Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why It's Different This Time

24 down, 300-something to go. Acclimated to the Texas heat and humidity, and actually enjoying the break from the Massachusetts winter, thank you very much.

So my Internet access is sort of spotty, and my time is sort of limited. Blog productivity is down a bit lately and may stay down for the next month or so. When I do post, I am generally going to focus on "snapshots" -- either actual pictures or quick stories that give little vignettes into the ongoings of a National Guard unit getting ready to do peacekeeping, or security providing, or full-spectrum operations, or whatever else someone might want to call it. It's not necessarily going to be anything philosophical or thoughtful, so please don't read into it too much (the tone may swing from frustrated to ecstatic to overtired and back again all within a week's worth of entries).

That said, one thing worth reflecting on, now that I've been down here for just over a week that feels like just over a month, is how different this deployment is from my other trips overseas.

The most major difference here is that when I was in the Navy, I did spend 15 months in Iraq, but they were in an explicitly *support* position. Now, while I'm admittedly going to be quite a ways away from the riflemen down in Khost or Kunar, both literally and figuratively, I'm still at the end of the day a soldier in the war zone who may be tasked with any of a myriad number of potential tasks, and who must be trained in several core competencies.

That makes this go-around totally different from the times before.

While I undoubtedly did some pretty neat stuff over there, most of what I did was constrained by the confines of a large Forward Operating Base. Even when I left the FOB, I was literally surrounded by Marines or SOF operators who were the "rough men ready to commit violence" that George Orwell credits with our sound sleep at night. Only now do I realize how woefully underprepared I had been if the fit really had hit the shan. Would I have been able to perform immediate actions on my rifle it didn't fire right away? No. Now, I can knock out a functions check in my sleep and can field strip the thing in under a minute when it needs cleaning.

And as much as it frustrates me that regulations don't allow inter-service transfers to wear the "been there" patch, and the way that some people don't seem to take the idea that sailors might actually be risking their lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan seriously, I have to concede that they're *sort of* on to something.

I never had to drive HMMWVs or ride in deuce-and-a-halfs before. I never had to maintain my personal weapons for inspections. I never had to practice an escape from an upside down MRAP in a simulator at Fort Hood while three Staff Sergeants grilled me for risking my guys' lives by not pulling security in the right position. I had a much narrower lane, and all I really had to do was stay in it. It was still meaningful, and important -- in some ways, moreso than whatever the people who roll their eyes at me when I mention Iraq may have done -- but I can see why, in the eyes of some soldiers, that it doesn't really *count.*

There are still some tough growing pains with the adjustment to the Army, like when I reached "Winchester" on my rifle qual with half the targets still yet to pop up, because I didn't realize I had only 40 rounds to shoot at 40 targets (I had been taking second and third shots at pop-ups that I missed). Wearing the gear properly is still challenging at times, and it still causes confusion among Privates and Specialists who wonder why "that Captain" has all kinds of loose straps dangling off of his body armor.

I think that'll settle out when we get "over there," and the confidence I've gotten from having been to the rodeo a few times before will pay off in a major way. Knowing what I know about Kabul, having an Officer on staff who understands Afghan culture and can carry on a 15-minute conversation in Dari is infinitely more valuable than a comparable soldier who doesn't understand the operating environment but can put steel on 40 consecutive pop-up targets on a range.

I'm feeling readier and readier for that C-17 ride all the time.


Nicholas said...

I love hearing about the differences between your experiences 'over there'.
Besides the Army vs. Navy and Afghanistan 2011/12 vs. Iraq '05-08 comparisons, I wonder about how it's different, this time around, as a married fella who's a little bit older and starting a family.

Keep up the good work, and may your wi-fi access persist! I'm biased, but yours is my favorite blog!

KMM said...

dangling garments...I knew you should have taken Eleni's fashion class. LOL
Miss you. KMM

C R Krieger said...

An MRAP Trainer for evacuation training, sort of like the Dilbert Dunker the Navy has.  How neat!

Keep safe.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  And my "Word Verification" for this comment is secterin, which makes me think of sectarian violence.  Be watchful.