22 April 2011

Article VI

"I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America."
                                                     --- United States Military Code of Conduct

I have so many things I'd like to say today, but I'm having a rotten time with the writing, so I'll try again tomorrow. For now, suffice it to say that there is nothing like learning leadership by doing...and trying...and counseling...and by personal courage.

I love it here. I'll probably love it here for the next 10 weeks or so...but I do have to admit that it's hotter than hell and it's only April. did I already say that? I can run for about 30 minutes at a time before I start seeing spots. It's just a little bit scary...but I'll get there...

20 April 2011

Leading in Combat (A Slice of Humble Pie)

I don't know much about combat. No, wait, let's be completely honest. I know nothing about combat. But I tell you what, there are guys here who have been in the Air Force for 12 years and have deployed 8 times, leading convoys through Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army. That's no joke, and those guys have some incredible stories that absolutely pale in comparison to things I've ever seen or dreamed of.

Officers learn from a very early age to be eager and to take charge, but what I've learned here is that there's a huge amount of value to eating a slice of humble pie. I don't know everything (or really anything) about what my life will be like in Afghanistan. And these guys (and yes, they're all guys) have both the experience and the desire to help prepare me...but I have to be willing to ask, and then to listen. And I have to earn their respect.

I'm making small strides. I proved this morning that I'm not a wimp. I can outrun 31 of the 33 of them (and I think I can catch one more guy here in the next week or so). But when it came to putting together the body armor, or the helmet, or figuring out how to toss the ruck sack over my head...well, that was far beyond me. But as long as I was confident enough to ask for help, there were literally a dozen guys who patiently took apart and put back together my IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest), adjust my helmet, and gave me remedial lessons on how to stay safe.

This is a whole new kind of leadership. I have to figure out a way to still be a Major (and a female) and keep the respect of the team. And I can't rely on technical abilities, because I have none.

Did I mention that I love it here? I love it here! Love it! I am never, ever bored (despite about 6 more hours of "white space" today...three of which I used to hear war stories from the guys, another one I went running, and a few more I spent with my nose in a book...life is tough!)

19 April 2011

White Space

I'm in the freaking Army now. And I learned a new concept today...one that doesn't usually apply in my regular life. White space. White space is the space on a schedule of the day's events that is not full. So in my personal case (when left to my own devices), there is no such thing.

Enter United States Army. Today I had a day where I had about 5 hours of my 10 or so hours of the day "full" of white space. I almost lost it. But then I remembered that I am indeed literate. I did bring a big stack of books. And white space equals reading time. I'm almost done with book #1, which means we'll flip this blog into a book review as well. I mean, why not?! I also went for a run in the middle of the day...in the Louisiana heat...with the track star on my team who can run an 8:30 mile and a half. Don't worry, we ran much slower than that, and I lived to tell the tale.

Today we were issued all of the freaking gear on the planet. I know you don't have a concept of that yet, so I'll have to promise pictures soon. I have five bags (two are big enough for me to sit in) full of gear. Now granted, this is important stuff (body armor, canteens, Camelbacks, "brassieres," you name it.) And yes, the Army issued me bras and underwear. Apparently I cannot be trusted to supply my own. Another of my projects is to go stand on a scale right now, then again with all of my gear (which should almost double my body weight).

The United States Army also issued me an M-9 (a pistol) and an M-4 (a rifle) which I will carry around with me constantly for the next 9 months. Wait until you see me with two weapons strapped to my body. This is no joke.

I have to admit, I've been dodging any responsibility here, but today I managed to step up. Finally. And to be honest, I was getting a bit tired of being a wallflower. Today I made it my job to teach all of the young ones (and I got my math wrong...it's 33 guys...and me) how to assemble their M-4 sling. So I showed our young Lieutenant how to put the thing together, he looks at me, and he says "Ma'am, I have a feeling you're going to kick all of our asses."

Well yes, I do hope it ends up that way.

17 April 2011

Starbucks in Louisiana

The craziest thing happened today. We had a personnel briefing to talk about all of the things we can (and can't) do here, and the bottom line is this...I managed to get myself deployed to the Cadillac of Combat Advisor Training bases. We have an MWR "tent" with internet (and a million guys watching basketball). We are the only training base not under General Order One (which means yes, we can drink here). We are the only base where civilian clothes are encouraged ALL of the time when we're not in class (crap! Let's talk about what I did not pack). We can also TAKE LEAVE on weekends. Seriously?! I have a four day weekend for Memorial Day. Darnit. I don't know if I can handle this one :-)

But then it got better...I went to the PX and we have a Starbucks. Oh, and I don't have anyone breathing down my neck all day every day telling me that I suck at my job. So basically, life here is wonderful (if only I could teleport my husband here...)

There is one weird quirk...each service has it's service specific class, and mine is 33 Air Force people who all start training tomorrow. Here are the demographics...32 dudes and me. Sweet. Time to show a bunch of boys a thing or two about what girls are capable of.

I have a mailing address (ask me) and I can buy anything I can dream of (they sell Bliss products in the PX).

Excuse me while I go sun myself. Or relax. Two things I haven't done in wow, I cannot remember how long!

Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana

Fort Polk, Louisiana is, suffice it to say, not centrally located. The airport is about the smallest I’ve ever seen (though not too small for free wifi!) We flew from Atlanta to Alexandria, Louisiana, which is about two and a half hours due south of Shreveport and three odd hours west of Baton Rouge. The base is a solid 50 minute drive from the airport, down a two lane road through the middle of the country. I would have loved to have stared at the scenery, but the guy sitting next to me on the bus had other plans for my time.

He’s a Navy reservist and ninth grade social studies teacher. He’s headed to Balad for a year on his last mobilization tour of his 24 years in the Navy. He’s from Jacksonville, Florida and I could tell you all about him, but frankly he wasn’t that interesting, though that was a great indication of what I’ll be up to here at Combat Skills Training.

I’m training with people from all braches (so different from my day job), plus many of the people who are here seem to be in the Guard or Reserves, which is even more interesting. For now I’ll focus on the world’s longest bus ride, while this guy was talking my ear off about how he went to a Dodger’s game yesterday, and before that he was driving down Pacific Coast Highway because the Navy sent him to the mobilization center near Los Angeles and he had way too much spare time. Be proud that I didn’t kick him. Trust me, I wanted to.

I was glad to see the Fort Polk sign showing that we’d arrive at the base (mostly because that meant he had to stop talking!) I’m living in “Tiger Country” which is basically a trailer park. That humor isn’t lost on me. Yes, we have flushing toilets, running water, air conditioning (I was stunned), and everything else that I would never expect at Army training.

The Dining Facility serves rubber chicken for all meals, and can seat some 400 people, there’s a pop-up gym, a mail room, an MWR tent (with free wifi) and a little “troop store” that sells emergency items (like uniform parts and Skittles) for a few hours a day. That’s all within crawling distance from my room.
I’m lucky to be a “senior officer” here, which means (for now) I have a six person room all to myself. I live in the bottom bunk in the back corner and it’s just as peaceful as can be (for now). It’s not an open bay full of 50 girls like I had feared. There’s hot water in the showers, and there are individual shower stalls. I mean, you might be laughing, but I really thought I was coming to live something awful like Full Metal Jacket or G.I. Jane and so far, that’s just not the case.

I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed that I’m not roughing it a bit more. Now I trust the Army will make sure I eat those words here very shortly…

Getting out...of town...

Getting out of town was brutal. I’ve never worked so hard (or been so thankful to have Rob off of work last week to help me scramble to get everything done) or been so exhausted. I decided to wear my uniform on the airplane on the way to Louisiana…first because it was required, and second because, well, wearing it was easier than lugging more crap in my bag.

Suffice it to say that the Germans are not particularly used to seeing women in uniforms. Some type of civil service is still obligatory for young men there, but the young women don’t have the same requirement. Every time I wear a uniform in public in Germany, it makes me feel uncomfortable…like everyone’s watching. That will turn out to be good practice, I’m sure.

So there I am wearing a uniform in a German airport, and weird things start happening. A girl who is flying home to Kentucky comes and shakes my hand and thanks me for doing what I do. In the terminal, a guy with a very thick Middle Eastern accent asks me to describe my career field badge and how it’s different from pilot wings (because all we do in the Air Force is fly, thanks for the reminder). He also thanked me. Then I sat waiting for the airplane, and more people thanked me. Then I boarded the plane, slept for about four hours, then went to ask the flight attendants for some water…and one of them talked my ear off for at least 30 minutes.

People talk to me a lot (thanks for that trait, Mom) but yesterday, people were talking to me and reminding me that what I’m about to do is important. That made a huge difference. And while that didn’t make me miss Rob less, it did help me put things back into some type of perspective. I did sign up for this “go to war” business, after all. That was almost 10 years ago, and no one’s every asked me to go anywhere…so…I guess this is my lucky week!

Off to war

I bet you didn’t know this about me…I’m on my way to war. Yes, I know, I can see my mother cringing at that line, but let’s just call it what it is.

Last week, I’d just returned from almost three weeks in the States, where I went to a few Air Force classes and visited well over 15 of my favorite people on Earth. That was Monday. By Wednesday, things flipped upside down in a hurry, and I had three days to pack myself up, and head to Fort Polk, Louisiana for Army Combat Skills Training before heading to Kabul for six months. In case you’d like the math there, Saturday morning I said goodbye to Rob and I probably won’t see him for about 240 days.

But now let’s be honest again…after living overseas for six years, practically everyone important in my life is a penpal, with the exception of my husband (and Michelle and her family). Now you’ll all just have to be more patient with me for the next few weeks, because who knows what I’ll find on the other end of this week’s transatlantic flight.