Sunday, November 1, 2009

November is here...

Wow, time has really flown by. It's hard to believe that we're in November already. It is a relief, to say the least. Our replacements are scheduled to arrive here soon.

But until they arrive, the beat goes on. When the replacements do get here though, we will begin what is called right seat/left seat training to make sure they have a good understanding of the overall mission.

My hope is that the transition goes smoothly and everyone gets trained up on their responsibities. Then, Soldiers from our unit will be able to get back to their families and civilian life.

The new unit will then carry forth their own legacy of a Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) in Baghdad.

Like the acronym of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), M*P*A*D also has 4 letters, one 'M' and one 'A'. Will one of our Soldiers write the novel of Army journalists, which becomes a movie and sitcom? We certainly have a talented crew of writers, including the broadcasters, who don't usually get a lot of credit for their writing skills. Surely, one of them could pull it off.

I can say this. It won't be me. Once I leave here, I want to get right back to my family and concentrate on goals I have set for my personal and professional life. Army life will be put on the back burner.

I miss being home. But, it's not too much longer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finally, some pics...

These are pics from a tour on Camp Stryker that takes Soldiers and contractors through the wreckage of Saddam's palaces.

Here I am on that same tour of the palaces that were bombed back in 2003.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Writing and then writing some more...

I hope I don't get writer's block, sometimes I think it may happen. It came close to happening early on when I sat for like 3 to 4 hours without getting through the first paragraph of a story I was doing. So far so good, it hasn't hit me too much.

I did a story recently at Camp Slayer on some Soldiers taking a tour of Saddam's palaces and Ba'ath Party headquarters that were hit by U.S. bombs in March of 2003. One of the palaces was run by the son of Saddam, Uday.

The wreckage was striking, pardon the pun. It was easy to see how Saddam saw himself. He was a dictator no doubt, his image and name show up all over. I will try to get some pics posted soon.

I've been focused lately on some articles dealing with Humvee maintenance, we've covered air conditioning, windshields and air filters so far. They seem to be received well.

Also, saw my first fotos on, they were a set of 3 from the services of Rosh Hashanah at Camp Victory.

It's October, yeahhhhhhhh!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Back to the beat...

Vacation was great. Accomplished everything I had wanted to do; spent time with the family, saw international soccer action, ate good food, visited new places.

Now, it's back to work. I feel rejuvenated and ready to finish out the last 3 months.

I did a small photo release on some mechanics the other day and it got me back in the groove, somewhat. It was a good reminder for me of how dedicated, disciplined and knowledgeable Soldiers are. They show consistent professionalism and take pride in serving their country.

Being around Soldiers anytime is special, but being around them when they are working in their area of expertise is a privilege.

I plan on doing a lot more stories on vehicle mechanics because they are busy and have a variety of work to do that is interesting. I'm hoping to develop stories towards a Mechanic's Corner type of news, where the reader can learn basics and advanced technology practices.

Because the pace of things has slowed considerably, getting interesting stories on Soldiers is becoming more difficult. This is a good thing because it means the war is wrapping up, but it is tough for a reporter when there are a lack of good story lines to chase.

Staying busy makes time go by faster, so maybe in the past, the story didn't seem so good to tackle, now it is.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Going against the traffic...

So far so good. Vacation is coming up and it seems to be the right fit at the right time. I'm feeling a little burnout lately. I'm anxious to see my daughter and see how tall she has gotten. Can't wait for the 12th to come around so we are all together. I have plans for us to spend a few nights in a rainforest in Mindo, Ecuador. Hoping to go hiking, see nature, rest, kayak, rest some more and get in some good family time. Also, hoping to take my father n' law to some Soccer games in Quito.

I've been incredibly fortunate in my job duties so far as I detailed before, but I may not have explained some of the fringe benefits that have accompanied the night shift.

Working at night and sleeping during the day means I'm going against the traffic to the gym, bathroom, laundry, internet cafe and dining facility. With less people around, things can be more pleasant. Cleanliness and ambience are those subtle factors which make the nightshift such a fortunate experience.

The dining facility for midnight chow is much less noisy, I can hear the tv that is on in there and it's primetime in the U.S. so I may catch some live sports events.

When I get off shift, the bathrooms have just been cleaned and the gym has fresh towels for workouts. Also, there is always a computer available at the internet cafe.

The greatest benefit, though, may be that I don't have to deal with the 115 degree daytime heat because I'm usually asleep with the A/C on.

The small community on the night shift has also meant an opportunity to make new friends. I have made some great buddies, who are working as media analysts (contractors) alongside our unit in public affairs. Unfortunately, there time here is drawing to a close and they are moving on. These media analysis contractors I'm referring to, Tim, Bill, Matt, Scott and Ricardo are either leaving or going to Victory Camp. I'm hoping for Victory Camp so I have somewhere to visit in my final months here.

Good luck guys, and I hope we see each other sometime in the States. It's been fun, we've had great conversations.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The beat goes on...

It's good to post again! Not too much has changed and in saying that, I must mention the effects of 'Groundhog Day' the movie, on this deployment. 'Groundhog Day' is an expression that many Soldiers repeat quite often when describing how their day is going because the days blend into each other and feel the same from one to the next.

Interestingly, I've learned that many Soldiers who either use the term or hear it used have no idea where it comes from. I explained its origin to one young Soldier and acknowledged to myself, how can everybody be expected to know this expression. The movie came out in 1993.

Right now the pullout of troops from the cities in Iraq seems to be working well. The June 30 deadline went smoothly and troops are adjusting. There have been a low amount of incidents in the days since and everyone is hopeful for the best.

As for the life of an Army journalist post June 30, telling the Soldiers' stories goes on. There is still a lot to tell and to record. Army journalists from MND-B are finding the most relevant stories to report as we still must maintain products, such as the bi-weekly newspaper, The Crossed Sabers and the internet daily newspaper, The Daily Charge, which I still put together and edit.

These papers can be retrieved from or from, a military public affairs distribution site.

I will soon begin prepping for a two-week vacation to see my family. I leave sometime in August to see my wife and daughter, Patty and Alicea. Our plans are to meet up in Quito, Ecuador to visit with family. I miss them so much.

I'm going to cut this post short, as I feel an onset of carpal-tunnel syndrome coming on. I'm joking...somewhat, but with all the design and editing I do, I am sometimes feeling tired in my fingers from working with the mouse so much and also with one computer without a mouse. I joke with some of my colleagues that I might be starting a class action lawsuit 2o years from now. This attempt at humor is tinged with lots and lots of irony,... get it,... coming to war and getting a case of carpal-tunnel, ha-ha,... maybe not so funny, but I tried.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Oh, ... the Irony--and some History

Military trivia just isn't like sports trivia for me. My knowledge of military history is still in its infancy stage. I'm learning new, intrinsic, idiosyncratic notes of linguistic, military terminology each and every day.

I have just figured out that 'Live the Legend' does exist. Now, I'm not sure if Sgt. Logue also knew that this is 1st Cavalry's motto when she replied that day that she was living the legend when I passed her and asked how her day was going. Actually, I'm not sure how many people from my unit, the 211th MPAD, which is attached to 1st Cav, know of the motto 'Live the Legend.' It could be I'm the only one who didn't know. I have no idea, but neither does it matter.

I just saw it recently imprinted lightly into some colorful, propaganda posters made up to illuminate the wonders of the Cavalry.

So, why is it 'Live the Legend', you might ask.

The 1st Cavalry has been around since 1855 and has particpated in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish American War, and most of the battles of the 20th and 21st century involving the U.S.

Troopers still rode horses as their primary form of maneuvering for patrols as late as 1923 and continued surveillance of the Mexican border with horses through the 1940's. The Division continued to train with their mix of machines and horses until giving in to a more modern technology in the mid-40's. Saddles and harnesses were turned in for other forms of transport.

The motto serves as a reminder to troops to try and keep up the courage of what the forefathers accomplished.

It is a privilege to play a small part in such a prestigious Division of the Army and to help carry on the Legend as it keeps growing in stature.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Editor"

I made a decision to write one blog per month. I feel this is the minimum acceptable for this kind of blog. This month's blog must be focused on my current responsibities here at Camp Liberty, as they have changed from reporter to editor of our internet newspaper, The Daily Charge.

I am enjoying my time at night and the early morning hours in the 1st Cav. Div. main building, getting the paper prepared for the next day's viewing. There is some artistic thought required as each paper must be designed individually and laid out for the viewer to read at their leisure. The paper should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and catchy for the reader.

I start out with the press releases and decide which should be on the front page and from there I edit the rest of the paper, including the weather, the Pvt. Murphy comic, quotes of the day, military history of the day and games.

I have the freedom to try new things, so I put in a game I created in basic training that I call Wordplay. I discovered this game as I repeatedly had to stand behind other Soldiers with nothing to do but stare at their names on the back of their patrol caps. It's like an anagram, but you don't need to use all the letters.

Also, I have distributed flyers to advertise The Daily Charge, hoping to pick up some new readers.

The Daily Charge can be viewed at . I have put some Letterman top 10 lists into the paper, this one has been my favorite.
Top 10 signs you're at a bad zoo
10) All animals are stuffed and mounted
9) It's nothing but photos of other zoos
8) Lost and found has a number of human limbs
7) Monkeys are forced to work as unpaid janitors
6) Every visitor gets free parasites
5) The animals are smoking
4) Ronny and the Goon never get around to taking the 12th caller (sorry, that's a sign you're at a bad radio morning zoo)
3) For an extra fee, you can pet the zookeepers
2) You ask where you can find a panda and they send you to the snack bar
1) Instead of octupus, they've got an Octomom

I also have put in a Chuck Norris feat for each paper. I don't know how these got to be so popular, but they have achieved a pop-cultural status with Soldiers. My favorite is did you know that Chuck Norris can sneeze with his eyes open.

I will get back to the blog in June, talk to ya then.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Living the legend and other phenomenas...

As I was racking my mind for an interesting topic for this blog I realized I had to address Sgt. Logue's response to me asking her how she was doing the other day. I said, "how's it going, Sergeant?", and she said, "Living the legend, Specialist."

At that point, I'm thinking, Whoaah!, hey, that's not fair. She was so matter of fact about it with her business-like manner, leaving no room for me to say, "What the heck does that mean?, explain yourself, because I really want to know."

I haven't gotten around to asking her about it, I was only left with thinking about the legend, and thinking maybe she said it because she knew I would include her in a blog specifically about living the legend.

I can only speculate, but maybe living the legend means I'm living with legendary status because I'm in the Army during war times. 'Living the legend' seems just a tad too much for my tastes. I'm sticking with 'living the dream,' thanks.

But, all this 'legend' stuff does lead me to another subject, somewhat related.

I was surprised to see how much telling the Soldiers' stories has propelled myself into the limelight of the internet. Quite frankly, I didn't realize that after writing and photographing these stories, I would be building such a personal library for such easy access to the public. It didn't occur to me.

Each article is forwarded as a media release, so it is up for grabs for any website anywhere. I don't think I'm the only new Army journalist to be caught offguard by this procedure. I know there are others who did not realize all of what we write would be made available to any civilian press or institution. It's a great thing because it shows the military has nothing to hide.

And now that it's happening, I have to admit it feels good. But, it also feels a little awkward. Of course, I want my stories to be told so Soldiers get the credit they deserve. But, because of the state of the internet, it is only natural that the ego tends to get involved. Being able to tame the ego and write for the right reasons are the key elements in staying professional.

I have been fortunate so far, I have covered incredible stories with interesting subplots and interesting characters. I have written on Iraqi juvenile detainees, a military working dog funeral, an Army/Navy project that protects the base, a transportation company that left for Afghanistan and an engineering company partnering with Iraqi Soldiers on a heavy equipment worksite, just to name a few.

And for the most part, everything is available to view at anytime for anyone, just by placing a search on the internet with my name as spc. howard alperin.

It is an amazing time to be an Army journalist. Cheers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Passover Seder to remember...

Wow, a night after leaving the rock concert that was President Obama at the al-Faw Palace, I was back in the same neighborhood for a Passover Seder.

It's a good thing the President came Tuesday and not Wednesday, or the Seder probably would have been canceled.

There were 40 Jews in attendance, all from various military branches and civilian contractors were there too. The Army, of course had the most military representatives. Interestingly, I sat between a female Jewish 1st Lt. of the Marines and the only Mormon at the Seder.

I can't say for sure the Seder from last night was as 'Hollywood' as the one I attended while at Fort Jackson last year. I met Paul Reubens, the actor famous for creating the Pee Wee Herman character there.

But, I really enjoyed assembling 'the unofficial' U.S. Military Yiddish Dictionary last night.
It took me a lot of chutzpah to come up with this list, and I hope it doesn't seem like a bunch of dreck. I will share some of the words, but not all of them, because then I might sound like a schmoe. I hope not to hear a lot of kavetching later on.

Putz, klutz, schlep, schmutz, faklempt, farmischt, tucus, meshuganah, mench, schmuck, schmeckle, schpiel, megila, noch, chatzke, cockamamie, schtetl, oy vey, oy gezalt, schmear, zaideh, bubby, and if you remember Laverne & Shirley, you might recall schlemeel and schlemazzle.

By the way, I heard the gefilte fish was pretty tasty, they ran out before I had a chance to eat any.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Brothers in Arms...

Every day I am reminded of my army brethren from the 211th, and their importance in my life, as we work together on a common goal to tell the stories of other Army brethren. Was that too many brethren in one sentence? But, that's the idea. Everyone works together as brothers and sisters. No mission is ever completed by one Soldier without the help of many other Soldiers.

At night, I am reminded of brethren, in a different way. I fall asleep every night to the same movie playing, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" It is brotherhood of a different sort.

"Two weeks from everywhere, this place is some sort of geographical oddity," might have referred to Camp Liberty, but it's just part of the humor in the story that keeps me chuckling as I find the best position to tuck myself in under the cover and rest my head and eyes on my pillow.

"Damn, we're in a tight spot" can be heard on more than a few occasions in the movie, and thank goodness, it's not heard often on Camp Liberty.

Finding the subconscious, entering a dream state and getting to rapid eye movement is always more enlightening with something cheerful and fun to listen to.
Hearing background noise of the Soggy Bottom Boys singing or other songs from the movie sink me into a deep sleep. I have to thank my roommate Spc. Soles for introducing the movie to me and letting me borrow it. I'll probably have thoroughly worn it out by the end of the tour, so I need to find a new copy at some point.

I'd much prefer to be in the comforts of my own bed with my wife next to me and my daughter near-by in the next room over, but at least I've found something that helps keep my mind off of becoming too homesick when bedding down for the night.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Living the Dream...

As Sgt. Zoeller reminds me from time to time, we are living the dream. So, what does 'living the dream' mean? It is a phrase that each Army Soldier defines for him/her self.

Sgt. Risner says he has said it plenty of times, but he says, "I've never really given it any thought to what it means!"

Sgt. Burrell has used the phrase often and says it means to him that he is "living what people are dreaming about".

It is a great phrase to say to anyone of higher rank than you when they ask you how you're doing. Generally, it captures the moment.

So, now I have made it a little bit of a habit. How ya doing Spc. Alperin?, "living the dream, Sgt./First Sgt./Mam/Sir, living the dream."

Sgt. Zoeller expresses it well by saying that it means "I'm not sitting in a cubicle, I'm not picking up trash, and I'm not doing taxes."

Sgt. Zoeller says he stole 'living the dream' from Sgt. Taylor. Sgt. Taylor says for him the phrase 'Living the dream' replaced another catchy Army response to the question of how ya' doing, 'phenomenal'.

Anyway you look at it, while in the Army, 'Living the dream' is an optimistic outlook on your day.

Realism dominates Heat instruction

FORT DIX, N.J. – Extend to your left, and stretch. Warm-up exercises as part of Physical Training continue everyday for Soldiers here at Fort Dix. Soldiers take part in these exercises in order to get their bodies ready for a good workout. But, Soldiers doing warm-up exercises in battle rattle, including Individual Body Armor and Helmet with eye protection is definitely not the norm.

It’s all part of the class HEAT (Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer), which takes Soldiers through a simulated HMMWV (Humvee) rollover. The class is intensely physical, requiring Soldiers to exit a Humvee simulator from an upside down position so that they can prepare for any real-life rollovers that may happen during their deployment.

“They need to be loose before they get in the simulator,” said Staff Sgt. Lamonte Thomas Sr., HEAT instructor, from Colonial Heights, Va. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va.
Due to the nature of the training, instructors must focus Soldiers on handling both the physical and psychological elements involved in getting out of the vehicle. Instructors teach how to handle Humvee rollovers and the aftermath of a rollover incident.

The training begins with classroom instruction, and takes Soldiers through a process that covers all the basics for getting out safely from all positions, including driver, team captain, right and left rear seats and the gunner’s position.

By the end of training, after Soldiers have successfully exited the simulator, added emphasis is placed on what to do and the positioning of Soldiers outside of the rollover.

“We call it muscle memory,” said Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. also of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. “In case of an accident, Soldiers must know procedures. There must be accountability.”

The aftermath also includes having Soldiers react to enemy fire, Improvised Explosive Devices, and caring for the wounded.

“In case someone goes down, they need to know what to do, including the nine-line medivac,” said Vega.

Instructors are dealing with different levels of knowledge when it comes to riding in Humvees.
“Soldiers who have never rode in a Humvee before are not aware of the dangers a rollover can cause,” said Thomas.

HEAT began soon after the war in Iraq started, said Thomas. It was due to the high amount of IED’s encountered by Soldiers.

Thomas has been an instructor here for two years and he also taught for 4 months at Camp Baring in Kuwait. He knows that HEAT makes a difference and keeps Soldiers prepared for the worst.

In reference to a rollover accident here in September of last year, Thomas said, “Soldiers knew what to do. This made us feel that we are helping Soldiers and that the training is realistic.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, unfortunately, it’s not just the IED’s, the terrain also makes a difference.

“You can roll over by hitting a sand pocket going 25 miles per hour,” said Thomas.
HEAT is evolving, too. New to the simulator are combat door locks. These are the same combat door locks that are part of the Up-armored Humvees. These are heavy, equipment laden Humvees.
“Up-armored Humvees are more dangerous than regular Humvees,” said Thomas.

Thomas and Vega take pride in providing the most realistic instruction possible. They know the importance that HEAT has in preparing Soldiers for deployment. Making Soldiers aware of what to do in a rollover is their goal.

“Having all the information they need to keep them safe is the key, said Vega. I’ve been over there, I can give my input to help get them ready.”

First, 30 degrees to the left, then it’s 30 degrees to the right, two full rotations later and now it’s gravity’s turn as the simulator goes into full effect. Soldiers are yelling instructions to each other and reaching for the seatbelt, gunner’s release, or combat door lock all in an effort to egress and get to a secure position outside of the simulator. It’s a time for Soldiers to be expedient and proficient when their senses might be telling them otherwise. It feels completely unnatural, but it’s a Soldier’s reality.

HEAT is a whole humvee rollover experience taught by knowledgeable, passionate instructors. HEAT involves a multitude of tasks for Soldiers that requires an active mind, a sound stomach, and a limber body. PT uniforms are not allowed.

Photo Caption: Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. takes Soldiers through a series of warm-up exercises prior to Soldiers entering the Humvee simulator. Vega begins with neck exercises and works his way down the body as Soldiers follow his lead.

Proactive COIN sets behavior standards

FORT DIX, N.J.--Counter Insurgency (COIN) is a working priority and a theme that is being repeated during mobilization training here. It is the standard operating procedure for Soldiers currently active in and deploying to countries which have insurgents. These daily laws to follow are priority for the Iraqi soldiers as well.

Training here for mobilizing Soldiers emphasizes COIN through classes, briefings, lectures and discussions. Training inside the classroom is complimented with plenty of real-life training outside the classroom. Soldiers are engaged in convoys, night fire exercises, land navigation, and plenty of urban environment training.

“War is routine, and then it is terror,” said Lt. Col. Charles P. McCormick, commander of the 332nd Ordinance Battalion, from Redhouse, W.Va. “Soldiers can’t be listening to IPoDs in the gunner’s hatch, and they must always apply the 5 (meters) to 25 (meters) watch. They must look out for any changes of behavior in the population.”

Guarding against complacency and trying not to set patterns are major elements of COIN according to McCormick. He adds that living among the Iraqi people is the basis for COIN and working with the host country is the key.

“No longer are we in a sterile environment, “ said McCormick. “The Army has done an excellent job replicating what it’s like over there. In fact, we are even employing displaced Iraqis as trainers who talk to troops to give real-life experiences.”

McCormick is getting ready for his third deployment to the region. He is working closely with his command sergeant major, who is also preparing for his third deployment to the region, to engage his battalion in COIN-related operations.

COIN allows the leadership to get a better idea of what is out there, said Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny M. McPeek, from Kingsport, Tenn. Preparing the Soldiers to report what they see, changes they see, and any high-value targets to watch are all part of training Soldiers as sensors.

Iraqi soldiers and American Soldiers have trained together to form Military Transition Teams. McPeek has firsthand experience as part of a MiTT, and has additional experience as a graduate from the COIN Center For Excellence in Camp Taji, Iraq, which serves both U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces.

“Iraqi soldiers are liaisons,” said McPeek. “We utilize the ISF to use as an assessment of our surroundings.”

McPeek indicated that information gathered by ISF was pretty accurate. It is has been an adjustment for troops to count on information from ISF, but they have used it to their advantage, said McPeek.

A significant byproduct of successful COIN is the ability of Iraqis to work together on teams that include Shiites and Sunnis. Soldiers have made significant strides in mending fences between these groups, according to McCormick.

McCormick says that Iraq is turning more toward what America represents. “It’s the right of all people to worship as they see fit,” said McCormick.

McCormick adds that COIN contributes to helping Iraqis see that tolerance of all religions and points of view can coexist.

“I had Sunnis and Shiites in the same battalion; by the end of the mission’s year, they came together as a collective unit,” said McPeek. “One team, one fight, I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it.”

COIN is a way of life. It is a lifestyle that works by being proactive, vigilant and patient. It is the fabric of the current mission, Operation Iraqi Freedom. COIN means to always be aware of the surroundings and to report any and all suspicious activities that could interrupt progress of the growing infrastructure of the host nation or to inflict violence.  McCormick and McPeek are prime examples of Soldiers living, training and working daily toward making all Soldiers more aware of where COIN fits in the framework of the Global War on Terror.

Photo Caption: Commander Lt. Col. Charles P. McCormick, Redhouse, W.V. and Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny M. McPeek, Kingsport, Tn. of the 332nd Ordinance Battalion out of Kenova, W.V. stand together in front of both the U.S. and Iraq flags to show support and solidarity for the newly formed Iraq government. McCormick and McPeek are leading the efforts to strengthen COIN among Soldiers. “Every Soldier is a sensor. Soldiers must have situational awareness. They must know the surroundings. They must be on watch. They must look for patterns and changes in patterns,” said McCormick.