In Iraq for 365

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Military blog study

Just in case you didn't know that military blogs were influential, read this: Don’t tread on my blog: A study of military web logs. It's a study from the University of Oklahoma about milblogs. They used information from military bloggers we all read. And in the report it says the Army should monitor all military blogs to make sure bloggers follow operational security.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Covering President Bush

Last week, I covered President Bush at the National Restaurant Association’s Hotel Motel Show. As a restaurant reporter, I was surprised he chose this venue to speak about the War on Terror more than immigration reform. But as a veteran, I had butterflies in my stomach as he thanked servicemen and women countless times during his very long speech.

I sat in press section, where I was expected to have a stone face and no personality. Reporters are supposed to be objective! (Sidebar: Once I covered my beloved OSU Cowboys and I cheered when they scored a touchdown. The veteran journalists gave me dirty looks.) Needless to say, I found myself clapping along with the crowd and laughing at his jokes. (Seriously, such actions would get AP reporters fired.) But I couldn’t help it.

“President, I’m from Florida and I have to tell you that your brother does a great job for the restaurant community,” a woman said before the president interrupted her.

“Well, he does like to eat, I can tell you that,” Bush said.

Then a man in chef’s attire approached the microphone. Before the chef could say a word, the president said “I bet you’re a chef aren’t you? Want to know how I know?”

He was energetic and talked about issues I had never heard of. Although the audience, primarily restaurant owners, overwhelmingly favored Bush, not all people asked soft-ball questions. When asked, “Is there a realistic, yet aggressive timetable and strategy to get our reliance off of Middle East oil and go to a different fuel source, or ways that the United States can prosper?”

The president responded, “As soon as possible.” He also explained the current plan to move to alternative fuels. He said the United States is making good progress in creating ethanol fuels.

“If you really think about, for example, the penetration of ethanol in the Midwest, it's been amazing over the last couple of years. Indiana people, you're beginning to get E85 pumps. E85 means 85 percent of the fuel you buy at an E85 pump is ethanol. We've put tax incentives in place to encourage the construction of ethanol refineries, and they're beginning to grow quite dramatically.”

Bush talked about flex-fuel vehicles – a term I had never heard of – and said, “There are 5 million automobiles on the road today that are flex-fuel vehicles. In other words, they can use ethanol and/or gasoline, or a combination of both. So the technologies to make our automobiles ethanol-compatible are around. As a matter of fact, you may have a flex-fuel vehicle and just don't know it.”

And Bush seemed to recognize that the Green Peace types want 100 percent ethanol fuels, but “Do we have enough feedstock into the ethanol business to be able to really get major penetration? And that's where we're spending some money. Because we got corn, but sometimes you got to eat corn. And sometimes your pigs and cows have got to eat corn.”

When he said, “Pigs and cows have got to eat corn,” I thought I was going to get kicked off the press stage or the Secret Service was about to club me. He is a genuinely funny man even if you don’t like him.

Last week, I saw a side of the president America rarely sees. Sure he stuttered. I never said he was a great speaker. But he cares about America, and he especially cares about soldiers. He compared the War on Terror to World War I and World War II, two wars that brought democracy to countries.

“Today, after nearly a century of violence and death and destruction, Europe is whole, free, and at peace. And it's important for America to ask the question, why is that the case? Well, democracies don't war with each other, and democracies have taken hold in Europe,” he said.

He then talked about his father fighting Japan in World War II.

“The Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi is coming to our country soon,” Bush emphasized. “I'll be sitting down to the table with a friend talking about issues like North Korea, or thanking him for having 1,000 troops in Iraq, or worrying about the spread of pandemic disease, or talking about how we can help the young democracy, Afghanistan. And I find it amazing that the President of the United States is sitting down talking about peace with the head of a country that my dad went to war with, and your dads and grandads went to war with.”

Today, the president announced a new bill that will restrict protesters from military funerals. Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, HR 5037, will not stop the protests, but it will restrict under federal law how far away protestors can gather from cemetery access points. I’m sure some people will say that this bill contradicts First Amendment rights. But I say it’s an outstanding law that should have been passed decades ago. And it gives fallen heroes a chance to be remembered without hearing political discussions.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

AKO Email

Two days ago, I had to officially give up my AKO email account, which is the Army’s Yahoo! Mail. I owned for seven years and the Army took it away from me without warning. Hundreds of people use this email, including every family member and college friend. And I’m pissed!

While I’ve been out of the Army since October, I figured they would allow me to keep AKO Web mail because of my overseas duty and nine years of selfless service. Perhaps it’s just me, but one would think the Army would like to keep close ties with veterans. So I emailed AKO’s help desk. And they sent me one of those generic responses that don’t tell you a damn thing. I swear, generic emails and computer operators are killing this country. What happened to service with a smile? When was the last time you actually talked to a person at a 1-800 number? OK, I digress. But seriously maybe we would be a lot happier in this country if we didn’t use so many machines every day. Enough said.

Back to AKO… Here’s a letter I plan to send to the secretary of the Army:

Dear Sir,

While you’re worrying about Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of U.S. servicemen are losing their email addresses every week. Restoring the and addresses to former servicemen should be your top priority.

I served in the Army for nine years and gave out my Army email address to everybody I knew, including girls at bars. What if one of these girls wakes up one day and finds an old napkin with my email?

My mother and father also have this email. And sir, my father is a forgetful person. He requested my email address 30 times before saving to his address folder.

So now, two days after AKO canceled my email, I have to give dad my email over again. Do you realize the strain that will put on my office routines? And my mother, sir. My good mother. She’s a good woman, but my email is the only address in her account. Please help my dear mother by restoring my email address. It would break my heart to know that she is emailing another Fred Minnick in the Army.


Fred Minnick
Former AKO Email User"

Monday, May 15, 2006

Political Notio: Ode to the Guard

MJ has a great post about his neighbor returning from Iraq. It ends:

"After returning home he went back to his job as quietly as he left it. The smiles on his and his wife’s face while they’re out in the yard watching their little girls play will stop you in your tracks."

President Bush plans to send troops to the Mexico border. Now we’ll be conducting operations in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Kuwait, Qater, Afganistan and the Eastern Horn of Africa along with thousands along the border.

According to the Department of Defense, we may be able to absorb this on-the-border deployment, but I assure you that Marine and Army troop morale will suffer… because the majority of these crap jobs are going to soldiers and Marines. I worry that this border duty may get ugly, too, and may be as violent as Iraq.

I hope not.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My girlfriend's blog

My girlfriend is a doctor of oriental medicine and now she runs a blog. If you ever wanted to know about acupuncture or different herbs, check out her site, Acupuncture News. I occasionally post something for her, but rarely. I don’t know anything about acupuncture… other than I was just told to promote her new blog or she would break up with me.

Friday, May 12, 2006

We were soldiers author quits writing

After 41 years on the military beat, covering stories from Fort Riley, Kan. to Vietnam and Iraq, Joe Galloway says he is taking a permanent leave. Come June 1, the 64-year-old scribe will give up his desk at Knight Ridder’s D.C. bureau and settle permanently in the bayfront cottage he owns just north of Corpus Christi, Tex.

“I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have survived against the odds, to have had the experiences, the stories, the people that this profession has given me,” Galloway said this week during an interview in the Knight Ridder bureau. “And I got paid to do it, admittedly not much.”

Read more

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FBI suspects there are gangs in the Army

The FBI has assigned an agent to monitor any connections between U.S. Soldiers and a Chicago-based gang alliance, federal agents said. Of particular concern are reports that the Folk Nation, consisting of more than a dozen gangs in the Chicago area, is placing young members in the military in an effort to gather information about weapons and tactics, said FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons, who is based in El Paso, Texas.

Read more

I've wondered how long it would take for the FBI to get involved with this. I would be willing to bet that every gang is represented in the military. But don't be alarmed. Most of these kids are in for "second chances." And I doubt they would want to go back into gang life after the military bond. According to the above report, there is gang graffiti in dozens of latrines in Iraq. So, it will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Stryker Brigade going back

The brigade I was in Iraq with is on their way back. The 3-2 Stryker Brigade returned home in October 2004 and it just doesn’t seem right that they’re being sent back. I almost feel guilty for being a civilian.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Support Bill Roggio

When somebody asks me for money and I don’t know them very well, my first thoughts are: “This is a crooked SOB.” I am such a cynic that I don’t believe anything until the ink is dried and the check has cleared. With that said, every now and then, I meet somebody makes me think outside of norm. One such feller is Bill Roggio, whom I met at the Milblogging conference.

Roggio is a former Marine who volunteered to go to Iraq as a civilian “blogger.” Much like Michael Yon, Roggio gave Americans uncensored an objective perspective and honest writing. But he didn’t earn a dime. While the N.Y. Times re-published Army press releases, Roggio risked his life by going out on patrols in Tikrit and other parts of Iraq. Meanwhile, all the other journalists received steady combat pay from their respective employers and were bedded up in their nice trailers in the Green Zone. But not Bill.

In fact, his readers paid for his way into Iraq. And now he wants to embed in Afghanistan. But he needs your help. Bill still has that Marine swagger; he’s just not receiving their combat pay. His service to our country is worth however many pennies you can spare.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Milblog conference review: Don't blame public affairs

I have received a slew of emails asking for a milblog conference review. Sorry for the delay. First, it was a true honor to be invited on a panel and to have been alongside these guys: Moderator -- Colonel David Hunt; Panelists -- One Marine's View, The Fourth Rail, Dadmanly and Fire and Ice.

For the first time, I learned people don’t think too highly of the Army Public Affairs. Here’s what people had to say:

“The Army needs to do a better job of informing the public,” one man said. My answer was to go to or But another lady contended, “We are not who you should be telling this. They (Army) can’t expect normal citizens to search for the good news.” Then somebody said: “The only press releases I ever get from the Army are of soldier casualties.”

Well, it’s like I said at the conference: Would you compare an Army Ranger Battalion with 10 years of experience to a National Guard Infantry Battalion with zero combat experience? Hell no. For you non-military folks, that’s like comparing Angelina Jolie to your best friend’s grandma. There’s just no comparison. My point is, here’s what my (139 MPAD) public affairs unit did in Iraq:

- produced a monthly T.V. show which aired at Fort Lewis
- produced four 30-page magazines for soldiers about their tours
- produced a weekly field newsletter for 48 straight weeks
- handled the media fiasco after Marez suicide bombing incident
- placed General Ham on network television dozens of times
- spammed thousands of stories and photos to a list of 2,000 media members
- ran a radio station
- and sent daily Arabic press releases to the Iraqi media

The result of this toil was Mosul received more positive coverage than any other city. And when something bad happened, like the Marez attack, we found good stories and disseminated them to the media, which had about a 2 percent pick up rate. We returned home in January 2005 and were replaced by a bunch of fat, unmotivated soldiers. Here’s what they accomplished:

- ate chow every day
- managed to not die

Of course, my unit also earned the highest award for a unit of our size and the fat replacements received butter in the chow halls. But our momentum was not followed and that was a disservice to the U.S. people and the soldiers' families. With that said, public affairs does a fine job trying to get the good stories out. Sure, public affairs has its weaknesses like every leg of an organization.

However, we risked our lives to cover school openings and Iraqi forces raids. But the news organizations rejected our stories most of the time. We would have asked them why, but we were too busy moving on to the next mission.

“Well send the news directly to the people,” a lady recommended.

You know what kind of impact that will have? People can barely stand to hear President Bush speak. Do you think they want to read a government newsletter? And besides, after being home for awhile, I’ve noticed people don’t care about Iraq… unless they are somehow affected by the war. The best way to hit these people who don’t care is through milblogs because the writing does not speak for the entire government or military, which brings me to my next point.

If it weren’t for Colby Buzzell and My War, milblogs may have never taken off. People can say what they want about who was first the first milblogger, (and believe me at the conference, a few people did), but My War was so raw and real that it made New York gay democrats and Montana goat farmers care about Iraq. But Colby’s work was “too inappropriate,” an officer said at the time and he was banned from blogging.

Then the Army came out with a policy for blogging from theater. And the uncensored milbloggers began dropping like flies. Now the Army is considering shutting down blogs, period, because of “operational security concerns.” This is a bunch of crap. Most of the time, the really good information that the enemy wants is in the hands of captains, sergeants and generals… not the specialists and privates who are blogging.

The real reason the Army wants to police blogging is it doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of uncontrolled messages entering the never-ending Internet, where a post can become hot news in a matter of seconds.

But without milblogs, I fear the real story may never be told.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Iraqis protest security

About 200 Shiites, many of them women in full-length black abayas, rallied Monday outside the Green Zone to demand that U.S. and Iraqi forces do more to stop attacks on Iraqis. Red more

That story just pisses me off. I get so tired of hearing Iraqis complain about the lack of security when half of them look the other way when watching insurgents plant roadside bombs. The security in Iraq will only get better if its citizens decide they want to stand up against the threat. The problem is, they are so used to not having freedom that they don' t know what to do with it.