The Art of War

January 26, 2009

Matt Larsen, Creator of the U.S. Army Combatives

I have finally gotten around to enrolling in the hand-to-hand combat class known as Modern Army Combatives or just Combatives.  In the past I have avoided this class like the plague.  The core elements of the class are ground fighting/grappling techniques.  If you have ever watched UFC on TV, the class teaches you the same techniques and skills.  As a boxer it is completely unnaturual for me to find myself wrestling on the ground.

After day one, I can say I have found a new respect for the class.  Today I spent basically 8 hours getting my ass kicked.  I have found myself sitting in front of the computer, completely dehydrated, sore from head to toe; I am drinking glass after glass of water and doping up on Bayer.

The morning started with the 14 of us learning Combatives Drill One.  This included achieving a dominate position over your party/enemy, whether this is to  be on top of your foe or to achieve a position that leaves your counterpart with their back to you.  Next we learned to escape your foes dominate position and place yourself back in a dominate position.  We drilled this over and over,  at a slow speed so everyone could learn each of the steps.  I can tell you, it was incredibly repetitive and became very boring.  But, with everything in the military and in life in gerneral, you must crawl before you walk and you damn well better walk before you run.

After breaking for a brief lunch, we returned.  We continued to learn a few submission moves to include arms bars and chokes.  Once we ran through those for the next we moved on to our run stage.  First we grappled one versus one to achieve the dominate position, next moving to one versus one to achieve submission.  From their we moved on to a drill known as the bull ring.  Here, you fought everyone in the class.  If you found yourself the “bull” every member of the class would grapple with you one after another with no rest in between.  Just as you thought you were done with one person, another would be shooting in to achieve a dominant position and ultimately make you submit.

I must state it was definately a brutal day.  I am excited, but at the same time cringe when I realize that this is only day one and their are four more days of progressivly harder drills.  I will continue to keep you posted on the outcome of the days.  For now I leave you with the history of the Modern Army Combatives Program (MAC-P). Read more

Helping Iraqis Bring Their Country Into The 21st Century

August 15, 2008

One mission, besides security, that our Troops have spent a lot of time on Iraq and are very dedicated to, is helping to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and update facilities and equipment. Technologically speaking, Iraq is about 25 years behind the rest of the world, mostly in part, because of the fact that for 25 years, under the reign of Saddam Hussein’s regime, they weren’t allowed the technological advances that the rest of the world enjoyed. Hussein and his regime, kept the country in the “dark ages” so to speak, not allowing citizens access to modern conveniences, things that for us, are commonplace.

“You’re looking at a nation that has … suffered from 25 years of tyranny under Saddam Hussein and has not had the things that you and I take for granted,” Air force Col. Karlton Johnson, communications director for the Multinational Security Transition command in Iraq told online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference.1

For instance, much of Iraq was without electricity for much of each day, before the 2004 invasion of the country, so the things that we enjoy, such as televisions, dvd players, computers, etc weren’t able to be used for much of the time. Modern sewer and water filtration systems are another thing that our Troops have been working on. As our Troops made their way into Iraq, the stench of sewage in the streets was often overpowering.

“What we intend to do over the next 500 days is to take the Iraqis from where they are to the next level,” he said.2

That process isn’t an easy one, as the entire backbone of the country, electrical services, water services, etc are so far behind, that those have to be updated prior to updating other things, such as computer networks. The initial plans are to upgrade the government security, communications systems, to support the country’s security functions. Experts in all fields are focusing on mentoring and building relationships with their Iraqi counterparts. Because their needs are different than those in the US and Europe, it’s imperative that those officials are involved in the process. The hopes are, that even though the focus at this point is on the technological capabilities of the government, that will eventually filter down to the citizens. Col. Johnson recalled an incident, where he wanted to loan a CD to an Iraqi friend, only to find out that his friend did not own a CD player.

“When I look at what we’re providing in terms of education, mentorship and training to senior Iraqi leadership,” he explained, “I always have in the back of my mind; ‘This is something that’s got to permeate down to those people who, like this one individual, don’t have things like computers, don’t have things like the Internet.3

Johnson did mention that he feels it will take many years to bring Iraqi up to date and into the 21st Century. However, the things our Troops are doing, will go along way towards helping them advance technologically. Without that help, they might have still remained 25 years behind, without the things that we as American see as necessities, things they never had the opportunity to have.

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Water Distribution Site Opens In Iraq

August 6, 2008

One of the things that has been constant in Iraq is the lack of running water. Citizens in Iraq have often had to trek to community wells to obtain the water that they would need for the day. With the threat of implanted IEDs, that’s not always been the safest thing for the citizens to do.

As of August 3rd, more than 500,000 Iraqis will have purified water available to them, thanks to the joint effort of the Baghdad Water Authority, Iraqi leaders and leaders from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Multi-National Division. Once the site was opened, trucks from the Baghdad Water Authority filled their trucks, so that they could deliver the purified water to the residents. The project began late last April and it established three water distribution sites, to better serve the residents.1

For us, water is something that we take for granted. It’s nothing for us to turn on the tap and have fresh, purified water at our disposal. It’s nothing for us to allow our children to play in the water sprinkler in our backyards. We tend to get a little bit cranky if our water isn’t flowing as expected. We’ve never had to do without it.

According to “Sam,” an engineer and bilingual, bicultural advisor working with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, when the site is fully functional and operational, there will be at least 10 Baghdad Water Authority trucks, each containing 12,000 to 15,000 liters of purified water, that will be delivering to the neighborhoods on a daily basis. Initially, the site is expected to service approximately 500,000 citizens and has the potential to double that amount.2

“We are going to double our capacity for the future, and we are going to get over a million people to [receive] distributed water,” said Sam.


I’m sure that with the temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees daily in Iraq, that having fresh purified water is something that is welcomed by the citizens that the distribution plants will be serving. This is just another thing that shows the efforts that are being made to rebuild the country of Iraq and make things better for the citizens, than they were before the war began.


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Em’Powering’ Iraq

July 24, 2008

One of the things that Coalition Troops and the Iraqi government having been working hard on is to restore power and other utilities to the citizens of Iraq. Many citizens have had limited power, since before the war in Iraq, when Saddam made sure that he and his cronies had an unending supply, yet the people had limited or no power. New power generation plants have been built, like the one in southern Baghdad in 2006. With the new technology comes the need for trained personnel to operate those plants.

Recently, students from the Ministry of Electricity in Iraq were at the plant in southern Baghdad to be trained in operation and management of electrical power plants. Since February, over 1000 students have been trained, in what used to be an old dining facility. The plans had been to dismantle the camp near the competed electricity facility, when one of the program managers came up with the idea that it would be a great place for a training facility.

“The GRD was in the process of dismantling a man camp of trailers at a completed electricity project in southern Iraq,” said Vincent Dorio, GRD electrical sector program manager. “Then one of our high speed contractors came up with the idea of using the old DFAC (Dining Facility) and some other trailer bits and pieces laying around camp to fabricate the parts into a training facility for Baghdad South. We worked together to design and reconfigure the trailers into a MoE school house and of course transport the unassembled pieces 300 miles north to Baghdad.”1

With the creation of the training facility, this guarantees that there will be fully trained workers to operate the electrical plants across the country. The school will be open to people from across Iraq. This ensures jobs for the citizens, as well as ensuring that trained personnel will be on hand to work on the new electrical power plants should problems arise and repairs need to be made. As with most facilities of this type, there does come a time, when machinery breaks down or preventative maintenance needs to be performed. This is great news for the citizens of Iraq and will ensure that they will have power in their homes and the people trained to ensure that they continue to have power. More and more training facilities of different kinds are being opened across Iraq to ensure that workers have the capability to work in their chosen field and provide a quality service to the people. We’d expect nothing less here in the United States and our Troops are ensuring that the Iraqi people receive no less.

These are the types of things that aren’t ever reported in the media. It’s not often that the media tells us about the successful completion of such projects. Instead, to find out what’s really happening, you’ve got to either search for it amongst the many government websites or hope that one of the MilBlogs report the information. That’s one thing that we strive to do here and will continue to do.

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Summer Fun In Baghdad

July 6, 2008

Summertime will be here soon. Already here in Texas, the temperatures are staying around 95 most of the time. For our children, one of their favorite things to do, is to head to the local swimming pool or lake and get some relief frm the heat. This time of year in Iraq, the temperatures are soaring over 100 Degrees. In Itraq, that desire to “beat the heat” isn’t any different than it is here. On Saturday, in a sign that things are beginning to return to normal, the public swimming pool in Zawra park reopened. Children and adults plunged into the cool blue waters of the pool, as US Soldiers stood guard nearby. The pool has been closed since before the March 2003 invation. The pool has been rebuilt and is now open for business.

“It’s just great, I am very happy,” said 11 year old Muntawar, jumping into the water with his clothes on. His sisters joined him, screaming in

joy, as their mother watched from a shaded spot nearby. “This is the first time I have come to this pool, but I will come again and again with my friends,” he said.

The park is located close to the Green Zone and also includes a zoo. With the reopening, there are likely to also be more picnickers. The zoo which was once famous for it’s tigers, now shelters a few animals and birds. As things are added or renovated, more and more citizens of Baghdad will begin venturing out to the park once again.

“We are so happy. This pool is for all Baghdadis and Iraqis. All Iraqis when they come to baghdad can come here,” said a smiling Yahya Mohammed Ali, deputy mayor of Baghdad who attended the reopening ceremony. “It is a sign that peace is returning, he said, also stating that the pool and park were now safe.

This is just one more thing that the US military is doing to improve public places, which will go far in winning over the hearts and minds of the citizens of Iraq. Renovation and improvement of public utilities and places have been strongly promoted by General David Petraeus, in his counter-insurgency plan.

As new improvements are made and new businesses are opened, we’ll make sure to share that information with our readers here at A Soldier’s Mind. These things are signs that the surge is working and clearly point to the fact that it’s imperative that our Troops are allowed to finish their jobs in the country. These things also make our Troops more determined to continue the work that they’re doing.

Yahoo News

Yahoo News

Students at Village of Hope Keep Canals Flowing

July 3, 2008

Students of the Village of Hope help clean an irrigation canal near Hawr Rajab, Iraq, June 26, 2008. The students learn construction skills and repair damaged buildings in the program, and also help keep their community clean.

In March I wrote a story about the Village of Hope Vocational Technical school in Hawr Rajab, Iraq and how it was flourishing in the village and helping to teach technical skills to the area students. The residents are beginning to see the successes of the school, as it benefits them. On June 26th, students of the Village of Hope began cleaning irrigation canals in the area, in an concerted effort to improve the flow of fresh water to farms in the region.

Village of Hope students were asked to assist the community with maintenance of the canals. That involved helping to keep them clean, a task that is necessary to keep the water flowing. By doing this, they are not only receiving on the job training skills, but they are also working to benefit the communities that they live in.

“The benefit is for the agricultural community,” explained Air Force Capt Michael Askegren, officer in charge of the Village of Hope program. “This is a rural community that relies heavily on agriculture and farming industries. By cleaning out the canals, they are helping to make sure that the water flowing to the fields is going to be good.”

Currently there are over 200 students enrolled at Village of Hope. The students do work at community projects similar to cleaning the canals, while waiting for their turn in a classroom rotation. In the area, employment outside of farming is often scarce. By attending the Village of Hope, the students are learning new job skills, thus creating income sources. Many of the students are members of the Sons of Iraq. Askegren estimated that only about 1/3 of them would be able to get jobs with Iraqi security forces, so it’s imperative that they learn new job skills, in order to maintain employment and support their families. Other projects have been lined up for students, such as renovating homes and taking part in larger construction projects … all projects that will provide them with training in different job skills. Village of Hope instructors work closely with officials on the Hawr Rajab town council to determine which projects are needed the most.

“We got the second task order awarded on June 26th for students to continue to work downtown, and we’re already working on the next project, which will be the renovation of the Alma-an Boys School. We hope to have that contract awarded as soon as next week,” Askegren said. “We’re definitely moving into the full swing, as far as getting construction going downtown.”

According to Askegren, the Village of Hope is funded until the end of September. He does however, expect that funding will continue into 2009. Hopefully, it will continue, well beyond 209, so that it can continue to offer new job skills and hope to the younger generation of Iraqis in the Hawr Rajab region.


Creating Jobs Imperative In Iraq

July 1, 2008

We’ve covered the creation of new jobs in Iraq several times here at A Soldier’s Mind. For the citizens of Iraq, just as here in the United States, it’s important for jobs to be available, so that the people can earn a living and support their families. Because of the war in Iraq, many jobs went away, or people were too afraid to go to work, due to threats and violence on the part of the insurgents.

Iraq’s government has launched programs all across the country, to create jobs for the citizens. It’s important that they continue to do so. If there aren’t jobs, then the current stability that has recently been seen in the country, will vanish. Many jobs have been created, with the aid of different micro grants and other programs supported by US Troops. By creating jobs, the Iraqi economy will be revived.

As many as 4,000 people per day are being hired in Baghdad, to help with reconstruction, cleaning the streets, painting and other jobs. Workers are paid a daily rate to do these jobs. Other areas of Iraq have similar programs, though the numbers aren’t as great as they are in Baghdad. The national government is offering various job training programs around the country, to help people learn new job skills. Unemployment benefits are also being paid to some of the jobless.

Some people who have job skills, such as teachers are currently working in various labor jobs, as many of the schools are still being rebuilt. One of those teachers, Hazim Kadim is currently working as a street cleaner in Baghdad, though he longs to get back to his true calling …. teaching.

“I want to work a real job, a job that is in my profession,” he said. “These jobs, they are very little.”

Currently, it is estimated that the unemployment rate in Iraq is between 35 and 50 %. The high rates of unemployment have been thought to feed the outbreaks of violence across the country. When Saddam Hussein’s army was disbanded, thousands of his Soldiers were left without jobs. Many went on to band with the insurgency. Others, looking for work are going to work for the US led coalition and other foreign agencies, often at great risk. The insurgents have long targeted those who work with and for the coalition.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun a major push to increase trade ties and attract investment from neighbors like Turkey. But investment is coming in only slowly and sporadically, even in key industries like oil, for which a law meant to pave the way for investment is still hung up in parliament. Not all of the unemployment problems in Iraq, stem from the war though.

Prior to the war, the economy was state controlled. That discouraged private entrepreneurship and outside investment. Because of the sanctions against the Saddam era government, that withheld current technology from the country, for improvements and repairs to government operated power stations and factories.

Slowly, things are beginning to improve in Iraq. As new jobs are created, more people will be able to return to work and support their families. Hopefully, for most, the new jobs will come in time and the citizens of Iraq can continue to rebuild their country and their lives.

Yahoo News

Iraqi Based Industrial Zone Service Center Opens In Balad

June 27, 2008

Last week a program started in Balad that is aimed at helping business and progress in the provinces that surround Joint Base Balad. A ribbon cutting was held on June 17th, which marked the official opening of the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone Service Center, or the I-BIZ, that is located at Joint Base Balad. The center will be operated by the Basateen Al-Dejayl General Training & Contracting Company, Ltd. The center is being spearheaded by the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Indiana Army National Guard.

“We are proud to call Iraqis our wonderful allies and we wish you the very, very best in your new venture,” said Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, adjunct general of the Indiana National Guard.

This center is the first of several initiatives that will provide opportunities for Iraqi business leaders to tap into valuable military contracts. This will also provide a secure environment in which to grow their businesses. The service center will provide maintenance for non-tactical vehicles that are owned by coalition forces. Officials at Balad also have plans for a host-nation business center, a facility that will remanufacture shipping containers, wholesale and retail businesses and a vocational training program.

All of these business will provide much needed employment for the citizens of the area. That in turn will help to curtail the violence that goes along with the insurgency. It has been found that when young men in the communities of Iraq are without jobs, they often turn to the insurgency, as a means of ready cash to support their families. According to Brig. Gen. Gregory Couch, commander of the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the command will be another step towards fulfilling the vision of General Petraeus, when he came to Balad. That vision is to provide the Iraqi people with the opportunity to work in their country and to use that opportunity to support their families. The owner of the Basateen Al-Dejayl General Training and Contracting Company, Ltd, Sheik Shihab Ahmed Saleh Al-Tamimi, signed an agreement to operate the service center. He said that he was very encouraged by the outreach efforts that the coalition forces have made towards the Iraqi community.

“This is a very important business opportunity for the people of the area. It provides employment opportunities for the people of the area around here to stop them from joining terrorist organizations,” Sheik Shihab said. “Our vision for the future for this business opportunity is to expand from vehicle maintenance to engine repair, military and civilian vehicles,” said Sheik Shihab. “We hope that we meet all the standards and we add more job opportunities out there for the people around the LSA Anaconda. This business also sends a message to the terrorist organizations out there that we’re willing to work with the coalition forces and help our country become a free country,” he said.

It’s great to see the leaders and business owners in the Iraqi communities stepping forward and providing employment opportunities for the citizens of the area, so that hopefully more and more of them will obtain legitimate employment, instead of obtaining their money from the insurgency. Not only will the legitimate employment allow them to support their families, but it will also provide their families with the knowledge that their loved one isn’t going to do something, such as become a suicide bomber, which in the long run, removes the financial support from the family. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this project as it develops.

Bridge Reopens Linking Baghdad Districts

June 9, 2008

One thing that will help to ensure that Iraqi’s are able to rebuild their country, is the ability to travel between different areas of the country freely, to conduct business, visit family and friends and to just get away from the everyday things in their lives. Here in the United States that’s pretty easily accomplished, because we have a system of roadways across the country that will take us wherever we wish to go, we have the ability of public transportation and things such as airlines and trains. In Iraq, many of the roads between different areas of the country are not in such good shape. Bridges across waterways are collapsed and some roadways are not able to be traveled due to IEDs that the insurgents plant.

Recently in Baghdad, another bit of evidence of the promise of a more prosperous future was seen when the Sarafiyah Bridge that links Baghdad’s Fusafa and Karkh districts was reopened on May 27th after being rebuilt. According to US Army Major Frank Garcia, the public affairs officer for the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the reopening of this bridge is very important, not only because it has been rebuilt, but because the Iraqi government took the initiative to conduct the construction.

“We didn’t have a direct role in this,” he said. “It was Iraqi led, Iraqi designed and there were very few coalition members there.”

This is a great step for the Iraqis and it shows the Iraqi citizens that their government is willing to do what it takes to ensure that their country returns to normal. The bridge will allow for very tangible economic gains to the community, allowing businesses to be able to more easily more their wares from one area of Baghdad to another. The bridge also has a much more symbolic meaning to the citizens.

“One side is Shiia and the other side is Sunni, and there were very good relationships between them,” said Muhammed Asadi, a Baghdad native who works as a media advisor for the brigade. “The terrorists tried to send a message: ‘We would like to cut the communication lines between these two main groups in Iraq.’ But luckily they didn’t manage to do that. And the local people sent the message back: ‘Here we are and we’re together.’”

The Sarafiyah Bridge was one of several bridges in Baghdad that cross the Tigris River that were destroyed in April 2007. It was destroyed in a vehicle bomb attack that killed 10 Iraqis and injured over 26 others. The reopening of the bridge sends a clear message to the terrorists that the Iraqi people will not idly stand by and watch them destroy their country, that they’re willing to do what is needed to rebuild their country.


Troops And State Department Help Iraqi Feed Mill Owner

May 23, 2008

Until recently, a feed mill in Sayafiyah, Iraq had to be shut down, due to insurgent activity in the community. It was unsafe for him and his employees to come to work. Recently though, the owner of the feed mill received a US State Department micro-grant to get his business back up and going.

“We always had to stay in our house,” Thamer Hussain Kashkool said, adding that the insurgents had stolen the mill’s motor.

Because most of the insurgents and extremists have been driven out of the area, the community is much safer, allowing Troops to concentrate on aiding the residents in the area to begin focusing on rebuilding. The economy in the area is mostly agricultural based, thus making it important to have the feed mill operational. One of the main purposes of the feed mill is to provide feed for area chicken farmers.

“We have a chicken coop ready to be stocked with 30,000 chicks,” Mike Stevens, Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agricultural advisor said. “We need this mill so we can stock the coops. The farmers need the mill to feed their chicks.”

When the mill wasn’t operational, farmers had to travel to Baghdad to buy feed for their animals. Insurgents are still implanting roadside bombs on some roads, and Stevens felt it was important to avoid making the farmers travel so far to obtain feed for their chickens. With the State Department’s micro-grant, Kashkool is able to get his business operational and provide the local farmers with feed, thus doing away with the need to travel the roads to Baghdad to obtain the feed. With the local mill operational, jobs will also be created.

“We give them money to start, and then encourage them to get loans from the Ministry of Agriculture to cover the rest, so we have Iraqis using Iraqi money,” Stevens explained.

Kashkool plans to use the grant money to repair damages to the mill’s roof caused by the insurgents, purchase a new generator, motor and different types of seeds. Besides producing feed for chickens, the mill also will produce feed for other livestock and eventually for fish as well. According to Kashkool, once the mill is fully operational, he will be able to employ at least 14 people in his business.

I’m sure it’s great to watch as communities in Iraq start becoming revilatlized and businesses either reopen or new ones are started. These types of things, though they may seems small and inconsequential to us, mean a lot to the Iraqi people and send them a clear message that our country isn’t going to just walk away and leave their communities in shambles, with no viable businesses or means of support.


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