Thursday, September 25, 2008

Like an Ant: Boring in the Sand

We got a four-day pass after we had completed our training at Ft. Dix and all of us had a good time. Before we left they gave us a piece of paper with all of the phone numbers for the entire chain of command on it. In order to try to prevent unnecessary calls it included the following warning:
Be advised: All echelons of the unit are available to help you in need, however, understand that all requests should go through your chain of command as much as possible. If you go straight to the top, remember that the higher the hill, the greater the momentum is for a rolling object at the bottom.

I have heard that warning before but it was not put so eloquently. It must have worked though because everyone made it back from pass on time with no problems.

Kristen was able to fly out for the pass and was there to pick me up on Friday when we were released. We met Gepford and his brother at a place called Freefall Adventures.

It’s really pretty easy because you are connected to someone who knows what they are doing. The main instruction was to start walking out the back of the plane and then when you no longer have the floor of the plane under you, arch your back. I was the first one out the plane but it was amazing. You fall about 8,000 feet in a minute then pull the chute. The last 5,000 feet take about five minutes as long as everything goes well. I was a little nervous though because my instructor introduced himself as ‘Pancake.’ I didn’t ask him how he got that nickname because it’s kind of like asking your dentist why his nickname is ‘Whoops.’ Some things are best left a mystery.

The picture above is the plane we jumped out of and the picture below is one of us as we came in for a landing.

There is really no way to tell who it is but I assure you we all looked pretty much the same. Gepford and I were trying to determine if we were technically allowed to skydive on our pass. Gepford said, “Well, they don’t really need to know unless something goes wrong and if something does go wrong we won’t be in a position to get in trouble anyway.” Good point. Let’s jump.

I spent the rest of the weekend sightseeing in Pennsylvania. The Constitution Museum had free admission for active-duty military so it worked out good. They advertised the museum as “the first museum in the world completely dedicated to the United States Constitution.” I guess this is one thing that the Chinese aren’t competing with us on. The museum was sort of like reading a book but I suppose there isn’t a lot you can do to make the topic exciting. Once cool thing they had was called the ‘Hall of Signers.’ They had life-sized bronze statues of each person who signed the Constitution. It was strange walking among them because you felt like you were surrounded by people but they weren’t real people.

Once we got back to base they had a ‘Yellow Ribbon’ ceremony for us. At Ft. Dix they have a statue of a soldier that is called, ‘The Ultimate Warrior.’ They hang a yellow ribbon in front of that statue with the name of each unit that deploys until they return. I drew an arrow on the photo below pointing to our ribbon because it kind of blends in.

After the ‘Yellow Ribbon’ ceremony all we had left to do was pack our gear and clean up the barracks. Oh, and three or four speeches from officers wishing us good luck as we deployed and they stayed back in the US supporting us. In the picture below you can see Lewis trying to cram all of his gear into his bags. We were allowed to have two duffel bags and a ruck sack. Now, ladies that might seem like a good amount for a weekend trip, but this is all of our military and personal gear for the whole year. I hope somebody was able to fit an iron in their bag.

Remember I said we had to clean the barracks? Everyone seemed to find some things among their gear they didn’t need to bring with them to take up space in their bags. It seems as though no one had time to take out the trash though. Of course I couldn’t do it because someone had to go around and take pictures.

Once we had everything packed and cleaned all that was left was the waiting. So we waited to draw our weapons.

Then we waited for the bus to take us to the Air Force base for our flight.

Then we waited to go through security at the airport. We weren’t allowed to have any knives on the plane but of course we could have guns. This is me going through the metal detector at the airport with my weapon.

Then we waited for the plane to be ready.

Then we waited more for the plane to be ready.

Still waiting for the plane.

On the plane finally!! It was about a fourteen hour flight not including our stop in Germany on the way over. I should have slept for more than two hours of that flight but I didn’t feel tired for some reason.

We got into Kuwait at about 0530 local time and it was 80 degrees. I hadn’t dug out my sunglasses yet when I got off the plane and I was blinded by looking at all that sand. I would say it’s nice to be back here but I’m still looking for things that are nice about it. It’s still like having a blow dryer in your face so it takes some getting used to.
As soon as we got to our temporary camp here in Kuwait we had to unload all of our gear. I guess the best way to get acclimated to the climate here is to throw around 80-pound bags at high noon. We got the trailer unloaded and then searched out all of our gear and get it into our tent.

Now we are waiting again in a tent in Kuwait.

We have a little more training to do here in Kuwait but mostly we are waiting for a flight to Kuwait. I put the address for Iraq up on the right side of the page but I’m not sure how long it will be until we can receive mail. I would hold off on shipments of fresh meat for a while but letters should keep.

Sorry to keep you waiting,


"Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting. "
- Karl Wallenda

Saturday, September 13, 2008

At the FOB With Mr. Bob

We just returned from a little over three weeks in the field and I can tell we are fully involved in the Army lifestyle. The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation that I had with another soldier:

The usual 0400 wakeup tomorrow?

Yeah, 0500 chow, 0600 draw, and 0700 SP. We have mounted live fire for 240 bravo and 249 but not for the ma deuce.

I didn’t think you were a 240?

I’m not. I’m an 1151.

Oh yeah. Like we’ll actually get those huh?

Yeah. Probably more 998’s with plywood.

Well, at least we aren’t doing more 9-line UXO and Medevacs.

Yeah. Or CLS sticks.

True but I think the AAR for this is around 2030 so we probably won’t be able to go to the MWR for PT tonight.

Well, it made perfect sense to us anyway. I just thought back on the conversation and realized how many acronyms and nomenclature we have to keep track of.

The picture above is my little living quarters out in the field. We had beds with mattresses which was a nice change from cots. The tents were the regular green Army tents on the outside but they had built permanent wood frames instead of using the metal ones. There were only two outlets in each tent and a string of lights a fan that needed to be plugged in. Needless to say we had a fire-waiting-to-happen, tangle of power strips, cords, and chargers. The vent you see in the upper right corner is for heat which we never used even though it did get down to about 45 some nights. Most days it was in the mid-90’s and very humid. We tried to put in a work order to let them know our air conditioning was not working but they were uninterested. Apparently, it has to be installed in order for it to work.

We went to many different training areas while we were out at the FOB. The picture above is some of our ammo magazines loaded up and ready for the next day. A small portion of the training we did was dismounted training where everything is on foot. Obviously we are truck drivers so we aren’t supposed to be fighting while we are walking. We practiced low-crawling, high-crawling, 3-5 second rushes, and going over a wall while staying as low as possible. We also practiced how to interact with civilians and react to fire (or contact as we call it) while we are on a foot patrol. The training we all liked the most is called Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). We just refer to this as kicking in doors and it is the type of stuff you see on the commercials. We moved as a squad through a town made of shipping containers and interacted with civilians who are there as good guys and bad guys. I don’t have any pictures of the dismounted training so it’s not real exciting on the blog here but it’s really exciting when you are clearing a building made from 10 shipping containers connected together.

Most of the training we did was mounted convoy training. As truck drivers we will be doing mostly convoys while we are in Iraq so this training was the most applicable for us. The picture above is Dougherty (who we call Dirty cause it’s easier) showing the terrorists why they shouldn’t mess with us. The basic premise of the training we did was to drive down a road and react to contact. That contact might come in the form of small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), improvised-explosive devices (IED), or even civilians firing weapons into the air but not at us.

Most of the time we would run as a small convoy of gun trucks to simulate a mounted patrol. Above you can see Heenan checking out the .50 caliber machine gun on top of one of the gun trucks. We call the .50 cal the “ma deuce” from its designation as the M2 machine gun and you don’t want to make mama mad. We also did convoy security training where we would be driving our fuel tankers and also the gun trucks to protect them.

I got to spend a lot of time in the up-armored Humvee gun trucks that we had the training on while we were back on base. They are nice vehicles for the protection they offer but it comes at the expense of space on the inside. We have four guys in the seats of the Humvee and one gunner sitting on the sling seat you see in the middle of the picture above. It’s very tight quarters in there with all of our body armor on but there is a plus side. They have intercom systems made by Bose so you can easily talk to each other and hear the radio. It’s even possible to put music through them and hear the three distinct things clearly. Life’s not too bad when you can ride around in the air conditioning, shooting guns, and rocking out to AC/DC.

The picture above is after we pulled the gunner with simulated injuries out of the truck. We are performing first aid and preparing him to be loaded on the helicopter. In the movie below our truck was disabled and another truck came up to pull us out of the “kill zone.” You can hear Heenan up on the roof making the .50 cal sing.

This is my favorite scene below. We are finally headed back to our tents for some rest after a long day of training.

We did have a visit from Tropical Storm Hanna. It was nice of her to stop by and pause the training for a little bit. There was a lot of flooding around the FOB and our company was actually the only one that stayed at the FOB through the storm. There was a small river running by the outside of our tent but Brand was unsuccessful at catching any fish in it. I’m not much of a fisherman but I don’t know what kind of fish he was trying to catch with a pop can for bait.

Dirty was awarded/ordered-to-carry the prestigious donkey stick. Any resemblance to a pink horse children’s toy is strictly coincidental. The stick is a helpful reminder of actions that should not be repeated. He was able to have the honor of carrying this for about three or four days. Most people have received it for not keeping track of their weapon but Dirty came up with a new way of earning it. When we test-fired our weapons before we left on a convoy he fired toward the FOB instead of away from it. Thankfully we were working with blanks that day.

On a side note: Milk Duds are not a good snack to take out to the field and forget in your bag. After a few weeks those Milk Duds turn into a singular Milk Dud and no one is happy.

We came out of the field on September 11 after washing all of our gear and cleaning the tents. It was nice to get back to the barracks and not have to walk outside for the bathrooms and showers. A few people mentioned that air conditioning was also a nice benefit of the barracks. The country band, Lonestar, was on base for a special tribute concert that evening that we were able to go to. It was a nice way to relax for a while after being in the field. The picture below is a huge American flag that was hung from fire trucks from Ft. Dix and McGuire Air Force Base.

We are close now to heading overseas and I’m currently enjoying a four-day pass with Kristen. I had to wait to post this update up until we got to the hotel with a solid internet connection. The adventures of the four-day pass will have to wait until the next update.

Wondering who Mr. Bob is? Click here.

Enjoy the indoor bathrooms,


"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. "

- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut