Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Last Year in the Army Begins

My third mobilization since 9/11 began on February 1, 2007 and was scheduled to end on January 31, 2008. I decided to allow the Army to extend my active duty until February 1, 2009.

Since I turn 60 on February 28 of that year and must retire from the military, this will be my last year in the Army. The fact is that the military still needs experienced soldiers to mobilize and train the troops that are being shipped off to war.

When this final year ends, I will return to duty at the police department. From that point on, I will work as a cop until it isn’t fun any more. Then I will retire from there as well.

My decision was also based on which organization needed me more right now – the police department or the Army. Although I may be “getting on” in years, I still like a challenge and it feels good to put my experience to the maximum use possible.

All I have to do is read the casualty and after-action reports sent to us from the war zones. Then I look into the faces of the kids we are training and deploying. After everything I have done throughout my life, I believe I am needed more in the Army for the next year.

My employer has been pretty good about supporting me. Whenever there were issues about active duty, we shared information and we resolved them together. I know it is hard on them to have employees remain on active duty during wartime. When I was in Iraq, their support was invaluable and I appreciated it when they stood by me.

I haven’t heard from anyone at the PD since I forwarded my new orders, but I only hope they understand that it is worthwhile to “loan” me out to America during wartime for the purpose of teaching soldiers how to stay alive. It is one way everyone at the department can support the troops, whether or not they support the war.

I looked again at the picture of Nichole M. Frye, the young private in our unit who was killed shortly after our arrival in Iraq in 2004. PFC Frye (promoted to specialist after her death) came through a class I helped teach at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Our class was on how to clear a building, but she was killed when insurgents attacked her un-armored Humvee with an IED.

No matter how much we care and no matter how hard we train them, some of them won’t come home. That fact is causing goose bumps on my arms right now because I care about them as if they were my own kids. Their young fresh faces with the bright smiles go hand-in-hand with the positive attitudes they bring to the Army.

I am so proud of them for their professionalism, their warrior spirit and their willingness to sacrifice everything for all of us.

I simply must do everything I can for as long as I can to make them ready...

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Iranian Boats Should Have Been Destroyed

When Iranian boats approached our ships with threats that “the ships would explode”, such imminent danger to our warships and service members was all our naval commanders needed to send the likely members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to “paradise”.

Dangerous and unpredictable countries like Iran only understand and respect strength. Indecision and a hesitancy to react could very easily be interpreted as weakness. Perceived weakness will only increase the confrontations, not reduce them.

While the warship commanders may possess information we don’t have, it still seems like the appropriate response would have been similar to the photo above.

The Reuters article below talks about the incident:

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Iranians threatened U.S. ships in Hormuz: Pentagon
Mon Jan 7, 2008 6:54pm EST
By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iranian boats aggressively approached three U.S. Naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a main shipping route for Gulf oil, at the weekend and threatened that the ships would explode, U.S. officials said on Monday.

Iran dismissed U.S. concerns about the incident, saying it was a routine contact. But the Pentagon termed the Iranian actions "careless, reckless and potentially hostile" and said Tehran should provide an explanation.

"This is a very volatile area and the risk of an incident escalating is real," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. "It is a reminder that there is a very unpredictable government in Tehran."

Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in the Gulf, said five Iranian fast boats moved aggressively toward the U.S. ships in international waters and their actions were "unduly provocative."

"The ships received a radio call that was threatening in nature, to the effect that they were closing on our ships and ... the U.S. ships would explode," Cosgriff told reporters at the Pentagon via videolink from his Bahrain headquarters.

The incident was the latest sign of tension between Washington and Tehran, at odds over a range of issues from Iran's nuclear program to U.S. allegations of Iranian support for terrorism and interference in Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush is due to travel to the Middle East this week on a trip he has said is partly aimed at countering Iranian influence.

Cosgriff said the U.S. Navy believed the Iranian boats belonged to the country's Revolutionary Guard and they were sometimes less than 500 yards (meters) from the U.S. ships.

In October, the United States designated the Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its elite Qods force a supporter of terrorism.


Oil prices briefly rose on the news about the confrontation as dealers weighed the threat to shipments along the key shipping route. Crude futures jumped 49 cents to $98.40 a barrel before slipping back.

In Tehran, the Iranian Foreign Ministry described the encounter as "ordinary" and said it had been resolved.

"This is an ordinary issue that happens for the two sides every once in a while and, after the identification of the two sides, the issue is resolved," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told Iran's official IRNA news agency.

An "informed source" from the naval force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards was quoted by Iranian state television as saying: "There were no out of the ordinary contacts between the Guards' naval force and American ships."

The source said three U.S. naval ships were asked by Guards' vessels "as usual" to identify themselves "which they did and they continued their path.

Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after the Iranian threats a U.S. captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away.

According to the officials, the radio transmission from one of the Iranian ships said: "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes."

Cosgriff said two Iranian boats also dropped floating white boxes into the water. He offered no explanation for that move but said the U.S. ships passed the boxes safely.

Cosgriff said the U.S. Navy was very mindful of the damage small craft could do to large ships. Al Qaeda militants killed 17 U.S. sailors when they rammed an explosives-laden boat into the side of the USS Cole, a destroyer, in Aden in 2000.

The incident took place about 0400 GMT Sunday, or late Saturday night in Washington, the officials said. Cosgriff said it was daylight with "decent visibility." The three U.S. ships were the USS Port Royal, USS Hopper and the USS Ingraham.

Last March, Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Gulf and accused them of trespassing into Iranian waters. London maintained they were in Iraqi waters but the Britons were held for almost two weeks.

(Writing by Andrew Gray; Editing by David Storey)

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SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Those Who Stay Behind

Back in 1973, a young Vietnam veteran wasn’t doing a whole lot with his life. He had foolishly blown all the money he saved while overseas and he was drifting from job to job. Twice he tried to return to college, but the drive just wasn’t there. He was being irresponsible, drinking too much and he had no real direction in life.

Then he met a young 18-year-old beauty who stole his heart. On January 5, 1974, she became his wife and a new life began for the ex-soldier. With fresh incentives to spur him on, he finished college and the two of them started a family that would grow to four children, three grand-daughters and one grandson on-the-way.

Today, my wife Debbie and I celebrated our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. We have enjoyed some successes and endured a few failures. As I have said before, the successes were her inspiration; the failures resulted from my bad choices. Still, our love has endured and our lives still hold great adventures in the years ahead. With the grace of God, I will have many more years to share my life with a woman who has truly become the other half of my soul.

During my tour in Iraq, Debbie held down the fort back here in the States, she survived the multiple hurricanes of 2004 and she remained the anchor of my life. (The above photo shows us the day before I left for Iraq.)

Upon my return from the war, I held her close to me and told her that I would be blessed to walk with her through every day of the rest of our lives.

All over America, wives, children, parents, siblings and others wait for their warriors who are risking it all for the sake of America. We are grateful for the service of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but we can never forget the family members they left behind.

In many ways, they are war veterans, too.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Iraqi Citizens Are Taking Responsibility

"For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."

Quote from the Vietnam War

No citizen can ever really appreciate the value of freedom if they are not willing to defend their own liberty. Most Iraqis have come to understand this and they have learned it through the example and sacrifice of America’s warriors and civilians as well as their own valiant countrymen.

As I sit back at my unit waiting for DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) to get off their collective asses and pay my multiple travel vouchers, I saw this article in today’s Washington Times:

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Washington Times
January 2, 2008
Pg. 8

Citizen Forces Seen Key To Driving Out Violence
Deadly attack on mourners points to risk

By Richard Tomkins, Washington Times

BAGHDAD — Ordinary Iraqis helping take responsibility for neighborhood security and earning money while doing so are contributing to hopes for a continued downturn in violence in Baghdad in the new year.

Nevertheless, the year got off to a bloody start yesterday, when a suicide attacker killed at least 32 men gathered in eastern Baghdad to mourn the death of a retired Iraqi army officer, a Shi'ite who was slain last week in a car bombing blamed on al Qaeda in Iraq.

The attack was a reminder of the dangers that persist despite the recent decline of violence in Baghdad and of the peril for any mass gathering in a country where the bereaved often find themselves targets.

Still, the rapid growth of Sunni Muslim forces opposed to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden marked a dramatic turnaround from the abysmal first four years after the U.S. invasion.

In the volatile Adhamiya District of eastern Baghdad, for example, Iraqi Security Volunteers, or ISVs, last month found a large cache of explosives as well as several car bombs and reported them to U.S. and Iraqi army forces. It was the fifth such find for them in just a few weeks.

West of Baghdad, another group of volunteers discovered a large cache of artillery shells through a tip from a local resident.

In the East Rashid area of southeast Baghdad, Sunni volunteers establishing a neighborhood headquarters in a rented house last week found two artillery shells that could have been used to blow up U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

"The ISVs are doing a good and important job," said U.S. Army Capt. Alfred Boone, who is in charge of the ISV project in East Rashid.

"This is a temporary security solution that could lead to these groups going into the Iraqi army or the national police," Capt. Boone said.

The ISVs fall under the general, overall nomenclature of Concerned Local Citizens, a force distrusted in its present state by the Shi'ite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which fears the predominately Sunni volunteers could become a military force outside the control of the government.

The Sunni opposition to al Qaeda began with the so-called "Awakening" movement by Sunni tribal leaders cooperating with U.S. forces in Anbar province west of Baghdad.

President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus, architect of the counterinsurgency strategy now being followed in Iraq, credit the movement with being a major factor in the drop in violence nationwide and in pushing al Qaeda out of its strongholds.

A cornerstone of the strategy, which includes the surge of U.S. forces into Baghdad, is securing neighborhoods from a return of terrorists once the terrorists are driven out.

That means boots on the ground in the communities, or in this case, shoes and sandals.

"The fact is concerned local citizens are helping provide security," Air Force Col. Donald Bacon, chief of strategy and plans and strategic communications for U.S.-led forces, told reporters recently.

"Without it, [al Qaeda in Iraq] would move back into these areas if we didn't have our forces there," Col. Bacon said.

In East Rashid, part of the larger Dora District of Baghdad, more than 200 men turned up recently at St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Seminary on the first day of recruiting for just 135 ISV slots.

One by one, they were called forward, presented with identity documents and questioned by Iraqi interpreters who registered their information. They were then fingerprinted by a team of Americans, who also photographed them and took biometric information, such as retina scans, for entry into a new database and for cross-referencing.

"I don't have a job," said Hazem Abdullah Ali, a middle-aged recruit. "I need the job. And I want to help bring peace."

Volunteers for the U.S.-Iraqi funded program are paid $10 a day and use their own weapons. Under Iraqi law, each household is allowed to possess one AK-47 rifle.

* * * *

We must stand beside the Iraqis who have the courage to step forward and face the brutality of the terrorists. These brave individuals want lasting peace and permanent security for their families and their communities.

It is our responsibility to finish what we started and to make sure that the sacrifices of our warriors have not been in vain.

SFC Chuck Grist