Friday, June 29, 2012

AT Day 22, the Last Day, Barracks Cleaning, Final Paperwork

This morning I woke up for the final time in Barracks 4-84, my home for most of the last three weeks.  I took the bunk in the northwest corner of the barracks, so there is just a wall on one side of my bunk and the affable mechanic Angel Matias on the other side.  I woke at 0600 this morning.  Most of this week I have been sleeping in until a late and luxuriant 0630, but this morning I wanted to be sure to get all my stuff out of the barracks before the cleaning party began.

Matias is always the last one up in the morning.  He also goes to bed later than I do--and I usually go to bed around midnight.  So at 0600 Matias was in his sleeping bag sound asleep.  I was dressed, shaved and carrying my bedding out the door before Matias got out of bed, but he was ready at 0715 when we went to breakfast.

They cleared out all the remaining food for breakfast this morning--eggs, English muffins, sausage gravy, bacon, fruit, and cereal.

At 0815 we were back at the barracks and cleaning.  Four soldiers mopped and swept the main room, I took two enlisted men with me to clean the latrine.  I brought toilet cleaner from home so we would be able to leave the very clean looking blue water in the bowl--making it evident we really cleaned the latrine.  The other two soldiers cleaned the sinks and the showers.  I cleaned the toilets.  A third group walked around the building picking up trash--Police Call in Army language.

We waited an hour for the inspector then found out the barracks floor had to be waxed.  We waxed the floor and sent most of the group to the armory in case they were any final details to tie up.  With the barracks inspected, two of us went to the armory for additional paperwork and everyone else left.  I have other meetings because my duties are evolving faster than bacteria with a new food supply.

But I will be home for dinner tonight!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

AT Day 21, First Fueling Experience

Since August of 2007 when I came back in the Army, I have been in Echo Company of 2-104th Aviation.  Echo has all the fuelers, but in almost five years,today was the first time I fueled an aircraft myself.  It was "Cold" fuel: that is when the helicopters engines are shut down.  The other option is hot fuel--the NASCAR pit stop style of fueling where the aircraft is fueled while the blades are turning.  As soon as fueling is completed, the aircraft takes off.  

Here is a photo of two Chinooks getting hot fuel at Schuykill County Airport

And a short video of a Blackhawk being fueled

Saturday, June 23, 2012

AT Day 16, Low Crawl, High Crawl, Make Your Own Mud

Today we went through the fire and maneuver course.  Here is the 17 soldiers I train with before we started crawling.
We first learned how to search a car, how to handle a prisoner and how to run a check point.  When we went through the fire and maneuver course the ground was dry dust, but it was afternoon and 90 degrees.  By the time I had low crawled (flat on the ground, face in the dirt) and high crawled (head up) through the dust, most of us had mud on the front of our shirts.  The sweat soaked through our shirts and made mud.

Days like this clearly show me the difference between being in shape and being a 20 year old.  I can run, ride and do the PT test exercises very well because that's what I practice.  Fire and maneuver and crawling through the dirt uses different muscles and a lot of sprinting.  I was really breathing hard at different points in the exercise.  I could tell I would be sore the next day.  The 20 year olds, even those in not-so-good shape recover a lot better.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Barber on Third Deployment

Sgt Shawn Adams, 34, an aircraft refueler from Connecticut is in PA to train for his third deployment with 104th Aviation.  Adams has 16 years in the Army, enlisting right out of high school in 1996.  He served three years on active duty in the field artillery then came home to CT and joined the 104th Aviation.

Before he joined the Army, he learned to cut hair.  "I've been cutting hair all my life," he said.  "I never went to school.  I learned on my own and worked in a lot of barber shops."

Adams was the unofficial barber of G Company, 104th Aviation when they deployed to Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan in 2003.  "We set up a tent in the hangar that was the barber shop.  Word got around and I was cutting hair for people all over the base."

In Iraq in 2009 Adams and many other refuelers worked on Forward Operating Bases across the country.  During the deployment Adams was assigned to fueling operations at Camp Garry Owen, Balad Air Base, Camp Normandy, Riflestock and Tallil Air Base.

At every base he cut hair.  He has a portable haircutting kit.  Tonight he set up in the latrine in our barracks.  Adams is married and has a 5-year-old son.

Sgt. Shawn Adams with a happy customer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Photos! Coming soon

I have many photos from the previous two weeks of training and hope to have more from training during the upcoming week. Rather and add the photos to previous posts, I will upload photos and mark them to refer back to the training they were from.

Hope to get the photos on line soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

AT Day 11, Death by PowerPoint, Army Style

Today we had a morning session of chemical warfare training and an afternoon of PowerPoint slides. In the morning we began with PowerPoint but also had a lot of hands-on training. We completely disassembled and cleaned our Protective masks then put on our chemical protective suits. Wearing these suits makes everyone hope we never get attacked with chemical weapons.

After an MRE lunch we had four hours of Army PowerPoint presentations. If you think PowerPoints are boring in civilian life, here is how Army PowerPoints go. One of the presentations was 86 slides on Field Sanitation. The presenter introduces the topic. He puts up the first slide and has a soldier read it. The slides are all text, usually two or three paragraphs. After the soldier reads, hesitating over the many multi-syllable Latin-derived words--like sanitation--the instructor makes a few comments then he has the next soldier read the next slide. This continues until we have read all 86 slides.

You might wonder how anyone could stay awake during a series of several of these presentations. The big motivation is that if you are caught sleeping, you might have to do the class again. I got up and walked around several times.

One of the presentations was about the importance of hydration in the desert. 78 slides. Wow!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

AT Day 9, Last Day of Regular AT

Today was the last day of annual training for the battalion. Tomorrow is the first day of pre-deployment training for those who are deploying.
Last night was the last night I will be sleeping in an almost empty barracks. Just three of us are in a 40-man open bay. Like passengers on an empty train, we are spread across the whole room. I am in the northwest corner. Another guy is in the southeast corner. The third guys is in the middle on the east side.
The guy in the middle snores. But it's just him.
Today my big task is taking the battalion photo. The commander wants a photo of all the soldiers at annual training. Next year more than half of us will be deployed so it will be several years before a group this big will be together.
We set up the photo on the air strip in front of the control tower. Muir Field, the airport at Fort Indiantown, is the 3rd busiest heliport in the world.
The Delta maintenance crew towed a Chinook directly in front of the control tow and flanked it with two Blackhawks--a MEDEVAC on the right and an air assault transport model on the left.
It was a bright, sunny, cloudless day. At 1245 more than 250 soldiers formed up for the picture.
SSG Blake Andrews, one of the Chinook flight engineers and an avid photographer, helped me work out the best distance to take the picture.
It might seem like a simple question, but the place they wanted the phot was centered on the control tower, but of center with a PA National Guard logo painted on the runway. I had to take the picture with the commander, CSM and staff standing on a white blob.
Anyway, I got the picture. I'll post a copy of the picture in a later post.

I took the picture at 1300. After the formation and photo, I went back to the armory and phase 1 of training ended for me. At 1500 hours, we got a briefing that marked the beginning of Phase 2. We got the schedule of training for the next two weeks.

After the briefing, everyone in my training group moved into the barracks. No more semi-private room.

By 1730, I ate dinner and changed to ride my bike. After yesterday's run my legs were killing me. I was hoping a ride would help.

After the ride I drove home to see my family. I told the boys about what I was doing then listened to my wife read upcoming blog posts ( to meand a very funny book. I went back to the barracks after I finished folding laundry and fell right to sleep.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

AT Day 7, PR Guy in Camo

The big event today was an open house event at Schuykill County Airport in Pottsville PA.  This is the second year that 2-104th Aviation set up a remote refueling site at the airport.  This year we added a full Air Traffic Control station.  The Pottsville Republican-Herald sent a reporter and a photographer videographer.  They wrote a story and posted a video here.

The manager of the Schuykill County Airport, Bill Willard, said he likes having us train at the facility and hopes we come back every year.

Below are some photos from the open house.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

AT Day 6, Dropping Patients for MEDEVAC Training

This morning we flew on a clear, sunny and cold morning to drop off patients for MEDEVAC training.  We flew from MUIR field to Selingsgrove for the drop off.  Part of the flight plan was for me to take aerial shots of the refueling site after we dropped the patients off so I was sitting in the door gunner's seat on the left side of the Blackhawk.

The gunner's seat is both good and bad.  Great view no doubt about that, but whoever designed the Blackhawk must believe that gunners are no more than 5 feet 8 inches tall or have short legs.  Sitting sideways in that seat, my knees are jammed in and my knees start getting stiff about 15 minutes after takeoff.  I twist sideways.  When we land, I stick my legs out the window.

Anyway, it was cold enough that I shut the window on the way up to Selingsgrove.  I closed the window on the way to the refueling point at Schuykill County Airport, opening it 10 minutes before we arrived.

I was on a headset for the whole flight.  When I am on the headset, I can hear the crew talking to each other and the radio transmissions in and out.  The pilots on this flight were a warrant officer with 20 years experience and a lieutenant who recently graduated flight school.  They talked through the flight operations much more than crews usually do.  For a non-pilot, it was interesting to hear all the decisions they make and how the pass control of the aircraft back and forth.  We flew over several ridges and down into valleys.  The lieutenant did some fast maneuvers rotating  the Blackhawk left and right almost 90 degrees.  Since I was facing sideways, when he did this I was either looking straight up into the sky or straight down into the trees about 50 feet below.

When we got to the refueling point I saw a multi-ship mission flying in from Virginia.  Two Chinooks and a Blackhawk flew in just ahead of us.  I was SOOOOOO happy.  Pictures of refuel sites are very dull--two fuel trucks and some hoses in an open field.  This time when we orbited for the picture, there were two Chinooks getting hot fuel (with the rotors turning).  A much better picture.

Below is a video of the Blackhawk I was riding in and another Blackhawk getting fuel.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

AT Day 5, Rain and VIP Visit

Not much flying today.  Bad weather, especially low clouds cut most of the flights.  But it was a perfect day for visitors.  The battalion commander brought his civilian boss and two co-workers for a visit.  The tour began in the drill hall with personal and crew-served weapons.  They got to check out a pistol, an M4 carbine, an M249 SAW, a MK 19 grenade launcher and an M2 .50 Cal. Machine gun.  After the weapons they ate MREs for lunch and looked at aircraft in the hangar.

If we set it up in advance, we can bring our co-workers to the armory and flight facility.  The National Guard has a program encouraging visits.  It's a long trip, but I plan to ask my coworkers if they want to see aircraft up close.  And maybe some weapons.

They can look cool with a .50 Cal!!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

AT,Day 4, Flying to VA on a Blackhawk

Today I got on a Blackhawk flight south to Virginia. Our unit was supporting air assault training for an infantry unit. As it turned out, the schedule for the training changed and I did not see any training. But since my main goal for the day was to get an aerial picture of the refueling and air traffic operation I wrote about yesterday, the whole day should turn out well for me. We are supposed to drop passengers then go to refueling point. It will mean I flew 600 miles instead of 60, but that's not so bad.

When we landed, I went to the chow hall with our detachment. They had the breakfast waiting: eggs to order, pancakes, bacon, ham, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, juice and coffee!!!

Here's one of the crew chiefs getting us ready to take off.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

AT, Day 3, Refueling Point and Air Traffic Control

On Sunday morning I took a 30-mile ride to Schuykill County Airport where our unit was setting up a refueling operation and air traffic control. Before we left, I watched a Chinook helicopter pick up a Humvee with a trailer attached. The Humvee and trailer together have the equipment to run communications for an air traffic operation. I watched the helicopter fly north. When I arrived at the airport the air traffic crew was putting the radios into operation and setting up antennas.

The refueling point was already in operation and fueled two Blackhawks while I was there.

The rest of the day I was back down in the weeds trying to get an internet connection to upload photos to FLICKR and Facebook.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Annual Training, Day 2, Medical

When I went to Iraq, medical was a full day. Some of the lines were three hours long. We did not even start medical until 130pm and were done by 5pm. Hearing, dental vision and everything else checked out fine. When I got to the final sign off with the doctor I remembered him from the last trip. He is a National Guard doctor with a private practice. He has patients my age that are way out of shape. He likes meeting people who are not killing themselves with their own lifestyle choices--even if those people are getting ready to deploy.

So I got through everything. Now back to regular training.

Annual Training, Day 2, Paperwork and Medical

This morning I set my alarm for 5:26 am. This gave me a 4-minute head start on 80 guys using the six sinks in our shared bathroom.

My teeth were brushed and face face clean shaven before the farting herd crowded into the latrine.

I packed up my bedding, got dressed and went to an Army breakfast--eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, cereal, fruit, juice and coffee.

At home I hardly eat breakfast, but as soon as I put on a uniform, I am hungry at O-Dark-30.

At 0640 we formed up for one-day processing. We got our records and headed for the ten paperwork stations to be sure we had wills, insurance, financial arrangements for deployment, plans for our family, a current ID card and two sets of dog tags. They gave the one-day people VIP tags and put us at the head of all the lines!!! This was cool. In 2008 this process took all of a long day. We were done by 1030.

Next we went to field-gear issue. We boarded a bus with our clothing records and they gave us body armor and whatever we were missing from our field gear issue. Many of us had field gear we never used from Iraq (it is mostly cold and rain gear) so we just got the things we were missing.

After field gear we changed from our camouflage duty uniform to PTs. We had a box lunch of Lunchables (no kidding the crust-free sandwiches!!!)Lorna Doones, TGI Fridays chips and water. Healthy choice!!!

Next is medical processing.

More on that later.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Annual Training, Day 1

Today we reported for duty at Noon. The first day of training is a travel day. So I ran in the morning, went to the gym, then hung around with my family before driving to Fort Indiantown Gap.

When I got there, I checked in with my unit before going to the SRP site. SRP stands for Soldier Readiness Processing. It is all the stuff they do to get you ready to deploy.

We had a formation at 1300. By 1330 we had another formation just for those of us assigned for processing in just one day. This is unusual. The process usually takes three days. The lieutenant in charge released us until 0640 tomorrow morning.

I went back to my unit and arranged for a trip to a fuel site on Sunday.

Then I went and had dinner with my family. My oldest daughter Lauren was in town so I got to spend a few some time with her and the boys before going back to my barracks.

Since I got in late and the barracks were full, I got a top bunk in the corner.

For the first time in a year, I got to experience the Snore Serenade of sound bouncing around the 40-man room full of snoring, farting soldiers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Camp on Friday

Annual Training begins for me the end of this week.  I will try to write every day about what I am doing--whatever that turns out to be.

Since we keep all our gear in the armory, packing is not such a big deal.  Most of my packing is bike stuff so I can ride at the end of the duty day--when the day's training ends before dark.

More later.

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