Take the Initiative; Update 1-26-06

One thing I learned long ago about the military – things don’t always go as planned.

The level of disorganization with regard to the training environment here is quite astonishing. One would think, that since my group is the third string going to relieve troops in Iraq, that they’d be running a tight ship down here. Instead its been plagued by a number of factors including jurisdictional fights at higher levels of command and a system that seems to be under staffed and under resourced. I suspect things will only get worse…we are a mere class of 50 soldiers and word on the street is they are getting ready to pump 1,000 people through this place in the next couple of months.

Since we arrived back after Christmas leave, there hasn’t been any training planned for us. What’s more there won’t be until on or about the end of February when my unit arrives here for deployment training. Back on January 3rd there was two ways to look at this situation: bitch and be miserable for 60 days or take some initiative and make something happen. We’re here. We’re going to be here until April. And the only road home is through Iraq…so it’s best to use this time effectively to prepare us for that road.

This class of officers that I’m with chose the latter and so we fanned out across Ft. Bragg to beg, borrow and steal training resources. We’re all officers and have experience training units on several different levels. When we got going, funny things began to happen – surrounding units saw us putting forth effort and were willing to lend a hand. We’ve been remarkably successful at putting together a decent package over the last 30 days or so. Here are a few things we’ve been able to put together:

  • A troop from the 82nd Airborne was preparing a weapons train-up (EIB) for a group of young soldiers. We were able to straphang on some of those classes and become re-familiarized with many of the standard small arms weapons.
  • One colleague sweet-talked a crusty old motor pool sergeant into providing a few days of vehicle training to earn licenses on several vehicles including the HMMWV and LMTV which replaces the 5-ton troop carrier.
  • We managed to get a few guys to teach us about the new radios which are pretty sophisticated devices that can talk to everything from a SINGARS (the old radios I’m familiar with) to satellite phones. All US radios operate on frequency hopping mechanism – two or more radios skip frequencies, at random, but simultaneously, which enables them to share radio traffic, but is nearly impossible to jam or eavesdrop.
  • We acquired HMMWVs, borrowed paintball guns and practiced convoy operations – which is clearly a critical task in Iraq. We did some very important training here including reacting to ambushes, IEDs and snipers. We also did dead driver drills. Essentially, you the driver goes limp as if he were shot. The passenger side (front), leans over locks the throttle down with a throttle lock and grabs the wheel. The two soldiers in the back seat, driver side pull the “dead” driver out of his seat and the soldier riding back seat-passenger side, climbs over the seat into the drivers seat – all while maintaining our course and speed.

We managed to set up a “Combat Lifesaver Course” – or CLS – which is first aid training somewhere in between the level of proficiency a first-aid certified responder and a fully trained medic. One key aspect: learning to start IV fluids. We spent the better half of a day practicing on each other – photos will be posted to a Web site listed below soon. It wasn’t all pretty!

We’ve tapped own internal expertise – the firefighters among us have provided classes on first aid while the air marshal and other cop-types have provide pistol marksmanship training. We’ve also developed more traditional classes fundamental to being a soldier such as land navigation, troop leading procedures and operations orders.

We’ve worked to enhance our understanding of the culture and through an SF chaplain and have lined up a field trip of sorts to a local mosque – something that would never be tolerated in the Middle East.

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Duty assignment. There’s also been progress on my duty assignment. My unit, Alpha Company of the 402nd CA Battalion arrives here at Bragg on February 28th. We’ll conduct a final piece of training in March and April and then deploy at the end of April.

A day in the life. Life, has well, generally improved. At Christmas I realized I’d be here for 4 or 5 months and thought it best to bring my Jeep down here. Having a set of wheels has made a world of difference. The simple luxury of being able to go to the store for a Gatorade or coffee is underrated! In addition, I’ve invested in a wireless card to provide Internet access for news, e-mail and the like.

The weather has been unseasonably mild down here with temperatures consistently hitting the 60s and even dipping into the 70s. The last few days, however, we’ve suffered a cold snap with temps dipping into the 50s.

Studying up is still a big priority in my personal time – self study on Arabic and pouring over books and articles about the country and the conflict in which we are engaged.

Pictures. I’ve also got some pictures…not many, because Ft. Bragg just isn’t photogenic. Quite frankly, I think the place is a dump, and Iraq will be much more interesting. However, there’s a few up there and I’ve got more I need to pass along to the Webmaster. Special thanks to my old college pal Andy Mahoney for being master of the Web and sizing all the photos. Web site: http://amahoney.com/Frank.htm