Friday, December 30, 2005

Hard Work

Word has it a thousand Sunnis protested in Kirkuk this week that the election results were wrong. Until 20,000 Kurds showed up in a counter protest. Suddenly, the Sunnis all determined it was time to go home. After being in power for so long, I guess they just can’t seem to realize that they are a minority party here and in a democracy, that means you just don’t run the place any more. But the mere fact that is was largely peaceful is a great testimony to the work accomplished here.

This is not lost on some Americans, little ones in this case, that sent these letters. Proof positive are these three soldiers who came in for a new gunner’s protection kit. They didn’t last very long before dozing off….

With something of a government in place, power grid growing and business taking off here especially in the North, and the Iraqis are preparing to run a part of this base. It’s hard to believe how fast some things seem to be moving now.
letter Posted by Picasa
drawing Posted by Picasa
best wishes Posted by Picasa
'plumb wore out' Posted by Picasa

They came in for armor. While waiting, it seems fatigue overcame them...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas at the K.R.A.B 2005

The Christmas Spirit permeated the Kirkuk Regional Air Base here in Iraq. Santa could be seen bailing into a hanger, red hats with white fringes, roasted pigs, spicy elves, and more all present and accounted for. The Dining Facility particularly was all decked out and the soldiers were shown a good time. Here are just a few visual aids…
Santa repels into the base Posted by Picasa
Christmas Spirit Posted by Picasa
a local citizen shows Christmas spirit Posted by Picasa
all kinds of soldiers Posted by Picasa

Here is an unusual sight; a married couple, deployed and living together on the same base enjoying a Christmas meal.
Eggnog stand at the Dining Facility (DFAC) Posted by Picasa
a serious Yours Truly--Christmas dinner with the soldiers Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas from Iraq

What a great and terrible year. Great and monumental strides have been made for peace and freedom on earth and goodwill towards men. Although there is a long way to go, the momentum seems to be in the right direction. This is Christmas, the time to honor the advent of the birth of the Prince of Peace, in paradox also called himself the "God of War," for He pitted himself against the Evil One from the very beginning to do the will of the Father, which is the way of everlasting peace.

I believe we have done well to follow suit. Evil is real. Many of you, my friends, have fought back by showing myself and the soldiers here true examples of love, hope, and passion in support of lofty goals. Paul said, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Our Christian nation has prayed for and supported those that press themselves against the dragon's teeth here in Iraq and other places. But this is not all. Children, Grandmothers, souls of all kinds and colors continue to send care packages, gifts for Iraqi children, Kevlar (bulletproof) blankets, air-conditioners, and everything imaginable that might help.

I know this has made a difference. I know prayers are being answered by miracles and a miraculous change in the hearts of many Iraqis. I want to thank all of you who have not only sent kind greetings this Christmas, but all year long. I am very grateful for your kind words and messages of support, they have helped sustain me and lifted my soul. I feel the love which is perhaps at the very foundation of the meaning of Christmas. God bless you all and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

damage Posted by Picasa

Miracle for Christmas

This Humvee came into the shop all shot up. Another victim of IEDs. All the soldiers got away, though. How many times have I heard, “it barely missed me”? A few of course, are not so fortunate, but as I conversed with the driver, he too, though not a devout believer, admitted he knew that higher forces are often at work here. I hear that all the time. I know it’s true.

It went down like this: The final return from evening operations on election day; the unarmored truck of Iraq Army soldiers hit an IED. The Americans behind them loaded the wounded soldiers into the back of their up-armored humvee and pulled a u-turn and boom! The clever bad guys had placed another IED on the other side of the road. The American soldiers were lightly wounded but probably more shocked as much as anything else.

Looking at the passenger door, 3 larger pieces of shrapnel almost penetrated, three more did. Large enough to kill. One was stopped by the door handle. One passed harmlessly in front of his knees, barely. One went right through at thigh level, where it stuck more than an inch deep into his…pocket operation’s manual. The Iraqi soldiers, though in a less-armored vehicle, were also fortunate not to have suffered more.

But more there is! The soldiers following this group quickly jumped out and rounded up some guys lurking in the area. They were tested for explosive residue. One was found red-handed, you could say, and the rest were released. After questioning by the Iraqi police, he spilled his guts (blabbed) and the rest of his crew were rounded up. Uh-huh! That’s what I like to hear.

And that is why things get quieter and quieter here in Iraq. Determined Iraqis, determined Americans, and a generous out-pouring of miracles, if you ask me!
Ziggy grinds. New door standing by. Posted by Picasa
hmmmm, just checking this out... Posted by Picasa
Good as old--after replacement of damaged parts. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 18, 2005

An Iraq Christmas Posted by Picasa

A little red paint, a few magic markers, a caring foreman's wife sending some Christmas stockings, and, well, even mechanics can get into the spirit of the season.
mommy, how come Santa smells like oil? Posted by Picasa

making a list(red pair of overalls and mophead optional)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Mark's Answer

Every once in a while I get a wild hair and proffer my opinion, for what it’s worth. Based on what I have seen and what I have learned, this time it is called...“Mark's Answer”

I know, some of you are skeptical. “Ernie, it can't really be going very well,” or
“Ernie, you know America does its own propaganda.”

Well, two things. First, that is exactly who I would want to be doing the “propaganda.” We are the good guys, despite the opinion of extreme voices.

Secondly, I continually look at this from an historical perspective. You don't think the Germans hated us after their defeat in WWII? Wanted us out of their country? SO WHAT??? We still trained them to be a good and industrious little democracy anyway AND IT WORKED. Now they beg us not to leave.

So I recommend you tear yourselves away from the perspective of the moment. In the history of war, I think the rate of progress is nothing short of phenomenal. So who cares if even a preponderance of Iraqis dislike us? Is this supposed to be a popularity contest?

What if a cancer in a late stage was cut out of a patient. Wouldn't the patient look worse than before the doctor started? Couldn't the patient stare at the doctor and scream at the pain and scars the doctor caused him? And that the doctor probably destroyed some healthy cells along with the bad ones?

I think the Iraqi people are worth it. They have been ravaged by the cancer of dictatorship for so long, yet they are responding in a most strong and responsible manner. I am confident even more of them will someday appreciate the doctor, and if more don't: I am simply grateful they are in a better place.

We, the U.S. ourselves, were born of adversity. And we did not start, but we did end, two World Wars. We are up to this. And the Iraqis are definitely into liberty!
See these recent stories about the election:
Fun in Iraq
Democracy in Iraq equals victory
How the Vote Went

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The sun sets on another Iraqi election Posted by Picasa

Another (Relatively) Quiet Election

I was talking to a friend under the evening sky here in Iraq when all of a sudden, it was like being in Star Wars. Red bolts began crisscrossing the sky and turned into a barrage. We both stopped and stared. Then we looked at each other as if deciding to run or not. We heard massive amounts of gunfire and decided that the red electric-looking bolts were tracer rounds. It erupted from all parts of Kirkuk at once, it seemed.

No alarms went off, but some of those rounds were definitely coming over the base, and for every tracer that goes up there are five bullets you don’t see, and all going to come down somewhere! Well, that was quite a thrill because it really seemed quite a combat-like commotion. What could be the cause of this craziness?

Turns out….it wasn’t the elections 4 days from then. It wasn’t a battle. It wasn’t political factions vying for control. It was…Iraq had beaten Iran in a soccer game! But I’d never seen anything like that over here before.

Election day? Pretty Quiet. But I’ll tell you something: These people love their freedom. They love to vote, especially women are enjoying their new rights. This one Iraqi voter got on the news and made a bold statement in her choppy English, something a woman could never dare do here before. She said these interesting words, almost as if she followed the news in America;

Anybody who doesn't appreciate what America has done and the President Bush, let them go to hell.” BETTY DAWISHA

Her words, not mine!

It’s kind of funny, actually, but as it has been said by one commentator, noting the appreciation of Iraqis, “This is Bush country!” The Kurds, who are the “majority minority” in this country, have even been running “Thank You America” ads on TV. I can’t believe what a difference a year here has made.

Yeah, it’s getting a little too quiet here for an adventure-seeking guy like myself. I was thinking of moving to a more dangerous place, maybe some place like….Washington D.C.?

Just kidding! But what I see here seems so different than what I hear on the news. I thought you might enjoy some tidbits from another side of the story.
what the...? Posted by Picasa
abandoned building on base Posted by Picasa

Sundays I take a walk around the base and meditate. I found this burned out building in an out of the way place. Found a bunch of writing on the walls (yes, there is a arrow through a heart in the middle) and these "adult beverage" types of bottles(see next picture) rotting away with some high caliber (spent) shells laying on the ground in piles. And you wonder; what went on here in the past? Would Saddam approve of this drinking?
Muslim Brewski? Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Prophets and Soldiers

It has been noted by author Stephen Mannsfield that the deepest yearning of the American soldier both in this war and wars past has been to know if their cause is just, or in other words, how they stand before God in their duty as soldiers. In past wars the Chaplains were allowed to follow the soldiers into battle, encourage them and, if so moved, confirm that their battles were just and approved of by God.

In our more recent wars, politics or cultural correctness has removed the Chaplain both from accompanying the soldiers into clashes and also from offering any consoling phrases as to whether their cause is just before God. This has left a serious gap the soldier is left to fill through his own spiritual determination or self-formed groups. Fortunately for those soldiers of the LDS faith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), the leaders of their church have come out with a DvD for both the soldier and their families addressing this very concern called “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” made specifically with the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq in mind.

There is an introduction by Elder Boyd K. Packer, experiences, counsel, and wisdom from two General Authorities; Elders Robert Oaks and Lance Wickman, both of the 70 and both of whom served in Vietnam, and some final words by President Gordon B. Hinckley. I’ve decided to post some key quotes here to extend the influence of the powerful, comforting, and guiding testimonies available on the DvD. This will be an uncommonly lengthy post for me, but I think you will find it worth it.

Boyd K. Packer:
Boyd K Packer started out by promising soldiers “Great blessings come to those who serve and their families.” Referring to scriptural Book of Mormon soldiers he said, “They were not fighting for monarchy nor for power, but for their homes, liberties, and their wives and children, and their rights of worship and their church, just as you are.” He said further that we honor our countries by responding to our leaders in times of great difficulty.

Concerning a soldier’s career, Elder Packer said “It is a difficult life but it is a good life and there is a power of inspiration that goes with it.” Concluding “Many nations of the earth, particularly Asia, have been opened to missionary work by the service men and women who went there.”

Elder Robert C. Oaks:
Opens his remarks in answer to a soldier in the war on terror who asked him, “Elder Oaks, how do I stand with God?”
The War in Heaven, he says, was fought over agency or freedom. So was the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, 2 World Wars as well as Vietnam and the Gulf War. Noting the difference in tactics in this war, he says, “The enemy is filled with an irrational and passionate hatred for American and other freedom-loving troops there to free them from a tyrannical government, but the enemy is very difficult to identify.” This war against terrorism “like all other wars we have mentioned, it is being fought for freedom, and that alone makes it worth fighting for.”

Elder Oaks then shares two video clips from President Hinckley in April 2003 General Conference:

President Hinckley: “This places us in a position of those that long for peace, teach peace, who work for peace, but….we are a freedom loving people committed to the defense of liberty wherever it is in jeopardy. I believe God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do.” Furthermore,

We know that you are not in that land of blowing sand and brutal heat because you enjoy the games of war. The strength of your commitment is measured by your willingness to give your very lives for that in which you believe

Elder Oaks finishes his own words by saying, “The military is a noble profession. We recognize that freedom is not free. There is always someone who is striving to enslave the uncommitted. We cannot always leave the difficult work of defense to someone else. The military needs and deserves courageous men and women of noble character.”

Elder Robert D Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve is then quoted in a video clip from a speech at the United States Air Force Academy:
You are the defenders of the Constitution, defenders of freedom….because of you and others like you, who are willing to spend part of your life to defend freedoms around the world, the world will be a better place.”

Lance B. Wickman of the Quorum of the Seventy:

There is a soldier’s peace, even the Peace of God” but, he reminds them, it can be very difficult to obtain. “Be grateful if you are repelled by what you have seen in the combat zone. Revulsion is how righteous and spiritually sensitive people react to the horrors of warfare.” (See Alma 48:11)

Referring to Mormon and Moroni, Wickman said “They were soldiers because they had to be, because their people needed them, because it was the right thing to do. Is that not also the case with you , my beloved friends?”

And he warned, “Do not allow yourselves to get caught up in the politics that swirl around almost every war as you strive to measure the worth of the great sacrifice that you and your loved ones are called upon to make. Do not despair because there are some who question the rightness of the cause in which you are enlisted to fight and for which you may sacrifice so much. Most wars are controversial with their countrymen.”

Finally Elder Wickman closes his words with this: “Who can say what will come from the venture in Iraq as it relates to the work of the Lord?" Noting that “One thing we can say for sure at this time; the Lord will find a way eventually to turn the course of political events to His purposes.”

President Hinckley closes with more words of wisdom and counsel and mentions a talk he gave called “The Silver Thread in the Dark Tapestry of War” noting also that the strong example of LDS servicemen helps greatly strengthen conversion to the gospel in foreign lands.

I highly recommend obtaining a copy or a careful consideration of the words of these great and inspired men. In a time of doubt, evil, and misinformation, their clarion voices are welcome and needed. I know it fortified and confirmed my feelings from direct experience with these great souls that are the American soldiers here in Iraq. God bless cause of liberty and those involved in it!

Cradle of Freedom

I know many of you as friends and family may be wondering, "Yeah, Ernie, but what about you? How are you doing?" You know what? I'm doing great. I'm just don't have that much exciting going on for me. Where I am and what's going on here is what's exciting.

I will tell you this. I'm excited to be here. I have a very rewarding job. I am in a very exciting place. I am surrounded by extraordianary circumstances. I am surrounded, yes, by some extroadrinary people, but more so, ordinary people who are doing their duty in extraordinary circumstances.

But do you realize that this base I'm on, this little 2 miles by 2 miles square area, is one of the driving engines in the rebirth of a formerly violent nation? Here now, the violence barely rivals that of common criminals and car accidents in some of America's larger cities. Not to mention about 1000 Americans died in one hurricane Katrina in a week, more than during a year in Iraq, just to put things in perspective.

But from this little area in Kirkuk, the fabric of freedom is being sown, as it is from other small areas. Iraq is going through swome major heart surgery. Just as in Germany, Japan, South Vietnam, and everywhere else that the US has gone to change a murderous regime into a productive country of democracy and freedom.

Do you realize this? And so I am here with my eyes and mind wide open. What are the ingredients, the methods, the early signs, the latter signs? What is it about the people that changes, what is it about the leadership that guides it, what is it about the Americans and the people they interact with that brings about these miracles? And I am soaking it in, and trying to pass the experience on. Be sure I'll drop a few tidbits about myself, how can I help it?

Or you can check back into the first year archives. But to me it's about other things and other people...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

sunset behind oil refinery Posted by Picasa

Contractor Ron

Ron was a privately contracted pilot for a long time, and also became expertly proficient in certain airliner jets. More recently he was hired by Shri Lanka in a consultant capacity to get some of their commercial planes certified and off the ground and has done related work in such places as Africa and Japan. He literally could live a life of luxury practically anywhere in the world. His choice? To fly a little gray airplane using high-tech equipment to spot IEDs (road bombs) on convoy routes. How long does he want to stay? Until the war is won, he says, or for as long as they need him. He wants to save lives.

What a remarkable man, and my friend. Two weeks ago he prayed in our meetings for opportunities to share the restored gospel with others. Last Sunday a young man showed up in Church and accepted the offer to learn more. I came along, but Ron seems amazingly inspired to testify and challenge this great guy to discover the miracles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wonder, what draws not only the greatest evils to the battle's front, but also the Pat Tillmans, the Rons, and other duty-bound volunteers to the cutting edge of war? What drives them to leave family and comfort for this? What do you think?

To me, it is clear. The most valiant forces, for good or for evil, are drawn to the most important battles.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Great (Group) Leader

There has been some increased turmoil in Kirkuk lately, such that a sergeant once here with the departed Snake River group exclaimed to me in an email something to the effect of, “What the heck happened after we left???” The locals seem to be having a slight allergic reaction to the change of the guard here.

The last time the 101st came to Iraq, they came in battle-ready poise. I think they will need some adjusting to the more friendly demeanor needed for the rebuilding and “winning of the peace” mode, if you will. A demeanor that seemed more natural to the Idaho National Guardsmen that were here.

Then there is our congregation group leader. A Samoan, he greets us in a fashion similar to the Hawaiians at church, saying instead, “Ta-looooo-FA! We respond with the same. I see him around base and due to his rank he commands a lot of respect. But my respect comes from a different quarter…he works outside the wire shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi guard…

…my respect swelled for our great LDS compatriot when I heard about his visiting one of his wounded Iraqi Guardsmen at the hospital to see how he was doing and encourage him. The Iraqi, through an interpreter, reacted with astonishment and gratitude for the visit by this ranking American officer.

He has noted repeated expressions of gratitude from Iraqis often in the short time he has been here. In turn, this hearty Samoan encouraged the wounded Iraqi to maintain diligence in his own people‘s destiny, saying, “Your country needs you.” (since there is no contract for the Iraqi Guard, a soldier can join or quit at any time).

I think these are the small things that can and do make a great difference here, and anywhere. And this bond between mentors and learners of liberty that holds this place together. That’s where I think greatness lies. I will share more greatness soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving is the Bomb!

A small explosion ripped a hole in the wall of the hooch (living quarters) next to mine. The force blew a free-standing closet off the wall and with a crash it broke open across the bottom of the bed the tenant was sleeping in. But it wasn’t an enemy attack, just a PVC hot-water pipe blowing due to an over-active water heater. I know, because the same thing happened in my hooch 2 days later, flooding my floor. Fortunately I was at work and missed the terror of the experience my neighbor had!

I’m glad that, surrounded by a relatively small American force, the most excitement I’ve had this year is from a locally purchased water-heater. That is just the beginning of my gratitude. Thanksgiving is a holiday remembering the mercies of the Lord (so it will probably be outlawed in America, Land of the Free, soon), not in removing all of America's challenges, but ensuring that we rise above them and prosper still.

In America we put on an angry face to the public, but I am grateful that America is really full of goodness. I think Americans recognize that we are perhaps blessed more than any in the world. With liberty, prosperity, and safety, to name a few things. And because Americans recognize this gift is from God, they give back. How? By serving their fellow man.

Immediately in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the affected areas were hit with a flood; a flood of volunteers, flowing in from all over America. People took off time from work to go help. In addition, companies like Walmart shipped in free supplies by the truckload and a cruise ship company offered rooms to stay in at its expense.

When the Tsunami hit those poorer countries, an American warship was the first to show up with tons and tons of water, food, and blankets while the UN was still meeting for an additional week, deciding what to do. When terrorism strikes at many countries the world over, America is the one spearheading the reaction, with a volunteer force, no less! Americans are generous, industrious, creative, courageous, and protective. For this, I am proud and grateful. For your thoughts, prayers, and love, I am also grateful. And I am most grateful to God for all of this, and opening my eyes to it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Conclusion to (my) Veterans Week

Well, I think you get the picture. But in case you didn’t, here are 5 more. The cartoon near the end sums up the nature of our service folks that we send out to do the cruel bidding of war. I hope you have a renewed appreciation for those who sacrifice for freedom.

I know it is now politically popular to magnify the inevitable tragedies of war, but to insinuate that they are representative of our actions and goals is perhaps the biggest injustice of all. Suitably, these heroes join a long line of those who are censured for doing the right thing. Indeed, opposition seems to be a hallmark of good doing. But it is a testament to the excellence of the American soldier, that when one does screw up, it’s (world wide) news!

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."
-John F. Kennedy (JFK)

May it ever be so. Rush Limbaugh noted that America, in its short history, has sent more of its citizens to free people of the world than any other country in history. JFK seems to agree:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it.
John F. Kennedy

When war is inevitable, who is more honorable, reliable, or more capable, than the American soldier? Thank you Veterans, from the bottom of our hearts. May God bless you and may God bless America.
airlift, Hawaii Posted by Picasa
prayer Posted by Picasa