Dec 15, 2007

SEMPER FI - Wounded Warriors

The Christmas holidays are for giving, for introspection, and for acknowledging the strength of the human spirit. While there are many worthwhile charities worthy of support this Christmas season, there are few as worthy of this one, the Returning Heroes Home Fund. Once you read about what they gave for their country, my hope is that you will contribute and give back a little bit to them.

Semper, Semper Fi
Injured Marines fighting on
New York Post, 13 Dec 2007
By Ralph Peters

FORT SAM HOUSTON, SAN ANTONIO -- The best way to capture the spirit of the severely wounded Marines who pass through the Center for the In trepid is just to tell their stories and let them speak for themselves:

Sgt. Eric Morante, a squad leader in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines stood watch in a sandbagged observation post atop a bridge west of Fallujah. Visibility was great - five miles in each direction - preventing terrorists from planting roadside bombs.

But the bridge served a crucial highway, and while traffic had to flow, the risk to the bridge was unavoidable. The best the Marines could do was to keep vehicles moving. On April 20, a suicide bomber detonated 3,000 pounds of explosives underneath the Marine OP. The bridge collapsed.

Sgt. Morante landed hard, blacking out as debris covered him. When he came to a few minutes later, he was pinned under concrete shards. Struggling, he shoved the wreckage off him - then saw that his right leg had snapped back behind his body.

The leg was amputated by surgeons in Balad. Morante woke up in a military hospital in Germany. Next stop: San Antonio and rehab.

His chief ambition is still to become a drill sergeant. Missing a leg, he arranged for the Marine Corps logo to be painted on his prosthesis. "I was back on my feet in three months," he says proudly - but he still faces all-day therapy.

It's been a tough year: His father died, and his mother's been sick. And some jerk stole the sergeant's truck, which had been parked back home in Houston.

So what does he worry about? The other Marines wounded in the blast - and, especially, his Navy corpsman. The medic's still in a coma down in Tampa Bay and may never come out of it. He's never seen the child his wife delivered a few months ago.

* Then there's Gunnery Sgt. Blaine Scott, 35, and a "lifer." The gunny served with the 3rd Light Armored Recon Co. of the 1st Marine Division in Anbar Province. He was 6? months into his second Iraq tour when an IED detonated under his vehicle.

Gunny Scott was burned over 40 percent of his body. He's been in rehab for 16 months, with "too many operations to count." Despite reconstructive surgery, his face still tells of wounds. But this Marine's Marine is 1,000 miles away from self-pity: "Hey, this is what I do for a living, this is what I chose."

It helps that Marines stay close and support each other. And that this Iowa native has a strong marriage and three great kids.

Gunny Scott praises the "awesome" quality of care he's received. And he's grateful for the Fisher House room in which his family spent three months before being assigned on-post housing.

When you first meet Gunny Scott, your eyes go to the burn scars on his face. That's the plain truth of it. But he projects so much fortitude and pride that a strange thing happens: After a little while, it strikes you that he's still a handsome man - a man you're privileged to know. His priority now? Working with the new Marine patients to bolster their spirits.

* Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich, a Marine aviator, heads the local Patient Affairs Team from the Marines' Wounded Warrior Regiment. He calls the Center for the Intrepid "wonderful" and the Army hospital "very supportive of Marines."

But he also notes that Marines do miss their own culture. Part of that culture is the Corps Commandant's position on severely wounded Marines: "If you want to stay in the Corps, we're going to find a way to keep you."

And Marines want to stay in. "They do not feel sorry for themselves," Lt. Col. Olbrich says.

* Lance Cpl. Chris Traxson is on a high: He just got engaged to his high-school sweetheart.

He'd been on a Humvee patrol in the black heart of Fallujah - before the city "flipped" and turned on al Qaeda - when a bomb struck the underside of his Humvee. It wasn't even his regular Humvee - that had been hit by another IED two days earlier.

Fire shot through the vehicle. He suffered third-degree burns over 56 percent of his body, along with bone exposure. He looks fine now - but, under his garments, he has to keep his skin moisturized at all times.

He's come a long way, though. His parents had been at his bedside for two weeks before he "really" woke up in the burn center. Now he's determined to move on: "For a long time, I was pretty depressed . . . for four or five months . . . but over time I came to grips with it: This is my new body."

He was a police officer back home in Arkansas (the chief and his fellow officers came down to visit). That's over now - but Traxson, who holds a degree in criminal justice, intends to go to law school. And he's really looking forward to going home for Christmas.

His buddies avenged him, by the way: "They caught the guy who planted the IED, and he rolled over. He gave up the bombmaker."

* When Sgt. Jose Martinez arrived for our interview at the ad hoc Warrior and Family Support Center, the room was so crowded and noisy that we had to move out to the hallway for the interview. He had to step carefully, skirting dangling decorations and the Christmas tree.

Sgt. Martinez is fighting blindness.

The movie-star handsome sergeant describes himself as a "Navy brat." A brother's in the Army - in Iraq.

Martinez is a Force Recon Marine, the elite of the elite. He'd been working with a sniper team in the city of Hit. The team pulled out of an infiltration mission to "act on intel" about insurgents planting a bomb - and a running gun battle developed. The Marines kept up the pressure, dueling with the insurgents. Wrapping things up, the team called for extraction by a Bradley combat vehicle.

But the insurgents had lured the Marines into a prepared site. As the team approached its ride back to safety, a buried bomb went off. Three Marines and a translator were killed. The three remaining Marines were gravely wounded.

Sgt. Martinez took shrapnel in his eyes. The retinal damage to his left eye limits him to three inches of vision. The right eye's stronger, but his peripheral vision is gone and the discrepancy between his eyes prevents him from wearing corrective lenses as he walks. He's at a point where further operations would only risk the vision that remains.

The sergeant calls himself lucky: Others died. He's alive, with a girlfriend he adores and college ahead. "Whatever I decide to do, I'll get it done," the Marine said. We joke about how close he has to be to recognize a pretty girl (the answer is very close).

Then Sgt. Martinez grows wistful and adds a holiday message to us all, "Be grateful for what you have. Nothing is ever that bad."

What you can do
You can donate to the Warrior and Family Support Center project via credit card by phone at 1-888-343-HERO or on the Web at

To give by mail, send donations to: Returning Heroes Home, P.O. Box 202194, Dallas, TX 75320-2194. Checks should be made out to Returning Heroes Home, Inc. This is a nonprofit 501c3 endeavor; all donations are tax-deductible.All contributions, in any amount, will help our wounded warriors. Please give to those who gave so much.

Dec 11, 2007

Is There Still A War In Iraq?

From listening to the candidates for president speaking, one would not know we’re at war in Iraq. Both sides – Republican and Democrat – seem to go out of their way to avoid recognizing that we still have 165,000 troops in the battlefield.

My disappointment is that they don’t even use the troops to beat up on each other any longer – in the recent debates both parties are using funding issues to stick it to each other, while the names, faces, and units of the individual Marines and Soldiers continue to be purposely avoided.

While it’s obvious that neither side is going to pull the plug on military funding, it’s also equally obvious that the troops overseas are being used as pawns in a game where these lightweights continue to rage over which candidate cheats on his wife, which is the most (or least) religious, and who opposes immigration with the harshest measures? To paraphrase Rodney King…”can’t we all get along – and do what’s best for our country?”

• The Constitution calls for the separation of church and state, so why is it important whether Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee found Jesus first?
• Can Rudy govern in a non 9/11 environment ? He was awesome on 9/11, but an absolutely despised mayor on 9/10. What can he do as president?
• Hilary…can she out-macho the boys? Should she?
• And John Edwards…do we really need a trial lawyer as president? Maybe we do; he can shake-down the Chinese for some money.

It’s such a relief to hear candidates like Sen McCain and Sen Biden talk about American foreign policy; articulate and knowledgeable, both have ideas on how to deal with such important topics as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the national debt (which will have skyrocketed from 4 – 10 TRILLION dollars under President Bush)…too bad both of them are long shots in the primaries.

Other than knowledge and competency, they also have something else in common, another trait that none of the other candidates share: both of them have a son overseas…McCain’s son is Marine, and Biden’s son is Army.

In an era where Mitt told an audience that his son sacrifices because he drives his dad to campaign rallies, and Dennis Kucinich rattles on about UFO’s, it’s a relief to have a few candidate who understand the war from a personal level, as opposed to a sound-bite level.

It’s too bad that in this day and age of lightweight candidates and disinterested citizens they’re both considered long shots.

And lets not forget about our troops overseas – do any of these FDR wanna-bees we call candidates have a plan as to what we need to do in Iraq??

South of Baghdad with Task Force Marne

To look at the news coming from Iraq these days, it seems that there is either the expected bad news about IED’s and American casualties, or there is no news at all. But this lack of news does not mean that nothing is happening in Iraq any longer, and today OnPoint brings you a slice of a few days in the life of your Soldiers fighting south of Baghdad with Task Force Marne.

Both of these stories come from Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky, 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div.

Concerned Local Citizens in Arab Jabour
An insurgent safe-house in Arab Jabour was destroyed Dec. 4 in a JDAM strike. Dropped by an Air Force F-16, the operation was a combined effort conducted on the ground by Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga., and the Concerned Local Citizens in the area.

The citizens, led by Salah Mubarak, conducted the mission after they experienced a number of attacks around the abandoned building, said Capt. Eric Melloh, commander of Company A, 1-30th Inf. Regt. when the CLCs conducted a daylight search of a suspected insurgent base of operations.

Tired of the violence, local residents including Mubarak’s cousin, who owned the structure, took proactive measures to stop the attacks. The citizens went to the building to gather intelligence and document anything found with a digital camera supplied by Melloh. Capt Melloh added that the citizens were aware of the enemy’s tactic of booby-trapping houses and found a pressure plate improvised explosive device on the second floor roof entrance. The initiator led to a recliner near the door, which the CLCs cut open to investigate. Packed inside the chair, Melloh said, was about 50 pounds of unknown bulk explosives, which could have killed an entire infantry squad.

The infantry squad responsible for this area was led by Sgt. Shawn Moehnke, who leads the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company A. Moehnke said he respects the bravery of the CLC group. Often they take on high-risk missions in the name of securing their homes from terrorist threats.“They’re pretty good (at finding IEDs),” he added. “We trust them.” 1st Lt. Russell Deal, Moehnke’s platoon leader, agreed, “I think they do a great job. They are fantastic at finding IEDs and caches.” Then the Americans, with their trained EOD’s, defuse and destroy what the CLC’s find.

“Each of us loves something about the other,” said Deal. He said his men love the CLCs’ skill at finding things and gathering intelligence, while the CLCs love the combat power and weaponry the Soldiers bring. “In this sense we work together very well,” Deal added. “This is a great example of us working together with the Concerned Local Citizens.”

Motivated by the success, Deal said the CLCs and Soldiers will continue to push forward, riding the momentum against terrorists. “We’ll follow up with continued recon patrols and over-watches. We’ll keep pushing them further south.” Deal credits the partnership with the CLCs to good community relations between the Soldiers and the Arab Jabour residents. Knowing one day the Soldiers will leave, Deal said much of the time together is spent teaching them skills to take care of themselves, their families, community and nation. “With some good training they’ll do just fine,” Deal said about his CLC partners.

US – Iraqi Army Continue to Push Out Enemy Forces
Several operations led to the reduction of enemy fighters and insurgent resources Dec. 5 in Hawr Rajab and Arab Jabour.

In Hawr Rajab, Soldiers of Troop B, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga., detained four individuals during Operation Rounders, an overnight operation that searched a neighborhood for insurgents and weapons.

“This is pushing our operations into the east,” said 1st Lt. Ryan Resslera the XO for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 6-8th Cav. Regt.“This is giving us a foothold to better help the people.”

In another mission in Hawr Rajab, an Air Force fighter jet in support of the 6-8th Cav. Regt., destroyed an illegal canal crossing point with a GBU-31 laser guided smart bomb. Such crossings are often used by insurgent forces to circumnavigate Coalition Force checkpoints.

In Arab Jabour, Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducted several operations to eliminate insurgent resources. Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment located an improvised explosive device while conducting a presence patrol in the area. The IED consisted of two 57 mm projectiles attached to a detonation cord.

Another IED was discovered by Concerned Local Citizens and reported to Soldiers of Company B, 1-30th Inf. Regt. While investigating the initial IED, an explosive ordnance disposal team in support of the Soldiers located a cache of 100 pounds of unknown bulk explosives.

Both the IED, which consisted of one anti-personnel mine with two 155 mm artillery rounds stacked beneath, and the explosives were destroyed in a controlled detonation.

Nearby, CLCs also discovered another weapons cache. The cache consisted of four 120 mm mortar rounds, two 60 mm mortar rounds, two 57 mm projectiles with detonation cord attached and one rocket-propelled grenade. The citizens took the cache to Soldiers of Company D, 1-30th Inf. Regt. who were conducting an overwatch in the area.

In a separate situation, an air weapons team was called in by Soldiers of the 833rd Military Transition Team. The team, which is training Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army Division, called for the strike after being engaged by small arms fire from two buildings and two mud huts.

The structures were engaged by an Apache helicopter’s 30 mm cannons and Hellfire missiles, killing three insurgents. No Coalition Forces were injured in the attack.“The training they are receiving is helping them and that training is enabling them to take care of their area,” said Capt. Shane Williams, 833rd MiTT operations officer. Williams, a native of Plant City, Fla., said although the IA still needs some U.S. enablers such as close air support, on the ground the Iraqis were able to handle themselves superbly.

Dec 5, 2007

The Future of Our Military

In the last year we’ve read about how our military has been “broken” by the war in Iraq. Various writers and television analysts, many who are prior-service, have been presenting a variety of scenarios where our armed forces are about to collapse under the weight of equipment shortages and long deployments

There is a lot of truth in their comments, but using doomsday, worst-case forecasts is an easy way to prove one’s point. Let’s look both the near battle and the far battle, and see if we can cut through the clutter:

1 - The Near: Yes, the Pentagon needs to invest billions of dollars to replace the Army and Marine equipment being chewed up in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent, some Air Force equipment. Is the money available? Yes it is, but now it's being spent on other items.

Sooner, rather than later, they’ll be pulling more troops out of Iraq. That’ll help reduce the stress from multiple deployments from which the troops and their families are suffering.

A considerable amount of money needs to be invested in expanding and rebuilding housing and facilities on the Army and Marine bases, with still more money needing to be spent on married housing and family services. It’s disgraceful that families of soldiers, say in Fort Hood, need to participate in the WIC and other welfare-type programs in order to augment their income.

1A- From where will the money come? From the Pentagon’s bloated budget. Too many unnecessary hi-tech weapons programs suck up billions of dollars that could be put to better use. Cutting back on one nuclear submarine, or any number of anti-missile programs (that haven’t worked for 20 years) would help pay for the basics. In a budget that’s larger than that of the next 28 countries combined, it’s time to get the priorities straight.

Let’s not also forget the growing procurement scandals; from Boeing to the current investigation of the Air Force’s latest “consulting” mess that’s resulted in both jail time and a suicide, it’s obvious that the military-industrial complex is out of control and getting worse.

2 – The Far. We now have a Marine Corps and Army filled with officers and SNCO’s who have multiple deployments. What a wealth of experience with which to populate and educate the next generation of Marines and Soldiers!

At the same time, we’re finally getting some politicians in Washington who have served in the military, and even some with combat experience. From Adm Joe Sestak. CO of the task force that invaded Afghanistan and now a congressman from Delaware County, Pa., to Virginia Senator and former Marine Jim Webb; there are growing numbers of legislators who can see beyond the Administration’s patriotic hype and ask the hard questions necessary.

Even better for the military is Robert Gates as the current Sect. of Defense. Non-partisan, thorough, and low-key; Sect Gates ignores the “Iranians at our door- WW3” hysteria and focuses on the very real problems of a fundamentalist and nuclear Pakistan, along with the Chinese build-up. He’s also helping the military understand and utilize “soft power” in its battle in these 3rd-world countries. We’re never going to fight the Russians in the Fulda Gap; but we are going to be chasing and killing these nasty terrorists and ‘freedom fighters’ in Waziristan, Somalia, Asadabad, and other assorted climes and places – and the adroit use of economic leverage, essential services will serve American interests far more successfully than fielding yet one more multi-billion dollar weapons system. Just remember that when the Stealth bombers fly home from completing a bombing run; it’s my son and your son either kicking in doors – or drinking chai and talking to the sheiks –that wins the support of the local tribes and townspeople. This is 4th-Generation Warfare, and thankfully, Sect Gates is pushing the military to respond to it.

And how great is that as he focuses the military on actual threats to American security, in speech after speech he continues to acknowledge and honor the men and women who do the actual fighting.

To conclude: Is our military under stress? Yes, but in ways that can be handled. Is the military broken? Absolutely not - and when you look at the pride in which our Marines and Soldiers continue to re-up, and the battle skills and knowledge they’re passing to the newest generations of boots, it would be fair to say that the future of the American military could not be brighter.

Dec 1, 2007

The New US - Iraqi Treaty

A major part of the rationale behind “The Surge” was to give Prime Minister Nouri al-Maleki and his government the time to build strength domestically and then act as does any normal government. Basic services would be provided to all citizens, hospitals would treat the sick,, schools would teach local children, and police would not use the citizenry as their own personal cash machines.

And make no mistake, many good things have happened; Anbar Province (mostly Ramadi) is in the midst of a building boom and economic revival, thousands of Iraqis in other provinces have copied the Sunni’s by starting their own ‘Concerned Citizen” groups to take control of their own destiny, and even the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr has restrained itself as he gauged the mood of his followers.

There were certain benchmarks set by the Administration that would be used to judge the effectiveness of the war, and to be used to determine American “success” in Iraq: 1 – Passage of an Oil Revenue Sharing law, 2 – Bringing the Sunni’s back into the government, and 3 – Standardized rules for new provincial elections.

None of these benchmarks have been reached, and too many interviews with the military commanders and PRT leaders have expressed their frustration to ON POINT and other media outlets over over Iraqi Government inaction.. This week’s announcement by the Administration and the Iraqi Government of the signing of a long-term co-operation treaty came as a surprise to most Americans, most of whom have been resigned to the corruption and chicanery of Mr. Maleki and his ministers.

Whether or not this is a serious agreement or not is difficult to ascertain, so I took the opportunity to talk with the the government of Iraq spokesman, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh , about it:

Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh:
The U.S. and Iraqi Declaration of Principle is a shared statement of intent that establishes common principles to frame our future relationship. This moves us closer to normalized bilateral relations between our two countries.

With this Declaration, leaders of Iraqi and the United States commit to begin negotiating the formal arrangements that will govern such a relationship. The relationship envisioned will include the U.S.-Iraqi cooperation in the political, diplomatic, economic, and security arenas.

The United States and Iraq intend to negotiate arrangements based upon a range of principles -- political and diplomatic, and economic and security. The political and diplomatic is regarded that U.S. and Iraq have committed to strengthen Iraq's democratic institutions, upholding the Iraqi constitution, and enhancing Iraq's position in regional and international organizations so that it may play a constructive role in the region.

For the economic aspect, as both countries have agreed to support the development of Iraqi economic institutions and further integration into international financial institutions, to encourage all parties to abide by their commitment made in the International Compact with Iraq, to assist Iraq in its effort to recover illegally-exported fund and properties, and to secure debt relief; and to encourage the flow of foreign investment to Iraq.

On the security aspect, is to support the Iraqi government in the training, equipping and arming the Iraqi security forces so they can provide security and the stability to all Iraqis.

Q - The Kurdish ministers are travelling to Houston today and negotiating with the oil companies directly. What is the status of the oil agreement, and how does this help the government of Iraq with the Kurds negotiating without the approval of Baghdad?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Yes. The government of Iraq believes that all the agreements should be approved by the central, and by a federal government in Baghdad. Although that there is no oil law been approved, but it is not allowed to go on agreement unless it has been approved by the federal government.

This would create a complication of all the agreements which has been signed by the Kurdish Regional Government. The minister of oil of Iraq had declared clearly that this is an illegal contract, and it should not be performed by any foreign companies because it got no legality, and it's -- they should not go further in any operation in the north of Iraq.

Q- Will you stop the negotiations, then?
MR. AL-DABBAGH: Well, the -- at the end, they have to get the approval. But since there is no oil law been approved now, nobody should sign such agreement unless it gets an approval. Government of Iraq and the Oil Ministry doesn't have any information, and they've not been informed about any agreement being signed between the Kurdistan Regional Government and such oil company.

Q - What will your side seek in the negotiations seek in terms of a residual U.S. troop presence? What will it seek in terms of U.S. access to enduring or a long-term basis in Iraq, under what legal authority?

And what is your perspective on the requirement of the Council of Representatives having to approve this treaty, or any such agreement, as stipulated under Article 58 in the Iraqi constitution? Does the parliament have to sign off on whatever agreement you reach?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Yes. This is a joint declaration. It's like a declaration of principle -- it is not an agreement, it's not a treaty, it doesn't need any approval from the Council of Representatives of Iraq.

But the negotiation has been started in order to replace this Declaration of Principle, to have an agreement and a treaty for the long-term, and strategic relation between Iraq and United States. That definitely needs an approval.

On the security side and the troops, definitely Iraqi is still needs the support of the Multi-national Forces, which is going to be renewed only -- the last renewal will be later this year. So we do need an agreement and a treaty in order to regulate the presence of the American forces here in Iraq. And such a presence of the American forces is necessary to support the Iraqi effort to defend its national security and to defend Iraq from any threat might come from outside.

Q- Does that also mean that you will seek to have the U.S. stay in -- say, x-number of troops out indefinitely, and also give the U.S. access to the bases that either it uses, or it will develop jointly with Iraqis on a permanent basis?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Yes. We are not talking of any permanent bases yet. It is too early to speak about this one.

As long as the Iraqi security forces will be ready, then the number will be diminishing, and it will definitely will be reduced in a way that, as long as the Iraqi security forces will be trained and will be ready to take all the responsibility on the border, as well as the internal security.

Q - A lot of American service members who've been to Iraq - they've expressed -- they want their service in Iraq to be lasting and meaningful. What would you say to them if you could speak to all American service members that serve in your country to help protect it against terrorists and other criminals? Do you appreciate their efforts?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: I believe that whoever serves here in Iraq is not serving as just a member being asked as is the staff of the United States. Those who serve here in Iraq they are brave people which they are helping Iraqis which they deserve such help because the destruction here in Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam makes any person in any place in the world making sympathy to this country which is a rich country and this is a personal might be -- personal believe we -- so with the people who are serving here. All the Americans are serving here -- we didn't notice that they are -- we didn't notice any disappointment from them.

They are believing that they want to help this country and Iraqis will never forget the sacrifice which the staff, whether they are in the army or in the political or in the humanitarian aid, they are helping Iraqis definitely. We believe that such sacrifice -- Iraqi people will not forget all the sacrifice of the United States people. Thank you.

Andrew: Thank you for your time, Dr. al-Dabbagh