Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Need Something To Be Grateful For?

In the US tomorrow, everyone traditionally gets together to knock off a turkey and be grateful for what they have. Well, this post is devoted to some things Americans have to be grateful for. Here are some reasons to say "thank you."

Also, next time you hear on the news that "X number of soldiers or Marines or Iraqi forces were killed today", ask yourself a question that the TV and print media will never answer:

What were they doing when they were killed? What was their mission? What were trying to accomplish?

The following are little windows to the answer to that quesiton:

Col. James Coffman (Army)
Distinguished Service Cross
On 14 November 2004 in Mosul, Col Coffman was the Senior Advisor to the 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade. At this time a Commando platoon was under attack from insurgents at Four West Police Station. Col Coffman led a Quick Reaction Force to reinforce them. (Remember that this occurred after the Battle of Fallujeh, when the terrorists flushed out of that pit went on a rampage against Mosul). As they got close to the action, they suddenly came under combined fire of RPGs, mortar rounds, and machinegun and AK-47 fire. The battle would last for four hours, as Coffman and the Iraqi commandos repulsed attack after attack. In the end, the fight was as close as 20m. During the battle, all save one of the Iraqi Commando officers were killed or badly wounded. Coffman needed to reorganized the commandos for an impromtu defense, but he didn't speak Arabic and most of the commandos did not speak English. Using hand signals, Coffman directed them in what he wanted them to do. Coffman was hit by round in his hand that also destroyed his M4 weapon, so he bandaged his hand and then picked up an AK47 of one of the commando casuaties, firing it one-handed until it was out of ammo. He and the remaining Iraqi officer redistributed the clips among their uninjured men. Soon even that ran out. So Coffman put magazines between his legs and loaded them with loose bullets with his one good hand as the assault went on and on.

Finally, after four hours Iraqi commando reinforcements arrived and Coffman continued to direct them in the fight, refusing to be evacuated. This was a good thing, because when the US helocopters arrived and a Stryker Brigade QRF, Coffman could identify the enemy and friendly positions. After the battle in which 12 commandos were killed and 42 wounded (at times up to 50% casualties), Coffman refused to leave the scene until all the Iraqis, including those in the beseiged police station were evacuted.

Coffman was given the chance to receive his Distinguished Service Cross in the US among his friends and family, but he chose to receive it in Iraqi among the men he fought with because "In my mind, it’s more for the Iraqis." At the ceremony, Iraq’s Minister of Interior, Bayan Jabr said:

"Col. Coffman, the blood you shed will never be forgotten. We, the forces of the (Ministry of Interior) and the (Ministry of Defense) will continue to fight until we defeat terrorism. Right will always defeat wrong.”

Master Sgt Donald Hollenbaugh (Army)
Distinguished Service Cross
On April 26, 2004 in the first battle of Fallujah, Mstr Sgt Hollenbaugh was a team leader in Urban Combat Operations. There was little I could find on his actions except that during one of the most intensive firefights of the entire war his platoon's position was in danger of being overrun. He "personally eliminated multiple enemy-controlled weapon positions" and was "essential in turning the tide of the enemy's ground-force assault".

Cpt Brent Morel &
Sgt Willie Copeland III
(USMC)
Navy Cross
On April 7, 2004, Cpt Morel was in the second vehicle in a fifteen vehicle convoy to set up an FOB. Somewhere west of Baghdad, an RPG knocked out their lead vehicle, right in front of Cpt Morel. Machine gun fire began ripping into Sgt. Copeland's vehicle and then a mortar disabled it for good. Under the heaviest barrage, Cpt Morel, Sgt Copeland, and four other Marines took out across an exposed field against the assailants. It is not clear how many there were among the insurgents: somewhere between 40 to 60. They pushed on through a canal and up a 10 ft berm to the enemy's position on the other side. Moving into close range they engaged the enemy with grenades and rifles. Sgt Copeland saw Cpt Morel fall critically wounded at his side. But Copeland continued to lead the other Marines, until ten insurgents were put down and the rest high-tailed. Sgt Copeland told the other Marines to stay where they were in cover while he shielded Cpt Morel with his own body, applied first aid to him, and carried him to safety. Then he returned and extracted the rest of the team using hand grenades for cover. Copeland stayed with Cpt Morel until an armored Humvee arrived to take him to the hospital. Cpt. Morel was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Cpl Marco Martinez (USMC)
Navy Cross
On 12 April, 2003 (just days after the fall of Saddam's regime), while rushing to reinforce his ambushed platoon, Cpl Martinez's team came under fire and his squad leader was wounded. He led his squad through the tree line where the ambush originated. They advanced securing one enemy position after another all the while under fire from a nearby building. Cpl Martinez launched a discarded enemy RPG into the building, suppressing the enemy fire and permitting a wounded Marine to be evacuated. Then the shooting started again from the building, BY HIMSELF he assaulted and entered the building and killed four enemy insurgents with a rifle and grenade.

Sgt Scott Montoya (USMC)
Navy Cross
On 8 April 2003, in the streets of Baghdad, Sgt Montoya's sniper team came under heavy fire, but they could not be sure exactly from where. He rallied his team to return fire. Then he noticed a wounded Iraqi civilian in a disabled car in the road right in the middle of the firefight. Through a rain of bullets, Montoya ran into the street and dragged the man out of harm. Then he returned to the fight. He saw another Marine in the street, wounded, trying to drag himself to cover. Montoya ran back into the street and carried him to safety. Then he saw another wounded Marine in the street. Back he went, paying no mind to the gunfire, and carried the second Marine to cover. Another Marine went down in the street, completely incapacitaed. Into the street for the fourth time, he rescued the unconscious Marine. Soon he was back in that open street rescuing a Marine dazed from a nearby explosion. Then Montoya helped evacuate the wounded and the other members of his team to safety.

Pfc Joseph Perez (USMC)
Navy Cross
On 4th April, 2003, as point man for the lead squad, Pfc Perez led the charge under fire into a trench and wiped out the enemy there with his M16 and a grenade. Still under heavy fire, he destroyed a machine gun bunker with an AT-4 rocket. As he engaged the enemy, his squad was able to assault and seize the bunker. Then his squad began to work their way to another platoon on their left flank, as Perez took out enemy combatants on the way. But soon they were pinned down again by enemy fire, and Pfc Perez received bullet wounds in his torso and shoulder. But was able to direct his fellow Marines' return fire so that they were able to reorganize and defeat the combatants.

1st Lt Brian Chontosh (USMC)
Navy Cross
On 25 March 2003. Lt Chontosh's platoon moved into a coordinated ambush of mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and automatic weapons fire, catching them in a kill zone. He commanded his the driver of his humvee to charge the entrenched machine gun firing on them, as the soldier manning the mounted .50 caliber weapon took them out. Then he directed the vehicle into the enemy trench, got out and charged the enemy with a M16 and 9mm pistol. When his ammunition ran out he picked up an AK47 and continued his assault. When that one ran out , he picked up another one. A Marine following him found an enemy RPG and he used it to destroy another pocket of the enemy. In the end Lt Chontosh cleared over 200m of territory and killed over 20 of the enemy aside from those he wounded.

1s SGT Justin Lehew (USMC)
Navy Cross
On 23 March 2003, after pushing 2.5 km into enemy lines to rescue the famous Jessica Lynch Army unit that had been ambushed, all the while under enemy fire, 1st Sgt Justin's Lehew's unit of amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) were immediately commanded to take a bridge in An Nasiriyah. On the way, a white van pulled in front of them and fired a RPG, which they swerved and avoided. They arrived at the bridge alone.

"Once we got on top of the bridge it got quiet for a minute. Then all at once it seemed like Armageddon opened up from all angles of the streets."

An ambulance sped toward them. After warning shots were to no avail they opened fire on it. Searching it, they found six armed men in in black (the uniform of the Fedayeen Saddam). Then cars began speeding toward a weapons stockpile under the bridge, black clad Iraqis jumping out of the cars. RPGs were being fired out of cars and the windows and doorways of a nearby building. Lehew said,

"Swarms of Iraqis started converging on our positions. There had to have been hundreds...They were using women holding babies as spotters, but we had to hold the bridge at all costs."

Eventually, some Marine tanks showed up, and Lehew directed them to fire at the building where some of the RPGs were coming from. The tanks leveled the building. Then things got really bad....

BTW the tactics Sgt Lehew describes being used by the Fedayeen Saddam are particularly vile. For a side to use an ambulance as a war assault vehicle strips all ambulances of their protection under the Geneva Convention within the theater of the war. To say nothing of infant-carrying women acting as spotters. That is why using such tactics are war crimes.

Hospitalman 3rd Class Luis Fonseca jr. (USMC)
Navy Cross
On March 23, 2003, during the battle of An Nasiriyah, corpman Fonseca was assigned an AAV for evacuating battle casualties. He received a call that five Marines were wounded when their AAV was hit by an RPG. Arriving at the broken vehicle, still under fire, Fonseca leapt from his vehicle and took cover among the wounded and began to treat them. Then he looked up an saw U.S. Air Force A-10 “Warthog” mistakenly dropping cluster bombs him and other Marine positions.

“I saw … you know how bottle rockets sparkle? It was like that.”

Fonseca and other Marines dragged the five wounded Marines onto the AAV, and were immediately hit with "at least" three RPGs. But reinforcements soon arrived and Fonseca was able to evacuate the wounded by AAV and helocopter. All survived.



UPDATE 1
Is Iraq a lost cause? The Iraqi public and the US soldiers in Iraq don't think so. Who is right?

"47% of Iraqis polled said their country was headed in the right direction, as opposed to 37% who said they thought that it was going in the wrong direction. And 56% thought things would be better in six months. Only 16% thought they would be worse.
[...]
"...64% of military officers are confident that we will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. The comparable figures for journalists and academics are 33% and 27%, respectively...Although both the Army and the Marine Corps are having trouble attracting fresh recruits — no surprise, given the state of public opinion regarding Iraq — reenlistment rates continue to exceed expectations. Veterans are expressing their confidence in the war effort by signing up to continue fighting.
[...]
"For all the insurgents' attempts to sabotage the Iraqi economy...per capita income has doubled since 2003 and is now 30% higher than it was before the war. Thanks primarily to the increase in oil prices, the Iraqi economy is projected to grow at a whopping 16.8% next year. According to Brookings' Iraq index, there are five times more cars on the streets than in Saddam Hussein's day, five times more telephone subscribers and 32 times more Internet users. The growth of the independent media — a prerequisite of liberal democracy — is even more inspiring. Before 2003 there was not a single independent media outlet in Iraq. Today, Brookings reports, there are 44 commercial TV stations, 72 radio stations and more than 100 newspapers."



UPDATE 2
Iranian-Kurd Medya provided some impressive geo-political analysis in his last blog entry. The month of Ramadan is based on the phases of the moon. But Iran has announced a starting date for Ramadan that is unique to all other Muslim countries. Why? Medya knows:

"Don't you think announcing [a separate starting date for Ramadan] is related to politics? [The Iranian] government wants to see how loyal his followers are: for example in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr also didn't announce today as a holy day and obeyed Iran's calendar. But Sistani said it is holy day! It is like a competition, Iran wants to show it can announce another day as a holy day and people will obey it. While scientifically it must be holy day here too because both sides of Iran [Iraq and Afghanistan] have seen the moon, by science, if both Afghanstian and Iraq have seen the moon then Iranian people who are is between Iraq and Afghanistan can see the moon too ."

Verrrry insightful. I think his analysis is dead on too. Remember this, next time you read a blogger who claims Sistani (with his thick Persian accent) is a tool of the Iranian mullahs. Meanwhile, there is no doubt who is buttering al-Sadr's toast.

Medya also provides a glimpse into the bizarre knots religious busy-bodies inevitably lead us:

Student 1: Some of the mullahs had announced today as holiday but the Supreme Leader [of Iran] didn't announce it today

Student 2: Yeah, I don't know why they don't use telescopes to watch moon to find out.

Student 1: well I heard some of the mullahs say it is Haram to use a telescope. You should see the moon by your own eye.

Well, I'm no howsa graduate, but I don't recall the place in the Quran where using a telescope to determine the start of Ramadan is forbidden. But apparently watching the moon at all is useless. It is more fruitful to point your telescope at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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