01 September, 2009

The First Mission

After having my soldiers taken away from me and completing all of the training that is required of us, it was finally time to start work. What happens is when a new unit gets to Iraq and is replacing another unit, they have to go out with the old unit to get validated. The first mission you go out on, you are mostly observing. The second mission you’re in charge and the old unit is there to make sure you don’t royally screw things up. The only thing that confused me is that even though I was a soldierless leader I still had to get validated. But who would I go out on mission with? That question was soon answered when I was told I would go out with another CET from my platoon; SSG J’s CET. SSG J had already gone on his first mission, so he would be in charge on this mission and I would be observing him.

SSG J’s CET is a pretty tight nit group of guys and gals and work together very well. I was glad I was able to go on the road with them as SSG J has trained them well. SSG J and the soldier validating him walked me through the pre-planning phase that takes place before each mission. There is a lot of stuff to do, and ends with a Pre-Combat Inspection by the commander and 1SG. After the PCI we had all of our gear ready to go and everything checked out, we were ready to go on mission.

The next morning I woke up like any other morning. I thought it weird that I was going to Iraq in just a few hours, but I ate breakfast like everything was normal. Eventually we grabbed whatever we needed that was not already in the truck and headed to the staging lanes to meet the convoy that we were in charge of securing. After a brief meeting with them we were ready to head to the border to start the mission. Our drive to the border was interesting. This was the first time I’d not been in the back of a bus while driving through Kuwait. Apparently traffic laws in Kuwait are optional for most people. They pretty much drive as fast as the car will go, and drive wherever they want. More than once I’ve expected to see a head-on collision, but seen disaster averted at the last minute each time. I can’t say that I’m not a little disappointed when they don’t crash. Not that i want people to die, its just… I don’t know why i want to see that. Maybe its just because I’m a guy and like to see things destroyed….

Arriving at the border we had to mount our weapons and do any final checks before crossing into Iraq. Every soldier worked very hard and quickly to get everything done in a timely fashion. By the time that was completed it was time to have the Convoy Commander’s safety briefing. Once that was completed we all stuck around for a quick prayer then dawned our gear for our trip across the border.

This trip was to be a short mission. Drive to a base in Southern Iraq, spend the night, and then drive back. The mission ended up being as simple as it sounded. When the truck I was in actually crossed the border I was surprised that I did not feel any fear or anxiety. I didn’t really feel anything really. It was just like any other hummer ride I’ve ever been in, except this time we had live ammo. Since we only drive at night I couldn’t see much, just glimpses of wide open desert as the gunner used her light to scan the area for IEDs and possible ambushes. I was kind of bored in the back but learned as much as I could from SSG J and the validator. Things finally got interesting when we had to make a turn off of one highway and onto another. We actually blocked the entire freeway in both directions to allow the entire convoy to go through. It was pretty interesting sitting there and stopping all the traffic. It dawned on me that American forces have been doing this type of thing since 2003 so the Iraq people are used to this sort of thing. They see the road block, stop and turn off their headlights, and wait for the convoy to go through. What was really strange to me was the fact that all the traffic we stopped in the north bound lane that ended up behind us; they passed us… in the south bound lane! I was sure I was going to see a head-on collision this time. But again, they’ve been doing this for a while and there were no accidents.

Things were boring again until we got to the road leading to the base we were going to. Intelligence reports said to expect people throwing trash in the road to try and stop the convoy and then people running from the bushes and stealing stuff off of the non-military semi trucks in the convoy. Sure as shit, that is exactly what they did! Once the trash in the street was cleared we were roving around the convoy looking for anybody hiding in the bushes. Eventually we heard on the radio that some LNs (Local Nationals) were on one of the “White Trucks'” (the non-military vehicles in the convoy) stealing things! We were lucky that our validator was behind the wheel of the hummvee because that man drove that vehicle like I never thought possible! There was a time or two where I actually feared for my safety because of his driving! But he kept all 4 tires on the ground and we quickly got to where the Iraqis were stealing stuff off the white trucks. We were able to scare them away and recover anything they tried taking. After that they left us alone and we got the entire convoy into the base without further incident.

At the base we really don’t have much to do. We unload our gear from the vehicles into the tents we’re assigned. Drivers clean the vehicles and make sure nothing is broken from the trip. And then gunners clean their weapons. After that, we basically eat, shower, sleep, then wait till we’re supposed to leave again. Some people go to the gym, others find the MWR and use the internet, and others just watch movies. Eventually within the next 24 hours, we went back on the road again to go back “home”.

The trip back was not nearly as exciting as the trip up, which obviously only had about 10 exciting minutes out of the several hours we were on the road. The only thing that we saw on the way back were a couple of kids that live at this construction site. I felt very sorry for these two kids for a couple of reasons. First, they lived in a construction site that I thought was nothing more than a pile of trash; apparently that was their home. Second, they live in the middle of the desert! Honestly there must not be anything within 50 miles of them. Third they were obviously very poor and just wanted some water that we could spare. We stopped at their location and gave them whatever we could. Both boys, around 12 years old, seemed very happy that we gave them some water and even a Gatorade. When we were giving them water and Gatorade I felt even more sorry for one of the kids as his right eye was almost swollen shut! The best we can figure is that somebody “tossed” a bottle of water at him as they drove by… at 30+mph. Taking a bottle of water traveling at that speed to the face probably doesn’t feel very good.

Iraqi CountrysideEventually the sun came up and I finally got to see a bit of the Iraqi countryside. I’ll tell you that in some of the places we travel, its exactly what you expect it to be. A vast expanse of sand… nothing more. How some people can live here is absolutely beyond me. Eventually we crossed back over the border and completed the mission. As quickly as it all began, it was all over. I honestly believe that we spent more time getting ready for the mission than the mission actually lasted. Since the mission was complete, SSG J was now validated and he was to validate me on our next mission… but that’s a story for next time…


20 August, 2009

The First 30 Days

The first 30 days is past us now, and so much has gone on I don’t really know where to start. The also don’t know what exactly I can and cannot tell you. Some things I can’t tell you because of operational security. There are things that cannot be published on the internet because I don’t know who exactly is reading this blog. There are other things that I will not say because I don’t know who is reading this blog that actually knows me. Sometimes I want to write what I really feel, but decide not to because I know there could be repercussions. Being so restricted in my writing is really frustrating, but such is the world we live in…

After we arrived in Kuwait the training started immediately. We met with the Hawaiian unit that we were replacing and started learning the ways they’ve done things for the last year or so. The first thing I remember doing is re-zeroing our weapons. I was kind of worried what it would be like, shooting our weapons with all our gear on during the day. We ended up getting up VERY early and started shooting at first light. We were done with the range before it got very hot out. The range they have here was very interesting – imagine driving out into the desert and then suddenly there are some targets in front of a mound of sand in the middle of nowhere. That's pretty much what the range was like. After that it was more IED training, more TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) and lane training, and more equipment training. The coolest training was the MRAP rollover simulator. They have the shell of an actual MRAP that you get inside and it rolls over! As crazy as that sounds, it was actually really fun. After a few weeks of training it was time to get ready for missions. Unfortunately things would take a different turn for me.

While we were at our pre-mobilization training at North Fort Hood there were several CETs (Convoy Escort Team), including mine, that were short people. Most of the CETs were missing just a single person or two. One CET was missing 5 people and mine was missing 1. We constantly bugged our command about the significant lack of personnel but were always told that we’d get the rest of our people when we arrived in Kuwait. We arrived in Kuwait and were told that our new soldiers were on the way. Time went on and we were getting ready to start missions and were told that we would get them in days. Eventually Brigade came down and told us that the people we had were all the personnel we were going to get. No new soldiers would be given to any units. One would think that they would look at which CET was short the most people and cannibalize that CET. That would make the most sense right? Apparently somebody saw things in a different way. Since I was the most junior CET Leader they decided to tear apart my CET and spread them throughout the rest of the company. My soldiers and I had been training together from the beginning, almost 4 months. We knew each other well and worked well together. As a matter of fact, when we did some of the convoy security training the Hawaiian units required us to go through they told us we were the best CET (and last CET) to go through their lanes. Apparently all that didn’t matter. I had my CET torn from me and my fate was still up in the air. As I write this I am not afraid to say that the whole situation sucked and made me terribly upset. Any leader who has ever lost command of his soldiers, no matter the situation, knows how this makes you feel. I would be lying if I said my attitude didn’t change. I would be lying if I said I had the same amount of motivation after losing my soldiers.

The command decided that I would be a good addition to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) as an Operations NCO. My duties there were to monitor the progress and status of all the CETs out on mission throughout Iraq. Additionally I was to submit reports on any activities that happened out on the road. They also decided that they were going to somehow fill my CET… eventually. They told me I was still a CET Leader, I just happened to only have 4 out of 12 soldiers and worked in the TOC until I had a full CET again. After a few shifts I had accepted my new fate and thought it would be a good opportunity to continue my education. While I wasn’t exactly happy with my situation I knew there was nothing I could do about it; so off to work I went every day.

As we started our missions, all the CET Leaders and TCs (Truck Commanders) needed to be validated by the unit we’re replacing to make sure every leader at every level has the skills and knowledge required to accomplish this mission. One of the other CET Leaders had already been validated so it was my turn to borrow his CET and become validated, for when they eventually filled my CET. But that’s another story…

Now that these first 30 days have passed it is sometimes weird to look back on them. It seems like we’ve been here so long, yet I count how many days we have left and know that we haven’t been here all that long. All in all I’m doing pretty good here… all things considered. It was tough to get used to the heat, but eventually I did. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to having sand get EVERYWHERE. Although I don’t always realize how much sand I have up my nose and in my mouth… There is one thing I didn’t think I’d struggle with that I do find myself struggling with.

When I'm on mission it's stressful because I'm directly responsible for the performance of 12 other people. All together I'm responsible for the safety of 40+ people. You never know if the road is going to explode around the next bend or if some little bastard is going to throw rocks at you... or worse shoot at you. I have been fortunate enough not to have anything serious happen, but there have been some close calls. Yet I long to be out there. When I'm not on mission I find myself sitting on Facebook for hours on end and talking to everyone I miss so badly. I look through pictures of my sisters wedding that I missed, of my nieces, my son, my mother, my friends... The more I look, the more I want to talk with them and the more I want to hear their voice... The more I look, the more I chat online, and the more I talk... the more I miss them. I miss them more and more until I have to force myself to close the laptop, put down the phone, or put down the iPod touch and finally go to sleep long after I should have. And as I lay in the darkness with thoughts of loved ones on my mind I think "I need to get back on the road... Things are just so much... easier out there."

On the road I don't think about home; I don’t think I have time. On the road it's just me and my soldiers (or somebody else’s as the case has been). On the road I think about things like "did they all clean their weapons properly?" "Do the gunners have enough flares?" "Does anybody need more batteries for their night vision?" "Did the driver check out the vehicle to make sure it won't break?" "Will these tires last the next leg of the trip?" "What's this thing on the side of the road?" "What is that car doing?" "Why are those men standing there looking at us?" "That thing didn't blow up and doesn't have wires coming out of it, don't worry about it." "The driver of that car just sucks at driving like the rest of the people here, don't worry about it." "Lets drive over to those men and flash our cop lights at them to scare them away" "Those men walked away, don't worry about them." and a million other things, usually at the same time. Yet, I'd rather be on the road because that somehow seems easier than thoughts about home. I think it's because the thoughts I have on the road don't hurt. I've been away from home before and felt the pain and emptiness one feels from being so far away. I have not felt anything like this though... The pain I sometimes feel seems to go right down into my very soul. That is something I don't think I could ever have prepare myself for.


P.S. Want to see what Kuwait looks like?

Kuwait DesertYes, that is a camel in the picture.

08 August, 2009

A Trip to the Desert

It took me a while to actually get internet access where I’m at. Now that I finally had it, I found that I’ve had a severe case of writer’s block. While much has happened in the last 30 days I figure I can tell you about our trip over here…

Our 4-day pass completed, we waited with anticipation to leave the place we’ve all grown tired of and get on with the mission. As much as many of us didn’t want to leave our families, we all knew that the sooner we got to Kuwait, the sooner we’d be home with our loved ones once again. Little did we know, getting to Kuwait wasn’t as easy of a process as we had hoped it would be.

We packed up our bags and tied up all the loose ends. After that it all we had to do was wait till the date and time we were told we were leaving. Eventually that date and time arrived and we loaded all of our bags onto the trucks that would bring everything to the airport. The funny thing was though, we didn’t have any idea we would not be leaving that day. So we unloaded our bags and waited another day. The next day they at least told us we weren’t leaving before we loaded the bags. Again, we waited another day. Then another… and another. It seemed like we were never going to get there! Eventually we were able to leave. Our bags were once again loaded and we jumped on the bus for the hour ride to the airport. I wasn’t sure what emotional state I expected myself to be in, but I was surprised I rode the bus full of excitement. Maybe it was because I wanted to get the mission started. Maybe it was because I was happy to finally be doing SOMETHING instead of sitting around and waiting to be told to get on the bus. Maybe it was because I wanted to leave the hell that is North Fort Hood. Whatever the reason, I felt my pulse quicken as we pulled into the airport and saw our home for the next 18 hours… the plane.

Getting off the bus I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew there’d be some sort of process we’d go through, but didn’t know what it was. I should have known it was more waiting in line. What would the Army be like if we didn’t have to wait in line? Wait in line to get your ID card swiped. Wait in line to get a seat for the briefings we’d do. Wait in line to Hug Ladyget some food. Wait in line to go to the bathroom. Finally wait for the briefings. The briefings were pretty standard stuff, but we did get a nice chat from the “hug lady” and she sure loved to hug! When the time finally came for us to actually get on the plane, she made sure to hug each and every one of us as we exited the building and stepped on the tarmac.

The plane wasn’t nearly as nice as I’d hoped. It was a 747 that was built in the 1960s…. and you could tell. The seats were old and worn, the air conditioning hardly worked, and the decorating hadn’t been updated since it was built. I laughed when they said they had movies to play as the projector they used was older than I was. From my seat I could hardly see the projector because it was so washed out. Luckily I had my iPod touch filled with music and movies, batteries enough for the trip, and 2 batteries for my laptop to keep me occupied. I also had a magazine and a book to read! Ready for the 18-hour journey, I was set for take off. I thought to myself that this was going to be unlike any plane ride I’d ever been on. And for the most part I was right. Maybe it was because I had my 9mm hand gun and my M4 in my seat with me?

The first leg of our trip took us from Fort Hood to Maine. Landing there we had a short layover. Enough to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat. As we exited the terminal I began to hear clapping. Clapping became cheers. Cheers became hooting and hollering. As I turned the final corner I saw the Maine Troop Greeters, a group of patriotic citizens who come to the airport to greet Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen as they travel to and from Iraq. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming. At first I felt like a celebrity. How else would you feel if you had a crowd of people clapping and cheering, all wanting to shake your hand? At the same time, this was a group of strangers. Strangers who are taking time out of their day to come see you off and wish you safe travel. While I sincerely appreciate what they did, it was a lot to take in at the moment.

During the layover everybody did something a little different. Some called home for the last time on their cell phones. Others went and enjoyed a last smoke forMe at Maine several hours while others chatted about what to expect in the hours, days, and months to come. I treated a few of my soldiers to one last meal in the United States. After the meal I did make a final phone call home. As I was finishing up the phone call, a man named Chuck snapped a picture and I had to re-board the plane.

The plane ride was long, uncomfortable and boring. I don’t know how else to describe it.  I was able to watch a few movies. I was also able to read half my book. What I was unable to do, however, was sleep. Everybody around me slept most of the trip. I didn’t…. I couldn’t. Its not that I Airborn Sunrisewas nervous or any thing. I think its just because I don’t sleep on planes. Never have and probably never will. One thing that I was able to do though was watch the sunrise in the air. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. My camera had died and I had somehow managed to lose the charger for it, so all I had was my cell phone. I doubt this picture does any justice to what I actually saw, but it may give you an idea. When I took this picture I didn’t realize that it would be the first of many sunrises I’d watch in a foreign land.

Emerald IsleWe were expecting to go to Germany to refuel and switch out the flight crew. I was pleasantly surprised that we stopped in the green lands of Ireland instead. Ireland is a place that I’ve wanted to visit most of my life, ever since I met a friend named Mark over 10 years ago when he came to live at the cabin with my extended family. Since then it has only been a dream to visit such a beautiful place. The landscape was just as I’d imagined it; just as Mark and his fiancĂ© Denise described it. The people I met there were some of the most friendly people I’ve met in my life, even though most of us had trouble understanding them. My only regret was that I didn’t get to see my friends while I was there and I never got to leave the grounds of the airport. Maybe someday, hopefully soon, I’ll get to visit Ireland once again and spend some time with my friends from the Emerald Isle.

Me on PlaneAfter our stop in Ireland we re-re-boarded the plane for the final leg of our journey. Final stop: Kuwait City. This leg of the plane ride was about exciting as the first. The difference this time was that I was able to watch the sun set and then I did eventually fall into a restless sleep. I suppose an 18-hour plane ride will do that to you. I was startled awake by a very rude flight attendant practically yelling at me to put my laptop away as we were getting ready to land. She acted as if somehow I should have known in my sleep that we were about to land and I should put my laptop away. We landed in Kuwait and I had to wait in line again. This time it was to get off the plane. Man, were we all ready to get off that plane! I remember standing near the exit of the plane waiting for the blast of desert heat to hit me, but thinking “man this isn’t so hot”. I still remember how horribly wrong that thought was. When I actually stepped off the plane the heat was so intense I thought the exhaust from one of the jet engines must be hitting me. I then realized that the engines were BEHIND me! Even at the late hour we arrived, it was stifling hot outside. As uncomfortable as the heat made me, I knew I needed to get used to it as it would be with me for the next several months.

We got off the plane and instantly got onto a bus to travel to the base we would call home for a while. I don’t remember much of the bus ride. I do know a few things. First, it seemed shorter than it actually was. Second, I know that the speed of that bus would be highly illegal in the United States! Apparently, the posted speed limits in this country are a suggestion for most everybody.

After we arrived to our base we had to,  you guessed it, wait in line. Several more briefings later we were able to get into our barracks and bed down for the night. The accommodations we have are actually much nicer than I anticipated them to be. I’m fortunate enough to have only 2 roommates in our 6 man rooms. Obviously we have air conditioning as it is a MUST over here. Its taken us a while but now that we have a refrigerator, TV, Xbox 360, and internet, its starting to feel a little like home.

It is different adjusting to the changes though. Its weird calling home when everybody is 8 hours behind you. Sometimes I call home and forget about the time difference, feeling bad waking some people up. The heat is tough to get used to as well. Back home you don’t think that 95 is all that much hotter than 90. I’ll tell you now that 120 is a hell of a lot hotter than 115! The wind here is different as well. The wind never stops blowing during the day. Its as if somebody is constantly pointing a blow dryer at your face, if you can imagine a blow dryer that not only blows hot air but also fine grains of sand as well. Most of us were excited to get here and start the mission. Unfortunately mission had to wait because there was even more training to do before we could get to work. As I write this all the training is over and we have gone to work…. but I’ll write more on that later.

Now that I’ve been here a month, I’m starting to figure out what is normal for me. Obviously it would have been harder without support from home. I try and call as often as I can but its hard not to miss my parents and siblings, Nate, and the rest of my family and friends. The new normal is waiting until midnight to call home and hope people didn’t have to work late. Another new normal is going to Ops every day to pick up the mail for my soldiers and getting giddy when I get letters and packages (a special shout-out goes to the Moe’s for their AWESOME support). Back home when I go get the mail its usually full of bills and other crap I don’t really want. I’ve never been so excited for mail in my life! The last new normal in my life is the fact that I have to walk a block every time I go pee… I sure miss indoor plumbing!

I have a lot more to write about but I figure I’ve written enough for now, Me with Ronaldhopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you about some of the exciting things that have happened. Before I go, will tell you that I’m constantly amazed how much you take for granted until you’ve seen things in a different light. I will also tell you that I am amazed at how far America’s reach is…. I’ve found out that Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robin’s, Starbucks, and Green Bean all taste exactly the same here…. 

Until Next Time,

02 July, 2009

Thoughts While Waiting

Sometimes it is hard to believe that a month has gone by so quickly. I look back at the last time I posted and think it feels like yesterday. In all honesty I really don't have all that much to report about my time here at North Fort Hood. Everything that we did seemed to all drag into 1 long day. Of course there was always waiting in line, the Army will always have a lot of that going on. But we did do some really good training. As we've gone from range-to-range they've been making the training more realistic and integrating the training we've had before to better prepare us for our mission over in Iraq. Some of the ranges are boring - like the IED defeat range as it was very repetitive. Other ranges were exciting - such as the Urban Operations range where we have to practice fighting in close quarters in city streets. Eventually ranges turned into exercises that help to prepare us for what we'll be doing over there. The mission that I think I had the most fun with was the mission I was in charge of.

The scenario was that there was a helicopter crash and we had to go rescue the pilots and recover the black box. I received my briefings and looked at the intelligence reports to know what to expect and briefed the platoon to prepare them for the task ahead and explain my plan to them. We set out to find the crash site and save the pilots. Finding the crash site was easy (they actually had something burning so we could just drive to the smoke) and we quickly secured the crash site. I had a team run to recover the black box and a team of medics looking for the pilots as soon as the site was secure. One of the issues was that the media had showed up and were getting in the way of myself and the other soldiers doing their jobs. I had to work with the Kuwaiti police that were on scene and get them to detain the media crew so we could work. Things seemed to be going good until the medics told me there were no pilots at the crash site! I started asking the police officer if he knew what happened to the pilots and he informed me that some local villagers had seen the crash and come to the aid of the pilots. In helping them, the villagers brought them to their villi age. The police officer gave me directions to the village and I thanked him for his help. I had my platoon load back up and drive over to the village to find the pilots, leaving two gun trucks at the crash site to continue to secure it.

Once we arrived at the village I dismounted with some other soldiers for security so I could talk to the village elder and find out any information about the pilots. I was greeted by a woman who spoke English and she volunteered to be my translator. I asked her to bring me to the village elder and she said that the sheik would be happy to see me and she would bring me to his home. I was surprised that the sheik was actually speaking Arabic since this was training after all - this made it all the more realistic. When I greeted the sheik he started yelling at me! Apparently what I thought was a parking lot was actually the village's fields and we'd just ruined a lot of their crops. After much apologizing and rushing to get the vehicles moved the sheik agreed to meet with me. He explained that the pilots were there but before he would let me see them, he wanted to talk about how the United States could help his village. He explained that his village was very short on medical supplies and he was becoming frustrated why his friends, the United States, wouldn't help him. I promised that if he gave me a list of supplies he needs I would give it to my superiors so they could see what they could do for him. This was good enough for the shek and he took me to the pilots. After that the medics did their job, and I had two gun trucks rush the pilots back to the FOB for medical treatment. Thanking the sheik, and apologizing again for destroying their crops, we departed the village to finish recovering the downed chopper. While the intel reports said everything was safe, we all kept our heads on a swivel just in case something happened. Fortunately nothing did actually happen and we were soon within the safety of our FOB and done with the mission. All-in-all it was really good training and a lot of fun. Talking to the villagers through the translator was different but a very good experience.

Shortly after that exercise I was given the opportunity to do some classified training that only 3 people per company get to do. I can't go into details, it was classified after all, but it was probably the best training I had here. About all I can tell you is that I was training on a weapons system that is installed on every HMMWV and MRAP in country. This weapons system isn't a weapon that kills people, but a weapon that saves lives. It is cutting edge technology so it was really interesting training for me.

In the end the days were filled with more ranges, more waiting in line, more shots, and more paperwork. It mostly seemed to all drag into 1 long day with the exception of 2 weeks where I was at a school with no internet access (hence, the month since I have last posted). The time just flew by quickly. But that is what I see when I look at what I've been doing in the last month. Looking at what's gone on back home brings a different view however.

Eventually we had finished all the ranges and exercises except one - the MRE or Mobilization Readiness Exercise. This is the mother of all exercises where they simulate for 2 weeks everything everybody in the entire Brigade will be doing over in Iraq or Kuwait. We were lucky enough to get a few days of down-time before we started the MRE. While all the training was going on, my unit had been trying to get me to a school so I can get promoted but had told me a few days before the start of the course that they couldn't get me in. Well.... at 9pm my 1SG came to me and informed me that I would be going to the school, at 6:30am the next morning. So while all my fellow soldiers were getting ready for a much needed trip to the lake the next day, I was packing to go to Warrior Leader Course. I won't go into the details about the course because it was pretty much a waste of my time but I'm glad I got that done and over with. Why am I glad? Because now I can FINALLY get promoted for real!!! I have no idea when I'll actually get promoted but its only a matter of time.

Just a few days ago we were given a 4 day pass to go home or wherever with our families. I was fortunate enough to have most of my family come down to Texas to visit me. I could have gone home but I figured that it'd be better to have them take time off from work to meet me down here rather then spend 2 of my 4 days traveling. My parents, my oldest brother with his girlfriend, my sister-in-law and my nieces, and my "son" all came down to see me. While they were traveling I was getting things packed and getting my rental car so I could drive to see them. I had to temporally give Hertz my manhood because all they had was a Toyota Prius, but a car was a car and nothing was going to stop me from seeing them. The reunion was such a huge relief for me and it felt so good to see them, and hold all my loved ones in my arms again. We went to San Antonio for the 4 days and stayed fairly busy; I won't go into detail because some memories I just need to keep to myself. Maybe after a while I'll go into more detail and post some pictures. It was so good to see them I wished it would never end, but eventually it had to come to an end and after saying goodbye, I had to drive alone back to Fort Hood.

After we got back we actually had very few things to do. Most of it was pack and clean (and get screened for Swine Flu oddly enough) so we have had a lot of down-time since then. I think the main problem is that right now is that I have far too much time on my hands to think.I start to think and I look back at the last month, there isn't much that I have done. Like I said, everything seemed to drag into 1 long day. But now that I have the time I can look at what's going on back home. It has only been 2 and a half months since I've left home yet so much has gone on in such a short period of time. Summer has started and my family has started the "family-cabin-Sunday" ritual, my oldest brother has started a family with the baby due in January, my cousin got married, my sister and her fiancee have had their respective parties and the wedding is around the corner, my godson has started walking, and finally my "son" has turned 15, got his permit, finished a year of school, started and finished an entire season of Lacrosse, and started his first job! When I think about all that has gone on since I left it seems like I've been gone forever. As I think about this I think about all the things I'm going to miss over the next 10 months as I'm in Iraq and Kuwait. Thinking about it all it makes me miss my family even though I just saw them a few short days ago.

While waiting to be told to get on the plane I have been trying to keep myself busy though. I've watched a few movies and even filled up an entire 500gb external hard drive with them! Quickly people figured out that I am very good with computers and a lot of people were having me help them with various issues they were having. Some people's computers were full of viruses, others just couldn't play the movies they've acquired. It appeared that EVERYBODY went out and bought an iPod of some sort and were having issues getting music and movies on there so I get it all working for them. We've also been lucky enough to get to go off post to get to Best Buy, Walmart and various places and just find things to keep us busy.

As I write this my bags are packed and I still sit here waiting. Waiting to get on the plane, waiting to just actually do something. Eventually they will come in and tell us to grab our bags as it's time to go and I will start the 18-hour journey across the globe. Until then I'll just watch some movies and try to keep my mind off home. The next time I write to all three of the people who read this blog, I'll be in Kuwait, sweating my balls off. Until then... take care and thank you to everyone for your support, especially the Moe's


25 May, 2009

A Different Kind of Memorial Day

Memorial Day usually means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For many in our neck of the woods, Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the summer. It is the weekend where we all go and open up our cabins for the first time of the summer. We gripe and complain at how cold the water is when we get in to put our dock in. We relish the feel of the fresh wind blowing across our face as our boat or jet ski skips across the water for the first time in almost a year. For others it is a weekend of barbecues, backyard sports, and spending time with friends and family. A few patriotic citizens will go downtown and enjoy a Memorial Day parade, while others will take things more to heart and attend a Memorial Day service at the local cemetery. Most will never take a chance to think about what Memorial Day really means.

Growing up my parents usually took me to a parade on Memorial Day, and then spent the rest of the day at the family cabin. My parents tried to teach me what Memorial Day was all about but it never quite took. As I grew older I began to participate in the parades with my high school marching band, never really fully understanding who or what I was honoring. Even when I joined the Guard and began to march in the parades with my unit I still didn't fully understand what Memorial Day was all about. Now, as sit in the barracks thousands of miles away from home reflecting on the last several years of my life, I think I finally understand.

I sit here writing this and realize how truly lucky I am to be an American. I know how fortunate I am to have had the privilege to grow up within these borders. You do not know the sacrifices the country has been built upon until you have lived them and experienced them. I have finally seen first hand the freedoms those in uniform give up to protect those we love. I haven't watched TV in god knows how long. I never get to choose what or when I will eat. I don't get to see or talk to my family whenever I want. I will not complete college on time. I live in a room with 30 other men, sharing 3 urinals, 4 toilets, 6 sinks, and 6 showers. I wake up early in the morning and work till too late into the night. Computers and video games are all memories of what almost seems like a past life. All the comforts of home I have taken for granted of for so long are a thing of the past. I tell you this not to complain. I am happy to sacrifice so those that love and ensure that they live free, that they themselves do not have to sacrifice. I tell you this because I think of all that I have sacrificed since being deployed and can only imagine how bad my brothers-in-arms before me had it. I cannot fathom being away from my family for 4 years fighting in lands halfway across the world. This, I now know, is only part of what Memorial Day is all about.

This morning I was doing PT and started thinking about how in a few hours my family will be arriving at the cabin to spend the day together. I thought about all the volleyball games I will miss with all my cousins. I thought about all the great food I won't be eating (especially Auntie Debby's cheese dip). I thought about not being able to play with my nieces and all the other kids in the freezing cold water. These thoughts stayed with me as I washed the sweat off my body and began preparing for today's training. Suddenly I found myself staring at the dog tag I keep tucked in the laces of my right boot. Staring at that dog tag I thought about my friend CW3 Phil Windorski. Phil made the ultimate sacrifice for our country on January 26th, 2009 when his OH-58D Kiowa was shot down over Iraq. I reached to hand a fellow soldier some papers and noticed, for the first time, the black bracelet on his right wrist. Inscribed on the bracelet were the names of 3 soldiers he served with who lost their lives when an IED exploded. I sat down at another fellow soldier's computer and stared at the picture of his cousin who gave his life in Afghanistan. It was then that the full picture came to me. I thought about how Phil and thousands of other soldiers will never again see their families again. I thought about the unknown number of children who will never have their father or mother around. I thought about countless wives and husbands who will always have an empty bed greeting the at the end of a long day. I thought about the parents who had to live through the pain of having outlived their children. It was then that I knew what Memorial Day was all about.

Memorial Day is more than a long weekend at the beginning of summer. It is more than opening the cabin and having a barbecue. It is about the sacrifice that millions of American have made to build this country up from nothing. It is about the time away from home, the freedoms they willingly give up, and about the lives they have given for us all. Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring those that have served this greatest of nations. Memorial Day is about honoring and recognizing those who continue to serve her today.

Celebrating Memorial Day doesn't have to change. We all will still go and gather at our respective places to have a barbecue. We will all still play backyard games with our friends and families. Many will still attend Memorial Day parades. Too few will attend a Memorial Day service. No matter how you celebrate Memorial Day, never forget why you're celebrating. Never forget the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen who have made all this possible. Take a moment or two to silently give thanks.

For me, this Memorial Day is different. I will not be at the cabin with my family. Instead I will be training to go to war and defend this country I love so much. While they gather around the picnic tables for lunch, I'll be sitting in a hot HMMWV focusing not on where I want to be, but the task at hand. And while I prepare for this daunting task ahead, I will never forget those who have served before me, nor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And while I remember, I also pray that my soldiers and my comrades don't have to make the sacrifice as well.


22 May, 2009

A Month Gone

I can't believe that its been a month since I have written on my blog! It is very surprising that we have been gone for over a month.

Most of what we've been doing is training, training, and more training. This is what I was expecting when we arrived on Fort Hood. For a while, all we did was range after range. I never thought I would get sick of ranges, but I actually have. I guess the problem is that with the way they were doing these ranges, you're out there for about 24 hours on each range. In all, it was great to be able to fire so many different weapons. The most interesting night was the night I was the NCOIC of the .50 cal range for our company. It is amazing how many things can go wrong in such a short period of time! It is also amazing how quickly I was able to get things fixed!

Some of the other training we've been doing is more interesting things like Reflexive Fire and Room clearing to get us ready for our Urban Operations training. For the last several days we've been doing a lot of IED training and really focusing on how to spot and react to IEDs. In all, I believe this is probably the most important training we have had so far. The best part of the IED training, for me, was when we had to hook up with some Iraqi Army guys, pick up an interpreter, and walk to an Iraqi village to talk to the local sheik. We drove into the Iraqi Army area and found out we had to walk into the village. I was surprised that the guys from the Iraqi Army were actually from Iraq! When we arrived in the village, about 85% of the villagers were also Iraqi. It was a strange feeling to hear all these people speaking Arabic. I kept damning myself for not taking the Rosetta Stone course on Arabic so I could understand them. I was charged with pulling security with the Iraqi Army guys while our NCOIC talked to the sheik. I couldn't speak much Arabic so I really needed the Iraqi Army guys to help me keep these people away! Eventually I thought I spotted somebody with a suicide vest on so I was investigating that with an IA soldier. Turns out that guy was the decoy, while I was figuring things out with him, the real suicide bomber was getting ready. I shot the suicide bomber a few times but he was still able to blow us all up..... I died. Actually I died 3 times that day, but its a long story. I really had a lot of fun, and I'm glad I was able to have that experience.

Yesterday, after I got back from running around in all my gear all day I was told I had to go to an emergency meeting. I was told that if I wanted to re-enlist, that I had to do so within an hour and a half. To top it off I had to take a PT test before I could re-enlist! I was sore and tired, hadn't eaten in over 10 hours, and it was 90+ degrees out! I didn't want to do it, but if I didn't re-enlist right then, I would have lost $15,000.... so I took a PT test. I passed but felt like dying in the process.

That's all there is to report right now, I think I would get into more details about things if I wouldn't wait a month between posts... but we get busy and I tend to forget about things.

Talk to you all soon


28 April, 2009

Waiting in Line

My first week here at our MOB site can be summed up with simply "Waiting in Line". That's all we've really done so far. We arrived, stepped off the plane, and got in line to get checked into Ft. Hood. After that we got in line to take our seats for a briefing. After the briefing we got in another line to pee in a cup (gotta love piss tests!). After that we boarded some buses and then got in another line to get our teeth looked at. Finally, after being cleared from the dentist, we were brought to our barracks and allowed to start unpacking.

The next week was a series of more lines. First we had to go to the SRP where you stand in line after line and see medical people, the ID card people, and people who deal with pay. The longest part of SRP is the medical floor. At medical you have to make sure all your shots are up to date, including anthrax, typhoid, and smallpox. After they stick several needles in your skin you're sore but off to complete the rest of the SRP. Other days we stood in line to get different equipment. The best piece of equipment we received has got to be the Improved Outer Tactical Vest or IOTV. This is the replacement for the IBA. Instead of a big, clunky, uncomfortable piece of body armor, we get to wear the new, smaller, lighter, more comfortable vest!

There are always lines to wait in. Wait in line for chow, wait in line for the showers, wait in line to draw weapons. That's about all we do most days is wait in line. Several people have asked me what its like and I ask them to think about the longest line they've ever stood in... then do that all day every day. Soon we're going to start to go to more ranges and what not so hopefully things get a little more exciting. The only thing is that when you're at the ranges, there's always more lines to stand in...

Today, I am a SGT again. I didn't do anything wrong, they just pulled the gun on my promotion a little to early, soon I'll be a SSG again.... I'll let you know when that happens.