Update 12-3-05

South Carolina's sunshine has been traded in for the North Carolina's gray. Welcome to Ft. Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne and the JFK special warfare center. Needless to say, there's enough testosterone on this installation to frighten the Dallas Cowboys.

The typical training day starts about 5:30 with a leisurely jog around post and some calisthenics. Occasionally we do combatives which amounts to an endurance building hour-long session of choke holds, wrist locks and arm bars. By 8:00 in the morning we've hit the classroom for four hours of MS PowerPoint Purgatory where we receive enlightening lectures on topics ranging from the USAIDs efforts to rebuild Iraq to the doctrine and task organization of civil military operations.

Afternoons are frequently dedicated to practical exercises involving planning missions, briefing operations and other relevant tasks. Evenings usually involve another self-motivated physical training session generally weight training and a run and often research projects of some sort dedicated to researching cultural or political studies of potential future areas of operation. Small groups prepare these briefings and present findings to our peers the following day. We'll have tomorrow (Sunday) off -- and also next Sunday -- and then we hit about a 10 day field problem, which is a giant role play complete with paid actors posing as Iraqi civilians and insurgents. Bring it on.

The food is, well, Army food. It's good for weight loss via appetite reduction. The lodging? WWII era barracks and open bay rack style set up with four showers, four urinals, six toilets, eight sinks and 50 soldiers of the rank of captain, major and even a lieutenant colonel. So much for the privilege of rank. An officer and a gentleman, eh?

Internet access is hard to come by, so if I'm slow to respond to e-mails, you'll know why. When I'm done with this tour, I'm going to submit a Starbucks franchise proposal to the base commander --there is a goldmine to be made in wi-fi access around here!

I've tried to take things in stride. My goals are simple: save some money, get it top shape and learn something. To that end finished a book on Islam, memorized 73 words or phrases in Arabic and can even count to 1,000 (look Ma, no hands!) Most of the phrases I know are commands or questions such as "drop your weapon" (dhib is la hak), "hands up" (irfaa eidayk) and "who is in charge" (minu almas uul). Memorizing the first 10 phrases was extremely difficult for me, but they seem to be coming much faster now. In addition, we've got a little software program to help with pronunciation (rest assured that Managed Objects' laptop is being used productively)!

Most of my peers all have a story similar to mine in terms of being recalled. My closest pals include a firefighter from Austin, an MBA student from UNC Chapel Hill, an air marshal from NYC and a county cop from Montgomery County and a manufacturing sales rep from Philadelphia. The kid from UNC already spent a year in Iraq as an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne in Mosul. He had just begun his first semester when he got his orders.

There isn't any real solid new information on my deployment timeline or unit assignment. As I mentioned in my last note, this civil affairs mission is something of a new experiment for the Army, and we are building the plane as we flying says the brigade colonel. Rumor has it that we'll head out in March or April, which seems like an eternity to me now, but there's never any certainly. I'll have to stay content by remaining rigidly flexible.

This current program of instruction ends on 12/22 and in January I'll pick up a three week course I'll attend which will comprise mainly of shooting, convoy training and battle drills. Upon completing that, as far as I know, I'll be assigned to a team, begin training with a maneuver unit and await movement orders.

We did do some shooting at Ft. Jackson but am grateful for any additional opportunity to practice marksmanship. I'm also thrilled to report that I've kept my good aim, qualifying expert at Ft. Jackson with the M16, knocking down 38 of 40 targets which "pop up" for 3 - 9 seconds at ranges from 150 to 300 meters away; I missed expert by one shot with the 9 mm pistol nailing just 35 for 40 but adamantly contend one of my magazines was short one round.

I also have some good photos from Ft. Jackson which I'll try to send at some point - most are from the gas chamber where much to my chagrin, my gas mask's filter malfunctioned and I inhaled an immobilizing dose of CS riot control gas. The effects of the gas are like a terrible hangover from cheap champagne. The remedy is pouring a canteen of water over your eyes, obtaining a new filter and another opportunity to practice putting on the mask inside the chamber. Eat your heart out al-Qaida, I'm an expert on inspecting and conducting preventative maintenance for gas masks now.

Well, I'll finish up with a bit of good news: I'll have some time off soon. As I mentioned, the course I am currently enrolled will end on 12/22 and I expect to be home for the 23rd and staying through January 2nd. Christmas and New Years off. Can't ask for much more than that.