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RETURN OF TALES FROM THE FRONT


The Iraqi Army standing tall in Tal Afar
photo by Buck Sargent


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Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.

You’ll notice if you read your history, that the work of the world gets done by the people who aren’t bellyachers.
-Harry S. Truman


Warming The Bench
Not long after arriving in Tal Afar last summer our platoon rolled into a small town called Muhalabiyah, roughly 30km outside of the city. We stopped by the local police station in order to try to establish some initial rapport, as well as to troll for any actionable intel. While we were there, the IPs received word that a mukhtar (a local official) had just been ambushed and assassinated while foolishly out driving alone. He was most likely killed for agreeing to work and collaborate with coalition and Iraqi security forces. This type of intimidation over here is unfortunately quite common.

By the time we got to the scene, his body had already been carried to his home. And what a scene it was. There were what appeared to be hundreds of people there screaming and wailing in intense shock and pain. Either this man had quite the extended family (in tribal Iraq, that's not exactly uncommon), or he was the most popular figure in the entire town (probably also true, based on his position). Children were everywhere and every single one of them were crying hysterically, as were all the adult men. Women were wailing and flailing their arms to and fro. Never before have I witnessed such a display of mass anguish.

The mukhtar's body was inside, and we entered to offer whatever medical aid we could. But he was clearly already dead, having been shot through the head multiple times. Seeing that didn't really bother me -- it's not like it's the first time. But that scene of all those people so torn up by his murder really shook me. I've just never seen anything like it. This wasn’t simply a grief-stricken family -- it was an entire grief-stricken crowd. I didn't even know how to act, other than to return to the stoic soldier role we routinely assume.

Normally, I'd be filming out-of-the-ordinary events such as this, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I don't know how reporters can capture such intensely personal moments without feeling like vultures, but it just didn't feel right to intrude on their loss and suffering like that. Are "journalist" and "human being" mutually exclusive terms? I suppose then I’m a terrible journalist. I can live with that.

Several weeks later our platoon was called out to provide outer cordon security for an IA raid on a target house. An Iraqi informant -- a terrorist cell member-turned-snitch on his former compatriots (to get them before they could get him) -- had fingered a Muhalabiyah safehouse that he claimed was being used to shelter several notorious AIF operatives in the Tal Afar area. The information was 15 days old, the decrepit source was badly shot up from previous run-ins with the Iraqi police, and his credibility was suspect; yet our platoon leader made the call to go ahead with the mission regardless. We had seen our share of "dry holes" over the course of the past year, and this one was shoring up to fit that pattern, but perhaps we would get lucky and find a weapons cache and some residual intel whether we found anybody home or not.

With only two weeks left in country, this would be our last opportunity to chase bad guys before some of us returned home to chase our kids around the house, or others to return to chasing women and tequila shots. As I had been tasked out for other duties at the time, I volunteered to tag along thinking this would be my last patrol in Iraq. [If I had only known…]

Led by a small American Special Forces contingent, the IA officers and their jundis loaded to bear and made their way to the target house, with our Strykers in blocking positions at key intersections ready to assist if needed. It was a bittersweet conclusion to a long year in Iraq. Our mission all along has been to provide the Iraqis the time and training necessary to allow them to plan, execute, and take the initiative on missions precisely as this one, but once the ball gets rolling you find yourself resentful that it is now in their court rather than your own. Your remaining tour is nearly to single digits -- the last thing you should want is to find yourself in a firefight. But when the shots ring out to your position a few blocks away, you’re stuck with that benchwarmer feeling.

"Any way you look at it, it still sucks being second string," remarked Sgt. Grant over the Stryker’s radio intercom. Those of us on the net all nodded knowingly in the darkness.

Back to the raid: Two unidentified men on the rooftop had opened up on the IA as they crept up to the target house, but were quickly overwhelmed by return fire, threw down their AKs and hightailed it out of there. At the same moment, their cell leader was busy cramming the remainder of his posse into a concealed crawl space before running upstairs to try and squeeze his extremely corpulent self into a tight spot that was definitely not built for two.

While our Strykers moved to the target building amid reports of hostiles on the rooftops, "Fat Bastard" was meeting his end to a hail of bullets as he refused to surrender when approached by swarms of Iraqi commandos. They were taking no chances with the deadly "grenade in the pocket" tricks of AIF insurgents who frequently abuse the exclusively Western penchant for taking prisoners.

Several of the detainees were confirmed as among the top five wanted bad guys in the greater Tal Afar area. Fat (and now very dead) Bastard turned out to have been a cell leader from the Mosul area. Another had raped and murdered his own pregnant sister after having discovered her providing assistance to coalition forces. And yet another was the very man who had assassinated the mukhtar from Muhalabiyah.

As the Iraqi soldiers stood around basking in their most recent coup against the forces of evil in their country, we all took turns drinking the dead man’s chai that they had cooked up in his kitchen. It tasted especially sweet.

Things That Make You Go Boom
In order to catalog the extensive cache of terrorist weapons that had been discovered inside the crawl space with the detainees, I sat upon what I thought was a stool inside the pitch black room so I could rotate my body around it and take pictures of each item. My camera revealed AK-47s, a sniper rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, grenades, detonation cord, as well as several initiators and bomb-making material. After I had squeezed myself back out of the crawlspace, my LT asked me if I remembered to get a good photo of the "one-five-fives" that were in there.

"What 155’s?" I asked him.
"The ones in the room," he said.
"I didn’t see any in there."
"Trust me," he said. "They’re in there."

I shoved my weapon’s tac-light back in the hole and to my horror discovered that what I had just used as a "stool" was in fact a tightly wrapped trio of 155mm artillery shells pre-rigged to be used as a vehicle-demolishing IED. Oh well. All in a day's work.

Creating Yeast in the Middle East
Later that morning after EOD had arrived to cart away the explosives and we were preparing to depart the area, the young, pretty wife of one of the detainees could be heard vocalizing her distress over the fate of her husband and was pleading his case with the ranking Iraqi officer on the scene. As unlikely as it sounds -- considering all the ordnance that was being stashed in her home -- perhaps she really didn’t know what he was involved in. And you think you know a person.

But it’s always fascinating to watch the transformation that rarely fails to occur among terrorist "bad asses" whenever they’re caught with their man-dresses around their ankles. These "fearless" insurgent asswipes suddenly develop a raging case of vaginitis -- whimpering, sniveling, and rolling all over the ground -- as if being cuffed and stuffed and made to sit cross-legged on the ground is the worst torture ever devised by man. If only the subjects of their campaigns of terror could see what pathetic creatures these men really are. Perhaps then they’d take more of a stand against allowing so many of them to essentially highjack their own country.

‘I’d Like To Thank The Academy’
Prisoners of all stripes will throw down the pussy card whenever you roll up to the DiF (detainee facility) to turn them in for processing. They know full well the legacy of Abu Ghraib that the media continues to sow throughout our political system, and that if they only playact a little bit they’ll get the red carpet treatment every time from the prison administrators. If they’re really good, they may even turn the tables on their interrogation to focus on our behavior rather than their own. As such, it’s now practically par for the course for them to complain of abuse after being handed over. And sometimes, people even buy what they’re selling.

Paradigm Dropping
One of the biggest shocks upon arriving in Baghdad was the realization that not everyone in theater had been making the same progress that we had been all year throughout Mosul and Tal Afar, especially regarding the training and mentoring of the local Iraqi forces. We had always just presumed that what we had been doing routinely up north was what was going on everywhere else in Iraq. Talk about your all-time boneheaded assumptions.

What we found instead was a city that was not only woefully under-patrolled by American forces, but whose Iraqi counterparts were at least a year or more behind the IAs and IPs that we had been used to working with. It was discouraging to say the least, and often infuriating.

"What have these guys been doing all year?" was a common refrain around our unit at the time.


"We have to stay in Iraq longer while they pack up and go home, just so we can come fix their mess for them?"

"They get here after us and leave before we do? What total bull****!"

"Here we are patrolling with these corrupt IPs in front of the people, dragging our credibility right through the mud in the process."

"Yeah, those Iraqi police aren’t out catching the bad guys because they are the bad guys."

I’d spent a good part of the past year castigating the "Green Zone FOBgoblins" in the press for taking such a narrow view of Iraq and passing it off as representative of the entire war. What I failed to understand until I arrived in Baghdad this past August was that the gloomy picture they’ve been painting -- while not indicative of the progress throughout the rest of the country -- is indeed accurate so far as it relates to the capital. Here it’s an entirely different war.

For whatever reason, Baghdad had been left to rot from the inside out. What they failed to comprehend was that while the Iraqis are quick studies, they are not exactly what you’d call "overly motivated." You’ve got to poke, and prod, and cajole them into learning their jobs, regularly performing their duties, and then kick them in the ass and drag them along with you every single day -- for months if need be -- until it sinks in that nothing in their area will improve until they start waking up before noon and actually leave their compounds to patrol, walk the streets, and talk with the very people they are charged with protecting. If you do this long enough, after a bit they start to get the hint, the true leaders among them will emerge, and you’ll notice you don’t have to encourage them quite so forcefully anymore. They will start planning, organizing, and running operations entirely on their own.

But you cannot expect this result if you are not willing to put in the long hours and brutally hot days with them initially. It was glaringly apparent that this was not being done in Baghdad prior to our arrival. Someone didn’t just drop the ball, they kicked it straight into the gutter. And now it’s been left up to us to retrieve it, clean off the poo-water, re-inflate it, and put it back into play.

The Kids Are Alright
In our apparent bid to personally meet every living resident in Baghdad, we spend a lot of time on the ground in the mixed neighborhoods shaking hands, holding babies, and talking with residents, soliciting their views and feedback. My company in particular has spent extensive time in the former "problem areas" of Ghazaliyah, Adhamiyah, Shaab-Ur, and in recent weeks, Bayaa.

Our presence instantly alters the mood as residents line the outside of their homes, kids play in the streets again, and people congregate openly and freely among their neighbors without fear. They instinctively know that we won’t harm them, and that if anyone dared cruise by on a mission of intimidation, they’d learn a swift and humbling lesson. So far, few have dared to test us.

Iraqi children are the easiest barometer by which to measure the underlying attitudes of a community. You can instantly recognize which areas are used to seeing American soldiers mixing among them and which haven‘t seen them in quite a long time, if ever. When you‘re instantly swarmed by hordes of Iraqi children pestering you with unrelenting cries of "Mistah! Mistah! Mistah!" then you know that you‘re not blazing any new trails. On the other hand, some enclaves will be oddly standoffish -- not necessarily in a negative manner, but rather in a display of amazing discipline on the part of the children. They’re either unfamiliar with us, or they’ve simply had better parenting.

On the flip side, a "bad" neighborhood will be teeming with adolescents who viscerally give off the "I would very much like to slit your throat" vibe. It’s rare to witness, but always creepy. Suffice it to say, I’ve only gotten this vibe in districts that butt up against Sadr City, the bastion of Shia militia membership in northeastern Baghdad.

Resident Oil
Our unit’s home state of Alaska has a Permanent Fund Dividend that distributes oil and gas revenue equally to all its residents, provided you’ve lived there for a year and have plans to stay. Well, we’ve been here 14 months and have no idea when we’re leaving. As such it would be a wise idea to implement a similar idea for all Iraqis to personally have a stake in their country’s natural wealth. But if that ever becomes a reality, I’ll be expecting my cut.

Mission Superstition
Late night raids on target houses that local sources report as concealing pre-rigged IEDs are now what passes for fun around here. Not to mention it was a joint raid with a unit from the Iraqi National Police, whose balls had in recent weeks been squashed in a vise for being corrupt and infiltrated with undue militia influence. Oh, and did I mention that it was in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jihad (yes, they actually named it that) and that the clock had just turned midnight on Friday the 13th? Ha ha, jokes on us.

Still, the house didn’t blow up, so it’s all good.

The last time I recall spending Jason Voorhees’ birthday in the Middle East, it was departing KIA (Kabul International Airport) on a rattling Air Force C-130 to travel across the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and back to the Devil’s Playground in the southeastern border region. And our plane didn’t even crash.

Which leaves me to believe that next year I’ll probably be spending the 13th doing something completely normal like watching a ball game in my living room when -- à la Final Destination -- I’ll trip over my coffee table jumping to my feet after a big play, spill my beer all over the floor, crash my head through the tv screen and electrocute myself on the wiring while kneeling in a fresh puddle of Shiner Bock.

Or not.

DearJohn@Hotmail.com
Before we even left Kuwait en route back to the Iraqi front lines, the leaks began to spring up in the camelbaks of many relationships that had already endured nearly to the breaking point. In years gone by, soldiers had to wait weeks to find our that their betrothed were no longer as in love as they thought they were. But thanks to rapid advances in modern technology, our hearts can be ripped from our chests within seconds upon just the press of a computer keystroke.

One of my soldiers received just such an email from his betrothed before we had even made it to back to Baghdad. It’s fairly clear that there were cracks in the relationship that would ultimately have widened anyway once they were reunited, but to write off your loved ones before they even return from war is unconscionable. The only lower blow I can imagine is a wife sending a postcard to her wounded husband at Walter Reed to let him know that she’s "tired of waiting for him" and would like a divorce. I don’t know, I suppose a cell phone instant message would be lower. Who’s to say?

Barely a few weeks into our new mission, a letter appeared in the syndicated Dear Abby column in Stars and Stripes from an anonymous young woman in Memphis who asked for advice on whether to call off the engagement to her now-extended soldier/fiancé. Considering our brigade was the only recent unit kept past it’s one-year deployment, I’m guessing there’s only so many troops that could fit the profile of being engaged to a someone from Memphis.

And women tell us we’re the ones who have communication issues?

As my mother wrote to me recently:
I cannot for the life of me understand these women. I know I am from a very different generation...but don't the words loyalty, devotion, commitment still have the same meaning that they did for the past six decades? Do these women know history? What about the World War II soldiers who were gone for years at a time? What about POW wives (like Yuba) who wrote letters constantly...never knowing whether her letters reached her husband and never getting anything in return...for two years? She went to work everyday and of course she grieved. But did she complain and wimp out? No. She just kept writing and hoping and hanging on, never knowing if she would ever see him again.

What about Vietnam POW's wives whose husbands were imprisioned for 5 years or more. There was no cable TV then but much was written about the wives and they were often interviewed. I never heard a complaint...just sadness...but always hopefulness...and always support. I don't know what happened in their relationships later but I do know that their families were intact when they came home. I watched it on live TV (and cried) when each and every one of them got off the plane.

What is wrong with this picture? Why is this happening so much? This is not the first I've heard of this and you even talked about it in your journals in Afghanistan. It actually interests me more from a sociological standpoint...more than psychological. Is it the result of the "me" generation...the sense of entitlement that so many seem to have? But hey, you and your fellow soldiers are a part of that so-called generation...and you're not like that. How much more selfless can you be...given where you are and doing what you are doing...for all of us!
I was raised a Christian in the Episcopal Church, though much of the time I don’t really know or care anymore where I stand on religious belief or issues of faith. It’s simply a subject matter that I rarely spend much time thinking about. My wife recently rediscovered her strong relationship with God, so perhaps she can help enlighten me when I return from overseas. I look forward to that more than you could possibly know.

But for now, it’s difficult to believe that God has a plan for everyone’s life when you’re aware of and subject to so many of the routine horrors that can and do occur in a war zone. I’d like to believe that God didn’t have a plan for all of the sickening ways so many fellow soldiers have been killed or wounded here. Or the multitudes of civilians pulled out of their homes or cars and shot by the side of the road on a daily basis, with no one bothering to even check their vitals, much less offer medical attention. Or the little kids who’ve been blown to bits by people who lay exclusive claim to their god’s favor. If that’s also part of "God’s Plan," then I want nothing to do with it. To put it frankly, that plan blows.

Theological issues aside, however, I strongly feel we all determine our own fates and make our own destinies, and one thing I do believe in is what Buddhists refer to as karma. And I must say that some of these aforementioned women are going to have some serious run-ins with the karma police to look forward to. In a just world, perhaps. I’ll leave it up to others to decide whether or not we live in one.

Some Things Never Change
On a random patrol in the reportedly tenuous but recently calm district of Shaab I came across a particularly beautiful young Iraqi girl watching over a gaggle of her even younger brothers who were intently watching us. "Inti jamiylah," I whispered to her as I passed by. If there’s a female on the face of the earth that doesn’t like to be told she’s pretty, I have yet to meet her.

Once she realized it was her own language I was butchering and not my own, she smiled and blushed profusely at the compliment. A short while later I noticed to my surprise that she had repositioned herself several blocks ahead of us, so that I would again have to cross her path as we made our way through their neighborhood. I stopped as she approached me from the sidewalk, her dark eyes boring into me and a broad smile on her face.

"Looks like someone has a crush on you, dude," came the jeers from the peanut gallery of my platoon.

"Shonak," I asked her, playing along. "How are you doing?" She stared at me coyly, playing hard to get. "Shismak? What’s your name, sweetie?"

She stuck her hand out, palm up. "Mistah! Mistah! Give me money! Give me money!"

What’d I tell you. Women are the same all over the world.

Hey, Buck! Good to see a new post. You nearly always make me laugh and cringe, even when you end a post on a tacky note :) The tale of the "stool" made the backs of my knees hurt, which is a danger signal. *grin*

You folks continue to take care, but take some names, too, if permitted! As an aside, Memphis isn't too far from here - I could be persuaded to take a contract...

What a great report, as usual. I'm still in awe of your ability to see things clearly and keep a positive perspective....not to mention being able to relate it to others so well.

Perhaps the best news of all is your successful encounter with the "one-five-five's". Don't think for a minute that a positive outcome in such matters is merely coincidence.

There is a lot of truth to the existence of a plan or a purpose for us being wherever we are, and your purpose is obviously not completed yet. I sincerely hope you join your wife in discovering the many remaining purposes for your lives. May you enjoy each and every day and experience to the fullest.

Buck, your post was incredible! From the infinite and hopeless anguish of a town which lost its most respected leader through your accounts of the need for work in Baghdad, to the faithless "me" generation women to the little girl who may have been the only support for her gaggle of younger siblings: exceptional and often heart wrenching reading.

I send my best to you all and my hope and prayers for comfort and future happiness to the fellows who really did luck out in the long run in their loss of their "Dear John" women. There are far better women to be discovered when they are finally home. Now they will have a leg up on recovery - the cup is half full!!

About God: please do not attribute the evil of this world to God. When you feel an anguish over what you see that is brutal, ugly and inhumane, multiple that across the world a billion times and know His pain. He gave us free will that we would choose good, but free will allows the easy and worldly choice as well, and we live with those that makes those choices in every aspect of our lives. It challenges us to see beyond and to endeavor always to seek the better way. I am your Mom's age (thank-you for her very discerning thoughts) and know that karma is nothing more than God at a distance. "All things work for Good for those who love the Lord". I am thrilled that your wife has refound her Maker. I looked at her picture on her blog some time ago and could tell it was not surface beauty alone. She has substance, character and inner beauty there which radiates outward!! You are a luck man Buck and I pray that your path will eventually lead you back to where you are called to be, where we are all called to be.

Again thank-you for this wonderful post from Baghdad. God keep you and the Strykers in His care as you go about your duties.

Glad I stumbled on your blog. I'm laughing about "mistah, give me money." Thanks for your sacrifices and will be back to read more of your stuff.

As always, your posting is well thought out and written.

Some of us stateside have received Dear Jane letters from the men we saw off months ago. I have, and I've still continued to send packages and prayers. There are still some people who know what loyalty means.

A couple clarifications:

First off, lest anyone think me a heartless bastard, you need to lose that "We Are the World" song that may be playing in your head when you think about Iraqis. While they may appear to be a UNICEF commercial in the making, they are not as poor as they may appear. For this part of the world, they are quite well off. In fact, the majority of them currently live better than we have all year long, and especially at the moment.

Every single home has a satellite dish. It has been a mission of mine to find one that does not, but I have so far been unsuccessful. Even in the most remote, desert mud hut. Most Iraqis have cell phones. And I'm talking expensive, high-end camera phones, the quality of which I myself have never owned. You can add large screen televisions, DVD players, and desktop computers with internet access to the mix as well.

Every Iraqi home has at least one car. Some are absolute beaters, but some drive better luxury cars or high-end SUVs than I will probably ever own myself.

They have a problem with spotty electricity, true. But it's mainly due to the fact that they have all these newfangled gadgets and appliances that they never had before all plugged in at once, and coupled with all the A/C units running 24/7, makes their ancient and neglected power grids strain to the max. If you could travel back in time to the Iraqi standard of living of 2002 with the exact same power situation of today, there'd be no problems. But they can't have their cake and eat it too. If they want more electricity, stop letting people blow it up and maybe someone will come help update the system. Til then, too bad.

Kids don't beg on the street because they are hungry or destitute, they do it just because they're kids and they can't help being irritating. I have never once in 14 months seen a starving Iraqi. Seen a whole lot of fat ones, though. Kids will ask (no, DEMAND) point blank for all kinds of things, every 3 seconds of every day. "Mistah, give me your pen, camera, knife, water, food, futball, sunglasses, watch, 'chocolatah', money..." The litany is endless. They see something shiny, foreign, or expensive -- they want it, whether they have any need for it or not. You learn fast not to take too much pity on them, especially the first time you hand over your last water bottle out of sympathy when it's 120 degrees out, and they don't even drink it, but kick it around the street like a soccer ball. They weren't thirsty, you just had something they wanted, simply because it was in your hands and not theirs.

Like all kids everywhere, Iraqi children are at all times cute, sweet, annoying, bratty, endearing, selfish, greedy, and adorable. They're living in a volatile country in volatile times, but they don't deserve your pity, only your support by way of supporting the only people trying to make their futures a little brighter and their possibilities more open -- namely, us.

Secondly, before my sparse commentary on religion (or my lack thereof) leads anyone to pray for my damaged soul or think me the first confirmed case of an atheist in a foxhole, don't read too much into them. I still believe in a higher power (I'm not nearly arrogant enough to believe that I know all the answers to who or what created the universe), I am simply fed up with the various human interpretations of what I'm supposed to think it all means. My moral compass doesn't require some completely arbitrarily "chosen" guy in a funny robe, or a pointy hat, or a long beard in order to orient it.

That's just the way I feel at the moment, but it's hardly the last word on the matter. Just thought I'd clear that up.

-Buck

Buck - thanks again for a great update. Love your sense of humor.
Mosul area was "hot" and problematic 2 years ago. It's amazing what was done there. To see all these kids with backpacks going to school gives me hope. Maybe there is a hope for Baghdad as well? It takes dedication. Thank you.
Keeping your team in my thoughts... November is coming soon.

Buck, thanks for the great post. I love your "memories of us" video. You have fine talent and a gorgeous wife. what a great video.

Hey Buck--

Another great post, entertaining and informative as always. Loved the video of you and your wife...You two seem like the perfect fit and I imagine your future together is a bright one to say the least.

I am (selfishly) hopeful that you will put all of your talent to use where the rest of us can benefit from it. You truly have a powerful ability to tell a story, both through your words and pictures. I always leave your posts/movies with a whole "gaggle" of emotions churning through me. Yours is an exceptional gift indeed.

Haven't said thanks in a while....So thanks for having our backs, and thanks for keeping it real.

Buck-

I agree 100 percent with your feelings about the people of Iraq. I quit giving them what they asked for when one of them tried to give me a bayonet for a DVD player. These people must go back home and have contests to see who can tell the "dumbest soldier story." So many soldiers are gullible to the point that even though the Iraqi they are talking to is fat and drives a BMW they want to order him whatever he wants from America.

The day these people start buying non-bootleg stuff like the rest of the world and are hurting for cash I might start to feel a bit of sympathy for them. The reality is though, they buy bootleg movies, video games, CD's, etc. and pay a fraction of the real price which then goes into the pocket of some smart Turk who took his movie camera along to the theater with him. I agree with you, Karma is a bitch and when it comes around and hits these guys they will regret it. I imagine them sharing a cell in hell with Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck trying to perform Shakespeare for eternity.

As always good post but don't get suckered in by the pretty Iraqi girls, next thing you know you'll be marrying one while you are on duty and will get an Article 15 for dereliction of duty like some soldiers did in 2003. Then there will be a new crop of GWOT babies running the streets when I come back here in 2013. I have seen a few Gulf War babies and there is even one Iraqi at my base whom we call Desert Storm.

I keep coming back here because I know you'll give it to us straight. With all the gobbley gook coming from the media and the oh so know it all arm chair generals we seem to have, it's so good to get your perspective. Thank you for that!
And thank your Mom for her thoughts ~ I have been struggling with that too as I hear the "but I haven't heard from him in TWO days! Why doesn't he email me?" from so many. Maybe because he's busy with the war? Just a thought...

Thanks from a rather raspy but very appreciative Army Mom in a Code Pink town ~

Almost forgot to tell you that there used to be a guy in my unit named Jason Voorhees. Good thing he didn't come along this time. I am sure we would have all died walking to the chow hall in Kuwait as we were hours away from leaving this place. Then again I could be hours away from leaving this place and then find myself extended for an undetermined amount of time right? I'll just stay away from the internet so I won't find out whether or not we are leaving on time.

I liked your "DearJohn@Hotmail.com" part because I could write a book on the things women (and men to a lesser degree) have done to their spouses while they were gone. One met her husband as we got off the plane in America with divorce papers. Another got her rather large business to change policy about two people eating together in their cars at lunch time. Still another spent all the money the Family Readiness Group raised, for the soldiers mind you, on going out with the spouses of military husbands and cajoleing them into extra curriculur activities.

Buck,

A stellar effort as usual.

I've been following the situation in Baghdad as closely as possible from this distant vantage. Thanks for helping me with that. I think about you and your fellow soldiers daily and hope for your safe return soon.

I wanted to take up something with you that you left on Boggs'.

I'm predicting Sharia Law practiced openly in the EU by no later than 2025. And if you think it will end there, just think about the West Bank for a minute. You think of Palestinian Muslims first, do you not? Rather than the birthplace of Jesus and Christianity and the ancient homeland of the Jewish people? Now why is that, considering Islam did not even exist for another 600 some odd years? And now, with the exception of the tiny sliver of Israel, the entire area is majority Muslim. Well, it didn't get that way by "white flight" or falling property values. It was conquered by the sword, as radical Islam has always done throughout its history.

I asked you a series of questions about the Sharia law in the comment section, but more to the point, perhaps I could offer you this regarding your thesis here.

Not questioning your central point that Islam has been spread by the sword, did you stop to consider that nearly every surviving civilizaion has done the same?

The Romans, the Prodestants, the British Empire, all of the colonial powers: Spain, Portugal, France... . The entire history of man since the time of the Prophets has been a series of wars and tales of great conquest. The most recent of which, of course, is the European conquering of North America just over 200 years ago.

What I thought the world learned from WWII was that conquest was not the way forward. Technology ruined the prospects for great conquest as total annihilation would be the result.

Another lesson was that when you destroy one evil, often somehting just as evil or worse, springs up from it. In fact, something even more evil is often created. In the case of WWII, Hitler was destroyed, but in the wake of the great war, Stalin may have outdone him for sheer brutality.

Where you are, a clearly evil Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a new evil which I'm sure you are aware of. This new evil may prove to be more destructive and evil than what it replaced. So far, it seems that way. There is no one face to put on all the death, so it is a less concentrated evil, but quite evil nonetheless. I'm sure you agree.

But now Rumsfeld says there is no military solution to the problem you face, only a political one.

Isn't that what the anti-war crowd has been saying from the beginning?

(Feel free to ignore the comment, as I'm sure you have better things to do with your time).

Best of luck.

Prague Twin

You make some good points, PT. True, most civilizations have been advanced by the sword at some point or another. The problem is, the rest of us have stopped though radical Islam is still trying to catch up. They're not living in the "enlightened" 21st century. Hell, even Iraq is just now entering the 18th century. People frustrated after barely four years are being quite myopic, considering it took us hundreds to get our own act together.

Saddam wasn't replaced by a "new evil" as you put it, it was always there right under the surface. He was just very good at suppressing it, considering no media outlets reported the atrocities around the clock on cable news at the time. When people acted up in the old days like they do now, entire towns and villages were razed. Completed wiped out, every last man, woman, and child. That's why you didn't see much of an "insurgency" in those days. If we could use such tactics today (not that we should), we wouldn't have much resistance either.

My prediction on Sharia law in the EU is based on the fact that I don't believe Europeans are up to the task of defending their own civilization and values. They'll squawk a little bit, but ultimately they will simply be overwhelmed by demographics, their social policies, and an all-but nonexistent military. (If it came to that). I don't think they should count on us to bail them out of every conflict forever. One day, we may not answer the phone. They are the people who should be fearing Iran's beligerence the most.

My point is that the West cannot begin to even think about winning this generational struggle until we can be honest with ourselves about who it is we're actually fighting. The current administration is hardly blameless is this regard. They still think we're at war with some guy named "terror." While there aer many different brands of terrorists, his name is statistically much more likely to be Mohammed or Yusef than Timothy, Seamus or William.

Thank you Buck for your comment.

Buck Sargent -

I just stumbled across your blog, brother, and that collection of memoirs was truly entertaining and enlightening. You have a very direct writing style, with just enough lighthearted and sardonic mixes of cutup to keep your readers interested.

Great stories, too. I appreciate reading such personal and honest perspectives. You have found yourself an excellent venue in this blog, my friend! I will be blogrolling you on Righting America as soon as I close. If you should ever decide to add a blogroll, consider adding mine.

Keep that chin up, brother! Thanks for your service.

Timmer ~ Righting America

You make good points as well Buck.

I suppose I shouldn't say that a new evil was created, but rather another was unleashed. You and I probably agree that the planners should have seen this comming and committed more resources to the task of eliminating that not-so-new evil. If it was there under the surface, as you say, they probably should have known about it.


The question I would have is that if we are enlightened to the point of not spreading our civilization by the sword, how do you interpret the invation of Iraq in order to bring democracy?

I'm sure there are more than a few people out there that don't see the difference between what we are doing in Iraq and what the Romans did. Both believed they were bringing modern civilizaion to a backward people.

The U.S. has been guilty of raising entire areas with men, women and children to suppress the insurgency. Look at what happened in Falluja.

I know that you believe the intentions of our leaders are benevolent, but their tactics are still the same that have been used throughout history. Therefore, the perception that America is nothing but an imperialist nation forcing their will on others will thrive until, well, they stop enforcing their will by force.

I don't mean to say that there is a one-to-one correlation between the Romans, Saddam and the U.S. Just that most people in the world judge us not on the ends we are trying to accomplish, but the means by which we try to accomplish them.

Buck, we are hearing through MSM that there's been a dramatic surge in violence the past couple of days in Baghdad, and that areas like Amarra(sp?) have already fallen to the insurgents. True? From your account it sounds like the people want you to be there, contrary to reporting back here.

Buck, have not been by for a week and have just read the comment about those who have ventured religious discussion and prayers. I stand corrected and will certainly not get into that arena again. This was a mistake on my part and I agree, in retropect, a big mistake, however well intentioned.

Buck, I want to ask about Mosul. I am worried about Mosul.

We hear that things have heated up considerably in the last couple of weeks, and that there is an alarming increase in casualties among our guys, particularly connected with Baghdad and the Triangle. Our commander in chief says it's because our guys are "taking it to the enemy" more intensely, or something to that effect.

You and your unit worked miracles in Mosul and you brought relative calm to that city in bloody chaos as a result of your stellar professionalism while there.

We get very little news about Mosul recently, and I rely on locals with whom I am in contact, particularly a young lady friend about to start university. Apparently, there is a major increase in violence in the last few days through mortar and rocket attacks but also numerous suicide bombings, VBIEDs, etc.

It just sounds like 3700 of our elite troops of the 172nd pacified the city only to be replaced by a vacuum. I hope that is not true and that it is not a pattern.

Because of the hope in me left by your accomplishments, I set some small things in motion, with difficulty because of the war zone complications, to help the University of Mosul students with tangibles. This because I believe in the Iraqi people but also because I know the the Ministry of Education is useless.

Now I wonder if I am not foolish for my efforts, and if the service of our Stryker heroes of Mosul are looking back on a slap in the face.

Sorry, I'mjust a little cynical at the moment. I am grateful for you service.

Dan C.

Sorry to answer, or try to answer, a question posed to Buck but I am in or around Mosul right now and have seen the increase in violence. One explanation for the increase in attacks is Ramadan. Ramadan ends in a day or so and the bad guys have stepped up their attacks to coincide with the "holiday" as they have done in the past. The attacks have not claimed many American lives though and I am beginning to believe that the small nature of the attacks is a pure propaganda/numbers game. The more attacks the more coverage, even if the attacks don't cause as much damage.

That may be what you are hearing about but I am not sure as I don't watch the news right now. At least that is my two cents, take it for what it is worth.

I wonder if the increase (if in, fact there really is one, it's hard to tell for sure) is more for the benefit of the folks here in the US than Ramadan. The Vietminh used the timing of American elections to great effect during the Viet Nam war. This advesary is al least as media savy as they were, if not more. I doubt it has been lost on them that the democrats have been in full cry to withdraw the troops--I also doubt it has escaped them that it would be to their benefit also if we withdrew and that is more likely to happen if the Dems win. The Vietminh quite correctly gauged that we would grow war-weary before they would. Of course, this enemy is not the Vietminh and many other aspects of this war are quite different. Still, I hope we are paying attention to history....

You are a great American,and all those around you are too.Please be carefull and accept my never ending gratitude for your service and sacrifice.
You and all those who serve are bloody marvelous,cheers!

I really enjoyed reading your blog. It gives a real perspective of the war, not the things you see on television. (I boycott watching the news because of the way they portray certain things.) Also, it was enjoyable to read unlike many blogs which seem to have no purpose but to drone on about everything that particular person did that day right down to what color underwear they wore. lol. But i must say that had i not been assigned this as an assignment for my english 102 class i would have never have happened upon your blog. However, being as how it was so enlightening to me i am going to book mark it and read on a regular basis. Oh, and i agree with your mother about the women who leave their men who are fighting overseas. I think it is utterly and completely ridiculious. So, not all of us younger women are like that. But i can see where she is comming from it seems to be happening more and more now. Just recently i happened along a female whose husband was in iraq and she was cheating on him. I personally made it a point to humiliate her in public and have not spoken to her since.

Dear Buck Sargent....Thank you for every word you have written. Just like this war that you are fighting, what you have said in your many blogs may not be fully appreciated for a good while. But for the here and now please know that you have been a tremendous help to many of us as well as an inspiration to fight on and to get it right. It is strange that in a world of so many people...there are so few with clear vision and with the gift to inspire and lead others. You are one of those few. This is not an ordinary blog. It is a pearl to be respected and treasured. Thank you Buck and please be safe.
A&N

As I recall, there was a previous thread on the potential for retaliation against you by the government for your posts. In case you haven't seen it yet, you might want to read this article.

http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002844.html

My entire chain of command reportedly follows this blog to some extent. And in the previous 15 months, they've only asked me to change something ONE time and it involved a detail that was classified to some extent that I was unaware of. I was more than willing to comply with that request.

Bottom line is, I write what I want, when I want. All the "cloak and dagger" nonsense that people believe about the "silencing of dissent" in the military is just that: nonsense.

Your wife is an angel... video brought tears to my eyes.

Stay safe.

Thank you.

Buck, your blog is an amazing read! I check it regularly to see how you and your men are doing, and to learn about your laser sharp perspective of the situation. Keep up the great work. Take care of yourself, of your loved ones, and of your fellow soldiers in the field. You're our heroes! We love you!

BTW, the Stryker brigade patrolling the streets appears in several photos at Yahoo today. ( Just so you are all warned, photos of victims of bombings and other tragic sights are also in there, but it's nice to see the brave Stryker guys in action and interacting the Iraqi folks and particularly kids).

Here's a good assessment of the past month in Iraq from a trusted and reliable source:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/10292006/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_enemy_fails_opedcolumnists_amir_taheri.htm?page=0

You have been very effective in your efforts according to this article. I hope you don't get discouraged by what you see and hear, especially from some back home. There have always been pessimists throughout the ages, even in our own country's darkest hours; heck, they are even there when times have been great. Our country owes its existence not to the pessimists, but to the hard efforts and sacrifices of the many who persevered and believed in more than just quick success or selfish desires.

Think I'm exaggerating? Here's a glimpse going back to 1864, and this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; pessimism (and rioting) was actually much worse than most can imagine:

http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/2006/10/from-1864-to-2006-democrats-havent.html

Re: PragueTwin. I just read your more recent comments and feel compelled to respond to the October 20 comment. I don't mind opposing points of view, but I do expect honesty and intellectual integrity when they are presented.

Case in point: morally equating our actions in Falluja to Saddam's razing of entire villages is repugnant and dishonest. We allowed most of the inhabitants to leave before hostilities began; I believe we actually encouraged the non-combatants to leave. We certainly didn't raze the city, either. Much, if not most, of the city was left standing and was reoccupied rapidly once hostilities were over. Razing to me means nothing left standing.

A photo of a 172nd Stryker soldier is featured in this article:

http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/2006/10/iraqi-sunni-tribe-helps-rescue-shiite.html

Keep making the movies and keep sending me the great posts. I love you guys!

Hey, Buck! Just checkin' on you. Hope all is well with y'all.

TF is going home, so I'm switching over here for my dose of reality in the middle east. =)

I very much enjoyed reading this post, if enjoyment is what it is. You are articulate and interesting, as well as informative.

In case anyone was worried, no I'm not dead. Just dead tired. It's been a busy month. But we're getting ready to finally wrap things up here (assuming they let us leave this time), so I only have time for a few more posts. Look for them soon.

-Buck

Buck,

Thanks for checkin in. I look forward to your next post.

Continue to take care and stay safe.

What a relief to see even a few words from you. Thank you Buck Sargent. And yes, we all do a good share of worring about you. Will keep our eyes open for more of your insight. Now that Boggs is home our goal is to see you guys home safely as well. Strange...how the things you look forward to change in times like these.
A&N

Please tell all your men how much we respect,appreciate and care about them on this day honoring them. Come to think of it...today is not any different than every other day for us when it comes to that. We are thankful that maybe you will get to come home this time and the fact that you mentioned it in your comment above makes us glad for you but we are sorry you are so tired. I hope the thought of leaving there soon encourages each of you during the remaining days there. You are the best of America...and the world...absolutely no doubt about that. Thank you, Buck Sargent.
Neatie

Glad to see you're still with us, but sorry your tail is draggin' - to be expected, I'm sure. Still keepin' you folks at the top of my prayer list. Take good care.

Thank you for updating us Buck, have been keeping you in my thoughts. I am praying that you are truly redeploying soon, stay safe out there.

Hey Buck-

Glad to hear that you are still in one piece.

Now that Rummy is on the golf course full time, you really may get to come home soon. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on his "retirement" in the future.

It's a little late, but thanks to you and all veterans on this Veteran's Day weekend.

God speed.

So glad to see an update from you! Looking forward to your next posts and esp. the ones after you get home!

I pray that you return safely to your wife, and for some well-deserved R&R, SOON. I have a selfish wish that you will post when you are at home sometimes, so we may keep up with you. I don't comment much, and in my Heart you are "Family", and as such, much loved. God bless you and give you supreme Strength. Thank you for your devotion to duty and unswerving dedication to the United States of America and Freedom. Go, Buck, GO! rah-rah!! Hugs to you and your team. ~Nurse Karen in a pink state {*sigh*-whispers: california} ;)

http://i91.photobucket.com/albums/k320/Kee90713/GodGivesUS_Strength.jpg
Hope you get to come home for some holiday loving! Not all us women want money; some of us want a naked Loving FAITHFUL man in bed!!! Screw diamonds; I'll take something else hard as a rock and worth its weight in gold...*grin* Hang in there, Hoo-Rah!

fuck all american soldiers and citizen and jews and europan

Somebody got up on the wrong side of the rock!

I feel like there's a split in this country between blogs like this one and blogs like Simon and the Lefties (which I linked to, but it's not mine). It's a blog set up in the name of not supporting the troops (other stuff too, but mostly that).

The last election only exacerbated the problems.

Here's the link to SoL.

http://simonandthelefties.blogharbor.com/blog

How do we heal our divisions?

Solar C,

Your premise is off. Different points of view (you call them "divisions") are part of human nature, and no "healing" is necessary unless one is sick or injured. Why would you want to heal divisions with extremist thinkers or fanatics? They represent a minority undeserving of others compromising with them, and "divisions" with such cold-hearted ideologues are, IMO, a healthy attitude.

I think most Americans are more in the middle and in broad agreement on more topics than you think. But seeing that requires looking past the headlines and the fiery press from both sides. If anything, the razor thin margin of victory for the Democrats confirms that the American pendulum is smack down the middle. In fact, it's already frustrating the left fringes.

To Buck's credit, his blog is not all that partisan. He has his opinions, but I perceive his ideas to be more often pro-American, than pro-Republican or pro-Democrat. And that's something valuable for us from an eyewitness like him in Iraq. And it's also an attitude we should champion.

Christian

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"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed." -- Abraham Lincoln