News from the front

It’s been a long time since I have relied exclusively on the news media’s biased reporting concerning our progress in the GWOT (or anything else for that matter). I prefer the unfilitered perspectives of those who are on the scene, Iraqis and soldiers. Yesterday I got an email from Ranger Bill, the COL I reported through when I first arrived in Korea. He is retiring later this year but volunteered to spend his last year in uniform serving in Iraq. He’s no bullshitter. Here’s the scoop from the front lines:

Sorry it has been five months since my last update, but then, we have been busy. Let me give you the bottomline up front (BLUF), and then catch you up on things. Feel free to forward this to whomever, since we still can’t seem to get the press to tell folks what is going on. This is how the fight is going from my foxhole, and it is much more than the bombings, US casualties, and rumors of civil war the press seems to be focused on.

BLUF: We are not, and have not been, on the verge of civil war. We have had an increase in killings by militia groups in the past five weeks, and that is not helping get the new government seated, but we (the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Coalition Forces) are far from losing control.

As you probably noted, Al Qaida and the other insurgent groups were not able to mount a Tet like offensive this past fall. Iraqi and US operations prevented them from organizing major attacks, and the ISF did a superb job of securing the polling sites. Iraq ratified a constitution and conducted a credible election. Although the Iraqis face some significant challenges forming the new government, the basics of democracy are present and taking root.

Saddam’s trial is making progress, albeit painfully slowly. The new judge is ensuring the defendants receive due process and a fair trial, while eliminating their ability to turn the trial into a political circus. Saddam’s and the others’ security continue to be one of my personal headaches, so I am a big fan of keeping the trial moving.

2006 is the Year of the Police, which means our focus is to get the Iraqi police forces trained and operational. We continue to work to rebuild the Iraqi Army, which assumes responsibility for more battle space each week. It is the ability of the Iraqi Army to take the fight to the enemy that allowed us to turn off two US replacement brigades at the end of 2005. The Iraqi Army is having successes and failures, but is steadily improving. Recently they have conducted a number of truly outstanding operations, both in conjunction with us and on their own. The police are not as far along, hence our focus on them in 2006. What you don’t see in the media is the tremendous courage of most of the Soldiers, Policemen, and Judges who take significant risk each day to bring stability to their country. I lost an Iraqi friend last week who was the leader of the security of the prison where we send our convicted terrorists to serve their sentences. Another equally brave corrections officer stepped up immediately to take his place.

The fight against Al Qaida is going well. They have chosen to make Iraq the battleground against the US, and this has enabled us to kill or capture significant numbers of their senior leadership, and put a dent in their funding. They believe they can prevail by killing US Soldiers, and waiting for the US public to tire of the war and casualties, and bring us home. As I talk to Soldiers around Iraq, they overwhelmingly believe in what they are doing and why they are doing it. They know they are winning, and are frustrated by what they see and hear in the news about America questioning why we are here. In my opinion, it is much better to fight these terrorists in Iraq vice in the US.

Our counterinsurgency strategy continues to focus on: offensive operations to kill or capture insurgents; train and reinforce the Iraqi Army and police forces to conduct the counterinsurgency; establish a strong democratic Iraqi government; and rebuild the infrastructure and economy. The interagency process is working fairly well in Baghdad (Washington could take a lesson), with most of my contacts being with the Departments of State and Justice. One of our two largest challenges is to get the Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds to work together. No one party/sect has a majority in the newly elected Council of Representatives, so learning to compromise and put together alliances in the government will be key to success. Who is selected to head the Ministries of Defense and Interior (police) is also key; we really need individuals who are secular, and are clearly not tied to any of the various militia groups. The militias are the other major challenge to success here. We will have to disarm them, weed them out of the government, and neutralize their ability to terrorize the citizens of Iraq. This will be at least as challenging as getting the major sects to work together, but not impossible. On top of these two challenges, we have the Iranian influence to combat. Our neighbors to the east are intent on destroying this attempt at democracy, and infiltrate and support terrorists at every opportunity. The Judiciary continues to be a success story, and it remains strongly independent and resistant to executive branch influence. As a side note, we got our first death sentence in a Coalition case this week; one of the Al Qaida terrorists who participated in the beheading of Nick Berg.

I could not have been prouder than to spend my final Thanksgiving and Christmas in uniform with the outstanding young Americans who are serving here as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. Thanksgiving morning dawned clear and crisp at 45 degrees with a 20 knot wind. Although it was warm by Minnesota and Korea standards, it was chilly for the desert as we donned our body armor and loaded our HMMWVs for the convoy to Abu Ghraib. Had a great dinner in the mess hall there with the Soldiers, and spent the afternoon checking fighting positions and guard towers. That evening I spent some talking with the joint service members of our intelligence unit, a section of which is dedicated to finding our one MIA, SGT Keith Maupin. They are out on missions each week, intent on bringing him home.

Troop morale continues to remain high. The Soldiers can see the difference they are making, whether killing bad guys, training the Iraqi forces, or improving the living conditions for Iraqis. They can no longer give beanie babies to the kids, because Al Aqaida has taken to placing explosives in them, giving them to kids, blowing their arms off or killing them, and blaming the Americans. This is a tough fight, and we are once again up against an enemy who has no moral compass. Our kids continue to excel at every mission, and are undaunted in their task. If anyone has any doubts about this generation, they can erase them. 2006 will be a decisive year. We have the opportunity to do a battle handoff to the Iraqis for the lead in the counterinsurgency fight, and begin to reduce our combat presence. Concurrently, we must continue to coach and mentor the Iraqi Government as it continues its journey toward democracy. We will need to be here for awhile, but my assessment is that this is the make or break year. I’m betting on our Soldiers and the Iraqi people.

Take heart, we are winning.

More of the same

I really must be a creature of habit, or routine at least. I’ve settled into my weekly rituals of bar games (and the requisite recovery periods) and y’all must be as sick of hearing about that as I am of writing about it. Year two in Korea is without much adventure thus far, but I do have some dreams about changing that. I’m going to keep those dreams to myself for now because I don’t want to jinx things, but if it comes to pass things will be infinitely more exciting around here. Stay tuned.

Ok, I do have to just mention my dart exploits briefly. Saturday night at the Blue Frog tourney resulted in a second place finish. And Monday night at Bless U resulted in a most excellent first place. My partner on Monday was Mr. Kim (who was on the team that beat us out for first Saturday). An excellent player, but we were both a little off our games. Despite our struggles, we kept finding a way to win. The championship round was a thrill. We played Petro (the dart league President) and his partner Mr. Lee, another solid player. We started with a real cut throat game of cricket, lots of pointing and very intense, but Mr. Kim hit a double bull to win it for us in the end. Then it was ‘o1 (a game where you start with 701 and subtract the total of your darts, and you have to finish by hitting a double out) and they were dominating us. I was my usual inconsistent self, scoring like: 41, 22, 30, Ton, 22 and so on. Mr. Kim was actually throwing worse. and we still had 176 on the board when our opponents were shooting a 16 double out. Then I hit a ton-60 (160 points-the most you can score is 180, which is 3 triple 20s). My next turn I hit the double-1 out for the win. Real exciting finish and I was congratulated on my play by some really great dart players. It was definitely the high point of my darts “career”.

Anyway, also went to Namdemun market Saturday. First time there (yeah, pretty amazing that I’ve not made it there after all this time). Ordered some glasses that I pick up this weekend. I’ll try and get some pics when I go back.

Yikes, I’m going to be late for work! Gotta go.

Dart maniac

Not much new here, other than darts. I’ve been playing LOTS of darts. League is on hiatus for a couple of weeks while the war games are going on, so I have been occupying myself with darts tournaments.

Saturday night was the weekly tourney at the Blue Frog. Basically everyone just shows up at 1930 and signs up. Entry fee is 5000W. Then numbers are drawn and you are assigned a partner. Now, must of the participants are ‘A’ league players, then there is a smattering of us ‘B’ and below types. It really is the luck of the draw, but if you get with one of the top players and don’t totally suck you can do well. I drew a mid-range ‘A’ player as a partner and we had a nice ride. Until we encountered the top player in Itaewon (a Korean who goes by CH) who had a ‘A’ partner. We fought valiantly, but in vain, and settled for 2nd place. Still, that was good for a 20,000W payout. My first money winnings at darts and I was pretty thrilled about that.

Last night we did a tourney at the Bless U bar. In addition to the pool from the 5000W entry fee, the bar owner kicked in another 100,000W. In the first round I drew a lower end ‘A’ player. We struggled a bit but held on for a 3rd place finish. In the second round I drew Duke, who has kinda been my dart mentor and also plays for Dolce Vita. You may recall Duke was there on the night of my accident and escorted me to the hospital.

Duke is good enough to be in the ‘A’ league, in fact he is ranked in the top five. So, I was feeling comfortable and confident as we entered play. Duke was off his game a bit but I was playing a little over my head, so we balanced out nicely. I doubled out in 01 twice, had a couple of Tons (hundred point marks) and closed out cricket with a couple of bulls to boot. Anyway, we made it to the championship game. And we were faced with my nemesis from Saturday night, CH and his partner Jim, the co-owner of Dolce Vita. CH is top dog and Jim throws much like I do, a little to inconsistent to be considered good, but dangerous when he’s on, especially when it comes to shooting bulls. So we were definitely the underdogs.

Our first leg (game) was cricket. And it was a slugfest. Lots of pointing (scoring extra marks on a number your oppenent has not closed). So it eventually came down to bulls and I threw the winning dart. Then it was time for 701. We got off to an early lead, but CH got hot and it came down to them shooting for a double out 16, and we were shooting at the 2. And by god, I hit it and we were the champs. Payout was 100,000W. WooHoo! Damn I was excited.

I don’t know, I’m just enjoying the hell out of darts. I’m decent at it, and after all the humiliation I suffered in pool it felt good to beat the champ. Now, 9 times out of 10 that ain’t gonna happen, but it did last night. I’m meeting some new people and having a great time and that’s enough for me these days.

Sometimes I lament that I spend most of my time in the company of other foriegners. I mean, that’s not taking full advantage of this Korea experience. But then again, so what? I’m here and having fun and that’s alright too.

So that’s my news. Oh, we had a big fire on post last week and the people issues associated with that have generated some work. I have some great pics I will try to post later. Now I have to head on down to Dolce Vita and get some pool practice in. League game tomorrow night. My pool is what it is, but I owe it to the team to at least make some effort at improving. Hopefully my good mojo from last night will carry over. We shall see.

It’s all good

Sorry to all who care for not being regular in my updates here. Truth be told, I’ve just not had much to say. I’m into a comfortable routine these days of going to work, playing pool, darts, CIV, and reading other people’s blogs. Which may not sound like much of a life, but it seems to be working for me. I guess sometimes you just have to embrace the simple pleasures and not think too much about what you are missing. At least that has been working for me.

I’ve been feeling alright physically, so who needs a physical, right? Truth be told, it is just too much of a pain in the ass to get treatment at the base hospital. You have to pay up front and bill your own insurance. And I guess if something is seriously wrong with me, I don’t really want to know. Ignorance is bliss and all that. And I do know that my attitude about that is in fact ignorant, ok?

I’ve been having a blast in the dart league. I’m too inconsistent to call myself a good player, but I’ve been winning. I’m ranked in the top third of my division and my status on the team has gone from fill-in to being counted on. I’ve not had a competitive outlet since I retired from playing softball, so I’m really enjoying that aspect of the game too. Not to mention, being old and fat doesn’t affect your game. HooAh! I’m going down to the Blue Frog tonight to play in the doubles tourney. It’s mostly “A” calibre players (I am in the “B” division) but they do a blind draw so if I hook up with someone good, who knows, I might get lucky and win some money. Worst case I get some practice in throwing under pressure.

I am playing pool with more confidence and competence too. Still losing mostly, but not losing ugly. Actually, our team has been playing well but we always seem to get snakebit with bad luck and lose close games and matches. Ah well, its a good group and we don’t get down on each other when things go wrong. Some of the teams in the league are just ugly to each other. Win or lose, we have fun and that’s what its really all about.

Work has been busy but not so much as to be a problem. Arcelia left last week and I already miss her tremendously. She was a good comrade. She wasn’t able to sell her car so she left it with me to sell. It was a pain in the ass, I had to get an exception to policy (only one vehicle is allowed) which let me park it on post. Had to insure it, and register it and all that. She brought if over from Japan so it is right hand drive, which made it more difficult to sell. But sell it I did yesterday. Which meant some more hassle with transfering ownership and all the associated paperwork (took two hours of my day), but it is done. I mailed Arcelia a check yesterday. She wound up with quite a bit less than she was asking, but what she is getting is considerably more than nothing. Which is what she was facing before I stepped in. So, I did my good deed, although I kept a couple hundred for my trouble. (Ah, did you really think I was a nice person?)

Not much else to report. The weather is starting to warm up so I will soon be able to get out and about a little more. Even if it is just a hike up Namsan or along the Han river it will be good to be a little more active. Carol is talking about coming in May for a visit and wants me to take her to China. That’s something to look forward too.

Kevin asked me what I thought of the entire Dubai ports deal. You know, I’m just having a hard time getting worked up over politics these days. And that whole fiasco was pure politics. Cripes, America has been selling itself for years. If I was going to get incensed it would be the sorry state of our merchant marine, that’s a real national secruity issue. Port security is a joke, but that has nothing to do with who is managing the terminals. Hell, the Chinese and Koreans own the west coast operations, why doesn’t Congress care about that?

I think what is really happening is that Americans are waking up to the fact that a certain percentage of the followers of Islam are insane. After weeks of rioting over cartoons, is it any wonder that perceptions are changing? My thinking is that the Muslim extremists are to be more pitied than feared. They are like rabid dogs. Now, you don’t get angry at a rabid dog. You just kill it. It’s the only sensible thing to do. A day of reckoning is coming, and I don’t believe its going to be pretty. Americans are not big on nuance. If we feel threatened we will strike. I think its gonna be real interesting to see what we do about Iran. I wouldn’t want to be investing in infrastructure there these days.

In other news, the State Department just screwed us over big time this week. We were getting a 5% premium on our pay called Post Differential. It was basically extra pay for dealing with the hardship of living in Korea. The State Department decided that life here is not all that hard. Well, honestly I have it easier than most, what with commissary and post exchange privalages. But on the other hand, we are forward deployed and Mr. Kim, Jung-Il has a bunch of chemical artillery shells (and maybe nukes) 50 miles away and pointed right at Seoul. I think living with the risk of almost certain death should war break out is worth a 5% bonus. That’s a lot of beer!

Oh well, as I say its all good. Thanks to all for your kindness and support. I will try and stay in touch on a more regular basis.

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

Today my son turns 28. Amazing, especially since I am only 30. Ok, time’s marching forward for all of us. Kevin is a very special young man and by the only measure of success that matters he has accomplished much. Because he is loved.

Sorry I can’t be there to celebrate. Instead I will cherish the memory of the day he was born. I was there in the delivery room to watch him enter this world and the feeling was overwhelming when I first saw my little boy.

Over the years I never really made it easy for him, but he has always been a source of pride and joy in my life. The greatest pleasure of being a parent is seeing your child become the vision of what you hoped and dreamed they would be. Kevin is a good man. As much as he is loved and respected by those who know him, he returns in spades by being a loyal friend, a loving husband, and someone who cares about making a difference in the lives he touches. When your son becomes the kind of person you would like to be its an amazing thing to behold.

Kevin, my wish for you today is that you will know and appreciate all that makes you special. It is easy to get caught up in the race to achieve your full potential. But remember to enjoy the moment that is now and to savor all the wonderful blessings in your life. You done good, son. I love you.

Damn it to hell

I could bite nails. I wrote a long and beautiful post this morning chock full of the wonderful details of my life. A masterpiece filled with wit and charm. I was even going to attach a photo, but when I went to upload it I got one of those dreaded “windows has encountered an error and must shut down” messages, and my brilliant post was lost for posterity….

I am too frustrated to try and recreate today. Tomorrow. I promise.