Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Blessing 
HHC took two wounded today.

A motorcycle-borne bomb went off near a passing convoy. Both men will be just fine--their wounds were very minor.

The blast shattered both windshields on one of our vehicles.

Update: Peter Guinta covers the story here.

On the passenger side windshield, there is a perfectly round indentation into the glass about as big around as a man's fist. The hole was created by one of the motorcycle's gear mechanisms, sent screaming toward the window--and the soldier behind it--from the force of the explosion.

The piece of shrapnel did not fully penetrate and completely blow out the windshield, though; the glass at the impact point was held in place by a single 4 in. x 6 in. photograph of another soldier's family.

Had it not been for the photograph, the windshield would have shattered completely, and the passenger's face and eyes would have been flayed with pulverized glass.

Had it not been for the photograph. Had it not been for SFC M.'s wife and daughters.

See what a blessing you are?

Splash, out


The Gauntlet: We Make the Papers 
From the St. Augustine Record

What Guinta refers to as the 'bait and switch' tactic I've heard most often referred to as "The Tethered Goat."

Or as I explained it to some guys the other day: "You ever see the movie "King Kong? Well, You're Fay Wray. And the infantry guys in the other trucks are going to follow you through town and chant "Kong. Kong. Kong. Kong."

Except unlike the African tribesmen in the movie, our guys have guns.

Splash, out


P.S. Yeah, we corrected the unfastened chinstrap and the open flak jacket. The 1SG and I have been pretty ruthless about things like that recently.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Finance Tip for Military Families 
Good news...

Many families of deployed servicemen and women should now be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Thanks to recent change in the tax law, combat zone pay, basic allowance for housing payments (BAH), and Basic Allowance for Subsistance payments (BAS), don't count against you when tallying up your income when you apply to claim the Earned Income Credit.

From the IRS's website:

Income and family size determine the amount of the EITC. To qualify for the credit, both the earned income and the adjusted gross income for 2003 must be less than $29,666 for a taxpayer with one qualifying child ($30,666 for married filing jointly), $33,692 for a taxpayer with more than one qualifying child ($34,692 for married filing jointly), and$11,230 for a taxpayer with no qualifying children ($12,230 for married filing jointly).

So when you guys file your taxes later this year, take a good hard look at the EIC sections of the 1040, 1040EZ, or 1040A.

Just because you didn't qualify last year doesn't mean you can't qualify this year. It could mean a few hundred bucks back in your pocket.

Tell your friends. (You can email this post by using the permalink URL (click below) so they won't have to scroll.)

Splash, out


My Beloved Company 
“Lots of idiots know tactics. The professional understands logistics.”
--SFC Milton Yee, my very first platoon sergeant, on his first day of breaking in a very young infantry second lieutenant.

Nominally, I’m the executive officer of a headquarters company in a light infantry battalion. For those readers who aren’t military, let me fill you in: each light infantry battalion consists of three rifle companies, authorized 130 men each, plus one anti-tank company, plus headquarters company, which is the largest company of all of them, and contains the vast majority of the battalion’s vehicles, and all of its heavy equipment.

Headquarters, Headquarters Company (or HHC) comprises the following:

The battalion 81mm mortar platoon, consisting of four gun crews and a fire direction center.

The battalion reconnaissance platoon (also called the ‘scout platoon,’ including its sniper teams.)

The battalion maintenance section
The cooks.
The transportation section (truck drivers)
Ammunition section
Supply section
Aid station, with a battalion surgeon and PA.
Ambulance section
Maintenance section
Communications platoon
The S-1 section (Administration, legal, finance, and chaplain)
The battalion headquarters and all of its radio operators and drivers
The battalion supply section.
The Nuclear, Biological, Chemical warfare officer and NCO.
The battalion commander and his staff themselves.

Plus we help out with any attachments. For example, we’d routinely get plussed up with a fueler and crew, an extra evac ambulance crew, or a platoon of combat engineers, for example. HHC handles the coordination and support functions of an infantry battalion in the field.

For those of you who’ve never commanded an HHC company, think “herding cats.”

I’ve been with these guys for three years. I commanded the unit for over a year, before the war, as a lieutenant, although we have a captain in command now.

It’s no secret that we will soon be rotating almost everyone currently in Iraq back to home. Our year is coming up soon (although the date of the movement out of here I’ll keep to myself until after it happens.).

To the extent that I can, I’ll be keeping a running journal of some of the logistical issues and problems we’re dealing with here, related to the redeployment homeward. For the military reader, I hope there’s some instructional and training value. For the non-military reader, consider it a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into a movement.

Splash, out


Thursday, January 29, 2004

Gays in the Military: IraqNow Readers Weigh In 
Reaction to the Gays in the Military piece ran the gamut, but I'm pleased to say, was uniformly cordial.

Here are some excerpts:

Can we be confident that the enlisted man will give his loyalty to the unit and not to his lover in a combat situation?

Isn’t this the sort of thing that we avoid by keeping the military heterosexual?

--Aaron G.

Isn't the don't ask don't tell policy far more dangerous? Wouldn't that make a person very vulnerable to blackmail? The annoying town queer that everyone can identify immediately as gay, would never make it to the army anyway.
What really annoys me is, that this is an issue at all. Not just in the army, but also in families, companies, education.....just about everywhere except in the arts.

Name withheld

When I was in during the first gulf war I saw news articles reporting that people were claiming to be gay so they would not have to be deployed. I feel if gays were allowed to protect the constitution like everyone else, events like that would not happen. If someone claimed to be gay...."great, now get on the bus!"

--Name withheld

. Predatory homosexuals in the military have compiled a body of guilt so profound as to make concern about their inclusion a rational behavior...
Predatory homosexuals have repeatedly broken the faith and violated the trust reposed in them by their country and their service. Legislation will not change this. The heroism of decent homosexuals might have some influence in the future. The repudiation of predatory homosexuals by the gay community will do a lot more to build trust in thier lifestyle choice than any medal or Act of Congress.

Patrick S. Lasswell. (He emailed this to me, but you can read the whole thing as an open letter to IraqNow on his weblog. )

We had a soldier badly burned an in Landstuhl, and two soldiers, a very young and younger looking private an a sergeant E5, who drove the commander back and forth to visit the injured soldier. One evening, the private woke up to see the sergeant trying to perform fellatio on him. The private screamed, all hell broke loose, and the sergeant was disciplined.
I wanted the sergeant court-martialed for sexual battery, attempted rape, whatever the lawyers could come up with. Instead, the sergeant was busted to private and chaptered out as a homosexual. The sergeant gave a tearful apology to the unit later, and said he had problems since he had been molested as an 8-year-old boy.
This ex-sergeant had serious problems. But he was not "gay." Most officers considered him a homosexual, saw that he tried to perform sex acts on a sleeping soldier, and concluded, "homosexuals are threats to good order and discipline because they will try to perform sex acts on other soldiers." I just do not believe that is true of most well-adjusted homosexuals. This ex-sergeant seems to me a pedophile, but he is not a normal gay man. (He was actually married to a beautiful, nice German woman and had two kids.) I was upset at the discipline because he was treated diferently because the crime scared them. Had a soldier assaulted a sleeping female soldier, there would be rape charges, but this guy was merely chaptered out. And a new group off soldiers learned, I think wrongly, that gay men are predators.

--Name withheld.

Thank you so very much for all your emails. I regret I can't answer all of them. But I do read them.

Splash, out


"Let Them Eat Cakewalk!" 
Thanks to some diligent readers, it seems we've identified the origin of the "cakewalk" meme.

Money quote from Adelman:

I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.

The thing is, Scheer asserts that Pentagon intellectuals convinced themselves that "bringing peace and stability to Iraq would be a 'cakewalk' " (emphasis added.)

But bringing peace and stability is quite a different task from the far more limited task of demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq.

There is nothing in Adelman's argument which would suggest that he was referring to anything beyond the defeat of the Iraqi army in the field and the toppling of Saddam's regime.

As it turned out, Adelman was right. Saddam's army was defeated, and Baghdad overrun and taken, over much greater distances, with a fraction of the force, and with fewer coalition casualties than occured during the 1991 war--until now considered the gold standard of cakewalks

It's clear to me that Scheer's article misrepresented Adelman's words, without bothering to track down where they came from.


Further, it wasn't even a member of the Administration Scheer was misquoting. It was a "member of the defense policy board," who was once an assistant to Rumsfeld under the Ford administration (well, THAT'S a bit of a stretch, isn't it?), and an arms control director under president Reagan.

There is no way Adelman could be considered to be an officially sanctioned voice of the Administration. And as far as I can tell, no one in the Administration ever used that term, or anything remotely like it.

Scheer's "cakewalk" insinuation is--pardon the expression--only half-baked.

Splash, out


The Military and America's Cultural Divide 
Food for thought from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker.

(What's this about tax-deductible Range Rovers and Hummers?)

NY Times Correction Watch: Day 3 
It's been three days since Ranting Profs broke the news that an investigation cleared U.S. troops of the killing of an Iraqi family earlier this month, as reported by the New York Times.

I've checked the Times corrections page and the "complete headlines" page.

Still no correction or update.

Over to you, Mr. Okrent.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

"A Homophobic Rant..." 
Or is it?

Bill Cameron weighs in on IraqNow.

Thanks for the review, Bill!


A Correction is Due 
Check out This article from Ranting Profs.

Essentially, a New York Times reporter reported that a US convoy, upon being ambushed, opened fire on a civilian vehicle following the convoy, killing several members of a family.

Since then, investigators have determined that the family was not killed by US bullets, but by shrapnel from the 155mm round used by insurgents to plant an IED.

It's worth a few minutes to read the whole thing. (Unfortunately, you have to pay to get the full NY Times article from the archives.)

Now, check out the NY Times corrections page, and see if it's on there. It wasn't yesterday, and it's not today.

You can email Dan Okrent, the New York Times' public editor at public@nytimes.com

Splash Out,


More on Scheer... 
Robert Scheer in This week's "The Nation."

The White House now says that a free election is impossible because no census has been taken. Is it naive to ask why this hasn't been done? After all, we've been in control of the country for nearly a year now. Couldn't we have spent some of those billions in taxpayer dollars dedicated to Iraq to employ a few thousand Iraqis to go door-to-door with clipboards?

Well, I'm not sure, Robert, but I think the answer might have something to with actuarial tables.

Splash, Out


Admiral Scheer Sticks His Neck Out 
Here's Robert Scheer, again, writing for The Nation:

Yet all this was ignored by the Pentagon intellectuals, who so cavalierly dismissed the warnings of the French and Germans--not to mention many millions of protesters at home and abroad--while convincing themselves that bringing peace and stability to Iraq would be a "cakewalk."

Ok, it was Scheer's decision to put the word "cakewalk" in quotes.

So whom is Scheer quoting? Can anyone give me the name and date of the quote, from a reputable news source? Was he talking about the defeat of the Iraqi army in conventional operations? Or was he specifically referring to 'bringing peace and stability to Iraq,' as Scheer asserts?

Or did we just catch Scheer in a lie?

Splash, Out


Monday, January 26, 2004

Gays in the Military: Thinking Ahead 
The military is not going to go back to the old, pre-Clinton policy of directly asking recruits about sexual preferences. That genie has left the bottle.

Now, think ahead five or ten years. Read the political ti leaves. Look at the polling data. Look at the explosion of gay and lesbian student clubs even on high school campuses now. Does anybody really think the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is going to survive another decade intact?


If you’re a military officer or NCO, and you think allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military is a dumb idea, because it would cause disruption in the ranks (and it would), then good on you. You’re looking out for your unit, and you’ve identified a risk to good order and discipline. But here’s a pointy-ended question:

What are you doing to mitigate that risk?

Here are the facts as I see them:

1.) As things stand now, any openly gay soldier stands a good chance of getting his ass kicked in the barracks by the dumbest 5% of losers in the unit. I believe some of them will be murdered.

Hey, it could happen.

2.) The don’t ask, don’t tell policy will very likely be repealed or substantially liberalized within the next decade, or as soon as a Democrat enjoys a second term with a Democratic majority in both houses of congress. Perhaps even sooner.

3.) That gives us, as leaders, perhaps 8 to 10 years to change the climate in the military.


I don’t think it’s a good idea to go cold-turkey now. An immediate lift on the ban on homosexuals in the military would amount to a death sentence on one or two random recruits who may not understand the level of homophobia that now exists in the ranks.

But a climate in which 85% of soldiers believe that bigoted remarks are tolerated to some extent cannot be considered an acceptable state of affairs.

Arguing that ‘homosexuality is incompatible with military service’ is like arguing that a North Korean invasion is incompatible with Asian prosperity. You can argue until you’re blue in the face, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re right. The North Koreans will come or not come according to their own logic, and your sole responsibility is to prepare your troops for their arrival.

Prepare your troops.

They’re coming.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Stay Tuned... 
Lots more content on the way.

Splash, out

Friday, January 23, 2004

Medevac Madness: The Evacuation of SSG A_____. 
_From my journal…The Evacuation of SSG A______.

I think it was the first of September.

Here’s how my day went yesterday.

0700: Convoy mission briefing. Routine logistics, troop transport, and mail retrieval mission. I happen to be convoy commander. The trucks and drivers are all on site, and I gather the men around me--about 30 of them, from various companies around the battalion--and issue the briefing to everyone. Who hooks up to tow what vehicles or trailers. Order of march. Radio frequencies. Things to avoid. (Drivers, stay clear of roadside debris, to include animal carcasses. The insurgent has hidden explosives in them.) Actions upon RPG ambush. Actions upon contact. Actions if we encounter someone throwing grenades down from a freeway overpass). I'm never eager to be the very first convoy on the road in the morning, so I tell the NCO's to cut their men 30 minutes to get a hot breakfast. Do a radio check. I will climb in the lead vehicle at 0745 and I expect everyone loaded and ready to roll.

0730: We hear an explosion in town, followed by automatic weapons fire. Distance and precise direction uncertain. My 30 men and the vehicles already lined up are a natural quick reaction force. An infantry officer's first instinct should be to move to the sound of the guns. I give the order to mount up on the vehicles. While the NCOs take charge of their elements and shepherd their men back on the trucks, and do final checks on weapons and communications, I alert an ambulance crew, and move to the battalion headquarters to see if I can find out exactly where it happened, and if the element attacked needs assistance. If so, I also want to find out what direction they want me to approach from, and if I need to set up a blocking position or if I should assault. (Never rush into a fight.)
It takes a while for information to develop and trickle in over the radio net.

0740: I find out that the explosion was a roadside bomb, which wounded two soldiers. No quick reaction force is needed. The unit is evacuating their own wounded to our aid station. I walk over to the aid station and tell the medics what's coming. We use triage shorthand: One litter urgent, one priority ambulatory. That tells them how to set up their ambulance before their arrival, and it tells them how many stretchers they need to clear.

0750: Two vehicles roll into the compound at immoderate speed, one bearing the two wounded. One has lost a lot of blood. It's all over the inside of the vehicle, and all over my medics' uniforms. One of my junior enlisted soldiers is an AP photographer in the real world. He grabs his camera and sprints to document it. I hear a lot of soldiers referring to him as a 'vulture.' Me, I'm glad he's recording it. I'd do the same thing. In fact, I'm doing the same thing as I write this. You can take the boy out of the journalism world, but you can't take the journalism out of the boy. (I did find out later he got permission from both guys, a priori, to photograph them if they were ever wounded. I make a mental note not to so jinx myself.)

0800: It's clear now that both patients will require air medevac. One had an eye injury, the other had multiple wounds--including a fragment that appeared to penetrate his skull. I'm now planning to use my already staged convoy to provide security for the ambulance on the short trip to the Regimental HQ's landing zone. I relay the medevac request to battalion HQ, who then calls the Regiment, which alerts two Blackhawk crews.

0805: I return to the aid station to monitor progress. The wounded's uniforms have been cut away. I'm relieved to see that both of them still have some color, and are both lucid. Even the one with the head wound is coherent, although in a good deal of pain. The bleeding is already under control (thanks to a medic named SPC Marc Iannuzzi, a 22 year old 'Johnny-on-the-spot', who was the first medic on the scene.)

0810: The NCOIC of my convoy, MSG H. is worried about our late departure. He's supposed to pick up 5 grand worth of merchandise for our field PX and estimates he'll need hours to load it up and is worried about running out of time to complete it. He wants to roll to Al Asad without the ambulance, and leave it to other elements to put together the escort. I believe that will take too much time.
"Goddammit," I said, "This battalion is in a fight and we've taken wounded, and your PX mission is the last thing I'm worried about right now."

0815: The ambulance is running. The medics load the wounded into the back of the ambulance. My photographer is shooting like mad. I put my arm around the ambulance driver, a Guardsman from Arkansas attached to us, and tell him to fall in behind my vehicle and we'll roll out the LZ. (I've found that being very physical is a good way to get a guy's attention and reassure and focus them in a crisis. So I'll grab LBE's, arms, wrap my arms around them, anything to communicate. Never holler when you don't have to. People get stressed enough without leaders needlessly adding to it. If leaders yell a lot, it gets magnified layer after layer down the chain of command. I want quiet, well-drilled, professionals.)

0817 (or thereabouts) I'm at my lead vehicle. The ambulance pulls right alongside. "Where do you want me?"
"Follow me."
Off we go. We pull out of the compound, drive north 500 meters to the Regimental headquarters, our convoy in tow. Again at an immoderate speed. The Iraqi rush hour commuters oblige by getting out of our way. The .50 calibre machine gun I have on top of my vehicle helps.
Families should be happy to hear that comms were good. Regiment was expecting us. They waived us right through the gate, and we had an MP escort-slash-NASCAR pace car escort us all the way to the Landing zone. The Regimental Surgeon was already there, along with three back-up medics. The engines on the helicopters were already running. It was textbook. Outstanding execution on behalf of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

We offload our wounded and they get prepped for air movement. My photographer's snapping pictures like a man possessed and begs me to let him stay until the birds leave.

We're not going anywhere until the birds are off, I tell him. The Bn Operations officer wanted us to be sure to wait until the birds lift off. Anything can happen with helicopters, and if there were a maintenance problem, we wanted to be able to ground evac them ourselves, even though it's an hour and a half trip to the Support Battalion medical detachment.

0840: The birds lift off. Mission accomplished. Prognosis on the more seriously wounded of the two still uncertain, last I heard. He's already in Germany.

I round up the rest of my convoy, and head back to drop off the FLA and carry on with my original logistics mission.

That one bomb was one of four that we found in Ramadi that day. Two exploded. Two we found because of tips from local residents.

We did capture someone that morning with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of Iranian and U.S. currency--fresh, crisp bills, and several books on how to make improvised explosive devices. The Iranian currency tells us a lot. We fly him out the next day. A lot of people want to talk to him.

As for us, it turned out we had plenty of time to load up the PX merchandise and get it back here.

Splash, Out


UPDATE: SSG A____ survived his wounds, as did the other soldier evacuated with him. At last report, he was recuperating in the military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. There will be some disability, unfortunately--the extent of which I'm not sure of.

George W. Bush pinned his purple heart on his pillow personally. We have the photograph.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Maureen Dowd Strikes Again!!! 
From her column in the NY Times:

You wonder how many votes he scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

I wonder how many of these soldiers she's had the privilege of looking in the eye? I've met and worked with soldiers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand (Hey, Maureen, how come you don't bother mentioning these in your list? Can it be you're stacking the deck?), Poland, the Ukraine, Romania, Azerbaijan, and Denmark.

I've also met Fijians. Those guys ride around in swivel chairs with machine gun mounts on the backs of pickup trucks guarding Iraqi Currency Exchange convoys. Their role is absolutely vital, their job dangerous as hell, and they are as tough as two-dollar steaks.

Further, Maureen, believe me--the ANZACS are not poodles, nor lackeys. Nor do they represent a government who is.

Tony Blair is nobody's lackey.

Read the whole, disjointed, incoherent, flunk-out-of-comp-class mess.

Then ask yourself how it is she got picked as a regular columnist at "The Newspaper of Record."

Splash, Out


Beyond Baghdad--the Stories The Press Misses 
This is news????

One lousy rocket explodes within a compound that happens to hold the Al Rasheed hotel (where much of the Baghdad press corps lives), hurting nobody, and it warrants its own 231 word Associated Press piece.

My troops got mortared almost every day for months. We got mortared two days ago. We get rocketed a couple of times a week. It's not nearly as often as it once was (which is a story in itself). So where's our 231 word AP piece?

We've had 48 men wounded so far. I don't think any of them got an AP piece devoted to them.

See, while this AP reporter was digging for stories within small-arms range from his hotel room, insurgents launched a mortar attack from Ar Ramadi. I won't be too specific about how we did it, just yet--because I'd like for us to be able to keep doing it. But we had a bit of hi-tech, high altitude help, and were able to follow the car as it drove away from the launch site. When they got home. Even though the crossed a unit boundary (always a tricky thing when it comes to coordination), elements of my battalion's parent unit, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, but attached to the 82nd Airborne, had the home surrounded within a few minutes of their arrival. I think it was 1-16th.

Four men were arrested. We found a mortar on the premises. All four were positively identified as Fedayeen Saddam members.

If this AP reporter were out in Ramadi, riding with soldiers of the 1-124th, the 1-16th, or the 1-34th, THAT'S the story he would have gotten. Heck, he could even interview the neighbors. But he didn't. He preferred to chase ambulances in the Green Zone. He relied solely on an "Army spokesman."

But what the heck kind of "spokesman" speaks "on condition of anonymity?" About something as lame as that?

Can you see how the news media can distort your perception of reality?

Splash, Out


Language Abuse Watch IV 
"Weapons of Mass Destruction-Related Program Activities."

From President Bush's State of the Union speech.

What speechwriter came up with that laugher?? And the President and his staff let that one through?

Peggy Noonan, please pick up the white courtesy phone. Peggy Noonan, please pick up the white. Courtesy. Phone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

It's Worse Than I Thought--Personal Finance Coverage II 
Email of the day from a diligent reader:

A guided news search of all Business and Finance news sections of the past two years uncovers....nothing. Even if I use only the terms "combat tax exclusion" in the full text search.....nada. A search of the previous TEN years? You guessed it.

"Combat exclusion", however, yielded (count 'em) ONE result.

And it so happens that that one hit was from the Denver Post. March 16th, 2003. Business section.

Sorry I don't have a link to the whole article.

And even that article got it wrong.

(The article missed the combat zone tax exclusion ENTIRELY, focusing instead on an obscure clause in the Soldiers and Sailor's Relief Act that allows deployed soldiers to defer paying tax settlements if their mobilization causes them to fall behind on taxes already due.)

I don't expect the NY Times or Money or Kiplinger's to devote a ton of column inches to military financial pages. But what about the Washington Post, with all those Pentagon and Norfolk readers? What about the Honolulu Advertiser? San Diego? Seattle? Savannah? You've all got major dailies, and major military installations within your circulation areas. Why are all of you blowing it?

An appalling record of coverage across the board.

But it's not too hard to figure out why:

Editors, reporters, and publishers: how many veterans are working your business/finance desks?

Splash, Out


Monday, January 19, 2004

In Praise of Schadenfreude 
According to some of the townsfolk, someone was setting up an IED here in Ramadi and accidentally set it off, blowing off both his hands.


Wave to the camera, dumbass. :)

(Try not to think about how much your nose itches.)

Splash, out


Stand Tall for the Women of Iraq 
So it seems the relatively modern, secular recognition of the natural rights of Iraqi women is in jeopardy.

Check out Riverbend for what this means to the women of Iraq in real life.

For a campaign named “Iraqi Freedom,” our sights have been set pretty low.

Every so often, the Coalition Provisional Authority puts out a set of “talking points,” to help guide soldiers and commanders in dealing with sensitive subjects, when talking to Iraqis.

For instance, if the subject of U.S.-Israeli ties should come up, American troops are not to get involved in a discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict; we are to immediately change the subject and diffuse the argument by simply asserting that the U.S. is concerned for Iraq and its people.

That’s exactly the right thing to do. We need that guidance. We don't need 19 year olds setting the tone of public discourse in a powderkeg on their own.

But one of the talking points deals with the rights of women: If the status of women in Iraqi society should come up, and Iraqis accuse us of wanting to change the status of women, American soldiers are simply instructed to insist that “Iraqis must decide their own cultural norms for themselves.”

Ambassador Paul Bremer must very shortly make a difficult decision: he must either allow the council’s decision to abridge the rights of women to stand, and set human rights for Iraqi women back to the 1950s, or he must intervene in an Islamic cultural matter in such a way as to be sure to alienate the powerful religious clerics whose acquiescence we desperately need to cobble together an ambitious power-sharing arrangement which makes the Great Compromise look like a Holly Hobby cake in comparison.

Speaking only for myself, I would be very disappointed if Bremer were to sell the women of Iraq down the Euphrates River.

I'm not saying I think we ought to be holding out for a purely secular, western-style democracy in Iraq. That's a fool's errand. Even the UK still has an official church. We should accept that there will be a distinct Islamic imprimature on any Iraqi government that has any hope of legitimacy.

Further, I think the U.S. has legitimate long term interests in nudging Iraq as close as possible to universal suffrage. First of all, your claims to being a force for democracy and freedom mean a lot more when you don't, you know, pose a priori exclusions on the political expression of half the population.

Second, Arab machismo is a volatile and dangerous thing. I think everyone can benefit from diluting the machismo vote as much as possible.

MacArthur did precisely that in post-war Japan, and although the status of women in Japanese society still has a ways to go, a replay of the Rape of Nanking isn't very likely these days.

Third, Iraq's economy needs to grow and prosper. If it doesn't, it's a blow to the Iraqi people and to U.S. prestige and credibility alike. Iraq desperately needs the benefit of the economic contributions of its women.

All these things matter.

It also matters that Iraqis be seen to be deciding more and more affairs for themselves.

I hope Bremer will be pressing the argument that the question of the status of women under Iraqi law has already been decided, and was decided decades ago, by Iraqis themselves.

IraqNow Targets Press's Financial Coverage 
Just for the craic, I surfed over to some other major personal finance magazines websites, and searched their web archives to see if I could identify any articles dealing with the combat zone federal income tax exclusion.

There's been a gazillion pages devoted to controversies surrounding the 9/11 victim's compensation fund, which directly affects about 3,000 families.

The combat zone exclusion, on the other hand, together with the low income retirement credit, is only a tax matter that’s going to affect over 250,000 families this year, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

You would think they could squeeze it in somewhere.

Well, the methodology isn't perfect--I don't have access to Dow Jones Interactive or Lexis/Nexis out here. But I can search the pages' archives themselves for relevant articles.

Here’s what I’ve got:

CNNfn: The chintzy little letter already mentioned a couple of days ago.
Money Magazine: “no results found.“
Fortune Magazine: ”no entries matched your search criteria.”
Morningstar: “No results found.”
Wall Street Journal: unable to download search page for some reason.
Smart Money: "No such luck."
New York Times Business/Financial pages: "Dream on."
Worth Magazine: “Well, if you have to ask…”

Now, I understand if the New York Times print version treats it lightly—there just aren’t a lot of Army personnel in New York City. And I know we who will ‘never get rich’ are simply not in Worth’s ultra-snooty demographic.

But the others profess to be national media outlets.

That’s how tuned in mass market editors are to the military community.

No word yet on how many veterans each of these organizations have on their business desks. It’s not a lot, though.

Time, Inc. is happy to name the American Soldier as Person of the Year on its flagship. But don’t ask its Fortune Group*, or the other big finance titles, to cover the financial interests of millions of servicemen and their families. But military people—and public employees in general—represent a hole in their personal finance coverage you could drive a tank through.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

One Year 
Last night, the officers of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment celebrated the successful conclusion of one full year on active duty, with an 'officer's call.'

An 'officer's call' is a gathering together of all the officers in the battalion for a party. In other parts of the world, it generally involves the consumption of alcohol. In this case, though, the best we could do was a couple of cases of O'Doul's and some sodas, and some cakes we bought off the local economy.

I don't drink all that much, anyway. My tolerance went up after a couple of years of playing fiddle in Irish pubs--and all the complimentary beer and Bailey's that entails--but still I get a three day hangover after eating two bowls of rum raisin ice cream.

And the cakes were delicious.

Even better, it was good to see everyone again without having to worry about work for a while. When a unit is in the field, tempers run really high, and arguments can become heated.

It's important to gather everyone together once in a while, relax, and not talk shop--just talk, and remind everyone that everyone else is human.

It felt good, and I reopened a couple of connections. I think we all did.

BBC Recruits Al Jazeera Editor 
...Which tells you more about BBC than it does about their new editor.

Splash Out,


Saturday, January 17, 2004

A Good Night's Work 
A Good Night’s Work

Looks like some of our recent guests at the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team’s “Bed & Breakfast” have been singing like birds, because we had a pretty busy night last night.

We got a nice tip directing us to a compound here in Ramadi, so one of our elements went to knock on the door. It turned out to house a small barracks, with over a dozen adult males, and a significant arms cache buried on the premises:

Anti-aircraft missiles. Anti-aircraft machine guns. Dozens of RPG launchers. Multiple dozens of RPG rounds. .50 calibre machine guns. 60mm mortar tubes. 82mm mortar tubes. Baseplates and tripods for same. It was Christmas come early in Ramadi!


Well, one good turn deserves another. So one of our local Iraqi friends told us “I know about a weapons cache!”

“Yeah, yeah, thanks. We already found it. We’re digging it up right over there.”

“No, no. I know about another weapons cache! I’ll show you!”

So the commander on the ground let him show us. And sure enough, he’s right. We knock on the door and talk to the folks there while our boys start snooping around the yard.

Freshly dug earth usually equals paydirt around here.


More surface to air missiles. Hundreds of mortar rounds. Nearly a hundred RPG launchers of various types. 155mm artillery shells, some of them already primed to go as IEDs. A couple dozen 57mm rockets. Hundreds of meters of det cord. More mortars. Another SA-7 anti-air missile. Detonators. Remote controls. Receivers. Motorcycle batteries. Anchovies. Peppers. Olives. Sheikh-ret sauce. The works.

They stayed out all night, and the engineers were still digging up more stuff this morning.

The boys of Alpha Company have been earning their pay and then some, lately.

Splash, Out


How to Pocket a Free $1,000. (For Servicemen and Families Only) 
Psst. Hey, soldier. Yeah, you. C’mere.

Stand at ease.

Got deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in February, March, or April? Or are you expecting to be deployed this coming spring?

Ok. How’d you like to make an easy $1,000 bucks?

Here’s how you do it.

Call up your favorite mutual fund company. Personally, I like Vanguard, which is where I stash my investment money. I started with Vanguard Total Stock Market, but there are other ways to skin that cat, too. For beginners, the important thing is to get started.

Sign up for a Roth IRA. Contribute every penny you can. You have until April 15th to contribute for tax year 2003, or you can contribute for 2004, or do both. It makes great sense financially.

Your future will be more secure.

Your spouse will feel more secure.

Your spouse will therefore want to have more sex.

With you.

And so will a lot of other people.

Trust me. It’s a good idea.

The Roth IRA, I mean. I can’t vouch for the sex.

So where does the free thousand bucks come in?

Most income earned in a combat zone is free of federal income tax. Which means it doesn’t count toward your adjusted gross income (AGI), according to Barbara Pietrowski, a CPA in Kensington, Maryland, and mother of a Fort Campbell soldier now deployed in Mosul.

If you leave for a combat zone early in the year, then, and stay until the end of the year, you only have a few weeks or months of taxable income from the military or from your civilian job, as a reservist.

So if you're a working stiff like me, and you made less than $25,000 in taxable income last year (or if you and your spouse file jointly and your combined taxable incomes are less than $50,000), then you may qualify for the low-income IRA tax credit, according to Pietrowski.

You can find the eligibility table here.

If you're a head of household, you can find your income limits here.

Depending on your income level, you may be eligible for a tax credit (not a deduction, a credit) of up to 50 cents on every dollar you contribute up to $2,000. So if you made less than $15,000 (or $30,000 for married couples filing jointly) in taxable income last year, you may qualify for the max.

You may not get a refund--but the credit will reduce your taxes by up to a thousand bucks.

For doing nothing more than something you ought to be doing anyway.

It's not something you're going to read in Money Magazine. Money's only published one chintzy little letter on the combat zone exclusion, and they punted. (C'mon--is a link to the generic IRS home page really the best you can do, people?)

But don't take it from me. I'm just a dumb grunt with a laptop and a rifle. Take it from Barbara Pietrowski: "The ROTH IRA is the greatest gift ever given to the taxpayer that I have seen in 17 years of practice as a CPA and 30 in financial services," she says. "How fabulous!"

What a deal, huh?

Get your Roth started. Open one for both of you if you're married and otherwise qualify.

Now, don't be a "blue falcon."

Share this link with your buddies.

Splash, out


Thursday, January 15, 2004

Some Good News 
Compared to September-October, the number of hostile incidents in my brigade's area of the battlefield is down 80% this month.

Khamis Sirhan--a guy we've been closing in on for months--is finally in prison. Probably happily betraying the people who most trusted him, all for a couple of extra cigarettes.

It doesn't take much to turn most of these scumbags. Saddam didn't really attract the kind of people who were motivated by anything like a sense of honor.

And today, in Ar Ramadi, there was a demonstration of over a thousand people--marching on the government center, calling for "free speech, and an end to terrorist attacks."

Perhaps best of all: all of the crowd control was accomplished by the brand new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps police.

We had a presence close by, but it was an Iraqi show.

You gotta walk before you can run. Americans are no different.

They're walking.

Here's to ya, sayeed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

82nd in Hot Water. Well, Lukewarm, Actually. 
Well, I can't ignore this.

From my own parent unit, the 82nd Airborne.

Not too sure what to make of it. Reuters hasn't commented publicly?

Why not?

And what's this mealy-mouthed "Although Reuters has not commented publicly, it is understood that the journalists were "brutalised and intimidated" by US soldiers, who put bags over their heads, told them they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, and whispered: "Let's have sex." "

Ok, delicious details. But "it is understood?" By whom?

And the source, apparently, is not one of the journalists who were detained. But the article doesn't deem it neccessary to detail why it is that this source would be reliable. Was it another journalist who overheard the story? A military source?

I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happened. But the reporting smells like it hangs on thirdhand interviews and hearsay.

Nevertheless, I don't know why it is the US military thinks it's entitled to "abruptly" tell a media organization to "drop its complaint."

Splash, Out

Eating Soup with a Knife: A Shameless Book Plug 
Must-read from New York Times Magazine here.

Yep, that's the Ar Ramadi I know and love.

Well, that's the Ar Ramadi I know, anyway. I've actually been stuck in traffic downtown dozens of times.

Take a few minutes to read the whole thing. It's worth it. Then learn as much as you can about the British counterinsurgency in Malaya.

You can find a very intelligent review of Major Nagl's book here.

Of course, this is Nagl's first first-hand experience at fighting a counterinsurgency. He's only been here since September. I'm looking forward to seeing what changes he'll have in mind for edition II.

I'm looking forward to reading his book.

Splash, Out


Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Russians Are Coming! (IraqNow on Language) 
Well, I unexpectedly rendered my services as an interpreter today.

The Iraqi Police dropped a couple of Russian college kids off on our doorstep today. Word had gotten out that I spoke some Russian, and oops! Off I go! (our ops sergeant major had heard me flirting with a Russian waitress one day in a Longhorn Steakhouse in Tampa two years ago. Funny how the most innocuous things in my sexual history seem to come back to haunt me.)

I hadn't really spoken any of it in nearly a dozen years. I can do a reasonable conversation with only a slight American accent, I'm told. For about 12 seconds.

But any port in a storm.

Turns out these guys were chemistry students hitchhiking across Arabia. (And I thought I was adventurous hitchhiking around Modoc Co, California in college!)

The story just didn't quite add up to me, but they had no contraband--they weren't even from a heavily Muslim area--just two Russian guys with a deathwish, I guess. So we had no reason to detain them.

We got the Iraqi police to call them a cab, gave them 10 bucks to go to the Russian Embassy in Baghdad, a bit of food, and off they went.

It was more Russian than I'd spoken in a decade. I used to speak it some around the house, with my former fiancee, who majored in it in college. (I minored in Russian lit. What an idiot. No pun intended.) Its wide-eyed urgency makes it a wonderful language for petty but affectionate bickering. Or even not-so affectionate bickering, but that wasn't us.

I've been teaching myself German over the last year, but I probably blew the last three months of study today. I lhave a love/hate relationship with the German tongue. It has no parallels when it comes to the issuing of commands, orders, and the discussion of intangibles, while still associating even the most ethereal objects with gender-identifying articles that act like ballast to anchor the language to its thugish, barbaric roots.

A German doesn't speak of love. He capitalizes it. Even in its most general, most abstract, most Platonic form, he assigns it rock-solid specificity, akin to the English proper noun.

"And now abide the Faith, the Hope, and the Love--these three. But the greatest of these is The Love."

But even that's not enough: he imbues "The Love" with a gender. He chisels a vagina on it and calls it "The She Love"
("DIE Lieb.")

What could be more charmingly neolithic than that?

I love it.

Nevertheless, speaking Russian has a way of blowing out the German memory card in my brain. I probably lost three months of work inside of 15 minutes.

Splash, Out


Citizen Soldiers: America's Righteous Might 
More good stuff from Ranting Profs here. The article in question is about the challenges youngsters face when daddy or mommy is in the military and gets shipped off to war.

Cori's take:

What galls is that since so many in the press are just now discovering the military they don't seem to get that these sacrifices did not begin with this war and will not end with it, and that part of the story is just missing from all these press accounts.

Cori poses the question, why is this war different from all the other deployments in the 1990s? Why is this war different from unaccompanied duty in Korea? Why is the press just discovering this now?

The short answer is that we're shedding more blood over here than in Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Okinawa, and Haiti combined. So given that 'if it bleeds, it leads, we're gonna make the news a little more often.

But the more subtle difference--and the more important difference for us as a democratic republic--is the large scale mobilization of reserves for combat duty.

Up to this point, the price of the developing world's freedom in the Cold War--and through the "New World Order" in the 1990s, has been disproportionatly paid by a few small communities of active duty men and women, and their families.

These communities--small towns known as Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Drum, upstate New York; Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Stewart, Georgia--are almost without exception located far from America's media centers. Their members are deployed over and over again, and routinely spend one year unaccompanied tours away from their families, and it all happens below the media's radar screen.

What's happening now, though, is the Abrams Doctrine working exactly as it is supposed to work. Gen. Creighton Abrams was the guy who took over Viet Nam in the eighth inning after General Westmoreland had already blown the game. The US had over 500,000 troops committed to Viet Nam before they mobilized a Guard Brigade (the 29th Infantry Brigade, from Hawaii, was mobilized in 1968--after Tet. Its soldiers were sent not as a unit, but as individual replacements.)

In Abrams' view, this was a mistake. Had McNamara insisted on a reserve callup, rather than rely on a draft of America's least influential citizens, he would have forced America to confront the Viet Nam conflict early, and would have had the resources to commit to an early win, and to bring reservists home.

What Abrams did was restructure the Army, by concentrating many key occupational specialties within the reserve components.

The idea was this: if the Army simply could not go to war in any strength without a large scale reserve call-up, then a far broader sample of communities--and a far broader array of Senators and Representatives in congress--would have a real stake in ensuring that the Army was not foolishly committed, or committed to the field before the populace had committed itself to winning.

The entire country would be drawn into the debate over whether or not to go to war. Because when reserves are mobilized, it's not just two or three divisions--read, two or three small towns--who go to war. The entire country stands to contribute blood to the fight.

And some of those units do, indeed, come from media center towns, and they come from the ranks of professionals, they come from the political class, and they even come from the ranks of media employees themselves.

That's why we need reservists, and guardsmen. When you send people from cities across the country, then the media simply cannot ignore it. After all, they have to sell ad space in all of those local affiliates.

If it were just the 101st Air Assault, the 82nd Airborne, and the 1rst Infantry division here, then all the bad guys would have to worry about would be beating up Hopkinsville, KY; Fayeteville, NC; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

But when you call upon America's guardsmen and reservists, its citizen-soldiers, you call upon the nation entire. You call upon all of what Roosevelt called "its righteous might."

We have never lost.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Leadership Lessons From Iraq VI 
1. You don’t have to intervene personally in every crisis. Make your intent clear, but allow junior leaders the chance to correct their own mistakes. God knows I’ve appreciated the chance to do that myself, many times over.

2. Never promise an award or promotion, until you are actually pinning it on the soldier.

3. A negative evaluation report should never come as a surprise. Counsel your subordinates regularly, and let them know where they stand all the time.

4. Make your own personal politics a mystery—a guessing game, as far as your troops are concerned. Most soldiers are conservative. But not all of them, by a long shot. You are there to be a leader and mentor to conservatives and liberals alike. Treat everyone’s views with respect.

5. What do Plutonium, Carbon-14 isotopes, and soldier skills have in common? They all have a half-life. So do your maintenance program and your command supply discipline program. You can get it humming and it will hum along for about six weeks to three months, and then will slowly deteriorate beyond recognition. Time for a booster shot from the leadership. Inspect something. Gather subordinate leaders around and tell them what you’ve observed, and insist on hewing to the standard.

6. An ounce of reconnaissance is worth a pound of prayers.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Sins of Omission 
Compare and Contrast last December’s “Anatomy of a Decision II: the Rally,” with this press release from the 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs office:

December 10, 2003


AR RAMADI, Iraq – Wednesday afternoon, Iraqis of the Al Anbar province gathered at the provincial council headquarters in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, to protest against terrorist actions in a peaceful demonstration.

Approximately 200 men, women, and children gathered together with raised banners and chanted slogans condemning terrorism. Ar Ramadi, a former Ba’athist stronghold located approximately 60 miles west of Baghdad, has been a site of persistent anti-Coalition activities since post-war reconstruction efforts began.

Not only was disapproval of terrorist actions expressed, but some speakers urged Iraqis to take action against anti-coalition forces. The outward display of coalition support demonstrates increased cooperation between local Iraqis and coalition forces. This cooperation has resulted in greater information from local tips and clearly shows the Iraqi’s desire for a safe and secure environment.

What’s missing? There’s no mention whatever of the violent counterdemonstration which occurred immediately afterwards.

Now, I don’t think the Division Public Affairs Office ought to feel obligated to provide free advertising for anti-coalition demonstrations. But I do think it’s worth considering where the Army’s Public Affairs system’s responsibilities lie.

Informed citizens are the foundation of democratic societies.

Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, and PR guys gotta spin. But the counterdemo out of the story is a glaring sin of omission in any context.

Here’s a better way:

I would rather have skipped the glurgy bit about ‘increased cooperation,’ and the Iraqi’s desire for ‘a safe and secure environment.’ No newspaper editor would have run it anyway, unless they could get it in quotes from an expert or someone on the scene.

Instead, I’d just stick to the facts:

Soon after the demonstration, a smaller counterdemonstration of conservative Muslims marched on the provincial council building. Things threatened to turn ugly when demonstrators threw rocks at Iraqi government employees and a U.S. Army government assistance team inside the compound, causing several minor injuries.

The coalition troops held their fire, and the Ar Ramadi Police, newly recruited and trained over the summer by Florida National Guardsmen, dispersed the crowd without further violence.

See?—the 82nd Airborne Division gets even more positive spin that way. The idea is to make the divisions troops inside the compound seem like the restrained professionals they are (these civil affairs troops are super soldiers!) but also share the credit with the division’s subordinate units and the Iraqi police.

And because it reads less more like a news story and less like a press release, the story is actually more likely to get told, since harried news editors on tight deadlines can run it with few or no revisions.

Most importantly, though, the absence of sins of omission preserves the credibility of the Army’s officer corps, and ensures that the citizenry we serve is properly informed.

Splash, out


Saturday, January 10, 2004

Letters, Lord do I Get Letters! 
Thought I'd take a break today and share a few emails I get from people. I can't thank them enough for writing, and for reading. I wish I could answer all of them. Unfortunately, the Web is slow, and I have to work very fast most of the time.

Some highlights follow:

I guess I just can't imagine the Secretary of Defense condoning these anti
US statements by a Military officer on active duty.The practice in the past
was for Officers to shut up and conform or resign before they started
bitching about their country. I've written to Secretary Rumsfeld, and
I have also asked Congressman Pete Sessions , and Senators Cornyn and
Hutchinson for an inquiry.

Hey, word of mouth is the best advertising! IraqNow welcomes four new readers. :)

I must say, that "Anti U.S." is, umm, a pretty novel characterization of the site. Not sure what he's referring to specifically. But thanks very much for reading, and for the plug.

"Stub," a USAF Ops officer in Wyoming, says he has Armored Humvees there, and wrote in with the GM Part number for seatbelt extenders. (It's 5743858, code 1248530. Unit price $54.06.

No word on why it is we still have armored Humvees zipping around Wyoming while I'm still sending guys out on convoys in the canvas-topped model. But we're making progress fast! (we now have replaced canvas doors with metal ones on all our vehicles, and have 'Armox' armor panels installed on many of our other vehicles. A big improvement over what we had just two weeks ago!)

It turns out that that hardening these trucks is nothing new--the Transportation Corps did it in Viet Nam (link courtesy of Charles Sims and the Army Transportation Association.

See? The wheel's already been invented. A little institutional memory goes a long way, folks!

Many of you have written asking me to address Healing Iraq's story about an alleged murder of a young Iraqi man by U.S. soldiers.

I have to say I'm going to stay out of that one--not because I'm nervous about taking a stand one way or another. I just don't feel I have anything useful to add to that story that others haven't touched on already. I've got no unique experience that will help anyone back home, and I don't know the geography in Baghdad. I'm skeptical, and Instapundit.com has anthologized some other bloggers on some good reasons to be skeptical. But I'll just let the investigation play itself out, as it should.

I haven't seen the major media pick it up, yet. Which tells me they're skeptical, too. No one wants to be the first major media outlet with yellowcake all over their face.

Several have written saying the font size is too small.

Click 'view' and then 'text size' on the Explorer Browser and you should be able to fix that.

Thanks for all you've written--for all your many news tips, suggestions, corrections, and criticism! I look forward to hearing more from you!

Splash out,

Friday, January 09, 2004

UPDATE on Halliburton... (For all you investment types) 
Nope--Halliburton doesn't deduct for stock option expenses in their earnings reports after all.

No cost for stock options granted is reflected in net income, as all options granted under our plans have an exercise price equal to the market value of the underlying common stock on the date of grant.

That would be the politically correct thing to do.

And we can't have that from Halliburton, can we?

Splash, Out

P.S., Just for the record, I'm not ready to agree with Warren Buffett that we should require expensing of stock options. I'd rather just see the earnings, and see the stock incentive programs laid out in a table with all the various numbers of shares and prices myself. I haven't seen an equation for figuring the value of stock options that I'm really satisfied with--or even really understand. And I hate to throw money down Black Scholes.

The New Saddam Pic and the Law of Land Warfare 
My guess: the new Saddam photo is almost certainly real.

Soldiers routinely carry digital cameras on patrol. We use them to photograph IEDs, suspects, and weapons on the scene, and to process EPWs and make the processing easier. It's the same as any crime investigator. You catch guys planting IEDs red-handed, you want to photograph them, AT the scene, WITH the evidence, WITH the mortar shells still in the trunk of their car, WITH the grid coordinates at your location.

Basically, you're building an airtight case for detention.

And soldiers would certainly want to get an "I was there" shot with Mr. Saddam Hussein himself. Anyone who doesn't think so hasn't been around regular people around celebrities much.

But the London Telegraph is missing something huge, here.

The military didn't want the photo distributed because of the security risk. Everybody and his brother knows what unit it was that captured Hussein. You can't make out the guy's face in the photo. You can't read a nametag. There's no identifying information there you couldn't get from CNN or the guy's wives' bragging about how their men captured the Ace of Spades back home.

And it wasn't a matter of the military misreading 'the views of the guys in the trenches.' It really doesn't matter how the guys in the trenches feel in this case.

The fact is that this photo is, technically, in probable violation of the Law of Land Warfare, which prohibit humiliating trophy photos of prisoners of war.

I'm surprised the Telegraph missed the angle. It seems to me like the proverbial elephant in the tent.

There was some discussion over the legality of releasing the video of Saddam Hussein undergoing his medical exam for that same reason. In that case, I think both the coalition forces and the people of Iraq had an overriding interest in dispelling any doubt over Hussein's capture by airing the video. Especially in light of the reaction to the deaths of Uday and Qusay last July, when a lot of Iraqis refused to believe it at first.

That done, though, this picture should not have been released to the media.

Obviously this was not an intentional violation--merely the overeagerness of some soldier who's not exactly a Law of Land Warfare scholar to share his moment of glory.

I don't fault the Army for this. I don't even particularly fault the soldiers for it. Heck--how many times do you get a chance to be in a photo like THAT???? It's just one of those things.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Inside Halliburton 
Well, this is cool:

Critics say Halliburton had no reason to hold down costs because of the way the Army pays for the company's services. The contract guarantees Halliburton will be reimbursed for all of its expenses, plus an additional profit equal to between 2 percent and 7 percent of those costs.

Let’s cut to employee orientation for new manager trainees at Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown and Root.

Scene: A white-painted room with a cherry-wood varnished particle board conference table. Simplistic motivational posters festoon the eggshell-white walls. A dry erase board hangs upon one wall, a computer projector beams a powerpoint presentation along the other. A row of fresh-faced recent college grads line both sides of the conference table, eagerly taking in the trainers’ presentation. One of the youngsters speaks up…

Youngster: Wow. So no matter how boneheaded an incompetent manager I am, my department is 100% guaranteed to be profitable as long as I’m good at keeping my receipts?

Trainer: Absolutamente! But wait—there’s more: the more money you can profligately waste, the more money your department will earn. In fact, if you can spend enough, and increase our profits even more, we’ll even give you bonus, equal to 50 basis points on the amount you can spend over and above what you spent last week.

Youngster: Cool! So who pays my bonus? Does that come out of my own departmental budget? Or does it come out of the human services budget?

Trainer: It comes out of your department’s budget. Or rather, it goes into it. Because bonus expenses are a business expense, your department is reimbursed for your bonus expense, plus 2% of your bonus. At 50 basis points of 2%, you get 25 percent of the overage for your own bonus. Which itself is another business expense, of course. Which generates another reimbursement. Which generates another bonus. For you! This is the greatest business concept since multi-level marketing. Imagine the possibilities! Ain’t life grand? Imagine the possibilities!

Youngster: Is the bonus in the form of a paper check? Or an automatic deposit?

Trainer: Neither. Neither method is expensive enough. We send a courier to find you in the field, and we just hand you a sack full of cash. Arthur Anderson reports that 2% of every cash dollar in a business leaves in an employee’s pocket. So we just assume the courier’s a thief, and write off 2% in theft as an expense. The expense—along with the courier’s fee-- is reimbursed by the government, of course, plus an additional 2%-7% profit margin.

Youngster: Wow! Do we get stock options?

Sure! We include 100 shares of Halliburton stock, along with options on more 500 more shares of Halliburton stock every year you stay with the company, as a sign-on bonus for all new manager trainees. It’s just our way of welcoming you aboard.

Youngster: Cool! Do you expense stock options, too, in your annual reports?

Trainer: Great idea! We hadn’t even thought of that.

When Length Matters 
Ok: I’m calling “Bullshit.”

Here’s an article about how 20,000 servicemen and women have been killed in accidents since 1980, while only 1,000 have been killed in combat.

Unfortunately, the article does not break out the number of soldiers killed in military vehicles; the 20,000 includes all the idiots in Germany who wrap their rented Mercedes Benzes around lightpoles on the autobahn after zu viele Bieren auf Der Stadt.

But believe me—the Pentagon has safety Nazis on the payroll who keep statistics to the nth degree. They can break this stuff out for you if you press them.

Nevertheless, 20,000 deaths in 23 years, and 575 deaths in just the last year alone, is a staggering number.

Here’s how to prevent some of them from happening in the future:

Note carefully the following paragraph from the story, which details the investigation into the accident which killed Lance Corporal Matthew Smith at the age of 20.

The report did not mention the radio, speedometer or seat belts being broken. It said Smith had "been given the opportunity to sleep for eight hours" before driving, consistent with Marine regulations. And it noted that Smith was not wearing his seat belt and that neither he nor Delk had their helmets on as ordered, though it acknowledged that wearing one would not have prevented Smith's death.

And therein lies my B.S. call.

Here’s a little experiment for some enterprising reporter: Go to the nearest Humvee and sit down in any of the seats. Put the seatbelt on.

Seatbelt works. Good seatbelt.

Now put on a flak vest and loadbearing vest. Throw in a protective mask for good measure. If you can get it to buckle, see if you can move and scan your sector. See if you can aim your weapon to the sides of the vehicle.

In short, see if the seatbelt passes the reality test.

It doesn’t.

The way the article reads, the accident report seems to be blaming the troops for not wearing the seatbelts. Now, maybe a seatbelt would have saved Smith’s life, and maybe not. But the blame for the seatbelt does not belong on Smith. Nor does it belong on the NCO in charge of the vehicle at the time.

The fact is that the stock seatbelts on the humvee are fine for garrison, but in the field, they’re useless for anything except providing political cover for the leadership that sent him out there with it.

“Oh, we’re not responsible. The soldier wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. In violation of policy, and all that, see?”

The reality is this: It’s either wear the flak jacket, or wear the seatbelt.

Now, I’ve heard rumors of the existence of 18-inch seatbelt extenders for the Humvee. I’ve never actually seen one, though. Those would do the trick in the short run—especially if the release catch could be moved to the center of the body or up near the door frame, rather then buried maddeningly under the passenger’s protective mask.

But despite repeated attempts at ordering them for our own fleet (at that time, 42 vehicles), both in the U.S. and in southwest Asia, through regular supply channels and maintenance/spare parts channels alike, I wasn’t able to get any. Nobody I could find knew the national stock number—or could even confirm that these gadgets existed.

If these gadgets don’t exist, they need to be manufactured, in bulk, and pronto. One for every humvee-seat in the fleet.

If they do exist, they need to be pushed to the units. Don’t wait around for supply sergeants to order them. They probably don’t even know they exist.

When that’s done, we need to get longer seatbelts in the vehicles. Removable extenders get lost. Or stolen by other units that have lost theirs. The change needs to be permanent.

I guarantee you—it’s going to save many lives in the years ahead.

Splash, Out


Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Flak Vest Follies 
So 2003’s at a close now. Defense officials assured the media and congress that all U.S. troops in Iraq would have the new, gee-whiz Kevlar-plated Individual Protective Vests by year end.

So did they make it?

For my unit, the 1-124th Infantry Regiment, they did. But it wasn’t pretty. Here’s the scoop: we were federalized—that is, activated, though federalized is an important concept to understand when it comes to anything that involves money—in January of 2003, and moved to our mobilization station at Fort Stewart, GA, five days later.

When we got there, we saw some Air Force types with the new vests, and immediately requested them. But the Fort Stewart types said they couldn’t issue them for some reason—we were supposed to get the new vests once we deployed in theater.

No dice. (Note to deploying units: anyone who tells you “don’t worry—you’ll get it in theater, unless he can give you an exact point of contact to get it there and how many items they already have set aside for you and you have an email address so you can write and confirm it yourself—is either clueless, or lying to you to make you go away.)

Once we arrived in Southwest Asia in June, though, CFLCC told us, “Our policy to sustain Guard units. Not support them. You were supposed to get that stuff at your mob station.”


But we said, horse-hockey, we’re an infantry battalion, and we’re just as infantry as any of the active duty units who did get them, and we need them, so we’re going to request them anyway.

So they asked us for a memorandum justifying why we needed them. So we complied. And they wrote back again asking for more justification, and we wrote more memorandums. Finally, after a long series of emails justifying why we needed the new vests, they finally approved the request, and sent us into Iraq.

Without the vests.

They didn’t get ‘round to issuing them.

So off to Iraq we went. And they said now that we’re in Iraq, everything we’ve ever ordered through the supply system had to be ordered again. So the first thing we did was order the vests. And again, CFLCC replied that their policy was to sustain guard units, not equip them. “You were supposed to get the vests at your mob station.”

“Well, obviously, that didn’t happen, did it? And you’ve got us doing raids and security patrols in urban areas already. So we’re requesting them all over again.”
“Ok. Write us a memorandum telling us why you need them.”

And so it went. For months. We were conducting dismounted patrols in Ar Ramadi for weeks before we finally got the new vests. And they never were pushed to us. We had to send scroungers down to Baghdad to get them ourselves. It was like that scene in Glory where Matthew Broderick throws a tantrum in a supply sergeant’s office trying to get his soldiers some shoes. We finally got the vests despite the Army’s logistics system, rather than because of it. They were sitting in a depot, still in cardboard boxes and plastic wrap.

Plates, too.

So our infantry was finally taken care of. But when we received a reattachment of truckers from the 603rd Transportation company (active duty out of Fort Polk) as recently as September, they still had not received the vests, despite having logged thousands of convoy miles between Baghdad and Al Q’aim out by the Syrian border—along Highway 1, which includes the well-known shooting galleries of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

Fortunately, we were able to equip these soldiers within a few weeks of their arrival here. So now all the members of the 1-124th Infantry and our attachments have them, and had them by the first of the year, as the Pentagon had promised. Hoo-ah.

We’re not quite there, yet, though. We still have more people to take care of.

Enter Titan, Incorporated.

Titan is a private company contracted to provide Arabic-speaking interpreters, or “terps,” in local lingo, to the U.S. military. Many of these terps are extremely poor by Western standards—starving student types, a lot of the time—and come to us with little more than the shirts on their backs.

They get death threats from the locals all the time, but they still go out on raids and traffic control points, and many of them take as much risk as our soldiers. (They just don’t like working near where they live, because people will recognize them and their families will get murdered.)

They don’t have flak jackets, either, unless they borrow one.

One of Titan’s district managers came by a few days ago, and I asked him, “How come A.P. and Reuters and the other media outlets and Brown and Root can buy these vests and take care of your people, but you guys can’t provide Kevlars and flak vests to your own employees?”

He informed me that under the terms of the contract, the Army was supposed to provide these things for the translator. The thing is, these are individual issue items. Units don’t keep spares on hand in the supply room. We simply don’t have them when we deploy. Most units don’t.

If we were so short of IBVs, why did the Army sign a contract saying we’d provide them?

At any rate, we’re almost there, but we’ve still got a ways to go, when it comes to taking care of our own.

All of our own.

Good Morning, Miami! 
And welcome aboard!

Kudos to the Miami Herald for drawing some good distinctions, and taking a stand for precise language.

I do have one small quibble--I don't think the term "resistance fighter" is neutral at all. If I were king--or editor of much of anything except this blog--I'd steer my Iraq crew toward the most precise language possible: Former regime loyalists, Fedayeen elements, Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters, Al Qaeda-linked operatives, etc.

If the motivations are unknown, I would steer toward the term "insurgents."

I do agree with the Herald, though, that the term "terrorism" should be reserved for those acts which deliberately target noncombatants.

Splash, Out


(Thanks to Ranting Profs for finding the article before I did. The site's run by a communications professor at Univ. North Carolina. I don't reference too many blogs because bloggers do too much of that, anyway. But if you like the pure-drop 'media junkie' pieces from this site, your very next stop should be Ranting Profs.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

Attn: Suckholes at the UK Guardian 
I was originally going to post a link to this UK Guardian article listing the casualties of the war among the media—under a heading like “They Also Serve,” or something like that. That is, until I came across this contemptible lie:

The killing of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, who was shot dead by US troops in August for filming outside an Iraqi prison, provoked outrage. Journalists who were with Dana accused US soldiers of behaving in a "crazy" and negligent fashion.

Here's a news flash for you guys: Mazen Dana was killed when he went downrange during a firefight, turned around, hefted something on his shoulder, and foolishly aimed it in the direction of a tank’s gunnery optics.

For The Guardian to use the construction “shot dead by US troops for filming outside an Iraqi prison,” implicitly alleging that the shooting was, in effect, calculated murder, is quite simply beyond the pale of responsible journalism.

The Guardian should be ashamed of itself.

Dignity, Atonement, and My Personal "Weekend at Bernie's" 
“Lieutenant Van Steenwyk, I have a mission for you,” said Captain Kevin Harrison*, the battalion S-4, or supply and logistics officer.

“What’s that?”

“We just shot a bad guy this morning. He’s in the back of that Alpha company humvee over there. I need you to take him up to Al Asad.”

Al Asad is an hour and a half away from Ar Ramadi. At that time (mid-August), it was a very hot hour and a half away. It was only 0700, and temperatures were already poking 90 degrees F. Furthermore, none of my trucks were covered. By the time we processed the other prisoners, I’d have a ripening corpse liquefying in the sun for three hours, at best, before I could hand him over to the good people at Mortuary Affairs and get him into a reefer truck.

“Well, how come we don’t just notify the Red Crescent, and have them come and pick the guy up, like we normally do?”

“We can’t do that in this case,” responded Captain House, cryptically.
“Well, how about we drop him off at the morgue in the Ar Ramadi hospital?”
“Well, the thing is, this guy is supposedly the regional director of the Ba’ath party in the city of _______, and we don’t want anyone else to know he’s dead yet.”
“Oh. I see. Sir, do you see a sign on my helmet that says “Dead Haji Storage?”
“Exactly, sir. And do you know why? Do you know why, sir?”
“Why’s that?”

But, alas, I was. And as gratifying as it was to get to use the coolest line from “Pulp Fiction” in a real-world setting, I had fifteen detainees collect photographs on and process, including collecting two witness statements on each one, plus I had to check on the latest intelligence for the route up to Al Asad, line up all my vehicles, conduct radio checks, brief everyone on the mission, go over actions upon contact, etc. In short, I had a pretty busy morning ahead of me. It was now 0730.

It was Alpha company who had made the kill just an hour before hand. We had intelligence that the targeted individual was staying in town with relatives, and one of our good friends in the city had showed us where the house was, and pointed out the guy’s car. That’s a big help, because that’s an indicator you can use when you send everyone in for the raid. If the car was there the night before, and the car’s not there when you arrive to take the guy down, then you need to consider holding back and TAKING the pitch, as it were, rather than swinging away and raiding the guy’s innocent nieces and granddaughters, while ruining the value of the intelligence that gave up the house in the first place.

Alpha company had a full description, and had cordoned off the area. When the assault team arrived outside the house, they encountered a man closely matching the target individual’s description (I’ll call him “Bernie”) outside the house, moving toward his truck. They shouted at him, in Arabic, to stop. “Keef!!” He didn’t, but kept moving slowly towards the open window of his truck, and began to reach inside, at which point one of Alpha’s soldiers shot him once, through the chest. It was a clean kill. He died almost instantly.

Our men raided and searched the premises and came away with several of Bernie’s brothers and other relatives, who were ziptied and brought back to us, to be transported on our scheduled convoy. Bushmaster company had brought in several more EPWs the evening before in a separate incident and we were busy trying to sort their stories out to. At that point, I was kind of the resident expert on EPW processing and paperwork, thanks to hard experience (I had brought in over 150 by that point) and went over to A co’s compound to see if I could help with the paperwork.

I was eager to expedite things so I could get on the road. The daytime temperatures at that time were hitting 120 degrees Fahrenheit—far from the ideal dead Haji storage climate. I found Bernie still lying face down in the back of the Humvee, surrounded by Alpha company soldiers, some of them taking pictures with digital cameras.

That was where I encountered the ascerbic “Captain Hoo-ah,” the commanding officer of Alpha Company.

“May I ask what the FUCK you’re doing here, lieutenant???”

He’s like that. You kinda have to get to know the guy. Well, even then, he’s still like that. But after being received like that by a fellow officer, I wasn’t in the mood to do the guy any favors.

But I was also not looking for a fight. Especially in front of his troops. “Oh, I’m just looking for your first sergeant. We’ll take care of things.”

So I find his first sergeant, and we go over the paperwork. Screw up the paperwork and you wind up locking up an innocent man indefinitely or letting a terrorist scumbag go free to hurt and maim people. You’ve got to build a case, like you’re going to court. Because at some point, you are. All cases are reviewed, sooner or later, by a joint Iraqi-American tribunal. All cases have to be documented by a minimum of two eyewitnesses. So there is a modicum of due process that goes on here, for all these guys—a system that is slowly improving as we develop procedures and generally get better at this. I’ve been able to release people at my level when I just can’t find any evidence to muster against them. In the early days we’d raid a house, and then arrest someone for the crime of having a Saddam Hussein wall clock. There’s Saddam wall clocks, Saddam wallpaper, Saddam collector’s limited issue chinaware, Saddam portraits done on black velvet, I mean, he’s like Elvis of Arabia here.

But having a Saddam wall clock is not an arrestable offense. As we get better at this, the zealousness of our frontline troops gets tempered with experience and discretion, and it’s now very rare for them to arrest someone without a reasonable probable cause. We’re much better at this now than we were back in June and July.

Anyway, I put word out to my convoy crew to stand down until 1000 hours. It’s going to be a while, and I can’t rush this process. We flip old Bernie over onto a couple of 4x4s and schlep him onto the back of one of my 5 tons, on loan to us courtesy of the Iowa National Guard.

Well, most of these Iowans haven’t worked with infantry before—at least, not with a unit as regularly in contact as we are. So Bernie attracts a few gawkers from the rear echelon-type troops. Some of them haven’t seen a death before. I guess they feel a need to punch the ticket before they go home.

They can punch it somewhere else. “Ok, guys,” I said. “Let’s give him a little dignity.”

(No, the irony isn’t lost on me. I mean, I am being rather flippant calling the guy “Bernie.” Well, losing sucks, doesn’t it? So sue me. I was really more interested in the dignity of my soldiers than in Bernie’s anyway.)

Finally, we load all 15 or so detainees on the truck, along with Bernie (he traveled alone in the back of his own truck.). We get everyone (except Bernie) a bottle of water, and we’re ready to go.

An hour and a half later, we pull into Al Asad, and I pull the whole convoy directly to Mortuary Affairs, without stopping anywhere else along the way. If I stop, then soldiers will start to disappear in order to avoid dead body moving detail. So I don’t give them the chance. The soldiers of mortuary affairs (yes, they have their own Military Occupational Specialty and, I hope, a hefty enlistment bonus) met us outside, and they immediately took Bernie in, I filled out a couple of forms inside, and off we went to transfer Bernie’s relatives.

And when we were done, one of my attached truck drivers got to atone for her voyeurism by reenacting Randall Jarrell’s “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” and washing Bernie out of her truckbed with a hose.

She’s probably way ahead of me.

*Name changed at officer's request.

Journalism's Own P.R. Problem 
Laura Rozen’s “Journalists Take Flak in Iraq,” (The Nation) is a good example of what happens when journalists neglect their real assignments and spend too much time talking to each other.

First of all, Rozen asserts that US soldiers “frequently confiscate their film disks and erase their videotapes.”

There’s no definition of what ‘frequently’ means; Rozen instead builds her case by relying upon anecdotal reports from a sample of two, and a reference to a letter of complaint signed by the heads of a number of news agencies and forwarded to

Rozen quotes Detroit Free Press reporter David Gilkey, who apparently had a film disk erased by an 82nd Airborne soldier, who says, "I truly understand that they are upset, and angry, that they've lost friends. The point is, however, you don't have the right to take disks and clean them. When did that become standard operating procedure?"

That’s a fair question. The responsible thing to do would be to answer it.

Unfortunately, Pozen doesn’t. bother.

The fact is that confiscating, erasing, or vandalizing reporters’ gear is NOT ‘standard operating procedure.’ In fact, when the Pentagon received the complaint from A.P. and the other news agencies, a copy of that very letter was forwarded to CENTCOM, who forwarded it to LTG Sanchez, who forwarded it to his division commanders, and so on right down to the company commander level—the lowest level at which written operations orders are commonly generated. I have a copy myself sitting right across from me. The Army’s media guidelines are very clear: US soldiers may not edit or destroy equipment or media belonging to credentialed journalists.

I’m not going to say that a problem doesn’t exist. It does. Those troops mentioned in the article were certainly in the wrong. But the word has gone out, and gone out to the troops multiple times. The problem isn’t that commanders haven’t gotten the word. The problem is that too many soldiers reflexively “hate reporters.” Except for the reporters that embed with the unit. Those reporters are usually alright.

It’s like all those polls that show that people overall have a negative opinion of Congress. But somehow everyone likes their own congressman. And he keeps getting elected.

But in nearly a year overseas, we’ve only had a few reporters bother “embedding” with us for longer than one or two patrols. Almost all of them swing by, hang out long enough to get a snarky quote and snap a photo or two, and then can’t wait to leave here so they can get back to their cushy Baghdad hotel and martinis in the Green Zone by nightfall.

Only a few have deigned to spend a few nights with us (hey, I have spare cots!), and actually get to know their beats down at the foxhole level. They’re not here for the ‘Dear John’ letters. They’re not here when we make friends in the community. They’re not here when we graduate a new class of police trainees. They’re not sharing chow. They aren’t here when we remodel a school, or install a new Internet system in the mayor’s office building. They don’t hang around with the troops for the mortar attacks that come after dark. They treat us like frat boys treat fat chicks: They say they respect us, but they won’t be sharing our beds.

But they’ll come along in a crisis, when everyone around them is spooked and pissed off and maybe someone’s friend just got shot up, and they’ll wonder, “How come troops act like they don’t know us?”

Who loses? Everyone. The reporter doesn’t get access. The public doesn’t get an effective watchdog press. And the soldier gets to try to implement the collective political will of a very shakily informed citizenry.

Here’s an ugly truth: the cultural gap between the professional soldier and the professional journalist is huge. Reporters—the ones from outlets big enough to send people out here—are blue-staters. Uniformly college-educated blue-staters. Soldiers are cultural red-staters. America’s soldiers defend Jeffersonian democracy; They are not college-educated Jeffersonian small ‘d’ democrats. Yes, they generally support the First Amendment, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. They prefer the Second, and will argue it for hours.

Their cultural preferences are projected thus: The most prominent supporters of the First Amendment, i.e., the ACLU, when they are considered at all, are viewed at best with an exasperated indulgence; at worst with venomous antipathy. But everyone knows who the NRA is, and copies of American Rifleman are easy to find.

Journalists who do their homework—who know their beats well, and who take the time to get to know U.S. troops—and just as importantly, BE known by them, who are there to cover and illuminate the news rather than allow their egos to become the news (are you reading this, Geraldo?) are going to get great access, and they’re going to come up with super stories. Like Ernie Pyle and John Huston did before them, and like lots of embedded reporters (most of whom have long since gone home) have in this war.

But if reporters—AMERICAN reporters—need to rely on commanders to lean on their troops to provide access for them, then they ought to have done enough navel-gazing about their own profession by now to ask themselves why.

I’ll bust my ass to ensure journalists get access. I’ve already made some decisions that were not popular at the time to ensure they get access to stories. But mutual respect a two-way street.

The journalist profession has a P.R. problem of its own out here.

It’s time for reporters to accept some responsibility for it.

I'm Baaaaaaaack!!! 
Sorry, gang...

Been off the net for a while. All is well, and I haven't stopped writing, but we've had Internet problems galore. Had to come off the locally contracted satellite dish. Which leaves us with the Army's own network. But the Websense program blocks the Admin login page to this site, which means I couldn't update it.

It's KIND of working now, and I've also arranged an end run with a fine writer back in the United States, Mary Beth, who can A.) Post stuff I send her via e-mail, and B.) Hopefully save me from embarrassing gaffes like mispelling "emperor" and leaving it up for a week and a half. Ack!!!!

So please welcome Mary Beth aboard the Iraq Now editorial staff, and thanks for your patience.

Splash, out


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