January 13, 2009

From the Front: 01/13/2009

For you Louisa, because you asked!

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

In their own words:
Afhanistan Shrugged: Better Writers than me! - I wanted to take an opportunity to showcase two other great blogs out there having to do with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many people email or comment that the MSM fails to paint an accurate picture of the situations on the ground in both theaters. Having now served here I can tell you that my operating picture prior to arriving here, generated mostly by the MSM, was significantly skewed. These guys paint a picture of what it’s like to be a soldier on the ground and they have some great writing. The first is “The War on Big Tobbaco”. A superb writer with insight into the mundane, neurotic and hilarious that makes the Army the dysfunctional organization that we all know and love. He’s located in Iraq at an undisclosed location, banished to a circle of Dante’s Inferno. I say this as he’s an Infantryman sentenced to serve on a FOB, which after reading his posts you’ll understand his frustration and at times often tenuous grip on sanity. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: Sensing Combat: Taste - (This is the fifth and final part of a series. Scroll down below for the previous entries.) The high-pitched squeal of the Stryker engines stretched along the dusty back road on the edge of the Diyala River Valley. One by one, the ramps dropped to reveal squads of infantrymen under the strain of heavy equipment needed in counterinsurgency operations: shotguns, bolt cutters, pry bars and shoulder fired rockets. Food and water are transformed into luxuries as assault packs were stuffed with extra ammunition magazines and grenades instead of bottles of water and meal rations. The beleaguered soldiers filtered into the palm groves one by one, gaining a foothold before an all-out clearing mission began to destroy pockets of resistance. Assaults into enemy-held territory in the heart of Baqubah yielded numerous caches and dead insurgents, cut to ribbons by rifle and machine gun fire in the beginning days of the Battle of Baqubah. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: Sensing Combat: Touch - (This is part four of a five part series. Scroll down for the previous entries.) I'm a left hander living in a right hand world. I learned that the hard way in elementary school when, in the big box of scissors for the class, only one or two left handed scissors could be found. Most of the time they were loose and coated with rust, practically unusable anyway. When I scribbled out words in a pathetic attempt at handwriting, it would smear across the page and on the underside of my hand. In gym class when we played baseball, everyone got a baseball glove to fit their appropriate hand. I had to catch with my left hand, take off the glove and then throw the ball. Needless to say, I wasn't the first one picked on the team. My abnormality followed me all the way to Iraq. As a private I was handed an M4 and a 203 grenade launcher attached to it. It became my weapon for my entire enlistment. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: Sensing Combat: Smell - (This is part three of a five part series. Scroll down for the previous entries. And vote, damnit!) Some doors are more stubborn than others. A particular door in Baghdad was the bane of my squad's existence. On a routine clearing mission where every single house had to be searched and searched thoroughly, a reinforced door stood to deny the mission's success. Nothing could bring it down - kicks, shotgun rounds, the old fashioned shoulder charge. The door's metal frame rejected all modes of entry. My squad leader Lee was determined to simply pry the frame out of the cinderblock wall after all other measures failed. In the cramped courtyard, the whole squad stood around the doorway to watch the ongoing madness of the insurmountable door. Jeun, a super quiet Korean guy from the Bronx, stood behind Lee as he put all of his weight into the pry bar and pulled back. The frame gave way and sent Lee tumbling backward. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Enlistment Diary - During the coming week I will be on vacation, packing, cleaning up final details. I was looking at my enlistment diary and thought I should post some of my recollection of how I got here. I left the Army reserve July 21, 1984. I completed all the classwork for an MA in American Studies and now had the opportunity to write a book for my Masters project. I needed more time. I could not quit my full-time job loading trucks at Yellow Freight, so I left the reserves. It wasn’t an easy decision. I liked the Army in some ways, but I wanted to get a job as a writer, so I had to cut something and the Army reserve was it. At that point I knew I had served six years and ten months on active duty, two and one-half years in the Air Force and just over four years in the Army. I thought I had three years in the reserves, but it turns out I had 11 years, 2 months and 2 days of Federal Service. This would be important 23 years later. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Good lord - just when you think you're pegging the suck-meter pretty hard... It was a cold and rainy day. Perfect at home for curling up on the couch with snacks and good company, but perfect here for...well, hating. A couple minutes after 1700 I wandered over and collected up the Boss. We grabbed Elderly Sergeant and headed over to the chowhall for what we've come to call the Evening Sadness. We remarked upon the absence of a guard at the entrance to the chowhall. There has been a recent outbreak of vandalism targeting the display of a certain command photo right inside the door (no, no big-picture political commentary - the vandalism has been more...local). The targeted picture was absent, indicating the guard (who was awarded that position...well, let's say not randomly) was probably eating (he takes the framed picture with him when he eats). (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: She's At It Again! - Right on time. It's January, folks; time for Lizette Alvarez to get back on her horse and back to demonizing combat veterans. In her latest public disservice announcement, Lizette has now focused on the narrow population of Fort Carson, Colorado. No doubt still smarting from the general lambasting that she took last year at the hands of numerous bloggers and journalists after her multiple installment series that sought to depict returning combat veterans as a pitiable yet oh-so-dangerous contingent, our heroine takes a remarkably similar tack in this scary little piece in the New York Times. It took me days to catch it because I consider the NYT to be a less than adequate source of any information, and so I do not generally seek my news or opinion reporting there. My eye was directed there by a scholarly international relations website, Atlantic-Community.org, who published a link to an ill-informed, sensationalist and generally dreadful Op-Ed piece by Bob Herman on Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellant Adventure: What to Bring With You - Thursday 8 January 2009 0700 - I recently got a note from someone who reads my blog and is being sent over here next week. He asked me if there was anything I would recommend that he bring or that I wished I had brought. After I sent him my answer via email, it occurred to me that perhaps other people might find this information useful for their own deployments. So I’m sharing it here as well: “I’m happy to answer your questions. First, though, I’ll say that I deployed here to Qatar directly from two back-to-back one year tours in Kuwait, so I may have lost track of some of the things about deploying directly from the US. But I’ll do the best I can. (Most of this information is equally valid for deployments to Kuwait, at least to Camp Arifjan).” (READ MORE)

Bullet Wisdom: Waiting on a Plane - We are back at Camp Buerhing after a few days in the field finishing what I would categorize as refresher. Last Thursday, we loaded up and drove out into the Kuwaiti desert with the intention of pulling into a placed called FOB Scimitar, a location set up by the Army and contractors with the purpose of preparing Soldier, Sailors and Marines for life in Iraq. Because of a few missed turns, what was supposed to be a 45-minute drive to the FOB, ended up around 3 hours with a brief visit to the Kuwait/Iraq border. We were a little more than surprised. For three days, we conducted refresher training. We spent a day at the range doing Close Quarter Marksmanship. It is always a good day when you can shoot for fun. The next day the team executed a scenario-based mission. The range attached to the FOB was a collection of mini-villages packed with role players complete with moving cars and camels. (READ MORE)

Mark Robarge: Back home - Soldiers from the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have returned home from a year of service with Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Paul Fanning has been blogging from Afghanistan pretty much from the time he arrived. Fanning has now returned home, and to wrap up the blog, we offer Gazette report Jill Bryce's profile of Fanning, as well as some final photos by Fanning of the return home. You can view the final photos in the gallery Pictures from the Front by clicking HERE or view the entire gallery by clicking HERE. (READ MORE)

Embrace the suck: Your Questions, Answered...I Think... - Alright, In my last post I asked you guys to ask me some questions. About anything really. I asked you that mostly because with me being on guard most of the time nothing really funny or interesting is happening so I had to find something to write about or risk becoming a bore. So here are your questions and my answers to them. Airman Mom: 1. What is the morale of my unit? Depends on when you catch us and what members of our leadership is around. For the most part it is shit. But we put on a good facade when the bosses are around due to the simple fact that they don't really care if we have good morale or not they just want us to say that we do and make sure we tell everyone else that we do. They function on the age old principle of "The beatings will continue until morale improves." (READ MORE)

Fobbits need ice cream too: Thoughts - So I've been back for awhile, about 3 weeks. I don't know how I'm adjusting, fine I guess. My mom told her the armory had a meeting a while before we got him and counselors told them we'd probably be crazy and to give us a lot of space. That makes me a little angry. Most days are lonely; I am on paid leave until February 2nd so I just sit around all day while roommates and friends are at work, playing video games (World of Warcraft, surprise! there's a big nerd hiding within) and watching movies. The cold here in Michigan is awful too; it's -3 right now, -17 with the wind. It was cold in Iraq, we though, at 70 degrees coming down from 140. Now it's 87 degrees colder. Blankets don't do it; I sleep with my issued deep cold sleeping bag. Our next drill isn't until the end of February (thank you Governor Granholm for reducing cooldown from 90 to 60 days), and it's just a reunion drill at a hotel; civilians authorized, beard growing contest approved. (READ MORE)

Sgt B: A Day In The Life (Part II)… - 1100 The workday begins… In the CP, the oncoming shift familiarizes themselves with the happenings of the previous night. Nothing out of the ordinary, this time… I dread the day when I wake up in the middle of the night to the din of confused conversation as everybody tries to wrap their mind around a tragic incident, or I come into work, and find the entire command group there, with a small constellation of higher-ups on scene. The day when a few of my brothers won’t be coming home with us… …Hasn’t happened yet… Didn’t happen to the folks we relieved. if we play our cards right, and stick to our training, it won’t happen and I cling to that mantra. My guys are professionals; they’ll do it right, and the only folks who won’t come home with us are the ones who left early because their shin splints or back started really acting up… At least they’ll be alive and mostly in one piece. (READ MORE)

Big Country: The Coolest Foot Patrol EVVA - An interesting thing happened onto the way to the latrine this morning... Now isn't that a show stopper? Yeah, things here are quiet, and rather than go into how boring it is, I'll make mention of some of the wacked out weirdness that I'm so fond of reporting. Now, granted, the Intrepid Reporter of Fame and Legend (if only in my own mind) does his 'morning abulutions' like any other dude, but this morning was a real shall we say interesting experience on the way to the throne. Like I said, I was on my way to the Throne Room to my morning Shit, Shave and Shower (generally in that order, unless I have a case of the Explosive Shits) and as I came out of the hootch, I heard some music. Faint, but definately music. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Snowed By Barzani - The Los Angeles Times has a interview with Iraq's Massoud Barzani. The article would have been interesting had it not been so full of fluff. The reporter seems so impressed by the Kurdish leader that he fails to ask him any tough questions. But the piece does turn out to be revealing. The writer likes Barzani's outfit: "Barzani, dressed in an olive military shirt, baggy traditional pantaloons, sash and cummerbund, and a headdress, appeared to grapple with his turbulent relations with Maliki." The story says the head of the Kurdish semiautonomous region, says "moves by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki threaten the nation's unity and have raised concerns among the Kurdish minority." (READ MORE)

Omar: New Iraq Emerges from Tyranny and War - Iraq has started to reap the benefits of the status of forces agreement with the United States. The United Nations Security Council voted to set the ground for relieving Iraq from the restrictions of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter. In fact, the remaining effects of previous resolutions will from now on serve only to protect Iraq’s assets from claims by other parties, not to impose anything on the people of Iraq. Sovereignty, which was lost two decades ago under Saddam Hussein’s capricious and belligerent reign, is being restored to the nation. The Security Council resolution 1859 states, among other things, that Iraq is no longer a threat to its neighbors, region, or the world. The United States has succeeded in transforming a bellicose, autocratic state into a friendly one that is making steady progress towards becoming a self-sustaining democracy — the international community is finally coming to recognize this transformation. (READ MORE)

The Left Captain: More BAF - I think I've been at Bagram for four days now, living as a transient. The transitional "quarters" consist of big circus tents packed with cots that are separated by maybe six inches of dusty floor. You just walk in and look for an open cot to claim as your own. There are at least 200 cots in a large tent. Sleeping in these tents is a hit or miss proposition because of the overhead lights, people talking, or people dragging gear in and out of the tent at all hours. As I lay on my aluminum and nylon cot, bootsteps reverberate from the floor. I left most of my gear at the hospital and just brought my sleeping bag and a small pack with a book, long underwear, and toiletries to the transitional lodging. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban assault military base in Mohmand - The Taliban launched a major assault on a Frontier Corps base housing an elite counterterrorism force early Sunday morning, sparking a battle that killed at least 10 Pakistani paramilitary troops and more than 40 Taliban fighters. An estimated 600 Taliban fighters crossed the border from Afghanistan and joined forces with Taliban fighters in the Mohmand tribal agency, according to reports. At 2:00 AM local time, the Taliban force then attacked the Mamad Gate base with mortar and rocket fire, then attempted to storm the base. The Quick Reaction Force, a counterterrorism force created by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, operates from the base. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: Hamas is Responsible - Steven Erlanger wrote a revealing article in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise. “Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.” Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: MRE...and not the kind you eat... - After a week of mobilization inprocessing, paperwork, and other minute details we FINALLY get to do what a Public Affairs Detachment does...Public Affairs stuff. Yesterday we started our MRE...Mission Readiness Exercise. We invaded "Camp Liberty" Public Affairs Office (otherwise known as the Ft. Dix Public Affairs Office) and set up the Media Operations Center. Almost instantly there was a flurry of activity with journalists finding story ideas and setting up interviews, officers looking for information on the website and monitoring input from our "white cell", i.e. the guys behind the scenes who are running our exercise. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Mobilization... - Stage 2: We're back at Fort Dix, and man, oh man is it cold. After our first day of settling in and unpacking, our second day was spent getting poked and prodded again (anthrax and smallpox shots for me), running around to this station to make sure you're getting the appropriate level of pay, another to determine whether you can still hear/see or not, and many others. That morning, on my way to chow (breakfast for you civilians), I almost busted my butt on a patch of ice! Freakin' cold weather. Didn't I write about how much I love Texas?? Oooh, I even met two people with my last name. One was an MP (military police), she was a specialist from Massachusetts (where I'm from originally) but not related. Another was a lieutenant colonel and most definitely not related. (READ MORE)

SFC Quebec - My Point of View: Equipment and Such - Warrior Puzzle - Despite the fact that our Soldiers are the best-trained and best-equipped warriors on the planet, there are some things about the gear that we get issued that is most frustrating. While meant to improve the way we do things, it sometimes seems as if the designer made the stuff so that it would provide little annoyances to the averge G.I. For example, when opening any random MRE dinner pouch, let's just say, ravioli, the pouch tears unevenly and when pulling the top portion completely off, it invariably splatters into the face of the Soldier, who is only trying to get a meal. What prompted this blog was the construction of our new body armor. While is it incredibly effective in saving lives our troops, putting the pieces together seems more diffcult than "taking the hill." It is, at the beginning, like Christmas when you get a bike or some other toy that has "some assembly required" on the box and it turns out that "some" means just short of "invent." (READ MORE)

Notes from Iraq: 13JAN09--Iraqi Rollover - Today the team went on a dismounted patrol through a neighborhood in order to visit an election center. As we arrived, an Iraqi HMMWV rolled over in a ditch outside. Our reconnaissance mission quickly became a rescue and recovery mission. Our team was the first ones on the scene. Looking through the windshield, I was amazed that no one was injured. We pulled open the driver's door, which is heavy enough when it is not opened like a magician's trap door. The Iraqi Soldiers climbed out with their weapons. Then we attempted to recover the HMMWV while the Iraqi major and I continued to see the election center. The Iraqis attached a makeshift conglomeration of chain and steel the door, trying to pull it out. When that did not work, we brought out one of our MRAPS and utilized the wench on the front. Together, the Iraqis pulled the HMMWV to the side while the MRAP pulled it out of the ditch. (READ MORE)

Peace and War Times: Something to tell my grandkids... - The USO always tries to do the best they can, to keep up the moral of our soldiers or at least to give them something that reminds the comforts of home. I have to give it to then; they have done a good job. At times, I just wished I have the privilege that some Armed Forces had of see Bob Hope in person back in the days, but what he started then, still going on Thanks to the USO. When I first got deploy to Bosnia in 1995, I remember the USO brought to us, Alex Trebek of Jeopardy and Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) from Star Trek “The Next Generation”. I wish I have those photos now to show you, for you to see how happy the soldiers were to see these people, talk to them, and take pictures. (READ MORE)

Pink's War: The Patching Ceremony - We had our patching ceremony for the unit. They made a big deal out of what is not really a big deal, but tradition is tradition I guess. I'm not a big fan of standing in formations, I don't think many people are. So when the XO walked by my desk with his camera I said, "I'll take pictures for you sir." He replied, "Aren't you going to be part of this too?" And I responded back with, "I said I'll take pictures for you sir." Little did I know what that would consist of. See, I like a lot of attention, but I'm not one to stand in front of large groups of people. Being in front of large groups of people causes me to have panic attacks and blush like crazy and generally fuck up whatever it is that I was supposed to be doing. More so when there's several high-ranking people watching. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Why Iraq Is Going To Take A Long Time - I've spent the past couple of days in a conference. There are people participating from the State Department, from the Corps of Engineers (the organization that's building most of the construction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan), from some other American and international governmental organizations, some NGO's, and Iraqis from both the national Ministry and from a local facility. The reason for the conference is that we've been building a brand-new modern facility for them. It's a big, complicated project costing way over $160 million dollars. Some of it's your tax dollars, some of it's not. But construction is going to finish up sometime soon and we'll need to turn it over to the Iraqis to run. (READ MORE)

LTC Rich Phillips: Back in the saddle again - No, I'm not heading back to Afghanistan, at least not yet. That's the saddle I'd like to be back in, but fate has not been kind to me. I'm still stuck here at Fort Lewis, WA. Not a bad place to be stuck, but it's not Afghanistan. I know it's been a long time since I posted, but I've been dealing with bouts of depression since my return and it's hard to post when everything looks black. I've been doing some reading and it seems that depression is not uncommon among veterans. I know that may not surprise some of you, and I've heard the same thing many times, but I was surprised when it happened to me. I've got everything in the world going for me; I'm not supposed to get depressed. But here I am. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Sand, Starbucks and Guns - We’re in Kuwait, and it’s even better than last time. Some new additions I didn’t expect include Starbucks, a fast food place called Steak and Potatoes, Taco Bell and they offer wi-fi in the tents for 12 bucks a week. Of course I paid for wifi, the lines at the internet cafe are more than just a test of patience. I’ll tell you all about Kuwait, but let me start with how we got here. The Army contracts everything out.. doctors, admin people, warehouse workers and supply, so it’s only fitting that the Army would also contract out the labor to load an aircraft. After all, that’s a tough job and should require someone with experience to get everything to fit just right. Boy, was I wrong. Each unit on the plane was required to volunteer soldiers for baggage detail. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Hello Sir. This is Timmy, you know me? - I’ve become very popular lately. The other day I was waiting at the gate to our FOB for a local contractor to deliver some purchases to me. One of the Ugandan guards came up and told me that someone was here to see me. I told him the guy in the truck is cleared to come on the FOB, I was expecting him. But his guy, I learned, was walking. “He doesn’t have a truck full of rebar?” I asked. “And he definitely wants to talk to the S4?” After determining that there were, in fact, two different people at the FOB to see me-the vendor I was expecting and this other guy-I told the Ugandan to let them both on. The uninvited guy, it turns out, was simply making a house call to let me know he can get me things, he wanted to “open business.” Strange as that was, and coincidental, it wasn’t the last time. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Letter from Kuwait and Links - I wrote this email to my family the day I got to Kuwait. If you want to set your watch, Kuwait and Iraq are 9 hours ahead of CST. I have photos, but I’m having a hard time uploading them. Take one part Lawrence of Arabia + trash + middle of nowhere = Kuwait We finally made it to Kuwait this morning. It all started Saturday morning at 1:30am. I volunteered for baggage detail. A little something interesting about the Army, they outsource base security & cooking, but not loading luggage into the belly of a plane. First let me tell you about the plane. We flew on an Omni Air International DC-10-30. It is easily the oldest plane I’ve ever ridden. The seating arrangement is 3-4-3 and the seats are small. It’s not made for someone with a big butt. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: The Bus Stops Here - I wrote this while smoking a Finck Fortuna. “Can I talk to you, sergeant?” I beckon Private Ross [OPSEC] to sit in the chair across from me. The two of us are in the BDOC and the room is just starting to come to life with the night shift. Radios crackle. Blue Force Trackers beep. Keyboards clatter. Two soldiers on my shift are arguing whether to watch We Are Marshall or Ironman as the first movie of the night. “What’s wrong?” I ask Private Ross. “It’s about me getting sent home.” “What’d the CSH say?” “Well, they said they can’t fix my knee here, so they want to send me to Germany. The Commander got all pissed off and was like ‘can’t you just suck it up and all,’ and I’m like ‘no, cause I want to get this fixed.’ and The Commander’s like-“ “Dude. In one sentence. Tell me what’s wrong.” (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: House Hunting - Today my parents came down and we looked at a few homes. I found one that I absolutely love so we'll see how it goes. A part of me hates moving into a new home because Rob and I built our house in TX and had so many memories in it, but I also know that in order to move forward, this is something I need to do. Like I said before, realistically, I can't live in TX. It's too far from my family. Rob would want me to try to be happy and move forward. No matter how badly I want him back, there's nothing I can do to change what happened. Rob's biggest worry was how the girls and I would be if something should happen to him. I promised him we'd be ok when I last spoke to him at the hospital. I have no doubt he's watching over us helping me make the right decisions in everything I have to do try to get back to "normal" life. But right now, "normal" seems so far away. (READ MORE)

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