Sunday, January 31, 2010

Leaving My Second Home

Though going home is definitely an exciting time, there are certain aspects of Iraq that I will miss. This is definitely not a complete list, but it should provide some insight into the parts of Basra that will be hard to leave behind:

  • The comraderie, friends, and knowing that you are never alone
  • Structure, schedules, and defintive plans
  • Free laundry service, food, fuel, pop
  • Workout facilities, with no monthly dues
  • No need to worry about what to wear on a given day
  • Free travel (even though it is only around southern Iraq and Kuwait)
  • Feeeling of job security
  • Winter weather, which is quite nice. Note that I will have no trouble leaving behind summer's weather
  • Sense of purpose
  • The area in general. Despite being a desert, there are many beautiful marshes, structures, etc., that provide a sense of belonging here
  • Our Iraqi partners. I know they are in good hands with our replacements, but it will still be bittersweet to know that I may never see them again

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Translating Military Experience

Over the past few months while I was working on my business school application, I ran into a problem that has plagued soldiers since war began: how to translate military experience into terms that would make sense to a civilian.

First of course, is cutting out the jargon. Words and acronyms like collateral damage, NCO, area of operations, XO, SP, CONOP, or commander's intent simply do not mean much to most civilians without proper framing.

After this is the task of relating the experiences of the military in ways that make sense to anyone. A useful way to do this is to use numbers. Though a civilian may not know what the term "Division" means, they can definitely relate to an organization of "16,000 people."

Then there is the issue of punctuation and syntax. The military capitalizes just about everything. However, the rest of the world does not. Further, the military is based around extraordinarily simple sentence structure. It takes deliberate effort to find ways to change from the short, straightforward, relatively boring method of miliatry writing into a more robust and engaging writing style. Rewriting and rewriting are the keys to successfully accomplishing this transformation.

Once it seems as though everything is well translated, it is time to have a civilian read it. Have a friend who is not in the military check over it and let you know which parts are confusing or need clarification. Then continue the rewriting process until your experiences are conveyed clearly and in a way that emphasizes the strengths that you have gained from your service.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The American Insurgency and the Middle East

In 1775, the British General James Grand had boasted that with 5,000 British regulars he could march from one end of the American Continent to the other. A British contemporary, John Acland, called on Parliament to "recollect the strength, the resources, and above all the spirit of the British nation, which when roused knows no opposition."

People on the other side of the argument, including British Colonel Isaac Barre, felt that the only way to avert "this American storm" was to reach an accomodation just as soon as possible. (McCullough, "1776").

Parliament approved a surge of 2,000 reinforcements, and an Army of 20,000 in America by the following spring. Common sentiment at the time believed there would be no way for the Americans to continue with their insurgency against such a force.

Though it was true that the British had a vastly superior Naval force, a larger number of better trained soldiers, and more financial resources at their backs, the insurgency, as we all know, was a success. The eventual victory, after over several years, was due in parts to local support, foreign support from France and the Netherlands, and intellectual support from Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others, The concept that Americans were fighting at home and as such did not require the logistical support and the issues that go along with it was also in their favor.

Some lessons that may be implied from our experience on the other side of an insurgency are as follows:

  • We need to ensure that local support favors Democracy though effective information operations. The British lost this as "Common Sense," "The Declaration of Independence," "American Crisis," and other works were published without effective counters.
  • Foreign influence must be negated. As we have learned not only in the Revolutionary War with France and the Netherlands, but also in Afghanistan with our clandestine support against the Russians, Vietnam, Iran/Iraq, and the Civil War, support from countries not directly involved can have tremendous effect.
  • Superior fire power, larger fighting force, more money, or other traditional advantages can be detrimental to counter insurgency operations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful in Iraq

This Thanksgiving, there is so much to be thankful for. I would like to begin by thanking each of you that read this for your interest in our cause.

We are also blessed by the support of family, friends, and the American people as we struggle to bring the tenets of democracy to a nation of people so long oppressed. Sectarianism and political violence, though still present, are losing popular support.

The leadership in today's military does an outstanding job in supporting the common soldier's welfare and well-being. Even halfway across the world, most soldiers have some opportunity today to celebrate Thanksgiving in some way.

Thanksgiving falls this year at the same time as the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or "Festival of Sacrifice," which commemorates Ibrahim's (Abraham of the Old Testament) willingness to sacrifice Ismael. Muslims traditionally sacrifice their best livestock and give the meat to those who are in need. The fact that these two holidays coincide during such a period of flux as this helps to demostrate that despite any differences between the east and west, there are common bonds of humanity that bind us.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Now that it's November, the weather in Basra, Iraq has turned. The air has cooled and the dust storms of the summer are a thing of the past.

Blackhawk rides have become bearable, not leaving you sapped of energy and sweating through all the layers of your clothing and body armor by the time you land.

Waking up at 0330 to go running this morning was actually a bit chilly with the temperature around 60 degrees. The entire 23 mile run while watching the glorious Arabian sunrise coming over the sands and oil-field fires stayed comfortable, with the muscles getting tired before heat injuries occurred. That would have been a rarity during the summer months when it felt as though you could reach out and touch the scorching sun. Now sweat stays on clothes and your shoes stay wet for hours instead of seconds.

The skies have cleared up as the dust seems to have cleared out. Orion and Gemini are among my companions on the walk home from work many evenings. The cool breeze contrasts the former hot winds and sometimes I just stop and pause to stare out amongst the stars as I dream of home.

One season closer to getting back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Berlin Wall and Iraqi Election Bill

With the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iraq passing their Parliamentary Elections Bill within a day of each other, it is certainly a time to rejoice in the power of Democracy.

Even with violence, claims of corruption, lack of basic services, favoritism, sectarianism, and other issues looming, the people of Iraq will have the opportunity to participate in an open election providing the same promise that it does in America...the hope for a brighter future.

It was this same hope that certainly the people of East Berlin felt as the wall was opened 20 years ago. The hope that someday, through some method of their own doing, their children would live in a better time.

It is times like these that we remember the value of the something we often take for granted...Democracy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Hobbies are a great way to brighten the day and to grow as a person. If nothing else, hobbies provide a method to productively take your mind off the stresses of work, school, family, or life.

Sometimes when we think of hobbies, we only think of them in the narrowest fashion. Sports, art, music, or other passions that people spend years practicing and require often a great deal of time. However, hobbies can be seen more broadly through a variety of other pursuits as well. Reading, food, exercising, writing, games, and more can all fall into the category of hobbies if used correctly.

For example, on this deployment I use food as a hobby. No, I am not a chef. Far from it. However, I do spend a good deal of effort in eating according to a certain dietary standard. Some of my friends eat similarly, and we discuss it and use it as something to talk about and focus our efforts on. This takes away a little bit of the stress of letting our minds wander and dwell on some of the more demanding aspects of deployment.

Another way I use food as a hobby is that I try to invent new ways to eat food. For example, almonds are a very nice snack, but after a while they can get somewhat monotonous. So when some of my friends sent me some "Frank's Red Hot" sauce, I began mixing it with almonds to create a new snack I call "Almond Wings." Now after every mission, I make some almond wings and share with people. Another invention I made is "Spicy Salad." This consists of romaine lettuce, olives, tomatos, onions, vinegar, jalapenos, tabasco sauce, and a little cheddar cheese. It takes away the calories that come with salad dressing, but still packs tons of flavor.

So despite not being a chef, I still use food as a hobby and focus some of my thoughts on ways to innovate with food. This relieves me from some of the constant pressure of the tempo of deployment. Other hobbies I use include writing (this blog for instance), reading, running, climbing (just over T-walls and bunkers, no equipment or training required), biking, weightlifting, basketball, memorizing things, and making funny captions for pictures. The key is, no matter what hobby you choose, try to excel.