Grandma, 41, among Army’s older recruits

By: Grey Eagle | 19 Aug 06

Margie Black had wanted to enter the military as a teenager, but having her first child at 19 put off her ambitions. So when she learned the Army raised its enlistment age, Black, now a 41-year-old grandmother from West Columbia, Texas, didn’t hesitate to join. The decision took “about 30 seconds,” she said.

On Friday, Pvt. Black worked on her marksmanship skills here, while her 21-year-old daughter was at Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” Black said. “If I do that, I can handle it.”

Older soldiers like her are showing up more often at Army training bases across the country since Congress gave the service approval earlier this year to raise its enlistee age limit, which had been 35, to just under 42 years.

“We’re finding there’s a lot of people out there that wanted to join, and age was their only disqualifier,” said Leslie Ann Sully, a spokeswoman for the Army’s local recruiting battalion near Fort Jackson.

“Lots of people (over 35) are fit and are living longer, and they figure they can do this,” Sully said.

The change came as the Army fell well short of its recruiting goals last year. It needs to bring in 80,000 recruits this year and is pushing a package of higher enlistment bonuses and pay levels for certain jobs, as well as financial incentives for former soldiers to re-enlist.

The limit to enter the part-time Army Reserve was raised to 40 in March 2005 and the Army raised it to 40 for active duty in January. Then, both organizations raised it to 42 in June.

The Army has taken in 405 men and women in the active duty and 711 in the Reserves who were 35 or older as of Aug. 4, according to Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

In interviews, most of the older soldiers training at Fort Jackson said they were fulfilling ambitions put aside years ago.

“It has always been a dream of mine to be in the military and now I am fulfilling that dream,” Black said.

As she took a break from learning how to handle her M-16 rifle, the former corrections officer said her major challenge in the first three weeks of training was climbing and rappelling the 50-foot “Victory Tower.”

Black is afraid of heights.

“I cried all the way up and all the way down, but my drill sergeant talked to me the whole time and got me through it,” she said with a smile.

On the parade grounds here, about 5,000 family and friends gathered Friday to applaud the 1,800 soldiers who graduated from basic training.

Russell Dilling, 42, of San Antonio, and his 19-year-old son, Robert, had tears in their eyes as they hugged afterward. The younger Dilling graduated from basic training.

Russell Dilling is scheduled to finish Oct. 6 and is hoping his knees hold out. He wants to become a small arms repairman.

“When he graduates, I am sure I will be as proud of him as he is of me today,” said Robert Dilling, who wants to train as a combat medic.

Russell Dilling said he got to Fort Jackson at 11 p.m. earlier this summer — one hour before his 42nd birthday and the Army’s new deadline. “It’s been tough physically, but my company has been pretty supportive,” he said.

Dilling’s drill sergeant, Steven Proffitt, called the father “a real leader. He shows these kids how to do it.”

Pfc. Kimberly Brown, 37, couldn’t resist cupping her 18-year-old son Derek Noe’s face in jubilation after they’d both been released from graduation formation.

With five children to support, the work in the Army is welcome, she said. Her husband Robert, a retired Army first sergeant, supported her, she said.

Noe is returning to finish his senior year in high school in Boone, N.C., while his mother goes to Fort Eustis, Va., to enter helicopter mechanic training.

“They called me ‘Mama’s boy,’ but I knew they were just messing with me,” Noe said of others in his unit. “It never got to me. I’m proud of what she’s doing.”

By SUSANNE M. SCHAFER,
Associated Press Writer


Ft. Campbell soldiers return from Iraq

By: Grey Eagle | 13 Aug 06

Nearly 450 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division returned home from Iraq on Friday and more flights into Fort Campbell are expected soon, base officials said.

The new arrivals bring the total number who have returned since the first homeward-bound flights in early July to about 1,000. Up to four flights, each of about 200 soldiers, are expected next week at the sprawling Army base that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.

“We’re getting to the point where the main body of the units are prepared to come in,” said Fort Campbell spokeswoman Cathy Gramling. “Every time we welcome soldiers home, it’s important and it’s a great time to be at Fort Campbell.”

Most of the nearly 20,000 soldiers in the division should be back from Iraq by the end of November, Gramling said.

Vickie Kane and her husband traveled from Arkansas to greet their son, 23-year-old Spc. Adam Kane, on Friday. They were joined by their three other children and daughter-in-law, Amanda Kane.

“Of course we’re proud. They’ve served so honorably. We’re relieved. It’s been a long year for everybody. We know it’s been hard for them to be away from home,” Vickie Kane said.

The family drove in a van and a truck that had painted on the side in bold red, white and blue letters: “We Love You Adam” and “We Love 101st Airborne.”

The 101st Airborne is finishing up its second yearlong deployment to Iraq. The first came at the start of the war in 2003, then troops returned for about a year before the second deployment in October.

Fort Campbell has had 166 soldiers die in the Iraq war since 2003. More than 150 of those were from the 101st Airborne.

By ROSE FRENCH,
Associated Press Writer


Hospital treats most U.S. troops in Iraq

By: Grey Eagle | 13 Aug 06

Maj. Stephen Barnes has three things he tells every injured American trooper who comes through the doors of the busy military hospital where he works.

“First thing I ask them is where they’re from. Second thing I tell them is that we’re going to take good care of them. Third thing I ask them is where it hurts,” Barnes said as he supervised treatment of a stream of 18 patients who arrived during a recent shift that ended after midnight.

Barnes is part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group that runs the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad air base, the largest military hospital in Iraq. It receives an average of 330 trauma cases a month — almost all the U.S. troops who are wounded in fighting around the country.

The massive tents that compromise the hospital resemble a rabbit warren with its tunnel-like hallways. The complex houses everything from operating rooms to intensive care units — even a CAT scan machine.

Often the doctors and nurses don’t even have to hear the loudspeaker announcement calling them to the emergency room to know that another patient has arrived. The whump-whump of a helicopter’s rotors usually signals the arrival of someone with serious — often life-threatening — wounds.

On this August night, patients run the gamut from a contractor whose foot was crushed by a concrete barrier to an American soldier with a chunk of his elbow missing after surviving a bomb attack in Ramadi that killed his friend.

Patients even included a suspected insurgent who was shot by American troops while trying to plant a bomb.

For Barnes, who already has extensive experience working at University Hospital, Cincinnati, the improvised explosive devices — _ the insurgents’ main tool of warfare — have provided a whole new education in the destruction that can be wrought on the human body.

“I do this every day in Cincinnati, but they’re single — sometimes multiple — low-velocity gunshot wounds,” said Barnes, 37, originally from Auburn, Ala. ‘The IED with the combination of multiple high-velocity penetrating injuries, multiple system injuries, the blunt trauma associated with vehicles crashing and the blast injury develops a whole different kind of patient.”

The goal with American patients is to get them into the hospital and on their way to a more sophisticated American military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany and then often on to the United States. According to Col. George Costanzo, who runs the hospital, American patients who are alive on arrival — even just barely — have a 97 percent chance of recovering and making it on to the next stage of care.

During the Vietnam War, it could take as long as 45 days for patients to make it back to the United States for treatment, Barnes said.

“You literally had to be able to walk on the airplane to get home,” he said.

Now military doctors try to move patients out within hours of being brought to the hospital, often using what’s called a Critical Care Air Transport Team which can treat the most precarious patients while in flight.

But a large number of the patients don’t leave, and those are mainly Iraqis. According to Costanzo, about 40 percent of the patients are Iraqi, including civilians, military, police and insurgents.

A year ago, 80 percent of the patients were Americans and only 20 percent were Iraqi.

While the Americans tend to be in and out quickly, it is the Iraqis who linger in the hospital for days with whom the staff sometimes becomes attached. Barnes describes one Iraqi civilian who lost his eyes and most of his face in a bombing.

“He’ll break your heart. A young kid that has nothing. It’s just all gone,” Barnes said.

Barnes said there is a sense of urgency to get American servicemen and women treated as quickly as possible so they can make it to Germany and possibly be reunited with loved ones if their prognosis is not good.

But everyone — American, Iraqi, even an insurgent — gets the same treatment.

A sign in the corner bears a quote adapted from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive … to care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

On this evening, Barnes operates on one man who was shot in the legs and skull by American forces who found him trying to plant a bomb.

“You saw us tonight spend 5 1/2 hours operating on someone who was caught setting an IED. He got the same level of care that anyone would have got,” said Barnes. “They bring them through the door, and we’ll fix them.”

Barnes, who has three daughters and a pregnant wife, pushed for this assignment, saying that with the types of cases he sees here, it was good for his professional development. But personally, he also wanted to be here.

“I wish we didn’t have to be here and do this, but if it’s going to happen and people are going to get injured, I want to be here and take care of them,” Barnes said, before walking to see who the next helicopter brought in.

By REBECCA SANTANA,
Associated Press Writer


Embattled Airborne Division heads home

By: Grey Eagle | 23 Jul 06

The return of the 101st Airborne Division from Iraq can’t come soon enough for friends, family and neighbors shocked by Internet images of two tortured soldiers and stung by murder charges against nine others.

“We’re a military family here,” said Mike Studtman, a maintenance supervisor at Governor’s Square Mall in Clarksville, adjacent to the post that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line. “I’m glad they’re coming home.”

An advance group of 50 soldiers, known as a “torch party,” already has returned to prepare the 105,000-acre base for the rest of the “Screaming Eagles.” The Army has not said when the main wave of 20,000 soldiers was expected, but torch parties generally return several weeks in advance of the main redeployment.

Since October, 89 soldiers from the 101st have been killed in Iraq. An al-Qaida-linked group posted a Web video that purported to show the mutilated bodies of two, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, claiming it killed them in revenge for the alleged rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and her family.

Five soldiers from the 101st’s 2nd Brigade south of Baghdad face charges in the case. Another soldier is charged with failing to report it.

“That’s just an excuse,” said Josh Wilson, 27, an auto mechanic who weathered three tours as a soldier in Iraq. Insurgents, he said, would have targeted U.S. soldiers regardless of charges against other servicemen.

“It’s sad that our troops over there are dying, but we shouldn’t quit what we’ve started,” said Wilson, who lives in Clarksville.

Four other soldiers with the division’s 3rd Brigade in Tikrit face murder charges in the deaths of Iraqi detainees near Samarra.

At a recent remembrance ceremony, base chaplain Col. Ronald Crews said charges against the soldiers won’t “deter us from the mission that 20,000 soldiers are doing, and doing well.

“I think this community is 100 percent behind our soldiers, and not going to let the alleged actions of a few mar what they know the history of the 101st Airborne Division has been, and is today,” he said.

Daniel Fulton, a 52-year-old Vietnam veteran who co-owns the auto shop where Wilson works, is convinced that the United States should not remain in Iraq. He drew parallels to atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Vietnam, such as the 1968 My Lai massacre.

“I’m not defending them,” he said of the soldiers charged in the rape-slaying case. “But unless you’ve been there, you have no idea how it is. You’re scared to death.”

Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were abducted June 16 from a checkpoint south of Baghdad. A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the attack.

Melody Tucker, 28, learned after the deaths that Thomas Tucker was a distant cousin of her husband, Sgt. Robert Tucker, who is also deployed in Iraq.

“I cry about every soldier killed,” she said. “This just brought it home a little more.”

Melody Tucker is eagerly awaiting the return of her husband, hoping it will be sometime in September — the same month he went over last year.

“Every life lost is a tragedy,” she said. “But the way these two gentlemen died, I don’t even know how to express how I feel about it.”

By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer


US military vows to punish killers of two abducted soldiers

By: Grey Eagle | 29 Jun 06


by Sam Dagher, Associated Press Writer

The US military vowed to punish insurgents who abducted and brutally killed two soldiers more than a week ago describing the area south of Baghdad as a theater for brutal guerilla warfare.

“We reaffirm our commitment to tracking down those responsible for their brutal slayings and bring them to justice,” said Major General JD Thurman of the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division.

“We will be relentless in pursuing the perpetrators.”

Thurman, who commands the US-led coalition force of some 30,000 soldiers responsible for Baghdad and areas to the south, including Babil, Karbala and Najaf provinces, said a formal probe had been initiated into the killings.

The “severely traumatized” bodies of the two soldiers, Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Thomas Tucker, 25, had been discovered on June 19 near a canal in the insurgent-stronghold of Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad. They had been abducted three days before by insurgents who attacked an observation post they had been manning.

A third soldier was killed in the attack, claimed in by the Mujahedeen Shura (consultative) Council, a coalition of militant insurgent groups led by Al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch.

A visibly emotional Thurman reconstructed the abduction, the massive hunt that ensued and the eventual recovery of the bodies in what was one of the two only confirmed instances of US soldiers being kidnapped by insurgents since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003.

Sergeant Keith “Matt” Maupin, remains listed as missing in action after he was captured on April 9, 2004 in an ambush by rebels west of Baghdad.

Thurman said that immediately after the soldiers went missing hundreds of US soldiers from battalions stationed nearby were dispatched to the area to seal off all of the main access roads on both sides of the Euphrates river.

Eventually a force of about 8,000 US and Iraqi soldiers along with a diving team and helicopters scoured the villages and palm groves as part of “Operation Fallen Eagle” in search of the soldiers. They conducted several raids and air attacks and detained 76 people, of whom 36 remain in US custody.

Thurman said evidence pertaining to the soldiers was found on a road leading to an unfinished power plant in the area.

“The company operating in the vicinity of the power plant reported the discovery of a truck at the Yusifiyah power plant complex with evidence in the back indicating that the soldiers had been present,” he said without describing the evidence found.

Acting on a tip from one of the detainees and an inhabitant in the area, the remains of the soldiers were traced to a road in the village of Mufaraji, northwest of Yusifiyah.

Their bodies were found bound together with a homemade bomb between one of the soldier’s legs, he said.

Thurman said a total of 12 soldiers were wounded in 17 roadside bomb attacks during the hunt for their comrades.

“These events demonstrate what a ruthless and a brutal enemy we face and the tough nature of this fight,” Thurman said.

He said there have been 2,296 attacks against US and Iraqi forces since October 2005 in the area, which he described as “a hotbed of terrorists and foreign fighters.”

“The enemy that we encounter down there likes to kill people and Americans,” he said.


Guardsmen: Iraq a minute-by-minute battle

By: Grey Eagle | 25 Jun 06


By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer

They are returning home with a sense of accomplishment, but also with feelings of anger and frustration, even despair.

They speak proudly about building up the Iraqi security force, restoring electricity and watching Iraqis walk miles to vote.

But they wonder whether it will be enough to secure Iraq’s future, and at times, express bitterness toward the people they wanted to help.

“They’re using our good will, our good-nature policy against us,” says Sgt. Bobby Walls, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania National Guard member. “The fact that we fight as the good guys sometimes turns around and kicks us in the can, you know?”

Such are the swirling emotions for troops returning home from Iraq. Among the most recent of those returnees are members of the largest contingent of Pennsylvania National Guard troops deployed to a combat zone since World War II.

Fifteen from their ranks of about 2,000 were killed during the nearly yearlong deployment in Iraq’s Anbar province, a huge swath of land that’s a stronghold of insurgency. Two others are being investigated in connection with the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian earlier this year.

For the rest of these part-time soldiers, it can be a struggle as they return home this summer to regain the sort of normalcy they knew before spending a year with their lives in danger wherever they went. During stopovers at Camp Shelby in Mississippi on their way home, some talked about their experiences.

____

Walls felt helpless and furious as he stood at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, one of several Philadelphia police officers who on their own drove New York City to help. He vowed to become an infantryman and get even, so the father of three went off inactive status in the Navy Reserves and joined the Army National Guard.

At boot camp, the other recruits — many just 18 — called him grandpa. He lost 45 pounds in basic training and scout school that followed. Then his unit was sent to Ramadi, which he nicknamed the “meat grinder.” He worked as a sniper, usually with just one partner.

At night, they’d sneak into rural villages and urban areas, tracking suspected terrorists for hours at a time. Sometimes, they’d kill them.

Back at the base camp, Walls became hyper-vigilant. He’d fear if he went to sleep, he would die.

“You start realizing how vulnerable you really are all the time,” Walls says. “You’re not safe anywhere in that damn place, and that’s a bad feeling. Too many guys got hurt or killed just walking to chow … or running to the bathroom, and they don’t come back.”

Walls is proud of the work he did as a sniper. He said he killed “upper-tier insurgents” who would have likely killed or injured other American soldiers if they had tried to capture them.

He wonders, though, about the future of the Anbar region. The people “will not be pacified, they will not work with us. I don’t ever see it happening,” he says.

Walls says insurgents wear civilian clothes and use women and children as shields.

“If you’re going to fight the enemy, there are two ways to look at it. You either become just like them, fight them on their own terms or you take the heavy burden like we’re doing it right now and it’s going to cost American lives. It’s a hell of a price to pay but if you fight them on their terms, you’re no better than them.

“That’s the true dilemma of the soldier right now, to get his sanity and keep his morals, keep his integrity. And it’s hard. It’s a … minute-by-minute struggle … over in Iraq.”

____

Children looking for handouts of candy would often approach 1st Lt. Anselm T.W. Richards and the men in his platoon. The soldiers would oblige them, then ask for information.

Sometimes, the children would tell them who made bombs and dealt in weapons. Everybody in town seemed to know the answer.

One day, Richards says, the parents of a 12-year-old boy told him their son had been beheaded by insurgents because he accepted a soccer ball as a gift from soldiers.

“We said to the parents, ‘You tell us who did it and we will get them.’ They said if we talk to you, they’ll kill us as well,’” says Richards, a hedge fund broker from Philadelphia.

“That’s the fear in which these people live. That’s probably the biggest hindrance to them moving forward.”

Like Walls, Richards believes no one should be too quick to judge the small group of Marines being investigated in the Nov. 19 deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians, including unarmed women and children, following a roadside bomb that killed a fellow Marine.

“My question is why are people so curious and so eager to find fault with the Marines or soldiers whose lives are on the line,” he says. “Why is it their behavior that’s being questioned, not the behavior of the guy placing the IED, or the bomb.”

He adds: “If it’s because children were killed or women, it’s understandable, but you know what, those Marines who are killed are children of someone as well.”

Among the difficulties: Richards says Iraqi insurgents know the U.S. troops wouldn’t fire at a school — “so they will set up on a school or put a sniper on the roof of a school.”

Richards says the region is safer than it was a year ago, though five of his men were injured by a roadside bomb just a few weeks before the end of their deployment. Among other accomplishments, he says his brigade helped expand the hours of available electricity each day and trained Iraqi police and security officers.

“I’m optimistic in that I feel like I’ve done everything that I can do and we as a group could possibly do,” he says.

“Is it enough? I don’t know because that area, again this is Ramadi … it’s just such a grip, the insurgency. For them to think or to see anything else is so foreign to them.”

____

As much as he hates to admit it, 1st Lt. Michael Green, a Pennsylvania state employee from Hershey, says he found it hard at times to like the Iraqis.

He was furious to learn some Iraqis blamed the Americans for a suicide bomb attack that claimed the life of Lt. Col. Michael McLaughlin, the first Pennsylvania Army National Guard officer to die in combat since World War II.

After a year in Iraq, “It’s not that I feel so different about the war,” he says. “I feel different about the Iraqi people because I saw the bad sides along with the good sides, and before all I saw was potential.”

He was so angry that he wanted to shoot some construction workers who had pretended, he says, not to have seen a vehicle driven by the kidnappers of a small boy.

He says he wanted to help catch people responsible for bombings and other violence but that townspeople often didn’t want to get involved.

To be successful in Iraq, he says, Americans “need to learn the culture well enough to get inside it” and convince the people that terrorism is dishonorable and brings shame on their family.

“They have all the materials they need to be a strong country. What they probably lack the most is the democratized individuals making decisions collectively … It’s more of a ‘Why should I get involved?’”

_____

Sgt. Thomas Farley turned 58 in Iraq during what he calls his “last military adventure.” His first was in Vietnam, where he was an Army combat photographer and reporter.

Farley, a father of four, spent 14 years in the active Army before joining the National Guard in Philadelphia as an enlisted infantryman.

In Iraq, he spent part of his time taking photos for a newsletter.

One shows a smiling Sgt. Michael Egan, 36, with his arm around another soldier, at Camp Shelby before the unit’s deployment. Egan was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb.

“Some guys can’t even look at the picture,” Farley says.

Farley says soldiers live with the fear that if they don’t stay alert at all times, they could get hurt or killed. The Iraqi insurgents, he says, cannot be underestimated.

“They’re very patient. They watch us constantly,” Farley says. “They are not the knuckleheads that some people think they must be.”

Farley says the sectarian violence must be resolved in the Sunni Triangle or Iraq will never been a working country.

“I’m sure it can be done,” he says, “but I’m not sure anybody really knows how to do it yet.”


Rebels attacked slain US troops in Iraq: witness

By: Grey Eagle | 21 Jun 06

Two slain U.S. soldiers who went missing south of Baghdad were ambushed by as many as 30 insurgents who closed in on them in vehicles and opened fire, according to people who said on Wednesday they were witnesses.

It was not possible to independently verify their accounts. The U.S. military has yet to explain how the soldiers may have been isolated in what Iraqis call “The Triangle of Death” for its frequent insurgent attacks.

But two Iraqis who said they were witnesses gave similar accounts of the moments when Privates First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, and Kristian Menchaca, 23, went missing in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, on Friday.

They said the two soldiers and a driver fell back a few hundred meters behind two other military vehicles when they came under attack at dusk.

“There was one vehicle in the back of the convoy. It was very dusty. Suddenly these gunmen in Land Cruisers and Toyotas and other cars started firing at the soldiers,” recalled farmer Omar Abdullah, 49, who said he was some 200 meters (yards) away.

“A lot of dust was kicked up by the cars so the soldiers in the other cars probably could not see. The gunmen killed the driver. Eventually the other two soldiers were totally outnumbered and they were taken away.”

He said about 30 gunmen, some wearing ski masks and baggy black pants and others in white and red checkered headdresses, mounted the ambush.

Chief U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said there was reason to believe two bodies found in the Yusufiya area on Monday night were those of Tucker and Menchaca.

Muhammad Abu Hillal, a soft drinks vendor who also said he was in the area, said a woman was killed in an exchange of fire between the insurgents and the soldiers.

“There were many gunmen. One vehicle was isolated and there was lots of shooting. There was dust everywhere,” he said.

The Mujahideen Shura Council has said it abducted the two soldiers but it has offered no proof and Caldwell dismissed the claim.

Residents say the group was highly active in the rural area, terrorizing families and forcing them to flee.


Bodies of missing U.S. soldiers recovered

By: Balding Eagle | 20 Jun 06

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer


The bodies of two U.S. soldiers reported captured last week have been recovered, and an Iraqi defense ministry official said Tuesday the men were “killed in a barbaric way.” The U.S. military said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. forces — part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops — found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday. The bodies were recovered early Tuesday.

Caldwell said the cause of death was “undeterminable at this point,” and that the bodies would be taken back to the United States for DNA tests to confirm the identities.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had “slaughtered” them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men had been beheaded.

The two soldiers disappeared after a deadly insurgent attack Friday at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry’s operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. “With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way,” he said.

The claim of responsibility was made in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups led by al-Qaida in Iraq. The group had posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the two American soldiers captive.

“We give the good news … to the Islamic nation that we have carried God’s verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders,” said the claim, which appeared on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

“With God Almighty’s blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court” calling for the soldiers’ slaying, the statement said.

The statement said the soldiers were “slaughtered,” suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, “nahr,” is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named al-Qaida in Iraq’s new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.

Al-Zarqawi made al-Qaida in Iraq notorious for hostage beheadings and was believed to have killed two American captives himself — Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004.

The checkpoint attacked Friday was in the Sunni Arab region known as the “Triangle of Death” because of frequent ambushes there of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops.

Iraqi and American troops involved in the search for the missing soldiers killed three suspected insurgents and detained 34 in fighting that also left seven U.S. servicemen wounded, Caldwell said.

A farmer claiming to have witnessed the attack told The Associated Press on Sunday that insurgents swarmed the checkpoint, killing the driver of a Humvee before taking two of his comrades captive.

Ahmed Khalaf Falah said three Humvees were manning a checkpoint when they came under fire from many directions. Two Humvees went after the assailants but the third was ambushed before it could move.

He said seven masked gunmen, one carrying a heavy machine gun, killed the driver of the third vehicle and took the two other U.S. soldiers captive. His account could not be verified independently.

Kidnappings of U.S. service members have been rare since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite the presence of about 130,000 forces.

The last U.S. soldier to be captured was Sgt. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, who was taken on April 9, 2004 after insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy. Two months later, a tape on Al-Jazeera purported to show a captive U.S. soldier shot, but the Army ruled it was inconclusive and remains listed as missing.

Caldwell said that in addition to the two soldiers, a dozen Americans — including Maupin and 11 private citizens — are missing in Iraq. In addition, Capt. Michael Speicher, a Navy pilot, remains listed as missing in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said.

___

Associated Press writers Ryan Lenz in Balad, Iraq, and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.


Some injured GIs decide to stay in Iraq

By: Grey Eagle | 11 Jun 06

By RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer

Parallel scars running down 1st Sgt. Rick Skidis’ calf tell the story of how he nearly lost his leg when a roadside bomb blew through the door of his armored Humvee.

The blast shredded muscle, ligament and tendon, leaving Skidis in a daze as medics and fellow soldiers rushed to help him. Skidis remembers little of that day last November except someone warning him that when he woke, his foot might be gone.

After five months and six surgeries, the foot remains intact but causes Skidis haunting numbness and searing pain caused by nerve damage.

Skidis, 36, of Sullivan, Ill., fought through the surgeries and therapy to return in April to Iraq, conducting the same type of patrols that nearly killed him.

He is not an exception.

Nearly 18,000 military personnel have been wounded in combat since the war began in Iraq more than three years ago, according to Defense Department statistics. Some have lost legs and arms, suffered horrific burns to their bodies and gone home permanently.

But the vast majority have remained in Iraq or returned later — their bodies marked by small scars and their lives plagued by aches and pains.

“I wear my scars proudly,” said Skidis as he gingerly lifted his pant leg to show the railroad-like tracks where doctors made incisions to save his foot. Why didn’t he stay home? “I felt guilty because I wasn’t sharing the same hardships that they were,” Skidis said shyly, while another soldier nodded at his side.

For some soldiers in Iraq, it was a roadside blast that muffled their hearing or peppered their body in shrapnel. Others have been ripped by gunfire, sometimes leaving them with jabbing pains in their limbs and compromised movement.

Their wounds are often similar but there are many reasons for remaining at war when their wounds are a ticket home.

Some can’t imagine any other job than being a soldier. Some know no other life. Others, like Skidis, feel the guilt, an obligation to their fellow soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Katherine Yocom-Delgado, 28, of Brooklyn, N.Y., lost 70 percent of the hearing in her left ear weeks ago when an artillery shell landed just a few feet away from her. Her teeth still hurt and she has frequent headaches, especially in the morning.

Yocom-Delgado tilts her head when she listens to people talk.

But she hasn’t considered leaving — the wounds are not as important as the mission.

“I’m alive and I’m happy to be alive,” she said with a smile. “I don’t hurt every day.”

As a woman, Yocom-Delgado represents just two percent of those injured in Iraq, a figure she quotes and has read in new articles. It’s an odd distinction, she said, just her luck.

Spc. Steven Clark’s luck is worse. The 25-year-old has been shot three times and wounded by shrapnel from a grenade that tore into his legs and back. He has been awarded three purple hearts — a fourth is on the way — and a bronze star with valor.

His friends have nicknamed him “Bullet Magnet” — but he won’t consider leaving.

Clark, of Fitzgerald, Ga., says getting wounded was a mistake and his pain is punishment for letting people down. He won’t show the scars on his calf or shoulder or back. He calls the attacks “incidents.”

“I have pains. I have numbness from nerve damage. But it’s just something I’m going to have to live with,” Clark said. “I’m not going to change what I am just because it’s dangerous.”

Soldiers in the battalion, the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, have been struck by more than 230 roadside bombs since they arrived in Iraq last October, leaving 15 dead. They’ve discovered about 350 more on the roads that crisscross their swath of desert.

More than 100 of the soldiers have been wounded, mostly on patrols in their sector south of Baghdad where Shiite and Sunni Arab tribes often clash with coalition forces. Twenty-seven of those wounded were evacuated from Iraq and remain at hospitals in the United States.

Pfc. Salvadore Bertolone, 21, of Ortonville, Mich., was injured when a roadside bomb blew glass shards into his face and arm. A scar curls down his cheek, but he dismisses his injury.

There are perks to staying in the fight after an injury, he said.

“I get free license plates for the rest of my life,” Bertolone said. “And I’ve got people who are definitely going to be buying me drinks when I get home.”

Though proud of their fellow soldiers, medics fear long-term health problems lie ahead.

“The soldiers here are so focused on staying in the fight that they suck up the pain and push through,” said Capt. Dennison Segui, 33, a medic and physician’s assistant from Browns Mills, N.J. “I know I’m busy here, but I’m nowhere near as busy as I will be when we get back.”

Many of the injured soldiers have begged their commanders to let them come back. One soldier was sent home after a bomb exploded in his face and damaged his eyes. He likely will never return to Iraq, but still asks. Another was sent home because of a heart condition, but returned to Iraq three times, according to Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, a commander in the 502nd Infantry Regiment.

Kunk, who is not a doctor, decides every week which wounded soldiers can return to duty. Often the soldiers research regulations and argue endlessly, he said.

It’s heartbreaking when he has to say no, but he does.

“Sometimes there’s too much ‘Hooah!’ in us guys,” Kunk said. While he doesn’t want to dampen that enthusiasm, he said, “I don’t want to hurt the guy the rest of his life.”

Kunk has injuries of his own, so he understands a soldier’s conviction to fight. His leg swells and throbs by the end of the day, the lingering effect of a roadside bomb that damaged nerves and muscle. But he, too, won’t think of leaving.

“I’m a father. Heck, I’m a grandpa to be honest with you. So I just kind of look at it from that perspective,” said Kunk, 48. “I want to do right by them.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press


Zarqawi killed in joint US-Jordanian operation

By: Grey Eagle | 08 Jun 06

By PATRICK QUINN and KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writers

The U.S. military displayed images of the battered face of Iraq’s most feared terrorist Thursday and Iraqis celebrated with gunfire after American bombs killed the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. It was a long-sought victory for U.S. forces, but officials cautioned of violence ahead — and a string of blasts proved that prediction almost immediately.

Within minutes of the announcement of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki named three key security ministers — military and political breakthroughs in rapid succession that marked the biggest potential turnaround in Iraq in months.

The two events may give the United States and its Iraqi allies another brief chance to build momentum toward stability and away from violence. With al-Zarqawi out of the way and the new government in place, some Sunni Arab leaders may be emboldened to resume a dialogue they started last fall — exchanges sunk by al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq.

If another effort is made, much will depend on the Iraqi government’s ability to live up to its promises to build a political system that includes all groups, including disaffected Sunnis. More than a dozen Sunni Arab insurgent groups are believed to be operating in Iraq, and a few use tactics just as ruthless as al-Zarqawi’s.

“This popular front and national unity is our guarantee to fighting all challenges,” al-Maliki told a Baghdad news conference. But, he warned, “whenever there is a new al-Zarqawi, we will kill him.”

President Bush and U.S. military leaders cautioned that the death of the 39-year-old militant was not likely to end the bloodshed — just as the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killings of his two sons failed to dampen the insurgency. A rash of bombings that killed nearly 40 people in Baghdad on Thursday confirmed that assessment.

“We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continuing patience of the American people,” Bush said.

Nevertheless, the president called the killing “a severe blow to al-Qaida, and it is a significant victory in the war on terror.”

Tips from within al-Zarqawi’s own terror network helped the U.S. locate and bomb a safe house where the al-Qaida leader was meeting in secret with top associates, American military officials said. Al-Maliki told al-Arabiya television the $25 million bounty the U.S. put on al-Zarqawi’s head would be honored, saying “we will meet our promise.”

Al-Zarqawi was killed at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday after an intense two-week hunt that U.S. officials said first led to the terror leader’s spiritual adviser and then to him.

Loud applause broke out as al-Maliki, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, announced at the news conference that “al-Zarqawi was eliminated.”

Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the American airstrike targeted “an identified, isolated safe house.” Four other people, including a woman and a child, were killed with al-Zarqawi and Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, the terrorist’s spiritual consultant.

Al-Qaida confirmed al-Zarqawi’s death in a statement and vowed to continue its “holy war.” Curiously, the announcement was signed by al-Iraqi, who was identified as deputy “emir” of the group, perhaps in an attempt to spread confusion.

Fingerprints, tattoos and scars helped U.S. troops identify al-Zarqawi’s body, White House spokesman Tony Snow said. The military released pictures of al-Zarqawi’s face after the airstrike, with his eyes closed and spots of blood, images reminiscent of photos of Saddam’s dead sons.

Spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell also showed a videotape of the air assault taken by one of the F-16 fighter jets that dropped the two 500-pound bombs, obliterating the terrorist leader’s safe house five miles west of Baqouba.

“We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house,” Caldwell said.

U.S. and Iraqi intelligence found al-Zarqawi by following al-Iraqi, who was seen going into the house shortly before American jets were ordered into action in the skies 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Intelligence officials had identified al-Iraqi several weeks ago with help from “somebody inside the al-Zarqawi network,” Caldwell said.

“Through a painstaking intelligence effort, we were able to start tracking him, monitor his movements and establish when he was doing his linkup with al-Zarqawi,” he said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, who commands U.S. and coalition air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said al-Zarqawi’s meeting in the house gave commanders time to gather exact coordinates and redirect the fighters, which were already in the air.

“We knew exactly where he was and we chose the right moment,” North told The Associated Press.

In the final two weeks of the manhunt, Caldwell indicated U.S. and Iraqi forces had pinpointed the location of many other key al-Qaida figures but had held off for fear of spooking their boss. After al-Zarqawi was killed, U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out 17 raids in the Baghdad region, he said.

What may have partly enabled the success now after so long was Khalilzad’s efforts to patch up relations with Sunnis.

At the same time, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, who was sensitive to U.S.-encouraged derision of a foreigner killing Iraqis, began cozying up to Sunni insurgents. It was probably the move that led to his undoing, said Ed O’Connell, a retired Air Force intelligence officer who led manhunts for Osama bin Laden and others in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.

“Once that happened, all we needed was a guy inside the insurgency to tell us where he was and, bam, we got him,” he said.

The airstrike occurred in the village of Hibhib, which is known for producing anise-flavored arak, a popular alcoholic drink.

The region had seen a spike in gruesome sectarian killings in recent days, including the discovery of 17 severed heads in fruit boxes. Not far away this week, gunmen killed 21 Shiites, including a dozen students, after separating out four Sunni Arabs.

Al-Zarqawi was known for his extraordinary brutality as one of the extremist leaders in the largely Sunni Arab insurgency, earning him the title of “the slaughtering sheik” among his followers. He is believed to have wielded the huge knives used in beheading American hostages Nicholas Berg and Eugene Armstrong. Grisly videos of the slayings were posted on the Internet, part of the propaganda campaign that was key to al-Zarqawi’s movement.

His followers were believed responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi Shiites, mainly in a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks.

In the past year, he moved his campaign beyond Iraq’s borders, claiming to have carried out a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in his homeland and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into Israel.

Caldwell said Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri would likely take the reins of al-Qaida in Iraq. He said al-Masri trained in Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq in 2002 to establish an al-Qaida cell.

Buoyed by his announcement of al-Zarqawi’s death, al-Maliki won parliamentary approval for three important ministers — ending a three-week stalemate.

The new defense minister is Army Gen. Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim al-Mifarji, a Sunni Arab, while Shiite Jawad al-Bolani took over the Interior post. The new minister of state for national security, Sherwan al-Waili, who will advise the prime minister, also is a Shiite.

Police in Baghdad’s Shiite enclave of Sadr City greeted news of al-Zarqawi’s death by firing weapons into the air and chanting in elation.

But al-Zarqawi was mourned in Anbar province.

“This a great loss for all the Sunnis,” 40-year-old Abid al-Duleimi said. “If they killed al-Zarqawi, more than one al-Zarqawi will replace him.”