Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Address Change

Our (Sgt Garrett's and my) mailing address has changed:

GySgt Mark Francis (or Sgt Victor Garrett)
2d Intelligence Bn, P & A Company
Unit 76650
FPO AE 09509-6650

We haven't moved anywhere yet, but have been instructed to have our mailing address changed.

Anything sent will be forwarded, but it will take a few extra days to get to us sending it to the old address. Please update your address books.

If and when we do change geographic locations, our internet access may change as well.

Thank you for all your prayers and continued support.

Semper Fi,

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Few Days

Most of what has happened the last few days, I can't really talk about on here.... Sorry I haven't posted much, but we have been plenty busy and again, it is stuff that just has to come out in the news.


I can tell you that we (my team) are all safe and have had our hands in all of this, but that is about all.

The Islamic culture is very different from the American culture. Aside from the point that one revolves around a religious dominance and the other around a nation of religious freedoms, there is the point of where they put their faith.

Muslims seem to believe that God has outcomes despite our actions. (en sha Allah: God willing) In other words, if it is your time to die, you will die, regardless of what you do. If God wills it, your actions will be completely fruitless. You have no free will. You have no choices or decisions, or power to create your own destiny, it is ALL, COMPLETELY up to Allah.

Americans seem to believe that your actions allow God to move or prevent Him from acting. If you are in the right place at the right time, because of actions or choices you make, God can use you to accomplish something.

Consider the biblical example of Noah. Had he not taken that hundred years to build the ark, where would we be today?

Consider Lot. He actually bartered with God to spare people from a city God had decided to destroy with fire. Although he couldn't find the people he had bartered to save, he had choices and influence on the outcome, based on his actions.

There are many more examples, but you get my point.

We were training a few students and the question "why" kept coming up. We would tell them that when you think there is an IED in a vehicle, don't let anyone go near it. Get an expert to get on his protective gear and professionally disarm the bomb.

They would ask why all that was necessary. If it is God's will, that bomb will kill you even in all that gear. You might as well go up, open the car door and cut the wire, because if it is not your time, you will not die... it is completely up to God.

How do you teach someone with that mindset to be careful? I don't know either, but stand back... I think we have some volunteers to work on the Iraqi bomb squad....

Semper Fi,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I didn't write this, and it makes its rounds every year, but it is a good one worth repeating.

T'was the night before Christmas,
He lived all alone,
in a one bedroom house
made of Plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney
with presents to give,
And to see just who
in this home did live.

I looked all about,
a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents,
not even a tree.

No stockings by mantle,
Just boots filled with sand,
on the wall hung pictures
of far distant lands.

With medals and badges,
Awards of all kinds,
a sober thought
came through my mind.

For this house was different,
it was dark and dreary;
I found the home of a Marine,
once I could see clearly.

The Marine lay sleeping,

silent, alone,
curled up on the floor
in this one bedroom home.

His face was so worn;
it looked so serene,
not how I had pictured
A US Marine.

Was this the hero
of whom I'd just read?
Curled up on a poncho,
the floor for a bed?

I realized the families
that I saw this night,
Owed their lives to these Marines
Who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world,
the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate
a bright Christmas Day.

They all enjoyed freedom
each month of the year,
Because of Marines,
Like the one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder
how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve
In a land far from home.

The very thought

Brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees
and started to cry.

The Marine awakened
and I heard a rough voice.
"Santa, don't cry,
this life is my choice."

"I fight for freedom.
I don't ask for more.
My life is my God,
My country, my Corps."

The Marine rolled over
and drifted to sleep.
I couldn't control it,
I continued to weep.

I kept watch for hours.
So silent and still
and we both shivered
from the cold night's chill.

I didn't want to leave
on that cold, dark night,
and this guardian of honor
so willing to fight.

Then, the Marine rolled over;
with a voice soft and pure
Whispered, "Carry on, Santa,
It's Christmas Day. All is secure."

One look at my watch,
and I knew he was right.
"Merry Christmas, my friend,
and to all a good night."

-Author Unknown

Semper Fi,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Teaching classes takes a bunch of administration.

Lately we have been doing lots of training and you would think the hard part would be getting up in front of the students and instructing. Nope, even with the language barrier, that part is pretty simple.

First, you have the class preparation stuff that goes into getting the students here, getting the handouts printed, course materials updated, maps and gear assembled... and all in both English and Arabic of course.

Then there is the paperwork following the classes. You have to track attendance, monitor what was specifically taught on what days, who needs remedial training and when that will take place, what the students are retaining (tests?), what percentage of training is complete and what is still to be conducted, who is scheduled to teach what blocks tomorrow... and all that has to be done in both English and Arabic of course.

Then there is the certificate development so you can reward the students for completing your course of instruction. Those things are never right, even when you finally get the English and Arabic wording correct, because it should be done on better paper or with someone more important signing it or they want it presented by someone from their parent Precinct instead of the District...

At the end of the day, the important thing is that learning occurred, right? Learning is occurring and these students are all, well worth it.

Sgt Garrett is a consummate professional when it comes to this training. He is functioning as the primary instructor and it seems like he has been doing this kind of thing his entire life. He knows just how to set stuff up and how to prepare his class room. The spreadsheet kicked his butt initially, but he has that about nailed now.

Fawwas came back off leave and jumped right back into the swing of things. He too has been instrumental in making this training happen.

Semper Fi,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Throwing Shoes

The journalist that threw his shoes at the President the other day has been detained, as you could probably surmise or read else where on the internet. Most Iraqis disagree with this action.

Most that disagree call this man a hero for representing the views of so many in Iraq on such a public stage.

Some say that this was a journalist exercising "freedom of expression." Others go with "freedom of speech" (although hurling a shoe goes beyond speech) or "freedom of the press."

To voice their dissenting views, crowds have taken to the streets of several Iraqi cities for the last few days, exercising their "freedom to assemble," and quite honestly, they are thrilled that they are permitted to assemble at all.

Here soon they are going to get the opportunity to freely vote for which ever candidate they want for whatever reason they want. Their little girls are free to go to school.

Isn't it ironic that the very man that made them free to do all those things is the target of their shoe?

When I made this point with a few Iraqi leaders here where I work, they tell me that Iraqi's can't live in a democracy. They need the heavy fist of a dictator.

The word Islam means to submit or to obey, implying that they must have someone to obey or submit to. This makes a dictatorship feel natural and a democracy, ripe with freedoms, feel like chaos.

What we consider inalienable rights, they willfully give up for a sense of direction or order. Shouldn't they be free to do so?

Semper Fi,

Instruction is seen as Punishment

As a trainer over here, one of the things we have encountered is the negative stigma Iraqis associate with training.

Apparently, on one hand you have to be trained and trained well to become an officer (just like in any professional force) and those that are well trained are coveted human resources. That said, only those needing the training get assigned to get trained, so they are some how deficient.

In other words, no one wants to get sent to training, because it makes them feel like they are lacking some skill their commander was looking for. Once they get out of training though, they act like they are the best thing since sliced bread and know so much more than their peers... and quite honestly, they are treated that way too.

Wasta is such a weird and powerful thing over here. (Wasta is like machismo... that intangible thing that makes one person better, more popular, than another.) The opposite of wasta is humility, and humility is a VERY unpopular thing over here.

To admit guilt or ignorance is absolutely social suicide. Marines are taught that a straight forward, "I don't know the answer, but I will research it and get back to you" is far better than a wrong answer or a lie. Iraqi's would rather straight up lie to you than admit there was a detail that they didn't know.

That said, if you are getting training, then there is obviously a subject of material that you don't know, or else you would be giving the training, not getting trained.

Marines are taught to "know yourself and seek self improvement." If you don't admit, even to yourself, that you have an area that you need to improve on, you will stagnate and never develop.

From my perspective, training is not punishment. Training is constant. Training is happening every second we are conscious. Leaders are constantly looking to train those in their team and constantly looking to train themselves.

Semper Fi,

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Passed Over...

Well, I was passed over for promotion to Master Sergeant. Please follow this link http://www.marines.mil/news/messages/Pages/MARADMIN708-08.aspx and make sure you scan the list for anyone you may know. Some very qualified Marines got picked.

They were selecting 3 people from a group of about 20 in my field, and I was either not the most qualified or the three they selected were simply more competitive.

In reality, God promotes and God has timing for when we get promoted in life. I have no problem with his timing and will do the very best I can where I am.

Gunny is a great rank and I have plenty of work I can do from this position.

Semper Fi,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Day 50

We are going to do 50 pull-ups today. I would say we are half way there, but that would only be in days....

As of the end of today we will have done 1275 pull-ups in 50 days.

By the end of the challenge, we will have 5050 pull-ups done in 100 days.

As you can see by the numbers, we are not even close to having completed half of the pull-ups for this challenge.

In fact, halfway is in about two weeks, when we will be doing 63 and 64 pull-ups. We will then have about 36 days to do the other half of the 5050 pull-ups!

Sgt Garrett is still doing his weight-lifting regimine and I don't know how his elbows are doing it. The insides of my elbows are screaming at the end of the day and I am just doing pull-ups and push-ups.

Semper Fi,

Christmas Tree

We were not so sure how the Iraqis were going to handle us having Christmas in the DHQ(District Headquarters), so we asked a terp to give us their perspective and the perspective of the Iraqis here.

He did some asking around and the Iraqis expect us to have Christmas. In fact, they would respect us less if we didn't celebrate our own religious holidays. They don't stop celebrating their holidays for us and we respect their traditions... so they feel we should act the same way.

Iraqis see us Americans as Christians and they see Christians as "people of the book." They believe we follow the Bible and so they expect us to act in accordance with customs and ways that are taught in the bible. ... more on that later....

Here is a picture with SSgt "Crash" McRae and the Christmas Tree we have set up in the DHQ.

Just for fun, we are doing a "Secret Santa" this year so that everyone gets a little something. The gifts you see under the tree are ones for that and ones for the NCO's. The SNCO's got together to make sure the NCO's and below all got something too.

Hopefully this will help us all just feel a little closer to home.

We remember all of you and really appreciate all the love and support you send our way.

Semper Fi,

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Symbols of Power

In the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, the concept of "thin slicing" is brought up. It is the concept where you make a split decision about a person or situation or ... basically taking a thin slice of perceived information about an individual or issue to found your opinions.

In the first so-many-seconds after meeting a person, you are able to tell if you like that person or don't. In the first few seconds, a cop or military member has to decide to shoot someone or not to. These are examples of thin slicing.

Back to my point. Iraqi's seem to really like an office, and in that office, the more TV's and phones they have, the more weapons they have, the more room they have, the more influential they seem to feel.

Really, what is the point of all that?

We silly Americans do the same thing. Rich people have to have a HUGE house, with lots of cars and lots of this and plenty of those. Seriously, how many cars can you drive at one time? Collectors... OK, I get that, but other than that, I just don't understand.

One of the Col's we have here, for example, demands new this and new that for his office. Not for the things that will make the office (team) more effective, but for pictures and flowers and the like for his office.

When something new comes in, he gets it and gives the leftovers to his men. When it is time to eat, he eats first and lets his men fight for what is left. When new boots or uniform items arrive, he makes sure he gets his before his men even know it is there, and if they get it first, they make sure he gets his first.

In the US military, it seems to be the other way around, in most cases anyway. The junior Marines eat first, get first dibs on the new gear, get the first days off... We seem to get the idea that true power empowers others. We seem to get that if we take care of our Marines, our Marines will take care of us.

Semper Fi,

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid)

The Eid, as discussed before is a celebration of Abraham's faith and God's provision. For those of you who have had faith, God is starting to provide. The below is an article that really speaks volumes if you consider what was being said from Islamic podiums just a few short years ago...


Mecca head calls Muslims to fight terror

Mecca’s top Imam the Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz has called on Muslims to combat all forms of terrorism.

The declaration is believed to be the first of its kind at Haj by the religious leader.

During the Sermon the Grand Mufti also called for peace and tolerance.

“ Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and justice. It preserves all kinds of rights, among them human rights,’‘ he said.

Today, some two to three million Muslim pilgrims have been making their way to Mount Arafat to meditate and pray to Allah as part of the Haj ceremony.

Retracing the same route taken by Mohammad around 14 centuries ago, the faithful will pray until sunset before moving under night sky to begin the ritual stoning of the devil tomorrow.

With some worshippers saying they will pray for the end of the global financial crisis the climax of the event comes with believers walking around the Kabba in the Grand Mosque.

This message is what we are seeing lived out on the ground over here as well. People are acting peaceful towards us and generally practicing tolerance. HOPEFULLY some Islamic leaders from Afghanistan were on the Hajj this year!

Semper Fi,

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Green = Money

I was walking through the trash yard here at the Station and kicked an aluminum can. That made me think of the cans back home and how some have written on the sides how much certain states will pay for recycling.

...that got me thinking about Iraq and wondering if they recycle... that could be a way to get some of the factories going again here and get them productive. Productive factories mean jobs and jobs mean more money to buy products from productive factories.

...and that got me thinking about home and about how our economy seems to be struggling. If we started really putting monetary in developing "green" products and energy efficient technologies, we could develop jobs (and you know the cycle that starts up).

Oddly enough, I was reading through a Newsweek (10 November, 2008) that LCdr Bernstein sent to me (thank you Sir!!!). There was a great, two page article on this same concept.

The article talked about how much money governments were paying for this kind of technology (wind-energy, non-fossil-fuel cars, etc.) and how many jobs were being invented by forward thinking, ecologically minded entrepreneurs.

I asked one of our terps, who grew up here in Iraq, if they had a recycling system in Iraq. He said that they used to, but since 2003, it has gone away. We both agreed that it would be a good thing to get going again.

Then we both kinda sat there, nodded, and went our separate ways... the good idea factory was working, but we realized it would produce little results sitting in our brains. Guess I will have to bring that up next time I find myself visiting socially with the Ramadi Mayor.

...in the past, it has been the tree-huggers that have prevented advances in technology because they were concerned it would degrade the environment. Now it looks like they have a niche to make technology better.

Semper Fi,

Friday, December 5, 2008

Eid Al Adha

Tomorrow is the first day of the Hajj. That is one of the 5 pillars of Islam and a time where Muslims travel to Mecca if they can afford it and attend services at the Mosques if they cannot.

Immediately following the Hajj is a holiday called Eid Al Adha. Muslims spend lots of time with family and give gifts. It lasts from about the 8th through the 12th or 13th.

Eid Al Adha is actually a celebration of Abraham's faith and God's provision in his time of need. (Genesis 22) God had told Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son on an alter. He was just about to kill him (faith) and God told him to stop. Nearby, God provided a ram to sacrifice instead (provision).

This means that traffic is going to be crazy busy during some parts of this holiday and non-existent during other parts.

The Iraqi's I am working with have established a rotating duty position and started celebrating already. We are glad that they get to spend this time with their families in peace.

They know we are here too and we will hold down the fort for them, so to speak.

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. I write for my job and sometimes, after writing pages and pages, the last thing you want to do is come back and write some more... if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I am back on the writing kick and will start doing better, I promise.

Today was day 43 in the pull-up challenge. I am going to make the first set ATLEAST 15 from now on. I am also going to try and do no less than 10 on any given set. I hope to eventually work up to no less than 20 on that first set... but lets get to 60 first, right?

Yesterday our team took a little trip to Baghdad. Apparently they had fun and somehow enjoyed a 3+ hour trip in tactical vehicles. What a literal pain in the butt... all that gear, those rugged, armored seats, practically no leg or arm room... are we there yet?

I got to stay here and work, so no Burger King from Baghdad for me. I am going to try and get some pics from them from their trip, and I will post a few good ones if I do.

OK, I am going to go and shower now. Have a great weekend!!!

Semper Fi,

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 08!

For those of you not paying attention to the calendar, it is now December... again, no matter how you slice it, we are now one month closer to going home!!!

Today is also day 39 on our pull-up challenge. I am starting to feel pain in my elbows, but that just means I am starting to work. As any boxer can tell you, not all pain is gain, so I will listen closely to what my body is telling me and adjust accordingly.

In order to lessen the pain, I am doing more sets with fewer numbers. I was doing 20 in one set and then finishing off the rest with a second set. Now I am doing sets of 10, a few hours apart. It seems to be working.

Last month started out really crazy and started slowing down there near the end. We are expecting things to get more active around the middle of December and probably slow down there at the end with the onset of 2009, the implementation of the newly signed SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) signed between the U.S. and Iraq.

If you follow international politics at all, you need to get a copy of that agreement and read it. It is relatively short (about 18 pages) and outlines what both countries are responsible for. There is some legalese in there, but it isn't too bad.

Semper Fi,