The Lion and the Lights of Al-Baghdadi

Seven years ago, I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. During that time, I deployed to Iraq twice. The second of these missions took me to the base known by the Marines as Al Asad.

Al Asad, or Ain Al Assad, is the Arabic term for “The Lion”. The base was built in response to the failures of the Arab world against the Israelis in the early 1970’s as a super base to empower Iraq for the future. It now houses elements of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, along with 300 United States Marine Corps military advisors and trainers. The base is located in the Hīt District of Al Anbar Governorate, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Baghdad and 5 miles (8.0 km) west of the village of Khan al Baghdadi. That means that Al Asad has been in the center of the contested ISIS held lands since their initial invasion in June of 2014.

Today Al Asad is back in the news. Beginning last week, insurgent forces occupied the nearby town of al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi serves a key strategic point for the base as control of the town means control of access to the nearest highway and the only land connection to the rest of the country, as well as access to the Euphrates River. It is also of tactical importance because the town lies within range of numerous rockets, some acquired from the fallen and abandoned Iraqi bases, some bought from overseas, and some – homemade. This shows the base, the vicinity to the town of Al-Baghdadi, and the fact that it is in range of the rockets.

What it doesn’t show is why I care so much about this particular battlefield. As I said before Al Asad, was one of the bases I was stationed during my two tours to Iraq. On the Eastern edge of the base, along the long road snaking in, is an entry control point. At least there was in 2008. I spent every day of my seven month deployment checking trucks and vehicles for contraband and explosives at that control point. Beside that point was a very large tower where, if I was lucky I could spend the night alone to watch the shifting sands and be alone with my thoughts. On many cold Iraqi nights, I remember staring out that tower into the open desert. From it, I could see the distant lights of the town that lay just beyond the hills to the Northeast. These were the lights of Al-Baghdadi. The town was so small and so insignificant then.

Today, those lights still shine, but illuminate a different town. Insurgents with the Islamic State have occupied it in a bold move, hoping to put pressure on the Iraqi government. According to reports, the Islamic State have been shelling the base since their arrival. So far, there has been no damage reported to the base. This doesn’t surprise me because this kind of rocket fire is more of a nuisance than a real threat. I can say this from personal experience. After you have survived a few of them, it really is just an interruption to the flow of events before long. That may change very soon, however. It was reported that last Friday, a suicide squad of eight men, four with suicide vests, attempted to infiltrate the base. It is probable that they wanted to sneak onto the base and inflict either massive casualties against the Iraqi army or destroy many of the important assets crucial to maintaining security in Al Anbar and the fight against ISIS housed therein. This squad was intercepted by the Iraqi army without achieving their goals, later confirmed by a Marine attack helicopter, observing the area where the fighting had already ended.

This attack, while ending with a victory for the Iraqi Army, marks another crucial event where Islamist jihadi fighters took the initiative to what appears to be a passive Iraqi force. It symbolizes the Islamic States’ ability to mount just outside the walls of the Iraqi army and deliver attacks at the time of their choosing. Though it ended in their failure it was only one of many so far, and we will most likely see many more to come in the future, as well. In what is being called the Siege Al-Asad, the base has endured such attacks since October. Months ago, the base was reportedly surrounded by ISIS fighters, hopeful to destroy a key asset to defense of the nation of Iraq. That invasion was pushed back by Iraqi forces with the aid of US Marines and again, attacks took place in December which were also met with the pushing back of Islamic State forces.

What can be sure is that news of my old home will continue to come so long as the Islamic State exists in Iraq and the Al Anbar province. It will remain an important strategic point for Iraqi defense and a handsome target for jihadist insurgents. Even in the event of unsuccessful attacks like last Friday’s, the continued fighting around Al Asad and the town of al-Baghdadi showcase the Islamic States’ willingness and ability to mount attacks against the Iraqi forces at their most fortified locations. As Islamist forces grow more desperate and more bold with the coming of warmer whether, we should expect to see more of the Lion in the months to come.


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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.


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Hacktivists and ISIL – What they’re doing. What they should do.

Why won’t internet vigilante groups like Anonymous target terrorist organizations like ISIS?

There actually are plans which are being laid out. Jasper Hamill, with Forbes, recently uncovered a plan by Anonymous cells to target what it considers to be nations funding or arming the terrorist organization ISIL.

The hacktivist group Anonymous is planning to launch a series of digital attacks against nations it accuses of funding or arming the radical Islamic terror group ISIS.

Sources within Anonymous told me the campaign will be called Operation NO2ISIS and will target three states suspected of offering support to the [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].  Government websites will be blasted with DDoS attacks with Anonymous planning to “unleash the entire legion” upon its enemies.

One of the targets will be Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation that has long been suspected of supporting ISIS and other hardline terror groups. However, the Saudi government has dismissed Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s claims that it arms and funds ISIS, describing the “false allegations” as a “malicious falsehood”. The Saudis are thought to be terrified of blowback from the wars in Iraq and Syria, so have taken steps to ban private individuals from donating cash to ISIS militants.

The first thing to understand about Anonymous is that they are not really the type of group to “plan” things. They are opportunists who move when a vulnerability is found in a target of interest. They move in cells that are not truly organized where there is any sort of  true “membership” in the group. There are just communities of individuals who sometimes align together when any one of them arrives at a plan and convinces enough to help. There is no group consensus on matters like this, no voting, no true leadership, no responsible parties. They come to quick verdicts based on limited information and then take action based on that. They simply share information on what they could do and individuals will carry out an attack of their own free will. When enough do so, with some coordination involved, it can have the impact of a large scale attack. Once an operation is completed, the group disintegrates, never to be seen from again. In that case, you will have groups which can, at will, determine a party’s guilt or innocence based as much the narrative surrounding an issue and popular opinion, rather than anything we would call due process.

Secondly, if they can’t find a route to the actual perpetrators of a particular crime or social injustice, they are have shown a willingness to conduct actions against others who have a relation to the guilty. In the case of ISIL, the direct perpetrators can’t be targeted more than hacking twitter accounts, nor can the individuals who fund them. In this situation, Anonymous has made threats that it will, instead, carry out attacks against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, as a means to attack ISIL indirectly.

Taking that into consideration, if the group planning on coordinating an attack against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, are successful, they will be doing so against the wrong group. Those funding ISIL are surely, in part, from Saudi Arabia. There are many wealthy individuals there who channel funds to the terrorists through underground, illegal, and backwater channels. They are individuals, citizens of Saudi Arabia, but not state actors. That said, they are not the state of Saudi Arabia. If it could be proven that the king of Saudi Arabia himself were taking part in these funding operations, then that would be a different matter. So far, though, we have no evidence that that is the case. Furthermore, there is little Saudi Arabia can do to prevent its citizens from funding operations. Like the United States, there is little more that could be done beyond banning, and policing what little actionable evidence arises.

Ergo, when Anonymous, or any other group of individuals targets a nation like Saudi Arabia, they are doing so as non-state actors in a direct attack to a sovereign state. That is, by definition, an act of terrorism, obviously to much more minor degree than what we are seeing in Iraq or on 9/11, but still classified as an act of terrorism by the facts. The fact that there is no due process involved, investigation can be extremely biased, and targets are often not the actual cause of the crime, but simply the nearest person who can be reached, I wish that groups like Anonymous would not involve themselves in acts like this. Trolling the Scientologists or prank calling racist radio talk-show hosts is humorous and serves a good and decent function to the world. A direct attack, even a “harmless” denial of service attack, on a sovereign nation, however, paints a very hypocritical picture and will, in the end, invigorate even more hate and hostility against American and other allied forces’ (including Saudi Arabia Proper) efforts to broker a deal to take down the fanatical terrorist threat.

Instead, I wish they would move themselves toward uncovering more about the clandestine operations of ISIL. Once case in point used Google Maps to determine the location of ISIL training facilities in Mosul.

Operations like this are tailor made for groups like Anonymous. Social intelligence forces could easily be made to take advantage of ISIL’s use of social media. They’ve put a lot of information about themselves out there. If only enough smart people with enough time on their hands were to direct their efforts towards uncovering it, it could help forces out there taking action against them such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Army, Free Syrian Army, or even coalition military airstrike. Forces like the Kurdish defense forces are in desperate of advanced technological analysis and utilizing social capabilities could augment their offensive capabilities greatly. I’d personally like to see news reports of weapons caches, logistical networks, key individuals and other key information being surfaced by the larger community and being acted upon by State actors rather than by non-state actors. They’ve acted in this way before, namely in taking credit for the “hacktivism” which helped solve the notorious Steubenville rape case. One provides a constructive direction in which Anonymous helps the greater cause of the rest of the world, the other does only minor damage to ISIL while severely damaging international relations everywhere else.


  1. Anonymous Hacktivists Prepare For Strike Against ISIS ‘Supporters’ – Jasper Hamill, Forbes – 6/14/2014
  2. ‘Anonymous’ Hacker Group Goes After ISIS, But the Implications Could Be Costly  – Victoria Taft, Independent Journal Review – 9/14/2014
  3. Page on bellingcat.com – 8/22/2014

Further Reading:


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How do I deal with the bitterness that has been festering inside of me since I’ve returned from the Middle East?

A question was asked on the social media website Quora. Another veteran expressed his frustration over trying to rejoin society after his combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I deeply sympathized with his frustrations and felt the need to reach out.

The Question:

How do I deal with the bitterness that has been festering inside of me since I’ve returned from the Middle East? How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of? How will I ever fit back in to our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment? How do I deal with being so lost? How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay thier taxes while carrying so much debt? All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” Tshirt, what does that even mean anyway?

The Answer:

Welcome to the club.

I’ve been where you are now and there are many of us who are frustrated. After four years in the Marines and two tours in Iraq followed by my biggest challenge, going to college with my 18 year old counterparts, I decided something: I hate Americans. That feeling isn’t really as severe anymore because I eventually mellowed out, but I do feel for you.

During this period I wrote these answers that might help you see that you’re not alone. Read them, see if they make you feel better.

In them you’ll see a unique amalgam of intense pride, disillusionment, patriotism, shame, self-sacrifice, self-righteousness, arrogance, entitlement, and an ounce of old fashioned chivalry. Sound familiar?

Warning: People who have never served in the United States Military will notappreciate the rest of this answer. Don’t get pissy. I warned you. Having said that, there are a few things the person asking the question should let go of if you want to move on.

1) How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of?

Did you ever have that one E-3 in your unit who just thought he was really smart? So smart in fact that he tried to recreate a scenario he read in The Darwin Awards because he just knew that he could make it work? These are called idiots. You remember, the ID-10T’s. They are morons on a good day and in their best day all they do is talk. The political ones you will run into on the outside are no different. Most of them are just self-righteous know-it-alls who really love their country. Maybe, or maybe they just hate all the people who see the world in a different way. Fundamentalists don’t just wear turbans and the sooner you realize that the better. They all say the same thing, “I really wanted to serve, but my [ random pissant disability ] wouldn’t let me in.” And for some reason, seem to think that entitles them to some sort of glorified status among veterans. I don’t get it either. Stop trying. Just avoid eye contact. Smile and nod. Walk away.

2) How will I ever fit back into our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment?

You won’t. Society isn’t all that great anyway. I went through a recluse phase, too. It isn’t productive. The best advice I have is to try to find a veterans group where you can vent your frustrations with an equally annoyed bunch of old farts, so that you heal in safe way among a fraternity of people who understand you. It really does help to talk it out with people who have been there. Even if they didn’t exactly go through what you did, they have experienced stuff like it or at least have thought about it far more than a healthy person should. You’ll need their experience and their wisdom. Your friends won’t get you. Your family won’t even get you. All they can offer are cliches and Dr. Phil nonsense advice. I wish I had done it sooner. I stayed angry for way too long and it cost dearly in the relationships I could have made as well as in my career.

Besides that, what you need to do is realize that you aren’t supposed to “fit back in”. You’re special and not in that Barney the Dinosaur sort of way. People respect you because you have done stuff that blows their minds, or at least their stereotypes of you blows their freaking minds. In some circles, you can walk in and command a room just with your presence alone. Warning though, eventually they get to know you and you don’t live up to their stereotypes, so they get bored and will want to throw you away because you somehow failed to live up to their impossible expectations. Sorry about that. This paragraph was supposed to be uplifting.

That said, you do have a lot of skills that most people don’t. You have a lot of character traits that others don’t. Values, ethics, ideals and expectations; the whole shabang. Your problem is that you suck at dealing with people, certain kinds of people anyway, and I am sorry to say, those certain kinds of people are everywhere. You are going to need at least, in my experience, two years to learn how to fill in the personality gaps between you now and normal for the rest of humanity before you can fake it well enough to happily work at a job with people.

3) How do I deal with being so lost?

Veterans of Foreign Wars – They have a waiting list that’s a year shorter than seeking counseling through the VA. It is a sad joke, because it is true. You should try to talk to people. Old vets are cool because you just hang out and they don’t mind being there when stuff gets real. If you start crying, civilians want to label you and run for the door. Old vets, just remembered when they cried. Sometimes they give you a hug. Sometimes they tell you to suck it up. They also know how you feel and can relate in a way that reminds you, “That’s right, I’m normal. I just went through a really crappy time in my life.” At the point where you seem to be, you might need to get started on the process to talk to a professional. I had a friend who was really messed-up after Iraq and it really helped him. It just takes dropping the macho, “I’m too tough to speak to anyone about my head problems.” or “There are people worse off than me,” or “I didn’t really experience anything actually traumatic.” It’s only your life you’re wasting if you don’t.

4) How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?

There is something that I really want you to realize and it will help you get through a lot. Your countrymen never sent you to Iraq or Afghanistan. You did. The United States is an all volunteer service. There is no draft. There is no obligatory service and there is no conscription. No one forced you to go to MEPS and no one held your hand up while you swore the Oath. Judging by the time frame, you also probably knew there was a war going on already. From that point until your DD-214 you gave your word that whatever happened, you would fulfill your promise to serve the Commander-in-Chief, the chosen representative of the combined will of these fifty states according the Constitution of the United States.  If war was going to happen, it wasn’t the fault of any one of them, not even all of them. If you feel that you suffered from war, you have to remember that it was because you chose to go. I’m sorry to be real like that, but you have be responsible for that part or you are just going to get more and more bitter about what others did to you, when really, it wasn’t “others'” fault.

As for the “and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?” have you ever read the book Starship Troopers? It’s a really great military sci-fi for military folk. It was written by a former Naval officer who really seemed to capture the feel of people in the service… four hundred years from now, anyway. One part I remember most is that, in that world, the only people who can vote are the veterans. It isn’t that they are the smartest or even the most qualified. The reason they are the only group allowed to vote is that they, alone, have proven the one trait that should be a requirement of citizenship, the willingness to sacrifice for their society. They don’t make poor choices which are self serving because they, alone, have actually invested real skin and blood into their society and they won’t break it with a black hole entitlement programs, an unproductive criminal corrections system, forgiveness for the chronically ineffective, and enabling hand out programs.  No other group, by virtue of their existence, has proven they have a vested interest in the future of their society, which they are willing to defend, besides the veterans. We don’t live in that world, but I understand what Heinlein was trying to say. You’re going to have to accept that there are just so, so very many people out there who are complete and utter leeches on society who have a vote no less powerful than yours. That is because we live in a democracy where merit, ability, education, and social mobility are traits that don’t really matter, just how many friends you have. Perhaps I should have said that democracy was based off of the belief of the fundamental equality inherent to all God’s children. Alas, I didn’t and I am sure your know why. Until the day when Heinlein’s fascist utopia/draconian nightmare (depending on your point view) becomes real, we are just going to have to accept this fact, too; worthless people matter just as much as the greatest in a democracy. For better or worse, this is how it will be in any sort of perceivable future. As yet though, this has been the most successful setup for self governance, so far, so it can’t be that bad. As I have already said, you also volunteered because, at one point, either because you were naive or really, really idealistic, you believed that that democracy was worth defending. If you still value it, you have to let go of the anger toward the idiots that also get to vote even though the have never and likely will never contribute anything but deficit to our society.

5) All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” T-shirt, what does that even mean anyway?

Americans, in general, are pretty self-centered creatures happy to sit on a couch and wait for, or even demand, whatever in the world there is to entertain them. Many will live their whole lives without progressing the human race forward one inch. That really terrifies me, but they have different values than you do. That’s why you joined the military; to do something heroic, or something important, something adventurous or just something different, or whatever, but they didn’t. Many of them are just worthless blobs demanding more intake of whatever gives them their individual fix. Call it American Idol, heroin, weed, sex, politics, money, work, or whatever. They just need whatever it is that makes them happy and that is all they will ever know.

That’s why when they faced the risk of their blissful happiness and their precious ability to consume entertainment at a breakneck pace was blown out of the water for the first time in sixty years, all anyone could do was thank a Marine for going out and doing the nasty stuff that kept their right to a 50″ surround sound maintained. That is seriously the only reason that many of them do it. They got scared of living in a world not as blissful as America in the 1990’s and the military suddenly seemed like the only group of people who would make that happen again.

And then what happens? They watch the news and hear that we are at war. They know a guy who went to war. Well, they know someone whose brother is in the war. Or maybe he is just in the Air Force. They don’t really remember, but they sure do feel like they are at war. No they aren’t rationing. No they aren’t planting victory gardens. No they aren’t recycling pig fat, panty hose, or iron shaving. No they aren’t buying war bonds or even enduring any sort of increased taxation to pay for this war, but they sure do feel the effects of that war, goshdarnit.

The fact is that many are simply saying “We support our troops” because you went to war and they didn’t have to. Others are simply just saying it because of social obligation. Nobody wants to be that guy who doesn’t support the troops, you know, like the entire country after Vietnam. They sure didn’t in that war, when absolutely no one thought it was important. Then veterans were spit upon when they came home. At least my generation still gets handshakes, social prestige and from time to time a real, true to life thankful person will buy me a coke after they find out what I did.

I do want to go on record to say that most people aren’t really the problem. The problem is a minority. There are about 10% of the people, of no particular race, religion, creed, or color, who come together as individuals to form a collection of the most loathsome, despicable, and worthless human beings imaginable. Not to themselves, of course. To themselves, they are the most magnanimous human beings on the face of the planet and worthy of all that was given to them, and so much more. It is only people who see things through your point of view that they are so horrible. (Me too, by the way.) You have to realize though, that they are a minority, a small number of people who command a massive amount of your attention because you feel very passionately about certain things which you have given so much for and have a certain set of values which many do not truly appreciate or even fathom. Once you learn to adjust your blinders during times when you don’t want to deal with those kinds of people which bug the crap out of you, you’ll start appreciating a lot of other people around that aren’t such oxygen thieves.

Summary

Wars are going to happen. Sometimes they will happen for reasons we say are good because the alternatives are probably worse. Other times, incompetent officials elected by incompetent voters will start them. At those times men and women who are willing to do whatever their leaders ask of them, in service of a country they are really proud of, will have to carry out the acted will of the United States. You already did that. As someone else who did, I am sincerely thankful for you doing that and I am very sorry that you are going through “the suck” right now. But you owe it to yourself, and to the rest of us veterans, to get better. There is a festering horde of worthless no-goods out there becoming more and more dependent upon the almighty “They” for absolutely everything in their world. You really are one of the few people out there with unique skill and value set, buried underneath all that pent up frustration and angst which we all share. Get some help and go talk to someone. You really are blowing the best years of your life being pissed off and it isn’t doing anyone any good, at all. Once you correct yourself, you’ll be happy you did. I promise.

-Semper Fi
Sgt Jon Davis (inactive since 2008)

Blues


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What do troops keep in all those pockets they have?

Most of those pockets are not really pockets as much as well-designed accessories, each with its own designed role, which are to be arranged by the individual troops’ need, specialty, designation, and mission to fit onto the Interceptor and MOLLE systems.

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All that to say that when you see pockets, I see magazine pouches. Each item you see was engineered for a purpose. Those long ones in the front, for example, are for holding extra ammunition in the form of fully loaded magazines. Look at the Marine below and note the fact that those pouches are about the same size as the magazine inside his weapon. Each pouch holds about two magazine; some can hold three. They are meant to be worn as near to weapon as is functional to keep the momentary time when a warfighter is out of action because of gear to a minimum.

main-qimg-757ff64df8b85da4704b345fc440d12bOther items which are usually visible on a deployed Marine or soldier’s gear is a larger square pouch which carries a whole medical trauma kit, hanging bag to retain spent magazines and a much smaller pouch for carrying grenades, (or candy). Other attachments can be used which are useful for carrying radio equipment, or virtually any other piece of gear. Most anything can be converted to capable of being carried on the armor, depending upon the Marines mechanical creativity. If you look above again, you can see the first aid kit and the drop pouch worn on the Marine in the rear.

main-qimg-277b93c7ea58505066af1f048e5e2cd6The system is actually pretty remarkable in that it was created to provide such a secure, but customizable platform for any number of tactical needs. The basic armor is lined on the outside with many, many bands of material that a Marine or soldier will lace whatever accessories they are issued or buy in whatever arrangement and configuration best suits them. They may arrange them according their NCO’s instructions or on their own. There is always a minimum of expectancy, as in, you will have at least these pieces of gear on your equipment at all times. These pieces are always issued, but, as I said, the individual can buy better versions if they within military limits of acceptability. Take my gleaming example for a moment. In the image below, you’ll see me with my IFAK (first aid kit) in the front, and three magazine pouches which I bought because they were better than the standard issued magazine pouches of the time (2005).

imagesprotective_20custody

As of when I was in, there really weren’t set rules on where what went. As I said, it was more or less up to the individual on how they arranged their gear. There are, however, many guidelines and armament philosophies or rules of thumb. For example, some combat marksmanship philosophies said that a shooter should never remove their firing hand from the weapon. For that reason, the non-firing hand is needed to be the one reloading the weapon in the event that the magazine begins to run low. A smart Marine would be wise, then, to keep their magazine pouches within ready reach of their non-firing hand so that they do not have to reach across their body and the weapon to grab a fresh magazine. Such actions take precious seconds, which are a commodity highly valued in tense situation. It would also be wise if that dump pouch was then also behind the magazines so that in one smooth set of motions, the magazine can be changed out and the spent one dropped in the dump pouch.

MeMany different people will arrange their gear in many different ways. Some arrangements focus on arranging gear around a particular weapons system. Some focus on left or right handed shooters. Some focus on additional mission requirements and all try to maximize comfort. All of these can also be changed out completely in about an hour. Yeah, there is actually quite a lot of thought that goes into it. In addition, not everything we carry might be tactical. Now besides that, we might carry anything. Pocket utility knives, pens, note-taking material, covers. Below, you will find the contents of my cargo pocket during most every deployment, training mission, field op, or act of unpleasantness I experienced in the United States Marine Corps ever since I went on my first Iraq tour starting in 2005.
main-qimg-ef6a7b1514e8ee4f5669adc49a1a0dcaBesides the knife and the boonie cover (hat) there was Froggy. Froggy joined me during the first half of my first combat deployment to Iraq. He came in a flat rate US Postal Service shipping container with assorted letters, cards, sweet treats, and nice sox, addressed from my wife, safe at home. Inside the package was a small stuffed frog with a tiny crown and and a little red heart in his hands that read “Kiss Me”. When you pressed the heart it made a loud “smooching” sound. I think it was Jennie’s way of being there for me when she simply could not be. Maybe she just liked him because he was cute and different. From then on, I carried him everywhere I went inside my cargo pocket, nice and safe, but hidden away, because we were all big, strong, manly men back then.

One day, while in formation within our hanger, I popped to attention with the rest of the platoon. My fist struck my pants leg as the platoon went silent and the Gunny took his place at the head of the evening muster. As my fist contacted with my leg, a loud, long, “smooching” sound emanated from my pocket. Half the platoon heard it and half of them knew it came from me, though none of them could have guessed what exactly it was that they had heard. I wasn’t going to stop carrying Froggy for that. I had become too attached to him. Something had to be done though. That afternoon, in the a dark corner of a dusty bunker, deep within the sands of Iraq, I cut out Froggy’s heart, a symbolic act I am often reminded of when I think about him. From that point on, though, he was ready as my silent companion.

For the next three years, in fact, Froggy was with me. Throughout the rest of Iraq in 2005 he rode in that cargo pocket. On every long day and even longer nights, there he was. When I came home, he was there when my wife and mom greeted me. When I was promoted to Corporal and immediately sent on a ten-mile hump to celebrate, he was there too. In the training missions for months in Yuma, you could still find him. Finally, for my second tour in Iraq, the longest and some of the hardest months of my life, every time I needed to be reminded of the existence that somewhere there was something far greater than this miserable existence, all I had to do was reach down in my cargo pocket and feel his soft, velvety gesture. For three years of the United States Marine Corps after he joined me, beneath whatever facade I had to project, he was with me, for every step of every hike, every rifle range, every hole that was dug, every fearful moment, sandstorm, nightwatch, and all the tears shed both in remorse and in homecoming. We was present for all of them, hidden away peacefully in my cargo pocket.

main-qimg-fd00d740c824c768bee260f45870ffe8It’s been many years now since Froggy has seen action. Now, he is retired. In this new life he peacefully rests on the shelf above my desk. Sometimes when I write I look up at him staring off into the distance and think about all the adventures we shared. Now he’s a bit dustier and not quite so soft to the touch, and even going bald in a few places. Regardless of this, I can honestly say that at any given point, if anyone were to ask me, “Hey Marine, what’s in your pockets?” I’d reach down and pull out a little stuffed frog, because at any given moment, no matter where I happened to be, he was always there when I needed him, a task he remains true to, even today.

 


 

Blues

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What should America’s gun control policy look like?

Answer by Jon Davis:

I would advise licensing for gun ownership. This isn’t a license on the individual weapons themselves, but on the people who can own them. There would be different classes of licenses for different classes of weapons. You would need to work in the military or protective forces for certain classes of weapons and no one else should really need these.

I do think that there are some who should not have the right to weapons and should be filtered from the licensing process. I don’t believe that the right to own weapons should be a afforded to people who have been guilty of a violent crime and I don’t think that the mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed should be afforded the privilege as well. There are already provisions like this, but obviously nothing so enforceable yet to stem any tides in the violence caused by gang members and the mentally unstable.

My licensing program would be directly comparable to what one must do to drive a car. Go through a training course on proper usage and safety. Have a sponsor and have timed hours like the process that people must go through with a learners permit. Then pass a test for safety and proper usage based on the highest class of weapon you want to carry. Ryan Lackey actually gives a good break down on what those classes might look like in the comments section. Ryan Lackey’s weapon’s licensing by class breakdown.

I will even go so far as to say that there should be a form of liability insurance associated with the registered weapons. This provides an economic disincentive to own, increased pressure to be safe and in the worst case, medical assistance for injuries sustained due to improper handling.

To be honest I think this is the best option to uphold the rights of law abiding users while preserving some key elements of 2nd amendment rights while ensuring that you have a well trained, well regulated, responsible gun owning population. I think that this is a much closer interpretation to what was intended by the founding fathers than what we have now. I think those rights are extremely important, but we have become lenient to the point that rampages, both in the inner city and quiet towns, are becoming too common and need to be resolved.

That said, I know there is a great deal of problems with even this. People still drive without a license and guns will still be in the hands of people who will hurt other people. That’s why I would suggest a large scale effort on a crackdown of people who have weapons they shouldn’t. In the same process that we bust for drugs, I would suggest we hunt down illegal users of weapons as well. To be honest, I think that putting a dent in illegal usage of guns would also help with the drug issue as well since often they are related. At the very least it might be an additional opportunity to catch some bad guys. Yes, there would be compromises. For one, there might need to be some space in the prisons, which means we might have to stop criminalizing some of the crimes that aren’t as much an issue as people shooting each other.

In closing though, I would like to leave on this point on the subject of legislation to correct human behavior…

View Answer on Quora

Quora Answers: How Do Military Veterans Feel When They Return Home From Combat?

Jonathan Kirk Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps

It is an experience that is incredibly difficult to understand and describe.

I will try to describe the emotional/psychological process that I and many other fellow Marines (soldiers, sailors, etc) experienced.

Before you understand what a returning Marine/soldier/sailor/etc experiences when they come home, you have to know what they really go through when they are over there.

What we all experience, combat or none, is a very, very long period of extended absence from comfort, security, our families, and breaks. The Marines spend seven months on deployment. Army is about twice that, but they don’t go as often. That means months where you deal with the same people day, after day, after day. There is no change and no break. You work with them, you eat with them, and you live with them. If you can’t stand them, oh well. If your boss is a jerk or psycho, there isn’t even the escape of going home at the end of the day or having a weekend. Now you need to consider the war side of things. In the best case scenario, you are under the constant threat of surprise attack. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, mortars. Looking at people everywhere who you can see absolutely hate you. In the worst case scenario, you actually fight. You might kill people. You might lose friends. But I won’t get into what it’s like for those cases, they are pretty tough to nail down and can vary wildly. But whatever picture I drew, don’t think about how it sucks for a few short periods of intense violence; imagine it sucking for months and months of a slow drone and a psychological beating.

And then you come home. Everything is fine now right? Not really …

First, we are absolutely elated to come home, see our families, go to our bars, women … This is a high that can’t really be expressed very accurately. In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you. When you see your wife, she is unfamiliar to you. When you first see her, you get the smell of her hair and her embrace, but there are subtle differences that make you feel as if things are different somehow. Her hair has changed or she has new interests. It kind of feels like a first date for a few weeks as you try to remember how you fit together again … figuratively speaking. This “second first date” is the same with all the things you do, hanging out with your old friends, going to favorite hangouts. But don’t get me wrong. Even if we are quiet about it and act like it is no big deal, these are some of the happiest days we have ever had.

Second, there is residual stress that carries over from a combat deployment. While on deployment, military people deal with each other in ways that are not normal in civilian America. We are harsh with each other and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness with one another. Add this to natural combat stress, the constant concern that you may get attacked, the wondering if a vehicle near you is going to blow up, always seeing in the eye of every local that they want to kill you.  You are suspicious, tightly wound, and easily angered. I remember several times waking up in my bed even a few months after deployment and panicking because I couldn’t find my weapon. You also don’t mesh well with your families. They do things you don’t understand. They do things you don’t understand, mostly because they have grown very independent of you. Many confuse this for a feeling that you are unwanted or unneeded, and this makes the returning person very irritable. Combine all these, and you have an explanation as to why so many men returning from “over there” come back angry and beat their wives. It is difficult to transition between two worlds and some, especially those who experience combat, don’t cope well. It isn’t right, but it happens.

Third, there is a long phase where you try to adjust to having your life back. To be honest, it is never the same as before you left. You are changed by the experience of a combat deployment, even after the first. Every time you go, you change. And so does everyone else that you care about. Everyone matures naturally, but independent of each other, and you have to reintegrate into each other’s lives again. Young Marines often have a hard time keeping control; husbands fight with wives, and fathers can’t communicate with kids (and don’t be naive, this is different from those people who think it is the same as having teenagers). It takes time before everything settles down emotionally. Most people make it through this phase OK, but unfortunately, many don’t.

This is the part of coming home most people don’t really talk about.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

As a special bonus, this post was also published on Forbes.com.