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Monday, December 31, 2007

Talk about isolated

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the little island of my life that I forget that there are others who are even more isolated than me.

Boni is in Saipan. Yeah, as in the island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That's way out there.

Boni's husband is about to deploy, and I think she could use a little extra support. So if you can spare a few moments today, head over to her blog, Breathe . . . breathe . . . hooah . . . hooah, and maybe leave her a few words of encouragement.

Good News from Iraq: 31 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi Army Soldiers recover large cache (Mansour).

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Army Soldiers reported recovering a large weapons cache in Mansour, a district in western Baghdad, Dec. 28.

The Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, recovered two mortar tubes, 86 mortar rounds, five improvised rocket launchers, ten rockets, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, seven RPG rounds, six hand grenades and various bomb-making materials.

A Coalition Forces explosive ordnance disposal unit destroyed the explosives and propellants, while the IA unit took control of the remaining items.

“This was an independent operation by the Iraqi Army Soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Army Division,” said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, Multi-National Division – Baghdad spokesman. “The recovery of these items is another indication the Iraqi Security Forces are increasing in capability. Taking these items away from the extremists is a good thing for the Iraqi people.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Uh, that's kinda tight

So I have been insanely busy for the last few months. Running here and there, working, working out (some), trying to keep my sanity, etc. Well, I let eating right slip. Mind you, I have sooo enjoyed eating, especially the Christmas cookies, but my pants tell another story. The pants are not happy. Not at all.

I came home to an empty refrigerator. And no coffee in the house. Oh the horror! So after I could no longer wait for a cup of joe, I slipped on some jeans that I had not worn in several weeks.

"Uh, did these just come out of the dryer?" They were a little snug going on. Hmmm.

Time to get back to watching what I eat in a manner other than noticing that it is going in. Get back to Weight Watchers. Get back to writing it all down.

And time to get back to moving more. I took the doggies for their first walk in months. (I know, I have been a bad puppy mommy too.) I also wrote down Pilates classes for evenings in my calendar for the entire month. Just getting back to the things I know that work for me.

So time to get off my butt and get going. Have a nice day.

Good News from Iraq: 30 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi Military Academy Graduates 229 New Officers, 44 Pilot Candidates.

RUSTAMIYAH — The Iraqi Military Academy at Rustamiyah graduated 229 newly commissioned officers for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Air Force, Dec. 29.

This class is the second group to attend the one year instruction, which is broken into three blocks: junior, intermediate and senior. Each block lasts approximately 15 weeks. The first block introduces the cadets to basic officer training and teaches them to work as a team. The next 15 weeks are spent learning academics and history. The final 15 week block of instruction is based around exercises and exams.

“I’m very proud of all of them,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Vetter, an instructor at the academy and a member of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team. “They came in very excited and energized with actually being given the opportunity to learn.”

Out of the 229 graduates, 44 have been selected as pilot candidates and are slotted to go into the Iraqi Air Force. These pilot candidates will return to the academy for English language training before being sent to Kirkuk Air Base for flight school.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

No place like home

I had a great visit with my family. My nephew and I had a great time taking pictures with my MacBook and then sending them to Uncle Jack Bauer who lives in a castle in Iraq.

But there is no place like my own home, with my own bed and my own doggies. I sure did miss them.

Now to get back to my daily life and straighten up some of that messiness that Jack didn't like looking at while he was home. Oh, there is no place like home.

Good News from Iraq: 29 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, National Police Deliver Weapons Cache to U.S. Soldiers.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER — Iraqi National Police (INP) responded to a tip that resulted in the seizure of a large cache of munitions near the city of Tameem, Dec. 25. The cache consisted of 20 projectile fuses, 10 60 mm mortars, eight 122 mm artillery shells, eight 82 mm mortars and other unidentifiable explosives.

The INP delivered the cache to a location in Jisr Diyala to elements of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, along with explosive ordnance disposal specialists from the 789th Ordnance Company, from Fort Benning, Ga. The explosive ordnance disposal unit assessed the cached items as being severely degraded but could have been used to construct improvised explosive devices.

The 3-1 Cav. Regt., and 789th Ordnance Co. (EOD), are assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Yeah, she rocks

So yesterday, I met TripleE for coffee and conversation. She is wonderful and genuine just like she is on her blog.

It was really nice to talk to someone in person who understands. We didn't need to explain or worry about getting blank stares or getting comparisons of our husbands' absences to an extended business trip. Nor did we have to be experts on all things military. We simply understand our own experiences. And that's OK.

She shared pictures and stories of her beautiful children and husband. Mind you, she is beautiful too. Her daughters have her same lovely hair and the same kindness in their sparkling blue eyes.

And of course she is thoughtful too. She brought me a purple butterfly carabiner-style key ring. I played with it throughout our coffee talk (I am a fidgeter) and tucked it in my pocket the rest of the day, a comforting reminder that someone is thinking about me. Very much like the pretty Green glass butterfly I got a few weeks ago that sits on my dresser at home and the lovely butterfly stationary set sent to me by a wonderful woman who knows what we are going through.

I wished we could have had more time to chat, but we needed to get back to our other realities. Ninety minutes can sure fly by.

Good News from Iraq: 28 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, MND-B patrol finds cache (Baghdad).

BAGHDAD – MND-Baghdad Soldiers discovered a weapons cache in the Rusafa District of eastern Baghdad, Dec. 25.

A 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment patrol found the cache, which included nine 60 mm mortars, 30 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, four grenade canisters and one rocket-propelled grenade.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A big day ahead

Today, I am heading out to do something very exciting. I am going to meet another blogger. :D

Yeah, TripleE rocks.

I'll be sure to tell you how much she rocks later.

Good News from Iraq: 27 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Solar Lights Make Baghdad Market Safer for Shoppers.

BAGHDAD — Until recently, the Rabi fish market – a thoroughfare crowded with little shops and stands in northeast Baghdad – cleared out when the sun went down. But these days, things are different. Thanks to the illumination provided by rows of new, solar-powered streetlights, vendors can continue to ply their wares and shoppers can keep browsing the shops for hours after night has fallen.

The new lights were supplied by the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment – the U.S. unit responsible for security in Rabi - as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the market area. Since early December, 40 of the 18-foot-high lights have been installed throughout the marketplace.

The new lights will allow businesses to remain open longer and make the market safer and more enticing for customers, with the end result being a boost to the local economy, said Madison, N.C., native, Capt. Josh Richardson, who commands the 2-319th’s Bravo Battery.

Richardson said people in Rabi had long expressed a desire to keep the market open at night, but the city power grid simply wasn’t reliable enough. With solar technology, however, power shortages are never a problem.

The solar lights now installed in the fish market utilize fairly simple solar technology – each light has a solar panel which soaks up energy during the day. That energy is then used to power the bulbs all night. The lights turn on automatically, and require little maintenance after being installed, Richardson said.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Playing auntie

Playing auntie is great. I get to spoil my nephew and play with his new toys and then hand him over to someone else when he is being grouchy. Although I have had to do some nose wiping, it wasn't toooo bad.

I should live closer. Or visit more often.

Good News from Iraq: 26 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Concerned Local Citizens find IED, cache in Arab Jabour.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Concerned Local Citizens found an improvised explosive device formed from rigged land mines and ammunition near Patrol Base Murray in Arab Jabour Dec. 23.

A 155 mm artillery round, an 82 mm mortar and two land mines were found rigged with detonation cord near the base. The CLCs turned over the IED, along with other weapons cache items found at the same site, to Soldiers from Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

The weapons caches consisted of 23 shape charges, three rocket propelled grenades, two 57 mm projectiles, four 73 mm propellant charges, 20 pounds of TNT, eight projectile fuses, one RPG warhead, six boxes of DSHKA high-caliber machine gun rounds, one fragmentation grenade, six 4.5-pound blocks of TNT, five pounds of unknown bulk explosive, two pounds of PE4, and 14 120 mm mortar propellant charges.

The explosives were destroyed in a controlled detonation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I seemed to recover OK from yesterday's sugar cookie-induced high. Let's see if I can do it all over again.

Santa brought with him the Santa Ana winds, which woke me up several times over night. I can't recall ever having bad weather on Christmas here in SoCal. It should be nice and very warm today, if not insanely windy.

As a child I could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve, I was just too darn excited. This is probably one of the first years when the excitement of Christmas never really came to me. But at least the restless night of sleep is familiar for today.

Well, I am off to play auntie some more and help my nephew open presents. And to eat more sugar. :D

Good News from Iraq: 25 Dec 2007

From Yahoo News, GI saves Iraqi boy in long-shot adoption. (h/t Stephanie)

MAUSTON, Wis. - Capt. Scott Southworth knew he'd face violence, political strife and blistering heat when he was deployed to one of Baghdad's most dangerous areas. But he didn't expect Ala'a Eddeen.

Ala'a was 9 years old, strong of will but weak of body — he suffered from cerebral palsy and weighed just 55 pounds. He lived among about 20 kids with physical or mental disabilities at the Mother Teresa orphanage, under the care of nuns who preserved this small oasis in a dangerous place.

On Sept. 6, 2003, halfway through his 13-month deployment, Southworth and his military police unit paid a visit to the orphanage. They played and chatted with the children; Southworth was talking with one little girl when Ala'a dragged his body to the soldier's side.

Black haired and brown eyed, Ala'a spoke to the 31-year-old American in the limited English he had learned from the sisters. He recalled the bombs that struck government buildings across the Tigris River.

"Bomb-Bing! Bomb-Bing!" Ala'a said, raising and lowering his fist.

"I'm here now. You're fine," the captain said.

Over the next 10 months, the unit returned to the orphanage again and again. The soldiers would race kids in their wheelchairs, sit them in Humvees and help the sisters feed them.

To Southworth, Ala'a was like a little brother. But Ala'a — who had longed for a soldier to rescue him — secretly began referring to Southworth as "Baba," Arabic for "Daddy."

Then, around Christmas, a sister told Southworth that Ala'a was getting too big. He would have to move to a government-run facility within a year.

"Best case scenario was that he would stare at a blank wall for the rest of his life," Southworth said.

To this day, he recalls the moment when he resolved that that would not happen.

"I'll adopt him," he said.

___

Before Southworth left for Iraq, he was chief of staff for a state representative. He was single, worked long days and squeezed in his service as a national guardsman — military service was a family tradition. His great-great-greatgrandfather served in the Civil War, his grandfather in World War II, his father in Vietnam.

The family had lived in the tiny central Wisconsin city of New Lisbon for 150 years. Scott was raised as an evangelical Christian; he attended law school with a goal of public service, running unsuccessfully for state Assembly at the age of 25.

There were so many reasons why he couldn't bring a handicapped Iraqi boy into his world.

He had no wife or home; he knew nothing of raising a disabled child; he had little money and planned to run for district attorney in his home county.

Just as important, Iraqi law prohibits foreigners from adopting Iraqi children.

Southworth prayed and talked with family and friends.

His mother, who had cared for many disabled children, explained the difficulty. She also told him to take one step at a time and let God work.

Southworth's decision was cemented in spring 2004, while he and his comrades watched Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." Jesus Christ's sacrifice moved him. He imagined meeting Christ and Ala'a in heaven, where Ala'a asked: "Baba, why didn't you ever come back to get me?"

"Everything that I came up with as a response I felt ashamed. I wouldn't want to stand in the presence of Jesus and Ala'a and say those things to him."

And so, in his last weeks in Iraq, Southworth got approval from Iraq's Minister of Labor to take Ala'a to the United States for medical care.

___

His parents had filed signatures so he wouldn't miss the cutoff to run for district attorney. He knocked on doors, telling people he wanted to be tough on criminals who committed injustices against children.

He never mentioned his intention to adopt Ala'a.

He won office — securing a job and an income.

Everything seemed to be in place. But when Southworth contacted an immigration attorney, he was told it would be nearly impossible to bring Ala'a to the United States.

Undaunted, Southworth and the attorney started the paperwork to bring Ala'a over on humanitarian parole, used for urgent reasons or significant public benefit.

A local doctor, a cerebral palsy expert, a Minneapolis hospital, all said they would provide Ala'a free care. Other letters of support came from a minister, the school district, the lieutenant governor, a congressman, chaplain, a sister at the orphanage and an Iraqi doctor.

"We crossed political boundaries. We crossed religious boundaries. There was just a massive effort — all on behalf of this little boy who desperately needed people to actually take some action and not just feel sorry for him," Southworth says.

He mailed the packet on Dec. 16, 2004, to the Department of Homeland Security.

On New Year's Eve, his cell phone rang. It was Ala'a.

"What are you doing?" Scott asked him.

"I was praying,'" Ala'a responded.

"Well, what were you praying for?"

"I prayed that you would come to take me to America," Ala'a said.

Southworth almost dropped the phone. Ala'a knew nothing of his efforts, and he couldn't tell him yet for fear that the boy might inadvertently tell the wrong person, upending the delicate process.

By mid-January, Homeland Security called Southworth's attorney to say it had approved humanitarian parole. Within three hours, Southworth had plane tickets.

He hardly slept as he worked the phones to make arrangements, calling the American embassy, hotels and the orphanage. His Iraqi translator agreed to risk his life to get Ala'a to the embassy to obtain documentation. Like a dream, all the pieces fell into place.

Southworth returned to Iraq for the first time since a deployment that left him emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted.

His unit had trained Iraqi police from sunup to sundown; he saw the devastation wrought by two car bombings, and counted dead bodies. Mortar and rocket attacks were routine. Some 20 in his unit were wounded, and one died. He knew that nothing could be taken for granted in Baghdad.

So when he saw Ala'a in the airport for the first time since leaving Iraq, he was relieved.

"He was in my custody then. I could hug him. I could hold him. I could protect him.

"And forever started."

They made it to Wisconsin late Jan. 20, 2005. The next morning, Ala'a awoke to his first sight of snow.

He closed his eyes and grimaced.

"Baba! Baba! The water is getting all over me!"

"It's not water, it's snooooow," Southworth told him.

___

Police found Ala'a abandoned on a Baghdad street at around 3 years old. No one knows where he came from.

In all his life in Iraq, Ala'a saw a doctor 10 times. He surpassed that in his first six months in the United States.

Ala'a's cerebral palsy causes low muscle tone, spastic muscles in the legs, arms and face. It hinders him when he tries to crawl, walk or grasping objects. He needs a wheelchair to get around, often rests his head on his shoulder and can't easily sit up.

Physical therapy has helped him control his head and other muscles. He can now maneuver his way out of his van seat and stabilize his legs on the ground.

"I'm not the same guy I used to be," he says.

He clearly has thrived. At 13, he's doubled his weight to 111 pounds.

Ala'a's condition doesn't affect his mind, although he's still childlike — he wants to be a Spiderman when he grows up.

Ala'a's English has improved and he loves music and school, math and reading especially. He gets mad when snow keeps him home, even though it's his second favorite thing, after his father.

At first, he didn't want to talk about Iraq; he would grow angry when someone tried to talk to him in Arabic. But in the fall of 2006, Scott showed Ala'a's classmates an Arabic version of "Sesame Street" and boasted how Ala'a knew two languages and could teach them.

Soon he was teaching his aide and his grandmother, LaVone.

LaVone is a fixture in Ala'a's life, supporting her son as he juggles his career and fatherhood. One day, she asked Ala'a if he missed his friends in Iraq.

Would he like to visit them?

Big tears filled his eyes.

"Well, honey, what's the matter?" asked LaVone.

"Oh, no, Grandma. No. Baba says that I can come to live with him forever," he pleaded.

"Oh, no, no," he grandmother said, crying as well. "We would never take you back and leave you there forever. We want you to be Baba's boy forever."

___

Southworth knew once he got Ala'a out of Iraq, the hardest part would be over. Iraq had bigger problems to deal with than the whereabouts of a single orphan.

On June 4, Ala'a officially became Southworth's son. Though he was born in the spring of 1994, they decided to celebrate his birthday as the day they met — Sept. 6.

Life has settled into a routine. Father and son have moved into a new house with an intercom system, a chair lift to the basement and toilet handles. Southworth showers him, brushes his teeth and washes his hands. He has traded in his Chrysler Concorde for a minivan — it was too hard to lift his son out of the car.

In October, the Wisconsin's deputy adjunct general gave Southworth, now a major, permission to change units because of Ala'a. His former unit was going to Guantanamo Bay for a one-year deployment, and he didn't want to leave his son behind, at least for now.

He hopes one day to marry to his longtime girlfriend and have more children. He may run for Congress or governor someday — he's already won re-election once, and plans to run again next fall.

Not everything is perfect. Ala'a never encountered thunderstorms in Baghdad, and the flash-boom reminds him of bombs. He is starting to get over it, although he still weeps during violent storms.

But Ala'a — who picked out his own name, which means to be near God — knows he's where he belongs. Southworth always says Ala'a picked him, not the other way around. They were brought together, Southworth believes, by a "web of miracles."

Ala'a likes to sing Sarah McLachlan's song, "Ordinary Miracle," from "Charlotte's Web," one of his favorite movies. His head and body lean to one side as he sings off-key.

"It's just another ordinary miracle today. Life is like a gift they say. Wrapped up for you everyday."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cooking and Baking Oh My

Apparently today is going to be filled with baking cookies! There will be sugar cookies and black and white cookies and decorations and sprinkles and everything.

Who do you think will get more sprinkles on the ground, me or my 3.5-year-old nephew? :D

And maybe we'll get our act together early enough so I can IM with Jack Bauer while we are doing some of it so he can enjoy the fun too.

Good News from Iraq: 24 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Sunni, Shia March Together in Baghdad for Peace.

BAGHDAD — Approximately 1,000 Iraqi citizens, of both Shia and Sunni religions, joined together on the sectarian fault line in Rawaniyah, the Karkh District of Baghdad, to march with one another in what they called a “Peace March”, Dec. 19.

It was an Iraqi initiative to ease sectarian tensions, solely driven by Iraqi Neighborhood Council (NAC) and District Advisory Council (DAC) leaders and Sheiks from both religious sects in the area, said Capt. Marcus Melton, commander of Pale Horse Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

With Iraqi Army and Iraqi policemen maintaining the security on the streets and within the crowd during the event, they were able to successfully complete the march for united peace among all Iraqis.

Drums beat, children ran, silly string littered the air and one man nearly wept. It was an exciting, yet emotional day for the Iraqis who participated.

A local Sheik came over a loud speaker during the march to talk with his local comrades. He expressed his joy for their wanted peace, but nearly wept in the thought of those who have lost their lives in the battle for sectarian dominance. Many families, friends and sons have lost their lives during this time.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A few of my favorite things

The cold weather has enhanced the doggies' snuggle factor. Every night, they climb on the bed, Moo on my right, Bear on my left, and snuggle down to say good night. They put their faces on my belly and Bear gives Moo a kiss good night. They look right at me and melt my heart.

Definitely two of my favorite things.

I sure am going to miss them for the next few days.

Good News from Iraq: 23 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police Uncover Major Weapons Cache.

KIRKUK — Iraqi Police (IP) uncovered a major weapons cache in Kirkuk province, Dec. 18. The discovery was made during a series of pre-dawn raids at suspected cache sites. The operation was led by the IP into the town of Ruwadah, approximately 25 miles west of Kirkuk city. The operation was named “Kura Azakan” (The Brave Men) by Gen. Sarhadt, outer Hawijah District police chief, because Coalition forces and IP had not been in the area recently and because the IP had gone in without Coalition presence.

Over 300 IP officers from Dibbis, Sagaron, Tarkalan, Altun Kopri and Schawn took part in this Iraqi led and executed operation that also included 32 IP vehicles. At one of the sites, IP discovered one of the largest caches in recent Kirkuk province history.

Included in the cache were approximately 65 grenades, 83 rocket propelled grenades, 1800 fuses, 1060 mortar rounds, 250 various explosive projectiles, 3000 small arms rounds, 1400 20 mm cannon rounds, and over 1000 pounds of explosives and improvised explosive device making materials.

Coalition forces from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment along with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Soldiers were called on after the discovery was made to lend assistance with the destruction of the ordinance. In an extensive combined operation, Coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted a 13-hour clearing operation which resulted in the destruction of more than 7 tons of deadly ordinance.

“This is another example of the growing capacity of the Iraqi security forces to conduct independent operations and was a result of a lot of hard work from brave Iraqis,” said Col. David Pashcal, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division commander. “The discovery and destruction of this cache will seriously disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct attacks on the innocent Iraqi citizens, Iraqi security forces as well as Coalition forces.”


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Last Minute List

I am heading out to California for Christmas. But I got a million things to do between now and the time I leave on Sunday. So I think another list is in order.

  • Make List (thanks again, Wendy)
  • Package up dog food for boarding
  • Laundry (granted, it is not folded and put away)
  • Pack
  • Get presents together
  • Balance checkbook
  • Get $ for cleaning lady
  • Have breakfast with BFF at 8:30 AM
  • Take brownies (uh, the unburnt ones) to the neighbors
  • Nap
  • Miscellaneous editing
  • IM with Jack Bauer
  • Snuggle with doggies
Yeah, I started the list before I got it posted, but it all counts, right?

Note to self

Yesterday I had my 12-month eye exam from my lasik surgery. (Yeah, it has only been 11 months.) The optometrist asked if he could dilate my eyes.

"Yes, I said, I just need to drive home," I said

"That should be a problem. You just won't be able to do up close reading. And bright lights might bother you."

So he dilated my eyes. That was at 4:30 PM. The sun was setting. And what does that mean? Every car had their lights on. Yeah, bright lights might bother me. It was more like car lights might be so bright and have halos so large that you might not be able to see the car itself and determine how fast said objects are approaching you.

Luckily, I only had about an hour drive. In heavy rush hour traffic. Which turned out to be a good thing. Easy to go with the flow of traffic at 10 mph than at 60+ mph.

One thing I did notice as I was looking at all the burst of light was how they looked like Christmas-colored fireworks as they first burst.

But note to self: don't get eyes dilated within an hour of sunset.

Good News from Iraq: 22 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police uncover major weapons cache (Kirkuk).

KIRKUK, Iraq – Iraqi Police uncovered a major weapons cache in the Kirkuk province of Iraq Dec. 18. The discovery was made during a series of pre-dawn raids at suspected cache sites.

Iraqi Police led the operation in the town of Ruwadah, approximately 25 miles west of Kirkuk City. The operation was named “Kura Azakan” (The Brave Men) by General Sarhadt, outer Hawijah district police chief, because Coalition Forces and Iraqi Police had not been in the area recently and because the Iraqi Police had gone in without Coalition presence.

More than 300 Iraqi Police officers from Dibbis, Sagaron, Tarkalan, Altun Kopri and Schawn took part in the operation, which was conducted using 32 Iraqi Police vehicles. At one of the sites, Iraqi Police discovered one of the largest caches in recent Kirkuk province history.

Included in the cache were approximately: 65 grenades, 83 rocket propelled grenades, 1,800 fuses, 1,060 mortar rounds, 250 various explosive projectiles, 3,000 small-arms rounds, 1,400 20 mm cannon rounds, and more than 1,000 pounds of explosives and improvised explosive device-making material.

Coalition Forces from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, along with explosives ordnance disposal team members, were called in to safely dispose of the ordnance. In an extensive combined operation, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces conducted a 13-hour clearing operation which resulted in the destruction of the more than 7 tons of deadly ordnance.

“This is another example of the growing capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces to conduct independent operations and was a result of a lot of hard work from brave Iraqis,” said Col. David Pashcal, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division commander. “The discovery and destruction of this cache will seriously disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct attacks on innocent Iraqi citizens, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

While on $$ ...

Yesterday, the Note from the Universe delivered to my inbox was great, right on the money in fact.

All expenditures, Butterfly Wife, whether from the heart or the wallet, in the past or present, big or small, can be viewed as either "depleting" or "enriching."

Enriching works for me.

Get more,
The Universe

P.S. You're going to be good at this, Butterfly Wife.

Yeah, it is about more than money.

Good News from Iraq: 21 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi National Police Emergency Response Unit Completes Training.

BAGHDAD – Members of a newly formed Iraqi National Police Emergency Response Unit Company received certificates of completion Dec 17 for training completed.

The ERU Company, composed of 125 men, is currently training with Coalition forces to learn many aspects of emergency responses including personal security detachment and quick reaction force as they pertain to Iraqi National Police. The training lasted 10 days and covered topics such as weapons, mounted and dismounted patrolling, movement techniques, react to contact ambush, IED and snipers, entering and clearing a building, room searches, vehicle patrolling, reacting to improvised explosive devices, and large-crowd control.

“The Iraqi National Police asked for PSD training,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Rick, Iraqi National Police Training Team trainer. “We conduct joint mission with the ERU Company, and they requested some specialized training to make them a better fighting force.”

Iraqi National Police are continuing to participate in the training provided by Coalition forces and International Police Advisors. Visual training aides were used to provide information to the trainees, which help them when the next course of action requires practical execution. The practical execution allows Iraqi National Police non-commissioned officers the opportunity to demonstrate comprehension with their teams.

“I like the training,” said Iraqi Police 1st Lt. Hussein. “Before we (Iraqi National Police) did not receive regular training and I like learning new things.”

Hussein has been with the Iraqi National Police for three years. He has been in gunfights as well as IED attacks. Hussein says the talent of the men in his company helps him work harder.

A typical day for Hussein is to come to work and patrol a neighborhood with his team of men. In the event of a raid, intelligence information is provided to the men, a strategic plan is developed, and weapons are ready and mounted on vehicles.

“Now that we have graduates of the training, we will take the training to the streets,” said Iraqi National Police shurta Muhammed.

Muhammed is a recent graduate of the Iraqi National Police basic training course held in Numaniyah. He will work with the Iraqi National Police headquarters in different areas of Iraq.

“Our job is to protect the citizens and that is what we will do,” said Hussein. “We do our job and come back safely.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

where did my time go?

It seems I had more time before Jack Bauer came home on leave. Now that I am back at work and getting back into my regular schedule, I am wondering where all my time has gone. I think I used have some.

Maybe it is still in the laundry basket and needs to be folded and put away.

Maybe it is hiding under the bed, scared if it comes out that it might get used up.

Maybe the doggies buried it in the backyard somewhere "safe" for later use.

Maybe it is still on vacation.

Maybe I can find it next week when I am off work again.

Good News from Iraq: 20 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Infantry, Reserves Provide Humanitarian Aid.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER — Soldiers of Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment completed two humanitarian missions in Al Arafia including a food and schoolbag drop, Dec. 8, and a medical assistance visit, Dec. 14.

Company D Soldiers together with Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) of Arafia, handed food and bags of school supplies to village residents. CLC groups are like Neighborhood Watch groups in the United States.

“Normally we do these bag drops for schools, but school was not in session on that day, so we called the Concerned Local Citizens from the area,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Hooker, from Shelby, Mich., a platoon leader in Company D. “They put the word out and gathered all the kids together who formed a nice line.”

Village sheiks expressed their concern to the regiment about providing food for their citizens. They also wanted to ensure that local children have the opportunity to further their education with proper supplies. Out of these conversations grew the schoolbag and food drop mission.

Company D Soldiers went back to Arafia Dec. 14 to conduct a free medical clinic. The 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment physician assistant, Capt. Sayed Ali, and medics from the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, a reserve unit out of Knoxville, Tenn., gave medical assistance to local residents.

“The citizens seemed eager to get medical attention,” said 1st Lt. Erik Miller, from Star Cross, N.J., a platoon leader in Company D. “They were all very friendly, and I think they liked the fact that U.S. forces and the Concerned Local Citizens were giving medical aid instead of just providing security to their community.”

Hooker agreed. “This all goes along with our entire mission,” he said. “We and the Concerned Local Citizens are helping to improve the quality of life as well as the security for the local nationals in the (3rd Brigade Combat Team’s) area of operation.”

Company D, 1-15th Inf. Regt., is attached to 3-1st Cav. Regt., which is assigned to 3rd, 3rd Infantry Division. The brigade has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How chit-chat changed my life

Yesterday, a co-worker and I were just chit-chatting when she mentioned that she was really excited that she was now vested in the 401k plan.

"Vested? I thought we were vested 100% from Day 1. Someone told me that," I responded.

"Check your online statement. You need to be here 3 years."

My initial reaction was irritation because I had asked and had been told that we were vested 100% from Day 1. We apparently that was the way is USED to be. And of course, I was asking the wrong person. Doh!

So I checked my online statement and sure enough the vested amount was about $8,000 less than the total. Damn.

Then I started doing the math. How long had I been at this job? Just over 2 1/2 years. My anniversary date will be in mid-June ... before Jack Bauer should be coming home. So if I want that $8,000 I need to stay until that 3-year anniversary date.

But of course, there is the time value of money. So that $8K is really much more if invested for the next 30 years. Now my retirement planning has consisted of contributing to my 401k and that's about it. I really had no idea how much money $8,000 might grow to be in 30 years. I was thinking like maybe $30,000. That sounds like a motivating factor.

As I drove home, I started thinking that I should find a financial calculator online and see really how much money that $8K might be in 30 years. Maybe it would be worth more. But I was shocked. Try $158,699.19 if invested with an 10% rate of return.

Uh, yeah. That changed my attitude about my job real quick. I've always maintained that the 401k offered by my employer is a sufficient enough reason to put up with a little bit of crap, but I think I just found 150,699 more reasons.

I love my job, I love my job, I love my job. That is my new mantra ... for the next 6 months.

Good News from Iraq: 19 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Concerned Local Citizens turn over large cache (Al Bawi).

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Concerned Local Citizens handed over a large cache to Soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment near Al Bawi, Iraq, Dec. 16.

The seizure of the cache came just one day after Company A Soldiers and CLCs cleared the main route into Al Bawi from the north in a combined operation.

“This cache find is another event that proves the Concerned Local Citizens are part of the team and willing to fight the fight to get rid of extremists,” said Maj. John Cushing, from Rochester, Mich., the operations officer for the 1-15th Inf. Regt.

The cache consisted of 100 land mines, two 105 mm projectiles, two 120 mm mortars, two 120 mm projectiles, two 152 mm projectiles, 100 pounds of propellant, 7.62 mm ammunition and an explosively-formed projectile casing.

Soldiers from Company A worked with CLCs to clear the main route into Al Bawi from the north Dec. 13 and 14. During the clearing operation, Soldiers helped the CLCs establish checkpoints along the route from which locals could maintain security in the region. Company A Soldiers were patrolling the newly cleared route and checking on their new partners when CLCs brought the contents of the cache to one of the recently established checkpoints.

Capt. Will Clark, from Wheeling, Ill., the Company A commander, said the route was dominated by al-Qaeda in Iraq elements in the Al Bawi vicinity and the western side of the Tigris River that commonly fired upon the route with small arms and indirect fire assets.

“Clearing the route will facilitate civilian movement and allow the Concerned Local Citizens to defend against AQI on the western side of the Tigris River,” Clark said. “Hopefully, at some point, the open roadway will stimulate economic growth in Al Bawi. It has been relatively non-existent because people are just trying to get by.”

Clark explained that seizing large caches contributes to his unit accomplishing its primary purpose – blocking ammunition from moving into Baghdad for use by extremists. Clark is optimistic that the recent operations will limit insurgents’ ability to traffic weapons and ammunition through the area.

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I keep forgetting ...

All day I kept remembering that I forgot to post that I sent 30 cards to our wounded Soldiers off to Soldiers' Angels Germany. Yeah, I braved the post office on the busiest day of the year.

Running total: 668

We're sick

I've been unwillingly trying to get a cold for a the last 4 days. And last night it settled in.

Moo decided she wanted to be sick too. That's her in her new ACU bandana. (She is much, much cuter than that picture.)

So while I was out at yoga, while I was still feeling good, Moo decided to act out a bit. She got up on the counter (very very rare behavior) and ate the rest of the chocolate bacon bar (about 1/3 of a bar; yes, it was dark chocolate). But apparently that wasn't sweet enough. She decided she was in need of the candy I send to Jack Bauer much more than he was. So she decided to rip open a 41 oz bag of Starburst and another bag about a 1/3 full. I weighed what was leftover to see how much she ate, which was only about a pound and a half of Starbursts including the wrappers. She also torn into the Jolly Ranchers bag, which seems to be missing about 3/4 pound.

(I can just imagine Bear telling her that I was going to be upset and Moo responding with some witty comment about how if I didn't want her to eat it, I should have put it all where she couldn't get at it.)

Fortunately, Moo drank a ton of water and threw up some (on the bed of course). But it was not a good night. I can't wait to see what is outside waiting for me to clean up.

But outside is where I am leaving her and Bear today. They can run in the snow, and she can get sick all she wants. I just hope it all passes quickly.

Would anyone like a 90 95-pound Rott-n-Lab princess doggie? I am sure she would make a great Christmas present. Wait, I take that back. She is way too cute and cuddly, even when misbehaving, to give her away. (Maybe I'll entertain $$ offers...)

Good News from Iraq: 18 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Army Engineers Open Road in Mosul.

MOSUL — Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s 43rd Combat Engineer Company (CEC) worked to clear one of the many impassible roads in Mosul as part of Operation Thunder Reaper IV, Dec. 13.

The 17-hour mission incorporated construction assets from the 43rd CEC, as well as several other elements from the regiment’s Thunder Squadron.

Soldiers set out to open a section of Route Tampa, one of the city’s main roads that had been closed to traffic.

“When we got here, a lot of these routes were blocked,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Larue, the Assault and Obstacle platoon sergeant with the 43rd. “Now our mission is to go in and reopen them for regular traffic.”

Larue, of Copperas Cove, Texas, said route clearance will be a major role for the 43rd, which recently arrived in the battle space. The mission, which started at sunrise and ran well into the night, opened more of the route than was expected, Larue said.

The operation consisted of several phases. The first was route reconnaissance, searching for roadside bombs and other hazards. After the route clearance phase, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks provided overwatch and security in the area so the engineers could work with relative safety to clear the roads. During the operation, there were no casualties and no notable enemy contact. ...

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What is today???

How can it be Monday already?

What happened to my weekend?

Where did all this snow come from?

Why is there a pile of laundry over there unfolded and not put away?

Why do I have to go to work?

Why is it so cold?

Wah, wah, wah. It must be Monday.

Good News from Iraq: 17 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Joint Statement on the Transfer of Security Responsibility for Basra Province.

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

Basra is the ninth 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, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk and most recently in October 2007, Karbala.

The transfer of provincial security responsibility is particularly significant because it includes the city of Basra, the second largest city in Iraq. Basra played an important role in early Islamic history and was founded in the first century of Hijra. The country’s main port is located in Basra province and has been an integral part in the reconstruction and advancement of logistical efforts for the rest of the country.

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

The transition of responsibility for security in Basra Province represents the most recent step toward a future of improved security, self-reliance and increasing prosperity that will benefit all Iraqi citizens. In order to attain sustainable security, the provincial and military leadership in Basra still have work to do and we will assist as requested. The United States and Multi-National Force-Iraq congratulate the Government of Iraq on this important milestone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Snow Day's To-Do List

It snowed some 6 inches in Middleville yesterday. That's a lot for us. This is the sixth winter I have been here and it is the most snow I've seen in 24 hours. And it is a beautiful, heavy, wet snow.

But I need to get some stuff done around the house and making a list is always good.

  • Make list (thanks again Wendy!)
  • Contemplate laundry (that may take all day) (I got it started; that's worth a partial strikethrough, right?)
  • Editing work
  • Shovel snow (but I am secretly hoping that if I wait long enough, one of my neighbors will take pity on me) (Uh, yeah, that didn't happen. It look FOREVER to do it. I am still huffing and puffing.)
  • Finish putting together Christmas presents
  • Wrap Christmas presents
  • Box up Christmas present to in-laws to mail on Monday
  • Clean off ottoman and end table.
  • Balance checkbook
  • Set up budget for next year
Oh that has got to be enough for one day. That's a lot of stuff. I guess I better get busy.

Good News from Iraq: 16 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Road Repairs Pave Way to Economic Development.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — The road to economic prosperity south of Baghdad is being paved by Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

With assistance from the 2nd BCT embedded provincial reconstruction team, local government councils and Iraqi contractors, the task of restoring roads and improving roads damaged by war is in full swing.

“It’s all about … helping the agricultural market in our area,” said Capt. Brian Love, ePRT military liason.

The area, comprised of Arab Jabour, Hawr Rajab, Al Buaytha and Adwaniyah, is mainly agriculturally-based. The improvements, which began in October, will help farmers move their goods quickly to more markets.

“It opens up these rural communities to the main highway to Baghdad,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Turner, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Troops Battalion, ePRT road repair specialist.

Currently the brigade is focusing on routes between the communities, including those that link Al Buaytha to Arab Jabour and routes from Hawr Rajab to Baghdad.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Zuzu's Petals

Last night It's a Wonderful Life was on NBC. It is such a classic movie, and I think I have watched it nearly every year since I can remember.

Since Triple E and I were both talking about the problem of wishing away our lives and missing what is in front of us, the timing of the movie viewing, well, it was perfect.

For those who aren't familiar, the premise of the movie is that George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he was never born. And then his guardian angel shows him what life for his family and friends would be like had he never existed. The ripple effect of one life is perfectly demonstrated when George wasn't there to save the life of his brother Harry as a child; Harry wasn't there to save the lives of soldiers on a transport ship years later in WWII. After seeing the impact his life had on those around him, he chose his life, even though it wasn't the life he imagined for himself. He wanted the life with his family and friends, warts and all.

One of the little things that helped George realize what a wonderful life he has, is the petals from his daughter's flower that he tucked into his coin pocket. Zuzu's petals.

Zuzu's petals are all around me. The memory of the dance in Crate & Barrel, vision of the candlelight flickering against the galvanized bucket holding my peonies and spray roses, or the way the doggies snuggle up with me while wearing their ACU bandanas. I am sure I could fill pages with all of Zuzu's petals.

Life, with all its struggles, flaws, bumps, pimples, dry patches, is still wonderful, especially wonderful when I see how much I have. It just depends on how I look at what is in front of me. (Do I see that Jack Bauer is not there or do I see beautiful flowers?)

And keeping on this movie, a great quote ...

"Remember ... no man is a failure who has friends."

Thank you, my friends, for being here. More of Zuzu's petals. ;-)

Good News from Iraq: 15 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi Air Force Taking Off.

TAJI — The Iraqi Air Force is beginning to take strides in the training of its leaders and the operations and maintenance of its helicopters.

The Iraqi Air Force Academy here graduated 28 newly commissioned Iraqi Air Force 2nd lieutenants in the academy’s second graduation. The officers will be heading into leadership positions in sensor operation and maintenance, with nine being identified as pilot candidates.

“We are providing a pipeline of commissioned officers to the Iraqi Air force,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Stuart Lloyd, chief of the Iraqi Air Force Academy. “We are picking up where the original Iraqi AirForce Academy left off in 2003 after the invasion.”

The academy teaches a six-month course, which is scheduled to be extended to nine months to include English language training. During the course, the cadets are taught many subjects, including followership, leadership, weapons familiarization, and drill and ceremony.

The academy is taught by U.S. Air Force officers; however, the school is expecting Iraqi instructors to work side by side with their American counterparts shortly.

Collocated with the Air Force Academy courses is the Iraqi Air Force Warrant Officer Class. This class is training warrant officers to fill the gap between lower ranking airmen and officers in the Iraqi Air Force.

The courses were created and taught by U.S. Air Force military training instructors, who volunteered from their usual duty of training U.S. Air Force recruits at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The instructors took guidance given to them from Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and the courses they teach recruits in Texas to form the new class.

“We wondered, ‘Is it too complex? Are we too deep? How’s this going to work through translation?’,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ray Hotaling, Iraqi Air Force basic military training superintendent. “The best part is at the end of the day when you see that you put the information out there, and they got it.”

The warrant officer candidates in the course must first go through basic training before they begin training in the warrant officer school. Once at the school, the candidates go through classes, which include history, leadership and counseling skills.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Where's my time machine?

I wish I could just get in a fancy time machine and press a few flashing magical buttons and POOF! the deployment is over. Can anyway tell me where I can get a good deal on a time machine? Oh wait. That is not consistent with living in the present moment, now is it. Hmmm.

Ooffa! I am feeling pouty. I went back to work yesterday, and I am trying to have a better attitude about my whole work situation. I'm going to try to stave off the short-timers syndrome that I have been fighting for the last year.

Before he came home on leave, I felt like I was just biding my time until Jack Bauer arrived home again. Just trying to make it through one more day. Well, I don't want to do that for the next 6-7 months.

So it is a time for a new attitude for the home stretch of this whole experience. Focus on living in the present moment, balancing my time, doing things that are healthful, having some fun, and causing a little bit of trouble along with way. :D

Good News from Iraq: 14 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Sunni, Shia Sheiks Say No to Violence, Yes to Reconciliation.

ASSIRIYAH — Sunni and Shia tribal sheiks, local government leaders, senior Iraqi Army officials and local Iraqi Police officials from throughout the Taji area recently met at the Prayer Town Hall to continue reconciliation efforts and celebrate the “awakening”—a term used to describe a turning away from sectarianism and violence.

More than 200 attendees from the villages of Hor Al Bosh, Sheik Ahmer, Shat Al Taji, Falahat and other areas dined as they discussed issues affecting their villages and ways in which they can improve the quality of life for the people living there.

“They decided to have a Sawa (lunch) to bring both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders together for solidarity,” said Anchorage, Alaska native Capt. Martin Wohlgemuth, commander for Troop D, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, which is attached to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. “This is a continued extension of the Sunni and Shia partnership which has truly spread to every corner of North Taji.”

“As the security situation continues to improve, Sunnis are able to travel to mainly Shia areas and the Shia can go to Sunni areas. In many cases, these are places they have never been before or never dared to go before,” added Wohlgemuth, whose troops patrol in Assiriyah. “They are only able to do this because of reconciliation and forgiveness. This is a continued sign of progress.”

Some local villagers also attended the meeting and had the opportunity to meet with some of the local leaders and area tribal sheiks.

“This is a very good sign and there’s lots of good representation here. We will continue to say no to sectarianism and yes to reconciliation,” said Tariq Daee Al Teaa, a local man invited to the meeting. “The terrorists have tried to take our happiness from us by attempting to kill and kidnap our children and that’s rubbish. We must try to work toward good things to end violence and by doing this, we can eventually become the best country in the Arab world.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A successful leave

I've been spending some time reflecting on what a great leave we just had. I thought I might share some of the things I think made it successful for us.

Relaxed. That would be me being relaxed and comfortable in a messy house and in my skin.

Few plans. We preplanned very little.

List. The day after Jack Bauer got home we made a (flexible) list of those things we really wanted to do.

Budget. I budgeted for both time and money so that we could do what we wanted within reason. And we stuck to the budget.

Including. I tried to include Jack into the daily routine. He did all the laundry (heh). He feed the dogs. Yes, he did those things differently than I do and that was OK.

Letting go. I had obviously ditched my work for the whole of the leave, but I also skipped yoga and Pilates and a few other things that are part of my regular routine. (It will be interesting to see what I add back in.) I didn't plan to skip yoga and Pilates, but rather I decided each day that I would much rather spend that time with my husband. I can make up the classes, I can't make up the time with Jack.

Reality. I tried to keep my expectations for this leave to a minimum. For me that was important because I certainly have a history of romanticizing, which just sets me up for disappointment.

I really had a wonderful time while Jack was home. And sounds like he did too.

Now, it is back to work. :(

Good News from Iraq: 13 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi forces take on growing role in the fight against IEDs.

TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police forces are taking on more responsibility and clearing many of the improvised explosive devices found throughout Multi-National Division – North without any assistance from Coalition Forces. West of Bayji, Iraq, an Iraqi Army Soldier noticed a dump truck driver acting suspiciously Dec. 9. Acting on intuition, the IA soldier prevented the truck from detonating near innocent civilians. His quick thinking and reaction time saved lives. In another incident in Diyala Province, Iraqi Army Soldiers found a prepared improvised explosive device positioned on the side of a road. The Soldiers followed the command wire to a nearby house and detained the triggerman before he was able to detonate the device Dec. 9. The Iraqi forces learn about many IEDs and VBIEDs through tips from local residents as well as through Concerned Local Citizen groups. The Iraqi Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams are then sent to reduce the explosive device if possible. In a recent one-week period, Iraqi forces were able to defuse more than 26 IEDs without assistance from Coalition Forces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How dumb can she be?

AWTM, what do you think of her now? She's in Iraq performing for our troops. ;-)

I think that Kellie Pickler puts on a good act as a dumb blonde.

On Dec. 8, Pickler visited Forward Operating Base Kalsu to lend her voice to help boost Soldier morale.

Pickler, whose visit was part of a six-day tour throughout Iraq, said she volunteered to perform at smaller bases like Kalsu that are often overlooked by performers.

“It is nice to come and bring a little bit of home to the Soldiers,” Pickler said.

Making it easier

I am a little surprised at how well I did yesterday. A few tears leaked out while I was at the airport, but that is to be expected.

I think having a plan for yesterday after the airport helped too. I went back to Pilates and had a big salad for dinner. I made a bunch of phone calls making sure that I wasn't isolating myself.

One other thing that was helpful for both me and Jack Bauer was what we had learned the evening before he left. We know what he will be doing when he comes home. That is a huge relief for both of us and makes this next bit of the deployment seem to have a more definitive purpose. And this deployment and 2.5-year separation will come to a conclusion not into the unknown but something that will take us in a good direction for us as a family.

Phew!

Good News from Iraq: 12 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqi National Police Learn Valuable Skills, Graduate Leadership Training Course.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH — After four days of intense training, the fourth class of Iraqi National Policemen (NP) graduated from the leadership course, Nov. 29. The course is designed by Iraqis and taught by members of the 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi National Police Military Transition Team (NPTT).

Maj. Robel Ramirez, 1-4-1 Battalion NPTT chief, said the policemen go through several training exercises during the week leading to an extensive exercise on the last day that combines all the tactics. The course is also taught according to what Col. Kassim, the 1-4-1 battalion commander wants his policemen to improve upon.

The skills learned include stacking to enter a house, tactical movement through a courtyard, clearing a house, reaction to contact and treating and evacuating a casualty. The policemen learned how to rely on each other as the exercise involved detaining a suspect and treating a casualty while under fire.

Ramirez, a native of Naranjito, Puerto Rico, said each class is unique, but that this class had more experienced and mature policemen. Since they have done police work longer, they had to focus on getting past preconceived notions of how to do things. Once they did that, Ramirez said they progressed and were very successful during their training.

“Overall, I’m really proud of the progress we have made in the past year,” he said of all the policemen that have been trained. “Training is the key.”

With each class that graduates, Ramirez said things are getting closer for them to become self-sustaining. The idea is to offer this training once a month, and eventually get the NPs to the point that they are teaching their own classes with Coalition forces merely there to interject if need be, Ramirez said.

“We’re closer than we were six months ago,” he said.

Capt. Woodrow D. Pengelly, operations officer for the 1-4-1 NPTT, said they would not have been able to train the NPs without Kassim, the NP’s strong and aggressive battalion commander.

Pengelly, a native of Portland, Ore., said Kassim supports the training and is willing to work around mission requirements to ensure his policemen get the proper training they need.

Master Sgt. Richard A. Jones, a native of Cadiz, Ohio, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 1-4-1 NPTT, said seeing younger American Soldiers working with the Iraqi Soldiers is good because it enables them to really learn about the culture as they might find themselves over here two or three more times.

“It expands their minds, and they get experience working with them,” he said.

Master Sgt. Jeff N. Curd, a native of Paducah, Kentucky, and an operations NCO for the 1-4-1 NPTT, said this is his second time being on a transition team. The first time he worked with the Iraqi Army.

“I love it,” he said. “Both times I asked to come and I probably would come back again.”

Curd said an American private is more experienced to train others just by working with his peers. The typical private goes to Basic Combat Training, then Advanced Individual Training and then arrives at his unit where he continues to train. The Iraqi National Policemen, Curd said, go from basic training to working. They learn on the job.

“They just do basic training and the next time they deal with IEDs is when they find them on the road,” he said.

Spc. Thomas B. Richardson, a native of Chambers County, Ala., Pfc. Allen J. Wick, a native of Medicine Lake, Mont., and Spc. Erik D. Rillera, a native of Cerritos, Calif., are all infantrymen in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, based out of Fort Riley, Kansas, and currently attached to 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Each Soldier played a role in the training. Richardson was the driver of a truck with a bomb, Wick was a shooter and Rillera was a casualty.

Wick said it makes him feel like he’s accomplishing something when he helps train the Iraqi National Policemen.

“They catch on pretty quick…,” he said.

Richardson, who made the NP’s work while detaining him, said the training made them realize what they will face with detainees. He said they learned that a detainee isn’t always just going to sit there and that they have to keep a vigilant watch.

Training was a little rough in the beginning, Richardson said, but overall it went well. “I think it gives them motivation to be working with us,” he said.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So oddly familiar

That's how this all feels.

He's gone, again. And suddenly I am back doing the same things I was before he left.

I ran errands on my way home from the airport. I wanted to do something "normal. Can't get much more normal than grocery shopping for me and the pets.

I also picked up some light pink peonies and dark pink spray roses for myself and put them on the little folding table that Jack Bauer had been using as a computer desk while he was home. At least that way when I look over at where he has been for the last 18 days and he's not there, I have something more beautiful than the emptiness to look at.

Back to the routine.

Leaving

We are heading to the airport.

But only I am coming back.

From we to me.

But the end is in sight.

Good News from Iraq: 11 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Concerned Local Citizen’s tip leads Coalition Forces to IED cache.

BAGHDAD – A tip from a member of the Jamia Concerned Local Citizens’ security force led Coalition Forces to a cache of munitions, improvised explosive devices and IED-making materials in the Jamia neighborhood of Baghdad Dec. 5.

The member of the CLC noticed an unusual blanket covering possible weapons in the driveway of a home the day prior while playing soccer, and gave this information to Coalition Forces at Joint Security Station Bonzai.

Responding to the information, Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment followed the CLC to the location, where they found anti-tank mines, mortar and artillery rounds, explosive materials, IED-initiating systems, and two complete IEDs ready for emplacement. This was the first large cache found in the neighborhood in the past several weeks.

The tip from the CLC is the first of its kind from the security force that began operations less than two weeks ago.

“Without this concerned citizen coming forward and giving us the information about suspicious activity in his neighborhood, we might not have located this cache before its contents were used to attack Coalition or Iraqi Forces,” said 1st Lt. Mike Kelly, a platoon leader for Company B, 1-64th AR.

The Jamia CLC security force is in the early stages of its formation, and is currently undergoing on-the-job training with Co. B, and the 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division.

Once the force is certified by Iraqi Army leadership as trained, they will begin conducting 24-hour joint operations with the Iraqi Army at traffic control points throughout the Jamia neighborhood.

“We expect more tips like this to come in from CLCs once they begin full-time operations,” Kelly said. “That should lead to a significant increase in the security of the neighborhood.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

Savoring

He leaves tomorrow morning.

We are trying to savor every moment together. Enjoy each other's company. Just hanging out. Running last minute errands. Taking it easy.

I'm not going to think about tomorrow until tomorrow.

Good News from Iraq: 10 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Operation Lion Pounce Returns Diwaniyah to its People.

BAGHDAD — The city of Diwaniyah belongs to the people once again - a city where people walk the streets at night without fear or intimidation; a city where children go to the parks to play. It’s a city without “them” - the militants, terrorists, criminals and thugs that surrounded the city and its citizens in a cloak of fear.

Over the past several weeks, 8th Iraqi Army Soldiers joined forces with Iraqi Special Operations Forces, Iraqi Emergency Response Units (ERU) and Iraqi Police to rid the city of these “bad men,” a common term used to describe those militants and criminals. The joining of forces was part of Operation Lion Pounce - a series of ongoing operations in and around Diwaniyah to disrupt, isolate and neutralize militant, insurgent and criminal organizations.

Operation Lion Pounce sought “to get the city back to the way it was before - a city that was quiet and peaceful,” said Col. Hasan Abbas Tofan Sultan Al-Fatlawi, 8th Iraqi Army chief of staff.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dancing



Yesterday, we were out doing some Christmas shopping and we stopped off at Crate & Barrel. Browsing through the housewares, listening to Christmas music, well, it just all became too much for Jack Bauer.

He walked up to me, staring me in the eye with a crooked smile across his face. He took my hand in his, wrapped his other arm around my waist, and started slow dancing with me right there in the middle of the store at 10 AM.

Good News from Iraq: 9 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Iranian Rockets Found, Turned Over to Coalition Forces.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA — A cache of Iranian manufactured rockets was turned over to Coalition forces based at Forward Operating Base Delta, Dec. 4.

Iraqi civil defense personnel delivered 14 107 mm Iranian rockets and fuses to the Kazakhstani Soldiers, said 1st Lt. Almaz Mukashev, the Kazakhstani liaison officer. The rockets were manufactured in 2006.

The Iraqi civil defense personnel have turned over munitions to Coalition forces before, but this was the first delivery of Iranian weapons to Coalition forces, said Col. Peter Baker, the 214th Fires Brigade commander.

“This is another indication of the cooperation of Iraqi officials who in all earnestness want to have a better society,” Baker said. “They know these rockets are here illegally and that they are here to maim and kill Iraqi security forces and Coalition forces.”

Baker said this is a sign that Iraqis are taking ownership of their area to bring about better security.

“Iraqis have to be part of the security and reconstruction effort,” Baker said. “The more stable and secure the area is, the more projects we will be able to undertake and the more capacity building we will be able to accomplish, whether it is in health, education or fuel, all of which is benefiting the Iraqis.”

The Kazakhstani unit gave the munitions to Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three for analysis.

The Kazakhstani battalion provides EOD support to FOB Delta.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Eating

There has been a whole lotta eatin' in the last 2 weeks. We started off with the big Thanksgiving dinner, hit some of our favorites restaurants, even had meals cooked for me by Jack Bauer, and the doggies have been super spoiled in the treat department. (Something about them calling Three Dog Bakery complaining that their mommy doesn't get them enough treats. Hmmm.)

So when I was in Whole Foods looking at the hot cocoa selection the other day, I noticed the fancy chocolate bars they had on display. Of course my eye was caught by the sight of bacon on the wrapper of a chocolate bar. Vosges Haute Chocolat's Mo's Bacon Bar. I swear it is a real thing. I had to buy it. In fact, I am eating right now as I type this post. It has that excellent combination of sweet and salty. It works very well together and is very delicious. Jack Bauer had a little taste then had to pass. Hmmm.

Good News from Iraq: 8 Dec 2007

From MNF-I, Concerned Local Citizens support yields big November cache rollup (Karbala).

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – Multi-National Division-Center recovered enough material from weapons caches in November to prevent 500 improvised explosive devices.

A total of 94 caches were found across MND-C’s area of operations in the month of November.

Forty of these caches were found by, or with the assistance of, Iraqi Concerned Local Citizens.

They either led Coalition Forces to the site of the cache or actually brought the material to Coalition Forces stationed at nearby bases.

Items found in the caches included munitions of various calibers and other components such as IED initiators and blasting caps.

Eight hundred munitions were found.

The most significant find came Nov. 29 in Karbala.

That cache alone contained more than 200 munitions of various types.

The partnership between CLCs and the Coalition has enabled improvements in security, and an emerging sense of normalcy in many communities to the south of Baghdad.