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24 May 2006
Feet Dry at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin
The unit arrived here late in the afternoon on Wednesday via our charter MD-11 that took us from Kuwait City through Leipzig, Germany, then to Bangor, Maine and finally to a National Guard base about 45 minutes east of Ft. McCoy.

The post is in about the middle of the state. The largest town nearby is La Crosse to the west. Those of us who mobilized through Ft. Bliss are getting a lot of dumb looks when we go to turn in our issued equipment and nobody knows what to do with us here. Those of us who mobilized from other bases are getting especially vacant responses. The weapons guy had no idea we were on the way until the bobtail van backed into his warehouse loaded with all our weapons. I'm trying to see how to get back to Ft. Bliss but it's going to take some time. Right now the unit has been released to go drink beer so things are pretty quiet here...for a few hours. I'm going to take a loooong shower (anything over the four-minute desert shower is long, but this is going to be loooong) and read myself to sleep after a long, long day.

Love to all,
Charlie's Assignment to Iraq
posted by  admin at  22:00 | permalink | trackbacks [235]

19 May 2006
Elvis has left the building
[Editor: from Charles' email 5/19/06]
The Navy's CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters landed at Camp Bucca this afternoon and gave us the best sight of the post we've seen in a year - the FOB from the back of a helicopter...slowly growing smaller in the distance. We're at Camp Virginia now in Kuwait. The Army units here are much more laid back than those in the combat zone - looks like we're the only ones carrying weapons and wearing the Army P.T. uniform. The D-Fac was full of US service members (all services) but the ones not in duty uniform were wearing civilian clothes (against regulation at Camp Bucca). There were plenty of Australian troops, Japanese and also Bosnian.

The rest of our unit will be here in pieces by Monday from Abu Ghraib. We remain hopeful about how things will go . Our flight to Ft. McCoy should be leaving sometime next week.

Love to all,

Charlie's Assignment to Iraq
posted by  admin at  13:18 | permalink | trackbacks [280]

18 May 2006
Guest entry: Letter from John Philips on US presence in Iraq
[editor's note: John Philips owns Premier Transfer & Storage, with locations in Blacksburg and Salem, VA. He has served with Henry & Charles Bass at Va Tech Army ROTC, and deployed to Iraq close to when Charles deployed, but served much further north.]

To my many friends, family, and wonderful supporters:

Greetings from Al Kassick, Iraq. I have not written everyone in a very long time. The weeks are moving along and the end seems to be in sight. I am relieved to be able to count significantly less than 100 days remaining in my deployment. Everyone has been wonderful in providing email, packages, letters and encouragement. It makes a difference that is hard to understand until it is experienced. Thank you! I am doing fine thankfully with only the normal hassles that come with Army life. Our area has become significantly more remote but the Iraqi Army is stepping up to the plate and doing a good job helping out. This letter is slightly different than my past letters. After weeks of watching the media attempt to destroy the success America has had in Iraq I decided I had to finally express my own opinion.

This morning I woke up and looked at the internet and saw what looks like will be a terrible story of Marines killing civilians last November. It made me extremely mad and very upset. I am getting close to serving more than one complete year of my life for this war and I can see first hand the incredibly positive difference we are making in the lives of the Iraqi citizens. I want to tell you why that is and hope that you will continue to support the troops in Iraq.

Before we were here this country was not peaceful it simply lived in the fear of death. Imagine that the policeman on the corner of your neighborhood was doing more than watching for speeding cars. That policeman was talking to your neighbors about you, or talking to your children about you, and trying to determine if you represented a threat to the government. It did not take much to win the attention of the police. If you didn’t like the fact that you did not receive water from the water truck but your neighbor that was bribing the water man did receive water – you represented a threat to the police. If you took initiative or tried to improve your situation and someone else was jealous – you represented a threat to the government. Most likely you would be sent to prison. If you did end up in prison there certainly was nothing called human rights. Torture was a routine not an exception. Numerous Iraqi soldiers I live with have spent time in prison simply because of their nationality. Some don’t hear, some are nearly disabled and every one of them has direct relatives that were killed by Saddam Hussein’s secret police or army. It was a horrible place.

Now, we did make some mistakes on how we took over this country. Everyone agrees. There is no such thing as a perfect war. In fact, war is the last thing anyone ever wants to happen. However, we also did many things correctly.

We should look at what this country is going through right now. We have an entire country that is learning about human rights, civil rights, capitalism, and democracy at the same time. I have heard it described as taking the American Revolution, our Civil War, our Civil Rights Movement, and the 1930s depression and hosting them all at the same time in the same country without an existing government --- pretty tough to do all of that, form a new Army and expect it all to be nicely fixed in a year or two. This might work on television but not in real life.

School children go to school here every day. There is a harvest that is looking like it may be a record harvest because of a good season of rain. Iraqi Army units are taking over parts of the country and relieving US units of ground responsibility every month. The markets are open. People line up and sheiks beg for the ability to put more young men into the Iraqi Army. In fact, where I am located we had a recruiting drive for the Army and on the second day we were sadly stuck by a suicide bomber killing 40. The very next day we limited the number to 100 and turned away tractor trailer loads of people. The terrorist failed in their attempt to scare off the recruits. In Northern Iraq, the Kurdish area, it is like being somewhere in Europe. All nationalities move freely. It is fully secure. There are no IEDs. There are no suicide bombers or midnight attacks, or execution squads or kidnappers. Thanks to the 1991 Gulf War and 10 years of no-fly zone limitations, the Kurdish north lives under a democratic government and maintains a very safe region.

There is much to be improved in Iraq. There is much to be improved in America. The vast, vast, vast majority of Iraqis live very peacefully minding their own business much more worried about surviving their poverty and illiteracy then about the “war.” There are places where this is not the case. In those places the minority wields incredible power over the majority by the use of force and intimidation. Regretfully, this is what we read in the newspapers and see on television. Naturally we apply this situation to all of Iraq regardless of where it might be limited. Two things give Americans eschewed outlook on the Iraq war – the media and our natural instinct to compare the daily existence of Iraqis to our own situation. The media is a business – it must sell and it certainly is easier to sell sex and violence than peace and routine. And finally, the Iraqi citizen is not living a life that is much worse off than citizens in many African countries, Egypt, Pakistan, India and other locations where poverty beats down hope and initiative.

I sometimes wonder if anyone has paused to compare our situations very openly. Yes, there are insurgents in Iraq trying to gain power through violence and intimidation. How is this different from the gangs in America’s own inner-cities? I wonder if we really recognize the number of people in the United States murdered everyday and compare that to the number of people killed in Iraq – yet it is Iraq that is the location that is at war?

If you travel north entering the peaceful Kurdish region it is an epiphany of sorts. I found myself without body armor, without my long rifle, eating among a nationality that is among the most respectful, hospitable and caring in the world. Everyone wants their picture made with a soldier. People give gifts despite their economic circumstances. Appreciation for what the United States has done flows wherever we go despite our Army’s embarrassing mistakes. Someday most of Iraq will be like this and another culture will wake up from tyranny, fanaticism, sectarian violence and recognize that freedom has its own struggles but is incredibly worth the price. The people to thank when this happens will be the citizens of the United States of America where we believe that free and individual rights are worth the sacrifice. I just pray that we will have the patience to understand that this type of revolution and revelation both take time – perhaps an entire generation.

There are places in Iraq where urban combat is an hour to hour situation. I spent some time in one. But do not forget the Iraqi people and their desire for peace. Do not be misled by our own sensationalism and desire to see those in our own country in power to fall for whatever reason.

Remember, the vast amount of soldiers understand why we are here, are proud of their service, can recognize the positive difference that is being made, and fully understand the difference between right and wrong.

I work with an Iraqi Army General eve
Charlie's Assignment to Iraq
posted by  admin at  13:23 | permalink | trackbacks [237]

1 Nov 2005
Mental Health Staffing
Cool blog! Thanks for getting the pictures to behave. Yes, the router for the hospital came in last week and things have been going well with something called a V-Sat connection to the Internet.

We have an addition to the staff here at the clinic, which is a relief. There are ordinarily six on my staff at the TIF to work with detainees - two psych nurses, three techs and me. A nurse and a tech are on leave and another tech is on pass. The other nurse had foot surgery today and is going to be convalescent for a few days. So, my NCOIC and I are joined by 1LT Barry Zablenski. He's on loan to us from the 785th MPs and, due to his master's degree and doctoral work in counseling it is befitting that he do something more mental-health-flavored than being an MP. The position of "medical liasion" is new and unique, so we're creating an answer to a need. He's going to patrol (lurk, really) around the compound and pounce on anybody who looks remotely glum, shake them violently and shout, "How do you feel?!?"

Really, he's a fine soldier and it's helping me out a lot that he's going to do this and put himself in more places that it's possible for me to do. Most of the people who need mental health services won't go in until they are given a direct invitation.

Hope y'all are doing okay back in the States. The site www.timeanddate.com tells me it's 110 days until the Army lets me see my wife again on my mid-tour leave.


Charlie's Assignment to Iraq
posted by  admin at  12:42 | permalink | trackbacks [102]

14 Oct 2005
Voting Tomorrow!
This week has been the election week throughout Iraq. The Sunni minority is very threatened by the elections because they know they will lose a lot of their political power in a vote to the Shi'ites and Kurds (Saddam is a Sunni). So, there were some radical Sunnis (called "Wahabis") trying to intimidate the others into not voting at all.

THAT, in turn, made the American service members pretty upset. We've been over here for the last four years trying to make this country a better place to live, with voting being somewhere near the top of the list. We persuaded everyone to allow free, secret voting for all Iraqis. The United Nations has oversight for the voting to ensure it remains fair and legitimate.

The purpose of this referendum vote is to approve or reject the new constitution for this country. When it is approved, Iraq will be official as a nation.

Yes, the detainees voted. Even Saddam Hussein voted from his jail cell near Baghdad. As none of them have yet been convicted of any crimes, they are all priviledged to vote. Shoot, even I voted (well, for a Nov. 8 constitutional amendment vote in Taylor County, Texas, through absentee ballot...). Iraqis living abroad are not given the absentee voting option, interestingly enough. All the details are at the White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/

Anyway, it made for a quiet week. The security around the TIF (Theater Internment Facility) was about ten times the normal (a factor replicated this week through much of Iraq), since the elections also fall on the Muslim observance of Ramadan, which ends on November 4. Since Camp Bucca is one of the larger cities in Iraq (i.e., its Iraqi population of 6,500 exceeds about 90% of the cities, towns and villages in this country), steps needed to be taken to ensure good order and safety of all residents. Only emergency care was provided from the hospital, so things stayed thankfully quiet all week.

The switching of brigades happened this week, also. We and four other hospitals (serving a total of eight locations) were under the 44th Medical Brigade from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. We're now part of the 30th Medical Brigade from Heidelberg, Germany. Seems the 44th served their year and is pulling out. Makes no real difference to us - we just send our weekly reports to different e-mail addresses now.

Because of the increased security, convoys are very limited at the moment. Mail hasn't come for a week. The Internet at the hospital is still down because of a faulty router. The replacement has been sitting in Baghdad for a week and continues to gather dust until the convoy routes open again. Fortunately, this computer on the other side of base is on the Internet via a different connection, though it is only available for me to use well after midnight.

The book-of-the-week is *Dragon*, another of Clive Cussler's. It's about a devious Japanese plot to financially bring America to its knees. It's impossible to read this and not think about Mike Shaffer, who would doubtlessly enjoy this novel and agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions it draws.

Hope all is well in Alaska, Texas, Virginia and Florida. It certainly would be worth a lot to me to be in any one of those states, but that's going to have to wait a little longer.

Love to all,


Charlie's Assignment to Iraq
posted by  admin at  15:33 | permalink | trackbacks [3]

22 Sep 2005
At Abu Ghraib
The Net access here at Abu Ghraib is fair, not great (much like Camp Bucca). My advice last night to my staff down south was to stay at Bucca! Thank goodness my trip will only last one week.