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7:40 (2898 days, 18h, 23min ago)

Settling In

20100711: Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Camp Leatherneck

I am in Afghanistan now, at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province.  Long day yesterday (it actually started the night before), flying from Kuwait to Afghanistan in a C-17 (a large military transport... side note: I was involved in the first test of putting a CH-53E (my old helicopter) INSIDE one of these back in the late 90s), arriving in the early morning.  I then spent the day seeing lots of friendly faces and getting settled.  I then slipped into a coma from about 4 p.m. our time to this morning at about 6 a.m. (it's 7:15 a.m. Sunday morning right now... GMT+3:30).

The base is dusty and hot... rather more austere than my last few bases in Iraq.  I share a "can," essentially a conex box with an airconditioner, with a British LtCol (pronounced Leftineut Colonel, of course).  Everything is within a few minutes walk: chow, PX, work... but the base itself is HUGE.  Somebody told me that it is the 4th largest base in the Marine Corps, behind Camp Pendleton, Lejeune and 29 Palms.

I am just getting set up on the computer systems here.  There looks to be lots of work for me to do, and I will begin getting a handle on it today.  Should complete getting a handle on it in about 12 months (grin).

I appear to have hotmail connectivity at least sometimes... but it may be restricted during the workday (I'll see when I'm here for a normal workday).  Fridays are light workdays (all our Muslim friends have the day off) and Sundays are light work days... but it appears that that lightness is made up for with long days the other five.

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12:44 (2901 days, 13h, 19min ago)

New Beginnings: New War, New Mode

20100708: Kuwait, Ali Al Salem airbase.  Awaiting transportation to Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Okay, really it's the same war, but a different front: Afghanistan... also known as Operation Enduring Freedom.  The new mode is me participating as a civilian employee.  But I'll be doing the same thing: bringing light to the lightless, water to the waterless, hope to the hopeless and information to the uninformed.  Well... I'll be helping with all that, I suppose.

It's been, as you can see, amost two years since I posted.  People apparently didn't follow my last bit of advice very well, but your mileage and opinion may vary.  I will now turn my postings away from things political (except as those things directly affect my work in Afghanistan).  My thanks to those that read me before, welcome to anybody new.

Note that timestamps may or may not reflect my time... I'll wait until I stop moving before I change things.

This trip I flew from San Diego to Kuwait International on a commercial United flight.  Non-stop from Dulles to KWI... made pretty good time.  Pretty comfortable.  Dulles does not, apparently, have free wi-fi, so I encourage you to avoid them like the plague until they fold on this matter.

Arriving in Kuwait, I reflected, not unsuprisingly, on my first trip through this airport: in the hatch of an M-60A1 RISE Passive-Plus main battle tank, as the tip of the spear that was Task Force Pappa Bear during Desert Storm.  I had managed to miss our planned rendezvous point by a kilometer or so (I had a GPS, had already become a GPS Cripple, and when we lost signal at the same time we entered some channelizing terrain and the sun set behind the really dark clouds of burning oil smoke...).  We were supposed to link up at one of the corners of the airport (I really don't remember if it was the NW or the SE) with some other folks, but instead found ourselves facing the fence.  The Boss said to go on in, so in we went.  The XO STILL swears that he told me it was electrified (the fence, that is), but I had no such recollection until the big arcs of electricity started reaching out to touch our metal tank (which was chock-a-block full of HEAT, Sabot, and a few smoke rounds, all of which required something like .25 volts of current to set off).  Obviously the little rubber pads were all in place, because we didn't die spectacularly.  There's more to that story, but suffice it to say that this entry into the environs of Kuwait International were somewhat more controlled.

Breezed through visa (3 Kuwaiti Dinar at $3.5USD/KD), passport and customs.  Hired a driver to take me out to the base instead of waiting for the shuttle bus (researching options for the company is what I was doing... and probably shaving a full day off my travel time)... and found myself right back where I was in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008 as I've come and gone from this neck of the nape... this nape of the woods... whatever.  Nothing has changed: hot (though I've been here when it is bitter cold), dusty (always), and a lot of gravel to walk on.

More later, as the adventure continues.

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4:20 (3523 days, 21h, 42min ago)

Less than two weeks to go, people...

Let's not screw it up.  Think long and hard before pulling that lever.  How much of your decision is based on 'feelings' and how much is based on facts?  How important is the nose you might be cutting off to spite the face?

Just think.  Don't feel.  Don't guess.  Don't roll the dice.


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23:13 (3552 days, 2h, 50min ago)

"I do not believe that [phrase] means what you think it means" - Inigo Montoya

Exonerated Marine to sue Rep. Murtha
The [phrase] editorially replacing 'inconceivable" in the above quote is "Semper fidelis" (for the Latinally or contextually challenged, that's "Always faithful" and the motto of the United States Marine Corps).  The target of this is not, as in the Princess Bride, a small Corsican criminal mastermind, but instead a sitting, serving, often-elected United States Congressman (and sometimes unindicted co-conspirator).
Personally, I think the charges should not be 'defemation of character' (or whatever the actual verbiage turns out to be), but rather 'treason,' but I have little hope of that.  If you are short on definitions of treason, scroll down a few entries.  I'm PRETTY sure that Rep. Murtha is a citizen of the United States, so much of the legwork to establish this is already done.
I shan't go on too long, but I at the very least I hope this brings at least a sliver of light to the concept that "yes, you DO have freedom of speech.  You also have RESPONSIBILITY for the things you say."  I can only hope that the cost of whatever few votes were gained by the Representative for his grand-standing bombast are counterbalanced by several million dollars and a public humiliation.  I also hope that whatever few easily-led fools that weren't already going to vote for Murtha because of the awesome amounts of pork he brings to the table someday realize that it was for their pathetic few votes that "their man in Washington" hung some good Marines out to dry and gave a rallying cry to those that would do America harm.  I do not anticipate satisfaction in these hopes...
I mourn for those in Rep. Murtha's district that did not vote for him, and pity those that do and have sold themselves so cheaply.  I am all out of concern for the well-being of the Representative's character or eternal soul.  I wish Lance Coproral Sharratt the best of luck and legal representation in what will surely be a long, drawn-out, and likely ultimately unsatisfying endeavor.  Semper fi, Marine(and no, I'm not talking about the undicted co-conspirator)!

"He kept skirting the issue," Darryl Sharratt said. "This was right after Justin was exonerated and at no time did he acknowledge the fact that Justin was exonerated. He played the role of politician."

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10:34 (3556 days, 15h, 29min ago)

Just musing

21 September 2008

Camp Ramadi, Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq


Just thinking... and this is fairly stream of consciousness, so no grand conclusion or pithy wisdom.

It is 2008.  Eight or nine years into the 21st Century (depending on how you count it).  I can go to www.instapundit.com and read articles on nanotechnology, the striving to get too many megapixels into a camera, articles about the Super Collider that didn't destroy the Earth.  But then I can read articles in the same roll of a mouse wheel about idiots that don't understand supply-demand curves, and frothing about one person's views on creation while refusing to acknowledge that we're at war with folks that truly believe in Jolly Green Giants riding white horses out of the clouds to win battles.

I despair that our decisions on who will lead our nation turn on the most idiotic things and, even more disturbingly, DON'T seem to turn on some really important things (I'll leave the specifics off for now... but it won't take too much research here to guess where I come down on stuff).

As I said, no real conclusions... it's just bizarre and sad to me how much trivial crap stands in the way of amazing things.  NASA has to prostitute itself into supporting [explitive self-edited] like Hanson and climate study instead of, oh, I don't know... exploring space.  Why is that?  Not really sure, but I think it has to do with remarkably short-sighted people that don't realize that a dollar spent on [pick a social program that cannot demonstrate ANY tangible results worthy of its cost] is essentially wasted, while money 'wasted' on space exploration brings us amazing returns.  Awesome things are being done anyway... but our culture of entitlement is such a far, far cry from what I imagine we could be.

Enough of my whining.

Oh, Iraq?  It's doing great, thanks!  Absolutely not a shred of thanks to Pelosi, Dean, Obama, Kerry or any of the other chattering morons that have tried their damndest to ensure that Iraq returns to being a festering boil on the ass of the world.  FOOLS!  How anybody that voted on those retarded (and by 'retarded' I mean 'resembling something that would be generated by a developmentally challenged person that could not be expected to grasp concepts like cause and effect') Non-Binding Resolutions can look at themselves in the mirror and call themselves an American is just amazing (and additionally depressing) to me.  Bad judgement is one thing... Traitorous behavior that a howler monkey could anticipate would be bad for American interests is another.  Speaking of traitors, did you read that the Rosenberg kids have accepted that their father (if not their mother) really WAS a traitor selling secrets to the Soviets?  How about that?!  It's a shame we haven't hung the last few bastards that thought they could bring utopia to the world for the low, low cost of selling secrets to an enemy.  Morons.  Fools.  Children... simplistic children that shouldn't be entrusted with the franchise, let alone state secrets or positions in congress.

Okay, this qualifies as my 'and another thing' rant that proves I've become a curmudgeon.

Cheers, all.

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12:49 (3618 days, 13h, 14min ago)

Words do not desribe...

... how things are here.  I don't think pictures would do it much justice, either.  The reason words don't work is because no matter what is said, it is fairly easy to say "oh, yeah?!  What about..." and that question is entirely legitimate (if sometimes misguided).  For instance, if I said "things are going remarkably well here.  It is generally quiet and peaceful, and almost every aspect of 'normal' life is returning!" a wag could easily say "oh, yeah?  What about the suicide bomber at the sheikh meeting in Kharma last month?  Is THAT 'normal'?!"

So let me just say that having seen Al Anbar go from bad to worse to really, really bad, it is now better than it's been at any time since I started hanging out here.  When I drive downtown, the streets are full of people going about their lives (I know I've said this before... but I take SO LONG between entries, that I forget), there are traffic jams.  I can stand out in front of the Government Center and point at the bullet holes that resulted from somebody trying to kill me back in 2006... and NOT get shot at.  Yes, bad things still happen and good men still get wounded and killed.  It's still a war, of sorts.  But it's good.  Hot, but good.


Okay, I don't really want to get into the whole political thing too much... I don't want to say something bad about somebody that's ends up being my commander in chief, dontcha know.  But... here's a conversation I would have liked to have seen (and it didn't happen... oh, well)

Prime Minister Maliki: "Ah, un-named American Political Candidate, I am so glad that you have come to see Iraq!  Welcome."

Un-named American Political Candidate: "Thank you, sir.  It is really great to be here.  Thank you for your hospitality!"

PMM: "Ah, it is nothing.  I do, however, have one question for you.  I hope you will not think it rude or impertinent."

UNAPC: "Please, ask away!"

PMM: "I was just curious, now that you are here shaking my hand and looking me in the eye... how long WOULD you have allowed us to be dominated by Saddam Hussein?  If ousting him when you did was a bad idea, which, unless I have misread the American press as badly as Der Spiegel translates my speeches, you have said many times, then when, my friend, my dear friend, would you have felt that providing freedom to 27 million souls was a good thing?  And, do you think, now, with my hand in yours and our eyes locked together and in front of the entire news army of the free world, are you telling me that you would have preferred to let us go it alone before our army and police were ready to shoulder the burden?  Do you believe that 'tough love' would have helped us rise above the terror and intimidation that Al Qaeda was able to inflict in the last few years?"

UNAPC: "Uh... it's not that simple... uh... I think that I need to refine my thoughts on this..."

PMM: "I am sorry.  We are both politicians... I don't know what came over me and made me say what I was really thinking or feeling.  Come, let us smile for the camera's some more and pretend that you believe I and my family are worth fighting for!  I certainly don't wan't to alienate you on the off chance that my entire continued existence is dependent on your good graces in years to come."

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14:15 (3661 days, 11h, 48min ago)

Pithy is as Pith does...

7 June 2008

Camp Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq

So I'm in the IZ the other day, meeting with the DPMs office... oh, sorry... I was in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone the other day, at a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister's office (originally the DPM himself was going to be there, but he's got a busy schedule)... anyway, I got to have lunch at the Al Rasheed hotel.  Cloth tableclothes, good food (remarkably similar to what we have out in Al Anbar), no beer.  Let's just say that Baghdad is to Ramadi as Washington, D.C. is to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  All part of the same culture... a lot of similarities... and you'd be a fool to project too much of either onto the other one.  'Nuff said.

Today I was thinking about the fact that the anniversary of D-Day just passed.  You can go back to some of my other June 6 entries if you'd like, but I had occasion to relate some of the experiences I've had here in past deployments to somebody that is on their first... it's a whole different ballgame.  I was specifically talking about the operation the Major Ric Crocker was killed on in 2005.  Back then we KNEW that every time we went to town (Haditha in this case), there was a better than even chance of there being a fight, and when we did an operation like Operation New Market (the one where Ric was killed), it wasn't just because we were bored, but because there were plenty of bad guys that needed killing.  I still remember that night and that operation.  But the point is back then the war was being reported like it was worse than anything we'd ever experienced in the history of armed conflict... daily death tolls, quagmires, remarkably stupid things being said by politicians (okay, so that doesn't point to any particular time or circumstance... fair enough)... and back then I opined that a look at D-Day casualties figures might add some much-needed perspective.  Now days, well, where IS the news?  I know the answers, of course, but rhetorically, where are the daily updates on number of consecutive days without a violent American death in Al Anbar?  Nobody's interviewed me to see how the electricity distribution is coming along.  Sure, it's been pretty gripping watching Hillary remain behind in delegates for the last couple of months, and I'll grant you it's kind of fun watching her essentially have to say "sure I dragged this out for a while explaining what a really horrible choice Obama would be and how grotesquely underqualified he is to be a commander-in-chief... but he has my full support now that I've admitted (after a night of vigorous denial) that there aren't a miracle 100+ delegates out there and so therefore he is not the absolute best choice as your president.  Really.  I mean it.  Go BHO!", but really...

Now a while back I asked Congress to please stop giving us support like non-binding resolutions.  Looks like they heard.  Haven't heard a peep out of Harry or Nancy in a while.  So let's give a hat tip to them for managing to keep their yaps shut.  Apologies for being a bunch of whiny, opportunistic, political creatures that aren't qualified to look at Arlington might be a bit much, so I'm happy with the silence.  Of course maybe I just don't watch enough news...

Things are going well... but 'schway, schway' which is Arabic for 'slowly, slowly.'  If anybody thinks it should be going faster, I invite them to sign up for the State Department reconstruction teams and to bring that enthusiasm and expertise on over and show us how it's done.

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4:48 (3721 days, 21h, 15min ago)

Today's a holiday!

9 April 2008/Camp Ramadi, Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq

Today is a national holiday.  Not a U.S. holiday, but an Iraqi holiday.  It has nothing to do with the birth, death, epiphany, what-have-you of any imam, caliph, prophet or president.

Today is the official 5th anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to Coalition Forces, and the elected Iraqi government declared it a national holiday.  Frankly, it caught me by surprise... but then I probably wasn't reading enough of the traffic.

This morning I was speaking with an Iraqi National.  When the matter of the fall of Baghdad came up, he told me that it was a very significant day for him: it was the day the nightmares stopped.  For him, his family, and everyone he knew.  Not the notional concept of a national nightmare (like the 400 days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, or a Hillary presidency, or something like that), but real, literal nightmares.  The cold sweat, sitting up shaking in the middle of the night, moans of terror kind of nightmares.  The things that make you wake up tired.  He said that that night, the night after Baghdad was taken, he slept soundly for the first time that he could remember.  Not concerned that a jealous neighbor might have reported him as a spy or traitor, not worried that his daughter might be late because Uday or Qusay or some other Ba'ath party leader might have taken a shine to her and she was currently somewhere in the process of being kidnapped, raped, tortured, killed, and dumped.  Sure things were dangerous... but that is, while not 'normal,' a matter of risk management and perhaps insh'allah... what can you do if god so wills it?  But the deep terror of not god, but a malign dictator, a very human force that prided himself on having modeled his society on Stalin's... that terror was gone.  No illusion of everything being perfect when the sun rose, but now a manageable future.

No, stopping nightmares wasn't one of the stated reasons for invading Iraq.  Our national interest is not directly served, perhaps, by letting Iraqis sleep sounder (before somebody trots out John Kerry's hoary old description of our security activities here, I will simply say that to compare a Coalition 'cordon and knock' sweep into a house with Saddam's secret police dragging a father off to have his feet flogged is as fatuous as equating Guantanamo with Auschwitz).  But I suppose, from time to time, the law of unintended consequences comes down on the plus side, too.  And KNOWING that it stopped the nightmares of a few dozen million folks, I'd be hard pressed to realpolitik my way into justifying NOT kicking in the door.  But perhaps I'm growing soft, and losing my cynical edge.  I guess hearing stories like that'll do it to you.

Just my thoughts on 9 April 2008.  Take care all.  Sleep well.

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11:07 (3734 days, 14h, 56min ago)

Seems like old times...

27 March 2008

Camp Fallujah, Anbar Province, Iraq


Greetings and salutations.  For those of you that are still checking in, thank you for the patience.  For those that are here for the first time, welcome.  For those of you that think instability in Iraq is better than stability, that chaos is better than order, that freedom is only good for those that are ready for it... welcome, too.  All I ask is that if you must spout off, be able to rationally defend your position.

Well, for those that are keeping track, this IS my fourth deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraq Freedom.  All four have been in the role of "Civil Affairs" which is means many things, but primarily serving as the interface between the military and the civilian populace.

I've actually been over here for about 50 days already (okay, exactly 50 days... but who's counting?).  In the past I've served at the battalion level as a team leader and at the regiment/brigade level as a detachment Executive Officer.  This time I am at the provincial level and am helping to get this place working again.

I will write more about what I'm doing later, but let me just give you this advice: if you ever happen to be getting raised by two loving electrical engineers, and they try to teach you fundamentals of electricity... LISTEN TO THEM!  You might just end up in a foreign country talking to real engineers about megawatts, kilovolts-amps, transformers and such someday... and if you didn't pay attention, you might just regret not having that knowledge now!

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4:22 (4031 days, 21h, 40min ago)

On Civil Disobedience

Yesterday I was speaking with an old friend, a man I've been to Iraq with twice and he is gearing up for his third tour.  In our conversation, another former compatriot's name came up, one Adam Kokesh.  Apparently Cpl* Kokesh has been making quite a name for himself in the anti-war circuit, being an Iraqi Veteran and all.  With Cindy in retirement, a number of wags have pointed out that the 'movement' needed another front-man, and Cpl Kokesh seems to fill the bill: Iraq veteran for credibility, a flair for the dramatic and, in my opinion, a craving for spotlight with a Kerry-like eye to the future (a la Summer Soldier/Winter Patriot).

In any case, he is in 'court' today, actually a non-judicial review of the status of his discharge.  It seems that the mean old Marine Corps takes some exception to members of the Reserve, of which Cpl Kokesh most certainly is, wearing uniform parts during protests.  This 'exception' the Marine Corps takes is no secret, and when I was a six-month PFC I'd have known at least enough to ask if such a question came up.  Though Cpl Kokesh is now a Corporal, he was once a Sergeant, and I'd say, having been in his non-judicial punishment that netted him his loss of rank and early exit from the Marine Corps, that the character of his discharge was never on the firmest of ground.

All that being said, take a look at his website: http://kokesh.blogspot.com/

My objections are not, actually, with his protesting, but rather with his arrogant, tantrum-like response to the predictable reactions to his protesting.  I do not believe he is a fool.  Here is my letter to him.  He hasn't answered yet, but then I only wrote it last night, and he has a big day in Kansas City today.  I will talk more about Civil Disobedience in the future, and, as you can see, will gladly engage in a dialogue with Cpl Kokesh

Based on what I know of you from our time in 3rd and 5th CAG**, I am disappointed in your actions.  Not so much the protesting, mind you, but your responses to the official concern in the matter.  I have no respect for somebody that commits civil disobedience, and then complains when the punishment that they ask for is meted out.  I do not believe that you were unaware of the policies regarding Marine Corps uniforms or that you didn't hope to gain some advantage by wearing it in a protest, so I can only assume that you were hoping to be punished to help your new cause (the alternative is that you are ignorant and/or unable to anticipate obvious reactions).  Mandala going to prison showed character, Lt. Watada complaining when the rules he knowingly broke are enforced does not.  Neither does spouting off rude responses as you 'chastise' those executing their duties.  Perhaps the Marine Corps that you claim to love is different than the one I enlisted in back in 1981, but I see nothing admirable, in keeping with Marine Corps values, or even particularly manly in the tone, tenor or text of your responses to the Marine Corps.  This has, in my opinion, nothing to do with your love of the Marine Corps, your sincere opposition to the war, or your rights being violated, but rather your posturing for future political office.  Perhaps an effective tactic, but not one of which I would be proud.
I only just learned of your antics (and I can think of no kinder term for them), so haven't read all of your blog entries.  Perhaps in there, somewhere, are substantive, rational discussions of your opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom (or perhaps to the whole GWOT... I have no idea) and your journey from striving to deploy with us 2006 to your current position.  I believe there ARE rational positions against the war, but protestors so rarely hold those positions or are able to articulate them, instead coming across as kneejerk doves with no context for their position besides their hearts.  If you actually have some real objections, I would be curious to hear them, but if it is merely more of the Code Pink "Impeach Bush" dribble, then I think I've heard enough (unless, of course, you can convince me that there are actual impeachable offenses involved).  I would suggest that alternative plans be advanced with criticisms, preferably with reasonable consequences and risks for recommended courses of action.  You always struck me as a rational, articulate man, so I look forward to hearing an interesting case against OIF.  Links to existing statements are fine, too.
I will likely publish this letter on my blog at http://mattchis.bravejournal.com (don't worry, it gets no more than a hundred or so hits a day, at most), and would be happy to post any of your responses or not, as you desire.  The opinions expressed in this letter and at my blog are my own and should not be assumed to reflect those of the United States Marine Corps or the government of the United States.
[MDC], LtCol, USMC

* If, by some sort of administrative legerdemain, Adam Kokesh has regained his rank of Sergeant, I will gladly adjust my references back to the rank that he claims to hold.

** It is not clear to me if Adam Kokesh was with me in 2005, with 5th CAG.  It may be that he was in Fallujah while I was in Habbaniyah in 2004, rather than while I was in Haditha in 2005.  He was in my detachment when we began work-ups for our 2006 tour, until he was put on legal hold for the activities that would eventually lead to his early discharge from active duty.

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