Wednesday, December 28, 2005

LETTERS TO BAGHDAD - Available for Purchase

To purchase Letters To Baghdad - A Tribute To Our Troops, go to Click to enter the site and you will see a New Release icon in the lower left corner. Click it. BUY IT. Get GREAT music and support a GREAT cause.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

LETTERS TO BAGHDAD - A Tribute to Our Troops

As I mentioned several weeks ago... Cliff Knizley, a great musician out of Gainesville, FL, has created an incredible album called Letters To Baghdad - A Tribute To Our Troops.

The CD will be available for online purchase very soon at I will be a the CD release party Wednesday December 21 in Ocala, FL at the Tin Cup Tavern. If you live in Ocala be sure to listen to Cliff and I on 97.3 The Sky with Chip Morris and Mr. PC Wednesday afternoon.

Proceeds from this album will be donated to various soldier charities to include Lest They Be Forgotten, Homes For Our Troops and Freedom Alliance. So, not only do you get some beautiful music, you get to help some soldiers!

Below is some of the album's art which consists of pictures from Boots In Baghdad. As soon as the CD is available online I will put the link up. There is NO EXCUSE not to buy this folks.




Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Purple Revolution

Very soon, Iraq's mosques will call upon believers to wake up and pray, shortly thereafter, a Greek ghost named DEMOCRACY will call upon all Iraqis, believers and non-believers, Muslims and Christians, Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shi'a, Turkomen and Yezedis, everyone over the age of 18 to go and vote for the first full-term democratic government in the history of this ancient land.

-Vahal Abdulrahman of The Iraqi Vote

"This day is revenge for Saddam"

Iraqis Rewarded for Patience at the Polls
MY Way News

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Trodding along streets emptied of traffic, Iraqis swarmed to polling stations Thursday, lined up patiently to be searched, pored over long paper ballots with dozens and dozens of candidate lists and then cast their votes for a permanent legislature.

Men emerged from one polling site in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood jubilantly waving hands with fingers stained with indelible purple ink to prevent multiple voting.

Policemen guarding a station in another part of Baghdad fired their guns in the air to mark the scheduled end of voting, but authorities then ordered that balloting be extended an hour because of heavy turnout across the country.

Some people walked through the streets wrapped in Iraq's flag.

In the northern city of Mosul, the streets were like a giant playground. Thousands of children took advantage of a countrywide ban on nonmilitary traffic to turn major roads into soccer fields. Families strolled through residential neighborhoods after voting.

Turnout out was even heavy in Sunni Arab areas, which mostly boycotted last January's election of an interim parliament. The mood there was often defiant, with voters from that formerly powerful minority critical of the Shiite Muslim-dominated interim government.

Omar Badry, a 28-year-old supermarket owner, said that government was "imposed by the Americans and not chosen by the people."

He said he voted for the Iraqi Accordance Front of Adnan al-Dulaimi because its leaders "always spoke out against the military operations in Sunni areas and even in Shiite ones."

Tareq Moustafa Abdullah, a 70-year-old Sunni who is a retired government employee, said he regretted not voting in January "because we ended up with people who do not know God as a result."

Ballots ran short in Fallujah, a predominantly Sunni stronghold overrun by U.S. troops a year ago. Mayor Dhari Youssef al-Arsan said 11 of the city's 35 polling stations did not get ballot boxes at all and some sites ran out of ballots in the first hours of voting.

"Participation from the people was very good and unexpected. The biggest indication is that polling sites were running out of ballots because they were not expecting so many people," al-Arsan said, estimating nearly half of eligible voters cast ballots.

Violence appeared to be light. Despite promises from major insurgent groups not to attack polling stations, a mortar shell killed one civilian near a voting site in the northern city of Tal Afar and a grenade killed a school guard near a polling place in Mosul.

Several bombs were found along major roads leading to polling stations in predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods and destroyed, the U.S. military reported.

After checking security at polling stations, American troops moved out of the areas and left security to Iraqi police and soldiers. In the insurgent hotbed of Ramadi, masked gunmen were seen guarding some voting sites.

Security officers searched people entering polling stations to guard against attacks. At some sites, men and women lined up at separate entrances. At others, they stood together, waiting their turn to be handed lengthy ballots.

The mood was upbeat among the country's Shiite Muslim majority and in Kurdish areas, where people expressed hope that the new government will make strides against the insurgency.

"We hope that they will bring us security and safety," 80-year-old Abbasiya Ahmad said after voting for the governing Shiite United Iraqi Alliance at Baghdad city hall.

Many Iraqis celebrated the election as another step away from the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein.

"This is day is revenge for Saddam. This is one of the times that Iraqis are free to choose their candidates," said Chiman Saleh, 39, a Kurdish housewife in the northern city of Kirkuk who had two brothers killed by Saddam's security forces in the 1980s.

Interesting Iraq Election Facts

Fast Facts: Iraq Elections

Thursday, December 15, 2005
Assiciated Press

— The Polls: More than 15 million people are eligible to vote in one of more than 33,000 polling stations in Iraq's 18 provinces. There is also voting in 15 countries for eligible Iraqis.

How Many Are Running: There are 7,655 candidates running on 996 tickets. They belong to 307 political groups -- either in the form of single candidates or parties -- and 19 coalitions.

Biggest District: Baghdad is Iraq's biggest electoral district with 2,161 candidates running for 59 of the 275 seats in Iraq's parliament.

Polling Times: Polls opened at 7 a.m. Thursday (11 p.m. EST Wednesday) and close at 5 p.m. (9 a.m. EST Thursday).

Exit Polls: No exit polls or projections are expected.

Results: There may be some scattered and incomplete results Thursday night, although after the Jan. 30 elections it took two weeks to announce final results.

How Candidates Are Elected: Iraqis do not vote for individual candidates, but instead for lists -- or tickets -- that compete for the seats in each of the provinces. Each list corresponds to the seats represented in parliament for each province. This province-by-province voting will determine 230 of the 275 seats.

The remaining 45 will be decided nationwide. All votes cast will be added up and divided by 275 to provide a national threshold number. Any tickets that receive more votes than that threshold gets elected. This provision is designed to help small and medium-sized tickets win representation.

Government: The target is to have the count finished and a government in place by year's end. In the last elections, which did not see much Sunni Arab participation, it took until April 28 to form a government.

Election Day In Iraq

Voting Extended in Historic Iraq Elections

Thursday, December 15, 2005

FOX News' Dana Lewis and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Iraqi election commission extended voting by one more hour because of high turnout in the country's historic parliamentary elections Thursday.

And to the surprise of coalition forces, violence in Iraq was much lighter than expected and the smattering of attacks didn't appear to discourage Iraqis, some of whom turned out wrapped in their country's flag on a bright, sunny day and afterward displayed a purple ink-stained index finger — a mark to guard against multiple voting.

If all goes well, U.S. officials hope the vote will set the stage for a troop reduction in that country.

"We see a set of circumstances with the elections that we can begin to downsize forces and reduce, significantly, the size of our forces in the aftermath of the election," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told FOX News. "It can be seen as a calendar of events leading to … U.S. withdrawl."

The high voter turnout was due, in part, to large numbers of Sunni Arabs showing up at some of the country's 33,000 polling stations; many Sunnis boycotted elections earlier this year. Many Iraqis had waited until the last minute to vote, to make sure the security situation was under control before they left their homes for the polls.

An imam in Ramadi was heard over a mosque loudspeaker saying: "God will bless you with a great life if you go out and vote. This is your last chance to vote."

Iraqis were voting to establish a permanent democratic government in Iraq; some preliminary returns were expected late Thursday, but final returns could take days, if not weeks. Vote counting could carry on until the end of December or early January.

Iraqis voted in January to elect the current interim government that drafted the Iraqi constitution, which was approved in October. Strong turnout in Sunni Arab areas this time around bolstered hopes of U.S. and Iraqi officials that more Sunni participation and representation in the government could help quash the insurgency; Sunni Arabs make up the backbone of the insurgency in Iraq.

U.S. officials also say the government need to be able to reconcile Iraq's disparate groups. The Americans also want to avoid protracted negotiations to choose a new prime minister and cabinet — a process that dragged on for three months after the last vote.

"The Iraqi people are showing the world that all people — of all backgrounds — want to be able to choose their own leaders and live in freedom. And we're encouraged by what appears to be a large turnout throughout Iraq," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

'Our Revenge on Saddam'

Some Iraqis said Thursday's vote was a symbolic gesture of democracy that had been suppressed for years under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein.

"This is the day to get our revenge on Saddam," said Kurdish voter Chiman Saleh, a Kirkuk housewife who said two of her brothers were killed by the ousted regime. Voter turnout was brisk in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, especially in Kurdish districts.

Ethnic tensions in Kirkuk, claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, could be seen, however. Norjan Adel, a poll watcher for the Turokman Front, complained of irregularities by the Kurds, including multiple voting.

She prevented a Kurdish policeman from entering the station carrying a flag of the self-ruled Kurdish region, saying: "I only recognize the Iraqi flag, and any other flag is a joke."

More than 1,000 Sunni clerics called on their followers to vote, and insurgent groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army in Iraq, pledged not to attack polling stations.

But several explosions rocked Baghdad as the polls opened, including a large one near the heavily fortified Green Zone that slightly injured two civilians and a U.S. Marine, the U.S. military said.

A civilian was killed when a mortar shell exploded near a polling station in the northern city of Tal Afar, and a bomb killed a hospital guard near a voting site in Mosul.

A bomb also exploded in Ramadi, and the U.S. military said one was defused at a polling station in Fallujah. Some election sites in Ramadi were guarded by masked gunmen.

Maj. Gen Rick Lynch, deputy general for the multi-national forces in Iraq, told FOX News that there were only 14 attacks against polling stations, "which is a direct tribute to the capability of the Iraqi security forces … they wanted to make sure their people could vote for a representative government and they did that today."

"This is an amazing day for the people of Iraq," he added.

"It is a good day so far, good for us, good for Iraq," Khalilzad told The Associated Press. "This is a first step for integrating the Sunni Arabs and bringing them into the political process and integrating them into the government."

Up to 15 million Iraqis were electing 275 members of the first full-term parliament since Saddam's ouster from among 7,655 candidates running on 996 tickets, representing Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Turkomen and sectarian interests across a wide political spectrum.

Iraqis do not vote for individual candidates, but instead for lists — or tickets — that compete for the seats in each of the 18 provinces.

An alliance of Shiite religious parties, which dominate the current government, was expected to win the largest number of seats — but not enough to form a new administration without a coalition with rival groups. That could set the stage for lengthy and possibly bitter negotiations to produce a government.

The new parliament will serve a four-year term; an interim parliament was voted in Jan. 30, and the constitution was ratified in October. The new parliament will name a government, including a new prime minister.

With a nationwide vehicle ban in effect, most Iraqis walked to the polls. Streets were generally empty of cars, except for police, ambulances and a few others with special permits.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police guarded polling stations, with U.S. and other coalition forces standing by in case of trouble. U.S. troops and bomb-detecting dogs checked thousands of polling stations before handing over control to Iraqi police.

"Sometimes it feels like we're beating a dead horse, but maybe this here today will be the culmination of it all," said Staff Sgt. Jason Scapanski, 33, of St. Cloud, Minn., assigned to the 101st Airborne in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad.

U.S. and coalition officials who are banking on strong voter turnout to elect a legitimate government in the eyes of the many different Iraqi groups who, despite some of their religious differences, have a common goal: To get a representative government up and running as soon as possible so that U.S. troops can go home.

Sunnis Vote En Masse

In Fallujah, the former Sunni insurgent stronghold overrun by U.S. forces in November 2004, hundreds packed a high school polling station, with many saying they saw the vote as a way to not only get rid of the Americans but to also get rid of the Shiite-dominated government.

"It's an extremist government [and] we would like an end to the occupation," said Ahmed Majid, 31. "Really the only true solution is through politics. But there is the occupation and the only way that will end is with weapons."

Even in insurgent bastions such as Ramadi and Haqlaniyah, Sunnis were turning out in large numbers.

"I came here and voted in order to prove that Sunnis are not a minority in this country," said lawyer Yahya Abdul-Jalil in Ramadi. "We lost a lot during the last elections, but this time we will take our normal and key role in leading this country."

Teacher Khalid Fawaz in Fallujah said he also participated "so that the Sunnis are no longer marginalized."

Sunnis have repeatedly complained of abuse at the hands of Shiite-dominated security forces. U.S. and Iraqi forces have come across several apparent victims of torture around Iraq.

The big turnout in Fallujah also caused problems, with voters, election officials and the mayor complaining of a shortage of ballot boxes and ballots.

Mayor Dhari Youssef al-Arsan, who put turnout at about 45 percent, said 11 out of 35 polling stations did not get ballot boxes and some ran out of ballots in the early hours of voting.

"Three sites stopped because they ran out of ballots," he said. "We had an administrative problem opening polling sites in some of the centers."

He said some of the voters told him that "they thought it was done purposely."

Shiites and Kurds seemed more hopeful that the new government would be more successful than the outgoing one in restoring security and providing basic services. Shiites also appeared confident of retaining their leadership role.

The country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, told Shiites to support candidates who defend their principles — a veiled warning against turning toward secular political movements.

"They are clerics, and clerics do not steal our money," said Abbasiya Ahmad, 80, as she voted for the Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, at a Baghdad polling station. "We want people who protect our money."

If all goes well, the United States and other coalition partners would like to begin drawing down their troops next year.

Despite the positive signs in Thursday's elections, some Middle East experts warn that the work is not done when all the votes are counted.

"I do think it's a very significant change, I do think it creates the potential to have a great impact," former Mideast Ambassador Dennis Ross told FOX News, referring to Sunni participation in the elections. "But before we rush to make a decision about how soon change will take place and what it's going to look like," he added, it will take awhile to set up the new government and for Sunnis make revisions to the constitution.

Former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told FOX News said he believes the new government may be set up sooner than expected, perhaps within a month after the votes are counted.

"I think the administration here, the U.S. administration, is going to be less reticent about putting pressure on the Iraqis to get a government formed quickly," Senor said.

He also said there may be a problem with the new prime minister having enough power to make decisions, given how the Iraqi constitution decentralizes power in the executive branch, which may lead to gridlock among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on some issues.

"I do think in that regard, decision-making is going to be tough for any prime minister, whoever's elected," he said.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, highlighted a key looming fight — possible amendments to the constitution — as he voted in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah.

"I hope that the Iraqi people will stay united. We hope that the people will vote to keep the constitution that was approved by the Iraqi people," he said.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Iraq's Elections

I am going to start posting some good articles and sites that provide solid information on Iraq's elections.

Vahal Abdulrahman, creator of Dear Baghdad, now has another blog dedicated to covering Iraq's elections. Check it out: The Iraqi Vote.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Car Crash

So, it’s about 7:22am and I am driving to work. It is pouring rain. I pull out of a gas station and am heading toward the highway so I can go work in my cubicle so as to pay my bills until I head out for Afghanistan.

I am about a hundred meters behind a Ford Explorer Sport when it spins out of control and flies into oncoming traffic… nailing a PT Cruiser. The sounds of glass and medal shattering, bending and breaking, look like beasts attempting to slaughter each-other. Both vehicles lift off of the ground and spin as they embrace eachother with crushing power.

I immediately grab my cell phone and dial 911. I provide the operator with a quick SIT REP (situation report). I then reach behind me… grab my CLS (combat life saver) bag and run to the scene. A woman and her two daughters lie in the grass on the side of the road. They are okay, just shaken up. Her daughters are around ten and maybe thirteen years old.

Realizing that only one of these three people could have been driving, I ask if anyone is in the other vehicle. I run around to the driver’s side of the other vehicle and find an attractive woman, probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s… pinned in her vehicle.

She has no visible life threatening injuries. She isn’t bleeding. She has full mobility of her upper body. I help her get her seat belt undone. She asks me to open her door. The impact has pushed her into the center of her vehicle. There isn’t going to be anyone opening her door by themselves anytime soon.

As I lean into her passenger door I help her undo her seat belt and look quickly at her legs, wondering if they are just pinned under the dash or shattered by the crushing collision. Then, the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue arrived.

I motion Fire/Rescue toward the woman in the Explorer. If anyone needs immediate attention it’s her. Then I walk to my truck and continue my completely normal and boring day, feeling more alive than I have since I returned home from Baghdad. I can’t wait to get back to the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


My fellow Americans, you have a tremendous opportunity to help the soldiers that make up America's National Guard as well as their families.

Leaders in the United States Congress as well as the Senate are currently considering legislation that would substantially increase health care benifits for soldiers in America's National Guard.

This, in my humble opinion, is long over due.

From patrolling Baghdad to training the Afghan National Army, from guarding airports to rescuing hurricane victims... the National Guard has been there, is there, and always will be there.

We have been serving for over 368 years, America's longest standing military service. Today, more than ever, the National Guard stands tall as one of the strongest defenders of freedom and the American way of life.

I have inserted below some information provided by the National Guard Association of the United States:

The TRICARE amendment will be debated and discussed between the House and Senate conferees within the next few days. Although we will have very strong support from the Senate in those conference negotiations, we still need to urge support from all House and Senate members and especially those from the House Armed Services Committee who are appointed as conferees. There are only a few days left in order to impact this legislation for this year. We need you to act immediately.


Contact your Congressman/Woman and Senators immediately and urge their support for TRICARE. Ask them to contact members of the House Armed Services Committee and Authorization Conferees to urge their support of this critical provision within the Senate version of the defense authorization bill. We need to take care of our Guardsmen and their families and TRICARE for all is something that does just that. We now believe with one heavy closing grassroots effort we can get TRICARE passed this year.

USE "Write to Congress" IT'S SO EASY!

By using our "Write to Congress" feature that can be found on the NGAUS web page you can contact your Congressional members directly via e-mail, and send the pre- written message (or edit it as you wish) by entering your zip code in the space provided. Now is the time for Congress to support all National Guard members and their families with a comprehensive health care plan. We urge you, your family and friends to act now!

This is a simple and quick way for you to say thanks to the soldiers serving in America's National Guard. If you have ANY questions please contact me. If you would like, e-mail your zip code to me at and I will send you your Congressperson and Senator's contact info.

Thank you.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I volunteered to go... next month.

Boots In Kabul? We will see.


Sunday, November 27, 2005


There are various e-mails circulating that claim to be written by American soldiers. These e-mails typically will say, "from/by the soldiers of the (Unit)." These fake e-mails ask Americans to contact their leaders and to forward the e-mail to as many people as they can.

In these fabricated e-mails it is claimed that American soldiers are terrified and want to go home.

These e-mails are fake. They were not written by American soldiers. American soldiers lust for the blood of their nation's enemies. They understand the commitment they have made to their nation and their fellow service members.

These e-mails are sorry attempts at altering the outcome of our efforts in the Middle East. Their authors are traitors and should be tried for treason.

If you receive one of these e-mails please forward it to me at

Thursday, November 24, 2005

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclomation

I spent last Thanksgiving in the cold rain guarding the outer gates of the Baghdad International Airport. Now I have the fortune of warmth and comfort withing the safe borders of our great Nation in the company of family... thanks largely to the hundreds of thousands of American military personnel spread throughout the world. Let's be sure to remember them and their families this Thanksgiving. Below is President George Washingtons Thanksgiving Proclamation.

General Thanksgiving
By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Congress later changed the official holiday to the last Thursday of November.

To view the original proclimation click here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


This is the best article I have read on Iraq since I returned home. The author's objective writing is based on a perfect balance of intelligence and experience. In my opinion, his accuracy is absolute.

It is written by Melvin Laird, former Defense Secretary to Nixon. It is posted in its entirety below or it can be found at Foreign Affairs.

Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam
Melvin R. Laird
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005


Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the assumption that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War. He didn't have any such plan, and my job as his first secretary of defense was to remedy that -- quickly. The only stated plan was wording I had suggested for the 1968 Republican platform, saying it was time to de-Americanize the war. Today, nearly 37 years after Nixon took office as president and I left Congress to join his cabinet, getting out of a war is still dicier than getting into one, as President George W. Bush can attest.

There were two things in my office that first day that gave my mission clarity. The first was a multivolume set of binders in my closet safe that contained a top-secret history of the creeping U.S. entry into the war that had occurred on the watch of my predecessor, Robert McNamara. The report didn't remain a secret for long: it was soon leaked to The New York Times, which nicknamed it "the Pentagon Papers." I always referred to the study as "the McNamara Papers," to give credit where credit belonged. I didn't read the full report when I moved into the office. I had already spent seven years on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee listening to McNamara justify the escalation of the war. How we got into Vietnam was no longer my concern. (Although, in retrospect, those papers offered a textbook example of how not to commit American military might.)

The second item was another secret document, this one shorter and infinitely more troubling. It was a one-year-old request from General William Westmoreland to raise the U.S. troop commitment in Vietnam from 500,000 to 700,000. At the time he had made the request, Westmoreland was the commander of U.S. forces there. As soon as the idea had reached the ears of President Lyndon Johnson, Westmoreland's days in Saigon were numbered. Johnson bumped him upstairs to be army chief of staff, so that the Pentagon bureaucracy could dilute his more-is-better philosophy during the coming presidential campaign.

The memo had remained in limbo in the defense secretary's desk, neither approved nor rejected. As my symbolic first act in office, it gave me great satisfaction to turn down that request formally. It was the beginning of a four-year withdrawal from Vietnam that, in retrospect, became the textbook description of how the U.S. military should decamp.

Others who were not there may differ with this description. But they have been misinformed by more than 30 years of spin about the Vietnam War. The resulting legacy of that misinformation has left the United States timorous about war, deeply averse to intervening in even a just cause, and dubious of its ability to get out of a war once it is in one. All one need whisper is "another Vietnam," and palms begin to sweat. I have kept silent for those 30 years because I never believed that the old guard should meddle in the business of new administrations, especially during a time of war. But the renewed vilification of our role in Vietnam in light of the war in Iraq has prompted me to speak out.

Some who should know better have made our current intervention in Iraq the most recent in a string of bogeymen peeking out from under the bed, spawned by the nightmares of Vietnam that still haunt us. The ranks of the misinformed include seasoned politicians, reporters, and even veterans who earned their stripes in Vietnam but who have since used that war as their bully pulpit to mold an isolationist American foreign policy. This camp of doomsayers includes Senator Edward Kennedy, who has called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam." Those who wallow in such Vietnam angst would have us be not only reticent to help the rest of the world, but ashamed of our ability to do so and doubtful of the value of spreading democracy and of the superiority of freedom itself. They join their voices with those who claim that the current war is "all about oil," as though the loss of that oil were not enough of a global security threat to merit any U.S. military intervention and especially not "another Vietnam."

The Vietnam War that I saw, first from my seat in Congress and then as secretary of defense, cannot be wrapped in a tidy package and tagged "bad idea." It was far more complex than that: a mixture of good and evil from which there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Yet the only lesson that seems to have endured is the one that begins and ends with "Don't go there." The war in Iraq is not "another Vietnam." But it could become one if we continue to use Vietnam as a sound bite while ignoring its true lessons.

I acknowledge and respect the raw emotions of those who fought in Vietnam, those who lost loved ones, and those who protested, and I also respect the sacrifice of those who died following orders of people such as myself, half a world away. Those raw emotions are once again being felt as our young men and women die in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot speak for the dead or the angry. My voice is that of a policymaker, one who once decided which causes were worth fighting for, how long the fight should last, and when it was time to go home. The president, as our commander-in-chief, has the overall responsibility for making these life-or-death decisions, in consultation with Congress. The secretary of defense must be supportive of those decisions, or else he must leave.

It is time for a reasonable look at both Vietnam and Iraq -- and at what the former can teach us about the latter. My perspective comes from military service in the Pacific in World War II (I still carry shrapnel in my body from a kamikaze attack on my destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox), nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and four years as secretary of defense to Nixon.

Today, we deserve a view of history that is based on facts rather than emotional distortions and the party line of tired politicians who play on emotions. Mine is not a rosy view of the Vietnam War. I didn't miss the fact that it was an ugly, mismanaged, tragic episode in U.S. history, with devastating loss of life for all sides. But there are those in our nation who would prefer to pick at that scab rather than let it heal. They wait for opportunities to trot out the Vietnam demons whenever another armed intervention is threatened. For them, Vietnam is an insurance policy that pretends to guarantee peace at home as long as we never again venture abroad. Certain misconceptions about that conflict, therefore, need to be exposed and abandoned in order to restore confidence in the United States' nation-building ability.


The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. In fact, we grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that had allowed it to continue to fight on its own. Over the four years of Nixon's first term, I had cautiously engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our forces while building up South Vietnam's ability to defend itself. My colleague and friend Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable agreement between North and South Vietnam, which was signed in January 1973. It allowed for the United States to withdraw completely its few remaining troops and for the United States and the Soviet Union to continue funding their respective allies in the war at a specified level. Each superpower was permitted to pay for replacement arms and equipment. Documents released from North Vietnamese historical files in recent years have proved that the Soviets violated the treaty from the moment the ink was dry, continuing to send more than $1 billion a year to Hanoi. The United States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the Soviet contribution.

Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own courageously and respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.

I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now. From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a major battle. The Tet offensive itself was a victory for South Vietnam and devastated the North Vietnamese army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and the war thereafter was that of defeat for the United States and the Saigon government. Just so, the overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of failure and futility.

Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its allies. The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord. The president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense must share the blame. In the end, they did not stand up for the commitments our nation had made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet officer who is turned down by Congress when he asks for funding for a matter of national security or defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no excuse for that failure. In my four years at the Pentagon, when public support for the Vietnam War was at its nadir, Congress never turned down any requests for the war effort or Defense Department programs. These were tense moments, but I got the votes and the appropriations. A defense secretary's relationship with Congress is second only to his relationship with the men and women in uniform. Both must be able to trust him, and both must know that he respects them. If not, Congress will not fund, and the soldiers, sailors, and air personnel will not follow.

Donald Rumsfeld has been my friend for more than 40 years. Gerald Ford and I went to Evanston to support him in his first congressional race, and I urged President Bush to appoint him secretary of defense. But his overconfident and self-assured style on every issue, while initially endearing him to the media, did not play well with Congress during his first term. My friends in Congress tell me Rumsfeld has modified his style of late, wisely becoming more collegial. Several secretaries during my service on the Appropriations Committee, running all the way from the tenure of Charlie Wilson to that of Clark Clifford, made the mistake of thinking they must appear much smarter than the elected officials to whom they reported. It doesn't always work.

If Rumsfeld wants something from those who are elected to make decisions for the American people, then he must continue to show more deference to Congress. To do otherwise will endanger public support and the funding stream for the Iraq war and its future requirements. A sour relationship on Capitol Hill could doom the whole effort. The importance of this solidarity between Congress and the administration did not escape Saddam Hussein, nor has it escaped the insurgents. In the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, television stations there showed 1975 footage of U.S. embassy support personnel escaping to helicopters from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. It was Saddam's message to his people that the United States does not keep its commitments and that we are only as good as the word of our current president. We failed to deliver the logistical support to our allies in South Vietnam during the post-Watergate period because of a breakdown of leadership in Washington. The failure of one administration to keep the promises of another had a devastating effect on the North-South negotiations.

There are no guarantees of continuity in a partisan democracy. We are making commitments as to the future of Iraq on an almost daily basis. These commitments must be understood now so they can be honored later. Every skirmish on the home front that betrays a lack of solidarity on Iraq gives the insurgents more hope and ultimately endangers the men and women we have sent to Iraq to fight in this war for us. We are now committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must be understood that this will require long-term assistance or our efforts will be in vain.


Along with our abandonment of our allies, another great tragedy of Vietnam was the Americanization of the war. This threatens to be the tragedy of Iraq also. John F. Kennedy committed a few hundred military advisers to Saigon. Johnson saw Southeast Asia as the place to stop the spread of communism, and he spared no expense or personnel. By the time Nixon and I inherited the war in 1969, there were more than half a million U.S. troops in South Vietnam and 1.2 million more U.S. soldiers, sailors, and air personnel supporting the war from aircraft carriers and military bases in surrounding nations and at sea. The war needed to be turned back to the people who cared about it, the Vietnamese. They needed U.S. money and training but not more American blood. I called our program "Vietnamization," and in spite of the naysayers, I have not ceased to believe that it worked.

Nixon was reelected in 1972 based in large part on our progress toward ending U.S. direct involvement in the war, ending the draft, and establishing the all-volunteer military service. His opponent that year, George McGovern, made the war the primary issue of the campaign, claiming that Democrats -- the party in power that had escalated the war to an intolerable level -- would be the best folks to get us out. McGovern lost because the American people didn't agree with him.

We need to put our resources and unwavering public support behind a program of "Iraqization" so that we can get out of Iraq and leave the Iraqis in a position to protect themselves. The Iraq war should have been focused on Iraqization even before the first shot was fired. The focus is there now, and Americans should not lose heart.

We came belatedly to Vietnamization; nonetheless, there are certain principles we followed in Vietnam that would be helpful in Iraq. The most important is that the administration must adhere to a standard of competence for the Iraqi security forces, and when that standard is met, U.S. troops should be withdrawn in corresponding numbers. That is the way it worked in Vietnam, from the first withdrawal of 50,000 troops in 1969 to the last prisoner of war off the plane in January of 1973. Likewise, in Iraq, the United States should not let too many more weeks pass before it shows its confidence in the training of the Iraqi armed forces by withdrawing a few thousand U.S. troops from the country. We owe it to the restive people back home to let them know there is an exit strategy, and, more important, we owe it to the Iraqi people. The readiness of the Iraqi forces need not be 100 percent, nor must the new democracy be perfect before we begin our withdrawal. The immediate need is to show our confidence that Iraqis can take care of Iraq on their own terms. Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency.

I gave President Nixon the same advice about Vietnam from our first day in office. As secretary of defense, I took the initiative in the spring of 1969 to change our mission statement for Vietnam from one of applying maximum pressure against the enemy to one of giving maximum assistance to South Vietnam to fight its own battles. Then, the opponents of our withdrawal were the South Vietnamese government, which we had turned into a dependent, and some in our own military who harbored delusions of total victory in Southeast Asia using American might. Even if such a victory had been possible, it was wrong to Americanize the war from the beginning, and by that point the patience of the American people had run out.

Even with the tide of public opinion running against the war, withdrawal was not an easy sell inside the Nixon administration. Our first round of withdrawals was announced after a conference between Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu on Midway Island in June 1969. I had already softened the blow for Thieu by visiting him in Saigon in March, at which point I told him the spigot was being turned off. He wanted more U.S. soldiers, as did almost everyone in the U.S. chain of command, from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down. For each round of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs suggested a miserly number based on what they thought they still needed to win the war. I bumped those numbers up, always in counsel with General Creighton Abrams, then the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Even Nixon, who had promised to end the war, accepted each troop-withdrawal request from me grudgingly. It took four years to bring home half a million troops. At times, it seemed my only ally was General Abrams. He understood what the others did not: that the American people's patience for the war had worn thin.

Bush is not laboring under similar handicaps in his military. His commanders share his goal of letting Iraq take care of itself as soon as its fledgling democracy is ready. And for the moment, there is still patience at home for a commonsensical, phased drawdown. In fact, the voices expressing the most patience about a sensible withdrawal and the most support for the progress of Iraqi soldiers are coming from within the U.S. military. These people are also the most eager to see the mission succeed and the most willing to see it through to the end. It is they who are at high risk and who are the ones being asked to serve not one but multiple combat tours. They are dedicated and committed to a mission that ranges from the toughest combat to the most elementary chores of nation building. We should listen to them, and trust them.

In those four years of Vietnamization, I never once publicly promised a troop number for withdrawal that I couldn't deliver. President Bush should move ahead with the same certainty. I also did not announce what our quantitative standards for readiness among the South Vietnamese troops were, just as Bush should not make public his specific standards for determining when Iraqi troops are ready to go it alone. In a report to Congress in July 2005, the Pentagon hinted that those measurable standards are in place. However, it would be a mistake for the president to rely solely on the numbers. Instead, his top commander in the field should have the final say on how many U.S. troops can come home, commensurate with the readiness of Iraqi forces. If Bush does not trust his commander's judgment, as I trusted General Abrams, Bush should replace him with someone he does trust. That trust must be conveyed to the American people, too, if they are to be patient with an orderly withdrawal of our troops.


In this business of trust, President Bush got off to a bad start. Nixon had the same problem. Both the Vietnam War and the Iraq war were launched based on intelligence failures and possibly outright deception. The issue was much more egregious in the case of Vietnam, where the intelligence lapses were born of our failure to understand what motivated Ho Chi Minh in the 1950s. Had we understood the depth of his nationalism, we might have been able to derail his communism early on.

The infamous pretext for leaping headlong into the Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin incident. My old destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox, was patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin 25 miles off the coast of North Vietnam on August 2, 1964, when it was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. That solitary attack would have been written off as an aberration, but two days later the U.S.S. Maddox, joined then by the U.S.S. Turner Joy, reported that it was under attack again. From all I was able to determine when I read the dispatches five years later as secretary of defense, there was no second attack. There was confusion, hysteria, and miscommunication on a dark night. President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara either dissembled or misinterpreted the faulty intelligence, and McNamara hotfooted it over to Capitol Hill with a declaration that was short of war but that resulted in a war anyway. I, along with 501 colleagues in the House and Senate, voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which was Johnson's ticket to escalate our role in Vietnam. Until then, the United States had been part bystander, part covert combatant, and part adviser.

In Iraq, the intelligence blunder concerned Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, which in the end may or may not have been Bush's real motivation for going to war. My view is that it was better to find that Saddam had not progressed as far as we thought in his WMD development than to discover belatedly that he had. Whatever the truth about WMD in Iraq, it cannot be said that the United States slipped gradually, covertly, or carelessly into Iraq, as we did into Vietnam.


The mistake on the question of WMD in Iraq has led many to complain that the United States was drawn into the war under false pretenses, that what began as self-defense has morphed into nation building. Welcome to the reality of war. It is neither predictable nor tidy. This generation of Americans was spoiled by the quick-and-clean Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, when the first President Bush adhered to the mission, freed Kuwait, and brought home the troops. How would Iraq look today if George H.W. Bush had changed that mission on the fly and ordered a march to Baghdad and the overthrow of Saddam? The truth is, wars are fluid things and missions change. This is more the rule than the exception. It was true in Vietnam, and it is true in Iraq today.

The early U.S. objective in Southeast Asia was to stop the spread of communism. With changes in the relationship between the Soviet Union and China and the 1965 suppression of the communist movement in Indonesia, the threat of a communist empire diminished. Unwilling to abandon South Vietnam, the United States changed its mission to self-determination for Vietnam.

The current President Bush was persuaded that we would find WMD in Iraq and did what he felt he had to do with the information he was given. When we did not find the smoking gun, it would have been unconscionable to pack up our tanks and go home. Thus, there is now a new mission, to transform Iraq, and it is not a bad plan. Bush sees Iraq as the frontline in the war on terror -- not because terrorists dominate there, but because of the opportunity to displace militant extremists' Islamist rule throughout the region. Bush's greatest strength is that terrorists believe he is in this fight to the end. I have no patience for those who can't see that big picture and who continue to view Iraq as a failed attempt to find WMD. Now, because Iraq has been set on a new course, Bush has an opportunity to reshape the region. "Nation building" is not an epithet or a slogan. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it is our duty.

Unfortunately, Bush has done an uneven job of selling his message, particularly since he was relieved of the pressure of reelection. Nixon lost his leadership leverage because of Watergate and thus lost ground in the battle for public support. By contrast, I believe the American people would still want to follow Bush if they had a clear understanding of what was at stake. Recent polls showing a waning of support for the war are a sign to the president that he needs to level with the American people. When troops are dying, the commander-in-chief cannot be coy, vague, or secretive. We learned that in Vietnam, too.

Bush is losing the public relations war by making the same strategic mistakes we made in Vietnam. General Abrams frequently spoke to me about his frustration with the war that the U.S. media portrayed at home and how it contrasted with the war he was seeing up close. His sense of defeat in his own public relations war, with its 500-plus reporters based in Saigon, comes through in the hundreds of meetings held in his office in Saigon -- meetings that were taped for the record. (Transcripts of those tapes are ably assembled and analyzed by Lewis Sorley in his recent book, Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972.)

In Vietnam, correspondents roamed the country almost at will, and their work brought home to the United States the first televised war. Until that war, families back home worried about the welfare of their soldiers but could not see the danger. Had the mothers and fathers of U.S. soldiers serving in World War II seen a real-time CNN report of D-day in the style of Saving Private Ryan, they might not have thought Europe was worth saving. Operation Desert Storm married 24-hour cable news and war for the first time. The embedding of journalists with combat units in Iraq 12 years later was a solid idea, but it has meant that casualties are captured on tape and then replayed on newscasts thousands of times. The deaths of ten civilians in a suicide bombing are replayed and analyzed and thus become the psychological equivalent of 10,000 deaths. The danger to one U.S. soldier captured on tape becomes a threat to everyone's son or father or daughter or mother.

I have made too many phone calls to grieving families to ever downplay the loss of even one life. But I have also been in combat, and it looks different from the inside, from the viewpoint of those who volunteered and trained to fight for just causes. For a soldier, ducking a sniper's bullet in downtown Baghdad is all in a day's work, no matter how alarming it looks on television. The soldier will shrug it off and walk the same streets the next day if he believes in his mission. The key for Bush is to communicate that same sense of mission to the people back home. His west Texas cowboy approach -- shoot first and answer questions later, or do the job first and let the results speak for themselves -- is not working. With his propensity to wrap up a package and present it as a fait accompli, Bush declared, "Mission accomplished!" at the end of the major combat phase of the Iraq war. That was a well-earned high-five for the military, but it soon became obvious that the mission had only just begun.

The president must articulate a simple message and mission. Just as the spread of communism was very real in the 1960s, so the spread of radical fundamentalist Islam is very real today. It was a creeping fear until September 11, 2001, when it showed itself capable of threatening us. Iraq was a logical place to fight back, with its secular government and modern infrastructure and a populace that was ready to overthrow its dictator. Our troops are not fighting there only to preserve the right of Iraqis to vote. They are fighting to preserve modern culture, Western democracy, the global economy, and all else that is threatened by the spread of barbarism in the name of religion. That is the message and the mission. It is not politically correct, nor is it comforting. But it is the truth, and sometimes the truth needs good marketing.

Condoleezza Rice is one person in the administration who understands and has consistently and clearly stated this message. When she was national security adviser, the media seemed determined to sideline her repeated theme, perhaps because she was perceived as a mere water bearer for the president. As secretary of state, she is in a better position to speak independently. The administration should do its best to keep the microphone in her hands.


As was the case in Vietnam, the task in Iraq involves building a new society from the ground up. Two Vietnam experts, Jeffrey Record and W. Andrew Terrill, recently produced an exhaustive comparison of the Vietnam and Iraq wars for the Army War College. They note that in both wars, the United States sought to establish a legitimate indigenous government. In Iraq, the goal is a democratic government, whereas in Vietnam the United States would have settled for any regime that advanced our Cold War agenda.

Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington's "puppet" don't know what a real puppet government is. The Iraqis are as eager to be on their own as we are to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American, Ambassador Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in 1967. Elections were choreographed by the United States to empower corrupt, selfish men who were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen.

Little wonder that the passionate nationalists in the North came off as the group with something to offer. I do not personally believe the Saigon government was fated to fall apart someday through lack of integrity, and apparently the Soviet Union didn't think so either or it would not have pursued the war. But it is true that the U.S. administrations at the time severely underestimated the need for a legitimate government in South Vietnam and instead assumed that a shadow government and military force could win the day. In Iraq, a legitimate government, not window-dressing, must be the primary goal. The factious process of writing the Iraqi constitution has been painful to watch, and the varying factions must be kept on track. But the process is healthy and, more important, homegrown.

In hindsight, we can look at the Vietnam War as a success story -- albeit a costly one -- in nation building, even though the democracy we sought halfheartedly to build failed. Three decades ago, Asia really was threatened by the spread of communism. The Korean War was a fresh memory. In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even India, communist movements were gaining a foothold. They failed in large part because the United States drew a line at Vietnam that distracted and sucked resources away from its Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. Similarly, the effect of our stand in Iraq is already being felt around the Middle East. Opposition parties are demanding to be heard. Veiled women are insisting on a voice. Syrian troops have left Lebanon. Egypt has held an election. Iran is being pressured by the United States and Europe alike on its development of nuclear weapons. The voices for change are building in Saudi Arabia. The movement even has a name: Kifaya -- "Enough!" The parasites who have made themselves fat by promoting ignorance, fear, and repression in the region are squirming. These are baby steps, but that is where running begins.


Insurgents were and are the enemy in both wars, and insurgencies fail without outside funding. In Vietnam, the insurgents were heavily funded and well equipped by the Soviet Union. They followed a powerful and charismatic leader, Ho Chi Minh, who nurtured their passionate nationalist goals. In Iraq, the insurgency is fragmented, with no identifiable central leadership and no unifying theology, strategy, or vision other than to get the United States out of the region. If that goal were accomplished now, they would turn on each other, as they already have done in numerous skirmishes. Although they do rely on outside funding, their benefactors are fickle and without deep pockets.

There is no way of counting the precise number of insurgents in the Iraq war, but it appears to be in the thousands, which in comparative terms is paltry. Communist forces in Vietnam numbered well over 1 million in 1973. North Vietnam, over the course of the war, lost 1.1 million soldiers and 2 million civilians, and yet they were willing to fight on and we were not. Why? Record and Terrill say the key to understanding any war in which a weaker side prevails over a stronger one is the concept of the "asymmetry of stakes." Victory meant everything to North Vietnam and nothing to the average American. We had few economic interests in Vietnam. Our national security interest -- preventing the domino scenario, in which the entire world would fall under the sway of communism if we lost Southeast Asia -- didn't have enough currency to carry the day.

It is a very different story in Iraq, where the Bush administration hopes to implant democracy side by side with Islam. The stakes could not be higher for the continued existence of our own democracy and, yes, for the significant matter of oil. We are not the only nation dependent on Persian Gulf oil. We share that dependency with every industrialized nation on the planet. Picture those oil reserves in the hands of religious extremists whose idea of utopia is to knock the world economy and culture back more than a millennium to the dawn of Islam.

Bush's belief that he can replace repression with democracy is not some neoconservative fantasy. Our support of democracy dates from the founding of our nation. Democracies are simply better for the planet. Witness the courage of the Iraqi people who shocked the world and defied all the pessimists by showing up to vote in January 2005, even with guns pointed at their heads. The enemies of freedom in Iraq know what a powerful message that was to the rest of the Arab world, otherwise they would not have responded by escalating the violence.

Although Vietnam may have been a success story when it came to defeating an insurgency, the domestic insurgency -- conducted by the Vietcong -- was unfortunately only one front in the war, the larger front being the conventional military forces of North Vietnam. The Vietcong were largely suppressed by a combination of persuasion and force. A similar combination of deadly force against the Iraqi insurgency's leaders and incentives to co-opt their followers may work in Iraq, where the insurgency is the only enemy.

Vietnam, however, should be a cautionary tale when fighting guerrilla style, whether it be in the streets or in the jungle. Back then, frightened and untrained U.S. troops were ill equipped to govern their baser instincts and fears. Countless innocent civilians were killed in the indiscriminate hunt for Vietcong among the South Vietnamese peasantry. Some of the worst historical memories of the Vietnam War stem from those atrocities. Our volunteer troops in Iraq are better trained and supervised, yet the potential remains for a slaughter of innocents. Reports have already surfaced of skittish American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians in acts that can only be attributed to poor training and discipline.

To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file, whether in the prisons or on the streets, heads must roll at much higher levels than they have thus far. I well remember the unexpected public support for Lieutenant William Calley, accused in the massacre of civilians in the village of My Lai. The massacre did not occur on my watch, but Calley's trial did, and Americans flooded the White House with letters of protest when it appeared that Calley would be the scapegoat while his superiors walked free. The best way to keep foot soldiers honest is to make sure their commanders know that they themselves will be held responsible for any breach of honor.

For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay have been a disturbing reminder of the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The conditions in our current prison camps are nowhere near as horrific as they were at the "Hanoi Hilton," but that is no reason to pat ourselves on the back. The minute we begin to deport prisoners to other nations where they can legally be tortured, when we hold people without charges or trial, when we move prisoners around to avoid the prying inspections of the Red Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably on our watch, we are on a slippery slope toward the inhumanity that we deplore. In Vietnam, I made sure we always took the high ground with regard to the treatment of enemy prisoners. I opened our prison camps wide to international inspectors, so that we could demand the same from Hanoi. In Iraq, there are no American POWs being held in camps by the insurgents. There are only murder victims whose decapitated bodies are left for us to find. But that does not give us license to be brutal in return.


Our commanders in Iraq have another advantage over those in Vietnam: President Bush seems unlikely to be whipsawed by public opinion, but will take the war to wherever the enemy rears its head. In Vietnam, we waged a ground war in the South and did not permit our troops to cross into North Vietnam. The air war over the North and in Laos and Cambodia was waged in fits and starts, in secret and in the open, covered by lies and subterfuge, manipulated more by opinion polls than by military exigencies. In the early years, the services squabbled with one another. Even the State Department was allowed to veto air strikes. President Johnson stayed up late calling the plays while generals were sidelined.

In all, 2.8 million Americans served in and around Vietnam during the war, yet less than ten percent of them were in-line infantry units, the men we think of as our Vietnam veterans. Men were drafted and given a few weeks of training before being attached to a unit of strangers. With few exceptions, our all-volunteer military in Iraq is motivated, well trained, well equipped, and in cohesive units. This is not to say that any of these troops want to be there. They don't. Yet they are far more motivated to fight this war than were the average conscripts in Vietnam.

They are also part of a much smarter military, thanks in large part to the lessons of Vietnam. In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, with input from some veterans of my team at the Pentagon, cleaned up many of the command problems that hindered us in Vietnam and for a decade thereafter. The old system encouraged the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be anything but joint. They protected their fiefdoms and withheld cooperation from one another. The Goldwater-Nichols act centralized authority in the chair of the Joint Chiefs as the primary adviser to the president and the secretary of defense. The separate services are now responsible for training their people for war, but the area commanders who run the wars control all the assets. Today's soldiers, sailors, and air personnel can also be more secure knowing that the people who make life-or-death decisions represent a better balance between military expertise and the will of the people as expressed through their elected officials.

Such confidence is critical to sustaining an all-volunteer military. As the secretary of defense who ended the draft in 1972, I see no need to return to conscription, even now that the prospect of combat has somewhat dampened the enthusiasm for military service. As long as servicepeople -- current and future -- know where their president is leading them, the enlistments will follow.

As it did in Vietnam, in Iraq the enemy has sought to weaken the United States' will by dragging out the hostilities. In Vietnam, that strategy was reflected in a bottomless well of men, sophisticated arms, and energy the enemy threw into the fight. Similarly in Iraq, the insurgents have pinpointed the weakness of the American public's will and hope to exploit it on a much smaller scale, with the weapon of choice being the improvised explosive device, strapped to one person, loaded into a car or hidden at a curb, and with the resulting carnage then played over and over again on the satellite feed. But one lesson learned from Vietnam that is not widely recognized is that fear of casualties is not the prime motivator of the American people during a war. American soldiers will step up to the plate, and the American public will tolerate loss of life, if the conflict has worthy, achievable goals that are clearly espoused by the administration and if their leadership deals honestly with them.

Such was not the case in Vietnam. When President Nixon ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia, I protested vigorously. I did not oppose the bombing itself, as I believed the United States should fight the war as it needed to be fought -- wherever the enemy was hiding -- or not fight it at all. What I opposed was the deception. Behind closed doors, my opinion was so well known that when the secret was exposed, as I knew it would be, I was immediately and wrongly pinpointed as being the leak. The president approved Kissinger's order to the FBI to tap my military assistant's home phone, hoping to catch the two of us in a plot to leak secrets. Americans will not be lied to, and they will not tolerate secrets nor be sidelined in a war debate. As with the Vietnam War, if necessary they will take to the streets to be heard.


The greatest cost of war is human suffering. But every war has its monetary price tag, too, even if it is rarely felt in real time. As with Vietnam, the Iraq war is revealing chinks in our fiscal armor. Only after the Vietnam War ended did its drain on the U.S. economy become apparent. During the war, our military readiness to fight other conflicts was precarious. Billions of dollars were drained away from other missions to support the war. It became a juggling act to support our forces around the world. I reduced our contingent in Korea by 29,000 men, and I persuaded Japan to begin paying the bills for its post-World War II defense by our troops. In retrospect, those two steps were positive results from the financial drain that the Vietnam War caused. But there were plenty of other places where the belt-tightening suffocated good programs. The Army Reserve and National Guard units fell into disrepair. President Johnson chose to draft the unwilling, rather than use trained reservists and National Guard soldiers and air personnel. As unpopular as the draft was, it was still an easier sell for Johnson than deploying whole National Guard and Reserve units out of the communities in middle America. So the second-string troops stayed home and saw their budgets cannibalized. Their training was third-rate and their equipment secondhand. Now, in our post-Vietnam wisdom, we have embraced the "total force" concept. After two decades of retooling, most National Guard units and reservists were better prepared to respond when called up for Operation Desert Storm.

Yet, because of pandering to the butter-not-guns crowd, we still do not spend enough of our total budget on national defense. The annual U.S. GDP is in excess of $11.5 trillion. The percentage of GDP going to the Defense Department amounts to 3.74 percent. In 1953, during the Korean War, it was 14 percent. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, it was nearly 10 percent -- an amount that sapped domestic programs and ended up demoralizing President Johnson because he could not maintain his Great Society social programs. Now our spending priorities have shifted to social programs, with 6.8 percent of GDP, for example, going to Social Security and Medicare. That is more than twice what it was during the Vietnam War.

It will not be easy or popular to reverse the downward trend in defense spending. But the realities of the global threat of terrorism and the outside possibility of conventional warfare with an enemy such as China or North Korea demand that we take off the blinders. To increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP would be adequate, but it is especially important to increase the share of the pie spent on the U.S. Army. It now gets 24 percent of the total Defense Department budget, but given the new realities of modern warfare, it should receive at least 28 percent. The army is currently strung along through the budget year with special appropriations, and that is no way to run a military service.

Reserve and National Guard units are understaffed and have been abused by deployments that have taken individuals out of their units to serve as de facto army regulars, many in specialties for which they have not been trained, a practice that eats at the morale of reservists. Nearly 80 percent of the airlift capacity for this war and about 48 percent of the troops have come from Reserve and National Guard units. The high percentages are due, in part, to the specialized missions of those troops: transporting cargo, policing, rebuilding infrastructure, translating, conducting government affairs -- in short, the stuff of building a new nation. We have realized too late that our regular army forces have not been as well trained as they should have been for the new reality of an urban insurgent enemy. Nor was the military hierarchy paying serious attention to the hints that their mission in the twenty-first century would be nation building.

Secretary Rumsfeld is trying to reshape the army to be more mobile with fewer soldiers, in "units of action" built on the Special Forces model. But he is not being honest with himself or with Congress and the American people about how much money will be needed to make the transformation. Those specialized units will be more suited for urban guerrilla warfare, but light and lean is not the only way to maintain our military. Although guerrilla warfare looks like the wave of the future, we still face the specter of conventional divisional and corps warfare against other enemies. Both capabilities are expensive, but the downward trend of defense budgets does not recognize that. Except for bumps up in the Ronald Reagan years and during the Gulf War, the defense budget has been on a downward slide when viewed in constant dollars. We are coasting on the investments in research, development, and equipment made during earlier years.


Our pattern of fighting our battles alone or with a marginal "coalition of the willing" contributes to the downward spiral in resources and money. Ironically, Nixon had the answer back in 1969. At the heart of the Nixon Doctrine, announced that first year of his presidency, was the belief that the United States could not go it alone. As he said in his foreign policy report to Congress on February 18, 1970, the United States will participate in the defense and development of allies and friends, but "America cannot -- and will not -- conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake all the defense of the free nations of the world. We will help where it makes a real difference and is considered in our interest" (emphasis in the original).

Three decades later, we have fallen into a pattern of neglecting our treaty alliances, such as NATO, and endangering the aid we can give our allies by throwing our resources into fights that our allies refuse to join. Vietnam was just such a fight, and Iraq is, too. If our treaty alliances were adequately tended to and shored up -- and here I include the UN -- we would not have so much trouble persuading others to join us when our cause is just. Still, as the only superpower, there will be times when we must go it alone.

President Bush does not have the luxury of waiting for the international community to validate his policies in Iraq. But we do have the lessons of Vietnam. In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there.

As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming "another Iraq."

I look forward to your feedback.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

something to ponder

I received the following in an e-mail. The e-mail accredited Rush Limbaugh as the orator... I haven't verified that, so, if it isn't Rush, sorry.

I think the vast differences in compensation between victims of the
September 11 casualty and those who die serving our country in Uniform
are profound. No one is really talking about it either, because you just
don't criticize anything having to do with September 11. Well, I can't
let the numbers pass by because it says something really disturbing
about the entitlement mentality of this country. If you lost a family
member in the September 11 attack, you're going to get an average of
$1,185,000. The range is a minimum guarantee of $250,000, all the way up
to $4.7 million.

If you are a surviving family member of an American soldier killed in
action, the first check you get is a $6,000 direct death benefit, half
of which is taxable.

Next, you get $1,750 for burial costs. If you are the surviving spouse,
you get $833 a month until you remarry. And there's a payment of $211
per month for each child under 18. When the child hits 18, those
payments come to a screeching halt.

Keep in mind that some of the people who are getting an average of
$1.185 mi! llion up to $4.7 million are complaining that it's not
enough. Their deaths were tragic, but for most, they were simply in the
wrong place at the wrong time. Soldiers put themselves in harms way FOR
ALL OF US, and they and their families know the dangers.

We also learned over the weekend that some of the victims from the
Oklahoma City bombing have started an organization asking for the same
deal that the September 11 families are getting. In addition to that,
some of the families of those bombed in the embassies are now asking for
compensation as well.

You see where this is going, don't you? Folks, this is part and parcel
of over 50 years of entitlement politics in this country. It's just
really sad. Every time a pay raise comes up for the military, they
usually receive next to nothing of a raise. Now the green machine is in
combat in the Middle East while their families have to survive on food
stamps and live in low-rent housing. Make sense?

However, our own U.S. Congress voted themselves a raise. Many of you
don't know that they only have to be in Congress one time to receive a
pension that is more than $15,000 per month. And most are now equal to
being millionaires plus. They do not receive Social Security on
retirement because they didn't have to pay into the system.

If some of the military people stay in for 20 years and get out as an
E-7, they may receive a pension of $1,000 per month, and the very people
who placed them in harm's way receives a pension of $15,000 per month.

I would like to see our elected officials pick up a weapon and join
ranks before they start cutting out benefits and lowering pay for our
sons and daughters who are now fighting.

"When do we finally do something about this?" If this doesn't seem fair
to you, it is time to forward this to as many people as you can.

I think it should be noted that the current President as well as the current Congress have treated the military very well. It is a night and day difference between how the military was treated under the previous President. I'm not saying that more couldn't be done... more should be done.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

back from Iraq

The United States continues to fight a war in Iraq. A war, that in my opinion was and is imperative to the preservation of American life. With every day it seems that the main stream media, critics and politicos, endlessly attempt to wage their own war against American efforts in Iraq.

When I talk to people about Iraq, their complete ignorance on the subject is discomforting. Watching CNN for a few minutes or listening to whack jobs like Scott Ritter isn’t an education, and certainly doesn’t give anyone the credentials to walk around repeating the anti-Bush/anti-war sound bytes and slogans. Just because some jerk on TV spits out some numbers doesn’t mean they are true or that he is an expert on the subject. But try telling that to kids my age.

This is a problem, a big one, and it needs to be addressed. American’s have a responsibility to educate themselves on the situation in Iraq. If we prematurely leave Iraq the results will be catastrophic. Not only for the people of Iraq, but for the United States of America.

With every passing day it becomes clearer and clearer that the insurgency in Iraq has realized that their biggest advantage is an American population with dwindling support for the occupation, thus providing the insurgency a light at the end of the tunnel. We need to crush that tunnel.

I had initially planned on posting my assessment of the situation in Iraq on the 31st. It however is nowhere near ready. I am going to try and get it finished and posted within the next few days. Perhaps I will just post portions at a time. We’ll see.

It has been two months since my last post. A lot has happened and my transition from American combatant to civilian has gone relatively well. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been for the guys coming back during Vietnam. Today we are given so much respect and support. I would like to thank my friends and family for their patience and help throughout this readjustment period.

I have been working on a couple of projects that I am really excited about. One is the Boots In Baghdad Scholarship Fund that will provide money to reservist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike active duty veterans, reservists do not get full GI Bill benefits. Our GI bill is far less than our active duty counterparts.

The Boots In Baghdad Scholarship Fund will help compensate cost of living expenses for reservist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are going to school full time, helping to fill the void between reserve GI Bill and Active Duty GI Bill. I would also like to see the Boots In Baghdad Scholarship Fund lobby both State and National legislators to improve education benefits for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once everything is up and running I will certainly let you all know... and then ask for your money.

Another project I am really excited about is with Cliff Knizley. I introduced you to Cliff in early August. He is a musician from Florida who wrote some great music and has teamed up with me to help raise some money for various military charities. You will be hearing more about this within the next four weeks. If you would like to hear one of his songs click here and scroll down toward the bottom.

I will be adding lots of pictures and video to Boots In Baghdad Photographs and Films this week, so make sure you check back.

And last but certainly not least, my Mom has set up an online store… so, check it out: Pineapple Hill

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

last post from iraq

Well friends, my time here is reaching an end. I am in my final days in Baghdad. This will be my last post from Iraq. Sometime in October you will hear from me again. If you would like, e-mail me at and I will make sure you are notified when I post again sometime in October. Boots In Baghdad will continue to be up and running from the states. I have a couple hundred pages of journal entries and thousands of pictures. I have a few ideas with what I am going to do with Boots In Baghdad. Regardless, it will be up.

I can’t even begin to describe to you what it feels like to be on the verge of going home and returning to life. This journey began a year ago… an eternity ago. And, for the world I wouldn’t trade the last twelve months of my life.

I was looking back at some of my journal entries over the past year. It is amazing how much I have already forgotten. Perhaps more amazing are the memories that I will never forget. My journey began with B Co, 1-156 Armor. Bravo was attached to 2-156 Infantry for this deployment. Once we arrived in Iraq Bravo was assigned to 141 FA BN as part of a Force Protection Task Force. I spent the first few months at ECP 7 guarding the perimeter of Camp Liberty and the Baghdad Airport.

These first months contained some of the longest days of my life. We were at ECP 7 when the Marines and 1st Cav hit Fallujah. We were doing 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Then we switched to 12 on and 12 off…every single day. I spent Thanksgiving at that gate, I spent Christmas at that gate and I spent New Years 2005 at that gate. I loved the guys I was with, but I hated the job. This is part of a journal entry from November 13, 2004. My romanticized view of war is apparent, displaying more than anything my naivety and youth:

Every time a convoy leaves that gate it breaks my heart. I see them return with wounded. I see their destroyed vehicles dragged back in tow… in pieces. I belong out there. I became a soldier to be out there. I became Infantry to be out there. Out there is home. I came here to sacrifice, to pay for freedom... to bring justice to those who wish to take that away from my nation and my nation’s friends. And to those on the streets of Iraq who wish to harm me and my friends, my country and my countrymen, I say this; you better be prepared, because I have been preparing for this for twenty-one years. I will match your ruthlessness, I will surpass your destruction, I have exceeded your skill in tactics and weapons, your courage crumbles at the thought of mine, and long ago my faith and commitment to my God and my America crushed your petty god and your weak faith. I am coming for you. With a peaceful heart I will destroy you. The whites of my eyes are the last thing you will see before you kiss the feet of my God.

Yeah, just a little piss and vinegar. Here is part of another entry from November 18, 2004:

Yesterday and last night at ECP 7 were uneventful for the most part. Sometime around 1300 or 1400 we took a mortar round. Clark and Mitchell were at the gate, I was under the tower’s stairs, SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson were in the hummer, and SSG Davis and SGT Moore were in the tower. We heard this loud whistle screeching through the sky. It sounded like a jet was headed straight for us. Clark screamed, “I-N-C-O-M-I-N-G!” I was already half way to the ground. Mitchell dove over the bench and landed next to me. SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson weren’t far behind us. It was close. Very close. Luckily, whoever sent it didn’t arm it. They definitely were aiming at us. Later that evening we were around the hummer eating and we heard explosions off in the distance. They were about 800 meters to our 12 o’clock. We heard a boom really close to our 10 and an RPG hit the SF compound about 600 meters away. Then we heard another screeching whistle. We all hit the ground and fast. I bruised me knee. SSG Gig landed right on top of me and Mitchell. Afterward I went up in the tower. I figured if they were going to attack they would do it then. And whoever sent the bastards had eyes on us. After the mortars I get this amazing feeling. I guess it is the adrenaline rush. Sometimes I crave it. I was hoping there would be more, that someone would try to run the gate…

While I was home on leave SSG Giglio’s humvee was hit with an IED (improvisational explosive device). He was sent home with 3rd degree burns. He is an incredible NCO. I wish him nothing but the best.

I had a lot of good times at ECP 7. I was certainly with some great guys. It wasn’t until February that Bennett (my buddy and fellow volunteer from the Florida Guard) and I were re-assigned to HHC 2-156 scout platoon. Shortly thereafter we were moved into Samurai, HHC’s light infantry platoon. It was apparent after my first Samurai mission that I was finally home… doing the job I loved.

This is my journal entry from February 18, first Samurai mission:

On the afternoon of the 16th Bennett and I met at the HHC TOC to SP for a two day three night mission. It was awesome. We headed out on M113’s (armored personnel carriers). They dropped us off and once night fell we marched 11 clicks, carrying everything we had. There were six teams… each had its own designated OP‘s. All night we observed and then right before dawn we all met at a rally point. The rally point was this bombed out (***OP SEC***). I passed out after doing some looking around and woke up to gun fire. I grabbed my rifle and ran to a window and saw…(Sorry, you’re going to have to wait for this story).

Shortly after 1800 a mortar round hit. It was CLOSE…about 30 meters, right on the other side of the building. Everyone ran and took cover. CPT D sent two fire teams out into a nearby field to question some people and called up the description and direction of a red truck that took off after a second round impacted. Nothing came of it. Around 1930 all the teams regrouped and headed out to the new OP’s. One of the teams called in seeing six armed men around midnight. CPT D called up Demon (D CO) and asked them to come and raid the house that these men were suspected of being in so that we didn’t have to compromise our position. Demon couldn’t do it so we were all called off of our OP’s and all the teams met up at a rally point. Teams one and two pulled the cordon of the house while teams three and four raided the house. I was on team one. Nothing was found…”

We were taken out of sector and got back to the base the next morning. I loved the missions we were doing. Shortly after we joined Samurai, in March, I started Boots In Baghdad. Samurai was one of a handful of units doing the types of missions we did in Iraq. A month or so later the Command Sergeant Major of Coalition Forces Iraq, CSM Mellinger, as well as the Command Sergeant Major of America’s National Guard, CSM Gipe, would join us on the end of a three day mission for a foot patrol…to “see what this Samurai Platoon was all about."

We have accomplished some incredible things and had some close calls.

This is part of another entry of one of those nights that I will never forget. The entry is from June 20th, 2005, shortly after I returned to Baghdad from my two weeks of R and R:

Last night I was in bed about to fall asleep. It was around 2130. SSG Burns came in our room and told us to get our gear and get to the trucks ASAP. We weren’t really sure what was going on. His sense of urgency and his tone made it apparent that something bad was happening.

Within minutes we were on the humvees ready to roll. Our platoon sergeant, SFC Leger, called us in for a briefing. It turned out that there were insurgents, somewhere between fifty and a hundred, running through the streets of Hariya arbitrarily shooting innocent civilians. We had been in Hariya a couple of nights before doing some raids with the Iraqi Army. Hariya definitely isn’t a good neighborhood. There were several families that had been confirmed dead.

I wish I could describe the feeling I had. We all shared it. When I first heard what was happening, my heart started beating faster, deeper. My level of anger, my fury, was at a level inexplainable with words. I pictured the kids. I pictured the families. The only thing they were guilty of was deserving freedom. I was nearly salivating at the opportunity of encountering the ruthless cowards who had resorted to killing innocent women and children because they were too scared to face us.

I got into the dismount seat, the seat behind SSG Hemphill, my truck commander. In the other dismount seat on our humvee, behind SPC Prince, the driver, was SGT Mencacci, our medic. We couldn’t get out of the gate fast enough.

We arrived in the area shortly thereafter. Normally after curfew the dark streets are empty. Last night, there were people out. In the alleys I could see shadows running back and forth. We split our four vehicle patrol into two groups to cover more ground. The Commander took two trucks and SSG Hemphill had our two trucks. There were people just randomly sprinting across the streets. We were rolling through alley ways. We stopped periodically to question people on the street. They claimed to have seen nothing, making it apparent that the bad guys were around somewhere.

After about thirty minutes the CO called us all back together. Somewhere out there D Co was patrolling as well. We were to provide support for each other if something were to happen. When we met up with the CO we started stopping to search cars. We pulled up on a van full of Iraqi males. All the dismounts maneuvered on it. I was covering down a side street when there was a burst of machine gun fire. It was close.

SPC Castle, the lead gunner, had fired warning shots at a car that wouldn’t slow down. The driver was drunk, oblivious to anything and everything around him. All we could do was turn him around and tell him to go home.

At this point we all started heading for the trucks to move on with the mission. As I was walking to my humvee I heard more gun fire…. Again, close as hell. This time it was from the rear vehicle. A small pick up truck was heading straight for us. SPC Luquette and SGT LeJune had fired warning shots. Then the truck kept going so SPC Miller and SPC Evans hit the engine. When the truck kept coming Lejune and Luquette lit up the cab. When the gun fire stopped the truck was still rolling, slowly coming to a stop.

SGT Champagne and I were the first dismounts to the truck. With everyone covering us we each took a side of the truck. The driver got out. I grabbed him and checked him out…we still didn’t know who they were, why they were out past curfew, and why they were barreling straight for us. Then I looked up. There was a teenage kid with blood gushing out of his face and head. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that he wasn’t going to be alive much longer. He was screaming frantically and grabbing at his face. His right eye had glass in it. It was bad. I screamed for the medic.

SGT Mencacci came running with his bag and started working on the kid. The dad, clearly intoxicated, ran to get his family. The family ran up, screaming. SFC Leger came up and kept the family back so Mencacci could do his job. We all took up positions pulling security. I scanned down the main street. I was numb, pissed, frustrated. I felt sick. Periodically I would glance back and watch the kids mother leaning over her son, crying, screaming, as he bled there on the pavement.

Mencacci was able to stop the bleeding. It turned out the bullet had more than likely been a ricochet from the hood. It went in his cheek, bounced around in his mouth, knocked out some teeth and then came out above the cheek bone on the other side. It turned out he would live. He probably wouldn’t see out of his eye again. He was lucky to be alive. We put the kid in my seat, where Mencacci could keep an eye on him, and drove him to the hospital. I got a ride back with D Co.

As bad as it was, we did everything right. We shined spot lights, then fired warning shots, fired into the engine, then into the cab. We were in a bad neighborhood well past curfew in the car bomb capital of the world. No matter how many times I replay the incident in my head there isn’t anything we should have done different. It is just extremely unfortunate that things worked out the way they did.

I constantly look back on that night. I probably will my whole life.

Serving in first B Co and now HHC, with the 256 Brigade Combat Team, Louisiana Army National Guard, has been a tremendous experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better unit to be a part of in combat.

Over the past year, the 256 Brigade Combat Team has suffered many casualties. The families and friends of these soldiers know all too well the cost of freedom. These fallen soldiers have gone on to serve forever in the armies of the heavens. They are examples to us all that only through sacrifice is freedom obtained and the American way of life preserved. The American people cannot afford to ever forget these soldiers or the many that fell before them. I assure their families that their losses, while tragic, were for a worthy and noble cause… your sacrifice ensures the peace that millions of other American families enjoy generation after generation. Thank you and God be with you.

To the Iraqi nationals who have opened their arms and embraced me and my friends, specifically the soldiers of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Brigade,
Shu Kran, Fi Aman Allah.

To the faithful readers of Boots In Baghdad, thank you all for your endless support, your encouragement and your prayers.

To the men and women of the 256 Brigade Combat Team... It has been an honor.

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

With sincerity and respect,

Mark Partridge Miner
Boots In Baghdad