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.