Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhones vs. IEDs

Evan tells us that sometimes he walks on patrol and sometimes rides in a HUMVEE (one of the newer armored ones-- thank-you). I thought walking would be pretty dangerous.

But an article in yesterday morning's paper noted that soldiers patrolling the streets in Iraq can be more comfortable with walking than riding in a vehicle. It seems the gangs are burying newer, deadlier IEDs and mines deeper under the streets. They 're harder to detonate so that only a heavy vehicle will set them off. An expensive bomb would be wasted if it only got a foot soldier instead of a million$ armored vehicle. And so they walk in the open for safety.

With all the hi-tech excitement about the new iPhone coming out today, I'm wondering why our great technological skills aren't mustered to protect our troops better. Maybe the Pentagon should give Apple a ring.

Leave! and car trouble on the streets of Iraq

Another call from Evan to Beth. She relays he’s doing fine. Still patrolling streets near Baghdad.

The interesting news was that he was notified he would be granted leave soon. That’s two weeks back home in the U.S. As usual for the Army, they don’t give an exact time—it could be another 6-8 weeks. But it’s something to look forward to. I remember his leave from Afghanistan, and it was a very happy time.

He mentioned he spends a lot of time taking vehicles to the motor pool for repair. The streets are rough, and Humvees are surprisingly susceptible to problems. Power steering hoses pop, and you lose control—not good.

The engine’s moving parts are connected by one long serpentine belt. If it breaks—which is common, they’re completely out of commission. It must be a pretty anxious moment to break down on an Iraqi street. I read a lot in the press how much of the army’s equipment has broken down, so I’m not surprised.

The Humvee was designed during the Cold War to cruise the cool or snow-bound paved highways of Central Europe, not the pock-marked 120 degree gravel paths of the Iraqi desert. The words of Captain Donald Rumsfeld, ring in my ears, when complained to by a soldier that the gear was inadequate, if not downright unsafe for the job: “Sometimes you have to fight a war with what you have, not what you want.” Same goes for leadership, I suppose.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How can you have 2 addresses in Iraq?

Heard from Evan yesterday via Beth. He sounds fine, but very busy. He's not involved in the actions you're reading about near Baquba in Diyala. His platoon continues its work patrolling a particular neighborhood, trying to keep the people safe there by disrupting the activities of the violent gangs. Much of this is establishing a visible, positive presence, but frequently it is acting on tips from locals about strangers in the neighborhood who may be up to no good.

One culture-bending experience last week involved a search for a particular suspect. Evan's platoon approached someone on the street and asked (through their interpreter) if this fellow lived nearby, and what was his address. The man gave an address and said he was a good person. They spoke a bit more, and then asked again to confirm the address. The man gave a different address, a few blocks away.

Ah ha, they thought, this guy's story is changing. Lying maybe? They asked him, "how can he have two addresses?" "Oh, he has two wives," the man answered.

Monday, June 18, 2007

No father's day call

Bethany heard from Evan twice last week, Wed. and Fri. which is good. No call on father's day. But then again, with over 150,000 military in Iraq who are fathers or have one they might call, it's hard to imagine the phone system could handle more than a half-second call from each person. We heard from one friend who did get a call. It lasted 30 seconds, and all they could hear from Iraq was shouting in the background of "hurry up, get off the phone!"

Monday, June 11, 2007

The gummy bear brick

Another quick story from yesterday's phone call. Evan's platoon received a 4x4 ft. box of little gifts and candy from the U.S. to give to Iraqi children. After being shipped through the 115 degree heat, the candy bars had become little packets of syrup. A large bag of gummy bears had morphed into a large single brick-- a gummy brick. But there were lots of little toys which went over well.

When sending anything to Iraq it's good to remember the heat factor. I suggest the driveway test. If it won't survive a sunny summer day on your driveway, don't send it. I'll try biscotti for his gourmet coffee. Hopefully it doesn't arrive as biscotti powder.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Evan called Beth yesterday to say he's OK, but it's tough. He's in a very active area of Iraq, and if you follow the news, things are not calming down.

He's regularly receiving books and letters from home, which are great distractions. A highlight was his receipt of freshly ground coffee from Summit. He immediately brewed a pot and relayed it was great.

There's a link to the right with Evan's wish list for items from all books and music. If you know someone who wants to support the troops, here's a good way:

Why Did Evan Join the Army?

People ask why, of all people, did my son join the Army. After all, he came from an educated, white, middle-class family and grew up in a quiet well-to-do college town where all the kids are above average, go to good colleges and get good jobs. Thousands of troops were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan—why would he want to get involved in that? Did his family—a notorious nest of liberals-- encourage or discourage him?

I don’t have the definitive answer, but the short one is that Evan really, and I mean, really cares about helping and protecting people, and does not do it half-way. He was in the safety patrol in elementary school. At age 15 he was a lifeguard certified in CPR and First Aid. He can’t pass a blood drive without rolling up a sleeve. He helped lead fasts for the hungry in high school. He played a rough defense on high school soccer and lacrosse teams. He was (and is) an avid student of world politics, diplomacy, and history. He loved team work in school, at play, summer camp, and church youth groups. He never owned a gun, but loved shooting off fireworks-- a weakness picked up from his dad.

You’ll find a lot of people like this in the military. They are not the stereo-typed jar heads some expect. They are people who are driven, or “called” to put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. They are also police officers, firefighters and rescue workers of all sorts. They are the ones you see rushing around car wrecks, like their own lives depended on saving total strangers.

As a parent, can one argue with that? Would one dare to say—“let someone else’s child do it?”

Sometimes, no matter how much we want to and try to avoid it, we need protection from ignorant, wrong-headed, fanatic, abusive, maniacal gangs in the world. When I see people confronted by those gangs; in Darfur, Bosnia, Baghdad, Kandahar, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and even Washington, D.C., I’m given hope, and am proud beyond words that there are people like my son, ready and eager to jump out and face them down.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Reading List about Iraq and Afghanistan

At one of the first dinners I had when I was in Afghanistan, with a group of Malaysians, Pakistani, East Indian, Afghans, Brits, Germans and Australians, the talk turned to politics. Someone began quoting negative statistics about the U.S. Offended, I asked where he got this ridiculous information. He replied, "The 9/11 Report, you've read it haven't you?" I said, well, no, and I couldn't think of anyone else I knew who had.

Most of this group had read it, and were astounded."You mean the most important political event in US and world history of the past 50 years and you haven't read about it?"I felt like the really dumb American so much of the world has grown to mistrust-- and vowed to get educated.

To understand American actions and policies in the Middle East and Central Asia, you have to go beyond the thin surface sensationalism of cable news, daily newspapers and weekly magazines. There are many well-researched books that detail the U.S. involvement in the "global war against terrorism."

I've picked a few that provide interesting perspectives on the politics that sent us into Iraq in Afghanistan. They are very readable. The list is to the right, and is in a somewhat historical chronological order. Each builds on the next, so the progression of how we got here and what the real threats are becomes clearer and clearer.

I'll add to this list and include a group of excellent documentaries and movies, later. We are heading deeper into a quagmire with potentially terrible consequences. Only an informed American public will make a difference.