Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Bush Surprises Departing Troops With Gift -- Himself
Most of the soldiers, dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, had cameras ready to take snapshots of Bush. The president, who donned a tie and suit jacket after his political rally, offered gentle smiles and words such as "I'm proud of you" and "thank you."
The charter plane carrying the soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., was scheduled to stop in Germany and Kuwait before the soldiers made their way into Iraq with their units: the 30th Brigade Combat Team, a Guard unit from North Carolina; the 414th Transportation Battalion, a reserve unit from South Carolina; the 230th, from Tennessee; and a few others.
Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Dailey, a FedEx worker normally, was asked if the boisterous reception meant these were all Bush supporters. "We're commander-in-chief supporters," he clarified, and pointed out: "It ain't every day you land somewhere and the president gets on your plane."
As it happens, the troops were given absentee ballots just before they departed, and there were still some undecided voters on board as Bush worked the crowd. "I'm still balancing the issues. I'm not sure," said David Spence of the 230th, a machinist, when asked about the election. "I'd like to hear what he has to say."
But 2nd Lt. Roxana Pagan-Sanchez, of the 30th, pronounced herself solidly with Bush after she got to meet the president. "He told me he's proud of me," said the mother of a 12-year-old she left behind in Raleigh, N.C. "I'm so proud of him."
Moments later, the president departed for Washington, and the troops continued their journey to Iraq.
Monday, September 20, 2004
From a Marine Corps Major in Baghdad:
"A thought from Iraq - "Doom & Gloom about Iraq's future....I don't see it from where I'm sitting."
[For those of you who haven't gotten my "Thoughts" before, I'm a Major in the USMC on the Multi-National Corps staff in Baghdad. The analysts and pundits who don't see what I see on a daily basis, in my opinion, have very little credibility to talk about the situation - especially if they have yet to set foot in Iraq. Everything Americans believe about Iraq is simply perception filtered through one's latent prejudices until you are face-to-face with reality. If you haven't seen, or don't remember, the John Wayne movie, The Green Berets , you should watch it this weekend. Pay special attention to the character of the reporter, Mr. Beckwith (the Journalist in the movie) . His characters experience is directly related to the situation here. You'll have a different perspective on Iraq after the movie is over.]
The US media is abuzz today with the news of an intelligence report that is very negative about the prospects for Iraq's future. CNN's website says, "[The] National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting the best case for Iraq was 'tenuous stability' and the worst case was civil war." That report, along with the car bombings and kidnappings in Baghdad in the past couple days are being portrayed in the media as more proof of absolute chaos and the intransigence of the insurgency.
From where I sit, at the Operational Headquarters in Baghdad, that just isn't the case. Let's lay out some background, first about the "National Intelligence Estimate." The most glaring issue with its relevance is the fact that it was delivered to the White House in July . That means that the information that was used to derive the intelligence was gathered in the Spring - in the immediate aftermath of the April battle for Fallujah, and other events. The report doesn't cover what has happened in July or August, let alone September.
The naysayers will point to the recent battles in Najaf and draw parallels between that and what happened in Fallujah in April. They aren't even close. The bad guys did us a HUGE favor by gathering together in one place and trying to make a stand. It allowed us to focus on them and defeat them. Make no mistake, Al Sadr's troops were thoroughly smashed. The estimated enemy killed in action is huge. Before the battles, the residents of the city were afraid to walk the streets. Al Sadr's enforcers would seize people and bring them to his Islamic court where sentence was passed for religious or other violations. Long before the battles people were looking for their lost loved ones who had been taken to "court" and never seen again. Now Najafians can and do walk their streets in safety. Commerce has returned and the city is being rebuilt. Iraqi security forces and US troops are welcomed and smiled upon. That city was liberated again. It was not like Fallujah - the bad guys lost and are in hiding or dead.
You may not have even heard about the city of Samarra. Two weeks ago, that Sunni Triangle city was a "No-go" area for US troops. But guess what? The locals got sick of living in fear from the insurgents and foreign fighters that were there and let them know they weren't welcome. They stopped hosting them in their houses and the mayor of the town brokered a deal with the US commander to return Iraqi government sovereignty to the city without a fight. The people saw what was on the horizon and decided they didn't want their city looking like Fallujah in April or Najaf in August.
Boom, boom, just like that two major "hot spots" cool down in rapid succession. Does that mean that those towns are completely pacified? No. What it does mean is that we are learning how to do this the right way. The US commander in Samarra saw an opportunity and took it - probably the biggest victory of his military career and nary a shot was fired in anger. Things will still happen in those cities, and you can be sure that the bad guys really want to take them back. Those achievements, more than anything else in my opinion, account for the surge in violence in recent days - especially the violence directed at Iraqis by the insurgents. Both in Najaf and Samarra ordinary people stepped out and took sides with the Iraqi government against the insurgents, and the bad guys are hopping mad. They are trying to instill fear once again. The worst thing we could do now is pull back and let that scum back into people's homes and lives.
So, you may hear analysts and prognosticators on CNN, ABC and the like in the next few days talking about how bleak the situation is here in Iraq, but from where I sit, it's looking significantly better now than when I got here. The momentum is moving in our favor, and all Americans need to know that, so please, please, pass this on to those who care and will pass it on to others. It is very demoralizing for us here in uniform to read & hear such negativity in our press. It is fodder for our enemies to use against us and against the vast majority of Iraqis who want their new government to succeed. It causes the American public to start thinking about the acceptability of "cutting our losses" and pulling out, which would be devastating for Iraq for generations to come, and Muslim militants would claim a huge victory, causing us to have to continue to fight them elsewhere (remember, in war "Away" games are always preferable to "Home" games). Reports like that also cause Iraqis begin to fear that we will pull out before we finish the job, and thus less willing to openly support their interim government and US/Coalition activities. We are realizing significant progress here - not propaganda progress, but real strides are being made. It's terrible to see our national morale, and support for what we're doing here, jeopardized by sensationalized stories hyped by media giants whose #1 priority is advertising income followed closely by their political agenda; getting the story straight falls much further down on their priority scale, as Dan Rather and CBS News have so aptly demonstrated in the last week.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
"Firefighters from the Army Reserve and Air Force prepare to respond to a fully involved M1 Abrams Tank.
Photo by Master Sgt. Jack Gordon"
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, BALAD, Iraq (September 7, 2004) -- As the first notes of the fire alert sound from the ERC’s (Emergency Response Center) horn, firefighters react – newspapers and magazines about “life back in the other world” are dropped, conversations stop in mid-sentence, soldiers suit-up into firefighting gear and the engine in the fire truck of the 475 th Engineer Detachment … starts. Within sixty seconds after the alarm has sounded, the truck exits the door.
“While we were in route we were getting information about the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) of the EOD (Explosives-Ordnance Detachment) and QRF (Quick Response Force),” said Sgt. Jamel Linzey, 475 th Eng. Det., from Creston , Iowa . Linzey is one of several soldiers who were cross-leveled into the 475 th from other Army Reserve units. Before mobilization, Linzey was assigned to the 907 th Eng. Det., from Yakima , Washington .
Firefighters from the Army Reserve and Air Force prepare to respond to a fully involved M1 Abrams Tank.
Photo by Master Sgt. Jack Gordon
After learning more about the nature of the emergency – an M1 Abrams Tank had caught fire while being towed outside of Anaconda’s perimeter -- Linzey knew the firefighting team would have to await the additional support required.
Read more here... http://www4.army.mil/USAR/news/2004-09-07_001.php
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Vist them all today and remember. Always remember...
Never forget. Never yield. The stakes are far, far too high.
www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/media/tribute/tribute.html New York City Fire Department Tribute
http://www.mudvillegazette.com/archives/000307.html We would be deeply remiss without mentioning Morgan Stanley hero Rick Rescorla, who refused to leave until he was sure all his people were out. He's still there. Those who served with him in Vietnam say he was the bravest men they had ever seen. On 9/11, he proved it again. Read. This. Story.
http://www.worldtradetribute.com/yellow7/usa/ Dedicated to remembering the victims and heroes of the September 11 tragedy through pictures, motion, and sound.
http://www.cantcryhardenough.com/ Flash video. Tissues needed.
http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2004/09/10/letter_from_america.php Alistair Cooke ‘Letter from America’ of December 2002
http://chrenkoff.blogspot.com/2004/09/remembering-s11.html Blog from down under.
http://www.light-of-reason.blogspot.com/2002_09_01_light-of-reason_archive.html#81303562 Abe Zelmanowitz was an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, New York, who worked in the World Trade Center and stayed behind to remain with a paraplegic colleague.
http://www.maui.net/~zen_gtr/cancer20.html ...the greatest eulogy I've ever heard or read.
10_im_ok_im_with_the_firemen_in_memory_of_bill_biggart.shtml “I’m OK, I’m with the firemen” ...photographer was Bill Biggart, who was killed at the age of 54 when the North Tower collapsed.
http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2004_09_10.html#007947 The falling. Dear Lord. Jeff Jarvis tells us more than than we want to know - but the thing is, it's true. It's real. If there's any ray of comfort in this post, it's his explanation of why the NYC Medical Examiner won't classify any of those 200 or so people (!!!) as "jumpers" or "suicides." A seemingly-trivial thing, but in my religion that would matter a lot.
http://www.asmallvictory.net/photoblog/ Stories from 911
http://outtacontext.com/dichotomy/d_pairing.php Dichotomy: It Was a Matter of Time and Place
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
From our Friend Matt at Blackfive:
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." - Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Number 1 (1776)
I’ve lost three good friends in this War on Terror. I have more than a few friends over in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I wish they were all home. They wish they were all home. But we must all be resolute in our engagement and destruction of the enemy. And now, I have one more good friend heading into the breach.
Chief Steve is a very good friend of mine. He wasn’t always my friend or a Warrant Officer.
More than seven years ago, I was a Company Commander (again). Bar none, it’s the best job in the Army. My previous First Sergeant, Mike Thompson, had been promoted to Sergeant Major and, since he could no longer fill the position, was moved out of the Division. I loved working with First Sergeant Thompson. He made chewing ass an art – he could make you laugh, wince, cry, cower and stand tall all within ten seconds. I enjoyed being around him all of the time. He made me proud to be his commander – but I was more proud to be his partner and friend.
To replace newly promoted Sergeant Major Thompson, Division sent me Steve – a newly promoted First Sergeant. Steve was a Boston Democrat who instantly hated me the moment he saw my Yankees hat on a shelf in my office. I tried to explain that I was more of a Boston fan, but liked the Yankees, too. Of course to a true Red Sox fan, that just made it worse.
Professionally, Steve didn’t care for me too much at first. In his eyes, I worked and talked with the NCOs too much. It’s not like we were all on a first name basis or that I micro-managed them. I wanted them all to get promoted. I wanted all of them to know what a great place the US Army could be for them. While I was involved in their work, they knew that they called the shots and made things happen. They knew that my job was to remove obstacles (sometimes with extreme and violent prejudice) that kept them from doing their jobs and training for war.
Steve thought that I ran a tight ship – maybe too tight. Steve thought that I was a bit crazy. And, after a few weeks, when he discovered that I was a mustang with an SF background, he liked me even less.
It took us a long time to build a working relationship. We rubbed each other the wrong way. It was a learning experience as much for me as it was for him. Eventually, he saw where my intentions lay – with creating the most cohesive group of soldiers in the Army. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t his irritation with Officers that made it tough for us to get along. It was the fact that he was following in the footsteps of an awesome First Sergeant who everyone talked about long after he was gone. And that I had a relationship with the troops that did not have...yet.
We worked like hell, into the night, day after day, through weekends, and we created something great. After seven months, we had one of the best companies in the Division. That was something that not even Mike Thompson and I accomplished in a year...
After my command tenure was over, I took an assignment at another unit, and Steve and I became friends. Good friends. We spent many nights at the VFW, in backyard BBQs, and at ball games. A few years later, after Steve was moved to Missouri and I had left the service, he would fly to Chicago for a weekend two or three times per year. I would meet him in KC for Chiefs’ games and to see his family.
I also strongly encouraged his decision to attend the WOC school.
Question: What’s a WOC, you ask?Sorry for the old joke. Steve went to the Warrant Officer Course. He’s now a Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) about to be promoted to CW3. He’s heading out for Iraq. Tikrit to be exact. We’ve talked a few times about what Steve needs to do, what he needs to focus on.
Answer: It’s swomefing one fows at a wabbit.
So, Saturday, we talked one last time before he was to head down range – mostly about how his kids were going to handle his absence.
Steve said, “Danielle won’t look at me when I tuck her in at night. Right now, she hates me for leaving. And Nicky is really too young to know what’s happening.”
He’s got three kids and one on the way. The baby is due in January. Can you imagine being Sue, Steve’s wife, with a job, three kids, a baby coming, and your husband in Iraq? It’s something our military men and women AND their spouses and families deal with every day.
I tell him, “I’ll fly out and see Sue and the kids during Christmas.”
“Sue would love that.”
Me, “What about the delivery? Do you guys have that covered?”
“Yeah, our neighbors are going to help out. I think we’ll be okay as long as there aren’t any complications.”
“Okay, I’ll call Sue and let her know that I can fly there at anytime and that I have a lot of vacation saved up so it’ll be no problem if I need to stay to help out for awhile.”
“That’d probably help relieve some stress.”
“Consider it done.”
Pause. We’re just dancing around the reason for the call. I knew it was coming and was making small talk to avoid it. We both know where Steve is going. The company he’s replacing had seventeen Bronze Stars and a ton of Purple Hearts.
“Matt, I have to say this…”
Shit! I knew he was going to do this!
“I’m sending you four letters for my kids. If I don’t make it back…”
I interrupt him, “Talking like that might get you killed. You know I’ll take care of your family. No matter what happens. You get your ass over there and forget about us. Focus on the mission. Keep your soldiers alive. We’ll always be here for you.”
Then, I launch into all of the organizations that can help get comfort items to his unit, letters to his troops, etc. I try to rile him up by telling him that I’m sending 400 Yankees hats to his battalion. I tried to change the subject, but he wouldn’t have any of it.
“Just promise me,” long pause, “just promise me that if I don’t make it back, you’ll take care of Sue and the kids.”
I can barely say “Of course I will…You have my word.”
“Thank you.”, two simple words but I can hear how much they mean…
Another pause. He’s relieved. I’m worried about him. We’re emotional. So I say the only thing that I can think of to bring us back to reality…
“@#$% you, Matt…”
“Hey, just remember what George Patton the Elder said, 'When it's all over and you're home once more, you can thank God that tweny years from now, when you're sitting around the fireside with your grandkids, and they ask you what you did in the war, you won't have to say, "I shoveled shit in Louisiana!" Stay in touch, you big lug.”
“You, too, pal.”
Chief Steve left for Iraq on September 5th. While he'd rather be home with his wife and kids, he's not shrinking from his service, and he knows the stakes of this war. And he deserves our thanks.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
Via Seamus, this is the last email from a surgical team doctor (Navy) in Iraq as she prepares her staff to rotate back to the states. It's a must read.
Greetings all from hot, hot, hot Iraq,
We are short indeed...although
not quite as short as we had originally thought...our flight home has been
posted and is showing up 3 days later than planned. The good news is that we
leave in the middle of the night and arrive (all admin complete, including
turning our weapons into the armory) ! around dinnertime at Pendleton on the
same day we leave (11 hrs time difference). The other good news is it appears
we've got commercial contract air carriers taking us home...so we don't have to
worry about sleeping on the cold steel deck of an Air Force C-17.
So...we turned over authority of the surgical company last week to our
replacements, who had a serious trial by fire here in multiple ways, including
multiple traumas, surgeries, increased risk to their personal safety, power
outages, water outages, and camel spiders in the hospital...all in their first 4
days. But a few days ago, we heard the helicopters coming and knew they were
dealing with multiple traumas, several of which were going to the OR...and we
sat in our barracks and waited for them to call us if they needed us. They never
did. Last week was the ceremony to mark the official end of our role here. Now
we just wait.
As the days move very slowly by, just waiting, I decided that
one of the things I should work on for my own closure and therapeutic
healing...is a list. The list would be a comparison: "Things That Were Good"
about Iraq and being deployed with the Marines as one of the providers in a
surgical company, and "Things That Were Not Good." Of course, it's quite obvious
that this list will be very lopsided. But I thought I would do it anyway, hoping
that somehow the trauma, the fear, the grief, the laughter, the pride and the
patriotism that have marked this long seven months for me will begin to make
sense, through my writing.
Interestingly, it sort of turned into a poem.
To be expected, I guess.
Most of all it's just therapy, and by now I
should be relatively good at that. Hard to do for yourself, though.
goes...in reverse order of importance...
Things That Were Good
Sunset over the desert...almost always orange
Sunrise over the
desert...almost always red
The childlike excitement of having fresh fruit at
dinner after going weeks without it
Being allowed to be the kind of
clinician I know I can be, and want to be, with no limits placed and no doubts
But most of all,
The United States Marines, our patients...
Walking, every day, and having literally every single person who passes by
say "Hoorah, Ma'am..."
Having them tell us, one after the other, through
blinding pain or morphine-induced euphoria..."When can I get out of here? I just
want to get back to my unit..."
Meeting a young Sergeant, who had lost an
eye in an explosion...he asked his surgeon if he could open the other one...when
he did, he sat up and looked at the young Marines from his fire team who were
being treated for superficial shrapnel wounds in the next room...he smiled, laid
back down, and said, "I only have one good eye, Doc! , but I can see that my
Marines are OK."
And of course, meeting the one who threw himself on a
grenade to save the men at his side...who will likely be the first Medal of
Honor recipient in over 11 years...
My friends...some of them will be
lifelong in a way that is indescribable
My patients...some of them had
courage unlike anything I've ever experienced before
My comrades, Alpha
Surgical Company...some of the things witnessed will traumatize them forever,
but still they provided outstanding care to these Marines, day in and day out,
sometimes for days at a time with no break, for 7 endless months
but not least...
Holding the hand of that dying Marine
Things That Were Not Good
Terrifying camel spiders, poisonous scorpions, flapping
bats in the darkness, howling, territorial wild dogs, flies that insisted on
landing on our faces, giant, looming mosquitoes, invisible sand flies that carry
Wearing long sleeves, full pants and combat
boots in 132 degrees
Random and totally predictable power outages that led
to sweating throughout the night
Sweating in places I didn't know I could
sweat...like wrists, and ears
The roar of helicopters overhead
resounding thud of exploding artillery in the distance
The popping of
Not knowing if any of the above sounds is a good thing, or bad
The siren, and the inevitable "big voice" yelling at us to take
Not knowing if that siren was on someone's DVD or if the big voice
would soon follow
The cracking sound of giant artillery rounds splitting
open against rock and dirt
The rumble of the ground...
The shattering of
Hiding under flak jackets and kevlar helmets, away from the
broken windows, waiting to be told we can come to the hospital...to treat the
ones who were not so lucky...
Watching the helicopter with the big red cross
on the side landing at our pad
Worse...watching Marine helicopters filled
with patients landing at our pad...because we usually did not realize they were
Ushering a sobbing Marine Colonel away from the trauma bay while
several of his Marines bled and cried out in pain inside
21-year-old Marine with three Purple Hearts...and listening to him weep because
he felt ashamed of being afraid to go back
Telling a room full of stunned
Marines in blood-soaked uniforms that their comrade, that they had tried to
save, had just died of his wounds
Trying, as if in total futility, to do
anything I could, to ease the trauma of group after group...that suffered loss
after loss, grief after inconsolable grief...
Washing blood off the boots of
one of our young nurses while she told me about the one who bled out in the
trauma bay...and then the one who she had to tell, when he pleaded for the
truth, that his best friend didn't make it...
Listening to another of our
nurses tell of the Marine who came in talking, telling her his name...about how
she pleaded with him not to give up, told him that she was there for him...about
how she could see his eyes go dull when he couldn't fight any longer...
And last, but not least...
Holding the hand of that dying Marine