State of Petro

This afternoon, with my truck well into the E portion of the fuel gauge, I pulled into the gas station nearest my home. I also needed to fill up my gas can so I could get to the first yard work of 2008. So any guesses to the total? This trip set a personal record at $86.35.
With that I am inspired to take you back to the summer of 97. The photo to the right has not been doctored in anyway. I am actually paying $0.69 a gallon in Hinesville, Georgia. So taking my 86 buck to the pumps that weekend, I could have filled up an Abrams.

I was moving from computer to computer and found this. It is not as detailed as I would have liked, but its a brief outline. If you feel you have missed out on the broadstroke details of my first trip at least - here you go:

6/68th Chemical Company and the Road to Baghdad

Online Annonominity

People do some silly things when in an anonymous environment. The World of Warcraft is an online game people go to to escape reality. The depth and the progression of the game are the true forces in the addictive nature of this alternate reality, but a great deal of its attraction also comes from social interaction.

While it attracts the asocial and social personalities alike, the asocial personalities are the ones that dominant the chat channels. People will say and do whatever ridiculous thing comes to mind when there is perceivably no consequences or accountability. A large portion of the policing is done by average users who form guilds, and make personal notes on inappropriate game play. Blizzard, the creators of WoW, promote this environment of zero accountability. While players try and make their own order, Blizzard allows players to move to new realms or simply change their player names for a small fee.

The most brutal of these betrayals though comes from those with the most history. No doubt this Player will be in for a few name changes this week. This is a group of guys I still keep track of, even though I've moved on from the game since Jan of this year.

Photo: Snout my horde character pre-xpac

So its been 5 years

A few people have been counting I guess; I personally just looked up and noticed.

Its been 5 years now since I crossed the Iraq-Kuwait border in 2003, and among other things, I have been a bad blogger. As time has passed the details of those events, though still vivid in memory, have become less important. Not to me personally, but in my need to convey the details to others in a meaningful way. I was never hung up on it, but at this point I'd say I've just moved passed it. It has shaped my and my families lives and, when the context is relevant, I'd be glad to draw upon my experience. At this point though I'm going to pick up my story with you on the lighter side.

From Kuwait to Tahlil

A few more notes to help me communicate with you better and then we are back to our story. The vehicles in my platoon had bumper numbers which allowed them to be easily identified. So if I reference a bumper number (i.e. CML 60) I am just referring to a particular vehicle. In the platoon, CML 60-66 were smoke generator tracks (I traveled in CML 60); CML 67 was our cargo truck; CML 69 was our fog oil fueler; and CML 72 was our M88 maintenance vehicle. So on with the tale...

6/68th (my platoon) was task organized under 2-69 Armor "Panther" Battalion once in the open Kuwaiti desert. Commanded by LTC Sanderson, "Speed and Power" had no plan to use smoke during its attack to OBJ CLAY, a bridge crossing the Euphrates just to the north west of Tahlil Air Base. The general consensus by the planning staff and Panther 6 (Sanderson) was that the wind direction was not favorable to the use of smoke, nor were they comfortable using smoke in any manor because 2-69 was not well trained in the use of smoke. When concerns were brought to 3rd Brigade Chemical Section about the lack of mission for smoke, they insisted that smoke would be used and that the only way 6/68th would be at the correct place at the decisive moment in combat was to roll with Task Force 2-69. So while Brigade spoke of smoke, 2-69 spoke of Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) duty.

Despite higher headquarters pessimism the platoon began a rigorous training program. Including intensive weapons cleaning, PMI, and a trip to the mounted .50 CAL range. The platoon managed to sneak out of the burm for two days (non-consecutive) of smoke maneuver training which included DVE driver training (the DVE is the visual optics on the M58 smoke generator used to see through smoke), racetrack techniques, mobile and stationary smoke, and movement formations. The rest of the training was centered on EPW skills: Arabic classes, Iraqi culture classes, and first aid.

The major issues within the platoon at this point, and ones that would not be solved throughout the campaign, was the platoon's mail, and that they had two non mission capable .50 Caliber Machine Guns still at Camp Arifjan. As it turns out, CML 60 and CML 62 would both cross the border without their main means of security.
Training stopped on the 15th of March. That night every command and control vehicle, including CML 60, in V Corps went through a mounted Command Post Exercise (CPX) of the border crossing. The CPX appeared to be much of an exercise for higher headquarters and the task force was a training tool. They did have an elaborate mock up of the border crossing, which served well giving the troops a read on what to expect when they crossed the border.

Prior to the CPX and following, the platoon conducted elaborate rehearsals of the phase of the upcoming invasion up until OBJ CLAY. Smoke platoon's mission was a "be prepared to" mission to provide a haze of smoke vicinity OBJ CLAY. Additionally Smoke platoon would be responsible for EPW control. The smoke mission would change from BPT to "On Order", if the Iraqis destroyed the bridge.

On March 19, 2003, TF 2-69 moved from AA Hammer to a position along the Kuwaiti/Iraqi Border. They moved under cover of darkness beginning about 2000 hours. CML 62 had already begun to have electrical problems that would continue to hinder it throughout the operation. For about an hour, it could not drive faster then 10 MPH, but seemed to come back to life and continued. With 6/68th poised twenty kilometers from the borderair warairwar began at 0430 local time. The soldiers remained especially calm; many were excited not afraid. Many tuned into the BBC to try and hear GW Bush's opening war speech, this would be the last time that they could pick up the BBC until they got to Baghdad.

As the sun went down on the 20th the task force again moved north along the border. The LD time across the border kept changing. The changes were based on whether or not the Iraqis set their oil wells on fire. If they did, the marines would need to cross the border to stop them, and in order to synchronize the invasion 3rd Infantry Division would need to invade as well. Friendly JDAB missiles began to fly about 2000 hours. A few of the company commanders kept coming over the task force radio net and saying motivational things. "That's a JDAB missile and it's on its way to BAGHDAD!!" "Let Freedom Reign!!"

The order finally came and 6/68 "Smoke Dog" Platoon crossed PL Florida, the international border, at 233020MAR03 making 6/68th the first chemical unit to cross the border as 2-69 was the first task force across as well. The Task Force continued north with little resistance. Much of the local population had fled or was hidden within towns. They continued to roll north stopping only to refuel, once at 0500, then at 1100. JSTARS picked up a few Moving Target Indicators (MTIs) but it really turned out to be nothing at least after a few HEAT rounds. Three different Abrams drove over Iraqi mines, but no battle damage was taken. At 1300 the TF was poised in Assault Position BARROWS and was waiting for 1-41 Field Artillery to catch up for support during the attack around OBJ FIREBIRD, Tahlil Air Base, and onward to OBJ CLAY.

Artillery moves up in TF formation to send counterfire

At 1830 the attack continued toward OBJ CLAY. While along highway one the Task Force came under enemy artillery fire. Panther 6 called franticly over the net for some "freakin counterfire". He got his wish as 1-41 FA rolled two batteries of Paladins up along side Smoke Platoon on the highway and let the steel rain fly. 1-41 FA continued to walk the battalion forward all the way to OBJ FIRBIRD. Enroute to OBJ FIREBIRD A/2-69 captured three EPWs.

2-69 was unsure what to do with the EPWs when Panther 5 came over the Command Net and added, "That's what we have Smoke Dog for." CML 66 and CML 65 then moved to process the three EPWs. One was a Captain with a large amount of Iraqi money. The Smoke soldiers immediately took control of the scene, zip tying all of the captives and inventorying all of their personal items. Meanwhile TF 2-69 captured and additional 30 "EPWs". CML 60 and CML 61 went ahead to gain control of these EPWs, but when they arrived on the scene TF 2-69 had released these EPWs and they were no where to be found.

It was then discovered that the bridge across the Euphrates River (OBJ CLAY) was not rigged with any type of explosive. TF 2-69 continued the attack north and seized OBJ CLAY by 020022MAR03, sending B/2-70 Armor from 1st Armor Division across the bridge.

Following the seizure of OBJ CLAY TF 2-69 moved southwest 15 kilometers along highway 8 to AA PANTHER. The intended assembly area turned out to be swampland and unusable by an armored Task Force. They then worked with the Special Forces and turned into a small village along the highway to use as an assembly area. The ploy worked but there were many civilians that came out, begging for food and just being curious.

Here behind SPC Bristow you can see the Iraq Village near Tahlil Air Base. On the left is an approaching Iraqi boy. This is the area in which we took a tactical pause for maintenance.

Here the Task Force took a tactical pause and scrambled to accomplish some key maintenance tasks. It was apparent that CML 63 was about to loose its right idler wheel, and CML 60 was about to loose its left center road wheel. As no parts were on hand, CML 60's road wheel, road arm, and torsion bar were removed. CML 63, it was decided, would ride on the idler wheel until it completely fell off, and then short track that side until the next tactical pause. During this time CML 72 was located 200 meters away, until TF 2-69 called it to recover an Iraqi tank. TF 2-69 wanted this tank to take back to Ft Benning with them. This would be the last time Smoke Platoon would see CML 72 until late April. With whatever repairs could be made complete, CML 62 continued to have electrical problems and CML 66 had overheating problems, the Task Force waited for 1st BCT to pass along highway 8 and we would follow.

Despite our current situation, my track (CML 60)takes a second out to laugh.

Left is SPC Lee the smoke generator operator, underneath is the driver SPC Bristow and on the right is yours truly. Missing in the photo is the removed road wheel and torsion bar. For your reference the idler wheel is the left most wheel in this photo. CML 63's (not pictured) idler wheel was about to fall off and our plan was to short track it when it did. To short track means we planned to wrap the track around the roadwheels without an idler wheel. The idler wheel is important, however, because it is the adjustable wheel that will keep the track tight.

Cousin Will with the Green and White Hat Rebecca made for him.

So specifics of Operation Iraqi Freedom aside, what is a mechanized smoke platoon supposed to be used for? The following list of missions is taken from Army Field Manual 3-7 (paraphrased and chopped by me) describing smoke operations.

Applications of smoke include:

Friendly forces use projected, generated, and self-defense smoke to:
Mark targets.
Obscure enemy gunners and surveillance.
Degrade enemy command, control, and communications.
Conceal passage of lines, movement to contact, and attacks.
Conceal landing zones, drop zones, or pickup zones.
Conceal river-crossing operations and reduction of obstacles.
Conceal logistics operations (for example, fast refuel sites).
Support deception plans.
Degrade enemy laser designators, range finders, and weapons.
Enhance artillery-delivered minefields by concealing visual indicators.
Support Urban operations.

In the defense, forces use smoke primarily to increase survivability and counter enemy reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.

Use smoke in the defense to:
Obscure enemy direct-fire gunners and artillery forward observers.
Disrupt enemy movement and command and control.
Conceal obstacle emplacement, prep of positions, and movement.
Conceal reconstitution, holding, and staging areas.
Conceal Main Supply Route activities.
Mark targets.
Deceive the enemy as to areas of main effort and battle positions.
Reduce the effectiveness of enemy directed-energy weapons.

Now these uses of smoke can generally be done with artillery or by individuals with smoke pots. The mechanized smoke platoon, however, can provide a significantly higher volume of smoke, covering larger areas for longer periods of time. The platoon is mobile allowing for easy adjustment of a large smoke screen by repositioning vehicles. This mobility also allows the platoon to provide obscurant on the move.

Smoke generators practice making obscurant fields Using the "Racetrack" and "Figure-8" techniques in Kuwait.

The M58 mechanized smoke platoon provides smoke with a baby oil like substance known as fog oil. This is accomplished without combustion (though the generator itself is power by diesel fuel). The M58 heats up the fog oil to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke is evaporated from the fog oil and released out the back of the generator. In addition to this visual obscurant, the M58 can obscure the infared spectrum as well by adding graphite shavings into its smoke cloud. This is known as "black smoke" and requires the operators within the smoke to use their gas masks for health reasons.

A mechanized smoke platoon is also equipped with an .50 caliber machine gun on each vehicle. The M58 Smoke Generator is a light tracked vehicle (on the M113 chassis) and has moderate armor. These characteristics give the M58 smoke generator platoon more firepower and protection than any other chemical platoon. They have to be though because most often they travel in support of Armor and Mechanized Infantry units.

Vehicle mounted .50 caliber machine gun range, training to fire the weapon system mounted on top of the M58 smoke generator.

Some of my platoon in Kuwait in AA Hammer. On the far left is our M88 Recovery Vehicle. The 5 vehicles in the center are M58 smoke generators and on the far right is an our FMTV truck as part of our resupply squad. In addition to these vehicles, there were two more M58s and a HEMMT fuel truck filled with 2500 gallons of Fog Oil in my platoon.

War in Iraq - Prep in Kuwait

I get many inquires over what exactly it is I did during my two trips to Iraq, so I in my next series of posts I'll try and explain a few things in detail. I'll try and make it semicronological but it may skip around a bit later. This first series will be dedicated to my first tour of duty from February-June 03.

So all that being said the story of the journey from the USA to Kuwait in January and February 03, along with the ridiculous politics involved be will discussed at a later date.

By February 13, 2003 all the elements of 68th Chemical Company (to which my platoon belonged) had arrived in Kuwait. At the time of our arrival, there was generally no mission for my 25 man platoon. The rest of the company had been sent to Kuwait to perform decontamination operations of the ports in the event that Saddam did have some chemical weapons to put to work. The mechanized smoke platoon was really just along for the ride. There was speculation that we could be used as "force protection" which generally amounts to guard duties of different varieties.

The first week in Kuwait was spent getting our equipment unloaded from the port and getting it ready to go. We worked in some training where we could, but really this time was spent getting supplies and doing a lot of weapons and vehicle maintenance.

A practice "Mask Drill" in Camp Arifjan Kuwait.

By February 22 word was on the street that there was an unemployed mechanized smoke platoon in Arifjan and request for support from V Corps and 3rd Infantry Division had been made. It was only a matter of days before we moved from the luscious accommodations of Camp Arifjan (warehouse style indoor sleeping arrangements with access to showers, working toilets, a gym, a pay telephone, a dining facility, and an Army and Airforce Exchange Services Store (PX from here forth) where the soldiers could by hygiene products and other niceties) north to Camp New York. Camp New York was similarly equipped as Arifjan, but we only stayed there for one night and then moved with an Armor battalion as they left to occupy a new area. This new unnamed area was burmed up (making a large wall of sand) on all sides by engineers and was made home of the 3rd Brigade.

Once set up here we had none of the plush amenities of Camp Arifjan or Camp New York. Eventually we would take morale trips once a week to Camp New York or New Jersey to make use of their showers, pay phones, and PX. While at camp though, we were without tentage and food was served hot once or twice a day from a can. We slept on our vehicles, or on a cot next to our vehicles. I was very thankful that it was February and March at this point; it obviously could have been much worse.

As there was no way to dispose of human waste, and we would be camped here for quite some time, soldiers had to perform daily "shit burning" detail. Diesel fuel was added to the deposits left in the constructed outhouses and set on fire.

The austere conditions never really bothered me personally. Once you get going those things are nice but by no means necessary. My worries mostly focused around the fact that my direct boss was back in Arifijan and we were out with a whole other Division who would like nothing better than to crap on my big-ass First Cavalry patch. Some of my worries about this later materialized while others did not.

The worst part about being attached to another unit - and that unit would begin to change constantly in the future - was getting mail. Mail was nearly impossible for us to get. Our families back home would send it to Arifijan, and our company in Arifjan would hold it and try and get it to us when the could. They had little opportunity to get it to us however. Some of my guys decided to have their mail sent to the units we were attached to, but often by the time it got there we had moved on to the next unit. Its amazing how important mail ranks in comparison to things like showers and food, but the one or two times it did come through it was like Christmas for the whole platoon.

Once, months later, when I was on patrol in Baghdad, I ran into a British gentlemen on the street. He was a pharmacist who apparently had just arrived there to try and help the locals. He handed me his wife's phone number in London and asked that I try and contact her for him and tell her he was doing fine. It was hard not to laugh, but I broke it to him that I hadn't heard from my wife for 40 plus days, and I offered to try and send a letter from him through if he wanted. "Oh no indeed, that's much too slow." Ah western expectations I love it.


So I've neglected my blog for a few weeks with the opening of Major League season and all my spring activity with my garden and lawn. So without further ado I present to you:

The Remix

Grady Sizemore Dilemma

So the regular MLB season hasn't started yet and I am already at my first big decision of this fantasy baseball season.

Since this is my first post about my fantasy keeper league here is some background information:

12 Team Roto keeper league;
Batting Categories: SB, OBP, SLG, Runs, RBI;
Pitching Categories: Wins, Saves, Ks, ERA, WHIP;
10 players are kept before all players return to the draft pool in March;
The league is in its fourth season;
Last year the league expanded from 10 to 12 teams;
I was an expansion franchise;

There will be more of a history lesson later but on to my current dilemma...

My first big trade offer of the year involves the gem of my young expansion franchise - Grady Sizemore, centerfielder for the Cleveland Indians. The Indians signed Grady to a big contract last week; he's a great five category contributor and he's only 23 on opening day. The proposed trade sends Sizemore, Barry Zito, and Eddie Guardado for Mark Prior, Brad Lidge, and Tori Hunter. I counter offered and asked the other team to throw in the rights to Justin Upton without him going for it.

I hesitate to go forward with the 3 for 3 deal only because of Prior's current health record. His potential to be the best is undeniable, but his injuries are becoming a pattern. It looks like now his injuries may be a symptom of his delivery. Who knows if his stuff will remain as good once he starts to try and change his approach to the plate?

So far I am holding the line to see if he comes around to throw in Upton... Putting stock in how bad he actually wants Grady. This guy is typically known to negotiate against himself so holding off here might be prudent.


So I held out and instead of coming around to Upton he added a 3rd round pick in next years draft for my 7th round pick. It still hurt to send Grady away but the price was definitely right here.

A Painted House

Having a bit of free time with little to do while waiting for things to happen in Kuwait I picked up my first John Grisham book, The King of Torts. It was quite a page turner and I was hooked. I managed to get through three of his others, The Summons, The Brethren, and The Last Juror, all while still deployed. I took a short break but decided to check out a few of Grisham's other books. Starting this past week with A Painted House.

So I was going to spend this post reviewing the book in some way, but what fun would that be? In summary its a decent book that I didn't want to end, and when it did end it was abrupt and without resolution. Needless to say I was left wanting.

But while I was reading A Painted House on my airplane ride from Baltimore to Louisville a guy sitting next to me, seeing that I was reading it, chimed in with how great the book it is. "Its my favorite Grisham... yada yada yada."

So this got me thinking... Why do people find it appropriate to talk about and judge what other people are reading on an airplane? This isn't an activity people normally engage in in other locations. I guess the need for small talk is too overwhelming for some people at 20000 feet. I've caught myself doing this to someone else before with a Harry Potter book; like a complete stranger needs me to give him that boost so he can get through the novel. In my most abrasive of these encounters, I was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, when I was on a trip as a new Lieutenant, when I happen to sit next to somebody reading the Dali Lama. I still want to punch that guy in the face...

Ready to Die

On Friday a jury in Nashville, Tennessee decided that the title song of the Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album Ready to Die sampled from an Ohio Players tune and awarded 4.2 million dollars in damages to the two record labels with the rights to the Ohio players music. More substantially, the judge halted the sale of Ready to Die.

The true injustice to Christopher Wallace's legacy is though the title track "Ready to Die" brings the album together it is not one of the best on the album. "Big Poppa", "Warning", "Gimme the Loot", "Juicy", and "Me & My B!tch" are all better examples of Wallace's wit and talent. Now these greats will be taken off the shelf as well, no doubt to be rereleased in a few years by Sean Combs mixing Biggie's music with whatever chump rapper of the day that pops up on his radar. These subsequent perversions only further water down his legacy. Whenever I hear one I just can't help but wonder if the "chump of the day" has more of a connection to Wallace than I do (and that would be zero).

Sean Combs and Bad Boy records admitted defeat in this case long ago in my mind. As Combs continued to sample and rerelease Christopher Wallace's work over the nine year since his death, I don't recall him ever using pieces of "Ready to Die". Though Combs has stumbled through the management of Wallace's musical estate, this is truly his biggest mistake. Surely he could have settled out of court for less than the 4.2 million. Even if it was more it would have been worth it to keep his friend's music in the stores.

Ready to Die is the only pure Notorious B.I.G. album, selling over 8 million records. Now Bad Boy Records has embarassingly fumbled away one of the best CDs of all time.

Black Jack Jack Asses

As a belated birthday gift my mother took me to Atlantic City yesterday for a day of fun in the casino. Although I have been to many casinos and AC once as a child, this was my first trip to an AC casino while of gambling age.

The good for starters:
I definitely recommend the lunch buffet at Wild West Virginia City; it was excellent.

The bad:
Didn't win a dime, in fact lost a few. I was playing a bunch of stuff I normally wouldn't play so I could play with mom and Aunt Jojo. This kept my Black Jack time from the normal 3+hrs to under an hour.

The ugly:
So I am at a 10 dollar Black Jack table sitting next to a 40something guy who is blowing smoke in my face, when a young couple sits down next to me. They start playing a typical style of play for a new players - never bust regardless of the dealers cards. I personally have no problem with a person playing their Black Jack however they want, its their money, and I am playing at a 10 dollar table. The 40something guy didn't it see it that way and started dropping the f-bomb on the couple multiple times. I'd had enough of his mouth (I found out today after having left that he was f-bombing my mom the entire time we were there and she didn't mention it) and left the table. I did notice that as I was leaving they upped the minimum to 15 dollars. Next we switched casinos, mostly for the Wild West Virginia City buffet but we wanted a change of scenery. After lunch I saw that there was one 10 Black Jack table in casino and this same 40something guy was at this new table. So, to sum up, this guy is on the strip searching for the cheapest Black Jack tables and then cursing and the newbies when they don't play "by the book". If this guy wants to play with "better playing" company he ought to move up to a 25 dollar table, and leave the newbs and people who don't mind playing with them the lower limit tables. Just my opinion though.

The first action

So this is my first post on my blog. Though this will obviously be of no value to any of you reading this, it will help me set up my blog as I like.

Look for me to post for real in the upcoming days.

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