Saturday, January 27, 2007


Our transportation from Ft. Jackson, SC to Ft. Lee, VA was a big bus. Since this was an Army trip, we had to wake up at 4:30 am so that we could be ready to leave by 7:30 am. Luckily, there were only 12 of us on the bus, so I was able to sleep for some of the trip.

We got to Ft. Lee a little after noon, and all of us were pretty excited. Ft. Lee was where we did our Officer Basic Course (OBC), which was more-or-less an extension of college. During OBC we stayed in hotel-like accommodations and attended classroom instruction from 8 am – 4pm. So it was natural that we expected similar circumstances. When the bus pulled up to the address we were given and we all piled off the bus, the collective groan let out was probably heard in Philly. We stood in front of run down barracks and were greeted by an otherwise miserable Master Sergeant. So much for staying in a hotel and getting some privacy! Once we signed in and shown our new “rooms”, I started to allow some anger into my emotions. I had prematurely built up going to Ft. Lee and was now being let down, so for the 1st time since putting my uniform back on I consciously allowed some negative emotions to control me. I demanded to speak with the Officer-in-Charge, who (surprisingly!) wasn’t available on a Saturday afternoon. So, the company 1SG came to speak with us. We waited about 5 minutes and the heard the privates inside yell “Company, At Ease”, signifying the 1SG had arrived. I heard his voice and my mouth dropped about 2 feet. The first so-called ghost of my past had just materialized.

The next phase

Past history, and friends who have been called up before me, led me to believe that there were 3 phases of activation before I actually deploy to Iraq. The 1st phase would be in-processing and common Soldier training at Fort Jackson, and would last about 2 weeks. The next phase would be refresher training for our specialty, and would be another 2 weeks at the place we originally had our military specialty training (mine was at Ft. Lee, VA, which is about 20 min. south of Richmond). The 3rd phase would be joining up with our unit and conducting several weeks of training at another major Army installation. My unit would be doing this at Fort Riley, KS.

During our stay at Fort Jackson, we met with a rep from the unit we'll eventually join. He told us that we wouldn’t be going to refresher training; we'd all go directly to Kansas and join the unit. I was pretty upset when I heard this, since going to Richmond would have meant the opportunity to go home for a weekend. A week went by, and the day before we left Ft. Jackson all of us got our orders - to Ft. Lee, VA. Boy do I love the Army!! Just when things cant get any worse they go and do something like this, and totally make up for it! (Ok, there's actually nothing they can do to make up for anything. However, I liked the line from Dumb and Dumber, and that’s sort of how I felt since after 2 weeks of ornery drill sgts I was going to be able to see my family). Next stop: Richmond!

Friday, January 26, 2007

New friends

There are things I really missed about the military. One of the biggest things is the camaraderie that you tend to develop with your co-workers. This proved to be true again at Fort Jackson. In just a short time, a group of about 14 of us became fairly close friends. We are all captains, and we all got out for different reasons. We were from different branches - Logistics, Communications, Infantry, and Armor. Yet, we all ate together everyday; we hung out together at night, and when we had a free night, we went into town and had a good meal and some drinks. After a week, it seemed as if we all were old friends. The hardest part about going to Fort Lee was leaving these guys and girls. Luckily, 6 of us were going to Fort Lee together. Two more will go to separate places and re-join us at Fort Riley, where we are supposedly meeting up with the unit we will go to war with. Not so luckily, the others are going to completely different places, probably ending up in Afghanistan. We exchanged emails and phone numbers, and have kept good contact so far, but we all know it will never be the same. There are bonds formed between people who go through similarly tough situations, and everyone can relate somehow. The bonds you form with your teammates during pre-season conditioning; the bonds you form with co-workers on tough road trips; the bond you feel with your family after someone close to you dies. We all know that the bond will always remain, but it’s never the same as when you are toughing it out together. As a good friend likes to say, such is life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Civilian / Soldier

The 1st 3 days at Fort Jackson epitomized why I originally got out of the Army. The expression "Hurry up and wait" isnt just an Army cliché - it’s the ground truth. We sat around a building, going from room to room filling our paperwork. Finance, medical, ID cards, etc, etc. I have a decent background in process excellence (Six Sigma) from my civilian job, so I started timing each station and after the 1st day, I determined where the bottleneck of the process was. So on day 2, I finished by 11am. Good thing my parents got me PSP for Christmas, because that’s what I had to do from 11am until 5pm. The next day, I was the only person finished all of the paperwork in processing and I got to stay in the barracks instead of getting on a bus at 5am. Sort of nice, but every time I fell asleep a drill sgt came into the barracks and started yelling at me, asking me where I was supposed to be and why wasn’t I there. It amazed me that once I put on my uniform top, they instantly stopped yelling and began using terms like "sir". I think my next blog is going to be a list of reasons I got out of the Army, because that illustrates another reason - two black bars on a uniform should not make that DS respect me, and I should not have to pull that rank in order for him to listen to me. Respect is a two way thing that should be earned regardless of position or rank, and in the Army people often hide behind their rank. Ok, off my soapbox. I'll write about that crap in another post.

After we finished our paperwork, we were transferred to the training department. No more civilian clothes or attitudes - it was back in uniform and back to playing in the mud. Our first day of actual training included classes on military communication systems, basic rifle/marksmanship techniques, and map reading. Over the next 10 days I would fire and qualify on two different weapons (M-16A2 and M-9 Berretta 9mm), do land navigation, practice convoy techniques, and get back into Army Physical Fitness (another reason I got out - it takes 25 minutes to prepare for 15 minutes of exercise!) Looking back on the two weeks there, I am glad for the training we got. Although I hated getting up every morning at 4:30am, sleeping in bunk beds 2 feet from the next bunk, showering in open showers that looked like they haven’t been cleaned since Vietnam, and an otherwise complete lack of privacy - I am grateful for the justification of my original decision to get out. Seriously though, it was beneficial for everyone to re-train on the common Soldier tasks most of us had long forgotten. On Friday of our 2nd week there, we all got orders sending us to the next stop on our IRR activation tour. Next stop for me: Fort lee, VA. The place I did my Officer Basic Course (OBC), where as a LT I stayed in a nice ass hotel and drank like a college kid for 4 months. Surely my accommodations would improve now that I was returning as a Captain. Boy am I excited!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Your in the Army now!

I am fairly certain January 14th was the worst day of my life. Saying goodbye to Rachael and Chester . . . well, it’s a pain I won’t ever forget. Rachael and Chester stayed at home, and I drove to my parent’s house to say goodbye to them. I am glad Rache stayed, because I didn’t want her to see me sob like a bitch the entire way to my parents. I was also nervous about her driving back home since she wasn’t exactly emotionally stable. My parents and siblings were great - we had sandwiches and BS'd, Kevin (my brother-in-law) and my mom fought over dogpoop, and Patrick played PSP - it was a typical day in my house and I loved it. My dad drove me to the airport, hugged me, and I was off.

On the way to the terminal I met a guy who was also an IRR captain going to Ft. Jackson. I was glad to meet someone else, because I had that 1st day in a new school type feeling. After we got to the airport in Columbus, we were greeted by an angry looking man with a smoky bear type round hat (otherwise known as a drill sgt), who kindly told us to get our shit, go outside and get on the buses. It was about a 30 minute bus ride, and we didn’t actually stay on Fort Jackson. It was dark once we got to our little outpost, but I could see the layout - long rows of barracks-style buildings. We signed in to the main building/trailer, received several meaningless briefs that we would get about 4 more times over the next 3 days, and drew our linen. I was assigned to an open barracks building, completely separate from the one guy I knew. I made my bed in the dark, stumbled to the bathroom (which was also open-style), and got into my bed. At least I found a bottom bunk.

That night is why I will classify January 14th as one of my worst days ever. I laid in that bunk under an itchy Army-issue wool blanket, thinking about how that morning I woke up next to my beautiful wife in the most comfortable bed ever with my dog who adored me. Now I was in a sagging, blood-stained mattress with 30 of my closest friends that I never met before and I had 544 more days until I could resume the life I just left. I never felt so alone, or filled with as much despair, as I did that night. Not even in Afghanistan. To make matters worse, there was a steady stream of new arrivals that night, so people were banging lockers and scuffling around my bed until about 2am. I think I finally fell asleep around 3am, so 0430 came pretty quick. I was thankful for the light though. As long as I was up and moving around, I wouldn’t have to lie alone in that bed. I prayed for the strength to accept my circumstances and the maturity to keep a positive attitude, and I started my 1st day back in the Army.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The waiting is the hardest part . . . .

. . . . but I dont think Tom Petty knew just HOW hard it could be! Oddly enough, one of the girls I served with in 10th Mountain also got recalled, so we exchanged some emails and sob stories. It also helped that my best friend had been recalled exactly one year prior, because I had some sense of what was going to happen. After my angry phase was over, I began researching and attempting to contact the unit where I was going to be assigned. They were extremely helpful, and gave me access to a plethora of info about our mission. At this point, I started to become more concerned with what I was going to be doing, as opposed to being concerned with my daily tasks at work. I still put forth a decent effort at work, trying to finish up a couple of projects, but it was hard knowing I wouldnt see their end results. I made it to Christmas and New Years, and was able to take vacation after that, but the days started to drag. I know Rachael was under alot of stress, trying to act as if everything were normal but knowing that in weeks I would be gone. I was glad that Rache would have our families near if she needed them, and I was really glad for our neighbors, who over the last year had become two of our best friends. There wasnt much else I could do to prepare, and administratively I knew everything would get done once I reported to Fort Jackson on January 14th. So we went about our lives as best we could, and I honestly think that the 3 weeks from Christmas to about Jan. 7th were as good as any weeks I've ever had in my life. (Ok, not counting New Years - that's another story for a different time!) The last week was hard, trying to say goodbye to everyone and seeing how much my family cared about me. I always know they care about me, but when I am actually the center of attention and the cause of their sadness, it puts things into a different perspective.. I really wanted to just go and get this deployment over with. After a very blurry and emotional two months, it was time for me to go.