September 29, 2008

Name: Rocinante
Posting date: 9/29/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Virginia
Milblog: Rocinante's Burdens
Email: [email protected]

We recently did a little sightseeing. We got to look at the ruins of Babylon. Or as the locals call it "Babil". We had to get special permission to see it because the person in charge does not like American soldiers on the property.

The "ruins" are actually re-creations that were built during the Saddam administration, over the tops of the ancient ruins. So many wonderful and unique artifacts dating back to 1,000 BC were destroyed to make this cheap imitation.


Here is a gate reconstruction.


This map shows the relative positions of ancient civilizations and the known ruins surviving from them. The history of this area is remarkable.


This shows some of the inner palace. The original stones come up only about two feet. The rest is modern brickwork. The original brickwork is held together with a tar mortar that is still visible and still holding things together. There is also a processional street here with a tar covering. It's remarkable that the tar has not been burned off.



More of the same.


Here is what un-reconstructed ruins at the same site look like.


This is the throne room. From here, the Babylonian empire was ruled. Alexander the Great died in this room.

Reconstruction, further excavations, restorations and maintenance at this site have all stopped because of a "lack of archaeological interest", as the curator put it. In other words, no one cares, now that the ruins have been ruined.


September 25, 2008

Name: Gruntshit
Posting date: 9/25/08
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog: The Angry American 


It was a very hot September day, and our attitude towards our next task was piss poor to say the least. We are fighters, we are America's Warrior class, we are killers, we are Infantrymen. That day we were playing chauffeur to escort someone to a meeting, which in the scheme of things was small to us. But to the rebuilding of the sector in which we patrolled it would play a large part.

We also had to take an Engineer to do a site eval at a gas station where two of our 2/16 brethren had been shot by a sniper. We would take him there and he would determine what we could do to make the gas station safer for our guys inside.

On the way to the meeting my gunner noticed some suspect wires in the road and I called to the lead vehicle to watch them on the way back. The lead truck commander called back to me and said he had it.

We dropped off the people for their meeting and began phase two of the mission. We passed back by the place with the wires with no issues. We made a right turn onto Route Predators, one of Iraq's most deadliest routes, and drove about a thousand meters. People were out in the streets shopping and going on with their daily routines. I was the last vehicle and just making it to a bend in the road from which I could only see two trucks in front of me. A loud explosion would change the lives of many forever. It was so hot that day.

One year has passed since the events of September 4, 2007 and I find myself wondering if the last thing that I said to my good friend Sgt Joel Lee Murray was, "Watch out for those wires." The wires I'm referring to were just downed power lines and about a mile away from the explosion, and had nothing to do with anything, though even months after September 4th those wires were still there and I thought hard to remember if we had said anything to each other after that. Even now I wonder.

For me the sights and sounds of that day are burned into my mind like a computer monitor left on too long. The memories of those that passed never fade. I talked to several of my fellow 2nd Platoon members today. I miss them and their camaraderie and I feel that they are the only ones that truly understand.

I told some young Privates today about Legacy, and how in the military good leaders and Soldiers live forever. They live forever through their guidance and actions. Former leaders that I had live through me as I pass their style and wisdom down to younger Soldiers. I know that Shelton, Crookston, Lane, and Murray will live forever, forever young and forever Warriors.

Shelton taught people to accept everyone. He was the guy that took a lot of people under his wing and showed them a good time. His Loyalty will be passed down to younger generations through lives he touched.

Lane's sense of humor and love of life will be passed down. He had the ability to lighten a situation with a joke so not-funny that it was hilarious, or with a silly face that would make you have no choice but to smile.

Crookston's intelligence will never be forgotten, as he was the computer guru and Rubik's Cube master; no one that was touched by him will ever be able to look at a Rubik's Cube without thinking of him. Most of all Strength, as he lived when the doctors said he wouldn't make it through that September night. He lived for six months before his body gave out, though spiritually and mentally he never stopped fighting.

Sgt Murray passed on his leadership and knowledge of his chosen profession. The young Soldiers that he mentored are now preparing to become NCOs and leaders. Their kit bags are full of good tactics and leadership principles that Sgt Murray upheld and held them to.

I could really go on forever on how the Legacy of these individuals will be passed down forever. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Joseph Mixson survived the blast but his life is forever altered. He would lose both of his legs. Mixson is with us but his Legacy is set in stone, as we learn Courage and Strength.

Not a day goes by in which any of us that were there that day doesn't think about what happened, and plays the "what if" game. We remember the good times that we had with those guys, which were many. On this day I just wanted to take the time and let everybody know that as time goes on their memories will not fade, and their Legacy will live forever. Anytime you see a Soldier in uniform somewhere down the line, there is a good chance that he or she has a piece of SGT Murray, CPL Crookston, SPC Lane, and SPC Shelton, and CPL Mixson in them.

Deuce Deuce OUT!!!


September 23, 2008

Name: Simon H.
Posting date: 9/23/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog: Army Poet

Washed out sky,
Scrubbed clean-white,
Wish it was my heart,
-- Empty like that.

Pointless to wonder,
Is she thinking of me now?
Right now,
At this empty time for me.

Does she remember a drive we took,
Or a walk we made together?
What about the time we were in the tiny kitchen,
Together, washing and drying dishes.

Perhaps I’m somewhere in her mind,
In some crumpled, folded maze of thoughts.

I live in that soft puzzle,
Lost. Like a small porcelain figure,
Souvenir from some trip,
Perched on a dry wooden pedestal.

I’m stuck at the dead-end of her imagination.

Sometimes she roams into the closed space where I reside,
She pauses, then turns and leaves.


September 19, 2008

Name: Rocinante
Posting date: 9/19/08
Stationed in
: Iraq
Hometown: Virginia
Milblog: Rocinante's Burdens
Email: [email protected]

This is perhaps the largest remaining challenge keeping US forces in Iraq. The Enemy is defeated. The Iraqi Army is strong and willing to fight. The population supports their government against the insurgents. But the IA supply system is a source of frustration for all who encounter it.

First, the policy of the US army is not to make the Iraqis change their supply system so that it looks and acts like ours. They have nowhere near a strong enough economy to feed such a behemoth. Our goal is simply to make their system work for them by making them do their jobs.

Here is a simplified outline.


At least that is the way it seems to the Iraqis.

For them, it does not matter how much they need something, or how well they justify it, they will not get it.

There are many reasons for this perception:

1. It is true. For years, they have been taught by their supply systems to not ask for anything because it is simply futile to do so.

2. Several years ago, the warehouses were empty. There simply wasn't anything to give. That has changed. Yet, IA units still don't bother to ask for their supplies from the IA supply system.

3. Iraqi supply sergeants and officers get rated on how well they stock their supplies. That means how full their shelves are and how neatly everything is stacked. And if they issue anything out, the shelf will have a bare spot until something new comes in. That will make them look bad. So they issue nothing out.

4. A long history of institutionalized corruption. Corruption is so widespread and historically ingrained, that it is hard to trust anyone. Supply officers don't want to issue anything out because they fear it will just get stolen and sold on the black market. They would rather have units not get what they need than be seen as complicit with the theft of government-owned materials. Most commanders are very attuned to the corruption problem and keep detailed records of the things they purchase for their units and what happened to them. This also fosters a hoarding mentality at each level of command.

I have been told, and I believe, that the IA warehouses are full of all the things they need to supply their army. But they simply won't ship it out to the units where it is needed.

There are several work-arounds that the IA uses to get what it needs:

1. Cash. Cash is king. If you have enough cash, you don't need a good supply system backing you up. Almost everything they need, my unit buys from the local markets. They get cash from the Ministry of Defense and from local governments, who have a vested interest in keeping the local army units functional.

2. The American Army supply system. The IA have become experts in getting stuff from the Americans. They know which unit commanders will give them what they need and they will keep asking until they get it. Many American commanders understand that the stronger the IA is, the sooner we can all go home. Some commanders interpret that as a mandate to give them whatever they want. Others see that as a mandate to “help them stand on their own feet." The best course is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

My job includes convincing the IA to give their supply system another chance. Like Charlie Brown, I keep telling them it will work this time for sure. In the meantime, I help them get the things they really need to keep going and to stay in the fight. A tough balance. My success at the end of this year will rest on my IA unit's ability to use their supply system to sustain their operations.

Fighting the insurgents was much simpler.


September 17, 2008

Name: Cheese
Posting date: 9/17/08
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Milblog: Cheese's Milblog

It's been a long couple of days. We're in the middle of one of the most tragically entertaining ordeals of which I have ever been a part. We knew it would be a multiple-day convoy to help deliver some supplies, but we have been more than plagued by vehicle breakdowns. Some of the cargo is being hauled by "jingle trucks", semi-trailers named after the metal wind chimes that the Afghan drivers hang from them to ward off bad luck. Let's just say that the jingles aren't working. Everything that can break has, and the mechanics that were sent to ride along with us are about to just give up and walk.

Framed_cheese_wheels_jpg_3 There are plus sides to help weigh out the delays and frustrations. When we were stranded at a small outpost in the absolute center of nowhere, my squad volunteered to guard the locals and their trucks while we waited for parts. Keep in mind, we were just watching the drivers and we were inside a secure area -- none of this story took place "outside the wire."

Now, I cannot explain the intensity of, or even the reason for, my desire to drive one of these jingle trucks. I could try to tell you how hilarious they look, with their flamboyant paint jobs, carpet-covered interiors and overall jalopy appeal, but I guess I'm still the only one who would love to own one of these things back home.

Well, my lieutenant had promised me that he would let me drive one of the need ever arose -- and it did. We had to move the trucks off of the road to let traffic by, and the driver was nowhere in sight. I ran to the LT and told him what was up and he just shrugged his shoulders -- which was all the permission I needed.

We both climbed in, and I adjusted the mirrors and felt the steering column for the key. It wasn't there. At this point I could see the driver sprinting towards the truck in the rearview mirror, but I didn't want to miss my chance. I looked on top of the sun-visor, under the seat, everywhere. I had just accepted my defeat when the door opened. The driver stood there, heaving from the long sprint, then reached his hand out and gave me the key!

I fired it up and tore down the road. (The shifter wasn't labeled and I'm pretty sure I took off in second gear). I had to make a right hand turn down a sharp embankment, so I pushed the clutch in and put it into first. Or so I thought. I ended up accelerating through the 100 degree turn and stalling to a stop at the base. I didn't think it was so bad until I parked and saw the faces of the guys standing around. I maintain that I wasn't even close to rolling it -- no matter what anyone else says.

Needless to say, I was pretty content. The drivers made us tea, cut up watermelon for us, and one told us, through an interpreter, about "learning to kiss" from a Czech girl in Russia. Halfway through the story, an Afghan came down the road on a motorcycle. Now, if you know anything about Afghanistan, you know that there are more motorcycles than cars. And if you know anything about me, you know that it's been driving me crazy watching all these guys ride motorcycles while I'm stuck on the roof of a Humvee. Jokingly, I pointed to myself and then made the motion of holding handlebars. Without hesitation, this guy came to a dead stop and handed the motorcycle over to me.

I'd like to say that I thought long and hard about whether or not this was a good idea, but that would be a lie. I hopped on, jumped on the starter and left a rooster tail behind me. I think I caught a little bit of accidental air while navigating the terrain, but I held my own pretty well. It was definitely the best Afghanistan day ever.


September 15, 2008

Name: CAPT Ben Tupper
Posting date: 9/15/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY

Recently my friend Vandy came to visit me for a weekend reunion. When I picked him up at the train station I saw that his arms were covered in cuts and scabs. He was wearing a knee brace. His swollen and bruised knuckles suggested many punches thrown and landed. He told me all these injuries were the results of bar fights, some more successful than others.

From previous phone calls, I wasn't surprised to see these physical signs of a rough transition home. A few months ago, Vandy had called me excitedly after totaling his car in a drag race on a city street. I knew all this was not out of the ordinary for recently returned combat veterans.

Vandy's attitude at home now was much like his approach to war: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." He had had the closest life and death call of his tour just days before he left Afghanistan. This mission was one he didn't need to be on, but Vandy was the type who would volunteer to go. Most soldiers bunker down during their last days in country. But Vandy liked to run up the score.

As his convoy was returning to base, his  HUMVEE was rocked by a suicide bomber. The blast came without warning, and he told me the destruction darkened the world like an eclipse of the sun, choking out the light with dust and smoke. Vandy continued to drive through the attack, as we are trained to do. As he went through the dust cloud, murky rays of sunlight peeked through the windows, obscured by the chunks of scorched dirt and wet flesh that clung to the vehicle.

Vandy told me he wished he had been able to go back to treat the wounded civilians, even though that could have exposed him to a secondary explosion or ambush. Had he been in charge of the convoy, I have no doubt that's what he would have done. Not all the risks Vandy took were bad ones.

During his visit with me this summer, I coerced Vandy into accompanying me to my PTSD counseling appointment at our local Vet Center. He was hesitant, but we spent an awkward and difficult hour scratching the surface of his war related issues with my counselor. Nothing miraculous happens in one counseling session, but maybe he took away something he can build on.

Vandy's visit was stressful for me, too. It was a reminder of what we went through in Afghanistan, and how it changed us. And it reminded me of how close I have been to that edge of fights and car wrecks and bad decisions.

In a few months, Vandy will return to a combat zone with his National Guard Unit. This time it will be Iraq. It wasn't easy to say our goodbyes at the train station, but I couldn't help but smile. Vandy is tough, and despite his missteps, he still keeps moving forward. Full speed ahead.


September 11, 2008

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 9/11/08
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

Today is that day of the year I dread more than any other. It’s a day filled with infinite sadness and painful memories. It’s a day I’d rather sleep through than participate in.

“It’s just another day,” some would say.  “Aren’t you over that by now?” others would ask. No, it’s not and no I don’t think I ever will be. Has the hurt lessened? Yes, but it’s still there. Perhaps some would say, “Get over it already, Clara”. I try, trust me on this, I do so try.

I was invited to a memorial service, a service dedicated to those killed, a dedication in which a memorial was to be unveiled. I chose not to go. Most years I do go. I go on the walks and the runs and the bike rides, all to remember. All to say I have not forgotten. Most years on Sept 10th I head to the cemetery to place flowers on graves of my loved ones. I go on the 10th because I am too much of a coward to face the other families. This year I could not go. I didn’t want to face it, the knowledge that another year has gone by, another year without those who hold a special place in my heart.

I believe it is harder for me because of my job. For some reason in my mind September 11th and the wounded I care for have become intertwined.

Aerovacs came in last night, five more soldiers missing limbs, bodies damaged and shredded, critically injured. For four years now I have watched aerovacs arrive and wounded offloaded. I have wiped their tears, held their hands, talked with their families and rejoiced in their accomplishments and recoveries.

However I will always wonder, had September 11th, 2001 been “just another day”, would I be where I am?


September 09, 2008

J.P. Borda
Posting date:
Returned from:
Burke, Virginia
[email protected]

It is time to make your nominations for the Third Annual Milbloggies:

Rules and Instructions

The Milbloggies Award recognizes military bloggers for their contribution to blogging, news and information, and to the military over the past year.

Nomination and Voting Overview

1. A military blog can be nominated ONLY once by the same registered user.  However, a user can nominate as many military blogs as they wish.

All nominations must be submitted online through by 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday, September 10th, 2008.

2.  The top five nominees in each branch category will be announced on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 and those nominees will move into the Voting Phase beginning September 11th, 2008.

3. Nominees may be military blogs that belong to the following branch categories in the database:

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Army
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Military (Parent)
U.S. Military (Spouse)
U.S. Military (Veteran)
U.S. Military (Supporter)
U.S. Navy

4. To nominate and/or vote for a military blog, you must be signed in to the website.  Registration is quick and free and you will not receive any SPAM.  This helps maintain the integrity of voting by reducing possible click fraud.  To place your nomination, simply click on the listing in the database, and click the Nominate button that appears at the top of the military blog profile.



5.  To vote for a military blog (once the nomination phase is over), a chart will be published that includes the top nominees in each category, along with the ability to vote.

The Voting will close on Sunday, September 14th at 11:59 PM EST.

6.  Winners will be presented awards at the 2008 Milblog Conference in Las Vegas on September 20th at the Blog World Expo.  Winners are not required to attend the conference in order to receive their awards.


USAA sponsored the Second Annual Milbloggies.  Last year's awards included: a digital camera, plaque, and a $1000 donation to Project Valour-IT.  USAA will also be sponsoring the Third Annual Milbloggies.


Questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to send an email to [email protected]

You can also discuss and chat about this year's Milbloggies with other members in the Discussion Boards.

Stay updated on the Third Annual Milbloggies, by visiting the Milbloggies Home Page.

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September 08, 2008

Name: Rocinante
Posting date: 9/8/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Virginia
Milblog: Rocinante's Burdens   
Email: [email protected]

Everyone agrees that you should always do the right thing. My dilemma springs from the right thing looking a lot like the wrong thing, depending on who you ask.

Here is the story:

I have a small sum of money, collected by force from US taxpayers, given to me for the expressed purpose of spending it on the Iraqi Army in order to improve their performance in some essential way. As General Petraus says, "Money is bullets in Counter-insurgency."

No problem. I am all over that. There are lots of things I can spend this money on to make my IA unit more effective. They need everything.

Here is the problem. Some of the things they need are on a list of things I am not allowed to buy. Bureaucrats and financial auditors don't want us to buy some things because it will look like fraud, waste and abuse -- something we all agree is bad.

But some of the things on the "do not buy" list are mission essential.

My units needs some digital cameras. Cheap effective ones. I have more than enough money in the budget to buy them, but they are on the no-no list. If my unit gets them, they would use them when they arrest bad people and take pictures of the evidence and the criminals so that the judge will convict the bad guys and punish them. No cameras = insufficient evidence = bad people back on the streets = insurgency goes on longer = US Army stays in Iraq longer.

The mission is pretty clear that these are not luxury items but directly lead to mission accomplishment. And they are cheap. And they are common enough in 21st century Iraq that they are not a huge temptation for thieves.

I am tempted to buy the darned things anyway. I will have to fabricate a receipt showing the purchase of something that is not on the no-no list. That will make me guilty of fraud. I will also need the cooperation of a few others, making them guilty of conspiracy.

A heck of a thing that I have to risk jail while already risking life and limb over little stuff like this.

I probably won't let you know what I decide. It's best that way.

You will be happy to know that I did not let the IA commander have a 50” plasma TV set with your money, like he wanted.

I am sure I am not the only one facing this dilemma. I am also sure I have not created a unique solution. I am sure others in my position have purchased lots of things on the no-no list and gotten away with it scot-free (is that a racially insensitive term?). Some of their motives were not as pure as mine. Yet I have a cloud of justice hanging above my head that ensures I will get caught and I will be the one they make an example of.

UPDATE: I have elected to not commit fraud. Instead I will use this as an opportunity to teach them about priorities and choices. They hate that.

UPDATE 2: Since he can't have the cameras, the Iraqi commander now wants a Shrubbery.

(Must...control...laughing....) My answer to him was NEH!


September 03, 2008

Name: Gruntshit
Posting date: 9/3/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Clarkston, Washington
: The Angry American

How do you describe an Infantryman? Some would say it’s by the blue cord, the medals, tabs, and badges they have. I can tell you it’s someone who eats, sleeps, and breaths Infantry. It’s someone proficient in battle drills and the weapons of his chosen profession. It is someone who is calm cool and collected in the face of danger. It is someone who can make life or death decisions on the fly. Sgt Murray did all these things. Sgt Murray is how I would describe an Infantryman. If you didn’t know him you wouldn’t think that this skinny non-smiling soldier was the embodiment of an Infantryman. Looks can be deceiving.

Sgt Murray was full of courage, natural leadership ability, and stamina that you can’t even imagine. I was amazed by Sgt Murray during the squad eval at range 10, the ‘Suck Fest’ as we lovingly referred to it. It was only supposed to be a 14km movement, but somehow we managed to turn it into 22km. Under a brutal Kansas sun, we lost half of the platoon as heat casualties in the first day. Not once can I recall ever seeing signs of suck on Sgt Murray’s face.

It carried on over in Iraq and became somewhat of a contest between us, trying to catch each other tiring out. Captain Anderson told us that when we started feeling fatigued to ‘smile’ and keep moving on. Sgt Murray and I referred to this as Smiles Time. He would call me on the radio or come over to my side of the street and take a knee and ask me if I was ‘Smilin’ yet. I would never admit to it nor would he, but at the end of a mission there would be Sgt Murray smiling from ear to ear, and he was not alone.

Sgt Murray was brave, and I know I had never seen him scared. There was a time where he got shot at while pulling COP security. I heard the 240 rattle off and seconds later I hear Sgt Murray come over the radio: “I took small arms fire and returned fire to let them know I mean business.”

That was Sgt Murray, all business. Super cool is the best way to describe him under fire. He always wanted to be out front and in the lead, a true no-nonsense, leads from the front NCO. He loved to lead the way. He would tell us, “I love having the open road in front of me.” He loved being an NCO. He told me he liked being a Squad Leader more so than a team leader because he could have more influence over more Soldiers. He loved to mentor and teach, and there is not a single soldier in 2nd platoon that has not learned something from Sgt Murray. That is his legacy and those of us touched by his leadership will carry a piece of Sgt Murray and pass it down to other young soldiers for years to come.

He had this dry sense of humor, and was just hilarious. Out of the blue he would say something so random and straight-faced that everyone would burst out into laughter except for him, and he would make you wonder whether or not he was joking. He thoroughly had Serrano convinced one day that getting an exhaust sample was part of a PMCS. Everyone who was there will remember Serrano walking around holding a large trash bag full of humvee exhaust for hours. He also had these Murrayism’s that he would come up with. My favorites: "The Highest of Speeds”, and “The Hooahness”. He was always challenging his men to be of the Highest of Speeds, knocking on one's door at random hours of the night, to see if they wanted to disassemble a SAW or something.

We talked about what we wanted to do career-wise, and he said this is what he wanted to do. Be in the Infantry, go to Ranger school and just be in the Infantry. He had found a home in the Army.

I’m glad to have known Sgt Murray because we had a lot in common. He was a real man all the way around, because it takes a real man to admit they are a classic Star Trek fan, or X-Files. We would sit together out at the COP and try to get through episodes of the original Star Trek, and then try to remember why we used to enjoy them so much long ago. He was a really smart guy and had done so much in life. He ran the NYC marathon; he had been all over the world. He loved to see new places and do different things; he was a modern day explorer. He loved history and he would encourage others to learn and to try something new. Before I knew it he had me reading The Iliad, and would always ask me if I was done so I could start The Odyssey.

Sgt Murray was a great person too; recently he had told me that he wanted to become a Freemason. He liked what they stood for and had told me that he thought he could become a better man, how he always wanted to be a part of something like that, helping people and kids, and being a part of history. So many great names in history had been Freemasons. What I didn’t get to tell him and what I want his family and everyone to know is: Joel, you were already a great person, a great man and leader, and someone that I will strive to be like, a great role model for any young soldier or grown man. Sgt Joel Lee Murray was an outstanding leader, Soldier, Hero, Husband, Father, and friend. We miss you, and we love you. You will never be forgotten.


SGT Joel L. Murray, KIA September 4, 2007



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