Daily Archives: September 9, 2010

Going to War: The First Mission Flying West in a C-130

Workhorses: C-130s at an US Base in Iraq

This is another installment of my “Going to War” Series that I began last year.  In the Fall I had to take a break from posting anything more due to issues that I was having dealing with the effects of PTSD. I started this article in the spring but again put it on hold.  I have reached the point that I can again write about this. I will post follow up articles about our operations and experiences supporting our Marine Corps, Army and Joint Service advisor teams in Al Anbar province. The previous posts as well as others dealing with Iraq are filed in the “Tour in Iraq” link on the home page. The direct link to these articles is here: https://padresteve.wordpress.com/category/tour-in-iraq/

Nelson and I continued to prepare in the days leading up to our first mission to the Border Port of Entry at Waleed on the Syrian border with a planned follow on to the teams of the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division at Al Qaim about a hundred miles to the north .  Waleed is about 350 miles west of TQ and 70 miles from the nearest FOB with any substantial American presence known as Korean Village or simply KV. We were in constant communication with the team that we to visit via VOIP and SVOIP telephone and secure and non-secure e-mail. The commander of the Border teams, which included Border and Port of Entry adviser teams was Lieutenant Colonel Bien.  Our mission in getting out to the furthest point west was to meet up with an incoming and an outgoing Port of Entry team and see what we could do to get out to other posts along the border.

Nothing in Iraq is easy.  The get out to Waleed we had to make a two day trip from TQ, through Al Asad out to Waleed.  Our flight out was a day flight on an Air Force C-130 to Al Asad.  Our contacts in the G3-Air at 2nd MLG were good in helping me figure out the Air Force flight request which was different than the normal Marine Air Support Request.  For this mission I had to submit two Air Force and three Marine Air Support requests.    Simply submitting a request does not guarantee a flight. Flights are based on precedence dictated by the overall mission.  Religious support was pretty high on the list but there was no telling that your flight would go until you had your approval message and even then things could change.  The actual missions were not known until about midnight the night prior to the flight. So if you were a frequent flyer it meant no sleep the night before a mission as you waited to see if you were approved.  This was my first time actually having to do this for real so I sat at my secure laptop in my office in the back of the TQ plywood Cathedral waiting for the flight list to be posted on the MLG G3 Air Secure Website.  Finally about 0100 the list popped and our first flight was on in.  It was a mid day flight which meant that we needed to be at the passenger terminal about 0930.  This entailed getting our ride from the Chapel to the terminal by 0900.

I told Nelson who was checking his e-mail on a computer in the RP office that it was a go and then headed off to my can to prepare.  Since most of my gear for the 10 day trip was already packed I tried to actually get ready to sleep.  I quickly found that simply being tired because I was up late was not enough to help me go to sleep.  I was really tired but the adrenaline was coursing through my body making it impossible to sleep.  I prayed the office of Compline and then played computer Ma-Jong until at least 0300 before I could finally pass out.  I was up early to shower and get breakfast before lugging my gear over to the chapel.  The weather as usual was about 100 degrees by the time I got back from the chow hall; I gathered my gear and went to the chapel.  I took my back pack, my laptop and a flight bag. I would learn on this mission that I would need to pack lighter the next time around, but live and learn.

The first leg of our trip was on an Air Force C-130 from TQ to Al Asad which we shared with a large number of previously unknown friends from every branch of service in the US military as well as various civilians and contractors.  All of us had our personal protective equipment as well as our bags. The bags that we did not want to lug were placed on pallets and transported with a large fork lift to the aircraft.  When you make one of these trips you are accounted for a good number of times before ever getting on the aircraft.  This first mission was still in the heat of the Iraqi summer and thus the temperature inside and outside of the aircraft was stifling.  We staged off the tarmac in the sun for a final role call and then in two lines who guided out to our aircraft which had just landed.  As we were trudging out to the aircraft two lines of assorted passengers primarily Soldiers and Marines passed us mid way to the aircraft.  As we neared the aircraft the propeller blast blew the hot air into our faces and I thanked God for the high speed Wiley-X ballistic sunglasses that I had been issued by EOD.  Entering into the aircraft we had to step up onto the cargo ramp and then took our seat in the narrow canvas mesh jump seats that lined both the side of the aircraft and the center.  The rear of the aircraft including the cargo ramp was used for several pallets of cargo including the bags that we elected not to carry.  Sitting in the aircraft and waiting for the pallets to be loaded I thought back to my early career as an Army Officer where I became an air-load planner and embarked my soldiers on six C-130s during Winter REFORGER 1985.  Back then instead of the 130 degree heat of Iraq we faced the coldest winter in 40 years in Europe in which the Rhine froze over.  Although the use of computers has become routine in load plans the principles are the same as they were 25 years ago and everything on the aircraft needs to be properly balanced to ensure the stability and safety of the aircraft and that weight limits are not exceeded.  As the sweat poured off of me I took off my helmet and downed part of the one liter bottle of water that I carried onto the aircraft and threw some on my face, though warm it was refreshing and I reattached my helmet as the aircrew came through the cabin giving a final safety brief.

As the last of the cargo pallets were loaded about the aircraft the cargo ramp was raised, the entire time that the aircraft was on the ground was under 15 minutes, it is amazing what the Marine and Air Force ground crews and cargo handlers can accomplish.  With the ramp raised the aircraft’s air conditioning began to take effect and though not the coolest air conditioning it was better than what we had up to that point. The aircraft began to roll and move down the taxiway and when it reached the end of the taxiway it made a fast turn and began its take off.  Since there was a real and present danger of possible missile or gun attacks on low flying aircraft the C-130 made a steep lift off and banked right over Lake Habbinyah and continued its ascent until it reached its cruise altitude.  The C-130, like any cargo aircraft is extremely loud and because of this hearing protection is worn by passengers and crew and conversation is nearly impossible.

The flight from TQ to Al Asad is only about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the route taken so most of the passengers took the opportunity to grab a bit of sleep or read.  Nelson and I sat together on the starboard side of the aircraft not far from the palletized cargo.  Nelson who can sleep almost anywhere on a moment’s notice was out quickly; and although I was tired I could do little more than close my eyes and try to clear my mind.  When we neared Al Asad the aircraft banking nearly perpendicular to the ground made a steep and fast approach.  As we landed I could see other aircraft on the ground including F-18’s, various transports and rotor wing aircraft.  The C-130 taxied to a spot on the tarmac where the ramp was dropped and we were instructed to exit the aircraft and led to the rear of the aircraft about 50 yards and then led between it and another aircraft to a group of tiny Japanese made Nissan and Mitsubishi buses in which we were loaded until every seat was full including the in aisle jump seats.  Packed into the bus like sardines and smelling almost as bad we sucked in the stench, which was somewhat like a European elevator in the 1980s.

Passengers disembark from a C-130 at Al Asad

After a short ride to the terminal we picked up our gear which had been delivered on the pallets by forklifts.  Another muster was taken and after all personnel were accounted for those of us waiting on follow on flights checked in at the terminal.  After being accounted for we got our temporary billeting in large tents about a hundred yards from the terminal.  The tents were large and poorly lit with plywood floors and several air conditioners built into the sides of the tent.  The bunks were in very poor condition, many broken and even more with dirty worn out mattresses sagging in the middle.  Nelson and I looked at each other and Nelson made some comments about the accommodations and we each found a bunk grounded our gear and settled in for a bit in order to clean up before trying to go get some chow.

Next: Air Travel In Al Anbar: the California Line.

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How to Make an Incredibly Difficult War Unwinnable: The Crass Hatred of “Pastor” Terry Jones for Moslems Endangers Americans

“Pastor” Terry Jones

“Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions-political, economic, psychological, military-that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime. To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked-ideological, social, religious, economic -any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered. Moreover, in view of the present-day interdependence of nations, any residual grievance within a population, no matter how localized and lacking in scope, will surely be brought by determined adversaries into the framework of the great world conflict. From a localized conflict of secondary origin and importance, they will always attempt sooner or later to bring about a generalized conflict.” Roger Trinquier

“Pastor” Terry Jones of the Gainesville Florida “Dove World Outreach Center” has crossed a boundary in regard to the abuse of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  While many may vehemently disagree with this religious zealot’s (I cannot honor him with the title of Christian) hatred and bigotry he has a Constitutional right the express his beliefs under the First Amendment.  Unfortunately while the Reverend Jones may believe his beliefs to be the absolute truth and has the Constitutional right both to hold and express those views in any medium that he wishes it does not mean that those expressed views represent the entirety of the Christian faith much less the body politic of the American nation.  Likewise it does not mean that his views while protected free speech cannot be harmful to the interests of the nation and the people that at least in an earthly state are the guarantors of that liberty.  In fact it has become apparent that some individuals and groups can be so convinced of their own “correctness” that in spite of every warning to the contrary that they do all that they can to inflame tensions and undercut the efforts of the military that seeks to preserve those rights.

There are a couple of major issues that I see here and I will not address the Constitutional issues which regardless of how hateful and devoid of reason one’s beliefs may be they are still protected under the First Amendment.  This is settled law and has been applied to a variety of hateful and actually harmful ideologies on both the right and the left.  Thus as idiotic, ignorant, hateful and strategically harmful an argument be, be it religious, philosophical or political as long as it does not impinge of the physical right to life, liberty and property as it might be it is still protected speech.  What bothers me as well as most of the people I know believe about the stated in intentions of the “Reverend” Jones and his flock to be is that not that he has the right to express them, but that he chooses to do so in the knowledge that his actions will very well cost the American military lives in an ongoing war.

We live in the United States and political or religious thought, even hateful and potentially damaging is protected speech.  At the same time there are times that such speech can harm the interests of the county and cost lives.

The “Reverend” Jones is planning to conduct a protest against Islam, a religion that he believes to be “of the Devil.”  Okay, whatever, he has a right to those beliefs.  However, he insists on pursuing a plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran, the most sacred book in the Islamic religion despite the fact that the commander of US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan has asked him not to do so, and against the warnings of other US government officials and even over the protestations of other Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic Church, the National Association of Evangelicals and others.  The plan which he has announced on the internet has unfortunately gained the attention and air time of major television news networks has been reported worldwide and has sparked outrage in moderate Islamic nations that have a history of standing alongside the United States against Islamic radicals. In places where U.S. Forces battle Islamic extremists the statements and planned actions of the “Reverend” Jones and his little apostate “church” place American Solders, Marines, Sailors and Airmen in even more danger because his actions turn those that might be for us against us.

The war against Islamic extremists occurs on numerous fronts and is much larger than military operations. In fact military operations will not will the war of themselves. We do not simple face an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan but a world-wide insurgency where as Trinquier recognized everything is connected, political, religious, economic, military and ideological. In fact since the advent of the internet and cheap digital video technology the potential for radicals such as Jones to adversely impact U.S. military operations and broader political goals in the war against Islamic extremists has grown exponentially. Who could believe that a “pastor” of a 50 member church who has what best can be described as a “Braveheart” fantasy and fetish that was kicked out of a church that he founded in Germany in 2008 would be able to cause such a stir?” Unfortunately that is the power of the new media.  The internet has provided muckrakers of hate like Terry Jones unlimited potential to get their message out and into the sights of mainline media that survive and thrive on the controversy of such stories which feed the 24 hour news cycle for days on end. Yes, the mainstream media are prostitutes when it comes to stories like this and hopefully when Jones actually conducts his burning of the Koran will ignore him as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked.  Jones may have the Constitutional right and freedom to do this but he does not need to be given any more attention by the media which would work against U.S. policy and endanger Americans, especially the military in harm’s way.

I find Jones’ actions to be treasonous. He may have the “rights” to do this but his actions endanger Americans, not just the military but all Americans by his actions. He quickly redirects the blame for this against Moslems but the fact is that his actions help stir a witch’s cauldron of hate against his own country. He advocates actions against American Moslems which if they were recommended by others against Christians would be enough to provoke outrage that might result in violence in the current poisonous political climate.  Likewise in burning the Koran he stoops to a level that Moslems will not go to against Christians or Jews, that is burning books that they consider holy, even if they do not believe that they contain the full revelation of the Koran. Islamists may burn effigies of our leaders and our flag and even persecute Christians and Jews, but they will not burn or desecrate our either the Bible or the Torah.  In doing what he is doing Jones sinks to a low that even the most insane Islamic extremist will not do.  The sad thing is that despite the murderous terrorism practiced by Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, including the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th 2001and around the world since then, that the most brutal and murderous Moslem terrorist will not burn or desecrate our holy books.  I am sure that given Jones’ theology that if he even had a chance to do more than issue vile statements about Moslems and condemn all Moslems and their religion for the actions of some that he would do so. A man that would willingly conduct an act that most certainly will inflame the Moslem world against the United States, endanger our people as well as his own Christian brethren worldwide would not hesitate to conduct terrorist actions against Moslems if he had the money, organization and backing to do so.

Despite what he claims “Reverend” Jones embodies everything that is unseemly and even un-Christian. He has no sense of civic responsibility and he twists the Christian message so vilely that it is unrecognizable as Christian in any way shape or form. In his ignorant hatred he endangers U.S. Forces and works to make an already difficult war unwinnable as he further inflames Moslems against us. Unfortunately no amount of denunciations by the U.S. Government, military leaders or Churches will undo what will happen if he conducts this action as he has stated that he will on September 11th.  His actions like those of others that have couched the Christian message in hate to fulfill their political agendas stands in opposition to what Jesus himself would do and against the message proclaimed by the early church. His actions hearken to the times that so called “Christians” conducted their own “terrorism” against other Christians, Moslems, Jews and Pagans throughout history and even in recent times.

There are some in this country that espouse similar views to Jones even if they will not burn the Koran. Some of this I know is because of ignorance and some simply because they are reacting to world events on a totally emotional level. I get that. The vast majority of these people, be they Christians or not do not advocate or support the actions of Terry Jones.  At the same time their ignorance about the Moslem and Arab world, portraying it as a monolithic “Islamofacist” threat works against their own country and our attempts to win this war against terrorists. We can fight a campaign against a limited number of terrorists and other enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan so long as we have the majority of the populations of those nations on our side supporting us. However we cannot win those wars if people like Jones through their actions turn those that support us against us.  This is an interconnected war, and like Trinquier said it is all connected. Even little groups like the Dove World Outreach Center and their hate filled delusional pastor can cause us great problems.  We cannot fight the entire Moslem world. Our military as it is stretched to the limit, the protected wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent much of our national treasure as well as cost thousands of the lives of our service men and women, those killed, wounded, maimed and those that have the unseen wounds of PTSD, TBI and moral injury.

I do pray that Jones will turn away from this insanity but based on his words and past actions I believe that he has no regard for American treetops or the security of this country. Jones is a menace. He has the right to do what he is doing but in doing so he endangers American lives and makes the job of winning this war that much harder if not impossible. He is an apostate from the Christian faith and a traitor to his own country. I say this as a Christian and a career military officer that remembers 9-11 well and who has deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. I have seen the sacrifice of our Marines, Sailors, Soldier and Airmen, been with the wounded and worked with Iraqi security forces and know their sacrifices.  Jones should be condemned by Americans of all faiths, especially Christians.

Our enemies will use Jones’ actions against us as we would if the situation were reversed. They will use their propaganda networks to use this to poison others against us. Whenever American “Christians” do such idiotic things it makes our job in the military that much harder. Personally I cannot see how anyone that advocates such actions can believe that they are “supporting the troops.”  I see many e-mails forwarded by family friends and others that attack the loyalty of American citizens that disagree with them and especially question the loyalty of American Moslems.  Somehow I recall back in the early years of the Christian Church that the Roman Empire questioned the loyalty of Christians in the empire because they would not acknowledge Caesar as Lord.  I wonder if we truly were Christians and paid Christ more allegiance than our political parties or ideologies rather than use him to buttress our own political parties or allies if we would be considered to be “loyal” citizens. In our country Catholics were considered suspect until at least the 1960s because of their “allegiance” to Rome. Now we do this to Americans citizens who are Moslems and we wonder why these citizens do not speak out more loudly against Islamic extremists. Many have family in Moslem countries that would be in danger if they spoke out and many feel threatened as relatively new immigrants by people like Terry Jones.  They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Jones has stated that he will go ahead with his Koran burning despite the please of General David Petreus in Afghanistan, the U.S. Government and other Christians.  The blood of Americans will be on his hands.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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