Monday, June 29, 2009

Farewell to Funston

This will be my last post from the USA until my return. Our training area, Camp Funston, is a veritable ghost town, as several of the subsequent classes were downscaled and the training mission is moving from Fort Riley to Fort Polk LA.

Packing is always a chore when you are travelling. It is even more of a chore with all the stuff we are to take with us. It is similiar to the challenge I face daily back in clinic, when patients have a gallons worth of concerning medical issues and I only have a quarts worth of time. Which bag to put the body armor in, where and how many M-4 magazines in a bag? All the usual quandries. Well despite the fact that I have a large medical Blackhawk bag I was able to fit my stuff in the alloted quota. I am taking an astonishing 4 seabags, a rucksack, a day pack, and a gun case.
Contrast this incredible amount of gear to my gear allowance during Desert Sheild/Storm which was 1 Seabag and 1 pack. Wow.
The hills and plains look especially green today. Ours is a country blessed by God with abundant resources and water. It will be cold and bare by the time of my expected return.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I bid a farewell until next year to my dear family today. It is a sad occasion since I feel like I will miss so much of their lives during this time. From experience I can tell you that absence does make the heart grow fonder however.

Airplanes. My dear Tricia doesn't like to fly at all, so of course the kids don't care for it as well. We take lots of trains, drive or boats when possible. I have logged a lot of flights in the past few months. To get from home to Port Hueneme to Ft Riley, back and forth to home two times and leaving today adds up to a lot of flights. By the end of today I will have taken off and landed 16 times on this journey so far. I have flown on almost all of the major carriers so far. I estimate it will take 5 to 6 to get me to my ultimate duty station in Afghanistan. Who knows how many it will take to get back?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Time with My Family

In Afghanistan your family is one if not the most important thing in your life. I dare say it is one thing the Afghan culture and I share.

Thankfully I am guessing due to the influx of soldiers and Marines inbound to Afghanistan, our departure date got pushed back a bit, allowing me to spend more time with my family. We took the opportunity to spend more up close family time while on vacation. In the past we have taken train vacations, but this time we decided to take a short cruise to the Bahamas. There was plenty of up close time as the four of us stayed in a room smaller than any bedroom in our house for four days. It was lots of fun. While we did not make it to any of the late shows, we did go on excursions to snorkel at both ports. The kids did very well on both and had a great time rediscovering the magic of the ocean. My son,Graham, even took some pictures. I just always enjoy getting in the water, but it was even more fun for me to observe Hannah and Graham enjoying the ocean as much as I do.

Only a few days left and then I will have to make due with emails and phone calls to my favorite people until next year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the Road with the Family to Discover the Greatness of the USA

The Family and I went to do something I have not done for over 25 years or so. We went to visit the Kennedy Space Center.
My son, Graham, is 10 years old and very interested in Science- albeit the type that blows things up. I soon found that while Kennedy is a bit touristy in regards to shameless merchandise, it was educational for the whole family. I consider myself a fairly informed person when it comes to history, but I learned a great deal as well.
While all the technical data and facts were stimulating, the most striking thing was the slant that the Center has on the whole space race, in retrospect. The gist of the commentary was that we as Americans only entered the space race in order to keep up with the Soviets- who launched Sputnik. We did not do very well at first if you look closely at our projects of that time. Our only motivation at that time was fear of a Nuclear Soviet Union and what their dominion of space would mean for us.
It is still very moving to hear the words of President Kennedy as he challenged our United States not only to succeed in the short term but to actually safely put a man on the moon and return him to Earth. This is history to us, but was shockingly bold in a time when math was done by slide rulers and circuits had large vaccuum tubes and big transistors. Despite all the odds we achieved this goal not once but six times! All of this reaffirmed in me that there is nothing that our Great Country with the Support of the Almighty cannot do. I pray that our present leaders can challenge the American people in such an all encompassing and constructive manner.
For those of us who remember the two fatal space shuttle incidents, it was also eye opening to see the records of the over 100 successful missions these revolutionary craft have flown. We actually got to see the Endeavor on pad 39A ready to go on another mission. Godspeed to Americas Great Heroes of space and the many Americans who work to support them every day.

Space Shuttle Launch Schedule - Kennedy Space Center

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CAPSTONE Finale and the End of Training

CAPSTONE is the final exercise in the training here at Ft Riley. It is meant as a final verification of all the things we have learned here. It was technically a 2 day event, but one day was spent in preparation and one on execution of the plan. The key leaders of our team nominated me to continue as tactical commander for this last exercise. We had to meet up with our 'ANA' counterparts, meet them and plan through an interpreter to visit at least 2 villages in order to meet with the elders, police, and mayors of each of these cities. The standard warning order and then Op Order were given the day prior. We left at 0630 after our Pre Combat checks and inspections. My truck commanders came with me to meet the 'ANA' Colonel. I had just time to give frag (fragmentary) orders to modify our plan and how we were to assist the ASA by providing external security of each area.
It was a hectic morning. In the first village I met with 9 leaders of the various surrounding villages in Dari and the obligatory chai. Luckily my interpreter was very good and she could keep up with the conversation. I could pull a little dari out of the conversation myself: Hospitals, schools, taliban, Americans. In short order there was an unruly crowd of 20 agressive locals outside the meeting place; shots were fired. My battle buddy was in the meeting with me. (the URF) was monitoring the radio while I was deflecting most questions to my 'ANA' counterpart as the authority who can address their issues. Soon the 'ANA' Col. said it was time to go right as many more shots rang out. A vehicle born IED had driven up past a checkpoint and my troops had taken care of it with one of our men simulated as injured. He had first aid and we booked out of town as I called a MEDEVAC. We had a good ole time on the roads in our HMMWV's since they were very muddy. In the second village there was to be a death gratuity payment. The father, however, would not accept the money and another ruckus started in the courtyard outside. This time a bomb simulated hitting our medic. The crowd of 20-30 people went berserk. We had just adjourned the meeting with the father and village elder as I walked outside. One of our Army soldiers was tending to the wounded medic. As he reached across to secure the medics weapon he hit the trigger and it went off- pointed right at my right leg. This was personally an eye opener for me. Luckily it was a blank and the rifle had a blank firing adaptor. Another MEDEVAC request and another pickup outside of town. The ANA Col. and I had a last regrouping meeting on the road. He had intel on an Al Qaeda operative in a nearby village and was moving to apprehend him at another village. We expected even more resistance in this last village, but the operation went pretty well. We got the bad guy, none of my team got hurt- although it appeared one of the troops did point a weapon in the direction of one of the ANA. On further review by the referees this was at the request of the 'ANA' play actors- just trying to get us in trouble. The day was finished with an IED hit, with a hasty recovery to tow the vehicle, while one of the truck commanders called in the 9 line IED.
Overall it was very overwhelming and therefore realistic. I learned a lot and I think overall it was a final confidence builder for the team.
Today was the final day of training. Our final ceremony, complete with a rousing acapello chorus of Anchors Aweigh, is over and we leave for a quick stop to our homes late tonight.
I believe the training has prepared us as much as can be expected. My sincere hope is that I will not need to use all of it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mounted Combat Patrol Live Fire

A Mounted Combat Patrol is a group of armed vehicles. We have been doing mock MCP's since our arrival here, but today we actually fired the machine guns on the trucks while patrolling.

Usually I drive or serve as one of the dismount riders in the back of the truck. Today I was the Patrol Leader for this exercise. We ran the course one time with blank ammunition, then we did it with live ammunition. Basically I talked a lot on the radios. We drove a course of 6 checkpoints and engaged pop up targets with the machine guns and at one point with our dismounts during this exercise. We had to call all checkpoints, give contact and situation reports on the enemy. Later we suffered a simulated casualty so I had to call the 9 line MEDEVAC request. Last we had a simulated IED strike and had to perform a hasty recovery (tow one vehicle with another) Not much time for photos today since I had one radio set in each ear, but I was glad to see the team communicate well, cooperate and accomplish the mission well. Our gunners did a good job hitting the targets. The Observing safety NCOs on the range gave us good marks for our efforts. It was especially good that there were no safety issues. A good day of training.