Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Fights This War--Trading a Guitar for a Gun


The following story got published in our division newsletter and on their web site and by the end of the day yesterday was on the web site of the Department of Defense and was highlighted on the Secretary of Defense news page.
Nick was one of the guys who went through the Live Fire Shoot House when I did.

Seven years ago, then 18-year-old Nicholas Raia of Altoona, Pa., brought his trumpet to an audition for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard band. He aced the audition and until last summer was member of several performance groups within the band. Over those seven years he performed more and more with the band and ensembles playing the guitar for recruiting events and celebrations. For more formal military ceremonies he now plays the baritone—a small tuba.
After seven years in the band, Raia, now a sergeant, decided to take a year away from performing and volunteer for a combat tour. Since mobilization in January, Raia has served as a door gunner on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment.
“I felt that after 7 years in the Guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” said Raia.
To get ready for the transition from full-time student and weekend band member, Raia volunteered for additional training in weapons. In June 2008, Raia attended the Small Arms Master Gunner course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. To prepare for hand-to-hand combat he completed the week-long Level One Combatives Course in July. At the end of September, he was one of 10 Soldiers in the first class trained in the new Live-Fire Shoot House also at Fort Indiantown Gap.
His transition from band member and college student to door gunner had difficulties training could not help.
“It was a decision that I struggled with for a while,” Raia said. “It’s one thing to tell your loved ones you are being ordered to leave and a totally different animal entirely when you are trying to explain to them that you are voluntarily leaving.”
Over the years he was in the band, Raia came to believe he should deploy with a combat unit.
“Our job (in the band) is unique in that we are in the public eye often, and we often get thanked for our service by people in our audiences,” Raia said. “I would find myself conflicted, because while it is true that we, as a unit, were serving our country in the way in which we were meant to serve, I also felt as if I should be doing more.”
Raia had several friends in the Guard who deployed overseas at least once in their careers. He said he felt those were the Soldiers who truly deserved to be thanked.
“I felt that after seven years in the guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” he said.
His final decision to deploy was met with mixed emotions.
“My unit could not have been more supportive of my decision,” Raia recalled. “They helped me get everything on the military side of the house in order prior to my deployment and have made it a point to ensure it would not affect me negatively upon my return.”
His friends, on the other hand, were confused by Raia’s decision.
“Many of my friends are not in the military and I think that makes a big difference,” he said. “People in the military think a little differently than those who are not and most of the Soldiers in the military today could probably easily understand the feeling of responsibility that compelled me to deploy.”
“My family worried about me and they were not real thrilled that I would volunteer to leave them for a year to go to a combat zone. Raia continued. “My family has been super supportive of my decision. Any previous uncertainty or worries has given way to pride in what I am doing.”
Before deployment, Raia completed all the requirements for a bachelor’s degree at Penn State with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology. He plans to bring together all of his training, experience and education by becoming a police officer after deployment—except on National Guard weekends when he will be back on stage or in formation at ceremonies in the 28th Infantry Division Band.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Camp Garry Owen Flight Pictures






Before we even took off, the weather was getting bad.



Just north is a river--and trees!!!








Camp Garry Owen












The poop oven--note the screws in the toilet seat--not very comfortable.


















This tent is Home Sweet Home for a dozen soldiers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flying to Camp Garry Owen

Today I had a fast round trip to one of the bases near the Iranian border. We have fuelers and a MEDEVAC unit at Camp Garry Owen so I went to shoot pictures for an end-of-tour video. I'll try to post some tomorrow after I download them. Camp Garry Owen is small and crammed with soldiers. The facilities are crude--they have dry porta-potties they call poop ovens. Without the blue water, those things smell really bad. The one I saw they had some problem with the toilet seat for which the answer was to screw the toilet seat down. Luckily it was the kind that has a separate urinal, but anyone sitting in this plastic chamber has the head of a self-tapping screw in each cheek of their butt.

Sgt. Matt Kauffman gave me the Garry Owen tour in a Gator with a nearly flat front tire. He showed me the PX--a semitrailer, the new coffee bar--which had an excellent latte, the local market--no one was around but the tea service was out, the gym--newly expanded, the chow hall--a plywood shack that used to be open air. We drove on gravel so deep it was soupy. Matt runs six-minute miles, but not at GO. It's too hard to run on gravel so he runs on the treadmill in the gym.

The flight was exciting. I shot pictures on the way up. We passed over a palm grove, a river and a canal. When we landed we touched down for a moment, went up then settled back down. On the way back the weather was clear when we left but from five minutes away we were in a brown cloud at 1000 feet of altitude in every direction except straight up. What a mess. My eyes still hurt now. And I was sitting where the wind hit so I was rattled all the way back. In fact, I would stil1 be at Garry Owen enjoying the local cuisine if I were not on a pair of birds with a full bird colonel inside. He needed to get back so we went. Tonight they predicted Thunder storms but the sky just cleared.

I was thinking today I am actually leaving this country relatively soon and for the very first time I thought I might miss living here. Don't worry, I'm getting out of here as soon as I can. But at 1000 feet and 125 mph watching the brown cloud and shaking like a kite in a crosswind, I started thinking of things I liked about being here. More on that another time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who Fights This War--Our New Flight Surgeon

Maj. Kevin Scott, 44, joined 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion this month as flight surgeon, replacing Lt. Col. David Doud, who returned to the U.S. recently after completing his tour. Scott has served as the flight surgeon for the 628th Aviation Battalion since 2006.
Scott is a neurologist with a civilian practice at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, but Scott did not start his military career in medicine. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1986 and served as an officer in a military police unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he completed airborne, air assault and ranger training. He parachuted into Panama in 1989 when the U.S. captured Manuel Noriega. He served with the 82nd Airborne in Operation Desert Storm.
In 1992, he returned to civilian life to pursue a medical career. He first went to graduate school in physiology in New York then to Wake Forest for Medical School, graduating in 1999. From 2000 to 2004 he trained as a neurosurgeon then returned to the military in 2006 with an age waiver.
“I wanted to serve after 9/11,” Scott said. “But I decided to complete all of my medical training first, then come back.” Scott served at Camp Taji, Iraq, in 2007.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

USA Today Coincidence

In the afternoon of the day the USA Today article was published we had our first rocket attack in almost four months. One rocket hit out out in the desert, one hit a CHU in the civilian housing area, and one was a dud but smashed a generator on impact. I was on the other side of the base when they hit. So after no attacks for four months, they send rockets on the day that USA Today says there is not much to do and the war is over.

On the day of the missile attack, several mechanics were returning to their living area and saw the dud missile as it was streaking down. They saw the impact and saw the missile was a dud.

In an attack, the first thing every soldier should do is hit the dirt. One of the dumbest soldiers I have ever known decided that hitting the dirt was not necessary for him. So instead of taking cover, he trotted over to the missile with is camera to get a picture. A sergeant from headquarters saw the stupid soldier and ordered him into a shelter.

I have worked with this guy and am quite confident he will do something like this again. He is the sort of person who is intent on proving he is as smart as everyone else, which leads him to do more dumb things. We will all be lucky if, in the course of doing something inane, he does not get anyone else hurt.

Since Army humor is coarse at best, it did not surprise me that the comments about the soldier climbing on the generator were unsympathetic--most were along the lines of "Well I guess it would be bad if he got blown up, but it would serve his dumb ass right."

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Gay" in the Military

So many gay jokes spin through air in the motor pools on ranges and in the chow halls that I missed a common, but less crude use of the word "gay" in the military. (As far as I can see, the usage varies little from the Army among airmen and sailors stationed here.) Most gay jokes are put downs in which someone accuses someone else of being the passive partner in a homosexual act. So after a thousand or so of these jokes, it occurred to me that a different and also common usage was to ask if something was gay or too gay. In that case, the question was simply: am I making a decision based on emotion when I should be basing my decision on facts?

A senior sergeant asked, "Is that gay?" when he was asking me whether he should be concerned with the feeling of his adversary in a dispute over who should get a job they both wanted. The answer was complicated, but the question was simple: should I let feelings guide my decision or should I take the action that benefits me at his expense?

Of course, the underlying question is, "Am I being feminine when I should be masculine?" usually expressed as "Am I being a bitch?" so the use of gay is consistent with its more coarse uses. And since I am interested in language, my small insight led me to pay more attention to usage around me and I heard the "Is that gay?" question several more times in the days that followed.

So now I could ask myself, "Is it gay to pay attention to that kind of thing?" Except, I am not supposed to ask--or tell. And re-reading this post, the joke I was trying to make did not work either. Oh well.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who Fights This War--Retiring to a Gun in the Sun


If you’re looking for retirement advice, don’t ask Master Sgt. William Foster, 55, a door gunner in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment. The former Punxsutawney, Pa., police department patrol sergeant did not move to Florida and did not take a part-time job like many retirees. ‘Punxsutawney Bill,’ as he is known in the town he has lived in all of his life, decided to volunteer as a door gunner and go to Iraq for retirement.

Granted, he got the sun retirees crave back home. But most retirees don’t load a Gator with a half-dozen guns six days a week in the afternoon sun and help prepare a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for a long, possibly all-night, mission.

Although Iraq is low on the list of destinations retirement planners recommend, Foster believes this is the right place for him to be and the right time for him to be here. “My younger son deployed just ahead of me as a sniper with 112th (a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit in the 56th Stryker Brigade),” said Foster. “I wanted to be here at the same time, even if we were not in the same place. My older son is working on a master’s degree in San Diego and my daughter is at Lock Haven University in physician’s assistant training. They are all doing great. It was a good time to go.”

Before deployment, Foster served nearly half of each year as a marksmanship instructor for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “I have been leading training since 1996,” he said. “After a while you have to get out from behind the podium and use the weapons in the field.”

“We (Pennsylvania’s Marksmanship Team Unit) instruct active-duty Army. I did not want to stand in front of those guys without first-hand experience in Iraq,” said Foster, who plans to return to marksmanship instruction after deployment. “God-willing and the body doesn’t fall apart, I’ve got another five years until I turn 60.”

Foster first enlisted in 1972, served four years, went to college, was commissioned in 1979, and served as an officer until 1996 when he resigned his commission. He started over again as a sergeant and was promoted to master sergeant this month by Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, 28th Infantry Division commanding general, in a ceremony in Iraq.

Foster plans to retire in Punxsutawney and have weekends free to do as he likes and get involved with his beloved community as a volunteer for the first time in forty years.

“I am going to make weekend plans. I haven’t done that since high school,” said Foster. “In fact, I may grow a beard. I haven’t had facial hair since high school either.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Night Flight to Ali Al Salem, Kuwait




A few hours after I got off the flight to the ruins of Ur, I got on a CH-47 Chinook flight to the American Airfield Ali Al Salem in Kuwait. We took about 25 soldiers down to Kuwait to go home on R&R (rest & recreation) leave and took about a half-dozen back home. It was a long flight and tiring, but I finally got to fly on one of the Big Birds.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

500 Feet Above the Ziggurat of Ur




Today I will upload images from flying above the Ziggurat of Ur on Thursday afternoon. This area, Ur, is the hometown of Abraham. People call this place the birthplace of civilization. If civilization was born here, it has had a very complete change of address. Jared Diamond's most recent book Collapse chronicles other places on our planet which are on the way to becoming arid ruins.

Two Helicopter Rides Today

This afternoon I flew on a short mission on Blackhawk helicopter. A film crew was in to shoot pictures for a documentary on the Ziggurat of Ur, just north of our Base. They had an open seat and, better yet, left the side doors of the Blackhawk open so we could see out and down much better. It was also cool to be able to stick my left foot out at 500 feet and hang it out the door opening. I will post pictures tomorrow. They are on a different computer, but I have some good shots of the Ziggurat. That flight was at 2pm.

At 7pm the Brigade photographer (a real photographer), brought video camera for a 3-hour (in the air) round trip to Kuwait on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. On the way down we had 25 soldiers who were going on leave in the plane, so they were a happy group. On the way back we had five guys returning from leave--a more subdued group.

I had never ridden in a Chinook before last night so it was very exciting for me to ride 200 miles and into another country on my first trip on the Army's Heavy Lift helicopter. The Chinooks only fly at night, because they are big, slow compared to an airplane, and make tempting targets in the day time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

USA Today--Today

The cover article on today's edition of USA Today was about troops killing time and what they do to fill the hours. One of the people quoted at length in the article was me. The reporter talked about the two book groups I lead and even provided links to CS Lewis, Dante and Virgil. Here's the article. Meredith will be calling me an ink slut again--but somebody has to do it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Office--Great Discussion


This is my new office--the top of the line in trailer living. I thought you might like to see my new digs.
Last night's CSL group book discussion was great. We talked about the Affection (storge) in The Four Loves. In describing each type of love, Lewis follows an arc taking us to the highest and best expressions of love, in this case domestic affection, then dropping us like a Six Flags roller coaster with descriptions of Mrs. Fidget, Mr. Pontifex and Professor Quartz. Two members of the group are counselors and another is a negotiator, so the love gone bad section of the chapter was very useful for them. Next week Friendship or Philia.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who Fights This War--Flight Surgeon

Lt. Col. David Doud, 42, returned home to Gettysburg last week at the end of his tour as flight surgeon for the 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion. Doud joined the battalion in 2006 after serving as the Medical Company Commander for the 728th Maintenance Support Battalion.
He has nearly 18 years of service in the Army National Guard as a doctor. Doud deployed to Kosovo with the 56th Brigade in 2003-4 as the Brigade Surgeon. On this deployment Doud had the opportunity to fly with the Nebraska MEDEVAC Company attached to the 56th. After deployment he took the training course at Fort Rucker to be qualified as a flight surgeon then moved to the 2-104th.
The day Doud remembers most clearly on this deployment is June 10, when a suicide bomber in Al-Batha killed and wounded many civilians. The Tallil Medical facility asked Doud to help their staff with the emergency surgery patients that were being flown in. Doud said, “I treat car accident victims and gunshot wounds in the States, but the damage to the human body by high explosives is beyond anything I had seen.” Doud and his team
treated five patients.
Two had non-survivable injuries and were made as comfortable as possible. The other three were critical, but Doud was able to perform surgery that kept them alive for evacuation to a larger medical facility. “The three critical patients lived. We made a difference.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

First 50-mile Day in Iraq

From the day we arrived here it was so hot and dusty that I limited my riding to early morning and late afternoon. The dust hangs in the air at night sometimes, so I did not relly consider riding in the dark until recently. But now with my new way-cool bright light I have been riding more in the dark.

And last night I took the long way home from work at midnight so I would get 50 miles in one day here. Next target is 63 miles (100k) and maybe when it gets even cooler I will try for a Century!

Speaking of bike milestones, there is a chance I will be able to ressurect the bicycle race in the form of a biathlon: 5k run, 15 or 20k bike. The run-bike format will eliminate the mass start. Of course, running 5k will also eliminate me from contention, but it's probably better that the organizer doesn't win.

I will let you know more as the back-channel negotiations proceed. Tentatively, Thanksgiving is the day. The Tallil Turkey Trot Biathlon (it would be great alliteration if we could set up a triathlon, but the sand swim would be difficult.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jumble of News from Home

I just checked the on-line box score and my oldest daughter's college soccer team lost again today. Not a great season so far and it's almost over. I haven't talked to Lauren today, but she is a tough competitor, always fights to win, and won a lot of games from Junior High School through graduation. Defeat will give her a chance to learn the grace that only loss can teach, but I wish she were learning this grace another way.

My other two daughters were home last weekend, Iolanthe brought her boyfriend Devon to Lancaster and they went to the Renaissance Faire as did Lisa and her Mom. I am looking forward to going back next year. While they were home, Lisa and Iolanthe both tried to play a new drum riff that Nigel had learned. Neither could play it so Nigel demonstrated how to do it. He was happy to show them his new skill and they were very entertained by their brother and his increased ability.

My wife, Annalisa, is working with three different contractors to insulate the house and make it more energy efficient. It is a huge project and it should be completed by the holidays.

I am already making plans to go back to work. I am going to register soon for the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting in February (President's Weekend) and will will travel to Orlando two weeks later for an instrumentation conference. I will go to Church in the morning with 75 people armed with automatic weapons so I am not home yet, but it is getting closer. New Years Day here, but most of the New Year in America.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who Gets the Aircraft Ready to Fly



For door gunners and crew chiefs in Company A, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, the longest days are the ones when they don’t fly. This Illinois-based Army National Guard unit uses a push crew to make sure every mission takes off on time and each aircraft gets back to mission-ready status as soon as possible.

If a mission is set to fly at 6 a.m., the flight crew arrives for a pre-flight briefing at 3 a.m. The push crew begins its work at 2 a.m. “The first thing to do at 0200 is start the coffee,” said Cpl. Ricki Jenkins, 40, of Glasford, Ill. “Before going to the airfield, the push crew writes down the crew roster, the tail numbers of the birds, time out and time back.” The push crew normally consists of one crew chief or gunner for each pair of Black Hawks, but sometimes the crew is just one Soldier.

The crew takes a Gator vehicle from the orderly room and drives a half-mile to the maintenance hangars, where they switch to a specially-equipped Push Gator. Before going to the flight line, the push crew gathers Aviation Life Support Equipment, weapons, water, ice and the egress kits for ground-mounting the M-240 door guns. The push crew also gathers the crew members’ flight bags, helmets, vests and communications gear.

Soon the push crew is on the flight line loading equipment and getting the Black Hawks ready for the mission. “We remove the doors and windows and stack them in the trailer, then pull the ropes tie-down ropes on the rotor blades, pull the engine plugs and (Auxiliary Power Unit) plugs and engine covers,” Jenkins said. “We mount the M-240s on the birds then head back to the maintenance Conex to load the doors and windows in storage racks.”

By 4:30 a.m. the flight crew will be at the aircraft with night vision goggles, rescue radios and other equipment. After this equipment is installed or stowed, the flight crew and the push crew go to breakfast together. When they return the flight crew goes through the pre-flight checks. If everything goes normally, the mission takes off on time and the push crew remains at the airfield for 40 minutes just in case a maintenance issue arises early in the flight.

If the aircraft has a problem before takeoff, the push crew is ready to move the crew and equipment to another aircraft. “Our priority is to make sure the mission goes on time,” said Capt. Jason Henderson, Co. A commander and a Normal, Ill., resident. “If there is a mechanical problem, the push crew can bump the flight crew to a spare aircraft.”

Henderson said the push crew’s role in post-flight operations is just as important as getting the mission ready to go. “They make sure aircraft are ready for the next mission,” Henderson said. “When the mission is over, the push crew identifies and fixes faults right away.”

A half-hour before the mission is scheduled to land, the push crew is back at the airfield, loading the doors and windows in the Gator’s trailer. As soon as the first Black Hawk lands the push crew and the flight crew work together to get aircraft ready to fly for the next mission. The M-240 door guns are dismounted and set in the Gator. The crew members take off their helmets, vests and other flight gear and load their bags. The push crew re-hangs the doors, installs the windows and ties down the rotor blades. While the equipment is loaded, post-flight maintenance begins. The Gator has a rack above its dashboard with every kind of lubricant a Black Hawk helicopter needs as well as tools for on-the-spot repairs.

“By the time we get the gear stowed and the weapons turned in to the arms room it’s a long day,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Maass, 27, of Hillsboro Ill. Maass is a door gunner who was with Co. A on its previous deployment to Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Maass is a full-time Army National Guard technician and a wheeled vehicle mechanic who volunteered to be a door gunner for this deployment. “Door gunner is a job that only exists in a war zone,” he said. “We (door gunners) all volunteered to deploy.”

If a mission takes off at 6 a.m. and returns at 1 p.m., the push crew starts work four hours before takeoff and may still be finishing routine maintenance hours after the flight lands. Twelve to fourteen hour days are average for push crews. The standard rotation for a Co. A door gunner or crew chief is four days of flight, two days of push duty and one day off.

Chief Warrant Officer Herbert Stevens of Normal, Ill., an Alpha Co. pilot, said the push procedures reflect lessons learned during the unit’s last tour. “There’s no room for error in aviation. We developed procedures that reduce risk and make sure the flight crew can focus on the mission.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who Flies this Aircraft?


I will be writing more soon about the crew of the Blackhawk I flew in on Saturday, but I wanted to give you a preliminary description of the four-man crew: two pilots, a door gunner, and a crew chief. They are all from an Illinois National Guard Company attached to our unit for this deployment. In the National Guard, you get people of many backgrounds serving together and that is true down to the smallest units--like a Blackhawk crew.

Pilot 1--Has 21 years in the guard, the whole time flying. He just completed flight school as the Gulf War ended so he was not deployed until 2004. At that time he was based at Balad and flying air assault missions. He said, "This (meaning the trip I was on flying at 1000 feet and 125 mph) is garrison flying. If you were here in 2004 you could have gone on a real mission--175 mph at 50 feet of the ground. That's fun." He actually gave the speeds in knots. I am sparing you the conversion.
So what does this action junkie do in civilian life? He is one of ten pilots on the governor's staff--in Illinois--since 2003. He has flown Rod Blagojevich for 6 years (except for the time he was in Iraq). He would not answer any questions about flying the disgraced gov.

Pilot 2--Decided to join the Army Guard and become a pilot in 2002. Needed a job that would be OK with a lot of leave for military duty. Took a job with the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Flight school 1 yr. in 2003. Deployed 15 months 2004-5. Advanced flight training 2007. Pre-deployment training many weeks 2008. Here 2009. Said he worked 2.5 years since he took the job, but has full seniority. Smart guy.

Door Gunner--24-year-old graduate of Massapequa High School, NY. Grew up in Queens. Enlisted at 18. Went to Iraq at 19 in 2004 as a combat infantryman in Baghdad. Came home and worked as an executive security guard. Volunteered to go to Iraq in late 2007 as a door gunner, then volunteered for another consecutive year here now. He is going to flight school next fall. He plans to deploy with his home unit in NYC to Afghanistan in 2012. Then he said, "I think with four deployments I'll be ready to settle down.

Crew Chief--26 is on his first deployment. Is going home to finish college then become an officer after he gets a bachelors degree from Illinois State.

Pilot 1 got married just before deployment and is on his honeymoon now in Australia. The other three are single.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pain, like Envy, is Relative

At the risk of being gross, for the past several days I have had two painful bug bites in my hairline that won't go away--although they are finally getting somewhat better. They are in my hair, above my ear right where the helmet covers them. So every time I ride, they get bumped. And then I got a very painful swelling inside my nose. So it's hard to breath and it hurts.

So I was riding along thinking 'You broke all those bones and now you are bitching about what is essentially three zits. What a baby.'

The trouble really bad pain leads to really good drugs. But you don't take morphine for injuries. So I just get aggravated by the pain and swelling. My head hurts. My nose hurts. My heel hurts because I ran today. These small pains bother me more than I think they should. I suppose that is what is ultimately so difficult about getting old--there is always something wrong with a body that is not growing any more.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Diesel

During the 23 years I was a civilian before coming back to the Army, it was the unexpected smell of diesel that would bring back a flash of memory of being in the Army.

When I was in the first time, the primary vehicle--the Jeep--had a gasoline engine. but most everything we drove had diesel engines. Now the Humvees are diesel just like all the other trucks. But on all of the self-sufficient bases in this barren land, all of our power comes from generators. Huge generators, small generators, in-between generators.

Last month in the motor pool one of the mechanics got an 110V drill to work on a 5-ton truck. He had to drill a hole once in a while during the four hours he worked on the truck. He fired up a 150hp 6-cylinder diesel generator that happened to be close to his work site. It ran continuously for the entire time he worked on the truck.

On this morning's 5k run I ran past several howling generators in containers outside the housing areas. Every time I turn on a light, charge a computer battery or go the DFAC, one of those generators is making power for me.

A diesel generator sitting in a Conex roaring day and night is not the most efficient way to provide power, but it is what we have.

Before I rejoined, when I was a civilian for more than two decades and thinking about coming back to the Army, a whiff of diesel from a passing bus would remind me of eating on the back deck of our tank or the long convoys on the Autobahn to training areas.

When I get home I will smell diesel and think about those huge generators outside every facility, puffing clouds of smoke and keeping me well-fed and on line.

Monday, October 12, 2009

No Night Flight till Thursday or Friday

I did not go on the Chinook flight last night. It will have to wait until the end of the week. As it turns out it was the best move. I had to replace a picture in the battalion (weekly) newsletter at the very last minute. It was a group shot of about 20 pilots on the last day they were allowed to were the one-piece flight suit. It is being retired. The Chaplain wrote an excellent speech about it. The problem with the picture is some of the pilots wore their Task Force Diablo patches on the flight suit--very bad. Luckily I had a shot with no patches.

A photographer came to the C.S. Lewis book group tonight to take pictures. Last week I talked to a reporter from USA Today about the CSL group and the Dead Poets Society, so the groups may be in his article about what people do when the war is not so busy.

The PT Belt page on Facebook is up to 1600 fans. It was featured in my newsletter today as well as the brigade newsletter. He might got to 5000 fans before we come home.

Last week I went over 5000 miles for the year. They are talking about not packing our stuff for shipment home till early January. If so, I might be able to ride 5000 miles this year in Iraq--more than 350 hamster laps.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

View from the Window

I sat behind the left door gunner on the Blackhawk I rode on yesterday. Here's some of the view I had.






Saturday, October 10, 2009

First Flight in a Blackhawk


Today at a little after 10am I was a passenger on a routine flight to two small forward operating bases where our MEDEVAC Company flies. It's fun taking off and landing in a Blackhawk. They life straight up for a couple of seconds then bank away. When they reach about a thousand feet they level off and fly straight. No more excitement till we bank in to land.
Blackhawks are loud, but really smooth in flight. Here's a picture of me in front of the Blackhawk I flew on. It was the second of a pair of Blackhawks. The first was an unarmed MEDEVAC bird. I was in the chase bird with the door guns.
The computer system will be down all day tomorrow, but I will try to put some photos of the flight up before the computers go down.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Flights are on Again, Maybe

I thought I could not write this post because I can't say anything about where troops are going. So I won't. The main news is I am scheduled to fly in a Blackhawk tomorrow and a Chinook on Sunday night. I actually don't much care where I am going and if I told you, you probably would not know any more than I do. So I'll let you know where I was when I get back.

I am charging up my camera batteries. Tomorrow is a daylight flight so I should be able to take loads of pictures. Sunday is a night flight and the point of the trip for me is to see how well I can take pictures through night vision goggles.

Everything is happening so fast lately. Three weeks ago I was still figuring out how to get the time to write one or two good stories a week and had just made a to do list of important things for me to do in the motor pool: sort nuts and bolts and washers in the spare parts Conex (a container about half the size of an over-the-road semi trailer), make inventory sheets of hundreds of special tools, most of which are still in paper and plastic wrappers because we never use them, coordinate schedules of the people who will sign out the tools when I am on other duties, etc.

Now I am writing and taking pictures and getting stories published all over southern Iraq. Three weeks ago, I was trying to decide what to use for the lead story for the Echo Company newsletter.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In My Pockets

In civilian life I wear many different kinds of clothes with many different pockets--several in the same day. So I may wear shorts and a t-shirt for the walk and train ride to work, change to a suit, change to bike clothes for a late day ride in Philadelphia, then back to shorts and a t-shirt for the train home. I am often searching for keys, my wallet or something in my pocket because I don't have a specific pocket for specific items in civilian life.

That will change when I get back. I only have two outfits here--pt clothes and the uniform. But because I have to find things in a hurry, I have the stuff I carry in specific pockets all the time. I always know where things are or know something is missing in a second. Right now my keys are in my left front pants pocket, my ID is in my left cargo pocket in the middle of my thigh, my wallet is in my left shirt pocket and my glasses are on the right. In civilian life I won't have to carry the tourniquet in my right lower leg pants pocket or the reflective (PT) belt in the left. But I always know where they are.

If this deployment has made any mental change in me--besides a strong wish to go home--it is in seeing the value of keeping things organized. My priority before was always in getting the task in front of me done and cleaning up the mess later. But since I have to live in later, I am much more aware that it is worth slowing the work down to make sure that I stay organized. It may not seem like much, but it's a big change after almost 20,000 days of living happily with disorganization.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blackhawk mechanic becomes facebook phenom


I realized tonight I have not written about PT Belts before, but we have to wear them all the time with our PT (Physical Training) uniform and with our combat uniform after dark. Since I ride a bike, I have to wear the PT Belt whenever I ride. In fact, I use the PT belt to hold my rifle at my side while I am riding. As you will read below, a mechanic in our unit has become a minor Facebook phenom by getting more than 1000 fans for his PT Belt Facebook page.
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Spc. Jason Guge, who is serving in Iraq as a Black hawk helicopter mechanic in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, became a minor Internet star recently. On Sept. 5 Guge created a humorous page on the popular social networking site Facebook devoted to the physical training belt, a highly-reflective belt worn by everyone at night at COB Adder, and throughout Iraq, for safety purposes. Guge is not the first Soldier to find humor and irony in the wearing of the fluorescent adornment in a hostile zone, but he is the first to give Facebook users a place to exchange pictures, opinions and jokes about the glowing band. In the month since Guge created the page, he has attracted more than 1,000 followers. He passed the threshold at which Facebook assigns a dedicated URL to a page, acknowledging his page is popular enough for its own address: www.facebook.com/ptbelt. (external link) Fans talk about their views on the wear, care and sometimes adoration of their mandatory waist band. There is a PT belt creed for the truly devoted, a PT belt historical timeline, a PT belt prayer and Guge’s personal favorite, a picture from the HBO series Band of Brothers with the World War II heroes clad in PT belts. In addition, there is a PT belt adoption application, lost belt amber alerts and fashion advice for those who want to dress their fluorescent best.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- MEDEVAC Pilot


This story ran in my newsletter yesterday and today 34th division published it in their newsletter and on their web site. I am posting it on my blog also because I really like the story.
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Maj. Anthony Meador is near the end of his third tour Iraq as an Army aviator. He served in Baghdad in 2004 and at Joint Base Balad in 2007. He now commands Company C, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, a Wainwright, Alaska, based Army unit currently attached to 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.

During his first tour Meador served as a MEDEVAC pilot during some of the most intense fighting in the war. "We were slammed in 2004 and in April things got really bad," he said. "One night we evacuated 44 soldiers in two and a half hours on six Black Hawks. We had burns, gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds…the 2/5 Cavalry got ambushed in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. The whole year was non-stop for all of us."

Meador returned home in 2005 to his wife and his first baby boy, who is now five. He had almost two years of stateside duty before returning to Iraq with the surge of troops in 2007. "I was executive officer of a (General Support Aviation Battalion) based in Balad so I flew every kind of aircraft we had," said Meador. "With the surge, the operating tempo was high. Part of our mission was flying General (David) Petraeus, General (Raymond) Odierno and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker."

His first two tours were filled with high-intensity, around-the-clock operations, but the weather was great. "In Baghdad and Balad the weather was not an issue. It was sunny all the time, no dust storms,” Meador said. At Contingency Operating Base Adder in 2009, the intensity of operations is often lower, but "the weather shapes every aspect of our mission planning: weather here, weather at the destination, weather along the route. We are constantly updating our planning based on the weather."

Difficult weather forces tough decisions with MEDEVAC flights. One of the toughest decisions for Meador on this tour was whether to fly on July 2. A call came in from the Adder emergency room. A patient with a pulmonary embolism needed immediate transport to Balad for a type of surgery not available here. Charlie Company would fly the patient to Al Kut and transfer him to a waiting medevac helicopter for transport to Balad.

The first segment of the flight was just 300 meters from the Charlie hangars to the COB Adder emergency room, but that flight was enough for Meador to reconsider the wisdom of flying with visibility less than a half mile in a huge dust storm. According to Meador, winds were 30 knots with gusts up to 45 knots. Vertical visibility was 125 feet. To further complicate the flight plan, the patient's condition meant they had to fly close to the ground, as pulmonary embolisms are aggravated by altitude.

Maj. Anthony Meador, a MEDEVAC pilot in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, Task Force Keystone, inspects the tail rotor of a Black Hawk helicopter. Meador is wrapping up his third tour in Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Neil Gussman)
"We had to stay extremely low anyway because visibility was worse at 1000 feet. But flying at 50 to 75 feet with power lines and towers is very difficult," Meador said.

As they flew from the hangar to the clinic, he said, "We're going to have another conversation with the physician. I am about 60 to 70 percent sure we are going to cancel this mission.”

Staff Sgt. Jason Jones, a flight medic, talked to the physician on duty. The clot was moving toward the patient's lungs and heart and he would die without surgery at Balad. When Jones confirmed the patient's prognosis, Meador decided to go ahead with the mission. "When you get a patient on board, you're committed," he said. "Once you leave the airfield with a patient on board you’re committed to the entire mission."

"The trip to Al Kut is usually 43 minutes," said Meador. "We flew low and slow for an hour and 20 minutes. The chase bird was at our altitude, flanked right and about 10 rotor disks behind us." Meador explained that ten rotor disks, approximately 100 yards, is much closer than the normal following distance of 30 to 40 rotor disks, but necessary because of the low visibility. "We were coordinating moment to moment throughout the entire flight. When one of us would pick up a power line or a tower, we would advise the other right away."

Eighty minutes after takeoff, they landed safely and transferred the patient to a waiting MEDEVAC helicopter for transport to the Balad medical facility. They refueled and returned to COB Adder. The patient arrived at Balad in time and got the surgery he needed.

Meador has served 14 years as an Army Medical Service officer. He is a 1995 graduate of Virginia Military Institute. He and his wife Margaret have two boys, ages three and five. Meador calls Galax, Va., home and is currently assigned to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where he will return after his current tour of duty.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- Clerks Rescue Soldiers in Black Hawk Crash


These soldiers are clerks in Echo Company. Both of them are good soldiers who took a lot of crap from the mechanics and fuelers in the unit because most of their work is done indoors. Things are different now.
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Pfc. Dennis Lucas of Gratz, Pa., and Spc. Nathan Montgomery of Chester, W.Va., both clerks in the motor pool of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion,104th Aviation Regiment, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, helped perform first aid on victims after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed at Joint Base Balad Sept. 19.

Spc. Michael S. Cote, 20, of Denham Springs, La., was killed in the crash and 12 others were injured.

On that night, Montgomery and Lucas were in the containerized housing unit they shared preparing to return to Contingency Operating Base Adder the following morning. According to Montgomery, at roughly 8.p.m. he and Lucas heard a loud boom. Since there had been thunderstorms in the area during the preceding days, they first thought the noise was thunder. “We kept seeing rain and lightning and no thunder,” Lucas said. “So we thought this was the thunder.”

Montgomery went outside to smoke a cigarette and saw a man run up to the fence opposite their CHU and yell for help. He said he was the pilot of a helicopter that just crashed. Montgomery yelled for Lucas. “I was in flip-flops,” Lucas said, “so I put on sneakers and ran.” They ran to the fence, ripped a section of the fence from the ground, crawled under it and followed the pilot to the crash site.

"The Black Hawk was a mess," Montgomery said. Two Soldiers were outside the aircraft and on the ground when they got to the scene of the crash. "There were four of us that ran to the scene. Two other Soldiers who were outside their CHUs followed us over.”

"One of the Soldiers outside the helicopter was complaining of back pain, but he knew he was at Balad and he could move his legs and arms so we moved to the Soldiers in the bird," Montgomery said. "I went to a guy with his face busted up. He was missing teeth and was in a lot of pain, so I stayed with him. It turned out he had a broken jaw, broken teeth, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding in the abdomen and was fading by the time we got him loaded in the ambulance."

"Lucas went to a guy (Michael Cote) who was really bad. Lucas held him in his arms waiting for the medics, but he had a bad head injury,” Montgomery said. "The Soldier died in Lucas' arms. Lucas held him while he died."

After Cote was taken from Lucas, he continued to assist with getting other Soldiers clear of the wreckage. Montgomery stayed with his Soldier.

“He is a sergeant and crew chief of the Black Hawk,” Montgomery said. “He has a wife and two boys. The boys play soccer. I know all about his family. I know their names. The thing I want to know the most is how he is doing. He was fading at the end, starting to lose consciousness. I want to know if he made it.”

According to Montgomery, the EMS crews had to cut through a fence to get to the crash site and all of the patients had to be carried 150 yards to the vehicle. Montgomery was at the front of the litter for three patients. "I never was the lead guy on the litter in training, but I remembered what to do,” he said.
Enlarge

According to Montgomery, other witnesses said the pilot did an amazing job to get the Black Hawk down in the one open field in the entire area.

"There were (shipping containers) and CHUs and fences all around and he got it down in the one open area," he said. "There were surgeons on scene in (physical training) gear. People just ran to the scene. The last guy out was a really big sergeant with a broken leg who had to be cut from the wreckage."

“I felt like I was a passenger in my own body,” said Lucas. “I was calm the whole time. I knew what I was doing and I did what they trained us to do in (Combat Life Saver training). I thought the whole thing took about 20 minutes but it was an hour and a half.”

Lucas believes the training made the difference in how he and Montgomery reacted compared to others at the scene. “Some people ran up to the crash then stopped. Others just watched. I never ran so fast in my life as that hundred yards from the fence to the wreckage and I just went to work. Army, Marines, Air Force people all worked together to help.”

"The CLS training really kicked in," said Montgomery. "We didn't think. We just knew what to do. The pilot yelled for help. We were there so we went. Anybody would have done the same. I tell you what though, these guys are burned into our heads."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

You Light Up My Life. . .


Bike Line just send me a shipment with two tubes, ten spokes, a Gatorskin tire for my road bike and a Seca 700 headlight. The people who can't believe I would spend more than $200 for a bicycle (the same people who spent $1,000--no kidding--on pizza and other delivery food) will be aghast if they find out I spent $415 for a bike light.

But what a great light. Instead of straining my eyes and riding slowly around the dark side of the base, I can ride as fast as I want with a headlight that throws a beam more than a football field. In fact, I am riding back to the office on the south side of the base in a few minutes and will ride fully illuminating my path.

Also, Larry Wise the Bike Guy here on base fixed my spoke so I can ride the Mountain Bike. The garrison put fresh gravel on a 200-yard stretch of road the south side that makes it hard for me to ride the road bike--I have to ride in the soft sand beside the road.

In other news, three of my stories got picked up by a combat medic who blogs at www.ffpblog.com the "Far From Perfect" blog. He linked to both of the flight medic stories, and also linked to a post titled "Eight Minutes and Gone" which I did not send for publication. Maybe I should. Second weekly newsletter goes out tomorrow. Let me know if you want a PDF.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Flight Cancelled

I was supposed to be in a Blackhawk now flying to a couple of the nearby small bases, but the flight got cancelled. Somebody with a real mission got the seat, so I am labelling photos and getting ready to transfer them to an Army computer.

This morning was the Ruck March half marathon. Since I was supposed to fly, I did not pick up my number. I suppose I could have walked, but I took some pictures of participants, then took a nap until the walkers were coming back in.

On Monday, I sent the first issue of a new newsletter I am doing for the battalion (700 soldiers). It is a six-page newsletter that goes the soldiers and families in the states by PDF. The layout is in PowerPoint! I would not have thought PowerPoint is the way to do a newsletter, but it is really easy to use--easier than Word. Of course, it is very limited in what it can do. I have very rectangular layouts. But it is a newsletter so it should be fine. I will be sending the newsletter every Monday morning from now till we leave.

Coincidentally, the Brigade (2000 soldiers) will also switch to a weekly format from a monthly. The article that was the Medevac Pilot who is also a state trooper will be on the cover of their newsletter, also Monday morning.

Part of my charge is to do Daily Life stories. So this week I followed a day maintenance team from the unit that flies only at night. I also followed the crew that sets up the helicopters to fly.

If you want the newsletter, send me an email or tell me in a comment.

So now I write stories, take pictures and go to events full time. Of course, I ride my bike everywhere.

War is Hell!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- Flight Medic 2



This story was published on line on Wednesday and was also in a weekly newsletter I do now as part of my new job.

When the United States led coalition forces in the invasion of Iraq in
2003, SSG Quincy Northern, 32, began his first of three deployments as
a flight medic. For the first months of the war Northern flew MEDEVAC
along the invasion route led by the US Marines. "It was non-stop action
from the time we crossed the wire," said Northern describing his first
deployment following the Marines across Iraq in the opening days of
the war.

One MEDEVAC call he remembered vividly was an all-terrain, 8-wheel-
drive HEMMT cargo truck that hit a mine and rolled over. The call itself
was not out of the ordinary. He and his crew responded to many calls
for trucks that hit mines or had rolled over and trapped the badly
injured crew. What made this rescue different was the landing zone.
"They marked out the LZ (Landing Zone) right in the minefield," said
Northern. "We didn't know till we got to the vehicle that the bird and
us were right in the minefield."


They continued the mission. All of the Marines survived. Landing in a
minefield made Northern very conscious of security on MEDEVAC
flights. "When the 9-line (MEDEVAC call) comes in I review it to be as
prepared as I can to treat the injury. Then I think about security issues.
When we land I have to be ready to go and treat the injury, not be
thinking about anything else."

Northern enlisted in 1996 and trained as a flight medic in 2002. He
went to Kuwait in January of 2003 in preparation for the invasion and
followed the Marines until June. He was back in Iraq from March of
2004 to March of 2005 and returned in 2008 with Charlie Company 1-
52nd Aviation Brigade. The Alaska-based unit is currently attached to 2-
104th General Services Aviation Battalion. Northern says the current
deployment is by far the easiest. "On the first deployment we slept on
the bird," he said. "We slept in the same litters that carried the
patients."

Northern is a Native of Baton Rouge and admits to being an adrenaline
junkie, but says when he retires from active duty in seven years, his life
is going to be different. "When I retire, I am going to a get a job where
the toughest thing is just showing up every morning," he said with a
wide smile. He is married with two children, a boy and a girl. His wife is
staying with her family in Ellicott City, Maryland, until Northern
returns from deployment.