Saturday, July 30, 2011

Who Fights Our Wars: Staff Sergeant Jeremy Houck

At the good-bye dinner in late January 2009, the night before 2-104th board the planes to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, my family and I sat with Sgt. Jeremy Houck and his parents.  Jeremy sat with next to his Mom on one side and my daughter Lisa on the other.  Lisa was a senior in high school.  When we all had our food, Lisa had green beans, mashed potatoes (no gravy) and salad.  Jeremy loked at her plate and said, "Where's your dinner?"  Lisa told him she was a vegetarian and did not eat meat.  Jeremy said, "I am a carnivore.  I don't eat vegetables."  For much of the rest of dinner they made jokes about each other's eating habits.  During the deployment, Lisa sent me brownies, but included a protein brownie for Jeremy in one batch and a can of Spam in another.  Jeremy at the brownie and the Spam.

From training for the deployment in PA, through training in Oklahoma and Kuwait, to the deployment itself, Jeremy was out in front of all kinds of training.  He led PT at 0530 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Oklahoma and was a convoy commander in Oklahoma and Kuwait.  He went down the rappel ropes as many times as he could and went over and and over in the Humvee rollover trainer.  He could help other soldiers with all kinds of basic skills.  His smoking kept him off the top of the PT score list, but he always scored high.  

When we got to Iraq, Jeremy was right at the center of a dispute that lasted the rest of the deployment.  He is an electrician with a degree in electrical engineering.  When we arrived in country Tallil was not ready for us.  Echo lost two maintenance squad leaders on the second day.  Jeremy went from maintenance squad leader to electrician.  He worked full time for the rest of the deployment getting power to maintenance hangars, operations centers and headquarters offices.  The motor pool wanted him back.  Jeremy was in the middle.  But he and the rebuild team did some great work across the base throughout the deployment.

Jeremy helped me personally more times than I can count.  In one particular instance, he kept me going when I was ready to quit.  Before deployment, Jeremy, Sgt. Kevin Bigelow and I were three of the first ten soldiers to go through the new Live Fire Shoot House at Fort Indiantown Gap.  This was in the fall of 2008, just a month before I had surgery to repair four ligaments in my right shoulder--left over damage from the big bike accident in 2007.  First day we had to fire and M4 on full auto with one hand.  I shoot right handed.  I was going to quit.  Jeremy convinced me I could do it.  He was right.  I made it through and had a lot more confidence going into the deployment because I finished that course.

Jeremy is in Afghanistan now.  He is with an engineer unit.  He volunteered almost as soon as we returned to America.  When he comes back Lisa and I will take him out to whatever kind of carnivore dinner he wants.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Fights Our Wars: Captain Bryson Meczywor

During the July drill weekend, Captain Bryson Meczywor passed command of Echo Company 2-104th to his long-time executive officer, First Lieutenant Brian Marquardt.  Meczywor assumed command of Echo in November of 2008 just as we were getting ready to deploy to Iraq.  He had just three months to get to know his soldiers in Echo in Pennsylvania before many new soldiers were added to our ranks at Fort Sill OK.  Meczywor interviewed every soldier under his command.

The commander who preceded Meczywor was older (not old like me, but almost 40!) had family and work problems and was not very involved with the unit.  Meczywor worked full time as a recruiter, was just 25 years old, had prior enlisted service in the artillery, and was all Army.  I don't think he scored less than 300 on the PT Test during the entire deployment.  He dove into everything Echo from his first day in command.

Echo Company maintains motor vehicles for the 2-104th Aviation Battalion, fuels the aircraft, cooks the food and, if necessary, provides ground security for the battalion.  From train up at Fort Sill beginning at the end January of 2009 to Annual Training in June of this year, Meczywor pushed Echo to do more than what the regulations require in every area.

In Iraq, the 110 or so men and women of Echo Company set up fueling operations in FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) covering about a quarter of the entire area of the country of Iraq.  Echo soldiers rotated in and out of Normandy, Riflestock, Garry Owen and other bases fueling every kind of aircraft that could land in their FOBs.  These 24/7 fueling operations were rocket and mortar targets--especially Garry Owen.  Meczywor flew all over Iraq and was on the ground with his soldiers wherever they were assigned.

Echo trained harder than any other company in weapons and security operations both in Fort Sill and in Kuwait.  We never were called on to provide convoy or perimeter security in Iraq, but Echo was ready.

The day before we left for Iraq, Meczywor told us we were being assigned to a different base in the south, not the base where we originally assigned.  This change would leave Meczywor in a terrible position for the first month of the deployment.  All of our equipment was 200 miles away from Tallil Air Base at Balad Air Base.  Meczywor went to Balad to get our equipment while we moved into a base without facilities for Army Aviation.  Higher headquarters took away some of the best Echo NCOs to rewire buildings, build and remodel facilities and get aircraft maintenance facilities in working order.  At the same time, Echo troops were setting up fueling operations Iraq.  He kept all of these operations going and then started over a month later when the motor pool, company headquarters and two of the fueling operations were moved.

Meczywor gave me my favorite extra duty of my army career in Fort Sill when he put me in charge of remedial PT (physical training).  For the time we were in Fort Sill, I was the sergeant in charge of fitness training for the 40 soldiers who flunked the fitness test when we first mobilized.  We got most of the soldiers who flunked at least to a passing score.  When I joined, I was worried I would have trouble keeping up physically.  Being in charge of remedial PT reminded me I could make it whenever I doubted myself.

It's hard to be a good leader without being an SOB.  As much as I respect Meczywor as a leader, we had our difficulties.  We butted heads when I moved to battalion headquarters in the middle of deployment. He didn't want me to go and made his feelings very clear.  It was a compliment of sorts.  He thought I was worth keeping in Echo or we would not have had a problem.

Our deployment was more drama than action, but I very much believe that if things had gone badly, Meczywor would have shown how good he and Echo really were.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bear-ly Made Ride Down Gold Mine Road

After drill on Sunday, I rode up and down Gold Mine Road north of Fort Indiantown Gap.  The 5-mile climb has many challenges, but until today, they all had to do with the road itself.  Gold Mine Road is a left turn of Route 443 north of Lebanon.  As soon as you get on the road it drops steeply for about 30 feet, then starts the long climb up.

The first mile is mostly up, but has a couple of short descents and is mostly out in the sun.  Mile two is the beginning of the woods that line the road all the way to the top.  Mile two gets steeper until it is 17% just before the crest at two miles.  Then the road drops steeply down for a half mile.  Very steep.  The second time I rode down this stretch I hit 57mph.  Today I hit 54.  At the bottom of that drop, the road goes up for just under 2.5 miles to the Lebanon County line.

I rode up, turned around and flew back down.  In three minutes I was making the difficult climb up the steep half mile in the middle of the hill.  At the top I went straight down through the tight, steep right and left down to the edge of the woods.  When I went around the last turn and came out of the woods, I clamped on the brakes (at 40 mph) and pulled off the road.  A hundred yards in front of me was a big black bear on all fours stopped in the middle of the road.  He was facing across the road to the west, but stopped with the yellow line running under his belly.

He stayed where he was. I stayed where I was.

Then two cars came down the hill.  They slowed as they approached the bear, but didn't stop.  When the first car got very close, the bear ran into the trees on the west side of the road.  I turned around and rode back up the hill about 200 yards.  I wanted speed.  I turned around and pedaled hard to the spot where Mr. Bear ran into the woods.  I couldn't see him.  I kept going.  I know that I would lose in any encounter with a bear.

Last week they warned us about bears in Wyoming and I never saw one.  I didn't expect to see one in PA and there he was!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Back from Vacation

For the last week, I was in Jackson, Wyoming, with my in-laws on a family vacation.  Every year my father-in-law, Hall Crannell, arranges travel and lodging for 15 or more family members.  The Crannell family is a very frugal bunch--as evidenced by my wife's blog Miser-Mom.  We ate meals together every day, taking turns cooking dinner.  Hall cooked most of the breakfast meals, and lunch was leftovers and cold sandwiches.  I cooked hamburgers and hot dogs for my turn.  Other nights were salmon and stroganoff (a little weird I know--it was a request), pasta, and other fare for fifteen folks.

Now I am back to playing Army.  More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Counting Down

I realized today that I was paying more attention to the coverage of the space shuttle's last flight than I might have otherwise.  What I was listening to is the shuttle program expiration date.  I kept hoping that NASA would change its mind and extend the aging shuttle program another few years.

Obviously, I was thinking the same about the "Gussman in the Army" program that has an expiration date of 22 months from now.  I had so much fun at summer camp that I realized the next summer camp is my last one--unless I get a waiver to serve over age 60.  I will age out in May 2013.  If summer camp in 2013 is actually in the summer, I will be out before it begins.

You might be thinking that I got in on waivers and I have many people who would support me staying in, but that was in 2007and early 2008 when enlistments were down, the economy was up and the Army needed more people.  Now the reverse is true and it is not likely to change in time for me.  The brigade command sergeant major told me about another CSM who tried for a waiver to go on a deployment that would put him over age 60 before the scheduled end of the deployment.  He took a general out to dinner to plead his case and did not get a waiver.

But I won't give up trying.  Who knows, maybe things will get better or worse in a way that will make one more old soldier necessary for the mission.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flying Army

Today I got up and put on my uniform at 5am.  I did not have a drill weekend, I flew on vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  This family vacation is an annual event paid for by my very generous father-in-law Hall Crannell.  He flies the whole family to a vacation spot for a week.  He has three daughters with families, so with the kids, he buys 15 - 17 tickets depending on the year and rents the vacation place.  This year is Jackson Hole.  I have missed a few for work reasons.  The best one I missed was in 2006:  a cruise to Alaska from Vancouver!!!!  

Anyway, I flew in uniform which may or may not be the right thing to do, but I haven't asked and no one told me I shouldn't do it.  The practical advantages are obvious.  We flew from Philadelphia.  My wife, my sons and I were whisked past the waiting line for the security checks to the scanners.

On the first flight, I was seated next to a master sergeant going to annual training.  He said when he was going to wear the uniform on the return flight.  He enlisted in 1977, five years after I did, but long enough back in history that he ate C-rations for years.  We both agreed that people who complain about MREs should have to eat C-rations.

There were a few open seats on the first flight, but the flight from Chicago to Jackson Hole was overbooked and I was the only one with a seat assignment.  We all got seats, but in different parts of the plane.  The boys sat together and got a 12-year-old girl as the third person on the row.  The three of them had a great trip.  My wife got a seat alone where she could read.

A few minutes after take-off on the trip to Jackson Hole, the flight attendant asked me why I didn't want to sit in first class.  I told her no one asked me.  So she moved me up to the front of the plane.  I had already eaten so when they served the first class lunch, I brought the sandwich back to the boys.  They can always eat a second lunch.

In 22 months I will be a civilian again unless I get some kind of waiver to stay longer.  No more flying in uniform after that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting the TOC off the Ground

This group of shots shows the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) Troops getting the tent ready to raise the roof.

Raising the Roof of Operations

At the beginning of Annual Training the Operations Section (S-3) set up a full Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in a tent near the ranges at Fort Indiantown Gap.  Because the equipment inside the TOC includes classified material, I could not take pictures of the TOC in operation.  But in the next post I will show you pictures of the setting up the TOC tent.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...