Thursday, May 28, 2009

More from the front

By guestblogger: Hope

Hopefully, this post title is not as "ghey" as the last one? Dunno. I try not to delve into our beloved CP commander's mind too often. Suffice to say a gurl's definition of ghey will be different than your normal man, but we all know the definition of a normal man and America's 1st Sgt do not exist in the same galaxy. (He'll be pleased I said that part.)
Ah the perils of being CP minion.
This recent picture will surely rectify any gheyness the good 1st Sgt was concerned with. Yes?

Pictured rt, America's 1st Sgt (r) and his CO.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hi from Iraq!

Forgive my absence but things have been somewhat busy of late.

All the battalion's 1stSgts have been on deck for a get together. This
is a big deal as we haven't seen each other for a couple of months now.
You have no idea how many of the world's problems can be solved by a
group of cigar smoking Marine 1stSgts.

We also began our Corporal's Course this week. Any time I get to
influence the next generation of leaders I leap at the chance. Blogs and
other luxuries have taken a back seat in favor of crafting periods of
instruction on Marine Corps history, customs, leadership principles and
other essentials.

Also it seems I will be getting orders to Bahrain after this deployment.
That's me; the overseas ninja! Don't worry, Bahrain is a good thing.

Thanks to all who have been supporting Hope Radio. Coffee Pot, Red, T, and Smitty have all been funding my and some of my other ninjas' brownie habits (among other things!) and I appreciate it.

I promise more worthy tales in the future.

Semper Fi!
America's 1st Sgt.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The weather is here. I wish it were beautiful...

The end of May is the time of year out here when it is starting to get warm. Well, hot really; but considering what the temperature is going to be like in July and August I like to think that what we have right now is merely warm.

Soon enough the oppressive heat will make a mere walk to the chow hall seem down right volcanic. If you want to know how hot it is here turn on your oven all the way and then stick you head in. To experience Iraqi summer temperatures at home simply climb into an asbestos sleeping bag, have someone ram a flamethrower in one end and let her rip.

There are other interesting weather phenomena occurring at this time as well. On any given day dust devils and high winds are capable of blasting nearly a pound of sand right up your colon. Whirling dust storms lend the area a Mars like atmosphere. This is usually followed by a short rain shower that comes down as a sprinkling of mud.

Last night we had the privilege of experiencing multiple weather phenomena at the same time. Thunder boomed as lighting lit up the sky like day. Wind gusts sand blasted buildings stripping the paint clean off. Rain sounded like marbles hammering the roof coloring everything in a light muddy brown. Remarkably, the temperature remained constant and going out the door that morning felt like stepping right into a blowing hair dryer.

Even more remarkable is that despite the fact I am in a combat zone, the most interesting thing I have to talk about is the weather.

What’s up with that?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bark With Me Now...

I had the privilege of meritoriously promoting one of my dog handlers the other day. We’ve got quite a few Military Working Dogs attached to us this trip. Cpl Montecalvo was Combat Meritoriously promoted to Corporal May 2nd. He’s a ninja.

Next picture is where I get to run my mouth.

To all who shall see these presents, greetings:
Know ye, that reposing special trust and confidence in the fidelity and abilities of
V. N. Montecalvo, I do appoint this Marine a CORPORAL (Combat Meritorious) in the United States Marine Corps to rank as such from the 2nd day of May, two thousand and nine.
“Effective with this appointment, you are charged to carefully and diligently execute the duties and responsibilities of a CORPORAL of Marines, and I do strictly direct and require all personnel of lesser grade to render obedience to appropriate orders. As a CORPORAL of Marines you must set the example for others to emulate. Your conduct and professionalism both on and off duty shall be above reproach. You are responsible for the accomplishment of your assigned mission and for the safety, professional development and well-being of the Marines in your charge. You will be the embodiment of our institutional core values of honor, courage and commitment. You will lead your Marines with firmness, fairness and dignity while observing and following the orders and directions of your senior leaders and enforcing all regulations and articles governing the discipline of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

Did you know that the military working dogs are also appointed rank as Marines? The dogs are always one rank higher than the handler. If the handler mistreats his K-9 then he is also charged with assaulting a senior non-commissioned officer. So on May 2nd Cpl Montecalvo’s K-9, Kito, was promoted to Sgt. Kito could probably care less as long as you threw a great big steak at him.
Not long after this Kito and Cpl Montecalvo discovered a weapons cache somewhere out in Al Anbar. Red meat and biscuits of Kito!
Below: America’s 1stSgt bumps his gums with the other dog handlers.

More on military working dogs and the Marines and Sailors who handle them later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Personal Accountability, Alive and Well in the Camp of Praetorians

Everyone has seen the reports of the incident at Camp Liberty recently.

I have to admit no traumatic stress I may have endured has ever warranted in me a desire to commit acts of violence as much as watching reporters and others making comments about the subject of PTSD and its supposed role in this case.

First of all there are still a number of things we do not know surrounding this particular case. Knowing how long investigations can take, we will not likely know the specifics for some time. Until then, everyone is irresponsibly making conclusions without any information.

Reports surrounding the Camp Liberty incident have stressed the importance of finding out what led to this tragic incident. The media seems to assume combat deployments lead servicemen to commit inappropriate acts of violence, (appropriate being the lawful elimination of enemy forces), as if it wasn’t the shooter’s fault, but the stress of multiple tours which made him do it. This infuriates many of us who have and continue to serve on multiple combat tours. The assumption that all veterans coming home could snap at any moment spraying the area with automatic gunfire is as bigoted a concept as any I have ever heard.

The other implication, that we in the service aren’t taking care of our troops, is a slap in the face to those of us who consider duty and loyalty the highest of human virtues. Our very martial culture revolves around looking out for the guy on our left and right. Marines have waged entire battles in an effort to retrieve the bodies of their slain comrades. Leaving a comrade behind on the field of mental illness or traumatic stress seems equally distasteful.

The stigma of PTSD in the military has been addressed for the last couple of years. In my experience those who work and live closest to the service member know when they need help. At the very least, fellow Marines and family members know there is something wrong. Sometimes the command has to encourage service members to get treatment; however if the service member doesn’t participate fully he will not get better.

Treatment failure sometimes has more to do with patients resisting treatment options and not a lack of help or commands being unwilling to get their troops care. Life is easier when you are victim and nothing is your fault after all. That and you don’t have to do any real work and still collect a free pay check.

Some fail because of their refusal to participate fully in treatment programs which are established and work adhered to properly. Marines have also fail treatment because they want it on their terms and convenience and not according to guidelines based on professionally designed standards of care. To me this is no different than refusing to wear a cast properly after breaking a bone. You don’t get better unless you do what the doctor prescribes.

Thus each and every time someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for their actions, they point their finger at the military claiming they aren’t getting help. It’s a convenient scapegoat.

Others have had successful treatment because once they recognized they had a problem they did what was necessary to get better. It’s kind of how we train them to attack problems and overcome obstacles in the first place: eliminate the threat; protect the force; accomplish the mission. It works, go figure.

Abdication of personal responsibility is not a side effect of PTSD. I have seen plenty of PTSD paperwork written by doctors that clearly reiterate time and again that patients are still responsible for their personal conduct. Read here: people with PTSD still know the difference between right and wrong.

Blaming multiple deployments or traumatic stress for someone’s actions is just another way of enabling people to avoid the consequences of their own tragic decisions. Seeing the media and others use this particular case to highlight their own agenda tightens my jaws like a vise.

In the Camp Liberty case, we simply do not know what really happened yet or why. As far as I’m concerned the root cause is certainly not PTSD. Stress, traumatic or otherwise, it is not an excuse for anyone to commit acts of murder.

I realize that the idea of personal accountability is offensive to some in the 21st Century, but it is alive and well in the camp of the Praetorians.

Post your thoughts in comments. Intelligent dialogue is always welcome.

Friday, May 8, 2009

World’s Finest in Action

"Each day they organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the valley below, some of the most dangerous acreage in the world. Each night they participate in radio meetings with the American posts along the ridges, exchanging plans and intelligence, and plotting the counterinsurgency effort in the ancient villages below."

By C. J. CHIVERS Afghanistan New York Times, May 1, 2009, click for full story originally published April 30, 2009 Photos by Tyler Hicks, New York Times.

Today’s offering is an article about one of my gunslingers who deployed with Kilo Company last year. He extended to participate with the Embedded Training Teams in Afghanistan.

Cpl Conroy was part of a squad I was on patrol with in Kharmah, Iraq when a sniper took a shot at us (a story for another day). Since then he has probably seen more action than I ever will.

Below, the forces of evil tremble as an American fighting man patrols the area.
Each day Corporal Conroy and his assistant, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Murray, of Fort Myers, Fla., organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the Korengal Valley, some of the most dangerous acreage in the world. Each night they participate in radio meetings with the American posts along the ridges, exchanging plans and intelligence, and plotting the counterinsurgency effort in the ancient villages below.

Look at this picture below. That is the way of the warrior right there (as opposed to lounging in a FOB with Cinnabon and ice cream). Fighting and living out of a small fort like this is why we joined up in the first place. Anyone reminded of F-Troop?
Lance Corporal Murray, left, and Corporal Conroy at Firebase Vimoto. A laptop belonging to Afghan soldiers played an Indian music video. An Embedded Training Team (ETT) is based in the Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, where the United States Army has a blocking position, and Marines are training units from the Afghan National Army with hopes they will become self-sufficient and eventually control the valley themselves.

I will wrap up this entry with a comment on the picture above. You are looking at two young Americans who are making more of an impact on events in Afghanistan than all the protesters, haters, and the entire population of Berkeley, California ever will.

Can they really make a difference you ask? Well, if I may plagiarize a phrase:


Semper Fidelis,

America’s 1stSgt

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Impact of Words Part III

During the first few weeks I came on board with Kilo, the company was in the midst of major transition. All the platoon commanders were brand spanking new. Many of the newly joined Marines out of school had only been in the fleet a month or two. In the next three months the battalion would be deploying and in that time we would get a new company commander. No worries, right?

The outgoing 1stSgt and I spent a lot of time with our turnover and one afternoon we decided to go visit the Company out at Schofield Barracks where they were conducting training.

An old housing area that was marked for demolition was being used for urban type training, vehicle check points, and other scenario based instruction in preparation for the deployment. Some scenarios revolved around interaction with Iraqi Police, response to sniper fire, counter IED, and sensitive site exploitation (CSI stuff).

It was not going well for the young lieutenants. The company commander was shooting them full in the face with their shortcomings leaving their crucified egos planted throughout the training area like so many scarecrows. Platoon commanders were seen all over the area with their hair on fire and skin flayed off their bodies, flapping in the Hawaiian breeze behind them.

At one point there was a pause in the training for after action reports and updates on how the training was going.

Standing there listening to the NCOs critique and discuss the good and bad of the days events I noticed one of the new lieutenants limp by on his way to what was no doubt going to be another lashing at the hands of the CO. Head down and shoulders slumped inside his body armor; he was the picture of dejection. Pitifully, the tape antennae of his radio dragged in the dirt behind him like the tail of a whipped dog. Nothing had gone his way that day.

Naturally, I was unable to let such a tragedy pass by without comment.

“Sir, is learning occurring?”

“Yeah, 1stSgt,” he glumly shook his head,” especially for me.” He began his slow walk back to the gallows taking his black cloud with him when I threw my arm over his shoulders and drew him in close.

“Sir, if you ever get to a point in your career where you’re not learning, then you’re all screwed up.” I let this revelation sink in for a moment.

His eyes began to brighten as a small smile creased his face.

“Thanks 1stSgt, I’m glad you said that.”

As he went on his way with his head a little higher and back straighter, I could see the swagger begin to return to his step. His radio antennae even managed to stay off the ground. More than likely he was going to get punched in the face again by the CO, but at least this time he would take it on the chin like a Marine.

Yeah, it was a good days training in my Marine Corps.

Semper Fidelis,

America’s 1stSgt

Monday, May 4, 2009

Marine Skills!

A little while back I was in Ramadi hob-nobbing with my brethren in Kilo Co. I came across this mural painted on their barracks by one of the previous tenants.
The young Marine who produced this masterpiece used nothing but his fingers and black ink so I am told.

Say what you want about the relative levels of intelligence of your average Marine. We’ve got the finger painting down!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Impact of Words: Part II

Last year I was the 1stSgt of a rifle company. This billet has probably taught me more about the impact I make on the Marines around me than any other I have held. Initially, I assumed that in this position I would be so separated from the Marines and their daily activities, my influence would not be as great. Of course, a leader in my opinion should make a conscious effort to insert himself into a Marine’s daily routine. I did, but didn’t notice the effect the things I did or said had on them until some time later.

In Kilo Company 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines I would refer to our operations and training as preparation to “Defeat Jihad”. When bringing the boys in for a little 1stSgt time, I would always talk about deploying to Iraq and how they were America’s finest and would defeat jihad six days a week and twice on Sunday. By the time we left Iraq, the enemy would know that U.S. Marines had been there and that our tribe didn’t take it lightly when others declared war on America, holy or otherwise. These speeches were always liberally laced with other motivational one – liners and comments designed get Marines focused on the mission. If you care to hear an excerpt, by all means, enlist at your local recruiting station now.

I had a DEFEAT JIHAD name tape I put on my flak jacket throughout our Mojave Viper training that the men thought was great and our mantra was a flexible tool that could take many forms. Everything was about defeating the jihad.

“You can’t defeat jihad with a rifle that filthy! Get this abomination fixed now!”

“How in the world can anyone be capable of defeating jihad when they can only do seven pull ups? Go get on the bar right now!”

This worked great in building unit cohesion and giving the Marines of the company a battle cry to rally on. Soon though the seeds I planted would bear fruit and I would begin to wonder what it was I had sown.

One day while using the head I noticed a Marine had taken a sharpie and scrawled DEFEAT JIHAD above the urinal. Great!

“Marines, I appreciate that you are picking up what I am putting dow,n but there is only one company in the battalion that says that. It kind of narrows it down when looking for the culprit, ya think? You brain surgeons need to use your heads for something besides a hat rack and stop writing on the walls!”

Personally, I took it as a sign that my ninjas were on board and was a little pleased with myself. Then I caught Marines with DEFEAT JIHAD written on their gear. The image of Marines patrolling through insurgent neighborhoods and goading them with DEFEAT JIHAD graffiti all over the place tightened my jaws some. Even I had no plans to sport my special name tape in country.

“Warrior, I love that you are drinking from the 1stSgt’s Kool-aid, but we are professional fighting men, not a street gang. We do not write trash all over our equipment. It would be unfortunate if I had to crush you to death.”

Crisis averted. Graffiti defeated. But the real body blow wasn’t to hit me until weeks later.

After Mojave Viper, the battalion flew back to Hawaii and the Marines were given two weeks of leave before we embarked for our deployment to Iraq. All was well. The men were a finely honed fighting force, toughened by weeks in the Mojave Desert and prepared to take on the challenges of Iraq.

When we got back from leave, Marines began asking me if I had seen LCpl Brown. I said I hadn’t and they would smirk and say that I should see him.

After company formation I had the Marines in a school circle and told LCpl Brown to get his butt over here and tell me what was going on. He took off his cammie blouse, lifted up his shirt and revealed a DEFEAT JIHAD tattoo written in three inch letters across his shoulders. Marines crowded around grinning in anticipation of my reaction.

Now at times I have had a particular facial expression my Aunt Sheila likes to call my “aneurysm face”. The going theory is that parts of my brain are shutting down during this in an attempt to protect itself from irreversible damage.

It was like I had been hit in the forehead with a sledge hammer and my eyeballs had shot out of their sockets only to end up dangling feebly at the end of their optic nerves. All I could think was, “Oh man, I did that.”

Indeed I did too; as sure as if I had had the tattoo gun in my own hand. It wasn’t the tattoo in and of itself that shocked me. Really it was the idea that my daily influence had inspired a Marine to write my words in bold ink indelibly into his skin which opened my eyes to the tremendous impact I hadn't realized I could have on them.

Make no mistake; a company of Marines armed to the teeth is a force of nature. We were about to step on a plane to Iraq and I had them in the palm of my hand. The forces of evil were in for a rude awakening. But that is topic for another day.

Tomorrow; part three.

Semper Fidelis,

America’s 1stSgt