Thursday, August 30, 2007

Backpacks for the kids

Operation Homefront organizes a Back-To-School backpack giveaway for military dependents. The Washington state chapter got together on Fort Lewis last weekend to hand out backpacks, loaded with supplies such as notebooks and pens/pencils, notecards, rulers, even crayons for the younger crowd.

We started off bright and early - I had to be at the base by 7am to join the caravan to the community center. Since I live an hour's drive north of the base, I was up way early. Good thing they provided coffee and donuts as promised, though!

We had plenty of Operation Homefront volunteers ...

And the 'customers' sure seemed happy ...

... Although many times the Moms looked much happier about the whole Back To School thing than the kids did ... *grin*.

We handed out backpacks from about 8am till 2:30 pm. There were moments of heavy scurrying, separated by periods where we wondered if we were taking hundreds of backpacks home with us! But at the end of the day, we packed the lack 20 or so into a car to be delivered to another post. Counting the 35 or so that were loaded up for one of the Navy base units, that means we handed out about 500 backpacks.

We had a blast. The chance to give back something tangible was wonderful. And the look on some of the parents faces as they realized that the backpacks were truly free -AND- came with supplies, was precious.

But my favorite moment happened when one of the Moms realized her phone was ringing. It was her husband, currently deployed in Iraq! She finished signing for the backpacks for her two girls, and they talked for a bit. Then he talked to the girls - who happily told Daddy all about their neat new backpacks. Their excitement absolutely made my day complete.

Friday, August 24, 2007

When helicopters fall

We mourn for the families and friends of the soldiers lost in the crash of a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq - some of whom were based here at Fort Lewis.

Killed were the following soldiers assigned to the 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Air Cavalry Regiment, Fort Lewis, Wash.:
Capt. Corry P. Tyler, 29, of Georgia.
Chief Warrant Officer Paul J. Flynn, 28, of Whitsett, N.C.
Sgt. Matthew L. Tallman, 30, of Groveland, Calif.
Spc. Rickey L. Bell, 21, of Caruthersville, Mo.

Also killed were the following soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii:
Capt. Derek A. Dobogai, 26, of Fond du Lac, Wis.
Staff Sgt. Jason L. Paton, 25, of Poway, Calif.
Sgt. Garrett I. McLead, 23, of Rockport, Texas.
Cpl. Jeremy P. Bouffard, 21, of Middlefield, Mass.
Cpl. Phillip J. Brodnick, 25, of New Lenox, Ill.
Cpl. Joshua S. Harmon, 20, of Mentor, Ohio.
Cpl. Nathan C. Hubbard, 21, of Clovis, Calif.
Spc. Michael A. Hook, 25, of Altoona, Penn.
Spc. Jessy G. Pollard, 22, of Springfield, Mo.
Spc. Tyler R. Seideman, 20, of Lincoln, Ark.

I'll be helping out with the Operation Backpack handout tomorrow at Fort Lewis. The event ought to be a time for children to giggle as they ready themselves for school. This changes the tone a bit, but we'll make sure that the kids are taken care of, while remembering the sacrifice of all of the fallen.

As at the Castle, now is the time when we dance In Memoriam.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

OMV Sends: Operation Alljah

Sometime after 0200 Operation Alljah began in a middle-class neighborhood in northern Fallujah. The Marines of the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines occupied a police precinct and began a swarm or strategic blocking off of the streets, in order to control access both in and out of the neighborhood. That morning, by the time I arrived with the 5/10, a civil affairs unit out of Camp Lejeune, the 2/6 were firmly ensconced in the east side of the concrete precinct, the 5/10 took the west and the Iraqi Police seemed to have everything in control.

Since traveling north from Kuwait on an Army convoy, and crossing into Baghdad, and later Camp Fallujah, I had always heard stories of how bad, corrupt and unprofessional the Iraqi police is. "They smile at us because they know there's an IED planted ahead," said one platoon leader. An Iraqi interpreter said they were "not to be trusted", and troops in the Green Zone handled all security so they had little interaction with the Iraqi police and even fewer compliments.

That all changed when we were at the police precinct in Fallujah and a police officer blocked a suicide bomber from passing through the 2nd layer of security for screening potential recruits. Although the press reported 20 victims, there was in fact only one, the suicide bomber. Call me old-fashion, but when someone protects you, even inadvertently, I feel he's due a fresh benefit of the doubt, so I talked to a couple of police officers and recruits through the interpreter.

Most of the officers were from the neighborhood or Fallujah, which meant they were taking a great risk. The "bad guys" as the interpreter called them, often targeted the politicians, the businessmen and the police. Many officers wore ski-masks so as not to be recognized by someone who may have had issues with authority figures, and what figures they were. In their ill-fitting blue shirts, mismatched uniforms and barely any firepower, the Fallujah police were a Sunni version of the keystone cops.

Despite my perception of Iraqi Police, there was a line of over 300 men who wanted to join the auxiliary neighborhood watch program, with the aspiration of becoming one of those policemen. Marines from the 2/6 and 5/10 attempted to barter for the Fallujah Police t-shirts, but I didn't see any of the officers make the exchange (the last bid in earshot was $50 dollars, which represented a month's pay for some). The Iraqi army, many of whom were shia foreigners to the city, was better armed and, most felt, better trained, but the men of the Fallujah police force knew the terrain and gathered more valuable intelligence. Historically very insular, someone from Fallujah confided more in a fellow Fallujan than in any foreigner, American or otherwise. The police precinct showed promise, I learned that a police officer had uncovered information on insurgent activity that lead to an arrest.

Since their arrival, the infantrymen of the 2/6 had taken an RPG and some small arms fire. A young lieutenant told me an Iraqi police recruit, who was shot in the finger, proudly showed him the wound and told him he was happy to prove himself to the Marine. The lieutenant later remarked "He didn't have to go through that much trouble to prove himself," I thought about how much these current and future officers would have to face to make the city and concluded that maybe he did.

H/T to Maj Pain at One Marine's View.

Friday, August 17, 2007

US Soldiers rescue baby from war zone

Another positive story about our troops ...

Aug. 17: Against all odds, a 9-month-old Iraqi girl is alive and well in an American military hospital. One of the soldiers responsible for rescuing her talks about her amazing journey.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Catching Up

I finally got to meet the Ziegenfusses (Ziegenfi?) here in Seattle yesterday {happy dance}! Chuck and Carren are much fun to spend time with, and I was only sorry that we had limited time to spend. (Hope you two had fun at the Space Needle!) Ever since Chuck blogged about coming to Fort Lewis for the summer, I've been trying to figure out how to hook up with him. So it was ironic that I discovered Chuck was trying to reach me by reading this post ... before I checked my cell phone!

Other items that I have been slack on posting about:

Vets for Freedom Week 6: "Cost of Defeat" Call in Campaign
YouTube Smackdown (H/T to Castle Argghhh!)
Maj Pain is starting up a One Marine's View mailing list - join up!

Views from Ground Level:

Michael Yon
Go Jack Army
Fightin 6th Marines
Francis Marion
Joel Maxwell

Friday, August 03, 2007

Watch "The Anvil of God"

I got this in an email from a friend, and will try to watch, even though it means tuning to *shudder* CNN...

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have exciting news! As many of you are aware, I have spent the last few months working on a one hour documentary about the November 2004 Battle for Falluja. The program, The Anvil of God, is scheduled to air this Friday (8/3) at 10pm eastern.

This is the third hour that I have produced with correspondent Tom Foreman. (Ambush at the River of Secrets and The Lion in the Village) Our hope in creating Anvil is for viewers to pause and consider the sacrifices made every day by the men and women serving overseas and their families back home.

The Anvil of God tells the story of Camp Lejeune’s 1/8 Bravo Company. Bravo went into Falluja believing the battle would last 96 hours. It lasted five weeks. As they walked the entire city the Marines fought heated battles, searched house to house and faced their mortality on a daily basis. The Marines of Bravo were the tip of the spear as Americans progressed through the Falluja and they suffered numerous casualties as a result.

I appreciate all of the interest many of you have expressed in this project and hope that you will be able to tune in!

Spread the word!

The Anvil of God CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 FRIDAY 8/3 – 10P EASTERN

Best, Amanda

Amanda Townsend Producer CNN - Anderson Cooper 360

People you should know

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Allan Davison and Chief Warrant Officer Micah Johnson are awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions in rescuing two other pilots on July 2.

Chief Davison and Chief Johnson made sure their brothers came home. Because that's what troops do.

Somebody please clue in the MSM. As of this morning, there is scarcely a mention of these two fine soldiers in the news, and nothing in the major newspapers at all. Shameful.