Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Media and Iraq in general and Fallujah, specifically

Now, my (very few) regular readers know that I don't like to preach much. I know this blog is being read by you-know-who, but that's only part of the reason. The real reason is that I'd prefer to show you pictures of every day life in Iraq rather than give you my views on events that are beyond my control and out of my lane. However, in reading the below piece from Jack Kelly, it struck me that I haven't shared with you my own little first-hand brush with media bias. So here goes:

We've hosted several media correspondents (print and TV) out here at the CMOC ... LA Times, NY Times, Fox News, CNN, Knight-Ridder, AP, UPI, even GRD (German) TV. I have, to a man/woman, gotten along well on a personal level with every single correspondent that's come through here.

However, almost invariably, the "good parts" of the story get covered up and obscured by the bad news, or the "facts" are reported in a manner which makes things appear to be worse than they actually are. For example, one recent visiting correspondent (I'm not going to name names here, you can google it just as easliy as I can), in reporting on reconstruction progress in Fallujah, wrote words to the effect that "only 60% of the homes in the southern part of Fallujah have power or water."

Now, reading that, you'd think that we just plumb were not doing our jobs here, wouldn't ya? Well, the reporter was technically correct. We do still have some work to do in the southern part of the city. However, the real story is that, prior to our arrival, ZERO PERCENT of homes in the southern part of Fallujah had power or water. Yes, on our watch, contractors solicited by us and paid for by us have gone in and put power to poles and water to pipes where previously there was none! Your intrepid correspondent chose to report it this way, despite the fact that he had been shown a brief which graphically displayed before-and-after status, and he had been told what I just wrote here. I reckon it just "reads better" that 40% of Fallujans in the south don't have power or water, despite our efforts and ongoing plan to get it there, hm?

I'm not trying to imply that all media are bad or purposely mis-represent the facts, but just remember to keep an open mind when you're reading anything: this blog, mainstream media, DoD press releases. People are naturally biased one way or the other, and it follows that our passion about issues seeps into whatever we write or produce, even though we may try to keep it "fair and balanced" -- to borrow a phrase.

Anyway, for the real scoop, check out folks like Michael Yon, Michael Fumento, Ollie North, and yes, even "MSM" CNN correspondent Jane Arraf, to name but a few.

Washington Times
August 21, 2005

Familiar Patterns

By Jack Kelly

Near the end of his touching account of the funeral of Lance Cpl. Brian Montgomery, one of six Ohio Marine reservists killed in an ambush Aug. 1, the Los Angeles Times' David Zucchino reported a fact I have seen nowhere else:

"Before leaving Iraq, Eric made his buddies promise they would track and kill the insurgents who took his brother from him. Last week, he said, a squad member's mother called to relay a message from Iraq: 'We got the [expletive].' "

News reports from Iraq typically lead with U.S. casualties, usually without putting them in context or reporting what happened to the enemy. Two days after Brian Montgomery's death, 14 Marines from the same battalion were killed when a roadside bomb destroyed the amtrac in which they were riding. It was Page One news all over the country. But there was little on Operation Quick Strike, in which they were taking part.

Imagine if correspondents covering the Normandy invasion had emphasized American casualties, while downplaying the strategic significance of the battle, the greater losses of our enemies and the valor of our fighting men. Would people on the home front have become discouraged?

Suspicions Iraq war coverage is intended to discourage the home front have deepened because of the massive coverage accorded Cindy Sheehan, recently camped out on the doorstep of President Bush's ranch in Crawford.

Cindy's son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year. She suffered a terrible loss, but no different than that of more than 1,800 other mothers. Why have the media given Mrs. Sheehan so much attention and so little to the others? Could it be because Mrs. Sheehan opposes the war, and most of the others do not?

This is a familiar pattern for journalists. Thousands of Americans lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But media attention was lavished on a handful -- the so-called Jersey Girls -- stridently critical of President Bush.

Soldiers and Marines in Iraq have complained bitterly that journalists exaggerate their difficulties and give short shrift to their accomplishments. "I know the reporting's bad because I know people in Iraq," Mark Yost, associate editorial page editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said in a July 12 column.

"I get unfiltered news from Iraq through an e-mail network of military friends who aren't so blinded by their own politics that they can't see the real good that we're doing there," Mr. Yost said. "The fact that makes this all the more ironic is that the people who are fighting and dying want to stay and the people who are merely observers want to cut and run." Mr. Yost was subjected to a torrent of criticism from thin-skinned colleagues.

"I'm embarrassed to have you as a colleague," wrote Pioneer Press reporter Charles Laszewski. Knight-Ridder Baghdad bureau chief Hannah Allam (Knight Ridder owns the Pioneer Press) said only the press knows the real story.

Steve Lovelady, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, in an e-mail exchange with Web logger Jeff Jarvis implied Mr. Yost should be fired because "he's a right-wing shill who belittled and betrayed hundreds of reporters who go into harm's way every day to tell us what the hell is really going on."

But most journalists rarely leave the fortified green zone. "It's very confining for our staff to go into Baghdad and have to spend most of their time on the fifth floor of the Palestine Hotel," said Mike Silverman, Associated Press managing editor.

Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor, said it was much easier to add up the number of dead than to determine how many hospitals got electricity on a particular day or how many schools were built.

Mr. Silverman and Miss Carroll were recounting to the New York Times' Katherine Seelye a July AP editors' discussion of reader complaints that only one side of the Iraq story was being told.

The AP could, of course, embed more of its reporters with U.S. troops. But then they would be in greater danger than at the Palestine Hotel, and would be deprived of its comforts.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bagpipe Concert at the CMOC

Bagpipe Concert at the CMOC
Originally uploaded by nelsontom.

This afternoon we were treated to an impromptu concert by LtCol Pat Carroll, who's been visiting with us here at the CMOC. I reckon the mood just struck him, and he climbed into the ring and began to play.

Next thing you know, he had an audience consisting of Marines, a Sailor, and interpreters, all struck by the haunting notes. Most moving for me was a medley consisting of "The Marine's Hymn," then a "Yankee Doodle" bridge right into "America The Beautiful" (which, as you know, already has some history here at the CMOC). Good stuff, to say the least.

More on LtCol Carroll and his piping background here.

Semper Fi!

Bagpipe Concert at the CMOC
Originally uploaded by nelsontom.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Pulp Fiction Fun

How apropos ... since we just got Hondo to watch the quintessential "bad mofo" flick Pulp Fiction the other day. Can you believe the man flies jets for a living but has never seen that movie?? The Lion King? 100s of times. Full Metal Jacket? never Once (3 days ago). He's an enigma, that one.

Anyway, take the quiz. They say I most resemble "The Wolf," based on my answers. Which is cool, since he's my favorite character and Harvey Keitel is a Marine.

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

You are the king of smooth -- enough said.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More CMOC kids

This was a recent day in which the chaplain came out to the CMOC to hand out toys and school supplies donated by the great citizens of the United States.

The children, seeing the boxes being brought out, began to rush over ... I was afraid they might mob poor "chaps," so I asked them to get in a line (ladies first, of course!). The line would also ensure that big kids and little kids got equal shares.

"Mistah, mistah, me go now? Mistah, for da baybeee!"

Of course, the moment I walk away to attend to some other business, the kids make a mad dash for "chaps," nearly bowling him over! It was kind of comical to see, but all in good fun. One of the young boys couldn't make his way through the mayhem, so our great interpreter Ansam picked him up and waded in to the fray to ensure he was not left out.

This is my friend Chris and a cute little boy who was also enthralled with seeing himself on the small digital screen (see below for another one). Chris and his team had gone up to deliver school supplies (again, donated by generous Americans) to a little school in Saqlawiyah (a small town north of Fallujah). The boy's mother, a teacher at the school, was nearby watching. Chris had this to say:
"I told her I had four sons, and I loved her little boy. Just as an American mother would speak in casual conversation she said, 'He's too rotten. You can have him!' " Priceless!

A good man

A good man
Originally uploaded by nelsontom.
Mofeed Ismael Yehia and his son, taken in June 2005. More on his story later.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dust Storm in Western Iraq

I thought you all might like to see pics of the BIG dust storm that covered us up from late last night until the present. EVERYTHING is covered in a fine red dust, and I mean INSIDE as well as outside. I have to wipe off my computer every hour or so. The covers on my bed are turning red.... can't wait to snuggle up in there tonight!

Pictures (these were all taken in and around the CMOC at about 1100 today, when the sun *should* be almost at its brightest):

"Papa Top" and Samir the interpreter inside the CMOC. Notice the light, or lack thereof (normally this passageway is flooded with sunlight). Papa Top is a Vietnam-era Marine (with some broken time), lives in Tennessee, and is the captain of the USMC Reserve Rifle Team (good guy to have around if you're intendin' on shootin' somebody). Samir is an Egyptian doctor who took a break from doctorin' in Egypt to do some 'terping for us.

Here's a shot of our rooftop from the "boxing ring" courtyard. Those stairs are how I get up to my post when the muj start misbehaving and we have to go to general quarters. Those small directional antennas are our phone and internet links ... they shoot to a bigger antenna back at Camp Fallujah. The other one is our VHF radio antenna, and is omni-directional.

That's THE SUN (look closely near the center of the picture and you can see it).

A view of our parking lot looking west. Those light towers used to light up a basketball court. Can you believe that? I guess Bill Clinton's "midnight basketball" youth engagement plan made it all the way to Fallujah

This is looking north towards one of the security posts a couple hundred meters from our back door (the small dark blotch near the center of the picture). I zoomed in a little so you could see the post. It was barely visible to the naked eye. Luckily, Mr. Ali Baba the muj hates the dust just as much as we do, and, for the most part, he stays home with his rifle and RPG at times like this.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Here are some shots of the children out front this morning. The chaplain's assistant came out today and we helped hand out shoes, coloring books, and stuffed animals. These kids are just so cute that it breaks your heart not to be able to do more for them.

I hope that by the time they're teenagers this country will be well on its way to being a Middle Eastern powerhouse.

Cpl Toland of CMOC Guard hands out shoes. Don't let her smile fool you ... she's tough, and takes no flak from the Iraqi females.

This little girl looks like such an angel.

After I took the shot below, I showed this little guy the image on the screen on my digital camera. He was just mesmerized by it, looking at the screen, pointing at himself, smiling, and looking back at the screen. His sister, not so much.

She quickly tucked herself into the folds of mama's burkha.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Originally uploaded by nelsontom.
Let me tell you how excited we are here at the CMOC to have been able to watch the launch of the shuttle *Discovery* *LIVE* on TV!!

The live feed from the tank camera was simply amazing ... and when the tank separated...... I was simply spellbound!

To think that the last time a shuttle was in the air, 2 1/2 years ago, we were not in Iraq, most of us didn't know each other ... it's just phenomenal to think about the changes in our lives and in our country.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

We obviously can't read.

Chris and I enjoy a cigar inside the CMOC with LtCol Dave Benhoff, MNF-W Historian, who is headed home on Friday.

(click on the picture if you can't read the sign at this resolution)

Click on "Comments" to leave one.

PLP Meeting

Today I had a meeting with Engineer Hamed Hamad, one of those who have emerged recently as one of the true leaders of Fallujah. Hamed sits on the Fallujah Reconstruction Committee, the Fallujah City Council, and was elected to the Al-Anbar Provincial Council. That's Hamed in the center of the picture.

Hamed and his team do all the hard prep work for the Property Lease Program (see below for more explanation of the PLP). That is, they actually assess the properties, collect documentation, and submit the completed claim packages to us. We then check the documentation, prepare the leases (through CREST), and execute the leases and payments.

I wanted to meet with Hamed and his fellas to ensure we were all on the same sheet of music for the upcoming PLP execution. Since Chris will be escorting Hamed's team around the city, I asked him to sit in (that's Chris and his interpreter next to Hamed). We got some good work done, and agreed on a target date for completion of the program. We will be mission complete by 1 September, insh'Allah.

Click on "Comments" to leave one.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Marines & Sailor Killed - Close to Home

It's taken a while to write about the below events, and much like the Crocker post, I debated whether or not to post this. However, you've read all the news reports and seen the TV anchors. I wanted to wait for all the fresh debate about women in combat to subside before I posted this -- I didn't want to add to the din. You come here for the real gouge, and I think of this as adding to the existing tributes to our fallen and documenting the heroism of those who were there.

By now you've all heard about the SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improved Explosive Device) attack on our convoy on 23 June in which 5 Marines and a Sailor were killed, and 13 more were wounded. Some of those killed and wounded were "our girls" as we called them, meaning they worked right here at the CMOC, searching female Iraqis before they were allowed to enter our perimeter. I've attached a couple of pictures so you can remember CS1 Regina Clark (KIA) and Cpl Sally Jane Saalman (WIA) and pray for them and their families, as well as the other Marines who were killed and wounded in the attack.

Sgt Kent Padmore (a reserve Marine from the Miami area, an EMT in his "civilian" job -- and a native of Trinidad like my good friend Dave Roberts, MSgt, USMC (Ret)!) is the NCOIC of the CMOC guard force. After a long day of keeping us safe, he typically brings his team inside the CMOC where the can get some chow, work out, check their email, etc. while awaiting their evening convoy ride back to Camp Fallujah.

On the 23rd, Sgt Padmore's team had just shoved off when we heard the bomb go off, and just had a horrible feeling that our convoy and "our girls" were the targets. The helplessness of being here, 1/2 mile away and not being able to go out and help was not a feeling I'd like to experience again soon.

Ironically, the SVBIED attack occurred just 2 days after we formally dedicated a room here in the CMOC to the memory of Maj Ric Crocker, whom I wrote about below. We delayed the opening of the CMOC that day so that Sgt Padmore's team could participate. At the dedication, LtCol Haldeman said a few words, and Cpl Sally Jane Saalman closed the ceremony with a stirring a capella rendition of "America The Beautiful." There were few dry eyes in the house when she finished, even among our Iraqi friends.

Immediately following the attack, the disabled vehicles came under small-arms fire. The terrorists were shooting our stretcher bearers and those giving aid to our WIAs. So much for peaceful religious beliefs. Nevertheless, our Marines returned fire, maneuvered against the despicable enemy, performed first aid, and evacuated the wounded. Sgt Padmore risked his life several times by entering the burning wreckage to pull wounded Marines free. I am certain that you will be reading more about this fine Marine in the future. Cpl Saalman provided first aid to others before she finally submitted to the corpsman and allowed herself to be treated. As the vehicle carrying the wounded raced for Camp Fallujah, I'm told that -- despite the trauma they had just experienced, the shock, and the pain they were all feeling -- Cpl Saalman kept everyone calm. How, you may ask? What did this young Marine do to try to ease the pain, reassure the frightened? She did one of the things she does best: she sang "America The Beautiful" over and over until they reached the safety of Fallujah Surgical.

The next day, the guard force was back on the job. It makes my heart swell with pride just to be in the same grid square as these young heroes.

I understand that Cpl Saalman will soon be released from the burn center at Ft Sam Houston in Texas, and she is expected to make a full recovery. The attack was a tragedy to be sure, but we've got to press on and get this thing done. These people are experiencing freedoms for the first time, and every day I tell at least one Iraqi how great it is to have a representative form of government and stress the importance of their participation in it. Slowly but surely, we're getting there. The sooner these people can stand on their own the sooner we can go home!

CMOC Guard Force - 21 Jun 05 - CS1 Clark is in front, along with Sgt Padmore. Cpl Saalman is in the back row. The Iraqis are members of the Public Order Brigade (POB). They and the Marines work together to screen the CMOC entrance so that the city government can conduct its business and we can work in relative safety.

Cpl Saalman and Hondo - This was taken just after the Crocker Room dedication ceremony. CS1 Clark is just over Hondo's shoulder.

Monday, July 18, 2005

In Response to a Comment...

In Response to a Comment...
Originally uploaded by nelsontom.

"SSgt, USMC" asked to see more photos of the CMOC entrance, as he used to work here.

Here is one taken on a typical day. You can see the literally hundreds of people who come for assistance.

Not only does the CMOC guard force protect us, but they also protect all these people waiting in line.

SSgt, email me at stingrayblog@gmail.com and I might be able to send a few more to your usmc.mil account. Semper Fi!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Round 2 of the Property Lease Program in Fallujah.

Here we are at the CMOC entrance during Round 2 of PLP.

In case you can't tell, I'm in awe of the Marines who run the entrance to the CMOC. There's a Sgt in charge, and several other Marines, to include "our girls," the female searchers, as well as some Iraqi Public Order Brigade soldiers. True professionals, all.

The first female Iraqi of Round 2 signs for her payment from SSgt "Moneybags."

She was gracious enough to allow us to take her photo, which would not have been allowed in this city a year ago.

(see below post for description of the PLP)

Monday, July 11, 2005

It's Not *All* Bombs, Bullets, and Bad Guys

This little fella wound up stuffing both his pants pockets, his shirt

pocket, and his mouth with candy! The girl was a little bit shy at first,

but she eventually wound up getting in there for her own handful.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Change of Duty

The latest news is that I am no longer residing at Camp Fallujah. I have moved "downtown" to the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC), located in the heart of the city of Fallujah. I got here on 8 June, and, believe me, it's a whole 'nother world out here! I work for a LtCol I met back in Camp Lejeune, "Hondo" Haldeman (yes, he's a pilot). Good guy, and fun to work for! We have about a squad's worth of Marines, a doc, and 6 interpreters.

As you know, in general terms, the CAG is the liaison between the military/government and the people of Iraq. Well, the CMOC is the where the rubber actually meets the road in Fallujah. Much business is conducted at the CMOC: city council meetings, reconstruction committee meetings, police recruitment, damage claims, etc. This is also where our tactical civil affairs (CA) teams solicit bids and award contracts. That's oversimplifying the mission, of course, but that's it in a nutshell. You can read more about the CMOC and what we do here:


My duties as the XO here will include normal "XO stuff," as well as economic development and governance issues. We have a small, tight team here, and it is incredibly different from being "near the flagpole" at Camp Fallujah! The building is in a compound that used to be a youth center at one time. We have a nice little courtyard area where you may have seen pictures of us enjoying cigars (on that note, you can see a couple pics of us at http://www.cigarsinternational.com/html/BIA030821.asp).

The newly-elected mayor of Fallujah takes time to pose with lil' ol' me.

In my view, one of the more important programs we do here is the Property Lease Program (PLP) payments... we paid Iraqis whose homes have been / were / are occupied by Coalition Forces. Believe me, it is the "right thing to do" ... imagine being forced out of your own home, which is then occupied by a foreign army. Last week saw the inaugural series of payments/leases under the program. We had some folks from the Contingency Real Estate Support Team (US Army Corps of Engineers) from Baghdad show up to execute the leases for the properties, and we then paid the people once they signed the lease. Happy folks indeed, including the one stubborn old lady who stuck around and wouldn't leave b/c she found an error in her paperwork. Turns out she was correct, and we didn't realize it until she produced a picture and showed us her house on a map, one of the interpreters ("terps") recognized it, and I made the call to pay her the extra $1000 we owed her (she got $1800 vice $750). With tears in her eyes, she actually said to me "God bless you, my son" (through another terp). Hopefully that's one less person that's gonna leave here and head on down to the muj recruiter! Over the course of the three-day period, we wound up paying out $75,600 to 94 individuals.

An Iraqi signing his lease and gettin' paid under the PLP.

The chow here is ... different. While there is a nightly chow run from the mess halls in Camp Fallujah (they bring it out here to one of the buildings), I haven't been over there to sample it. The stories I've heard are enough to keep me from suiting up and walking the 400m to the "forward" chow hall. That said, it's not that bad here. We have plenty of water, some refrigerators, showers, and bathrooms. Electricity is intermittent, but the grunts out in the field don't even have that, so I guess you could say we're fortunate.

One of the things that took some getting used to is the evening call to prayer. Being in the center of Fallujah, we are surrounded by mosques. There are more than one in each cardinal direction. As you may know, the imams get on the loudspeakers and chant/sing the call to prayer. It's especially eerie at night, sitting in the courtyard, hearing these calls come in from every direction and bounce off the walls. The guy to the NE just got a "new and improved" sound system ... he's now much louder than the rest! I'll have to make a recording so you all can hear it. Another interesting fact is that these guys are live, not Memorex!

That's about it from here. Thanks to all who have sent mail, packages, and notes. They really do keep us going!

I hope all the dads and dads-to-be (Alex!) had a great Father's Day!

Sunset at the CMOC.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fallen Warrior

I know it has been almost exactly one month since I've written and I apologize. Things have been quite busy here, lots of changes with 5th CAG.

First, I am sad to report that, shortly after my last message to you, a fellow Marine in the CAG was killed in action. Maj Ric Crocker's death stunned us all, for he was truly a mountain of a man, one seemingly untouchable.


Maj Ric Crocker - KIA 26 May 05

As you will no doubt be able to tell from reading the news accounts and testimonials from those who knew him, Ric was selfless, dedicated, tactically proficient ... all those words and phrases we so often read about in books or learn about at OCS or TBS. Ric was all that and more. While I only knew him for a short time, I, like others, am better for having known him.

To be honest, Ric's death is part of the reason I haven't written. I've been straightforward with you all up to this point, and I really struggled with whether or not I should write to you about what happened. I just didn't know how to explain all the feelings and loss we all feel – still don't... not to mention that I don't want any of you to worry any more than you already do.

At any rate, we have dealt with it, had the memorial services, and are moving on. Not to be trite, but it's what he would expect of us.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anybody recognize these guys?

Anybody recognize these guys?

LtCol Oliver North visited us last week. He came into our office and used my desk to do a quick book-signing. This pic is of he & I in my office.

Ollie is a great American ... proof-positive that if you believe in yourself you can rise above any adversity. Eighteen years ago, nobody in the Marine Corps wanted anything to do with him. These days, he is a celebrity everywhere he goes.

To his credit, he stops and chats, sign autographs, and poses for photos with any Marine or Sailor who asks.

As you can read in the post below, I also think he is one of the few war correspondents out here who "gets it." His reporting during Operation Matador out west was superb.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Thanks, Newsweek.

Cox & Forkum and others have this to say.

Well, it turns out that "Newsweek" got the story about US forces desecrating the Koran WRONG.

How many people died as a result of this mistake? How many people still believe this story to be true, and will direct their anger against the US? After hearing of this story, how many Muslims went down to sign up with their local "muj recruiter?" More importantly, how many more people will die as a direct or indirect result of this shoddy reporting "whoopsie?"

I wonder how much more it will take for people to realize that major news media get it WRONG sometimes (or, much of the time, depending on your view). Whatever happened to good ol' fashioned fact-checking? How about vetting your sources?

Cartoonist Chris Muir, over at Day by Day, has this to say.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Can this be for real?

A reporter from MSNBC is actually criticizing herself and colleagues for lack of coverage of Iraq. Congrats to MSNBC for allowing her to air her opinion. Maybe some other networks will take note.

I would also add that the ONLY good news stories this week ... those telling how it really is ... are coming from LtCol Oliver North of Fox News. Don't believe me? Look here and here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Port-A-John Art

Port-A-John Art

This was just posted in one of the heads by our office. You gotta love the creativity (and sense of humor) of Marines!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Recent Sandstorm

Recent Sandstorm

I was able to snap this pic yesterday before it got too bad. This was just as the storm was rolling in ... before visibility got too bad. Shortly after I took this, vis dropped to about 50-75 meters.
When it got dark, it reminded me of snow at night ... you know how falling snow seems to reflect what little light there is at night? Seems to me it's the same way in a sandstorm (as long as there's external light -- like from a streetlamp).
In the morning, we had about 1/8" of "accumulation" on sidewalks & stuff. And then it rained! Good thing was, it was a fairly heavy rain, so most of the accumulation washed away and kept the dust down.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Anyone for a swim?

I had seen this pool from the air, but had not been able to find it on the
ground. As we were walking to drop off laundry, I noticed a
previously-closed-and-locked gate that was ... OPEN!
Inside we found the pool and decided to go for a dip ...

Anyone for a swim?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Just in case there's any doubt where we are ....

Click on "Comments" to leave one.
The boys are together again. Taken at Camp Baharia, Iraq (east of Fallujah). We're standing on top of Uday & Qusay Hussein's disco. The whole compound used to be a playground for those evil men. The man-made lake in the background was dug out of the desert and deprived local fields of irrigation water so those animals could have a place to cruise in their jet skis.

Click on "Comments" to leave one.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Blue Mosue in Fallujah

The "Blue Mosque." Posted by Hello

The "Blue Mosque" is a well-known structure throughtout the region, and, I daresay, the pride of the people of Fallujah. One can find postcards and pictures of this mosque as a in the 70's as 80's. Many residents feel it represents the heart of Fallujah, the "City of Mosques."

Fallujah Rooftop. Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 03, 2005

You've been ... Thunderstruck!

I just came down from the roof. I initially went up to see if I could see the outgoing artillery (we could hear it in the COC here ... it sounds like too-close thunder). The arty battery is about 500 meters away.

It was an incredible sight up there. The sun had just set, but there was still a glow on the horizon. A thunderstorm was brewing out to the west, with huge cumulus clouds and a little lightning. The wind had kicked up, driven by the front coming through, and there was sand swirling in the air. And then, every 15 or so seconds, BOOM ... the arty added its own voice to the coming storm. You could hear the telltale zooooom of the outgoing 96-lb projectile, and you could see, for just a second or two, bits of powder burning on the back end of the round as it screamed towards its target. Seconds later, the muffled CRASH of the impact, far away. With the thunder, wind, and lightning, it was almost as if -- God, Mother Nature, the Earth, whoever -- were trying to add their fury to our battle.

It was very surreal, and I was glad to be able to see that curious intersection of the potential wrath of man and nature. (and also glad that I wasn't on the receiving end!)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Recipient Unknown. Please forward to Camp Fallujah.

That's right ... I'm moving to Camp Fallujah.

More to follow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

This is a shot of "JDAM Palace." Supposedly this whole compound belonged to Saddam's brother-in-law. The palace was hit by 2 JDAMs (2000 lb bombs) back in March 2003. Obviously, it's very sturdily constructed, as it's still standing!
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Awesome Flight Attendants

The New Orleans connection. These two Delta flight attendants are from New Orleans. Believe it or not, they were roommates in New Orleans 35 years ago, and came together once again for this flight. They took care of us from North Carolina to Kuwait. Note the decorations on the plane. Great people! Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Reached Destination

Well, we have reached our destination in Iraq. I am currently at Camp Blue Diamond in Ar Ramadi, home away from home of the 1st Marine Division. The compound we're staying on used to belong to one of Saddam's brother-in-laws. It's actually quite scenic, as it is situated on the Euphrates River. There is a former palace and several other large impressive stone structures, as well as smaller buildings which I assume served as quarters for servants, groundskeepers, etc. More to follow...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Riding the Storm Out

This is me waiting out the sandstorm at our intermediate stop, Camp Victory, Kuwait. A rainstorm followed the sandstorm. Go figure!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Final Update from Camp Lejeune

Well, it's time to get underway. We leave soon to join the others from our unit, most whom are already there.

Next update will be from Iraq!

Silver Lake Ledger Article

The following was written by my buddy Chris Phelps (seen in the earlier photo post). It was written for his hometown newspaper, the "Silver Lake Ledger."

I have been asked to provide a few paragraphs from time to time concerning my experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom III. I am happy to comply and convey not only my experiences but also my assessment of what it is like here on the ground in Iraq.
I am currently serving as a team commander with the 5th Civil Affairs Group (CAG). The 5th CAG is a part of II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) that is based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I and the other 5 Marines that make our team will be attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Infantry Regiment that also is based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The mission of the CAG is to assist in the reconstruction of the country of Iraq. Civil Affairs (CA) teams accomplish this mission by assessing problems in our assigned areas, then working with government and non-government agencies to help alleviate these identified problems. Projects that my team may be asked to accomplish could include, restoration of public works (to include water, power, or sewage), organizing/facilitating town hall meetings, establishing humanitarian assistance sites for the distribution of food, water, and other essential items needed for survival, or collecting and assisting displaced personnel during offensive combat operations. As you can see, we are required to project-manage and problem-solve many different scenarios that may arise on the battlefield. However, as difficult as the tasks at hand may be, I can already tell that my part within the larger Global War On Terror and more specifically within Operation Iraqi Freedom III is going to be extremely gratifying.
I arrived in Camp Fallujah on February 21, 2005. My team will be working not only within Fallujah proper, but more specifically we will concentrate on outlying cities that are northwest of Fallujah in the Al Anbar province. In many ways, the cities outside of Fallujah are very similar to the cities west of Topeka. They are largely rural, and most of the population is employed within the agricultural sector.
Since my arrival, I have participated in several vehicle and foot mobile patrols with the Marines of the infantry battalion. We have patrolled inside the city limits of Fallujah and one outlying town called Saqlawiyah. The citizens of these cities have welcomed us, and they are eager to rebuild their cities and work with the coalition forces. Although there are still remnants of the Iraqi insurgency and our area of operations is by no means safe and free from danger, the Iraqi people in general are willing to work with us. Specifically, they have given us names of insurgents, taken us to stored insurgent weapons caches, and provided valuable information to free their communities of the hated insurgency. They are eager for employment as they work alongside Marines to rebuild their cities. The intent of the coalition forces is for the Iraqi people to take ownership of their cities; not for the coalition or the Americans to rebuild the cities for them. We are here to facilitate and help them organize. The citizens of this country lived under such an oppressive rule during the Saddam Hussein years that something as simple as volunteering for your county fire department is foreign to them. From my assessment, the United States government or the coalition does not want to force our form of democracy or our way of organizing governments upon the citizens of Iraq. In time, they will learn to organize and form their own style of representative government. I am already seeing it take place.
I recently attended a reconstruction meeting concerning projects in Fallujah proper. The meeting was chaired by the appointed major of the city, and attended by various managers of public works and city government, the tribal sheiks, representatives from the national government in Baghdad, and many citizens of the city. We coalition forces were not seated at the “position of power,” but rather sat away from the head table. This is another way we are encouraging the Iraqis to take charge of their own affairs. Through an interpreter the council spoke to us, voiced their concerns, and we stated how we could either help them or how we could not. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this meeting was that everyday citizens within the city were able to stand and voice their concerns to a group of people that included direct representation from Baghdad and the local government of Fallujah. Two years ago, this would not have been possible; even 5 months ago when the city was occupied by the Iraqi insurgency this would not have been possible. It was a form of democracy, albeit rocky and a little unorganized, it was democracy. I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed watching the events unfold.
When we patrol in the cities within my area of operations, we are often confronted by children. They all want us to take pictures of them so that they can see it on the digital display on our cameras, maybe hand them a pencil or a pen, or if they are really lucky they may receive piece of chocolate or a bottle of water. I know that these actions seem small and quite possibly inconsequential. Maybe you are saying that we should focus on larger projects. We do focus on larger projects, but the rebuilding is multi-faceted. The children that we interact with are the next generation of Iraq. They are just now experiencing freedom and a life without oppression. They still live in poverty beyond the comprehension of most Americans, but what they have is hope; something they did not have two years ago. If, in some small way, we can touch these young children’s lives so that they grow up to be contributing members within the sovereign country of Iraq then we have done our job. There are many reasons why I am here and why I chose to serve in Iraq for a second tour, but this is definitely one of the most important.
I remember feeling the same way two years ago when I saw a family along side of the road as we closed in on Baghdad. The family was standing on the road when our HMMWV stopped right next to them. In many ways, they looked like the epitome of the “perfect” American family. There was a young father and mother standing with a little boy and a little girl. The look they had on their face begged for answers. Why are you here? Will you leave? What do you want? At the time, we had not yet faced the battle for Baghdad, as that would come in the next few days. However, seeing that family reaffirmed my belief as to why we were in Iraq. My hope was that someday that little girl would maybe grow up to be a teacher, a lawyer, or a happy mother that could provide opportunity for her children; the little boy a doctor, a city councilman, the owner of a farm, or the manager of production plant. I wanted them to have choices in life and for them to be afforded the opportunity to grow up and not be told that America was an evil country. I saw my children when I looked at those children, and today I often wonder what that family is doing.
As much as I miss my family in Shawnee, my family in Silver Lake, and my comfortable life in Kansas, I derive great satisfaction from being a part of something so monumental. My part is extremely small, but combined with hundreds of thousands of others doing their small part we are all part of something truly historical. A free and democratic Iraq is critical to the stability of the entire Middle East and the security of the United States. All politics aside, this only makes logical sense. I cannot help but think about the will of the American people during this fight. Without the political and spiritual support of the American people, everything we are doing over here will be lost. We are in this fight together, and I ask for your patience and continued support.
That is all for now. My good friend and fellow Marine Major, Tom Nelson, has establish an internet blog that will convey the great things the Marine civil affairs teams will be accomplishing during our deployment. Major Nelson is also part of the 5th CAG. Please feel free visit the site from time to time. Until next time, thank you for your continued support and God Bless America.
--Major Chris Phelps, United States Marine Corps.

Monday, February 21, 2005

One of us is already in Iraq. Note the sweet cover ... (foot stomp) you may see this later. Posted by Hello