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, May 24, 2006

As The Front Gate Turns

As the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into countless convoys coming and going I spend my time figuring out ways to stay entertained at the front gate to my FOB. We have already exhausted the “icebox of death” game where we immerse our arms elbow deep in a cooler full of water and ice to see who can endure the freezing pain the longest. After a super soldier blew the previous record out of the water with a 30-minute submersion the elbow game took a back seat to the head submersion game. Unlike putting your arm in the water, doing so with your head provides some adverse results. Swollen head, throbbing eyes, and loss of balance are just a few of the side effects that result from placing your head in freezing water. So far no one can beat 31 seconds.

An old favorite of ours is the “How much would it take for you to…” or the “If you could-then…” game. This game can take various twists and turns. For example the other day I asked my buddy several questions including “How much would it take for you to lick both sides of the lock on the inside of the port-o-john door?” and “If you could punch a soldier of your choosing directly in the face but had to stay in Iraq for another month as a result of doing so, would you do it?” These questions oftentimes lead to hours of similar questions and are a great way to pass time while we sweat through the nametapes on our uniforms as I often do even though they have Velcro on the backside. If someone could seriously explain how I do this then I would be grateful.

The other day a convoy of British contract workers came up to the front gate and had to wait while I found out exactly where they needed to go. I got to talking to one of them and it turned out that we were at the same base during my first deployment. Apparently we hit it off well enough that he opened the back door to his truck and showed me his convoy essentials: One 20 inch television, one Xbox, and one black market Iraqi RPG. “There you go mate, I never leave home without them.” “Hmm” I thought to myself, “I bet this would be a great guy to hang out with.” So after finding where they were staying for the night I invited myself over and we ended up having a famous time together. Cheers mate!

The single best source of entertainment has and will remain to be the Iraqi army soldiers that we work with. Each day brings a few new soldiers to the front gate. Of course we have our regular “front-gaters” as I like to call them but the new soldiers are always the most fun to talk to. Just the other day we had an Iraqi soldier we called Creepy and for obvious reasons. One of the regular IA soldiers at the front gate described Creepy as schway mijnoon (a little crazy). Well after a spending a few hours with Creepy I came to realize that he was not simply a little crazy but as one of our interpreters said he was “officially crazy.” He talked on and on to us in Arabic and looked confused when we spoke English to him. He also took to meowing at one of my soldiers and if you were within close enough proximity to him you could bet your bottom dollar that you were going to get kissed.

My best Iraqi friend is a chubby 21-year-old sergeant named Ahmed. After spending hours wrestling, punching, and making fun of each other we settle down long enough to drink some chai before we go at it again. He is the type of kid that seems happy just to be alive. I have yet to see him without a smile on his face or a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I can never seem to get anything over on him either. Case in point: the other day he was going to open one of the gates to let a convoy out and had trouble getting the gate out of the broken latch. As I watched him struggle I said “Put some back into it fat boy!” thinking that he wouldn’t understand me. As soon as the words left my mouth he shot back “Oh you think me fat boy. Ok Sgt. Tim give me food. I fat I need food.”

Another IA friend of mine, Hamid, a self-described 32-year-old happily married man, is as funny as he is hairy. One day we were joking around about suicide bombers driving up to the gate and he said in the case of a suspicious vehicle he would search it for me so that it was he that would get blown up and not I. He said that it was his job and that he would gladly do it to save my life. I reminded him that it was also my job and that if he was going to die that I wanted to be there with him. I told him we could go to Allah together and continue to be friends in heaven. He agreed and we made it final with a hug.

The best interactions with the IA ensue when I can get a female soldier to visit the front gate for a while. Iraqis, and I guess Arabs in general, do not have the social interaction with females as Americans do. They have limited contact with women before they marry them and cannot be anywhere as informal with Arab women as they can be with American soldiers. When a female comes within site of the front gate or calls on the radio it is a matter of seconds before I hear about it from the IA. “Sgt. Tim bring her here!” I have two options in this scenario, 1.) I can lie to them and tell them that she has something to do and cannot come over or 2.) I can lie to her and bring her up to the front gate on false pretenses where I act as kind of a pimp-like middleman. As soon as the female heeds my call and comes over the IA begin yelling for a camera, which of course only I have so then I take on the role of photographer. Of course I am not in any of these pictures, which leads to a reverse Freudian jealously on my part. “Hey guys, I am over here. Anyone want a picture with me? Anyone?”

Hamid is the best with the girls and often says things like “Tim I was going Special Forces in a month, but now I cannot.” “Why is that Hamid?” I say. “I have given my heart to her (points to the girl of the day) and it will break if I leave to go Special Forces.” He then takes to walking around all day telling people that he is tired and clutches his heart prompting others to ask him what is wrong. When they ask him what is wrong he feigns being sick and tells them that he can no longer go on with life unless the girl of the day will marry him. Of course all of this is a ruse but it is fun nonetheless. If you girls out there are lacking attention then join the military and come to Iraq because you will get all that you can take and more from the IA.

All in all I continue to be amused while working at the front gate to my FOB. The job is menial but important nonetheless. I have probably given my “Hey everyone is a cog in the wheel” speech ten times in three weeks on guard duty and I am beginning to think I might have to give it to myself soon. I wouldn’t trade the interaction I have with Iraqis for anything though, and hold the communication with them of utmost importance. If I am able to somehow bridge the divide between our cultures, and come to new understandings, then I know I will have accomplished something great.

As I sat the other night talking to one of our local interpreters I was describing the joys of America to him. “Just think about getting in my car and driving wherever we wanted to. We could go to New York and I would show you the city. Then we could go to Washington D.C. and perhaps visit the Iraqi ambassador. After that we could go to Miami and you could see the ocean for the very first time.” He responded as he looked off into the distance, “I think, I think this is a dream that will never come true.”

I have a feeling that it will come true sooner than he thinks.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oh The Army

I have been holding off writing about the army in a negative light for some time now but I feel that my current situation warrants some type of discussion. First off let me make a few things clear. The army is a great institution and our country would be nonexistent without it. I consider myself privileged to be able to soldier it up for a few years. I feel like I have been allowed to join a group with a great history of men and women who have, throughout our history as a country, fought to preserve our way of life. With that said I want to voice a few concerns I have with the army.

A lot of people have a high-minded view of the military in general. Whether those people are ex-military or just plain old civilians they tend toward trusting those in the military, and while I don’t believe this is a completely unfounded belief I think that it is sometimes misled. People in the military are just people, plain and simple. We are the type of people you might see everyday in the work place, in school, or on the street. Those of us who are reserves and guardsmen are the people you see everyday and there is nothing really special about us. Granted we do a job that a lot of people are unwilling to do, or just plain not into, but other then that there is not much of a difference.

A week or so ago my father brought to my attention a post on Michelle Malkin’s website about American gang related graffiti in Iraq. He asked me what I thought about it and for the life of me I couldn’t come up with an answer. So what I thought, not everyone in the military is a model soldier fighting for high-minded ideals. There are people from all walks of life in the military including gang members, graffiti artists, wife beaters, racists, and as I like to call them “oxygen thieves.” Just because there are a few bad apples it doesn’t reflect on the army as a whole, of course that is unless you are a member of the MSM whereupon you would focus all of your attention on the acts of a few and draw irrational conclusions about the rest of the military.

So where am I going with all of this. Hmm not really sure but allow me for a minute to complain about the army. The army, like many civilian organizations I am sure, could be run much more effectively on the company level with less people. Example: My unit often times has to do PMCS (Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services) on our vehicles. Well we send out 20 people to do what 5 people could do but since there are so many people it creates confusion and slows down the process but hey I guess everyone feels like they are doing something. Oftentimes in the interest of fairness and equal opportunity an incompetent soldier will be ordered to do a job that they are physically and mentally unable to do. This practice leads to resentment and anger on everyone’s part. But whether that soldier is competent or not they will still make the same amount of money as the next soldier. These oxygen thieves cause a lot of problems on deployment. When you have soldiers like these it forces you to become a mother or father instead of a squad leader or commander.

Of course since the military pretty much takes anyone who wants to join problems are going to rise concerning the day-to-day effectiveness of individual soldiers. This is a problem for officers as well. I know several company commanders who I swear got their job by hanging a sign around their neck that read “Have college degree, will command troops for food.” The problem with leaders in the reserves and guard is that they could literally work as a computer programmer by day but come deployment time be responsible for 150 soldiers’ lives. Not that there is anything wrong with computer programmers but when they go from the cubicle to the battlefield where people’s lives hang in their hands then their newfound power can and will go to their head.

I believe the military has its own vicious cycle that weeds out the good soldiers and encourages the less than great ones to stay. Those who would make great leaders and long time soldiers, in my experience, tend to get out after a stint or two with the military because they can no longer handle the moronic and monotonous nature of the military. I am often times amazed that our army is the best in the world. I guess that just goes to show how jacked up all the other ones are. On the flip side some of those soldiers who like to stay are the ones who can deal with the constant crap slung their way everyday. Example: The other night I went to bed at 12:30am after working 2-10pm. I was awoken one hour later only to find that some MP unit was conducting a “Health and Welfare” inspection of my company and I had to dump all of my stuff so they could sort through it to make sure I had no alcohol or porn. After an hour of snide remarks about how much junk food I had and how stupid I was to have a Star Wars chess set in my room I was ordered back into my room after complaining that I didn’t receive a receipt for a bayonet of mine that was confiscated. Then I woke up at 5:30 for PT, which of course was canceled but that fact wasn’t put out until we were all outside ready to run. Then I had to visit my company commander for a counseling statement, which for those of you who don’t know is like going to the principle’s office because you were suspected of smoking in the bathroom on lunch break but they cant really do anything because they have no proof. After going to the CQ in my PT uniform I was informed that the commander was not able to talk to me since I wasn’t wearing my work uniform. So I went back to my trailer and changed clothes and then headed back to the CQ. Once back I was in the “man’s” office for all of 48 seconds before I signed a piece of paper and walked out. This chain of events took up almost all of my morning. Of course our mornings are the only personal time that we have. Press rewind and play to see what the day after this one was like. This is a typical day in the military and really not even that bad compared to some of the things I have had to do.

I do not want to harp on the good people in the military because I know there are a lot of them (just apparently not around me) and they do great things day in and day out. I have a great amount of respect for people who can make a career out of the military and not lose their minds as a result. We need more people like them but with the army trending towards more rules and regulations while at the same time coddling new recruits and allowing them cell phones in basic training I fear for the future of our fighting forces. The army needs to find a balance between meeting its recruitment needs while at the same time avoiding the alienation of the ones it already has by treating them like children and spanking them when they get out of line.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Conversation at Ugly American

My good friend The Real Ugly American has a post entitled "Iraqis and American Soldiers: A Conversation" on his site www.therealuglyamerican that you should be sure to check out. The conversation is between Iraqi blogger 24 Steps to Liberty ( and myself. Be sure to go over and read what we hope will be a continuing thing between us. TRUA set the conversation up between the two of us and in the future hopes to have other people participate like Buck Sargent at Be sure to tell all your friends and leave some comments on TRUA's site.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Breaking Down Walls

The past week I have been surrounded by 18-50 year old Sunni Iraqis and have lived to tell about it. In this racially profiling type of world that we live in these men are terrorists hell bent on the destruction of the Western world, but in my new world I have a different view of these guys. Who are these Iraqis you may be asking? My new best friends.

I changed jobs last week after my previous mission was handed over to civilians. I am currently working guarding my base and am surprisingly enjoying myself. I work with 3 other American soldiers and a handful of Iraqi army soldiers (IA). Part of my day is spent controlling the flow of traffic in and out of the base and the rest of it is spent hanging out with the Iraqi soldiers learning Arabic, drinking tea, and smoking hookahs. I joke around with the IA saying that we should call it school instead of work since we spend the majority of our day learning from each other.

I am not a big fan of my new job but the interaction with the IA and local Iraqis more then make up for the dullness of the work. I have met numerous local civilians in my area who are more concerned with getting rid of the terrorists in their neighborhoods then they are with their own safety. Each time they give us information to the whereabouts and activities of terrorists in our area they risk not only their lives but also the lives of their family. I work in an area where the IA are locally born and raised and the civilians do what they can to help the Americans root out the bad guys, and all of this in a Sunni town.

I know a lot of people would caution me not to put my complete trust in my new friends, and while I believe they are somewhat right, I would say that they would have to come to Iraq and see these guys for themselves. I have only been around the soldiers for a week and already I have wrestled with them in a guard shack, been beaten in an arm wrestling contest, shared food off the same plate, and smoked out of the same pipe with them. I joke around with them in Arabic and call them my brothers and they always reply in English with a resounding “Yes, very good.”

Because of the obvious language barrier with some of the IA our conversations are limited until one of the interpreters has time to translate for us. Most of the time the soldiers want to know if we have wives and children back home. When I tell them I don’t they want to know why and then question me about my age. I explain to them that if I didn’t spend the better part of the last 4 years in Iraq then I might have a better chance at finding a “Madame” as they say. They find it fascinating that we are able to date for long periods of time and can have more then one girlfriend before getting married. I guess I better get started finding a wife and having kids because if I come back here then I will be better able to relate. “Yes we don’t make enough, and yes my baby needs food too, and yes the wife wants new shoes and a purse too. Life is tough but we do what we can right?”

They are just as eager to bring me anything that I might need as I am to do the same for them. One soldier even invited me to dinner with his family and I look forward to going as soon as I am able to. They have the same gripes and complaints that American soldiers do: they are underpaid, underappreciated, and definitely know how to do things better then their commanders do. They complain about their food, clothes, and rules they have to follow. All soldiers are the same apparently.

Not everything about the IA in my area is hunky dory though. Most of the soldiers don’t like the Kurds or Shiites. They think the Kurds should leave Iraq and get their own country and are wary of the Shiites because they remember the long war against Iran that their fathers fought. They are extremely nationalistic and tend to look down upon foreigners in their country. However, I do encourage them by making fun of the Turkish workers here who can’t seem to fix things properly the first time and have to keep coming back again and again for the same problems.

Overall I enjoy spending my time learning about the Iraqi soldiers’ culture and lives. I enjoy their acceptance of my soldiers and I and am thankful that I am able to see them with my own eyes as people with cares and needs. They aren’t crazed terrorists like the media would have you believe. They want to make the most of the opportunity that they have right now. They realize that now is the time for them to decided their own fate and they are acting accordingly by showing bravery and courage in the face of certain danger. They are our allies and although they don’t agree with us on everything they do agree with us on one key point; freedom is the best answer and if Iraq is ever going to be truly free then they have to get rid of the terrorists in their towns and make a stand while they still can. Their future is in their own hands and from what I have seen so far I would say that their future looks bright.