31 January 2008


Top al-Qaida Figure Killed in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - One of al-Qaida's top figures, Abu Laith al-Libi, has been killed in Pakistan, an Islamist Web site announced Thursday. Pakistani officials and residents said a dozen people, including seven Arabs, died in a missile strike in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Al-Libi was believed to be the key link between the Taliban and al-Qaida and was blamed for masterminding the bombing an American base while Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting Afghanistan last year. He was listed among the Americans' 12 most-wanted men with a bounty of $200,000 on his head.

Pakistani officials denied any knowledge of al-Libi's death. The killing of such a major al-Qaida figure is likely to embarrass President Pervez Musharraf, who has repeatedly said he would not sanction U.S. military action against al-Qaida members believed to be regrouping in the lawless area near the Afghan border. (emphasis added)

So who's sayin' we did it? Goodness gracious, we're not even in Pakistan.

More from Bill Roggio here and here.

US Senate to honor MAJ Mike Mundell

Received this from Mike's wife Audrey yesterday and wanted to pass it along.

I received a call this morning from KY Senator Mitch McConnell's office in DC. They informed me that they will be doing a tribute to Mike in the Senate tomorrow morning. I am told that it will air on C-Span 2 between 9-10am EST.

I am told that our Senator does this for all KY fallen soldiers. I would've liked for all of us to have gone, but this is just too short of notice.

Anyway, just thought I'd let you all know, in case you might want to watch. If you think of anybody who might like to know that I don't know of, or for whom I may not have any contact information, please feel free to send this along.

Take care and God bless,

This will air today (THURSDAY) on C-Span 2 between 9-10am EST.

Update from Audrey: The tribute has been changed to run a little after 11:00 a.m. this morning. I was told between 11:05-11:10.

30 January 2008

173rd Airborne Brigade - December Hooah Video

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan – On the morning of Dec. 22, a plane full of holiday cheer landed on the air strip at Forward Operating Base Fenty, bringing country music artists, cheerleaders, and the Sergeant Major of the Army, to help ring in the holiday season.

The guests included country music artists Darryl Worley, Keni Thomas, a group of Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and super model Leanne Tweeden.

The show began with an introduction from Leanne Tweeden, followed by Daryl Worley who performed his hit song ‘Have You Forgotten’ that he wrote specifically for the troops.

Video courtesy of the 173D ABN BDE PAO.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

"Low-tech" mirror therapy shows promise in amputee treatment

Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Jack Tsao shows Army Sgt. Nicholas Paupore how to perform mirror therapy to treat phantom pain in his amputated right leg Jan. 15 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (Defense Department photo/Donna Miles)


Sergeant Paupore said he was skeptical when Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Jack Tsao suggested using a mirror to help him deal with excruciating pain he continued feeling in his missing right leg.

The phenomenon, called "phantom limb pain," plagues as many as half of all amputees, likely the result of a faulty signal between the brain and the missing appendage, Commander Tsao said. Neurons in the brain continue sending out signals to a limb that's no longer there. As a result, amputees can feel discomfort or pain and, in some cases, the sense that their missing limb is stuck in an uncomfortable position.

For Sergeant Paupore, a 101st Airborne Division artilleryman who was serving on a military transition team training Iraqi troops when he was wounded in July 2006, the pain felt like electric shocks or knives stabbing into his missing leg.

"It felt like someone ... was putting an electrode on the back of my ankle," he said.

Sergeant Paupore tried several different painkillers, including morphine, but none gave him relief.
Sitting on a hospital bed with his legs fully extended, Sergeant Paupore demonstrated the therapy. He put a standard 6-foot-long mirror lengthwise between his left leg and the residual stump on his right side, with the mirror reflecting the intact leg. He moved the leg, watching the movement in the mirror and imagining that his missing leg was making the movements.

The very first time he tried it, Sergeant Paupore felt something happening.

"The stump started firing off right away," he said. "It got a little uncomfortable."
More than a year after completing his mirror therapy, Sergeant Paupore said he still experiences occasional phantom pain, but "only once in a great while." The pain is far less severe than before the mirror therapy, and Sergeant Paupore is off painkillers altogether.

"It tricks your brain into thinking your leg is still there, so it's not misfiring," he said. "I don't know how it works, but it works."

Sergeant Paupore said he encourages other amputees suffering from phantom pain to give mirror therapy a try.

"I've always recommended it to them," he said. "At least give it a try. Some people may get mild help out of it; some may get extraordinary help out of it."

28 January 2008

The Final Gift

The Fisher House is dark and silent except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. She sits at the table with her coat on, and stares into nothingness.

It’s been several hours since we’ve met. Hours of small talk, of calls to home, and of sitting with her son. Hours of waiting, knowing each moment with him could be her last.

The papers have been signed, the registry’s been notified, the allocation process has begun.

It’s only a matter of time.

“He looks just like he’s sleeping”, she says. “Like he could open up his eyes any minute and say ‘Hey, Mom!’”.

Elsewhere, surgeons are making evaluations, patients are being notified, families are making their way to other hospitals.

One family’s tragedy is the hope of others.

The first surgical team arrives.

It’s time.

As time for this family runs out, other families are being given more of it, this most precious gift.

She’s told she can send something into the OR with him. A personal item perhaps?

She looks at the rings on her hands and seems uncertain.

I pull a pin out of my pocket. On it is the black silhouette of a Soldier, surrounded by golden wings.

“It’s not a personal item, but if you’d like to have it… “

She takes it, goes to her son, and pins it on his hospital gown.

She strokes his hair; his face. She holds him.

There is no agony like that of a parent losing a child.

As we leave, a nurse follows us.

"I want to say something," he says, taking her hands. "Back home I work on the receiving end of this. You've done a wonderful thing."

In the darkest, coldest, deadest hour of night we walk from the hospital to the Fisher House.

She sits down at the table with her coat on, and stares into nothingness.

The Fisher House is dark and silent except for the ticking of the clock on the wall.

25 January 2008

"The Rock" defies terrorists to bring security and hope to Pech Valley

Army 1st Lt. Kareem F. Hernandez, a N.Y. resident and 2nd Platoon Leader in Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), talks on the radio while village elders and an Afghan National Policeman walk down a mountain during a patrol to Omar in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 11. (U.S. Army Photos by Sgt. Brandon Aird)

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - These Paratroopers never stop patrolling the newly-constructed Pech Road in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Night and day, through rain and snow, they diligently patrol the $7.5 million Pech Road to bring security to an area known for violence.

They make up Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), also known as “The Rock”.

Even though Able Company is an infantry company, the company commander stresses their main focus is helping and taking care of the villages in and around the Pech River Valley.

“We’re responsible for over a hundred villages,” explained Army Capt. Louis Frketic, Able Company commander.
“We literally do one to five humanitarian-aid missions a day between our platoons or facilitating the [Kunar PRT],” said Frketic. “We’ve done at least 500 since we got here. It’s astronomical. We’ve given out building supplies, food, Qurans, prayer rugs, clothing - pretty much the entire spectrum of HA.”

One of the biggest projects in the area has been the construction of the Pech Road, which over the last eight months has opened up the area to new opportunities. The Taliban extremists don’t want the region to prosper under the new government.

Arriving in country this past May, Able Company has been engaged in over 150 firefights with Taliban, al-Qaida and other anti-Coalition militants.

Although the violence has not allowed international aid agencies to operate consistently in the Pech Valley, it has not stopped Able Company or the Kunar PRT from offering humanitarian aid or continuing the development of self-help projects, according to Frketic.

Able Company launches these efforts out of FOBs Able Main, Honaker-Miracle and Michigan - all on the Pech Road. The three bases are strategically placed enabling Able Company to engage more villages and cover a larger area. FOB Michigan is the home of 2nd Platoon and they are on the ‘front line’ of these efforts on a daily basis.

Read the rest of SGT Aird's article at the CJTF-82 website, including 1LT Hernandez's story about the "crazy" villagers of South Omar.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

24 January 2008

Why we fight: Because "all of humanity is our tribe"

The following is a response to this post showing footage of a medevac mission carried out after members of Chosen Company, 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT were ambushed in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.

1LT Matthew C. Ferrara, SGT Jeffery S. Mersman, SPC Sean K.A. Langevin, SPC Lester G. Roque and PFC Joseph M. Lancour of Chosen Company and Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks were killed in the attack which occurred while returning to their outpost from a meeting with elders in a nearby village.

Three Heroes on Board
By Linda Ferrara

We are Matthew Ferrara's family. He was one of the men killed on that patrol.

All four of our boys are in the Army. Read about our family and you will realize that our boys were all strong individuals who had other good, safe options.

We believe in fighting to keep all people safe and free to be themselves, because it is the right thing to do.

Some people don't think that we have to fight just yet, that we can wait and the crazies will go away and not harm our little tribe.

They are already harming our little tribe. All of humanity is our tribe.

We have to fight and die to protect people that don't believe in our perspective.

It has always been this way. It always will be this way, until the slaughter begins and people see their own personal lives in jeopardy.

In our local high school the atmosphere has changed a lot due to people like you who are able to get out the word that the military is comprised of good people trying to do what they believe in for the benefit of all of us. There is considerably more interest in joining the fight, as reported to us by local reporters and the school administration.

We are in a righteous fight that we must win overwhelmingly.

Convince the enemy that they can't win and they will quit. The more people on the ground, the faster we win.

Thanks for getting this effective video on the web.

This letter is directed to you and the courageous flight crews you reported on.

I understand from one of Matthew's brothers that Matthew is under consideration to be awarded the Silver Star. If you've ever wondered where we get men like Matthew and his brothers, look no further than Linda Ferrara.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

20 January 2008

Well, that explains everything!

Patient to the CQ at the outpatient facility: "I have a question, Sir."

"Sir?!? What is this?", says the Army Staff Sergeant, pointing to his rank insignia.

Patient: "Uhhh... I dunno. I'm Air Force."

TF Pegasus cases colors at Bagram

Command Sgt. Maj. David Brasfield (left) and Col. Kelly Thomas (right) of Task Force Pegasus prepare to case their colors as the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade conducted a Transfer-of-Authority ceremony with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Bagram Airfield, Jan. 17. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. George Welcome, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade PAO)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – After flying more than 80,000 flight hours, transporting more than 50,000 passengers throughout Afghanistan, moving more than seven million pounds of cargo and using more than 6 million gallons of fuel in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade has cased it’s colors.
Task Force Pegasus conducted full-spectrum combat aviation operations including combat operations, medical evacuations, logistical resupply and reconnaissance and surveillance target acquisition in support of CJTF-82.

“In the face of adversity, our courageous Paratroopers fearlessly performed their duties in some of the most dangerous area of Afghanistan,” [82nd CAB commander Col. Kelly] Thomas said. “Their actions are a tribute to their professionalism and overwhelming sense of duty.”

Related: CJTF-82 Heroes of the Week

17 January 2008

Terror at the Kabul Serena Hotel - eyewitness account

By the Afghan-American colleague of a State Department employee, passed on to Lisa Schiffren of The Corner at NRO.

After fleeing the tea house at the Serena for the relative safety of the basement where dozens of people hid for hours...

... all of a sudden two U.S. Marines come down to the basement armed to the teeth, asking everyone if they are all right. We were kind of relieved to see the Marines.

The Marines then called out for all US Citizens and they took me, and about 10 other people out including my cousin whom I told the marine was with me. The said fine, but lets move.

We started moving with the Marines out the basement guns drawn coming upstairs through the same hall I ran down.

There was a pool a blood where I was standing before when everything began and now there was blood everywhere in the lobby, broken glass, black walls from the bomb blasts. Hundreds of Afghan Secret Service and NDS guards were standing around.

The U.S. Marines got us out and put us in armored vehicles and took us to the embassy where they treated us, took reports and gave us medical checkups.

"We were kind of relieved to see the Marines." Well. Quite an understatement, that.

Still, a gripping read.

And OORAH, Marines!

On the undying service to goals larger than self

“The danger that was in front of him was less important than the men behind him."
- John Gabel, about his son SSG Michael Gabel.

First Sgt. Richard Howell remembers parts of a conversation before Staff Sgt. Michael Gabel left the rear detachment for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and headed downrange.

Gabel said something about the possibility of donating a portion of his $400,000 Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance policy to help the rear detachment pay for flowers at memorial services.

Gabel was serving as platoon sergeant for soldiers inprocessing into Vicenza before they were sent to Afghanistan.

On 12 December 2007, Michael Gabel was killed in action in Kunar Province along with Cpl. Joshua Charles Blaney. Pfc. Brian Gorham died a few weeks later from wounds sustained in the same attack.

Howell soon learned that Gabel had followed through with his thoughts. He donated 3 percent of the settlement to Howell and another 3 percent to Sgt. 1st Class Michael Arroyo, the rear detachment’s operations noncommissioned officer. The $24,000 was to be used for flowers and a party for the rear detachment at the end of the deployment.
Howell said it’s the first time in 22 years of service that he’s heard of a soldier donating a portion of his death benefits to support his home base.

"I will not be bitter. I will not shed a tear of sorrow. I am proud to have known such a good man and a warrior to the bitter end. Until we see each other again, sky soldiers!"

- SSG Michael Gabel, during his eulogy for fellow 173rd ABCT Paratrooper SSG Larry Rougle killed in Operation Rock Avalanche, delivered just two months before his own death.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

16 January 2008

Congratulations, Laurie!

Laurie's doe.

Adding to my photo gallery of the "little old ladies" of Soldiers' Angels, here's Laurie of Soldiers' Angels New York with her whitetail doe. The Good Hunting was end of November in western New York state.

Sorry, Chuck. Guess I'm just more convincing than you are ;-)

Update: Laurie's explanation to Chuck here. Nice try, girl.

14 January 2008

Meet one of your Marines, Cpl. Zachary Briseno

"They told me the other guys are ok, but I won't believe it until I talk to them myself."

That was one of the first things Zachary said to me.

Less than 36 hours earlier his vehicle had been hit by an IED. The other guys pulled him out of his destroyed truck, put him in a different one, and rushed him back to Camp Fallujah.

He said the ride was the worst.

Zach was treated at Fallujah Surgical and again at the 86th CSH before being flown to Germany.

We suspect it was the Doc at Fallujah Surgical who left this message on Zach's arm for the Docs further uprange. This is often done because patients move quickly from one medical caregiver to another.

11/29/07 2352 (date & time of injury)
I.E.D. (cause of injury)
RAD/ULNA FX-comp = Compound fracture of the radius and ulna (the two bones of the lower arm)
DNVI = Distal Neuro-Vascular Intact (the nerves and veins/arteries near the wrist are ok)
Needs ORIF = Open Reduction with Internal Fixation (the Doc believes a plate and screws should be surgically placed to set the bones)
Then a quick illustration of the fractures with name of the Doc: Lambert, LCDR, USN.

We both thought it was kind of cool but he had trouble seeing it, so we took the picture to send him later.

Zach remembers seeing the bones sticking out of his arm after the blast.

But, incredibly, he didn't notice his feet were gone until shortly before the flight to Germany.

His Uncle David, a member of Soldiers' Angels, had sent me to see him. After I read him an email from David and the rest of the family, the phone rang. It was a couple of the guys back in Fallujah. Zach chatted with them for a while and was reassured they were ok.

Not sure about you, but if I was laying there just hours after discovering I had no feet, I'm not sure I'd be asking about other people.

But that's how these guys are.

Throughout the course of the day, the phone kept ringing and Zach took calls from family members (he put me on with his Mom - whose concern he, by the way, tried to brush off by saying his injury was really "just a scratch") and more guys from downrange.

"What about the other people up here?" he asked at one point, meaning the other ICU patients. "What happened to them? Are they ok? Did they lose anyone when they got hurt?"

Together with my buddy Carol we'd been in and out, taking turns sitting with Zach and visiting with the Hauser family, so I was able to answer some of his questions.

There were light moments, too. We had a bit of comic relief trying to return his brother's phone call. His nurse, LT Martin, offered to help but he wouldn't let her. Between holding the phone, the phone card, and having one bad arm, it just wasn't happening. Finally, we decided I would read off the numbers and he would dial.

First, you have to dial the DSN access number, then the AT&T number, then the access code, then the person's number. What with his morphine and my weak eyes we kept screwing up. The first couple of times it was funny, but after the third or fourth failed attempt Zachary looked at me, exasperated, and said, "C'mon! We can do this!"

When a Marine says, "We can do this!", you get your sh!t together ;-)

After a late-night OR procedure to clean his wounds, Zach left the following day for Bethesda.

President George W. Bush speaks with U.S. Marine Cpl. Zachary Briseno of Fort Worth, Texas, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, after being awarded a Purple Heart medal and citation. Cpl. Briseno, joined by members of his family from left, Briseno's mother, Mariana; brothers, Roman and Tony; and Briseno's girlfriend, Jennifer Rangel, is recovering from injuries sustained in Operation Iraqi Freedom. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian.

After almost 3 weeks at Bethesda, Zachary arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center. And although San Antonio's not home, at least it's Texas!

Aunt Terry and Zach.

Apparently Aunt Terry's quite short and Zach always teased her by resting his arm on the top of her head. Since he's currently in a wheelchair, she's crouching down so he can still do it.

Zach's boy, Elijah.

Elijah is Zach's PR man. I was told he spent most of the time in Maryland running around the ward at Bethesda shaking people's hands and saying, "My Daddy's a HERO!!"

Zach with his baby, Aunt Terry, her son and daughter, Uncle David, and I guess that's a BAMC staff member.

Here's something Zach's nurse at Landstuhl wants you to know about him:

Cpl. Zachary Briseno lost both of his feet and risked his life for the safety and welfare of others. Only hours after his injuries, never did he complain about his pain or loss. In fact, he only had 2 things on his mind - talking to his family, and eating Pizza.

Through his sacrifice, our country will get through these difficult times and emerge stronger and safer.

Wishing you a speedy recovery and all the Pizzas in the world! It was an honor and a privilege to take care of you.

May God Bless you and your family.

Michelle Martin, RN/ARNP, MSN, USN

Zach, your attitude and spirit was an inspiration to us and captured our hearts. You've got great things ahead of you. Get well soon!

Update, October 2008: See Zach now.
Update, October 2009: Very nice interview with Zachary in 'Rockland County's Best' magazine.
Update, December 2010: House groundbreaking ceremony for Wounded Warrior Marine Cpl. Zach Briseno
Update, June 2011: Injured Veteran to Move into New Home
Update, July 2011: Amind a Sea of Red, White, and Blue, Zach Comes Home

CJTF-82 Heroes of the Week

"Dustoff Three-Zero confirms 3 Heroes on board, 3 Heroes recovered... "

Combined Joint Task Force 82 (CJTF-82) would like to honor these unsung heroes as our heroes of the week. This is our thank you from the Joint Task Force for all the things they do to protect us on a daily basis, to include the professionalism, selfless service and dedication to duty in our final hours, not just for us, but our Afghanistan National Army heroes as well.

Dramatic and moving images of US Army Paratroopers and Afghan Army soldiers being evacuated after a November 2007 ambush near Forward Operating Base Bella, home of Chosen Company, 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.

The troops were on their way back from a meeting in a nearby village just two miles from OP Bella when they were attacked on 9 November. Five Soldiers from the 173rd ABCT and one Marine were killed. Eight more Sky Soldiers and 11 ANA were wounded.

Eight separate air crews subsequently conducted what was to become a combined 31-hour medevac mission involving multiple lifts.

The Crew Chief operates the hoist, as he pulls a casualty into the aircraft. This is a one person operation that is difficult to perform when the casualty is in a SKED, especially when the casualty has the added weight of body armor and equipment. The Medic rides the hoist to the ground and back up, time and time again.

Imagine performing this operation 20-25 continuous times wearing Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), the Crew Chief continuing to advise the pilots of aircraft drift and rotor clearance as the mountain side is dangerously close.

He ensures the hoist is ready for the next lift and watches the Medics hand and arm signals as he also directs the positioning of the aircraft. It becomes apparent this task is physically exhausting and difficult to master in routine conditions, let alone this punishing-unforgiving terrain at night.

The cabin of the aircraft becomes crowded, and the difficulty the Crew Chief and the Medic have maneuvering recovered personnel inside becomes increasingly challenging. Dust-off has a crew of 4: Pilot, Copilot, Crew Chief, and Medic.
Anyone that has operated in this environment understands the difficulty of the job these heroes do for us on a moments notice without hesitation under trying conditions and daunting circumstances. Not once do they ask for gratitude or thanks.

Had this mission not been captured by the AH-64 gun cameras, this would have been another example of selfless service occurring in this battle space on a daily basis that we never get to hear about and from countless service members across the spectrum; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and our Civilian brethren included.

Im Memoriam:

1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, 24, of Torrance, Calif.
Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, 23, of Parker, Kan
Spc. Sean K.A. Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, Calif.
Spc. Lester G. Roque, 23, of Torrance, Calif.
Pfc. Joseph M. Lancour, 21, of Swartz Creek, Mich.
Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, 28, of Troy, Mich.

Update: Why we fight: Because "all of humanity is our tribe", by Linda Ferrara, mother of 1LT Ferrara.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

13 January 2008

For Gunnar's Mom

From left: Jason Smith, Gunnar, Mike Phelan. Thanks to Gunnar's Mom Debey for the photo.

We are soldiers.
We are soldiers in the United States Army.
We are trained to be all we can be.

We fight for the freedom of many citizens of the United States. We are all ready to meet our fates.

We all volunteer to defend the red, white and blue.
Not only the flag, but for the citizens of our great country too.

Since our country's birth for all these years,
we have been trained to be the best on Earth.

Many times we have went to war.
We will be involved in many more.

Generation by generation soldiers continue to enlist.
Some of us will got to war and definitely be missed.

Some soldiers will return and some won't.
Those who do not, we won't forget and we hope you don't.

Many of us are going to Iraq.
Some of us won't be coming back.

We have loved ones we are leaving behind.
They will always be in our prayers, hearts and mind.

If we don't make it home safely at the end of the war,
just remember we died defending the beliefs of those of many more.

- Gunnar Becker, killed near Mosul, Iraq on 13 January 2005.

For Gunnar's Mom, Debey. And for Jeff. Love you guys!

Vilseck mourns the loss of six of its own

VILSECK, Germany — The rural military community of Vilseck is just a fraction of itself, now that most of its soldiers are deployed to Iraq.

But when word came that six of their own died Wednesday in Sinsil, Iraq, after entering a booby-trapped home, the quiet, depleted community grew a little bit closer, according to spouses living there.

“You take your time, clear your day and be prepared to spend time on the phone,” Kimberly Blatchford said Saturday.

“Everybody hears about it because you start getting e-mails and phone calls. You just make sure that everybody is OK and not home alone.”

Blatchford’s husband, Sgt. Todd Blatchford, is serving with the six soldiers who died last week. On Friday, the Defense Department released their names: Spc. Todd E. Davis, 22, of Raymore, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Jonathan K. Dozier, 30, of Rutherford, Tenn.; Staff Sgt. Sean M. Gaul, 29, of Reno, Nev.; Sgt. Zachary W. McBride, 20, of Bend, Ore.; Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Pionk, 30, of Superior, Wis.; and Sgt. Christopher A. Sanders, 22, of Roswell, N.M.

All were assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division.

They were part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, an offensive that has U.S. and Iraqi troops hunting suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants and supporters around Baghdad, in eastern Diyala province and the northern provinces of Salahuddin, Tamim and Nineveh.

Godspeed, warriors. Our thoughts and prayers are with your families and the rest of the 2nd SCR.

11 January 2008

The Wild, Wild West

"One man from each house should come to Wana with a gun at 10am on Thursday to plan our defence and act against those who are responsible for disorder."

From a John Wayne movie? Or maybe even Anbar province?

Nope. This was from a tribal chief named Malik Ghaffa at a tribal jirga in South Waziristan, Pakistan.

Wow. Maybe there's hope after all.

Army aviator returns to Iraq after battle with cancer

Army Sgt. Jared Squires reviews his pre-flight checklist Jan. 4, 2008. After conquering cancer, Squires joined his unit deployed to Iraq. Photo by Pfc. Monika K. Smith, USA

Sgt. Jared Squires, a Blackhawk crew chief with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, now back in Iraq after over a year of debilitating treatment following his diagnosis with malignant melanoma in July 2006:

“I had the opportunity to stay in rear detachment, and I chose not to,” Squires said. “I told them ‘No, I want to go.’ It took a lot of me, from my side, to get them to say, ‘Hey, yeah, you’re good to go.’ They tried to med-board me, and I had to get my oncologist to say, ‘He’s fine.’ They thought I was crazy. My wife knew I wanted to go and that I missed the guys. I missed my friends. We’ve been together so long, they’re my family.”

Sheesh. Compare him with one of your favorite whining, pathetic oxygen thieves.

Update, related: The nobility of three soldiers

Our preoccupation with the current political scene caused many of us to overlook a tragic and noble event that took place in Iraq on January 7.

According to the most detailed account, in [UK] Times Online,

It was a day of ceremony, pride and hope. Dancing Iraqi soldiers celebrated the country's national army holiday with a new chant: "Where is terrorism today?"

In the central Karrada neighbourhood, an elderly man placed flowers into the gun barrels of three recruits. And then the suicide bomber struck.

Four policemen, three soldiers and four civilians were killed, and many more wounded. The death toll would have been much higher were it not for the three soldiers who threw themselves at the bomber when they became suspicious. They absorbed much of the blast. Without their action, many more would have died...

The names and photos of these three [Iraqi] heroes should have been on the front pages of all the newspapers in the world. What could be a more compelling human story? It would have been a welcome change from the too-familiar faces of the candidates.

To sink momentarily into politics, these three men, by giving their lives, gave the lie to the canard, common to all the current Democratic candidates, that our involvement in Iraq has been a pointless mistake. To most or all of our politicians, the war in Iraq is merely a bargaining chip for getting votes. But to these three, it was a matter of life and death.

10 January 2008

Anbar to go PIC in March


Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of the roughly 35,000 Marine and Army forces in Anbar, said levels of violence have dropped so significantly — coupled with the growth and development of Iraqi security forces in the province — that Anbar is ready to be handed back to the Iraqis. ...

Referring to the decision to return all of Anbar to Iraqi provincial control in March, Gaskin, recalling the unsettled situation he faced when first arriving, said, "I didn't expect it to happen so fast."

Thanks to Carrie.

McCain-Lieberman: The Surge Worked

From the byline they share in today's WSJ:

It was exactly one year ago tonight, in a televised address to the nation, that President George W. Bush announced his fateful decision to change course in Iraq, and to send five additional U.S. combat brigades there as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy and under the command of a new general, David Petraeus.

At the time of its announcement, the so-called surge was met with deep skepticism by many Americans -- and understandably so.

As Americans, we have repeatedly done what others said was impossible. Gen. Petraeus and his troops are doing that again in Iraq today.

The war for Iraq is not over. The gains we have made can be lost. But thanks to the courage of our troops, the skill and intellect of their battlefield commander, and the steadfastness of our commander in chief, we have at last begun to see the contours of what must remain our objective in this long, hard and absolutely necessary war -- victory.

I'm beginning to think I wouldn't mind if they shared a ticket in November, either.

H/t Michael Goldfarb.

Pentagon considers 3000 additional troops for Afghanistan

This is probably a good idea.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that a proposal will go before [Secretary of Defense] Gates on Friday that would send a ground and air Marine contingent as well as a Marine battalion — together totaling more than 3,000 forces—to southern Afghanistan for a "one-time, seven-month deployment."

Gates, he said, will want to review the request, and is not likely to make a final decision on Friday. ...

Morrell added that Gates' thinking on the issue has "progressed a bit" over time as it became clear that it was politically untenable for many of the NATO nations to contribute more combat troops to the fight.

"The commanders need more forces there. Our allies are not in the position to provide them. So we are now looking at perhaps carrying a bit of that additional load," the spokesman said.

Morrell said the move, first reported Wednesday by ABC News, was aimed at beating back "another Taliban offensive" that is expected this spring — as has occurred in previous years. ...

Currently there are about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition. The other 13,000 U.S. troops are training the Afghan forces and hunting al-Qaida terrorists. ...

The Bush administration has launched a wide-ranging review of its policy in Afghanistan to ensure that gains made since the radical Islamist Taliban regime was ousted in 2001 are not lost and to bolster Afghan President Hamid Karzai's nascent government.

08 January 2008

Congratulations, Rink!

Rink's first elk

Congratulations to my fellow Angel Rink on getting her first elk back in October. She brought fleece with her on the hunting trip and worked on no-sew blankets during the evenings. Added some lovely tags to them explaining when they were made which went over big with the guys!

Anyway, thought you might want to meet one of the "little old ladies" who makes blankets for our wounded warriors at Landstuhl ;-)

Operation Phantom Phoenix begins in Iraq

Have been expecting this. (See The Long War Journal here and here for some background.)

RELEASE No. 20080108-03
January 8, 2008

Multi-National Corps – Iraq commences Phantom Phoenix
Multi-National Corps – Iraq PAO

BAGHDAD – Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps – Iraq, today announced the beginning of Operation Phantom Phoenix.

The operation is a series of joint Iraqi and Coalition division- and brigade-level operations to pursue and neutralize remaining al-Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist elements. Phantom Phoenix will synchronize lethal and non-lethal effects to exploit recent security gains and disrupt terrorist support zones and enemy command and control.

“Working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces, we will continue to pursue al-Qaeda and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary,” Odierno said. “Iraqi citizens continue to reject extremist elements. We are determined not to allow these brutal elements to have respite anywhere in Iraq.”

Watch The Long War Journal for further developments and analysis. I suspect that many of these operations will be taking place in and around Diyala province, involving the 2nd SCR out of Vilseck and Iraqi Army forces in the area.

Update 9 JAN from The Long War Journal:

Coalition and Iraqi security forces have launched Operation Iron Harvest, the latest offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq in Diyala province. "Operations are now being concentrated in Miqdadiyah," according to a press release from Multinational Division Iraq. ...

Over two brigades of US forces along with an unspecified number of Iraqi troops are involved in the Miqdadiyah operation. ...

Operation Iron Harvest is subordinate to Phantom Phoenix. Operation Phantom Phoenix is occurring in the area of operations for Multinational Division North, which spans the provinces of Diyala, Salahadin, Ninewa, and Tamin (Kirkuk). There are over 50,000 Iraqi Army soldiers, 80,000 Iraqi Police, 24,000 US soldiers, and 14,094 members of the Concerned Local Citizens operating in Multinational Division North's area of operations.

05 January 2008

Snipers come in handy

Have you noticed how the print on everything starts getting smaller as you get older?

I'm sorting donated t-shirts earlier today and can't read the darn size tags. An outpatient comes by on his way to the laundry room so I say, "Hey, I need somebody with good eyes to read these for me."

And he says, "I'm a sniper."


04 January 2008

Remembering MAJ Mike Mundell

MAJ Todd (l) and MAJ Mike.
"Just a picture of two middle-aged married guys, far away from home, missing their families."

What I want you all to know is that the people who fight and die here aren't special and they aren't different. They're people just like you and me: they have families, they pay bills, and they have Bar-B-Qs. They aren't heroes and they aren't saints, they're just people who have a job to do.

Mike wasn't a hero, he was better then a hero... Mike was a professional. Mike took his job seriously and the lives of everyone on the team seriously. His Iraqi counterparts paid him the highest complement; they called him... Brother.

From a "little note about my friend Mike", sent by MAJ Todd Fredette.

I know I ask you do this often, but please take a moment to read the rest of MAJ Fredette's note here.

Then meet Mike's wife Audrey and their children Erica, Ryan, Zach, and Dale in this MSNBC.com video, taped shortly after his death as they read some of the letters he sent home from Iraq.

To Audrey and the "kids", we'll be thinking of you tomorrow. We promise always to remember your husband and father (and our Hero), MAJ Mike Mundell.

01 January 2008

Another Letter to the Editor that probably won't get printed

Remember Robert Stokely's letter that The Washington Post wouldn't print?

Well, here's another one from Robert, this time to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Sent: Sun, 30 Dec 2007 7:29 pm
Subject: Mike Luckovich's insensitive use (again) of a Flag Draped Casket

To the Editorial Board of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Today, as I read the Sunday (December 30, 2007) edition of the AJC, and as I tried to turn past the two page spread you gave Mike Luckovich, my eye caught his distasteful use (again) of a Flag Draped Casket (year end recap / replay of July 17 cartoon).

Worse yet, Mike Luckovich used these descriptive words "..THIS LOUSY COFFIN..." as he refers to the most visible, respectable, and grief evoking symbol of a fallen soldier.

You may think me overly sensitive, but then you wouldn't think I was if you had met your fallen son's body as I did at an air cargo hanger at Hartsfield Airport on August 24, 2005.

Perhaps you might understand better if you could have been there when the news broke at my home, as I walked in circles in my driveway trying to figure out how to tell my family, including my son's 13 year old sister who adored him. Try figuring out how to cope as a family day to day with the most incredible loss imaginable - the loss of a son and brother, or as some have, a daughter and sister. Try being a 20 year old bride to your high school sweetheart ten days before he went to war, only to be handed the flag off his casket three months later. Sit down and review my son's autopsy report and see for yourself why he was "non-viewable body".

Then, perhaps, you and Mike Luckovich might have a glimpse why it is so insensitive and in such poor taste to use a Flag Draped Casket in the manner that Mike Luckovich has now done on two occasions.

The Flag Draped Casket is the last visible and demonstrative image so many of us have of our fallen loved ones. God spare you the pain those of us who have welcomed home a Flag Draped Casket have endured, for it is a pain which radiates from a special privilege of sacrifice which costs a life time of love. May you never have to open a paper and see something so dear to your broken heart being trifled with as Mike Luckovich does with the Flag Draped Casket.

There are many who profit off war, and in war, one man's loss is another's black ink bottom line. But, would your bottom line run red if you just left the Flag Draped Casket alone?

Robert Stokely
proudly remembering my son, SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq

p.s. - Note to file - Mike Luckovich used the word coffin but there is a significant difference between a coffin, which is contoured, being wider at the upper body and narrower at the legs versus a casket which has a uniform dimension.

As I said to Robert, when these people die, I hope God makes them answer to Mike and the rest of the guys before sending them you know where.

Operation Puppy Love

Soldiers' Angels teams up with Blackfive embed Laughing Wolf and Gryphon Air to bring a puppy named DJ home to the mother of a fallen 1st Cav Soldier.

PFC Alejandro "Alex" Varela was killed in action on May 19, 2007 along with six of his comrades. Alex's mother had been unsuccessful in her attempts to get one of the dogs who lived with his platoon at COP Annihilator - until now.

Read the rest of this great story.

Update: Here's the extended version of this story, with profiles of Alex's fallen comrades and video interviews with some of the surviving squad members.

Meet some of the Heroes of the 1st Cavalry Division, "America's First Team", at the end of their long and very tough deployment to Iraq.