Thursday, January 31, 2008

Live From Iraq 1/31/08

Major Sowers has not been available the last couple of weeks...glad to see he was available to do the report today. I always look forward to Thursday mornings to start my day out with Major Sowers report.

Bush Oks 3.5 Percent Pay Raise Bush Oks 3.5 Percent Pay Raise

Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday signed into law a defense bill that authorizes a 3.5 percent pay raise for troops and addresses his concerns about exposing Iraq to costly lawsuits.

Bush had rejected an earlier version of the bill late last year because of a provision that would have guaranteed that victims of state-sponsored abuse can sue foreign governments in court and collect judgments by seizing its assets inside the United States. Bush said that would have exposed Iraq to high-dollar lawsuits over abuse during the Saddam Hussein era at a time when the country is struggling to rebuild its infrastructure.

The administration estimated that Iraq had more than $25 billion of assets invested in the U.S. that could be tied up in litigation.

See how your legislator voted on the defense bill.

Democrats reluctantly revised the measure to allow Bush to grant immunity to Iraq, so long as he determines that doing so promotes Iraqi reconstruction and that Baghdad remains a "reliable ally" in the war on terror. Bush, in signing the law, immediately invoked that authority and waived the law's application to Iraq.

"He appreciates the cooperation of both House and Senate leaders to quickly address the concerns raised by the president over the Christmas holiday," White House press secretary Dana Perino said of Bush. "Congress passed the legislation swiftly, and that is a very good thing for our troops and the Iraqi people."

The revised $696 billion bill makes a 3.5 percent pay raise for troops retroactive to Jan. 1.

The decision to change the bill without trying to challenge Bush's rejection reflects the difficulty Democrats have had in challenging the president on even minor issues. Democrats have said that Bush's earlier opposition to the bill delayed various benefit programs for troops, including the pay raise.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Troops, Families Can Access Free Tax-Filing Services

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Rather than paying a tax specialist, service members and their families can obtain free assistance to prepare and file their annual tax returns through a special military program, a Defense Department tax advisor said today.

The military's tax assistance program processes more than 200,000 returns each year, Army Maj. John Johnson, director of the Defense Department's Armed Forces Tax Council, said during an interview with Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters.

"It is just one of the benefits military people have," Johnson said of the program. Participants can visit their installation tax center for free assistance in filling out tax returns, he said, or access the Military OneSource website,

"You can log on there, online, and also file for free," Johnson said of the Web site. The online tax-filing system on Military OneSource is closed to military retirees, however.

Military members from all service branches sit on the Pentagon's tax council that coordinates the program, Johnson explained.

Free tax-filing assistance services are open to active-duty and reserve component service members, as well as family members and military retirees, Johnson said.

Participants should bring their military-issued identification cards, W-2 Wage and Earnings statements and any other forms or documents required for tax filing, Johnson said. People who believe they may be eligible for tax refunds also should bring their bank account numbers if they'd like the refund direct-deposited into a specific account, Johnson pointed out.

More complicated tax-preparation work involving itemizing of returns for added tax deductions also can be processed for free, although these returns normally require more documentation, he said.

Military members receive many tax benefits, Johnson pointed out. For example, all allowances, including housing, meals, family separation and others, are tax-exempt, he said, as is all military pay for enlisted military members deployed in overseas combat zones. Officers deployed in combat zones, he added, can exclude about $7,000 of their monthly pay for federal taxes.

Service members deployed to combat zones have six months to file their taxes after departing the area, Johnson noted.

Another tax-related benefit for service members deployed to overseas combat zones is the Savings Deposit Program, Johnson said. Under SDP, eligible service members can contribute up to $10,000 into their savings accounts while they're deployed and earn a government-guaranteed 10-percent return on their money, he explained.

"You're not going to beat that," Johnson said of the SDP program.

People with questions about the military's tax filing assistance program can visit the Military OneSource Web site or their installation tax center, he said.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back To Himself

Today we got an email from Chris and it's obvious he is settling back in to his routine. His spirits were up and he seemed to be back to his happy go lucky, positive self. He said it was very hard going back after returning after just being married for 10 days and getting a taste again of the luxaries of the United States. It didn't help matter that when he returned, he was sick and is just now starting to feel better.

He said the morale is good and everyone is getting "redeploymentitis" know, like graduating seniors get right after Christmas. Graduation is in sight so everyday is a good day. He said redeployment is on everyone's mind but everyone is staying focused and continuing to do a great job.

Chris is extra busy these days. He is doing his regular job as well as being an acting Platoon leader. He has no complaints. Planning and executing missions is a change of pace and even though it makes for some long days, he loves it.

It was so nice to hear from Chris and the mood be light and happy. He was very pumped that they had recently had a very successful mission and he said the feeling of accomplishment was awesome. He couldn't go into details but I could sense that it was something he was very proud of.

Well, I've had a great day now that I've heard from Chris. He has been so busy lately and with him not feeling too good, he hasn't been able to keep in touch as much as he has in the past. So, when we hear from him, it's like Christmas!

3-1 Cav. Regt. Leaders Attend NP Graduation

Policemen of the 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division qualify with their AK-47 rifles at the National Police Team Leaders Course taught by Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment’s National Police Training Team in Tameem, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Tea, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers and leaders of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment attended a National Police Team Leaders Course graduation ceremony Jan. 26 in Tameem.

Policemen from the 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division, attended a week-long course where they learned basic policing skills such as first aid, casualty stabilization, room clearing, and AK-47 rifle marksmanship.

“Graduates from this course are taught the basic skills necessary not only to lead national policemen during the execution of security operations, but also to teach others,” said Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, from Loudon, Tenn., 3-1st Cav. Regt. commander. “Team leaders will reinforce those skills through joint missions with coalition forces as the primary responsibility of local security transitions from coalition forces to Iraqi security forces.”

Members of the 3-1 Cav. Regiment’s National Police Training Team led the course and provided the curriculum and training to the policemen.

According to Capt. DaMond Davis, from Montgomery, Ala., 3-1 Cav. Regiment’s fire support officer, the course was modeled after the U.S. Army’s Warriors Leaders Course, a two-week long course attended by specialists and junior non-commissioned officers.

“The National Police Team Leader Course lays the foundation for basic Soldier skills that are sustained through training and execution,” he said. “This course builds on the confidence and competence in junior NP leaders which not only leads to more effective operations in the field but builds ISF capacity.”

Davis explained the national police are seen by local citizens in the area as “Iraq’s police force” and are viewed in high regards. He said the national police have worked with local leaders to provide security for government-run projects.

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

2-69 AR Makes Big Changes in AO Panther

Lt. Col. Troy Perry, from Belfast, Maine, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, right center, and Capt. David Preston, from Marietta, Ga., company commander for Company B, 1st Battalion, 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, right of Perry, discussed local security with leaders of the Al Jadida Iraqi Security Force Jan. 22 at the Al Muthana Joint Security Station. (Photo/Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO)

Maj. Uday, a company commander with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division explains his security plan to Col. Ahmed, Iraqi police station chief of Al Jadida, right, and Maj. Faik, another company commander with the 2/1/11 IA Division during a meeting at the Al Muthana Joint Security Station Jan. 22. (Photo/Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO)

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek,
3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Coalition Forces and local ISF leaders from Al Jadida, Iraq, met Jan. 22 at the Al Muthana Joint Security Station to discuss local security.

Lt. Col. Troy Perry, from Belfast, Maine, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and Capt. David Preston, from Marietta, Ga., company commander for Company B, 1st Battalion, 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, attended the meeting.

It’s been a long road traveled, but improvements in security and economics have been incredible, according to Preston.

“The improvement has been pretty impressive from when we first got here,” Preston said. “The problem was communication. The neighborhood council was not communicating with the Iraqi Army and Police.”

Preston said his unit initiated the change when they convinced community and Iraqi Security Force leaders to attend meetings to discuss local issues. The meetings were led by the 2-69th AR and Co. B, 1-504th PIR leaders.

“Now the meetings are Iraqi-led and we are just here to support,” Preston said.

Col. Ahmed, Iraqi Police station chief of Al Jadida, said the purpose of the meetings was to discuss all issues, both good and bad. “We bring it all to the table,” Ahmed said through a translator.

Because of this, Perry and Preston agree, Al Jadida has shown significant improvement, beginning with security and now economic growth.

First Lt. John Burns, from Harpersville, N.Y., said he has seen a tremendous decrease in violence since assuming duties as a platoon leader for Company D, 2-69th AR, and has supportive evidence.

Preston said the Iraqi Security Forces are making a positive influence on the local populace, building their confidence in the Iraqi Army and Police.

“They are conducting joint patrols,” he said. “They do career days at local schools where they talk to the children about the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police. This gives the locals a positive image of the Iraqi Security Forces that they don’t always get.”

Ahmed said Iraqi Soldiers and Policemen are proactive in their communities.

The positive outcome did not come easy and there is still a long road ahead, according to Perry.

“Coalition Forces do combined patrols with the ISF,” he said. “They try to spend nine straight hours a week training and operating with them. They do medical training, weapons training, and training on how to clear and search buildings.”

In addition to the ISF, Burns mentioned another force protecting and securing their communities.

“The Concerned Local Citizens have been going for about a month,” Burns said. “They trained about a month or two before that … They work at checkpoints and the ISF are training them to search vehicles. They are all working towards the same goal.”

It is that goal that is creating confidence amongst locals towards their Army and Police, said Maj. Faik, a company commander with 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division.

In addition to Coalition Forces, IA and IP working together for the good of Al Jadida, Preston said the neighborhood council and the ISF also work hand-in-hand. When the Iraqi Army receives a tip about an IED, Preston said council chairmen accompany the Iraqi Soldiers to the IED site.

“This builds confidence in the ISF and CF,” Preston said. “The local people enjoy seeing combined patrols. It makes them feel more secure.”

1st Sgt. Kenneth Kempke, from Columbus, Ohio, Company D, 2-69th AR, believes cooperation is the key to improved security and the economy.

“The country will go the way the economy goes,” he said. “The people will gravitate towards those who give them security, money and abilities.”

The security situation in the area has improved dramatically and Preston believes the economy has followed.

“We see more people on the streets, more kids on the playground, more traffic, more vendors,” Preston said.

Their Iraqi Security Force counterparts agree.

“People are going to the markets and parks now,” Ahmed said through a translator. Ahmed said more stores were opening and residents were spending money at the stores.

“I would like to see the Iraqi Security Forces take the lessons learned from their partnership, and continue to improve their capabilities so they can provide a safe environment for their people without us,” Perry said.

Troops Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at FOB Hammer

The keynote speaker of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s commemorative service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CW4 Dieufort Dieujuste, from Phenix City, Ala., 3rd BCT’s property book officer, recounts King’s history and message at the Hammer dining facility, Jan. 28.

Spc. Jamilah Cooper, from Chicago, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, sings during the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s commemorative service to honor the work and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Hammer dining facility, Jan. 28.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – The Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team held a commemorative service to honor the work and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Hammer dining facility, Jan. 28.

Soldiers of the 3rd BCT listened as King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech was read by Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Biddle, from Milwaukee, Wis., Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.

“It is good to be here amongst good people and read one of the greatest speeches ever written,” Biddle said.

As part of the celebration, Spc. Jamilah Cooper, from Chicago, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, performed two songs to honor King and his message.

“I thought she did an outstanding job, tonight,” said Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT. “Frankly, I don’t know what she’s doing in the Army. When she gets out, I want to be her manager.”

The feature speaker of the event, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dieufort Dieujuste, from Phenix City, Ala., 3rd BCT’s property book officer, recounted the life and message of King and implored his listeners to take King’s dream and put it into action.

“Dr. King said, ‘Make a career out of humanity and you will make a great person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in,’” Dieujuste said.

The 3-1st Cav. Regt. and the 3rd BSTB are assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and have been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

Resources Needed to Build on Iraq Successes, Bush Tells Congress

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - President Bush used his final State of the Union address tonight to praise strides made in Iraq over the past year and to urge Congress to ensure U.S. troops have the resources and support they need to build on that success.

With Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several invited Iraq war veterans looking on, Bush told a joint session of Congress the new strategy in Iraq that became fully operational in mid-June "has achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago."

"When we met last year, many said containing the violence was impossible," Bush said. "A year later, high-profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down and sectarian killings are down."

Similarly, militia extremists were wreaking havoc last year in large areas of Iraq. "A year later, coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of militia fighters," Bush said. "And Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country."

Also last year, al-Qaida had sanctuaries in many areas of Iraq, and its leaders had offered U.S. forces safe passage out of the country. "Today, it is al-Qaida that is searching for safe passage," Bush said. "They have been driven from many of the strongholds they once held, and over the past year, we have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key al-Qaida leaders and operatives."

Bush cited a tape released last month in which Osama bin Laden railed against Iraqi tribal leaders who had turned on al-Qaida and admitted that coalition forces are growing stronger in Iraq.

"Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working," the president told the chamber. "But among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated."

Bush attributed the progress made to "the valor of our troops and the brilliance of their commanders." He cited the success of the troop surge and a new, expanded mission aimed at denying terrorists sanctuary and working with Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people.

"The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened," he said. "Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw ... our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return." U.S. troops worked side by side with provincial reconstruction teams to ensure improvements in Iraqi's daily lives followed those security improvements, Bush said.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis launched a surge of their own, Bush said. Sunni tribal leaders grew tired of al-Qaida's brutality and started the "Anbar Awakening," an uprising that sparked similar movements across Iraq.

"And today, this grassroots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists," Bush said. "The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well, adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year."

Bush cited signs of political progress as well: the Iraqi parliament's passage of pension law and de-Baathification reform and the central government's sharing of oil revenues with the provinces.

As this progress continues, Bush vowed that the United States will not stop short of seeing the mission through.

He conceded that while the enemies in Iraq "have been hit hard," the job there is far from over. "The enemy is still dangerous, and more work remains," he said. "They are not yet defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead."

Still, he said, progress has been made and must continue.

"Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy," he said. "American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission."

As this effort continues, Bush said, more U.S. forces will be able to begin returning home. So far, one Army brigade combat team and a Marine expeditionary unit that were part of the surge have returned without being replaced. In the coming months, four additional Army brigades and two more Marine battalions will return without replacement. "Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home," he said.

Decisions about any additional drawdowns will be based on conditions on the ground and commanders' recommendations, the president said.

Speaking directly to the troops on the front lines, Bush pledged that the country will ensure they have everything they need to succeed in Iraq.

"In the past year, you have done everything we have asked of you, and more," he said. "Our nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of your accomplishments."

Bush followed with a pledge: "In the fight ahead, you will have all you need to protect our nation. And I ask the Congress to meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops."

The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for the United States, the president conceded. "But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed," he said. "A free Iraq will deny al-Qaida safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. And a free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world."

A failed Iraq, in contrast, "would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies and our homeland," Bush said. "The enemy has made its intentions clear."

Bush insisted that the United States will not rest until the enemy has been defeated.

"We must do the difficult work today, so that years from now people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America," he said.

A Son's Request Spreads

Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division braved the bitter cold at the opening of the new 'Hammer Links' driving range on Forward Operating Base Hammer. The construction of the driving range was a combined effort from Soldiers and Kellogg, Brown and Root employees. The golf equipment was sent to Iraq by generous American's from across the country.

The garage of Mark and Veronica Andres of Berwyn, Ill., is bursting with the generosity of some local people. The generosity has come in the form of golf balls and clubs. The Andres' run a charity 'Support Our Troops' that collects golf equipment and sends it to forward deployed Soldiers.

Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division form a chain to help unload thousands of golf balls and numerous sets of golf clubs from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The golf balls and clubs were donated by some very generous American's from across the country.
Pfc. Kristen E. Kelley, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, Petroleum Heavy Vehicle Operator, takes a swing at the opening of the new 'Hammer Links' Driving Range at Forward Operating Base Hammer.

By Sgt. 1st Class Wendy Marie Butts
Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Photojournalist

A small request from a U.S. Army Soldier deployed in Iraq back to his parents has transformed into a large effort that has spread across the country. Many generous and supportive Americans went out of their way to help forward deployed Soldiers relieve some stress and provide a little relaxation at various austere Forward Operating Bases and Camps throughout Iraq.

Army Maj Mark C. Andres, Aide-de-Camp, Multi-National Corps-Iraq asked his parents, Mark and Veronica Andres, from Berwyn, Ill., to send him some golf supplies instead of the regular ‘care packages’. “That is the last thing I thought he would ask for!” explained dad, Mark Andres.

Mark and Veronica Andres run a charity ‘Support Our Troops’ from their home. Veronica said, “I went into mom-mode. When your kids ask for something you just do it.” Well do it they did!

There have been many people who have assisted the Andres’ in fulfilling their sons’ request.

One such lady is the late Kathy Voss; she was a long time friend of Veronica Andres and an employee of Hinsdale Bank. Veronica said, “Kathy put a bug in the bank executive’s ear and was the first to help ‘Support Our Troops’. “She offered to share the bank’s space at the ‘Uniquely Thursday’ events in Hinsdale.” The space was used to pass out flyers and provide information on the program.

“The President of Hinsdale Bank, Dennis Jones, got the bank to donate $500 to our postage fund at the very beginning,” stated Mark. “The first 10 boxes of golf clubs were courtesy of Hinsdale Bank.”

The bank also set up collection points so people could go in and drop off golf balls and golf clubs.

“The banks would send me an email when a load needed to be picked up and I would go there after work,” Mark said.

A retired railroad worker, Gail Meintzer, from Green Bay, Wis., heard about the “Support Our Troops” project from some family members in Hinsdale. Meintzer keeps in contact via email with many of his fellow retirees who span the United States and he shared details about the project with them. Mark said, “hundreds of boxes of golf balls my son has received was due to the efforts of this man and his retired friends.”

“Katie Evans from ‘The Villages’ in Florida heard about us from Gail Meintzer down the line of emails. She has written about our project and has helped generate multitudes of donations,” said Mark.

Meintzer’s email chain gained another eager participant, James Dyser, also from The Villages, Fla. Meintzer said, “I felt it would be a worthwhile program so I took it to the American Legion Post 347 Commander who took it to the Post Executive Committee where it was overwhelmingly endorsed.”

In addition to the efforts by local citizens the Hinsdale Golf Club wanted to participate.

“Alice Mansell, a friend of Veronica, got the Hinsdale Golf Club involved in the collection and donation effort,” said Andres. The golf club donated golf balls and golf clubs.

Projects like the one the Andres’ have taken on can not be done alone.

“We have had many many volunteers. The local Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, a local school assisted as a class project and journalists have come by to help us package up the donations,” said Veronica.

Andres was surprised by the results of his request and wanted to help spread the golf equipment he received to some outlying areas throughout Iraq. He arranged a special flight of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and loaded them with more than 20,000 golf balls and 10 sets of golf clubs and put into action ‘Operation Golf Drop’.

“After we started to receive such a flood of supplies I realized that there had to be other Soldiers who could use this stuff as well. I knew how much hitting a couple of golf balls helped me and I wanted other Soldiers who face the danger of combat on a daily basis to have the ability to relax and enjoy something normal,” said Andres.

The FOBs that received the ‘drops’ were FOB Hammer and FOB Kalsu. The Soldiers of the FOBs prepared and constructed driving ranges in anticipation of the golf drop.

The ‘Hammer Links’ driving range is located at FOB Hammer and was constructed by a mix of Soldiers and Kellogg, Brown and Root employees. Army Staff Sgt. Freeman Slavens, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203d Brigade Support Battalion, said it took them about 16 hours to construct the driving range. He said he was a prior construction worker so that experience helped.

The Kalsu driving range was not fully completed due to weather conditions but that did not stop the Soldiers from busting the boxes of clubs and balls open when they arrived.

Once completed, it will feature a 250-foot fully enclosed area that will be able to accommodate three Soldiers abreast.

Army Master Sgt. Dale Hissim, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, FOB Kalsu driving range project manager, said that they ‘have received a lot of support and assistance from contractors so the range should be completed in no time.’

The Soldiers who have received some of the equipment donated and collected through the Andres’ efforts were surprised at the generosity and plan on using the equipment as a way to relieve some of the stress of being in a combat zone.

“This driving range will allow Soldiers to get away from the daily grind both on and off the FOB and hopefully take their mind off of the war and out of Iraq if only for a little while,” said Army Maj Spenser O. Ashford, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion.

Andres summed up his thoughts with, “a whole lot of everyday people heard that Soldiers wanted something simple and they knew that they could make a difference; so they did. A small percentage of our population is serving in uniform and the majority of Americans have no personal link to the troops. People want to help our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines but just don’t know how. I believe that’s why we had such a huge outpouring of support. I just wanted to say that I am personally very grateful for everyone’s generosity.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Petraeus: Upcoming Troop Reduction Plans 'On Track'

Story by John Kruzel

WASHINGTON - Plans to withdraw four Army brigade combat teams and two Marine battalions by July are "on track" as the military seeks to draw down the number of troops in Iraq as quickly as ground conditions allow, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Jan. 27.

Appearing on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said the scheduled withdrawal will reduce the number of troops at the height of the surge by one quarter, or roughly 42,500. Further reductions after July will be based on the state of Iraq's security, he added.

"The guidance that (Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates) in fact has given me -- and the president and my chain of command, what all of them have said -- is that reductions after July should be conditions-based," he said.

The general said after the upcoming drawdown, Defense Department and military officials will need time to "let things settle a bit" before making further reduction assessments. Their focus, he said, will be on removing forces expeditiously, but without undercutting progress made during the troop surge that launched this time last year.

Petraeus, commander of Multi-national Force Iraq, said drawdowns aim to relieve strains on service members, many of whom have engaged in multiple and extended deployments to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Force level reductions also would save money and cut back the flow of resources, he said.

The Army strives to provide Soldiers the highest possible amount of "dwell time" -- the period at home stations between deployments -- and reduce deployments from 15 months to 12, the general added.

"But we want to do it, again, in a way that will allow these gains to be maintained. We don't want to jeopardize what we have fought so hard for," he said. "The key is to make the timing of that right and to figure out when that will make sense."

Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are expected in coming months to give Congress a follow-up to the military and diplomatic progress update they delivered in September.

Asked about Iraqi security forces' capability, Petraeus said the roughly 550,000-strong force is assuming an increasingly larger role in maintaining the country's security. The overall forces -- composed of some 343,000 police members, 208,000 defense ministry soldiers and 4,000 special operations forces -- suffer nearly three times the number of U.S military casualties, which Petraeus said indicated the Iraqis' devotion to stability in their country.

Earlier this month, more than 2 million religious pilgrims gathered in Iraq to celebrate the Islamic holiday Ashura. In a ceremony that has been marked in recent years by "terrible bloodshed," the Jan. 18 holiday occurred with minimal violence, the general said.

"The Iraqi security forces planned this year the security for that, ... and in fact, in Najaf, Karbala, and Baghdad the celebrations went off virtually without incident," he said, conceding that violence occurred in Basra and Nasiriya. "But Iraqi security forces responded in each of those cases and dealt with the situation."

Officials have stated that reductions of U.S. forces in Iraq depend largely on an Iraqi security force that is capable of tamping down violence in the country. Petraeus noted that half of Iraq's 18 provinces currently are under provincial control, but pointed out that Iraq's security institutions face challenges in breeding military leaders and in equipping and maintaining the current forces.

"(Leadership) is the area that is probably the most difficult, because you just can't find captains, colonels, and generals out there in the numbers that they need by just going back to those who are willing to serve from the old army -- not all of whom, perhaps, have the qualities that one would want in the leadership of the new Iraq army anyway," Petraeus said.

"It is easy, relatively speaking, to develop infantry battalions; it is very difficult to develop the institutional underpinnings that support those forces, maintain their vehicles, get them paid on time, feed them, and all of the rest of that," he added.

Petraeus said Iraqi security forces are handling the challenges. The handover of responsibility from U.S. to Iraqi forces is occurring not like a light switch, he said, but more like a rheostat, referring to the type of electrical resistor that adjusts to allow the flow of a current to grow in increments.

The Multi-national Force Iraq commander said he does not foresee the U.S. maintaining a permanent military presence in Iraq, but rather a smaller number of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq "for some period of years." Citing key pieces of legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament recently, Petraeus said in the future he envisions troops performing a mission that places greater emphasis on empowering Iraq's "reconcilables," those who embrace cooperation over divisiveness.

"I think our Soldiers were prepared intellectually for the concept that there were reconcilables whom we needed to reach out to and try to become part of the solution over time, rather than part of the problem," he said. "And you try to minimize the number of irreconcilables, because at the end of the day, they have to be killed, captured, or run out of the country."

Scouts Recover Weapons Cache in Narwhan

Scouts from Troop B, 3rd Squadron,1st Cavalry Regiment, currently attached to 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, search for an insurgent cache behind a high-value target’s house in Narhwan, Jan. 25. Two days earlier, Troop B arrested the individual who was wanted for smuggling weapons through Narhwan.

Weapons from a cache found by scouts from Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, currently attached to 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, behind a high-value target’s house in Narhwan, Jan. 25. Two days earlier, Troop B arrested the individual who was wanted for smuggling weapons through Narhwan.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Scouts from Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment uncovered a large cache near the home of a recently captured high-value target in Narhwan, Jan. 25.

Troop B, currently attached to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, apprehended the high-value target two days earlier in a night-time raid. The individual was wanted for allegedly smuggling large amounts of weapons and ammunition through Narhwan.

“The suspect was connected to attacks on coalition forces and local citizens,” said Capt. Jared Albright, from Lancaster, Pa., commander of Troop B. “He has also bragged about having a sniper rifle and threatened local citizens with it.”

The cache was found buried in a black casket behind the home of the arrested suspect.

The cache contained eight rocket propelled grenades, 20 OG rounds, 30 RPG expellant charges, three RPG launchers, a tactical vest, three AK-47 magazines, 5,200 rounds of small arms ammunition and one PKC machine gun.

Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), from Ft. Benning, Ga., recovered the enemy cache and transported it back to Forward Operating Base Hammer for analysis.

“It is great to finally put our hands on these weapons,” Albright said. “We have been working hard to get them and the insurgents in this area. We know that they are out there and feel it’s just a matter of time before we get them all. Getting these weapons out of insurgents’ hands and off the street has been a huge relief to the local community. Many have said they feel safer now that he is behind bars.”

The 1-10 FA and 3-1 Cav. Regt. are assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and have been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

1-10 FA Regt. Provides Health Care to Displaced Citizens

Citizens in Sadiq, a village southeast of Baghdad made up entirely of displaced citizens, wait in line to receive medical attention from medics from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, Jan. 23. The Soldiers were able to treat 125 people during the course of the operation.
By Spc. Ben Hutto,
3rd HBCT Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers assigned to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, assisted by Concerned Local Citizens from Sabbah Nissan, provided medical assistance to 125 people in Sadiq, a village southeast of Baghdad, Jan. 23.

The village consists entirely of displaced citizens from Diyala Province.

“The medical operation provided much needed essential medical care for the citizens of Sadiq,” said 1st Lt. Eddie Wright, from Sanford, Fla., the medical officer for 1-10 FA.

Battery A has been working with the Sabbah Nissan council to provide water, food, school supplies and medical assistance to 11 villages near FOB Hammer.

“It feels really good helping the Iraqis,” said Spc. Brandon Stoval, from Oklahoma City, Okla.

The 1-10 FA Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and have been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

1-15 Inf. Regt. Conducts Combined Operation With CLC and NP

Two Soldiers, from Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, provide security during a night mission in the area northeast of Salman Pak Jan. 20. The mission was part of a two-day joint operation between Company A, 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division and Concerned Local Citizens to clear out insurgents and establish Concerned Local Citizen checkpoints in Zelig. (U.S. Army Photo/Sgt. Timothy Kingston, 55th Combat Camera)

A national policeman from 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division and a Soldier from Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment provide security as a Concerned Local Citizen helps set up a guard tower at a CLC checkpoint Jan. 20. The three groups worked together as part of a two-day joint operation to clear out insurgents and set up CLC checkpoints northeast of Salman Pak. (U.S. Army Photo/Sgt. Timothy Kingston, 55th Combat Camera)

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd HBCT Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, conducted a two-day combined operation with the 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division and Concerned Local Citizens in Zelig, northeast of Salman Pak, Jan. 20-21.

Thirteen insurgent fighters were killed, two enemy trucks were destroyed and 14 improvised explosive devices were found during the course of the operation.

Capt. William Clark, Wheeling, Ill., the commander of Company A, said Concerned Local Citizens took the lead in the operation. He said the group uncovered the majority of IEDs found and cleared homes along major routes in and out of Zelig.

Company A assisted the Concerned Local Citizens in setting up checkpoints by providing materials and equipment.

“Locals are coming out to help build checkpoints with the Concerned Local Citizens,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Jemison, from Metairie, La., a Soldier in 1-15 Inf. Regt. “The results of the operation were very positive.”

The 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dog Face Soldier Talks to WRBL Reporter

Command Sgt. Maj. Andrews, 3 ID, talks to a WRBL reporter in Columbus, GA, about the progress he has seen since the surge, challenges he faces, multiple deployments and longer deployment lengths, following the news back home, Combining Ft. Benning and Ft. Knox, what the average Soldier misses about home and thanks the support from Ft. Benning and the Columbus area has given the 3rd Infantry Division. (01/25/08)

Watch Video

Saturday, January 26, 2008

This Week's Dog Face Daily's

Friday, 25 January 2008
Insurgents out, combat outpost in: With al-Qaeda cleared from Zambraniyah, base construction now underway; Aviation unit preps new Army leaders...

Thursday, 24 January 2008
Pump station opens near Jisr Diyala; Tax season is upon us — are you ready?; New decision-making council forms in Yusufiyah, Abu Farris...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Troopers do heavy lifting at Patrol Base Assassin; Bringing color to the bland: Aviation Soldier paints Army pride on military buildings, equipment...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008
MEDEVAC crews brave enemy to save Soldiers; Christian band Third Day visits Liberty...

Monday, 21 January 2008
THUNDERBOLT STRIKES; Night air raid destroys dozens of targets in Arab Jabour; Spartan BCT celebrates MLK Jr....

Friday, January 25, 2008

Concerned Local Citizens Work to Rid Their Areas of IEDs

A Soldier from the 789th Ordnance Company (explosive ordnance disposal), from Ft. Benning, Ga., places C4 explosives on an insurgent cache found by Concerned Local Citizens in Sabbah Nissan, a village southeast of Baghdad, Jan. 15, at a remote site near the group’s headquarters.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Concerned Local Citizens in Sabbah Nissan, a village southeast of Baghdad, led Soldiers from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, to a weapons cache near the group’s headquarters, Jan. 15.

Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company (explosive ordnance disposal), from Fort Benning, Ga., were called out to destroy the munitions along with remnants of an earlier cache turned in by the CLCs.

Since last November, CLCs frequently take the lead in uncovering insurgent caches in the areas around Forward Operating Base Hammer and reporting them to Battery A for disposal.

“It’s great to see the citizens of Iraq stepping up and taking charge,” said 1st Sgt. Michael Parker, from Geriee, Ind., first sergeant of Battery A.

The effectiveness of the CLCs in Sabbah Nissan has allowed Battery A more opportunities to provide water, food and school supplies to the 11 villages that the group represents and protects.

The cooperation between CLCs and Battery A is one of the reasons the area around FOB Hammer is secure, said Capt. Chas Cannon, from Moultrie, Ga., commander of Battery A.

“The Concerned Local Citizens provide us the ability to rid the roads of IEDs,” Cannon said. “The Concerned Local Citizens have expert knowledge on their neighborhoods and have prevented munitions from falling into the hands of extremist.”

The 1-10th FA is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

Reconstruction Begins at Tuwaitha Water Treatment Facility

Members of the Mada’in Qada council break ground for reconstruction of the Tuwaitha water treatment facility, Jan. 23. The facility was in disrepair since being severely damaged during fighting between extremist groups after the fall of Sadam Hussein. When the facility is completed, it will provide fresh drinking water to the city of Jisr Diyala, one of the largest population centers in the Mada’in Qada.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Civic leaders from Jisr Diyala broke ground for reconstruction of the Tuwaitha water treatment facility, Jan. 23.

The facility was in disrepair since being severely damaged during fighting between extremist groups after the fall of Sadam Hussein.

Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment attended the event.

“This project provides a long-term solution to a critical problem: a lack of suitable drinking water,” said Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, from Louden, Tenn., commander of 3-1 Cav. Regt. “In fact, this facility will provide fresh drinking water to over 150,000 local Iraqis.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. has been working with the government of Iraq and the Mada’in Qada council on the project.

When the facility is completed it will provide fresh drinking water to the city of Jisr Diyala, one of the largest population centers in the Mada’in Qada.

“The continued cooperation between the local government and coalition forces makes these projects possible,” said 1st Lt. Jeffery Ritter, from Dallas, chemical officer for Headquarters Troop, 3-1 Cav Regt. “The work being done today will provide for the next generation of Iraqis.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

Operation Zelig Sunrise

Video about the significant effects of Operation Zelig in southeastern Baghdad. Produced by Pfc. Joseph Labutka.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

MI Company Bids Farewell to Outgoing Commander

Left to right, Capt. Joan Hollein, incoming commander of Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion; Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, battalion commander, and Capt. Lee Gerber, from Miami, Fla., outgoing commander, present arms during the National Anthem during a Change of Command ceremony, Jan. 19, at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers from Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, bid farewell to their outgoing company commander in a ceremony, Jan. 19, at Forward Operating Base Hammer.

Capt. Lee Gerber, from Miami, Fla., passed the company guidon to Capt. Joan Hollein after serving 20 months as commander of Company A.

Before the ceremony, Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, spoke to Gerber and his company.

“Capt. Gerber established this company and he did an exceptional job,” Grigsby said. “This is a quiet and humble organization and you are doing a great job. Capt. Gerber gets a pat on the back for doing an outstanding job and because of what you as a company have done.”

During his tenure, Gerber led his company through the National Training Center rotation in Fort Irwin, Calif. He also deployed his troops and conducted combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom V.

“I have truly learned something everyday from the outstanding Soldiers and noncommissioned officers of Alpha Company,” Gerber said. “I would like to believe that the company is better now than when I took command.

Prior to taking command of the company, Gerber spent 27 months as the intelligence officer for 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, during which time he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

Gerber’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Air Assault Badge.

Although Gerber is leaving Company A to serve with the Georgian Army Liaison team at Combat Outpost Cleary, his wife Melissa will continue her service as the Company A, 3rd BSTB Family Readiness Group leader until the 3rd HBCT redeploys to Fort Benning, Ga.

During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, Holland, Ohio, commander of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, gave a speech wishing well to the outgoing commander and welcoming the incoming.

“Even though she has been with the brigade less than two months, Capt. Hollian is a perfect fit for this company,” Ratliff said. “Alpha Company, I will tell you that your new commander is up for the challenge of day-to-day operations here in Iraq as well as on Kelley Hill. Here is an officer that will continue to set and achieve the highest standards. Joan, I am delighted to have you on board and a part of the Buffalo battalion.”

The 3rd BSTB is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Commander in Iraq Cites Progress, Warns Against Withdrawing Too Fast

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The commander of coalition troops in central Iraq said today he's dismayed that the American people aren't getting word about progress in Iraq. At the same time, he insisted it's too soon to declare victory and give Iraq's enemies an opportunity to retake it.

Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multi-National Division - Central, told military analysts via teleconference that he was struck during his weekly phone call to his parents that success in Iraq has become yesterday's news.

"Last Sunday, my dad asked if I was still in Iraq," Lynch said. "He's not seeing it on TV because bad things aren't happening over here. It's less publicized. That breaks my heart, because I've got 20,000 'Dog Face Soldiers' working their (butts) off every day over here making great progress for the United States of America, and we just have to get that story told."

Lynch cited vast improvements since March, when his 3rd Infantry Division troops arrived in Iraq as part of the troop surge and established Multi-National Division - Center. Attacks that averaged 25 per day in his battle space are now down to fewer than five, most of them ineffective. Civilian casualties have dropped about 75 percent since March. U.S. and coalition casualties have dropped 60 percent.

"So the indicators of progress on a secure line are clearly in an upward trend," Lynch said.

Lynch attributes that success to three major factors: the early-2007 surge of additional forces into Baghdad and western Iraq, an increase in patrol bases within Iraqi neighborhoods, and the success of concerned local citizen programs.

Surge forces "gave us the combat power to take the fight to the enemy," particularly to areas the enemy had controlled in the absence of coalition or Iraq forces.

Coalition and Iraq troops set up 53 patrol bases within neighborhoods in the Multi-National Division - Center operating area and began working from them rather than the larger forward operating bases. When troops left their FOBs to conduct operations then returned to them afterward, the enemy seized the opportunity to attack Iraqi civilians who had worked with them, Lynch said.

Now that troops live and work from patrol bases in the community, more Iraqis are stepping forward to cooperate, he said. "Civilians come forward and ask two questions: 'Are you staying?'" Lynch said. "And if the answer is 'yes,' then their second question is, 'What can we do to help?'"

Some 31,000 concerned local citizens within Lynch's command area are making a huge impact on coalition and Iraqi operations. During the past several months alone, they've pointed out 400 emplaced improvised explosive devices and more than 400 weapons caches, Lynch said. They've also killed or captured almost 500 insurgents themselves and turned in five of the division's high-value targets.

"That's the power of the concerned local citizen program," Lynch said.

Lynch said it's no surprise that Iraqi citizens are increasingly cooperating with the coalition. "I am absolutely convinced that the population of Iraq is just tired of the violence. They are tired of the intimidation. They are tired of the harassment. They are tired of not being able to send their kids to school and go to work, so now they have (risen) up to help," he said. "That's what I see every day."

As the Iraqi army, and to a lesser degree, the national police, become increasingly capable, Lynch said, he supports a transfer of responsibility for some areas to Iraqi security forces. He noted that five U.S. brigades will leave Iraq by July and that commanders in Iraq are starting to look at longer-term troop-withdraw plans that will depend on evolving conditions there.

He cautioned against withdrawing too many troops too quickly, allowing enemy forces to unravel all that's been accomplished.

"We've lost 126 soldiers since we've been here. One hundred twenty-six of my soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice," Lynch said. "And I'll be (darned) if I'm going to advocate giving up ground that they died for. ... We are just not going to do that. The place will go back in a heartbeat."

Lynch has what he calls a "96-hour rule."

"If you've got an area that you've taken away and you walk away from it, 96 hours later the enemy is back -- and he's intimidating the population (and) he's killing innocent people," he said. "So we just have to manage this transition very diligently."

489th CA Soldiers Open Clinic in Jisr Diyala

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers of the 489th Civil Affairs Company currently attached to Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, attended a ceremony to open a newly renovated health clinic in Jisr Diyala, Jan. 13.

The clinic opening is significant, according to Capt. DeMond Davis, from Montgomery, Ala., fire support officer for the 3-1 Cav. Regt., because it is fully operational the day of the opening. This indicates improved security, Davis explained, which allows the Iraqi government and citizens and U.S. Soldiers to focus less on violence and more on reconstruction.

With help from the 489th CA Company, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team who donated supplies, the citizens of Jisr Diyala opened the clinic doors and doctors were able to see patients immediately.

According to Maj. James Carlisle, from Palm Beach, Fla., civil military operations officer for the 3rd BCT, planning the renovation began mid-2004. The funding began approximately one year later.

“It was a complicated building process because security wasn’t in place,” Carlisle said. “The project couldn’t be completed until the area was secure.”

Carlisle said when the 3-1 Cav. Regt. assumed responsibility of Jisr Diyala, they set up anti-terrorism measures.

“They would visit often and run patrols by it to reduce the likelihood of people attacking the building,” he said. “The national police secured the area around the building.”

Before the doors opened, local leaders coordinated with the ministry of health to make sure it had the personnel and equipment to be a fully-functioning clinic.

“The clinic provides additional medical care to a largely populated area that used to have to travel half an hour to Baghdad,” Carlisle said. “It’s a good place for parents to bring their children; and it’s all but free. People pay 45 cents to be seen there.”

Co. D, 1-15 Inf. Regt. is attached to the 3-1 Cav. Regt. and is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga. The unit has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

3-1 Cav. Regt. Medics Help Heal Communities

Capt. Mike Garrison, from Fort Lee, Va., the physical therapist assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, examines the shoulder of an Iraqi gunshot victim at Patrol Base Assassin, Jan. 15.
Capt. Sayed Ali, from Long Island, N.Y., the surgeon assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, and Pfc. Israel Ruiz, a medic in Troop A, 3-1 Cav. Regt., examine an Iraqi cabdriver, who was injured by an insurgent improvised explosive device, at Patrol Base Assassin, Jan. 16.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Ahmed’s whole body shook as Capt. Sayed Ali, from Long Island, N.Y., the surgeon assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, examined him. Ahmed, a 24-year-old cab driver, was driving his cab when an insurgent roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle and left him injured, forcing his father to bring him to Patrol Base Assassin for help.

Ali asked the cab driver to perform a series of movements to determine the severity of his injuries. As the young man strained, his father and the medics of Troop A looked on. Obviously in pain, Ahmed weakly strained to push his head against Ali’s palm.

Ali asked his medics to prepare medication for Ahmed to take home and gave the young man a new cane for better support.

Consultations like these, between Ali and local citizens living around Patrol Base Assassin, are frequent. Medics working for Ali estimate he sees one or two local citizens at the patrol base aid station every day.

“We’ve done everything from treating a common cold to amputated limb rehabilitation,” said Spc. Clifford Overton, from Nashville, Tenn., a combat medic in Troop A. “In many cases, there is only so much we can do because of our supplies here, but we do what we can. The people here need more quality doctors. A lot of patients come to us because they have no other options. They look to us for hope.”

Overton explained that many of the aid station’s patients come because they have no money, they trust that American doctors have more expertise or they have been treated by local doctors with little success.

Whatever the reason, Ali and his medics never turn anyone away.

“Captain Ali is awesome,” said Spc. Rafik Brooks, Jr., from Keysport, Pa., a combat medic in Troop A. “His morals are so high that he sees everyone that comes. He will schedule appointments with people outside. He takes referrals from civil affairs. He finds people at our medops (medical operations) and has them come back here for follow-ups.”

Although many at the patrol base believe Ali goes out of his way to help the local populace, he doesn’t view his actions as anything special.

“I don’t like it or dislike doing it,” Ali said. “My main priority is to get all of these guys (Troop A Soldiers) back to their families. I can’t tell them not to go out or keep them here at the base, but if I can indirectly protect them from an IED (improvised explosive device) or a VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device), it’s a good thing.”

Overton agrees with Ali.

“One act of kindness can save a world of hurt when it comes to IEDs and things like that,” he said. “An act of kindness can show the people here that we are here to help and prompt them to report things like IEDs. What we are doing here has a big effect on what’s going on out there.”

Ali said Troop A has been receptive to the needs of the people around them since their arrival.

“I think from day one we were open to people coming here,” Ali said. “People here were initially scared of an American patrol base but, as you can see, it has gotten better as word has gotten out. People are now showing up without me having to ask them to come.”

Ali’s willingness and Patrol Base Assassin’s location near the Four Corners market area make it easier for Iraqis to come see him.

“The tactical position of the patrol base is a big factor,” Brooks said. “Everyone knows where we are and that we are reaching out to help them.”

Brooks acknowledges that many of the patients have unreasonable expectations when they arrive.

“A lot of them get a reality check when they come here,” he said. “They see what medicine should be like rather than what a lot of them place emphasis on. The people here place a lot of value on creams and salves and there are a lot of conditions where that isn’t applicable.”

Brooks also said that his station is limited as far as supplies, so many medical treatments that people need can not be provided at the clinic.

Ali uses a web of contacts to help alleviate the constraints of the clinic. He works with surgeons, a civilian prosthetic specialist, a physical therapist with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, a hearing aide specialist and a handful of Iraqi doctors throughout Iraq to try and help his patients receive the best treatment for their conditions.

“It has taken me six months to build this network,” he said. “It has grown as needs have arisen. I really credit Major Majerske (Maj. Cynthia Majerske, the 3rd BCT’s surgeon) for everything. Every project I’ve run by her, she’s helped and not shut it down. The support from the top has been great.”

Ali is also quick to point out that his medics deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the good work that is happening.

“I’ve told every general that has visited here that I’m just the face of this operation,” he said. “The medics do all the work. They run the physical therapy sessions. They put in the IVs and chest tubes. They go out on the patrols and bring a lot of situations to my attention. Out here, it’s a Soldier’s life. I think they have always outdone themselves. They are constantly training and learning on top of all of their other responsibilities.”

The medics are proud of their accomplishments.

“It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” Overton said. “Being in a line unit is different. There is a huge difference between going out every day and being in an aide station behind walls. We can explain it to people all day, but only those of us that have been out here will understand everything we’ve done. It has been a real learning experience. It will be something I’ll always be proud of.”

Even though the experience can’t fully be put into words, Overton explained working with the people of Iraq has been a special experience for him.

“When you are working on an American casualty you feel a lot of pain and anger,” he said. “When you do something, like helping the people here, it makes you feel good. Our job is to help casualties of war, not just the American Soldier. We aren’t the only victims of this war. There are a lot of innocent bystanders.”

Ali believes the Soldiers he works with are outstanding examples of everything that is right with the Army.

“I think in addition to being the world’s greatest army, we are the world’s most compassionate army,” he said. “You see these huge massive Soldiers and you put them in front of little kids and they become little kids themselves. They look at these children and they see the sons and daughters they haven’t seen in 15 months. All of these guys have very tough exteriors, but also have very big hearts.”

Ali said care packages sent from America have been a big help to the medics.

People have mailed Ali pain relievers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bandages and anti-acids to assist the citizens he treats on a daily basis.

“Since we’ve been here, the American people have been very generous,” he said. “We receive two to 10 packages every two weeks. Everyone back in America has been amazingly supportive. To be honest, I don’t even know who they are. They have just heard about us and lent their support.”

As more and more people come, Ali and his medics will continue to help them with the hope it will help keep American Soldiers safe.

“I’d rather be working on an Iraqi patient than a U.S. Soldier,” Ali said. “Not that one life is more important than another, but these are my boys. I’m very protective of them and my main goal is to get them all back home to their families. My heart goes out to all these young Soldiers out here. I have so much admiration for everything they do. I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and pull guard or do details like these kids do every day. All of them go out. Hopefully by helping these people, it will mean that everyone of them will come back safely.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

3-1 Cav. Regt. Attends Pump Station Opening

The chief engineer for the construction company that fixed the water pumps gives a tour of a new water pump station after a ribbon cutting ceremony Jan. 15 in Umm Al-Bid, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
Photos courtesy of 3-1 Cav. Regt.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers and leaders of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment attended the grand opening of a water pump station Jan. 15 in the Umm Al-Bid village, near Jisr Diyala.

Water production from the new pump station will provide 10 times more water to the Jisr Diyala and Nahrwan areas than before, according to Sgt. 1st Class Daniel McInnis, a 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team staff noncommissioned officer.

“Before the pump station, people would get five to six hours of water per week,” said McInnis, from Binghamton, N.Y. “Now people get 20 hours of water per day on average.”

McInnis said Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces had conducted very few security operations in Umm Al-bid and security threats made it difficult to complete projects to strengthen the village’s economy.

“We identified the project when we first got to the area in April (2007),” said Maj. Andrew Koloski, from Juneau, Alaska, executive officer for the 3-1 Cav. Regt. “We were only working on it for the past 90 days, but it took a while for the planning and to achieve the security necessary to begin construction.”

Since the arrival of the 3rd HBCT to the Mada’in Qada, the brigade’s area of operation, insurgent activity has significantly decreased, Koloski said. Since establishing a Concerned Local Citizens group in October, violence has dropped, resulting in the completion of the project.

Koloski said the project was primarily Iraqi-run. The Mada’in Qada and Jisr Diyala leaders made significant contributions to the project.

“The horizontal pump station represents a culmination of a lot of effort on the part of the Government of Iraq, Coalition Forces and Iraqi citizens,” Koloski said. “Water is the life blood of any society; especially in the desert. This pump station greatly enhances the availability of irrigation in the area.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Rumor Has It

Rumor has it our Soldiers are scheduled back about a month early. There are no specific dates yet but 51% are due back by May 15, 2008. The Transfer of Authority (TOA) for the brigade is scheduled for May 15th. The majority will be home by the end of May. Block leave is tentatively scheduled for the first part of June. Once a soldier returns he or she will have 10 days of reintegration that is manditory.

Remember, this is just tentative and as we all know, things can change in the Army. I will post the confirmed information as soon as it is available. Things are looking up...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Troop A Soldiers Do the Heavy Lifting at Patrol Base Assassin

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Cameron, from Rayford, N.C., a section sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, lifts an all terrain vehicle at Patrol Base Assassin, Jan.19. As part of Troop A’s power-lifting team, Cameron has been using equipment from around the patrol base to increase his strength because of the limited amount of work out equipment there.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Using heavy chains, Humvees and a makeshift weight set purchased with their own money, four non-commissioned officers assigned to Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, are proving that “Army Strong” is not just a catchy motto to attract new recruits.

Day in and day out, members of the Combat Outpost Assassin power-lifting team make the time to go to the gym they constructed from the ground up.

“We’ve had to come in here at three or four in the morning to work out because of our mission schedules,” said Sgt. Brandon Sayles, from Hilo, Hawaii, a squad leader in Troop A. “We wake each other up to make sure we get our work out in. It has become an important part of what we do out here and nobody has a problem with it.”

Lack of sleep is just one of the obstacles that the group overcame to become, in their minds, the strongest Soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

During the summer, 1st Platoon, Troop A constructed a weight room to accommodate Soldiers, including the team.

“They needed a place to work out because it was getting hot during the summer so we built this place,” said Sgt. 1st Class Lockett, from Huntsville, Ala., the platoon sergeant for 1st platoon, Troop A. “We bought the air conditioner and the heater for it with our own money…Soldiers bought a lot of the weights back at (Fort) Benning and had them shipped out here. They built their own squat rack. A lot of these weights we scavenged from various places. When you add the cost of the mirror and the stereo in here, we’ve spent about 1,500 dollars to have this place.”

Despite the cost, members of team still feel they need more. Sayles pointed out that in many cases they are limited in what they can do because they only have a certain number of plates.

“We don’t have the nice weight room and all the equipment they have back at (FOB) Hammer,” said Staff Sgt. Jay Doran, from Orlando, Fla., the mortar section sergeant for 2nd Platoon. “So we have to use other things to get strong.”

Some of the unorthodox training methods the team employs to train include lifting towing chains to work out their back and shoulders, pushing up-armored Humvees to strengthen their legs and picking up the ATVs used by the mechanics to strengthen their back and legs.

“It’s all a competition,” Doran said. “It’s friendly competition between all of us. We try and hang with one another and out do the guy that lifts before us. We know all the Soldiers back at Hammer have nice equipment and a better diet, so we have to work twice as hard to stay with them.”

The team competed in FOB Hammer’s strongman competition last November and finished first, besting the other teams competing against them in bench press, farmer’s carry, dead-lift and Humvee-pushing events.

“We don’t get to compete in a lot of events like this due to missions,” Doran said. “When we hear about a dead lift competition and we can’t compete, it’s frustrating. We found out what the winning weight was and the next day all of us dead-lifted it just to prove that we all could have won that.”

The club has been responsible for helping motivate the Soldiers of Troop A, said Lockett.

“These guys have implemented a workout plan for 60 percent of the troop,” he said. “I would say that 60 guys out of our 80-man troop work out because of the example these guys set. They are real motivators.”

The Soldiers in the club have other reasons to continue working out at odd hours in the morning.

“It’s a stress reliever,” said Staff Sgt. Jimmy Cameron, from Rayford, N.C., a section sergeant for 2nd Platoon. “There are days that I come in here to work out after a ten-hour mission. It’s just a way to get through the day. You get to a point where you need it to relax.”

Doran agreed with Cameron’s assessment.

“If one of us is having a bad day, we can always come here and work out with one another,” he said. “We pick each other up. When we start working out, we feed off one another.”

Sayles said that the make-shift gym has become a refuge for him.

“I really don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have it,” he said. “The deployment would go by so slow if I couldn’t work out. This place is a motivator. It gives Soldiers something to do. A lot of young guys get hung up on the internet and the phones and really just make themselves miserable because they wind up missing home so much. This place gives them something to do and helps them better themselves.”

For Doran, the club was a bonding experience for him. Having just transfered from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, the club was a way for him to meet Soldiers with similar interest.

“Working out with guys like these builds camaraderie,” he said. “I’ve only known these guys about three months, but I’m as close with them as anyone. Working out with them goes way beyond work; it has become a friendship.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. and 1-15 Inf. Regt. are assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and have been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

Thank You From The Bottom of My Heart

Ever want to say thank you but didn't...then later wished you had? This is an awesome movie that is well worth the few minutes it takes to watch.


How to sign "Thank You"

The sign we are using is intended to communicate
"thank you from the bottom of my heart. "

To make the sign simply place your hand on your heart
as though you're saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Then
pull your hand down and out, bending at the elbow
(not the wrist), stopping for a moment at about the belly button with your hand flat, palm up, angled toward the person you're thanking.

According to Norman Heimgartner, Ed.D., author of “Behavioral Traits of Deaf Children” and former Professor of Education at the University of Puget Sound, this sign originated in France in the late 1700’s, and was published in “Theorie des Signes”, a dictionary of signs by the Abbe Sicard. The sign was brought to the United States in 1816 by the Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of Gallaudet University, who later modified it to start at the chin rather than at the heart. That sign is now the standard sign for “thank you” in American Sign Language. The original sign, starting at the heart, is less commonly known today and might now be considered “slang”. For more information on American Sign Language, please see

Visit the Graditude Campaign website to find out how this all got started.

3-1 Cav. Regt. Finds Two Caches in Two Days

A Soldier from the 789th Ordnance Company prepares a cache of 120 mm mortars for a controlled detonation, Jan. 18, near Jisr Diyala, Iraq.

Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company pose for a picture with a cache of 120 mm mortars, Jan. 18, near Jisr Diyala, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers of Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, found two separate caches tallying 75 120 mm mortar rounds, one bag of mortar propellant and one bag of mortar fuses, Jan. 17, and 18 near Jisr Diyala, south of Baghdad.

Company D Soldiers responded to two similar reports from Concerned Local Citizens, according to 1st Lt. Daniel Bell, from San Antonio, Texas, executive officer for Company D.

Bell explained local citizens found the caches and reported them to the Concerned Local Citizens, who in turn informed Company D.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Bell said. “We have good people in the area that are very proactive in finding things that they know need to be cleared out of their communities. They are not just doing it for themselves. They are doing it for the betterment of their country.”

Company D, 1-15 Inf. Regt. is attached to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment and is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga. The unit has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Loving Memories Surround Fallen Soldier's Newborn Son

This story was originally published on November 29, 2007. I just found it today and I thought it was well worth posting, even though I'm a little late.

Tonya Nurnberg cradles Keith Nurnberg Jr., her five day old son, next to the flag she received at her husband, Army Cpl. Keith Nurnberg Sr.'s September funeral. Nurnberg senior died in Iraq when his Humvee was reportedly hit by a missile. (Rebekah Raleigh photo)

Army Cpl. Keith Nurnberg died in Iraq two-and-a-half months before the son who bears his name was born, but his face is all around him.

His widow, Tonya, had pictures of Keith Nurnberg at Northern Illinois Medical Center when she gave birth about 7:55 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 24. Her Genoa City, Wis., town-house loft is filled with Keith Nurnberg’s uniform, medals, and the flag she received at his funeral.

Their wedding pictures hang in her bedroom, where the baby sleeps in a handmade bassinet donated after news spread of Keith Nurnberg’s Sept. 5 death.

The baby himself, from the shape of his eyes to his nose and his toes, looks like her husband, Tonya Nurnberg said. It’s one of the first thoughts that she had when she saw him just after he was born, 8 pounds, 8 ounces, and 21 inches long.

“All the emotions hit you,” Tonya Nurnberg said, remembering the first time she held Keith Jr. “It was just nice to have him in my arms.”

Her older sister, Capri, has been staying with her since Tonya Nurnberg and the baby came home from the hospital Monday.

They have been juggling late-night feedings, a doctor’s visit Wednesday, and details of a dinner and auction that Keith Nurnberg’s best friends are holding Saturday to raise money for the baby’s education.

The effort is not the last planned to honor the McHenry native’s service to his country and help the young family. Tonya Nurnberg said she was thankful and overwhelmed by the support.

“It’s amazing the amount of people who want to help us,” she said, as the baby slept nearby in a camouflage outfit still a little too big. “You always hear about all the bad people in the world, but there’s a lot of good people, too. And we’ve experienced so many of them.”

Keith Nurnberg’s absence is felt in many more lives. He had planned to serve as best man when his longtime friends, Jim Mowrer and Amy Sterling, get married in July. Instead, the couple asked Billy Chrisman to take his place, and the group, along with another friend, Ron Tonyan, threw themselves into raising money for Nurnberg’s son’s education.

“I don’t know if [Keith Nurnberg’s death has] even sunk in yet, because he would be gone [serving in the Army],” Sterling said. “You’d see him for two weeks, and then he’d be gone. It’s almost like you’re still waiting. I don’t know.”

The group wanted their efforts to secure Keith Jr.’s future, Sterling said.

“Maybe he’ll want to [attend] trades school. Maybe he’ll want to be a doctor. Maybe he’ll want to be a tradesman and a doctor, I don’t know,” Sterling said. “At least he’ll have the opportunity. ... He can do, be anything that he wants to.”

Saturday’s event at the Moose Lodge in Johnsburg promises to be fruitful. The 500 tickets are sold out, and the auction list includes more than 150 items. Donated items include a $1,500 Traeger grill, a $1,000 garage door, and a week’s vacation for eight to Benzie County, Mich., organizer Carol Chrisman said.

A special raffle also will take place for guests who bring a gift card for baby supplies.

Tonya Nurnberg plans to bring the baby for part of the event.

She said she wanted to spend the next few months with her baby and organizing her new life, before returning to teaching third grade at Round Lake Village Elementary in March. She will update her husband’s two close Army friends in Iraq on the baby’s progress.

Soon the baby will be big enough to grasp his Army doll with his dad’s picture in the face.

In a few years, Mowrer will carry through on his promise to teach Keith Jr. to throw a baseball, Sterling said.

“[Mowrer] had always told [Keith Sr.], ‘I will always be there for your family,’ ” Sterling said. “That is a promise that will definitely will be kept.”

To help

To donate money for Keith Nurnberg Jr.’s education fund, call Carol Chrisman at 815-790-5162 or mail a check to the Tonya Nurnberg Fund at McHenry Savings Bank, 353 Bank Drive, McHenry, IL 60050.

Coalition Forces Pound Al-Qaida Stronghold As Part of Operation Marne Thunderbolt

By Tech. Sgt. Tara O'Brien
Combined Air and Space Operations Center Public Affairs

SALMANPAK, Iraq -- B-1B Lancers, F/A -18 Hornets, Iraqi forces and the US Army Third Infanrty Division cleared out an al-Qaida stronghold 30 miles southeast of Baghdad late Sunday night and early Monday morning. Coalition aircraft dropped more than 30,000 pounds of bombs on former al-Qaida territory in Salman Pak, Iraq.

This was all part of the on-going Operation Marne Thunderbolt which is part of "Operation Phantom Phoenix", an overarching operation to defeat extremism throughout Iraq. This particular mission targeted an area where al-Qaida laid obstacles, in the way of improvised explosive devices, and took up safe haven at the same time. They also used the land to traffic weapons and send fighters up into Baghdad.

The United States Air Force and Army teamed up with Iraqi forces to clear that area of IED's and weapons caches in order to move ground forces into the area.

"The enemy is back on their heels and the Army is chasing them North and South," said Col. Peter Donnelly, commander of the 18th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group. "The Air Force is here to stay and clear the way for those Army troops on the ground as long as there is an enemy threat.

F-16 Fighting Falcons, out of Balad, came in during the operation to take out several house-born IED's in the area. This is where al-Qaida is starting to focus their efforts in hopes of blindly attacking ground forces when they go in to clear and secure buildings. Air Force efforts eliminated this threat in the area.

"The United States Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and coalition forces are keeping-up pressure on the enemy forces to meet General Petraeus' objectives to secure Iraq and set the conditions for freedom for the Iraqi people. Operation Marne Thunderbolt is one example of this," said Lt. Col. Joe Katuzienski, U.S. Air Force air strategist deployed in the Middle East.

Sunday's mission required meticulous mission-planning to ensure not only its success but to minimize collateral damage. Col. Donnelly said the operation was specifically scheduled at night for a reason. "This helps to reduce the potential for collateral damage which is a top priority for the military and since the locals adhere to a strict night curfew, this makes a night mission more safe and effective."

With the area cleared, the 3rd Infantry Division and Iraqi forces can now move in and secure the land in order to set up a control base.

"We want a permanent presence down there," said Donnelly. "We need to provide an environment that will lead to security in that region which will assist in defeating al-Qaida and its objectives." Operation Marne Thunderboldt kicked off on Jan. 1 and its continuing success will keep the operation moving forward until all objectives are met.