Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A parish priest began his sermon last night with these songs about Christmas and home and reminded me that they were written in WW2 and were the most popular songs at that time with both soldiers and home front types because of the sentiments they convey.

I think they are quite timeless in the sentiments they convey. Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation and Birth of Christ happens regardless of one's circumstances. But the celebration of it with friends and family has become an important part of this Holiday Feast. While the religious connotation must always be paramount, religion finds its fullest expression in community, and no community, no Church, is more powerful and important than the Church of the Family (paraphrase of Catholic Teaching). Thus, Christmas is best celebrated with our dear friend and family.

I'll Be Home for Christmas by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent (c) 1943

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from the film Meet Me In St. Louis, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane 1943

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
gather near to us once more.

Through the years we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

There is always next year, Merry Christmas.

In Hoc Anno Domini - Christmas Proclamation

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. . . . Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. . . .

Continues Here

Monday, December 22, 2008

The benefits are real

The Below is an Awesome Letter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the truths so often ignored by the Iraq War's many critics:

In response to the Dec. 17 letter "The pain is real" from Patricia Mitchell regarding President George W. Bush's "less-than-serious reaction" to the shoe-throwing incident and his "delusion" regarding the war in Iraq: I, too, wish that Bush had had a different response.

I wish he'd told the world that five years ago had someone thrown a shoe (or a disapproving glance) in the direction of a foreign dignitary in the presence of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the shoe thrower would have been tortured in indescribable ways and, if lucky, his body may have found its way to a mass grave.

I wish Bush had told the world he went to a meeting with Iraq's democratically elected leader, outside the protection of a U.S. military installation, and the worst thing that happened was a shoe flew by his head.

I wish Bush had pointed out that the journalist who threw that shoe was only there because the Iraqi government now allows a free and uncensored media to cover the details of what agreements its government enters into and with whom.

I wish Bush had said a lot of things about what is going on in Iraq. But I doubt Ms. Mitchell ever would have heard the president's words if he had said those things. Because, as she admits, all she reads in newspapers are reports of death and despair.

I'd like to tell Ms. Mitchell that while she is reading about the evils in Iraq, a half a world away, our day is coming to a close. A day in which I will have seen Iraqi children running off to school with SpongeBob backpacks and a desire to learn. I will have driven past hospitals that treat Iraqis on the basis of the severity of their illness, not on a connection to Hussein or the Baath Party. A day in which I will have spoken with hundreds of prisoners, not one who will claim to have been tortured by the police or had their confession coerced. And most of all, a day in which I will have spoken to numerous Iraqi citizens proud of what Iraq has become, content to be free from the yoke of oppression and excited by the prospects of an open and democratic future.

Civilian Rule of Law Adviser
Provincial Reconstruction Team
Forward Operating Base ----------
----------- Province, Iraq

Friday, December 19, 2008

Faith, Prayer Sustain the Family

For anyone in the Milwaukee area I strongly urge you (if you are Catholic) to go to your local Catholic Parish and pick up the Catholic Herald. They have a fantastic article on a strong Catholic family, that of State Representative Mark Gundrum and how their Catholic faith allowed the family to endure and grow during Rep. Gundrum's recent deployment to Iraq.

I was particularly touched by their focus on prayer and the Eucharist for surviving the deployment: "After the tears were shed, hugs exchanged and painful goodbyes were said at the airport last year as the Gundrum family sent dad, Mark, on his way to a nine-month deployment to Iraq, the children had one destination in mind: their church. 'After we dropped Mark off at the airport, that was the first thing the kids said,' said Mary Gundrum recalling how they asked to go to Eucharistic adoration to talk with Jesus."

For more information on the article you can go to the Catholic Herald's website, but if you want the full story, you'll have to pick up a Daily Herald. It is worth it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Moral Prism for Iraq

One thing that continues to stun me about Iraq is the sheer poverty of the place. Yet amidst all the poverty, there are riches and hope. We are doing good here and it is demonstrated by our willingness to try to help these people improve their lives.

As Saddam fell into madness he began to ignore the problems of Iraq and instead spent lavishly on his military and his palatial estates. In some Arab countries that have far less oil wealth, the infrastructure is very new and the people are able to share in the excess of the nation's oil wealth. Through sanctions, wars, and Saddam's megalomania the Iraqi people did not have the same opportunity.

The sheer poverty of the place came into full effect on a combat patrol the TAC made up in the northern reaches of our AO. It is a desolate place as opposed to the green fields and canals of other parts of our AO Legion. I think it is that desolation of endless desert that highlights the sheer poverty experienced by the Iraqi people in this region. They are farmers, but there is so little water, there aren't a lot of fields that can grow crops. They live in mud brick homes and compounds, many of which have been abandoned to time and the desert as people move up and out of the region to go to Baqubah or Baghdad or some other city. As one of the locals said, "It's too hard to make a living out here". He happened to be doing pretty well, since just about every green field we saw was his, but what about all the other families?

The majority of the homes we saw were abandoned as locals decided that the harsh unforgiving land was too much. If you've seen those movies of the Wild West featuring those Western Boom Towns in the middle of nothing, you have a small glimpse of what this area is like up in the north. At the same time there is an exotic beauty to the terrain which makes you think of Lawrence of Arabia (one of the greatest movies ever made if you haven't seen it).

Yet despite this glaring poverty, there is quite a bit of love and joy in the area. There were so many children who see the Strykers coming and begin asking for soccer balls. If every kid in Iraq had a soccer ball they would still want them. No Stryker leaves the wire without a complement of Soccer Balls to throw out if the situation merits it. The kids wave their hands back and forth pretending to conduct a thrown-in, the international sign for “give me a soccer ball!” We were mobbed and a few soccer balls were tossed out to the group. You could see twenty kids chasing after one thrown ball. Yes, there was a little fighting until one child emerged with the ball.

You realize that they are so innocent, but that they are above all children and the hope of Iraq. The families are obviously rich in love and kids. One might figure that the number of children was inversely proportional to the availability of work, but I will leave that to the social statisticians to fully determine. It takes a hardy soul to remain in that region, but for many it is home. They will cling to it as long as they can, seeking to have the earth bear fruit while raising a family.

I think during this season it is certainly a time to recognize how blessed one is. I recognize the enormous blessings that God has given me. I also recognize that we have an obligation to assist others in what small ways we can. In many ways, that is what we are doing in Iraq. We overthrew a ruthless tyrant and are attempting to help the Iraqis establish a government that is answerable to the people and will work for the people. We are working to provide and assist the Iraqis with building up their infrastructure so they can be self-sufficient due to the purposeful neglect of Saddam Hussein. We are trying to change a people into thinking about the country as opposed to their tribe, clan, or sect. Some have said it is a Sisyphean task. Maybe it is, but what would it say about us if we didn't try?

Iraq could be one example of where the interests of National Security and the Moral Choice co-exist.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sons of Iraq Transition

One of the weapons employed by GEN Petraeus during the surge was an Iraqi Organization that came to be known as Sons of Iraq (SOIZs). In many cases these SOIZs were former insurgents (nationalists and rejectionists) who had spent the previous two years fighting Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Government. Yet, their ideology was never the same as the nihilist visions of Al Qaeda and the sweeping destruction and bloodshed that it brought. Rather, they wanted a voice in the new Iraq. The old Iraq of Saddam’s Baathist Party was a Sunni-led affair. The Shi’a majority was exploited and oppressed by the Sunni minority. With the fall of Saddam and the installation of a democratic system, the Shi’a found themselves in charge. Many Sunnis could not comprehend this and turned to the insurgency. The great victory of the surge was bringing many of these Sunnis back to the table.

Al Qaeda has been an important tool in bringing Sunnis. The Suicide Attack in Kirkuk targeted Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The undeniable truth is that Al Qaeda, for all its rhetoric against the Crusaders and Zionists, kills mostly Muslims. The Arab street recognizes that fact and AQ as an organization is losing its support quickly. Ayman Al-Zawahiri's recent rant against President Obama even drew negative comments from jihadist websites; Al Qaeda unhinged?

The Tribal Awakening of late 2006, early 2007 was the by-product of hard work from US Military and State department officials and also the product of Al Qaeda’s actions. The Tribes of Anwar awoke and turned what was once an entire province of AQIZ into one of the safest in Iraq. This awakening spread to other tribal areas of Iraq and in others CF formed the groups known as SOIZs. They were initially known as CLCs (Concerned Local Citizens). These neighborhood watches actively assisted the US Military in hunting down AQIZ in its former safe havens. Michael Yon provides some brilliant insight into Operation Arrowhead Ripper that drove up into Baqubah in 2007 spearheaded by 3/2 SBCT. He documents many cases where the soldiers of 3/2 were assisted in their combat operations by former insurgents (now CLCs), who led them to AQIZ safe houses, caches, and homes to drive AQIZ out of Diyala Province. Baqubah, once the capital of Al Qaeda’s “Islamic State of Iraq” saw the significant AQIZ presence driven out. That presence still exists to one degree or another in Diyala Province, but Al Qaeda does not have the strength in once had. It is still a dangerous enemy (as evidenced by the recent Suicide Attack in Kirkuk).

The Awakening and Sons of Iraq were vital components of the surge that enabled for more effective combat operations to pressure and defeat AQIZ. These Iraqis rejected the dark vision of Al Qaeda and chose one where they could have a voice in the future of Iraq. In Baghdad (at the present) and across Iraq (later) the Iraqi Government is assuming control of these Sons of Iraq to bring them into the security apparatuses of the GOI or to provide civil service training and jobs. In theory the Government of Iraq is recognizing the vital role the SOIZs played in improving the security of Iraq while at the same adapting to new challenges that lie ahead for the country.

I have included some interesting reads on the Sons of Iraq transition that has now reached Diyala Province. It is a very important mission and one that US Soldiers are focused on assisting our Iraqi partners in completing successfully. It is another step in Iraq's march toward sovereignty and security.

Sons of Iraq briefed on transition.

Another article about the transition.

Sons of Iraq register in Diyala Province.

And an article from the Stryker Brigade News site.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Season of Advent

This is a short post but I wanted to share two great stories I have come across in recent days.

One can be found at the Anchoress. The Anchoress documents the incredible stories of a poor area who gave what they had to build a Church. It is an inspiring story that really underlines the meaning of Advent and what it celebrates. Churches and Cathedrals are prayers made in Stone, never a truer word spoken concerning the church mentioned in the article.

The other is about a homily recently given by the Pastor at my home-town Church in Wisconsin. He was recently approached by someone with $1000 to spend how he saw fit for the benefit of the Church. He chose to give $100 with the invitation to pay it forward. Those people are doing just that with that $100, not on themselves, but on others. It is truly an inspiring example of "it is better to give, than to receive".

Just two little tid-bits floating through my mind. That makes two posts in two days, I need to slow down, LOL.

God Bless

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

Americans have lost their sense of history.

If you ask the average American what meaning June 6th has, you will probably get a blank stare.

If you ask the average American what meaning December 7th has, you will probably get a blank stare.

We as a nation have lost our sense of history and of the moments that made us what we are.

History is full of dates that changed the course of history and directed the path of Nations.

Yesterday was one of those days. Yesterday we remembered the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack against Pearl Harbor and our Pacific Fleet that ushered us into World War II. Today President FDR went before Congress and asked for a Declaration of War against the Empire of Japan for their attack, a "Date which will live in infamy".

Our entire country mobilized to fight World War II. The War ended the Great Depression and America rose from that as an unsurpassed Industrial Giant who had defeated the Militaristic Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany.

As Admiral Yamamoto said after the attack on Pearl Harbor, "I fear all we have done is awaken a Sleeping Giant and filling him with a terrible resolve". Those were Prophetic Words.

But it begs the question, could today's America rise to the challenge? If we are honest with ourselves, we might not like the answer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Looking at Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays and even over in Iraq we find ways to celebrate it. We after all do have much to be thankful for. When one sees the glaring poverty of Iraq and the sheer desperation in their lives (all this existed under Saddam as well), one cannot help but to feel particularly blessed to be an American.

As Americans we naturally feel compassion for them and seek to help them. It is quite typical these days to trash “American imperialism” and also the “selfish spirit of America”, I know I have certainly done the latter; but it isn’t necessarily true. Just witness the response of Americans to a Tsunami in SE Asia or to Hurricane Katrina and one does see the decency of the American people. We give to charity like no other people on earth (except for Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore) and always seek to help out. The charge of “American Imperialism” is really quite laughable and not even worthy of a response (sorry Pat Buchanan).

My Thanksgiving was certainly an eventful day. In the morning I went down to one of our JCOPs (Joint Combat Out-Posts) with my NCOIC and our Law Enforcement Contractor. We went down in the out-going duty platoons vehicles and arrived at the JCOP. The JCOP is Joint because one side of the facility is American, the other side is Iraqi. This is counter-insurgency in a nutshell and an example of the tactics implemented by GEN Petraeus during the surge.

The purpose of my visit to the JCOP was to link-up with CPT Mohammad (not his real name) at the Iraqi side of the JCOP. My team and I walked from the American side into the Iraqi side and met up with CPT Mohammad. After the usual exchange of pleasantries which lasted close to twenty minutes and included the drinking of chai tea (he likes it very, very sweet) we talked targeting. It is important to recognize that as Iraqis, the Iraqi Army has an enormous advantage over us when it comes to working with the local native population. We had an excellent discussion and exchange of ideas and gradually the conversation came to a close. After bidding farewells, we walked back across to the American side of the JCOP.

Our ride back to FOB Warhorse was in the battalion TAC. My battalion commander was circulating through all the JCOPs to talk to soldiers and to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. He spent roughly two hours at each JCOP talking with soldiers and the company commanders. This is personal leadership and definitely plays a role in the soldier’s reaction to orders from the leadership. I was able to see quite a bit of the AO (area of operations) during our circulation from the air guard hatch as well.

At one of the COPs, the Division Commander (MND-N) flew in on a Blackhawk to re-enlist two soldiers. There in a dusty Combat Outpost in Iraq, two soldiers committed additional years to the United States and the Army. As the General noted, less than 3% of Americans do this. It merely highlights what an exclusive and self-selecting club the United States military is. It is a sad fact that more do not choose to serve, but it does mean that those that do are the committed ones, the patriotic ones, the best ones (it sure as heck beats a conscript military any-day).

The last JCOP of the day was where we had Thanksgiving Dinner. After serving chow to the enlisted soldiers, we enjoyed our own Thanksgiving dinner (a Turkey cutlet, crab legs, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, and cranberry sauce) at the little dining facility building they have constructed on their tiny COP. To add to the atmosphere of the day we ate by TAC Light (Tac Lights are small flashlights attached to the M4 for night operations and room clearing). The power had been lost to the building, so weapons were propped up on the table, and their tac lights turned on.

In that wonderful atmosphere, we had a hearty Thanksgiving meal. We certainly enjoyed ourselves and it was a good Thanksgiving dinner. Nothing beats dinner at home with the family, but it was a decent second. After that the officers pulled up some chairs beneath the stars on a back porch and smoked (cigars) and joked. Then it was time to mount up and return to FOB Warhorse.

All in all, it was a memorable Thanksgiving. It was definitely the most unique one I’ve experienced in my life. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving too and had time during the day (between football games and gorging) to give thanks for the blessings in your life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Does Victory Look Like?

What does victory look like?

That is a question that has been asked since shortly after the fall of the Saddam Hussein Regime in 2003. There were those who argued that victory was the removal of Saddam, regardless of what the aftermath would look like. There are others who argued that we could only claim victory in Iraq if Iraq resembled the United States. The bar for claiming victory has also shifted as those forces who wanted defeat sought to raise the bar to an unachievable level just as those who wanted victory would lower it. As is the case in many things, the truth probably lies in between. Then again, what constitutes victory is ultimately determined by the President as Commander-in-Chief in collaboration with the Joint Chiefs.

In light of recent news, I think it is an apt question for people to ask. As you all know the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed by Ambassador Crocker and his Iraqi partners and approved by the Cabinet. The next hurdle for the document is the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which should be quite entertaining. It makes me upset that there isn't a good English language news station that can cover the debate in English. The bits and pieces shown on Fox News and other news sources indicate that lively would be an understatement. But SOFA is a step forward.

SOFA is part of what victory looks like. As President Bush has said on numerous occasions, "As the Iraqis step forward, we will step back". That is what victory in counter-insurgency looks like. Obviously it’s something incredibly difficult to measure, and what ultimately is victory is up to others to decide. SOFA lays the groundwork for the United States Armed Forces and her Coalition Allies to step draw back as her Iraqi Allies step forward into the gap. The Iraqi Army has not always been ready to take the lead and there is a danger of putting someone in the lead too early. Some have argued that this was the precise problem in 2005 and 2006 - the rush to push inexperienced and under-trained Iraqi units into the lead when they were not ready. The Iraqi Army of 2008 is not the Iraqi Army of 2005/6. There is still work to be done, but they are much more capable than my last tour in this country. Some of the Iraqi units can even operate independently of Coalition Forces support.

It is the Iraqis who must ultimately step forward and win their country. To quote the great insurgent leader, T.E. Lawrence, "It is better that the Arab do it tolerably, than we do it perfectly". Iraqi "democracy" will never be the same as that in our Republic. The Iraqi military will likely never be as professional and well-equipped as ours. But that isn't the issue. As the Iraqis can take the fight to the enemy, and fight for their own country, they are doing it tolerably. The goal of any counter-insurgency is to get the HN (Host Nation) forces to do things tolerably. The Iraqis are rapidly approaching or have surpassed that point in some areas. SOFA is part of that process. It can be frustrating because it can be difficult to take a back seat or a supporting role when one is used to being up front. We have to adapt to the new reality. It isn't easy, but Victories are never easy.

We are winning in Iraq. A great deal of that credit belongs to the strategy employed by GEN Petraeus when he became the new MNF-I commander and now continued by GEN Odierno. The surge worked and because of it, we are witnessing a transition, a transition embodied by SOFA.

It will make my life more interesting, frustrating, and perhaps at times more difficult. It's good to recall the words of T.E. Lawrence to keep myself grounded and focused. What does victory look like? We may soon see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

General David Petraeus: Man of the Year

Like many members of the Armed Forces I am a fan of General David Petraeus. The job he has done as Commander of MNF-I is nothing short of incredible. He has moved on to CENTCOM where he will continue to do great things for Iraq, but also for Afghanistan.

I ran across this article in GQ about General David Petraeus. While I may not always agree with their politics, I think it is a superb article. It labels him: Leader of the Year.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Groundhog Day

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the great Bill Murray's classic "Groundhog Day". "Groundhog Day" embodies what Iraq is and can become. The premise of the movie is that Bill Murray visits Punxsatony, PA to cover Phil the Groundhog's Big Day. Bill Murray, like his character in the great Christmas movie "Scrooged", doesn't appreciate the holiday and the assignment. His bad "karma" results in him being cursed to relive Groundhog Day again and again. At first he reacts negatively to reliving the same day again and again, even going homicidal and killing the lil' groundhog. Eventually he learns to appreciate it and seeks to better himself and of course, win Andie McDowell's affections. He learns French, plays the piano, saves little children and becomes a town celebrity, all while covering the groundhog for his new-station. It's quite funny, but shows just what one can do if one has to relive the same day over and over. Which brings us to Iraq.

Obviously ever Iraq experience is different. Reliving the same day has to be viewed in a manner that DOES NOT breed complacency. Complacency is a hidden enemy that leads to accidents and mistakes that can result in real serious consequences. So the first requirement is being careful and mindful of that dangerous possibility. But as a Staff Officer, my Iraq time is truly Groundhog Day. I'm trapped in Bill Murray's hell, only I'm not enjoying a nice bed and breakfast in beautiful Punxsatony, PA. I'm in a trailer in not quite as beautiful Diyala, Iraq.

Every day I'm in the office NLT 0700 to review the INTSUM and prepare it for the boss. I check my email; I usually get over 50 emails during the course of the night so it takes about an hour to review all of those. You would find it hard to believe, but there is such a thing as SPAM email in Iraq. I can't tell you who puts it out, but trust me, there is an Iraqi equivalent over here. I have a morning brief with the Commander where we look at the last 24 hours and what's coming up. The middle of the day can change depending on what exciting meetings I have to attend or on whether or not I go outside of the wire with the Commander. The end of the day involves wrapping up the day’s work and prepping for tomorrow.

It's really not a bad life and day when you think of it. It's usually long and the constant repetition does sap a lot out of you. But, it’s how you deal with any sense of "monotony" that really colors your deployment. If you let it beat you down, the deployment will drag and productivity can suffer. If you just take each day for what it is, a gift (even if it is in Iraq) and another day, they can move a little quicker and you get a little more satisfaction out of your day. In a way that is the lesson of Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day". You can either let the repetition beat you down, destroying your morale, and impacting your relationship with others, or you can take each day as a new day, no matter how similar to the one before that and meet it head on. So Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" is a good way at looking at how to thrive, not just survive, a deployment to Iraq.

That being said, someone needs to hurry up and invent a teleportation device, so we can commute to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hope everyone enjoyed this today, a slightly more humorous look at Iraq. So, go rent Groundhog Day or get it on Netflix or iTunes and enjoy the Bill Murray classic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is Military Intelligence?

One of the biggest reasons for a complete and total misunderstanding of the nature of intelligence is the argument over Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. It has become nearly "gospel" that President Bush lied about the WMDs in Iraq. That is hardly true. Rather the Intelligence Assessment on Iraq's WMD program was wrong. Intelligence is a guessing game. Intel people don't often want to admit that, especially if they work for a certain three letter agency located in Virginia near a town that starts with an "L". Intelligence is the Fusion (that's the big new word in the Intel community) of various reporting into an Assessment. That assessment is a best guess. In the case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's weapon program we combined various reporting from defectors, SIGINT, inspector reports, and the actions of Saddam himself to draw a conclusion on his actions. That Assessment we know now GREATLY exaggerated the weapons program Saddam was undertaking in 2002/3. The Intelligence Assessment was wrong, that's not a lie.

In Military Intelligence at the Tactical Level we like to joke that if we are right 51% of the time we are rock-on. That may seem hard to believe and stand, but it is the nature of Intelligence. Intelligence officers and analysts are attempting to draw their best guess on what a threat organization is doing and is going to do. Since we currently lack the ability to be clairvoyant and to read minds, it means we have to guess. We obviously don't call it a guess. We call it an Assessment. That is the better word to use, because there is quite a bit of work that goes into it. We take various indicators and reports and use that to inform our decision making.

The intelligence officer and analyst have various INTs as they are called from which they can use to help make their assessment:

SIGINT: Signals Intelligence -- this is the cool guy stuff involving signals and electronics
IMINT: Imagery Intelligence -- pictures or live video from UAVs or Satellites
MASINT: Measures and Signature Intelligence -- technical intelligence gathered by various sensors
HUMINT: Human Intelligence -- information provided by sources (living breathing human beings)
OSINT: Open Source Intelligence -- Your daily newspaper is OSINT

As a Battalion Intelligence Officer it is my job to review the collections from these various forms of intelligence (our most used form is HUMINT at the tactical level) and draw a conclusion on what I believe/assess the threat is going to do. This ranges from identifying targets for the BN and what means the threat will use to engage me. My shop and I take these various reports and produce an INTSUM (Intelligence Summary) that is a tool for the Battalion Commander, Staff, and Company Commanders to understand the threat picture in our AO. We also produce other products based on the situation on the ground that fulfill our commander's intent and also assist the company in the accomplishment of their mission. Since Intelligence is to a degree, a guessing game, we use certain terminology to indicate how confident we are in our assessment. It is the same standards used in higher levels of Intelligence as well. We rarely can speak with certainly that something WILL happen. Thus we will same something is "probable" if we are very confident in our assessment. Something that is "likely" is just below "probable". Those two words help stress to the reader or the end-user the confidence that we are placing behind our analysis.

I think the most important lesson learned is that Intelligence is not clairvoyance. We are making an assessment based on evidence (or Intelligence from various sources). This definitely requires thinking flexibly and the willingness to be wrong.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Honoring Those Who Served --Have You Thanked a Veteran Today?

November 11th holds special significance for the US Military and anybody who remembers and is cognizant of the special character of military service. November 11th is Veterans’ Day. It’s a holiday that does not get much press anymore, but remains extremely important.

November 11th was initially known as Armistice Day. It celebrated the date that on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, that The Great War, “The War to End All Wars,” came to a close. World War I was obviously not the war to end all wars, but it remained a powerful emotional event for those involved, especially Europe.

Today it has been expanded to honor all of America’s veterans here in the United States. It is especially poignant as we realize that as a nation we only have one remaining World War I veteran still living. The Greatest Generation, those that answered their nation’s call to fight for freedom in World War II, is dwindling in numbers and in a few decades we will no longer have them nor their example. We have the veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and numerous other wars and small engagements fought by the United States throughout the Cold War. Now we have added veterans of the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) to those who we honor at Veterans Day because they continue the proud service exemplified by their forefathers in military service.
I think on Veterans’ Day it is a good time to reflect on what those veterans have given us and our debt to them.

The following sentiments have been attributed to Senator Zell Miller:

“It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the agitator,
who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
serves beneath the flag,
whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who gives that protester the freedom
to abuse and burn that flag.”

The author of the following remains anonymous and has been forwarded countless times online and I figured deserved posting here:

From an old soldier, a friend; dedicated to all that have served.
(see note below.)

The soldier stood and faced his God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass

"Step forward now you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek,
And to my church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
"No Lord, I guess I ain't,
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be saints

"I've had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough
And sometimes I've been violent
Because the streets were awfully rough"

But I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills just got to steep,

And I never passed a cry for help
Although, at times I shook with fear
And sometimes, God forgive
I've wept unmanly tears

I know I don't deserve a place
Among the people here
That never wanted me around
Except to calm there fears

If you have a place for me here O' Lord
It needn't be so grand
I've never expected, or had so much
But if you don't I'll understand"

There was a silence all around the throne
Where the Saints had often trod
As this soldier waited quietly
For the judgment from his God

"Step forward now you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell"

So spend today thanking veterans of past wars for the freedoms you cherish and listen to a little Lee Greenwood to get your patriotic blood flowing.

And finally, I wish the United States Marine Corps a Happy Birthday!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rain, Diyala, All Souls and Saints, and an Election

Greetings again from mud-ville. I think I can lean forward a little and predict that the drought that has gripped Diyala Province for the last couple of years may be near an end. We've already had over 2" of rain, last year they had 4" total in the entire rainy season. That 10 days of Rain has managed to put large portions of FOB Warhorse underwater. That being said, the water problem in Diyala Province is indeed serious and hopefully the rains continue to fall, even though it will completely screw with my workout regime, I figure the Iraqi's agricultural needs are probably more important.

Our Brigade Commander recently pushed out to the Wolf Family a newsletter updating family on the progress of the BDE and sum of the details. I figured I would pass along some of the information he chose to share since it might help you understand some things about Diyala Province and the area of Iraq that we are currently operating in:

A few facts about Diyala Province, Iraq. Diyala extends to the northeast of Baghdad as far as the Iranian border. Its capital is Baqubah. Diyala covers an area of 17,685 square kilometers (6,828 sq mi). That is an area approximately the size of the state of Maryland.

Diyala has been inhabited continuously since pre-Islamic times as a center for agriculture and commerce. The name itself is thought to have come from the Assyrian language Baya 'quba, meaning "Yacoub's (Jacob) house."

Because of its proximity to two major sources of water, Diyala's main industry is agriculture, primarily in large date palm groves. It is also recognized as the orange capital of the Middle East. Although it is often referred to as the "bread basket" of Iraq Diyala is suffering from one of the worst droughts in nearly 50 years and we can see the effects of the drought throughout the Province.

Baqubah (Arabic: بعقوبة) is the capital of Iraq's Diyala Governorate. The city is located some 50 km (30 miles) to the northeast of Baghdad, on the Diyala River, just outside Iraq's so-called Sunni Triangle. The estimated population of Diyala is 1,224,000 people.

I hope that helps all of you get a better picture of where exactly I am and what exactly this area looks like.

As the Catholics, Orthodox and Liturgical Protestants among you are aware, Saturday was All Saints' Day and today is All Souls' Day. I think the basic and essential meaning of those events take on special meaning in a combat zone. We had two members of our Brigade die recently from enemy action. It is on All Souls Day that we remember all those who have gone before us and here especially, one can begin to understand just how transitive life is. We are only on this world for a short period and we have eternity elsewhere. Thoughts like that bring us to the Feast of All Saints. They are the communion of believers that exists across space and time. Just as theologically speaking any sacrifice of the Mass occurs both on the date it is celebrated and also on Golgotha, the communion of Saints exists here and now just, as it did yesterday and will tomorrow. Eternity is a long time, or so I've been told. Anyways, enough with the really, really deep thoughts for the email. But hopefully they resulted in a little pondering of the "eternal questions" of which we must all someday give account.

On another note, Tuesday is election day in the United States for those of you back home. Seeing how you've been deluged with a two year campaign, it's kind of anti-climactic and I imagine a relief that soon it will be over. Contrary to the greatest fears and hyperbole of the Far Left, President Bush hasn't destroyed American democracy, and in fact, there will be an election on Tuesday between two very different people, neither of whom is President George W. Bush (Also, please note, there hasn't been another Terror Attack in the US Since 9/11 and Bush deserves some of the credit for that). The Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) of many on the Far Left will have to find another outlet, and it will probably dramatically improve their health. Whoever wins, America remains America. We've had peaceful transfers of party for over 230 years, with a violent intermission during the 1860s (The Civil War), that even then featured elections. On January 20th we will have another peaceful transfer of power, showing just how enduring our system of government is and wise our Founding Fathers were. The nightmares and doom preached by the Far Left hasn't happened and won't. Those of you who are happy to See President Bush leave office, will be happy, because he will indeed leave office. We will have a new president with new goals. It's how America works. Just recognize that (on the deep theological thoughts again) even our vote has eternal consequences. I'm personally anticipating a change in the political party which occupies the White House, and America will survive - it always does (we survived Carter, LOL).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Area Recon Combat Patrol

The topic of this update is going to be a Combat Patrol I took with my commander and the TAC, the element that accompanies the commander in the field.

(NOTE, The pictures from above are from an entirely different mission)

We rolled out about mid-morning to head into one of our company's sectors and conduct an Area Recon. An Area Recon is a type of Combat Patrol (Mission) designed to increase familiarity with the Area of Operations by observing the routes, towns, and local national population in a specific area. Our patrol was into one of the many Canal Zones of the Province. Diyala Province is/was the Breadbasket of Iraq. The Diyala River which runs through the province in bordered on all sides by palm groves, date trees, and farmland. The area is intersected by many canals that carry water (in theory) to farmers' fields. Diyala is actually in a middle of a drought (a multi-year drought) and as such some of the canals don't have much if any water in them. There are some areas that appear to be doing quite well, and others that just blind you with their glaring poverty and economic troubles.

Part of our Area Reconnaissance consisted of observing the many routes that ran through this particular sector of the AO. Every major road has a name that is used by the military when referencing it. The most famous route in Iraq is MSR Tampa, which is a Major Supply Route (MSR) that runs nearly the entire length of the country. There are particular themes with naming routes. It is quite common to see routes named after cars (Route Nissan, Route Ford), after cartoon characters (or series of cartoon characters like Transformers), beverages (both alcoholic and non) and at times actresses (not the serious type). It is the way the military names these routes to aid in mission planning and also understand. Anyone who saw "Team America" knows that "backalackdacka" street can get really confusing and doesn't quite roll off the tongue. RTE Pepsi on the other hand is much easier to say and eventually creates a mental image in one's mind of where you are. Obviously these are our names for the routes, the Iraqis have their own.

I spent the entirety of the mounted (in Strykers) part of our Patrol in the airguard hatch of one of our Strykers. I know I promised an actual lesson on Strykers and I promise I will get to that eventually. The Stryker has a Squad Leader hatch from which the SL or PL or other leader directs the Patrol. Next to him is the principle weapon system of the Stryker (ICV variant), the RWS .50 Cal Machine Gun. I recommend checking out “Anatomy of the Stryker” on the Military Channel or Future Weapons for details, but it definitely provides an excellent set of eyes for the vehicle. In the back are two air guard hatches that have two soldiers manning them to provide full 360 degree security. It also provides a great way to see the countryside and familiarize yourself with the terrain. It's easy to lose your bearings and miss things if one is buttoned up inside of the Stryker, the Airguard hatch is a way of having those necessary eyes and also interacting, albeit from a distance, with the local population. My partner in the other airguard hatch was a veteran of the 172nd SBCT's full 16 month deployment. He was able to pass tips on how to best do the job, but also entertaining conversation.

Driving the routes you see farmland that could be quite productive, if water was more abundant. Than you realize that this is the Middle East and perhaps that is too much to ask for. But the rainy season has now arrived here in Iraq and while it will make life uncomfortable, hopefully it will be a full and long one, because the people here deserve and need it. You always see kids running to the Strykers asking for soccer balls and giving you the thumbs up sign. It is difficult to figure out if they are insulting you when giving the thumbs up, or are doing what American children do. In Middle Eastern culture the thumbs up isn't necessarily a good thing, but after five years of close interaction, have they perhaps been Americanized a little bit. It really is hard to determine, you have to judge by the face and the tone of voice. They love soccer balls and always are asking for them. Their is a charity “Kicks for Nick” which honors an American soldier, PFC Nick Madaras, by donating soccer balls to Iraqis with his name written on them (, It is definitely a worthwhile charity which brings a simple but powerful gift to these Iraqi children who love "the beautiful game". As you drive through the villages, take away the few cars and our Strykers and the maze of electrical wires and you could be transported back hundreds if not thousands of years. The place has that timeless feel to it, while at the same time, being ever so modern.

We conducted a dismounted patrol through a town with the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi Army was motivated and showed up in force to conduct the patrol. What they may lack in professionalism and equipment, they make up in enthusiasm. These joint patrols really are the future of the mission as we begin to take a back seat to the Iraqi Army and their other security Forces. During the patrol we encountered numerous children who ran up to shake hands with our BN Commander. The local Mukhtar and Sheikh also came up to discuss the issues of the town with my Commander. Security is always an important issue, but now other concerns, like schools, water, and electricity are beginning to dominate the debate. That is a sign of progress. We have to temper our expectations I think and realize that Iraq (and Afghanistan) is never going to be like Wisconsin, or even Alaska. It will always be different, it will always be a little more backwards, a little poorer, but it can be more than it was, it IS more than it was, under Saddam (or the Taliban). That is the slow story of success. There were many "Salaams, Shloneks," and other greetings as we patrolled the streets. One has to keep one's guard up, lest one become complacent patrolling in areas like this. It is so easy to become comfortable and safe in this setting, that one has to work hard to ensure to remain vigilant, while at the same time not being distant. That is the essence of Counter-Insurgency. You cannot win a COIN fight by being buttoned up in your vehicles or sitting on FOBs. You have to be out and about with the population, dismounted. It increases ones vulnerability, but it also creates a bond and connection with the population which over time can improve both their and your security.

After completing the dismounted patrol we returned to base. All in all it was an excellent mission and a great experience. I definitely look forward to many more to come (and I know the wife hates reading that).

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's A Small Army

Children who flock to Disney World in Orlando, FL are familiar with every ride and every character whom they meet. In Fantasy World (I am sure I have the sub-kingdom incorrect and thus have horribly shocked and saddened two friends of mine who are obsessed with all things Disney), there is the ride that plays: “It’s a Small World Afterall, It’s a Small World Afterall, It’s a Small, Small, World”. Besides the fact that I find that song completely insufferable and truly have horrid memories of that ride, there is nonetheless some truth to the inanity of the ride. Though as I look back, the ride sure leaves out some things about the world (though, it is easier to imagine the world as a happy place with smiling people in traditional dress, waving at you as you go by and singing that annoying song).

One place where the maxim, “It’s a Small World” holds true is the United States Military. The US Armed Forces is a small and close-knit community. The phrase used by those in the Army is “It’s a Small Army”. The phrase connotes the fact that you are quite likely to run into people with whom you have served with before. Here at FOB Warhorse I have seen the truth of that matter. The S4 for the unit we replaced was a Advance Camp (Warrior Forge) Platoon member from “Garry Owen” back in the summer of 2004. One of the S2s our BDE is replacing is an OBC classmate from Fort Huachuca in the fall of 2005 (our picture is above). When I was at NTC in the Fall of 2007 I met another Platoon member from Advance Camp. My cousin who I first met at Fort Huachuca when I was at MIOBC (Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course) in the Fall of 2005 is here in Iraq at this time. I have a number of ROTC classmates and OBC classmates who are deployed throughout Iraq. It truly is a Small Army.

Thinking of the Army as “It’s a Small Army” led my mind on a few digressions. The US Armed Forces is indeed a small and select organization. It is too small, the Peace Dividend of the 1990s (Both President Bush and President Clinton) resulted in a United States Army that today numbers around 520,000. We once had eighteen combat divisions and a large number of separate brigades, today we have ten combat divisions and a lesser number of separate brigades. Again, I digress. The Military is indeed a small and somewhat exclusive club. In a country of over 300 Million people, less than 1% wear their country’s uniform. When you include those who have separated from Active Duty and the Reserves/National Guard we are looking at maybe 3-4% of the population. Very few industrialized nations bearing such huge burdens, have had so small a segment of the population bear the burden.

It is partly a response to our All-Volunteer Military. The All-Volunteer Military is a Good. It produces a military far better than a conscript (drafted) military. The British Expeditionary Force of World War I was a small, professional, volunteer force that was worth a force at least twice the size. The British in fact did not begin drafting soldiers until after the disaster of the Somme Offensive in the summer of 1916. Britons recognized they had a duty to their country and they answered their nation’s call. The same is true of the small number of Americans who have done likewise. The All-Volunteer Military is one of the reasons we have the greatest military in the world. The sad thing is that too few Americans feel the need or have the desire to serve. There are exceptions. I have two friends from High School, who went to College, graduated and entered what we all call “The Real World”. Today one is an enlisted soldier with two volunteer tours to Iraq under his belt and the other will soon be attending OCS and serving in his State’s National Guard. They have heard their nation’s call. They have answered their nation’s call.

This by no means demeans other forms of service. Service to a Cause greater than onself is a time-honored tradition. The problem is that America is by and large a me-first society. That selfishness extends all the way from the Baby Boomer Generation (No offense to our parents) to the current college one. People may speak platitudes about service and about serving causing greater than our own, but few actually answer that call. They can talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk. It is a stining indictment of the current generations. If we want America to remain the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, the current generations must stand up. It is not Government's responsibility to do this, it is ours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Army 101

Greetings again from Iraq. I know that many of you are not familiar
with the military and how exactly it operates and it organized. I
figure that such an explanation would prove useful. For this we'll be
looking principally at an Infantry Battalion, of which I am a part.

An Infantry Battalion is a sub-unit of a Brigade Combat Team that has
between 600 and 800 soldiers assigned to it. The battalion is
commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) who usually has around
eighteen to twenty years of military experience in the officer ranks.
The highest Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) is the Command Sergeant
Major (CSM) who assists the Battalion Commander in providing
leadership for the battalion, but also serves as the chief mentor of
soldiers on the enlisted and NCO side of the house.

An Infantry Battalion consists of three Rifle (Line) Companies and one
Headquarters & Headquarters Company (HHC). The three Rifle companies
each have between 140 and 190 soldiers assigned to it. HHC is a
larger unit because it combines the two specialty platoons (Mortars
and Recon) with a Medical Platoon, the BN Staff and Staff Sections,
and other attachments. Each company is commanded by a Senior Infantry
Captain (CPT) who has been through the Infantry Officer's Career
Course at Fort Benning. The senior NCO of each company is the First
Sergeant. He serves a similar purpose as the CSM, but at the company
level. Each company has an Executive Officer (XO) who handles most of
the administrative and logistical tasks for the company. Each company
also has three rifle platoons and one Weapons Platoon. In a Stryker
unit the three rifle platoons are equipped with ICV (Infantry Carrier
Vehicles) while the Weapons Platoon has Mortar Carriers (MC), Mobile
Gun System (MGS), and ICVs. More on the Stryker in another email.
Each Platoon is led by a Lieutenant (graduate of the Basic Course, LT)
and a Platoon Sergeant (a senior NCO, PSG). The Platoons are then
further subdivided into Squads led by, incredibly enough, Squad
Leaders. Squads are broken into teams that are led by, you guessed it,
Team Leaders. Each company has one Fire Support Officer and a Fire
support section. These field artillery soldiers assist in targeting,
fire missions, and non-lethal targeting. The Reconnaissance and
Mortar Platoons are generally led by more senior Lieutenants or junior
Captains because of their specialized mission set.

One of the larger elements in HHC is the BN Staff, the Headquarters
part of Headquarters & Headquarters Company. The BN Staff is managed
by the BN XO. The BN XO is a graduate of ILE (no idea what that
stands for) at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The other field grade officer in
the BN Staff is the S3 or Operations Officer. He is assisted by the
Operations SGM who has reached the Sergeant Major ranks and is
awaiting selection to become a Command Sergeant Major. The Staff
sections are organized so that each section has a specific purpose or
mission within the staff and the battalion. The S Shops (in
Battalions or Below) are used to designate the various functions each
one is designed to accomplish.

S1 - Personnel. The BN S1 or Adjutant handles personnel manners,
finance, mail, and other administrative matters. They have the
unenviable job of keeping track of all soldiers, where they are, where
they live, etc. The S1 in an infantry battalion is normally a junior
captain, though our unit has had a heck of a lot of turnover at the S1
position. Since it handles so much administrative paperwork, all the
previous S1's went completely insane.

S2 - Intelligence. I'm biased and think this is one of the more
important ones, other people disagree. Many believe that Military
Intelligence is an oxymoron, it all depends on who is doing the
analysis of the intelligence. There are some, where that axiom would
hold true. Just as common sense is in fact rare sense, sometimes
military intelligence is not intelligent. This is one of only two
officer positions not manned (by standards) by combat arms personnel
within the infantry battalion. The S2 Section is responsible for some
administrative functions (security clearances, etc), but is
principally concerned with analysis of intelligence to determine the
threat's MLCOA and MDCOA (Most Likely and Most Dangerous Course of
Action). Furthermore proper intelligence can by pushed to the
companies to drive Operations.

S3 - Operations. This staff section is led by the Operations Officer
(an ILE graduate like the BN XO). This section is responsible for
manning Current Ops in the TOC with the Battle Captain, Battle NCO,
Battle RTO (Radio Telephone Operator). From here the Current Ops
manages the battle and tracks the companies on the battlefield. The
Plans Section is led by a Captain who is responsible for the planning
of future operations, production of the Daily FRAGO, and sometimes
serving as Slide B----. The military is completely and wholly owned
by Bill Gates and Microsoft. We recently were forced to move to
Microsoft Office 2007 (I hate it!). Powerpoint is the bane of our
existence, but without it, we don't know how to function. The dangers
of technology writ large appear in the military. The S3 section also
mans the TAC, the vehicles that the BC, S3 and CSM use to move around
the battlefield. They serve both as PSD (Personal Security
Detachment) and as drivers and vehicle crews. Operations and
Intelligence work together in what the miltary likes to call FUSION.
The miltiary likes the word Fusion and uses it way too often.
Operations is probably the most important staff function, though
intelligence does drive operations in the COIN fight (Counter
Insurgency, more on that at another point).

FSE - Fire Support Element. It is often considered a part of
Operations. The FSE is led by the FSO (Fire Support Officer), a Field
Artillery Captain. He is assisted by a Targeting Officer, another
Fire Support Officer. The principal role of the Fire Support Section
is targeting, both lethal and non-lethal. In lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S2 shop. For non-lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S5 shop. They also plan Fire Missions
involving Indirect Fire (Fire that is fired in an arc with observers
such as mortars and howitzers). They are the link with Air Assets
like AWT (Air Weapons Team - Helicopters) and Fixed Wing (Jets).

S4 - Supply. An Army lives on its Stomach. So said the Emperor
Napoleon. The S4 shop deals with the logistical needs of the
battalion, which include chow and water. The Supply Section keeps us
stocked on office supplies (there isn't an easy button, just a at
times limiteless government credit card), orders vital parts for
vehicles and weapon systems, and helps quality of life with various
funds used to make purchases for all sorts of operations. The S4 is
usually a junior combat arms captain.

S5/9 - Civil Military Operations. This is the Hearts and Minds Guy.
His non-lethal targeting piece revolves around Civil Military
Operations. This involves assisting local nationals in standing up
business since businesses and a functioning economy reduce the need
for someone to fall into a terrorist group or an insurgency. He also
coordinates with the Local government on products that require funding
that will benefit the widest section of the population. In COIN
operations, the S5/9 is a vital component because the vast majority of
operations are non-lethal.

S6 - Signal. The Signal Officer (a Signal guy) is the chief
communications officer of the battalion. With his section he
maintains the computer, radios, and other digital systems that are
vital to the Modern warfighter. We are very reliant on computers.
When our SIPR (Secret Internet is down) we really become listless and
are prone to the "good idea fairy". The S6 is the protection against
this dangerous threat to sanity. He also keeps the NIPR (normal
internet) lines up so I can write long entries like this that put you
to sleep).

Chaplain. No unit can succeed unless its Spiritual needs are met.
This is the mission of the BN's only non-combatant. The Chaplain
oversees the spiritual and psychological health of every soldier in
the Battalion. He does not carry a weapon, but rather ministers by
presence to the soldiers. He does get a bodyguard, called a
Chaplain's Assistant.

Deployed in Combat the Battalion receives a number of other
attachments that consist of mechanics, cooks, Human Intelligence
Collectors, and other specialties.

The Counter-Insurgency fight is fought at the Battalion and below
level. I'm a little biased, but I think I've got the best Battalion
in my Brigade Combat Team.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

War on Terror and Globalization

Historically, war is an essential part of human cultural development. That is not to say it is a positive. St. Thomas Aquinas viewed war as an evil, albeit at times a necessary one. But war is an essential element of the human story. From mankind’s earliest days of civilization in Mesopotamia to our “Post-Modern” age, war is ever present.

As a result, it should come as no surprise that war in this age represents and has the trappings of the age. We live in an Age of Globalization where the nations’ economies are bound to one another, where companies transcend nations, and the trappings of one’s country can be found across the globe. Even the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan) features these examples of our new global age.

Camp Buehring is a temporary US Military Base in the Kuwait. The US Military complex in Kuwait is far away from Kuwait City (out of sight, out of mind), yet while undeniably alien, it has many of the trappings of home. I remember upon arriving being told that I had to go to Starbucks. Starbucks is an all-American brand. It is found at numerous street corners throughout the United States and increasingly the world. It has arrived in the Global War on Terror. I am not a coffee drinker, I have not yet developed that habit or vice. But I went. On the outside, it looks like any other military structure on Camp Buehring. Surrounded by Hesco barriers to protect it from indirect-fire that will never come, it is painted in the same drab colors as everything else. But then you see the marquee: it is the same Starbucks sign one would see in Seattle, Chicago or New York. you walk inside this Starbucks and you are in the same coffee shop one finds in any American city with the same interior decoration of Starbucks anywhere.

There is one notable difference, however. The negative of the global economy is out-sourcing, or so that is the conventional wisdom. The baristas at Starbucks Kuwait are not the attractive college coeds of the rest of the United States. They are third country nationals (TCN) who are contracted by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR, the former subsidiary of “evil” Halliburton, if one buys the typical liberal rhetoric). These TCNs hail from the Philippines, India, or any other developing country. In fact, one notes the startling lack of American workers on these FOBs or Training Camps in Kuwait (the same is true for bases in Iraq). DFAC workers, PX cashiers, maintenance staff are all workers out-sourced through American companies. The global labor market, and the promise of employment and pay, results in a truly global workforce on these American military installations.

American Contracting Companies (Contractors) have been vilified for their actions and money making during the Global War on Terror. The truth is, without their work, American soldiers would not enjoy the quality life that is present here in Iraq, Kuwait, or anywhere else as part of the GWOT. Now, obviously, FOBs can differ. KBR here on FOB Warhorse is not nearly as timely and user-friendly as that found on FOB Courage or FOB Marez. That is part of any business, trans-national or trans-regional, which operates in different places. These companies contract with local nationals (LN) and TCNs to provide many of the comforts of home. They also provide and oversee the famous “Hajji” stores that are the bane of every movie studio in the United States. These Hajji stores sell rugs, jewelry, leather products, local cell phones, electronics, and of course, “Hajji” versions of the latest US movie releases and TV shows. If there is a market for the item, it can probably be found (which requires the vigilance of FOB Provosts to put a stop to anything illegal).

War is part of human culture and civilization. The wars of any period tend to acquire certain characteristics of the age of which they are a part. Wars during the industrial revolution saw the first mass use of artillery and saw increasingly advanced firearms. Wars during the Modern Age saw cars and airplanes (initially viewed as civilian tools) adapted for war. War in the global age has acquired many aspects of the global economy and society at large. Many early armies were followed into the field by camps of followers who provided for and serviced the Army. Today, the US Military deploys in support of national defense priorities and the Global War on Terror with a legion of contractors that provide many of the essential support and many comforts that allow both for the prosecution of the war at large, but also for the morale of the individual fighting soldier.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Brigade Deployment Ceremony

Our Brigade Deployment ceremony was held on September 11th, 2008. Our Brigade marched onto the airfield parade ground to the cheers of family, friends, and guests. The sun broke out of the clouds to shine down throughout the ceremony. The shining sun was a benefit to the friends, family and guests, not to the soldiers; the sun was shining directly into our eyes throughout the entire ceremony. MG Layfield, LTG Mixon and Gov. Sarah Palin were the guests of honor who provided words of comfort and support to the family and friends and words of encouragement and resolve to the deploying soldiers.

I recommend checking out the Fairbanks Daily News Miner for their coverage of the deployment ceremony and some excellent pictures of the event.

The general consensus from the soldiers I was with was positive. While standing in formation for 1 hour and 45 minutes is not enjoyable, we understand the purpose such events serve. They help the commander see his troops, but also provide a sense of pride for the family and friends who look upon those soldiers formed before them. The remarks given by MG Layfield, LTG Mixon, Gov. Sarah Palin and COL Thompson were well received, even if the primary audience for the majority of the remarks were the viewing public, not the formation of soldiers. Gov. Sarah Palin remarks were especially appreciated (the full speech appears below, click to watch).

It was special to have Gov. Palin join us for our deployment. Her words about the difference between the September 10th and September 11th worlds were especially relevant given to the date of the deployment ceremony. The date was picked for the obvious symbolic message by the brigade commander, COL Thompson. We are at war against people with the same nihilist vision as those who attacked us on September 11th. Michael Yon’s dispatches have done enormous work in highlighting the depth of the depravity of the enemy we face in Iraq.

Our battalion was privileged to be joined by a true American Hero during this pre-deployment period. COL John Komp, our Regiment’s Honorary Commander is a veteran of three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His example serves as an inspiration for the men and women of my battalion and an example of the great Americans in whose steps we attempt to follow when answering our Nation’s call to arms.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Remember September 11th


On September 11th, 2001, the world changed for the United States of America. That is the conventional story about the events of September 11th. In reality, September 11th was merely a wake-up call from our “holiday from history”.

Historical centuries do not come in neat 100 year blocks. The 20th century was born in the blood and mud of the trenches at Verdun, the Somme, Ypres, and the Meuse-Argonne. The 20th century became a century of conflict between good (the democratic capitalist West) and evil (totalitarian National Socialism and communism). That century ended on November 9th, 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union held on for a few more years before imploding in 1991.

Americans thought that the age of conflict, of competing superpowers and threats to freedom were over. The Bush and Clinton administrations slashed the size of the armed forces. The peace dividend allowed increased government spending while at the same time reducing the deficit. No longer would the survival of the United States be threatened by outside threats. The United Nations would be able to lead the world in a New Age of Peace.

It was only an allusion. Islamic jihadism revealed its true face and the extent of its threat to the United States on September 11th 2001. Americans awoke to the frightening reality that the end of the Cold War and the bloody twentieth century only opened the door for even greater evils. Islamic Jihadism or Islamofascism (to use a particularly common phrase for them) had as its one goal the death of the unbeliever and the establishment of Dar-al-Islam over the entire world. Al-Qaeda is but one faction of that wider organization, though at this time, the most spectacularly successful. September 11th was not the beginning of the jihadist war against America and the West. It was merely the moment when America was woken from her slumber to a cold new reality. It was the beginning of a new century.

Jihadism was born in the 1950s with the writings and teachings of Sayyid Qutb. His Islamic Brotherhood became the first franchise of Islamic terrorism to be unleashed on the world. What is of particular note is that Qutb’s hatred of the United States did not make America a target initially. The first target was the government of his country, Egypt. The first deaths in the Islamic Jihadist war against civilization were fellow Muslims. Qutb bred Zawahiri; Zawahiri taught and then followed Bin Laden. Osama’s Al-Qaeda rose up to inspire a great Jihad against the west. In that process, they have killed many more Muslims than they have Westerners. That nihilism of Al-Qaeda and their fellow Islamic Jihadists represents not their greatest strength (there is no deterrence for a nihilist), but their greatest weakness (their disregard for all human life).

The United States is now engaged in a war with these extremist fanatics. Yet many Americans look longingly back at the 1990s, the “September 10th world,” and wish it back. The world of September 10th, 2001 is dead. If history is a guide, “holidays” are temporary. The September 11th world is our reality now.

The freedoms of western civilization are threatened. I firmly believe that those freedoms are worth fighting for. Winston Churchill exhorted the English people during WWII to “Arise and take our stand for Freedom as in the olden times”.

Those words are just as relevant to us today. John Stuart Mill wrote, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself”. Western civilization is worth fighting for.

As President George W. Bush said, “Freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is the Almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world”.

We remember those who perished on September 11th, 2001. We remember those who answered the call to battle. We will fight for those who are lost. That is how we honor and remember those who perished; - by doing all we can so it won’t happen again. We honor them be fighting those responsible wherever they are.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mission Complete -- Victory in Al Anbar Province

The success of the Surge has moved Iraq from a front-page story to A17. You probably missed this occurrence over the weekend that indicates the success of the Surge in Iraq and that the Government of Iraq is indeed standing up. As they stand up, we stand down. Below is an excerpt from a salute to this fact found in the Wall Street Journal. To read the full article you must be a subscriber to their online or paper edition.

"Two years ago, on September 11, 2006, the Washington Post stirred an election-year uproar with this chilling dispatch:

"The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there . . .

"But there was something we could do: Pursue a different counterinsurgency strategy and commit more troops. And on Monday, U.S. forces formally handed control of a now largely peaceful Anbar to the Iraqi military. "We are in the last 10 yards of this terrible fight. The goal is very near," said Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, in a ceremony with U.S., Iraqi and tribal officials. Very few in the American media even noticed this remarkable victory."

That is from the September 2nd Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin - Out of Right Field

Driving around Alaska one sees numerous bumper stickers that declare, “Alaska Girls Rock!” or something else to that effect. It would appear that the campaign of Senator John McCain took notice of that. In an election that features a Presidential candidate originally from Hawaii, it only made sense for Alaska to join the party.

Sarah Palin is hugely popular in the State of Alaska. She is a true reformer who took on Alaska’s political establishment and gained some significant victories. Politically speaking in what is expected to be a down year for the Republican brand, it can only be a plus that the political establishment in Alaska is dominated by a Republican Machine. This is the state of Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young who pretty much define wasteful government spending and privilege (i.e. Bridge to Nowhere). Sarah Palin has accomplished a great deal in her short time as governor of Alaska, her time on the Oil and Gas Commission for the state (Alaska is an energy rich state), and mayor of Wasilla. As Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, she blew the whistle on legal and conflict of interest violations on the board. In 2006 she first defeated the incumbent Republican governor in the primary before beating the former Democratic governor of Alaska. She has challenged both Ted Stevens and Don Young, even supporting a primary challenge to Congressman Young (the outcome of which is still undecided). She targeted appointments made by the defeated governor, returned windfall state revenues to the people, and has pushed for a new Natural Gas Pipeline in the state to increase energy supply both in Alaska, but also in the Lower 48.

As a Catholic it is exciting to see someone selected to run for this position with such strong pro-life credentials. Sarah Palin gave birth to her fifth child, Trig, this year. Trig was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, but the Palins wouldn’t consider an abortion, the fate of nearly 90% of children diagnosed with that chromosomal anomaly. Sarah Palin is a politician who not only speaks pro-life and pro-family values, but lives them.

She is also the epitome of the American dream and the very definition of an Alaskan girl. Her husband works on the North Slope, is a commercial fisherman, and races Snow-Machines (the Alaskan word for Snowmobiles). Sarah Palin hunts caribou, reportedly makes a mean moose stew, and is a lifetime member of the NRA.

The Palin’s oldest son Track is a member of the same Brigade Combat Team that I am a member of. (Full disclosure, I’ve never met him and I have no idea which unit within the Brigade he is actually in.) Track is an American patriot who wants to serve his country in the same fashion as many others; he probably doesn’t want to be a celebrity, though I won’t complain if it means (potentially) a vice president visits my unit during our deployment.

(Speaking of deployments, my Brigade’s deployment ceremony is on September 11th of this year. The date was obviously chosen for its significance to underline what exactly we are fighting for and what is at stake.)

Congratulations Governor Palin on your selection by the McCain Campaign. This historic campaign will either result in the first female vice president or the first African-American president. Despite the people who want to tear down this country and what it stands for, this simple fact highlights just how good and noble America is. America is not racist. America is not sexist. In America, truly dreams can come true. America is still a wonderful country. Let the real campaign begin (I’m glad I’ll be deployed - I won’t have to watch political advertising for the next two months!).