Sunday, November 30, 2003

Standing on the SOFA 
A lot of folks would beat the Guardian over the head for the slanted reporting in this piece from the UK Guardian.

There’s a lot of ways to skin the cat. There’s no use in crying over ‘liberal-media-bias’ or ‘conservative-media-bias.’ The Guardian is what it is. So is the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times.

I’m glad someone is looking at the way wrongful death claims are made. Rather than gripe about the unbalanced nature of the piece, I just wanted to add a bit of perspective to the reporting.

Iraqi courts, because of an order issued by the US-led authority in Baghdad in June, are forbidden from hearing cases against American soldiers or any other foreign troops or foreign officials in Iraq.

Those of you who are veterans or up on the basics of international law may remember something called the SOFA, or Status of Forces Agreement. In a nutshell, it’s a common practice for the U.S. to negotiate a treaty with the host nation to restrict their courts from hearing cases against American servicemen about acts committed in the line of duty. The idea is not to foster a climate of lawlessness among American servicemen, but to protect them from frivolous or politically motivated charges, and to ensure that our servicemembers receive the due process protections that defendants are entitled to under the American justice system, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The order the reporter refers to, in effect, acts as a proxy for a SOFA agreement—which could not be negotiated in June, obviously, because there was no Iraqi authority to negotiate it with. But in practice, the restrictions placed on Iraqi courts from trying Americans are not dissimilar to SOFA agreements the U.S. has with governments such as Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Turkey.

Protections are not as strong, obviously, for alleged crimes committed while off duty. If you’re an American and you’re out partying in Japan or Turkey off duty and you commit rape or murder, chances are you’re on your own. But there’s really no such thing as “off-duty and out on the town” in Iraq yet, so the ‘off-duty’ exception wouldn’t apply.

Nevertheless, the way this reporter frames it, you’d think this was some grand conspiracy to place American troops beyond the reach of the law. But consider the matter in light of the long precedent of Status of Forces Agreements, and you can see that protecting coalition soldiers from the excesses of a court system with no presumption of innocence, no tradition of due process, and no track record of preserving the rights of the accused, and no reliable prohibitions against torture, does not compromise the rule of law. It preserves it.

No American soldier has been prosecuted for illegally killing an Iraqi civilian and commanders refuse even to count the number of civilians killed or injured by their soldiers.

True as far as it goes. There are good reasons not to get wrapped up in counting the number of civilians killed or injured by Coalition soldiers. (I refer readers to my 20 November post "The Rhetoric of Body Counts" for more on that subject) But consider the burden of proof in a murder or manslaughter claim in an environment such as this. How hard could it be to establish ‘reasonable doubt’ about whether a soldier commits murder? How much vision and insight do they think a scared 20 year-old has in the electric rending of a second? I mean, even with the aid of computer technology, regression analysis, and Modern Portfolio Theory, and the luxury of oodles of time, Americans can’t even reliably select an index-beating mutual fund manager!

Looked at another way, Private Snuffy is doing a better job selecting his targets under fire than your overpaid broker is doing managing your money.

Truth Must Trump "Balance": AP Misses the Mark 
This is interesting:

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) - Capt. Steve McAlpin, a 25-year Army reservist, spent most of last year deployed in Afghanistan and just returned home in January. Now his unit is about to ship out again, and he's facing insubordination charges for criticizing the quick turnaround.
McAlpin questioned the legality of a waiver that his battalion was asked to sign that would put his unit back in a combat zone after just 11 months at home. Under federal law, he pointed out, troops are allowed a 12-month "stabilization period."

Still, my sense is the reporter didn’t get deep enough into the story. There are still a lot of holes in the reporting.

Take the last sentence in the second paragraph, for example. Any time a reporter uses the construction “he points out,” -- as opposed to “contends,” “asserts,” “claims,” or “alleges,”-- the implication is that the reporter is buying into the source’s argument. But in this case, there’s no evidence in the text that the reporter actually researched the question himself. What law is it? Is Captain McAlpin correct in his interpretation of the law? Why not quote the relevant passage of the law itself? Why not pick up the phone and get an independent assessment from an attorney?

Second, McAlpin claims a history of ‘excellent’ performance evaluations, which, again, the reporter seems to take at face value. But McAlpin’s performance record can be checked out. McAlpin has access to his officer evaluation reports. The Army’s Human Resources Command posts them on the Web. If McAlpine’s claim proves false, then that certainly affects his credibility. On the other hand, if the problems in Afghanistan were severe enough to warrant disciplinary action, you would think they would show up on the evals. If they didn’t, then that would undercut the credibility of the unit.

Third, are the other 12 officers and the 4 enlisted soldiers who refused to sign the waiver being disciplined in any way? Will they be deployed? Will they be transferred into the individual ready reserve along with McAlpin? The article doesn’t say.

In sum, reader gets a glimpse of an interesting and informative controversy. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t dig deep enough to unearth the whole story. He didn’t do any independent reporting. He was content merely to interview two opposing sides of a conflict, quote a bit from both of them, and call it “balance.” It is balanced, perhaps, but the article does not get at the truth. We are instead left with an unsatisfying ‘he-said, he-said’ argument. And without a concerted and focused reporting effort to independently establish the factual context, such arguments are too often engines which generate heat without light.

Army Times, batter up!

Saturday, November 29, 2003

"Mission Accomplished" Through the Ages 
“Peace has been brought to the w hole of Gaul.”

--Julius Caesar, 57 B.C, after the second of eight years of warfare against the Celts.

The 'Soldier' vs. 'Marine' Trap: People Blows It 
According to People Magazine, in his new book Because Each Life is Precious, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief “reveals for the first time the dramatic tale of how he risked his life to tip off U.S. Marines, who staged a commando raid, airlifting [Jessica] Lynch to safety the night of April 1.”
--October 27th, 2003 issue, People. Pg. 81.

(Ok, like I said--mail is slow here, mmmmkay!??)

Al Rehaief did tip off a USMC unit, but it was primarily U.S. Army soldiers, not Marines, who took direct part in the rescue operation.

Again, this is something any veteran on the People Magazine editorial staff could have spotted and corrected.

So how many veterans do you have in the Rockefeller Center offices of People Magazine?

Friday, November 28, 2003

Al Jazeera Hits on an Ugly Truth 
Here’s what happens when units pick a first-class idiot to escort reporters around.

I wish I could say that Al-Jazeera had totally invented the story, here. I wish I could report to you that the reporter had found a couple of soldiers who were totally unrepresentative of the reality on the ground, and twisted their comments out of context.

The reality, though, is that I run into that kind of idiocy on a daily basis. Especially since the official word came out that our December go-home date was rescinded and we’d have to remain until spring. Morale sank faster than a Day-Glo U-boat around then, and many troops were almost homicidal towards, well, towards anyone they thought was responsible for keeping them here.

I even heard one private saying someone was liable to shoot the battalion commander. I ripped his ass. I didn’t think anyone was going to do that, but I was very nervous that the boys would take out their rage on innocent Iraqis.

Morale recovered somewhat as the guys adjusted to the bad news. And to my knowledge, there haven’t been any questionable shootings involving our troops since then. But thanks to an increase in the number of IEDs, a bunch of wounded comrades, and a stone cold, quiet rage at having to be here for a full year in the first place, for a significant number of our infantry troops, the hostility towards anything Haji is palpable and venomous.

Here’s a conversation I had with a soldier just today:

I was visiting some of my troops in a compound on the other side of town for Thanksgiving, and spent the night out there. While I was walking the perimeter this morning and chatting with the guys, I noticed we had a detainee in the holding cell.

The guard was from another company, but I stopped in around lunchtime and asked what he was in for.

“Picked him up late last night in front of the police station. He was carrying a pair of wirecutters and some electrical tape.”

“Ok. So has your CO determined what he’s going to do with him yet? Is he going to hand him over to the Iraqi police?”

“Don’t know yet, sir. From what I understand, he’s actually the generator mechanic at the police station.”

“Ok, well, that might explain the wire cutters and the electrical tape. Did he get breakfast this morning? Actually, it’s lunchtime. Have we offered any food?”

“Nah. He can f***ing starve for all I care.”

“Well, you don’t even think he’s guilty of anything.”

“They’re all guilty of something, LT.”

Attack of the Evil Executive Officer II: When Seasons Change 
Here’s what was on my plate over the last two days.

As I mentioned, I spent Thanksgiving with a detachment on the other side of town. I don’t get to see those guys very often, and I wanted to show the flag and let them know I hadn’t forgotten about them. I think I got a chance to get in a chat with everyone.

The chaplain asked me to play a musical interlude during his Thanksgiving services. I didn't know any Puritan songs, so I picked “Simple Gifts” and played it on an Irish tin whistle.

The weather turned very cool and rainy a few days ago. I received about 30 fleece jackets to spread out among over a hundred soldiers. The battalion executive officer says we expect to receive the rest of the order in March.

I thought he was joking, but he was serious as a heart attack. March.

Meanwhile I’ve got a bunch of Floridians and Puerto Ricans freezing their butts off up on rooftops and bridges. So we decided to issue the fleece jackets to the guys manning the observation posts and pulling guard all night long on the bridges over the Euphrates river. But we still didn’t have enough fleece jackets, so one of my missions while I was over there was to take some fleece jackets away from the NCOs so we could give them to the privates and specialists.

Further, anytime you have a change of seasons, leaders should take a hard look at maintenance. The summers in Iraq are extremely hot and dry. We went months without seeing a drop of rain. I actually don’t even remember seeing a cloud between June and August. Humidity was almost nonexistent. But occasionally you’d have a hellacious sandstorm, and vehicles were always kicking up dust.

The result is that while you want to clear the carbon out of your weapons, you don’t use a lot of oil. The weapon isn’t going to rust in the dry air, and the oil just makes the sand and grime stick to the weapon.

But now that it’s humid and raining, the moisture is getting into everything. So I wanted to take a look at all our crew-served weapons and talk to the crews about maintenance procedures. As the unit executive officer, or XO, I am paid to be the maintenance Nazi in residence, anyway.

Sure enough, several weapons had started to rust pretty badly. The summertime weapons maintenance procedures were simply not appropriate for the rainy season. So the First Sergeant and I educated the appropriate soldiers and made the appropriate adjustments.

Things should be good now.

Splash, out,


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving! 
No major updates today, folks. I'm just going to spend the holiday with troops.

We've so much to be thankful for. Somewhere around 48 wounded in the 1-124th Infantry, without a single death. That has to be some sort of record.

I'm also thankful that although I'm not home with family, I get to spend the holiday with guys like these.

I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

So I Met Christianne Amanpour Yesterday... 
She was travelling with a CBS Crew from 60 Minutes II, here to do a story on our civil-military operations with the local authorities. I'll gather some facts soon and publish an itemization of what we're doing with the community, in conjunction with the cities imams, chiefs, sheiks, etc.

I chatted with her very briefly. Just long enough to mention to her I was a journalist, too, in the real world. A financial journalist, more precisely, here for my sins. And more importantly, to tell her I admired and respected her work, going back to when she first made her name covering Bosnia.

A couple of things struck me about her.

1. She's very personable and gracious in person, and quick with a smile. She was happy to pose for some photos with soldiers, too.

2. She's far more attractive in person than she is on camera. I don't think the camera is very flattering to her. And the dead serious subject matter she usually covers means you don't get to see her laugh or smile very often.

3. Her backup crew was very careful to check facts. Unit designation. Rank. How do you spell the last name? Spell it again? Is this a brigade, or battalion? It's good to see this kind of attention to detail on the front end. It bodes well for the rest of the report.

4. She was extremely demanding with her crew, even though they weren't her usual CNN crew. These guys were on a budget. CNN will come by later with a carrier battlegroup's worth of high-dollar SUVs. See, that's what shareholders don't know. What really killed AOL Time Warner share prices over the last three years was the slathering of money on fancy scud-stud SUV caravans.

Anyway, they're going to sneakernet the tape back to the United States where they edit the show. No telling for sure when it will air, but the producer thinks you should be able to see it on 60 Minutes II around the third week of December.

My email in box has exploded over the last couple of days. Thanks very much for your responses, for your complements and your criticisms, both. Thanks to those of you who passed the link on to their friends. Thanks to Instapundit and Little Green Footballs and others for being generous enough to link to the site. And above all, thank you for taking the time to read the site, and for caring about what's going on over here. I know the novelty of the war has worn off.

I apologize I can’t answer every email, nor can I visit every link you send right away. My Internet connection is extremely slow, and I can only get on in fits and starts. It actually took me over an hour just to read all the emails today. Compounding the problem: it’s been raining the last few days, and we’ve been having generator/electrical problems. No electricity, no Internet. No Internet, no email, and no posting, etc. It’s just the logistical realities of trying to do this from a war zone, all while doing my day job. I’ll still try to update the site every day, though, even if I fall behind on reading emails. Thanks again for the terrific response!


Toy Guns 
Iraqis are now celebrating the Eid holiday—a three day celebration following the end of Ramadan. It’s a very joyous and festive occasion for Muslims here in Iraq. You can tell because of all the celebratory firing. It constantly sounds like there’s a firefight going on right outside the front gate.

Shooting AK 47’s into the air is what Iraqis do instead of throwing rice. They do it all the time—especially at weddings. When we first got here—before the Iraqi Police got back on their feet, we were constantly dispatching a quick-reaction-force to the sound of a firefight—only to roll smack-dab into the scene of a wedding. It was crazy.

Well, now instead of weddings, it’s Eid—a time for Muslims to celebrate the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and renew their community ties. There’s lots of parties and family gatherings. Children get haircuts and parents dress them up in bright-colored clothing. I mean, bright colors! Older women almost always wear basic black, and don't accessorize with anything much other than a huge sack of produce on their backs. But they younger Iraqis love color combinations that westerners would consider almost garish. Dresses made of day-glow red with lime-green trims. Gowns the color of traffic cones. The little girls are darling. For some of the poorer children, it might be the only new clothes they receive all year.

It’s also customary for adults to give gifts of money, candy, clothes, and toys to children.

Unfortunately, some of the parents are giving their children toy guns.

This is incredibly dangerous.

I almost shot someone myself last July. I was going through Ar Ramadi on some mission or other, in the middle of a convoy of trucks. About 30 meters to the left side of the highway, I saw a kid—possibly fifteen years old—standing out in front of an apartment building, surrounded by four or five younger children, grinning and pointing what appeared to be an AK-47 at the vehicle in front of me.

I leveled my weapon and drew a bead on the kid’s chest. I had worked in a psychiatric ward for several years, and had learned a thing or two about what people look like when they’re intent on killing you. In this case, there was something about this kid’s expression that didn’t seem threatening. He didn’t have a wild look about him, nor did he have a tremendously hyper-focused expression of concentration on his face—with a furrowed brow and set jaw.

I knew I could hit him with the first shot at 30 meters. He was standing still and we weren’t traveling that fast. I sure didn’t want to take ANY risk with the surrounding children, though—including the risk that the SAW gunner standing right behind me in the same vehicle would open up in the same direction.

Nevertheless, the kid was pointing a weapon at U.S. troops. I couldn't ignore that.

At the very last second I saw that the weapon was a toy.

I pointed right at the kid and gestured for him to lower the weapon. He did.

I have no idea how I processed all that crap in three or four seconds.

I always travel with my weapon on ‘Safe.’ Somewhere along the line, I flipped my selector switch from ‘Safe’ to ‘Semi.’ I can never remember doing that. I just look down right after a near-contact like that one, and there it is. Spooky.

Well, now there’s a bunch of kids out around Ar Ramadi with toy guns. They don’t have orange barrels, here, either.

Our battalion supply officer ran into a child with one out on the road today, and went through the exact same experience I did. He didn’t fire either, thank goodness.

Later today, when he briefed what he saw at a command and staff briefing, another officer made a comment: “You should have shot him, anyway.”

The battalion commander stood up, and read him the riot act in front of everyone. “I don’t care if you were joking or not, you do not make jokes about that! If you shoot a kid, and it’s just a toy gun, so help me, you’re going to jail.”

Good deal. I'm glad the boss put his foot down about that. The officer was joking. But the commander has a responsibility to set a climate for his unit. You cannot tolerate even a hint of a cavalier attitude towards human life. There's enough killing around here as it is. The leadership has to be extremely careful to control it from the top, by letting subordinates know, in crystal clear terms, where they stand.

Nevertheless, there are some jumpy troops out there these days. And with children out there sporting toy guns as if they were stickball bats, we have a tragedy waiting to happen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Leadership Lessons from Iraq IV 
1. If you sense a soldier’s having a hard time, take a minute and say “hey, walk with me to the PX.” Even if you weren’t going to the PX. Then ask ‘what was on your mind just now?’

Then shut up and listen.

2. Never stop coaching or teaching younger soldiers—even if it’s only by way of your example.

3. Don’t take risks you can’t afford to lose.

Example: You are planning a convoy. They tell you you have 3 humvees available and a 5 ton truck. The route takes you out of radio range. There’s no expected air cover. Can you afford the risk of the truck breaking down? No, because you have nothing that can tow the five ton. You’ll either have to stay with it and pray someone else comes along, or you’ll have to abandon the truck.

That’s a mission killer. Hedge your bets, and insist on getting another 5 ton, or delaying the convoy until you can travel with a larger element.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Anatomy of a Decision 
This morning I hopped on a convoy going out on a short run to pick up bottled water and MREs and to drop off and pick up soldiers at the brigade medical clinic. I wanted to go along myself because I wanted to visit the soldier that got wounded last night, and talk to the public affairs office. I used to lead most of those convoys myself, in the early days here, but as we’ve gotten settled we’ve handed off the routine functioning of the unit to the noncommissioned officers—the sergeants--which is as it should be. Good units are commanded by officers, but they are run by NCOs!

So the NCO in charge of the logpacs got his missions from me and the battalion S4 the evening before, and took care of everything—lining up the vehicles, trip tickets, vehicle manifests—everything that needed to be done. The security escort came from Bravo company and was led by a very strong E-7. The mess sergeant was all over the water and MRE resupply mission, assisted by a couple of the unit supply sergeants. The ambulance knew exactly what to do and where to go with the medical transfers. And the security escort of gun trucks knew how to get us there and back safely, and was well drilled in the case of contact. Radio and equipment checks were done right on time. So all I had to do was get the latest intel update from the TOC and go along for the ride.

I was very pleased.

So I hopped in the passenger seat of a humvee that just happened to be going along for the ride. The chaplain was driving. (He usually drives himself, since he doesn’t carry a weapon. That leaves someone else who DOES carry a weapon free to shoot it.)

Although several vehicles in the convoy had radios, the humvee I was riding in did not, and so I was incommunicado if anything happened en route.

But all was well, and we left the gate to the kachunkering sound of chambering rounds.
I don’t know if I can describe how it feels to hear a vehicle full of people all locking and loading simultaneously. I don’t know if I’d call it a ritual in the religious sense—it’s a purely practical gesture. But it definitely has a way of preparing the spirit.

Along the way we passed an intersection on the banks of the Euphrates river, with several fruit and vegetable stands underneath an overpass. As my vehicle, towards the end of the convoy, approached the turn, I saw a man turn and walk away back toward the crowd, behind one of the stalls. He was wearing a coat, a red scarf around his head (in the Palestinian style), and most significantly, carrying a stockless AK-47 across his shoulder as if he were Opie carrying a fishing pole.

There was nothing about him identifying him as a policeman or security guard, authorized to carry a military style weapon. I hadn’t seen policemen wearing head wraps before, either. He was moving away from us. His back was turned, and he was not, himself, an immediate threat.

My first instinct was to jump from the vehicle and capture him, yelling “Kiff!!!” (“Halt!!!”). But that’s problematic in a vehicle with no communications. If I jumped out, the two vehicles behind me would stop, but the rest of the convoy would keep rolling, and I’d be left with me, one gun truck by itself, an ambulance crew, and a chaplain. Hardly the force I want to gather if I'm going to be out picking a fight.

I was also worried about getting hit from the flank by an unseen buddy of his. If he’s an Ali Baba, he’s not working alone.

My second instinct was to drop him on the spot, center of mass.

No, that would be a stupid idea. I didn’t have a clear shot. I would have had to fire left handed. I was in a moving vehicle. He was standing right next to a market. There were kids around, and if I fired, everyone else might have fired wildly in the same direction and we’d have a Fallujah-like moment on our hands.

So I stayed put, kept an eye on him, got the soldier behind me to keep an eye on him—probably too excitedly, in retrospect, and scanned for his buddies.

A few seconds later, I realized that although he could easily have done so, he was making no effort to conceal his weapon. I lowered my rifle, scanned the overpass and anywhere else he might have buddies hiding, but we let the man go. We took no action.

The time elapsed between the spotting and the decision to move on was about five seconds or less.

When we got to brigade, I went into their ops center and gave a report to the intel officer, so they could send a patrol to investigate.

It was nagging at me for a couple of hours. Did I make the right call? Would another convoy run into a deliberate ambush because I let this guy go? Would WE run into it on the way back?

I mentioned it later to the NCO who was behind me and said, “I don’t know…maybe I should have shot him on the spot.” I’m not sure myself how serious I was about that statement. But the sergeant said “No. We’re not kids. That’s something a dumbassed kid in the 82nd would do, and you would have caused a massacre, because everybody would have shot in the same direction.”

He was right.

I found out later that it was an Iraqi security guard who works at that intersection all the time. He wears an armband, but apparently had put his overcoat on, concealing the armband.

The decision to live and let live, in this case, turned out to be the right one.

This time.

Associated Press Blows It 
Memo to the Associated Press: If you’re going to put someone out there on the military beat, at least make sure that he knows the difference between a soldier and a marine.

Case in point:

"The frenzy recalled the October 1993 scene in Somalia, when locals dragged the bodies of Marines killed in fighting with warlords through the streets."


The men dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were members of the U.S. Army. Their names were Thomas Field and William Cleveland, to be exact. They were both soldiers, although as Blackhawk crewmembers, the term 'aviator' would also have been correct. But they were not marines. In American usage, a marine is a member of the United States Marine Corps. Period. In an international story, the word ‘marine’ can also refer to any member of another country’s naval infantry arm of service, such as the Royal Marines. But ‘marine’ is never properly used to refer to a member of the U.S. Army, or any other non-naval or non-amphibious army. A member of an army is called a ‘soldier.’

Again, this a very common error. I see it most often in photo captions. I’ve even seen it on the cover of the New York Times. But it’s something any veteran anywhere in the editorial or fact-checking chain could easily have caught and corrected.

Newspapers have gone to great lengths, in the name of newsroom diversity, to include women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and people with handicaps. Coverage has improved for it, and readers have benefited. But too many in the press still have cultural blinders on when it comes to covering military people and their families.

When will editors finally get serious about seeking out and recruiting veterans for the newsroom?

Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Weirdest Book Review Ever 
This New Republic book review, by Rebecca Onion (actually, she's on staff at YM Magazine) has got to be the most frighteningly whacked review I've ever read.

I think I'm in love.

Onion, apparently another Lit major with nothing more productive to do with her life (join the club, babe!) is reviewing the Elizabeth Smart and Jessica Lynch books and comparing them to the classic 17th century Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson, which she feels is the Gold Standard of the 'female captivity narrative.'

Ok, Rebecca, you've got my attention.

Basically, though, Ms. Onion says that Lynch and Smart's books fall short of the mark (actually, her term is 'suck') because they don't provide enough quasi-pornographic content to quicken her pulse.

Money passages:

Rowlandson's plays to one of our deepest anxieties--the question of whether the victim might be complicit in her own captivity. (Female captivity narratives tend to be more gripping than male narratives because we can accept that they might fall under the control of others; men are somehow expected to escape.)

Mary does a fine job of keeping hatred of the Indians alive all the way through. A pregnant captive with a young child asks to go home; the Indians become "vexed with her importunity" and "strip her naked, set her in the midst of them, and when they had sung and danced around her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased they knocked her on the head, and the child in her arms with her. When they had done that they made a fire and put them both in it." The best Bragg can do is inform us that the Iraqi hospital staff sang Jessica lullabies: "When the pain was more than she could take without screaming, an older nurse would come in with talcum powder, dust her shoulders and back, and rub them as she sang to Jessi, trying to calm her." Hey, wait a second, that's not scary!

The search is still on for a Mary Rowlandson for our frightened times. This writer calls upon Al Qaeda to kidnap a pretty, 25-year-old blonde female--preferably one with an MFA from Iowa who also happens to speak Arabic. Take her to your caves and let her hear all your plans and witness your devilish cruelties. Then fall into a deep sleep one night, allowing her to escape through the mountains with the help of sympathetic villagers. Now that--that!--would be a story.

Indeed it would, Rebecca!

But, my perverted little puppydog, this isn't entirely about the story, is it? Hmmmm?


Lunch date? :-)

One Soldier Wounded in Ar Ramadi 
He'll be fine. Mortar attack. The first report was that we needed to evac a litter urgent. As I've written here, though, first reports are almost always wrong. Once we got him in the aid station and cleaned him up, our surgeon could see that it was a matter of some stitches. He was evaced routine, and he should be back with us shortly. I'll be able to visit him tomorrow.

We weren't able to get any counterbattery fire today. No radar acquisition. This mortar crew is good.

You probably won't hear about it in the news. We don't have a hotel full of reporters right down the road like they do in Baghdad. There are no scud studs hanging around here right now. Two informed sources tell me that the 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs office has alienated or ticked off a lot of news agencies, so it will be interesting to see who covers this area and how.

This battalion has taken several wounded this week alone from mortar attacks and a couple more from IEDs. All of them will be ok. The picture you get in the press is distorted, though, because you never hear about the wounded in the press unless a soldier dies in the same incident.

Oman Times Editor Steeped in Hatred 
Times of Oman Editor in chief Essa bin Mohammed al Zidjali starts out promisingly enough in this special to the English-language Arab News.

Arguing for an English language Arab media channel to broadcast quality programming accessible to Westerners, he writes:

"The Arabs have been making plans, for a long time, for the launch of an Arab television channel in English that would target the West, especially the US, with a view to projecting the true image of the Arabs — Arab generosity and warmth, the forgiving nature of Arabs and their willingness to extend a hand of friendship to all civilizations. The channel would present our rich and ancient culture and civilization as well as our noble traditions and great principles that are passed down the generations."

"Hmmm," I'm thinking. "I'm down with that. Count me in. I'll watch it!"

...So I was wholly unprepared for the poisonous passages that came next:

"The Arab channel could confront the Zionist channels that portray us as terrorists. The Zionist channels are misleading the people in the West, especially the Americans, with lies, and thereby turning them against the Arabs. The proposed Arab channel could confront such lies with undeniable truths and irrefutable evidence, laying stress on our flexible style that reflects Arab forgiveness...

...The need for the channel assumes added significance when we realize how the Zionist lobby is exploiting every single opportunity to distort the facts, arguing that the Arabs are behind all the [Sept. 11th] disasters..."

So this is Editor in Chief of Oman Times? And this is how he chooses to make his point? Doesn't he see that his own pervasive hatred immediately discredits him in the eyes of the very market he is trying to reach?

If this is what they're running in their English-language media outlets, what can they be printing in Arabic?

The venom runs very deep here.

The Right Tool for the Right Job: Ditch the M16. 
Well, the secret's out. After months of combat, after Kosovo, after Bosnia, after Haiti, after Mogadishu, the Associated Press and the Army finally realized what we figured out after about 90 minutes on the ground: the M16 is too beaucoups for vehicle-intensive, urban peacekeeping operations. Story here.

The truth is, we seem to be the only suckers out here trying to fight with them. Most of the Cav guys carry carbines. The special ops guys around here all arm themselves with some variant of a carbine, or machine pistols such as the TEC 9 and HK. Ditto the Brits.

I just talked to a British paratrooper the other day. (See, Josh Marshall--we're not "all alone" as you say!). American troops gripe when their rotation goes beyond 6 months. He just spent five years patrolling the mean streets of Belfast. The British have been there for decades. You'd think they'd have learned a thing or two about urban counterinsurgencies.

We talked to some of his troops about their armaments. All of them carried a variant of the submachine gun design, with folding stocks or no stocks at all.

Even the insurgents are cutting the stocks off their AK-47s!

Most of our drivers would rather drive through town armed with a 9mm pistol than try to defend themselves with the bulky M16. You might as well try jousting.

We were supposed to get issued the M-4 carbine variant of the M16, soon. Basically, a smaller version of the M16, but we got mobilized and never got around to it. The article is correct: there would be a slight decrease in the effective range of the weapon. But the Max effective range of the M16A2 is 525 meters. Nobody is likely to even acquire a man-sized target at ranges beyond 300. And the vast majority of engagements here take place within 200 meters, and even down to point-blank range. So in reality, the reduction in the effective range wouldn't hurt us. At longer ranges, we're usually able to bring other, larger caliber weapons to bear just fine.

Meanwhile, some of our more connected individuals have procured sub-machinegun type arms for themselves, such as the Heckler & Koch MP 5, which is also the favored arm of the US Special Forces guys around here.

It works just fine for this environment. The 9mm slug can pack a decent wallop at very short ranges (the high velocity 5.56mm M16 round has an annoying tendency to pass straight through the target at very close ranges, thus transferring only a fraction of its energy to the self-propelled sandbag on the other end of the sight picture).

But a hidebound procurement system--which SF units are able to circumvent but which we are not--makes it impossible to issue the weapon on a broader basis, regardless of the tactical need.

And if we did get into a major fight with them, the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the regular ammunition supply system would cause my ammo NCO to tear his hair out trying to explain the rate of 9mm ammunition expenditure to the brigade S4 so we could actually resupply the MP-5 shooters. Why? Because the way the ammo resupply system is designed, I can only order up to the Uniform Basic Load of 9mm ammunition for each 9mm pistol carrier in my unit. Obviously, a machine pistol is going to require a lot more ammo than a handgun. But if I tried to order more, it would get kicked back with a nasty note.

It's the same lesson we should have learned years ago. The M16 is a fine weapon for dismounted ops, and engagements on the rolling planes of Europe. But this is has got to be the most widely anticipated urban peacekeeping operation in the history of modern warfare, and we're still trying to use a hammer to turn a screw.

The army should proceed apace with the issuing of the M-4 carbine--starting with the Oregon and Washington national guard units recently mobilized for service in Iraq. They can still get to a range at the Mobilization station and properly train on and zero their new weapons.

The Army should also liberalize the procurement system down to the battalion and brigade level, and allow commanders to tailor their weapons mix to the mission at hand, BEFORE the deployment. And the ammo supply chain needs to fill the increased 9mm usage you'd get with the expanded issue of MP-5s. We have the cargo capacity. It's a low intensity war. Ammunition expenditure rates are not taxing the available transport. It's simply a matter of fixing the bureaucracy.

Take it from Scottie said on Star Trek: "How many times do I have to tell you, use the right tool for the right job!!!"


Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Left and the Siren Song of Conceit 
Here's Robert Scheer, writing for the progressive/left magazine The Nation--continuing to cling to the tired comparison between Iraq and Viet Nam.

"For me, there are two particularly symbolic victims, one from each war. They stand out for their parallel experiences, marked by tragedy and bravery before and after their experiences in battle. Ron Kovic and Jessica Lynch were both working-class kids vulnerable to the siren song of jingoism."


See, this is why military voters overwhelmingly vote Republican. It's deeper than Bill Clinton 'loathing the military.' It's deeper than Clinton-era budget cuts.

The antipathy between the military and the media culture is bigger than politics. It reflects an immense, yawning cultural gap between military people and the culture of journalism. It's red-states vs. blue states. It's Manhattanites at the Newsweek editorial office blithely referring to heartland America as 'flyover country.'

Military voters vote Republican because even when the American left tries to be understanding and sympathetic towards veterans, they too often wind up being insufferably condescending instead.

"Working class kids vulnerable to the siren song of jingoism?"


Al Jazeera--Part of the Problem 
Women are treated like pack animals in Iraq. Particularly in the rural, farming areas as you get away from Baghdad--where women squat or kneel and work in the fields fully veiled, even in the heat of the summer, with temperatures soaring to 125 degrees and higher.

At the end of the day, it's typical for me to see women doubled over under the weight of huge sacks of produce, pulled or cut from the earth by hand. Many times the sacks look bigger than they are. The wealthier ones are fortunate to have a donkey.

I almost never see a man working in the fields alongside them. I do often see them walking ahead of or behind these women, though. I've never seen a man carry anything in the presence of a woman.

But tragically for Iraq's women, the unequal distribution of labor is the least of their worries. Their more immediate concern is that the wholesale release of real criminals from Iraq's prisons, plus the collapse of what Iraqi policing there was in the wake of the fall of Saddam, resulted in an explosion of kidnapping, extortion, slave trafficking, and rape.

(You can find a useful discussion of the problem, and recommended short-term solutions for it from Human Rights Watch here.)

Tragic as it is, it should not be a surprise. This is a tribal culture, deeply rooted in its ancient traditions, which in many areas still sanction the honor killings of women who suffer rape.

But it ain't just a problem among the backward tribal areas; the callous and cavalier attitude towards even the basic, fundamental human rights of women also plagues the educated class.

Here's a telling example: a headline from Al Jazeera's English Language site: Filipinas 'raped' in Kuwait

What's the deal with the scare quotes around the word 'rape,' Al Jazeera?

What part of 'wrong' don't you understand?

Fiddling While Baghdad Burns 
Today's been a good day, so far. There's a bunch of comedians coming today. No, it's not the Brigade staff. It's literally a bunch of comedians! From the Armed Forces Entertainment network or something. So we borrowed a PA system, hauled a generator out into a clearing, and set up a stage.

The best part was they set up the PA system a few hours early, so I grabbed my brand new electric violin and hooked up the PA system and got to go wild playing fiddle tunes for a couple of hours.

Hey, I spent 1300 bucks for that thing! If someone brings a PA system, I'm plugging in!

It felt great!

'You Heard it Here First' Department... 
"The recent surge in terrorist strikes on "soft targets" like consulates, banks and synagogues in places like Turkey and Saudi Arabia is worrying, but paradoxically reflects progress by the United States and Europe in disrupting Al Qaeda, especially its leadership structure, American and European intelligence officials said Friday."

--New York Times, 22 November 2003

"I wonder if the U.S. and it's allies really took out a lot of the 'adult supervision' in Al Qaeda, and what's left is a bunch of hacks with a political tin ear and some demolitions training? "

Iraq Now, "Hyper-War: A War of Ideology", 13 November 2003.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Soldier Killed in Ramadi 
Story here.

I can't release his name until I confirm that his family has been properly notified. I've heard there are rumors back home that it was a member of the 1-124th Infantry. I can confirm it was not a Hurricane Battalion member.

1-124th Infantry medics were among the first responders to the scene. The soldier died quickly. The two wounded should be ok. One may require surgery on his elbow.

The boys are eager for some payback, and we did get some payback a short time later, and the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division actually captured a long sought-after mortar that had been used to harrass our positions around here. Nevermind how we got it.

Even better, one of its crew members is-well-no longer a problem.

Still, says one of our soldiers who was at the scene within a few minutes of the blast, "I want to see some haji corpses."

Attack of the Evil Executive Officer 
Tomorrow night, under cover of darkness, I strike!!!

This morning, at about 0730, I noticed an ambulance with the engine running and the hood up. The crew was pulling its daily preventative maintenance checks and services (PMCS).

It then occured to me that although vehicle crews regularly hand in PMCS forms so our maintenance guys can track vehicle status and the ordering of spare parts, etc., it has been a long time since I've actually seen hoods up on the vehicles.

I have recruited one of my evil henchmen (rubbing hands together in nefarious and sadistic glee) to procure a bunch of index cards. We will fill out each index card with the date and bumper number on the vehicle, and a note that says "when found, please return to 1LT Van Steenwyk."

Our plan is to steal into the motor pool, under cover of a cold and moonless night, go to each vehicle, and tape the cards to different places around the vehicle that the crews are supposed to check before leaving the gate.

Soon...SOOOON we shall see who has actually been checking the tightness of the belts, checking coolant levels, transmission oils, brake fluids, and generally doing things right.

Those drivers who return their cards to me within 48 hours--slack shall be cut for them.

As for those who don't, they're doomed. DOOOOOMMMMED, I tell you!

(Shhhh...don't tell anyone!)

MuaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! (Collapsing in a fit of maniacal laughter)

War of Ideologies II: The Weapons of War 
The problem with using 2,000 pound bombs to 'send a message' to insurgents and the communities in which they thrive is that the message you intend to send is not necessarily the message the recipient perceives.

For example, check out Riverbend's Baghdad Burning for her perception of the message of the recent escalation of airstrikes.

Now, I'm all for going after terrorists and their bases of operation with everything we've got. But...

The most effective way to 'send a message' to the people of Iraq, in my view, is to translate the Bill of Rights and key passages of Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man," with any Christian references removed, into Arabic, print about a gazillion copies, and take them to the streets.

I've written that the war on terrorism is fundamentally a war to defeat an ideology. There is no militarily decisive point on the ground. Decisive victory cannot be achieved with the capture or killing of Saddam or Bin Laden or anyone else.

Rather, decisive victory will only be achieved when the violent, radical expression of Muslim ideology is thoroughly discredited on its home turf.

The military arm is important, but it's only one leg on a many-legged stool.

Ideas like natural, God-given rights, the rule of law, the freedom of expression, the social contract, a government by and for the people, the protection of minorities, the redress of grievances, separation of powers, and the peaceable transfer of executive power are our most powerful weapons.

In the long run, every successful municipal election, every public official who, in the service of the people, resists the lure of corruption or the threat of terrorism, and every new independent newspaper, will be worth dozens of airstrikes.

"It's the Constitution, Stupid!": Ourselves as Others See Us III 
Introducing Iraq Today, an independent, English-language newspaper in Baghdad.

That's right--the free speech genie is out of the bottle!

Of particular note is this editorial, "It's the Constitution, Stupid!", by Hassan Fatah

The boil-down:

"Few if any Iraqis greeted American tanks with open arms, but many relished the arrival of real American values into the country. Those values are not the clichés of westernization-jeans, McDonald's and Starbucks-but the set of inalienable rights the West takes for granted: representative government, the right to due process, the promise of transparency in government, and the chance for redress...

"But some eight months since the fall of the former regime, it is the violation of those basic American values that has turned off Iraqis once willing to give the Coalition a chance and given the resistance a leg up. Summary arrests by American soldiers ill equipped to deal with the complex political and tribal conditions on the ground, a rebuilding process with no seeming checks and balances and rife with questions of corruption and improprieties, and a legislative process seemingly bereft of any true representation on the ground have all engrained a deep distrust of America's real intentions in Iraq."

"If President Bush and his team really want to make good on their promises of building democracy in this country, their best answer is the constitution. Drafting a constitution is the most important conversation Iraq should be having today. If done right, it will spur discussions on the most fundamental issues facing Iraq: federalism, minority rights, secularism, and religion's role in society, restitution and corruption. It will provide Iraqis with a true roadmap out of occupation, while helping filter out corruption. And most important, the results of the national discussion will provide a binding contract that Iraq will never again fall deep into the abyss of dictatorship, and will flourish a sovereign nation."

Iraqis are finding their voice.



Terrorists Strike in Ramadi. 
From the New York Times.

We count three dead. Two of the dead were children. Perhaps 10 times that many were wounded--I have no idea how many of them may have died later at Iraqi hospitals.

As the Times reports, this is the second assassination attempt on civilians in Ar Ramadi this week.

We're halfway across town, but five seconds after the boom, you could still feel the shock waves reverberating through the earth.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Rhetoric of "Body Counts" 
Across the top of the homepage of Iraqi Body Count, in bold, black letters, is a quote--"We don't do body counts," attributed to former CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

I guess the idea was to suggest that the quotation demonstrates that the General is cavalier about the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

The truth is counterintuitive. The general's rejection of the rhetoric of "body counts" is, in the long run, the most responsible course. In due course, the rejection of the body count as a key metric of mission accomplishment is not indicative of a casual attitude toward Iraqi civilian casualties. Rather, will help to preserve them.

Here's why:

During the Viet Nam war, the United States Army adopted the body count as one of the defining indicators of success. From Corps commanders in air conditioned trailers right on down to exhausted and blistered platoon leaders, officers were under tremendous pressure to add to their commander's body count.

Almost inevitably, the system became corrupted. Commanders began to pad body count numbers. They 'rounded upwards.' They awarded themselves the benefit of every doubt. And they sometimes counted bodies toward their total without accompanying weapons or any other evidence that the dead were involved with the communist insurgency.

With leaders at all levels clamoring for fresh corpses on the battlefield, and nevermind the facts, the stage was set for corruption, cavalierness towards Vietnamese life, and eventually, the near collapse of the credibility of the officer corps in the eyes of the public.

General Franks would remember it well: he served in Viet Nam himself as young artillery officer.

It's important that Iraq Body Count does the work it's doing. But it's also important that the Army transcend the obsession with the body count. And the press should understand that the body count is simply not an appropriate measure for success in a counterinsurgency campaign.

Over a decade before the second Iraq war, retired officer-turned-journalist Col. David Hackworth proposed an excellent solution for journalists in his excellent book "About Face:" If you're obsessed with a metric, then focus on the number and type of weapons captured--not the number of bodies.

Weapons counts cannot be faked. They cannot be padded. They can be inventoried by serial number and easily verified by commanders or media. There is no perverse incentive to take credit for the deaths of the innocent along with the enemy. The commander still has an incentive to exercise restraint until he is in decisive contact with the enemy.

Finally, and most crucially in Iraq, a focus on weapons counts and the rejection of the logic of body counts aligns the interests of commanders and good Iraqis.

Iraq Body Count should continue to compile the awful human toll of war on the Iraqi people. But they should collect their data independently. And journalists of all stripes should remember that even though they don't like it when the Army can't spoon-feed them their facts, there's an important reason "we don't do body counts."


Ourselves As Others See Us II 
Tired of getting Iraqi views in sound bytes?

Introducing Baghdad Burning, a witty and revealing look at the occupation and the Iraqi Government Council, written by a female college student in Baghdad.

I'm humbled. And I think her passages about the cultural gap which exists between western troops and the people of Iraq should be required reading for soldiers about to deploy out here.

One money graf:

There's a complete and total lack of communication between the Council members and the people- they are as inaccessible as Bremer or Bush. Their speeches are often in English and hardly ever to the Iraqi public...

We need *real* Iraqis- and while many may argue that the Council members are actually real Iraqis, it is important to keep in mind that fine, old adage: not everyone born in a stable is a horse. We need people who aren't just tied to Iraq by some hazy, political ambition. We need people who have histories inside of the country that the population can relate to. People who don't have to be hidden behind cement barriers, barbed wire and an army.

Bonus: Traditional Iraqi Ramadan Recipes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Glass is Half Empty... 
“WAR ON BENEFITS: The DoD Wants to Close Commissaries, CUT Your Pay, Give Away your Stateside Schools”

--Cover, Army Times, 3 November 2003

(Thanks to a reader, Carolyn, for tracking down the link.)

...The Glass Is Half Full 
“Congress Boosts GI Pay, Benefits”

--Headline to a Stars & Stripes story syndicated from www.militaryupdate.com, published that same week.

See? It's all in the spin.

(Again, hats off to Carolyn who found the link.)

Had to share this poem from a British soldier of WWI...it captures my own sentiments perfectly.

...On seeing a piece of our heavy artillery being brought into action

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great Gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!

Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse.
Spend our resentment, cannon -- yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men's sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, they spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.

But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

--Wilfred Owen

Wow! Already!

Thanks so much for all your emails of support--and thanks just as much for the criticism!

I'd like to publicly recognize and thank my good friend Kelley, in Nashville, who's last name I don't yet have permission to reveal, for his invaluable ideas and assistance getting started. He's the resident html guru, and my partner in crime.

A week ago Monday, this site was just in the 'hey, I have an idea! stage.'

The site would have been impossible without him.

Thanks, Kelley!


The Point of "Click" 
Jessica Lynch says it was wrong of the Army to film her rescue. I very respectfully disagree.

Some images of war have become icons. Others have changed the direction of public discourse. And going back to the immortal Gettysburg battlefield photos of Matthew Brady, war images have awakened a jingo-prone populace to the staggering human costs of war.

Now, I thought giving her an American flag to hug on her way into the helicopter and then sticking a camera in her face was laying it on a bit thick. And it's undeniable that the Administration blew some valuable credibility points by allowing some romantic misconceptions about her capture and rescue to go uncorrected. But there is no way to know in advance where and when the shutters will click on the great photographs of our age.

The military has a compelling interest to safeguard operational secrets and prevent the release of information that could be used to harm American troops. But short of that, I believe the Army, and the press which holds our army and our government accountable to the people, should work in partnership to record, photograph, and document everything in sight.

Every democracy relies on the decision making of an informed populace. When you discourage photography, you discourage the press from operating in the watchdog role the founding fathers envisioned when they drafted the First Amendment. And you drive a wedge between the army in the field and the people it serves.


Operation School Supplies 
Operation School Supplies

Thanks for your inquiries about how to donate school supplies! Here’s the deal:

Our unit, the 1-124th Infantry, has adopted a local primary school. Our objective is to provide a school supply kit for at least 300 children, in grades K-4. Supply kits beyond 300 will go toward adopting other schools.

Here’s our vision: Each child will receive a small box with the following items:

-kid-safe scissors
-pencil sharpener
-paper, lined or unlined
-box of crayons
-markers (felt-tips, colors)
-facial tissues
-spiral bound note pads/notebooks (small)
-baseball cap
-kids sunglasses
-generic note or homemade card.

We’ll remove your return address from the packaging. Don’t put anything in the kits that specifically identifies you or your organization.


Mail to: Operation School Supplies
1-124th Infantry
Unit # 91540
APO AE 09320-1540

I can’t thank you enough for your interest and support.

All the best,


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Leadership Lessons from Iraq III 
1. It's always a good idea to periodically ask your peers "How can I better support your mission?"

2. Never take a compliment from the boss without immediately passing on credit to your troops. "Well, the real hero was Pfc Garcia over there..."

3. You have heard it said that loyalty goes two ways—to your boss and to your men. But I submit that’s not enough. You also owe loyalty to your mission, to your boss’s mission, to the theater commander’s mission, and to the democratic principles of the republic you are sworn to defend.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Baghdad Press Officer to Film Crew: If You Don't Take That Tape Out, I am Going To Kill You. 
This is gripping stuff. A look behind the scenes at how news is gathered--and how public affairs officers attempt to manipulate it. In this case by threat of violence.

The Salute 
Yesterday I took a convoy out on an all-day mission to Al Asad and back. We had some trouble getting lined up for the return trip last night, and were running late. So we didn’t arrive at the outskirts of Ramadi until after sunset.

As you approach the city, you pass a lot of little roadside stands, where locals can buy cigarettes, sodas, produce, juices, or meats.

As we passed one of the roadside stands, the shopkeeper—just a regular Iraqi, a regular guy--stepped out in front of his wares and stood ramrod straight, at a textbook position of attention. He then and rendered a perfect, soldierly, salute.

I watched him from the back of the truck. He stood perfectly still, and held his salute until the last vehicle passed, then dropped it and turned back into his store. We continued on with our mission—delivering supplies, mail, and parts to Hurricane point. He continued on with his—supporting his family and getting on with life without Saddam Hussein.

Josh Marshall says, “We’re all alone.”

I know we’re not.

Imbedded People 
At the risk of drawing on Sullivan too much (one of the dangers of blogging is that people quote from the same few blogs too much and just create an echo chamber), he does pose a good question:

"Who needs imbedded media when you have imbedded people?"

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Must Read from the New York Times 
John F. Burns has this superb piece today.

Money quote:

One thing that draws common assent among Americans and Iraqis is Saddam Hussein. While the bombers seem to want him back in his palaces, virtually everybody else wants to see him dead — captured first, tried by an Iraqi court, then executed for his crimes.

Taken as a whole, the piece is balanced, and accurate. Segments like the above are contextualized with the many challenges the US faces. He's honest about some of our mistakes.

Above all, though He gives the Iraqis a voice. He really captures the flavor of what I've seen on the ground. He makes the story seem human. Believe me, it is.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing out the article, and making sure I read it before going to bed.

The Language of Insurgency 
Check out the use of language in ”Who Are the Insurgents?” from Time Magazine’s Brian Bennett.

Now, I think the term “insurgent” is fair, though I would limit it to describing those who confine their attacks to military targets. Other useful terms to consider, in various contexts: guerillas, irregulars, fighters, operatives, die-hards, jihadists, mujahedeen, Fedayeen, Wahabbists, or Saddam loyalists, Saddam sympathizers, radicals, elements, enemy forces, and so on.

I would confine the term “terrorist” to those who deliberately target civilians.

(Unfortunately, other governments have taken all the fun out of the terms ‘bandits,’ ‘troublemakers,’ and ‘hooligans.’)

Nevertheless, on four different occasions, Bennett chooses to describe them using the heavily loaded term ‘resistance.’

Here are the sentences.

1. According to the former Saddam aide, the deposed President is not leading the resistance nationally.

2. Resistance fighters have begun to favor rpgs…

3. The resistance, he adds, is learning how to modify other types of looted weapons, converting air-to-air missiles into surface-to-air missiles for targeting low-flying helicopters.

4. The aide says the resistance cells in his province have agreed that they will no longer conduct attacks in their hometowns.

The first usage, I think, is just fine. But why use the term ‘resistance’ when other, more specific, and less heavily laden terms are readily available?

In the last two instances, you could argue that he was merely accurately paraphrasing the language of his source (Accurately paraphrasing? Did I say that?!).

But in sentence number two, there are no excuses. The usage is all his. Nice little PR coup for the source, hmm?

So was there a conscious decision to award the Fedayeen and jihadists ‘resistance’ status? Nah. Probably just laziness with the language on the part of editors.

Henceforth, when more neutral and precise words are available, I'll simply consider the careless use of the term 'resistance' as a typo.

Lack of Newsroom Diversity Clobbers Time 
Here's where the absence of veterans in the subculture of professional journalism hurts Time Magazine.

From the same article:

Resistance [sic] fighters have begun to favor rpgs [sic], which are aimed by eye and, unlike missiles, don't alert the helicopter that it is being tracked. This means the targeted chopper will not fire the flares that draw heat-seeking missiles away from the aircraft.

Now, class--what's wrong with this logic? Think looooong and hard!

Were there no vets in the mid-town Manhattan Time-Life building office who could have caught this?

Well, how about at the Washington D.C. Bureau? They couldn't have hired a veteran?

Oh, I forgot. The only qualified veteran around Fort Lee, Fort Belvoire, Fort Eustice, Annapolis, and the Pentagon itself must have been hired by the Washington Post.

Stupid Thesaurus Tricks 
Here's why reference books are no substitute for a lifetime of reading.

Roget’s online Thesaurus lists forty-two synonyms for the word guerrilla:

Blackmailer, blotto, con, convict, crook, culprit, delinquent, desperado, deuce, evildoer, ex-con, felon, finger, fugitive, gangster, hatchet man, heavy, hood, hoodlum, hooligan, hustler, inside man, jailbird, lawbreaker, malefactor, mobster, moll, mug, muscle man, offender, outlaw, racketeer, repeater, scofflaw, shylock, sinner, slippery eel, thug, transgressor, trespasser, wrongdoer, yard bird.

The problem is, not one of these is actually a synonym for guerrilla.

A previous article mentioned our ‘battalion public affairs officer.’ It has been brought to my attention that infantry battalions do not have a PAO duty position. This officer is not officially a public affairs officer. He has, on an informal basis, been performing certain public affairs functions for the unit.

I regret the error, and have corrected the text.

Some Adult Supervision from The Economist Magazine 
While most people seem to be focused on the backward-looking, childish ‘did-not, did-too’ argument over whether the Bush/Blair administration exaggerated the WMD threat—replete with the predictable arguments from professionally predictable people on TV, it’s nice to see The Economist looking realistically forward:

“The flimsiness of some of the claims about Mr. Hussein’s arsenal…also risks making the danger posed by WMD seem more rhetorical and less real than it is, and may jeopardize future efforts to deal with that danger—especially any that involve acting pre-emptively.”

The Economist, Oct. 4th, 2003. Pg 16.

(Alright—mail’s slow out here, ok?!)

The debate over how to diffuse any potential future WMD threat is vastly more important than whether Hussein was 45 minutes away from the bomb. But count the minutes or paragraphs devoted to the former vs. the latter subject.

Is the mass media really illuminating the subject? Or is most of the light being provided by the steady glow of enriched uranium rods in reactors in North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran?

The Important Mail 
Well, that was CENTCOM, or central command, contacting me directly. That's a big headquarters, commanded by a four-star general, so you bet they can get my attention.

I was directed to stop publishing, until such time as this site could be checked out by a public relations officer or my commanding officer. Nooooo, die-hard 1st Amendment reporter types, that's not 'censorship.' Don't go running to file your "Big Brother is Watching" stories just yet. It's a pretty routine procedure, and one I expected would come up pretty quickly.

Natch, CENTCOM wants to know that I'm not going to publish anything prejudicial to our mission or undercut the chain of command and wants to know I won't be publishing anything classified. They'll also want to make sure that there's nothing about the site that would cause anyone to confuse it with an official US Army website. A good Public Affairs Officer can provide good guidance and counsel about how to steer clear of these things, but still help a good story get out, even if it's not necessarily flattering.

Fortunately, my Public Affairs officer likes it (although he may deny it later!), and the problems were quickly worked out.

I am going back and changing some names. The names are not important to the articles. My first concern is the smooth functioning of my unit, especially in the face of the enemy. Changing the names will help me ensure that the unit isn't compromised if someone harbors a grudge against something I write, while still maintaining the integrity of the site.

I recognize that I could be wading into some ethical thickets here. I'm sure all readers will understand that my first obligation is to my little corner of the successful prosecution of the war.


Saturday, November 15, 2003

People appreciate your good work! 
I've seen very positive response to your Blog, Jason! Check Email ASAP - important mail awaits.


Is the Washington Post Serious about Covering the Military? 
The Washington Post’s Vernon Loeb’s a terrific writer. Check out this article on the nature of the insurgency here in Sunni Iraq. Crisp, balanced, insightful. I’m seeing only two factual errors: both minor, but one of them is very revealing.

First of all, Loeb gets my boss’s name wrong. It’s Hector Mirabile, not Oscar Mirabile. Ok, fine. Daily journalism’s tough, and anyone could make that error.

But more distressingly, Loeb describes Lt. Col. Mirabile as commanding a brigade. Mirabile commands a battalion, not a brigade. The difference is huge. For a separate brigade, the difference can be about ten times as many people. Moreover, lieutenant colonels don’t command brigades. Brigades are nearly always commanded by a full colonel (if part of a division), or by a brigadier general. The word “brigadier” might clue a sharp guy in. You don’t have to be a retired colonel to know that. Any self-respecting Civil War buff ought to be able to hear the words “lieutenant colonel” and instantly think “battalion commander” faster than you can say “Pavlov’s dog.”

The thing is, this isn’t just the Washington Post. This is one of the Post’s best. When I ask other reporters who their favorite writer is on the war, Loeb’s often on the short list. So why are readers of the top politics and policy paper in the nation getting their news and context from a military beat reporter—a war correspondent—who can’t tell the difference between a battalion and a brigade?

I guess the Post was pushed into a corner. After all, everybody knows there are no Civil War buffs around Northern Virginia, and no veterans around Washington, D.C.

Jason Blows His Top: A Detailed Account of a Mortar Attack 
Well, it’s been months, but I finally blew up at someone the other night.

It felt good.

2015 hrs. I’m in the aid station writing. The first round was close enough to flex the windows. Four more rounds, about 10 seconds apart, then four more. All close. The guys on the roof sound off with the ‘incoming’ air horn, which is far quieter than the incoming, and always seems to go off after the detonation. Every time I hear it, I wonder to myself why we bother with it.

Then four more rounds. Again, all close. I stick my head out the door and shoo everyone inside, under cover, and clear out so the medics can get set up for any wounded that may come in.

12 rounds would make this mortar attack the most persistent yet. Usually the enemy prefers to fire 3-6 rounds and then get the heck out of dodge. Not this time. Apparently he loaded up the back of his truck with mortar rounds and wanted to use them all. By the rate of fire, and the fact that no windows were broken by the blast, it was probably a 61mm mortar, possibly a section of two, but I don’t think so. It’s hard to tell from inside a concrete building, though. I was not in any real danger.

But I’ve got over a hundred guys around to account for, and my first concern is to positively account for every single one of them as fast as I can. I do not want to learn the next morning that someone out in the latrines or walking about or jogging had taken a frag and had bled out where he lay in the night because nobody knew where he was.

2LT Micah, the medical platoon leader, was out, but his senior noncommissioned officer, SSG Paredo, was there, and I told Paredo to get positive accountability of all his people and give me a thumbs up when ready. Then we both got to work.

I walk outside on the veranda and make my way towards Battalion headquarters, which is in another part of the same building. I’ve got 23 soldiers who work there and 29 more field artillery attachments who live next door, so it’s a good place to start. The front way around is open, and borders on a large concrete parking lot and an open area. The walkway around the building is elevated a couple of feet above the parking lot. 61mm shells have a lethal radius of up to 50 meters or so—more if you’re elevated. I’ve seen the way mortar shell fragments distribute themselves from scars on buildings, and a ground impact definitely projects fragments upwards in a shallow cone shape—maybe 20 or 30 degrees or so and up. Mortars have a blast radius of about 40 meters, and a 'do you feel lucky' radius much larger than that. So anything that landed in the parking lot while I was walking around the building stands a good chance of slicing me up.

Soooo, I took the back way, which provides overhead cover the whole way, and is bordered by sand, a low stone wall, and the river beyond that. Much better cover.

The thought process isn’t that complicated, obviously—I’m just describing the layout. If James Joyce were to place Stephen Daedalus in the scene, and describe the stream of consciousness process, he’d probably simply write “Accountability. No one bleeding out. Headquarters boys, first, then redlegs. Maintenance and mess after. Ooops—better not go that way. Overhead cover in back. 18 inches.”

Joyce would have then completed “Ulysses” in 30 pages, beat Hemmingway to his own prose style, never have bothered with “Finnegan’s Wake,” Molly Bloom would never have discovered the joy of Chiquita bananas, and I could have completed my useless Lit degree a year earlier and saved thousands of dollars. But I digress.

I get to the TOC, and everyone there is busy fighting the battle and trying to get counterfire on the firing point. It hasn’t been three minutes since impact, and the battle captain, 1LT Antoine Smith, is already repeating a grid coordinate and pointing it out on the blowup satellite photo to the Battalion commander. Excellent. Already have radar acquisition. Finally got the Q36 radar pointed in the right direction. Helps when they use the same firing point night after night. Dipshits. Level the place. Work fast. Where’s the Sergeant Major at? Busy helping fight the battle in the TOC. Off duty NCO might be in the living area.

I’m looking for the Battalion Operations sergeant major, SGM ______, who’s in charge of accountability of the Tactical Operations Center. But he’s involved with the battalion commander running the command and control, so I gun for the senior off-shift TOC NCO I can find in a hurry. I figure he might be in the living area. I go through the TOC and enter the living area, and find some of the guys in there. No TOC NCOs, but I find the civil affairs team senior NCO, with one of his four soldiers, watching a video game.

“I need a casualty report for your section, sergeant. I see half your team right here, I just walked past your young specialist on the way in here. You’re only missing sergeant Maureg. I haven’t seen her. Give me a thumbs-up when you’re good.”

“Roger, sir!”

I’m a little irritated at this point. A staff sergeant should have to be reminded to get off his butt and account for his people after a mortar strike. And he should know more about where his people are than I do. The low intensity of this conflict is allowing us to get away with some bad habits and complacency. This mistake would not be tolerated during any rigorous training exercise in peacetime.

Still, the light in his eyes came on right away and he jumped to it in good shape, so I figured the issue was closed. I turned to one of my best specialists in the TOC and said “I’ll be looking for the same thing from the TOC. There’s no NCOs here, so I’m telling you. Spread the word, and I’ll come back for the report.”

“Roger, sir!”

It was Specialist Jeffrey T. a bartender in Kendall, Florida, in real life, and a good sniper and scout. Could be a superb squad leader in any infantry unit in the Army tomorrow. I was in great hands.

“Hoo-ah. See you guys in a bit.”

And off I went. On the way out the door, I see the field artillery NCO already working on tracking down his people. Good. Another blast. Hollower, deeper, more percussive sounding. That’s us. That’s 155s. Excellent. I don’t think it’s been four minutes yet. That’s our fastest yet.” More blasts. The sweet sound of freedom. “That’s ours, guys!” say a few of the older hands. Well, we’re all old hands at this, now. But the radio in the TOC in the next room confirms the fact: it’s the 1st Brigade combat team, firing their 155mm guns from across the river, maybe a mile and a half away. They sound as loud as the 61mm shells that landed within our own compound just minutes before.

Off I go to find the maintenance, mess, S1, and S4 sections, who all live together. Again, the back of the building. I’m pretty safe, although it doesn’t quite feel like it. I find the S4 section intact. S1 section is missing one man, no one knows where he went. “Find him. Give me a thumbs-up.” Maintenance is all accounted for. Only one private around from mess—so I have to keep looking for those guys.

I venture out front now—with our own rounds impacting on the mortar launch point, it’s reasonably safe—they won’t be able to do any firing with Hell opening up over their heads, anyway. I’m looking for 1LT B., the support platoon leader, who lives in a reinforced tent across the road. I find him walking out to check on his own guys, and we walk into the mess tent together. I find three mess NCOs calmly watching the big screen satellite TV.

“Got everybody?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ok,” I said. “Next time there’s incoming I need a thumbs-up from you guys. Don’t come running across the open looking for me when there’s still rounds falling, but I need to know everyone’s ok.”

“Roger, sir. Were there people looking for you?”

“Nobody came looking for me. That’s the problem!,” I laughed. But things were good here. I wasn’t too keen on guys watching TV in a tent during a mortar strike, but they had walls around them, and I also wasn’t too keen on them LEAVING the four walls to cross the open area to find better cover during the next mortar strike. I just chalked that up to a judgement call on the ground and moved on. Mortars and commo next. Medics should be done by now. Truckers last.
I walked over past the medics area and found the mortar platoon leader, 1LT John Czworka. Good, level-headed man. I asked if he had accountability of his platoon, and he said his platoon sergeant was still working on it. Fine. I stepped into the aid station. All up. Good. Where’s 2LT Micah? He went to the TOC. Good.

Off I go, to the communications platoon’s living area, again using the rear side of the building. There’s bunches of 155 rounds launching now, and they make me jump everytime I hear them. This is by far the most aggressive counterbattery fire I’ve heard go out all year.


That’s the sound of democracy headed downrange. Good. Pulverize the bastards.

Make them a pink mist, or scared shitless to try mortaring us again.

It’s now been a good six or seven minutes—maybe ten-- since the first incoming round hit the dirt. I find the signal officer, standing out back. “What’s up?”


“Hey, Dave, what’s up. Is commo accounted for?”

“So, are you loving it?”

(here’s the promised blow-up you’ve all been waiting for…)


Steve jumps out of his skin. I had forgotten I was even capable of an eruption like that.

But he instantly said “Alright! I don’t know! I’ll go check!” and went inside. I stayed outside to take a deep breath and make sure I wasn’t still angry. I wasn’t. He was trying to lighten things up with levity—which I do all the time, myself, but just timed it wrong with me. I only had one thing on my mind, and I was just not tolerant of anything that would slow me down or distract me in the slightest.



I felt pretty good actually.


I felt even better. I went inside after Dave. All his guys were ok. I got a report that the mortars were all ok. I grabbed Dave by the arm and said “Dude, You gotta understand that my sense of humor changes RADICALLY when we’re in contact. I still love you, man.”

I think he understood just fine. He knows it was just business.

To be honest, I wasn’t too happy that that much time had gone by and he still hadn’t gotten accountability of his crew, but his senior NCO was all over it, so no one was left hanging, uncovered by their leadership. And that's mostly his senior NCO's job, anyway. Everything was working as it should. Dave hadn't done anything wrong--I still felt bad.

That left the truckers, who were 300 meters away across open ground. They were supposed to move to Bravo company’s building, in case of a mortar strike, and radio in, which they hadn’t yet. But the radio net was all tied up anyway, so there was no way they could. I went back to the aid station and told them where I was going, so that if more incoming came in and I didn’t come back in 10 minutes they’d know where to look for me. But one of my medics said the truck platoon leader,, was just by and said all his people were ok.

I went back to the S1 section to follow up with their missing man. Found him sitting at his desk. HHC was up. A quick reaction force of several Humvees with 50 cal. Machine guns was already rolling out the gate to seize the mortar firing point. I gave the thumbs up report to the Battalion S1 and went back to the TOC: our O.P.s said our first rounds were right on target. With a timely radar acquisition of the firing point, quick response by the field artillery, aggressive counterbattery fire with some major ordnance, and a mounted quick reaction force leaving the gate in a matter of minutes to seize control of the field—hopefully, before their survivors have a chance to evacuate any wounded, weapons, or vehicles—I think there is an excellent chance that this mortar crew made the last mistake of their lives tonight.

And The Award for Most Militarily Clueless Member of Congress Goes To... 
…Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), who says “Even 50 years ago, we did not experience problems supplying our soldiers with food and water.”

Fact check: 50 years ago, we weren’t actually in a shooting war, but we were just putting the finishing touches on the Korean peninsula. Task Force Smith, may I introduce you to Louise Slaughter? Louise, meet Task Force Smith.

I’m sure you have lots to talk about.

Now, I don’t expect every congressperson to be Stephen Ambrose. But did any newspapers put any perspective on her remarks? Is anyone working the military affairs beat familiar enough with the terrain to put some perspective on this kind of inanity? Editors? Do you care about diversity?

How many reservists or veterans do you have working in your newsroom?

Friday, November 14, 2003

The Army is Broken 
The US Army’s personnel system is an utter, complete, miserable failure.

Here’s why:

A regimental sized active duty unit, such as our former parent unit the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, can expect a planeload or so of individual replacements every month.

A guard or reserve unit in Iraq, on the other hand, can expect no replacements. My own battalion has engaged the enemy continuously since May without receiving one single individual replacement except a surgeon.

While thousands of active duty soldiers are returning to civilian life at the end of their enlistments, the army’s stop-loss policy—lifted in March for most active duty soldiers, will force more than 100 soldiers in my battalion to serve involuntarily beyond their terms of enlistments. Some of them by more than a year.

While active duty troops may transfer to accept promotions, our troops are not even considered. My battalion commander, LTC Hector Mirabile, lost a promised bird-colonel’s job, and guaranteed promotion, all because he went to war. Because his allowable time to accept a promotion will have expired while we’re deployed, he will fall off the selection list for promotion to colonel, and will have to reapply. Some pogue who stayed at home will get the job instead, and we’ll probably lose a veteran commander.

The unit and mission are suffering, as a result.

Meanwhile, our unit has been deployed for eight months, and engaged in combat for six, without replacing a single grunt. The ramifications are frightening. What if we weren't fighting a simmering counterinsurgency, but a mid- or high-intensity war somewhere?

How long could we hold the line in Korea?

Italy Stands Tall. Josh Marshall Blows It. 
The Italians are standing firm with the US and the Iraqi people, saying they will not withdraw their 2,300 troops despite the terrorist attack on their military police headquarters the other day, that killed 30 people.

Killer quote from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: "No intimidation will budge us from our willingness to help that country rise up again and rebuild itself with self-government, security and freedom."


The very next day, Japan gets skittish about its 150 troops, and the South Koreans increase force protection measures for their 600 troops in response to the attack.

Josh Marshall's twisted response: "Were all alone. There's no other way to put it."

Can he be serious?? He doesn't even mention the Prime Minister's steadfastness.

I'd like to introduce him to the comrades of a soldier who was killed alongside our own troops in a joint raid here in Ramadi a couple of weeks ago. He was British.

To a Fallen Comrade 
Sad news: another Florida national guardsman was killed in Baghdad, in the service of freedom. This time it was from 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.

His name was Robert Allen Wise, of Tallahassee.

He was 21 years old.

What Seems to be the Problem, Officer? 
The boys brought in three yesterday. They were riding around in their car at two in the morning with a briefcase full of wire, tape, cell-phone parts (sometimes used to complete firing circuits in IEDs. You wire a cell phone motherboard to the IED, dial the number, and ka-BOOM!), wire cutters, and what looks like a cheap 9mm pistol but is really a lighter instead. I’ll never understand why they carry things like that around.

Oh. They also had a 155mm artillery round in the trunk.

One of them, it turns out, was an English teacher. He wasn’t very talkative, though. Well, he didn’t say anything when I started telling him how stupid he was. I’m sure he had figured it out already on his own. I mean, here’s a guy who has a skill which can really help Iraq get back on its feet, and help people to a better life: Introduce them to an international language of commerce.

Presumably, he also provided for a wife and children.

But instead of doing that, he’s going to be spending years staring at a concrete wall and dying for a smoke.

What a waste.

Was the Food Poisoned? 
Here’s the controversy du jour around here: One night in July, over 40 soldiers from the 1-124th became violently sick, all within two hours of eating dinner. Spaghetti, if you must know.

The illness was spread roughly evenly among all four companies, and was consistent in two different compounds.

Now, this is how chow operations run here: We pick up food from a civilian dining facility, put it in mermite containers, and truck it out to our different garrisons around the town. The food is generally consumed within two hours of going into the mermites—regulations allow up to four hours to elapse before the food must be discarded. There were no problems or delays with the delivery that day, so it’s unlikely that the toxin developed within the mermites. And since the rate of illness was constant at all of our separate units, it seems necessary that the food was contaminated at the dining facility, courtesy of Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

We had some intelligence reports, prior to the incident, that insurgents were seeking to poison food and water supplies. After the incident, Brown & Root changed its procedures so that their middle-eastern workers no longer had access to food preparation areas. The workers there now are mostly Philipino and Bosnian. The incident was not repeated.

The question: are those 40 soldiers entitled to wear the Purple Heart? The regulations say no, the Purple Heart is not awarded in cases of food poisoning, unless the poisoning came about as a result of enemy action.

So should the victims of The Spaghetti Incident receive the Purple Heart?

I report; “They” will decide.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

In Defense of Ted Rall 
Now Ted Rall, a left-smelling columnist and cartoonist author of "To Afghanistan and Back, is being drawn and quartered by conservative bloggers like Andrew Sullivan and littlegreenfootballs.com for this essay. Sullivan describes his essay as "A rationalization for murder." LGF simply calls him "A loathsome creep."

Ok, Rall’s got a tin ear. Especially publishing something like that on Veteran’s Day. He’s a big boy. He’s got no right to complain.

But, folks, there’s also this thing called ‘irony.’ The classic, literary theory definition of ‘irony’ is not quite the same as the sense in which the word has come into common usage. The literary theory definition of irony is this: irony is a construction whereby the ostensible meaning of the text is the opposite of the point the author wishes to convey.

(See, I knew that useless degree in literature would come in handy someday.)

Now, in this case, it can’t be said that Rall wants to convey is the opposite of the meaning of the surface text. But the same is true of Jonathan Swift’s classic of literary irony, A Modest Proposal.

I don’t think Andrew Sullivan or any of the rest of the conservative pack of blogs currently chewing on Rall would suggest that Swift was a bowler-hat-wearing, crown-worshipping, Leprechaun-molesting, Ireland-hating Prod because he penned an essay proposing the killing and eating of Irish children.

So why is it necessary that Ted Rall must be a sniveling, terrorist-sympathizing America-hater because he pens his own essay encouraging the killing of American soldiers in Iraq?

Full disclosure: I’m not intimately familiar with the ouvre of Ted Rall; I’ve got other things to worry about right now. He might be all these things, and more, for other reasons. He might not. But confining my analysis to the text of this essay, I can’t say that he’s guilty of anything more than being a clumsier writer than Jonathan Swift.

Join the club, pal.

Meanwhile, let’s all take our irony supplements. Mmmkay? :-)

Splash, out,


Leadership Lessons from Iraq II 
Leaders, take the time to let your people know exactly where you stand, even on small things.

I took a stand recently against the common usage of the term “Haji.” I called the senior NCOs and platoon/section leaders together for a ‘power breakfast’and told them that I thought it was demeaning, degrading, and dehumanizing. That a lot of these people were risking their lives alongside us and I thought it was time to treat them with respect. Indeed, that I thought we couldn’t succeed in our mission until we did so.

I was wayyy outside the fat part of the bell curve on this one. This is something I don’t think anyone was expecting an officer to do. I expected to take some ribbing—maybe even ridicule. I half expected to fall flat on my face, and expend a bunch of moral capital to no avail. So I was a little cautious. I didn’t order people not to use the word “Haji.” I told them I was going to eliminate the term from my own vocabulary, and challenged them and invited them to do the same.

I did take some ribbing. But by the end of the day the Battalion commander had heard about it, too, and was correcting his own staff on the use of the word “Haji.” It’s catching on around the company. And when I slip—and I do--my troops even correct me. It’s encouraging.


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