Sunday, April 30, 2006
I'm back from our three days of desert training, and figured I'd pop in long enough to post an update about the last few days. The training we went through was some of the best training I think I've ever gone through in the military. I was with a really good group of guys and most of us maintained positive attitudes throughout the whole thing, despite the spartan living conditions. To be honest, I was prepared for much worse, having envisioned sleeping under the stars in a hole I had to dig with my Army-issued trenching tool. What we had were air conditioned tents, although we were packed into them pretty much like sardines. If you didn't know your friends well before this trip, you knew them a lot better afterwards. Our food supply was the famous MRE, an abbreviation for "Meal, Ready-to-Eat". I hadn't ever had one, and I have to say I'm rather impressed at what can be packaged into a box that won't go bad. It comes with its own heater (just add water) and there are several different varieties (somewhere in the 20s) ranging from beef enchilada to meat loaf to chili macaroni to spaghetti and meat sauce. One of the most fun parts about the MRE experience is that although you choose your "main course" by bag number (#3, for example is beef ravioli, my lunch) all your accessories are pretty much random. There's a lot of horse-trading after everyone opens their package. I consistently traded away my peanut butter and bread for the much preferred cheese sauce and crackers. (The jalapeno cheese is a cherished item!) And I gave away my cookies whenever I had a chance to get skittles. All in all, it was a good experience. We kept busy, and that made the time go by faster. And it makes us appreciate our current conditions (16-man tent, but with an actual bed) even more. I certainly didn't take the shower for granted after 3 days (we were a very stinky bunch) and I'm in a long line to do laundry. This will be my last post before I head up north. I don't know when it'll be yet, but you'll know when I post again when I get there.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Well, I've had my first full day in Kuwait. My first observation is the weather. It's not that bad. Then again, it's only been about 80 to 90 degrees today, and fortunately the forecast for the next few days (when I expect to be out in the desert for more advanced training) aren't going to be that much hotter. Still, it's enough to keep you sweating and keep you drinking water. That's the second observation. There is plenty of bottled water everywhere. It's not cold, but then again, it doesn't need to be. But I have never seen so much water in my life. The third observation is the chow hall, or in Army terminology the DFAC (Dining FACility). I may have made less than complimentary remarks about the Army food at Fort Jackson, but the food here is great. There's a main line with three entree choices, all of which are appealing. Or you can do the short order line for burgers or similar food. There's a salad bar, a soup bar, and a sandwich bar, and all sorts of beverage choices. And if all that doesn't work, you can skip the DFAC and go to the fast food area with a McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Subway. Rumor is that the main bases up in Iraq are similar, but sometimes even better. So I can say I'm looking forward to the food. (There goes my one-year weight-loss program!) This will probably be my last posting for several days while I go off to training, and then hop a flight "up north" as they say here, or "into the sandbox" as they say there. Wish me luck on my little camping adventure, and with luck, the next update will be from Baghdad.
Well, we finally made it to Kuwait. "Boots on Ground" in the combat zone. That means that starting now, I'm "on the clock" and 365 days from now I should be headed home. Actually, I am posting this shortly after midnight so I'll make that 364 days! Time flies! The flight in from Rota was long (about 8 hours) and the last hour and a half of it was in very rough turbulence. A few people got sick. The pilot had to abort his first approach at the runway and circle around for another try. When whe wheels finally hit there was a lot of applause. I don't think I've mentioned what type of plane we were flying. It's called a C-40A in the Navy. Most of you would recognize it as a Boeing 737, with the front half of the seats removed so they could load all our luggage in on pallets. So we sat in regular airline seats, although it was a full flight so we didn't have all that much room. It's nice and cool here, but we arrived late in the evening, so I'm sure that the nice weather won't last. We should have the day tomorrow to do administrative things (travel claim, get all our special pays started, etc.) and rest up for the upcoming training in the desert. I'm off to get some chow (Midrats, as they call it, for midnight rations) and then some sleep in my tent that I'm sharing with 15 of my best friends.
Monday, April 24, 2006
The good thing about military air flights is that you have a dedicated airplane that takes you exactly where you want to go. The bad thing about military air flights is that you have a dedicated airplane that can sometimes break. After a 5-hour delay in our departure, we finally left South Carolina, making a fuel stop in St. Johns, Newfoundland. It was relatively uneventful (we had to all get off the plane for an hour) but I noted it was one of those odd places in the world with a half-hour time-zone. It was 1 1/2 hours later than Eastern time. I decided not to try to reset my watch. I have moved my watch forward 6 hours now, from 2am to 8am, as we have arrived in Rota, Spain for a 24-hour delay for "crew rest". I could use some rest, too. Even though I slept most of the flight from Canada, I'm still worn out from the air travel. Next stop: Kuwait!
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Finally, after 3 weeks of preparation and training, it's time to head over to the desert. It's a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I'm looking forward to finally getting to the nuts and bolts of my job, but also nervous about the uncertainties of going to a new place. Our flight leaves tomorrow morning, and since it's a military flight, we'll end up having to spend an overnight somewhere along the way so the pilots can rest. It will be a few days until I arrive in Kuwait, where I'll pop in and give you an update on the trip. Then I'll be off to the desert for a few days of advanced training before the final trip into Iraq. The good news about this training is it will be "on the clock". Once I arrive "boots on ground" in Kuwait, I should be headed back home within 365 days (unless the Secretary of Defense personally says otherwise!) Signing off for the last time in the USA for a long time...
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Quick post, so I don't hold up my friends on a night on the town. Our training at Fort Jackson is now complete. As I feared, the "Graduation PT run" was about 2 1/2 miles, but I managed to keep up the whole way (at an admittedly slow pace). I guess I'm in better shape than I give myself credit for. Still, it was nice to know that was the last long run for a long time. I had planned on spending the evening and tomorrow packing my bags (since our departing flight isn't until Sunday), but my procrastinating tendencies were thrown for a loop when they announced this afternoon that we had to load our bags on the pallets for the flight this afternoon. So, with some last-minute packing, I managed to get my gear all packed and loaded, and found myself with nothing but my carry on, and the prospect of an empty barracks since everyone else was leaving. An offer to split a room at a hotel in Columbia was all I needed to tip the scales and I've now checked in for my last night out for a while. We're off to grab a nice steak dinner. I'll give a longer update tomorrow evening. For now... it's liberty call!
Friday, April 21, 2006
Today was a relatively short day (from 6am to about 4pm) but we did a lot. We started out with our "capstone" exercise, where we all rode a convoy to a city, planning to rid it of insurgents. Along the way we passed a few IEDs and got ambushed. We were using our laser gear, and our guns loaded with blanks, so when we shot them it would send out a laser beam. If we hit the enemy, they were dead. Of course, if they hit us, the same thing. I didn't last very long in the city assault. That seemed to be true of most of us high ranking officers... we got picked off by the bad guys, signaled by a very loud beeping tone on our laser toys. Oh, well. At least we got to sit out the rest of the battle while everyone else went running around shooting more! It was fun. Really. Although tiring! After that, we did our land navigation exercise. We got a set of three points on a map that we had to visit and record the number on a post there. All we had was a compass, and we had to pace out our steps. (I think it's really similar, or the same thing, as orienteering. Very similar to geocaching, which I do a bit, but without the benefit of a GPS!) Our group did well, only getting really lost once. We're done with wearing our armor around (yay!), at least until we get over to Kuwait. The drill sergeants did hint at a "Graduation PT run" tomorrow morning, which has me mildly worried. I'm guessing a three-miler. I'll let you know tomorrow. For now, I think I need to rest these sore muscles!
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Whew. What a tiring day. We got a lot of stuff done today -- in quite an efficient manner, even. Lots of little training evolutions, most of them introductions to Army tactics and procedures that we will never have to use... but it gives us a new appreciation for what the Army folks with us will actually be doing. I have decided two things: first, that I made the right decision joining the Navy and not the Army, and secondly, that I really respect Army guys a lot more than I ever have. Among other things today, I learned how to search for IEDs, throw a hand grenade (from various positions), clear a building (like you've seen on most cop shows), low-crawl through the sand (it's harder than it looks), work with a buddy advancing down an alley, and "take a hill" using squad tactics. I have to admit it was all fun at some level... but not something I would want to do every day. The "15 minutes of fame" in the title refers to the fact that the press was here today covering our training. There are apparently reporters from the New York Times, Associated Press, USA Today, and some local papers, including the Virgininan-Pilot. (Not really local, but since Norfolk is a Navy town they are interested.) The photographer from the V-P caught a photo of me doing one of the training events and made sure he had my name for the caption. We'll see if I get published (probably not until this weekend). The "laser tag" gear we got today will be used tomorrow as part of our convoy training. Should be fun! I'm off to rest up these sore muscles. Tomorrow is supposed to be the last training day, and I'm glad. I don't think I can handle much more!
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
When we finally finished with all our training and meetings at about 7:30pm today, I thought for a moment, "Wow, we're finishing early." I guess it's a relative term, since it's an hour earlier than last Tuesday, but after starting the day at 5:30, I guess it's not really that short of a day. We did a lot, though. In the morning we learned a lot about convoy operations, and I personally learned how hard it is to climb up into the back of a truck while wearing 50 pounds of armor. Twice. (Someone remarked in the afternoon that "we didn't do that much today, why am I so tired?") I guess the sore muscles are catching up with all of us. The resistance-training PT (learning how to use a workout buddy to simulate weights when none are available) also took many of us to "muscle exhaustion" so that's another contributor. After lunch we went out to the range to shoot heavy weapons. We aren't expected to have to shoot these, unless things go *really* wrong somewhere, but the brief familiarization makes me confident that were I the only one available to man one of these weapons as a last-ditch defense, I could at least do something. And, really, it was a lot of fun. As one of the reserve Captains in our group commented, "This is a lot more fun than getting paper cuts as Chief of Staff." We got back early enough... about 5pm... but a combination of meetings and dinner and more meetings kept us going a bit late. But I still had a few hours to myself at the end of the day, and that's enough for me. Tomorrow should be fun... we'll be getting lasers to attach to our weapons. No, not for warfare, for training. Ever heard of "laser tag"? We'll be having some fun with our last few training evolutions, I'm sure. I'm actually looking forward to the next few days of training. You might be able to see and/or read about that, too. Some members of the press are coming out over the next few days. We'll see if they find me interesting enough to interview, and if my evasive answers will be printable. :) It's not quite bedtime, but I'm worn out. More news tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
After the weekend off, I was a bit worried that resuming the daily routine of the previous week would be tough. But it was actually a very easy day. It started out early enough with PT, of course, but the running was individually-paced interval training, and actually felt good after 4 days without it. I must really be being converted to Army ways if I'm complimenting PT. Then the rest of the day was spent in classroom training, the morning covering first aid, and the latter mostly on land navigation (i.e., how to read maps instead of charts). There will be a practical exercise on Thursday where we get to navigate to a few way points using only a compass and pacing out our steps. Should be fun! Speaking of fun, tomorrow afternoon is our scheduled time to shoot the heavy weapons. Will be nice to try blowing a few things up. I'm glad I have good earplugs. We finished before 5pm, a very reasonable hour. I found myself tempted to complain about having too much time in the evening without anything to do! But I don't expect it to repeat itself too often. People are starting to organize their bags to prepare for our flight over. I keep thinking about doing that, and then I keep deciding I'll do it later. I just hope I'll have time on Friday. That's it for today. Off to read a book!
Sunday, April 16, 2006
So I mentioned in an earlier post a wonderful feature of the Army Combat Uniform (ACU): lots of pockets. Including some little pen/pencil pockets on the left sleeve. Unfortunately, those pockets conceal a pen so well, it's easy for one to forget to empty that pocket before one does laundry. Washing all of one's uniforms at once. And then one has a heart attack when one sees ink spots on some clothes when he opens the washer. Ack! Fortunately, a close inspection reveals that only one t-shirt suffered the brunt of the pen's damage, and there's a tiny, easily-hidden-in-the-camouflage spot on one of the tops. Whew! Lesson learned. It's been a relaxing weekend. Back to reality tomorrow.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
I can shoot! Or so says the Army. It took me two tries today, but I was showing slow improvement each time. As you may recall, I shot 21 of 40 yesterday. My first try today was 22. And the second try, I finally improved to 23, the magic number to qualify. Which means I will soon be on "weekend pass" in Army terminology (and probably skip updates until Monday). The qualification range really is challenging. There are seven pop-up silhouettes, each the size of a human, placed at ranges from 50 to 300 meters. The 300 ones are practically impossible to hit, although they pop up the longest, about 12 seconds. The 50 ones are easy to hit if you can get to them, but they are only up for 3 seconds... the drill sergeants nickname them "Fast Freddie." The key to qualifying is hitting consistently on the midrange ones. The whole qualification reminds me of an Army version of the arcade game "Whack-a-mole" where the little moles pop up and you bash them with a mallet. M-16, mallet, same thing, right? Maybe it's "whack-an-insurgent" or something. Speaking of the drill sergeants, I must say, they are some of the most professional people I have ever met. While I am fortunate enough not to have to endure the private's view of Basic Training, I have thoroughly enjoyed interacting with these highly knowledgeable soldiers. Some of them were saying they might be headed to Iraq themselves soon, to help train the Iraqi army. I'll close this week's updates with a joke one of the drill sergeants made today while we were doing familiarization with the .50 caliber machine gun, 40mm grenade launcher, and M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon... the new and improved version of Rambo's M-60 machine gun), all of which we'll actually get to shoot and blow stuff up next week. "What's the difference between the Boy Scouts and the Army?" The answer: "The Army has heavy artillery." Have a good weekend! I'm off to enjoy my last weekend in a long time!
Friday, April 14, 2006
As you can see by the time of this posting (after 9pm) it's been a long day. But it was one of those long days in which a lot got done. I woke up this morning to a pleasant surprise: no PT! (Hey, that may not be pleasant to everyone, but I personally dislike mandatory pain!) Instead, we got an early start to head out to the range for our weapons qualifications. The morning started out exceedingly well. I was on the first group on the M9 (9mm Beretta) qualification, and got a perfect score. If I didn't already have my Pistol Expert medal, I would have earned it. I was quite pleased with myself, and maybe a little bit overconfident that my marksmanship skills would carry over to the M16. The next stop after the 9mm was to "group and zero" the M16. Basically when you get a brand new M16 fresh out of the box, it is set to a "factory zero". But that doesn't necessarily match where it will shoot when you line it up. The first step is to "group", which is shooting 6 consecutive shots inside a 4cm circle (at 25 meters). I was reasonably consistent, but kept missing one of the three shots in each group, in alternating groups, so it took me a few tries to get the 6 consecutive. After that, adjustments were made to my sights and voila... aim the same place and I was now hitting the center of the target. Pretty nifty. Finally, with a zeroed M16, I moved on to the qualification range. This is an appropriate point to mention that it was hot today. And humid. For those familiar with the military's heat index conditions, we were up to Condition 4 (the scale goes from 1 to 5). On one hand, it's good training for Iraq (where it's essentially Condition 5 most of the year) but on the other hand, it makes it pretty difficult to get comfortable to shoot with sweat dripping down your brow. Anyway, of my last 12 shots zeroing my M16 (at a target simulating 300 meters, the max range for qualification) I hit 11 of 12, so I was very confident that I would do well. But that confidence melted in the South Carolina heat as I tried to shoot the qualification range (with timed pop-up targets at various ranges that come up randomly) and came up with only 21 of 40. 23 is the minimum for qualification. Blah! That means I have to go back tomorrow and try it again. And again, if necessary... everyone WILL qualify. Of course, I'm not complaining. It's actually fun shooting. So I won't get my rifle expert medal. No matter! I still get to blow a few more holes in a few more targets! (And more good news: since it's another early range day, no PT! I can be a slacker! Although, honestly, I think with all the moving around I've had to do with armor and weapons and full canteens of water, I've certainly gotten a workout.) Qualification is actually the ticket to liberty this weekend. We've successfully done 6 days of activities in 5 days, and as soon as we're back tomorrow, as long as we qualify, we'll be allowed to head out for the weekend (for those who want to, but only within 100 miles). Given that all my friends and family are a bit further away than that, I'll probably take advantage of the time to organize my equipment, do laundry, and catch up on all the email that I haven't read this week. Off to clean up and hit the hay so I can be well rested for tomorrow's shoot: hopefully earlier in the morning when it's not so hot!
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Yikes. It's already 10:30 pm, and "lights out" was a half hour ago. But I just had to do my daily email check. PT this morning was indeed "stepped up" from the first day, which included a two mile run. Fortunately they split us up into three groups, a fast, medium, and (I was in this one) slow group. I can't believe I actually ran two miles without dying. I must be getting into shape carrying all this gear around. It's interesting how the gear affects you. In the morning my shoulders and back were fine, but my ankles were sore from all the weight. By the end of the day my feet felt just fine but my shoulders were sore. The stuff does grow on you. And you really learn to appreciate just walking around in a shirt. I've determined the way the Army does business is they take a whole group of people to do an evolution, and then you all sit there and wait until everyone is done. We did get a lot done today, but there was also a lot of waiting for the last few people to finish up each task. In the morning we got to shoot blanks at a close range "reactive fire" target. They suggested this is probably the way we'll actually have to shoot if we ever get into trouble. In the afternoon, we went to a really cool electronic rifle training simulator. They have air pressure hoses hooked up, lasers to track where you're pointing the muzzle, and a simulated qualification round of fire. I really learned a lot about firing, and did quite well at the closer ranges. I'm sure I'll have no problem qualifying. Don't think I'll do well enough for the "Expert" medal. One reason we're up so late is because we're slow in learning the lessons of weapon accountability. Not we as in all 200 of us, but there are always a few issues with people that end up with someone else's weapon and it takes a long time to sort it out. I think people are getting the message. Anyway, off to get some sleep so I can do my best on tomorrow's rifle qualification! Our first chance to use live ammunition! Woo!
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Another really long day. Unlike the 5:30 am wakeup call on Monday, we got to sleep in until 5:40 am today! Of course, the day ended up just as long, since we weren't quite done until 8:40pm. Very unlike Monday, however, we really did accomplish a lot today. In the morning we got issued our weapons (both an M-9 9mm pistol and M-16 rifle) and learned a lot of safety rules, and about the fact that starting then, we would be in what they call "weapons immersion". Essentially we're going to be carrying our weapons (and wearing full body armor) around everywhere we go for the rest of the training. That, of course, started immediately after lunch, and we spent the afternoon learning lots of shooting stances and how annoying it is when your equipment knocks your helmet down over your eyes when you're trying to shoot. Although I learned many practical things about my weapon, I think what I learned most was how one can start growing used to wearing 30-50 pounds of stuff. As the afternoon wore on, it was less noticeable. Until my shoulders really started hurting near the end. But I'm not alone; everyone is making the same comments. PT (Physical Training) this morning wasn't that bad. I managed to keep up and not look as out of shape as I am, although they've promised things will get harder and faster in future days. I do hope they break up the groups between the hard-charging runners (who were complaining they didn't even get a cardio workout) and us old folks who were huffing and puffing afterwards. The days promise to be just as long the rest of the week: the main reason being that they're cramming a lot into the Monday to Friday schedule in order to give us the weekend off for Easter. (Actually, since most of us are thousands of miles from our families, it's really to give themselves the weekend off!) At the current pace of things, I'll really need two days to recuperate! All in all, though, I've still got a smile on my face, which is amazing considering the surreal feel of marching around with a rifle and an Army drill sergeant counting out a cadence about being an Airborne Ranger. This is certainly something I never would have ever expected to be doing. I'm looking forward to the day that I can call it something I never expected to have done.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
It's been a long day. It started at 5:30 am with breakfast, followed by a 6:00am meeting. At first it seemed like it was going to be an efficient morning, as we rode by bus to the main base at Fort Jackson for our initial uniform issue. We got there about 8:00am. A sign on the wall there said "You are about to become the best dressed soldiers in the world." There were lots of new Army recruits milling around with frightened looks on their faces -- the drill sergeants told us it was day two for them. Uniforms in hand, we boarded the bus again for a short ride to another issue point, arriving about 10 am and getting lots of equipment we'll need, and lots of it that we won't. But it's a "one size fits all" issue point, so like it or not, we've got it. At about 11am we arrived at the last point, where we would get the "RFI" equipment. That stands for Rapid Fielding Initiative... it's all the latest and greatest stuff that the government is buying for soldiers. Unfortunately, this particular crowd was behind; they got even further behind when they took a lunch break (we ended up with boxed lunches) and it was about 2:30pm by the time we finally got in to get our equipment. And all the 3 hours we were waiting were outside in the sun. Needless to say, despite efforts to stay in the shade, I'm sunburned (especially on the top of my hair-challenged head). We finally got back to our base at about 5pm, the beginning of the dinner hours. But rather than let us eat, we ended up going to a class to learn how to put together our "T-50" gear. That's the body armor and other attachments. While it was interesting learning how everything works, we ended up doing that stuff until 6:30, when they allowed us a quick break for chow (it would close at 7). They were out of many of the food choices by the time I got there. Bummer. After eating, we went back to finish learning about our equipment and putting things together, and finally at about 8:30pm I got some time to myself. I checked email, I'm making this post, and I'm going to make a quick call home, but then this tired soldier sailor is going to crash. PT starts at 5:30 tomorrow!
Monday, April 10, 2006
Well, I reported today to the Navy Individual Augmentee Training Center (NIACT) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. As you read in my post a few days ago, I got permission to proceed here on my own rather than ride the bus from Norfolk. It was definitely a good choice. I was here nicely on time, and managed to catch the appropriate in-briefs, and was enjoying my dinner when I saw the rest of my group finally show up after a 6 1/2 hour bus ride. Pity them. Speaking of chow, the Army doesn't even hold a candle to Navy chow. I was not really impressed with the offerings for dinner, but then again I'm here to train, not to eat. So I shouldn't complain. Another thing I'm not going to complain about is the whole issue with uniforms. Following instructions on my orders, I purchased the appropriate rank and warfare insignia for the Navy's uniform in Iraq, the "Desert Camouflage Utility" (DCU). Well, it turns out our almost all-navy unit is trying to blend in with the Army, so our commander is going to have us wear the Army Camouflage Utility (ACU) which uses totally different insignia. And the 8-point hat that I bought doesn't match it either. So my special order from the Navy Uniform Store was a waste of money. I was able to sell my cap to someone else who was in another unit. Anyway, the reason I'm not complaining is that most people agree that the ACU is a far superior uniform. It has lots of velcro (as opposed to buttons on the Navy version) and is supposed to be more comfortable and easier to move around in. Mostly today we just had some in-briefs, explaining all the things we'll be doing in the upcoming week. They said they wouldn't put out a schedule very far in advance since everything changes -- but we do know that tomorrow we'll be getting our issue of uniforms and equipment. Oh, and we learned that the appropriate Army response to just about any question is "Hooah!" It means yes, no, and several other things. Speaking of Army vs. Navy there are some interesting t-shirts for sale in the exchange here, making a play on the "Army" shirt with "An Army of One" on the back. This one says "NARMY" and on the back, "A Fleet of One." Heh. It's an interesting process here. It probably could be made more efficient -- and interestingly the Navy is doing that too, sending a group of people to monitor the process. They say "It's a small world," and the head officer monitoring the process is one of my shipmates from my previous Expeditionary Strike Group assignment. I got to catch up on a bit of old news before coming here to make this post. That's about it for now... then I'm off to yet another meeting this evening and then an early bedtime. The day starts at 5:30am tomorrow!
Friday, April 07, 2006
I'm enjoying some time off halfway between Norfolk and Fort Jackson, but noticed a few things I needed to update. First off, I've added a link to the 2005 Navy Year in Review. It's a great slide show of things the Navy did last year, including Tsunami relief, Katrina/Rita assistance, and many other missions all over the world. It's about 7 minutes long. I never answered the question about what NMPS stood for: It is the Navy Mobilization Processing Site. It is where all mobilized Navy reservists pass through on their way to active duty; but it's also now being used for Active Duty sailors on Individual Augmentation orders. I've been informed that the Latin of my new squadron motto, word-for-word, would read "If air control, victory." Given our EW mission, some of the others were speculating that it means "If you control the airwaves, you win." Or something like that. Signing back off to enjoy my last bit of leave in a long time!
Thursday, April 06, 2006
My estimate yesterday about the efficiency of the operations was pretty accurate. All of the "hurrying up" of the first few days translated to lots of "nothing" the rest of the week. Today, I accomplished nothing, along with a few hundred other people. Not completely nothing. I did bounce back and forth between 4 people over the course of a few hours, with lots of waiting in between, but finally did get the "ready to deploy" stamp on my orders and permission to take a few days of leave (harder to get than I expected! And my agonizing over whether to fly home didn't matter, they wouldn't have approved me going that far away). Some of the guys are all done except for shots -- glad I got all mine before I left or I'd be sitting here until Friday like they are. Instead, I'll spend the evening doing "professional reading" and then tomorrow a friend is driving up from North Carolina to rescue me from boredom for the next 3 days. And I'll get dropped off at my next stop in South Carolina, too! Much better than sitting around doing nothing and then riding a bus down with the rest of the group. And I'm sure the home cooking is going to be better than the Subway, KFC, and Rice King I've been dining on for the last 2 days. I got my first care package today! Apparently the USO has an "Operation USO Care Package" program where people can contribute to a package. It has lots of neat things in it and will be very useful. The donator included their email address with their note so I'll be sure to send them a thank you. Obviously, for the rest of you, you'll have to wait until I get to my final destination before I can offer a mailing address. This will probably be my last update for a few days, while I'm enjoying my last break before the "real" combat training starts on Sunday. In the meantime, it's your turn to write something to me!
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Although today's schedule originally had the afternoon off (well, scheduled time to complete online training that I've already done) they did some rearranging of things and moved some the medical and dental screenings from the next two days up to this afternoon. I was impressed today by a demonstration of Navy Efficiency at its finest. About 100 people got through their screening interviews in about 3 hours. During that 3 hours, I managed to get a spare pair of eyeglasses made, and they had them done in 15 minutes. Yep, that's right, a quarter of the time that it takes Lens Crafters. And they were free! I did pass my medical screening (although in the interview process, I got the idea that if I'd expressed more doubt about my level of fitness, I might have been descreened. But one has to maintain one's integrity.) The key test is being able to walk (not run) around in hot weather with 30-plus pounds of armor and equipment, which I feel fully capable of doing. I'm not in that bad of shape! Although I do plan on visiting the gym this afternoon to try to ease in to that level of activity. There was only one main problem with the highly efficient way today went: that leaves absolutely nothing left for me to do for the next three days. Lots of other folks have some medical things they need to fix, and a bunch of shots that everyone will get on Friday, but I got all that done before arriving, including the necessary shots. I suppose I could ask for the time off, but then I'd have to pay my own way back across the country if I wanted to spend those few days at home. Still, it's tempting. Alternately, I need to look around for who I know who lives near Norfolk that wouldn't mind a guest for a few days. I do have enough to keep me busy. A lot of the group spent a week at the Navy's Electronic Warfare school in Whidbey Island, and gave me some of the course material to look over to "catch up". And I brought some research and reading material from home, expecting some of this "down time". So I won't be completely bored. But I do wish that I could have stayed at home one more week since I actually did read my orders and do the necessary things that not everyone else did. In any case, I'm one day closer to heading across the pond, and by extension, one day closer to coming home. The last two days have gone relatively fast (keeping busy does that). I hope they continue to fly by.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
One day down, 398 to go. Or so goes the worst case estimate. I had an eventful trip to Norfolk, as the first of my three flight legs was so delayed that I wouldn't be able to make my connection, and all the other possible flights were full. My wife and I decided to make the drive up to the San Francisco airport to catch the second of my flights, which gave us an extra hour together on the road. I wish I could say that we used the hour efficiently, but it was mostly just a few quiet words. The one benefit was that there wasn't an awkward, extended goodbye as I had to go through security and then wave from the other side of the "glass bubble". We had a quick kiss and hug at the curb before I headed in to the terminal and she drove off with the kids to watch the plane take off. After a lot of flying and waiting and more flying and more waiting and a long cab ride, I finally got to my room at about 2 am, and had to check in at 7:30 am. The 2am part wasn't bad. After all, my body thought it was only 10 (before the time shift) or 11pm. But boy was getting up early hard. And of course, the powers that be chose not to have any sympathy for jet lag, as the first day was chock full of administrative check-in items and briefings. The terminology we all used was "drinking from the end of a fire hose." I think I caught a few drops here and there. We ended at about 6:30 pm, just as the galley was closing down dinner. No matter, I think I'm going to get together with some of my new best friends and go find some place to watch NCAA Basketball tonight. Not that anyone is that interested in basketball, but food and beer will make the game enjoyable! Ironically, after today's busy schedule, the rest of the week is going to be very slow, with lots of "down time". It's essentially time to catch up on all the prep work we should have done (and I did) before we arrived. I wish things could be more efficient, which they probably are on a grand scale, but not a personal one. I did find out a bit more about my job. I'm a member of a brand new organization that the Navy is creating for this assignment, the second time in my career that I got surprise orders to a "new" outfit. It's called Joint CREW Composite Squadron One. Right now they have little more than a name and a motto, "Si Aerem Moderaris Vincis." I'll leave it to a reader who knows Latin to translate that for me. I met my new Commanding Officer. The bad news is that I still don't have any more information on where I'll be and what I'll be doing. But the good news is that the CO is very interested in finding out peoples skills and strengths, and putting them in the "right job" for their abilities, rather than filling a particular set of billets that was originally requested. That gives me a bit more confidence that I'll be employed in something I'll be able to contribute more effectively to, which is good. I hope to be able to contribute a lot. And based on what's going on and our mission, I am sure I'll contribute a lot... our organization, working with all the soldiers already over there, will be saving lives. It's hard to beat that for job satisfaction.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
April has arrived, and with it, the first benefit of my assignment, even though I'm still at home for one last day: assuming I get to Kuwait on schedule, this month's pay should be tax-free. That's just one of the financial benefits that's making this deployment easier to accept. Not that I'd necessarily say it's "worth" any particular amount of money, but it's nice to be compensated for this assignment. I'm all packed -- well, not really packed up, but everything is set aside for me to do my usual last-minute procrastinated packing. And I'm ready to go. The extra two weeks has been great in allowing me to prepare in a controlled manner, and tie up a lot of loose ends. I'm looking forward to getting started, mainly because the earlier it gets started, the earlier it will be finished! I'll be playing with some "counter" software on the right-hand panel to keep track of how long it's all taking. The title "Spring Forward" refers to the fact that I just realized yesterday that we turn our clocks ahead an hour tonight. So not only will I lose an hour of sleep, by this time tomorrow I'll be on a series of flights taking me to the east coast, and I'll lose 3 more hours. I know I'll be looking for the coffee tomorrow morning as I have to report to NMPS Norfolk. I'm still not sure what NMPS stands for, but you're sure to find out in my next post once I'm there. I'll be there all next week, probably going through the same medical and dental screening that I've already done. Signing off from home... next update I'll be "on my way".