Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Federal Prison Basketball League

There is a Federal prison here in the middle of Ft. Dix and we pass it regularly on our way to or from training. I have made a few observations about this:

1. This is a really good location for a prison.

Even if you get past all the razor wire you still have to get off the military post. There is another fence with many checkpoints and lots of impact areas and weapon ranges that would be exciting at the least to run through.

2. They live in barracks that are exactly the same as ours on the outside.

Our barracks here are really nice it just surprised me the prisoners live in the same ones. We have wall lockers and bunk beds with 12 guys in a room but I’m not sure what their setup is. When we mobbed the first time at Ft. McCoy we were in WWII barracks with the original beds and only a foot locker for our stuff.

3. They can have visitors.

We aren’t allowed to have visitors here but that isn’t really a danger considering how far we are from our families. Most of the people in the company are from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio so it’s not exactly a weekend trip. We will have a four-day pass right before we go to Iraq though so we are all looking forward to that. We have to stay within 100 miles of Ft. Dix but that includes Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and New York City so we should have a good time.

4. They can play basketball.

We aren’t allowed to play any sports with a ball. They say the reason for that is they don’t want anyone to get hurt and not be able to mobilize with us. I guess it is preferable for someone to get hurt rolling over in a Humvee instead of playing basketball. The preceding sentence will make a lot more sense as you continue reading.

We have been spending most of our time here doing training, which is in fact our reason for being here. When we aren’t training they are giving us more gear that we have to carry with us. I am really amazed by the quality of the gear we are being given and how much of it there is. We have the proper gear for fighting in weather from -40 to 140 degrees. Not sure why we need to accommodate such a large range but we have it just in case. Basically if you were to go to your local camping store and get the best outdoor gear you could buy we have it. We just have it in the digital camo pattern you might not be able to find at your local store. Last deployment we had the same gear they used in Vietnam I think.

The body armor is also much different this tour. Some things are good like much better protection against projectiles. Some things are not so good like a jump in weight from about 30 pounds to about 50 pounds. It is also much larger so it takes up more of your personal space and takes some getting used to. We started walking around with it on a few hours a day in the beginning to get used to wearing it all day like we often do now. You do get used to it but it makes it really hard to move around in the vehicles especially.

The picture is a really bad camera phone shot of us along the loading dock trying to figure out how to put or body armor together.

Probably the biggest difference we will have this tour is the vehicles. Last tour we rode around in soft side Humvees or trucks with the windows down. Now most of the windows don’t open so you don’t compromise the protection and all the vehicles are armored. The nice thing is they all have air conditioning now because the temperature can rise quickly in a closed vehicle when it’s 120 degrees outside.

We have had a lot of training that is classroom type on rules of war, tactics of war, culture, first aid, etc. We have also had many classes which are hands-on and they boast the highest odds of keeping soldiers awake. One class I did was on the new armored Humvee. One of the last tasks I had on the previous deployment was unloading the up-armored Humvees from the ship and delivering them. Those have already been replaced in-country with this new model. It is the first one to be built specifically for armor instead of adding armor to a normal one and there is a huge difference. It has a new engine, suspension, brakes, and many other features. Probably the biggest improvement is the intercom system and I’m not just saying that because it’s made by Bose. There are Bose noise-cancelling headsets for each person so you no longer have to yell to talk to each other and they are also connected to the tactical radio system. The picture below is me out on the off-road driving course with new Humvee and the Bose headset.

The next picture is all the vehicles lined up after doing the off-road driving course. If you look closely, the second one from the right looks shinier than the others. Somehow our Humvee was able to find the puddles out on the course and the other Humvees were not. Better luck next time guys.

Another cool class we did is called Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer or HEAT. The link has more information but it is basically an up-armored Humvee on a rotisserie. You strap into it with four of your buddies and they roll it over. Adding the armor has caused Humvees to think that tipping over is the cool thing to do so they train us on rollover procedures. With the HEAT they can roll you over as many times as they want in either direction but you always end up on the roof. At that point you are hanging upside down by the seat belt with all of your gear on. Unless you are the gunner then you have just been flopping around in the Humvee like a sock in the dryer hoping for one of your buddies to grab onto you. Once it stops rolling, you have to orient yourself, get the door open, swing your feet out, support yourself, and then release the seat belt. I guess many people get the last two steps flip-flopped an end up supporting themselves on their head and neck. Bad idea.

There are some pictures below of the HEAT. I didn’t take any myself so these are some I found online.

When we aren’t doing the training required by the Army we keep ourselves occupied with extra training. Like trying to fit 17 people in full battle rattle (body armor, helmet, camel back, gas mask, elbow pads, knee pads, ballistic eyewear, gloves) into a 15 passenger van. We have even done some wall locker key extraction training.

Tomorrow we head out to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) for about 3 weeks. It is a replica of an actual FOB in Iraq and we will be doing all of our operations and training from there. It should be a good time and very realistic training.

We are all looking forward to getting out of here and to Iraq. The sooner we get there the sooner we can get back. And we also have a hunch that the food and Internet connection will be better there. The food’s really not bad but trying to stay connected to the Internet here is like trying to stay on a bucking bronco.

Good luck staying on,


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Left On A Jet Plane

We have arrived at Ft. Dix, New Jersey where we will spend the next month or so for training. We had a very nice going away ceremony in Buffalo, MN at the high school with a picnic at the lake to follow. The ceremony had the usual speeches by Army brass and government representatives. There was also a tap dance group that did a really nice military themed routine.
Those of us that are cross-levels (i.e. Not an original part of the unit in Minnesota) did not stay for too long at the picnic. It was really for the people to say goodbye to their families and have a good time with them but of course our families were not there. We went to see the new Batman movie in IMAX. It was an awesome movie and it was also not 90 degrees with 90% humidity like it was at the lake.
On Thursday we left for the airport and had a police escort the whole way. The Patriot Guard was also escorting us the whole way but more about them in a second. We had four tour buses for us and started out with two cop cars in the parking lot. At the first main intersection there was three cars blocking off the intersection for us and that continued the whole way. Each town we passed through had the intersections blocked off and then joined our convoy. One town even had their firetrucks set up by the road. When we got onto 94 they had a fire truck blocking off all three lanes and the didn't let anyone pass us. It was really cool to have the cop cars all around our buses and the Patriot Guard up front. I think we might have made some civilians mad with the huge traffic backup but I think that's a minor inconvenience.
We also had charter flights so the buses took us right onto the tarmac to load the planes. I know poeple have been complaining about airports recently but I didn't think traveling was too bad. I guess it helps to have a police escort and a chartered plane. I would recommend that for your next vacation.

I have included a bunch of links to news stories about the going away ceremonies in Green Bay and Buffalo. They have pictures and video.

Green Bay
News Story 1
News Story 2
News Story 3
News Story 4
News Story 5
News Story 6
News Story 7
News Story 8

The Patriot Guard Riders were with us for the going-away ceremony and the trip to the airport. They are some really cool guys. At the ceremony, they stood outside the whole time we were waiting there for everyone to figure out what was going on. During the ceremony they stood along the sides of the auditorium for the whole ceremony just holding their flags. They also gave us one of their logo flags that they had all signed to take to Iraq with us.
On Thursday when we were getting ready to head to the airport they came about an hour early and just stood around the motorpool with their flags. Once we got ready to go some of them rode with us the whole way and some stayed behind with the families to see us off. I don't have any pictures of my own up here but the Patriot Guard Riders have a ton of pictures up. The internet is really slow here so I haven't looked at them all but it's possible I'm in some of them.
These guys are awesome and we really appreciate them coming out to support us. They said they will be waiting for us to get back to Minnesota when we return and escort us back to the unit.

Our mailing address for here at Fort Dix is posted on the right of this page. We don't need a lot while we are here because anything non-consumable will have to be moved when we head to Iraq. However, letters don't take up much space and cookies are considered consumable.