October 2006 Archives

« September 2006 | Weblog | November 2006 »

Photo tribute to fallen SEAL Mike Monsoor

By Michael Fumento

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor (right) during a fight in the Mulaab, Ramadi
In my October 8 blog entry from Ramadi, Death and Mayhem Revisit Corregidor, I mentioned the heroic death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor. I had been in a firefight with Monsoor's unit last spring, taking pictures and video. In the blog, I wrote "I may have photos of him on my website; friends and relatives will inform me soon enough." Turns out I did and they did. A fellow SEAL identified the photo, writing to me:

"When you did your patrol with SEAL Team 3 a few months back I was really pleased to see some of the great pictures and accounts that you brought back with you. I even put one of your pictures (2 SEALs kneeling against a graffiti littered wall, one with a 10" M4 and one with a machine gun) on my Blackberry to have a constant reminder about my comrades in combat. A few weeks ago, I attended the memorial service for Michael Monsoor who shielded a grenade blast from hitting 3 other SEALs. His platoon put together a photo/video tribute to him and right in the middle of it flashed your photo of Mike with his MG kneeling beside that wall. I pulled my Blackberry out of my belt and showed it to my buddies sitting with me and they were astonished. That photo had really been an inspiration before Mike gave his life, but it means so much more now. Good on ya for making those embed trips to Ramadi, I'll probably be heading over sometime next year myself."

Here's a clip of Monsoor in action, though I blurred the video at the request of the SEALs to protect their identities. View the video.

And here's another photo of Monsoor, again at right.

Sometimes I really wonder why I go to Iraq. Other times, I know.

October 29, 2006 07:30 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

They're not real war correspondents but they play them on TV

By Michael Fumento

I've posted an extended version of my article in the current National Review on "The Baghdad Brigade," reporters who pretend they can and are covering the war throughout Iraq from the IZ and hotel rooms in Baghdad. It shows the incredible lengths they go through to show that they really are rough and tough war correspondents when in fact they may as well be covering the war from New York or Washington. It shows why, political bias aside, the media CANNOT properly cover the Iraq war.

(I'm working on other Iraq articles as well, including the main one tentatively titled "Retaking Ramadi.")

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More














October 25, 2006 07:13 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq ~ Media

Navy close air support in Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

A Navy F-18 Hornet provides close air support to A Company, 1/506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division at ECP-8 in eastern Ramadi. It fires two missiles, comes around, and fires two more. Video is courtesy of Sgt. Steve Campbell of A Company.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 25, 2006 07:13 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq ~ Military

Video of Attack on "The Ramadi Inn" or OP Hotel

By Michael Fumento

In my "New Band of Brothers" article in the Weekly Standard I wrote of the attack on OP Hotel, now jokingly called "The Ramadi Inn," in the Industrial Area, one of the sectors for which 1/506th is responsible. "In a video a soldier showed me on his laptop, enemy soldiers attacked observation posts on the building. They poured in fire as a diversion, while a dump truck packed with explosives sped towards the structure. The tactic failed. The GIs (from 2-69th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division) shot up the truck, which exploded in a massive ball of orange flame. Concussions all around, but no Americans were seriously hurt. To look at the hotel now, though, it seems like one good hard breath would knock it over."

Photo by Michael Fumento
"The Ramadi Inn" as it looks today.
Well, this trip I uploaded a copy. I'd forgotten it was actually a jihadist video, recovered from the enemy. I've clipped off the part propaganda section before the actual video (.wmv, 40 MB), but it's presented as if it's depicting a great victory over the infidels rather than a failed attack in which only jihadists were killed. This turning of defeat into victory is an interesting phenomenon. I saw the same in a video of a failed attack on Abu Ghraib. In this case, the video is ambiguous as to whether the attack succeeded. You have to know that the target is the sand-colored building to the far left, which obviously survives the tremendous blast. But the Abu Ghraib video showed a clear failure. I'm no expert on Arab culture or jihadist thinking. Maybe they're giving themselves an "A" for effort. If you have a better idea, let me know.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 18, 2006 11:12 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Back from Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

It seemed like a very short time that I was there, namely because it was. But I learned and gathered material as much as I could. My conclusion on the situation in Ramadi overall is that while I had been led to believe it was getting worse, it's probably actually getting somewhat better and there's every reason to believe this trend will continue as more and more Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police, and Combat Operation Posts are introduced. Moreover, the lesson to be learned here is that if the insurgents and terrorists can be defeated in Ramadi they can be defeated anywhere. The guerilla war is definitely winnable. The two greatest threats are lack of patience and the possibility that the sectarian fighting elsewhere (there's none in Ramadi because it's almost purely Sunni) will render the counterinsurgency effort moot. Yet even if that happens, the connections and friends we've made in Al Anbar province will serve us in a post-Iraq world. Al Qaeda wants the Sunni area of Iraq as a permanent base. No matter what happens, we've already put a dent in that ambition and we've laid the groundwork for denying them that base.

In coming days I will continue to post blogs on Ramadi, including some interesting video clips I obtained. (My own camcorder was destroyed in an irrigation ditch plunge.) I will also be posting a photo set. Watch this space.


Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More












October 17, 2006 11:22 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Chuck Norris was here?

By Michael Fumento

Beginning with my first embed, I studied the graffiti inside latrines for signs of a decay in morale. I figured soldiers and Marines would be a lot more honest when scribbling from the can than when interviewed by a reporter -- although in fact on my second trip I did encounter some disgruntled reservists who had no inhibitions. This time, though, I found no political graffiti at all. I did find two racist scribblings, but only two. Mostly, it seems, I found references to Chuck Norris. I saw those last time, too. The Norris references have nothing to do with WWII's "Kilroy was here." They're just silly ditties from guys with a black felt-tip pen and perhaps not enough fiber in their diets. Ahem! Among them:

* Most hand cleaners kill 99.9% of bacteria; Chuck Norris kills 100% of whatever he wants.
* Chuck Norris CAN believe it's not butter.
* There is no such thing as global warming; Chuck Norris got cold and turned up the sun.
* Chuck Norris has a beard because razors are scared of his face.
* Chuck Norris died December 18, 1979. Death is too afraid to tell him.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 15, 2006 10:34 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

The newly fallen in Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

I now have further information on the Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division whose deaths I reported in an earlier blog, plus the circumstances surrounding the death of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class and SEAL Michael Monsoor. All were killed in Ramadi and Monsoor, along with Marc Allan Lee, became only the second SEAL to die in Iraq.

The Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice were Sgt. Julian Arechaga, 23, of Oceanside, N.Y.; Lance Cpl. Jon Bowman, 21, of Dubach, La.; and Pfc. Shelby Feniello, 25, of Connellsville, Pa.

Members of the SEAL platoon to which Michael Monsoor and Marc Alan Lee belonged. I took this photo last April in the Mullab section of Ramadi, just before a firefight.
Feniello's family said the men were speeding to the aid of Marines in firefight when the enemy detonated the 160 millimeter howitzer shell that blew apart their Humvee. Their son joined the Marines shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and was on his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Bowman went straight to the Marine Corps after graduating high school, according to his mother. He'd only been in Iraq a month when he died.

Arechaga re-enlisted just last month, starting his second tour in Iraq after serving a previous one in Afghanistan.

According to the Associated Press, Monsoor was in a sniper position with several other SEALs when an enemy hand grenade hit him in the chest and bounced to the floor. Showing yet again the bravery and selflessness that we've come to associate with these amazing men, Monsoor tossed himself onto the grenade. "He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it," a lieutenant who received shrapnel wounds to his legs said. "He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives, and we owe him." So do we all. In Vietnam, similar actions resulted in the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Moonsoor deserves the recognition of the nation's highest honor, as do the SEALs as a whole.


Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 14, 2006 08:45 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

COPs and Criminals

By Michael Fumento

Combat Operation Post (COP) Anvil
Ramadi

Last night we went on a terrorist-grabbing raid. Terror suspects fall into two categories, single source and double source. That means: Did one person rat on them or two? The idea behind the distinction is that any vindictive neighbor can accuse somebody of something he didn't do. But with two sources of information, especially if both give specifics rather than just saying the suspect is an insurgent or terrorist, then there's a much higher probability he really is "dirty."

Photo by Michael Fumento
A .50 caliber sniper rifle on the roof of COP Anvil
Mind you, COP Anvil Capt. Sapp told me, "Ninety percent of the time a single source suspect is also a bad guy." But those are the rules. A double source suspect goes straight to military intelligence. A single source one must be released with 72 hours unless he confesses, but he's interrogated and put into the system in case they are identified in the future as dirty.

Originally, such raids were directed solely against the house where the suspect normally presided. But Iraqis, unlike Americans today, are generally quite chummy with their neighbors. It's something of a "Mi casa es su casa" arrangement. They always keep vast numbers of cushioned rugs piled up which they use as beds when friends or relatives come calling.

Suddenly a house with five people can have 25. What this means regarding nabbing bad guys is that you don't want to just hit the house that's his main domicile but those next to it that may be his secondary domiciles.

Photo by Michael Fumento
These are NOT pleasant to fall into ...
In this case, the houses were about 400 meters away from the COP and the best avenue of approach would be through a series of irrigation canals and the offshoot ditches that carry water directly to crops. Not that there are many crops there now, but they're planting them. This canal system would prove my undoing. Jumping from little strips of land to other little strips is an art form and something they don't exactly teach in classrooms. You learn the hard way.

It was quite dark and I fell twice, negotiated a number of obstacles, and then came to what was either something of a trench or a canal. The soldier in front of me tossed his pack across and leaped, with his basketball-length legs.

Well, I have short baseball-length legs. As hard as I tried, I couldn't make it. I fell into what proved to be a canal and got soaked up to my chest. I wasn't a happy camper even then but my chief worry was my cameras and my voice recorder, all inside a dustproof but not waterproof bag. Sure enough, the water knocked them all out. Which proved a real shame since this was the best raid I'd been on in my three trips to Anbar. The still camera is back in operation but will require a good cleaning when I get home. The camcorder appears to have been destroyed. I don't know about the voice recorder.

I did feel a bit better when I discovered the next day that three of the soldiers had also fallen in. It was interesting going out the next day and seeing how truly treacherous the terrain was. "I hate that night shit," a soldier told me.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Internment Area where suspects are kept
The raid couldn't have gone better. We hit one house and before anybody in the second house knew about it we hit that, too. We struck the jackpot in the form of an intelligence officer for the JTJ (Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad) terrorist group, which is either a sub-section of Al Qaeda in Iraq or a sister organization. I'm having trouble figuring it out, but both were started by the late Al Zarqawi. The first terrorist was perhaps 22 years old. As soon as the plastic cuffs were on him he first faked heart problems and then breathing problems. I guess he thought we'd just let him go. Tough luck, bad boy. I wish I could have said how sorry I felt for his poor health relative to the health of the three Delta Company soldiers hit by the grenade dropped down their Humvee turret or the lack of life of the three dead Marines.

We also grabbed an additional double source suspect and a single source suspect, but hit pay dirt with them as well. One kept insisting he was an Iraqi police officer but it proved his job was to actually assassinate Iraqi police. Slight difference there. The third suspect turned out to be the cousin of the intelligence officer and also a JTJ member. Three terrorists in one night is quite a haul.

We also heard one IED go off, which thankfully was a controlled destination. After I went to bed four more were exploded -- all controlled.

Photo by Michael Fumento
A couple of these are probably triggermen.
Today we went out on what's called a "meet and greet" patrol, partly just to show our presence and partly to try to collect information from willing locals about IEDs. Unfortunately, they're rarely willing. They'll even deny IED explosions that occurred the night before right practically in their front yards. Some are afraid of being seen as suspects; others may be taking money from the bad guys. I took some pictures of a large family we interrogated on the road.

Our translator said I was probably looking at some trigger men. "They are poor," he said. "And they are offered money just to push a trigger." But actually by area standards they aren't that poor. I saw cows, goats, and sheep everywhere. Corn is already growing (though not quite as high as an elephant's eye) and the other crops will start springing up when the rainy season begins shortly.

I don't know if they really consider the ramifications of pushing those triggers, that they could be killing or maiming other human beings. Maybe they know that the average IED explosion doesn't cause any human damage. Just remember: Don't judge other people's cultures. Yeah, right.

People always ask me when I get back how the Iraqis feel and I always give the same answer: They just tell you what they think you want to hear. Sure enough, I asked one through the translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water rationed from the Tigris to the fields, then tells me: "But safety is 100% safer now that the Americans have come along." BS. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn't going to tell me. None of them will tell me. So that was my last effort at playing the Vox Populi game.


Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 12, 2006 10:54 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Military

COP-ing Out in Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

COP Anvil, Ramadi

Okay, first my bad. I'm not with 1/6 Marines. I'm with 1/6 2nd Brigade, First Armored Division. It's not my fault they put two units with the same name in the same city. In the event, I don't think being with 1/6 Marines would be fun time right now.

They did find the missing man from the IED explosion. He had not been captured. Rather the force of the blast apparently tore him apart and tossed the pieces so far as to make it difficult to locate them in the night. This is gruesome, to be sure, but far better than being tortured to death and clearly the Marine never knew what hit him. The IED was a 160 millimeter Soviet-block artillery shell, which is extremely large. The largest howitzers we have in theater are 155.

As to the Delta company soldier who stepped on the IED, it looks like he might be able to hold onto his foot. Too early to say. In any case, he was certainly lucky it was such a small IED.

Photo by Michael Fumento
An M2 Bradley protects the COP from suicide vehicles
A COP is a combat operation post, and such posts are starting to play a crucial role in pacifying Al Anbar. In the Ramadi area, at least, COPs comprise an undersized company of four companies and about 80 soldiers. (Although Anvil has considerably more than that.) Anvil also has four M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles attached to it, each of which has a 25 millimeter automatic cannon and lesser guns along with an anti-armor capability. Anvil has three American platoons and one Iraqi Army one, but one of the American ones and the IA one are being loaned elsewhere right now. No matter, a COP can operate at half strength for awhile.

COPs are tiny compared to FOBs like Corregidor, which had a full battalion plus numerous support elements or about 800 men in all. In fact, this place comprises just two houses leases from Iraqi civilians. First Armored Division has put in 11 COPs so far, I believe, and is building a 12th. There will probably be many more to come.

In any counterinsurgency effort, a key to pacifying an area is to plop fortifications with interlocking communications into enemy territory and sending out patrols. For example, King Edward I of England (the guy who had Braveheart drawn and quartered) used castles to subdue Wales. Nowadays we call this "grab and hold." Originally we started doing that in Vietnam but gave it up in favor of search and destroy missions from large base camps, which helped contribute to losing the war.

One value of a COP versus the much larger FOBs and the huge camps such as Camp Ramadi is that this is an enemy that inflicts most casualties and damage with IEDS, greatly restricting movement. But missions from COPs are inherently short-range; you're already almost there. That's less road to be on and fewer IEDs to worry about.

Photo by Michael Fumento
An excellent clear-kill zone surrounds the COP
At Anvil basically all the missions are on foot and off the trails. It's almost impossible to hit such patrols with an IED. You can place pressure plate IEDs anywhere you want, but with those you risk injuring or killing civilians and driving them into the arms of the coalition forces. To secure the roads, Anvil CO Capt. Sapp puts his Bradleys along them. He's got an observation post atop one of his two buildings that keeps the entire area under surveillance and he's cut back a huge kill zone so it's virtually impossible for anybody to sneak up within firing range of an RPG.

Another advantage of a COP is a shorter reaction time for one unit to support another, although that's rarely necessary because the enemy just doesn't mass in large units. They don't have the men to do that like they used to. This inability to mass also makes COPs possible. In Vietnam, the enemy had lots of soldiers and highly-trained and motivated sappers that could cut through concertina wire barriers, throw satchel charges, and wreak havoc while the VC infantry came up behind them. This allowed them to inflict heavy casualties on small units, such as those manning howitzers. On a few occasions, they completely overran those positions. But the chance of a COP being overrun is essentially nil.

Photo by Michael Fumento
The mascot Juggernaut leads the way for the squad from COP Anvil.
The impact of the FOB system was shown to me on a map. The foreigners who come into this area do so along a mini-Ho Chi Minh trail from the west, namely Jordan and Syria. And the foreigners tend to be better trained. Certainly any good sniper will come from that route, because Iraqis are terrible shots and hence crummy snipers.

From this road the terrorists would then literally fan out in the area where the COPs have been inserted. That is, their area of operation was shaped like a fan. But the troops from the COPs have rolled them up in a counter-clockwise pattern such that the only major activity left now is in a slice near the Tigris. Areas that Capt. Sapp would originally only send full platoons into, sometimes even with armor, he will now allow a squad of perhaps 12 men to enter. At some point, the bad guys will be pushed out of this last piece of the fan. Where they'll go, who knows. The point is that they'll have been denied their first choice of an operating area. It's like knocking off the head of a terrorist cell. Yes, he'll just be replaced. But the man originally chosen for the job is now dead and the cell weakened to that extent.

I'll be writing more about COPs when I get back.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More














October 11, 2006 04:47 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Quick Update

By Michael Fumento

Just a quick update. I'm being transferred tonight back to Camp Ramadi and then first thing in the morning back into Ramadi's Camp Blue Diamond to embed with 1/6 Marines. They just recently arrived and the enemy is still testing them, so they're catching a lot of hell. Just tonight one of their Humvees hit an IED. Two dead . . .and one missing.

There is nothing, repeat nothing, worse than going missing. The body was recovered later but no word yet as to indications of torture.

Let's see what I'm in for.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 9, 2006 02:49 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

In and Out of the Mulaab

By Michael Fumento

Well, my big exciting mission just kept getting shorter and less purposeful all the way up until it began. Originally it was supposed to be two days with Charlie Company going from OP to OP within the Mulaab. Ultimately it turned out to be a mounted excursion to a single spot in the Mulaab to guard a psyops truck with a loudspeaker attempting to recruit for the Iraq Army.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Charlie Company mural
Yes, we took fire. You almost always get hit when you go outside the wire here during the day (I'm three for three) and it's almost always 45 minutes on-the-dot after you take up positions. But this comprised nothing more than two guys popping out with AKs and shooting wildly at our Humvee, while the Humvee returned fire with 30 rounds of .50 caliber. Not exactly a fair fight and the bad guys knew it.

Of course, major firefights often begin just this way and Charlie Co. Cpt. Nathan Guthrie, whom I sat behind, checked to see if we had CAS (close air support) available if needed. But it wasn't. Since our job wasn't to engage the enemy but to recruit, we left pretty quickly after that. Certainly nothing to write home about -- although that's exactly what I'm doing.

I assume that in the hands of an MSM reporter this account would have been much more exciting. We would have been attacked by a dozen or so men, a few would be shouldering rocket-propelled-grenades, and the ensuing firefight would be "proof again that Ramadi is far from a pacified city" -- as if anybody had ever claimed otherwise.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Military shotgun, with a soldier who means business
Still, I did get some good insights on the way to taking up our position and while we were sitting there. Guthrie wasn't exactly the shy, retiring type. He barked orders and opinions on about an equal basis and did so often. Before we left he told the man in the turret behind the .50 caliber Browning, "When we're going down Easy Street if you see that sniper you smoke his fucking ass! I'm not dealing with his ass anymore." Nor the rest of him, I presumed.

I was confused. If you know where a sniper is, you always "smoke his ass." Guthrie explained that, "It's like the D.C. area snipers," meaning Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad. Snipers in the area like Malvo and Mohammed were cutting holes in the trunks of cars and shooting out of them. Guthrie was saying that if we saw a car with a hole in the back, we were going to fire it up.

Guthrie also offered, "This place has gotten a lot better but it's still a shit hole." (Hmm... Is that one word or two?)

Guthrie kept uttering things that anywhere else would have made him a certified paranoid, but not here. We saw two men on a moped carrying a shovel. There are many uses for a shovel around here. From the awful smell of the place we'd just driven through, I'd say tossing the excrement off your front lawn would be one of them. But my first thought was they were off to bury IEDs. Sure enough, Guthrie commented, "They probably going to bury IEDs."

We also saw an empty dump truck twice. If it's not hauling something, it's suspect. If it has special windows over the regular ones, it's an S-VBIED: a suicide vehicle-borne IED . "If that dump truck turns down this way and has welded plates on the window, you shoot that motherfucker you hear me!" Guthrie barked to his gunner. But no motherfuckers died that day; at least not there.

It appears my next trip outside the wire will be same thing. This isn't looking good for combat or combat photos.

You can't really shoot pictures from inside a Humvee and anyway the Mooj don't usually mount a concerted attack unless you're on foot. I was told the violence would probably really ramp up for Ramadan, but if we don't do foot patrols I won't see real combat.

Unfortunately, people are still getting hurt around here. An unconfirmed but probably correct report is that last night a soldier from 1/506th saw an opening in some concertina wire so he got out of his Humvee to fix it. It was a trap. He detonated an IED and may lose his foot.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Sunrise over Corregidor
Well, I've just decided. I'm going to try to spend the time I have left with another unit.

I knew 1/506th would be winding down soon for redeployment back to the States but I didn't know it would be this soon. Perhaps I can find a Marine unit or one of the many First Armored Division units to link up with.

Unfortunately, it's not entirely my decision and does involve some hassle but that's going to be my only chance to see a fight or two before I redeploy back to the States myself. It was certainly great to revisit this place and I talked with a bunch of great guys from A Company whom I saw combat near OP Hotel.

It was good to go over old times. But I need to try to make some new times.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 9, 2006 12:18 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Death and Mayhem Revisit Corregidor

By Michael Fumento

You never have to wait too long around here for another casualty report. A few days before I arrived, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Monsoor, one of the 19 SEALs I linked up with on my first firefight out here, was killed by small arms fire in the same district (the Mulaab) where I first saw him. I may have photos of him on my website; friends and relatives will inform me soon enough.

Monsoor's death came not long after that of his teammate, Marc Lee. Lee became the first SEAL to die in Iraq; Monsoor is now the second. I've made the point repeatedly in blogs and my New Band of Brothers article that while Americans can theoretically be killed anywhere in this country, when it comes to being up close and personal this is the place to be.

Three members of Delta Company, 1/506th found that out last night, too. They were driving through the Mulaab last night when somebody with amazing aim tossed a hand grenade apparently from a house that dropped right down the vehicle's open turret. Fortunately, it landed between the radio and another hard piece of metal or there would have been fatalities. As is, two of the men were slightly wounded while one took a fairly serious leg wound that I've been asked not to describe. Suffice to say, it sounds nasty but there's good reason to believe he'll keep the limb. He also lost a pinkie finger. Sadly, he and the other two were scheduled to go home soon anyway. 1/506th is rotating back home during November.

I first heard of the attack when I was uploading Blog Three, Back to Ramadi, and suddenly all the computers and phones went dead. Having waited a long time to get a computer only to find the connection is as slow as frozen molasses, I was ticked. The soldier in charge of the section announced casualties in the Mulaab and told everybody to go home. I didn't see the point until somebody informed me that this is a precaution to make sure word of attacks doesn't get out before next of kin are notified.

Although I was in my fiercest firefight in what's called the Industrial District, which includes OP (outpost) Hotel, it seems the Mulaab is by far the best area of operation covered by the troops in Corregidor to meet up with the Grim Reaper. (Marc Lee was also killed there.)

The soldiers and SEALs never really make peace with the deaths and serious injuries of their comrades. They will be haunted for a long time, maybe forever.

Interestingly, however, they seem to make peace with the possibility of their own deaths. Minutes ago, I was walking near the edge of the camp and suddenly "Pop!" (You have no idea how much time I spend trying to come up with the right words to describe sounds around here. I even once got an email explaining to me that outgoing howitzer rounds go "Thump" while incoming ones go "Whump," or perhaps it was the other way around.)

Photo by Michael Fumento
Guarding the rooftop during a successful raid to grab suspects
Much too quiet to be a mortar round, it also didn't quite sound like a rifle or pistol. I quickly spied the source. Somebody was burning trash and apparently didn't go through it too well, leaving rounds to cook off. I approached two soldiers who were calling in a water truck by walkie-talkie? "Aren't those rounds cooking off?" I asked. "Sure sounds that way," one said. "Then why are you standing so close that the smallest round in there could hit you?"

Said the soldier, "If it does, it does."

There's no arguing that this was not a good explanation and that neither soldier should have been anywhere near that close. I only approached it to talk to them and quickly left. But it's an interesting example of fatalism in action. This might make you question if it hurts their ability to conduct operations, but not from what I've seen.

Apparently even as they readily accept the possibility of their own deaths, on operations their professionalism and determination to keep their buddies in one piece is what drives them. These are very special men, indeed.

Photo by Michael Fumento
State of the art rifle . . . circa 1880
As to my night operation, from my perspective it was quite boring. The squad I accompanied found nothing more than one toy gun and two rifles with long bayonets that I would judge date back to the late 19th century. No effort had been to restore them; both were heavily rusted and one was missing its wooden stock. In the United States, they would be nice and shiny and mounted on a wall.

Here they were just lying around the house, valued obviously for some reason but definitely not for protection unless you're into bayonet thrusts. And yes, they were allowed to keep them. Each house is allowed one AK-47 automatic rifle for self-defense. Anything beyond that is confiscated.

Other squads had more luck. Of the list of nine suspects, five were nabbed but only one kept. Meanwhile, though, three other men were grabbed and upon interrogation appeared to be "dirty," as the GIs put it. So in all, four men were taken into custody.

I earned another Purple Heart when I slipped on one of the many little sand mounds that surround brush and cut my hand. As I said previously, the sand here is really dust. That makes it quite slippery.

One GI joked that I still needed to acquire my sea legs, but I corrected him that I need to acquire my sand legs.

Photo by Michael Fumento
"My weapon is my camera!" says Fumento.
Another nasty aspect of the dust is that all you have to do is add a bit of water from a shower and suddenly it's mud with the consistency of peanut butter. I found that out earlier this year at "Camp Ramuddy."

Fortunately, I should be out of here before we get our first heavy rainshower.

I still can't talk about my next patrol but I've just learned of the one I'll go on after. The Mulaab.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 8, 2006 01:44 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Back to Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

Camp Corregidor, Ramadi, Iraq

My luck has improved. I got out of the IZ by Black Hawk at about midnight, which is by far the earliest I've ever flown. Usually you leave at about 2:30 a.m. and get in perhaps at 5:00 a.m. because of all the stops along the way. This time there was only a refueling stop. At one point shortly after leaving the ground there were two blinding yellow-green streaks coming from the helo, then a third. My vision didn't clear up for ten minutes. I had no idea what they were. Turns out they were flares shot from the bird to distract potential ground fire.

My luck continued at Camp Ramadi where I was able to catch a truck into the city of Ramadi that very evening. Usually you need to wait for a whole convoy called "The Dagger," but this was a huge vehicle used by engineers who destroy IEDs called a Cougar. I first saw them on my first trip, when I was embedded with an explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) near Fallujah but the transmissions were out of order so we used weakly-armored Humvees. That proved a great misfortune, as that EOD team rotated out a few months later and within days the new unit ran over a pressure-plate IED that ripped it apart, killing both men inside.

M2 Bradleys at Camp Ramadi
So faster than I had dared to think, I was back at Corregidor. Good old nasty Corregidor. Endless clouds of fine dust that get into everything, especially your lungs. The order to wear body armor everywhere because of the frequent mortar attacks. But lots of earnest, hard-fighting men who continue to keep the enemy on its toes and not only keep the city from being overrun -- as the MSM would have you think it already has been -- but to actually try to squeeze the "AIF" (Anti-Iraqi Forces) into smaller and smaller areas where they can move around with relative freedom.

Actually, the camp has improved in one way in that it now has a small post exchange and a "Haji mart" operated by locals with a small selection of items but items that are in great demand like batteries.

The men seem genuinely glad to see me. I knew they would kid me about my "drop and roll" during my last firefight. "Well excuuuuse me!" I said. "But I was taught that when you're taking direct fire, that's what you do!" Came the retort, "Not in the middle of the street, though!" "Hey, trust me, I didn't choose for them to open up on me in the middle of the street!" View the drop and roll video (.wmv file, Fumento Hits the Dirt, 2,844kb)

A few asked: Why the hell did you come back here? "Still figuring that one out," I said.

I sleep in a little cracker box of a room, with my current roommate a public affairs soldier who works exclusively for the 506th Infantry Regiment. That brings him down here a few times a year. One of the other forward operating bases he goes to is next to Sadr City in Iraq. He says people always have an awed look on their faces when he says he goes there but that in terms of sheer brutal violence nothing matches his stays and romps with the troops here in Corregidor.

Terrorists are everywhere at Camp Ramadi
It's Ramadan now and nobody bothered to tell me before I started making plans to come here that orders were for no patrols during Islam's holy month. But the bad guys wouldn't accept the offer of a truce so as it happens I was briefed today for two patrols. One is tonight. Usually night patrols are safe and boring, but this will be a long one and with it being Ramadan we may see action. We have a list of nine specific targeted individuals, all insurgents rather than Al Qaida. My guess is we won't nab a single one, but these patrols are always multi-purpose.

The secondary purposes here will just be to show the flag (or the flags, as it were, of both the US and Iraq) in areas Al Qaida likes to say belong to it, and to draw out the bad guys and kill them. It's an interesting twist on counterinsurgency here in that while in most such wars such as Vietnam you mainly use ambushes with the occasional counter-ambush, here it's always counter-ambush. We present a tempting target, an offer they can't refuse, and we kill them.

The second patrol will be considerably longer. This blog will probably be posted before then so I can't really comment on its objectives. It looks like a good chance to see action, though. And yes, I did get my loaner body armor. It's considerably heavier than what I brought in, no doubt about that. But I trained with the appropriate amount of weight and I'm reassured by the ceramic plates covering my sides.

Unfortunately, there's been another death in the SEAL family. Just a few days ago after I was already in-country. That makes two deaths in the platoon of only 19. The remainder will be with us on the patrol tonight, but apparently they've taken the death pretty hard. They seemed untouchable when they first deployed here but between deaths and injuries they've had a recent spate of really bad luck.

I'm still hoping to get a chance to interview some of them but have been told to give them a chance to recover a bit more psychologically before doing so. On the other hand, I know they want to honor their fallen and if they don't do it through me it probably won't get done. Not a whole lot of other civilian reporters out here.

I've been taking a billion notes and have much more to write, but I need to wrap this and start getting my gear ready. Actually, what I really need to do unfortunately is stand in line for one of Corregidor's nine Internet-connected computer terminals to open up. I went over there earlier today to check email and was very irritated to find at least one soldier hogging a terminal to play solitaire! Apparently nobody ever told him that you can actually play that game with a deck of cards and shouldn't be using Internet-connected terminals to do things that can be done offline.

Nine computers for 500 men checking for email from loved ones and sending it back, not to mention those who like to keep up on the news, and not to mention the occasional milblogger who needs to upload his latest dispatch, aren't very much.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 8, 2006 12:25 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq

Incredible Incompetence Slashes My Mission Time

By Michael Fumento

Baghdad, Iraq

During my last trip to Iraq, I blogged that the worst part of being an embed isn't what you'd think. It's not bullets, or bombs, or even diarrhea. It's the decrepit system of transportation in which the machines work fine but the people in charge don't. Last time it cost me a third of my stay in Ramadi. Then once I was back in the military airport outside Kuwait City, the shuttle to the commercial airport never came. Because I had a non-refundable ticket and had to spend time in a hotel, this added an awful $1,000 to my trip and forced a seven-hour layover at the airport. But this time it looked like I wasn't even going to get into Iraq, and then once into Iraq not into Baghdad's International Zone to get credentialed. The rules for embeds are constantly changing, usually for the worse, and having been through the grinder once before actually puts you at a disadvantage because you think you know the rules but don't.

This tethered aerostat above Baghdad's airport (Don't call it a blimp, the makers will get mad at you), along with another, is armed with a huge array of cameras and sensors that can be used to call in rapid deployment forces or indirect fire to protect the entire airport area including the road to Baghdad once called "The Highway of Death."
My first inkling that things wouldn't be easy was when my luggage was essentially hijacked by a jump-suited airport employee who loaded my bags onto a cart and started rolling away at a good clip while I tried to ask him where we were going. Eventually he handed me over to KBR contractors just feet away from where I was to meet my point of contacts (POCs) from the public affairs office. My offense? Wearing a uniform. "Were you aware that you're not suppose to be in uniform in Kuwait International, sir?" a KBR contractor asked me. "No, I was unaware of it to the point that this is the third time I've flown in here, including earlier this year, and on both previous occasions I wore a uniform." Came the retort, "Just answer the question, sir." Gee, I thought that was an answer. I was told the Kuwaitis decided to suddenly object to uniforms in the airport other than their own. Somebody should remind them that if it wasn't for Americans in uniform, the uniforms they would be wearing would be those of Saddam's army. But after I cooled my heels awhile, KBR finally sent somebody over to grab my POC, SSgt. Buckley, who had been patiently waiting.

So, it was off to my hotel to get some sleep before meeting Buckley at the commercial airport and heading off to the military airport, Ali Al Salem (pronounced "Saleem") over an hour away. Buckley had originally told me it would have been smarter to just skip the hotel and go directly to the transit area of "Ali Al," making it easier to catch a flight within the next two days. Here, again, I detected another major change in the rules. When I came over in April I specifically asked if I could go straight to Ali Al, but was told they'd never let me on base until my papers were processed. Now I was being told quite the opposite. Turns out the old rule was still in force -- but with a vengeance.

To fly to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP, you need a Baghdad visa which they give you when your PAO POC (Buckley, in this case) turns your passport in to the right people at Ali Al. Buckley had done so and now we were going on base to get the passport, try to book me a flight for the next day, and get me a bunk in the transient tent. But now we were stopped at the gate by soldiers who said they needed to see my stamped passport. Buckley patiently explained I couldn't show it to them as I needed to go onto the base to get it. The soldiers were properly following orders; somebody on the inside had forced me into a Catch 22 position. I needed to go in to get my papers; but I needed my papers to go in. After some time, Buckley went in on his own and literally sat down with the base commander himself to try to figure out what the heck was going on. What Buckley was told and relayed to me was stunning. I would be allowed on base only so long as he and a contractor that worked with him stayed with me, as if I were a criminal in transit. Fortunately, he wasn't required to cuff himself to me.

By now, hours had passed and the time to reserve a seat (get on the manifest) had expired. But if I didn't catch the next day's flight Buckley and company would be forced to spend two days with me and they really have better things to do than baby-sit journalists. So we tried to get me on a space available (Space A) list. That means if there's extra room on the flight, you can get on. That's where things went from somewhat unbelievable to absolutely incredible. Buckley was then told I couldn't get a seat without orders from my unit. Of course, I have no unit. I'm a journalist. Since the dawn of history, when that big black monolith appeared and one group of apes began clubbing another group while music from 2001: A Space Odyssey played in the background, journalists have never been told they need orders from their embed units. As I later found out, you can get something like orders from the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC), the people who credential you, in Baghdad's International Zone (IZ). But apparently Buckley's predecessor had been told to pack his bags quite suddenly just a few days earlier and nobody told Buckley about this.

The commander also said that after me each person from the media would have to be accompanied by somebody from the Kuwait PAO office! The next week, Buckley was expecting a group of 13 radio personalities on a single day. (Don't worry; they stay within the safe confines of the airport area and the IZ.) Buckley's entire office only has 16 personnel. Obviously this was really, really screwy. But I don't think the rule actually went into effect.

For my case, Buckley suggested all we could do was get orders, from my embed unit in Ramadi. There's a first for everything, right? So I contacted my POC in at Camp Ramadi outside the city and she did draw up what she thought orders for journalists might look like and sent them to Buckley. No good. So Buckley said my best chance was to avoid the Ali Al bedlam entirely and fly out with the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the military side of Kuwait International. I did this in the spring and found the RAF more organized than the Air Force, so I was quite happy with this option. Happy, that is, until just minutes before boarding when British troops unexpectedly arrived and knocked all of the civilians off the flight.

Is this beginning to sound like Gilligan's Island, in which the castaways have a chance of escape dangled in front of them each show only to have it bashed at the last minute? I had arrived in Kuwait on Thursday and by now it was Sunday and I was absolutely bouncing off the walls. Not even a Ginger or Mary Ann to comfort me. But by now Buckley thought it was time to give the airbase another shot. He couldn't get us there until late at night after all flights had departed to BIAP but I did sign up for a Space A with a roll call of 0400. To those of you who don't know military time, that means: "Extremely early." So up at 3:15 to pack and drag my stuff to the proper building fully expecting to be sent back to vie for the few Space A seats available at 1400. Lo! I had a seat. Some hours later (the only thing fast about the Air Force are its fighter jets) I was on a C-130 bound for BIAP. We had two guests of honor, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist and apparently a congressman from Florida. Frist said, "We love you all." I wanted to tell him I loved him, too, but I was overcome with emotion. He then proceeded to have photo-ops with about half the GIs on board, which were designed to make him look good but I'm sure made some of the soldiers feel good too so I've decided not to be overly cynical about the whole thing.

It's only fitting that Camp Stryker near the airport is home to a unit of Striker armored vehicles. These machines, with their .50 caliber main gun, stealthy wheels instead of tracks, and RPG-blocking grates, have proved tremendously valuable in urban warfare. Only problem: There aren't nearly enough to go around.
About one and a half hours' flying time later, we were touching down in Baghdad. What a weird world when you're actually happy to be in Iraq! Fear not, it didn't last long. At the Space-A desk I was asked to turn in my passport. Repeatedly the military, as with Buckley, asks to take your passport and in the past they've always gotten it back to me before I needed it. I assumed I would get it when I arrived at BIAP. Wrong. My passport was still in Kuwait. No passport, no getting any closer to the IZ and CPIC than Camp Stryker at the airport. Yet another wasted day.

Fortunately -- or perhaps unfortunately -- it's impossible to break your skull by banging it against the side of a tent. So I did the next best thing and found somebody to call Ali Al and find my passport, then arrange to have it sent on the next plane which was scheduled to show up at 2000. It didn't; the plane had been rerouted to Mosul instead. But there was supposed to be another plane in from Ali Al a few hours later and I was told it would have my passport. It didn't. Then I was told that CPIC had gotten my passport on a helicopter coming in early the next morning. There was no helo. Then it was supposed to be on another Air Force plane, but the hours given for its departure and arrival didn't match any flights. Finally, late the next day, I heard it was coming on an RAF plane. I like the RAF and trust them more than the Air Force and truly believed this time it would come. It did. I'm not ashamed to say I kissed my passport harder than I usually kiss either my cat or my wife.

Ultimately, while I would love to solidly place blame for all of this exactly where it's due, I'm not sure exactly where it's due. I did get an awful lot of "Wha? Duh? Huh?" responses from CPIC, which is irritating as heck but I'm not sure whether they made up the "vapor aircraft" or were simply relaying information from contractors at BIAP or from the Air Force. I will say this. Anybody who can make military transport planes and helicopters just disappear can be a valuable asset. I suggest that the parties responsible be found and parceled out to vehicle check points so that they can make suicide vehicles vanish in the same way those aircraft did.

Some months ago milblogger/photographer Mike Yon and a reporter with the Columbia Journalism Review who had also been an embed asked me if I thought DoD was intentionally trying to dissuade embeds from coming. Yon was acting on his own experience; the CJR journalist on what other reporters had told him. I said I would find out soon enough. But actually, I haven't. Yet I'm not so paranoid as to believe that what happened to me has only happened to me -- though perhaps I caught it the worst. On my previous two embeds, I slid right into the country as if I were naked and covered with grease. It was transportation within the country that drove me nuts -- and may yet again this time. Moreover, these delays fall hardest on freelance embeds who pay their own way and can't just sit around the $400-per-night Kuwait Sheraton cooling their heels until they finally get a plane. (I got the cheapest hotel in the city at about $75 per night.)

Further, I assume it helps to have a major organization behind you that can make calls and perhaps pull strings for you. But for the little guys who go places the big boys generally won't and provide an alternative to the "everything is going to hell" stories the MSM churn out daily, there's no recourse. I wonder how many potential embeds and especially freelance ones reading this will throw their hands up in the air and say, "No way!" to the idea of coming to Iraq and perhaps even to Afghanistan.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.


Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Give
Learn More













October 5, 2006 12:32 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Iraq