Michael's Dispatches

Bad Medicine



(Please Click on the Image for a Larger View)

The imagery from November 2004 does not show the power lines in the photo below.  I made the photo below from nearly the same angle as the image above.  So, the EOD soldiers on top of the truck are in the corner of the compound overlooking Pharmacy Road.  The soldiers are a few meters from where the yellow thumbtack denotes “Blown Vehicles.”

The EOD team is rigging this wall to blow part of it down.  On the other side of the wall are the two blown-up vehicles; one of the vehicles is British and the other is the trailer from a “jingo truck.”  The area surrounding the trucks is booby-trapped with explosives, and the vehicles also are booby-trapped.  So the goal is to blow down the wall and drag the vehicles off the road and into this compound.

These EOD soldiers wear a Rainbow patch and call themselves Team Rainbow, which of course seemed quite curious.

The wall is so thick and strong that Team Rainbow put about 200 pounds of plastic explosive in all the right places, then rolled out the wire.  The reader might be surprised to see what 200 pounds of high explosives does to the wall.

Team Rainbow and LtCol Thomson stayed up close, but I got behind the farthest vehicle because I have no pride in my courage.  Some people think this is crazy work, but I’m actually a safety fanatic.

When the enemy hears a detonation—which typically occurs many times per day—they wait for helicopters, knowing that if helicopters swoop in and land, they have achieved success.  Many of the enemy bombs in Sangin are detonated by command wire, while many others are pressure-activated and are simply improvised land mines.  The enemy often uses pressure cookers to make bombs, just as was done by the Maoists in Nepal.  In Nepal, the government began confiscating pressure cookers (which angered many people), and the government often shut down cell service (angering many people) because the Maoists used cell phones.  The Maoists won the war.  We are operating far smarter in Afghanistan.  Here it’s the enemy who actually shuts down cell towers—and this angers the people.  Also, the enemy bombs around here are killing a lot of innocent people, and this also angers the people.  Despite progress made by the Taliban, they alienate many people.

And so that’s all that 200lbs of high explosives, in perfect contact with the target, placed by experts, could do to this wall.  When soldiers come back from Afghanistan and say that the compounds are like fortresses, this is what they mean.  The electrical wires, which cannot be seen in the Google Earth imagery of 2004, got blown down.  The EOD soldiers wanted to avoid the live electrical wires.  EOD called the Royal Engineers to come up with a non-destructive solution to the wires.  Within minutes they thought of a solution.  The vehicle above cut a notch in the top of the far wall with his scooper.

He drove the scooper machine to the front and opened the wall to let a bigger truck inside.  The Engineers hooked webbing around the electrical wires, and using the winch on the big truck, pulled the wires up and draped them over the notch the scooper had cut.  EOD was back in business clearing Pharmacy Road.  In fact, the soldier who is driving the scooper is the same driver who got blown up on Pharmacy Road, and his blown up vehicle is one that they were about to drag into the compound.

It can be very rattling out here.  But they keep getting blown up and going, and the enemy is getting it worse.

Preparing plastic explosives in slivers of shade.  Iraqis thought our body armor was air conditioners, and thought we have “cold pills” to chill us out.  The soldiers carry far more weight than I do, and they work three times harder.  This heat is bad even for me, but much worse for them.  Often U.S. and British soldiers end up back at the hospital after they collapse, but in nearly all cases they come straight back to the fight.  There was a U.S. battalion in the 1st Infantry Division in Baquba, Iraq, who were constantly pumping IVs so they could outlast the enemy.

SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD).  Dealing with hidden bombs made by pernicious enemies requires special people.  I asked Ssgt Schmid which wire he cuts when dealing with booby-traps—red wire, or the green?—SSgt Schmid just laughed and kept working.

The blown-up vehicles were dragged through the blown-up wall under the blown-down wires.

As the midday sun pounded down, the EOD soldiers continued to work in the heat.  LtCol Rob Thomson stayed out in the boiling sun with the men.  I retreated with some others to a cooler place that was halfway underground.  Most of us soon fell asleep as the EOD soldiers kept blasting, blasting, blasting.  They must have made dozens of explosions during the day and they never seemed to take a break.  None of them, nor LtCol Thomson, ever took even a minute of shade break with us.

After an afternoon of blasting, LtCol Rob Thomson headed to PB Wishtan, but my gear was back at Tangiers, where some ANA were preparing for a mission.

During the clearance, this soldier fell off a ladder.  He was all the way at the top, about fifteen feet high.  Luckily he was wearing his helmet because he said he also cracked his head.  His spirits were good but he seemed a little embarrassed for falling off, but accidents like this happen a lot.  Even when nobody is shooting, there are plentiful ways to get hurt out here.  In the background are two improvised cots where I slept the second night.  Just on the other side of the barrier, the Hescoes got hit some months ago by an RPG, as seen below.

RPGs are simple but enormously effective.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary Ann · 12 years ago
    I wish I was overthere to help you all, but I'm old as dirt so I'll have to help with money.............Thanks so much for what your doing to keep old people like me safe, I love you all & pray every night for everyone of you solders. please keep the mail coming in.
    Please keep the new's coming in zmichael,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jenny, Sacramento, C · 12 years ago
    Your pictures are amazing Michael, so clear and vivid. Thank you for continuing on in this endless fight. We devour your dispatches, and so appreciate your work and the soldiers commitment to fighting the good fight. God bless you all, and may we be triumphant in this fight for the good of the Afghani's, America and the world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    a&n · 12 years ago
    Thank God for these men holding back this evil tide that would wash us all out to sea without them.
    Our prayers are with you all...and our actions are influenced by your dispatches. We must all do more to fight this world war...which it surly is...wherever we are and whatever our occupation. Thank you and all the men fighting. You are an inspiration and an encouragement to do our part and not be negligent. Wonderful photos and report...
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    howarde12 · 12 years ago
    There are no words, or combinations of them, to express the debt we owe to men such as these and what they are trying to accomplish on behalf of people around the world. Then, how do you thank the families of those who are lost, or express proper condolences? There should be networks of students in the schools to let other students know that your pictures are available online, so that they understand what is going on thousnads of miles away to allow them to go to school peacefully, to play their sports, and to graduate.

    For that is what these men are doing, and thank God for them, for those who command them, and especially to those who are maimed for us, and again, to you, Michael for this great photo story and report..
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    H · 12 years ago
    Thanks for this latest report Michael. I remember that you met Macca on Telic 9 with 5 Platoon 2 Rifles, I'm hoping your next installment will pay suitable tribute to him.

    Stay safe fella. Celer et Audax.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Terri LPN · 12 years ago
    Wonderful Photos! Thanks for your dispatches, God Bless Our Soldiers! We all all Supporting the Work You do! Be Safe!
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    Future Voice · 12 years ago

    A great organisation in the UK
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    Mark, UK · 12 years ago
    To the soldiers of 2 Rifles:
    I recently read a piece where a UK soldier thought that people at home are more interested in X-Factor or who won the cricket.

    I for one know where the true heros are. They are in Helmand.

    For helping to keep my family safe and for your service to your country, I thank you with all my heart.

    To Michael Yon:
    Thankyou for this reporting. We need to know how it is, on the ground warts and all. Only then can we begin to understand the courage and sacrifice made on our behalf.

    To UK MOD:
    Give these soldiers the equipment and rules of engagement they need for counter-insurgency operations or bring them back home. Your incompetence astounds me.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James · 12 years ago
    You're obviously not a videogame addict then Michael?!
    The Rainbow's a reference to a book and videogame series by Tom Clancy. Team Rainbow are a multi-national anti terrorist organisation.
    As these guys are "multi-force" they've taken the title on, probably with their tongues firmly in cheek.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevin K · 12 years ago
    Always enjoy reading about where I don't go. Keep putting up the photos as it give people back home (and me) areas outside the wire.
    From a fobbit - take care.
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    David · 12 years ago
    Awesome Michael. A Great short nonfiction account of those brave men keeping the barbarians a safe distance from our gates. I can't help but think your dispatches should be required reading for all politicians in Washington, London, and other allied capitals so they can draw upon a realistic inside narrative to the nature of this fight when pondering national security policy.

    Also, well done with the google maps insertions. These images really helped me understand the battle space in your corner of this conflict.

    I look forward to your next dispatch.
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    C.O. Jones · 12 years ago
    Michael, outstanding dispatch. Thanks for painting an a clearer picture for us back home in the rear with the 'expletive deleted" gear. s/f C.O.
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    David M · 12 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/24/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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    6x6x4 · 12 years ago
    Thanks for not talking down to your readers and assuming we can absorb and understand the bare facts. And thanks for all the telling details ... the heat, the noises, the way the ANA and civilians behave.

    There are so many similarities to South Vietnam ... but several important differences. In Vietnam, fixed wing fighter bombers could not deliver their ordnance with accuracy. If you were within 1,000 meters of the target you were considered ON the target. Bombs dropping miles from their intended targets were common. And all they had were unguided bombs and napalm ... useless for counterinsurgency ground support. Artillery was much better. We leaned heavily on the 155mm battery available to us.
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    KVO · 12 years ago
    I was sorry to see that your embed with the Brits has been canceled. You were providing a service to them as well as us by reporting the reality of the place in such a vivid fashion.

    It breaks my heart to hear of soldier's deaths and to have the general populace of our countries so oblivious to what's going on in Afghanistan. Yesterday NPR was reporting on the fact that Michael Jackson's death had gotten much more press than the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Irag.

    I hope you can find a way to keep reporting on the work of these fine soldiers
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ · 12 years ago
    I suppose the Brits and you didn't see eye-to-eye on what is and is not sensitive material.

    I'm sure you'll find another unit to embed with in short order.

    Godspeed, Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SWH · 12 years ago
    I would sure like to know why they cancelled your embed today. Did they provide a specific reason? Keep up the great work, even if the British government can't handle it!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marion · 12 years ago
    After such a glowing, aprreciative post of the great job the Brits are doing in AfPak did MOD pull your embed?
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    Matthew · 12 years ago
    Hi Michael. Excellent dispatch. Thanks for the SA on Google Earth. It makes it easier to follow. Any chance of making .kmz files when you use Google Earth to make it MUCH easier to follow?

    I appreciate all you do.

    It's "Rainbow 6" by the way. One of Tom Clancy's Novels.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    glenmore · 12 years ago
    Difference of opinion on what constitutes an OpSec violation?
    Political correctness issue surroundind 'smashed Taliban' or the like?
    Or just a logistical thing?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 12 years ago
    So Michael, Why did the ministry cancel your embed?
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    Harry S. · 12 years ago
    What the heck? I'd just read this dispatch when you emailed that your embed had been cancelled. I should have written earlier to congratulate you on naming the helicopter rotor-glowing effect for such a fitting tribute to the heroes. I got all misty-eyed. Wherever you go, keep on keeping on. We depend on you.
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    M.E. in FL · 12 years ago
    You are a fantastic reporter. I love the fact that you present things in such a balanced and down to earth way. You are able to give proper weight when due, but balance it with levity. I was cracking up reading about the ANA man-child in the sanger. I'm glad that you don't lose the ability to spot humor and beauty in the midst of war. That's a gift of perspective, and it serves your reader well.
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    Jimmy H · 12 years ago
    Dude, that was riveting. EOD guys must be insane. Great job. I'm sad for the fallen. I'm sad for all of the ones they left behind. I must say that the last few dispatches had me in tears, but this one made me feel good inside. When my sons asks, "Dad, who are your heroes," I can say, "soldiers, all of them." These men are heroes, but I'd wager every one of them wouldn't claim the title. They'd say that it's their job to protect us from evil. I'm thankful for them. I was at a convention last summer and the US Army was conducting a convention of its own. I missed a lot of my software convention because I wanted to thank the soldiers and talk to them as much as possible. I wanted to tell them that we love them and we're proud of them.

    Keep your head down,
    Thank a soldier today.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alex · 12 years ago
    Just because some REMF or political weenie decides your reporting is uncomfortable? The people who are uncomfortable are those troops of 2 Rifles and the rest of the men and women who are toughing it out in the heat and the dirt and the ROE that is AfPak ... They are doing an incredible job under unimaginable circumstances and need to have their stories told. These are the best of their generation and deserve better from the people back home. I just attended services for the son of a good friend - a US Marine - lost August 6th. Tell their stories, Michael. Do them the honor.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    matt h · 12 years ago
    I have just sent your article and the news of the cancellation of your embed to the Times and Telegraph in the UK. I hope it leads to a change in the government's decision. You have done a tremendous job in reporting the facts and keep us in touch with the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a vital service. E mail me if I can help.
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    Colin Perry · 12 years ago
    I can't imagine why the Brits would think canxing your embed outweighs the good your being there. If I were to guess, they probably didn't like the Google Earth images and the graphic portrayals of "Pharmacy Road". Your reporting has brought us clarity along with a huge appreciation for the Brit warriors who daily fight by our side in this long war. The MOD should be concerned with interdicting the bomb making processes and wasting energy trying to stifle a "messenger". I'm looking forward to reading your dispatches from the outposts of the United States Marines and United States Army.... Semper Fi
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lorene · 12 years ago
    What in the world...why would they pull your embed? Please write about it if you can. Stay safe Michael, your reports are so crucial to us. Perhaps you'll be able to embed with a US unit again. Godspeed!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cara Sims · 12 years ago
    A few seconds ago I sent and email via the link below to the British Ministry of Defense[see my message under the link] letting them know we are not pleased with their unembedding Michael. I sugget you and everyone you know do the same. I will also be sending a copy to DOD after I post this.


    This morning, as I do most mornings I read Michael Yon’s DISPATCH from Helmand Province, Afghanistan where he was, until today, embedded with 2nd Rifles.
    Quite frankly up until Michael joined the 2nd Rifles in Helmand Province I didn’t think about the British soldiers and their contribution to the Afghan War. But daily through his words and pictures I grew to value and hold your troops in high warm regard.
    I, and the thousands of people in the U.S. who read Michaels DISPATCHES, learned to respect and honor your troops in Afghanistan. We’ve wept over their deaths and prayed for their families, we rejoiced in their survival from horrendous wounds, and thanked God for them.
    They have become our heroes along with our own troops.
    Michael Yon has given a face and voice to the British soldiers and their amazing efforts.
    I don’t know why you have chosen to silence that voice or remove those faces.
    If you believe what he wrote today Bad Medicine[24 August 2009] diminished our regard and respect for the soldiers of the 2nd Rifles you are wrong.
    And you are wrong to take this precious contact Americans have with the British Soldiers in Afghanistan away.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Troy Schoonover · 12 years ago
    I loved this dispatch, but I am perplexed as to whether or not it was the cause of your embed being canceled. What happened? Hope you're not in any trouble! Stay safe, and I'm looking forward to hearing how the Marines are doing!
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    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    Probably something as inane as tagging the walls where they sleep. Perhaps the low-level peon who made the decision would spend one day and one patrol with 2 rifles. Expect that would be an attitude adjustment.
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    Reg Whatley · 12 years ago
    Hi Michael,
    What a load of b8locks, typic MOD weenie doing a his stupid thing because the dispatches have included some Google, or some pics of shiny new kit that talks and sees through to gods eye view. You are respected by the Brits, we will miss your posts. if you get to Bastien, look the CJTH team, a good friend and neighbour from Mildenhall is a flight surgeon ask for Brad, he may help with some great copy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zeno Davatz · 12 years ago
    Anyway. They will have you back. Looking forward to your reports from the US side.

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    Rick Laube · 12 years ago
    I took Cara's advice and sent the following to the British Ministry of Defense:

    Why in the world would you cancel Michael Yon's embed. Do you not realize what a tremendous service he is doing for the soldiers of this war? He humanizes it. I as well as many others spend many hours thinking about his dispatches and praying for these men and women. Before I began reading Michael's dispatches the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was nothing more than a sound bite in between the Hollywood news and our countries ridiculous politics. You do Michael, his readers and especially your and our soldiers a great disservice.
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    Steve Waterman · 12 years ago
    I'm betting that the liberals in Britain are worried that their troops may actually be doing some good in this way and they might possibly lose in any effort to remove them entirely from this theater of operations.

    I may be wrong.

    All the best,

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chet · 12 years ago
    I'm sure I speak for many others when I say I would like to know why your embed was pulled.
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    Jack Denver · 12 years ago
    Jingle Truck, not Jingo Trucks. So named for the noise that they make when the decorative chains they are festooned with rattle.
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    ashok · 12 years ago
    These dispatches are wonderful; I put them on Stumbleupon and share them with my friends when I can. I think the best response to people that don't want to know what goes on is to keep publicizing the truth. Fingers are crossed that you get to keep reporting, and of course the coalition is in my prayers.
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    HOWARDE12 · 12 years ago
    Michael, I think you've done more to tell us, to tell the world, how great these British troops are than all other reporters put together. The British Military should give you special honors, not castigation by calcelling your Embed. We now understand what they're going through. To those soldiers reading these Comments, thanks, from a WWII Veteran.
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    Dan Daly · 12 years ago
    The picture that the lads took with your camera had me rolling thinking of the things we used to do. A buddy of ours got married not long ago, and to our amazement, he let his wife to be put little disposable cameras on every single table. As the night wore on, the compositions deteriorated into shots of male genitalia and toilets and passed out jarheads.....

    Stay safe bro.

    Semper Fidelis.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KenF · 12 years ago
    Here's a wee bit of speculation for ya.

    Oh, common...If it was about the 5 year old Google Earth photos, it simply did not show anything new to the enemy. Most likely, they don't have a computer and don't even know who you are. Besides, they most likely know where the troops are hold up and what is being done in the fight. The one's that don't are already dead. Heck, computer? They're lucky to have a radio.

    If anything, your article should give them pause as to whether or not they should continue to resist. Provided they can even read. We are not talking about a sophisticated enemy. The Viet Cong were far more sophisticated and informed than our present enemy.

    Quite frankly I believe it may be political and for reasons not necessarily for the protection of the troops. More likely because if your articles are read, it just might garner popular support for the war effort. Frankly the liberals would not have that, now would they?

    What they have accomplished is to extinguish or at the least, diminish the best news reporting out of the Afghanistan theater of war...at least when it comes to what the Heroic Brits are doing for this effort.

    I have followed you in your reporting for the last four years, and one thing holds true. You care about the troops on the ground and would NEVER put their lives at risk. Your training in Special Forces gave you the tools you need to make those calls and you use them well.
    As far as any special equipment the troops are carrying: Popular Science has had a number or articles about special weapons...it's nothing new.

    I support you and devour each article the day they arrive. Without your reporting, this war would just be a 20 second blurb on the news about how many casualties we've sustained today, this month and/or this year.

    It would be most suitable if the British Ministry of Defense would take a second look at this situation and realize how much of an asset you really are to all - then bring you back.

    One other bit of speculation: They might have brought you out because they thought you were in danger, not bringing it upon their troops. It could be they are preparing for an even tougher conflict and didn't want anyone around who is not carrying a weapon. Just a thought.

    Michael...be safe, keep your head down and your camera and keyboard at the ready. I'm eagerly awaiting your next dispatch.

    4th Inf Div
    RVN 69 - 70
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    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    I know this sounds mundane but I am curious as to the typical British ration. I would hope they are very high in calories. How do they compare to US rations. Assume on Base that there are hot meals from foodstuff flown in. You describe them as bland.
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    Aunt of 3 ANG · 12 years ago
    I don't know about all the military, but when our guys were in Iraq for their tour of almost 2 yrs, they could never say exactly where they were located or what base they were on. They gave hints but they still couldln't mention it even when the news media reported from there. It they took pictures out on patrol that showed some landmark and the higher ups felt it compromised some security issue, that pic had to be taken off the blog. We all would have loved pic's like the ones you took. A friend of mine who is a major and from a dif state, told me where he was going to be stationed in Afghanistan before he ever got there. That 2 surprised me.
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    AF · 12 years ago
    Please let them know that it is simply not true that people are more interested in X Factor or what the papers say about their families. Ross Kemp in Afghanistan on SKY was a massive success and avidly picked up on YOutube to the extent that many other journos root down with our troops and report back to an avid readership far more so than is being done in America.

    Thousands line the streets when they come home in coffins. We CARE that they are away from home and dying out there or getting injured. We KNOW that they are the toughest and bravest. We WANT them to succeed.

    As for the cricket - Andrew Strauss the cricket captain wore his Help For Heroes bracelet throughout the series - as do many key figures to promote that fine charity - although the bracelets worn by the soldiers don't look the same??

    I do wish that more was done to CONVEY this to our troops instead of continually assuming ignorance here.

    Thanks to you Mr Yon for letting Americans know what our men are doing out there. The American press barely ever mention them.

    Thinking of our troops and wishing them the best at smashing the Taliban always
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Les · 12 years ago
    I am at a loss to understand why the MOD has cancelled your embed with 2 Rifles, and I have sent an e mail to the"ask a Minister" address asdid another ofyour readers. I have also written to my local Member of Parliament requesting his intervention. The only thing I can think of from where I sit, is that you have on several occasions rightly mentioned the shortage of helicopter assets, and this has been a political embarrasment to the UK Government recently. If this is the reason, then it is likely that the decision to end your embed was a political one and not one taken by the military, as I am sure you will be well aware.

    Keep up the good work Michael. I for one rely on your dispatches for getting the facts, something we have been unable to get in such detail, from the mediagenerally.
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    David · 12 years ago
    What a great dispatch! One of the best ones. The last note said it right, we Americans have a virtual blackout from our media about the British and what they are doing there. It is so great to read your dispatches and hear about the great things the Brits are doing. What a bunch of great guys. Before you leave tell them we are all pissed off that you got ejected. We wanted to hear more. We think they are great!
    I can only hope the British Ministry of Defense changes their minds. Those guys deserve to have what they are doing known and appreciated here and in England.

    Thanks again as always, keep safe and may God watch out for you.

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    Maggie45 · 12 years ago
    When I read your dispatches, it's with the knowledge that we can trust you. Anyway, I want to let you know that I pray for your safety every day, frequently several times a day. God bless you, Michael, and thank you for what you do. I wish I were wealthy so I could send you lots of money. (smile)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael · 12 years ago
    Mr. Yon,

    I'm sorry to hear that you've been removed from your embed. I don't always agree with everything you have said, but I still respect you for your bravery and objectivity as a reporter. I can't imagine why the British command would choose to cancel. The British Defense might suffer in the long run for it, and that's no consolation to anyone on the ground there.

    Thank you, and please keep up the good work, sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maggie45 · 12 years ago
    because of your losing the imbed. I realize I didn't make that clear.
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    Deuce Four Dad · 12 years ago
    I've been with you for evey dispatch since the mess hall bombing at Mosul. My son was there. You are a national treasure. But you have got to know that you've been "over there" too long. Come home and do a speaking tour,
    raise some money and write another book. PLEASE !!! Remind yourself what this is all about, ergo...picnics, barbecues, QUIET TIME and family. You have enough info and photographs to keep you busy for years! Come home for the Holidays

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