« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 2006

Seventy-Two Hours of Cognitive Distance

The units that I was a part of were always well-trained and had some of the best leadership at the NCO level.  No matter how well trained we were, no matter how many times we practiced, it usually took my team about 72 hours in the field before we were working together like a well-oiled machine, jumping a TOC at 0200 in February in southern Germany or reacting to a FRAGO just minutes before launching a mission...

Or sitting in the jungle, it would take a few days before I would hardly notice the mosquitos feeding on my neck or the bugs crawling in my ears or up my nose.

I was having a Straight White Guy moment yesterday (word, people)...it was my third day on the beach on Estero Island (Ft. Myers Beach) and I realized that I had finally relaxed, finally succumbed to the martinis, cabanas, and sand castles, finally let go enough - of the book, the blog (well, er, sort of), the job back home - to kick back and enjoy my vacation.  Three days exactly...

That's when I thought of how long it would take my military units to get their acts together in different environments. 

Then, I thought, maybe it's just me...

Light posting from me this week.  Of course, Uncle Jimbo will be around.  And I might have some help from Grim, Laughing Wolf, Cassandra and Subsunk.  Be sure to visit their excellent blogs, regardless.  You can also check the blogs on my blogrolls as they are all fine blogs too...

*now where the hell did I leave that martini*

Stop Watching Law & Order (Richard Belzer)

Oh, about a thousand of you have sent this article my way:

'Law & Order' actor:  I know more about war than troops

According to actor and comedian Richard Belzer, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are too uneducated to be expressing support for the U.S. military mission since they're just "19 and 20-year-old kids who couldn't get a job" and "they don't read twenty newspapers a day."..

Belzer gets more asinine from there...

As for what to do about it, stop watching Law & Order prime-time or in syndication.

When the door-kickers knock

Here's an article about the Marines delivering a wheelchair to an Iraqi girl...


Photo by Corporal Mark Sixbey

Darkhorse Marines Deliver New Wheelchair to Iraqi Girl
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

CAMP SMITTY, Iraq (March 16, 2006) --  An Iraqi family just set the noon meal on the table when some unexpected American visitors knocked on their front door.
Marines from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment delivered a brand new pediatric wheelchair to the family of a disabled little girl in the town of Al Hasa, March 16. They are on duty in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.
“We knew we had to help out in some way,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Evers, a platoon commander for Company I. “We don’t have a miracle cure, but we can at least give her a new wheelchair.”
The girl’s condition came to the company’s attention in January, during a routine patrol of the area. When her family brought her outside, Marines saw she had an old, rusty wheelchair, built for an adult.
“The girl was injured in a car accident two years ago,” said Evers, 27, from Lewiston, Idaho. “When we were there the first time, her father showed us x-rays of her spine. It’s actually separated.”
The girl’s parents, brothers and sisters greeted the returning Marines with smiles and hello’s even before they presented the new wheelchair.
“They seemed pretty happy about it,” said Cpl. Matthew Rivera, a squad leader. “When we first came in they looked surprised. Then we brought in the chair and their faces lit up.”
Moments after the Marines presented the gift, the girl’s father lifted her out of the old chair, placed her in the new one, shook the platoon commander’s hand, and said “Thank you.” He was so overjoyed, he repeated twice more.
The Marines left the home almost as quickly as they arrived, boarded amphibious assault vehicles and returned to Camp Smitty.
“I hope we make a difference with them, and left some kind of impression on these people,” Rivera said.
The battalion’s mission goes beyond maintaining security in the area and fighting the enemy, said Navy Seaman Yem Sophat, a hospital corpsman assigned to Company I.

“Besides combat, we help a lot of unfortunate people in this country,” said Sophat, 25, from Pomona, Calif. “I wish we could do more.”
“I wish I could give that little girl new legs to help her walk again,” said Rivera, 21, from Hereford, Texas.
“She’s adorable,” Sophat added.

The War Tapes

I recently had the privilege to view "The War Tapes" - a 94 minute documentary told by soldiers on deployment to Iraq.  The War Tapes was born from an idea that Deborah Scranton, the director, had of melding technology and documentary film making - an idea that she describes as "living journalism."

In February 2004, Deborah received permission to embed with Charlie Company,  3/172nd Mountain Infantry, New Hampshire Army National Guard.  Instead of embedding, Deborah had an idea to use technology to allow the soldiers to tell their own stories while on their yearlong deployment in Iraq.  Training soldiers who "self-selected" as cinematographers, Deborah worked with the Guardsmen and their spouses and families back home to use Instant Messenger, Web Cams, Digital Cameras, etc. to record their deployment.  From The War Tapes web site:

...At the heart of their questions was, why should we trust you with our experiences? My reply was, we would do this together. We would tell the story, their story, wherever it took us, no matter what. Ten soldiers volunteered – five soldiers, Zack Bazzi, Mike Moriarty, Steve Pink, Duncan Domey and Brandon Wilkins would end up filming the entire year. Each was given a one chip Sony high end consumer grade camera, tripod, microphone, various lenses and piles of blank tape, as well as my instant message handle. The tapes on average took two weeks to get from Iraq to New Hampshire. In the meantime, the soldiers uploaded quicktime files of scenes, explosions and ambushes...

The War Tapes gets to Iraq quickly enough and the soldiers are filming from their base in Iraq, out on patrol, in the middle of ambushes, witnessing the horrific aftermath of war, and comtemplating the terrible human cost. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of the War Tapes is the involvement of spouses and family.  Zack Bazzi's family came to America from Lebanon to be free from violence - Zack is not pro-war, but he feels he has a duty to fulfill while his mother doesn't understand why he should risk his life after all of the sacrifices the family made to flee war.  And Mike Moriarty's wife's warmth and sense of humor will make her one of your favorite characters. 

It could be argued that any true film about war will be anti-war; however, the intent of this documentary, I believe, is to tell the story from many different view points.  Days after viewing the movie, I told Deborah that I was still thinking of Bazzi, Moriarty, and Pink.

The War Tapes is the first film made possible by Internet technology and viewers will witness combat from the perspective of those who are actually doing the fighting.  It will entertain, garner laughs and certainly give you a better understanding of the complexity and emotion around combat in Iraq.

The War Tapes was selected out of thousands of submissions to be one of 59 films to compete at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.  If you are in the NYC area, you can check the  War Tapes site for more information about viewing.

The War Tapes will be distributed in June.

The War Tapes Blog
The War Tapes Clips
The War Tapes Soldiers With Cameras

Good news from Iraq in the Washington Post

Since I spare no effort to slag the press when it fails, I will point out some very straight forward writing by David Ignatius of the Washington Post:

BAGHDAD -- Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.

I still have to smack him for the skills should have been mastered before garbage though. I am unaware of any consensus that showed a likelihood of an insurgency like we have faced, not from the military, politicians or the press. All the worries were about the carnage of a street to street battle for Baghdad, and the resultant thousands of civilian deaths, or even what iffing the possibility of chemical weapons. The idea that we should have changed the entire composition of our forces for a possibility no one I knew or read felt was likely, is silly. Moving on though.

I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.

Except first we had to raise, equip and train an army, untainted by Sadaam to do that with, but I take his point.

I visited two bases where you can see the new U.S. strategy begin to take hold. The first was at Taji, straddling the Tigris River north of Baghdad, where the American 4th Infantry Division is gradually handing off responsibility to Iraqi units. After the Samarra bombing, enraged Shiites killed two Sunni clerics, and there was a danger that the reprisal killings could escalate.

Tensions eased after an Iraqi brigade commander, a Shiite, rolled his armored vehicles into the Sunni stronghold of Tarmiya and told local imams that his men would protect their mosques against Shiite attacks -- and that in return, they must control Sunni militants. "He laid down the law," remembers Col. Jim Pasquarette, who commands U.S. forces in the area.

And there you have it. Once the Iraqi Security Forces are seen as the non-sectarian power of the Iraqi state, we have reached our endgame. It is not perfect, but it is working, this crazy project to free people and help them raise a barn looks like it may stand. Ambassador Khalilizad has said the talks among the partners in the new government are the best he has ever seen and thinks they will form a government comprised of all three major groups. I hate to have a positive attitude, but....

                                     - Uncle J

CENTCOM Posture Statement

CENTCOM just released it's posture statement for 2006.

Here's a taste about the Nature of the Enemy:

...Al Qaida and ideologically-linked groups such as Ansar al Islam, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al Ittihad al Islami, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Ansar al Sunna represent the main enemy to long-term peace and stability in the CENTCOM AOR, promoting and thriving on instability and violence. They challenge our partners in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. They attack our friends in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Madrid, and London. Although we have not experienced another attack on our homeland, the enemy that brought us 9/11 continues to represent a clear and unambiguous threat to our country.

This enemy seeks to topple local governments, establish a repressive and intolerant regional theocracy, and then extend its violence to the rest of the world.  To effect such change, this enemy believes it must evict the United States and our Coalition allies from the region. Masking their true intentions with propaganda, rhetoric, and a sophisticated use of the mass media and the internet, this enemy exploits regional tensions and popular grievances. Al Qaida and its associated movements exhibit strategic patience and are willing to wait decades to achieve their goals.

These extremists defame the religion of Islam by glorifying suicide bombing, by taking and beheading hostages, and by the wanton use of explosive devices that kill innocent people by the score. Their false jihad kills indiscriminately and runs contrary to any standard of moral conduct and behavior. The enemy’s vision of the future would create a region-wide zone that would look like Afghanistan under the Taliban. Music would be banned, women ostracized, basic liberties banished, and soccer stadiums used for public executions. The people of the region do not want the future these extremists desire. The more we talk about this enemy, the more its bankrupt ideology will become known. But more important, the more that regional leaders talk about and act against this enemy, the less attractive it will be. Osama bin Laden and Musab al Zarqawi cannot represent the future of Islam...