A tale of two Captains…
I guess you could say that it all started over a beer at the Camp Foster O’Club in Okinawa sometime in late October of 1994. My buddy, Ken Briggs, was eating his special Texas popcorn, VERY salty and slathered with Tabasco sauce, but the heat was offset always by a cold Heineken beer. He was hunched over a copy of Pacific Stars and Stripes and yelling to no one in particular about the lousy letters to the editor as I approached and took my stool next to him.
Lately, the editor’s page were filled with peeved wives who were either married to an Officer or Enlisted service member on the Island and had nothing better to do then complain about one another. At first it was kind of funny as we perused the daily banter back and forth, but, after awhile, it got old. Ken reminded me of Robert Duvall from the “Great Santini” as he yelled aloud with each new letter.
This was also about the time that serial killer Jeffery Dahmer was murdered in prison. Do you remember the “whack” job guilty of killing all those young men in Wisconsin? We only had one news channel at the time so the coverage was spotty at best. But there was a general consensus that it was a good thing he was dead. Ken listened to the conversation at the bar that night among all the young Officers, and then took off for his BOQ room spewing madness about Dahmer’s death. The next day I received an email from him that had me laughing so hard that I spit my diet coke out my nose (that hurts by the way!) I replied that Ken should send this letter off to the editor of the Stars and Strips and maybe it would break up the chain of tired old bitchy wives who dominated that section. We went to lunch and discussed his letter to great length. Should he use his real name? Hell no! So we settled on a pen name for him, “Jim Adams.” This guy had written a whiney letter to the editor months before about someone stealing his extra flight suit from the dryer, and had rotated back to the states with his helicopter detachment. Perfect name.
I enjoyed being part of his little pet project, and vowed to keep my silence about the author. Ken submitted the letter that week, and to our surprise, it was published on December 15th 1994 and here it is, word for word.
Dahmer needed our help
The same cold, heartless, society that created the environment which spawned the childlike and impressionable Jeffrey Dahmer also cast his inevitable fate. Sadly, we live in a throw-away society. If we can’t fix something, we simply discard it.
So it was with a crazy, mixed-up kid like Jeffrey Dahmer. Did we, as a society, try to help this young, misguided young man? Did we ever offer him some tenderness, a shoulder to cry on? Did anyone offer him a helping hand and say, “Here, son, gnaw on this?”
No. When his antics ceased to amuse us, we simply threw him away like a toy which has lost its novelty. Now this discarded plaything has become a glaring example of judicial hypocrisy.
In a state that claims to disavow the death penalty, Jeffrey Dahmer was cynically sentenced to “Live” in prison, and through this action, just as surely as if they had strapped him into the electric chair, Wisconsin murdered one of its own children…a child who just didn’t play well with other little boys.
Call him a rebel; call him disturbed. So what if he didn’t “fit in” to what we so self-righteously call “normal” society. Did he deserve the cruel fate which befell him? Maybe he was just frustrated; maybe he needed to be loved.
Were the authorities really so ignorant or naïve that they thought Jeffrey Dahmer would be safe in prison? Who will publish his culinary books now that his is gone? And what of the terrible loss of his rather unique scientific endeavors into the physiology of man? Tragically for all of us, science must suffer along with justice. A disturbed young man thought he had finally found his niche in our confusing society, and he was brutally murdered for it. Welcome to America.
Camp Foster, Japan
The response was immediate and you couldn’t go anywhere on the Island without someone talking about “That Letter!!!” It was cut out and taped to bulletin boards in offices all over the base. Ken would get a big chuckle out of it, but the biggest surprise was on Christmas day. I opened my edition that I bought in the USO in Hong Kong and there were two whole pages of replies devoted to Ken’s letter. The WWF fans on Okinawa, mainland Japan and the whole the Pacific couldn’t recognize satire even if it reached up and bit them on the bum. Once again we got a great laugh out of the whole thing as they bashed this crazy guy, Jim Adams.
The trouble started later when I called Ken up for lunch. He answered the phone and in my best “Jimmy Stewart” voice, I asked for Jim Adams. Ken put me on hold before I had a chance to say “Hey Ken its Taco, let’s go eat chow” and the line came to life with the voice of his Master Sergeant who was also in on the letter. I figured I’d have some fun with this, so I asked if he approved of the editing job on his piece and told him that the circulation for the Stars and Stripes had gone up 30% because of his letter and that we would like him to write another letter knowing that Ken was listening on the other end as his Master Sergeant pretended to be the author. “What would you like me to write about?” I thought about it for a second and the only thing that came to mind was that abortion Doctor who was murdered the week prior. “Oh, write about anything, the abortion Doctor who was killed, mass murderer’s, the price of gas, how the Chinese hold mass executions in stadiums and charge money, I don’t care, you’re hot stuff.”
Hanging up the phone, I called right back and asked for Ken. “Hey Ken, let’s go get some chow.” Ken was already typing on his computer a new masterpiece and was too busy. I figured he’d send me a copy of it to proof for him and then I’d tell him it was me. Well, two days went by, then four and Ken hadn’t mentioned the phone call or anything. That night at the bar, he leans over with a big smile on his face and says “Hey Taco, the editor of Stars and Stripes called me and asked if I would write another piece for the paper. Hell, I may become a regular guest there…” I nodded and said “Ken, that’s awesome, when are you going to send me a copy to proof for you?” He leaned back on his bar stool and said, “Can’t, I’ve already sent it.” I felt a bit of panic in my chest...
“Hey Ken, what did you write about?” He went on to tell me how he wrote about the Abortion Doctor who was murdered and titled it “Taking God’s place.” This little joke had gone too far now. “Ken, that was me who called you up last week.” He shook his head back and forth, “No way, I was listening to him talk, it was the editor.” I then shifted into my Jimmy Stewart voice after watching “It’s a Wonderful life” for two days straight as a kid, and said “Tell me Jim Adams, did he sound like this? Do you feel we did a good job on your editing?” The color drained out of his face and I felt bad. “Ken, you always sent me your stuff to look over, and I figured that I’d tell you when you sent me the letter. I waited and no letter. I’m so sorry brother; can we get the letter back?” He shook his pale head again left and right, “No, I mailed it out that day.” I put my arm around his should and leaned over. “I’m sorry Ken. What’s the worst that can happen? It will spark another round of WWF folks writing letters into the paper.” I paid for his beers, and we back over to our BOQ, each lost in thought as to our actions.
The letter was published later that week and the fire storm was worse then the B-29 raids over Tokyo in WWII.
First of all, it turns out that Doctors on military bases overseas perform abortions, so when the paper hit the streets, all the Docs refused to come into work until they found out who this “whack” job “Jim Adams” really was. They were afraid that he may come after them. Since only three people knew who “Jim Adams” really was, the Army CID, NCIS and Air Force SP’s were spinning around in circles trying to track this ghost down. They called the editor of Stars and Stripes who in turned called Ken on his home phone number in the BOQ that he submitted with his piece.
Editor: “Hello is this Jim Adams? This is Bob, the editor of Stars and Stripes, your last letter has really stirred the hornets nest down there in Okinawa and the different investigative services would like you to go have a chat with them. So would you mind going?”
Ken: “No way Bob, you knew that my letter was controversial and you published it anyway. Tell those guys to pound sand.”
Editor: “So, you’re not going to turn yourself in?”
Editor: “Is Jim your real name?”
Editor: “What is your real name?”
Ken: “Like I’m going to tell you! Just to clear things up, your paper never said I had to give my real name, so I used a pen name and if your readers are too dumb to differentiate between Satire and real thoughts, well it’s not my fault. You deal with this.”
Editor: “I’m going to turn over all my info on you to the authorities “Jim or whatever your name is” and you are banned for life when we find out who you are.”
Ken: “Oh Yeah… Blank, Blank Blank” end of call.
Damage control started right there. See the advantage of living in the BOQ and having lots of close buddies right down the hallway paid off. Ken ran down to Dan Sanderson’s room, another Captain, who just happened to be in charge of the telephone department on Okinawa. He explained that he was in trouble and needed his help, some ex girlfriend was trying to call him and he needed to dump his phone number. They raced down to his office, and with a few key strokes assigned his old phone number to the base gym and assigned him a new one. On Monday, the different investigative services exploded with activity when the Editor turned over “Jim’s” phone number to them. Monday, after coffee and donuts, they went down to the phone company, a Marine-run operation on Camp Foster only to find that “Jim’s number” rang the base gym, and they had never heard of him, but “yes” they had all read his letters. They were back at square one (these aren't like the guys you watch on Tuesday night NCIS). So the next thing they did was round up any Jim or James Adams on the Island. The Air Force had a poor Airman named James Adams in the interrogation room for half a day. He admitted to killing President Kennedy and owning all the Village People’s albums before they were done with him. This whole thing went up to the base General with daily progress reports, on how this guy “Jim Adams” was one tricky Kook and they were having better luck catching DB Cooper.
It turns out that Ken’s Master Sgt was also a part time Cop over on the base, and as this thing progressed, it was getting WAY out of hand. He asked his boss to turn himself in to stop the witch hunt that was going on. Ken thought about it for awhile and then turned himself in to the head of PMO with his Master Sergeant at his side as a character witness. He explained how it all happened, and also showed other things he had written to prove that he just liked good Satire and wasn’t out to hurt anyone.
The investigation was solved; all the different services slapped one another on the back for a job well done, and now it sat in front of the base Commanding General who didn’t have much of a sense of humor. During his morning briefing, he turned to the base JAG officer (another Captain who we drank beer with) “I want this Officer brought up on charges.” The base JAG looked over the package and replied, “But Sir, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He wrote opinions that were published in the editors section, and there was nothing there against the United States Government or Marine Corps.” The General didn’t like this answer very much. “Well, he used a fake name, hang him on that.” The JAG, once again shook his head. “Sir, the paper doesn’t say that you can’t use a pen name. Also Sir, I happen to know this Officer, and he is a card carrying member of the ACLU. I’d hate to see him raise a stink about his right to free speech being trampled by the Corps. I mean, we could have sixty minutes out here, and the PR would be horrible.” The Base public affairs Officer (another Captain drinking buddy) jumped in, “Sir, that would be the last thing you need to happen before the Commandant of the Corps comes out to visit.” The General just mumbled that he would get this Captain somehow and moved on to the next subject.
He did though. The General called down to Ken’s boss, a LtCol, and told him to fix his fitness report so that he doesn’t get promoted to Major. The problem with that solution is Ken had never had any “bad” paper before, and the boss couldn’t give him a double signer meaning that Ken could contest it, so he made Ken average right down the line and a few below average to boot to ensure that he wouldn’t get promoted. Ken was passed over for promotion and given a nice severance package when he left the Marine Corps a few years later. Funny thing is that he ended up joining the Reserves, and becoming a STELLER LtCol on his way to a full bird Colonel one day
We were joking about it the last month and it’s hard to believe that he was still my friend after setting him up like that, but you know, it’s hard to disown family.
If you have to be away from home for the holidays and want to make it a memorable one, write a letter to the editor of the Stars and Stripes. But I have to warn you that using a pen name is no longer allowed since the investigation that ensued from the other letter that Ken wrote. At least there was one positive letter out there for ole Jim Adams...OOOOOOHHHHHH RRRRRRhhhhhaaaaaa
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A tale of two Captains…
Posted by Taco Bell at 8:14 PM
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Lessons of Iraq
By ERIK SWABB
January 14, 2008; Page A12
While the improved security situation in Iraq is changing views about the chances for success there, one common belief has remained unchanged: that the war is eroding U.S. military capabilities.
It is true that repeated deployments have caused considerable strain on service members, equipment and our ability to respond to other contingencies. These problems, however, only tell half the story. The Iraq war is also dramatically improving the military's understanding, training and capabilities in irregular warfare. Since this is the preferred method of Islamic extremists, the experience in Iraq is transforming the military into the force required to help win the Long War.
The blunders of the early years are well-known. Trained for conventional warfare, the Army and Marine Corps were unprepared for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Commanders emphasized killing or capturing insurgents, not securing the population as counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes. U.S. units were stationed on large bases and didn't develop the critical relationships with local leaders that only come from living among the people.
When units did interact with Iraqis, the interaction ranged from fruitless patrols in Humvees zipping through town to draconian operations that detained scores of innocent people. The Sunni insurgency only grew in this environment, attracting al Qaeda and spurring the growth of Shiite militias.
After a costly learning process, the military increasingly "gets it" when it comes to irregular warfare. The Army and Marine Corps published a new counterinsurgency manual that legitimized the radically different strategy that the Iraq War required. Pre-deployment training now includes realistic scenarios that test units' ability to build relationships with local leaders and partner with host-nation forces.
Commanders, from the small-unit level to the general ranks, increasingly understand that population security, political reconciliation and economic development create legitimate government, which saps insurgents' strength. As a result, conventional forces are now performing counterinsurgency missions at a level that many experts thought impossible.
My old unit returned from Iraq last spring after serving in a city in Anbar Province. As a mechanized reconnaissance company, its traditional mission focused on scouting for Soviet-style armored forces. The unit's performance in Iraq more closely resembled that of the Green Berets.
Soon after occupying its forward outpost, the company met heavy insurgent attacks. But it did not over-react with mass detentions and other alienating tactics. Instead, the Marines took a patient approach to win the support of the population and eject the extremists hiding among them. They partnered with Iraqi police, established a pervasive security presence throughout the city, and worked with local leaders to improve basic services, governance and the economy. Such tactics used to be rare, but are now increasingly the norm, thanks to Gen. David Petraeus's dogged emphasis on seeing counterinsurgency conducted by all units.
The Sunni tribal uprising that's driven al Qaeda from Anbar Province and Baghdad wouldn't have occurred without U.S. forces grasping the complexities of irregular warfare. Iraqi Sunnis rejected the oppressive version of Islam that al Qaeda imposed -- but feared the consequences of resisting. By showing a willingness to help, U.S. troops presented a more trustworthy and less-threatening partner than al Qaeda, a remarkable achievement considering the vast religious and cultural differences between Americans and Iraqis.
U.S. commanders reached agreements with tribal leaders to accept their members into local security forces and establish combat outposts among the populace. Knowing that their families were safe from reprisals, the tribes gained the confidence to go after al Qaeda. Now U.S. officials are considering whether to adopt a similar model for Pakistan's Northwest Frontier.
It remains to be seen whether the new counterinsurgency strategy will lead to a peaceful, democratic Iraq. Success ultimately depends on the ability of Sunnis and Shiites to overcome decades of mistrust and antagonism. But the current approach has created an opportunity for political reconciliation, as Sunnis have demonstrated that they reject al Qaeda's campaign of terror against Shiites. The new strategy is also helping to prevent the establishment of an al-Qaeda safe haven in Iraq -- and in this sense, it has already proven its worth.
The strains on the military are real. However, overemphasis on the "eroding" capabilities of the armed forces belies the incredible emergence of an irregular warfare capacity in the world's greatest conventional military.
This hard-fought transformation faces resistance from advocates of the status quo in the military, and thus is easily reversible without political support. Such support is something Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on.
Mr. Swabb served in Iraq as a Marine infantry officer
Posted by Taco Bell at 2:22 PM
Sunday, January 13, 2008
A year ago I wrote a post on “When I grow up... I want to be a Pilot” on setting your goals in life to be the guy up in the wild blue yonder. Well, that piece gets about 10 hits a day from all over the world and I answer a couple of letters each month. This letter was sent to me back in 1998 and I laughed my rear off at the absolute truth in it then and it still holds true today. I could see myself writing this to some young lad as well. I hope you all get a nice chuckle from another C-130 pilots words of advice…
I am D.J. Baker and I would appreciate it if you could tell me what it takes to be an F-16 fighter pilot in the USAF. What classes should I take in high school to help the career I want to take later in life?
What could I do to get into the Air Force Academy?
From: Van Wickler, Kenneth, LtCol, HQ AETC
Anybody in our outfit want to help this poor kid from Cyberspace?
A worldly and jaded C130 pilot, Major Hunter Mills,
rises to the task of answering the young man's letter.
Obviously, through no fault of your own, your young, impressionable brain has been poisoned by the super fluous, hyped-up, “Top Gun" media portrayal of fighter pilots.
Unfortunately, this portrayal could not be further from the truth. In my experience, I've found most fighter pilots pompous, backstabbing, momma's boys with inferiority complexes, as well as being extremely over-rated aeronautically. However, rather then dash your budding dreams of becoming a USAF pilot, I offer the following alternative:
What you really want to aspire to is the exciting, challenging and rewarding world of TACTICAL AIRLIFT. And this, young DJ, means one thing..the venerable workhorse, The C-130! I can guarantee no fighter pilot can brag that he has led a 12-ship formation down a valley at 300 feet above the ground, with the navigator leading the way and trying to interpret an alternate route to the drop zone, avoiding pop-up threats and coordinating with AWACS, all while eating a box lunch.with the engineer in the back relieving himself and the loadmaster puking in his trash can!
I tell you DJ, TAC Airlift is where it's at! Where else is it legal to throw tanks, HUMVs, and other crap out the back of an airplane, and not even worry about it when the chute doesn't open and it torpedoes the General's staff car! No where else can you land on a 3000 foot dirt strip, kick a bunch of ammo and stuff out on the ramp without stopping, then takeoff again before range control can call to tell you that you've landed on the wrong LZ! And talk about exotic travel; when C-130s go somewhere, they GO somewhere (usually for 3 months, unfortunately). This gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture long enough to give the locals a bad taste in their mouths regarding the USAF and Americans in general, not something those C-141 Stratolifter pilots can do from their airport hotel rooms!
As far as recommendations for your course of study, I offer these:
1. Take a lot of math courses. You'll need all the advanced math skills you can muster to en able you to calculate per diem rates around the world, and when trying to split up the crew's bar tab so that the co-pilot really believes he owes 85% of the whole thing and the navigator believes he owes the other 15%.
2. Health sciences are important, too. You will need a thorough knowledge of biology to make those educated guesses of how much longer you can drink beer before the tremendous case of the G.I.s catches up to you from that meal you ate at the place that had the really good belly dancers in some God-forsaken foreign country whose name you can't even pronounce.
3. Social studies are also beneficial. It is important for a good TAC Airlifter to have the cultural knowledge to be able to ascertain the exact location of the nearest topless bar in any country in the world, then be able to convince the local authorities to release the loadmaster after he offends every sensibility of the local religion and culture.
4. A foreign language is helpful but not required. You will never be able to pronounce the names of the NAVAIDs in France, and it's much easier to ignore them and to go where you want to anyway. As a rule of thumb: waiters and bellhops in France are always called " Pierre ", in Spain it's "Hey, Pedro" and in Italy, of course, it's "Mario". These terms of address also serve in other countries interchangeably, depending on the level of suaveness of the addressee.
5. A study of geography is paramount. You will need to know the basic location of all the places you've been when you get back from your TDY and are ready to stick those little pins in that huge world map you've got taped to your living room wall, right next to the giant wooden giraffe statue and beer stein collection.
Well, DJ, I hope this little note inspires you. And by the way, forget about the Academy thing. All TAC Airlifters know that there are waaay…too few women and too little alcohol there to provide a well-balanced education. A nice, big state college or the Naval Academy would be a much better choice.
Posted by Taco Bell at 12:57 PM
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Dear Family and Friends:
Since my last update, Christmas and New Year’s Day has come and gone, as has Ramadan, or “The Break in the Fast” celebration, and Eid al Adha or “The Sacrificial Holiday”, where all work stops here, sheep are slaughtered, and families, wealthy or poor, gather for sumptuous meals. The tiny office I share with two other Marines has a small refrigerator stocked with baked goods from friends, family, and well wishers across America who we will probably never meet. In the past few weeks the flow of care packages has not ceased. From middle schools to church congregations, small and large boxes arrive almost daily, filled with beef jerky, granola, energy bars, shaving cream, athletic socks, and cards and letters. A British Royal Marine I work with commented that he is simply stunned by the volume of goods Americans send to their troops, for this sort of display of gratitude from countrymen is something entirely foreign to the deployed British troops in the south, who he says rarely receive much from the home front.
The generosity and largesse that is unique to America has also been manifested in the lives of many well to do and ordinary Iraqis in Anbar, where, for the past year, the Marines have allocated tens of millions of dollars to the provincial economy, working with sheiks and municipal government leaders to identify areas where our money can jump start reconstruction projects, repair schools, clean the water, and get school books and pencils to needy children. It is probably fair to say that Anbar has received over one hundred million dollars from the military, with over two thirds of that going to education, governance, justice, public safety, sewer and water, electricity, and trash collection.
While I was traveling through northern Fallujah two weeks ago, we passed through the Jolan District, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Marines and insurgents in 2004-2005 and still a very dangerous place up until about nine months ago. Our small convoy of Humvees stopped in the main market area and we were mobbed by a crowd of young boys, practicing their English, eyeing our gear, and asking us for candy. Children nearby is always a good sign, so we let our guard down a bit and joked with them. The market was full of sheep being herded toward the open square where they were purchased, then held down, their necks slit, and once dead, skinned and taken to the nearby butcher. A fruit and vegetable stand was full of fresh produce, everything from peppers to watermelons to cucumbers, much of it imported from Syria, but some of it locally grown. Nearby stood a new water tower, once nearly destroyed in the urban fighting, but now fully functional and freshly painted: American dollars, Iraqi labor.
Outside Fallujah, we drove through a verdant agricultural area called Azergiya, where children raced barefoot down dirt driveways to the main road, waved to us, and asked for soccer balls and candy. We had none; in fact we have stopped handing out gifts like candy to the children out of concern that we were raising unrealistic expectations and for their own safety along the road. I found it interesting that a few of these kids had become so jaded that they merely opened their mouths and pointed to their tongues, but most ran alongside our vehicles and smiled innocently. Someday soon, we’ll have to also reduce our handouts to the sheiks in Fallujah, who are unceasing and unabashed in their requests for American financial assistance. It seems we cannot encounter an Iraqi who does not ask us for something. We stopped at a local school, where we met the caretaker and toured the trash and sheep dung covered grounds. Our hope was that it would be suitable for a joint US-Iraqi medical team to set up and administer to the locals. Two of the insidious legacies of Baathist rule are the high illiteracy rate among Iraqis and the poor water quality, both of which affect children, moreso than adults. Our Iraqi interpreters handed out fist sized stuffed animals and pencils for school as gifts to the caretaker’s seven children. Down the road, we stopped to pay a visit to the local Iraqi Police colonel at his command post set up in the home once occupied by his brother, who was killed by the insurgents. The burned out and bullet riddled carcass of his brother’s white BMW was parked outside. The colonel had fought the Iranians in the Iraq-Iran War many years ago and was a seasoned military man. Before we departed, a convoy from our Combat Engineers arrived with plywood guard shacks, purchased for the Iraqi Police so that they can stay sheltered while standing watch on cold winter nights when the mercury dips below freezing.
As I near the end of my third month in Iraq, I often reflect on a comment made by an Iraqi Police major who spoke English quite well. He and I were seated next to one another at a town council meeting in Fallujah. During the weekly meeting, where local leaders submit their constituents’ bids for American funded contracts and haggle over pricing with the Marines, the discussion turned to politics and the plight of the Sunnis in Anbar, who are now out of power in Baghdad and none too pleased about it. The police major told the sheiks and the senior imam (religious leader) that the only way to change their political circumstances was to vote in the next election and tell all their people to vote. He mentioned all Iraqis voting, but he really meant all Anbar Iraqis, specifically the Sunnis. Then he turned to me and said “You know, we must only talk about the future, (for) if we keep talking about the past, everyone here” and he swept his arm around the room, “(would have been) detained.”
Posted by Taco Bell at 10:51 AM
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Here is the second letter from Brooks. Hope you enjoy the update. More to come.
Dear Family and Friends:
With six weeks under my belt now, I am beginning to feel at ease with the surroundings and the routine of work and daily life here, which, when we are not working, is mostly filled with sleep, exercise, trying not to eat too much chow in the dining facility, and waiting for helicopters. Lest anyone thinks the two hour advance arrivals in the States are unknown in a combat zone, forget it. Reservations for a seat on a flight must be made exactly four days in advance and you must check in at the air facility 2 hours before your departure time. The only positive is no TSA checkpoints, since everyone here is already armed. Most flights out of my camp and back to it are done at night, so this usually means sitting around a dusty plywood hut for two hours or more until around midnight, when the flight arrives and the wind from the rotors buffets the thin plywood walls. A Marine with a roster and a fluorescent blue chemlight ushers the passengers outside and we follow in single file to the landing zone, clad in our flak jackets and helmets, and lugging backpacks and rucksacks through the hot rotor wash, blowing sand, and gravel. Once aboard, bathed in dim green light, we sit knee to knee inside the rumbling fuselage, smelling exhaust fumes wafting through the narrow compartment. The waiting can last a few minutes, or if you are unlucky, there is a lengthy delay as the aircrews and ground crews work to load or unload cargo (sound familiar), which can take longer than you would think since it is being done in the dark, with a military forklift, while the helicopters are running. Last night, when we departed a remote airbase, the helo fired off a solitary red flare, probably as a precaution, that was intended to distract man portable surface to air missiles. I don't know if there was a legitimate threat below trying to shoot us down, but when you are sitting near the rear of the aircraft, as I was, peering out into the blackness beyond the edge of the ramp, and you hear a loud pop, followed by burst of red light, it certainly gets your attention for a second.
Since my first update, I have ridden on nearly a dozen helicopters and visited several cities, military bases/camps, and Joint Security Stations (police precincts) in Al Anbar Province. My focus has been on what is termed "Transition", which, for the military, is the training, advising, and equipping of the Iraqi Security Forces, their Army, Police, and to a lesser extent, their newly formed Highway Patrol. Transition, though, is more than just training a military and a police force; it consists of several pillars or elements that must be interconnected and interdependent to fully function as one. These elements are: Rule of Law, Security, Communication, Governance, and Economics. In order to get all of these elements of Transition to work is a complicated, sometimes rewarding, and frequently frustrating process, involving military civila affairs teams, US State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams, US Agency for International Development, law enforcement advisors, and instructors on judicial process and municipal management. The overall goal of Transition is to move the Iraqis to a point where they have become relatively self sufficient and reasonably capable of providing security, stability, and the broad array of basic services at the local, regional, and national levels. There will be differing and uneven progress in all these areas, imperfect solutions at best, but if we and the Iraqis can build on the trust that has been established so far, their formal government institutions and their age old tribal organizations will find a way to work together and function for the betterment of their leaders and their constituents.
For the Marines, the Security element of Transition, especially the training and advising piece, can be somewhat counter intuitive for the American military mind. Our traditions and our ethos are steeped in the institutional practice of empowering young leaders and solving problems at the lowest levels. Our ranks are replete with Type A, problem solvers and aggressive, smart young enlisted who want to "fix" and change things, in this case the Iraqis and their seemingly bad habits. But the Iraqis do not adhere or subscribe to a Western military mindset. Arab militaries, for the most part, do not have any tradition of expecting their Corporals and Sergeants to take decisions; that is left to the Captains and Majors. However, the Iraqi soldier, or "jundi" is desirous of a challenge, eager to learn and show he is competent and capable, and their officers are, for the most part, quite seasoned. We Americans often look at their Army and Police with a very critical eye and see their shortcomings compared to our capabilities as deficiencies we must address and indeed correct before we can depart and deem our mission a success. But our trainers and advisors must fight this urge to try and remake the Iraqis in our image, for the longer we persist with this line of thinking, the more the Iraqis will lean on us and expect more from us. We are, as one departing colonel told me, "advisors, not providers" and the sooner we embrace that philosophy, the sooner the Iraqis will begin to solve their problems in their own time and in their own way. They are already doing this in many areas, we are simply here to ensure they make progress, but over time, that progress will have to be defined more by them, and less by us.
For those of you wondering where and when this relationship ends, it won't, at least for another twenty years, perhaps much longer. We have made a long term moral, financial, and military commitment to the Iraqis and we are not going to renege on that commitment, regardless of the political rhetoric in Washington DC or on the campaign trail. Our degree of involvement and numbers of troops will decline in the years ahead, but it is obvious to me that we will have troops working alongside the Iraqis, just as we have the South Koreans and the Germans, for at least another generation. By that time, it is my hope that the young barefooted Iraqi boys, who passed me by the other day, pushing carts to Fallujah, will have had an opportunity to go to school, find an honorable way to earn a living, and raise their families in peace.
Posted by Taco Bell at 11:41 AM
Saturday, January 05, 2008
This just in from JP at Milblogging.com. We lost Major Andrew Olmsted US Army, in Iraq. A man who was a true wordsmith and one of the best Mil Bloggers out there. If I don't get the links right, Google Andrew Olmsted and you will read a letter from the grave that will bring a tear to your eye.http://www.andrewolmsted.com/
God’s Speed Andrew
January 4th, 2008
Tragic News: Top Military Blogger Dies In Iraq
This is very tragic news I have to report to you today. Milblogger Andrew Olmsted, was killed in Iraq. Our hearts and prayers are with his family, friends, and everyone that got to know him, as they face this enormous loss and tragedy in their lives.
From The Huffington Post:
(The Huffington Post) Andrew Olmsted, who also posted here as G`Kar, was killed yesterday in Iraq. Andy gave me a post to publish in the event of his death; the last revisions to it were made in July.
Andy was a wonderful person: decent, honorable, generous, principled, courageous, sweet, and very funny. The world has a horrible hole in it that nothing can fill. I`m glad Andy -- generous as always -- wrote something for me to publish now, since I have no words at all. Beyond: Andy, I will miss you.
My thoughts are with his wife, his parents, and his brother and sister.
Posted by Taco Bell at 6:50 PM
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Happy New Year to all of you out there in Cyberland!! I’m very lucky to have a guest writer on the SandGram. Major Brooks Tucker, USMC. He is a fellow reservist that I served with on recruiting duty who has also volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq with the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned. His writing is awesome and it tells the story that the media has hidden from the public about our progress over there since it’s going so well. There are three letters and I’ll post the next two shortly. I hope that you enjoy his insights as much as I have. Feel free to pass these along.
Dear Family and Friends:
I have been in Iraq for nearly three weeks now and am beginning to find a rhythm to my work days and nights and have seen just enough to have some sense of awareness concerning the complex nature of the war and our role in it. Before I begin to cover some of the latter, I would like to dispel some of the lingering misconceptions that remain in the American consciousness on the home front. First and foremost, it is instructive to note that as of two weeks ago there were less than 20 journalists embedded with US forces across all of Iraq. There are approximately 165,000 US troops in Iraq, so that is 1 reporter for every 8,250 troops, roughly the equivalent of almost two regiments. If the media has been our window, no matter how opaque or transparent, into this war, the media is not in a physical position to report with much authority at this stage, in my opinion. Which leads me to one of the changes the media has not covered well, what is going on and has been going on for almost six months in al Anbar Province, where the US Marines and US Army are working day and night to set the conditions for transition of security to Iraqi Police and Army.
Within days of my arrival, I Iearned that our base outside the once violent and impenetrable city of Fallujah had not received incoming fire since April of this year. In the past several months, the Marines and Army have taken many casualties while making great strides finding roadside bombs, defusing them, and training the Iraqis to find them and report this to US forces. The number of violent incidents in the provincial capital, Ramadi, has declined 95% in the past year and Marines now patrol both Ramadi and Fallujah on foot without the ever present fear of being shot. Neighborhood watch programs manned by Iraqis proliferate and it is common for a Marine security patrol to encounter numerous checkpoints throughout the city of Fallujah, where Marine platoons man Joint Security Stations alongside Iraqi Police. I spent a day and a night with one of these platoons two weeks ago, and found the perimeter guarded by Iraqi Police, the interior manned by Marines and Iraqis in observation posts, and the outlying neighborhood patrolled at night by squads of young Marines on foot searching for signs of insurgent infiltration from outside the city limits. I sat in on a gathering of Fallujan leaders and Marines to discuss better communication and cooperation and found that their relations were professional and cordial. The Marines and the city leaders in Fallujah have brokered a way forward that respects the local muhktars, or religious leaders, vests much power in the city council, and allows the Marines to step back from their prior role as the key power brokers. The Fallujans are smart and they know the Americans have money and resources or at least can lead them to money and resources for their badly damaged neighborhoods and inadequate infrastructure, especially sewer and power. They also know that the insurgents have neither the money nor the resources to rebuild their city and will not help them gain leverage with the central government in Baghdad. This bottom up approach is a key component of our counterinsurgency strategy and tactics, for it empowers local and municipal leaders who are very wary of the civil servants in Baghdad. Furthermore, the Iraqi constitution gives significant powers to the provinces, so a strategy that builds the capability of the provinces is in keeping with that document. I have just returned from Hit, a city north of Fallujah, along the Euphrates River, where much the same story is playing out, Iraqis and Americans joining forces to defeat remnants of the insurgent cells that are still active, but are finding it increasingly difficult to locate safe havens free of the 24 hour US and Iraqi security presence on the highways, in the streets, alleyways, all under the watchful eyes of unmanned drones circling aloft.
Now a few words about quality of life for me and the other Americans serving and working here. I live in what is called a "can", a basic trailer type living space, with a couple beds, lockers, and maybe a camp chair. Most have AC. Showers and toilets at main bases are like you would find in a basic locker room, but showers are individual stalls. Third Country Nationals, Pakistanis mostly, clean the toilets and showers twice daily. Laundry service usually has a 24 hour turnaround. At more remote bases, or platoon and company outposts, showers are more primitive and porta johns are the rule. Food on main bases is plentiful and well cooked, to include fresh fruit, salad, Gatorade and pastries. Even at the remotest locations, the logistics folks manage to deliver some semblance of good food, although it is not as well presented. People here work long hours, mostly because there is little else to do, and most battalion and company bases have some form or internet access for official business, at least. The weather is cooling off now, temps in the high 80's during the day, high 50's at night. No rain yet, but when it comes the "moondust" will turn to slick muck. Until then, we are enjoying the fall like weather.
Posted by Taco Bell at 3:14 PM