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.


Robert J. Moeller said...

Very interesting blog you got here. I randomly found it while looking for other conservative and libertarian blogs. I am a grad student in Chicago and am an aspiring writer with a blog of my own. (rjmoeller.com) Check it out some time. Thanks for your service