Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gathering Storm 2008

February - March 2008, Basra, Iraq - news headlines that didn't get much coverage until after the fact.

- Growing violence in Basra, security situation in question.

- Criminal gangs taking control of commerce in port city.

- British forces deny increase in violence.

- Iraqi police in Basra rumored to be told to "stay in barracks" by militia.

- Women in Basra beheaded for "immodesty" for not wearing hijab.

- Children playing soccer executed for "playing games of the infidel."

- Street markets empty, people fearful of going out.

While pressure built on Prime Minister al-Maliki to act to contain the violence, the British operation in Iraq since PM Blair left office amounted to little but a PR operation to hide the fact that they had failed the people of Basra. Moving the British draw-down forward was a critical political consideration in London, and so Coalition forces tried hard to avoid having to act.

The factions took over entire units of the police force, and maneuvered their members into key positions in the government and state-run Southern Oil Co. Some also beat and killed unveiled women in a city once regarded as a liberal, intellectual center. And all are implicated in smuggling millions of dollars' worth of oil, while the city is bereft of basic services such as electricity and clean water.

The vicious rivalry has resulted in periodic gunfights. But British officials say 90% of the violence is directed against them.

That, they argue, is the key difference between Basra and Baghdad. If British troops were taken out, what would be left is a mafia-style conflict for economic and political leverage, rather than the sectarian killing that is tearing Baghdad and other areas.

"This is Palermo, not Beirut," said one senior British officer, who asked not to be identified.
The clouds had gathered and were heavy with vengeance and anger. The storm was about to break and rain down hell on the city of Basra, as it's people huddle in their homes and begged for someone to help them......

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great Read

In the event that there is anyone that Hope hasn't already introduced this to, you gotta go read this blog. I'm still having trouble reconciling the fact that a Marine can, as my team sergeant and former force recon said "put them words together like that", but hey gotta give props.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter Infidels - Whoomp

This Easter I am quite happy to be at home for a quiet day with the wife and kids. Last Easter was very different, and it was the start of a series of events that led to a big drop off in my writing. Actually, it all begins a few days before Easter, but that will wait, because since it is Easter I want to recount what it was like for us last year.

We had recently made a big capture and a significant haul in XXXX[insurgent group] ordinance to include rockets, mortars, ammo, etc. - but the real shocker was the plates and explosives to make over 200 EFPs. This was a major blow and threatened to undo a lot of back-channel bridge building that we had been working on for months. But our message was clear - come into the open and join the political process, or we will continue to support and encourage Iraqi Forces to hammer you. Losing the EFPs was really bad for XXXX[insurgent group], because they were provided by Iran, and losing them means answer to their Iranian masters.

But more later, the point for this story is we had surprised them, and there had been no response. Odd really, because they usually made a show of tit-for-tat. Our catch was a big deal on our side, so much so that we were responding to RFIs from Gen P, plus having to deal with all the fighting over who should get credit for the intel, for the catch, etc. Fact is we were happy to let our conventional Brothers take as much credit as they wanted, the real issue was ensuring our Iraqis got credit so that we could boost their profile and get them more funding.

Quick backstory - the MOI felt that the unit we were training was too politically independent, too close to the Americans, and they didn't like the outspoken General in command. The Ministry had been trying to starve them of beans and bullets to make them complie. Our hope was to get them enough, what I call fuck you money, and top-line press coverage that the GOI would be forced into better support.

So what did this mean for your faithful correspondent? Lots of fucking paperwork, RFIs from Group, RFIs from the Iraqis, RFIs for the 101st, RFIs from the S2 who was blind to our original reasons for the mission. And several, shall we say, "sit-downs" in the family style, with CO over just exactly where did I get my info.

From my journal entry of that day:

23 MAR 2008 - Easter
There has been quite a bit of interest in the HVI and I spend most of the day trying to get back to people and tie different threads together, go thru his XXXX, DOCEX and such. I spent hours answering RFI from people I couldn't get to return my e-mails putting this all together, and now everyone is trying to either cover their fourth point of contact, or claim it was their idea. Ugggghh, I need to lie down because I have a massive headache and am tired.
I was in my rack about 45 minutes, I was in that nether state between wake and sleep when


a concussion I more felt than heard jarred me up and I was on feet and moving before my concious mind was able to catch with what was going on.


These coming in close to each other, usually it was a WHOOMP......WHOOMP.....WHOOMP, you could almost picture the hajji dropping one, grabbing another, holding....drop, WHOOMP. But there are at least two tubes firing, I can't see a damn thing, but I know my route well by now. I peer in the bunker -


- damn it there must be three tubes firing. Some of the guys are in there, the Capt'n and my Linguist. "Terp M", as we called him, is already on the phone - I think to myself he's come a long way. He finally realizes I need him talking to people right away instead of running around like a .. well you get it.


God damn, these guys staying out there, I hope there's some birds in the area to smoke 'em. Usually these pop a few and run so we can't a fix, but these coming consistently, the TOC's gotta have a fix on 'em.


Shit, these sound closer than usual (they weren't - it turned out they firing 81mm at us instead of the 60mm they usually did). Capt'n - "GOD DAMN, SOMEBODY WANTS TO KIIILL ME!!!!" We can't help but laugh. The barrage went on for a long time, turned out not be the only one in Iraq at the moment, but we did get hit with the most, and for a tiny little firebase - it was a significant message that they pissed the fuck off....and they were only getting started.

We found out later that at almost the same moment, the Green Zone was getting well wishes from Iran.

Happy Easter Infidel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dealing with terps, the unoffical *true* version

"Every rotation does it."

"No one will ever know."

If you are working with an interpreter, and they utter either of these phrases, go ahead and punch them right in the mouth. More Soldiers have gotten into trouble listening to there terps than I care to count.

Before I get into this, I do need to make a distinction between military linguists, who are Soldiers who happen to speak a foreign language, contract interpreters, who, by and large, are native speakers of another language, and have somehow immigrated to the US, and local linguists who are, well, local nationals who speak enough english to get a job with US forces. My focus here is not military linguist - they are Soldiers and should be treated as such. I was lucky enough to work with one in Iraq and he was a tremendous asset. The picture at the top is of he and I at rest after a long week.

So back to the quotes above, I have heard both of these from terps in the past, and it is usually at the begining of the rotation. My experience has been that the suggestion they are making, is not for the benefit of my team. While it might be something we would enjoy (oh like, "we can cross the border and go party in Zagreb!" or "I used to sneak women on base for the last rotation all the time"), the motivation is usually something to do with the terp himself.

Fortunately, I don't have any good stories about guys sleeping with female terps, we were smart enough not to hire any and avoided that nonsense. But I suppose you could google all the pics Joe has posted on the internet. [;)

Sergeant Grumpy's Rules for dealing with Terps

You are in charge, not the Terp
I have been in a situation where a terp, who in fairness had been at the base we were working at a long time, said during a meeting when told to translate something, "No, we aren't going to do that, I won't translate it." Eventually, like a precocious puppy who nips all the time and doesn't get disciplined and eventually bites, terps start to think they know more than Soldiers they work for. This happens because people fail to manage terps like they do their subordinates. If this is happening, stop and re-set expectations with your terp, and make it damn clear. If the terp can't adapt, get rid of him if you can. The terp in this story ended up being sent packing after one month.

You must communicate with your terp
While terps are tools, they are not screwdrivers. You won't get the best results by just throwing them into a meeting at the last minute without warning. While OPSEC concerns must be respected, take the time to pre-brief him or her on what general topics you plan on covering, if there are any specialized vocabulary you intend to use, say you are going to discuss issues related to a water treatment plant, the terp might need to do a little research. And take this time to remind the terp, you work for me, translate just what I say, try to use my tone of voice, etc.

Then do a quick debrief while you review your notes, this is a chance for you to give immediate feedback to the terp to reinforce positive performance and demand improvement in weak areas. It also is a chance to ask for their help if there are areas in your notes that are lacking, or if something was said you didn't understand, but didn't want to break the flow.

You will check your terp
My experience tells me terps will get lazy in their use of language, and some have personal hang ups over using profanity, etc. You need to take the time to learn a few words so you can test your terp. If you find he hasn't used the word you are expecting, this has to be addressed immediately after the meeting. The easiest of course are to use the profanity which always seems to be the easiest to pick up. Another good tactic is to bring in a linguist who the term doesn't know speaks, of course this only works once, but puts him on notice.

You will treat your your terps like they are sources
Because guess what, they are. You terps will likely have many, many side conversations with all the important local nationals you visit with. And they will also talk to all the other terps on base, who are also talking to people all over town. Get it? Now, the other rules above will require you to take a tough line with your terp from time to time, but if you handle that professionally, and take the time and effort to actually build a relationship with them, you will gain access to a ton of information. Don't like your terp? Too damn bad, I'm not asking you to become domestic parnters, I am saying the terp better think you two have a good relationship. And never ever forget that the terps gossip and talk shit about each other and Soldiers on base, don't give him anything to say about you other than "he's a hard ass sometimes, but he's fair."

Corrallary: Do not treat your military linguists like terps.
They are god-damn Soldiers, not terps, so treat them like the rest of your Soldiers. Nuff said.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

New website for Grumpy

I have stood up a new domain for my blog, and along with it a new website - It is still rough around the edges as I have neither too much money, nor too much time to work on it, but it is functional. It's mostly a shell right now, but I will continue to build it out over time. If you have ideas on what you would like to see there, let me know. Mostly, it is for me to screw around a little and practice with PHP and HTML. I do hope to raise some money too, as I've got friends downrange I'd like to send some care packages to, besides the cost of actually keeping the site up.

Okay, now I am going to put the finishing touches on my interpreter piece, it seems each time I proof it I want to change it all over again.