Thursday, September 30, 2004

The moon was a pumpkin orange as I walked back from chow this evening. It must be all the dust in the air. The dust has been blowing for the last few days. We wash the tables on the patio in the morning and half an hour later the have a layer of fine brown talc. Keeping things clean is impossible.

Here's my day today. We were all up early filling sandbags, still working on sandbagging all the trailers. The Sergeant Major decided we needed to clean up the outside of the building so I spent an hour doing that. At work I spent 5 hours finishing up a mind numbing project. I picked up a couple groups of people coming in on aircraft, then I went to listen to a VIP give a pep talk to the troops. In between we had 3 Red Alerts. It looks like the indirect fire hiatus is over. The good news is they are not hitting anything. Last week the bad boys did dumb things around here like trying to fire a mortar round without a tube and firing rockets from tubes that were too small and sheared off the stabilizing fins. Needless to say the varsity team has either been killed or has moved to another area. Unfortunately the JV will probably learn fast if we don't get them.

Tomorrow we change the time back an hour, I'm not sure why we're doing it so long before everyone else. We are now 8 hours ahead of the East Coast. Tomorrow, and for a few weeks, we will be 7 hours ahead.

In Baghdad there were some horrific bombings that killed and injured scores of children who were gathered for the inauguration of a sewage plant. Our hearts go out to all their families and we pray with them for peace. The terrorists lack basic humanity and must be neutralized. Their goal is to spread fear and paralyze the population, grinding the rebuilding to a halt. My prediction is that this will steel the hearts of Iraqis to fight against the rot of terror with a firmer resolve, it will do the same for us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Though we won't leave until next year, the wheels are already in motion planning for our exit and our replacements arrival. We all like thinking about going home but there is a lot of work between now and then. The job of moving one unit is gigantic, every detail must be worked out far in advance to make sure every person and every piece of equipment makes it back in an orderly manner. All the while you need to continue with your mission until your replacements take the reigns. On the other end hundreds of units need to be identified, in the case of the reserves and National Guard, called up. They need to be paired up with a unit to replace and resources realigned so there will be no operational gaps during the transition. Details like the timing and coordination of convoys, how to turn in and redistribute equipment staying in theater, finding housing for transient troops, performing customs inspections, washing vehicles with detergent before going on the supercargo ships, settling finance issues plus a million other things must be done.

Now try doing that with over 200,000 troops in a short amount of time going in both directions. Food, medicine, fuel, water, repair parts for vehicles, ammunition.......As someone recently said Logistics is combat power. Without a good logistics system the military is useless. During the first part of the war, fuel trucks refueled tanks and convoys as they raced toward Baghdad, cargo trucks were right behind with food and water. Now stockpiles of food, water and fuel allow bases to operate without resupply for weeks on end if necessary. The Loggies never rest.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Not much excitement today. We got rocketed for the first time in 5 days. It was just a single potshot that hit nothing. This is the longest break since June. Enemy activity has been very low for the last few weeks. This probably won't last, the bad guys need to prove that they are still viable. Also with the upcoming elections in both Iraq and the US, there is a need on their side to cause as much havoc as they can.

I read Allawi's speech and agreed with the assessment, despite the problems there is tangible progress.

Monday, September 20, 2004

It looks like we are entering another media feeding frenzy based on reports on the contents of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. This document was produced by the National Intelligence Council which serves as a senior advisory group to the Director of Central Intelligence.

The report from July lays out several scenarios for the coming year ranging from a tenuous peace to full blown civil war. Its important to take the report in context. Because it was published in July the estimate lacks the input of the last 3 months of actual experience on the ground. More importantly it was most likely written during and immediately after the April uprising, which looming large in the analysts mind might have somewhat colored the analysis.

My observations on the situation here on the ground are not in agreement with the assessment that things are flying apart and quickly becoming untenable. I've noticed a trend that those individuals here with access to classified theaterwide tactical intelligence seem to be more positive about the outlook for Iraq than those with more limited or local access. The media fall into the latter group. It is easy and natural to focus on and extrapolate horrific, yet localized events (car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations). The danger, which I think the media has fallen into, is drawing conclusions about the country as a whole with relatively few data points. Being locked up in the Al-Rasheed hotel and the immediate area really is not conducive to getting a handle on what's going on the rest of the country.

Two cases in point arguing that the situation is moving in a favorable direction. Najaf and Samarra. A Marine Major at MNC-I HQ wrote a very good letter, summarized here describing what's happening.

Despite all the self-imposed operational constraints in the Najaf operation, it was a very successful operation that in addition to destroying large parts of the Mehdi Army, turned the public sentiment against him and furthered the position of the Interim government. Iraqis responded positively to the IIG actions and various units of the Iraqi army performed in an exceptional manner. Najaf, no longer a hotbed of insurgency has become peaceful again and infrastructure projects are proceeding full bore. In the south attacks have been reduced to a negligible level. Simply put the threat of a Shiia uprising, always remote, is now gone. Splinter groups will still cause problems but the populace will increasingly distance themselves.

In Samarra, foreign fighters and Al-Qaeda have been operating relatively unmolested since the spring, a result of the sequential nature of our operations. The residents sensing an impending Najaf-like assault basically kicked the insurgents out of town. The 1st ID rolled into the middle of this "no-go" area without a shot fired. It is a model that will most likely repeat itself, perhaps not as peacefully. The locals realized that they were being left behind in the reconstruction because some yahoos wanted to bring back the dark ages. The people decided which side they were on and acted accordingly.

As I've written before, this is not easy nor will everything go well all the time. Ethnic tensions in the Kurdish and Turkomen areas will need resolution and several hotspots like Fallujah and parts of Baghdad need to be dealt with. Zarqawi's thugs will still try and sometimes succeed in inflicting mass casualties. Its a battle that demands patience and determination. There are many agendas out there both to paint a rosier picture or a bleaker picture regardless of the facts.

From my window we are making slow, sometime painfully slow, progress. From a strategic standpoint we cannot fail nor, in my opinion, will we.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I didn't need to be at work today, but its gravitational pull sucked me in for 2 1/2 hours anyway.

I spent much of the day reading and writing. I also took a short trip to the laundry pond to check out the birds. The next few days I have a lot of work to do.

The temperature has been cooling down. The highs this week have been in the nineties. At night it has dropped down to the 60's. By December we will have highs in the 60's and lows down to the 30's.

The thing I'm not looking forward to is the mud. The rain in the late fall and winter is unpredictible. Last year several of the bases flooded when they had several inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The dust here is the consisency of talcum powder and in some places is 6 inches deep. It makes nice mud that sticks to everything.

College football has started which means that the TV in the chow hall is always on a football game. This evening I was stuck in the chow hall because of a red alert and ended up watching West Virginia play Maryland.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Sometimes I need a shot of optimism from outside to counter dark feelings that things are going to hell fast. Last week some of my fellow soldiers in another unit were injured in a car bomb attack, some of them I know fairly well. God was with them. They were pulling security outside the vehicle when a guy broke out of a line of civilian cars and started heading for them, if the 50 cal gunner had hesitated, everyone could have easily been killed. The suicide bomber blew the car up about 40 feet from them. Their vehicle was completely destroyed. One described to me seeing the orange flash, feeling the heat and being lifted off the ground and thrown through the air. Several Iraqis were burned alive in their car right next to them. One of the guys said he'll never forget the screams and the smell of burning flesh. A few of the soldiers have pretty significant injuries but they all should recover. I was happy to get to see the group getting evacuated to Germany. They were banged up, covered with shrapnel wounds and burns, but thank God they were alive. The incredible thing is their desire to return to their jobs here in Iraq. Its not always this way, many would jump at any opportunity to get out of here. These guys have made our mission here their own, they see the purpose and importance. They take seriously their responsibility to their fellow soldiers. I am honored to serve with such men. Reflecting on this encourages me to do some attitude adjustment on myself.

Two AP photos of their vehicle
car bomb1

car bomb2

I get a renewed sense of purpose when I read things like this from an Iraqi blogger named Ali from Iraq the Model

"I don’t want to predict anything here but I want to say that if America decided to get out of Iraq before the job is finished, that will be not only disastrous but will be (in my opinion) the worst thing America ever did. Freeing Iraq (again in my opinion) was the best thing America ever did. It gave oppressed people everywhere a hope and a belief that the mightiest power on earth, the symbols of freedom is on their side and that it will help them in one way or another to get their freedom. Their misery has stopped looking eternal. Retreating now will prove some people’s theory that America is an imperialistic power that only care for its interests, and although there’s nothing wrong with caring about one’s own interests, most Iraqis and millions of oppressed people in Darfur, Iran, Syria...etc. like to think more than that of America. Keeping the course will turn this thought into a firm belief. We understand perfectly that sacrificing lives and hard earned money for the sake of others (although there IS a personal interest here but it maybe not so clear) is a very difficult thing to do, and we know that it’s too much to ask, but tens of Millions of oppressed people around the world with brutal sadistic regimes laying their heavy boots on their chests preventing them from even breathing freely, not to mention speaking out or doing something about it, all these people have no one else but you, Americans, to turn to. You are our/their only hope".-By Ali.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Things up in Baghdad have been a little crazy for the last few days. Sunday our guys had half a dozen car bombs along with a couple dozen rockets and mortars. Since then there were several other mass casualty events. We are now in a race with the insurgents. Don't be surprised when more of the same comes. Both the coalition and the insurgents will pull out the stops leading up to the election.

On the plus side, Moqtada Al-Sadr is now out of the picture. He has completely alienated himself from the people with the behavior of his militia in Najaf and Kufa.

We were at high alert for a few days as a precaution but things have calmed down now. The PX, Gym and all other MWR facilities were shut down during the alert. People were getting stir crazy, running low on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. When the PX reopened there was a run on the place.

We've been here for over 6 months. The monotony is getting to some people. Most people read, exercise or play video games to pass the time. The pool has reopened and is also a popular spot.

Some units are getting ready to redeploy back home, it will still be a while before we get to do the same. The Air Force deploys for 120 days and the Navy and Marines for 180. The Army still wants 365. Hey, lets spread the wealth.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

It seems so long ago, September 11, 2001. Without it I would most likely not be here in Iraq. I have little substantive to say other than I remember. I remember listening to an EMS feed over the internet from New Jersey as they planned to set up mass casualty collection points at Liberty State Park for 2000 people each, I remember 400 people showing up at the local Red Cross to donate blood, I remember the silent skies for days afterwards and of course the images of the towers and the people, the fire fighters and the collective grief, the heartbreaking picture strewn streets of lower Manhattan.

It was a beautiful clear New England day for me. I dropped my son off at his school giving him the usual ride on my back as we crossed the field to where his class lined up outside. I jumped into my car and turned on WCBS, Newsradio 88 in New York City as I always did on my way to work. A few minutes later an announcer came on and said a small plane had hit one of the towers. A reporter was at the scene describing what he saw when the second plane hit. By this time they had determined the planes were passenger jets. I knew then that it was a terrorist attack. The panic, the disbelief of the reporter was disturbing. The rest of the day and in fact the next week passed as a blur for me.

That morning we saw clearly the enemy and though time passes, we can't forget. We are at war.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Sometimes you know that someone's looking out for you. Last night at one of our higher headquarters a 107mm rocket came right through the roof of the operation center. It bounced off the floor and then the wall and came to rest unexploded on the floor. They quickly relocated operations and let EOD take care of the round. This morning they were back in the Op Center cleaning up with a gaping hole in the ceiling.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sleep was not in the cards after duty this morning. As I was getting in bed we had a red alert. I got back to bed about 9AM only to be woken up 2 hours later by our preventive med officer cutting wood with a circular saw right outside my window. I didn't get back to sleep until 6:30 this evening after my briefings were done. An hour later I was up again because we had more incoming rounds.

Fighting has erupted again in Sadr City and we've had a lot of US casualties in the last 24 hours. 7 Marines and 3 Iraqi National Guard Soldiers died in one vehicle bomb incident near Fallujah.
Another all nighter on CQ. Not much happening. That's the usual for night duty. Its usually not good when you get a call after midnight. Other than the people coming in on late flights needing to be picked up, they are usually emergency calls. A Red Cross message for someone, casualties or a theater-wide accountability check because some soldier is reported missing or captured.

My runner will clean the building, we'll do radio checks with the defense operation center and brigade HQ. I will do a security check around our area. I will drink at least 5 or 6 cups of tea and then at 8AM I'll get to go to sleep. Unfortunately tomorrow I have to prepare some powerpoint slides for a battalion briefing so I'll be up around 11AM.

This is the first CQ duty I've had to do since I came back. Because of promotions we have a bigger pool now so I do it less often. I will have to cover for my roommate in a few days.

I had a long phone call with my family this evening. The internet phone was working better than before. There were 11 kids running around my parent's house, 8 grandchildren, one of my sister's nieces and two neighbors.

Yesterday we had our Labor Day picnic. It was a pot luck and we had a great variety of food. Our section did the Jerk Chicken on the barbecue.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The news this week was depressing. The attack in Russia was very disturbing, the images were heartbreaking. Its a dark thing that the terrorists have passed the last psychological barrier between humanity and acting like rabid dogs.

In Najaf and Kufa there were reports of Moqtada Al-Sadr's guys having an unauthorized Sharia Courts inside the mosques. When the police went in they found several dozen multilated bodies they brought local tribal members as witnesses. Sadr is spinning it as people killed by the coalition, however local tribal members see it differently and have started hunting down key Sadr Lieutenants. Two have already been killed.

We are in a definite lull period. After their setbacks from the last few weeks, the bad guys are trying to figure out their next move.

Kidnapping remains a favorite activity for them. Last week I found out one of my Iraqi friends was kidnapped and held for ransom. Thankfully someone payed and he was let go. On one hand we are happy he wasn't harmed, on the other hand the kidnappers are encouraged to do more of the same. A majority of the kidnappings seem to end that way, though some go very badly and people end up dead. One of the guys in a local village was kidnapped about a month ago and the people in the village raised 100,000 dollars to get him back. Kidnapping serves two purposes, intimidation and raising cash to buy weapons. Sometimes people know who's responsible, but they are too intimidated to say or do anything about it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

My buddies brought me some more figs and dates today. There are dozens of varieties of dates. They brought me a selection of orange, yellow and even red ones. I also had a little Arabic lesson which consisted of me pointing at dozens of objects and asking what the Arabic word was for it.

One of our contractors just got married and just came back from his honeymoon up in the north. His bride is 16. Its pretty routine here for women to marry so young. He negotiated for quite a while with her family on the terms of the marriage (the brideprice).

He is Shi'ia and is happy that Moqtada Al Sadr is out of Najaf. Though he wouldn't have minded Moqtada getting his final reckoning. Soon he and his family will travel to Najaf, to visit the Shrine and to visit the graves of his relatives buried there.

Things have calmed down considerably since things resolved in Najaf. Moqtadas guys have gone to ground at least for now. I expect him to surface again. Reports of mutilated bodies being found in his ad hoc Sharia court inside the mosque have turned many people against him. Some people are also mad at Sistani for letting Moqtada avoid a final reckoning.