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THE DEATH OF ANDREW OLMSTED
Major Andrew Olmsted, who posted a blog since May 2007, was killed in Iraq on Jan. 3, 2008. Olmsted, who had been based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, began blogging after his unit was sent to Iraq with the mission of helping train the Iraqi Army. A sniper killed Olmsted as he was trying to talk three suspected insurgents into surrendering. A sniper's bullet also cut down Capt. Thomas J. Casey. They were in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."

Leaving on a Jet Plane
Thursday, June 28 at 10:48 PM

This morning we began by drawing our weapons out of the Arms Room. We carry our M4 and M9s with us on the plane; in fact, we'll rarely be without them for the next year. With our weapons secured, we stacked all of our bags next to the road outside our billets, separated by type: duffle bags, rucksacks, and TAT boxes. TAT stands for To Accompany Troops, and it simply means a box that will travel on the same aircraft we will. MiTT teams don't get any shipping containers to carry their gear: because we're so small, giving us one would be a waste of space, but that means we end up with a lot more gear than most individuals are permitted to carry: up to five duffle bags and a rucksack. This became an issue today, but I'll get to that later.

Much of the morning was spent waiting. Amanda and my parents waited with us, as did a few other family members, but for the most part it was just soldiers standing by as we waited for our transportation to arrive. Finally the truck for the bags showed up, and contracted civilians loaded all of our baggage into the back of the truck for transportation to Topeka. Once that was complete we moved to the buses and loaded up, which meant saying goodbye to our families. The less said about that, the better.

The buses took us to Custer Hill, where we went through the manifest process. The Army has simplified that process wonderfully; all we had to do was ensure that our carryon bags were the right size, swipe our ID cards to check us onto the flight, and that was about it. We had to wait at the gym for about an hour before we got a brief speech from COL Ingram, the 1st Brigade commander. He spoke about the fact we are a military at war, if not a nation at war, and wished us luck on our mission. With that we loaded up onto buses for the trip to Forbes Field in Topeka.

It took longer to get out of Topeka than I would have expected, but that was probably due to the number of bags that had to be loaded. While I'm travelling relatively light, some soldiers are carrying close to the maximum allowable baggage, and that adds up quickly. By about four we were off to Indianapolis, where we would finish filling the plane with a National Guard unit also heading to Kuwait.

As I said, our number of bags is unusual, and apparently whoever planned our flight didn't count on it. So when they tried to load the aircraft in Indianapolis, they couldn't fit all the bags in the cargo hold, so they ended up having to stuff a number of bags into the passenger compartment, which meant things got a little cozier on the aircraft than I would have liked, although I still have an empty seat next to me, so I cannot complain. The National Guard, on the other hand, are crammed in the back of the aircraft and will spend an ugly trip from here to Germany and on to Kuwait.

It's late here, so I'm going to hop back on the plane and try to get some sleep en route to Germany. Thanks to everyone for the comments; I'm sorry I haven't been able to get involved in the threads, but I am reading and enjoying them. Hopefully I'll be back online soon.

Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 10:48 PM | Comments (5)

The Hour Approaches
Wednesday, June 27 at 2:18 PM

I am fortunate to have an extremely supportive family. My wife drove out to Kansas with me, so she is here to see me off, and my parents drove down from their home to say goodbye as well, so I've been able to spend yesterday and today with them in addition to my last-minute preparations for my flight. My brother even flew in all the way from the East Coast, a much-appreciated gesture. So at least my last few hours in the U.S. will be pleasant ones.

A lot of my guys are less fortunate, as their families are unable to make the trip to Fort Riley to see them off, and so their last few days are spent in the barracks largely alone. They did get to spend almost two weeks at home, for the most part, which is good, but it's tough to have to wait for the flight when your family isn't around to spend the time with you, especially since the clock doesn't start until the day our plane touches down in Kuwait.

We will spend about two weeks training in Kuwait before we go to Iraq. The Army has built a large base in Kuwait where soldiers can get some addition work before actually heading into the fight, and we will take full advantage of that opportunity. We'll then spend another two weeks near Baghdad at the COIN (counterinsurgency) academy getting some more advanced COIN training before we actually link up with the team we'll be replacing.

Once we're on the ground, we'll spend about two weeks conducting what is known as RIP/TOA: relief in place/transfer of authority. Since we want to minimize the disruption to our Iraqi unit, it's important that we learn as much as we can about how the team we're replacing operates so we can continue in that vein. That way, the Iraqis may be dealing with different faces, but they're not having to learn a whole new means of operating.

Unfortunately, I do not know how much internet access I will have in Kuwait, so I may not be able to update the site for a little while. So if I disappear for a week to ten days, it's just because I don't have good internet access. I hope to be able to get online there, however, so I can keep everyone posted on the training we get in Kuwait and Baghdad, as I think it's important for people to understand just how much work the Army puts into training soldiers before sending them in harm's way.

As an aside, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment; it is greatly appreciated. My next dispatch will be from the far side of the world.

Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 02:18 PM | Comments (3)

Why go to Iraq?
Sunday, June 24 at 12:23 AM

A common question among those who hear that I'm going to Iraq is 'Why?' A lot of Americans consider Iraq already a lost cause, and wonder what might drive me to willingly go there when I could get myself hurt or killed. As I noted in my first post, I'm not here to get into politics, but I think it is a reasonable question that deserves an answer.

The pat answer would be that I'm going because I've been told to do so, I'm a soldier, and soldiers obey lawful orders. It would be an accurate answer, too; I have been a soldier my entire adult life, and I am in the habit of going where the Army tells me to go, although this is by far the least pleasant deployment I'll have in my career to date. But that doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.

I am not a constitutional scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I understand that there are arguments to be made that the Iraq war is in some way unconstitutional, but since I have seen no arguments to that extent argued before an appellate court, I will work on the assumption that the Iraq war was approved in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. That being the case, then legally my oath to support and defend the Constitution holds regarding the Iraq war.

That is not just a fallback to my first answer. Even people like me, who believe that government should be relatively small, don't generally dispute the need for military and police forces to protect the rights of all citizens. In the case of the Army, we exist to protect the citizens from external threats. And it is the responsibility of the government to decide the nature of these threats and how it will utilize the Armed Forces to deal with them.

It is not for individual soldiers to refuse such orders. A soldier has a duty to refuse unlawful orders, but individual soldiers simply cannot reasonably argue that a war itself is unlawful; that is a question that must be decided at the highest levels. If individual soldiers may decline to participate in a war, that is an invitation for mob rule: we agree to serve our country, not to serve when we agree with the decisions our leaders make. The system would not work otherwise.

Do I think that my participation in this war will prevent the American system of government from collapsing? I have no such illusions. But the principle matters to me.

Finally, and most importantly, someone is going to take this MiTT into combat. If I were to somehow escape this duty, the requirement would not vanish, it would merely devolve on another officer. It would be beyond inappropriate for me to push off that burden onto another person after having enjoyed the benefits of my rank for so long. My service has been remarkably cost-free; I have never before deployed to combat, the deployments I have had have generally been not-too-unpleasant, and I have had a great deal of time (if never enough) to spend with Amanda. At a time when so many of my friends and fellow officers have spent two or even three years in theater, it's well past the time I take a turn and give someone else a little time at home.

None of which is to suggest I'm some kind of saint. If someone offered me the chance to not go to Iraq, I cannot say with any certainty that I would be strong enough to turn them down. I hope that I would be, but who can say what I would do in such circumstances? I'm a human being, like any other, and I am certainly capable of faltering in the face of my principles when they might be too costly. Fortunately, it's unlikely that such an out will be offered, so I needn't fear letting myself down in this case.

Having said all that, I now wonder if anyone will even care, but the question has come up enough I thought it deserved to be answered to the best of my ability. (Insert joke about my lack thereof here.) And since comments are enabled, if anyone else has questions, I can try to elaborate and clarify my explanation where necessary.

Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 12:23 AM | Comments (80)

Time Flies
Friday, June 22 at 11:30 PM

As is so often the case, time at home seems to just disappear. I got home on Tuesday the 12th, and will return to Kansas on Monday, which is flying towards me at appallingly high speed.

Still, it has been a very nice break. Amanda and I have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know one another once again after too long apart. We haven't done anything particularly exciting: a little hiking, watching a movie or two, and catching a Rockies game, but the time we spend together is nice regardless of how we spend it.

This weekend we get back to business, as I must pack my bags and put the rest of my gear away for the coming year, so Amanda won't have to spend that time tripping over it. Although it will still be a problem for her, as we're heading to Texas upon my return and in order to make it in a timely manner, Amanda will have to do the lion's share of the work to get the house sold. This is a habit with us; when I went to Korea, she had to do all the work preparing for our wedding, too. She thinks I only go overseas to get out of doing the hard jobs...there's probably some truth in that, actually. But not a lot; I think I'd rather move than go to Iraq, all things being equal.

Monday we will drive back to Fort Riley. Amanda is coming with me both so she can see me off and so she can take the car back to Colorado Springs. The Army would store my car for free, but I would prefer it get some use over the next year, and this also allows Amanda to see me off without having to fly out of Manhattan (Kansas). A few more days together means quite a bit at this point, with less than a week before I fly.

For those who haven't seen it and would like to know a little about me, David Montero has written a short profile of me based on the time we spent together in early June. I think David probably makes me look better than I am, but we have all year to expose my warts, and David is a good writer. It was nice meeting him, Javier Manzano (the photographer) and Sonia Doctorian (the videographer).

I'm not sure what will happen once we return to Fort Riley, as we won't be flying the very next day, so I will update my status here as soon as I know more. For those interested, you can read a little about Operation Arrowhead Ripper from embed Michael Yon; while the unit we're going to is not currently involved with the Operation, we are going to Diyala Province, so the progress of the operation will be important to us. And as Investor's Business Daily notes, perhaps that battle is just a bit more important than Paris Hilton, Rosie O'Donnell, or Barry Bonds.

Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 11:30 PM | Comments (2)


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