Sunday, July 19, 2009
Here I'll discuss a few improvements to the Army's repertoire that will make a difference in conflicts present and future.
The US Army provides pricey, high-quality night vision goggles to every single combat soldier deployed in the Iraqi and Afghani theaters. The one I have is called the PVS-14, a monocular that clips onto the black metal bracket on the front of my helmet. It swings down in front of my left eye and when turned on, it makes an otherwise black night spring to life in verdant shades of green.
I've had to navigate the dark streets of Ad Dawr behind the wheel of a humvee at night with one of these things, and the parallax combined with the staggered field of view makes it hazardous at a best. I found I was better off just eating lots of carrots during the day and driving without it at night. I've never had to shoot my rifle using one, but I have gazed at the Milky Way on a starry night, and it is spectacular - the light-enhancement feature causes even the dimmest celestial orb to glisten like a Christmas light, allowing an unprecedented sense of galactic perspective.
All the PVS-14 does is enhance what little existing light is bouncing around the sky at the particular moment you turn it on (although it does include a small built-in infra-red flashlight if you have the vast misfortune of patrolling inside a dark building).
The new ENVG, on the other hand, includes thermal-imaging. When combined with the light-enhancing feature, it highlights anything with a temperature higher or lower than its surroundings, like a human body, a warm tank engine, or a cold river. Pretty cool! And a definite improvement - you can see people hiding in the shadows below.
At the time of their release, ACU's could be seen side-by-side with BDU's (the jungle-colored pattern) and DCU's (the old desert-colored pattern). By 2007, the Army had phased out DCU's and BDU's completely, leaving only the weird blue-and-gray-colored ACU's. Because they were "new and different", all the soldiers just couldn't wait to be issued the new ACU uniform (a typical mindset in the Army).
Now, it doesn't take 20/20 vision to see that the ACU pattern...well, it doesn't actually blend in with anything. In an effort to be an all-purpose camouflage, it ended up being a no-purpose camouflage. I mean, little squares of blue and gray? Are we invading a Civil War videogame? The justification behind the strange colors was that they were practically invisible to enemies with night vision goggles. Newsflash: our current enemies don't have night vision goggles. Most of our operations occur during the day, anyway. The ACU's might have made sense in Vietnam, if the NVA used night-vision goggles.
So the scorecard reads: "Fighting the Last War": 1, Common Sense: 0.
After 5 years of complaints, the US Army will start issuing the new "Multi-Cam" pattern uniform, which makes a soldier practically indiscernible from the foliage commonly found when hunting deer in the Southern American states. Soldiers are already chomping at the bit to get the cool, "new" camouflage pattern.
The New "Multi-Cam"
What is the name of this infernal writ, this intolerable missive, you ask?
"General Order Number One"
Among other things, General Order Number One prohibits American soldiers from drinking alcohol, viewing adult videos, and pursuing liasons with the opposite sex. In a word, all the things that have traditionally contributed to the mental and emotional well-being of men under the duress of war. Also forbidden: war souvenirs, gambling, and use of personal firearms. If men can't be men in an Army during wartime...just what is it we are fighting for, again? One of the few stress-outlets open to the American soldier is tobacco, and last month the DOD recommended that it be banned as well!
In a final concession to the hordes of battles-stressed men deployed year after year to the Middle East, the Army has allowed Morale Trailers (which I call "Realdoll Brothels", because that's what they are) to run businesses on the larger Army bases.
Kirkuk has one, which I haven't used personally, but I know some guys who have.
Are you familiar with these "Realdolls"? A San Diego company (yay, San Diego!) manufactures life-size dolls of women, fabricated from high-quality plastic composites, that can be dressed up and used for...well, exactly what you think they would be used for.
Condoms must be used, and Bangladeshi & Nepalese workers work the counter and clean the booths after visits. They forbid picture taking inside the trailer, so I can't show you more. As uptight as the American military tends to be, I was shocked when I learned of the Morale Trailer. But apparently it is extremely successful and no one seems to be complaining!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
You are being lied to.
Although overshadowed in the news by jet crashes, student shootings, and Michael Jackson, today was a big day for Iraq.
A new National Holiday in fact, a three-day feast titled "Sovereignty Day".
Sovereignty Day is a result of the June 30th deadline being met for American Combat Troops to be pulled "out of the cities" of Iraq and back onto bases in the countryside.
The poor Iraqis had parades, fireworks, and vacation time to celebrate this important milestone, not realizing that their levity is based on near-complete deception.
The Iraqis think that their own police & soldiers are in charge now, that the occupation is finally winding down.
I am not making this up - I am simply not that creative nor am I a good liar.
What happened is this: the Iraqi people were told "The Americans are leaving the cities by June 30th!" and so, they think that after June 30th, they won't see convoys of huge American MRAPs anymore, they won't see Americans patrolling the streets with rifles and body armor, they won't hear helicopters buzzing overhead at 3am in support of a nighttime raid in their neighborhood.
All reasonable assumptions to make.
What the US Army really means by "Out of the Cities", is classic semantic legerdemain, not to mention bald-faced doublespeak: the US Army means that all 130,000 American troops currently occupying the country will magically transmogrify overnight from "Combat Troops" in title to "Advise & Support" troops...and that's it! We have closed most of the small patrol bases in the urban areas that we opened during the surge of 2006/2007, and we now submit a patrol schedule to the Iraqis a week in advance...and that's it! We will still do patrols in the cities, we will still be conducting raids, harassing the local police into actually doing their jobs, and getting ourselves blown up by IED's & RKG's (roadside bombs & armor-piercing grenades, the insurgent weapons-of-choice right now).
I can imagine this whole thing blowing up in our face, quite literally. No joke - the Iraqis expect us soldiers not to be showing our faces in town anymore. Oops! Sorry, Haji. We're still here, every single day. Talk about fodder for enemy propaganda. I have 6 missions coming up in the next few weeks that will require me to be in the city of Kirkuk, out talking to people, surrounded by other armed Americans in our behemoth armored trucks, just like pre-June 30th. I'm not sure how the locals are going to take it.
I'm loading more magazines just in case...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
There are several scams going on in Iraq, which waste billions in US taxpayer dollars. Not many people appear to be aware of them, so I will list them here, in no particular order.
Many of the services on Army bases (laundry, water sanitation, electrical power) are provided by American civilians, working for one of several contracting companies. KBR is the biggest company. Kellog, Brown, & Root is a subdivision of Halliburton.
Meet Steve. Steve does laundry. Steve can wear what he wants, works a 12-hour shift, and goes home to Georgia on vacation every couple of months. Steve lives for free on the base and eats sumptuous meals in the dining hall every day, no charge. Steve's security and transportation are provided by Army machine gunners and Army helicopters.
Steve receives $120,000 a year tax-free.
Meet Joe. He is a Private First Class in the US Army. Joe gets told what to wear, when to sleep (6 hours a night at most), and how to shave. Joe pulls guard-duty shifts for hours at a time in guard towers around the base. Joe belongs to a platoon that does patrols in the nearby city at all hours of the day & night, braving frequent car bombs, road bombs, and grenade attacks.
Joe’s base pay is $22,400 a year.
Check out what these other contractors make.
Air conditioner technician: $140,000/yr
Office Clerk: $90,000/yr
The Army doesn't like to sit still. During a long occupation, the various branches in the army often finding themselves casting about for something meaningful to do, something to justify their existence, something they can tabulate and gage and put in a PowerPoint presentation for their superiors.
Thus was born the "Micro-grant" program.
It goes something like this: Army units rotate in and out of Iraq too quickly to actually follow up on any long-term construction projects (This is why we haven't been able to improve the infrastructure here in 6 years. No joke - nowhere in Iraq do the people have water, electricity, and sewage at a level comparable to before the invasion). Plus we're warriors, not project managers.
So in lieu of actually managing projects to make sure they get completed, the Army gives out cold hard cash to any Iraqi who can sign their name on a piece of paper.
Iraqi Receiving a Ton of Cash for Nothing
This is called a "micro-grant" and is supposed to help locals start small businesses.
But there is no follow-up on micro-grant recipients, no gage or measure of effectiveness, no chamber of commerce to help them along. It is essentially a big cash give-away of US dollars to private Iraqi citizens.
The typical micro-grant totals anywhere from $2000-$10,000, and my current battalion processes a couple of dozen micro-grants a month. It takes an Iraqi about 2 weeks to get their micro-grant money after filling out the required paperwork.
It took my soldier PFC McGarry 8 months of repeatedly lost paperwork, bureaucratic red-tape, and stonewalling to finally get awarded his enlistment bonus of $3500.
MRAP by International, Called the "MaxPro-Plus"
When we go on patrols, we drive around in armored vehicles, naturally. The army developed a couple of armored versions of the Humvee (designated the M1114 & the M1151) to protect occupants from roadside bombs and thrown grenades and such.
These armored Humvees cost under $200,000 and protect their occupants from all but the biggest roadside bombs. They also do not provide protection from armor-piercing bombs, known as EFP's (Explosively Formed Projectiles, Iranian-made super-bombs that can pierce just about any armor we have).
Since roadside bombs have caused most of the casualties in Iraq, the Army wanted to improve the protection afforded these soldiers. Thus, the army has slowly replaced the armored humvees with MRAP's, Mine Resistant Armored Personnel vehicles.
MRAP Called the "RG-33"
MRAP's are designed with a V-shaped hull and lots of armor to deflect blasts from underneath. They work really well, and conventional roadside bombs haven't really killed anyone in an MRAP. An EFP, however, will still punch right through an MRAP and kill whoever is inside. This happened frequently in Sadr City when I was there last autumn.
A typical MRAP costs $1.2 to 1.8 million dollars EACH. So you might say "hey, it's worth the extra cost to protect our soldiers" which is undoubtedly true, but check this out: Iraqis are not a terribly dogmatic bunch - they will basically do whatever their sheikh or immediate supervisor tells them to do. It was proven during the "Surge" of 2006/2007 that the terrorists can be bought off en masse, and violence will drop. Iraqis just want a paycheck, whether it comes from the government, a terrorist organization, or a factory where they work (too bad there are so few factories in Iraq).
General Petraeus started the Awakening Program to essentially give all those unemployed Sunni Arab males who were taking money from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, a paycheck for keeping the peace instead. And Voila! Violence dropped precipitously.
So what does this have to do with MRAP's?
This: if we had understood the Iraqi mindset back in 2003, the obvious solution to the country's troubles would have been a handful of massive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that would have employed all those disgruntled villagers and improved the country at the same time.
But the US Army doesn't get "nation building". The US Army is designed to destroy other armies, and thinks of everything in terms of armor, weapons, enemies, and PowerPoint. So the whole MRAP program spends billions of dollars on these behemoth trucks, when for the price of one of them, would-be insurgents could be put to peaceful work that would benefit their country.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Too much heat & poor drainage in my starter pots, I'm guessing.
They were doing so well for a while there.
The funny thing is, they all died within a 3-day span of one another. First, one pot would start wilting and shriveling. The next day, two more pots. By the third day, all pots, both tomatoes and peppers, were dead. Certainly not for lack of water. I hope I don't have a black thumb. I welcome any experienced gardeners who can help me diagnose the problem.
Other things that have died recently:
1) My youthful idealism
2) Any hopes I had of coming home from Iraq early
3) Plans for an early retirement
4) Dreams of rockstardom
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Look closely, however, and you will see more. Much more.
There are Jews in Iraq. And Christians. And Yezidis, Yursan, and Zoroastrians. Granted they are in the minority, but they all boast a culture as rich and varied as the muslims.
Don't forget that ancient Mesopotamia, aka the Fertile Crescent, is where civilization began. It is where father Abraham was born, and where Imam Ali made his last stand. It is the birthplace of monotheism, in all its wacky incarnations. That is why I would like to take you, gentle reader, on a tour of what I like to call...
The Kooky Monotheistic Religions of Northern Iraq
Yes there are still Jews who live in Iraq. Like, seven of them. And I'm not sure they realize they are Jewish. Baghdad, Iraq's capital, used to be known as a multi-cultural melting pot of sectarian tolerance. It boasted a 2600-year old Jewish community ("By the Rivers Of Babylon", anyone?) that had contributed for years to every aspect of Iraqi culture.
But then the 20th century, with its oil, anti-zionism, and Saddam happened, and most of the Jews fled for their lives. Estimates put the total Jewish community at a dozen or so, most too old and infirm to move out, despite offers of free travel to Israel.
Heck YEAH there are Christians in Iraq. Two kinds: "Chaldeans" and "Assyrians". They both speak a modern form of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, as well as Arabic. They have communities in northern Iraq but also Baghdad. Like the Jews, most of them have fled the country over the past 20 years in the face of rising Islamic Fundamentalism.
Iraqi ex-patriate, Chaldean Christian,
and current interpreter for my PSYOP team
in Kirkuk City
I'll never forget what one of the Iraqi role-players told me during my army training right before my first deployment to Iraq in 2005. A Chaldean Christian, he pulled me aside after our exercises and told me in accented English "Good luck out there and thank you for trying to help my homeland. And most of all, remember: Never trust an Arab."
Also known as "Ahl-ee Haq" or "Kayaki", followers of this religion are all Kurds. It's basically a Kurdish sub-religion. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim, you see, but some didn't take to Islam so well, and retained their earlier religion. My first exposure to the Ahl-e Haq, or "Kayaki" guys, was in Mandali in 2005. My interpreter at the time was a local nicknamed "Bill", a half-Kurd half-Arabic Shi'a. We were watching Iraqi policemen do a shift change, and up walked a man with a huge nose and the most glorious, full, walrus-looking mustache I had ever seen. I mean this lip-caterpillar was hanging down to his chin practically. I'm pretty sure he had to tie the ends to his ears in order to eat. I asked Bill what the deal was with Mr. Mustache Nose, and Bill explained "Oh, you see he is a Kayaki guy. They have a religion much older than Islam. Everyone loves the Kayaki guys."
So what do they believe, exactly? They acknowledge one God, along with angels, avatars, and reincarnation. Wikipedia it if you'd like to know more. For whatever reason, they don't seem to get persecuted specifically for their religion - maybe because the Arabic hatred for Kurds in general overshadows it.
All right I admit it: the sole reason for this particular blog entry is to enlighten you, gentle reader, about Taus Melek, the Peacock Angel of the Kurdish Yezidi tribes.
That's a frickin' cool depiction, isn't it? The Yezidi are all Kurds as well, and they live near Mosul in Northern Iraq. They acknowledge the one God, along with seven archangels, the most prominent of which is Taus Melek, the Peacock Angel. Yazidi believe that God first created Taus Melek from his own illumination and that six other archangels were created later. God ordered Taus Melek not to bow to other beings. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust from the Earth and build the body of Adam. Then God gave life to Adam from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam. The archangels obeyed except for Taus Melek. In answer to God, Taus Melek replied, "How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust." Then God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth.
This is why Arab muslims believe that the Yezidi are devil worshipers: they believe Taus Melek is a shaitan and a face of the devil. Arabs would kill all the Yezidis if they could.
Let's face it: if Islam were a grade-school child, his report card would say "Does not play well with others".
Sadly, the current American mindset says "Islam is peaceful, it's the extremists who have twisted it around".
But that is just not the case. Islam itself is violent at its core, calling for war and separation. Muslims who don't follow Jihad simply don't have the balls or the will to do what the Koran asks. They prefer to live in peace, despite what their religion tells them, and let's all praise Allah for that small mercy.
Another major bummer is Islam's lack of centralized authority. At least in Catholicism, you have a pope who can announce "Let's stop this whole 'Inquisition' thing", and the whole Inquisition thing would stop. No such luck in Islam. Any petty tyrant in a turban can announce himself an Imam and start issuing fatwas against this or that political issue. I once thought that Islam needed a wholesale reformation, but that implies there is something pure and holy there to begin with, which has just grown out of control. I no longer believe that is the case with Islam. The Tree of Islam is a dark, blasted thing, that should be torn up by the roots and thrown in the fire. Islam went wrong at its earliest turn. It got the One God thing right, and that's about it. No denying the Koran contains wisdom, but even the holiest Muslims will tell you the Koran needs to be read in Arabic to be fully appreciated. This means that context trumps content for this particular holy book, which is not a good sign.
Jews: all the ones who can, have left Iraq already
Christians: getting hounded and assassinated as I write this. Five Chaldeans gunned down in Kirkuk in the last two weeks.
Yarsan: glorious mustaches
Yezidis: compelling blue Peacock Angel
Muslims: to be watched very, very closely
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I am having trouble finding a large enough quantity of good soil for the larger bed into which I shall transplant the seedlings. All of the soil on base is clay. Very fine, silty clay, totally inappropriate for growing vegetables. I may grab a couple big buckets and transplant them there, and feed them with a Miracle-Gro mixture.