Tuesday, June 24, 2008

U.S. to turn over control of Al-Anbar to Iraqis

The US military is to hand over security control of the former Sunni insurgent bastion of Anbar province to Iraqi forces in the next 10 days, a US military spokesman announced yesterday.

"The handover of Anbar is expected to take place in the next 10 days," Lieutenant David Russell told reporters, declining to provide an exact date.

Anbar would be the tenth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed back to Iraqi forces by the US-led coalition amid a push to transfer security control of the entire country back to Baghdad.

Anbar province in western Iraq, the country's largest, was the epicentre of a brutal Sunni Arab-led fight against the US military after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

In the early years of the insurgency, US forces fought raging battles in the province, especially in the capital Ramadi and the nearby city of Fallujah.

Fallujah became the symbol of the ultra-violent insurgency before it was virtually razed to the ground in November 2004 by a US military assault launched to seize control of the city.

This province was being touted as a write off on only two years ago. Marine CAPT Travis Patriquin and Sheik Sattar, both since killed in Anbar, are largely responsible for setting in motion what became the Anbar Awakening. May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Colby Buzzell is called back to duty in Iraq

In the summer of 2004 I came across a crazy milblogger called CBFTW. His blog was called, 'My War: Fear and Loathing in Iraq.' Buzzell had never written anything substantial in his life before and when a friend told him about blogs, he created his own to keep from going crazy during some very heavy combat missions. As it turned out he is a natural at writing in a gripping but funny Gonzo stream of conciousness style.

I created this blog just to have a way to post comments on his. I never really intended to write in this space. Buzzell became a sensation in the blogossphere and inspired many others. My favorite CB inspired blog from Iraq was of none other than The Suspect!

CB as everyone calls him was with the very first Stryker Brigade ever deployed. Prior to deployment the Strykers had a lot of detractors but in the field they proved to be a major success story.

The Pentagon started reading his blog! They didn't know whether to shit or go blind. There were at that time no regulations that covered blogs. What to do? Finally he was told that he could keep on writing but wouldn't be allowed to go outside the wire any more. He loved his job as the M240 Bravo Machine Gunner for his Stryker so he shut her down.

When he got back he wrote a book about his experiences, MY WAR: Killing Time in Iraq, which I highly reccommend. What follows is written by CB:


Name: Colby BuzzellPosting date: 6/5/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Milblog: My War

When I voluntarily enlisted in the Army, I remember asking my recruiter about the fine print on the contract about being called back up to active duty once my enlistment was completed. He assured me not to worry, that every contract said that and it would only happen if "World War III" broke out.

That was a little over five years ago. After serving in Iraq, I elected to use my GI Bill to enroll in a photography course at San Francisco City College. I felt good, and I had a feeling that the days to come were all going to be good as well.

On way out of my building two weeks ago, I checked my mailbox and found a letter from the Department of the Army with "Important Document" printed in all caps on the middle. I immediately felt sick, so I went back to my room, locked the door, grabbed a beer from the fridge and stared out my window for a while.

People outside were all wearing sunglasses and walking about enjoying the sun. I took a picture.
I got out of the Army three long years ago, and since then I've never really talked ill of the military, the people in it, or expressed any regrets at all about enlisting. If I had to do it all over again, I honestly would have. Granted, I got lucky and made it back with all my body parts intact. If I hadn't, my answer might be a little bit different than what it is now.

As terrible as this might sound, whenever someone asks me about enlisting, I'm tempted to encourage them. I figure that the more people who enlist, the slimmer the chances that I'll get called back up. But of course this is ridiculous: No one in their right mind would enlist now, whereas I've already signed the papers. I'm now going back to Iraq for a second time because people like me -- existing service members -- are the only people at the Army's disposal.

Looking back, would I have joined the military if I were doing something that I loved? Or had a job that paid $100,000 a year? Probably not. Those are the men and women I feel that we need to mail these letters to.

Let's see what happens when they receive letters telling them to put on a uniform and ship out immediately to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many people believe that the draft ended the Vietnam War. I'm convinced that reinstating the draft would definitely end this war. Rich, connected people will always find a way to evade mandatory service, but what about the rest of America? The middle class -- people with good jobs and nice lives -- would perhaps riot if the government even suggested that it expected from them what the Army expects from veterans.

What if there were a war and none of the veterans who were called up showed up?

Every time when I hear about a soldier's death now -- which is always reported very briefly -- there always seems to be a short mention that it was the soldier's second or third deployment, and now my name might be among them.

I know I won't get any sympathy at all from the "you dumb ass you signed the contract!" crowd, which is fine, but I really was looking forward to applying my GI Bill to photography classes so I could learn how to take pictures. But now, thanks to not enough Americans volunteering for military service, I have to worry about my picture appearing on the second or third page of my hometown paper with the words, "it was his second deployment" in my obituary.

Colby Buzzell proudly served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003-04. He is the author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq, for which he won the Lulu Blooker prize in 2007. He lives in San Francisco and spends his free time going on long walks with his camera.

Note: This post was previously published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Friday, June 06, 2008

D-Day 6/6/44

Today is the day to remember the Greatest Generation. This is footage of British, Canadian and American troops landing at Normandy. The Canadians at Juno Beach can be recognized by the house in the foreground.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Highway of Heroes Honours the Fallen

When Canadian Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan the do so from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario. When Soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice return, there is a Ramp Ceremony at CFB Trenton. After the families have paid their respects the bodies of the fallen are driven by hearse to Toronto for autopsy. The families follow in a limo.

People spontaneously started lining the overpasses with Canadian flags as an expression of solidarity with the families and to honour the fallen. This practice grew as more Soldiers were killed. The stetch of highway 401 for CFB Trenton to Toronto has been officially renamed the Highway of Heroes by the provincial government.

This past Friday there was a rally on the Highway of Heroes.

'Red Rally' honours fallen soldiers

Cheers greet Highway of Heroes convoy for 83 lost soldiers

The Toronto Sun

Juanita Bartsche misses her son Cole's smile every day.

The 23-year-old soldier was sent to Afghanistan on two tours of duty -- but he didn't make it home the second time around last July.

"He was with six guys and they ran over a bomb and got blown up," said Bartsche, 50, while tears welled up. "He loved being in the military. It was just a calling -- the people and children there made him want to go back. My biggest fear is that people will forget him."

Bartsche came from Whitecourt, Alta., to Downsview Park yesterday to honour her son among the 83 fallen troops who fought in the war-torn country.

A massive "Red Rally" convoy estimated to be 1,000 motorcycles and vehicles long snaked along Hwy. 401 between Trenton and Toronto throughout the afternoon to retrace the route fallen soldiers take when they are repatriated to Canada.

The rally included 83 red vehicles, the donated lead car bearing the names of all those who have died while serving in Afghanistan.

A painted transport truck depicting a Canadian Forces motif and a bus loaded with the relatives of 13 deceased soldiers also joined the convoy, which was greeted by cheering supporters at every overpass along the highway.

Lance Arnold solemnly watched the bagpipe players later in the afternoon as he recalled his time with his 32-year-old brother Glen, who was killed by a suicide bomber in September 2006.

"My family didn't get the opportunity to make the trip with him after he was repatriated," said Arnold, 26. "We went back to Petawawa where the services were held, so this is the first chance to see the banners on the overpasses.

"It breaks my heart and I appreciate it a lot. This is the first chance I've met (all the families) and everyone understands what we're going through," Arnold said.

Organizer Brian Muntz, whose parents were liberated by Canadian troops in the Netherlands during World War II, said it was important to preserve and celebrate Canada's armed forces heritage.

"There's a heritage in Trenton that every Canadian soldier that has been lost in battle has repatriated there. It's coming here to this park which is a heritage of our forces base."
Muntz added that all proceeds from yesterday's event would benefit war veterans by buying beds that vibrate to signal a fire alarm. Many veterans have suffered hearing loss since returning home.

The original founders of the Red Fridays campaign, which urges Canadians to support the military by wearing red on the last day of the work week, raised concerns about the rally earlier in the week, suggesting some military families didn't approve of having their loved ones' names printed on a vehicle.

"This is all about respect for the families, who have suffered the ultimate sacrifice," Friends of Veterans Canada president Randy Young told the Sun. "This isn't political."