Friday, January 28, 2005

Hiatus

I have decided to put the Backdrafted blog on hiatus. Due to mission requirements, I don't feel that I can continue to do the blog up to the standard I envisioned. While I won't say this hiatus will be forever, I do not have an intended return date.

This will not be my last literary effort. When I come back to the States, I do plan on writing a book to tell people about our experiences here.

Thanks to all of you that have visited this site and thanks to all of you that have wished us well during our time here. It is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

More Pics Up

Yesterday I put up several pictures from my trip, and there will be more to follow later. If you are interested, you may scroll down and they are in chronological order.

Response to Federal Farmer

I didn't mean to imply that all of the different sects are sitting around singing kumbaya with interlocking arms. Amoung extremes of the sects, there are differences, but for the bulk of the population, they don't care that much. (one note, Iraq is made up of three main groups of people, Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The Shiites and the Sunnis are both of the Arab race and the Kurdish people are a distinctly separate race). Intermarriage between Sunnis and Shiites is by no means unheard of.

Westernization is comming into play, as it will in any free society with a free media. If you scroll down, I put in several pictures from my earlier travels, and almost every house here has a satellite system.

As for the government history, Iraq did give the parliment system a go and the fledgling democracy didn't hold 50 years ago (the baathists took everything over and the rest is history). For other forms of westernization, I was asked by an Iraqi soldier if I had any pornography. I guess that is a sign (For the record, I have no porn).

Back to Work

Blissfully fun day today. We went over to the Iraqi unit at 0800 to coordinate with them on some equipment draws we would do later in the day. It was pretty fun. The Iraqis, many of whom were with us yesterday were very nice to us. I think that the actions of yesterday created a bond between us that would have taken months to replicate in a garrison (staying on base) environment. Nothing bonds people together faster than going through a dangerous event, and we now have that bond with the Iraqi soldiers. They were very nice and concerned about us. They asked lots of questions of me because I was in the vehicle that took the blast, and relived the experience with our troops that were in the ensuing firefight. I rode over in one of the HMMWVs from the previous night and there was still brass (expended round casings) and belt residue on the vehicle. I picked up a couple of the .50 Cal shells as souviners of my first action.

After leaving the Iraqis, I went over the the divisional headquarters to work a couple of logistics issues then had a break until after lunch when we went over to watch the equipment draw. The Iraqis really treat us well and are very curious about us and our families. I produced a picture of Mrs. Backdrafted and Baby Backdrafted that I keep in my wallet and they all wanted to see it. The Iraqis really value family, even more so than we do in the United States. They had big smiles on their faces and lots of thumbs up signs. We just kind of hung out with them as they drew their equipment and we communicated the best we could in spite of our language barrier. We traded words of our respective vocabularies and they asked me how to pronounce my name, and one of them took a permament marker and wrote my name out in Arabic (or maybe it was Kurdish) under my name tape on my protective vest. The other US soldier and I remarked between ourselves how we are held in almost celebrity status.

I also had a conversation with an Arab officer who studied English for four years at Baghdad University. He remarked how most of the insurgents are actually foreign born and are an abomination of Islam. He is a Shi'ite, but said that Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds are all the same because they are all Muslim. He also felt that the country is much better off now than it was before we overthrew Saddam.

The day ended pretty early, so I am going to take it easy tonight.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Driving Around

Today was really two days, so I will be entering two posts to depict the events. The day started with a convoy and we visited several towns and I had the opportunity to sit in several meetings with local town leaders. It was pretty hard to follow what was going on due to the language barrier and my not having an interprettor dedicated to me. I made due with other occupants in the meeting that would tell me an encapsulated version of the happenings, and mainly what I heard was that the people from the town I was in are good, beautiful people, and the people from another town around were bad (and in the other town there is insurgency activity, so there was merit to the observations). It was continually pointed out that in “Saddam’s time” people had no choice and now they do. In other notes, during the meetings, chai, an Iraqi tea was always served to us. It is pretty good, very sweet. But I do have some fear that because it is made with the local water, I will be having a case of Saddam’s revenge.

At our last political stop, I got a chance to interact with some of the local people. The people were very nice, and very curious about us. I almost felt like a celebrity because I found myself surrounded by people and I was shaking hands with many of them and talking to them the best I could. There was one guy that spoke some pretty bad English, but he got his point across all right. I gave another gentleman a pinch of chewing tobacco and almost immediately thereafter some water to rinse it out with. Everyone had a good laugh at that. The people were very curious about my digital camera and everyone wanted to have their picture taken and see themselves on the display afterwards. It was a lot of fun and really made me appreciate what we are doing and our mission here. We then mounted our vehicles and headed for home.

Firefight

On the ride back, our element got into a firefight and saw an IED. Sufficient to say, it was a significant emotional experience for all involved. I said on Saturday that Al Kisak had never looked so good. As good as Al Kisak looked two days ago, it looked 100 times better today when we arrived.

We got back to the compound and a lot of people came out to look at us and to wish us well. The Aussies came down and I explained to my friend the Brigade S3 what had happened and where. One of the other brigade OICs, who was also riding in my vehicle handed out some cigars which we promptly light up. After some chatter, some of us posed for a picture with a small, tattered American flag.

Our vehicle had had our antennae blown off and on that antae was the small American Flag. An Iraqi soldier picked up that flag from the side of the road where they had taken small arms fire, and gave the flag to our Brigade OIC, which was a beautiful gesture. A lot of the soldiers had also come up to us and apologized for it happening. It is really difficult, the vast majority of these people are good people that just want a decent government and the ability to live lives in peace. But I would be lying to say that I looked at the people on the side of the road the same way I had before that bomb went off. I know the insurgents want to drive a wedge between us and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust between the Americans and the local population. I am dedicated to making sure that while I remain ever vigilant, I don’t let experience of the later half of the day totally cancel out the joy I had meeting the local people.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Graduation

The first day back brought us the opportunity to see a military ceremony. It was an interesting, mainly because their drill and ceremony (that marching around stuff) is a lot different than ours. They use the Russian style, with a lot of foot stomping and the high arm swings, moving their free arm more than shoulder high while they march. The ceremony was attended by some interesting officials.

After the ceremony was over, the battalion OIC and I started to work a logistical issue, until I got sucked up by the brigade team to plan an event for us. That took most of the rest of the afternoon. This evening I have been befuddled in my attempt to get the Vikings-Eagles game. We have about three satellite systems on this post, and none of them have the game. If you are a Patriots or Colts fan, you are in luck because that game is on. I had the game going over the internet for a while, but it is down now, just in time to miss the Vikings score a touchdown. I don't think the Vikes are going to win, but it would be a nice break to be able to listen to the game. I am reduced to following it over ESPN Live Play which gives a text description for each play. Better than nothing.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Convoy

This morning started with a mortar attack at 6:30. It actually came pretty close to where I was, about 150 meters or so. Definitely an early morning wake up call. Of course that meant that the chow hall had to close and we couldn't really run any of our errands. Dang insurgents ruining my morning routine.

We moved back from Camp Anaconda to Al Kisak today. Today we made our 200 mile run north thru scenic Iraq. It was a pretty interesting, but thankfully uneventful trip. The only sticky point came when we passed a dead animal in the road. Dead animal carcasses are often used by the insurgents to plant IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). An American gun truck had arrived on the scene just as my vehicle was approaching the point (I was in the trail vehicle), and tried to get us to stop, but by that time we were within about 25 meters of the carcass, so I made the call to blow thru and remain with our convoy. We found out later that an American convoy headed down the same road in the opposite direction had taken some small arms fire, but that was a supply convoy. We had been told that we probably wouldn't get hit because of the nature of our group, however the insurgents will hit anyone with an IED so it wasn't totally safe. We arrived back at Al Kisak late in the afternoon. It is very nice to be home, sleeping on a cot for two weeks isn't very enjoyable. Sure, the daily hot showers were nice, as was the food, but it is great to be back with familiar faces and familiar surroundings.

I took a lot of pictures on this convoy and will be posting them tomorrow as long as I can get the software to work effectively.

Also, if you care to check out www.dbsoxblog.blogspot.com, my blogging mentor James has written an entry on there that is about this site, and it is the 14 January entry. I appreciate his thoughts and his support.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Mortars and Linking Up

As I have written before, LSA Anaconda is the mortar magnet of Iraq. They get hit a lot. Yesterday, we had about 6 separate attacks, which means that everyone is supposed to run undercover. The problem is that by the time you know there was an attack, it is already over because it is only one or two mortars. If it was going to be a 5-10 minute barrage, then yeah, putting the gear on and running to bunkers make sense, the way it is now however, either one has your name on it or it doesn't. But today we are all in full battle rattle and we were hit again this afternoon, as I was dashing off emails to the lovely Mrs. Backdrafted and my blogging mentor. It was quite annonying. On my way back from the computer lab, I stopped in the bathroom, and I had a revolution that I have been cheating you the reader, because in every Army portapottie, there is great graffiti. There are written smackdowns between units, the ever present announcement of officers and sergeants that commit lewd and unnatural acts, amusing jokes, and creative artwork that is meant to fulfill the void left by the no pornography ban. Had I been more on the ball, I would have transcribed some of it for you. Maybe next time.

Actually, here is one. As you sit down, there was a statement that "you are playing s---house tennis. Look Left." You look left and it says "look right", so you look right and it says "look left". I actually watched a couple of volleys one day.

Moving onto the rundown, today we finally received the rest of our element and I spent the majority of the day working on issues that surfaced as a result of their arrival. It was a pretty active day. Armies have a lot of moving parts and pieces and nothing is ever simple, so there is always one more thing that you need to be doing. This evening we had a group meeting and then the brigade officer in charge, the non-commissioned officer in charge and I smoked a cigar and admired the desert sky. The evenings here are always very clear and you can see every star. It is quite peaceful. Like the Josh Harnett character in "Black Hawk Down" said, "It is almost a place you would like to come and visit."

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Small Army and Violent Comments.

It is funny in the army how you can feel you didn't have a busy day, then count up the number of hours worked, and it is usually well over eight. Today was one such day. While I can't talk too much about specifics, I will say that I was out running around most of the day, doing coordination and trying to get some equipment fixed. I also had the pleasure of running into a civilian contractor here that was a platoon sergeant for a friend of mine in Baumholder, Germany. It truly is a small army.

This evening I wrote a report my boss needs and did some studying on the current situation for another project. I also read with interest the comments from my last posting and posted a reply to one particularly violent comment, please read if you are interested, and feel free to post your own comments.

One of the other posters also asked a few questions which I will try to answer. As to the insurgents in the ranks, you just have to keep your eyes peeled and wits about you. Remember, most of the soldiers 90-95%, are not insurgents and will help root them out because the insurgents are a danger to the legitimate soldier as well. Regarding Secretary Powell's statements, I haven't read them, so I am not familiar. Against common sense, I will wade in and offer an opinion - strictly my opinion, based on nothing more than my reading of the tea leaves, which aren't any more informative then the ones to which you have access. I think there may be a draw down towards the end of the year, but I don't see the people in this job being withdrawn, if anything, we will probably expand our efforts in this area. Unlike any other unit in theater, our mission is almost strictly strategic in nature as opposed to tactical (when I say strategic, I mean that our mission directly contributes to accomplishing the largest US objective of turning Iraq into a functional democracy. When I say tactical, I refer to the missions that keep the overall stability of the environment, so that the strategic efforts can take force. That is a rough explanation).

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Comments on an AWOL Soldier

Again, nothing much going on. Found out the other element is delayed, so I am stuck here a little longer. I ran some personal errands this morning, donated blood and did some work related things in the afternoon.
Since there is an article out today about a soldier that went AWOL from his unit at Fort Bliss, I feel there may be some questions about the level of training we received prior to leaving. I will note that that soldier's unit is deploying out of Fort Bliss and I prepared out of Camp Atterbury, so I don't have direct knowledge of what training they received. I will project that the training is pretty standard Army wide for deploying units and I say that because attendance in each block of instruction was carefully checked, and General McNeil, the FORSCOM Commander (Commander of US Based forces) visited our site a couple of times this fall, so there must have been some pretty specific guidance on the training to be conducted. In the article I read the soldier specifically noted the lack of armored vehicles, poor equipment (specifically weapons), inadequate training, and earlier this same unit had complained about being treated as "prisoners". I will try to address these one by one.

First, there may be nothing to the armored vehicle issue. Many units are coming to this theater and falling in on vehicles left by the preceding unit. I don't know if that is the plan for the unit in question, but it is a 50-50 shot. However, even if they do take their own equipment, once they get to theatre, there is a very active effort to put armor add-on packages onto the vehicles, and those vehicles that aren't armored don't roll out of the gate very often. However, the bottom line is that we really don't have a "right" to uparmored vehicles (although we greatly appreciate it). The warrior ethos demands that you do the best with what you have, because you will never have absolutely everything you want. Not everyone is going to be issued a tank.

Second, the weapons we got seemed to be rebuilt, and I will say that I could never get a good sight picture while zeroing my M16. So, there may be something to this. He stated that his specific problem with the weapon is that it jams. Now, there are a number of reasons why that weapon may jam, but the weapon being dirty, inadequately oiled, or a bad magazine are the most likely culprits. In my experience, I have never run across a weapon that continually jams due to a technical malfunction. But, his may be a unique case.

Third, the training we received was OK. We did a lot with roadside bombs (IED), we did a lot of convoy training, first aid, and other theatre specific issues (for a more thorough look, you may read my archives from 17 Oct - 22 Nov for the day by day look). His unit has now been there for about a month. What the hell have they been doing? The army taught us what we need to know to recognize the threat, prepare contingency plans, and protect ourselves. The instruction was not meant to make us capable of disarming the bomb. Again, while I haven't gone thru that specific training, I feel confident to say that his expectations were probably a little high for a post that is mobilizing 40K soldiers a year. Also, once they get to Kuwait, there will be another block of instruction on the most important things. (Archives, Nov 22-Jan 6).

Fourth. OK, we were treated like prisoners. But this is the army, deal with it.

Now, I will admit that I am not the most sensitive cat out there. And I might have an over inflated sense of what I can accomplish, but some of these folks coming in need to get a grip. No army has ever taken the field with everything it wants. The logistical challenge of outfitting an army here is monumental and not all of the equipment gets to everyone that needs it. After all, it is all being done by human beings, and while it isn't perfect, the brass is trying to make it so. They need to shut up, quit whining, and come execute their mission.

(I am now mounting my soapbox) My unit is here training the Iraqis and going on operational missions in small teams with pretty raw Iraqi troops, some of which are undoubtedly insurgents. We live in worse conditions, eat worse chow, and have less access to morale raising events than just about any other group of soldiers here. We were thrown together at the last minute, in many cases having never worked with our teammates before and didn't get the opportunity to do real collective training, and I will project that by the end of our rotation, our unit will have one of the highest casualty rates in theater. I don't like it, but that is just the way it is. That's war. We have an important mission, a mission that will allow the US to leave Iraq with an army to protect its new democracy, and so does Specialist Joseph Jacobo of the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment. I would offer to allow him to join our unit and do our mission, but I doubt he would take me up on the offer. It is just as well, I wouldn't want his sorry ass anyway. (Stepping down off of the soap box, but getting angrier the longer I think about this).

What kind of a man leaves his unit, and his teammates, just before they deploy? What kind of a man deserts people in that situation? I will let you answer that question.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Same Ol' Same Ol, but commenting out of my lane.

Again, a not very productive day. I spent the majority of it working on getting a particular piece of equipment. Again, the 507th CSG has been a tremendous help to us. After that, I spent most of the day lazing around. I am so ready to get back to Al Kisak. One of the NCOs asked me if the food was too good here. One nice thing about being deployed, I have lost some weight already, even though I haven't done too much physical training. I am trying to keep the meals down to two a day. It is pretty tough here because the food is actually pretty good and there is a lot of it. This evening some of the guys watched a very strange slasher movie. I listened in and made smart ass comments from my cot. I have never enjoyed those types of movies.

One of the posters asked if the amount of scrounging we are doing is typical of units over here. I would have to say no. It is just that our location isn't really serviced by the army logistical system since we have so few troops there. I also think that there is a measure of cluelessness within our organic logistical system that contributes to it. Most units have all they need, and more. We are definitely an exception.

He also asked if the army was going to be moving to a 3rd or 4th generation force. I am really not in any better position to comment on this than any of you - I get my big picture news thru the Associated Press, New York Press, and the news weeklies. I do know that Secretary Rumsfeld has been pushing the military to transform into a lighter, quicker force with less reliance on heavy armor, like the Abrahms tank. You may recall that when Rumsfeld initially took office, he had a severely strained relationship with the military brass, and it exploded over the crusader weapon system, which was a very large cannon and would have been great against the Soviet Bloc, but is really not suitable for the operations we are doing now in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The changes were definitely necessary because we will not do too many large scale, force on force operations in the near future. There really isn't a suitable enemy for that type warfare now, nor will there be for the next 50 years, unless of course China does a sudden rise. Everything we will do for the near future will require maximum mobility and flexibility, and this is the direction the SecDef has been trying to take the forces, particularly the Army. All bureaucracies however are resistant to change and the military is no exception. I think this natural resistance is the reason the SecDef wanted to stay in his position for another term to see his efforts of transformation through. This is of course, only my opinion since the SecDef hasn't given me a call lately to share his intimate feelings.

Additionally, the army has moved to be much more reliant on contractors than it was when I was active, which was only 5 years ago. They have moved a lot of positions from being soldiers to being contractors. I think this is largely because the number of troops is limited by law, so the Army wants the force to be much more combat arms heavy then it was previously. When I was in, only about 11% of the force was set to directly engage the enemy. I am not sure what that number is now, but I am sure it is rising. Another drastically changed area is the ability for commanders to track the whereabouts on the battlefield of individual units. This is a huge contributing factor in our low level of fratricide (friendly fire) incidents. Also, the vehicles are much better armored than they used to be. When I went to Bosnia in '96, the only people that had armored vehicles were battalion commanders and above (Lieutenant Colonel and above). Now, everybody has them, and those that aren't armored don't roll out of the gate too often. The army has made a huge - and needed - investment in this.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Nothing and Nothing

Again, a rather uneventful day. I found out I would be stuck here at Camp Anaconda a little longer than I thought I would be. I can think of worse places to be. The only actual work I had to do was go over and make some coordination with the 507th. Other than that the day was spent doing just about nothing. I did run into two of my old cohorts from Camp Atterbury. They are a couple of First Sergeants, and I really liked the both of them. We had lunch and just caught up on what they were doing, and what other folks were up to as well. My NCOs spent the day trying to do some more scrounging, but nothing like the hauls we had in the past. We are trying to get some parts from the Defense Reutilization Materiel Office (DRMO). It is really just a gigantic yard for items that no one wants - think Sanford and Son on steroids. Of course, you have to have the requisite paperwork in order to pull any of the items out, even though none of them are accountable. Nobody makes things easier than the army. I will see what I can work out there tomorrow.

I hope I get to leave here soon - this sitting around is getting old and making me lazy.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Great Support from 507th CSG

One thing about being here at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, it is very loud all night long. Because this is an airbase, the planes fly over at all hours of the night, and of course the transient lodging is close enough to the airfield that we hear it all.

The morning started off great, I went and picked up my laundry and took a shower and was actually able to change into a clean uniform, clean t-shirt and clean socks, for the first time in about 3 days (which is far too long). I felt like a new man after that.

Had great scrounging success today. I hooked up with a captain in the 507th Corps Support Group out of Fort Bragg, NC. These guys were awesome - they let us take anything out of their supply room we wanted, and got us a bunch of ammunition to take with us. The ammo was a touchier issues, so I went to the Group Headquarters and talked with the appropriate person there, and he just said "We are area support, they're in the area. Support them." First class all the way. Compare that to our organic support for anight and day difference: One of the sergeants with me has a grease stained uniform. He took it to the proper facility here to do a direct exchange (turn in the old one, get a new one). Since we aren't on any accounts, the person called the proper person in our organization and asked if the sergeant was authorized to get a new uniform. The person on the other end said "Don't give him a new one. ASTs aren't supposed to get their uniforms dirty." I swear to God these people live on a different planet than I do. The sergeant ended up calling his old unit, which has a presence here on post, and they authorized the exchange. Unbelievable. I always say that the best thing about the army is the people in it. That sword cuts both ways.

Nothing else too exciting. I was finally able to track down some decent cigars, and bought some new batteries for my camera, as well as a lantern to use during our frequent power outages in Al Kisak. I don't know how long I will be here yet, but I am actually looking forward to going back "home" to Al Kisak.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Strolling Around

Today we had a busy day scrounging for various items that we need up north. Nothing too exciting. I spent the morning roaming around the entire post looking for one office that I needed to get to and coordinate a couple of issues. That is the thing about newer army posts - the streets aren't really marked, and even if they were, no army unit goes by addresses, rather it is always building numbers. I don't know who came up with the system, but it is asinine. Everywhere else in the civilized world deems a street address as wholly adequate, but not the Army. In the army, all the buildings have their own number and you just have to drive around and find it. Sometimes, the numbers aren't in perfect order either, which adds to the aggravation. Anyway, it took me two hours to find the office I needed. Ugh.

This afternoon, I ran around post and did a few more errands, and then headed over to the mess hall for dinner. They were serving steak and crab legs (neither are as scrumptious as they sound, this is the army after all). After that it was back to the tent where I spent the majority of the evening attempting to drain the power out of my laptop battery as it has developed a short memory, thereby only giving me about 1/2 an hour of work time. Quite annoying. Didn't really do too much else today. We haven't had any mortar attacks here, which seems to be quite rare, because Anaconda is the mortar magnet of Iraq.

Nothing else to report from here.

Friday, January 07, 2005


Every house, no matter how crappy, has a satellite dish Posted by Hello


The Bridge over the Euphrates Posted by Hello


Check Point by the Euphrates Posted by Hello


A Town along the way Posted by Hello


Going thru town Posted by Hello

Moving with the Tennessee Cavalary

This morning we caught a convoy with the 278th Cavalry Regiment back up to Camp Anaconda. The ride was interesting, the people seemed friendly along the route and the gunner in the vehicle ahead of us kept throwing candy to the children that waved at us. No incidents along the way, which is always a good thing. I did give my camera a work out on the ride, so I will be posting those pictures as soon as I can. Since today is Friday (the Muslim Holy Day), most of the people weren’t working, but there were a lot of roadside markets open along the route. I didn’t see too many really strange sights, like those I saw in Korea (once, I was driving down the road and saw a small pick-up truck with a large cage on it filled with pigs pilled on top of each other all the way to the roof).
Once we got to Anaconda, we immediately went to the mess hall for lunch. The folks here have it pretty darn good. That mess facility was fantastic, as all of them are on coalition posts. The only thing it was missing was Diet Coke. I was hoping there would be some so I can load up on it prior to leaving here. We then moved over to the transient lodging and got our tent for the stay. I then just ran my laundry over to get it cleaned – I am out of everything so I will have to double up tomorrow – not really pleasant for those around me. After that came the PX, but they didn’t really have anything that I needed. They were out of decent cigars, and any other item I would have considered was priced too high. I will renew my complaint about AAFES (The army vendor). They always seem to stock the wrong things. For instance, I need a plug adapter so I can plug my electronic devices that run on dual currency in. The ones they have in stock are the European models, which have two round prongs, and not the Middle Eastern models which have three flat prongs. Very annoying. After that was a stop at the barbershop to get a much needed haircut. One nice thing about being deployed, I don’t have to spend a lot of money on extra stuff. Laundry and food is usually free, and haircuts only cost $3 (although, in civilian life, lots of people tell me my hair looks like it cost $3 to cut there as well).
This evening we are just taking it easy as we will have more running around to do in the morning.


Going into a town Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Working on the .50 Cal up in the turrett. Posted by Hello

Working with the Tennessee National Guard

Didn't have too much going on, still just chasing some issues. We did have a couple of encounters with the soldiers from the 278th Cavalary Regiment out of Knoxville, TN. These guys were some very customer friendly, responsive folks. They helped us with some equipment issues and some supply needs - very good people to work with and they didn't bat an eye about helping some soldiers not in their unit. I also had to go by the base post office and mail some items for my boss, because we can't mail packages from Al Kisak since there isn't mail service and the only thing we can send out is free letter mail (troops over here don't have to pay for letters). There was one "nice" trick in the post office. I had entered it wanting to just put the materials in a large envelope and mail it, but the only envelopes available were priority mail envelopes, and if you use one, you have to pay priority mail prices. Somewhat annoying episode, but the post office did square me away with some mail bags so we can process our outgoing mail in Al Kisak better.

Other than that, still enjoying my mini-vacation

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Another Slow Day at KTMB

Only had a couple of meetings today, and those were in the evening, so nothing too exciting to report. My guys spent the majority of the morning running down some issues we had, and I did some coordination, but that's about it on this front. Just traded some emails with Mrs. Backdrafted and answered some other emails on work issues.

This afternoon I did wander into one of the staples of American posts here in Iraq - the Hadji shop. We call it the Hadji shop because it is run by local Iraqis and sells goods here on post. They have blankets, cigars, candy, soda, DVDs that I am sure are not in compliance with any copyright laws, and other assorted goods of that nature. I just bought a few cigars, but some troops have really loaded up on the DVDs.

Other than that, nothing to report. Good day to take it easy.

New Photos Up

I have put some new pictures up, but you will need to scroll down to see them, and also go into the Archives for the November pictures and to October to see the barracks at Camp Atterbury. I made the photos chronological and I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Another Day at KTMB

Today wasn't too exciting, we are just enjoying our mini-vacation at KTMB. The actual work I had to do only took a few hours, so I was on my own most of the day. I did get the opportunity to call Mrs. Backdrafted and talk with her for a few minutes, which is always a joyful occasion. I got the update on our two year old daughter. My greatest fear is that when I come back, she will have forgotten me, or will be scared of me. I don't think that is going to happen, but it is always in my mind.

This evening we had a meeting to go over a couple of issues, and then we retired to our quarters for the evening. The great thing about being here is the bathroom facilities. It was very nice to take a long, hot shower this morning and to finally be able to use a toilet that didn't require me to put the used toilet paper in a plastic bag to take outside. The small things in life are often taken for granted, and I won't be doing it again after this experience. I remember a soldier from the band of brothers who, 60 years later, still tells his wife on a cold night "at least I am not in Bastogne." After this, when I have to unclog the toilet at home, I will be able to say to Mrs. Backdrafted, "at least I am not in Iraq."

(Note: I am not remotely equating what those soldiers went through compared to what we are going through. Those soldiers endured hardships on a scale far greater than anything we will here. If you see a WWII vet, thank him.)

A Note on Operational Security

Since a well meaning poster noted that the Iraqis may be reading this blog, let me point out a couple of notes on operational security (OPSEC).

1. You will notice that I say nothing about the security of this post, and that is by design. I did mention the fact that the Iraqi guards get spooked easily, but that would be another reason not to get too close to the perimeter.

2. I speak nothing of future operations; everything is limited to what we have done - nothing on what we will be doing.

3. If the Iraqi Insurgency is monitoring this blog, although there have been no hits from any remotely Arabic country, or any country with a large Muslim population (Save India), the only thing they will know is that life on Al Kasik sucks, which they are already well aware of. They will also know that we travel by chopper and C130 airplane, which they already know as well.

I take every precaution to avoid any unnecessary slips of the fingers, but if you do see something that might be considered a breach, by all means, point that specific item out and I will relook it and take the corrective actions.

Thanks.


An Iraqi Condo? Posted by Hello


More Fertile Land Posted by Hello


Over the Euphrates Posted by Hello


An Iraqi Farm Posted by Hello


The Miracle of Irrigation Posted by Hello


Rough Desert Terrain Posted by Hello


View of Iraq from the back of a Chinook Posted by Hello

Monday, January 03, 2005

1st Week's Stats

If any of you are interested, here are the stats for the first week of counting...

757 different visitors
12 different countries
37 different states

While I am not looking for this blog to become famous, it is interesting to see all of the different people that come here and hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the life of a soldier here in Iraq.

USA Troop Care

Some people have put down comments indicating they may be interested in assisting soldiers over here in various ways. There is a great organization called USA Troop Care, and they are accessible via www.usatroopcare.com. They allow individuals to sponsor soldiers by corresponding with them or sending care packages. I am not a sponsored soldier, because I have a great support network from the Backdrafted family and from all of you that have posted messages of encouragement here, and I don't want to take away from enlisted soldiers that could use the help However, there are many soldiers that have signed up and would be greatful if they knew folks back home were thinking about them.

Anaconda, KMTB, and Old Friends

Yesterday evening about midnight, some of us boarded a Chinook Helicopter so that we could do a mission down at Camp Anaconda, which is south of us. It was an initial goat rope because there were supposed to be several Iraqi soldiers (Jundis) to meet the aircraft to off load it so we could get on. Of course, they never showed up so we had to off load the sizeable amount of gear that came, and then put all of ours on, plus about 40 packages for some of our soldiers at another base. We got in to Anaconda about 3 AM, loaded and unloaded all of our gear about 8 times and finally got to bed around 4:30. Around 6 AM there was a mortar attack on the base, about 3 shells apparently came in, but since I had my earplugs in, I pretty much slept right through it. I got up about 11 and went and took my first hot shower in over two weeks, which was downright blissful.

On my way back, I was met and told that some of us had a ride to another post, Karcush Military Training Base (KMTB), but we needed to be on the flight line in about 30 minutes. We quickly packed our gear and boarded the bus and made our way out to the flight line. We loaded our bird and then took a major tour through Iraq, making about 3 stops along the way, turning a flight that should have been 20 minutes into a 2.5 hour ordeal. We arrived at KMTB and I found a truck with a couple of soldiers in it that apparently had no purpose, as they were just told to meet some people down at the flight line and shuttle them to the main post. I said, "Hey, we're people" and we loaded the truck, took a tour around post to find our destination since the drivers had no idea, and arrived here about 4:30. I made some initial coordination contributing to our mission and then we ate a decent meal in the mess hall and found our quarters. The guys here, guys that have been with us since Camp Atterbury, have been fantastic. They got us settled in, cleaned our rooms, and gave us some toiletry products that came in "any soldier" mail. Really made us feel at home and have taken great care of us. That is one great thing about the Army - the folks in it.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Meetings and Training

Not too much excitement today. We went over to the Iraqis and watched them train. It was pretty cold out so it was rather unpleasant. The Aussie Lieutenant Colonel and his Regimental Sergeant Major showed us where the truck bomb that blew up the old headquarters and the dining facility detonated from, as well as where an RPG round hit the former headquarters building. After watching training, we went over and picked up our new Russian jeeps. Any doubt about why we won the cold war can be answered just by driving one of those things.

In the afternoon some of us had a class on our radios, and this evening I paid a visit to my Aussie counterpart to rectify a few things. There were some reports about gunfire on our perimeter, but it seems to have subsided. It could have just been the Iraqi guards, they have a habit of getting spooked in the night and firing off rounds. A fine of $2 per round fire hasn't taken the full affect yet.

Other than that, just another day.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Meeting the Iraqis

This morning we went over with the Aussies to meet the Iraqis. We watched them go thru some of their drills. They didn't look too bad, particularly considering they are new soldiers. I have written it before, but I will do so again - I really like the Aussies because they are so much like Americans. They have a spirit and a resourcefulness that can only come from being an immigrant state. Our forefathers who risked everything to come here, in many cases leading worse lives than they would have had they stayed home, brought with them an initiative and drive not found in many places. (Of course in Australia's case, their being founded as a prison colony certainly contributes to their spirit as well).

I went thru the barracks or "the lines" as the Aussies call them. The barracks actually looked pretty good apparently, at least by Iraqi standards. I also examined the stocks of supplies that the battalion had, as this will be one of my areas of responsibilities because I am a trained logistics officer. (Later that afternoon I had to work in my "craft" helping the US Brigade Team supply officer prepare all of the hand receipts for some kits we had been issued).

Additionally, I polished off Band of Brothers today and returned the book to its rightful owner, who was surprised I read it that fast. My quick review is that the book is OK, and very desirable as a somewhat light read because the prose is not heavy. For a soldier the book is pretty emotional and reminds me that regardless of how bad things get here, I will have it a hell of a lot easier than those guys had it.

Happy New Years!

From all of us to all of you, have a happy New Years Day back in the States!

Friday, December 31, 2004

A Strange Briefing

Today's highlight was spending a couple of hours with the Aussies receiving a briefing on the battalion my team will inherit. It was about what I expected - both the format and the content. For operational security reasons, I won't run down the entire list of challenges that await us, but the big two are absenteeism and life support here on base. Of course, these two issues are totally linked together. These soldiers have to risk their lives to get their pay home and then come back, and they come back to what? No water to flush toilets or take showers and disgusting food in the mess hall (and when the Iraqis think the food is disgusting, that's saying something). That needs to be job number one for the command. It was a no-B.S. brief.

I think the soldiers realize the importance of our mission - if these elections don't go off, there will be hell to pay. A lot of folks here are just bidding their time waiting to see which side comes out ahead and then will throw their lot with that side. That’s how business has been done in this portion of the world for a long time – strength is respected, fairness is perceived as weakness.
In the evening I didn’t feel particularly well, so I resided to my room and started reading the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. The book is only about 330 pages long, which is surprising because the movie took 10 episodes to illustrate it. I suppose if you wanted to break it down mathematically, we can say there one page equals one minute and there were about 550 minutes in the series, so that would be 166% more film time than pages. Maybe a picture isn’t always worth a 1000 words.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Rollin' with the Aussies Again

Went down to Tel Afar Airbase again today, AKA Forward Operating Base (FOB) Sykes. I did some coordination with the Cavalry unit there, and also drop off a couple of our soldiers so they can get some experience out in the country. The Cavalry units in the Army are always top notch professionals, and they reminded me again today when they met every request I had - requests they had no responsibility to satisfy - quickly and efficiently. They don't have too much either because they are pretty close to the end of the line, but they share what they have willingly. Just a fantastic group of guys.

After dealing with the Cav, I went over to the mess hall to pull on Halliburton's heart strings with our tale of woe for the base. They were absolutely wonderful, giving us bread, snacks, powerbars, Gatorade, sodas (3 cases of my Diet Coke), and other essential items. We loaded all of the booty into one of the Australian Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs - essentially a fast tank, except it is on wheels instead of on a track like a tank is). The two operators had a disagreement about whether or not it could all fit into their vehicle; a $20 bet between them proved that it would all fit. I like to see optimism in soldiers, and the Aussies have a "can-do" spirit in spades.

Both the trip down and the trip back were uneventful, always a good thing. We did get some mail for the soldiers, but I crapped out, even though I was wishfully hoping I would get some. The mail is so slow getting to us I already informed Mrs. Backdrafted I wouldn't see any until the middle of January. Upon our arrival, the Aussie troops and I divvied up our take between us and vowed to ensure their vehicle has more room in it next time for more stuff. It is tough being at the end of the supply line; we never know when we will get food, water and other essential items. The chronic water problem is exasperated by the stupidity of some of us, folks leave the water or shower faucets on and take long showers once we get water - completely moronic, but it happens. So, we are reduced to flushing the toilets with bottled water, and since some of these guys can't remember to turn off the water, using bottled water to flush the toilet is a concept completely too complex. It is always interesting living with a group of 50 guys.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Rest of the Day

Other than the memorial service, the rest of the day was pretty blase. I had to prepare a briefing for the Brigade Team Leader to give tomorrow to some American and Iraqi Senior Officers. The Division AST Team Leader looked at it this evening and said it was more than sufficient. Other than that, I just had to make some coordination with my Australian counterpart. Nothing too exciting.

Saying Goodbye

Today we said goodbye to Sergeant First Class Paul Karpowich. I didn't know him, he was a Non Commissioned Officer on one of the AST teams in another brigade. Below, I posted his biography so that you can put a life with the statistic that you will see on the news. So far, there have been a couple of people on this AST mission that were killed. SFC Karpowich was a casualty of the 21 December suicide bombing in Mosul. The ceremony was proper - he was eulogized by a captain he had become close to at Camp Atterbury, he received an 18 gun salute, then all of us proceeded by his display of the upright M16 grounded into the dirt between his boots and his helmet on top to pay our last respects by rendering a salute in front of his display.

A respectful tribute to a fallen comrade.

SFC Paul Karpowich

SFC Paul Karpowich was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 98th Division. He was mobilized as part of the Advisory Support Team for the 3rd Division, which was part of the Coalition Military Training Assistance Team (CMATT). SFC Karpowich began his career with the 82nd Airborne Division, FT Bragg, NC.

Upon leaving active duty, he became a Drill Sergeant and spent time training Initial Entry Training Soldiers in Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. SFC Karpowich maintained his edge as an elite and professional soldier by attending challenging courses at the Army's Infantry School, Sniper School, Airborne School, Military Police School, Drill Sergeant School, Total Army Instructor Course and Non-Commissioned Officer's Academy.

He is the Recipient of many awards and commendations, which include The Army Commendation Medal, The Joint Service Achievement Medal, The Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, The NCO Professional Development Ribbon, The Army Service Ribbon, The Multinational Force Observer Ribbon, The Army Good Conduct Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

He has earned the Parachutist Badge, Drill Sergeant Badge and the prestigious Expert Infantryman's Badge. SFC Karpowich was the Drill Sergeant of the Year for the 1st Brigade in 2003. He was married and resided in Bridgeport, PA. where he was an avid hunter and fisherman who loved the outdoors. "Karp" will truly be missed by everyone who knew him, and his memory will stay with each of us forever.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Site Update

I made a change to the comments section of the site so that you will no longer have to register on Blogspot to leave a comment here. Also, some stats are in for the first day of full accountability, we had 322 different people on the site from 7 different countries. It is fun to have the stat counter, it makes me think of my job in sales, checking and analyzing the numbers - just a small taste of normalcy.


MAJ Backdrafted firing the AK47 Posted by Hello

Foreign Weapons Range, Briefings

A bit of a twist first thing this morning, the lieutenant from the US unit our guys went out with came in and said that they were going back out and if we had some guys we could get ready, they would be happy to take them along. We scrambled 4 guys together and sent them along. It was a great example of the teamwork and support the folks in the Army give each other.

Our chief training event of the day was our foreign weapons range we ran to give us the opportunity to work with the weapons we will be need to be familiar with while training the Iraqis. We fired the AK47, which is the most used fighting weapon in the world, and the RPK, which is an elongated version of the AK47, fired mainly from a prone position using the bipod. My guys ran the range and did a super job, and it was fun to get out and shoot a little bit.

After the range, we had to brief the divisional AST leader, a full colonel, on the excursion our guys did yesterday with the US unit. It was a pretty interesting brief and demonstrated that the people in the north are great supporters of the current government and the goals of democracy. There are challenges, the Syrian Border, where most of the insurgents are coming thru, is a sieve - not unlike the US-Mexico border. Corruption along the border is rampant, as border towns usually are. There may be some challenges in that area, but nothing that is unmanageable. I did get a tasking to prepare a more formal brief

This evening I did some coordination with the Aussies, and made a date with my counterpart to join him to smoke a cigar and solve the world's problems up on their roof a couple of nights from now. I do enjoy their company.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Waiting Around

Run around day…I went out to the main gate to pick up some soldiers that had gone on a recon mission with a US unit and were out overnight. So, two soldiers and I went out at 8 AM to pick them up, only they weren’t there. I kept thinking, I hope they don’t have a good reason to be late. We waited for about an hour and a half and they still didn’t show so I went back to the main headquarters to see if I could get that other unit on the radio and ask them what was going on. Found out that the patrol wouldn’t be back until about 2 PM, so I called the other two in and we bided our time until 2. Then we went back out and waited, and waited, for another hour and a half, when the same events unfolded, except this time when I went back, I was told that the other unit had radioed in and said that the convoy was expected back after 3, so they weren’t too late. I went back out and met the vehicles coming back in, so I just followed them back to the base. The guys on the patrol had a lot of fun. One officer on the patrol accidentally stepped a few feet into Syria, but was quickly brought back onto the Iraqi side. Nothing too exciting happened, which is always good.

All that time on the gate was not wasted however. We did see a couple of strange things. One, was a flock of ducks just sitting out in the desert. That was just weird. They would sit, then walk across the road and sit, and then walk back. There was also a donkey running around outside the wire. We had just gotten rid of a number of the donkeys, but they still lurk around outside. We had a couple of Arabs dressed in their robes and headdresses and fancy suits walk across the desert from their village to go and talk with somebody. And the two soldiers I was with amused themselves by setting up an impromptu road block and checking the papers of the folks coming in. They are cops in their working lives so I guess they just wanted to stay in practice. It was pretty amusing to watch.

This evening we had a minor training event with the Aussies…they are a professional group of soldiers that any country would be proud to have. I will really miss working with them when they leave here.


Our Room in Al Kasik Posted by Hello


The Protective Barrier around our complex Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Decent Day

Not too much going on today...did have some excitement last night. There were about 6 guys in a vehicle outside the perimeter and they fired a mortar into the camp to liven up our holiday season. This morning I took some people out the front gate to catch a ride with another unit. The desert is really cold at night...We had to stand outside the vehicles for about 1/2 an hour waiting for the other unit to come and it not very comfortable. After that I attended my meetings, which were as poor as usual - no structure and little comprehension by some of the participants. I also had a couple of quick meetings with some of the Aussies this afternoon. They are a really professional bunch. We also had to bring in bottled water, always a fun task to load up about 100 cases of water and then off load them. But, since we are out of water in our main water tank, we have no choice. The rest of the day was spent watching "Band of Brothers." There are so many great leadership lessons to be learned from that series I could devote two hours a night to watch it for the remainder of my time here and still not catch them all.

My favorite came in Episode 7. In it, the unit was making an attack on the town of Foy, Belgium. The commanding officer was not a good leader, not, in the words of the company First Sergeant, because he made bad decisions, but because he made no decisions. He had taken his company on the assault and allowed them to become bogged down and he froze. The battalion executive officer watching from the hill, tried to contact him to get them moving, but there was no response. Finally he ordered a platoon leader from another company to go in, relieve the commanding officer and get the assault executed. The new commanding officer ran in, grabbed the old company commander by the lapel, and announced, "I am taking over." He got a quick, 7 second brief from the company First Sergeant, said (of a building the Germans were using as a fighting position) "Rifle grenades and mortars till it isn't there any more, have 1st platoon go up the middle, forget about going around. everyone else, follow me." And off he charged, taking the company into the town, sustaining far less casualties then they were taking by waiting, and they took the town. The lessons here for leadership are endless. But I will focus on two. Quick, decisive action is more important than being right. Tactically, his plan wasn't pretty, it wasn't complicated. But it was executed suddenly and violently, and most plans executed in that manner will succeed. Too many people want to get all of the info, and that time costs lives in combat and money in business. Second, this lieutenant knew his job, giving him the ability to process the available information, and quickly formulate a workable plan. He knew the capabilities of the men, and he knew the capabilities of the equipment available to him. Technical competence at work, and technical competence allowed him to formulate the quick, workable plan.

I didn't mean to go into a clinic here and produce lesson plans on leadership, I certainly don't feel I am qualified to lead that discussion. But I do find these questions on my mind a lot these days - and I guess I look for more opportunities to learn.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas from Iraq!

Merry Christmas from Iraq. Today was pretty slow, no meetings of any sort. We had our Christmas Dinner with our friends from Australia. They did quite a production. We each had small gifts of sorts – I received the technical manual for the AK47. The Army did a good thing for us – the commanding general of our region allocated some helicopters to fly chow in for us so we didn’t have to eat the garbage from the mess hall. The Division AST Sergeant Major was at my table and he explained the mess hall situation further. It doesn’t seem to be as much of a logistical problem as it is a hygiene problem in the kitchen. Apparently, they just don’t meet acceptable standards. They will have piles of potatoes with mice running thru them and they will leave food out uncovered and unrefrigerated. Not acceptable.

After dinner, the Aussies played some Australian based movies – not Mad Max…The feature presentation was “The Dish” which was about Australia’s role in our Apollo Missions (they ran a satellite center for us, hence the title). I had seen the movie before and didn’t stick around for it.

We had one of my favorite things in the Army this afternoon. We promoted one of our Sergeants to Staff Sergeant. It was well deserved – he is a good trooper. After that I returned to my room and watched a couple of episodes of “Band of Brothers.” I haven’t seen the series yet, saving it for when I got here.

This evening I will have access to the satellite phone and will be able to talk to Mrs. Backdrafted and our daughter. I am excited to hear both of their voices. Our daughter is only two so most of what she says is not real clear, but her voice is pure sweetness.

Again, Merry Christmas, I feel I speak for everyone here when I say that we wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Postings

Today, being Friday, was a pretty slow day for us. No meetings in the morning, and I spent most of the day in front of the computer attempting to add a couple of features to the site - a web counter on the advice of James Douglas, famous in the blogging realm for his outstanding blog www.dbsoxblog.blogspot.com, and pictures. I have thus far been unsuccessful at either despite the heroic efforts of Kelly in my company's IT department to help me out with the counter. I think the problem is just that the connectivity here is so poor the applications can't run effectively. I also attempted to make a call home over Yahoo! Messenger, but was unsuccessful there. Bad day all around for me in the IT department.

I will give a plug for my company Global Knowledge. They have been great thru this entire experience and people don't often realize the difficulties a company faces when it has its employees pulled for duty. Global Knowledge gave me a computer to take with me on this deployment so I could stay in contact with my family (and it turns out, write this blog) and recently when I alerted them to the discovery by some of the troops here that they could make phone calls over the internet with the help of the headphones we use for our virtual classes, Eileen promptly sent me 6 more so that the troops here can stay connected with their families. Very good, caring organization.

Everything else was pretty routine...met with the Aussies on some issues and this evening I have radio watch in the operations center so that the troops can have Christmas Eve off. We had a little excitement when we had some insurgents attempting to put coal in our stockings by attempting to fire rockets into our camp, but the security forced chased them away.

Al and Walter

I have tried to stay out of politics in this blog, but I read an article today in the Boston Herald (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000742016) that made my blood boil and causes me to make a rather embarrassing confession.

When I was in college at the University of South Dakota, I served on the Student Publications Board, the body overseeing the student newspaper there. I was also appointed to the board as the student representative to the Neuharth Foundation, as Al Neuharth had just bequeathed a large sum of money to the University paper, because he is an alum of the University. Each year, the board selects a "distinguished" journalist to receive the Neuharth Award for alleged excellence in journalism. The first recipient was Walter Cronkite, and I as the student rep, was anointed the honor of giving an introduction speech for him at the award ceremony, a task I am now embarrassed to say I did quite willingly. Cronkite didn't show up, for alleged health issues, if I remember correctly 15 years later. Had I not been ignorant at the time, I would have refused the speech and boycotted the event. Now, I see that Neuharth has written an article calling for a US pullout in Iraq "sooner rather than later." If you don't know, Neuharth was the former CEO/Chairman of Gannett Newspaper and is the founder of the USA today, which is why he has column space for his weekly ramblings.

The reason these two events are linked is because following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a colossal military failure for the North Vietnamese that prevented their being able to conduct offensive combat operations for 3 years, Cronkite went on CBS news and declared that the war in Vietnam was "unwinnable." This singular event - the defining moment in Cronkite's career - helped turn American opinion against the war and against the men that served there. It also is, in my mind, the event that spawned so many of today's minions racing to publish bad things and present dire scenarios in our present war in a contest to create the culminating event in their mind of American humiliation in this war. That was the fruit Cronkite's career sowed. Now Neuharth is making his attempt at being the tipping point in turning public opinion against this war.

Before I go into dissecting his arguments and rational, let me point out some positive contributions that Neuharth has made (I did read his autobiography prior to meeting him).

1. He made a very conscious effort to include women and minorities on his boards of directors. Before he became CEO of Gannett, the board had been a white male exclusive society. When Neuharth left, I believe that over 50% of the members were women and minorities.

2. His creation of the USA today changed the way that words are used, and I dare say that blogging as a medium owes some of its existence to the way that USA puts forth information, in short bullet comments and graphs. My mother always called it a newspaper for simpletons, but its influence is undeniable.

3. He served in the Army during WWII, in Europe and the Pacific. His personal bravery should not be questioned.

That said, let's look at his arguments.

1. He said that WWII, as opposed to this war was highly moral. This is absolutely ludicrous. There have been three great ideological struggles over the past century. The first was fascism which was defeated on the field of battle. The second was communism which was met in the field of battle but was ultimately defeated thru constant, decade’s long resolve and the corruption of ideology itself. Now we are engaged in our third struggle, that against Islamic Extremism. If he, or anyone else feels that the case being put forth by the Islamic Terrorists is moral or their vision of a perfect society is just or the manner in which they carry out their battle in keeping with the norms of an even moderately civilized society, he is so far off of the deep-end that Jacque Cousteau couldn't save him. The war I am fighting in is just. The war that the great majority of the Iraqi people are fighting in is moral. The humane manner we are conducting it in is unsurpassed in the dark history of warfare.

2. He stated that he was "proud, determined, armed and properly equipped" for his war. The army fielded by this country for this war is proud and determined. Yes, there are some people trying to get out of coming here. Guess what, there were people that tried to get out of WWII as well. The army fielded by this country for this war is the best trained, best equipped army ever to have gone into battle. Do we have absolutely everything we need? No, obviously there are areas that we need to improve in, like the oft mentioned up armored HMMWVs, and the army is responding to that. But, we are much better armed and equipped than any one else. None of the soldiers at Normandy have the body armor every US troop does. None of the Marines at Guadalcanal had the weaponry that we do. The logistical troops in France didn't have the means to properly move supplies around the battlefield like ours do. Everything isn't perfect, but it is the best it has ever been.

3. He said that he would do all he could to avoid service in this war. After reading my first point, if the silliness of his comment is lost, I can't help you.

Let's look at the aftermath of what happened in Vietnam after we pulled out. Over 5 million South Vietnamese were killed in the communist purges. The "peace" there killed more people that the war ever did. If we lose our resolve in this battle, the same thing could happen here. And the mass graves currently in existence here - which are "allies" in Europe are refusing to investigate because they don't want to be part of war crimes trials - will be shallow compared to the ones that will be filled after we leave with the mission not completed. Not to mention the further encouragement a premature pullout would give to our ample supply of enemies around the world, those enemies encouraged by a premature pull out in Somalia, and our tepid response to terrorist events prior to 9/11.

The Islamic terrorists often say that they are fighting to avenge our "persecution" of Muslims around the globe. This is completely stupid. Let's look at our military adventures over the past 15 years. We went to Somalia to protect Muslims who were being starved by other Muslims. We went to Saudi Arabia to free a country that had been invaded by another Muslim country. We had Haiti, OK, no Muslims there. Then we had Bosnia, where I personally went, to protect Muslims from Orthodox Serbs. After that came Kosovo where the same players as Bosnia were involved and we were on the same side. Following that came Afghanistan where we freed Muslims from other Muslims. Now we are in Iraq where we liberated a country from a tyrannical dictator and is now being terrorized by - guess what - Muslims. Notice a pattern here?

Our country has fought against tyranny over the past 15 years and is doing so again. However this struggle, unlike some of the past struggles, comes when we should be fully aware of the depravity of the enemy. The only question now is whether the American people have the will to engage in this struggle now, when the damage suffered to our country is relatively manageable, or will we have to wait until the damage inflicted by the Islamic Terrorists horrific enough to merit everyone's full attention.

I wrote a letter to my daughter recently in the event of my death here. In it I said that if democracy is spreading across this region at the time she read it our sacrifice - my families and our country's - will have been worth it. If however, the political pressure to pull out causes us to leave the mission here unfinished, and Iraq and the region descend into further anarchy, then my death would have been in vain. For the sake of those that have fallen in this war, when I pray at night, I pray for the unwavering resolve of the American people to see this battle to the end, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice. We owe our children nothing less - the same debt owed to our generation by the WWII generation, and our debt is just as grave.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Mess Hall Plague

The big news here is food poisoning. Several of the people here have it because of the disgraceful conditions of our mess hall. I have not been inflicted because I have been eating primarily Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). Occasionally my battalion OIC drags me to the mess hall, but I have avoided it to the utmost of my abilities. To give you an idea of how bad it is, this morning in a meeting a person walked in and threw a piece of moldy bread on the table and pronounced the bread as being part of somebody's breakfast this morning. The mess hall service is run by ESS - which is a subcontractor of many people's favorite bogey man, the dreaded Haliburton. I will say this, every mess hall I have eaten in here that has been directly run by Haliburton or a direct subsidiary has been first rate. Good food, as much as the soldier can handle. The ones not run by Haliburton have been of a markedly lower quality. So, Haliburton, I am a big fan - Dick Cheney, this dividend is for you.

Now, in fairness to ESS, some of their problems are purely logistical. We don't get fresh bread because of some insurgent activity. Also, supplies are in constant shortage situations because we are at the farthest reaches of the logistical system, and not on any road to a major US forces compound. So, they do have some issues, but they need to come up with a solution. I can't eat MREs every meal for a year. (I did eat them every day for lunch in Bosnia - and the MREs now are much better in the main meal department than they used to be, but the Army is getting a little too fancy on its accessories. They now have things like "vegetable crackers", jams of assorted types, shake mix, and jalepano cheese but they have removed some of my old personal favorites such as the chocolate covered cookie bar. They also include two vegetarian MREs in every box - those are usually the last two to go, although I might open one just to get the normal crackers and peanut butter out. $8 well spent America).

Thanks TelesalesArt

An acquaintance of mine who is recognized as being one of the premier telephone sales trainers in the country recently sent out his Christmas email and it was about my experiences and this blog. I greatly appreciate his recognition and welcome to the new people his email may bring.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Tal Afar

We made a trip down to Tal Afar airbase today in order to coordinate with a US unit there. My brigade Officer in Charge (OIC) and I caught a ride with the Australians who had other business there. We rode in the hull of their wheeled armor vehicles, so we didn't get to enjoy the scenery too much on the trip. I was reminded again how traveling tactically in the military is the loneliest thing you can do with a large group of people. First, the aircraft or vehicle you travel in is very loud so earplugs are a necessity. Second, you are usually going to someplace that isn't very fun so everyone is usually very somber. I thought it might have just been an American thing, but this vehicle, full of Australians who are much more gregarious and jovial than we are was the exact same atmosphere.

We didn't have any excitement on the way down, save one possible IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Since it didn't detonate, no problem. Once there, we made our necessary arrangements and the OIC and I, having several hours to kill while waiting on our friends from Down Under, went over to the mess hall to sit and watch some television and talk some issues. The main item on the news was of course the bombing yesterday in Mosul. It was away from us of course, but is in our area of responsibility. The unit we did coordinate with had troops there and were affected by the act of the insurgents. It was a pretty chilling reminder of where we are at and what is going on around us. It makes our particular mission harder, especially knowing now that there is evidence that it was an "inside job." We want to trust the Iraqis, but can't - all of our life support is done by them and the troops we will be assisting. The great majority are true patriots. It is just that 2-5% that is screwing it up. That is what makes it the hardest. The vast majority have the same goals for the country that we do, but there has to be a level of skepticism in all of our dealings with local nationals.

The ride back was similarly uneventful. I had heard that the Aussies usually take some fire on the way back, but apparently the site of several armored vehicles armed with 25MM machine guns was too much for the insurgents to mess with. I will say that I really like the Aussies. As a people, they are probably most similar to Americans. Generally conservative, independent, hardliners, they have been are most steadfast ally throughout the years, fighting on our side in every conflict since WWI (England sat out Viet Nam). They also have a spirit that is unique to immigrant countries. One exchange with an officer there illustrated this perfectly. Since the Aussies are not allowed by their government to conduct direct combat missions, they don't get to do too much outside of the wire. But one day on a convoy their were hit by a half-assed ambush and according to this officer "they had a grand time shooting their guns." The perfect mixture of British understatement and Aussie spirit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Two Days in One

Today was a very strange day. We had some good morale boosting events happen - we had water delivered to us and we had mail. Mail is always a big thing in the field. In the mail call, we had a very generous amount of boxes for "Any Soldier", and these boxes were filled with good things to eat, magazines, and necessities like toiletries. Very nice, especially since we only get mail once a week here, and the generosity of the American people is overwhelming. It was also needed since we don't have a PX here.

We had a funny thing happen as well. My team officer in charge - a lieutenant colonel - was driving a Russian jeep and put the entire front end up in the air going up a ditch. I was following behind and just said "SGT ----, there's no need for that. Just go around."

But after dinner heard about the rocket attack in Mosul. We don't know if any of our guys were in it. It is always weird in the army - you look at casualty lists for names you know and hope you don't find any. Since the names have been held pending notification of the next of kins, we have been spared that macabre task.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Dinner from Down Under

Today's highlight was dinner with our Australian counterparts. We went over in force, about 20 of us, and had food brought in from the mess hall (bad pizza, cold chicken patties, rotten salad, and other such niceties. We talked with them about training the Iraqis, the challenges they faced and other oddities - some that I can't go into, but I will say that this is the post that has Jo Lo, the donkey as the mascot (Please see my post from mid-November for further info on that matter). The rest of the day was spent trying to coordinate some training opportunities for our guys.

I have met several Iraqis so far and they seem to be really nice people. We have guards in our building and they keep looking thru old American magazines and try to get a handle on our culture and how we operate. They hold pictures up and point at things like muscle bound models or speedboats and smile at them. The majority of the population on this base is Kurdish.

Still no movement on the water issue, we are using bottled water for everything, even for flushing the toilet. It is a hardship, but not totally unmanageable. It is amazing the things that we take for granted back in the States.