03 June 2011

It's official

I'm a badass. It's actually a running joke around here, since I came here basically thinking that there was no way I was ever going to be capable of doing the types of things I've been doing lately.

So here I am on the left hand side with my M4 slung cross my shoulder and my M9 attached to my right leg. I'm also wearing "full kit" in Army terms. In actual English (or as close as we're going to get in military-speak...Army terms in the parentheses)...

Helmet (Kevlar). Sunglasses ("eye pro" or "eye protection"). Bullet-proof vest (Improved Outer Tactical Vest or "IOTV"). Ear plugs ("ear pro"). Gloves (believe it or not we call those gloves and not "hand pro"). Knee pads. And I am wearing ABS-Gs...which is the Airman Battle System-Ground or the Air Force's version of a flame retardant uniform, which they only issue to people who are going out and around in Afghanistan.

Want to know the temperature today? The thermometer said almost 105. Wet bulb was closer to 120. And yes, it was freaking high noon because when the hell else would you want to be outside in the humidity in Louisiana in June in full kit?!

I tell you what, today was so freaking worth it. It was SRM day (short range marksmanship) day, which is when you fire a controlled pair (two shots) from the M4 rifle, quick switch, then fire a controlled pair from the M9 (pistol) from various positions (standing, turning, walking, running). AWESOME! And I tell you what, I showed some boys what's up today! You can't scare me with guns (anymore...)

And I tell you what else...marathon training and training other people to run is the absolute best practice in the world for going to war (to sweat your butt off). I drank 6 (yes 6) Nalgene bottles today. That's 32oz x 6 in about 4 hours. I finished feeling fine...no headache, nothing. The boys were dropping like flies. I wanted to go running.

So THERE. Take that, Mother Nature. I can kick the boys around even on the days that you want me to be as girly as possible.

The end.

02 June 2011


It's still no secret that I studied English in school because talking and writing are what I'm good at. But every once in a while my body likes to remind me that basic biology is something I also understand. Warning, this is not usually something I would write in public, but in this case, I think it's worth mentioning, if only for sheer impact.

Another non-secret...I live my daily life with 31 boys (and yes, I picked the word boys on purpose because that's truly how many of them either act or that's their true calendar age, which is terrifying). But about once a month, the ever generous Mother Nature reminds me that I am indeed female (in case the boys didn't do a good enough job of that every day). But the damn coolest thing about this monthly reminder of my femininity is that it always comes at a time when I am either doing something completely badass or when I am otherwise showing up the boys.

Today's example...we're doing short range marksmanship. I have an M4 slung over one shoulder and an M9 strapped to my right leg. I'm either running, turning, or advancing (walking forward). On the command of "ready" I have to spot my target by looking directly at it with my eyes and on "Fire" I pull the weapon to my eye, switch from "safe" to "fire," shoot twice, switch back to "safe" drop the weapon back to a safe position, and keep moving. Then when they yell "switch" I have to push the M4 toward my back, reach to my right leg, pull out the M9 pistol, and do the same thing...all without missing a beat.

So, Mother Nature, if you ever want to throw me another curve ball while I'm at this place, be my freaking guest. But please do me a favor and continue to do it when I'm doing total badass stuff. Tomorrow we go to the range and do all of the above with live ammunition. Yes, I will make sure someone takes a picture of me. And yes, I will continue to show the boys that I am just as capable as they are. Heck, I'm probably more capable since I happen to know how to listen and take advice.

Did I mention that this place can be absolutely awesome? It can be. Even on tough days. Or wait, was that especially on tough days?! (Like tomorrow...where we're doing run, jump, shoot in full gear at noon in 100_ degree heat. Sa-weeet!)

01 June 2011

Equipment I needed in training

I'm back in class. I won't lie...it sucks. I was fine with being here until I realized that people have adult conversations outside of this place. I'm with lots and lots of very immature guys. Body function jokes, sex jokes, and "that's what she said" jokes dominate the conversation here. Needless to say these are far from my favorite discussion topics, so I often try to steer the conversation into other directions...making me Chief Counselor here. I can tell you the souse names, kid names, what's going on at home, and all kinds of other details about almost all of my guys here. And I'm perfectly good with playing that role. But what I miss is someone asking me how my husband is or how I am doing. Peers do that. I don't have peers here.

What I do have are some freaking amazing Airmen who want to teach me some killer tricks. So before we head out on deployments like this, the Air Force gives us lists of stuff to pack. They give us weird lists that don't include the real items you would need at a place like this. I thought you'd get a kick out of hearing about some of the funny survival techniques I've learned here:

-- Oakley actually has a website for military members where we can get amazing sunglasses for about 50% off. It's important to have good sunglasses (I am going to the desert) and the ones the AF issued me are garbage. So I went to www.usstandardissue.com, registered for an account, and bought one pair of regular sunglasses and one pair of ballistic glasses. (I'm claiming reimbursement for both when I get back from the deployment)

-- I will spend 6 months with an M9 and an M4 strapped to my body. I went to www.blackhawk.com and with one of the guys watching over me, I ordered an M9 holster that mounts my weapon directly to my protective vest.

-- Funny thing about that protective vest...it's heavy (okay, mine isn't, since it's a size extra small) and it's made of molle, which means you weave things into it like you weave a basket, basically. D-rings and caribeaners like you'd use for rock climbing are perfect to attach things to that vest (gloves, water bottles, etc). I can only use military colors (sad!) but wow, that was a great trick.

-- Speaking of things to fasten to that vest, a small flashlight would be perfect (I'm still working on that, and I'm almost there), and a few Sharpie markers.

-- Then there's the water bottle. I can't drink from a Camelbak - I think it's too disgusting. Apparently so do a huge majority of the people here. I brought actual Nalgene water bottles. Much more manageable. Tastes better. Easier to clean. Big difference.

-- Wait until you see a picture of my new bed! I'd take one now, but my room is a wreck. I bought sheets from the kiddie section in Target. They are awesome!

-- Crocs. Wear Crocs. Don't bring disgusting flip flop shower shoes. Crocs protect your feet better and are easier to clean. I'm still working on that, too!

-- Some type of music player. I tell you that, after watching oodles and oodles of Grey's Anatomy, I think Christina and Meredith had it right...on the very worst days, you just have to dance it out. Music is very helpful in that regard. And many others.

--- And while we're talking electronics, bring the biggest volume (empty) portable hard drive you can find. Once you get here people will load you up with movies, tv shows and music to help pass the time (and keep you sane).

There are all kinds of tricks. But my favorite trick so far goes right along with the best piece of advice given to me by Rangerboy before he left..."Stop trying to prove yourself and just BE yourself." Find the thing that makes you happy and keeps you sane (for me...coffee dates with my cell phone) and keep doing that the entire time you're out of your normal environment. As long as I know that Sundays are long run then coffee, I can stomach just about anything during the week. Almost :-)

30 May 2011

Memorial Day

I tell you what...Memorial Day takes on a whole new meaning when you know people who have been killed in combat. Or people who have been significantly impacted by combat experiences. Or people who have earned Purple Hearts (which they affectionately call "Enemy Marksmanship Awards") in combat. Or honestly, Memorial Day feels a lot different just knowing that I am training to go to combat.

Rob and I got to meet up this weekend. He likes to remind me that he flew 4,700 miles to see me. I can't really argue with that logic. He flew in from Germany since I had a four day weekend. He's headed to New York to see his family this week, then he has training in Florida the week following as he gets ready for his deployment this summer.

Seeing him again was interesting...and I think he and I can agree that I am a very different person now than the one who left Germany about 6 weeks ago. I'm much less stressed out (funny to think about, since I'm learning combat skills and I'm about to go to war...yet I find this less stressful than my day job). I can sleep through the nights right now for the first time in years. And I talk. A lot. (I also shop a lot, so maybe I haven't changed as much as I claim to!)

We went to see our friends Scott and Amanda get married in Senatobia, Mississippi, when while we were already in the deep south we decided to hit Memphis and Graceland (totally fun, but Memphis is not our city!)  We're now on the airplane (I'm on airplane wifi) on our way back to Atlanta where we'll say goodbye again.

I probably won't see him for another 7 months or so (worst case scenario). But we're going to be just fine. And leaving this time is far less terrible than leaving from Germany. This time I know he'll be in Afghanistan with me. I know that I'm going back to training where I'll keep learning from some incredible people. And I know that there are a million amazing adventures ahead for both of us.

Plus we're already planning our reunion trip...an Around the World trip in February or March of 2012. We're still working out the details, and we have nothing but time to cook up the best trip of all time! I love having something to look forward to!

Throwing deuces

Here’s today’s news flash. I am brutally honest, probably to a fault. It’s been a really tough few weeks in training, mostly because the things we’ve been doing for the past two weeks are hitting really close to home. And for all of the questions I have about what it’s really like “in country” (time for you to get used to that…it means “in Afghanistan”), there are a dozen or so guys who have been there and done that to help fill in the blanks.

This entire week was weapons week. I’ve been practicing my ability to walk around with an M9 pistol and an M4 rifle strapped to my body. I’ve also been practicing my ability to hit a target at ranges between 5 and 300 meters when said target pops up on me unexpectedly both during the day and at night while wearing night vision goggles. I tell you what, the Army knows a thing or two about training for combat. And for a girl who started the week very uncomfortable with a rifle, I now feel confident that I can kick the crap out of the bad guys if I had to.

Rangerboy left this week. That was a sadder moment than I had anticipated. I guess I didn’t realize just how awesome it was to have such a great peer mentor sitting next to me in class. This week he was pseudo replaced by Juicebox, who is a 24 year old badass from California. I would take that guy anywhere, anytime with me.  More about him another day. Rangerboy is getting settled in Iraq for now.

Back to the deuces. We’re coming clean today. Want to know what I’m really doing in Afghanistan? Yes, I am mentoring the Afghan National Army on women’s leadership issues. I’m also leading convoys. Practically every day. A huge majority of my life will be spent “outside the wire” (which means not on the military installation, but rather out in the country of Afghanistan). There really aren’t people in my career field who have led convoys. Certainly not female majors. So while you might be reading this with your jaw on the floor, I assure you that I am going into this new job with the same open mind with which I approach everything else in my Air Force life…find someone who has already done this, pick their brain, then build the best team you’ve ever seen once I get there. Oh, and be safe.

So the picture you see here was taken the first day I was ever a truck commander. We’re in an up-armored HMMWV (in country I’ll be in an MATV, which is even safer). There are four of us in the truck – the driver (Texas), the dismount (Hillbilly), the gunner (Juicebox), and me…the commander. I’m in charge of all things communication. That means if we end up in a bad situation, I am the one calling over the radio for help. I was “throwing deuces” (saying goodbye) because we were headed out on the road (we call that “rolling.”)

I still have so much to learn…and a few more weeks in Louisiana where I can keep learning from some of my favorite Airmen in the world!