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July 2010

Going Too Far?

UPDATE 2:  The father of an Illinois soldier who died in Iraq has made a deal with a cemetery for the right to keep the 10-foot flag poles that bookend his son's memorial, MyFoxChicago.com reports.

...after a meeting, the cemetery agreed to let him have one flag pole behind the gravestone. The shrubs and other flags will be scaled back, but the cemetery will add a separate memorial site to honor service members who have died for their country.

The cemetery is owned by Dignity Memorial, a Houston-based company. Their website says they are the largest provider of cemetery services in the country.

I can imagine they saw a huge potential problem- every veteran or family member of a veteran across the USA refusing to be buried in one of their facilities.  Could have had a large impact.

Original:  We've all heard the stories- old vets not being able to fly flags in their homes (HOA rules); grieving family members told to remove US flags; people desecrating memorials to soldiers and such.

Well, for once, we may have someone who's gone just a tad far.  Possibly.

This story has a bazillion takes to it- I'll give you mine after I give you some more details-

Army Cpl. Albert Bitton was killed by a roadside bomb in 2008. For the past two and a half years the poles have displayed an American flag and an MIA/POW flag, one on each side of the headstone. It's a monument that his father, Elie Bitton, visits three times a day.

According to Fox Chicago, a grieving father erected a seriously nice memorial to his fallen son at his son's grave site; this memorial setup has been in place for over 2 years. 

Step in new cemetery management, and he's told to remove it.  All hell breaks loose.

Now, lest you think I've gone all daft, I think the cemetery was within their right to manage what is displayed; that said, I don't think they handled this at all well.  My take is that they should have offered the father an alternative; instead, they delivered an ultimatum.

People, you gotta realize that 90% of the time, when you try to 'fight' grieving families of soldiers, yer gonna lose.  And lose big.  As a friend once said, ''Yer gonna get famous, and not in a good way''. 

A win for both of them would have been for the cemetery to offer to set aside an area for veterans where family could make appropriate memorials.  But to let someone have this for over 2 years, THEN demand to take it away, and think you'd prevail?

Insanity.  You need to come to us here at B5 for better advice, before you 'act stupidly'.

To that grieving father- bless you, your son, and I hope you find peace soon.  He gave all, and deserves every bit of support you show his legacy. 



I understand that Wikileaks probably thinks it is doing the right thing, and that they have an internal ethic that says they are on the side of the angels.  We can sort that out in the traditional manner, and may God defend the right.  

Yet there is someone else whom we need to attend to, and that is the person who passed them this information.  A "leak" requires a leaker; and it requires, in this case, a leaker with a SECRET clearance.  Many of these things may be -- one might argue, in some quest for ultimate fairness -- of small matter, but not the documents that named those who have worked with us in assembling our intelligence picture in Afghanistan.  I hope this will prove to have been done by a civilian, who may merely be without honor.  It is far worse if he is a servicemember, and bound by the oaths of honor.

Whoever leaked these documents has largely sentenced those men to death, which betrays the duty of a soldier to take risks unto himself in order to protect the civilian population.  That leaker has betrayed more than his duty, though:  for he has destroyed the intelligence network that protects his fellow servicemembers, and he has made it vastly more difficult to recruit a new such network.

That is a betrayal of the brotherhood.  If this was indeed done by a servicemember, it merits the firing squad.  Only in that punishment do we cast you out and recognize you as the enemy you have elected to be:  and then allow some riflemen to perform their natural function toward enemies.  

I don't think we do firing squads anymore, but perhaps there is time to repair the law.

J'accuse: Assange Meurtrier

In 2007, in no small part because of the generosity of the readers of this site, I was fortunate to do two embeds in Iraq.  One of the lessons I came away with was how important a good translators and sources were to operations.  As sources are a sensitive topic, I will focus on translators for now since AQ, AQI, JAM, and others considered them to be the same as an informant.

A good translator was truly invaluable.  They accurately translated what was said, converted things as needed and appropriate to smooth over rough edges, and went above and beyond to make sure that the right information went both ways.  They explained context as needed, shared background information, and more.  A good translator was really worth their weight in gold, and you really liked to have two or more around as a check. 

Bad translators were not helpful, and indeed worked against all parties.  Yes, there are some, and I will leave discussion of them to Froggy and some others who saw the worst.  For me, I saw some that weren't that good, and a couple that the accomplishments of the units would not have been possible without them.

Translators often worked under assumed names, as they were high on the enemy target list.  In getting to know one or two of them, I learned more about them, the danger, and why some of them did it despite it all. 

J, as I will call him, spent a good bit of time with me, both on the job and off as we bunked in the same squad area.  I eventually forgave him for not waking me up one night during some excitement (I'd been up about 48 hours and don't care how damn peaceful I look when asleep, wake me when things happen!).  My curiosity and questions led J to sitting down one afternoon, in an out of the way area, and giving me a quick course in Iraqi culture from his (and his clan's) viewpoint.  We also ended up talking about our lives, and how we both came to be there. 

For J, it had been quite the odyssey.  Before the invasion, he had been an officer in the Iraqi military.  In point of fact, he had been part of a select part -- which told me a good bit about his background and political affiliations in the process.  He survived both the first and the second Gulf Wars, and apparently was quite happy and relieved to have done so and to be out of the situation.  He had been in it simply because he liked doing something I will simply refer to as a type of engineering.  It was his passion in life, and he had risen to his previous heights not because he was a super supporter of Saddam, but of his passion.  To do one, well, required at least lip service if not a bit more to the other. 

Unfortunately, his passion had put him on two very bad lists.  Because he had been in the service and area that he had, quite a few assumed that he was indeed a Saddam supporter and therefore to be eliminated in reprisals.  To the hard-core Bathists, he was a traitor for not being hard-core.  By being a translator, he ended up on the hit list for every insurgent group.  Period.

As a bit of an aside, I no longer look at power drills the way I did before I went on embed.  According to some, JAM started the use of drills to make a point, as it were.  By the time I was there, both sides were using them in very inventive ways.  Joints were obvious, as was drilling into different locations on larger bones.  At the risk of violating the family tone here, they also were used on both male and female soft tissue, and used at the proper place on the spinal column, kept people from running away. 

Understand,  if you take nothing else away from this article, know that when a translator or other "collaborator" was caught, they were most often tortured extensively.  Far more often than many of certain political stripe are willing to admit, their spouse or family joined them, and while regular rape was a part of it because of what it means in that culture, other objects (see above) were reportedly used as well.  Drills and vehicle batteries, along with hands and feet and other things, made those hours into an eternity that does need to be dwelled on in this instance.  A coup de grace in the form of a shot to the head was truly a mercy at the end.  It was and is the lucky ones that are killed immediately.

While in Iraq in 2007, I learned of a new twist on this.  Instead of mercy, the death blow was changed by some to a last use of the drill, reportedly slowly, on the head.  For videos, the slow-saw beheading is the choice. 

J had been kidnapped at one point.  Thankfully, they didn't realize who he was.  They had some idea that his clan and/or family would pay for his return, but they didn't have his real name or realize that he was an interpreter.  He got out of it, quickly, and was glad to get out as lightly as he had.  If his real name or what he was doing had become known, well, see above.

Since that time, he had taken a number of precautions.  He was careful in what he said, to whom, and in how he moved around.  The level of precautions was staggering in some respects, but nothing compared to the possible consequences.  To this day, I will not say more about him.

Today, the news came that among the documents released by anti-war activist Assange is a list of those working for or with the Allies in Afghanistan.  Reports are already stating that the Taliban and other groups are using these lists for targeting. 

I doubt that someone like Assange, who is secure in his self-righteous dudgeon, cares.  After all, they are just barbarian "wogs" aren't they?  Peasants, beneath notice.  Besides, to make his anti-war/pro-peace better world omelette, one has to break a few eggs, right?  Such unwashed, unlettered peons are hardly worth his attention or care, being no better than the thuggish myrmidons that are the soldiers whom they help.  Anyone on our side who has also rushed to assure that no one/real people have been endangered is also guilty of this same unthinking bigotry.

If there were true justice in the world, Assange would have to watch everything that happens to each and every person on that list who is caught by the enemy.  In this world, I will settle for doing everything I can to see him charged with the murder of each person so caught.  U.S. law, international law, the law of Allies, I don't care.  With luck, it would be good to see him indited in as many jurisdictions as possible for each murder.  For he is as guilty of each murder as if he had done the torture and killing himself.  Period.  So is whoever leaked the information to him.  Period.  I want them found, and tried at the highest level and highest possible penalty.  Period. 

Right now, I think back to J and some of the other good translators I met in Iraq.  I think of what they did and at what risk they did it.  They deserved the respect and protection given them.  So do the people in Afghanistan in similar circumstances.  They did not and do not deserve this deliberate and willful effort to have them killed.  That's what it is, nothing more, nothing less.  It's not crusading journalism, it's not noble sacrifice, it's not high ideals:  it is thuggish bigotry and murder.  J'accuse. 


To Survivors of the Fallen- Get Ye A Banker!

Just when you think things could not get worse financially for some of the families of the fallen:

The package arrived at Cindy Lohman’s home in Great Mills, Maryland, just two weeks after she learned that her son, Ryan, a 24-year-old Army sergeant, had been killed by a bomb in Afghanistan.  ...[it was] a letter from Prudential about Ryan’s $400,000 policy. And there was something else, which looked like a checkbook. The letter told Lohman that the full amount of her payout would be placed in a convenient interest-bearing account, allowing her time to decide how to use the benefit.

The letter goes on to say that she could keep the money in that account ''for as long as you like.”  But what it didn't make abundantly clear was, she was putting that money at risk by leaving it there.  The FDIC does not insure that money, as it is held not in a BANK or SAVINGS account, but in the insurer's GENERAL FUND account.

It's like telling a friend he has $500 coming to him, that you'll hold it, and he can spend it anytime.  But you get to keep drawing interest on it.  He, doesn't benefit as much as you.  Disingenuous, no?

Legal, yes.  Deceptive, likely.  According to the article, there is TWENTY-FIVE BILLION DOLLARS in funds held in this manner, all of it completely un-insured and completely at risk should the firms fail, or the systems collapse.  Yeah, too big to fail, anyone?

Folks, if you are the family of fallen, or know of them, PLEASE, for heaven's sake, get that money changed over to a banking or financial institution where that money is safer, and you can draw more interest.  ANYWHERE is better than just letting it 'sit' until you figure out what to do.

It's like leaving your money with the lottery commission- hoping it will be there when you need it.  Not.Likely.

You've been warned and advised.


For Gallantry...

U.S. Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, congratulates U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brent A. Schneider, of Amarillo, Texas and pins the Bronze Star for gallantry during a firefight in Afghanistan.
DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Sellers hires_100725-N-0696M-161b

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pins the Bronze Star on U.S. Army Sgt. Randy A. Sellers, of Pocatello, Idaho, for gallantry during a firefight in Afghanistan.
DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

What did Staff Sergeant Schneider and Sergeant Sellers really do? They led the Scouts of 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack at Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province.  They "assisted" a company that was pinned down (in other words, with complete disregard for their own well being, they went after the bastards that had the company pinned down), then rendered first aid and medevaced the wounded out.


WikiLeaks Aiding Collateral Murder

Perhaps there has been too little disgust launched at reprehensible Julian Assange and and WikiLeaks. Initial looks at the huge pile of classified documents seemed to show that no major security breaches had been made. Well tell that to the Afghans who were working with us, or considering it, whose names and villages are in some of the reports.

Hundreds of Afghan civilians who worked as informants for the U.S. military have been put at risk by WikiLeaks' publication of more than 90,000 classified intelligence reports which name and in many cases locate the individuals, The Times newspaper reported Wednesday.....

One specific example cited by the paper is a report on an interview conducted by military officers of a potential Taliban defector. The militant is named, along with his father and the village in which they live.

This is disgraceful and both the US traitor and Assange must pay. I had said that it was unlikely that Assange would pay any price for the leaks, but the revelation that he has essentially signed the death warrants of brave Afghans simply trying to make their country a better place changes all that. He needs to be captured, rendered somewhere heinous, interrogated, forced to turn over any other documents he has and sent to Bagram AFB in Afghanistan to be turned over to the Afghan government for disposal. I am not sure what laws they currently have for dealing with a sub-human swine like him, but I'm sure they can figure something out. 

It is one thing to play at being a crusader for transparency and justice. It is another one completely to callously post stolen secrets that will get innocents killed. Assange has crossed the line of civilized behavior and will deserve anything he gets in return.

Battlefield Information - Wikileaks, the Military, and the Truth

Noah Shachtman has a piece up at the Wall Street Journal about the Wikileaks reports.  Shachtman was embedded with a unit last summer that was in a firefight that shows up in the leaked battlefield reports:

Echo company got into a gunfight last Aug. 25 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. You'll learn that by reading the report found in WikiLeaks's database of Afghan war documents released on Sunday night. You'll learn that, after a chase, the Marines killed one insurgent. You'll learn that the insurgents supposedly fled and that the troops decided to stay the night in the area in case the militants returned.

What you won't learn is that a Marine sniper team sparked the shoot-out with a surprise assault on the insurgents; that every member of that team was nearly killed in the battle; or that the incident would kick off a three-day siege in which the Taliban nearly surrounded the Echo company squad...

I received many emails about this report on some of the back channel sources that I still read.  This piece is picking up momentum so go check it out.

Congratulations Rear Adm. Tyson

Here's a "first" worthy of note:

Rear Adm. Nora Tyson will become the first woman to take command of a carrier strike group in a ceremony Thursday aboard the carrier George H.W. Bush at Norfolk Naval Station.

Tyson will assume command of Carrier Strike Group 2 from Capt. Jeffrey Hesterman, the acting commander.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Tyson is a 1979 graduate of Vanderbilt University. She earned her wings as a naval flight officer in 1983 and received a master's degree in national security and strategic affairs from the U.S. Naval War College in 1995.

As commander of the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship Bataan, Tyson led the Navy's disaster relief efforts on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Under her command, the Bataan deployed twice to the Persian Gulf in support of the Iraq war.

Other tours at sea included duty as assistant operations officer aboard the training carrier Lexington and as navigator aboard the carrier Enterprise.

Best of luck to her and all the sailors in CSG 2.

Strategy Room video

Here is the video from the FOX segment I did this morning on Strategy Room which is their live online show. Harris Faulkner was the host and I liked the feel of the show, a little less stuffy maybe and more freewheeling, pus the segments are longer. And yes I got the shot in on Julian Ass-Flange calling him a jackwagon. Score.

Trip to the Mountains

 Photo10th Mountain, that is.

Recently I had some time to head off on my cycle and enjoy what Colorado has to see on a nice ride.  I had planned a long route to take in all of the best of Colorado, from Aspen to Telluride to Steamboat, but had to cut the trip short, to only 3 days.  I had planned to camp wherever I could, just relying on me, my cycle, and what I was carrying.  But it was impossible to find camp spots open, and just camping out in the open by ones self is not advisable in the mountains.  Just ask the bears.

The route I did end up taking took me thru some of Colorado's highest areas, and of note to Blackfive readers was my visit to the former 10th Mountain training area and monuments.  Located above 9,000 feet are the remnants of Camp Hale, the camp where the 10th was formed for WWII and its first training area. (That link is to the wiki site; its a strange entry, focused on their Tibetan training for some reason, and not WWII).

At the top of the ridge, in Tennessee Pass, is the 10th Mountain Division's memorial for WWII.

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A gorgeous ride up from the south, thru Leadville, CO, and down into the valley where Camp Hale was located.  (that link is from an .edu site that has a decent history).  Let me say that the ride DOWN from the Camp Hale area was just spectacular.  And not for those who have a thing for heights.  I can only imagine what it was like back in the day when they were just building up there.

Camp hale

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Riding at that altitude can take a toll if you are not properly prepped.  Storms come up rapidly, but thankfully dissipate just as fast.  But, they can be extremely violent- lots of lightning.  You really don't want to be riding thru the passes when they hit.  I love riding in Colorado, and it had been far too long since I had a chance to ride like this.  I think the last 3 years, I've put a combined 500 miles on the cycle.  I'm trying to make up for that this year.  (My longest trip to date took me from Denver to Las Vegas, into Fresno, CA, up thru Yosemite, Reno, NV, across the Salt Flats to Salt Lake City, then down into Sturgis.  You MUST ride that route sometime- it's quite choice.  On that ride, I was able to hit Roundup and Sturgis in one trip) 

Next year, I plan on making the full ride I wanted to this year. And I won't be riding across a weekend, either.  Colorado just needs MANY more camping spots.  Seems they haven't added many since the '50's around here.

Coming up, I'll be joining the American Legion Riders on their Legacy Run from Indianapolis to Milwaukee, via St Louis and Minneapolis.  I'll be covering the ride aboard my Harley (thanks to Indy West Harley Davidson in Indianaopolis!) starting in about 3 weeks.  If you are so inclined, come meet with us, join us on the ride even.  All the money collected goes to worthwhile programs in the Legion.  So far, just about 300 bikes will be joining the ride this year.... hope to see you there!


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