Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Stuff

I had several fears when I learned that I would be going to Iraq with a reserve unit, based mostly upon misconceptions formed when I was on Active Duty. Two of the biggest fears I had were that we would be using old, 1980s style equipment and that the unit wouldn’t know its ass from a hole in the ground. The last two weeks have put these fears soundly to bed.

The first few days here were more of the same - paperwork and medical readiness checks. Luckily, I received most of my vaccinations when I deployed to Afghanistan, so I only needed two shots. By the third day, most of my aforementioned fears were assuaged as I had been through equipment and weapon issue and I was ready to start training with my new team.

The weapons and equipment I was issued are all brand new. Never before have I seen a new weapon in the Active Army, let alone the reserves; yet here I am with an M4 carbine rifle and 9mm Berretta pistol right out of the box! My rifle is mounted with a laser sight/scope, and I was also issued body armor (which weighs about 50 lbs), camelbacks, gloves, fleece caps, etc. etc. Five years ago we wouldn’t have received any of these things, so it’s good that the military has figured out some basic needs of Soldiers in combat.

Once I began training time started flying by. While most days are long and tiring (especially since everywhere I go I am in full body armor with my weapons), the training has been pretty fun and realistic. I am no longer with my friends from Ft Jackson and Ft. Lee - we've all been placed into different "teams" that will be doing different jobs in Iraq. I still talk to my friends though – we just aren’t spending as much time together.

The team to which I am now assigned is from one reserve unit and they all know each other well, so the past week of training I've spent alot of time trying to get know them. We've spent hours in a language lab learning Arabic, driven through roads that simulate being in Iraq (i.e. how to react when attacked), learned new hand-to-hand combat techniques, and received classes on various topics dealing with Iraq. I am definitely glad to have this time because it will prepare me even more for situations I haven’t had to face in over 3 years; however, I still wish we were leaving tomorrow to go to Iraq so I can get home sooner! I will be posting pictures of our training in my pictures link so check that soon. Also, thank you to everyone who is reading this, and thanks to all who have left very supportive feedback!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Wizard of Oz . . .

. . . might have been the best thing to come out of Kansas. No, seriously, I drove through about half of this state, from KC to Manhattan, and might have seen about 4 buildings, all of which were abandoned farmhouses. The only interesting part of the drive was that I was in the back of a stretch limo. The limo ride itself is actually worthy of a post, because I haven’t done much else in the 3 days I've been here.

Life must really hard if I'm taking a limo across Kansas, right? There's actually a good reason we (my 4 friends from Ft. Lee and myself) took the limo. After leaving Ft. Lee at 7:30am and spending most of our day in the airport because of delayed flights, we finally arrived in Kansas City around 3pm. Upon arrival, we were told to contact the shuttle that normally transports Soldiers from KC to Manhattan. The shuttle, however, couldn't pick us up until 7pm that evening, and it would be a 3 hour ride because of its required stops. Being the good Soldiers we are, we decided to arrange for alternate transportation. The only company willing to pick us up within the hour that had prices comparable to the shuttle was a limo company! So of course, we didn’t hesitate to roll across the Kansas countryside in style.

It was actually a pretty interesting ride. No, not because of the scenery, which as I mentioned consisted of a few abandoned farms and a race track; it was interesting because seemingly every car we passed honked their horns and waved frantically at us. A couple of girls even leaned out of their windows and blew us kisses! They must have thought we were celebrities, and clearly not many stretch limos make that drive.

The comedies of the limo didnt stop once we arrived at Ft. Riley. The gate guards also thought our choice of transportation was comical, and foreshadowed our time here when they told us it would be the last nice thing we would have while we were here. Ft. Riley is a very large post and it took us a while to find our building, but we finally did and pulled our stretch limo in front of the Task Force headquarters. I wish I thought of taking a picture, because there were at least a dozen Soldiers who crowded around and gave us high fives for our stylish entrance. I did take a picture of all of us in the limo with our bags though, and it’s posted in my picture link at the right. They too echoed the sentiments of the gate guards, and told us they hoped we enjoyed the limo because there wasn’t much else we'd enjoy while we're here! Wow - what a great introduction to the next two months of my life!

Since the limo ride, we haven’t done much. We all got split up into different companies and buildings and were taken to our rooms. The team I am on has been receptive and made me feel welcome, and the training we have scheduled looks challenging, but I am glad for it because the time will move fast. This week will be more paperwork, vaccinations (the anthrax should be pleasant), and briefings. After that, we will do realistic training that aims to simulate life in Iraq and will allow our team to gain cohesion. Hopefully it moves quick and I will be that much closer to home!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

The land of powerpoint

The last two weeks in Fort Lee have been great, yet depressing. We have nice accommodations, free time, and an overall stress free environment - much different than Ft. Jackson and the Drill sgts. The best part about being here is that I am relatively close to home, so for the last two weekends I have been able to see Rachael and my family. Yet, when I come back to Ft. Lee after a weekend of normality, it’s tougher than ever to get my mind wrapped around this vacation again.

The training here consists of nothing more than classroom instruction. At 8:30am every day we go to class, sit through about 975 PowerPoint slides, and get released around 4pm. So our minds have alot of time to wander - especially my ADD riddled mind. I think it was actually easier at Fort Jackson because when you are physically engaged in tough training, your mind is focused on completing the task at hand. When you are in a warm, comfortable classroom, your mind tends to think about other things - in my case other things are home and the life I had a short time ago.

Ok at this point I'm asking myself - wow, am I really complaining about being in a hotel and seeing my family?? The point is, I wish I was in Iraq already - right now it just seems like we were called up from IRR to sit around and think about being called up from IRR (the bad part of a blog is that I am now documented as saying that, so in 6 months if I am bitching about Iraq it'll look pretty stupid). The point I am trying to make is that I can’t wait to have a more engaging and tough mission to take my mind off being away from my family. My next stop on the IRR tour should provide that, since we will be joining our actual unit and conducting mission specific training for several weeks before Iraq. I probably wont write anymore until I get there, since there is much else to say about the world of powerpoint. Oh yea – if anyone has questions or comments, please post them in the comment section. I’d love to answer any questions/comments that come to mind!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Closer to home

The 1SG was an E-7 in 10th Mountain Division who advised me in Afghanistan. He gave our group everything he could, including use of the company van when we needed it. However, we still were assigned to the run down barracks and had at least one roommate (I had two – my human roommate and the 3 foot cockroach living in my shower). It was Saturday, so at least we had nothing scheduled until Monday morning.
On Monday morning, we went as directed to the Captain’s career course that was currently going on. As expected, no one there really knew we were coming. We filled out some paperwork and went into the classroom, where we met the Major who would be in charge of us while we were at Ft. Lee. As it turned out, he would become our biggest ally. We sat through class while the “Active Duty” Captain’s filled out their paperwork and received their welcome briefs from high ranking officers. During one of these welcome briefs, a “full-bird” Colonel asked how everyone’s accommodations were, expecting to hear all of the Captain’s answer “great!” When I raised my hand and told him how much I enjoyed living in the dirty barracks with cockroaches, his eyes widened and exclaimed that our conditions were unacceptable. It seemed our luck was turning. After that brief, the Colonel made reservations for us at a local hotel and for the last 10 days, I have had a pretty good situation. I have my own room, a TV, and was able to go home for a weekend to see my family. Classes during the day are informative, and I am glad to have them since it’s been a few years from the time I last dealt with most of the subjects. I am excited to go to Fort Riley because it will be one phase closer to deploying and coming home; yet at the same time Ft Lee is a known entity and I am comfortable. Neither matters though, because in a few days I’ll be off to Kansas and beginning the next phase in my wonderful vacation.