Friday, September 21, 2012

Movements of the MeK

Anybody remember the Mujahedin-e-Kharq? I wrote about them waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in August 2009 as I was sitting in Kuwait waiting to head north into Iraq for a third time. The MeK are an organization/cult that formed in Iran during the 1960's to fight the Shah. They were communists and extremely violent and eventually found a home in Iraq. The United States would eventually label the MeK a terrorist organization.

Until now that is.

The State Department is removing MeK from the list of terrorist groups. This will not end well.

At least most of them are sitting on the former "Camp Liberty" in Baghdad where they likely can't do anything too harmful. Iraq is booting them out of the country, and rightfully so since they are Iranians who are only in Iraq because Saddam found the MeK useful. But where they end up is currently anybody's guess. What they do once they get wherever they are going is what concerns me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Back in the beginning of my second Iraq deployment in 2006 I came across a series of articles in The Christian Science Monitor that were written by journalist Jill Carroll. Carroll had been working as a freelance journalist for the Monitor in Iraq when she was kidnapped by insurgents. The articles were her story of the abduction and the 82 days that followed. I read most of the articles but quickly became too busy with the daily tasks of being a deployed intelligence officer to finish all of them.

I was reminded of Jill and her story while reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. Filkins' book is about his time as a journalist in Afghanistan both prior to and after 9/11 but primarily focuses on his time covering the Iraq War. The abduction of Carroll is mentioned in Filkins' book and so I took the time to read all the articles again.

There are 11 total articles and they aren't short. However, they are a great look into the dynamics and beliefs of an insurgent organization in Iraq in early 2006 as well as the mental fortitude of a woman who had no idea if she would survive the ordeal. It's a powerful and emotional story to read.

The Jill Carroll Story: Part I

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Honoring One's Fallen Brothers With a Haka

Take a couple of minutes and watch this YouTube clip of a New Zealand Army unit paying their respects to some fallen comrades by performing a Maori haka. The haka is an ancient ritual meant to both intimidate and show respect to opponents. You can really feel the emotion of the men performing the haka and I'm actually a bit shocked they allowed someone to film it since a military unit honoring one of their own is a very personal event.

Nothing like this occurs in the States that I know of.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Laughing At the Echelons Above Reality And Their Rules

Take a moment and read this post on Tom Rick's blog about the absurdity of some uniform policies. The post is a re-run from 2011 but I might as well utilize to tell a few stories involving stupid uniform rules that I can remember from my deployments.

Let me just start by saying I understand the reasoning the Army has adopted the use of the PT safety belt. PT is usually held in the early morning hours, often when it is still dark outside. Individuals are seen easier by cars when wearing them. I also understand their use while deployed. Most bases don't have many lights and it can get extremely dark late at night. Mandating soldiers wear reflective belts past a certain time makes sense. Hell, in 2007 before wearing PT belts at night was mandatory I was nearly struck by an Abrams tank late at night on FOB Warhorse outside of Baqubah.

Nearly my last image of this world

I can just imagine the conversation between the casualty notification officer and my parents had I survived most of a 15 month long deployment only to be crushed by a tank on the damn base.

Still, the Army comes up with stupid rules. In 2004 we were issued black fleece jackets. They were awesome and very warm which was great in December when it gets bloody cold in Iraq and Kuwait, especially at night. However, some Sergeant Major decided that the fleece jackets were meant to be worn under the uniform and not over it. This logically made no sense since the jacket did not fit under any top issued by the Army at this time. Rumor spread that the jacket was not being allowed to be worn because there was no rank on it. Eventually a new jacket was issued, and this one had velcro on it where you could attach rank. And all was right with the world.

There were other stupid decisions made. MPs were posted on certain roads on the Victory Base Complex to catch speeders and issue tickets. Pretty sure we needed those MPs for other things. On one section of road on FOB Marez in Mosul there was a sign posted that stated "speed checked by radar." I never saw a radar device or an MP.

The highest level of stupidity I ever saw came out of my own brigade however, the good old 3-2 SBCT. During the '09-'10 deployment the brigade actually established a "standards patrol" or something of a similarly stupid name. It was made up of a group of soldiers who would go around FOB Warhorse and issue warning tickets to individuals who were breaking the uniform standards. They even occasionally made field trips to the other bases. The best part of the patrol was that all infractions were logged onto a spreadsheet and uploaded to the brigade's website for all to see. It became a source of humor for those of us out in combat outposts and other far off bases.

The standards patrol came out to COP Cobra once. This was fine since our Sergeant Major and the leadership ensured we followed uniform regulations. We all joked about wearing our PT belts at night but when it's late at night and there are no lights the only thing between you and that Iraqi soldier plastering you with the bumper of his HMMWV may be that PT belt. The patrol coming to our base was a complete joke. Especially since the only person they caught out of uniform was one of our CAT III interpreters (US civilian with a clearance) not wearing a hat when he was outside. The patrol told him he had to wear his hat. We told him he was making way more money than any of us and was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more valuable to our efforts than any soldier in that standards patrol. Wear the hat, don't wear the hat...we didn't care.

To really emphasize what a joke these "safety reports" were to us at 1-14 I will share one last story. The standards patrol actually started to monitor the "blue force tracker" to determine the speeds of vehicles moving around the brigade's operating area. The blue force tracker is basically a GPS software system that shows were all brigade vehicles are on a map. The "SP" was using this to figure out who was speeding (anything over 45 MPH) and then posting the culprits' vehicle number on the website. The vehicle with the highest speed? Our squadron sergeant major...followed immediately by our squadron commander.

The B troop commander took one look at the speeds posted and said, "I can beat that."