Sunday, November 19, 2006

Postscript - One Year Later

More than a year ago, I recommended that US policy in Iraq be based on the democratic yearnings of the Iraqi peoples. Unfortunately, it looks like the leaders in the US State Department continue to cling to a vision of Iraq that is shared by very few of the people who live there. Specifically, I suggested that the US not fight to keep a unified Iraq – unfortunately, as late as yesterday, Dr. Rice has announced that a unified Iraq was their only choice. As if it is up to the US Secretary of State to dictate the form of government the people of the region will live under.

So much for democracy.

I suggested that instead of fighting the anti-Baathist and anti-Al Qa’ida militias, we work with the local militias to exterminate Saddamist and Al Qa’ida forces in Iraq. Instead of blockading the streets of Sadr City, the US military should be arming and training those same militias to fight in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other Saddamist and Al Qa’ida strongholds. Last week, Senator John McCain has called for an increase in US forces in Iraq in order to “break the back” of the largest Shia militia. Instead of working with the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia Badr Corps to fight our mutual enemies, the Baathists and Al Qa’ida, US forces are once again taking fire from Shia militias in Baghdad. The largest monthly death toll inflicted on US forces since 2003 is the result. In the mean time, the US military has admitted that Anabar province, where Al Qa’ida and Saddamist forces are strongest, is “not under control”.

So much for defeating Al Qa’ida and Saddamist forces in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the newly elected leaders of the Senate and House are calling for a rapid withdraw of all US forces from Iraq. Senator Levin has even called for a “redeployment” of US forces in the next four to six months. Although the new leaders of Congress are quick to draw parallels between the fight in Iraq and the war in Vietnam, few mention the consequences of the rapid pullout of US forces from South East Asia. Recall, my friends, the utter genocide of the Montanyards in Laos and Vietnam, as well as the extermination of half the people of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

I wonder, do the ghosts of the hundreds of thousands who died at the hands of the terrible Khmer Rouge ever keep John Kerry awake at night? Whether they do or they don’t, if Senator Kerry gets his way, they will soon be joined by at least as many Sunni, Shia, and Kurds about to die in the bloodbath unleashed at his bequest.

So much for learning the lessons of the Vietnam War.

Democracy here at home is supposed to be a rational debate of various alternatives, where the public as a whole participates and in the end comes together over one coherent policy. Not a matter of sound bites and bumper stickers, but actual discussion. Instead, the recent election once again looked like nothing less than a bare knuckled power grab between political parties, reduced to all the rationality of a yelling match between opposing fans at a pre-Superbowl tailgate party.

This would not be the first time the national interest during time of war has taken a backseat to party politics. During the Civil War, US Commanding General McClellan, when ordered by President Lincoln to immediately attack Lee's weakened troops in Virginia, refused.

Many believed at the time that McClellan refused in order to further his own political ambitions, allowing Lee's army to escape and prolonging the war to make the President look bad. He wasn't shot as a tratior. He ran as the Democractic candidate for President against Lincoln in 1864 instead.

So, pleased don't be shocked when a political leader puts his, or her, political career ahead of fighting and winning the war. If there is anyone one of you who believes a savage bought of ethnic cleansing will not be the outcome of Senator Levin’s plan for a wholesale retreat, then it is definitely time to pull your cranium out of your rectum. Levin wants Bush to fail, and fail gloriously, so that the Democratic Party can gain control of the White House in 2008.

Is it possible the Democratic leadership of Congress does not know they are aiding the cause of Al Qa'ida when they throw up the white flag of surrender and retreat?

Perhaps it depends on what our definition of "is" is.

Regardless of the motives of others who should be looking out for the Republic and its citizens, perhaps I need to re-iterate exactly what we should be doing in Iraq.

1) Fight your enemies, not the whole world – US forces executed beautifully in the beginning of the war when actually fighting the enemy was the focus. Now, US policy seems to change daily. Don’t get bogged down in trying to solve all the problems of all the people who live there. We are the US military, not miracle workers. We didn't go there to provide health insurance coverage, or fix their bridges, or build their roads. They can do that themselves. They have more oil in the ground than we do. Our focus should be on destruction of our enemies, and nothing else: destroy the Saddam Fedeyeen, destroy Al Qa’ida, period.

2) Work with Shia and Kurdish militias, not against them. The success evident in Kurdistan is the product of years of CIA-Peshmerga cooperation. This model needs to be copied in the South. Attempting to disarm the anti-Al Qa’ida and anti-Baathist militias is foolish in the extreme. US forces should be supplying and training these militias, and readying them for a coordinated assault on pro-Al Qa’ida and pro-Baathist strongholds in Anabar Province.

3) Secure the borders – especially between Iraq and Syria. Arms and troops pouring in across the borders must be stopped. Allowing local tribes and Iraq customs agents to control the border clearly hasn’t worked. This is a war and needs to be treated as such. Mine, patrol, and otherwise stop all traffic crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border – immediately. We have the technology; all we lack is the will.

4) Be prepared for the division of Iraq – the vast majority (80%) of the people who live in Iraq are Shia and Kurds. The vast majority of the Shia and the Kurds want nothing to do with the nation-state of Iraq. We should be facilitating this desire, meaning the division of Iraq into three separate entities, not fighting against it because it does not fit our “strategic interests”.

5) Prepare for the long haul – Tony Blair’s MI Chief stated the war against terrorism will last at least a generation. She’s right. Doesn’t mean troop levels in Iraq need to be as high as they are now for the next 30 years, but don’t expect Iraq to turn into a Swiss democracy in the next four months just because it fits someone’s political schedule.

What am I doing these days? Still a citizen-solider – fiber optics engineer by day, US Army Reserve by night, so to speak. I’m no longer in the 8-229th. I’m in the 7/6 CAV, which is another Apache unit, this one in Conroe Texas.

And what exactly is the 7/6 CAV doing these days, you may ask?

Getting ready for the next round. Because, it ain’t over till its over.

And, Baby, this fight definitely ain’t over.

Friday, October 28, 2005


The picture is of our last "home away from home away from home" in Iraq, what we called then The Tent of Tortured Souls and Eternal Darkness (photo by Alexis Geacintov.) Actually, the time there was anything but tortured, some pretty good friends lived there.

It’s been a few days since we got back to the States: still in the US Army, but no longer in Iraq. Gives one a chance to catch up a little on what the folks here in the US think about Iraq, and a chance to think back on what happened there, what we accomplished, what opportunities we may have missed.

According to the current media urban legend, we, as returning reservists, are supposed to be disillusioned. Sorry if we don’t fit the media’s “Broken Toy Soldier” stereotype, but, personally speaking, I feel rested, tanned, and fit. And, as to suffering from any malaise as a result of fighting what many political ideologues would like to describe as a hopeless war, let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?

1) regime change -- Saddam is under lock and key. His trial is underway.

2) weapons of mass destruction -- Iraq’s chemical weapons are now under US control – for example the huge chemical weapons complex southwest of Samarra. This chemical weapons complex was reported by Saddam to the UN back in the '90s. The difference is that now US forces are guarding it instead of Saddam's troops. According to UN reports, which are part of the public record, the complex houses about 5,000 122mm rockets filled with Sarin gas warheads. So, the next time someone tells you "There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq", ask him or her about the 5,000 nerve gas carrying rockets near Samarra.

3) democracy in Iraq -- with approval of the Iraqi constitution, following the elections earlier in the year, the process continues. The government there is slowly developing into a democracy, despite death threats from Zarqawi and his ilk. Even the Sunni minority participated in the October referendum.

That's three for three by my count. No so bad.

The job’s not done, but well under way. And, yes, we, the 8-229 AVN Flying Tigers, can take a little credit, I think fairly, for accomplishing this task. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of other US military members who can, and should, make the same claim.

So, what happens next in Iraq?

I remember a friend of mine years ago arguing why Gorbachev should be the President of Russia. My response was that it didn’t matter who I thought or he thought should be the President of Russia. In a democracy, what was important was what the Russian people wanted. And, the vast majority thought at that time that Gorbachev was not the ruler they wanted to suffer under any longer.

Likewise, when someone asks me what I think should happen in Iraq, I’m likely to tell them it doesn’t matter what I think should happen there. What matters is what the people there think. But, we, as Americans, should be prepared to accept that the majority of Iraqis may not vote for something that we want.

For example, the very existence of Iraq.

One thing that strikes me is the fact that most people who live in the country we call Iraq really don’t give a hoot about the future of that entity. The vast majority, about 80% of the population, is made up of Shiites and Kurds. Mostly, they identify the nation of Iraq with the former regime of Saddam, and thoroughly hate his guts and his government. Their vision of the future is either a separate Kurdistan or some kind of an independent Shiite nation in the South.

The very odd thing is that two groups are very much opposed to this idea: the Sunnis (mostly pro-Saddam) and the US government.

Why it is that the US would desire the same thing as the 20% pro-Saddam minority is a little surprising, to say the least.

But, the US military has been winning the wars while the US State Department has been losing the peace for years now.

Hopefully, the American people will see the wisdom of letting the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis who live in the nation we today call Iraq choose their own future.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Everyday Heroes of the Flying Tigers Head Home

The 8-229 AVN Flying Tigers have been in Iraq since January, making this our ninth month here in the Sunni Triangle. And, like all ventures, our part of the story is coming to a close. In a few short weeks, the 8-229 AVN Flying Tigers will complete our battle handover to the 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles. This will be their second tour in Iraq.

I have to tell you, I’m proud of what the men and women who make up the Flying Tigers have accomplished. Our pilots, with support from our ground crews, have flown almost 1,500 separate missions here. The early ones were during the first national elections Iraq had seen since the ‘50s. Many more followed, covering the convoys, raids, and patrols of the ground units the Flying Tigers support every day.

The everyday heroes who make up this unit may not be the kinds of people you would ever see in a Hollywood movie. The main reason is that they are the kinds of folks you have for next door neighbors. So, I don’t expect to see the story of the Flying Tigers in Iraq made into a full length feature movie.

No, the everyday heroes who make up the Flying Tigers are just like the other everyday heroes who make up the police, the firefighters, the emergency response teams, and all the other teams of citizens back home who risk their lives for the rest of us.

For example, our hard working exectutive officer (XO), Major Mayflower. An honor to work with this guy. A real, honest to god, natural born leader. He has managed to work 12 to 14 hour days for the past 18 months to keep this battalion running, and some how keep his sense of humor, too. All the little tasks that need coordinated between and within this battalion and others fall under his domain. He is the Battalion Commander's key point man in all those organizational tasks.

And, there’s Staff Sergeant Butcher. This guy is incredible. Twenty-five years old, third time here in the war zone, and he volunteered. Not the whiny National Guard or Reservist who claims to be a “conscientious objector” four days before his unit deploys. This guy is smart, hard working, and solid. You couldn’t ask for a better soldier.

One thing I’ve learned from working with the men and women of the 8-229 AVN Flying Tigers. That is, if you want to find a real hero, don’t go looking in a paper back novel, or at the movie screen, or on TV. Those are only weak, 2-dimensional representations. Over simplifications of reality. Cartoons.


Real heroes walk amongst us everyday. They’re at the mall, at the place you work, they’re in your Churches, Temples and or Synagogues. They’re all over the place.

Fact is, chances are, the next time you want to need a hero, go look in the mirror. He’s right there, waiting for you.

No sweat.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Mosque, the Youth Center, and the Car Bomb

In a city that lies in the heart of the Sunni Triangle is a mosque with a collapsed roof.

The roof collapsed because 100 to 200 pounds of high explosives that had been stored in the mosque blew up, pushing out all four walls, allowing the ceiling to meet the floor with high impact.

One might wonder which religious ceremony includes the use of high explosives, necessitating the storage all that C4. I’ve read parts of the Qu’ran, and can’t find any mention of such a religious rite. But then again, I don’t pretend to be a Muslim scholar of any kind. Just another infidel.

Of course, the Imam of the mosque came to the near by US base and complained that “someone” had blown up his mosque. I’m sure he was shocked, simply shocked, to hear that so much explosives were being stored in his mosque. Not sure if the Imam was detained or not. The rules of engagement and detention for US troops are very restrictive. The US commander would have to prove the Imam knew the explosives were being stored there. And, there’s plenty of political pressure on US commanders to “play nice” with religious leaders in Iraq, with all the delicate negotiations on the Iraq constitution and such. So, there’s a better than even chance that when the Imam was told of the explosives by the local US commander, he simply shrugged and walked away.

The next day, a US patrol was fired on from the building across the street from the mosque with the collapsed roof.

Big mistake.

Three M2 fighting vehicles, which look like tanks but also carry infantry inside, opened up on the building, which, by the way, was the Youth Center in town. Our rules of engagement do allow US troops to return fire, no matter what the sign on the building says.

And return fire they did. Using their 20mm chain guns, the M2s raked the building with a withering fire.

Then they called in the 8-229 Flying Tigers.

Two of our birds, flown by Captain Soup, Mr. South, Mr. Lunchlover, and Captain Coonskin, were up on patrol in the area and quickly arrived on station. They were guided in by the M2s on the scene, all of which, after the Apache attack helicopters were given clearance to fire, moved back a safe distance from the building.

You can imagine the Saddamists or Al Qa’ida inside the building, if they were still alive, got a real case of pucker factor when they heard two Apache helicopters droning overhead and watched the M2s back up and take positions far away from the Youth Center.

Bet they crapped their man-dresses, big time.

The Apaches each took a run at the building, preparing to fire one Hellfire missile each. I can tell you, after watching the gun tapes numerous times, our pilots take an amazing amount of care to make sure the missiles are launched in as safe a manner as possible. If you’re not actually in theater, this may be hard to believe. In previous wars, like WWII, the US used carpet bombing as preferred tactic, as in Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This is no longer the case. We don’t just go in and level whole cities anymore.

We had a reporter from the New York Times come to the 8-229 Flying Tigers operations center a little while back. She asked our executive officer, the XO, “How much actual shooting goes on?” When the XO responded not a whole lot, she seemed oh so disappointed. I guess her knowledge of the tactics of helicopters in war is based mostly on watching the door gunner in Apocalypse Now firing at folks on the ground, all the while yelling, “Get some! GET SOME!” US Apaches holding fire when ever there is any question whatsoever as to the target just isn’t sexy copy. She seemed absolutely deflated.

This Youth Center is pretty much in the center of town. The Hellifires are guided missiles. Nonetheless, the pilots lined up their shots so that even if they missed, the missiles would not land on any homes in the city.

Both landed dead-nuts on.

After the second Hellfire exploded, the Youth Center became deathly quiet. All gunfire from inside had by now ceased.

Minutes later, US ground forces found a car they suspect of being a suicide car bomb. Again, they called in the 8-229 Flying Tigers, who had just finished their run on the Youth Center. Again, the Apache pilots took care to avoid any damage to homes or the historical Mosque not 300 yards away. One burst of rounds from the 30mm chain gun from the Apache, and said “suspected” car bomb burst into flames. Smoke quickly filled the sky, obscuring the afternoon skyline in this unique city. Obviously, the car had been carrying more than eggs and a gallon of milk in the front seat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Warrior Within

This may sound a bit dated to some, but many people believe that a man cannot live his life as a man until he recognizes the warrior within.

This is supposed to be why guys watch football games, action movies, and talk at work like their casting for a part on “The Sopranos”. They may be wearing a tie and suit jacket, and they may only be making copies of last quarter’s sales. But, in their mind’s eye, they’re getting ready to fight some invisible enemy. Especially if the copy machine jams. Then the stock broker quickly becomes “The Terminator”, and that copy machine is going to need a serious tune-up. These guys aren't able to recognize the warrior within, and act screwy, lashing out at copy machines or traffic jams, in small random acts of violence.

According to this point of view, the tough guy thing is a deeply evolved response. Older than football, older than man himself as a species. Something that goes back over a hundred million years ago.

And, most of a guy’s early years are spent in which their mothers, their surrogate mothers at school, and later in marriage, try to train young men to not attack things they hate. Don’t punch other little boys. Don’t beat their mathbooks to pieces. Don’t throw their tools around the garage or their lawnmowers across the yard. One can understand why, of course.

Nonetheless, short of castration, either physically or chemically, repression of the inner warrior is futile. At least as long as testosterone is flowing through a man’s body, a guy is going to act like, well, testosterone is flowing through his body.

Men aren’t the only ones whose emotions are ruled by their hormone ebb and flow. Some woman, after menopause and their estrogen levels plummet, start to grow mustaches and get very, very grouchy. I don’t know if there is a correlation between menopause and becoming a serious football fan. But, the next time you see Grandma come swaggering out of her Lincoln Towncar like Tony Soprano, think about it. Don’t mention it to her, though.

She may just grumble, “Hey, show a little respect, okay?”

But in her mind’s eye, Grandma’s grabbing you by your crotch and throwing you across the hood of her car, ya’ freaking fat bastard punk.

In the book, and later the movie, “Fight Club”, the suppressed inner warrior is characterized as the lead character’s invisible friend who loves wild sex and fighting. In “Star Wars”, the man’s inner warrior is portrayed as The Dark Force.

I knew a guy up in Pennsylvania who was looking to join a week long retreat called something like, “The Spiritual Warrior”. For some number of thousands of dollars, he was looking forward to getting in touch with that inner warrior.

I told him, “I can help you become a warrior. Why don’t you join the Reserves or National Guard and become a door gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter, for example?”

His jaw dropped, his eyes widened, and he stared at me, and after a pause, he said, “You don’t have to actually fight anyone to be a warrior.”

“Uhm, yes you do. Otherwise, you’re just dressing up like cowboys and Indians, except it cost a lot more to do it as an adult. And, it looks kinda silly, everyone sitting around with their shirts off, sweating, while some guy sits in the middle and beats his drum and complains about his life. There are real enemies, you know. Like Al Qa’ida, the ones that killed three thousand of your countrymen on 9/11. It was in the all the papers and on the news a little ways back? If you want to get in touch with your inner warrior, why not fight them?”

No, he never signed up with the Reserves or National Guard. Don’t know whatever happened to him, to tell you the truth. And, with his serious drug and drinking problems, the Army is better off without him.

But, it’s sad, really. He’s like so many others. They just don’t get it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mr. President – Meet with Cindy Crawford

I know, CNN, Jane Fonda, and Michael Moore want you to meet with that other Cindy.

Trust me, the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would much rather watch an interview with you talking to Cindy Crawford.

A survey of soldiers in the 8-229 Flying Tigers I conducted resulted in 100% of the respondents favoring the Cindy Crawford interview. Though, I'm not suggesting the poll should sway your decision, Sir.

The other Cindy is rather old, fat and frumpy. Not what your soldiers want to see at all.

We all love our Moms. But even we get tired of their endless nagging.

We certainly don’t think watching you interviewing another emotional Mom is going to do a damn thing for our morale. Heck, many of us are here to escape that kind of nagging.

Whereas, a photo-op of you talking with Cindy Crawford, maybe by the pool, or playing volley ball. Now, that’s the kind of interview we’d like to see more of.

Just a thought, Mr. President.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Citizen Soldiers

From what I’ve heard, originally the whole idea of democracy and the citizen soldier pretty much meant one in the same. At least, that’s the way it was in Athens, Greece, way, way back before there was a Untied States of America, or Thomas Jefferson, or the Bill of Rights.

Even before there were Christians and Muslims.

The idea, way back then, was that a citizen was a soldier, and a soldier was a citizen. Same same.

Any man willing to lift a shield, sword, and spear in the defense of Athens earned the right to vote on what the policies of Athens would be. Conversely, any man who wanted to vote on the policies of Athens would have to be willing, when the time came, to lift up his shield, sword, and spear in defense of Athens.

You might summarize this early form of democracy as: “You can talk the talk only if you can walk the walk.”

And, way back then, just as today, wives and children cried as the soldiers left. And Moms, Dads, sisters and brothers wept when some the soldiers didn’t return.

Didn’t mean, by the way, that a guy could pick and choose which wars he was going to fight in. If the democratic majority voted in favor of mobilizing the army, and a guy didn’t show armored-up, then he was quickly stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile, the punishment being worse than death for most of those citizens back then.

Yes, they loved their Athens that much. Not so much the buildings and the streets as the people who lived there, I’d guess.

Funny, eh?

Turned out to be an unexpectedly effective fighting unit.

We all have heard how the brave Spartans fought and died at Thermopolis, where the very undemocratic warriors of Sparta, home to a very strong professional warrior culture, were run over by the Persian army, some say a large as a million troops, in three quick days.

Whereas, the citizen soldiers of Athens totally routed the Persian army at Marathon. Kicked their sorry Persian asses, sent them packing back to Asia, never to return to Greece again. The same Marathon we honor today in foot races, retracing the steps of the one Athenian runner who brought back news to the cradle of democracy of the incredible victory.

Changed the whole of history on those plains of Marathon, they did. Tough as nails.

Not bad for a bunch of part-time, weekend warriors. The only reason Greek democracy survived was because of its citizen soldiers, and their willingness to back up their words with deeds, and, if need be, with their own blood.

You can see how the idea of the Athenian citizen-soldier influenced the original writers of the US Constitution. They didn’t want a large standing army, but instead envisioned a nation in which its citizens would, if the democratic majority voted to mobilize, pick up their muskets and show up at the town Commons as the local militia.

Which of course is why the 8-229th Aviation Flying Tigers are here in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. Here in the heat and the dust, with the cobra snakes, the camel spiders, Al Qa’ida, the Saddam Fedeyeen, Iranian and Syrian intelligence operatives, thousands of miles from our own country.

We got a long, long tradition to uphold, you see. Not so many shields, spears, swords or muskets. More automatic rifles, Hellfire missiles and Apache helicopters.

Doctors, lawyers, farmers, engineers, airline pilots, school teachers, animal veterinarians, truck drivers, college students, police officers, housewives, Mr. Moms, you name it.

We’re all here.

A bunch of part-time, weekend warriors, trying to change history.

Yes, we love our country that much.

Funny, eh?