Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The First Day of My First War: September, 1970

It was right after sunrise when the explosion of the claymore mine shook the ground. I was the new guy, so I foolishly looked around before I fell onto my stomach. The rest of the soldiers in my new platoon were already behind their weapons and they were ready for anything that might happen next.

God they moved fast.

I was the new lieutenant, so I joined my platoon sergeant and a couple of other soldiers as we moved slowly toward what was now a kill zone. I had never before seen live or dead enemy soldiers and I admit I was a little nervous. The platoon sergeant was aware of this and that was the reason he suggested I come along. He wanted to see my reaction to dead bodies and maybe he figured I would throw up or something.

The exploding claymore had cleared out a small section of the jungle. As we reached the edge of the kill zone, I could see human forms stretched out on the trail. (The above photo shows a later kill zone.) I started to approach them, but the platoon sergeant grabbed my arm and said, “Just a minute, L.T.; they look dead, but maybe they’re not.” Then he opened fire with his M16, spraying the bodies with bullets.

“Now we know they’re dead,” said the sergeant and we moved toward the corpses.

There were two dead enemy soldiers lying on the trail. We would learn that one of them was a Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese communist guerrilla. The man in the lead was a North Vietnamese soldier. He carried a folding stock AK which was still in the same position it must have been when he was walking – left hand on the front stock, right hand next to the trigger. The claymore knocked him over like a domino.

I walked up to the NVA, kneeled down, removed the AK from his lifeless grip and handed it to one of my other soldiers. At that moment the eyes of the dead body met mine. The soldier died with his eyes open and an “oh, shit” expression on his face. I realized at that moment that I was staring into the eyes of death for the first time.

Other than being dead, the most noticeable thing about this NVA was that one of his legs was neatly severed just below the knee. The severed leg was only a few inches from his body, but it was my first lesson in how a claymore mine can mutilate a human being.

As the other soldiers worked on searching the VC, I continued my search of his late friend. I removed his backpack, hat, belt and other equipment from the body and then searched his pockets for anything of intelligence value. The platoon sergeant was watching both searches and he was probably disappointed I didn’t cough up my last C ration.

During my search I came upon a scarf. It was dark blue and on one corner was the embroidered name of the dead man; on the opposite corner was the name of a girl surrounded by flowers. According to my Cambodian Kit Carson scout, this was a souvenir given to him by a wife or girlfriend. Now she would never lay eyes on him again.

We finished our searches and the platoon sergeant pulled the pin on a grenade and put it under the body of the NVA as a booby trap. If his friends returned to get his remains, they would get a fatal surprise as soon as they moved him. We returned to the platoon with the weapons and property of the dead soldiers and our war continued.

The other day I was in my attic going through an old duffel bag and I found the NVA waterproof bag I took from this dead enemy soldier. When I opened the bag, the smell of NVA sweat rose from the contents. Still folded up with the guy’s boonie hat and belt was the blue scarf embroidered with the names and the flowers.

It has been almost thirty-seven years since this kill zone, but I still don’t feel guilty that my platoon killed men who would have certainly killed us. I came to learn that war is surely the survival of the fittest as well as the luckiest.

I have now survived two wars and I know that I did so because of a combination of skill, luck and the fact that the odds were in my favor. Most soldiers will survive their combat tours, but the odds will run out for the rest.

On a jungle trail a long, long time ago, an NVA soldier’s time ran out when he died for what he believed in. Perhaps his last thought was of her and maybe just before he died he reached into his pocket to caress the scarf. In some ways, all soldiers are the same.

As I sat holding his lover’s scarf, I felt a brief moment of sadness for her. Then I remembered the soldiers I knew who were killed in Vietnam. I folded up the scarf, put it back in the bag and climbed out of the attic.

My wife asked me if there was anything wrong when I reached into the refrigerator for a beer.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day, 2007: We Must Never Forget

I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.

Timothy 2:4:7

I remember the 18-year-old kid from Tennessee who let me use his transistor radio, the baby-faced private from North Carolina with the big grin, Staff Sergeant James, Sergeant Brezinski and Sergeant Dowjotas. There are others whose names, God forgive me, I cannot recall. All of their names are on the Vietnam wall because they gave their lives for their country.

I also remember Lieutenant King.

Late in 1970, after several months as an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division (the First "Air" Cav), I got sick as a dog one morning after we returned to the firebase. At first the medics thought it was malaria, but it was some other jungle virus and I was laid up in the rear area for about a month. Unfortunately, another lieutenant was sent to take over my platoon.

When I recovered, I asked the battalion commander to re-assign me to another platoon. He said he would let me fill the next platoon leader vacancy. When the lieutenant for the second platoon of Bravo Company rotated back to the States, I politely reminded the battalion commander of his promise.

He was nice about it, but he said he was sending Lieutenant Thomas P. King to take over that platoon. I had gotten to know King from our chess games in a firebase bunker. King was a West Point graduate and a career officer who needed the field time, so the commander said I could have the next platoon.

Less than two weeks later, Lieutenant King and his men walked up on an NVA bunker complex. Along with several other soldiers, he was killed when a North Vietnamese soldier detonated a Chinese claymore mine. If I had been in command of that platoon as originally planned, I would have been the one killed.

Years later I stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and stared at the engraving of King’s name. Only a quirk of fate put his name there instead of mine.

Now there are those from Iraq who don’t have their own place in Washington, D.C. yet, but whose names will one day appear on the Operation Iraqi Freedom monument. They have sacrificed everything in this new war just because their country needed them.

From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, America’s warriors have given their lives to defend America and its allies from those who would enslave them. On battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries throughout the world, we continue to lose our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers as they protect our way of life with honor and valor.

Those of us who have fought in America’s wars will never forget the faces of our comrades. We will remember them when they were laughing, sharing a meal or missing their families. They will always be in our hearts and souls.

We hope that, on this Memorial Day, all of you will remember them, too.

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, May 25, 2007

Never Forget Why We Are At War

I received this via email yesterday. While researching it, I found that it was initially sent in 2006, so some of you may have seen it before. It is worth seeing again:

The USS New York was built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center .

It is the fifth in a new class of warship - designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite , LA to cast the ship's bow section. When it was poured into the molds on Sept. 9, 2003 , "those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence," recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who was there. "It was a spiritual moment for everybody there."

Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand and the "hair on my neck stood up." "It had a big meaning to it for all of us," he said. "They knocked us down. They can't keep us down. We're going to be back."

The ship's motto? "Never Forget"

* * * *

Al Qaeda and the other terrorists will try to attack us again as they did on 9-11. We must fight them wherever they are and we can never become complacent.

These killers want to turn the entire world into a brutal fundamentalist Islamic empire. Their unforgiving world would repress women, attack minorities and impose brutal religious punishments on perceived offenders.

When Presidential candidate John Edwards denied that there was a Global War on Terror, I couldn't believe that someone in his position could be so foolish. If we left Iraq tomorrow, the Islamic fascists would continue to attack innocent peace-loving people all over the world.

That sounds like a world war to me.

SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Al-Maliki's Speech Shows Courage & Determination

There has been much criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Most of it revolves around how long it seems to be taking to get some of the laws passed that the American government considers “benchmarks”.

On the other side of the coin, we should remember that al-Maliki is a courageous man to take the mantle of a country that is torn from within. He must walk a daily tightrope between political and religious factions while facing the possibility of assassination each day.

One of my Baghdad friends sent me the following which is the text of a speech made by Al-Maliki on the first anniversary of Iraq’s new government. This speech was on Baghdad’s Al-Iraqiyah Television in Arabic. It is a positive statement from someone who clearly loves his people.

Not surprisingly, I have heard nothing about this speech from our own mainstream media. It is a little long, but so is the task the Iraqis must accomplish:

Iraq's Al-Maliki Reviews Government's Accomplishments on First Anniversary
GMP20070522617001 Baghdad Al-Iraqiyah Television in Arabic 1458 GMT 22 May 07

[Speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki 'on the occasion of the first anniversary of the formation of the national unity government;' in Baghdad; recorded]

"In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, dear Iraqi people -- people of the two rivers -- brothers and sisters: God's peace and blessings be upon you. A year has passed since the formation of the first elected government in Iraq's modern history, a government which has won the support of the parliamentary blocs taking part in the political process, which unanimously supported the national plan and granted confidence to the government.

Based on this unanimity, we depended on God and the people's confidence to implement the government's program. This is a task you undoubtedly know is difficult and complicated and is facing huge challenges.

The year 2006 was a real test of the will of the government and people. We were at a crossroads -- either Iraq will remain united and its social fabric cohesive and strong or it will slip into a sectarian war, which is the dirtiest of wars throughout history.

Praise be to God, we have succeeded in avoiding the danger of sectarian war after the holy shrine of the two Al-Askari imams in Samarra was blown up. That ugly crime was committed by the takfiris and their allies the henchmen of the dictatorial regime. The sectarian war which threatened our national unity is now behind us.

The year 2006 also witnessed the end of the dictator and his abominable rule, which dragged the country to wars and reckless adventures. That was a dark era during which we suffered the worst of tragedies and pains and offered hundreds of thousands of martyrs in prisons, detention centers, and mass graves, and in Al-Anfal and Halabjah. The rule of the one party, one faction, and the indispensable leader, and the policy of discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization have ended for ever.

Our success in avoiding a sectarian war and putting an end to the dictator was not without great sacrifices. We have sacrificed blood, shed tears, and faced difficulties. This is a heavy price we are paying today in our fight against terrorism. It is the same price we paid in 35 years. The road to freedom, justice, democracy, and equality cannot but be difficult and tough.

Brothers and sisters: Since the first day of the formation of the national unity government, which I had the honor of heading, I launched an initiative for national reconciliation and dialogue. The initiative was not launched on the basis of political, party, or sectarian considerations, but on a strategic vision to rebuild the state and consecrate the culture of dialogue and tolerance, renounce secondary differences, and close the past chapter.

We have placed the issue of national reconciliation at the top of the government priorities and devoted all resources to it. We said on more than one occasion that national reconciliation is a lifeboat for all Iraqis and it is the only way to overcome the ordeal and cross to the shore of safety. Regrettably, some have rebelled against dialogue and reconciliation. We will deal with them firmly and in accordance with the law.

The national reconciliation initiative led to conferences held by tribes, civil society organizations, political forces, officers, and intellectuals all over Iraq. It also provided the appropriate background to introduce constitutional amendments in which the authority of law has the final word. We did so by presenting the draft law of Accountability and Justice to the Council of Representatives. This draft law guarantees the rights of martyrs and distinguishes between those whose hands were stained with the blood of innocent people and those who were forced to join the dissolved Ba'th Party.

The draft law provides a legal framework and just accountability, and closes the bloody chapter of the past. The law which we want to be an arbiter and ruler does not mean leniency with criminal Ba'thists or ignoring the rights of martyrs and prisoners. It seeks to administer justice and rehabilitate all those who were exposed to injustice, despotism, and oppression.

O honorable Iraqi people, we consider the national reconciliation plan the strongest weapon in fighting terrorism. We were fully confident that this plan would succeed in defeating the takfiris and their allies despite the claims of some political forces, which wagered on turning national reconciliation into a bridge for the return of killers and criminals. It is impossible for this delusion to materialize.

In the new Iraq there is no place for the Ba'th Party, whose history is replete with coups, plots, and leaders of crime and mass annihilation. I will not miss the occasion here to invite the faithful Iraqi tribes and civil society organizations to form national salvation councils in all Iraqi governorates and to stand by the side of our armed forces in order to destroy the epidemic of terrorism, which is targeting Iraq -- land, people, and heritage.

The terrorists are destroying the infrastructure and killing teachers, physicians, engineers, builders, journalists, sportsmen, and artists, in addition to women and children. They are also attacking mosques, churches, and universities. Their blind grudge has reached the historical, civil, and cultural landmarks of Baghdad.

Brothers and sisters: Our war against terrorism is an open and long one. None should think that this war will end today or tomorrow. The security challenges facing dear Iraq are extremely serious. What makes the situation even more difficult is foreign interference, which is no longer a secret to anyone. Some political forces' acceptance of and submission to the influence of a number of countries has led to complicating the security file, which is no longer an internal challenge. This calls for greater vigilance and caution.

The day will come when we reveal the involvement of political groups and personalities in stirring up terrorist acts. We will not hesitate to expose the subversive role some regional and international parties are playing. These parties are not pleased to see Iraq strong and living a democratic experience and determined to establish the state of institutions. These quarters, which we know well, will pay a heavy price from their security and stability if they do not stop the policy of undermining security in Iraq so that the country will remain weak. A strong democratic and pluralistic Iraq is the only guarantee against the return of dictatorship. It is a safety valve for stability and prosperity in the region.

Any Iraqi entity that seeks support from abroad will be making a terrible mistake because this will lead to regional and international forces' conflict in the Iraqi arena. We also call on all those who care for the unity, safety, and sovereignty of Iraq to stop interfering in our internal affairs because the Iraqis alone can protect their country and defend their dignity. Our people, who recorded electoral epics in a record and critical time and established constitutional institutions on the debris of dictatorship, reject the logic of trusteeship and the logic of having others think on their behalf.

Brothers and sisters: Completing the establishment of our armed forces is a central national task we are trying to accomplish at the earliest possible time. This is a process which daily brings us closer to assuming full responsibility for security in the whole country. We have made a large stride in this regard and we are racing time in training, rehabilitating, and equipping our forces with modern weapons and military equipment so that our security services can take the initiative and assume responsibility for protecting the country and citizens, and thus pave the way for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from the country. This task will remain a top priority in our program for 2007.

On this occasion, I call on all honorable Iraqis to shoulder their responsibility and help our armed forces so that these can perform their duty under the sovereignty of the law and respect for human rights. The Law Enforcement Plan, which has entered its fourth month, is an integrated professional plan implemented in stages. We said right from the first day that the plan does not target any entity or sect, but seeks to protect the citizens.

It is an open war against the terrorists. We are determined to strike with an iron fist all outlaws -- terrorist organizations, militias, armed groups, and crime gangs which tamper with the security of the country. We cannot build a state in the presence of militias which have various allegiances, affiliations, and interests. We will give a full chance for those who voluntarily lay down their weapons and return to the national rank. We will exhaust all political solutions before we begin taking military measures, which we hope we will not be forced to take, to impose the authority of law.

Praised by God, we have succeeded in largely reducing the rate of sectarian killings and managed to restore normal life to a number of areas in Baghdad which were under the control of the terrorists. In view of the deliberate confusion some known parties and personalities are making and in view of attempts to undermine the reputation of our armed forces and security services, we call on the judicial authority to pursue these parties and refer their files to justice in order to call them to account for encouraging terrorism and inciting hatred and sectarian strife.

Brothers and sisters: He who thinks that building the state and its institutions and various departments is the job of only the government will be mistaken. We are all responsible for Iraq's recovery, security, stability, and prosperity. There is no doubt that this long and tough mission cannot be accomplished in a short time. It is a gradual historic task requiring solidarity and sacrifice by all.

It is inadmissible for the political forces participating in the political process to take a neutral position or act as bystanders or ones looking for mistakes. We have very regrettably seen this done by some people who placed themselves in the position of observers from a distance instead of putting their hands in our hands to build the new Iraq.

Cooperation among the three authorities takes place in an integral manner without interference by any authority in the affairs of the other authorities. We, together with our partners in the political process, raised the slogan of cooperation, integration, and revision in order to reach the largest possible understanding that is based on constitutional controls with the aim of reviewing programs and laws in a manner that serves the country's higher interests.

In 2006, we established balanced regional and international relations with many countries and succeeded in developing Iraq's relations with these countries in the various domains. Iraq, together with 60 countries and international organizations, signed the International Compact Document in Sharm al-Shaykh.

This document stands for mutual commitments between Iraq and the international community. We expect Iraq to reap good results from this document. This will reflect on the economy and its infrastructure and on the building and reconstruction drive in the country. It will also encourage foreign investments and lead to security and stability.

The government, in cooperation with the Council of Representatives, ratified the investment law, which is considered an extremely important step to promote the economy, rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, and provide job opportunities. The government also approved the largest budget in the history of Iraq. Part of it was allocated to reconstruction. The government also presented an oil draft law. The parliament's approval of this law was a qualitative step in the field of reconstruction, development of the oil industry, just distribution of wealth, and consecration of the unity and sovereignty of Iraq.

Brothers and sisters: Fulfilling your aspirations and hopes is the core of our program and the center of our attention. We have made a pledge to God and to you that we will continue to fulfill them and we will spare no effort to reach that goal. We are aware of your daily life concerns. We follow them up every moment and work hard and perseveringly to improve services and raise the living standards.

Our efforts will continue and the subversive trend of the terrorist gangs will not prevent us from serving you or hearing your concerns and knowing about your suffering. What helps us continue to shoulder our responsibility is our feeling that you are aware of the size of internal and external challenges and dangers facing our beloved Iraq. This increases our insistence on continuing our efforts to build a free, democratic, pluralistic, and federal Iraq.

God's peace and blessings be upon you."

* * * *

Note Al-Maliki's use of the term "takfiri". According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Takfiri (from the Arabic word تكفيري) is the person who professes the disbelief of certain individuals or groups within the Muslim society or Islam. They are viewed as "extremists" by some of their opponents, arguing that "no one Muslim can call another Muslim a 'kafir' (infidel)".

Takfiris, on the other hand, exist in every Muslim sect, large or small, and often their fingers point not only to those who supposedly belong to a 'rival' sect, but also to those within their own; an example to that is the clear enmity between the Sufis and Salafi (both groups of which go under the umbrella of Sunni Islam.) Another example of internal 'takfir' is that occuring between pro-Saudi Salafis and the Jihadi Salafis (like Bin Ladin's group, al-Qaeda). Among Shia groups, takfir occurs as is the case toward the followers of the major Shia ayatllah Fadlullah of Lebanon (whose latest published opinions that review many beliefs deeply characteristic of Shia Islam have caused uproar and fierce opposition on the part of other Arab and Iranian clerics). There also exists the example of Twelver Shia declaring the takfir of the Shaykhi Shia small sect (found mainly in Basra, Iraq).

* * * *

Seeing the words of the Iraq prime minister helps us to understand the difficult tasks he must deal with each day.

We removed the dictator Saddam Hussein, but we also dismantled every aspect of Iraqi society from the governmental infrastructure to the army and police. We owe them a chance to work through their internal issues in order to make their government work for all of them.

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Colonel and Master Sergeant Killed in Afghanistan

I heard about this incident from a soldier in Afghanistan. The loss was a heavy one for American military forces, but the troops continue to soldier on. These lost warriors were extraordinary men.

Dawn Bormann of The Kansas City Star wrote about Colonel James W. Harrison, Jr.:

"'Always take care of your soldiers. It will bring them together as a team and may one day save their lives.' Braden Harrison, quoting his father

Army Col. James W. Harrison Jr. had planned to retire. But Harrison pulled back the retirement paperwork recently when it was clear his expertise was needed.

It was a classic example of his commitment to leadership, friends said Monday at a Fort Leavenworth memorial service for Harrison, who was killed May 6 in Afghanistan by a mentally ill Afghan soldier. He was buried in a private service at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.

The news of his death traveled quickly at Fort Leavenworth, not just because he was well-known, but also because few Army colonels have been killed in action. Only six colonels have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a group that records military deaths. Two of those colonels, including Harrison, were assigned to Fort Leavenworth.

Harrison, who had been the commandant at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, went to Afghanistan as a detention policy expert to train others. Master Sgt. Wilberto Sabalu Jr., who was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., also was killed in the attack outside an Afghanistan prison.

The 47-year-old father of three boys and West Point graduate valued integrity so much that he truly lived every day according to the institution’s motto of “duty, honor, country,” his friends and family said.

Harrison was known throughout the installation, and the depth of his influence was apparent by the uniforms of those gathered to mourn his death. The group included enlisted men and women, the installation’s top brass and the U.S. Army provost marshal general.

The service mixed patriotic with personal touches, including a poem from his son Ross. Another son, Braden, recalled what his father said after receiving the prestigious MacArthur Leadership Award.

'Always take care of your soldiers,' Braden said, quoting his father. 'It will bring them together as a team and may one day save their lives.'

Those who worked with Harrison said he was constantly looking out for his soldiers. Many called him a friend and mentor.

Army Maj. Isaac Johnson said Harrison took the time to talk to Johnson’s young son. Harrison recognized that a soldier’s family was important and critical to his or her success, Johnson said.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Ed Healy, a West Point classmate of Harrison’s, said that his friend took time to write an e-mail from Afghanistan. Harrison wanted to make sure Healy’s son, who was attending Virginia Tech, was safe after the shooting there last month.

'He has friends all over the world,' Healy said.

Perhaps the most poignant moment came when a letter was read from an Afghan brigadier general whom Harrison had been training. The words were especially touching because although the brigadier general had weathered the deaths of family members, friends and many others during battles with the Russian military and the Taliban, he said Harrison’s death had struck him deeper than any before. He described Harrison as a brother.

'I truly wish that I was killed instead of him,' he wrote.

He said the pain of Harrison’s death was felt by every Afghan soldier who knew the colonel. The Afghan soldiers shot and killed the gunman.

Harrison also was memorialized at a service in Afghanistan."

* * * *

Master Sergeant Wilberto Sabalu, Jr. died with Harrison. His story was told by Emma Graves Fitzsimmons of the Chicago Tribune:

"Deployed for the last year in Afghanistan, Wilberto Sabalu Jr. was looking forward to the end of his tour in June when he would return home to spend the summer biking and swimming with his wife and two children.

But Sabalu, who grew up in Chicago and spent 17 years in the Army, died Sunday in Afghanistan when a member of the Afghan National Army turned on several soldiers and opened fire, family said.

Master Sgt. Sabalu, 36, died in Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from small arms fire, defense officials said Tuesday.

Illinois native Col. James W. Harrison Jr., 47, of Missouri, died in the same incident. Their deaths are under investigation, defense officials said.

After his Puerto Rican family moved to Chicago from New York as a young boy, Sabalu graduated from Lane Technical High School, said friend Ana Lozano, who was speaking on the family's behalf.

He joined the Army in 1990 and served in the military police throughout his career there.

Sabalu was assigned to the U.S. Military Police School in Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., where he lived with his wife Amy, who also works for the Army's military police. He had two children, Joshua, 12, and Nadia, 10.

He was a coach for his children's soccer team for several years and enjoyed family cookouts, Lozano said from Sabalu's Missouri home on Tuesday. He was also known for his big smile.

Sabalu was deployed to Afghanistan last June and was able to return home to spend Christmas with his family.

'You're torn as a soldier and a father and a husband," Lozano said. "He was very good at what he did, so he was proud to be there. But he knew it was a sacrifice to be away from his family.'

In his military career, Sabalu had served in South Korea, Panama, Kansas, Missouri and Virginia, the family said in a statement. He had received several awards, including the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Sabalu served as a corrections specialist in Afghanistan, taking care of prisoners for the military police, Lozano said.

Military officials told his family that Sabalu was driving a vehicle patrolling a prison's perimeter on Sunday, Lozano said. The Afghan National Army was training nearby as he passed through a checkpoint.

That is when an Afghani soldier opened fire on two vehicles. Other members of the Afghan army killed the man, she said.

'He was a gung-ho soldier,' she said. 'He died doing what he loved.'"

* * * *

I haven’t been to Afghanistan, but our soldiers spend every day hunting down members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It is a difficult job in a harsh environment, especially when you know that some of the bad guys are wearing the uniform of the good guys.

These men were working with the Afghan military leadership, mentoring the generals and senior sergeants in the new Afghan Army.

My friends in Afghanistan speak highly of their Afghan counterparts, but the very nature of guerrilla war means that the enemy is probably already in the perimeter.

Such risks are known by our soldiers, but they continue to persevere in their missions.

SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Muqtada al Sadr's New Strategy

The following article from today’s Washington Post provides an interesting perspective on all the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering going on in Iraq:

Washington Post
May 20, 2007

Iraq's Sadr Overhauls His Tactics
Shiite Woos Sunnis, Purges Extremists

By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post Foreign Service

NAJAF, Iraq -- The movement of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has embarked on one of its most dramatic tactical shifts since the beginning of the war.

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr's image and position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.

"We want to aim the guns against the occupation and al-Qaeda, not between Iraqis," Ahmed Shaibani, 37, a cleric who leads Sadr's newly formed reconciliation committee, said as he sat inside Sadr's heavily guarded compound here.

Sadr controls the second-biggest armed force in Iraq, after the U.S. military, and 30 parliamentary seats -- enough power to influence political decision-making and dash U.S. hopes for stability. The cleric withdrew his six ministers from Iraq's cabinet last month, leaving the movement more free to challenge the government.

"Our retreating from the government is one way to show we are trying to work for the welfare of Iraq and not only for the welfare of Shiites," said Salah al-Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr. He said the time was "not mature yet" to form a bloc that could challenge Maliki, who came to power largely because of Sadr's support.

In recasting himself, the cleric is responding to popular frustration, a widening Sunni-Shiite rift and political inertia, conditions he helped create. The shift is as much a reaction to U.S. efforts to rein him in as it is an admission of unfulfilled visions. His strategy exposes the strengths and weaknesses of his movement as it pushes for U.S. troops to leave and competes with its Shiite rivals in the contest to shape a new Iraq.

Since Sadr emerged with force after the U.S.-led invasion, he has sought to create a Shiite-led state guided by Islamic law with a strong central government. In 2004, his militia battled U.S. forces in Najaf, bolstering his authority and appeal across sects. But his credibility as a would-be unifier of Iraq suffered after his militiamen engaged in widespread revenge killings of Sunnis following the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra. His movement remains in flux, at times in turmoil, over the approach toward Sunnis, the proper timing of a U.S. withdrawal and Sadr's political involvement.

"The Sadrists believe they have political problems, and they are trying new tactics to serve their own interests," said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator. "But anyway, we welcome any political group who wants to talk instead of kill."

Sadr has vanished from sight in recent months, raising concerns about his leadership, although his close aides insist he's in hiding for security and strategic reasons.

Sunnis continue to accuse the Mahdi Army of committing atrocities, and fissures are emerging in the loosely knit militia as fighters break off on their own. A three-month-old U.S. and Iraqi security offensive in Baghdad, which Sadr has tacitly backed, has not reduced attacks on Shiites, prompting fears that his militiamen may again spark cycles of reprisal killings. And while Sadr has ordered his fighters to lie low, U.S. arrests of militiamen are mounting, creating discontent.

"The main questions are: How seriously can we take these new tactics? And do they have real control over the Jaish al-Mahdi?" Alusi said, using the Arabic term for the militia.

'We Are Not Anti-American'

As black-clad militiamen stood guard, Obaidi, his white turban glinting in the buttery sunlight, walked into the gold-domed mosque of Kufa. The senior aide to Sadr, tall and gaunt with a black beard, stepped up to a wooden lectern and stared out at the courtyard where the faithful waited. Hundreds of men, young and old, had come to hear Sadr, whom they had not seen in months. This was his mosque. Obaidi, on this day, was his voice.

He read aloud Sadr's two-page sermon, which condemned U.S. military forces building a wall in Baghdad's mostly Sunni Adhamiyah neighborhood; residents complained the wall would divide Sunnis and Shiites.

"Didn't we see and hear of our beloveds in Adhamiyah while they were chanting, 'No, no, to sectarianism'?" Obaidi thundered at the crowd. "We will stand, as one hand, to demonstrate with them and defend our sacred lands everywhere."

The day after the sermon, Obaidi sat inside Sadr's compound in Najaf, where a green Islamic flag fluttered between two Iraqi national flags.

Three months ago, Obaidi was released from Camp Cropper, a U.S. military detention center, where he had been held for five months. In near-perfect English, he said the American military officers set him free because they view him as a moderate who could help neutralize the radicals in Sadr's fold.

"I can give him good advice," Obaidi added with a smile.

Shaibani, the cleric, was released in March after U.S. military officials determined that he "could play a potentially important role in helping to moderate extremism and foster reconciliation in Iraq," the military said in a statement at the time.
U.S. generals are now differentiating between "irreconcilable" rogue members of the Mahdi Army and "reconcilable" ones they can engage.

Still, U.S. policy toward Sadr often appears contradictory. American soldiers are more cautious in conducting raids, understanding the movement's social dimensions and popular roots. U.S. military leaders no longer cite Shiite militias as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability, emphasizing the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq instead.

At the same time, the military is attempting to contain Sadr. U.S. military leaders say they are preparing to increase the number of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers patrolling the streets of Sadr City, the cleric's stronghold in Baghdad.

"Sadr clearly has some influence," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands U.S. forces south of Baghdad and in southern Iraq. "But it's simplistic to say this guy is in charge of all Jaish al-Mahdi, that when he says, 'Go left,' they all go left. We're not seeing that."

But Sadr's aides say the fact that the Mahdi Army has not risen up yet is proof that the cleric is in control.

U.S. officials have publicly claimed the cleric is in Iran, which undermines Sadr's homegrown credentials and his hopes to woo Sunnis, who are wary of Iran's growing influence.The officials have also alleged that groups in Iran are training and funneling weapons to Shiite militants.

"The Americans are trying to picture the Mahdi Army as being a tool of Iran," said Karim Abu Ali, a Sadr spokesman in Baghdad. "It is baseless."

Altering such perceptions was part of Sadr's reason for cooperating with the current Baghdad security plan, Obaidi said. Violence now is largely being perpetrated by Sunni insurgents deploying car bombs and suicide attacks.

"We have been accused that we're not cooperating to bring security," Obaidi said. "Now, we've shown that we are not the source of the problems."

Sadr's cooperation with the plan, his aides said, is based partly on political battles over Iraq policy in Washington -- a sign, he believes, that the occupation is in its final stages. His aides say he is open to meeting U.S. politicians who are not part of the Bush administration, particularly those calling for a U.S. withdrawal.

"We are not anti-American. We think the Americans have an important role in rebuilding Iraq, but as companies, not as an army," Obaidi said. "We can open a new channel with the Democrats, even some of the Republicans."

Vow to Weaken Al-Qaeda

Shaibani, Sadr's spokesman in Najaf during the confrontation with U.S. troops in 2004, spent more than two years inside U.S. detention centers. Sidelined from an increasingly sectarian war, he befriended Sunni insurgents instead of killing them, earning a credibility few in Sadr's movement can claim today.

Sadr is now dispatching Shaibani to speak with Sunni religious leaders in Syria, Egypt and across the Persian Gulf to seek their help in approaching Sunnis inside Iraq.

Sadr senses an opportunity in recent moves by Sunni insurgent groups to break away from militants influenced by al-Qaeda, and in the threats by the largest Sunni political bloc to leave the government, which opens the possibility for a new cross-sectarian political alliance, his aides said.

If the sectarian war can be stopped, if the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups can join hands and break al-Qaeda in Iraq, there will be less reason for U.S. forces to stay, said Shaibani, wearing a black dishdasha, a traditional loose-fitting tunic, and clutching a Nokia cellphone during an interview in late April. "The American argument is we can't have a timetable because of al-Qaeda," he said. "So we're going to weaken al-Qaeda for you."

Sadr's political followers have had informal talks with Sunni politicians and insurgent groups in the past month. "We think there is some possibility to have a closer relationship," said Hussein al-Falluji, a legislator in the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc.

Abu Aja Naemi, a commander in the 1920 Revolution Brigades, said Sadr's representatives have had informal discussions with his group.

The Sadrists, like most Sunnis, are against the idea of creating autonomous regions. They share concerns over the fate of the contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, division of oil revenue and the need for Iraq's constitution to be amended.

Their differences, though, are numerous. Some Sunnis fear that a premature U.S. withdrawal could endanger their community. Sunnis and Sadrists disagree over allowing thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs.

"If national reconciliation is at the expense of the return of the assassin Baathists, then we will reject such reconciliation," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a Sadr legislator and chairman of the parliament's de-Baathification committee.
Sadr's Shiite rivals inside Maliki's coalition say it is unlikely the Sadrists will unite with the Sunnis.

"Now, it is very difficult," said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a senior legislator with the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the party formerly known as SCIRI and the largest within Maliki's ruling coalition. "Between them, there's a gap made of blood. After Samarra, there is no possibility for reconciliation."

Sunnis Distrustful

This month, Mahdi Army militiamen in the Hurriyah area of Baghdad chased several Sunni families from their homes. Sadr, who wants to protect his militia's image as a guardian of Shiites, acted swiftly.

A committee based in Najaf created to deal with rogue elements dismissed 30 militiamen in the area, said Haider Salaam, a senior Mahdi Army commander in Hurriyah.

Across Baghdad, at least 600 fighters have been forced out of the militia over the past three months, Sadr officials said. Their misdeeds included murder and using Sadr's name to gain undue influence.

In the Kadhimiyah neighborhood, militiamen who engaged in a firefight with U.S. forces near a mosque were also dismissed.

"Yes, this was self-defense, but they exceeded the orders of the commander," Salaam said. "Any breach of the security operations will be blamed on the Mahdi Army."

But it is hard to get rid of the militiamen. "Some of those who are dismissed still go around and say they are members of Mahdi Army," said Abu Ali, the Sadr spokesman.
"We sent people to talk to them, to inform them of Moqtada Sadr's instructions and abide by them, but they refused," Salaam said. "We now consider them a splinter group. They don't belong in the Mahdi Army."

A few days later, the fighters attacked the Sadr office in Hurriyah with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, killing two bystanders, including a child.
Even as Sadr struggles to reform his militia, mistrust runs deep on the streets.

Khulood Habib, 45, a Sunni seamstress and mother of four, lives in Baghdad's Risala neighborhood, where tensions are growing after recent bomb attacks on Shiite areas. In the last week of April, gunmen kidnapped two Sunni men near Habib's apartment. The next day, their bodies were found mutilated and tortured -- a signature practice of Shiite militias.

Two days later, Habib received an envelope containing a bullet and a letter signed by the Mahdi Army that ordered her to leave within 24 hours. The next afternoon, gunmen began to drive out the Sunnis in her building. Soon, they were in front of her apartment.

"They broke the door down. It fell on my little boy's leg and broke it," Habib recalled, round-faced with light brown hair peeking from underneath her black head scarf. "He was screaming. I was screaming."

Cursing Sunnis as apostates, the men ordered the family to leave the neighborhood. Within an hour, they fled to the home of Habib's parents in the Adil neighborhood. Today, she's too afraid to return.

"Moqtada is saying something, but on the ground they are doing something else," Habib said, tossing a glance at Ibrahim, 6, his left leg in a cast. Sadr's call to reconcile with Sunnis is "all nonsense," she continued."They want to know who the Sunnis are, so they can start butchering people at their own pace."

* * * *

It is hard for me, and probably most of those who served with me during the Mahdi Army uprisings in 2004, to trust Muqtada al Sadr. After all, many of our friends were killed or wounded by his militia.

His ultimate goal surely remains a Shiite theocracy in Iraq, modeled after the dictatorship in Iran. His motives here are suspect, but we must watch his actions very carefully.

Still, success in Iraq will ultimately be determined, not by Coalition military forces, but by the Iraqis themselves. All our troops can do is to try and buy the Iraqis enough time for the various factions to figure out how to live together in peace.

This is the mission we must complete and the one for which our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have given so much.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Armed Forces Day, 2007

President Harry S. Truman wanted to create one holiday for all of America’s citizens to thank our military service members for their continuing efforts on behalf of our country. At the time, the country celebrated separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days. All of our armed forces had become unified under the Department of Defense, so it seemed appropriate to have one special day.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. According to the Department of Defense website:

This is simply a day to salute sharply to all of the men and women in all branches of the service who protect our country and you. They can be called upon at a moment's notice to perform a risky and perilous mission for freedom and country. They train diligently both physically and mentally so they will be prepared to prevail in any mission they face.”

Today’s Armed Forces Day celebrations will be marked by the absence of tens of thousands of our service members. They are scattered in outposts throughout the world and engaged in brutal combat with vicious Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. At this very moment, they are risking their lives for our benefit and many are paying the ultimate price for our freedom.

I received a wonderful thank you card from my friends at "Gazing at the Flag" who do so much for our warriors and I thank them for their thoughts. I urge each of you to thank a member of the armed forces today and pray for the safety of those on the front lines in the war on terror.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Ancient Struggle of Arabs & Persians

The following article appeared today in the Orlando Sentinel. It is interesting from a cultural point of view because it points out how much we DON’T know about the people of Iraq and Iran. Centuries-old religious and ethnic divisions continue to breed hatred, mistrust and murder.

Our soldiers are doing a magnificent job as they try to help the Iraqis bridge their differences, but there is only so much the Coalition can do.

In the end, only the Iraqis themselves will be able to solve this problem:

Orlando Sentinel (May 16, 2007): Post-Saddam Iraq embraces ancient Persian heritage

By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times

Najaf, Iraq – Persian script flows across the walls of Najaf’s seminaries.

Shiite religious scholars in the ancient city’s turquoise-tiled edifices pore over texts illustrated with Persian calligraphy in scenes that evoke Mesopotamia’s history.

For centuries, Najaf has been a key shrine city and center of worship for many of Iraq’s people. But for centuries, Iraq’s Ottoman and Arab rulers rarely considered Najaf part of their own history. It was considered an outpost of the enemy: Iran.

They were right, for the most part. Historically and culturally, Najaf has long been under Persia’s sway.

But so has much of Iraq.

The reading of the Quran in this country differs from the rest of the Muslim world: The rhythm and cadence of Sunnis are unique to Iraq, and the Shiites’ are unique to Iran. Persian dishes such as pomegranate stew are a standard part of Mesopotamian fare. Iraq’s capital carries a Persian name, Baghdad.

The sectarian nature of the war between Shiite and Sunni Arabs in Iraq reflects a centuries-old battle between Persia and the Arab world.

It is a point often misunderstood by U.S. policymakers and ground commanders, who perceive the re-emergence of Persian influence among Iraq’s newly powerful Shiite majority as proof of meddling by the regime in Tehran.

Rising Persian influence is a sign of Iraq’s ascendance, not Iran’s.

“Iraq has been part of the Persian sphere of influence for more than 400 years,” said Karar Dastour, an Iraqi Shiite intellectual who lives in southern Tehran and travels to Iraq. “But governments have always tried to crush anything that had the scent of Shiism or Iran. They were never accepted.”

Violent Sunni Arab rejection of Iraq’s Persian roots plays out daily on the streets of the capital with bombings.

In their Internet postings, Sunni Arab insurgents, many of them officers during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, describe their attacks on Shiites as settling accounts with “Safavids,” a reference to the 16th- century dynasty that embraced Shiite Islam as the official religion of Persia. Shiite Safavids and Sunni Ottomans fought for decades in a conflict that infused sectarianism into what had been a centuries-old ethnic and political conflict between Arabs and Persians.

“There has always been conflict between Arabs and Iranians, and they always tried to involve Iraq,” Humam Hammoudi, an Iraqi Shiite politician and cleric who lived in Tehran during Saddam Hussein’s rule, said in an interview last year. “Both have wanted to use Iraq as the trench for their battles.”

Iraq’s 20th-century leaders tried to graft a Sunni-dominated Arab identity onto a country that was majority Shiite. Even during the relatively benign years before Saddam’s rise in the late 1960s, Shiites visiting Sunni Arab towns feared for their lives.

Saddam’s downfall after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 ended the enforced separation between Iran and Iraq, much to the frustration and rage of Iraq’s long-dominant Sunni Arabs.

Persian cultural influences, long suppressed, have re-emerged in the past four years.

* * * *

It is important to remember that the majority of Iraqis are not radicals, whether they are Shiite, Sunni or Kurd. In fact, there are quite a few Sunnis who are married to Shiites.

For the most part, Iraqis are gentle people who want to live normal lives in peace. They want safe homes for their families, a decent way to make a living and a chance to raise their children in happiness.

That kind of sounds like us, doesn’t it?

SFC Chuck Grist

Monday, May 14, 2007

The "America Goes Home" Scenario

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the United States and its Coalition partners complied with the wishes of the “cut and run” crowd and pulled out of Iraq tomorrow. I submit the following fictional article as one of the scenarios that might occur:

"With the Iraqi Army and police still not fully prepared to protect their country, the fundamentalist Shiite militias rapidly took control of the secular central government. This decisive move occurred with the consent of the country’s most powerful Shiite religious figure, Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of over 60% of Iraq’s citizens.

Other than Sistani, the new face of power became Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army. This private militia would come to be known as the “Hezbollah of Iraq”. Any remaining democratic institutions in the Iraqi government were quickly subdued and crushed. The Iraqi version of the Taliban completed its takeover of Iraq in only weeks.

With their Shiite supporters already embedded within the militias, the mullahs in Iran began to inject their influence into every segment of Iraqi society. Under al Sadr’s leadership, the militias commenced the ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority and the resulting slaughter was the most brutal in Arab history.

Without American troops to distract them, the Sunni insurgents and the remaining Baath Party loyalists directed all of their hatred at the Shiites. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers turned red with blood.

The Shiite radicals were firmly in charge of Iraq, but the rest of the Arab world is mostly Sunni. These nations began to oppose the new Iraqi dictatorship and this opposition began as an effort to train and supply the Sunni insurgency. Ultimately, the brutality of the Shiites became unbearable and the armies of these countries marched into western Iraq to protect their Sunni brothers.

With virtually all Arab nations engaged in the fighting to some degree, the flow of oil from the Middle East was interrupted. Governments in Europe, Asia and the Americas had been dependent on that oil, so their economies were plunged into economic depression.

The Middle East became engulfed in a cataclysmic war of Biblical proportions. Since America’s withdrawal from the Iraq war gave a major victory to the Islamic fundamentalists, the political influence of the United States was diminished throughout the world. The Islamic terrorists began to direct their efforts at the remaining American soldiers in Afghanistan, Kuwait and elsewhere in the Middle East. They also began to select the next targets inside the United States.

The “cut and run” politicians and pundits succeeded in bringing American forces home from Iraq, but now they realized that the war didn’t really end.

It had only just begun."

* * *

Scary stuff, isn’t it?

Sometimes the easy way is not the right way; sometimes the more difficult path is the one that must be followed.

SFC Chuck Grist

(Photo above from Associated Press)

Friday, May 11, 2007

What Does Our Future Hold?

One of my Baghdad correspondents is a retired college professor who is working with the citizens of Iraq to give them a better life. He sent this to me via email and I thought it was pretty interesting:

How Long Do We Have?

About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

”A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;

2. From spiritual faith to great courage;

3. From courage to liberty;

4. From liberty to abundance;

5. From abundance to complacency;

6. From complacency to apathy;

7. From apathy to dependence;

8. From dependence back into bondage"

Professor Joseph Olson of Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2000 Presidential election:

Number of States won by: Gore: 19; Bush: 29

Square miles of land won by: Gore: 580,000; Bush: 2,427,000

Population of counties won by: Gore: 127 million; Bush: 143 million

Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Gore: 13.2; Bush: 2.1

Professor Olson adds: "In aggregate, the map of the territory Bush won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of this great country. Gore's territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare..."

Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the "complacency and apathy" phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the nation's population already having reached the "governmental dependency" phase.

If Congress grants amnesty and citizenship to twenty million criminal invaders called “illegals” and they vote, then we can say goodbye to the USA in fewer than five years.

Pass this along to help everyone realize just how much is at stake, knowing that apathy is the greatest danger to our freedom.

* * * *

This is an interesting way to look at the risks inherent in a free society. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. Hopefully, our determination to protect our liberty will ensure that this scenario does not come to pass.

May God continue to bless America.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Enemy Waits for Our Retreat

Today’s op-ed page in the Orlando Sentinel featured a great piece by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. His analysis is on the money. The cut and run strategy of the Democrats has emboldened our terrorist enemy and these fundamentalist animals are salivating at the prospect of our withdrawal:

CAL THOMAS: Defeat, retreat and repeat

Cal Thomas | Tribune Media Services
Posted May 4, 2007

For the sake of argument, let's say former CIA Director George Tenet is right in his book and that Vice President Dick Cheney pushed too hard with questionable or inaccurate intelligence because of a predisposition to go to war in Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. So what? We can't go back and fix the mistakes of the past. Only two choices are available: victory or defeat.

Let us assume the Democratic left is right and we should pull U.S. forces out as early as Oct. 1, or perhaps a few months later, but certainly before the next president takes office, because the Bush administration's policy in Iraq has completely failed and, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "the war is lost."

What next? Does the United States not suffer a loss of credibility in the world's eyes for again failing to finish a job it started? Do the millions who voted for the first elected government in Iraq conclude they risked their lives for nothing? What would be the consequences of pulling out before Iraq is stabilized sufficiently to stand on its own? And, most importantly, what would a U.S. retreat do to the confidence of the enemy that wishes to dominate the world by force?

We have the answer to that last question. Statements declaring all but victory for the Islamists are posted on numerous Islamic Web sites. Various statements by American leaders critical of the war are cited as evidence that the United States is about to quit. Ubaidah Al-Saif, who is associated with Al-Fajr Media in Iraq, as part of what is called "The Islamic State of Iraq," said on April 25: "The plans of the cross worshippers and their henchmen have collapsed." He quotes "House Majority Leader Harry Reid" (he means Senate majority leader) as saying, "The Iraqi war is hopeless and the situation in Iraq is the same as it was in Vietnam."

Al-Saif declares American morale is declining and "...our battle against the enemy is first and foremost the will to fight and the length of the battle does not rest with the cross worshippers." He calls for his fighters to "be patient" and Allah will give them victory. Patience is not one of America's virtues.

Do the war's opponents realize, or care, that every critical statement they make is reported by the enemy's media and passed on to homicide bombers and fighters to encourage them to keep killing Americans and Iraqis?

The official Palestinian Authority broadcast media have cranked up hate propaganda against America, Israel and Jews. On April 22, in addition to the usual scenes of "martyred" female homicide bombers clad in white and floating beneficently across the screen, viewers were treated to this: "Be certain that America is on its way to utter destruction, America is wallowing (in blood) today in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated in Lebanon and Palestine. ... Make us victorious over the community of infidels. ... Allah, take the Jews and their allies, Allah, take the Americans and their allies ... Allah, annihilate them completely and do not leave anyone of them."

That's not defeat and retreat talk. That's the talk of victory and self-confidence.

In an April 26 op-ed for The Washington Post, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat - a lonely voice within his party because he favors victory for our side and for Iraq's elected government - said that while progress is slow, it is visible but will take more time. He said even if Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were to achieve a political solution tomorrow, the threat of al-Qaida would not go away.

Lieberman concludes: "The challenge before us, then, is whether we respond to al-Qaida's barbarism by running away, as it hopes we do - abandoning the future of Iraq, the Middle East and ultimately our own security to the very people responsible for last week's atrocities - or whether we stand and fight." Lieberman has chosen to "stand and fight and win," which is better than defeat, retreat and having to repeat the battle somewhere else against a much stronger enemy, with many more casualties.

It's shameful that so many Democrats running for president appear ready to accept defeat and retreat if it advances their presidential prospects, no matter the prospects for the security of Iraq, the Middle East and the United States.

Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at

* * * *

It would be a complete disgrace for our nation to abandon our struggle in Iraq. The radical Islamic enemy is confident that we will give up there just as we did in Vietnam.

When the going gets tough, the liberals get going. If we do it their way, the enemy will once again view us as paper tigers and their determined efforts to kill us will only increase.

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, May 4, 2007

Soldiers and Their Blogs

There has been a great deal of concern over the last few days about the April revision to the Army regulation that controls soldiers' ability to publish blogs, write newspaper articles, etc.

Fortunately, the Associated Press article below makes clear that the situation is not as dire as we may have feared. Soldiers must still advise their commanders about their blogs, but they are individually responsible for using good judgement and not revealing security-related information that could hurt soldiers or affect on-going operations. Commanders may impose stricter guidelines if they choose.

"Soldiers Face Punishment Over Blogs"
Associated Press | May 03, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Army is taking stronger steps to warn Soldiers they will be punished if they reveal sensitive military information on Web sites or blogs.

While the possibility of punishment is not new, the Army spells out in recently published regulations the range of actions if Soldiers "fail to protect critical and sensitive information."

Some Web logs, also called blogs, raised alarms this week, suggesting the Army was cracking down anew on Soldiers who have blogs. But the bulk of the regulations released April 19 mirror rules published in 2005 that required Soldiers to consult with commanders before "publishing or posting information" in a public forum.

The regulation is not as explicit as the one issued by commanders in Iraq two years ago that requires Soldiers in war zones to register their blogs with the military.

Army Maj. Ray M. Ceralde, who worked on the new regulations, said Wednesday the intention of the 2007 rule is not to have Soldiers clear every public posting with commanders.

"Not only is that impractical, but we are trusting the Soldiers to protect critical information," he said.

He said there is no effort to block Soldiers from setting up or posting comments to blogs. "We're not looking for them to seek approval each time a blog entry is posted," Ceralde said.

The rules, he said, do not affect personal, private e-mails that Soldiers send. "Soldiers have a right to private communications with their families," he said. Instead, Ceralde said, Soldiers are expected to consult or clear with commanders when they start a blog, in part so they can be warned about information they cannot publish.

Ceralde said Army leaders wanted to emphasize the importance of maintaining operational security. Soldiers will be punished if they publicly reveal sensitive information, such as troop movements, planned raids, travel itineraries of senior leaders, or photographs of casualties, new technology or other material that could compromise their location.

The rules say solders can be charged with violating a lawful order under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He said unit commanders have the authority to establish more restrictive requirements - such as requiring that individual postings be reviewed - if they deem it necessary.

As before, the regulations require that Soldiers tell their family members and friends to protect sensitive information.

The blog rules were part of a much larger update to regulations governing operational security, including training requirements, policies and procedures on maintaining security, and sections stressing that Soldiers are personally responsible for keeping operations secure.

Army officials said they did not have details on how many Soldiers have violated the blogging rules.

The military set up the regulations in 2005, as blogs and other Web postings became more popular, particularly among service members who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

* * * *

This is good news. Military bloggers have performed a valuable service in this war, especially those who are writing from the combat zone. They can still do their military jobs and use good judgement about what they can discuss and what they should not.

Yes, I notified my chain of command when I started this blog last year.

Let the blogs roll on!

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Warrior Prince: Harry Goes to Iraq

The war in Iraq involves thousands of soldiers from America and its Coalition partners. During my own tour in 2004, I was in charge of the personal security detachment for then-Brigadier General Sandy Davidson of the 350th Civil Affairs Command. My team and I also escorted officers from several Coalition countries including Great Britain.

The British officers with whom we interacted were professional and dedicated soldiers. We were also impressed with their courage. One colonel volunteered to stand in the turret of our Humvee during a convoy on the infamous airport road, Route Irish. He was lightly armed, but he knew we were short-handed that day and he didn’t hesitate to step forward.

Prince Harry is a second lieutenant in the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals). The younger son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana is third in line to the British throne and a graduate of Sandhurst. Once the prince’s unit was notified it would go to Iraq, the big question was whether or not Harry would go with them.

Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, recently made the decision to deploy Prince Harry to Iraq with his soldiers. This is in the face of threats by insurgents to kill or capture the prince, but Harry’s leaders made the right decision.

As far as Prince Harry was concerned, there were no questions. He was determined to serve his country and he has steadfastly refused any special privileges. He insisted that he be treated like any other soldier and he wanted to accompany his men in combat. As a troop commander, he will lead twelve soldiers in four Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicles. He will participate in combat operations and he will routinely serve in harm’s way.

This young British officer and member of the royal family wants to serve his country in time of war and such determination is admirable. He has enjoyed a reputation as the “rebel” of his family, but he is a real man – a warrior prince who will surely serve in battle with dignity and distinction.

The people of Great Britain should be proud of their brave prince and all of us should pray for his safety. We will also continue to offer our prayers for the protection of all the Coalition warriors who are fighting terrorism throughout the world.

SFC Chuck Grist