Tuesday, November 29, 2011

3-2 SBCT off to the 'Stan

3-2 SBCT deployment ceremony looking cold and rainy, just like every other ceremony on FT Lewis

My old brigade, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is currently on its way to Afghanistan for the brigade's 4th deployment and its first to Afghanistan. For budgetary and other reasons I do not quite understand they have left their Strykers behind and will be utilizing MRAPs instead.

Had I chosen to take a company command within the brigade instead of running off to southern Arizona I would most likely be joining them. Part of me really wishes that I were going.

Good luck Arrowhead.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Civilian to veteran interactions: Part II

If you have some free minutes, please take the time to read this article by Crispin Burke. In case you're curious, Crispin is an Army pilot and a major...but I try not to hold those against him. He has his own blog over at Wings Over Iraq. Tom Ricks was wise enough to host MAJ Burke's article.

The article itself is about how the author dislikes telling people he's in the military because of all the follow up questions he inevitably gets. I completely understand his reasonings and some of the questions he uses as examples make me cringe.

Now, I think it's understandable to ask someone questions when you meet them and learn what they do for a living...it's human nature. It's also polite and shows interest in what that person does. However, there are certain questions that are just plain inappropriate and I'll share some of the more irritating questions I've received in a bit.

The author goes on to explain the two general reactions that service members and veterans encounter that often make us feel uneasy The first is the hero-worship and lavish praise that, at least to me, is uncomfortable when coming from complete strangers. If you want to thank us for our service or buy us a beer, that's fine; but please, please, please do not go overboard and treat us like we're the second-coming of George Washington. A vast majority of us are not superheroes (except this guy), we're just human. Please treat us that way.

The second reaction is one of horror that we are in the military and that we are victims and should be treated as such. It's as if those individuals believe we were kidnapped from our mother's arms, forced into service, and then brainwashed to obey orders all day (for the record, I've been given only one order today, which is one more than yesterday, and that order was to go home at lunch...an order I will be following with unquestioned loyalty). Like I mentioned above, we're human and we can think for ourselves. Shocking statement I know.

So along with MAJ Burke's list of uncomfortable questions, here is my list of questions I've been asked that I dislike:

"What's Iraq like?" (How does one answer this question? Next person who asks this gets a snarky response along the lines of "it's a mystical place full of unicorns and Skittle rainbows!")

"Did you ever fire your gun?" (My dear sister asked me this once. In my opinion it's only a couple of steps away from the dreaded "did you kill anyone" question.)

"What's it like to kill someone?" (Ahh, there it is. Ask this and I automaticaly label you a douchebag who I will avoid interacting with in the future.)

"Are you a Fobbit?" (My dad asked this one. He did not know what the term meant and also did not know it's a derogatory word slung at support soldiers by combat arms so I'll give him a pass. Yes, my job kept me on the base most of the time. No, I did not avoid going "outside the wire", in fact, I did my best to get off the FOB.)

"When can you get out/When are you getting out?" (Not annoying if it's centered around me stating that I'm leaving the Army. Teeth-gnashingly irritating if it's someone I just met who thinks my time in the military is similar to a prison sentence. I think I might start asking teachers when they are getting out, see what their reaction is.)

"Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" (With Jimmy Hoffa and the Chicago Cubs' chances at a World Series.)

There you have it. A short lesson on what to do and what not to ask when a wild veteran appears. We are not victims nor are we Batman. We're just people.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love me some Somalia

Haven't written anything about Somalia in awhile, but not because there hasn't been anything going on in that little crap hole (is crap hole too harsh? Should I say dump? Or am I being too judgemental?) As I've mentioned before, Somalia fascinates me, mostly because no matter what else is going on I know I can take a look at the news in Somalia and say to myself "well the economy sucks here but at least it's not Somalia!".

I love mocking other nations. But maybe I'm just a cynical asshole.

Anyway...what's going on there these days? Kenya recently recently decided to jump into the mix after the African Union pushed Shabaab (the fundamentalist group/organization/militia fighting against the Transitional Federal Government) out of Moqadishu. Kenya entered into southern Somalia to remove the Shabaab threat in that area as well as help prevent violence from spilling over the border.

Ethiopia then decided it wanted in on some of that sweet Shabaab bashing action and sent troops into areas along its border. This is not a repeat from 2006. The government of Ethiopia is now denying that their troops entered into Somalia. Don't hide it Ethiopia. We all know Somalia is just a proxy war between you and Eritrea.

So Shabaab is now on the run and apparently can only conduct occasional attacks in Moqadishu against AU and TFG forces. On top of that Kenya is threatening to remove them from their strongholds in southern Somalia. Plus Ethiopia is likely to prevent the organization from fleeing to western Somalia and making a stand there.

What can Shabaab do? They could make an appeal to Eritrea for assistance but I don't know what good that will do. Eritrea is already in the dog house for covertly supporting Shabaab and any overt help would likely bring unwanted attention from the West like the Eye of Sauron staring down some defenseless Hobbits.

Beg big brother Al Qaida for help? That likely won't go anywhere since AQ has its own problems right now. Losing your leadership and facing constant pressure from scary UAVs in the sky makes one less inclined or capable to render assistance. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a little busy in Yemen and Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is...well hell, what has AQIM been up to? Oh, just kidnapping Europeans in Algeria. Yeah, go ask them for help Shabaab, I'm sure they'll get right on it.

I give Shabaab 6-8 months. Who knows though, they may pull a rabbit out of their hat and keep the chaos in Somalia going. Even if Shabaab is defeated though, I just can't see stability occuring in Somalia. It's just so unnatural.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From 505 to 11

The US effort in Iraq really is coming to a close. Joint Base Balad was handed over to Iraqi authorities yesterday and all I can think is...wow.

During my 2004 deployment I was part of several logistics convoys that went up to Balad to pick up parts, supplies, etc. I spent 10 days there atttending a HAZMAT handling course. It's the base where I picked up my fear of dying in a Port-O-John.

Hell, when I wanted to buy the DVD box set of Babylon 5: Season 2 and it was sold out on Camp Victory I hopped on the first convoy to Balad I could get on to get it there...it was sold out in Balad too. That's right, I risked my life to drive 2 hours in a non armored HMMWV into the Sunni Triangle with all of its IEDs, small arms fire, rockets, mortars, and RPGs just for Babylon 5.

Hey, it's a good season.

With characters like Londo here I would have driven through Sadr City to get season 3

I wonder what the mad mortarman of Balad is going to do now that there are no more US forces at the base...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doesn't get any easier

For a time after the US invaded Afghanistan I would read the names of the troops killed in combat and look at their faces. This continued after the invasion of Iraq. It was my way of putting names and faces to the war, remind myself that it was real people involved in the conflicts.

During my second deployment I would read the names every day while I read Stars and Stripes, the military's newspaper. That was the most difficult because on numerous occasions, 58 to be exact, I recognized the names of those killed since they belonged to my brigade or were attached to my brigade. Many of those names I read immediately after attending the memorial for those soldiers.

I would eventually stop reading the names and looking at the faces. As I spent more and more time in the Army and met more and more people I feared that I would see a familiar name. A former coworker. A comrade. A friend.

This past Saturday there was a suicide attack in Kabul that killed 5 ISAF soldiers. One of them was LTC Dave Cabrera who I knew from my time in 296 BSB while he was assigned as the 3-2 SBCT mental health officer.

That's then Major Cabrera in happier times prior to my promotion ceremony in Mosul, November 2006. Why does it look like he's about to punch me? It's because I looked away when he was talking to me wasn't it? Stupid lieutenant, never turn your back from a field grade! They are quick to anger!

I saw his name today among those who were killed. For some reason I was curious about the attack and read the names. He left behind a wife and 4 children.

We ate a few meals together those 5 months in Mosul before the brigade was sent down to Baghad and LTC Cabrera moved on to another assignment. Spent some time in his office chatting as well.

Rest in peace, sir.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Yeah, I didn't see this coming at all...

Around 8 months ago, way way back in March Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama discussed an interesting report from West Point's Harmony Project. I also wrote about the report which you can read here and get caught up on where I'm coming from when I point you to my next link.

To summarize, if you do not feel like clicking links, in October 2007 some documents were captured in Sinjar, Iraq. Those documents indicated that many foreign fighters coming to Iraq to fight the infidels (that would be the US and its allies) were from Libya, and more specifically eastern Libya.

Back in March I was not sure we could entirely trust the Libyan rebels who had their center of gravity and most support in eastern Libya. What exactly were their motivations? Now that Colonel Gadaffi has been "eliminated", who will really run the show in Libya?

Now we come to the link I mentioned above. The flag of Al Qaeda has been seen flying over the courthouse in Benghazi. Locals are stating "Islamists" are driving around in brand new SUVs waving the flag as well.

I realize that the US government faced a tough decision when it came to the Libyan revolution/insurrection/rebellion (what the hell was it anyway?). Do we back the dictator or do we back the rebels who may or may not be backed by our current boogeyman?

Hopefully this is just an isolated incident, but it appears to this lowly captain that the situation in Libya is looking more and more like what happened in Afghanistan. In 10 years are we going to be backing the Taureg tribe in a civil war against an Al Qaida controlled government? Would we even bother waiting 10 years?