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January 22, 2005

Two Seeds

Lori Holman from Norman, Oklahoma is pulling double duty with two Marine sons. She recently sent this message written straight from her heart. If you can get through it without tears, you are made of stronger stuff than I.

Just a few days ago, I walked slowly in downtown Norman on an uncharacteristically warm winter day. That bright afternoon, the town's teens and collegiates were out in force; absorbing the sun's energy, enjoying the rare warmth. I smiled, scanning the crowd and trying not to think of my 46th birthday. I found myself drinking in the younger peoples' enthusiasm for the day and I steered away from thoughts of advancing age. I chided myself for feeling old and decrepit, and wryly realized I sstill have time left to enjoy. Besides, how can one think of life's approaching end while surrounded by so many young souls?

I rolled my eyes at my silliness and focused again on the young people laughing and having fun. Such young faces! Twinkling eyes, smiles flashing as quickly as Oklahoma summer lightning, faces radiant and happy. Youthful exuberance bubbles up from spirits freely riding the winds of hope. The faces of young America, I thought to myself - the future of our nation resting so easily in their strong hands. So much promise, so many dreams cradled in their arms, waiting only for the chance to run.

Our next generations' dreams for the future might be widely different but the enthusiasm with which they embrace those dreams seems universal. The faces are as different as are wildflowers in a meadow, yet their eyes shine with the same brightness of possibilities.

My thoughts turned to my own sons; two of them serving their country as United States Marines. My firstborn, just starting out as a newlywed, he and his young wife together again after his deployment to a war zone in Iraq. My middle son, newly engaged and so vibrant with life, his own deployment on the very near horizon. Their youngest brother, so intelligent and creative, still undecided on how he's going to leave his mark in life, but ever thankful of his brothers' contributions toward the freedom of his own future.

Less than one week later, I sit in front of my computer, tears slipping down my cheeks as I think on our next generations. I am contemplating two young lives in contrast, lives out of sync. Two young men on the edge of forever, ready to cultivate the fields of tomorrow with their best efforts. How each young spirit chooses to plant their seeds in the fields of tomorrow can be so greatly different. And oh, how differently their offerings do flower.

I'll call the first James. James is twenty-three. He is a bright young single college student, well-liked and enthusiastic about life. He grabs every golden opportunity America gives him. Not much thought is given to the inner workings of these opportunities, and James avails himself of his birthright to complain about his government and voice his criticism freely. James considers himself a patriotic American. He like so many proudly proclaim discontent with our country, and he never has to miss the chance to share those views. No problem with that, right? If you see something you don't like, isn't it a responsibility to say so?

Our second young American is named Steve. Steve is about the same age, married with a new young baby. He could have gone to college right out of high school, but felt a need to do more with his life first – to give back to the country he so deeply loves. He became what few Americans can ever dream of becoming - a United States Marine. He said goodbye his loved ones and deployed to Iraq.

Two men, two choices, each with the freedom to choose what path they can walk to make our world a better place.

Steve was critically wounded while in combat, suffering among other injuries a broken back and blindness. He saw his friends, his Brothers, maimed and die from the same roadside bomb that altered his life so drastically. Steve had times when he felt down, when he worried that he would be unable to lead the kind of life he and his young bride had planned so hopefully. But after talking and just being grateful that he was alive, they realized that no matter what this
turn of events brought on the horizon, they would face it bravely and together. He took great delight in doing simple things and was still proud of his service to his country. He told people, "I have seen everything I need to see. I saw my son being born, I saw my Drill Instructor smile at me when he said congratulations Marine. I saw a lot of sunsets in places that they talk about in the Bible. I saw a lot of my friends go home from over there, I saw a lot that didn't. I saw the Iwo monument in Washington. I saw how proud my dad was when I graduated boot camp. I'm satisfied with that. I don't hold a grudge or
anything like the doctors told my wife she should prepare for. I wish I could still be there obviously, but I feel like I have done a lot while I was there. I know I'm glad I didn't die there, and that when I do go I'll be able to say that I gave more to this country then I took from it. Thats all you can ask for in the end…I really am grateful for all the things I have. I missed alot while I was gone. I may never see my son smile, but I can still tell when he is happy. I love smelling his hair after (my wife) gives him a bath. Those are the kinds of things, along with your prayers, that get me through the day."

Back to James. He and his buddies often spend time in town, enjoying the sights and getting away from the "pressures" of college life. They decided to get a bite to eat. By chance, Steve and his wife were in the very same place. Steve and his wife had finally gotten the chance to go out to have dinner, something they hadn't been able to do since before Steve was injured. Their paths converged. Steve, using his walker to carefully navigate his way across the room, bumps into a chair. James and his friends think this is hilarious. They nudge each other and laugh, as James makes fun of the young man using a walker, and they mimic him bumping into objects.

I got a call last night from a close friend, a call I really didn't want to receive. Our Marine Corps Family has suffered yet another loss. Steve has died. One moment, our world had a hero – the next we were irrevocably poorer as a nation. When Steve passed on, his wife held one of his hands, his commanding officer the other. Nestled on his bed, close to his heart, was his little son.

My head bows and I begin to sob loudly. My tears rain down harder, and I long to be able to reach out and gather his sweet, brave young wife in my arms. I search for words to comfort her, to pass along some kind of decent tribute. What words can I possibly use that will tell their son that his daddy was among the best of men? Anything I try to say falls far short. I want so badly to be able to make things better, but there is nothing I can do to heal their pain. I know all too well that it could be my son this happens to, and I have cried with many others who are dealing with this kind of suffering and loss. This is our reality, and it is what our loved ones have chosen to risk. How it can be a matter of amusement and unconcern to any young American is something I cannot comprehend. God forbid that our society sinks once again into ingratitude, heartlessness and shameful treatment of our heroes, as happened in the bloody throes of Vietnam. I do not think we can stay sane as a country if our next generation sinks so low once again.

When Steve checked in online before his final surgery, he was immediately beseiged by his fellow Marines. His Brothers gathered him close, put their own bad memories on the back burner and proceeded to take care of him in the way only Devil Dogs can. They even teased that if they kidnapped him for a party, he wouldn't even have to be blindfolded. They closed ranks and took care of their own. Would James be able to count on such tight bonds from his homeboys if he needed them? I find myself doubting it. James probably wouldn't go out of his way for anyone else, either. But this Marine did, and thousands like him, so James and his friends wouldn't have to worry about fighting in their own hometown; so he could be free to make fun of the man who had given so much for him. That horrible meeting of those two young men
keeps nagging at me – and it epitomizes the difference between James and Steve. I think on one of our nation's young heroes struggling to comfort his weeping wife as he put his own embarrassment and fear aside. Steve's not here to grace our world as he used to, every chance he got. Yet good 'ol James and his clueless posse no doubt continue on, uncaring of the pain they inflicted on a young couple's heart, unmindful of the damage they've done to their own tarnished souls.

They have no idea what we've all just lost. I wonder if they'd be smart enough to care even if they knew?

Such young faces. The faces of young America, the future of our nation resting so easily in their strong hands. So much promise, so many dreams. How each young spirit chooses to plant their seeds in the fields of tomorrow can be so greatly different. And oh, how different their offerings do flower. What will spring forth from these seeds?

Will it be a waste of fertile ground sown with weeds of selfishness…or the hardy blossoms of freedom, gently and lovingly planted in hope for the next generation? With these Marine mother's eyes, I focus on the sons and daughters we have so lovingly guided on their path, knowing as surely as we know their good hearts, that our future is in good hands. Steve will always shine as the best kind of American to me. He was here for such a short time, but his accomplishments are as lasting as if he'd lived for a hundred years. There's more worth to be found in that one warrior's brief life, that one gentle man's loving sacrifice - than we ever can hope to see in the other's example; a
solitary, immature man's selfish, aimless journey. I can only pray that James' kind learns to be grateful to the extraordinary men and women who fight and die for them. If they don't, what kind of legacy do they hope to leave behind when their chance on this earth is past?

Steve won't see his son's face or play soccer with him as he grows up. But what he passed on to that little boy is more lasting and more precious than he would ever dream – a golden legacy of true love and courage, and a lifetime of freedom to grow into the kind of man his father was.

Two men, two seeds. I know which seed bears the better fruit.

For Toxic and Kelly, for Lt. and Renee; for Nance and Lance, for Colin and Kevin and for Cpl. Amaya; for Brenda and Eric, Merce, Evy, every Gold Star Mother - and for every mother who fears earning that banner…For all the men and women whose lives have touched ours so deeply before sacrificing so much in service of our country. We will always remember, we will always love you – and we will live to "pay it forward".


Posted by Deb at 01:22 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

Update from The Mad Ghosts of 2/24

Here's the latest from Col. Mark Smith, Battalion Commander for 2/24 Marines

Well, the new year is upon us...and it is my most sincere hope that this letter finds all of you in HIGH spirits for the blessings that surely will abound in 2005!

The new year was welcomed by the Mad Ghosts in BIG fashion. We were part of a Brigade size operation, with our "newest, best buddies" from the 2 Brigade Combat Team and Colonel "Fightin' Mike" Formica, as we forayed into previously uncharted territory along the Euphrates River. This was the largest operation to date for the Mad Ghosts and was a "full-up" round consisting of helicopter-borne assault, mechanized assault and motorized assault. It involved virtually every element of the Battalion. And, our brothers in the ING (Iraqi National Guard) were tasked, for the first time, to operate in a field environment for an extended period of time (a task they performed extremely well, I might add!) The mission was precise: establish a cordon of the area and locate Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF) and capture them, and to disrupt their seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition and explosives, with which they fight their cowardly war of IEDs and VBIEDs.

Now, with all the moving parts, there are about a gazillion things that could go wrong. NONE did! The Mad Ghosts and our Brigade partners were flawless in execution. They swept into an area, coming from 360', in the middle of the night, via helos, trucks, HMMWVs, tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and at H Hour plus 20 minutes, a stretch of land approximately 16 kilometers long by 10 kilometers wide was cordoned and owned by elements of the Mad Ghosts and the 2 BCT. Many Iraqis woke that day to a situation they had never seen! The systematic search was begun, and approximately 48 hours later, almost 100 insurgents had been identified and incarcerated and an unbelievable amount of cached weapons and explosives had been located and confiscated. Two VBIEDs were located that were in the process of being equipped with their explosives and were destroyed.

This was all accomplished through a massive "team" effort, and I would like to recognize some key players:

  • The Marines of the Engineer Platoon from Virginia: they hunt weapons caches like a dog hunts squirrel. Their tenacity in search techniques has ensured hundreds of explosives that saw their life cycle completed through a safe and controlled detonation at the hands of the engineers, rather than at the trigger of a fanatical Muslim seeking a one way trip to Virgin-land. I will never be able to say enough about the performance of these Marines and the unbelievable amount of work they have accomplished for this Bn. And, more importantly, I will never be able to say thank you in any manner of sufficiency for the number of lives they have saved! But, you know what, if you could see the light in their faces when they find a cache...I think they get all the thanks they ever wanted.
  • The Marines of the Truck Platoon from Pennsylvania: now understand, these Marines are from Truck Co, 4th MarDiv, and as such are designed to be a "tactical" asset used primarily to maneuver fighting Marines to the combat zone. However, reality of a counter-insurgency requires that they also be used in a combat service support role: picking up mail, repair parts, etc. These Marines have been tireless in their support and have logged some of the longest hours known to man. And for this operation, they seamlessly transitioned into Warrior mode, and delivered hundreds of Marines to the fight, at night, with night vision goggles (NVGs) and did so without incident. They also are on the LtCol Smith List of Never-Ending Thank You's.
  • HET 9 (Human Exploitation Team) These Warriors come from all over the Marine Corps, active and reserve, and are the ones who do the field interviews of our persons of interest. Simply said: they are the best in the Marine Corps and all of Iraq. This group of Warriors has produced more intelligence, saved more lives (both in the Mayhem AO and outside) than any intelligence asset in the War. They are remarkable, sleepless, and define "dedication to duty." CWO2 Murphy, their OIC, was a casualty in October after being shot in the foot, and they have pressed on under the leadership of MSgt Ertz in a manner that is nothing short of inspiring. Please allow me one second to digress: Murph, you should swell with pride and tears right now, for YOUR Marines have been spectacular...and a testimony to your leadership and preparation. (Oh yeah, and don't think for a second you are not in for a rash of ---- about your letter home following your injury describing your "ambush dance"...skip, shoot, duck, shoot, hop, shoot, swim with the fishes, shoot, etc. etc. etc.)
  • The COC Marines: COC stands for Combat Operations Center. These are the Marines that run the command and control systems. The radios and computers that on the modern digital battlefield are indispensable. Each of them does the work of 3 people, run long shifts and ensure the situational awareness and report/process execution that is critical in this counter-insurgency. For an operation like this one, I had both my forward COC and my Main COC in operation, and they were brilliant in their execution. They are and will always be the "unsung heroes" of the Mad Ghost deployment. (And for me personally, Cpl Kostyn and LCpl Blackford were a source of humor, the importance of which just cannot be understood unless you have attempted to command in a high stress environment; but for those who have, and for those who will, you will cherish the uncanny humor of such Marines...they helped to sooth the savage beast that is GySgt Engram!)
  • The fighting Marines of Fox, Echo, Golf and Weapons: who take precision violence to the enemy, and a spirit for victory that knows no equal. H&S Co, who provides the security and support to all these operations, and conducts much of their own patrolling and "hunting" of the Muj, and who have taken our FOB and turned it into a fortress. The Marines of this last paragraph are the Bn proper, and no Commander has ever had the privilege of leading a better one. My duty is their mission accomplishment and welfare...and my duty has been my honor.

Now, with all of that said, let me finish by telling you the best part of the story of this Operation which was code named: Operation River Walk, for it goes without saying we cannot do anything without a "code name." It is just what we do...code names and acronyms. As successful as this Operation was, it like all others, shapes us for future operations. The hunt will go on and ELECTIONS WILL OCCUR.

I have stopped watching the news from the US totally. I no longer can take the maniacal rages it places me in as I swear ungentleman-like profanities at the TV in my dust covered cubby-hole of an office, directed at "pundits" and "experts" who do not, in my very humble opinion, have a single clue and who report every single incident that occurs here as if they are color commentating on a football game.

Well, I can barely fog a mirror intellectually, but I think I know a thing or two about this war thing, and the vast amount that I don't know, I have certified geniuses like Maj Dan Whisnant and CWO5 Roussell to teach me. And what I know...war is a slog. And a counter-insurgency fourth generation war is definitely a slog. The only weapon the enemy has IS the MEDIA, and the target is YOU! They are attempting to win this War by breaking your will.

I pray that will not happen. Because...and this is the moral of the story...the best part of the story of Operation River Walk is what we discovered about the people. You see, our belief going into this operation was that this part of our Western zone (which we had not been able to foray into much due to other commitments) was the heart of a massive AIF insurgency, replete with popular support and headed by Wahabiists (yes, the very people who brought you the slaughter of 9/11). We found many of the Wahabiists and their caches. They are now headed to Abu Ghraib and their caches destroyed. But the people...no, what we found among the people was MUCH support for the US and what we are doing here. We found a genuine desire to live free and to ELECT who they want, not who the Imams and terrorists want.

See, what we found is what we always find: a majority of people being intimidated, terrorized and oppressed by a radical, fanatical and clinically INSANE few. We found people who want us to finish this fight, no matter how long it takes, and who were genuinely appreciative of our efforts...a little different than what you hear out of NY and Washington News Rooms.

Gotta tell you, would love for my Marines to actually meet these "fighters who are resisting a foreign invasion of Iraq," because they might actually fight the way Soldiers do. NO, what we meet time and time and time again, is radical Muslim extremists whose sole goal is the defeat of America and the spreading of their brand of medieval thinking that abhors technology, enslaves women, cheapens human life and seeks the establishment of their brand of religion, or death.

So I say, let all the national media talking heads rave on.

  • Rave on about every single act of insurgent violence and trumpet it as some massive blow to the MNF effort.
  • Rave on about how we are losing.
  • Rave on, as if you really care about any of what you are spewing.

Just, Rave On.

The ground truth is known by those actually on the ground. And for those on the ground, we will win, we will bring freedom and democracy to a land that has NEVER known it, and we will suffer and sustain the hardship required to do it.

We will do it, and we will take the time required for such a massive effort in a world that wants a "drive through window" war.

We will do it in the spirit and with the best example we have; the spirit of 1776 when freedom and democracy was also brought to a land that had NEVER known it, a land that would become known as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

We will win because although the violence is a huge part of what we do, ultimately this global war on terror will be won by ideas. And YOUR Mad Ghost, YOUR Marine is the best example of what the best idea in the history of mankind has to offer. Their never ending decency and compassion has lit, and will continue to fuel for the people of Iraq, what freedom is truly all about: respect, dignity, hope, love and a personal quest to find meaning in YOUR OWN WAY!

For this, 10 of my most prized possessions and reason for my existence gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefields of Iraq, and for this, WE rave on!

May God Bless and Keep the families of 2/24...and may we all offer a special blessing on the families of our fallen heroes...and those of our wounded who struggle daily, particularly Regina Simon as she prays beside the bed of SSgt Chad Simon, and is a beacon of strength and grace for us all. God especially be with you Regina, and your wonderful husband Chad.

Rave on and OOHRAH!

Posted by Deb at 12:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

Vote and Die

USMC CWO5 Roussell has this to say about the upcoming elections in Iraq:

Understandably, American casualties in Iraq get most of the news coverage in the United States, but Iraqi police and troops have been taking 80 percent of the losses since the interim Iraqi government took over last June 28th. Many of the Iraqi dead have been due to car bombs, and 181 of those have been used in the last six months. Not all those car bombs involved suicide bombers (only 38 percent did). But those bombs caused some 3,000 casualties, over 90 percent of them Iraqis and a third of them fatal. The peak month for car bombs was last November, when there were 48. Because many of the car bomb workshops were overrun in Fallujah that month, the number of car bombs fell to 27 in December, but is slowly increasing this month.

The frequent use of car bombs has done little to thin out the chaotic traffic in Iraqi cities. Considering the way Iraqis drive, and that their accident rate is several times what it is in the United States, that's probably a reasonable decision. American soldiers have noted that driving without your seat belt is more dangerous than the threat of roadside bombs or car bombs. Iraqi gossip still likes to blame all the car bombs on Americans, but the chatter in the coffee shops and blogs tells a different tale. Iraqis know who is doing the bombings, and the debate is over how hard should the government lean on the Sunni community, and how soon. Iraqis feel that soon the Sunnis will no longer be a major threat to the government. Iraqis take pride in the growing number of Iraqi police and army units that can storm into a house or neighborhood and carry out a raids and arrest, with no shooting and no casualties. "Just like the Americans," is the phrase you hear muttered, half in resignation, half in pride.

Saddam had soldiers who could do raids like that, although they would often kill a few bystanders just for the terror effect. And the people they took away were usually never seen again. Now those efficient soldiers of Saddam are making car bombs, and slipping threatening notes under the doors of election officials. "Vote and Die" is the phrase the opposition is using.

But most Iraqi election officials are standing their ground, and many Iraqis, especially those living near Sunni Arab neighborhoods or towns (nearly half the population), look forward to election day with dread. That's because voting could mean exposure to another car bomb, and not voting means giving Saddam's thugs another victory. It's a no-win situation. But it's also a no-lose situation.

Over 14 million Iraqis are registered to vote, at over 3,000 voting locations. Over 100,000 Iraqi police and soldiers will be guarding the voting places, along with thousands of local men armed with their AK-47s each household is allowed to keep (but not take outside, a rule that is often flouted for emergencies like this.) If the anti-government forces make a major effort to attack many polling places, they will spread themselves thin and even up the odds. This will mean more failed attacks, and more dead Baath Party and al Qaeda members. "Vote and Die" has many meanings.

Posted by Deb at 02:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Update from Al Asad

LtCol John McGonagle , CO of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 sends this January update:

This week has been a good week! We are into the New Year, and that's a big psychological milestone on our calendar to come back home. The advance party will be leaving in 2 short months, with the main body not far behind.

This week started with the basketball team hanging on in the final seconds of the league championship semi-final game for a big win, which moved them into the finals for the championship. With a lot of solid play by all of our Marines on the team, they pulled off a big win against a strong MALS-16 team, the same team that beat them earlier in the season by 20 points. In an earlier email I reported the loss to MALS, and predicted that our guys would get them back later in the season. Well, they kept me honest, and did just that! Corporal Stripling from MALS-42 det. B was on the MALS-16 team, and had to take the tough loss, but it was a good game, right down to the last seconds. Congratulations to all of our Marines for a fine season; their team work was a joy to watch. I have attached a team picture from the championship game below.

We had a formation on New Years day, and promoted the following Marines:

Staff Sergeant Alabre
Sergeant Mendez
Sergeant Frank
Corporal Farren
Corporal Norman
Corporal Barsanti (meritoriously)
Corporal Lagunas (meritoriously)

Staff Sergeant Harris also received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his sustained superior performance as the Airframes Staff Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge. Congratulations to all of these Marines; their promotions/award were all well-deserved!

We had a department head meeting today with the squadron leadership, and all of the discussions revolved around coordination on turnover of billeting spaces, aircraft, etc., and how/when we were going to be leaving Al Asad. It seems no one minds doing the planning for going home! The fact that we are planning now makes our departure seem even closer; our big goal now is to keep everyone's head in the game over here, and not get too distracted with leaving town, but staying focused on our mission. We still have a job to do, and our Marines and sailors have done phenomenal things so far, and I'm sure will continue to perform in an outstanding manner up until the day we leave.

We also discussed our leave plans for when we return to Norfolk. If you haven't already done so, you may want to start talking about your leave/vacation plans with your Marine/sailor for when he/she returns home. My intent is to have a 96 (4 days off) as soon as possible after our return to Norfolk, with two 2-week leave periods during the month of April. Taking leave is not mandatory, nor will it have to be taken in 2 week increments, or during the month of April, but the earlier you make plans, the easier it will be to deconflict everyone's leave so that we can continue to conduct operations at home, while allowing our folks the flexibility to take some time off when they desire.

Well, that's all for this week. I hope you all made it through the holidays without too much stress, and got to enjoy the season as it was meant to be celebrated! Have a great week, and I'll talk to you all next week.

Posted by Deb at 02:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Coconut diplomacy

At Meulaboh, Indonesia, an area devasted by the tsunami last month, our Marines are finding common ground with Indonesian soldiers, one coconut at a time. Marine Sgt. Maj. David Bullock with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is instrumental in working with Indonesian Marines to coordinate supply unloading and distribution. Here's an excerpt from an AFP story by Samantha Quigley (she also took the picture above).
At mid-morning, one of the Indonesian servicemembers scaled a palm tree and dropped a few green coconuts. One of his colleagues on the ground looked at a Marine and pointed to one of the coconuts, indicating that the Marine should pick it up.

Before it was all over, Bullock was learning how to hack away the top part of the coconut to get to the milk. With that mission complete, it was time to unload the second landing craft of the day.

When the 35 pallets of supplies - 20 with boxes of rations and 15 with boxes of bottled water - were stacked on the beach, it was time to load those trucks. That's when it became apparent that teamwork not only builds bridges, but also moves dump trucks stuck in the sand.

Members of both militaries pitched in to get the truck back on the road. Once the truck was "unstuck," the two groups gave themselves a round of applause followed by a group picture.

Unfortunately, getting supplies from the beach to the truck was almost as difficult as getting the truck out of the sand. The distance between the two was sizeable. So, instead of risking getting stuck again, a relay line was formed ... until someone complained about being hot and tired.

Then, to the amusement of everyone on the beach, Bullock and Indonesian Capt. Benny Fauzi decided to make a point.

"Hot doesn't bother me," Fauzi yelled and headed for the supplies. Between the two of them, they double-timed three boxes of bottled water to the truck. The awe, mixed with laughter, created a bond as both sides pitched in and finished loading the truck.

The day ended with Bullock and Fauzi in an arm-wrestling match. The winner wasn't really clear and a rematch is imminent.

"What do I get if I win?" Fauzi asked.

To which Bullock replied, "My friendship."

Fauzi accepted with mock disappointment and began negotiating for a uniform. Ultimately, he settled for a T-shirt with Bullock's unit printed on it, but offered one of his uniforms in exchange.

A high-five and a handshake later, Bullock and Fauzi headed their separate ways, vowing to meet at the arm-wrestling chair the next day. Tables are hard to come by.

"He's a good guy," Bullock said as he headed for the helicopter that would take him back to the ship so he could rest up for the rematch.

Note which officer is carrying two cases of water. It's symbolic of our military which customarily does the heavy lifting for the world.

Posted by Deb at 01:30 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Message from MGen Natonski

Here's a New Year message from the Commanding General of 1st Marine Division:

January 14, 2005

The Division continues to be very busy in the new year. The city of Fallujah is now completely open to residents. Members of the Division are working in conjunction with Iraqi officials to process returning Fallujah citizens and ensure that they have life’s basic necessities such as food, water, and blankets, if required. We are also assisting the Iraqi government in restoring municipal services and repairing battle damage. The Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Division are proving that their compassion is as great as their ferocity in combat.

Our current focus of effort is to ensure that all Iraqis in the Al Anbar Province have the opportunity to vote in a safe and secure environment. The elections are critical to the future of Iraq and our role is to assist the Iraqi Government and Security Forces help those Iraqis who wish to exercise their basic right to vote in the upcoming election. This is a right that we as Americans take for granted. We are taking this task very seriously as we all recognize the importance of our mission.

I know all of you are eagerly anticipating the homecoming of your loved one. We have already begun the process of bringing in forces to relieve elements of the Division. Our planners are working hard to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible and that we bring our units home in an expeditious and safe manner. This will be the largest relief in place in combat in Marine Corps history and I am confident that the Division will execute this operation with the same professionalism and competence that we have exhibited in all our previous endeavors.

We wish to extend our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who sacrificed the greatest for our mission. We think of them daily and will especially remember them as we anticipate our reunions with our families and friends.

I want to wish you all a very “Happy New Year”. I pray that 2005 will bring you many joys with the return of your loved ones and may God continue to provide His blessings to the 1st Marine Division family.

Posted by Deb at 12:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

LtGeneral Sattler on Fallujah

Lieutenant General John Sattler, Commander, of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, gave a special briefing on the 1st MEF operations in Iraq yesterday. Here are his opening statements:

Thank you very much. And again, thanks to everyone for giving us the opportunity to go ahead and answer some questions and make a very brief opening statement. What I wanted to do is just talk about some of the atmospherics within the town of Fallujah. If you remember, on the 23rd of December, Prime Minister Allawi decided to go ahead and reintroduce the citizens of Fallujah back into the town. He made the decision we would do it one district at a time, and there are a total of 18 districts within the city. He gave us three days to get the first districts set, and then after that point, we rolled one district at a time each day.

On the first day, on the 23rd of December, just to give you an idea of how the atmospherics have changed, how the Fallujan have become more comfortable, more confident in the security environment within the town, on the first day opened up, we brought 921 citizens back through the checkpoints. Yesterday, we brought 9,400 into the city through the same five checkpoints.

On the first day we opened up, 12 government workers showed up to go and assist us with the operation. Yesterday, we had 640 government workers working side-by-side with coalition team.

On the first day, we had 192 contractors who actually signed contracts to clear up debris, to remove stagnant water, and to go ahead and work on the water plants and the lift stations within the town. So, 192 on the 23rd of the December. Yesterday, we had over 400 contractors show up. And we have been as high as over 600 in some of the contracting areas.

Humanitarian assist visits, we set up three humanitarian assistance points within the city in conjunction with the Iraqi government. On the first day, we had six visits at the humanitarian assistant sites. Yesterday, we had over 2,000 visits. And that's to pick up food, water, blankets, heaters, petroleum, water bottles, et cetera -- all the necessities that someone would need to go ahead and spend an extended period within the town.

We also just last week, we had it cleared with Prime Minister Allawi to go in and pay each head of household, and we figured there is somewhere between 32,000 and 34,000 heads of household within the town, to go ahead and pay each one of them $200. This is a humanitarian assistance payment. It's not to offset any of the damage that was done to their home, but it gives them some money in their pocket so they can go ahead and buy the necessities as they move back in to reestablish themselves within the town, or if they decide to go back to where they were staying, they'll have some money to go ahead and put in the kitty if they're staying with relatives or friends somewhere else within the country.

And the last column, when we first did this, there were two, three, four ministries that came in from the prime minister's office. We actually worked that up to 19 ministries that were working with us, side-by-side, taking the lead to go ahead and set the standards to reintroduce the citizens back to the town of Fallujah. Yesterday, we had 45 individuals show from the ministries.

So, all of the indicators, all of the movement has been in a positive direction. There's still a lot of work to be done in Fallujah. The essential services are coming back up on line. By the end of this month, we should have all the running water. The treatment plants are already functioning, and we should have running water out to all districts within the town by the end of the first week in February.

The electrical grid, we have the grid, the main power stations back up, and we have electric power going to the essential services -- the pump stations, the clinics, the hospitals. It will take a number of months to go ahead and re-string the wires throughout the town. We can't turn the entire grid on out to the individual homes right now because of the danger -- loose wires, the danger of electrocution of the women, children and men who have -- (coughs) -- excuse me -- who have now returned to the town of Fallujah.

And the last big success were the lift stations. Fallujah, part of the town is below the water table on the Euphrates, and there's a series of lift stations that keep the water table pumped back into the Euphrates River. They had all been shut down during the conflict, and now all of those lift stations are back up. And even a better story, they're all being run by minister of Municipalities. So, the Iraqi government is in fact running those lift stations with some very strong assistance from our Navy Seabees.

For the complete text of his speech,including his answers to questions from the press, read the complete transcript.

Posted by Deb at 02:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Test post

I'm grading papers, sipping coffee, and watching my dog carry her kibble - one piece at a time - from her dish in the kitchen to the living room rug. Eating in the living room is forbidden for her and she knows it. Hence, the wagging tail and guilty side glances. I've spent yesterday evening and most of the morning trying to post a wonderful editorial by Lori Holman, a proud mother of two Marines, and it's not working. JP, from Aces Full of Links, is trying to help me figure out why I keep getting error messages . . . so I'm going to test post a few other things to see if I can replicate the error. I'm a mom on a mission - Lori's writing is wonderful and it deserves a wider audience. Comments are strangely quiet today too, except for the SPAM - I've already cleaned out more than 50 offers this morning from idiots who think MCM is a great place to hawk Viagra, online poker, and loan services for the credit-challenged. I keep deleting and they keep coming back. If only keyboarding burned more calories.

Posted by Deb at 02:01 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Capt. Glade, our prayers are with you

Via Blackfive, here's a wounded soldier who needs your prayer and good wishes.

Capt. Daniel Glade was wounded in an IED explosion in Iraq on January 10 and arrived at Walter Reed on January 13th. His leg was amputated in an effort to stop the spread of infection but he is very ill. His family is keeping an on-line journal and has asked for prayer for the following:

Specific Prayer Requests: 1) Pray for restoration of his kidneys. 2) Pray for control of his infection. He has bacteria in his blood and in his wounds. 3) Pray against any blood clots. 4) Pray for his men in Iraq as they continue their missions without the man who led them for the last 2 years. 5) Pray for wisdom for the doctors.

Please also pray for his wife, daughter, and the rest of his family.

Posted by Deb at 10:54 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

Bob Herbert - Confusing Light for Darkness

Every so often, I read an editorial that causes me to shake my head and reach for my keyboard. More often than not, those editorials are from the New York Times and here's the latest from Bob Herbert who spent a recent evening with Hollywood celebs Martin Sheen, Lynn Redgrave, Alfre Woodard, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson and others less notable, reading Ariel Dorfman's play "Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark." This inspired him to write the following editorial, presumably with a straight face.

Here, he describes the impetus for the book that spawned the play - a collection of interviews from people who have "defended human rights in countries that span the globe". One such woman:

Dianna Ortiz is an Ursuline nun from New Mexico who went to Guatemala in the 1980's as a missionary. She was abducted, gang raped and tortured by government agents. She said one of the men overseeing the torture appeared to be American. At one point she was lowered into a pit filled with the bodies of men, women and children who had been murdered.

"To this day," said Sister Ortiz, "I can smell the decomposing of bodies disposed of in an open pit. I can hear the piercing screams of other people being tortured."

Horrible. But the man "appeared to be American"? America is a country made up of people from all ethnic backgrounds. How does an American look?

And, her experience also describes stories coming out of the Iraq during Saddam's reign. Keep this in mind when reading the following excerpt:

From my perspective, this is a dark moment in American history. The Treasury has been raided and the loot is being turned over by the trainload to those who are already the richest citizens in the land. We've launched a hideous war for no good reason in Iraq.

He needs to take another look. We have one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world. Along with Australia, we took the lead in post-tsunami relief work, leaving the U.N. in the dust. We've liberated 25 million people in Afghanistan and another 25 million people in Iraq - 50 million good reasons. And if he's forgotten why we went to war, these Marines haven't:

That's my boy, LCpl Shane Conrad standing for freedom with the other proud Marines of 1/7, Baker Company.

Herbert's editorial continues:

Never since his assassination in 1968 have I felt the absence of Martin Luther King more acutely. Where are today's voices of moral outrage? Where is the leadership willing to stand up and say: Enough! We've sullied ourselves enough.

I'm convinced, without being able to prove it, that those voices will emerge. There was a time when no one had heard of Dr. King. Or Oscar Arias Sanchez. Or Martin O'Brien, who founded the foremost human rights organization in Northern Ireland, and who tells us: "The worst thing is apathy - to sit idly by in the face of injustice and to do nothing about it."

Mr. Herbert, change your perspective. The voice you're hoping for has indeed emerged and his name is George W. Bush. He acted when others sat back . . . and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan now face the future with hope instead of fear.

Thanks to Cassandra for the original link.

Posted by Deb at 11:58 AM | Comments (5)

Troops helping Troops

My good friend JP and his family have an irresistable opportunity for those who love cookies and/or love our troops. I have first-hand knowledge that the two conditions are not mutually exclusive. Here's his offer:

Are you interested in helping out the troops? And by “the troops” I mean, of course, two particular girl scout troops as well as some men and women in Iraq.

It’s Girl Scout cookie time again. Maggie is a leader in 2 troops. Both of my girls are involved. That means there are cookies galore here. If you are inclined to buy Girl Scout cookies, the girls would really appreciate it.

However, if you don’t want cookies for yourself, there is another way you can participate, help out the girls and make someone else’s day.

The Scouts are taking donations to send cookies to soldiers in Iraq. Girl Scout Cookies for these soldiers are a reminder of home. We’re only allowed to send to service men and women who are known personally to an individual in the troop. Let me send along this info from Maggie:

Girl Scout Council Southeastern Massachusetts Brownie Troop 1149 and Junior Troop 1061 are sending boxes of cookies to two (or more) units stationed in Iraq

One unit is the 447th Airborne, Air Force unit stationed in Baghdad Airport another unit is a Marine unit, but I don’t have the details (another leader does) there is the possibility of one or two other units — the father of a 4th grade girl is a reservist who was just called up, and there is another family with both a Brownie and a Junior who has a family member in Iraq.

We will send the cookies to as many different units as we can, and the servicepeople we know have promised to share. We can only send cookies to Iraq if we know someone in a unit, we can’t send them generally.

If you are someone I am in personal contact with and would like to buy cookies for yourself, just send me an email letting me know what cookies you want. These are the cookies that we have available: Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich, Iced Berry Piñatas, Reduced Fat Lemon Pastry Cremes, Classic Shortbread, Caramel deLites, and Animal Treasures. (The bakery’s site is down, so I don’t have a link to the descriptions). The cookies are $3.50/box.

If you want to contribute to sending cookies to Iraq simply email me at this address. Let me know how much you’d like to contribute. PayPal works best for me. If you don’t use PayPal, we’ll work something else out.

Make a soldier’s day! If you do, and you don’t mind giving me your snail mail address, one of my girls will send you a “thank you” note expressing the troop’s appreciation.

My son was the recipient of a huge box of Girl Scout cookies a few months ago - he and the other Marines in his company deeply appreciated the generosity of folks back home . . . and JP was among those who contributed to the cause. If you'd like to make the day of a few more Marines and soldiers, plus at least two adorable Girl Scouts, e-mail JP at drmomentum-at-yahoo.com and reference Girl Scout Cookies in the subject line.

Posted by Deb at 11:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

". . . we're doing a bang-up job"

Here's a first-hand look at what's going right in Iraq from Marine Corporal Isaac D. Pacheco, currently deployed in Baghdad. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 12, 2001.

Something struck me as odd this fall as I watched a U.S. satellite news broadcast here in my Baghdad office. Something just didn't seem right. There was the usual tug-of-war between presidential candidates, a story about the Boston Red Sox and a blurb about another explosion in Iraq. The latter story showed the expected images of smoke and debris and people frantically running for cover - images that have become the accepted norm in the minds of many Americans thanks, or should I say no thanks, to the media.

There were no smiling soldiers, no mention of rebuilding efforts, no heartwarming stories about honor and sacrifice. I could swear I've seen that "stuff" here.

I've become somewhat callused to this kind of seesaw reporting because every day I work with the news agencies that manufacture it. However, many service members shake their heads in frustration each time they see their daily rebuilding efforts ignored by the media in favor of the more "sensational" car bomb and rocket attack stories. Not to say that tragedies don't happen - Iraq is a war zone - but there is so much more happening that gets overlooked if not ignored.

Army Sgt. Addie Collins' Kicks for Kids program is an example of this. Three months ago this Army Reservist from Los Angeles asked her friends and family to forgo sending the usual box of goodies, and instead send a few pairs of kid-sized shoes, which she would hand out to Iraqi children she'd seen walking barefoot. Friends and family told friends and family, and today, 10,000 pairs later, Collins is outfitting an entire Ramadi community with sneakers, sandals and boots.

Where's her morning talk show appearance?

Many others, military members and civilians who truly care about the Iraqi people and rebuilding their nation, have stories that mirror Collins'. Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi people to build schools, pave roads and train police officers. In the process we're re-instilling the citizens of Iraq with a sense of national pride that years of oppression had smothered.

I may just be a good ol' Kentucky boy, but if my voice counts for anything, I'd say we're doing a bang-up job.

Semper Fi.

Posted by Deb at 01:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

New Year wishes

The chaplain from the 1st FSSG shares these thoughts:

A new year is fast approaching! In order to share with you from the Battalion, I asked Marines to share with you their wishes for the New Year. Here are a few of the things they said:

“I wish to keep the friendships I have made out here in Iraq.”

“I wish I could find someone to have a relationship with!”

“I wish I could spend more time with my loved ones.”

“I wish I could be home with my family.”

“I hope to hear the words ‘I do’ from my girlfriend.”

“I wish that there will be peace for the people of Iraq.”

“I wish to never leave my family again.”

“I wish to come home safe with all of my co-workers and friends.”

“I wish to make it home safe and have Iraq be better.”

“I hope to get back in college and finish my degree.”

“I wish for everyone to have the best of holidays!”

Thanks for all you do to help keep us going! We are grateful for your love, support and prayers!

God bless and Happy Holidays!

Posted by Deb at 01:41 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack