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.