In Iraq for 365

About my experiences in Iraq... the frustrations, the missions and this country... and the journey home

Monday, November 28, 2005

Citizen tips Coalition forces...

A good sign that Iraqis are joining the fight against insurgents...

4th Brigade Combat Team PAO

BAGHDAD – Task Force Baghdad Soldiers captured four suspected terrorists during operations Nov. 24-25.

An Iraqi tipster provided information about a roadside-bomb cell operating in western Rashid. Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment responded to the tip and conducted the operation during the early-morning hours of Nov. 25, detaining three terror suspects. The previous evening, Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment conducted a mission in eastern Rashid, detaining a suspected terrorist who is believed to be responsible for attacks on Coalition Forces.

The suspect attempted to flee the scene as the Soldiers arrived but was unable to evade the U.S. forces.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bruce Willis

In an era that actors and directors so often question the efforts of American servicemen, one of Hollywood’s best is bringing us a movie that portrays soldiers as who they are – heroes. Based on the writing of Michael Yon, Bruce Willis plans to direct a movie on Deuce Four, a battalion I was stationed in Mosul with. The movie dedication is well deserved…,,2089-1892675_1,00.html

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Aaron Tippin spends time with troops on Thanksgiving

TIKRIT, Iraq -- Country music star Aaron Tippin, who crooned such hits as Kiss This and You’ve Got to Stand for Something (Or You’ll Fall for Anything) spent his Thanksgiving with Soldiers of Task Force Band of Brothers, 101st Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base Speicher in Iraq.

Tippin started his visit with the Soldiers by eating Thanksgiving Dinner at the Eagle’s Nest Dining Facility, where officers from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade served up some turkey, crab legs, and all the traditional holiday fixings. He didn’t do much eating, however, as he was approached by a steady stream of fans in the dining facility seeking autographs and pictures.

“Since you guys can’t be home with your families for Thanksgiving, I don’t mind being away from mine,” Tippin said. “I just appreciate everything you guys do for us.”

Tippin signed everything he could before heading on a tour of the 1st Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade flight line, where Soldiers gave him an up-close-and-personal look at an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. Tippin, who said he is a helicopter pilot himself, sat in the cockpit and was briefed on the various controls and features of the aircraft.

While at the flight line, Tippin again made sure every fan who wanted one got a picture and an autograph. Soldiers brought up guitars, CDs and various other items to be signed while Tippin, donning a black T-shirt with the 1st Battalion “Expect No Mercy” logo on it, signed them all.

At the flight line, one Soldier shook Tippin’s hand and told him, “You’re a great American, Sir!” Tippin looked at the Soldier as he walked away and said, “I think you may have that one backwards.”After spending a few hours with the Soldiers, Tippin departed the area to tour the rest of the installation, including the 101st Airborne Division headquarters, before his 8 p.m. performance at the installation gymnasium.

“I think it was good of him to take time out of his schedule to come visit us and show his support and patriotism,” said Capt. Jason Shultz, battle captain for Task Force Band of Brothers. “He was very sincere. I think it meant more to him to be here with us for Thanksgiving.”

Tippin performed an acoustic set at the installation gymnasium, kicking the show off with You’ve Got to Stand for Something. The backdrop for his performance was the Grand Ole Opry East, a division initiative to encourage other performers to entertain Soldiers. He also included the most patriotic song in his catalog – Where stars and stripes and eagles fly – inspired by the events of 9/11.

“He told the story about the song 9/11 inspired him to write,” Shultz said. “The story really motivated everyone.”After his performance, Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Turner, commander, Task Force Band of Brothers and 101st Airborne Division, presented Tippin with the Screaming Eagle statue to show the task force’s appreciation for his visit. Tippin was the first celebrity to entertain the Soldiers of Task Force Band of Brothers at FOB Speicher.“He gave a very energetic performance,” Shultz said. “You could tell he enjoyed performing for us.”

American Cheetah Saver

It looks like the American soldier does everything. In this article, we learn U.S. GIs are saving Ethiopian Cheetahs. I wonder if John Kerry will soon be calling for a troop withdrawal in Africa, saying “we had no proof of Cheetahs before we invaded.”

Friday, November 25, 2005

Iraqi tankers drive T-72 tanks past a grandstand at Camp Taji during a ceremony marking the creation of a new armored brigade in the Iraqi Army on Nov. 17. The 9th Division activated 2nd Armored Brigade during the ceremony. The new brigade is equipped with dozens of main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers donated by Hungary.
Taken On:
Sgt. Matthew Wester 3/1 AD

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 24, 2005

This time last year, I was eating with plastic forks. This year, I will eat mom's pie. I'm so thankful to be home. My best wishes go out to those still in Harm's Way. Godspeed. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Afghan school receives supplies

By Army Sgt. Phillip Chang
117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

KABUL, Afghanistan – A pack of pink drawing paper, a set of multi-colored pencils and a backpack was all it took to put a smile on one student’s face in Afghanistan.

The student, Shkiba, was one of almost 250 in the Professional and Learning Foundation School for Disabled and Girls, to receive school supplies and shirts with the colors of the Afghan flag. Soldiers from the Afghan National Army distributed school supplies to students of the school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday.

The school was chosen in recognition for the upcoming International Day of Disabled which is Dec. 3.The soldiers are part of the Directorate of Cultural and Religious Affairs. The supplies were donated from Command Forces Command–Afghanistan and the United States Assistance for International Development with participation from the International Security Assistance Force.

Present at the event was Sayed Mohmmad Hadi Hadi, Deputy Minister of Martyrs and Disabled, who also handed out supplies to students.During his speech, Hadi said, “I am thankful for the cooperation and coordination from ISAF and CFC-A.” He added, “I am also thankful for the donations for the students and disabled.” Suraya Omeri, director of the school, was also appreciative of the donations. “While the Taliban was in power, girls were not allowed to go to school. The school was founded to help the disabled and girls get their education” said Omeri. “These gifts will help the students in their progress.”

Students shared their thoughts with the Deputy Minister and director as they shook hands and acknowledged their thanks for the gifts.Muxgan Ahmadi, one of the attending students said, “We are thankful for the gifts of book bags and school supplies, these will help us learn.”

Romanian Lt. Col. Mircea A. Romocia and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Roseman, members of the Ministry Engagement Team for CFC-A, coordinated the event.“This is an example of the Afghan government working together to support the Afghan people,” said Roseman after the event.

“We just came by to help the Ministry with its steps in providing for the next generation,” added Romocia.At the end of the ceremony, Shkiba handed one of the soldiers a sketch of a boy crying. “I wanted to show how it was here before we were free,” reflected Shkiba, as she was admiring her sketch before presenting the sketch. “This is also to show how happy I am now,” she added with pride.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Duck, duck

This may sound bad, but it is funny to watch somebody duck for cover when a mortar lands 150 meters away. Your typical combat soldier knows it’s a waste of energy, but not the new guys and apparently the top brass…

Monday, November 21, 2005

Power to the People

Written by Sgt. Jason Mikeworth, 207th MPAD

Power to the people. For the Soldiers of the 30th Engineer Brigade and the Air Force’s Design Team 15 (DET 15), 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, this is a mission, not a slogan, as they work to improve the flow of electricity for military bases stretching from Talafar to Taji.

“The mission of our team is to support the 30th with engineer projects in the northern-half of Iraq,” said Air Force Capt. Jon Wahlgren, an electrical engineer with DET 15. “We do design plans and specifications for projects for troop construction and contractor work.”

Wahlgren and his Army counterpart Maj. Anthony Centore focus their energy on providing energy to customer units, working on projects from the electrical source at power sub-stations right down to the individual light switches servicemembers use.“I’ve done everything from small things like rewiring a room that was being remodeled, rewiring whole buildings, all the way up to the design of power grids for some of these enduring bases,” Wahlgren said.

Some of the biggest challenges that the electrical engineers face are adapting to the way Iraqis handle electricity. They’ve had to deal with a variety of different materials and standards, Wahlgren said, including adjusting to the metric sized wires used here.

“Being in a contingency type environment, you can’t just go down to the Home Depot and get what you need,” Wahlgren said. “Sometimes you have to make do with what you have.”Centore, who doubles as the executive officer for the 463rd Engineer Battalion, was assigned to the 30th because of his civilian skills as an electrical engineer.

Safety is always a major concern when working with electrical issues, Centore said, and that is what led to his role as a consultant for DET 15.

“When we came into the electrical needs here in theater, there were a lot of issues dealing with safety,” Centore said. “It was something that definitely needed attention.”

Centore has worked on projects at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, Forward Operating Base Spartan, FOB Warhorse and FOB Endurance.

“I’ve designed new power distribution systems for Rawa and Forward Operating Base Spartan,” Centore said. Although the mission assignments come from the 30th, Centore said he and Wahlgren will help anyone who asks for assistance. “It usually starts as a question. People are looking for someone with a castle on their collar [for an answer]”, Centore said. “It’s nothing for us to go out and resolve whatever issue they’re having.” Along with their missions to help design electrical systems in such a broad area, Centore and Wahlgren have worked to share their knowledge with the electricians in theater through classes.

“We’ve done four or five classes here for electricians as well as designers to help educate those people,” Centore said. “Our Soldiers are very good. What we try to do is draw those people into a classroom environment that may only have the Army’s two-week course.”

“It’s been wonderful working with both of them,” said Lt. Col. Danny Hassell, the team leader for the 30th’s Design Team 1. “They are exceptionally smart engineers with the know-how and ability to teach other people.”

Hassell, who has worked with Centore and Wahlgren on more than 50 projects, added, “We couldn’t have done it without them.”Centore said it has been great working with the Air Force team.“They’re a great bunch. They’re true engineers, very team oriented,” Centore said.Wahlgren said his experience alongside the Army has been equally good.“I’m really impressed with all of the Army individuals I have worked with,” Wahlgren said. “It’s really changed my perspective. I have a lot more respect for the guys in the Army.”

Wahlgren said that working with the Army has led to some experiences he hadn’t expected before deploying to Iraq. “I’ve seen some things I never would have imagined [seeing] as an Air Force captain,” Wahlgren said as he recalled a mission to help the city of Talafar restore power to most of its population.

“I went in there on a civil affairs mission. I never thought I would have been on the downtown streets of an Iraqi city,” Wahlgren said. The experience was very different for the Air Force captain who had spent most of his time ‘inside the wire.’“It was pretty exciting for me. It was a little outside of my comfort zone, but I never felt in danger,” Wahlgren said. “It was very enjoyable.”Centore and Wahlgren share another common bond that has helped them achieve success in their mission. Centore, an Army Reserve officer, works for a Pittsburg-based engineering firm. Wahlgren, an officer from the North Dakota Air National Guard, works for a Minnesota utility company. “The Guard and Reserve have been a huge help to this theater, specifically in the civillian skills they have brought,” Centore said. “If you had to pick something that has made a significant impact, there is no doubt that that would be in the top two.”Centore said he is very appreciative to his employer for their support. He said they worked with him when he left the company early to prepare for this deployment, and have continued to assist him while he’s in Iraq with finding technical documentation for a variety of equipment.

“You can’t say enough about the employers that back their guys,” Centore said.Wahlgren also noted the unique capabilities Reserve and Guard units bring to the mission.“All of the 30th have been a great team. It’s a good example of the potential these joint missions have,” Wahlgren said. “I think it helps bring to light the important contributions the Guard and Reserve can bring.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

English professor protests Iraq speaker

An English professor protests a Iraq veteran speaker, saying "captalism has killed more people than communism." Move to China, Prof...

School drop

by Spc. Anna-Marie Risner133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

YETHRIB, Iraq, Nov. 10, 2005 -- Many troops serving in Iraq spend their time hunting insurgents and tracking down those who wish to hurt Coalition forces; but some Soldiers occasionally get the opportunity to show Iraqi people another side of the military.

Soldiers with Company B, 3rd Forward Support Battalion and Troop A, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Stewart, Ga., spent most of today getting to know schoolchildren near the town of Yethrib, Iraq, at a school Cav troops opened earlier this year. The Soldiers dropped off an assortment of supplies including notebooks, pencils, desks and shoes -- all of which were donated by FSB Soldiers’ families.

“Back around the April or May time frame [we decided] that we would try to adopt a school here in Iraq,” said Capt. Kate Jackson, commander, Co. B, 3rd FSB. “Several Soldiers’ parents got with their churches or other organizations they were involved with like their work and they all collected up … school supplies that these children could use.”

Security for the mission was provided by 5/7th, commanded by Capt. Joel Jackson -- marking the first joint operation for the husband and wife.The operation came to a head when Joel discovered his wife had a plethora of school supplies, but no school to donate them to.

“I walked into my wife’s office one day and she had all these school supplies and I’ve been wanting to do a school drop, and this is one of the areas where I really needed to do something for the people,” he said. “I asked her if she had a school lined up and she didn’t, so it evolved from there.”

Soldiers handed out bags of supplies, helped some children find new shoes for the cold months ahead, played games and interacted with Iraq’s younger generation -- a task many Soldiers feel is important to the country’s success.

“It’s great to be able to go out and meet the kids because the kids are the ones we’re really trying to make an impact on,” said Spc. Joseph Dupree, 5/7th Cav. “I know that if we can interact with the kids and help them to like us, the future generations will be a lot more open and cooperative with the United States.”

“It’s all about the relationships that you can build … for us to get out there and show that we do care and that we have a genuine interest in their well being,” Kate said. “Whether it was just a sticker or it was us playing soccer with them it lets them know that we do care.”

The day wrapped up with a game of soccer between Soldiers and children, followed by goodbyes and thank-yous as tanks and trucks rolled out of sight. Leaders hope their actions today will make a lasting impact on the children and the town.

“By [the families] taking the time to send the supplies over here and us taking the time to go out and interact with the children and to play games with them, they know that we genuinely do care,” Kate said. “At the national level, there’s a lot of efforts going on but to truly [be successful] it takes the boots on the ground, the daily interaction with them and especially with the children … hopefully that carries over to the other generations.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Terp Goes the extra mile

The Soldiers who had been guarding the gate shouted alerts and assumed firing positions. They made a circle around Faouzi Hamade, an interpreter for the Department of Defense, who was struggling to take a concealed object from the hand of an Iraqi woman. “It’s a grenade, be careful,” Hamade yelled.Only a few months earlier, Hamade, a Lebanese emigrant to the U.S., was home in Dearborn, Mich., with his wife, Miriam, and four children. He was sitting at the restaurant he owned reading the newspaper when he came across a Titan Corporation advertisement looking for Arab-speaking linguists willing to go to the Middle East. He didn’t have to think twice.“After being 25 years in the United States and that country taking care of you, you want to take care of your country,” Hamade said, “to pay your dues.” For Hamade, serving as a translator for U.S. troops would be paying those dues. After a few telephone interviews and a thorough background check, Hamade sold his restaurant and said goodbye to his family. He spent six days at Fort Bliss for a medical examination and an intense crash course on nuclear biological and chemical warfare before being flown to Kuwait. Hamade thought his mission would be in Kuwait, but he only spent a day there before being sent to Baghdad to translate for the 352nd Civil Affairs Command (CACOM). He was so concerned that his wife and children would worry about him that he did not tell them he was in Iraq for two months.The grenade incident occurred in May, 2003 at the north gate of a U.S. compound in Baghdad. Hamade was helping a Soldier communicate with a local man when he noticed a woman calling to him in Arabic, telling him to run away. As he approached her he saw that she was trying to pull something out of her clothes. When Hamade realized what it was, he stepped forward, seized the hand with the grenade and pulled it away from her body, and squeezed it to keep her from pulling the pin. “At that moment, I didn’t think about anything,” Hamade said. “The only thing that came to my mind is that I am in danger and I have to defend myself, or I or one of the Soldiers will be dead.”Hamade saw the pin was still in place and took the grenade. Up to this point he had been calm but as he held the deadly object in his hand he trembled with fear. Not wanting any of the Soldiers to come in harm’s way, Hamade searched the woman himself. He did not find any other weapons on her, but found an unusual amount of Iraqi money. The woman was detained for questioning, where she gave the names of several men who she said had paid her to throw the grenade at American troops. Hamade was praised for his heroism in civilian and military worlds alike as a result of the incident. The Dearborn city counsel issued Hamade a citation honoring his actions. Brig. Gen. John Kern, commander of the 352nd, later awarded him a coin for his heroism during the grenade incident. Col. John Logan Black, the team chief for the 352nd CACOM Public Heath Team, was so impressed that he wrote a recommendation letter in which he wrote, “Mr. Hamade is a person of high moral and ethical standards… he is within the top 1 percent of all the interpreters I have met here in Iraq.”Hamade’s tour ended Jan. 14, 2004. He spent a year as a truck driver in the United States before leaving on a voluntary second tour in April.

Friday, November 11, 2005

V Day

Throughout my life, I have suffered from acute identity crisis, a common malady among pop culture kids. In my adolescence, I was first a headbanger, then a cowboy, then a white boy trying to have some soul, then a farm boy, then a football player. In college, I was a fraternity kid, then an ROTC guy, then a college columnist, then an affectionate poem reader who wore turtle necks and dark-rimmed glasses. After college, I was a professional, then a marathon runner, then a triathlete, then a Lyme disease patient. Now, after Iraq, I am a veteran, the one identity I am sure will stick for the rest of my life. And one I will always be proud of.

To all of my fellow veterans, happy V Day. It’s our day.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Insurance. It’s something we must have, to protect us, to give us comfort.

But, man, it is a pain in the ass when you need to file a claim. If you’ve ever dealt with insurance claims, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve always had cheap insurance, so I’ve never known the customer service of Allstate or State Farm (according to their commercials, at least.) Once I wrecked my car and my agent said I shouldn’t have wrecked it. Now that’s service! Even still, that insurance company was hardly the worst I’ve worked with.

Civilians have no idea what bad insurance is.

The military’s provider is called TriCare, and they make a living out of screwing soldiers and their families. I contracted Lyme disease while on duty and went to civilian doctors. Of course, at the time, I had no clue why I was vomiting, had Bells Palsy or felt like spikes were being driven through my head. At first, I used my civilian insurance, which denied payment after discovering that I was on duty at the time of the tick sinking its fangs into my flesh and giving me a nice spirochete. Long story short, I filed claims through TriCare and they denied everything, and everybody I talked to said I needed to talk to somebody else. After filling out 40 forms, they eventually began making payments on some of the bills. Three years later, TriCare has yet to pay in full my entire hospital bill. I’ve called and called, complained and complained, and there is still two months worth of rent outstanding in bills. I’ve done everything but sue the company. And all I really care about is my credit.

Well, that’s my story about TriCare. And sadly, it’s hardly the worst. Here’s another about a soldier soon to be deployed and his family.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Soldiers' Angels

It’s popular to say, “I support the troops.” People slap a bumper sticker on the back of their car, and they feel they are showing a form of support, a gesture worth the stare of a passerby. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with publicizing support through a magnet, but one cannot label a bumper-sticker-only person a troop supporter. To me, these bumper stickers are nothing more than a fad that has no substance. A true troop supporter prays for people they don’t even know. A true troop supporter sends care packages. A true troop supporter volunteers at the local USO. A true supporter is a person who does something more than placing a bumper sticker on their car.

For those of you who have no clue what the military is like, people don’t join because they support George W. They don’t care about politics. Most servicemen join for their own reasons – college, money, benefits – but all end up serving something greater than themselves. And as citizens, I believe we must show gratitude to those who work hard to provide our freedoms.

Especially this holiday season…

The Holiday Season is not far away and thousands of America’s bravest men and women who are standing watch over our freedom will not be home to share this special time of year with their families and friends. Sadly, there are many other deployed soldiers who have no family to send them a package or even a card at this most special time of year. Many wounded will be celebrating in hospitals.
Soldiers’ Angels, an all-volunteer non-profit organization that provides support todeployed soldiers and wounded soldiers as well as their families, is hard at work on theirannual Holidays For Heroes stocking drive, where stockings stuffed with small butwelcomed items are sent to soldiers who are deployed in the Middle East combat areasand hospital units.
Cash donations are needed to purchase supplies as well as to help with shipping thestockings to the Middle East. Also needed are Holiday Stockings (homemade withspecial decorations and messages are wonderful, store bought is also great) as well as thelittle presents to stuff inside such as:
- Individual packets of hot chocolate, cider or hot soup mix…- Candy (bite sized, individually wrapped, all kinds)- AT&T Phone Cards (asking for this brand because it works in the Middle Eastarea)- Hand held games (playing cards, battery games with batteries, please)- Small puzzle books- Miniature Menorah- Small, signed Holiday cards from you and your families simply addressed toSoldiers or Heroes. Homemade Cards are Welcome! Be sure to enclose yourname and addressThis is the perfect project for a church, school, club, business, family or for any group toget involved and to participate!
Tax deductible cash donations to Soldiers’ Angels, a 501 ( c) (3) organization, can bemade by going to the Soldiers’ Angels website at and clicking onthe Donations button to donate using Paypal or by sending a check to:Soldiers’ Angels, 1792 E. Washington Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104Please make checks payable to Soldiers’ Angels and make a notation that the check is forthe Holiday Spirit For Heroes fund.
For drop-off locations or questions, please contact:
Becky Morton - - (336) 227-5621Jamie Hedman – - (214) 507-3263Judi Burns - - (615) 676-0239