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Picking Up the Pieces: Charlie 1-26 Comes Home from War

December 21st, 2007 - by admin

Kelly Kennedy / Army Times – 2007-12-21 22:46:30


Picking Up the Pieces:
Charlie 1-26 Comes Home from War

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ADHAMIYA. Iraq (December 15, 2007) — For 12 months, Spc. Tyler Holladay, 22, patrolled the violent streets of Adhamiya, Iraq. He raced to strap tourniquets on wounded buddies to save their arms and legs. He picked out pieces of shrapnel and performed battlefield tracheotomies to open airways.

As a medic, he’d seen more than enough to know he wanted to avoid bullets, grenades and roadside bombs – especially roadside bombs. Back in March, when a military police company had hit a daisy-chain of roadside bombs, Holladay helped fill body bags with the liquefied remains of fellow soldiers.

“That was the day I thought, ‘You’re not only going to die here, you’re going to be disfigured,'” he said. “‘It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be quick. And it’s going to be messy.'”

Now it was the last day of July 2007, almost exactly a year since he took up residence at Combat Outpost Apache in Adhamiya, one of Baghdad’s worst neighborhoods, and Holladay was out on patrol with Alpha Company. The platoon was searching an abandoned car. Normally, they would have first surrounded it with Bradleys to keep themselves safe from snipers, but not this time. They were in a hurry and had only one Bradley on the patrol.

“I’m on one knee between the car and a wall,” Holladay said. “I take two steps back, and I’m joking about a girl, and all of a sudden, I heard a loud bang. I looked down and realized I’d been shot.”

The bullet entered through his back and exited through his stomach. He understood instantly that he had a stomach wound – on a soldier’s most-feared list, it stands just behind a sucking chest wound. He also knew he would have to treat it himself.

“My gunner was looking at me with a dry Curlex bandage,” Holladay said. “I needed a wet dressing. I had him treat my back while I concentrated on the front.”

He could tell his large and small intestines had been hit.

“I realized my stomach was filling up, so I had some internal bleeding,” he said. “I knew what the chances for survival were. I was really scared.”

As he started to fade out, he asked his gunner to relay a message to the other medics: “I love them and I’ll miss them.”

“Probably the greatest feeling in my life was to wake up,” Holladay said. Doctors at a military hospital in Baghdad had stitched his intestines back together. He couldn’t eat for several days, but would require no further surgery.

Holladay was the last member of 1-26 wounded in Adhamiya. In 15 months, 31 men from 1-26 were killed and 122 wounded, making it the hardest-hit battalion since the Vietnam War. Charlie Company suffered the most, with 14 men killed – most of them in Adhamiya, one attached to another company. Holladay had served as one of Charlie’s medics, but he remained at Apache when the company moved to the base established at the old Ministry of Defense.

“I could never get away from Sector 19,” he said, referring to Adhamiya’s roughest area. “And sure as hell, I got shot in Sector 19.”

None of the men of Charlie 1-26 will ever get away from Adhamiya completely. The memories of what they saw, did and endured will stay with them forever, as with any combat veteran. Memories of the deaths of their friends, as well as of the insurgents they had to kill, are engraved in their psyches, waiting to be triggered by a car horn in a traffic jam, a popping balloon, a familiar face in an old photograph or dreams that can’t be shaken.

Some will try to forget with drugs or alcohol. Some will let anger or guilt infect relationships with their spouses and families. Some will battle depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Many will experience short-term memory loss or uncontrollable emotions, possibly as a result of undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries.

A few may take their own lives. In 2006, suicide rates for soldiers leapt to a 26-year high with 99 deaths, one-fourth of them by troops diagnosed with PTSD, according to the Defense Department. Statistically, male veterans commit suicide at twice the rate of their nonveteran peers.

Defense Department research shows one-third of Iraq war veterans have sought help for mental health issues, and officials estimate 150,000 troops have suffered concussions – mild traumatic brain injuries – since the war in Iraq began.

As Holladay recuperated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he worried about getting released in time to see his friends return to Schweinfurt, Germany, 1-26’s home as part of the 1st Infantry Division.

With his medical training, he understood what could lie ahead for his friends. In Iraq, he’d seen loud guys suddenly become quiet as they tried to deal with the stress. He knew his friends had memorized the series of questions and answers medics ask to check for TBI. He worried they would come home and drink too much and drive too fast. He worried that, away from the constant close contact they’d had with other soldiers at Apache, his friends would fall apart.

“I needed to see everybody’s face and see that they were really OK,” he said. “They’ll cope with it for the rest of their lives.”
Each Charlie Company soldier who patrolled the streets of Adhamiya experienced the blast of a roadside bomb at least twice – some as many as a dozen times, according to the soldiers. The blasts left them bleeding from the ears, suffering violent headaches or unable to concentrate. Each had experienced the death of a friend. And most had returned fire on the enemy.

As they redeployed, they would go through several briefings: a screening for traumatic brain injury. A questionnaire for post-traumatic stress disorder. A session with a mental health therapist about warning signs. They would rush through, wanting only more time with their families or more time with their friends in the barracks. At least two would be diagnosed with TBI.

At the battalion level, officers called the unit’s presence in Adhamiya a success story, and cited the 27 high-value targets they caught, the 47 weapons caches they found, the 850 or so combat awards they earned and the hundreds of tips they received from Iraqis – though the tips often came after the fact.

“[The soldiers] may not see it, but I think if you do look at the big picture, they’ll see we did make a difference,” said Capt. Cecil Strickland, Charlie Company commander.

Adhamiya did not change drastically until after Charlie lost five men to an improvised explosive device on June 21, and someone higher up the chain sent a 1,000-man battalion to cover an area Charlie Company had been patrolling with 110.

“Everybody started paying attention: ‘Oh my God. There’s only three platoons in Adhamiya,'” Strickland said.

But he’s proud of those three platoons.

“We were catching bad guys left and right – almost nightly,” he said. “Each of my platoons had a different personality. If I wanted to find somebody, it was 3rd Platoon. If I wanted to find something, it was 2nd Platoon. If I wanted to lay the smack down, it was 1st Platoon.”

They came home to Germany from Iraq in October, each flight delivering another wave of soldiers to the gymnasium at Conn Barracks, where a smoke machine and screams from friends and family filled the air around them. Then, and only then, came the freedom to go where they wanted for the first time in 15 months. No body armor, no bombs, no port-a-johns.

No one knew quite what awaited him, but each scattered to find out.

Within 24 hours, several soldiers lined up at the military police station in Schweinfurt. Some scouts had gotten into a fistfight with a civilian who questioned their role in Iraq. Within days, other soldiers refused to show up at formation – mostly because they were hung over. Strickland smiled a little at his men’s sudden change from trusted battle-proven veterans to 20-year-old troublemakers.

“Personally, I think there should be a cooling-off area,” he said. “Isolate them in a controlled environment: ‘Here’s your beer. Try to get it out of your systems.'”

But sitting in his new office – he took over as Charlie’s commander midtour – Strickland worked to get the experience out of his system, too. “When I do think about it, I mentally go off somewhere,” he said. “You’re trying to give a general overview of what happened, but it’s a microscopic detail running through your mind.”

And there’s always something to remind him. “Two nights ago, I got a call asking for [Spc. Gabriel] Garcia to escort [Sgt. Alphonso] Montenegro’s remains,” he said. “They finally put the pieces together.” Montenegro was among the five killed by the IED on June 21.

Just before Halloween, Capt. Mike Baka’s daughter tore off the last link of a paper chain that had helped her count the days until her daddy came home. Elizabeth, 3, had wanted to know if he’d come home faster if she yanked apart all the links. She had slept on the floor of her mother’s bedroom since he left 15 months before, and she’d prayed every night for the 14 men who had died in his company.

“What happened to some of daddy’s friends while they were gone?” asked Cathy Baka.

“They were killed,” Elizabeth answered. But then Cathy Baka shook her head in sudden awe of the life ahead for her family.

“How do you explain death to a 3-year-old?” she said.

The Bakas met when both were cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Cathy Baka later resigned her commission to raise a family. In eight years of marriage, the couple has spent just four together.

“It’s hard,” she said. “Feeling alone. Nighttime. Being an ocean away.” From across that ocean, she watched for signs of problems. “I always ask him point-blank,” she said. “I know he’s suffered from PTSD.”

Baka served as company commander for the first nine months of Charlie’s deployment before moving to the battalion S-1 shop. When he came home, Cathy and Elizabeth, with 10-month-old Hannah, met him at the gym, all grins and tears.

When it got hard in Iraq – when he’d lost a soldier – he would call his wife.

“She’s the one person I could talk with or cry with on the phone, other than the moms,” he said. “It wasn’t until after I talked with the family that I had the emotional release. I’d ask them what they know. A lot of times, it’s nothing. It’s bare bones. I’d say, ‘Do you want to know more?’ I haven’t talked to a family yet that didn’t want to know.”

He plans to honor, in his own way, the soldiers of the company he commanded who gave their lives in Iraq; he plans to visit each of the 14 graves.

Sgt. Erik Osterman picked up his 2005 Jeep from the shop – it needed a fresh battery – and then puttered down the Autobahn at 55 mph to break it in. Puffs of smoke trailed behind him. Home wasn’t quite that yet. Home. His wife, Sgt. 1st Class Tonya Osterman, was still in Iraq, and the house was empty.

They met on a previous deployment in Samarra, where they’d seen each other often. They married March 25, 2005. But this trip lacked the closeness they’d found in Samarra. He deployed in August 2006, and she deployed a month later. Even though they were both in Iraq, they rarely saw each other.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “You can send e-mails. But not everywhere in Iraq has nonsecure Internet and not everybody has cell phones. For the first six months, she was in Ramadi, and I couldn’t get through to her.” For five months, they didn’t speak on the phone, he said.

No one was at their off-post home to take care of bills or make sure the pipes hadn’t burst. No one was home to send care packages. When Tonya Osterman found out she was pregnant after R&R in the spring, the Army sent her home. But when she lost the baby, they sent her back to Baghdad in July.

“After she miscarried, the sergeant major put me on a bird to see her,” Osterman said. But then the communications problems started again. The Iraqi cell phones inevitably cut out after 30 minutes. They were both stressed out, and the phone calls often ended in tears. Both were diagnosed with PTSD after Samarra.

As he waited for her to come home around Thanksgiving, he did the same thing he did in Iraq to calm himself: He tried to take care of everybody else. He helped with a soldier’s promotion. He listened to his guys talk about what they’d seen in Iraq.

“When I see another guy from the company, I appreciate everything a little more,” he said. “Just know that each soldier fought for something. They fought for what they believe in.”

They fought for each other.

In the barracks, German workers moved heavy boxes to the windows with hydraulic lifts. The guys had moved out before leaving for Iraq, so they returned to empty barracks. Spc. Gerry DeNardi pulled out clothes he hadn’t seen in more than a year – including his favorite moccasins. He unloaded the futon couch, mounted speakers on the walls and set up his new projection TV. As he worked, guys poked their heads in the door about every three minutes to see what he was doing that night.

“Camaraderie at Apache was just the coolest,” he said. “Everybody was everybody else’s best friend. I don’t ever want to leave them.”

But he thinks about the friends who left him. One evening, he had a buddy tattoo “strength” and “honor” down the insides of his forearms – just as Sgt. Willsun Mock had done before he died Oct. 22, 2006, from a roadside bomb.

And he remembers June 21, the day five friends died when a deep-buried IED destroyed a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

“I try not to think about that day, but everything I do brings it up,” DeNardi said. Because he organized the singing and playing, he couldn’t do either without remembering a friend. But his anger had mellowed into sadness.

He doesn’t believe Adhamiya was worth their loss. The Iraqis need to fight for themselves, he said, and he didn’t see that.

He plans to get out of the military to become a history teacher.

“When I look back, nothing can stop me,” DeNardi said. “I’m lucky I made it through Adhamiya – Iraq. I’m not going to waste the rest of my life sitting around in a hammock.”

At his apartment, Sgt. Ely Chagoya pulled out his guitar. After months of not playing, emotion seeped from the guitar to his fingers and up through his voice. He sang a mournful piece he wrote in Spanish about a homeless man who returned to the same park bench each day; that was where his lover said to meet her, and he waited his whole life. But feeling the emotions behind his song scared him. “The moment you start feeling is the moment you’ll start remembering,” he said.

He worried about his family. The last he had heard, his brother and sister were being deported. His parents, originally from Mexico, had their green cards, and Chagoya had been born in the States, but his siblings had not. “I feel like I’m fighting for our freedom, but there’s none for me,” he said. “I got the news at Apache. I just wanted to turn in my weapon and quit.”

But he wouldn’t quit his friends. “My main mission was to bring my soldiers back,” he said. “That’s why I went out.”

Spc. Armando Cardenas hit the dance floor at a local club, solemn-faced as he moved to the merengue, sharply dressed, eyes flashing behind his scholarly wire glasses. He and Chagoya took over the floor, switched out partners, and danced as if the sound of salsa hadn’t brought tears a week before as they thought about their buddy Mock. Mock had loved to dance. Chagoya danced, smooth and elegant, the star of the show, as Cardenas sat on a low couch to watch. His eyes grew even darker as he remembered.

“There’s always somebody missing,” he said. “Mock and Montenegro. Nobody really says it, but it’s on everybody’s mind. They’re not here.”

Sgt. Jake Richardson walked into the gym hoping his wife would be there. She had promised to buy the tickets to Germany from Arizona. They’d married at the end of 2005 so he could bring her to Germany before he deployed.

“She was really nice,” he said. “Real patient with a sweet attitude. She was a little bit shy at first.” They dated for eight months. “She wanted to be here with me.” But the day she arrived in Germany, he found out he was deploying. They had a long talk about how hard it would be.

Soon, they found out she was pregnant, and he went home on leave for the birth of their daughter, Sedona, in April.

But when he returned to Iraq, things changed. He called home and the phone had been shut off. His bank account had been emptied out. She moved back to Arizona, leaving him to pay for two apartments. When he contacted his chain of command and legal services, they left him on his own, saying he could not return home to fix the situation. And, like most soldiers, he had given his wife a power of attorney.

She wasn’t at the gym.

“I thought she was trying to surprise me,” he said. “I just don’t want to accept this.” When he asked what was going on, he said she told him she didn’t want to talk about it.

When he arrived at his apartment, it was empty. Totally empty. All his photographs, all his clothing, all the wedding gifts and dishes – the whole little world they’d built together was gone.

“I have two pairs of pants,” Richardson said. At night, instead of celebrating his return home, he stares at the photos he had with him in Iraq of his wife and his little girl, and he tries to figure out what he’s going to do next.

Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson, 29, jumps up as his wife Jeana comes in the front door of his apartment with the stroller. When he left from R&R just after she was born, his daughter Mia weighed six pounds. Now she crawls to him. He plays with their son, Sean, 2, on the floor and beams at his wife, who understands where he’s been. They met on his last deployment in Samarra, when she was a medic and he was a self-described schmuck.

She worked at the aide station, one of several female soldiers who would go out on patrol with the infantry guys, and he didn’t think she could hold her own.

“They told me I had to go get the medic. When I saw it was her, I was pissed,” Johnson said, grinning. “The whole time I refused to talk to her.” He spent the whole patrol “sulking because I had to work with a female.” They were engaged four months later. Now, she watches carefully for signs of PTSD, and he continues to try to watch out for 2nd Platoon.

“The biggest thing is really staying close with each other,” he said. “No one can handle it by themselves.”

Every time he sees someone who was at Apache – at the gym, walking past the PX – he calls him “brother” and gives him a hug. He knows they had his back, and he said Spc. Ross McGinnis proved it when he gave up his life by throwing himself on a grenade to save four friends.

“We all say, ‘I don’t know what I would have done,'” he said. “But every single one was willing to die for somebody else.”

That makes it all the harder to come back and feel like the war will never be won.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to end,” he said. “For every one we kill, three more are going to pop up. We can defeat each network, but they’ll just go somewhere else. We used to make fun of the soldiers in Baghdad when we were in Fallujah and Samarra. Then it was Ramadi. Now it’s Baghdad. It’s almost like we’re chasing our tails.” For a time, he said, soldiers will make an area better, but the Iraqi people “don’t keep it better.”

Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay moved into his new office as first sergeant of Charlie Company. Three of the company’s platoon sergeants had moved into first sergeant positions within the battalion. Ybay had taken on other responsibilities as well: helping with his children’s homework. While he was in Iraq, Timothy, 12, Aryana, 8, and Tyler, 5, sent e-mails and drawings, while his wife, Maybelline, made sure he could talk to them on the phone.

“I never threw those pictures away,” Ybay said. “That tears me up. My son – he really surprised me. He’s getting tall.”

But his surrogate family was still on his mind, as were the nine men who died in his platoon.

“First Sergeant [Kenneth] Hendrix said, ‘Let’s do a prayer for the soldiers we lost,’ the day we flew out of Taji,” Ybay said, speaking of the Army camp outside Baghdad. “That hurt me a lot. I’m coming home and my battle buddies weren’t. I say a prayer for them every night.”

The deployment taught him a lesson with actions that he said Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore had tried to teach him with words. Sizemore was fatally shot Oct. 16, 2006.

“He would always say, ‘Enough of the war stories,'” Ybay said. “I didn’t understand that until this deployment. You talk about the good times.”

He learned other lessons: Deployments should not last longer than a year, and soldiers should have more time off. And he was upset when the platoon was split apart after they refused to go out on a mission.

“I understand where the commander’s coming from,” he said. “But it did hurt. I would like to come back in formation with all my guys – they did outstanding. I’m proud of them.”

When they’d regained some sense of self, Charlie Company crowded into the local clubs. They gathered in groups, toasting each other and their 14 friends. They ordered beers and passed around shots and acted as if they had been away from each other for years rather than hours. They talked about old times like grizzled old men at the VFW.

They drank their beer, arms wrapped around each other. They told endless stories. They’d heard them all before but they couldn’t help but listen: chasing down that moped with a Bradley. The rocket battle with an insurgent. Karaoke in the basement at Apache. They comforted each other as they cried thinking about the 14 men who should have been there with them.

Remember how Pfc. Daniel Agami gave up his clothes when Johnson’s laundry got lost?

How Pfc. Alberto Garcia learned to play Johnny Cash songs within a week of picking up a guitar?

Remember when Pfc. Anthony Hebert wore that purple wig all day on patrol?

And how McGinnis could always make us laugh?


The Shrapnel Was Bad: The Army Hospital Was Worse
The grenade clanked off the Humvee turret and then dropped inside. The explosion drove shrapnel into every limb of Staff Sgt. Ian Newland’s body. Hours after the incident, he arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Every soldier believes that if he makes it to an Army hospital, he’s going to be treated to the best care.

But just two days later, Dec. 6, 2006, the hospital sent Newland home – doped up on morphine, his left hand a useless claw, and nerve damage so bad to his left leg he could barely walk.

“They told me they needed the bed,” said Newland, who then lived in Schweinfurt, headquarters of 1st Infantry Division.

He was not told when he was discharged that a scan showed he also had suffered traumatic brain injury, and so did not understand why he stuttered, had blurry vision and experienced short-term memory loss.

There was no homecoming for this wounded soldier, who arrived from Iraq with a Purple Heart pinned to his blanket. He had no key to his house, so the fire department broke in for him – and later sent a bill for the job.

And when he finally got inside his house, it was empty – his wife, Erin, was in the States for Thanksgiving, unaware that her husband had been seriously wounded in combat.

“I didn’t even get a call from the unit,” Erin Newland said. “Before I left, I gave the unit all my phone numbers, but they didn’t call.”

She was shopping in a Wal-Mart in Minnesota when Ian’s aunt called her: “He’s been in an accident. You need to call his dad.”

She immediately tried to get back to Germany. But tickets for her and her two toddlers would cost $6,000. She contacted the Army and requested to be put on the priority list for a space-available flight.

“They told me I had to have a commander’s note,” she said. She would spend days getting back to Germany – the unit never did send the paperwork she needed for the priority list. At home, Ian dug through a bag the nurses had sent with him, hoping for a prescription for pain medicine and directions for care. He found a shaving kit and no further information.

“When the pain got so bad it was intolerable, I went to the health clinic,” he said. “They said, ‘There’s a phone right there. You need to make an appointment.'”

It would be a week before anyone could see him at the clinic in Schweinfurt.

“I pulled the Spec-4 through the window and threw him on the floor,” Newland said. “They told me I had mental health issues. But there was no psychiatrist [in Schweinfurt]. I was like, ‘I’m bleeding in your clinic here.'”

Newland informed his command he planned to blow up the health clinic. That got an ear.

“I went straight to the Schweinfurt commander,” he said, describing all the shortcomings he and fellow wounded had endured in trying to get proper medical care.

“I told them, ‘You know my guys are in a high-conflict area. You’ve got guys living in the barracks in wheelchairs,'” he said. “I skipped every chain of command possible.” Still, he said, “nothing was done.”

Newland took it upon himself to care for the wounded at Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, keeping their appointments marked on a dry-erase board. But his own issues soon took over. He went to Washington, D.C., for the funeral of Spc. Ross McGinnis, at Arlington National Cemetery. McGinnis, a fellow member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, had thrown himself on a grenade, saving Newland and three others in the Humvee. For that, McGinnis has been nominated for a Medal of Honor.

“When I got back from Arlington, I was suicidal,” Newland said, explaining he felt guilty about McGinnis’ loss. “I called the health clinic and asked if I could check myself in. They told me to go to the German emergency room.”

Finally, he said, the Army medical system hooked him up with a civilian social worker – who specialized in families and kids.
“I told her about the bodies we found in Adhamiya, and she started crying,” Newland said. “I called the mental health commander and I went nuts. ‘When 1-26 gets back, if you don’t have a plethora of mental health options, you’re going to have problems.'”

Newland said the Army then sent him to group therapy. It consisted of him and one other person. The other guy, not a combat veteran, said he couldn’t relate at all and stopped going. So did Newland.

Then, he said, he went to the 5th Corps commander at the time, Lt. Gen. James Thurman. Newland’s concerns were forwarded to the Schweinfurt health clinic, but this time under authority of 5th Corps.

“The context of Ian’s complaints were very appropriate,” said Maj. Daniel Ducker, health clinic commander. “We thought, ‘Let’s take action.'”

Because of Newland’s complaints, and because of the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that showed injured soldiers across the States were not being properly cared for, Ducker said, Schweinfurt received a social-work case manager to schedule wounded soldiers’ appointments and ensure they get the help they need. The case manager has a background in traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, two common conditions soldiers face as they return from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the medical command formed a warrior transition brigade, as was being done Army-wide, with soldiers who specifically look after the dozens of injured soldiers in Schweinfurt and the rest of Germany.

And the Schweinfurt health clinic added another physical therapist and one full-time psychologist.

“We never had them before,” Ducker said. “Now we have a full staff.”

Rear detachment commander Capt. Jacob White said that as 1-26 members went through tough times in Adhamiya, they started getting what they needed in Schweinfurt. And 1-26 officials started keeping better track of the wounded by keeping a liaison at the hospital.

“They get a copy of the manifest, so they know when our guys are coming in,” he said. “And there are no more guys in wheelchairs in the barracks.”

Lt. Col Bob Whittle, Task Force Guardian – or rear detachment – commander for the 1st Infantry Division, said Newland caused a lot of change.

“Ian was early in the deployment,” he said. “It was a symptom of an issue, and they fixed it.”

But for Newland, it was too late. With his wounds, he could have reclassified into a desk job and stayed in the military.

He left the Army and now lives in Colorado, where he plans to go to school.

“I was just so down,” he said. “I loved the Army. But after the way I was treated, I was done.”

”You Made Mommy Cry”
The first time Capt. Mike Baka called home from Iraq, his 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth put him in Time Out.

“You made Mommy cry,” she accused.

Over the course of her husband’s deployment, Cathy Baka would cry again and again as she tried to comfort the families of the soldiers killed while serving with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, her husband’s unit.

Mike Baka commanded Charlie 1-26 for eight of the unit’s 15 months in Iraq, as they battled their way through the insurgent-filled streets of Adhamiya in northeastern Baghdad. Part of the 1st Infantry Division, Charlie 1-26 would come home as the hardest hit Army company in the Iraq war, losing 14 men to snipers, mortar rounds and roadside bombs. As commander’s wife, Cathy Baka volunteered to lead the Family Readiness Group in the soldiers’ home, Schweinfurt, Germany.

At first, she concentrated on teaching the wives of her husband’s infantrymen how to read an Army pay statement, or how to pay an electric bill in Germany. She talked to her husband each night, and she’d pass on messages for the soldiers, or let Mike Baka know when one of the wives was having problems so he could talk to the husband. But she also set up sessions to explain how the wives would be notified if their husbands died in combat – by Army casualty notification officers.

Until then, it hadn’t occurred to her that someone would have to tell the rest of the families.

Normally, someone from the rear detachment would call each person in the Family Readiness Group and read a formal statement. But the Charlie Company wives – Charlie’s Angels – decided they wanted more than that.

At first, the women acted as a support group. When someone was killed in Iraq, the unit would go into blackout mode until immediate family members were notified. Though that common practice was designed to prevent family members from learning about a soldier’s death unofficially, such as via e-mail or an Internet posting, it caused great anxiety at home. The sudden silence – no phone calls from a spouse or other unit members, no e-mails or other communication – left a sense of foreboding.

“Family members would see MySpace go quiet,” Baka said. “They’d call and I’d say, ‘I just heard from Mike,’ or, ‘I haven’t heard from Mike either, so let’s just pray.'”

Mike Baka called her every night, and she often knew when something had happened before anyone else did. She was his support system, his way of letting out emotions before having to face his men. The couple met at West Point where they both were cadets and married eight years ago. When Cathy gave birth to Elizabeth, her first child, she resigned her commission to take care of the family, which now includes a second daughter, Hannah.

“We pretty much talk about everything,” she said. “Maybe too much. But it helped me support the families.”

She worked harder to make sure the families felt informed, creating newsletters with photo pages and, eventually, memorials.

though she spent time trying to ready herself for the shock of a lost young man, the first death caught her by surprise.

Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore was fatally shot Oct. 17, three months into Charlie 1-26’s deployment. Though the Army notified Sizemore’s wife, Lena, Cathy Baka called the wives of all of his friends.

“I knew Sizemore and Lena very well,” Baka said. “I probably cried on two or three calls. I was not prepared for Lena.”

Lena Sizemore had gone to all the monthly Family Readiness Group meetings and was a favorite among the Charlie Company wives. Two of them immediately rushed to be by her side.

“Lena was loved by everyone,” Baka said. “We were her friends, and we were there.”

As the deaths became more common, Cathy Baka received phone calls from scared family members.

The focus of the family group changed to grief counseling. As she continued making notification calls, she faced other challenges. Couples went through divorces. Wounded soldiers returned to Schweinfurt. The battalion commander’s 15-year-old son died from a heart condition.

“Life goes on,” she said, “but when something happens during a war, it’s intensified.”

In March, her husband moved to Headquarters Company, and the position of Family Readiness Group leader moved to the new commander’s wife, Bettie Strickland. But after yet another death, the two women worked together. For Cathy Baka, Charlie Company was still family.

Staff Sgt. Ian Newland promised after Pfc. Ross McGinnis died to save his life that he would never waste the gift.

“I very easily could have died that day,” Newland said. “But my children still have a father. I try to live each day to its fullest potential because of what he did for me.”

On Dec. 4, 2006, an insurgent tossed a hand grenade through the turret of the Humvee in which McGinnis, 19, was manning the .50-caliber machine gun. McGinnis could have followed training procedures and jumped from the turret and saved himself. Instead, he threw himself on the grenade and absorbed the blast, saving four men, including Newland. For his heroic actions, McGinnis has been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

But Newland said that though his friend’s sacrifice allowed him to live, he does so with guilt and pain that have made it difficult to honor his promise.

“I thought I could have done more,” Newland said during an interview at his Colorado home. “Every second, I was reliving it. All of a sudden, I’m in the Humvee again and the grenade goes off.”

He traveled to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia outside Washington, D.C., for McGinnis’ funeral services, and there he met McGinnis’ family.

“They were so loving and so compassionate,” Newland said. “I thought it was hard losing my soldier – this was just too much. But his dad grabbed me and said, ‘You don’t owe my son anything.'”

Growing up in Ohio, Newland had the sort of tough life that leads many to military service as a way out. He came from an alcoholic family and was ashamed of the welfare-status existence he led before he joined the Army even though he was working two jobs. He excelled as an infantryman and loved the soldier’s life. But after the grenade embedded hundreds of pieces of shrapnel throughout his limbs, causing nerve damage that forces him to walk with a cane and leaving him without the use of three fingers, he found himself at the bottom again.

“After I was wounded, I had nowhere to turn,” he said. No one told him about the Wounded Warriors program. He had been booted out of Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany, still heavily medicated and with no instructions about future treatment. And no one bothered to tell him he had been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. he fought for benefits and treatment; he worked to make sure the other wounded soldiers living in the barracks made their appointments and got what they needed. And he started to fall apart. So did his marriage as he tried to deal with his problems with alcohol.

“I was messing with her really bad,” Newland said. “I’d been battling every day, screaming at officers, and then I’d come home to Erin.”

“I said, ‘I can’t handle this,'” his wife, Erin Newland, said. “‘I’m done. I just can’t take this anymore.'”

Instead, she went online and did some research, and she talked to the family therapist who had been assigned to take care of her husband’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I learned to not get into it with him and not get mad,” she said. “Instead, I’d just need to let him do his ranting and raving.”

“She was able to identify when I was getting angry, and she would back off,” he said. “If I wasn’t in a strong marriage, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”

But he kept getting slapped down. Pfc. Chad Marsh’s family asked him to fly back with the soldier’s remains from Germany to Wichita, Kan. Marsh died Feb. 21 in an IED blast, and he had been one of Newland’s soldiers.

“Mortuary affairs said I couldn’t do it again because it wasn’t the image the Army wanted to present,” Newland said.

“Broken soldier”
Then he found out about his disability rating of 80 percent: $800 a month for a family of four. He had to create a new life for himself.

He started looking for civilian work at Fort Carson, Colo. “I wanted to go somewhere I could find work and that was beautiful,” he said. He’d never been to Colorado before. “As soon as I saw the mountains, I was sold.” But after spending the last of his savings to fly out there from Germany, a mortgage broker who had promised to help with a home loan dropped him because of his financial situation. Even after he found a job, the bank said no. “At that point, I realized things were going to hell,” he said. “They shot me down after telling me to fly out.”

Desperate, he went to the chapel at Fort Carson and he prayed. As he left, downtrodden, another veteran stopped him and asked what was wrong. He hooked Newland up with Mike Conklin.

Conklin founded an organization called Sentinels of Freedom that is designed to help wounded veterans build a future by finding them jobs and making sure their education is paid for up to the doctorate level.

After talking with Newland on the phone from California, Conklin said, “I’m getting on a plane, and I’ll meet you there.”
For Newland, who had dropped out of high school, it was beyond anything he could have hoped for.

“I’ve never had anything given to me,” he said. “I’ve had to work for everything. But I could not accept an uncertain future with my children.”

On Father’s Day, he found out he had been accepted in the Sentinels of Freedom program.

“Mike Conklin is an angel,” Newland said.

Sunlight filters through skylights into the dining area of the Newlands’ new home, which smells of fresh paint and new furniture – all donated. It’s October, and golden aspens up and down the lane mix with red oaks. Haley, 5, and Dryden, 3, play on a swing set in the backyard, which also has been furnished with deck furniture and a barbecue grill capable of serving a football team.

For four years, Sentinels will pay the rent on the house, and then the Newlands have the option to buy it. ReMax real estate found a job for Newland in their technology department. He’s received a scholarship from Jones International University. He has a mentor team of 10 professionals, including a retired Army colonel.

“This has been a huge lifestyle change,” he said.

And life, in many ways, is easier. But not easy. At lunch one day, his children grabbed balloons. “Daddy doesn’t like balloons,” Haley said. In the car on the way home, Dryden’s popped. “It’s lucky we were stopped,” Erin Newland said. “We would have swerved off the road.” In an instant, a child’s toy morphed into a grenade. Newland has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and loud noises can trigger war-zone memories.

In the evenings, Erin Newland takes Ian through his physical therapy. “I can still feel every piece of shrapnel,” he said. “I can’t even describe the pain.”

As he plays with his children, he winces when Dryden climbs over the wrong leg. But he smiles when Haley asks visitors to push her on the swing. And he laughs when his wife calls him a “pogue” – military banter for someone who doesn’t patrol.
“She’s more infantry than I am,” he said.

But he traveled alone when he again flew to Arlington one year after McGinnis died. There, he met up with his full chain of command. Former battalion commander Lt. Col. Eric Schacht pinned former Charlie Company commander Capt. Mike Baka with the gold oak leaves that came with his promotion to major.

They held the ceremony on a cold December day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, with others who had come to pay their respects, they walked to McGinnis’ grave.

“Whenever he was around, we were laughing, smiling,” Newland said.

Slowly, painfully, he knelt on the grave to spend some time with his friend.


The Mutiny of Charlie 1-26

December 21st, 2007 - by admin

Kelly Kennedy / Army Times – 2007-12-21 22:38:33


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COMBAT OUTPOST APACHE (December 17, 2007) — As they started loading into the Bradley fighting vehicle to roll out of Combat Outpost Apache, the soldiers laughed as if they weren’t afraid. As if each, at least twice, hadn’t felt the shocking heat and been deafened by the roar of roadside bombs. As if they hadn’t already lost eight friends to improvised explosive devices and snipers and grenades.

These soldiers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, laughed because it gave them courage to step back into the Bradleys. If they didn’t go, somebody else would have to.
“Somewhere on that street there’s an IED,” Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay told 2nd Platoon on June 20, briefing them just before they patrolled the streets of Adhamiya, Iraq, as they had been doing for 10 months.

“I’ll find it!” shouted Bradley driver Spc. Ernesto Martin.

Not that day. Not that soldier. But others riding on that patrol would be among five to die the next day, when an IED flipped their 30-ton Bradley upside-down like a cheap toy and set it ablaze.

The surviving platoon members comforted each other that their friends died looking out for their brothers. They told each other they would have done the same. They cried and beat their fists into walls. They knelt in the sand and bent their heads and tried to convince themselves Iraq was worth it.

But that was hard because they no longer believed they were fighting for Iraq. They had, once, a long time ago. Before they had seen the Iraqi bodies with their heads dipped in acid, before the children tossed grenades at them. Now the locals refused even to acknowledge dead neighbors sprawled on their sidewalks.
The soldiers of Charlie Company had given up fighting for the Iraqis. They fought for each other.

And so that day, they forced aside the last moments of their friends’ lives, moments filled with chaos and agony and pain and blood.
They remembered them laughing.

Over 15 months, the war would kill 13 men from Charlie 1-26, more than any other Army company sent to Iraq, according to their battalion commander.

The group of 190 would earn at least 95 combat awards. They were part of Task Force 1-26, some 820 troops, who would find 47 weapons caches, capture more than 300 insurgents, including high-value targets, and find hundreds of explosive devices. But 122 men would receive Purple Hearts and 31 would die, more than in any Army battalion since Vietnam.

One respected sergeant in Alpha Company would kill himself. A Charlie Company soldier would go home with three Purple Hearts and a lost dream. A buddy would be nominated for the Medal of Honor after saving four of his brothers. And there would be one brief mutiny.

Still, numbers don’t tell the story.

In its glory days, the mansions of Saddam Hussein’s favorite minions rose from the dust of Adhamiya, an ancient neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. Army generals and Sunni leaders shared the area near Baghdad’s most important Sunni mosque, Abu Hanifa.
Adhamiya was the last neighborhood to fall when U.S. forces tore into Baghdad in 2003, and anti-American slogans still emblazon bullet-pocked walls.

For the eight months prior to 1-26’s arrival, no Americans had patrolled its winding streets. A mostly Shiite Iraqi army kept watch over the neighborhood, and Sunni citizens suffered corruption and violent reprisals.

Those conditions left Adhamiya in anarchy, and seared images of hatred and suffering into the minds of the young men of Charlie Company.

When they arrived in August 2006, soldiers with 1-26 found about 250 dead Iraqi civilians a month. Many of the soldiers, including Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, 27, had deployed with the unit to Samarra in 2004, but that hadn’t prepared them for Adhamiya.

They arrived upbeat and confident they could make a difference. Such expectations eroded every time they went outside the wire.

“This deployment, every patrol you’re finding dead people,” Newland said. “It’s like one to 12 a patrol. Their eyes are gouged out. Their arms are broken. We saw a kid who had been shot 10 to 15 times.”

Another man had been shot through both hands and his shoulders.

“They laid him out like Jesus,” Newland said. “Just blood everywhere. That sticks with you.”

Newland joined the Army in 2002 to escape a life of poverty in Dayton, Ohio. He had dropped out of high school in 10th grade, and then lived on welfare with his wife and young daughter while working two jobs.

In the Army, he emerged as one of the brightest, making staff sergeant in four years. As team leader, he made soldiers who got in trouble write papers about World War II hero Audie Murphy or the carbine system.

Charlie 1-26 slept 25 to a room in a decrepit and sour-smelling basement. Tiles hung from the ceiling, leaving dust on their faces when they woke in the mornings. They patrolled all day in full body armor, but could shower only every two or three days. For the first couple of months of deployment they had only port-a-johns in the 117-degree heat.

“I thought it was a dump,” said Sgt. Shawn Ladue, 27. “Every time it’d rain, we’d get that stagnant-ass water in the basement.”

Ladue joined the Army in 1997 after dropping out of high school in Phoenix, got out of the military a couple years later to learn a civilian trade, bounced around from auto mechanic school to community college, and signed back up in 2004. His career as an infantryman would end permanently in Adhamiya.

Nothing prepared Charlie Company for Adhamiya. They’d spent a week at Hohenfels training center in Germany learning to work with interpreters.

During the training, Capt. Mike Baka would talk to “the mayor” of a mock town, and an IED would go off nearby.

“I thought, ‘No way is it going to be like this,'” Baka said. “I was exactly wrong.”

Beyond that, the West Point grad said he was never trained in counterinsurgency methods. None, not even Baka, had read Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency manual. But he had taken a year of Arabic in college, and he understood he had to interact with the locals to make it work.

At Apache, he’d roll into Adhamiya with one platoon, get back, and immediately roll out with a different platoon.

“I wanted to show a little bit of love for the platoons, but also to talk to the people,” he said. He’d play chess with the locals or talk with them about their families. But if he stayed too long, they would inevitably catch sniper fire.

“It was a rare day if we didn’t see [Iraqis] get killed or severely injured,” he said. “It was almost like they were testing us. We’d be two streets away, and shots would ring out. It was always gunshot wounds to their heads.”

One day, local Iraqis covered a body on the sidewalk with cardboard.
“But he jerked back up – he was still alive,” Baka said.

Sgt. Kevin Guenther, Baka’s medic, performed a tracheotomy on the man.

“The people all gathered around to watch, but no one tried to do anything,” Baka said. “I actually got really angry. This man was left for dead. No one here will even call an ambulance. They were more concerned about the three or four men we were questioning.”

The man died about half an hour later. He’d been shot in the head.
The soldiers were tasked with joint patrols with the Iraqi army, but the Iraqi army didn’t go out enough for there to be much “joint” involved.

“They’d set up a mission with us, but then they’d have an excuse: ‘No gas.’ ‘It’s too dangerous.’ ‘We don’t have enough guys,'” said Spc. Gerry DeNardi, 20, the company smart aleck with high cheekbones and a mop of hair bleached by the sun.

“We had to pick up an Iraqi body once at Remy [Street] because they said they were out of gas, but then they rolled past us as we were coming back in.”

Most of the soldiers were Shiite.

“To join the army, you had to go to western Baghdad,” Baka explained. “No Sunnis would go there. But the corruption in the Shia military was horrendous.”

The Iraqi army would trash Sunni houses, take people into custody who hadn’t done anything wrong and forcefully demand bribes, Baka said.

Charlie Company patrolled constantly – each guy went out three or four times a day, with a one-and-a-half-hour break between patrols.

The soldiers teased each other just as constantly, a way to break the relentless stress and fear.

Pfc. Ross McGinnis, the youngest member of the company at 19, at first annoyed just about everyone.

“He just wanted to learn so much,” said his team leader, Newland. “He was always on and intense. But then he was so much fun.”

McGinnis spent weekends with Newland and his family in Schweinfurt, playing with Newland’s children, Dryden and Haley, and trying to answer Newland’s plethora of Army trivia questions.

He soon emerged as a joker – big brown eyes flashing above a bigger grin. In Iraq, he recorded a mock interview with a friend who had been slightly wounded – asking in his best Dan Rather voice, without a trace of a grin, “How does that make you feel?”

As he became more confident in his job as a .50-cal gunner, he bragged. Sitting on the edge of his humvee, he held up the round from an M4 – about two inches long – and then the .50-cal round, twice as long, twice as thick.

“This is your round,” he chanted, holding up the tiny bullet. “And this is my round. Your round. My round.”

Another day, Sgt. Ely Chagoya, 31, decided to drill his team on how quickly they could take apart and reassemble their night-vision goggles – blindfolded.

As he demonstrated, he could hear giggling, and then a flash went off. It was a digital camera.

“Man, I knew they were up to something,” Chagoya said, shaking his head. “They showed me the picture, and I see the ass of McGinnis right next to my head.”

McGinnis was probably the only private who could tease Chagoya about being a former Marine. A grenade had gone off underneath Baka’s humvee, and a dud landed in a humvee on another occasion, so the platoon spent a week tossing tennis balls at vehicles and trying to deflect them, or, failing that, diving out of the humvees.

“Marine! You will jump on that grenade!” McGinnis yelled at Chagoya, impersonating a Marine drill instructor. Then McGinnis laughed and said, “F— that! I’d be like, ‘See ya!'”

The jokes couldn’t keep reality at bay.

On Oct. 17, about two months into the deployment, Charlie Company lost its first man when a sniper shot Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore in the stomach as 2nd Platoon was en route to Forward Operating Base after patrol in Adhamiya.

“I started to wise up after that,” Ladue said. “Before, it was just driving around in a hot-ass truck.”

Some of the guys channeled their emotions into unlikely jobs. For Sgt. Erik Osterman, that meant cleaning out the humvees and Bradleys that came back to Apache after Americans had died in them.

Osterman, a former bartender and concealed-carry weapons permit instructor with an intense gaze, said he made the decision instinctively.

He would do it so his troops would not have to.

Osterman asked the first sergeant to get him every time a truck needed to be cleaned out, and then he’d send the guys off on errands while he hosed out the blood. The cook supplied him with scrubbies and bleach.

He would do it in an attempt to erase any reminder of death when his troops went back outside the wire in the same vehicles.

“They’re not going to roll like that,” Osterman said. “That would be all they see.”

Charlie Company spent a lot of time trying not to think about what had happened, but they still had to pump themselves up for the fight.

They watched “300” and “Gladiator” – Sgt. Willsun Mock went so far as to have “Strength” and “Honor” tattooed from the inside of his elbows to his wrists.

“Instead of a handshake, he’d grab your wrist like the Romans and say, ‘Strength. Honor,'” Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson said. “And he meant it. He liked the Roman warriors, and I liked the Spartans. We’d go back and forth over who was the best.”

Ybay, 38 and the father figure of the company with 14 years in the Army, called Johnson, Mock and Spc. Daniel Agami the “Three Musketeers,” but Johnson said they were more like brothers. They spent all their waking hours together – including several a day lifting weights.
“We were going to gain 15 pounds, cut up and shred down,” said Johnson, his accent giving away his South Boston roots.

He and Mock were both fiercely Irish, with the Claddagh rings and Irish knots to prove it.

Chagoya and Mock were also close.

“He loved to dance salsa, merengue,” Chagoya said. “I’d be dancing with a girl and he’d stop me: ‘Hey Gunny – teach me another step.’ This little white boy trying to dance salsa at the club. That was Mock.”

On Oct. 22, Mock became the second Charlie soldier killed when an IED hit his humvee near Loyalty.

For a month, Johnson stopped working out, refusing to move except to go on patrol or eat.

“I went into complete ‘I don’t care’ mode,” he said. “But then Agami said, ‘Will’s laughing at us.'”

Ladue earned his first Purple Heart in late October, when 3rd Platoon made a traffic stop on a car with three young men in it.

“We caught a lot of bad guys by pulling over vehicles with more than two young guys in there,” he said. This time, all they found was a big bag of worthless Iraqi money.

Then Ladue heard a bullet rushing toward him.

“It sounded fast and just whizzing,” he said. “I froze. It hit me. I just felt a sharp burning pain.”

He didn’t fall after the bullet hit him in the shoulder: He turned around and started shooting at a building.

“Then the little voice of reason said, ‘Hey dumb-ass. You just got shot,'” he said.

He spent two days at the military hospital in Baghdad and then was sent back to Adhamiya. He was there Nov. 5, when an Iraqi court found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging. Gen. Petraeus praised the Iraqi people because Baghdad remained quiet following the announcement.

Except for Adhamiya.

“We started hearing gunfire as soon as the verdict was announced,” Ybay said. Then insurgents attacked Apache.

“We were hopping to fight,” Chagoya said. “We could tell who the enemy was. They gave us a little fight – about three hours.”
Charlie troops put down the attack, then mounted up to engage insurgents outside the wire.

At Abu Hanifa mosque, they ran into small-arms fire, grenades and rocket-propelled grenade rounds, but 2nd Platoon took out several insurgents and had no losses.

First Platoon followed and during a night search found a house with 40 men hiding inside. One of them had a shotgun, and as the man kicked the gate open, Newland shot him in the head with a 25mm high-explosive round from his Bradley.

“We refer to him as ‘split face,’ because that’s what happened,” Newland said. “He started puking out of his neck. It was pretty nasty.”

The day ended with 38 dead insurgents and 10 wounded, with no U.S. casualties. But the danger that U.S. troops faced hardly subsided.

On a night patrol a few days before Thanksgiving, Ladue and his crew drove past Abu Hanifa and the new graveyard that had been dug in a children’s soccer field. Near it ran a trench.

“We always talked about how they would put an IED there,” Ladue said.

They did.

As he thought about the probability, the IED went off. “I tasted engine oil,” Ladue said. “I couldn’t see nothing. My gunner, [Pfc. Eduardo] Gutierrez, started shooting at the mosque.”

Then he heard the driver, Spc. Matthew Yearwood, screaming, “My legs! My legs!” The steering column had collapsed on him. “Get us the f— out of here,” Ladue yelled over the radio.

The other humvees pushed them back to Apache. Yearwood was not seriously injured, but Ladue had a massive concussion – and his second Purple Heart.

“Everybody walked away from that,” Ladue said. “It scared us. The next time we went out, we were terrified.”

That next time was Thanksgiving night. Ladue asked Staff Sgt. Christopher Cunningham to take the lead truck. “I took [the middle position] because my driver, especially, and I were pretty spooked.”
During the first three hours of patrol, they drove past the cemetery where they had been blown up a couple of days before.

“We went right over it,” Ladue said. “I was going out of my mind I was so scared.”

During break, his buddy Staff Sgt. Juan Campos gave him a hard time, but Ladue wasn’t in a state to be teased.

“It kind of hurt when he said, ‘Quit being a pussy,'” Ladue said. “Me and Juan didn’t talk to each other the rest of the break.”

They drove into the market area – usually fairly safe, so Ladue felt relieved. Then the explosion hit. “Not again! Not again!” Yearwood screamed.

Ladue stuck his M4 out the blown-open door of his humvee. He let off one round, and then the pain hit.

“Oh, I’m f—–d up! Oh, I’m f—–d up!”

The IED had blown a hole through his foot, leaving it a bloody mass of smashed bone and pulp.

Campos was the first to reach the Humvee. “I didn’t mean it, man,” Campos said. “I’m sorry.”

That was the last time Ladue would see his friend.

“I just remember arriving at the Green Zone, under a thin-ass blanket, freezing,” Ladue said. “After that, things got a little fuzzy.” He would get his third Purple Heart, and that was his ticket out of the war zone.

On Dec. 4, 1st Platoon rolled out of Apache looking for a place to put a generator to provide electricity for 100 homes. As the six-truck convoy rode through the narrow alleyways of Adhamiyah, McGinnis, in the turret of the last Humvee, manned his .50-cal as usual.

Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas served as truck commander, Sgt. Lyle Buehler drove, and Newland and medic Pfc. Sean Lawson rode in the back.

“Grenade!” McGinnis yelled after someone dropped one from a rooftop. “The grenade is in the truck!”

McGinnis could have leapt from his turret. Instead, he tried to catch the grenade, just as he had done with Chagoya and others when the platoon practiced with tennis balls. As it ricocheted around the turret, he fumbled and the grenade dropped into the Humvee.

“When he yelled ‘grenade,’ I wasn’t even alarmed because we’d seen so many,” Newland said. “Then I saw it. It was next to me.”

McGinnis quickly dropped into the humvee and smothered the grenade with his body. “I heard him say, ‘It’s right here,'” Newland said.

McGinnis absorbed the brunt of the explosion.

Through the smoke and confusion, Newland didn’t yet understand what had happened.

Thomas saw a man on the roof of a building and started shooting as Newland reached for McGinnis. “I remember seeing his eyes moving around,” Newland said. “I grabbed his hand and started praying.”
Then he realized he also was injured. Newland looked down through the cloud of black smoke.

“It was like a horror movie watching blood come out of my side,” he said.

His jaw hurt – a 4-inch piece of shrapnel had cracked it and he couldn’t think of anything but the pain. Then the pain flowed everywhere.

“When I took my glove off, I thought my hand was coming with it,” he said. Shrapnel had dug into the nerves of his forearm, causing him to lose the use of three fingers.

Then he saw his leg was bleeding. He tried to hold a pressure bandage on the inside of his thigh, but blood gushed out between his fingers.

“It was squirting me in the face,” he said. “I realized I needed a tourniquet. I got about three turns in, but it was just so painful.”

The blast had blown open all four combat-locked doors, and Thomas and Buehler had shrapnel wounds.

“I heard voices outside the humvee and thought, ‘I’m going to get grabbed out of here and get my head cut off on the Internet,'” Newland said. “There was dark, dark blood coming out of my thigh. I told [Thomas], ‘I’m going to die right now if we don’t get back to the aid station.'”

He felt dizzy and knew he was dying.

“I bled out,” he said. When he woke up, he was on a table in the aide station back at Apache.

“Don’t mess with me,” he said to the medics. “Did it hit the artery?”

Baka pushed him back down on the table as a medic injected him with morphine. Then Newland saw McGinnis on a table nearby. The grenade had exploded at his lower back and sent shrapnel up into his sides.

“What’s up with Ross?” Newland said. “Why isn’t anybody working on him?”

Baka answered.
“He’s gone.”

Every time they learned to evade the insurgents’ methods of attack, the insurgents changed their methods. For the first five months, the Iraqis hit Charlie Company with snipers and firefights.

“I can’t even tell you how many bullet rounds I heard popping off my gunner’s turret,” Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson said. But after the unit lost Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore to a sniper’s bullet Oct. 17, 2006, as he patrolled on foot, the soldiers learned to stand behind vehicles, not to stand in hallways or doorways, to watch the rooftops.

For several months after they arrived in Baghdad in August 2006, Charlie Company stayed at Combat Outpost Apache in the insurgent stronghold of Adhamiya only while they conducted day patrols. When they rotated to the night shift, they stayed at Forward Operating Base Loyalty and drove the 45 minutes into Adhamiya.

At Loyalty, they could go to the gym, the store and the air-conditioned dining facility with its five flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream and all-you-can-eat buffets. Apache, with only one building for the American soldiers, offered little but the safety of a shorter drive.

But when Sgt. Willsun Mock died five days later after his Humvee triggered a roadside bomb during the trip to Adhamiya, the company commander moved his men to COP Apache permanently.

Then the insurgents started with grenades. Spc. Ross McGinnis was killed Dec. 4 when a grenade was tossed into the turret of his vehicle; he threw himself on it to save four friends.

“So we covered the turrets,” Johnson said. They put up guards that deflected the grenades but still allowed the gunner to operate.
Then the insurgents began planting bigger improvised explosive devices – and more of them. One platoon ran over four IEDs within 24 hours. On Jan. 20, Pfc. Ryan Hill died when an IED exploded under his humvee.

So the soldiers began relying more on their heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

“That was our fortress,” said Johnson, an even-keeled noncommissioned officer the younger soldiers trusted for advice. “We were fearless in that Bradley.”

If the guys were in a Bradley when an IED erupted, they walked away. So rather than patrol only in humvees, they went outside the wire with Bradleys at the front and tail, humvees in the middle.

Now it was January, and as the chill wind of Adhamiya’s desert nights slipped through the unheated building where they slept, the soldiers of Charlie Company knew they still faced at least six more months in Iraq. Over that span they would watch two commanders leave, see nine more soldiers die, give up faith in their best defenses against the insurgents, refuse a combat mission and have three more misery-filled months slapped onto their deployment.
When the soldiers of 1-26 finally got to go home in October, the war had hit them harder than any other battalion since Vietnam.

In January, though, they knew only that they had to summon the courage to go out again. And again. The deaths, as well as broken bones, burned bodies and smashed limbs, scared them, and the young soldiers found that while the number of attacks against civilian Iraqis declined, the number of attacks against them increased.

The soldiers of Charlie 1-26 were convinced the Iraqi Army troops they worked with, Shiite forces already despised by the majority of Sunni residents of the area, were untrustworthy and knew more about the attacks than they let on.

“The corruption in the Shiite military was horrendous,” said Capt. Mike Baka, commander of Charlie Company.

But within Charlie 1-26, the men learned to count on each other like family and to grieve for each other like brothers.

Of the 140 men, 95 hadn’t yet achieved the rank of sergeant, and most were younger than 25. Even after 14 hours of patrolling, laughter rang through their crude quarters at the Apache building – especially in the dining room.

First Sgt. Kenneth Hendrix made sure Girl Scout cookies graced every table, and spent his own paycheck on video games and movies for the troops, with the teasing reminder that first sergeants make much more than privates.

Chaplain (Capt.) Ed Choi organized tournaments – spades and dominoes – and conducted religious services there every Tuesday. Sgt. William Redding, the cook, made Black Forest cakes to remind them of their home post in Schweinfurt, Germany, where they were part of the 1st Infantry Division – the Big Red One.

Without contractors to serve up lobster and steaks as they did in the dining facilities at FOB Loyalty, Redding offered a continuous supply of Pop-Tarts and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to the guys going out on patrol three and four times a day. Another soldier clipped hair once a week in the hallway, creating a community barber-shop atmosphere.

Spc. Gerry DeNardi, 20, served as the company cruise director. Artistic and moody, he worried before his deployment that he might be the guy whose courage left him in the midst of battle. Because of his own fears, he wanted to make everyone else forget Adhamiya, too. So every evening, he’d break out his guitar and sing the silly songs he made up about his teammates. At 2 a.m., in the dusty dank basement where the soldiers slept at Apache, DeNardi led them in karaoke.

“There’s nothing better than listening to a bunch of soldiers singing Britney Spears at the top of their girly lungs,” he said. Really, it was more of a warble, but it carried through the building.

DeNardi joined the Army for the same reason so many other young men enlist. “My plans consisted of lying in a hammock,” he said. “I needed time to figure out what I wanted. And I don’t think you can say you’re an American or you’re a patriot without serving.”

But the bodies and violence shook him. He and Sgt. Ryan Wood talked about the politics behind this war – and complained that Americans knew more about Britney Spears than Iraq. Wood, wiry in a way more Billy Idol than Rambo, had already decided he wanted out of the Army.

“I’ve seen enough. I’ve done enough,” he said.

During a 2004 deployment with Charlie Company in Samarra, Wood watched as his platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Jorge Diaz, shot and killed a zip-tied Iraqi civilian. Wood turned Diaz in; the platoon sergeant was sentenced to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge, ending his 17-year Army career.

DeNardi and Wood both complained that the surge – five additional combat brigades sent into Baghdad – hadn’t reached Adhamiya, where Charlie 1-26 patrolled one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. And they didn’t understand why they couldn’t attack the Abu Hanifa Mosque, even when they could see insurgents shooting at them from the holy site. Politics, they said, held them back. Politics meant they had to ask permission from the Iraqi government. Politics dictated that they provide comfort to known insurgents.

“They won’t let us do our jobs,” DeNardi said. “You have to finish the war part before you can start the peace part.”

Together, DeNardi and Wood wrote “Adhamiya Blues,” and they had to sing it together because DeNardi knew the music and Wood knew the lyrics:

Adhamiya Blues
War, it degrades the heart and poisons the mind
And we’re tossed aside by governments’ lies.
But we continue to grieve.

Politics would soon become an issue within Charlie Company, too.

Baka knew since before he left Germany that he would give up command of Charlie Company while in Iraq. Army leadership wanted to give as many commanders as possible experience leading in combat by rotating them through companies, and after 21 months as company commander, Baka’s time was up.

Yanking respected commanders out midtour can set back a combat unit, and so it was with Charlie 1-26.

“When you leave and they trust you, they feel slighted,” Baka said of his men. “If you have a company like mine, you don’t take out the team captain and expect the rest of the team to operate.”

Baka spent the majority of his time out on patrol with his guys, often participating in firefights. Most days, he didn’t take a break – just hopped in a vehicle with the next group going out.

But when Capt. Cecil Strickland arrived to replace him seven months into the deployment, the mission changed. So did the leadership style. Baka had treated his men like friends, but Strickland, a former enlisted soldier who had always dreamed of commanding a rifle company, kept a certain distance between his officers and soldiers.
The men missed their old commander.

“We didn’t want him to leave,” Johnson said. “[Strickland’s] a totally different leader. He leads through planning. Baka leads through execution.”

“Mike’s very charismatic,” Strickland said. “There’s always going to be that bond with Charlie Company. I’m a fool if I think I’m going to walk in and say, ‘Cut ties. You’re mine now.'”

But as the surge took hold last spring, Strickland said he was required to plan more night raids in search of high-value targets and coordinate joint raids with special operations units. That meant he spent most of his time in the operations room, planning missions. He went out on four or five patrols a week, compared to Baka’s daily patrols.

Strickland had tried to get to know the guys before he arrived, but it was hard because he had spent little time in Adhamiya, having served with the battalion at another FOB. It became even harder to bond when, four days after the March 8 change-of-command ceremony, he lost his first soldier.

On March 13, Sgt. Ely Chagoya went out on patrol with Pfc. Alberto Garcia Jr. Garcia was the good soldier, always carrying a Bible and always the one to get a job done without being asked, said his boss, Sgt. Jake Richardson. But he had a playful side, too. A week after Garcia touched a guitar for the first time, Richardson heard somebody playing Johnny Cash. Garcia had already bought himself a guitar and learned to play it.

But March 13, some of the Charlie 1-26 soldiers had a bad feeling. Including Chagoya.

“We would get hunches: ‘I don’t feel like going on this street,'” Chagoya said. “‘I know this mission I’m not going to come back.’ When it’s more than one of the guys saying it, we knew something was going to happen.”

And it did. The explosion killed Garcia, 23, and left Richardson and Chagoya heartbroken.

Like Garcia, Chagoya played guitar, but soon stopped. “I quit playing over there because I feel when I play,” he said. “I decided to block everything and not feel so much. But when you stop yourself from feeling, it goes all the way around: You don’t feel good. You don’t feel bad.”

Chagoya said he tried to combat his angst by getting to know his friends better. “When you go outside the wire, you don’t know if you’ll see them again.”

The IEDs only grew more frequent – and bigger. At first, they’d just blow out the tire of a humvee. Now the guys waited for the big one – the one that would count as a catastrophic loss. A catastrophic loss is the military term for a vehicle destroyed with loss of its crew. On May 14, they moved closer to that gruesome mark when yet another Humvee hit an IED.

The IED hit the fuel tank, causing it to erupt in flames. Staff Sgt. Juan Campos and his men leaped from the vehicle, but they were ablaze. Other soldiers dodged small-arms fire to try to put the flames out as the men screamed. Pfc. Nicholas Hartge died that day. Campos died two weeks later at the burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Three other soldiers suffered burns over 70 percent of their bodies.

After that, Charlie Company patrolled in Bradleys. But now, anger motivated them as much as the mission. Anger made them fearless – and sometimes reckless. It made them not themselves.

Three weeks after the humvee explosion, 2nd Platoon went looking for a high-value target: the triggerman who set off the IED that killed Hartge and Campos.

DeNardi and Staff Sgt. Vincent Clinard saw the guy outside a building. DeNardi grabbed an Iraqi Army 9mm Glock, and he and Clinard raced after Hartge’s accused killer. “We jumped a fence, but Clinard got caught up on a wall,” DeNardi said. “I ran inside and ran right into the guy coming down the stairs. I forced my gun into his eye socket, and that was when he started crying.

“I wanted to kill him so bad,” DeNardi said. “Instead, I pretty much crushed his eye socket. I got promoted to specialist like five minutes later.”

Charlie Company kept going out – three and four patrols per soldier per day. The feel of each patrol could be entirely different: searching for IEDs and blasting them with the bomb squad in the morning, then checking in with the neighbors in the afternoon to see if they had everything they needed, or if, by chance, they knew anything about the IED that had been found down the street. Charlie Company handed out chem lights and soccer balls, and they secured areas so schools could be built.

But they couldn’t get past the feeling that something worse loomed.

On the morning of June 21, Chagoya’s Bradley came in the gate at Apache as Spc. Daniel Agami’s went out. The two gunners grinned at each other and lifted their chins in greeting.

“We passed them and said, ‘What’s up?'” Chagoya said. “That’s the last time we said, ‘What’s up.'”

Within an hour, everyone heard the deep thud of an explosion. Faces immediately went grim, and then the call came in. Wood’s Bradley had hit an IED. It had flipped over. It was on fire. Six men were trapped inside.

DeNardi had the day off, but this was 2nd Platoon – his platoon. He raced to the gate, screaming at the guards to let him out.

“Open the door!” he yelled. “I can run it!” When the guards refused to let him out, he fired off a couple of rounds toward the Abu Hanifa Mosque. That’s where the explosion had come from. Then he ran back to the main building. He saw a guy sitting outside, not geared up, and said, “Where the f—k’s the [quick reaction force]?'”

The soldier answered, “I don’t know. Go find it.”

DeNardi said he clocked him in the head with his Kevlar helmet and then ran to find Johnson, who immediately loaded up four humvees with Charlie Company’s scout platoon and pulled out of the compound.

Spc. Tyler Holladay and the other medics prepared the aide station, while everyone left at Apache set up stretchers and tried to create enough shade for a large number of casualties. Apache baked in 111-degree heat that day, and medics distributed water as everyone waited.

For an hour.

Then 30 more minutes.

“You pretty much knew nobody was coming back,” Holladay said. “But we thought they were still trapped, still fighting.”

Several soldiers, including DeNardi, sat with the guards at the gate listening to the radio.

“This is taking way too long,” a soldier in the aide station said. “They should have been here by now.”

They busied themselves with a wounded Iraqi girl. The blast had killed three children and an Iraqi woman in homes nearby.

“I don’t even care,” Spc. Armando Cardenas said. “I know that’s wrong, but they knew it was there. There’s no way they didn’t know it was there.”

The bomb was within 300 yards of an Iraqi Army checkpoint, and it was big enough to flip a 30-ton Bradley upside-down and leave a hole the size of a humvee. Somebody had spent some time digging, and somebody had seen it.

Outside the gate, small-arms fire sounded continuously as U.S. helicopters flew overhead waiting to evacuate the wounded. They shot off flares as the insurgents tried to shoot them down.Still no word on Wood’s men. Charlie Company lined up against the wall with arms around each other, smoking cigarettes, trying to believe. But DeNardi had been listening to the radio. He stalked past and hurled a magazine into a wall. “They’re all gone,” he said, and kept walking.

Another explosion. More gunfire. A call for help from members of the 554th Military Police Company, 95th Military Police Battalion.
An RPG hit the driver’s side of one an MP vehicle, decapitating Spc. Karen Clifton, a 22-year-old soldier from Fort Myers, Fla., who had hoped someday to be a state trooper. Four more MPs came into Apache to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Then, another explosion. This one hit another MP vehicle racing to help those in Clifton’s truck. . The blast broke both of his truck commander’s legs. Choi was in the same truck and now was a casualty himself.

As wave after wave of despair hit Apache, Baka got the news back at the S-3 shop at nearby Camp Taji.

“I looked at my NCO,” he said. “I knew it was Charlie.”

When he heard Wood’s name, he whipped his soft cap against the wall. The ballistic eye protection inside shattered. “I was able to get some soldiers out of this fight because of [Expiration Time of Service] dates,” he said. “Wood was one I couldn’t.” Wood had been stop-lossed, ordered to serve beyond the date he otherwise was supposed to be discharged from the Army.

As he waited for more news, Baka learned a dear friend, Maj. Sid Brookshire, had been killed the day before by an IED in Baghdad.
“It was the worst day in our history,” Baka said.

Johnson and his QRF arrived at Wood’s Bradley in time to see medic Pfc. Timothy Ray trying to get past flames and gunfire to get to the vehicle. But the flames were too hot and too high. Johnson’s best friend, Agami, struggled to get out from underneath the 30-ton Bradley, which was resting on his legs.

“The turret came off the Bradley,” Johnson said. “[The guys] had to watch Agami try to get out of that hatch for 10 minutes. I’m never going to forget seeing him like that.”

The 25-year-old soldier from Coconut Creek, Fla., burned alive as he tried to escape.

At Apache, Strickland ordered all of Charlie Company to go inside the main building. Sgt. Erik Osterman remained outside to clean the blood out of the vehicles. The medics handed out body bags.
“We have to identify the bodies,” Holladay said grimly as he prepared the paperwork for the task. Then later, “I will never forget the smell of burnt flesh, their facial expressions. These are my friends.”

In the aide station, the medics worked on Choi, who let out anguished howls. “Jeez, Chaps,” a medic said. “Your worst injury is the IV.”

But the attempt at humor couldn’t soften the real pain. Choi had a deep contusion to one leg from the IED, but, worse, he faced the task of explaining to Charlie Company why his God had let five of their friends die. Choi didn’t understand himself.

Choi gathered Charlie Company in the dining hall, crying and hugging each one of them. The soldiers entered the room flinging down body armor with their jaws set in anger and grief.

“Nobody wanted to hear what he had to say,” Johnson said. “Something like this happens, the last thing you want to do is talk about God. You want to hurt. You want to feel that pain. God? I hated him right then.”

But then they remembered each other. In their misery, they reached out. They streamed out of the dining room to huddle in tight groups.
“I love you, man.”

“We’re going to be OK.”

“They’re watching out for us now.”

That day, 2nd Platoon lost Agami, Wood, Pfc. Anthony Hebert, Spc. Thomas Leemhuis and Sgt. Alphonso Montenegro, as well as an Iraqi interpreter who can’t be named because the families of Iraqis who work with Americans are often killed.

As the guys mourned, Choi and Lt. Col. Eric Schacht, 1-26’s battalion commander, loaded a helicopter to head back to Taji. as the helicopter lifted off, more bad news waited for Schacht. Back home in Schweinfurt, on the same day he lost five Charlie 1-26 soldiers, his 15-year-old son Justin had arrived home from a youth group trip to Italy. The mop-haired rosy-faced kid grabbed a quick snack – then died of a heart condition. Choi accompanied Schacht back to Alexandria, Va., to perform memorial services.

With the battalion commander gone, Charlie’s status was in limbo, but the patrols continued. Second Platoon took a couple of days off at Camp Taji. Standing in the music section of the PX, DeNardi bounced in a tense display of anger when he spoke, fists tight.

“Why can’t we just flatten them?” he said. “Why won’t they let us do our job? We need to do like Samarra and tell everyone they have 24 hours to leave, and then kill everything that moves after that.”

Soon, the 1-26 commanders realized they had to get Charlie out of Adhamiya – to a less volatile area of Iraq – to keep them from getting in trouble and from hurting anyone in anger.

At Taji, the guys went to mental health and tried to regroup. But no one could sleep. When they did, the nightmares seemed as bad as June 21 itself.

Their tour had been extended from 12 months to 15 months. They had been scheduled to go home June 20.

They still had four months to go.

Spc. Gerry DeNardi stood at the on-base Burger King, just a few miles from downtown Baghdad, hoping for a quick taste of home.
Camp Taji encompasses miles of scrapped Iraqi tanks, a busy U.S. airstrip and thousands of soldiers living in row upon row of identical trailers. Several fast-food stands, a PX and a dining facility the size of a football field compose Taji’s social hub.

The base had been struck by an occasional mortar round, and a rocket had hit the airfield two weeks before and killed an American helicopter pilot. But the quiet base brought on a sense of being far from roadside bombs, far from rocket-propelled grenades and far from the daily gunfire that rained down on the soldiers of Charlie 1-26 as they patrolled Adhamiya, a violent Sunni neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad.

Just two weeks earlier, the 20-year-old DeNardi had lost five good friends, killed together as they rode in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over a powerful roadside bomb.

As DeNardi walked up the three wood steps to the outdoor stand to pick up his burger, the siren wailed.

Wah! Wah! Wah! “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!”

The alarms went off all the time – often after the mortar round or rocket had struck nothing but sand, miles from anything important. Many soldiers and others at Taji had taken to ignoring the warnings. DeNardi glanced around at the picnic tables to make sure everyone was still eating. They were. The foreign nationals who worked the fast-food stands hadn’t left; so he went back to get the burger he had paid for.

The mortar round hit before he could pick up his order.

“I turned around and all of Burger King and me went flying,” DeNardi said.

He’d lived through daily explosions in 11 months with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, at nearby Combat Outpost Apache, a no-frills fortress smack in the middle of Adhamiya’s hostile streets. He had rushed through flames to try to save friends and carried others to the aide station only to watch them die.

“I’m not getting killed at Burger King,” he thought, and he dived for a concrete bunker. People were screaming. DeNardi saw a worker from Cinnabon hobbling around, so he climbed out of the bunker, pulled shrapnel out of the man’s leg and bandaged him. The Pizza Hut manager was crying and said two more foreign workers were injured behind her stand – near the Burger King.

“Lightning doesn’t strike twice,” DeNardi said, “so I went back. But there were body parts everywhere.” The first man’s leg had been blown off, his other leg was barely attached and he had a chest wound. “He was going to die,” DeNardi said.

The other wounded man had shrapnel to his neck. DeNardi peeled off his own shirt and fashioned a bandage out of it as other soldiers started streaming in to help.

Then, “all clear” sounded over the loudspeakers as medics arrived and took over.

“I’m covered in blood, but I still have my hamburger receipt,” DeNardi said. “I went back to Burger King the next day, but they wouldn’t give me my burger.”

For all his dark humor, the “Hero of Burger King,” as fellow soldiers teasingly called him, was deeply rattled by the carnage of the explosion at the fast-food court. At Apache, he expected trouble. But not at Burger King.

“That affected me,” he said. For the next few days, he said, he slept in the open-ended concrete bunkers positioned between the housing units.

It was just another bad day to add to many – and DeNardi’s platoon had already faced misery that seemed unbearable. When five soldiers with 2nd Platoon were trapped June 21 after a deep-buried roadside bomb flipped their Bradley upside-down, several men rushed to save the gunner, Spc. Daniel Agami, pinned beneath the 30-ton vehicle. But they could only watch – and listen to him scream – as he burned alive. The Bradley was far too heavy to lift, and the flames were too high to even get close. The four others died inside the vehicle. Second Platoon already had lost four of its 45 men since deploying to Adhamiya 11 months before. June 21 shattered them.

Though their commanders moved them from the combat outpost to safer quarters, members of 2nd Platoon would stage a revolt they viewed as a life-or-death act of defiance. With all they had done and all they had seen, they now were consumed with an anger that ate at the memory of the good men they were when they arrived in Iraq.

After June 21, most of Charlie Company moved out of COP Apache, their makeshift home on the grounds of one of Saddam Hussein’s son’s palaces. At Taji, the company would try to recover for a new mission.

Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay, 38, served as 2nd Platoon’s platoon sergeant, but also its father figure. The former drill sergeant teased constantly and tried to treat his men like family. At memorial services for lost soldiers, he cried the loudest. He’d been on patrol June 21 when the five 2nd Platoon soldiers died in the Bradley. When he came back, his grieving platoon circled him as the weight of the loss forced him to his knees in the sand. He’d promised to bring all his boys home.

Now he would concentrate on the ones that remained.

“I knew after losing those five guys, my platoon had to get out of there,” he said. “These were the guys they slept with, joked with, worked out with. I don’t think they’d be able to accomplish the mission.”

The tears came again as he spoke, and he looked away.

“And I was having a hard time losing my guys.”

At Taji, the company had a week off. DeNardi looked more surfer than soldier after a couple of days at the pool. Ybay and his sergeants sat at the picnic tables drinking frozen coffee concoctions. The guys bought Persian carpets and brass lamps to send home as souvenirs – as if Taji were a vacation spot. But the anger over Adhamiya emerged even poolside, and erupted at the mental health clinic, which they visited in groups.

“You never really get over the anger,” said Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson, a member of Charlie’s scout platoon who had been especially close to Agami. “It just kind of becomes everything you are. You become pissed off at everything. We wanted to destroy everything in our paths, but they wanted us to keep building sewer systems and handing out teddy bears.”

Some of the younger members of the platoon were particularly disillusioned.

Spc. Armando Cardenas, 21, had taken honors classes in high school but feared college would bore him. He wanted something challenging and found it in the Army, in Iraq. As a soldier, he was the guy who leaped out of a truck to chase an insurgent, or instantly returned fire with an uncanny ability to tell where the rounds came from. When a friend, Pfc. Ryan Hill, was killed in battle, Cardenas helped carry him back.

But Cardenas’ anger was just as quick as his heroics.

He said the platoon had been waiting for June 21 – that they had known they would eventually hit a big IED and have a catastrophic loss.

Cardenas wanted revenge. “But they don’t let us take care of the people responsible,” he said. “It was a slap in the face.”

Adhamiya remained under the control of 1-26, but the brass moved Charlie 1-26 to another combat outpost, Old Mod – so called because it used to house Iraq’s Ministry of Defense – in a calmer area on the outskirts of Adhamiya. From there, they patrolled Kadhamiya.

“If my guys had stayed at Adhamiya, they would have taken the gloves off,” said Capt. Cecil Strickland, Charlie’s company commander. “We were afraid somebody was going to get in trouble.”

There had been close calls before. DeNardi had to fight back a strong desire to kill an Iraqi – accused of triggering an IED that killed two Charlie Company soldiers – as he held a 9mm Glock handgun to the man’s eye socket.

And Cardenas and Staff Sgt. John Gregory had been ordered to the Green Zone to talk to an investigator after they roughed up two insurgents. A week after Pfc. Ross McGinnis fatally threw himself on a grenade to save four friends, Cardenas and Gregory had chased a couple of guys on a scooter and managed to stop them. Cardenas kicked over a wooden box the two Iraqis stood next to.

“There was a grenade full of nails,” Cardenas said. “We had to go see a major about detainee abuse. We told him [the Iraqis] didn’t want to get in the Bradley.”

Nothing came of the investigation.

Such incidents belied the squared-away record Charlie 1-26 posted during its deployment to Iraq. In 15 months, they had one incident when two soldiers were caught with alcohol, Strickland said, but that was all.

“I think the performance comes from the level of discipline,” Strickland said. “And the discipline comes from the hardship. They’re a little bit more mature than a lot of other units.”

In Shiite Kadhamiya, Charlie Company found paved, clean streets. In Sunni Adhamiya, so many garbage collectors had been killed that the Shiite government workers refused to go there. “It was one road and one river away from Adhamiya,” DeNardi said. “But there was civilization on one side and chaos on the other.”

Lt. Col. John Reynolds replaced Lt. Col. Eric Schacht as battalion commander July 8. Schacht left after his son died of a heart condition in Germany, the same day Charlie Company lost five men in the Bradley. Even with the high operations tempo and the loss of so many men, Reynolds called the changeover “easy.”

“It was the best transition you could get,” he said.

But within days, he would lose five men, including a respected senior non-commissioned officer. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney, Alpha Company’s first sergeant, was known as a family man and as a good leader because he was intelligent and could explain things well. But Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rausch of Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon, a good friend of McKinney’s, said McKinney told him he felt he was letting his men down in Adhamiya.

“First Sergeant McKinney was kind of a perfectionist and this was bothering him very much,” Rausch said. On July 11, McKinney was ordered to lead his men on a foot patrol to clear the roads of IEDs. Everyone at Apache heard the call come in from Adhamiya, where Alpha Company had picked up the same streets Charlie had left. Charlie’s 1st Platoon had also remained behind, and Rausch said he would never forget the fear he heard in McKinney’s driver’s voice:

“This is Apache seven delta,” McKinney’s driver said in a panicked voice over the radio. “Apache seven just shot himself. He just shot himself. Apache seven shot himself.”

Rausch said there was no misunderstanding what had happened.
According to Charlie Company soldiers, McKinney said, “I can’t take it anymore,” and fired a round. Then he pointed his M4 under his chin and killed himself in front of three of his men.

At Old Mod, Charlie Company was called back in for weapons training, DeNardi said. They were told it was an accident. Then they were told it was under investigation. And then they were told it was a suicide. Reynolds confirmed that McKinney took his own life.

A week later, without their beloved first sergeant, Alpha Company would experience its first catastrophic loss on a mission that, but for a change in weather, was supposed to go to Charlie Company.

On July 17, Charlie’s 2nd Platoon was refitting at Taji when they got a call to go back to Adhamiya. They were to patrol Route Southern Comfort, which had been black – off-limits – for months. Charlie Company knew a 500-pound bomb lay on that route, and they’d been ordered not to travel it. “Will there be route clearance?” 2nd Platoon asked. “Yes,” they were told. “Then we’ll go.”

But the mission was canceled. The medevac crews couldn’t fly because of a dust storm, and the Iraqi Army wasn’t ready for the mission. Second Platoon went to bed.

They woke to the news that Alpha Company had gone on the mission instead and one of their Bradleys rolled over the 500-pound IED. The Bradley flipped. The explosion and flames killed everybody inside. Alpha Company lost four soldiers: Spc. Zachary Clouser, Spc. Richard Gilmore, Spc. Daniel Gomez and Sgt. 1st Class Luis Gutierrez-Rosales.

“There was no chance,” said Johnson, whose scouts remained at Apache and served as the quick-reaction force that day. “It was eerily the same as June 21. You roll up on that, and it looked the same.”

The guys from Charlie Company couldn’t help but think about the similarities – and that it could have been them.

“Just the fact that there was another Bradley incident mentally screwed up 2nd Platoon,” Strickland said. “It was almost like it had happened to them.”

The battalion gave 2nd Platoon the day to recover. then they were scheduled to go back out on patrol in Adhamiya on July 18.
But when Strickland returned from a mission, he learned 2nd Platoon had failed to roll.

“A scheduled patrol is a direct order from me,” Strickland said.
“‘They’re not coming,'” Strickland said he was told. “So I called the platoon sergeant and talked to him. ‘Remind your guys: These are some of the things that could happen if they refuse to go out.’ I was irritated they were thumbing their noses. I was determined to get them down there.”

But, he said, he didn’t know the whole platoon, except for Ybay, had taken sleeping medications prescribed by mental health that day, according to Ybay.

Strickland didn’t know mental health leaders had talked to 2nd Platoon about “doing the right thing.”

He didn’t know 2nd Platoon had gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya – that several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre.

“We said, ‘No.’ If you make us go there, we’re going to light up everything,” DeNardi said. “There’s a thousand platoons. Not us. We’re not going.”

They decided as a platoon that they were done, DeNardi and Cardenas said, as did several other members of 2nd Platoon. At mental health, guys had told the therapist, “I’m going to murder someone.” And the therapist said, “There comes a time when you have to stand up,” 2nd Platoon members remembered. For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be “unplugged.”

Ybay had gone to battalion to speak up for his guys and ask for more time. But when he came back, it was with orders to report to Old Mod.

Ybay said he tried to persuade his men to go out, but he could see they were not ready.

“It was like a scab that wouldn’t heal up,” Ybay said. “I couldn’t force them to go out. Listening to them in the mental health session, I could hear they’re not ready.”

At 2 a.m, Ybay said, he’d found his men sitting outside smoking cigarettes. They could not sleep. Some of them were taking as many as 10 sleeping pills and still could not rest. The images of their dead friends haunted them. The need for revenge ravaged them.

But Ybay was still disappointed in his men. “I had a mission,” he said. “The company had a mission. We still had to execute. But I understood their side, too.”

Somehow, the full course of events didn’t make it to Strickland. All he knew, the commander said, was his men had refused an order, and he was determined to get them to Apache.

“When you’re given an order, you’ve got to execute,” Strickland said. “Being told, ‘They’re not coming,’ versus, ‘They’re taking meds and went to mental health,’ are different things. It was just this weird situation where almost nothing connected.”

“They called it an act of mutiny,” Cardenas said, still enraged that the men he considered heroes were, in his mind, slandered. “The sergeant major and the battalion commander said we were unprofessional. They said they were disappointed in us and would never forget our actions for the rest of their lives.”

But no judicial action ever came of it.

“Captain Strickland read us our rights,” DeNardi said. “We had 15 yes-or-no questions, and no matter how you answered them, it looked like you disobeyed an order. No one asked what happened. And there’s no record – no article 15. Nothing to show it happened.”

After the members of 2nd Platoon had spent a year fighting for each other and watching their buddies die, battalion leaders began breaking up the platoon. Seven noncommissioned officers were told they were being relieved for cause and moved out of the unit. Three noncommissioned officers stayed at Old Mod. Two, including Sgt. Derrick Jorcke, would remain in Iraq for one month after 2nd Platoon went home in October because they had been moved to different battalions in different areas of Iraq.

“In a way, they were put someplace where they wouldn’t have to go out again,” Johnson said. “But as an NCO, they took these guys’ leaders away and put them with people they didn’t know and trust. You knew 2nd Platoon would die for you without a second’s hesitation. That’s what made them so great. These guys need each other.”

Then, they were all flagged: No promotions. No awards. No favorable actions.

“We had PFCs miss [promotion to] specialist for two months,” DeNardi said. “Bronze Stars and [Army Commendation Medals] were put on hold. You’re talking about heroes like Cardenas. These are guys who save lives and they can’t get awards.”

“I didn’t want to punish them,” Strickland said. “I understood what was going on. But they had to understand you couldn’t do something like that and have nothing happen.”

And things could not continue as they had. Strickland could not operate for three more months with a platoon that refused to go out.

“Within the company, we made some adjustments,” Strickland said. “They needed a fresh start. After looking into it, I didn’t feel the need to punish anybody.” However, he left the flags in place.

“If anything was going to be punishment, that was it,” he said. For at least one soldier, that meant going through a promotion board again. Jorcke lost his promotion table status, but Strickland signed a memo re-establishing it. “I’ve tried to fix those issues. Almost everybody else has been promoted except one guy.” Jorcke made his E-6 on Nov. 1.

Even after the “mutiny,” Strickland said, he had a great deal of admiration for his soldiers.

“I understood why they did what they did,” he said. “Some of the NCOs, I was disappointed in them because they failed to lead their soldiers through difficult times. They let their soldiers influence their decisions. But on a personal level, I applauded their decision because they stood behind their soldiers. I was disappointed, but I thought they had great courage. It was truly a Jekyll/Hyde moment for me.”

And though they were horrified at being torn away from each other, the soldiers themselves were conflicted about the outcome.

“For us being disbanded, now we definitely had unfinished business,” Jorcke said. “If we’d cleared Adhamiya, we could have said, ‘I left Iraq and my buddies didn’t die in vain.

“But in a way, the disbanding was good,” he said. “We – what was left of the platoon – got to come back home alive.”

Holiday Greetings and our Wish for a Peaceful New Year

December 21st, 2007 - by admin

Environmentalists Against War – 2007-12-21 22:33:00

The EAW Web site will be inactive for the week of the winter holiday. We will return on January 2, 2008.


Iran Hasn’t a Nuclear Weapons Programme Says US Intelligence

December 20th, 2007 - by admin

David Morrison / Labour & Trade Union Review – 2007-12-20 22:58:21


(December 14, 2007) — On 3 December 2007, the US administration published declassified Key Judgments from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities [1]. Its principal conclusion is that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme in the autumn of 2003, and hasn’t restarted its programme since.

The US administration’s reaction to this has been to say that nothing has changed, that Iran may not have an active nuclear weapons programme any more, but it has the knowledge to make nuclear weapons, in particular, it knows how to enrich uranium. However, try as he might, President Bush will have difficulty convincing the world that an Iran that halted a nuclear weapons programme four years ago is as threatening as an Iran with an active nuclear weapons programme – which was the previous story from US intelligence.

What the NIE Said
NIEs are formal assessments on specific national security issues, expressing the consensus view of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Nowadays, they are signed off by the Director of National Intelligence (currently Mike McConnell), a post created in 2005 at the suggestion of the 9/11 Commission. NIEs are typically requested by senior civilian and military policymakers or by Congressional leaders. This one, on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, was requested by Congress.

Its principal conclusion is that the US intelligence community

“Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. …. Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Compare that with the conclusion of a May 2005 assessment, which stated that the intelligence community

“Assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable.”

(See table setting out significant differences between the Key Judgments of this NIE and the May 2005 assessment.)

What the IAEA Has Found
It must be emphasised that the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran ever had a nuclear weapons programme. The IAEA’s Director General, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN on 28 October 2007. Blitzer asked:

“Do you believe there is a clandestine, secret nuclear weapons program right now under way in Iran?” [2]

ElBaradei replied:

“We haven’t seen any concrete evidence to that effect, Wolf. We haven’t received any information there is a parallel ongoing, active nuclear weapon program.

Later in the interview he said:

“But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No.”

An IAEA statement on 4 December 2007 in response to the NIE said:

“IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei received with great interest the new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate about Iran’s nuclear program which concludes that there has been no on-going nuclear weapons program in Iran since the fall of 2003. He notes in particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency´s consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the Agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.” [3]

It should be emphasised that the IAEA has found no evidence of an earlier programme either.

Of course, Iran has uranium conversion and enrichment facilities (at Isfahan and Natanz). This is Iran’s right as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) so long as these facilities are for peaceful purposes and are under IAEA supervision. Remember, Article IV(1) of the Treaty states:

“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”

These facilities could, in principle, be used to produce highly enriched uranium suitable for nuclear weapons. But these, and other, nuclear facilities in Iran are subject to IAEA monitoring. Central to this monitoring is the tracking of nuclear material through Iran’s nuclear facilities to make sure that none is diverted, possibly for military purposes. Dr ElBaradei’s latest report [4] concluded:

“The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.” (paragraph 39)

In other words, no nuclear material has gone missing in the course of processing through the nuclear facilities declared by Iran to the IAEA.

What is more, the highest enrichment level detected by the IAEA in the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz is about 4% (see paragraph 21 of Dr ElBaradei’s latest report), which is consistent with the relatively low level of enrichment required for reactor fuel. An enrichment level of 90% or more is needed for weapons grade uranium.

Why Was the NIE Published?
So, the IAEA has yet to find any evidence that Iran has, or has ever had, a nuclear weapons programme. However, it is now the considered opinion of the US intelligence community that, whereas Iran had an active nuclear weapons programme, it halted the programme in the autumn of 2003 and it hasn’t restarted the programme since.

For those in the US administration, including the President himself, who have been ratcheting up the threat due to Iran’s imminent possession of nuclear weapons, this must not have been entirely welcome news.

The question arises: why did the President allow the Key Judgments from this NIE to be made public? NIEs are classified documents, which are seen by the senior figures in the administration and military and by a select few on the relevant committees in Congress. It isn’t the usual practice to make even the Key Judgments public.

It seems that the “intelligence community” wanted the principal conclusions of this NIE published. A statement issued by McConnell’s deputy, Donald Kerr, published along with the Key Judgments, stated:

“The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available. While the decision to release the declassified Key Judgments was coordinated in discussion with senior policy makers, the IC took responsibility for what portions of the NIE Key Judgments were to be declassified.” [5]

That implies that the intelligence community took the initiative in seeking publication. It certainly makes sense that they wanted their new, less threatening, view of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities in the public domain. Having been blamed for supplying flawed intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” that was used by the Bush administration as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003, one can understand that they didn’t want to be blamed for military action being taken against Iran, justified by an outdated assessment that exaggerated their current view of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

But who took the decision to release the Key Judgments? You might have thought that this was the President’s call, but strangely Kerr’s statement says that the decision to release “was coordinated in discussion with senior policy makers”. In reality, the President had very little option but to sanction publication, because it was all but certain that the principal conclusion of the NIE – that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme – would have become public knowledge.

Not only had the intelligence community an interest in getting this conclusion into the public domain, but so had senior figures in the US administration and military who are less than happy with taking military action against Iran in present circumstances. All the more likely, therefore, that the principal conclusion would have leaked out, to the acute embarrassment of the administration, who would have been accused of suppressing information vital to policy making with regard to Iran.

Better, therefore, to publish the Key Judgments in full, and to play down the degree to which the intelligence judgment had actually changed – and the degree to which the US policy towards Iran needed to be changed as a consequence. That is what has happened.

Bush Prepared the Ground
In fact, the President has been preparing the ground for the release of this new intelligence since August 2007, when he was told about it. Since then, he has been careful not to say that Iran has an active nuclear weapons programme. Instead, he has been saying that Iran is dangerous because it possesses the technical knowledge to make nuclear weapons – and he has cranked up the rhetoric about the threat from Iran to compensate for the lack of a programme.

For example, at a press conference on 12 July 2007, the President stated bluntly that Iran is “pursuing nuclear weapons” [6] (and is “threatening to wipe Israel off the map” and “providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers”).

But, in a speech to the 89th Annual National Convention of the American Legion on 28 August 2007, after he had learnt of the new intelligence, his message had changed to the following:

“Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” [7]

Iran’s crime was reduced from “pursuing nuclear weapons” to the “pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons”.

And, the President’s World War III remark, at a press conference on 17 October 2007 [8], was ironically a product of the new intelligence.

He was given a very hard time about Iran by journalists at that press conference. Vladimir Putin had visited Tehran with a vast retinue the previous day, the first time a Russian head of state had been there since Joseph Stalin invited himself in 1943. The occasion was a summit of the five states bordering the Caspian Sea (Russia and Iran plus Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). Putin took the opportunity to warn the US not to use force against Iran [9]. It was put to the President that this summit in Tehran proved that Iran was not being isolated for its nuclear activities, on the contrary, “Russia and Iran are going to do business”. Understandably, the President had difficulty with that.

Another journalist quoted Putin’s words at a press conference with French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Moscow a few days earlier on 10 October 2007. Putin had said:

“We have no evidence that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. We have no objective information to that effect. … Our assumption, therefore, is that Iran does not have such plans. However, we share the desire of our partners that Iran should make all of its [nuclear] programs absolutely transparent.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report [10])

This prompted the journalist to deliver a sucker punch by asking:

“But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?”

Because of the new intelligence judgment, the President could no longer give an unequivocal YES to that, nor could he agree with President Putin and say NO. Instead, he had to avoid answering the question while continuing to portray Iran as the greatest threat to peace in the world. Given the President’s verbal ability, it was no surprise that initially he gibbered, saying:

“I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian — if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace. But this –”

At that point, it occurred to him to conjure up the spectre of World War III in order to spice up the threat from Iran. He continued:

“We got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

(Vice-President Cheney has also given up saying that Iran has an active nuclear weapons programme. In a speech on 21 October 2007 [11], he warned of “serious consequences” for Iran, but he merely accused it of “pursuing technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons”).

Bush’s public reaction to the new intelligence followed the line he established in August 2007: Iran is a threat because it possesses the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon, even though the current intelligence is that it hasn’t got an active programme to do so. At a press conference on 4 December 2007, he said:

“I think it is very important for the international community to recognize the fact that, if Iran were to develop the knowledge that they could transfer to a clandestine program, it would create a danger for the world. And so I view this report [the NIE] as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. And the reason why it’s a warning signal is that they could restart it. And the thing that would make a restarted program effective and dangerous is the ability to enrich uranium, the knowledge of which could be passed on to a hidden program.” [12]

That is the line he had been taking since August 2007. However, he will have difficulty convincing the world that an Iran that halted its nuclear weapons programme four years ago (allegedly) is as threatening as an Iran with an active nuclear weapons programme.

Covert weapons programme
The new NIE is very confident that Iran had an active nuclear weapons programme up to 2003. It says:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; … We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.” (Key Judgment A)

The compilers of the NIE make it clear that the “nuclear weapons programme” referred to here does not involve Iran’s declared uranium conversion and enrichment facilities at Istfahan and Natanz. In a footnote, they say:

“For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In Key Judgment F, the NIE states:

“A growing amount of intelligence indicates Iran was engaged in covert uranium conversion and uranium enrichment activity, but we judge that these efforts probably were halted in response to the fall 2003 halt, and that these efforts probably had not been restarted through at least mid-2007.”

So, according to the NIE, up to the autumn of 2003, Iran was engaged in covert uranium conversion and enrichment activities that it didn’t declare to the IAEA ± in addition to the declared uranium conversion and uranium enrichment facilities at Istfahan and Natanz. In other words, the facilities at Istfahan and Natanz were not believed by US intelligence to be the means whereby Iran was going to manufacture highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

Conversion and enrichment activity for this purpose was going on covertly elsewhere in Iran, as was other work relevant to a nuclear weapons programme. The US intelligence community allegedly believed this until a few months ago.

If Iran had a nuclear weapons programme aiming to use highly enriched uranium as fissile material, it was always unlikely that its declared uranium conversion and enrichment facilities at Istfahan and Natanz were integral to the programme. These declared facilities are under IAEA supervision and it is therefore next to impossible for Iran to enrich uranium to weapons grade at Natanz, or to divert uranium from Natanz to be enriched to weapons grade elsewhere, without detection by the IAEA.

If Iran had a weapons programme, the likelihood was that it had covert uranium conversion and enrichment facilities elsewhere – and apparently that’s what US intelligence believed.

It follows from this that halting Iran’s declared uranium conversion and enrichment activities would not have halted Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Yet, the US has led the way in demanding that Iran halt its declared uranium conversion and enrichment activity and has persuaded the Security Council to support this demand and to impose economic sanctions on Iran in order to persuade Iran to comply. This makes no sense.

If the primary objective of Iran’s nuclear activity was weapons development, as the US has claimed, then the sensible thing for it to do was halt its declared conversion and enrichment activities — thereby lulling the outside world into a false sense of security — and continue with its covert activities geared to weapons development.

Halting Background?
What was the background to Iran halting its nuclear weapons programme? According to the NIE, it happened at the same time as Iran’s “announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program” (Key Judgment A). This was made in a joint statement [13] with the Foreign Ministers of the UK, France and Germany (the so-called E3) on 21 October 2003. This statement signalled the beginning of negotiations between Iran and the E3 about Iran’s nuclear programme, which ended with Iran’s rejection of the E3 proposals of 5 August 2005 for a long-term agreement [14].

The joint statement, which set out the basis of the negotiations, accepted that “Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” and that its suspension of uranium conversion and enrichment activities was a voluntary act that wasn’t required by the NPT.

But the E3 proposals for a long-term agreement required Iran to abandon uranium conversion and enrichment for ever, which would have denied Iran its rights under the NPT. So, any nuclear power generation in Iran would be dependent on a supply of fuel from abroad, which could be cut off at any time, even though Iran has a plentiful domestic supply of uranium ore. It was hardly surprising that Iran rejected these proposals out of hand and subsequently resumed uranium enrichment in January 2006.

This was the trigger for the IAEA Board passing a resolution on 4 February 2006, reporting Iran to the Security Council [15]. It was reported to the Security Council, not because it refused to take measures required by the NPT, but because it refused to suspend uranium enrichment, which is its “inalienable right” under the NPT.

On 6 June 2006, the 5 permanent members of the Security Council (the so-called P5) and Germany made new proposals to Iran, and undertook to enter into negotiations with Iran on the basis of these proposals, providing Iran met certain pre-conditions, chief amongst which is the familiar demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.

The new proposals, like the E3 proposals of a year earlier, seek to ban Iran from enriching uranium, but permit Iran to engage in other uranium processing activity [16]. Iran has not accepted these proposals as the basis for negotiations, but it hasn’t rejected them either – at the time of writing (14 December 2007), Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy, is still talking to Iran about them.

Meanwhile, the Security Council has passed three resolutions – the last two imposing economic sanctions – demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, which it has refused to do.

Clean Bill of Health?
The publication of the new NIE has reduced the US administration’s ability to portray Iran as an imminent danger to the Middle East and the world as a possessor of nuclear weapons. The President has been reduced to saying that Iran had a weapons programme in the past at undeclared sites, and could restart the programme if it wished.

It is difficult for Iran to prove that it hasn’t got a weapons programme today, and even more difficult to prove that it hadn’t one in the past (assuming it hadn’t one). However, the IAEA is currently engaged in a programme of work with Iran, which aims to answer the IAEA’s outstanding questions about Iran’s past nuclear activities. Assuming that, when this work is complete, the IAEA is satisfied that none of Iran’s past nuclear activities was for military purposes, then any objective observer – if not the US President – would begin to question the new NIE’s confident assertion that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme up to 2003.

It is clear from Dr ElBaradei’s latest report on 15 November 2007 [4] that good progress has been made in answering the IAEA’s outstanding questions. So, it is possible that the IAEA will soon be in a position to give Iran a clean bill of health – to say that

(a) all outstanding questions about Iran’s past nuclear activites have been answered and there is no evidence that any of these activities were for military purposes, and
(b) Iran is facilitating IAEA supervision of its current nuclear activities and the IAEA has found no diversion of nuclear material from them (for military or any other purpose).

Of course, we are talking here about nuclear activities that Iran has declared to the IAEA. And, as Dr ElBaradei wrote in his latest report:

“Confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme requires that the Agency be able to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material, but, equally importantly, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. Although the Agency has no concrete information, other than that addressed through the work plan, about possible current undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran without full implementation of the Additional Protocol.” (paragraph 43)

The Additional Protocol, which isn’t mandatory for a signatory to the NPT, is designed to allow the IAEA to get a full picture of a state’s nuclear activities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, and to visit unannounced.

Iran signed an Additional Protocol in December 2003 and operated it until February 2006, even though it wasn’t ratified by the Iranian parliament. Iran ceased operating it in February 2006, when it was referred to the Security Council. It remains to be seen if Iran will resume operating it now.

Malloch-Brown Makes a Fool of Himself
The British Government has refused to say whether it agrees with its closest ally that Iran hasn’t an active nuclear weapons programme.

Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s World at One on 4 December 2007, the day after the NIE Key Judgments were published. But he might as well not have bothered. As the transcript of the interview on the Foreign Office website shows [17], he repeatedly refused to give a straight answer when asked if the British Government agreed with the new US intelligence judgment.

The question also led to Milband’s “eminence grise”, Foreign Office Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, making a fool of himself in the House of Lords on 11 December 2007 [18]. Asked

“Whether [the British Government’s] assessment of recent developments in the Iranian nuclear programme is similar to that set out in the new United States National Intelligence Estimate.”

he replied:

“My Lords, I am told that it is not the practice of this Government or previous Governments to comment on intelligence matters.”

He replied in similar vein to three similar questions, before Lord Butler of Brockwell (who gave his name to the Butler report) rose to ask:

“My Lords, how does the Minister square his statement that it is not the custom of this Government or previous Governments to comment on intelligence with the decision of the previous Government to publish a dossier of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq leading up to the war and the statement of the previous Prime Minister that he now wishes he had published the whole JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] assessment?”

to which Malloch-Brown replied:

“My Lords, this novice Minister was very much hoping that that particular noble Lord would not be in the House today. He will notice that I referred to the fact that I had been told that this was the practice. As someone who was out of the country at the time, I must say I scratch my head to reconcile this with the practice when the noble Lord was involved in these issues.”

You would have thought an “eminence grise” could do better than that.

US Helps Iran’s Nuclear Programme
Dr ElBaradei’s latest report [4] contains interesting information about how the US/UK and other states helped Iran with its nuclear programme in the 1970s:

“According to Iran, in its early years, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) concluded a number of contracts with entities from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America to enable it to acquire nuclear power and a wide range of related nuclear fuel cycle services, but after the 1979 revolution, these contracts with a total value of around $10 billion were not fulfilled. Iran noted that one of the contracts, signed in 1976, was for the development of a pilot plant for laser enrichment.” (paragraph 4)

As a footnote makes clear, this contract for a laser enrichment pilot plant was with a US company.

An article by Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post on 27 March 2005, entitled Past Arguments Don’t Square With Current Iran Policy [19], describes US nuclear policy towards Iran in the 1970s, a policy that was very different to today’s. Ironically, it was pursued by some of the individuals who held jobs in the present Bush administration. Here’s a flavour of the article:

“Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran’s nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, ‘They’re already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy’.

“Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.

“Ford’s team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium – the two pathways to a nuclear bomb.

“Iran, a US ally then, had deep pockets and close ties to Washington. US companies, including Westinghouse and General Electric, scrambled to do business there.

“‘I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up’, Henry A. Kissinger, who was Ford’s Secretary of State, said in an interview for this article. …

“After balking initially, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a US-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. The deal was for a complete ‘nuclear fuel cycle’ – reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis.”

But, as Dafna Linzer says, Iran was an ally of the US then.

[1] www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf
[2] edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0710/28/le.01.html
[3] www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/PressReleases/2007/prn200722.html
[4] www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2007/gov2007-58.pdf
[5] www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_statement.pdf
[6] www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/07/20070712-5.html
[7] www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/08/20070828-2.html
[8] www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071017.html
[9] www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,2192195,00.html
[10] www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/10/58cfe54d-3b9c-42d9-9e33-f944b05e7d35.html
[11] www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071021.html
[12] www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/12/20071204-4.html
[13] www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/statement_iran21102003.shtml
[14] www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/2005/infcirc651.pdf
[15] www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2006/gov2006-14.pdf
[16] www.david-morrison.org.uk/scoths/2006-0521.pdf
[17] See www.fco.gov.uk
[18] www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/71211-0002.htm
[19] www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A3983-2005Mar26.html


Russian General: Pentagon Seeking Confrontation

December 20th, 2007 - by admin

Mike Eckel / Associated Press – 2007-12-20 22:57:47


MOSCOW (December 17, 2007) — Russia’s top military officer today accused the United States of seeking direct confrontation with Moscow and warned again that US plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe would destabilize the continent.

Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky spoke at a joint news conference along with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, who repeated that Russia would not increase troop levels on its western border even after suspending participation in a key arms treaty.

Among the issues that have most undermined Russian-US relations in recent years is a US plan to put elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic — former Warsaw Bloc members that have joined NATO.

Russia has alleged that the system will be used to spy on Russian missile and military forces; Washington says it will help defend Europe from a potential missile attack from Iran.

Baluyevsky said the US missile defense plans would destabilize Europe and he repeated sharp warnings that Russia would respond in some fashion.

“We plan and, depending on the situation, will take appropriate and asymmetric measures aimed at preventing the deterioration of our defense capability,” Baluyevsky was quoted as saying by Interfax. There was no explanation of what he meant by asymmetric.

Baluyevsky, the chief of Russia’s general staff, said US Defense Department policies continued to challenge Moscow openly.

“The question of confrontation with Russia, mildly speaking, including direct confrontation, unfortunately has not been struck from the agenda by my colleagues at the Pentagon,” he told reporters. He did not elaborate.

On Wednesday, Moscow formally suspended participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons across the continent.

Officials have said the moratorium was not a threat, but rather an effort to persuade NATO nations to ratify a 1999 update of the pact.

Kislyak repeated that Russia did not intend to increase its force levels on the western border despite the moratorium.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Strangling Gaza

December 20th, 2007 - by admin

César Chelala / Middle East Online.com – 2007-12-20 22:56:33


(December 16. 2007) — It could, rightfully, be a cause of shame to the world. But the world, besieged by violence and injustice, hardly notices it. The people of Gaza, 1.4 million of them, are slowly and purposely being deprived of basic foods and medicines by the so called civilized countries in the West and there is hardly a protest.

And all this happens because the people in Gaza want to be free and independent. Never mind that in the process children and innocent civilians are killed or families dispossessed.

Dr. Mona Elfarra, a Palestinian physician and human rights activist, thus describes a situation in her personal blog, “I don’t know exactly what was going on inside the little heads of the kids who were preparatory school children, of Al Buriege boy’s preparatory school. But the two tiny bodies were shot, with many bullets, as I was told by my colleagues at the emergency room at the Al Aqsa hospital…On November 10, the dreams of two tiny kids has stopped forever.”

As Dr. Elfarra states, both the children as well as the Israeli soldiers who killed them are victims of the occupation, “…the occupation that deprives the soldiers of their humanity, when under the false pretence of Israeli security, daily crimes are committed against my country. And against my people.” This is particularly true in the lack of food and medicines for the people in Gaza.

Most of the basic goods in Gaza are imported. Because of border closures, there is limited delivery of those goods, in particular sugar and wheat flour, which represent 80 percent of the caloric intake of Palestinians. The majority of the population depends on food aid from international organizations.

At the same time, the flow of exports leaving Gaza has practically stopped, while the commercial and humanitarian goods allowed to come in continues to decline. The Gaza Strip is practically sealed off from the outside world.

Approximately 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. It is estimated that 70 percent of the potential workforce is out of work or without pay. The Gaza Strip is not receiving tax monies owed to by Israel, which amounts to almost half of its budget.

Also critical is the public health and medical situation of the inhabitants of the Strip. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis. UNICEF reports that children are living in an environment of extreme violence, insecurity and fear. Shelling and sonic bombs have increased children’s signs of distress and exhaustion.

UN agencies have appealed for Israel to restore full energy supplies to the Gaza Strip, stating their concern over the status of the public health system. “In the last months, the situation has become intolerable, with problems of referral outside of Gaza for patients who need specialized care that cannot be delivered in Gaza,” states Dr. Ambroggio Manenti, head of the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli government General Security Service (Shabak) cites unspecified “security concerns” when denying medical patients exit permits from Gaza, a situation that has been denounced by Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel.) “Israel denial of medical care to those in urgent need amounts to collective punishment against the population, which violates international law,” states Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch Middle East division.

In June, PHR-Israel and Gisha, another Israel-based human rights group, challenged Israel’s restrictions on medical evacuees in Israel’s Supreme Court. One of those denied permission to leave Gaza was a 16-year-old girl with a heart condition. “Israel has legitimate security concerns about militant groups firing rockets from Gaza into civilian areas. But denying medical treatment to a 16-year-old girl with a congenital heart defect doesn’t make Israel any safer,” said Leah Whitson.

Leah Whitson’s words are confirmed by Gideon Levy, the Israeli journalist, writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
“But we have no right to do what we are doing. Just as no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an entire people in the name of our security. The question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel’s security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.”

César Chelala, an international public health consultant, is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times (Australia.) He is also a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Future Combat SystemsL The Dream of Robo-War

December 20th, 2007 - by admin

Ana Marte & Elise Szabo / Straus Military Reform Project – 2007-12-20 22:41:28


August 7, 2007 Fact Sheet on the Army’s Future Combat Systems
Ana Marte & Elise Szabo /Straus Military Reform Project

Future Combat Systems (FCS)

The Future Combat Systems (FCS) is a family of systems currently being developed to include manned vehicles, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, unattended sensors, new munitions, launchers and a network for communication and data-sharing between all FCS elements. This “system-of-systems” is the centerpiece of the Army’s attempt to transform itself into what it describes as a lighter, more agile and more capable force.

FCS vehicles will be incorporated into the Army’s brigade-sized modular force structure, and are expected to replace such current systems as the M-1 Abrams tank and the M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.

Current plans call for 18 individual systems, including the following: unattended ground sensors (UGS); Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) and Intelligent Munitions System (IMS); four classes of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which will be organic to platoon, company, battalion and other echelons; three classes of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs): the Armed Robotic Vehicle (ARV), the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) and the Multifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment Vehicle (MULE); eight types of manned ground vehicles; the network; and the individual soldier and his personal equipment and weapons with additional gear to link him to these systems.

The program was initiated as an attempt to find the means for the Army to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power in response to overseas crises. FCS vehicles were intended to weigh less and require less logistical support than current heavy weapons while retaining the same, or better, levels of lethality and survivability.

The Army’s goals for FCS networking architecture are: to augment connectivity inside Army units and with other services, to increase situational awareness and understanding on the battlefield and to further synchronize operations. The idea is that superior information will allow soldiers to hit their enemy first instead of relying on heavy armor to withstand a hit.

Put another way, the concept assumes lighter armor is an acceptable trade off for more communications and computers because the network will routinely permit soldiers to find, identify and kill enemy anti-armor systems before they have a chance to attack. Based on the deployment of prototypical systems in Iraq since the beginning of the war there, analysts at CDI are unaware that this concept has achieved even rudimentary feasibility. Indeed, the devastating success of enemy IEDs and EFPs in Iraq has led to the deployment of heavier armor, not lighter, and an acknowledgement that the enemy rarely permits itself to be found and identified by sensor hardware.

Reconciliation of requirements with technical feasibility and at least some appreciation of events in the real world have necessitated some FCS modifications, such as significant increases in manned ground vehicle weight to meet survivability requirements. One effect has been to compromise original transportability requirements. The feasibility of other FCS requirements depends on key assumptions about immature technologies, costs and other performance characteristics, most notably the feasibility and reliability of the network.

FCS Has 35 Systems On-track for Development
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FCS program office has reported that 35 of 46 FCS technologies have met or surpassed Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6, which means that a system model or prototype has been demonstrated in a relevant environment. This assessment exceeded predictions made in 2006 by an independent review team that only 22 of the program’s 49 critical technologies would reach TRL 6 in 2007.

However, some remaining key FCS technologies, including lightweight armor and active protection, have yet to reach TRL 6, and much of the program’s unprecedented software development effort still lies ahead, leaving a fundamental challenge unresolved.

In March 2002, the Army designated both Boeing and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as lead systems integrators for the program. Boeing is the main contractor and SAIC is being subcontracted by Boeing. Both companies are acting as program managers and select other subcontractors to supply the program’s technologies and systems.

The employment of a Lead Systems Integrator (LSI) to manage the program reflects the Army’s limited willingness, if not ability, to undertake such an ambitious undertaking itself. While some argue that the LSI approach allows flexibility in responding to shifting priorities, others point out potential risks to the Army’s ability to oversee the program and the failure of the LSI approach in other programs.

Originally administered under an Other Transactions Authority (OTA) arrangement, under the leadership of Senator John McCain, R – Ariz., the Army was encouraged to restructure the FCS program and to put it under a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contract. Other objectives of the restructured program include:

Fielding FCS technologies to the current force in discrete “spirals” starting in FY 2008 Addressing congressional language requiring the Army to field the Non Line of Sight Cannon (NLOS-C ) and its resupply vehicle by 2010 as well as deliver eight combat operational preproduction NLOS-C systems by the end of CY 2008 Fielding all 18 systems instead of the 14 which were funded under the previous program Designating an evaluation brigade to test spiraled FCS capabilities

These measures addressed some of the challenges facing the FCS program, but the program is still at risk for significant cost increases, and the fundamental concept continues to attract criticism.

FCS’s Estimated Cost: $160.7 Billion
In 2006, GAO estimated a program cost of about $160.7 billion, a 76 percent increase from the Army’s original $91.4 billion estimate. A 2006 CAIG report estimated the total cost for FCS at between $295 billion and $307.2 billion. Recent news reports indicate that the Institute for Defense Analysis has identified still further cost increases; it is not reasonable to expect this latest one will be the last.

FCS is currently in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of acquisition, which began in 2003 despite GAO warnings that the program was entering the phase with “more risk than recommended.”

In 2006, Congress mandated that DOD conduct a milestone review of the FCS program after a preliminary design review in 2009. The review is described to assess whether the requirements are valid and can best be met with the FCS program, whether the FCS program can be developed and produced within existing resources and whether the program should continue as currently structured, be restructured or be terminated. Some might argue that these objectives should have been met at the very start of the program.

SDD is currently scheduled to run through 2011. Low-rate initial production is expected to begin in 2012, and the program is expected to reach initial operational capability in 2015.

The FY 2005 budget included $2.8 billion in research and development funds for FCS; the FY budget requested an increase to $3.4 billion. The Army requested $3.6 billion for FY 2008 for the program. The House Appropriations Committee approved only $3.2 billion.

The Problems with FCS
Various critics of the program make a number of fundamental points:

FCS is yet another iteration of attempts since the 1950s, if not earlier, to automate human conflict, which many recognize as not susceptible to mechanistic synchronization. These multiple efforts have resulted in repeated failures and frequent defeats for the side attempting to employ them – the latest being the Israelis in Lebanon in 2006.

The sensors simply do not exist and are not even under development to reliably locate the dimension of threats that FCS would require to be successful, especially on 21st century battlefields that are dominated by 4th Generation Warfare.

FCS, if ever deployed, is more likely to impede U.S. military mental and physical agility on the battlefield, rather than facilitate it.

For more information on the Future Combat Systems (FCS) see the links below. Readers interested in further articulation of the fundamental criticisms of FCS are directed to the Government Executive article in our analysis section below and CDI’s recent analysis of Israel’s Winograd Commission Report addressing the Israel Defense Force failures in Lebanon in 2006.

General Information on Future Combat Systems (FCS):

• Boeing-Integrated Defense Systems http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/ic/fcs/bia/index.html

• General Dynamics

• GlobalSecurity.org http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/fcs-back.htm

• Science Applications International Corporation http://www.saic.com/

• U.S. Army http://www.army.mil/fcs

• Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Combat_Systems


• Congressional Budget Office: “The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program”

• CBO Study: “The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program & Alternatives”

• Congressional Research Service. “The Army’s Future Combat System (FCS): Background and Issues for Congress,” http://www.ndu.edu/library/docs/crs/crs_rl32888_28apr05.pdf

• Government Accountability Office. “Defense Acquisitions: Future Combat System Risks Underscore the Importance of Oversight.”

• “Defense Acquisitions: Future Combat Systems Challenges and Prospects for Success.” http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05442t.pdf

• “Defense Acquisitions: The Army’s Future Combat System’s Features, Risks, and Alternatives.”

• “Defense Acquisitions: Role of Lead Systems Integrator on Future Combat Systems Program Poses Oversight Challenges.”

• Defense Acquisitions: Analysis of Process Used to Evaluate Active Protection Systems.”

• Center for Defense Information, “The ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ Shocks but Does Not Awe Israeli Commission.”

• GovernmentExecutive.com

• Inside the Army, “Study: Army FCS Program Will Cost $13 Billion More Than Estimated.”

• Parameters, “An Alternative Future Force: Building a Better Army.”

• Rand Corporation “Exploring Advanced Technologies for the Future Combat Systems Program.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Israel’s Palestinians Speak Out

December 19th, 2007 - by admin

Nadim Rouhana / Information Clearing House – 2007-12-19 23:05:28


(December 14, 2007) —The Annapolis peace talks regard me as an interloper in my own land. Israel’s deputy prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman, argues that I should “take [my] bundles and get lost.” Henry Kissinger thinks I ought to be summarily swapped from inside Israel to the would-be Palestinian state.

I am a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship — one of 1.4 million. I am also a social psychologist trained and working in the United States. In late November, on behalf of Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research, I polled Palestinian citizens of Israel regarding their reactions to the Annapolis conference and their views about our future, and how they would be affected by Middle East peace negotiations.

During Israel’s establishment, three-quarters of a million Palestinians were driven from their homes or fled in fear. They remain refugees to this day, scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza, the Arab world and beyond. We Palestinian citizens of Israel are among the minority who managed to remain on our land.

Like many Mexican-Americans, we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. We have been struggling ever since against a system that subjects us to separate and unequal treatment because we are Palestinian Arabs — Christian, Muslim and Druze — not Jewish. More than twenty Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews.

The Palestinian Authority is under intense pressure to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is not a matter of semantics. If Israel’s demand is granted, the inequality that we face as Palestinians — roughly 20 percent of Israel’s population — will become permanent.

The United States, despite being settled by Christian Europeans fleeing religious persecution, has struggled for decades to make clear that it is not a “Christian nation.” It is in a similar vein that Israel’s indigenous Palestinian population rejects the efforts of Israel and the United States to seal our fate as a permanent underclass in our own homeland.

We are referred to by leading Israeli politicians as a “demographic problem.” In response, many in Israel, including the deputy prime minister, are proposing land swaps: Palestinian land in the occupied territories with Israeli settlers on it would fall under Israel’s sovereignty, while land in Israel with Palestinian citizens would fall under Palestinian authority.

This may seem like an even trade. But there is one problem: no one asked us what we think of this solution. Imagine the hue and cry were a prominent American politician to propose redrawing the map of the United States so as to exclude as many Mexican-Americans as possible, for the explicit purpose of preserving white political power.

Such a demagogue would rightly be denounced as a bigot. Yet this sort of hyper-segregation and ethnic supremacy is precisely what Israeli and American officials are considering for many Palestinian citizens of Israel — and hoping to coerce Palestinan leaders into accepting.

Looking across the Green Line, we realize that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no mandate to negotiate a deal that will affect our future. We did not elect him. Why would we give up the rights we have battled to secure in our homeland to live inside an embryonic Palestine that we fear will be more like a bantustan than a sovereign state?

Even if we put aside our attachment to our homeland, Israel has crushed the West Bank economy — to say nothing of Gaza’s — and imprisoned its people behind a barrier. There is little allure to life in such grim circumstances, especially since there is the real prospect of further Israeli sanctions, which could make a bad situation worse.

In the poll I just conducted, nearly three-quarters of Israel’s Palestinian citizens rejected the idea of the Palestinian Authority making territorial concessions that involve them, and 65.6 percent maintained that the PA also lacked the mandate to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Nearly 80 percent declared that it lacks the mandate to relinquish the right of Palestinian refugees — affirmed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 and reaffirmed many times — to return to their homes and properties inside Israel.

Palestinians inside Israel have developed a history and identity after nearly sixty years of hard work and struggle. We are not simply pawns to be shuffled to the other side of the board. We expect no more and no less than the right to equality in the land of our ancestors. Israeli Jews have now built a nation, and have the right to live here in peace.

But Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic, nor can it find the security it seeks by continuing to deny our rights, nor those of Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, nor those of Palestinian refugees. It is time for us to share this land in a true democracy, one that honors and respects the rights of both peoples as equals.

Nadim Rouhana is Henry Hart Rice Professor of Conflict Analysis at George Mason University and heads the Haifa-based Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Impeach Dick Cheney — 100,000 Signatures and Growing!

December 19th, 2007 - by admin

A Message from Congressmember Ron Wexler – 2007-12-19 23:03:55


Impeach Dick Cheney:
A Message from Congressmember Ron Wexler

We have already reached 100,000 supporters. Thank You. Now We Need Each of You To Send an Email to Ten More People to Get 250,000 Signed Up at WexlerWantsHearings.com by the End of the Year.

I can guarantee that your 100,000 voices calling for impeachment hearings will now be heard in Congress. Together, through our new Quarter Million Person Challenge, let’s now set a new goal of 250,000 Americans signing up to demand action.

It has been just 5 days since I called for impeachment hearings for Vice-President Dick Cheney and already over 100,000 people – including you – have answered that call by adding your name as an impeachment supporter at www.WexlerWantsHearings.com. This is a truly remarkable response that demonstrates the power that average, everyday Americans can have when we come together to pursue justice and accountability.

Never mind that the national media ignored my call and rejected an op-ed that I wrote along with my Judiciary Colleagues Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The Netroots and citizen activists like yourself are spreading our message and demanding action.

Quarter Million Person Challenge
Our movement continues to grow by the hour and the day. But, with the media blackout, I need your help to grow our effort. With 100,000 supporters already signed-up, if each of you e-mail ten of your friends (a “Chain-ey letter”) about www.WexlerWantsHearings.com and the need for Cheney impeachment hearings we will reach over a million Americans and perhaps we can reach a new goal of 250,000 signers by the end of the year!!

Join Me Thursday Night on
Blog Radio to Discuss
Our Next Steps

On this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. (EST) and 6:00 (PST), please join me as I appear on live on the Internet to discuss my efforts to convince Congress to hold impeachment hearing.

Congressman Wexler Live on Blog Radio:
WHEN: Thursday, December 18, 9:00 pm (EST)/6:00 pm (PST)

WHERE: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/fpc (a link will be posted at www.wexlerwantshearings.com and www.wexlerforcongress.com )

WHO: Rep. Wexler will appear live on Florida Progressive Radio with host Kenneth Quinnell of the Florida Netroots Caucus, Bob Fertick of Democrats.com, as well as Dave Lindorf, author of The Case for Impeachment, and David Swanson with AfterDowningStreet.org.

More on the Media Blackout
The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, and Boston Globe have all rejected our op ed (though the Miami Herald just put an edited version in its “Letters to the Editor” section).

We have heard from the editors of some of these publications and they are telling us that they are getting overwhelmed with phone calls and letters of complaint. (Well done everybody!)

In short — we need to keep the pressure on if this news will spread far beyond the Netroots community.

With warm regards,

Congressman Robert Wexler

Wexler Petition Hits 100,000 But 13 Judiciary Dems Remain Silent

On 12/14, Democrats.com was excited to announce Rep. Robert Wexler’s campaign to demand impeachment hearings for Dick Cheney. Wexler’s goal was 50,000 signatures but with your support, Wexler’s petition passed 100,000!

Wexler is thrilled with your response, and he will hold a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT) on Florida Progressive Radio with Kenneth Quinnell, co-hosted by Democrats.com.

Wexler has the support of two Judiciary Committee Democrats, Luis Gutierrez (IL-04) and Tammy Baldwin (WI-02). Five others are co-sponsors of H.Res. 333/H.Res. 799, Rep. Kucinich’s Articles of Impeachment for Vice President Cheney:
Steve Cohen (TN-09), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Hank Johnson (GA-04), and Maxine Waters (CA-35).

But that leaves 13 Judiciary Committee Democrats who have NOT called for impeachment hearings. These 6 voted to send Kucinich’s bill to Judiciary on 11/6, so they should publicly support Wexler’s efforts:
John Conyers (MI-14), Bobby Scott (VA-03), Brad Sherman (CA-27), Betty Sutton (OH-13), Mel Watt (NC-12), and Anthony Weiner (NY-09).

These 7 voted to kill Kucinich’s bill on 11/6, so they need to CHANGE their positions and fulfill their oath of office to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND domestic:
Howard Berman (CA-28), Artur Davis (AL-07), William Delahunt (MA-10), Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), Jerrold Nadler (NY-08), Linda Sanchez (CA-39), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20).

• Please email all House Judiciary Democrats through this petition:

• If you are represented by any of the 13 Democrats listed above, please join your local Congressional District Impeachment Committee (CDIC) and plan local actions like letters to the editor, district office visits, birddogging, honkathons, and collecting petitions and personal letters on the streets:

• If you don’t see a CDIC, please create one:

With Your Help, Chris Dodd Wins Temporary Victory on Warrantless Wiretapping

Immediately after stealing the White House in 2001, Bush and Cheney told the telecom giants to wiretap ALL phone calls and emails of ALL Americans – even though it was completely illegal under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Only one company, Qwest, chose to follow the law. In true mafia fashion, Bush and Cheney punished Qwest by denying it contracts and prosecuting its CEO, Joseph Nacchio, for alleged securities fraud. The other companies willingly broke the law, and now face 40 civil lawsuits from outraged customers. So Bush is desperate to get Congress to grant the telecoms full immunity for the crimes he coerced them into committing.

In October, Senator Chris Dodd promised to filibuster the immunity bill. Harry Reid betrayed Dodd and all of us by pushing a vote on telecom immunity. On Monday, Dodd fulfilled his promise, and Democrats.com and other blogs generated over 500,000 emails to Congress in support of Dodd’s filibuster.

Key Democrats supported Dodd’s filibuster, and Reid was forced to reschedule a vote in January. Watch Dodd’s thank-you message:

Of course nothing will stop Bush and Cheney from creating a fascist dictatorship, and they will put immense pressure on Harry Reid to pass the immunity bill when Congress returns. So let’s keep a steady flow of emails to Congress opposing telecom immunity:

Democrats Give Bush Another $70 Billion Blank Check – Join the Democratic Donor Strike

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 70-25 to give Bush another $70 billion blank check for Iraq.
Our soldiers were betrayed by every Senate Republican except Gordon Smith (OR) and 21 Democrats:
Akaka (D-HI), Baucus (D-MT), Bayh (D-IN), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Conrad (D-ND), Dorgan (D-ND), Inouye (D-HI), Johnson (D-SD), Landrieu (D-LA), Levin (D-MI), Lincoln (D-AR), McCaskill (D-MO), Mikulski (D-MD), Nelson (D-FL), Nelson (D-NE), Pryor (D-AR), Rockefeller (D-WV), Salazar (D-CO), Tester (D-MT), Webb (D-VA).

On Wednesday, the House voted 272-142 to give Bush another $70 billion blank check for Iraq.
Our soldiers were betrayed by every House Republican except John Duncan (TN-02) and 78 Democrats:
Altmire (PA-04), Baird (WA-03), Barrow (GA-12), Bean (IL-08), Berkley (NV-01), Berman (CA-28), Berry (AR-01), Bishop (GA-02), Boren (OK-02), Boucher (VA-09), Boyd (FL-02), Boyda (KS-02), Brown (FL-03), Carney (PA-10), Chandler (KY-06), Clyburn (SC-06), Cooper (TN-05), Costa (CA-20), Cramer (AL-05), Cuellar (TX-28), Davis (TN-04), Davis (AL-07), Davis (CA-53), Dicks (WA-06), Dingell (MI-15), Donnelly (IN-02), Edwards (TX-17), Ellsworth (IN-08), Emanuel (IL-05), Etheridge (NC-02), Giffords (AZ-08), Gillibrand (NY-20), Gonzalez (TX-20), Gordon (TN-06), Green (TX-29), Herseth Sandlin (SD-00), Hill (IN-09), Hinojosa (TX-15), Holden (PA-17), Hoyer (MD-05), Kanjorski (PA-11), Kildee (MI-05), Kind (WI-03), Lampson (TX-22), Larsen (WA-02), Levin (MI-12), Lynch (MA-09), Mahoney (FL-16), Marshall (GA-08), Matheson (UT-02), McIntyre (NC-07), Melancon (LA-03), Mitchell (AZ-05), Mollohan (WV-01), Moore (KS-03), Murtha (PA-12), Peterson (MN-07), Pomeroy (ND-00), Reyes (TX-16), Rodriguez (TX-23), Ross (AR-04), Ruppersberger (MD-02), Rush (IL-01), Salazar (CO-03), Schwartz (PA-13), Scott (GA-13), Sestak (PA-07), Shuler (NC-11), Skelton (MO-04), Snyder (AR-02), Space (OH-18), Spratt (SC-05), Tanner (TN-08), Taylor (MS-04), Udall (CO-02), Visclosky (IN-01), Walz (MN-01), Westmoreland (GA-03), Wilson (OH-06).

If you contributed to any of these Democratic candidates, call them and demand a refund.

It is time for Pelosi and Reid to resign as Democratic leaders and let real Democrats take over – Democrats who will fight and win, not surrender to Bush and Cheney.

• You can send Pelosi and Reid a message by joining our Democratic Donor Strike against the two fundraising committees they run – the DCCC and the DSCC.


Friday is Iraq Moratorium Day

As we celebrate the Holidays, let us keep in our hearts those with less reason to celebrate:

* The 150,000 troops trapped in a grinding, senseless war, half a world away.

* The mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children, grandparents, sisters and brothers of the nearly 900 troops dead in Iraq this year, who face a holiday they know they will never again share with those loved ones.

* The people of Iraq, with more than a million of their own loved ones dead, millions more living as desperate refugees in foreign countries, and all trying to survive the devastation of nearly five years of occupation.

• Please remember them all this Friday, Dec. 21, by breaking with your daily routine and taking some action, by yourself or with others, to end the war.


UN Finds Fraud, Mismanagement in Peacekeeping

December 19th, 2007 - by admin

Colum Lynch / Washington Post – 2007-12-19 22:49:16


Task Force Says ‘Multiple Instances’ of Corruption Have a Cost of $610 Million

UNITED NATIONS (December 18, 2007) — A UN task force has uncovered a pervasive pattern of corruption and mismanagement involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for fuel, food, construction and other materials and services used by UN peacekeeping operations, which are in the midst of their largest expansion in 15 years.

In recent weeks, 10 procurement officials have been charged with misconduct for allegedly soliciting bribes and rigging bids in Congo and Haiti. It has been the largest single crackdown on UN staff malfeasance in the field in more than a decade

The task force has issued a series of public and confidential reports charging that corruption has spread from UN headquarters — where three officials have been convicted in bribery schemes — to the far reaches of its growing peacekeeping efforts. The task force has also cast a spotlight on the United Nations’ repeated failure to take action against officials long suspected of wrongdoing, allowing them to carry out criminal schemes in one UN mission after another.

“The task force identified multiple instances of fraud, corruption, waste and mismanagement at UN headquarters and peacekeeping missions, including ten significant instances of fraud and corruption with aggregate value in excess of $610 million,” said one report by the task force, headed by a former federal prosecutor in Connecticut, Robert Appleton.

The new corruption cases highlight the limits of reforms imposed since the early 1990s, when a previous buildup of peacekeeping missions led to reports of rampant corruption in Cambodia, Somalia and the Balkans. In response, in 1994 the United Nations created the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), but it has a poor record of holding corrupt officials to account.

The recent investigation in Congo revealed “widespread and inherent corruption” throughout the mission’s purchasing department. One official targeted in the probe, Abdul Karim Masri, had emerged unscathed from repeated OIOS inquiries into his activities over more than a decade.

The task force charged that Masri, 54, engaged in an “extensive pattern of bribery” during his seven years in Congo, according to a confidential account of the probe.

The unit alleged that Masri accepted a $10,000 bribe from a boating company, steered a lucrative catering contract to a friend, and persuaded one UN contractor to paint his apartment and swimming pool at no cost and another to give him a steep discount on a Mercedes-Benz.

It also described an effort by Masri to solicit a kickback from a construction executive on a $5.5 million contract to refurbish an airfield in eastern Congo.

“We are the ones deciding the case,” Masri told him, according to the account of a meeting at Masri’s Kinshasa home. “It’s in our hands.”

Masri declined repeated requests by e-mail to comment on the findings, saying that UN rules do not permit him to “deal with the press.” He referred questions to UN staff counsel Edwin Nhliziyo, a retired UN auditor who served with Masri in Congo.

“He has denied all these allegations,” Nhliziyo said. “If the UN has the evidence to back all of this stuff up, that is fine. At this point it’s just allegations, and he is innocent until proven guilty.”

In Haiti, the United Nations charged five employees with misconduct after the task force established that they had steered a $10 million-a-year fuel contract to a Haitian company, Distributeurs Nationaux S.A., according to UN officials and confidential documents.

The task force has been unable to prove that the five profited from the scheme, citing its lack of authority to subpoena bank records, but it recommended that the case be referred for criminal prosecution by authorities in Haiti or the United States.

UN officials privately acknowledge that some malfeasance is inevitable in an organization that processes 12,000 purchase orders in the field each year and buys enough energy to power a city larger than Washington, D.C. They also noted that some previous UN corruption crackdowns unraveled under closer examination.

“I don’t believe there is, or that [the investigators] have found, a culture out there of fraudulent behaviors,” said Philip Cooper, an Australian who administers UN peacekeeping missions. “We have our share of malpractice, but we do not have many cases of straight-out fraud like has been found in the Congo.”

The latest investigations grew out of the probe into the UN Iraqi oil-for-food program by Paul A. Volcker, former Federal Reserve Board chairman. It comes as spending on peacekeeping operations is rising — from $2.2 billion in 2004 to $7 billion — supporting a force of more than 100,000 peacekeepers.

Volcker’s team helped uncover a bribery scheme by a UN procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev of Russia. Yakovlev pleaded guilty in August 2005 to federal charges that he received nearly $1 million in kickbacks for steering contracts to favored companies.

In response, the United Nations placed eight other officials on administrative leave and created the procurement task force. The Internal Oversight office, meanwhile, brought in new leadership for its investigations division and doubled the number of staff members to about 60, stationing half of them in the field.

In June, the task force, which recruited many of Volcker’s investigators, helped federal prosecutors convict one of the eight suspects — Sanjaya Bahel — for steering about $100 million in contracts to an Indian state company. Bahel had been cleared by OIOS.

But the task force’s mandate will expire on Dec. 31 and its future is uncertain, prompting some of its investigators to leave. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the General Assembly to fund the task force for another year to pursue a backlog of cases, but a bloc of developing countries has refused to approve the request, calling for more debate.

A UN budget committee, responding to pressure from the developing countries, will probably finance the task force for six months — a move that officials warn could undermine efforts to retain the investigators.

Singapore has also criticized the task force for allegedly trampling the rights of one of its nationals, Andrew Toh, a senior UN official who said he was denied access to legal counsel.

“What bothers us is the task force itself seems to think it can be exempted from the same standard that it wants to apply to other people,” said Singapore’s UN ambassador, Vanu Gopala Menon.

Appleton maintains that there is no recognized right to counsel for internal investigations and that Toh never requested it. “There was absolutely no transgression of due process rights,” he said.

Toh is the target of a lengthy investigation into whether he improperly helped two Peruvian generals and a Canadian company, Skylink Aviation, secure a multimillion-dollar contract to lease two MI-26 Peruvian government helicopters for the UN mission in East Timor.

The task force has been unable to prove that Toh accepted bribes, but it says it cannot close the case until it gets access to Skylink’s Swiss bank account used in the helicopter deal.

Toh was recently demoted, fined two months’ pay, and charged with misconduct for not fully cooperating with investigators and not complying with an obligation to disclose all of his financial holdings. “They have taken 22 months to look into allegations of corruption, they’ve scoured the world, wasted thousands of man-hours, spent millions of dollars, and they are unable to find anything,” Toh said.

But even some of the task force’s detractors say its probes have been far more rigorous and sophisticated than previous investigations.

In Congo, the task force reached far back into UN archives to put together its case against Masri, who began working for the organization in the mid-1980s in Damascus, Syria. Masri’s colleagues accused him at the time of falsifying receipts for several vendors, including a cement company, which allowed them to get full payment even though they delivered only a portion of contracted shipments.

A decade later, in Rwanda, investigators probed allegations that Masri steered business to a Dubai-based firm in exchange for kickbacks. Masri also came under suspicion for charging more than $10,000 for water pumps costing $300. OIOS dropped the probe a year later, citing insufficient evidence.

In August 2000, five months after Masri arrived in Congo, rumors of his involvement in corrupt activities there appeared in a local newspaper, l’Avenir. A subsequent OIOS investigation found that a contractor had leased Masri a Mercedes for $250 a month, well below market value. But OIOS did not make a case against Masri, recommending instead that staff members should be transferred “if their behavior does not change to avoid bad press for the organization and its staff.”

It was seven more years before Masri was placed on leave and barred from doing UN business. ‘
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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