Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Greetings from Baghdad

Every day I think about my grandson in Iraq and pray that he will be safe. But there are only around 10 million Americans who are closely related to the US troops deployed in the war zones. The remaining 290 million Americans need to be thankful for what our brave soldiers are doing. One way for me to remind people is to post blogs about some of the heroes. This one is a message from our good friend Dave McCarthy, a Marine Special Operations Lt. Col who is back in Iraq. When Dave is not fighting for us he is a City Attorney, husband and father of three boys. Dave says that for the first time in 20 years he got a Marine Corps “High and Tight” haircut. Here are excerpts from his “Greetings from Baghdad.”

Greetings All. I trust this message finds everyone well and in good spirits. How are things there? Karen and Wick - tonight is brownie night and I can't wait! Bill - thanks for the postings on your blog; I loved the one about Thomas Friedman. Brian - some of this message is for civilian eyes, so you'll just have to skip over the parts that are old-hat to you or just bear with me.

Before I left the US I had to spend a few days in Tampa at MacDill AFB with Marine Forces Central doing some required pre-deployment stuff like taking a refresher on my SERE training (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) and filling out new Personnel Recovery Data so that if you're captured or become separated from your unit the National Joint Recovery Agency can verify you're who you say you are before they send in a rescue team - to insure they don't send a team into an ambush. Once in Kuwait I got myself from Kuwait City to Ali As Saleem Air Base where I was issued weapons and other toys. From there I hopped on an Air Force C-130 flying to Baghdad Airport where I jumped on an Army convoy that was headed to the Forward Operating Base.

My very first day here I received a nice welcome from the insurgents: three rockets landed inside our compound. Two of the rockets didn't do any real damage, but one landed on a vehicle, destroying it; fortunately no one was hurt. This should be an interesting tour of duty. The temperature is OK now but is starting to heat up and this summer is projected to be wickedly hot. I'm wondering if I'll break my personal record of being in 127 degree heat which I experienced last time I was here. The heat itself might be bearable, except that when we leave the wire we're wearing full battle-rattle (Helmet, flak vest, gas mask, etc, etc, etc), and that all weighs about 55 pounds.

I will tell you this: Baghdad is vastly different and 1000% worse than my last two tours here. The last time I was here my team and I managed to borrow a regular civilian van so we could travel and operate without drawing attention to ourselves. We drove that van all over Iraq and the van obviously had no armor and it was just us - we had no escort. These days you don't leave the wire unless you're in an armored Humvee and with a full armored convoy. I'm reminiscing about that van now: the one thing I loved about it is that it had sliding passenger doors on both sides and the rear passenger seats swiveled all around; whenever we found ourselves in the middle of a crowded place and the natives were restless we just opened the doors, swiveled the seats and pointed our weapons out - it was like a helicopter gunship at street level and let me tell you, the crowds parted like Moses parting the sea.

One good thing is that the personal protective gear has vastly improved over even just a few years ago. In both Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and 2004 I had a regular old flak vest, which wouldn't stop a bullet and I’m not even sure it would stop shrapnel. I now have “sappi plates” in the front, rear and sides of my brand new flak vest and they supposedly will stop a 7.62 round (an AK-47 bullet), so that gives me some degree of comfort.

Every time we leave the compound to head out either to downtown Baghdad or to elsewhere in Iraq it is tension-filled. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I leave Iraq with an ulcer and tension headaches, not to mention circulation problems from cramming myself into Humvees - those things were not designed for a guy my size, let alone a guy my size in full battle-rattle.

When I left here after my first tour I left with a hearing loss - not too serious - from exposure to gunfire and explosions. Also, I came home with bad habits, like sleeping with a .45 under my pillow and clearing the house every time I came home (that is, they were bad habits for home; they were darned good habits for here).

While traveling in the Humvees we can expect to draw sniper fire; explosions from IEDs occur, but thankfully aren't as common. We're getting better at either pre-detonating the IEDs with electronic countermeasures or locating them and defusing them. Electronic countermeasure devices are attached toalmost all Humvees. IEDs are still the biggest worry because AIF is gettingbetter at implanting them and they are making them bigger and deadlierthan ever before. “AIF” is “Anti-Iraqi Forces” - the label we affix toal Qaeda, insurgents, Muslim extremists and foreign fighters. The onlybad guys that aren't AIF are the common criminals - tens ofthousands that Saddam Hussein released from prison just beforethe fall of his government (a tactic he no doubt learned from the Cubantyrant, specifically in the Mariel boatlift when Castro let thousands of criminals out of Cuban prisons and gulags to go to the U.S. to wreak havoc on our communities).

Today on our way back to the Forward Operating Base one of the smaller IEDs – perhaps intended for us - detonated ahead of us, destroyed an Iraqi automobile and badly injured a woman inside. Fortunately an Iraqi Army detachment was close by and took the woman to a hospital. War is a horrible thing. What keeps me going and motivates me is the firm belief that there are in fact things worse than war, which is why I'm here to beginwith. I know you're familiar with, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things . . .” and other writings of John Stuart Mill and Thomas Paine. They might have written during the Revolutionary War, but their writings are timeless.

One thing I feel compelled to comment on is the news reporting in the US. You should take much of what you read, hear or watch with a grain of salt. Most reporters seldom leave the international zone in Baghdad, so they either report third-hand news or they simply make up “news.” If seems that they have a hidden, or not so hidden, agenda and they don't see ordon't want to see the progress we're making here, and if they do see itthey won't report it. Progress here is being made, albeit slowly . . I think. Hey, what do I know, I'm just a Marine Ground-Pounder/Bullet-Stopper. They also editorialize the news in a big way. I'm told that the New York Times reported that there was an anti-American protest in Iraq where “tens of thousands” of Iraqis turned out. I was near that protest when it took place, and in actuality the protestors were so few in number that they barely filled one traffic intersection; it was a non-event.

Are the media back in the states reporting that the insurgents have been including Chlorine in their IED's? That way if the explosion or the shrapnel don't get you the poison gas will. They are complete immoral barbarians; they target crowds of innocent civilians, including women and children. You'd think that both people and politicians would be so outraged they would demand that the US military stay here until the last of the murderers are wiped out. There I go again getting heavy; sorry about that. Getting back to the progress we're making, I'm reminded of something a chaplain told us before we headed out of the compound to go into downtown Baghdad; he said, “You cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.” We like to think we're doing some good over here; doing good for both the Iraqi people and doing good for the future of America; certainly some of us will die trying and we're willing to do so for a cause we believe in.

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be on a Forward Operating Base when Mass was being conducted in the base chapel so I attended. Wouldn't you know a mortar round impacted not far from the chapel right during Mass. My first thought was “what a good time and place to die - at mass and in a chapel.” My second thought was “freaking Muslim extremists - we're expected to bend over backwards to show respect for Islam and for the Koran and here they go shelling us while we're at church.”

Well, that's all for now. Thanks for listening. I'll write again when I can. Please take care and be well.

Semper Fidelis,
Dave (McCarthy, LtCol, USMC, 1 ea.)

Post Script - Just after I wrote the last of this message three 107 mm rockets impacted the Base in the area where all our tents and livingfacilities are located. They were close, but thank God, no cigar. Oneof them impacted not 100 meters from my tent, and a piece of shrapnelcame through my wall - I'll bring it home and encase it in Lucite for anice souvenir.

My grandson Johnny Walton just emailed to say that his Army 82nd Airborne unit has not yet been extended beyond its 12 month tour of duty (John’s second in Iraq) due to the latest troop surge. We’re praying that he will be home safe in the fall.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bill

Thanks for sharing this with us. Your grandson and all of the soldiers fighting for us in Iraq and Aghanistan, deserve our maximum support and prayers. Too bad the left leaning liberal loonies and most of the media do not feel this way.


10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi dad,
Wow, what a letter. Thanks for sharing with us. Johnny has said the same thing about the news reporting... take what you hear with a grain of salt.
Be safe Dave. Thank you, and you are in our prayers.
~ Carolynne

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're a brave man and clearly have an excellent perspective on the situation in Iraq.

However, the problem that most of us have is to reconcile the conflicting accounts of what's real and what isn't. For example, how do we square what you say in one paragraph:

"Baghdad is vastly different and 1000% worse than my last two tours here"

with what you say a little later:

"Progress here is being made, albeit slowly . . I think."

Then we get John McCain, Lindsey Graham and other clowns walking through the Baghdad market surrounded by armed guards and helicopters, saying how safe it is and bragging about the cheap rugs they've bought.

Most of us want the truth, but it's hard to get and even harder to understand.


8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill - please send this to the PV news and ask them to publish it and to the Daily Breeze also! I know soldiers in Iraq that say if we stay the course we are winning and are forcing the Iraquis to defend themselves! Keep up the good work and tell this fellow for me - thank you! Have him send me his address and I will forward boxes of books, food and shampoos etc to him and his troops! Also send me your grandson's address once again as my computer crashed and all addresses etc were on it.


2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. It makes my blood boil - for all kinds of reasons. I especially appreciate hearing the "real story" from someone who is there and is rational.


2:55 PM  
Anonymous Doc said...

Hi Bill,

Thanks for keeping posted! Please convey my personal thanks to Dave and John.

Doc David

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please tell Dave that I pray daily for all them and am so proud of the brave men and women and am so sorry they have to here all the lies and venom coming from the Left Wing Congress, News, etc. I'm sure he knows there are some civil people left in America. Also please tell your wonderful Grandson the same.

Take care my friend,

6:47 AM  

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