Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 95 (Thursday July 2, 2009)

Dust everywhere...

Having completely lost track of time, we arrived in Kuwait sometime after midnight. Prior to departing the plane, once again, our temperatures were taken to rule out the potential of Swine Flu…they take that pretty seriously over here. We moved directly onto a bus and were taken to a staging area, waiting for a couple of hours and finally moved into Base Ali A-Salam. Even in the middle of the night it was quite warm out…likely 90 degrees…and the lights in the horizon glowed with a halo as dust swirled through the air.

At approximately 0500, we were greeted by our Navy Liaison Team and moved through some brief in-processing before grabbing breakfast. The DFAC (dining facility) was pretty good. All the food overseas is catered by a company called KBR. Just following breakfast, our Navy team along with the Air Force and Army personnel on the airplane, unloaded the baggage from the trucks and began sorting the bags into teams. Once accomplished, we reloaded the bags onto the trucks and were bused to Camp Virginia, where we would be staying for the next few days.

Our barracks during these days were 12 man (no gender discrimination implied) tents with cots for beds. Luckily, as part of our gear, we were given a sleeping bag and Thermarest ¾ inch inflatable mattress pad. It’s all good.

(Everyone getting settled in the 12-man tents)

Because we had arrived so early, we had one more task for the day. This evolution was similar to the Hum-V rollover training we had at Fort Riley. However, this training was for the MRAP…a bigger Hum-V, if you will.

(Working on 40 hours without real sleep...Jerry doesn't look happy)

(Andrew sleeping...but hard to tell with the shades on...)

(Inside of the bus we took to the training site)

(40 plus hours up and I'm a little numb at this point)

Completely baked from a long trip, having been awake for 48 hours, nothing left to do but go to sleep. By the way, for my own memory, my feet were so swollen from being up on them most of the trip I thought congestive heart failure had set in…yikes!

Day 94 (Wednesday July 1, 2009)

I'm hot and sweaty...not in a good way

As we were getting ready to take off from Baltimore, I received a text message from Andrew congratulating me on my promotion from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander. Thanks Andrew. July 1st was my effective date of promotion.

Flying overseas, 4 movies later and countless attempts to fall asleep, we landed in Germany at approximately 1500. It was a 6-7 hour flight, but Germany is 8 hours ahead of Baltimore. Once in Germany, I made my way to the bathroom and freshened up, as so many of the troops were doing. Again, the USO had some hygiene supplies for brushing your teeth, washing your face and putting on deodorant…love that USO. Two hours later, we boarded the 767 again and set out on another 5 hour journey to Kuwait. On the plane, the first movie showed was Ironman. It was somewhat ironic considering the opening scene in Afghanistan.

Day 93 (Tuesday June 30, 2009)

Here we go...

Big Day! The trip overseas truly began. We loaded our bags onto the bus at about 0830 and left Fort Riley by 0945. Each one of us (25 in all) had 4 sea bags (green duffel bags), 1 ruck sack (like a large mountaineering backpack) and a carry-on bag (personal backpack) for the trip. In addition, as a team, we also had 12 gun cases with our personal weapons inside (locked of course). Mind you, that’s 125 large bags weighing around 40-70 pounds each and 12 more gun cases. This will be vital information as the trip progresses. As a means of loading them, we formed a line and handed the bags one by one down the row to the last person, who would place them in the bus. It may not sound like much, but it took us about 15 minutes and we were all a bit sweaty by the end...glad I put deodorant on.

(Bus trip from Fort Riley, Kansas to Kansas City International Airport)

Traveling by bus to Kansas City International Airport, we watched “Wedding Crashers” on the overhead monitors for the entire trip. It certainly helped pass the time. By 1200, we reached our destination and unloaded our baggage onto the curb.

(Curbside at the airport)

The following process I am about to describe is quite complex and likely took years of education to procure. (no sarcasm at all)

(It may not look like much...but that's my luggage for the deployment)

On a large, wheeled cart, we loaded the equivalent of 2 team members’ gear and pushed it into the Southwest Airlines terminal where we unloaded them. 13 trips later, all the baggage was in the terminal. Subsequently, all the baggage was tagged in the same manner one would see on any airline. This next part is fabulous. After tagging all the bags, we (again) loaded them onto the wheeled carts and moved them 30 feet to be scanned by the X-ray machine and finally loaded on the plane (I feel bad for the poor souls that had to load all our bags onto the plane…they probably needed a massage afterwards). Obviously, I’m writing this in retrospect, and the continual movement of these bags from point to point throughout our journey was 1) laborious 2) never ending and 3) riddled with poor planning. Sometimes it’s best to work smart…not hard. We chose the latter.

Following a quick bite of lunch, we all moved past the security lines and into the gated area where many of us, including me, Skyped our loved ones. By 1450 we were flying to Baltimore and landed around 1830. The trip was uneventful, yet as the passengers were set to depart the plane, the Southwest Airlines flight attendant made an announcement. In honor of our country’s armed forces, they would allow us to depart first. Everyone on the plane clapped in approval. I’ve heard stories of this happening, but to actually be there; I was honored.

We claimed our bags, put them on carts and wheeled them from one end of the airport to the other, to a terminal I had never heard of…Air Mobility Command. This is apparently the main airline tasked with sending our troops overseas. After checking all my bags, I made my way down to the USO site and proceeded to Skype once more. I love this Skype; what a great tool. By the way, the USO (Uniformed Services Organization) is an organization that, by way of donation, provided free creature comforts to service men and women in different venues. They offered free sodas, juices, candy, soup, sleeping accommodations, showers, a place to watch movies and free internet wi-fi. What a wonderful thing to provide our troops.

(Rob and Holly pushing luggage in the Baltimore airport)

(That's a lot o' luggage)

(Wolf lookin' tough)

(Both Lach and Travis are pointing...but one can you see which finger Travis is using?)

(Fascinated by pictures with luggage...?)

Always pushing the time limits, I just made it through the security line in time for our flight to board. We stepped inside the plane at roughly 2230. It was a 767, chartered flight for military services. As I sat on the plane, talking with Isabella, time seemed to drag on with no advancement in our position. Approximately one hour later, the attendants informed us that there was a weight and balance issue. Over the course of the next 2 hours of waiting, the 15-20 civilian passengers were asked to exit the plane and the attendants counted the passengers about 20 times. It became humorous after a while, watching the attendants continually walk up and down the aisles, pointing at the passengers, silently mouthing numbers. I wanted to randomly shout out various numbers to throw off their count, but after 3 hours of waiting, my patience was growing thin and I simply wanted to get in the air. Finally, by 0130, we took off and made our way to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

(Chief D givin' the thumbs up on the plane)

Day 91-92 (Sun-Mon June 28-29, 2009)


Back at it...

Realizing this day would come; I was still dreading it. I had enjoyed a fabulous 3 weeks off in which I was able to visit family and friends and spend some much needed time with Isabella. This morning, she took me to the airport at 0630, and after a difficult goodbye, I hopped the plane returning to Fort Riley, Kansas. The day was filled with travel as Andrew, Mike and I all left San Diego, spent a few hours in Denver and eventually landed in Kansas City where we were met by the Navy Liaison Team and transported another 2 hours back to Fort Riley. Considering the 2 hour time difference from San Diego to KC, we traveled for about 10 hours and arrived in our barracks at 2030. After unpacking we felt the need to burn a little energy and worked out for a couple hours. I made a few calls and then hit the rack.


Packing and taking my temperature...

We awoke this morning with a few items on the agenda. We checked out personal weapons out of the armory, ensured our military IDs were encoded properly for checking into Kuwait, had our temperatures taken to see if we had the Swine Flu (apparently, if you had a temperature, addition testing and quarantining would occur) and received our finally itinerary for the big trip to come, beginning tomorrow morning. In between all of these little tasks, we all spent some time packing and repacking our sea bags for the trip. The packing strategy involved ensuring accessibility to 5 or so days worth of clothes, bathroom supplies and whatever else one wanted…in case we couldn't get to our additional sea bags, or the bags were lost in transit (how’s that for a comforting thought…apparently, it doesn’t only happen on commercial flights).

(40 man barracks at Fort Riley nearly empty as we pack up our bags)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Days 69-90 (June 6-27, 2009)

A Very Welcome Vacation From Training...

Returning home from training was fantastic. I don't plan on writing much about this, because I assume no one wants to hear about the family visits and personal things...or do you?

Anyway, after being home for a few days Isabella and I went back to Montana to visit my family once more before heading out. We had a great time and saw a bunch of family. We even sat in the hot tub was awesome...gotta get one of those.

(Just the girls...and Maddex at Zoo Montana)

Keeping with the plan of traveling and having a good time, Isabella and I spent the next week in Los Cabos for our anniversary. As usual when I visit a tropical place I turned several colors...pale white to raspberry red to bronze...nice to have some color, but gotta watch that sun. We had a great time and didn't feel like coming home.

The last week of vacation was filled with me tying up loose ends and Isabella and I relishing our last few days together. It was a good vacation but the end meant one thing...the real deployment was eminent.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hi Everyone,

Well, I'm finally done with my late posts for Fort Riley. There's quite a few there I know. I have been keeping up with the current stuff, so you can look for those posts very soon. All is well in Kabul. Thank you all for the emails and facebook messages...they're greatly appreciated. Take care.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 68-69 (Fri-Sat June 5-6, 2009)

Graduation...been a long 10 weeks

Graduation day!!!! All of class 71 showed up at the gym where we initially entered Camp Funston and lined up for the ceremony. With all of us standing at parade rest, a few words were said by the chaplain and the Executive Officer of Camp Funston. Next, with the audio tape playing in the background, the Army units sang their Army songs, the Air Force sang a verse of their song and then…the audio tape quit…no Navy love. So, in fine fashion as would be expected, we as 25 strong Navy sailors belted out Anchor’s Away…without music. Afterwards, CDR Troup (the head of our Navy Liaison Team) said that our version was by far the best he’d heard in his time at Fort Riley. Go Navy!

All in all, the graduation took 7 minutes. The most efficient evolution we were ever a part of at Fort Riley. Time to go home for a few weeks. Oh yeah, after the graduation, we were informed that our I-stop time would be extended from 16 to 22 days off. Sweet.

Having packed everything up, we boarded a bus for Kansas City International Airport at midnight. We arrived at KCI by 0300 and by 0630 we were heading home. What a good feeling.

Day 67 (Thurdsay June 4, 2009)

Here you go, I don't want it anymore...

This day was dedicated to turning in all our equipment (Hum-Vs, Radios, CrewServ weapons, etc.). Not much to talk about other than we all started packing up our things to head home for a few weeks. This was called our I-Stop (Individual Stop).

Day 66 (Wednesday June 3, 2009)

Capstone...bout time

Well, the big day arrived. The Capstone Course was the pinnacle of our training; testing all of the skills we acquired over the 10 weeks at Fort Riley. It was a live, role playing set of scenarios in which we needed to travel to 3 different villages and complete predetermined missions. Both us, and our enemies were given “blanks” to fire for the day.

(Mike's wearing the "nut-hugger" gun turret harness while Jerry is happy for him)

(Me, Andrew and Mike)

(Travis enjoying his coffee and a peace sign...but notice the reflection in the window...I look like a tourist)

We saddled up the Hum-Vs and headed up to the yet another range where we received our briefing and made plans for the mission. Every person on our Team of 14 had a job. In each of the three vehicles, there was a driver, a TC or truck commander who sat in the front passenger seat, the gunner in the turret and two dismounts.

(Notice the cigarette hangin' out of Sgt. P's mouth...classic)

I was a dismount and along with Jerry, Sgt Plewniak (who was affectionately deemed Sgt. P), and CDR Glover. As dismounts, we were the ground security for CDR Heimer, who was accompanied by his personal security, LCDR Shadley. In the first village, our mission was to facilitate the last of our Leader Engagements in which CDR Heimer and LCDR Shadley met with the village leaders inside a village building. The four dismounts, including myself, proceeded to cordon (secure) the building with our M4s in hand. We each took a corner of the building and maintained site of one another to ensure communication. Meanwhile, the village people (not the musical group) who were all paid actors, roamed around the building trying to walk in back doors and distract us. Some acted mean while others curiously investigated every inch of the surrounding territory. Even in the setting of a pretend scenario, it was quite nerve-racking keeping tabs on all of the villagers.

After the meeting, all 4 dismounts pushed through the crowd to bring CDR Heimer safely to the vehicle. However, while we were occupied with the meeting and internal security, our Hum-V crews (providing outer cordon) were dealing with a rogue vehicle with known enemy affiliations. Unfortunately, the vehicle made it past the outer cordon and in the process, one of our teammates, CDR Foster was shot (make believe). Because I was also the “medic” for the team, I ran to CDR’s aid. But, as I was running to CDR, Jerry and I took on fire from the rogue vehicle (basically, the insurgent was firing at us with a rifle from behind the driver’s door). We both immediately stopped and returned fire, but in real life, I would have been a goner. Lesson learned…don’t forget to keep your head on a swivel. None the less, I made it to the CDR and fixed him up for transport. Eventually, we used what is called a 9-Line Medivac request to call in the Blackhawk medivac helicopters to transport our wounded CDR.

Moving on to the next village, we were informed of hostile intentions within. All the dismounts moved to the village center where we had a task of which I can’t remember. Yet, in the midst of our objective, the crowd turned aggressive. Additionally, in a building across the road, a sniper was firing on us. I was hit and needed medical attention. Since we were all trained in CLS (Combat Life Support), Sgt P tended to me and then to CDR Glover who was also hit. While we were being helped, our gunners in the Hum-Vs targeted the sniper and terminated him. Let’s get the crap out of here…

The final village was also hostile in nature. Dismounting again, we all provided security for CDR Heimer to meet with the village elder. During this scenario though, while walking through the main part of the village, we took on fire from a sniper in a second story window. Strategically, we maneuvered ourselves behind buildings and returned fire. The sniper was captured and brought down from the building and a I reinvented my roll as “Tactical Questioner”. Though, I didn’t get anything out of him…I suck. But, the sniper was identified as an insurgent and taken in for professional questioning. Phew, the course ended there and we returned to base for our “hotwash”. This didn’t go as well due to a suspected case of fratricide, but the 1st Sgt was mistaken and we moved on. End of the day…thank goodness. Being a dismount was not very easy…but it was kind of fun.

(This is what the villages looked like...and no, I don't think that is a piece of crap on the hood...we had just gone through a muddy field...)

Day 65 (Tuesday June 2, 2009)

Are we about done with these?...

In the morning we had Leader Engagement #8 where Andrew was the lead and Jerry was his “henchman”. They did well, but could have used the “Water Specialist”…that was me from a previous leader engagement.

(Andrew and Jerry on the couch with the interpreter)


(Tim...just happy to be here)

(Travis and Josh...shear jubilation)

(I think Jerry is giving me a signal???)

Come afternoon, as a Navy Team, we prepared for the upcoming Capstone Course. I’ll go more into that tomorrow.

Day 64 (Monday June 1, 2009)

...I can't think of a title for this...other than, I ROCK AS A DISMOUNT!!!

This morning we went to one of the many ranges for what was to be known as…Mounted Combat Patrol Live Fire Exercise.

(Morning ride with the back open on the Hum-V...our A/C)

(Just another Hum-V pic)

(It was a georgeous morning...that's looking out the back of the Hum-V)

The range was set up as a course in which our mounted combat patrol proceeded past several checkpoints engaging enemy forces (pop-up targets and automated moving trucks) and even encountered an IED.

(Lining up to go on patrol)

(Mike giving the patented thumbs up sign)

(Jerry ready to roll)

(Dismount...always the last one in)

In a convoy of 3 Hum-Vs, we moved through 3 checkpoints with the gunners in the turrets firing upon the aforementioned targets. At the 4th checkpoint, I was one of 3 persons (the other 2 being CDR Foster and CDR Harbison) to dismount our vehicle, move on foot to a side road and upon an explosion, shoot the pop-up targets. We all fired our weapons from the prone (lying on our stomach) position. Admittedly, I wanted to be sure to shoot all 20 rounds in my M4, so I put the firing mode on “burst” which fired 3 rounds at a time…I burned through my magazine pretty quick. Cool.

Having moved past one more checkpoint where the gunner fired on the enemy behind us, our middle vehicle was hit by an IED (imaginary) and I had to get out of our Hum-V (which was in front of theirs) and hook up the tow strap…easily done in under 10 seconds…I should have gone NASCAR...either that or rodeo.

(Proud dismount)

After we finished with the course, we received our “hotwash” and learned of our good and bad points. Overall, we didn’t do too bad…even for a bunch of medical personnel.

(Our "hotwash" building)

(Steve, Beth, and Dennis...Dennis looks like he's about to mug Beth)

(Travis...he didn't draw that stuff on the board, despite what he tells you)

This evening we had two events to celebrate 1) Andrew's birthday and 2) Josh's promotion to LCDR. And, in predictable fashion, we ended up at Famous Dave's BBQ for some good ol' ribs. Afterwards, dessert...Baskin Robbins...31 flavors of course.

(L to R: Andrew, Rob, Less, Jerry and Travis)