a consultation. Although I did get some work done in the morning in between taking him there and looking in on him from time to time, after lunch he had to go downtown to a civilian hospital for some tests, and I was the only one available to drive him there. So off we went. (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: Twas The Night Before Deployment - There was very little color present, other than the digital camouflage of an Army uniform. There were no stockings hung by the chimney, if there were they would smell to high heaven. But, the spirit of the holiday was thick and there were candies and cookies to munch on. This was an Army holiday celebration. 1Lt. Sarratt, dressed as one of Santa's oldest elves, brought the kid out in each of us and had us all sitting on the floor while he read two versions of The Night Before Christmas. The traditional version and a special 211th Commemorative edition, as penned by Sgt. Risner. (I'll publish that version as soon as I can get a copy of it from the author). Cookies and candies were provided by Maj. Daneker and in the end, we all felt warm and fuzzy. It was another one of those Mark The Moment experiences. (READ MORE)

Embrace The Suck: Today's Military Leadership... - WARNING: SEVERE BITCHING AND MOANING EMINENT. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR ME BITCH. So I have been all high on the holidays for the last few posts, and now that is gone because I have been brought crashing down by the leadership around me, mostly above me. Military leaders today are nothing more than politicians who are quickly and quietly building a military that is incapable of winning wars without the assistance of their electronic toys. Today’s military is so technologically advanced that in some cases there is little to no need for actual boots on the ground soldiers to be there. So they are left with little if anything to do and because of that they invent things for soldiers to do and they invent new rules for soldiers to follow. Not to mention the tactical proficiency of some of them is so questionable that any private with half a brain could make superior tactical decisions with the same information. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Dubious News Reports from Afghanistan - There were two interesting articles in the news concerning Afghanistan today which illustrate (to me) the dire straits we now face. One article reported on the clever use of Viagra by CIA case officers; the other was a mildly negative critique of the US AID reconstruction efforts made by a senior US AID officer. Both stories represent a total lack of situational awareness as 2008 draws to a close. When you have lived in a poorly understood, distant country like Afghanistan as long as I have it is easy to find mistakes in the international press. I am not nitpicking two main stream news reports because they report as fact things I know to be completely untrue. You get that a lot from the press these days. What I find alarming is that at least one of these two articles is obviously an entry into the discussion taking place amongst our national leadership. The other article about the CIA is so completely ridiculous that I have no idea what to make of it. (READ MORE)

Sgt B: Troop Support… - Waaay back in the beginning, there was a lady who went by the nomme de blog “Fuzzybear Lioness”… Fuzzybear Lioness was a diminutive school music teacher who was having a tough time of things, but still found time to try to understand the mindset of warriors. She solicited insight from such notables as Neptunus Lex (”aged king” my foot, skipper!!!), and The Veterans of Castle Argghhh!!!, John Donovan, Dusty the Warthawg Pilot, and Chief Bill the Rotorhead. She even tapped into my brain housing group. Along the way she met up with the likes of Chuck, Captain “Z” of From My Position… On The Way! And then the nightmare hit… Chuck got himself “blown up real nice” (that’s the term we use today among the Bonecrushers)… Once the smoke cleared, and Chuck had been pulled out of the canal by his XO, he was found to be missing some pieces/parts. They shipped him out of Country and into the medical pipeline to the States. Once there (to make a long story short), they patched him together, and got him mostly out of danger. (READ MORE)

Hillas' Histories: Holidays in Al-Hillah - We had an unexpected visitor to the Al-Hillah Regional Embassy Offices, where the PRT is located. At 8:30am I was informed that MNF-I Commanding General Odierno had arrived and after a brief ceremony with the military unit that is our neighbor, wanted to meet the PRT within 15 minutes. I set about rousting those not already awake, got the keys to our conference room and we pulled together about 20 people to meet with him. Al-Hillah was one of eight stops Gen Odierno made that day visiting troops and PRTs. As you can see from the photos below, he arrived and departed with a Santa hat emblazoned with 4 stars. Many of the contractors and local employees were tickled to be able to have a photo taken with him, making it a special Christmas moment. Some of us were dressed in old track outfits about to run a 5K race, but he didn't seem to notice -- or was too polite to say anything. (READ MORE)

Big Country: The Christmas Trip and Other Observations... - Hi Ho! Merry Bah Humbug and all that rot… Christmas is OVER thanks be to God! OK, granted the holiday is supposed to be a celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ and all, but to those of us here in Iraq its just another day, especially those of us who are missing our families… especially my kids. Christmas #4 away… God this’s lame, but hell, I had a good time despite the “missing my fam” thing. Specifically, I managed to get a flight out to Spiecher on Christmas Night. Now this in itself was a phenomenal thing in that I finally got to have a ‘birds eye view’ of the country again. My first flight left out of Victory kind of late. I’m not going to give specifics as there’s just too much danger in giving out info like flight times and locations and such… “Loose Lips Sinks Ships” is still a realistic fear. Case in point: While waiting for a flight out, I saw a ‘gentleman’ come walking up to the helipad. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Sign Up for Gaza? - When suicide bombers and other thugs killed Iraqi children, there were no demonstrations of thousands in the streets calling for the death of the murderers. Rather, the Muslims angry at the U.S. occupation recruited suicide bombers from outside Iraq. Those thugs traveled to Iraq to kill civilians to protest the American presence. They chose their targets carefully. Following that logic, the crowds angered by Israel's assault on Gaza should sign up to go murder Palestinians in Gaza to protest Israel's actions. How can Arabs and Muslims contain their anger? Iran has told them it's their responsiblity to act. Go ahead, repeat what you did in Iraq. I'm sure an endless list of volunteers is ready to sign up to blow themselves up in a crowd of Palestinians. (READ MORE)

June Cleaver After A Six-Pack: The Rambling Thoughts Of A Woman Going Crazy... - Some days I wonder if we'll survive this year... meaning, I fear that when he does come home for good we will be different. Will we be each other's best friend again? Will he want to always be with me and love only me? The mind is a horrible enemy for the wife of a deployed husband. How easily he has slipped from being someone I can reach out and touch to someone that I only get to talk to for minutes a day and when something happens in our lives here he may not ever even know about it. Just the other day he asked if the back window had ever been fixed. I had it fixed weeks ago but never remembered to tell him when we talked. I try and email him everything that is happening, but so much happens and emails are so tedious that somewhere along the line our messages to each other went from lengthy love letters to quick one-liners about the day and whether or not the oil in the van was changed. (READ MORE)

Knottie's niche: Rate Your Year - A favorite blogger titled his daily blog today " Rate Your Year" and it got me thinking. Of course my first thought was it was "my year was cursed". And it was but I also had to stop and think about all the blessings. You see this same blogger asked a question the other day to which I responded, " Curses and blessings usually come hand in hand". So here I sit thinking about the horrific pain I have endured and am learning to live with this year. The black hole in my soul that is so empty it is painful. I think about my other three kids and the pain they too endure and the helplessness I feel at times when I can not make it better. I think about my son's father's words..."I lost my son and my legacy". I think about the men who fought and lived beside my son and their pain. You see they loved him too. As much as I did with a bond I will never know. The curses... (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan shuts down NATO supply line through the Khyber Pass - NATO's vital supply link through the Northwest Frontier Province has been shut down as the Pakistani military launched an operation to clear the Taliban from the area. "Supplies to NATO forces have temporarily been suspended," Tariq Hayat Khan, the Khyber agency's political agent, told reporters. The main road between Peshawar and the border town of Torkham has been closed as the military launched attacks using "artillery, tanks and, helicopter gunships," Geo News reported. It is unclear if the operation is being led by the Army or the paramilitary Frontier Corps. The operation began in the Jamrud region just west of Peshawar. A month ago, the Taliban overran the Jamrud region. "The government has to take action or we shall see Iraq-like situation in the area in the coming few months," a Pakistani official told Daily Times on Dec. 3. (READ MORE)

Long Warrior: Christmas in Pushtunistan - Christmas is just about through. The party went off without a hitch. All of our Afghan counterparts came over our compound for some carols, Santa hats, a present lottery, and big plates of Christmas food. I also shared the baklava [thanks]; it was a big hit. The TOC (main office) is now just a big room with people exchanging little secrets and stories of what they did the last time they were deployed. Everyone seems to have the same remembrance of the rocket attack or the PSYOP truck with loud speakers blasting Jingle Bell Rock all around the base. I've the few Sinatra Christmas tunes I remembered to load onto the iPOD on repeat through some headphones. Turkey and fix-uns were delivered to all of the outer-FOBs that are beyond the reach of roads, and we all received some special Christmas wishes from 2ND graders from all over the United States. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: What Would a Proportionate Response Look Like? - “If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” – President-elect Barack Obama - Now that Hamas’s long war against Israel is matched with a short war in Gaza, protests are erupting everywhere from the blogosphere and Arab capitals to the United Nations, and they began on the very first day. "blogger Glenn Greenwald calls the Israeli retaliation to more than a year of rocket attacks a “massively disproportionate response.” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay “strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force.” The Israeli counterattack is, indeed, disproportionate, but it could hardly be otherwise. “At last count,” J.G. Thayer wrote, “one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.” (READ MORE)

Notes from Iraq: 30DEC08--VIP Tragedy - A few days ago, there was an unfortunate incident, in which friendly fire resulted in death of new Iraqi lieutenant, LT Low'a. His battalion, fellow Soldiers and family mourn his death today. Tragic. I only know the rough version of what happened. The Iraqis Army was traveling on a major road south of Baghdad when they encountered an Iraqi VIP convoy. Perhaps the convoy was for Prime Minister Maliki, but I believe that this is speculation. The Iraqi Army vehicles approached the Iraqi VIP convoy at the fast pace at which they always drive. The Iraqi VIP convoy wanted them to stay back, firing a warning shot. This shot entered the lead HMMWV and passed through LT Low'a, killing him on the spot. The lieutenant was 19 years old and was recently engaged. His fellow officers explained that Iraqis believe that you subconsciously know shortly before you die and start saying goodbyes. (READ MORE)

Pink's War: Me And My Big Mouth - I have a bad habit of saying things I probably shouldn't to people I probably shouldn't be saying those things to. For example: Back in Basic Training, first day out at the range the Drill Sergeant asks, "Who forgot their ear pro?" I was the only dumbass to raise my hand and upon seeing my raised hand the DS said, "Well, you suck!" I thought about my options for a second. I could of argued with him that I do not suck and have to do push-ups for it, or I could agree with him and possibly still do push-ups. What I told him was, "Yes, yes I do Drill Sergeant." Needless to say, it never crossed my mind to keep my mouth shut and not say anything at all. Thankfully he was laughing too hard to make me do push-ups. (READ MORE)

Rocinante's Burdens: Elvis Has Left the Building - I departed from Iraq today. My tour is done and I am going home. Now I am waiting transportation in Kuwait. From what I hear, it could be a week or longer. Lots of soldiers have scheduled their leaves during this time. And there were a few flights canceled, rolling all those passengers back. They are a little behind here. Also they still have the normal emergency leaves to deal with, and helping those time-sensitive travelers is still a priority. So now I am in a bleak, desolate camp, with nothing to do. With so many stranded passengers, sharing the internet is a long wait. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Gary Hansmann, Artist, RIP - I just found out that my friend Gary Hansmann passed away on December 22. Gary was an artist. He was big, explosive, impulsive, loud, obnoxious, and generous. Gary would agree wholeheartedly with all but that last. He was a Individual (with a capital "I") in a world that didn't necessarily appreciate individuals. Gary loved fine art, fine drinks, fine food, Paris, cats, and friends. I learned etching from Gary. He taught me, not only the techniques, but also the mental approach. Art, good art, is not something you just throw off. You come at it like a priest comes to church. You give it your all and you make it as good as you can. Expression is important, because without expression it is nothing. But technique is important, too: technique is the sum knowledge of all the other master artists who have gone before you. And if you're not willing to give it your all in either expression or technique, then get the hell out of here because you're wasting everybody else's time. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Transition Transition Transition - We’re working hard towards implementing the security agreement on 1 January (actually, I don’t have a huge role in that particular area. I’m more focused on closing bases). I’ve been busy trying to understand all the legal hoops we have to go through in order to hand over our FOBs to the GOI. Beds, bookshelves, anything not bolted down all has to be offered to any DOD agency, then any State Department organization, then Homeland Security before it can be given to the Iraqis. I think I’m repeating myself but it seems like someone way above me is content to draw this out as long as possible. It would help if the American people all agreed that they didn’t care about some government waste, that we could just give everything to the Iraqis. But I digress… (READ MORE)

CPT Beau Cleland: YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN - I made it. Barring some mundane tragedy here in Kuwait, I will have survived deployment number two. A cursory review of the odds reveals that this isn't a statistically significant event, but if you're a member of the unlucky percentage you would probably disagree with that statement. I haven't been in significant danger since I left Sadr City after Mookie cried uncle back in June, but there was always the chance of a random rocket or mortar. On the whole, it still feels good -- there were a couple of episodes where my team and I could have easily been casualties, but we made it out with just one Purple Heart among us. I thought that the last several months of being on staff (and a fobbit) would help me unwind from the tension that comes with being out on the street all the time, but by and large it hasn't. I've enjoyed the novelty of not having to wear armor or carry a weapon for the past week on this rear-echelon base in Kuwait, but I feel a great disconnect from (and not a little bitter hostility towards) the inhabitants of this place. (READ MORE)

Two Brothers, Two Countries, One Army: Home, Afghanistan, Germany, Afghanistan - Well, that has been the order of where I have been. I guess I need to explain all that don't I? Well, most of you know that I hurt my foot while I was on leave and went through therapy and treatment at Fort Campbell for a little while. Well, I got back to Afghanistan about 6Dec and now here I am in Germany at the hospital. On Fri I went to the hospital in Bagram and found out I had Gallstones and needed my gall bladder out. I was sent to Germany and I had it taken out yesterday morning. I will be spending the two weeks here in Germany recovering and then it is back on to Afghanistan to finish my mission. I am glad that I am going to get to finish my mission and come home with my unit and not go home alone. I really wanted to go home, but I also wanted to finish my mission. I asked God to give what he felt was the best, and he did. It is hard on Tessa and me for me to have to go back, but we both know the right thing is for me to back and finish my job. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: My Contract With You - The 2008 Weblog Awards - If there is one thing I’ve tried to give everybody over the past couple of months, it is quality and inconsistency. When you come to this blog, you never know exactly what to expect. The banner may be changed. The essay may be funny, or poignant or irreverent. But here is what I know: you guys seem to like stopping by, and I try to give you a piece of quality writing. Looks like the quality has paid off. I am a finalist for the military portion of the 2008 Weblog awards. I need your vote. If you vote for me, you will practically guarantee that I will be published as a genuine author with a genuine book. If you like reading what I have now, imagine holding an extended edition of my blog in your hands as a paperback that you could read on the subway or wrap in paper and give as a gift to your friends. If you like my “True” stories, imagine what my fiction could be like? (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: 2008 is coming to a close... - It's hard to believe 2008 is almost over. The year went by so quickly. It's ironic how we started the year with the birth of our precious baby and ended it with the passing of Rob. I truly pray that 2009 will bring us much happiness. I also pray that it brings all of you much happiness and the rest of Rob's unit home safely. There is not a day goes by that I don't think of his men and all the other military men and women. Even though I knew something like this could happen to Rob, I never truly thought it would. The chances of this happening to HIM was almost like the chances of winning the lottery. So, this opens my eyes to all the danger our men and women put themselves in for our freedom. About a month before Rob was injured, my friend Ali was really worried about her husband who was with Rob. I remember telling her "Ali, of all the soldiers in Afghanistan, what are the chances something will happen to OUR husbands?" Wow. No longer can I be naive. (READ MORE)

Zen Traveller: Green Zone Chaos - The Iraqis, on the first of January, are assuming security responsibilities for the International Zone, aka the Green Zone. In the past, the U.S. military controlled access to the "city within a city"; home to the Coalition and the seat of Iraq's government. As of tomorrow the U.S. Army will turn over all of the access control points (checkpoints) to the Iraqi army. I shudder. For the past couple of weeks the Iraqi army has been doing a "left seat-right seat" with the Americans, shadowing them as soldiers dutifully checked ID cards, vehicles and pedestrians entering and exiting the zone. Over time the Iraqis have assumed primacy at the checkpoints while their American counterparts remained in in the background. As a result the Iraqi army has quadrupled the number of soldiers manning the access points. Now when you drive into the checkpoint you're greeted by a hoard of AK-welding Iraqi soldiers all seriously directing you to do "something": (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Sons of Iraq members lead Soldiers to huge munitions find - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – At approximately 2 p.m., a member of the Sons of Iraq led Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, to a weapons cache southwest of Samarra. The cache contained 153 artillery rounds, 130 mortar rounds, 81 rocket rounds, 21 rocket mortars and 36 empty rounds of various munitions, which could be used to make improvised explosive devices. (READ MORE)

MND-B Soldiers disarm IED at SoI checkpoint - BAGHDAD – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers responded to a Sons of Iraq checkpoint to disarm a roadside bomb Dec. 29 in Baghdad’s Rashid district. At approximately 8 p.m. in the Aamel community, SoI members reported a roadside bomb to Soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B. (READ MORE)

ISF net small-arms weapons, ordnance in Baghdad’s Rashid district - BAGHDAD – Iraqi Security Forces seized small-arms weapons and ordnance in Baghdad’s Rashid district Dec 29. At approximately 3:30 p.m., Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 24th Brigade, 6th IA Division, partnered with Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, confiscated six AK-47 assault rifles from a house in the Saydiyah community. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army finds large weapons cache - FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Iraqi Army Soldiers discovered a large weapons cache in the Jurf region during a patrol Dec. 28. IA Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 31st IA Brigade reported to Coalition forces the location of a cache consisting of 657 37 mm anti-armor munitions with cartridge cases. (READ MORE)

ISF capture 5 terrorists during separate operations throughout Iraq - BALAD, Iraq – Iraqi Security Forces captured five suspected terrorists during separate operations throughout northern Iraq, Dec. 26-27. During an operation Dec. 27, Baqubah Special Weapons and Tactics team arrested two suspected terrorists while serving warrants. These individuals are allegedly responsible for improvised explosive device and rocket attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

Diyala Sons of Iraq transfer underway (Diyala province) - BAGHDAD – Along with a new year, Iraq is ringing in an important step toward national reconciliation and sovereignty on Jan. 1, 2009. On that date, the nation’s government will take over control of the Sons of Iraq from Coalition forces in four key provinces across the country -- including Diyala, one of the most diverse provinces, where al-Qaeda in Iraq once terrorized and intimidated local residents. (READ MORE)

Primary School Brings New Beginnings to Students in Mushada - CAMP TAJI — A ribbon-cutting ceremony signaled the completion of refurbishments on the Al Gil Al Jadeed Primary School in Mushada, northwest of Baghdad, Dec. 29. Approximately $90,000 in Iraqi Commander’s Emergency Response Program funds were spent to improve the existing structure, repair electrical work and ensure students have a good place to go to school, said 1st Lt. Jesse Ozbat, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. (READ MORE)

El Salvadoran Minister of Defense Visits Iraq - BAGHDAD — Maj. Gen. Jorge Molina, El Salvadoran Minister of Defense, traveled to Iraq earlier this month to meet with Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraqi National Security Advisor; Mr. Michael Corbin, Senior Political-Military Ministerial Counselor, U.S. Embassy - Iraq; Rear Adm. David Buss, Chief of Strategy, Plans and Assessments for Multi-National Forces – Iraq; and his own Salvadoran forces deployed here. (READ MORE)

IA, U.S. Soldiers Assist Sadr City Students - BAGHDAD — Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers delivered backpacks, food and water to children of the Nahareen Girls Primary school in the Thawra I region of Sadr City, Dec. 25. Many of the children received backpacks already through efforts of the headmistress, Miriam Mohsen, and teachers of the school. When the platoon arrived, the headmistress called the girls from their classes and assembled them in the courtyard. (READ MORE)

Taji Soccer Tournament Scores Big - CAMP TAJI — Soccer players put on a display of footwork and skill during a Taji Qada soccer tournament at the stadium here, Dec. 26. Four teams, consisting of 11 players from Rekiya, Taji, and Hammiat, along with a fourth team from the Strykehorse Squadron, participated in the round-robin tournament. Staff Sgt. James Pepoon, an avid soccer player, said he came up with the idea to host a soccer tournament with the residents in the area. (READ MORE)

Anbar River Police Stand Ready - LAKE THAR THAR — Al-Anbar Iraqi River Police officers aced their final exam. Select Iraqi Policemen here with the Anbar Iraqi River Police force, which was established to patrol the local waterways independently from Coalition forces, finished a week-long certification course, Dec. 21. This was the first class taught by the Navy “River Rats” of Detachment 3, Riverine Squadron 1, Regimental Combat Team 5 on Lake Thar Thar. (READ MORE)

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