March 4, 2008

In the Slums of Fallujah

In the Slums of Fallujah.jpg

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – Captain Steve Eastin threw open the door to the Iraqi Police captain’s office and cancelled a joint American-Iraqi officer’s meeting before it could even begin. “Someone just shot at my Marines,” he said. “We can’t do this right now.”

I following him into the hall.

“What happened?” I said.

“Someone just shot at my guys at the flour mill,” he said. “A bullet struck a wall four feet over a Marine's head. We have to go in there and extract them.”

“They don't extract themselves?” I said.

“They're on foot,” he said, “and we're going in vehicles. They don't extract themselves on foot.”

And I was getting comfortable and even bored in post-insurgent Fallujah. Complacency kills, and Fallujah isn't completely free of insurgents just yet.

Complacency Kills.jpg

“Can I go with the extraction team?” I said.

“They’ve already left in Humvees,” he said.

But he did send a patrol to the flour mill less an hour later, and I went with them.

Captain Eastin is the commanding officer of Lima Company, and they operate in the slums of southern Fallujah. The houses down there are smaller than they are in the rest of the city, and much more decrepit. Southern Fallujah isn't nearly as rough as a Latin American, Indian, or Egyptian shantytown, but its residents live a hardscrabble life and largely depend on charity for survival. There isn't much of an economy. Unemployment is well over 50 percent. Many residents worked in the industrial district, but only a few factories have re-opened so far. Business owners are waiting for government compensation which was supposed to have been delivered from Baghdad months ago.

Rubble and Blank Walls Fallujah.jpg

During periods of heavy fighting there were more insurgents in this part of the city than in the north, but they fought more for money than ideology. They needed the survival cash Al Qaeda paid them.

“Get your shit on!” Corporal Z bellowed at the privates under his command. He screamed at just about everyone, including me. He's a tyrant to work underneath, and he's a royal pain to work near. His belligerent attitude was unprofessional, and I was surprised his fellow Marines put up with him. I'm referring to him as Corporal Z instead of his full name because my objective here isn't to name and shame him as an act of revenge.

“Are we walking or driving?” I said to him before I realized who I was dealing with.

He scowled at me like I was the dumbest human being he had ever seen.

“We don't drive,” he said. “We walk. You got that? We walk. We don't ever drive out of here.” He scoffed and shook his head.

Forty five minutes earlier his commanding officer Captain Eastin sent a unit to the flour mill in Humvees. Corporal Z only thought he knew what he was talking about.

As it turned out, though, we did walk. The previous patrol had been safely extracted, and the Marines didn't want to look like they were scared.

Lieutenant Justin Lappe led the unit from the joint security station to the flour mill where the shot had been fired. We walked out the gate, and we walked quickly.

“Fuck,” Corporal Z said. “Fuck. I hope I get to shoot somebody today.”

We were in earshot of Iraqi civilians, and I hoped they didn't understand English.

“What's his problem, anyway?” I said to Lieutenant Lappe.

“He's from the south side of Chicago,” he said, as if that explained it. “I guess he grew up in a really bad area. For the last five months I've tried to civilize him, but it can't be done and I've given up.”

“How many people is he in charge of?” I said.

“You'd think he was in charge of a hundred people the way he yells at everybody,” he said. “But he's only in charge of ten. Don't let him get to you. We've all learned to ignore him. I don't even hear him anymore.”

Corporal Z reminded me of another Marine NCO in Fallujah whom I'll call Sergeant C. Sergeant C does not play well with others. He made it clear he hates journalists as a species and that he was going to take it out on me personally. It was nearly impossible to have anything resembling a normal conversation with him.

“When are we moving out, sergeant?” one of his men asked before rolling out on a mission.

“In a few minutes,” Sergeant C said. “Now calm down and stick your tampon back in.”

I saw him slap a private – hard – in the head in the chow hall during lunch. Any private sector employer would have fired him on the spot.

Lieutenant J.C. Davis at Camp Baharia once asked me how everybody was treating me.

“Like gold,” I said. “With one exception. I am not really getting along with Sergeant C.”

The lieutenant laughed out loud hard.

Nobody gets along with Sergeant C,” he said.

What struck me most about Corporal Z and Sergeant C, though, is how unusual they were. I met hundreds of Marines in Fallujah, but only these two had this kind of attitude problem. Most soldiers and Marines in Iraq are far more polite and respectful of others than Americans generally.

I will not publish Corporal Z's and Sergeant C's names because I don't wish to cause them any trouble, but they nevertheless violated MJT's First Rule of Media Relations: Be nice to people who write about you for a living.

The flour mill where Marines had been shot at was only a quarter mile away, but the Marines still walked quickly and didn't stop to talk to any Iraqis. They were much more serious and focused than usual. They knew, and I knew, that we were much more likely to be shot at this time.

An Iraqi Police station had just been constructed a few blocks from the mill, and we stopped to pick up some of their officers to take with us. I waited in the front parking lot.

The neighborhood looked terrible: shoddy houses, concrete walls, barbed wire, garbage, and rubble. I snapped a few pictures.

Garbage Slums of Fallujah.jpg

Destruction Near Flour Mill Fallujah.jpg

A poor man and his two children saw me point my camera in their general direction and decided to pose for me. They thought I wanted a picture of them. I didn't really, but I took one anyway.

Family Barbed Wire Fallujah.jpg

They had an innocent and kind look about them, and I felt bad that they didn't realize that what I was really trying to photograph was their destitute neighborhood. They did not seem ashamed of their humble circumstances.

It would not have surprised me if they had. When I tried to photograph a slum in Cairo near Giza – a slum that was in much worse shape than this one – my taxi driver was embarrassed and implored me to put down my camera. He knew I was a journalist, and he wanted to protect Egypt's dignity.

A unit of Iraqi Police officers emerged from the station with their gear on, and we walked the few remaining blocks to our destination.

Flour Mill Angled Shot.jpg

The flour mill is the tallest building in the area, and I thought it looked like an ideal location for a sniper's nest. I walked toward it in a random zigzag pattern to make myself a more difficult target.

Iraqi Police on Way to Flour Mill.jpg

An Iraqi Police truck roared past us on the street and nearly ran over several Marines and Iraqi Police officers. The driver slammed on the brakes. Officers jumped out with their AK-47s at the ready and merged into the staggered line of Marines.

Flour Mill from Below.jpg

The flour mill loomed ominously overhead. Was the earlier shot fired at the building or from the building? That wasn’t clear to me, and I dearly hoped the shot had come from somewhere else.

We made it inside the parking lot. A handful of Iraq civilians were already there talking to some Iraqi Police officers.

Consult at the Flour Mill.jpg

“Get in here! Get in here!” Corporal Z bellowed at everyone, American and Iraqi alike. “We need to shut this gate now!”

At the Flour Mill Fallujah.jpg

Just behind the sliding gate were the words Complacency Kills. Corporal Z, for all his faults, at least wasn’t complacent.

Complacency Kills Flour Mill.jpg

Once everyone was inside the parking lot, an Iraqi Police officer lackadaisically shut the gate to keep the city at bay. I assumed, then, that the shot had not come from the flour mill or we likely wouldn’t have barricaded ourselves in. Everyone seemed tense, but only slightly – except for Corporal Z who looked like he wanted to fire his weapon. I hoped his superior officers kept him away from detainees.

“Are we going inside?” I said to Lieutenant Lappe.

“I don't know,” he said. “We need to talk to the owner, but he isn't around. The Iraqis are trying to locate him.”

The purpose of the mission was to find him and talk to him, and also to show force. The Marines who were shot at had to be extracted, but at the same time they can’t be seen steering clear of a place just because somebody fired a round at them.

This is as much action as the Marines see any more in Fallujah, which is why the city and the rest of the province are being handed back to Iraqis.

The police could not locate the owner, so we left.

I spoke to Corporal Benjamin Smith on our walk back to the station. He had been in Fallujah before.

“I was hit more than ten times with IEDs in 2006,” he said.

“What kind of IEDs did they use out here?” I said. I was pretty sure there were no EFPs – explosively formed projectiles that tear through tanks, Humvees, and people as though they were made of wet paper. EFPs are made in Iran and are therefore supplied to Iraqi Shia militias. Fallujah is Sunni.

“155 [mm] artillery shells,” he said. “Mortar rounds. Propane tanks. P4 explosives.”

“What was Fallujah like then compared to now?” I said.

“We did a few foot patrols,” he said, “but mostly convoys. Kids even ran up to us then sometimes, but not very often. There are lots more people in the street now. Only once in a while, back then, did anyone wave. It was very rare. Typically, people who saw Marines turned their backs. It was a tough environment.”

An Iraqi Police truck roared down the street. One of the officers threw handfuls of leaflets over the side. Kids scrambled to pick them up.

The belligerent Corporal Z waded into the crowd of kids, smiled warmly, patted one on the head, and gave the others high-fives. What was this? He can’t be nice to Americans, he said he hoped he got to shoot somebody that day, but he’s affectionate with the kids?

Kids Waving on Way to Flour Mill.jpg

“I like it when the kids swarm around me,” he said when he saw that I watched him. “I feel a lot safer.” This was the first time I heard him speak in a normal tone. He’s complicated.

Corporal Smith and I kept walking together.

“What's the most intense thing you saw in Fallujah back then?”

“An SVBIED,” he said. Suicidal vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. In other words, a suicide car bomber. “It was a civilian van. It swerved right toward me, and the guy blew up himself and the van. We found pieces 150 yards away. The engine block blew 50 feet in the air and landed on a Humvee. What was left of the guy was nasty, as if he'd been drawn and quartered.”

I didn't know what to say.

“There was another time when an SVBIED fuel tanker came at us,” he said. “Our EOF [escalation of force] measures couldn't stop it. The driver made it into the outpost. He destroyed four Humvees and even melted one of them. No one was killed, though. Just one dead insurgent. Enemy contact was a daily occurrence then. Me and everyone I know who was here then and now are like, what the fuck? This is Fallujah? Sometimes we'll be driving along and I'll pass a place where I got hit. I'll say oh fuck, this is that place where I got hit and everybody stops talking. It's like fucking crickets in the Humvee.”

Lieutenant Lappe overheard our conversation. I think he was worried that I was getting nervous.

“No one can lay down an IED anymore without somebody calling it in,” he said.

Marine Buys Candy Fallujah.jpg

He fished some Iraqi dinars out of his pocket, walked up the counter of a small store, and bought a huge bag of treats for the kids. It was instant kid bait.

“Chocolate! Chocolate!”

“Mister, I love you!”

“These kids are our security,” he said.

And the Marines are their security.

Kids burst out of every house on the street and formed a violent mob. They fiercely pushed, hit, kicked, and screamed at each other in a mad scramble for a small piece of candy. Someday, I thought, these children will be adults.

Lieutenant Lappe was horrified by their behavior, and he held the bag over his head and told them to calm down. They didn’t calm down. They just keep pushing and punching each other to get as close to the bag of candy as possible.

“You know what?” he said. “Fuck it.” And he threw the bag of candy up into the air over their heads. It landed in the street with a loud smack and broke open. The mob descended and it was all elbows and fists.

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah,” the lieutenant said. “These people have issues.”

We walked past a nice-looking Opel sedan. A Marine peered into the driver side window. Another crouched down and looked underneath.

“The Opel is like the Humvee for the muj, man,” said another.

“It's a bad ass car,” our Iraqi-American interpreter said and grinned.


“There are no reporters in all of Fallujah, except Mike,” Captain Eastin said to his men when I first arrived. “So if he talks to you, talk to him. It's the only way to get our story out.”

Soldiers and Marines tend to be a bit more friendly and trusting when I'm introduced to them in this way, and Lima Company was no exception.

I sat with a handful of jokesters in the smoke pit outside the station while First Sergeant Alonzo Baxter held court and entertained us all with his war stories and wisecracks. I can't quote him exactly because I did not have my notebook or voice recorder with me at the time, but almost everything he said was hilarious.

“This guy ought to be famous,” one of his fellow Marines said.

“I'm famous already,” Sergeant Baxter said. “I've been on TV. Ain't no thing.”

“Well, I'll make you famous again,” I said and snapped his picture.

Sgt Baxter Fallujah.jpg
First Sergeant Alonzo Baxter

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Dowling paid a brief visit to the station from Camp Baharia just outside the city. He caught wind of the smoke from Sergeant Baxter's cigar.

“What are you smoking?” Colonel Dowling said. “Is that a Cuban?”

“It's a Cuban,” Sergeant Baxter said.

Colonel Dowling scowled at Sergeant Baxter and looked like he was gearing up to read him the riot act – or worse.

Colonel Dowling Fallujah.jpg
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Dowling

“You want one, sir?” Sergeant Baxter said meekly.

The colonel put his hands on his hips. Then he laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “I'll take one.”

Sergeant Baxter handed Colonel Dowling a Cuban cigar.

“Now I get a free pass next time I mess something up,” he said.

“Oh, no you don't,” Colonel Dowling said.

“Ah, come on, sir,” Sergeant Baxter said. “Just something small.”

The colonel then made an announcement. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter was going to drop by and pay us a visit. Every Marine in the smoke pit sat bolt upright in their chairs. “So we need to get this place straightened up now.”

Five seconds later I was the only one who remained sitting. The rest were busting out brooms, organizing clutter, and taking trash to the burn pit.

No one, including the colonel, had any idea the Secretary of the Navy would be dropping by their random Joint Security Station in a rented house in the slums of Fallujah. How unlikely was that?

“Is he going to patrol?” I heard one Marine say.

“Fuck no,” said another. “That's like President Bush going on patrol.”

Marines don't like it when you point this out, but they are part of the Department of the Navy. They like to fashion themselves as more bad ass than the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. They do have a point. A Marine is much more likely to see combat than a service member in any of the other branches. The Marine Corps takes far more casualties per head than the others. But the Secretary of the Navy outranked the bejeezus out of every man at that station. They found Lieutenant Colonel Dowling a little intimidating, but the news of a visit from Donald C. Winter made me think of that famous bumper sticker: Jesus is Coming. Look Busy.

Two hours later, he arrived. Lieutenant Colonel Dowling shook his hand, called him sir, and introduced him to the Marines. They stood and faced him like star struck teenagers and seemed terrified that he might find them inadequate.

He did not.

Instead he read a letter written by an Iraqi woman who wanted to thank the U.S. armed forces for freeing and protecting her country.

Each Marine was asked to briefly introduce himself. Each was given one of Donald C. Winter’s very own “unit” coins.

Sec of Navy Handshake Fallujah.jpg

Sec of Navy Coin Fallujah.jpg

After the formalities, Sergeant Baxter approached the secretary with a cigar in his hand.

“Would you like one, sir?” he said. “It’s a Cuban.”

Secretary Winter happily grinned and did not even bothering putting on a show of disapproval.

“Why thank you,” he said. “I think I will.” Then he slipped the cigar into his pocket.

I quietly introduced myself to his aid Becky Brenton.

“What’s he doing this for, exactly?” I said. I doubted it was for a photo op. I was the only reporter in all of Fallujah. He crossed paths with me by sheer chance. It was obvious that he wasn’t there for any attention from me.

Sec of Navy Fallujah.jpg

“He wants to thank the troops,” she said. “He does this every year. He’s on his way to Afghanistan now.”

“Well,” I said, “this is a good time for him to come to Fallujah. It’s not dangerous anymore.” I thought he might be on the dog and pony show happy tour circuit. I was wrong.

“Oh,” she said. “He’s been here before. And he was in Haditha last year.”

“Last year,” I said. “When Haditha was still hot.”

“He risked getting blown up just like everyone else,” she said.

She introduced me to him, and he was startled to see me.

“Get their stories out,” he said as he shook my hand.

“I will,” I said. “That’s why I came.”

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 4, 2008 1:47 AM

Good story, as usual. When I worked for the DoD I was around Air Force almost exclusively. I did work with Soldiers and Marines from time to time and really enjoyed it. Airmen tend to look at their job as a 9-5 type operation, except they have to wear a uniform. Soldiers and Marines were always more polite and took their jobs a bit more serious. I always hated the bitching you'd get from the Airmen if they had to work overtime or weekends.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 5:52 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/04/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 6:53 AM

Your story is something that the MSM should be using as the writing style makes everyone a human being. I am now 67 years old and this brings back memories of people I was with in the Navy when I was a young man. You write real activities, not the manufactured pap that so many others have written and passed off as true stories.

Thank You

Posted by: Gene Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 9:20 AM

Michael- That was a great post. Thanks for the work you do. And contrary to what Edgar (nothing but love for though, Edgar) thinks of other people visiting your blog; I visit and promote your blog, because I want the truth and perspective that isn't being reported in the MSM.

This weekend I visited friends that I haven't seen in long time. As we got drunk the conversation eventually drifted to politics and the Iraq War. My friend Pat was undecided about who he would vote for, but was leaning towards the Obama. His wife though was thoroughly under the Obama's enchantment. When she found out that McCain was my defacto candidate (I wanted Rudi); she started laying into me that this war was terrible, we need to get out and we should do something about Pakistan. I told her I respected her decision to support the Obama, but I suggested that she needs to find out more about him and his policies other than he chant "yes we can!" pretty good.

As we talked I think they realized how ignorant they were in regards to the current situation in Iraq. Bella thought we had 4,000 combat fatalities last year. She didn't know what to say when I told her it was 800+. I could tell she was starting to have her doubts. My wife Christel started to reign me in, because alcohol increases my talking volume for some reason. I ended the conversation by saying when we aren't drunk we'll talk more, but in the mean time you should at the very least check out these two websites. Michael Yon's blog and Michael Totten's. And I told them not because I'm trying to find some vindication for supporting the war, but because you'll get something that is not being reported in the MSM. Only then you can make an enlightened and educated decision on the Iraq War.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 9:23 AM

Most of our fighting in that city was against the Sunni insurgents. Now for some reason they are being re-named al Qaeda.
And the remaining Sunnis have been re-named "The Sons Of Iraq".

Does anyone think that their core values have changed ?

Posted by: john Ryan Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 10:01 AM


Great article. You never know with people like Sergeant C and Corporal Z. Combat sends people off the deep end...Good portrait of what it's like in the real army, though.


Not aimed at you. Really. But you probably noticed that even in 2004 when things were going to shit, there was a certain demographic saying that everything was perfectly fine and the MSM was simply fabricating the whole thing. Iraqis were happy with beheadings and suicide bombings every day, etc.

Or there were people who thought the jihadis were dang3r0usly harDcor3 l33t WaRri0rs who stabbed themselves in the heart with epipens before every mission.

But just like criticism is due in certain cases, you gotta give credit where it's due. The army and marines are doing a solid job now and I'm happy. I was never against the war, anyway. As I've said, I'll be delighted to see Iran bombed and invaded next and gas prices come down.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 10:03 AM

It's ok Edgar, I knew you weren't talking about me and if you were so what??? After 20 years of marital bliss with my wife she still insists that I talk louder when I get drunk. To which I reply "NO I DON'T...!!!" hehehe. I'm sure we don't see eye to eye on certain things. And that's ok. I've grown to appreciate your point of view. Plus, (don't get a big head, either) your quirky sense of humor and hilarious one liners keep me laughing. In fact the offer I made to DPU; I want to extend to you, Michael and the regulars to his blog (except maybe Glasnost) if you're ever in Napa or Vallejo I'll buy the first round.

Ps. I do agree with you 2004 things were going to shit. And there were several strategies that could've been employed. I'm glad the current one is not just working, but working well.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 10:47 AM


What suddenly struck me was that the police were no longer covering their faces and didn't seem to mind being photographed. Is this now typical? How long has it been the case?

As always, thank you.

Posted by: amagi Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 11:10 AM

Great good I feel compelled to send you another small donation. Hang on...

Posted by: BillBC Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 1:22 PM


The report was great. It zigzagged from Corporal Z to Secretary Winter just like you must have zigzagged approaching the flour mill.

John Ryan-

An officer Michael interviewed categorized Iraqis as "friends, fence sitters, and f*ckos." Most f*ckos have been killed or driven from Fallujah, leaving mainly fence sitters. These people are the majority and sway with the prevailing winds-this is why their support is so crucial, because it prevents the f*ckos from coming back and killing us and our friends. A premature withdrawal will reduce our number of friends and cause the fence sitters to lean more towards AQ, enabling them to regain a toehold and reignite the violence.

Posted by: MartyH Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 3:09 PM

Edgar: As I've said, I'll be delighted to see Iran bombed and invaded next and gas prices come down.

Uh, what? How does that work?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 3:18 PM

DPU: Uh, what? How does that work?

Well, I figure it will be a bit cheaper to attack Iran now that the U.S. has a significant presence in both Iran and Afghanistan.

I was definitely for stealing Iraq's oil (why should they have it?), though it never seemed to happen. I guess the cost of invading took a big chunk out of the profit.

I think the U.S. will be smarter this time with Iran. Do everything on the cheap, and--hopefully--consumers will see the results at the pump.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 3:54 PM

Hey Michael,

I live in Vancouver, right across the Columbia from your hometown. I've been visiting this blog for months but this is my first comment.

Your writing is amazing...I really feel like I'm there and can understand a little more about what my brother (who is Army and based in FOB Falcon right now) is going through.

Thanks for doing this. I look forward to every article.

Posted by: Jamon51 Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 4:39 PM

Jack Ryan: "Most of our fighting in that city was against the Sunni insurgents. Now for some reason they are being re-named al Qaeda.
And the remaining Sunnis have been re-named “The Sons Of Iraq”.

Does anyone think that their core values have changed ?"

We fought the German and Japanese empires for four years, during which they had slaughtered millions of civilians in addition to inflicting tens of millions of troop casualties on the lands they conquered. Did their values change after being defeated? Who knows? My personal guess is that they got tired of fighting and decided to cooperate with us instead of fighting us. Something similar is probably happening in Iraq.

There's this myth that all one billion Muslims are willing to die fighting against the perceived enemies of Islam. The reality is more prosaic. During the Iran-Iraq War, both nations combined lost fewer men than France alone did during WWI. Something like 20% of Muslims in Britain approves of suicide attacks against the UK. That's about 320,000 people. If these Muslims were truly motivated, they could kill dozens of Brits on a daily basis. They wouldn't need military grade supplies - powerful explosives can be ginned up using household and agricultural chemicals (the Oklahoma City bombings involved fuel oil and fertilizer, and the 1993 WTC bombing was carried out using similar materials). But these terror supporters aren't doing so. Maybe they're squeamish about having to do the deed personally, or maybe they're afraid of dying. Either way, they're not a danger in spite of their values.

The point? We don't need their values to change. There are many who will rejoice in our sorrows until the end of their days, as they celebrated during the 9/11 bombings. All we need for them is to give up - as happened with the Germans and the Japanese after losing 12% and 5% of their populations respectively to war. My impression from looking at the recent history of Muslim wars is that the Muslim pain threshold is lower, rather than higher, than what the Western powers have traditionally endured.

Posted by: Zhang Fei Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 5:19 PM

Marines don't like it when you point this out, but they are part of the Department of the Navy. They like to fashion themselves as more bad ass than the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force.


Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at March 4, 2008 9:08 PM

Edgar: Well, I figure it will be a bit cheaper to attack Iran now that the U.S. has a significant presence in both Iran and Afghanistan.

Well, if they already have a significant presence in Iran, it should be a piece of cake to steal their stuff.

I would have thought, though, that the whole Afghanistan thing was a pretext in order to get troops quietly into a country bordering on the real enemy, Red China.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 1:04 PM

It appears that the surge is generally a success. Now, I'm hoping the next president (whoever he or she may be) will take the next logical step - to help build their infrastructure and economy. Running water and electricity 24/7 for all Iraqis.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 1:37 PM

Generally enjoy your reporting and appreciate your getting out there with the the troops.
Your comments on Cpl. Z & Sgt. C were out of line.
You don't know these men and didn't even try to find out their story. Back in the old days when I was killing Commies for Christ it was the kick ass grouchy NCO's that kept most of the numbnuts from getting their a$$es shot or blown off.
We treated the press like brothers in Nam and all they did was stab us in the back. Not saying you do but your brother reporters have done it many times in Iraq and Afghanistan so treating you all like you had the plague might not be a bad idea.
Keep it positive Mike and lay off the NCO's.
If you want to rag on someone do it to the SECNAV who does his pussy foot tour with his squeeze and entourage.

Posted by: Jim Burke Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 2:19 PM

Jim Burke,

If my purpose was "ragging on" Corporal Z and Sergeant C I would have named them.

I wrote about Corporal Z's belligerence because that was part of what happened that day. I write about what happens, what I see and hear, not what readers might want me to see and hear.

Nobody likes Corporal Z or Sergeant C, and I made that abundantly clear in the narrative. I'm not going to pretend every Marine is an angel or edit out the bad apples. If I did that I would have zero credibility. Some lefties already accuse me of whitewashing the military. They're completely full of crap, but you're asking me to do what they accuse me of. That is not going to happen.

You don't know these men and didn't even try to find out their story.

You only know what I revealed to you, which is very condensed. I could have written a lot more about each of them, but I didn't want to bore everyone with it all or come across as obsessive. They weren't the story. I doubt very seriously that any of their fellow Marines who know them would object to my characterization of them. Certainly the Marines I quoted would not.

I also made it abundantly clear that the SECNAV was not on a "pussy foot tour" even though at first I thought he might be. He did absolutely nothing to justify me ragging on him, and I'd be a complete ass if I did.

My job is to tell it like it is, not pick who to be nice to out of some sense of military political correctness which I do not and cannot adhere to.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 2:37 PM

In reference to Corporal Z: I am familiar with the man you speak of, and from what I know of him, the representation of his character in your article is completely accurate (unfortuately for him and those around him).

I know several Marines deployed with you in Fallujah right now, and most likely everyone of them would agree with you regarding his attitude.

Your article actually made me laugh out loud because I can picture him barking off orders to his fellow Marines that don't want to hear it. Thank you for bringing your experiences back here to us at home.

I love your journalism style, the information you present, and your ability to actually tell it like it is, without a sense of political correctness.

So, rather than getting upset at Michael for truly representing what he is experiencing, appreciate the unbiased stories he is presenting to us about Fallujah. It is just nice to know how our troops are doing over there, without a political spin.

Posted by: M.McGinnis Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 3:07 PM

Jim Burke - I can appreciate you defending the corporal & seargant, but take it easy on Michael. He's been fair all around. You can tell he's being genuine and doesn't try to sensationalize the stuff he's seen and experienced.
When I went to my catachism and confirmation class I discovered that some of the nuns were major A-holes. Oh well that's life. Still a catholic. Michael doesn't do hit pieces, he plays it fair. Now if we could get people in the MSM and especially HOLLYWOOD to do the same thing.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 4:15 PM

Maybe Jim Burke is Corporal Z or Sergeant C...

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at March 5, 2008 4:23 PM

re 2004: You might like to read this long post in Error Theory, Rumsfeld's victory: a retrospective look at our de facto flytrap strategy in Iraq. Rum and lemonade. And ju-jitsu on Dem-featism.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at March 6, 2008 12:26 AM

About the Cpl & Sgt; I work in an environment with a similar type, a mid-level manager who abuses people routinely for "motivation", and reacts like a volcano to any slight on his divine managerial status and prerogatives. It's kind of a puzzle why he's kept on, except that he's maybe the professional designated "bad cop" who makes all the other managers look good.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at March 6, 2008 12:32 AM

Another outstanding post, Michael. As always, you make me wish I were over there. (I am hoping to go, actually, if I can ever fix a back injury I sustained last year.)

I make an automatic $3 contribution to you every month, but I'm going to increase this to $10 a month.

All my donations go to helping win the war, so I give to Sen. McCain, Vets for Freedom, several soldier support charities, and three independent journalists - Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, and you.

You journalists are doing the country a tremendous service by getting the American public the full facts, - a service all the more tremendous because so few are doing it.

I wish I could give you more.

Now, why don't periodicals like The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today carry your columns regularly? I imagine you've explored this possibility - but if not, please do. EVERYONE should read your columns, because you report on things as they are and you don't try to please anyone - and your writing is very engaging and crisp. (Strunk would be proud.)

Thank you again.

Posted by: Josh Levy Author Profile Page at March 6, 2008 5:54 AM

Brian H - A very thought provoking post. I pray and wish that the SECDEF had that much foresight in coming up with this strategy.
Personally, I would've advocated the strategy that Colonel Hunt promoted. In my opinion we rushed post-war Iraq into formulating a government. President Bush pushed it to deflect the criticism he was receiving from the Democrats for not finding an active WMD program. (Thanks, George Tenet) (Although Saddam did confess to his one and only interrogator that he pushed & promoted Iraq having a WMD program because:
A. He didn't want his enemies Syria and Iran to think he didn't have one.
B. Under the incorrect assumption that President Bush wouldn't invade.)

Security and forming an Iraqi entity to perform governmental functions (overseen by US officials) should've been the number priority. Colonel Hunt wanted something similar to post-war Japan. Let the Imperial Japanese know that they were defeated and build the government bureaucracy from the ground up. He also wanted the borders secured with a warning aimed at Syria and Iran that if you tried to de-stabilize Iraq you face retaliation from the US military. President Bush should've also informed everyone that we were going to have a PERMANENT presence in Iraq. But that's neither here nor there, anymore. It's a mute point now.

I don't pretend to have the same information that President Bush and Sec Rumsfeld had at the time, but is was very big gamble to go down this road of a small footprint. The current strategy is working. And if allowed to succeed; we'll have an ally in combating Islamic terrorism. That's where the Obama comes in; it seems he's willing to throw all this away just to get elected. The big gamble will have been in vain.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at March 6, 2008 11:22 AM

Mr. Totten-

You stated you didn't really want to take that picture of the poor man with his children, but I'm glad you did and included it in this report. As appalling as the pictures of the slums were with the run down buildings and piles of garbage lying about- the picture helped to personalize the area for me. There are actual people who call that home; little children play there. The little girl in the red will stick with me. Thank you for your hard work and for telling it to us straight. Stay safe!

Regards, Sharmuta

Posted by: Sharmuta Author Profile Page at March 6, 2008 8:15 PM

PeteDawg -

That is one of the best concise summaries of the administration's mistakes in this war, mistakes all the more frustrating because most of them were so obviously against common sense (like refusing - and still refusing - put in enough men to secure the Iranian and Syrian borders).

I'm going to cross-post your comments at


Posted by: Josh Levy Author Profile Page at March 7, 2008 11:37 AM


I just finished "The Myth of the Surge" by Nir Rosen in Rolling Stone. Obviously, the leftward spin does a good job of painting "quagmire", but do you trust his journalistic integrity? Obviously, there are people on all sides of the spectrum and in his article he finds plenty of evidence to support a 'lost cause' viewpoint, but is the picture he paints pervasive or a minority of the people?

Posted by: Dadmin Author Profile Page at March 7, 2008 12:34 PM

When I think about progress made since the surge was initiated, I realize the key
to its success was civilian cooperation with a different strategy; once the locals
saw our forces living in their neighborhoods instead of on outlying bases they felt
safe enough to come forward with crucial intelligence. My frustration with
Bush administration policy is why this strategy took so long to hit the ground;
it seems obvious in retrospect. But it took Lincoln time to sort out his officer corp
too; maybe David Petraeus and Ray Odierno needed to emerge out of failure.

My apprehension about November and beyond is that our premature pullout
will encourage AQI and Iran to declare victory over Satan and use this as
an effective recruitment tool, triggering waves of retaliation against those who
were so important to the surge strategy's successes, sending our reputation down
the drain and opening the door wide for al-Qaeda and Iran.

Reading what I've seen recently about the sagging economy and unrest in Iran (and that's just
what makes it out of there for the world to see) gives me some reason for optimism,
but not much, especially short term. I hope John McCain can make the case for engagement
so all americans appreciate the threat, but I'm pessimistic.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at March 9, 2008 12:03 AM

wow michael you got it right on the money with them too oh well they had it coming to them good story

Posted by: marine Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 11:56 AM

I am very disappointed at independent journalism as a whole. What is most disturbing is there is no accountability. You can simply report whatever you want with no consequence. This is obvious from reading only a brief portion of this story.
I am Lt. Lappe and you know I never said "F**% it." If you recall, I gave the candy to Dave, who was our interpreter. This is something I did every time I bought candy for children, I gave it to the intrepter. This was to reduce the madness that ensued from a U.S. Marine carrying candy.
Unfortunately anyone who knows me and my principles of COIN knows I would never act how you portrayed me. Nobody under my supervision would violate rule number one that you said I did. "Be kind to everyone you meet."
In reference to my comment "These children have issues"....yes Michael they do have issues, they were born in a third world country with the U.S. military in the country. I think anybody would have issues from that. I would appreciate it in the future if you wouldn't intentionally take things out of context in order to add a "Laguna Beach" spin to them. There is no need for drama when talking about Downtown Fallujah.
Lastly, we never drive. That is correct. Whenever we left the station we never drove. UNLESS we could get somebody to help us load the vehicles and it was a Quick Reaction Mission. Move Mounted, work dismounted. So technically you were wrong. Again, no accountability.

Posted by: JWLappe Author Profile Page at August 15, 2008 11:41 PM


I would like thank you all for destroying our countries, not only Iraq but all Arab countries, including the whole world, but you'll never kill our dreams to get back our freedom, live in peace and kick your asses and troop out of our countries.

Until now (For US), there is no clear definition for terms "terrorism" & "terrorist". Believe me, whatever the definition will be, you'll find that US have done worst than any called "terrorist", you can read the history and you'll find out by yourself.

As soldiers, you are just puppets to fulfill few powerful and rich people concerns/pleasures and not protecting your families or country. You can simply ask yourself “Why are you here and for what??".

What happened in "Abu-Ghraib Prison" is proving what I've mentioned earlier where after all of that, the monsters got away with their sins. I wish that God burns them slowly from the top of their heads to the bottom their feet. I'd like to see their & your faces if someone did the same to your families, if Arabs did that to you, you'll react much more than that, and you’d say Arabs are monsters, believe me, you are the monsters.

Check also the definition & meaning of "Dictator", you'll find that US is one of the worst dictators that history has ever known. To be a legend & world leader is not easy or free... that is right, so let me congratulate you that US will become the worst leader & legend before being fulfilled.

The proof & statistics for that, there are american schools, in south america, middle east and other areas, to train some people, have been taken from their countries to be trained and be US weapons and hands, if US wants to change/add things or create civilian war from insiders, (Example: Saddam, Africa, Columbia …). Isn’t it familiar story & path, isn't it the same story as Al-Qaeda?

Arabs used to live, all Arabs, Christians and Muslims (Sunni, Shiyah) without categorizing people by their religion. Since, my grand-grand fathers, I haven't heard from them calling others Muslims, Sunni or Shiyah. I am a Christian and I've friends & neighbors are Muslims, so what!!..... Before Iraq war, we never heard of Christian, Sunni or Shiyah..... They are available but it seems that it’s a good strategy "Divide and conquer" by using religion to hide your mistakes and real intentions.
By the way, you've killed a lot of Christians too, during these recent wars.

Those lives that you’ve killed/taken, (innocent people: men, women, and children), will follow you and your families to the grave.

What a good life you’ve built to you and your family …..

Posted by: Alan Author Profile Page at January 9, 2009 4:45 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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