Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back Online

The 321st Engineer Battalion (Combat)(Mech) is finally back home. We landed in Boise, Idaho under a warm sun, greeted by a few hundred friends and family, a National Guard band, members of the VFW and various dignitaries. Between us and the crowd flew six American flags- visual reminders of the ones we lost. In an ironic twist of fate, the 321 task force lost 6 soldiers in Iraq- 3 from Alpha company, 2 from Bravo company, and 1 from Charlie 397 Engineers.

We've traveled a long road to get back home again- along the way the 321st became the most decorated Reserve unit since World War II. We did our job well, and we were an example for the rest of the theater. All that is behind us, though... we're all back home.

Friday, September 14, 2007

By the Numbers

In the early hours of the morning, the last soldiers of our task force caught their flights out of Camp Taqqadum and left our work in Iraq to others. Badger 6 has a post up over at Badgers Forward summarizing the year for our company. I'll do a post of my own sometime in the next few weeks with more detail.

From B6:

Missions Performed - 647
Improvised Explosive Devices Reduced - 458
Kilometers Traveled - 51135

To put those numbers in perspective:

Our missions lasted anywhere from 2 to 60 hours, but were commonly around 8 (not including 2 hours prep time for each mission). The longest mission any platoon conducted without stopping for rest was somewhere around 24 hours. Those kilometers rolled by at a glacial pace that rarely exceeded 30 kilometers per hour and was often much slower. Most importantly, we believe that each bomb we found potentially saved between 1 and 5 American or Iraqi lives. That means that our company alone could easily have saved over 2000 lives.

We brought 102 men to war, if my memory serves. Among those, 97 experienced at least one attack by the enemy and earned the Combat Action Badge. All three of our medics earned the Combat Medical Badge, for giving medical aid in combat. Those same medics helped save the lives of several of our soldiers- 35 of 102 received a Purple Heart for wounds received during an engagement with the enemy. Sadly, three of our best were killed in action.

We are going home.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A True Martyr

Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu al-Rishawi, the founder and leader Anbar Awakening, was killed yesterday afternoon by a bomb planted near his home. Two of his bodyguards were also killed, and others, including a nephew, were wounded. Initial reports indicate that al-Qaeda terrorists took advantage of Sheik Sattar's gesture of charity at the start of holy month of Ramadan, infiltrating a gathering of local poor at the home of the Sheik in order to plant the bomb that killed him.

Under his stewardship, the Sahawat Al Anbar, or Anbar Awakening Council, grew from a loose organization of 20-odd tribes to a council of 42 Sunni tribes today. He endured attempts on his life, including a full-blown suicide assault on his home. He lost four brothers and more relatives, but he never backed down. In a way, he couldn't- he would either have the pleasure of seeing al-Qaeda finally and completely banished from Iraq, or he would give his life in the attempt. The forces he fought are too brutal and violent to allow any half measure. In the end, it has come to exactly that.

His death is a grievous loss to all who long to see a free Iraq. He provided vision, determination, and stubborn perseverance in his leadership of the sons of Anbar. His brother Ahmed has been selected to replace him as head of the council- there is no turning back in the face of terror. As one deputy chief said: "if only one small boy remains alive in Anbar, we will not hand the province over to al-Qaida."

Muslims believe that a man who is martyred during the holy month of Ramadan will be especially blessed for his sacrifice. My hope is that Sheik Sattar's blessing will be the continuation of his efforts and an even stronger determination among his kin to see terror driven completely from Iraq.

Rest in Peace.

Yahoo news
MNF-W release

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dust Storms in the Rearview

Well, it took me a while, but I made it down to Kuwait. We spent 8 hours sitting on the flight line on Ramadi waiting on the helicopter that would take us to Camp Taqqadum and one step closer to home. Somewhere around 3am, we were told that flights into Ramadi were canceled for the night due to weather, and that we would take a ground convoy instead. The convoy was supposed to be Cougars and Humvees- instead, it turned out to be Humvees and HETs. The HET is basically a Mack tractor trailer with armor plating on the sides; we stuffed the back of the cab with soldiers because there wasn't enough room in the Humvees to carry all of us. The guys taking us to TQ were from the Transportation section of our replacing unit- they had been up for 24 hours already by the time they picked us up, with two missions already under their belts for the day. It was a bad situation, and looking worse- we had to take the long, narrow road that runs south of Ramadi between two of central Iraq's large lakes, rather than the straight shot east from Ramadi. The southern route is normally pretty quiet, but lately has had some bombs; the northern route has been quiet for months and is 90 minutes quicker.
It could have been a bad night, but it turned out pretty well. One of the few tense moments for me was when our driver suddenly took the Humvee through a long chain of potholes. The conversation went like this:

"Hey, stay out of those!"
"Why, what's the big deal, man?"
"Those aren't potholes, those are blast holes!"
"They are?"
"Yeah, and the thing about this screwed up country is that they like to put new bombs where the old bombs were. If I get blown up one more time, I'm gonna have to kill someone, and the bombers are awfully hard to find."

We made it, though, and after a day and a night sitting in TQ, we caught a flight south to Kuwait. The comedy of errors continued there- the officials at Ali al Saleem airf force base had no idea that were were coming, nowhere to put us, and no way to get us to where we needed to go. We sat for four hours in a parking lot full of buses, complete with drivers, while the powers that be tried to find us the mandatory escort personell. We finally made it to our next stop around 1am.

Since I've been in Kuwait, I've been relaxing. I slept half the day today, and took a long shower (all notices to take water saving "combat showers" be damned!) (a digression: the Army has an annoying tendency to use "combat" as a ridiculous prefix, e.g. "combat fueler", "combat shower", "combat camera". Leave the combat prefix to people, jobs and events that actually involve the thrill and terro of combat, k?)

I've been watching the testimony of Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker to Congress in the USO building here. No big surprises there. They reported the simple truths and pleas for more time- the ladies and gentlemen of the hearing seemed to barely listen. It seemed to me that Mr. Lantos tried a little too hard to force the appearance of a division between Gen Petraeus and other military commanders. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen needs to learn how to form a question. The full report tomorrow might be a trifle more interesting, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Anti-Iraq

The coffee franchise Green Beans has carved out a foothold in the Middle East over the last few years. Several months ago, a Green Beans opened up in Ramadi; the deck outside has become a nightly oasis of sorts for like-minded individuals across the post.

Some of Bravo company is there almost every night; I'm there every night that I'm in Ramadi. Other people drop in occasionally- some from other companies in the task force, some from other units. There are a few shadowy figures that come and chat now and then- they are happy to talk, and we are happy for the company. Neither party talks much about Iraq, which is fine with both sides. The deck is normally an Iraq-free zone; mission talk is loosely banned (although exceptions are made for particularly exciting or hairy stories)

Every night, the Green Beans becomes a refuge of sorts- a place about what Iraq isn't. That worn and dirty deck is a place to sit around and talk about home, play some chess, draw in sketchbooks, or write poetry. In between cups of tea and chai and Indonesian clove cigarettes, there's good natured flirting with the baristas- lovely young ladies from Kyrgyzstan. They've taught most of us a few words in Russian and memorized our regular orders; we keep them supplied in smiles and tips.

Last night was a little different, though. We broke the only "rule", and talked about Iraq. Everyone gathered on the porch was out of work- we had all run our last missions out on the road. We sat and talked for hours about the year; about the friends we'd made, the battles we'd won, the lives we'd saved. We talked about the successes and the failures; we talked about the prospects of the new guys. We talked about how exhausted we were when we got in from our last missions- how a year's worth of tension unraveled all at once, and we felt like sleeping for days.

Mainly, we talked about going home.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I hope you'll all be able to bear with me over the next few weeks. Life has been pretty crazy lately- I've been alternately working like mad and sweating on a cot far, far from internet. I made the hike across post to get online tonight, but I forgot to bring my thumbstick with a new post on it. I'll try to get it up soon, but I likely won't be posting very much more for a week or two.

In other news:

I'll let Desert Flier tell you about the random encounter he and I had the other night here in Ramadi.

Likewise, Badger 6 has the story about our appearance in the Idaho Journal. For those of you that commented on it, fear not: the molesta-stache is gone.

If you happen to be one of the few interested in Invisible Keepsakes, go check out the new updates.

Also, while you follow links, you might check out Pin Ups for Vets- the website of an enterprising young lady raising money and moral for wounded troops in a way my grandfather would recognize and appreciate.

I finally updated my Blogroll with a few long-overdue links from some of the many sites linking back to here. I still have a number to track down in the logs, but you'll find several new sites to browse, including

American Soldier
Asymmetric Military
Dick Doper
Lead Soldiers
Libertarian Leanings