17 October 2008

U.S. Troops Return Fallujah facilities to Iraqis

It was great to see that the USMC is pulling Marines and equipment out of Camp Fallujah this week. I watched Fox News video today of the dismantling of this huge military industrial installation. Since John Wroblewski and I spent some time there during our February - March 2008 embed with the USMC, it was very surreal (but also inspirational!) to see once familiar landmarks/buildings/barriers being torn down in conjunction with the withdrawal of all of our troops from this (formerly) huge complex. Now the Iraqis will have full control over their destiny within the city formerly known as the headquarters of AQ's insurgency.

I had heard about the possibility of this turnover of Iraqi territory to Iraqi Army/Police control while I was in Iraq in early 2008. It is inspiring to see the installation being turned over to the Iraqis, announced by Major General John Kelly (MNFI-W CMDR) during a press conference today. Some of you may remember that Maj Gen Kelly personally escorted John and I (along with PSD CO) to the ambush site in Ramadi on 6 Mar 2008 where John's son, 2nd Lt. J.T. Wroblewski, along with ten other Marines and a Navy Corpsman were killed in action on 6 April 2004. The memorial service conducted by John Wroblewski and Major General Kelly was aired on Fox News by Jennifer Griffin of Fox News on Memorial Day, 26 May 2008.

USMC Maj Gen Kelly heard about the "mission" that I had planned through my (outstanding!) Public Affairs Officers Major Peters, USMC Msgt Ellerbrock, and enabled us to complete this historic first visit to the actual site in Iraq by a Gold Star parent to honor the sacrifice made by their child in their service to the U.S.A.

I applaud the USMC 2-8, USMC 3-1, USMC RCT1 units; USMC Maj General John Kelly, USMC Ltc Bargeron, USMC Maj Peters, USMC Cpt Martin, USMC Lt T. Vickers, USMC Msgt Ellerbrock, USMC Ssgt Forsythe, USMC Ssgt Cazee, and USMC Cpl Angel (USMC Combat videographer who videotaped the 6 Mar 2008 memorial service in Ramadi to honor these fallen heroes), along with the U.S. Army's 3rd ID PAO staff (Cpt Signori, Cpt Richardson, Ssgt DeMaio, Ssgt Kimber, Ssgt Moriarity, Ssgt B. Taylor IV (thanks for the sunglasses as they were a lifesaver!), Ssgt R. Spencer, Sgt E. Burmeister, Ssgt D. Veitch. The list goes on...and I know I have omitted some key personnel, but I WILL thank everyone publicly via this forum or a publication soon. I have NOT forgotten your hospitality, professionalism, and assistance!

Without EACH of these men and women (and MANY others during the mission phases) that performed their jobs flawlessly along with a smile on their face, John and I would have failed in our 2nd attempt to get to Ramadi. Thank you again, men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces! Your sacrifices and patriotism are my inspiration and motivation!

16 September 2008

Iraq 2007 photos - John Wroblewski, Martha Zoller, Greg Janney

Due to many requests, I have included a selection of photographs from my first embed assignment in Iraq with Martha Zoller, Gold Star father John Wroblewski, and LTC R. Quinn. (This is only a small sample, and I'll get more photos posted soon.)

Welcome guest blogger, Leslie McDonald, wife of a Marine "over there."

Hello again friends, families and supporters of our deployed troops.

I'd like to introduce a new "guest" blogger, Leslie McDonald, who is the wife of a U.S. Marine NCO, currently stationed "over there", serving our country in his second deployment.

I've known Mrs. McDonald for about a year now, and she is articulate, and well-informed. She offers a unique perspective on not only what it is like to be the wife of a deployed Marine, but is also a lifetime supporter of our volunteer military forces. Leslie will detail all the freedoms (and responsibilities) that U.S. citizenship and military service convey, along with views from the "home front".

I have many updates to post as well, and look forward to your feedback about both my and Leslie's posts. I've never been the wife of a deployed Marine (and never will be!), so Leslie will offer readers a unique view into the challenges and blessings of being both a Marine wife and an avid supporter of our deployed troops.

26 May 2008

Memorial Day - FOX News 6 p.m. airs our Ramadi Memorial Service

I am honored to announce that tonight at 6:00 p.m., FOX News will broadcast the story of my and John Wroblewski's visit to Ar Ramadi, Iraq on 6 Mar 2008 to perform a memorial service for John's son, USMC 2nd Lt. J.T. Wroblewski and the eleven other men who were KIA at that spot on 6 Apr 2004. This national broadcast is the culmination of 15 months of my efforts to assist John in visiting the site to honor these men who bravely laid down their lives in the performance of their duties.

This historic first visit by a Gold Star parent to the exact site in Iraq where their son or daughter was killed was our way to symbolically honor not only J.T. and the fallen of the 2-4 Marines, but all the service members that have selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. I am especially thankful to Fox News for airing this story on Memorial Day to honor these heroes.

Our 16 day embed was the culmination of a 15 month odyssey that began with an embed organized and led by radio personality Martha Zoller (The Martha Zoller Show; WDUN 550AM; www.marthazoller.com) in January 2007. Martha had met John Wroblewski in 2005 during a trip to Crawford, TX at a counter-protest to Cindy Sheehan's anti-war demonstration. Martha came up with the idea to get John to the exact site in Ramadi where J.T. and eleven others were KIA on 6 Apr 2004.

Martha asked me to accompany her on the January 2007 embed to document the trip. Along with LTC Robert Quinn, Martha, John, and I departed Atlanta on 12 January 2007. Unfortunately, due to the tenuous security situation in Ramadi at that time, as well as the increased demands on DOD resources because of the incoming troop surge, we were unable to make it to Ramadi. During this trip, I got to know John Wroblewski, and through him, his son J.T. I was touched by the dedication of John to his son, and to the other fallen heroes and their families. On 19 Jan, during the flight back to Atlanta, I made a promise to John that if I ever got another chance to return to Iraq, I would bring him with me and get him to Ramadi so we could complete the important story that Martha Zoller envisioned - honoring J.T. and the other 11 men.

On 16 January 2008, after a year of planning and fundraising, my embed request in Ramadi was approved for John and I to return. We departed Atlanta on 27 February, and arrived in Baghdad's International Zone four long days later on 1 March. I spent these four days conducting interviews with the soldiers, Marines, and Airmen we encountered in our journey. After our arrival at CPIC, I immediately went to work on another story I was writing about the religious genocide of Iraq's native Christian population, conducting an interview with the Anglican Church's representative, Canon Andrew White to document the plight of Iraq's Christians. The next day, John and I boarded a CH-47 for our flight into Fallujah.

With help from my PAO, USMC Msgt. Ellerbrock, and a personal escort by USMC Major General Kelly and PSD Company of the 2-8 Marines, we arrived at the site in east Ramadi on 6 Mar 2008, three years and eleven months to the day after the ambush took place. In a solemn ceremony in that narrow alley lined by cinder block walls, John Wroblewski read the names of the twelve fallen men. "LCPL Benjamin Carman, LCPL Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCPL Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCPL Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez, LCPL Anthony Roberts, SSGT Allan Waker, and my hero, 2nd Lt John Thomas Wroblewski."

John then asked for a moment of silence to honor these unforgotten heroes. We bowed our heads together, and I offered a prayer for John and his family, the fallen men and their families who had given everything to our country, and for the continued safety of the Marines that surrounded us. Afterward, John asked the Marines to offer a loud "Hoorah!" in honor of the memory of these men. Their emotional cheer rang throughout the alley, echoing off the walls of the houses behind the cinder block walls, finally fading away into the palm groves that surrounded us. In a voice cracking with emotion, John thanked Major General Kelly and our Marine escorts for their assistance in fulfilling his dream of visiting this now hallowed spot. Some of the Marines visibly struggled to control their own emotions, yet never relaxed their vigilance in their goal to provide security for the ceremony.

I truly felt J.T.'s presence there with us that day, especially when I observed the following - As John knelt to collect a handful of soil to bring home with him, the red T-shirt with J.T.'s name that John had hung on the wall above him "flew" off the wall, landing at John's feet. This incredible "coincidence" is even more amazing in light of the fact that I felt no gust of wind at that moment! I have posted a photograph of the shirt as it "flew" over John, and another as it landed at his feet to show you what I saw. Someone once told me that "coincidence" is God's way of saying, "Hello!" Was J.T. there with us that day? I prefer to believe that he was, and I know he was proud of his father for coming all this way to honor him.

Please remember to honor all the veterans on this very special Memorial Day. Never forget that their hard work and blood have paid for the liberty and freedoms we all enjoy here in the United States of America.

For a complete selection of images from this memorial service in Ramadi, please visit my 7 March 2008 post.

17 May 2008

Wow! Moqtada's Saved the Day!

After the recent flare-up in violence in the Shiia majority areas of Basra and Sadr City in Baghdad, Moqtada Sadr (the self-proclaimed Mullah of Iraq's Shiia majority) ONLY took eleven days to announce to the world that the recent Shiia attacks on coalition forces were a mistake by rival Shiia insurgents designed to discredit his authority.

Strangely enough, even though these were "rogue Shiia militias," the attacks against coalition forces stopped almost immediately. Hmmm - what a coincidence. These groups are "not under his control", but violence stopped as soon as he issued his proclamation. Amazing!

I told you in my 7 May blog post that the recent Shiia violence was only a way for Sadr to flex his political "muscle." I think I've proven my point beyond a shadow of a doubt. If these groups were not under his control, then why did their attacks cease as soon as he issued his proclamation?

Coincidence? Hardly...

07 May 2008

Iran's support for Moqtada's Mahdi Army and Shiia insurgents

First, I must apologize for the long delay in posting. Attending school full time while running my business (and keeping my clients happy) caused me to fall behind. Please view often as I have plenty of photos and stories to post.

Why is there fighting in formerly peaceful Sadr City and Basra? The surge had dramatically reduced violence, but now our troops are fighting in those areas.

The reasons for the flare-up in violence are as follows:

Iran is supplying money, weapons and training to Moqtada's Mahdi Army and Shiia insurgents: When I reported this in January 2007, based on personal interviews with troops during my first embed in January 2007 (http://allyouneedphoto.samsbiz.com/page/19kyx/About_Us.html), mainstream media outlets refused to publish the story, claiming that the interviews could not be verified or proven (despite the fact that I had names, ranks, unit info, and incidence data.) The MSM began reporting these stories in June 2007, and they are now common knowledge, having been mentioned by Congress, and President Bush in his speech last week (even though some people refuse to realize the significance of Iran's involvement in Iraq's internal affairs.)

Iran's support of the Mahdi Army and other Shiia militia is based upon the fact that Iran's population is majority Shiia, and Iraq's majority population is Shiia Muslim. I think this is a "marriage of convenience" based on the current circumstances, because of the following:

1) Traditionally, emphasized by the 10 year Iran - Iraq war with 1+ million casualties on each side, including the use of chemical weapons by both Iran and Iraq, Arabs (Iraqis) and Persians (Iranians) have hated each other for centuries.

2) Some of the Shiia Iraqis I've spoken to have told me that although they welcome Iran' s supply of arms to fight the Americans, they will never submit to Iranian rule or influence. In other words, it's a "marriage of convenience" for these Iraqi Shiia. They're happy to accept the money, weapons and support provided by Iran to enable them to force the U.S. out of Iraq. However, most Iraqis do NOT want (and will NOT allow) Iran to come into Iraq to fill the "void" left by the withdrawal of U.S. forces. However, to avoid Iran's colonialist plans will require either a civil war, or subservience to Iran's political and military will if coalition forces do not take steps to stem Iran's illegal influence in Iraq.

Iran is supporting the Shiia insurgency by supplying money, weapons and training because Iran believes that it can take over Iraq and it's oil reserves when the U.S. population tires of the human and monetary expenses of our presence in Iraq (in addition to the artificial political pressure to withdraw prematurely based upon unrealistic political expectations/promises!) Then, the Iranians will step in to fill the vacuum, and use their increased influence (and oil exports/income), to enforce their political will upon the region, and therefore, upon the world. (Unhappy with $4.00 per gallon gasoline? How would you feel if the price shot up to $10.00 to $15.00 per gallon if Iran's takeover of Iraq leads to a worldwide oil shortage or embargo?)

Remember, Ahmadinejad believes that the Holocaust (Nazi Germany's extermination of 10+ million Jews, Slavs, Allied POWs, mentally handicapped, and other "undesirables" is a hoax), and has said that Israel should be wiped off the face of Earth (all this from a country that is seeking to develop nuclear weapons!!!) They have the missles, enriched uranium, and are developing the warheads.

During my two embed assignments in Iraq, 99% of the men and women serving our country I interviewed echoed one common sentiment: They are committed to finishing the mission for which they volunteered. Failure now is NOT an option - to withdraw now would throw away the sacrifices of the fellow soldiers and Marines they have lost in combat. Most of them felt that their mission could be accomplished soon, and an enforced withdrawal prior to completion of their mission would lead to a "bloodbath" (an orgy of retribution against Iraqis that have assisted the U.S. by the return of the Al Qaeda in Iraq, former Baathist/anti U.S. elements that would quickly return to take power from the "now" powerless populace.)

3) IF that occurs, what does that mean for the U.S.A. and the troops that bravely served (and fought and died) in Iraq? Every soldier or Marine I interviewed said that this was their biggest fear: If our troops are not allowed to "finish" their mission (establishing stability in Iraq, with the Iraqis providing their own security against inside and outside deterrents), then their (our U.S.) sons and daughters would end up in Iraq in ten to fifteen years fighting and dying to fix an even bigger problem.

4) No one wants another war, or an extension of this one. However, Ahmadinejad and his regime seem determined to exert Iran's political influence by supplying Iraqi insurgents with money, weapons, and training, including the illegal importation of EFP's (explosive formed penetrating shape charges - which have killed hundreds of U.S. troops and can penetrate our best armor), and the 122mm rockets which the Mahdi Army insurgents continue to launch against the Green Zone during the U.S./Iraqi assault upon Shiia Mahdi Army insurgents in Sadr City.

5) Based upon my research, the nine month cease fire was called off by Moqtada Sadr for the simple reason that he wants to exert his influence prior to the national elections in October. Moqtada felt that he was "left out of the process" (understandable, since he spends most of his time in Iran with his "financiers/handlers/weapon suppliers/cheerleaders"), so he felt the need to do "something" to remind everyone that "he" controls this area/band of fighters. I, for one, hope they kill him soon, along with everyone that belongs to his support staff. If my wish comes true, then he'll at least have achieved martyrdom status, as compared to being just a thug. His father was a true leader of the people prior to his assassination, but the son has chosen to be a servant of Iran's Shiaa goals versus being a true representative
of his flock.

12 April 2008

USMC and Troops' Living Conditions (Food, Quarters, Amenities)

"Where do the Marines sleep? What type of rooms do they live in? Do they have to sleep outside on the ground? Do they have beds to sleep in? Do they have bathrooms and showers?" All these questions, and many more have been asked of me since I returned home from Iraq on 13 March from a 2+ week embed assignment in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

I have posted some photographs to show everyone some of the quarters that John Wroblewski and I stayed in during our assignments in 2007 and 2008. Most of the photos (interior views, except the one of the 3 Marines) were taken at the JSS (Joint Security Station) on the east side of Ramadi. The photo of the three Marines was taken in our "container" trailer in Camp Fallujah (that was typical inside, except had additional amenities for journalists - the ONLY time I've seen this in my two visits to Iraq!)

Large military bases in Iraq (Baghdad International Airport, Green Zone in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Ar Ramadi) have mess halls whose hours vary based upon location and demand. Generally, they serve four meals daily from 0600 - 0800, 1100-1300, 1700-1900, and 2300 - 0100.) On some bases, the food selections were extensive and tasty. However, there were other locations that were difficult, if not impossible to reach, due to work schedules and the distances involved in getting to the mess hall. For instance, the mess hall at Camp Ramadi was exceptional in its choices and quality, but John and I had to walk about 20 minutes just to get there from our quarters! Also, the large bases in Kuwait have fast food outlets (KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, and McDonald's.) Of these, I think that McDonald's is the only 24/7 operation (although this may have changed since my first visit in January 2007.)

When we were stationed at the JSS (Joint Security Station) in Ramadi, the Marines and Iraqi Police unit there were only given one hot meal per day, delivered in an insulated hotbox around 1700. Other choices were food contained within freezers that could be microwaved in the lone microwave oven, Pop Tarts, lunch meats and cheeses for sandwiches, and pre-packaged muffins and pastries stacked around the "kitchen" area. Try to imagine a college or fraternity dormitory (or roommate situation) where it's a "free-for-all" at meal time (30 to 50 people in a 20x30 room with four 3x8 ft tables), yet the military discipline (and the fact that everyone carries automatic weapons) encourage responsibility within the residents.

Bases (other than the JSS's) have recreation centers (with 30 minute internet limits per session, although there may be a long wait after signing in at certain times), PXs (Post Exchanges) where troops have access to purchase items from a decent inventory, laundry (free, but a two day minimum wait), and hot showers (although Marine bases insist upon "Navy showers", where you only run the hot water to get wet, and to rinse off the soap.) I've been at Army bases where this discipline was enforced via small hot water heaters! If you wanted hot water, you had to conserve during the process.

Regardless of whether you are hungry, dirty, or have to go to the restroom, a walk is required to accomplish this task. Walking is just fine if the weather is nice, but imagine walking 20 minutes to the Mess Hall for lunch if it's raining or it's 120 degrees Fahrenheit!!

Folks, we have it incredibly easy here in the States, as compared to the brave men and women that volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces, and many of our troops have done so repeatedly within the last four to six years.

"Other" non-military (IE: journalist/media) issues: Due to the "transient" nature of the environment (both within transitional housing, and on any base), I would not recommend that anyone leave any important (valuable) gear unattended at any time. During the 8 days or so that I've spent at the main base in Kuwait awaiting transportation into/out of Iraq, there is a formal operation in place to assign sleeping quarters. This operation is very efficient and well run.

, due to the transitional nature of the travelers (usually contract employees of varying nationalities and backgrounds, including U.S. citizens) and the lack of security within individual tents, leaving gear unattended is asking for trouble. Recognizing this issue during both embed assignments, John and I took turns watching each other's gear if one or the other of us had to leave our tent for any reason. This worked fine unless we both had to leave the tent at the same time! If this unusual challenge presented itself, we would carry all our gear to the PAO office, and ask a trusted PAO (Public Affairs Officer) to monitor our gear until we returned. (Thank you Arcent PAO team for all your help!!)

Another alternative was to carry all of your equipment with you at all times. This works well, until you come to the DFACS (Mess Hall), where NO outside bags are allowed into the venue. In other words, I've encountered some inspiring, conscientious individuals, and others that I felt might steal everything I had if given the opportunity.

If anyone has any questions about living conditions (and I could go on for another hour or so to describe all the possible scenarios - especially in Iraq and some of the COPs and JSSs), please email or comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

04 April 2008

"Politics, Anbar Style" - Sheiks' Meeting

John and I had the opportunity to attend a meeting between some of the local sheiks (tribal leaders who are respected mediators within their locale) and local USMC officers to review some issues within their areas of concern. These meetings are key to the social and local political relationships within Arab life, and must be cultivated over time. In order to both maintain and cultivate these relationships, it is necessary that quality social time is spent with these leaders, while listening and addressing their concerns and those of their tribe. These meetings require proper local social skills, and the hospitality of the hosts (and correct and gracious responses by the guests) is closely scrutinized. (FYI - Never show the sole of your foot to an Arab, and always accept/eat/return food and drink with your right hand. The sole of the foot and the left hand are considered unclean.)

Tribal relationships are a key factor within most of the social, geographical, and (therefore) political aspects of most of the communities within Iraq. These tribes are extremely close knit (and have long collective memories - a reason for some of the inter/intra-tribal revenge-violence that has occurred), but some "blurring" occurs between tribal boundaries due to inter-marriages that may occur to help foster relationships between neighboring tribes. Sheiks are men who command great respect within their tribal (neighborhood) communities (but have often been the target of repeated assassination attempts because of their relationship with US forces), so I have obscured their identities for their security.

Arab society is built upon hospitality (much like the Southern U.S. where I have spent most of my life.) You are warmly welcomed upon your arrival, enthusiastically greeted, and quickly seated. The sheik host sits at the "head" of the room, and the guests' social standing (within the context of the meeting and other guests) is determined by your proximity to the Sheik. It is considered good manners to remove your footwear when you enter an Arab abode (although we did not do so, because the Iraqis understand that the US military does not follow this custom for a variety of reasons - security being an important factor.) Guests are quickly seated upon floor cushions, with other cushions to recline upon. We were careful to either place our feet upon the floor, or sit cross-legged to avoid displaying the soles of our feet to our guests.

Once seated, we were formally welcomed by the sheik and his brother, and introductions were made. After a few minutes of polite conversation, young men brought small crystal "shot" glasses of chai (hot tea) with a triple helping of sugar undissolved in the bottom of the glass. These cups of chai were served upon a china tea saucer with a small silver spoon with which to stir the chai and sugar. Several rounds of chai were served before a pitcher of espresso and one china cup were brought out. A shot of espresso was poured for each guest, starting farthest away from the Sheik. The guests would quickly drink the espresso, before the empty cup was refilled and passed to the next guest. This rotation of hot chai and espresso continued throughout the discussions for the next two hours (often interspersed with ice cold bottled water, poured into individual glasses set before each of us.)

Finally, once the "business" discussions were concluded, a vinyl floor covering was spread over the beautiful carpet and two huge platters of food were brought in and set upon the floor. Everyone scooted up, off the floor cushions, and (with their right hands) began scooping up the delicious rice, vegetables, roasted lamb and chicken, depositing each handful as carefully as possible in our mouths. Finesse was required, as we had no plates or napkins, and certainly did not want to spill food on our host's beautiful carpet. The food was absolutely delicious, and we all ate until we were stuffed. Once we were through, the guests seated further away from the Sheik moved up to take our places.

After everyone had eaten, we began our farewells, exchanging business cards, and taking a few photographs to be shared later. John and I felt very welcome, and I have since received several emails from the Sheik encouraging me to return again soon.

01 April 2008

Iraq's Christians In Peril - Interview with Canon Andrew White

If you are a Christian, and your son or daughter was killed because of your faith, what would you do? If your Muslim neighbor came to you and said, "Your daughters must convert to Islam and marry our sons, or we will kill your entire family," how would you respond? "Convert or die" is the message of choice for Islamic jihadists in Baghdad and Iraq who are working overtime to rid Iraq of "infidel" Christians.

I must strongly caution anyone that the following story and contents are extremely graphic, and may be disturbing to anyone reading or sharing them.

On 1 March in Baghdad, I met a man who refuses to give up hope for the future of Iraq's Christians. This is in spite of repeated threats to his life; the kidnappings, extortion, torture, and murder of hundreds of his congregation; and the abductions and subsequent mutilations and murders of his friends who are the few remaining religious leaders in Iraq. On top of all these challenges, the church he pastors has little money to continue to feed and provide medical care and medicine to the 1500+ members of the church he pastors for the most despised, yet often poorest of Baghdad's citizens - Baghdad's Iraqi Christians.

His name is Andrew White, and his official Anglican Church title is Canon White, but almost everyone he knows just calls him "Baba" ("Father" in Arabic.) He is a thoughtful, intelligent man who is a gentle giant, yet is terribly afflicted with the awful disease of multiple sclerosis.

Prior to my first military embed assignment in Iraq in January 2007, I was unaware that Christians even existed in Iraq. However, during that embed, I met a young Iraqi Christian woman, who had served as an interpreter for the U.S. for over three years, despite death threats to both she and her family. After she explained that there were over one million native Iraqi Christians, and that most were in great danger because of their faith, I was horrified and had to know more. After our meeting, I spent three months researching the story of the ongoing religious genocide of Iraqi's native Christians. Wait, did he say Iraq's native Christians? Yes, Iraq's Christian population pre-dated the Muslims in Iraq by almost seven hundred years!

Most of Iraq's native Christians call Nineveh (or the Nineveh Plains) their ancestral homeland. Those of you who have read the Old Testament will recall the story of Jonah and the whale in the Book of Jonah. Jonah was a reluctant prophet, who finally went to Nineveh where his testimony inspired the entire city of Nineveh to convert and repent. After Christ was crucified and was resurrected, Thomas the Apostle traveled to Nineveh, and his preaching facilitated many of the Ninehvites to convert to Christianity.

The Christian majority in Iraq gradually became a minority by the immigration of Muslims from the Ottoman Empire into Mesopotamia after 682 A.D. (Does this scenario sound somewhat vaguely familiar to my fellow Americans and our European allies?) The Christians and the Muslims had many differences, and much blood was spilled during the 1300+ years between then and now. The two religious groups generally settled into a tenuous co-existence throughout history, even through Saddam's reign. In fact, Saddam's right hand man, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian (and an "enforced" acquaintance of Canon White's during the First Gulf War.) I have learned that many of Saddam's household staff and servants were Christians because he felt that he could trust them not to assassinate him!

After Saddam was deposed during the U.S. invasion in 2003, some Islamic jihadists took the opportunity to begin a program of discrimination, extortion (jizyah), and coercion to rid their country of the (infidel) Christians. This program eventually changed into more violent tactics such as kidnappings, torture, and murder. My friend's brother was kidnapped, and a ransom was paid, but he was shot in the leg before he was returned to his family. Unfortunately, this is one of the success stories.

Truth be known, much of Iraq's Christian population has either been forced into exile or has been murdered as a message to the remaining Christians. Of the estimated 1.4 million Iraqi Christians in Iraq in 2003, only an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 remain there. Many families are simply told, "Convert or die! Your daughters must convert to Islam and marry our sons or we will kill your entire family." There are eyewitness accounts of the kidnappings of priests who were subsequently decapitated, and had their bodies deposited at the door of their church with their heads placed upon their chests. Those young Christian men unwilling to convert or carry out suicide attacks are kidnapped and murdered. I heard accounts of both the crucifixion of a teenage boy, and of a boy who was roasted atop a pile of rice as a message to his parents and fellow Christians. Canon White related how he officiates many funerals of the murdered, but seldom gets the bodies back to bury them after they are kidnapped.

I know these stories are both shocking and horrifying. However, there are both recorded interviews and/or photographs to substantiate what I am telling you. As fellow Christians here in the U.S. and abroad, we must do something to help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Iraqi, or are refugees before they are all driven out or killed.

In spite of their sufferings, there is hope. The U.S. Congress passed legislature in December of 2007 which acknowledged the plight of Iraq's Christians, and allotted $10 million to conduct a study to see what could be done to resolve the issue (too little and too late, but a good start.) My friend, Michael Youash, of www.democracyforiraq.com co-sponsored this bill, and I encourage everyone to view their website for updates. Canon White encouraged us to research this issue, but also to take action by writing our Congress and Senators, spreading the word to fellow Christians, and most importantly, to donate money for the direct support of these fellow Christians in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and internally displaced persons within Iraq to those organizations listed below that will make sure the aid is distributed properly.

Please contact your fellow Christians within your congregation and have them write their Representatives and Senators within Congress, and pray for our fellow Christians in Iraq and elsewhere. You can find additional information by visiting www.rfcnet.org, www. csi-usa.org, and www.iraqdemocracyproject.org or by doing a Google search for Iraqi Christians, or by contacting me via a comment or email.

20 March 2008

John and I are back - Rested and Ready to Spread the News

I apologize to everyone for the delay in posting. John and I arrived back in Atlanta late on 13 Mar, but each of us still had a little traveling to do before we were safely home.

John had to make a connecting Delta flight back to the East Coast, and I had to drive about 2 hours north before I finally arrived home.

I just now spoke with John for the first time since we said farewell in Atlanta on 13 March. We had similar stories about the next few days, too. John had been awarded an achievement award for Athletic Director of the Year, and had to travel once again to Atlantic City to accept his award in person (after 24+ flight hours on 12-13 March.) We both were very thankful to God that we returned safely, and that our families had remained safe and healthy during our odyssey, and most especially that God allowed us to complete our goal of visiting the site in Ar Ramadi where so many brave men lost their lives on 6 April 2004.

The next logical question for John and I (and everyone reading this blog) is, "What's next?"
That is a very good question that I, too, have pondered for the last few days. I have enough troop and Iraqi citizen interviews, images, anecdotes, Chuck Norrisism's (troops kudos to Chuck's super human powers), and details from four other stories that I am working on to keep both myself and our readers busy for as long as we can keep you interested (months, I hope!)

My sincere desire is that you share these blog posts with your family, friends, neighbors, both state and U.S. Representatives and Senators. Everything I have posted here is the absolute truth, is documented down to date-time-name/rank-unit, and most importantly, is NOT being reported by the mainstream media.

Neither John nor I are political. We are simply American citizens, who believe in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the tenants of our Founding Fathers. America should be the "Land of Opportunity" and yet, our citizens are not often reminded that "Freedom is not free!" None of us would enjoy the civil liberties we have today if our forefathers had not opposed and thrown off England's yoke of oppression. My personal opinion also champions the God-given right espoused within the 2nd Amendment. Here's a quote you won't see in many papers. "No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms (within his own lands or tenements.)" Thomas Jefferson, Draft Virginia Constitution, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 1:353 (J. Boyd ed. 1950.)

The troops I interviewed during our three week sojourn ranged from every age group, ethnicity, religion, and repetition of embed assignments that you can possibly imagine. With all those variables being considered, I discovered one universal voice in these troops.

"If we pull out now, it'll be a blood bath." "The only reason that security is as good as it is now is that these people (Iraqis) know we've got their backs. If we leave now, then not only would the blood of our fellow Marines be in vain, but our new allies would be massacred. If that happens, then our (U.S.) sons and daughters will be here in ten to fifteen years to try to fix an avoidable mistake." "Pull out now? Are you f------ kidding me? Things are almost back to normal. No attacks against U.S. forces in Ramadi have been made in the last 265 days. Why leave now? If we did, the bad guys [AQI, Iranians, Syrians, former Baathist's] would come back here and kill every Iraqi that worked with us to improve their situation. It would be pointless to pull out now. Besides, what would I say to the families of my fellow Marines that died for these people?"

These thoughts and sentiments are almost identical to those I heard during interviews in January of 2007. The difference is that now the troops are much more emphatic. Many of them have not fired a shot in anger in months, but they all recognize that situation is a "good thing" that has come about because of their security presence here in Ramadi and Fallujah. The Iraqis are taking over security in many areas, but they appreciate and need our expertise, technology, and air power to enable them to do their jobs to the best of their ability, and with the minimum loss of life.