Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vaulting the Wisconsin-Iraq language barrier

From Nick Druecke at Camp Taji, Iraq, roughly 6,339 miles from home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Nick recently spent some time on the Iraqi side of the installation. Here are some more of his observations about working with Iraqi soldiers.

They love to talk, and they don't seem to mind that we can't understand them. You pick up key phrases pretty quickly this way. We have a few translators here working with us, other wise progress would be kept to a minimum. Most of them grew up and lived most of their lives in Iraq, their reasons for helping the americans are varied. I do know however that they have the ability to become american citizens after certain prequisites are met.
There are only a few words you hear here often, the ones you can pick out and understand at least. For the record I don't claim to know how these are spelled, I'm purely going off of phonetics.

"Ha-bi-bi" (Ha B B) means love, or loved one. They use it quite frequently when describing their feeling towards something or someone. If they place their right hand on their heart when doing so, it means they are very adamant about their feelings.

"Shu-kran" (roll the r) simply means thank you. They will often combine this with the above word and hand gesture.

"Am-re-ki" (as far as I know you always roll the r) means American.

"Jun-di" (June D) means soldier, or lower enlisted soldier, E4 and below.

"Se-di-ki" (Sa D Key) means friend.

"Chai" means tea. It could be 140 degrees outside and they would still make hot tea, it is very good however, in a little six ounce glass they put about 3 ounces of sugar to sweeten it.

"Shaku-Maku" means What's Up? You only want to say this to younger people though, as I mentioned before they are a proud people, and some of the older folk could take offense.

There are obviously more, but I can't remember them without my cheat sheet. They usually don't refer to us as Jundi, however. Usually they just address us all with a quick "Sir", or "Mista." All of the little kids here speak about as much english as we do arabic, and they all know how to say, "Mista...give me money." I'll touch on the civilians in another note as this one is already getting long. I'll make sure to throw more Arabic words with every note from now on, for those of us eager to learn.

Until then it's still Nick, Still Live from Iraq.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sights and smells on the Iraqi side of Camp Taji

From Nick Druecke at Camp Taji, Iraq, roughly 6,339 miles from home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

Sorry about not posting in a while, we have been just busy enough to keep me from doing anything for long periods of time. Camp Taji is divided in two. The american side is by far the smaller portion, but even so its roughly the size of juneau. The Iraqi side is huge, but its also pretty spread out.

On the American side there is an order to things, we established the camp in a matter of years, so things were all pretty much laid out in a sense able manner. Entrance and exit is strictly controlled by armed guards. There are concrete barriers almost everywhere, there to protect us from mortar rounds and the like. Also there is gravel everywhere to help cut down on the dust during the summer, and the trash is kept to a minimum.

The Iraqi side is the complete opposite.
After passing an entry control point filled with armed guards, a series speed bumps, stop signs, detainee areas and more concrete, you enter what I call 'the dark side.' The roads are a nightmare, filled with pot holes and small fissures. Also road signs are a rarity, there is one speed limit sign to be seen (50 k.p.h.) which nobody obeys. You could be flying down those roads and somebody will always be trying to pass you, as there are no traffic lanes. More often than not you will see a truck with an obscene amount of Iraqi's going down the road. In an average pick-up there will be upwards of 12 crammed in there. Also all of the road signs are in arabic, so unless you know where your going your in trouble.

Trash is everywhere, as the only waste disposal system is the american's. So you will see holes, and trenches dug and filled to the brim with trash and stagnant water, the smell is almost unbearable. Although I haven't seen it yet, I am quite sure from the smell of it that these trenches are also used as makeshift bathrooms. Just about everything is falling apart or just about broken, yet somehow they make it work. The Iraqi army unit we help out here is friendly towards us, always offering us food or chai.

There is no doubt that they have a long ways to go, we are helping them as much as we can without doing things for them. Our role is disappearing however, as more and more troops are reduced. While I have surely gotten an experience out of my time in the army, I do not wish to return to this place ever again.

Live from Iraq,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saddened by loss of Sgt. Adams, but Wisconsin's 951st back on Afghan road

Soldiers of Wisconsin's 951st are back at work clearing roads of IEDs following the death Friday of Sgt. Ryan Adams (Wisconsin National Guard photo at right shows Adams in Afghanistan in May 2009). A rocket-propelled grenade killed Adams and injured seven of his fellow soldiers who were on a route-clearing patrol in Logar Province, Afghanistan.

This update comes via Maj. Jackie Guthrie, the state guard PAO in Madison.

"The 951st is a close-knit group of Soldiers," said Capt. Brian Barth, company commander. "They understand that this can happen. But we continue with the mission."

Adams was killed by insurgents Oct. 2 while his route clearing platoon was on patrol in Logar Province, Afghanistan. He was commanding a vehicle providing security for his platoon when the attack occurred. Seven other Soldiers were injured in the same attack and are receiving medical care as needed.

Three Soldiers from the 951st knew Adams since childhood, and served as pallbearers during the "ramp ceremony," when his casket was loaded onto a plane to be brought to the United States. "He's never going to be forgotten in the unit," Fulton said. "As long as we're alive, Sgt. Adams will be alive with us. We're continuing on with the mission, doing the best we can."

That entails helping ensure that other Soldiers stay alive to complete their missions. The unit, based in Rhinelander and Tomahawk, puts in long days clearing roadside bombs along routes in an approximately 6,000-square mile area of responsibility.

"We are in high demand due to the [improvised explosive device] threat," Barth said.

Besides hunting IEDs, the 951st searches key terrain features as well as bypass roads for major supply routes, alternative supply routes and combat trails, and gathers biometric data - name, date and location of birth, home of record, iris scans and fingerprints - from local residents. Missions can range from six to 56 hours in length. Since February, the unit has amassed more than 240 combat missions.

"We've got Soldiers that perform with the best of them," he said, noting that his unit works alongside active component Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and the 82nd Airborne Division.

"How do you label success?" he continued. "It's tough losing a Soldier. Getting back on the road is success."

Fulton described Adams as a dedicated Soldier with a unique sense of humor who looked out for others.

"He didn't have a mean bone in his body," Fulton said.

"He was the model for the [non-commissioned officer]," Barth added. "He challenged people, regardless of rank, to perform their best. Sgt. Adams was a great individual."

The 951st mobilized Nov. 30, 2008 and are nearing the end of their deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Honors for Wisconsin soldiers Burns and Wise for action in fatal explosion in Baghdad

From left, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Wise and Sgt. Randy Burns are honored for their actions in response to last week's fatal IDF attack in Baghdad. Lt. Col. Lee Ward pins the members of the 32nd IBCT with Army Commendation Medals. (Photos courtesy Lt. Col Tim Donovan, Wisconsin National Guard PAO in Baghdad)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wisconsin soldiers were first on the scene to help after an explosion killed a Michigan soldier and injured others in Baghdad

When the Associated Press reported that a Michigan soldier was killed by indirect fire in the Baghdad area last week, I asked the PAO for the 32nd IBCT if any Wisconsin soldiers were affected by the blast.

Indirect fire is when an enemy propels an explosive device from an unseen location.

Lt. Col. Tim Donovan in Baghdad got back to me with this:

This indirect fire incident did involve impacts in the vicinity of one
of our units. Two soldiers from (the Eau Claire-based) Headquarters and Headquarters Company of 1-128th Infantry were first to respond to provide emergency first aid to the soldiers injured in the attack. Sgt. 1st ClassThomas Wise (front left) and
Sgt. Randy Burns (front right) received awards for their actions in response to the
indirect fire attack.

There have been relatively infrequent indirect fire attacks on a few
locations where 32nd Brigade soldiers are assigned. . I am not aware of any 32nd
Brigade soldiers who have been wounded by indirect fire.

Sgt. 1st Class Wise is from Hammond, Wis. (in St. Croix County) and Sgt.
Burns is from Pardeeville, Wis.

The soldiers were fairly close to the point of impact, so they most
definitely heard the explosion, then they responded to a call for

Here is the text of the Associated Press story on the indirect fire incident:

DOWAGIAC, Mich. - The Department of Defense says a soldier from
southwestern Michigan was killed last week in Iraq.

The Pentagon said Monday that Spc. Paul E. Andersen of Dowagiac died
Oct. 1 in Baghdad from wounds sustained when his camp was attacked with
indirect fire. Additional details were not released.

Andersen, 49, was assigned to the Army Reserve's 855th Quartermaster
Company, based in South Bend, Ind.

The South Bend Tribune reports Andersen is survived by his wife, Linda,
three children and three stepchildren

Wisconsin legion chief joins battle for Afghan war funds

The commander of the organization for Wisconsin veterans of overseas conflict has joined the war of words designed to persuade President Obama to ramp up U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.

Here is a portion of a press release issued Tuesday by
Wisconsin American Legion Finance Development Manager Jessika Erickson:

Leo A. Endres, Commander of the over 70,000 member Wisconsin American Legion, echoed the call of the organization’s National Commander. “Wisconsin Service members are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and it is time for this Administration to give them the tools they need to win. In the past week, Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers have been hit hard by casualties and we ask the President to act now on McChrystal’s report,” said Commander Endres. “While the state is mourning the loss of Sgt Adams, The Wisconsin American Legion Family is working to assist the wounded and their families. It is time for this Administration to take decisive action on General McChrystal’s request,” said Endres. He continued, “We must not lose Afghanistan. Wisconsin service members and their families have sacrificed too much for the President to decide to fight this battle without the right tools to win the war on terrorism. Our Wisconsin heroes deserve better.” The Wisconsin American Legion Troop and Family Support Fund was designed to assist service members and their families with the challenges that arise when a loved one is deployed in harm’s way. To learn more or make a tax-deductible contribution to these efforts, please visit
The Wisconsin American Legion is the state’s largest veterans’ service organization with over 70,000 members and 523 posts and has been serving troops, veterans, and youth since 1919. For more information on the Legion’s programs and membership, please visit

The three-tiered heading on the press release links the death Friday of a Wisconsin soldier, the case for more war funding, and a Time magazine cover featuring a wounded Wisconsin soldier:

SGT Ryan Adams of Rhinelander killed in action

Wisconsin casualties in Afghanistan heighten need for support

Sparta soldier appears on cover of TIME


(Getty Images photo at left: President Obama meets with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the Oval Office in May. McChrystal has asked the Pentagon for as many as 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. )

Here is how the story has unfolded in recent days

Obama's national security advisor has criticized McChrystal for breaking the chain of command by appealing directly to the public.

The relationship between President Barack Obama and the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan has been put under severe strain by Gen Stanley McChrystal's comments on strategy for the war.

Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling to the Taliban, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, said Sunday as he downplayed worries that the insurgency could set up a renewed sanctuary for al-Qaida.

THE LATEST: According to Foreign Policy's Passport blog, at a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday, President Barack Obama indicated that he has ruled out substantial troop reductions in Afghanistan but remains undecided on Gen. Stanley McChyrstal's request for 40,000 more troops.

A senior aide said the president was looking to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” but with congress divided on Afghan strategy, the president may not have much time for deliberation. “This should not be a leisurely process,” Sen. John McCain reportedly told the president at the meeting.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More wounded Wisconsin soldiers identified in Time photo essay

A Time magazine photo essay called "A Window on the War in Afghanistan" includes photos of at least four Wisconsin National Guard soldiers, including three shortly after they were injured by an explosion. They are members of the 951st, a state guard Sapper, or combat engineering, unit that is clearing roads of IEDs.

The photographs were made in September. On Friday a member of the unit was killed and seven were injured by a rocket propelled grenade.

In one of the Time magazine photos, Specialist Codey Johnson of Eau Claire cries while comforting his best friend, Specialist T.J. Fecteau of Scofield. Insignias identifying the soldiers as members of the state guard are visible.

Another shows Sgt. Phil Poitra from Lac du Flambeau with his head bandaged and blood on his face.The magazine reported that he returned to duty.

The fourth soldier, Sgt. Chet Millard, is expected to be on the cover of the magazine, which has been delivered to subscribers.

None of the injuries was life-threatening, said Maj. Jackie Guthrie of the Wisconsin National Guard. Millard is being treated for his injuries in Afghanistan, while Fecteau has been moved to the U.S. for treatment, Guthrie said.

It appears that one or more other photos of soldiers being carried to a helicopter on stretchers are also Wisconsin soldiers, although it's not clear who is who, Guthrie said.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Injured soldier from Sgt. Adams' unit to be featured in Time

Sgt. Ryan Adams of Rhinelander, seen at left, was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan on Friday. The Wisconsin National Guard soldier was part of the 951st, an engineering unit (seen on patrol at right in photo provided by the Army) with a mission of clearing roads of improvised explosive devices.

Several other members of the unit were injured.

About a month ago, on Sept. 8, one of Adams' fellow soldiers in the 951st was injured by the explosion of an IED.

Sgt. Chet Millard survived the blast. A Time magazine journalist happened to be nearby.

Editions of the magazine that hit newstands in about a week will include coverage of the hazardous mission of the Wisconsin-based 951st, according to a
television news report.

A local soldier's tragic accident in Afghanistan provides a painfully heroic image for the cover of a national news magazine.

Sergeant First Class Chet Millard from the 951st National Guard unit based out of Rhinelander-Tomahawk is currently deployed overseas.

On September 8th the heavily armored vehicle that SFC Millard was riding in during a route clearing mission in Afghanistan hit a roadside bomb and the vehicle was slammed into the side of a mountain.

About two weeks before Millard was injured, The Washington Times published a story about the 951st. Millard was quoted in the article.

"I always expect to get hit," said Sgt. First Class Millard, "When we don't -- it's a good day."

- Steve

Friday, October 2, 2009

UW grad's new DOD job is getting armor, weapons to troops

A Madison native was named today to a Defense Department post as chief adviser for procuring equipment that protects U.S. forces from roadside bombs that have killed scores of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read the story at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wisconsin native claimed by IED in Afghanistan

Kevin Graham, an Army specialist who grew up in Wisconsin and still has family here, was killed Saturday by an IED in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Read his story in the Racine Journal-Times by clicking here.
According to coverage in The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis:

His death is the 16th for the Strykers of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. And 10 of those deaths have fallen on a single battalion, the 1-17.

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, only five other Fort Lewis Stryker battalions have lost 10 or more soldiers, and those were sustained over a full 12- or 15-month deployment. The 1-17 and its parent brigade have been deployed less than three months.

Kevin Graham, 1982-2009

Monthly Wisconsin National Guard update

Read the state guard online magazine updating the 32nd's progress in Baghdad's International Zone and elsewhere. Read the Wisconsin State Journal's very brief summary, with a link to the magazine, here. Or click straight to the magazine here.
- Steve