30 April 2010

Heavy Metal in Baghdad - Book Review

Despite the fact that America has been locked into the Iraq conflict for over 7 years, it’s still difficult to get an accurate or honest understanding of the popular sentiments involved with the war (at least from the perspective of Iraq’s citizens).  Do they want us there?  How did they feel when they came?  Have we overstayed our welcome?  Did they see the same problems that George W. Bush saw when he pressed for the invasion?  Heavy Metal in Baghdad follows Acrassicauda, a Heavy Metal band in its formative stages, through both pre and post-war Iraq.  Rather than relying on an author to provide their own spin on the story, Heavy Metal in Baghdad relies on the dialogue of the band members themselves to paint a clear picture of their journey.

While at times difficult to follow (as a result of the transcript/interview format), Heavy Metal in Baghdad provides a level of insight that isn’t present in a lot of writing about the current Iraq conflict.  The story allows an understanding of Iraq through the lens of pop culture without a heavily skewed perspective.  The book focuses on the formation of the band Acrassicauda, but allows readers to understand how the events unfolded in Iraq with an inside perspective. 

Following Acrassicauda from their early days as a far away dream held by the members to a worldwide focal point proves to be an emotional roller coaster.  The members attempt to hold onto their dream as they struggle to find safety and escape from war torn Iraq.  The reader follows their quest through the painful separations from friends and family to anxiety ridden weeks as they work their way through bureaucratic red tape holding them back from freedom. 

Heavy Metal in Baghdad creates a new set of heroes in a time of tragedy.  Rather than focusing on soldiers or politicians, the book shows that social change comes on a variety of levels.  The passion in the book is inspirational as it demonstrates that dreams can live through almost anything, as long as we don’t lose sight of them.   

29 April 2010

The Kick-Off for the Deployment

This video is the official kick-off for our deployment.  On March 23, 2010 after going through a handful of "Yellow Ribbon" Ceremonies and getting ready for movement to Iraq, we left from Northfield, NJ for our flight to Fort McCoy, WI.  It's been a weird journey so far (from Asheville to NJ to Wisconsin and now waiting to see how we'll get to Iraq).  The police escort from NJ onto the tarmac of Philidelphia Airport was certainly a highlight thus far.

Playing with Guns

Before I started out on the deployment, my family was nice enough to get me all kinds of electronic gizmos to keep me amused.  My wife and I got matching Flip cameras from her parents and sister and brother-in-law.  I'll start postings some videos of the things we do as I get a chance to upload them.  Thank god for finally having internet.  Here we are playing on the machine gun range (I can't tell who is actually shooting the gun in this shot).

On Guerrilla Warfare

So, in my occassional free time.  I do get to read a little bit.  I borrowed/acquired this book from someone who found it on a free bookshelf somewhere on Fort McCoy.

In the midst of seemingly perpetual conflicts, it’s interesting to understand the nuanced nature of war and the variety of views that are used to justify action that steps beyond non-violent resistance.  On Guerilla Warfare vividly illustrates the desperation that leads a group of people to resort to guerilla tactics.  Rather than simply demonizing guerilla fighters as a disruption to efforts in attaining some form of global tranquility, Mao Tse-tung explains the mindset of the guerilla fighter.

Translated by Samuel B. Griffith II, On Guerilla Warfare provides a concise venture into the mindset of a guerilla fighter.  Extending beyond a simple explanation of tactics, Mao Tse-tung explains the delicate balance between the guerilla as a soldier and the guerilla as an activist/organizer.  Although brief in nature, the book manages to explain the realities of guerilla warfare rather than perpetuating the stereotype of the hardened, professional traipsing through the jungle.

Tse-tung explains the many facets of guerilla warfare including organizational structure, overarching strategy, methods of resupply, and recruitment.  In addition Tse-tung delineates the varying methods through which guerillas can be utilized alongside regular military troops.  Although On Guerilla Warfare is full of information on the technicalities of military insurgency, it also peppered with inspirational and philosophical knowledge regarding the nature of resistance.

Personally, I think On Guerilla Warfare is useful information for any soldier.  It explains the mindset of the guerilla fighter (or the insurgent fighter) and illuminates the similarities in tactics between traditional and non-traditional soldiers.  Tse-tung brings a certain sense of relevance in showing that war is not simply a one-sided endeavor.

28 April 2010

New Boots!

So after over a month of training (and around 40 days of being away from home), I am finally getting to relax with Stephanie and Samara.  Instead of opting to go home (we get 4 days off before we ship out), we decided that they would come up here (Wisconsin) that way we could focus on not doing anything in particular.

Even though I've been mumbling about a day off for some time, it took Stephanie coming up here for me to understand that she was in the same situation that I was.  She's just a little more quiet about her plight.  For the entire time I have been away from home, she has single-handedly taken care of a rather hyper (now) 7 month old baby girl.  She's been working the same types of hours I have and she doesn't get the prospect of all kinds of ribbons, patches, and awards for it.  I've spent the last month hearing about how hard the job that lies ahead of us as soldiers is (its really all a matter of perspective), but its clear that those that takes the reigns of the family while we are away bear an equal level of responsibility and hardship.

While I originally thought that I would enjoy a couple of days of unconstrained freedom and the opportunity to sleep in, Samara has clearly demonstrated her ability to be in charge of how we spend our free time.  I did manage to order a set of new boots (apparently the Army thinks that the boots that they issued to me and most of my soldiers over 5 years ago are more than adequate to go to Iraq).  Personally I find it a bit ridiculous that we have to fork out the cash for new boots, but I find a lot of things about the deployment process to be ridiculous.   I got a set of Converse boots, if they're anywhere as cool as Chuck Taylor shoes at least I'll be stylish.

On a positive note, I am excited about the group of soldiers that has been assembled for this deployment.  They have come together wonderfully in the past weeks and we are operating as a cohesive unit.  For whatever I find lacking in the Army as a system, I always have my faith restored by the people that make the work happen.

15 April 2010

A Union Would Be Nice Right About Now

So I am into day like 25 or 26 of mobilization. I have really not
been keeping tight track of it, as it gets a little depressing after a
while. Everyone says that the MOB station is the worst part of the
whole process (it’s where you get all your shots, straighten out your
records, train, train, train, and get all kinds of new stuff issued to
you). It’s a very slow process and it’s a stressful one. Small Pox
shots have been interesting (I already had mine 5 years ago), everyone
expresses concerns of some type of Small Pox zombie outbreak and the
vaccinations are pretty nasty looking. The timeline is extremely
compressed and there are actually two concurrent missions going on.
One mission is to train and prepare and the other mission is to
operate as if we were already in country engaged in our daily

Right now I sleep 5 hours each night (max). I have pulled quite a few
23 hour days. I keep hoping they’ll switch us over to hourly pay
because the overtime would be wonderful. It is a very surreal
experience because nothing ever stops moving, it’s a continual process
with no real breaks and no way to really tell the days apart. There
is always something to meet about and something to plan. Meals are
usually a chance to talk shop or talk on the cell phone in between
mouthfuls trying to coordinate details. The big talk right now is
getting through the upcoming cumulative field exercise and of course
the “pass” we have coming up where we get a chance to see our families
for 4 days.

Thus far we have done a lot of training on driving equipment,
operating weapons, and moving tactically. Unfortunately, I am in an
office job so most of my days are spent behind a desk typing away on
the plethora of paperwork that the Army requires for everything. I
write orders, plans, assess the safety of each action and make sure I
have everyone’s name on various sign-in rosters so they get credit for
the training. I do get a lot of time to play with the Army’s high
tech war tracking systems and radio equipment (ok radio equipment is
not really high tech at all). As expected it’s an interesting
experience and it keeps my mind occupied, but simply bearing through
the whole scene and getting back to my family is my overall mindset.

"The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is
chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis."
- from a post-war debriefing of a German General

Posted for Josh by Stephanie