Monday, June 30, 2008

Now that I am a full-time Army Wife ...

After leaving my full-time employment on Friday for a full-time Army Wife position, I quickly jumped into my new role. (Yeah, yeah, I have somehow been doing both jobs, but you know what I mean.)

Cleaning and scrubbing and dusting and packing and organizing and staging. Oh my! And that was just in the kitchen this last weekend.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, we've been in this house for 5.5 years. We've accumulated a lot of stuff (read fiestaware) in those years. Including some sticky black crud on the tops of the upper cabinet doors that must have started collecting long before we moved in. Needless to say, we hadn't cleaned that aspect of the cabinets since we moved in. Yuck!

I started with the kitchen because we want to take a few things with us to Jack's school, and we need some things to go in Jack's car. A 10.5-week stint in a Residence Inn without some of our own kitchen stuff could be rather frustrating. So we are taking items like the rice cooker, favorite frying pan, cutting boards, a tad of fiestaware, miscellaneous spices, new $23 wok, newly sharpened knives and carrying case like you see on Top Chef.

I've done some strategic rearranging to hide the piles of plates, like pushing them to the back of the pantry and then placing the crock-pot in front of it. That way I don't have to do a temporary packing before the movers come to do the real packing. We'll see what the staging expert realtor has to say about that technique.

One thing this perfectionist (read borderline OCD) can do is get so caught up in the minutiae that I miss the big picture. So a daily reminder to myself is to remember that this is an 70-year-old house and no amount of cleaning and painting and staging will make it look new.

OK. I gotta go finish the kitchen today. Catch you later.

Good News from Iraq: 30 Jun 2008

From NPR, Insurgents Turn Themselves In to U.S., Iraqi Troops.

Iraq's Salahuddin province has been known for years as a violent stronghold of Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaida. But lately it has been relatively quiet. U.S. military units there say that's because former rebel fighters are turning themselves in by the hundreds — including some who had been the most virulently anti-American leaders.

One of the most prominent insurgents to come over to the American side is Mullah Nadhum al-Jubouri. Jubouri was a spokesman for the Islamic Army of Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that was once closely allied with al-Qaida.

Guarded by a group of masked gunmen, the cleric called for holy war against the Americans and for the defense of Sunnis, a call that was widely understood to mean attacks against the Shiites.

Mullah Nadhum, now 30, doesn't deny his violent past, but he says militants took up weapons because they believed they were defending their country against the occupation. He says his group eventually broke with al-Qaida because it rejected al-Qaida's terrorist tactics of attacks against Iraqi civilians.

Mullah Nadhum now leads a U.S.-funded force that guards against al-Qaida and other insurgent groups. He says he threw his lot in with the Americans after he realized that Iraqi insurgents were being manipulated by Syria and Iran to create chaos in Iraq.

One reason that Mullah Nadhum has become an American ally is that the local American military commander, Lt. Col. Bob McCarthy, has set up a program that allows fighters to turn themselves in and "reconcile" with the Army. McCarthy's 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry unit of the 101st Airborne Division has lost five men in fighting with insurgents since January.

Gradual Process of Reconciliation

McCarthy's intelligence officer, Capt. Christian Wollenburg, says the reconciliation was a gradual process that started with word of mouth among local sheiks after McCarthy's unit and Iraqi army units made serious inroads against the insurgents.

He says that after the first few insurgents turned themselves in and found that they were treated fairly by the Americans, more came in. The unit and the court system in Balad worked out a formal plan for dealing with former militants. ...

Read the rest or listen to the whole story here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Last Day at Work

I am about to head out to work. My last day of work. At three years and two weeks, it is the longest job I've had.

I've been asked many times in the last two weeks why I am leaving. After explaining that I am going to spend more time with my husband and what he is doing, the responses have been nothing but overwhelming support and genuine happiness, hard for anyone to come up with any other reaction when they see my perma-grin and hear the lightness in my voice.

And so one chapter ends ...

Good News from Iraq: 27 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Electrical sub-station powers up in Basra.

BASRA – A new electrical substation that will provide additional power to the citizens of Basra is scheduled to go online next month.

Iraqi electrical workers are installing new lines, inspecting transformers and making final checks throughout the substation in preparation to bring it online in early July.

The Government of Iraq is making efforts to bring basic services to Iraqis living in Basra as quickly as possible.

“This sub-station will bring several more hours of normal, regulated electricity to this part of the city, “ said Lt. Col. Pau Hettich of the Civil Military Operations Center. “Iraqi engineers are doing a week of final testing to make sure everything is ready to go when they flip the switch.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just FYI

I thought I would pass this along from my personal experience. Uh, this may have been obvious to most people, but not me.

If you are going to use full-strength Pine Sol, you might want to consider wearing gloves, unless you want to exfoliate your palm.

My palm and fingers have been peeling since Sunday. I am leaving dead skin every where I go. Nice.

Good News from Iraq: 25 Jun 2008

About two years ago, Jack Bauer was getting ready to head to one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. A lot has happened since then for the better. Here is just a little more evidence of that.

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police Lead the Way in Fallujah’s Khadairy District.

FALLUJAH — The Joint Security Station (JSS) in the Khadairy District of Fallujah is now home solely to Iraqi Police, as Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, detached from the station in a step toward transitioning security to IPs.

IPs will continue their daily tasks here on their own as part of the transition of security from Coalition forces.

“We really didn’t ‘de-militarize’ it, we more or less unpartnered,” said 1st Lt. Cory Colistra, platoon commander, 3rd Platoon. “We left the station intact. It’s an IP station now instead of a joint security station. We continue to work with them every day. The mission is to transition provincial Iraqi control, and this is a physical example of us being one step closer to mission accomplishment. The idea is that the Iraqis are taking over and we’re there as a backstop to support their operations. Doing that allows the IPs to directly provide security and stability while the Marines indirectly influence that end state.”

The purpose of JSS Khadairy, which was in operation for more than a year, was for Coalition forces to transition security to Iraqi Police-led counterinsurgency operations while maintaining the security of the precinct. As the IPs have stepped up to conduct missions on their own, Colistra said the only change to daily tasks are the Marines’ responsibilities.

“The mission and operations don’t change, but our method has transitioned to more of a support role,” Colistra said. “The Marines will advise the IPs on certain tactical issues, but it is the IPs who are running their own show. We will be in that overwatch position and step up when needed. This builds confidence for both the [Iraqi Security Forces] and the local nationals, and that’s all they need. We’re slowly taking a step back, allowing the ISF to step up and they’re gaining control of their city one day at a time.” ...

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

At least the job is done ... ?

Yesterday I came home and the floor of the basement had been painted.

Now, just a little background here. Jack Bauer detested painting the walls the day before. He was dreading having to paint the floor, but knew it needed to be done. I was hoping that the sooner we he got it done, the easier it would be. The plan when I left for work on Monday morning was for him to look at buying the paint and move the rest of the stuff off of the basement floor. The painting might come later in the week or wait for the weekend if he really needed my help.

So I came home and the whole thing was done. Now just how did that happen?

As Jack was driving home from gym and on his way to Lowe's to check out tintable primer for the job, he saw a man in his late fifties standing at the light at the off ramp holding a sign: "Homeless. Experienced painter. Need money or work." My agnostic husband took that as a sign of the universe giving him what he needed. Jack went to Lowe's, got what he needed, then picked up a stranger from off the streets and brought Joe, the homeless painter, to our little bungalow.

Jack supervised the man's work without seeming overbearing and did not allow him upstairs. A bottle of water, an offer of lunch (which was declined), $100 for his pocket, and the homeless painter was back on the streets of Middleville. All before I got home.

Of course, I am happy that the job is done. And I am glad to see Jack come up with a solution that was relatively painless for him. But bringing a homeless man into our house makes me uneasy. For that matter, if he had just gotten the guy's name from a flier left on our doorstep without a reference we know, I would have made more even more uneasy. (I am having images of the whole Elizabeth Smart situation running through my head.) Jack assures me that he drove in such a convoluted manner to our house that Joe can't find his way back.

But the bottom line: the big painting in the basement is D.O.N.E. Woohoo!

Good News from Iraq: 24 Jun 2008

From AFP, US military to hand back Sunni bastion of Anbar to Iraq. (h/t Blackfive)

BAGHDAD (AFP) — The US military is to hand over security control of the former Sunni insurgent bastion of Anbar province to Iraqi forces in the next 10 days, a US military spokesman announced on Monday.

"The handover of Anbar is expected to take place in the next 10 days," Lieutenant David Russell told AFP, declining to provide an exact date.

Anbar would be the tenth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed back to Iraqi forces by the US-led coalition amid a push to transfer security control of the entire country back to Baghdad.

Anbar province in western Iraq, the country's largest, was the epicentre of a brutal Sunni Arab-led fight against the US military after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

In the early years of the insurgency, US forces fought raging battles in the province, especially in the capital Ramadi and the nearby city of Fallujah.

Fallujah became the symbol of the ultra-violent insurgency before it was virtually razed to the ground in November 2004 by a US military assault launched to seize control of the city.

The US military has lost 1,295 service members in the province since the invasion, second only to Baghdad where it lost 1,308 troops, according to the independent website

The website says November 2004 remains the deadliest month for the military in Iraq. It lost 137 troops that month when it launched the Fallujah assault.

The violence in the country's largest province started ebbing in late 2006 when local Sunni tribes, weary of Al-Qaeda's religious extremism and brutal methods, switched allegiance and formed a local group to fight them.

Since then Anbar has been hailed as a symbol of stability.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Moving along

This getting the house ready for selling thing is hard work. This last week we made some major progress. Jack Bauer got the basement cleared out, cleaned out, and stuff sold on Craig's List, and with the cash we went to see Get Smart (surprisingly good) and a nice dinner at Maggiano's. Got the basement cleaned enough that we painted the walls yesterday. I'm still high off the fumes.

We met with the real estate agent earlier in the week. I brought her into a messy house but she was still impressed with the amount of stuff we had gotten done already. Once we finish in the basement, it will just be a matter of cleaning and organizing and staging the main floor of the house. We got about 25 days to it all in. No problem.

Oh and I forgot to mention. Our grass is beginning to come in. Woohoo!

And one more thing. Just 5 days of work left. Then I am a full-time Army Wife. :D

Good News from Iraq: 23 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Ramadi Citizens Continue to Sign Up to Defend Their City.

CAMP RAMADI — Over the last two years, Ramadi has seen a dramatic in the number of policemen as the city progressively moves toward the final steps in becoming fully independent.

In 2006, there were very few police in Ramadi when violence engulfed the city, the citizens lived in fear, and al-Qaida had a firm grip on the region.

In the first two weeks of 2007, the city experienced an unexpected surge of applicants seeking to join the force. During that two-week span, more than 1,000 applicants sought law enforcement jobs in Ramadi, according to Army Maj. Thomas Shoffner, operations officer for the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The turning point for the boost in applicants was the murder of a well-known sheik in August 2006. The murderers hid his body for 3 days denying his family the right to bury him in accordance with Islamic tradition. After the killing, tribal leaders could not tolerate al Qaeda’s lawlessness and violence throughout their land and formed an alliance against the terrorist network called, Sahawa al-Anbar, or the “Awakening Council.”

Now the number of Iraqis seeking to become policemen remains high. This is due in part to the professionalism of the Ramadi Training Center, which trains and mentors the newly recruited policemen, and the insight provided by the awakening.

“During the awakening, many citizens of al-Anbar realized what the right thing to do was and what the wrong thing to do was,” said Sheik Haji Talib through an interpreter. “The insurgents gave the wrong picture of coalition forces. They said coalition forces are invaders so we should fight them. They were able to get into the people’s minds and tell us the wrong things and lies. When the people realized they were wrong, they started waking up and started doing the right thing.”

Ramadi remains safe as a result of the awakening and fully functioning police training center. The training center is run by the Iraqi Police Training Cadre, International Police Advisors and the Army’s 194th Military Police Company, offering recruits the best law enforcement schooling by international experts and specialists.

“The policemen will go to a variety of different stations within all of the Ramadi precincts almost immediately after they graduate the 11-day course or as soon as their station directs them to report,” said Capt. Gerard C. Dempster, Headquarters and Service Company Commander with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and direct liaison for the Iraqi security forces.

The city has nearly reached the desired number of policemen considered necessary to keep Ramadi safe, Dempster said. The school’s leaders will continue training recruits and placing policemen on the streets to further restrain the insurgents and their illicit activities.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's the little things

A couple things I've noticed since Jack Bauer has come home.

Parking: It appears that when you've spent 20 months in Iraq not driving much or spending time in insanely large vehicles, the lines in the grocery store parking lot in the US have little meaning. They apparently are just a "guideline."

Sleeping: It appears that when you've spent 20 months in Iraq with sand that gets into every single crevice and in your sheets, you get used to this. So when you come home and start doing large amounts of work in the backyard with fresh dirt, and some it gets in between the sheets, you don't mind so much. Even though the wife can't stand even the slightest bit of grit between her and the sheets. Good thing I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers tracking in dirt.

Good News from Iraq: 21 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Civil Affairs Teams, U.S. Marines Improve Fallujah Infrastructure.

FALLUJAH — 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, augmented by Civil Affairs teams, are continuously working with Fallujah City Council members, local tribal leaders and local citizens to carry out projects in an effort to improve the city’s infrastructure.

Civil Affairs and Army Corps of Engineers leaders met with the city council’s director generals recently, to talk about projects that will provide key services throughout the city, such as improving the water distribution systems.

The city is now in the planning stages of establishing a new water distribution network. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines recently approved a project to purchase needed parts for a water treatment facility, which will service the majority of Fallujah. Right now, the facilities have inoperable pumps and other parts that are in a state of disrepair. The installation of new pumps and filters at the Azerghia water treatment facility will bring the facility back to its previous prewar output capacity.

“The initiative to solve all water problems for Fallujah lies in the pipe network,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane Duhe, Civil Affairs Team 5 team leader. “When the pipe network works properly, the water treatment plants already established along the Euphrates River will certainly be able to support all of the city’s needs.”

Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams introduced reverse-engineering concepts to the directors that are currently being developed. Reverse engineering concepts that the Army Corps of Engineers use will spare the expense of rebuilding existing facilities, thus saving money and labor time.

Another high priority on the Fallujah City Council’s list is the Telecommunications Headquarters in the city. Up to 45,000 citizens will benefit from having land line telephone service at their disposal.

“Over the past five years, many services have been degraded,” Duhe said. “Phone services are important to all citizens in Fallujah because they need to be able to call emergency services and police hotlines. This has a direct impact on local security.”

Civil Affairs teams continue to work on projects to facilitate the reconstruction of basic needs such as water, sewage and electricity. Their mission is to assist in transition by working with the local Iraqi government to build strong infrastructure for Fallujah.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 19 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Army, Police Conduct First All-ISF Search Mission.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY — For Iraqi national police officers and Iraqi army soldiers, conducting cordon and search missions is nothing new. When it comes to planning, coordinating and conducting such an operation without U.S. Soldiers leading the way however, it is history in the making.

And so it was June 10, when 10 companies of national policemen and Iraqi army soldiers conducted a combined search for militants and their weapons in the Beladiyat area of eastern Baghdad. Policemen from 1st and 2nd National Police Divisions and soldiers from 9th Iraqi army division confiscated scores of weapons and detained several suspects. Additionally, Iraqi police officers performed vehicle inspections and tag verifications to support the operation in Muhalla 740.

“This was the first Iraqi security forces-led joint operation in 9 Nissan that was fully planned and executed by the national police,” explained Maj. Chris Desasso, a Springfield, Mass. Native, who serves as team chief of 8th Brigade, 2nd Division National Police Transition Team. “Brig. Gen. Ali requested the task organization (units and troop strengths) and Maj. Gen. Abud approved it. (For us), this is tactical over watch in action.”

The operation netted 62 AK-47 rifles, six Simonov rifles, four pistols and two artillery rounds rigged to become improvised explosive devices. National Policemen detained 23 suspects, one of whom is a militant the Government of Iraq wanted for “crimes against the Iraqi people,” to include emplacing roadside bombs, murdering innocent Iraqis and conducting rocket and mortar attacks, explained Sgt. 1st Class John Kell, a Montgomery, Texas, native.

“This was (conducted) all on their own. No coalition forces found these items or did any searches,” emphasized Kell, the operations non-commissioned officer for 8th Bde., 2nd Div., NPTT, who claims Lima, Ohio, as home. “It was all Iraqi security forces, (and) it was very impressive.”

Kell explained the operation was “from beginning to end, absolutely” an all Iraqi security forces mission with no directions or directives from the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment or 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Multi-National Division – Baghdad. Individual national police battalions have entered muhallas to conduct limited searches before the history making operation but never for a joint operation without U.S. forces leading the way, he said.

The cordon and search mission was based solely on intelligence Iraqi security forces officials collected, said Capt. Bryce Halverson, an intelligence trainer from Hartselle, Ala. assigned to the 8th Bde., 2nd Div. NPTT. The national police developed a list of targets they wanted to detain, and they successfully completed that mission. Two of the targeted and captured militants were responsible for attacks on an Iraqi Army checkpoint resulting in five IA soldier deaths during a recent uprising.

“When they are able to put together their own target packets and their own target lists and go out and successfully capture these individuals, which in turn leads to more individuals, I think success breeds success,” commented Halverson. “They will continue to work together.

“I think it went very well. It’s the first time (Iraqi national police) have gone on their own and put together a joint mission with the Iraqi army.”

Iraqi security forces are definitely on the right path for continued success, said Kell. He cited recent successful missions in Basra, Sadr City and numerous on going missions in 9 Nissan.

“For this one to be a totally independent mission, without any help from us whatsoever, is pretty impressive. I think if they keep going on this patch, there will be less need for coalition forces to back them up,” commented Kell. “It’s going to boost the confidence in the people and the Iraqi government.

“This is the endstate (end result), which we are here (to accomplish) as transition teams (and) trainers: … to train them to be able to do what they have to do so they can do it all on their own.”

Halverson said he also feels Iraqi citizens have increased confidence in Iraqi security forces when they see the forces taking the lead or conducting operations on their own.

“When we go out with the national police and they conduct business like this, the people see Iraqi security forces out conducting these missions, in the lead, protecting them, taking the criminal elements off the streets, getting the weapons and improvised explosive devices off the street,” said Halverson. It does nothing but boost the confidence of the local people in their own security forces.

“Sure, there are small elements of American transition teams out there, but they are there to advise their counterparts. They are not conducting searches or detentions. They are almost in a tactical over watch advising.”

Both Halverson and Kell were deployed in Iraq during 2003 and 2004. The Iraqi national policemen and Iraqi army soldiers have a greater sense of pride now than they did then, said Kell. Seeing INPs continue to do their jobs even though their families have been threatened, or even killed in some cases, greatly impresses him.

“These guys, with very little pay, very little benefits, are still out there doing their job – and I’m pretty proud of that,” said Kell. “To see it now, it gives me hope that some day, we can possibly all go home, and Iraq can defend itself and take care of its own people."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Knife class

As part of my birthday present, I am taking a knife class this evening. Yes, I know. The idea is to help me avoid another thumb incident and help me get back into the groove of using knives again. I've convinced Jack Bauer to go with me. That way he can spend the rest of our lives correcting my incorrect knife usage.

So where does a butterfly take a knife class? At our local Viking store. Several years ago we took a tamale class there and loved it. Hopefully this 3-hour class on knife basics will be just as good, well, minus the cocktails, the wonderful smells of tamale filling cooking, and the savory and sweet tastes of the tamales themselves. Other than that, I am sure it will be exactly the same. :D

Good News from Iraq: 18 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, IA, NP, MND-B Soldiers uncover multiple caches in Sadr.

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Army Soldiers seized eight weapons caches June 17 as they continue efforts to make Sadr City a safer place.

At approximately 6 a.m., Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, discovered two weapons caches. The first cache consisted of two 130 mm rounds and one 122 mm round. The second cache consisted of three 57 mm rounds and 31, 12.7 mm rounds.

A few minutes later, Iraqi Army Soldiers in the same unit uncovered a cache consisting of two RPG-7 rounds and one rifle.

At 6:45 a.m., Iraqi Army Soldiers from the 1st Bn., 3rd Bde., 1st IA Div., discovered one RPK machine gun, one rifle, two rocket launchers, an AK-47,10 AK-47 magazines, two 60 mm rounds, a radio, an Egyptian sniper rifle, two remote-control devices, two rolls of detonation cord, five initiation devices, and one RPG-7 anti-personnel round.

Soldiers serving with the 2nd Bn., 3rd Bde., 1st IA Div., seized two more weapons caches at approximately 7 a.m. The first cache included two 155 mm improvised explosive devices, nine 120 mm rounds, one 82 mm mortar round, three grenades, and one 12.7 mm machine gun. The second cache consisted of one 155 mm round, one 122 mm round, and one 100 mm round.

At approximately 8:30 a.m., Iraqi Army Soldiers from the 1st Bn., 3rd Bde., 1st IA Div., found two more weapons caches. The first cache consisted of one AK-47 rifle, three 120 mm mortar rounds; 18, 82 mm mortar rounds; eight 60 mm mortar rounds, one 60 mm smoke round, and four RPG-7 anti-tank rounds.

There were 96 PKC rounds and two 82 mm mortar fuses seized in the second cache.

In other areas of Baghdad, Iraqi National Police and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers seized other weapons caches as well.

Soldiers serving with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, MND-B, found 21 57 mm artillery shells, 87 57mm warheads, and one mortar round at approximately 9 a.m. in an area north of Baghdad.

At approximately 2:30 p.m., in the West Rashid district, policemen with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi National Police Division, seized four rocket rails and seven 60 mm mortar rounds.

“Since May 20, 270 weapons and munitions caches have been seized by Iraqi Security and Coalition forces in the Baghdad area,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff, MND-B and the 4th Infantry Division spokesman.

“These caches included 449 explosively formed projectiles and improvised explosive devices, 1,268 mortar rounds, 606 rocket-propelled grenades, 178 rockets and 3,012 rifles. This is very good news for the Iraqi people, our Soldiers and the folks back home.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Two-weeks notice

It's official. I quit my job yesterday.

A little scary to not have anything lined up. But I have prepared for this and it should be alright.

The last time I left a job without something else was before law school 9 years ago when I quit my ER nursing job a month before we move from the West Coast to the Middle.

I'm excited about our upcoming moves and taking a break from working full time. But I must admit I am nervous.

You'll like this. (I will preface with my boss is a wonderful, supportive woman without much exposure to the military.) When I told my boss that we are going active duty, she reactively said, "WHY??" I laughed and explained that it is a good move for us and a sense of duty. She assumed that we had no choice in this and I set her straight on that.

Good News from Iraq: 17 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Public Works Substation Opens in Yarmouk.

BAGHDAD — Multi-National Division Baghdad Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, opened a public works substation in Yarmouk, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, June 14.

The Yarmouk substation will serve the southeast Mansour District and provides workers a place to store equipment used for basic services, such as trash removal and sewage maintenance.

“All of this was built from scratch” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Anderson, a civil military operations officer with the 4th “Straight Arrows” Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, operationally attached to the 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div.

Blackjack Soldiers picked up where the Soldiers they replaced from 2nd “Patriot” Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st infantry Division, left off, who worked during their 15-month deployment to improve security and get essential services going. The unit went as far as hiring 50 workers to pickup trash in the Yarmouk area while funding for the substation was on hold.

The Straight Arrows Soldiers are working just as hard to take advantage of improved security and are striving to work on finishing the essential service projects the Patriot Battalion started.

At the substation, they worked closely with local officials to build a permanent building with two offices. They also worked with contractors to install two trailers to provide workers with showers, a change room and a break room.

Iraqi army and MND-B Soldiers, along with members of the Yarmouk community and the assistant zone director who oversees the operation of the substation, attended the grand opening together, where a red ribbon was cut and attendees enjoyed Iraqi hamburgers afterward.

The ceremony, however, did not mark the end of work for the substations, said Anderson, adding that the substation currently employs 53 Yarmouk residents with proposals to eventually increase that number to 100.

“The equipment we have right now is under a rental agreement,” He added. “Coalition forces have rented those vehicles; we are expecting that (local officials) will take that over.”

The proposal stems from an agreement reached between coalition forces and local officials in September, he added.

“We construct the site; we hire all the workers; we provide equipment for them” said Col. Louis Fazekas the Baghdad-6 governance team leader part of the embedded Provincial Reconciliation Team supporting the 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div., who explained it was part of the agreement. He said there is an expectation that local officials will hire the workers and purchase the equipment after one year.

Fazekas, a reservist from Mechanicsburg, Pa., deployed to Iraq in April 2007, has been in Iraq for 14 months. During that time, he has met with government officials to hash out the details of agreements such as this one.

“I extended another year to try and see (the PWSS’) through,” said Fazekas. “It’s taking a little longer than we expected because the funding got delayed, but the funding is back on and things are moving ahead.”

Originally, Strike brigade Soldiers planned to open four substations in Northwest Baghdad. The success of PWSS sites in the Adil and Ghazaliyah neighborhoods in northwest Baghdad has opened the possibility of opening additional substations.

No matter how long it takes to get the new substations built, Fazekas said he doesn’t plan to extend once he reaches the end of this tour.

“Certainly, you fill some ownership and you want to stay involved,” he added, but also noted that he has full confidence in the ability of Soldiers – whether they are from the Strike Brigade or a follow-on unit – to continue progress.

“The plan is there; it’s like a McDonalds franchise,” he said. “Now, it’s just a matter of picking sites and implementing what we’ve done at the others.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Busy, Busy

Been a little busy around here the last few days. Here's the quick run down.

Friday: work from home in the morning; checked to make sure I became vested in my 401k (the 30-year difference is more like $174K); started date afternoon/night with lunch and a little Sex and the City movie (loved it! more on that later); dinner at Ruth's Chris (yum; good story there, too).

Saturday: landscaper arrived at 7 AM and the handy man arrived at 8 AM; yoga; work; nap; supervision of doggies while their backyard was transformed into someone else's backyard; grocery shopping; grilled chicken fajitas for dinner.

Sunday: errand running with Jack; work; thoroughly cleaned upstairs bathroom, got on my knees and scrubbed the floor and everything; called Dad to wish him Happy Father's Day; attempted to remove downstairs toilet seat but wound up breaking the plastic screw (oops!); grilled tri-tip for dinner.

Now that I have that all written down, it doesn't seem like much, but it was sure exhausting. It was very warm and humid all weekend. I don't like the humidity that comes with living in the Midwest in the summer. Can someone please take it away?

Good News from Iraq: 16 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, INPs, MND-B Soldiers confiscate weapons caches throughout Baghdad.

BAGHDAD – Iraqi National Policemen and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers seized weapons caches throughout Baghdad June14. Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), found four buried improvised explosive devices at approximately 7 a.m. in the Kadamiya district of Baghdad. At approximately 7:30 a.m., in the West Rashid district of Baghdad, Soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division seized three rocket propelled grenades and 30 pounds of homemade explosive. Policemen with the 2nd Brigade, 1st National Police Division, seized 27 AK-47’s, three assault rifles, a Mauser rifle and a 60 mm tube with bipod north of Baghdad at approximately 7:30 a.m. In the New Baghdad district of Baghdad, at approximately 11 a.m., Soldiers with the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, found a weapons cache consisting of eight AK-47 magazines, an AK-47, a backup battery system, a rocket propelled grenade round, a grenade, an 82 mm mortar (encased in concrete) and body armor.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 15 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Rashid Olympics kick off with youth summer sports (Baghdad).

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq – More than 400 soccer players from across southern Baghdad crowded a chalk-lined soccer field in the Aamel community to kick off the opening ceremony for the Rashid Olympics June 14 only minutes after the Iraqi National team defeated China in the Asia Championship tournament.

Approximately 332 teams from 14 communities began the soccer tournament, which will take place across the district over the next three months until a champion is crowned at the closing ceremony in September 2008.

“The ceremony went well,” said Capt. Thao Reed, the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. “It exceeded expectations and it was all coordinated by the local governances from the areas.”

As the military liaison for the event, Reed provided little assistance to the District Council and the Neighborhood Councils in Rashid.

“We are very, very proud of how the district councils coordinated with the Iraqi Security Forces for the opening ceremony,” Reed stated. “They planned, secured, and coordinated all aspects of the event. It was a very well-done Iraqi-led event.”

There was very little involvement on the part of Coalition Forces, explained Reed.

“What the councils are doing for people is good,” Reed explained. “It was a very professional environment and everyone had a good time.” Soldiers from the 43rd Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division provided security for the opening ceremony.

“This is the first time that all the communities in the district have gathered together,” said Col. Haythm Abedal Khather, the commander of the 43rd Bde., 11th IA Div. “Events like these put hope in the hearts of Iraqis, and makes them united.”

The tournament took place on an important day for Iraq because the Iraqi National Team won today, said Habeeb Lafta, the Rashid District Council Sports director.

“The champion will gather the hearts and minds of the players because they choose the sports instead of violence,” Lafta stated. “I believe these kids will be the future of Iraqi soccer.” Before the ceremonial kick off to initiate the game, each team proudly displayed Iraqi flags while chanting the names of their communities.

“We were very glad to get the uniforms, and we are ready to start the tournament,” said Arkan Kadhim, a player for the Forat team.

“We are so happy the Iraqi National team won today,” added Hesham Kareem, player from the Aamel community. Events for young girls are tentatively scheduled to begin in July, said Reed.

This winter season in Iraq will bring a few indoor sports to the youths of Rashid, such as ping pong, basketball, and boxing.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 14 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Locals lead Iraqi, Coalition forces to sizeable weapons caches near Balad.

TIKRIT, Iraq – Local citizens’ tips led Iraqi and Coalition forces to sizeable weapons caches over the last two weeks in and around the city of Balad.

Balad citizens informed Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) of caches consisting of 16 phone bases, 12 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, five fuses, two anti-tank grenades, four ejector motors for RPGs, two sniper rifles, one light machine gun, one night sight and one day sight for mortars, 10,000 light machine gun and AK-47 rounds of ammunition, 12 pounds of propellant, four 120 mm HE mortar rounds, one 122 mm projectile and one 100 mm projectile.

“The people of Balad are continuing to show their commitment to reconciliation and protecting their county,” said 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division Executive Officer Lt. Col. Thomas Hauerwas. “These significant cache finds, coupled with the recent reconciliation of over 500 men, are leading the way to peace and economic prosperity in this area of Salah ad Din Province.”

The items found in these caches could have been used in future small-arms fire, indirect fire or improvised explosive device attacks, he added.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A jaw-dropping difference

Jack Bauer stayed busy around the house yesterday. His plan was to take apart a large doghouse he had built years ago. A landscaper was planning to come today to start the transformation of our dog-dedicated back yard into something other than an eye sore.

I pulled into the garage and walked out into the yard expecting to see that 2-foot high weeds had grown another 2 inches. But as I stepped out, I stopped in my tracks and my jaw dropped open. Apparently, Jack had been a little busier than I thought. There were NO weeds. And I mean none, zero, zilch. I walked into another back yard entirely. There were no clippings all over the place, no stray pieces of branches or dead leaves. It was all gone. A miracle had happened at Camp Toenges.

As you might suspect, the landscaper managed to come to the house yesterday. If I had known that such a miracle could be had for a few hundred dollars, I woud have called him years ago.

But right now we have a pretty blank slate of a yard. Tomorrow he will begin the work of making it truly into someone else's yard with mulch and this stuff called seed that apparently grows into grass. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Oh, and Jack did get the doghouse down and removed. ;-)

Good News from Iraq: 13 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Bombing network disabled (Baghdad).

BAGHDAD – Coalition forces detained 18 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists throughout Iraq Thursday and Friday, further degrading terrorist networks that organize and execute terrorist attacks.

Coalition forces continued to target the al-Qaeda in Iraq foreign terrorist networks across northern Iraq and in the Tigris River Valley Friday. A wanted man and an associate were captured near Bi’aj, about 130 kilometers southwest of Mosul. Coalition forces also detained one suspected AQI terrorist near Lake Thar Thar and three alleged foreign terrorist facilitators in Bayji, about 100 kilometers south of Mosul.

During operations on Thursday, Coalition forces detained three individuals, including a wanted man suspected of having ties to an AQI bombing network that operates in the Tigris River Valley.

Al-Qaeda’s network in the Northern Belt around Baghdad was further degradedFriday when Coalition forces detained two suspected terrorists in separate operations just north of Baghdad. Coalition forces also targeted associates of AQI leaders in the Southern Belt around the city and detained three suspected terrorists Thursday west of Baghdad.

In Mosul, Coalition forces detained four suspected terrorists during operations Thursday and Friday while targeting associates of AQI leaders in the northern city.

“Coalition forces will continue to seek out terrorists throughout Iraq and remove them as a threat toinnocent citizens,” said Navy Lt. David Russell, MNF-I spokesman.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brown-eyed girls???

Hmmm. I think Jack Bauer was definitely away from here for too long.

The other day Moo and I were sitting on the couch and Jack walked up and started showering Moo with attention. And then in a very sweet voice, he said, "Look at those big brown eyes, just like her mommy's."

Hmmm. My eyes are not brown. Never have been. In fact, they are a rather distinctive blue. Hmmm. Yeah, he was gone way too long.

Good News from Iraq: 12 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, More than 500 fighters reconcile in Balad.

BALAD, Iraq – Since May 22, a total of 506 insurgents in the Balad area have reconciled with the Iraqi government, choosing a different path for their lives.

Operation Balad Musalahah is a combined effort between the Qadah-level Government of Iraq, the leadership of the Iraqi Police, the 4th Iraqi Army Division, and the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

The ongoing effort has encouraged tribal leaders and locals with significant influence to promote unity within the once beleaguered area. The process seeks to reintegrate those who have felt marginalized back into the maturing governance process here, according to Lt. Col. Bob McCarthy, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment commander.

“Former fighters in the Balad Qadah have stepped forward to reconcile with their fellow countrymen,” McCarthy said. “This is a key step in reestablishing their ties to the communities, rejoining their families in their homes and becoming active participants in Iraq’s future.”

Resolving to enter into a cease-fire agreement for the good of the Qadah and the province, former fighters have led Iraqi and Coalition forces to various weapons caches scattered in the area.

Assorted rockets, artillery rounds, rocket propelled grenade launchers, mortar rounds, rifles and ammunition have been relinquished, making the streets of Balad that much safer for Iraqi citizens. The seized weapons are typically destroyed by explosive ordnance disposal teams.

Those who choose to reconcile must sign a cease-fire agreement, and if they face criminal charges, they must stand before the Iraqi court system before being fully reintegrated into civil society.

Out of the 506 who reconciled, 160 Iraqis have had court dates set with several having been found to be not guilty of the charges they faced.

For many Iraqis, seeing that the justice system is fair and equitable is the biggest win, said Maj. Timothy Brumfield, the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment executive officer.

“The reconciliation process is a great start for those who have been reluctant to approach Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces and have been increasingly isolated from Iraqi society,” said Maj. Ramiro Salazar, operations officer for the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment. “Iraqi citizens will feel safer knowing that this process is working to improve their lives.”

“The mass reconciliation here marks a turning point for the Balad area, in terms of these men’s realization that it is impossible to further their cause by means of violence. Instead, as we approach possible elections in the fall, they are choosing, as one reconciliation leader called, ‘the war of the purple fingers’ by embracing the power of the vote to advance their part in democracy,” said Maj. Johnpaul Arnold, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division spokesman.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Returning the favor

With 1,000 cards written to our wounded soldiers, I put my card writing days are on hold. But in the last 10 days I have received 2 e-mails from card recipients. That brings my total of responses received to 4.

I received the first response about 2 months ago while my parents were here. Once I figured out why this apparent stranger was writing to me I started to cry. After 11 months of writing with very little expectation of hearing back, someone took the time to shoot me an e-mail, just to say "thanks." I hope that is the same feeling soldiers get when they read my cards.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Work is highly overrated

... well except for the paycheck.

I went back to work yesterday. There is nothing like vacation to remind me that I would much rather get paid for hanging out with my husband than working in a cube in the middle of a huge room where everyone can hear everyone's everything. I swear they must be reading my thoughts, because now I am being volunteered to work from home on Fridays for the rest of the summer! Of course that is just a few weeks if things go according to our plans.

I think I am ready for a nap. In a hammock. Under a shade tree. Near a shady cove. Where it is not too humid. Who's coming with me?

Good News from Iraq: 10 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Route Clearance Team Makes Iraq Safer.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER — It’s 4 a.m., and Soldiers of the 40th Engineers Battalion are just getting to bed after a route clearance mission in the Mada’in Qada.

“Wow, only a 12-hour day,” said Pfc. Richard Goodman, a Company B, 40th Eng. Bn. combat engineer. “An early day and one more mission accomplished. We’ll be back at it again tomorrow.”

However, time is no issue for these members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division route clearance team. Since April, they have gone out on missions daily, clearing improvised explosives devices and unexploded ordnance from streets.

“The earliest we got back from a mission was after nine hours and the longest was after 21 hours,” said Goodman, a native of Rochester, N.Y. “It all comes with the job and we do what we can. Time is not an issue when you are dealing with IEDs.”

Since 2003, IEDs have been the biggest killer of coalition forces in Iraq. This makes the team’s job very important, knowing the safety of others depends on the job they perform every day without fanfare.

Second Lieutenant Michael Hall, 40th Eng. Bn. platoon leader, said this job does more than clear roads of IEDs, it provides a safe and peaceful environment for Iraqi families. It also plays a large part in making the 2nd BCT’s day-to-day operations possible.

“Our job is a very important piece to the puzzle here in Iraq,” said Hall, from Akron, Colo. “It’s our job to keep the roads safe. By doing that, we are keeping the lines of communication open for the 2nd BCT.”

To accomplish their mission, the route clearance team uses a variety of vehicles and tools. A typical roll-out for a mission includes the Husky, a detector vehicle; the RG31 Mine Protected Armored Personnel Carrier; and the Buffalo, a mine clearance vehicle.

The Buffalo is equipped with a mechanical arm that is tipped with a claw called a “spork.” The arm and spork are remotely-controlled from the cab of the Buffalo, which is equipped with a camera and light to allow the operator a close-up view of any suspected IEDs.

Also available for the Soldiers’ use is the Talon, a small robot equipped with a camera that provides a close-up view of suspicious items and can assist in destroying IEDs.

Goodman believes the robot arm, spork and Talon all play an important role in completing their mission.

“These tools make our jobs much easier,” Goodman said. “Without them, we would have to dismount more, which puts us in harm’s way. They make things safer and get the job done.”

The route clearance team roams the streets of the Mada’in Qada at slow speeds, enabling them to search the roads precisely. They search holes, objects and trash - anything that seems suspicious.

In their time here, they have found several IEDs and UXOs. Many missions will go without finding anything; Goodman believes they are successful either way.

“Sometimes you just don’t find anything,” Goodman said. “No matter what we come back with, the streets of Iraq are still safer. We are accomplishing our mission one day at a time.”

The 40th Eng. Bn. falls under the command of the 2nd BCT, 1st Armd. Div., from Baumholder, Germany, and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since April in Mada’in Qada, in southeastern Baghdad province.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Season 2

Coming back from a week-long vacation is a major bummer. Lots of little daily things to get back to, like laundry and grocery shopping. And thinking about getting the house ready to sell. But we did together, um, except for the laundry, which I have gladly turned over to Jack Bauer.

After errand running, we got a little organized then had hamburgers and roasted red peppers. Yum!

Then we watched the season premiere of Army Wives. I had tears in my eyes for the entire show. I found that fact to be interesting mainly because I don't recall having that much emotional attachment to the show for the first season. I think the tears come from (besides the good writing of the episode) letting my guard down now that Jack is back.

But some of the tears I think is the coming back to together with some of my battle buddies, the characters that represent different aspects of me, of all of military spouses, that I completely identify with. As we sit in the comfort of our living rooms, relaxed and logical, I am sure we all know that 2 men in civilian clothes at our doorstep means something other than they are there to tell us our husband is dead. But their confusing presence isn't much comfort when we are all worked up with worry in those first days of the first deployment. And some days those pajamas are the only comfort we can find and hanging out in them all day seems perfectly reasonable. It is wonderful to have friends who will point out the obvious -- like the Army will tell you if something has happened to your husband so no news is good news -- and snap you back to reality, even if it is just for a little while.

I didn't watch last night's episode alone. Jack watched too, but it was difficult for him (although he did mention that the uniforms looked pretty good) I think seeing the what Roxie was dealing with. But I completely identified with it. I doubt I am alone on that.

Read Andi's take on the episode over at SpouseBuzz.

Good News from Iraq: 9 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Al Jadida Pool Opening Makes Big Splash. :D

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY — Scoring a refreshing blow against impending sweltering summer temperatures, Al Jadida officials decided to get their feet wet and dive headfirst into meeting the needs of the local populace.

A nearly three-month project to renovate Baghdad Al Jadida Pool Complex was officially complete when the swimming pool reopened to the public June 7.

A mixture of area residents, local Iraqi officials and religious leaders, and representatives of Multi-National Division – Baghdad’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), attended the event to see if the grand opening would make a big splash. All indications are it did.

“It was an excellent ceremony, and the sheikhs (are) very appreciative of all the effort that went into the renovation of the pool and the ceremony,” said Sayyid Abdul Hadi al Jazairy, a prominent Imam from Baghdad al Jadida. “We hope for continued positive events in the future.”

In a joint effort between Government of Iraq officials and Patriot Brigade leaders from 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., the existing Baghdad Al Jadida pool site was identified as one of four pools in Baghdad to renovate and put into operation for the summer months, explained Maj. Jeffrey Smith, Patriot Brigade civil-military operations officer in charge.

“The renovation of the pool with Commanders Emergency Relief Program funds assists the government of Iraq in a return to normalcy for the civilian populace and, as a joint effort, became a major non-lethal offensive,” said Smith. “The brigade’s objective is to ensure all remember and continue to look out for the kids of Baghdad: the future of Iraq.”

The purpose of the CERP-funded project is to support Iraqi efforts to generate tangible signs of normalcy while initiating training and employment opportunities for Iraqis, emphasized Smith. Patriot Brigade leaders nominated pools within their operational environment to be refurbished based on justifying why the pools would provide the greatest benefit to their neighborhoods. The brigade coordinated with three political district’s beladiyahs, directors general, neighborhood councils and district councils in selecting and nominating pools, explained Smith.

The project began March 19. Renovations included replacing a broken diving board, painting the exterior wall, repairing and maintaining plumbing, cleaning bathroom facilities, demolishing buildings and creating a parking area. Officials spent more than $375,000 and employed 45 locally contracted workers during the project.

The brigade continues to coordinate efforts with the GoI to get pools operational and is working on refurbishing two more pools, said Smith.

“Our number one priority is security,” he stated, “and an operational pool will contribute to visible signs of normalcy for everyone.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

R&R & G&B

I've returned to (close to) sea level and I definitely prefer the oxygen content down here. We got as high as the Continental Divide (~10,500 ft).

We rested, we relaxed, we shot guns, we ate beef. Lots of beef. It was GREAT!!!

We saw lots of aminals in the wild. Ducks, geese, horsies, buffaloes, elks, coyote, antelopes, cows, doggies. And we went to a zoo, too, with the niece and nephews.

But best of all was that Jack Bauer and I got to get away and relax for the first time since he's been home. We didn't have to worry about the house selling, the moves, the school, the Army. And since our Internet access was seriously limited, we didn't have to think much about what was going on in the rest of the world. Not being perfect, some of the worries that come with the real world crept in, but we didn't let it ruin our time with his parents.

More to come.

Good News from Iraq: 8 Jun 2008

From MNF-I, Economy Booms again in Southern Baghdad.

BAGHDAD — When Army Capt. Shawn Carbone first took a good look at the economy in Iraq’s southern Baghdad province, he found it similar to his studies of America during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"Most of the historically strong businesses were gone," said Carbone, economics team leader for the Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (EPRT). "The owners had left and packed up. The businesses were shut down, and there was mass unemployment across the board."

There were many reasons for the economic troubles of Iraqis in the area the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team took control of in June 2007. A lack of security forces had left a gap that al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) terrorists filled by using the area as a base.

Farms and businesses were damaged, and violence caused many to flee -- some of whom have yet to return. Sectarian strife heated up following the 2005 elections, which left many in the area without a voice in government.

Basic needs, such as electricity and water, went largely unmet.

Carbone saw an opportunity to help turn things around. His training in economics at Niagara University, in his hometown of Niagara, N.Y., prepared him for the task of helping the citizens of southern Baghdad province.

"It's rewarding, because it's an experiment in economics," Carbone said. "This is from the ground up. It's much like our depression-era economics. I've actually sent e-mails to my professors, asking them their opinions on some of these things and researched books on depression-era economics."

After security was established, the biggest obstacle to economic recovery, Carbone said, was the centralized nature of the economy in the past. Local industries such as a chicken hatchery, a poultry processing plant and a meat processing facility, for example, received inputs from and sold their goods to the Iraqi government at set prices.

"Cooperation is the biggest thing," Carbone said. "From where I sit, these businesses are complementary. But they never had a capitalist society, which is all about bringing down costs."

Now the government is in a state of transition and moving toward free trade.

"Everyone is going through the change," Carbone said. "Some of the government systems are not yet in place, but that's where we're heading."

In an effort to revive the local economy, the Baghdad 7 EPRT worked in conjunction with 2nd Brigade Combat Team Civil Affairs, using money as their main tool. Armed with State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development funds, Soldiers and civilians on the team looked for projects that would benefit the community as a whole.

Civil affairs Soldiers used their battalion's bulk funds to stimulate individual small businesses through a series of $2,500 micro-grants. Though most of the projects focused on agriculture, which dominates the local economy and employs the largest percentage of people, other avenues were explored, as well.

Army Maj. Douglas Betts, commander of Company A, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, said Soldiers on the ground identified who could best use the grants.

"The troop commanders and company commanders are all very smart guys," Betts said. "They know what they're doing, and they know what's best for their areas."

Micro-grants were given to businesses ranging from chicken farms to Internet cafes. Most recently, a women's beauty parlor opened up in Arab Jabour, something that would have been impossible in that area until recently.

Betts said Soldiers have found other creative ways to involve women in business. One example he gave was womens’ sewing cooperatives, which grew out of womens’ committees looking for ways to employ themselves and raise revenue for their causes.

"Captain [Trista] Mustaine in the EPRT did a great job with sewing co-ops. That's a new one to me," Betts said.

"One [co-op] that I know is basically made up of war widows," Betts said. "These ladies want to do something for orphans and school children. They are actually making clothes and selling them. I thought that was pretty original."

The only condition that comes attached to the micro-grants is that business owners attend business training and meetings of their local business associations, Betts said. The formation of local business associations has been vital in helping citizens to help themselves. The focus now is in getting business owners weaned off of Coalition force’s funding and to get them working with their own government.

Basil Razzak, a bilingual, bicultural advisor with the Baghdad 7 EPRT, said it took some adjusting for local farmers and businessmen to get used to the new economic model.

"Up until now, it was all supervised by the government. Everybody belonged to the government," Razzak said. "I remember at one business association meeting, the chairman said, [to Carbone], 'You are our boss.' He said, 'I'm not your boss. I'm here to help you and support you, but it's your organization and you can conduct your meeting as you like.’"

Razzak, a Canadian citizen who grew up in Baghdad and holds a degree in administration and economics from the University of Baghdad, said the capitalist spirit is slowly, but surely, taking hold here.

"They are open to new ideas,” Razzak said. "They realize the era of state-owned business is gone. They are willing to work and cooperate."

Carbone said the stimulus Coalition forces provided to the local economy already has produced unexpected results. As more businesses reopen and new ones appear, local entrepreneurs have taken it as a sign that it's OK to reopen their shops.

"When they start to see these places opening with the help of Coalition forces, some of the people have come back and opened up on their own," Carbone said. "That's something we didn't expect."

One business owner who received significant coalition help has been encouraged to invest even further in his business. The owner of a meat processing plant in Arab Jabour received a grant to get his facility running again after shutting down operation in 2006. Prior to that, the factory employed more than 90 people.

He noted that one factory owner who received a grant then pitched in $200,000 of his own money. “The money is out there," Carbone said.

"The biggest thing was that when the owner came back to the area and saw that the security situation had changed progressively, he was more willing to reinvest and start over," he said.

Betts said he sees signs that businesses have returned to stay in the area.

"I've noticed it in the short time that I've been here," Betts said. "When we first went out, there were some shops, but there weren't that many. But I've noticed in the past several months, in Sayafiyah especially, a lot more of those businesses. They look better, and they're repainted. People are repairing their shops and restocking supplies."

Betts said the greatest benefit of the renewed prosperity was a population that was employed and able to meet their needs.

"That's the key to security. People that are able to take care of themselves and their families are not out there planting bombs and killing people for money," Betts said. "I want to see a strong economy, because that's the cornerstone of stability."