Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back at Drill at 28th Combat Aviation--So Happy to be Back!

Went to drill this weekend just a week and a half after leaving Fort Meade.  So nice to be back at my unit!  I did not get up until 5:50 a.m. for drill!  Almost Noon compared to the student company at Fort Meade.

I missed the morning sling load mission and today's mission got cancelled for fog.  But I still got some good shots of the crews returning on Saturday and doing some drills on the airstrip on Sunday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our Class was Hit by a Cruz Missile

We learned to be Public Affairs specialists.  Military public affairs is, by nature, crisis public affairs.  The best practice is to be ready for every contingency.  So when a real crisis befell DINFOS, why did the center of public affairs not have a plan that put students first?
Our instructor said before the shutdown that having the same journalism instructor grade their students throughout the course was a priority at DINFOS.  Clearly not enough of a priority to keep the civilian journalism instructors here. 

Features is considered the most difficult part of the BPASC course.  Anyone paying attention to the news knew weeks in advance that the Republicans were going to shut the government down.  So why were the journalism instructors furloughed? 

In just one week we lost four students.  One of them was an otherwise strong student, a woman named student captain in the detachment, who got contradictory coaching from two new instructors and failed.  If students were really a priority, how could there be no provision to keep two instructors during the most difficult week?  Since it is clear the current Congress could shut down the government a half dozen more times before the next election, is there a plan to put students ahead when federal tantrums occur?

In public affairs, we had a contradiction that would have been funny if the participants were conscious of it.  One morning early on we were told how important it is to maintain our commitment to the DINFOS motto “Strength through Truth.”  The morning instructors told us that all we have in our relationship with the media is our own credibility.  If we lose it, it is difficult or impossible to recover.

Then in the afternoon, two Air Force instructors who are married to each other recounted how they handled the media the day after Osama Bin Laden was killed.  The story went on for a while with the two sergeants enthusiastically handing it back and forth.  But the important thing was the command message.  The fact that Fairchild AFB was on high alert and everyone was backed up at the gate for miles trying to get to work had NOTHING to do with Bin Laden’s death.

The sergeants knew the message was BS.  But they told us with glee that they met the media at the gate, they stayed on message, and were successful because none of the media at the gate reported that the high level of security on base was linked to events in Pakistan.

I work in PR as a civilian.  I understand their glee at getting a difficult command message through.  But most of the students are new to the field.  The message the students were murmuring at break: “Wow.  They lied their asses off.” 

Everyone in crisis PR knows a time will come when they must stay on a ludicrous message.  But this part of Public Affairs is not something the best practitioners take lightly.   In my own media relations experience, I know how difficult it is to make and keep relationships with reporters.  I would not use an example like this with basic course students.

Linking this incident back to the shutdown, the sergeants who stayed on command message at the Fairchild gate came up with a plan and executed it overnight.  So if two teachers in training could do that, I have to assume the whole of DINFOS could come up with a plan to benefit students in a month and execute it flawlessly.  The other alternative is that protecting the students from the shutdown was not a priority.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Dad and I, by the Numbers on Veterans Day

If my father were alive on this Veterans Day in 2013 he would be 107 years old.  In a strange coincidence of numbers my father left the Army at age 54 after 19 years of service. He did not choose to leave but was forced out without a retirement by the age in grade law passed by the U.S. Congress.

George Gussman enlisted in 1939 for two years. He was 34 years old and just barely got in under the age limit for enlistment which is 34 years and 364 days. On your 35th birthday you are too old to join the Army. After two years of service as an enlisted man, he was going to get out in December 1941. But in December 1941 all discharges were put on hold and Dad stayed in the Army not only for the duration of World War 2, but a total of 19 years.

Although he had only an eighth grade education he had worked in warehouses and the Army needed officers so dad went to Officer Candidate School.   He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1942. Dad's first command was a black company at Camp Shenango, Pennsylvania.

The Army was not going to send my father overseas because as I well know in Army years my dad was impossibly old in the 1940s. His next command was a prisoner of war camp in what is now the Reading, Pa., Airport.   He served there until the end of the war in charge of 600 Afrika Korps prisoners.

After the war he became a reserve officer and served weekends and summers expecting to retire when he reached 20 years of service. But the age and grade law forced Maj. Gussman out with 19 years and no retirement. He was 54 years old at the time. He left the Army in 1958 when I was five years old.

 I was in high school before I realized how deeply hurt my dad was by the age in grade law and what it meant to him. He was a career soldier he served during World War II and just before he would've got a retirement was rejected. If he blamed anyone he blamed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Kennedy was a  congressman at the time and voted for this law.

Almost 50 years after my father discharged from the Army I reenlisted in the Army in August 2007 at age 54. At the time I reenlisted I had to sign an initial several pieces of paper said yes I understand I will not be able to retire. I was being allowed back in the Army because the enlistment age was temporarily raised 42 and I had 11 years of prior service so I could get back in with a waiver. But I could not stay in the military long enough to accumulate 20 years and retire. For those who don't know the military retirement requires 20 years of service. As my father showed at 19 years you get nothing.

So in 2015 I will leave the military a year or two short of retiring.

 I got out of the military in 1985 because I was 32 years old and assumed that before I could get 20 years of service I would end up fighting in a war in a desert. On top of that if I survived the desert war I thought was in my future I wouldn't collect any money until I was 60 years old because that's how reserves retirement works. If I had stayed in the Army reserve in the tank unit I was in I would've served during Desert Storm but it was over so quickly I would never have actually gone to Iraq.

And I would have started collecting my military pension this year. But as things turned out I went to my desert war anyway two decades later than I thought and I won't be getting the pension.  I can smile about this.  My Dad was bitter, but I hope wherever he is he can smile at the irony of this.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Welcome to DINFOS

A new student beginning the public affairs course here will get two immediate messages.
  1. We do not trust you.
  2. Any problems you have are your fault.

Before we had our first class, six members of the chain of command here gave us separate briefings that said, on the one hand, you are beginning one of the more difficult academic courses in the military so you better pay attention and try your best.

But on the other hand, we at DINFOS have no responsibility for the actions and policies of the detachment, so you must do everything the detachment requires, everything that we require and it will be your fault if the school and the detachment contradict each other. 

Translation:  Student Problems are Not My Job.

The Army detachment decided arbitrarily earlier this year to require all students, even combat veterans with fitness awards, to wake up at 4 a.m. and do fitness training five days a week with students out of basic training. 

For the entire course, the students standing up at their desks by 9 a.m., the students repeating simple errors, and the students who were accused of inattention were Army soldiers who were waking up at 4 a.m. while their Air Force, Coast Guard slept till 6:30 every morning and even the Marines got to sleep later a couple of mornings each week.

How can the school say that our classwork is the most important thing we do, then say it is not their job to make sure we have the best environment to learn?  My wife is a college professor.  At her school, a professor and a dean have offices in each of the dorms.  It is called a House System.  They do this so the college staff and the professors have every opportunity to work together for the success of the students. 

Here, the detachment can arbitrarily decide to make soldier skills take priority over class and the school does nothing.

Beyond the morning fitness training, the detachment added Physical Readiness Training on Tuesday nights.  Why?  According to the platoon sergeants at the detachment, the Army will, sometime in the future, be changing its fitness training system and we as NCOs will have to train our soldiers in the new system.


More than 80% of the soldiers he was addressing were National Guard and Reserve.  When will a part-time soldier in public affairs be leading PT?  An E-4 or E-5 in Public Affairs is the lowest ranking soldier in their unit. 

On Thursdays we had something arranged by the detachment called mentorship training.  In this class we were supposed to learn about our future in Public Affairs in the Army.  Again, 80% of the students got nothing from this class except another lost hour they could have used for something that actually had some value to them.  The active duty soldiers said they could use some of the information. 

Aside from one excellent presentation on social media, the other eleven presentations were disorganized PowerPoint presentations by people who ran overtime.  One colonel who addressed the class said the guard and reserve soldiers should go to sleep.  His information did not apply to them.  We could not, of course, sleep.  And he ran overtime just like nearly every other presenter.
Another small indication of Not My Job, struck me the first time I ate in the dining facility.  On the exit door near the main entrance is a sign telling people in case of a fire they should move to their “respectful” areas.  I thought about correcting the sign, but then I decided to see if it was a grammar test.

It wasn’t.

In 90 days, no one has corrected that sign.  Thousands of students and instructors in “grammar 
central” for the US military have walked by that sign.  And it remains uncorrected.  A Sergeant Major came to my table to tell one of the soldiers at our table he had a cargo pocket flap open.  Was that same SGM not offended by the DINFOS DFAC having an ungrammatical sign?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Army Mentorship Training at Defense Information School

Yet another post about Army life at DINFOS.

Each Thursday at DINFOS the Army received mentorship training.  This program adds a full hour of dull PowerPoint presentations to a day that started at 0400.  Like every other program here, we are supposed to be awake and attentive.  Yet nearly all the information  in mentorship is for active duty Army. 

A colonel who spoke to us said 35 minutes into  a presentation that ran ten minutes overtime that guard and reserve should go to sleep, this info is for active Army.  Yet all MOS-Ts are required to be there to listen to information that does not apply to them when they could be studying, eating or resting.

In fairness, the mentorship program would not be as painfully bad as it is if it were not combined with the 0400 PT Program.  But it is.  Mentorship is the 13th hour in a day that is already too long.

Whoever dreamed up this program probably thought it was a good thing.  But that is how every failed product launch happens in the business world.  Someone inside the company dreams up a new product or service then decides to sell it without asking real customers.

The real customers in this case want to do their homework, sleep, or just about anything rather than sit through another hour of PowerPoint.

If you need specifics, I wrote at length about mentorship training here, I wrote about it last month.
The post is below.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Another Reason the Air Force Laughs at us: Thursday Mentorship Training

Among the many ill-conceived programs we endure at school, the Thursday mentorship program for Army soldiers is one of the dumbest.
Each Thursday at 4:30 p.m. we gather in a conference room of the main school building and listen to a one-hour lecture about what our job will be like out in the field.  At least, that is how the lecture is billed.
In reality, exactly one of the lectures had any real connection to our immediate future in Army Public Affairs.  But these lectures do have an effect on our school experience.
They are one more ill-conceived and unnecessary aggravation. 
We get up at 4 a.m. each morning to do PT (Physical Training) and have eight hours of classes each day finishing at 4 p.m.   Adding a lecture that will not be graded at the end of a 12-hour day would be nasty if it were interesting.  But these lectures are farther off topic than cold-weather survival training in Mogadishu, Somalia.
With one exception, these lectures are far above our pay grade, and focused on active-duty Army.  The majority of the soldiers in these classes are enlisted and junior NCOs in the National Guard and Reserve.
Four weeks ago, a Sergeant First Class talked to us for 73 minutes about the distribution of Public Affairs leadership slots in the active Army.  His focus was on officers and senior NCOs.  And he droned on 13 minutes over his hour in front of people who had already spent a whole day in class.
Two weeks ago, a Master Sergeant spoke for his entire hour about creating PowerPoint slides for command briefings.  He is a perfect example of the kind of speaker that drives speechwriters crazy:  he thinks he is funny, and he is not.  Worse still, he thinks he is funny when he is just being himself.  He said toward the end of the hour, “I know this stuff is dry, but at least I am entertaining right?”
He got a mildly affirmative answer, but what else could he get.  He has power over his audience and was using it to make himself feel good. 
To be fair, there was one useful mentoring hour.  It lasted just 45 minutes.  A Staff Sergeant who works on the Army’s social media program talked to us about how the Army is currently using social media and where the program is headed.
That talk was useful.  We got one ungraded day in our entire three-month school program about social media, and most of us will return to units who have or need Facebook page administrators. 
By the end of school we will have had 12 hours of mentorship, 12 hours mostly spent trying to stay awake listening to irrelevant information. 

Army Strong! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Army Fitness Training at DINFOS--Making Sure the Best Soldiers are Less Fit

We are told by the school upon arriving that DINFOS is one of the toughest academic schools in the military.  Unlike most military schools it has homework and it demands creativity.
It is clear from my conversations with former students, that PT every day for returning students is not required, it is a decision by the student company leadership.

We come to school with PT records, and a soldier should be able to take a diagnostic AFPT any time.  There is no reason to take soldiers who regularly score in PT Award range and put them on a 5-day-per-week program designed to get soldiers in good enough shape to simply pass the APFT. 

Getting up at 0400 is an arbitrary and miserable hardship that should be reserved for those who are marginal or failing the APFT.  The best soldiers are athletes.  They train like athletes.  Putting an athlete on a 5-day remedial program is like putting a New York Times editor through remedial English classes.

Athletes also train seven days a week, even if one of the days is a rest day.  Yet the detachment PT program runs five consecutive then leaves the weekends alone.  This leaves the soldiers with a real training program balancing study, sleep and workouts on the two days off. 

If the detachment actually wanted successful students and soldiers who could pass the AFPT, we would work out three days during the week and put longer workouts on the weekend. 

This is how we managed pre-deployment PT at Fort Sill.  Of course, detachment personnel do not want to work seven days a week, but by cramming the PT program into five straight days, they increase the likelihood that soldiers will fail both academically at DINFOS and at PT.  I have spoken to several soldiers whose PT performance degraded over time with the detachment.

The best example of how bad the program is for fit soldiers is student leader, a staff sergeant in the Connecticut National Guard.  He is running a marathon 12 days after graduation from DINFOS.  He has been doing his long training runs on Wednesdays after class.  On October 30, he was the fast runner in the company in the fitness at 12:34.  That evening he ran 20 miles.  I saw him running back on post after dark.  The next morning he did the two-mile Zombie run.

Why put him through a program for people who spent their lives playing video games?  He scores 300 on the APFT.  He will run the marathon well under four hours.  He had to adjust his marathon training and his school work around a PT program that gave him nothing back and took away ten hours sleep a week.

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