Tag Archives: military

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is a compilation of blogs I posted while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq.

Happy Birthday, Dear Aheram

March 15, 2007

I had the night post last night with Patrick (my model-in-training). We were talking candidly about “girls with huge knockers.” (For someone that has been in service for a while, in fact, a combat veteran from OIF II, Patrick’s discourse is devoid of the regular profanities and vulgar language that are the characteristic of a Marine’s.) I checked the time and became silent as the minutes ticked closer to midnight.

He noticed my sudden silence and turned on his flashlight. As my face was illuminated, he asked, “What is wrong?” I muttered, “It is almost midnight. I will be 23 soon…” He seemed to note the sadness in both my face and my voice. “I have always celebrated my birthday, you know,” I informed him.

I went down from the post to relieve myself, but when I returned, he had placed a matchstick from an MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) into an Otis-Spunkmeyer cupcake (double chocolate chip). He grinned as he lit the match and started to sing: “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” Once he was done singing, I blew out the flame from the burning matchstick and we split the cupcake between us. He turned off his flashlight and we ate in the dark.

It was the best birthday party I ever had.

The next morning: I spent the entire day being with just myself and I enjoyed it somewhat. Only two other people on this base were aware that it was my birthday. One is Patrick and the other is Nicholas, both exceptional people. I talked to my sister on AIM during one of my 30-minute internet sessions (there is a 30-minute limit for each session; no limits on how many sessions) and she asked me how I was going to spend my day. “Work,” I told her and then my session ended.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. This is the fourth and last email published here.

Photographs by Jayel Aheram.

The White Fluffy Dog, Mortars, and Rain

October 13, 2006

Butts the Mangy Mutt was the unfortunate victim of a pack wild dogs that roam the open desert around this base. At night, I could hear them howl and bay at the moon and sometimes laugh and cackle like hyenas. And while I was on post during the night, I would see their silhouettes against the night as they slink in and out of the shadows. But I have never really seen what they looked like until today. One of them, a very white and fluffy mongrel with a medium upturned and curled tail, seems to be the leader of his pack. He somehow led his pack through the wires undetected into a fairly large water retention pool for a little bit of dip (in the entire history of this base thus far, his pack would be the only locals that managed to repeatedly enter the base unauthorized and undetected). His pack consists of a gangly-looking Dalmatian, a very agitated brown dog, and a rather menacing looking giant rat (at least, I am ready to be convinced that it was a rat for it certainly looked like it). I am assuming that this is just a small part of his pack, unless there are other packs of wild dogs. Anyway, his pack is known to occassionally venture at night to feast on the MRE trash left unattended by Marines at the base of the guard towers. But at this moment, they were happily drinking and splashing in the water of the retention pool. Of course, being the leader, White Fluffy Dog did not take part in the canine merriment, but instead posted himself guard on top of a sand dune overlooking the retention pool. I stared at him and he stared right back. And then I realized what these filthy mutts were doing. “Great,” I sighed, “they are splashing around in what will be my shower water.”

Mortars, while not hitting the base, are a daily life here in this base. Everytime I am on post, I would not fail to hear the Marine manning the radar station screaming “COUNTERFIRE! COUNTERFIRE!” from the radio. If this does not happen at least three times in that eight-hour post, it is a slow day for insurgency. Nearly most of the time, however, the mortars are aimed at targets within the city. While regular, mortar attacks aimed at the base are infrequent. Also, a few of the mortars are duds. They would fall harmlessly into the desert sand and not explode. These we would find during our patrols (we actually found one yesterday) which we would contact EOD (explosives ordnance department/division) about. They would come in and cart it off somewhere for a controlled explosion. The only problem with EOD is that they are lax about notifying our company about these controlled explosions and when they do a controlled explosion, many of us invariably swamp COC (command operating center) with excited reports about an explosion.

It has been raining here for a while. And apparently, when it rains in the desert, it pours. There had been reports of flash floods occuring around and about. And the “empty river beds” that crisscross the desert around the base are no longer empty and are happily gurgling along towards the Euphrates.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. And yes, I am aware it is filled with various typographical errors.

Musings from the Desert

October 4, 2006

I am not really sure what the date is today. I think it is the 4th of October and Wednesday, but I could be wrong.

You might have questions what is it I am currently doing in Iraq. Well, my unit is in charge of this base’s security. We man the defensive positions around the base’s perimeter as well as go on frequent patrols to make sure that the enemy is not setting up positions amid the many sand dunes and hills that surround this miniscule base. Dangers to this base is limited, but of course not exclusive, to infrequent mortar and RPG attacks. Infrequent, because patrols done by previous units in charge of security have done a successful job of neutralizing enemy positions that do crop up around the base. It is now up to my unit to keep that up.

Now, for the area itself. The base is located a few miles south of a city of 30,000 people near the Euphrates river. This is a true desert if I ever seen one. I thought the Mojave Desert is a desert, but they are nothing compared to this. The Mojave Desert at least is teeming with life. Joshua trees, bushes, cactuses, and wildlife of all kinds. This desert seems to be a barren wasteland, devoid of life. Just sand and bare rock as far as the eyes can see…

But I was wrong. While it is not as blatantly obvious as it is in the Mojave Desert, life does survive in spite of the harshness of this clime. When we went on patrol yesterday, we were to familiarize ourselves to the terrain. That means I have to observe everything, to take in the details, to learn what is “normal” in this terrain. That is when I discovered that this desert was not in fact a barren wasteland that I thought and heard it was, but rather the opposite of that. Everywhere I looked where signs of life succeeding amid the shifting sands. The most inspiring of which was a bird with a plume of shocking red feathers. I will admit, it was a bit unnerving to see such a defiant display of color in the middle of this apparent wasteland. It was the opposite of what I was doing. Me, in my desert digital, my tactical tan gear. I was trying to be part of the desert, to blend, to disappear into the endless desert background. But here is a native to this land who, instead of going with its life quietly, invisibly, chose to shatter the eerie silence of the desert with its song; and with its bright red plume, defy the overwhelming conformity the desert seems to demand (and got from me).

I do not yet hate this place. The conditions we are living under, while not desperate (we do have three meals a day, a place to sleep under, a cot to sleep on, things to entertain us, showers, Internet, free laundry service, 80-dollar Army whore…), have made a great many to despise the desert and everything and everyone in it. I do not know if it is possible for me to hate a place where the stars are allowed to shine.

U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet to Iran: Back off from Hormuz

From the Marine Corps Times:

TEHRAN, Iran — The U.S. warned Iran on Wednesday it will not tolerate any disruption of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran threatened to choke off the vital Persian Gulf oil transport route if Washington imposes sanctions targeting its crude exports.

The increasingly heated exchange raises new tensions in a standoff that has the potential to spark military reprisals and propel oil prices to levels that could batter a global economy already grappling with a European debt crisis.

Either way you cut it, this is not good. If Iran does not back down and calls the 5th Fleet’s non-bluff, this could escalate into something very bad.

The end of the Afghanistan War?

Reuters has an exclusive about the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan:

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

[…]

It has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

If these diplomatic efforts prove to be fruitful, it would go a long way in ushering the end of the United States’ longest war. In the meantime, the plan is for the military to stay indefinitely according to this report from USA Today:

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban and other forces in the region need to know the U.S. military will make sure the Afghans can handle the job.

“If you been waiting for us to go, we’re not leaving,” he said.

NATO forces agreed last year to set a deadline of the end of 2014 for turning over security to Afghan forces and ending combat operations.

The troubling thing about this approach is that it ignores the peril of our continued involvement there. The United States’ quest for stability in Afghanistan would require re-empowering the Taliban, the very organization it just spent 10 years attempting to dismantle. Any agreement with the Taliban, or its elusive leader Mullah Omar, would potentially enable that organization access to the billions of dollars of foreign aid that President Hamid Karzai’s notoriously corrupt government would be receiving as well open doors for possible power-sharing arrangement with the Afghan central government. Access to these funds (along with the millions of bribes they are already receiving, according to the Daily Mail) would potentially bring about the re-emergence of a politically and structurally significant Taliban. The political implication of this diplomatic effort notwithstanding (just imagine the outrage from neo-conservatives and families of dead soldiers this “capitulation” will generate), is it realistic to expect the various tribal groups already hostile to the central government to accept this new agreement?

It is well-known that Karzai lacks credibility as he seen as “weak” and “corrupt” by his own people; a charge that is not necessarily untrue according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. It remains to be seen if Karzai can amass the clout necessary to unite the country without the stabilizing influence of a foreign military occupation. Any reconciliation effort might require Karzai to step away from the top position, but his intention to cling to power after a U.S. withdrawal would likely hinder talks. Who is to say that the United States and NATO’s plan to train nearly 400,000 police and soldiers under the command of Karzai’s government, or the billions of dollars of aid Afghanistan will be receiving, or a potentially more powerful central government would not serve as incentives for him to stay?

But the real barrier to peace in Afghanistan is not Karzai, or the Taliban, or even key regional player Pakistan, but the United States government itself. No amount of self-governance will legitimize the Afghan government in the eyes of its people if the United States continues to spend money propping up Karzai’s corrupt regime. Furthermore, it is a given that the Obama administration will force Afghanistan to adopt a government that will be acceptable to the United States and its allies; an action that would, rightly or wrongly, give credence to the charge that the United States intends a puppet government in Afghanistan.

Regardless what happens to the peace talks, there is that unavoidable reality that innocent Afghan civilians will continue to suffer death and destruction under American bombs as the United States unceasingly wages its futile war on terror in the Middle East.

This article appears in Young Americans for Liberty.

I ask again, “What ‘post-war’ period?”

When it was announced that the United States will be withdrawing from Iraq by the end of Dec. 31, commentators began propagating the disgusting meme that this is the beginning of a “post-war” period for both Americans and Iraqis.

In response, I asked “What ‘post-war’ period?”

This “post-war period” is a disgusting meme that will gain traction after Dec. 31 when the United States will withdraw its combat troops from Iraq (and leave behind thousands of private military thugs to continue the violence there). It must be noted that these departing American troops will not enjoy a “post-war period.” They will be redeployed into new theaters of combat to die in any one of our dozens of senseless wars in Afghanistan, Uganda, or the Philippines.

Not to mention Iraq itself, which will experience years of violence regardless of American presence. The bombings, the checkpoints, the sectarian strife, all of these will continue after “withdrawal.” There will be no “post-war period” for Iraqis.

That the end of Iraq War will bring about a “post-war period” is a nice fantasy, but it is an outright lie.

And about it gaining traction? A quick scan of headlines after the withdrawal announcement reveal that this meme is now the standard corporate media narrative.

From Politico:

Then last week at Huffington Post:

Then as recently as today from the Washington Post:

This is all part of a broader campaign strategy on the part of Obama reelection campaign to spread the lie that his wars are ending. And it is working.

Forgotten in the inevitable media corporate media circlejerk are the Iraqis who will continue to die while war profiteers continue to profit. How about American military personnel? The troops are not coming home anytime soon.

That our involvement in Iraq is drastically being reduced (involuntarily, by the way) is a great thing. However, it is not enough to pull combat troops out; Americans must press its government to also eliminate the State Department’s growing private army.

And there are these words of wisdom from the president himself in the Associated Press:

Speaking after a morning of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama said other nations must not interfere with Iraq’s sovereignty. While he stopped short of mentioning any countries by name, U.S. officials are closely watching how neighboring Iran may seek to influence Baghdad after U.S. troops withdraw.

President Obama will do well do heed his own advice.

Redditor: “My taxes killed 1.88 people”

American tax dollars at work:

Approximately 20% of the US budget goes to “defense.”

130,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I do well for myself, and have paid about $500,000 in federal taxes since the War in Afghanistan began 10 years ago.

[…]

With the federal budget at about 3.4 trillion, I pay approximately 0.0000144 of the total budget. Thus, I assume that I have paid for 0.0000144 of all deaths in America’s wars.

0.00144% of 130,000 deaths is 1.88 people.

Big government kills. Anytime people demand more government or more taxation, all they are asking for is more funding for the insatiable military war machine. And even more death and ruin courtesy of you, the American taxpayer.

Predator drones used against civilians in America

The United States turns its weapons of war against its own citizens:

Janke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

He also called in a Predator B drone.

As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.

Is it really that much of a surprise?

Up next, illegal assassinations coming to a town near you!

Statist worship of military veterans by the Occupy Movement

The Occupy Wall Street movement opens itself up to the possibility that in their statist worship of the military that one of their celebrated veterans might not be whom they claim to be. And indeed, it has happened with the military record of an occupier in question in Buffalo, N.Y.:

The claims of a dedicated member of the Occupy Buffalo movement that he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are not supported by Army records.

Christopher M. Simmance has told several media outlets, including The Buffalo News, that he served as many as three tours of duty in those war zones and that he was severely injured in Afghanistan.

Service records obtained from the Army, however, show he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., for three years and he left the active-duty Army in January 2001 — before the 9/11 terror attacks.

I understand the incentive for the occupiers and the veterans among them to broadcast current or former military affiliation. Whether occupiers would like it or not, America has a strong love affair with its military stretches that all the way back to its very beginnings when it chose as its first president a military general. Somehow, the fact that the “1 percent” of us that served in the military took up arms for the benefit of the state apparatus and its interests is noteworthy to the general public.

Why else, for example, would Ron Paul supporters boast about the good doctor’s popularity with active-duty personnel? Why else did Sgt. Shamar Thomas’s rant go viral? What else made Sgt. Scott Olsen’s injuries at the hands of the Oakland Police Department more offensive than Brandon Watts’ equally horrific injuries?

But really, why are we treating veterans differently?

Others have pointed out, most notably Glenn Greenwald, the corporate media’s fixation on power and its reverence for the powerful within the military establishment. Most of America is guilty of glorifying people for doing what is arguably inherently immoral: participating in an unnecessary war that caused the deaths of over a million people. One only has to look at Veterans Day, which had transformed from a somber remembrance of cessation of hostilities into a sickening celebration of endless warfare, to see this glorification in full display. It is my hope that in occupations all over the country, occupiers resist this mindless adulation of veterans and the horrific violence the American military represents.

That is not to say that veterans do not belong in the movement; in fact, they have been disproportionately affected by the failed policies of this country’s elites. They are that bottom “1 percent” sent to die in wars started by the top “1 percent.” They are that bottom “1 percent” that make up 20 percent of suicides in this country. They are also disproportionately affected by the recession, making up 15 percent of the homeless population. Additionally, they suffer 24 percent unemployment rate or more than double the national average. Given these troubling and utterly depressing statistics, veterans have more than a right to be a part of these protests; they have an obligation to agitate.

However, leaderless movements do not remain leaderless when their members willingly allow others to represent them and there is a great risk of that in occupiers’ elevation of veterans. Injuries sustained by Sgt. Olsen are abhorrent not because he was a Marine, but because he was a person exercising his inalienable rights to peacefully assemble and to free speech. Sgt. Thomas’ agitation was admirable, not because he was a Marine, but because he was a person righteous in his indignation and anger at the violence displayed by the police against his brothers and sisters.

Occupiers everywhere need to understand that no one group of people can legitimately speak on the behalf of the 99 percent. Elevating one group at the expense of others is detrimental to the inclusive message OWS purports to have and will inherently lead to same class stratification that the movement is protesting against.

It is very admirable that many occupations have adopted the principles of non-violence and have strongly adhered to it. But why is it that they take the easy road and celebrate the past violence of some of its members? This might sound harsh, but that is the reality of elevating any of us veterans above others in the OWS movement. Our contributions to the dialog is valuable, but not the only dialog. Much in the same way that in the peace movement it is not just Veterans for Peace or IAVA that can speak legitimately against the wars, but every conscientious person who can articulate an ethical reason against the war machine and agitate on the behalf of this country’s powerless foreign victims.

The OWS movement presents an opportunity for occupiers and veterans alike to wean this country from the blind military worship that cripples our national discussion. All that must be done is to dissent from partaking in it.

Blessed are the war makers? For the sake of every occupier, I should hope not.

Americans force innocent civilians into a gruesome Afghan Death March

NPR is reporting that U.S. and Afghan soldiers have allegedly forced innocent villagers into a gruesome Death March:

Villagers from a violent part of southern Afghanistan say that Afghan troops, along with several American mentors, forced civilians to march ahead of soldiers on roads where the Taliban were believed to have planted bombs and landmines.

John Glaser from Antiwar.com has more:

Last month, scores of villagers came to the district meeting hall along with their village elders, and all told the local authorities similar story. They said American and Afghan soldiers pulled them out of their homes one evening in early September.

According to Faizal Mahmud, the deputy head of Panjwai’s council of elders, the villagers claimed the soldiers arbitrarily detained them, lined them up, and forced them to walk in front of the soldiers for over a mile, through roads believed to be packed with explosives by the Taliban.

Glaser added that if the allegations were true, it would be “a serious violation of domestic and international law. “

The last time American soldiers were involved in a Death March, they were the ones marching. The Bataan Death March was rightfully condemned as a war crime and the people responsible were prosecuted for it, so must this be if it turns out these stories are true. However, if Dick Cheney’s gleeful boast of torture or President Barack Obama’s wanton killing of Americans are of any indication, there will be no justice meted.

In Iraq, the youngest suffer the heaviest: a third of American deaths under 21, more than half the lowest ranks

In a hilltop graveyard overlooking this Stillaguamish River village lies a young soldier killed in the infancy of the Iraq war.

Army Spc. Justin W. Hebert’s story is sad and sadly unremarkable, a tragedy bound up in the tale of a grinding war that took young lives with grievous regularity. Nearly one-third of U.S. troops killed in Iraq were age 18 to 21. Well over half were in the lowest enlisted ranks.

For Hebert, the Army was an adventure. But it didn’t last long.

As an Iraq veteran, combat deaths like Justin Hebert’s or homefront suicides like Jared Hagemann’s not only fill me with grief, but also indescribable guilt. Grief, for these men are much too young to have needlessly die in a needless war. I can only imagine the suffering their family must be going through: their wives, their children, and their parents must live with the knowledge that their sons (or daughters) died for a lie.

And guilt, for I feel I have not done enough to dissuade young Americans to not participate in this injustice. Many young men and women have contacted me to inform me that my photography have “inspired” them into “service” of their country. I do not know how I would feel if I were to learn that these very same young Americans died during their “service.”

I wish I could tell them what awaits them: that they will bear a disproportionate number of the deaths in these wars, and if they survive, suffer massive psychological trauma that compels their comrade-in-arms to commit an increasing number of suicides. And that once the military is done with them, they will face disproportionately high unemployment rates, homelessness, and higher risk for suicides.

I feel personally responsible for my fellow veterans’ suffering and deaths. It is a shame and the ultimate tragedy that most Americans do not feel the same.