Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Here We Go Again?

I have had my attention drawn to a post in Defense One (No, not the Defense version of Police One) about the current situation in Afghanistan. Please go read it. If you don't, you will not necessarily understand some of the points I am going to make. Go on, I'll wait...
Back? Good.

This a familiar theme - "This time for sure." Surges, drawdowns, you name it. It has all been done. So this is completely the same, right?

"Hey Rocky, watch me pull a victory out of my hat."

Well...not quite. There are a couple of changes to the rules that will make US forces more effective. The US is bringing in some forces that have been noticeably absent on the Air side of the house. Also, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been through a fairly tough time that has winnowed out the weakest links, and the Afghan Air Force has come into somewhat useful form. Will this help - sure. Is it enough...probably not.

Why not? As I have previously harped upon... the Pakistani element in Afghanistan's problems is quite large. Have they received the warning shot (or warning Twitter as the case may be) over the bow needed to get them to slow down helping or tolerating the various insurgent groups? That would take the other Pakistani State apparatuses, most notably the Army, to decide US aid is more important than the ISI's fixation on Afghanistan. Probably not happening at present. However, there is a new factor coming into play. A big source of money and assistance for the ISI and their insurgent backing came/comes from Saudi Arabian sources. Pakistan is pretty much pals with the Kingdom. With the big shakeup in Saudi Arabia - Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemingly taking the reins and taking steps toward reforms - the money spigot might be turned off. There are two reasons bin Salman might cut off the ISI /insurgents;

1) A desire to concentrate Saudi efforts against Iran, not on some Pashtun border squabbles that yield nothing for Saudi Arabia, and

2) THEY ARE RUNNING OUT OF MONEY. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal wasn't hanging upside down in a posh hotel room because they were shaking a few loose Riyals out of his pockets. Allegedly, a whole bunch of money has been beaten out of, er...recovered from the "corruption crackdown". The "welfare family living on a lake of oil" is running low on cash, thanks in large part to greater US production. They don't have lots of money to throw at the Pakistani insurgent machine.
Is that enough to turn the tide? Possibly...maybe even a coin flip of a chance.

HOWEVER, the single most important remaining factor is the Afghans themselves. Are they content to suffer the corruption, at levels that would make a Chicago Alderman blush, that saps their slim resources?  Do they want to fight on, or suffer under creepy theological rule again?  Do they care enough about "Afghanistan" or are they solely concerned about their home village, district or province? THAT will be the main determinant. That is my greatest fear as well - a fractured nation and a non-cohesive society cannot stand off a determined and foreign supported invasion of phanatiques.
I was often asked, when I came home from Iraq, some version of "will they make it"? My reply was always the same - we gave them their chance, it is up to them. Despite my personal feelings for the people and the area, I would say that it is time to say the same for Afghanistan. Maybe with a little bit of (unwilling) Saudi restraint, Pakistani hesitation, US pressure and the Afghan backbone, the whole mess can wind down to the dull background of squabbling and occasional gunfire that was Afghanistan's past.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Bridges of Basrah

Two and a half years after coming home from Afghanistan (and 4 months later, getting sent to New Orleans after Katrina) I was called back up, in 2007, to go to Iraq. This was displeasing. I had anticipated returning to Afghanistan in 2009. This was early, and I knew some Dari and had a good understanding of how Afghanistan worked (or didn’t). I didn’t know Arabic, and I had just started working for my new employer a only a couple of years earlier.

"We finally get to leave Fort Riley?!"

But, I made the best of it I could. I crammed Arabic for a couple of months, and learned as much as I could ahead of time. One small advantage I had was that a decent amount of my work for my B.A. and M.A. was in Middle Eastern History. So I had some idea of the big doo-doo pile I was about to step into as an “adviser” to the Iraqi army. A bit of extra training and I got dumped off with the Iraqi Army 10th Division.

Come on in, the water is....non-existent.
Oh boy. This was going to be work, but at least it was only moderately dangerous in their Area of Operations (not counting the 3 KIA we had the first week I was there). That lasted 3 weeks. The Iraqis had gotten sick of not controlling the second largest city in their country, and decided to do something about it. It was pretty much an Iraqi show, but the US decided it would at least lend them a bit of air support, some Special Forces to advise their Iraqi counterparts…and me.
I was taken from the 10th Division, and sent to go “help” the Iraqi Army 14th Division. They needed help. They were a relatively new unit, and had just finished initial training and were not fully equipped yet. But the knucklehead in charge, Iraqi 3 star General Mohan, launched them into the the fray immediately. One brigade saw a lot of its members walk away, since they were from Basrah itself, to go home and take care of business there. Fortunately, the Iraqi 1st Division (some serious killers) and a brigade of National Police (similar to European Gendarmes) as well a tank unit had been sent down too.
The other forces in the area were British, as this was their area…on the map. They had pretty much given up trying, had handed over “military control” to the Iraqis and were huddled in in their base at the airport. However, they did have a team of advisers with the 14th Division. So, I jumped out to join them and “advise”.
Thank you for flying the RAF - Welcome to Mahmud al-Kasim.

In the meantime, the Iraqis had gotten serious. They kicked Mohan upstairs to the “Basrah Operations Command”and put a general in charge of the 14th who had been to both the US and Australian Staff Colleges. He was a good leader, who was angry about how his troops had been handled, and their equipment and support. The Prime Minister and the Interior Minister showed up and suddenly red tape vanished – units could get fuel, ammo, whatever they were short. They even brought some more police with them.

All I had to worry about was the $&%#ing Jaish al-Mahdi’s version of Davey Crockett blowing me up with a 107mm rocket. He got really close. But he still missed, in the end (I think one night after the nearest miss, someone asked where the Hell was that large bell was that had just rung…I explained that it was no bell, just my sphincter slamming shut so hard it sounded like one). The Iraqis kicked the Jaish al-Mahdi’s ass, and their Iranians handlers too. When the first three prisoners were brought in, I asked why I couldn’t understand anything they said. The Iraqi soldiers looked at me and said “They are speaking Farsi, they are Persians” (The Iraqis always called them ‘Persians’, never Iranians). Whoopsie. Oh, and up yours, IRGC!
I was really, really tired, after going through a lot of 16 hour days – but the end of this phase was in sight. So, a Brit officer and I huddled up with the staff of the 14th DIV and asked what was next. The Iraqis said they were going to chase the baddies out of the last part of town they held – and it was close to the only available bridge across the Euphrates. I was as pleased as Zardoz directing a brutal hunt.
We set up a plan where the Iraqis would drop a company by helicopter on the far side of the river, and set up strong points at both ends of the bridge across the river. I told the 14th DIV CoS (Chief of Staff ) that they could trap every one of the bad guys, and make them surrender, or be killed. He agreed it would work, and I shuffled off to sleep.
"We are going in to town...have some Jaish al-Mahdi to wipe out. You want us to pick anything up while we are there?"

The next morning I went to the DIV HQ to see how things were going. The staff looked pleased, and the Brigadier I had talked with smiled. I asked him how things were going and he said “Good, they are all running away!” I was a bit bemused. As we had blocked the bridge, where were they running? “Oh, we let them go. They are running to the Persian side.” I about has a stroke on the spot. Did we not plan to BLOCK them from getting away?! What was the Division doing, letting them get away to Iran?!
While I was asking this, apparently I had gotten a bit … excited. I realized that I had backed the Iraqi General almost literally into a corner of his office. He had his hands up a bit and was saying “They are finished, it is no problem!” And I was urging him to kill every one of them because they would be back, causing trouble. I was trying to perpetuate a junior version of the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
The Iraqis took the word of Americans quite seriously. We had booted their asses, hard, a couple of times in the past 15 years, and they respected our opinions. Here I was urging slaughter of the fleeing enemy…and the Iraqi CoS said “no”. I calmed down, pretty quick once I realized what I was doing. I told the general “it is your country, I hope you do not have to deal with them later.” I saluted, and I left.
I often wonder if I had badgered him into calling the strong points and saying “light ’em up”…It would have been triple digit KIAs at the least – and despite the guys running away, we had killed a few dozen. It bothered me for years. It also took me years to tell anyone. I finally told my most trusted buddy, an NCO who I had previously been with in Afghanistan (after a few whiskies, I spilled it out – oh, and you should have heard what he ended up telling me!) and my pastor at church. Now, I can reflect back on this and only wince a bit.
I think it says something sort of good about the US Army that I managed to reel it in, before pushing it too far. And for that, I will toast Brigadier Baseem today, and his backbone…and that I did manage to rein it in, in the end.

Friday, November 10, 2017

OK, I did run up the ski slope

It appears I sort of left the story hanging, last post, those months ago.  I did run up this:

I stopped and took a couple of pictures on the way:

Yes, I was quite winded

And then looking back down from the top

I was a bit slow in going back down

All in all, I am glad I managed. It does not appear I will be back there in the immediate future.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Preparing for Running up a ski slope II

Last year, I ran up a slope at Seven springs Ski Resort, while I was there for the World Boardgaming Championships.

I have been trying to get ready to do it again....check back in a week and a half to see if I can still do it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Board Game Convention!

The gaming group I belong to is hosting its 7th annual "Ludophilia" (our best Latin for "Love of games") convention.

Details can be found here

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Viking ship Waterford

While in the "Viking Triangle" of Waterford, Ireland, I turned a corner and ran across this:

Waterford was the last Viking town to fall to the Anglo-Normans. One gets the vague impression that if a few longships were to approach today, not every resident of the town would be displeased.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Running (or slogging) up a ski hill

While at the World Boardgaming Championships in Seven Springs (a ski resort in Western Pennsylvania) I decided to see if I could run/jog/slog my way up a ski slope.  While I managed, it was fairly difficult.  Here is the view from the top.

I guess I just wanted to see what I could still do at age 50.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New and Increased respect for carpenters

I finished a day of carpentry on a Habitat for Humanity project and realized....I was profoundly tired and stiff. How on Earth do people do this day in and day out and do it well? I am not soft - I have been a soldier, a rugby player, and the like. but this was not easy and it was just one day.

Now I know why the shot and a beer places have a lot of tradesmen in them after work. Oh, and Mike Rowe is right - I know I should have more regard for those doing "Dirty Jobs"!

Also, even more respect for Jesus of Nazareth...certainly, he saved me by redeeming my sin (#1) but being a carpenter (#2) AND turning water into wine (#3)....RESPECT for that!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Gaming Convention!

Ludophilia VI is on!  May 12-15 at the Country Inn & Suites in Elgin, IL

As we bid adieu to 2015, we turn our hearts and minds to 2016, and with it, Ludophilia VI, coming again in May!  After overcoming a couple of scheduling snafus, I'm happy to say that I finally have a date and site booked!

For any of you who have missed it until now, Ludophilia is the name we've given to our annual 4-day boardgaming (and craft beer sharing) extravaganza in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago!   It's much too friendly and informal to be called a "convention".  It's just an excuse for friends and friends-of-friends to get together in a large-ish hotel conference room with a few hundred board games and have the chance to strategize, socialize, and relax uninterrupted.  I bring a select library of games (and other people bring their favorites, too, of course), and then it's open house at the hotel Thursday through Sunday!  Set up your own lodging plans if you want to stay overnight, and everyone is mostly responsible for their own food and drink.  (Although see below.)

The weekend for Ludophilia VI will be Thursday, May 12th through Sunday, May 15th, 2016.  Please mark your calendars NOW!  I'll be sending out a few reminders and additional information as the time draws nearer. 

We typically play from 8:00am until midnight-ish Thursday through Saturday, but we'll most likely be packing up right after lunch on Sunday.

As I said, I ran into some scheduling issues.  To make a long story short, our hotel from the last two years was actually booked for both of the weekends I tried to get.  So I found a different nearby Country Inn and Suites that can accommodate us with all the same arrangements as last year.  (All day room access, ok to bring to our own food and drink, a good-sized room, and basically the same cost.) 

We'll be at the Country Inn and Suites which is right at I-90 and Randall Road, 2270 Point Boulevard, Elgin, IL  60123.  Phone: 847-426-6400.  This might be a bit less convenient for some, but maybe a bit more convenient for others, particularly those who will be driving in from Chicago or O'Hare - it's right off the highway.

The conference room we'll be using is actually in the office building directly behind the hotel, just a few steps out the door and up an elevator.

Please be sure to NOT confuse this with the Country Inn and Suites in Crystal Lake where we met last year!  This is a different location!

If you will be staying at the hotel as I will, you can call 847-426-6400 or 800-830-5222 for reservations, or look online at  Be sure to ask for the room block for "Ludophliia" or, if that fails, for the "Johnson Game Group" (there could be some confusion over this - I asked for it to be fixed, but you know how that goes.)  I was quoted a rate of $110+tax for the group, which is better than what I see listed online, but if you can find a better rate at priceline or whatever, I say go for it.  Our room block closes after April 14, 2016, so make your reservations early!

Once again, I'll be keeping the admission cost for everyone the same as it's been: $10 per person per day, with a "buy 3 days get the 4th day free" bonus for those who pay in advance. This is strictly to cover our costs. If we collect the same amount as we have the last 2 years, we should be able to cover the cost of the room within our buffer.

You can start registering now by sending check or cash to me at :
Brad Johnson
1517 Driftwood Lane
Crystal Lake, IL 60014

So send just $30 now for full access to the entire 4-day weekend!  I can also accept cash and check during the con, but booking early is the best way to make sure we keep this running.

Since we've built up a small buffer in the bank, there are a few new fun things I'm thinking I'd like to do this year.  If you have additional suggestions, please let me know, but here are possibilities I have in mind:
  • Pizza night - the club may buy pizza for the group on Saturday night
  • Door prize raffle - get a raffle ticket for each paid day of admission and draw Saturday night for some prizes
  • Opponent bingo prize - keep track of how many different unique opponents you play with during the weekend, highest count wins a prize
  • Beer tasting prize - everyone who wants to participate brings a few bottles (or equivalent) of their favorite craft beer (store-bought, or better yet, home-brewed!), judges will be appointed, and top rated beer(s) wins a prize
Prizes (all board games, of course) would be provided by me -- I figure the treasury might be able to handle a budget of a hundred bucks or two, and/or there might be a few selections I could part with from my own trove.

I'm also expecting to do t-shirts again this year, for a nominal fee, if there's enough interest, and if I and my resident artist can come up with a suitable artistic vision.

Details on all of this will follow!  Please stay tuned to email and our blog at

I sincerely hope that you all can make it to Ludophilia VI, May 12-15, 2016.  Whether you can come for one day or the whole weekend, I think you'll find it to be a good time.  It's been really excellent for the last 5 years with so many fun people coming from all over the country (and Canada!) for some focused boardgaming!  If you have any questions or you'd just like to let me know your plans, please don't hesitate to email!  Also, if you have a friend whom you'd like me to add to the invitation and notification email list, please send me their contact information!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day 2015

Looks like a low key day for me. I am going to break out the Dress Blue uniform later (yes, it still fits) so I do have that going for me.

I also remember that "like Father, like Son"

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

Near An-Nasiryiah, Iraq

In early 2008, SSG Juantrea Bradley, SPC Tenzin Samten and SPC Dustin Jackson were killed in a rocket attack on the base I was staying at the time.

Memorial Day is about those three, and all others that lost their lives while serving in the Armed Forces of this country.

Remember them and their families.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gaming Time!

Get your red hot information on Northern Illinois best named boardgaming convention Ludophilia V !
This year's motto "Ludophilia, its not a disease!" [Seriously, it is Latin for 'love of games' or 'love of play']

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I are..uh, am, umm is(?) an ARe

Finally finished the last requirement to get my "Associate in Reinsurance" or ARe 'designator'

So I can proudly proclaim "I are an ARe!" Well, sort of.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Basil Fawlty had his Moose head, I had a light switch

A recurring scene in the old Fawlty Towers series was seeing Basil trying to get a moose head hung up on the wall near the front desk.  He never seemed to get the job done...

For the past...while, I had a, er, faulty light switch I was trying to change. Oh, to be sure, removing it was fine....but getting the new one, installing it and having it work...well, let us just say I had a bit of John Cleese going on.
Not quite a moose head

Today, I finally got a switch and set to installing it. Didn't work. After several retries, I gave up and had a master electrician we know call me...he figured my error in about 15 seconds. So unlike Basil Fawlty, I finally got my job done.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

You konw what makes you feel good?

Me: "Dad [my Dad/the kids grandfather] is home from the hospital"

Kids (in unison): "Yea!"

They literally cheered.

Yes, that makes you feel good.
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