Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Today's Sunday News

Jon Rutter wrote the final article about my Army adventure in today's Lancaster Sunday News (Local Section, Page 1)
Photos here


On the home front

Neil Gussman returns from Iraq, where he served the country in myriad roles, including base communicator.


Neil Gussman is back from the Army, at 56.

The Lancaster businessman has returned home after two years away from everyday midlife.

"Boy," the nontraditional sergeant quipped earlier this month, "it seems like I've been gone forever."

The military experience was rich, if sometimes exasperating, he added. And it was a lot different from his 12-year Army hitch that ended more than 25 years ago.

Back then Gussman was, among other things, a tank commander in Germany.

His more recent sojourn with the 104th General Services Aviation Brigade's Echo Company was covered in a series of Sunday News stories spanning nearly 2½ years. It included combat training at Fort Indiantown Gap and Fort Sill, Okla., followed by a 12-month tour in Kuwait and Iraq.

Gussman served at Tallil Ali Air Base.

He initially aspired to become a chemical weapons specialist and expected to pull weekend-warrior duty at Indiantown Gap. Instead, the Army activated his unit and deployed it to the Middle East.

There, as the war wound down, Gussman was given various tasks. He dispensed tools in the motor pool before getting assigned to photograph and write about life on the base.

His work appeared in several Army newsletters.

He loved the journalist job, especially flying aboard Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters during supply missions.

"The last few months have been really good," said Gussman, who downplayed the risk of living in a war zone.

"Hardly anyone fired a gun over there," he noted. "I fired my camera a lot."

Military life, examined
Still, Gussman admitted, "Iraq is more dangerous than New Jersey." Also, he wisecracked, the shampoo selection is scantier. And it's harder to obtain good fresh bread or feed his habit of following Formula One auto racing.

One of Gussman's first stateside projects will be to get himself to a New York City Jewish bakery.

He arrived in the United States Jan. 4, but could not immediately return to Lancaster, where his wife, Annalisa Crannell, and children have been holding down the fort.

First, Gussman and his friends had to go through three weeks of heel cooling at Fort Dix, the sprawling New Jersey Army base where overseas soldiers are processed.

It was a fit and squeaky-clean-cut Gussman who bicycled to the main gate on a recent Wednesday to greet some visitors. Dismounting and padlocking the bike to a post, the camouflage-decked soldier ducked into a car for a tour of his temporary digs.

GIs hiked here and there among low-slung brick buildings. The campus soil was sandy, the air piney. Big silver transports floated in and out of McGuire Air Force Base next door. Behind this purposeful facade, though, were grunts at loose ends.

A lone soldier slumped before a barracks TV, watching an episode of "Yes, Dear." In other areas, men and women were simply standing in line.

That was true at the M.G. Robert Mills Dental Clinic on Doughboy Avenue, where Gussman traded last-minute banter with some departing buddies.

Sgt. Jeremy Houck, of Lebanon, who turned 32 that day, reported helping Gussman with "the problems that young NCOs [noncommissioned officers] have, you know. It was hard to tame him down. I struggled through it."

Thirty-one-year-old Nickey Smith, of Connecticut, allowed that Gussman was a good man to share an air-conditioned trailer with, but a big contrast to Smith.

The younger soldier likes watching movies and listening to music in his down time. Gussman, who coordinated a book club in Iraq, prefers reading and writing.

"Nickey was worried about me culturally," Gussman said, and so he introduced Gussman to such films as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Batman."

"His typing skills put me to sleep every night," retorted Smith, who had not been persuaded to take up literature. "I read a blog [posting] or two of his," Smith said. "That was a book in itself."

Indeed, Gussman's latter-day Army life did not go unexamined.

He calculates that he's written about 75,000 words on his blog, armynow.blogspot.com, and recorded nearly 50,000 visitors since June 2008.

The site reveals Gussman's fondness for tallying. He figures he rode a succession of bicycles 5,200 miles while in Iraq, for example, competed in four bike races in the United States and the Middle East, read 15 books and bought hundreds of Green Beans lattes in Kuwait.

Gussman's work has attracted wide media attention; The New York Times profiled one of his stories this past Thanksgiving.

Lt. Col. Scott Perry, Gussman's commanding officer, tuned in with relish.

"Sgt. Neil Gussman is an eclectic series of mutually unsupporting disciplines, dichotomies and passions that somehow have blended into an exceptional communicative force," Perry wrote in the unit newsletter.

Back home, Scott Haverstick, Gussman's bicycle racing partner, also has been reading.

"Very interesting for those of us who would not be inclined to do anything like this on our own," Haverstick commented.

Haverstick said he admires Gussman but continues to puzzle over why his friend's desire to serve God and humanity "would manifest itself in this particular way.

"I hope he's done" with combat regions, said Haverstick, adding that he's also curious about Operation Iraqi Freedom's long-term effect on Gussman.

"Everyone seems to be changed by their tour of duty," Haverstick said.

Last week, though, Gussman seemed his usual eclectic self.

He said he plans to soon climb aboard a commuter train and return to work as a writer at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, an industry museum and library near Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

"I might write about some of the stuff I can't write now," he promised in his blog.

He'll have to get used to riding his bike without an M-16, and he can forget all about the 130-degree temperatures and blowing grit he faced in the Iraqi desert.

He'll stay in the Pennsylvania National Guard reserves until he gets booted at age 60. But he said he might head overseas again, if he could reprise his role as a journalist.

His unit will be activated next in 2012 — the year Gussman turns 59 — "which would be the absolute last minute I could go," he said.

"I would definitely go back. I know some of my friends think I'm crazy, but ..."

Back to Work

Before returning to work on Tuesday, I had a couple of articles to finish. On Thursday I finished an article for On Patrol: The Magazine of the USO writing on the train to and from New York. Last night I was writing my next column for "We're History" in Chemical Engineering Progress magazine. I am revising it now as the clock strikes midnight and will be up for another hour.
(Update through the magic of internet revision, I was up till 2:30am rewriting to include an explanation of why snails have blue blood.)
So I really am back to work--writing about weird topics at weird hours.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An Old Friend's View of an Old Soldier


On the way home from New York City Thursday night, I called Abel Lopez, one of my two best friends from when I was on active duty in the 1970s. If I haven't mentioned him before, Abel left active duty in 1978, a year before I did. He was the commander of the tank next to mine in Bravo Company 1-70th Armor in Wiesbaden. We talked a lot about faith and about life, the universe and everything when we served together and have kept the conversation up for past 32 years.

Abel and I seldom see each other, but talk every month or two about our current views of the same things we talked about back in Germany. He went home to Chula Vista in San Diego County and became a Federal Fire Fighter. He recently retired from the fire department.

I talked to Abel on the 100-mile drive from Trenton to Lancaster, from just over the Pennsylvania line to my driveway. If you think it is wrong to talk on a cell phone while driving you should stop reading now.

Anyway, the first thing Abel asked when I got on the phone is what I think the summary of my year in Iraq is. "I don't know," I said. We talked for a long time. He, like my friend Meredith Gould, think I went a very long way to prove L. Frank Baum (Author of the Oz books) was right, "There's No Place Like Home." One of my goals in going to Iraq was to become less tied to the life of luxury I was leading. That didn't work. My previous posts on the things I have done, bought, etc. since my return to America make it pretty clear that self denial is not one of my strengths.

Abel thought that if I write a book about this year, it ought to be for all the people he sees in California who get to be our age and think they can reinvent themselves. They need to figure out how to do the best they can with who they are. And given the considerable lengths I went to in finding out how much I liked my life, I could make fun of my self in a big way writing that book. It also fits with my sister's advice to write one of the currently popular "One Year" books.

I do know now that joining the Army and serving in Iraq is a great way to clarify what you really want from life--at least it was for me. It also made very clear that goodness has so many forms that one life and one place can never support it all. It is yet another thing that draws me to life beyond this life. I love the beautiful, civilized, literate world I returned to. Today I went to the Evolution Table at F&M and enjoyed the conversation of 22 professors and local professionals about current developments in Life Science. Tuesday I return to work with co-workers who have an average of 2.2 college degrees. But I already miss the courage and laser focus I met every day among the men and women I served with in Iraq.

I clicked my heels three times, I traveled a long way, but I can't figure out which end of the trip is Oz.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Adjusting to Beauty


Adjusting to being back "in the world" is an odd process with stops and starts. Today I was in New York. I drove to Trenton then hopped on a train and got to spend the day with several different interesting people. That part was just fine. But since these people were in different parts of the city I had several views of this vibrant metropolis.

The most jarring was the Brooklyn Bridge. I took the Park Street line to one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. I walked up the middle on the tourist path. There was a point where those cables sweep up in a beautiful arc--it is where the group of walkers are clustered on the right of the path in the photo above. At that point of the bridge I looked up along those cables. The sky was perfectly blue, not a cloud in sight. It was cold. The wind was blowing straight across the bridge deck at more the 20mph. The flag above the bridge pointed straight north.

I stopped and stared up for a long time. I walked a little further, but I was still staring so I stopped again. The bridge look so majestic and tall and clean. The sky line in every direction was brick and glass and steel. Planes and helicopters flew overhead. Boats made there slow way under the bridge in the shipping channel.

Everywhere I looked was a contrast to the low, dirt-covered, place I left. Trees and grass grew everywhere the concrete did not cover in New York. At Tallil the lawn was gravel. My senses were overloaded. I was in civilization. This is home.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Liars and the Dentist

Today I went to my own dentist for a check up and cleaning. They had a cancellation so I got in right away. As she was getting ready to clean my teeth the hygienist asked why I had not been in for more than a year after getting regular check ups. I told where I had been and she said, "That's the first excuse I have heard in a long time that I believe."

Then she asked me about how the war was going, but since she was cleaning my teeth while she asked, she answered her own question. "You never get the real story from the media. They just say what they want to. They make it up."

When she took a break I said I thought the media had a very tough job. "Many people they deal with are lying, shading the truth, and making things up. Reporters have to figure out what part of the things they say are true and why they are saying them. It would be like having patients who walked into your office, smiled and denied they had teeth. Or walked in with a broken tooth and said 'Nothing is wrong.' Or say 'flossing is proof that the government is trying to control our lives.'"

Going back to her earlier comment she said, "But patients do lie to me. I get people coming in after no check ups for five years saying, 'I was here last year.' and there records are right here on the counter. And people come to me with bleeding gums and say, 'I floss almost every day.'"

She went on to say that she can't tell the people who don't floss they are lying so she has to say something like, "Let's work on your flossing technique."

I came away with a new respect for the difficulties of her job. She also told me that when she gives the patients who neglect their teeth a thorough cleaning they go to the receptionist afterwards and say they do not want "that hygienist" because she hurts them. I hope looks at the media a little differently now that she knows how much news sources and dental patients have in common.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Adjusting to Life at Home

Yesterday on the training ride there is a place where we usually slow down as we turn from State Highway 441 onto a narrow road with a creek on one side and a steep tree-covered hill on the other. The hill is dark all the way up to a north-south ridge so if there is any sun it is bright on the top of the ridge and dark all the way down to where we ride the road. Just after we turned onto this road Matt Hollenbach said, "Neil, look up there, three deer, no four." I looked and there they were, right on the ridge line standing parallel to the road.

They were back-lit, standing still and silhouetted from their hooves to their horns. They could not be better targets if they wore orange vests with bulls-eyes. What I should have seen was how beautiful nature is here compared to the dust, rock and vermin that is nature in southern Iraq. But as I looked at the deer and the afternoon sun and the trees, my first thought was "Get off the ridge you idiots! One shot and you are dinner!"

I suppose it will take a while before my view of a natural scene does not include range, target description, and rules of engagement.

When I first returned to America after serving on the border in Germany, I would occasionally be driving along a country road and look at the fields and tree lines in front of me as fields of fire for a tank or see places where a tank could be "hull-down" with it's hull protected from direct fire but with a clear view for the gunner's sights.

Speaking of riding, I really prefer riding without an M-16A4 rifle on my back.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to Training Rides

On Friday I wrote about my first ride back with the daily ride crew. Today I rode farther and faster than on Friday. On the Friday ride at mile 20 my voice was gone and I was crawling up the hills. Today I rode fast enough to sort of keep up while the regular guys rode slower than usual. But even on the last nasty hill into Millersville I rode to the top of the hill steadily.

It will be a long time before I overcome a year of flat riding and get in shape for climbing hills. One additional incentive for me to get in shape for the coming season is a change in the age group divisions. For years the age groups have been even decades: 30+, 40+, 50+ and occasionally 60+. Next year the ages will be 35+, 45+ and 55+. I am 57, so I will be only two years older than the youngest guys in the race, not seven years older. So I won't be the old guy completely at the back of the pack. I might do OK in some races.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Combat Patch



One of the best things that happened to me in Iraq was covered under OPSEC until now. It would not seem like a secret, but we are in the process of being allowed to wear the combat patch of the 1st Armored Division. 4th Brigade of 1AD is in charge of the garrison at Tallil Ali Air Base/Camp Adder.
When I served the last time I was a tank gunner in 1975 and a tank commander from 1976 to 1984. Although I was in tanks, I was assigned to mechanized infantry divisions so I always wore an infantry unit patch, never an armored patch. Now I can wear the 1st AD patch on my right sleeve. So after all these years, serving with an aviation unit in Iraq finally got me the opportunity to wear an armor patch. I wrote about the connection between 1AD and my unit on December 22 & 23.
I already got a price for a tattoo. I have seen people get a unit patch tattoo on their arm where the patch would be on the uniform. But I am a bike racer. If I get the tattoo it will be in the middle of my right calf--the place where it is visible in a peleton.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome Home Party

This afternoon was my Welcome Home party. In addition to my family, friends from work showed up--driving all the way from New Jersey in the case of Shelley Geehr and her family. Sarah Reisert made the long drive from Philadelphia. Jan Felice, Jim Pomeroy, Keith McIlhenney, and Scott and Barb Haverstick were here representing the bicycling side of my life. Several members of the math department at Franklin and Marshall College (including Arny and Tracy Feldman who provided the snacks) were here along with bicyclist and college president John Fry. Bruce and Carol Mawhinney and the whole LeDuc family along with the Whites, Eric and Lina Bierker, and Leslie Bustard from Wheatland Presbyterian Church. All my daughters came home from college so the house was very full.

At 6pm my wife disappeared upstairs to listen to Prairie Home Companion. I took the kids to Starbucks and then to the train station to put Iolanthe on the train back to Bryn Mawr. Reviving an old tradition Lauren, Lisa, Nigel and I went to the Park City Mall on Saturday night. We had done that for years leaving the house to Annalisa. Lisa and I went shopping for shoes for me while Lauren and Nigel went looking for a shirt for Lauren. Lisa said it was different with me shopping, since when we did this several years ago, the kids went shopping while I sat near the entrance to Sears and did homework for Greek or Physics or French or whatever class I happened to be taking that semester.

I am starting to feel more like I am really home.

Friday, January 22, 2010

First Ride Back in Lancaster


Today I slept late (almost 9 am) just because I could. Then I pumped up the tires on my "A" race bike (Trek Madone) and started doing errands--all of which cost varying amounts of money because Uncle Sam is no longer providing everything for my life and well being. First I re-registered my car and insured it. $71 for registration, $1003 for insurance. Then I jump started my very dead car and drove it to Firestone. It needed brakes and a new ignition switch and some other stuff that came to $800.

After that I took a break from spending money and did the Friday training ride with Scott Haverstick and Jan Felice. Jan shot the photo of Scott and I on the ride. We did the usual 29-mile winter loop. At the end I could barely talk. Scott and Jan were not even breathing hard. It was great to be back. They even let me win the coasting race. Actually Scott lost 20 pounds during this year which will make him even faster up hills, but at least I will be able to beat him on the downhills.

Back to spending money. I ordered a new computer at MacHeads $1,270 with tax, plus $300 to rehab the old one. I need new dress shoes, $150. I am going to get a flat screen TV tonight or tomorrow for $500.

For the next next two hours I will be taking Nigel to his basketball game, so I will not be spending money for that period of time. The satellite TV gets installed Monday.

I better go back to work soon. I am going to need the money!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beyond the Fort Dix Gate

I am writing this post in mid-afternoon in Philadelphia train station. I just got off the train from Trenton and am on the way to Lancaster. During the 90-minute wait between trains I am sitting in Cosi using free wireless internet that actually works--for several minutes on end. After 30 minutes I had to reboot my computer for internet access. I think my computer has difficulty believing the internet can work for that long.

After the internet, I got on the train to Lancaster and came home. My wife met me at the station and took me on a tour of our renovated house. It really looks different.

We picked up Nigel at school. I helped him with his homework. After he takes a bath we will be going to out to dinner.

It is GREAT to be home!!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Last Long Day

I was up b efore 7 this morning to finish copying files and putting together the last Task Froce Diablo Newsletter. I finished it at 9 tonight and got it approved by the commander and PAO and proofed by the commander's assistant. It was like being in Iraq again. Especially the length of the day. I got most of the photos copied. That's what I will be doing tomorrow, in addition to packing and cleaning my room.
It's getting very close to civilian life now. Att 11 am tomorrow my friend Meredith Gould will pick me up and take me to the Trenton train station. She will be keeping my New Jersey bike for me also. Amtrak doesn't want bikes on the train.
More tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"There's a Good Reason Why You are In This Line for 4 Hours"

Today I went through another stage of out-processing. The particular task involved calculating the leave due me. This can be tricky for the soldiers who are full-time in the Guard or Reserve, but not so much for people me. I and almost everyone else used exactly 15 days of leave for the trip home and we get a total of 32.5 days for the time we served. So I continue on active duty for 17 days with benefits and they pay me for the half day. The process would have taken ten minutes, but my leave form was blurry, so it took 30.

But I waited 4 hours to get to the station where this ten-minute calculation was performed. I was sitting in the finance office waiting for several sergeants and civilians to discuss my faded leave form. I said to one of the finance clerks that I had not waited for anything in line for four hours during the 23 years I was a civilian. She started to explain why we were waiting--only four finance clerks, 170people in line, etc. I said it was not the reason that mattered, but as a civilian if someone wanted me to wait four hours, the reward would have to be phenomenal. She spent 20 years in the Army then went to work for the federal government. For her, waiting in line makes sense. She lives by the government system.

And for her, the reasons did make sense. But if a civilian company would not be in business very long if it made customers wait in line four hours to do a predictable 10-minute bit of paperwork. And onloy a government organization would even try to do something so simple on paper. A money-making business would automate the calculation.

After that four-hour wait was over, I was in two more lines. One for 90 minutes, one for 2.5 hours. The last one I was only in line 90 minutes of the 2.5 hours. I left and ate dinner and came back. Soldiers hold each other's place in line.

We are All Back in America

We are all here in New Jersey now. No more flights we can't talk about, we are in America. So whatever is left do we will do it here in America and then go home to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana and wherever else people call home. The last plane arrived tonight at McGuire Air Force Base at 9pm. I was at the bottom of the ramp and got pictures of about 100 of the 170+ soldiers on the flight. It was much easier to shoot tonight for a variety of reasons.

1. Just about everyone on the plane was in our unit and from Pennsylvania so the VIPs shaking hands at the bottom of the ramp were all from PA. Last time there were VIPs from both PA and NJ. They formed parallel lines and the soldiers walked down the middle, so I could not shoot without someone's back to me.

2. I had only the flash on the camera which was not enough to shoot on the ramp--I know this now. I did not know it the first night.

3. A professional photographer from PA Headquarters shot video and reset my camera for higher light sensitivity. He also told me how he would be moving so I could use some of his light.

4. On the day of the arrival of the first flight, there was a colonel traveling with the VIPs who is also an amateur photographer. He was telling me how to shoot. He was also telling me that my job was to shoot the VIPs even though my assignment was to shoot the returning soldiers. At one point he pulled me by the shoulders to where he thought I should be. He proves the Army proverb I just made up that a high-ranking jerk is much worse than an ordinary jerk. In a couple of weeks when I am fully a civilian again, I will have more to say about what happens when a bully has rank. Thankfully, this guy did not show up with today's group.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Living in America

So what's it like to come back to America after being gone for most of a year? Part of it remains to be seen. I have not left the Fort Dix/McGuire Air Force Base complex yet, so I still have more to see and get used to. I suppose it is better to return slowly.

My first funny shock was the Taco Bell commercials, recommending the new Drive-Thru diet. Taco Bell has very funny commercials. What could be more American than the idea of a diet that you can do just sitting on your butt in your car!! And what could be more sneeringly American than to put the idea on TV for an audience that is drowning in flippancy.

This evening I saw a commercial for a healthy lifestyle diet plan. I don't remember which one it was, but all around the day room where the TV was playing mostly unwatched were men in their late 20s to mid 30s surrounded by pizza boxes and other delivery food containers. They were playing a video war game on line with each other. It was a beautiful day today, almost 50 degrees. These plus-size guys had been playing for hours, eating pizza.

I have been to the PX a half-dozen times already. It's fun just to walk around and look at all the stuff you can buy here in America. I can get any kind of shampoo I want.

I haven't yet had to ride in traffic, drive a car, commute or any of the dangerous stuff I have been spared for the last year. I ordered a new internet serive for our house that had me on the phone for almost an hour. I have to make two more calls for that one.

And sadly, I am no longer immune from the news. I read about Pat Robertson saying that the earthquake in Haiti was God's judgement on the Haitian people and read Rush Limbaugh's predictably callous comments about the plight of the Haitians. Thousands dead and suffering is, for him, nothing more than a chance to take a shot at Liberals for being willing to help. Sometimes I hate the idea that all of us who served went over there in part to defend free speech for people like Robertson and Limbaugh, but in America they have as much right to speak as anyone else. But whether they have a right or not, they are no less pathetic cowards for doing so.

Who Fights This War? Operations Officer


Most people don’t know what they want to do with their lives till they are past their school years and into a career they don’t like. Some people know what they want to do all their lives. When Maj. Lee Hayes was just a kid growing up in Tyrone, Pa., he watched Chinook helicopters roar through the sky over his little town. He knew he wanted to be a soldier and he knew he wanted to fly.

Now 40 years old and completing his second deployment in which he served as Task Force Diablo’s operations officer, Hayes is a soldier, a pilot, and has his eye on his next assignment. Hayes commanded an attack helicopter company from 1998 to 2000 and is looking forward to his next command. If all goes well, he will command an aviation battalion. “Commander is the best job in the Army,” said Hayes. “This is my second deployment as a staff officer. I want my next deployment to be as a commander.”
Hayes joined the Pa. Guard at age 17 serving first as an infantryman while he attended The Pennsylvania State University. He went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) just before graduation and served as an infantry platoon leader until he attended flight school in 1994.

After flight school he served as a scout platoon leader, flying AH-1 Cobra helicopters. He then became as an attack platoon leader in the 1-104th Aviation Battalion, also flying AH-1 Cobra helicopters. He remained in the 1-104th and became an attack company commander. In 2000 he switched to the Reconnaissance and Interdiction Detachment (RAID), an assignment that lead to one of the most fast-paced weeks in his aviation career. “On September 11, his unit was sent to New York City for reconnaissance and whatever else the security teams needed,” Hayes said.
“They arrived in New York the evening of September 11.”

“We flew wherever they needed us,” Hayes said. During the week they transported many VIPs and moved key people wherever they needed to go.

Hayes has worked full time for the Pa. Army National Guard since 2000. He deployed to Kosovo as assistant operations officer with 2-104th in 2002, part of the first National Guard deployment to that country. When he returns from this deployment he will continue serve in an AGR role at Fort Indiantown Gap. He plans to serve at least nine more years before he retires from the job he knew he always wanted.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Uncle Jack's Airplanes






F-4 Phantom II





KC-135 Tanker






My son and oldest daughter, Nigel and Lauren came to visit for a couple of hours last night. It was dark so we could not see the big transport planes on McGuire Air Force Base very well. But on the way over at traffic circle there is a static display of two planes Uncle Jack flew in the skies over Viet Nam: the F4 Phantom fighter plane and one of the original KC-135 refueling planes. I could tell Nigel how his Uncle Jack flew in both of these planes. Nigel judged the KC-135 as "really big" which it is when you are a 10-year-old walking underneath it and the F4 as "Awesome."

Both planes struck me as being very small. The KC-135 is based on the Boeing 707 airliner, which is long replaced by newer planes in most of the world. The F4 just sitting on a slab was also very small and very odd looking with its droopy tail and nose and angled surfaces.

It's still at least a week till I get home. I am in the Air Force library four miles from my barracks using the only reliable internet that I have access to right now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who Fights This War? -- Apache Longbow Pilot


Just When I Thought I Was Out... They Pull Me Back In

For the senior staff in Task Force Diablo, dinner at the Coalition DFAC was an event. It was often a big event with more than a dozen officers and NCOs sharing food and a lot of jokes and laughter. One oft-repeated themes was about Maj. Frank Tedeschi’s connection to ‘The Mob.’ Some of the staff members refers to him as The Tulip: the hitman (played by Bruce Willis) from the movie ‘The Whole Nine Yards.’

The Italian-American officer who flies an aircraft that is a gun with rotary wings, the AH-64 Apache Longbow, takes these jokes with good humor and hands many back himself. Part of the fun revolves around Tedeschi’s encyclopedic knowledge of Gangster movies. One of the lines he quotes often is from Godfather III (1990) when Michael Corleone says, “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”
The jokes are even funnier for those who know that Tedeschi earned an bachelor of science degree in criminal justice at St. Joseph’s University before attending Officer Candidate School and being commissioned a 2nd Lt. in 1992. He joined the Army in 1989 serving first as helicopter mechanic in the 1-104th Cavalry.

After receiving his commission and serving in operations, Tedeschi went to flight school in 1994 qualified in several aircraft but with a particular focus on the Apache Longbow. He earned ratings successively as an instructor pilot, pilot-in-command, and Master Aviator Wings.

From 1995 until 2007 Tedeschi served as a platoon leader, troop commander and assistant operations officer (S-3) with the 1-104th, eighteen years with a single battalion including deployment to Kosovo as the assistant S-3.

Then in 2007 Tedeschi accepted an AGR position in the 2-104th as S4. For the current deployment he also served as the assistant operations officer. In October he was promoted to major. He served as the assistant ops officer on both deployments, Tedeschi said. “Next deployment I am getting a different job.”
This month, after almost three years with 2-104th Tedeschi will be moving his family to Johnstown. He will return to the 1-104th. Of that move he said, “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Must Be Typewritten!!!!

Today I rode to the gate to fill out the paper required for each visitor. Two of my kids are coming to visit on Friday and a friend from work is coming here on Saturday. I rode the two miles to the visitor's center, walked inside and asked for the form. The officer behind the desk handed me a different form than the last time I was there. I asked for a pen. She said, "The form has to be typewritten." I made an exaggerated gesture for looking for a typewriter. "You need to put this information on a form and return it here typewritten or printed. No more handwritten forms. They are hard to read."

In case this sounds like a reasonable request, it is only a hardship to soldiers in transient barracks--the soldiers just going to or returning from Iraq. Soldiers assigned here can drive to the gate. Transient soldiers who walk two miles to the gate and find out the policy changed have to walk back, use the one printer per 100+ soldiers and walk or scrounge a ride back.

But it does keep the clerks who handle this particular form from dealing with the hardship of hard-to-read forms handed in by soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan. What could be more important than that?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Fights This War? Military Intelligence Sergeant


During late summer this year, Staff Sgt. Timothy Opinaldo was part of a joint operation of intelligence analysts from Task Force Diablo and 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division to train and integrate Iraqi analysts. Together, they provided intelligence support for a joint operation pursuing and detaining insurgents.

For Opinaldo and the other members of Task Force Diablo, this joint operation trained their Iraqi counterparts in the American method of intelligence work, which is very different from the Iraqi model. The analysts and their counterpart unit, the 10th Iraqi Infantry Division, are trained for nine weeks. American analysts are trained for 18 weeks.

“Their army is officer-centric. An individual Iraqi analyst works on just one piece of a large intelligence project,” Opinaldo said. “The officer in charge controls the flow of information. He creates the picture from the pieces the individual analysts provide. In the American model, analysts keep the larger picture in view when working on any individual piece.”

Opinaldo worked with Sgt. Bradley Dickey, Maj. Brett Feddersen, and 1st Lt. Carolina Kelley on the project in addition to analysts from 4-1 AD. While the Americans trained the Iraqis in their model of intelligence work, the Iraqis gave their counterparts some valuable lessons in Iraqi culture.

“The Iraqis gave us information that allowed us to better evaluate situations,” Opinaldo said. “They told us there are few weddings in the summer heat and none during Ramadan. Weddings are low-key and humble with minimal 20th Century influence. Iraqis don’t fire machine guns at weddings.”

“We also learned that every large group is not necessarily bad guys,” he said. “Three days of large feasts mark the end of Ramadan.”

Opinaldo had to re-adjust to eastern physical closeness during his month with his Iraqi counterparts. He previously deployed to Afghanistan and remembered how different eastern and western men are about touching, but he still had to adjust. “When you shake hands, you are not letting go for five minutes,” he said. “One guy held my hand during an entire meeting.”

Opinaldo also made clear that fussy eaters can’t do intelligence field work. “They share everything,” he said. “If they offer food, you have to eat it.” Opinaldo said tea is a past time with Iraqis and they drink both tea and coffee very strong. Despite all that caffeine, the Iraqis are much more concerned about relationships than time efficiency. “The first 60 minutes of every meeting includes about five minutes of work,” Opinaldo said.

By then end of the month, Opinaldo and other members of the team were making jokes, an important indicator of how close their relationship had grown. Many of the men they worked with were fathers and referred to each other as ‘Abu’ with their child’s name. Opinaldo was “Abu Alana” because his daughter’s name is Alana. In one of the jokes they shared, the Iraqis called Opinaldo “Abu Dickey” because he was Sgt. Dickey’s immediate supervisor. Dickey is also most of a foot taller than his “father.”

With a month of working face-to-face with his Iraqi counterparts, Opinaldo got a chance to really learn the culture. “It was the best month of the deployment,” he said. “No question

Real Frugality

Now that I am home from a year neck deep in socialism and spending way less money than is my usual habit, I have a better idea how much money I spend on life, the universe and everything. And I am already feeling guilty about how much I want to spend--not that it will slow me down much.

In Iraq I bought exactly two meals during the entire tour: two pizzas at Ciano's. The only money I spent was for phone cards, maybe $20 a month, Internet $88 per month, and one or two lattes each day at Green Beans, $150 per month, and books, maybe $15/month.

The standard by which I compare my profligate self is my frugal wife Annalisa who spends nearly nothing--except the occasional huge amount of money to be more energy efficient, like buying a Prius or renovating our house to insulate and air seal it, plus completely change how it looks. The house is beautiful and more energy efficient now.

During the year I was gone, our lovely new home had no TV in it. My son was already excited to see me then his sister pointed out Dad would be watching TV again and Nigel was ready to declare my arrival a national holiday. "Awesome, TV," was his response to the news.

But TV is not just TV. I want to watch the Tour de France and the Formula 1 World Championship. I had a TV when I left, but it is 27 years old and has sat in a corner for a year. Most like I need a TV. Even a modest one: $400. Dish Network is on sale for one year for $24.95/ month. I am sure there are taxes and fees that bring it over $30 and a DVR system will be another $5 per month. And Dish has French-language programming for another $7 per month.

Back at home, my favorite thing to eat is bread from a bakery. I eat a loaf almost every day. I miss Starbucks at Stonemill Plaza. In fact, I miss all that stuff. I had a moment when I thought I might try to be frugal, but that falls into the category of people who think about getting in shape and then don't ride, run or go to the gym when anything else conflicts.

I am already starting to suffer from the tyranny of choice. I want choice, but every choice has a moral dimension. Should I watch car racing? Should I drink lattes? should I eat fresh bread? This three weeks of confinement to the base makes the flavor of real life all the more sharp and desirable. I may feel worse about spending money later, for right now, I can't wait. I have spent the last eight months six thousand miles from home and can't wait to eat bakery bread, watch car racing and drink designer coffee any time I want to.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Catch 22

My Uncle Jack who served in Viet Nam responded to my post yesterday. Here's our messages:

Sgt. Nephew,
I feel your pain and I applaud that you have kept your daughters out of public schools, aka government indoctrination centers. That said, knowing you are a devoted reader and lover of literature I recommend the greatest anti-government/military book extant: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. I'm also an avid reader but mostly on the surface level. I seldom look for the symbolism buried deeper in the text. It took me a couple of readings of Heller's book to realize he was using irony, if that's the right word, to illustrate the lunacy of government and especially the military. Rather than an expose' or an angry diatribe he used subtlety to insinuate his point without bludgeoning his readers. By doing so, he engaged a far larger audience and perhaps changed the minds of people who never suspected what he was up to. If you haven't read it, try it.

The movie alluded to this in a few scenes but mostly treated it as a comedy farce.

Uncle Major,
I loved the book and did not like the movie for that reason—it kept the farce and lost the point. Catch 22 also makes the point that in all bureaucracies, paperwork is reality and reality means nothing. This worked out decidedly to my advantage in my 2nd enlistment. I was never a resident of PA but got a better deal from the PA recruiter. I gave him a PA post office box—P.O. Box 334, Brownstown PA. When I went to get out in 1979, I thought I was going to Massachusetts. They would not ship my stuff to MA. I would have to retain a civilian lawyer to prove I was an MA resident because my DD Form 4—even though Ma and Dad were living in the same house I enlisted from in 1972 and lived in since 1957. It turned out I got to go to Penn State as a resident because of that form.
Joseph Heller would just smile.

Sergeant Nephew,
I wondered how you ended up in PA.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Welcome Home! Not So Much

All the time we were in Iraq and using internet at dial-up speeds we thought how great it was going to be to get back to America and have real high-speed internet. We would also have cell phones and text messages and voice mail and all of the lovely ways to keep in touch that we missed.

We are in the US. We are almost home. We have cell phones. There is high-speed internet--sometimes. The high temp today was 34, it will be 29 tomorrow. Our cell phones only work outside the barracks. We have been here at the transient barracks at Fort Dix for five days. The internet has been down for two full days and part of every other day.

I know I am bitching about very small things, but context is important. A dozen high-ranking officers and NCOs greeted us at the plane when we landed. I have no idea who they were. Many more will greet the rest of our unit as they arrive. Some of them will fly in from Montana, Connecticut, Illinois and other states or just drive from Pennsylvania. The travel expense to have all those colonels, command sergeant majors, and generals at the bottom of the ramps is far more than the cost of a few cell phone repeaters and reliable routers. If they spent the money that way, all of the hundreds of troops who drag themselves off the plane after an 18-hour flight could call home or see their families on Skype. As it is, they will flood into the barracks, open their computers and find the internet overloaded or down.

Of course, there is NO chance the internet will be upgraded instead of the welcome home ritual. Another group that welcomes us are Viet Nam veterans who got no welcome home themselves. They tell us their mission is to make sure no US soldiers arrive in America without a welcome. I understand why they are doing it. I flew home to Logan Airport, Boston, in bandages during the Viet Nam War. I heard "Baby Killer" but how could they know I never got closer to Viet Nam than Utah? I got injured in a missile explosion in that state. I got no welcome home. Those combat veterans got no welcome home.

So it's great that we get these gestures of freezing dignitaries thanking us for our service, but for most of us, the fact that we come home, have bad cell phone service and bad internet just adds to the indignity of being confined to base and not even allowed one beer or dinner off base back in America--no matter how long out processing takes.

At times like this it is painfully clear that the Army is just another government bureaucracy. It spends tens of thousands to do what makes sense for its own purposes and won't spend a few thousand in a way that would really make the returing soldiers happy and more comfortable.

I have worked since I was 12. I got one of those life-time earning reports from Social Security a couple of years ago. When I got it, I calculated that my part of sending my two daughters to Lancaster Country Day School from kindergarten through the 12th grade works out to 20% of my lifetime after-tax earnings. Both of them are in private Liberal Arts Colleges now and doing very well. I have kept them out of a goverment-run institution for their whole lives thus far. Every time I get in one of these situations where it is painfully clear how bad government programs can be, I feel better about those tuition bills.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who Fights This War--Command Sergeant Major


Today's post is a guest post by the commander's assistant writing about the Task Force Diablo Command Sergeant Major.

By Specialist Andrea Torrano Magee

Command Sgt. Maj. Dell Christine has proudly served in the Army for twenty-nine years. He not only enforces uniform standards in Task Force Diablo, he embodies them. He understands the importance of leading soldiers by setting the example. Once around him for any length of time, one can note he is always sporting a fresh haircut and immaculate uniform. His standards don’t end with just adhering to uniform regulations.

He is a leader who encourages troops to do their best and succeed in whatever they do. He has learned throughout his career that friendship, safety, persistence, and perseverance are what help soldiers be leaders and complete the mission with success. He is not the typical Command Sergeant Major. When one thinks of a Command Sergeant Major, they think rough, gruff, steady, intimidating and tough. Although he does exude all those qualities, he works with soldiers in a different way than most people that attain his rank. When he says he has an open door policy, he means it. He is patient, level headed, and a well rounded leader who has a sincere concern for each and every soldier in his command. His warm and open attitude and personality invite soldiers to talk to him, and they do.

As a result, many soldiers see him more than just the Command Sergeant Major.

He demonstrates many traits that successful leaders possess because he is able to work with so many different personality types. He is stern when he needs to be stern and a great listener when someone needs an ear. Often, he will stop by Lt. Col. Scott Perry’s office and round everyone up for lunch. He recognizes the struggles that we all face on deployment and has said, “You don’t realize it now, but you will miss this place. If you don’t miss the place, you’ll miss the people.” After his deployment to Afghanistan in 2003 he found that he missed eating lunch and dinner with his friends.
“The people that we see day in and day out, share meals and jokes with will work their way into your heart,” he said. “Although we are happy to see our friends and family we left behind, we will end up missing our friends that became our family on the deployment.”

He can be hard to find. He is often traveling across the base, checking in with troops and making sure everyone is okay. He often starts his day at 0400hrs with a 2 mile or more run, then he goes to his office and works well before anyone else shows up. LTC Perry usually works well past midnight, finally falling asleep a few hours prior to CSM Christine waking for the day. Their schedules overlap and it works well for the command.

CSM Christine’s day is usually packed with meetings, taking care of soldier’s issues, advising LTC Perry, and checking on troops. His day normally doesn’t end until well after 1800hrs. He usually eats lunch and dinner with the command staff. He goes to the early service at Chapel every Sunday (0900 hours, not early for him) and has coffee with Capt. Aaron Lippy at God’s Grounds after the service. He believes faith is such an important part of being whole and helps people rise above tough situations. CSM Christine will be starting a new job at Fort Indiantown Gap upon the Task Force’s return to the United States, and if it’s like anything else he’s done, he will be a great success.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who Fights This War? -- Me

My commander wrote about me for the latest issue of the newsletter. Thought you might like to read it.

By Lt. Col. Scott Perry
During a play in 1639, Cardinal Richelieu uttered the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He was certainly not the only to have this opinion, joining greats like Euripides, Shakespeare, and Thomas Jefferson. The sentiment has been germane through the ages, and the current era is no different.
Although serving in a Task Force consisting of awesome strength, firepower and mobility, it is a camera and computer that Sgt. Neil Gussman aims in order to shape the face of the modern battlefield. While bullets and brute force may subdue the most tenacious enemy, over the course of history, opinions, sentiments and perception have been used to greater affect in influencing kings, dynasties and nations. As an accomplished writer, this is something Neil Gussman knows well.
Even so, I had to ask myself, who is this world-influencing neo-gladius whose stories seem to touch the world as easily as he qualifies with his assigned weapon?
As I have learned through my interaction with him, Sgt. Neil Gussman is an eclectic series of mutually un-supporting disciplines, dichotomies and passions that somehow have blended into an exceptional communicative force.
Neil Gussman was 56 years old as of May 2nd, but he doesn’t mind that you can’t keep up with him during Army physical training. And don’t even think about challenging him in a bicycle race. But I’m getting ahead of the story and Neil wouldn’t appreciate that.
Like any other red-blooded American young man, Neil had a passion for fast cars and racing. For those who can appreciate such things, he once owned a ‘69 Cobra Jet Torino featuring a 428 C.I. power plant with a factory 735 dual-feed Holly carburetor and Hurst 4 speed shifter. When he owned a TV that he kept in the basement, the only thing he was interested in watching was NASCAR during the good old days of Cale Yarborough, Alan Kulwicki and Dale Earnhardt Sr. For the purist in Neil, that all ended when the sport departed from bias ply tires.
No problem.
There were other fascinations to occupy the time of this undefined thrill seeker. He had suppressed a motorcycle obsession because his father opposed them. Once on his own, he started out with a Honda 175 and soon was risking his life on the likes of VFR 700s, Interceptors, Hawks and other popular crotch-rockets of the late ‘80s. After a disappointing day at the track he determined he wasn’t practicing enough and he gave up riding having decided he wasn’t really good enough to race.
Neil joined the Air Force in 1972. The next year, he spent over a week in the hospital after being blinded by shrapnel at Hill Air Force Base, Utah during a live-fire exercise of interstage rocket detonators. Incidentally, he had grown up nominally Jewish, but became a Christian while recovering from the blindness. He left the Air Force in 1974 but joined the Army in 1975 as a SP4 Tank gunner and progressed to Tank Commander stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. and Wiesbaden Germany. In 1979, he left the military to go to college.
After departing the service, he used his GI bill benefits to attend Penn State University where he completed his BA in Humanities and an MA in American studies consecutively. After graduating in 1985, he started working for an advertising agency. He noticed others in the agency were out of work when their client left. Recognizing the volatility of the advertising world, Gussman set out to find his own clients. Being familiar with chemistry and calculus, he decided to write about technology for continuous employment and covered electronics until the ad agency acquired a chemical company account. Concentrating on chemistry, in 1998 he became manager of global communications for Millennium Chemicals and was travelling overseas every month. Having no interest in managing as he puts it, “free form-people who each want to rule the world,” in 2001 and 25 countries later, he left to work as a consultant. Now he is the communications manager for the Museum and Library of the history of chemistry and early science which he characterizes as a science museum for grown-ups. The non-profit Chemical Heritage Foundation was founded in 1982 and is located in a 160 year old building located next to the Liberty Museum and Independence Mall in center city Philadelphia.
Having given up motorcycles, he got serious about bicycle riding in 1992 when he logged 8,000 miles. In recent years he’s been racking up over 10,000 miles annually. In April 2007, he broke his neck while riding at 50 MPH down Turkey Hill in Lancaster, PA. The crash resulted in 10 broken bones including three vertebras. Now his 7th vertebra is from a cadaver. His riding repertoire includes cycling on five continents and if you spend any time at Tallil with your eyes open, you no doubt have seen Sgt. Gussman on a bike. He shipped 2 here, bought 2 others since we arrived and he’s met his goal of riding 5000 miles at Tallil Iraq.
I’m sure Neil doesn’t think he’s obsessive or particular. But, how else do you describe a person who goes to a 300 year old Presbyterian Church because he can’t help but criticize the sermons of anything newer? And how else do you explain a person who has organized a spreadsheet enumerating of all the books he’s read as well as an accounting of all his broken bones? -- 32 by the way. An avid athlete, it’s no surprise that he also charts all his physical activities including the mileage he’s run, ridden, pushups, pull-ups, sit ups, etc…
At the age of 54, Neil Gussman re-enlisted in the Army in August 2007. He joined an aviation unit because he was concerned about joining a ground unit, thinking he couldn’t keep up with the 20 year olds. His assessment was wrong. His 26 year old, commanding officer put Gussman in charge of remedial PT to train all in the formation who are unable to pass the test—most of them half his age.
Gussman always wanted to be a writer but prior to college read only science or religious books. Since his first class at The Pennsylvania State University where he read Dante’s Inferno, he has been involved in a love affair with literature. Sgt. Gussman now reads an average of 25 books per year and is hosting 2 separate reading clubs while in Iraq. USA Today recently featured his efforts. When home, he reads other’s stories to his wife and four children; while he’s in Iraq he writes the story of Task Force Diablo’s mission for others to tell the world.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

From Sweating to Freezing

It certainly is cold here. When we left Iraq it was much cooler than when we arrived, but I was still riding in short sleeves. It was in the 70s on cool days, mid to high 80s on hot days. Here at Fort Dix it is below freezing except for about 5 hours in midday when it is just above freezing. If I were not so close to home I would be homesick for the creature comforts of Iraq. In Iraq the internet was slow but it worked. Here it is fast, but down more than it is up and that's with only a few of us using it. It will be permanently unusable when hundreds of us are here. And especially so because the on-line gamers will be back and hogging whatever bandwidth they can dominate. And because we are newly arrived in a new Army bureaucracy, I do not have government internet access, because everyone involved in the cooperative process of establishing access show who is in charge. So I can't do the work that I getting inquiries about from Iraq.

But enough bitching. I have already seen my wife here. My kids are coming up tomorrow. Several of my friends in the local area are planning to visit. I can call anybody on my cell phone. It is wonderful to be back and I will get used to the cold.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back in America--But not Home for 3 Weeks

Yesterday afternoon we landed in America. But I am not home yet. I and everybody else who is out processing from Iraq and Afghanistan cannot leave post until all the paperwork is done. I am in the advance group so we will be on Fort Dix for another three weeks.

But at least we are in America. It is nice to be in my home country even if I can't go home. The Army is a great place to learn patience--or to find out you can't.

This morning in the welcome before 7 1/2 hours of briefings, a colonel told us he thought he was ready to go back to civilian life after his first deployment in 2004. He returned to his job as a marketing manager for a large pharmaceutical company. In a meeting that was dragging on because everyone was waiting for someone else to do something, he stood up and said, "Enough, it's time to make a God-damned decision." He decided to be full time in the Army after that.

I can imagine that in the nasty days of 2004 the transition from life under fire to life in meetings was abrupt. For me, the last few months have almost been life a planned transition back to "the world." I have been working in an office, more importantly a quiet office, with very polite people around me. The Army would blow in and out of the doors when there was an emergency, but then calm resumed.

And now I have three weeks of paperwork in America instead of the usual rush. I can't wait to be a civilian again. I'll just be serving one weekend a month from now until they throw me out for being to old (age 60).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander


As his digital watch silently records the time passing midnight Lt. Col. Scott Perry sits at his desk hand writing letters in response to cards, letters and gifts he receives from folks back home. Some of them he never met. “They took the time to write and thank me for my service,” he said. “The least I can do is answer in kind.” He usually gives in to sleep and goes back to his CHU between midnight and 0100 hours. Time! Best use of time. Lack of time. Perry is always aware of time.
In the morning he is up early and back in the office. “This is an awesome responsibility commanding a combat Task Force,” he said. “I need to be on top of things. I wouldn’t sleep at all if I could dispense with it.”
Each day begins with a calendar review with his assistant Spc. Andrea Magee. She keeps the calendar for Perry and for Maj. Joel Allmandinger, the Task Force Diablo Executive Officer. Allmandinger and Magee also begin their days with coffee: the first one in makes the first pot. Perry does not drink coffee. “I am not going to let something like that own me,” he says of caffeine.
Even though he refuses caffeine, Perry is a bundle of energy. He explodes into a room, moving faster than anyone else around him and asking questions as he strides through doorways. “Magee! I am going to the TOC. Tell me where I am supposed to be at 11,” he says as he walks through his office door around Magee’s work area and out the front door of the building 739, the Task Force command post. Magee has had six months of practice and can spin 180 degrees from the NIPR (non-secure) computer on her desk to the SIPR (secure) computer on the table behind her and answer Perry as he passes by her desk and before he hits the door.
Magee’s meticulous schedules only last until the second crisis. At the first crisis—a downed aircraft in need of recovery, a Red Cross message—Magee switches Allmandinger into the critical meetings Perry will miss and pushes the routine appointments back. It’s the second crisis that brings down the whole schedule.
When Perry is handling the first emergency and Allmandinger is already in a meeting with the brigade commander, when the next crisis hits the whole schedule is gone.
Sometimes it is a mission. Perry and Allmandinger are both Blackhawk pilots on rotation in the Adder missions. Sometimes they are on call for the Adder reserve mission. When reserve goes active, the pilots on call go on flying status.
“When I am flying I am totally focused on the mission,” he said. “It gives me a chance to clear my mind, focus on flying and get myself ready for the next crisis.”
In addition to the round of meetings and appointments that fill his day, Building 739 has a steady stream of visitors wanting to see the commander on a matter of considerable importance to them. When someone without an appointment enters the building they have to pass by Magee before they reach the commander’s office. She asks politely what they need to see the colonel about and usually offers to make an appointment if the subject is not urgent.
Others go to Allmandinger’s office first to get a preliminary reading on whether the request merits a meeting with the commander and if so, when. Both Allmandinger and Magee act as gatekeeper’s for Perry. Sometimes gently, sometimes firmly.
Perry admits to being a chronic workaholic. In civilian life he is the Pennsylvania State Representative for the 92nd congressional district and owner operator of a mechanical contracting business. His usual work pattern was to work at both jobs from early morning until well into the night, go home, then start over again.
The deployment changed the work environment from Central Pa. to Southern Iraq, but the schedule is the same.
One usual habit of a workaholic that Perry does not share is eating at his desk. Despite the obvious time saving of eating from a to-go plate while working, Perry and his staff stop work at midday and in the evening and eat lunch and dinner together. The people at the table vary, but as few as six or as many as sixteen will eat and make jokes together—usually Warriors Dining Facility (DFAC)for lunch and Coalition DFAC for dinner. Few other units have this kind of cohesion in the staff. Eating together often with friends is one of the great benefits of deployment that do not carry over into civilian life.
When he returns from this deployment life is going to be very different. Before deployment his family was just he and his new wife—quite an adjustment after 45 years of being single. Now when he returns to America his eight-month-old daughter will be waiting and sixteen-hour work days will not be an option. He will be back in the legislature with critical state and national elections on the horizon, back in business, a husband, a father for the first time, and they are hoping to move to a larger home.
Perry loves high performance cars, used to race, and talks about what car he should drive next: his Corvette will look a little awkward with a baby seat. He also loves clocks. He wears a digital G Force watch here because he breaks regular watches in the cockpit. But at home in a suit he wears simple, well-made analog watches. He has three fine timepieces in his home, clocks with precise German-made movements that announce each second with a firm “tick.”
With the little time left in the deployment, Perry will finish paperwork, get in final flights, plan for life after deployment, and get ready to make sure the 700-plus members of Task Force Diablo get home to their families. And there will never quite be enough time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander's Assistant


In 2009 her life has gone through more changes than a chameleon walking on a rainbow. Spc. Andrea Magee, 27, of Pleasanton, California, began the deployment as Andrea Whitacre working in flight operations for Task Force Diablo. Also, when the deployment began she was engaged for a year to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Magee, a former Marine Sniper who is an Air Traffic Controller attached to 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.
In March, things began to change. On March 18, they changed more. That was the day Andrea and Jeremy got married. They were going to wait, but waiting meant living in separate CHUs for the entire deployment, marriage meant the same CHU. So they were married in their ACU uniforms in Commanche Courthouse. During the next month they made plans to share a CHU at Joint Base Balad.
Then in mid-April, the commander of 28th Combat Aviation Brigade decided we would not be going to JBB, but to Tallil Ali Air Base. So after a couple of weeks in tents in Kuwait, they got their CHU at Tallil in May. Then in June another change. Andrea became the assistant to Lt. Col. Scott Perry and Maj. Joel Allmandinger, the commander and the executive officer of Task Force Diablo. Andrea went from shift work in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to maintaining the schedules for Perry and Allmandinger, as well as removing some of their paperwork burden.
Her first instruction in her new job was that
nothing she hears in the command building gets repeated outside. She also found out that one of her important duties was controlling the traffic into the commander’s office. “Not everyone who wants to see the commander right away actually needs to,” she said. Another important task was rebuilding the schedules of the commander and executive officer when a crisis throws the whole schedule off for hours or a whole day.
“If one of them is on Reserve and gets called to fly, the other has to cover the most important meetings and everything else has to get pushed to the next available date,” Magee said. “And the call always comes a day when both of their schedules are packed.”
Magee currently has more than 60 credit hours in college and plans to finish a bachelor’s degree and attend Officer Candidate School within the next two years.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Who Fights This War? Executive Officer and Racer

On September 11, 2001, Maj. Joel Allmandinger was visiting his parents in Tehachapi, California, with his wife and two children. He was on terminal leave after eight years on active duty as an Army Aviation Officer and a Blackhawk pilot. The 1993 graduate of West Point was ready to be a civilian. He is a strong advocate of free enterprise and was ready to go to work for a Fortune 500 Company and start on the road to the top of corporate management.
Then he heard the horrible news from New York, from the Nation’s Capital, from a field in western Pennsylvania. The nation he swore to defend was under attack just as he finished eight years of peacetime service. It was nearly a week before regular airline service was restored. On September 16, Allmandinger and his family flew home to Macungie, Pa. As soon as he arrived, he drove to Fort Indiantown Gap and signed up to serve in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Allmandinger began his civilian career and is on the path he sought. When he left for this deployment, he was a Key Account Executive for the Kellogg Company, one of the largest food producers in the world. He is responsible for a significant part of Kellogg’s business with Giant Food Stores in Pennsylvania, an account worth tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue for Kellogg. He plans to return to that job when Task Force Diablo’s deployment ends in January.
During his tour in Iraq, Allmandinger served as Executive Officer for Task Force Diablo. He flew Adder missions weekly, attended the many short and long meetings that go into running an aviation battalion, and worked every day until crew rest requirements forced a day off. As executive officer, Allmandinger was in command whenever the commander was flying and when Perry was on R&R leave.
The major’s day begins before 0600 hours with a long morning run or bike ride followed by weight training in the gym. Allmandinger was on the bicycle racing team at West Point and has won running races here and in Iraq, including the 15k Boilermaker run in July. He also was the first finisher to both ride and run in the Task Force Diablo Biathlon in November. After his workout he faces a full day of meetings, crises, last-minute changes, and problems resolved. Every day is packed with activity through early evening and sometimes well into the night. This is Allmandinger’s second deployment. He served in Kosovo in 2005-6. He also must find time to fly in addition to his other National Guard commitments and balance all of this with a demanding job, family life, working out and training for bicycle racing.
Deployments are not the best plan for career advancement, but he decided more than nine years ago that he would do his best to keep his life in level flight whichever way the wind blows.