The Braden Files
Curiosities of mathematics, history, parachuting, etc……

An IBM engineer Navy Reservist back from Iraq

(Interesting read from a Navy Reserve Chief Petty Officer.)

Dear Friends and Family:

I’ve been back from Iraq two months now, and acclimating to civilian Life.  I want to give you a short account of the last few weeks in Iraq the trip home and my thoughts on the war. We were prohibited blogging, so I didn’t write much in the final weeks.

I was elated when my boss sent me an email giving me the tentative date out of Iraq.  The bummer was that I had to go back to Al Asad for 2 weeks and wait it out.

Boring!  Those were a long 2 weeks. I left my truly fantastic friends in Hadithah,  and boarded a V22 Osprey for the 8 minute flight back to Al Asad.  I got to hang out at Al Asad, workout, drink tea with Ed, my great interpreter, and watch Arabic TV. Work slowed to a halt, as peace was breaking out in Anbar.  As a final goodbye Iraq dumped a 4-day sandstorm on me, making me wonder if my plane would leave.

So on that great day, I rose at 0400, hauled my trash to the airport and Waited!  Waited!  Waited!  Finally, we walked a long distance to a huge C17 and got situated.  We passed the Sailors and Marines coming in for their first time and wished the poor bastards good luck.  We were through and I didn’t want to look back.

A 4-hour flight with no hassles landed us in Ali Al Salem Airbase Kuwait – the hottest place on the planet.  It must be two inches from the face of the sun there. More waiting while our ride came to pick us up.  By 4 pm we made it to the Kuwait Navy Base, where the good ole USN has a foothold.  We stowed our weapons and for the first time in six months I did not carry even a pistol.  I felt naked and uneasy not having ole Betsy within arm’s reach.  But life was an easy two days there.  I swam in the Red Sea even though the base sign said not too.  It was about 98 degrees water temp and very salty.  Not pleasant at all.   I shared my room with a First Class Corpsman who has blessedly been selected for CPO.  He was very pleased but also troubled.  He had a much tougher time at war than I. This was his second tour.  He had seen his buddies killed by bombs and sent two of his Sailors on patrols.  They did not come back.   I fear he will carry these scars on his soul forever.  I pray for this brave new Chief.

After two days of waiting, we jumped into a van and hauled butt over to the Kuwait commercial airport.  We ran around and could not find our flight.  No one had heard of our call-sign and no H-53 was expected. We finally got a call that the H53 was going to land at the Kuwait Navy Base,  about 40 minutes away in about 30 minutes.  We broke the Kuwaiti traffic laws and pulled up as the Navy bird was landing on the pad.

A long 2-hour flight in truly mind-melting temps brought us the island of Bahrain.  Bahrain looks like Miami Beach with Arabs running around in shemaghs.  It’s very beautiful and cosmopolitan.  The guys there for the Navy picked us up, got us a room.  I showered and immediately hit the town.  I had a whole 20 hours to kill.  I found a cab to an English pub in a hotel.  That beer was exquisite going down, after 6 months with only near beer.  I had bangers and mash and couple cold ones.  Ramadan was approaching, but the place was strangely empty except for a couple British contractors.  I took a walkabout the town.  As is my wont, I naturally was drawn to the seedier part of town – aren’t all sailors. Bahrain is a fascinating place.  One could be in New Dehli or Manila depending on the street. Beautiful Asian faces mixed with the odd jet black abeya-clad Arab woman.  The gold stores are amazing and beautiful. They sell the gold by the market price per ounce plus a small fee for the worksmanship.  Since gold as at an all-time high, it was not a cheap time to buy.  An amazing thing to me was seeing women in normal western clothes.  I had not seen a woman in anything but fatigues or Arab dress for 6 months.  It was visually jarring to see a woman in jeans or a regular t-shirt.

After a few hours of seeing the city I boarded a commercial charter, euphemistically called the “rotator.”  They really should call it the pain train.  It wasn’t crowded.  They served booze and surprisingly good food.  But they stop at every taxi stand in the world on the way home. So we stopped at Crete, Naples, Azores Islands…and finally Norfolk Naval Base.  But the Navy demons were not through torturing us.  After approximately 30 hours in transit, and seven countries in 4 days, they made us wait 5 hours at the terminal due to a lightning storm.  Oh…and we had to wait in the pre-customs/ immigration area, just feet from our families till the storm blew over and they unloaded the plane.  I found a command phone list lying around and called the watch duty officer and offered the services of the passengers to unload the plane.  Apparently, the civilian baggage guys can’t go outside if there is a thunderstorm in Nebraska.  Needless to say the CDO did not take me up on my offer.  We finally got our gear, sailed through customs and immi and into the waiting arms of our families.  Marie thankfully brought a bottle of champagne and we drove the three hours back to Northern Virginia that night.  I didn’t need coffee.  It was great to be back in the US.

Since I’ve been back many people have asked me “What’s really going on over there?”  I’ve tried to answer to the best of my ability and with zero ideology.  I also can speak only for what I saw.  So here it goes:

Bottom line up front:  the US has won the war.  Even the Counter insurgency war has been won by the US.  How can I say this?

Even in the short time I was there, deaths and attacks, and battles had dropped to nearly zero in Anbar.  The people themselves have turned against Al Qaeda and its ideology.  They do not agree with it.  I think the Sunnis flirted with Al Qaeda’s ideas as a counter balance to perceived US hegemony in the region.  They now see that the US is not there to own or pillage Iraq.  Al Qaeda happily spent their sons and daughters blood in the street with wanton abandon – to no end.  US servicemen and women are professional, discrete, and have sacrificed the final measure to protect Iraqis from death.  They now see this.  They are responding.  There are still major and deadly problems in Iraq.  But Al Qaeda’s ideas are almost universally rejected by the Iraqis.  If we do not abandon Iraq, no matter who gets elected as president here, we can see a peaceful, productive ally soon in the region.

The Sunni of Iraq are not unlike Americans in that they are primarily concerned with jobs, with building wealth, and providing for their kids. Most are not overly pious. Many enjoy a good round of single malt scotch and a Brittany Spears video now and then.  The Sunnis I met were highly entrepreneurial.  Even in a war zone small business springs up.  Nearly everybody wants peace so they can go back to work.  Iraq was always the most West-leaning of the Arab countries, with only Lebanon being more pro-West.  The big question for history will be can the Shia and Sunnis get along in Iraq?  The US will have almost nothing to say about this issue.  If Iraq remains on a secular government path, then the answer can easily be “Yes, they will find peace.”

The Arabs I met are an interesting bunch.  They are at one moment warm, hospitable, and desiring to please.  The next moment they are suspicious, vendetta-prone, with violence lurking just beneath the surface.  They don’t yet trust each other.  This creates uncertainty at the personal and national level, I think.  They expect the worst from their neighbor and they all hedge against that.  They have never really been free.  This experiment in freedom is new for them.  I say give it a chance.  Despite the nearly universal acceptance in our political establishment that the surge has succeeded, there are still American’s arguing against democracy as an inoculation against Al Qaeda’s ideology. If not democratic ideas, then with what will we counter Bin Laden’s ideas?  I find it disturbing that US citizens are still arguing against fomenting democracy around the world.  This was the real reason we went to Iraq.

We can debate the honesty and morality of WMD as a reason for going into Iraq.   But the real reason we went was for two overarching strategic moves:

1. We wanted to draw Al Qaeda into a decisive battle, where they would lose, thus proving the moral bankruptcy of jihadism as a theory for political and religious organization.

2. We needed to build a democratic example to counter Al Qaeda’s example. Iraq was most ready for this, and prepped for occupation.

I’m not a conspiracy person at all.  But I also understand most wars are justified by rationale that are not as openly discussed as maybe they should be.  The real reason we went to Iraq was to counter Al Qaeda in its home turf. We defeated Al Qaeda in the very heart of the Arab world, at the former seat of the Caliphate, using Arab Muslim warriors to do it.  Now the best Al Qaeda can say is that it speaks for a small portion of Islam, not all of it.  So many Muslims have risen against Al Qaeda, its voice is weakened and fragmented.

A principle in warfare is that one never lets the enemy pick the place of battle.  Everyone from Sun Tzu to von Clasuewitz to Powell have stated this.  In New York and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda chose the place of battle.  In Iraq, we chose it and we won.    Al Qaeda cannot claim the moral or physical high ground any more.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for your ongoing support of me and my family.  Thank you for the email, cards, care packages and prayers.  Your friendship and love sustained me.  Remember, that this war is far from over.  When I left there were over 14,000  Naval personnel still serving in the sand.  Many of the service members are reservists who have had their lives upended.  They will need support and love now.  And importantly, they need help when they get back.  They need jobs, understanding, and time when they get back.  We are fighting all over the world, Iraq and Afghanistan is the most publicized.  Don’t forget these fantastic men and women.  Every hour of every day, there are young men and women, and crotchety old reservists, standing watch in dangerous places so we can live free.  This country was bought and paid for with blood. Let’s honor them and take care of them.  They provided this freedom we enjoy.  Thank you all again.

Much love,
-Chief Penninger

“One ground rule,” said Tanya, the giant cockroach. “If any of you humans plays rough with us, you’re all outta here. We like it peaceful in Nanonesia, and any species wants to fight, they’re eight-sixed.”

“Two to the eighty-sixth is the largest power of two that doesn’t have any zeros when you write it out in decimal,” said the other cockroach. “Lemme ask you this: What’s the biggest Mersenne prime you got? I’m only asking for the lizard’s sake, mind you.”

“The biggest Mersenne prime that I heard of lately is two to the 25, 964, 951 minus one,” said Paul, math robot that he was.

“My condolences, the female member of the lizard couple couple said.” She fixed him with one of her large, golden eyes. “Your puny Mersenne prime is only enough to make a fourteen-million-digit perfect number. In our world, googol-digit perfect numbers are a commonplace. And we’ve proved that there are infinitely many bigger ones as well.” She gestured delicately towards herself and the other lizard. “I’m Vulma and this is Mulvane. We’re number theorists.” She tossed her head and twitched her colorfully ridged tail. She had meaty rear limbs like those of a T. Rex.

“Hi there Unger,” said Alma, waving at him. “Don’t tell me you’re a mathematician too?”

“Unger is a point-set topologist turned transfinite set theorist,” said Vulma. “He can’t tell a raven from a writing desk.” Pause. “That’s a joke. The raven’s ah, digestive tract and two beak-nostrils being homotopic to the three holes formed by the desk’s, ah, four legs and three cross-bars? Stay awhile and Unger can educate you about Cantor’s Continuum Problem. The true power of the continuum is aleph-two. And the next power in the beth power-hierarchy is aleph-seven. Big, ah surprise. How about lunch?” she said, sitting down to a plate of gork.

From Mathematicians in Love pp 240-242
by Rudy Rucker
Tor Press, 2006

A tale of two young recently-minted topologists from Humelocke, a university in a parallel universe to ours, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Berkeley. Many disparaging remarks about Stanford throughout.

From the Inbox:
You think the war in Iraq is costing us too much? Read this:

Boy, was I confused. I have been hammered with the propaganda that it is the Iraq war and the war on terror that is bankrupting us. I now find that to be RIDICULOUS.

I hope the following 14 reasons are forwarded over and over again until they are read so many times that the reader gets sick of reading them. I also have included the URL’s for verification of all the following facts.

1. $11 Billion to $22 billion is spent on welfare to illegal aliens each year by state governments.
Source

2. $2.2 Billion dollars a year is spent on food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches for illegal aliens.
Source

3. $2.5 Billion dollars a year is spent on Medicaid for illegal aliens.
Source

4. $12 Billion dollars a year is spent on primary and secondary school education for children here illegally and they cannot speak a word of English!
Source

5. $17 Billion dollars a year is spent for education for the American-born children of illegal aliens, known as anchor babies.
Source

6. $3 Million Dollars a DAY is spent to incarcerate illegal aliens.
Source

7. 30% percent of all Federal Prison inmates are illegal aliens.
Source

8. $90 Billion Dollars a year is spent on illegal aliens for welfare & social services by the American taxpayers.
Source

9. $200 Billion dollars a year in suppressed American wages are caused by the illegal aliens.
Source

10. The illegal aliens in the United States have a crime rate that’s two and a half times that of white non-illegal aliens. In particular, their children, are going to make a huge additional crime problem in the US.
Source

11. During the year of 2005 there were 4 to 10 MILLION illegal aliens that crossed our Southern Border also, as many as 19,500 illegal aliens from Terrorist Countries. Millions of pounds of drugs, cocaine, meth, heroin and marijuana, crossed into the U.S. from the Southern border.
Source

12. The National policy Institute, ‘estimated that the total cost of mass deportation would be between $206 and $230 billion or an average cost of between $41 and $46 billion annually over a five year period.’
Source

13. In 2006 illegal aliens sent home $45 BILLION in remittances to their countries of origin.
Source

14. ‘The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly One million sex crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants In The United States .’
Source

The total cost is a whopping $338.3 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR.

Jefferson could, in some cases, be called a prophet.

“When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

In light of the present financial crisis, itʼs interesting to read what Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

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