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12-27-04, 09:21 AM
Holidays Savored Before Heading To Iraq
December 25, 2004
FORT STEWART, Ga. - For the 19,000 soldiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, whose tanks and armored Bradley vehicles led the assault on Baghdad, Iraq, last year, being home for the holidays is a bittersweet prelude to a busy new year.
In January, the Fort Stewart-based troops will begin returning to Iraq for their second tour of duty. The 3rd Infantry will be the first Army division to go back since the March 2003 invasion.
"When the information finally came that we were going to deploy after Christmas, there was definitely a sigh of relief," said Staff Sgt. David Smith-Barry, who will be among the first wave to leave. "It's definitely been a positive, good for morale."
While waiting to return to Iraq with his military intelligence unit, Smith-Barry conducted a secret mission to make the most of Christmas.
Visiting his wife in The Woodlands, Texas, during two weeks of December leave, Smith-Barry would take her to work every morning and then go shopping - for tiles and cabinets, brick and paint colors, a lot and a builder.
"I bought her a house," said Smith-Barry, grinning at the thought of his gift for his wife, Amanda. "She doesn't know anything about it."
The unit's assignment comes as no surprise to the 3rd Infantry troops at Fort Stewart and Fort Benning. The soldiers began training for a second tour almost as soon as they returned home in late summer 2003. The Pentagon officially announced their return trip last March.
Now, 15 months after the troops' homecoming, yellow ribbons again hang along with Christmas lights on utility poles in neighboring Hinesville. In early December, soldiers began loading their tanks, helicopters and other war machines onto Navy freighters bound for the Middle East.
"I believe the majority will be gone 12-14 months," 3rd Infantry commander Maj. Gen. William G. Webster said earlier this month. While much of the 3rd Infantry will not be in place for the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, Webster said his troops will play a key role in providing security for follow-up elections in the spring and summer.
A number of Fort Stewart soldiers who had planned to leave the Army after their first combat tour remain in the ranks, their enlistments extended as part of the Army's "stop-loss" program.
"I was hoping I'd be moving on," said Spc. Desmond Lackey, 21, a machine-gunner who was slated to leave the Army in March 2005 but learned last month that his enlistment has been extended until April 2006. "Personally, I'd like to get out and go back to college."
Lackey had time to spend Christmas with family in Jay, Okla. He said he particularly looked forward to seeing his grandmother, who had heart surgery this year.
"The bad thing about being in the military is you always have to have that `what if' thought: What if he didn't come home?" said his wife, Victoria. "So I wanted to make sure his grandmother and mother got to see him and tell him they love him."
During the past year, 3rd Infantry troops have trained for a vastly different type of conflict from the war they fought last year. More than 1,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, with more than 1,100 killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in May 2003.
The soldiers who are going back have been honing their urban warfare, riot-control and hand-to-hand combat skills.
"I think it's more dangerous this time, because they know us better," Sgt. Mark Matekovic, a Bradley gunner, said of the Iraqi insurgents. "Now they're not wearing uniforms. It makes it a little trickier."
Matekovic spent the week before his holiday leave tuning up his tracked vehicle, making sure its armor and weapons were in working order. Then he was leaving for Kansas to spend Christmas with his 4-year-old son, Anthony.
"It's my first Christmas with him - I already missed three," said Matekovic, who spent the 2002 holidays in Kuwait during the buildup to war. "I have to try to be a part of his life."
12-27-04, 09:22 AM
U.S. Marines Battle Taliban
December 27, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban forces set off explosions as American military convoys rumbled down two roads in southern and eastern Afghanistan, injuring one Marine and damaging a vehicle, officials said Monday.
The first attack occurred Friday in eastern Kunar province, said Maj. Mark McCann, an army spokesman. Some 40 rebels set off a roadside bomb, then opened fire on the convoy, injuring the Marine. His name was not disclosed, but McCann said his injuries were not life-threatening.
"The Marines responded - obviously they defended themselves - and launched a quick reaction force to bring them more ammunition," McCann said.
On Sunday, rebels set off a bomb on a road in southern Kandahar province, damaging a Humvee but causing no casualties.
Fighting between Taliban rebels and Afghan forces left at least four people dead last week, while 17 rebels were captured.
The Taliban was unable to carry through on its threat to disrupt October elections or the inauguration earlier this month of Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's first democratically elected president, leading to speculation that the group is in decline.
But the rebels have kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks since it was ousted in 2001, but the level of fighting has dropped in recent weeks, partly due to the onset of winter.
McCann said more and more Afghans are coming forward to inform on the rebels, leading to the confiscation last week of several big weapons caches and the arrests of three men planning attacks in eastern Nangarhar province.
12-27-04, 09:22 AM
U.S. Troops Thankful For Families
December 27, 2004
ATLANTA - U.S. troops returning here from Iraq and Afghanistan on Christmas didn't complain about long deployments, a lack of protective armor and other aspects of the war effort. They were just happy to be with family.
About 250 soldiers stepped off a flight from the Persian Gulf to a cheering crowd of family members and United Service Organizations workers dressed as elves in a terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Frederick George, 37, was among those returning for two weeks of rest and recuperation. The Alabama Army National Guardsman from Dothan, Ala., said he had all the supplies he needed during the nine months he's spent in Iraq working in support and maintenance.
George was referring to criticism from soldiers and others about troops being forced to salvage materials to outfit vehicles with makeshift armor to protect them from roadside bombs and insurgents' rifles.
"The negative that's in the news, that's not what it's all about," George said. "We built our own armor, so the armor is there."
Army 1st Lt. Ben Kirby, of Acworth, Ga., hugged his mother after eight months in Afghanistan registering voters, aiding in humanitarian efforts and searching for Taliban. His leave is for two weeks.
"The combat and violence has died down a lot in Afghanistan," said Kirby, 25. "It's now about nation-building and getting people on our side."
His mother, Martha Kirby, said she was glad he was home safe for the holiday. "It's a great Christmas present," she said.
As troops arrived to spend the holidays with their families, others were headed back to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait having completing their two weeks of R&R.
Army Pfc. Chris Gifford, 32, of San Antonio, Texas, said it was not easy to leave family to return to the war in Iraq: "It's a pretty tough goodbye," he said.
Asked if he had any complaints, Gifford said the media has hindered the military's ability to fight the war.
"You can't do your job the way you want being watched all the time," he said. "This is war. This isn't a tennis match."
12-27-04, 09:23 AM
All is calm in Ramadi as Marines celebrate Christmas
By Gordon Trowbridge, Marine Corps Times
For the Marines of Snake Pit, Christmas Day was ham and sweet potatoes, calls home on the satellite telephone and the company commander in a Santa suit.
The day after Christmas was back to reality: a long patrol through muddy, trash-strewn alleys of this Iraqi city, about 60 miles west of Baghdad. It is one of the most troublesome for U.S. forces and most friendly to insurgents.
Snake Pit, a fortified position that had been an Iraqi government compound on the main highway through Ramadi, is home to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
Sunday afternoon, 2nd Lt. Ryan Schramel led the company's 2nd Platoon through a post-holiday sweep of a neighborhood on Ramadi's west side, knocking on doors, giving handfuls of candy to neighborhood children and asking about rebel activity.
"We usually don't get much (information) from these sweeps," said Schramel. "It's more a matter of presence, letting them know we're here and we're going to be around."
Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, is one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq (news - web sites) for the Marines and Army soldiers based here.
Just before the holiday, insurgents chased Iraqi police out of their station and neighboring government building before blowing up both structures. Firefights and roadside bombs are constant dangers.
The Marines attempt to combat the insurgency with patrols such as Sunday's, a three-hour stroll through a residential area near the police station attacked last week.
The patrol's start gives some idea of what Marines here confront. They stepped through a wall in their observation-post compound and into a 100-yard-wide field of ankle-deep mud - a drainage field for sewage from nearby homes.
While parents warily looked on, neighborhood children ran to the Marines pleading, "Mister! Mister!" with their hands outstretched for candy. Marines doled out packages of candy and cookies, some from their own Christmas care packages.
Schramel stopped at several homes, knocked on locked outer gates and asked through an interpreter if insurgents had been about.
"Same story every place," Cpl. Kyle Farwell, a platoon squad leader, said after one fruitless interview. "Nobody's seen anything."
Echo Company had spent a quiet Christmas holiday, part of a lull in activity since the November assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, just to the east.
Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, stopped by the base just in time to see Lance Cpl. Adam Suave taking part in firing-range drills, dressed not in his digitally camouflaged Marine uniform but in a bright red Santa suit.
Despite a meal of ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce trucked in from a nearby base for the occasion, several of the young men, and many more experienced Marines, said the time away from home hit harder on the holiday.
"It's hard on us," said Gunnery Sgt. Adebol Osinowo, a father of three who cited a list of exotic locales where he had spent Christmas during his Marine career. "But it's even harder on the families."
12-27-04, 09:23 AM
Bush Calls And Thanks Service Members
December 27, 2004
Stationed on the farthest island in Alaska's Aleutians, Coast Guard Fireman Michael Joseph feels like he's living at the end of the earth. But he wasn't too far away to receive a Christmas Eve greeting from President Bush.
"First thing he said was, 'Michael, Merry Christmas," said Joseph, 24, of Tucson, Ariz., one of 20 men at the Coast Guard's Loran Station Attu. "It was great."
Placing calls from his mountaintop retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush talked to 10 members of the U.S. military around the world and in the United States to thank them for their service and share holiday greetings.
Joseph told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his name was among those submitted for the honor of receiving a call from Bush. He said he was surprised and elated to learn two weeks ago that he would be among those talking to the president on Christmas Eve.
Joseph, who has been stationed on the Aleutian island for nearly nine months, awoke at 2:45 a.m. local time to prepare for the call at 4:15 a.m., which at Camp David was 8:15 a.m. EDT. The conversation lasted three or four minutes. He said Bush told him, "I want to say thanks for your service out there and the sacrifice you're making."
Bush asked about the island, its weather and the Coast Guard mission there, Joseph said. After the president finished, the Camp David operator connected Joseph to his wife, Amanda, in Tucson.
"It was pretty nice just to know that all the hard work that we do out here gets recognized by the president," Joseph said. "Not many people back home where I'm from can say they've talked to the president."
Bush placed the calls to the service members, including six stationed in Iraq, on Friday morning from the western Maryland retreat where he was to spend Christmas Day. He is to fly to his Texas ranch on Sunday, where aides say he plans to relax until after the new year.
"As these members of our armed forces sacrifice to protect our freedom and liberty, the president wanted to express his gratitude for their service and sacrifice and to wish them all a merry Christmas and happy holidays," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius told reporters in a conference call.
Here are the names of the nine other troops Bush called:
-U.S. Army Pfc. Kenneth L. Vest with the United Nations Command Security Battalion at Camp Bonifas in South Korea.
- U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric A. Julian with the 300th Area Support Group, 736th Transportation Company, stationed in Talill, Iraq.
- U.S. Marine Cpl. Robert Restaino Jr. with the Reconnaissance Platoon, 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable, II Marine Expeditionary Force stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps Forces in the Atlantic.
- U.S. Marine Cpl. Malcolm N. Hedgepeth with Headquarters Battery, 2d Battalion 10th Marines, Provisional Infantry Battalion, stationed in Iraq
- U.S. Navy Hospitalman Roman R. Cruz with Bravo Surgical Company, Combat Service Support Group 15, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq
- U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael D. Watts, a hospital corpsman with SEAL Team Three of the Naval Special Warfare Task Group, stationed in Iraq.
- U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Santiago James Fontanez with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Baghdad, Iraq.
- U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Benjamin J. Miller with the 16th Logistics Readiness Squadron of Hurlburt Field, Fla., deployed in Iraq
- U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa M. Johnson on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, MUNRO homeport, Alameda, Calif.
12-27-04, 09:24 AM
Suicide Bomber Kills 9, Wounds 39
December 27, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber detonated his car Monday at the gate of the home of the leader of Iraq's biggest political party, killing nine people and injuring 39, police said. The cleric was unharmed.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq - the country's most powerful Shiite political group - was in his residence in Baghdad's Jadiriyah district when the attack occurred, said his spokesman, Haitham al-Husseini.
The blast, which shook the district and sent a cloud of smoke high above the area, killed nine people and injured 39, said a police commander on the scene who declined to be named. Thirty-two cars on the street and near the gates were destroyed or damaged.
"It was a suicide attack near the gate leading to the office," al-Husseini said. "Several of the guards were killed and wounded."
Hakim also heads the candidate list of the 228-member United Iraqi Alliance coalition, which is expected to dominate Iraq's new constitutional assembly following the first free elections on Jan. 30. The coalition is supported by Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The residence, where Hakim has his home and offices, was previously the house of Tariq Aziz, a jailed former senior aide to Saddam Hussein who has been in prison since April last year.
Political and religious leaders of the Shiite community, who strongly back the holding of next month's vote, have been repeatedly targeted by the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents since Saddam's ouster.
The Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, have traditionally been dominated by the Sunni minority, which accounts for about a fifth of the population. Their leaders are eager to translate that numerical superiority into political power after next month's ballot - the first free elections since the overthrow of the monarchy 45 years ago.
In August 2003, a suicide bomber killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, elder brother of Abdul Aziz and former leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Like his late brother, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim is a Shiite cleric who opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran before returning to Iraq after last year's U.S.-led invasion.
Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier died of wounds Monday and another was injured in a roadside bomb explosion in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The latest casualty brings to at least 1,324 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003.
The violence came a day after the Iraqi militant group Ansar al-Sunnah Army posted a video on the Internet purportedly showing footage from last week's suicide attack at a U.S. base in Mosul. The group claimed that the bomber slipped into the base through a hole in the fence during a guard change.
The footage showed a black-garbed gunman wearing an explosives belt around his body - apparently the suicide bomber, identified in the tape as Abu Omar al-Mosuli - bidding farewell to his comrades. The video gives no further details about the bomber beyond his name.
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army had earlier said it would release a video of last Tuesday's attack, which killed 22 people, including 18 U.S. service members and civilian contractors.
The bombing - the deadliest attack on a U.S. base in Iraq - has prompted a U.S. military investigation into how the bomber got onto the heavily guarded site and how security at bases can be improved. Three Iraqi National Guardsmen and a fourth "non-U.S. person" were also killed. The military has not said whether that fourth man was the bomber.
The U.S. military has said the attacker probably was wearing an Iraqi military uniform, and one general said the Iraqi security forces may have been infiltrated. The Iraqi chief of staff, Gen. Babaker B. Shawkat Zebari, said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press that the bomber may have bought a uniform from the market but was not a member of the Iraqi security forces.
In the first section of the video - with a time signature of Dec. 20, a day before the attack - three gunmen wearing black masks and clothes and holding automatic rifles are shown sitting in front of a black banner with the group's name on it. One of them, apparently al-Mosuli, sits on the left, wearing an explosives belt.
The gunman in the center reads a statement describes how the attack will be carried out. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
"Let Bush, Blair and Allawi know that we are coming and that we will chase them all away, God willing," he said, referring to President Bush and prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Ayad Allawi of Iraq.
The two men then embrace the one wearing the explosives belt.
An image then shows a map of the base, as one of the gunmen points out locations using a military knife. One location is marked "the dining hall" in Arabic.
A later outdoor video image - shot on Tuesday, when the attack occurred - shows a fireball rising from the distance with the accompanying sound of the explosion. A final image - shot from a vehicle driving past the base - shows the torn white tent that served as the base mess hall.
12-27-04, 09:24 AM
Marines Say 2 Captured Rebels Have Al-Zarqawi Ties
Suspects Said To Have Executed 11 Iraqi Soldiers
POSTED: 2:55 pm EST December 25, 2004
UPDATED: 11:22 am EST December 26, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American officials say they've captured two rebel leaders in Iraq who are tied to a high-profile Jordanian militant.
A statement from the U.S. Marines says they've caught "cell leaders" for a group tied to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The statement said the leaders are from a group operating in the region around Fallujah.
It said the group "kidnapped and executed" 11 Iraqi National Guardsmen, set bombs and carried out other attacks around Ramadi, and "smuggled foreign terrorists into the country."
12-27-04, 09:25 AM
‘We have to make every day Christmas’
Chaplain, others look to lift sparse spirit in war zone
By Gordon Trowbridge
Times staff writer
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq — The young man was dying, and words failed the Rev. Ron Camarda.
The Catholic chaplain had been brought to the bedside of a soldier wounded in the streets of Fallujah — a man clinging to life, his body ravaged by giant chunks of metal.
“I knew,” Camarda said, “that I needed to tell him that I loved him.” But even in such extreme circumstances, the Naval Reserve lieutenant commander hesitated to speak, unsure exactly what to say.
And so, on a bad day in November, Camarda thought of Christmas, and softly began to sing:
“Oh holy night/ The stars are brightly shining/ It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining/ Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.”
“And he peacefully passed away,” Camarda said, his voice cracking with emotion. “In a place like this,” he said, “we have to make every day Christmas.”
Across Iraq, military chaplains will enter makeshift chapels on the morning of Dec. 25 and pray for peace on Earth in a land where peace continues to be in painfully short supply.
The men and women to whom they will minister describe a brew of emotions: Christmas as a touchstone and reminder of better things to come; or as an unwelcome reminder of family and friends far away; or as simply another day of difficult, dangerous work.
“It’s just another day,” said Cpl. Charles Lambert. “I don’t even feel the spirit.”
Between work as a military police officer back in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and his deployment to Iraq, the 23-year-old will have missed Christmas celebrations each of his four years in the Corps. He says he’ll try to get his fill of Christmas spirit with a holiday call to his wife, a student at the University of North Carolina.
“I used to try to go home, see all the Christmas lights. That was the sign that Christmas was coming,” said Lambert, of Morgantown, N.C.
Such signs are few here and, even then, often reflect the war zone as much as the holiday. One group of Marines built a Christmas tree of camouflage netting, while in the I Marine Expeditionary Force public affairs office, a miniature tree decorates a counter alongside the twisted remains of an artillery rocket that landed a few yards from the office in October.
But being Marines, the troops here are adapting — even to the fact that families are thousands of miles away.
“Your platoon becomes your family,” said Pfc. Francesca Langston, 23, of Orlando, Fla. “All you’ve really got out here is who you’re with.”
Others try to take advantage of their unusual surroundings.
“My kids are excited; I’ve sent them a whole lot of presents from that gift shop,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Gregory Serdynski, pointing to an on-base shop offering Iraqi-themed paintings, rugs and trinkets.
Serdynski, 24, of Gulfport, Miss., and a colleague, Lance Cpl. Ian Wilson, 23, of Batesville, Ark., helped build the camouflage tree in the combat engineers’ shop. But sometimes, their co-workers would rather not have it there.
“I’ll walk in, look at my watch and say, ‘Only nine more days till Christmas,’” Serdynski said. “And they’ll say, ‘Doc, don’t remind us.’”
Serdynski, though, says everyone here needs a little reminder.
“Just tell everyone, all the troops over here, ‘Merry Christmas,’” he said to a reporter. “I know it’s hard out there. But hopefully what we’re doing over here can make for a lot better Christmases back home.”
Gordon Trowbridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12-27-04, 09:26 AM
Almost 1,500 Fallujans have returned to war-scarred home: marines
BAGHDAD (AFP) Dec 25, 2004
Nearly 1,500 people have returned to the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah since the US military and Iraqi government started to welcome back the inhabitants of the war-torn city, the US marines said Saturday.
With most of the city badly damaged in last month's fighting to reclaim it from insurgents, the US-backed Iraqi government is allowing people to return only to the Al-Andalus district, while the rest of the city remains closed.
But so far, the number of returning residents is far fewer than what had been an anticipated 2,000 people. On Saturday, lines of cars waited in thick mud to enter the city.
"More than 480 residents returned to their homes in the Al-Andalus district of the city under the supervision of Iraqi and US forces yesterday, which brought to 1,404 the total number of residents who have returned to the city in the past two days," a marine statement said.
Residents have lined up at checkpoints around Fallujah, gripping their identification papers, as they hope to head home after months of violence that climaxed in the November US offensive.0
But fighting between marines and insurgents still erupts in the city. Violence flared Thursday and Friday as people waited to re-enter Fallujah for the first time.
Despite the wishes of the US military and Iraqi government to foster goodwill, some locals coming home have had bitter words about conditions.
Omar Jassim, 30, said his home was largely intact but all the furniture had been gathered in one room and burned.
"I have come back to assess the situation on my own without my wife and child," Jassim said. "We are not coming back to a ghost town without power or water."
12-27-04, 01:35 PM
Marines from Adrian deploy goodwill to Kosovo village
-- In a "Toys-for-Tots" style program, two Adrian Marines brighten the holidays of families in Kosovo.
By Technical Sgt. Dean J. Miller, Kosovo Force Press Information Office, U.S. Air Force -- Special to The Daily Telegram
PRISTINA, Kosovo -- Goodwill and gifts from the American people were delivered to residents of Gornje Gadimlje Village, Kosovo this week by American forces, including two Adrian men, deployed here as part of the NATO multinational peacekeeping force, "KFOR."
The peacekeepers arrived by military convoy on Dec. 19, and within two hours, more than 250 villagers received large boxes of gifts packed specifically for each family. After sincere handshakes and with large smiles, villagers carried the boxes home.
Most Americans deployed here, prior to this holiday humanitarian mission, hadn't witnessed this level of poverty before. Children played in fresh snow without warm clothing or boots, and garbage and raw sewage littered village streets.
In the finest spirit of the U.S. Marine Corps, and echoing of a "Toys-for-Tots" style program, two U.S. Marine corporals -- one finishing his tour of duty here and his replacement -- led, and continue to lead, the charge to help.
Marine Cpl. John Price and Marine Cpl. Adam Parker are from the same hometown of Adrian and were both deployed from the same base and same unit -- Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, G6, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
Cpl. Price returned home this week, ending his six-month tour of duty in the Balkans, while Cpl. Parker is still in the first days of his first NATO mission and first-ever Marine Corps deployment.
Price served and Parker now serves on the KFOR Headquarters, J6 Computer Helpdesk, ensuring command networks remain fully operational, 24-hours a day. Only two U.S. Marines are normally assigned to this location, but a family of U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen joins them.
Like many Americans deployed to this KFOR Headquarters base in Pristina, when Price told family and friends about conditions of the Kosovo people, relief supplies of clothes, shoes, personal hygiene items and toys poured in by U.S. mail, quickly filling a small warehouse.
NATO soldiers deployed to Kosovo since 1999 have regularly conducted year-round efforts to help local people. For Kosovars, quality of life varies significantly from one village to another, and from one ethnic group to another. But after a site-survey visit by a multinational team of soldiers in late November, it was obvious the situation in Gornje Gadimlje Village was particularly tragic.
As the generosity of the American people filled the base warehouse, Irish soldiers of nearby Camp Clarke asked the Americans here to visit Gornje Gadimlje Village and consider it for a humanitarian project. The Irish soldiers routinely patrol the area and knew the families by name.
The course of action was obvious and a plan set in motion: American soldiers loaded the donations into vehicles on Saturday and drove to the Irish Camp Clarke. There, soldiers of the two nations separated the donations and prepared boxes customized to the size and need of each family.
For Price, the contribution to the customized boxes was a personal one, as his mother provided an entire box of handmade teddy bears for the Kosovo children.
As distribution went on, American forces focused on the villagers and enjoyed the spirit of the season under the security umbrella of patrolling Irish soldiers -- an example of NATO teamwork within KFOR.
Five years into the NATO peacekeeping effort here, KFOR includes 18,000 soldiers from 34 nations and is lead by French Army Lt. Gen. Yves de Kermarbon, Kosovo Force Commander.
"The situation in Kosovo is now calm but remains fragile, and we work everyday in close contact with all people of Kosovo to improve security conditions," de Kermarbon said. "In fact, security is the basis of any improvement in Kosovo."
According to the KFOR Commander, KFOR soldiers continue to take all necessary actions to maintain a safe, secure environment in Kosovo, and the force maintains the full capability to respond quickly in the event ethnic tensions flare. At the same time, his force continues its efforts to maintain close communication with the people, listening to them and assisting them.
The Adrian natives, both on their first Marine Corps deployments, reflected on their experiences in this unique NATO mission.
"Supporting the NATO users from the different nationalities, experiencing the different cultures, and keeping the computer network running smoothly is my mission here," Parker said. "It's proving to be a highly positive experience. At the same time, I am here to do my part in creating a better life for all Kosovo citizens here through humanitarian projects and peacekeeping mission, so I was grateful for the opportunity to help the villagers."
Parker deployed to Kosovo in early December.
"The multi-national mission experience here has been unique," Price said. "Working with all the different nations and learning the different lifestyles of the armed forces from other countries has been provided me with a new outlook on the world.
"I have made many international friendships, and supporting the Kosovo villagers just before the holidays, so close to the time I was to leave Kosovo, was a great moment in my life," Price said.
12-27-04, 02:33 PM
Poll shows troops support war
By Neal Boortz
Dec. 27, 2004
The left and the mainstream media have painted this picture in the press over the holidays that all of these poor, victimized souls are stuck serving their country in Iraq. The implication is that they don't want to be there, and don't believe in the mission. Now, granted, they'd probably rather be at home, but that's not what this is about. We're supposed to believe the war is unpopular with the rank and file.
Well, guess what...a recent poll shows just the opposite. According to a Military Times poll, 63% approve of the way President Bush is handling the war and 60% remain convinced it is a war worth fighting. 87% say they're satisfied with their jobs and only 25% say they'd leave the service. Doesn't square with what's being reported, does it? It's sure beginning to look like the leftist propaganda being churned out by the media in this country doesn't cut it. Then again, it never did.
How about some more statistics? 75% of the military folks polled oppose the draft. Again, these are soldiers that are already serving in the field. And what about the body armor shortage? Who do they blame for that? George Bush? Donald Rumsfeld? Nope. 60% blame the body armor shortage on Congress. By the way, for the most part, there isn't an armor shortage. Oh...and one more: who do the troops blame for Abu Ghraib? Doesn't seem like they really care....only 12% blame policymakers at the Pentagon.
So, the facts are in. The troops support the mission, and they support the president. Kind of makes it more difficult for liberals to portray the troops as the victims in Iraq. Of course, they'll do it anyway and as usual, the media will let them get away with it.
12-27-04, 02:34 PM
Fallen Marine Snubbed for Award
WIVB TV4 Buffalo
(December 27, 2004) - - Despite winning the popular vote on an e-poll, a fallen Marine from the Southern Tier is being snubbed for the site's most inspiring person award.
Corporal Jason Dunham led all nominees at the beliefnet-dot-com website, but the editors at the website instead selected former NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman.
Dunham was a Scio High School graduate who died while serving in Iraq when he threw himself on grenade to save the lives of two Marines.
The People's Choice Award - Cpl. Jason Dunham
Though thousands of soldiers serving in Iraq exhibit bravery in combat every day, Cpl. Jason Dunham’s selfless act of courage made him a candidate for the first Medal of Honor to be awarded since 1993.
On April 14, Dunham, 22, was on a mission with his Marine unit in the Iraqi town of Karabiliah when reports came in of an insurgent attack against another group of Marines nearby. Dunham’s team went in search of the perpetrators in an attempt to stop the attack. When they came upon a line of Iraqi vehicles, the team checked each one. One vehicle’s driver, an Iraqi, lunged out of the driver’s side, and he and Dunham wrestled to the ground. Other Marines at the scene rushed to help, but one heard Dunham yell, “No, no, no—watch his hand!”
The Iraqi was holding a hand grenade, which was on a hair trigger. When the insurgent released the grenade, Dunham threw his helmet and his body over the weapon, taking the brunt of the explosion. Eight days later, with his parents at his side, Dunham died from his injuries.
Dunham, a native of Scio, New York who has been nominated for the military’s highest honor, re-enlisted in the Marines last July so that he could remain in Iraq for his battalion’s entire tour. The Wall Street Journal reports that a colleague of Dunham’s asked him why he was extending his tour.
"I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive. I want to be sure you go home to your wife alive," Dunham told his friend.
12-27-04, 02:41 PM
Former Marine Makes Waves
By MARK HOLAN
NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - It's been a whirlwind year for Matthew Paul McCaffery.
Last December, he was honorably discharged from the Marines after marching into Iraq and muddying the marble floors in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.
Back home, he landed a supermarket produce department job and enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Then in April, the 22-year- old McCaffery upset incumbent Scott Chittum for a place on the five-member city council.
He slowed down in September to recover from an emergency appendix operation.
``Everything has happened so fast, I haven't even had time to think about,'' McCaffery said. ``It hasn't all soaked in.''
McCaffery said his first weeks as a city councilman were a ``crash course'' in local government, much more intense than his political science classes.
Former city manager Gerald Seeber assigned boxes of budget books and other documents to study.
``Like a lot of people elected to office, they don't know a lot about municipal government,'' Seeber said. ``He's no different than someone in their 30s or 40s.''
The cramming eased by June, as Seeber left town for a new job near Orlando.
``I started to get the gist of it,'' McCaffery said. ``Now I've weaned myself off the cheat sheets, and I've got the lingo down.''
After eight months of his two-year term, McCaffery says he's ready to make a mark in the city with issues such as annexation and the new recreation center.
``I love it,'' he said of the part-time council job that pays $3,600 annually.
``It's like people say, `Why do you want to join the military?' It's public service. It's a good feeling.''
McCaffery's tenure already has included a major chore missed by many previous council members: helping pick the city's first new manager in 16 years to replace Seeber.
The age and experience gap between himself and the half dozen midcareer manager candidates in their 50s was ``a little comical,'' McCaffery said.
``I wanted to ask the right questions,'' he said. ``A good question is a good question asked by someone of any age.''
He said the departure of three other top administrators in Seeber's wake wasn't too unsettling.
``[Seeber] prepared me that others would leave,'' McCaffery said. ``I realized that this stuff happens and that we would be fine.''
McCaffery said the transition from Seeber to Interim Manager Philip Deaton to new City Manager J. Scott Miller went remarkably smoothly.
Since April, McCaffery also has voted on the $32 million annual budget and deliberated on Main Street Landing, a major downtown development.
He missed voting on the city's $1.5 million contribution to the project. McCaffery said he missed the meeting because of his grandmother's sudden illness.
At another meeting, some residents winced when McCaffery described the city's small- town atmosphere as ``Beaver Cleaverville.'' Other times, he has shown restraint from commenting on issues that already have been talked to death.
``I thought he gave it his serious attention and was making a positive contribution,'' said Deaton, 68.
Joan McCaffery, 48, a single mother, moved from Philadelphia to Cape May, N.J., and finally to Florida about the time Matt was in first grade.
They don't discuss his father.
``Since [Matt] was a child, he had a magnetic personality,'' his mother said. ``When the other kids wanted to play basketball or something, they said the game would only go right if Matt was there to stop fights and other trouble.''
Joan McCaffery said she wasn't surprised when her son entered the Marine Corps shortly after graduating from Gulf High School in 1999.
McCaffery described himself as a ``class clown'' who enjoyed exceeding the low expectations of others, whether it was how he performed in school or if he could survive basic training.
He spent most of his Marine career guarding nuclear weapon installations before being deployed to Iraq in March 2003.
His unit reached Baghdad as the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled, McCaffery said, though he missed the event while on patrol in another part of the city.
McCaffery left the country a few months later. He doesn't like giving his opinion about what's happening in Iraq.
Seeber said McCaffery's desire to serve the community appeared to be a ``natural progression'' from his duties as a Marine corporal.
``It was like having a bunch of kids,'' McCaffery said of his responsibility for small groups of 18- and 19-year-old grunts.
``You have to make sure people get food, get their pay, take care of them if they get sick, or their girlfriend breaks up with them, or their grandmother dies. It's a lot bigger responsibility than just combat.''
Michael Long, an assistant professor of history and political science at Pasco-Hernando Community College, said veterans typically have more maturity than other students.
``What I remember most was [McCaffery's] maturity and interest in local government and wanting to be a participant,'' Long said.
``He was a good student. He exhibited a lot of interest.''
McCaffery said he already has decided to run for re-election in 2006.
The registered Republican said he didn't have a political mentor, but he is building a career he hopes will lead to the White House.
``I always told him he could grow up to be president,'' Joan McCaffery said.
A year after attending a ``Rally for America'' event in Clearwater, waving a sign pasted with photos of Matt, Joan McCaffery attended her son's April swearing in ceremony at city hall.
She hasn't been back to a council meeting since.
``He doesn't need his mom in the back of the class,'' she said.
But she does sneak a peek at her son on cable television broadcasts of the council meetings.
``He just lights up,'' she said.
``For some reason, it's in his blood. He really enjoys it.''
Reporter Mark Holan can be reached at (727) 815-1082.
12-27-04, 05:07 PM
Untaxed income to be listed separately for combat troops
By Vince Crawley
Times staff writer
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service plans to list untaxed combat-zone income on troops’ W-2 tax statements being released in January so service members can determine their eligibility for special tax credits.
Military personnel generally owe no federal income taxes on pay earned in a designated combat zone — currently Southwest and Central Asia as well as the Balkans.
As such, DFAS will not include combat pay as taxable wages on Block 1 of the W-2 statement. Instead, the untaxed pay will be listed separately on Block 14, finance service officials said in a statement Dec. 21.
The Internal Revenue Service says untaxed combat-zone pay should be marked with the code letter Q in Block 14. Eligibility for the federal earned-income tax credit (EITC) and federal child tax credit (CTC) is based on gross income, which includes pay earned while in a combat zone, DFAS officials said.
For service members on active duty, the 2004 W-2 forms should be available online by mid- to late January and will be mailed to service members between Jan. 18 and 24.
The EITC is mainly aimed at helping low-income households, but the IRS has extended the benefit to many middle-income military families because they do not have to report food or housing allowances when calculating their eligibility.
12-27-04, 11:00 PM
Mortuary Unit in Iraq trying on Marines
Dec. 27, 2004
When U.S. servicemen and insurgents die in Fallujah, the bodies are brought back to camp and laid on a concrete floor under a tent hidden behind blast walls topped with concertina wire. The sign outside says: "Do Not Enter."
Five men check the corpses and put them in refrigerators. Within 72 hours, the slain American will arrive at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base in a flag-draped coffin, while the Iraqi will be buried in a plot outside Fallujah facing Mecca.
This is the work of Mortuary Affairs, the Marine unit that catalogues the remains of American servicemen who die in combat, referred to as angels, as well as the Iraqi guerrillas they fight and civilian victims. These Marines must cope with one of the most psychologically punishing but unavoidable tasks of war.
They are shunned by their peers because of a superstition that contact with them brings bad luck. Yet some don't want to go home and leave their fellow Marines who are among the few who have witnessed the same horrors. They must try to stay sane even as they are confronted with the effects of gruesome killings by the shrapnel-filled roadside bombs set by insurgents and terrible U.S. firepower.
"Some of the guys, when it gets dark, don't want to go out by themselves. Sometimes they feel like somebody's watching them when they know there isn't," said Lance Cpl. Boyce Kerns, a 24-year-old from Greenville, S.C. "Some of the stuff we've seen you wouldn't see in the worst horror movies and it leaves a little imprint."
It may be unsettling for soldiers and Marines to pass the Mortuary Affairs compound as they prepare to go out into Fallujah's dangerous streets. But the unit's presence here reflects a change in thinking meant to cut down on missing in action and get the dead sent home as quickly as possible.
Instead of working hundreds of miles from the battlefield, Mortuary Affairs units operate just minutes from it, sometimes processing a Marine's corpse just hours after he dies. In this area west of Baghdad, the unit has 15-20 servicemen at three camps: Taqaddum, Al Asad and Fallujah.
"What was happening was a lot of bodies didn't have positive IDs," said Gunnery Sgt. Byron Bess, 37, from Washington. "By the time they got to the area, they were unidentified and you couldn't get in touch with the units because they'd pushed forward."
Bess said the change is one reason there is only one American serviceman currently listed as missing in action in Iraq, Army Spc. Keith M. Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio.
Since Oct. 7, Mortuary Affairs has processed 84 Americans along with 26 Iraqi soldiers and 525 insurgents. During the worst of the Fallujah fighting, which began Nov. 8 and lasted a week, the unit handled up to about 10 Marines a day and many more insurgents.
The unit is still pulling Iraqi bodies from the city. On a recent day, four sets of Iraqi remains arrived _ one, just a pile of bones and rags, another a man clad in black and wearing running shoes, had been on the street for days.
Many in the Mortuary Affairs unit at Camp Fallujah are reservists, former cooks and supply clerks from a unit in Washington. On a recent day, their routine was perfectly normal. Several sat around a television watching "Saving Private Ryan," others laughed and teased each other, while some were about to leave to play video games.
Some, like Kerns, volunteered for the work because they just wanted to join the Iraq fight no matter what. Others decided to do it so their colleagues wouldn't have to, and some were assigned.
They were sent to a two-week training course that included a stop at the Baltimore morgue to get accustomed to the sight and smell of death. Many among them had never seen a human corpse before.
"As for seeing the insurgents dead, I know that these guys were out there killing Marines, they were given a choice whether to surrender or not, so seeing their corpses mangled up doesn't bother you," said Cpl. Jeffrey Keating, a 26-year-old from Queens, N.Y. "But seeing the Marines dead, that hurts a little bit more. But you just got to see it as a job."
The 16 Marines who process the dead, working eight at a time in 24-hour shifts, follow the same routine.
When a body arrives, it is brought inside the tent and placed on a concrete floor. Two men are the "dirty hands" who inspect the body, catalogue wounds and check for unexploded weapons. One sorts through the slain person's belongings. Two more are the "clean hands," writing down what the others find.
The dead American's name, social security numbers and place of death are written into a hardcover lime-green log book. The body is given an evacuation number and then placed in a body bag - a stack of unused bags labeled "pouch, human remains w/6 handles" sits to the side of the tent.
Iraqi dead go to a white refrigerator while American dead go to one of two camouflage refrigerators on the other side of the tent. The entire process usually takes about 15 minutes.
American bodies are then sent to a U.S. base in Doha, Qatar and on to Dover, while Iraqi bodies are buried in a plot outside Fallujah marked with coordinates from a global positioning system so relatives can identify the remains later.
"We take a picture, make sure there's no unexploded ordnance or personal effects, and look for identification," said Marine Cpl. John Belizario, 23, of Washington. "We bury them in a plot - four rows of 10, all facing Mecca as a sign of respect, basically."
When the work is finished, the Marines clean up and go to chow hall. Anyone who knows who they are stays away or barely acknowledges them because talking to them is considered bad luck.
"When the day is done, we're by ourselves," Kerns said. "We've tried to have interaction with the other units, but when they find out what we do, that's about the end of that."
12-27-04, 11:01 PM
The real news out of Iraq
Did you know that the overwhelming number of Shiites and Kurds support America's efforts to bring Democracy to Iraq in the form of elections this month?
Did you know that Shiites make up 60% of Iraq?
Did you know that Kurds make up 20% of Iraq?
Did you know that the Sunnis, who have been dictators over Iraq, only make up 20% of the population - and many of them support the vote in January?
Did you know that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support the US-backed elections in January?
Did you know that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq are telling their followers that participating in the American-led elections is a religious duty on par with fasting?
Did you know that the Kurds in the north fought alongside, and often in front of US troops?
Did you know that the overwhelming majority of soldiers and marines fighting in Iraq support the President's handling of the war?
Did you know that the overwhelming majority of troops in Iraq believe this war is a noble cause?
You don't know any of these facts if you get your information from the mainstream press. For whatever reason, these powerful media outlets spend a disproportionate amount of time reporting on the treachery of terrorists instead of the work of those building the first democratic Arab state in Middle East history.
Former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said that any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.
Sadly, American media remains fixated on the jackass angle of this remarkably important story. It seems freedom doesn't sell newspapers.
Keep those e-mails coming to JScarborough@msnbc.com.
12-27-04, 11:03 PM
Marine injured in Iraq makes new life in northern Wisconsin
By RICK OLIVO
The Ashland Daily Press
December 27th, 2004
BENOIT, Wis. - Jason Wittling watches a lot of TV these cold winter days. But he doesn't watch much news from Iraq; seeing the soldiers and Marines in uniform, doing their jobs in a troubled land is too much to bear for the 30-year-old former career Marine.
It's been that way since he was medically retired from the Corps earlier this year. It's been a little over a year and-a-half since the day everything changed, the day he and three other Marine demolition specialists prepared a 5,000 pound pile of abandoned Iraqi mortars and ordinance for explosive destruction.
"It's the kind of thing we did a lot of. I don't even know how many thousands of pounds of stuff we blew up, RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) mortars, it was a real blast making things go boom, I ain't going to lie to you," Jason recalled. "It was fun."
They set a four-minute fuse to cook things off and climbed back into their Humvee to drive to safety. It was all routine, the kind of thing they had done many times before. They didn't count on colliding with a windblown pile of sand in their path.
In an instant, their vehicle flipped over and Jason's world was forever changed. He landed on his head, breaking his neck and paralyzing his body below the fracture.
"It wasn't very glamorous, it was just a traffic accident," Jason observed dryly.
Jason, who once boasted he would remain a Marine until they told him he was too old to serve any longer ended his career in rehabilitation at the Camp Pendleton, Calif. gym, laboring to heft five pound weights with his only partially responsive arms.
Since then, Jason has returned to the northern Wisconsin of his birth, bringing back wife Maureen and his two children Cody, 7, and Emily, 4. The family lives in a small house just outside Benoit in rural Bayfield County. They hope to build onto the house this summer, remodeling to make it easier for Jason to get around with his Marine Corps sticker bedecked wheel chair. Meanwhile, Jason is near the Ashland homes of his mother Betty Whittling and brother Mike Whittling. His other brother Jim Wittling lives nearby in Superior and his sister, Pauline Holt lives in Rib Lake.
The cold weather has kept Jason in the house a lot this winter, apart from road trips and the occasional visit to Ashland or to see specialists in the Twin Cities or Milwaukee. It's tough on Maureen too, who has to assist Jason with a lot of the routine care he needs in addition with trying to care for two active youngsters. A southern California girl, she's more used to the surf at Huntington Beach than the snowdrifts of northern Wisconsin. The stress has caused her to lose some of her hair, so like a chemotherapy patient, she's taken to wearing a ball cap.
"It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the cold and the isolation," Maureen said.
In spite of the difficulties, Jason says he is getting better.
"It's going slow but sure. I'm starting to make a little progress. My right thumb is barely starting to move. It's coming around."
The thumb movement is just about the only substantial improvement Jason has had in some time. Doctors give him little hope that he will ever walk again, but he studiously ignores their judgment.
Jason Wittling is convinced he will one day walk again. It has become a prime focus in his life.
"Whether it comes back on its own, or some type of surgery, I will walk," he said.
Wittling talks knowledgeably about the state of stem cell research, of surgical techniques going on in Europe.
"I see where Wisconsin has just given a bunch of money, between them and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hundreds of millions over the course of the next few years to do stem cell research and other biotech stuff," he said.
It's a strange place for Jason to be; he said before the accident, he never considered the possibility of serious injury.
"It always happened to the other guy," he said. "I had so many close calls I thought somebody was watching over me."
Since the accident, Jason says many people have asked him if he is mad at the Marine Corps or the government because of his injuries.
"I'm not mad at the Marine Corps, the government, not even at the driver," he said. "It was just a freak accident."
Jason says he works at keeping a positive attitude, but admits, "I have my moments."
"He saves it up for like one day a week," says Maureen.
"I have a couple days a month when I wouldn't even want to be around me," he said.
Helping to break up the time he spends in the house, the Wittlings have been doing some traveling.
"In the last couple of months I've been just about everywhere, Jason recounts. "We just got back from Florida not too long ago, and just this last Sunday we went and saw the Packers play at Lambeau Field. My brothers and I are planning a trip to Vegas, driving out there. I do all the planning and when it comes time, they just hop in and we go."
In between the trips, Jason has regular sessions with a physical therapist and works out on an Easy-Glide machine to exercise his muscles.
"He told the doctor he wasn't using it that much, and the doctor asked him how he expected to walk if he didn't keep up his bone strength," said Maureen.
Once the holidays are done and the Christmas tree is out of the living room, they plan to put the machine in the living room where he can get at it easily.
"Once we put the addition on the house it will be almost twice as big as it is now, it will be easier to get around," Jason said.
Jason said the one good thing to come out of the accident is that he is now able to watch his children grow up, to be there for their birthdays. That is the one thing he is thankful for, he said.
"He was always home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but he missed every other holiday," Maureen recalled.
Jason still hasn't figured out why the accident happened to him.
"People always used to tell me things happened for a reason, well, I used to think that too, but now, I'm not a very firm believer in that statement any more," he said.
But Jason says he has not become embittered by his experience, and he also still believes the American mission in Iraq is crucial to both nations.
"It's going to take a while, but it is something that needed to be done," he said.
Jason said if by some miracle he could regain the use of his legs, if his twisted hands could again grasp his M-16, he would not hesitate to rejoin the military effort in Iraq.
"If I could, I'd go back tomorrow," he said.
In a way, Jason and Maureen have found a new mission in which to serve.
"We are going to be ambassadors for "Salute America's Heroes," said Maureen. "We are going to be traveling around, talking to people about the organization. I'm kind of in charge of talking to people about recycling their ink cartridges to raise funds."
The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes is a non-partisan tax-deductible organization, created to provide an easy and meaningful way for individuals, corporations and others to help our severely wounded and disabled veterans and their families rebuild their lives.
"It's a great organization," said Jason. "They are building homes for guys who have been blinded and guys who have been put into wheel chairs."
The specially modified van that Jason relies upon for transportation is a result of grants made available by Salute America's Heroes, as well as the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans Administration.
With Jason's pension and veteran's benefits, the Wittlings are at least financially secure. Ultimately, though, Jason and Maureen are not sure what the future holds. But Jason has a single goal to work for, and his eyes are firmly fixed on the prize.
"Until I get up walking, it will be a work in progress," he said.