Friday, December 22, 2006



"Since August ... let's see," said McMahon, scanning a clipboard. "We've moved 6,743 bags of mail, weighing a total of 116,883 kilos.

"Now, in this last week, you're talking 835 bags, 14,500 kilos. Since Dec. 8."
A little over 2,000 kilos a day. And not all of it even addressed to anyone in particular.
Since September, when Operation Medusa really turned Afghanistan and the Canadian military into a hot topic back home, there's been an outpouring of sympathy and support from hundreds of thousands of Canadian civilians - most of whom, apparently, don't actually know anyone serving overseas.

"We get a ton of unaddressed mail, usually posted to 'anyone in the Canadian Forces,'" said McMahon. "Padre usually gets it, and it takes a long time to get through.''

And the things they send. Toothpaste. Cookies. Candy. Toiletries. Sudoku puzzle books.

"Those things were huge a few months back," said Cpl. Claude Robichaud of the Fleet Mail Office.

There's also Kraft Dinner - tons of it.

"I guess it gives the guys on the line a break from rations, but we've been getting an awful lot of it," said Robichaud. "All it takes is for one guy on leave to say, 'Gee, I sure miss KD when I'm in Afghanistan,' and it's an avalanche."

Just this week, the Canadian Forces issued a press release pleading with the public to stop sending unaddressed care packages to Afghanistan.

"The CF resupply system cannot handle care packages addressed to 'Any CF member' for a variety of reasons, including security and volume," the release said.

The military does encourage people to write or post messages to the troops.
You can post electronically at:

If you want to send something unaddressed via snail mail, you can do that too. Go to the forces website at and follow the links to find the addresses.
The above was written by Doug Beasly from Afghanistan for Sun Media. What follows is from the official site:

In addition to providing morale and welfare programs, activities, and services to enhance the quality of life of the CF community, the CFPSA offers Canadians several ways of supporting the dedicated men and women who serve our country.

The mission re-supply system is designed to move operational and operational support equipment. Donated goods do not qualify as such, and can only be moved when space is available. Such space is extremely limited and its use requires extensive coordination in order to keep it under control. If you are an individual or a group external to the CF, please use one of the options listed on this page:

This restriction does not apply to CF family members and personal friends who can send parcels to individual CF members overseas by following guidelines available at

Buying official "Support Our Troops" merchandise: The only "Support Our Troops" merchandise sanctioned by the CF,includes ball caps, t-shirts, car and fridge magnets, cling vinyl window decals, bracelets, lapel pins, and more. Order these and other items online at CANEX. All proceeds from the sales of CFPSA "Support Our Troops" items are reinvested directly into morale and welfare programs for CF members and their families.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Canadian troops launch major offensive in Panjwaii district

BILL GRAVELAND Wed Dec 20, 11:05 AM ET
Afghanistan (CP) - Canadian troops and tanks rolled into a small town in the Panjwaii district Wednesday as Canada launched its first major offensive as part of Operation Baaz Tsuka.

Members of Charles Company Combat Team - consisting of two troops of Canadian Leopard tanks, a company of light armoured vehicles, three platoons of infantry, a company of Afghan National Army soldiers as well as artillery and support - left the forward operating base near the village of Bazar-e-Panjwaii early Wednesday as bright sunlight burst over the local mountains. The destination was Howz-e Madad, located just north of the Arghandab River.

"We've been like caged leopards I guess, waiting to get out on the prowl," said Cpl. Steve Hamel, 28, of Canal Flats, B.C. sitting in a long line of armoured vehicles.

"You'd be crazy not to be nervous but everybody's going to fall back on their training so it's all good. You get more of an adrenaline rush," he added.

The goal of the mission is to either kill or force hardline Taliban leaders to leave the Panjwaii-Zahre district, an area that was once the heartland of the Taliban, where Canadian troops have been in bloody skirmishes with them for the past several months.

My hope is that our troops slaughter as many of the bastards as they can find while taking minimum casualties. The rest of the above article is here:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Killing Zone

Here's another report from Sun Media's Doug Beazley embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. I suspect Cpl. Singh won't hestitate to fire the next time.

Climb aboard Master Cpl. Andy Singh's Bison and enter ...

They were rolling down from Panjwayi to Kandahar Airfield, and they were halfway home when the radio started squawking.

Vehicle approaching on the left, coming slow. Black Toyota Corolla. One occupant. Everybody move to the right.

Master Cpl. Andy Singh was in the cockpit of his Bison transport, head and shoulders clear of the roof, his C-6 light machine gun pointed at the horizon, his finger on the trigger.


"We were doing about 60 kmh when the car came up on the left. I was sighting him with my gun," said Singh, rubbing the tips of his fingers together - still raw and red from where he lost the skin.

"I could see his face. He was a really young guy, maybe his early 20s, light beard. He looked me in the eyes.

"I swear ... and I know how this sounds ... he looked like he didn't want to do what he was going to do. He looked like he was saying 'sorry.' "
The next moment, a bright orange ball of light the size of a grapefruit burned away the suicide bomber's face. There was a loud crack, and the car dissolved in a ring of shrapnel.

Read the rest:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bill Roggio: Embedded with Marines and Iraqi Army in Fallujah

Bil Roggio, who blogs on The Fourth Rail, embedded with the Marines in Fallujah. The plan was to start in Fallujah and then move on to Ramadi, currently the most dangerous place in Iraq. Due to transportaion logistics which would have required two wasted days of downtime, Bill has decided to stay on in Fallujah. If James Baker of the illfated ISG and their 79 useless recommendations for succes in Iraq had bothered to come to Fallujah, perhaps they might have come up with some realistic recommendations. Bill has some.

The Military Transition Teams and the Development Iraqi Army
The MTT Mission; Successes and setbacks with the Iraqi Army

While critics of the Iraq Army continue to question the capabilities of the units and soldiers, a real move towards operational independence is occurring within the Iraqi Army. Last year, I embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines (the Teufelhunden) in Husaybah, as well as the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (The Raiders) in the Haditha Triad. The 3/6 was working with the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, the most seasoned unit in the Army, while the 3/1 worked with the 7th Division, the greenest unit in the Iraqi Army. In western Anbar, a platoon of Marines paired up with a platoon of Iraqi Army soldiers in small outposts called Battle Positions. The Iraqi Army patrolled jointly with the Marines, and were directly dependent on the Marines for food, supplies, ammunition and transport.

The relationship between the Marines and the Iraqi Army has changed over the past year. The 1st Iraqi Army Division is now in the Fallujah region, and the 1st Brigade's sister unit, the 2nd Brigade, is now operating independently, with embedded Marine Military Transition Teams. Major David McCombs, the executive officer of the 3-2-1 MTT, said their mission is to “advise, assist and mentor the Iraqi Army, and what they do with this is up to them.” There is 1 MTT at the brigade level, and 1 MTT for each of the 3 light infantry battalions in the brigade.
The Marines of the 3rd Recon Military Transition Team (or MTT), advises the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division (3-2-1). The 3-2-1 MTT is made up of 15 personnel (11 trained MTTs with 4 augment Marines), who are embedded withing an Iraqi battalion (about 500 troops).

The MTT team is modeled after Special Forces teams, as training a foreign military force is a classic Special Forces mission. The team is top heavy with officers and senior non-commissioned officers. The 3-2-1 MTT is made up of 2 majors, 1 captain, 3 1st lieutenants, 2 gunnery sergeants, 1 staff sergeant and 2 sergeants. They live and work side by side with the Iraqi Army. The size of the unit and the unique, specialized mission causes the officers and senior enlisted to take on non-traditional roles such as drivers and gunners for convoys through the city on a daily basis.

Read the rest:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Five Months in The MOG

Michael Yon's Frontline Forum is a place where Soldiers can share their experinces. SGT Michael Waller served five months in Mogadishu during the period imortalized in the book and film Black Hawk Down.

5 Months In MOG

By Michael Waller

Veteran - Army

In August of ’93, I was at home in Michigan on a four day pass from my unit, the 227th General Supply (GS) Company, 1st Corps Support Command, headquartered at Ft. Campbell, KY, spending time with my son and my friends before our deployment to Somalia.
I remember getting a lot of questions about where I was going from my son Andrew, who was four at the time; many of which I couldn't answer out of pure ignorance. We found Somalia on the globe and I pointed to it, telling him it was right in the Indian Ocean. Andrew studied the globe and said, “I bet there are a lot of sharks.” The four day pass went by quickly and the time came to say good-bye to my son, my family and friends, and I drove the eight hours back to Ft. Campbell.

The train-up for Somalia at Ft. Campbell included a lot of time at ranges for all types of weapons, as well as convoy operations, field sanitation and combat life saver certifications. It seemed to us that the senior leaders were taking this deployment seriously.
On Aug. 17th, we were told to band and secure our wall lockers in the barracks, and be ready to fly within a two-hour window. That window came and went, and we were told the delay had to do with the possibility that the Somalis might have some type of SAM (surface to air missile), and that the flight had been canceled until further notice. We had already turned in our linen and slept on the bunks that night with no blankets. My roommate and best friend, Specialist (SPC) Mike Morrison, a tall kid from Marshalltown, Iowa, was still snoring when the alarm on my watch went off. Morrrison answered to his nickname, “Junior,” while off duty.

“Junior get up, we missed the flight!” I yelled.

He stumbled out of the rack looking for his glasses. I laughed and pointed at him.
“Dude relax, it's 0600 - let’s go to chow.”

Junior was not too happy about his wake-up call and was mumbling something about “dickhead” and “payback,” under his breath on the way to chow.

Our company was going to be escorting and delivering food and rations to units all over Somalia. As the Operations Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), I was going to Somalia as advance-party with several other NCO's and one Specialist/E-4, my “hootch-mate,” Junior. On Aug. 18th, at 1400 hours, we took the five-minute bus ride to the airfield at Ft. Campbell, boarded a C-141 transport plane, and took off on a 21-hour flight to Mogadishu, Somalia - otherwise known as “MOG.”

Read the rest here:

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Doug Beazley Embedded With Canadian Troops in Afghanistan

Sun Media is one Canadian MSM that gets the War on Terror. They have sent Doug Beazley to cover the great job the troops are doin. In an email to me Doug wrote: "Personally I don't think the average Canadian knows how hard these guys work. I've got nothing but respect for them, and I pray they all make it home. DBZ" Me too. What follows is one of his posts:

Here comes trouble!

Abdoul Guindo has a knack for living dangerously

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- In the Force Protection unit at Kandahar Airfield, Sgt. Abdoul Guindo has an unrivalled reputation as a little one-man island of bad karma.
He's been here since August, leading convoys to and from the far-flung coalition outposts dotting the landscape around Kandahar City. He's been bombed, strafed and mortared at least 12 times ... maybe more. He lost count a couple of weeks ago.
"I prefer the phrase 'living legend' to 'crap magnet,' " he said, cackling.
He's 28, lives in Ottawa, just got married over a year ago. His wife just had a daughter, their first.
"I stopped counting after the first two attacks. I guess there's a kind of stigma that sticks with me. Our unit gets hit all the time."

Read the rest about the amzing Sergeant Abdoul Guindo here:

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teflon Don's Accute Politics

I've completely stopped being surprised by the talent of many of the American Soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan possess. The very fact that they are in the front lines but find time to share intelligent thoughts with us regarding the war is remarkable. What follows is a reprint of a remarkable post by a remarkable young Soldier who goes by the handle of Teflon Don:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The First Bone

Last night I sat alone on the porch and studied the pieces of a puzzle. It had come in a care package from home, and consisted of six small pieces of wood, of equal dimensions, with differing types of slots cut across them. I have no idea what the puzzle is supposed to look like, but I'm still trying to assemble the wooden bones into some coherent whole. As the parts move in my hands, they occasionally form into larger shapes, only to collapse because I've failed to incorporate all the parts at my disposal. In some ways, I see the puzzle as an analogy to Iraq. Many pieces must grow and fit together, or the nation that grows on them will eventually tumble and fall. I continue to stare at the bones of the puzzle, and begin to associate them with the forces that strive together attempting to form Iraq. The Military, The Media, Government, Religion. Other pieces lie on the table unnamed, representing forces I remain unaware of.

Over the next week or two, I plan on taking a post here and there to explain my opinions on these. I don't have a thesis or much of a rational, convincing argument; just thoughts spewed out on paper. First, I'll tackle The Military.

First, a sidenote:One of my biggest pet peeves is the attitude that says "Support the troops: Bring them home!". Last time I checked, the troops are all volunteers. Of course, that might change if Rep. Rangel gets his way and reinstates the draft, but for now, we've all chosen this life. If you claim to support the troops, listen to me: we do not want to be used as a political weapon. If we pull military forces out of Iraq before the Iraqis are fully capable of managing their own affairs, if we go home and leave Iraq in a downward spiral, if we fail in this task of nation building that we find ourselves at, then we doom the American military to a long period of even greater risks. It's your choice not to support the war; just don't pretend to support the troops while using them as a political tool.

Back on track:My area of operations in Eastern Anbar is largely free of the sectarian violence that plagues Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. The large Sunni population trades religious violence for killings directed against coalition forces and fellow Sunnis judged to be too friendly with CF or Shia government officials in Baghdad. Even if the CF were to leave Iraq, violence would continue among the Sunnis, who have been historically marginalized by powerful Shia in the new government.

Various talking heads stateside have been repeating the view that there is no military solution to the conflict in Iraq. In large part I agree: we can't simply kill all the insurgents, because in the process we create more insurgents. Even if we managed to kill them all, there are many factions who do not desire the same ends for Iraq. However, without some sort of partial military solution and a stable, violence-free environment, we cannot expect any lasting political solution. Iraqi forces are not ready to assume sole control of the country- the military is getting better, and in some areas operates outside of US control, but the police are plagued by widespread corruption. Something like 70% of police across the country have militia ties, according to the AP- not something you want if you're trying to enforce justice equally across all factions. Even the professionals in the military have reliability problems: in case you were wondering just how the best soldiers in the Iraqi army feel about the current political climate, The Times is there.

Obviously, "Stay the course" will lead us nowhere. Small wonder. It's a basic principle of counterinsurgency that no operation will succeed without the troops involved getting out among the local population, giving them a chance to associate and identify with their protectors. The current strategy tends more towards limiting "face time" with the locals because of the danger involved, preferring to spend more time behind berms and barb wire. Units that engage the local populace have enjoyed greater success in fighting the insurgency, as the British in the south have shown. If "Stay the course" isn't the answer, neither is "Set your course across the Atlantic". My chief fear now is that the military will not be allowed to pursue a course beneficial to Iraq, and will eventually be brought home with the job undone.

I never figured out how the puzzle went together.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Return of Red2Alpha

I originally started this blog after discovering Colby Buzzell's blog 'MY WAR: Fear and Loathing in Iraq'. I created the blog so that I could communicate with CB and, what the hell decided to write something to see how this works. I'm not a natural writer like CB, who has subsequently published a book called, naturally, 'MY WAR'.

Since that time I have followed the Milblogs of a number of American Soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The general public's view, thanks to people such as John Kerry, is that Infantry Soldiers and Marines are uneducated and unintelligent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those who blog tend to be very intelligent, insightful and multi-talented. Buck Sargent and Tim Boggs are two of the best examples of this.

Another example was a blog called 'This is Your War' by Red2Alpha. R2A is a natural writer whose style and content was gripping. I copied one of his post's 'Saying Goodbye' here on April 12, 2005. It's very powerful. You can read it here:

Shortly after that post was written Red2Alpha's blog was shut down for reasons of OPSEC. The post itself lived on here and was also picked up by Mark Partridge Miner of 'Boots in Baghdad' fame.

Now Red2Alpha is back blogging and he is definetly a writer those of you who follow Milblogs should be reading. R2A had a very tough tour of Iraq and some very bad personal experiences upon his return home. He is still serving as he works his way through some serious PTSD issues. He's getting a lot of support from the likes of Papa Ray, Blackfive and Uncle Jimbo as well as former readers and new ones. It was while reading Blackfive that I was alerted to R2A's return.

Red2Alpha is worthy of your support. Read him here:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on Operation Medusa: Afghanistan

I recently came across a blog called On Point which deals with counter terrorism. It published two articles regarding Operation Medusa. One was by the Globe and Mail reporter GRAEME SMITH and the other was from The Sunday Times' Michael Smith. To be honest I just skimmed the article from the Globe as the have an Anti-war agenda and will try to put any actions by Canadian Troops in a negative light. I made a comment to that affect, as you will see below. I used to be a voracious reader of current events and would a times read all 4 of Toronto's dailies on a regular basis. Now I only read one, The National Post (which does support the troops by the way) and supplement my interest in current events by reading various blogs. On Point is goin on the list.

One commenter, J C Rawley took exception to my comment and responded that the Globe and Mail was a right wing paper!! and even more absurdly insisted that the Bush hating New York Times was actually a Bush supporter!?!? (For more on NYT see Tim Boggs Letter to the New York Times reprinted here: you'll have to scoll down as my profile has mysteriously dropped to the bottom of the page.)I don't know what part of the planet JC Rawley is from , nor do I care but he's just wrong.

The reason I'm posting this is that CPT Thomas C. Nield an Information Operations Officer with the Canadian Army who was involved in the planning of Operation Medusa made a couple of comments. I was most interested that the Canadian Army is that on top of things. I went back and read Graeme Smith's article in full, and while it puts a negative spin on things to keep his publisher happy it is in fact correct as CPT Nield makse clear.

The two article and On Point's intro follow:

ON Point Blog

Operation Medusa in Afghanistan: Two Different Views

Readers are probably noticing a trend. At ON Point, one of the things we enjoy doing is highlighting when reports come in from the field that say two different things. This isn't so we can judge or play "gotcha" with the correspondent. On today's battlefield, finding accurate information is almost as tough for the journalist as it is for an intelligence professional. But by pointing out the differences, we often find the more accurate picture.

Our latest find comes courtesy of an individual who has spent a lot of time in dirty, nasty parts of the world. This person found two reports from Canadian newspapers about Operation Medusa, a recent sweep against the Taliban.

Two different pictures emerged. Decide for yourself which one is more accurate:

Inspiring tale of triumph over Taliban not all it seems
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

The official story of Operation Medusa has been repeated many times in recent days, after NATO declared success with its biggest offensive to date in Afghanistan.

In speeches from Kabul to Washington, military commanders described the two-week campaign as a simple, clear-cut triumph: The Taliban entrenched themselves in a swath of terrain, terrorizing local villagers; Canadian soldiers led a massive assault, killing more than 1,000 Taliban and routing others; and now villagers are welcoming the return of government rule. Military officials say the operation may have destroyed up to one third of the insurgency's hardcore ranks.
It's an inspiring tale, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization calls on members for more troops and struggles to gain support for the war.

But interviews with tribal elders, farmers and senior officials in the city of Kandahar suggest a version of events that is more complicated, and less reassuring.
Related to this article

Many of the fighters killed — perhaps half of them, by one estimate — were not Taliban stalwarts, but local farmers who reportedly revolted against corrupt policing and tribal persecution. It appears the Taliban did not choose the Panjwai district as a battleground merely because the irrigation trenches and dry canals provided good hiding places, but because many villagers were willing to give them food, shelter — even sons for the fight — in exchange for freedom from the local authorities.

The government has regained control of this restive district southwest of Kandahar city, and has promised to muster donations from Canada and other countries to rebuild. The Canadian military says it will help local security forces establish a new base to make sure the Taliban do not return to Panjwai.

But there are troubling signs that the area may be sliding back toward the same conditions that sparked the violent revolt.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Taliban fighters continue to lurk around the district, and that police in the area have resumed the abusive tactics that originally ignited local anger. Farmers say gangs of policemen, often their tribal rivals, have swept into Panjwai behind the Canadian troops to search for valuables. They have been described ransacking homes, burning shops and conducting shakedowns at checkpoints.

"This is a case of bad governance," said Talatbek Masadykov, head of the United Nations mission in southern Afghanistan.

"Maybe half of these so-called anti-government elements acting here in this area of the south, they had to join this Taliban movement because of the misbehaviour of these bad guys," Mr. Masadykov said, referring to undisciplined local police.
Police commanders in Kandahar city declined to be interviewed. The allegations from local farmers are difficult to confirm, because it has been only two days since Panjwai was deemed safe enough for civilians to return home, and the area remains too dangerous for Western journalists to visit.

But even politicians who generally support the government concede that the situation in Panjwai was aggravated by the missteps of local authorities.
The most notorious of the blunders was the case of Abdul Razik. Last month, concerned about the growing number of Taliban on the doorstep of Kandahar city, the provincial government assigned Mr. Razik to clear insurgents from Panjwai. Mr. Razik serves as a police commander in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, but his fighters have a reputation as a kind of militia, all drawn from the same tribe: the Achakzai, a branch of the Pashtun ethnic group.

In the borderlands, the Achakzai often feud with another Pashtun tribe, the Noorzai. The two tribes also dominate the strip of farmland in Panjwai where Mr. Razik was dispatched, although the tribes have usually co-existed peacefully — until the arrival of Mr. Razik. Word spread quickly through Panjwai that the police commander intended to kill not only Taliban but any member of the Noorzai tribe; true or not, Mr. Razik soon found himself facing an armed uprising. His men were ambushed southwest of the village of Panjwai District Centre, and many of their bodies were left rotting on the road as Mr. Razik retreated to the borderlands.
But having fought off Mr. Razik, the local Noorzai tribesmen soon ended up fighting his more disciplined colleagues from the police and Afghan National Army.

"This was a bad idea, to bring Abdul Razik," said Haji Mohammed Qassam, a provincial council member in Kandahar with responsibility for security issues.
"One village had 10 or 20 fighters against the government before he came, and the next day, maybe 200."

It was only one example among many complaints cited by people from Panjwai as they described the deteriorating relations between locals and the government. Well before Mr. Razik's arrival, villagers say, they were subject to police stealing their cash, cellphones and watches. Even motorbikes and cars were seized by police patrols, locals say.

Abid, 32, a farmer from the Pashmul area, roughly 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar, said the thievery by police got so frequent that his friend tried a novel tactic when he encountered a checkpoint two months ago.

Rolling toward a roadblock on a motorbike in the late evening, he said, his friend turned off the motor and started coasting toward the police.

"He took the keys out of the ignition and threw them into the bushes, so they couldn't steal it," Abid said. "This made them angry. They beat him, took his money and his watch. But he kept his bike."

The depredations stopped as the Taliban gained control of the area, villagers said. The insurgents imposed a strict order; some reports suggested they had returned to their habit of cutting off thieves' hands.

Abdul Ahad, 44, a wealthy farmer and landowner from the village of Sangisar, said he appreciated the Taliban, despite the terror he felt every time he passed through one of their checkpoints.

In a recent interview, Mr. Ahad removed a black leather diary from his *** pocket and showed a reporter where he had scribbled a few numbers for government officials. Those numbers could have got him killed, he said, if the Taliban had found the diary during their regular searches at checkpoints, because the fighters would have assumed he is a spy.

Still, risking death at the roadblocks was better, he said, than the random thievery and beatings meted out by the Afghan police.

"The Taliban didn't take any tolls at the checkposts," Mr. Ahad said. "Even when they came to my farm, they did not eat my grapes without permission."

The Taliban also endeared themselves to the locals by returning to their roots as a protest movement. The name Taliban first gained notoriety in Afghanistan in 1992, after a group of religious students started attacking the roadblocks in Panjwai to remove the corrupt jihadi commanders who once waged holy war against the Soviets but had settled into gangsterism after the Soviet withdrawal.
"Policemen [now] are like jihadi commanders in the past," said Mr. Masadykov, at the UN office in Kandahar.

"They are misbehaving sometimes, looting, going to search and at the same time stealing everything in the houses. We are receiving a lot of complaints about it. We have to work on it."

Mr. Qassam said the government has learned from its Panjwai experience and will try to avoid repeating it. Taliban are now infiltrating the Khakrez district, he said, but the government will try sending more disciplined Afghan forces to maintain order, rather than requesting an onslaught of NATO power.
Mr. Qassam also emphasized an aspect of NATO's story about Operation Medusa that few people in Kandahar question: The city itself now feels a little more secure.

The encroaching insurgency had left the educated city dwellers feeling unsafe. Housing prices, and even vehicle prices, were depressed in recent months. Some locals reported rental fees falling as much as ten times lower than last year's rates.

Merchants in the city were even sending packages of phone cards and cash to the Taliban in Panjwai, hoping to curry favour with the insurgents in case they overran the provincial capital, Mr. Qassam said.

"When the Taliban were in Panjwai, all the people in this area were worrying: 'Where will I move my family?'" Mr. Qassam said. "They are more relaxed and happy now."

--------- (an earlier report) -----------

The Sunday Times September 17, 2006

Key strike puts Taliban to flight

Michael Smith, Kandahar

BRITISH special forces have played a key role in a defeat of the Taliban as part of Operation Medusa, the largest combat operation ever mounted by Nato. Over
the past fortnight Nato troops, led by the Canadians, have driven the Taliban out of the strategically important Panjwayi district between Maiwand and

Last week members of the newly formed British Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) pulled out of their hides to the southeast of Maiwand with their commanders satisfied that the Taliban had been defeated and expelled from the

"They chose to take us on," said a senior Nato officer. "They have suffered heavy casualties. In fact, they haven't suffered such extensive casualties since
the fighting in 2001-02."

The British special forces had spent the first 10 days guarding against any Taliban reinforcement from the west, and the last few picking off fleeing insurgents. Senior officers cautioned that while Operation Medusa had been "a tactical success", there was no room for complacency and nobody was about to use the word victory. "It has a tendency to come back and bite you on the ***," one officer said.

This battlefield has a profound historical resonance. Maiwand was the scene of
one of the most devastating defeats ever suffered by the British when, in July 1880, 2,700 British and Indian troops were outnumbered 10 to one by Afghan tribesmen. More than 1,000 British and Indian troops died but 7,000 of the enemy were killed in what was a pyrrhic victory for the Afghans.

The British suffered losses in the latest battle - 14 dead when a Nimrod spyplane crashed on the first day, including signallers from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and the SFSG who were relaying intelligence collected by RAF colleagues. Five Canadian and two Afghan soldiers were killed on the ground. But Nato claimed that more than 500 Taliban - a third of those making a stand at Panjwayi - were killed.

The Taliban were using the area as a forward operations base to put pressure on the city of Kandahar, which is seen as the key to controlling the south. During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the mujaheddin occupied the area, which is covered with grapevines, wheat and poppy fields, making it an ideal supply base for an insurgent army. It is riddled with drainage ditches and high walled compounds providing perfect cover for a marauding guerrilla band and there are scores of escape tunnels and trenches built during the mujaheddin days.

General David Richards, the Nato commander, chose the area to demonstrate to the 70% of the population who, he believes, will back whoever appears stronger, that Nato and not the Taliban is in charge. Richards had prepared the ground
carefully. His commanders talked to tribal leaders to persuade the 40,000
population to leave for their own safety and to convince them that the
alliance would rebuild once the Taliban had left.

The battle, which pitted more than 2,000 troops against 1,500 Taliban, opened on Saturday September 2 with a salvo of gunfire from Canadian and Dutch artillery. A company of 150 men from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
advanced across the Arghandab river.

But the Taliban were lying in wait and the company took the brunt of their aggression, coming under intense mortar and machinegun fire that killed four
Canadians. The Canadian commander temporarily withdrew his forces and replaced them with Taskforce Grizzly, comprising 200 Afghan infantry backed up by US troops. On the left flank, Taskforce 31, comprising SBS and US Army Special Forces, were used temporarily to "shape the battlefield", seizing the initiative from the Taliban.

Two other companies of the Princess Patricia's were making slow progress against a Taliban trench system in the north. The third company was redirected to join the push, along with US infantry. They were backed up by direct fire support from Canadian and Dutch artillery and by air support from Apache attack helicopters, US B1 Lancer bombers, F16s, and US A10 Tankbusters - one
of which killed a fifth Canadian soldier with "friendly fire" - plus RAF Harrier GR7s.

While the SBS and the US Special Forces gave the Nato advance a kick-start from the south, other US special operations troops spread across the area to the south of the battlefield. They were ordered to keep out Taliban reinforcements and supply columns attempting to make their way along the desert roads from the Pakistani towns of Nuski and Quetta.

The UK and US special forces boosted the southern advance considerably and after a few days the SBS were withdrawn and reassigned to other tasks. To the north, the Canadians, whose light armoured vehicles were vulnerable to rocket- propelled grenades, were struggling. By the beginning of last week, an operation scheduled to last only 10 days looked like lasting a month.

But sustained aerial and artillery bombardment were beginning to tell on the Taliban. Suddenly one company of the Princess Patricia's made a breakthrough, pushing forward to hold a position well ahead of the Canadian lines. A second company pushed forward and very soon all three Canadian companies were leap-frogging each other to the point that the American infantry could be withdrawn.

The effect was like a vice, squeezing the Taliban out to the west where
they were awaited by Dutch infantry, a Danish armoured reconnaissance
company and, further out towards Maiwand, the British SFSG, mostly former
paratroopers. By the end of last week, the vast majority of the Taliban
were thought to have fled.

Senior Nato officers expressed astonishment that the Taliban had abandoned traditional guerrilla tactics that would have seen them dispersing the minute heavy artillery and aerial firepower were introduced. "The next three to six months is a crucial period here," Richards said. "We are establishing psychological ascendency over the Taliban in Panjwayi. "Operation Medusa has not been about killing for no reason. The people there want to believe we can win and we're
beginning to demonstrate that we will win."

Published Tuesday, September 26, 2006 8:04 AM


JC Rawley said:
Clearly the world is much more complex than the black/white (or black hats/white hats) version that our Administration keeps repeating like a mantra repeated over and over in some sort of prayer ritual.

The fact is that many of the "terrorists" caught during the original invasion of Afghanistan (and now in Guantanamo or one of the secret CIA prisons) were fighting corruption as in the first case or even shopped out by local warlords as "tribute" to the new invaders to show their loyalty to the new regime.

Afghanistan is probably the poorest country in the world. It seems to have no minerals or even oil to offer the people some sort of respite from the opium growers that seem to bethe only chance at financial independence for the average person.

The Taliban may have been awful people but they had great PR in their country for "doing good" or at least "doing different" from the old regimes.

If we want to defeat the Taliban and their supporters, it will not be done by bombings and massacres alone.

I recommend the Thomas PM Barnett books on the New Pentagon's Map and Bridging the Gap . They will offer, as Col. Hammes book did, a great insight into how we might win more peaces instead of winning wars and losing the peace.
September 26, 2006 10:27 AM
membrain said:
With respect to the article published in the Globe and Mail you have to realize that they have an far left wing anti-war agenda the makes the New York Times look like Neo-Cons!! They are not a credible source for reporting from Afghanistan.

The Britsh Arcticle was the more accurate of the two. The idea that the locals liked the Taliban is pure bulls***! Thes are people that use to hold public executions for such 'crimes' as not having a long enough beard.
September 26, 2006 12:42 PM
JC Rawley said:
Sorry membrain,

The Globe and Mail, Canada's National Newspaper, has a distinctly Right of center point of view.

It is by no means a left wing paper.

It is reporting things you do not like therefore you call it a name.

BTW, the NY Times is one of Bush's biggest supporters. They helped him sell the war and continue to report and support it as one of his better "accomplishments".

Perhaps it is time people put down the Kool-aid and look at the pig with lipstick for what it truly is.

September 26, 2006 1:14 PM
Gary VW said:
A persons "truth" is primarily derived from ones own perceptions.
If all the info that was given to the reporter(s) was factual, & not misconstrued, or reformatted, in any manner, then both stories have some "truth" in them.
September 26, 2006 2:55 PM
CPT Thomas C. Nield said:
I am an Information Operations Officer for TF Aegis (RC-S) and was involved with the planning of Op Medusa. Graeme Smith's article is pretty accurate. The locals of Panjwayi offered support for the Taliban because local governance was corrupt.

As an officer with access to classified material, I have to say that both articles are pretty accurate. I am surprised that the SF involvement (especially British SF) was mentioned because the first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club.

Anyway, the area of Panjwayi is key terrain. It controls access to Kandahar City from the west and it is the only defendable area near Kandahar City. The Russians lost an entire division in the Pashmul area of Panjwayi. NATO forces achieved what the Russians could not.

Op Medusa established the security credentials of ISAF/NATO, the challenge now is Phase 4, Reconstruction. We are trying to get aid in there and to shore up a previously non-existent credible security presence (Afghan and NATO).

Myself and my boss, a Canadian Major, personally escorted media to Pashmul to witness the aid distributions and to give them the opportunity to interview the locals. Graeme Smith elected to not go because he typically likes to interview locals without military guys around. Carlotta Gall (NY Times), Susanne Koelbl (Der Spiegel), Declan Walsh (the Guardian), and Jim (Canadian Broadcasting Co) did go and got the interviews with Grizzly 6 and the locals that they wanted.

The articles Graeme Smith produces are pretty accurate most of the time. He works really hard at getting the locals to open up. Sometimes what he writes causes a little heartburn but we know that he isn't being malicious. Sometimes the truth hurts.
September 26, 2006 3:40 PM
ted mauro said:
I am EXTREMEMLY pleased with both these articles and this site. We need to look at all sources to make the best choices so all our troops can be safe and all our decisions correct. While this isn't always possible it should ever remain our goal for the leaders and the voters of our GREAT nation. Thank you for this service.
September 26, 2006 6:23 PM
ON Point said:
Ted -- Thanks for your kind words about the site. Means a lot to us. We'll keep working to bring you all this important information so that our citizens and warriors can stay proud, strong, and free... and well-informed.
September 26, 2006 9:46 PM
Gary VW said:
Actually Membrain was correct. The "Globe & Mail" a newspaper, I believed based out of Toronto & has a large distribution in several other canadian cities. Now, has a leftist leaning view on its articles, even though its original start was from a conservative (called Tory's in Canada) group.
So, if you read both stories above, remembering that one story leans to the right, & the other to the left, you can find the truth written in both articles, & you can see how the reporters want to guide the reader into seeing the story, from their point of view.
September 27, 2006 8:38 AM
CPT Thomas C. Nield said:
I want to reiterate that both articles are factually correct. There is no left or right leaning. One article focuses on the maneuver part of Op Medusa, the other article is getting local reaction.

The local reaction is spot on. The lack of credible local governance is what led to Op Medusa in the first place and now we are trying to get a credible ANSF and ISAF presence to stay for the long term.

GRaeme Smith ended his article with a good quote from Mr. Qassam. The Kandaharis are in fact breathing easier now that ISAF/NATO has proven that they can stick it to the Taliban.
September 28, 2006 12:29 AM
ON Point said:
CPT Nield,

Thanks for checking back on this link and for confirming the facts on the ground. As mentioned in the initial post, our intent at ON Point is not to play "gotcha", but to raise questions when things don't seem to make sense.

If there's any important information we can ever assist you with distributing, please don't hesitate to contact us directly using the links on the page.
September 28, 2006 11:12 AM

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Canadian Forces Deal Taliban Another Blow in Kandahar

Operation Medusa nets another 186 Taliban; initial report of bombmaking cell in Kabul confirmed

The Taliban in the Panjwai district west of Kandahar City have suffered another round of massive casualties. The Royal Canadian Regiment, combined with Coalition air power, killed 186 Taliban fighters dug into fixed positions in the Pashmul region during two sperate engagements, bringing the nine day total of over 510 Taliban killed and 80 captured in 8 days of Operation Medusa. These are massive losses for a Taliban force estimated at around 10,000 fighters (12,000 by the Taliban's own count). The Canadian Army has suffered 5 killed in combat of the course of the week.

Elements of the Royal Canadian Regiment are now digging into the Panjwai and Zhari districts, indicating they will remain in the region. This will benefit the military situation in the short term by allowing for more flexibility and a permanent security presence in region, as well as facilitate the reconstruction mission in the future, an important component in restoring stability in the region.

In the past three days since the above action, the RCR has captured 65% of the region while meeting little to no resistance. The Taliban have run away. Formerly, according to Bill Roggio, the Taliban were fighting at the company and platoon level.

What does this mean? Well it would have been better had they stood their ground and let us kill them. But having them cut and run will hurt their reputation in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan.

More importantly, they left behind; intelligence, weapons, medicine, and ammunition all of which are of great value to terrorists. There is a distinct element of fear associated with their a running away. Fear is contagious. God bless The Royal Canadian Regiment. Death to the Taliban. (I've always wanted to say that.)

With files from

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

SGT. Tim Boggs' Interview With an Iraqi General

I've written before about this fine young American Soldier on his second voluntary tour of Iraq. His Mission is to get the word out about the situation on the ground that the MSM won't. Here are his two part interviews:

Part II: Interview With An Iraqi General

This is the second part of my interview with General Ali. As before I hope you share this interview with as many people as you can because all people need to hear the truth coming out of Iraq.

Do you think your soldiers have learned from American soldiers?

General Ali: Yes they have learned from the soldiers and so have I. I learned many things from the coalition forces.

What do you see as problems for the Iraqi army right now?

General Ali: The Iraqi army does not have clear leaders right now. This is bad. The coalition also supplies everything for us right now and the Iraqi government does not supply anything for us. We get fuel and uniforms from the coalition, but we do not have leaders checking what we need for the future.

When the Americans leave what will happen?

General Ali: No problem we will be able to take care of ourselves.

What would you say to the American people who think it was a bad idea for us to come to Iraq and whom think we should leave now?

General Ali: This message is from the terrorists. The terrorists encourage the media and they encourage the U.S. people. The U.S. soldiers who came to Iraq are heroes. The media do not convey the real picture of what the US soldiers are doing. Our problem from the very beginning has been the media. They think the U.S. soldiers just came to fight the Iraqi people. After this interview we will go to Qayyarah and help the people. We will talk with the people and do things for them. The U.S. media only show the bad to the U.S. people. And also the U.S. media is very bad, they are against the US people because they make sure only to show the bad and not the good of what the US heroes do here. They help the Iraqi people, they make projects, they make the Iraqi army and police, and make jobs here but the media does not show this. They only show car bombs, and they even change digital pictures to show Americans attacking Iraqi families (Haditha). The US people only see the bad they don’t see Qayyarah, only the dangerous areas. They did not see how the US soldiers shop in our market and meet the people and help the kids. They don’t see how the soldiers give gifts to the kids. The media do not show this, or how they do projects for schools, water, and roads. They only show the units that fight the bad guys and do not show the other units. This is a big problem. We fight the terrorists, and the terrorists are not just against the Iraqis but also against the whole world, all humans.

I want to say first hello to all the US people and second I need their trust and for them to encourage their soldiers who help us fight and also to encourage the Iraqi people. We need them to encourage the soldiers to do projects to help us. Encourage them to have a trust between them and the Iraqi people because we have a good future. Third I need them to believe me that the terrorists are down in Iraq. I only see terrorists on Al Jazerra, where are the terrorists? Show them to me! I go to Mosul by myself-no bad guys. I need to see terrorists. I have not been attacked in three years, except for once in April of last year and he only killed himself and did not hurt me. Where are the bad guys? We need the American people to know the truth.

Please tell the American people the terrorists are down. When we killed Zarqawi where were the media? They did not report on it. Where is Zarqawi?

At this point in the interview General Ali began speaking Arabic after my interpreter interrupted by saying Zarqawi went to hell. General Ali said in Arabic that Zarqawi went to the “historical trash bin.” Sounds good to me.

Do you think Iraq will look favorably upon American soldiers and what we have done here?

General Ali: This depends on the leaders of Iraq. If the leaders are good men and do good things for the Iraqi people then the people will believe him when he tells them about the Americans, they will trust him. But if we have bad leaders the people will not believe him. But if I work with the coalition and help make projects for the people then they will believe us. We will tell them “Look the terrorists destroyed all of these things, they killed civilians. But look at what the coalition did. They helped us.”
This picture will come in the future. We work to serve the people. God willing the story will be told right in the future about how the coalition helped the civilians. I am happy about our future and I think it is an excellent future.

What do you do for fun if you always work?

General Ali: I go home two days a month to see my family. I change the times I go home though. I do not have time to lie around. I see my family. I have 11 kids and one wife. I tried to get two wives but that didn’t work (chuckles).

Do you think it is a good idea for IA soldiers to protect their own villages and cities?

General Ali: Right now yes but not in the future. The U.S. army is from all over not just from Washington. We need to be like that. The most important thing now though is to encourage the people from the towns to protect their own towns. When the security becomes good we will change. We will send different units to different places. You can move my battalion to Basra, to Baquba, to Ramadi, to Nasariyah with no problem, just like the American army. But right now we keep the soldiers in their own area because their own people help them to find terrorists. Right now we do not have a real army. Right now we just find the terrorists. A real army comes from all the people.

Do you think Arabs and Kurds can work together?

Yes I have Kurdish and Arab soldiers in my battalion. We can work with Sunnis and Shiites no problem. We are one people and one army. My tribe is the military. I serve my country and do not wish to split up the army.

At this point I read to General Ali a note given to my by The Real Ugly American who asked me to share with him. The note is as follows:

“Americans support the people of Iraq. We want them to live in safety and freedom. When we hear news of Iraqis being killed our hearts break the same as when American soldiers are killed. People we love are fighting and dying beside you and your men. Do not throw away this precious opportunity that so few people in the world are given. History is calling on you and your men. Freedom needs you to be strong. The people of Iraq need you to be strong. The world needs you and your men to be heroes. May God bless you and your men”.

General Ali responded by saying “this is our hope too. My wishes and regards for this person and I am very hopeful for the future. I am sure we will get the victory”. He then asked me to ask him why Iraq is going to win against the terrorists.

Sgt. Boggs: Why are you going to win against the terrorists?

General Ali: Cause where are the terrorists!? Show me the terrorists!

At the end of the interview General Ali told me that the soldiers in his battalion call him “The Old Brother” because not only is he their commander but because he is a brother to them. After talking with this great man I understand why he is called “The Old Brother” because I feel that we are suddenly not so different anymore. He may be an older man who speaks a different language and lives on the other side of the world but we both yearn for freedom and are willing to give our lives for others. General Ali has my utmost respect because he is a lone beacon for hope in the midst of so many enemies of all faces that want to see him fail. He has single handedly changed the face of his town and given hope to all Iraqis that it is possible to stand up in the face of evil and prevail. If only there were more men like him in this world.
posted by T. F. Boggs at 1:09 AM 69 comments

Sunday, July 02, 2006
Interview With An Iraqi General

I wrote a story for Michael Yon’s Frontline Forum a week ago about the town I am stationed in right now named Qayyarah. Qayyarah is a model for other Iraqi cities because it was once a haven for terrorists but is now safe enough for anyone to travel around in without fear of terrorists. The main reason for the safety of Qayyarah lies with one man: General Ali. He is a myth-like figure around our base and everyone knows his name. He is a strict military man but is the type of man Iraq needs so desperately right now. I hope people the world over will read this interview and learn just what kind of men are in Iraq right now willing to take control of their own country. What follows is the truth. It comes directly from the mouth of a man who knows intimately what is going on in Iraq and knows where Iraq has come from and where it needs to go. I intend to post the interview in two installments due to the length and urge everyone to bookmark this page and come back for the rest of the interview.

How long have you been in the military?

General Ali: I first went to the army in 1976, I became a staff brigade general in 1997. In 2001 I left the army because there were many problems between my tribe and Saddam’s regime. He fired many of the officers and put some of them in jail. I am one of the officers who was put in jail for ten months and afterwards I was put out of the army. When the coalition forces came to Iraq in 2003 I worked with the 101st (Airborne American army unit) in Qayyarah (*the town I am in now and where he lives) as an advisor. In 2004 the terrorists destroyed all of the Iraqi police stations and in that time the terrorists controlled all of this area. They controlled Mosul, south Mosul, and 40 km from where we are now. In that time no one came to help. All of the people and soldiers were scared and went home. I came to help and the Americans invited me to come command this battalion. The name of this battalion was the 102nd ING before they changed the name to the 1st battalion 3 brigade Iraqi army. At that time I only had eight soldiers with my battalion. They could not go out in their uniforms because they were scared of the terrorists. If they went out on a mission with the coalition they wore facemasks because if the terrorists saw them they would kill them. First time I started training my soldiers I made 1000 soldiers in my unit. After one month I went out on a mission with them and captured all of the terrorists leaders.

At this point I asked kind of jokingly, kind of seriously “Really, on the first time out?” He replied in all seriousness:

Yes the first time.

I worked day and night, 24 hours 7 days a week to clean my area because my area at that time was very dangerous. No one could move at that time, no market, no police, no Iraqi army. We continue to work with the Americans, we captured many bad guys, more than 800. We found caches we found mortars, many weapons. They attacked my house many times. They did not send messages to me but instead sent car bombs and mortars to my family. But I did not stop my mission. I encouraged my family but I did not go home. For three months I did not see my family, I stayed with the coalition to serve my country because my country needed me.

I was in this same position as battalion commander in 1987 during the war between Iraq and Iran which started in 1980-88. In that war I was injured 7 times and have 17 medals for courage. I did not go to Kuwait in 1991 because I did not believe in the old regime and also my tribe did not believe the old regime. He killed many people in my tribe from the military. But now that all the people believe me they work with me and help me.

As two local Sheiks sit across the room from us listening in on our conversation General Ali turns the conversation to them for a minute.

You see those two sheiks? They came to thank me because I made their area secure. They are very happy when they see the work being done in their area. When they see people working at night, people driving. Basra and Baghdad are dangerous but my area now is very safe. In my area the security is excellent. Now I can guarantee that you can go by yourself in your uniform with no armor, no helmet, no weapon, and I’ll give you my vehicle so that you can go to Qayyarah to shop in the market and come back to here and you will be safe. This happened because before the terrorists were in control there was no trust between the Iraqi army and the people. They just believed the terrorists but when I came I controlled this area and I had a meeting with all the sheiks and all the people and all the doctors and I made clear to them that all the terrorists and all the criminals were killers against Islam and they believed me and helped me. They gave me information and even caught terrorists and brought them to me. This is excellent. I told them that it was their job, that it was their country. All Iraqi people must fight the terrorists because it was not just the job of the Iraqi army. The terrorists were killing civilians and because of it the people believed me and they came to work with me.

How did Saddam treat you since you were in a different tribe than him?

General Ali: He was a bad guy against all of the Iraqi people not just my tribe.

Have you liked working with the American soldiers?

General Ali: Yes, yes, yes. They believe me and I believe them. All the soldiers that have worked here know General Ali. I invite them to my house to eat with me and to train with me. I know they came to help the Iraqi people. That is why I work with them, that is why I tell my people the truth about the coalition. Before they might have disliked the US army because they did not have the real picture of the soldiers. I told the people though how the US army fought for us and also how they did projects for us. They fixed the schools, made roads, and made many things for the people of Iraq. The people see how we caught the terrorists, how we made it safe, they see that is more comfortable then under Saddam’s regime.

Do you have a different picture of Americans now then before we came?

General Ali: It is the same for me because I know exactly why the soldiers came to Iraq. I am not a small officer (*Just incase: Brigadier General is a high rank in any army). I work with the soldiers day and night. If you work with people for three years you get to know them. You see them more than your family. You work with them more than your brother. I believe and like the soldiers. If they make mistakes I tell them because they are my friends. If they don’t know about the Iraqi people I tell them. I am a soldier and an advisor. Sometimes the soldiers did not know about the Iraqi people. I also told my friends about the soldiers: how they speak, how they shake hands, how they sit down with them. Which subject they speak on because I know the US army soldiers read before they came over here. When they came to help though they needed advisors. If there were other good advisors like me then there wouldn’t be terrorists. My people help me because they believe in me and like me. And when the terrorists came they did not believe the terrorists, they fought against the terrorists. When the terrorists came from Mosul, Ramadi, and from any other town the people would call me on my cell phone and tell me about them.

At this time in the conversation I mentioned to General Ali about the day before when I saw him coming in the main gate to our base with three terrorists in the back of a truck. He laughed and told me he received a tip from some locals and he and his men dropped everything they were doing and went out to catch the men. They were assisted by an American helicopter in the capture, which made it a combined effort. He explained to me that those same sequences of events happen often and exuded confidence in the efforts of his men and of his fellow townspeople.

The rest of the interview will be posted on Wednesday. In the second part of the interview General Ali shares his feelings about the American media, the future of the Iraqi army, and shares some words for the American people. Please spread the word about this interview. I believe what General Ali has to say needs to be heard by the whole world.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sgt. Tim Boggs' Letter To The New York Times

Sunday, June 25, 2006
Letter to NY Times

I recently wrote a letter to the NY Times in response to their decision to print information concerning a U.S. secret program designed to track financial transactions of suspected terrorists. I'll post the letter in full below. I urge everyone to write to the NY Times and their congressmen and let them know how you feel about the NY Times yet again sharing secret information with America's enemies.

Mr. Keller,

What ceases to amaze me about your paper is the lengths you are willing to go to make headlines and sell papers. Who cares if those headlines help the enemies of America, you guys are making money and that is what it is all about in the end right?

Your recent decision to publish information about a classified program intended to track the banking transactions of possible terrorists is not only detrimental to America but also to its fighting men and women overseas. I know because I am a sergeant in the army on my second tour to Iraq. As I am sure you don’t know because you aren’t in Iraq, and I am sure never will be, terrorism happens here everyday because there are rich men out there willing to support the everyday terrorist who plants bombs and shoots soldiers just to make a living. Without money terrorism in Iraq would die because there would no longer be supplies for IED’s, no mortars or RPG’s, and no motivation for people to abandon regular work in hopes of striking it rich after killing a soldier.

Throughout your article you mention that “ the banking program is a closely held secret” but the cat is out of the bag now isn’t it. Terrorists the world over can now change their practices because of your article. For some reason I think that last sentence will bring you guys pleasure. You have done something great in your own eyes-you think you have hurt the current administration while at the same time encouraging “freedom fighters” resisting the imperialism of the United States. However, I foresee a backlash coming your way. I wish I had a subscription to your paper so I could cancel it as soon as possible. But alas, that would prove a little tough right now since I am in Iraq dealing with terrorists financed by the very men you are helping.

Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers. You guys definitely provide a valuable service with your paper. Why without you how would terrorists stay one step ahead of us? I would love to hear a response as to why you deemed revealing this program a necessity, but that will probably come as soon as the government decides to finally put you guys behind bars where you belong.

Tim Boggs

Keep pressuring the NY Times and your congressmen, it the only way anything might be done about this situation. Tell your congressmen that what the Times is sharing with the world is hurting American soldiers. Feel free to copy my letter in full and send it to your congressmen as well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Of Marines and Congress "men": A Soldier's Perspective


I found this at T. F. Boggs site: Boggs is on his 2nd tour in Iraq.

Monday, May 29, 2006
Of Marines and Congress"men"

Lately a lot of media coverage has been directed towards the actions of a few marines in Haditha, Iraq last November. The marines killed 24 Iraqis after a roadside bomb hit their convoy on November 19th 2005. After the dust settled on that day 1 marine and 24 Iraqis were dead, and of the 24 dead Iraqis 15 of them were supposedly innocent civilians. Since then an investigation has been opened concerning the events and everyone has an opinion about what happened that day. Congressman, ex-marine, and failed human being John Murtha has already publicly declared that the marines killed the civilians “in cold blood.” All this before the trial has even taken place.

What you will not hear in the media and what no one but someone in the military could understand is that sometimes, and I am most likely hanging myself out to dry here, the killing of innocent people in a war zone is understandable. Now notice that I did not condone the killing of innocent people but instead I said that it is understandable coming from the viewpoint of someone who has served in a combat zone. In no way is killing an innocent person right, rather, it is a morally reprehensible thing to do. However, in the heat of the moment, when split second decisions mean the difference between life and death, your mind can become cluttered and the will to survive takes over.

Most of the marines there that day were on their third deployment to Iraq and most likely had seen their fill of death and destruction. I am speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has seen limited combat action but I also understand what it is like to venture back into a combat zone after making it out safely once before. On my first deployment I sought out as much adventure as I could possibly get, which wasn’t much. The whole year was a new adventure for me and was possibly the best time of my life. My second deployment has been much different though. I do my job without question but I often have feelings of restraint and at times simply want to make it back home in one functional piece.

The thing to understand about combat veterans is that they can grow tiresome of the day-to-day bullcrap that they have to put up with i.e. ever changing Rules of Engagement, an unidentified enemy, and the restraints placed upon them in the name of “winning hearts and minds.” Oftentimes it can become too much to continually watch your buddies die or get hurt when there is nothing you can do in their defense. Such is the nature of IED’s. When convoys are hit with roadside bombs there is oftentimes nothing that can be done at the moment. Terrorists or criminals, however you want to look at them, hide some distance away out of sight and detonate IED’s or even place the IED’s in such a manner that they are victim detonated i.e. land mines, trip wires, and laser beams. It is a frustrating situation when someone you know gets hurt and there is nothing you can do about it.

I imagine the marines that day were fed up with all of the aforementioned things. Sometimes it simply becomes too much to deal with day after day. Have you ever had a bad day at work and wanted to snap at the smallest thing? Have you ever been fed up with your spouse and snapped at your children as a result? Although not on the same scale as killing, these examples are much like what soldiers face daily. There is only so much you can expect of 18-25 year olds given the task to kill bad guys. When you were 18 did you have the benefit of a lifetime of experiences and wisdom? Do you think you would be able to watch your best friend die and then restrain yourself when you knew his killer was within a quarter mile of you?

And we wonder why the media is so incapable of reporting on such issues. Have they themselves lived through the things they are reporting on? Have they ever spent time in the military? Are they professional enough to report what happens day in and day out without interjecting their own opinion? Most of the time I would say no to each one of these questions. There are a few exceptional reporters but for the most part they fail miserably when it comes to military matters, and these past few years it is the military that matters whether you believe we should be in Iraq or not.

Now the likes of John Murtha and the rest of the pathetic lefties want to turn this incident into another Abu Gharib so that the president’s approval rating will drop even further and will give them an edge when they put up whatever pitiful candidate they can muster in 2008. The state of politics is so pathetic that politicians are willing to see the lives of heroic soldiers ruined in order to keep their job. They are willing to damage the reputation of America and make a mockery of it’s military in order stay in Washington.

I asked the Iraqis I work with the other day what they thought about the incident at Abu Gharib and they replied that is was a shameful thing. When they finished answering I asked them what they thought about Iraqis killing American contractors and then dragging their bodies through the streets and celebrating. They looked at me and replied that that was also a shameful thing. When I told them that Americans were horrified about the actions of the soldiers at Abu Gharib they looked bewildered and ashamed that their own people celebrated the death of American civilians. When are we going to start applying the same standards to the Iraqis that we do to our soldiers? Is it okay for them to kill our civilians while we bemoan even the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians?

Is it too much to ask that our politicians defend their military when it sacrifices so much for them? Is it too much to ask that our government stand behind these marines when they need their help the most? Is it too much to ask that the marines be given a fair trial before lowlifes like John Murtha condemn them in the court of public opinion before their real trial even takes place?

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Meet The Amazing Buck Sargent

By now I've stopped being amazed by the talented American Soldiers I continually come across who are blogging on the world wide web. There's just too many. Buck Sargent's blog, AMERICAN CITIZEN SOLDIER, is not only well written, but insightful and philisophical. He also is working on some very good videos, which I gather will be made into one continuous piece of work. He's definitely worth checking out if your interested in what's happening in both Afghanistan, where he was posted in 2004 and Iraq where he is currently posted. What follows is one of his posts. It's a great read.

It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger.
-Theodore Roosevelt

Reverse Engineering
Failed totalitarian states like Iraq are case studies in field-tested anarchy; societies with very few hard and fast rules and a glaring lack of authority figures to enforce the ones that do exist. In many respects, Mad Max would feel right at home.

The Iraqis are presently reverse engineering a modern society from the pavement up. As it stands, holding the line on mortality rates is clearly a bigger priority than holding down insurance rates. (Not that any of them have insurance, mind you.) But take traffic patterns, for instance. Vehicle ownership has exploded since the fall of Saddam, and many drivers appear to observe the same right of way rules as do teenage mallrats, which is to say not much observance at all. Here in Mosul, Iraqis often travel down whichever side of the street is most convenient for them at the time. They break for no one, not even donkeys. They speed everywhere because they can; the Iraqi police are understandably more concerned with fighting off ambushes than with setting up speed traps. And you can forget about trying to merge with a friendly wave: it’s dog-eat-mangy dog out on the highways and drive-byways. Our Strykers receive deference only because they weigh 22 tons and wield .50 caliber machine guns. Displacing oxygen with your ride apparently means never having to sit through rush hour.

I reflected on this with one of my soldiers while in a long-term surveillance of a high traffic area and a common site for insurgent mischief.

"You know, Gunderson," I said. "If I lived in this country, I think the only traffic laws I’d follow would be yielding, and only then because I’d be wary of getting T-boned in intersections or sideswiped by fast-moving convoys. I’d speed everywhere, I’d blow through red lights, pull u-turns whenever I felt like it, steer against traffic... I bet I could make daily commuting an extreme sport. What do you think?"

"I would drive backwards."

He said this without a even a hint of irony. He would drive everywhere he went in reverse, simply because he could. I believe him.

Splitting Crosshairs
In the twilight hours of a seemingly average day in February, an Iraqi pedestrian tossed a hand grenade at our platoon during a routine foot patrol on a bustling market boulevard. My roommate Sgt. Sweet was walking point on the left side of the road with myself in the median to his right and Sgt. Romero several meters directly behind him. Sweet had just crossed the intersection I was preparing to step across when small arms fire was directed across our front halted us in our tracks. (On the receiving end, AK fire often sounds closer to firecrackers than gunshots, causing momentary sensory confusion.)

Within seconds a sharp explosion erupted on our immediate left, directly between Sweet and Romero. My initial read of the situation screamed "IED" as dirt and debris shot across the roadway. Sweet had been knocked down by the blast and peppered with shrapnel in his lower legs and backside. As he later recounted, he heard the spoon of the grenade clink on the ground as it was hurled in his direction and had time only to turn away before it exploded. Romero saw it come toward him and scuttle in the ubiquitous trash and refuse that lines every sidewalk. The concussion rendered him momentarily senseless, wounding him in the inner thigh and lower legs with nearly a dozen shards of searing metal. (Another chunk we'd later discover embedded in the forehead of his Kevlar helmet.) Walking behind us were our platoon leader and RTO, also hit with minor leg wounds. I was directly in the open, smack dab in the middle of the avenue, and somehow I emerged completely unscathed. Call it the luck of the Irish. I call it dumb luck.

I glanced to my rear and saw the majority of the platoon instinctively move to cover behind an adjoining wall, but I still could not see Sweet or Romero. Only seconds had elapsed, and it had still not occurred to me that the blast had not been a much larger and more powerful bomb. Initially I feared they had been vaporized. But as I moved out of the road toward his last known position, I witnessed Sweet materialize out of a cloud of dust and smoke in slow-motion Dolby Surreal. You don't easily forget something like that.

"Are you hit?"
"Yeah," he said hobbling toward me.
"Can you make it?"

Looking back, I suppose I could have dragged him to cover against his will and put myself in for a Bronze Star with V device. Then I could run for the Senate! Maybe next time.

Together we fell back to a position behind a nearby wall since taken up by the rest of the platoon, where Sgt. Romero had already holed up. Sweet collapsed on the sidewalk beside him for buddy-aid while we waited on our platoon medic to get there. As our Stryker vehicles sped to the scene to medevac the wounded, local traffic continued to bear down on our position as the remaining daylight faded. Several soldiers stepped out into the road in a futile attempt to ward it off utilizing their tac-lights and weapon lasers. One particular blue sedan sped around the corner at a high rate of speed, refusing to stop until warning shots were fired, violently braking it to a halt. In the chaotic aftermath, an Iraqi woman riding in the passenger seat lay dead, a tragic but unavoidable casualty in a war where every speeding car is a potential bomb.

This was not a lapse in discipline on our part. It was not like the movies depicting rattled soldiers firing from the hip at anything that walks, crawls, or breathes. It was a by-the-book application of ROE, and a textbook answer to the question of what results when a guerrilla "resistance" takes their ideological fight to the streets and neighborhoods of a populace whose "honor" they claim to be protecting. Iraqi bloggers like my good pal A Citizen of Mosul will likely post about another innocent woman gunned down by the bloodthirsty Americans. Never mind that several school-age bystanders were wounded in the initial attack. We’ll probably get blamed for that as well.

In the immediate aftermath our remaining elements fanned out and searched several blocks and nearby homes for suspects with the assistance of the IPs, but by then the effort was already a day late and thousands of dinars short; clearly they were long gone. Such is the nature of the hit and run tactics routinely employed by the ghostly "insurgents." I still regret not focusing more during the initial moments, as the perpetrator likely had been waiting in the shadows just at the periphery of my sight. If I had only caught him in mid-toss I would have had him dead to rights, and my roommate wouldn’t in the future have to drop his trousers every time he attempts to pass through airport security. I’d like a do-over, please.

From a purely tactical standpoint, whoever pulled off this minor and relatively ineffective ambush failed. But from an Al Jazeera viewpoint, it was a success. U.S. soldiers got hurt, the bad guys got away, and another Iraqi civilian was sent to the morgue.

Over here, the devil is always in the details.

'The Lil' Fella's Okay'
All American casualties are given the opportunity if able to place a call home from the CASH (combat support hospital) to inform their loved ones of their injuries and to head off the Army’s vague and impersonal notification process. (If they are incapacitated, the unit’s commander will typically make the call himself to provide families an honest account of what happened and how serious the injury really is.) These calls also serve to stymie any resultant hyperventilation on the homefront by apprehensive hausfraus. But not always.

Some soldiers fear having to make this ominous call home more than the actual reason behind it. When Sgt. Blakely and I had tried to get Sweet to roll over on his stomach for treatment, the first words out of his mouth through a grimace and clenched teeth were, "My wife is going to be pissed." He was already dreading having to make The Call before the bleeding had even stopped.

Sgt. Romero dialed his wife as soon as he got out of surgery to remove the shrapnel from his upper thighs and groin. "She was pretty freaked out at first when I explained exactly where and how bad I was hit, but she seemed to calm down a bit after I reassured her, "Don't worry Honey, the Lil' Fella’s okay.'"

And as for the reaction of Sgt. Sweet’s "Household Six?" Let’s just say he called that one right on the money.

IED Pluribus Unum
No sooner had Sweet and Romero returned to duty than did our squad’s Stryker, aka the USS* Dirty Snatch, hit a roadside bomb that showered debris -- mainly dirt and pavement -- across her bow and down inside her hatches. Whoever triggered the blast must have buried it way too deep and suffered from a bit of premature initiation because we sailed through without even a hint of damage, notwithstanding the bowling ball size chunks of blacktop that bombarded the topside and open hatches. (I’d just as soon not take one of those to the face at Mach 2, thank you very much.) Although at the time, Sweet and I were actually riding below deck flipping through back issues of US Weekly and other trash tabloids that litter the interior of our truck. So while Gundy, Evans, and Romero were busy dodging an inverse meteor shower, there we were absorbing useless factoids about celebrities. It gets boring on patrol, until it suddenly and violently stops getting boring. But then it usually reverts right back to soul crushing boredom again. It's a vicious cycle!
*United States Stryker

Say what you will about the Stryker combat vehicle, though: the Dirty Snatch is one tough wench. As soon as our ears stopped ringing and we checked all our fingers and toes (they were all still there), we let out a collective war cry of defiant bravado that was a sight and sound to behold. It's probably not what most people expect to read or hear about -- soldiers actually cheering after an IED attack like their team just won the Rose Bowl -- but at that particular moment there was nowhere else I would have wanted to be. One second we’re reading about TomKat’s impending breakup and marveling over how much weight Britney has put on since having her baby, and the next the world is blowing up all around us. But we're still here, and we're still in the fight. That's all you can really ask for. And that's all that matters.

Full disclosure: Once all the excitement wound down and the adrenaline wore off, yes, Sweet and I went right back to reading our magazines.

Counting Sheepdogs
This next greatest generation of soldiers is made up entirely of volunteers -- not a draftee among them -- and I’ve never been around a more aggressive or fearless group of Americans: guys who never fail to move to the sound of the guns, if for no other reason than because it’s their duty. (Plus, it alleviates the monotony.) But I don't believe an American army has ever fielded a more professional cadre of warriors. Admittedly, if you take a look back on our nation’s long and storied history, that’s a bold statement. But it’s a Pepsi challenge I’d be willing to take.

Consider the following from On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by retired Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman:

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath -- a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

The Iraqi Army used to be the wolf. But now this new collection of Kurdish and Arabian knights we’ve built from the boots-on-the-ground up fight him alongside us. They’ve progressed from right-seat riding in 2005 to left-seat driving in 2006, and at the current pace a sizable number of them will be flying solo by early next year. We’ve remade them into our own image to hunt the wolf, and so far they’ve stunned him with their aggressiveness. The battalion of soldiers we work with in our (soon to be their) sector operate out of tiny but aptly named FOB Resolve.

re·solve [ri zólv]
1. determination: firmness of purpose
2. decision: a choice to do something
3. change: to convert into something else

These courageous Kurdish warriors can barely pronounce the word, but they’re living it every single day all the same. As the late Great Communicator once put it: "Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."

Iraqi Five-O
I'm willing to bet you didn’t hear about any of this in the Stateside press, although it did merit a small blurb deep inside last week’s Stars and Stripes:

U.S. and Iraqi security forces rescued three Iraqi hostages on Tuesday who had been held in Mosul, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
The three hostages were reportedly chained to the wall of the basement in a house in the northern Iraqi city; there was no information on the hostages’ identities, whom their captors were or why they were kidnapped.
The rescue team included U.S. soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade and the Iraqi 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division, and members of the Iraqi police. There were no casualties during the rescue, which followed tips from local Iraqis, officials said.

I can vouch for this story: we were there. 3rd Platoon was launched as a quick reaction force to back up the IA and a fellow Stryker platoon on the scene providing outer cordon. The hostages were indeed chained in a veritable dungeon whose stairwell was concealed by a false floor tile, admittedly something we may not have been capable of discovering on our own. But the Iraqis are old hat at such tricks. Dungeons were par for the course under the Baathist reign of terror.

But not all of the story is accurate, however. We were not supported by Iraqi forces, the Iraqi forces were supported by us. They worked the lead, they conducted the reconnaissance, they initiated the raid, and they ultimately secured the hostages. They did make one big mistake in tipping off the kidnappers by reconnoitering the site a little too closely and indiscreetly (a hamfisted tactic they likely learned from us), but they later made up for it. Their emplaced sniper/killer teams (SKTs) overwatched the house long enough for the suspects to foolishly return to it and stroll right into the dragnet waiting for them. Bravo, fellas. Another step forward.

Deep Thoughts from the Crapper II
Elements of our squad spent several days back in March holed up in a "hide sight" (in this particular case an Iraqi residence), staking out a known IED emplacement route that had in recent months become an O'Pucker Factor fun park ride as our unit's patrols routinely ran this gauntlet of roadside bombs. Our orders were explicit: apprehend if possible, eliminate if necessary, anyone observed digging or attempting to bury objects in the median, i.e., things that make you go Boom.

Most Iraqi homes don’t have toilets; they instead squat over recessed porcelain bowls in the bathroom floor connected to sewage pipes that lead to Allah knows where. (From the stench of the neighborhoods, they obviously don’t go far enough.) I was determined to hold out, but by about the third day I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to do the hajji squat. My only question: How on Allah's brown earth do the locals maintain this quad-quaking stress position while reading their morning paper? They must have thighs of steel.

We Can't Do It!
Vocal critics of the war continue to harangue me incessantly, snidely baiting me on what I think "victory" in the war will ultimately consist of. These Rosie the Rioters and original cynics don't really want an answer and they certainly don't want to hear any solutions. They just want to keep playing the same blame game over and over and over until their self-fulfilling defeat and retreat-ism is vindicated. It's an exercise in futility on my part, but I usually refer these "type nays" to the officially stated position of the Commander in Chief anyway. He's been hammering this point home for awhile now:

"Victory will be achieved by meeting certain objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country. These objectives — not timetables set by politicians in Washington — will drive our force levels in Iraq."

There you have it. Is that really so tough to grasp?

Mosul’s Most Wanted
Major Fallah, the supercop of southeastern Mosul, while appearing as a guest on a local Iraqi talk-radio show, took a call from a Moslawi citizen forwarding a tip about a suspicious person in his neighborhood. Fallah listened intently between sips of chai tea, asked a few pointed questions, and then stood up and declared: "I’ll be back." He then turned and walked right out of the studio leaving the radio host likely dumbfounded.

Within the hour he returned and theatrically announced over the airwaves: "He’s been detained."

From what I've seen and heard about Major Fallah, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if he'd performed a spot-on "Shatner roll" across the hood of his SUV on the way out.

Not to be outdone, our 3-4-2 Iraqi army counterparts, responding to another tip from locals, recently excavated an enormous cache of artillery, mortar, and recoilless rifle shells from the muddy banks of the Tigris, wading into the water and pulling round after round from the water. Every one of these shells would be enough to inflict serious carnage on an American or Iraqi patrol if emplaced as a roadside bomb. We won't leave the wire in anything less than monstrously armored vehicles, yet they still roll out day after day in thin-skinned Nissan pickup trucks. When it comes to IEDs, they're about as protected as a bicycle. I say this not to excoriate the pace of their aquisition process; better equipment is slowly but surely being provided. I say it only because I'm not familiar with the Kurdish or Arabic phrase for "Got balls?"

Dismantling the enemies infrastructure and support system is a task that homegrown Iraqi fighters are clearly better suited for. No matter how many months we spend here, we will never be able to match their ability to shake out the bad guys and spot the out of the ordinary. With an enemy that bobs and weaves among the populace and fights only on their own terms, the Iraqis can sniff them out a lot faster than we can snuff them out. This has always been their beat and their responsibility, and they’re well on their way to finally owning up to it. Every step they take forward in reclaiming their country is one more we can step back to repatriating to ours. Isn't that what everybody claims to want?

I'm beginning to love the smell of chai in the morning. Smells like... victory.

Check out Buck Sargent here:

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"The impossible is accomplished with the Lord's help, and a few Marines."

I've just discovered this blog, Green.....again, written by a Marine officer in Iraq. His writing is quite powerful. In the piece below he writes about young grunts he's serving with.

March 22, 2006

The Boy Grunt

I see him, or one like him, almost daily, standing in line at the mess hall, waiting his turn at the phone center, or sometimes even at the base chapel on Sunday. He lives out in the city, sleeping on floors, on rooftops, or in the walled courtyards of Fallujah with his buddies, surviving on adrenaline and MRE’s. He comes back to the camp periodically to get a shower, a hot meal, a haircut, and some clean cammies. Maybe even a day off to send home an e-mail or make a telephone call. But it never lasts. Soon enough, he’s back outside the wire, doing what grunts do.

Sometimes his youth is almost astonishing. His face shows the teenager that he is. He laughs and jokes and talks loudly about his girl back home, or his car, or how PFC so-and-so made a fool of himself while out on the last operation. He’d probably never been away from home prior to joining the Marines. Probably still has a room at his parents’ house back in the states, waiting for him when he gets out after his enlistment or goes home on leave.

I look at him, and he seems just like a kid coming home from high school football practice sweaty and tired, but happy. Only this kid didn’t just come from football practice. He just came in from standing a security post where he didn’t know whether or not a sniper was sighting in on him from the back of a shadowy room, away from the window so as to be invisible. Or he might have came in from manning a vehicle checkpoint, where every car that rolled toward him may or may not have carried a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, about to detonate and send him and his buddies all to their maker. Or maybe he just came off a long, hot day of foot patrols through streets where the children of the neighborhood smiled and waved, but none of the adults did. And yet there he is, full of smiles and jokes, acting as though there was never really any danger at all. Is it courage? Bravado? Blissful ignorance? Or is it living in the moment simply because he never knows which day might be his last?

Occasionally I see him with reality in his eyes. Usually right after he pulls up at the surgical unit to drop off one or more of his buddies, broken and bleeding from a firefight or an IED. It’s then that he no longer looks eighteen years old, shaken by the realization that he is not immortal. There’s no talk of cars or girls or video games. It’s at these times that the visage of youth is gone, replaced by one of stark reality. The reality that we are all made of flesh, blood, and bone, and anyone can die on any given day.

At these times there’s often something else in his expression that he cannot hide: anger; outright rage that someone did that to his friends, and with it an unquenchable thirst for payback. The need to bring violence and punishment upon the enemy because he desecrated one of the most cherished things a Marine has: the friendship of his buddies. It’s a need that I hope he gets a chance to satisfy.

I look at this boy, a young man really, and wonder what will become of him. Will he go home, get out of the Marine Corps when his hitch is up, and go to college? Will he be the guy in class who is a few years older than his peers, who’s seen and done things that those other kids will never understand? Maybe he’ll try to explain, or then again maybe he’ll just try to blend in and never bring it up. Or he might just get a job somewhere and be the young war veteran who gains the instant respect of his co-workers. Will he go home to his family and his old friends and not know how to act around them because he thinks they would never understand him again? Or worst of all, will his tour end tragically? Will my team answer a call one day to send this young man home, while back in the states his parents answer a dreadful knock on the door to find two Marines in dress uniform bearing terrible news? But then again, maybe he’ll be just fine, going home to catalog his wartime experiences as an important, defining time of his life, and simply move on.

Whatever the conclusion, one thing is perfectly clear. Despite all the naysayers, America is still perfectly capable of making young men who willingly set aside the frivolities of youth and step up. They sacrifice their personal lives, put their ambitions on hold, and say goodbye to their friends and family, only to subject themselves to untold pain, hardship, and perhaps even death. Boys one day, grunts the next.