Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Email of the Day 
You've just spent a year in a war-torn country where you, equipped with all the latest gadgetry and high-tech weaponry available to any army in the modern world, were unable to keep the peace in a truly complete way. There are daily explosions, bombings, killings, rocket attacks every day in Baghdad. Yet you do think that the US army is doing a fine job there in a difficult situation. Why not extend the same understanding toward UN troops who work in just as difficult an environment with far more limited mandates than the US army in Iraq in terms of the powers to search, arrest, interrogate, etc.?

From a reader.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, it seems to me that useless is as useless does.

The attacks that the reader mentions in Iraq are all hit-and-run classic guerrilla operations and terrorist tactics--hallmarks of assymetrical warfare adopted by the weaker side.

The weaker side--in this case the Islamist insurgency--adopts these tactics precisely because they cannot successfully close with and destroy the American forces. They cannot hold their own in a firefight. Although they have demonstrated the ability to gather in platoon strength or better in Fallujah and Sammarah, they generally cannot follow up successes. They have no choice but to vanish into the population as quickly as possible or die.

And they sure as Hell can't do anything so bold as to destroy an entire village within small arms range of an American base. They know that American forces would protect the village from aggression. American forces have enough credibility that the insurgent does not even try.

The fact that a mob showed up to destroy a Serb village in the very face of a presence of UN Peacekeepers tells you two things: 1.) The UN Peacekeepers are as useless as a nipple on a napkin, and 2.) UN credibility with the locals is so pathetic that the mob knew the UN would not stop them going in.

Further, if United Nations troops have "more limited mandates" than do American troops in Iraq, and if that is such a problem, then again, that's nobody's fault but the UN's.

Splash, out


Prepare to Move Out 
Journal Entry:
10 May 02, 2100 hrs.

Baghdad International Airport.

I've been tasked to lead a convoy of 11 vehicles west to link up with our Battalion Commander at Al Asad Air Base, about a 4 hour ride west of here.

Not happy about the planning. I've got no medical evacuation plan, no friendly unit radio contact list for the route out there, no fire support plan, no air-ground frequencies. I don't even have a map.

I also have one injured soldier in a neck brace--a female truck driver from the 603rd Transportation company who injured her neck in an accident on the way up here.

Overall, the situation is excellent.

We must do better planning the next one. Of course, most of that usually falls on the battalion staff, and the battalion staff isn't here yet. The logistics officer, S-3 Air [assistant operations officer, responsible for air-ground coordination] and battalion executive officer are still in Jordan, tying up loose ends, and are not due to arrive in Iraq for a couple of weeks.

I voiced my concerns to Captain B., the HHC company commander, but there's nothing that can be done from here, anyway. I should be able to get more information from the 3rd Armored Cavalry on the way back to pick up the rest of the company here in a few days.

The convoy will roll.

A Sensk of Responskibility 
Miami's own Charlie Company, 1-124th Infantry is being featured on 60 Minutes II for the second time, on Wednesday night, 8 pm Eastern, on CBS.

This time, the topic is SSG Camilo Mejia and his desertion from the battlefield in Iraq, and his bid to become a consciencious objector.


Mejia: "I have not deserted the military," says Mejia. "I have not been disloyal to the men and women of the military. I have not been disloyal to a country. I have only been loyal to my principles and I think that gives me the right to decide not to be a part of something that I consider criminal. I realize I have a duty to the military and I'm going to face that duty and I'm going to face my responsibility."

CPT Tad Warfel, his company commander:

"I don't know if I considered him personally a coward but I consider what he did as a cowardly act...[Mejia] told me he was coming back and he didn't, and that makes me mad and just that any soldier that abandons his fellow soldier in a time of war, and I can't think of anything worse...I just hope that the military justice system does right by me and by my soldiers and punishes him for what he did."

Now, I'm sympathetic to consciencious objectors. But soldiers are sworn to obey the lawful orders of the officers appointed over them. A military unit cannot deploy its conservative soldiers to Iraq and let its liberals stay home, nor can it deploy its liberals to Kosovo and Bosnia and let its conservative stay in the rear.

A unit must train as a team to fight as a team, and all come home together as a team. Soldiers cannot be free to select our nation's wars. That authority belongs jointly to Congress and the Commander in Chief.

In Leadership Secrets from Iraq I wrote of the need for leaders to consider their simultaneous and occasionally conflicting loyalties to their men, to their boss, to their mission, to their boss's mission, and to the principles which we are sworn to uphold.

By showing up safe and sound to Fort Stewart weeks after his unit finally returned from the battlefield, Mejia claims that he is upholding his responsibility to the Army.

But part of his responsibility to the Army involved his responsibilities to his battalion, his company, his company's mission, his platoon, and the men who's lives he was entrusted with, and who had the right to expect to look upon him, a professional NCO, as a leader and role model.

Having fled the battlefield, and having turned himself in only when his unit was safely back home so there was no chance he could be returned to duty where it counted most, there is no way his performance towards his self-described "responsibilities" could be characterized as anything other than a miserable failure.

Splash, out

Monday, March 29, 2004

Arrival In Baghdad 
This is a diary of my experiences as executive officer of Headquarters Company, 1-124th Infantry Regiment, during and after the war to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein. It may also be considered a love letter to my children, who do not yet exist, and to the next generation. May the world be a safer and better place for the sacrifices we make here today.

10 May 2003, Baghdad International Airport.

We arrived at Baghdad International Airport about 1700 hours local time yesterday. I was on the second flight of HHC personnel. We left Prince Hasan Air Base, Jordan, about 2000 hours the night before, on the 8th of May--coincidentally, the 11th anniversary of my commissioning as an officer out of ROTC at the University of Southern California.

We made one brief fuel stop at another (unknown) airfield, then flew to an airfield in the United Arab Emirates. Afternoon temperatures reached 130 degrees F in the shade, according to some USAF personnel stationed there. And it's only May. Lovely.

After about a 6 hour layover, we packed into another C-130 and made the trip to Baghdad.

No one was prepared to recieve us. After repeated attempts to reach the 3rd Armored Cavalry Headquarters in Ar Ramadi, we "borrowed" an airport trolley and shuttled everyone to the other side of the airport, to concourse D, of the main terminal.

Impressions: There is no plumbing at all, and auxiliary power only. Sanitary conditions are very poor. Flies are legion out front: prior units had urinated and defacated all over the parking lot out front--not that they had much choice.

Spirits are good in the unit. Vehicles are still back in Jordan, along with our mechanics and our support platoon. Our Operational Readiness rating right now is about 40%, by the "dash-10" [vehicle maintenance manual] standards. Spare parts have been a severe problem. CL II [general supply] support has been nonexistent.

Some notes on the Airport itself: prior units have not taken good care of the airport. They left trash and piss bottles lying all over the ground throughout the airport. Our area is still ok, and we will keep it that way. Our troops and troops of B co, 1-124th Infantry, are sleeping in the baggage claim area of the terminal.

It looks as if no one has flown out of here in years, though there is no sign of this terminal having ever been used.

There's a cool mural on the wall in the baggage area, though--apparently Gilgamesh, or some other mythic figure, killing a panther.

Offices throughout the airport have been ransacked.

Apparently, someone stole liquor from the Duty Free shop upstairs (though I know it wasn't anyone from our unit.) Dust covers all the floors. It may never have been mopped. All the trees are dead. Landscaping around the airport has been started, but never completed.

A bombed out 727 shell still lies on the runway.

A professionally dressed Iraqi woman came by who was apparently part of the Airport Administration, who claimed that everything had been working fine until the US showed up.

That is clearly false. This terminal has not functioned in years.

One Sergeant Major May, from a Public Affairs Unit permanently assigned to the Airport, warned us to be careful moving out of here. Iraqis had been taking potshots at convoiys, including RPG ambushes, and even throwing landmines out into the road in front of US convoys.

We have no maps yet of anywhere in the country.

Waiting for transportation to the north, to our next mission.

The Journal 
In the days ahead, I'll be posting my journal entries in serial form from May 10th, 2003--the date of my unit's arrival in Iraq, until I run out of journal entries, or until people stop reading the blog. Whichever comes first.

I don't plan on doing a lot of editing, except in some cases to change names--at the request of those individuals concerned--or remove military jargon to make it readable to a wider audience (i.e., I'll replace terms like "Class V" with "ammunition," "maintenance logs" rather than "2404's" and favor terms like "operations officer" rather than "S-3."

Otherwise, except for obviously boring bits, strictly personal crap, anything that might expose me to libel suits (hey, I blog for free. I don't take uncompensated risks!) and sections which, upon rereading, are completely unintelligible even to me, the journal entries are going to come out pretty much as I wrote them when the impressions were fresh in my mind, in the preblog days.


Dick Clarke and "American Grandstand" 
Is it just me, or has the debate over and coverage of the once-promising 9/11 commission quickly degenerated into icky, childish gamesmanship on both sides of the aisle

Richard Clarke--who has a book to sell--accuses the President of insisting on turning over every rock to see if there was a Hussein connection to 9/11. As if that were a problem.

Then the Bush Administration initially denies that to be the case--tacitly implying that that is somehow a problem--before finally coming out and saying 'yeah, we did want to explore the connection. So what?'

And then the Republican leadership floats a perjury charge, and suggest we declassify certain documents--documents which are presumeably classified for a reason--in order to discredit Clarke for it's own political ends.

Clarke responds by challenging the Administration to declassify everything--including, presumeably, documents Clarke classified himself--again, presumeably, for a reason.

In this case, to insulate himself from an irresponsibly levied perjury allegation--the interests of the Republic be damned.

And the media, rather than focusing sober attention on lessons learned and recommended refinements to best practices, is obediently turning the hearings into a campaign event.

Was holding a responsible inquiry during an election year just too much to ask?

Meanwhile, Clarke's going to climb up the NYT bestseller list, and the national debate is focusing on everything except the one critical issue at hand:

How can we best tear the enemy's guts out by the roots?

Splash, out


Saturday, March 27, 2004

Stay Tuned... 
I finally found my journal from the crazy, early days in Iraq.

Shameless Self Promotion Dept (Or Lt. Van Deals Craic) 
I will be appearing tonight as a fiddler at John Martin's Irish Pub, at 253 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL.

If you like the blog, or if you like Irish music, please do stop by and introduce yourself.

Slan, out


Letters, Lord Do I Get Letters! 
A First Infantry Division JAG officer squares me away on military law, and has an interesting observation:

He [SSG Camilo Mejia] cannot be sentenced to death for desertion.

For the purposes of offenses under the UCMJ, we are not in a "time of war."
Under RCM 103(19), it takes either a Congressional declaration of war or an
executive finding that we are in a time of war for UCMJ purposes, and neither
has happened.

Compare "time of war" with offenses like Art 115, Malingering, which have
increased punishment if committed in "a hostile fire pay zone."

So it turns out that I was too harsh on the Tribune, AP, The Washington Post, and the UK Guardian.

Whatever checking methods they employed, their reporters actually got it right, in this particular case.

Pardon me while I go wash the boot polish out of my mouth. :)

Splash, out


Friday, March 26, 2004

Arrogance: A Book Review 
Right now I'm reading Bernie Goldberg's new book Arrogance: Rescuing America From The Media Elite.

The bottom line: I'm wasting my time reading this book so that you don't have to.

His prior book, Bias, was sloppy and disappointing. It should have been a tour de force--a scintillating expose of the coastal and left-wing biases and prejudices of America's fourth estate. Instead we got a dull and tedious tell-all about how CBS's Don Hewitt is a liberal democrat, who once gave short shrift to Steve Forbes' flat-tax proposal.

Goldberg should have chosen the subtitle: "Saving America from the Media Conspiracy Against Me Me Me."

Arrogance falls into much the same trap, although to a lesser degree.

See, there ought to be plenty to write about. Too much of America's opinion-making power is concentrated into New York City and Washington D.C. All three networks (four counting FOX), CNN, MSNBC, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal must all draw their staffs from the demographic pools of just two cities, and so it's only natural that their editorial staffs would share the political views commonly held by this coastal demographic.

So there is enough out there to fill a lively and entertaining book to be written about the "snoot factor" endemic to the New York media scene. The problem is, Anne Coulter already wrote it.

Arrogance breaks little new ground--and indeed draws upon many of the exact same anecdotes, by way of supporting evidence, that Coulter describes in Slander. But he does so without Coulter's end note documentation, nor her ascerbic touch for satire.

Imagine a bitter and more self-absorbed Anne Coulter. Subtract a few IQ points. Dilute out her outrageous hyperbole.

Now imagine her without a sense of humor.

That's Goldberg's new book.


The real crime is that the gang at Warner Books didn't expect better out of a veteran journalist. At a minimum, they should have insisted on end notes, and edited out every single one of Goldberg's "misunderstood and mistreated me" anecdotes.

I guess when you've got a ready-made and easily targeted book-buying demographic, and you can guarantee selling 100,000 copies to the same echo-chamber inhabitants who bought Coulter's last book, and everything else the ad sponsors of the G. Gordon Liddy radio show tell them to read, you can get away with publishing schlock.

Splash, out


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Who Edits the Editors? 
Think back to 1980.

George F. Will, the longtime conservative columnist for the Washington Post , was part of a team of journalists and consultants that helped Ronald Reagan prepare for his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter.

Will later praised Reagan's "thoroughbred performance" on a post-debate appearance on Nightline, but did not disclose his role as a member of Reagan's coaching staff.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is still raking him over the coals for that ethical lapse. And justly so.

Sure, Will was, and is, an editorial columnist. An opinion writer.

It's not like he's the managing editor of the premier news weekly in the country, right?


Fast forward to the 2004 presidential campaign.

It turns out that according to Truthout.org, Jim Kelly, the managing editor for Time, was among an august list of journalists and editors invited to a dry-fire session with John Kerry at...

...wait for it...

...Al Franken's New York City apartment.

In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge, writes Truthout managing editor William Rivers Pitt.

My question is, is Time going to disclose Kelly's participation in its own pages, in every Kerry profile or general election debate article it runs?

Why not?

Kelly isn't alone, though. The list also includes Newsweek senior political correspondent Howard Fineman and senior editor Jonathan Alter.

Hey, isn't Newsweek owned by the Washington Post Company?

You'd think they would have learned something from l'affaire George Will.


Then there's Jeff Greenfield from CNN and David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, and Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.

(I'm leaving out the guys who are just columnists, for now).

Now that all these guys are part of the campaign process for Kerry, how are they going to disclose that when their publications cover the general debates? Or will they even bother?

Did they bother writing up this little soiree themselves at all? And was everything that was said, said "on the record?"

After all, if it was just an informal news conference, then why hold it in a private apartment?

If the purpose was to inform the electorate, then why nobody from the New York Post, FOX News, or the Wall Street Journal?

Space considerations?

Then why was Art Spiegelman there?

Journalists get face time all the time. And they'll cancel their mother's day dinner plans to get an in-depth sit-down with John Kerry. And they should.

But the editors have reporters on staff that would kill for the chance. They should send them.

After all, if the reporter gets a bit too enamored with a political personality--if the reporter begins to lose his or her sceptical edge or objectivity, the editor can still ask the tough questions of the reporter, and insist on fair, dispassionate coverage.

But who edits the editors?

Splash, out


(hat tip: Ohthatliberalmedia.com for finding the Truthout document)

The Wages of Weaseldom 
PARIS, France (CNN) -- The shadowy group that has issued threats to bomb France's railway system says it is suspending its terror threats while it improves its ability to carry them out.

But a letter to President Jacques Chirac and the interior minister warns that if the French government does not pay the $4 million the group calling itself AZF has demanded, attacks will follow which will be worse than those in Spain.

In excerpts from the letter published in the Paris daily newspaper Le Monde, AZF said it was suspending its activities in order to correct "technical problems."

In the letter, AZF described itself as "a small brotherhood." It said it held no grievances against the French government.

See what happens when you're perceived as weak?

Splash, out


Bush Administration's Secret Time Machine 
MSNBC really came up with a zinger: yesterday.

The report revealed that in a previously undisclosed secret diplomatic mission, Saudi Arabia won a commitment from the Taliban to expel bin Laden in 1998. But a clash between the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Saudi officials scuttled the arrangement, and Bush did not follow up.

(Via Instapundit)

Hey, at least CNN tries things pretty quickly, when errors on their webpage are pointed out. MSNBC's left this embarrassing gaffe up there overnight.

(Full disclosure: I, Jason, your humble host, S---head, once blew the difference between I series and EE series bonds. Didn't find out about it until one month and 800,000 glossy hard copies later. I still blush about it, almost two years after the fact. I can't imagine what this reporter must be going through. We lift him or her up in our prayers.

Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to drop you. :-p )

Splash, out


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Army Times Watch: The Right Hand Doesn't Know What the Left Hand is Whitewashing 
From an Army Times email to a reader, which was obtained by IraqNow:

We have written about First Command several times. My impression is that if
I was an investor, I am not sure I would go with them, but for those
military folks who have, and - this is critical - intend to stay with them
for the long haul, they are not being taken advantage of. We have said as
much, I think, in the stories we've done. I would not say categorically that
First Command takes advantage of troops, but they should know what they are
getting into because of the front-end costs.

(March 5th, 2004)

But here's an October 30, 2002 Army Times article on mutual fund loads, written by Edward A. Zundworfer, "special to the Times:"

However, as some military people have discovered, the “upfront” commission on an initial purchase in a mutual fund may be as large as 50 percent. One financial planning firm sold mutual funds to clients with a 50 percent sales charge on the first year’s purchase. However, the firm imposes no sales charges on investments in later years.

Unfortunately, such plans are not a good deal for investors.

Link. (Subscription required.)

Now, why didn't the Army Times specify what company they were referring to? Isn't specificity in reporting a good thing?

Wouldn't Army Times readers benefit from knowing that the 50% up-front sales loads charged specifically by First Command "are not a good deal for investors?"

Why not name names? Why not ask Zundorfer to specify what company he's talking about, and then invite a response from First Command themselves?

Were Army Times editors simply unaware of the First Command fee structure?

No, because they claim to have written about them several times.

Yes, sticking with an investment plan for the long term is critical. Army Times coverage of First Command isn't.

Meanwhile, Army Times continues to collect up to $24,200 a week from First Command's advertising coffers.

And so it goes...

Splash, out


UN Follies 
A vengeful mob of ethnic Albanian Kosovars ransacked and torched every Serbian home in the Kosovo village of Svinjare yesterday, within a rifle shot of base camp of UN Peacekeepers whose job it is to protect them.


Great. Let's turn responsibility for Iraq over to the United Nations right away.

Better yet, maybe the Girl Scouts would have more credibility.

Splash, out


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Media Cluelessness: Everyone Blows a Fact 
CBS News blows a key fact in this article on AWOL guardsman Camilo Mejia.

From the article:

Mejia could face up to one year in prison for being absent without leave and up to five years if convicted of desertion, according to Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier, a New York-based group that provides counsel to military resisters and is organizing Mejia's defense.

But why rely on a biased attorney for information about the possible charges when just two minutes of checking might have led the CBS staffer to refer to the actual Manual of Courts Martial itself.

Scroll down to page 287, and you will find that under Article 85, (a)(3)(c) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and you find the following passage:

Any person found guilty of desertion or the attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or by such other punishment as the court martial may direct.

Well, if I were the CBS reporter, I'd be mighty embarrassed that I didn't catch that.

But truth be told, most reporters wouldn't even know where to look.

I'm no lawyer, but thanks to a class I took in ROTC way back when, and a couple of years as a detachment or company commander, I happened to know enough about military law to type "Manual of Courts Martial" into a search engine and look it up myself.

That's no big shakes, though. Any former commissioned officer, and most former NCOs, would know to do the same thing.

CBS, how many veterans do you have working in your newsroom?

Washington Post? You blew it, too.

What'sa matter, WaPo? There's no veterans around Northern Virginia you could hire to check things out for you?

Associated Press? Do you just take everything a guy's lawyer tells you at face value, too?

Chicago Tribune? You made the same error, but relied on a Guard spokesperson.

Ok, at least I know you aren't just blithely copying someone else's poor reporting, like the UK Guardian did. (The BBC, on the other hand, did mention the death penalty.)

Sure, it's not a huge deal. You can quibble about whether the USMJ death penalty stipulation requires a formal congressional declaration of war.

It's also unlikely that the Army will seek the death penalty, even if they do pursue the desertion charge.

It's just one more instance of the mainstream media's pervasive cluelessness about military affairs, and how it hurts coverage.

Splash, out


UPI Blows It: Social Security 
Looks like someone at United Press International needs to go back to school on the Social Security system.

From this article, headlined "U.S. social security system going broke:"

Snow said the program's cash flow will be in the red in 2018 and the program's money will be exhausted in 38 years and "neither of those dates have changed since last year's report.

What the reporter missed:

The fact is the U.S. Social Security system doesn't have any money. All it has is enough to pay immediately payable benefits to retirees.

Yes, the Social Security system runs a surplus. They take in more money than they need to pay immediate bills. So what do they do with the excess? Why, they do the only thing the law allows them to do: they buy Treasury bonds.

And what happens to the money?

It goes to the U.S. Treasury. Where Congress spends it. They have to spend it. It's the law.

So the Social Security system simply holds a fist full of Treasury bonds. The money is gone.

So the problem is more immediate than the article suggests. The American people do not have 38 years to solve the problem. They have only 14 years. After that point, any shortfall will have to be paid out of the general fund--exactly as if the Social Security system had no assets at all.

Granted, it's not clear if the "program's money will be exhausted" construction is the reporter's doing, or if he's paraphrasing Snow. If Snow said such a thing, though, the reporter should have called him on it.

But it seems more likely to me that the reporter (and the editor who's supposed to mentor and develop him) just doesn't understand his beat.

The topic is going to smash us over the head in the coming years. If Bush wins a second term, Social Security privatization may well be a huge issue in 2005 and 2006. Especially if stock returns are strong.

We're going to need better from our journalists.

Splash, out


The Bad Lieutenant's Guide to Short-Term Success (Volume 1) 
1.) Hang out in front of the PX, wearing your brand new butter bar, and make people salute you. Bonus points if they're old enough to be your dad.

2.) Don't worry; someone already counted it.

3.) Go ahead. Lose your temper. You deserve it.

4.) Blame it on the RTO.

5.) Keep the troops informed. Especially about what a dolt the CO is.

6.) Embrace ambiguity.

7.) Remember: the Battalion commander rates lieutenants on a curve. That means that every other lieutenant in your battalion is your enemy.

Act accordingly.

8.) Soldiers will recognize and appreciate your political ambition.

9.) Never forget that you outrank the First Sergeant and the battalion Command Sergeant Major. Never let them forget it either.

10.) Pester someone who works for you to write you up for a medal. Failing that, pester everyone you know.

The Dog Didn't Bark: Diversity in the Newsroom 
It's amazing to me how the self-consciously ethical journalism profession can launch into an autoflagellating fit over a couple of swiped paragraphs but yet, in story after story, remain oblivious to the ethical problems of a noncommissioned officer abandoning his men in combat.

You can read story after story after story, and the issue just doesn't come up at all.

You could drive a tank through the holes in the stories.

Sure, some outlets report that online bloggers are calling SSG Mejia a 'coward.' But they make no attempt to evaluate the truth of that charge, nor explore SSG Mejia's conduct in the light of the law and in the light of the ethical standards of his profession and rank.

Staff Sergeant Mejia was a squad leader. A leader of between four and ten men. He is a noncommissioned officer, and as an NCO, has certain professional and moral obligations.

Other than the Chicago Tribune, not a single major media outlet examines his obligations and responsibilities as an NCO.

It's as if the journalism community has no idea that these responsibilities even exist.
Recruiting editors--most of you claim to be commited to diversity in the newsroom.

How many veterans do you have on your staff?

Splash, out


Monday, March 22, 2004

Credit Where Due: The Chicago Tribune and SSG Mejia 
Yes, SSG Mejia was a member of my battalion. I don't know the guy personally though.

Mainstream media coverage of the return of SSG Mejia has ranged from straight ahead to simply fawning.

The hands-down winner so far: The Chicago Tribune. (I can't get the direct link to work, but Blackfive excerpts it heavily on his site).

It has nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with the tone or slant of the Tribune. Any weakie reporter can make two phone calls: one to Mejia's lawyer and one to a Florida Guard spokesman and pretend he's doing his job.

(Oops--did I say two phone calls? The BBC doesn't even do that much. I guess that's what passes for reporting at the BBC these days.)

If Your Mother Says She Loves You, Check It Out

Of all the Mejia articles I've read, only the Chicago Tribune reporter bothered to check out Mejia's more sensational claims with Mejia's commanders who were actually there. The other news outlets relied on National Guard spokesmen who haven't left the U.S. the whole time, or just avoided those topics altogether.

Hats off to the Tribune for some good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting.

Splash, out


Sunday, March 21, 2004

Shameless Friend Promotion Department  
Meanwhile, enjoy a great set of reels, courtesy of Roisin Dillon and her husband, guitarist John Schreiber.

Splash, out


Home Again, Home Again (Jiggety Jig) 
Wow! I'm actually back home again! (And guess what--I just can't bring myself to write or read about the war just now. I guess I maintained a little more emotional detachment from it when I was in the thick of it. Right now I feel a little dissociated from everything--as if the Jason Van Steenwyk in Iraq was really somebody else.

I don't quite feel home yet, either. It's as if the Jason Van Steenwyk in Fort Lauderdale in 2002 was also somebody else.

Anyway, if you haven't noticed yet, I'm taking a short break from blogging, but I plan on having more stuff up in a couple of days. (When I can find my #&#!& journal again!!!!!)

Meanwhile, I'm just getting reacquainted with my violin. Life is good.

Splash, out


Monday, March 15, 2004

Fraudulent Coalition Watch 
If Bush's coalition is fraudulent, as Senator Kerry asserts, then why is Al Qaeda bothering to attack it?

Splash, out


A Day Short and a Dollar Late 
Here's to the NY Times for nailing down a great scoop on evolving insurgency techniques only 10 months after the fact.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 14 — Insurgent bombmakers, whose roadside explosives claimed the lives of six more American soldiers this weekend, have adopted new and grimly devious tactics, military officers said Sunday.

The tactics include setting multiple charges along convoy routes, disguising bombs inside animal carcasses and planting hollow artillery shells to draw troops into an ambush, they said.

Read the whole thing. The "daisy chain" technique is very basic, and they were doing that from the very beginning--we were running into some of them in May and June. We were running into the 'bait and switch' technique --where they'd put a shell out in plain view hoping you'd stop and bunch up, and then blow a series of hidden IEDs pretty regularly-- by the first week of July.

If the article tells us anything, it's that the new bunch of military officers in Baghdad that provided the source material for this story are probably recent arrivals, and are still going through a discovery mode.

The new units are going to have to go through a steep learning curve, but that shouldn't take too long. It's just going to be a very painful process for a while.

Digging a little deeper behind the scenes, here, the article gives us a glimpse into a war within a war--in this case, the Air Force's war to retain its share of next year's defense budget.

Even fighter aircraft assigned to escort convoys or to fly direct combat missions when ground troops raid suspected insurgent hideouts or seek to seize militants are told to watch for roadside bombs as well.

A senior Air Force official involved in planning missions over Iraq said surveillance planes, by their mere presence, reduced insurgents' ability to conceal explosives.

Between 55 and 60 combat sorties are flown over Iraq each day, and 45 to 50 combat support sorties, including surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions to counter those devices, the Air Force officer said.

Apparently, they've enlisted the New York Times as an unwitting ally in this campaign. Guys, of COURSE that's what an Air Force officer would say. Howzabout a little filtering, gentlemen?

My own take: In an urban counterinsurgency, one good platoon of Kiowas or Apache helicopters--is worth an entire squadron of F16s.

Splash, out


And Shall Europe, After Tea And Cakes And Ices... 
...Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

That is not what I meant, at all. That is not it, at all.

Splash, out


Saturday, March 13, 2004

We're Baaaaaaaaack... 
Rolled into Fort Stewart, Georgia at about 1 AM EST last night.

A lot of our soldier's families--the ones who could make the drive up from Florida, were on hand to greet us after a short ceremony.

I was simply overwhelmed with happiness at having helped bring a company and battalion home after a year of combat in one of the toughest cities in the country--and nearly daily contact with the enemy--without a single pair of empty boots to answer for.

Our sister battalions within the 53rd Infantry Brigade--who also returned recently--each had soldiers killed in action.

Despite taking somewhere north of 50 wounded (some soldiers who could have technically qualified declined purple hearts), none in the Hurricane Battalion were killed.

Seeing hundreds of family members there--and knowing that every family in the battalion would see their son or daddy or husband again--that no one had to stay home because daddy wasn't coming back--brought it home for me like nothing else could.

If I wasn't standing in a formation, I would probably have collapsed sobbing in a corner somewhere.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A Critique of Pure Hooah 
During the last year, I've had the opportunity to ponder some of life's more philosophical questions, if you will. Some salient points follow:

On Materialism

Is matter all that there is? Can a Thing really exist beyond the theoretical ability of our senses to perceive it? And if so, who is going to sign for it?

I wouldn't knowingly do such a thing. But having held two separate commands, and having survived four separate change of command inventories, it is clear that Existence beyond the Realm of the Material is not only possible; it is a certainty. The property book doesn't lie.

On an AfterLife

Since we have established that existence (or Existence, if you're into that kind of thing) is possible on a nonmaterial plane, then it follows that an afterlife cannot be ruled out. Indeed, my unit DA 1379 payroll summary printout appears to confirm it. Soldiers continue to be listed on the payroll long after they have been discharged or deceased.

Further, National Guard units across the nation have long been counting "soldiers of the ethereal plane" as part of their strength in order to preserve full time Guard/Reserve technician billets--themselves often evidence that life--or at least employment--is possible long after the body ceases to function. At least between 8 AM and 5 PM.

So if there is an afterlife, what, then, is the cutoff score?


The Military Ontological Proof Of the Existence of God

1.) A postulate: God possesses a military rank beyond which nothing can be concieved.
2.) Postulate further: A God who exists outranks a God which doesn't exist.

The Military Ontological Proof of the NonExistence of God

If Postulate 1 is really true, then why does God act so much like a Warrant Officer? Particularly in the Book of Job?

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness is sweetest when the sentence on the Article 15 is suspended.

On Faith

I have seen the unshakable faith of the Mohammedan. And I have seen that faith shattered by the effects of American firepower.

I have also seen devout Christians become atheists and atheists turn to God in times of crisis. Personal faith is fragile, in the religious sense, anyway. Man's perception of God is a fickle and protean thing.

But there is no faith so lasting, so innocent, and so pure, as the enduring, simple faith that a Lance Corporal has that the weapon he is nonchalantly pointing at his foot is clear.

The Road Ahead--A Personal Note 
For those of you keeping track in your programs, I expect to be touching down in the U.S. at about 1300 hours EST on the 12th of March. I'll be at Fort Stewart, GA, outprocessing for five days, then I'll be on a bus down to my adopted city of Miami, spend a couple of days at the unit, and then return to my prior existence as a freelance writer and itinerate fiddler and guitarist (read, professionally unemployed.)

But I'm excited about some new professional and educational opportunities.

I am grateful to the U.S. Army for allowing me to publish, even when some of what I had to say was critical. I hope I'm leaving a better Army behind for it, though. I know we're an incomparably better Army than we were a year ago.

I'm also grateful to a couple of editors who were more than understanding when, in January of 2003, I had to dump a pile of notes in their laps from half-written and unwritten magazine articles and said "I gotta go to war!"

I'm looking forward to a life of lamer excuses.

I find myself torn between a desire to write EVERYTHING down for historical purposes, and a desire to move on and put the war behind me and return to civilian life. I am in the very early stages of discussing a collaboration on a book. If it comes through, it will be an all-consuming project, but I think it will be a good book--and very different from anything on the market right now. I haven't pitched it anywhere yet, though.

Meanwhile, I look forward to writing some more blog pieces, doing some traveling, catching up with some loved ones, and freshening up my financial journalist's rolodex, which has been slowly deteriorating all year.

And as I travel the country this spring, I'm also very keen on crashing every traditional Irish music seisun I can find!

I'll let you know where I'll be on this page. If it's near you, please do come by!

Slainte, out


A Sonnet 
On Seeing A Piece Of Our Artillery 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, thy 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

A Vicious War By Proxy 
The UK Telegraph reports that Sen. Kerry himself sought a deferment of his military service so he could study in Paris.

Senator John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate who is trading on his Vietnam war record to campaign against President George W Bush, tried to defer his military service for a year, according to a newly rediscovered article in a Harvard University newspaper.

In his case, the request for the deferment was denied.

I wouldn't make too much of the carping over his purple hearts mentioned at the end of the article. A lot of wounded are returned to duty within a day, and some of our purple hearts here are controversial, too. "What!?!?! He got a purple heart for THAT?!?!?!?! A sliver?!!?"

A purple heart doesn't neccessarily mean a lengthy convalescence and doesn't automatically mean a missing limb. Generally, if you catch a frag and it breaks the skin, you can qualify (Hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere--and breaking the skin is as good a line as any). We've also given them out for busted eardrums. Hearing loss is insufficient--the doc has to verify a busted eardrum. (155mm shell IEDs will do that).

But it is interesting that Kerry DID seek a deferment.

I have no problem with that, in and of itself. Perhaps he just wanted to brush up on his French before arriving in Indochina.

But it seems to me that the moral difference between Kerry and, say, Cheney, on this matter, is that Cheney's deferral was approved and Kerry's was not.

Which is to say, there's no moral difference at all.

Though one would think that after decades of public life, both Bush and Kerry would have track records supporting far more relevant and productive lines of argument.

One would think.

In thirty years, I hope I would be a lot more than the sum of my own increasingly irrelevant military service.

The endless carping and hairsplitting over the comparative merits of two aging honorably discharged officers is juvenile. It's a bunch of snot-nosed kids shooting spitballs at each other. And their parents are tacitly condoning it.

Splash, out


Now that I'm back in a tent city, it's fun to look out across the compound and see all the state flags hanging from makeshift poles all over the compound. Texas. Alabama. Florida. Puerto Rico. North Carolina. New York.

They're flown by National Guard units--who are usually subordinate to the governors of their respective states, not to the Federal government--and are always identified by their states.

It's actually fairly uncommon to see a U.S. flag here, except for the one sewn on all our right sleeves. The US colors are vastly outnumbered by the state flags. It looks more like a civil war encampment here than a modern one.

I like it.

It's a quiet celebration of the citizen-soldier.

I hope the active duty soldiers are getting it, too.

Splash, out


Monday, March 08, 2004

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It." 
Iraq is now a constitutional republic.

And Riverbend's sense of things is that Zarqawi's efforts to foment civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq is failing.

From her 3 March entry:

Before Ashoura, there was a lot of talk about civil war. We talk about it like it concerns a different set of people, in another country. I guess that is because none of us can believe that anyone we know could be capable of senseless violence. After this massacre, and after seeing the reactions of Sunnis and Shi'a alike, my faith in the sense and strength of Iraqis has been reaffirmed. It has been like a large family- with many serious differences- reuniting after a terrible tragedy to comfort eachother and support one another.

Splash, out


I Thought We Got Beyond This... 
But I'm still bumping into reservists and Guardsmen--this time on their way INTO Iraq replacing those of us who are coming out--who are telling me the stateside mobilization stations have been refusing them supplies, saying "We've got to take care of our active duty soldiers first."

Specifically at Ft. Eustice, VA.

Get it together, people!

Keep treating reservists like second-class soldiers and you won't have any in the next war.

Splash, out

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Army Times Watch Update: 
Rereading the email, I can find no evidence that it was the marketing department, and not the editorial department, that responded to the reader's comment below. I regret the error.

Further, after perusing the Army Times' search archives (using "First Command" and 'finance' as the search terms), I can find no evidence that the Army Times has ever done a focused piece on First Command at all.

They did publish one letter from a First Command public relations representative, but that's all.

Here's what I'd like to see:

A feature article: "USAA Vs. First Command--Who's Better?"

Whoever does it ought to know how to read a prospectus and ferret out hidden fees and streams of income, and continue the comparison from mutual funds to annuities to insurance to college planning to 'wrap' fee structures. Get under the hood!

Who benefits?

Soldiers and their families.

Splash, out


An Iraq Infantry Primer 
A seasoned infantry company commander weighs in with good, specific advice to deploying troops.

Good stuff from the Army Times.

It's also great reading for the lay reader who wants to get a sense of the problems of infantry operations in urban environments.

Splash, out


Army Times Watch, Revisited 
A reader forwards some feedback from the Army Times Marketing department.

We have written about First Command several times. My impression is that if
I was an investor, I am not sure I would go with them, but for those
military folks who have, and - this is critical - intend to stay with them
for the long haul, they are not being taken advantage of. We have said as
much, I think, in the stories we've done. I would not say categorically that
First Command takes advantage of troops, but they should know what they are
getting into because of the front-end costs.

Now, my first question is, why is the marketing department responding to what is very much an editorial issue?

Just who is driving the Army Times' personal finance coverage?

One clue: First Command has an ultra-premium, full-page, color ad on the rear cover of the March 8th edition of the paper.

Looks like the editor may need some more covering fire. You can provide it by writing him here.

Splash, out


Yesterday, I caught a bus from Camp Victory--essentially a tent city in the middle of Palm Spri--er, I mean, the Kuwaiti desert, down to the Rear Echelon Nirvana of Camp Doha--the theatre-level logistical support base in Kuwait, where they actually have a full-size PX and an honest-to-God minimall, complete with a Pizza Inn, a Hardee's, a Baskin-Robbins, a KFC, a Subway, a respectable library, a car dealership (you pick your new car, truck, or motorcycle up in the States, and save on taxes, apparently), and some Kuwaiti-owned blanket, watch, and jewelry stores.

They even have some of the lower enlisted ladies in civilian clothes looking for all the world like 'mall-rats' back in the U.S.

I felt like Robin Williams discovering the coffee aisle in Moscow on the Hudson.

Oh, and while there, I rubbed shoulders with Australians, New Zealanders (with the kiwi patches on their arms), Hungarians, and the Ulster Brigade from the Royal Armed Forces (with the little orange hand on a tiny patch on their left shoulder.)

Most precious moment: sitting down at the food court with some of my troops.

"Well, guys, are we depressurizing?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Are we slowly getting reacquainted with, you know, life in the real world? Getting ready to transition?"


"How's the KFC?"

"Not good. The f*&$ing haji m*#&#$f*&$^#$er at the counter f*$(ed up my f@%#&ing order. I wanted to shoot his @&#^8ing A$$."


Splash, out


Friday, March 05, 2004

Crossing the Berm 
The border between Iraq and Kuwait is marked by an anti-tank ditch and a berm, and a Kuwaiti flag at the point where the road crosses the berm. And that's all.

Just north of the berm, there's a little Iraqi town. I have no idea what the name of it is.

There were hundreds of children lining the road as we drove out, begging for food. Soldiers were throwing MRE's out of their humvees as we drove by.

Here and there, you'd see a veiled woman sitting by the side of the pocked and pitted, intermittently paved road.

The houses, though average by Iraqi standards, were fairly destitute by anything approaching western norms.

If the people had cars at all, they were practical wheels: a beat up pickup truck on its last legs. Not much more.

Five minutes south of the berm, in Kuwait, it looked for all the world like a posh Palm Springs highway.

Almost every vehicle you saw was a high-dollar SUV or Mercedes sedan.

The streets were well paved, and level. Streetsides were impeccably clean. Streetlamps worked.

And there were no children begging in the streets.

Both countries are blessed with a wealth of natural resources.

But only one had Saddam Hussein as a ruler for decades.
And only one had to struggle under more than a decade of sanctions--however porous they were.

Two hundred meters.

A world apart.

Splash, out


Thursday, March 04, 2004

Triple Dog Dare 
Today, I noticed that Army Times, a Gannett newspaper serving the Army community, ran a quarter-page ad for First Command, the predatory financial services company I reviewed on this site just a couple of weeks ago.

Well, it's easy for me to knock them. I'm not selling ad space. It's a little dicier for the editors of Army Times.

Nevertheless, basic journalistic practice demands a wall of separation between the advertising sales department and the editorial side.

So here's my dare to the editors of Army Times:

If you're serious about serving your readership, take your best, most fair-minded, and knowledgeable personal finance reporter in the Gannett family, and let them write an independent review of First Command.

And run the article.

Go on. I dare you.

I triple dog dare you.

Splash, out


(P.S., you can lay down some covering fire for the editor by writing him here.)

Made it! To Kuwait, anyway. With nearly 200 soldiers and nearly a hundred vehicles and trailers, in a two day convoy from Ar Ramadi down to the Kuwaiti border. Several vehicles broke down along the way, but no enemy contact whatsoever. By the grace of God.

So I'm back here in the rear with the gear, so to speak, at Camp Victory, in Kuwait. We had packed and sealed all of our shipping containers but two--saving those for

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