Saturday, December 6, 2008

End of Mission

One final hello to everyone via electrons,

I am happy to say that I am home and enjoying the re-integration process with my family. What a great feeling. For those who don’t know, families of individual deploying or returning military personnel are allowed to go through security and wait at the gates at the airport, so I was able to see those five friendly family faces as I was heading up the ramp from the aircraft.

This will obviously be my final post. I will just share a couple of personal observations that are separate from what I learned with regards to my Lessons Learned duties. Many of those observations were “For Official Use Only.” These observations were more “big picture” issues and are, obviously, my opinion. I have no plans to boycott your businesses or picket in front of your house if you happen to disagree with my opinions.

First topic is the Iraqi people. The Iraqis are tired of foreigners in their country, and I am not simply talking about US troops. They are tired of Iranians, Saudis, Somalis, Syrians, and the myriad other foreign terrorist who came to kill not only Americans, but Iraqi citizens as well. The Iraqis are anxious to run their own country on their own terms, but they believe that the US needs to help them for a few more years so that they are fully capable of doing just that. As I have mentioned before, the Iraqis have come to realize that the Americans are not in Iraq to dominate them for the foreseeable future. They have learned that it is these foreign Islamo-fascists elements that came to destroy and control them, and they do not approve. The Iraqis want to govern themselves, but they want to be sure that their security forces are able to provide protection so that they can govern successfully. The Iraqis taste freedom, and most of them enjoy the taste.

Second topic is the Islamic terrorists. First of all, I think that too much time is spent by “analysts” to determine which specific Islamic group is responsible for terror incidents when they occur. Obviously there is a tactical necessity for understanding the particular terror groups in different regions across a battle field. Different groups tend to have favorite methods of killing, so it is important to know what signs to look for on a battlefield when in the vicinity of certain groups. When a major terror incident occurs somewhere in the world, at that point, does it really matter which particular Islamic group committed the atrocity? The fact is that Islamo-fascists have declared war on all non-Muslims. The world at large has not quite figured out this very obvious point. These people despise freedom, and their mission is to attack freedom wherever they find it. Who cares which sect attacked India? These were Islamo-fascists, and the Islamic terror movement at large needs to be fought. If people want to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion, that is fine, but what matters is how the terrorists view their own religion. The Salifists who believe that Islam needs to be a universal religion do not believe that their religion is one of peace. While the world bravely stands up to such threats as allowing people to utter the word “Christmas” in public, it seems to be unwilling to believe that a group of people who regularly commit mass murder (and who vow to commit further terror acts) are actually a serious threat.

The Islamic terrorists are barbarians. They kill without regard to age or sex or nationality. They use the most painful and medieval methods of torture and death possible to kill their victims. They are cowards who literally hide behind the skirts of women and they don’t hesitate to sacrifice children to advance their cause. The best way to handle a barbarian is to kill him or her, and we are fortunate that tens of thousands of them have died at American hands in Iraq alone. The world is a safer place as a result.

Third topic is the American military. The US military is without question the most professional, courageous, and skilled in the world. They are fighting in two wars where the enemy deserves no respect, yet they are treating them with respect, anyway, when they capture enemy fighters. Americans go out of their way to avoid collateral damage when they conduct combat operations while the enemy continues to kill anyone in his path. One of the reasons for the turning of the tide in Iraq is because the Iraqi people see the difference between the Americans and the Islamo-fascists who want to enslave them. A small number of individual service members have committed crimes during the wars, and unlike most militaries, ours takes action to punish those who do wrong. This shows the strength of our Armed Forces, and people like John Murtha who use individual incidents of wrong-doing to condemn the entire military are simply fools. No other military in the world goes out of its way to train its forces to minimize death and destruction while conducting war like the US military does, and no other military goes out of its way to rebuild its opponents after a war like the US has always done. In my opinion, the Army was never meant to be in the business of conducting governance and economic operations, but that is the mission that our Army was given in Iraq. Due to the innovation of our soldiers, the Army has managed to perform remarkably well even in these very non-traditional missions.

There are obviously very strong opinions on whether or not we should even be in Iraq. I personally support the war. Were weapons of mass destruction ever discovered in Iraq? Of course they were. Chemical weapons were found by the ton since 2003, and chemical weapons were discovered in the northern region of Iraq on several different occasions while I was there. I already wrote about the more than 500 tons of Yellowcake that was discovered in Iraq by the US and secretly removed this past summer to prevent the terror groups from obtaining it. Yellowcake is the base ingredient for nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein continued to prevent international inspections of his weapons programs right up until the invasion, and the US Congress voted overwhelmingly twice to support US action in Iraq. Sure, the political winds changed when things began to go bad in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, but the changing of the political winds doesn’t change the facts as they existed in 2003. Iraq is now a Democracy and an ally, and it is no longer a threat to the US or its neighbors in the region. Saddam Hussein supported terrorists and he ran training camps for terrorists within Iraq. Terrorists are trained to commit acts of terror, not to play soccer. Those training camps no longer exist.

My time in Iraq gave me the opportunity to take another look at our own country from afar. When I see the Iraqis and their hunger for freedom, it strikes me how we in the US are so unaware of tyranny that we are lacking that very hunger that the Iraqis now have. The Iraqis have lived for years under a system where the government was to provide for every need. The economy was a command economy, and businesses existed and performed under the dictates of a central planner. Freedom of speech existed as long as the opinion was approved by the central government. The challenge to the Iraqi people is that they still do not know how to take the initiative. They are unsure of how to start or run their own businesses, and they are afraid to step up to try to solve problems in their communities because in the past, the people have always waited on the government to take care of every problem or issue. We are teaching the Iraqis to reach out to others in their own communities because the whole concept is foreign to them; why worry about the orphans when that is the government’s job? Socialism sucks the soul out of people. They don’t live; they just exist from day to day as they wait for the government to take care of their needs. My obvious point is that it is astounding to me that so many people in the US can somehow believe that the US will be a better place as big government is given more control over our lives, as if some career politician has the answer to our everyday problems. The common thread between every Socialist society is that those who dictate to the masses how they should live always seem to live under a very different set of rules themselves – rules that tend to place them in the very lifestyle that they criticize if obtained in the private sector. I think that it is well past time for those in the US who value freedom to push back hard against the onslaught of a government that doesn’t remotely resemble the limited government authorized by our founding document. Tyranny comes in many forms, and a government that dictates to its citizens rather than serves its citizens is not the government that US Armed Forces have fought for over the years. If freedom is worth fighting for over seas, then it is certainly worth fighting for at home, and that is a fight in which everyone has a responsibility to participate.

The final attached picture is unintentionally symbolic with regards to Iraq. Note the teen on the left giving a harsh look to the teen on the right. The Iraqi people, in general, have learned to respect and trust the Americans, but they still have a ways to go to learn to respect and trust each other across tribal and religious boundaries, and I think the picture captures that reality very well.

This about wraps up the account of this trip to Iraq. I would like to wish everyone a great Christmas season and I look forward to seeing many of you in the near future.

Take care.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Task Force Iron

Hello everyone,

I realize that I prematurely offered a wish for a Happy Thanksgiving in my last post. We’ll just count that as a practice run for the real thing.

This past week I participated in my final mission of this deployment as I ventured out with the local Police Transition Team (PTT) one final time. That was a good opportunity to see the progress, if any, that was being made with the Iraqi Police (IP). We went to two small towns during that patrol – Wynot and Owja. Both are south of Tikrit, and Owja is where Saddam Hussein was actually born and it is where he and his sons (or what was left of them) are buried today. As you can imagine, there is still some hard feelings towards Americans in those parts.

One lesson that all US transition team members have learned since they have been here is that the objective in training or mentoring the Iraqis should never be to get them to the point where they are operating just like we operate. Their culture is different than ours, and we are not going to change that. Their philosophy on life is also very different, and we won’t change that, either. The big goal is to help them reach a level of competence within their systems and to ensure that they can provide security to their country. It is important to count it as progress when they handle events on their own, even though their method of handling those events will make a US soldier cringe sometimes.

As we were heading to our first stop down in Wynot, we heard over the radio that the IP at a nearby check point had stopped a bus that appeared to have a bomb stuck on the undercarriage. The insurgents in these parts use what are called ‘sticky bombs.” They stick IEDs to the underside of vehicles and then detonate them when the victim drives away. We were heading towards the check point in question anyway, so the PTT asked if the IP required any assistance. They said that they did not require assistance. As we passed the check point, both IP and the Iraqi fire department were on scene with the bus. Imagine how US forces would have handled this. Everyone would have moved back a safe distance while awaiting Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel, traffic would be re-routed or stopped, and a robot would likely be sent up to disarm the bomb. The Iraqis handled it slightly differently. The fire truck pulled up literally right next to the bus, the firemen and IP were all standing around the bus, and traffic was flowing right past the scene. Is there room for criticism? Well, nobody got hurt, traffic was hardly interrupted, and the incident was handled completely by the Iraqis, so job well done.

We met with the assistant police chief and a couple other members of his staff when we arrived in Wynot. It is possible to get a feel for the level of love that particular Iraqis have for the Americans by their show of their traditional hospitality, or not. As I mentioned, the south side of Tikrit was Saddam’s neighborhood, so it is no surprise that no Chai tea is offered to the PTT in Wynot. Despite the cool reception, the chief and his officers wanted to talk US politics. They were very interested in the election outcome, and they wanted to know if US forces would immediately be withdrawn. The PTT squad leader asked the IP their opinion on the elections, and one of the Iraqis blurted out, “We’re fu#$%d.” (Sorry, but this is kid-friendly writing.). Remember, these are Sunni who are not exactly thrilled with Americans. The chief started to tell us the history of Iraq starting at 1958. He asked us how the US Presidential transfer of power will actually occur, and after hearing about how that works, he said that in Iraq, the transfer of power has always occurred by gunpoint. The new guy, he said, simply came in and killed the old guy, and the transfer was complete. He said that if the US forces leave right away, the next transfer of power in Iraq would once again occur at gunpoint. The IP captain in the room said that if anyone in the Iraqi Parliament refused to sign the new agreement between the US and Iraq, then the US forces should arrest those people. The PTT members explained that the US was actually trying to teach the Iraqis that this was no longer the correct way to settle political disputes (Henry Waxman notwithstanding), so they would just have to let it work itself out (that very afternoon, the agreement was approved by the Iraqi Parliament. No arrests necessary). The IP chief then explained to us that the Iraqi Parliament is run by Iran, and that he hoped this would change in the January Parliamentary elections in Iraq. As we were leaving, one of the IP captains, who spoke English, told me that he has come to learn over the past few years that no matter who is President of the US, the American people have good hearts. He said that he has learned by watching US soldiers that Americans are good people and that his hope is that the US and Iraq will continue to be friends for generations to come. I said sorry, but the lack of Chai tea made that statement seem insincere. Alright, I did not say that, but I was surprised at his comment since this was not one of the real “friendly” IP outfits.

During our visit in Wynot, the Wynot Mayor entered the IP station and expressed concern that the Iraqi Army (IA) and the Owja IP had conducted a raid the previous day in Wynot without informing him or the Wynot IP of their intentions beforehand. His concern was that he and his IP would have no legitimacy with the locals if other agencies could come in at will and arrest his citizens. The Mayor wanted us to order the IA to stop conducting raids in his town. While the PTT members agreed to find out what happened, they also told the Mayor that he and his IP chief needed to have a discussion with the IA and the Owja IP to work this out. The point is, they need to learn to handle these issues on their own, and sometimes they do not like to hear that.

We left Wynot and headed up to the Owja IP station for a short visit, and as we arrived, we heard another PTT squad report that they had just come across two IEDs in front of the main Tikrit IP headquarters. After departing the Owja station, we headed into Tikrit to assist the other PTT. This turns into another “their way” versus “our way” story.

The Tikrit IP had discovered two IEDs along a road in town a couple days earlier. Taking the initiative and apparently not wanting to wait for their EOD, the officers gathered up these two IEDs and brought them back to their station with them. They not only brought them back to the station, they brought them inside the station. On day two, someone inside felt that maybe it was not a great idea to have a couple IEDs sitting around the office, so he brought them outside and set them against the front wall of the IP headquarters, where the PTT found them as they came to visit. The Iraqi EOD was enroute to collect them, but there they were, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the station, one with wires still attached. A suspicious person might think that someone set these out there so that his buddies could take them and replant them somewhere. I tend to be a suspicious person in that regard. Anyway, probably not the best way to complete the mission, but it is obviously their way. I won’t say no harm/no foul because IP and IA have been killed by being too casual with explosives, but they have a very different attitude towards that.

The good news with the IP is that they are learning how to make their system work a little better than they had in the past. The leaders are beginning to demand support from higher headquarters, which is having a positive impact. The transition teams are making the IP do the work themselves instead of holding their hands too much, so the training wheels are coming off.

As I have mentioned previously, the 1st Armored Division is about to hand over the reigns to the 25th Infantry Division. Task Force Iron will soon hand control to Task Force Lightning. 1AD is heading home to Germany, and in the next couple years will relocate to Ft. Bliss, TX. TF Iron has done some great work in its long deployment in the most volatile region in Iraq right now, “volatile” being a relative term. TF Iron had to deal with the bulk of AQI as the terrorist group promised to never get pushed out of northern Iraq, and it dealt with Sunni fighters coming in from Syria and Shia fighters coming in from Iran; it dealt with the Kurds in their territorial disputes with the Government of Iraq (GoI) and with the Kurdish rebels inciting Turkish attacks into northern Iraq; TF Iron dealt with not only agricultural issues, but also industrial issues due to the oil refineries in the north, and it operated in urban centers, wide open desert, canal roads, and thick pine groves along the river valleys. It dealt with not just Sunni vs. Shia, but also with several different Sunni tribes squabbling with each other. TF Iron dealt with every version of the IED, plus massive mine fields to the east from the Iran/Iraq War. To top it off, every soldier had to be quick enough on the trigger to take enemy lives when the thugs slithered out from the population, but disciplined enough so as not to take innocent lives in the process.

1AD officially ends its deployment in a couple of weeks. It is impossible to measure all that has been accomplished in the time that this unit has been here, because the challenge of measuring economic or governmental progress is one that frustrates military types. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) deal in their own mysterious way with those types of issues, although I will still say that the military drives the train to a high degree even in those arenas. I can mention that more than 11,000 detainees were taken off the streets and over 2,200 weapons caches were found and cleared in the north since 1AD has been in charge. Within these caches were hundreds of thousands of weapons and ammunition, including anti-aircraft weapons, grenades, artillery rounds, you name it. Think of all of the IEDs that were NOT made as a result of these cache finds. Over 3,000 IEDs were found and cleared by the Task Force since their tour began. Finally, while the military does not usually publicize figures for enemy killed in action (KIA), I personally think that it makes it appear to the US public that our guys are simply sitting around and allowing themselves to be targets when only US casualties are mentioned. Having said that, the enemy suffered over 1300 KIA at the hands of TF Iron – those are 1300 insurgents who won’t be around to “fight” while hiding behind women and children anymore. It is not known how many more died of wounds or were seriously injured.

Obviously, numerous TF Iron soldiers also paid the ultimate price. 90 Task Force Iron soldiers lost their lives in combat since they arrived in October 2007. 14 others have died from non-combat related injuries. More than 800 soldiers were injured. Just inside Division Headquarters is an electronic bulletin board that continuously rotates through the names and faces of our colleagues from TF Iron who died on this deployment. It is a humbling reminder of those who will not be going home to their families in quite the same fashion that the rest of us will go home. When the TF chaplain has to announce the death of a soldier during the morning briefings, he displays this saying from Calvin Coolidge: “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.” It goes without saying that the redeployment of the 1AD will be another tough time for the families of the dead soldiers, and they need to remain in our prayers.

I know everyone has heard of MRAPs, and the first picture is of the very common MRAP Caiman. American industry quickly developed this vehicle which has saved untold US lives. I rode in this particular machine on that final patrol. Note the new anti-RKG-3 grenade armor. The 2nd picture is the local Iraqi jail. It reminds me of one I saw in Cleveland once.

I will fire off one last note in the next week or so with some final thoughts, and then I will spend some time being a husband and a dad again when I get home. I will begin making my way out of Iraq and then out of theater in the coming days. In the mean time, and this time for real, have a great Thanksgiving. I will probably have mine in Kuwait.

Take care.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Winding Down

Hello everyone,

Things are winding down here in Multi-National Division-North (MND-N) for the 1st Armored Division (1AD) soldiers, which means that they (and I) will be heading home in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, the beat goes on.

I finally spent some time with my Aviation compadres last week and was not surprised by the data that I collected. The Army Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) consists of the whole gamut of aircraft, including attack (Apache), cargo (Chinook), Scouts (Kiowa-Warrior), and utility (Blackhawk). The Cab also uses unmanned aviation systems (UAS). The CAB had aircraft in the air literally 24 hours a day somewhere in the division sector for its entire 15 month rotation. The CAB covered the largest division area in Iraq and they were in the fight during some of the roughest fighting over here, yet their safety record was phenomenal. If you are a pilot who likes to chalk up flight hours, this was the place to be. The proficiency levels of the pilots are at an all time high as far as flying and fighting their aircraft. Like other types of units, the CAB will have to spend a little time at home brushing up on skills required for a more conventional battle.

I also did some work with the 1AD Military Police Company in the past couple of weeks. This MP unit is one of the few which are not performing as a Police Transition Team (PTT), although the unit does work with the Iraqi Police in Tikrit. This MP Company is a “landowner,” which means that the unit is responsible for the security situation in a large chunk of land in Tikrit. I joined the MPs on mission on Halloween Friday. The day began as we relieved a Special Ops group after they conducted a successful early morning mission against some not-so-friendlies out in town. The MPs and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team arrived on scene at the raid and the EOD folks went to work clearing explosives and other IED making material from the front yard of one of Tikrit’s finest insurgents. He and a couple of neighbors were obviously on the wanted list of the special operators, and now that list is a little shorter.

The MPs went to the houses surrounding the scene of the raid to touch bases with neighbors and to make sure everyone knew what was happening and to ensure that they were all OK. This raid got a little noisy so the locals new that something a little different was happening in the neighborhood. The MPs have earned a great reputation in the community from their willingness to keep the line of communication open with the citizens and to keep them informed. Usually the locals know very well who lives next to them, so they aren’t necessarily surprised when the authorities show up bright and early.

After we completed the work at the raid scene, we went to visit a local Iraqi jail. The jail sits on the base on which Saddam’s mother’s palace (from an earlier post) sits. Trust me, the jail is no palace. It is a small building which houses suspects who were arrested by the Iraqi Army (IA) or the IP. I supposed that it is important to keep things in perspective when viewing the jail. The inmates were not hanging by their fingernails and they were not being given acid baths as would happen under Saddam, but the jail certainly does not offer the creature comforts of your average US jail. There are no bars for cells, but a couple hundred people are placed into a couple of rooms that are so full that people have to take turns laying down to sleep. There is one toilet (hole in the floor) per room, and one shower. The prisoners sit back to back in these rooms with a couple hours to go outside per week. According to the guards, some of the prisoners have been in this jail for several years. Fortunately for the inmates, there was a TV in each of the rooms that I saw.

The good news story here is that each of the prisoners has been before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. They may be stuck in the jail for awhile due to delayed court dates because of a continuing shortage of judicial investigators, but the point is, they are (slowly) moving through the judicial process, which is a giant leap forward from the old days in Iraq. The MPs questioned several inmates to see if they had any complaints, and the only issues that anyone had was that they are developing the skin disease called scabies, which is caused, in part, by continuous close contact with others in a not-too-clean environment. The prisoners were all just sitting in these rooms, back to back, watching TV, looking surprisingly content.

The chief of the jail is frustrated because he would like to expand the jail, but he cannot get funding. The base on which the jail is located actually belongs to the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism. Due to the high number of Saddam palaces on the base, the Tourism ministry wants to turn the base into a tourist attraction, so no money is being allocated to improve the jail. I think that the jail would make a great tourist stop to encourage people NOT to need to go to an Iraqi jail. I will admit, sitting around day after day watching TV for a couple of years does have appeal to some people.

After we left the jail, we briefly stopped at an IA base where a recruiting effort was underway. There is always a recruiting effort for the IP and IA. The line of volunteers was long, as is common. No more forced service in the army as in Saddam’s day.

Before heading back to Speicher, we stopped in an area where there had been a high threat of a RKG-3 attack. The RKG-3 is an anti-armor grenade, and the Sunni criminals in MND-N have used them too frequently. We patrolled on foot through the area and stopped and visited with several shop keepers during the patrol. The MP Commander bought chicken for his troops from a local shop and a couple other MPs grabbed a broom and swept the sidewalk in front of another shop. It is apparent that the locals in that area have a good relationship with the MPs, and the better that relationship, the more likely someone will rat out those who toss the RKG-3s. Believe it or not, there is a pool hall at the end of a row of shops along grenade alley, and the owner invited us in to play pool, smoke cigarettes, and drink Pepsi. The smart shop owners know that the Americans will come in and spend money in their shops, but there were several owners who clearly did not want us in their stores, especially the guy with the RKG-3 hanging out of his pocket (just kidding). After we wrapped up our visit, the squad headed over to the local hospital to ensure that the staff had stopped giving patients water that came straight from the Tigris River. The sickness was getting a little out of hand, and it took the MPs to point out the cause to the highly trained hospital staff.

The scenery is beginning to change here at Speicher. Those wearing the Old Ironsides patch on their shoulders are beginning to pack up and the Tropical Lighting patch of the 25th Infantry Division out of Hawaii is beginning to arrive by the hundreds. Although the 25th does not take charge until next month, our Commanding General gathered us all up for a few minutes to give us a Veteran’s Day message and to say farewell to the 1AD troops who are starting to head home. I will share some statistics with you in my next and final note from in country, but 1AD already made some history as being the first command to deploy to war with none of its own brigades. The Army has developed Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) which some people refer to as “plug and play” units. While the Division used to be the source of support for its brigades, the BCTs are designed to operate somewhat independently with the Division providing somewhat less support but taking on other command and control and combat tasks. Anyway, the CG pointed out that this speaks well of the standardized training of the Army as a whole when BCTs from different divisions can plug in and pick up the fight with a whole separate division. MND-N is a large area, and the 1AD and its component BCTs had some impressive accomplishments.

The first attached picture is me with some hard core Tikrit kids. I only deal with the hardest criminal elements. I knocked on their door for trick-or-treat and they tried to play dumb with me so I had to get tough. You can see how scared they are of the Americans. This was actually at a house in the vicinity of the raid, and the MPs were checking in with the family.

The second picture is obviously the pool hall. No country music playing and no beer flowing, but the table is supposedly always in use. Finally, the last picture is of the chicken vendor in grenade alley. He insisted that I take his picture, so I guess he wants me to plug his shop. So, if you ever happen to be driving through Tikrit and you crave fresh roasted chicken…By the way, the guys in the pool shop wanted to take a picture of me standing among them after I took my picture of them, so if you are surfing through your favorite AQI web site and there is a picture of me being “captured” by some local terrorists, it’s probably not true.

Everyone take care and here’s hoping that you have a blessed Thanksgiving

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans Day and a reminder

With another Veteran’s Day upon us, it is always good to pause and to review why we serve.

Below are the words of our Declaration of Independence. It provides the reason for the American Revolution, and it makes it clear that Americans would not stand for any form of despotic government “ruling” over them. American politicians do not “rule,” they serve.

The Declaration of Independence was and is one of the most radical documents in history. While in every other nation in the world, governments ruled over people, the Declaration stood that philosophy on its head. The Declaration pointed out that man’s rights do not come from government. Instead, rights exist independently of government. If government ceases to exist in a society, people’s rights do not cease to exist, because their rights preexist government. Here are the words of our Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence was written, our Founders signed the Constitution, a document that each of us is sworn to defend. Our oath of office states:

" I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.''

While the Declaration declares that “We the People” create our government, the Constitution purposefully limits our government to ensure that our government representatives never become the ruling class. The Constitution can be read here: As European countries have turned over their freedoms to unelected international committees, it is important that we understand the uniqueness of OUR Constitution and OUR way of life. We are free citizens of the United States, not subjects of a greater world order.

As many of us serve our country abroad, it is vital that we always remember that we also serve that Constitution at home. Hundreds of thousands of American service men and women have died, and hundreds of thousands more have fought, to defend the principles in our founding document. The day that we forget our oath is the day that all of that sacrifice will have been in vain.

Thank you to all who have ever served in the US military.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Hello everyone,

The drought has ended, at least for a couple of days. Army won three out of its past four football games.

Oh yeah, and it rained here, too. It rained a steady rain all day on Sunday, and it cleared the air enough that it was actually raining and not mudding. Of course the ground can’t handle all of that water at once, so everything turns to a thick muck out here, and the ground releases quite an interesting smell. Life is good.

A couple of months ago I wrote about route clearance patrols and how those patrols go in search of IEDs. Those patrols are conducted by Combat Engineers, which really is not a core mission of theirs. They have traditionally cleared minefields, but they just blow those up and clear a path. The soldiers who are officially tasked with dealing with explosives of all kinds are the soldiers who work in the field of Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD.

In a conventional battle, EOD forces would handle unexploded ordnance quite often by destroying it in place. When you are fighting force on force, it isn’t all that important to wonder who placed explosives in a particular location, so EOD could simply destroy the ordnance and remove the threat. During a counterinsurgency fight such as this, every little detail on every explosive device is evidence. Evidence leads to individuals, and individuals lead to IED cells. While EOD used to work as an individual Army battalion, due to the extraordinary amount and variety of IEDs in Iraq, EOD is now the core of a larger task force, called Task Force Troy, which includes Air Force and Navy EOD teams, as well as law enforcement officers from the US and allied nations. If it involves explosives, EOD will exploit it and then destroy it after all evidence has been collected. TF Troy has played a major role in attacking the IED networks. To give you an idea of the decline in IED incidents across Iraq, in July 2007, there were about 2600 IED incidents across Iraq (an incident is defined as an IED that exploded against a target or an IED that was discovered and cleared). Keep in mind all of the categories of IEDs that are included here – HBIED, VBIED, SVBIED, you know the list. Anyway, as of July of this year, the number of IED incidents across Iraq was down to 500, and the overwhelming majority of those incidents involved IEDs that were found and cleared. In July of 2007, the number of IED incidents where there was a coalition force (CF) casualty was about 250 for that month – casualty being injury or death. In July of this year, that number was in single digits. Zero incidents is better than 500, but you can see the progress that has been made. Once the IED suspects are detained, they are held for trial in Iraqi courts. All of the evidence and the biometric information that I explained in the past is used to, hopefully, put these people away for a long time. Some of these judges still prefer two Iraqi witnesses instead of hard evidence like fingerprints or biometric matches, so there are still challenges to be overcome.

The gadget in the first photo is one of the tools of the EOD team, and it is called TALON. The little guy is fearless when it comes to inspecting IEDs up close and personal. Equally fearless are the EOD working dogs, which are mainly German Shepherds. Explosive sniffing dogs have played a large role in this fight, as well. I don’t tell you this to upset any dog lovers, but an EOD dog happened to be killed at a separate location on the day that I was working with the EOD team. He found an IED and he inadvertently detonated it. Another Shepherd died a couple of days ago during a lethal operation right here in Tikrit as he went into a building to take on a suspect. I mention that only to point out that there are a lot of resources at work over here which are saving human lives, and there are hundreds of military working dogs in the fight.

The majority of the lethal activity in MND- North is still occurring up in Mosul, where AQI is still fighting it out. Even so, attack levels are remaining fairly low. A new Mosul Reconstruction Operations Center was just opened in Mosul last week, which was a major event in and of itself because that illustrates the commitment by the Government of Iraq to continue to put effort into rebuilding that city which has very few Shia, who hold majority power in the central government. Although this was a big event and many press agencies were present, I understand that there was no reporting on the issue. Voter registration for the January elections has ended, and it should be noted that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) performed extremely well in preventing any attacks on voter registration centers. I don’t imagine that this was mentioned back home either. For the record, Iraqis have to register in person and they have to positively identify themselves and they have to provide a real address and they can only register at one location. How old fashioned of them. They cannot register and vote on the same day, by the way. They are new enough to the whole voting concept that voter fraud is still considered a bad thing and not simply another tool by which to win an election. Let me make a prediction: there will be less fraud and more order in the Iraqi elections than there will be in the US elections. Thank you, Chicago machine. When you have US judges ruling that a park bench can be used as an address to register to vote, I wonder how far we are from a lawless society.

On the topic of Syria, there is no doubt that US military members and Iraqis have died as a result of Syria’s facilitation of foreign fighters coming across its borders. If they are worried about sovereignty, maybe they should do something about all of the Saudis and Somalis and Egyptians who populate their country enroute to their killing sprees in Iraq. Iraq has asked Syria to close its borders to foreign fighters, as has the US. Syria has ignored those requests.

I know that there has pretty much been a news blackout back home with regards to Iraq. At the height of the violence, there were over 250 reporters in Iraq. Now, there are fewer than 50, and most are not from US agencies. A US news agency representative says, “There just isn’t a story there.” I understand that excitement sells papers. I also know that Americans like to win, so I have a feeling that good news stories would sell. I still read comments about the “Iraqi War disaster,” and that description might have fit a year ago. Maybe the American people need an update. Having said that, maybe people are getting around the media and learning for themselves what is happening over here. According to a Pew Research poll, Americans have had a huge shift in their thinking about Iraq. In the poll, they were asked to rate progress in Iraq, and they could answer “very” or “fairly well,” or “not to” or “Not at all well.” In June of this year, 52% gave the negative responses and 48% gave the positive. In September, 58% gave the positive responses and 37% gave the negative. In April 2008, 47% said that we would succeed in Iraq and 46% said that we would fail. In September, 58% said we would succeed and 34% said we would fail. It is good to see that the media has not been totally successful in defining Iraq in their terms.

Here is my view on the media. I don’t expect them to ignore the bad when bad occurs, but neither is it OK to ignore the good when it occurs. I think that for many Americans, Iraq is going to end up being simply “The Iraq War.” The only opinion people will have is that they supported it or they did not support it, but no one will know anything about it, other than they learned the term “IED.” I think that the American people are being cheated by the press. I think that it is wrong that they do not get to experience the successes of their military. Think about the Olympic Teams, or even your favorite sports team. Win or lose, you get to analyze every detail of every event or game. Think if the press took the “there’s no story there” attitude towards the Olympics. You would have read about every event where the US did not win, but you would know nothing about Mark Phelp’s 8 gold medals. I think that it is extremely important that the American public has confidence in its military, which means that the public should have the full story when the military is engaged in war. I think that if the public was properly informed of the “stories” that take place every day in Iraq (or Afghanistan), people would be very inspired by the determination, competence, and honor of their young soldiers. I see that as a very good thing. I have been in the Army for a lot of years and I am still inspired by them. There is nothing wrong with allowing people to know that their fellow citizens in uniform are demonstrating courage and heroism on a routine basis. Every day, Iraqi citizens and soldiers are seeing a side of the American military that many Americans don’t get to see. As I said, you are being cheated.

Congratulations – only 6 more days of enduring what must be a non-stop stream of political commercials on your TVs and radios. Good luck.

The second attached picture shows you another weather day in Iraq. I once mentioned that it looked like Mars here one day back in April, but that particular day shown in the picture takes the cake. Mars or Mercury, it was a strange look.
The third picture is probably the most disturbing of all. Look close and you will see little blue flags out there. Yes, it is a golf course. It is a 9-hole course and it opened here on Speicher on Father’s Day. I have never seen anyone use it (who actually brought clubs here?), but I imagine somebody has been out there. When the PGA tour sweeps through here in a few years, remember where you saw this course first.

Everyone take care.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Hello everyone,
October has arrived, the temperatures up here in the north have consistently been down in the 90s during the day, and soldiers are resorting to long sleeve PT uniforms to fight the stinging cold during the 75 degree mornings. Fall finally arrives in Iraq. I am not a hot weather person, so you have to admit that I was good about not whining during the heat of the summer.

Over the past couple of weeks I made my way up to Tamim Province to the north of my location. The most well known city up there is the city of Kirkuk. Tamim Province is a mixed province of Arabs and Kurds, yet despite the mixed population, it is also one of the most stable provinces in the northern region, not counting the three provinces that are officially in the Kurdish region.

Kirkuk is one of the cities where Saddam Hussein ordered the Kurdish population to be evicted and replaced with Arabs. After the US removed Saddam, Kurds began to return to the region with the goal of reclaiming their homes and land. Tamim Province has a lot of oil and natural gas and the Kurds would obviously like to return to the industries in the province at which they once worked.

My trip to Tamim was to visit with several different types of units. I met with another Field Artillery unit that is conducting non-traditional FA missions (they all are); I met with the Kirkuk Police Transition Team, and I slid over to the west side of Tamim to the town of Hawijah to spend time with an Infantry battalion that has done a remarkable job of pacifying what was once a very violent region.

The most active terror groups in Tamim are Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Ansar al-Sunnah (AAS). Both are Sunni criminal groups, but the relationship between the two has been somewhat rocky over the years. AAS is comprised of Kurds and Arabs, mostly Iraqi, and they do support the goal of Osama Bin Laden to force the Sunni brand of Islam onto the rest of the world. AAS is considered a Salifist group, which means that its members believe that Islam should adhere strictly to its roots, and that innovation or ideas that did not come directly from Mohammed are forbidden. AAS has been very active in conducting IED attacks on coalition forces (CF) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and its members are probably some of the most consistent in videotaping the IED attacks for posting on the internet (quick, someone perform a Google search and see how many video clips Mohammed posted online to ensure that this is not an innovative way for AAS to be spreading its beliefs). While AAS used to make it clear that it had nothing to do with AQI, as leaders from both groups have been captured or killed, the cooperation between the two groups has grown. AAS has been significantly damaged as an organization in Tamim.

Many people refer to Tamim as Kirkuk province, and I noticed that some newspapers do that as well. As most of you have probably heard, the Iraqi Parliament has passed the provincial election law, setting provincial elections for January 2009. These elections are likely to bring greater Sunni representation to the Iraqi parliament since Sunnis are unlikely to boycott the elections as they did in 2005. The original intent of the election law was to include a question on the future of Tamim province. Kurds would like to see Tamim revert to the control of the Kurdish autonomous region, while Arabs would prefer that it remains under the control of the Government of Iraq (GoI). The question of the status of Tamim will not be on the ballot in January, but the election law requires parliament to deal with the Tamim question no later than the end of March 2009. One of the changes in the election law is that minority Christian groups will not be ensured any representation in Parliament as they are now. This caused thousands of Christians to protest the law in Ninewa, and Prime Minister Maliki actually came out and called for Parliament to reinstitute protections for minority representation.

Although Tamim is fairly passive at this point, all is not completely well. In fact, a few days after I left FOB Warrior in Kirkuk, several rockets landed on the FOB, killing 6 foreign workers. During my time with the PTT in Kirkuk, we went on a mission to disrupt a local IED network with the local Iraqi Police (IP). Because of the favorable security situation in Kirkuk, the PTT has been able to train the IP rather than escort them from battle to battle, and they have developed into a fairly competent force. They are one of the police departments in the north that is fully staffed with full time investigators. I went with the PTT and IP on an early morning raid of a local known IED maker’s house. The suspect was captured at his other house in the country by an Iraqi Army (IA) raid, but there was plenty of evidence to be collected at his house in Kirkuk as well. The search of the house turned up spools of copper wire, timers, and trigger devices. The wife, of course, knew nothing, but the purpose for a person to have these three types of items hidden in various places around the house and yard is fairly obvious in this environment. The IED networks in Kirkuk have been heavily targeting the IP. The IP did a pretty decent job on the raid and on the search with a little help from the CF in finding those good hiding places around the (very cluttered) yard.

The Infantry commander over in Hawijah turned his area around much quicker than even he expected. His forces used a combination of carrot, stick, and a great deal of trust in the local Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to clear the region of the terrorists. This is the unit that organized all of those soccer games a couple of months ago, and those games were made possible due to the aggressive efforts at bringing the security situation under control. The CF forces and ISF have a great relationship with each other and with the community in Hawijah, and the US commander relies heavily on the ISF to use their connections to locate the insurgents that will then be targeted by a combined US/Iraqi force. While the infantry unit “captures” more often than it “kills” these days, persistent IED emplacers are known to end up getting the attention of the CF sniper teams, which tend to effectively put them out of business.

Rather than fly back to Speicher this time, I joined up with a US logistics convoy for the return trip. These convoys are called Combat Logistics Patrols, or CLPs. These CLPs move out with a purpose, and they are on the roads constantly as they move supplies throughout the region. As the CLP traveled across the mountain range between Tamim and Salah Ad Din Provinces, believe it or not, there were some areas that actually looked nice. AQI apparently thinks so, too, because they are trying hard to keep a foothold in that area, which contains the oil rich city of Bayji. Who says that terrorists don’t enjoy a little nice scenery to start their day every now and then?

In an interview with the press over here, Prime Minister Maliki, for the first time, acknowledged the contribution of US and other coalition forces to his country’s progress. He said that Iraq “appreciates and respects their sacrifices and said that the deaths of the US troops would act as a bridge between the two countries for years to come. Maliki has been walking a tight rope with heavy pressure from Iran to push the US out of Iraq. Iran, by the way, is continuing to funnel fighters and weapons into Iraq. Maliki went on to say that the American people may not be fully aware of the accomplishments that the US intervention in Iraq has brought them. While he has been touting the security improvements in his country over the past year, this is the first time that he has actually given credit to US forces for playing a large role in those improvements. Maliki also said that despite the drop in violence, Iraq still needs US troops for some time. The US and Iraq are still hammering out a status of forces agreement that needs to be adopted by 31 December.

The US press is regularly critical of the political process over here, and even of the corruption that is common throughout government in Iraq. There are valid criticisms to be made on each of those topics, but I think that it is well past time for Americans to step back and realize what is happening in our own political process. When you have a group such as ACORN whose sole purpose it is to conduct voter fraud, and when you have a political party that applauds these illegal efforts, and when you have a population that simply shrugs their shoulders about it, you have a Republic that is in trouble. When you have judges ruling that it is unfair to require people to identify themselves before they vote, or to verify their place of residence, or to have a system in place that confirms whether a person has already voted, or to even show up to vote during posted voting hours, you have the makings of a crack pot third world system. Even in Iraq, voters are required to prove who they are before they vote. I somewhat mocked the happenings in Chicago a couple of months ago, but there is very little humor in the types of fraudulent activities that are now occurring in Ohio. Add to the mix a supposed “free press” that is complicit in the cover-up of the fraud, and I would like to know how that is different than what occurs in third world nations. The military and State Department are over here trying to teach the Iraqis how to execute a fair election process and how to run a corruption free government. Who is taking on that responsibility back there? With the vitriol that is being spewed in the US over one of the candidate’s Christian faith, it is apparent that there are some in the US who would gladly make an election law that bans Christians from seats in government. People should probably wake up.

The attached photos are from Kirkuk. The first one speaks for itself – the kids like the Americans. The second photo shows the typical wiring system in the towns over here. People rig wires anywhere they can to tap into electricity. My electrician brother-in-law will see this and realize that he has great job opportunities in Iraq if he wants them. The third picture is from the back yard of the target house. No room for after-raid soccer this time around. Iraqi yards are pure clutter. Finally, I don’t have relatives in the waste disposal business, so the street cleaning opportunities can go to someone else. For those who don’t know, Iraqi roadways are notorious for their litter. It is everywhere.

Everyone take care, and remember, if you are voting early, it’s only legal to vote once.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Hello everyone,
I am back at Speicher for a little while after spending a couple of weeks down in the southern reaches of Iraq. Although the trip to and from Bucca was somewhat grueling, it was nothing compared to getting back in time to watch the Ohio State football team embarrass itself on national TV once again. I suppose that this is as good a year as any to miss the opportunity to watch much football. As for that Army football team, when the head coach has to apologize to the Army for the performance of his team, you know something isn’t right over on the Hudson River.

I spent the past couple of weeks presiding over a Multi-National Force Release Committee (MNFRC) down at a place called Camp Bucca. Bucca is a Theater Internment Facility (TIF). It currently houses about 17,000 guests, and that number is decreasing as the MNFRC boards do their work. Bucca is located about 800 meters north of the Kuwait border and it is south of Basra.
The purpose of the MNFRC boards is to review the case file for each detainee to determine which of the detainees no longer present a security threat to the multi-national forces in Iraq or to the Iraqi government or citizens. Each detainee, no matter what their reason for being in the TIF, is given a hearing at a MNFRC board once every six months. Each board consists of three US military representatives (senior NCOs and officers) who review the files on one day and hold a hearing with the detainee present the next day.

Note that the people being held at Bucca are called “detainees” and not Prisoners of War. By international law and Geneva Convention statutes, they are unlawful combatants if they were fighting against coalition or Iraqi forces. In plain language, to be lawful combatants under the Geneva Convention standards, a person must be fighting while in a distinguishable uniform, he must have a command structure, he must carry his weapons openly, and he can’t hide among the civilian population. The actual verbiage of the Convention is a little more official sounding, but that is the gist of it.

Despite their unlawful status, the US treats the detainees like no other nation would consider treating captured enemy personnel. The commander of the TIF operation at Bucca makes it clear that the press has an open door to visit the facility any time they choose. He says that there is nothing that the US will hide down there. A few weeks ago, a western reporter did visit Bucca, and he asked to speak to Iraqi families who were visiting. As you can imagine with a “Western reporter,” this guy was looking for an Abu Graib moment. He interviewed 20 different sets of families after they conducted visitation with their relatives in the TIF. Of the 20 families, none told him that their loved ones were suffering any mistreatment or abuse. Many told him that they were grateful for the educational opportunities being offered, and one mother, who has 2 sons in the TIF, told the reporter that this is the first time in her sons’ lives that they were “making something” of themselves by taking advantage of the educational offerings in Bucca. She said that she actually hopes they finish their education before they are released. Naturally, the reporter reported none of this and instead wrote a story of how bad these families missed their loved ones (I’m sure that they do). By the way, the US pays the families mileage for traveling to see their kin at Bucca. While at the facility, they are fed a meal and the kids are given gifts.

While in the TIF, the detainees each have the opportunity to take a wide variety of educational and vocational courses. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that many of these detainees cannot read, so they are taught to read and perform math, among many other courses. They are also offered an Islamic studies course, and no, it is not the Saudi extremist version. Many of the detainees are here because they were told that Islam demands that they commit certain acts against the infidel. Not being able to read, they don’t know any different. The Islamic studies courses are taught by Iraqi clerics who provide a very different take on Islam than what so many of the detainees were taught. The detainees are served 3 full meals each day, and they receive medical and dental treatment at the same facility and by the same medical personnel that the US forces use at Bucca. Many of these Iraqis see a dentist for the first time in their lives at Bucca. Many have surgeries that they would have never have been able to receive in their hometowns. The conduct of the US forces towards the detainees at Bucca is designed to teach the detainees that the lessons they have been taught about the evil Americans were probably incorrect lessons. Obviously, no one wants to be stuck behind high walls and concertina wire for several years, but my point is, these detainees, most of whom have engaged in some type of activity designed to hurt or kill US or Iraqi forces, are given first class treatment regardless of what they were accused of doing to earn a spot in the TIF.

As for the board itself, it was interesting duty. To determine whether a person should be recommended for release or not, we were not simply supposed to focus on the charges against the detainee. We were not conducting a criminal trial to determine guilt or innocence for past conduct. We were conducting hearings to determine who we believed could be released with a high expectation that they would no longer commit negative acts against us. (The recidivism rate after several years of MNFRC boards, by the way, is only .7% - that is “point 7 percent”). One of the factors that we had to take into account is the detainee’s willingness to admit that what they did was wrong. Unfortunately, none of these guys admit that they did anything in the first place. They can be caught on tape laying an IED or shooting at US forces, or they can be shot while engaged in a fire fight, or they can have a hand blown off while emplacing an IED, but that doesn’t matter. In their version, they were just walking down the street heading towards the mosque to pray when out of nowhere shots rang out and here they are. How about the explosive residue on your hands? (What is an explosive?) How about the anti-aircraft weapon buried in your back yard? (Those damn neighbors probably snuck it there one night). How about the 152 millimeter field artillery round sitting on your dining room table with wires hanging out of it? (You know, I never even noticed that). Like I said, it was interesting. There were certainly people in the TIF who were swept up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These brave AQI/ISI souls and their Jaysh al-Mahdi counterparts do fight amongst civilians, so oftentimes these civilians get hurt or they get detained. The MNFRC boards are a way to help sort this out.

On the other hand, we came face to face with some hard core killers as well. Some came in with their horns clearly visible, and some were very sophisticated. There is a way to ask the right question in the right way to shine the light on what is really inside a person. You have all heard the stories of the medieval brutality that some of these people inflict on others, and when a person is capable of doing something like that to other people, that piece of them comes out. No, you don’t have to waste time wondering how many of these types are recommended for release.

The leaders of the insurgent groups are generally intelligent people. Unfortunately, there were a high number of high school teachers and college professors among them. They have easy access to young people and they use this access to recruit for the insurgency. These are the people who would come in and explain that an insurgent is a dumb and poor young person who can be easily manipulated to carry out senseless acts of violence against others and, as educated and respected community members, they certainly wouldn’t fit the profile of an insurgent. At that point, I would agree that they did not fit the profile of an insurgent fighter, but then I would ask them to do the board the favor of describing the people who recruit these poor, easily manipulated young people. Not one of those who we thought were the recruiters and leaders would go down that road. None of them would take the chance of describing themselves to us. That was telling in and of itself. If a detainee is recommended for release, the US Brigade Combat Team in the area to which they would be released has the opportunity to object to that release based on their knowledge of the person. The obvious goal is not to release the real bad guys or the leaders who can easily assemble another group of fighters.

I know that everyone has been hearing that Iraq is calling for a specific date for the US to leave Iraq. Publicly, that is a true statement, but also publicly, and not widely reported, is the real story that Prime Minister Maliki is looking for a pull out date based on conditions. Immediately after Maliki told his party faithful last month that he is demanding that the US be completely out of Iraq by 2011, one of his aides came over to a reporter and said the following: “The agreement (with the US) will be met with significant discomfort, so Iraqi officials will resort to using the dates mentioned in the agreement to sell it to the public, even though they might be used in a guidance way. If you ask the Prime Minister, ‘What happens if the situation on the ground changes before 2011?’, then he would obviously say that the dates might need to change.” Keep in mind that it is election season over here, too.

I didn’t get many pictures this trip. The aircraft you see is the Marine Osprey touching down at Bucca. We hooked up with the Marines over in Fallujah and rode to Bucca in that thing. It has a unique feel to it as it tries to figure out if it is a plane or helicopter. I know people have heard that things are looking up over in the Marine sector in Anbar Province, so you may be wondering if I can confirm this. I was only over there a couple of days, but I can tell you that I did meet two Marines who could both read AND write, and I met a third who could speak in complete sentences, so yes, I would say that things are looking up in Anbar. The second picture is from the outside of the TIF looking in. That is just a small portion of the TIF as the complex can hold over 20,000 detainees if needed.

Everyone take care and enjoy the rest of your September.