Michael's Dispatches

Color of War

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Desolate Battles

Western Nineveh Province, Iraq

Desert Battles are unfolding in hidden and faraway places. Bullets snapp through air, then splap through flesh and men fall. Bodies crumple onto the desert, a fly lands on the lip of an open mouth, fingers twitch as the flesh dies and the winds kick up and dust settles on unblinking eyes. The dry earth drinks their sticky blood and they are forgotten. Their families do not know they are dead. They came to kill Americans and innocent Iraqis. Instead, they were killed themselves. In a desert landscape, sometimes the color of a war can bleed out into black and white.

 

Into the sixth year of war, the missions continue.  Two Blackhawks from 4-6 Air Cavalry Squadron took off from FOB Sykes near Tal Afar, flying in the direction of Syria.  We flew over desert, and over the Sinjar Mountains.

 

The pilots swam the helicopters through the air.  Along the way, the soldiers in the doors test-fired their machine guns into the wilderness.  These men and women are excellent shots.

 

We flew by this cement factory.  When you drive near this factory on the ground, you see John Deere tractors and repair shops.  The people here are friendly to Americans.

 

Near the more populated areas around the Sinjar mountains, many homes look like they might be in Mexico.

 

The ubiquitous parabolic dishes, found even on mud homes.  This settlement has electricity, a tractor, a motorcycle and water on the ground.

 

Standard Yezidi architecture.  Many houses are painted white.  That bike-ramp-looking structure on the roof is actually a door.  Some Iraqis say Yezidis are dirty and worship the devil.  Yet Yezidi and other Kurdish communities tend to be far cleaner than those of most other Iraqis.  Despite being minorities, Yezidis and Kurds do not subscribe to the victim mentality endemic to this region.

 

Interestingly, the people who accuse Yezidis of being devil-worshippers are responsible for the deaths of perhaps a million people in the last few decades. They are the ones who put Yezidis on “reservations,” poured chemical gases on Kurds, set oil wells ablaze, poisoned the water with oil, and encouraged suicide attacks. What do Yezidis want from us? Not much. They want to thank Americans for beating back Saddam. They want Americans to know they appreciate the sacrifice. They don’t ask for much, but since the Iraqi government remains mostly inert, if you’re offering, they’d like to have a school in their community—a real school, not a place of religious indoctrination. They want their kids, including their girls, to get university degrees.


 

This area of Iraq is ethnically diverse.  Kurds living with Arabs living with Turkmen.  Yezidis with Muslims of both Sunni and Shiite varieties.  If your helicopter makes an emergency landing in a Yezidi area, the locals might be serving tea and folding your laundry before search and rescue arrives.  Don’t mess with their women, though.  Some Kurdish/Yezidi women have blonde or red hair with green eyes.  Many are beautiful, but Yezidi women are off-limits and punishment can be death by stoning.  So stick to the tea and food—which is great.

 

After some twenty minutes of flying, we landed at a FARP (Forward Arming and Refueling Point, a little helicopter gas station where you can get gas, rockets and bullets).  We refueled, then picked up some soldiers and went hunting for bad guys.

 

We flew south from the Sinjar mountains into a vast desert that was, as expected, wind-swept and desolate.  In some places, dried lakes left the parched earth sprinkled with white salt.  The winds traced long sand shadows behind even the smallest shrubs.

 

Mud Dabbers:  These people still live close enough to water to build mud homes, which look like they would melt if there were heavy rains.  Far off into the desert, there are only tents.  Kids ran out and waved; the crew chiefs waved back.

 

Into the wild.

 

Deeper into the drylands, more satellite receivers.

 

Although drought has come even to the deserts, wadis still remember the rains.

 

Weapons are often hidden in the wadis.  Even from the air, the number of wadis make searching difficult.

 

On the ground, soldiers driving with night vision goggles instead of headlights can make fatal errors.

 

We often flew very low and very slow, sometimes only hovering while rotors washed dust.  The soldiers use the helicopters to follow tire tracks, but there are so many different tracks, many of them curling and crisscrossing, that following them can prove nearly impossible.

 

Eye on the gas.  Through the earphones, pilots frequently can be heard discussing fuel consumption and distance to the nearest FARP.

 

 


 

It’s strange, the life of a helicopter pilot. They take off from comfortable bases after crew rest, yet soon are in the remotest, most inhospitable parts of the war, where truly, if they have any problems, they will be on their own for a decisive length of time. Yesterday Papua New Guinea, today Iraq, tomorrow Afghanistan or Africa. And so when they move toward contact with the enemy—as they now were doing—all transactions are final.

Sometimes we would fly long stretches, at speeds up to 180 mph, and see nothing but wind-swept deserts.   Across these vast expanses, foreign terrorists can enter Iraq, bringing weapons and explosives.

 

In other parts of Iraq large herds of camels, sometimes numbering in the thousands, are not uncommon.  But I have seen no camels here.  Bedouin families often move their herds without regard to national borders.  This photo was taken near the Syrian frontier.  At other times, I have seen wandering families move in trucks and bring their own water tanks, erecting tents in the vastness, living under no law save that of the desert wild.

 

A sense of place.  Freezing nights, dusty days.

 

The total RV experience: Water trailer on the left, satellite dish to the right of the tent.

 

Shepherds can recharge their cell phones with motorcycles.


 

When I was embedded with the British Army I had contact with some Bedoin who had cell phones. Click here to read the article Death or Glory IV.

The pilots flew down the wadis searching for caches.  The enemy knows we search, and they often rig caches with booby traps, which have killed many American and Iraqi soldiers.

 

A soldier spotted a tarp, so we landed and let out the soldiers.  I stayed in the helicopter and we went back up, while the other Blackhawk landed with a second group of soldiers.

 

Tire tracks leading to the tarp, which covered a machine gun and some bombs.

 

The soldiers rigged the cache with explosives and moved away.  We flew further back.

 

A small mushroom cloud as fragments spacked into the desert, kicking up dust.

 

We landed and picked up our group of soldiers, then the second bird got theirs.

 

The Blackhawks were low on fuel, so we roared low and fast over the desert back to the FARP, where we got gas and returned to the mission.

 

Where oh where?

 

The soldiers spotted a group of men in pickup trucks.  They decided to swoop down.  The second helicopter covered us as we came down fast and kicked up dust.  The soldiers were off in seconds.  We roared back into the sky while the crew chief kept his machine gun on the men, then we covered as the second helicopter put down more soldiers.

 

The women were separate from the men.

 

Another water trailer and satellite dish.

 

The other helicopter circled.

 

What would the war would look like in black and white?  While the soldiers did their stuff and the pilots flew high cover, I switched the camera to black and white.  Many people prefer their wars in black and white.  Color complicates and confuses.

 

Where is the black and white of Good vs. Evil?  In most countries, Right vs. Wrong is merely Might vs. Meek.

 

No harm no foul, we swooped back in to pick up the ground force.

 

The main reason we are beating al Qaeda in Iraq is that we are winning on the moral front.  They landed, checked things out, found nothing suspicious, and left the people alone.

 

Back to the Blackhawk.

 

Gas was running low, so the pilots took the soldiers home.

 

That was a tractor.  Few things in life are black and white.

 

The colors of a war.

 

 

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathy · 11 years ago
    Great pictures and text, Michael. I can't wait for your book to arrive. We would like to support the education of the Yezidi children--do you know where we can make donations that will get to the children and not into the hands of terrorists?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike · 11 years ago
    Just ordered your book, can't wait to get it! You are providing critical, unbiased information! Keep your head low and may God Bless!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RBT · 11 years ago
    I ask where can you find the same richness in the dispatches from the MSM like what Michael Yon writes? This is why the MSM is losing credibility in the eyes of their readers and viewers. As I recently wrote on a local issue regarding my paper the Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA:

    As I said at the recent meeting the $64 question is whether the S-R will abide by its Code of Ethics once affirmed. The onus is upon the S-R to demonstrate to its readers that it will follow the code and that this is not just some PR exercise. The readers are not dumb as you think. The readers will ultimately decide the credibility of the S-R as a trusted/reliable source of news, commentary, and thought of the day.

    The traditional media no longer holds the preeminent position of the du jour source of the news. See the article below. We are experiencing a major communication reformation as great or greater than that of Martin Lutherƒ??s time (Hugh Hewittƒ??s Blog and Glenn Reynoldsƒ?? An Army of Davids). The new media does not require large capital investments e.g, printing presses and transmission networks of the traditional or mainstream media. The new medium of expression is essentially free for all to participate. The currency of the new media is the validity, reliability, and predictability of the information provided in oneƒ??s own daily life. The sources that best meet those needs will attract readers and grow Those sources which lack credibility and/or donƒ??t correct misinformation quickly will die.

    Ron the Cop
    Friends of Mark Fuhman
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jason OConnell · 11 years ago
    When I see a notice somewhere on the internet (on someone's blog, usually) that Yon has a published a new dispatch, I stop what I am doing to read it. An absolute must read.

    Yon is the Drudge of Iraq war journalism. Apart from, and an incredibly important counterpoint to, the mainstream coverage.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joel · 11 years ago
    Just some constructive criticism, this dispatch seems a little more disjointed than usual. Normally you tell a story with words and pictures. This just seemed like stream on consciousness. I couldn't quite figure out what the dispatch was about or how the pictures related to it.

    This is coming from someone who loves your work and depends on you for information.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry Hawk · 11 years ago
    I've been awed by your dispatches since they first showed up on the internet. You may remember a brief conversation we had over the Shock Magazine flap from here in San Francisco. I wouldn't want to take you away from your important work, but your book will undoubtedly be a big success. Have you ever considered writing a movie script? I read your early dispatches, and was nearly breathless, feeling myself right there with the troops. If I can have that reaction to the written word (and I'm a tough sell), imagine what a big screen adaptation could do. So far, we've been treated to anti-American, morally equivalent, war for oil, evil corporations, crazy soldiers who are worse as civilians, typical lefty movies. Thank the Lord, they've all been bigtime bombs. I know there are patriotic actors, even in Hollywood, who would jump at a chance to present a fairer picture. And I truly believe the public would show up in droves to see such a movie. Your still photographs are soul uplifiting, and occasionally heart rending. A movie could do the same thing, reach a wider audience, and change public perceptions of this difficult but ultimately necessary war.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry Hawk · 11 years ago
    When I wrote about a possible movie script, among all your great dispatches, I particularly had "Gates of Fire" in mind.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert Lund · 11 years ago
    Thank you Michael, for providing such an essential account of the ever-changing situation in Iraq throughout these years. I shudder to think of where we would be if left to the biased propaganda of the mainstream media. I'm so glad I read Danger Close, which put a real person behind the writing. As I read your dispatches, I keep wanting to spread the word to the many "non-believers" among my acquaintances. But alas, so many will see a phrase like "we are winning on the moral front" and write the source off as a Republican stooge. No matter, the truth must be spread for those who are able to receive it.

    Keep the information and reflections coming, and stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric M. Pettersen · 11 years ago
    It's amazing how often "nothing" happens and how nerveracking it can be. Looking forward to your book.

    Keep up the good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Micah Friedman · 11 years ago
    One of the best dispatches I've seen yet. I love how you tell stories through picture captions. Keep on doing what you do
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marilyn Lindquist · 11 years ago
    Michael, thank you. Your updates and your pictures are deeply appreciated. Amazon shall receive my order for "Danger Close" today.
    I wish I could recall which Talk Radio interviewer (Hugh Hewitt?) spoke with you at length. That conversation led me to your website and, thus, I became a subscriber to you and your releases. I quit our Left Angeles Times and, instead, spend time with your e-mail reporting. And just today I note that I am able to support you and your mission through Paypal. Yes!
    Black and white film: I agree that the shots are more realistic without color, but can't have one without the other, can one? Your composition of individuals is outstanding. Few have such a good eye. Being a camera buff--an amateur--I enjoy your chat about the camera and the many experiences your "friend" has suffered as you travel. (Several cameras?)
    Your clear descriptions of the various subcultures are tremendously educational. More deeply than ever, I experience a great "Aha" mentality for the troops' perseverance in and with the environment and the individuals of the desert. I am in awe of the dedication of each and every soldier and of you for your years of dedicated reporting. Your description of the grave dangers that those who sacrifice for us brings me to my knees.
    My prayers and my thoughts are with you and "ours" daily.
    Nurse Marilyn
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cleda Harwood · 11 years ago
    God Bless you Michael. I have a son named Michael so I know how hard your work has been. I have two of your books coming . I will order more and give them as gifts,...fot now I have to wait until I have more money.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hay Mike my son name · 11 years ago
    jereemiah has wanted to serve his contrey sence he was a littlel boy22 now no holding him back now,,,, just hope he gets all the training he can
    walk wih GOD
    Joe
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matthew Gonzalez · 11 years ago
    I remember your links section on the old site I saw the work of Walt Gaya who only took pictures in black and white. He thought that was the only way the war should be photographed. Its very interesting to see the significance of the color of war. I guess its something that just requires time for me to better understand. Keep the great work coming Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 11 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/01/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Katie W. Robinette · 11 years ago
    Thanks for all your updates. As a Canadian, you should get yourself linked to Bourque.com...the Canadian equivilant of Drudge. Katie
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Philip G. · 11 years ago
    Great insight... My son will be in Iraq this June flying these exact type missions for the 4 ID. Your article has helped me undestand some of the "nuances" of what he'll be dealing with.
    Thanks so much. Keep up the good work !!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aaron Bounds · 11 years ago
    I ordered you book the other day. Had I the $, I would give one to EVERYONE as I am sure it will be enlightening. Thank you for your tireless work. Please keep it coming. I like the use of pics to tell a major part of the story.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan · 11 years ago
    I love how you tell your stories with the pictures-- your link was provided to me by a good friend and I am so happy he did-- I love the information I am learning here-- I will have to check out your book too-

    Shamefully, I had not known about the Yezedis until today--

    Keep up the great work-- a fan of yours now!!!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Arlene · 11 years ago
    Oh how I miss my little print button. The pics are beautiful.
    God Bless
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Norm Roth · 11 years ago
    It arrived today. WTG.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gabe · 11 years ago
    Michael, I've been reading you dispatches for over a year now. It truly does provide an unbiased look at the situation on the ground over there. My brother serves as a platoon leader in the 1st Cav. I had him read some of you posts when he got back and he was also impressed. It's good to know that some people can report the facts and not only information that benefits "their cause". Anyways, keep up the good work. I'll be buying your book, as well.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CYNTHIA WOODARD · 11 years ago
    as allways just looking at your photos just makes me go wow..
    please keep up with your work.. only you can get the shots the world needs to see.
    ive mention your work to ATS and my son in cav country,
    looks like he could be coming back your way.
    thanks to your site i can kinda keep track of where every one is. so to speak.,
    will be going out to get your book.
    peace be with you michael.
    as allways
    may the moon&stars guide you
    cw.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Seth · 11 years ago
    I got the book yesterday, and am almost done with it today. It's riveting and more insightful than anything else I've read on the matter. I'm grateful to you for your work over there. Please keep it up and let the guys over there know we support them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Desert Sailor · 11 years ago
    Michael,
    MOMENT OF TRUTH just got here! Since I'm in stationed in Canada my mail actually takes longer than when I was in Baghdad...go figure.

    Dude, thanks for the real story! Without your views...life would be far cheaper and less telling.
    Brad
  • This commment is unpublished.
    pb&j · 11 years ago
    ?Question? Is that cement factory near Narwan (sp?) and F.O.B. Hammer just east of Baghdad? I was stationed in that area for awhile and heard much talk of the factory but was never able to go. Keep up the good work, from another Florida boy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Giorgios · 11 years ago
    If things are going so swimmingly, why then can we not withdraw any more troops after this summer? Instead, the President told General Petraeus he can have "all the time he needs". That sounds like a blank check. Five years with no end in sight.

    Then we have Senator McCain, who says he will "smash Hezbollah" in Lebanon. As well as overthrow the mullahs in Iran. OK, so now we are the policemen of now one, not two, but three and perhaps more countries. And the best thing is we can run it all without raising taxes because we will simply use the nation's credit card, and make our children and grandchildren deal with the fallout. Wonderful.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott76 · 11 years ago
    I don't think anyone is saying the war is going perfectly, "swimmingly" perhaps... Just because we're winning doesn't mean we've won. It's like saying we successfully landed in Normandy!!! Hurray for us, now we can go home! Not quite. In the time I spent in Iraq the Iraqi's were very appreciative for the work we were doing there. We'd be idiots to leave while we're winning. Thanks Michael for helping to show people that we are!!!

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