View Full Version : Reserve grunt wears inspiration on his head

07-18-04, 07:54 AM
Reserve grunt wears inspiration on his head
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 200471774958
Story by Sgt. Matt Epright

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq(July 17, 2004) -- To most Marines it's just a 3.5-pound piece of Kevlar that keeps the shrapnel and bullets at bay. But, to one Marine here, his helmet serves a link to the past.

It doesn't quite fit his head, but he has vowed to never trade it in because it's the same helmet that was worn by the man who first taught him about the Corps.

Growing up in Bixby, Okla., Sgt. Jacob Johnston knew from the time he was 4 years old, that he wanted to be in the military.

That was when he first heard the Lee Greenwood song; "Proud to be an American," which first sparked his dream of serving his country.

When he was in the fourth grade he met Brady Redus, an older boy who helped give that dream direction.

Redus, whose father had served in the Marines, played football with Johnston's older brothers. He took the time to share his knowledge of the Corps and his family's history with Johnston.

"He was someone you want to be around," said Johnston. He was "always a leader, always looking to be the best and have a good time while doing it."

By being a role model, Redus helped Johnston to focus on his goal.

"It's something that just sparked a light in me," Johnston said. "Since the fourth grade I've wanted to be in the Marines."

Redus planned to join the Marines when he was old enough. Johnston wanted to be just like him.

That feeling that was reinforced when Redus returned from boot camp.

"He had barely changed, but now he had a sense of pride about him," Johnston said.

Seeing that small difference removed any doubt from Johnston's mind about the path he wanted to follow.

After his junior year of high school, Johnston enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. But, he had to wait until he graduated to leave for boot camp.

During his last year of school, Johnston was allowed to attend the monthly training sessions at the local reserve unit, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's anti-tank missile platoon in Broken Arrow, Okla.

The first time Johnston went to the unit, he felt lost and out of place. At school he was well known and liked. At the unit he was at the bottom of the heap.

The situation changed when a familiar voice shouted out to Johnston later that first day. It was Redus. Having finished his time on active duty he had decided to join the reserves to maintain a connection with the Corps.

Though he had been gone for almost four years Redus recognized Johnston right away and called him over to find out what he was doing there.

"I told him and he said 'Well, you're going to be with me,'" said Johnston. "It was a great feeling."

As a civilian, who had not been to boot camp yet, Johnston was the most junior man at the unit. This could have limited his opportunities to get early training on the weapons and vehicles he would be using when he became a Marine, but thanks to Redus, it didn't.

"He let me do stuff that some of the other guys weren't getting to do," Johnston said. "He acted like a big brother really."

Soon enough, the time came for Johnston to leave for boot camp.

The day Johnston returned from his training to check in to the reserve unit as a Marine, Redus was checking out to pursue a career as a firefighter in Sapulpa, Okla.

The two Marines didn't have enough time for more than a brief conversation, during which Redus apologized for having to leave right when Johnston was getting to the unit. He promised the younger Marine that he would be well taken care of.

Johnston was in such a rush checking in that he didn't closely examine his newly issued gear until he was at home later that night.

"On the back of the helmet, it said "Cpl Redus," Johnston said.

To this day, Johnston still doesn't know if he got the helmet through blind chance, or if Redus left instructions for the supply section to give his helmet to Johnston.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he had said that. I wouldn't put it past him," Johnston said.

Redus still works at the Sapulpa Fire Department. Johnston ran into him when the fire department was helping the reserve unit with the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program for Christmas 2003, just before Johnston deployed to Iraq.

Johnston still hears from Redus, though not directly.

"He's stopped by my parents' work since I've been gone and just checked in to see how I'm doing," Johnston said.

At 24, Johnston is now a vehicle commander for 3/24's Combined Anti-Armor Tank Platoon here. Through his ensuing seven years of service, he has kept the helmet as a reminder of his mentor.

"When I have to take my gear in, I'm going to go buy a different Kevlar and turn that piece of gear in and keep the one that was issued to me," Johnston promised. "Unless I find somebody else ... and then pass it on down."


Sgt. Jacob Johnston, 24, holds the helmet originally belonging to the man who inspired him to join the Marine Corps, July 11, 2004, at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. Johnston, a native of Bixby, Okla., is a vehicle commander with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Combined Anti-Armor Tank Platoon and is currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reserve infantry battalion is based in Bridgeton, Mo. The members of the platoon are from Broken Arrow, Okla., and Springfield, Mo. Photo by: Sgt. Matt Epright



Sgt. Jacob Johnston, 24, shows off the helmet originally belonging to the man who inspired him to join the Marine Corps, July 11, 2004, at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. Johnston, a native of Bixby, Okla., is a vehicle commander with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Combined Anti-Armor Tank Platoon and is currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reserve infantry battalion is based in Bridgeton, Mo. The members of the platoon are from Broken Arrow, Okla., and Springfield, Mo. Photo by: Sgt. Matt Epright



07-18-04, 07:54 AM
U.S. Strike in Fallujah Kills at Least 10

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. airstrike on a house in the restive city of Fallujah killed at least 10 people Sunday, hospital and local officials said.

Explosions rocked the city, and angry crowds gathered near the building that was hit.

Other recent attacks have targeted the home of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant blamed for masterminding car bombings and other attacks in Iraq.

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The U.S. military confirmed an airstrike but refused to provide details. It referred all calls to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, which had no comment.

"We heard the sound of jetfighters and then we heard four explosions in the house occupied by civilian residents," said Lt. Saad Khalaf of the Fallujah Brigade, a defense force guarding the city.

He said that about 10 people were killed inside the house.

"After the explosion, we rushed to the hit house and we started to search for the bodies and we could find remains that were buried later on," Khalaf said.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has promised more intense cooperation between local leaders and the Americans in rooting out terrorism.

Allawi issued an unprecedented statement July 5 after the last strike on an al-Zarqawi safehouse, saying his government provided intelligence for its location so the strike could "terminate those terrorists, whose booby-trapped cars and explosive belts have harvested the souls of innocent Iraqis without discrimination, destroying Iraqi schools, hospitals and police stations."



07-18-04, 07:55 AM
Fallujah Savors Quietest Spell in a Year

Sat Jul 17, 2:30 PM ET

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Two months after U.S. Marines pulled out, residents of Fallujah feel safe again, sleeping on their roofs to escape the heat without fear of the once-constant nighttime gunbattles, and traveling the streets without worrying they could be stopped or detained

Fallujah, they say, is savoring its most peaceful spell in more than a year. U.S. forces camped on the city's outskirts say they want to return to help out, but no one here is interested.

"If they come back, we'll fight them and die with honor," said Mohammed Hatem, 17, as he and a cousin prowled for pigeons to shoot with an air rifle they share.

His cousin, 15-year-old Youssef Joma'a, agreed: "We are improving our aim, so if the Americans return, we too can fight."

Fallujah's estimated 300,000 residents have a reputation for being tough, conservative and having little tolerance for outside authority, least of all foreign occupiers.

The U.S. military knows that. Since Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s fall last year, Fallujah remained defiant as U.S. military units came and went.

The military tried getting tough with one hand and being sensitive with the other.

U.S. soldiers waged nighttime security sweeps, storming private homes in search for weapons and fighters.

They also painted schools, installed power generators and water pumps, and distributed candy and toys to children.

Nothing worked, and Fallujah turned into a daily battleground of fighting between mujahedeen, or holy warriors, and U.S. troops. With time, it earned a reputation for being the most hostile city to U.S. troops in Iraq (news - web sites).

Things came to a head in Fallujah soon after the March 31 killings of four U.S. contractors whose bodies were mutilated — two were hung from a bridge by an Iraqi mob. The incident led to a three-week siege of the city by the Marines during which heavy fighting took place.

The city began to see peace again when U.S. Marines lifted the siege and handed over security to a new "Fallujah Brigade" made up of local residents and commanded by officers from Saddam's former army. Many of those who fought the Marines joined the brigade.

The mujahedeen, who led that fight, now wield vast influence in the city, aided by the perception that they gave Islam a rare victory over a superpower.

From an American perspective, the "Fallujah Brigade" experiment — billed at the time as "an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem" — has been a disaster. The U.S. military now says Fallujah is a den of terrorists and a refuge for foreign Muslim fighters waging global jihad against America.

"We'd like to have access to Fallujah to get many planned, high impact economic and quality of life projects underway," said Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, a Marines spokesman in the Fallujah area. "The security conditions required for that type of work do not exist in the city."

Yet fears that once the Marines left, the local militants would impose a strict interpretation of Islam proved exaggerated. Also proven unfounded were expectations that the mujahedeen would target U.S.-appointed officials — like the mayor and police chief — and kill Iraqis thought to have cooperated with the Americans. Instead, residents say the city is doing just fine.

The streets are patrolled by police and Fallujah Brigade members. Fighters wearing ammunition belts and armed with assault rifles help direct traffic. Charities have sprung up to help families of those killed during the fighting.

For the first time in months, a Friday sermon in a Fallujah mosque made no mention of the Americans, concentrating instead on a religious message: death comes when least expected, so every Muslim must be ready by performing all his religious duties.

In an implicit barb at the unelected government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Sheik Fawzi al-Obeidi ended his sermon at the Hamoud al-Mahmoud mosque with an unusual prayer "May God take away the Iraqis' lust for power and authority."

In the immediate aftermath of the Marine pullout, bands of militant Muslims sought to enforce their strict interpretation of Islam, flogging anyone drinking alcohol and raiding DVD stores selling Western movies. But their activity seems to have waned under pressure from moderate clerics, and Fallujah has returned to its normal, yet still pious, environment.

After the Americans left, Maki al-Nazzal of the city's Scientific and Cultural Forum, a non-governmental agency that promotes education and political and social awareness, said "no one ordered me to grow a beard or tried to fight the growth of civil society in Fallujah."

Speaking in a community center over the battle screams of children taking a kung fu class next door and the distant sound of an American jet flying over the city, al-Nazzal denied U.S. claims that Fallujah has become a center of terrorism.

Drawing on his experience during the fighting in April as a volunteer hospital manager, he said: "All I know is that our American liberators were sniping at civilians and the so-called terrorists were bringing them to the hospital to be treated and were donating blood."

Nazzal and others in Fallujah say they cannot rule out the presence of a small number of foreign Muslim fighters in the city, but are adamant that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian suspected of masterminding bombings in Iraq, was not here.

The U.S. military has launched repeated airstrikes on suspected al-Zarqawi safehouses here.

"If you're a Muslim who cares about the faith, you'll come and fight the foreign occupier of a Muslim land," said Ismail Khalil, a Sunni cleric. "It's all the land of Islam, be it Syria, Egypt or Iraq. But the people who defended Fallujah are the city's own sons."

However, residents have recently taken to warning visitors against "criminal" kidnappers.

Fresh graffiti belonging to a shadowy group, The Islamic Response — 1920 Revolution Brigades, which said it had kidnapped U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun in Fallujah and later freed him, could be seen Thursday at the city center. It was painted over on Friday.



07-18-04, 07:57 AM
Marines keep main supply route safe from attacks <br />
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division <br />
Story Identification #: 2004718735 <br />
Story by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen <br />
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CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq(July 17, 2004) --...

07-18-04, 07:58 AM
Marine hurt in hourlong assault

Unit attacked near Fallujah
By Rick Rogers
July 17, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Camp Pendleton Marines at a checkpoint near Fallujah were attacked yesterday morning by guerrillas firing mortars and small arms.

One Marine was slightly wounded in the assault on their bunkered position just outside the city, which started about 6:30 a.m. and lasted about an hour.

A nearby patrol rushed to the area and fought the enemy. At least six insurgents were wounded in the fight, said Lt. William Jacobs, the executive officer of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

"We didn't find any bodies, only blood trails," he said.

The battle started with a barrage of mortar fire, then about 20 guerrillas began attacking with small arms and at least one machine gun, Jacobs said. The insurgents emerged from a palm grove about 350 yards from the Marines' position along a major supply route into Fallujah.

The checkpoint post has come under regular mortar fire in recent weeks, but this was the first time that Marines there had come under assault by ground forces.

Generally, guerrillas don't trade fire with the Marines, preferring instead to attack them with mortars and improvised explosive devices that keep them out of range of the heavily armed U.S. forces.

Since the turnover of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government June 28, no 2nd Battalion Marine has been killed in action, although a number have been wounded by snipers, mortar fire and roadside bombs.

Union-Tribune staff writer Rick Rogers and staff photographer Nelvin Cepeda are accompanying Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Iraq.



07-18-04, 07:59 AM
After two Iraq wars, the question lingers: What happened to Scott Speicher?

By: RANDALL RICHARD - Associated Press

Lt. Barry Hull emerged from his F/A-18 Hornet and climbed onto the deck of the USS Saratoga, unhappy with his landing. He knew to expect better when his squadron mate, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, zoomed onto the aircraft carrier from the sky over the Red Sea.

Speicher's landing, of course, would be perfect. He was the best Navy pilot in the squadron.

Cmdr. Michael "Spock" Anderson had led the squad out of the hellfire over Baghdad. Once over the sea, he had radioed the others. All but Speicher had checked in.

Hull didn't worry at first, he remembers today. They all figured "Spike" was out of range. Hull radioed: "Come in, Spike. This is Skull. Talk to me!" Nothing. So they waited.

It was Jan. 17, 1991, a war with Iraq was beginning, and American planes were in the air. But Speicher, 33, didn't land that day. He never landed, and he never came home.

They declared him dead at first; the Secretary of Defense said it on live TV. His widow remarried, his children grew. But then doubts began to worm their way in. Odd clues surfaced. A shadowy informant told a story. After a decade, the Pentagon changed its mind: Speicher, it said, was not dead but missing or captured.

Did Speicher tumble from the sky to his death, or did he eject and survive to scrawl his initials on the wall of an Iraqi prison? Did he endure another, more intricate tale that, even now, remains untold?

The questions reached Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, the Oval Office itself. Leads were followed. Half-truths were wrung like damp washcloths. Speculation, hope, dread, cynicism -- all made cameo appearances in the saga of the missing pilot.

Eventually, with another Bush in the White House and Saddam Hussein's Iraq still an enemy, the story transcended one pilot. Speicher's case had become something more -- a small part of the rationale for another war.

In late 2002 and early 2003, as the administration of George W. Bush made its case for invading Iraq, Speicher's name began echoing again in the halls of power. Had Saddam Hussein held him captive all these years?

Saddam's government said no. But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the missing pilot -- if he was alive -- was one reason to invade. Bush himself raised Speicher's presumed capture to the United Nations.

These were only the latest in years of efforts to determine the airman's fate. But the push didn't start immediately, friends of Speicher allege. In 1991, Hull says, Speicher "had been left behind."

On the day Speicher disappeared, the military told his wife that search-and-rescue teams were looking for him, his friends say. But that wasn't happening, Hull contends, bristling at the memory.

"Part of the deal is that if I go down, by God, it's your job to come get me," Hull says. He doesn't buy the Navy's belated argument that, without a distress call from Speicher, a rescue mission would have been futile.

He asserts that the Navy knew -- or should have -- that Speicher's new radio didn't fit in its pouch and had probably been blown out of his survival vest when he ejected. Why, he wonders, didn't the military follow information from a fellow airman who had marked the coordinates of the fireball that investigators later linked to an air-to-air missile fired by an Iraqi MiG?

But as the 1991 Gulf War ended, ephemeral clues to Speicher's fate planted seeds that would sprout into a fragile culture of hope.

Tim Connolly was an army captain with the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion during Desert Storm. After the shooting stopped, he told The Associated Press, he was summoned to talk to a man who claimed to be a Kuwaiti secret police colonel.

The Kuwaiti said he had been taken to a hospital in Nasiriyah four months earlier after being captured by the Iraqis. There, he said, an American pilot was in the next bed.

The colonel offered to look at photos of captured American pilots. But Connolly said he was told not to bother: With Speicher officially dead, all U.S. pilots were accounted for.

By 1994, Connolly, then a deputy assistant secretary of state, learned of a discovery in the Iraqi desert. A group of Qataris, ostensibly in Iraq on a falcon hunt, had discovered the wreckage of an F/A-18 American warplane. They gave U.S. authorities a metal plate stamped 163470 -- the ID number on Speicher's Hornet.

A Defense Intelligence Agency satellite pinpointed the wreck site, its coordinates matching those where David Renaud, a Navy flyer, saw a brilliant flash of light in the sky the day Speicher disappeared.

Finally, something tangible to work with -- if anyone could get to the place.

Connolly urged an undercover mission to the crash site before the Iraqi government could tamper with anything that might reveal Speicher's fate.

According to Connolly, a special operations team had a plan: Slip in by helicopter at night, recover evidence and be back in Saudi Arabia before dawn. On Dec. 23, 1994, Connolly made his case to Secretary of Defense William Perry.

At that meeting in Perry's Pentagon conference room was Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who confirmed Connolly's account. Shalikashvili told Perry: "I don't want to be the one to write letters home to the parents telling them that their son or daughter died looking for old bones."

A month later, Perry notified Connolly that he had decided, instead, to ask the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange with Baghdad for a U.S. team to visit the site.

After postponing the visit three times, the Iraqis escorted investigators to Speicher's plane, Connolly said. As he feared, the site had been picked over -- either by looters or government agents.

Some items remained: the jet's data storage unit, fragments of life-support equipment and, later, a flight suit turned over by the Iraqis. But what did these items suggest about Speicher's fate? Defense Department officials couldn't agree.

That didn't sit well with Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas. He pressed the issue, and things began to happen.

To Roberts, the evidence suggested Speicher had survived and might still be a prisoner of war.

Roberts held closed hearings; and on March 27, 2001, his committee released a report re-evaluating all the evidence collected over the years. It dismissed the lack of an emergency call from Speicher as definitive evidence that he was dead. Because "press reports" during the war said that Speicher had been killed, "Baghdad probably did not feel compelled" to account for him, the report said.

"Speicher probably survived," the report added, and if he did, "he almost certainly was captured."


07-18-04, 07:59 AM
Weeks earlier, the military, in an extraordinary decision, changed Speicher's status from killed to missing -- 10 years after he was pronounced dead. Evidence cited in the committee report...

07-18-04, 10:09 AM
Strict checks for promoting fallen Marines

By Rowan Scarborough

The Marine Corps has sent a message to commanders warning against the improper promotion in rank of fallen Marines, saying the memo's new guidelines "will minimize the potential for further distress of grieving family members."
The message on Tuesday from Marine headquarters at the Pentagon indicates that some Marines killed in the war on terror may have been promoted posthumously when they should not have been, or that some family members were wrongly told that Marines would be promoted.

"There is no authority to retroactively award a promotion to a Marine who, prior to death, had not met the qualifications for promotion to the next higher grade," says the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
There have been 1,016 service member combat deaths in the war on terrorism, according to the Pentagon. Of those, 206 Marines have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11.
The memo states that, under federal law, only the president can approve posthumous officer promotions. The request must first go to the Marine commandant, the Corps' top officer. It says only an officer selected by a promotion board, but who dies before accepting the advancement, can be recommended to the president.
"Commanders, their staffs and [casualty officers] must be especially careful in responding to posthumous promotion requests of grieving family members," the paper says.
"Cases will be forwarded to POTUS [president of the United States] for consideration only where it is determined the officer's death was not due to the officer's own misconduct and that at the time of death the officer was morally and professionally qualified for promotion," the memo says.
The Marine Corps, in response to questions from The Times, provided a statement saying it "refrains from commenting on any specific posthumous promotion issues relative to deceased Marines out of respect for the privacy of family members."
The statement continued, "There have been a small number of instances where the information provided by the Marine Corps representative to the family members requesting posthumous promotion for their Marine was not completely in compliance with the policy." It said in those cases, a Marine prematurely told the family the deceased had been promoted, when in fact a decision had not yet been made.
The issue of promoting fallen Marines is a touchy one, and not all Corps members like the idea of commanders cracking down.
"What does it cost them to promote the dead?" asked an officer who has seen the message and asked not to be named. "What is the big deal? You know it would make the family feel better."
According to this Marine, there has been an unofficial policy to medically retire Marines near death so their families can collect survivor benefits.
"Posthumous promotion provisions only apply to deceased Marines," the Tuesday message states. "A Marine declared death-imminent by medical officers due to illness, injuries, or wounds cannot be recommended/approved for posthumous promotion until deceased."
Another section of the message talks about why it was necessary to issue new guidelines on an existing policy.
"Recent inquiries from Marine Corps commands and casualty assistance calls officers (CACO) regarding requests and approval authority to effect posthumous promotions indicate a need for clarification [of current policy]," the memo says. "This guidance ... will ensure the Marine Corps fully complies with statutory mandates for posthumous promotions, will minimize the potential for further distress of grieving family members, and will minimize the potential of embarrassment for the Marine Corps."
Marines play a large role in the global war on terror, deploying infantry in Afghanistan to fight Taliban and al Qaeda, and taking part in the invasion and peacekeeping in Iraq.
The Corps 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is now assigned to the dangerous al Anbar Province northwest of Baghdad.



07-18-04, 12:33 PM
MSSG-24 receives their combat load of ammo: Photo Essay
Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 20047180413
Story by Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait (July 17, 2004) -- A line of Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit snaked around a logistical vehicle system here as each Marine waited patiently for his or her combat load of ammunition July 17.

The Marines and sailors were assigned to MEU Service Support Group 24, currently making preparations for movement from Kuwait to Iraq.

The MEU arrived in Kuwait more than a week ago and has been acclimating to the harsh temperatures and preparing gear and equipment for their final movement north.


Staff Sgt. John Koger of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit passes out a combat-load of ammunition to Marines from MEU Service Support Group 24 July 17.
Koger, 29, is a Chicago native and ammunition technician with MSSG-24.
The MEU is currently in Kuwait conducting training and making final preparations for their deployment to Iraq.
Photo by: Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon


Lance Cpl. Frederico Vasquez of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit counts rounds of 5.56 mm ammunition as Marines and sailors from MEU Service Support Group 24 receive their combat-load July 17.
Vasquez, 20, is a Balwin Park, Calif., native with MSSG-24.
The MEU is currently in Kuwait conducting training and making final preparations for their deployment to Iraq. Photo by: Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon


Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit pick up their combat-load of ammunition off the bed of a logistical vehicle system July 13.
The MEU is currently in Kuwait conducting training and making final preparations for their deployment to Iraq.
Photo by: Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon



07-18-04, 01:22 PM
The art of blogging attracts a burgeoning number of fans

July 18, 2004

Five years ago, blogging was still mostly the province of a few hard-core techies on the Web. Today, it's estimated that more than 4 million people have launched Internet diaries – although a far smaller number actually blog on a regular basis.

Photoblogging is a much newer phenomenon, but it's also growing fast, especially as more gizmos such as cell-phone cameras become widely available.

Some of the biggest conventional blog-hosting sites, such as blogger.com, have added photo-posting capability, while other services are devoted solely to photo blogs.

Sean Dustman, a Navy corpsman in Iraq who publishes a text blog titled "Doc in the Box" (www.docinthebox.blogspot.com), also runs a highly popular photoblog through the Fotopages service (dustmans.fotopages.com/).

"I've always been a shutterbug, and it grew to the point that my guys (in Iraq) always wanted copies of my pictures," says Dustman, who has posted nearly 4,000 pictures of life in Iraq since he began the photoblog a year ago.

"It was easier posting them online than giving out individual pictures or e-mailing them. Three-hundred-eighty Marines – too much work for one person to handle without it being a full-time job. So here I am, the unit's unofficial photographer."

Like other hosting services, Fotopages lets users do "moblogging," or mobile blogging – e-mailing images and text directly from a camera phone or other portable device.

And what's the next wrinkle in blogs? Blogger.com has added a service called BloggerBot that allows photos to be posted via instant message. It also offers a feature called Audioblogger, which lets users call from any phone and record a message that gets posted instantly as an MP3 audio file.

Someday soon, your blog might even call you back.



07-18-04, 03:34 PM
The front line online

Military personnel offer their voices and visions from Iraq for a worldwide audience
By James Hebert

Lots of bloggers run the risk of getting flamed. Few have to worry about getting in a firefight.

For Omar Masry, a sergeant in the Army Reserve who kept a blog – an online diary – during his recent tour of duty in Iraq, fending off unfriendly e-mails was the least of his worries.

"It's probably not the most average of blogging experiences to be uploading a page update with the sound of rockets or mortars in the background and cargo planes flying into the airport," says Masry, who was part of a Civil Affairs unit doing reconstruction in Iraq.

When the war began last year, the most talked-about aspect of coverage was the official posting of reporters to military units. But the conflict also has spawned a second phenomenon related to news about the war – the rise of a breed of self-styled correspondents who could hardly be more "embedded."

Thanks to Web logs (the more formal name for blogs), soldiers in the field have been telling their stories in near-real
time online.

They post words and pictures using Internet links set up by the military for service members to keep in touch with family and friends. But unlike the letters home of wars past, these can be viewed by Internet users all over the globe.

"The Web site lets families know that their loved ones are doing all right," says Sean Dustman, a Navy corpsman who runs two blogs: a text diary and a photo blog, one of the newer trends in blogging.

Dustman, whose home base is Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, calls the photo blog his real love, and says it has grown so popular that the families of his military colleagues sometimes get on his case if he doesn't post enough.

"Sometimes I think I post more pictures than are produced by most bases," he jokes.

But more than serving as a lifeline to families back home, blogs also let service members talk about their lives in the war zone. Some offer their opinions about the war effort and the politics behind it.

Others, like Dustman, prefer just to give readers a personal glimpse of what it's like to be in the country.

"There is no real message behind my blog or photo page, except for saying we're regular people out here, too," Dustman says.

"It has increased the size of my voice – I've had more attention in the last year than I've had most of my life. If something does happen to me while I'm out here, at least I'll have left some kind of mark on the world."

Masry launched his Web log for the same reasons as a lot of other bloggers: To float some ideas, engage in debate, maybe get others to understand his point of view.

The catalyst for him was a trip he made to Kuwait on a brief leave from service in Iraq. There, Masry happened to run into two Lebanese men who had heard him talking to another soldier.

"They started asking me about how things were going in Iraq, and they had this image that every day we were launching thousands of raids, doing no reconstruction, and blowing up stuff out of sheer disregard," he recalls.

"So I realized what a narrow vision they and a lot of other people had of the situation."

Masry also was inspired by Salam Pax, the pseudonym for an Iraqi who became famous for blogging in the midst of the battle for Baghdad last year. (His story is now being shopped for a movie.)

For Masry, who is now back in the United States and finishing his degree in finance at Cal State Northridge, blogging had some unexpected consequences. Suddenly he was acting as a kind of counselor for worried parents who inquired about security in Iraq and beseeched him to check on their sons and daughters.

He also found himself struggling to strike a balance among his roles as citizen, as soldier, as commentator and as part of the story.

"I think I'm the first Arab or Muslim-American soldier who's blogging, and it's funny how sometimes I feel like I'm delving between amateur war correspondent and social studies teacher within my writings," he says.

It's difficult to estimate how many U.S. personnel are blogging from combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of the more popular sites are listed on directory Web pages such as Iraq Blog Count (iraqblogcount.blogspot.com/), but others are more obscure.

It's also hard to characterize the feel of the sites in general terms. Some offer lengthy personal observations; others focus more on politics, although the perspectives can be surprising.

"One thing I don't like is hearing conservative media figures assume all soldiers are conservatives," says Masry. "Or on the other hand, hearing liberals unable to provide a clear and logical alternative" to international conflict.

Dustman says he tries to stay away from discussing the politics of the war in his blog, although he does have a few thoughts on the matter.


07-18-04, 03:35 PM
"I'm a supporter of the war, but I don't really lean to the right," Dustman says. "I don't agree with the reasoning they used to justify it – it's the right thing to do, but there were plenty of stronger excuses than the ones the government used."

His blog entries, dated like the pages of a diary, chronicle daily life at a desert base in Iraq. There are descriptions of Friday night boxing matches; the books he's been reading (Stephen King's "Song of Susanna"); a few wildlife sightings (scorpions, snakes, camel spiders) here and there.

"The changeover of power is just a concept that's in the news, not something that's striking into everyday life," reads an entry written on Father's Day, shortly before Iraq received its long-awaited sovereignty. "We're just living day to day."

Isolation is the essence of his Iraq experience, Dustman says in an e-mail interview.

"Most of our action takes place in places that are hour-long flights away," he says. "So I don't get much contact with people that are actually on the front line, except to yell back and forth in the back of a helicopter or stop them from bleeding."

Eric Magnell's Iraq experience has been a stark contrast to Dustman's. The Army captain is a lawyer who helps sort out claims by Iraqis who say they have been harmed by the occupation.

His blog discusses some of the cases he's worked on, from the amusing (a man who claimed American troops wrongly confiscated his bicycle horn) to the tragic.

"I had a claimant come in today whose two daughters were nearby when someone exploded a roadside bomb aimed at U.S. vehicles," he wrote in an April entry. "One daughter died and the other is now blind.

"I had to explain to her that the U.S. cannot compensate her for her losses because we did not explode the bomb or cause the injuries. I know that for many of the Iraqis that's not a good excuse, and they tell me, rightly so, that these attacks would not have happened if we were not here.

"But, while we can and do pay when we negligently or wrongfully cause injuries, we cannot claim responsibility for the attacks of our enemies. And they certainly don't have a claims office set up to compensate their victims."

Magnell says he maintains the blog mainly to let his family know what he's up to, as well as give people back home a taste of daily life in the war zone.

"I didn't feel like being dragged into diatribes and arguments about the larger policies concerning the war. There are plenty of other sites that discuss and argue about that.

"I just wanted to share what life over here is like for me and the soldiers I work with. Part of it is also a desire to share a perspective of what is happening over here that is outside of the mainstream media."

The extent to which they can reveal what's happening in Iraq is something that's always on military bloggers' minds. They have to adhere to "opsec" – operational security – although there are not yet any regulations that apply specifically to blogs.

"I've been running all of the pictures that go on my photo page through the base public-affairs officer for clearance," says Dustman.

Still, the military doesn't always see eye to eye with bloggers. In February, a site called Just Another Soldier was shut down at the request (says the blogger) of the company commander.

"This blog is now offline," wrote the blogger, a National Guardsman. "I have been informed that I have violated operational security and additionally that I am smearing my unit and the Army. I, of course, strenuously disagree."

Most soldiers' blogs, though, aren't out to court trouble. Their proprietors seem more interested in staying alive, doing their jobs and sharing what they've seen and heard with the people they've left behind.

Masry says an additional unexpected effect of his blog was to inspire readers to send packages of goods to help the Iraqis whom Masry was writing about.

"It was almost like an ulterior fund-raising method," as he puts it. (Other bloggers here and in Iraq have been instrumental in setting up an organized aid effort for Iraqis called Spirit of America.)

Masry says he was amazed by the diversity of people who read and responded to the blog. He got e-mails from Egypt and Indonesia, and other chiefly Muslim countries as well as the United States.

"I was speaking to so many audiences at the same time," he says. "I was speaking to Americans who didn't have any idea of Islam, and I was speaking to Arabs who didn't realize how much the culture had devolved (under Saddam Hussein)."

But for all the audiences the service members' blogs speak to, probably the most devoted readers remain family and friends, for whom news about a deployed brother or sister or buddy is just a mouse-click away.

"My grandmother told me that out of the four years her husband was overseas, she received a total of five letters," says Sarah Sorg, Dustman's girlfriend, whose grandfather fought in Europe during World War II.

"I'd hate to be in that situation – not to have that confirmation that my loved one is fine and alive and all that."

Dustman's blog, she says, has come to be just about her only means of learning what's happening in the war zone.

"I try not to watch the news, because it scares the hell out of me," she admits. "All the helicopters flying around, and that's what he does – flies around in helicopters."

To Dustman, blogs like his are just one part of what he sees as a larger shift in the way people learn about other places and other lives.

"I think this is the latest voice of this generation, and we're still in the infancy of the blog movement," Dustman says.

"I don't think it will replace the regular sources of news, but it does give the average reader a taste of someone's life."



07-18-04, 04:43 PM
Email from a Marine in Iraq

The following is an email I received from a friend who has been stationed near Fallujah, Iraq for the last six months. Since the mainstream media can't be trusted to disseminate accurate information about events there, we'll do it ourselves: __________________________________________________ ____

To my family and friends,

It has been a while since my last report. I am now past the half way point of my deployment and the historic transfer of Coalition authority to the new Iraqi government has past. Camp Fallujah saw an increase in rocket and mortar attacks before the transfer of authority. However, they have for the most part decreased in the days since. Outside the camp Marines continue quelling every attack, finding weapons caches and rooting out the terrorist. Despite the news the tide is turning in Fallujah and we can see our success in real and measurable ways. But it will take time and the ultimate victory lies with willingness of the Iraqi people take control of their country and expel the foreign terrorists who for the most part are religious extremist trying to control the moderately religious population. There are signs this is happening.

Fallujah is not one homogeneous city. It is made of many local factions vying for power along tribal, religious or political lines. And it is made up of several foreign groups, each with its own agenda. The general population just wants to be left alone and prosper. Many of them work for us here and many more want to, despite the risk to their lives.

I got my best view of Fallujah yet last week as my convoy pass right through the Fallujah hot zone during the day. The two major rival factions were at a cease fire, so all was calm.

As a convoy commander I am becoming an expert in insurgency tactics. The Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) are becoming more common than the roadside IEDs. Given the rules of engagement and the way Iraqis drive, we are given only a few seconds to assess the threat and make critical decisions about which vehicle is a threat and which isn’t. The enemy is becoming very crafty in their tactics. During my last convoy brief I carefully went over one of the newer threats, Tire Flattening Devices (TFDs). These include everything from stakes driven in the road to nails through garden hoses and homemade spike strips. Another new innovation is the use of homemade napalm IEDs- an IED combined with a burning agent made to stick to things. Suffice to say we are very careful. I cannot describe the adrenaline rush leading a convoy through a known hot zone.

I tool two convoys out last week; one was to take a team out to visit suspected mass grave sites, which took me through the main hot zone of Fallujah twice. Three of the suspected mass grave sites were in exposed danger areas were we kept strict perimeter security and 100% alert. The other convoy was a regular, but never routine, run to Baghdad. The need for convoys is considerably down lately, keeping us road warriors off the roads.

The heat and wind are becoming a factor to deal with. The sand is like brown talcum powder and nothing seems to keep it out. The food here continues to suck. After a month of the “Iraqi Crud,” I am very careful of what I eat. I ate in one of the chow halls in Baghdad recently and rediscovered what we are missing here in Fallujah- real food.

Most of us here live in the existing buildings on this former Iraqi Military base. This is where some of Saddam’s best troops lived along with the Iranian defectors/terrorist group that gave this camp its original name, Mujahedin-e Khalq. Marines in the outlying camps really have it much tougher than here at Camp Fallujah. Many live in tents or humble facilities without air conditioning. Some literally live in the dirt and survive in what shade they can find.

On the happier side we did have our first USO tour come through in early June, Toby Keith and Ted Nugent. As with most VIPs, I was at the landing zone with my team when they arrived and we provided the security and transportation to the venue. I got to spend some time talking with them. Many of the young Marines had no idea who Ted Nugent was. Yet some of the older ones did not know who Toby Keith was. We had a Blues Band and comedian come through last week for an early Independence Weekend treat.

I received some great care packages from my family and from some of you out there. Thank you all very much! I share all of the goodies with my fellow Marines, as they do with me. I also received letter from students in Chico and in Dublin… those are very special and remind us why we fight here. I know God is on our side.

We are wondering what kind of fireworks we’ll have on the 4th, but I supposed we will just have to wait and see what comes. Below are excerpts of emails I received that describe life here. Until next time,



> Warriors,

> Chow should improve after 23 Jun 04. We have had refer trucks

> fail on the last two shipments. Entire loads of eggs, fresh produce,

> and meats were spoiled. We have enough eggs for tomorrow, but

> breakfast will be very limited, and lunch and dinner selections will

> be limited. There will be no produce until after the shipment on the

> 23rd. We have been working with PWC to track the shipment carefully.

> Previous convoys have been split up but PWC is working with their

> drivers to keep the convoys together.

> All of the chow hall workers have received their back pay and

> those who were waiting for transportation back to Jordan left the day

> before yesterday.

> KBR has brought on a new manager to improve our chow hall support.

> Semper Fi


> As you all are aware, we are having some electrical challenges in. The root cause of the problem is an undersized generator that feeds these buildings. (boring text omitted) We also expect parts today to repair another large 220v CAT generator on the camp.

> We had a mechanic out to work on the CATs a few weeks ago, but he was

> killed on the way home. (The Mujahedin have murdered some of those who work for us)


Leaders of Marines,

The attached is a list of Marines & Sailors who attempted to mail out packages from the Camp Fallujah Post Office. The container that was transporting these packages was destroyed by a VBIED. Some of these individuals may not be aware that they can file a claim either against USPS (if they purchased USPS Insurance) or against the government. Please make contact with the listed individuals and have them report to the Fallujah Post Office to complete required paperwork to start the claims process.


07-18-04, 06:22 PM
What's Fair About a Draft?

By Michael Kinsley
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page B07

The country's main reaction to the need for more troops in Iraq is that we should get other countries to help us out. In other words, draft foreigners. But events in Iraq have revived rumors and predictions that the real draft is coming back, and they have provided one of the periodic opportunities for advocates of a draft to make their case.

That case has two parts. One is fairness: When you're asking young people to disrupt their lives and risk dying for their country, that burden ought to be spread across society, not concentrated among those desperate enough to volunteer. The second argument is democracy: A volunteer army is too easy to send to war. If the decision makers of society -- politicians, business leaders, and so on -- had children at risk, a war would be a lot less likely.

The Pentagon insists that the all-volunteer military actually is a pretty good cross section of society. But that is hard to believe. And the power elite that draft enthusiasts are talking about is probably too small to be reflected in the surveys the Pentagon is talking about. At the very least, the sons and daughters of the elite don't have to sign up for any reason except a real desire to serve in the military. By contrast, economic pressure and a lack of other opportunities may lead a poor kid to join the Army even if, on balance, he might prefer a career in investment banking.

So is this unfair? Yes, of course it's unfair. But replacing the volunteer Army with a draft is an odd way to address this unfairness. The practical effect would be to deny this poor kid the opportunity he or she is currently taking, without creating any new opportunities to replace it. Meanwhile, someone else who doesn't need or want this opportunity would be forced into it. Result: two people doing something they don't want to do.

Another problem. Unless and until Bush's preemption doctrine has us fighting a half-dozen Iraqs at the same time, the military simply doesn't need most of the soldiers a universal draft would produce. The legendary unfairness of the Vietnam-era draft was more the result of the government's looking for ways to reduce the number of draftees than of actual draft dodging.

Draft enthusiasts have two solutions to this dilemma. One is a universal mandatory service program for young people in which military service would be just one option. This is truly the tail wagging the dog. You start with demographic concerns about the military and end up with a vast new government bureaucracy dedicated to forcing people against their will into jobs that mostly have nothing to do with the military.

The notion of every young citizen devoting a year or two to public service before settling down into more selfish pursuits is a pleasant one. But is this pleasant notion reason enough to justify a vast social engineering experiment and a vast bureaucratic machine to run it? Does experience offer any reason for confidence that a government agency dedicated to implanting higher values into millions of young people by finding inspirational tasks and forcing the kids to do them could actually pull this off without embarrassment and scandal?

The other way to equalize a draft is a lottery. Everyone registers, then whether you get called is a matter of luck. In a way, of course, that's how it works now. If you're lucky enough to be born prosperous or well-connected, you don't have to serve. The advantage of a draft lottery is that it would redistribute the luck for at least this one occasion. The disadvantage is that it's still luck and still unfair. Some will serve against their will, most won't have to. Arbitrary unfairness is better than systemic unfairness. But now you are disrupting lives and closing off opportunities in pursuit of a goal far short of actual fairness.

During Vietnam, the columnist Nicholas von Hoffman wrote, "Draft old men's money, not young men's bodies." His point was that in America, when you want more of something -- even soldiers -- the way to get more is to pay more. A draft allows the government to pay less for soldiers than they would cost in the free market. It is, in essence, a tax on young people. Or a pay cut for those who would have volunteered anyway. What kind of triumph of fairness is that?

As for the contention that a draft would make it harder for a president to start a war, that one can be argued both ways. A draft would subject war-and-peace decisions to an important test of democracy: Do the decision makers themselves have skin in the game? On the other hand, a volunteer army puts war-and-peace decisions to the test of the market: Can people be induced voluntarily to fight it? A volunteer army could become a mercenary force operating at the president's whim. But a draft army, always at the ready, also encourages imperial whimsy.

It's true that democracy has almost disappeared from this country's decisions about going to war. Presidents of both parties assert, with little challenge and even less justification, near-unilateral war-power authority. Congress should reassert its war powers. That would do more for democracy than drafting the president's daughters.

The writer is editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.



07-18-04, 07:42 PM
This Time, Maybe a Real Army

By David Ignatius
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page B07

BAGHDAD -- It's a hot July morning, and we're skittering over the rooftops of the city in a Black Hawk helicopter. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is gazing across miles of sand-colored houses bleaching in the sun, searching for evidence that some kind of order is returning to Iraq.

Petraeus points to the crisp, white frames of schools that America has rebuilt over the past year, to the short lines at gas stations, to the yellow trucks hauling Iraqi wheat to a refurbished grain elevator, to streets swept clean of debris so that roadside bombs can't be concealed so easily.

"I'm looking for indications of normality," Petraeus says over the roar of the helicopter. "It's what gets people productive again." We're visiting commanders of three battalions of an elite new "Intervention Force" that Petraeus is helping to create. The force will eventually have about 6,500 Iraqi soldiers who can move quickly to suppress insurgencies in urban areas, part of an overall army of about 70,000. Because their duty will be more hazardous, the members of this elite force will get about $100 more a month.

The new counterinsurgency force is one of the most important projects in Petraeus's mission to build a strong army and police that can stabilize Iraq -- and allow American troops to withdraw. Petraeus believes in this with a soldier's passion, but he knows it won't be real until it has been tested in battle.

Military analysts talk about "standing up" a new army as if it's as simple as placing toy soldiers on a board. But as the helicopter churns over Baghdad, Petraeus likens the process of military mobilization to moving a herd of cattle across a range. There are so many people and logistics, so many parts that have to be assembled, so many things that could go wrong. All a military leader can do is put the pieces in place . . . and wait.

And exhort. As he meets with each of the Iraqi battalion commanders, Petraeus repeats the same list of soldierly advice: They must share "best practices" with other commanders; they must gain the confidence of local tribal and religious leaders; they should never stop training their soldiers; they should remember that a good army serves the people, not vice versa.

Some of his admonitions may sound corny, but the Iraqis listen intently. "A tired soldier is a proud soldier." "The loyalty of your soldiers must be to their new tribe -- the military tribe." "I expect you to lead from the front in everything you do, except going through the chow line." He closes by telling each: "I look forward to going on patrol with you."

Certainly this looks more like a real Iraqi army than three previous efforts by the U.S.-led coalition that I visited over the past year. The officers have decades of experience in the old Iraqi army; many of them seem to be good leaders who try to inspire their men rather than browbeat them. And it helps, too, that since June 28, the army has been part of a sovereign Iraqi government. The Iraqi officers can now describe Petraeus and the other Americans as advisers rather than occupiers.

Lt. Col. Ali Malekey has just arrived at the Intervention Force's training camp at Taji, just north of Baghdad. He's an enthusiastic soldier who rattles off U.S.-style statistics on his battalion's readiness: ambush preparation, 60 percent ready; convoy protection, 70 percent ready. Malekey's most encouraging news is that many of his ex-officer friends are now asking how they can get into the new army.

In another barracks at Taji, Lt. Col. Safeen Abdul-Majid is preparing to deploy his battalion to southeast Baghdad in a few days. When I ask if he's sure that his troops won't run from battle, as some Iraqi units did during the uprising in April, he gives me a steely look. "I see in the faces of my soldiers the determination to fight and defend Iraq."

Finally we visit a base in southern Baghdad where the first of these battalions was deployed a few weeks ago. They've now been mortared and ambushed, and they're holding their ground. Indeed, they have responsibility for securing their small zone of the city. I ask the battalion commander, Col. Mohammed Ali Hussein, if he's ready for a real fight. "I am sure of my soldiers, and I'm sure they won't run away," he says.

All Petraeus can do now is move the guns, uniforms, advisers and Iraqi soldiers into place -- and be patient. He knows how much is riding on these soldiers, for Iraq and for America. But nobody can be sure the mission will succeed until they take their first shots.