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Trigger Puller Boots on the ground, steel on target -- the pointy end of the spear.

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Old 04-11-2009   #41
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Default Baghdad

Baghdad

April 2003. After we reached downtown Baghdad, we did not have a mission. The original plan ended south of Baghdad with us cordoning the city while someone else went in. Thomas Ricks documents the strategic blundering in Fiasco: The American Misadventure in Iraq, but the events on the ground were much more traumatic.

The most important thing that you learn when conducting a raid in a house is to find a job. If your sector is clear, then you help your buddies by finding something important to do. There is always work to be done during a clearing mission, and that’s what we did in Baghdad. In the absence of a plan or orders, we found a job.

The neighborhood was nestled somewhere deep inside northwestern Baghdad, past the Abu Gharaib prison, north of Saddam International Airport, and a couple of blocks from the Mother of All Battles (MOAB) mosque. I can probably still pick it out on a map. The remnants of a Republican Guard artillery unit were scattered everywhere- the neighborhood littered with artillery pieces, ammunition, grenades, and artillery shells. When we arrived, the children were tossing hand grenades back and forth for fun. I was flabbergasted.

I ordered the platoon to remain in their tanks, and I took two soldiers and began going door-to-door desperately seeking someone who could speak English. Finally, I met Ali. He became my first translator. We sent the children home. The following day, we went house to house again ordering all the men to come outside and clean up the area. No one volunteered. I was irritated. My men and I cleaned up the neighborhood by ourselves.

The next day, Ali invited me to his home for tea. I brought a bag of Starbuck’s Breakfast blend coffee as a gift. He found it amusing, but thanked me nonetheless. We met in the sitting room and drank some wonderful chai. Being a guest, I would never be admitted past the sitting room into the privacy of their home. Completely covered, his wife darted in and out of the room providing refreshments and snacks. I’ve never been subtle, so I asked him to explain his society to me. I explained that in America, the wife runs the home, and there is no way I could ever force her to wear that type of dress.

At first, he didn’t understand what I was saying. After three or four tries, he burst out laughing.

“Mike, it’s no different here. I’ll be damned if I try to tell my wife what to do in the home. We just have different customs. Outside the house, I am the head of the household. Inside the home, my wife is in charge. In Islam, women wear the veil as a means of respect for their husbands- it’s how they submit to Allah; it’s part of their jihad.”

Although I did not agree with it, it made sense. Anyways, it was their culture, and who was I to tell them how to live? I certainly had enough problems of my own to fix in order to live a righteous life. I then asked him to explain jihad. It was foreign to me, and I only had pictures in my head of the planes hitting the twin towers.

“Mike, jihad is two-fold: 1. one’s never ending inner struggle to live a life that is acceptable to Allah, 2. Society’s attempts to live collectively in peace.”

I had so much to learn. We talked for many hours over his future employment, the hope for his children, and the wonderful things that would happen now that Saddam was gone. I thanked him for the chai, and I said goodbye.

The next day, we moved back to Abu Gharaib.
I never saw Ali again.
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Old 04-11-2009   #42
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Default Flowers in the streets

Flowers in the Streets

After the Thunder Runs, Baghdad rested for several weeks before erupting into utter violence. We expected flowers in the streets, a simple measure of gratitude for liberation. Instead, Iraqis flocked to our tanks asking for money, cell phones, internet, and Walmart. You name it, they begged for it. I did not know what to make of it. In one of my dumber moments, I deflected responsibility to “the next unit,” the guys who would relieve 3rd Infantry Division. My war was supposed to be over. After a year in the Middle East, we attacked from Kuwait to Baghdad in shock and awe.

I did not know what to do. I assumed we had a plan in place for reconstruction and stability operations. I suppose that is what I get for assuming. In one of my final patrols, I saw some graffiti on the walls. The memory strikes vividly to this day. In English, it stated, “#### Bush, Go Home.” I wasn’t sure how to interpret that at the time. When we drove through the streets, the people respectfully waved and smiled. Right after we redeployed to Kuwait, 1LT Graham White, a friend and former roommate serving in the Ranger Regiment, was struck with one of the first IEDs, a small explosive device thrown from a bridge. After twice being declared clinically dead, he made it back to a full recovery. I started thinking maybe we had messed something up in our assumptions on the validity of this war.

Safely back at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I asked my new commander about my concerns.

“Sir, this doesn’t feel right. I don’t think Iraq is going to end so quickly.”

“Mike, you’re thinking too much. Within six months, this place will be like Bosnia.

I wish I had been wrong. I wish there had been flowers in the streets. Upon redeployment, I could hardly step foot on a tank. I hated to pick up my weapon and go to the range for marksmanship training. I would cry uncontrollably driving in to work. I had raging headaches that would not go away. My vision was blurred. I could not understand what was wrong with me. I hid my shame under the medals of valor on my chest. I thought maybe that would make it better. It did not work. I was searching for validation of our deeds as Iraq began to descend into chaos.
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Old 04-11-2009   #43
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Default Things fall apart

Things Fall Apart

“Well, I still get to call you CPT Few for now. After a year of therapy I have reached normal for the recall skills of someone who has suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which simply means that I am an average retard person. I still have consistent headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and photophobia. On top of all that, I am still kicking myself in the ass for leaving the mission. That has been one of the hardest things for me to handle. I was finally doing what I had spent my adult life training to do, and I left before I was finished.”
-Wounded Paratrooper

“You stole my past, my present, and my future.”
-Female school teacher in Zaganiyah to SSG Joshua Kinser (A/5-73 Recon), July 2007.


January 2007.* I walked up and down that road.* Inside, I challenged God.* I screamed at him to take my life.* Let them be.* I pleaded with him to let these boy’s go home to see their families.* *I tempted fate.* Allah did not listen.

Everyone was scared.* We were walking into unknown territory. No one wanted to go down that road, but it was the only way.* It was the only path to Turki Village.* Every twenty meters or so, the road would explode, and I would lose another man.* We’d stop, begin treatment, call the air medevac, and wait.

The road was scattered with plastic double-stacked Italian anti-tank mines.* They were dug deep into the ground, and we had no way to identify them.* I tried mine plows, mine detectors, explosive ordinance disposal teams, and bulldozers.* Nothing worked.

We didn’t know what Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) were at that time; however, deep inside me, I knew.* I watched my boys’ minds fade away.* They were simply gone.* They could not even count from one to ten.* They couldn’t remember anything.* I knew this decision would haunt me for the rest of my life.* I knew, and I didn’t care.* We had to go to Turki Village, and I decided I would get there if it cost me everything.

I didn’t know what to do, but I knew everyone was watching me.* I was commanding over 200 men: Americans and Iraqi Kurds, tankers, scouts, infantry, field artillery, and engineers.* I did the only thing that I could think of- I got pissed off, tempted fate, and walked up and down the road to encourage my men.*

*We had just left a village.* I can’t remember the name of it, but it scared me.** I was no longer easily scared.* The village was completely empty.* Al Qaeda had cleansed it.* A week later, a tribal sheik would show me the video of the bodies on his cell phone, but I already knew.* They had drug out everyone-men, women, and children, and they summarily executed them in the canals.* There were at least 100 people in this village.* Now, it was empty.

Al Qaeda had set up a command and control center in the town’s square.* They used the roof to observe us as we came down the road.* We were able to kill most of the reconnaissance elements, but two escaped by low crawling through the brush.* I ordered my men to burn the brush.* We would finally catch up with those men two days later.* They would not survive.

Inside the command and control center, there was a communications room, sleeping area, medical station, and torture room.* On the radio, I was asked repeatedly how I knew it was a torture room.* I was frustrated trying to articulate what we were seeing.* My higher headquarters wanted pictures and video tape for exploitation.* Moose started laughing.* He walked into the torture room, licked his finger, touched the stained wall, tasted it, and said, “Yep, sir, it’s blood.”* I nearly fell over laughing.* That story was amusing to tell to my boss.*

We found an underground tunnel network extending around the compound.* The design was pretty innovative- it appeared to be bomb-proof.*

Throughout the town, signs were placed on the doors- “Apostates-You are Rejecters of the Faith- you will die.”*

The villagers’ crime was being Shia.

After a long series of discussions all the way up to the division commander about collateral damage, we were finally given the authority to destroy the command and control center.* As we moved back onto the road, an F-16 dropped a 500 pound bomb.* In some ways, I thought maybe this would make it better.


The War Machine rumbled south towards Turki Village.* We would make this right.*
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Old 04-11-2009   #44
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Default Zaganiyah

7 May 2007. Septar let her through. He stepped back, and gave me a wicked smile of sarcasm-a knowing smile, one that penetrated my soul and showed the depths of his inhumanity. She walked towards me, three inches away. I could smell her sweat and the years of ingrained turmoil. She thrust herself to the ground. She threw sand upon her face repeatedly, slapped her cheeks, and screamed in Arabic, “Walla, Walla (I swear, I swear)!!!” She begged for forgiveness for her sons. Alas, they had served as scouts for Al Qaeda, and they were in prison. She begged for relief and forgiveness. She pulled out her ###, slapped it harshly as a means of signifying the evil that she had bore from her groins and nursed through childhood, and she cried incessantly. She thrust her arms and hands upon me, the sand leaving a mark upon my cheek, scraping down my body and kissing my feet. With the wisdom of Solomon, I offered no reprieve and no outward signs of remorse. To compound the situation, she was Moose’s aunt, and her brother, MAJ Karim, had been assassinated by AQIZ.

Septar laughed. I had passed his test. I went to lunch with Al Qaeda. -Zaganiyah, 7 May 2007
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Old 04-11-2009   #45
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Default Qubbah

March 20, 2008. Almost a year ago today, I climbed out of my HMMWV in utter shock and total disbelief. The bicyclist that I had inspected only moments prior detonated himself inside my interior lines. I walked to the blast site detached and aloof: oblivious of the smell of burning flesh, the ringing in my ears, or the screaming of the civilians. As I stumbled aimlessly towards the blast site, I was consumed solely by an abject sense of failure. After this emotion subsided, I was overcome with a desire for revenge. I wanted nothing more than to annihilate anyone directly or indirectly associated with this bombing. These thoughts dissipated within a matter of minutes as my soldiers voices penetrated my internal debate, “What do we do now, sir?” I quickly regained my composure and began commanding. In the aftermath, four soldiers and two young children were killed, and two soldiers severely wounded. My soldiers’ faces were so dismembered that I had to remove their body armor and read the nametapes on their uniforms to identify the casualties.


Jason Nunez was my driver for eight months. He could never stay awake during any extended training exercise, and I used to yell at him constantly about how he was going to get our crew killed due to his lack of mental toughness. After I was done yelling, I would tell him to relax, his fear would subside, and he would shine his infectious grin. Jason grew up in Puerto Rico. He was chasing the American Dream. He simply sought to work hard and make a better life for his children than he had growing up. After his enlistment, he flew to San Antonio and spent a year learning the English language. His recruiter convinced him to enlist as a nuclear, biological, and chemical specialist with a high-speed video. Furthermore, he volunteered again to join the Airborne. Jason was very upset to learn that his military occupation specialty (MOS) is not very exciting. He planned to re-enlist as an elite airborne reconnaissance scout. Upon redeployment, his young wife and six-month old daughter were going to move from Puerto Rico to North Carolina, obtain their citizenship, and begin a new life. At his funeral, his mother ripped off the American flag from his casket and replaced it with the Puerto Rican flag. She was convinced that Jason was simply another Puerto Rican boy enslaved into servitude to die in Bush’s war. She was wrong. He is my brother. One day, I will visit to tell her about the Jason that I knew. Jason was a paratrooper who died serving his newfound country. He was 22.

Anthony White was one of my mechanics. Previously, he was a juvenile delinquent, but Staff Sergeant Tyrone “Smithy” Smith turned him into a fierce paratrooper. At Patrol Base Otis, on the demarcation line between sectarian enclaves of Abu Sayda and Mukisa, the platoons would limp a HMMWV struck by an improved explosive device (IED) back to the base that appeared beyond repair. After a careful inspection, Smithy would tell me not to worry- he’d have it functional the next morning. Anthony would grab the CD player and speakers, crank up the Tupac, and go to work. He never complained. He always had a big smile on his face. He would say over and over again, “Don’t worry sir, I got this ####.” They never let me down. They would work through the night, and the next morning, the platoons would take that HMMWV back on patrol. When trucks were not being blown up, Anthony would fire up the grill and provide hot hamburgers to the boys after patrol. When he wasn’t grilling or fixing trucks, he would beg me to let him outside the wire on patrol. Upon his death, his father called senators and demanded investigations and punitive action on the chain of command. He was 21. He is my brother.

Jason Swiger was a unique individual, a beautiful person. He drove a black Hearst scattered with bumper stickers. When it got a flat tire, the Hearst stayed forever parked in front of my troop area. He loved the Army. He loved Fort Bragg, jumping out of airplanes, and being a scout. He loved his wonderful wife Alana, and he loved life. You could never stop Swiger from planning some type of practical joke. He was constantly in trouble. He flowed with it. He was a damn good paratrooper. He was 24. He is my brother.

Orlando Gonzalez was an oddball. He had grown up with estranged parents, and he never seemed to fit in. He was extreme introvert, but a good trooper nonetheless. In the last weeks of his life, he found peace. He found a home in Shadow Troop. He was 21. He is my brother.
Additionally, the 300 men of our squadron lost another 19 men with another 100 receiving Purple Hearts for wounds received from enemy fire and 20 suffering from TBI or PTSD.

They were my boys.

I loved them dearly. I think of them often.

They are no longer with us. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes, when I walk through the dining facility and see young paratroopers eating, I see their faces. I have to remind myself that they are not my boys. It saddens me.
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Old 04-11-2009   #46
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Default On Killing

On Killing

“I can kill all day long, but what is the point?”
-COL. David Sutherland, 3BCT, 1CAV

“Treat everyone with dignity and respect, but be prepared to kill them.”
- COL. Bryan Owens, 3BCT, 82nd ABN

October 31, 2006. “Sir, trade weapons with me,” Bernie whispered from the protection of our hide site. We were hidden deep within the grape vineyards. We had snuck in under the cover of darkness, found the enemy, and now it was time to kill. We had been tracking our prey for weeks. We were finally given the go. As the women and children scattered, the sniper quickly began to recede back into the safety and anonymity of the town. For a moment, he was in range. Staff Sergeant Joshua Bernthall focused. We traded weapons- his sights were conditioned for room clearing, mine for long-range observation. He calmed his body, breathed deep, and squeezed the trigger. With the first round, he zeroed my weapon to his specifications. With the second squeeze, in one fell swoop, the bullet traveled out of the palm groves, across the Diyala River, down the crowded street, and the sniper fell- one round to the head-perfection. Operation Shaku Maku had begun. Thankfully, there would be no civilian casualties today.

In On Killing, Dave Grossman contends that in combat, a soldier must dehumanize his enemy in order to kill him. He argues that the psychological nature of man will not allow one to kill another if you consider them as your equal. That sounds all and good. It’s logical, thoughtful, and academic; however, Dave never killed a man.

My experiences were vastly different. In a counter-insurgency effort, one has to eat dinner with one’s enemy, spend time with them, get to know their families, become intimately engaged with them, and then kill them.

There is always doubt, and you hardly ever know for certain that you had the right man. You just make a decision. In those times, I felt like Gabriel, God’s chosen Angel of Death.

* In some ways, in some stark contrast, I feel tranquil.* In other ways, I’m distraught.

I am neither anti-war nor am I a war-monger. It’s just a part of who we are- part of the cycle of life. My life is quite the paradox- I have little regard for shooting weapons or the pomp and ceremony of the garrison military. I simply don’t care for it. If this war wasn’t going on, I’d have left the Army a long time ago to pursue a business career. That’s the way the Few family rolls. We’re strikingly independent. It’s not a question of a cup half empty or half full- our cup overfloweths. The oxymoron of our surname is never-ending.

However, in combat, I’m notoriously brutal. I turn on a darker side, and I found that I can kill without remorse. Not murder, but killing whether it be man, woman or children. I have never committed a war crime- my actions were totally justified by jus in bellum (conduct in war). Whoever is culpable is subject to die. In some sense, this choice should only be left to GOD….

** Deep inside, as I compartmentalized the tragic horrors of my experiences, a cancer of the mind began to overtake me. Slowly, it ate away at my mind, my heart, and my soul. I became numb.
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Old 04-11-2009   #47
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Default Liminality

Liminality

“Social scientists have a word to describe what you are experiencing--it is called liminality--the state of being betwixt and between.** You have gone*beyond your*old*frame of reference and standard way of viewing the world, and you are just beginning to grasp and understand what the contours of a new frame of reference might look like.* The space is uncomfortable, disconcerting, unnerving, especially to those around you, but*critical to the creative process and breakthrough thinking.* Stay with it.”***

*"The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed - a situation which can lead to new perspectives."*

-Dr. Nancy Roberts


May 2008. The Good Book provides stark examples of how the Good Lord tamed wild men over time. After his triumphant defeat over Goliath, David was forced to hide in the desert for many years until he was mentally ready to become King. During this time, he learned wisdom. During this time, he centered himself. He was no longer boy. He became a man. After escaping the wraith of the Egyptians, the Israelites stumbled through the desert for forty years until they submitted to God. After the crucifixion, Peter renounced Jesus three times. Jesus forecasted this betrayal, but Peter was a proud man. He promised the Messiah that he would never betray him. After the crow squawked thrice, Peter finally submitted. It was the only way.

April 2008. This process was definitely unnerving for everyone involved. At any other point in my life, the story of Greg Mortensen would have found its way inside my brain, processed, and pushed out a coherent thought, but I was not ready for it. My life was unbalanced. On the year anniversary of my fallen, in the midst of a loveless marriage crumbling away, in an academic realm of constantly picking apart Iraq, in luncheons with generals trying to explain Iraq, I was not centered.

I’ve spent my entire adult life hunting Al Qaeda. I immersed into another culture, conducted investigations, identified the enemy, and then I killed them. My life has been one of destruction as I chased ghost across the world. Then, I heard the beautiful story of a man that builds schools. That’s it. He builds schools. This man is single-handedly winning the so-called Global War on Terrorism through his own actions- stubbornness, sense of purpose, and love. His efforts are quite innovative, yet impractical for the bureaucracy of any government. The story tipped me over because I was not centered. I hit my break point.

They finally came to get me. They carted me off to the psychological ward.
“Oh no,” they thought, “Mike has finally lost it.”

No one ever said it out loud, but I could see the sadness in their eyes. This proud warrior was broken. How could this happen? After a week of being poked and prodded, after in depth examinations by psychiatrists and psychologist, it was determined that I did not have any normal serious mental problems.

I had not lost it. I was simply a little unwell.

I had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I am not the only one.
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Old 04-11-2009   #48
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Default Things come together

Things Come Together

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. .

-Theodore Roosevelt


“Mike, you can’t lean on this Iraq thing for excuses your whole life. Frankly, you are the worst man that I have ever met.” - Ex in- law
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Old 04-11-2009   #49
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Default

In the end and somewhere in between, I am in the process of centering myself. I know who I am, I know where I’ve been, and I am beginning to get a sense for where I’m going. I am not a classically trained anthropologist nor am I a scholar. I’m a simple paratrooper who’s lived an extraordinary life in the service to his country. Instead, I’m learning how to live, and in doing so, I must tell the story of the men I’ve lost. I must find some semblance of reason, some notion of rationale to their sacrifices.

In Iraq, my presence was far from that of a neutral observer. I was an occupier who’s second and third order effects are still being felt on this society; however, through a series of events, I established long-standing ties. I penetrated the deep seeded ancient politico-social-religious networks of the tribes. From an Iraqi perspective, I am a Tamimi; I am a Zuharie. I am Naqeb Few. If I ever return as a civilian, I have land grants, two wives and a girlfriend awaiting me.

Paradoxically, I’m just a southern Baptist boy and a product of the North Carolina public school educational system. I grew up absorbing the Judeo-Christian western values system that laid the great foundation for our nation. I fear the God of Abraham, David, Jesus and Peter. A great, great, great, great grandfather of mine signed the Declaration of Independence for the state of Georgia, yet I’m two generations removed from the coal mines of West Virginia. For undergraduate studies, I pursued an understanding into the study of money. I chose to attend West Point, and I’m fully indoctrinated under the MacArthur principles of “duty, honor, and country.” In sum, I have significant ingrained blocks into truly understanding the Diyala River Valley.

Nonetheless, I’m inextricably linked to Zaganiyah. The plight of the modern Arab society is deeply woven into the fabric of my life. This understanding transcends the superficial support the troops, transnational terrorism, or you’re with us or against us. This understanding is real.

For far too long, we’ve failed to grasp a true understanding of Iraqi society. We simplify thousands of years of rich dialogue, history and tradition into thirty-second sound bites. It is our great failing as Americans. Despite our amazing capacity to design the best manmade form of government conceivable, despite our tremendous ability to overachieve, despite all of the wonderful things that make our society great, we have an unapologetic short-term memory. In this day and age, we are slaves to our IPODs and Blackberries. We walk along unaffected by anything outside our immediate surroundings. In my downtime, I am no better than you in that regard.
I’ve struggled with where to go with this next part. I can make a compelling argument that we should stay the course in Iraq for the next one hundred years.

Contrastingly, I can suggest that we should leave tomorrow. I do not know. Referring back to my indoctrination under Samuel Huntington and Colin Powell’s lead, I will make no policy statements. Just listen.

I cannot tell you what to think. All that I can ask is that you listen to my story, appreciate the heroic tales and sacrifices of my men, feel the pain of the Iraqi society, and come to your own conclusions. I will only ask one thing- please do not go back to sleep.

Past Iraq, the world is a changing, and they desperately need our leadership. These are amazing times, and we have the opportunity to positively shape the future for our children and generations to come. As a wise old boss used to tell me when I was not focused, “Mike, go back to work. The troops need a leader.” We should take heed to his wisdom.
For me, all roads lead to Zaganiyah. In some ways, I’m still there. It is time to tell the story of Zaganiyah. From this story, we can begin to understand this culture. From this culture, we can separate ourselves from their plight. From this plight, THEY can begin to re-engineer the lines drawn in the sand after World War I. Then, we can begin leading again. The sine que nai is that all politics are local, so we must begin there.
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Old 04-11-2009   #50
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Default Part one: Things fall apart

PART ONE
THINGS FALL APART



“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” - Romans 12:2
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Old 04-11-2009   #51
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Default Chapter two: Center of the universe

CHAPTER TWO: CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE


“People sleep well at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
-George Orwell, 1984
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Old 04-11-2009   #52
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Default Fort bragg

Fort Bragg (August 2005-August 2006)

I am not sure where to even start. My story will seem unbelievable to some even though I do not embellish. Sometimes I wonder if it really happened. Maybe it was all a bad nightmare. How the hell did it come to this? Then, I pick up a newspaper and see that after eight years, Bin Laden is still free, our financial markets are in turmoil, and we are engaged in two protracted wars in southwest Asia. It seems maddening, but it is not a dream. We were wrong.

Sometimes I wonder if Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are tossing in their graves. Some of the founding fathers were skeptical of the social experiment of democracy working in the United States much less being forced upon another society. In truth, democracy is neither a predestined inalienable right endowed by our creator nor is it an ends to a means. Rather, it is a gift to be earned and cherished. Those are not my words; they flow throughout the Articles of Confederation and the Federalist Papers.

These realizations dawned not through the burning bush of divine providence, but through the unforgiving observations collected through my years engaged in the bloody, muddy, hands on work of counter-insurgency. I found it ironic that I devoted the majority of my twenties trying to rebuild a society that never existed, chasing an imaginary enemy that we accidently invented, fighting a non-religious war that was indeed religious, and attempting to control the hearts and minds of another culture when my country could not control her own erratic impulses. I was perplexed.

In some twisted sense of political correctness, we attempted to dumb down the nature of war repackaging it into nightly Orwellian sound bites for Fox News. Unfortunately, the editing process edited out the more important parts- things like honoring the dead by allowing the country to pay homage to their final trip home. Redeploying home in between tours, I observed a United States that I no longer understood- consumerism turned to gluttony, capitalism to greed, religion with no God, freedom overtaken by fear. The racing thoughts clouded my brain and unnerved my inner core. I was angry.

Is everything really different or was it always this way? Clinical psychologist call it compartmentalized psychosis, a temporary insanity. I was misdiagnosed once, but mainly because I was drunk, and I told the doctor that he was the crazy one. New Rule Number 541- No drinking 24 hours prior to a psychological evaluation. You will lose. Just trust me on that one.

In the Army’s Search, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course, one is taught indirect methods to surviving captivity as a prisoner of war. One is never to be the aggressor or act tough. The best course of action is to appear weak and submit. Only then can one remain strong. I should have paid more attention to the advice those instructors tried to impart on me; however, I’m much too stubborn to listen to others at times. Typically, I learn through blunt trauma rather than mindless repetition.

I’m getting off track. It is far too early to start sharing my haunting concerns, feelings, and personal limitations. Anyways, if I tell the story right, my thoughts will resonate through without me dictating what you should or should not think. More importantly, I hope to share the confusion and disheveled feelings this war extracted on our soldiers. Furthermore, I am very much aware that I could be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time.

Throughout this tale, you will hear from a disgruntled, sarcastic, and indignant young captain. I will curse, judge, and at times appear quick tempered. Don’t be fooled. This tale is not so much a story of who I was, but a hat that I had to wear. To be an effective combat commander, one must master the art of “fight or flight.” During this period, I acted in a way that would scare my Sunday school teacher and my mother. My granny would cry watching the transformation. I acted in this way to stay alive and complete my mission. War changes men. No one is innocent in war.

In the narrow, precise world of academia, this story should be considered an inductive case study on humanity, economics, psychology, politics, religion, diplomacy, and war- all the essential ingredients of a refined counter-insurgency brew. For now, I’ll stick to that line of thought. Bear with me, it is about to get exciting. I’m going to take you to a place that you can hardly fathom, much less comprehend. For the sake of our children, I believe it is time to share. First, you have to step out the door.
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Old 04-11-2009   #53
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Default Green light, go....

“Green light, Go”

January 2006. The brisk southeastern wind zipped into the unpressured cabin of the C-130 as the Air Force Loadmaster turned control over to the Jumpmaster, “Army- your door.” Through the eerie green candescent light, I watched First Sergeant (1Sgt) Royce Manis begin the intricate task of inspecting the door for any imperfections or obstacles that could impede the jumpers exit. During his twenty years in the elite Army Ranger Regiment, Royce perfected this task through endless repetition, and his body swept the door gracefully in calm, fluid precision as delicate and accurate as the San Francisco symphony conducting Beethoven’s Fifth. Later, in my darkest hour, Royce would assist me in fighting through Dante’s seventh level of hell with the quiet professionalism that embodies the best mantra of the non-commissioned officer corps.

Next, Royce thrust his upper body into the night to inspect the outside of the aircraft ensuring that nothing protruded to obstruct our descent. Satisfied that the right door was kosher, he pulled himself back into the bird, spun 180 degrees clockwise, extended a thumbs up, and waited for Sergeant First Class (SFC) John Coomer to finish checking the left door. John is another mild mannered quiet professional: a father, brother, husband, and leader. John is a guy you want to follow in any situation. His calm demeanor would later prevail in the worst of circumstances. Ten seconds later, Coomer and Manis gave a silent nod, turned towards the jumpers, extending their arms parallel with index and middle fingers pointing forward, arched an imaginary ‘M’, and sounded off in unison, “Stand-by.” With all inspections complete, the Air Force pilots navigated towards the drop zone (DZ) slowing to 130 knots preparing to unload 64 paratroopers into the darkness of this calm North Carolina night.

As the plane approached the DZ, 1Sgt Andrew Coy walked towards me. For this JFEX (Joint Forcible Entry exercise), Andy served as a safety. He would not jump. Working in conjunction with the Air Force loadmaster, his tasks were to inspect the safety of the aircraft prior to take-off, accept all static lines as jumpers exit the door, and retrieve the discarded static lines and parachute straps back into the aircraft. Then, he returned with the crew to the corresponding airfield. It is an important job, but outside of about three minutes of high adventure, it is rather boring and mundane.
************************************************** ********************************

Andy was one of the few multiple tour Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in my new unit. He and I quickly hit things off when I transferred to Fort Bragg in June 2006. We transcended past the “Old” 1990’s Army of parades, inspections, cutting grass that didn’t grow, and superficial training exercises against a Russian Army dismantled sixteen years prior. We focused on real combat learned through years of blunt trauma, burning bodies, and costly mistakes. We did not have any answers, but we clearly understood that business as usual was not working.

Andy would say, “Sir, if it looks like ####, smells like ####, and taste like ####, then it is probably ####.”

I preferred to take a more tempered approach. I chose the word absurd to describe the current predicament. 2005 was a horrible year in Iraq, and 2006 was not looking brighter. Three weeks after this jump, the mosque in Samarra would explode igniting a full-out civil war. In 2005, during my previous Iraq tour, I served a brief stint on the Multi National Corps- Iraq (MNC-I) staff. Fortunately, my boss selected me to moonlight as a liaison officer for CJSOTF-AP (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force- Arabian Peninsula), the resident Special Forces command in Iraq, so I was not required to spend too much time in Saddam’s Al-Fawah palace, more commonly known as the puzzle palace.

I learned a great deal during that tour. Special Forces command took me in as family, and I learned the science of guerilla warfare. They allowed me to work in their J2 (Intelligence) and J3 (Operations) sections. At night, I poured through volumes of doctrine on why men rebel against the government, how to organize resistance organizations, clandestine activity, deception operations, and other devious means of conducting small wars. In effect, I attended a mini-graduate course in counter-insurgency.

Previously, my study of warfare consisted of the Army’s Armor Captain Career Course instructions on determining the most effective means to defeat the Russians in the Fulda Gap. When I probed my instructors on Iraq and Afghanistan, I was told that I must not get too focused on fighting the past wars. That was 2004. Considering we were still engaged in both wars, I could not relate.

Simultaneously, I got to pull back the curtain and observe the high command. I observed the senior level discussions of the Coalition’s perspective on the state of Iraq. I was allowed to sit in on the big meetings with generals and politicians as long as I kept my opinions to myself. God, that was nerve-racking. Most of the time, I feel that I have something relevant to add to almost any conversation! How could they ask such sacrifices from me? I never understood why the generals were not interested in my enlightened opinions. I persevered through. At least I did not have to make them coffee and iron their uniforms.

Semantics aside, I walked away feeling confused and unnerved. The generals were good, decent, and respectful men. They were not the raging, war-mongering lunatics depicted in many anti-war films. I often wondered what burdens they must carry at night. I wondered how they slept with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They wanted to do the right thing and win, but winning was ambivalent in the current state. In another form of irony, as a young captain, I pitied the generals much as I grieve for you today. I wanted to scream that the emperor had no clothes on. He was fooled by his mindless court jesters. Why could they not see????

The briefings in the puzzle palace required a woeful disregard for the truth as it pertained to the average Iraqi. Beautiful, masterful PowerPoint slides displayed measures of progress that could outshine an Enron annual report- measure of effectiveness ranging from the number of joint Iraqi-American patrols, traffic control points, raids, and numbers of enlistments obscured reality. Ignorant propaganda slogans proclaiming, “As they stand up, we will stand down,” “We’ll fight them here so we don’t have to fight them in the US,” and “You’re with us or against us” clouded judgment. Too black and white in a world of gray. One plus one equals three. If it is written, then it must be truth.

Contrastingly, Abu Massad Al-Zarqawi implemented the beginnings of his dream of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq. The self-proclaimed QJBR, al Qaeda of the Two Rivers, recruited Sunni resistance groups resisting the occupation. Zarqawi intended to fight a holy war against the West; the Sunnis simply wanted to regain their perceived birthright- control of Iraq. The two meshed in a fragile marriage of convenience.

Simultaneously, Muqtada al Sadr recruited his Mahdi Army (MA). They infiltrated the Iraqi Security Forces and Police. Special Police Units under the control of the Ministry of Interior began a “cleansing” of former Baath officials. The Shia wanted retribution and validation for years of suffering under Saddam.

We did not see. We had no excuse not to see. Temporary treaties between enemies are as old as Cain and Able- quid pro quo of balanced opposition. We were still waiting for our victory parade in Bagdad and flowers in the streets.

Prior to the invasion, British historian Toby Dodge argued that Iraq had been on the verge of a civil war ever since its independence from British rule following World War One. Benevolent dictator control squashed opposition and kept internal feuding minimized for ninety years. GEN Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn remark did not quite fit. We did not break Iraq; we simply open up the box. Following this line of thought, Saddam was not the problem or solution in Iraq; he was a symptom. By mid 2005, the bonfire of ethno-sectarian, religious, and tribal strife was stacked and well soaked in gasoline. All that remained was the spark. All we could see was the imaginary clothing of fictional notions of success.


************************************************** **********************************

Andy continued to walk towards me in the bird. This was my first mission as a company commander. Conversely, this jump was his last as a first sergeant. Before he walked away, he wanted to impart one last piece of wisdom to his young friend.

“Mike, this is your first mission. I know you are nervous and scared. Let it go and have fun. Command goes by way too fast. Just enjoy it. I know you will do well. Now, go take care of your boys.”

I looked him straight in the eyes and nodded a knowing nod. Royce Manis and John Coomer sounded off with a thunderous boom,

“30 SECONDS!!!”

Andy walked back towards the door. Jumpers shook their static lines. It was time. The exit light flashed from red to green.

“GO!!!”

The jumpers rushed out the door. As the momentum of the line sped up, Andy smiled at me, and I began my march towards the exit. I handed my static line to Andy, turned 90 degrees, planted my left foot, and surged my right leg forward. My body followed. I was officially an airborne reconnaissance commander on his first mission.
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Old 04-11-2009   #54
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Default Descending again

The euphoria did not last long. Typically, one strives to exit the aircraft and form an L-shape upon descent. Then, one begins to count to five and wait for the chute to release. On the other hand, I over-packed my ruck sack, and the weight flipped my body head first and upside down instead of upright. I tumbled downward in some twisted Z shape. As I struggled to regain my L-shape, my chute deployed. My risers were twisted beyond recognition. This mishap would speed up my descent and could prove potentially fatal. I began engage rigorously in a bicycle kick to unwind my chute.

Despite the difficulties, I could not help but notice the calm darkness of this night. Engaging in a massive tactical night jump is an amazing endeavor to participate in. You saw it in Band of Brothers, but Hollywood cannot capture the serenity of nature juxtaposed with the violence of action contained with paratroopers descending into enemy territory.

As I un-assed myself, I was descending rapidly. I fixed my parachute, but my boots were getting closer and closer to touching the ground. My ruck and weapon remained strapped to my body. Not good. I unfastened the quick release on my weapon and ruck, pulled my risers to slow down, and closed my eyes. This was going to hurt.

So how did yours truly end up in such a predicament? The real story began long before the attacks of 9/11. It begins long ago with a young Egyptian named Sayyid Qutb. Historians and sociologist will debate for decades over what happened to him, but I think it is a fairly simple answer. Sayyid’s mother did not hug him enough. All he needed was a hug!!!
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Old 04-11-2009   #55
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Default Conceptual Blocks

Men have sought to make a world from their own conception and to draw from their own minds all the material which they employed, but if, instead of doing so, they had consulted experience and observation, they would have the facts and not opinions to reason about, and might have ultimately arrived at the knowledge of the laws which govern the material world.
-Francis Bacon
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Old 04-11-2009   #56
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Default The Squirrel

Nurture, nourish back to nature we must go
Foregoing pursuit of pillage
Foregoing devious throws
Focus on the family and the village

Always alone, never alone, I simply could not see
Just as the squirrel gathers nuts from the tree
Spreading the seeds, new trees spring
The circle of life continues again

But he is only a squirrel, what purpose to serve?


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Old 04-11-2009   #57
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Default This heart of stone

THIS HEART OF STONE

You know you’ve been around and kicked around when your memories playback with a nearly complete Rolling Stones soundtrack. It’s a hard edged, tough music that blocks the silence and fills in the blanks. I can’t hear the Stones, Doors, or Jimi without feeling it; the long strong pull of Nam. Man, when I’ve got “Paint it Black” blasting in my ears I can remember how it felt: the rush of adrenaline, the emotional distance….

Sometimes when I’m out and about, I look around at other people and wonder what soundtrack would describe their life. Can you recognize the one who just never went? He’s probably that smug, self-assured asshole. Playing in a world where people like him made all the rules. You know the type that just didn’t go. I start to hate the mother####er without even knowing him. That’s when I have to say “#### it, it don’t mean ####.” Nam was for sure a bitch, but at least I don’t have to put up with a Barbara Streisand soundtrack playing in my head.

I admit that I’m difficult to be around. I find it difficult to relate, trust, or to even be around other people. I can try to and sometimes succeed in working or just being around people. It can be done but at a price, but who wants to pay. Me, I’m pretty much busted, emotionally broke, and there are few people in my life. Sometimes I want to keep it that way, other times it makes me angry or sad. I know that most of the time people look at each other with a polite smile and mutually agree “#### you.” He looks at me and sees a lowlife proletariat scum. I look at a guy and see and see a slave to the master-crass.

Now and then though you see someone, and they have a presence. When you look into his eyes you can see the “Heart of Stone, and you know you can never break the stone.” It seems that there are still a few of us, and lately more every day and we’re all locked in the same place.

It’s that we are scattered and isolated, stuck in our pasts, and lost in the present. We don’t connect often, that’s probably our intention too. Our collective soul is dark and our karma seems ####ed. However when we stand together, we can remember together. Together we find it possible and safer to go back and re-examine those days. There is a lot to think about; a lot of #### to sort out.


-Steve Boyer, Combat Medic, Vietnam Veteran
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Old 04-11-2009   #58
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Default Brothers in arms

BROTHERS IN ARMS


These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you’ll return to
Your valley and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms
Through these fields of destructions
Baptism of fire
I’ve witnessed all the suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms
There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our own brothers in arms

-Dire Straights
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Old 04-11-2009   #59
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Default All men

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine. . .

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much mine they are nothing or next to nothing,
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing. . .
-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
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Old 04-11-2009   #60
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Default Considerations

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA (SEPT 2007-JAN 2009)

“Once you face death, once you overcome your fears, then you are free to live.* These are the lessons that I've learned....

I will martyr myself with my words so that you may understand, and I may heal.* It would have been simply easier to have died a hero’s death in Turki Village than to wrestle with the demons in my head.* I’ve died over and over again in Iraq.* My bird was shot down in Ramadi.* My tank crashed is As Samawa.* An RPG got me in Baghdad.* Indirect fire struck me in Balad.* A suicide bomber destroyed me in Baqubah.** The grenade got me in Turki Village.* The sniper hit his mark in Zaganiyah.* The moments flash through my mind again and again.*

They brought me home on the C-17, draped my coffin with the American flag, and laid me to rest in Arlington.* The motorcycle boy’s rode in, and some fanatical religious left wing group protested the war.* My friends flew in from all around the world, cried at the funeral, and headed to the pub for beers.* They drank throughout the night in memoriam.* “Mike was such a good dude,” they cried in their heightened state of inebriationated awareness.* They would mourn, remember, and dance.* It would be beautiful.* I’ve replayed this time and time again in my head.*

In the end, there would simply be a grave marker that Taylor Elizabeth Few would eventually visit and wonder who her daddy was.

Physically, I did not die.*

-Considerations on my own death in Iraq
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