Monday, June 30, 2008

Blind Green Beret Won't Quit

This is one inspiring story from the Associated Press (above photo is also from the Associated Press):

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Blind Special Forces Officer Pushes Limits

Posted: 2008-06-30 12:57:38
Filed Under: Nation News

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (June 30) - When Capt. Ivan Castro joined the Army, he set goals: to jump out of planes, kick in doors and lead soldiers into combat. He achieved them all. Then the mortar round landed five feet away, blasting away his sight.

"Once you're blind, you have to set new goals," Castro said.

He set them higher.

Not content with just staying in the Army, he is the only blind officer serving in the Special Forces - the small, elite units famed for dropping behind enemy lines on combat missions.

"I am going to push the limits," said the 40-year-old executive officer at the 7th Special Forces Group's headquarters company in Fort Bragg. "I don't want to go to Fort Bragg and show up and sit in an office. I want to work every day and have a mission."

Since the war began in Iraq, more than 100 troops have been blinded and 247 others have lost sight in one eye. Only two other blind officers serve in the active-duty Army: one a captain studying to be an instructor at West Point, the other an instructor at the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Castro's unit commander said his is no charity assignment. Rather it draws on his experience as a Special Forces team member and platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division.

"The only reason that anyone serves with 7th Special Forces Group is if they have real talents," said Col. Sean Mulholland. "We don't treat (Castro) as a public affairs or a recruiting tool."

An 18-year Army veteran, Castro was a Ranger before completing Special Forces training, the grueling yearlong course many soldiers fail to finish. He joined the Special Forces as a weapons sergeant, earned an officer's commission and moved on to the 82nd - hoping to return one day to the Special Forces as a team leader.

Then life changed on a rooftop outside Youssifiyah, Iraq, in September 2006.

Castro had relieved other paratroopers atop a house after a night of fighting. He never heard the incoming mortar round. There was just a flash of light, then darkness.

Shrapnel tore through his body, breaking his arm and shoulder and shredding the left side of his face. Two other paratroopers died.

When Castro awoke six weeks later at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., his right eye was gone. Doctors were unable to save his left.

The Blinded Veterans Association estimates 13 percent of all combat hospital emergency procedures in Iraq have involved eye injuries and more than half of the soldiers with traumatic brain injuries also suffer some visual impairment. That makes them the third most common injury - behind post traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries - in Iraq.

"What he is doing is a strong example that blind individuals can lead exciting and meaningful careers," said Thomas Zampieri, director of government relations for the association.

After 17 months in recovery, Castro sought a permanent assignment in the service's Special Operations Command, landing duty with the 7th Special Forces Group. He focuses on managerial tasks while honing the group's Spanish training, a useful language for a unit that deploys regularly to train South American troops.

"I want to support the guys and make sure life is easier for those guys so that they can accomplish the mission," he said.

Though not fully independent, he spent a weekend before starting his job walking around the Group area at Fort Bragg to know just where he was going. He carefully measured the steps from car to office.

"Obviously, he cannot do some things that a sighted person can do. But Ivan will find a way to get done whatever he needs to get done," Mulholland said. "What I am most impressed with, though, is his determination to continue to serve his country after all that he's been through."

Castro works out regularly at the gym and runs, his legs powerful and muscular. And though he has a prosthetic right eye and his arms are scarred by shrapnel, his outsized personality overshadows his war wounds: Nobody escapes his booming hellos, friendly banter and limitless drive.

He ran the Boston marathon this year with Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Last year it was the Marine Corps Marathon. He wants to compete in the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii and graduate from the Army's officer advanced course, which teaches captains how to lead troops and plan operations.

Mulholland said Castro, who was awarded a Purple Heart like others wounded in combat, will always be part of the Special Forces family.

"I will fight for Ivan as long as Ivan wants to be in the Army," Mulholland said.

Married and the father of a 14-year-old son, Castro still needs help getting to the gym. He recently needed an escort to the front of the headquarters company formation, where he promoted a supply clerk.

Once in front, Ivan took charge.

Affixing the new soldier's rank to his uniform, Castro urged the soldier to perform two ranks higher. In the Special Forces, he said, one has to go above and beyond what is asked - advice he lives by.

"I want to be treated the same way as other officers," Castro said. "I don't want them to take pity over me or give me something I've not earned."

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Where do we find such men as this?

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Training America's Warriors

Along with members of my unit (I'm on the left in the photo), I have been training troops who will be headed overseas to one of the war zones in the next few months. It is a sobering job and, during my year and a half doing this mission, my unit of has participated in the training of thousands of soldiers.

Here are some photos of our most recent mission. Obviously, I cannot tell you where we were or who we were training:

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* * * *

Most of us who are training these warriors have already served in one of the war zones. Whether you agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or not, remember that our soldiers are doing their best to defend America in the fight against terrorism.

They deserve our gratitude and our unwavering support.

Charles M. Grist

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Brotherhood of Sports in the Midst of War

The following story is as inspiring as it is amazing:

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Miami Herald
June 23, 2008
Pg. 1

Soccer Match A Turning Point In Iraq War

Iraqis defeated U.S. troops in a soccer match. More importantly, the game symbolized a turning point in the war.

By Mike Tharp, McClatchy News Service

MULTAKA, Iraq -- A soccer game on a dirt field between two amateur teams -- one U.S. Army soldiers, one local Iraqis -- may not seem like a big deal in the scope of the wider war. (The above photo is from another soccer competition.)

Especially when it's a blow-out by the Iraqis; when both teams are playing in running shoes, not cleats; when the nets are thin blue mesh; and when only a couple hundred fans brave the 108-degree temperature in this town due west of Kirkuk.

But the recent match between members of the 87th Infantry's 1st battalion and several young men from the Sons of Iraq meant much more than the 9-0 score.

For one thing, it was the third time in recent days when American soldiers donned shorts and ''Salute to Our Fallen Heroes'' T-shirts to go head-to-head and foot-to-foot with teams of opponents who, only months ago, may have been trying to kill them.

For another, the soldiers were playing without body armor -- a sign of improved security in the sandy Hawijah District patrolled by units of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.

The soccer-playing Sons of Iraq here and in two neighboring towns, many of them former Iraqi militiamen, helped make it possible. They're paid to watch their own neighborhoods for ''special groups,'' the umbrella term now used by coalition forces to describe Iranian-backed cells and other foes. The Sons, previously called Awakening Councils, also offer tips on strangers in the area, where to find weapons caches, where a fresh homemade bomb has been planted.

''Having them as part of the equation has been really helpful,'' said Maj. Sean Wilson at the 10th Mountain Division's headquarters at Forward Operating Base Warrior on Kirkuk Regional Airbase.

Tips on weapons caches and other militarily useful information are up 50 percent since late last year and violence is down 90 percent, the Garden Grove, Calif., native said.

The soccer game and its two predecessors (also won by the Iraqis) were meant to be confidence-builders in the expanded American effort to win -- if not hearts and minds of their former adversaries -- at least a growing sense of solidarity. ''This is the sort of thing you see as a turning point,'' said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 1st Armored Division and Multi-National Division North based in Mosul. ``For the mayor and chief of police [of Multaka] to take the risk to be here -- this is history being made.''

Khalid, 14, dressed in a plaid shirt, sweat pants and rubber sandals, would agree. ''Ee-rock 5, Ameriki zay-ro,'' he delighted in telling an American after Sufian Ali, 20, headed in one of his four goals. Added Abu Seif, mayor of the town of 8,500: ``In the beginning we were dealing with terrorists. Now we see Americans and Iraqis play a soccer match and that's a historic event.''

Before the soccer game, both the American and Iraqi national anthems were played. At halftime, Hertling stood with the mayor and handed out soccer jerseys, pants and sweats to dozens of Iraqi boys. ''Girls no play soccer,'' Khalid, an aspiring center midfielder, explained as he clutched a new pair of sweat pants. And after the 60-minute rout, members of both teams filed by to shake hands and exchange high-fives.

* * * *

America’s young soldiers are bonding with the youth of Iraq. This is a story that has been woefully under-reported.

We are making a difference in Iraq, we are bettering the lives of the Iraqi people and we are sowing the seeds of liberty in a nation that did not know the meaning of real freedom.

Charles M. Grist

Monday, June 16, 2008

Militant Attacks From Pakistan Must Be Stopped

Afghanistan’s leader has threatened to send soldiers into Pakistan to fight militants. He is only doing what he must to protect his country.

If Pakistan won’t deal with these insurgents, either the Afghans or the Coalition must do so:

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New York Times
June 16, 2008
Pg. 6

Karzai Threatens To Send Soldiers Into Pakistan

By Carlotta Gall

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threatened on Sunday to send soldiers into Pakistan to fight militant groups operating in the border areas to attack Afghanistan. His comments, made at a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, are likely to worsen tensions between the countries, just days after American forces in Afghanistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers on the border while pursuing militants.

“If these people in Pakistan give themselves the right to come and fight in Afghanistan, as was continuing for the last 30 years, so Afghanistan has the right to cross the border and destroy terrorist nests, spying, extremism and killing, in order to defend itself, its schools, its peoples and its life,” Mr. Karzai said.

“When they cross the territory from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to go back and do the same,” he said.

Mr. Karzai repeated that he regarded the Pakistani government as a friendly government, but he urged it to join Afghanistan and allied nations to fight those who wanted to destabilize both countries, and to “cut the hand” that is feeding the militants.

The prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said the border was too long to prevent people from crossing, “even if Pakistan puts its entire army along the border.”

“Neither do we interfere in anyone else’s matters, nor will we allow anyone to interfere in our territorial limits and our affairs,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Gilani as having said.

Mr. Karzai named several militant leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani who has sent scores of fighters and suicide bombers to Afghanistan, and Maulana Fazlullah, a firebrand militant leader from the Swat Valley. Both men have recently negotiated peace deals with the Pakistani government, but vowed to continue waging jihad in Afghanistan.

“Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house,” Mr. Karzai said.

The president also taunted the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, calling him a Pakistani, since he has been based in this country since fleeing Afghanistan in 2001.

“And the other fellow, Pakistani Mullah Omar, should know the same,” Mr. Karzai said. “This is a two-way road in this case, and Afghans are good at the two-way-road journey. We will complete the journey and we will get them and we will defeat them. We will avenge all that they have done to Afghanistan for the past so many years.”

“Today’s Afghanistan is not yesterday’s silent Afghanistan,” he warned. “We have a voice, tools and bravery as well.”

Mr. Karzai’s comments came two days after Taliban fighters assaulted the main prison in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, blowing up the mud walls, killing 15 guards and freeing about 1,200 inmates. It is not known if the fighters received assistance from outside Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai has adopted a tougher stance in recent months toward Pakistan and even toward foreign allies like the United States and Britain, a shift that analysts say is driven by political concerns at home, with presidential elections due next year.

He says Pakistan has been giving sanctuary to militants for several years and his frustration has grown as the threat has grown. He has often accused the premier Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, of training and assisting militant groups, to undermine his government and maintain a friendly proxy force for the day that United States and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

His relations with the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, have deteriorated over the years, amid mutual recriminations that the other side was not doing enough to curb terrorism. Mr. Musharraf always denied that the Taliban was operating from Pakistani territory and accused Mr. Karzai of failing to put his own country in order.

Mr. Karzai has welcomed the electoral victories of the secular, democratic parties in Pakistan, since he had longstanding good relations with the late Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan Peoples Party, and in particular with another coalition partner, the Awami National Party.

In a recent interview, Mr. Karzai expressed optimism that relations between the countries would improve under the new government, in particular because of its opposition to militant Islamism.

Yet Afghanistan has watched Pakistan’s peace deals with militant groups with concern and has protested that cross-border infiltration has already increased.

In southern Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai said, British commanders reported that 70 percent of the Taliban fighters killed in recent fighting in the Garmser district were from Pakistan, and 60 percent were Pakistanis.

Mr. Karzai complained that the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that lives on both sides of the border, have been used by the Inter-Services Intelligence and have suffered the most at the hands of the militants. Mr. Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun and spoke out for his fellow tribesmen in Pakistan as well as in his own country.

The militants “have been trained against the Pashtuns of Pakistan and against the people of Afghanistan, and their jobs are to burn Pashtun schools in Pakistan, not to allow their girls to get educated, and kill the Pashtun tribal chiefs,” Mr. Karzai said.

“This is the duty of Afghanistan to rescue the Pashtuns in Pakistan from this cruelty and terror,” he said. “This is the duty of Afghanistan to defend itself and defend their brothers, sisters and sons on the other side.”

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Charles M. Grist

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today is Flag Day

Today we remember the history of our most famous national symbol. Please go to for the President’s proclamation of this year’s Flag Day.

Congratulations to Old Glory and thanks to the men and women in the military who defend our liberty each and every day.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, June 13, 2008

Trees With G.I. Carvings Cut Down in Normandy

The following article was sent to me by an Army historian. The above photo is Camp Twenty Grand as it was back then:

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From The London Times
June 13, 2008

Officials fell trees inscribed by US soldiers who fought for France;
Historic ‘name trees’ bore thousands of carvings; historians hope to save the few remaining trees after 150 were felled

Adam Sage in Saint Pierre de Varengeville-Duclair

The names “Thomas and Dorothy” were carved in the bark of one trunk. Another said “Bob and Carma”. Other trees were marked with soldiers’ home states - Iowa, Maine or Alabama - and several bore hearts and the names or initials of a wife or girlfriend.

The beech trees of Saint Pierre de Varengeville-Duclair forest bore a poignant testimony to the D-Day landings for more than six decades. Thousands of American soldiers stationed there after the liberation of Normandy spent their spare hours with a knife or bayonet creating a lasting reminder of their presence.

Although the trees grew and the graffiti swelled and twisted, this most peculiar memory of one of the 20th century’s defining moments remained visible - until now. Amid bureaucratic indifference and a dispute between officials and the forest owner, most of the trees have been felled, chopped up and turned into paper.

Claude Quétel, a French historian and Second World War specialist, was horrified when he discovered what he called a catastrophe and a shameless act. “It is a typically French failing to wipe out the traces of the past,” he told The Times. “I am indignant.”

Local people are calling for the few “name trees” that still stand to be classified as historic monuments and saved from the same fate. “It should have been done a long time ago,” said Nicolas Navarro, the curator of a Second World War museum in the grounds of his family’s 13th-century Château du Taillis near by. “It’s sad and pathetic that it wasn’t.”

The trees surrounded land in the heart of Saint Pierre de Varengeville-Duclair forest, near Rouen in Normandy, which was once home to a US army camp named after the Twenty Grand brand of cigarettes. It was one of nine cigarette camps - along with Pall Mall, Old Gold, Philip Morris, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Home Run, Wings and Herbert Tareyton - used by troops needing treatment or waiting to be sent elsewhere. They were places of calm between the D-Day landings and the Ardennes, the Siegfried Line or the Pacific.

Camp Twenty Grand, set up in September 1944 and closed in February 1946, had tents for 20,000 US soldiers as well as a few hundred German prisoners. Some of the Americans stayed weeks, others months, bringing chocolate, fruit and parties to a French population emerging from occupation.

Mr Navarro’s museum contains a collection of objects that amazed the Normans: Craig Martin toothpaste, Nescafé, Coca-Cola bottles and a Durex. The soldiers left broken hearts, peach stones - which were planted to give the region its first peach trees - and their graffiti.

“Basically, they spent their time carving their names into the trees with knives and bayonets,” Mr Navarro said. “It became a real fad at Twenty Grand because thousands did it.”

He described the beech trees as one of the finest Second World War souvenirs left in Normandy. But Les Arbres des Noms - most of which stood along a small, winding road in the middle of the forest - were deemed unsafe by local officials. They ordered Patrice Robin, 79, who owns the land, to prune branches overhanging the road. “I said no at first,” he said. “But they threatened to take action against me.”

It costs about €800 (£630) to prune a beech tree, but only about €200 to cut it down. Mr Robin chose the cheaper option. “It’s complete madness - but I couldn’t do anything else.”

Mr Navarro said that more than 150 trees were felled last year, a destruction that went unnoticed beyond the district for months. He is determined now to preserve the ones that remain.

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Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One Day the Iraqis Will Send Us Home

While I was in Baghdad in 2004, I asked an Iraqi civilian if he was glad that Saddam Hussein was gone from the scene and he said, “Oh, yes, thank you..”

When I asked him if he was glad the American and Coalition forces were in his country, he said, “Oh, no…”

Then he added, “But please don’t leave yet…”

One of the biggest screw-ups in the beginning of the Iraq war was the failure of the Bush administration to look deeply into the history of the Arab world, the Shiite-Sunni conflicts and the long-held feelings of the Arab peoples that they didn’t want to be “occupied” by any western military forces.

We must remember that the Crusades were not noble endeavors. The Crusaders waged brutal warfare, leaving a trail of blood and Arab bodies – including men, women and children – as they rampaged throughout the Middle East and they were “terrorists” in their own time. Arabs have a long memory and this one remains quite vivid.

Then the British occupied Arabia during their colonial period, suppressing the Arab culture before finally carving up the Arab lands in what may have seemed a logical fashion, but which ignored many of the cultural needs of the people – such as the Kurdish citizens who were not given their own nation.

We must understand that the day will come when the Iraqi people want to be left alone. When they are comfortable that they possess the ability to take care of themselves, they will surely ask us to leave. They will not want any – repeat any – western military forces permanently occupying any part of their land. To believe otherwise ignores an Arab history that is one of complete distrust of western motives. Can we blame them?

American troops and their Coalition partners have done an amazing job and we have made many friends among the Iraqi people, but even these friends do not want our troops there forever. It is not about the willingness of an American administration to continue operations in Iraq; it is simply about whether or not the Iraqi people want us there. This is the Muslim Arab world which believes it has little in common with western powers.

In the end, the Shiite majority will determine the direction of Iraq. With luck the nation will remain a secular one, with a strong relationship – and hopefully friendship - with the United States. However, it remains likely that radical Shiites – with the help of Iran – will try to seize control of the government at some point after we have been shown the door. Should this happen, there will be nothing we can do about it except offer our help if it is requested - as we would for any of our other allies.

The following article is from McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and was posted on

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US-Iraq Security Deal in Trouble

June 11, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

BAGHDAD - A proposed U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that would set the conditions for a defense alliance and long-term U.S. troop presence appears increasingly in trouble, facing growing resistance from the Iraqi government, bipartisan opposition in Congress and strong questioning from Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

President Bush is trying to finish the agreement before he leaves office, and senior U.S. officials insist publicly that the negotiations can be completed by a July 31 target date.

But that seems increasing doubtful, and in Baghdad and Washington there is growing speculation that a United Nations mandate for U.S.-led military operations in Iraq may have to be renewed after it expires at the end of 2008.

On Capitol Hill, top Democrats and Republicans complain that Bush is rushing the negotiations to try to tie his successor's hands.

Iraqi lawmakers say the United States has dropped at least one demand and is no longer insisting on complete immunity for private contractors.

Six senators, including the chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and their ranking minority members have written Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the past week asking for transparency in the negotiations and more briefings. White House, State Department and Pentagon officials briefed staff members on the talks June 10.

"There's a tremendous amount of concern up here about the state of these negotiations. ... It's been expressed repeatedly," said a senior congressional staffer, who requested anonymity. He noted that their appeared to be growing talk in Iraq of simply extending the U.N. mandate.

A spokesman for Obama, D-Ill., said any long-term U.S. security commitment to Iraq must be subject to Congressional approval; alternatively the administration should seek an extension of the current UN mandate. Obama wants a new administration to make it "absolutely clear that the United States will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq," said spokesman Bill Burton.

Some Iraqi parliamentarians are now saying that Iraq has a third option besides extending the U.N. mandate or agreeing to the proposed Status of Forces Agreement: telling the Americans to go home.

"By December Iraq has to decide what to do," said Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker who is close to Prime Minister Maliki. "If we are put in a corner...we have three options, not just two." Al-Askari said the U.S. side is "keen to sign it early" but said the U.S. "have to be realistic and deal with the issues that are very sensitive for the Iraqis."

On June 10, Ambassador David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top advisor on Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that both the Iraqis and Americans were on track to agree and that the U.S. was respecting Iraq's sovereignty during negotiations.

"We're confident it can be achieved, and by the end of July deadline," Satterfield said. "It's doable, that's where our focus is, not on alternatives...We're focused on plan A because we believe plan A can succeed."

He spoke less than 24 hours after an unnamed senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that the deal may not be completed before Bush leaves office next January. Satterfield bristled when questioned about the "unnamed official" and insisted that the talks were on track for completion July 31.

Iraqi lawmakers say the Bush administration is demanding concessions that are unacceptable, among them: dozens of semi-permanent bases from which U.S. forces can launch missions with no prior consent from Iraq's government; control of Iraq's air space; and no guarantees the United States will defend Iraq against a foreign attack.

The United States has portrayed opposition to the agreement as limited to Iranian officials and followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who opposes the U.S. occupation. But the chorus of rejection is growing.

"There is only one agenda for us-we need foreign troops because our forces are not capable yet to defend Iraq inside and outside of Iraq," al-Askari said. But when Iraq reaches the point it can defend itself, "That's it, no more foreign troops on our soil," he added.

"It seems from the draft (agreement) and from the discussions that the Americans have something else in their mind, for instance fighting al-Qaida or terrorism. That's why they want a free hand in arresting any Iraqi. But the Iraqis say, `no you don't have the free hand'."

In interviews this week, majority Shiite legislators told McClatchy Newspapers that the U.S.-proposed draft agreement is unacceptable and, given the way negotiations are going, they did not see them being complete by July 31.

The majority of Iraqi politicians support some kind of security agreement with the United States and the presence of some U.S. forces, although on their terms.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq's government has reached the point of decision.

"Time is of the essence," he said. "There is a need for a clear political decision... Either the Iraqis want this or they don't want it." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration of principles for the accord last November, Zebari noted. "It hasn't come out of a vacuum or out of the blue."

Iraq wants an agreement in which U.S. Soldiers stay on bases outside of the cities; the United States does not control its air space; and acts only if Iraq asks for help.

* * * *

The fact that the Iraqis will one day no longer want us in their country is not a sign that we failed. If their self-sufficiency is accompanied by a strong free-market economy, if they have achieved the ability to defend themselves from aggression and if they have retained the power to determine their own destiny, then we have achieved success.

Regardless of what future they choose in the long run - it is THEIR future.

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Learn From Our Mistakes But Don't Abandon the Iraqis

It’s hard to disagree with most of what the following USA Today editorial says. Mistakes were made with regard to the original reasons for invading Iraq. Unfortunately, any mistakes have been overcome by events.

The fact is that we invaded that country and removed the government, the police, the Army and the entire infrastructure. We must do everything in our power to fix the mess that we helped create. Morality and decency demand that we do so and our military forces are making friends as they make a difference in the new Iraq.

Regardless of what Obama and the Democrats say, we cannot just walk away from the Iraqi people.

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USA Today
June 6, 2008

Iraq intelligence findings provide crucial lessons

It has long been apparent that the United States rushed to war in Iraq based on false premises. Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction, didn't have ties to the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks and wasn't an imminent danger.

But one great unanswered question has festered in Washington: Did President Bush and his top officials knowingly lie when they repeatedly asserted that Saddam was reconstituting a nuclear program and had biological and chemical weapons? Or did they simply get it wrong, cherry-picking flawed intelligence to make their case for action?

Anyone hoping for the final answer from the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report released Thursday will be disappointed — unless, of course, they cherry-pick it to support their preconceived opinions.

For the most part, the 171-page report contradicts the simplistic "Bush lied, people died" formulation found on bumper stickers. It concludes that the administration's prewar statements on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were mostly backed up by available (but flawed) U.S. intelligence, although the statements tended to gloss over internal debate among intelligence agencies about those findings.

The report does find, however, that assertions by Bush and Vice President Cheney that Saddam was prepared to arm terrorist groups to attack the United States contradicted available intelligence. In fact, that intelligence suggested Saddam was unlikely to do so because he feared an attack would strengthen the U.S. case for war.

This mixed verdict won't satisfy partisans on either side. But it doesn't mean the report — endorsed by the panel's eight Democrats and two of its seven Republicans — is an exercise in futility, as its GOP critics claimed. It is, in fact, a cautionary tale that provides important lessons, particularly as the nation decides what to do about Iran and its murky nuclear program.

For Congress, the lesson is that lawmakers need to double-check intelligence themselves, not simply rely on summaries or administration assurances. Pathetically few members of Congress read the complete 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which detailed misgivings of some intelligence agencies, before they cast fateful votes that authorized the Iraq war.

For this and future administrations, the lesson is that White House officials need to weigh and study all available intelligence, not seize on only what supports their preconceived notions. They mustn't present ambiguity as certainty. They mustn't launch pre-emptive attacks without bulletproof evidence. And never again should they treat war as a marketing campaign, like selling a new brand of toothpaste.

* * * *

Charles M. Grist

Great National Guard Video

Check out this great recruiting video that was commissioned by the National Guard. It was sent to me by Aaron Self (Cobra 2 of The C.O.B.R.A. Team) who is a police officer in Texas.

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, June 6, 2008

Remembering D-Day: June 6, 1944

The members of my parent’s generation always remember where they were on the day that the Allies began the fight to re-take Europe from the Nazis (as we will always remember where we were on 9-11).

Gathering off the coast of France were the Allied forces which consisted of some 3,000 landing craft, 2,500 other types of ships and some 500 naval vessels. According to the website, the warships included seven battleships and eighteen coastal cruisers.

Some Americans were going about their routines here in the States and worrying about their friends and relatives who were fighting the war around the world. Many of those friends and relatives were fighting their way onto the beaches of Normandy simply trying to stay alive, but determined to deny the Nazis their dream of world conquest.

The invasion would take place at five key beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The heaviest resistance was at Omaha and Utah beaches. Casualties were heavy, but the beachhead was eventually established at great cost.

For a detailed timeline of this invasion, go to this page at The above photo shows General Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division before the invasion began.

On this day, please take time to remember the brave warriors of the Greatest Generation who served during the greatest invasion in history. Remember also those who gave their lives that day.

The next time you see an older gentleman wearing a hat that says “World War II Veteran”, thank him and buy him lunch.

SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Trial Finally Begins for 9-11 Mastermind and Fellow Terrorists

It’s about time that this scumbag and four of his buddies go to trial. When it’s over, I’m sure there will be a long line of volunteers to help dispense final justice to Khalid Mohammed and his fellow murderers. Here is the Associated Press article about this trial that begins today:

* * * *

Court Day for Alleged 9/11 Mastermind

June 05, 2008
Associated Press

The military expects a confrontational hearing today when the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and four alleged confederates are brought before a Marine colonel presiding over their war-crimes tribunal.

At an arraignment scheduled for June 5, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was expected to make his first public appearance since being captured in Pakistan in 2003, held in CIA custody at secret sites and transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Hartmann, a top tribunal official, told dozens of journalists late June 4 he expects defense lawyers will robustly argue points with prosecutors and Judge Ralph Kohlmann on behalf of their clients, who face the death penalty.

"Expect to see challenges tomorrow, and the intensity of the process," Hartmann said at a briefing in an abandoned aircraft hangar near the courthouse at this isolated U.S. Navy base.

Army Col. Steve David, chief defense counsel for the tribunals, said the military commissions - which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2006 as unconstitutional before they were altered and resurrected months later - are "fundamentally flawed."

"We will zealously identify and expose each and every" flaw, he said.

The tribunals have been mired in confusion over courtroom rules and dogged by delays.

Military commissions have been conducted since George Washington used them after the end of the Revolutionary War, but this is the first time the United States has used them during an ongoing conflict, Hartmann said.

Mohammed is represented by two officers from the Navy and the Air Force. Two civilian attorneys from Idaho, including one who defended a client accused in the white supremacist Ruby Ridge case, also represent the Pakistani.

Defense attorneys for the five detainees accused in the Sept. 11 attack that killed 2,973 people say the U.S. is rushing the case to trial to influence the presidential election. They recently asked Kohlmann to throw out the case and remove Hartmann, who was accused of political meddling by a former chief prosecutor for the military commissions.

Two weeks ago, Deputy Secretary of State Gordon England declared that providing "fair trials" at Guantanamo is the No. 1 legal services obligation for the Defense Department, said Hartmann, the legal adviser to the tribunals. He said he has not been asked to recuse himself from the upcoming trial.

Mohammed will be arraigned simultaneously with the four men inside the high-tech courthouse, part of the "expeditionary legal complex" arrayed on an abandoned airfield at Guantanamo. Guards will be near the men but no firearms are allowed in the courtroom, said Army Col. Wendy Kelly.

Mohammed and the other four detainees can be restrained by retractable leg chains hidden underneath the raised courtroom floor if they become unruly, Kelly said.

The arraignment will launch the highest-profile test yet of a tribunal system that faces an uncertain future.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier system as unconstitutional in 2006, and is to rule this month on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners, potentially delaying or halting the proceedings. And with less than eight months remaining in President Bush's term, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both say they want to close the military's offshore detention center.

Obama opposed the Military Commissions Act that in 2006 resurrected the military commissions, but McCain supported it. The modular courtroom can be taken down and "sent to Fort Bragg, Fort Lewis, or any installation that needs a big courtroom," Kelly said.

Dozens of U.S. and international journalists arrived at Guantanamo on June 4 on a military plane for the joint arraignment, which the military expects to last just one day.

The five prisoners will be formally notified of the nature of the charges, will be told of their rights to attorneys and will be given the opportunity to enter a plea, though they do not have to enter one, Hartmann said.

All five are charged with murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, attacking civilians, terrorism and other crimes.

The four defendants due to appear with Mohammed are: Ramzi Binalshibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and al-Qaida leaders; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew and lieutenant of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; al-Baluchi's assistant, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi; and Waleed bin Attash, a detainee known as Khallad, who allegedly selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers.

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God may have mercy on these killers, but we must not...

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

100th Birthday of the Army Reserve

The Army Reserve has turned 100 years old. Please check out the details at .

After you learn about the great organization to which I belong, go to and download the Spring, 2008 100th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of “Warrior Citizen”, the Army Reserve magazine.

Not only can you read about the Army Reserve, but you can go to page 22 and see where the American Ranger blog is favorably mentioned!

Happy Birthday to the Army Reserve!

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Mission Continues - For a Little Longer

I am writing this from a less-than-great motel on the plains of Oklahoma. Shipped to the west along with a bunch of my comrades, we are again responsible for doing the pre-mobilization training for a large group of soldiers who will deploy to one of the war zones sometime during the next year.

As I have mentioned before, this is one of my last active duty assignments, but it is always just as important as it always was. Other than fighting the battles and serving on the ground in war, nothing is more important than getting these youngsters ready to face a war of IEDs, ambushes, urban warfare and convoys.

It will be tough to leave this behind after so many years. Just six months from today - December 3rd - will be the 40th anniversary from when I entered basic training as a 19-year-old young man.

That's O.K. It's been a helluva ride and the police part of my life will continue. Yeah, I'll probably be the oldest cop in my police department, but I guess someone has to be!!

SFC Chuck Grist

Monday, June 2, 2008

Medal of Honor Awarded to Specialist Ross McGinnis

The family of Specialist Ross McGinnis received the Congressional Medal of Honor in ceremonies at the White House today. For details about this heroic young man, read the following Army Times article from May 27:

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Army Times
May 27, 2008
By Staff Writer Michelle Tan

Spc. Ross McGinnis, who was killed Dec. 4, 2006, in Iraq when he smothered a grenade with his body, will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.

McGinnis, 19, will be honored during a ceremony June 2 at the White House. The Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, will be presented to McGinnis’ family. McGinnis also will be honored at the Pentagon on June 3, and a new marker for his grave at Arlington National Cemetery will be unveiled June 4.

The award for McGinnis, first reported by Army Times, will be the second given to a soldier for actions while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed April 4, 2003, fighting off insurgents in a fierce firefight south of Baghdad, was awarded the Medal of Honor two years after he died.

McGinnis, then a private first class assigned to 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is credited with saving the lives of four fellow soldiers.

McGinnis was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in Adhamiyah in northeast Baghdad on Dec. 4, 2006, when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.

“Grenade!” yelled McGinnis, who was manning the vehicle's M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

McGinnis, facing backward because he was in the rear vehicle, tried to deflect the grenade, but it fell into the Humvee and lodged between the radios.

When he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle, as he had been trained to do, McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the Humvee did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.

McGinnis, a native of Knox, Pa., threw his back against the radio mount, where the grenade was lodged, and smothered the explosive with his body.

McGinnis was posthumously promoted to specialist, and he was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor, while the Medal of Honor nomination was pending.

The grenade exploded, hitting McGinnis on his sides and lower back, under his vest. He was killed instantly. The other four men survived.

In addition to Smith and McGinnis, two other service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq: Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor. Only one Medal of Honor has been awarded for actions in Afghanistan, to Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL.

Each of those awards was presented posthumously.

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SFC Chuck Grist

American Ranger Privacy Policy

Effective April 15, 2008:

To my readers:

There are a few products available to the readers of "American Ranger". I want to make sure that anyone who does business with my advertisers understands my commitment to the privacy of their personal information. We have only selected advertisers who also have that commitment. Naturally, if you have any questions at any time, you may contact that advertiser directly or you may send me an email. Thanks again for checking out "American Ranger".

Charles M. Grist

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Improvements Continue in Iraq

Even the New York Times is forced to admit that things have substantially improved in Iraq. During the entire war, American soldiers have succeeded in making untold personal connections with the Iraqi people. Many of us still worry about the safety of our Iraqi friends. (Above photo is me with Kurdish children in northern Iraq in 2004.)

This article includes a discussion of the on-going status of forces agreement negotiations between Iraq and the United States and the pull-out of Australian forces:

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New York Times
June 2, 2008
Pg. 5

U.S. Deaths In Iraq Fell Sharply In May
By Andrew E. Kramer

BAGHDAD — American deaths in the Iraq war dropped to 19 in May, their lowest monthly level since the invasion in 2003, the United States military said Sunday, though officials said they were reluctant to highlight the number as a milestone.

There have been troughs in American casualty rates before, only to be followed by increases. Just on Sunday, an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

The military has instead focused on falling rates of enemy attacks, among other indicators, as a measure of improving security.

Even amid the news of declining deaths, there was a setback on Sunday to efforts to negotiate a long-term security pact that would set out how long American forces stay in Iraq. The Iraqi government criticized proposals from American negotiators and vowed to reject any deal that violated Iraqi sovereignty.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been under political pressure to resist some American demands. Street protesters loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr burned American flags on Friday to oppose the deal, and Mr. Sadr promised that his followers would stage regular protests through the summer.

The pact, called a status of forces agreement, would address the future of American bases in Iraq, immunity for American soldiers and security contractors, the power of American troops to detain Iraqis and conduct military operations, and control of Iraqi airspace.

A United Nations resolution that authorizes the presence of American troops in Iraq expires in December, and the world body is not expected to take the issue up again, leaving it to the United States and Iraq to work out for themselves.

Along with Mr. Sadr, the main Shiite political parties in Mr. Maliki’s government have come out against key elements of the proposed agreement sought by the Americans. But Kurds support a strong American military presence, and some Sunni Arab politicians support the pact because they see the United States military as a bulwark against the rising power of the Shiite majority in Iraq.

“The Iraqi side has a vision and a draft different from the American vision and American draft,” the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement. “The Iraqi government is focusing on preserving the complete sovereignty of Iraqi land, Iraqi sky and Iraqi water.”

The foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, meeting with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, in Iraq on Sunday, said the government would study agreements in Germany, Japan and Turkey allowing American bases there. “Negotiations will continue,” said Mr. Zebari, a Kurd.

Mr. Kouchner, who said earlier that France would cooperate with the Iraqi government in the future, though it had opposed the American-led invasion, used the visit to praise security gains in Iraq, saying he had noticed “huge improvements.”

Last week, the American military released statistics showing that overall attacks had dropped to their lowest level over a one-week period since March 2004, before the Sunni uprising flared in western Iraq.

The 19 American deaths in May were a steep drop from the 52 fatalities the previous month, when the American military was supporting an Iraqi Army operation to quell an uprising in the Sadr City district of Baghdad.

Of the 19 service members who died in May, 14 were listed as killed in action, four were noncombat deaths and one died in the United States after being wounded in combat in Iraq.

The United States lost the highest number of service members in a single month in November 2004, when 137 were killed, coinciding with the Marine assault of the western city of Falluja, according to, a group that tracks American deaths in the war.

May’s low death toll was not the first such dip during the war. In September 2003, 31 soldiers died; in March 2005, 35 died; and in March 2006, 31 soldiers died.
In total, 4,083 American service members have died during the war, and at least 29,000 others have been wounded.

Meanwhile, Australia, an early supporter of the war, announced that its combat operations in Iraq had ended on Sunday and that its troops were on the way home. The withdrawal fulfills an election pledge by the new prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Polls show that more than three-quarters of Australians oppose the war, Reuters reported. Australia will maintain its roughly 1,000-soldier force in Afghanistan.

The troops will return over several weeks. Australia will leave two surveillance planes, a ship to patrol oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and soldiers to guard diplomats, the government said.

Britain, the largest contributor of foreign troops to the Iraq war after the United States, retains about 4,000 soldiers in southern Iraq. This spring, it suspended a gradual drawdown during an Iraqi Army-led military operation against Shiite militias in Basra.

Qais Mizher and Suadad al-Salhy contributed reporting.

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SFC Chuck Grist