30 July 2008

Jerral's new ride

Jerral Hancock, former tank driver with the 1st Cavalry Division (and one of "my" favorite former patients), with his awesome new ride thanks to Phil Rush of Relaxed Customs and other great Americans of the Ventura County, CA community.

When Phil says that "people do actually give a damn about our guys and gals over there who get hurt", he means it.

Thank you Phil, and love you Jerral & family!!

29 July 2008

Former Landstuhl CSM releases statement on Barack Obama’s canceled visit to Ramstein and Landstuhl

From Powerline Forum via The Tank.

ARLINGTON, Va., July 29 /Standard Newswire/—Today, Command Sergeant Major Craig Layton, USA (Ret.)—who served as the Command Sergeant Major at Landstuhl—issued the following statement on Barack Obama’s canceled visit to Ramstein and Landstuhl:

“Having spent two years as the Command Sergeant Major at Landstuhl Hospital, I am always grateful for the attention that facility receives from members of Congress. There is no more important work done by the United States Army than to care for those who have been wounded in the service of our country. While Americans troops remain engaged in two hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a steady stream of casualties to the hospital, and a steady stream of visitors who wish to meet with those troops and thank them for their service.

“Senator Obama has explained his decision to cancel a scheduled visit there by blaming the military, which would not allow one of his political advisers to join him in a tour of the facility. Why Senator Obama felt he needed an adviser with him to visit U.S. troops is unclear, but if Senator Obama isn’t comfortable meeting wounded American troops without his entourage, perhaps he does not have the experience necessary to serve as commander in chief.”

Command Sergeant Major Craig Layton, USA (Ret.) was the Command Sergeant Major (senior enlisted soldier) at Landstuhl from 2003-2005 and has 31 years of active duty service. He was also the Task Force CSM twice in Kosovo while assigned in Germany from 1999-2005. He also served at the Brooke Army Medical Center and the Great Plains Regional Medical Command from 2005-2007.

173rd cases colors in Afghanistan

Col. Charles Preysler,Task Force Bayonet commander and Sgt. Maj. Womack case the 173rd ABCT colors for the last time until their return to Caserme Ederle Vincenza, Italy. Photo: Staff Sgt. Adora Medina.

“Thanks to the magnificent paratroopers of the 173rd and Task Force Bayonet for their blood, sweat and tears; fighting for a noble cause. Never before have I known such a brave group of Soldiers,” said Col. Charles Preysler, TF Bayonet commander. “Their tenacity and resolve, while fighting in some of the toughest terrain on earth, is humbling to me as leader. I am in awe of their accomplishments and am proud to have walked the same ground they have.”

Command for operations in northeastern Afghanistan has been assumed by the Big Red One's 3rd BCT out of Ft. Hood.

Incoming commander Col. John Spiszer and incoming Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Orosz unveil the 3rd BCT, 1st ID colors symbolizing the assumption of command, July 22. Photo: Staff Sgt. Adora Medina.

Good luck, and God speed.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

Anbar Rising - Part 2

See also Part 1.

This is a fabulous series from Greyhawk, who has some additional background information on Part 2 here.

One of those emails that makes your day

As I send this email we are shelling the crap out of the enemy, thought you might like to know that. By the time you read this there will be a significantly less amount of Taliban left on the face of the Earth.

The guys that are calling in the fires are the ones who received the last batch of packages that you sent, they're eating ramen noodles and nature valley bars with one hand and dropping mortar rounds with the other.

With thanks to Bob Connolly for keeping these guys happy.

28 July 2008

A Mother's Tribute

CPT Matthew Charles Ferrara

Readers of this blog will be familiar with Linda Ferrara, author of Why we fight: Because "all of humanity is our tribe". Linda emailed the other day with a link to an article she's written about her son Matt for New Zealand's The Listener. Linda is a native New Zealander, and as a dual US-New Zealand national, and Matt was the first New Zealander to die while serving in the war in Afghanistan.

In the article she shares moments like the dreaded knock at the door early that November morning ("One of my babies was gone. I knew it – they didn’t have to say anything."), the calls she and her husband had to make to Matt's siblings ("I discover there is no kind or gentle way to say, “Your brother is dead.”"), and the subsequent gathering of the family ("Friends arrive, food appears.").

But mostly she shares memories about Matt's life, as only a proud and loving mother can.

He sent us all into a panic when he was barely two, leaving the house on his own and walking over to the tennis courts at the local high school.

He could disappear in a store in a flash, leaving me at first angry, then frantic when I could not find him, and no amount of reasoning or threats could dissuade him from this practice. He felt safe and completely at ease and could not understand my anxiety.

I never cured him of this habit; the only thing that changed was that it was not as bad to lose a 10-year-old as a two-year-old.

He was smart, very smart, and I often felt he knew more than the rest of us, and along with his strong will, he was also brave.

Evidence of his bravery and his intelligence continued later when he followed in his older brother's footsteps and was accepted at West Point.

Just a few months after he entered West Point, the future of the United States was violently changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Matt was not intimidated by the thought of what this meant.

He graduated from West Point in May 2005, near the top of his class, with a major in Chinese and economics. He joined the infantry, and after graduation became a ranger, and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy, a choice post.

What a wonderful like he had! Matt witnessed the Iraqi elections during his 2004 deployment, and the year before going to Afghanistan he travelled all over Europe "running with the bulls, jumping off cliffs in Croatia, scuba diving wrecks in the Mediterranean, skiing the Alps, spending weekends in Paris, and touring Ireland with a friend."

Read this loving mother's tribute to the life of her son, the willful boy who became a Man - and a leader of Men.

Flashback 1993

December 8, 1993, Newsday, Inc.

A Tough Encounter With Policy Survivors

By Patrick J. Sloyan

For President Bill Clinton, the results of his policy decisions in Somalia came into sharp focus during a Sunday-morning visit to soldiers wounded in Mogadishu.

Reporters were barred from Walter Reed Army Medical Center during the Oct. 24 session when an uneasy Clinton met with some of the 77 Americans wounded during an Oct. 3 battle that marked the end of a covert operation to seize Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

Hospital officials who accompanied Clinton said the young commander-in-chief was shocked by the encounter.

One soldier had lost his left hand, right leg, sight and hearing. Another had had his hand grafted to his stomach so a shattered arm could heal. Bullets, shrapnel and fire had maimed a young private. A sergeant had his leg in a steel birdcage after the first of a series of bone grafts.

"Clinton was visibly moved," said one hospital official. "He didn't know what to say. The men could see that."

Some were pleasant and respectful. "Clinton is a nice guy," said PFC Alberto Rodriguez, 20, of Naranjito, P.R. He had been riddled with bullets and shrapnel.

Others were cool, even hostile. Sgt. John Burns, 26, of Philadelphia, whose leg was shattered, balked at an offer to have his picture taken with the president. "I don't want to end up in some political propaganda picture - you know, 'President Visits Wounded Soldier,' " Burns said while Clinton was in his room.

The White House refused to make public photographs or television footage of that meeting or a later Oval Office meeting with the wounded. Clinton and top administration officials responsible for Somalia have yet to be publicly shown with the survivors of the fiercest firefight in terms of American casualties since Vietnam.

Some administration officials say withholding the pictures is part of a damage-limitation strategy devised by David Gergen, Clinton's adviser.

"They [White House officials] hope people will forget about Somalia," said a Pentagon official who objected to a plan. He favored giving the wounded the sort of White House South Lawn ceremony held in June when Clinton praised and personally decorated Marines who were first sent to Somalia by President George Bush last Dec. 6.

While Gergen refused to comment, another White House official said Clinton wanted to avoid the appearance of exploiting the Somalia veterans.

But the president's visit to the hospital was prompted by a call from an angry Walter Reed physician. According to hospital sources, the doctor called the White House. "He said these men have been here for three weeks, and no one had paid any attention to them," said a source informed of the exchange. "The White House called back and said, 'The president will be there tomorrow morning.' "

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

27 July 2008

Anbar Rising - Part 1

The first part of a MilBlogs TV series on the real history of the Anbar Awakening from Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazette.

The Tragedy of Ignorance

We were talking to some villagers about our respective countries and mentioned America had put a man on the moon. "They don't understand", said our interpreter. "How can a man stand on something the size of a coin?"
- Soldier serving in Afghanistan.

Sometimes we wonder why the insurgents of these areas fight, and how they believe they can possibly win against the US military.

But for all they know - not unimaginable for those who think the moon is the size of a coin - the entirety of the US military could be the 10 Soldiers and the couple of helicopters they have personally seen.

For all they know, when a small patrol base is broken down to be moved elsewhere, it's because the Americans have been beaten by the small arms fire they coincidentally took the day before, and are withdrawing in defeat.

So they fight on, knowing only that which they see.

In the mountains of Afghanistan perhaps two or three of the elders of a village may be literate. Even that mundane capability contributes to the unlimited power they hold.

Who knows what they tell their people about us and why we are there? How much can even the "elders" know?

The answers to those questions are likely to vary widely. Some use their knowledge and power for good, such as those who harbored Marcus Luttrell. Others take a different path.

But the fact is, without knowledge, truth becomes a relative thing. Such is the tragedy of ignorance.

And the danger.

Meanwhile, in another village, an interpreter turns back to the American Soldiers and weeps for his people. "They don't even know there is such a thing as an ocean."

26 July 2008

"Thank you for all you do to protect our freedom."

Dear Hero,

The year of Paula and Jerry Lee's 70th birthdays was recently celebrated in Oakland, MD, at the log cabin home of their daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Bob.

Each family unit was asked to bring fleece fabric to make Blankets of Hope for our recovering heroes. Together, we worked through the final steps of their assembly.

We are sending you a blanket to show our support as you recover.

Thank you for all you do to protect our freedom.

My heartfelt thanks to the members of the Lee family on behalf of the patients at Landstuhl. You're a beautiful family and great Americans!

If you would like to make Blankets of Hope for our recovering service members, email me for information. You don't even have to sew ;-)

25 July 2008

The Medevac Heroes of Wanat

Compassion and Skill: the Art of Saving Lives

By Spc. George Welcome
101st Combat Aviation Brigade

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Every morning, the Soldiers of 1st Platoon, C Company, 6-101 Aviation Regiment make their way across a scorching flight line to the platoon’s three UH-60 Black Hawks.

Pilots, crew chiefs and medics all take part in the ritual checks to make sure medical equipment is prepared, perform pre-flight inspections and power up the helicopters.

As the medical platoon attached to Task Force Out Front, they are responsible for conducting medical-evacuation missions at a moment’s notice.

“The platoon’s primary mission is to provide continuous first-up and second-up [medical evacuation] support for the entire [Nuristan, Nangahar, Konar and Laghman] regionws of Afghanistan,” said Capt. Ben Seipel, 1st Platoon leader. “Twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year, we have two ships available to pick up urgent and urgent surgical patients. We also pick up casualties on the battlefield or Afghan civilians.”

The moments between calls are filled with a quiet anxiety because the crews can never completely let their guard down. Waiting becomes a constant in the life of MEDEVAC Soldiers. It’s a peculiar situation to be in – none of the Soldiers wants anything bad to happen, but at the same time, doing the job is the only real way to stop the waiting. To pass the time between missions some of the Soldiers take correspondence college courses.

When a call comes, the Soldiers race to their aircraft, get their gear on and are ready for takeoff within minutes. This is critical, every minute counts when life hangs in the balance.

“Our average response time [from receiving a mission to wheels up] is down to about 12 minutes, which is a significant reduction from the previous unit that was here,” said Seipel. “Our goal is to never be the weakest link. I never want the process to be waiting on us to get ready for takeoff; our goal is to be ready and waiting for launch authority.”

Expecting the unexpected is critical to being able to operate in an environment where hardly anything is routine. Soldiers don’t know what time a call will come and the medical report they receive prior to take off doesn’t always provide a full view of what they will face.

Early in the morning, July 13, the platoon tactical operations center received a MEDEVAC request to respond to the village of Wanat, where a small outpost was under attack by enemy forces. In the battle, nine Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade were killed and 15 others were wounded.

Most of the time things can be really quiet, with absolutely nothing going on, said Spc. Saturnino Crespo, 1st Platoon aviation operations specialist. Other times, things can be really hectic. Crespo recalls the day of the Wanat attack:

“When we got the call responding to the attack, things were happening really fast,” he said. “Things were more sudden and hectic than usual. I was tracking all the aircraft as they went to the different FOBs and outposts to pick up patients. We launched all three aircraft, which is pretty unusual. We had to launch before the usual morning shift change, so some of the crews were pulling overtime.”

Most of the Soldiers were still asleep when the MEDEVAC request came over the radio, continued Crespo, recounting the morning of the Wanat attack. They responded as their training has conditioned them to – by having their gear on and the helicopters spun up for launch within minutes.

The initial attack started early in the morning, recalled Staff Sgt. Matthew Kinney, a flight medic who was part of the mission.

“We got off the ground really quick,” said Kinney. “Once we got there, we flew over the mountainside directly on top of FOB Blessing, which was firing artillery upon the outskirts of Wanat. [close air support] was on station dropping bombs and the enemy was being pushed back away from the wire.”

The MEDEVAC helicopters had to wait until the bombs impacted their targets before being given the OK to enter. The battle was still ongoing when they landed.

“As soon as the bombs were dropped, our Apaches came to the area,” Kinney said. “The first MEDEVAC aircraft landed on the base and picked up six patients. Our aircraft was called into the [observation post] right next to it. We were originally going to use the hoist, but the pilots determined that we had a big enough area to put the aircraft down on the side of a terrace.”

Once the helicopter touched down, Kinney exited the aircraft and climbed down the hillside. He had to breach the outpost’s concertina wire in order to begin treating patients and preparing them to board the aircraft.

“After you’ve been doing this for a while, you don’t really think about what’s going on,” said Kinney. “Its second nature and you keep moving through all the steps. When we got called in, there was still shooting going on. The Apaches were firing rockets at a house about 50 to 80 meters to our left. The ground guys were firing on a house that we were taking fire from. I then determined that many of [the ground forces we] thought were wounded were actually [killed in action].”

By keeping their composure under fire, the Soldiers of the MEDEVAC platoon were able to safely extract their wounded comrades, and undoubtedly save their lives.

“It was pretty hard,” Seipel said about the Wanat mission. “All my crews saw quite a bit down there on the ground. It’s never fun, going somewhere and knowing you’re going to see fallen Americans on the ground, especially in that situation where there’s utter chaos.”

The MEDEVAC crews handled the situation phenomenally and knew exactly what they needed to do, said Seipel.

“There was no hesitation at all, the crews hit the ground and reacted instinctively,” he explained. “They did what they were trained to do, and I am extremely proud of them for handling the situation as professionally as possible.”

While every mission isn’t as intense as the Wanat incident, all calls warrant the same quick response. Persons in danger of losing life, limb or eyesight are the highest priority, but the crews also routinely participate in patient transport.

Even while on call to conduct life-saving missions the platoon still conducts training exercises, which provide all the members of the flight crew a chance to hone their individual skills. Pilots practice intricate landing techniques and test the winds above and between the mountains, crew chiefs get to improve their aircraft guiding skills and their use of equipment in the helicopters cargo area and the medics often get to practice exiting the aircraft on the hoist, a machine that is used to reach patients when the helicopter is unable to land.

The combination of actual missions and training flights make for long days, but it helps to keep them sharp.

“At the end of the day a successful mission is a saved life,” Seipel said. “There are a lot of things that go on, contingencies that come up and decisions that get made along the way, but if we can save a life, then we have had success.”

24 July 2008

Chad Hunt photo makes the cover of TIME

Chad emailed last night to say one of his Afghanistan images has been selected for the cover of this week's TIME magazine. The photo was taken at a small outpost in the Korengal Valley during his embed with the 1oth Mountain Division in December 2006. The Soldier in the photo is 1SG David Combs, and you can see the full image here.

We both thought it was a bit ironic that it's taken almost 2 years for a magazine like TIME to need a good photo of Afghanistan, but whatever...

You might remember Chad's work from this post featuring CPT Jim McNight and the 10th MTN at the KOP, as well as this one about his friend and fellow photographer John McHugh's return to Afghanistan in November 2007 after having been shot there just 6 months before.

Congratulations, Chad!

21 July 2008

The Heroes of Wanat

"I just hope these guys’ wives and their children understand how courageous their husbands and dads were. They fought like warriors." - SGT Jacob Walker

"It was some of the bravest stuff I’ve ever seen in my life, and I will never see it again because those guys... well, normal humans wouldn’t do that. You’re not supposed to do that — getting up and firing back when everything around you is popping and whizzing and trees, branches coming down and sandbags exploding and RPGs coming in over your head... It was a fistfight then, and those guys held ’ em off." - SPC Tyler Stafford

"When you ask for volunteers to run across an open field to a reinforced OP that almost everybody is injured at, and everybody volunteers, it feels good. There were a lot of guys that made me proud, putting themselves and their lives on the line so their buddies could have a chance." - SSG Jesse Queck

Im Memoriam:

1LT Jonathan Brostrom
SGT Israel Garcia
SPC Matthew Phillips
SPC Pruitt Rainey
SPC Jonathan Ayers
SPC Jason Bogar
SPC Sergio Abad
SPC Jason Hovater
SPC Gunnar Zwilling

All Sky Soldiers of Chosen Company, 2/503 Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Suggested reading:
Interviews with several wounded Soldiers of Chosen Company while at Landstuhl hospital describing the attack.
Multimedia version of above interviews.
Interview with an additional wounded Soldier of Chosen providing further information on the fight.
Interview with the commander of the 173rd ABCT.
An Alamo with a Different Ending: Overwhelmingly Outnumbered Coalition Forces Repel a Complex Attack in NE Afghanistan
Army Times, December 2008: Dire sunrise at Wanat

I'd like to thank all of you who sent messages of support for these patients during their stay at Landstuhl, as well as all of our regular donors of quilts and many other items. Please know how much your support is appreciated by the guys, and that it does make a difference.

15 July 2008

Marine watch

Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force, operating in Garmsir. Photo: Cpl. Alex Guerra.

More on the Marines in Afghanistan.

14 July 2008

Twelve 173rd ABCT paratroopers receive valor awards

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, poses for a group photo with award recipients from the 503rd Infantry Regiment, Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan, July 11, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

At a ceremony at the Korengal Valley combat outpost Admiral Mullen presented five Army Commendation Medals with valor devices, five Purple Heart Medals, one Bronze Star with valor device, and one Silver Star to the paratroopers of the 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT.

Silver Star recipient CPT Greg Ambrosia and XO of Company A describes an encounter with Taliban fighters on the night of September 27, 2007 at a makeshift outpost after a nighttime air assault.

The troopers made contact with the enemy early the next morning, receiving a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. But they couldn’t spot where exactly the attack was coming from, he said. ...

“We spotted an enemy scout and eventually made contact, but he was able to [disengage and communicate] our location to other fighters in the valley,” Ambrosia said.

Ambrosia’s element had a translator monitoring the enemy communication with a basic one-way radio. After the initial contact, it was quiet for about 45 minutes. The interpreter continued to monitor the radio, and Ambrosia learned that the scout was coordinating with other enemy fighters in the area to launch an attack, he explained.

Soon there were at least three enemy elements with three to five fighters each closing in on the platoon. So close, in fact, they were in hand-grenade range of his troops, he said.

“They were able to get to really close using the terrain,” he continued. “At one point, I started calling the vehicles in the valley to start shooting on our position, because the enemy was too close to call in artillery or mortar fire.”

“So we ended up having our guys shooting on our own position,” he continued.

Even though Ambrosia and his men maintained some safety behind a mound of rocks, the smoke from the mounted vehicle engulfed their position. He began call for aerial support from AH-64 Apache helicopters, he said.

Enemy radio traffic intercepted by Ambrosia’s interpreter let the paratroopers know the insurgents planned to overrun their position and take them hostage, but they were able to repel the attack, he said.

However, Ambrosia’s radio requests for Apaches to provide aerial support wouldn’t arrive for another 45 minutes, he added.

“That’s when it began to get really hairy,” he said. “The enemy was getting really close and using hand grenades.”

Ambrosia’s actions and direction of his men repelled the enemy fighters long enough for the helicopters to arrive. The modest captain said he doesn’t know exactly how many enemies were killed, but knows that two of his men were wounded. None were killed.

“I’m very thankful for that,” Ambrosia said.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, awards the Silver Star to U.S. Army Capt. Gregory Ambrosia in Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan, July 11, 2008. Ambrosia was recognized for valor under fire after running into a hail of enemy gunfire to help save fallen comrades in September 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

The paratroopers have been operating in the remote Afghanistan valley for 14 months and will be returning to their home base in Italy later this month.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

12 July 2008

Wound vacs being tested on medevac flights

Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raymond Fang sits in a C-17 loaded with war wounded as it prepares to depart Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on June 29. Fang, a trauma surgeon at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is conducting a study on the feasibility of using the V.A.C. Freedom, a portable wound vacuum system, on medical evacuation flights between Germany and the U.S. Photo: Steve Mraz / S&S

Wound vacs are a common sight in hospitals, but their use on long medevac flights could have big potential. Not only can they reduce the risk of infection and reduce healing time, but patients could also be spared the painful removal of gauze dressings upon arrival at Walter Reed or Bethesda from Landstuhl.

The way a wound vac works is that a special sponge is cut to the right size, placed in the wound, and then fitted with a plastic cover. A tube is attached to the cover which suctions fluid from the wound, keeping it clean.

Because portable wound vacs have not yet been approved for use on the medevac planes, in-flight medical personnel had sometimes been rigging up their own solutions using tubing and suction machines.

Now our own Dr. Fang of Landstuhl hospital is conducting a study on patients flying from Germany to the US in the hopes of getting the portable system approved. The Air Force is leading the way on the effort by funding the study and supplying the V.A.C. Freedom portable wound vacs.

Air Force Maj. Bonnie Bosler, a flight nurse with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, tends to the leg wound of a Marine who was shot in Afghanistan. The wound is being treated with the V.A.C. Freedom, a portable wound vacuum system, as part of an ongoing Air Force study to determine the feasibility of using the devices on medevac flights between Germany and the States. Photo: Steve Mraz / S&S

In this photo you can see the plastic cover over the sponge with the attached wound vac tube on the inner side of this patient's leg. The thing that looks like an erector set is an external fixator which is used to hold broken bones in place instead of a cast. (Yes, I'm afraid they are rods inserted completely through the skin and bone of the limb. But putting a closed cast over an open wound is not feasible due to the danger of infection and because the wound needs to be treated.)

Another typical sight is the writing on the bandage of the patient's lower leg. In addition to all the medical records which accompany patients during the medevac process, this is a fast way for a physician further uprange to read a "note" from the patient's previous doctor.

Fascinating article by Steve Mraz of Stars and Stripes.

173rd Airborne starts coming home

The advance parties are already home, and now the bulk of the 173rd ABCT's six battalions are starting to return.

About 250 members of the 1-503rd, The Rock, returned to Vicenza, Italy, on Thursday night, bringing the number of safely returned troops to 530.

And on Friday a large group from the 1-91st CAV returned to Schweinfurt, Germany.

Couple of thousand to go...

Just added the "USAEUR's Airborne Option" spots for those two battalions here for fun. They show them on AFN over here.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

332 AEW Change of Command Ceremony

Balad AB, Iraq - Airmen assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing salute the colors while the Iraqi and U.S. national anthems are played during a change of command ceremony here, July 4. Brig. Gen. Brian Bishop assumed command of the 332 AEW from Maj. Gen. Burt Field while Lt. Gen. Gary North, 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central commander, presided over the ceremony. Photo: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter

Balad Air Base is the first step of a long journey home for many soldiers injured in Iraq. It is the home of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group who operate the Air Force Theater Hospital and the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF). Patients arrive here from Combat Support Hospitals and front-line medical units all over Iraq.

The 332 Air Expeditionary Wing has many other missions: Its F-16 aircraft maintain air supremacy over Iraq, A-10 and F-16 aircraft perform close air support, HH-60 Pave Hawks perform combat search and rescue, the C-130 squadron provides inter- and intra-theater airlift, and MQ-1 Predators provide tactical surveillance and reconnaissance.

On a monthly basis, Balad logistics readiness experts process 750 Cargo Aircraft, 9,500 tons of cargo and 19,000 passengers making it the busiest aerial port operation in the AOR, and second in all of DOD only to Dover Air Force Base. In terms of aircraft movements, Balad is the busiest single runway operation in DOD and second in the world only to London's Heathrow airport.

Where are they now?

Q: “…General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill and make it clear to you that there is progress going on in Iraq, that the so-called surge is working. Will you believe him when he says that?” REID: “No, I don't believe him, because it's not happening. All you have to do is look at the facts.” (Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” 04/23/07)

“By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working. Even if the figures were right, the conclusion is wrong.” (Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) during remarks to the Center For National Policy, Washington, D.C., 09/07/07)

“I think that the reports that you provided to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.” (Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) during hearings of the Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senate, 09/11/07)

“I don't consider the surge a nuanced policy. It's killing our soldiers at a great rate. … I think that we need to look at reality. Senator Biden talked to you about what the comptroller general said, and you're going to argue about it? I think the comptroller general ought to be listened to. He says you're cherry picking your numbers in terms of the overall violence. … I ask you to take off your rosy glasses. You had them on in '05.” (Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) during the hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 9/11/07)

“This is ridiculous. There is no plan. I ask the President and everyone else who comes forward with a plan, whether it is capping or surging or whatever they have: Will it answer the two-word test: Then what? Then what? Then what? What happens after we surge these women and men? And by the way, he said General Petraeus is one who believes. He may be the only one who believes this is a good idea. Virtually no one else thinks it is a good idea.” (Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), Congressional Record, S.3080, 03/14/07)

“I think the general will present the facts with respect to the statistics and the tactical successes or situations as he sees them. But none of us should be fooled -- not the American people, not you in the media, not us in Congress -- we should not be fooled into this tactical success debate. That's not what this is about.” (Senator John Kerry (D-MA)on ABC’s “This Week,” 09/09/07)

So where are they now that violence in Iraq has dropped to the lowest level in four years? Why, just this week they all voted to confirm General David H. Petraeus as Commander of CENTCOM. The vote was 95-2, by the way.

No word on when apologies will be made to the General and the troops.

Quotes from Brian Faughnan of The Weeky Standard.

11 July 2008


The families of Sergeant Alex Jimenez and Private Byron W. Fouty told reporters yesterday that the bodies of the two Soldiers have been recovered.

Jimenez, 25, and Fouty, 19, were kidnapped along with PFC Joseph Anzack during an ambush in May 2007. Anzack's body was recovered earlier this year. All three Soldiers were from the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division.

"It's a very sad relief," Fouty's stepfather told reporters. "But I know I have to go forward, not just for our family, but for the other men and women who are still doing their job over there."

From May of last year:

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.

No one can take them out of my hand.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father's hand.

I'd like to thank all of you who continued to search for Jimenez and Fouty, and who fulfilled your promise that no man will ever be left behind.

Rest in peace, young Heroes. Welcome home.

10 July 2008

Violence in Iraq dops to lowest level in four years


Iraq experienced the lowest number of acts of violence in more than four years last week, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq said July 9.

Security progress in Iraq is unmistakable, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said. Civilian deaths around the country were at their lowest point in three years, the general told reporters, adding that the reduction in violence is allowing the Iraqi government and the coalition to put in place projects that improve the quality of life in the country and create jobs for Iraqis.

The general said the security improvements are due in large part to growth in the size and capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces, the gains in capabilities fueled by Coalition forces working in partnership with their Iraqi counterparts. The coalition and Iraqi surge has been effective, as Iraqi Security Forces have grown from some 400,000 to more than 560,000 members, and Coalition forces deployed five brigades to improve population security and conduct offensive operations, Bergner said.

Meanwhile, the political gyrations in the US about a troop drawdown become irelevant - because it's already happened while no one was looking:

The last of the five U.S. brigades deployed for the surge in operations - the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team - will return to Fort Stewart, Ga., by the end of this month. This is in addition to two Marines battalions and a Marine expeditionary unit that already have returned to their home bases.

Congress can go home on summer break and just stay there. While the real men and women of this country Finish the Job they were sent to do.

09 July 2008

How Europe "does wars"

Usually we wait and wait until the enemy starts attacking, then we let them win a bit, then we fight until we are tired, then we just call the US to come over to clean our mess.

That is what happened in WWI, WWII, and the Balkans.

Sameh El-Shahat's tongue-in-cheek commentary at the Telegraph UK.

Thoughts on foreign oil dependency and national security

This year, we will spend almost $700 billion on imported oil, which is more than four times the annual cost of our current war in Iraq.

In fact, if we don't do anything about this problem, over the next 10 years we will spend around $10 trillion importing foreign oil. That is $10 trillion leaving the U.S. and going to foreign nations, making it what I certainly believe will be the single largest transfer of wealth in human history.

Why do I believe that our dependence on foreign oil is such a danger to our country? Put simply, our economic engine is now 70% dependent on the energy resources of other countries, their good judgment, and most importantly, their good will toward us.

Foreign oil is at the intersection of America's three most important issues: the economy, the environment and our national security.

Sobering thoughts from T. Boone Pickens, CEO of BP Capital.

But according to Mr. Pickens, hope comes in the form of the "stretch of land that starts in West Texas and reaches all the way up to the border with Canada, called the "Saudi Arabia of the Wind"." Read the rest at the link.

Army Strong

Just sayin'.

Go, Alex!!!!

08 July 2008

A great General, and a good sport

I didn't know this, but apparently General Petraeus is in such demand for photographs that aides have to organize mass photo ops every six weeks inside the Green Zone and at Camp Victory.

The crowd of more than 500 people was a cross-section of life in the Green Zone, the complex that has occupied the heart of the capital for the past five years: American soldiers with assault rifles; British, Australian and Italian troops; security contractors in wrap-around sunglasses; embassy officials in suits; cleaners; men in running gear with .45 automatics on their hips; and a woman dressed as though for cocktail party. All file past the commander, who shakes their hands and poses for the army photographer.

One Green Zone veteran said General Petraeus drew bigger crowds than almost any other celebrity visitor, including Angelina Jolie, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State. Only the right-wing talk show host Bill O'Reilly, known for shouting down liberal guests on his Fox Channel programme, drew similar crowds.

General Petraeus has often said that he has no ambition to run for public office, but this would be perfect training for any campaign trail. His smile never wavers throughout the 45-minute ritual, which, with military precision, gets more than 500 people across the wooden podium in a cafeteria of the Republican Palace.

Only at the very end does he look slightly bemused, when he finds himself posing in a group photo with eight Sri Lankan waiters, far from home and looking for a little celebrity action to relieve the tedium of their daily grind.

Then he steps off the stage and marches briskly back to the business of running the war.

Too bad we have to read about this on a UK web site.

07 July 2008

Finish the Job

The new ad from Vets for Freedom.

FOB Bostick

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher D. Kolenda (left) and Command Sergeant Major Victor Pedraza (right), commander and command sergeant major of 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), unveil a plaque dedicated to Maj. Thomas Bostick at Forward Operating Base Naray, in Konar province, Afghanistan, June 28. During the ceremony, FOB Naray was renamed FOB Bostick in memory of Bostick.

Konar base renamed after fallen hero

By Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird
173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (July 2, 2008) – Forward Operating Base Naray in Konar province, Afghanistan, was renamed FOB Bostick to honor and remember a fallen Soldier who died leading his men.

Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Afghan National Army soldiers gathered near FOB Naray’s helicopter landing zone June 28, to officially rename their forward operating base in memory of Maj. Thomas Bostick, the former commander of Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), from Llano, Texas.

“Today we celebrate the life of the finest combat leader I have ever met,” said LTC Christopher D. Kolenda, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne) commander. “He died while saving the lives of his paratroopers against a numerically superior foe.”

Bostick was leading a convoy back to FOB Keating after meeting with local elders near Kamu Village when it was ambushed by insurgents. Bostick and Staff Sgt. William R. Fritsche were killed during the ensuing fire fight. Another 13 American Soldiers were wounded in the engagement.

“We dedicate this forward operating base to his legacy and memory,” said Kolenda. “Let all who enter this base, and all who write or speak the name of it be reminded that freedom is not free.”

A few days after the fire fight, village elders tired of the fighting going on near their villages approached Kolenda, which resulted in the 100-man shura.

“The price paid in blood that day has led to greater stability in one of the most violent districts in the country,” Kolenda said. “[It has] set the conditions for the emergence of the 100-man shura, and has increased the safety and security of civilian and soldier alike in that region.”

Near the end of the ceremony two F-15 Fighter Jets flew side-by-side over FOB Bostick to pay their final respects to a fallen hero.

Thanks to John at the Castle.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

04 July 2008

5,500 years of service


Servicemembers from all over Iraq gathered here today in the Al Faw Palace rotunda on Camp Victory, to re-enlist and celebrate America’s Independence Day.

All 1,215 servicemembers celebrated by raising their right hand and pledging to continue defending the ‘land of the free’ in what is the largest re-enlistment ceremony since the all-volunteer force began in 1973, according to the Multi-National Force – Iraq Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt, Maj. Marvin L. Hill.

“Volunteering to continue to serve our nation, while deployed – is both noble and inspiring,” said Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general, Multi-National Force – Iraq. “It is, as award citations often state, in keeping with the finest traditions of our military services.” ...

“You and your comrades here have been described as America’s new greatest generation, and, in my view, you have more than earned that description,” Petraeus said. “It is the greatest of honors to soldier here with you.”

Happy Independence Day.

24th MEU extended 30 days in Afghanistan

Marine Corps Times:

“Their extension comes at the request of [International Security Assistance Force] and with the approval of [Defense Secretary Robert Gates],” said Maj. David Nevers from the Pentagon. “This will afford the MEU the opportunity to continue building on the tremendous success they have achieved during their tour there.”

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based, 2,200-strong MEU deployed to southern Afghanistan in March for what was to be a “one-time, seven-month” assignment, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in mid-January as news of the unit’s deployment was released.

The month-long extension means Marines and sailors with the MEU will return home in early to mid-November, Nevers said. It does not apply to about 1,000 members of the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, an infantry battalion deployed to southern Afghanistan earlier this year to train Afghan forces.

More on the Marines in Afghanistan.

Rockin' 4th of July in Samarra, Iraq


h/t Blackfive

Independence Day - the Pledge

(Originally posted 4 July, 2007.)

"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

- The Declaration of Independence

Today it seems that every soldier killed in action and every minor skirmish involving American troops is front-page news. But 231 years after the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Continental Congress, we seem to have lost sight of the everyday heroics and sacrifices that made this republic possible. The Revolutionary War took eight years to win, with many defeats and setbacks along the way. We owe those who stuck with it and made those sacrifices more than we know.

Brendan Miniter's column in yesterday's Opinion Journal takes a look back at the Revolutionary War battles which took place in and around New York.

As a New Jersey native, the tragic retreat of General Washington's small Army through the state during the winter of 1776 was always very real to me. Many homes are historical monuments, and main throroughfares are marked with the sign "1776 Retreat Route". And then there's the Palisades along the Hudson River, where fortifications still stand.

At that time the Army was in a critical state in every way. It lacked clothing, food, tents, and ammunition. It was composed chiefly of militia, and many of their terms of service were about to expire. The military force was on the point of dissolution, and faced the presence of a well-disciplined, well-appointed, and victorious enemy.

Washington's pleas for reinforcements and supplies to all quarters - particularly to General Lee - went unanswered. He was forced to retreat further into New Jersey, finally crossing the Delaware River in December.

But there was one thing that represented to me the courage and determination of this small, poorly supplied Army more than any other: The large iron rings bored into the cliffs of the Palisades, to which a chain across the Hudson River was once attached. I will never forget my father explaining their history to me.

Inside what is now Bear Mountain State Park, not far from West Point, fortifications were built to stop the British from gaining control of the Hudson River and with it the ability to split New England and eastern New York from the rest of the country, which might have allowed the British to pacify less rebellious Southern states.

American soldiers had stretched a large chain across the Hudson, built fortifications and waited. A year after Washington was driven from New York City, the British launched an ambitious campaign. Gen. John Burgoyne was dispatched to move south from Canada and link up with other British forces, some of whom would sail up the Hudson. In October 1777, the king's army arrived in the Hudson Valley, assaulted the fortifications and, with a final bayonet charge, defeated the Americans. They then broke the chain.

Those who defended the redoubt that still stands today held off waves of British soldiers before finally being defeated. And their gallantry wasn't in vain. By forcing the British to take the valley by force, the Americans set in motion a series of events that would help win the war.

During these darkest days of the Revolutionary War there were many who lost faith. History will again show that the gallantry of today's warfighters to be no less in vain than that of their comrades. That is the chain which will never be broken.

03 July 2008

From The Frontline Trailer

Promo for the show From The Frontline, featuring U.S. Marines serving in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. Produced by Regimental Combat Team 1.

July's From The Frontline videos coming soon at RCT 1's blog, where you can also find previous shows.

The courage of the defenders

15 hostages freed from leftist FARC guerillas in "audacious" rescue by Columbian commandos:

American Hostages Rescued in Colombia Arrive in U.S. After Rebels Tricked

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said military intelligence agents infiltrated the guerrilla ranks and led the local commander in charge of the hostages, alias Cesar, to believe they were going to take them to Alfonso Cano, the guerrillas' supreme leader, to discuss a possible hostage swap.

The hostages, who had been divided in three groups, were taken to a rendezvous with two disguised MI-17 helicopters piloted by Colombian military agents — one on the ground, the other hovering above. The choppers were painted white, without insignias.

Betancourt said her hands and feet were bound, which she called "humiliating."

At first she thought the pilots — a crew of four with nine "assistants" dressed in white — were from a relief organization. Then she saw their Che Guevara shirts and assumed they were rebels.

Only when they were airborne did she notice that Cesar, who had treated her so cruelly for so many years, was naked and blindfolded on the floor.

"The chief of the operation said, `We're the national army. You're free,"' she said.

A WSJ Op Ed notes:

Mr. Uribe did everything he could to win a negotiated settlement, even freeing a high-level FARC comandante at the behest of Mr. Sarkozy. But Mr. Uribe refused to abandon the hard-won gains of his military over the past six years by surrendering territory to the rebels, which was their key demand. For this he was assailed by his political adversaries and Mr. Sarkozy. Democrats in Washington also got into the act, working behind the scenes to put pressure on the Colombian government.

Having dealt with the rebels for so many years, Mr. Uribe knew better than to count on the FARC negotiating in good faith. His determination has now paid off in a dramatic hostage rescue without paying any further political ransom.

When talking fails, it's time to execute with the language of last resort.

02 July 2008

A "moment of history" for Iraq

Iraqi expats talk in an Egyptian restaurant:

"I am from Fallujah" says one man – an art agent – with a cigar ever between his fingers. "We should make the most benefit from the Americans while we can. It is a moment of history. We either get a state now, or we will always be like this." ...

A former colleague of mine at the University of Baghdad, who now lives with her family in Abu Dhabi, told me that she was stunned by the optimism of her fellow Iraqis when she went to support the Iraqi soccer team in a World Cup qualifier match against Australia in Dubai. "They were of every color in the Iraqi rainbow, but you can speak of two common things among them: telling you about their plans to go home within months and considering the Americans to be partners in that home they are returning to."

More insight at the WSJ from Numan Al Faddagh, an Iraqi resident of Cairo.