U.S. Soldier Staff Sgt. Robert Peredo of 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry,
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, hailing from Dededo,
Guam, prepares to load his weapon prior to departing on a mission to
the Tarmiyah area of Baghdad on June 11, 2008.
We are approaching 5 months since we’ve left you, and though our rendezvous with destiny still continues our reunion with you still awaits. As many of you already know (see attached note), President Bush announced his decision to return to twelve-month theater deployments. Unfortunately, this decision will not affect the Golden Dragons. It will affect units deploying after 1 August 2008. I know that all of you held hope that there would be some reprieve bestowed onto our families, but what you need to know is – this decision was made possible by your Golden Dragon. It was by their hands that security improved in Tarmiyah, Iraq and the fruits of precious family time are given to others so they may RESET before return.
This type of selfless sacrifice is an uncommon attribute among the world today. The average citizen getting a latte at Starbucks does not comprehend the profound sacrifice that you and your soldier endure. It is a fact, we Dragons are enduring the unendurable; our entire families are selfless servants to the Nation’s Mission – Provide security and stability to the people of Iraq, notions of freedom for those who may otherwise never experience these tenets.
Now, the battlefield calculus is enabling sustainable security. We are doing this through two means - Securing the population where they sleep and developing Iraqi Security Forces (both Army and Police). We are fighting, too. When the International Zone (IZ) was pounded by dozens of rockets from Sadr City, thus killing and injuring both Iraqi and Coalition civilians, we were called upon to fight the Jaysh al Mahdi uprising in Sadr City and Bravo Company (Bushmasters) fought magnificently. In four hours, Bushmaster assembled from the most distant location in our battle space, rearmed and deployed to Sadr City. Many of you have seen their exploits on CNN, CBS and in the NY Times…these boys are the real deal. What you need to know is their success kept the Government of Iraq (GoI) intact. Sadr wanted to displace the GoI from the IZ, thus delegitimizing it. I well up with emotion when I talk about them.
As I noted to you before, we must develop “waypoints.” The best waypoint is R&R Leave. We are 10% complete. Each month we will push 10% home and our program will end in November. I use a colorful analogy with the men to illustrate just how important block leave is – it’s like swimming out to a life buoy, you have to battle the ebb and flow of the tide, but you know when you get there you can rest before you swim back. Please ensure your team is developing routine contacts in the form of weekly mail, phone calls on the speakerphone, or a monthly VTC. Any method you choose…it’s all about contact. Notes and Photos are every bit a morale boost as a big care package. Sound Familiar?
I am astonished by a group called “Soldiers Angels.” This organization is unbelievable. It’s cared for by
great Americans with true character that empathize with our sacrifice. They send me packages and mail that I deliver to our Dragons out on Patrol Bases. It impacts soldiers. I’ve seen them stop what they are doing, sit on their cots and start reading their cards from a complete stranger that simply says – “Thank You” in their own words. It’s because of you and the people of Soldiers’ Angels that we endure the unendurable. I will close with a note from a Soldiers’ Angels Card – “May No Soldier Go Unloved.”
God Bless You - Golden Dragons!
“Right of the Line”
Captain Christopher Loftis, commanding officer of C company, 2/25 in
Tarmiya, was trying to feel out a group of Iraqi men who hoped to join
the Sons of Iraq movement. The men were standing around a checkpoint
that flew the yellow flag of the Anbar Awakening movement at an
intersection a few miles outside of town, and he was asking them how
things were going.
The response was the same each time: “more weapons” to fight the
insurgents. Loftis would smile, shake the man’s hand, and move on. It
was the usual request, always denied, but given that these men weren’t
even under contract to provide security, the plea was a little
premature. The captain had come out to this checkpoint in front of a
former Saddam-era uranium processing plant not just to meet these men,
but the men who organized them, along with about six hundred others who wanted a contract with the American Army to provide security.
The Sons of Iraq program, begun in the spring of 2007 and funded by
U.S. taxpayers to the tune thus far of $123 million and counting, is
basically a private militia—80,000 strong at this point—hired by the
American military to help fight the insurgency. Not surprisingly, the
success of the SOI has produced conflict with the Iraqi government. At
a meeting the day before with the local Iraqi police commander, the
police complained that two people had been kidnapped and released by an
“illegal checkpoint” manned by the SOI the night before, and that some
of the men at these new checkpoints were wearing masks. The police
commander wanted to make some arrests, which brought the American civil
affairs officer assigned to Tarmiya, Major Guidry, to the edge of his
seat. “Just get their names and give them to us,” Guidry warned. “We
don’t want to put you in a position where you’re in conflict with Abna
al-Iraq [Arabic for Sons of Iraq],” The police colonel frowned, but
agreed not to do anything drastic.
This rotation back to the big bases was how I got out to JSS Tarmiya,
about thirty kilometers north of Baghdad. From Liberty, I caught a
short helicopter ride north to Camp Taji, where I spent a night near an
artillery battery (the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment,
2nd SBCT, 25th Infantry Division) firing illumination flares that
rattled the walls of my room.
The next morning I was placed in the hands of 1st Lieutenant Matt Ives,
who was taking his platoon from Taji back to Tarmiya—home of the 1st
Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team,
25th Infantry Division. There was a bit of excitement before I left
Taji however. While waiting to leave the dining area one afternoon,
word started trickling back that someone had—just minutes before—lobbed
two rockets at the base, and they landed about fifty meters away from
the DFAC near the PX. One round hit the trailer containing the beauty
salon, leaving a hole in the side of the structure, while the other
landed nearby. One soldier got a few scrapes, but other than that, no
one was seriously wounded. It was another example of how, even at the
big bases, the war is never far.
The ride from Taji to Tarmiya should take about thirty minutes, but
ended up taking almost two hours due to route-clearance issues. Along
one particularly dangerous stretch of road that was known for having
IEDs placed along the route, a few soldiers had to dismount from the
Strykers and walk the sides of the road, looking for the telltale
When the ramp finally dropped inside the base at Tarmiya, I found
myself in a very different place than when I got in the vehicle. Here,
as at other combat outposts, high concrete blast walls ring the base,
but unlike Courage and IBA, which are out in the countryside, Tarmiya
sits smack in the middle of the Sunni town of Tarmiya, which up until a
few months ago was being described as “a mini-Mogadishu…Al Qaeda has the run of the place. They just live there, in the houses, armed to the teeth…”
Buildings rise above the blast walls on three sides of the JSS, while
palm trees grace the fourth side. Like in all of Iraq, things are much
quieter in Tarmiya than they were just a few months ago, but it is
almost a different country than it was a year ago. Last February, two
American soldiers were killed and seventeen wounded when the base was
attacked by a multiple car bomb assault, followed by a ground assault
with small arms fire, which the Americans beat back. More grotesquely,
in May 2007, al Qaeda actually rigged
a newly-built girls school in the town with explosives—building
artillery shells into the ceiling and floors—but American forces
prevented tragedy when they discovered the plot before the school
Soldiers in Iraq Take Pride in Election but Are Uncertain About Future
By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page A01
KIRKUK, Iraq -- As he
walked through the mud surrounding his temporary barracks, 1st Sgt. Ken
Agueda carried an M-4 assault rifle without its essential lethal
components: bullets. Earlier in the day, Agueda had turned in his
ammunition -- cartridges, assorted grenades -- in preparation for his
journey home after nearly 13 months in Iraq.
"It's like walking around without your pants," said Agueda, a 17-year U.S. Army veteran from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
With their departure just days away, Agueda and his
unit, the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry
Division, were euphoric and reflective. In more than a dozen interviews
over three days this past week, soldiers with combat experience in all
corners of Iraq offered up a mixed final assessment of a conflict that
is burned into them forever. Its ultimate outcome, all agreed, remains
highly uncertain and far away.
Soldiers ranging from privates to senior officers
described last Sunday's national elections as vindication for over a
year of hard service. The unexpectedly strong turnout, they said,
altered their perception about the willingness of Iraqis to embrace the
American mission here and helped project a rare positive image of the
U.S. military following such stains as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse
scandal last year.
"This was the opposite of Abu Ghraib," Agueda said.
"I think it's safe to say that this is the biggest thing that anyone of
us has ever done. I mean, in our humble positions, we helped make
history. We did something that could have a positive effect on the
Spec. Andrew Field, 31, of Tallahassee, described the
elections as "the culminating event for our whole deployment. If it
hadn't gone well, it would have been incredibly demoralizing to
everyone. It gave meaning to everything we were doing."
But the soldiers were reluctant to say that the
elections were a turning point in the war. "Leaving with the elections
will definitely be a positive in our minds, but I don't know if I'm
optimistic or pessimistic," said Capt. John Hussey, 26, of Uvalde, Tex.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the entire country descends into chaos. But
I wouldn't be surprised if it flourishes, either."
Asked how long he thought U.S. troops would remain in
Iraq, Hussey said: "Probably 10 or 15 years, if we want to do it right.
I don't think there's going to be 135,000 Americans in Baghdad 10 years
from now, but there are going to be Americans in Iraq for a long, long
The unit, based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii,
arrived in Iraq more than a year ago. The battalion was deployed from
as far south as Najaf, where it twice battled the militia of Moqtada
Sadr, a rebellious Shiite cleric, to the northern city of Mosul, where
it helped provide security for the elections after it's one-year tour
The 700-member battalion handed out at least 550
Combat Infantryman Badges for participation in close combat. The unit
suffered no combat fatalities. It has been nominated for a Presidential
Unit Citation, which honors units that display "extraordinary heroism
in action against an armed enemy."
The battalion experienced everything from snow to
extreme heat; one day last summer, Sgt. 1st Class Greg Baker said his
portable thermometer showed the temperature to be 130 degrees. During a
17-day stretch in Najaf in April, each soldier lived in the open desert
and subsisted on one bottle of water and one MRE (Meal Ready to Eat)
per day. Spec. Kris Johnson, 22, of Chicago, joked that it was so cold
and wet in Mosul in the days before the elections that his fingers
froze around his M-4 and that fellow soldiers had to pull the trigger
The unit's final mission revealed much about the
rigors of soldiering in Iraq. After the elections, the battalion had to
return from Mosul to Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk. The
convoy consisted of nearly 100 vehicles, from Humvees to trailers, and
the journey was so complicated that commanders rehearsed it by chalking
out a colored floor map that spanned an entire room. The vehicles left
in stages and traveled with their headlights dark to avoid tipping off
insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades.
A Humvee carrying a reporter drifted off the road
several times Tuesday as the 22-year-old driver, his night-vision
goggles fogging, strained to find it in the rain and darkness. The trip
took six hours and, toward the end, the convoy became lost in downtown
Kirkuk, struggling to find its way back to the base.
"You can never really, totally relax
over here," said Capt. James Everett, 30, of Currituck, N.C., who was
also in the vehicle. "You have your downtime, but you're always on
The following day, the relief among the soldiers was
palpable. With nothing to do but pack and wait, they watched movies,
read, slept, smoked or wandered aimlessly on the base. The infantrymen
lived on bunk beds in an encampment called Tent City, a cluster of tan,
canvas tents packed with 20 soldiers each. Rain had turned the area
into a swamp. Hot showers were rare. No one seemed to care.
"Sir, how the hell are you?" a soldier yelled,
smiling and waving to Capt. Chris Loftis, of Honolulu, who speaks
fluent Arabic and served as the battalion's liaison to the Iraqi
"I'm great, sergeant," Loftis shouted back.
"I love you," yelled the soldier before disappearing into one of the camp's reeking portable bathrooms.
At the evening meeting for senior officers, the
unit's commander, Lt. Col. Dave Miller, asked the battalion medic, Maj.
Joel Meyer, for an update on his activities.
That afternoon, Meyer, who is normally a family
practitioner at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, had removed two
locks from a black box that he had carried for the past year. He
methodically took out the contents -- vials of morphine, dozens of
bottles of pharmaceutical-grade Demerol, a painkiller, and Ativan, an
anxiety-reducing medication -- and spent the next two hours destroying
them. Meyer dumped the pills into a toilet, where they dissolved. He
injected the morphine into the mud.
"Well, I disposed of tens of thousands of dollars
worth of controlled substances," Meyer reported. "I had three square
meals. I'm planning on turning in early."
All of the soldiers were taking reintegration
training to help cope with what senior officers predicted would be a
difficult transition, especially for those with families. "A year
deployment is not healthy for nobody," Agueda said. "Every single man
in this company has been through a crisis, I guarantee that. Right now,
it's going to take some time to repair, and that includes myself."
"We've all aged tremendously," Hussey said.
Each soldier seemed to carry a memory of his own
brush with mortality. Passing a filtered-tipped cigar among friends
outside his tent, Johnson, the specialist from Chicago, said his came
last October during a U.S. offensive 65 miles north of Baghdad. He was
outside an Iraqi police station occupied by U.S. forces in Samarra when
a rocket-propelled grenade came hurtling toward him.
"It was just a white streak, and it was screaming
your name -- Johnson! Johnson! Johnson! -- all the way down the
street," he said as his friends dissolved in laughter. The grenade hit
a tank about 15 yards away and pitched him to the ground, he said,
shaken but unharmed.
Baker said his defining memory came during the same
operation. "There was this family walking down the street, and, you
know, it's a war," he said, staring into space. "There's bodies tore in
half and stuff all over the place and this barefoot kid comes walking
up to me. He's holding his father's hand. I was just thinking, 'How
will this kid possibly get over this?' He had brains and pieces of guts
between his toes. I took out a piece of candy and I gave it to him, and
he started smiling like absolutely nothing was wrong."
"I just want to get home and see my girls," he said.
Capt. Chris Duncan, 28, a Johns Hopkins University
graduate from Kingsland, Ark., said he staunchly supported the war. But
when he heard a soldier had been killed, or saw one of his friends
wounded, he occasionally found himself asking, "What was it for?"
On election day, Duncan said, he stood near a
precinct and watched Iraqis stream to the polls. "First you had one,
then two, then 50," he said. "Then the line was around the polling
site. And this was in a neighborhood where people really had a reason
to dislike us -- former Baath Party members, former military regime
Duncan, who has spent 20 months in Iraq over the past three years, said the image solidified his resolve.
Iraq -- Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division
(Stryker Brigade Combat Team), detained forty-two people during
operations in northern Iraq on Jan. 22.
Soldiers of 3rd
Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, detained forty-one people suspected
of anti-Iraqi activity while conducting cordon and search operations
north of Mosul. Suspects are in custody with no MNF injuries reported.
of 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, detained an individual
suspected of anti-Iraqi activity in eastern Mosul. Suspect is in
custody with no MNF injuries reported.
Military officials have
said the Mosul area is becoming safer with each seizure and removal of
dangerous weapons and detention of anti-Iraqi insurgents. Since Jan. 5,
Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Forces have detained 249
people and confiscated numerous weapons and munitions.
'Better than it was yesterday' Still,
officers expressed optimism that their operation was having an effect
and that voting would take place in Mosul. Asked about a Jan. 5
assessment by the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq that Ninevah,
where Mosul is located, was one of four Iraqi provinces where it was
still too dangerous to guarantee voter security, Ham said: "The
security situation is better than it was yesterday. It's far better
than it was 10 days ago, and certainly it's a world of difference than
it was in the middle of November. But there's still a very capable and
very dangerous enemy out there."
military's deployment of the 1-14, a light infantry battalion known as
the "Golden Dragons," illustrates how far U.S. commanders are going to
ensure peaceful elections and how their decisions affect the lives of
Since its arrival last
January, the battalion has operated in nearly every hot spot in Iraq.
It has been sent twice to Mosul and Najaf, as well as to Tall Afar and
to Samarra, where it participated in an offensive to retake the city.
Soldiers joked that 1-14 stood for "one place, 14 days."
Golden Dragons entered Iraq in open-air Humvees and literally walked
into some of the most perilous corners of the war. Although some have
questioned whether troops in Iraq were given adequate armor, Capt. Jim
Pangelinan, the 30-year-old commander of the Dragons' Alpha Company,
called the debate "laughable." He said the battalion's
boots-on-the-ground approach gave soldiers more flexibility and the
opportunity to interact directly with Iraqi civilians.
"You can't shake a guy's hand from a tank," said Pangelinan, a West Point graduate from Olney, Md.
'Our road home leads through Mosul' Slogging
through the frigid Iraqi winter in Kirkuk last month, members of the
unit were daydreaming of their impending return to Hawaii when they
received orders extending their mission by 90 days because of the
Pangelinan, whose company is
nicknamed "Reapers," jotted some notes and gathered his men to deliver
the bad news. His task was to inform them that instead of going home to
Oahu they had been ordered to a cold, restive city where, on Dec. 21, a
man who was apparently dressed as an Iraqi soldier walked into a chow
hall at a U.S. military base and detonated a bomb, killing 22 people.
"Our road home leads through Mosul," Pangelinan told the soldiers.
braced himself for the reaction. After he asked some sober questions
about the mission, his men playfully attacked him, dousing him with
water and then piling on top of him.
Drenched and laughing, he felt relieved. "That's when I knew it was okay," he said.
Saturday, 42 members of the unit gathered in a vacant lot inside
Forward Operating Base Patriot and then, in a spectacle rarely seen in
Iraq, marched straight out the front gate into the mean streets of
"I'd rather be out here, surrounded
by my friends, than riding around in a vehicle that can blow up," said
Agueda, 36, the company's senior noncommissioned officer.
platoon followed Agueda over the bridge, through a park, to an
abandoned amusement park. There the soldiers fanned out near a roller
coaster frozen in time and kiddie cars decorated with smiling faces.
"Hey there's a tracer round coming from that octopus," someone joked.
Then they walked back to their base.
wife told my son that I'm out saving the world," said Sgt. Ira Pula,
30, a hulking Samoan, whose son is 5. "Now he asks me, 'Are you almost
finished saving the world?' I tell him, 'Yeah, I'm almost done.' ''