31 December 2007

Annual New Year's Eve Reminder

Not sure why I get such a kick out of this but hey, I'm easily amused.

30 December 2007


Pfc. Roger Montague, a Ramah, N.M., native with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, escorts a toddler down the street during a joint patrol in Baghdad’s Karkh District Aug. 2. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alexis Harrison, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.

One of my favorite photosa of the year. It really says it all for me. And to all of the guys who served in Iraq any time between 2003 and today, I hope you know that each and every one of you made a difference. As part of an incremental process, every single thing you did led to where we are today. Thank you.

Two other posts to check out are Badger 6's Year in Review at Badgers Forward and Sgt Hook's Person of the Year.

Update: Wow. The Telegraph actually got it right. Via Ace.

173rd ABCT 319th AFAR in Pech River Valley, Afghanistan

Soldiers of B Battery, 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Blessing in the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Interviewed are: Gun Team Chief SGT Daniel Branstrator, Ass't Gunner PFC Joshua Harbeson, and 1st Canoneer PFC Freddy Tiscarino.

Report from SPC Nathan Bowen, AFN.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

27 December 2007

The Sky Soldiers of the Korengal

A Black Hawk helicopter landing at the Korengal Outpost.

The Vanity Fair feature by Sebastian Junger is out. He was with the 173rd ABCT in Afghanistan this summer on a joint embed with Brian Ross of ABC News, who pitched their coverage with obscene headlines like "Ambush: Video Shows U.S. Troops Being Hunted, Killed". Junger is mostly able to leave politics aside and delivers a gripping (if borderline sensational) piece well worth a read, accompanied by great photography from Tim Hetherington.

A strategic passage wanted by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley is among the deadliest pieces of terrain in the world for U.S. forces. One platoon is considered the tip of the American spear.

They are the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company, of the Second Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Second Platoon is one of four in Battle Company which covers the Korengal.

Traditional airborne calling card.

The soldiers of Second Platoon lurch out of their cots and feel around for weapons in the electric-blue light before dawn. The dark shapes around them are the mountains from which they will get shot at when the sun rises. A local mosque injects the morning silence with a first call to prayer. Another day in the Korengal.

The men assemble with their trousers untucked from their boots and their faces streaked with dirt and stubble. They wear flea collars around their waists and combat knives in the webbing of their body armor. Some have holes in their boots. Several have furrows in their uniforms from rounds that barely missed. They carry family photographs behind the bulletproof steel plates on their chests, and a few carry photographs of women in their helmets, or letters.

Junger tells the story of these men, including many familiar names like SPC Hugo Mendoza and SGT Josh Brennan. Or SGT Kevin Rice and SPC Carl Vandenberge, whom I briefly met when they were later medevaced to Germany for injuries suffered in the attack which claimed the life of SSG Larry Rougle.

Junger writes of Vandenberge, "probably the strongest man in the platoon, who stands six feet five and weighs 250. Specialist Vandenberge doesn’t say much but smiles a lot and is reputed to be a computer genius back home. In June, I saw him throw an injured man over his shoulder, ford a river, and then carry him up a hill. His hands are so big he can palm sandbags. He turned down a basketball scholarship to join the army."

And of Rice: "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."

Read the rest here including the photo gallery which illustrates the extreme conditions under which the paratroopers operate.

H/T Jules Crittenden

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

26 December 2007

Once a Marine, always a Marine

Email from a former Marine who rallies the members of his local VFW to make regular donations of phone cards for the patients at Landstuhl.

Hi MaryAnn:

I'm sending you some more phone cards. Should be there in a couple of weeks.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a great New Year.

In 1952, I spent Christmas and New Years on an Outpost in Korea. On New Year's Eve, the 11th Mar. Reg. (artillery) shot a Regimental Time on Target. I don't think the Chinese appreciated our method of celebrating the occasion. It was great.

"It was great." Heh. These guys never change.

Some day, with his permission, I'll have to share his story about the Battle of the Hook.

Operation Winter Stand

PFC Fortier, 1-503 IN BN, 173rd ABCT, pulls security at a landing zone in Naka, Afghanistan.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

24 December 2007

Christmas Message from Afghanistan

From the Sky Soldiers of Battle Company, 2-503 IN, 173rd ABCT who are manning the Korengal Outpost in Afghanistan:

Merry Christmas to all -

I am writing to you to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. The men of Battle Company and I want to ensure that you know you are all deep in our thoughts and prayers as the whole Battle Hard family celebrates their holiday season apart from those they love.

As members of the family I wanted to include you in our best wishes, and ensure that you know and understand that we celebrate this season with you.

Despite our losses this year we will honor those who have given their all with a small show of appreciation. Tomorrow night at 1500 Zulu the men of Battle Company will shoot one illumination round for each of our fallen brothers.

Each of the rounds will be fired by one of the soldier's brothers in order, and lying over the spot in which they made their final sacrifice. I will include pictures of the occasion tomorrow night on a follow up email, but wanted each of you to know that at 1500 Zulu (1000 AM EST) if you look up into the sky-- know that your Battle Hard Family is there with you.

Please don't take this in the wrong way, but as a gesture of appreciation and a way for the Battle soldiers spread across the valley and the world to unite and pay tribute to their fallen brothers. I ask that at 1500 Zulu you join in with us and look out your window and up into the sky and know that we celebrate this Christmas as a family.

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Holidays.

I hope you'll all be standing by Christmas day at 1500 Zulu.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

Merry Christmas

Arrived the other day to spend Christmas with the family in the U.S. The last family member will arrive this afternoon on a red eye after working the Hawaii Bowl game last night.

It feels odd not to be with the guys at Landstuhl, but I'll be thinking of them and everyone downrange. They all do what they do so the rest of us can celebrate Christmas at home with our families.

I'd like to ask you to please join me in sending up some special thoughts and prayers to the Hauser family who arrived at Walter Reed 2 days ago after over three weeks in Germany. Hugs and much love to you, Margie and Ray. We're all pulling for Mike!

Last but not least, a shout out to my buddy and hero Zach, back in Texas from Iraq via Landstuhl and Bethesda just in time for Christmas.

A blessed and peaceful Christmas to all!

20 December 2007

Victory is an orphan

Victor Davis Hansen on impatience, historical amnesia, and the juvenile demand for perfection.

[M]ore likely the American public, not the timeless nature of war, has changed.

We no longer easily accept human imperfections. We care less about correcting problems than assessing blame — in postmodern America it is defeat that has a thousand fathers, while the notion of victory is an orphan.

We fail to assume that the enemy makes as many mistakes but addresses them less skillfully. We do not acknowledge the role of fate and chance in war, which sometimes upsets our best endeavors.

Most importantly we are not fixed on victory as the only acceptable outcome.

What are the causes of this radically different attitude toward military culpability?

An affluent, leisured society has adopted a therapeutic and managerial rather than tragic view of human experience — as if war should be controllable through proper counseling or a sound business plan.

We take for granted our ability to talk on cell phones to someone in Cameroon or select from 500 cable channels; so too we expect Saddam instantly gone, Jeffersonian democracy up and running reliably, and the Iraqi economy growing like Dubai's in a few seasons. If not, then someone must be blamed for ignorance, malfeasance, or inhumanity.

It is as though we expect contemporary war to be waged in accordance with warranties, law suits, and product recalls, and adjudicated by judges and lawyers in stale courtrooms rather than won or lost by often emotional youth in the filth, confusion, and barbarity of the battlefield.

This excellent essay offers some important reminders from the past, putting the state of our current conflicts into much-needed historical perspective.

H/t Power Line

Update: In semi-related news, this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy: (via CDR Salamander at Milblogs)
After months of congressional pressure, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation of an Army general who tried to bring murder charges against U.S. troops. ...

"I am troubled by the premeditated-murder charges levied against Master Sergeant Troy Anderson and Captain Dave Staffel" of Special Forces, said Mr. Jones, in an October letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. "Based on his own statements, Lieutenant General Frank Kearney directed that charges be brought against these two American heroes despite the fact that the two soldiers were exonerated by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command." ...

The three-star general angered many Army Special Forces and Marine Special Operations Command members when he tried twice to bring legal actions against U.S. forces.

Whether Lt Gen Kearney's motives were personal or based on the aforementioned unrealistic expectations of perfectionism and PC-ness in war, as a good friend of mine quipped last night, "Nothing is quite so difficult to watch as a big organization with a very big ass trying to cover it."

Good to see that people are waking up to the fact that some of these CYA, kneejerk reactions can be legally considered "overreach".

The Screaming Angels

(This is a repost from April, 2006. I thought of it recently now that the 101st are back downrange.)

From a letter submitted by Aric Catron, 25, a Washington state National Guardsman to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

On one of those days in Iraq where I wasn't sure if I'd see my daughter again, I was working at a checkpoint near a small camp in the desert. (...)

On this particular day one of the locals had his little girl with him. She was shyly watching me from behind his legs. When I smiled and waved at her, she brazenly ran up to me with a big smile and held out her arms, expecting to be picked up.

At first I was shocked at her sudden bravery, and it took me a second to reach down and pick her up. When I did, she immediately kissed me on my cheek and then nestled in as if she meant to stay a while.

I looked toward her father and he immediately began talking rapidly in Arabic and gesturing at me. Our translator quickly explained that he, the father, had been locked in a prison for most of the child's life. He had been sentenced to death for being a Shiite dissident traitor.

The man went on to say that soldiers wearing the same patch on the shoulder as I was (the 101st Airborne Division) had freed him shortly after we began the liberation of Iraq.

His daughter from then on believed that the famous Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st meant that we were angels sent to protect her family.

Read the rest.

Thanks to Soldiers' Angel Nila for passing this on.

16 December 2007

"Concerned" Canines

Photo Seth Robinson, S&S.

Now even the dogs are joining the Concerned Citizens:
"Molly", an Iraqi dog who lives at COP Blackfoot, patrols southern Baghdad with a member of Company E, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment.

“Every time we go on patrol, she is waiting at the front gate for us to come out. When there’s enemy fire she will stay out there. She just kind of hides,” [1st Lt. Fernando] Pelayo said.

Soldiers seem to like having a dog with them when they head into southern Baghdad’s battle-scarred Hadar neighborhood. Molly walks ahead, growling at the wild dogs that roam the rubbish-strewn streets, keeping them away from the soldiers.

“In this area there are so many dogs. When we go out dogs see and hear us from a good distance away, but Molly does a good job keeping them away and making them shut up and keeping them quiet so they don’t give away our position,” Pelayo added.

14 December 2007

Eyewitness Account of Huge Taliban Defeat in Musa Qala

In a scene the Combined Joint Task Force 82 website calls "reminiscent of America’s Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, the Afghan National Army (ANA) unfurls their Flag over Musa Qaleh."

Initial reports claimed the Taliban had fled before NATO troops attacked.

But this report by Stephen for ABC News (via Ace), confirmed by other information I have, tells a different story:

As the only journalist to join NATO forces entering the town, I found it a ghost town abandoned by both the Taliban and its residents at the end of an eight-day coalition operation. The offensive was one of NATO's biggest in the country since Operation Anaconda in 2002.

Embedded with a team of British troops and a detachment/"A–team" of U.S. special forces, I watched the Taliban being pounded these last few days with overwhelming force -- vapor trails circled in the clear blue sky over the Helmand desert as B1 and B52 bombers backed by A10 tank busters, F16s, Apache helicopters and Specter gunships were used to kill hundreds of Taliban fighters.

The operation was launched last Tuesday with an attack across the Helmand River by British Royal Marine commandos, a thrust from the west by light armor of the U.K. Household Cavalry Regiment; all this, however, was a feint for the main airborne landing from the north of a battalion of soldiers of Task Force Fury from the 82nd Airborne.

Faced with a full brigade of NATO forces, a brigade of Afghan government fighters and the defection of a key Taliban commander, the Taliban chose not to flee at first but to fight a desperate battle.

I joined one feint attack of Afghan soldiers last Friday that came under fierce Taliban fire in a village on the outskirts of Musa Qala -- AK47s and heavy machine gun fire opened up on us as we advanced across open ground. The British and Afghans counterattacked backed by U.S. special forces who opened up with 50-caliber fire and by calling three F16 strikes and a B1 bomber strike.

On Sunday, as the 82nd Airborne advanced to take positions north, east and south of the town, I watched the sky being lit with large explosions from heavy ordnance dropped from the air to support the U.S. advance.

U.S. forces believe the Taliban were backed by a large strength of foreign fighters, including those linked to al Qaeda. Soldiers who I accompanied found one dead fighter whose notebook revealed he was from Pakistan.

While hundreds of Taliban are believed to have been killed, two British soldiers and one American soldier lost their lives. All the deaths, however, resulted from vehicles striking mines left not, it is believed, by the Taliban but by Soviet forces in the 1980s.

On Monday, after days of fierce fighting -- more ferocious than NATO commanders had expected -- the Taliban called it quits and fled the town. Afghan troops entered the town on Tuesday and completed their occupation on Wednesday after only token further resistance.

Task Force 1 FURY suffered the loss of Corporal Tanner O'Leary. He was in the Scout Platoon HHC 1-508. Godspeed, CPL O'Leary. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

11 December 2007

Clark - Wells Wedding at BAMC

Army Spc. Josh Wells and his bride Brandi were married Nov. 20 in a hospital room at Brooke Army Medical Center.

SPC Wells and financee Brandi Clark had planned to wed after his deployment in Iraq. But their plans changed when Josh was injured and subsequently flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas:

"The first day she got here, she came with my family and it was the first time seeing me" since the injury, Wells said.

"Brandi asked everyone to leave the room and I didn't know why."

Wells' fears were quickly dispelled.

"Brandi got down on one knee and she proposed to me," he said.

"She said this is her way of letting me know, legs or no legs, we had both discussed that we were gonna get married when I got back."

Congratulations and many blessings to the happy couple!

h/t Stryker Brigade News

As Surge Succeeds and Casualty Rates Fall, ABC, CBS and NBC Lose Interest

What a bunch of creeps these people are.

Back in September, as reporters voiced skepticism of General Petraeus’ progress report, the networks aired a total of 178 Iraq stories, or just under two per network per night. (See chart.) About one-fourth of those stories (42) were filed from Iraq itself, with most of the rest originating in Washington.

In October, TV’s war news fell by about 40 percent, to 108 stories, with the number of reports filed from Iraq itself falling to just 20, or less than one-fifth of all Iraq stories. By November, the networks aired a mere 68 stories, with only eleven (16%) actually from the war zone itself.

Via NewsBusters and Ace.

Troops in Ameriyah

Orlando, Fla., native Sgt. Howell Horan, Company C, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), stands ready to move out on a mission from the Bushmaster Joint Combat Outpost in western Baghdad, Nov. 30. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James P. Hunter, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. Public Affairs)

09 December 2007

Going Home

He has the Look. He’s tall, wiry, and explosive. And he has the Look in his eyes.

I see it again later up close when I give him a couple of t-shirts. Like a deer in the headlights, but something else, too. Shocked, surprised, scared, and angry. Very angry.

Shocked and surprised at the creeping realization that what he’d experienced was going to be with him forever. Scared about what it could do to him. And angry about it. He’d never considered all this before; he’d believed he was invincible.

We didn’t talk about anything specific right then, so I don’t remember what led to me holding out a coin in the palm of my outstretched hand.

“I didn’t get a single fucking coin,” he says bitterly, looking at it. “Some guys got tons of ‘em. I got a Purple Heart, but I’m not proud of it.”

I continue to hold out my hand with the coin. I say nothing as we look at each other.

Finally, slowly, he takes my hand.

“Man, my nicotine level is getting low, “ I say, turning away. “I gotta go out for a smoke.”

“Yeah, good idea. I’ll come with you.”

Outside, in the dark and the fog and the rain, it all comes out.

The things he’d seen, the things he’d done. The things he claimed he could never tell anyone who hadn’t been there.

Most of all about his friend, who cried as he lay mortally wounded.

“Don’t let me die… please, don’t let me die… “

“I mean, I’m probably going to hear that for the rest of my fucking life!”

He’s angry again. The true grief over his friend’s death is yet to come. For now, he’s realizing what this has done to him. That he’s changed now.

He doesn’t want to be changed.

Usually, I just listen, inserting a casual, "That sucks, man" or a "That's fucked up, dude" at appropriate intervals. Like what they're talking about is the most normal thing in the world, which it is. For them.

And they sure as hell don’t need me telling them how they should feel.

But he’s asking me to say something now, with his eyes. He wants me to say it will go away.

“Yeah, you probably are going to hear him for the rest of your life. That's how it should be. Don't push him away. “

Not what he expects or wants to hear, but he’s still listening. Waiting.

“I think everything we experience becomes part of us, whether we want it or not. I dunno, but with stuff like that it's usually better to embrace it. It’s part of you now.”

He thinks about that for a minute, then asks, "You mean kinda like a tatt?"


* * *

The following day. We practically bump into each other, literally. He’s not in Civilian, because he’s got appointments at the hospital.

“You look handsome in your uniform.”

This is not a flirt, nor is it a mother/son thing. Neither of us is smiling as we look at each other.

Handsome. Not a Monster; not Broken. Uniform. A Soldier; a Man.

An eternity unfolds, then collapses back to the present. Only a few seconds have passed.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

We go our separate ways.

* * *

Later, I’m drinking a hot chocolate in the lobby before I go. He comes in, but instead of just walking through he takes a seat on the other side of the room when he sees me.

There’s a loose togetherness in the relatively small room. The two Soldiers playing pool, the CQ at the desk, a couple of guys sitting at the computers on the other side. Him. Me.

He’s going home tomorrow, and I can tell he’s practicing. Figuring out if he’s ready for the World. Testing how it feels to be (kind of) in public with a civilian female his Mom’s age.

It feels ok.

Another Soldier goes over to him, says something, and he laughs. For the first time, I see the smile reach his eyes. And for the first time, I see the boy inside the man.

I get up, walk over to him on my way out and say, “Ok, I’m leaving now – gimme a hug!”

He jumps up and holds out his arms.

06 December 2007


IRAQ - An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron lands at Balad Air Base, Iraq, after conducting a mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The F-16s and aircrews currently assigned to the 22nd EFS are deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. John Nimmo, Sr.)

Congratulations, Some Soldier's Mom!

SSM's a grandma! Go over and see the latest addition to the family.

Congratulations, SSM. And welcome to the world, baby Thomas!

05 December 2007

New childrens' pool opens at Baghdad Zoo

Carlisle, Pa., native Capt. Amy Cronin, the special projects officer for the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, “christens” the new children’s pool with a couple of Iraqi men during its grand opening ceremony at Zawra Park in central Baghdad, Dec. 1. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

04 December 2007

Army - Navy rivalry at Landstuhl hospital

Amazing what you can do with a couple of post-it notes and some paper clips...

USAREUR announces '08 deployments for 4,200 more troops

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Some 8,000 Europe-based soldiers will be heading to Iraq and Afghanistan next year, according to an announcement Wednesday from U.S. Army Europe.

Officials announced the upcoming deployments of some 4,200 soldiers to be sent between March and November, for an expected 15-month tour. Those units come mostly from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, headquartered in Kaiserslautern but with units based throughout Germany.

There are currently 13,500 Europe-based troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said.

The newly announced units are in addition to some 3,800 soldiers with the Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, whose expected 2008 deployment was previously announced by the Department of Defense.

Additionally, a number of units scheduled for deployment next year originally were scheduled to deploy this year. Those units are marked with an asterisk (*).

All but one of the units deploying next year are based in Germany. The exception is the 1st Platoon (Postal), 111th Adjutant General Company, from Vicenza, Italy.

Numerous communities in Germany will be affected by the unit deployments, including Bamberg, Baumholder, Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels, Illesheim, Kaiserslautern, Mannheim, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden.

The units deploying next year are:

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
V Corps will send:

54th Engineer Battalion (Combat)
370th Engineer Company (Combat)
3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment (AH-64 Helicopter)
The 21st Theater Sustainment Command will send:

230th Military Police Company*
391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion*
68th Transportation Company*
212th Military Police Company*
486th Movement Control Team
Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 793rd Military Police Battalion
69th Transportation Company
18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
51st Transportation Company
209th Army Liaison Team
574th Quartermaster Company
16th Sustainment Brigade
70th Transportation Company
406th Adjutant General Company (U.S. Army Reserve)
106th Financial Management Company
Detachment C, 106th Financial Management Company
The 95th Military Police Battalion will send seven Patrol/Explosive Dog Detection Teams and one Military Police Specialized Search Dog Team.
1st Personnel Command will send:

1st Platoon (Postal), 111th Adjutant General Company from Vicenza)
1st Platoon (Postal), 147th Adjutant General Company
2nd Platoon (Postal), 147th Adjutant General Company
3rd Platoon (Postal), 147th Adjutant General Company
266th Finance Command will send:

Detachment A, 8th Finance Battalion
Detachment C, 8th Finance Battalion
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
The 21st Theater Sustainment Command will send:

495th Movement Control Team
624th Movement Control Team
527th Military Police Company*
The 95th Military Police Battalion will send two Patrol/Explosive Dog Detection Teams; five Patrol/Explosive Dog Detection Teams; and a Military Police Specialized Dog Search Team

1st Personnel Command will send:

1st Platoon (Postal), 566th Adjutant General Company
3rd Platoon (Postal), 566th Adjutant General Company
International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan):
From 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command:
Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment

03 December 2007

Photo Journalist Jim Nachtwey at Landstuhl

AFN interview with GQ Photo Journalist Jim Nachtwey at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

30 November 2007

Medical Warriors

Matt Sanchez from the Air Force hospital in Balad (via Mrs Greyhawk):

Maj. Boyd read, as the hospital staff gathered around.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul."

The chaplain told me he liked to read Psalm 23 because it said the most with the fewest words.

"Attention," a female lieutenant colonel commanded. Everyone drew upright.

Men and women in their scrubs who looked very much like normal nurses and doctors revealed themselves to be something much more.

All were silent as two soldiers approached the body. They unfurled the American flag. One tucked part of the flag underneath the soldier, while the other folded the other end over.

"Present arms."

The two soldiers took out their comrade-in-arms and the men and women snapped to a salute.

Read the whole thing.

2nd SCR captures suspect in May abduction of 10th MTN Soldiers

A Company E, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment soldier takes part in raiding a house in Al Hadar, Baghdad, in search of al-Qaida in Iraq member Abu Raquyyah early Monday morning. Photo and story: Seth Robson / S&S.

Baghdad - A raid by 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment soldiers netted an alleged al-Qaida in Iraq operative who soldiers said was linked to the May 12 abduction of three 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division soldiers.

The three were taken in an attack that killed four other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi soldier. The body of one of the missing soldiers, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., was discovered in the Euphrates River in late May but the Army is still searching for the other two soldiers — Pvt. Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Spc. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.

Dragoons from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s Company E, 2nd Squadron, raided several houses in Baghdad’s Hadar neighborhood early Monday morning after a tip that Abu Raquyyah was in one of them. ...

Company E soldiers moved by moonlight to a group of houses, only a short walk from their base at Combat Outpost Blackfoot, then smashed their way into several buildings, clearing rooms as they went.

Raquyyah was unarmed and surrendered without a fight when soldiers entered the house he shared with a woman and four children.

29 November 2007

Quote of the Day

“The American feminist movement has not taken one stand to support the women of Iraq, the women of Afghanistan, the women of Iran,” she said. “It is the United States Marines who have been doing the feminist work by liberating women and children around the world.”

- Radio personality Tammy Bruce, former president of the Los Angles chapter of the National Organization for Women and past member of their board of directors, in an interview with FOX News.

Bruce criticized NOW for not taking a stand against Sudan's arrest of British teacher Gilliam Gibbons, who was charged Wednesday with inciting religious hatred - a crime punishable by 40 lashes - after allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammad.

Thanks to JHD.

28 November 2007

Tip from Concerned Local Citizen leads to massive weapons cache in southern Ninevah

From Multi-National Division – North PAO.

QAYYARAH, Iraq – Iraqi Police from Qayyarah discovered a large weapons cache in Kredi, located approximately 13 kilometers southwest of Qayyarah, Nov. 25 while conducting operations based on a tip from a Concerned Local Citizen.

The IPs discovered seven 82mm Iranian mortars and a fully functional suicide vest.

In addition, they discovered over 130 Russian 57mm rockets; over 60 Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian and South African mortar rounds of assorted sizes; over 230 assorted high explosive and fragmentation hand grenades; approximately 70 Russian anti-personnel landmines; 100 various types of rocket-propelled grenades with motors; 150 pounds of unknown bulk explosives; and an assortment of propellant, detonator cord, grenade fuses, and bomb-making accessories – to include – four empty metal box bombs.

“This is a significant find by the Iraqi Police that will hurt the terrorists’ ability to launch future attacks that are intended to injure and kill Iraqi citizens and the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Lt. Col. Robert McLaughlin, commander of the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

More stepping up:

HAWIJA, Iraq (AP) — Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance — called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began — covers the "last gateway" for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said. ...

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by dozen sheiks — each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding — who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq. ...

The recently arrived militants have waged a campaign of killing and intimidation to try to establish a new base, said Sheikh Khalaf Ali Issa, mayor of Zaab village.

"They killed 476 of my citizens, and I will not let them continue their killing," Issa said. ...

"Hawija is the gateway through which all our communities — Kurdish, Turkomen and Arab alike — can become unsafe," said Abu Saif al-Jabouri, mayor of al-Multaqa village north of Kirkuk. "Do I love my neighbor in Hawija? That question no longer matters. I must work to help him, because his safety helps me."

That last line sounds an awful lot like "reconciliation" to me.

Meanwhile, MNF-I announces the world is now rid of these three charming individuals.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Three terrorists killed during two recent operations have been positively identified as Abu Tiba, Abu Harith and Abu Nahr.

Abu Tiba, also known as Talal Abd al Aziz or Captain Talal, was the leader of a terrorist network operating in Samarra. ...

Tiba was involved in extortion, kidnappings, planting improvised explosive devices, the movement of foreign terrorists and conducting attacks against Iraqi and Coalition forces, and Iraqi police.

Tiba was killed during an operation east of Samarra Nov. 12. Coalition forces were targeting an al-Qaeda headquarters believed to be used as a safe house for foreign terrorists. As the ground force entered the target building, Tiba reached for a suicide vest. Perceiving hostile intent, Coalition forces engaged and killed him before the vest detonated.

Abu Harith, also known Abu Tariq, was a legacy al-Qaeda in Iraq member, most recently operating as the leader of a terrorist network in Kirkuk. Harith had numerous connections to senior terrorist leaders in Mosul and frequently made trips there to coordinate al-Qaeda activities for his network.

Abu Nahr was a member of a car-bombing network in Kirkuk. Nahr was responsible for coordinating numerous attacks against Iraq and Coalition forces and was believed to be acting as Harith’s deputy in the Kirkuk network.

Harith and Nahr were killed during an operation north of Hawija Nov. 21. The ground force called for the target building’s occupants to come out and they did not comply. The individuals attempted to draw their weapons and, perceiving hostile intent, the ground force engaged, killing Harith and Nahr.

“These were dangerous terrorists who are thankfully no longer part of the al-Qaeda in Iraq network,” said Navy Capt. Vic Beck, MNF-I spokesman. “We will relentlessly pursue any terrorist leader who tries to deny the Iraqi people a future of their choice.”

Nice going.

173rd ABCT 2-508 PIR in Waygal Valley, Afghanistan

Operations at Outpost Bella in the Waygal Valley, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, home of Chosen Company, 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT.

Interviewed are: Commander CPT Matt Meyer, SAW Gunner PFC Justin Kalentis, Team Leader SGT Jeffery Mersman. After this report was filmed, SGT Mersman was killed in an ambush on 9 November 2007. (See reports here and here.)

Report by SPC Nathan Bowen of AFN.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.


The Soldier had lost one hand and most of the other. Took shrapnel to his face, and one eye is covered with a patch. Blood. Some dried but some fresh seeping out of his nose, ears, and from the shrapnel wounds inside his lips. Tubes coming out of his mouth and everywhere else.

He's not awake, but I talk to him.

Then, he tries to open his eye... first I see just the membrane, then the white of his eye, and finally the pupil rolls down and locks in on my eyes.

The look has the raw and naked intensity of a silent scream.

"You got hurt but you're going to be ok. You're at the Army hospital in Germany and we're taking good care of you."

The eye rolls up, then back down, and locks in on me again. I repeat what I'd just said, adding that his family and the guys downrange all know he's here and know that he's going to be ok, so he shouldn't worry about them.

"Joe! Joe!" The nurse on the other side of the bed says. "This is Lieutenant X... over here." The Soldier turns his head a little in the nurse's direction, but is reluctant to break eye contact with me. He finally does, but after only a second he gets lost and scared and has to look back to lock in on me again.

He lifts his arm, the one without the hand. Just holds it up, then starts waving it. His eye is still locked on to mine.

I see into the depths of a hell I can never understand. It's dust and smoke and fire and blood and pain and screaming and chaos.

I bend down close, put my hand on the side of his bloody face and say, "Your hand. I know." His eye rolls up, then back down. Lock.

He finally puts his arm down.

"We're going to take good care of you", I say. "Get some rest."

His eye rolls up, closes, and he slips back into unconsciousness.

27 November 2007

Mission complete

An air weapons team of two AH-64D Apaches from the 1st “Attack” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, come in for a landing at Camp Taji, Iraq, after completing a reconnaissance mission in the skies over Baghdad Nov. 6. (U.S. Army photo by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel McClinton, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div.)

Operation Santa at the Hospitals

This just in from my good friend Carrie:

Over the next 6 weeks, we'll be surrounded by Christmas carols of all types. One that always tugs at the heartstrings for me is "I'll be Home for Christmas".

"I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams"

What a line for the times we live in.

It will ring true for our military servicemembers in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other far flung location. Their families will miss them and they will miss their families. Operation Santa has programs to assist in sending Christmas love to them this holiday season.

Operation Santa also focuses on another group of heroes this Christmas season. Those men and women who will be in the hospital at Brooke, Bethesda, Balboa and Walter Reed over the holidays.

They won't be home for Christmas either. Operation Santa at the Hospitals will bring them some Christmas love in the form of a handmade, stuffed stocking.

We're stuffing stockings with all kinds of goodies like candy, cookies, crackers, little pads of paper and pens, gift cards to local fast food restaurants, cards from people all over the country, etc.

We can help them be home for Christmas even if it is only in their dreams. It's easier than you think.

This year, I'm partnering with Marine Moms-Bethesda and again operating under Marine Corps Family Foundation's Operation Santa project. Marine Corps Family Foundation is a 501c3 organization so monetary donations are tax deductible. If you are donating to our Operation Santa at the Hospitals project, please note that on your check and mail it to:

Connie Riecke
Marine Corps Family Foundation
4000 Lancaster Drive - Suite 57
Salem, OR 97309

You may also donate via PayPal here. Please note "Operation Santa at the Hospitals" in the note box.

Carrie's in particular need of funds to purchase the restaurant gift cards. We're talking Subway and Burger King here, so even $5 or $10 will go a long way in putting a smile on a wounded Soldier/Airman/Sailor/Marine's face this Christmas.

Thanks for your help!

26 November 2007

Air Assault at Salman Pak: "In the middle of the night, any given night, we can be in there”

Soldiers wait as a Black Hawk helicopter lands to take the troops and 13 detainees back to base after the raid. Photo and story: Joseph Giordono / S&S.

A pre-dawn air assault Sunday by members of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment ended with the capture of 13 suspected insurgents, possibly including the No. 1 “high-value target” in the battalion’s area.

Some 40 soldiers sprang from Black Hawk helicopters around 4 a.m., raiding two compounds in a village of about 5,000 people near Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad. Within minutes, the soldiers had gathered all the men they’d seized, questioning them and comparing their faces to a description and sketch of the target. ...

Planning and rehearsals for the raid had taken up much of the previous two days for the soldiers, led by the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry’s Company B, based at Combat Outpost Cahill, a small “surge” base on the edge of Salman Pak. Soldiers rehearsed landing about 500 meters from the target houses, then quickly setting blocking positions and searching a series of buildings.

It was at least the third raid targeting the man, described as a leading Sunni extremist who runs several cells in and around Salman Pak.

But just two hours before the raid was to launch, new intelligence said the target was at a different compound, some 500 meters away from the original target area, said Capt. Rich Thompson, Company B commander. The plan changed. ...

“Worst-case scenario, we disrupted what he wants to do,” Thompson, the company commander, said. Best-case scanario, they had their man.

But if the main target does not turn out to be one of those in custody, Thompson said, he now knows that “in the middle of the night, any given night, we can be in there.”

Update 27.11.: Well done.

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq — The U.S. military confirmed that one of the men it captured in an early-morning air assault mission Sunday near Salman Pak was the “high-value individual” they were targeting.

Update: More action near Salman Pak on 7 November.

B-roll of Task Force Marne helicopters engaging two buildings and a tower from which an insurgent force was firing upon Combat Outpost Cahill. Scenes include gun tape footage of the buildings being fired upon. (Produced by MND-C HQ)

Photo journalist John McHugh back in Afghanistan

14 May, 2007:

A medic in a flight suit, from the Medevac helicopter, Staff Sergeant Peter Rohrs, knelt beside me. He talked to me as he checked me out, asking me where I was from, and why did I still have a camera in my hands. I asked him how bad it looked, and he said I had a hole in my back about the size of the palm of my hand... [and] "You’ve got another bullet hole in your chest. Looks like the entry wound.” This hole was the size of a penny, and I just couldn’t believe that something so small could cause so much pain.

As I lay on the stretcher I shot a few photographs of Rohrs tending the US soldier beside me, but by now I was really struggling to stay awake. When Master Sergeant Best’s face appeared before me I wasn’t sure if it was real or a dream. He was lying on the ground, with his face up close to mine, and holding my hand. He was upset, and I knew he would blame himself for what happened to me. I told him that he wasn’t to do that, that I had known the risks from the start and had accepted them willingly. At least I think I said that. That’s what I was thinking, but I might not have spoken at all. It was all pretty confusing in my head.

I was emailing with John's fellow photo journalist Chad Hunt last night who told me that John's returned to Afghanistan, where they both spent time with the 10th Mountain Division in 2006/early 2007. You can see some of Chad's excellent work at his website here. I find this "before and after" post particularly poignant.

In October, John, an Irish-born freelance photo journalist, finally wrote about the ambush of 14 May, 2007 in which he and five 10th MTN Soldiers were wounded. The ANA suffered 11 KIA and 4 WIA. This is a must-read.

On 2 November, 2007 - just over 5 months after being shot - he returned to Afghanistan (as he said he would when we met in Germany) and is now with Charlie Company, 1-503rd Infantry, 173rd ABN, currently attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. Go to his blog and read it all.

Be safe, John.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

25 November 2007

The Soldiers of Aid Station Orgun-E in Afghanistan

Aid-station Soldiers run with a patient suffering from a gunshot wound to the leg. The aid-station staff is made up of two units: 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne) from Vicenza, Italy, and the 541st Forward Surgical Team from Fort Bragg, N.C. They function as one. The only thing separating them is the patches on their shoulders, said one medic. Photo and story: Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Bellis.

ORGUN-E, Afghanistan -- A Blackhawk helicopter screams down to the airfield blasting waves of dust, dirt and pebbles. The medics turn their backs to shield their faces from flying debris. Seconds later, they sprint to the helicopter door where a Soldier in a flight suit and helmet pounds chest compressions on a patient hidden from view. They grab the litter and sprint for the hospital doors. Life depends on their speed.

Inside, it’s a frenzy. Chest compressions continue. Voices are loud and commanding, but no one is yelling. Medics dart around the room grabbing supplies and equipment: needles, machines, tubes. Doctors sweat and furrow their brows as they work to stabilize the patient. A nurse stands to the side mentally sifting the tumult, documenting the essentials. The scene appears wild and random, but it isn’t.

The team is focused; every move is deliberate.

The forward surgical team and 1-503rd medics work to stabilize a critically wounded Soldier. The aid station is often the first stop for injured Coalition Soldiers evacuated from combat. The team’s job is to perform surgery if necessary, stabilize the patient for transport and prepare them for higher echelons of care at Bagram Airfield or Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Photo and story: Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Bellis.

“The best way to describe it is controlled chaos,” said Army Capt. Brian Shultz, of the 541st Forward Surgical Team from Fort Bragg, N.C., and one of two general surgeons here.

“You try to remain detached, do your job effectively and to the best of your ability and maintain the efficiency of the team. Afterward, if we do lose people, we sit down and talk about it — if there are things we could’ve done better.”

Despite the team’s best efforts, the patient has passed away.

Some of the medics sit motionless around a table on the aid station’s porch staring at the plywood floor. They only move to bring cigarettes to their lips. No one is ready to talk. One stands in the gravel and pours hydrogen peroxide on his boot. This helps get the blood stains out.

“Everybody deals with it a little differently,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Junod, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne) medical platoon sergeant. “Sometimes, I think just being together is the part that helps the most. ...

“It does take an emotional toll,” said Shultz. “Everyone has their own way of dealing with the shock of losing someone and realizing the finality of it that they’re not coming back. Some guys go to the gym, some guys run, some guys read.”

This team has done plenty. Some have been tasked with a nearly impossible chore: growing up facing loss, tough calls and suffering. Army Pfc. Joshua Ashford, of HHC 1-503rd and just 20 years old, is the youngest on staff. By American standards, he isn’t old enough to drink a beer, but he’s old enough to have someone’s life in his hands.

“When they come in, I kind of just ‘blank’ and I just work. You just do it,” said Ashford. “All your training comes back; you know what has to get done. You don’t really think about it. Once you’re all done and they leave, you kind of sit out back and think about what you went through.”

A member of the forward surgical team displays various items removed from patients during surgery at the aid station. Among them: shrapnel, a bullet and a rock. The large item in the center is a component of a rocket propelled grenade. The team called explosive ordnance disposal in to determine whether or not it posed a threat. Photo and story: Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Bellis.

Medical care here runs the gamut from IED blasts to gunshot wounds, shrapnel, burns and broken bones; intravenous lines, X-rays, splints, atropine and morphine.

“I think we do good things,” said Shultz. “I think we’ve made an impact on the field medical care available, especially in the forward emergency resuscitative realm. All in all, everyone likes what they’re doing here. This is what we’ve been trained to do, so everyone here is happy taking care of injured patients.”

“I sleep so well at night,” said Junod. “I like knowing that what I do counts for something.”

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

24 November 2007

173rd ABCT 2-508 PIR in Watapoor Valley, Afghanistan

Able Co, 2-503rd PIR during operations in the Watapoor Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Interviewed are: Squad Leader SSG Robert Smith, Team Leader Jonathan Smiley, and Forward Observer SGT Matthew Coulter.

Report from SPC Nathan Bowen of AFN.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

23 November 2007

Holy Shite

300,000 Iraqis, including 600 Shiite leaders, condemn Iran in a petition.

"The most poisonous dagger stabbed in us, the Iraqi Shi'ites, is the (Iranian) regime shamefully exploiting the Shi'ite sect to implement its evil goals. They have targeted our national interests and began planning to divide Iraq and to separate the southern provinces from Iraq."

Sure looks to me like we're approaching the "culminating point of victory".

Thanksgiving at the Landstuhl Fisher House

Army Pfc. Josh Young with the 173rd out of Vicenza and his wife, Lisa, hang up Thanksgiving decorations Thursday at the Fisher House on the grounds of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The couple has been staying at the house — which provides free room and board for Landstuhl patients and their families — on and off since Young was wounded in Afghanistan in August. Photo and story: Charlie Reed / S&S.

Army Staff Sgt. Josue Valles with the 173rd out of Vicenza (center) and his parents, Jose and Felicitas Valles, spent Thanksgiving at the Fisher House on the grounds of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The family has been staying at the house for several weeks after Valles was wounded in Afghanistan in October. Photo and story: Charlie Reed / S&S.

Sgt. Clive Morton, Virgin Islands Army National Guard, based in St. Croixwas, and recently brought to Landstuhl Regional Medica Center from Iraq, shakes hands with boxing promoter Don King during lunch Thursday. King was visiting the hospital in Germany for the second time through the USO. Photo and story: Charlie Reed / S&S.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

Be careful what you ask for...

...you just may get it, as our friends Bob and Cindy Connolly have found out. "Two or three boxes" could turn into well over 100, totalling over 2400 lbs.

MaryAnn, I wanted to pass along some good news.

On Nov. 1, I sent around an email to the faculty and staff here at Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill telling them I was looking to assist the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne who were in the mountains, manning the COPs and FOBs along the border. I gave them a ‘Top Ten’ list of items. I hoped I would get some stuff and maybe get two or three boxes for the five addresses I had in the 1-503rd IN.

Be careful what you ask for... I have a 12 foot long, three and half foot wide table in the eating area off the kitchen. I have filled it five times, and packed boxes night after night for most of a week now.

I have 55 boxes packed (many of them large... 25 lbs. or so), I have another 7 boxes of coffee mugs with tops, the table is filled right now (I am sooooo tired of schlepping stuff), and tomorrow (the deadline I gave) promises perhaps the biggest take yet.

My staff colleagues were absolute champions, and some of the faculty jumped in, too. I have heard from more church groups than I can shake a stick at, and even a Ph.D. student brought six bags of stuff.

Also, it turns out that the Dean’s secretary sent this email to her counterparts in all the other schools/colleges on campus.

Today, I took delivery from the Pharmacy school; they told me a couple of boxes but it turned out to be 12. (They apologized that there wasn’t more stuff!)

A faculty member in the School of Public Health delivered a trunk-full of packages from her son’s Boy Scout troop. The boys voted unanimously to support this effort and then did it. I take delivery tomorrow from the School of Public Health faculty and staff. They are sending over the collection in a truck (!!!!), and wanted to know where the loading dock was.

I have people coming out of the woodwork with stuff that I have never seen before, don’t know, and every last one of them is keen to participate.

Today, the campus newspaper had a front-page story about all of this (people have already emailed to ask if it was ‘too late’ to participate), and tomorrow, the university’s faculty/staff paper will appear in mailboxes across campus and it has another story on this effort along with a photo.

My cup doesn’t runneth over... I have a damn flood.

America may be at the mall, but some of them are buying stuff for those who serve in harm’s way. My only regret is that I cannot watch any of this being opened by those paratroopers. That will surely be a wonder to behold.

And here's the (semi) final take:

Well, Cindy and I packed, taped, addressed, hauled, and mailed 99 packages between Monday and Wednesday, but I have 18 in the dining room just waiting for a few extra items to top them off. Cindy totaled the weight today: almost 2400 lbs. so far.

The "Silent Majority" strikes again. Great Americans all. Thanks Bob and Cindy for providing them an opportunity to make a difference.

Soldier of the Month competition on FOB Fenty, Afghanistan

Featuring Soldier of the Month PFC Jonatan Ward, PSD, HHC, 173rd BCT. Congratulations!

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

22 November 2007

High-value turkey

Patrol Base Dragon, Iraq:

Lt. Col. Andrew Rohling considers himself an avid turkey hunter around in the countryside nearby the 101st’s Fort Campbell, Ky., stomping grounds.

Unfortunately for Rohling, no one has reported wild turkey roaming the sands of Iraq.

However, soldiers from Rohling’s 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment spotted a farm with a few turkeys following an air assault into Owesat, southwest of Baghdad.

The battalion’s list of high-value targets quickly gained another member. Farmers tried to give Rohling a free bird, but he insisted on paying them.

“This is my third Thanksgiving here and every time we’ve gotten a turkey,” Rohling said.

The turkey made the trip successfully by Humvee to Patrol Base Dragon, except for an accident involving a staff sergeant’s uniform sleeve. Fortunately for him, PB Dragon has its own laundry machines.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Birthday, 3rd Infantry Division

Missed this yesterday.

Third Infantry Division - 2007 - Rock of the Marne

On November 21, 2007, the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division celebrates its 90th birthday and service to America, dating back to World War I when it’s "Dog Face Soldiers" first blocked German troops from entering Paris and earned them the nickname, "The Rock of the Marne."

From that day forward, the Third Infantry Division was on the front line of every campaign over the next nine decades.

Happy Birthday, all you Dog Face Soldiers!

All but 300 Dagger Brigade Soldiers home for Thanksgiving, relieved by 101st ABN Strike Brigade

With his son, Jonathan, 7, on his shoulders, and his daughter, Deanna, 10, by his side, Staff Sgt. John Garcia, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, was all smiles during a redeployment ceremony at Finney Fitness Facility on Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany. Photo: Mark St.Clair / S&S.

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Finney Fitness Facility was crackling with excitement Tuesday as more than 800 members of Schweinfurt’s Dagger Brigade returned home from Iraq.

With the 300 who arrived Monday — and the same number due Wednesday — 1,400 troops will have returned in 36 hours, leaving fewer than 300 soldiers of the thousands who deployed last year still far from home. ...

Along with the scores of soldiers from units such as 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery and the 299th Forward Support Battalion, Tuesday’s group included the brigade’s commander, Col. J.B. Burton.

Marching at the head of a 270-man formation, Burton looked tired, but proud of the tough job he and his soldiers did.

“We had 15 months of hard fighting and 15 months of positive change everywhere Dagger Brigade was located,” Burton said shortly before marching in. ...

“Thank God that our nation produces soldiers like that,” Burton said, when asked about his soldiers and the heroism they displayed over the past 15 months.

“(As commanders) we cannot become jaded to the fact that there are heroics every day,” Burton said, “what the soldiers do is not what normal people do. It makes my heart swell with pride.”

COL Burton handed over responsibility of northwest Baghdad to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell, Ky., during a transfer of authority ceremony Nov. 17, at the Camp Liberty Field House.

(Front to rear) Fort Worth, Texas native Spc. Douglas Hale, Phoenix native Sgt. Adam Hansen, Newport, Tenn., native Sgt. Cleveland Carr; Foley, Ala., native Sgt. Stoney Hall, and Spc. Jason Baxley, retire the colors following the transfer of authority ceremony between the Schweinfurt, Germany-based 2nd “Dagger” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and the 2nd “Strike” BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James P. Hunter, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. Public Affairs)

“… It is with great humility, but with great confidence in the abilities of the Strike Brigade Combat Team, that I relinquish responsibility for Coalition Force efforts in northwest Baghdad,” he said. “We have achieved the tasks that you put before us, but we leave knowing that there is still much to do.”

Col. William B. Hickman, commander of the 2nd “Strike” Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), speaks to Soldiers and distinguished guests at the transfer of authority ceremony in the Camp Liberty Field House in western Baghdad, Nov. 17. Hickman’s Fort Campbell, Ky.-based brigade assumed responsibility for the security of northwestern Baghdad from the 2nd “Dagger” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, who returns to their loved ones at their home station in Schweinfurt, Germany. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James P. Hunter, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. Public Affairs)

Though the day was a great one for the Dagger Soldiers, who will be returning home to their families in Germany, Col. William B. Hickman, commander of the 2nd “Strike” BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT) said, “It is truly a great day to be a Strike Soldier and now a part of the First Team serving in Multi-National Division - Baghdad.”

The brigade redeployed from south Baghdad in September 2006 and spent the last 12 months preparing themselves for this deployment where they look to, through combined efforts, set the conditions for a strong, prosperous Iraqi future.

“We know this mission comes at a pivotal time and that our actions will make a lasting impact,” Hickman continued. “I know our Soldiers and units are ready for the upcoming challenges and opportunities to serve with the Iraqi Security Forces.”

As the Strike Brigade assumes responsibility of operations in northwest Baghdad, they will have four combat-tested battalions, who have spent the last several months conducting operations throughout northwest Baghdad, fighting by their side.

Joining the 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div., will be the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment; 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment; and the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment.

(Right to left)Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Soldiers Foley, Ala., native Sgt. Stoney Hall, Newport, Tenn., native Sgt. Cleveland Carr, Macon, Mo., native Sgt. Jesse Moore, Phoenix native Sgt. Adam Hansen, and Fort Worth, Texas native Spc. Douglas Hale, perform color guard duties during a transfer of authority ceremony at the Camp Liberty Field House in western Baghdad, Nov. 17. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James P. Hunter, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. Public Affairs)

21 November 2007

President Bush pardons turkeys

Quip from President Bush during the traditional turkey "pardoning" ceremony at the White House in which he announced the names of the lucky turkeys:

I also thank everybody who voted online to choose the names for our guests of honor.

And I'm pleased to announce the winning names. They are "May" and "Flower."

They're certainly better than the names the Vice President suggested, which were "Lunch" and "Dinner."

I realize this story is a complete non sequitur here, but I just had to post it.

Meanwhile, no pardon for this turkey:

Coalition Forces Kill Top Mosul al-Qaida Leader

During operations In Mosul, Coalition forces killed a wanted individual believed to have been a senior leader in Mosul’s terrorist security network. Reports indicate the wanted individual planned attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces, which included multiple suicide car-bombing attacks. Reports also indicate he purchased weapons and explosives for the terrorist network. As Coalition forces approached the target building, an armed man emerged. Perceiving hostile intent, the ground force engaged, killing the terrorist, who was later identified as the wanted individual by one of the building’s occupants.

We'll call him "History".

173rd Airborne Brigade - September Hooah Video

Includes footage from the Soldier of the Month competition at FOB Fenty (Nangarhar Province) and from Able Company, 2-503rd PIR in the Watapoor Valley of Kunar Province. Oh, and the Arty guys in the PT shorts are from the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Blessing in the Pech River Valley of Kunar Province.

Courtesy of the 173D ABN BDE PAO.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

20 November 2007

Operation Attal in Afghanistan: 1-503rd of the 173rd ABN BCT

A soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade watches as a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter carrying Afghan national legislators touches down near a meeting in the rugged country’s eastern mountains. The shura, as it is called, was attended by Afghan mullahs, imams, parliamentarians and Paktika provincial leaders. Security was heavy, with more than 20 U.S. Army snipers posted on the mountaintops surrounding the meeting. Photo: Les Neuhaus / S&S

Les Neuhaus continues his coverage of operations in Afghanistan with this report.

As a three-week Afghan-led sweep of Taliban forces wrapped up in the country’s east on Sunday, U.S. military leaders and Afghan officials sat down with civilians to discuss snuffing out insurgent influence in the area.

During the operation, more than 6,000 Afghan and U.S. Army soldiers searched Afghanistan’s rugged Paktika province, and more specifically, Charbaron district, where Taliban rebels have put up stiff resistance to coalition forces.

“We’ve had tremendous fighting since I’ve been here,” said Capt. John Gibson, 30, who commanded a company from the 173rd’s Airborne Brigade Combat Team throughout Operation Attal.

“The Taliban’s influence was to the point that they were threatening to kill people who didn’t support them.”

At the meeting, mullahs, imams, parliamentarians and provincial leaders took turns speaking, repeating their pleas for the citizenry to stand up to Taliban influence.

“The Taliban can’t stay here unless someone is helping them, and they are getting help,” Afghan parliamentarian Khaled Farouqi said over a microphone to the elders, who were huddled under large tents. Farouqi represents portions of Paktika.

“This is government in action, at the local level,” said Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade, from the sidelines of the conference.

Schweitzer was asked to sit with the Afghan VIPs front and center, but politely declined. It is part of his continuing bid to push attention on to the Afghans themselves, so that the U.S. military can step back, and start letting the Afghans step up.

The 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, a 173rd unit, serves under his command. The men of the 503rd, normally based in Italy, undertook much of the responsibilities for the U.S. in Operation Attal.

At the shura, U.S. Air Force jet fighters screamed low above dancing Afghans kicking up dust as others beat drums. The mood seemed upbeat, even though more than 20 snipers were perched on ridge tops surrounding the heavily fortified tent complex set up for the conference.

Though 2007 has been the deadliest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, commanders remain focused on the long-term goals.

“This shura represents the passion for nationalism that Afghans have in their country,” said Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel, 40, from the meeting.

Fenzel, commander of the 503rd’s 1st Battalion, said some of the 1,600 at Sunday’s meeting had walked nearly 20 miles to get there.

Read the rest of Les' report here.

And during a recent email exchange Les asked me to pass this message on to the families of the 173rd:

"Please also extend my warmest regards to those families of the 173rd that you speak with - they are great troops, so they must come from great families."

Warmest regards and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Soldiers' Angels, too.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

19 November 2007

358 Soldiers earn Expert Infantryman Badge at North Fort Lewis

Spc. Chad Sage, left, and Sgt. Stephen Jenkins, both of A Co., 4-23 Inf., camouflage themselves and equipment during EIB testing on North Fort Lewis. Photo Jason Kaye.

From the Northwest Guardian:

Leaders in 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division set their sights high for the Expert Infantryman Badge last week and their Soldiers reaped the rewards in hardware.

The U.S. Army Infantry School puts the average percentage of Soldiers who pass rigorous EIB testing at somewhere near 30 percent. But the NCOs of 5th Brigade didn’t see themselves as average.

By powering down the instruction and focusing for two weeks on the mission, more than 47 percent of the Soldiers in the three battalions who underwent testing earned the coveted EIBs. ...

The result by the end of the week was 358 new expert infantrymen of the 757 candidates who began.

The EIB was created in October 1943 and first awarded to Soldiers at Fort Bragg in March 1944. Only Soldiers holding infantry or special forces specialties are eligible to earn the award, a distinctive silver infantry musket on a rectangular blue background with a silver border.

The badge sets apart the Soldier as an infantryman who knows his job well. ...

Soldiers navigate through 34 tasks performed at 11 stations. “They have to get a ‘go’ on the station and they only get two tries, pass or fail, and if they fail both, they’re gone,” [brigade operations NCO, Master Sgt. Stan] Sobiech said. “You have to pass the performance measures at each station. If you don’t, you receive a double no-go and you’re out. A third means they’re done.”

Soldiers carrying two no-go’s are know as “blade runners,” he said. “I was one myself, and I earned my EIB.” ...

“It’s up to the squad leader to train all these individual tasks,” he said. “You might train a guy on the squad automatic weapon, but he doesn’t know the 240 (machine gun) until he becomes a 240 gunner. They don’t get that in basic. Out here, every Joe gets experience on every gun.”

Predictably, the weapons-heavy red lane proved most difficult for EIB candidates. But the single event generating the most no-go’s, said Sobiech, was the grenade throw, with its unforgiving margin for error. “This is the station that actually takes a lot of the people out of the fight,” said 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment operations NCO, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sweezer. “You’ve got to throw it 25 meters into a small fighting position.”

Whether Soldiers earned EIBs or not, brigade and battalion leaders saw training benefit in the EIB process.

One of the new expert infantrymen is SA Robin's son, David. Here's a photo of them during David's homecoming from Iraq in August 2006.

Congratulations, David from all of us at SA!