Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Videos no longer available at Boots In Baghdad Films

I read a blog piece about one of the videos I had posted from Iraq. The piece, which can be found at Caitlin's Journalism Blogs has led me to reconsider having my videos available to the general public. While I appreciate the author's respect for the troops, I do not appreciate their statement, "I take issue with our training of soldiers."

The video the author is referencing is from Sunday August 21, 2005 around 2015 hours (8:15 pm). My platoon had just returned from conducting a BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) of a popular family restaurant just outside the gates of our Forward Operating Base in Kadhimiya that had been hit with two vehicle born improvisational explosive devises (car bombs). It was messy. You can read my original posting from August 22, 2005 here.

Upon completion of the Battle Damage Assessment we returned to base to rest and prepare for a mission we were to go on a few hours later. As we were downloading some of our gear and prepping our vehicles for later that evening, a series of mortar rounds began impacting and our fighting positions along the Tigris River began taking small arms fire.

Being the target of both direct and in-direct enemy fire, we did what we were trained to do. The video I had posted was of a M240B (machine gun) laying a belt of tracer rounds right into the source of the small arms fire that was aimed at us. From the video I posted, you couldn't see our rounds meet their targets. You couldn't see the mussel flashes from the barrels that were sending bullets down range aimed at us. What you could see was some Army National Guard Infantrymen immediately gain fire superiority over the enemy with a PFC screaming in the background, "light those mother fu*kers up!"

The author indicated a concern over the comments the PFC screamed in the video, and when the author thought about where those 7.62 rounds spraying from that M240B were going, they felt sick.

Well maybe if the author had been in our Battalion two weeks earlier when we lost two soldiers (Pfc. Hernando Rios and Sgt. Anthony Kalladeen), they would have felt sick then. Maybe if the author had conducted a Battle Damage Assessment of a crowded family restaurant that had just been hit with two car bombs, they would have felt sick. And maybe if the author had been with us when we were the target of mortars and bullets just moments before, they would not have felt so well.

Perhaps if the author had been with us the preceding eleven months they would have understood why that PFC was screaming when he was only a few weeks from being home, standing toe to toe with the enemies of his nation, and perhaps more importantly at the time the enemies of his friends. After all, isn't that what it is all about?

The terror and the adrenaline slamming together amidst the psychological conundrum of fight or flight syndrome balanced with discipline and effective training somehow results in the right thing being done time and time again. From the jaded hardness that comes from a year of walking the streets of Baghdad as a young Infantryman, staring into the face of a faceless enemy is eerily romantic, an opportunity to be cherished in the land of road side bombs and falling mortars.

I do regret that to many civilians that video may have made American soldiers seem anything other than professional and disciplined. But having the luxury of passing judgment from the safety of home or the floors of Congress can't be had without the trigger pullers.

Considering Anderson Cooper can show our soldiers getting shot by snipers on CNN, I didn't think that me showing our soldiers shooting back would be such a big deal. But if there is even the slightest indignation, then maybe this small window into Iraq shouldn't be made available to everyone. I don't want anyone to question the professionalism, the discipline or the training of America's Army National Guard.

And while the Author may be a student of sociology and psychology, the beast that is war and the preparation that is necessary to survive it will never be something even an expert in those studies could comprehend. No book, no seminar, no degrees and no interviews could ever come close.

It is one of those things you have to experience to understand. And because of people like the PFC with a vulgar tongue, the Author and the vast majority of every day America will never have that experience, thank God. That just means we are doing our job and doing it well.

I don't blame the Author for having abject opinion of military training or naivety of the real world outside the American bubble. I blame a plethora of variables beginning with horrific representation of this war by the media and western news outlets. I blame members of Congress for speaking of things they know nothing about for political gain. I blame people like John Kerry, Jack Murtha, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi for condemning our troops and condemning this war without ever giving it a chance.

They have watered down our nation's motives and politicized the War on Terror to a state of dejection.

The less intense the motives, the less will the military element's natural tendency to violence coincide with political directives. As a result, war will be driven further from its natural course, the political object will be more and more at variance with the aim of ideal war, and the conflict will seem increasingly political in character.

- Carl Von Clausewitz

Monday, October 29, 2007

Immunity deal hampers Blackwater inquiry

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

"Once you give immunity, you can't take it away," said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official — who refused to be quoted by name_ said: "If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington."

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd and FBI spokesman Rich Kolko declined comment.

FBI agents were returning to Washington late Monday from Baghdad, where they have been trying to collect evidence in the Sept. 16 embassy convoy shooting without using statements from Blackwater employees who were given immunity.

Three senior law enforcement officials said all the Blackwater bodyguards involved — both in the vehicle convoy and in at least two helicopters above — were given the legal protection as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security sought to find out what happened. The bureau is an arm of the State Department.

The law enforcement and State Department officials agreed to speak only if they could remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the inquiry into the incident.

The investigative misstep comes in the wake of already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq, which is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment about the U.S. investigation. Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater USA is the largest private security firm protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

The company has said its Sept. 16 convoy was under attack before it opened fire in west Baghdad's Nisoor Square, killing 17 Iraqis. A follow-up investigation by the Iraqi government, however, concluded that Blackwater's men were unprovoked. No witnesses have been found to contradict that finding.

An initial incident report by U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq, also indicated "no enemy activity involved" in the Sept. 16 incident. The report says Blackwater guards were traveling against the flow of traffic through a traffic circle when they "engaged five civilian vehicles with small arms fire" at a distance of 50 meters.

The FBI took over the case early this month, officials said, after prosecutors in the Justice Department's criminal division realized it could not bring charges against Blackwater guards based on their statements to the Diplomatic Security investigators.

Officials said the Blackwater bodyguards spoke only after receiving so-called "Garrity" protections, requiring that their statements only be used internally — and not for criminal prosecutions.

At that point, the Justice Department shifted the investigation to prosecutors in its national security division, sealing the guards' statements and attempting to build a case based on other evidence from a crime scene that was then already two weeks old.

The FBI has re-interviewed some of the Blackwater employees, and one official said Monday that at least several of them have refused to answer questions, citing their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Any statements that the guards give to the FBI could be used to bring criminal charges.

A second official, however, said that not all the guards have cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — leaving open the possibility for future charges. The official declined to elaborate.

Prosecutors will have to prove that any evidence they use in bringing charges against Blackwater employees was uncovered without using the guards' statements to State Department investigators. They "have to show we got the information independently," one official said.

Garrity protections generally are given to police or other public law enforcement officers, and were extended to the Blackwater guards because they were working on behalf of the U.S. government, one official said. Experts said it's rare for them to be given to all or even most witnesses — particularly before a suspect is identified.

"You have to be careful," said Michael Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and senior Justice Department official. "You have to understand early on who your serious subjects are in the investigation, and avoid giving these people the protections."

It's not clear why the Diplomatic Security investigators agreed to give immunity to the bodyguards, or who authorized doing so.

Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Richard Griffin last week announced his resignation, effective Thursday. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said his departure was directly related to his oversight of Blackwater contractors.

Tyrrell, the Blackwater spokeswoman, said the company was alerted Oct. 2 that FBI would be taking over the investigation from the State Department. She declined further comment.

On Oct. 3, State Department Sean McCormack said the FBI had been called in to assist Diplomatic Security investigators. A day later, he said the FBI had taken over the probe.

"We, internally and in talking with the FBI, had been thinking about the idea of the FBI leading the investigation for a number of different reasons," McCormack told reporters during an Oct. 4 briefing.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force.

Blackwater's contract with the State Department expires in May and there are questions whether it will remain as the primary contractor for diplomatic bodyguards. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said his Cabinet is drafting legislation that would force the State Department to replace Blackwater with another security company.

Congress also is expected to investigate the shootings, but a House watchdog committee said it has so far held off, based on a Justice Department request that lawmakers wait until the FBI concludes its inquiry.


Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this story.

More progress from Iraq


Release Date: 10/29/2007

Release Number: 07-01-03P

Description: The United States and Multi-National Force-Iraq welcome the transfer of security in Karbala Province to Iraqi responsibility as a positive step on the path to Iraq’s self-reliance.

Karbala is the eighth province to be transferred to Iraqi security responsibility as the Government of Iraq and its security forces continue to develop and assume greater responsibility for governing and providing security for the citizens of Iraq. The first province transferred to Government of Iraqi security control was Muthanna in July 2006, followed by Dhi Qar, An Najaf, Maysan, and most recently Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Dahuk in May 2007.

The transfer of provincial security responsibility is particularly significant because it includes the city of Karbala, a center of Shi’a Muslim worship, pilgrimage and religious instruction. Saddam Hussein once restricted religious observances at this city and non-Iraqi Shi'a were not allowed to travel there. Today, Karbala is again an international center of worship, pilgrimage and religious instruction.

Iraqi Security Forces in Karbala have been successfully operating independently, maintaining their own security for the past three months. Working with local government officials, they have demonstrated their readiness to assume responsibility for the province. Today this responsibility is theirs.

The transition of responsibility for security in Karbala Province represents the most recent step toward a future of improved security, self-reliance and increasing prosperity that will benefit all Iraqi citizens. The United States and Multi-National Force-Iraq congratulate the Government of Iraq on this important milestone.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two sailors shot dead in Bahrain: navy

MANAMA (Reuters) - Two American sailors were shot dead and one was critically wounded at the U.S. navy base in Bahrain, the navy said on Monday.

There were no indications that non-U.S. citizens were involved, a navy spokeswoman said.

The shootings took place at about 5 a.m. (0200 GMT), the navy said in a statement, adding that they were investigating the incident.

The navy gave no explanation for the shootings, which took place in the base's barracks, and said the names of the sailors were being withheld. No further information was immediately available.

Bahrain is the home of the U.S. navy's fifth fleet, which patrols Gulf waters, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

About 3,000 U.S. personnel, not including the crews of visiting ships, live and work on the base. Staff generally keep a low profile in the tiny Gulf Arab kingdom of about 750,000 people.

© Reuters2007All rights reserved

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) should RESIGN!

Stark stated on the House floor: "You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

In a debate on the State Children's Health Insurance Program on the House floor, Rep. Stark used a typical liberal tactic, accusing our military of targeting civilians and making a mockery of combat fatalities and the sacrifice the men and women of the American Armed Forces and their families make day in and day out.

Mr. Starke is either guilty of hating the military, hating America, or being so dillusional he is unable to make rational decisions and exercise sound judgement on behalf of the American people. I am under the impression he suffers from all three, but any of them is enough cause for his resignation.

Starke has a long history of disservice to the American people. Please watch the video clip below from Fox News.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Labor's Veterans Program Probed

Associated Press Writer

ABOARD THE NEW JERSEY (AP) - For 10 months, Iraq war veteran Andrew Schumann has been looking for a job. So far, no luck.

"Transitioning from the military has been a little bit difficult as far as trying to seek employment," said Schumann, 25, of Glassboro, N.J. "You get out of the military and you're kind of lost."

The Labor Department is trying to help veterans like Schumann, but some lawmakers in Congress are questioning whether federal money dedicated to finding vets employment is being spent wisely and fairly.

The House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity is checking out a veterans outreach program at the department. The program, with a budget of $161 million, sends federal money to the states to hire local veteran employment specialists.

Veterans' groups, such as the American Legion, have complained that the outreach is substandard in some states, leaving downtrodden and homeless vets without the help they need.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D, says lawmakers want to ensure that decorated veterans with polished resumes aren't the only ones getting help.

"You have to look at the entire veteran community and those that face different barriers," Herseth Sandlin said in an Associated Press interview. She plans a hearing on the program next week.

The assistant secretary for veterans' employment and training at the Labor Department, Charles Ciccolella, defended the program.

"You will never find a more dedicated group of veterans out there working to help veterans get jobs," he said. "They're always focused and always very, very dedicated."

The department runs a separate Web campaign called HireVetsFirst that aims to raise employer awareness about the value of hiring veterans. As part of the project, the department will announce on Thursday a major expansion of its job fairs for veterans, with more than 100 fairs in all 50 states starting this week and running through the week of Veterans Day.

The HireVetsFirst campaign also has helped with the marketing for dozens of career fairs run by private recruiting firms, such as the job fair Andrew Schumann attended last week in Camden, N.J., aboard the New Jersey, a decommissioned battleship. He and hundreds of other veterans distributed resumes to more than 50 employers from companies big and small _ from BAE Systems and Lowe's to local police departments and schools.

A recruiter for Florida-based CSX Corporation said veterans make excellent job candidates.

"They've had leadership training. They've worked in teams," said recruiting manager Mark Miner. "They're disciplined, hardworking individuals who have a lot more experience for their age than their civilian counterparts."

Still, it's been a struggle for Schumann, the father of a 1-year old who is living with relatives and whose wife has taken on a full-time job to help pay the bills. He's looking for a job as a videographer. While he didn't walk away with an offer, he remains encouraged.

"Coming here today, you see a lot of employers eager to hire veterans," he said.

Labor department officials say they don't track the number of vets who secure employment through career fairs. They estimate that about 10 percent to 15 percent of veterans receive job offers.

The Pentagon says over 300,000 military members returned to civilian status last year. Finding jobs in the civilian world isn't a considerable challenge for many vets _ the unemployment rate for all veterans last year was a low 3.8 percent.

But younger veterans face obstacles. The unemployment rate was 10.4 percent last year for veterans aged 20-24. Since the 90s, the unemployment rate has been somewhat higher for younger vets than for their civilian counterparts.

"When they come off of a period of active duty service, it takes them time to find a job," said David Loughran, a senior economist at Rand Corporation. "For some veterans, the skills that they learned in the military are not necessarily immediately transferable to a civilian job."

Marine Sgt. Garth Troescher, 25, who spent six months in Iraq, drove more than two hours with his fiancee to the career fair on the New Jersey _ and it may have paid off.

"This is great," said Troescher of Dagsboro, Del. "Here I am and people are offering me jobs. It's kind of nice."

He said he received two job offers and may relocate to Dallas for work.

On the Net:


House Veterans' Affairs Committee:

(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Progress in Northwestern Baghdad



CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - A reduction in violence in neighborhoods on Baghdad's northwest side and an improved security situation are allowing reconstruction efforts and economic gains to flourish, according to the commander of the brigade that has patrolled the area for nearly a year.

Col. J.B. Burton, commander of the 2nd "Dagger" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, met with members of the Pentagon press corps for a briefing via satellite here Oct. 12 and highlighted the progress made in his area of operation, which spans most of northwestern Baghdad.

"In order to stop the cycle of violence, we set about to defeat sectarian expansion by Shia Extremists, while simultaneously defeating al-Qaeda and denying their access to the population," said Burton, a native of Tullahoma, Tenn. "In short, we had to get out into the city, live among the citizens, fight alongside the ISF and deny insurgents, criminals and extremists access to the population."

The implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan, Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon, allowed the Dagger Brigade to move into neighborhoods with a permanent presence, Burton added, with the end result being an 85 percent reduction in violence in the area since May.

"Of our 95 'Mulhallas,' or neighborhoods-58 of them are now considered under control, 33 remain in a clearing status with violence continuing to go down, and four remain in a disrupt status," Burton noted. He said murders in the area, which a year ago occurred more than 150 times each week, are down to an average of five a week.

He said a major contributor to the improving security situation in northwestern Baghdad is the commitment of concerned citizens, who have stepped forward to aid Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces provide safe neighborhoods and put a stop to sectarian violence and terrorist acts in their midst.

"These volunteers are actively providing security in partnership with our combined forces and concurrently increasing the citizen's confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces as a whole," Burton said. "To date, we have a total of 1,772 volunteers and recruits who are fully screened and ready to attend academy for integration into the ISF, with 500 scheduled to attend (the police) academy this month."

With an increased confidence in the security efforts in their neighborhoods, Burton said each of his 14 joint security stations have seen an increase in tips from residents, helping to thwart terrorist activity. Likewise, he said residents are becoming more involved in the local governmental process, addressing community issues together.

"Further, we are focused on extending the reach of the government by providing businesses access to financial capital and through the development of public works substations that employ locals in local areas to deliver essential services within their capacity," Burton told the media members. "Our Embedded Reconstruction Team and Joint Project Management Office are helping us achieve these effects."

Burton's brigade headquarters is slated to return to its home base in Schweinfurt, Germany, beginning next month. The Dagger Brigade commander said he is pleased with the progress he's seen during his year in the Iraqi capital.

"We leave an area of operations that has shown significant improvement in terms of reduced violence, improved essential services, improvement in the task of daily governing, Iraqi Security Forces that get better each and every day," Burton concluded. "And most importantly we are seeing citizens who are rejecting extremist organizations and standing up and volunteering to help improve the security and well-being of their families and their neighbor's families."

Tullahoma, Tenn. native Col. J.B. Burton, commander of the 2nd "Dagger" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, conducts a press briefing via satellite with the Pentagon press corps from Camp Victory in western Baghdad Oct. 12. Burton's Schweinfurt, Germany-based brigade has been responsible for security in 95 western Baghdad neighborhoods for the past year. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. David Levasseur, 2nd BCT, 1st Inf.
Div. PAO)