We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Saturday, September 30. 2006
This came in over the transom:
Subject: Marine Intel Officer, Comments about Iraq
All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or isdepressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.
Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.
Worst Case of Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was déjà vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.
Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.
Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area
who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."
Worst City in al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.
Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How'd you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who's just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.
Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - It's a 20,000 way tie among all the Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be their last - and for a couple of them, it will be.
Best Piece of U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.
Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.
Worst E-Mail Message - "The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat." I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood - there's always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.
Biggest Surprise - Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd
get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that
insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents
did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are. - and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp . . .
Greatest Vindication - Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can't buy experience.
Biggest Mystery - How some people can gain weight out here. I'm down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?
Second Biggest Mystery - if there's no atheists in foxholes, then why aren't there more people at Mass every Sunday?
Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.
Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in
Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the
combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.
Most Memorable Scene - In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield,
watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after six months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past - their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate - Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers ' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.
Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss - Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.
Worst Smell - Porta-johns in 120 degree heat - and that's 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.
Highest Temperature - I don't know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns.
Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.
Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in
perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.
Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O'Reilly - what a buffoon.
Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers - all of them. I was
mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian
Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.
Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st
Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.
Biggest Ass-Chewing - 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi
Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn't figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in convening his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At
least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.
Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.
Worst Sound - That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.
Second Worst Sound - Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads. They'd about knock the fillings out of your teeth.
Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S. - Sunsets. Spectacular. It's from all the dust in the air.
Proudest Moment - It's a tie every day, watching my Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by my guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn't be able to work so well, but they do.
Happiest Moment - Well, it wasn't in Iraq. There are no truly happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.
Most Common Thought - Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don't write more. Yep, always thinking of home.
I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a
cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I'll try to write again before too
long - I promise.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Very nice writen letter - Semper Fi to all your guys in Iraq from Austria.
Funny....I have 2 friends in Iraq and get letters from them all the time...not nearly the "gloom and doom" that this one provided. Hmmmm....could it be this one wasn't written by a soldier at all????? Maybe some liberal somewhere just spouting the usual BS....the telltale sign was how he managed to "slip in" all the usual talking liberal talking points....nice try though.
Having spent two tours with the first cav in vietnam I can relate to what this letter said. How unfortunate that people like Anonymous can continue to throw vile and imaginary ghosts behind anyone without the same viewpoint as theirs. We made a serious mistake going into Iraq and continue to make strategic errors - even Senator Warner is changing his view on Iraq.
I commend the marine officer for having the courage to write this letter. How unfortunate that our political leaders did not have the guts to be in combat and understand what this letter says.
I am appalled by the viciousness Anonymous's retort. The partisan attitude in this country is a great underlying problem, and one of the reasons we are having a hard time getting ahead in this war, because it is making for shaky support on the homefront. As Bob James correctly stated, "We made a serious mistake going into Iraq and continue to make strategic errors". This is a statement that can (and perhaps should, from a factual perspective,) be made by either a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Now our efforts need to go to making good on these errors and doing what we can to create as stable a situation as we can over there for the Iraqis and to do this as fast as possible so they can regain a sense of normalcy in their lives, stop killing each other, and so that we can bring our troops home *ASAP*.
My boyfriend is a US Soldier in Baghdad. He is also working 18-20 hours a day, and is compelled to fight insurgents and lead dangerous missions on 4 hours of sleep, at best, per night. And this is not the restful nightly sleep of yours and mine, warm in our beds, but instead is marred and interrupted by constant gun shots and explosions in the distance; sounds they have unfortunately become accustomed to over there. Yet he never ever complains. He knows, such as the Marine and author of the letter we are discussing, that this is his job and this is their reality. He, like this Marine, knows that they have a role to fill and a goal to reach.
Anonymous, you would do well to read this letter from it's published source and note that this was not written for the likes of you to read, but was a frank letter summarizing his daily life to a close and small group of friends and loved ones to whom, as he noted a couple of times, he rarely finds time to write to. This is not "some liberal somewhere just spouting the usual BS..." You would also do well to note that nowhere in this letter does he write ANY politically-motivated statement, and it is so venomous of you to suggest that his account is such. Upon closer reading you would see that he agreed to have this published "anonymously".
In closing to Anonymous, perhaps these friends of yours who are in Iraq are not sharing with you their perspective of the "'gloom and doom'" you refer to, because they want to protect you and your feelings, knowing that it will do neither you nor them any good to share such things with you while they are over there. Additionally, any and all details of what goes on over there is highly censored through phone and email to protect any information leaking to the wrong people. Finally, you must also consider that if they are working behind a desk inside an enclosed and guarded FOB, like approximately 90% of the troops over there are, they are not experiencing the same literal and figurative battle as those troops who leave the wire and risk their lives every single day. While their work is equally important, their experience is different.
The coalition over there is working so hard night and day to complete a mission that on some days is uncertain. They are fighting enemies that are as elusive as ghosts and we over here are spitting verbal bullets. Both are a painful battle we must work to find a solution for.
And to Lt. Cook I challenge, what of these words is so impossible so as to be true? And if, hypothetically speaking, he was a Marine who would call a toilet a "loo", should his account be any less credible?
We would all do well to remove politics from such discussions, as name-calling and accusations will get us no closer to a solution to the mess that is in the Middle East right now. In the spirit of true American patriotism, we owe it to our forefathers who built this great nation and to the military risking their lives trying to uphold and defend the tenets of our society.
Actually, Time magazine has verified the authenticity of this letter. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1543658-1,00.html
I'm interested which politicized talking points do you think the soldier is employing and how do the soldiers' letters you received differ?
Cpl Bachar died in April while supporting combat operations in Iraq. This is clearly no hoax. Bachar was in the Headquarters unit of the 1st Bn 2nd Marines. He was in an interesting unit, as one of the Colonels is Pete Devlin. Check out the story here:
Also, I hope that Marine vet with Iraq experience is right about 2007.
I was out there for a year and can relate to most of this email. Keep in mind that he's about as tired as a person can be and still be conscious, so take the doom and gloom in context. There's a site called Aliveinbaghdad.com that actually interviews iraqis about their opinions. Some like the American military....some don't. I would say it's no different in this country. I would leave my name, but as you can see, any email, blog, or chat could end up on CNN. If military leaders don't like it, there goes your career in the military. Lt Col Devlin simply wrote a report about what he saw during his time in Iraq, and I'm sure he got an earful from the higher-ups. Like they say in the Corps (Unofficailly of course), we're here to protect democracy....not practice it. I'll be back in Iraq for 2007, I have no fears or worries. We're going to go, get the job done, and have fun where we can. Contrary to what General Matis had to say, it's not fun to kill people, but it's GREAT FUN to be good at your job. We are better than we've EVER been. Our job is not to kill people, but to accomplish the mission. Our mission now, facilitate Iraqi control of Iraqi. 2007 will be the turning point for a better Iraq. We're almost there.
This is a farse. Too Many discrepencies to be from a real Marine that was stationed in Iraq. Any AMERICAN Marine that calls the "Can" a "Loo" should be shot.
None but an empty headed Fox News junkie or Limbaugh nut would be critical of this Marine. If anyone reads his letter closely it becomes apparent that he takes great pride in "his" Marines. This is how a Marine officer speaks of his fellow Marines. I know this because my son is a Marine Intel officer, now on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He sent me the link to the Time article and said, " For all the times you have wondered what it's like out here, this sums it all up. I'm dead serious when I say that I could have very easily written this article. This guy takes the words right out of my mouth".
Also, take note of the comment on Bill O'Reilly. I suggest there is no love for all the Chickenhawks out there who really don't support the troops, but only support the war.
Oh by the way, Anonymus, I'm a Liberal and was very proud to serve my country during the Vietnam War. My son is a "real" Marine, also a Liberal and proud of it. We come from a long line of Liberals who believe in giving service to our great country. What about you? Why aren't you in uniform with your other friends? Maybe you're like many conservatives who prefer others to do the fighting for them. What about a Draft? You might be able to see the war for yourself. Then you could comment on it with some knowledge.
#4.1 Vietnam Vet on 2006-10-08 04:52 (Reply)