Four months now is how long I’ve been back on
active duty and every time I think the training and disorganization here
can’t get any worse…it does…and to an extent, that despite
the seriousness of our purpose here, it is almost comical. It would take
pages of ink to explain all of the reasons why, so I’ll spare the
details and tell you about a few of the things that have gone right.
With little more than six weeks away from deployment my entire unit –
Alpha Company of the 402nd CA Battalion – is finally on the ground
and we have begun training together. The unit can roughly be divided into
thirds: one-third are people are like me – recalled to duty, another
third are drilling reservists from the actual 402nd battalion and the
final third are a composite group from various other reserve units from
around the country.
While I’ve met my supervisors, peers and subordinates already, there
are still changes being made to the battle-roster. This is being done
to ensure a better balance of skills and experiences across the teams.
During our first full week together the Army brought a few of the officers
we will be replacing in Iraq to Ft. Bragg and we received fairly detailed
briefings on our area of operation. I found these to be very informative
and am grateful someone had the foresight to bring these people here.
One fairly certain thing I took away from these briefs it that things
won’t be dull. Word on the street is we’ll have two weeks
with these guys once we hit the ground in Iraq to transfer responsibilities
and have them show us the ropes.
On a side note, there’s been a short book written by an embedded
journalist about the unit we are replacing titled “Waging Peace”
by Bob Schultheis – one of our briefers is the main character of
this book. [Note: since this message, I've read this book and it's
terrible. It was useful to learn about some of the guys we'll be replacing,
Anther worthwhile investment of training time was the
Pre-Deployment Iraqi Arabic Course which I completed last week. In short,
this was a two week crash course on the local Iraqi language and culture.
Our instructor was a former Iraqi Army officer and secular Shiite, whose
first name “Sabaah” means “morning” in his native
language. Sabaah joined the resistance against Saddam in 1995 and fled
the country in 1997. His perspective and military background were inherently
valuable, but more importantly his passion a secular and democratic Iraq
reinforced my personal inclination to believe we are doing the right thing
Initially, Sabaah was confusing the word “strong” with “power”
and to the class’ amusement, kept referring to me as Captain Power
as opposed to Captain Strong. I didn’t particularly mind, (it does
have a nice superhero ring to it) but after three days I think he figured
out why the entire class was smirking every time he addressed me as such
and promptly changed my name to Kowee which is Arabic for strong. “Knockeeb
Kowee (Captain Strong) would you please read the first word on the board
The amazing thing about this course was that in two weeks he did in fact
have us reading Arabic, a language with letters that to me, at least initially,
looked like little more than modern hieroglyphics. There are 28 letters
in the academic Arabic alphabet – plus three more letters (Paa,
Cha and Gaa) that are used in the Iraqi dialect.
Now when I say “read” I have to qualify that by saying if
you present a sentence to me, provide me unlimited time to spell out the
letters and then sound out the word, I can do it quite well. Much of the
group spent the better half of last week sounding out Arabic words and
perhaps more closely resembling third grade American kids learning English.
However, all in all, my vocabulary must be up around a thousand words
and I have a pretty good understanding of conjugation. I think I know
enough to be able to point and repeat phrases well enough to communicate
on a basic level. And I hear talking louder helps too! Or maybe, I know
just enough to get myself in trouble.
Other training that we’ve completed over the last month has included
Blue Force Tracker (BFT) which is a computer system that tracks the movement
of friendly forces on the battlefield via a global positioning system
(GPS). Most vehicles have a BFT device on them that automatically reports
the position of friendly forces and individual operators can view these
on the computer screen in their Hummer. In addition, observed enemy locations
can be reported to the entire coalition evacuation with the click of a
mouse. The system has fairly detailed maps in both graphical form and
aerial reconnaissance photography which is useful for studying terrain
while planning missions.
We’ve also done a variety of exercises in a simulator called the
Engagement Skills Trainer which is sort of multi-million dollar 3D video
game which, among other things, provides visual feedback on the accuracy
of shooting. M4 rifles are modified with lasers and compressed air that
simulate the recoil of a weapon. When shooters fire these weapons at the
giant movie screen the computer registers hits but also charts the movement
of the barrel before the trigger is pulled – this way shooters can
see how their breathing or trigger pull affect the accuracy of their shots
when the exercise has ended.
Speaking of shots, my shoulders could be mistaken for pin cushions. Anthrax,
Small Pox if there’s a vaccine available, I’m pretty sure
I’ve had it. Even as a child, I don’t believe I ever had the
small pox vaccine and as a consequence had quite a severe reaction to
the extent that I made a panicked phone call to my sister, an experienced
Air Force nurse, to ask if I should go to the hospital. After I sent her
photos of swollen lymph-nodes via my camera-phone, she concluded that
I had every symptom medically possible which pointed to the fact that
it was a “successful vaccination.” In other words, I’m
a big wimp and should suck it up and drive on.
One foot after the other.