From Robert Wilson's gallery at Times Online. Striking and intimate images of a British Army brigade in Afghanistan.
Update: Link fixed. Sorry about that.
OUTSIDE GARMSER, Afghanistan (AP) — Marines stormed into a Taliban-held town before daybreak Tuesday, trading gunfire with insurgents on the ground and using helicopter gunships to destroy a militant compound in one of Afghanistan's most violent regions.
Several hundred Marines, many of whom have fought in Iraq, reportedly met light resistance in the assault, which is the farthest south in years that American troops have operated in Helmand province.
"We haven't seen anybody who isn't carrying a gun," [Maj. Tom] Clinton said of the mostly deserted town. "They're trying to figure out what we're doing. They're shooting at us, letting us know they're there."
The assault on Garmser was the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived in April from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a seven-month deployment.
Attack helicopters "obliterated" a compound used as a base by the insurgents, said Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Mass. He said he didn't if anyone was killed by the airstrike.
Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.
Capt. John Moder, 34, a company commander from North Kingstown, R.I., said before the assault began that the experience in Iraq would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan.
"These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it's not just kinetic (fighting),but it's reconstruction and economic development," he said.
SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Two infantrymen were awarded the nation’s third-highest medal for wartime valor on Tuesday in a short ceremony on Ledward Barracks.
Staff Sgt. Octavio Nuñez, 28, and Spc. Jarrod Taylor, 22, were decorated with the Silver Star by Col. Jeffrey Sinclair, commander of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade, for heroic actions in Iraq on May 14, 2007.
Telling of how the two heroes chose their friends over themselves, Sinclair said people who have never served may not understand how someone will repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way to save a fellow soldier.
“You’ll never be prepared for something like that,” Nuñez said when asked whether or not his training kicked in during the attack. “I never thought I was going to see my buddies running around on fire.”
THE VIRTUES of our sons, hope, love, fortitude are tested in a crucible every minute of every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. For centuries, these virtues were lauded as the foundation of culture and society. But in the post-modern era they are shunned precisely because they are virtues and most of all fortitude is ignored because it is virtue that can be witnessed in action.
Hope is used as a campaign slogan, love as a lyric, but fortitude requires a choice and action during encounters with mortal adversaries of the good.
A society that denies the virtues of its sons in battle, will cease to exist, because it is only through battle with the mortal enemy of the good that evil is defeated.
The showdown with the Mahdi Army continues in Baghdad and outlying areas to the North as Iraq's prime minister says the days of the militias are over. US and Iraqi forces engaged the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and the towns of Rashidiyah and Hussaniyah in northern Baghdad Province over the past several days, killing 16 Mahdi Army fighters and capturing five. Seventy-two Mahdi Army fighters have been killed in Baghdad since Muqtada al Sadr threatened to initiate a third uprising.
“The security situation in Tag Ab remains unstable,” a US military spokesman told The Long War Journal in a recent interview. “Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Forces are working hard to uproot the localized insurgency. Kapisa is being used as a staging area for attacks into the capital including suicide attacks. Various Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami commanders, in and outside the Valley, realize the importance of maintaining support in this area to keep this facilitation hub open.
The 1st Kandak of the 201st Corps of the Afghan National Army along with other Afghan National Security Forces and supported by Coalition Forces, are currently conducting Operation Mouje Sealam to disrupt insurgent activities, increase the support of the populace for the Afghan government and increase the level of security in Kapisa. The local populace is the most important aspect of bringing safety to the villages of Tag Ab.”
U.S., Afghan troops retake key bridge
NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — U.S. and Afghan troops have secured a key bridge in volatile northeastern Afghanistan, a move U.S. military officers say will allow Afghan border police to return to the area and help quell the insurgency there.
The seizure of the Gowerdesh Bridge on Tuesday will also allow U.S.-funded efforts to widen and improve the main road into Nuristan province to resume. U.S. officers say this will bring badly needed economic development to the remote mountainous region.
“This road is important,” said Maj. Nathan Springer, a staff officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, also known as Task Force Saber. “Where the road stops is where the insurgency starts.”
The region around the Gowerdesh Bridge had been under insurgent control since last August, when border police abandoned the checkpoint after anti-government fighters threatened to kill them if they did not leave.
The border station controls a crossing point into Pakistan, which is just beyond the next mountain range.
Road construction stopped about 10 kilometers south of the bridge two months ago, when four Afghan contractors working on the project were captured and beheaded by insurgents.
But now road work can start again, Springer said. U.S. forces have set aside $40 million to widen and pave the road from Asmar to Kamdesh, a key town in eastern Nuristan province, he added.
“The next thing the local people are going to see is an immediate infusion of development dollars,” said Springer, 31, of Norman, Okla.
Economic development will bring jobs, which will give young fighting-age men an alternative to toting a gun for the insurgency, he said.
Tuesday’s operation went smoothly because it came after weeks of negotiations with a 100-man shura, or council, of Kamdesh tribal elders, said Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, commander of Task Force Saber.
The Kamdesh shura is the most influential tribal body in this part of Nuristan province.
“They’ve been going from village to village telling the enemy not to fight and to work with the government,” said Kolenda, of Omaha, Neb. He added that the tribal council’s message has been simple: “You’re either going to reconcile or you’re going to be an enemy of the whole tribe.”
Kolenda met Monday with about two dozen members of the Kamdesh shura, and they gave him the final go-ahead to retake the Gowerdesh Bridge.
That same group of elders drove up a couple of hours after U.S. and Afghan forces secured the bridge.
They met briefly with Capt. John Williams, commander of Workhorse Troop, who thanked the men for their efforts to bring peace to the region.
Afghans are notoriously wary of outsiders, and the elders were clearly ambivalent about the presence of U.S. troops in the valley. But one of them thanked Williams for their efforts.
“We are very, very happy about this,” the tribal elder said quietly.
It’s only a 200-meter climb [from where the Chinooks dropped them], but the going is steep and rocky, and the soldiers resemble pack mules under the bright glare of the full moon. Many of them carry rucksacks that weigh 100 pounds or more, not including their body armor, helmets, weapons and ammunition, which easily add another 40 to 50 pounds.
The altitude is nearly 6,000 feet. The peaks of the high mountains in the distance are covered with snow. As Lt. Col. Chris Kolenda, commander of 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, also known as Task Force Saber, puts it, hiking up and down hill at that altitude, under that much weight, can be “a significant emotional experience.”
Despite the drudgery of their days, few of the soldiers complain. Instead, they go about their jobs with a wry sense of humor.
[Capt. Matthew Kikta, 27, of Lake Forest, Calif.,] was standing below the command post, as Pfc. Cory Cook, 22, of Chickasha, Okla., came slogging up the hill. He was covered in sweat and breathing heavily.
“I think I’m going to have a heart attack now,” he said, stopping to catch his breath.
“Are you all right?” Kikta asked.
“[Expletive], no,” Cook answered. “I’m in Afghanistan.”
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Elementary school children from the U.S. and Afghanistan met face to face last night, over video teleconference, facilitated by the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, as part of a partnership program and cultural exchange.
CJSOTF-A has been working with village elders, teachers, parents and students of the Jan Qadam Elementary School, outside the gates of Bagram Air Field, to enable the school to become a more effective center of education.
Coalition troops have been able to supply more than 1,200 students with notebooks, pens, pencils, backpacks, rulers and glue to get them started on a good school year, with the help of Calvert City elementary School in Calvert City, Kentucky.
The Jan Qadam students used a conference room on Bagram Air Field while the Calvert City students used a conference room at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Vilseck WTU declares first soldier fit for duty
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A program that started last year to help heal injured soldiers is bearing fruit, with warrior transition units worldwide starting to declare personnel assigned to them “fit for duty.”
“The (WTU) process takes about six months, so we are just starting to see fit-for-duty status,” Bavaria Medical Command public affairs officer Anne Torphy said Friday.
At WTUs, established at Army bases all over the world last year, injured soldiers can get help with rehabilitation, retraining or medical discharge from the Army. In February, 242 soldiers were assigned to WTUs throughout Europe, and an additional 204 were having their cases reviewed for acceptance, according to the Europe Regional Medical Command.
“I expected to be medically discharged from the Army,” said the 38-year-old Westwego, La., native, whose rehabilitation involved two surgeries and a change of military occupational specialty from infantryman to automated logistics specialist.
[At the Vilseck WTU] he received help with doctor appointments and school work that helped him change his Military Occupation Specialty. He’s now an automated logistics specialist, working as an assistant operations officer at the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Academy.
Many in WTUs want to stay in and finish their military careers. “[The WTU cadre] want to ensure you get healed and educated and they don’t want to put you out,” said Gautreaux, who has served eight years in the Army and plans to stay in another 12.
He said he’ll miss the camaraderie of the infantry, but that he’s looking forward to new challenges.
“I’m glad I made it through the program, and I’m glad the Army decided to let me finish my career. I think I’ve got more opportunities now than I would have had before. I can still do a lot of the things I used to do. I just can’t wear body armor for a long time or lift heavy things,” he said.
In May, Gautreaux will head back to the U.S. to pursue his new career with a different unit. In the long term, he hopes to become a nurse, he said.
Clashes in Sadr City continue as the Mahdi Army attempts to disrupt the government's attempts to gain a foothold in the neighborhood. US troops killed five "criminals" in a series of engagements starting on the evening of April 14 up through this afternoon.
Two "criminals" threw grenades at an M1A2 main battle tank followed by an additional two criminals engaging the armored patrol with small arms fire," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad told The Long War Journal. "The patrol of Abrams Tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles fired 25mm and 1 x 120mm HEAT round and killed all four."
Aloha Dragon Families,
We are approaching 5 months since we’ve left you, and though our rendezvous with destiny still continues our reunion with you still awaits. As many of you already know, President Bush announced his decision to return to twelve-month theater deployments. Unfortunately, this decision will not affect the Golden Dragons. It will affect units deploying after 1 August 2008.
I know that all of you held hope that there would be some reprieve bestowed onto our families, but what you need to know is – this decision was made possible by your Golden Dragon. It was by their hands that security improved in Tarmiyah, Iraq and the fruits of precious family time are given to others so they may RESET before return.
This type of selfless sacrifice is an uncommon attribute among the world today. The average citizen getting a latte at Starbucks does not comprehend the profound sacrifice that you and your soldiers endure. It is a fact, we Dragons are enduring the unendurable; our entire families are selfless servants to the Nation’s Mission – Provide security and stability to the people of Iraq, notions of freedom for those who may otherwise never experience these tenets.
Now, the battlefield calculus is enabling sustainable security. We are doing this through two means - Securing the population where they sleep and developing Iraqi Security Forces (both Army and Police). We are fighting, too. When the International Zone (IZ) was pounded by dozens of rockets from Sadr City, thus killing and injuring both Iraqi and Coalition civilians, we were called upon to fight the Jaysh al Mahdi uprising in Sadr City and Bravo Company (Bushmasters) fought magnificently.
In four hours, Bushmaster assembled from the most distant location in our battle space, rearmed and deployed to Sadr City. Many of you have seen their exploits on CNN, CBS and in the NY Times… these boys are the real deal. What you need to know is their success kept the Government of Iraq (GoI) intact. Sadr wanted to displace the GoI from the IZ, thus delegitimizing it. I well up with emotion when I talk about them.
As I noted to you before, we must develop “waypoints.” The best waypoint is R&R Leave. We are 10% complete. Each month we will push 10% home and our program will end in November. I use a colorful analogy with the men to illustrate just how important block leave is – it’s like swimming out to a life buoy, you have to battle the ebb and flow of the tide, but you know when you get there you can rest before you swim back. Please ensure your team is developing routine contacts in the form of weekly mail, phone calls on the speakerphone, or a monthly VTC. Any method you choose… it’s all about contact. Notes and Photos are every bit a morale boost as a big care package. Sound Familiar?
I am astonished by a group called “Soldiers' Angels.” This organization is unbelievable. It’s cared for by great Americans with true character that empathize with our sacrifice. They send me packages and mail that I deliver to our Dragons out on Patrol Bases. It impacts soldiers. I’ve seen them stop what they are doing, sit on their cots and start reading their cards from a complete stranger that simply says – “Thank You” in their own words. It’s because of you and the people of Soldiers’ Angels that we endure the unendurable. I will close with a note from a Soldiers’ Angels Card – “May No Soldier Go Unloved.”
God Bless You - Golden Dragons!
“Right of the Line”
LTC Thomas D
The surrounding mountains dominating COP Warheit’s landscape are covered in snow. Large tree covered valleys, rivers and towns dot the landscape below. The outpost is so remote supplies can only be delivered by helicopter. The other option of hand carrying supplies from valley floor from FOB Keating isn’t feasible.
Bravo Troop manages both FOB Keating and COP Warheit. The Soldiers work side by side with their ANA counterparts.
“We fight together. We patrol together. We live together,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mike Burns, platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon.
Bravo Troop even shares showers with ANA Soldiers at FOB Keating because of the limited facilities in the remote area.
“The hardest part of being up here is not being able to shower,” explained Burns, who’s last shower was 29 days ago.
CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq – The battalion will have several missions to conduct, but one of the most important is the continued transition from coalition forces to Iraqi security forces controlling the area.
“We are here to return the control of the country to the Iraqi people and to provide them with a self-sufficient and stable government,” said Maj. Stuart M. Harness, executive officer of 2nd LAR Bn.
“Since the Marines came to Iraq in 2003, my country is a lot better than before,” said Aziz Shalan, a commando with Iraqi border patrol. “Life is good here.”
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Many traditions in the Army are time honored events. But none are more enduring or revered as those held by the cavalry. After the guidon is passed and secured by its barer, one of the revered cavalry traditions begins, “Passing of the Saber.”
Lt. Col. Antonio Aguto, of Chicago, who serves as the commander of 4th Sqdn., 2nd SCR, MND-B, dons his riding gloves and draws the saber from its sheath which is no longer in pristine shining glory and passes the saber that shows wear from years of use. He passes the saber to McGarry who salutes Melton as a sign of respect and worthiness to carry on command of the cavalry troop. With the saber held forthright in upward-facing palms, the relinquished commander then offers the saber to the new commander who returns the salute, bows, and kisses the steal he will loyally serve. Once returned to Aguto, the saber is re-sheathed and returned to his chamber where it is secured.
This change of command marks another chapter in the oldest continuously serving cavalry regiment in the U.S. Army today. 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment will celebrate its 172nd anniversary on May 23rd. “From the Swamps of Florida to the Deserts of Iraq, we 2nd Dragoons have lived up to our Motto Toujours Pret (Always Ready),” said Aguto.
“Post 4, post 3 and post 2 had all called in and said they had made contact,” said Dirkintis. “At that point in time, we sustained our first casualty in the fight. Our forward observer received some shrapnel to his face.”
Dirkintis treated the Soldier’s shrapnel wounds while insurgent fighters approached 40 meters south of his position.
“I exchanged weapons with him (for the Soldier’s M-4) and ran down to the TOC to let the guys know what was going on with the casualty. Rounds were skipping by me. I was seeing rocks explode everywhere. You could hear RPG after RPG exploding. I kept thinking is this really happening?”
“As soon as I kneeled and looked around the corner I took a shot to the chest,” said Dirkintis. “At first I didn’t know I had been shot. My vision had gotten real blurry. It was difficult to breathe. My entire body felt really, really numb.”
The force of bullet knocked Dirkintis to the ground and punctured a lung.
“I tried to crawl to all fours and to get up, but that’s when I started coughing up blood,” said Dirkintis.
He walks into the open like he’s in his bathrobe going out to get the morning paper...
Bravery comes in many forms, and in this case it’s a function of Rice’s concern for his men, who in turn act bravely out of concern for him and one another.
The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about "GoArmy.com."
As the Iraqi and American officers huddled, the Iraqi lieutenant said some of his soldiers had been receiving threatening calls on their cellphones from members of the Madhi Army warning them to leave...
As the discussions continued, one stocky Iraqi soldier stepped forward and announced that he was not afraid of the fighters from Jaysh al-Madhi — or JAM as it is called by American military — regardless of the threats.
“In case I see a bad guy I will not arrest him,” the Iraqi soldier said through an American military interpreter. “I will kill him immediately to get revenge for my guys who were lost.”
Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.
March 29 - A tank from Ft. Hood-based F Troop, 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, is seen moments after firing its main gun at a house used as a trigger point for an IED attack on their commander's Humvee near Balad Ruz.
CPT Torre Mallard was killed along with SGT Phillip Anderson and SPC Donald Burkett in the attack on March 10. Their interpreter was also killed and another Soldier injured.
“It was a little bit of a psychological operation,” 1st Sgt. Zeneido Gonzalez said.
Photo and story Michael Gisick / S&S.
While speaking to black people, King never condescended to offer Rev. Wright-style diatribes or conspiracy theories. He did not paint black people as victims. To the contrary, he spoke about black people as American patriots who believed in the democratic ideals of the country, in nonviolence and the Judeo-Christian ethic, even as they overcame slavery, discrimination and disadvantage. King challenged white America to do the same, to live up to their ideals and create racial unity. He challenged white Christians, asking them how they could treat their fellow black Christians as anything but brothers in Christ.
When King spoke about the racist past, he gloried in black people beating the odds to win equal rights by arming "ourselves with dignity and self-respect." He expressed regret that some black leaders reveled in grievance, malice and self-indulgent anger in place of a focus on strong families, education and love of God. Even in the days before Congress passed civil rights laws, King spoke to black Americans about the pride that comes from "assuming primary responsibility" for achieving "first class citizenship."
Iranians Told Sadr to Stand Down
Rich Lowry notes at The Corner that the media is reporting that the Iranians Told Sadr to Stand Down.
So my question is; where were the reports telling the public that Iran told Sadr to stand up?
Oh, wait... That's apparently our job.
Into the light: A wounded Marine and his Vietnam Veteran father
I've never written about Josh Cooley, but not a day has passed since July 7, 2005 that I haven't thought about him.
That was the day I received an email from Sandy Gay, whose husband Norman worked with Josh at the Pasco, FL Sheriff's Office. Josh had been hurt in Iraq two days before. It was bad, and his wife and mother were flying to Germany on orders.
Josh had always thought about joining the military. After all, the Cooley men have served since the Battle of Bull Run. Josh's grandfather was a Marine, as was his father Ed. And his two older brothers served with the Corps in the first Gulf War.
But Ed and his mother Christine didn't want Josh to follow in their footsteps. He went into law enforcement instead, where he became a sniper with the Paco Sheriff's Office SWAT team.
Ed tried to talk Josh out of it, although the circumstances must have been familiar to him. Ed had enlisted as soon as he could after his 18-year-old cousin, Edward Monahan Jr., was killed in South Vietnam in 1965.
Wounded near Da Nang in May of 1968, Ed's real injuries were inflicted later.
When Christine had to pay her own way to visit him in Hawaii where he had been medevac'd. When he got back home and was called a baby killer. When he was pelted with eggs. When the military sent his Purple Heart and other decorations via Parcel Post several years after he had left the service.
But after Josh's injury, Ed's wounds started to heal along with his son's.
Prominent businessmen have been meeting weekly at an Italian restaurant to make it happen. The group includes WellBuilt Homes owner Scott Walsingham, who is serving as project contractor, and Port Richey attorney Steve Booth, a longtime booster of the Angelus, a home for developmentally disabled individuals.
New Port Richey Mayor Dan Tipton, Joe Cash, Orville Williamson, Tom Chittum and Gary Joiner also are part of the planning effort.
Booth said group members didn't need convincing to pitch in on Cooley's behalf.
"Josh's situation really struck a chord with all of us," Booth said.
They are hoping to secure a Veterans Administration grant to help defray costs. Otherwise, the men have reached out to their community contacts for donations of material and labor. They've gotten a strong response, they said, though the effort has been hampered somewhat by the housing downturn.
They still need cabinets and drywall, plus someone to install them. They are on the lookout for donations of frame material, baseboards and interior doors.