Posts filed under ‘Iraq’

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 14, 2012)

9/11 Around the World

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zane Ecklund

Originally, we were going to go with another photo — also taken on a U.S. naval vessel — but the news this week got us thinking it wasn’t the right thing to do in this turbulent time.

Instead we feature this photo of a 9/11 memorial service on the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York on station with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group in the Gulf of Aden. The photo is part of a Defense Department slide show of 9/11 commemorative ceremonies around the world from  Hawaii to Kyrgyzstan and San Diego to Italy. Here’s another one, showing ceremonies in Puerto Rico, Colorado, Maryland and Afghanistan.

Four Americans were killed this week in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Meanwhile, violent demonstrations are spreading across the Muslim world protesting a bizarre film — produced privately in the U.S. — maligning Islam and the prophet Muhammad. At first it appeared the killings in Libya were part of the wave of anti-American protests sparked by outrage over the film The Innocence of Muslims. Now investigators in Libya and the U.S. suspect it was a terrorist attack that either had nothing to do with the demonstrations or took advantage of the chaos.

The attacks have spurred a political dogfight — in the midst of a U.S. presidential election campaign — about whether it was more important to defend the First Amendment right to free speech or to try convincing an already suspicious and turbulent Arab street that despite a spurious internet video, the United States is no enemy of Islam.

4GWAR thought it was important to take a moment to remember the attacks 11 years ago in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that killed thousands and touched off what became known as the Global War on Terror.

But we also want to contemplate all the deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Mumbai and Texas that have occurred since September 11, 2001. Each suicide bombing and missile strike creates new victims and new enemies. Unfortunately, there are also people around the world willing to take personal or political advantage of each new outrage.

There is still a large cultural knowledge gap between Islamic countries and the West. Until leaders and ordinary people on both sides stop demonizing the foreign and the alien, the body count will continue to rise.

September 14, 2012 at 11:28 am Leave a comment


Rescue to the Cavalry

Updated June 10 with additional quotes and background material (in bold italics) and photos of upgraded aircraft.

The busiest close air support helicopter in the U.S. Army is the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Because it is the Army’s primary ground support and scout helicopter, it has the highest operational tempo in Afghanistan – averaging 100 hours per aircraft.

OH-58D Kiowa Warriors (Photo courtesy Bell Helicopter)

Kiowa Warriors have logged more than 800,000 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan battling sand, snow and high altitudes as well as enemy fire.

Army officials say they will be relying on the OH-58D as the primary air cavalry helicopter until at least 2025. But more than 40 have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and the manufacturer, Bell Helicopters, ended production in 1999.

The shortage is a problem not only for commanders but for the maintainers who have to keep the OH-58Ds flying. When the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry returned to Fort Riley, Kansas from overseas last year, Lt. Col. Paul Cravey, the squadron commander said he had only nine available helicopters and three weeks to train and test 39 air crew members in air gunnery. Keeping those nine aircraft operational ’round the clock for more than a month  put a real strain on his maintenance crews. Now he has 19 helos, but under ideal conditions, the squadron’s full complement would be 30 aircraft, Cravey said today (June 7).

He was one of the speakers at an Army-Media roundtable to discuss a program to upgrade the armed reconnaissance and light attack helicopter. Earlier in the day the first upgraded Kiowa Warrior was rolled out at Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas.

Under the Wartime Replacement Aircraft Program, three Army units (the Corpus Christi depot, the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office and the Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate) are working with Bell Helicopters to fill the gap from losses in the Kiowa Warrior fleet by taking older “A” model Kiowa Warrior cabins and upgrading them to “D” model cabins and capabilities.

The cockpit of the first upgraded OH-58D. (U.S. Army photo by Sofia Bledsoe)

Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, the Army’s Kiowa Warrior product manager, said it costs approximately $10 million to convert a Model A into a Model D. Approximately half of the aircraft ” is still a 40-year-old airframe,” he said, adding that the process is expected to take 12-to-18 months. Final funding to refurbish 49 Kiowa Warriors, subject to congressional approval, is expected to come in the Army’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2014.

The first one was completed seven weeks ahead of schedule, officials said. “I believe this is really the path forward in how we lower the cost of Army aviation [and] at the same time we take care of the taxpayer — but primarily the soldier,” said Col. Christopher Carlile, commander of the Corpus Christi depot.

The OH-58D is a single engine, four bladed helicopter with a crew of two. It is equipped with advanced navigation, communication, weapons and cockpit integration systems. The ball-shaped mast-mounted sight houses a thermal imaging system, low-light television, a laser range finder/designator as well as an optical boresight system for rapid sensor alignment.

With these systems, the Kiowa Warrior can operate day or night and acquire targets and fire its Hellfire and Stinger missiles from their maximum range — even in adverse weather conditions — exposing the crew to minimum risk. The Kiowa Warrior can also transmit battlefield imagery to commanders on the ground for near real-time situational awareness.

“This aircraft is very important to our BCT — brigade combat team — commanders and our soldiers on the ground,” Cravey said. “Without exception, it is their aircraft of choice any time they get tied up or they need security when they’re in a fight. That’s why we exist, to provide that security for them.”

The first upgraded OH-58D Kiowa Warrior at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. (U.S. Army photo by Sofia Bledsoe)

To see a Defense Dept. video of an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (not the one above) firing its machine gun and rockets in flight, click here.


June 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

WEAPONRY AND EQUIPMENT: Little Raven UAV Getting Improved Sensor Payload

Moving Eye in the Sky (Adds dropped material)

The widely used, hand-launched RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) is getting an improved sensor payload that will make it more effective in providing situational awareness for troops on the ground.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. First Class Michael Guillory

AeroVironment Inc., the Raven’s manufacturer unveiled a new miniature gimbaled sensor payload for the RQ-11B this week at the annual professional forum and expo of the Army Aviation Association of America in Nashville, Tenn.

The 4.5-pound Raven, which can be carried disassembled in a backpack and launched by a single soldier, is 38 inches long with a wingspan of 55 inches. It provides wireless realtime video imagery to a ground control station.

The modular payload includes a high resolution color and infrared thermal video sensor on a gimbal, or small turret. The new payload replaces two stationary payloads – an electro-optical sensor and an infrared sensor – for day and night operation. The gimbaled sensor payload will enhance the Raven’s capabilities by allowing both higher visual fidelity and continuous observation of an item of interest – regardless of which direction the SUAS is flying.

AeroVironment says the new payload will be a standard component of future Raven systems and will be sold as an upgrade for already fielded units. AeroVironment recently was awarded an $11 million contract by the U.S. Army to provide logistics support for Raven systems. The cost-plus-fixed-fee sole source contract covers Army, Marine Corps and Raven systems acquired by foreign militaries through the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) program. Under the FMS program the U.S. government procures defense articles and services on behalf of about 160 countries deemed eligible by the president and vetted by the State Department.  

In its Fiscal 2013 budget request, the Army is seeking $26 million to acquire Ravens for small unit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In 2012 Congress authorized the purchase of 900 Ravens for $60 million. The raven is also used by the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.

April 4, 2012 at 12:21 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: The Art of Flying, Marine Corps-Style

Marine Corps Aviation Centennial

Back in 1985, when I was an Associated Press reporter in New York, my editor asked me to help cover the Vietnam Veterans parade that would march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the city’s brand new Vietnam Memorial in lower Manhattan.

A park on the Brooklyn side of the bridge was the staging area for the parade. As I was interviewing some veterans of the 1st Marine Division, several UH-1 “Huey” helicopters streaked overhead with their rotor blades making a menacing, “Apocalypse Now” whup, whup, whup sound.

But when the Marine and Amy vets around me looked up, they pumped their fists in the air and let loose with a primal roar that drowned out the choppers and city traffic noise.

“That’s the sound of the cavalry coming,” one Marine vet shouted to me over the din. “When you heard that sound, it meant you were O.K. You were going to get out alive.”

The memory of that moment came back to me last week as I toured an exhibit of Marine Corps combat art, marking 100 years of Leatherneck aviation, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. More than Navy or Air Force fliers, Marine Corps aviators have always had a close relationship with the grunts on the ground. Close air support was a concept pioneered by the Marines in the Central American “Banana Wars” of the 1920s and 1930s — and has been a key part of Marine Corps air doctrine ever since.

Close Air Suport-Korea by Master Sgt. John DeGrasse USMC. Copyright, National Museum of the Marines Corps

There were lots of paintings and drawings of Marines dashing off Hueys into Vietnam rice paddies among the 91 artworks on exhibit — all of them on loan from the National Museum of the Marines Corps in Virginia. The exhibit also included a painting of Marine infantrymen under fire on a snowy Korean hillside while an F4U Corsair fighter plane provides close air support. Another, painted by Alex Raymond, the creator of the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1930s — who served with the Marines in World War II – shows Marine fighter pilots describing a dog fight during an after action debriefing.

The exhibit, “Fly Marines! The Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation: 1912-2012,” celebrates the 100 years since 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham signed up as an aviation trainee in May 1912. A few months later he soloed in a Curtis seaplane — after just two hours and 40 minutes of instruction — becoming the first Marine Corps aviator, less than nine years after the Wright brothers’ first flight.

The exhibit, which opened Jan. 14 and runs through Jan. 6, 2013, includes paintings drawings and sculptures of all types of helicopters, jets and piston-driven aircraft — and the Marines who flew them  – from World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also a few artifacts like the pilot’s wings of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the legendary Black Sheep Squadron leader and top Marine Corps ace of World War II.

Aviators Debriefing by Maj. Alex Raymond USMCR. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Copyright, National Museum of the Marine Corps

One unique detail of the exhibit: nearly all of the artwork on display was done by artists who either are, or were, serving Marines. Since 1942, the Marine Corps has had a contingent of combat artists to record what war really was like for the Leathernecks. Once numbering as many as 70 trained artists, they sketched and painted what they saw at sea, in the air and on the ground — often in combat zones around the world. Now there is only one full-time artist, Staff Sgt. Kristopher Battles.

He described to 4GWAR and other reporters attending a press preview of the exhibit how he carried a 9 millimeter sidearm and an M-16 rifle as well as a camera, watercolor paints and a sketchpad when he went out on patrol with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of Battles’ paintings are on display at the Air & Space exhibit, as well as his artist’s kit.

Fly Marines exhibit. Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

You can just make out Battles’ paintings of a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter on the wall behind and to the left of the flight suit-wearing mannequin in the photo above (click on the photo to enlarge). You can get a better view of both works at his personal website Sketchpad Warrior.

Battles, who served in the Marines and reserves from 1986 to 1996, has a fine arts degree from Northeast Missouri State University. He re-joined the Corps as a combat artist in 2006 at the urging of the then-last remaining combat artist, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Fay. Battles had e-mailed Fay to say he admired his work and when Fay learned he was both a former Marine sergeant and an artist, he and combat art program officials asked him to consider re-upping. In September of 2006 Battles, who was then 38, reported to Marine Base Quantico for training and a month later he was on his way to Iraq.

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Battles has been deployed to Haiti — where he once was a missionary — to record the Marines’ humanitarian relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake. Battles, who learned Creole French in his missionary days, also helped as a translator.

The staff sergeant said he considered himself lucky to have come under fire infrequently in combat zones. His predecessor, Fay, was wounded in Iraq, he noted. Battles said it can be difficult looking for subject material with a painter’s eye while on a combat patrol. “You still have to be on guard and watching as a Marine. It’s an interesting juggling act,” he said. Occasionally he ran across a gunnery sergeant or 1st sergeant that didn’t know about combat artists or that “we’re trained Marines,” who balked at taking the artist on patrols. “But most of my experience has been quite positive,” Battles said, adding “Once you start sketching a Marine in the field, they kind of perk up a little bit. It’s a morale builder.”

1920 poster by Howard Chandler Christy Copyright, National Museum of the Marine Corps

To see more of the Fly Marines exhibit click here. The National Air and Space Museum museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, DC at Sixth St. and Independence Ave. S.W.

To see more of the 8,000 artworks in the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, click here. That museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, Virginia — not far from the Quantico Marine Base.

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

January 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 23, 2011)

Going, Going, Gone

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lynette Hoke

A line of mine resistant vehicles known as MRAPS forms the last convoy of U.S. service members entering Kuwait from Iraq. The 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Greywolf, was the final unit to leave on Dec. 18.

Nearly 4,500 troops have been killed in Iraq since 2003. More than 30,000 more were wounded.

For the last several months, U.S. troops have worked to reposition what were then 50,000 service members and 2 million pieces of equipment remaining in Iraq, said Army Gen. Loyd J. Austin III, the last commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq.

To see more photos of the last convoy out of Iraq, click here.

December 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm Leave a comment

IRAQ: The (Not So) Long Goodbye

This Way Out

The war in Iraq is over — for now.

U.S. troops held the formal ceremonies today (Dec. 15) ending their presence in Iraq after almost nine years of battle, ambush, raid and roadside bombs.

“This is not the end,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in Baghdad Dec. 15,  “This is truly the beginning,” he added, reminding Iraqi leaders they have a “committed friend and committed partner.”

End of Mission ceremony in Baghdad. Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

“Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of Iraq,” said President Barack Obama, who made ending the war a campaign promise.

But there are plenty of critics in Iraq and the U.S. who think civil war could break out after all the U.S. troops leave because of sectarian/political violence.

“It is the end for Americans only,” a Iraqi newspaper columnist said recently, according to the New York Times. “Nobody know if the war will end for Iraqis, too,” he added.

By the numbers: more than 4,500 U.S. service members killed, another 30,000 were wounded. In all, the U.S. spend nearly $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) on the Iraq war.

Coalition forces lost more than 300 troops from countries like Britain, Italy, Poland, Spain, Ukraine and Denmark, . One can only guesstimate how many Iraqis died in the 2003 invasion and the subsequent orgy of sectarian violence and insurgency that swept the country to near-chaos in the mid 2000s. . Most sources place it at 100,000 or more.

The U.S. is packing up the last of its equipment — like the mine-protected vehicles pictured below. Scores of bases have been evacuated and turned over to the Iraqis.

Defense Dept. photo

In this picture, soldiers with the 68th Transportation Company perform maintenance checks on heavy equipment transportation trucks at a motor pool on Contingency Operating Base Adder. The unit loaded the trucks up with military equipment bound for Kuwait.

While some Americans — and certainly plenty of Iraqis — think its taken too long for Obama to unwind the Iraq operation, others like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) think the total withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the month is premature. McCain, who ran against Obama for the presidency and lost in 2008, thinks the U.S. departure opens the door for growing Iranian influence — especially among Iraq’s Shia Muslim minority.

December 15, 2011 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 11, 2011)

Safe at Home

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica Kuhn)

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Bernquist holds his arms out for his daughter Evelyn  during a welcome home ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., Nov. 4, 2011. Bernquist is assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps and just returned from a 12-month deployment in Iraq.

Note Bernquist wears the maroon beret of the paratrooper. He is also still carrying his M-4 carbine. Wonder what TSA thinks of that? The staff sergeant also sports the dragon patch of the 18th Airborne Corps.

To all our veterans from every service, war and conflict — and to those who kept the peace at home. Many thanks!

November 11, 2011 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

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