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Author Topic: Howl of Respect to our Soldiers/Veterans  (Read 93358 times)
Power User
Posts: 42494

« on: November 11, 2003, 01:05:19 PM »

A Profound Howl of Respect to our Veterans and Fighting Men:

Thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.  Thank you for what you do.

Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny

Here's just one tidbit from today's WSJ:

Why You've Heard
Of Jessica Lynch,
Not Zan Hornbuckle

As Sentiment About War
Evolves, Victims Grab
Attention, Not Fighters

When American troops were attacked on April 7 on a road to Baghdad, a battle broke out at a dot on the map Army commanders called "Objective Curly." Eighty U.S. soldiers, expecting little resistance, were met by 300 well-armed Iraqi and Syrian fighters. Grenades and bullets flew for eight hours.

The U.S. counterattack killed an estimated 200 enemy fighters, according to the commanding officer who oversaw the battle. The American team had never trained or fought together, but all its men got out alive. The team was headed by Capt. Harry Alexander Hornbuckle, a 29-year-old staff officer who had never been in combat before. He was later awarded the Bronze Star, with a V for valor, for his efforts that day.

Capt. Hornbuckle's name has never appeared in a newspaper or on television. He has received no book deals, no movie offers, no trips to Disneyland. In September, when he went to see his parents in Tifton, Ga., his mother called the local Holiday Inn and asked the manager to put her son's name -- he goes by Zan -- on the hotel marquee. That has been his most public recognition so far.

He is one of several soldiers who rose to extraordinary heights on the battlefield in Iraq, received honors from the military and returned home to anonymity. Instead, the best-known soldier of the Iraq War is Jessica Lynch, who suffered broken bones and other injuries when her maintenance convoy was attacked. She was rescued from an Iraqi hospital a week later.

The rescue and initial reports -- later discredited -- that the 19-year-old had survived bullet and stab wounds and continued fighting helped make her a celebrity. Stores in her hometown of Palestine, W.Va., sold T-shirts with her name on them. Volunteers planted a new garden in front of her house. Alfred A. Knopf, the publishing house, signed her to a $1 million book deal. "Saving Jessica Lynch," a TV movie about her plight, was broadcast Sunday.

Why did she become the individual celebrated in popular culture and not one of the other men and women who distinguished themselves in combat? The answer lies on the home front as much as on the battlefield.

In World War I, Cpl. Alvin York gained fame for killing 25 Germans and capturing 132. In World War II, Second Lt. Audie Murphy was credited with 240 kills and went on to star in the movie "To Hell and Back," which told the story of his bravery.

Military culture still celebrates the soldier who racks up a high body count. But since the Vietnam War, much of the country has tended to venerate survivors more than aggressors, the injured more than those who inflict injuries.

"People didn't want to view Vietnam vets as heroes," says Army Sgt. Scott Hansen, 56, who served as a helicopter-door gunner in Vietnam and won a Bronze Star with a V for valor for his conduct last year in Afghanistan. "I think people went there to survive -- put in their time and move on."

Many modern war memorials, most notably the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, don't include guns at all. In the 1990s, Hasbro Inc. marketed some of its G.I. Joe action figures as "Eco-Warriors" who fought the destruction of the environment. These days, when Hollywood makes a war movie, it often focuses on saving American lives -- "Saving Private Ryan," "Black Hawk Down," "Behind Enemy Lines" -- not killing others.

Changed Image

New technology is also changing the image of the individual soldier. Particularly since the end of the Cold War, much of the military's fighting has been done with missiles and guns fired at great distances. Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, followed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have involved more close combat.

"There are a lot of untold stories," says Capt. Hornbuckle's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Stephen M. Twitty, who received a Silver Star for his actions that day. "We don't mind not telling them ... . We know and we're proud of what we've done."

He nominated five of his soldiers for Silver Stars and 28 for Bronze Stars with Vs for valor. Capt. Hornbuckle "took on a challenge that most people would steer away from," says Col. Twitty. "He took a chaotic situation and got it under control."

Robert H. Scales, a retired major general who just co-wrote one of the first military histories of the Iraq War, goes even further. Granted special access by the Pentagon to situation reports and dozens of senior military leaders, staff officers and combat commanders, he contends that the battle at Curly was a pivotal one, and if one soldier deserves to be singled out in the Iraq war, "I'd choose Zan Hornbuckle."

But the military today has some discomfort with the stories of individual soldiers. Asked why the Army didn't do more to publicize Capt. Hornbuckle's feats, Richard Olson, a public-affairs officer for Capt. Hornbuckle's battalion, says the thought never occurred to him. "An aspect of a soldier is that he's trained to kill," he says. "And I don't know that the public is comfortable with that."

"There's a funny shift," says John A. Lynn, who teaches military history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "We want to fight wars but we don't want any of our people to die and we don't really want to hurt anybody else. So Pvt. Lynch, who suffers, is a hero even if she doesn't do much. She suffered for us."

Pieces in Place

As Capt. Hornbuckle and his team prepared for battle on the evening of April 6, all the pieces were in place for their story to become as well-known as that of Pvt. Lynch. Reporters and cameramen from NBC, the Washington Post and Army magazine were told to stay with Capt. Hornbuckle's unit, under the assumption it would be in a safer location than other units.

Soldiers attack the trenches

American forces already controlled much of Iraq, including its international airport, but there were still determined Fedayeen fighters in the capital. Iraq's foreign minister continued to predict that U.S. troops would be expelled. The American commanders decided to make a bold statement.

The plan was to send tanks into the center of Baghdad, securing Saddam Hussein's palaces and other important positions. Commanders were confident they could hold the city as long as they could keep the roads clear to supply troops. The job of securing the main road from the south went to the Army's Third Battalion, 15th Infantry, commanded by Col. Twitty.

Col. Twitty says he identified three intersections on Highway 8 where Iraqi soldiers were most likely to attack the convoys. One of his men, on a scouting mission, dubbed the intersections Larry, Moe and Curly. The nicknames stuck.

But Col. Twitty had only two companies available for the three objectives. He assigned more than 600 men to Larry and Moe, the northernmost points. To defend Curly, where he thought fighting would be lightest, he created an ad hoc team of 80, a group that had never trained or fought together. He asked Capt. Hornbuckle to lead them. The new group was dubbed "Team Zan."

Predictions that Team Zan would meet light resistance did nothing to help Capt. Hornbuckle relax.

"Oh, God, now I'm in charge of this fight," he recalls thinking. "Now I'm responsible for these 80 people and responsible to Col. Twitty for accomplishing the mission."

He hadn't been looking for a fight. Like many young men, Zan Hornbuckle didn't give a lot of thought to battlefield action when he graduated from Tift County High School in Georgia and decided on a career in the Army. Neither of his parents had served in the military. His father is an industrial mechanic at a Miller Brewing Co. plant. His mother, a former music instructor, now teaches adult education. At age 8, Zan took violin lessons. In high school, he worked for a veterinarian.

"Why on earth do you want to go into the Army?" Myric Hornbuckle recalls asking her son when he graduated from high school. "He said, 'Mama, there are people like you, good people who wouldn't hurt anyone, and there are people like Saddam' -- this is 10 years ago he said this -- who'll do anything to anyone. And there have to be people who will stand up and say 'no, you're not going to do that.' "

He enrolled at the Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C., splitting the cost of tuition with his parents. He graduated in 1996, married his high-school sweetheart, and joined the Army's Second Battalion, 187th Infantry. Their son Alex was born last year.

Most of his training since college has focused on battle. It became clear to him early, as he went through basic training for officers and Army Ranger school, that his work could be profoundly violent. Still, he says, he had no idea what it would be like to experience combat.

It was just past sunrise as the three companies rumbled up to objectives Larry, Moe and Curly, each about a mile apart. Looking out from the hatch of his Bradley tank, Col. Twitty spotted trenches dug beside the intersections. He picked up his radio to warn his soldiers: "They know we're coming," he said, according to an Army magazine article by embedded reporter Dennis Steele.

Capt. Hornbuckle bandages the leg of Sgt. Maj. Robert Gallagher

But when Capt. Hornbuckle first poked his head from the hatch of his Bradley and surveyed the intersection at Curly, it looked safe. "It was like driving into Atlanta," he says. "It looked like any big city."

There were two- and three-story apartment buildings, a huge factory with a peaked roof, a hotel and an office building. In the center of it all was a cloverleaf intersection, with ramps running up and down from Highway 8.

He ordered his team to encircle the cloverleaf to repel an assault from any direction. There were 22 vehicles in all -- five Bradleys, four armored Humvees, four mortar-firing vehicles and three ambulances. "Wow, that was easy," Capt. Hornbuckle recalls thinking during the first 30 seconds of silence.

Then came chaos: bullets pinging off trucks, grenades kicking up clouds of dirt and concrete, and, he says, noise louder than anything he imagined possible. The Fedayeen were firing rocket-propelled grenades from nearby buildings and driving pickup trucks with machine guns mounted at the back.

At Close Range

The biggest threat came from just beyond the circle of U.S. troops: The enemy soldiers had dug trenches under the highway overpass. The men in the trenches seemed invisible, and they were shooting at close range, Capt. Hornbuckle says. "It was like we kicked over an anthill."

Air support was out of the question. Any attempt to bomb the enemy from the sky would kill American soldiers, too. There would be no help from the forces at Larry and Moe, because they too were under heavy attack. This battle would be fought on the ground, the old-fashioned way, with guns, grenades and mortars.

For most of the morning, Capt. Hornbuckle says he remained atop his Bradley, firing a machine gun with one hand and holding his radio with the other. He was telling the gunner on his Bradley where to aim, coordinating fire among the rest of his team, and reporting to Col. Twitty, who was about a mile to the north.

Col. Twitty says he could tell from the sound of the gunfire coming across his radio, and the tone of Capt. Hornbuckle's voice, that Curly was under heavy attack.

"Can you hold?" Col. Twitty recalls shouting.

"Sir, I think I've got it," the captain shouted back.

But Capt. Hornbuckle was worried. If the enemy coordinated its attack, they would have a chance. By mid-morning, the air was white with smoke. The intersection, he says, smelled of gunpowder and engine fuel. It was 75 degrees. The U.S. soldiers, dressed in Kevlar vests and desert tan camouflage, were drenched with sweat.

"We might shoot on black today," Capt. Hornbuckle recalls one member of his team telling him, meaning that they might run out of ammunition.

Capt. Hornbuckle in battle

Capt. Hornbuckle's outfit wasn't built for heavy combat. Yet now he had a platoon firing mortar tubes in one direction and machine guns in another. Medics were firing rifles when they weren't applying bandages and intravenous drips to wounded soldiers. Even the chaplain was taking aim at enemy positions.

"Keep doing what you're doing," Capt. Hornbuckle recalls telling the men. "You're doing good. We knew we were gonna fight today."

Bullets kicked up dust at his feet as he ran between platoons. During one dash, he says an Iraqi soldier emerged from a trench, lifted his rifle and took aim. "He drew a bead on me and I drew a bead on him and dropped him," Capt. Hornbuckle says. "He was not going to stop me from going home."

A few hours into the battle, Col. Twitty called again to find out how Team Zan was doing. Both men recall the conversation this way: "It's getting serious," Capt. Hornbuckle told the colonel, "but they're not going to kick us off here."

The colonel later made a call to Sgt. Major Robert Gallagher, a 20-year veteran who had been wounded that morning when a shell fragment lodged in his left calf. He had propped himself against a Bradley to take the weight off the leg and continued shooting while Capt. Hornbuckle bandaged his leg.

Col. Twitty says the injured sergeant major told him: "Boss, we need reinforcements and we need them now." Sgt. Major Gallagher didn't return calls seeking comment.

The colonel ordered another company to bring every combat vehicle and all the supplies it could to Objective Curly. Two U.S. soldiers in that convoy were killed -- shot by Fedayeen soldiers. But the convoy got through, "like the cavalry come to save the day," says Capt. Hornbuckle, who immediately relinquished command to its leader, Capt. Ronny Johnson.

The Fedayeen made one more push and succeeded in blowing up five of the 20 newly arrived supply vehicles. Capt. Hornbuckle says he spotted a U.S. soldier firing on a trench filled with about six enemy fighters. The soldier was alone. Capt. Hornbuckle pulled the man away as he fired his rifle into the trenches. Capt. Hornbuckle never learned the soldier's name, but he believes the man would have been killed.

It occurred to him only later, when he replayed the incident in his mind, that he had shot another enemy fighter at close range. "At least I think I shot him," he says. "He didn't pop up anymore."

Capt. Chris Harris, who was at Curly, confirms Capt. Hornbuckle's account of the battle. Even though it was an ad hoc team, he says, everyone knew what to do when the situation grew tense. With no time to wait for detailed orders, soldiers relied on their training and instincts. "People knew what they were doing and didn't stop to ask, 'Is this OK?,' " he says.

Sgt. First Class Vincent Phillips, who led a small platoon of men into the trenches that day at Curly, says he saw a lot of heroes emerge. "We could have lost everything," he says. "There could have been all kinds of confusion about what was going on. But it just came together." He gives Capt. Hornbuckle much of the credit for coordinating the attack.

After an eight-hour fight, Curly was secured. Larry and Moe followed.

TV Images

Back home, two videotaped images became widely associated with the war: the rescue of Pvt. Lynch and the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad. These pictures offered the clearest of messages: U.S. soldiers were safe; the war was over; democracy had triumphed.

Objective Curly wasn't ignored. The Washington Post ran a story inside its first section two weeks after the battle. Craig White, the NBC cameraman embedded with the soldiers at Curly, beamed footage back to New York, and the story appeared on several major network broadcasts.

Vicki Hornbuckle saw some of the fight on television -- "The Battle Under the Bridge," some stations dubbed it -- but had no idea her husband had been involved. All the soldiers looked the same. Mrs. Hornbuckle says it was probably just as well that she didn't recognize her husband because she only would have worried.

The public-affairs office at Fort Stewart brags about its heroes from wars past. Members of the Third Division have won 49 Medals of Honor, far more than any other division, spokesmen for the division say. Audie Murphy of the 15th Infantry, which is now based at Fort Stewart, is the most decorated soldier in U.S. military history, they point out.

The Army presented awards to Capt. Hornbuckle and other soldiers from his team in an impromptu ceremony in the Iraqi town of Falluja. The military didn't issue a news release about the event. Even Capt. Hornbuckle's hometown newspaper, the Tifton Gazette, circulation 9,000, failed to note that a local soldier had been honored. "I'm embarrassed to say I've never heard of the guy," says Managing Editor Chris Beckham. The Gazette did put on the front page a story about a local soldier who suffered a leg wound. That tip came from the soldier's parents.

The biggest war hero in Tifton remains Harold B. "Pinky" Durham, who was awarded a Medal of Honor after he was killed in combat in Vietnam. There's a stretch of highway in town named after him.

Paul Johnson, Tifton's mayor, says he had never heard of Capt. Hornbuckle either. "I wonder what we need to do to get the good word down here?" he asked. City manager Charlie Howell pledged to look into the oversight.

Reluctant Hero

Capt. Hornbuckle accepts some responsibility for his anonymity. Medal recipients are encouraged to provide personal information to the public-affairs office at Fort Stewart for press releases. He neglected to do so. When contacted for this article, he was initially reluctant to be interviewed. If he knew the battle in which he fought would receive attention, he says, he would have suggested naming the objectives after something more dramatic than the Three Stooges.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, senior White House adviser Karl Rove went to Los Angeles to encourage film executives to "show the heroism of American armed forces." But movies that followed hardly treated U.S. soldiers as conquerors. In "Black Hawk Down," the mission in Somalia that left 18 U.S. soldiers and more than 1,000 Somalis dead was portrayed as a noble failure. "Behind Enemy Lines" had a good deal in common with "The Jessica Lynch Story"; it told the story of a U.S. pilot who escaped capture after he was shot down over Bosnia in 1995.

"I think it's tougher with modern warfare" to make movies, says director John Lee Hancock, now working on a movie for Disney about the battle at the Alamo. "Older wars were easier because they were more personal. It used to be you didn't fire until you saw the whites of their eyes. Now the only light is an infrared target."

Capt. Hornbuckle returned home in late August to a quiet welcome. His parents, his wife and his 18-month-old son met him at Fort Stewart. A few weeks later, his parents hosted a small party for him in Tifton. Several old high-school friends called to welcome him back.

And that was about the end of it.

"I'm not disappointed," he says. "In your heart of hearts, you know what you did or didn't do. Was it heroic? Yes, it was. But you see so many heroes and you're around them every day ... it keeps you from getting an expanded image of yourself."

Now Capt. Hornbuckle is training a new company at Fort Stewart. And he is readjusting to life at home, where his wife had been taking care of all the household chores he'd once been assigned.

"I've got trash detail now," he says.

Write to Jonathan Eig at

Updated November 11, 2003 7:52 a.m.
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2003, 11:56:47 AM »

As a paratrooper deployed currently in Iraq I can say that myself and all of my comrades with whom I have discussed this find the whole Jessica L$ynch situation obscene. She behaved in a cowardly manner during the fight and was captured. What happened to her was unfortunate and I empathize with her. However after her very publicized rescue and following book and movie deals as well as bronze star and medical discharge she expressed anger at the filming of her rescue. We find this hypocritical as she is more than willing to reap the benefits of that publicity. Were it not for the filiming of her rescue she would be just another soldier with a POW medal.  angry  angry
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2003, 07:40:30 PM »


I have 3 friends overin Iraq/and afghanistan ,I had four but one was one the Blackhawk that got shot down a few weeks ago..
my 2 cents : Nuke and firebomb the entire country then force the remaining people to work in the oilfields as our slaves...sounds harsh?
you should have seen hs mom and dad in tears thats pretyy harsh ,too...

feel free to delete this if you find it offensive,but I find the way this administartion is running this 'war" is pretty offensive
to groundhog
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2003, 08:22:36 PM »

easy for you to say.

how would you feel if you were in the shoes of those who were oppressed?

how about the innocent Afghan/Iraqi girls and boys who have died or were maimed from all these bombs? have you seen their parents cry on CNN when the US bombed Iraq? why enslave some people who might even be the ones who love your country? is this fair? is this human? is this what your forefathers fought for? innocent until proven guilty? yet you plan to enslave even those who might even have been counting you as their saviour?  

please stop being arrogant. stop thinking about righteousness and humanity with an American face. if you think more global, more people will like America and eventually all citizens will feel safer and can travel around the globe without feeling any danger. come to think of it, some Americans don't even feel safe in their own motherland anymore.

I love this country. but I am not blind and ignorant enough not to know that some citizens of this country also have a bad past.

please stop this type of attitude. keep America great for generations to come.
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2003, 09:15:58 AM »


Gee?  What about the 3 ,000 people who died on 9/11? evil

Were they innocent or infidels? smiley

I take back what i said about enslaving everyone over there... Sad

kill them all  the world will be a better place

do me a favor and dont respond this discussion is going nowhere and this isn't the proper forum
to groundhog
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2003, 10:40:55 AM »

So what about the 400,000 Filipinos that died from the American occupation of the Philippines? All because of imperialistic greed? yet Filipinos understood that not all Americans are bad. please do not think of your own country as a saint. every nation has its own skeleton in the closet. and not all citizens of every nation should be punished for what some have done to some people.

How abou the Balangiga incident? didnt your imperialistic ancestor ordered that all Filipino males over the age of 10 should be killed? how about the toxic waste that your bases have left in the Philippines?yet most Filipinos still know that not all of you are bad people and in fact teach them the martial arts?the Philippines even helped your country out by sending troops to the middle east to support your AMerican would you have felt if some other country left toxic waste in your own backyard? how would you have felt if another country would conduct millitary exercises in your own lakes, sea,and rivers and put your fishermen and their livelihood in danger?

and what about Filipino WWWII veterans who have been promised benefits by Mac Arthur to entice them to join the fight yet have been dying without receiving any to keep "freedom free" for your interests in the Asia Pacific region? they love AMerica.

the world does not owe you anything as much as you don't owe anything to anyone because every country has its own dark past. and if you can't live with that then just dig a hole and live with yourself forever.

I love America. I love the freedoom. But I would like to have the freedom as well to walk around my backyard without being bombed or being kidnapped somewhere in the world because of hate being bred in other people's hearts of some arrogant minds.
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2003, 11:41:43 AM »

Well judging from your post you obviously have no idea what you're talking about. I just got back from a day of #######and we got our truck stuck in the mud. Well some of those horrible iraqi people came by with a tractor and pulled it out for us. If we'd have had to wait for a wrecker we would have missed chow.
  These people here for the most part like us. It's the loyalists to sa@ddam and Al@ueda along with some other groups here that are shooting at us and setting bombs. The funny thing is they all have a mentality that bears resemblence to yours hero.
Power User
Posts: 42494

« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2003, 08:01:38 PM »


  Thank you for your comments.  You may wish to note that I took your comments on Jessica Lynch and quoted them in my newest post on "Army of one and one in the Oven" thread.

  I would be glad if you or any other of our troops over there would share what you can (are their military censors on top of your internet use?) concerning the situation.  It is hard for many of us back home to know whether the situation is as bad as the media and the President's detractors paint.  On the other hand, it is more than a little unfortunate that the President, and we, have gotten painted with honesty problems.  

Speaking only as a chickenhawk who has done his best to read thoroughly on the subject (including some non-obvious sources) I begin to grow concerned that things begin to spin out of control.

My understanding is that our true reason to go in was to boldly cut the Gordian Knot of the mid-east.  The potential benefits and the risks were great and as we moved forward I supported the President.

If our play in Iraq succeeds, we are out of the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia, we can stop Iran from going nuke and fomenting Palestinean suicide killers (we have already stopped Saddam from paying $25k to the families of the killers) and similarly we can stop Syria and then work for peace in Israel-Palestine -- and Iraq can serve as a forward looking example for the Arab world

If we fail-- and many in the region and around the world wish for our failure-- I fear our power will never be respected again when challenged by asynchronous threats.  If Saddam flips us the bird as we ride the last tank out of town, methinks things are going to get very hairy around the world.

This certainly has occurred to the Iranians, who arguably can foment the Shiite south to add to the Saddamite Returnists and free-lance Al Qs running loose.  Thus at the same time we seek to stop them from going nuke, we need them else the situation spin out of hand.

Thus, as best as I can tell, the key will be the relations between us and the Iraqi people in the Sunni triangle.  So far, things seem to be getting worse-- they were the beneficiaries of Saddam, and given our lack of language skills and knowledge of the people and culture, we seem to be reliant on locals who are probably well-compromised by the Saddamites--and now we read things are expanding into previously secure areas and Iraqi cooperation with our efforts is receding in the face of Saddamite assasinations of those who work with us.

Which brings me to your post, mentioning as it does our relations with the Iraqi people.  What can you, or anyone else tells us here back home?  Are people afraid to back us for fear we will leave too soon?  Or do we need to accelerate the pace as the Powell faction of the Bush team seems to favor?  Does some of the dissent here at home aid and abet the enemy?


Crafty Dog
Posts: 1

« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2003, 01:40:57 AM »

Crafty Dog,
                 You and I share perceptions for the most part on why we are involved here. However, I do believe that though they may not have been an immedeate threat to school children in Delaware, Ir@q is certainly very important to stability in this region and hence the world. The masses though can't be reasoned with and certainly would not agree to war unless it was under the banner of something the fear and hate (terror).
     True it is too that the media distorts what goes on here. I know from first hand accounts how reporters come here and shape what they say we say through the wording of their questions in order to manipulate what we think on a semantic level. That's what the media does.
   As for what I am allowed to say: I can't disclose where I am or going or any tactical details of missions, etc. From what I see though the people here like us. They do not like the guerillas. They want their own country and independence so naturally they want us gone asap but they don't hate us. The other day some locals stopped us before we drove by a bomb on the side of a road. They saw the bad guys place it and didn't want us to get hurt. The risk their lives helping us as the bad guys now target them too. Personally I think that now it is no longer a question of should we have come because we're here. Instead focus on how best to get this place on its own power so we can go home. Also, if people really want to do something and make a difference instead of spending five bucks to make a cardboard sign protesting bush why don't they put it all together and buy these kids over here shoes and coats.
Power User
Posts: 42494

« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2003, 07:11:39 AM »

Thank you.  


PS:  For the record, I did not think that the children of Delaware were in immediate danger from Iraq.  Sorry if I gave that impression.
Power User
Posts: 42494

« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2003, 02:11:45 AM »

Woof All:

In the final minutes of the anniversary of the Day of Infamy I share the following:

Crafty Dog

The Thunder Run
 'Are You Kidding, Sir?': Fewer Than 1,000 Soldiers Were Ordered to Capture a City of 5 Million Iraqis. Theirs Is a Story That May Become Military Legend.

David Zucchino, David Zucchino is a Times national correspondent based in Philadelphia.

Nine hundred and seventy-five men invading a city of 5 million sounded audacious, or worse, to the U.S. troops assigned the mission outside Baghdad last April 6. Ten years earlier, in Mogadishu, outnumbered American soldiers had been trapped and killed by Somali street fighters. Now some U.S. commanders, convinced the odds were far better in Iraq, scrapped the original plan for taking Baghdad with a steady siege and instead ordered a single bold thrust into the city. The battle that followed became the climax of the war and rewrote American military doctrine on urban warfare.

Back home, Americans learned of the victory in sketchy reports that focused on the outcome?a column of armored vehicles had raced into the city and seized Saddam Hussein's palaces and ministries. What the public didn't know was how close the U.S. forces came to experiencing another Mogadishu. Military units were surrounded, waging desperate fights at three critical interchanges. If any of those fell, the Americans would have been cut off from critical supplies and ammunition.

Embedded journalists reported the battle's broad outlines in April, but a more detailed account has since emerged in interviews with more than 70 of the brigade's officers and men who described the fiercest battle of the war?and one they nearly lost.

Times staff writer David Zucchino, who was embedded with Task Force 4-64 of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), returned to the United States recently to report this story.

On the afternoon of April 4, Army Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz was summoned to a command tent pitched in a dusty field 11 miles south of Baghdad. His brigade commander, Col. David Perkins, looked up from a map and told Schwartz he had a mission for him.

"At first light tomorrow," Perkins said, "I want you to attack into Baghdad."

Schwartz felt disoriented. He had just spent several hours in a tank, leading his armored battalion on an operation that had destroyed dozens of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles 20 miles south. A hot shard of exploding tank had burned a hole in his shoulder.

"Are you kidding, sir?" Schwartz asked, as he waited for the other officers inside the tent to laugh.

There was silence.

"No," Perkins said. "I need you to do this."

Schwartz was stunned. No American troops had yet set foot inside the capital. The original U.S. battle plan called for airborne soldiers, not tanks, to take the city. The tankers had trained for desert warfare, not urban combat. But now Perkins, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), was ordering Schwartz's tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles on a charge into the unknown.

Schwartz's "thunder run" into the city the next morning was a prelude to the fall of Baghdad. It triggered a grinding three-day battle, the bloodiest of the war?and dismissed any public perception of a one-sided slaughter of a passive enemy. Entire Iraqi army units threw down their weapons and fled, but thousands of Iraqi militiamen and Arab guerrillas fought from bunkers and rooftops with grenades, rockets and mortars.

The 2nd Brigade's ultimate seizure of Baghdad has few modern parallels. It was a calculated gamble that will be taught at military academies and training exercises for years to come. It changed the way the military thinks about fighting with tanks in a city. It brought the conflict in Iraq to a decisive climax and shortened the initial combat of the war, perhaps by several weeks.

But when Eric Schwartz got the mission that would prime the battlefield for the decisive strike on Baghdad, he had no idea what he had taken on.

Task Force 1-64, a battalion nicknamed Rogue, rumbled north on Highway 8 toward Baghdad. The column seemed to stretch to the shimmering horizon?30 Abrams tanks and 14 Bradleys, their squat tan forms bathed in pale yellow light. It was dawn on April 5, a bright, hot Saturday.

Schwartz's battalion had been ordered to sprint through 10 1/2 miles of uncharted territory. The column was to conduct "armored reconnaissance," to blow through enemy defenses, testing strengths and tactics. It was to slice through Baghdad's southwestern corner and link up at the airport with the division's 1st Brigade, which had seized the facility the day before.

In the lead tank was 1st Lt. Robert Ball, a slender, soft-spoken North Carolinian. Just 25, Ball had never been in combat until two weeks earlier. He was selected to lead the column not because he had a particularly refined sense of direction but because his tank had a plow. Commanders were expecting obstacles in the highway.

The battalion had been given only a few hours to prepare. Ball studied his military map, but it had no civilian markings?no exit numbers, no neighborhoods. He was worried about missing his exit to the airport at what fellow officers called the "spaghetti junction," a maze of twisting overpasses and offramps on Baghdad's western cusp.

Ball's map was clipped to the top of his tank hatch as the column lumbered up Highway 8. He had been rolling only about 10 minutes when his gunner spotted a dozen Iraqi soldiers leaning against a building several hundred yards away, chatting, drinking tea, their weapons propped against the wall. They had not yet heard the rumble of the approaching tanks.

"Sir, can I shoot at these guys?" the gunner asked.

"Uh, yeah, they're enemy," Ball told him.

Ball had fired at soldiers in southern Iraq, but they had been murky green figures targeted with the tank's thermal imagery system. These soldiers were in living color. Through the tank's sights, Ball could see their eyes, their mustaches, their steaming cups of tea.

The gunner mowed them down methodically, left to right. As each man fell, Ball could see shock cross the face of the next man before he, too, pitched violently to the ground. The last man fled around the corner of the building. But then, inexplicably, he ran back into the open. The gunner dropped him.

The clattering of the tank's rapid-fire medium machine gun seemed to awaken fighters posted along the highway. Gunfire erupted from both sides?AK-47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, followed minutes later by recoilless rifles and antiaircraft guns.

Iraqi soldiers and militiamen were firing from a network of trenches and bunkers carved into the highway's shoulders, and from rooftops and alleyways. Some were inside cargo containers buried in the dirt. Others were tucked beneath the overpasses or firing down from bridges.

In the southbound lanes, civilian cars were cruising past, their occupants staring wide-eyed at the fireballs erupting from the tank's main guns and the bright tracer flashes from the rapid-fire medium and .50-caliber machine guns. From onramps and access roads, other cars packed with Iraqi gunmen were attacking. Mixed in were troop trucks, armored personnel carriers, taxis and motorcycles with sidecars.

The crews were under strict orders to identify targets as military before firing. They were to fire warning shots, then shoot into engine blocks if a vehicle continued to approach. Some cars screeched to a halt. Others kept coming, and the gunners ripped into them. The crews could see soldiers or armed civilians in some of the smoking hulks. In others, they weren't sure. Nobody knew how many civilians had been killed. They knew only that any vehicle that kept coming was violently eliminated.

As the column lurched forward, buses and trucks unloaded Iraqi fighters. Some were in uniform, some in jeans and sports shirts. Others wore the baggy black robes of the Fedayeen Saddam, Hussein's loyal militiamen. To the Americans, they seemed to have no training, no discipline, no coordinated tactics. It was all point and shoot. The machine guns sent chunks of their bodies onto the roadside.

The Americans were suffering casualties, too. A Bradley was hit by an RPG and disabled. The driver panicked and leaped out, breaking his leg. A Bradley commander stopped and dragged the driver to safety.

At a highway cloverleaf, a tank was hit in its rear engine housing and burst into flames. The column stopped as the crew tried desperately to put out the fire. But the flames, fed by leaking fuel, spread.

The entire column was now exposed and taking heavy fire. Two suicide vehicles packed with explosives sped down the offramps. They were destroyed by tank cannons. After nearly 30 minutes of fighting, Perkins ordered the tank abandoned. To keep the tank out of Iraqi hands, the crew destroyed it with incendiary grenades.

By now the resistance was organizing. Fighters who appeared to be dead or wounded were suddenly leaping up and firing at the backs of American vehicles. Schwartz ordered his gunners to "double tap," to shoot anybody they saw moving near a weapon. "If it was a confirmed kill, they'd let it go," Schwartz said later. "If it wasn't, they'd tap it again. We were checking our work."

At the head of the column, Ball was approaching the spaghetti junction. His map showed the exit splitting into two ramps. He knew he wanted the ramp to the right. He had been following blue English "Airport" signs, but now smoke from a burning Iraqi personnel carrier obscured the entire cloverleaf.

In the web of overpasses, Ball found the ramp he wanted and stayed right. He was halfway down when he realized he should have taken a different one. Now he was heading east into downtown Baghdad, the opposite direction from the airport. The entire column was following him.

He told his driver to turn left, then roll over the guardrail and turn back onto the westbound lanes. The rail crumbled, the column followed, and everyone rumbled back toward the airport.

Behind Ball, a tank commanded by Lt. Roger Gruneisen had fallen behind. Some equipment from the crippled tank had been dumped onto the top of Gruneisen's tank, obstructing his view from the hatch. With the emergency addition of Staff Sgt. Jason Diaz, commander of the burning tank, and Diaz's gunner, Gruneisen now had five men squeezed into a tank designed for four.

The gunner had swung the main gun right to fire on a bunker. In the loader's hatch, Sgt. Carlos Hernandez saw that the gun tube was headed for a concrete bridge abutment. He screamed, "Traverse left!" But they were moving rapidly. The gun tube smacked the abutment. The entire turret spun like a top. Inside, the crewmen were pinned against the walls, struggling to hold on as the turret turned wildly two dozen times before stopping. It was like an out-of-control carnival ride.

The crew was dizzy. Hernandez looked at the gunner. Blood was spurting from his nose. His head and chest were soaked with greenish-yellow hydraulic fluid. The impact had severed a hydraulic line. Except for the gunner's bloody nose, no one was hurt.

The main gun was bent and smashed. It flopped to the side, useless. The tank continued up Highway 8, Gruneisen on the .50-caliber and Hernandez on a medium machine gun. They rolled up to the spaghetti junction into a curtain of black smoke?and missed the airport turn. They were headed into the city center.

Hernandez saw that they were approaching a traffic circle. As they drew closer, he saw that the circle was clogged with Iraqi military trucks and soldiers. It was a staging area for troops attacking the American column.

From around the circle, just a block away, a yellow pickup truck sped toward the tank. Hernandez tore into it with the machine gun, killing the driver. The tank driver slammed on the brake to avoid the truck, but it was crushed beneath the treads. The impact sent Hernandez's machine gun tumbling off the back of the tank.

The tank reversed to clear itself from the wreckage, crushing the machine gun. A passenger from the truck wandered into the roadway. The tank pitched forward, trying to escape the circle, and crushed him.

The crew was now left with just one medium machine gun and the .50-caliber. Firing both guns to clear the way, the crewmen helped direct the tank driver out of the circle. As they pulled away, they could see a blue "Airport" sign. They were less than five miles from the airport.

They caught up with the column. They passed groves of date palm trees and thick underbrush, and everyone worried about another ambush.

In the lead platoon, Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker was leaning out of his tank commander's hatch, firing his M-4 carbine because his .50-caliber machine gun had jammed. Enemy fire was so intense that Booker had ordered his loader, Pvt. Joseph Gilliam, to get down in the hatch. As Booker leaned down, he told Gilliam: "I don't want to die in this country." As he resumed firing, he shouted down to Gilliam and the gunner, Sgt. David Gibbons: "I'm a baad mother!"

Gilliam, 21, and Gibbons, 22, idolized Booker, who, at 34, was experienced and decisive. He was a loud, aggressive, extroverted lifer. His booming voice was the first thing his men heard in the morning and the last thing at night.

As Gibbons, in the gunner's perch at Booker's feet inside the turret, fired rounds, he felt Booker drop down behind him. He assumed he had come down to get more ammunition. But then he heard the loader, Gilliam, scream and curse. He looked back at Booker and saw that half his jaw was missing. He had been hit by a machine-gun round.

The turret was splattered with blood. As Gibbons crawled up in the commander's hatch, he saw that Booker was trying to breathe. He radioed for help and was ordered to stop and wait for medics. Gibbons and Gilliam tried to perform "buddy aid" to stop the bleeding.

The medics arrived and, under fire, lifted Booker's body into the medical vehicle. The driver sped toward a medevac helicopter at the airport, just as the physician's assistant radioed that Booker was gone. The assistant covered the sergeant's bloodied face and, not knowing what else to do, held his hand. Booker's body arrived just ahead of the rest of the column, which rolled onto the tarmac in a hail of gunfire. Some of the tanks and Bradleys were on fire and leaking oil, but they had survived the gantlet.

At the airport that morning, Col. Perkins spoke on the tarmac with his superior, Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, the 3rd Infantry Division commander. Rogue battalion had lost a tank commander and tank, but they had killed almost 1,000 fighters and torn a hole in Baghdad's defenses.

Blount wanted to keep the pressure on Saddam's forces. He had seen intelligence suggesting that Saddam's elite Republican Guard units were being sent into Baghdad to reinforce the capital. But, in truth, he really didn't have good intelligence. It was too dangerous to send in scouts. Satellite imagery didn't show bunkers or camouflaged armor and artillery. Blount had access to only one unmanned spy drone, and its cameras weren't providing much either.

Prisoners of war had told U.S. interrogators that the Iraqi military was expecting American tanks to surround the city while infantry from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne cleared the capital. And that was the U.S. plan?at least until the thunder run that morning altered the equation.

Blount told Perkins to go back into the city in two days, on Monday the 7th. Blount wanted him to test the city's defenses, destroy as many Iraqi forces as possible and then come out to prepare for the siege of the capital.

Perkins was eager to go back in, but not for another thunder run. He wanted to stay. He had just heard Mohammed Said Sahaf, the bombastic information minister, deliver a taunting news conference, claiming that no American forces had entered Baghdad and that Iraqi troops had slaughtered hundreds of American "scoundrels" at the airport.

When Perkins got back to the brigade operations center south of the city, he told his executive officer, Lt. Col. Eric Wesley: "This just changed from a tactical war to an information war. We need to go in and stay."

The brigade was exhausted. It had been on the move day and night, rolling up from Kuwait and fighting Fedayeen and Republican Guard units?sprinting 435 miles in just over two weeks, the fastest overland march in U.S. military history. Their tanks and Bradleys were beat up. The crews had not slept in days. Now they had just one day to prepare for the pivotal battle of the war.

The charge up Highway 8 on April 7 was similar to the sprint by Rogue Battalion two days earlier. Fedayeen and Arab volunteers and Republican Guards fired from roadside bunkers and from windows and alleys on both sides of the highway. Suicide vehicles tried to ram the column.

Gunners pounded everything that moved, radioing back to trailing vehicles to kill off what they missed. It took only two hours to blow through the spaghetti junction and speed east to Saddam's palace complex. Schwartz's lead battalion, Rogue, rolled to Saddam's parade field, with its massive crossed sabers and tomb of the unknown soldier. Rogue also seized one of Saddam's two main downtown palaces, the convention center and the Rashid Hotel, home to the Baath Party elite.

Lt. Col. Philip deCamp's Task Force 4-64, the Tusker battalion, swung to the east and raced for Saddam's hulking Republican Palace and the 14th of July Bridge, which controlled access to the palace complex from the south.

The targets had been selected not only for their strategic value, but also because they were in open terrain. The palace complex consisted of broad boulevards, gardens and parks?and few tall buildings or narrow alleyways. The battalions could set up defensive positions, with open fields of fire.

The Tusker battalion destroyed bunkers at the western arch of the Republican Palace grounds, blew apart two recoilless rifles teams guarding the arch and smashed through a metal gate. The palace had been evacuated, but there were soldiers in a tree line and along the Tigris River bank. The infantrymen killed some, and others fled, stripping off their uniforms.

At a traffic circle at the base of the 14th of July Bridge, Capt. Steve Barry's Cyclone Company fought off cars and trucks that streaked across the bridge, some packed with explosives. There were three in the first 10 minutes, six more right after that. The tanks and Bradleys destroyed them all.

By midmorning, Perkins was meeting with his two battalion commanders on Saddam's parade grounds. They gave live interviews to an embedded Fox TV crew. Lt. Col. DeCamp and one of his company commanders, Capt. Chris Carter?both University of Georgia graduates?unfurled a Georgia Bulldogs flag. Capt. Jason Conroy toppled a massive Saddam statue with a single tank round.

As his tankers celebrated, Perkins took a satellite phone call from Wesley, his executive officer. Wesley ran the brigade's tactical operations center, a network of radios, computers, satellite maps and communications vehicles set up on the cement courtyard of an abandoned warehouse 11 miles south of the city center.

It was hard for Wesley to hear on his hand-held Iridium phone; a high-pitched whine sounded over his head. He thought it was a low-flying airplane.

Wesley shouted into the phone: "Congratulations, sir, I?" and at that instant an orange fireball blew past him and slammed him to the ground. The whine wasn't an airplane. It was a missile. The entire operations center was engulfed in flames.

Wesley still had the phone. "Sir," he said. "We've been hammered!"


"We've been hit. I'll have to call you back. It doesn't look good."

Rows of signal vehicles were on fire and exploding. A line of parked Humvees evaporated, consumed in a brilliant flash. Men were writhing on the ground, their skin seared. A driver and a mechanic were swallowed by the fireball, killed instantly. Another driver, horribly burned, lay dying. Two embedded reporters perished on the concrete, their corpses scorched to gray ash. Seventeen soldiers were wounded, some seriously.

The brigade's nerve center, its communications brain, was gone. The entire mission?the brigade's audacious plan to conquer a city of 5 million with 975 combat soldiers and 88 armored vehicles in a single violent strike?was in jeopardy.

It got worse. As Wesley and his officers tended to the dead and wounded, Perkins was receiving distressing reports from Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, a battalion commander charged with keeping the brigade's supply lines open along Highway 8. One of Twitty's companies was surrounded. It was "amber" on fuel and ammunition?a level dangerously close to "black," the point at which there is not enough to sustain a fight.

The Baghdad raid, launched at dawn, was now approaching its sixth hour?well past the Hour Four deadline Perkins had set to decide whether to stay for the night. That benchmark was critical because his tanks, which consume 56 gallons of fuel an hour, had eight to 10 hours of fuel. That meant four hours going in and four coming out.

To conserve fuel, Perkins ordered the tanks set up in defensive positions and shut down. They couldn't maneuver, but they could still fire?and each hour they were turned off bought Perkins another hour.

Even so, time was running out for Twitty, whose outnumbered companies were clinging to three crucial interchanges.

"Sir, there's one hell of a fight here," Twitty told Perkins. "I'll be honest with you: I don't know how long I can hold it here."

Even after Twitty received reinforcements, tying up the brigade's only reserve force, his men had to be resupplied. But the resupply convoy was ambushed on Highway 8; two sergeants were killed and five fuel and ammunition trucks were destroyed. The highway was a shooting gallery. If Perkins lost the roadway, he and his men would be trapped in the city without fuel or ammunition.

American combat commanders are trained to develop a "decision support matrix," an analytical breakdown of alternatives based on a rapidly unfolding chain of circumstances. For Perkins, the matrix was telling him: cut your losses, pull back, return another day. His command center was in flames. He had spent his reserve force. And now his fuel and ammunition were burning on the highway.

On the parade grounds, Perkins stood next to his armored personnel carrier, map in hand, flanked by his two tank battalion commanders. The air was heavy with swirling sand and grit. Black plumes of oily smoke rose from burning vehicles and bunkers.

Perkins knew the prudent move was to pull out, but he felt compelled to stay. His men had fought furiously to reach the palace complex. It seemed obscene to make them fight their way back out, and to surrender terrain infused with incalculable psychological and strategic value.

Sahaf, the delusional information minister, was already claiming that no American "infidels" had breached the city's defenses. Perkins had just heard Sahaf's distinctive rant on BBC radio: "The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad." A retreat now, Perkins thought, would validate the minister's lies. It would unravel the brigade's singular achievement, which had put American soldiers inside Saddam's two main palaces and American boots on his reviewing stand.

Perkins turned to his tank battalion commanders. "We're staying."

Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty is right-handed, but early that morning he found himself drawing diagrams with his left hand. He was crouched in a Bradley hatch, holding a radio with his right hand while he tried to diagram an emergency battle plan.

Over the radio net, Twitty had heard the tank battalions in the city celebrating and discussing the wine collections at Saddam's palaces. He was only a few miles away, at a Highway 8 interchange code-named Objective Larry, but he was in the fight of his life. Twitty had survived the first Gulf War, but he had never encountered anything like this.

His men were being pounded from all directions?by small arms, mortars, RPGs, gun trucks, recoilless rifles. The two tank battalions had punched through Highway 8, but now the enemy had regrouped and was mounting a relentless counterattack against Twitty's mechanized infantry battalion.

As he scratched out his battle plan, Twitty spotted an orange-and-white taxi speeding toward his Bradley. A man in the back seat was firing an AK-47. Twitty screamed into the radio: "Taxi! Taxi coming!"

He realized how absurd he sounded. So he shouted at his Bradley gunner: "Slew the turret and fire!" The gunner spotted the taxi and fired a blast of 25mm rounds. The taxi blew up. It had been loaded with explosives.

Twitty's China battalion, Task Force 3-15, would destroy dozens of vehicles that day, many of them packed with explosives. They would blow up buses and motorcycles and pickup trucks. They would kill hundreds of fighters, as well as civilians who inadvertently blundered into the fight. Twitty ordered his engineers to tear down highway signs and light poles and pile up charred vehicles to build protective berms. But several suicide cars crashed through, and Twitty's men kept killing them. Twitty was astonished. He hadn't expected much resistance, but the Syrians and Fedayeen were relentless, fanatical, determined to die.

Twitty saw a busload of soldiers pull straight into the kill zone. A tank round obliterated the vehicle?burning alive everyone inside. The driver of a second busload saw the carnage, yet kept coming. The tanks lit up his bus, too.

From Objective Moe, about two miles north, and from Objective Curly, about two miles south, Twitty received urgent calls requesting mortar and artillery fire?"danger close," or within 220 yards of their own positions. Mortars and artillery screamed down, driving the Syrians and Fedayeen back. But at Curly, a stray round wounded two American infantrymen, and the artillery was shut down there.

At Curly, Capt. Zan Hornbuckle had enemy fighters inside his perimeter. He sent infantrymen to clear the ramps and overpasses. It was dangerous, methodical work. The infantrymen crept up behind a series of support walls, tossed grenades into trenches, then gunned down the fighters inside as they rose to return fire.

The Americans were killing fighters by the dozens, but the infantrymen were getting hit, too. Their flak vests protected vital organs, but several men were dragged back with bright red shrapnel wounds ripped into their arms, legs and necks.

Dr. Erik Schobitz, the battalion surgeon, treated the wounded. Capt. Schobitz was a pediatrician with no combat experience. He had never fired an automatic rifle until a month earlier. Schobitz wore a stethoscope with a yellow plastic rabbit attached?his lucky stethoscope. It was hanging there when a sliver of shrapnel hit his face, wounding him slightly.

With Schobitz was Capt. Steve Hommel, the battalion chaplain. He moved from one wounded man to the next, talking softly, squeezing their hands. Hommel had been a combat infantry sergeant in the first Gulf War, but even he was alarmed. He feared being overrun?there were hundreds of enemy fighters bearing down on just 80 combat soldiers, who were backed by Bradleys but no tanks. Hommel tried to appear calm while comforting the wounded.

Enemy fighters were firing on the medics, and some of them fired back. The chaplain grabbed one medic's M-16 and shot at muzzle flashes east of the highway. Hommel didn't know whether he hit anyone, and he didn't want to know. He was a Baptist minister.

Several miles north, at Objective Moe, Capt. Josh Wright was struggling to keep his perimeter intact. Two of Wright's three platoon sergeants were wounded, and two engineers went down with shrapnel wounds. A gunner was hit with a ricochet. An infantryman dragging a wounded enemy soldier to safety was hit in the wrist and stomach. One Bradley's TOW missile launcher was destroyed. Another Bradley had a machine gun go down. One of the tanks lost use of its main gun.

Wright radioed Twitty and asked for permission to fire on a mosque to the north. Through his sights, he could see an RPG team in each minaret and another on the mosque roof. Under the rules of engagement, the mosque was now a hostile, nonprotected site. Twitty granted permission to fire. All three RPG teams were killed, leaving smoking black holes in the minarets.

By now, Wright had managed to get infantrymen and snipers into buildings north of the interchange. They were able to kill advancing fighters while mortar rounds ripped into soldiers hiding in the palm grove.

Then the mortars stopped. The platoon mortar leader at Objective Curly radioed Wright and apologized profusely. He was "black"?completely out of mortar rounds. He couldn't fire again until the resupply convoy was sent north.

Wright's own men were now telling him they were "amber" on all types of ammunition. Wright wasn't certain how much longer he could hold the interchange.

At Objective Curly, Hornbuckle tried to sound positive on the radio but Twitty could hear the stress in his voice. He asked the captain to put on the battalion command sergeant major, Robert Gallagher. A leathery-faced Army Ranger of 40, Gallagher had survived the battle at Mogadishu, where he had been wounded three times. Twitty knew Gallagher would be blunt.

"All right, sergeant major, I want the truth," Twitty said. "Do you need reinforcements?"

"Sir, we need reinforcements," Gallagher said.

Twitty radioed Perkins and told him he could not hold Curly without reinforcements.

"If you need it, you've got it," Perkins assured him.

Twitty called Capt. Ronny Johnson, commander of the reserve company defending the operations center, which was still burning.

"How fast can you get here?" Twitty asked.

"Sir, I can be there in 15 minutes," Johnson said. It was only about two miles from the operations center to Curly.

"That's not fast enough. Get here now."

Johnson and his platoon raced north on Highway 8, fighting through a withering ambush. With 10 Bradleys and 65 infantrymen, the convoy bulked up the combat power at Curly. They plunged into the fight, stabilizing the perimeter.

At the burning operations center, executive officer Wesley was directing casualty evacuation and trying to build a makeshift command center, combining computers and communications equipment that had escaped the fireball with gear salvaged from burning vehicles. Within an hour, they had fashioned a temporary communications network across the highway from the scorched ruins.

Back in radio communication, Wesley resumed helping Perkins direct the battles. He offered to send the rest of Johnson's company to Curly to solidify the interchange. That left the stripped-down operations center virtually unprotected.

At Objective Larry, Twitty's men were beginning to run low on ammunition. He could hear his gunner screaming, "More ammo! Get us more ammo!"

Twitty had to get the supply convoy to the interchanges, a dangerous endeavor. The fuel tankers were 2,500-gallon bombs on wheels. The ammunition trucks were portable fireworks factories. In military argot, they were the ultimate "soft-skin" vehicles. Worse, there were no tanks or Bradleys to escort them; they were all fighting in the city or at the three interchanges.

Twitty called Johnson at Curly and asked for an assessment.

"Sir," Johnson said, "what I can tell you is, it's not as intense a fight as it was an hour ago but we're still in a pretty good fight here."

Twitty asked to hear from Gallagher. "Boss," Gallagher said, "I'm not going to tell you we can get 'em through without risk, but we can get 'em through."

Twitty put the radio down and lowered his head. He had to make a decision. And whatever he decided, American soldiers were going to die. He knew it. They would die at one of the interchanges, where they would be overrun if they weren't resupplied. Or they would die in the convoy.

He picked up the radio. "All right," he said. "We're going to execute."

Just north of the burning operations center, Capt. J.O. Bailey was in a command armored personnel carrier, leading the supply convoy?six fuel tankers and eight ammunition trucks. He felt vulnerable; he had no idea where he was going to park all his combustible vehicles in the middle of a firefight.

The convoy had gone less than a mile when Bailey spotted a mob of about 100 armed men across railroad tracks. He was on the radio, warning everyone, when the convoy was rocked by explosions.

Near the head of the convoy, Sgt. 1st Class John W. Marshall opened up with a grenade launcher in the turret of his soft-skin Humvee. Marshall was 50?one of the oldest men in the brigade?and had volunteered for Iraq. Marshall had just sent grenades crashing toward the gunmen when the top of the Humvee exploded. In the front seat, Spc. Kenneth Krofta was stunned by a flash of light. Black smoke was blowing through the Humvee. Krofta looked up into the turret. Marshall was gone. He had been blown out of the vehicle by a grenade blast.

The driver, Pfc. Angel Cruz, stopped and got out, looking for Marshall. He saw gunmen approaching and squeezed off a burst from his rifle. Bullets ripped into the Humvee.

The radio squawked. Cruz was ordered to move out. Soldiers in another vehicle had seen Marshall's body. He was dead. The convoy was speeding up, trying to escape the kill zone. A week would pass before the battalion was able to retrieve Marshall's corpse.

As the convoy raced through the ambush, an RPG rocketed into a personnel carrier. Staff Sgt. Robert Stever, who had just fired more than 1,000 rounds from his .50-caliber machine gun, was blown back into the vehicle, killed instantly. Shrapnel tore into Chief Warrant Officer Angel Acevedo and Pfc. Jarred Metz, wounding both.

Metz was knocked from the driver's perch. His legs were numb and blood was seeping through his uniform. He dragged himself back into position and kept the vehicle moving. Acevedo was bleeding, too. Screaming instructions to Metz, he directed the vehicle back into the speeding column with Stever's body slumped inside.

Riddled with shrapnel, the convoy limped into the interchange at Curly?and directly into the firefight. Bailey was trying to move his convoy out of harm's way when something slammed into a fuel tanker. The vehicle exploded. Hunks of the tanker flew off, forming super-heated projectiles that tore into other vehicles. Three ammunition trucks and a second fuel tanker exploded. Ammunition started to cook off. Rounds screamed in all directions, ripping off chunks of concrete and slicing through vehicles. The trucks were engulfed in orange fireballs.

Mechanics and drivers sprinted for the vehicles that were intact. They cranked up the engines and drove them to safety beneath the overpass, managing to save five ammunition trucks and four fuel tankers?enough to resupply the combat teams at all three intersections.

Fuel and ammunition were unloaded under fire. The surviving vehicles headed north to Objective Larry, escorted by Bradleys, breaking through the firefight there and arriving safely.

Twitty felt overwhelming relief. He knew he could break the enemy now, and so could the combat team at Objective Curly. But he still had to resupply Capt. Wright at Objective Moe.

Capt. Johnson, whose Bradleys had escorted the convoy to resupply Twitty, headed north toward Moe. By radio, Johnson arranged with Wright to have Highway 8 cleared of obstacles so that the convoy could pull in, stop briefly and let the resupply vehicles designated for Wright peel off. Then Johnson's vehicles were to continue on, obeying a new order from Perkins to secure the mile-long stretch of highway between Objective Moe and Perkins' palace command post in the city center.

The convoy broke through the battle lines and stopped at the cloverleaf at Moe. But there had been a communication breakdown. The full convoy, including the supply vehicles, pulled away under heavy fire, leaving Wright's company still desperate for fuel and ammunition.

Wright's heart sank. He had been forced to tighten his perimeter to save fuel, giving up ground his men had just taken. Now he watched his fuel and ammo disappear up the highway. But the smaller perimeter also meant Wright could afford to send two tanks to a supply point a mile away that Johnson set up near the palace. There the tanks refueled as their crews stuffed the bustle racks with ammunition. A second pair of tanks followed a half-hour later, bringing back more fuel and ammunition. Wright's men were set for the night.

In the city center, the tank battalions led by Schwartz and DeCamp were holding their ground but still desperately low on fuel and ammunition. With the combat teams at all three interchanges able to hold their ground, two supply convoys were now sent up Highway 8 toward the city center. It was a high-speed race. Every vehicle was hit by fire, but the convoys rolled into the palace complex just before dusk, fuel and ammunition intact. Tankers at the 14th of July circle cheered, and there were high-fives and handshakes when the trucks set up an instant gas station and supply point next to the palace rose beds. Perkins was convinced now that Baghdad was his. He didn't need to control the whole city. He just needed the palace complex and a way to get fuel and ammunition in.

Now he had both.

"We had come in, created a lot of chaos, lots of violence and momentum all at once," Perkins said later. "We had speed and audacity. And now with the resupply, we were there for good and there was nothing the other side could do about it."

The next morning, Capt. Phil Wolford's Assassin tank company would repel a fierce counterattack at the Jumhuriya Bridge across the Tigris River. Rogue battalion would engage in running firefights throughout central Baghdad. At the three interchanges on Highway 8, Syrians and Fedayeen mounted more attacks for much of the day, bringing the China battalion's casualties to two dead and 30 wounded. But the American forces now fought from a position of strength. On the third day, April 9, Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.

On the night of April 7, after a long day of sustained combat, there had been an extended lull at the palace complex and up and down Highway 8. The tankers and the infantrymen sensed a shift in momentum. Some dared to speak of going home soon, for they now believed the war was nearly over. There would be two more days of fierce fighting before Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed. But on the night of April 7, theirs would be a decisive victory, the last one in Iraq for a long time.

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Sorry for the cheesy last sentence-Crafty
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Posts: 42494

« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2003, 02:36:53 PM »


So that no one misses the first, I mention that this is my second post today on this thread.  


Leader (U.S.)
For Lt. Withers,
Act of Mercy Has
Unexpected Sequel
U.S. Officer Broke the Rules
To Let His Men Take In
Young Dachau Survivor

The two young men stood trembling before Army Lt. John Withers, dressed in the rags they'd worn at the recently liberated Dachau concentration camp. Sores pocked their bony arms and legs. Decades later, the lieutenant would remember how their sunken eyes sought mercy.

But in 1945, near the end of World War II, they posed a problem. Lt. Withers was a black leader in an all-black supply convoy. In violation of Army orders, his men were hiding the refugees. Lt. Withers planned to have the strangers removed -- until he saw them.

They stayed with his unit for more than a year, two Jewish survivors of the Holocaust hiding among blacks from segregated America. The soldiers nicknamed them "Peewee" and "Salomon." They grew close to Lt. Withers. By the time he bid them farewell, they'd grown healthy again.

Mr. Withers never forgot them. Over the years, he told and retold their tale to his two sons. When one son set out to find them, he discovered that Salomon had died in 1993. But Peewee, he learned, was alive.

Unlike Mr. Withers, Peewee had buried his past. His children and grandchildren knew almost nothing about his time in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau. When his grandson asked about the number tattooed on his left forearm -- A19104 -- all he could say was, "Bad people put that down."

He couldn't bring himself to talk about it.

Then John Withers reappeared -- and changed Peewee's life yet again.

A bright morning sun shone on the cobblestone square in Starachowice, Poland, as the Nazi soldiers separated the strong Jews from the weak. It was Oct. 27, 1942, a scene reported by historians and survivors. The healthy would go to work building bombs for the Germans. The rest would be piled on a train to the extermination camp at Treblinka.

Izaak Wajgenszperg gave his 14-year-old son a brick to stand on. He said it would make the boy look bigger, so the Nazis might not send him away. Mieczyslaw Wajgenszperg obeyed. Across the square, he recalled, his mother and younger sister disappeared into the crowd. He would never see them again.

Mieczyslaw (MEE-shuh-slav) had grown up in a red-brick house in Starachowice, an industrial town. His grandfather was a banker, and his father exported timber.

After the Nazis invaded in 1939, they moved Mieczyslaw's family and other Jews into an unwalled ghetto, where Jews were expected to step off the sidewalk when Germans passed. They lived there until that October morning when the Nazis tore Mieczyslaw's family in two and put him and his father to work in a munitions factory in Starachowice.

In July 1944, with the Russian army approaching, the Germans put the Jews on a southbound train. Mieczyslaw and his father were deposited at Auschwitz and given blue-and-gray-striped uniforms. From there, the Nazis sent the boy to another camp nearby. His father stayed behind, and Mieczyslaw said goodbye to him for the last time.

Late that September, Army Second Lt. John Withers, then 28, boarded a train bound for a boat that would take him to Europe. Black soldiers rode separately from whites. Stopped in New Orleans, Lt. Withers recalled seeing another train carrying German and Italian prisoners of war. Black porters were serving them.

Salomon and Peewee with an Army soldier in Germany, 1945.  
He came from Greensboro, N.C., where segregation ruled, and blacks were expected to step aside when whites passed. Lt. Withers knew he was going to war for freedoms he didn't enjoy. Still, he recalled in an interview this year, "I thought I would be better off if the world subdued Hitler." He had his own dream: leave the South, become a professor and join the American middle class.

He grew up the precocious son of a janitor and a seamstress in a six-room house with three siblings, five cousins and a family friend. His mother bought the children dress shoes instead of work shoes because work shoes announced that you were poor, her son recalled. If neighbors had a Thanksgiving turkey, the Witherses told everyone they did, too, even if their holiday dinner was ham hocks and beans.

As a teenager, John developed a passion for opera, and carried in his pocket index cards he filled with poems, Gospel verse and snatches of literature. He earned a bachelor's degree in social sciences from North Carolina A&T, then a master's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1941. He hoped to seek a Ph.D., but funds were scant. And the Army called.

Three years later, he was helping to lead one of the quartermaster truck companies ferrying supplies to the front lines in Europe, military records show. Lt. Withers stood apart from the other soldiers. He didn't smoke, drink or curse. He helped illiterate soldiers write home. He spent a leave in London at libraries and the theater.

He never experienced full-fledged combat. He fretted about returning to Greensboro, where he worried he'd have no job, no money to pursue a Ph.D., no way to escape the South. A glimmer of hope appeared: the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill, which was designed to help veterans pay for college. As 1945 dawned, Lt. Withers was determined to take advantage of it. But he had to keep his record clean.

From his labor camp near Auschwitz, where he had been for six months, 16-year-old Mieczyslaw heard the Russian cannons. In late January of 1945, the Nazis marched him and thousands of others northwest. Mieczyslaw wrapped his shoes in paper bags so he wouldn't slip on the snow. Many who faltered were shot, he later recalled.

Note from John Withers II
My search for Peewee and Salomon began with a story my father told me as a child. Even when I was too young fully to understand why, the tale of the two young Jewish boys from Poland clearly held deep meaning for him. Not that he imbued it with any particular moral significance. He never inferred that he or his men had done anything noteworthy in aiding the boys. Still, on occasion, I would catch my father lingering over old photos of the boys and know that he was asking himself: What has become of them? How much he missed his friends!

But to me, as I grew old enough to appreciate it, the story became so much more. Why did these soldiers do what they did? They could have gotten into trouble with their superiors and faced serious punishment. Why had these men -- made callous by war and lives of poverty -- taken these boys to heart? Curiosity welled within me until, eventually, perhaps inevitably, there came a day when my father's question -- what had become of them? -- had to be answered, and I had to answer it.

It took many years of searching -- many years of false starts and disappointments -- before the answer came. There was the sad news that Salomon had died of cancer in Israel some years before. But there also was a moment -- an indescribable moment -- when my father, then 84 years old, descended a plane in Hartford, Conn., and walked stiffly down the long corridors of the airport. He had come to meet a friend whom he hadn't seen in five decades. He did not pause or hesitate or even look around. Instead, he moved directly toward an elderly man with a round face and an unmistakable smile approaching from the far end of the hallway. And suddenly, Peewee, wonderful Peewee, was with him again.

Ask questions or share your comments. Join a discussion with John Withers, John Withers II and Wall Street Journal reporter Bryan Gruley.
He wound up in the "Little Camp" at Buchenwald. In April, he was loaded onto a snow-filled train that zigzagged through Germany and Czechoslovakia for three weeks. He sat on a man who had frozen to death. When he arrived at Dachau, his ribs poked at his skin. He'd been there two days when U.S. troops liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.

U.S. soldiers moved Mieczyslaw and other inmates to an abandoned SS barracks near Munich, he recalled. One day Mieczyslaw discovered that a bag holding his only belongings -- a few items of clothing -- had been stolen. The theft so infuriated him that he left.

Dressed in his ragged prisoner's uniform, Mieczyslaw walked to another barracks where he'd noticed black U.S. soldiers. He had heard that American blacks were poor and, like him, had faced discrimination.

He found members of Quartermaster Truck Company 3512 washing dishes. Using hand gestures and some German, he made them understand he wanted a job.

The men let Mieczyslaw help. That first night he slept outside on a table, he later recalled. The next morning, the soldiers gave him a room with a bed, a bureau, a desk and a window that looked out on a forest. They fed him goulash and bread, and gave him a nickname, "Peewee," because his name was a mouthful and he was about 5 feet tall.

Then one morning, the soldiers told Mieczyslaw -- now Peewee -- that a lieutenant had learned of his presence, as well as that of another Dachau refugee, 20 years old, whom they'd dubbed "Salomon." John Withers, who'd recently been promoted to first lieutenant, wanted to see them.

Quartermaster units had orders to avoid contact with the Dachau prisoners, Lt. Withers later recalled. His superiors worried that supply convoys would pick up diseases and spread them to other Army units. Researchers at the National Archives couldn't locate specific records of such orders but said other records indicate that Army brass were acutely concerned about health risks posed by Dachau prisoners.

Lt. Withers had learned that it was especially important for blacks to follow orders in the segregated Army. He recalled worrying that sheltering Dachau refugees might get him a dishonorable discharge -- and then there would be no GI Bill for him.

He assumed the two refugees were war-toughened men who were exploiting his soldiers' sympathy. So he was unprepared when the soldiers brought Peewee and Salomon. The refugees seemed shrunken and frightened, really just boys, he recalled thinking.

Peewee would later recall that his knees felt weak as he waited for the lieutenant's verdict. He assumed that his immediate family was dead. He was 16. He had no home, no money and no clothing but what he wore. He wanted no more part of the Allies' displaced-persons camps. In the chaos following the war, he had no idea what to do next.

Lt. Withers assumed that Peewee and Salomon would be returned to Dachau, where thousands of former prisoners were still convalescing, according to Army dispatches from the summer of 1945. He'd been to Dachau on a bread-and-milk delivery shortly after it was liberated. He'd seen bodies decomposing in an open ditch, smelled the rotting flesh. How could he send them back?

"Keep them," he recalled blurting to his men. "We're going to take care of them."

In recent interviews, he struggled to explain why he changed his mind. "I think I identified with them very strongly and instantaneously," he said. He said he also risked losing face with his men. "They were willing to take the chance. If I would have overruled them, I would have been on the wrong side of the decision."

The soldiers dressed the young men in fatigues and boots. Washing dishes, peeling potatoes and hosing down trucks with the GIs, Peewee and Salomon picked up English, including a few curse words. The soldiers initially paid them with candy and cigarettes, later with cash.

When white officers came around, Peewee and Salomon ducked into the mess, a closet or a truck cab. On supply runs, they burrowed under tarpaulins in the backs of trucks. In one close call, Peewee recalled, he hid from a military policeman under a tarp while some GIs sat on it.

By the fall of 1945, many Army units had begun hiring local people so U.S. soldiers could go home. Peewee and Salomon no longer had to hide. They were strong enough by then to live on their own, but they stayed with Lt. Withers even as he transferred to Quartermaster Truck Company 3511 in early 1946, and it moved to the Bavarian village of Staffelstein.

At religious services, the young men sang and clapped to Gospel music. They learned to drive and to shoot. They bartered with farmers for hams, chickens and eggs. Peewee tried baseball, pitched horseshoes, posed in a cowboy hat and botched a batch of biscuits. Lt. Withers bought each a watch. He taught them the English words to "Taps."

Peewee and Salomon spent many evenings talking with the lieutenant. Sometimes he read them tales of Greek, Norse and Roman mythology. But mostly they wanted to hear about the U.S., he recalled later. What kinds of jobs could they find there? Could they get rich?

Though he couldn't answer these questions for himself, Lt. Withers told Peewee and Salomon, "Get to the United States and you'll be all right." He didn't speak of race or anti-Semitism because "they didn't need anything negative," he recalled.

Sometimes Peewee, Salomon and Lt. Withers would sing a German drinking song, "So Sind Wir (Such Are We)." Translated, it went:

Such are we
We laugh off the sorrow
Such are we
We do our best until tomorrow
Such are we
And so we shall always be
So come drink a cup with me
And sing such are we

The lieutenant wondered how Peewee and Salomon could remain so happy and gentle after what they'd endured. "They didn't become hateful or hostile in return. They didn't become bitter or apathetic," he would recall. "That was something I've kept with me all my life: that it is possible for someone -- me, anyone -- to overcome the obstacles in his path without losing himself and face prejudice without becoming prejudiced in return."

The day Lt. Withers went home in December 1946, Peewee and Salomon waited near his Jeep in Staffelstein. By then, Peewee had an apartment in nearby Bamberg and a job at a machine and auto-repair shop. He and Salomon presented the lieutenant with a photo album embossed with his name. He gave them each a pen and his mother's Greensboro address. Then they saluted before Lt. Withers rumbled away.

In his footlocker in the back of the Jeep rested a picture-postcard Peewee had given him. It showed Peewee beaming in a U.S. Army uniform, his soft cap at a jaunty angle. On the back he'd written, in English, "To my good friend, Lt. John L. Withers."

Five decades later, the postcard found its way to John Withers's eldest son. John Withers II couldn't get it out of his mind.

He and his brother, Gregory, had been hearing about Peewee and Salomon since they were little. Their father had no stories about ambushing Nazis or shooting Messerschmitts out of the sky. When his sons asked about the war, he talked about Peewee and Salomon.

Mr. Withers told these tales as he, his wife, Daisy, and their sons traveled the globe. After his honorable discharge from the Army, he used the GI Bill and earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He taught at universities in North Carolina and Michigan before joining the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he spent 21 years on assignments from Laos to Kenya before retiring in 1979 to Silver Spring, Md.

Wherever the Witherses went, they carried photographs of Peewee and Salomon. In John II's eyes, the men became like long-lost uncles. He frequently asked his father why he hadn't tried to find them. Mr. Withers said he wouldn't know where to begin. All he knew was Peewee's real name.

By 2000, that was enough for John II, then 51 and the State Department's deputy chief of mission in Riga, Latvia. On vacation in Germany, he'd detoured to Staffelstein and questioned natives about the black Army unit.

He received a one-year State Department sabbatical and began his hunt. The first Holocaust-survivor registers he checked had no record of a Mieczyslaw Wajgenszperg. But an Israeli search agency revealed that Peewee had emigrated to the U.S. or Canada. Then Yad Vashem, the vast repository of Holocaust records in Israel, supplied a catalog of the camps he'd been in: Starachowice, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau. It shocked the elder Mr. Withers, who'd known only about Dachau.

Internet searches on Auschwitz and Buchenwald supplied too many leads to sort through, so John II focused on a place he'd never heard of, Starachowice. That led him to Christopher Browning, a University of North Carolina historian who had collected testimonies of 235 Starachowice survivors. Mr. Browning sent John II to Howard Chandler, a Starachowice survivor in Toronto who had compiled a list of other survivors.

John II called the man one evening in March 2001. Mr. Chandler, whose name was once Chaim Wajchendler, said yes, he had a phone number for Mieczyslaw in Connecticut.

"Oh my God," John II recalled thinking as he scribbled the number. After thanking Mr. Chandler, he dialed. There was a ring, then some high-pitched tones. He dialed again and got the same thing. The number was disconnected.

Had Peewee moved? Or died? John II redialed Mr. Chandler, who said he'd try again. Mr. Chandler called a friend in Israel who supplied a slightly different number. The area code had changed. Instead of calling John II to tell him, Mr. Chandler decided to call Mieczyslaw himself.

A few days later, in Hartford, Conn., a businessman named Martin Weigen received an unusual phone call.

Mr. Weigen and his wife, Margareta, had married in Germany in 1948. They moved to Israel, where Mr. Weigen had relatives, then back to Germany, and then to the U.S., where Mr. Weigen hoped to make his fortune.

After they arrived in 1956, Mr. Weigen and Margareta shortened their surname, first to Weisperg, then to Weigen. Mr. Weigen was Jewish, but he'd never been religious, and he worried that his daughter and son might suffer discrimination. They were raised Roman Catholic, like their mother.

Mr. Weigen worked days at a machinery company and at night helped his wife run a residential-care home they had bought. He left the machinery company in 1976 when he and his wife bought a second care home, where they housed and fed people who couldn't take care of themselves.

Martin Weigen and John Withers embrace at the Hartford Airport.  
They lived in a big white colonial on two wooded acres where Mr. Weigen liked to feed the birds. "Isn't the nature beautiful?" he would say in his soft Polish accent.

His daughter, Barbara Bergren, and his son, Edward Weigen, worked with him at his two residential-care homes and at a third that Edward bought. At a cottage the elder Mr. Weigen owned on Long Island Sound, he loved to stand at his bar and brag about his grandchildren.

But he rarely talked about the mother, father and sister he'd lost as a boy in Poland. Questions about his childhood and his wartime experiences were met with halting answers and, sometimes, tears. As he aged, his children worried that his stories might die with him.

Now, on the telephone, Howard Chandler told him someone was looking for him. On an index card, Mr. Weigen jotted a name -- "Wichers" -- and a phone number. He was a little hard of hearing. He wasn't sure who "Wichers" was.

He told his daughter, Ms. Bergren, about the message when she was helping at his office on April 3, 2001. The name "Wichers" meant nothing to her, but her dad seemed eager to call. He listened on one phone while Ms. Bergren dialed another.

John Withers II picked up the phone in his home library in Rockville, Md. Propped on his desk was a framed copy of Peewee's postcard.

"Mr. Wichers?" Ms. Bergren recalled saying.

"Withers," he corrected.

She didn't know that name either. "I believe you're looking for a relative of mine," she said.

John II's heart sank. Was Peewee dead? he recalled thinking. He identified himself, and asked if she was related to Mieczyslaw Wajgenszperg.

"Yes, he's sitting right here," she said, as she and John II recalled the conversation. "But he has a hearing impediment and if it's all right with you, I'll stay on the phone."

Mr. Weigen cut in from the other phone: "You are the son of Lt. John L. Withers of North Carolina?"

"Yes," John II said.

Ms. Bergren turned to see her father. His eyes had filled with tears.


He whispered: "I know John Withers."

Mr. Weigen wondered if he would recognize John Withers as he waited, three weeks later, at Gate A-1 of Hartford's Bradley International Airport.

They were old men now. Mr. Weigen was 72, with feathery white hair and hearing aids. Mr. Withers, 84, wore a tan cap on his bald head and was shorter now than his old friend. The men embraced.

"Lt. John," Mr. Weigen recalled saying.

"Peewee," said Mr. Withers.

They were inseparable all weekend, holding hands and reminiscing while their families got to know each other. Mr. Weigen had told his children that a black soldier helped him during the war, but he hadn't said much more. His wife had asked more than once why he didn't use the Greensboro address to contact the lieutenant. "He wouldn't even remember who I am," Mr. Weigen said he told her.

Now he showed Mr. Withers yellowed photos from their time together, many of which Mr. Weigen's children and grandchildren had never seen. Nor had they known that Mr. Weigen had been called Peewee. Mr. Withers tried to call him Martin, but Mr. Weigen patted his hand and said, "No, no, John, to you I'm always Peewee."

John II and his wife started asking Mr. Weigen about the Nazi camps. Edward Weigen and Ms. Bergren silently worried that this would be too painful for their father. But with Mr. Withers at his side, Mr. Weigen opened up. Over one dinner that the family captured on videotape, he talked about his childhood and what his father had done for a living. "You ever hear that?" Edward, 43, said to Ms. Bergren. "I didn't."

In the past, their father rarely got beyond generalities before he grew quiet, or his eyes welled. Then his children would back off. "His way of survival was that you can't immerse yourself in that, you have to always move forward," said Ms. Bergren, 53.

With Mr. Withers it was different. Now when Mr. Weigen's emotions got to him, according to Edward, "he'd slow down, take breaths," and then dig deeper into his memories. One day Mr. Weigen told how some food he'd scrounged from an abandoned cellar near Auschwitz made him ill. "Listening to him, you know that this is the first time he has spoken of or thought of it since it happened," Edward said.

He talked about life in the Starachowice ghetto and described his journey to Dachau. He drew a diagram of the first room the soldiers gave him. He pulled out more photos his kids had never seen, including one of him with his sister, Klara, in the ghetto.

With the help of Mr. Weigen and John II, Edward began his own exploration of the past. He obtained the Jan. 26, 1945, list of Auschwitz prisoners transported to Buchenwald, which included his father. He learned that Mr. Weigen had altered his birthdate at Auschwitz to make himself two years older. He confirmed that Mr. Weigen's mother, and probably his sister, had died at Treblinka.

At the 2001 reunion, standing from left, John Withers II and Daisy Withers; sitting from left, Martin Weigen with grandson Christopher Weigen, John Withers and Margareta Weigen.  
In the summer of 2001, the entire Withers family attended the wedding of Mr. Weigen's granddaughter in Connecticut. Mr. Withers sent cards, letters and birthday gifts to the Weigen and Bergren children. In e-mails, Ms. Bergren referred to John II as "my newfound brother." In the summer of 2002, Edward and his family visited the Witherses in Maryland. Health problems kept Mr. Weigen from traveling, but this year the families began planning another Connecticut reunion for the fall.

Five weeks ago, Mr. Withers stepped off another plane in Hartford, not for a reunion, but to bury Peewee.

Mr. Weigen died Oct. 16. He was 75. He'd been diagnosed with colon cancer in September. Near the end, Ms. Bergren told the doctor, "He's a Holocaust survivor. He can't suffer anymore."

About 40 people attended his memorial service at a funeral home near Hartford. Two easels and an album displayed photos: Mieczyslaw with his sister and mother on a summer day; Peewee and Salomon grinning with a black soldier named Dave; Messrs. Weigen and Withers hugging.

The room fell silent as Ms. Bergren stood and told how Mr. Withers gave her father "a new beginning." She asked Mr. Withers to stand. "For what you did that year to bring him back to us, we will be forever grateful," she said. "We love you for it."

Later Mr. Withers, 87, rose to speak. Behind him lay Mr. Weigen in a mahogany casket, wearing his favorite sweater and clutching a dried rose from his seaside house. Mr. Withers felt sad and a little confused. He'd thought that Mr. Weigen, as strong as he was, would hold on for a few years.

He smiled and said, "My name is John Withers, and I have known Martin longer than anyone in this room." He spoke of how Mr. Weigen had cheered his men, and how his gentle manner would endure in the two families who loved him. Finally, he recited the lyrics to a song Mr. Weigen had sung when he was simply Peewee, "Taps":

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well,
Safely rest,
God is nigh.

Write to Bryan Gruley at
« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2003, 05:13:50 AM »

                                   HE LIVED ALL ALONE,
                           IN A ONE BEDROOM HOUSE MADE OF
                                   PLASTER AND STONE.

                             I HAD COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY
                                 WITH PRESENTS TO GIVE,
                                   AND TO SEE JUST WHO
                                  IN THIS HOME DID LIVE.

                                   I LOOKED ALL ABOUT,
                                A STRANGE SIGHT I DID SEE,
                                 NO TINSEL, NO PRESENTS,
                                     NOT EVEN A TREE.

                                NO STOCKING BY MANTLE,
                              JUST BOOTS FILLED WITH SAND,
                              ON THE WALL HUNG PICTURES
                                  OF FAR DISTANT LANDS.

                                WITH MEDALS AND BADGES,
                                  AWARDS OF ALL KINDS,
                                    A SOBER THOUGHT
                                CAME THROUGH MY MIND.

                             FOR THIS HOUSE WAS DIFFERENT,
                                IT WAS DARK AND DREARY,
                            I FOUND THE HOME OF A SOLDIER,
                               ONCE I COULD SEE CLEARLY.

                                THE SOLDIER LAY SLEEPING,
                                      SILENT, ALONE,
                                CURLED UP ON THE FLOOR
                               IN THIS ONE BEDROOM HOME.

                                THE FACE WAS SO GENTLE,
                              THE ROOM IN SUCH DISORDER,
                                   NOT HOW I PICTURED
                                A UNITED STATES SOLDIER.

                                    WAS THIS THE HERO
                                 OF WHOM I'D JUST READ?
                                CURLED UP ON A PONCHO,
                                  THE FLOOR FOR A BED?

                                 I REALIZED THE FAMILIES
                                  THAT I SAW THIS NIGHT,
                          OWED THEIR LIVES TO THESE SOLDIERS
                              WHO WERE WILLING TO FIGHT.

                                SOON ROUND THE WORLD,
                               THE CHILDREN WOULD PLAY,
                           AND GROWNUPS WOULD CELEBRATE
                                A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS DAY.

                               THEY ALL ENJOYED FREEDOM
                                EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR,
                                BECAUSE OF THE SOLDIERS,
                                LIKE THE ONE LYING HERE.

                                I COULDN'T HELP WONDER
                                 HOW MANY LAY ALONE,
                                ON A COLD CHRISTMAS EVE
                               IN A LAND FAR FROM HOME.

                                   THE VERY THOUGHT
                               BROUGHT A TEAR TO MY EYE,
                                 I DROPPED TO MY KNEES
                                   AND STARTED TO CRY.

                                 THE SOLDIER AWAKENED
                              AND I HEARD A ROUGH VOICE,
                                    "SANTA DON'T CRY,
                                  THIS LIFE IS MY CHOICE;

                                  I FIGHT FOR FREEDOM,
                                  I DON'T ASK FOR MORE,
                                  MY LIFE IS TO MY GOD,
                                 MY COUNTRY, MY CORPS."

                                THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER
                                  AND DRIFTED TO SLEEP,
                                 I COULDN'T CONTROL IT,
                                  I CONTINUED TO WEEP.

                                I KEPT WATCH FOR HOURS,
                                   SO SILENT AND STILL
                                 AND WE BOTH SHIVERED
                              FROM THE COLD NIGHT'S CHILL.

                                 I DIDN'T WANT TO LEAVE
                               ON THAT COLD, DARK, NIGHT,
                                THIS GUARDIAN OF HONOR
                                   SO WILLING TO FIGHT.

                            THEN THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
                              WITH A VOICE SOFT AND PURE,
                              WHISPERED, "CARRY ON SANTA,
                           IT'S CHRISTMAS DAY, ALL IS SECURE."

                                 ONE LOOK AT MY WATCH,
                                AND I KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
                              "MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIEND,
                               AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT."

                     This poem was written by a Marine stationed in Okinawa
« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2003, 12:22:52 PM »

the poem above is wrong.

the original poem written, said MARINE not 'soldier'.

i know it's not much, but to a MARINE, the two words make a world of difference.

one lives the Spartan and Samurai ideals,

while the other tries to be all that he can be.
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2003, 12:31:50 PM »

Marine Christmas

T'was the night before Christmas, He lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made entirely of stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give
To see just who in this house did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight did I see,
No tinsel, No presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On a wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kinds,
A sobering thought came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen,
This was the home of a US Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, and had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
There he lay sleeping, silent and alone,
curled up on the floor of his one bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not at all how I'd pictured A US Marine.
Was this the hero of whom I'd just read,
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean shaven, his weathered face tan,
and I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families I'd seen tonight,
Owed there Lives to these men who were willing to fight.

Soon around the nation the children would play,
And grown ups would celebrate a bright Christmas day.
They enjoyed freedom each week and year,
Because of Marines like this one right here.

I couldn't help but wonder, how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas eve, in a land far from home.
the thought brought a prideful tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.

He must have awakened, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, Don't cry, this is my choice.
I fight for freedom, don't ask for more,
My Life is My God, My Country, My Corps."

With that he rolled over, and drifted off to sleep,
I couldn't control it and continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.

I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
I covered this Marine from his toe to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with eagle globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

"oh Santa, It's Christmas and the country is secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Though it barely fit me, I swelled with pride,
For one shining moment, I was a Marine inside.

I didn't want to leave him, so quiet in the night,
The guardian of honor, so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over and said so pure,
"Carry on Santa, It's Christmas and the country is secure."

One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and Good Night.

This poem was written by a Marine stationed in
Okinawa Japan.
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Posts: 42494

« Reply #15 on: December 26, 2003, 10:32:23 PM »


December 25, 2003 -- DEAR Pfc. Smith,
Most of your fellow Americans won't think of you today. Some may see a news clip of your Christmas dinner in Iraq, filmed against a backdrop of holiday decorations your unit scraped together. Those who once served in the ranks themselves will think of you at least briefly. And you'll be cherished in the hearts, if not in the arms, of your loved ones.

But most of us won't think of you at all. And that's a wonderful thing.

It's your great gift to us.

Because of you, hundreds of millions of Americans who celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace will spend this holiday in peace themselves, with their loved ones safe and our blessed country secure.

Terrorists may threaten us, but because of you we know they will not defeat us. You stand between us and the dark men who rode into Bethlehem in search of an innocent child.

So forgive us for not remembering you today. We'll be too busy giving gifts and opening them, enjoying the thrilled faces of our nation's children, saying a too-brief prayer of thanks, then eating well and drinking our "leaded" eggnog until the tree blurs ever so slightly.


Because you stand on the rough frontiers of humankind, this will be a day of joy, not nightmare.

We won't think of you. Because you've done such a remarkable job. A nation that must think constantly of its men and women in uniform, that lives in constant dread of the latest news from the front lines, is a nation gripped by fear. But we know that you'll never let us down. Some of history's wounds may be inevitable, but because of you our nation will always survive them.

Because of you, we fear no foreign invasions.

Because of you, those few who do disturb our peace will not disturb it long.

Because of you, we need not dread the tyranny of dictators or murderous ideologies.

Because of you, we need not fear a knock on the door from the secret police.

The only midnight visits we expect are from Santa Claus.

As we celebrate, you're on patrol in Iraq.

You're weathering the winter's bite in Afghanistan.

You're in the Balkans, giving peace a chance.

You're in, literally, a hundred countries, keeping us safe and making safe the lives of those who have lived in fear for centuries.

Your brothers and sisters in the other branches of our military patrol the seas and skies, in service not only to your fellow Americans on this holy day, but helping all of humankind pioneer a future in which despots no longer slaughter the innocents.

You're a long way from home, Pfc. Smith, but your thoughts leap continents and oceans. Your heart is with your spouse, with the children whose joy you'll miss again this holiday season, and with the elders who feel your absence even more strongly at Christmas than they do on the other 364 days of the year.

You're tough. We know that. But those of us who served before you also understand that, even for the strongest heart, Christmas in a foreign land, far from those we love, is hard to bear. Some soldiers keep their loneliness to themselves. Others make jokes. The guys in the unit help each other through the day with small generosities. But "Merry Christmas" still sounds different in an armed camp.

In each Christmas you spend apart from your family, there are moments of longing so wrenching you can hardly stand it - although you don't let on. You're a well-trained, dedicated soldier. It's not just a profession. It's a calling, proud and honorable. You serve history's greatest cause.

But no American soldier wants to fight on Christmas Day.

Yet outposts must be manned, patrols run and convoys escorted. Even on Christmas, you'll roll out of your compound "guns up," alert to those to whom no day is sacred.

God willing, you'll spend next Christmas back in your family's embrace, where you won't have to rely on a brief phone call or a belated e-mail to learn how those dearest to you spent the holiday.

But on that future Christmas, another Pfc. Smith will stand in your place. As others took the weight of freedom upon their shoulders before they passed the burden down to you.

Our history is laden with Christmases lost by the men and women who won our nation's wars, from Valley Forge through Bastogne and on to Baghdad.

Today, it's your turn to carry out your mission so well that those you protect can forget about our enemies for a few hours. And for that same, short, glittering day, we can forget about you, too.

But in those lonely hours when you're off-duty, killing time in your barracks or in a tent, remember that you're keeping the spirit of Christmas alive for many millions. You're giving a glorious gift to every one of us.

On this day that shines so brightly in our hearts, you're holding back the darkness of all the world. Without you, "peace on earth" would be no more than the lyrics to a carol. So, on behalf of those of us who'll forget you on this day, "Merry Christmas!"

Ralph Peters is a retired soldier and an author.

Never Forget
Sent in by Ralph Shuey

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep

In perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.

Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
and I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
perhaps Army or Marine, huddled here in the cold.

Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!

Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
you should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
to the window that danced with a warm fire's light
then he sighed and he said "It's really all right,

I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night"
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
that separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."

My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam
and now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
but my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
the red white and American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
away from my family, my house and my home,

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers

who stand at the front against any and all,
to insure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget
to fight for our rights back at home while we're gone.
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
to know you remember we fought and we bled
is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."
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Posts: 42494

« Reply #16 on: December 29, 2003, 06:59:44 AM »

Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting
Orders Extend Enlistments to Curtail Troop Shortages
By Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2003; Page A01

Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Eagle, an expert on enemy targeting, served 20 years in the military -- 10 years of active duty in the Air Force, another 10 in the West Virginia National Guard. Then he decided enough was enough. He owned a promising new aircraft-maintenance business, and it needed his attention. His retirement date was set for last February.

Staff Sgt. Justin Fontaine, a generator mechanic, enrolled in the Massachusetts National Guard out of high school and served nearly nine years. In preparation for his exit date last March, he turned in his field gear -- his rucksack and web belt, his uniforms and canteen.

Staff Sgt. Peter G. Costas, an interrogator in an intelligence unit, joined the Army Reserve in 1991, extended his enlistment in 1999 and then re-upped for three years in 2000. Costas, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in Texas, was due to retire from the reserves in last May.

According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

"It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike -- a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year.

By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army's manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.

"Our goal is, we want to have units that are stabilized all the way down from the lowest squad up through the headquarters elements," said Brig. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, director of enlisted personnel management in the Army's Human Resources Command. "Stop-loss allows us to do that. When a unit deploys, it deploys, trains and does its missions with the same soldiers."

In a recent profile of an Army infantry battalion deployed in Kuwait and on its way to Iraq, the commander, Lt. Col. Karl Reed, told the Army Times he could have lost a quarter of his unit in the coming year had it not been for the stop-loss order. "And that means a new 25 percent," Reed told the Army Times. "I would have had to train them and prepare them to go on the line. Given where we are, it will be a 24-hour combat operation; therefore it's very difficult to bring new folks in and integrate them."

To many of the soldiers whose retirements and departures are on ice, however, stop-loss is an inconvenience, a hardship and, in some cases, a personal disaster. Some are resigned to fulfilling what they consider their patriotic duty. Others are livid, insisting they have fallen victim to a policy that amounts to an unannounced, unheralded draft.

"I'm furious. I'm aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used," said Eagle, 42, the targeting officer, who has just shipped to Iraq with his field artillery unit for what is likely to be a yearlong tour of duty. He had voluntarily postponed his retirement at his commander's request early this year and then suddenly found himself stuck in the service under a stop-loss order this fall. Eagle said he fears his fledgling business in West Virginia may not survive his lengthy absence. His unexpected extension in the Army will slash his annual income by about &45,000, he said. And some members of his family, including his recently widowed sister, whose three teenage sons are close to Eagle, are bitterly opposed to his leaving.

"An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to violate the contract; I am not," said Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq this month "Chained in Iraq," an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. "Unfair. I would not say it's a draft per se, but it's clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist."

Other soldiers retained by the Army under stop-loss are more resigned than irate, but no less demoralized by what some have come to regard as their involuntary servitude.

"Unfortunately, I signed the dotted line saying I'm going to serve my country," said Fontaine, 27, the mechanic, who said he spent "20 or 30 days" fruitlessly researching legal ways that he could quit the Army when his contractual departure date came up in February. "All I can do is suck it up and take it till I can get out."

The military's interest in halting the depletion of its ranks predates the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. American GIs in World War II were under orders to serve until the fighting was finished, plus six months.

Congress approved the authority for what became known as stop-loss orders after the Vietnam War, responding to concerns that the military had been hamstrung by the out-rotations of seasoned combat soldiers in Indochina. But the authority was not used until the buildup to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when Richard B. Cheney, then the secretary of defense, allowed the military services to bar most retirements and prolong enlistments indefinitely.

A flurry of stop-loss orders was issued after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, intensifying as the nation prepared for war in Iraq early this year. Some of the orders have applied to soldiers, sailors and airmen in specific skill categories -- military police, for example, and ordnance control specialists, have been in particular demand in Iraq.

Other edicts have been more sweeping, such as the Army's most recent stop-loss order, issued Nov. 13, covering thousands of active-duty soldiers whose units are scheduled for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months. Because the stop-loss order begins 90 days before deployment and lasts for 90 days after a return home, those troops will be prohibited from retiring or leaving the Army at the expiration of their contracts until the spring of 2005, at the earliest.

The proliferation of stop-loss orders has bred confusion and resentment even as it has helped preserve what the military calls "unit cohesion." In the past two years, the Army alone has announced 11 stop-loss orders -- an average of one every nine or 10 weeks.

Often in the past year, the Army has allowed active-duty soldiers to retire and depart but not Guard and reserve troops, many of whom have chafed at the disparity in policies. Some Guard troops and reservists complain their release dates have been extended several times and they no longer know when they will be allowed to leave.

"We don't ever trust anything we're told," said Chris Walsh of Southington, Conn., whose wife, Jessica, an eighth-grade English teacher, is a military police officer in a National Guard unit in Baghdad. She may end up serving nearly two years beyond her original exit date of July 2002, Chris Walsh said. "We've been disappointed too many times."

For many soldiers who had planned on leaving the military, the sudden change of plans has been jarring.

Jim Montgomery's story is typical. Montgomery, an air-conditioning repairman in western Massachusetts, did a three-year hitch in the Army in the '90s and then signed up for a five-year stint in the National Guard. His exit date was July 31, 2003, after which he planned to devote himself to getting his electrician's license -- and to the baby he and his wife, Donna, expected in November, their first.

"I felt like I'd honored my contract," said Montgomery, 35, a beefy, affable man who holds the rank of specialist E4 in the Guard. "The military had given me some good things -- friendships and the opportunity to take some college courses -- and that's where I wanted to leave it."

The Army had other plans. In March, Montgomery's maintenance unit was sent for training to Fort Drum, N.Y. In April it deployed to Kuwait, and since May it has been stationed in southern Iraq. With each move, it became clearer to Montgomery that his July exit date from the Guard would not materialize. The latest he has heard is that the unit may be coming home in April, but even that is uncertain, he said.

Last month Montgomery rushed home on a medical emergency when Donna had complications in childbirth. She and the baby are fine now, but Montgomery is frustrated by his cloudy future.

"Some guys who are Vietnam vets are with us," he said in an interview at his home in Holland, Mass., shortly before he was to return to his unit in Iraq. "They said even in Vietnam, as difficult as it was there, you knew from the time you hit the ground to the time you returned it was one year -- whereas with this it's really up in the air."

Some military officials have acknowledged that stop-loss is a necessary evil. When the Air Force announced it was imposing a stop-loss rule last spring, an official news bulletin from Air Force Print News noted: "Both the secretary [James G. Roche] and the chief of staff [Gen. John P. Jumper] are acutely aware that the Air Force is an all-volunteer force and that this action, while essential to meeting the service's worldwide obligations, is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of voluntary service."

More frequently, the military response to griping about stop-loss is bluntly unsympathetic. "We're all soldiers. We go where were told," said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman. "Fair has nothing to do with it."

Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report.
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Posts: 42494

« Reply #17 on: December 29, 2003, 07:01:49 AM »

Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting
Orders Extend Enlistments to Curtail Troop Shortages
By Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2003; Page A01

Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Eagle, an expert on enemy targeting, served 20 years in the military -- 10 years of active duty in the Air Force, another 10 in the West Virginia National Guard. Then he decided enough was enough. He owned a promising new aircraft-maintenance business, and it needed his attention. His retirement date was set for last February.

Staff Sgt. Justin Fontaine, a generator mechanic, enrolled in the Massachusetts National Guard out of high school and served nearly nine years. In preparation for his exit date last March, he turned in his field gear -- his rucksack and web belt, his uniforms and canteen.

Staff Sgt. Peter G. Costas, an interrogator in an intelligence unit, joined the Army Reserve in 1991, extended his enlistment in 1999 and then re-upped for three years in 2000. Costas, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in Texas, was due to retire from the reserves in last May.

According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

"It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike -- a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year.

By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army's manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.

"Our goal is, we want to have units that are stabilized all the way down from the lowest squad up through the headquarters elements," said Brig. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, director of enlisted personnel management in the Army's Human Resources Command. "Stop-loss allows us to do that. When a unit deploys, it deploys, trains and does its missions with the same soldiers."

In a recent profile of an Army infantry battalion deployed in Kuwait and on its way to Iraq, the commander, Lt. Col. Karl Reed, told the Army Times he could have lost a quarter of his unit in the coming year had it not been for the stop-loss order. "And that means a new 25 percent," Reed told the Army Times. "I would have had to train them and prepare them to go on the line. Given where we are, it will be a 24-hour combat operation; therefore it's very difficult to bring new folks in and integrate them."

To many of the soldiers whose retirements and departures are on ice, however, stop-loss is an inconvenience, a hardship and, in some cases, a personal disaster. Some are resigned to fulfilling what they consider their patriotic duty. Others are livid, insisting they have fallen victim to a policy that amounts to an unannounced, unheralded draft.

"I'm furious. I'm aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used," said Eagle, 42, the targeting officer, who has just shipped to Iraq with his field artillery unit for what is likely to be a yearlong tour of duty. He had voluntarily postponed his retirement at his commander's request early this year and then suddenly found himself stuck in the service under a stop-loss order this fall. Eagle said he fears his fledgling business in West Virginia may not survive his lengthy absence. His unexpected extension in the Army will slash his annual income by about &45,000, he said. And some members of his family, including his recently widowed sister, whose three teenage sons are close to Eagle, are bitterly opposed to his leaving.

"An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to violate the contract; I am not," said Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq this month "Chained in Iraq," an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. "Unfair. I would not say it's a draft per se, but it's clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist."

Other soldiers retained by the Army under stop-loss are more resigned than irate, but no less demoralized by what some have come to regard as their involuntary servitude.

"Unfortunately, I signed the dotted line saying I'm going to serve my country," said Fontaine, 27, the mechanic, who said he spent "20 or 30 days" fruitlessly researching legal ways that he could quit the Army when his contractual departure date came up in February. "All I can do is suck it up and take it till I can get out."

The military's interest in halting the depletion of its ranks predates the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. American GIs in World War II were under orders to serve until the fighting was finished, plus six months.

Congress approved the authority for what became known as stop-loss orders after the Vietnam War, responding to concerns that the military had been hamstrung by the out-rotations of seasoned combat soldiers in Indochina. But the authority was not used until the buildup to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when Richard B. Cheney, then the secretary of defense, allowed the military services to bar most retirements and prolong enlistments indefinitely.

A flurry of stop-loss orders was issued after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, intensifying as the nation prepared for war in Iraq early this year. Some of the orders have applied to soldiers, sailors and airmen in specific skill categories -- military police, for example, and ordnance control specialists, have been in particular demand in Iraq.

Other edicts have been more sweeping, such as the Army's most recent stop-loss order, issued Nov. 13, covering thousands of active-duty soldiers whose units are scheduled for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months. Because the stop-loss order begins 90 days before deployment and lasts for 90 days after a return home, those troops will be prohibited from retiring or leaving the Army at the expiration of their contracts until the spring of 2005, at the earliest.

The proliferation of stop-loss orders has bred confusion and resentment even as it has helped preserve what the military calls "unit cohesion." In the past two years, the Army alone has announced 11 stop-loss orders -- an average of one every nine or 10 weeks.

Often in the past year, the Army has allowed active-duty soldiers to retire and depart but not Guard and reserve troops, many of whom have chafed at the disparity in policies. Some Guard troops and reservists complain their release dates have been extended several times and they no longer know when they will be allowed to leave.

"We don't ever trust anything we're told," said Chris Walsh of Southington, Conn., whose wife, Jessica, an eighth-grade English teacher, is a military police officer in a National Guard unit in Baghdad. She may end up serving nearly two years beyond her original exit date of July 2002, Chris Walsh said. "We've been disappointed too many times."

For many soldiers who had planned on leaving the military, the sudden change of plans has been jarring.

Jim Montgomery's story is typical. Montgomery, an air-conditioning repairman in western Massachusetts, did a three-year hitch in the Army in the '90s and then signed up for a five-year stint in the National Guard. His exit date was July 31, 2003, after which he planned to devote himself to getting his electrician's license -- and to the baby he and his wife, Donna, expected in November, their first.

"I felt like I'd honored my contract," said Montgomery, 35, a beefy, affable man who holds the rank of specialist E4 in the Guard. "The military had given me some good things -- friendships and the opportunity to take some college courses -- and that's where I wanted to leave it."

The Army had other plans. In March, Montgomery's maintenance unit was sent for training to Fort Drum, N.Y. In April it deployed to Kuwait, and since May it has been stationed in southern Iraq. With each move, it became clearer to Montgomery that his July exit date from the Guard would not materialize. The latest he has heard is that the unit may be coming home in April, but even that is uncertain, he said.

Last month Montgomery rushed home on a medical emergency when Donna had complications in childbirth. She and the baby are fine now, but Montgomery is frustrated by his cloudy future.

"Some guys who are Vietnam vets are with us," he said in an interview at his home in Holland, Mass., shortly before he was to return to his unit in Iraq. "They said even in Vietnam, as difficult as it was there, you knew from the time you hit the ground to the time you returned it was one year -- whereas with this it's really up in the air."

Some military officials have acknowledged that stop-loss is a necessary evil. When the Air Force announced it was imposing a stop-loss rule last spring, an official news bulletin from Air Force Print News noted: "Both the secretary [James G. Roche] and the chief of staff [Gen. John P. Jumper] are acutely aware that the Air Force is an all-volunteer force and that this action, while essential to meeting the service's worldwide obligations, is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of voluntary service."

More frequently, the military response to griping about stop-loss is bluntly unsympathetic. "We're all soldiers. We go where were told," said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman. "Fair has nothing to do with it."

Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report.
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« Reply #18 on: January 06, 2004, 12:37:36 PM »

Woof All:

  I post this one here because I think it helps give a sense of the complexities facing our individual fighting men on the ground in Iraq.

Before Heading
To Iraq, Marines
Learn People Skills

New Corps Policy Has Grunts Defusing
Mock Riots, Parleying With Protesters

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- On a bright winter afternoon in California's high desert, Staff Sgt. Adam Walker gathered his platoon's newest Marines to give them their marching orders for when they get to Iraq: Be nice.

"That's hard for Marines," Staff Sgt. Walker told the young grunts, just four days out of infantry school. "What are you taught in boot camp? Kick ass and kill. That aggressiveness is not going to win in Iraq."

The First Marine Division fought its way from Kuwait to Baghdad last spring, and the first half of the force, some 8,000 Marines including Staff Sgt. Walker's platoon, is slated to return to Iraq in the coming months. They'll likely replace Army units occupying the hotspot city of Fallujah and the rest of Al Anbar province, a volatile Sunni Muslim-dominated area between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

For months, Marine commanders in the U.S. have watched from afar as American and Iraqi casualties have mounted, and they think they know where the Army has gone wrong. So before they ship out, the Marines are undertaking what amounts to a massive deprogramming campaign for their own troops. Put simply, they're teaching them to ask questions first and shoot later.

The plan is a risky one, based on the assumption that even in the areas most hostile to the U.S.-led occupation, local residents can still be won over if American troops treat them with more dignity, patience and understanding. And, the theory goes, as popular support for the U.S. grows, popular tolerance of the armed resistance will fade.

"The vast majority of people just want peace, security, jobs, electricity and the basic things that any people would want," says Lt. Col. David J. Furness, the Marine division's operations officer. "I think we can appeal to that."

Under the rules of engagement, the Marines will still have the right to defend themselves, and officers promise a ferocious response to those who attack them. But the Marines say they will avoid actions that lead to civilian casualties or feed Sunnis' belief that the occupation is designed to humiliate and marginalize them. That means shunning, to the extent possible, massive airstrikes, artillery bombardments, home demolitions and roundups of insurgents' family members. It means that sometimes the Marines will pull back instead of fighting back, if they think a gun battle will endanger or alienate civilians. The Marines say they won't even wear sunglasses when they interact with Iraqis, so as not to appear too intimidating and inaccessible.

Marine commanders believe they validated their theory after the fall of Baghdad in April, when the division moved south to occupy Karbala, Najaf and other predominantly Shiite Muslim areas. Although there have been some major attacks since the Marines left, those cities were relatively peaceful under Marine occupation, and the troops generally enjoyed cordial relations with the local populations, officials and even many clerics. "Our gut instinct is that if we go in there and we do the same things we did last summer, that eventually -- not right away -- we will win them over," says Lt. Col. Furness.

Marine commanders won't criticize the Army in public. Their promised approach, however, is an implicit swipe at the Army's tactics in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where Army units have blockaded neighborhoods, kicked down doors, demolished some homes of those suspected of supporting the insurgency and blasted away with artillery and air strikes.

But the Marines may have had it easy in the south, the Army is quick to point out. Shiites, long targets of Saddam Hussein's repression, are less inclined to oppose the occupation than are Mr. Hussein's Sunni Muslim allies. In the Sunni Triangle, by contrast, the hate runs deep and wide; in November, children kicked the corpses of seven Spanish coalition intelligence agents killed in an ambush.

Some soldiers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which has occupied Al Anbar since September, believe the Marines underestimate how hostile many locals are, and how hard it is to strike the balance between staying friendly and staying alive. The troops face frequent ambushes and roadside bombings, which make it difficult to improve the basic services that might convince the 1.5 million Iraqis in the province that life is better without Mr. Hussein. Attackers hide behind crowds of civilians and take shelter in mosques. "Our commanders have done everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties," says Maj. Neil Harper, spokesman for the 82nd. "However, what we do is inherently dangerous, and casualties are sometimes unavoidable."

The division doesn't track Iraqi casualties. But since President Bush declared the end of major fighting in May, the 82nd has suffered 15 combat deaths out of some 9,000 troopers in Iraq. On Friday, insurgents in Fallujah shot down a helicopter, killing a pilot.

The Army has lately tried a variety of softer tactics in the Sunni Triangle to try to win more hearts and minds. The 82nd has begun renovations on a medical clinic near Rawah. In the next several weeks, the division plans to cut back its own patrols in Ar Ramadi and let Iraqi police handle most problems there -- putting a less-provocative, local face on security.

Just after Christmas, when the 82nd called in jets to destroy a suspected insurgents' safe house near Khalidiyah, troops first cordoned off the area to make sure nobody would be injured. The preannounced bombing "displayed to the Iraqi people that established priorities are in place to ensure safety for the innocent civilians in the area," the Pentagon's Central Command says.

Attacks on U.S. forces in Al Anbar have been cut by more than half in the past several months, the Army says. "These are true indicators that we are strongly winning over -- not alienating -- the local population," Maj. Harper writes in an e-mail from Ar Ramadi.

The Marines accept that the Sunni areas will be tougher than the Shiite south. Nonetheless, they say they will go forward with their own approach to winning the peace, implementing the ethos of division commander Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, who borrows from the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."

The division is putting infantrymen through days of lectures and training scenarios in which they're forced to confront the kind of anger, conflict, fear and confusion they'll face in western Iraq. Playing the Iraqis in one round of exercises are Marines from First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, who dress up in checkered Arab headdresses, called kaffiyehs, and trot out the Arabic phrases they learned during their first tour in Iraq. Some even wear women's black burka robes, their whiskered faces modestly covered and cardboard signs around their necks identifying them as "Female."

Leading the troops are veterans such as 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Walker, of Hendersonville, N.C., who says he has been home from Iraq just long enough to "get a new tattoo and get my wife pregnant."

More than a third of the regiment's 900-strong Third Battalion weren't in Iraq the first time; Staff Sgt. Walker's 29-man platoon in Kilo Company has seven "boots," young Marines new to the Corps. So on a recent afternoon the sergeant was careful to explain the basics, such as why he won't allow his men to use disparaging names for Iraqis, and what the difference is between Sunnis and Shiites. "Maybe think of it like Protestants and Catholics," he suggested.

"Some people will be shooting at you, and some people will be huggin' at you," Staff Sgt. Walker told the men. "Expect both."

Figuring out who's who without getting shot or blown up is the tricky part, as Pfc. Abel Loredo, class of '03 at James Pace High School in Brownsville, Texas, found out during days of training scenarios. In one, the 19-year-old private was providing security when his patrol stopped at the scene of a two-car accident. A crowd looked on as one Iraqi driver beat the other with a flashlight. When Pfc. Loredo approached, a bystander asked him for some water, and the private obligingly handed over his canteen, only to watch the young man disappear with it into the crowd. The platoon's radio operator gave chase alone to get it back, another mistake.

"I was told we were supposed to be nice," Pfc. Loredo explained to his squad mates afterward.

"When they say, 'Be nice,' they pretty much mean, 'Don't be mean,' " explained Lance Cpl. Darren Pickard, a 20-year-old Humvee driver from Merced, Calif.

"Look at everyone as if they're trying to kill you, but don't treat them that way," said Lance Cpl. Lee Eckert, 20, a machine-gunner from Dallas, echoing another of Gen. Mattis's rules.

The next day things got more complex. Pfc. Loredo was the point man on a foot patrol moving through a neighborhood of Quonset huts. The Marines were wearing gear that beeps when they've been hit by laser-equipped rifles and machine guns. The squad quickly spotted a large group of armed Iraqis shooting into the air. Pfc. Loredo held his fire; just as well, since a man soon approached announcing that the crowd was celebrating a wedding in the traditional Iraqi style.

Moments later, however, another group of Iraqis opened fire on the patrol, leading to a gun battle that bogged the patrol down for 15 minutes, far too long to remain in one place.

During the middle of the simulated firefight, Lance Cpl. Jared Grote, a 19-year-old radio operator from Annapolis, Md., shouted at Pfc. Loredo: "Don't shoot unless they shoot at you." With civilians wandering through the neighborhood, the Marines found it hard to know who the combatants were -- and whether to fire on armed Iraqis who were shadowing the patrol, but hadn't yet taken any shots.

By the time the firing died down, Cpl. Mark Juarez, 21, from Floresville, Texas, was on his back with a mock chest wound and two other Marines were dead, out of a 13-man squad.

Bad as that was, it could have been worse. Another Kilo Company platoon was patrolling through a mock marketplace when one Iraqi man popped out of a restive crowd and fired a shot. A separate group of Marines, from Third Battalion's Weapons Company, fired back from the far side of the market. The Kilo Marines didn't know the Weapons Company Marines were there, and soon the two groups were firing at each other, with Iraqi civilians caught in the middle -- just the kind of deadly confrontation that could quickly spoil the Marines' relations with the locals.

"It's going to be a thinking man's war, and the thinking man is going to be the squad leader," said Col. Craig Tucker, commander of the Seventh Marine Regiment. "He's going to have to make that decision in a whole context of political and cultural elements. The decision he has to make is whether to shoot eight guys to get one."

The decision also involves finding ways to defuse an explosive situation. At the gate of a mock Marine base, Cpl. Jason Lemcke, a 23-year-old from San Antonio, suddenly found himself watching a large crowd of Iraqis dancing around a pickup truck, shooting rifles in the air and chanting, "No Bush" and "No Marines." The corporal called in the Iraqi police, a move the Marines believe can calm a situation, and sent his own interpreter to talk to the crowd. But, to Cpl. Lemcke's dismay, the police and interpreter wound up joining the protest.

As the crowd approached the gate, the corporal spoke to the man who appeared to be leading the group. "Tell the people to back up," he said.

"We will no longer back up," the protester responded, inspiring the crowd to push even closer to the razor-wire coils protecting the entrance. Cpl. Lemcke quickly moved back behind some sandbags, and his company commander, Capt. Trent Gibson, turned on him instantly. "Go up and face him, man to man," the captain, a 35-year-old from Palm Springs, Calif., urged.

The guards asked the crowd what they wanted, prompting a torrent of complaints typical of the ones they could run across in Iraq: The Marines had been staring at Iraqi women and shooting innocent Iraqis, the protesters said. And the population was short of food and water.

Capt. Gibson suggested to his men that they offer food and water if the protesters put their weapons away. The plan seemed like the best solution, until Cpl. Juarez came up with a better one: He recalled that he had been given a list of phone numbers for Fallujah government agencies that can provide food, water and medical assistance.

Once they had the phone numbers, most of the protesters dispersed. "There's no reason not to talk to these people," Capt. Gibson told his men.

The Marines "are trained to escalate a situation until we win," the captain said. But "the populace is our center of gravity. They can be either our friends or our enemies. It's our reaction to uncertainty or provocation that decides which one they are."

Write to Michael M. Phillips at
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« Reply #19 on: April 02, 2004, 12:58:46 PM »

Aaron Bank, 101; OSS Officer Became 'Father of the Green Berets'
By Dennis McLellan, Times Staff Writer

Retired Army Col. Aaron Bank, who led a number of daring missions during World War II but was best known for his postwar role in organizing and serving as the first commander of the Army's elite Special Forces, has died. He was 101.

Bank, who was known as "the father of the Green Berets," died Thursday of natural causes at his home in an assisted-living facility in Dana Point, said his son-in-law, Bruce Ballantine.

During World War II, Bank was a special operations officer for the Office of Strategic Services, the top-secret government agency formed to gather intelligence and organize resistance forces behind enemy lines.

The OSS, forerunner of the CIA, was disbanded soon after the war. But Bank and others were convinced that the Army should have a permanent unit whose mission would be to conduct unconventional operations.

In 1951, the chief of the Army's Psychological Warfare staff, who had been impressed by OSS Special Operations during the war, instructed Bank to staff and obtain approval for the creation of an OSS-style operational group.

In 1952, after Bank and other key staff members had made their case, the Army approved 2,300 spaces for men in a Special Forces unit ? the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) ? at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

"I wanted none but the best," Bank said in a 1968 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "First, they had to be double volunteers; that is, they had to volunteer for parachuting and behind-enemy-lines duties, which takes a special flair, a special type of personality. We had to work up all the manuals and training procedures for demolition, sabotage, new and different ways of handling weapons."

But most important, Bank said, "We had to teach them the classic aim and purpose of their service ? the organizing of civilian natives into guerrilla forces in enemy-held territory."

Bank later wrote a memorandum suggesting that Special Forces soldiers be allowed to wear berets as a mark of distinction. He listed three possible colors for the berets: purple, wine-red or green. But the Army didn't allow distinctive headgear at the time and the idea was turned down.

It wasn't until 1962, four years after Bank retired from the military, that President John F. Kennedy authorized Army Special Forces to wear berets. Kennedy, Bank later said, "picked the green because he was an Irishman."

Today there are about 7,700 soldiers in five active-duty and two National Guard Special Forces groups.

Continued Respect

At Ft. Bragg, which is still the home of the Green Berets, Bank is considered a military icon.

"Col. Aaron Bank is a legend within the Special Forces community," Maj. Robert Gowan, spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, said Thursday. "His commitment and service to our country is unsurpassed. He was a man far ahead of his time?. His vision and initiative allowed the Army to create Special Forces as we know them today."

Born in New York City, Bank began working summers in his teens as a lifeguard and swimming teacher. He liked the work so much, he later said, that by the late 1920s it had become something of a career.

"I'd go to Nassau in the Bahamas to work during the winter and then to Biarritz in southern France during the summer," he recalled in the 1968 interview. "It was a plush life."

He was in and out of Europe over the next decade and learned to speak French and German fluently. But in the late 1930s, sensing the inevitability of war, he returned home and joined the Army. By the time the United States entered the war, Bank had been commissioned a second lieutenant.

In 1943, the 40-year-old Bank was serving as a tactical training officer to a railroad battalion stationed at Camp Polk, La. when he saw a bulletin announcing that volunteers with foreign language capabilities would be interviewed for "special assignments."

Once in the OSS, he said, he began a long training course that taught him "to do all the things that regular branches of the service frowned on" ? guerrilla warfare, sabotage, espionage, escape and evasion tactics.

He also learned parachuting. As commander of one of the three-man teams that dropped into southern France before the Allied Mediterranean invasion in August 1944, he and his men posed as civilians and helped French Resistance leaders organize a guerrilla force that blew up bridges, power lines and railroad tracks, and ambushed German columns.

Top-Secret Mission

In December 1944, Bank received what he considered the most extraordinary assignment of his career: to recruit and train 170 anti-Nazi German POWs and defectors who would parachute with him into the Austrian Alps, where they would pose as a German mountain infantry company.

The primary goal of the top-secret mission, dubbed Iron Cross, was to capture high-ranking Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, who were expected to seek refuge in the area as the war in Europe neared an end.

Had the operation gone through and had they been successful in capturing Hitler, Bank told The Times in 1987, "the war would have been over overnight." But in April 1945 ? after three months of training in France ? the mission was scrubbed.

"I never cried in my life, but I damn near cried when they told me it was aborted," Bank said in a 1993 Times interview.

Bank said he had heard two versions of why the mission was canceled. "One was that the American 7th Army was ready to crack into the Inn Valley. And it was a short time later that they did." And because many of the Germans on the mission were pro-communist, he said, he heard that "the State Department didn't want to drop a big team of party communists into Austria toward the latter part of the war."

Hitler, it turned out, was in Berlin at the time; he committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

After the aborted Iron Cross mission, Bank was parachuted into the jungles of Indochina to search for Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. His team located 165 French internees at three different locations in the Vientiane area of Laos.

Bank, who also served in the Korean War, retired from the Army in 1958 and moved to San Clemente.

In 1972, at age 70, he began working full time as chief of security at a private oceanfront community in Capistrano Beach, a job he held until he was 85.

Physically Fit

Extremely fit and vigorous most of his life, the 5-foot-8, 140-odd-pound Bank swam around the San Clemente pier every day until he was 74. He then took to running 40 minutes a day on the hilly streets near his home.

Bank continued a daily regimen of lifting weights, riding a stationary bike, walking and participating in an exercise class at the assisted-living facility in Dana Point until he was hospitalized three weeks ago.

Over the years, Bank wrote two books: "From OSS to Green Berets: The Birth of Special Forces" (Presidio Press, 1987); and "Knights Cross" (Birch Lane Press, 1993), a novel co-written with E.M. Nathanson, author of "The Dirty Dozen."

"Knights Cross" was based, in part, on Bank's real-life exploits with the aborted Iron Cross mission, but the novel had a twist: The mission to capture Hitler is not aborted and Bank's fictional alter ego succeeds in capturing the German leader.

"I think of Aaron as a national treasure," Nathanson told The Times. "He was a gracious gentleman and a dedicated warrior. There would seem to be a conflict between those two phrases, but they went together very well with him."

Bank is survived by his wife, Catherine; their two daughters, Linda Ballantine of Dana Point and Alexandra Elliott of Anaheim; and a granddaughter.

A funeral service, with full military and Special Forces honors, will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Riverside National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, P.O. Box 14385, Tampa, FL 33690.
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« Reply #20 on: April 02, 2004, 01:21:26 PM »

My second post of the day-Crafty

Race to Get Lights On
In Iraq Shows Perils
Of Reconstruction

Despite Stumbles, Attacks,
Corps of Engineers' Team
Is Finally Making Progress
Col. Semonite's Travel Tips
April 2, 2004; Page A1

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- When Col. Todd Semonite arrived here last fall to direct a massive push to restore Iraq's electricity grid, his orders were simple: Stress speed over all else.

Hauling in some key generators from overseas proved too slow on ships, so he flew them on cargo planes at several times the cost. He riled Pentagon auditors by allowing his contractors to buy millions of dollars in parts without competitive bids. His haste extended to his armed drivers, who careened along Iraq's clogged highways in sport-utility vehicles at extreme speeds -- both to get around the country faster and to avoid danger.


"The point is to always keep moving," Col. Semonite said on a recent trip north of Baghdad, as he chewed on a grape Tootsie-Pop, his typical lunch. "It is hard to trigger a bomb accurately to hit a Suburban going 100 miles an hour."

Col. Semonite's team is making significant progress in the race to rebuild Iraq's power system before the planned U.S. handover of power to Iraqis in June. But his experience shows how rebuilding Iraq is proving to be a far more dangerous and expensive task than the U.S. and its private contractors expected. That lesson was on gruesome display this week with the killing and mutilation Wednesday of four American contractors.

The U.S. originally tapped the engineering giant Bechtel Group Inc. to restore electricity in Iraq at a time when the military expected a swift victory and the administration foresaw a smooth reconstruction effort funded in large part by Iraqi oil revenue. Bechtel, like others, so misjudged the dangers of postwar Iraq that it set aside just $500,000 to hire six security guards, compared with the 169 it has today.

By last summer it was clear that the U.S. plan to rely on one civilian contractor with limited funding was not working. Thirteen aging power stations were in various states of disrepair, while looters and saboteurs undermined the system further.

In September, the U.S. sent in Col. Semonite of the Army Corps of Engineers to oversee three additional U.S. contractors armed with almost unlimited muscle and wads of cash -- mostly from Iraqi oil revenue. The group has since installed hundreds of megawatts of new power generation, erected 692 huge transmission towers and strung thousands of miles of high-voltage cable. The Corps' success on the electricity push is one reason the U.S. military, instead of the Agency for International Development, will now guide most of the $14 billion in additional rebuilding work slated for Iraq this year.

But that success has come at a high price. Attacks so far have killed 27 of the Army Corps' subcontractors and security guards, most in roadside ambushes similar to the one that killed the four American security guards in Fallujah on Wednesday. The Corps' work is costing about $900,000 per megawatt of production capacity, while Bechtel's more-deliberate power projects are costing about 30% less. Total spending on the power grid is expected to exceed $5 billion.

Bringing steady power to Iraq's cities is an urgent priority for the Bush administration, as thousands of new appliances pour into the country and factories come on line. For Bechtel, the job began just weeks after Baghdad fell on April 9, when dozens of the company's engineers streamed into Iraq to undertake a range of reconstruction work. It had a broad, $680 million contract from AID, the government agency the Bush administration picked to lead reconstruction.

Bechtel's first two months were devoted to compiling a detailed survey of Iraq's infrastructure, amid tussles with the country's barely functional ministries. Early lists of "vital needs" from the Electricity Ministry included demands for hundreds of Mercedes trucks with compact-disc players. "It was laughable," said Mike Robinson, head of the Bechtel electricity project in Iraq, who arrived in Baghdad May 15.

By late August, with tempers flaring across the country at the slow pace of rebuilding, Bechtel was still debating with the ministry and AID over which electricity projects to tackle. The company had ordered only $2 million in emergency spare parts for the country's dilapidated power stations. "We faced a big problem," said Randy Richardson, head of electricity for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Pentagon-led organization that functions as Iraq's de facto government.

Bechtel says it stands by its work. "People think we were sent to rebuild all of Iraq," says Cliff Mumm, Bechtel's Iraq project manager. "We weren't. We came with a very small pot of money to do very limited work."

Bechtel's work was also hampered by overlapping bureaucracies within Baghdad. Worsening security and the company's own intense caution also kept many of its engineers hunkered down in Baghdad.

On Aug. 25, Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the Pentagon's Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, convened a two-day summit on Iraq's infrastructure at CentCom headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Iraq's electricity woes posed a serious security concern, the unhappy general told the assembled CPA officials and Army brass.

Gen. Abizaid proposed a new approach. "The idea was to move in as we would after a major disaster and throw money and people at the problem to fix it in a hurry," recalls Major Gen. Carl Strock, a senior Army Corps official who attended the meeting.

The new strategy called for boosting Iraq's power generation to at least 6,000 megawatts by June. That's about as much as Washington and its immediate suburbs consume in a day, but nearly twice the country's output at the time. Bechtel's assigned targets -- 445 megawatts of new power and the same amount in revamping of old plants -- wouldn't even come close to the target.

So the group turned to the Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Semonite, a 45-year-old West Point grad who had just returned to the U.S. from a three-year deployment in Europe, got the nod a week later to be the project's on-the-ground leader. Leaving his wife and four children behind in Virginia outside Washington, he landed in Iraq Sept. 15 with about a dozen men. His Iraq team soon gave a nickname to the former ski racer from Vermont: the Energizer Bunny.

While the Corps' effort was getting under way, U.S. officials decided to make an all-out push at plants around the country to boost production above the prewar level of 4,500 megawatts by Oct. 9, the six-month anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Iraqis did most of the work with whatever they had on hand.

"We worked like crazy, but it was all too much," said Gazi Aziz, a plant manager at the Baghdad South power station, a huge, decrepit electricity plant on the edge of the capital. A few patches were made, and in early October all of the plant's six generators were revved to capacity for the first time in years. The rickety boilers spat out steam and water. Pipes sprang massive leaks. "It fell apart in five days," said Mr. Aziz.


? Despite dramatic progress, Iraqis will still suffer shortages in the hottest months.
? The Bush administration has hired four prime contractors to oversee a total of more than $5 billion in Iraq power work
? The companies, with dozens of subcontractors, have erected 794 huge 400-kilovolt transmission towers across Iraq and nearly 4,000 miles of high-voltage wire.
? Average power production nationwide this week still met only about 75% of the average demand.
? The biggest power gap is still in Baghdad, which may not have full-time electricity until sometime next year.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense; WSJ research
Still, on Oct. 9, a beaming Paul Bremer, President Bush's top envoy to Iraq, strode into a Baghdad press conference to tick off the accomplishments of the first six months. Topping the list was news that three days earlier, Iraq had produced 4,518 megawatts of power -- just above the country's estimated prewar level.

In reality, electricity production had hit what turned out to be a false peak and was falling fast.

About a mile from where Mr. Bremer made the announcement, Col. Semonite's team had set up shop in a white-marble mansion with a pool in the yard and gold fixtures in the bathrooms -- the former home of Saddam Hussein's spurned first wife.

To do the job, Col. Semonite's Restore Iraqi Electricity task force had $1.05 billion, most of it drawn from Iraqi oil revenue. The Corps also had three U.S. firms ready to go under open-ended contingency contracts signed before the war began. Eleven days after arriving in Baghdad, Col. Semonite issued orders for the companies to tackle 21 electricity assignments across the country, a list that soon jumped to 26.

Washington Group International Inc., a large Idaho-based engineering company, would handle projects in the north; Fluor Corp. of Aliso Viejo, Cal., the region around Baghdad; and Perini Corp. of Framingham, Mass., the southern third of the country.

Bob Spaulding, the wiry leader of Fluor's team in Iraq, said the pace from the start was unprecedented in his 15 years with the company. "We're being told to do work on a schedule that's twice as fast as we'd do it in the U.S.," he said.

Fluor's biggest job, the Qudas power station, lies at the end of a rutted road about 20 miles north of Baghdad. When the first Corps engineers arrived at Qudas on Oct. 18, it had two working Chinese-built power units producing 250 megawatts, or enough to power a town of about 50,000 people. Another two units sat in crates in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, bought in the late 1990s under the United Nations oil-for-food program but never delivered. Two days later, the engineers broke ground to dig foundations for four smaller units to add another 172 megawatts -- a $160 million project. Fluor's team arrived a week later.

The job would need nearly 12,000 tons of concrete, so Fluor had a concrete plant assembled that could churn out 800 tons a day and brought in a fleet of concrete trucks. The Electricity Ministry provided more than 200 Iraqi workers. The company leased five heavy cranes from Kuwait, including a massive 450-ton lifter that took 25 semitrailers to haul in.

Fluor then scoured the globe to find available generators and transformers for the four new units. The company tracked down two generators in Brazil and sent technicians to cut them off their foundations. Four huge transformers were found in Mexico. Fluor marshaled the rest of the heavy equipment from across the U.S. The company leased a ship, gathered all the equipment in Houston, and got it to the plant by early February.

Getting the two oil-for-food units to the site posed another challenge. Each required its own U.S. military-protected convoy stretching 19 trucks long. Conducted under intense secrecy, the two trips each took six days.

"God, is this beautiful," Col. Semonite said, surveying the Qudas site one morning as Iraqi workers scurried amid a welter of cranes and cement mixers.

Fluor and the Army Corps have cut a few corners in the interest of time, he conceded. They poured foundations in a matter of hours without testing the ground conditions. If equipment had to be airlifted in, they did it, without worrying about cost. "But so far, no snags," said Col. Semonite, whose tour of duty in Iraq ended last month.

In all, the Corps has orchestrated 41 airlifts for power supplies, 20 of which used chartered Russian-built Antonovs, the world's biggest cargo planes.

The Corps team, in its haste, has made blunders. Both the General Accounting Office and Pentagon auditors are now evaluating whether the Corps' contractors stayed within federal procurement rules when buying big-ticket items without competitive bidding or obtaining proper documentation for sole-source subcontract awards. Col. Semonite's deputies gave the work final billing approval, despite strong objections from Pentagon auditors. Officials declined to provide additional specifics on the continuing investigations.

One of 68 towers, 200 feet or taller, replaced to reconnect the southern city of Basra to Baghdad.

In Col. Semonite's trip from Qudas site to the Beiji power station in tumultuous northern Iraq the next day, speed would be of the essence. Getting there meant skirting Samara and Tikrit and driving straight through the town of Beiji, among the most dangerous byways in Iraq.

Bundled in a flak jacket and helmet, Col. Semonite traveled in an unarmored Chevrolet Suburban with two machine-gunners in the front seat, another SUV leading, and three more in back. Six of his eight bodyguards were Iraqis with wooden-handled AK-47 assault rifles. Col. Semonite always made a point of leaving on day trips, even long ones, after 9 a.m. or so on the logic that most roadside bombs were detonated in the early hours of the day. The other rule was to avoid stopping at all costs, even if that meant driving up the wrong side of the freeway or cruising along the shoulder of the road to avoid traffic jams.

South of Tikrit, he pointed out where two Korean subcontractors, working for the Washington Group, were gunned down along the road at the end of November. On Jan. 5, two other Corps subcontractors, both French, died in an ambush near Fallujah west of Baghdad. The task force has also lost 23 Iraqi security guards to other attacks.

"It's a horrible loss," Col. Semonite said, gripping his seat as the Suburban, skirting a traffic jam, nearly veered off the road. "But we can't let the dangers slow us down."

Beiji is Iraq's largest power station, tucked against bare mountains in one of the most dangerous areas of the country. Operating out of a ramshackle trailer with 10 Iraqi employees and one computer on site, Bechtel began small-scale work on the belching, 20-year-old plant in January after months of squabbles with Iraq's Electricity Ministry. The $30 million job is dirty and intricate, involving hundreds of spare parts not easily found on the open market.

Adnan Bashir, a former Beiji plant manager who is now head of Bechtel's Iraqi team at the site, said security worries kept Bechtel's own engineers away for months. Difficulties in tracking down needed parts have impeded the work, too. "It's not much," he said, standing in the Bechtel warehouse in front of a few motors and pumps on a shelf and stacks of insulation.

A team of Iraqi welders had just started refurbishing one of the plant's leaking boilers. Another group in greasy overalls was busy taking apart a turbine inside the main plant.

Bechtel officials don't dispute that the Beiji work was slow to get started but insist that the work will be completed on time this summer.

Up a muddy lane a few minutes walk from the plant, the Army team bustled among 28 trailers housing more than 40 workers from Washington Group and five subcontractors. All had arrived since October. Despite the occasional mortar round from across the river, work hooking up eight mobile generators and transformers was well under way. All of the equipment had been airlifted in from abroad on 14 huge cargo jets.

Col. Semonite, though, would like to see more progress. "OK, when are these going to start coming on line? Tomorrow?" he said, tromping through puddles as three Washington Group engineers tagged along.

The engineers exchanged glances and then one of them said, "Eight to 10 days."

"Oh, come on. Faster," Col. Semonite shot back.

Write to Neil King Jr. at
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« Reply #21 on: April 05, 2004, 11:49:17 AM »

How a Marine
Lost His Command
In Race to Baghdad

Col. Joe Dowdy's 'Tempo'
Displeased Superiors;
Balance of Mission, Men
General's Call Name: 'Chaos'
April 5, 2004; Page A1

Two weeks into the war in Iraq, Marine Col. Joe D. Dowdy concluded the crowning military maneuver of his life, attacking an elite band of Iraqi troops and then shepherding 6,000 men on an 18-hour, high-speed race toward Baghdad.

But no praise awaited the First Marine regimental commander as he pushed into the tent of his superior, Maj. Gen. James Mattis, on April 4, 2003. Instead, Col. Dowdy was stripped of his command, which effectively ended his 24-year Marine career. In a final blow, Col. Dowdy says, the general asked him to empty his sidearm and turn over the ammunition. "He thought I was going to try to kill myself," the colonel says.

Assuming a battlefield command is the pinnacle of a Marine's career. Being removed is near the nadir, exceeded only by a court martial. It's extremely rare for the modern U.S. military to relieve a top commander of duty, especially during combat. Col. Dowdy, 47 years old, was the only senior officer in any of the military services to be dismissed in Iraq. He says he would rather have taken an enemy bullet.

Col. Dowdy's firing was even more unusual because he didn't commit any of the acts that normally precipitate a dismissal: failing to complete a mission, disobeying a direct order, breaking the rules of war. "It was a decision based on operating tempo," says Lt. Eric Knapp, a spokesman for the First Marine Division. He wouldn't elaborate.

The colonel's removal sparked media coverage and intense speculation in the Marine Corps. The reasons for his firing weren't clear, mainly because the colonel and his superiors refused to talk about it. Now, interviews with Col. Dowdy and a score of officers and enlisted men show the colonel was doomed partly by an age-old wartime tension: Men versus mission -- in which he favored his men.

Gen. Mattis and Col. Dowdy personify all that is celebrated in Marine Corps culture. Gen. Mattis, 53, is a "warrior monk," as some of his men put it, a lifelong bachelor consumed with the study and practice of battle tactics. Col. Dowdy is beloved for the attention he pays to his men, from the grunts on up.

The qualities of these two Marines eventually tore them apart. Gen. Mattis, a Marine for 33 years, saw speed as paramount in the Iraq war plan. Col. Dowdy thought sacrificing everything for speed imperiled the welfare of his men.

The dispute was stoked by widespread but mistaken assumptions about how the Iraqis would fight. The desire for speed stemmed from the Pentagon's expectation of a fierce, protracted battle in Baghdad, with far less resistance in other areas. But it turned out that Baghdad fell easily, while the countryside continued to seethe with resistance.

Today, as U.S. forces tangle with an enemy they clearly underestimated, the military still is debating whether speeding to the Iraqi capital was the best way to proceed.

Gen. Mattis declined to be interviewed for this story. His chief of staff, Col. Joe Dunford, says a decision made during combat is impossible to explain now. "It's just one of those things when you try to put the pieces back together, there's no way you can."

Over a plate of chicken quesadillas near his home in Carlsbad, Calif., Col. Dowdy admits to making mistakes. But he doesn't believe any of them warranted his removal. He's proud that only one Marine died under his command. "At least I don't have a butcher bill to pay," he says.

Dust caked the 900 trucks and tanks in Col. Dowdy's regiment when they emerged from the desert March 22, 2003. Two days into the war, the regiment was headed to Nasiriyah, a sprawl of slums and industrial compounds where Col. Dowdy's problems would begin.

Since he was a boy in Little Rock, Ark., the colonel had dreamed of an assignment like this. Commander of the 6,000-man First Regiment for nearly a year before the war began, Col. Dowdy was deeply familiar with the plan for invading Iraq.

With his shaved head and powerful frame, Col. Dowdy looks like the archetypal Marine. His men praise him for treating them as equals, despite the Marines' stratified organization. Departing from custom, Col. Dowdy, a married father of three, invited enlisted men as well as officers to the annual Christmas party at his home. When the Marines were camped in Kuwait in the run-up to the war, Col. Dowdy declined an air conditioner when it became clear that only officers would get them, recalls Gunnery Sgt. Robert Kane.

"As a colonel, he was entitled to certain privileges, but he was the type of man, if his Marines didn't have it, he didn't have it," says Sgt. Kane, who served under Col. Dowdy in Iraq and in East Timor in 1999.

By several accounts, Col. Dowdy was destined to win a general's star after the war in Iraq. "I know people, supporters, peers who think Joe Dowdy is a water walker," says Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine general. When Col. Dowdy served under him, "he was the finest lieutenant I had," Gen. Zinni says.

Like many in his regiment, Col. Dowdy lacked extensive battle experience. In 1983, he saw limited action in Beirut, where 241 Marines were killed in a suicide bombing. He served in Somalia in 1993 and 1994, where Marines were on the vanguard of what became a bloody humanitarian mission.

Gen. Mattis mapped the Marines' broad plan for Iraq, which many defense analysts consider tactically brilliant. Two 6,000-man regiments of the First Marine Division were to drive toward Baghdad. Col. Dowdy's regiment was to head to the city of al Kut -- where an 8,000-man contingent of Saddam Hussein's best Republican Guard soldiers were dug in.

It was presumed the Iraqis had chemical weapons, so the plan was to avoid engaging them directly. Col. Dowdy's unit was to act as a decoy, diverting Mr. Hussein's soldiers and allowing the other U.S. regiments to rush in from the northwest through a gap in Iraqi defenses to get to Baghdad.

Col. Dowdy's route would take him through the city of Nasiriyah. Another Marine unit, called Task Force Tarawa, was charged with keeping order there. Pentagon officials assumed the city would offer little resistance because it had long been oppressed by Mr. Hussein. That assumption turned out to be wrong.

Pushing North: The Marine war plan called for Col. Joe Dowdy to speed to the river town of al Kut on a lightly defended route before doubling back and joining the main attack. But Col. Dowdy and his men encountered far more resistance than anticipated, which slowed their progress considerably.

The plan began to unravel in Nasiriyah. When Col. Dowdy and his men arrived outside the city, they found their passage blocked by a massive firefight. Word filtered back that Task Force Tarawa had suffered casualties, including 18 dead. Adding to the confusion was a U.S. Army supply unit, which had mistakenly stumbled into Nasiriyah. Several soldiers in that unit were dead. Others, including Pvt. Jessica Lynch, had been taken prisoner.

Outside the city, Col. Dowdy and his staff debated what to do. Several hundred trucks in Col. Dowdy's train lacked armor, and squeezing through a fierce battle zone would be complicated, especially on Nasiriyah's narrow streets.

A potential 150-mile bypass around Nasiriyah didn't seem feasible. Col. Dowdy wasn't sure he had enough fuel and didn't know what resistance he might face. The First Regiment was stuck.

The halt was anathema to Gen. Mattis, a devotee of a modern military doctrine known as "maneuver warfare." Though Marines have practiced the technique for years, the Iraqi war was its first large-scale test. Instead of following rigid battle plans and attacking on well-defined fronts, this tactic calls for smaller forces to move quickly over combat zones, exploiting opportunities and sowing confusion among the enemy. The technique is summed up in Gen. Mattis' radio call name: "Chaos."

Gen. Mattis had fought in Iraq before, in the first Gulf War. After that, he commanded the Seventh Regiment of the First Division, known as one of the most battle-ready units in the Marines. "I'd follow him again," says Gunnery Sgt. Kane, who fought under Gen. Mattis in Afghanistan. "His whole life is the Corps."

Slight in stature and fierce in demeanor, Gen. Mattis burnished his reputation in Afghanistan, where his men captured an airstrip outside Kandahar. The daring raid cut to the heart of the Taliban resistance. "The Marines have landed and we now own a piece of Afghanistan," Gen. Mattis told reporters there, just a few months after Sept. 11, 2001. The Pentagon scrambled to disavow the remark, but the Marines loved it.

To some in the military, the Iraq war promised the perfect test of maneuver warfare. At the time, the U.S. thought the fiercest fighting would begin near Baghdad and involve protracted urban fighting and chemical weapons. Speed was everything. The 1,000-mile journey to Baghdad, many thought, was just a warm-up.

Stopped outside Nasiriyah, Col. Dowdy says, he wasn't surprised when Gen. Mattis's top aide, Brig. Gen. John Kelly, showed up. The two stood talking on a bridge outside the city, watching the fighting. Gen. Kelly, 53, who has been a Marine for 33 years, had served mostly in academic and administrative posts. "I thought I knew what war was," he says. "It's difficult to imagine if you haven't been there."

Col. Dowdy's regiment had been stuck in Nasiriyah for more than 24 hours. In retrospect, he says he should have been more decisive about moving through the city.

One of the cardinal rules of maneuver warfare stipulates that generals should allow commanders in the field, such as Col. Dowdy, to make tactical decisions. Gen. Kelly says he never ordered Col. Dowdy to move through Nasiriyah and never threatened to remove him from his post. But Lt. Col. Pete Owen, Col. Dowdy's chief of staff, has a different recollection. "When we were stalled out in Nasiriyah, Gen. Kelly came up to me and said, 'If Col. Dowdy doesn't get this column moving, I'm gonna pull him.' "

Late that night, Col. Dowdy decided to move. He gave battalion commander Lt. Col. Lew Craparotta one hour to figure out how to form a cordon of soldiers that would shield the regiment as it passed through the city. Col. Craparotta wasn't pleased. "I don't think next time I want to plan something like that on the hood of my Humvee in the pitch black," he says.

The regiment rumbled through Nasiriyah, past blackened hulks of U.S. vehicles and bodies of dead Marines waiting to be recovered by Task Force Tarawa. It was a sight, Col. Dowdy says, that would remain with him throughout the campaign.

While the other regiments headed north on a four-lane highway, Col. Dowdy's group rolled up a two-lane country road that ran through dozens of villages, brimming with enemy forces. An official Marine account later called it a "running gunfight through the Mesopotamian mud."

The Iraq regime flooded the road with thousands of fighters. Soon Col. Dowdy's men were engaged in battle. A raging sandstorm mixed with rain cut the Marines' visibility to almost zero. The regiment suffered its first casualty when a rocket-propelled grenade blew through a Humvee door and severed a captain's hand, according to men on the scene.

As bullets flew and the captain was being hauled out by helicopter, Col. Dowdy, two days without sleep, slouched in his Humvee, with his staff around him. He fell asleep.

Making their way through Nasiriyah, Col. Dowdy's men passed by hulks of armored vehicles and bodies of Marines. Here, Lt. Harry Thompson of the First Regiment covers up a body until it can be retrieved by another Marine unit.

In wars, commanders fall asleep in meetings, on the radio, even during firefights. Col. Dowdy nodded off for about five minutes, his men say. But his timing couldn't have been worse. As he dozed, Gen. Mattis's top aide, Gen. Kelly, saw the colonel sleeping. Some of Col. Dowdy's men who were there say they believe that made a lasting impression.

Gen. Kelly declines to comment on Col. Dowdy's removal, saying such matters are "sacred ground" that only Gen. Mattis can address. In answer to general questions about the war, he says a battlefield commander's top priority is to "put it all aside and focus on the mission. I've seen a lot of people learn this the hard way."

Two days later, on March 27, 2003, the U.S. Army ordered an indefinite halt to the war to allow supply lines to catch up with American fighters.

Col. Dowdy's regiment was camped about 50 miles southeast of Kut. He had his men capture a nearby airfield so supplies could be airlifted in. The next day, Gen. Mattis dropped by to check on his men -- and was infuriated by what he saw: A cratered runway and a Marine captain sitting on a bulldozer reading a paperback book. The captain said he hadn't been given an order to fix the runway.

A few hours later, Col. Dowdy says, he got an earful from Gen. Mattis, who said he should have made sure the job of fixing the runway was done. Col. Dowdy now says he should have issued a written order. He considered stripping the bulldozer operator of his command, but thought better of it. "If you fire everyone who makes a mistake, pretty soon you're standing there all by yourself," he says.

Despite the misstep, Col. Dowdy was receiving daily praise from Gen. Mattis's staff, according to Col. John Toolan, who was then the general's chief of staff. Intelligence reports suggested that capturing the airport had drawn the attention of Mr. Hussein's Republican Guard soldiers. The Iraqis soon announced their presence by lobbing artillery shells at Col. Dowdy's regiment.

The decoy ploy was working. The other Marine regiments sped on the Iraqis' untended western flank, toward Baghdad, according to plan.

At this point, it could be argued that Col. Dowdy had fulfilled his mission. The war plan called for him to retreat and take a bypass around Kut. Gen. Kelly acknowledges this was the original plan.

But after seeing villagers in the area waving and cheering at the Marines, Gen. Kelly believed an enemy collapse was imminent. "There was so little resistance," he says. "I figured they either deserted or were so far into their holes that they didn't want to fight." On April 1, 2003, the Fifth Regiment seized a bridge near Kut. At that point, Gen. Kelly says, Hussein's once-feared Baghdad Division became "irrelevant."

In an unexpected move, Gen. Kelly ordered Col. Dowdy to head to Kut on a "limited objective" mission. Once Col. Dowdy got there, he was to decide if his regiment should go through the city, which could trim several hours of travel time.

Col. Dowdy didn't think pushing through Kut would be wise. It would be a quicker route to Baghdad, but he thought it would be dangerous. His men had seen fortified foxholes, sandbagged buildings, mines along road shoulders and several thousand Iraqi fighters. With its narrow bridges and urban tangle, Kut looked even more perilous than Nasiriyah. Was saving a few hours worth the risk?

"In war, you have competing demands between men and mission," Col. Dowdy says. "Which one wins out? There's no easy answer."

His superiors confirm that he wasn't ordered to take his regiment through the city. But an aggressive Marine could have chosen to plow through to get to Baghdad faster.

The generals were growing impatient. The U.S. Army had reached the outskirts of Baghdad. On the morning of April 3, 2003, the 15th day of the war, Gen. Kelly called Col. Dowdy to say he wanted the assault on Kut to begin immediately. Col. Dowdy said he was awaiting fresh ammunition and checking a report that the road to Kut was mined.

Gen. Kelly was furious, according to Col. Dowdy. "Those aren't considerations, they're excuses," Col. Dowdy recalls the general saying.

Col. Dowdy says the general continued: "Why aren't you driving through al Kut right now? You know what? I'm going to recommend that you be relieved of command. Maybe Gen. Mattis won't do it. Maybe he'll decide he can get along with a regiment that isn't worth a s-. But that's what I'm going to recommend."

Gen. Kelly says he doesn't recall that specific conversation. He says he appreciated the potential risk to life that driving through Kut would pose. In a recent e-mail from Iraq, where he is serving a second tour, he wrote, "The choice between mission and men ... is never an either-or, but always a balance."

Within an hour or so, Col. Dowdy and two of his battalions moved into Kut. They immediately met resistance, they say, with fighters popping out of doorways and alleys. "My machine gun was going crazy," says Warrant Officer Thomas Parks, a gunner riding in the lead.

The battalions ground to a halt in front of an Iraqi tank, which Gunner Parks hit with a rocket, prompting return fire from the two-story mud huts lining the road. The door of Gunner Parks' Humvee was blasted off its hinges, while lead filled the door of Col. Dowdy's vehicle, according to both men.

Moments later, Gunner Parks glanced back and saw Col. Dowdy sprinting toward a family of Iraqi civilians. The colonel swept up two children and shoved the family into a bomb crater for cover, Gunner Parks says. An Iraqi fighter moving up an alley aimed a machine gun at Col. Dowdy. Gunner Parks shot him in the head. "It took me three tries," he says.

The decision on whether to push through Kut was ultimately up to Col. Dowdy. But in the hours up to and during the fight, he and his staff say they received conflicting guidance. On the field telephone, Gen. Kelly was telling him to push through Kut. But on the radio, division command was urging withdrawal. "There was a lot of confusion," Col. Dowdy says. "Go. Don't go." Gen. Kelly agrees there was discussion about what the regiment should do.

So Col. Dowdy made a crucial decision: He decided not to go through the city. Getting to Baghdad early wasn't worth the risk, he says.

"At that point, maybe you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," says Sgt. Maj. Gregory Leal, the top enlisted man in Col. Dowdy's regiment. "There's no book out there that says, 'This is how you liberate and occupy a country.' "

Around sunset, the First Regiment started moving to rendezvous with the rest of the division via a 170-mile bypass around Kut. Col. Dowdy's men had collected 30 prisoners and, the colonel says, "I felt like taking them up to division and saying, 'Look, g-ddamn it, we hit resistance in Kut, and here's your proof.' "

Headlights on and ducking intermittent fire from Iraqi peasants, the regiment covered the miles in about half the 36 hours it was supposed to have taken. On April 4, 2003, the regiment rolled into Numaniyah, where the Marines had planned to meet. The regiment had completed its mission with ample time to join the assault on Baghdad.

But Col. Dowdy's career was dead.

A helicopter awaited when Col. Dowdy arrived in Numaniyah. Col. Dowdy and Sgt. Maj. Leal climbed aboard. Gen. Mattis had asked to see them. They were flown to the general's camp, about 50 miles away.

When they arrived, Sgt. Maj. Leal says Gen. Mattis took him aside. "How's your boss doing?" the sergeant-major recalls him saying. "I said, 'He's doing fine, sir.' " Then, according to Sgt. Maj. Leal, the general snapped: "You're not engaged enough. You've got four battalions and you're not pressing the attack.' "

"I told the general not to fire him," Sgt. Maj. Leal recalls. "I said, 'Tell me what we need to do and we'll do it.' "

Men under Gen. Mattis's command say he makes decisions quickly and never looks back. Sgt. Maj. Leal says he believes Gen. Mattis had already made up his mind.

Artillery shells screamed overhead and the tanks and trucks of the Fifth Regiment rumbled past as Col. Dowdy made his way to Gen. Mattis's tent. Inside, the colonel sat facing Gens. Mattis and Kelly as an aide served hot tea. The colonel says he knew in his gut that he was about to be fired. "It's like I'm someplace I've never been before," he recalls. "I'm failing miserably and I don't know why."

He says Gen. Mattis began with a sympathetic tone: "We're going to get you some rest." Gen. Mattis brought up the bulldozer incident. Then, according to Col. Dowdy, the general said Col. Dowdy worried too much about enemy resistance and noted his lack of battle experience.

Col. Dowdy says he replied: "I've been fighting my way up this m-f-ing road for the past two weeks." He recalls pleading with Gen. Mattis to reconsider. "Think of my family, my unit," he recalls saying.

It was not to be. When Gen. Mattis requested his ammunition, Col. Dowdy assured him that he still considered himself a Marine. The general relented. Soon Col. Dowdy got on a helicopter to Kuwait. He called his wife, Priscilla. She'd already seen the news on CNN.

Word of his dismissal quickly filtered back to his men. Marines who were there say there was fleeting talk of a mutiny. "I wanted to go with him," says Gunnery Sgt. Kane. "A lot of guys felt that way. If Col. Dowdy said, 'Get your gear, you're coming with me,' I would've gone, even if it meant the end of my career."

In ensuing days, media outlets and Marine Internet chat rooms speculated about the colonel's defrocking. A day or so after his dismissal, Col. Dowdy wrote a letter that was posted on a Web site catering to families of the First Marine Division.

"As all of you are aware ... I am no longer a member of the Regiment," the letter said. "Rest assured, no one, except me is responsible for the reassignment. Priscilla and I will remain loyal to the Marine Corps and to our Division and its very capable leaders." Col. Toolan, Gen. Mattis's chief of staff, took over the command. The regiment went on to Baghdad, setting up in a slum once known as Saddam City.

A few weeks later, Col. Dowdy ran into Warrant Officer Parks, who was heading back to the U.S. like most of the First Division. The colonel arranged for his subordinate to get civilian clothes so he could take a commercial airline and meet his wife in New York. "He called down to command for me and said, 'I got a hero coming, take care of him,' " Gunner Parks says. "Then he got a little choked up, I got a little choked up and I got on a helicopter and left."

Col. Dowdy says he took no joy in his next assignment, as head of personnel at the Marine Air Station in Miramar, Calif. In June, the First Division gave him a performance evaluation. It faulted him for "being fatigued beyond normal" and "not employing the regiment to its full combat potential," he says, quoting from the document. It also said he was "overly concerned about the welfare" of his Marines, according to Col. Dowdy. By policy, the Marines don't comment on performance evaluations.

Last November, for the first time in 25 years, Col. Dowdy and his wife skipped the Marine Corps Ball. The First Division returned to Iraq this spring. Col. Dowdy received permission to retire early, and left the Marines last month. "I think I'm a guy they probably didn't know what to do with," he says.

The issue of speed in Iraq remains in debate. Last fall, the Army War College, a Pentagon-financed school where officers analyze tactics, released a study saying there was little evidence that speed affected the outcome of the war. The stiff resistance outside Baghdad suggests U.S. forces may have done better by moving at a more measured pace, entering more cities, rooting out fighters and leaving more troops in the provinces to enforce order, the report said.

However, in another study yet to be finalized, the military's Joint Center for Lessons Learned says speed was integral to U.S. military success in Iraq. In a speech in February, Adm. E.P. Giambastiani, commander of the Joint Forces, said speed "reduces decision and execution cycles, creates opportunities, denies an enemy options and speeds his collapse."

Retired Gen. Zinni says that, for Col. Dowdy, speed was academic. "The boss is the boss," he says. "If Gen. Mattis feels you need to move faster, then you move faster." Still, he says Col. Dowdy's firing could haunt Gen. Mattis too. "This is not going to add to Jim Mattis's luster."

Sgt. Leal, now stationed in Texas, often tells Col. Dowdy that his reputation will be cleared one day. "I think he'll always be known as the guy who chose men over mission," Sgt. Leal says. "If that's how he's remembered, it's OK."

Write to Christopher Cooper at
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« Reply #22 on: April 26, 2004, 01:53:46 AM »

Woof All:

I rarely read twaddle such as Newspeak, but the following resonates with things I have read elsewhere.


@Date:    Apr 25, 2004 10:37 PM
From newsweek

The Human Cost
They were sent to fight for their country. But some GIs didn't have all they needed to protect themselves
U.S. Air
Resting place:  A soldier prepares coffins of U.S. military personnel returning home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware  

By Melinda Liu, John Barry and Michael Hirsh

May 3 issue - The inaugural mission of the 1st Cavalry's 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment was, in its humble way, a bid for hearts and minds. It was to safely dispose of Iraqi sewage. Having arrived in Iraq in late March, a 19-man patrol from the battalion, traveling in four Humvees, had just finished escorting three Iraqi "honey wagons" on their rounds in the grim slum of Sadr City, where vendors stash eggs and chickens in bamboo crates next to puddles of viscous black mud. ("You're lucky if it's mud," joked one U.S. officer.) Suddenly the street became "a 300-meter-long kill zone," recalls platoon leader Sgt. Shane Aguero, courtesy of gunmen from the Mahdi militia of Shiite rebel Moqtada al-Sadr. The Humvees swerved and ran onto sidewalks, rolling on the rims of flat tires, as gunmen kept up the barrage of bullets. Sgt. Yihjyh (Eddie) Chen, gunner in the lead vehicle, was shot dead. Another soldier was hit and began bleeding from the mouth.

And their trouble was just beginning. Two of the Humvees became disabled. Aguero yelled at one driver to gun the engine to get his Humvee moving. The engine fell out. As they'd been drilled to do, the soldiers set out to strip the disabled vehicles of sensitive items and to "zee off the radio"?to see that codes and equipment don't fall into enemy hands. When another group got ambushed nearby, an enemy round came through the Humvee's right rear door?through retrofitted panels that the soldiers had been told would repel AK-47 rounds. Miraculously, none of the three people inside were hit. Then a third Humvee sputtered to a halt: debris had pierced the fuel tank. "It just wouldn't start; we coasted the last 50 yards out of the kill zone," said its driver, Spc. Dee Foster. At last an armored Bradley fighting vehicle arrived, and its steel ramp opened to scoop him and his buddies to safety.

For the Bush administration it has been a mantra, one the president intones repeatedly: America's troops will get whatever they need to do the job. But as Iraq's liberation has turned into a daily grind of low-intensity combat?and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld grudgingly raises troop levels?many soldiers who are there say the Pentagon is failing to protect them with the best technology America has to offer. Especially tanks, Bradleys and other heavy vehicles, even in some cases body armor. That has been the tragic lesson of April, a month in which a record 115 U.S. soldiers have died so far and 879 others have been wounded, 560 of them fairly seriously. Those numbers greatly exceed the tallies in the combat-heavy weeks of the invasion last spring. And the impact of those deaths was felt more fully last week when blogger Russ Kick, after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, won the release of photos showing coffins returning to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Soldiers in Iraq complain that Washington has been too slow to acknowledge that the Iraqi insurgency consists of more than "dead-enders." And even at the Pentagon many officers say Rumsfeld and his brass have been too reluctant to modify their long-term plans for a lighter military. On the battlefield, that has translated into a lack of armor. Perhaps the most telling example: a year ago the Pentagon had more than 400 main battle tanks in Iraq; as of recently, a senior Defense official told NEWSWEEK, there was barely a brigade's worth of operational tanks still there. (A brigade usually has about 70 tanks.)

In continuing adherence to the Army's "light is better" doctrine, even units recently rotated to Iraq have left most of their armor behind. These include the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which has paid dearly for that decision with an astonishing 30 percent-plus casualties (45 killed, more than 300 wounded) in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. The Army's 1st Cavalry Division?which includes the unit in Sadr City?left five of every six of its tanks at home, and five of every six Bradleys.

A breakdown of the casualty figures suggests that many U.S. deaths and wounds in Iraq simply did not need to occur. According to an unofficial study by a defense consultant that is now circulating through the Army, of a total of 789 Coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. Almost all those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means that perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.

The military is 1,800 armored Humvees short of its own stated requirement for Iraq. Despite desperate attempts to supply bolt-on armor, many soldiers still ride around in light-skinned Humvees. This is a latter-day jeep that, as Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, conceded in an interview, "was never designed to do this ... It was never anticipated that we would have things like roadside bombs in the vast number that we've had here." One newly arrived officer, Lt. Col. Timothy Meredith, says his battalion had just undergone months of training to rid itself of "tank habits" and get used to the Humvees. "We arrived here expecting to do a lot of civil works," says Meredith.

According to internal Pentagon e-mails obtained by NEWSWEEK, the Humvee situation is so bad that the head of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Larry Ellis, has urged that more of the new Stryker combat vehicles be put into the field. Sources say that the Army brass back in Washington have not yet concurred with that. The problem: the rubber-tire Strykers are thin-skinned and don't maneuver through dangerous streets as well as the fast-pivoting, treaded Bradley. According to a well-placed Defense Department source, the Army is so worried about the Stryker's vulnerability that most of the 300-vehicle brigade currently in Iraq has been deployed up in the safer Kurdish region around Mosul. "Any further south, and the Army was afraid the Arabs would light them up," he said.

A shortage of armored Humvees has led some soldiers to secure vehicle walls and floors with sandbags or steel plates. Three widely used transport vehicles:
Safety: "Up-armored" models come with reinforced windshields and walls.
Cost: $50,000 each
Military owns: 35,000
Safety: Has a thicker steel shell for land?ine safety but is vulnerable to larger explosions.
Cost: $1.4 million each
Military owns: 2,100
Safety: Welded aluminum walls; new model has steel?armor tiles for blast protection.
Cost: $3.17 million each
Military owns: 6,719
Source: Federation of American Scientists, Periscope  

Other quick fixes are being rushed in. In Ohio, O'Gara-Hess and Eisenhardt Armoring Co. says it is flush with new orders to crank out 300 "up-armored" Humvees per month. And Rumsfeld has just approved a quiet plan to fly 28 M1A1 tanks from Germany into Iraq by April 27, NEWSWEEK has learned. The move comes as the military is planning for a final assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Meanwhile, soldiers are rushing to jury-rig their Humvees with anything hard they can find: bolt-on armor, sandbags, even plywood panels, creating what one senior officer calls "Mad Max-mobiles." But Pentagon sources say many of the retrofitted Humvees cannot take the extra weight, and their suspension or transmission systems fail. Another method is to spray shock-absorbing polyurethane foam?one popular brand name is called Rhino?to the inside or outside of unarmored vehicles.

The biggest problem, perhaps, is that the insurgents?whoever they are?continue to be quick to spot vulnerabilities. It is probably no coincidence that attacks have picked up significantly in April as the Marines, the 1st Cav and other fresh?and untried?troops have rotated in. U.S. bomb-disposal personnel generally succeed in discovering and disarming about half of the homemade bombs that are planted. In March, an estimated 600 to 700 attacks involving homemade devices were either discovered or foiled. In April, one administration source said, as many as 1,000 homemade bomb attacks have been attempted.

The need for more armor?and possibly troops?erupted as an issue on Capitol Hill last week in combative hearings of the Senate and House Armed Services committees. "We are not structured for the security environment we're in," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers told senators and congressmen, including some angry Republicans. As part of his 2005 budget request, Rumsfeld had originally cut the Army budget by 6 percent. But the Army has identified nearly $6 billion in unfunded requests?and more are on the way. "The costs are going to be staggering," says Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who has pestered the Pentagon for months for better estimates. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the House committee that military operations in Iraq are now costing about $4.7 billion a month?a sum that approaches the $5 billion a month (on average) that the Vietnam War cost, adjusted for inflation.

Sen. John McCain says the Pentagon needs an additional division beyond the 20,000 men it is leaving in Iraq for 90-day extensions. Another senator and Vietnam vet, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, even suggested the nation might have to take a long-term look at reviving the draft. Few others went that far, but one knowledgeable Army officer points out that Rumsfeld's standing "stop-loss" order?basically a freeze on retirements?is a "silent draft." It is not expected to be lifted "for the foreseeable future," the officer said. On Capitol Hill, Myers spoke of transforming old field-artillery and air-defense battalions into new units. But the Pentagon has yet to come to grips with its armor crisis?or its human cost.

With Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad, Mark Hosenball and Tamara Lipper in Washington and T. Trent Gegax in New York

? 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
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« Reply #23 on: May 02, 2004, 01:00:42 AM »

News Staff Reporter

Cpl. Jason Dunham of Allegany County jumped in front of a hand grenade to save the lives of two fellow Marines in Iraq on April 14.

Dunham, 22, of Scio, died Thursday in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. His death brought to eight the number of Western New York servicemen to die since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Two other Marines were wounded but are recovering.

"All I can say is, this ain't nothing that I wouldn't expect of my son, because that's the kind of person he was," his father, Daniel Dunham, an Air Force veteran, said Sunday. Dunham read from documents received from the military about the circumstances surrounding his son's fatal injuries in Karbala, about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad.

"Preliminary reports are that an Iraqi hostile (fighter) departed a stopped vehicle with a hand grenade. When he deployed the hand grenade, Cpl. Dunham put himself between the grenade and his fellow Marines. The two Marines who witnessed the event were also medevaced, so the battalion is still gaining details."

Dunham began his second deployment in Iraq in September after extending his enlistment to serve as a squad leader with another Marine unit. He enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Scio Central School in June 2000. He was scheduled to complete his service in July.

"Jason's been my hero since the day he was born," his father said. "All my kids are. They never had to do anything to prove that to me."

The funeral will be scheduled later this week after the body arrives home.

Survivors, in addition to his parents, include two brothers, Justin, 21, of Butler, Pa., and Kyle, 15; a sister, Katie, 11; and his grandparents, Patricia Layton of Amity, Murray and Linda Dunham of Arkport, Gerald and Roberta Kinkead of Ridgeway, Pa., and Bernie and Sandy Jackson of Wellsville.


Marine dies with parents at his bedside
By Rick Davis
The Desert Sunbrown
April 27th, 2004

A corporal who last week became the 30th service member from Twentynine Palms to die in the Iraq war suffered his fatal injuries when he jumped in front of a hand grenade in an attempt to save the lives of his battalion mates, the fallen Marine?s father said Monday.

Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq, was injured critically April 14 when struck in the head by shrapnel from a grenade explosion during a confrontation with Iraqi hostile fighters near the city of Karbala, 60 miles southwest of Baghdad.

The 23-year-old Dunham was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, then to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. He died Thursday with his parents at his bedside. His death was announced Monday afternoon by the Department of Defense.

"All I can say is this isn?t nothing that I wouldn?t expect of my son because that?s the kind of person he was,"Daniel Dunham, his father, said by telephone from Jason?s hometown, Scio, N.Y., a town of 1,914 in southwestern New York.

Daniel Dunham said information regarding his son?s death came from documents supplied by the Defense Department.

He said the documents indicated the grenade was thrown by a suspected Iraqi insurgent and two other Marines who witnessed the incident were wounded, but are recovering.

The news of Dunham?s death came the same day another Marine from his battalion was buried in his hometown.

Funeral services were held Monday for Lance Cpl. Ruben Valdez in San Diego, Texas. Valdez was killed April 17 in Iraq, three days after Dunham suffered his wounds.

An Air Force veteran, Daniel Dunham said Jason, one of three sons, enlisted in the Marines following high school graduation in June 2000 because it seemed like a good fit.

"He's a little more rugged than me and needed to go where the rugged went," he said. "We're all very strong about the ilitary being good for young kids, for teaching discipline and responsibility. Jason?s been my hero since he was born. All my kids are. They never had to do anything to prove that to me."

Dunham, whose military occupational specialty was machine gunner, first served in Iraq last year while assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.

He was transferred to another Twentynine Palms-based unit,3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, last fall and deployed with it to Iraq in February.

Daniel Dunham said he understood his son had extended beyond his July expiration of enlistment in order to be assigned duty as a squad leader this time.

"Jason was my son, and also my friend," said Debra Dunham, Jason's mother. "We loved him deeply and will miss him very much."
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« Reply #24 on: May 04, 2004, 03:34:26 PM »

And, changing the pace to a piece of silliness:

The General's Night on the Town with the Crew

During the early 80's, a certain airborne system was deployed to Howard AFB, Panama. The presence of the system, at the time, was somewhat hush-hush, and is often the case with the military, since the use of the system was not yet determined to be a constant thing, everyone involved with it were deployed to Panama on a Temporary Duty status.

The 'front end' of the system was your garden variety C-130. The backend held a surprise - a slide in/bolt on system, operated by a highly trained group of technicians, good for all sorts of things. The technicians were from a seperate organization than the 'front end', and frequently in Panama on a continually rotating basis, so they got to know the lay of the land fairly well. It also helped that most of the technicians were fluent in Spanish.

There came a time when one of the high ranking officers (a Brigadier General - 1 star) of the organization that 'owned' the technicians decided to drop in and 'see how his boys were doing'. The general was no ordinary flag officer. He was a pilot and a bit of a non-conformist - he was known to be a firm believer in the 'work hard, play hard' rule of thumb, and was quite a character. Truth be told, this tale is one of many involving this remarkable individual.

The General shows up, and is briefed on the set-up, makes the standard rounds doing the 'hi, how ya treatin my boys' meet and greets with the local command structure, then has a quiet evening crewresting for the next day - when he went along on one of the sorties. During the 9 hour jaunt, the General fell in with the scurrilous bunch that was one of our crews at the time, and they regaled him with all sorts of tales about life while TDY to Panama. At the time, one of the central fixture of that life was an area known as 'Calle Jota' - J-Street. It was an enclave of bars and nightspots clustered tightly together, amply staffed with regional 'talent' (mostly from Colombia, some from Ecuador) to 'entertain' the crowds which attended festivities almost nightly.

Well, the General decides, 'I'm here to see how my guys are getting along, so I need to get the feel for the entire experience' - and is heartily invited to come along with the crew after the debrief while they go and 'unwind' from the day's mission.

Now, as with a lot of Generals, he had an aide-de-camp along with him, a Major. A particularly prim and proper Major. A non-flying, epitome of a staff weenie, asshole so tight you couldn't drive a sewing needle up it with a sledgehammer Major. He of course thought the idea of the General going out for a night on the town with 'his boys' was just the thing to bring Western Civilization crashing to its knees. But, being astute enough to know that his career hung by the good word of his boss, he decided to take the advice passed on by one of my buddies in an aside "now, the General says he wants to go out drinking with the crew, and he doesn't want some f**kwad babysitter telling him he can't or shouldn't". The Major decided he would retire to his billeting room, to catch up on some paperwork or some such.

So everyone gets cleaned up, loads up on the 'crew bus', a rental Toyota 15 passenger deal, and off they go. And a big time was had by all. The General was introduced to the cheapest rot-gut Rum produced in the Western Hemisphere, a brand named 'Carta Vieja' (Old Cart), served by the bottle with Coca=Cola setups and ice on the side. He was introduced to some of the star entertainers of the various establishments - the local glitterati. He was invited to head up and join a few of the stage performances, and accepted the offer - in the process of one of these, swapping t-shirts with the young lady. He was having a blast, and so were the guys.

But of course, all things must end, and even the bars on Calle Jota have a closing time (around 3 am), so out to the crew bus they all go. On the way to the bus, they passed a street vendor selling 'monkey meat on a stick' - some sort of animal parts roasted over a hibachi grill and sold by the stick. Probably one of the most tasty delicacies available to drunken servicemen the world over. So the General asks the guy running the stand "How much?"

The guy tells him "Cincuenta centavos" (Fifty cents)

"No, no, much for the whole setup.


Eventually they agreed on a fair price (about $25 bucks), and the parade to the bus resumes - a buncha drunks with a lit barbeque set. The General sets up shop in the back of the bus, and starts cooking monkey meat sticks for everybody. The back windows are open, and they go cruising back over the Bridge of the Americas, singing, laughing, with smoke pouring out the back of the bus.

As they pull up to the front gate at Howard AFB, the SP on the gate steps out in the road and stops them. He notices the blue, one star insignia in the holder on the front bumper. He looks up and sees a bus full of drunks, with smoke billowing out the back windows. For some reason, this didn't seem quite right to the young Airman, so he motions for them to open the side door, He steps up inside the bus and loudly announces -

"Allright, which one of you fuckin assholes is the goddamned General?"

(from the dark, smoke filled back of the bus) "That would be me, son!"

"Yeah, right, lemme see your ID card, pal"

At this point most of the crew is about to piss their pants and its about all they can do to keep from busting out in howls of laughter knowing what's coming next. The general fishes out his ID card and it is ceremoniously passed forward for the young SP to inspect.

He shines his flashlight on it. The eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. He then begins to imitate a goldfish, just sort of opening and closing his mouth, no sounds coming out, and his head drops, possibly glancing at the stripes he's expecting will have to be coming off of his fatigues now...

Actually, the General follows his ID card up to the front of the bus, and invites the young Airman, who's sure he's going for a remote to Greenland at this point, outside for a chat. The General is a really great people person, and he calms the kid down, tells him that it was perfectly understandable he was suspicious of the odd sight before him, and what an excellent job he was doing keeping the base safe. Within 5 minutes, the Airman was smiling nervously, rendering several salutes as the General got back to tending to his Hibachi, and waved the bus on in for the evening.

The next morning, the General, sans hangover, woke up his aide bright and early, and they caught their flight back to the states.
« Reply #25 on: May 12, 2004, 07:29:34 PM »


Maybe you'd like to hear about something other than idiot Reservists and naked Iraqis. Maybe you'd like to hear about a real American, somebody who honored the uniform he wears.

Meet Brian Chontosh.

Churchville-Chili Central School class of 1991. Proud graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband and about-to-be father. First lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

And a genuine hero.

The secretary of the Navy said so yesterday.  At 29 Palms in California Brian Chontosh was presented with the Navy Cross, the second highest award for combat bravery the United States can bestow.

That's a big deal.

But you won't see it on the network news tonight, and all you read in Brian's hometown newspaper was two paragraphs of nothing. Instead, it was more blather about some mental defective MPs who acted like animals.

The odd fact about the American media in this war is that it's not covering the American military. The most plugged-in nation in the world is receiving virtually no true information about what its warriors are doing.

Oh, sure, there's a body count. We know how many Americans have fallen. And we see those same casket pictures day in and day out. And we’re almost on a first-name basis with the pukes who abused the Iraqi prisoners. And we know all about improvised explosive devices and how we lost Fallujah and what Arab public-opinion polls say about us and how the world hates us.

We get a non-stop feed of gloom and doom.

But we don't hear about the heroes.

The incredibly brave GIs who honorably do their duty. The ones our grandparents would have carried on their shoulders down Fifth Avenue.

The ones we completely ignore.

Like Brian Chontosh.

It was a year ago on the march into Baghdad. Brian Chontosh was a platoon leader rolling up Highway 1 in a humvee.

When all hell broke loose.

Ambush city.

The young Marines were being cut to ribbons. Mortars, machine guns, rocket propelled grenades. And the kid out of Churchville was in charge. It was do or die and it was up to him.

So he moved to the side of his column, looking for a way to lead his men to safety. As he tried to poke a hole through the Iraqi line his humvee came under direct enemy machine gun fire.

It was fish in a barrel and the Marines were the fish.

And Brian Chontosh gave the order to attack. He told his driver to floor the humvee directly at the machine gun emplacement that was firing at them. And he had the guy on top with the .50 cal unload on them.

Within moments there were Iraqis slumped across the machine gun and Chontosh was still advancing, ordering his driver now to take the humvee directly into the Iraqi trench that was attacking his Marines. Over into the battlement the humvee went and out the door Brian Chontosh bailed, carrying an M16 and a Beretta and 228 years of Marine Corps pride.

And he ran down the trench.

With its mortars and riflemen, machineguns and grenadiers.

And he killed them all.

He fought with the M16 until it was out of ammo. Then he fought with the Beretta until it was out of ammo. Then he picked up a dead man’s AK47 and fought with that until it was out of ammo. Then he picked up another dead man's AK47 and fought with that until it was out of ammo.

At one point he even fired a discarded Iraqi RPG into an enemy cluster, sending attackers flying with its grenade explosion.

When he was done Brian Chontosh had cleared 200 yards of entrenched Iraqis from his platoon's flank. He had killed more than 20 and wounded at least as many more.

But that's probably not how he would tell it.

He would probably merely say that his Marines were in trouble, and he got them out of trouble. Hoo-ah, and drive on.

"By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, 1st Lt. Chontosh reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

That's what the citation says.

And that's what nobody will hear.

That's what doesn't seem to be making the evening news. Accounts of American valor are dismissed by the press as propaganda, yet accounts of American difficulties are heralded as objectivity. It makes you wonder if the role of the media is to inform, or to depress,  to report or to deride. To tell the truth, or to feed us lies.

But I guess it doesn't matter.

We're going to turn out all right.

As long as men like Brian Chontosh wear our uniform.
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« Reply #26 on: May 25, 2004, 09:49:09 AM »


In Combat, Marine
Put Theory to Test,
Comrades Believe

Cpl. Dunham's Quick Action
In Face of a Grenade
Saved 2 Lives, They Say
'No, No -- Watch His Hand!'
May 25, 2004; Page A1

AL QA'IM, Iraq -- Early this spring, Cpl. Jason Dunham and two other Marines sat in an outpost in Iraq and traded theories on surviving a hand-grenade attack.

Second Lt. Brian "Bull" Robinson suggested that if a Marine lay face down on the grenade and held it between his forearms, the ceramic bulletproof plate in his flak vest might be strong enough to protect his vital organs. His arms would shatter, but he might live.

Cpl. Dunham had another idea: A Marine's Kevlar helmet held over the grenade might contain the blast. "I'll bet a Kevlar would stop it," he said, according to Second Lt. Robinson.

"No, it'll still mess you up," Staff Sgt. John Ferguson recalls saying.

It was a conversation the men would remember vividly a few weeks later, when they saw the shredded remains of Cpl. Dunham's helmet, apparently blown apart from the inside by a grenade. Fellow Marines believe Cpl. Dunham's actions saved the lives of two men and have recommended him for the Medal of Honor, an award that no act of heroism since 1993 has garnered.

A 6-foot-1 star high-school athlete from Scio, N.Y., Cpl. Dunham was chosen to become a squad leader shortly after he was assigned to Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment in September 2003. Just 22 years old, he showed "the kind of leadership where you're confident in your abilities and don't have to yell about it," says Staff Sgt. Ferguson, 30, of Aurora, Colo. Cpl. Dunham's reputation grew when he extended his enlistment, due to end in July, so he could stay with his squad throughout its tour in the war zone.

During the invasion of Iraq last year, the Third Battalion didn't suffer any combat casualties. But since March, 10 of its 900 Marines have died from hostile fire, and 89 have been wounded.

April 14 was an especially bad day. Cpl. Dunham was in the town of Karabilah, leading a 14-man foot patrol to scout sites for a new base, when radio reports came pouring in about a roadside bomb hitting another group of Marines not far away.

Insurgents, the reports said, had ambushed a convoy that included the battalion commander, 40-year-old Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, of Chicago. One rifle shot penetrated the rear of the commander's Humvee, hitting him in the back, Lt. Col. Lopez says. His translator and bodyguard, Lance Cpl. Akram Falah, 23, of Anaheim, Calif., had taken a bullet to the bicep, severing an artery, according to medical reports filed later.

Cpl. Dunham's patrol jumped aboard some Humvees and raced toward the convoy. Near the double-arched gateway of the town of Husaybah, they heard the distinctive whizzing sound of a rocket-propelled grenade overhead. They left their vehicles and split into two teams to hunt for the shooters, according to interviews with two men who were there and written reports from two others.

Around 12:15 p.m., Cpl. Dunham's team came to an intersection and saw a line of seven Iraqi vehicles along a dirt alleyway, according to Staff Sgt. Ferguson and others there. At Staff Sgt. Ferguson's instruction, they started checking the vehicles for weapons.

Cpl. Dunham approached a run-down white Toyota Land Cruiser. The driver, an Iraqi in a black track suit and loafers, immediately lunged out and grabbed the corporal by the throat, according to men at the scene. Cpl. Dunham kneed the man in the chest, and the two tumbled to the ground.

Two other Marines rushed to the scene. Private First Class Kelly Miller, 21, of Eureka, Calif., ran from the passenger side of the vehicle and put a choke hold around the man's neck. But the Iraqi continued to struggle, according to a military report Pfc. Miller gave later. Lance Cpl. William B. Hampton, 22, of Woodinville, Wash., also ran to help.

A few yards away, Lance Cpl. Jason Sanders, 21, a radio operator from McAlester, Okla., says he heard Cpl. Dunham yell a warning: "No, no, no -- watch his hand!"

What was in the Iraqi's hand appears to have been a British-made "Mills Bomb" hand grenade. The Marines later found an unexploded Mills Bomb in the Toyota, along with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

A Mills Bomb user pulls a ring pin out and squeezes the external lever -- called the spoon -- until he's ready to throw it. Then he releases the spoon, leaving the bomb armed. Typically, three to five seconds elapse between the time the spoon detaches and the grenade explodes. The Marines later found what they believe to have been the grenade's pin on the floor of the Toyota, suggesting that the Iraqi had the grenade in his hand -- on a hair trigger -- even as he wrestled with Cpl. Dunham.

None of the other Marines saw exactly what Cpl. Dunham did, or even saw the grenade. But they believe Cpl. Dunham spotted the grenade -- prompting his warning cry -- and, when it rolled loose, placed his helmet and body on top of it to protect his squadmates.

The scraps of Kevlar found later, scattered across the street, supported their conclusion. The grenade, they think, must have been inside the helmet when it exploded. His fellow Marines believe that Cpl. Dunham made an instantaneous decision to try out his theory that a helmet might blunt the grenade blast.

"I deeply believe that given the facts and evidence presented he clearly understood the situation and attempted to block the blast of the grenade from his squad members," Lt. Col. Lopez wrote in a May 13 letter recommending Cpl. Dunham for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military valor. "His personal action was far beyond the call of duty and saved the lives of his fellow Marines."

Recommendations for the Medal of Honor are rare. The Marines say they have no other candidates awaiting approval. Unlike other awards, the Medal of Honor must be approved by the president. The most recent act of heroism to earn the medal came 11 years ago, when two Army Delta Force soldiers gave their lives protecting a downed Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Somalia.

Staff Sgt. Ferguson was crossing the street to help when the grenade exploded. He recalls feeling a hollow punch in his chest that reminded him of being close to the starting line when dragsters gun their engines. Lance Cpl. Sanders, approaching the scene, was temporarily deafened, he says. He assumed all three Marines and the Iraqi must surely be dead.

In fact, the explosion left Cpl. Dunham unconscious and face down in his own blood, according to Lance Cpl. Sanders. He says the Iraqi lay on his back, bleeding from his midsection.

The fight wasn't over, however. To Lance Cpl. Sanders's surprise, the Iraqi got up and ran. Lance Cpl. Sanders says he raised his rifle and fired 25 shots at the man's back, killing him.

The other two Marines were injured, but alive. Lance Cpl. Hampton was spitting up blood and had shrapnel embedded in his left leg, knee, arm and face, according to a military transcript. Pfc. Miller's arms had been perforated by shrapnel. Yet both Marines struggled to their feet and staggered back toward the corner.

"Cpl. Dunham was in the middle of the explosion," Pfc. Miller told a Marine officer weeks later, after he and Lance Cpl. Hampton were evacuated to the U.S. to convalesce. "If it was not for him, none of us would be here. He took the impact of the explosion."

At first, Lance Cpl. Mark Edward Dean, a 22-year-old mortarman, didn't recognize the wounded Marine being loaded into the back of his Humvee. Blood from shrapnel wounds in the Marine's head and neck had covered his face. Then Lance Cpl. Dean spotted the tattoo on his chest -- an Ace of Spades and a skull -- and realized he was looking at one of his closest friends, Cpl. Dunham. A volunteer firefighter back home in Owasso, Okla., Lance Cpl. Dean says he knew from his experience with car wrecks that his friend had a better chance of surviving if he stayed calm.

"You're going to be all right," Lance Cpl. Dean remembers saying as the Humvee sped back to camp. "We're going to get you home."

When the battalion was at its base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., the two Marines had played pool and hung out with Lance Cpl. Dean's wife, Becky Jo, at the couple's nearby home. Once in a while, Lance Cpl. Dean says they'd round up friends, drive to Las Vegas and lose some money at the roulette tables. Shortly before the battalion left Kuwait for Iraq, Lance Cpl. Dean ran short of cash. He says Cpl. Dunham bought him a 550-minute phone card so he could call Becky Jo. He used every minute.

At battalion headquarters in al Qa'im, Chaplain David Slater was in his makeshift chapel -- in a stripped-down Iraqi train car with red plastic chairs as pews -- when he heard an Army Blackhawk helicopter take off. The 46-year-old Navy chaplain from Lincoln, Neb. knew that meant the shock-trauma platoon would soon receive fresh casualties.

Shortly afterward, the helicopter arrived. Navy corpsmen and Marines carried Cpl. Dunham's stretcher 200 feet to the medical tent, its green floor and white walls emitting a rubbery scent, clumps of stethoscopes hanging like bananas over olive-drab trunks of chest tubes, bandages and emergency airway tubes.

The bearers rested the corporal's stretcher on a pair of black metal sawhorses. A wounded Iraqi fighter was stripped naked on the next stretcher -- standard practice for all patients, according to the medical staff, to ensure no injury goes unnoticed. The Iraqi had plastic cuffs on his ankles and was on morphine to quiet him, according to medical personnel who were there.

When a wounded Marine is conscious, Chaplain Slater makes small talk -- asks his name and hometown -- to help keep the patient calm and alert even in the face of often-horrific wounds. Chaplain Slater says he talked to Cpl. Dunham, held his hand and prayed. But he saw no sign that the corporal heard a word. After five minutes or so, he says, he moved on to another Marine.

At the same time, the medical team worked to stabilize Cpl. Dunham. One grenade fragment had penetrated the left side of his skull not far behind his eye, says Navy Cmdr. Ed Hessel, who treated him. A second entered the brain slightly higher and further toward the back of his head. A third punctured his neck.

Cmdr. Hessel, a 44-year-old emergency-room doctor from Eugene, Ore., quickly concluded that the corporal was "unarousable." A calm, bespectacled man, he says he wanted to relieve the corporal's brain and body of the effort required to breathe. And he wanted to be sure the corporal had no violent physical reactions that might add to the pressure on his already swollen brain.

Navy Lt. Ted Hering, a 27-year-old critical-care nurse from San Diego, inserted an intravenous drip and fed in drugs to sedate the corporal, paralyze his muscles and blunt the gag response in his throat while a breathing tube was inserted and manual ventilator attached. The Marine's heart rate and blood pressure stabilized, according to Cmdr. Hessel. But a field hospital in the desert didn't have the resources to help him any further.

So Cpl. Dunham was put on another Blackhawk to take him to the Seventh Marines' base at Al Asad, a transfer point for casualties heading on to the military surgical hospital in Baghdad. During the flight, the corporal lay on the top stretcher. Beneath him was the Iraqi, with two tubes protruding from his chest to keep his lungs from collapsing. Lt. Hering stood next to the stretchers, squeezing a plastic bag every four to five seconds to press air into Cpl. Dunham's lungs.

The Iraqi, identified in battalion medical records only as POW#1, repeatedly asked for water until six or seven minutes before landing, when Cpl. Dunham's blood-drenched head bandage burst, sending a red cascade through the mesh stretcher and onto the Iraqi's face below. After that, the man remained quiet, and kept his eyes and mouth clenched shut, says the nurse, Lt. Hering.

The Army air crew made the trip in 25 minutes, their fastest run ever, according to the pilot, and skimmed no higher than 50 feet off the ground to avoid changes in air pressure that might put additional strain on Cpl. Dunham's brain.

When the Blackhawk touched down at Al Asad, Cpl. Dunham was turned over to new caretakers. The Blackhawk promptly headed back to al Qa'im. More patients were waiting; 10 Marines from the Third Battalion were wounded on April 14, along with a translator.

At 11:45 p.m. that day, Deb and Dan Dunham were at home in Scio, N.Y., a town of 1,900, when they got the phone call all military parents dread. It was a Marine lieutenant telling them their son had sustained shrapnel wounds to the head, was unconscious and in critical condition.

Mr. Dunham, 43, an Air Force veteran, works in the shipping department of a company that makes industrial heaters, and Mrs. Dunham, 44, teaches home economics. She remembers helping her athletic son, the oldest of four, learn to spell as a young boy by playing "PIG" and "HORSE" -- traditional basketball shooting games -- and expanding the games to include other words. He never left home or hung up the phone without telling his mother, "I love you," she says.

The days that followed were filled with uncertainty, fear and hope. The Dunhams knew their son was in a hospital in Baghdad, then in Germany, where surgeons removed part of his skull to relieve the swelling inside. At one point doctors upgraded his condition from critical to serious.

On April 21, the Marines gave the Dunhams plane tickets from Rochester to Washington, and put them up at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where their son was going to be transferred. Mrs. Dunham brought along the first Harry Potter novel, so she and her husband could take turns reading to their son, just to let him know they were there.

When Cpl. Dunham arrived that night, the doctors told the couple he had taken a turn for the worse, picking up a fever on the flight from Germany. After an hour by their son's side, Mr. Dunham says he had a "gut feeling" that the outlook was bleak. Mrs. Dunham searched for signs of hope, planning to ask relatives to bring two more Harry Potter books, in case they finished the first one. Doctors urged the Dunhams to get some rest.

They were getting dressed the next morning when the intensive-care unit called to say the hospital was sending a car for them. "Jason's condition is very, very grim," Mrs. Dunham remembers a doctor saying. "I have to tell you the outlook isn't very promising."

Foto: A Marine kisses a helmet standing in honor of Cpl. Jason L. Dunham during a service at Camp Al Qaim, Iraq.

She says doctors told her the shrapnel had traveled down the side of his brain, and the damage was irreversible. He would always be on a respirator. He would never hear his parents or know they were by his side. Another operation to relieve pressure on his brain had little chance of succeeding and a significant chance of killing him.

Once he joined the Marines, Cpl. Dunham put his father in charge of medical decisions and asked that he not be kept on life support if there was no hope of recovery, says Mr. Dunham. He says his son told him, "Please don't leave me like that."

The Dunhams went for a walk on the hospital grounds. When they returned to the room, Cpl. Dunham's condition had deteriorated, his mother says. Blood in his urine signaled failing kidneys, and one lung had collapsed as the other was filling with fluid. Mrs. Dunham says they took the worsening symptoms as their son's way of telling them they should follow through on his wishes,.

At the base in al Qa'im, Second Lt. Robinson, 24, of Kenosha, Wis., gathered the men of Cpl. Dunham's platoon in the sleeping area, a spread of cots, backpacks, CD players and rifles, its plywood walls papered with magazine shots of scantily clad women. The lieutenant says he told the Marines of the Dunhams' decision to remove their son's life support in two hours' time.

Lance Cpl. Dean wasn't the only Marine who cried. He says he prayed that some miracle would happen in the next 120 minutes. He prayed that God would touch his friend and wake him up so he could live the life he had wanted to lead.

In Bethesda, the Dunhams spent a couple more hours with their son. Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee arrived and pinned the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded in battle, on his pillow. Mrs. Dunham cried on Gen. Hagee's shoulder. The Dunhams stepped out of the room while the doctors removed the ventilator.

At 4:43 p.m. on April 22, 2004, Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham died.

Six days later, Third Battalion gathered in the parking lot outside the al Qa'im command post for psalms and ceremony. In a traditional combat memorial, one Marine plunged a rifle, bayonet-first, into a sandbag. Another placed a pair of tan combat boots in front, and a third perched a helmet on the rifle's stock. Lance Cpl. Dean told those assembled about a trip to Las Vegas the two men and Becky Jo Dean had taken in January, not long before the battalion left for the Persian Gulf. Chatting in a hotel room, the corporal told his friends he was planning to extend his enlistment and stay in Iraq for the battalion's entire tour. "You're crazy for extending," Lance Cpl. Dean recalls saying. "Why?"

He says Cpl. Dunham responded: "I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive. I want to be sure you go home to your wife alive."

Write to Michael M. Phillips at
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« Reply #27 on: May 26, 2004, 08:46:08 PM »

Woof All:

A friend sent me this:


Major Mathew Schram's Memorial Day
Memorial Day is like any other day when you're in an Army at War.

On Memorial Day, May 26th, 2003 at approximately 7:00AM, Major Mathew E. Schram was leading a resupply convoy in Western Iraq near the Syrian border. Major Schram was the Support Operations Officer for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (out of Ft. Carson, Colorado). He had responsibility for organizing the logistical arm of the regiment - ensuring that the Cavalrymen never ran out of food, fuel or ammo.

Normally, Major Schram would not accompany the convoys as his responsibilities kept him at the main resupply point. However, due to the problems with attacks on supply convoys (i.e. Jessica Lynch's 507th Maintenance Company ambush), he decided to lead this one. He also decided that there was a side benefit to the ride - he would be able to talk with the field commanders and troops that he supported. Major Schram wanted to make sure that his "customers" were happy. Anyone who knew Mat Schram knew that he was obsessive-compulsive about making sure "his soldiers" were taken care of...that's why he was one of the top logistical officers in the US Army.

Major Schram's convoy consisted of eight vehicles - one 5,000 gallon water tanker, two 3,000 gallon water trucks, one water pump truck, two 5,000 gallon fuel tankers, one truck with MREs and bottled water, and Major Schram's command Humvee (bumper numbers: S&T 323, 344, 350, 237, 210, 204, 219, and HQ12).

The convoy was headed North from Al Asad Airbase - Foward Operating Base (FOB) Webster (grid coordinate KC 640 430) along Route 12 to FOB Jenna (KC 360 748). After delivering supplies at Jenna, the convoy would continue on to Al Qaim - FOB Tiger (GT 146 911) which had the 1/3 Armored Cavalry.

At 7:15AM, vicinity KC 6514 6181, Major Schram's convoy approached a ravine where the bridge crossing the ravine had been destroyed. The convoy had to go down the embankment, into the ravine, and back up the other side to get back onto the highway.

Once the lead vehicle started up the far bank of the ravine, the convoy came under intense fire from Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), machine guns, and small arms fire. It was an ambush. Fifteen Iraqi insurgents had been waiting by the ravine.

An RPG hit the lead tanker vehicle, disabling it in the kill zone. It was a perfect ambush set up. If the insurgents could knock out the first and last vehicles, then the entire convoy would be stuck in the kill zone. Bullets flew from insurgents on both sides of the ravine. The insurgent grenadiers were trying to concentrate fire on the last American vehicle to bottle Major Schram's convoy in the ravine. The attackers would then be able to kill the Americans at will.

Major Schram ordered his driver, Specialist Chris Van Dyke, to accelerate from their position in the convoy into the insurgents' positions. Major Schram sent a message to Headquarters for help and began returning fire out of the Humvee. The Iraqi grenadiers recognized the threat and shifted their fire from the rear truck to Schram's Humvee, HQ-12.

Multiple grenades exploded at the front and rear of HQ-12. Specialist Van Dyke was blown out of the vehicle. Once he stopped rolling on the ground, he got up and ran back to HQ-12. He got back in and drove the Humvee out of the Kill Zone.

When he turned to get orders from Major Schram, Van Dyke realized that his Major had been killed. Even though he wore body armor, two 7.62 rounds had gone through his armpit (where there is no body armor coverage) and struck his heart, killing him instantly.

The Iraqi insurgents had fled after they fired their grenades at HQ-12 which was heading for them at full throttle.

Immediately, from a nearby FOB, two Apache helicopter gunships were launched along with a MedEvac helicopter. A Quick Reaction Force from FOB Webster was on the scene in less than ten minutes. Aside from the death of Mathew Schram, the convoy suffered only two wounded. Specialist Van Dyke was wounded in his hand and was able to continue his mission. One other soldier in the lead vehicle suffered a broken femur from the initial grenade attack.

The MedEvac brought Major Schram's body and the injured soldier back to the hospital at FOB Webster. The military conducted a funeral for Major Schram in Iraq. Two hundred soldiers were present. Everyone that knew Mat loved him.

The military said it would take ten days to get Mat Schram's body to his family in Wisconsin. It took less than a few days. Also, in a few days after the ambush, the Army had rounded up all of the attackers and put them in prison.

I was at my desk at work on Tuesday, June 3rd. The phone rang. I looked at the caller ID to see that it was a call from Ft. Leavenworth. I picked it up.

It was John, a friend of mine and Mat Schram's. We had all served together years ago and had stayed in touch. He told me to sit down. I did. He told me that Mat had been killed in Iraq.

After composing myself, we finished our conversation and I promised to see John's wife, Patti, at the funeral. John had to be at Special Operations Command and couldn't make it.

I shut the door to my office, sat back down at my desk and wept for a long time.

At the funeral, Mat's family displayed his last letters and emails that he sent. All were strong, positive messages (sooo very Schrambo-like).

The one part that I left out of this post is that Major Schram's convoy was followed by a car with a Newsweek reporter in it. Once the action began, the reporter and his driver turned and got the hell out of there. If it wasn't for Mat's charge up into the ambushers, they never would have made it out of there alive.

Newsweek never ran a story about my good friend, Mat.
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« Reply #28 on: June 06, 2004, 02:15:36 PM »

Too Much, Too Late
Baby boomers heap insincere praise on the "greatest generation."

Friday, June 4, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

My political credo is simple and many people share it: I am against phonies.

A cultural establishment that (on the whole) doesn't give a damn about World War II or its veterans thinks it can undo a half-century of indifference verging on contempt by repeating a silly phrase ("the greatest generation") like a magic spell while deploying fulsome praise like carpet bombing.

The campaign is especially intense among members of the 1960s generation who once chose to treat all present and former soldiers like dirt and are willing at long last to risk some friendly words about World War II veterans, now that most are safely underground and guaranteed not to talk back, enjoy their celebrity or start acting like they own the joint. A quick glance at the famous Hemingway B.S. detector shows the needle pegged at Maximum, where it's been all week, from Memorial Day through the D-Day anniversary run-up.

When I was in junior high school long ago, a touring arts program visited
schools in New York state. One performance consisted of a celebrated actress reciting Emily Dickinson's poetry onstage for 90 minutes or so. I defy any audience to listen attentively to 90 minutes of Dickinson without showing the strain, and my school definitely wasn't having any.
A few minutes into the show, the auditorium was alive with student chatter, so loud a buzz you could barely hear the performance. Being a poetry-lover, I devoted myself to setting an example of rapt attention for, maybe, five minutes, at which point I threw in the towel and joined the mass murmur.

The actress manfully completed her performance. When it was over we gave her a stupendous ovation. We were glad it was finished and (more important) knew perfectly well that we had behaved like pigs and intended to make up for it by clapping and roaring and shouting. But the performer wasn't having any. She gave us a cold curtsy and left the stage and would not return for a second bow.

I have always admired her for that: a more memorable declaration than
anything Dickinson ever wrote. And today's endless ovation for World War II vets doesn't change the fact that this nation has behaved boorishly, with colossal disrespect. If we cared about that war, the men who won it and the ideas it suggests, we would teach our children (at least) four topics:

. The major battles of the war. When I was a child in the 1960s, names like Corregidor and Iwo Jima were still sacred, and pronounced everywhere with respect. Writing in the 1960s about the battle of Midway, Samuel Eliot Morison stepped out of character to plead with his readers: "Threescore young aviators . . . met flaming death that day in reversing the verdict of battle. Think of them, reader, every Fourth of June. They and their comrades who survived changed the whole course of the Pacific War." Today the Battle of Midway has become niche-market nostalgia material, and most children (and many adults) have never heard of it. Thus we honor "the greatest generation." (And if I hear that phrase one more time I will surely puke.)

. The bestiality of the Japanese. The Japanese army saw captive soldiers as cowards, lower than lice. If we forget this we dishonor the thousands who were tortured and murdered, and put ourselves in danger of believing the soul-corroding lie that all cultures are equally bad or good. Some Americans nowadays seem to think America's behavior during the war was worse than Japan's--we did intern many loyal Americans of Japanese descent. That was unforgivable--and unspeakably trivial compared to Japan's unique achievement, mass murder one atrocity at a time.

In "The Other Nuremberg," Arnold Brackman cites (for instance) "the case of Lucas Doctolero, crucified, nails driven through hands, feet and skull"; "the case of a blind woman who was dragged from her home November 17, 1943, stripped naked, and hanged"; "five Filipinos thrown into a latrine and buried alive." In the Japanese-occupied Philippines alone, at least 131,028 civilians and Allied prisoners of war were murdered. The Japanese committed crimes against Allied POWs and Asians that would be hard still, today, for a respectable newspaper even to describe. Mr. Brackman's 1987 book must be read by everyone who cares about World War II and its veterans, or the human race.

. The attitude of American intellectuals. Before Pearl Harbor but long after the character of Hitlerism was clear--after the Nuremberg laws, the
Kristallnacht pogrom, the establishment of Dachau and the Gestapo--American intellectuals tended to be dead set against the U.S. joining Britain's war on Hitler.

Today's students learn (sometimes) about right-wing isolationists like
Charles Lindbergh and the America Firsters. They are less likely to read
documents like this, which appeared in Partisan Review (the U.S.
intelligentsia's No. 1 favorite mag) in fall 1939, signed by John Dewey,
William Carlos Williams, Meyer Schapiro and many more of the era's leading lights. "The last war showed only too clearly that we can have no faith in imperialist crusades to bring freedom to any people. Our entry into the war, under the slogan of 'Stop Hitler!' would actually result in the immediate introduction of totalitarianism over here.  . . The American masses can best help [the German people] by fighting at home to keep their own liberties." The intelligentsia acted on its convictions. "By one means or another," Diana Trilling later wrote of this period, "most of the intellectuals of our acquaintance evaded the draft."

Why rake up these Profiles in Disgrace? Because in the Iraq War era they have a painfully familiar ring.

. The veterans' neglected voice. World War II produced an extraordinary
literature of first-person soldier narratives--most of them out of print or
unknown. Books like George MacDonald Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here," Philip Ardery's "Bomber Pilot," James Fahey's "Pacific War Diary." If we were serious about commemorating the war, we would do something serious. The Library of America includes two volumes on "Reporting World War II," but where are the soldiers' memoirs versus the reporters'? If we were serious, we would have every grade school in the nation introduce itself to local veterans and invite them over. We'd use software to record these informal talks and weave them into a National Second World War Narrative in cyberspace. That would be a monument worth having.

Speaking of which: I am privileged to know a gentleman who enlisted in the Army as an aviation cadet in 1942, served in combat as a navigator in a B-24, was shot down and interned in Switzerland, escaped, and flew in the air transport command for the rest of the war. He became a scientist and had a long, distinguished career. Among his friends he is a celebrated raconteur, and his prose is strong and charming. He wrote up his World War II experiences, and no one--no magazine, no book publisher--will take them on. My suggestions have all bombed out.
If you're interested, give me a call. But I'm not holding my breath. The
country is too busy toasting the "greatest generation" to pay attention to
its actual members.

Mr. Gelernter is a contributing editor of The Weekly Standard and professor of computer science at Yale.
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« Reply #29 on: June 11, 2004, 09:07:30 AM »

A friend sent me the following piece. Having a box of tissue handy might be a good idea:


Reagan, the Marines, and a Boy
Here's a story I'd been considering posting for a while, but it wasn't until Reagan's death that I was really motivated to scan it. The following comes from the book "Swift, Silent, and Surrounded", a compilation of stories about the Corps, written and collected by a former Force Recon Marine.

In any case, here's the story, the meaning of which those who hate our military and who hate President Reagan will never understand:

On a spring day in 1983, Marine Staff Sergeant Robert Menke was waiting for a hot enlistment prospect he had talked to on the phone. Hunched over paperwork in the Corps' Huntington Beach California recruiting station, Menke heard the front door open and looked up. In came a boy in a motorized wheelchair, followed by his father. Menke noted the boy's frail body and thin arms. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes," the boy answered firmly. "My name is John Zimmerman."

It took the startled Marine a moment to realize that this was indeed his prospect. "I'm Staff Sergeant Menke," he said, shaking his visitor's small hand. "Come on in."

Menke, a shy man, uncomfortable with recruiting, quickly found himself captured by the articulate thirteen year old youth with an easy, gap-toothed grin. For more than an hour they spoke -of training and overseas assignments and facing danger. The kid loved the Marine Corps. Not a word was exchanged about the younger Zimmerman's condition or the wheelchair.

There was one basic reason behind the visit to the Marine Corps recruiting office that day. From the moment Richard and Sandra Zimmerman learned their fourteen month old son had Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome, a rare neurological disease, they vowed to treat him like a normal child. Told that John probably would not live past age two, they refused to believe he would die. Despite tremendous weakness in his legs and back and susceptibility to colds, John simply looked well. They had him fitted with a rigid body jacket to help him sit upright and took him on vacation trips allover the country. They didn't get a wheelchair for him until he was three. Even then, Richard Zimmerman often carried his son, who weighed around thirty pounds, lugging him through amusement parks, into restaurants and to movies.

Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome victims have difficulty fighting off upper of respiratory problems. Before the age of five John was hospitalized three times with pneumonia, with each bout putting him on the edge of death. Richard Zimmerman believed Chicago's cold winter climate was partly to blame, and in 1975 he arranged a job transfer so the family could move to Southern California. There, the boy suffered fewer bouts with respiratory illness.

John, then six, was enrolled in classes for orthopedically handicapped children at the Plavan School in Fountain Valley. About this time he became aware of the Marine Corps at a week-long summer camp for disabled children. Many of his counselors at the camp in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park near San Diego were Marine volunteers. Each summer John would get to know another Marine through the camp's one-to-one counseling program. This sparked an interest that evolved into a passion.


While other children worshipped athletic heroes and rock stars, John gathered every bit of material about the Marines he could find. He plastered his room with Corps recruiting posters, his wheelchair with Marine stickers. His hero was John Wayne. He even dressed like a Marine and, much to his mother's consternation, got a Corps "burr" haircut.

After his initial visit to the Huntington Beach recruiting center, John kept in contact with Menke and Menke's boss, 31 year old Gunnery Sergeant John Gorsuch. Occasionally he dropped by with his father; more often, he phoned to ask questions or just to talk. He frequently devoted his school reports to Marine tactics, campaigns or equipment. When new recruiting posters arrived, Menke or Gorsuch would mail or personally deliver one to John. In turn John built model airplanes, trucks and tanks for his Marine buddies. Though delicate and intricate chores were difficult -and even painful -for him, John would work night after night on the models.

While Marines inspired John, he gave back as much as he got. One afternoon Gorsuch had scheduled seven appointments for potential recruits. Five hadn't shown up, and the other two had to be disqualified. John called to ask questions for a school report. "What's wrong, Gunny," John asked. "You don't sound right." Gorsuch explained. "Ah, come on Gunny," John said. "Look, you're a smooth operator, and for every one you lose you'll get two more." Gorsuch began to laugh. "You're right Johnny," he said. "You're right."

An attempt to move John into a standard fourth-grade class at Plavan failed; because he could not write quickly, he could not keep up. But he made it in the sixth grade after his teachers allowed him to dictate some of his work.

John's family also benefited from his forceful personality. When told something couldn't be done, he would respond, "but did you ask?" Although he realized he probably never could hold a regular job he had no fear of talking with strangers, and figured one day he could help his father, a commercial real estate broker, by making the "cold" call the elder Zimmerman dreaded. As close as he was to his Marine friends, he was even closer to his father. Richard Zimmerman helped his son dress in the morning, helped him with baths and put him to bed each evening.

John rarely talked about the consequences of his disease, but he understood. On a trip to Hawaii in 1982, as the family visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the famed "Punchbowl," John whispered to his father, "I want to be buried here when I die. Can we do it?" Richard Zimmerman was taken aback. "I don't know if it's possible. But sure, John. Sure."

In the spring of 1984, not long before John was to graduate from the eighth grade, his condition began to worsen. His twisted spine was pressing into his internal organs, pinching nerves that sent searing pain through his back and legs. He had difficulty digesting food, and he began to lose weight. But he was determined to attend graduation.

On the night of the ceremony John was weak and nauseated, but to his surprise a Marine sergeant was there to escort him. He and the sergeant led the procession of students into the auditorium. John, thin and twisted, had to use the armrest of his wheelchair to prop himself up. His head, normal size, looked much too large for a body that was deserting an able mind. But to a rousing ovation, he flashed his biggest smile. Then another surprise: it was announced that John was a co-recipient of Plavan's Sergio Duran award, given annually to the handicapped graduate who best overcomes his limitations.

That summer John's condition improved slightly, and he entered Fountain Valley High School in the fall of 1984. During the first semester, however, his condition began to decline again, and his weight dropped to less than forty pounds. While he would have preferred to stay home and sleep, he attended school, confiding to his sister that he went "mainly because it makes Mom and Dad happy."

On New Year's Eve John went into respiratory failure and was rushed to the hospital. Gorsuch and Menke visited daily. Realizing their fifteen year old friend's remaining days would be few, they set out to make him a Marine. Menke secured permission to name John an honorary member of the Corps. Then one of Menke's friends penned a one-of-a- kind proclamation. On January 15, in a hospital room crowded with family and Marines, Major Robert Robichaud, area recruiting director, read the document. "By reposing special trust and confidence in the fidelity and abilities of John Zimmerman, I do hereby appoint him an Honorary Marine."

Two days later John looked at Sandra and said, "I'm a fighter, Mom. A helluva fighter." That night, he spoke to his nurses about dying, saying that his only fear was how his parents and sister would fare without him. In the early hours of January 18, John Zimmerman, U.S. Marine, passed on.

In a eulogy at John's memorial service Gorsuch, his voice cracking, said, "Marines learn never to give up, and John definitely had that quality. We have a motto in the Marines, the Latin words for always faithful. This is for Johnny Zimmerman," he concluded. "Semper Fi." After the service the two Marines approached John's casket. Slowly, Menke and Gorsuch unpinned the Marine emblems from their coat collars and gently placed these symbols of fidelity into the casket with their friend.

During the final week of his life, no longer able to talk, John had scrawled a note to his father, reminding him of a promise made nearly three years before. "Punch bowl -will you visit me?" His father nodded. "If that's what you want, we'll do it," he said. In reality, Richard had no idea if it would even be possible. Yet his son's favorite phrase kept coming back to him: "But Dad, did you ask?" Richard looked into the matter and discovered that such cemeteries are reserved for military personnel and their families. Even though Menke had volunteered to give up his cemetery plot, the Veterans Administration would not permit it, or grant John's wish. Richard decided to try again. This time he wrote to California Senator Pete Wilson and learned that to circumvent the rules he would need authorization from the President. The Senator, a former Marine, was willing to help.

"He never had the opportunity to serve his country in the Marine Corps as he so wished he could have," Wilson wrote to President Reagan. "However, his dedication and courage no doubt had very positive effects on many young Marines and civilians..." The President granted the request, and the Marine Corps went into action. At Camp Smith on Oahu, about thirty Marines volunteered for the funeral detail. And on a windy day in the Punch bowl, with the cemetery's flag at half-staff, John Zimmerman was put to rest with full military honors.

Prior to a 21-gun salute, U.S. Navy Chaplain Jack Graham spoke. "Courage isn't limited to battlefields," he said. "The Marines have a saying: 'The Marines need a few good men.' They found one in John Zimmerman.
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« Reply #30 on: July 05, 2004, 12:17:54 PM »

Climbing the ropes to ability

Disabled Sports USA is helping injured veterans and others discover the power of an unbroken spirit.
By Tina Daunt, Times Staff Writer

Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva survived stepping on a landmine the first day of the ground war in Iraq, but he spent months in the hospital ? wishing he had died.

Flying shrapnel had shredded his right leg, forcing doctors to amputate it above the knee. His right arm and hand were mangled, and his left leg was broken.

Alva wondered whether he would ever be able to walk again.

"In the beginning, the hard part is not accepting your injury," he said. "You hate life. You hate what happened. You're angry, but you're mostly sad. I can remember day after day and countless weeks of nothing but crying."

At first, Alva was alone in the wards at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and then at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. But as the war went on, dozens of soldiers were brought in ? almost all of them with similar injuries. Alva decided it was time to pull himself out of bed, learn to stand and then walk, with the help of a prosthetic leg.

By winter, the former marathon runner was in Colorado skiing, with the help of a team of Paralympic instructors. Last week in Long Beach, Alva and 25 other Iraq war veterans learned to rock climb, cycle and sail at the annual SummerFest hosted by Disabled Sports USA, a nonprofit group that helps vets and civilians overcome even the toughest disabilities.

"I realize now that anything is possible," said Alva, 33, who is going back to college in his hometown of San Antonio this fall to study sports medicine. "I never believed it at first, but the saying is true: Time really does heal all wounds."

New recruits

Until the war started in Iraq nearly 16 months ago, Disabled Sports served mostly Vietnam veterans and disabled civilians. That's not the case anymore. Volunteers from the group visit military hospitals weekly, offering sports courses to dozens of permanently disabled soldiers. More than 50 vets injured in Iraq have joined.

"We want to help these guys who are coming back from Iraq with some pretty serious injuries," said Disabled Sports Executive Director Kirk M. Bauer, who joined the group 35 years ago after he lost a leg in Vietnam. "Their bodies are protected by their equipment but not their limbs, and that's what's being blown off by these roadside bombs and other devices.

"We want to show them that they can still lead a full life, and sports is an important tool."

The second annual SummerFest in Long Beach provided a mini-vacation for about 100 civilians and soldiers, their families and friends. For four days, the soldiers had their pick of classes, taught by volunteer instructors. Running, wheeling and scuba seminars were held at Millikan High School. On Mother's Beach, a quiet waterway about half a mile from the shore, people gathered in groups of 20 to learn how to water ski, canoe, cycle and rock climb. In the evenings, they met for dinner and took harbor cruises.

Joe Garrett, a San Diego man who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident in 1988, said he was surprised to see so many war vets. "It just blows me away that so many of these guys are coming back from Iraq, injured for life," said Garrett, who has been going to events hosted by Disabled Sports events for more than a decade. "It's sad, but I think it's excellent that they're here."

The participants included several recently injured soldiers, such as Army 1st Lt. Lonnie Moore, from Wichita, Kan., who lost a leg when his Bradley fighting vehicle came under heavy fire near Fallouja on April 6. He and his fianc?e, Melanie Disbrow, arrived in Long Beach on June 27 after leaving Walter Reed's outpatient housing facility at dawn.

The following Monday, Moore and Disbrow teamed to learn how to canoe and sail. On Tuesday, they water-skied.

"Look, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that I'm a big man and this injury wasn't a big deal," said Moore, who walks with a prosthesis. "There are a couple times I've really broken down. It gets challenging. But the great thing about being out here is everyone pushes and supports everyone else. It's nice to have a group of people who are going through the same thing you are."

Alva was determined to conquer the rock-climbing wall set up on a road along Mother's Beach. It was not an easy task. He had a hard time angling his prosthetic leg while pulling himself up with his injured hand. He would climb about 6 feet before he would lose his footing.

After several attempts, Alva had drawn a crowd of a dozen supporters, who chanted, "Go Marine!" At 20 feet up, Alva declared victory, grinning at his cheering fans. Strapped to safety ropes, he then eased himself down.

Next it was Army Sgt. Johnnie Williams' turn. The 21-year-old veteran from Tampa, Fla., was left paralyzed from the waist down when the Humvee he was riding in was run off a narrow road 100 miles northwest of Baghdad 13 months ago. He was thrown from the vehicle, which ran over him as it careened down an embankment.

Volunteer instructors lifted Williams into a harness. He used his arms to pull himself up a rope to the top of the wall. It didn't take him long. Williams' mother, Vicky Harris, taunted him. "Let's see you do it again," she yelled. He smiled at her and climbed to the top twice more, where he posed for pictures.

"I just wanted to get out here and have some fun," said Williams, who uses a wheelchair to get around. "I've gotten to the point where I've accepted what happened. You have a choice ? either you can keep on living or just fall down and die. So I just do my best every day."

Harris said it was nice to see her son happy. She found out a year ago, on Mother's Day, that he had been seriously injured in Iraq. At first, doctors didn't think he would live.

"He's a trooper," Harris said. "Some days we had a hard time adjusting and dealing, but I thank God we all made it through. He's doing OK. I'm doing OK?. It's a good for him to do things like this. It inspires you as a person who is looking on and a person who is participating."

Nationwide organization

Disabled Sports USA was established in 1967 in Northern California by several disabled Vietnam war veterans. Now based in Rockville, Md., it has a nationwide network of more than 80 chapters in 35 states. The group offers sports and rehabilitation programs to anyone with a permanent physical disability, including stroke, multiple sclerosis and visual impairments.

Bauer, the executive director, credits Disabled Sports for helping him deal with his own injury after he returned from Vietnam in 1969.

"I lost my leg from a hand grenade during a firefight," he said. "It took six months in the hospital and seven operations until they put me back together again. I contemplated suicide at one point. I was depressed and wondering what was going on in my life. These guys literally dragged me out of the hospital and taught me how to ski in one day. It turned my life around."

Bauer estimates that the group serves more than 60,000 people annually. The veterans attending last week's SummerFest traveled and participated for free, the tab picked up by United Airlines, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, among other sponsors.

"We are able to teach these soldiers a sports skill up through the beginner level in one day, whether it's cycling, outrigger canoeing or sailing," Bauer said. "They will return home with real confidence in their ability to get back and active again."

Arriving in Long Beach from Colorado Springs, Colo., Army Capt. David Rozelle, who lost part of his right leg a year ago in a landmine explosion, said he was eager to learn how to water ski and scuba dive. Along with Alva, he had participated in the Disabled Sports ski clinic in Breckenridge, Colo., in December.

"When you become disabled, you become adaptive," said Rozelle, who first skied at age 3. "In the case of snow skiing, I needed some wedges in my boots?. By the end of the week, I was again snowboarding and competing in a Level 2 race. It was the real deal."

Rozelle, who was in charge of 140 soldiers as part of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, said he hopes to return to Iraq next year to command a new unit. He was serving as the unofficial "sheriff" of Hit, a city in western Iraq, when he drove over an anti-tank mine in June 2003. The explosion sliced through the middle of his Humvee. Doctors amputated his leg below the knee in a hospital tent.

"Any time you are in combat, you feel powerful," said Rozelle, who attended the event in Long Beach with his wife and 11-month-old son. "You feel no one is going to kill you because you are smarter, you are better trained and you are better equipped. You don't even think about it. Then when you get blown up, you realize how vulnerable you are. What matters the most to me is that I'm still alive."

WWII Soldier's Heroism Sent a Message About Prejudice
Torrance's Ted Tanouye fought and died for a nation that incarcerated his family.

By Cecilia Rasmussen, Times Staff Writer

On "Hill 140" northeast of Cecina, Italy, on July 7, 1944, a young soldier from Torrance single-handedly wiped out six German machine-gun nests that had pinned down his unit for two days.

He was wounded, but recovered to fight in another battle. Wounded again, this time fatally, he shouted encouragement to his men as he was carried away on a stretcher. "Go for broke!" he cried ? invoking the battalion's motto.
The soldier's heroism was all the more remarkable considering that, from the time he began training until the time he died, his family was locked in an internment camp by the same government he was fighting for.

Tech Sgt. Ted Tanouye was a member of the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which together with the 100th Infantry Battalion became the most decorated combat unit for its size and length of service in U.S. military history. That's in part because the soldiers had something to prove to the country that had incarcerated many of their families.

Nobody ever questioned Tanouye's courage under fire. His feat in July 1944 earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest honor.

But, like at least a score of Japanese American soldiers, he did not receive the Medal of Honor, probably because of wartime prejudice. That was rectified four years ago, when Tanouye and 19 other Japanese Americans received the medal, many of them posthumously.

Now Tanouye will be honored by his alma mater, Torrance High School, from which he graduated in 1938. A memorial in his honor will be unveiled Wednesday across the street from the school, and four vintage U.S. Army Bird Dog aircraft will roar overhead in the "missing man" formation.

Until Tanouye came along, Torrance High's most famous graduate was an acquaintance of his, future Olympian Lou Zamperini, who ran the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Zamperini became a war hero after his plane crashed in 1943, stranding him on a raft at sea until he was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.

A stadium and an airfield were named for Zamperini, who earned the Purple Heart, among other medals. But the honors didn't rest easy. "I always felt bad because Tanouye was the real hero and wasn't honored," Zamperini said in an interview.

Tanouye, a second-generation Japanese American, was born in Torrance in 1919, the eldest of six children. While his parents worked on their truck farm, he spent weekends and a few years after graduation working the produce section at the Ideal Ranch Market in Torrance.

He was working Dec. 7, 1941, when news of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor came over the radio. Friends said he cried.

He enlisted in the Army in February 1942, two days after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to intern about 120,000 Japanese Americans for the duration of the war.

Tanouye and his best friend, Akira Shimatsu, were inducted at Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro while, a few miles away, their families were being put aboard an internment train, bound for an Arkansas camp.

The best friends also wound up in Arkansas, for infantry training. That proved fortuitous; both visited their families before shipping out to Italy.

Independence Day 1944 found Tanouye on the front lines near Cecina. He led his platoon to attack and captured, with precious little cover, a "strategically important hill," as his medal citation called it.

What he did, according to his citation, was this: For two days, his platoon had been pinned down by machine-gun fire. Tanouye crawled forward alone and machine-gunned all the Germans in the first nest. A second machine-gun nest opened fire. He fired back, silencing it.

His left arm injured by a grenade, he refused first aid. He crawled and dashed from cover to cover as he sprayed an enemy trench with bullets.

At last, out of ammunition, he crawled 20 yards to a comrade to reload. He then slithered forward to a fourth machine-gun installation and hurled a grenade. Under fire as he lay on the hillside, he managed to take out two more machine-gun nests.

"His courageous decision to go ahead in the face of suicidal odds, his skillful deployment of his men to keep losses at a minimum, his consideration for them, and his devotion to duty exemplify and reflect the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States," wrote his platoon leader, Lt. Samuel R. Gay.

When Tanouye recovered, he returned to his comrades farther north in Italy. He was sitting in a foxhole Aug. 27, 1944, when he wrote what may have been his last letter to his parents, who were still in Arkansas. He was busy, he said, "dodging artillery fire and bullets," but asked them not to worry. "I'm OK, yet ? only miss Akira."

His best friend had been killed five weeks before while carrying wounded soldiers to safety. Shimatsu received the Bronze Star posthumously.

A few days later, on Sept. 1, Tanouye was crouching to inspect a German land mine along the Arno River when another soldier accidentally tripped the wire. Tanouye took most of the blast, shielding Sgt. Hideo Kuniyoshi.

"If it weren't for Ted, I wouldn't be alive," Kuniyoshi said in a video tribute to Tanouye. Kuniyoshi is flying here from Hawaii for the unveiling of the memorial to the man who died in his stead.

As Tanouye was carried away on a stretcher, Kuniyoshi remembered, he called to his men, "Go for broke!," the motto of the 442nd. Tanouye died five days later.

Seven months later, his mother was temporarily released from the internment camp and taken by military escort to a ceremony in Little Rock, where she received her son's Distinguished Service Cross. Medal in hand, she was returned to the camp.

In 2000, Tanouye's cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor. "Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it had so ill treated," President Clinton said at a White House ceremony honoring Tanouye, 19 other Japanese Americans, a Filipino American and a Chinese American.

A short video about Tanouye's life will be shown at Wednesday's ceremony, which follows last year's renaming of the Torrance National Guard armory after him. Documentarians Craig Yahata and Robert Horsting pieced together photos and interviews with family members, classmates, military friends and current Torrance High students.

"He wasn't like other sergeants," Pvt. Rudy Tokiwa says in the video. "He had patience and tried to explain things to his men, not just give us orders."

Horsting said that Tanouye, 24, was "one of the oldest in his platoon and he felt he had to protect his men, who were mostly only 18 years old."

Tanouye and Shimatsu were buried in Italy. In 1948 they were exhumed and returned to Los Angeles. Their funerals were held simultaneously at the Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, and they were buried side by side at Evergreen Cemetery.

Seven years after Tanouye died, his youngest brother, Yukiwo, serving in the Army, was killed in the Korean War. He was buried on the other side of his brother.
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« Reply #31 on: July 06, 2004, 09:44:45 PM »

The IRR: Emptying the Cupboard
July 06, 2004
By George Friedman


The U.S. Department of Defense is now activating the Army's Individual Ready Reserve for combat duty. Given the inherent problems associated with such a move, it is clear that U.S. war planners were caught in a trap: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "revolution in warfare" has not evolved as expected.


On July 6, 5,600 members of the U.S. Army's Individual Ready Reserve will start to receive notices that they are being recalled to active duty. Members of the IRR are generally soldiers who have completed their primary active-duty assignments. They are not part of the regular Reserves or the National Guard, but are simply kept on a list as available for recall. In general, this has been simply a formality. IRR members have been called up on only two occasions: Once was in 1968, following the Tet Offensive; the other was in 1991, in the context of Operation Desert Storm. There have already been some smaller call-ups of essential specialties, but this is the first large-scale mobilization. The Army has indicated that there likely will be more.

The recall is neither routine, nor what the Army would like to be doing.

First, the reactivated reservists will have been out of the Army for several years. They might not be in appropriate mental or physical condition for a tour in a combat zone -- where, according to the Army, most are going to be sent. Since the current plan is to keep them on active duty for no more than a year, there is little time for an extensive conditioning program if the troops are to spend much time in-theater. These are not the forces commanders want to lead if they have a choice.

Second, although this call-up might fix the Army's quantitative problem in the short run, it can wreak havoc in the long run. The volunteer army depends, obviously, on the willingness of people to join. That rests on a large number of variables, one of which is the idea that the volunteer can control his term of service, building it into his or her long-term plans. It has always been understood, in the fine print, that calling up the IRR was possible, and soldiers who are being recalled cannot complain that they did not know -- they can complain only that they did not expect it to happen. However, people who have already served and completed their tours -- and are busy with careers, children and mortgages -- are now going to be sent into combat zones. Their younger siblings, cousins and friends are going to be watching the chaos in their lives and could well decide that, while they would be prepared to serve a given term and even have that term extended during war, giving the Army control over their lives -- and those of their families -- for years afterward is simply not worth it.

The Army, the Defense Department and the Office of the President are all acutely aware of this problem. Nevertheless, they have chosen to go this route. Given the inherent defects of the choice and its obvious potential cost, they did not make this move frivolously; this was something that was absolutely necessary. That said, the question now is this: How did the U.S. Army get into the position of having to make this choice?

The call-up of the IRR in 1968 came in the midst of a crisis surrounding Vietnam. The United States had miscalculated troop requirements and found itself short of critical specialties that it could not make up from the pool of available conscripts. No one planned for the circumstances that presented themselves in 1968 -- or for those that prompted Desert Storm either. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait left little time to redesign the Army's force structure, and by 1991 it was dealing with a surprise. The IRR has been utilized twice, both times in the face of the unexpected. Sometimes it was mismanagement, sometimes reality, but always it was an attempt to cope with the unexpected -- and unwanted -- event. The 2004 call-up obviously fits into this category. The issue is what was unanticipated, and why it was not expected.

The Sept. 11 attacks certainly were unanticipated. This cannot be disputed, although whether they should have been is going to be an interminable debate. However, this large-scale activation of the IRR is taking place not six months after Sept. 11, but almost three years later. That indicates a much broader and deeper surprise than the attacks themselves.

The first surprise had to do with the nature of warfare. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was an advocate of what has been called "the revolution in warfare." This concept is the belief that as technology of all sorts comes online, the need for massed armies will decline. Few would debate that a revolution in warfare is under way. The issue is whether it has matured to a sufficient degree that policymakers can depend on it, or whether it still has several generations to go.

Throughout his tenure, Rumsfeld has been highly critical of the Army. He felt that it was too heavy, in the sense of relying on armor and artillery -- supply hogs that take a long time to get to the theater of operations. Rumsfeld's view of the war against al Qaeda was that it would require very small, very fast and very lethal forces to execute. Rumsfeld was right, but he failed to factor in two things.

The first was that while the deployment of small, fast, lethal forces potentially could take out al Qaeda units and could be used to destabilize nation-states, those units could not be used to take control of those nations. There is a huge difference between shattering a government and governing a country. Indeed, there is little value in destabilizing a nation unless it can be pacified; otherwise, destabilization opens the door to al Qaeda, rather than shutting down the network. Therefore, insufficient thought was given to the problem of pacification -- not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan. Denying terrain to al Qaeda means being present on the ground in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Rumsfeld constantly tried to find a way to transfer responsibility for the ground to an indigenous government -- failing to recognize that the high-tech destruction of the state creates a vacuum that either is filled with U.S. forces or left in chaos.

Rumsfeld focused on the first phase of the war: regime change. This phase was certainly amenable to the kind of war he favored. But the second phase -- regime construction -- is not at all influenced by the revolution in warfare. It requires a large security force -- and even that might not be enough. Rumsfeld's hostility toward the Army's cumbersome, traditional ways of doing things caused him to make a massive miscalculation: Rather than building up Army ground forces in 2002 and 2003, he restricted the growth of the Army, thereby leaving it short of troops for the prolonged second phase of the war.

Rumsfeld's second surprise was a persistent underestimation of the enemy. In particular, he seemed to genuinely believe that with the occupation of Baghdad, all organized resistance would cease. The idea that there would be people in Iraq who, out of support for the Baathist regime or simple patriotism, would resist the American occupation in an extended and effective way seems never to have been factored into plans. Indeed, when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was very much concerned about extended resistance, argued before the war that in excess of 200,000 troops would be needed in Iraq for an extended period, Rumsfeld attacked him as being alarmist. Rumsfeld failed to plan for occupying a country of 25 million people or policing a city of 5 million people -- both in the face of resistance, albeit relatively light resistance.

Occupying a country or a city takes manpower. That is a requirement -- though not necessarily the only one -- for success. Rumsfeld's view of warfare did not take into account the complexities of occupation. The tension between Rumsfeld and the Army created a situation in which dramatically pyramiding responsibilities for the Army were not met with equivalent increases in manpower.

This is the first global war the United States has waged in which neither the command structure of the armed forces nor the force structure evolved dramatically in the opening years. The fact that there has not been a doubling or tripling in size of the U.S. Army is startling. In spite of the fact that it is involved in a variety of combat operations in remote areas of the world -- and that the enemy can choose to open new theaters of operation that are unexpected (such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan) -- the armed forces have not grown substantially in three years.

Rumsfeld apparently thought the war would be easier than it has been, and he believed that technology would be more effective than it possibly could be. The need to occupy, pacify and govern hostile nations was not built into the war plan -- nor is it there now. The fact is that the call-ups from the IRR are Band-Aids on a fundamental issue: The United States is involved in a land war in Asia again, and it is trying to fight that war with a military -- especially an Army -- that was designed for peacetime in the 1990s. It cannot possibly stretch.

The central conceptual problem in Vietnam was that the United States did not want to spend its resources on doing the things that might give it an opportunity to win the war. Having insufficient resources, the United States simply decided that they were sufficient.

In Vietnam, the military had recourse to a draft. It did not work very well. Not only did it create deep social tension between those who served and those who did not, but also a two-year term was not sufficient to master most of the specialties of warfare -- including rifleman skills. Between two years of service and a one-year tour in Vietnam, the military lost its people just when they were learning to do their jobs. The draft -- particularly as it was structured during the Vietnam era -- was the failure point, not the solution.

Two-year conscription is simply too short a period of time to master the specialties the military needs now. Today's military does not consist of cannon fodder, but of highly trained specialists who need two years to begin becoming proficient at their jobs. Moreover, another draft in which half the eligible candidates were exempt would rip the United States apart. Universal conscription creates too large a manpower pool. It creates more problems than it solves. What it needs is an expansion of the volunteer force.

For that, very large sums of money are needed, making it attractive to choose the military as a profession. The problem is that the United States is out of time. The time for this expansion should have been early 2002, when it became clear that al Qaeda would not be easily defeated and that other military campaigns would be coming. Had the Bush administration asked Congress for sufficient money to expand the volunteer Army, large numbers of well-trained troops would be coming out of the chute just about now.

No such request was made. Rumsfeld ignored Army requests for increased manpower, focusing instead on surgical tools for regime change. The force structure did not undergo a quantum expansion. As a result, when the worst-case rather than the best-case scenario came to pass in Iraq -- guerrilla war -- the United States was unprepared for it. It had to reach into the IRR for a few thousand men. The military is, in effect, cannibalizing itself, using up its reserves. Since this war is not likely to end soon, and the IRR is not a bottomless well, it is clear that something will have to be done.

Copyrights 2004 - Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All rights reserved.
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« Reply #32 on: July 12, 2004, 01:03:13 PM »

This statue currently stands outside the Iraqi palace,  now home to the 4th Infantry division. It will eventually be shipped home and put in the memorial museum in Fort Hood, Texas.

The statue was created by an Iraqi artist named Kalat, who for years was forced by Saddam Hussein to make the many hundreds of bronze busts of Saddam that dotted Baghdad.

Kalat  was so grateful for the Americans liberation of his country; he melted 3 of the heads of the  fallen Saddam and made the  statue as a memorial to the American soldiers and their fallen warriors.  Kalat worked on this memorial night and day for several months.

To the left of the kneeling soldier is a small Iraqi girl giving the soldier comfort as he mourns the loss of his comrade in arms.


Cindy "Pretty Kitty" Denny.
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« Reply #33 on: July 20, 2004, 12:52:30 PM »

Soldiers Returning from Iraq for R&R Ride in Style
First class pax switch seats with all eight of them on AA flight
Eight US soldiers returning from Iraq to the US for some well-deserved R&R received  a very pleasant surprise when they boarded American Airlines flight 866 on June 29 from Atlanta to Chicago.

Every last one of them was offered a trade for their coach seats by first class passengers who preferred to see them fly home up front.

"The soldiers were very, very happy, and the whole aircraft had a different feeling," flight attendant Lorrie Gammon told The Dallas Morning News in Thursday's editions.

Just as the gate agent was about to begin boarding, a business traveller approached one of the soldiers and offered him a trade -- one first class seat for the soldier's coach seat. That started a chain reaction, and when the swapping was all done, "the other two first-class passengers wanted to give up their seats, too, but they couldn't find any more soldiers," Gammon said.

One of the other cabin crew members, Ms. Candi Spradlin, said she was impressed with what she had seen. "If nothing else, those soldiers got a great homecoming," she said.

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« Reply #34 on: July 21, 2004, 02:49:55 PM »

"The dumb grunt is an anachronism. He has been replaced by the strategic corporal."      

       July 20, 2004
       Don't Dumb Down the Military

       WASHINGTON ? I went to war as a believer in the citizen-soldier. My
college study of the classics idealized Greeks who put down their plows for
swords, returning to their fields at the end of the war. As a Marine officer
in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, I learned that the victors on today's
battlefields are long-term, professional soldiers. Thus the increasing calls
for reinstating the draft - and the bills now before Congress that would do
so - are well intentioned but misguided. Imposing a draft on the military I
served in would harm it grievously for years.

       I led platoons of volunteers. In Afghanistan, my marines slept each
night in holes they hacked from the rocky ground. They carried hundred-pound
packs in addition to their fears of minefields and ambushes, their
homesickness, loneliness and exhaustion. The most junior did it for $964.80
per month. They didn't complain, and I never wrestled with discipline
problems. Each and every marine wanted to be there. If anyone hadn't, he
would have been a drain on the platoon and a liability in combat.

       In Iraq, I commanded a reconnaissance platoon, the Marines' special
operations force. Many of my enlisted marines were college-educated; some
had been to graduate school. All had volunteered once for the Marines, again
for the infantry, and a third time for recon. They were proud to serve as
part of an elite unit. Like most demanding professionals, they were their
own harshest critics, intolerant of their peers whose performance fell

       The dumb grunt is an anachronism. He has been replaced by the
strategic corporal. Immense firepower and improved technology have pushed
decision-making with national consequences down to individual enlisted men.
Modern warfare requires that even the most junior infantryman master a wide
array of technical and tactical skills.

       Honing these skills to reflex, a prerequisite for survival in combat,
takes time - a year of formal training and another year of on-the-job
experience were generally needed to transform my young marines into
competent warriors. The Marine Corps demands four-year active enlistments
because it takes that long to train troops and ensure those training dollars
are put to use in the field. One- or two-year terms, the longest that would
be likely under conscription, would simply not allow for this comprehensive

       Some supporters of the draft argue that America's wars are being
fought primarily by minorities from poor families who enlisted in the
economic equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. They insist that the sacrifices of
citizenship be shared by all Americans. The sentiment is correct, but the
outrage is misplaced. There is no cannon-fodder underclass in the military.
In fact, front-line combat troops are a near-perfect reflection of American
male society.

       Yes, some minority men and women enlist for lack of other options, but
they tend to concentrate in support jobs where they can learn marketable
skills like driving trucks or fixing jets, not throwing grenades and setting
up interlocking fields of machine gun fire. African-Americans, who comprise
nearly 13 percent of the general population, are overrepresented in the
military at more than 19 percent - but they account for only 10.6 percent of
infantry soldiers, the group that suffers most in combat. Hispanics, who
make up 13.3 percent of the American population, are underrepresented at
only 11 percent of those in uniform.

       The men in my infantry platoons came from virtually every part of the
socio-economic spectrum. There were prep-school graduates and
first-generation immigrants, blacks and whites, Muslims and Jews, Democrats
and Republicans. They were more diverse than my class at Dartmouth, and far
more willing to act on their principles.

       The second argument most often advanced for a renewed draft is that
the military is too small to meet its commitments. Absolutely true. But the
armed forces are stretched thin not from a lack of volunteers but because
Congress and the Pentagon are not willing to spend the money to expand the
force. Each of the services met or exceeded its recruiting goals in 2003,
and the numbers have increased across the board so far this year. Even the
Army National Guard, often cited as the abused beast of burden in Iraq, has
seen re-enlistments soar past its goal, 65 percent, to 141 percent (the
figure is greater than 100 because many guardsmen are re-enlisting early).

       Expanding the military to meet additional responsibilities is a matter
of structural change: if we build it, they will come. And build it we must.
Many of my marines are already on their third combat deployment in the
global war on terrorism; they will need replacing. Increasing the size of
the active-duty military would lighten the burden on every soldier, sailor,
airman and marine. Paradoxically, a larger military becomes more sustainable
than a smaller one: fewer combat deployments improves service members'
quality of life and contributes to higher rates of enlistment and retention.
For now, expanding the volunteer force would give us a larger military
without the inherent liabilities of conscription.

       And while draft supporters insist we have learned the lessons of
Vietnam and can create a fair system this time around, even an equitable
draft would lower the standards for enlistees. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld was chastised for saying Vietnam-era draftees added no value to the
armed forces. But his error was semantic; the statement was true of the
system, if not of the patriotic and capable individuals who served.

       The current volunteer force rejects applicants who score poorly on its
entrance aptitude exam, disclose a history of significant drug use or suffer
from any of a number of orthopedic or chronic injuries. Face it: any
unwilling draftee could easily find a way to fail any of these tests. The
military, then, would be left either to abandon its standards and accept all
comers, or to remain true to them and allow the draft to become volunteerism
by another name. Stripped of its volunteer ideology, but still unable to
compel service from dissenters, the military would end up weaker and less
representative than the volunteer force - the very opposite of the draft's
intended goals.

       Renewing the draft would be a blow against the men and women in
uniform, a dumbing down of the institution they serve. The United States
military exists to win battles, not to test social policy. Enlarging the
volunteer force would show our soldiers that Americans recognize their
hardship and are willing to pay the bill to help them better protect the
nation. My view of the citizen-soldier was altered, but not destroyed, in
combat. We cannot all pick up the sword, nor should we be forced to - but we
owe our support to those who do.

       Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine captain, is writing a memoir of his
military training and combat experience.

       Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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« Reply #35 on: July 31, 2004, 01:27:56 AM »

A friend forwarded this to me.

2003 Newspaper Photographer of the Year Rick Loomis. Rick has written about his experience in Fallujah which I have received via email and posted in full below. Also check out his exceptional images he took in Iraq here.

I finally tried to wash the Marine's bloodstains from my pants the other day.  It had been nine days since the battle and a daily dose of dirt and dust had all but masked what I knew lay beneath.

>From the relative comfort of "Dreamland", a reasonably secure U.S. base of operations just outside Fallouja, I swirled my pants around in square metal pan containing four inches of precious water. With each spin around the pan, the water turned a deeper brown. And as the stains of Sgt. Josue Magana's blood became more apparent, I thought back to the day he was shot.

At zero five A.M, just before dawn on April 26th, the Marines of Echo Company was ordered to take two homes on the northwestern edge of Fallouja.  For the prior three weeks, since Marines had first moved to cordon off city, there had been constant exchanges of gunfire between U.S. forces and insurgents in the area known as the Jolan Heights. After all, this was Fallouja, heart of the notorious Sunni Triangle, home to the root of U.S. occupation resistance.

The Marines had hoped that theirs would be a 'hearts and minds' mission leading up to the June 30 deadline to hand power over to Iraqis. It turned sour after four American contractors were gruesomely killed on March 31st. Insurgents hung two of their burned and mutilated bodies from a bridge that crosses the Euphrates River.  And now the Marines found themselves in the position of battling Iraqi bodies instead of winning over Iraqi hearts and minds.

In their initial push into Fallouja, Marines fought to gain a toe hold in the city, and for Echo Company this consisted of three homes and a school, all within 300 meters of each other.  This was now Echo Company's base from which to do battle, and the company hoped to engage insurgents known to be operating in this city of 300,000.

Having gained their toehold, they worked to fortify their positions using sandbags, 24-hour a day watch posts, concertina wire and sniper positions. By the time I arrived to be embedded on the 22nd of April, the neighborhood around them was a ghost town. Most residents had fled the fighting, save for one blind Iraqi man next door whom was dutifully being fed by a Kurdish translator working for the Marines.

In the houses and school, Marines had parked themselves and their gear in every room. M-16 rifles delicately perched against the glass doors of a cupboard holding the family's finest dishware. The luckiest Marines claimed the couches; the rest sprawled out on the floors each night.

Walls that once separated neighbors were broken down to allow easy house-to-house access.  Doors were taken off their hinges and laid down to bridge the gaps between the roofs of the houses.

On the roof there were gun positions for M-240 machine guns, a larger .50 caliber machine gun and a Mark 19 grenade launcher.  Shoulder fired rockets were also stored on the roof for times of need.  Small 'mouse holes' were pounded out of the roof retaining wall allowing snipers to cover key positions as well, with the ability to pick off targets at great distances.

Through one such hole is a clear view down 'sniper alley.'  The remnants of battle are apparent.  A bullet-riddled car abandoned in the middle of the street.  Deep craters where parts of the road used to be.  Massive chunks of asphalt strewn everywhere and downed power lines sagging across the roadway.  The homes on either side were broken and battered by gunfire.  The stench of rotting cows and dogs, who met their deaths in a crossfire, could be detected if the breeze was just right. Nothing stirred on this street anymore.

Also in view from the sniper's nests, just across the cemetery, were objectives A and B, the targets of that tragic morning's raid. The two homes, known as A and B, had been in view for weeks, and it was from there that Marine commanders perceived a daily threat.

       *     *     *

One reinforced platoon of Marines crept through the darkened streets, lining both sides.  Only a wail could be heard breaking the silence in the distance - it was time for the Muslim call to prayer. Useless with my camera in the darkness, I fumbled to record the ominous sound with a digital recorder.  It was too dark to see the buttons so I gave up - the sum of me nothing but a complete liability at this point.

Up ahead, two squads of men were breaching the homes, breaking down doors to clear the buildings, which were directly across the street from each other.  Suspected of being used by insurgents, they approached with caution but discovered they were empty.  Marines poured inside objectives A and B, taking up defensive positions and on every floor, a set of eyes on guard from nearly every window. Dawn had come and the cobalt blue sky began to brighten.

It was all starting to seem too easy when an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) smacked the front of the house with a thunderous crash. The walls trembled. If the Marines had started to relax, it put them on alert that someone knew where they were. The Marines returned fire with their M-16's and then there was silence.

Once they knew their presence had been discovered, the men further prepared their defensive postures. Mattresses were upturned to cover windows, bags of rice stacked on top of one another to slow speeding bullets headed into open doors. Holes were sledge hammered through the walls at strategic points to make sniper positions.  Then, nothing. Sitting. Waiting . Resting. Drinking.  Eating. Nothing.  No shots. No enemy sightings.  Nothing.

Five hours had passed since the start of the mission and Marines were sprawled out on the floor, catching sleep when they could. I visited the roof briefly to eye the sniper positions. Then down to the bottom floor, looking in on sleeping Marines. Returning to the second floor, I spent many minutes trying to perfectly capture on camera the reflection of a Marine in a bullet -riddled mirror.  I too, was bored.

The sleeping Marines stirred a bit as shots rang off in the distance.  I sneaked a peek out the window, looking across the graveyard toward the mosque. Nothing.  There were reports of seven insurgents, scratch that, six insurgents (one was reported over the radio to have been shot by a U.S. sniper) in the area of the mosque. An incoming mortar round hit the house adjacent  to the one we are in and a fire starts to burn from within.

The Marine commanders decided that one squad, about 12 men, should respond to the mosque to the shooting from the mosque area and engage the remaining insurgents. So out of the houses and into the graveyard they flooded, keeping space between them as they slowly moved toward the minaret and the mosque on the other side of the cemetery.  The minaret loomed high above, offering an unobstructed view and perfect firing position for a sniper to shoot down on approaching Marines.  Short bursts of running, two or three men at a time, edged them closer to the mosque. They stopped for a time to take cover behind headstones, their eyes darted between the windows of the mosque and the minaret overlooking them.

There was no movement or firing as they made their approach.  It was bright and hot and quiet.  Marines quickly moved in to secure the mosque and the minaret, searching hopelessly for the reported insurgents. Curious, I looked around myself but found no shell casings left behind;  no blood and no body. There was only a partially damaged mosque, curtains moving in the breeze that was coming through blown out windows. I began to wonder if anyone had ever been there.

Nonetheless, the complex was thoroughly searched and the men trod back through the cemetery and made their way back to the two houses they had taken in the pre-dawn hours.  Things were still quiet at the houses and I felt much less exposed than in the moments prior as I had trailed Marines around and over graves at an accelerated pace. Running thorough a cemetery seems a violation of those lying beneath. I was glad to be back in the house.

It was about the moment I felt the most secure and had the least suspicion that the mission would get any more dangerous when all hell broke loose.  The Marines were under a coordinated, full-scale attack.  Insurgents had crawled and snuck into positions covering about three hundred degrees on all sides. They let loose a continuous barrage on the house.  Marines scrambled to their feet to fight back the ambush. "Roger, we are taking heavy fire. You need to orient to east, over the mosque complex," the confident company commander Capt. Douglas Zembiec barked into the radio without a hint of panic in his voice.

The sound was deafening at times. The rumble of machine guns and the returning loud crack of AK-47 rounds flying toward the building pounded in my eardrums. In the next room a Marine fired his machine gun from the second story window. I was watching the seriousness on his face as he fought the onslaught.  At that moment a flash of fiery orange enveloped the room.  An RPG had scored a direct hit at head level of the Marine I was photographing. So sudden and violent it was, I only have a blurry frame to serve as a reminder.  Only the wall of the home saved him from certain death.  He was shocked however, screaming as he was knocked to the ground, stunned from the concussion and deafening roar of the grenade.

He took only a moment to regain composure and assess his emotions. He was clearly pissed.  He stood back in the window and began firing with more determination than before.  It wasn't long until another RPG crashed into the same position. Insurgent forces were well aware of the Marine's position and were determined to score a kill. The barrels of two M-240 machine guns became so hot from the rapid succession of fire that they melted and seized.

On the roof, another battle was raging. Marines on the roof were in such close contact with the insurgents that the two were lobbing hand grenades back and forth. Shrapnel was shooting all over the roof tearing into Marines fighting there. At least one pickup truck full of 15 to 20 fighters was seen heading into the fight.

At this time, another Marine who had rushed out to a second floor balcony moments earlier yelled, "I'm hit." One of several thousands of rounds fired in the opening 30 minutes of the battle had found its target.  He gave an agonizing scream and yelled again that he was hit, hoping someone would rescue him.

Sgt. Nunez threw open the door and rushed out, returning moments later dragging Sgt. Magana across the floor by the grab handle on the back of his flak jacket.  Confusion ensued.  He was eventually dragged into the room where I was hunkered down. He had been shot through the back and was in severe pain.

While corpsman were concentrating on his injury, I could see that he was beginning to fade.  His eyes were empty and began to close. He was mumbling about a letter from his daughter and I'm sure he began to concede that his life could end right there on the floor.

I was compelled to grab his hand and assured him that he would see his daughter once again.  I looked him straight in his eye, telling him to look back at me, then squeeze my hand so I knew he was still with me. It was all I knew to do.

I felt caught between being an objective journalist and responding as a human being.  I apologized to a news crew that was sharing this horror with , "I have to be a human first,"  I heard myself saying awkwardly. It was a lesson I had learned early on from a photo professor that had a profound effect on my life.

I shot only a few frames to depict the scene; some right as he was being dragged into the room and then some after he began to stabilize. I felt satisfied that I had both done my job and also done what was right in a potentially life and death situation.

Rounds were cracking off all sides of the building and now a second wounded person made his way to the same doorway. Everything seemed to be unraveling.  Here were a group of men, 37 of them in all, that I viewed as courageous warriors, well-trained and well- equipped, and they seemed to be falling one by one right in front of me.  I began to wonder:  is this it? What if, by sheer numbers and the great desire of those opposed to them, these Marines and myself were about to be gunned down, right here.  The stairway to the bottom floor was unguarded from my view. I wondered if all the Marines on the bottom floor were fighting to their last bullets.

For an instant, I imagined the following scenario.  As I peered from the doorway, insurgents with AK's are rushing up the stairs, firing at those working on the wounded Sgt. Magana as he lay there in a lifeless state. Three easy kills for the insurgents. What would I do? Would I cower onto the ground, scream "sahafi, sahafi", meaning "journalist, journalist," and hope that at that instant I could separate myself from the Marines.  Would I find myself, the barrel of a gun pushing into my skin, begging for my life?  Would I be killed instantly, no distinction made, in a hail of gunfire. Or would I pick up a weapon myself and fight for my own life and for the rest of those around me.

These decisions are guttural, instinctive. Every move seems to be analyzed in some split second thought process. When the fight was raging, I was making decisions, based on saving my life and doing my job - in that order.

But at that moment I knew that photographing a gunfight can be like photographing a triple play in baseball.  While it's certainly a dramatic moment - a photograph sometimes can't serve to capture the essence of the drama you are witnessing. The pictures of the men shooting out of the window in the next room conveyed little of the life and death intensity of the moment, the sound of gunfire, the smell, the gulping sense of mortality.  They could have just as well been during a moment when they were shooting at tin cans in the alleyway.

I knew the bullets were aimed at people who were in turn shooting back at them. But my photographs did not depict the intensity that ultimate sense of risk. But was I going to make a target of myself when at least two men were already shot and RPG's were bouncing off the walls as fast as the men shooting them could reload.

The short answer was no, I would not risk it all for one frame. At this moment I thought of my mom, and how shattered she would be getting that phone call that no mother wants.  It would be early morning, in a tiny northern Michigan town, the phone ringing as my mom prepared for work that day.  Someone I don't even know would probably deliver the call.  No one frame was not worth it.

Just being in this country as a journalist is an elevated risk, I thought to myself.  And here I was feeling more exposed to danger than at any point in my career.

A momentary series of thoughts, contemplating the immediate future for myself and those around me, and I was snapped back to the reality of the moment I was already in.

The house was still taking a serious pounding, there were wounded in both the buildings and the insurgents were still bringing a vicious attack. Then I heard a familiar and welcoming sound----two tanks rumbling up the alley. I peered out the only window in that second floor room to photograph them. They were our ride out. But something was terribly wrong.  The main gun on one of the tanks was pointed right toward our window. For a split second I thought, "Oh shit, they think WE are the insurgents and they are going to fire on us!"

Friendly fire is a sad fact of warfare and I never believed it possible until I saw it with my own eyes during the march up from Kuwait just 13 months earlier. I wondered if the tanks had been talked onto the right spot, if they knew that those were 'friendlies' staring at them from the window above. I stepped back into the depth of the room, away from the window. A useless move as a main gun tank round would surely obliterate us all no matter where we were standing.

 "OK, we are punching out of here now, and we are punching out hard! We are getting everybody out of here ASAP!" yelled one of the commanders standing on the second floor. The tanks were giving us the time and firepower needed to run back down the same alley we had crept through in the pre-dawn hours earlier that day.

The call was made to bring everyone and everything from the top floors down to the first floor.  At the same time, the wounded from the building to the north were filtering into our courtyard.  Four Marines carried the limp body of Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin into the courtyard. He would be listed as "killed in action" from the fight that day.  His heroics would earn him official recognition for his actions - albeit posthumously.  Austin, an only son, was shot multiple times in the chest as he attempted to throw a hand grenade from one rooftop to another.  Making that throw was the last effort in his life.

Sgt. Magana was already lying on a broken door in the second floor bedroom. The others used it as a litter to carry him downstairs. It was creaking to the point of breaking but made the trip to the bottom floor. Everyone else cleared the rooms and the roof and began to gather in the foyer.

It was a bloody mess. Magana was lying on the door, a look of fear now appearing in his eyes.  And Lance Cpl. Lucas Sielstad, merely 18, a wiry but tough Marine by all accounts, had bandages on his right arm soaked through with blood. His pants were ripped by medical sheers from the waist down to treat a shrapnel wound on his leg and he was bleeding from his lip.  He looked tired and stunned, but there he was, still standing.

Another Marine came down from the roof with a haphazardly tied rag wrapped around his bleeding head. He was suffering from wounds in at least a couple other places.  Still, he was calm and alert, and oddly a bit saddened by not being able to finish the fight.

The move to evacuate called for us to trace our steps back the same way we came. One by one, we hustled through the door into the courtyard. For a moment, I felt like a skydiver taking his first leap out the door of the plane. I felt so vulnerable out there, wishing for the cover of darkness that had offered some protection earlier that morning.

The courtyard was hemmed in by walls 7 feet-high shrouding us from view to anyone on the streets outside.  But the Marines were an easy target for gunmen on the second story or rooftops of any of the surrounding houses.

Crouching low and near the wall, my instinct was to run for it. To break free and run, not wait behind all the Marines in front of me exiting in some sort of formation. We were all bunched up in the courtyard and it felt like time was of the essence for getting out of this.

What seemed like hours passed before my turn to exit was in reality probably less than two minutes.  One by one we filed out and hustled down the street.  I did not know exactly from what direction the firing was coming from - or how much was incoming or outgoing. I just knew it was heavy and I wanted to get back to a place of relative comfort.

My gear seemed so heavy and awkward as I approached the gate leading to the street.  And in addition, I was also asked to carry several 203-grenade rounds in a blood-soaked pouch that was taken off a wounded Marine. But when the two Marines in front of me finally moved, I bolted out behind them.

Along the wall we ran beside, about halfway down the block there was a 4-foot gap that offered anyone in the houses to the west a clear shot at us. Any sniper would have to anticipate when a Marine might pass this gap but it made me worry. A scene from the movie "Enemy at the Gates" popped into my head, which depicted celebrated WWII Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev popping off targets at will. Why a movie scene found its way to the front of my head I don't know.

What I do know is that when it was my turn to expose myself for that half second, I hesitated my step so as not to pass with exact same frequency as the Marines ahead of me. The well-trained and well-disciplined sniper waiting for the perfect shot was a figment of my imagination.  But the rest of the gunfire all around was real.

We were almost home free, as we had successfully run the gauntlet down the entire block.  I could see the school in my view, less than two hundred meters away. When I crossed the street there were three Marines struggling to carry a wounded comrade the rest of the way to the school. One of them motioned me over as I approached their position, slowing my run. He asked me to help carry him the wounded man. For a split second I thought, "Are you crazy, my job right now is to run like hell so I can live to do the job another day."

The split second happened about the time I was grabbing the injured Marine by his right shoulder and arm.  Along with three others we ran him to the schoolhouse, a fairly fortified structure.  His legs were inside the door two steps up, and I tried to ease him in but he was being pulled too fast from the other end. He escaped my grasp and the grasp of the Marine carrying his other arm. His limp head hit the concrete step with a thud, the least of his problems at the moment.

Several more Marines piled into the schoolhouse. The machine guns on the roof were already wailing away with everything they had.  With all the Marines piled back inside the building their fields of fire were clear and they were engaging everything in sight. Several more RPG's pounded the school, as did small arms fire from AK-47's.  It felt much safer in the school, with its two-foot thick walls and sandbagged shooting positions covering every corner.

The scene on the bottom floor was that of pandemonium, resembling an ant nest after it's been disturbed.  One Marine was running around barking orders "We need more M-16 rounds on the second floor!" Another was shocked, helmet off and head in his hands. The wounded were piled up until a transport Humvee could get through to get the rest of them out. I took a moment to catch my breath and take stock of everything that had happened up to that point.  Pure adrenaline had been pumping through my veins for two hours, and my body needed a break.

The wounded were hauled a kilometer or so away, fifteen in all, to a field hospital, which was nearly overwhelmed with the volume. Commanders started sorting out the chaos in the school, with their main mission being to keep their gun positions humming. Suppressive fire hammering enemy positions kept any insurgent advance at bay.

When the platoon stationed in a house 300 meters away gathered in the doorway of the school to make their run back, I joined them. One last run to safety.

As we approached our position I noticed something was missing from the scene. It had marked my landscape for the week that I had been in Fallouja. The minaret, the same one that loomed overhead as we ran through the graveyard earlier that morning, had completely vanished.  I was told later on that is was leveled by a tank round after a sniper was reported to be shooting from it.

Inside the house it was not the same optimistic group of people I had been with the day before. All of them looked exhausted. These men had seen battle, and they wore these looks in their eyes. It had silenced them for the moment and I gathered that it had changed some of them forever. They had seen a young man die that day, one of their own, in a brutal death that left his body torn and bloody. They had watched another of their comrades lose an arm from an enemy hand grenade.

It would be awhile before these men would laugh again. I knew these men to be tough and ready, but this shook them at their foundations. The physical and emotional scars would not be quick to heal.

As word of the battle and its damage spread, a Navy chaplain made a visit to the men of Echo Company that afternoon. The solemn faces of over fifty men crowded the room; at its center was simply a mound of dirt.  As the chaplain finished delivering words of encouragement, each Marine pushed a lit candle into place into the mound.  Soon the dank room was filled with candlelight and void of people as they withdrew to collect their thoughts.  I shot just one frame of the last man placing his candle.  He bowed his head in prayer as he did so.

That day I spoke with their Captain, Douglas Zembiec. From a roof overlooking the houses we were in that morning he said, "If is wasn't for the valor of those young Marines we would still be over there. They fought like lions. They kept their cool and evacuated the wounded. I get tears of pride when I think of them fighting like that." I could barely converse with him as two Marine Cobra helicopters fired their 3-barrel 20mm guns into those same houses. The clacking roar of the machine gun and firing of hellfire missiles surely demoralizing as well as demolishing any insurgents who might have been rejoicing about the reclaimed position.. Zembiec later added that,  "I've ordered men to their deaths, and that's a cross I have to bare."

I spoke with the mother of Lance Cpl. Austin several days after he died.  It took awhile to get the courage up to ring her at her home in New Mexico. There was nothing I could do to bring her son home. Would a phone call from someone in the media infuriate her?  All I had to offer her was a photo of her son reading the mail from home that I had shot the day before he died.  I thought she might want that as a memory of her son in a place she had perhaps imagined, but would never see.

She received my call and my unpolished speech about her son. "Hello ma'am," I said, "I was with your son on the day he died." She told me how proud she was of him and I started to break down when she told me how if she were there that day she would have carried his limp body out of the house herself.  She wanted to have any photo I had, to gather any scrap if information, conversations about him, anything she could hold onto. He was her only son.

A few days later I called Sgt. Magana as he lay in a hospital bed in Bethesda, Maryland. He spoke only in a whisper, and sounded very weak.  I was sure he did not remember me holding his hand or talking about his daughter but he seemed appreciative that someone would call him from Iraq.  He asked that I tell his comrades he was keeping them in his prayers while they were still on the battlefield. I told him I would.

Those Marines in battle were not the only ones certain to be changed by that day.  I liken my desires as a journalist to be similar to the way I like to live my life.  I want to get close enough to the edge of the abyss to look in but I don't want to go over. As I knelt over that square pan of water, scrubbing my pants vigorously, the bloodstains of that day did not fade away.  They now serve to remind me just how easy it can be to slip over the edge.
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« Reply #36 on: August 01, 2004, 08:45:17 AM »

Valor defined
Marines confront, overcome the crucible of Fallujah

By Rick Rogers

July 31, 2004

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
Cpl. Howard Lee Hampton Jr. compared the insurgent assault his Camp Pendleton unit faced in the battle for Fallujah this spring to the violent D-Day landing scene in the movie "Saving Private Ryan." More than 50 Marines from Echo Company were recognized for bravery.
FALLUJAH, Iraq ? The citations for valor read like scenes from a movie, and it's only through cinematic comparisons that Cpl. Howard Lee Hampton Jr. can describe the combat his Camp Pendleton unit saw here in April.

"It was beyond anything in 'Black Hawk Down,' " said Hampton, 21, referring to the movie about the actual downing of two U.S. helicopters in 1993 Somalia and the harrowing rescue operation in which the lives of 18 American soldiers were lost.

"I remember going into the city in the (amphibious assault vehicle) and hearing the bullets hit off the sides.

"When the door opened, I thought about the scene in "Saving Private Ryan" when they were coming up to the beach and that guy got hit right in the head before he ever got to the beach," Hampton said, this time conjuring up the movie account of D-Day during World War II.

"Once we got in the city, we had hundreds and hundreds of people trying to kill us," said the native of El Paso, Tex., recalling how the cascade of enemy shell casings from windows above the Marines sounded like a never-ending slot machine payout.

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
After braving enemy fire four times to evacuate wounded Marines, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason "Doc" Duty received a medal nomination that reads, "As bullets impacted within inches of his head, Duty remained resolute in his mission."
"We survived in Fallujah because everyone put the Marine next to him ahead of themselves," said Hampton, an infantryman with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "Everyone did so much more than they had to."

More than 50 Marines from Echo Company have been recognized for valor between March 18 and April 26, when they went into Fallujah to root out insurgents after four civilian contract workers were murdered and two of the bodies hanged from a bridge.

The battalion's Fox Company has recommended about 20 Marines for medals.

"My boys are superheroes," said Capt. D.A. Zembiec, the Echo company commander who climbed atop a tank while under fire to guide it to where his men were pinned down. "I got guys with two Purple Hearts still out here working."

Echo Company's role in the battle for Fallujah began April 6, when two platoons ? about 80 men ? were ordered into the northwest section of the city, launching a month of street-by-street fighting that would claim the lives of several hundred insurgents and an estimated 600 civilians.

As word of the violence spread, the media gathered for a closer look.

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
When insurgents attacked Marines in a house, Lance Cpl. John Flores, 21, stood outside protecting the left flank. Wounded twice, Flores could have left for treatment, but he said he didn't have the heart to leave his fellow Marines.
"One reporter said, 'It can't be that bad,' " recalled 1st Sgt. William Skiles, Echo Company's top enlisted man.

"Well," Skiles recalled, "the Armored Assault Vehicle had just stopped to let the media off when the first (assault rifle) rounds flew overhead. Then came the (rocket propelled grenades). There weren't a whole lot of stories filed that day because the reporters were face down in the dirt."

During the encounter, journalists often asked Skiles, 43, of San Juan Capistrano, for information for their reports about the fighting, but he thought they were missing something.

"I kept thinking: What about valor? Why weren't any of the reporters interested in the valor of our Marines?

"All anyone wants to write about is our dead and wounded," he said, thumbing through military papers that included nominations for Silver and Bronze stars.

Although only a few of the medal nominations have been approved so far, The San Diego Union-Tribune  was allowed to review the submissions on condition that no detailed information be revealed.

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
Lance Cpl. Craig Bell said he was so angry after an enemy grenade nearly killed him in Fallujah that he grabbed rounds for his grenade launcher and began blowing up insurgent positions. He estimated that he launched 100 rounds in about an hour.
All of the top medal nominations arose from a single day's action April 26.

It was also Echo Company's last day of heavy fighting in Fallujah before the Marines pulled out under a cease-fire that has created the current stalemate: Insurgents control the city, the Marines control the surrounding countryside.

The day started routinely when Marines searched a mosque that gunmen had been using to direct fire on the Americans.

Finding only shell-casings below the minaret windows overlooking their position, the Marines left the mosque and moved deeper into the city and occupied a few houses.

All was quiet until about 11 a.m., when insurgents killed one Marine and wounded 10 others in a coordinated attack that lasted three hours.

"The minaret that we had just cleared suddenly came alive with sniper fire," Skiles said. At the same time, the Marines in the houses were hit by grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire from the roofs of adjoining houses.

Within minutes, 100 to 150 heavily armed insurgents attacked in waves. At times, the Marines and the enemy were only 25 yards apart.

The hardest hit Marines were on a rooftop where they were swarmed from three directions by insurgents throwing scores of grenades and firing at least 30 RPGs within the first 15 minutes of fighting. Thousands of bullets peppered the area.

Nine of the Marines were wounded almost immediately.

Aaron C. Austin and Carlos Gomez-Perez, both lance corporals, were on that rooftop and have been nominated for high honors, Austin posthumously.

After the initial barrage, Austin, a machine gunner, evacuated the wounded and then rallied the Marines to counter-attack.

"We've got to get back on the roof and get on that gun," Austin, from Sunray, Tex., is reported to have said, referring to a Marine machine gun.

The Marines returned fire, but as Austin started to throw a grenade, he was hit several times in the chest by machine gun fire.

Although morally wounded, Austin threw his grenade, which hit the enemy and halted their attack.

A memorial to him ? a cement bench ? sits outside the Echo Company barracks at Camp Baharia. Austin was 21.

Gomez-Perez was hit in the cheek and shoulder by machine gun fire while dragging a wounded comrade to safety.

"Ignoring his serious injuries . . . Gomez-Perez, in direct exposure to enemy fire, continued to throw grenades and fire four magazines from his M-16 rifle. Still under fire and with his injured arm, he and another Marine gave CPR (to Austin) and continued to fire on the enemy," read his medal nomination.

Gomez-Perez is recuperating stateside. His age and hometown weren't immediately available.

Marines at another house were also under heavy attack, and four were wounded.

Lance Cpl. John Flores, 21, from Temple City, held a key position outside the house protecting the left flank.

"Around 11 a.m., I heard explosions and I remember a Marine scream," he recalled. "It was a scream I'll never forget, and I hope I never hear again. I had heard the scream before. It was the scream that someone was messed up. It scared me."

Flores said he traded fire with insurgents 20 yards away. When a Humvee arrived to get the wounded, Flores laid down hundreds of rounds of protective fire during a deafening exchange.

"As one of the corpsman ran to the house, bullets hit right behind him against a wall. Everyone said Doc Duty was faster than bullets that day," said Flores, who was twice wounded by shrapnel during the action.

"Doc" is Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Duty, a 20-year-old Navy corpsman from New Concord, Ohio.

"Despite extreme personal danger from small arms fire and exploding ordnance, Flores remained in his tenuous position, delivering devastating fire on enemy forces as they attempted to reinforce their attack," his nomination stated.

When the Marines pulled back to a safer position later that day, Flores could have left the city to get medical treatment, but he didn't have the heart to leave his fellow Marines.

He doesn't like to think about Fallujah, though he is proud of what Echo Company did there.

"I think I did real good that day, but a lot of people did real good. I was scared, but I just did it," Flores said. "I think about what happened in the city and the people wounded and killed. We think about them a lot. No one from this company will ever forget what we did out here."

Lance Cpl. Craig Bell got mad when he was nearly killed by an enemy grenade. And then he got even.

"You know when they say that things slow down?" asked Bell, 20, from Del City, Okla. "That's what happened when I saw the grenade.

"It was a pineapple grenade with a cherry-red tip," Bell said. "I didn't think they even made grenades like that anymore. It was like something from a World War II movie."

Bell ducked behind a pigeon coop for cover.

He "heard explosions and shooting in real time" while he seemed to drift into space. "I watched the grenade for what seemed like forever until it went off . . . but I talked to Marines later and they said it all happened in a split second."

The blast wounded Bell in the right side and jump-started the clock.

"I thought, 'That's it!" said Bell, a grenadier. "I thought about my wife and daughter and not doing anything stupid. But I was just so angry that he had thrown a grenade at me that I didn't care. I was going to take someone out."

He grabbed ammunition for his grenade launcher and started blowing up rooms from which insurgents were firing, estimating he launched 100 rounds in about an hour.

Despite his wounds, Bell "expertly placed high-explosive around through the windows of adjacent buildings," reads his medal recommendation. "Without his brave actions, 2nd platoon would have been hard-pressed to hold their position and evacuate wounded Marines."

"I was proud to be a part of something so brave and so strong," Bell said. "I know what I did. I saved someone's life, and I know that what other people did saved me."

Not all of the heroics focused on the enemy.

The corpsman, Duty, and Sgt. Skiles were recognized for evacuating wounded Marines while exposed to unrelenting fire.

Duty braved enemy fire four times to load Marines into a Humvee driven by Skiles, who coordinated the rescue.

"I do remember thinking I was in trouble about the third trip because that's when the volume of fire increased a lot," Duty said.

"When we were loading the last guy, they chucked a hand grenade at our Humvee and it hit the hood. It rolled off and didn't explode. I think they were trying to throw it in the back where the wounded were being loaded."

Duty's medal nomination reads: "As bullets impacted within inches of his head, Duty remained resolute in his mission."

Skiles was lauded for evacuating the Marines and for his leadership in combat.

Part of his lengthy medal nomination states:

"Without his courage, his company would not have been able to evacuate his wounded in the expeditious manner ? and more Marines would have been exposed to danger longer.

"Skiles' combat leadership is the metal weld that holds his company together during times of adversity."

It will be weeks, perhaps months, before the Marine Corps approves any decorations, especially the higher ones. By then, the Echo Company Marines probably will be back at Camp Pendleton.

And Hampton will be left with only his memories of what Echo Company did because as he'll tell you:

"They honestly cannot make a movie about what we went through. Every Marine did so much more than what they had to do, from the littlest private first class to the commanding officer. Everyone did so much more."
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« Reply #37 on: August 04, 2004, 01:06:35 PM »

Woof All:

My intention for this thread is to focus on our soldiers-- not politics.  That said, this article addresses the question of the military going political.  One of our country's great strengths has been a military that, on the whole, stays out of politics.    

Regardless of where each of us stands in terms of the WW3, the election, etc. this article raises issues that IMHO transcend these other matters.

Crafty Dog

General Malaise

August 4, 2004; Page A12

The Kerry campaign has announced its list of retired generals and admirals endorsing their candidate; the Bush campaign will soon produce its list, and no doubt both will mobilize more retired stars for the coming fight. One need not be paranoid about civil-military relations to think this a bad business, reckless on the part of the politicians and destructive on the part of the former flags. By serving as props for presidential candidates the retired generals put at risk the confidence that citizens and officials alike place in the political neutrality of the armed forces. They have every legal and constitutional right to behave this way, of course, as they have every right to make second careers as pole dancers in Vegas. But in so doing they diminish American politics, and damage the national defense.

Out of a 1.4 million-person military, the U.S. has fewer than a thousand generals and admirals on active duty; it is an elite group of men and women who have risen to the top of a remarkably meritocratic system. Once they retire they deserve, and usually receive, a degree of deference and opportunity unmatched by those in other professions. They may wear civvies but continue to go by their military titles (unlike, say, sergeants and captains, who revert to Mr. or Ms. the day after they doff the uniform), and they find a warm welcome in boardrooms and TV studios. When the country is at war, they get a respectful hearing on strategy and tactics. Informally they exert a great deal of influence on today's military, filled as it is with their former subordinates and prot?g?s. They appear prominently in the web of consultancies, advisory panels, Congressional hearings and defense contractors that makes up the informal defense establishment. They carry weight because of their experience, and the expectation that they speak with the voice of disinterested patriotism.

In a way, then, generals never retire. When they become openly political, endorsing one candidate or denouncing another, they create the notion that the military is a constituency -- the unfortunate word reportedly used by the late Secretary of Defense Les Aspin -- rather than a neutral instrument of policy. In 2000, there was far too much suspicion on one side, and glee on the other, at the likely impact of military votes on the outcome of the election. If the public becomes accustomed to thinking of the military as the uniformed equivalent of the National Education Association, it will be treated as such by politicians -- romanced or paid off, marginalized or denounced as circumstances suggest.

The endorsing generals have an effect on the troops. The captains and sergeants get the impression that although more discretion is allowed retirees than active-duty soldiers, there's nothing wrong with a military person articulating partisan views. And from there the leap is not so long to obstructing policies with which one disagrees, while the distance lengthens to becoming a professional who can be relied upon to give objective advice on sensitive matters.

If recently retired generals get into the endorsing business, it must be assumed that a secretary of defense will have, as one of his considerations in promoting or easing out a general officer, the likelihood that today's four star is tomorrow's political problem. That, in turn, paves the way for a flag officer cadre led either by political sympathizers or colorless bureaucrats, which spells death to the brutal but confidential candor that strategic decisions require.

It makes all the sense in the world for retired general officers to offer public commentary on professional matters, although history suggests that even on military affairs that judgment is far from infallible. But as judges of political horseflesh they have nothing over their fellow citizens. If as a class the retired flags had a keen political sense and a keener appetite one might expect them to run for the House, Senate and governors' mansions, or at the very least seek second careers in political journalism, polling, and the party organizations. They do not, and for a good reason: They are not, by and large, very good at domestic politics, and they recoil at its necessary ambiguities and deceits.

Molded by a hierarchic, orderly, technical culture, they have decidedly mixed records at the open and chaotic business of running for office and governing. Which explains why more than one retired general has evinced an embarrassing buyer's regret at endorsing one candidate or the other. There are exceptions, no doubt, to the rule that generals make poor political activists. Who would want to exclude Eisenhower from American politics? Then again, does anyone really think there is an Eisenhower out there? And are the records of Grant, MacArthur, LeMay and Westmoreland so inspiring that retired flags should be encouraged to plunge into politics?

The politicians will woo the flags: In the contest for office, most scruples mean little. As in so many other cases, the burden falls upon the retired generals themselves to hold the line, to adhere to standards of professional conduct that civilians may not even understand. The vast majority of the retired flag officers remain discreetly silent during political campaigns, because they know that partisanship does no good to the armed services or the country. The U.S. has more than enough real battles for the military to fight, and the political neutrality and discretion of our generals is too valuable at any time -- but during wartime above all -- to jeopardize for passing partisan advantage.

Mr. Cohen, a Johns Hopkins professor, is author of "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime" (Free Press, 2002).
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« Reply #38 on: August 09, 2004, 09:32:46 AM »


STARS AND STRIPES -- The U.S. Army is making sweeping changes in its
training program for new recruits, reports the Pacific edition of the
Stars and Stripes.

As front lines become less defined, soldiers who have traditionally been
far from the fighting, such as clerks, cooks, truck drivers and
communications technicians, now frequently find themselves in the middle
of the action.  With the Army being stretched thin by long-term deployments, soldiers are frequently in combat zones within 30 days of being assigned to their unit, leaving little time for additional in-unit training.

The Army's new training includes more live-fire exercises, urban combat
practice and sleeping in the field.
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« Reply #39 on: August 26, 2004, 12:12:04 PM »

Woof All:

FWIW IMHO what is happening now in Najaf could play a pivotal role in IIG establishing itself as a legitimate govt and thus as the mechanism through which the Iraq nation can plan and hold the elections which will return it to full sovereignty.

Our troops' courage, skill, professionalism and blood are what enable all this to happen.

My profound thanks and gratitude to them as I live a free, safe and happy day with my family and friends.

Crafty Dog

'We Have Been Fighting Nonstop'
Some of the most heated clashes in Najaf have shifted to the streets of the Old City.
By Edmund Sanders, Times Staff Writer

NAJAF, Iraq ? On the top floor of the "Apache Hilton" in downtown Najaf, U.S. Army sniper Paul Buki ended a 24-hour shift by collapsing into a pile of dust, bullet casings and empty military food packages.

From this penthouse perch in a half-built tourist hotel ? seized and nicknamed by U.S. troops ? the Army staff sergeant has an unobstructed view of Najaf's Old City, a historic district in Iraq's holiest city that over the last week has been transformed into a war zone.

With the gold-domed Imam Ali Mosque in the background, smoke and flames rose Tuesday from a building still burning more than 15 hours after the previous night's fighting. Two Apache helicopters swooped down through a deserted street and disappeared behind a three-story building. Mortar rounds, tank cannons and machine guns boomed and cracked throughout the day as U.S. forces battled followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr.

"It's been intense here," said Buki, covered in a ghostly white dust after a night spent huddled behind a brick wall, firing at militants and reporting hostile positions from his fifth-floor lookout.

In the struggle to remove Sadr's militia from the mosque, some of the most heated clashes have shifted from the cemetery where major fighting began to a neighborhood of the Old City just south of the shrine.

"We have been fighting nonstop," said Lt. Col. Jim Rainey, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, whose 800 soldiers have been battling street by street to seize control of the area south and east of the mosque.

In the cramped ancient city, hand-to-hand combat has been unavoidable.

During a raid Monday, U.S. troops swarmed into the basement of a school building now occupied by the militia. The troops were unaware that the militia was using tunnels to move in and out.

Catching each other by surprise, a 240-pound Army sergeant, a native of Samoa, and a 130-pound militia member found themselves face to face, said Maj. Tim Karcher, operations officer of the unit.

"He beat the snot out of the guy," Karcher said.

But during the fight, another militia member tossed a grenade into the basement, killing a comrade and seriously injuring the sergeant, who was evacuated for treatment.

On average, Rainey said, his troops are attacked about three dozen times a day with mortar shells, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

"We see a lot of activity during the day," said 1st Lt. Jimmy Campbell, part of the scout platoon based in the commandeered hotel. Not long after he spoke, a militant sniper's bullet pinged into the lobby where troops were hanging out. It hit a wall.

"We're used to it," Campbell said with a shrug. "They never hit anything."

There are no showers and no chow hall. Soldiers eat MREs ? meals ready to eat ? and shower with bottles of water, heated by the 115-degree temperatures.

Out front is a sign, "Apache Hilton," hand-painted by Alpha Company, which inhabited the space before moving closer to the mosque a few days ago.

As Rainey moved his soldiers closer to the holy site, he noticed that the resistance increased. The artillery used in the mortar attacks went from 60-millimeter to 120-millimeter.

So far, no one in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment has been killed in action.

The toll on the neighborhood, however, has been heavy.

It's unclear how many civilians have died; the military does not compile figures. Iraqi Health Ministry officials say dozens of civilians have been killed since the fighting in Najaf resumed nearly three weeks ago.

Though some areas of the city have returned to normal, residents in parts of the Old City say they live in fear. Sidewalks are covered with broken glass from storefront windows. The bombing has exposed interior walls of buildings. A traffic cop's stand lies toppled in the street.

Rainey said that U.S. troops had taken "excruciating pains" to avoid damaging civilian buildings but that it was unavoidable.

"It's like playing tackle football in a hallway," he said.

Over the last day, the militants' resistance appears to have waned, officials said.

U.S. troops were optimistic that Sadr's militia was starting to fold.

"They've stopped maneuvering on us," Karcher said. "We have to go out there and find them."

The militants' tactics are also growing more frantic, U.S. officials said.

Last weekend, militia fighters tied an explosive device to a donkey cart, shoved the donkey into the street and then used a long string to detonate the device from around the corner.

"It's a sign that they're getting more desperate," Karcher said.
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« Reply #40 on: September 01, 2004, 02:08:09 AM »

From an internet friend-- Crafty

Moreover, I've attached a document with an article on pages 3 and 4 which includes a very brief discussion of the Bataan death march.  Had the author not escaped from the Japanese when taken prisoner as a boy in the Philippines, doubtless I would not be around today to write these words.  

(The document is the May 2003 issue of a newsletter produced by the Ramada Express Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, which is "proud to be the founder and Home of the American Heroes Veteran Program."  More at <<>>, <<>>, <<>>, <<>>, and <<>>.)

Back to the Japanese in WWII -- from <<>> (all bolding is my emphasis):  

"In World War II, they did not believe enemy POWs deserved humane treatment, and would not allow the ICRC to inspect the POW camps believing that they were only there on propaganda and spy missions. Their soldiers were taught that capture would bring dishonor to themselves and their families. This partially explains why percentage wise, so few Japanese were captured. They would rather die heroically than live in disgrace. By 1942 only a few thousand Japanese were in captivity versus over 200,000 Allied troops.

While the Allies believed Japan agreed to abide by the 1929 Geneva Convention, they in fact only agreed to do so as long as it did not interfere with their military policy. General Tojo Hideki, Japan's war minister and premier, said in 1942, POWs would be expected to do all that Japan's citizens were do to. In reality their treatment was much worse. POWs were subjected to strict discipline, arbitrary beatings, inadequate food and medicine, and executed if they tried to escape. The Japanese were not concerned about retribution to their own soldiers because they were considered non-persons, due to allowing themselves to be captured. When the Red Cross tried to publicize worldwide about the treatment POWs were receiving at the hands of the Japanese, they denied it. When the Japanese realized they were loosing the war, their abuse became worse and they murdered or caused the deaths of thousands of POWs. They did this because they knew liberation was near and they did not want the POWs to be liberated."
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« Reply #41 on: September 11, 2004, 05:31:36 AM »

Nice foto montage
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« Reply #42 on: September 20, 2004, 08:45:31 AM »

Woof All:

There was a foto of the President with Mike McNaugton on a run together which came with the following email but I don't know how to post the foto.


Subject: Fw: A promise kept]

Attached is a picture of one of my best friends in the Army, Mike McNaughton.  We were privates together in 1990-1994.  He stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan Christmas 2002.  President Bush came to visit the wounded in the hospital.  He told Mike that when he could run a mile, that they would go on a run together.  True to his word, he called Mike every month or so to see how he was doing.  Well, last week they went on the run, one mile with the president.  Not something you'll see in the news, but seeing the president taking the time to say thank you to the wounded and to give hope to one of my best friends was one of the greatest/best things I have seen in my life.  It almost sounds like a corny email chain letter, but God bless him.

CPT Justin P. Dodge, MD

Flight Surgeon, 1-2 AVN RGT

Medical Corps, U.S. Army
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« Reply #43 on: October 21, 2004, 11:37:57 PM »

Subject: FW: Statement of RADM William L. Schachte, Jr.]

A new voice has been added to the debate over the
circumstances surrounding Sen. John Kerry's first Purple Heart.
William Schachte, who was a lieutenant in the Navy during Kerry's Vietnam tour - and who later rose to the rank of Rear Admiral - has released a statement describing the events of December 2-3, 1968,  when Kerry received a minor shrapnel wound for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. What follows is Schachte's statement, in full.

Statement of RADM William L. Schachte, Jr. USN (Ret.)
August 27, 2004

 As was true of all "Swiftees," I volunteered to serve in Vietnam and was assigned to Coastal Division 14 for a normal tour of duty. I was a Lieutenant serving as Operations Officer and second in command at Coastal Division 14 when Lieutenant (junior grade) John Kerry reported to us in mid-November, 1968. Lt. (jg) Kerry was an Officer-in-Charge (O-in-C) under training in preparing to be assigned as one of our Swift Boat O-in-C's.

At some point following President Johnson's announcement of the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam in March 1968, we were directed to become more aggressive in seeking to find and destroy or disrupt the enemy in our operating area. As part of this effort, I conceived a new operation that became known as "Skimmer OPS." The concept was simple. A 15-foot Boston Whaler was sent into an area where, based on coordinated intelligence, North Vietnamese cadre and Viet Cong were
expected to be meeting or where, for example, concentrations of enemy forces might be involved in the movement of arms or munitions. We  were to draw fire and quickly get out of the area. This would allow more concentrated firepower to be brought against the enemy forces we had been able to identify.

These operations were carried out only in "hot" areas and well away from any villages or populated areas. A Swift Boat would tow the skimmer to the general area of operations, and the ambush team would then board the skimmer and proceed to the designated area of operations. The Swift Boat would be riding shotgun and standing off, occasionally out of sight, to provide fire support and long-range communications. The Skimmer was powered by an outboard motor, and we carried an FM radio, handheld flares, an M-60 machine gun with a
bipod mount, and an M-16 mounted with a starlight scope. If the night was heavily overcast, we brought an M-14 mounted with an infrared scope. We also carried an M-79 single-shot grenade launcher. In addition to our combat gear and flak jackets, we often carried .38-caliber pistols.

The operation consisted of allowing the skimmer to drift silently
along shorelines or riverbanks to look or listen for sounds of enemyactivity. If activity was identified, we would open fire with our automatic weapons, and if we received fire, we would depart the area as quickly as possible, leaving it to air support or mortar fire from a Swift Boat standing off at a distance to carry out an attack.

I commanded each of these Skimmer operations up to and including the one on the night in question involving Lt. (jg) Kerry. On each of these operations, I was in the skimmer manning the M-60 machine gun.

I took with me one other officer and an enlisted man to operate the outboard motor. I wanted another officer because officers, when not on patrol, were briefed daily on the latest intelligence concerning our sector of operations and were therefore more familiar with the current intelligence. Additionally, at these daily briefings, officers debriefed on their patrol areas after returning to port.

On the night of December 2-3, we conducted one of these operations, and Lt. (jg) Kerry accompanied me. Our call sign for that operation was "Batman." I have no independent recollection of the identity of the enlisted man, who was operating the outboard motor. Sometime during the early morning hours, I thought I detected some movement inland. At the time we were so close to land that we could hear water
lapping on the shoreline. I fired a hand-held flare, and upon it
bursting and illuminating the surrounding area, I thought I saw
movement. I immediately opened fire with my M-60. It jammed after a brief burst. Lt. (jg) Kerry also opened fire with his M-16 on automatic, firing in the direction of my tracers. His weapon also jammed. As I was trying to clear my weapon, I heard the distinctive sound of the M-79 being fired and turned to see Lt. (jg) Kerry holding the M-79 from which he had just launched a round. We received no return fire of any kind nor were there any muzzle flashes from the beach. I directed the outboard motor operator to clear the area.

Upon returning to base, I informed my commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, of the events, informing him of the details of the operation and that we had received no enemy fire. I did not file an "after action" report, as one was only required when there was hostile fire. Soon thereafter, Lt. (jg) Kerry requested that he be put in for a Purple Heart as a result of a small piece of shrapnel removed from his arm that he attributed to the just-completed mission. I advised Lt. Cmdr. Hibbard that I could not support the request because there
was no hostile fire. The shrapnel must have been a fragment from the M-79 that struck Lt. (jg) Kerry, because he had fired the M-79 too close to our boat. Lt. Cmdr. Hibbard denied Lt. (jg) Kerry's request.

Lt. (jg) Kerry detached our division a few days later to be
reassigned to another division. I departed Vietnam approximately three weeks later, and Lt. Cmdr. Hibbard followed shortly thereafter. It was not until years later that I was surprised to learn that Lt. (jg) Kerry had been awarded a Purple Heart for this night.

I did not see Lt. (jg) Kerry in person again for almost 20 years.
Sometime in 1988, while I was on Capitol Hill, I ran into him in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building. I was at that time a Rear Admiral and in uniform. He was about 20 paces away, waiting to catch the underground subway. In a fairly loud voice I called out to him, "Hey, John." He turned, looked at me, came over and said, "Batman!" We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, agreed to have lunch sometime in the future, and parted ways. We have not been together since that day.

In March of this year, I was contacted by one of my former swift boat colleagues concerning Douglas Brinkley's book about Senator Kerry, "Tour of Duty." I told him that I had not read it. He faxed me a copy of the pages relating to the action on the night of December 2-3, 1968. I was astonished by Senator Kerry's rendition of the facts of that night. Notably, Lt. (jg) Kerry had himself in charge of the operation, and I was not mentioned at all. He also claimed that he was wounded by hostile fire.

None of this is accurate. I know, because I was not only in the boat, but I was in command of the mission. He was never more than several feet away from me at anytime during the operation that night. It is inconceivable that any commanding officer would put an officer in training, who had been in country only a couple of weeks, in charge of such an ambush operation. Had there been enemy action that night, there would have been an after action report filed, which I would have been responsible for filing.

I have avoided talking to media about this issue for months. But, because of the recent media attention, I felt I had to step up to recount my personal experiences concerning this incident.
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« Reply #44 on: October 22, 2004, 04:51:11 PM »


October 23, 1983 - A suicide bomber drives a truck into the Beirut Marine barracks, murdering 242 American peacekeepers, while they slept. Simultaneously, another suicide bomber murdered 58 French peacekeepers on a French military base.
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« Reply #45 on: November 08, 2004, 06:48:10 PM »

Our best Howl of Respect to our troops in Fallujah (and elsewhere):

While driving along today in peace and tranquility I thought of our troops going into battle today in Fallujah.

I take this moment to thank them, and all the others elsewhere in this struggle, for what they do for all of us.

Crafty Dog of The Unorganized Militia


Shortly after its opening strikes, the assault against Al Fallujah moved into a phase in which U.S. and Iraqi troops gained a tactical advantage. The capture of several key points within the city would make it possible for the coalition troops to push insurgents into a corner or, at the very least, divide the city and restrict the guerrillas' movements. The pace of the attack as it continues will reveal the political climate surrounding the military maneuvers.


The joint U.S.-Iraqi assault against Al Fallujah has begun. After a lengthy preparation, troops moved quickly from the operation's opening strikes into what seems to be their main thrust into the rebel-held city.

The coalition forces' moves have put them in a position to back the insurgents into a corner. The next maneuvers in the operation depend on whether the insurgents will give up any further ground -- and the rate of those maneuvers will depend on the political climate in the city.

U.S. forces have taken two key bridges over the Euphrates River at the western end of the city. Between the entrances of those bridges is Al Fallujah's largest hospital, which U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured. The hospital has several tactical advantages. As one of the tallest buildings in the city, it provides a good observation point -- especially for troops to watch travelers on the main road through town or on the bridges on either side of the hospital. The capture of the hospital also made it unavailable to insurgents as a base of operations and as a medical facility. Al Fallujah's citizens -- guerrillas and civilians alike -- will have to depend on three smaller hospitals that remain in rebel hands inside the city.

Click here to enlarge the image.

The bridges and hospital were secured, along with a key railhead to the north of the city, just before U.S. and Iraqi forces thrust into two neighborhoods in the city proper -- the northwestern Jolan district and the northeastern Askari district.

Whether U.S. forces intended this effect, the maneuvers they have conducted thus far will put them in a very tactically advantageous position. After seizing the two key bridges -- thereby blocking off the westbound Baghdad Highway -- and pushing south with two assault heads from the northeast and northwest, the U.S.military can push insurgent forces toward the Baghdad Highway running from east to west through the center of Al Fallujah.

That highway is wide enough that close air support assets, such as A-10 attack planes and AC-130 gunships, could be used with little danger of collateral damage. The highway makes a perfect track for strafing attacks against those who attempt to move south across it. There have been reports that during the preparation for the U.S.-Iraqi attack, Al Fallujah's insurgents established a tunnel system in the city -- possibly under the main roads and possibly to avoid just such an air assault.

The scenario of a U.S. "flush maneuver" designed to drive the insurgents south into a "kill zone" -- the Baghdad Highway -- hinges on one simple thing: whether the insurgents can be made to give up their ground and be driven toward the highway. If the insurgents dig their heels into the neighborhoods throughout northern Al Fallujah, they could either repel the U.S. assault or be killed where they stand.

If the military cannot drive the insurgents toward the Baghdad Highway, then it will likely control the highway with air support in an attempt to bisect the city and effectively split the defending insurgents' strongholds. This would help the U.S. forces keep the guerrillas from moving their manpower and heavy weapons from the north to the south and vice versa.

There have not been reports of troops in the southern half of Al Fallujah -- as there were when U.S. troops pushed in from the southeast during the April assault against the city. This does not mean there is no activity in that area; it only means there have been no official statements or other reports about troops in that area. If there is something going on in southern Al Fallujah, it will be some time -- possibly not until the end of the entire operation -- before the activity is made public.

At this point, the initial assault against Al Fallujah is not over, nor has the fighting reached its apex. As of this writing, it seems U.S. forces are maintaining their tactical initiative against the insurgents. However, reports of counter U.S. thrusts or insurgent attacks have not filtered in -- other than an unconfirmed report from Al Jazeera that an Apache helicopter was shot down -- and thus the picture remains incomplete.

The momentum of the maneuvers in Al Fallujah should be noted. The speed at which the assault continues will indicate the nature of the operation's political tactics. A slower assault with more pauses for logistics and rest will indicate more willingness to continue negotiations with leaders in Al Fallujah as the fighting goes on. An aggressive, fast-paced campaign will indicate the opposite -- that Washington and Baghdad are no longer interested in negotiations but want a military victory over the insurgent hotbed of Al Fallujah.
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« Reply #46 on: November 09, 2004, 10:10:52 AM »


Email from Dave - Nov 3, 04  
Dear Dad -

As you have no doubt been watching, we have had our hands full around Fallujah.  It would seem as if the final reckoning is coming.  The city has been on a consistent down hill spiral since we were ordered out in April. It's siren call for extremists and criminals has only increased steadily and the instability and violence that radiates out of the town has expanded exponentially.  If there is another city in the world that contains more terrorists, I would be surprised.  From the last two years, I just don't see a way that we can succeed in Iraq without reducing this threat.  The cost of continuing on without taking decisive action is too high to dwell on.

The enemy inside the town have come to fight and kill Americans.  Nothing will sate their bloodlust and hatred other than to kill everyone of us or at least die trying.  It is hard to fathom as a Westerner as rational thought would dictate that we will only be here for a relatively short blip in their history and while we are here, billions of dollars in investments will pour in and opportunity that is beyond comprehension will open up for anyone willing to work.  This is not Kansas and this enemy does not think like that.

If we build a school or clinic, they destroy it.  They would rather deny medical care or education for the children of the citizens who live nearby than to have any symbol of the West in general and America specifically among them.  It is hard to comprehend.  Frankly, we are done trying.

For eight months, we have been on our chain.  The enemy has fooled itself misinterpreting our humanity and restraint for lack of will and courage. For eight months, we have watched Marines, Soldiers and Sailors maimed and killed by invisible cowards hiding behind some wall or in a canal as he detonates another IED.  For eight months, we have been witness to suicidal sociopaths driving vehicles laden with explosives into crowds of Iraqis and into our own convoys.  

Just last week, we lost another nine Marines killed and an equal number of wounded as the result of some ignorant extremists who was able to convince himself that killing himself and as many Americans as possible would send him to paradise where he could finally get his virgins.

Now, their own ignorance and arrogance will be their undoing.  They believe that they can hold Fallujah.  In fact, they have come from all over to be part of its glorious defense.  I cannot describe the atmosphere that exists in the Regiment right now.  Of course the men are nervous but I think they are more nervous that we will not be allowed to clean the rats nest out and instead will be forced to continue operating as is.  

Its as if a window of opportunity has opened and everyone just wants to get on with it before it closes.  The Marines know the enemy has massed and has temporarily decided to stay and fight.  For the first time, the men feel as though we may be allowed to do what needs to be done.  If the enemy wants to sit in his citadel and try to defend it against the Marine Corps and some very hard Soldiers... then the men want to execute before the enemy sobers up and flees.

It may come off as an exceptionally bellicose perspective but where the Marines live and operate is a war zone in the starkest reality.  When the Marines leave the front gate on an operation or patrol, someone within direct line of sight of that gate is trying to kill them.  All have lost friends and watched as the enemy hides within his sanctuary that has been allowed out of what one must assume is political necessity.  The enemy has been given every advantage by our sense of morality and restraint and by a set of operational rules that we are constrained to operate under.  The Marines feel like their time has come and we will finally be ordered to do what must be done and be given the latitude to do it.  Even though the price will be high, there is not a man here that would chose status quo over paying the price.

Every day, the enemy takes more hostages, assassinates developing Iraqi leaders and savagely beats suspected collaborators.  I will give you just one recent example that happened last week.  One of our patrols was moving down a street when they saw what looked like a fight.  The Marines closed with the scene.  It was a family that had come to Iraq on religious pilgrimage that was taken hostage and was being taken into Fallujah.  The muj stopped for some reason and the father began fighting.  The Marines interdicted and captured two of the kidnappers.  Two more ran and the Marines could not get a shot without fear of killing/wounding others.  

Every day, insurgents from inside Fallujah drive out and wait for Iraqis that work on our bases.  Once the Iraqis leave they are stopped.  The lucky ones are savagely beaten.  The unfortunate ones are killed.    A family that had fled Fallujah in order to get away from the fighting recently tried to return.  When they got to their home, they found it taken over by terrorists (very common).  When the patriarch showed the muj his deed in order to prove that the house was his, they took the old man out into the street and beat him senseless in front of his family.

Summary executions are common.  Think about that.  Summary executions inside Fallujah happen with sobering frequency.  We have been witness to the scene on a number of occasions.  Three men are taken from the trunk of a car and are made to walk to a ditch where they are shot.  Bodies are found in the Euphrates without heads washed downstream from Fallujah.  To date we have been allowed to do nothing.

I have no idea the numbers of beheadings that have occurred in Fallujah since I have been here.  I have no idea the number of hostages that have ended up in Fallujah since we have been here.  I just don't know that Americans would be able to comprehend the number anyway.  Unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse.  There is no hope for any type of reasoned solution with an enemy like this.  

Once again, we are being asked by citizens who have fled the city to go in and take the city back.  They are willing for us to literally rubble the place in order to kill the terrorists within.  Don't get me wrong, there are still many inside the town that support the terrorists and we cannot expect to be thanked publicly if we do take the city.  There is a sense of de ja vu with the refugees telling us where their houses are and asking us to bomb them because the muj have taken them over.  We heard the same thing in April only to end up letting the people down.  Some no doubt have paid with their lives.  The "good" people who may ultimately buy into a peaceful and prosperous Iraq are again asking us to do what we know must be done.  

The Marines understand and are eager to get on with it.  The only lingering fear in them is that we will be ordered to stop again.  I don't know if this is going to happen but if it happens soon, I will write you when its over,


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« Reply #47 on: November 09, 2004, 11:41:20 PM »

Col. (ret) Ralph Peters:



November 9, 2004 -- THE most decisive battle since the fall of Baghdad has begun. Thousands of U.S. Marines, Army units and Iraqi government forces have moved into Fallujah. Now we need to finish the job swiftly, no matter the cost in death and destruction, before the will of our civilian leaders weakens again. Stopping even one building short of the annihilation of the terrorists and insurgents would be a defeat. Al-Jazeera will pull out the propaganda stops, inventing American atrocities. The BBC will pressure Tony Blair to rein in our president. Iraqi faction leaders will press Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to accept a cease-fire for "talks."

The weight of the free world is on the shoulders of our Marines and
soldiers - and on the backs of our Iraqi allies. They've got to wrap up
major operations in a week.

We can do it. Our troops are the best in the world. The early phases of
combat last night showed solid intelligence work and adept planning. The
terrorists spent months preparing defensive traps, but our combat
engineers - key members of the team - blew right through the roadside bombs and barricades. We're off to an impressive start.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are attacking on multiple axes, keeping the terrorists off balance. Key sites within the city already have been seized - including a hospital that cared more about propaganda than its patients. Iraqi national forces have performed solidly thus far. A win in Fallujah will mark the birth of their new nation - one that never really existed in the past, when Iraq was held together only through oppression.

Significantly, the main assault began after darkness fell. Following months
of preparatory airstrikes and unpublicized raids by U.S. special operations
forces, the night attack instantly put the terrorists at a disadvantage.
Although our enemies may have acquired a few night-vision devices, our
troops are superbly equipped and trained as night stalkers.

In the irregular wars of the past, the guerrillas owned the hours of
darkness. Not anymore. G.I. Joe is the Midnight Master.

Expect 'round-the-clock ground and air operations that give the terrorists
no rest and deprive them of the initiative. Our troops know how important
this battle is. They'll fight ferociously. The Marines, especially, are
itching for revenge after being deprived of victory for political reasons
last April. They only need to be allowed to do the job right this time.

It's up to President Bush not to let them down. No matter what happens, no matter who complains or balks, no matter the false accusations from
Al-Jazeera and the BBC, our president needs to stand firm until the job is
done. By quitting in April, we created the terrorist city-state of Fallujah.
Now we need to shut it down for good.

Meanwhile, be prepared for media monkey business. No matter how well things go, we'll hear self-righteous gasps over the inevitable U.S. casualties. The first time a rifle company consolidates a position long enough to bring up ammunition, we'll hear that the attack has bogged down. If commanders on the ground decide to shift forces from one axis of advance to another, we'll be told that our troops couldn't make progress against "dug-in terrorists."

If four Iraqi units out of five perform well in battle, but one outfit fails
or flees, we'll be bombarded with reports insisting that our training
program hasn't worked, that the Iraqis aren't really with us, that the
interim government has no grass-roots support (sort of what the Dems said about George W. Bush).

And if Operation Phantom Fury goes miraculously well, we'll be criticized
for waiting too long to go in, for exaggerating the threat and for knocking
over a stop sign with a tank.

The global media lost the U.S. presidential election. They'll do their best
to win the Second Battle of Fallujah for the terrorists.

The truth is that war is cruel. And difficult. And complex. It's never as
smooth as it is in a film or a video game. In real life, heroes get killed,
too - sometimes by friendly fire. Mistakes are made, despite rigorous
planning. The enemy shoots back. And sometimes the enemy gets lucky. Tragedy is war's inseparable companion.

We cannot foresee all the details of the combat ahead. The fight for
Fallujah may prove easier than we feared, or tougher than we hoped. Time will tell. Meanwhile, don't let your view be swayed by the crisis of the hour. Have faith in our troops and their leaders.

In return, I can promise you one thing: If we don't fail our troops, they
won't fail us.
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Posts: 42494

« Reply #48 on: November 11, 2004, 04:33:37 PM »

Here is a woman, married for years, trying to understand why her husband would volunteer to join a National Guard unit that would be going to war.  Maybe her thoughts can help others understand what being in the miltary, or having served, is all about.  
Gregory, MI

I didn?t understand until that Sunday evening as we drove down the road. I had tried to get it. I had tried to understand why the man who hated to be separated from me for even a day would be willing to pack up his duffle bag and go to a place that was everything he hated in this world.

My husband is one of a dying breed. He grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in a small town. His address in the town of McMillan was ?Just past Helmer. It?s the white house with the five big maple trees and two Farmall tractors out front.? He was born in that white house, learned to drive on the tractors and spent his childhood playing underneath the maple trees as he dreamed of the big city. He is not a ?city slicker? as he calls me. This man loves the small farming towns and is outside of his element in the city. He hates the heat and can?t live without trees; many trees. The desert and intense heat is not something he has ever had a desire to visit.

When he explained to me that he was planning to transfer to a new unit within the Michigan Army National Guard, I understood why. The unit he had spent the past five or so years was going to be disbanded and made over. He would no longer be a mechanic but a truck driver. A man who even in his off time visits the dairy farm behind us and throws hay for the heck of it, is not a one who can sit and drive a truck all day. So, when he explained he would be changing units, it made perfect sense to me.

What did not make sense to me was the unit he had decided to transfer too. He chose one that he knew was already on alert. I was horrified at best. While alert is not a guarantee of mobilization, it is a fairly safe bet to expect within a short time that unit will receive orders for parts unknown. I asked him why on earth he would voluntarily move to unit that is very likely destined to find itself in the thick of Operation Enduring Freedom. He just looked at me, obviously a bit startled by my horror and explained ?Well, I am going to go anyway, sooner or later. I might as well get it done and over with.?

After over seven years of marriage I know when I am being sold a bunch of bull and this was more bull than he had ever tried selling me before. I wasn?t buying a single word. Get it done and over with; not quite. This was the same man I had to beg, plead and throw a fit to keep from finding a unit that had been deployed to Afghanistan after 911. This had nothing to do with getting anything done and over.

While, I did not understand why he felt the need to do this, I did understand he believed this was something he must do. I hated it and cursed myself as I promised to stand behind him and support whatever decision he had made. We had discussed the various units that had his MOS available, where they had been located, which units he had some contact with during AT, which units he liked and so on. We had also discussed which ones looked good for mobilization in the near future before he made any decision about leaving his old unit. When he asked me where I wanted him to go, I told him not to ask me. I was terrified that any suggestion I made would land him in a unit that would be find itself mobilized, I also did not want to make him feel guilty for doing what he felt was right.

I knew I could not live with the guilt if my input had any bearing on his choices. I promised to stand behind any decision he made and left it at that. It didn?t take long before I was kicking myself for taking such a stand. I wanted to scream, cry and beg for him to choose another unit. As tempting as it was, I knew that if he changed his mind merely to please me, we would both have to live with the regret for the rest of our lives. That kind of regret I can live without.

I spent weeks trying to comprehend why he would purposely put himself in harms way. I asked every question I could think of, never getting a satisfactory answer. I even started to ask other members of the military. Everyone I came across from Vietnam Vets to other members of the National Guard found themselves being questioned about what drives them to head into a combat zone. Nobody could give me an answer that helped me understand.

Many times husband reminded me that while he was in service during Panama and Operation Desert Storm for reasons beyond his own control he never actually left the United States. Being a civilian, this sounded to me like a good thing. He would just smile at me with a look of amusement and say ?It?s all about the patch Honey.? My husband has never been one to worry about awards or patches, but the combat patch was more than one more thing to sew onto his uniform. For him it was something much bigger. If that patch was all this was about, I would happily go to a surplus store and find him one: I knew better.

One Sunday evening after having dinner with our brother-in-law and his wife we were driving home. Somehow we ended up on the topic of my greatest pet peeve: The phrase ?Weekend Warrior?. I have always felt those two words are the most insulting thing one can say to any soldier. I had spent a good part of the past several years as a member of family support for his unit. I knew the men and women of his unit, I knew about their past military history. I knew about the phone call they received the day after Christmas several years before. Their holiday celebrations took quite a turn as they were informed they were being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm. These men and women had served their country in so many ways; they have all gone above and beyond one weekend a month and two weeks a year. They had served in combat and still most American?s had no idea that any of them have ever done anything but assist during a flood or a local crisis.

Somewhere in that conversation my husband had become very quiet. He looked over at me and I could see something in his eyes, something that I had not recognized before that day. He looked at me and began to speak in a voice that chilled me to the bone. The quiet for some reason seemed ear shattering ?A Weekend Warrior but a full time soldier.? I didn?t get a chance to respond this very simple comment that suddenly spoke volumes before he began to explain. ?When I was at PLDC, there was a Colonel there who spoke at graduation.? The look on his face assured that he had my full attention. The man who usually had a glimpse of humor in his eyes was deadly serious as he continued ?He told us that he saw his civilian job as his part time job and the Guard was his full time job. At the time I thought he was crazy. The check I got each month didn?t feed my family or pay my bills. But now??..? There was sadness in his eyes. September 11, 2001 had changed us all in many ways; it had changed my husband?s ideals and his reasoning for remaining a soldier. It had given him a different sense of pride and a much stronger belief in his duty to his country.

My husband didn?t need to finish that sentence; he had actually explained it to me many times and in many ways over the previous 3 years. The man that had been a soldier first in the regular Army and then a reservist with the Guard was in for more than the fun or because he would get a very small retirement in comparison to his retirement from his civilian job. This man is a soldier at heart. It is who he is, it defines him. He is a Carpenter by trade, an incredibly talented craftsman; yet, he does not take even a fraction of the pride in his skill as he does when he puts on his uniform and shines his boots. When a friend questioned his reasoning for choosing a unit that is already on alert he explained. ?The easiest thing in the world is knowing what is right; the hard part is doing what is right.? Finally I understood.

My husband like so many others who give up their weekends and summer vacations to fufill a promise they have made to the citizens of the United States is also willing to take a large cut in pay and separate himself from those he loves to join his other family: The family of fellow Weekend Warriors who no matter where they are, what they are wear or what they are doing are always soldiers.

An American Hero
More than a few folks predicted that after the elections there would be a shift in the tone of coverage of the Iraq war. Whatever the reason, credit the NY Times for publishing this profile of an American hero, Sgt Rowe Slayton.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HEADHUNTER, Iraq - Wearing 60 pounds of body armor over his desert camouflage uniform and cradling a black M-4 rifle, Sgt. Rowe Slayton looks every bit the typical Army infantryman in Iraq.
He is not.

An Air Force Academy graduate and former F-15 fighter pilot, then-Major Slayton left the Air National Guard 17 years ago to run his civilian law practice in Denver and rear his six children. But his life changed not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when he enlisted in the Arkansas Army National Guard in what he says was an act of patriotism.

Now Sergeant Slayton, 53, is leading three other soldiers young enough to be his sons on an infantry fire team that regularly runs combat patrols in the Haifa Street section of Baghdad, one of the riskiest missions in the Iraqi capital. More than a third of the 119 soldiers in his Guard unit, Company C of the First Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, have been awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded in action since they arrived here in April.

"That's one club I don't necessarily want to join," said Sergeant Slayton, in full battle gear one recent afternoon while his platoon acted as a quick-response force to back up another unit on patrol.

Pentagon officials have been expressing fear that the sweeping call-up of tens of thousands of Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers for yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may soon cripple recruiting and retention in America's part-time force. But Sergeant Slayton's story echoes those of a small number of other reservists with prior military service who have answered the nation's call to arms.

Military personnel specialists say that his case is unusual in several other ways too: the long gap since his previous service, his willingness to enlist as an Army sergeant after a career as an Air Force officer and fighter pilot and his willingness to volunteer for infantry duty when the Army is searching for every able-bodied foot soldier to battle the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It all raises the question, "Why?" to which Sergeant Slayton smiles and patiently tries to explain, obviously not for the first time.

"This country has been so good to me," he said. "I just have so many things to be grateful for. It's an honor to be here."


Sergeant Slayton is a self-effacing man who initially declined to be interviewed for this article and agreed only after being assured that his fire-team comrades would be included.


For a high-flying aviator, the life of a muddy-boots ground-pounder has been an adjustment. "It's taught me humility," Sergeant Slayton said. "I'm not at the bottom, but I can sure see it."

Then again, there are not many Army sergeants whose college classmates are now senior generals in Washington and in Japan.

Sergeant Slayton graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1973. He rose quickly through the ranks, first as a T-37 instructor and then as a pilot in the first operational F-15 fighter squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

But he said he became disenchanted with the military. It was during the Carter administration, and he was frustrated with cuts in military spending and capability. He left active duty to attend law school in Denver, but remained in the Air National Guard, commuting to a unit in Des Moines for seven years.

In 1987, he decided to leave the Guard. By then he was a major and more promotions seemed likely. But the cold war was winding down, and he had never been deployed overseas, much less seen combat. His family and law practice beckoned.

When the Persian Gulf crisis broke out in 1990, he looked into volunteering, but the war ended before anything came of that.

It was not until the Sept. 11 attacks that he again felt the calling. This time, he said, he was determined to find a combat unit. An Air Force recruiter told him that he had been out too long and had lost his officer's commission. "I was too old to fly anyway," he said.

On a trip to his summer home in Arkansas in 2002, he stopped at an Army National Guard armory in Arkadelphia, where a recruiter listened to Sergeant Slayton's story and promised him a spot if he passed a physical exam. That was easy for Sergeant Slayton, a stocky, muscular man with cropped graying hair. After nearly a year of bureaucratic snarls during which the Guard lost his records twice, Sergeant Slayton finally took his oath of service in June 2003 and reported for two weeks of annual training.

The deployment has taken its toll on his personal and professional life, as it has for many other reservists. His law partner married, and he had to close his practice. "Clients don't really like their lawyer being in Baghdad," he said. (Nonetheless, he has filed two appellate briefs from here.)

Sergeant Slayton sent his 11-year-old son, James, the only one of his children left at home, to live with the boy's mother. He said he regularly called and sent e-mail messages to his son, but had underestimated how difficult his deployment to a combat zone would be on James. Despite the danger and hard stares he and his unit get from many Iraqis in the streets, Sergeant Slayton said he still believed in America's mission in Iraq. "While out on patrol recently, I had an older woman walk alongside me," he said. "She kept her eyes straight ahead so no one could see she was talking to me, and she kept thanking me for being here."

An amazing story. There's a picture of Sgt Slayton on the Time's page, complete with DCU pilot and jump wings.
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« Reply #49 on: November 15, 2004, 11:39:22 AM »

Guerrilla's paradise
Staff correspondent Matthew McAllester goes with members of the 7th Calvary Division into the middle of Fallujah as they fight core rebels



November 14, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- From inside, the sound of an armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenade hitting a Bradley Fighting Vehicle is more tenor than bass, a bang rather than a boom. It produces an immediate cloud of dust and smoke, shakes the entire 30-ton vehicle like an empty beer can and is suddenly over, making the relief of still being alive almost instantaneous and the window of fear negligibly small.

"Go, go, driver, go," Sgt. Calvin Smalley of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment shouted on the radio, as soon as the explosion happened at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

Specialist Eric Watson, the driver, said nothing. The vehicle didn't move.

"Is Watson hit?" Smalley shouted.

Suddenly, the Bradley roared into motion, taking off at pace as the gunner pounded the nearby buildings with the high explosive rounds on his 25-mm cannon.

"Hey, Watson, you hurt at all?" asked Sgt. Akram Abdelwahab, 28, speaking into a radio handset from the rear compartment of the Bradley.

"I got shrapnel in my ----," Watson radioed back. He drove on a bit more.

"We got a hole about four inches by four inches," he radioed. "I got shrapnel in my leg and in my ----."

That was Watson's second battle injury. He also was injured in the battle of Najaf in August. That's two Purple Hearts for the 22-year-old from Wirt County, W.Va.

Having established that Watson wasn't seriously injured, his buddies proceeded to roast him over the radio, teasing him as they do on a regular basis -- but this time with a sort of grudging admiration for his stoicism. He didn't suggest once that he wanted medical care, and he kept on driving.

"Hey Watson," Abdelwahab, from Spartanburg, S.C., asked him in a baritone, gravelly Southern drawl, "you missing your boyfriends?"

Although Abdelwahab is of a higher rank, Watson gave him a piece of his mind.

Well-equipped insurgents

The battle of Fallujah took on a menacing new dimension for the American military forces on Friday.

One thing more than any other convinced the 2nd Battalion and other U.S. forces early in the day that the forces they were now fighting in the south of the city are the hardcore of Fallujah's insurgents: They were using expensive and up-to-date armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, and they knew how to fire them accurately and in complex ambush formation. That implied considerable financial resources, efficient arms supplies and military experience and training. It had some military commanders wondering whether the rumors of expert Chechen rebels working as commanders in Fallujah might be true.

In total, four tanks and five Bradleys from the 2nd Battalion were damaged Friday by insurgents. None had been damaged before in the battle.

Commanders said they were happy at the progress of the vehicle-based Army units and the mainly infantry Marines working alongside each other,? but noted that the battle remained intense and hazardous for American and interim Iraqi government forces.

"It was a good fight," said Lt. Col. Jim Rainey, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion. "Little better fighters, little better equipment."

The upsurge in fighting had come with Friday's sun. Apache and the two other armored companies of the 2nd Battalion had left their base just outside Fallujah at 6 p.m. on Thursday, pushed into town and headed south.

There, in thus-far uncharted territory for the American forces in Fallujah, they had encountered some resistance; but as on previous nights, the insurgents proved that they prefer to fight during the day. At night, the Americans can see the rebels through infrared sights. By day, that advantage is erased.

Fallujah in ruins

The center of Fallujah is a shattered place. Rotting bodies in the street fill the air with the stench of death, which comes and goes with the breeze. Chunks of rubble are strewn along roads and sidewalks. Many stores and homes and other cinderblock buildings have huge holes ripped into them by American shells. Bombs have collapsed many roofs.

The electric and telephone wires that line the streets are now twisted spaghetti. There's no power in town and the moon is a mere sliver right now, so at night, the only thing that lights up the streets is the glow of speeding munitions and explosions.

Cats and dogs are the only casual pedestrians in town. On Thursday night, soldiers in one Bradley watched on their infrared screen as three dogs, showing up as dark figures in the green-and-black world of infrared, tore at the flesh of a dead body.

War-torn Fallujah is a guerrilla's paradise. The rubble and the darkened holes of the town's abandoned shells provide great cover. Narrow alleyways and tight-knit housing help their movement. They appear, shoot and disappear. Actually spotting them is a rarity for most soldiers.

"It was like a shooting gallery at a carnival," said Capt. Ed Twaddell, 30, the commander of Apache company, Friday afternoon. "They pop up, they pop down."

With the fighting increasing in tempo, Twaddell, the other company commanders and Rainey decided to initiate a two-pronged attack in a fresh piece of territory south of a road the Americans have named Isabel. It would begin at noon.

The idea of the combined Army and Marine units at this stage in the battle was to keep pushing the insurgents south, killing as many as possible along the way, until they have been swept into the southern reaches of the city, where more American forces awaited them.

At the start of the path that Twaddell, of Jaffrey, N.H., and the other tank and Bradley commanders were about to take was an open area, a sort of courtyard. Three-story buildings stood nearby. A good spot for an ambush.

One officer said later that the insurgents who were hiding there must have been stockpiling weapons and scoping out positions inside the buildings for days, waiting for the Americans to come that way.

"These guys got some organization and did some research," said Smalley, 42, of San Diego, the commander of Apache 14. "They didn't just wing something like this. They're not special forces but I'm sure they've got some kind of training ... They got their financiers, trainers and executors."

The tanks and Bradleys of the 2nd Battalion have their own kind of organization and research, which they believe will prove ultimately successful. In the battle of Najaf in August, Rainey and his officers found that if you park it, they will come.

Sitting targets

Often, Rainey's Bradleys and tanks in Fallujah stay in the same spot for a long time, deliberately setting themselves up as targets in order to attract insurgents. Rainey describes this theory of combat as setting his vehicles up as "bugzappers."

"We got down there," he said on Friday afternoon. "We found the bugs. We're killing them."

It's a tactic that has its dangers. Staying static allows insurgents to get their sites on the vehicles and at various times in the morning mortars sailed out of the sky with unsettling frequency, landing close to the huge vehicles and shaking them, the layers of dust inside floating up into the close air yet another time.

Cultural risk

Another risky part of the American tactics -- although in this scenario the risk is cultural and political -- is the military's willingness to fire on mosques if insurgents fire from them first. No matter the justification of such tactics under international law, images or reports of U.S. soldiers firing on mosques does not play well in Iraq, the Muslim world at large or in many non-Muslim countries around the world, where anti-war feeling is high.

That's a price the commanders are prepared to pay if it means allowing their soldiers to defend themselves fully.

At one stage on Friday morning, insurgents fired at Apache 14 from a mosque. Under the military's rules of engagement, American soldiers are permitted to fire on any of Fallujah's 77 mosques if insurgents shoot from them first.

"They brought this ---- to themselves," Rainey said in the afternoon, visibly upset by casualties his battalion had just sustained. "Every mosque we found weapons inside. They're the ones who don't respect Islam, not us."

Apache 14's gunner shot through every window he could see. He pounded parts of the minaret, splinters of stone flying into the air.

Abdelwahab grabbed the radio handset and listened in to what the commanders were discussing.

An insurgent "hit a tank and the tank shot a main gun round through the mosque," reported Abdelwahab, whose father is Lebanese by birth and a Muslim. "Yeah, we gotta back off at least 300 meters. The Marines are going to drop a 300 pounder on the mosque."

"The main gun round going through there would pretty much wipe them out anyway," Cogil said.

Watson backed the Bradley away from the mosque, but the bomb never came. Officers later said they felt there were too many American vehicles in the vicinity to bomb the mosque without risk of a friendly fire incident.

The morning wore on amid an ever-intensifying hail of mortars, RPG attacks and small-arms fire. It was time for the two-pronged push to the south that Rainey, Twaddell and the other senior officers had planned.

The troops, after experiencing the early attack on Apache 14, might have assumed the worst was over for the day. It wasn't.

Attack on an Apache

At noon, Apache 14 had joined a group of other armored vehicles near the courtyard and three-story building. Suddenly, fire seemed to be coming from all sides.

"Apache 60's been hit," came a tense voice over the radio. Apache 60 was Twaddell's, the company commander. There were casualties, the voice said. "They need evac immediately."

Specialist Scott Cogil knew that meant he was up. He was the closest medic to the scene.

Sitting in the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Apache 14, only 50 yards from the Bradley that had just taken a vicious hit from another armor-piercing RPG, 20-year-old Cogil jammed his Kevlar helmet onto his head, grabbed his aid bag and waited for the ramp at the back of the tracked vehicle to lower.

So did four other soldiers, waiting in the near-dark box they had been sitting in for 18 hours, crawling around the streets of Fallujah while the gunner blasted away at insurgents.

With the hum of hydraulics, the ramp started going down. Their faces were tight. For all they knew, some of them, perhaps all of them, might not come back. They didn't discuss what they had to do in those moments as sunlight flooded the vehicle; not a word. The ramp hit the ground and outside there were hundreds of bullets flying around.

"Let's go," one shouted.

Operation rescue

Their M-16 rifles pointing toward nearby buildings, the five young soldiers burst out into a confusing world of noon light, massive gunfire, hidden enemies and injured comrades. They didn't even know which of the other nearby Bradleys they were meant to run to.

They found it.

There was a hole in the rear of Apache 60. Small, about an inch in diameter, but big enough for the grenade to enter the tiny compartment that can fit six soldiers. It had crashed through, searing through the side of an Iraqi-American translator, ripping the left arm off one of the soldiers almost at the shoulder and leaving shrapnel embedded in two others. Blinding smoke mixed with blood in an instant.

Twaddell was in the turret. Soft-spoken, bespectacled and modest, he kept his nerve in the chaos.

"It was very confusing," he said later. "I saw a flash in front of my knee. The turret was filled with smoke. I checked the gunner was OK, popped the hatch."

Twaddell stuck to his radio while his men tended to the wounded. Within minutes, he had organized a group of Bradleys around Apache 60 and Cogil and the other four from Apache 14 were there to help.

Bullets cracked past them and they didn't really know where they were coming from. Everywhere, it seemed.

Cogil found the wounded sergeant already lifted out of the Bradley, a soldier holding his belt tightly around the bleeding stump as a tourniquet. Fortunately, the arm was severed so far up that the major artery in the upper arm was not blown open. Cogil applied a more permanent tourniquet and helped load the wounded soldier into another Bradley.

"He was taking it like a champ, saying 'I'm fine, I'm fine,'" said Cogil, of Rantoul, Ill. The wounded sergeant kept asking if his men were safe as they rushed him out of the kill zone. On the way, Cogil said, boxes of ammunition and other items kept falling on the wounded man. "I felt terrible," Cogil said.

Their job done, Cogil's four colleagues grabbed one of the less seriously wounded men and raced back through the gunfire to their Bradley.

To safety, for now

With the ramp back up, the men sat in silence, breathing heavily, keeping their helmets on.

"That was ... freaky," the wounded soldier said. (His name, and the names of other wounded soldiers, are being withheld to allow them or the military time to notify their families.) "An RPG came through the side."

He stared at the three pieces of metal poking out of his right hand. They glinted in the small shaft of light slicing into the compartment from one of the envelope-sized periscopes in the rear.

"Get 'em back right now," came an officer's voice on the radio. "Let's go back to the train station."

As Apache 14 headed north, the soldier with the shards of metal in his hand stretched it out gingerly, keeping the blood flowing. He looked up and laughed: "It's crazy." Then he bowed his head and put his fingers to his forehead, rubbing them gently as if he were extremely tired.

"We're rolling," Abdelwahab said.

Barely a word was said before the Bradley had rolled past the train station on the outskirts of town and north toward the 2nd Battalion's temporary base in the desert at an old plaster factory.

Back out to battle

Once there, the injured went to the medical aid tent and the rest of the soldiers cleaned the inside of the Bradley and then themselves.

Rainey spoke with Twaddell and other officers. Twaddell "guesstimated" that they had killed about 35 insurgents, that there were perhaps 200 out there in the south still.

The commanding officer, it turned out, had lost another soldier from his corps. A tank had rolled over, killing the man instantly. But overall, Rainey was pleased with the progress his men were making. One of the hit tanks was quickly repaired and returned to duty. A soldier painted "I'm Back" in black spray paint on its front.

"I made him paint it over," Rainey said, laughing. He walked through the fields of powdery dust toward Apache 14. Abdelwahab was shaving. Cogil was dabbing at himself with baby wipes, the closest soldiers here come to a shower. The limping Watson offered to display his rear-end wounds and deflected the usual ribbings.

"Listen," Rainey said. "You guys are doing great ... It's humbling, humbling to be around."

"Thanks, sir," someone said.

Six hours later, they got back in Apache 14 and headed back to the fight.

What's Wrong With Combat Pay?

November 15, 2004; Page A22

American soldiers are risking their lives in Fallujah. No one would say that they don't deserve a special bonus for wearing America's uniform in these embattled times. No one, that is, except many members of Congress -- Republican and Democrat. While these pols fall all over themselves to argue how much they support the troops, they back a policy called "pay parity" -- which sends the message that the soldier risking his or her life in Iraq is just like any other government worker.

"Pay parity" dictates that federal military and civilian workers must get the same percentage increase in pay. The concept has governed in most of the last 20 years of congressional appropriations, but the Bush administration has argued that a special raise is in order for the armed services. The administration's budget for fiscal year 2005 provides for across-the-board pay increases of 3.5% for military employees and a smaller raise for federal civilian workers.

But even with a war on, government employees' unions and many in Congress still make the argument that soldiers serving in Iraq and bureaucrats at the IRS are equally important to the well-being of America. Tom Davis (R., Va.), who represents suburbs of D.C. that many federal workers call home, states that "both civilian and military employees are the government's greatest asset." House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), with a similar constituency, asserts that "Congress and the White House should not undermine the morale of dedicated federal public servants by failing to bring their pay adjustments in line with military personnel." Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, says that ending pay parity would send to federal employees the message "that their work is . . . not as valued, and not as vital as that of . . . military counterparts."

Yet if members of Congress are as concerned about soldiers as they say they are, the message to Ms. Kelley and her ilk must be that, as important as some of the work done by civilian employees is, their work is not as indispensable as that done by the soldiers keeping our country free. Congress still has a chance to change this policy in the lame duck session.

Opponents of pay parity also warn that sticking to existing policy in the coming years could hamper the efforts to retain the best soldiers in the military. They also refute arguments used to support pay parity based on the supposedly large pay gap between federal-civilian and private-sector workers. Rep. Ernest Istook (R., Okla.) points out that over the last four years, pay raises for federal civilians have been double the Consumer Price Index's cost-of-living increase. Federal workers also get the day off with pay on 11 federal holidays, more paid time off than most private-sector jobs provide. And, of course, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan don't get any holidays from being in harm's way.

Besides, in wartime, federal civilian workers should understand why the military should get priority in pay raises. As Ramona Fortanbary, editor of Veterans' Vision, writes, "These patriotic men and women, who after all did choose government service over more lucrative private employment, can and will understand that . . . at times of great demand upon the military services . . . the troops need the money more."

Mr. Berlau is a journalism fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
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