Sunday, November 23, 2008

Book - Big Boy Rules by Steve Fainaru

One of the central figures in a new non-fiction book written by Washington Post reporter Steve Fainaru is Jonathan Cote. 

Cote, who worked for Crescent Security in Iraq, was kidnapped with four of his colleagues on November 16, 2006. He was 23-years old at the time of his kidnapping. In April 2008, Cote's remains were recovered and identified. Fainaru would later discover from autopsy reports that Cote was beheaded. 

The book is up close and personal. Fainaru travelled to Iraq and rode security missions with Cote just days before the kidnappings. From what I've read about the book - Fainaru doesn't hold back.

Big Boy Rules - America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq
By Steve Fainaru
Da Capo Press
November 2008

Synopsis from the publisher:
"Washington Post" reporter Steve Fainaru traveled with several groups of security contractors to find out what motivates them to put their lives in danger every day. What emerges is a searing, revealing, and sometimes darkly funny look at the men who live and work on the battlefields of Iraq.
Additional Reading

Detailed new book offers deep drama of Cote saga
By Dan Herbeck, The Buffalo News, October 29, 2008
Excerpt: Fainaru is convinced that the bodies of the abducted men would never have been found if Cote’s stepmother, Nancy M. Cote, was not a prominent federal agent who headed the Buffalo office of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration. After more than a year of fruitless efforts by the FBI, a DEA agent in Iraq got the information that led to the recoveries.
Cote’s spirit rules pages of new book
By Donn Esmonde, The Buffalo News, November 16, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Satellite Image of the Road

Still searching for the perfect satellite image of the road where Kirk von Ackermann's vehicle was found.

Google maps is pretty good but the images in the library for the mountainous area are all low resolution. Still haven't found an ideal photo of the spot...but the one linked below is pretty close. It just nicks the checkpoint - near the tiny green areas on the upper left hand side. The location of the vehicle and the crossroad were just missed. If there was a second panel to the left, it'd be perfect. At least this will give a clearer idea of the topography.

GeoEye Satellite Image
Collected December 4, 2002
Area of the satellite image is shown in the map above.
LL_LAT 34.7851
LL_LON 43.9823
LR_LAT 34.7898
LR_LON 44.1217
UL_LAT 34.9399
UL_LON 43.9823
UR_LAT 34.9449
UR_LON 44.1219
Compare the image to that used in the previous post, The Passing Patrol & The Checkpoint. Locate the forked river in the upper right hand corner to get your bearings.

To find more images, visit GeoEye

Friday, November 21, 2008

Passing Patrol & the Checkpoint

Continuing my thoughts from the previous post...

A passing patrol is said to have reported Kirk von Ackermann's abandoned vehicle to a checkpoint minutes after a satellite call was placed asking for help with a flat tire. The call, believed to be from von Ackermann, was received by an Iraqi employee. The employee arrived 45 minutes later. Von Ackermann had vanished.

The critical question: how many minutes elapsed between the satellite call and the arrival of the passing patrol at the checkpoint - was it really only 5 minutes?

View Larger Map

North/East towards Kirkuk
Blue - checkpoint
Pink - abandoned vehicle
Yellow - nearest crossroad in the opposite direction of the checkpoint
South/West towards Tikrit

The journey in a military vehicle between Tikrit and Kirkuk - roughly 75 miles - was described in one news article as taking roughly 2.5 hours through the mountains. Simple math - 30 miles per hour. The distance between the checkpoint and the abandoned vehicle maps out to just over 1 mile - a 2 minute drive. The distance between the abandoned vehicle and the nearest road not in the direction of the check point, maps out to just over 1.5 miles - a 3 minute drive.

Assuming the passing patrol never stopped, super simple math says the passing patrol was only 1.5 miles behind von Acerkmann when (and if) he made the call. That places the patrol at the intersection of the nearest crossroad in the opposite direction and away from the checkpoint.

Maybe my math is a little off -- high school math was a very long time ago -- but doesn't this put the military patrol quite literally on top of von Ackermann's abductors on a narrow isolated country road? The only other option is that the kidnappers passed right through the checkpoint - and no one noticed. That's just not possible.

In the fall of 2003, US and Coalition forces were actively looking for Saddam Hussein in the Tikrit region. While it seems unlikely Hussein would have headed for Kirkuk (an area he was very unpopular in)...I find it even harder to believe American troops weren't taking fine tooth combs to every single vehicle coming from the Tikrit area.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Point A to Point B

A passing patrol came upon Kirk von Ackermann's abandonned vehicle within a very short time of a satellite call for help to an Iraqi employee - in theory, it means the patrol was following von Ackermann for part of the route between Tikrit and Kirkuk. I keep wondering if there were points along the way that the two might have been visible to each other?

I'm also much time did it take the passing patrol to drive from von Ackermann's vehicle to the check point? Did CID ever actually measure that distance and time exactly how long it took to drive from point A to point B?

Did CID ever attempt a re-enactment of the journey of the two vehicles?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Years

Five years ago today I wrote my first blog post about a missing contractor in Iraq. If you had tapped me on the shoulder and told me that I would still be following that same story five years later, I wouldn't have believed you.

Fast forward, five years later.

Because of this blog, I've 'met' a lot of people from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds. They share an interest in the events in Iraq 2003 at Ultra Services - the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and the death of Ryan Manelick. Today, there remain more questions than answers.

In August of 2006, the US Army's CID determined Kirk von Ackermann was abducted and killed by insurgents in a botched kidnapping attempt. A presumption of death certificate was issued for von Ackermann. The case of his colleague, Ryan Manelick, remains open.

There are those who would like to believe von Ackermann and Manelick's employer, John Dawkins, was responsible. Until proven otherwise, I believe John Dawkins is innocent. In fact, I believe Dawkins was intended to be the victim - and that Kirk von Ackermann was killed due to mistaken identity. While there may well have been fraud at Ultra Services, I don't believe it is connected to what occurred.

To be crystal clear - I am, as far as I know, the only person who believes in the above version of events.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Anaconda Burn Pit

Anaconda Burn Pit, Balad, Iraq 2006 - Photo credit: courtesy of SPC Jami Gibbs of

Safest place in Iraq for an American to be - surrounded by the US military. So really, who'd ever think to look for the body of a missing contractor on an American military base? 

I've posted about the Anaconda* burn pile before (here). From everything I've ever read about the burn pit - it's a great place to hide a dead body. Turns out I'm not too far off - literally.

Assuming the memo cited in the article below is true, amputated limbs from the base hospital were routinely discarded on the burn pile. Commenters also say "unserviceable uniform items" refering to clothing with blood and/or body remains were also disposed of this way. So if human remains are ever uncovered at the pit, it's quite likely no one will ever think to treat those remains as evidence in an abduction-murder case. 

Hopefully I'm way off and just horribly wrong and Kirk von Ackermann was snatched by Iraqi insurgents as CID says and he was not abducted and murdered at the hands of Americans as I currently fear. 

Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Hill AFB officer worries that Iraqi burn pit threatens troops' health
By Matthew D. LaPlante, The Salt Lake Tribune, October 29, 2008

A memo being circulated at military bases across the country, written by an officer from Hill Air Force Base, calls the pit an "acute health hazard" -- one that may have increased the risk of chronic problems for hundreds of thousands of service members and contractors who have done tours of duty at the largest base in Iraq.

As they have taken steps to end the practice, Air Force officials claim it doesn't pose a health risk.

The critical memo was written by environmental engineer Darrin Curtis, who served with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad from September 2006 to January 2007. He expressed his dismay with the burning of toxic chemicals, plastics and other toxic waste -- including, according to some reports, amputated limbs from the base hospital -- and the lack of any apparent concern for the health of those breathing in the smoke.
According to one commenter at, the memo cited was the result of a study commissioned by Army COSCOM/CC.

Additional Reading:

[Photos] Health risk for soldiers in Balad, Iraq: The Burn Pit
by Mrs. Missive, Patriot Missive, October 30, 2008
(includes the author's photos)

[Photos] Health risk for soldiers in Balad, Iraq: The Burn Pit (crosspost)
by Mrs. Babble, American Babble, October 30, 2008
(includes the author's photos)

The Smell of Burning Flash in the Morning
By Marshall Thompson, November 3, 2008
(includes the author's photos)

Balad Burn Pit May Pose Health Risk
Reprint at, October 30, 2008

*Anaconda is now known as Joint Base Balad