Thursday, July 26, 2007

Things To Read, Watch or Listen To

We haven't done this in awhile, but, every so often, we like to point our readers to information that they may not get on their nightly news. Some are from commanders giving reports. Others are soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who are serving on the front lines. They range from broad overviews to day to day life. They may help you understand what it is like "over there".

If you read enough, you will find out that the experiences of some in one sector do not reflect those of others. One district or province may be very active with contact with the enemy. Another district may be quiet and focusing on rebuilding basic infrastructure, developing good governance and economics. This is true for both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Please enjoy reading these posts. Some are rather long, but they wouldn't be here if they did not provide the best information possible.

Richard's Deployment

Richard is in Afghanistan and posts a weekly update. He is at FOB Salerno where our favorite dustoff medic is stationed. He posts pictures of the progress as they build a new, permanent hospital. Right now, they work in tents with raised floors. Last week they suffered a flood and had to rebuild. They've been treating a young patient, Azad who is six, for several months. Today he was moved to the Afghan Surgical Hospital:

There was one landmark today; Our longest-stay patient, Azad, has moved to our Afghan surgical hospital. He's doing very well and his family is visiting him now. His youngest sister in 17 days old. His family is looking forward to going back home. Their gratitude is overwhelming. The gratitude of all our Afghani patients is overwhelming.

Read more about Azad, the flooded hospital tent and the continuing progress to build a permanent hospital here (pictures)

Soldier OnBackground on Azad's story and this little bit about being away from home:

Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time planning our redeployment, our return home. No matter how many times the Chaplain tells us not to idealize things back home, we do it anyway. When you are separated from home and family it's easy to remember everything through rose-colored glasses. It's great for getting through the deployment, but it can make things harder when you actually get home. Despite the fantasy, life goes on at home just as before; children grow up, spouses become independent, coworkers and friends move on. As we idealize life back home, and as life goes on back home, the gap between the fantasy and the reality grows larger and the transition becomes more jarring. It's all just part of the hidden stresses of war. Not all wounds are visible. Not all pain is obvious. Not all casualties of war are Soldiers.

JAG Officer in Mazar-e-sharif Afghanistan (pictures)

More here: JAG Officer in Mazar-e-sharif Afghanistan (pictures)

JAG Officer: Kandahar

Kandahar is just as hot as I thought it would be. I think it’s been around 105+ degrees every day. It can get up to 115 and even hotter but fortunately it hasn’t gotten there yet.

Our first day of class as I was proposing the schedule, which included afternoon sessions, the Afghans immediately protested. They said that they would rather start early and end by noon to avoid the heat in the class room. This week we’re teaching in ANA land so the buildings have no AC. So it was agreed that we would start at 0700 every day and end by noon. It’s actually worked out OK.[snip]

Here on Camp Hero there is a huge area that is surrounded by a covered boardwalk. In the center is a soccer field, small roller-blade arena, and volleyball pit. On the boardwalk are various fast-food places; a Canadian donut shop - "Tim Hortons" aka "deadman's donuts", Korean snack bar, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Burger King. There are also several Afghan shops selling various items, a sew shop, embroidery shop as well as a restaurant just off the boardwalk. It’s actually pretty nice.

The base even has it’s own waste reclamation plant. The first night we were here I asked Paul what that terrible smell was and he said it was the “poo pond” or “bamboo pond.” It’s the water/waste reclamation plant that has bamboo growing in it and it’s about 100 yards or so down the road from his room – where we’re staying. He offered to take us down to see it but of course we declined. The smell was enough of a tour.

This part of the country is the “hot spot” in terms of Taliban fighting. This is the area where Scott Lundell was killed, where road side bombs are a regular occurrence as well as small arms fire. Paul says that when they first got here there were regular rockets being fired over the camp but none that actually landed inside the wire. (continue reading:
JAG Officer: Kandahar

JAG Officer continues with a great overview of life in Kandahar including the people, the food and the buildings: Last Days in Kandahar

We were there during the workers lunch and it was interesting to see what they were eating. Their main course was a watery soup of yogurt and green onions with a few cooked vegetables and naan (bread). They use the big loaves of naan as plates and then eat the bread around the things on top of the bread. They were very gracious and invited us to join them, but of course since we had just eaten we declined.

And this is Matt Sanchez in Afghanistan (formerly in Iraq). He has some great videos including interviews from enlisted and officers on their work there, conditions and progress.

Getting ready to go to Shura

Food Time in Afghanistan (an excellent quick view of food and eating traditions)

LTC Gilhart Provincial Reconstruction Team Afghanistan on progress and projects

Other videos from Matt Sanchez in Afghanistan

On to Iraq where the experiences can vary even more greatly from area to area.

Jack Army: Typical Patrol

It is real easy to get complacent when you go on patrol after patrol like this one. Nothing happens, nobody challenges you, nobody pushes the envelope, everything is just quiet, business as usual. That is one of the things that is so hard about this job: fighting the complacency. I haven't been in constant, days-long combat, but I imagine that it is easier to stay alert during that sort of activity because you have to. Of course, I'm not eager to test that theory!

A couple of notes about some of the things you see in the video.

Jack Army: Giggles

Since I've figured out how to embed video, I'm able to give you a couple of more. Next up is a video from a visit to a town outside our area. This town gets almost no notice from anybody, good or bad. It's just a quiet town doing it's own thing, but security there is good, services are getting better, and the townsfolk are very supportive of the government and the Coalition.

We started our visit to a small pre-school where we handed out toys and played with the kids for a few minutes. Some of the children were a little shy.

See the rest of Jack's patrol and a little video of the kids enjoying a little "giggle fest" here.

Acute Politics: Militias

I have written previously about some of the major distinctions in the structure of the Iraqi Security Forces. Over the course of the last year, I have had the opportunity many times to see various Iraqi units in action. The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have greatly increased in number- there were few of either evident in Ramadi last October, and they are everywhere now. I like to see IAs and IPs; I like to see that Iraqis fighting for their own country. However, the guys I really like to see are the PSF and Neighborhood Watch fighters.

I have witnessed the appearance of local fighters in an area several times- an advent that is normally followed quickly by relative peace.

Militias are a mixed bag. In some areas, they have been extremely helpful in decreasing the violence and securing neighborhoods. These are most closely associated with neighborhood watch or policing programs. In others, like Sadr City, they continue to be dangerous for the people and coalition forces.

An example of how working with the shiehks and creating a locally staffed security force improves security and living conditions can be seen in this report at Badgers Forward:

Raider Commander Update on Ramadi

Security here in Ramadi continues to improve as the Iraqi police and army forces work daily to keep the population safe. When we arrived in February, we were averaging 30 – 35 attacks per day in our area of responsibility. Now our average is one attack per day or less. We had an entire week with no attacks in our area and have a total of over 65 days with no attacks. I attribute this success to our close relationship with the Iraqi security forces and the support those forces receive from the civilian population. The Iraqi police and army forces have uncovered hundreds of munitions caches and get intelligence tips from the local population every day.[snip]

Some of our most recent successes have been in the areas of reconstruction and governance. The city government didn’t exist before April of this year, but has grown steadily over the past few months, and is now providing essential services to the population. In areas that were battlefields only a few months ago, city electrical employees are now repairing transformers and power lines. Sanitation workers are fixing sewer leaks caused by hundreds of buried IED’s [improvised explosive devices]. The Iraqis now have repaired the electrical grid in about 80 percent of the city and about 50 percent of the rubble has been removed. We expect to have all rubble removed in the next 90 – 120 days, which will allow for many parts of the city to start rebuilding.

Read the rest of the report at
Raider Commander Update on Ramadi. Ramadi is in the Al Anbar Province, once considered the hotbed of the insurgency in Iraq. It still has a high attack rate, but this is because the small corner of Al Anbar overlaps Baghdad and a southern "suburb" or "Mahala" called Ahmadiya. There is also an area north east of Baghdad between Camp Taqqadum, Tikrit, Mosul and Kirkuk where the routes for smuggling money, weapons and fighters follow the main highway and river system. It is also the area where the tribes most loyal to Saddam hold the land. In fact, the al Tikriti tribe is the family or tribe of Saddam. It is these small areas where concentrated attacks drive up the average in the whole.

On the odd variances in conditions in different parts of Iraq, we have two reporters:

Violence ebbing. Wealth returning. Can this be Iraq?

For there are two Iraqs in evidence these days: not just the one where weddings are bombed and young women murdered in reply. The other Iraq is harder to dramatise but it is equally real. It is a place where boring, ordinary things take place. And in taking place become extraordinary in the context of conflict.

Last week it was the opening of a new $20 million government centre next to Tal Afar's ancient ruined fort. The day before Jamil detonated his explosives' belt, the sheiks and dignitaries came in and crowded through the building's corridors, muttering approvingly as they examined its new painted walls, the photocopiers, printers and computers - some of them still wrapped in plastic - sitting on the brand new desks.

From Michael J. Totten, veteran reporter who has traveled and reported from the Middle East: In the Wake of the Surge (pictures included)

Just to the right of my knees were the feet of the gunner. He stood in the middle of the Humvee and manned a machine gun in a turret sticking out of the top. I could hear him swiveling his cannon from side to side and pointing it into the trees as we approached the urban sector in their area of operations.

This was all purely defensive. The battalion I’m embedded with here in Baghdad hasn’t suffered a single casualty – not even one soldier wounded – since they arrived in the Red Zone in January. The surge in this part of the city could not possibly be going better than it already is. Most of Graya’at’s insurgents and terrorists who haven’t yet fled are either captured, dormant, or dead.

A car approached our Humvee with its lights on.

“I can’t see, I can’t see,” said the driver. Bright lights are blinding with night vision goggles. “Flash him with the laser,” he said to the gunner. “Flash him with the laser!”

A green laser beam shot out from the gunner’s turret toward the windshield of the oncoming car. The headlights went out.

I'll warn you now, this is long, but it is Gen. Petreaus giving a very detailed interview on the ground situation in Iraq: Interview with Petreaus

HH: Welcome, General. You took over command of the multinational forces in February of this year, February 10. In the past five months, how have conditions in Iraq changed?

DP: Well, obviously, we have been surging our forces during that time. We have added five Army brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions, and a Marine expeditionary unit[ed...that's our Fighting 13th that we need additional support for], and some enablers, as they’re called. And over the last month, that surge of forces has turned into a surge of offensive operations. And we have achieved what we believe is a reasonable degree of tactical momentum on the ground, gains against the principal near-term threat, al Qaeda-Iraq, and also gains against what is another near-term threat, and also potentially the long term threat, Shia militia extremists as well. As you may have heard, that today, we announced the capture of the senior Iraqi leader of al Qaeda-Iraq, and that follows in recent weeks the detention of some four different emirs, as they’re called, the different area leaders of al Qaeda, six different foreign fighter facilitators, and a couple dozen other leaders, in addition to killing or capturing hundreds of other al Qaeda-Iraq operatives.


We were sitting out at one of the check points and there is this house a little ways away from where we stage our vehicles. They are always standing outside the house waving at us. I just so happened to have some hard candy in case I was near any kids, so I got out of the truck and started walking over. One of the sergeants went with me. I stood a little way back and waved a them, and then kind of shook my bag of candy. They started to walk toward me, two of them holding hands with their father, so I started walking toward their house.

I stuck my hand out and said “assalaam alaikum” to the man, which means “peace is upon you.” The man said it back and then asked me how I was doing. It turns out that he is a teacher at the school in the village and he spoke English. I told him I had some candy I would like to give to his kids, and asked if that would be okay. He approved, so I gave some to each of the three kids. They loved it and were all smiles.

We got in to a conversation with the man, just trying to find out a little bit about him. We all introduced ourselves and he introduced his kids (I forgot everyone’s name in about two seconds…) He told us that he loves the American troops here. He said that the IPs at the check point were doing a good job. One of his concerns though was getting shot at. At night, because they don’t have air and because it is so hot, they sleep in the grass outside their house. Gunshots are a pretty normal thing, and he told us he was “weary” of his children getting hurt from stray bullets. The sergeant I was with said that he would try to talk to the IP and the guys at our patrol base to notify them of his concerns and see if there was anything that could be done as far as getting them some sort of wall put up.

Another read from Badgers Forward on support from Military Spouses: Ladies of Lakedaemon

Right now I am reading Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, an ode to the Spartan martial spirit, but I was really struck by this passage, a short soliloquy from one of the Spartan officer's wives:

The wives of other cities marvel at the women of Lakedaemon. How, they ask, can these Spartan wives stand erect and unblinking as their husbands' broken bodies are borne home to a grave or, worse, interred beneath some foreign dirt with nothing save cold memory to clutch to their hearts? These women think we are made of stauncher stuff than they. I will tell you, . . . we are not.

Do they think we of Lakedaemon love our husbands less than they? Are our hearts made of stone and steel? So they imagine that our grief is less because we choke it down in our guts?

So too of today's "milspouses." People ask Mrs. Badger 6 how she does this, as if dealing with deployment is a superhuman task. She does it because she loves me and she believes in me and our task and purpose. I see the same resolve in other milspouse blogs and as I talk to Soldiers about their wives at home. (And occasionally husbands.)

They are not super-human. Quite the contrary. They are everyday people who decided they are going to get through this - that they and their marriages will come through this. Everyday people just deciding to make it through this. And that is far more impressive than being super-human.

Speaking of spouses and children on the home front, My Life as a Military Spouse, reports this interesting part of deployed family life: Out of the Mouths of Babes

I constantly battle with my children over their asking mommy to help with everything. Yes, daddy is gone a lot, but when he is here, he can help, just like mommy normally does. My children don't seem to understand the concept, or so I thought. I have been raging about this issue for several days now and this morning S3 came to me and we had a conversation that went like this:

S3: Mommy, I would love to have some watermelon, but it is not appropriate for me to touch the knifes.

ME: You are right honey, you are not allowed to touch the sharp knives, I will be there in just a minute to help you.

S3: Mommy, I know I can ask daddy things too, but he is not here, he is at work. Remember? He is out with the tanks and his soldiers. Remember?

ME: Yes honey, I know daddy is not here. I appreciate you remembering that you can ask daddy to help you with things too, when he is here of course.

S3: But mommy, we ask you for things because we love you. We don't want you to forget that we love you, so we have to ask you for things. You are the bestest mommy and I love you over and over again.

Read the rest of Out of the Mouths of Babes

Minnesota Red Bulls Home

After a bit of a snafu, our two buses were joined by escorts from the State Patrol, and a couple of dozen motorcycles from the Patriot Riders and the American Legion. As we crossed every county line in Minnesota, we picked up a new escort from the local sheriff. Just outside of Owatonna, our procession turned into a parade with hundreds of motorcycles leading us, and thousands of people lining our route. Our luxury coach bus included tinted windows, so I'm not sure if the folks we passed saw us waving back, or how many of us had to turn away as we were overcome with emotion.

Video of the Welcome Home Red Bulls

Most of these reports and many more can be found on the Dawn Patrol at:

- May no soldier go unloved