Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why we can't turn and run.

I found this piece by Col. James Brown on another blog and reproduce it here in the belief that Col. Brown makes it quite clear why our troops are in Iraq and why they must not be withdrawn before the mission is accomplished.
I've bold-faced the passages I think are particularly important:

It is my last night in Iraq. Tomorrow night I will begin the long journey home as we depart BIAP and fly to Kuwait and then fly on to our homes in Germany at 0300 the next day.

Cindy has forwarded me a lot of your discussions of strategy in Iraq, discussions about Nate Sassman, the media and questions about the way ahead. I just wanted to share with you some observations that I have now in my 12th month here and on the eve of our redeployment.

I commanded the 18th Military Police brigade for its second rotation to Iraq. We were among the first brigades to return having served in OIF I. 45% of my unit were returnees-tremendous heroes. Several of them stop-lossed from approved retirements. I looked them in the eye and told them that we needed them and they never complained. In fact the two that this applied to did incredible feats in supporting our team here. The morale of our Soldiers in the mission was very high. Only three of our Soldiers in the headquarters chose not to reenlist and all three have clear plans for their futures. All our other eligible Soldiers reenlisted here among us in Iraq.

Our mission in Iraq was to support all Iraqi Police Services in Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniya, Kut and Hillah (ancient Babylon). We were charged with developing the Iraqi Highway Patrol into a Federal Law Enforcement Agency and establishing a training academy for the highway patrol, building a national headquarters for the Highway Patrol and contracting for the construction of all Iraqi Highway Patrol Headquarters. We also were in charge of the security of our Corps Main Supply Routes in the most embattled areas of our lines of communication and the escort of convoys. Finally, we were in charge of Abu Grhaib and Camp Bucca Detention Facilities. In the Fall, our mission changed dramatically to where we ran all detention operations for all theater level detainees in Iraq.

As with most units in the Army, we accomplished our mission with excellence, values and the compassion that has marked American Soldiers since our inception as an Army. We had no scandals due to NCOs and Officers selflessly serving with our Soldiers 24/7 and enforcing standards and combat disciplines that keep Soldiers alive, alert and successful. If something didn't look right we investigated right away and took immediate action to correct any minor deficiencies before they were allowed to fester and create the impression that the standards were not enforced. Our Soldiers responded to their NCOs and junior officers with pride and confidence-they represented you well 24/7.

Leading a brigade that included up to 4,000 members of Army Reserve, National Guard and Active battalions as well as two active U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Security Forces Squadrons (Battalion equivalents), two US Marines Corps companies, and one Airborne Battalion Task Force, my CSM and I committed ourselves to a program of leader development sessions to insure that all leaders had a common understanding of standards and that we professionally grew as a joint team. It was an amazing ride. In order to lead, coach and mentor this team, we were on the road constantly and we logged just over 40,000 miles in our HMMWVs to do this. This gave us a tremendous situational awareness and experiences that were perhaps not completely unique, but are shared by a fortunate few who got to traverse Iraq as we did. I'd like to offer some insights into the strategy here, the media and our enemy here that I have formed over the past year.


Who ever designed the plan for the transitional government here is a genius. The employment of three elections in one year, while frenetic, has first taught the value of voting and then has allowed those who didn't previously vote to step forward and join in the process. When the first election occurred in the end of January, I had been here two months. Up to the 30th, I had seen very few women in public. On the 30th of January, I was in Najaf, Karbala, Hillah and Diwaniya and I saw thousands of excited citizens streaming to the polls to vote. Many of the voters were women. It was so exciting to see them finally have a voice in their future. The Iraqis did a great job of securing their country that day and it was the first true democratic election in Iraq. The election resulted in an Iraqi Transitional Government that had the charter of drafting a proposed Constitution for the Iraqi people. The government achieved this and the second election on 15 October was a referendum to see if the people would approve the document. Participation in the second election now included large numbers of Sunnis-many who would oppose it, but they were voting to let their voice be heard. Two days before the nationwide referendum, we conducted the referendum actually in our major detention centers at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca where half of our detainees chose to vote on the referendum as well! The vote was observed by UN workers and went extremely well. The election throughout Iraq was more successful than the first as it included a growing number of participants. People like to be heard. They like to vote and we are seeing democracy move forward here in Iraq. The evening before the election, I stopped in a village just South of Scania near Najaf. I had the opportunity to speak with a village elder who told me with great pride about the fact that he now had a cell phone, red car and TV with satellite. He showed all off to me and told me that "without the American Army, none of this would ever have been possible, Sadam never allowed us to have these things." He was so excited about the vote the next day and he insisted that we join him for his Ramadan supper as the sun was just setting. I thanked him, but told him I had to be heading on---the reason I had stopped is that the temperature in my vehicle had been over 140 degrees for several hours and we needed a break! I also was fascinated to see his village as it looked like it came out of the pages of the Bible, the only differences being electricity, satellite dishes and cars!

The third election this year is now coming and it will be to elect the first true Iraqi Parliament-I expect that due to the trend with the past two elections that the turnout for the next one will be the highest yet. It is too costly not to vote and to risk going under represented. This is why I think the framers of this process were geniuses. They have educated the populace as to the value of participating in democracy all prior to actually electing the first government. The momentum of democracy is gathering steam and people want their voices to be heard.


We have learned a lot about our enemies this past year. One of the most significant events was the interception of the Al Qaeda strategy letter from Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. The letter demonstrates that our enemies are waging a global war against us and all free peoples. The desired endstate of our enemies is to take us from a multicultural society with freedom of religion and thought to an eighth century caliphate dominated by a religious zealot who will tell us what to wear, what to think and how we are to worship. This war has truly become one of good versus evil. We are fighting an enemy that threatens the whole world and he has declared that this is the decisive battleground for the struggle: "As for the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun in the heart of the Islamic world." (Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi p. 2). What I have seen of our enemies here tells me that we are fighting in the right place. We have all seen people butchered because they worship in different mosques than those of our enemies-men, women and children. My personal experiences here have shown me an enemy far more evil than I have encountered anywhere else.

On 20 March 2005, one of our squads was involved in a very famous fight against an ambushing element of 45-50 highly trained insurgents that sought to annihilate a supply convoy. Fortunately, our squad was only three minutes behind the convoy and immediately attacked into the flanks of the enemy. As the squad of 10 initially attacked, they were going at 1 to 5 odds. The odds changed immediately with the loss of the third team to rifle fire that critically wounded the team leader and driver of the third vehicle while wounding the gunner as well. The medic of the squad was in this vehicle and fought to hold the attackers at bay while kicking the wounded bodies under the vehicle to save them from further injury. The lead vehicle of the squad had been hit by an RPG right as they turned into the enemy and the gunner was thrown down into the vehicle. Thinking he was dead, the squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, began to climb towards the gun when the gunner came to and jumped up on the .50 Cal and returned fire. The enemy was filming this attack up to this moment as the .50 Caliber machine gun killed the cameraman with its first burst of fire. SSG Nein and SGT Hester both charged into the enemy positions and killed many of the enemy in close quarters combat. At the end, 27 enemy were killed, 7 WIA and one was captured with no injuries. This heroic action, which resulted in three Silver Stars for valor including the first to a woman since WWII, has been well reported in the Washington Post and now Soldier of Fortune Magazine. What is not reported is that in the cameraman's pocket was another film. It was of a beheading that these same insurgents had done in the day prior. The victim was a man of different religious belief. He was also bound with handcuffs. The insurgents we fought and killed were extremely well armed and they were all carrying handcuffs. Their vehicles, which were destroyed by the .50 cal gunner as well, were all parked with trunks and all doors open. It seemed that the enemy wanted to take US hostages and they clearly showed what they intended to do with them.

This summer, one of our squads came across three vehicles on the side of the road. 15 people had been taken out of the vehicles and machine-gunned. Five were already dead, but the squad called for a medevac and began to treat the wounded. What they didn't realize at the time was that only two of those vehicles belonged to the victims. The third was a VBIED that had been placed there waiting for our MPs to lend life-saving aide. When it went off, it wounded 11 of our heroes, but miraculously killed none.

Just last month, my squad and another MP Squad were intended victims of a similar ambush when I saw three men hooking up a tow truck to a broken vehicle shot by a sniper. As the men fell and pleaded for help, an MP Squad directly in front of me responded right away, pulling the men from the scene. I moved my security squad into a security position guarding the MPs as they went to work. We had pulled our vehicle next to the victims in a blocking position. Scanning for the sniper, I told my Soldiers to stay in the vehicles and scan for the enemy. Right then an explosion went off in the median. My gunner shouted "IED!" It seemed like a plausible tactic, but it wasn't a very large IED. Right then another went off and we realized we were being mortared. We took several more hits and shrapnel damage before reinforcements tipped the scales our way. What an evil enemy we face. LTG Vines reminds us that this is an enemy who would kill every man, woman and child attending a sports event in the US and call it a good day. I'm thankful that I have been here with my brave and heroic Soldiers to face this enemy and stand up for freedom here. It is my belief that we are fighting an enemy who has both the capability and the will to follow us home if we don't win this fight here. I don't want my grandchildren to face the terror that our enemy would want to impose on them.

There has been much concern about our media reporting only the bad in this war and not what is going well. I have had the opportunity to work extensively with our media and I have almost always found them fascinating, informed and engaging. I have not been overly disappointed with our coverage. I do get a sense when I see CNN playing in a mess hall that you will see much more gore in one week of CNN than the average Soldier in a year of service here. There are some exceptions among us, but you get a lot more of it bombarding you there at a faster rate than most of our Troops have here. When the media reports bad news about Soldiers it is because that is the exception. American Soldiers are expected to be moral and to employ their weapons and force in accordance with our Rules of Engagement and the vast majority do. So when an aberration occurs it does make the news. I found out personally that the thing that most disturbs the American people is when our Soldiers are undisciplined. The average troop may be college aged, but he/she is expected to act like a Soldier and not a sophomore on Spring Break. Fortunately we haven't had a problem with that here, but I did get some high adventure when the antics of some troops prior to our arrival here hit the news after we were here!

There is a lot of good news to report on here and to see how much the Iraqi Army and Police have improved in a year is simply miraculous. In late September, I was driving from Um Qassr to Baghdad and was just north of Basra where our FM communications were in a momentary blackout. We came upon a bus of religious Pilgrims that had been returning from Najaf to Basra and the driver had apparently fallen asleep and flipped the bus. It was a tragic scene of carnage with the roof of the bus crushed in and one woman still pinned inside and another man dead inside. Another Army medic as applying an emergency measures to try to establish an airway for another woman whom we were fighting a losing battle to save. A team of our Soldiers worked feverishly to cut the trapped woman out of the bus and we set up two casualty collection points. I was able to get a medevac request out through my FBCB2 Computer in my vehicle and we where now working to stabilize patients and calm them. Right then the Highway Patrol showed up in the trucks we had given them and began to evacuate the wounded to local hospitals. They did everything that you would expect of the Highway Patrol in California or New York! It was so wonderful to see the team that we had raised, trained and outfitted doing exactly what we had envisioned! Together we saved more than a few lives that day. There is much good news indeed.


I just want you all to know that I leave here in the continued belief that it was very important to come and work to transform this ravaged country to a democratic representational government. There is much hope ahead for Iraq. The output of fuel is only 40% of its possible capacity at present and in the future they will be much more able to stand on their own. The true wealth of Iraq is not oil is fresh water and soil. I have been amazed how much land the people here can cultivate using Nebuchadnezzar's canals and ancient farming methods. I have no doubt that in the future-with modern irrigation and farming methods, Iraq will feed most of this region of the world.

This war will go on for some time in my opinion. But it also has been going on for some time as well. Our enemies tried to blow up the World Trade Center in February 1993 and they never stopped till they achieved their evil objective. This war has actually been going on since the late 70s. We must continue this fight until we have won it. The cost is very real. For the 18th MP Brigade this time it was 10 more heroes who have given up their lives for our Freedom. The 18th MP Brigade has now lost 28 heroes in the Global War on Terror and there are many who have been wounded. Please keep their sacrifice and their families, loved ones and comrades in your hearts. I ask that you specifically pray for:

SGT Leonard Adams, HHD 105th MP Bn SPC Jonathan Hughes, B/1-623 FA SPC Eric L. Toth, A/1-623 FA PFC Michael R. Hayes, 617th MP Co SPC Ryan J. Montgomery, B/1-623 FA SSG James D. McNaughton, HHC 306th MP Bn SGT William A. Allers, 617th MP Co A1C Elizabeth N. Jacobson, 586th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron SGT Steven Morin, A/1-133 FA SGT Christopher T. Monroe, HHC 785th MP Bn

Well, tomorrow we begin movement back to our wonderful families. I wish you could see these heroines and heroes whom we know as our best friends, encouragers and confidants. Just today, Cindy was back at Landstuhl visiting and ministering to our newest wounded. The incredible strength, patriotism, sacrifice and service of our spouses is most humbling to me.

I hope that my comments have helped some of you to at least see some more of the perspective that our great teammates and heroes like Casey Haskins, Kenny Dahl have been sharing.

God bless you all, and God bless our wonderful Soldiers and Spouses,

--Jim Brown Baghdad, 4 Nov 2005


Firefox, you're fired.

After reading a lot of good stuff about Mozilla's Firefox browser, including claims that it's much less vulnerable to adware and spyware than is Internet Explorer, I gave it a spin.
I downloaded and installed the beta version on my Sony VAIO notebook and the standard version on my desktop. Neither one displayed my blog correctly and the standard version disabled my IE for looking at my computer's directories and files.
Needless to say, this was unacceptable, so both are gone and I'm back to IE.
Since we now have a website for our wedding and portrait photography business, I want to be able to view it the way most prospective customers see it and that means using IE. (Stats from my web host indicate more than 95 percent of the hits come from people using Internet Explorer.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving and the Muslim Menace

After 3 days of antibiotics and near-constant Vicodin, I'm feeling close to normal today. In retrospect, I think I waited a day too long to start throwing antibiotics at my abcessed tooth.
Today was Thanksgiving at our house for Maria's family - her parents, her two brothers and their wives and eight kids, her kids and even her ex's father and his girlfriend. It was a chaotic day and I'm glad it's over.
Here's a cheery item I found on a blog about how Australia is dealing with the Muslim Menace. This is what the Dutch, French and Germans should have done a decade or more ago.

Get out if you want Sharia law, Australia tells Muslims

CANBERRA: Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks. A day after a group of mainstream Muslim leaders pledged loyalty to Australia at a special meeting with Prime Minister John Howard, he and his ministers made it clear that extremists would face a crackdown.

Treasurer Peter Costello, seen as heir apparent to Howard, hinted that some radical clerics could be asked to leave the country if they did not accept that Australia was a secular state and its laws were made by parliament. "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you," he said on national television. "I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that is false If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practises it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said. Asked whether he meant radical clerics would be forced to leave, he said those with dual citizenship could possibly be asked move to the other country.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson later told reporters that Muslims who did not want to accept local values should "clear off". "Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off," he said. Separately, Howard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying he supported spies monitoring the nation's mosques.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I have terrible dental karma.
A former dentist of mine once referred to me as a "dental cripple" and that was when I was in my early 30s.
I come by it honestly, I guess. My father had a full set of upper and lower dentures by the time he was 40. When I was a kid, he used to roll them out for my amusement. He startled the hell out of my sons the first time he did it in their presence.
I've maxed out Maria's dental insurance coverage for the year with an abcessed tooth that required a root canal and a crown, followed soon after by a bridge failure.
Now, with more than a month to go before we re-set the insurance clock, another tooth has blown up on me.
Maria, who was a dental assistant in a previous life, says it's #30 or #31 - a lower tooth on the right side.
The last time I saw my dentist - about six weeks ago - he pointed to it on the panoramic x-ray and said it looks like it has some infection and could blow up at any time.
Naturally, it became an issue on Thanksgiving Eve. All of my dental emergencies occur during or just before a weekend or holiday, making it a major deal to get relief.
So it was no big surprise when I called my dentist's home yesterday and got his voicemail because he and his family were away for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, I had a supply of Vicodin left over from the previous crisis, but what I really needed was an antibiotic to put out the fire in my throbbing tooth.
He called about 9 p.m. to say he had just phoned a prescription to the open-on-holidays Walgreen's pharmacy I'd mentioned when I left a message for him.
Even so, I slept very little last night, slamming down a pair of Vicodins every four hours.
By this morning it seemed that I was getting the upper hand, but the right side of my head - from my temple to my neck - still aches.
The plan, endorsed by my dentist, is to get this thing under control and keep it subdued until after Jan. 1 when my insurance coverage returns to full strength.
In the meantime, I'm just painfully stoned.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


We awoke this morning to the first snow accumulation of the season. It looked gray and miserable. Some years, I'd be out with a camera, but I'm just not ready for snow.
I still haven't got the front porch painted and I need to top off the tanks and add fuel stabilizer to the two bikes and the lawnmower.
Maria and I looked at each other and I said what she had been thinking: "+2EV"
That's the exposure correction for getting good snow pictures on an overcast day. The light meter sees the scene and decides the whole world is a gray card. The result is an underexposed, murky image.
So there's your free photo tip of the day: reset your EV by 1.7 or 2 stops or, if you're shooting manually, open up about two stops. It works like a charm for digital and I suspect it's the same with film cameras.
Little or no correction is needed, however, for bright sunny snow scenes.
Here's an example of a +2EV correction.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I've spent most of the past three days immersed in website development - building a suitable website for our photography business.
I had a really classy-looking animated .gif slideshow that was spectacular on the three computers in our house, but looked like crap on the Macs at Maria's office and on my son's PC in Cincinnati. So I went back to revisit the site I'd borrowed the ideal from and discovered the slideshow there is a .js (Java Script) file.
So now I'm climbing the learning curve on Java.
As soon as we get the website up and tweaked, we can get our print advertising going.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Iraq: Weapons and Tactics

This came to me from one of Maria’s coworkers and it’s apparently making the rounds. I think it’s a must-read if you want a clearer perception of what’s going on in Iraq.

Got this from a former Marine first sergeant - thought you might be interested in his son's assessment of weapons and enemy tactics in Iraq (the boy is home from his first tour, going back in early 2006, and early re-enlisted for another 4 years.)

Hello to all my fellow gunners, military buffs, veterans and interested guys. A couple of weekends ago I got to spend time with my son Jordan, who was on his first leave since returning from Iraq. He is well (a little thin), and already bored. He will be returning to Iraq for a second tour in early '06 and has already re-enlisted early for 4 more years. He loves the Marine Corps and is actually looking forward to returning to Iraq.
Jordan spent 7 months at "Camp Blue Diamond" in Ramadi. Aka: Fort Apache. He saw and did a lot and the following is what he told me about weapons, equipment, tactics and other miscellaneous info which may be of interest to you. Nothing is by any means classified. No politics
here, just a Marine with a bird's eye view's opinions:

1) The M-16 rifle: Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder-like sand over there. The sand is everywhere. Jordan says you feel filthy 2 minutes after coming out of the shower. The M-4
carbine version is more popular because it's lighter and shorter, but it has jamming problems also. They like the ability to mount the various optical gunsights and weapons lights on the picattiny rails, but the weapon itself is not great in a desert environment. They all hate the 5.56mm (.223) round. Poor penetration on the cinderblock structure common over there and even torso hits can’t be reliably counted on to put the enemy down. Fun fact: Random autopsies on dead insurgents shows a high level of opiate use.

2) The M243 SAW (squad assault weapon): 223 cal. Drum fed light machine gun. Big thumbs down. Universally considered a piece of shit.
Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly.
(that's fun in the middle of a firefight).

3) The M9 Beretta 9mm: Mixed bag. Good gun, performs well in desert environment; but they all hate the 9mm cartridge. The use of handguns for self-defense is actually fairly common. Same old story on the 9mm:
Bad guys hit multiple times and still in the fight.

4) Mossberg 12ga. Military shotgun: Works well, used frequently for clearing houses to good effect.

5) The M240 Machine Gun: 7.62 Nato (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun, developed to replace the old M-60 (what a beautiful weapon that was!!).
Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts 'em down. Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there.

6) The M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. "Ma deuce" is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight stopper, puts their dicks in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater.

7) The .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there.
Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on
one. With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put 'em down with
a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it. The old government model .45s are being re-issued en masse.

8) The M-14: Thumbs up. They are being re-issued in bulk, mostly in a modified version to special ops guys. Modifications include lightweight Kevlar stocks and low power red dot or ACOG sights. Very reliable in the sandy environment, and they love the 7.62 round.

9) The Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle: Thumbs way up. Spectacular range and accuracy and hits like a freight train. Used frequently to take out vehicle suicide bombers ( we actually stop a lot of them) and
barricaded enemy. Definitely here to stay.

10) The M24 sniper rifle: Thumbs up. Mostly in .308 but some in 300
win mag. Heavily modified Remington 700's. Great performance.
Snipers have been used heavily to great effect. Rumor has it that a marine sniper on his third tour in Anbar province has actually exceeded
Carlos Hathcock's record for confirmed kills with OVER 100.

11) The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approx. 6 lbs. and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even will stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as shit to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat (which averages over 120 degrees).
Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the bullshit about the "old" body armor making our guys vulnerable to the IED's was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn't make any difference at all in most cases.

12) Night Vision and Infrared Equipment: Thumbs way up. Spectacular performance. Our guys see in the dark and own the night, period. Very little enemy action after evening prayers. More and more enemy being whacked at night during movement by our hunter-killer teams. We've all
seen the videos.

13) Lights: Thumbs up. Most of the weapon mounted and personal
lights are Surefires, and the troops love 'em. Invaluable for night urban operations. Jordan carried a $34 Surefire G2 on a neck lanyard and loved it.

I can’t help but notice that most of the good fighting weapons and ordinance are 50 or more years old! With all our technology, it's the
WWII and Vietnam era weapons that everybody wants! The infantry fighting is frequent, up close and brutal. No quarter is given or shown.

Bad guy weapons:

1) Mostly AK47s The entire country is an arsenal. Works better in the desert than the M16 and the .308 Russian round kills reliably. PKM
belt-fed light machine guns are also common and effective. Luckily, the enemy mostly shoots like shit. Undisciplined "spray and pray" type
fire. However, they are seeing more and more precision weapons, especially sniper rifles. (Iran, again) Fun fact: Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in Jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let's just say they know better now.

2) The RPG: Probably the infantry weapon most feared by our guys. Simple, reliable and as common as dogshit. The enemy responded to our
up-armored humvees by aiming at the windshields, often at point blank range. Still killing a lot of our guys.

3) The IED: The biggest killer of all. Can be anything from old Soviet anti-armor mines to jury rigged artillery shells. A lot found
in Jordan's area were in abandoned cars. The enemy would take 2 or 3
155mm artillery shells and wire them together. Most were detonated by cell phone, and the explosions are enormous. You're not safe in any
vehicle, even an M1 tank. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there. Lately, they are much more sophisticated "shaped charges" (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready-made IEDs are supplied by Iran, who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That's why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shaped charges in Styrofoam containers spray painted to look like the cinderblocks that litter all Iraqi roads. We find about 40% before they detonate, and the bomb disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war.

4) Mortars and rockets: Very prevalent. The soviet era 122mm
rockets (with an 18km range) are becoming more prevalent. One of Jordan's NCOs lost a leg to one. These weapons cause a lot of damage "inside the wire.” Jordan's base was hit almost daily his entire time there by mortar and rocket fire, often at night to disrupt sleep patterns and cause fatigue (It did). More of a psychological weapon than anything else. The enemy mortar teams would jump out of vehicles, fire a few rounds, and then haul ass in a matter of seconds.

5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is
by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Google earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent.
Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.

Who are the bad guys?

Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi Al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province (Fallujah and Ramadi). These are mostly "foreigners", non-Iraqi Sunni Arab Jihadists from all over the
Muslim world (and Europe). Most enter Iraq through Syria (with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian govt.) , and then
travel down the "rat line" which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we've been hitting hard for the last few months.
Some are virtually untrained young Jihadists that often end up as suicide bombers or in "sacrifice squads". Most, however, are hard core terrorists from all the usual suspects (Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.) These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian), are
supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. (they have been fighting the Russians for years). In the Baghdad area and south, most of the insurgents are Iranian inspired (and led) Iraqi Shiites. The Iranian Shiia have been very adept at infiltrating the Iraqi local govt.s, the police forces and the Army. The have had a massive spy and
agitator network there since the Iran-Iraq war in the early ‘80s. Most of the Saddam loyalists were killed, captured or gave up long ago.

Bad Guy Tactics:

When they are engaged on an infantry level they get their asses kicked every time. Brave, but stupid. Suicidal Banzai-type charges were very
common earlier in the war and still occur. They will literally sacrifice 8-10 man teams in suicide squads by sending them screaming and firing AKs and RPGs directly at our bases just to probe the defenses. They get mowed down like grass every time. (See the M2 and M240 above). Jordan's base was hit like this often. When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that, more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeos (Allah's Waiting Room). We have the laser guided ground-air thing down to a science. The fast movers, mostly Marine F-18's, are taking an ever increasing toll on the enemy. When caught out in the open, the helicopter gunships and AC-130 Spectre gunships cut them to ribbons with cannon and rocket fire, especially at night. Interestingly, artillery is hardly used at all. Fun fact: The enemy death toll is supposedly between 45,000-50,000. That is why we're seeing less and less infantry attacks and more IED, suicide bomber shit.
The new strategy is simple: attrition.
The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties and therefore schools, hospitals and (especially) Mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi govt. Kidnapping of family members (especially children) is common to influence people they are trying to influence but can’t reach, such as local govt. officials, clerics, tribal leaders, etc.).
The first thing our guys are told is "don't get captured". They know that if captured they will be tortured and beheaded on the internet.
Zarqawi openly offers bounties for anyone who brings him a live American serviceman. This motivates the criminal element who otherwise don't give a shit about the war. A lot of the beheading victims were actually kidnapped by common criminals and sold to Zarqawi. As such, for our guys, every fight is to the death. Surrender is not an option.
The Iraqis are a mixed bag. Some fight well, others aren't worth a shit. Most do okay with American support. Finding leaders is hard, but
they are getting better. It is widely viewed that Zarqawi's use of suicide bombers, en masse, against the civilian population was a serious tactical mistake. Many Iraqis were galvanized and the caliber of recruits in the Army and the police forces went up, along with their
motivation. It also led to an exponential increase in good intel because the Iraqis are sick of the insurgent attacks against civilians.
The Kurds are solidly pro-American and fearless fighters.

According to Jordan, morale among our guys is very high. They not
Only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see shit like "Are we losing in Iraq" on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their
equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can’t stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent U.S. bases there).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Gas for under $2/gallon!

Maria just phoned to say she was gassing up at a station selling regular for $1.99 a gallon.
Two months ago, I fully expected to be paying $3+ by this time.
Now, if we can just get natural gas prices down for the winter...

Cream (the first time around)

Now that Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce are revisiting their days as Cream, this seems like a good time to trot out some images from that period.
It was the night of March 22, 1968, at Clowes Hall on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis.
The opening act was the American Breed whose bright pop sound attracted lots of younger kids and their parents or grandparents. They were having a splendid time until Cream hit the stage and Eric cranked up the sound.
That first number - I don't recall the set order - sorted out the crowd. All of the old folks headed up the aisles to the exits.
I was there with my Pentax Spotmatic and f/1.4 50mm lens to record the proceedings on Tri-X for The Indianapolis News. My friend Bob Basler, also a Newsie, was there to write the review.
We went backstage to the dressing room after the show to meet the guys, take photos and ask inane questions, although I'm sure Bob's were more incisive than everyone else's. (He went on to a stellar career with Reuters and, at last report, was in charge of their online content.)
So here are three of my favorite images of the evening: a group shot, a tight shot of Ginger looking kinda scary, and a barely recognizable (by today's look) Eric.

The Fabulous D200

While I was in Cincinnati Saturday morning, Maria was checking out one of only four new Nikon D200 digital SLRs presently in the U.S.
It's the next generation of our D100s (10.2 MP, vs our 6.2, a much larger monitor screen and lots of other improvements) and, at $1,700, is a killer bargain. We will almost certainly buy two of them in the next few months.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I dunno!

Granddaughter Lisa has a new move.
She does this gesture when you ask her a question she can't answer. Turns out the folks across the street taught it to her.
It's paralyzingly cute, but then she's off-the-scale cute anyway.

Deranged at Denny's

Looking deranged at Denny's - waiting for my Sausage Lover's breakfast.
We were seated across the aisle from a couple who didn't think it was important to control their two young sons. The kids alternately complained in piercing whiny voices and drummed on the tabletop with their silverware.
They were all mouth-breathers and the mother, who was left to settle up the bill, was somewhere between "dull normal" and retarded.
God keeps hurling these challenges to my egalitarian nature into my path and I keep failing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sonny Landreth

"He’s probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced." - Eric Clapton on Sonny Landreth.

My son Steve and I took in Sonny Landreth's performance last night at the Southgate House in Newport, Ky.
I first heard Sonny this summer on XM Satellite Radio and promptly downloaded his live album, Grant Street, from Napster. It was pretty much all I listened to in my car for about two months.
This guy from Lafayette, La., does stuff with a slide guitar that has to be heard to be believed.
The 90-minute set he played last night was pretty much what's on the Grant Street album, with a couple of other tunes added.
If you like blues with a Cajun flavor, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons and Jimi Hendrix, I strongly recommend you check him out. His website is a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Who would you rather be captured by?

Just so we're clear about who's doing what to whom, here are illustrations of what we do to them:

What happened at Abu Ghraib amounted mostly to psychological abuse. I know guys who endured worse as fraternity pledges in the 1960s.

And what they do to us:
The beheading of Nick Berg and those that followed had no tactical military value. They were not done to extract information. They were meant to intimidate the weaker among us and make us fear an essentially cowardly enemy.

A thoughtful comment deserves a thoughtful response

One of my readers took issue with my previous post. I urge you to read his comment.
I believe it requires a response:
I once shared your perspective and in a war between civilized nations, mutually agreed-upon humane treatment of prisoners is a wonderful thing.
But the Geneva Conventions make sense only if your adversary has some compelling reason to observe them, be it concern for the fate of his own people who fall into our hands or a concern about world public opinion.
Our present enemy has neither. We've seen repeatedly in the revolting beheading videos how he treats prisoners.
I doubt that our treatment of captured terrorists comes anywhere close to that level of savagery.
Also, implicit in your argument is the kind of moral equivalency that suggests that Islamic fundamentalists are somehow justified in their attacks on Western Civilization because of some perceived injustice we have done them. That's the kind of foolishness that is being foisted upon the World Trade Center survivors in the form of an International Freedom Center at Ground Zero that makes excuses for the 9/11 attackers.
We're talking about people who are sitting up nights trying to find a way to murder you, your wife and your child.
This is not a gentleman's war and it cannot be prosecuted with gentlemen's rules. We have to extract every bit of intelligence any way we can, no matter how distasteful the means. You can be sure that any kindness we show to captured enemy combatants or terrorists will be lost on those still free to attack us.
The point of this war of self-preservation is to win, not to die feeling good about ourselves.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Not worried

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - President Bush on Monday defended U.S. interrogation practices and called the treatment of terrorism suspects lawful. “We do not torture,” Bush declared in response to reports of secret CIA prisons overseas.
Bush supported an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney to block or modify a proposed Senate-passed ban on torture.

I'm not even remotely concerned that the CIA may be leaning hard on the terrorist types it's holding outside the U.S.
And I'm not at all concerned about the legal rights of the detainees at Guantanamo or elsewhere.
As far as I'm concerned, if it takes the application of a little electricity or other forms of discomfort to extract the information that will keep me, my sons and their families safe, then go for it, CIA.
We face an irrational implacable enemy and there will be no accommodation with these hate-filled berserkers.
The French are reaping the fiery fruits of their efforts to accommodate Islamic fundamentalism. The results look a lot like what happened when they tried to accommodate Nazi Germany.
These people cannot be appeased.
It's like the exchange with the alien in Independence Day. In response to the question, "What do you want from us?" the alien replies, "We want you to die."
They don't want free trade with us. The don't want handouts from us. They don't want anything from us other than our deaths.
We can't afford to lose this one and it that means inflicting some pain on the occasional prisoner, so be it.

Running out of cash & good weather

The trick, at the moment, is to balance cash flow against the seasonal need to spend money.
This month's check from our rental property almost covered the fall property tax bill on the place. We need to buy and apply paint to the rehabilitated porches before the cold rains of November intervene. We got a $390 bill from Maria's attorney for his less-than-impressive efforts to protect us from her ex-husband's greed. And we got a $103 overdue dentist bill that her ex was supposed to pay for their daughter.
Fortunately, we've done six photography jobs since Oct. 17 - something that has kept us afloat and optimistic about someday making some serious money with our cameras.
At the moment, I'm in the newsroom at Maria's paper waiting for the reporters to write something for me to edit.
Sent from my Treo

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Report from the road...

Warm and windy weather, 100 miles of back roads and a big ice cream cone. Life is good.

An audience! Who knew?

I've often wondered how many people are visiting my egocentric little outpost on the internet, but it wasn't until this week that I visited and signed up for their free website monitoring service. (Their banner is at the bottom of this page.)
Imagine my surprise when the data started rolling in, indicating I average more than 40 hits from more than 20 unique visitors every day. The peak so far was 64 hits on Tuesday.
If I hadn't spent most of my adult life writing for publication, I might feel a little self-conscious.
So, welcome friends. Feel free to comment if something resonates with you or annoys you.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Indian Summer

A glorious period of Indian Summer is upon us this week. The warm weather and deep blue skies coincide with the peak of the fall color, so I was compelled to load my camera stuff into the del Sol and head out in search of colorful vistas.
I found what I was looking for at Turkey Run State Park in western Indiana.
Turkey Run is one of Indiana's best parks and I was pleased to see that the usual $4 admission fee is waived Monday-Thursday this time of year.
Nevertheless, the park was busy with retired folks like me and a few hundred kids from some Pentecostal school or schools.
One of my favorite vistas at the park is the suspension bridge over Sugar Creek, so here's one of my shots of that scene.
I used the trusty Nikon D100 with the 12-24mm lens and a polarizing filter to punch up the color saturation.
The weather is expected to be even nicer - i.e., warmer - tomorrow, so I may be forced to go for an extended motorcycle ride.

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder...

Forty years ago today, I received my Honorable, albeit medical, Discharge from the United States Air Force.
I closed my 41 days of service as an Airman Basic and earned a marksman ribbon for my skill with an M-1 carbine. The M-15 was in short supply, so we qualified with the obsolete .30 caliber carbine.
I don't remember a lot about basic other than I got really good at shining shoes. I'd been in marching band in high school, so the parade ground maneuvers that seemed to hard for some of my buddies were second nature to me.
I remember going through an obstacle course that seemed more like a playground. The teargas building was out of order the day we were scheduled to experience it, so I never got to feel the sting of it.
As basic training flights go, we were pretty good. We earned the status of "honor flight" early on and hung onto it through basic. That meant we got a black-and-white TV in the barracks, had base liberty more often and even got to go into San Antonio on a couple of occasions. I remember the downtown was infested with little Mexican kids offering killer shoeshines to Air Force trainees. I'd been warned that their shoe stuff would wreck a good shine, so I kept my money in my pocket.
Oh, yeah. I remember my first payday. Standing in line to pick up $22 in cash from a sergeant who had a .45 automatic on the table in front of him. And being coerced to give $1 of my hard-earned military pay to the United Fund of Greater San Antonio. I've resented the United Way to this day.
(When I was pressed to donate at the newspaper where I worked years later, I opted to give $5 in 10-cent increments over 50 weeks. It was my way of protesting the pressure tactics by making it cost more in bookkeeping time to get my donation than the donation itself. After about five years, the company banned the practice of spreading out small contributions, but I think I made my point.).
I spent my last 10 days or so in what was called a "casual barrack," a building set aside for those of us who were being processed out of basic training and the Air Force. I was one of the few going home with any honor. Most were discipline or psychiatric problems or just plain fuck-ups.
As I've detailed here before, my ticket home was a slew of allergies revealed during a physical exam. Apparently the Air Force decided that, medically anyway, I would be more trouble than I was worth.
At any rate, I turned in all of my uniforms, shoes, boots, overcoat - everything but my USAF underwear and physical training shorts and t-shirt. I also signed a statement stipulating that I would never apply for veteran's benefits. Okay by me. I don't feel like a 41-day vacation in San Antonio, Texas, entitled me to any government freebies.
Except the flight home.
Braniff Airlines flew me home and I spent my first night of freedom with my girlfriend - later my first wife - at the Antlers Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. My dad drove down the next morning, picked me up and took me home to Delphi.
I was none the worse for my adventure, having lost a few pounds, built a little muscle bulk and learned a bit about what I didn't want to do with my life.
Here's a photo my mother took of me and the family dog in the back yard the day I got home.
I often wonder about the guys with whom I went through basic. How many of them are still alive today? Are any of their names on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

Seems cheap, but not by last year's standards...

Hey, this almost looks like a good deal. This was the price of gas this morning at the Admiral station in Crawfordsville, IN.
Shot with my Treo 600 smartphone camera.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Health Department

Got my blood test results today. Looks like studying for the test paid off...
Cholesterol: 197, down from 222 six weeks ago (anything under 200 is cool)
Triglycerides: 113, down from 158 (under 150 is good)
Hdl: 48, up from 45 (good range is 40-90)
Ldl: 127, down from 145 (needs to be under 100)
Not too horrible for an overweight omniverous 60-year-old.


Nikon announced a new digital camera today - the D200 - which fills the niche between high-end amateur and low-end pro previously occupied by our pair of D100s.
Maria forwarded the announcement e-mail to me and I did some Googling and confirmed that it has 10.2 megapixels, compared with our 6.1, and can shoot up to five frames per second. List price is a nickel under $1,700. And they make a vertical grip for it that holds two rechargeable Nikon batteries or 6 AAs.
Very tempting.
I'd rather have the new D2X, Nikon's flagship digital SLR that has 12 megapixels, but it retails for about $3,350. Considering how quickly these cameras become obsolete - we were cutting edge with our first D100 three years ago today - I think we'd have to be doing a helluva lot of business to justify the D2X.
Of course, it's our goal to do a helluva lot of business, so it's not out of the question.
We had two senior photo shoots - the daughter of Maria's publisher on Saturday and the grandson of a neighbor on Sunday - so things are picking up a bit...

Conserving energy

With the prospect of substantially higher heating costs this winter, I decided it's time to conserve energy. We haven't started our caulking campaign yet, but I installed a couple of Honeywell CT3200 programmable thermostats today that I bought on sale last night at The Home Depot (yeah, they prefer it with the word "the" included in the name). Normally $49.97, but on sale for $32.78. Hey, I'm saving money already.
We needed two thermostats because our big old (c1903) Queen Anne Victorian house has two furnaces and two air conditioning units - one pair for downstairs and the other for upstairs. It's a consequence of retrofitting a house that was built before there was forced-air heating. While it gives me twice the number of furnace filters to change, it also allows for a bit more fine tuning when it comes to managing our energy resources.
Since we don't spend much time downstairs on weekdays - briefly for breakfast and then again from about 6-11 p.m., I'm programming the downstairs to maintain 68 degrees when we're there and 58 degrees when we're not.
I spend much of my day in our upstairs office, so we'll maintain 68 degrees from about 6:30 a.m. til 11 p.m. and 58 or 60 while we're asleep.
The changeover was simple - just yank the old thermostats off of the wall, remove the color-coded wires from them, mount the baseplates for the new units, reconnect the wires, snap on the new units, pop in some AA batteries and set the time and programs.
At the end of the 2004-05 heating season, we had piled up about $250 worth of credit with our natural gas supplier by paying on the budget plan. So when it began to cool off again, I took us off of the budget plan and we've had two months with no gas payment while we use up the credit. Unless the weather goes to hell soon, the December bill should be little or nothing as well.
Then, armed with the programmable thermostats, we'll take on the winter heating season.