Michael's Dispatches

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Conversation with General Petraeus

After all that and lots more, the bus took us to a reception at the town hall where food and drinks were served and there were loads of soldiers, including Brits who were about to head over to Afghanistan.  Some German veterans were there and Americans pulled around them for translated accounts.  One Panzer veteran said his outfit was the best in the world, even better than Patton’s that had beaten them.  He must have been ninety years old but he was drinking beer and showing an American veteran of the similar age how to prost, German Army style.  He said that for decades it had been “streng verboten” (Strongly Forbidden) in Deutschland to talk about war experiences, and especially not so in any proud light.

Time and conversations melted by until there was a tap on the shoulder, asking if I wanted to talk with General Petraeus.  We were staying at the same hotel but I wasn’t going to bug him; there was too much going on.  But the tap on the shoulder was opportunity knocking, and soon I walked upstairs where General Petraeus had a little command center, where he was running CENTCOM.

I asked General Petraeus about his dad, and he said his dad was a Dutch ship captain and was at sea when the Germans invaded Holland.  And so he sailed to New York and there eventually met his American mom.  (Touchdown for the United States.)  His dad joined the Merchant Marines, who suffered more casualties per capita than any other service during the war.  I asked General Petraeus what he thought about all these incredible remembrance ceremonies, and he talked about the Margraten Cemetery, saying a Dutch family had adopted every single grave.  General Petraeus was struck by the Dutch gratitude and talked about it for some minutes, saying in part, “This is a country that makes an enormous effort to remember and honor those who liberated them.”  “Symbolically,” he said, “in saving a bridge, we strengthened enormously a bridge between two countries.  That relationship is exceptional.”  “I am struck by the sheer sacrifice that was made,” he said, “Just the river crossing, there are 47 names on that plaque.”  General Petraeus had long-commanded the 101st, including in combat in Iraq, and had briefly been acting commander of the 82nd, the two principal divisions being honored today.

General Petreaus recounted working with the Dutch in the Cold War, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and now on counter-piracy efforts off of Africa, saying of Holland, “This is a country that punches above its weight class.”

On Afghanistan, I brought up the severe shortage of helicopters, saying this shortage is hampering our ability to fight, and at one point I said, “But I am talking to the choir,” to which General Petraeus answered, “Yes you are.”  He said we had doubled our helicopters in the last four months and that we are about to add a couple more “fistfuls.”  I asked how many we have and how many we need but he would not go there, which was understandable but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  I told him about the pathetic helicopter debacle unfolding with the British and mentioned that the British MoD had recently kicked me out, apparently for reporting the helicopter debacle.  The MoD screams bloody murder at papercuts, I said.

General Petraeus said that he watches the helicopter and other statistics very closely (and I know they do, having sat in on many briefings at lower levels), he said, “What we watch very closely is medevac—I specifically watch that closely,” and he said “average medevac time is about 50 minutes.”  I told General Petraeus about the U.S. Air Force Pedros, saying they are beating the clock and doing stellar work, which brought a smile to the General’s face.

(General Petraeus’s words are a fact when it comes to U.S. medevac.  But I am very uncomfortable if our soldiers operate in areas that are not covered by U.S. or British medevac; I am not confident in some of the other partners’ willingness or ability to go into crucial situations.  For example, one U.S. captain told me about a U.S. soldier who died because a non-U.S. non-British partner failed to extract him in time.  I continue to hear similar reports from U.S. officers and NCOs.  I did not ask General Petraeus about this but should have.  Our folks need an American or British medevac umbrella.)

Questioned about national commitments of various countries, the General wasn’t going to touch that for obvious reasons, but again it doesn’t hurt to ask.

I asked General Petraeus about troop levels and he said he was waiting for General McChrystal’s report.  General Petraeus said he had not yet seen the report but that it should be out in a couple of weeks.  (Hours later the “big memo” was leaked by the Washington Post, which I first heard about the next day from General Petraeus.)

I’m as confident in General Petraeus today as back in January 2007 when we were on the brink of losing the war in Iraq.  Afghanistan is looking like Humpty Dumpty, though.

 

DAY FIVE

The next morning, Maggie and General Petraeus were scheduled to give a Freedom Lecture at a local university.  Word had come that protestors of some species or another were using SMS and emails trying to make a “flash protest,” to yell about something.  It was unclear what they were going to protest.  Some guy had run out in protest at one of the parades, in front of the stands where General Petraeus was standing, and everybody just laughed at the guy.  I didn’t even bother to make a photo.  Apparently sensing he did not have any popular support, the guy disappeared and the cops didn’t seem to bother going after him.  (Maybe they did, but I didn’t see.)  If any protestors arrived today, they remained invisible.

Before the talks began, distinguished folks talked by the stage.  The man behind General Petraeus who is shaking hands with Maggie is Captain Marco Kroon.  Alex Omhof told me that Cpt Kroon resisted coming today because he is uncomfortable with all the attention.  He would rather be back in Afghanistan, but was in essence ordered to come.  Captain Kroon had been awarded the Dutch Medal of Honor for his actions in Urozgan Province, Afghanistan.  Alex Omhof would later write me,

“Regarding CPT Marco Kroon, he didn't want to receive the Dutch Medal of honor because he wanted that his buddies who he fought with should have been honored too.  Maggie had met Marco before during and after the Dutch Medal of Honor ceremony. The Dutch MOD had flown [Maggie] over for this ceremony because Maggie received the Dutch Medal of Honor on behalf of the 82d Airborne Division in 1945. He was hereby the first American to be decorated by the Dutch Government.”

The speeches began and when Maggie got there, he went for maybe an hour without a single note.

General Petraeus, of course, brought PowerPoint and a laser pointer, as do U.S. Commanders.  He talked about the challenges of the CENTCOM AOR (Area of Responsibility) and focused some time on Iraq.  Progress is unfolding in Iraq and despite the problems, progress is undeniable.

Examining the graph closely, violence was at an all-time high in about June 2007, right when I reported on the Hugh Hewitt radio show that the Surge was working.  Needless to say, a lot of people said that was crazy.  (Just look at that graph!)  During a more recent interview with Hugh, we remembered that interview in 2007.  But look what started to happen in July.  When I was reporting the growing civil war in 2005, the civil war was not yet showing itself in the statistics but I could feel it growing.  By 2006, Iraq was starting to burn down, but by June 2007 the Surge obviously was working even though Iraq was mad with violence at that time.

In this type of war, as with Afghanistan, the statistics lag behind the realities.  This month’s statistics are ancient news even though the events that underpin the graphs just occurred.  A witness must be on the ground and know what to look and listen for, and be willing to disregard what the crowd is saying (unless they are right). The witness must be politically tone-deaf.

If General Petraeus did not take the Iraq reins in early 2007, I would say there would have been maybe a 90% chance that genocide would have occurred.  Of course Petraeus never said anything like that during today’s talk, nor did he tell the audience that he had taken command in late January 2007 and that by July 2007 violence began to subside.  Those are the facts.

General Petraeus mentioned during the talk that the Washington Post had just released the classified message from McChrystal to the White House.  The memo has since set Washington ablaze, yet the McChrystal document delivered news so old and parched that Indiana Jones might find it more useful for finding hidden treasures.  That Washington finds the ideas new or shocking only shows that Washington is shot full of painkillers and can’t feel a thing.  The report should have been submitted by the Commanding General in Afghanistan in 2006.

Petraeus’s talk included a description of good progress on the Pakistan side, which looked pretty doggone bad earlier this year.  Back in December in Bahrain, I had put General Petraeus on the spot about Pakistan and our supply routes.  His descriptions back then actually are coming true, though at the time it had been doubtful.

His descriptions about Afghanistan were accurate in fact and in tone.

Last year I said during an interview with Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit that we need tens of thousands of more troops.  What is coming on the radar these last couple weeks is ancient history and in fact the war at this rate is tantamount about lost.  General Petraeus did not say this, but it’s true.  My instinct is that if the President does not make a quick decision to send those troops and resources, the war certainly will be lost.

General Petraeus talked about the trends.  In April 2006, I told Hugh Hewitt on air that we were losing Afghanistan, and then wrote twelve dispatches that we were losing.  The statistics flew in the face of the claims and, ironically, the statistics seemed to be reasonably accurate.  I never disputed the statistics that appeared to shoot down the claims.  The violence, or lack thereof, lags behind the causes.  Violence is not the disease but a symptom that changes post facto.

Despite all that, morale remains good, and General Petraeus’s slide showing the July 4th reenlistment ceremony is an accurate reflection.  We can still make success in Afghanistan, but time is just about gone.

The speeches were over and we headed to a big lunch with the veterans who liberated the Netherlands and other places.

At the lunch, General Petraeus walked over to Captain Marco Kroon, Dutch Medal of Honor recipient, and they stepped out of the main hall to a quiet spot, but I spoiled the moment for a photo.  General Petraeus said, “Michael, do you know who this is?”  “Yes Sir, I do,” and I snapped a photo that didn’t turn out so well.

And that was it.   A remembrance during a time of war, and now it’s time to move back to the war.

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark · 10 years ago
    Michael - Thanks for the superb piece - it seemed like I was there.
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    Scott from TX · 10 years ago
    i always get sucked in to the photos and story that you put together. nothing like the adrenaline rush of being a westerner driving through Kandahar with a Corolla on the loose.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Johnathan Crawford · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael,

    What a pleasant surprise this essay was. Your pictures are worth 1,000 words!
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    JC · 10 years ago
    Great report, not too far from the bridge this time then. I am following you on twitter too. We need people like you reporting from the heart of things, even if maybe you get too close but that compensate from those who do it from the terrace of the Hilton and you know what I mean.
    Take care.
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    Austen · 10 years ago
    Brilliant - keep up the excellent work.
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    Salgofnir · 10 years ago
    Another good report. Stay safe.
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    Joseph Bays ICCSSS, · 10 years ago
    A great picture story. I never knew the Dutch remembered, although some of Europe seems to have forgotten.
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    Nathaniel · 10 years ago
    great pics as always!!
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    Eddy · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael, this was a great dispatch, and in no way too long. I appreciate you taking the time to detail all the cereomonies and events, it's hard to imagine us here in the United States putting up so much effort to honor our vets, much less those of another country. A grim reminder of how much we take for granted. And please stay safe in Afghanistan, the start of your dispatch scared the crap out of me, I don't know how I'd get my frontline news without you.
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    Robin · 10 years ago
    Whoa! It's really almost creepy, you were all over the place. In fact, you went to the place where I live and even the school I go to. Crazy!

    As always, you take pretty awesome photos.
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    Pat · 10 years ago
    Thank you sir for what you are doing. Bringing to our homes what really happens out there and giving us the chance to see pictures and realize there are many out there who do appreciate our military and what America has done and continues to do in spreading freedom. Seeing the pictures of all the vets reminds me of my neighbor who was in the Air Force in both WWII and Korea. I always enjoy having conversations with him. I can only imagine how you felt being surrounded by all those incredible veterans and hearing their stories. It was also great that you got some pics of soldiers who were able to make it to the ceremonies as well. Keep up the great work sir!
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    Allen · 10 years ago
    Michael -

    Great, great, great dispatch. You're work is so refreshing. I get emotional just reading and remembering these vets.

    ~Allen
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JJT · 10 years ago
    Thank you for an excellent piece.
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    Kevin · 10 years ago
    Outstanding work as usual, Michael!
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    Vincent · 10 years ago
    I have been "with you" since day one. I don't know what drives you but you are one brave, necessary reporter. Simply calling you a reporter seems so inadequate in the face of a monumental failure of war news dissemination by almost all News agencies. Stay well, Michael. We need you!
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    Matthew · 10 years ago
    Thank you Michael! You always seem to make it to the most interesting places! I must make it to a Market-Garden event one day, before all of our old warriors are gone.
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    winston · 10 years ago
    Excellent reporting. Beautiful photos... Good job!
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    CJ · 10 years ago
    We can never forget, then as now, the incredible sacrifices of our armed men and women.

    God Bless them all, and thank you Michael for taking us along for the ride.
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    Kiwi Chris · 10 years ago
    Thank you for this fantastic article - we never had coverage of this national tribute down here - What a fantastic honour for these fantastic soldiers.
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    Lance McMillan · 10 years ago
    Nice bit of reporting. Thanks.

    Was a bit disappointed that there were so few indications of any recognition of the Polish commitment to Market-Garden (or to Afghanistan for that matter). Sosabowski's parachute brigade was dropped near Arnhem in an effort to help relieve the pressure on the British 1st Airborne and was decimated in the ensuing fighting, and yet I only saw one Polish flag in any of the many shots you took of the various memorials -- it's kind of sad how the service of the Polish exile troops is so consistently overlooked.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    In 2000, I had the honor of visiting the American Cemetary there. It was on a weekday and I was surprised at the number of Dutch also visiting. They, perhaps more than any other Europeans, respect and appreciate the sacrifices our vets made. At dusk, there was a ceremonial lowering of our flag and as my friend, an Air Force officer and I stood at attention, so did all the Dutch visitors. An amazing sight. I love the Dutch.
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    Tom Reynolds · 10 years ago
    Beautiful!
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    Jim Delaney · 10 years ago
    Splendid presentation again, Michael. Gen. P continues to bowl me over with his intellect, calm and integrity.

    Glad you're trekking into the Himalayas during your break in Nepal. You won't regret it. I and a buddy trekked to Mt. Kalipatar, overlooking Everest base camp, about 25 years ago. What a truly awesome experience. Standing alone atop Kalipatar and gazing into the daylight's black sky, only then did I realize how truly insignificant we each of us is in the universal scheme of things. At that moment I fully understood the meaning of "the silence was defeaning". Not a sound at all. Had never understood that phrase before. Utterly alone, just me, my friend and an overwhelming, almost menacing, eternity before us. It really put things into perspective for me. It was a very humbling and mind-jarring experience which will always be part of me.
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    Dr. Kenneth Noisewat · 10 years ago
    Y'all probably know this already, but just in case..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Heart_Lane
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Paul · 10 years ago
    The goose bumps registered the quality of the report.
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    wf · 10 years ago
    Wonderful dispatch Michael, thank you! It seems that Dutch children are well aware of this time in history, as they should. Why are our children not being taught any of this? We have veterans (from WWII to the present) in every city of the US and I would be willing to bet that not five of them have been asked by any school to talk to our children about what they did. We are missing the chance to show our children what honor and duty look like in person.
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    Tim · 10 years ago
    America has always been full of hero's willing to give for the greater good, to protect the weak or needy.
    A wonderful group of hero's along with some Dutch hero's as well.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alastair · 10 years ago
    Michael. That was a superb article which I didn't pick up on the British media really covering. Stay safe on returning to Afghan
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    Robert · 10 years ago
    Are so very awesome for remembering the troops that way! Would love it if more in our country understood that. When I was scanning the article I seen where some of the Dutch soldiers want to get back in the fight, I commend them for that. I wish I could go over there and serve as a soldier. However because of a mistake I made when I was younger I am not allowed to serve. So I am working on getting job that will put me there so I can serve that way!
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    Julie Harris · 10 years ago
    Wonderful piece Michael - it brought tears to my eyes. Keep up the good work! Will be praying for your safety. Sincerely and with gratitude, Julie Harris
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    BravoBilly · 10 years ago
    I am 3rd Army brat and a Veteran, too. So when I saw all those veterans, I became proud. Thanks Michael...You are Florida at its finest.
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    Sandy · 10 years ago
    Michael....you've got a gift for really transporting us along with you...thanks.
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    Randall Hannaway · 10 years ago
    Michael,

    Thank you for covering this event, truly, thank you. It was the next best thing to being there. These men gave so much, it's vital that what they did during those grave days never be forgotten. I can't imagine the emotions that you must have felt being able to share in such a historical event. We are grateful for all of your efforts both the more enjoyable stories like this one and of course the more difficult war coverage. Keep your head down and be well.

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    Papajimm · 10 years ago
    I have been so pummeled with anti American bashing/demonstrations around the world that this accounting is hard to wrap my emotions around. Do you thing the Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, et. al will every be grateful for the lives and ultimate sacrifices being made to secure their democracy and resulting freedoms? Unlikely. Not the way they roll. Stay safe Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gordon Duff · 10 years ago
    Great photos, great story and a great group of guys being honored.
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    Sara Johnson · 10 years ago
    There is nowhere else I have heard nor read of this event. This post is remarkable and I'll send link to all who care so deeply of our country, its defenders and the veteran liberators for freedom. God Bless You. Keep this up. Extraordinary dispatch. Thank you.
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    David L. · 10 years ago
    My wife's father was Dutch. He worked for Shell in Java and went back into the army as a private as soon as the Japanese attacked. He was captured by the Japanese in Java in 1942, imprisoned there for several months and then sent to Japan by Hell Ship, where he remained imprisoned until the end of the war. He is dead now but a few years ago my wife and I visited some of his and her relatives in Holland. The only place they really insisted that we go was the battleground for Market Garden. A few of my wife's relatives had been children or even young women during WW II. The gratitude and respect for what was done to liberate them was deep and heartfelt. Yet all of her Dutch relatives--completely without exception--could not fathom why our country chose to fight in Iraq. Afghanistan was never mentioned. It was eclipsed by Iraq at the time.

    Thank you for your great reporting.
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    Jarold · 10 years ago
    Whenever I meet someone who is interested in the fight, I tell them of you and your website. Thanks for all you do, and thanks to all our vets, US, Brits, Dutch, and all others on our side. We are in this together. Mike, you get the real truth out. God Bless and Protect You.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan Johnson · 10 years ago
    Michael,
    As always thanks for the dispatch, and the update and pictures on the memorial services, I wish that people would realize that some people do remember the sacrifice that was made and is being made. Keep up the good work and enjoy the fresh air break.
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    C. Renee Daigle · 10 years ago
    Thank you, Michael, for all that you do to keep us here at home informed.
    This post is wonderful. I was enrapt with the Dutch treatment of our veterans. They deserve all of it and more.
    Thanks again, God speed, and keep safe. You and all of our troops are in my prayers.
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    Karl Crankshaw · 10 years ago
    Michael,

    Excellent report and pictures, Words cannot express how moved I was at the courage of the Airborne Vets and the way the Dutch people remember and honour the sacrifices that were and continue to be made for freedom.
    Stay Safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas · 10 years ago
    But I will hit the tip jar first.
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    Dennis Graham · 10 years ago
    Thank you Michael,
    Praise the Lord for the continueing gratitude of the Dutch people,even after all these years. Please stay safe. You are in my prayers.
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    Philip Lewis · 10 years ago
    I'm not sure what struck me more..the vitality of the WWII veterans, the obvious affection and gratitude of the Dutch for their liberation, the odd contrast of the cornfields of Afghanistan with those of Eindhoven, the strong commitment of the Dutch to supporting foreign policy goals. Really a fine dispatch. You have a tremendous gift, both as a photographer and as a writer. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim S · 10 years ago
    Thank You.
    It was nice to read a story about Love for our Military.
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    MikeB · 10 years ago
    Amazing post, thank you.
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    Hester · 10 years ago
    Great dispatch! I just wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to thank the Dutch for this wonderful remembrance. It is so heartening to know there are people who have not forgotten the sacrifices of the allied soldiers.
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    crosspatch · 10 years ago
    I don't know if they still do it but when I served in Europe in the late 1970's there was an annual 100 mile march that was sort of a remembrance of Market-Garden. I attended in 1978. The people were absolutely wonderful and it is an experience I will never forget. Sometimes I really miss that part of the world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lorenzo from Oz · 10 years ago
    Both moving and informative, thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Colin Perry · 10 years ago
    It has all been said above. Brilliant....

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