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October 2, 2012
In through the out doorBy Greyhawk
I was on the 3ID's 2007 tour in Iraq - the surge - but I'm not going to share those old war stories here just now. (Oh, okay - just one.) A bit of division history is in order here, though - as their Iraq tour that followed that one is worth a look in the context of this latest adventure.
It began three years ago, in late 2009:
Many observers at the time - with violence at low levels in Iraq as Afghanistan was spinning rapidly out of control...
...believed the Third would be diverted to Afghanistan. After all, President Obama had campaigned on the idea that it was the Real Central Front in the War on Terror (from which his predecessor had diverted resources to Iraq), and in fact, Obama had already diverted another brigade from Iraq to Afghanistan earlier that year (though that was actually part of a fraud perpetrated on the American public - he quietly sent another to Iraq in its place). So - given that it's where the troops were needed, and where the president had repeatedly said they were needed, it was hardly surprising that earlier in 2009, 3ID units had diligently completed training in mountainous northern Georgia, anticipating an Afghan tour.
But it didn't happen - and upon departure the division's commanding general explained that even though they weren't going to be in a combat environment like Afghanistan, Iraq was still important.
"For the newest soldiers who don't know what combat is like yet, there might be some, 'gee I wish I was going to Afghanistan'. But for the old soldiers, and take it from an old soldier like me who was in Afghanistan when it was not the main effort and Iraq was, I am now going to Iraq where Afghanistan is the main effort and Iraq is not - it's still an incredibly important fight."
It must have been - the 3ID deployment, along with other units deploying or in theater at the time, enabled U.S. force levels in Iraq to be maintained at approximately 120,000 troops well into 2010. But as they deployed, near the end of President Obama's first year in office, the commander-in-chief hadn't yet figured out exactly what to do about all that war stuff. He was working on it, or at least thinking about it, but the 68,000 troops then in Afghanistan would just have to muddle through for a little while more.
The Third's 2009-2010 deployment to Iraq wasn't uneventful - they did experience combat (and deaths in combat) in Iraq, even though they weren't allowed to call themselves "combat" troops. To some degree they weren't, as they spent much of the tour confined to various FOBs, and the only time they really "made the papers" back stateside was for the backlash that followed after their general expressed his desire to do something about the number of female troops returning to the states early because they had gotten pregnant while deployed.
But other units in Iraq made bigger headlines. For example, later in their own tours - immediately before the 2010 elections in America - if they had time to watch the news, members of the 3ID would be able to "ride along" with a very excited NBC news crew ("It is really, really hot right now," declared Rachel Maddow, "but yet, seeing what we just saw, right here live with that gate closing, the last U.S. combat troop, I'm totally covered in goose bumps") as they accompanied the "last combat brigade to leave Iraq." Still, even after NBC News' official declaration of the end of combat in Iraq, the 3ID troops never considered going anywhere without their weapons through the remainder of their own "non-combat" tour.
End history lesson - and on to the future. We can hope and pray for other outcomes, but their long delayed Afghan tour will certainly be different - with levels of blood and thunder more like their earlier Iraq tours than their last. But once again the men and women of the Third Infantry Division have deployed at an inconvenient moment, this time to a very hot war zone even as the surge of forces their commander-in-chief eventually ordered there ends, exactly as he had publicly pledged it would when he ordered it ("...as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home...")...
...and just in time for another election in America.
"We got the call we are going to Afghanistan. Everyone was excited and we were pumped ready to make a difference here for the first time."
Spare a prayer for them, when you've got a moment to spare.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 2, 2012 11:06 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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