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.