Thursday, October 29, 2009

Under Pressure

Just a little OBE right now.
As anyone who has been in the Army more than one day knows, we have a variety of creative and memorable ways to let people know that we are busy. Not just busy, but overwhelmed, “have more tasks than can be humanly accomplished”, busy. Mine has always been that “I’m a bit OBE right now”. I’ve said that before in my previous civilian jobs and got the deer in the headlights expression from people who have no idea what I’m talking about. Of course, OBE stands for “Overcome By Events” and is a good way to let people know that either there is too much going on or the mission failed because, well, it was overcome by events.
Other colorful expressions are “up to my elbows in alligators”, “I’m in the weeds” and “my eyeballs are bleeding”. There are probably as many idioms as there are Soldiers who are busy.
Although I’m not there with them, I can probably guess what the 366th MPAD from Wichita, Kansas, is experiencing right now: they are up to their elbows in alligators. The 366th is the unit that is scheduled to replace us in early December. We’ve been tracking their progress through pre-mobilization for several months now and I am now proud to report that they have arrived safe and sound at their mobilization station, Ft. Dix, New Jersey. Anyone who has been tracking our progress through this deployment recognizes Dix as the mob station that we went through last January. It’s the final stop before the long plane ride to Kuwait and then into Baghdad. You might remember some of our trials and tribulations: medical examinations; more paperwork than there are trees in Jersey; more training; and of course, that glorious 4-day pass (I went to New York City, remember?).
But I also remember the first week and how much work it was for the command team, i.e. myself, my XO, and my 1SG. We had checklists and memorandums and multiple meetings (that always seemed to be scheduled at the same time). We were supposed to not only be in 3 places at one time but weren’t given the luxury of a vehicle to get us there. I remember walking to some of the required appointments…in 20 degree weather in the snow. I also remember the long days for the 3 Soldiers who had to make up the training that they missed at RTC the previous October (go read those blogs too).
But what I remember the most about that month spent at Dix in January was how the unit finally came together and worked as a whole, preparing for war. Although we’d been training together for almost 4 months, none of that brought us together as a unit like the time spent at Ft. Dix. Perhaps because we realized it was finally “real”. Ft. Dix was the end of the training…the next time we were out in a convoy it wouldn’t be through the fake village on the outskirts of Dix but instead the mean streets of Baghdad. The next time that we put on our “battle rattle” it would be to protect us from real bombs and bullets, not blanks and smoke grenades.
And that’s where the 366th is right now. Dealing with the realization that the end of training is near and that real life in a war zone is about to begin. But don’t worry, the 211th is a fine group of battle-weary veterans who have been shot at, blown up, run through the ringer, mistreated, misaligned and generally worn out. We’ve had our vehicle stolen, our laptops confiscated, our convoys/flights cancelled and our building almost hit by a mortar. We’re done. But we’ll be waiting for you guys at BIAP with a truck and a smile. We’ll ensure you are fully prepared to face anything that the mission can throw at you. So, get ready…here it comes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sunday in the Park with George

As our days here in Iraq start to dwindle I’ve been spending some time reflecting on our work schedule during our time running the Media Operations Center. It’s been a vicious cycle of steady work interspersed with bouts of sheer madness and sessions of inescapable boredom. This is definitely a theater of operations on its way out the door…but that’s a good thing.
My job here has been relatively steady…as the commander EVERYTHING this unit does is my responsibility, which is why I was careful a year ago to ensure that I had officers and senior NCOs who could do their job.
So, what’s a typical week like for me? Here goes…
Monday: This is the day where I tackle all of the things that I, uh, postponed over the weekend. Time to read through the emails sent over the weekend, tasking us to do this or that, catch up on other emails, and generally get caught up on paperwork. I have one meeting at 1700 (5 p.m. for you non-military types) at the DSTB. This is the first meeting of the week and all of the battalion’s commanders and first sergeants get together and discuss their last “24 hours” and their “next 24-48 hours”. We keep it simple and quick because that’s just too close to dinner time to be yapping about stuff that you can talk about “off line” or at a different time. I also make sure out that three reports that are due every day go out: the personnel status report, the “green” report, and the SITREP (situation report), which lists all of the products my journalists are either working on, have submitted, or have been released.
Tuesday: A day full of catch-up and the time we try to schedule appointments, etc. No meetings on this day, but it is the day the DFAC (dining facility) has quiche for breakfast. They do good quiche here. I do spend this and every other day reading the over 100 emails that I tend to get. Most of them are summaries of media articles regarding Iraq. I breeze through them, skimming the titles to see if it’s something that catches my eye. I also spend free time daily reading various on-line news sites (CNN, Fox, Drudge Report, Slate, BBC, and many others).
Wednesday: My first meeting is at 0900 but thankfully it’s a briefing FOR commanders, not by commanders. So, we sit and listen to information regarding incidents around MND-B, personnel updates, redeployment status, anything that the battalion commander deems necessary for us to know. I usually get back to the MOC in time to head out for lunch. Wednesday is fried rice day at the DFAC for lunch. My XO has a meeting at the DSTB at 1330 and then at 1700 we head over to the 1st Cav Public Affairs office for our PAO “Huddle” (which we now combine into just plain “puddle”) to discuss any issues we might have. Then it’s off to dinner.
Thursday: Thursday is another quiche day in the DFAC for breakfast. If Tuesday’s quiche is mushroom, then Thursday’s is broccoli. But never the same on both days! It’s an open day, like Tuesday, meaning no meetings. Lunchtime is the infamous “Taco Thursday” (see previous post regarding the calendar). Only lately we’ve given up on tacos and head to Burger King instead. Perhaps we should call it “Burger King Thursday”. But then I’d have to print a new calendar. The Division CUA slide is due today…won’t bore you with the details, but it lists all of the main events we’ve done the previous 7 days and the ones planned for the next 7 days.
Friday: Ahhh, Friday. The weekend is fast approaching! Just think…two more working days until Monday! J Training schedules are due, as is the Breeze Slide (explanation on Saturday).
Saturday: All of the PAOs in MND-B get “together” once a week via computer link-up to discuss issues, events, etc. in the weekly Breeze. No video, just audio and some PowerPoint slides that we can all look at. Usually this lasts a half hour and then after that…it’s more paperwork and finishing up the day. Oh, and Saturday night is the night I put my earrings in before I go to bed, so the holes in my earlobes don’t close up.
In between all of this fun, I answer personal emails, go to the gym or the track at least 4 times a week, turn in laundry, go to the PX to see if there is anything new or just sit quietly and read a book. But my favorite day is, of course:
Sunday: This, for the most part, is almost like a real Sunday back in the States. (Well, I tell myself that, anyway). It’s the one morning where I don’t set my alarm clock although I’m usually up by 0800. I start getting hungry after that! Breakfast is usually a big one…things I don’t normally eat: bacon, biscuits and Gravy, Pepsi. The morning at work drags on. It’s the day that I move up our large wall calendar one week. That has been my Sunday morning ritual since we began. On this calendar we mark our meetings, milestones, suspenses, products (green for print, red for broadcast). Anything that we need to remember and act upon. I head to lunch usually around 1300 and for me…that’s the end of the day. We try to take ½ day off around here and Sunday is my day. I get lunch to go and head to my CHU. I get to put on my physical training uniform (although I sometimes put on a pink shirt, but have to change into the Army Tshirt if I go outside) and enjoy not wearing combat boots. I usually clean my room…sweep and Swiffer the floor, and then relax with some DVDs. I can watch multiple episodes of a TV show to pass the day. Occasionally I go get some dinner (fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potatoes) but most of the time I have a pop-tart and Diet Coke and be done with going outside until Monday morning. It’s a great day to relax and recharge and pretend like I’m back in civilization, even if it’s only for a few hours. And, it helps to know I really only have about 4 more Sundays to do this, before we move into the transient tents and then it’s time to GO HOME. Yay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary,, 211th MPAD

Well, five days ago, anyways.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since the 211th gathered in Bryan, Texas on October 10, 2008, to begin this odyssey that has been our deployment to Baghdad.
For some of us, the work began over the summer, with conferences to attend, training to plan, equipment to be ordered, and contracts to be moved through the system. It took a lot of hard work on the part of a handful of people to ensure that when our Soldiers arrived on “hit day” everything was in place so that Soldiers could focus solely on the looming pre-mobilization training.
Slowly we worked through the summer and early fall, working towards the date of 10 October. When it arrived, we were ready. Our battle roster was full and we were ready to head to Ft. Dix a week later for 21 days of RTC. Since I supervised or did most of the paperwork prior to “hit day”, I knew a lot about our inbound Soldiers…and I hadn’t even met them yet! I had talked to all of them on the phone at least once and had passed multiple e-mails back and forth, giving them tips, ideas, and packing lists.
Then the day arrived. There were multiple trips out to the small airport that serves Bryan/College Station. We picked up inbound Soldiers and took them to their home for the next 2 ½ months…the EZ Rest Hotel (or the EZ SleazY as it was nicknamed). Many of them partook of their first Army-supplied meal at Golden Corral Steakhouse. For some, that was also their last!
We’ve been through a lot in the last year, the mighty fightin’ 211th MPAD. We’ve had Soldiers drop off of our battle roster for various reasons, but we managed to pick up a few as well. We survived Ft. Dix, New Jersey not once, but twice, battling cold, snow, and frozen toes. We arrived in Baghdad after a lengthy trip with many duffel bag drags already a little worse for the wear.
In the past year we have:
-Celebrated everyone’s birthday with cake (or at least Twinkies with candles stuck in them), silly string, and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
-Welcomed a new baby! Congratulations again to the Martinez family.
-Gone on R & R all over the world and then faced the grim reality of “I’m back here?” upon return.
-Squabbled, made up, fought some more, made up, scratched and kicked, made up. In the Army, no matter how hard you fight with someone you always make up because the guy you’re arguing with tonight could save your life tomorrow.
-Saw four of our own receive Combat Action Badges and one of those Soldiers receive a purple heart.
-Learned a lot of hard lessons about the world of A/C Public Affairs and learned to just “let it go”.
-Ate a lot of pizza and watched a lot of movies.
-Admired that beauty that is Army Dining Facility Food, especially chicken and Mexican food.
-Learned to find the humor in EVERYTHING. Even where none lurks.
-Grown up, matured, and realized that life outside of the US isn’t always nice.
But, alas, although we have marked off one year, it’s not over yet. We have just under 60 days before we depart Iraq and once again brave the wilds of Ft. Dix. We have mountains of paperwork to complete, not including the documents I’m not even aware of yet! And we can’t let our guard down. Complacency is what gets Soldiers hurt…we have to stay focused on the endgame but not so focused that we have tunnel vision and don’t see the dangers lurking all around us.
Hang in there, guys.