In Iraq for 365

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

Thursday, December 29, 2005

There's a war going on: Do you know where your child is?

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the
Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.

But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.
And he didn't even tell his parents.

Hassan's dangerous adventure winds down with the 101st Airborne delivering the Fort Lauderdale teen to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which had been on the lookout for him and promises to see him back to the United States this weekend.

It begins with a high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager — or naively idealistic — student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask.
As a junior this year at a Pine Crest School, a prep academy of about 700 students in Fort Lauderdale, Hassan studied writers like John McPhee in the book "The New Journalism," an introduction to immersion journalism — a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Hassan, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, hung out at a local mosque. The teen, who says he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Muslim men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.


I thought you would be interested in reading this story on Move America Forward that was published in the Wednesday, December 28th edition of the Wall Street Journal - "Pro-War Group Takes to the Airwaves" is the headline used in the print edition. The story appeared on A-2, A-4 or A-5 depending on the geographic region of the edition printed.

The two photographs that appear in the online version also appeared in the printed version.

WSJ Article here:

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A recent welcoming home party for soldiers in Wisconsin... From experience, I know these parties often wait for hours, often days, for the plane. Delays occur quite frequently, but when you've waited a year for your soldier, what's a little time in the cold? (Photo provided by Wisconsin National Guard) Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 26, 2005

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld poses for a photo with a member of Combined Task Force Bayonet at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2005. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
MOSUL, IRAQ (December 24, 2005)- Spc. Lucas Crowe a medic with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 1st infantry Regiment, was awarded the Bronze Star from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a special awards presentation today at Forward Operating Base Courage.

On Dec. 15, Crowe saved the life of an Iraqi two-year-old boy who had nearly drowned in the basement of his family home. The child had stopped breathing until Crowe administered first aid saving the boy’s life.

Rumsfeld pinned the Bronze Star on Crowe and congratulated him for a job well done.
The secretary was on a surprise Holiday visit to the troops in Iraq to show his support and appreciation.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

General rambling

Around this time last year, I was ordered to tag along with major brass (generals) to greet soldiers. My job was to take pictures, while the generals shook the hands of soldiers, and the sergeant majors started NCO small talk with buck sergeants and E-6’s.

“Where you from, stud?”

“California, sergeant major.”

“How many push ups can you do?”

“67, sergeant major.”

“That’s all. I can do 78 and I’m an old man. You better do some PT.”

We went from one base to the next and it was the same story every time. Some soldiers grumbled. “Who gives a f#%k that some general is here. I had to wake up for this.” Others were honored. “Sir, may I get your picture.”

The higher ups are much like sports players… they are the well-paid in a poorly paid profession. They are constantly in the limelight, whether in the civilian or military media. And they make decisions that affect everybody in uniform, (which is more like an owner than a player).

I spent countless hours with different generals and or Paul Bremer types, documenting important meetings between them and the Iraqis. And during these mission-oriented events, they did their job; maybe even faking enthusiasm, but you could tell deep down that they would rather do something else. However, when the higher ups visited the lowly soldier, their eyes twinkled and you sensed a re-borne enthusiasm.

Gen. Casey said it best, “I just love soldiers.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From Buffbabe, December 18, Nathan and I were at the mall shopping when my contractions started coming. They started at 3 minutes apart and we went straight to the hospital where Wesley was born after just an hour and a half of labor. Apparantly, I'm one of the lucky people with a condition called pre-something labor and if I have another one (which we are not planning any time soon) it will come even faster. He came at 1926 hours, weighing 7 pounds, 4 ounces and 20 1/2 inches long. We're home from the hospital now, just in time for Christmas and busy as can be.

 Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 16, 2005

A man displays his finger after voting. Mosul in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Army photo by SSG James H. Christopher III. (Released)
Taken On:
SSG Christopher III, James H.

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Great feedback on elections

From LTC John M. Hughes in Mosul...

Folks - spent the whole day with the TFF CG again busily visiting and observing (from a polite distance) various Iraqi polling sites through out Mosul and Tal Afar (Northern Iraq).

The Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army proved today that they have successfully earned the faith, trust, and confidence of the droves of Iraqi citizens that came out to vote in their National Election.

At each polling site security and control was layered, organized, and provided an efficient and orderly process... The people, many wearing their "Sunday best", came out, stood in line, checked through security, received their ballots and voted... many of the voters left the Polls waving their ink stained index finger to their neighbors still waiting in line. Whole families came; including children of all ages to see and experience the process with their parents... Many old and frail people came out as well and were being carefully assisted by concerned friends and family members...

The people were very calm and showed absolutely no concern for the threats of violence made by the various insurgent malcontents. In some areas it was like a block party and people were happy, jubilant, and congregated in large groups to socialize... Best of all, the WHOLE SHOW was conducted and managed by the Iraqis... They manned, secured, and managed the entire Election process themselves... US Troops had no role in today's Election... We only observed from a distance or made passing visits to congratulate the poll workers and Iraqi security forces on their obvious success... In fact, very few US units were out patrolling the streets at all today...

For the last few days there has been a nation wide "no roll rule" where no civilian vehicles are allowed to even be parked on the streets (let alone be moving on the streets). Consequently, the streets were filled with pedestrians... and LOTS of them too. For the first time in a long time, the Iraqi people confidently "owned" their own city streets... they moved leisurely to and from the polling sites and many just "hung out and socialized" within their communities...

Kids were everywhere... whole crowds of kids (big and small) would rush to and congregate around the US troops and vehicles when we showed up... The kids know that GIs are generous to children... they were not disappointed and many of the troops tossed out and our handed out candy... I gave away all my government issue Skill Craft ink pens, which is a serious prize for the kids over here... Some kid ended up with my ACU (BDU) cap that fell out of my Cargo pocket... The kids picked it up and brought it to me... and as a reward I gave it away (only because I have an extra one)... that hat went from one head to the next is seconds, then moved rapidly down the street with a comet of kids following closely after.

Regrettably, there were some minor terrorist incidents here and there, but nothing of real significance and all the polls stayed open. We did take some small arms fire while leaving Mosul to Tal Afar, but it was only a short burst and very ineffective.

The day was truly great and the only downer was that we sucked down a good bit of road dust... which is nothing new, and well worth the trouble.

I'll send out some pictures in a later email.

As always... BIG HUGS and Much love to one and all.


Throw the debates and opinions out, and let's look at these elections for what they are... a historic moment and proud defining point for American soldiers. And of course, I can't think of Iraq without mentioning Samir. He told me once that he didn't care about himself as long as his baby had freedom...

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis voted in a historic parliamentary election Thursday, with strong turnout reported in Sunni Arab areas and even a shortage of ballots in some precincts. Several explosions rocked Baghdad throughout the day, but the level of violence was low.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Posts you should read

Less People Less Idiots. A site of true satire. Very funny.

Powerline gives a great story / interview with U.S. Rep. John Kline. A former Marine, Kline is a true patriot....

Republicans recently became fed up with this misconception and conducted a vote in the House of Representatives on whether or not to withdrawal troops. 403-3 in favor of staying in Iraq. Now if you were to ask me, I would say that the idea of the 'American People' is a group larger than 3. Why wasn't this fact on the news? Why couldn't liberal hypocracy be proven wrong? Hanoi Jane” Fonda is claiming that ever since Vietnam, U.S. troops have been trained to commit atrocities against innocent civilians as a matter of military policy.

Must read from a Marine...

Veterans deserve better treatment...Washington, DC - U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

Republicans and Conservatives: why are we in Iraq. These smiling faces are reason number one. The reason Theater Iraq is a part of the war on terror is that we could not allow these children to be the property of Saddam Hussein or his sons to rape and torture as they please.

Running Scared tells us we rank sixth in jailing journalists, but we still have a way to go to be No. 1.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I no longer live in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin or my home state, Oklahoma. I now reside in the same town as my girlfriend in Kentucky. The people are so nice here and I love everything about the area, but when I decided to move I was parting from a very solid group of friends and a counselor who’d seen me through some tough times. As many of you know, I had my ups and downs when first coming home. Just reading these old posts really puts things into perspective.

I was a different person in Iraq. I had to be. And I tried to become my old self when I returned home, but it was like experiencing puberty all over again… I had all these emotions and didn’t know what to do with them. So I sought help and I had developed a true rapport with my counselor at the Milwaukee Vet Center. While previous therapists wanted me to take pills to numb the emotions, the pain, the nightmares, this guy taught me how to control my nightmares. He gave me exercises to practice when I felt scared, outraged or sad. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be in the situation I am now. Now, I’m back to the drawing board with a new therapist. After our first session, he was amazed by my ability to cope with certain situations and how I’ve followed my heart through it all.

When I first realized I needed help to readjust and I couldn’t tackle it all on my own, I was humbled and to a point, a little ashamed. See, I’ve always been independent and nothing has ever stood in my way. Now, after scores of counseling, good friends and the will to be a productive citizen, I have my old zest for life again. I share this, because you may know somebody who just returned from a combat zone and they don’t seem the same. I encourage all vets to seek some form of counseling, because it works and it’s free. Sure there are bad days. I still get outraged by John Kerry’s comments, and I still shake when I see a backpack lying unattended in a public place. But now, I know how to deal with it. I just count to 10 and think about the Brewers winning the Pennant.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Positive numbers

According to this ABC/Time Magazine poll, 70 percent of the Iraqis say that things in their life are going well and the majority of Iraqis feel safe in their own neighborhoods despite continued violence. However, half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

But, according to the poll, “the average household incomes have soared by 60 percent in the last 20 months (to $263 a month), 70 percent of Iraqis rate their own economic situation positively, and consumer goods are sweeping the country. In early 2004, 6 percent of Iraqi households had cell phones; now it's 62 percent. Ownership of satellite dishes has nearly tripled, and many more families now own air conditioners (58 percent, up from 44 percent), cars, washing machines and kitchen appliances.”

The poll also states that the people have more faith in their own security forces, at the local and national levels.

My take on this poll is very positive. While I do frown upon the number of Iraqis against U.S. forces, most of the statistics point toward a growing economy and stronger security forces with more people aggravated with insurgents, saying they’re the reason for security problems, not the U.S. Of course, the numbers were dramatically different between Kurds, Sunnis and Shiite.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tellin' it like it is

My job may not have looked dangerous on paper, but I was exposed to some of the heaviest combat in northern Iraq. As a public affairs soldier, I documented and promoted the soldiers’ work. I accompanied the infantry on raids, patrols and school openings. On almost every mission, I experienced the highest level of stress imaginable.

To this day, when I tell people my job, they say, “Oh so all you did was take pictures. You weren’t on the front lines.” This adage certainly frustrates me like a leadoff hitter in a slump. Was my service negated because I carried a camera? Was I not a soldier just because my job was different? Although I do not feel the need to justify my duties or experiences, I am always hurt by people’s first impression of my position. To help them understand, I discuss Iraq.

I tell the questioners about the first car bombing I documented. The suicide bomber targeted an American base in Mosul, but the bomb detonated prematurely and the only two people killed were a mother and her little girl. When I photographed the scene, I came across a little 4-inch foot that lay in the street like a piece of garbage. I photographed it all and the images of the girl’s remains still haunt me.

I tell them about June 24, 2004, when I documented another car bomb that ripped through an Iraqi police station. After I took the needed photographs, we left the site. On our way back to headquarters, another unit received fire from a mosque. We stopped in the middle of the road, blocking the intersection that led to the mosque. When the firefight seemed to cease, we were ambushed. A white van pulled up in an empty field and several men exited. All carried weapons. One fired an RPG to our direction. As the rocket flew directly toward me, time suspended. I knew I was going to die. My life flashed before my eyes. Just as I lost hope, the RPG landed 10 feet in front of me. It was a dud. And we killed the attackers. Their bodies fell to the earth like tiny trees being knocked down by the wind. Shortly thereafter, we were attacked again. This time, they got away.

I tell them of the time I was in Avgone, a small town near Tal Afar. We patrolled through woods that looked more like Vietnam than Iraq. A team of insurgents awaited us. They attacked a squad, shooting the squad leader twice in the legs and once in his gut. But before he went down, he killed an RPG gunner just as the evildoer was about to fire in our direction. The dead insurgent lay in a ravine and I photographed his corpse. He was clearly dead, but I could find no exit or entry wounds. There were just dribbles of blood on the corner of his mouth and arm.

Normally, about this point, those who once questioned my experiences are grossed out. But I don’t stop there. I tell them more. However, I don’t just give them combat stories. I tell them about good friends who died, to let them feel the true emotions of combat.

Like Samir, our interpreter. He was a portly man with a big heart. Because we couldn’t leave the base to shop for souvenirs, Samir would go to the market for us. He bought me a vase for my mother. Even though this exposure put him at risk, Samir bought us rugs, tea sets and external hard drives. All he wanted to do was make us happy, which he did with his gifts and even more so with his jovial personality. Samir was like the Arabic Chris Farley. We would play tricks on Iraqi soldiers. He’d pretend to be abused by me. He would tell the soldiers, “This sergeant is mean. You better not mess around or he will kill you?” He would harass the Iraqi soldiers, saying, “The sergeant will let you have the day off if you give him man love.” Of course, he would always tell the Iraqis he was joking and we all would laugh afterwards. On Sept. 27, 2004, Samir was captured by insurgents on his way to work. He managed to escape, but was gunned down in an open market area. The terrorists told the locals not to touch his body, according a couple market workers, because his body deserved to rot. No doubt, the insurgents would have beheaded him, had he not escaped. I was happy they didn’t have the chance.

The individuals are nearly in tears after Samir’s story, but it’s important to me that they hear about two other fallen friends, Sgt. David Mitts and Staff Sgt. Salamo Tuialuuluu. I first met T & Mitts in November on a large-scale mission, seeking insurgents. Both were married and their wives were pregnant. T was a quiet fellow who commanded his troops like a veteran. He was in his early 20s and reminded me of a black bear: cute from a distance and ferocious close up. Mitts said he wanted to name his child after Michael Landon. Why? Because Mr. Landon represented family values, he said. They were truly the best the Army offered, both passionate for their men and competent when it came to the job. However, what struck me as astonishing was their strong sense of family. After patrols, we often ate breakfast together and worked out. Of all the people I associated with, I enjoyed their company the most because of their righteous nature and I enjoyed hearing updates about their wives. When all you see is bad, it helps to surround yourself with good people. Their spirits lifted you. In a way, I lived vicariously through these two. My whole life I’ve wanted to be a father, to meet the right girl and to settle down. They were who I wanted to be.

They were both killed in December by a sniper. Their deaths penetrated my body armor and killed my heart. Why these two men? Two men with babies on the way. Two men who meant so much to me.

At this point, the listeners are more than captivated, they have respect for me. They often say thanks or want to buy me something. I brought them into a world they could never imagine, and they probably want me to quit talking, but I continue.

I speak of the days following the terrible Marez dining facility attack, when a terrorist dressed in Iraqi army attire killed more than 20 and injured 70 plus. We were so alert that some of our deeds were downright goofy. For example, we mistook a present as a bomb.

Wrapped in a red foil sack, the food caught everybody by surprise. It happened all the time… locals bring us food to thank us. But as this tub of something sat on an office table in the palace, nobody could say who brought the chow. Still warm, the food appeared to be some type of meat and it was unusually heavy. At a time when everybody was extra alert, people asked people who asked people who asked more people. We must have asked 40 locals and soldiers, all of whom absolutely had no clue on where the food came from.

The speculation of a potential “food” bomb in our office began to surface. I’ll admit, I was one of the first to come up with “that doesn’t really look like food; probably just trying to cover something up. And it weighs a lot.” A couple other people, much more senior ranking than I, inspected the potential threat. “Yup, that can’t be food. It’s too heavy, and it doesn’t smell right.” Another fellow walked up to the wrapped tub and slid his hand under the opening, feeling the texture of whatever it was. “It’s too rough to be a meat and it’s not sticky enough to be a sweet. And it’s really heavy. Somebody call EOD.”

EOD is short for bomb disposal. So the unknown package was sent to a safe area, which meant away from the palace and crowds of people. These guys were the experts, and even at first glance, they detected something fishy. “Yeah, that really doesn’t look like food.” They picked, prodded and poked the package. They had some type of meter. One sergeant held his glasses to his mouth, like a professor, as he gave the package one more looksy. “Meter’s not detecting anything. Can’t be a bomb. But that thing, whatever it is, still ain’t right.”

So, the original group of experts huddled one more time. “Are you sure you don’t know whose that is?” Nope. I got it… it’s poisoned. “But, we haven’t even determined it’s a food yet.” Which is why it makes perfect sense! They know Americans love to eat strange things. Have you ever been to the South? They’re still frying sheep testicles. “Good point. So, what do we do with it? See if somebody will eat it?” Yeah great idea, that way if it is poisoned we can watch their eyeballs pop out. The answer is simple, we throw it away.

The thing must have weighed 20 pounds and it had a rough texture. Hard black clumps were embedded in a stiff brown plaster-type substance, which even though EOD cleared it, made people still say “I really think this is a bomb.” It’s not a bomb. Let’s just throw it away and be done with it. Nobody’s claimed it the last hour or asked, hey have you seen that 20-pound glob of mine.

We threw it in the trash can, where I believed it belonged. Even if it were food, who in their right mind would eat that? Two hours later walks in a very important officer. “Hey, have you guys seen a large cake? Somebody was supposed to deliver it a couple hours ago.” Uh, sir, we threw it away. “You what?” We told him the story about this so-called cake being mistaken as a bomb and then poison, emphasizing that everybody’s extremely alert. “You guys are idiots!” He then told us that the strange-looking cake was made by the best baker in Iraq. It cost $200 and was a gift to a very high-ranking person from a very important Iraqi. The cake was supposed to be eaten, not thrown away, the officer said many times.

“It was a cake, not a bomb. How in the world could you mistake a cake for a bomb?” Sir, did you see the cake? “No.” It was heavy and it had these black things in it and smelled like vinegar. “Well, maybe the baker used vinegar to bake it.” Well, sir, why didn’t you tell somebody about the cake? “Because I didn’t think a bunch of idiots were going to throw it away.”

Then, the person who once questioned my job laughs and thanks me for my time and leaves. Truth is, I am glad I have an audience to hear these stories. Occasionally, a person wants to hear more. I guess, it’s only human nature to be inquisitive. They ask about what’s it like readjusting, so I tell them.

When I returned home from Iraq, I felt like I didn’t belong. People cared about petty things like working past 5 p.m. or getting to the store in time for the big sale. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and hide from people. Crowds made me dizzy and I couldn’t sleep.

Three reoccurring nightmares terrified me during the night. The scariest dream was when I’m in Avgone. We’re moving through the woods. Then shots are fired. A soldier next to me is hit in the neck. I try to help him, but it’s hopeless. He’s lost too much blood as he goes into shock. In the dream, I can feel somebody watching me even as the medics move and a platoon secures a perimeter for a helicopter. The kid is young, maybe 20, and I just look into his lifeless blue eyes while the medics move him to the evacuation point. I feel like I’m invisible and nobody in the dream seems to recognize me or realize I’m standing there with a camera and an M-16. Everybody leaves. And then I am back at the Palace, where again I feel invisible. At my desk is a CD with Arabic writing. I pop it into my laptop, and it’s a video of me.

I’m standing over the dead soldier just looking at him. There’s a rustling in the bushes and I look toward the noise… I’m staring directly into the camera. Somebody is speaking in Arabic and strangely, in the dream, I understand it. The people behind the camera simply say “we’re watching you.” Then, the barrel of an AK comes into the frame pointing right at me… this is when I wake up. My first instinct in the conscious state is to find my weapon and defend the base, normally taking me minutes to realize I’m not in Iraq.

In many respects, being home has been harder than fighting in Iraq. Recalling stories of Vietnam vets ruining their lives with alcohol and drugs, I was determined not to let my issues bring me down to the point I couldn’t function. I sought help. I survived war, and I will damn sure survive peace.

At the end of these stories, people look at me differently. They don’t think of me as a soldier not exposed to combat because I carried a camera. Rather, they respect me, because I fought for my country and struggled to be a productive citizen, to return to my old self.

Steak to Vet

Last night, I treated my girl to a fancy dinner. She ate some kind of fish while my teeth sunk into the thickest, juiciest, bloodiest medium-rare prime rib and a few sticks of green. I saved about four ounces, fascinating about a future sandwich.

The steak house was walking distance from her condo. On the way home, we enjoyed the cool night air and goofy conversation. When we walked by other couples, I made conversation that must have frightened passerbys.

“Yeah, baby, I don’t know what the rash on my butt is from, but it itches.” Or, “Are warts supposed to show up there?” My favorite, “The baby can’t be mine!”

I can entertain myself for hours and the great part is it makes my girlfriend laugh, but yesterday, the fun stopped when an African American man pulled up next to us on his bicycle. Wearing a worn out, red nylon coat, cargo pants and Pennzoil cap, he made small talk. He then reached inside his jacket and pulled out a red and white badge affixed to the long necklace around his neck. It was his VA card.

“I was in the Marine Corps,” the man proudly said.

“Right on, man, I was in the Army. Got back from Iraq in January,” I said.

“Yeah, f@ck that shit. They f%cked me up. I’m go#d#mned schizophrenic.”

He went on to ask where I was from, what do I do, etc. I think, he felt ashamed for his position and what he’d admitted.

I empathize with homeless veterans. Our society has no idea how difficult it is to come back after fighting a war. If a soldier doesn’t have a support system, friends and good family, he or she could easily fall into the cracks of our world and become jobless, divorced and homeless. Today’s soldiers are lucky there’s free counseling and other programs available, which weren’t for our Vietnam vets.

Needless to say, before he could ask, I reluctantly reached into my sack, pulled out my treasured steak and handed it over to my fellow veteran.

“Thanks, man. But I suppose you don’t have a couple dollars to spare?” the man asked.

“Sorry,” I lied.

I knew the steak would do him more good than any amount of money I had. And honestly, the beef was harder to give up. See, I can’t make a steak, tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwich out of a $5 bill.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Positive News from Iraq

PFC Cassandra Groce
133rd MPADBAYJI, Iraq

(30 November 2005) – The upcoming mid-December elections in Iraq will be a world-altering event. Iraq will have a democratically elected government. The “Rakkasans,” of Company C, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team have been working tirelessly to encourage Iraqis to vote.

Troops drive through villages with a loudspeaker vehicle playing Arabic messages, telling villagers when the elections begin. Capt. Chris Judge, Commander of Company C, walks among the civilians and talks to them about voting. It is a common site to see the commander, interpreter in tow, speaking with groups of people along the streets.

“The most important thing we can deliver to the Iraqis, as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is that they have a functioning, representative government,” said Judge.

A self-sustaining government isn’t all that Iraq needs, so Soldiers also meet with local Iraqi police to discuss their training and control of the area.

“In order for us to leave Iraq and give it any sort of stability, it’s going to be crucial that they [Iraqis] have a police force that the people believe in and one that has authority,” said Judge.“Sheiks are a legitimate source of authority for the Iraqis, so it is important that we have a good relationship with them,” said Judge.

In addition to encouraging the sheik to vote, Judge also discusses curfew changes and additional security measures being taken during the elections week. The curfew is changing from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“We try to make it so that the only people out at night are the bad guys,” said Judge. “It makes it easier for us to target them.”

Judge and Sheik Adnon discussed different avenues to improve Iraqi people’s lives. Currently there is only one gas station in the immediate area.“I am willing to give you guys anything you need – any help,” said Adnon during the meeting.

Judge and Adnon set up a meeting for later in the week, including the city council. At the meeting, Judge can speak with all the village sheiks about the elections and the importance of their people voting.“Sheiks are very pragmatic, reality-based people,” said Judge. “They understand that we are going to be here for a while and that it benefits the Iraqi people to work with us.”

Over the next couple of weeks Soldiers will continue to travel through villages encouraging the people to vote.“When people have free will to do what they want, and they have representatives that enact what they want, countries take a different path,” said Judge.
Sgt. Ashly Rice
101st Sustainment Brigade

Q-WEST BASE COMPLEX, IRAQ -- Charlie Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment and Rakan Daille, local contractor, dedicated the Shukran Water Treatment Project in a ceremony Nov. 17.

Water serving the area outside of the Q-West southeast gate was unsatisfactory until Oct. 12, when the first fresh water pumped out of the Shukran Water Treatment Project. Work on the water treatment facility began before the active duty unit from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, arrived at Q-West. 2nd Lt. Jeremy Conner, platoon leader, and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Tanner, platoon sergeant, oversaw the project for the unit. 1st Lt. Phillip Kerber, battalion civil affairs officer and executive officer, handled the quality control of the project.

“The Shukran Water Treatment Facility pumps water from the Tigris across the desert to Al Hadr, the biggest town and the other four smaller towns, ," said Capt. James Mitchell, Charlie Battery commander. "The project cost approximately 83,000 dollars to complete.”

Improvements to the water treatment facility include two new pumps that push water to the smaller villages and two larger pumps that push water to Al Hadr. Six repaired filters and new concrete water tanks are also additions to the water facility.

“We have 43 personnel to assist in running the water treatment facility, with seven personnel who look over it constantly,” said Sabar Tali Muhammad, water treatment facility manager.

“[Everyone] worked well on the project, and I would like to give thanks to the Army, Mr. Ali, Sabar and to all of the people who helped out,” said Rakan Daille, contractor. "Before, dirty water was pushed out, but now clean water is pushed out to five villages.

"This project is only the beginning of the help Charlie Battery, has in store for the local area. The unit has future improvements in the works to help restore surrounding towns. “It is a wonderful experience to help rebuild our country,” said Daille.

A mixed class of Iraqi Army noncommissioned officers graduated from the NCO Academy in a ceremony at the MWR Theater Nov. 14 here.

“This was the first class [for which] we brought soldiers down from the north,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William Ulibarri, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The ethnic mix of Kurds and Iraqis did not matter to the soldiers, said Ulibarri.“They said, ‘We are all Iraqis, we have one enemy,’” said Ulibarri, who gave the keynote speech at the graduation ceremony.

The portion of the training that taught unarmed combat was the most important, said 1st Sgt. Hayawi, who was the distinguished honor graduate. He hopes to take the martial arts training back to his unit to pass on to his soldiers, he said.

Hayawi distinguished himself by defeating all comers, including Ulibarri, in the pugil stick pit during training.

“Iraq’s strength lies in diversity,” said Sgt. Maj. Walter Murrell, NCO Academy commandant, to the graduates. “Teamwork is fundamental to what your country is trying so hard to achieve.”

The graduates and assembled visitors watched a short video presentation highlighting weapons training, physical training, individual movement techniques, the obstacle course, first aid, entering and clearing a room and martial arts.

“You are the foundation with which to build effective small units,” said Ulibarri in his remarks after the video. “One thing that cannot be trained overnight is the warrior ethos and building the warrior spirit.”

Ulibarri paused to allow the interpreter to catch up, then added: “That training was not new to you. It was common to all honorable warriors.”After presenting awards to the honor graduates, including a “Leadership Award” and a “Physical Fitness Award,” Ulibarri presented each graduate with his certificate.

Cadre from 4th Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, an active duty unit from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, run the NCO Academy in collaboration with Iraqi Army instructors.Murrell then presented Ulibarri with a special honor, an enlarged, framed picture of the sergeant major meeting his match in the pugil pit.

Friday, December 09, 2005

32 MPs

Before I transferred to the Wisconsin National Guard five years ago, I was a pathetic excuse for a soldier. In Oklahoma, I often showed up to drill still drunk from the night before’s fraternity party. Then, I walked into the Wisconsin armory and the leaders welcomed me with open arms. The soldiers made fun of my accent, but we still became lifelong friends, and I began to clean up my act.

Through my military career, I had worked with almost every state’s National Guard and there was never a state more professional than or as close to active duty standards as the Wisconsin soldiers.

This week the unit of my friend, Michelle Witmer, will receive one of the highest awards bestowed upon a unit. I’m sure Michelle’s smiling from heaven…

The 32nd Military Police Company, Wisconsin Army National Guard, will receive the Valorous Unit Award for extraordinary heroism in action when they were deployed in and around Baghdad, Iraq.

The award will be presented in a ceremony at the Oconomowoc armory, 1215 Wall Street, Saturday, Dec. 10, at 12:30 p.m. The unit, based in Milwaukee with a detachment in Madison, sent about 180 soldiers to Iraq in May 2003 and returned to Wisconsin in July 2004. During its 14-month tour of duty, the unit lost one soldier, Spc. Michelle Witmer, the first female soldier killed in action in the history of the National Guard; and 35 Purple Heart Medals were awarded to soldiers wounded in action.

In the midst of ongoing hostilities, the unit's soldiers also found time to visit disabled Iraqi children in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa's order of Catholic nuns.
The Valorous Unit Award is given for "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States." The award recognizes heroism by a whole unit equal to that for which an individual would receive the Silver Star. The 32nd Military Police Company will be the first Wisconsin Guard unit to receive the award in the history of the Wisconsin National Guard.

The awards will be presented by Maj. Gen. Al Wilkening, the adjutant general of Wisconsin, and by. Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Iraq smokes

As I read this article that quotes Saddam complaining about the cheap cigarettes he has to smoke, I was reminded of how much Iraqis like to smoke. I never met a male Iraqi who didn’t smoke. Smoking is like their past time. In fact, I’d be willing to bet the receipts in my wallet that Iraq men prefer Cigarettes over food, sex and obviously, alcohol.

And there is good reason, too. Smokes were less than a $1 a pack and you’re not considered a tough guy unless you smoke. Of course, the tobacco companies in the Middle East don’t have to adhere to an ATF. Once I smoked a fag (British for Cig.) and heard a pop, then another pop and realized I wasn’t receiving any cancerous smoke into my lungs. I pulled the stick from my mouth and noticed both ends had filters.

One guy found a small chunk of glass in his cig.

At least, Saddam doesn’t have to smoke that pack. Or maybe that’s why he’s complaining. I bet Ted Kennedy sends him a carton of Winstons soon and then good old Ted will complain about how we mistreat prisoners in Iraq.

New Blog

I've always been a fan of movies, so since I have some time on my hands lately, I thought I'd start a blog on movie and actor reviews. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Miami incident

Tonight, I watched a national news program that questioned the shooting at the Miami airport.

Here are the facts: A man walks onto the plane. An argument breaks out between him and his wife. He storms through the cabin, saying he’s carrying a bomb in his bag. Then, air marshals on board shoot him. It was later revealed, by the wife, that the man was bi-polar and hadn’t taken his medication.

They shot him. And then the rest of passengers were asked to place their hands on their head and deboard, treated like suspects.

So, people now question the air marshals for killing a man who didn’t comply with their orders. And for treating the passengers like suspects, too, after the fact.

In my opinion, the air marshals did their job, even if there was no bomb. Had they hesitated or waited for the man to take his medication and there was a bomb, the media would then question why suspect was not shot. Got to love our talking heads.

I’m sure now the very left, like John Kerry, will now say that no American flight passenger is safe and that Air Marshals are terrorists.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

War mother

Today, I was reminded of a family gathering before I left for Iraq. All my aunts and uncles were scrunched in my parent’s medium sized living room. The cousins spilled into the kitchen. Nobody talked about Iraq or politics; we just laughed and reminisced about how much of a pooper my brother and I were growing up. Then, it came time for everybody to leave. And to my surprise, mother asked our guests to join her in prayer. All 20 something of my family members formed a circle around me. They laid hands upon me and mother prayed. It would be the first time I could sense or feel her anxiety. As she spoke, tears fell from her bright blue eyes and her voice trembled as if she were at a funeral. But mom was strong and she finished the prayer. It was a dramatic moment I hope I never experience again. To feel my mother’s sadness was more difficult than the task ahead (Iraq).

Nobody feels a war more than the mother of a soldier. Kbug gives us a chance to understand.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Paying for articles in Iraq

In the public relations profession, there are people with the title of media relations coordinator or media specialist. Like salesmen, they spend their days selling products or ideas. Except instead of selling to consumers, they pitch reporters and editors with the hope of receiving press.

Millions of dollars are spent on these campaigns. I know, because I managed quite a few while working for a major marketing communications firm. Companies target reporters by creating their own studies that may appear to be newsworthy. They send reporters press releases, interviewees and materials or statistics that may help a writer out a little on deadline. For example, I once represented an animal health manufacturer that created a West Nile virus vaccine for horses. As part of our media relations campaign, we sent all the horse writers in America a press release, which included national statistics, and then followed up with reporters weeks later. Had I had a larger budget, I might have sent them something neat, like a mosquito suspended in a vile, and had a better success rate than 5 percent. The point is, targeting media is an effective and cheap way of promoting your product or idea.

I promise you that in almost every article you’ve ever read that contained a product mention there was probably a public relations person behind the scenes, scurrying to get his client some press. The same is in politics. Politicians have press advisers. So do CEOs, football coaches and so on. Almost every word spoken by a professional to the media comes from a strategic platform that benefits their position.

So with that being said, it’s become known that we are paying to place articles in Iraqi newspapers. According to this article, politicians are gravely concerned. I wonder if they were gravely concerned about the paid VIOXX articles in Newsweek.

While in Mosul, we never did this. We didn’t have to. We sent out daily press releases to the local media, and the newspapers ran them word for word. We had built such professional bonds with the reporters in Mosul, that after the Abu Ghraib incident, reporters brought us photography for review. Believe it or not, the photos were worse than what surfaced online. But they were obvious fakes. After one look, my friend pointed out that American soldiers do not wear white T-shirts and we tuck our pants into our boots. They took his word and never ran the photos. We also invited them to school openings, bridge openings and hospital ribbon cuttings. The Iraqi reporters wanted to report the good news. Problem was, the insurgents read their newspapers and many of them were killed for writing positive or pro coalition stories.

With that being said, I think it’s OK to pay for print placement for two reasons: the Iraqi journalists take great risks in covering what their people need to read; and it’s a source of revenue for organizations that have never had freedom of press and still don’t fully comprehend advertising. But I am only in agreement if the placements are true.

The Iraqi people need to know what’s going on in their country, whether it comes in advertising form or an opinion article.

Deception from anti war folks

The liars ofthe anti-war movement
Posted: December 2, 20051:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2005

For the past two years, the old-line media has been more than willing to help broadcast the allegations made by the anti-war crowd that "Bush lied, soldiers died."

However, no matter how many times the likes of Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan have made this allegation, they've never been able to make it stick.

The only thing they've proven thus far is that they hold a twisted hatred of this country and feel consumed with resentment toward America's economic, military and political superiority.
It turns out that it's not George Bush or Dick Cheney who has been lying to the American people, but the very anti-war/anti-military folks who have been pointing fingers at the administration all along.

The record of deception by the anti-war crowd reached a new low this week when we learned that was broadcasting an anti-military ad that purported to show U.S. troops in Iraq who, the ad said, should be pulled out of Iraq straight away.

A sharp-eyed American soldier brought it to the country's attention that the soldiers in the ad weren't American – they were British. can't be blamed, of course, because they wouldn't recognize or appreciate an American military uniform if you paid them.

MoveOn then turned to deception to hide their mistake by graphically altering the uniforms that the soldiers were wearing.

Lies, lies and more lies.

Maybe Michael Moore was in charge of the editing standards for, because this is the same type of stunt Moore pulled when producing his anti-war propaganda flick, "Fahrenheit 9-11."

In that propaganda piece, Moore declared that President Bush had stolen the election, and that newspaper accounts backed up his outrageous charge.

The film showed a headline "Latest Florida recount shows Gore won Election" taken from a Bloomington, Ill., newspaper dated Dec. 19, 2001. This outrageous story was entirely made up by Michael Moore.

Shockingly, there never was such a story in the newspaper. Instead, there was a similar letter to the editor written by a private citizen two weeks prior. Moore took that letter, and mocked it up into a fake news story. He changed the date and the font sizes and appearance and tried to pass it off as a legitimate news story.

And this week Moore flatly denied he ever owned stock in defense contractor Halliburton – who he has made the boogey man in the Iraq war. Tax receipts show that Moore isn't telling the truth about that either.

Lies, lies and more lies, along with a dash of hypocrisy for good measure.
Anti-war politicians have joined in the game of deception recently.

Congressman John Murtha became a celebrity to anti-war groups recently when he called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

TV analysts breathlessly reported the "stunning" development that a once-"hawkish" representative had turned on the war effort.

The anti-American message board DemocratUnderground was loaded with endless threads of discussion proclaiming the newfound bravery of Congressman Murtha.

No surprise here – Murtha was merely pulling a dishonest political stunt, and he used the willing accomplices of the old-line media and anti-war crowd to pull it off. Fact is, 18 months earlier, Murtha stood shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the most shamefully dishonest members of Congress, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and declared that we should cut and run from Iraq.
And this wasn't the first time Murtha had advocated cut-and-run.

Pay attention here, because you won't see this fact reported in any major newspaper or alphabet soup network: He gave the exact same advice to President Clinton after American troops were attacked and slaughtered by Al Qaida-backed terrorists in Somalia in 1993.
When Clinton followed Murtha's advice, it is reported to have emboldened Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, who have both said the incident showed that Americans lacked the will to fight for what they believed in.

But there stood an anguished Congressman Murtha under the hot klieg lights, with tears in his eyes, pretending he had come to some newfound opposition to the Iraq war.

Lies, lies and more lies and cowardice in the face of America's enemies to boot.

Is it any wonder then, that some of us do indeed question the patriotism of the anti-war crowd?
While the heroic men and women of the United States military are enduring hellish conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting Islamo-fascists intent upon murdering them, they're being undermined here at home by shameful, guilt-ridden, spineless folks in the anti-war crowd who will tell any lie to justify their reprehensible conduct.

The next time someone on the Left attacks you, or your neighbor, or a friend for questioning their patriotism – calmly look them in the eye and answer back.

Yes, we certainly do question your patriotism.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bad headline

When I read this headline, Insurgents attack U.S. bases, my first thoughts were that the insurgents conducted an operation similar to the TET Offensive when the Vietnamese attacked every major base at the same time. However, after reading the article, to my favor, the attacks were merely mortar attacks, which happen every day and are not news worth unless somebody is killed. So don’t be alarmed with today’s headlines.

Mortars in Iraq are as common as a Texan bragging on himself… occasionally it’s annoying, but it’s just part of the environment and doesn’t cause much damage.