Monday, January 28, 2008

Silly Season update

After promising not to answer any phone calls until tomorrow's Florida primary was over, a dear friend and colleague called inviting me to an event for Sen. John McCain this morning. Gayle and I both went along with an associate and we all had a great time.

We thought this was going to be a meet-and-greet with a little sign waving, but it turned out to be a discussion of national security issues. Along with McCain were Sens. Lindsay Graham and Richard Burr, former CIA director Jim Woolsey, former Gov. Frank Keating from Oklahoma and former VA administrator Tony Principi. While there was a lot of talk of national security threats, there was also a discussion about the need to improve benefits for veterans. That was a first for me.

An observation: Candidates sound much better and more thoughtful than their squished sound bites we hear on television.

After the discussion broke up, McCain met with reporters. Did they ask for specifics on improved benefits? Nope.

First question: "Mitt Romney says you are a liberal. Are you a liberal?"

Guess which sound bites will make the 6:30 p.m. news?

Sen. McCain takes questions from the media in Jacksonville, Fla.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Silly Season arrives in Florida

The Republican candidates have descended upon our fair state of Florida en masse and the Silly Season is junking up our air waves. The Ron Paul signs are everywhere and Mitt Romney is on the TV virtually every other commercial.

This isn't a friendly, coffee-shop affair like you might find in New Hampshire or Iowa. There are 18 million people living here. So we see pre-packaged photo ops and caravans of campaign buses complete with police escorts.

A side effect of the Silly Season is the robotic, computer-driven campaign phone calls in which the candidates say really nasty things about each other. They come at all hours of the day. Romney called us twice last night and John McCain called today and it is still early.

We've turned our Privacy Director back on.

Gayle and I are also swearing off the candidate debates. We found the "You-represented-a-slum-lord, you-served-on-the-board-of-WalMart" Democratic debate Monday disheartening.

The Republicans here are pandering to their base by dividing very complicated issues like Iraq into black and white. The chant of "victory or defeat" somehow rings hollow to me and offensive to Gayle given the complexity of the war.

But here's what I haven't heard:

Better benefits and pay for the military;
Better screening for PTSD;
More educational opportunities for soldiers particularly the combat units whose inflexible schedules make it difficult to take classes;
Better benefits for Vets;
And on and on....

When will that public discussion take place?

Oh, yeah. There is good news. We can turn our Privacy Director off on Wednesday.

Monday, January 21, 2008

From the blogosphere

Here's some interesting Iraq related posts from other blogs:

Charlie The Dog:

For an update on the efforts to bring Charlie The Dog back to the U.S. from Baghdad, see the recent post from Eighty Deuce on the Loose, linked in the sidebar on the right. Charlie Company of the 1-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne has adopted a stray who has been living at its Forward Operating Base in Baghdad (or rather the dog adopted them). Some of the soldiers have gone to great lengths to take care of him and have him vaccinated. Now they are trying to find a way to send him back to the States before they redeploy home.

Vacation and blogging:

Jan Wesner blogs at Standing By, which is also linked on the sidebar. Her husband has recently returned from Iraq so she is taking a seven day sabbatical with her family. But her readers have continued on with out her and there are now 141 comments on her last entry. It's a testament to how a blog can bring together folks with a common interest. In this case, it's the war.

Update on Operation Phantom Phoenix:

See Bill Roggio's The Long War Journal for an update on an offensive under way in Iraq. This operation has received little or no coverage in the media stateside. The story is linked on the right under Recently Read. It's called "Al Qaeda in Iraq's shrink area of operations."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What war?

As primary fever grips the nation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have disappeared from the front pages of both local and national newspapers. This has been going on for some time now as the economy clunks along and voters are looking in their wallets while heading to the polls. The war in Iraq continues to sink in opinion polls. I don't know if that is a sign of success overseas or that fewer and fewer people care anymore.

Yesterday, USA Today had a page one story on the security in Baghdad, but that has been the exception rather than the rule. My local paper, The Florida Times-Union, managed today to squeeze in a story about the end of a Shiite pilgrimage on page A-15 behind the furniture ads. A promo for "Religion and the hamburger" in the Business section rated a page one presence.

I stunned to read last week that there had been two major offensives under way in Iraq. I receive three newspapers a day and four on Saturday and I generally watch an hour of news every night. How could I miss that?

I heard about one from a friend whose son has been involved in Operation Phantom Phoenix.

It seems that with nearly 200,000 service men and women committed to our overseas wars, they deserve better, and so do we.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sports anchor fired for helping military families

From the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi:

Rick Whitlow, sports director for WJTV-Channel 12, said he was fired from the Jackson TV station Monday after he refused to work an unscheduled weekend.

Whitlow said Monday that he had told station officials he would not be able to work unscheduled weekends so he could devote time to military-family support groups following the deployment of his son, Army Pvt. Eric Whitlow, 23, to Iraq in August.

"I made it very clear that I have to schedule the weekends I work because the families who have sons and daughters serving overseas often meet with each other then for support," Whitlow said. "I had already arranged to meet with military families this past weekend in New Orleans.

"The station told me to come to work this weekend. I didn't. They took that as insubordination, and they fired me."

As of Monday evening, station officials, including the general manager and news director, could not be reached for comment. No one returned calls seeking comment. On Monday, Whitlow's photo and bio no longer appeared on the station's Web site.

"They basically put me in the position of choosing between them and my family," Whitlow said.

"When you have a child in Iraq trying to avoid roadside bombs, you have to plant your feet and make a stand.

"I would do the same thing 100 times over."

Whitlow returned to the CBS affiliate as sports director in May 2006 after making a run for the Jackson mayor's office the previous year.

He was defeated in the general election by Frank Melton, who then hired him to the mayor's staff, a position Whitlow held until returning to WJTV.

Whitlow had worked at WJTV from 1985-94 and at WAPT-Channel 16 from 1995-2003.

In 2003, he became executive director of the newly formed Metro Jackson Safe City Watch, a citizens' crime watchdog group.

On Monday, Whitlow said he isn't sure what his plans are for now.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back to normal at Ft. Bragg

From our SPC at Ft. Bragg:

It starts over, as if everything that happened, didn’t.

Out of the desert and back from leave:

0500 wake up,

physical training from 0630 to 0745,
breakfast from 0745 to 0845 and a 0900 work call.

Brand new privates have begun to show their faces.
Timid and scared like little kids, they are labeled

I look into their faces and see myself some
two years ago. They almost look innocent, and in their
eyes, I can see that their souls carry no weight. Most
are baby faced and can’t be a day over 18-years-old.

I wonder what they see when they look at me. Do they
see a twenty-something veteran who feels like he’s
thirty-five and pities them knowing that one day their
eyes will look like his own.

To be honest personally I am relieved they are here
because it means fewer details for me. The latrine
needs cleaning. “New guys!” The floor needs a sweep
and a mop, or the garbage needs emptying. “New guys!”

Some may call this hazing or just unfair. But
that is the way it has to be. There is a short window
when a cherry arrives to either make them into a good
soldier ready to listen and learn from the veterans or
allow them to become (for lack of a better term)
“shit bags”.

They have to learn their place and earn
the respect of the veterans. The more they take the
quicker they are accepted by the rest of the herd.
But don’t feel bad for them because every day that
goes by it gets easier for them. Little-by-little
they are befriended and absorbed into their platoons.

Not only that, but the old way of the Army, which used
a system of torturing and hazing new soldiers to
integrate them, is gone. As far as my unit goes, the
group of new guys with whom I arrived got the last of
it. Those were tough days and I wish them on no one.

No one talks about the sandbox much anymore. Even
though we were in the middle of combat operations only
a few short months ago, it’s been put to the backs of
minds and swallowed deep inside.

And so the endless rotation begins again. For a combat unit in a time of war, if you are not in combat you are training for it. The day we landed back in the States after almost a
year and a half in Iraq we began to look forward to the next deployment. Rumors spread like wildfire and the initial spike of moral was slowly lost as each day
ends. For those who have been in the know, it’s only a matter of time before orders come down.

Those veterans with several tours under their belt keep
track of the days they have left in the Army trying to
do the math and praying that they will be out by the next
trip to the sandbox.

I am one of those veterans. I put my life on hold to serve my country. I am now certain
that I have done more than my part. I am ready to start
my life and go on to do bigger and better things. But
for now like so many others the Army still owns me and
I am at will the of it, and my civilian leadership.

I have been asked more than once or twice whether I
regret joining the Army. From my heart, I say “No.” I
purposefully volunteered three times to get myself
into a place where I knew I would most certainly see combat. I knew what I was doing unlike most guys who are here with me, who were sold the idea by
recruiters. I say now that you know I
don’t regret joining the Army but ask me if I regret
signing a four-year contract.

We’ll start training again very soon. Bring the new
guys up to speed. Polish the skills of our new
officers and NCOs. Eyes always looking down range
towards the next battlefield. Some quietly praying
to never have to make that journey again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Looking back

"President Bush yesterday began promoting his plan to send more troops to Iraq, bringing more than 30 Republican senators to the White House as part of a major campaign to rally the American people behind another effort to stabilize the country.

Senators who met with Bush said the president made it clear that he is planning to add as many as 20,000 U.S. troops to help quell violence in Baghdad. They also said the president is arguing that his new plan has a better chance for success than past plans because of a greater willingness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to commit Iraqi forces against all perpetrators of violence, including Shiite militias."

---January 9, 2007, Washington Post.

President Bush announced his "surge" policy in a national address the next night.

But elements of the 82nd Airborne had been deployed to Iraq the week before and had been given pre-deployment notices on Dec. 15.

And this what Baghdad looked like then:

I'm not sure how I would have felt about the surge had the President been straight forward with us. But as parents of soldiers, I think we deserve to know the truth.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Silly Season

The Silly Season officially starts tonight as Iowans caucus to decide whom they like for this year's presidential election. The Silly Season ends on Super Tuesday in February and then the Really Silly Season starts.

With the supposed lull in the violence, the war in Iraq has slid into second place in the polls as the issue that concerns most Americans. Once again, pocketbook issues, as they have in the past, have become the dominant issue at the election booth.

After the recent assassination in Pakistan and the rather weak responses by some of the leading candidates in both parties, it is clear that U.S. needs someone who understands the complexities of foreign policy.

Remarkably, some of the second tier candidates make more sense than some of their first tier competitors.

The Democrats have disenfranchised us here in Florida and the Republicans have marginalized us (probably not a bad thing given our wonderful 2000 election).

So when I head to the election booth in November to cast my only meaningful vote, I will be asking this question: "In to whose hands do I put the fate of my son."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2008 and a hopeful return to normal

Our soldier son returns to Ft. Bragg today. He has been home since Dec. 4. He seems OK and well-rested.

Now we find out how the future will look. Will he be teed up for another deployment? Or will the 82nd return to its regular mission, being the nation's first responder? I suspect we won't know for a while.

At any rate, it's been great having him home. We had a nice Christmas Eve dinner and he was kind enough to hang out with his parents on New Year's Eve. Somehow, however, we finished the holidays without a family photo...and this would have been the year to do one.

The 3x4 map of Baghdad and the 2x3 map of Iraq was trundled off to storage. All the books on Iraq were hauled off to my office (out of sight, out of mind). The blue star banner has been taken down.

With the exception of a few newspaper clips that need to be put away and the 82nd Airborne flag, there are no longer any visible signs of what this household has been through the last two years.

The future for us? We will continue to monitor and pray for our friends who have soldiers in Iraq. That will never change.

But I suspect we will un-tether ourselves from the Internet and Blackberries to see what a normal life looks like.