Saturday, January 24, 2009
We had an initial dinner with the IA (Iraqi Army) brigade executive officer. It was an informal sit down dinner where both teams had the opportunity to dine at the Iraqi officer's mess. Not all our IA counterparts were present. Mine was currently unavailable so I will have to wait until another time. Their manning is run different than ours. The either live with the unit, or with their family. Because of the danger to them and their family, the two do not mix. They will spend a few weeks living on the base, then quietly slip out to return to their family.
Once we have the systems in place, it will still take quite a bit of time to gain a complete understanding of our new surroundings. The Iraqis place a high degree of value in personal relationships. Relationships take time. Right now the old team enters a room and receives the full embrace from the IA chain of command. Currently, we merit only a handshake. We will earn that trust over time with sweat.
RIP/TOA is not the only thing going on. Lower in priority, we're working through the amenities portion of our new surroundings. Currently I'm in the MWR facility provided by the coalition unit in charge of the FOB. The mess hall they provide, from what I hear, is a huge upgrade. We are currently coordinating to get Internet access into our personal rooms, and there are many options. Unfortunately they are all barely acceptable and expensive. Oh well, you do what you have to do.
So what's coming up? Well, national elections are fast approaching. We plan on being very, very busy.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Here's a hint for you future TT deployers: They'll let you have two carry-on's when you leave Kansas, a backpack such as an assault pack plus a laptop bag. They both fit in a wooden box they use a screening. However, The Air Force only lets you have one when you fly from to Baghdad. So make sure your laptop bag, if that's what you plan to use, can hold a bit more than a laptop i.e. about 24 hours of provisions (shave kit, poncho liner, etc). I would suggest a tactical looking laptop backpack and stow the assault pack. Leave Fort Riley with only one bag in hand. The fewer the bags the less the hassle down the road.
From Baghdad, they moved us by helicopter under darkness to Taji. We stacked ourselves and our gear into Chinooks, large dual rotor aircraft, and took off into the darkness. Of course, with helicopters you move with no light and a ton of air flowing through the back so it's always an experience. We waddled off the back of the helicopter and incorporated ourselves into the Phoenix Academy at Taji. Phoenix Academy is where MNC-I trains all the different types of Training Teams coming into Iraq. We are a large class with many different types of teams.
For the most part this is refresher training. Consider it the final cram session before the exam. There are classes on Advising, Security, Arabic, Counterinsurgency, etc... The majority of it is familiar, but most importantly we are getting the information as it relates to what is going on the ground NOW. In case you didn't know, around here, if you left six months ago, you are already obsolete. Timely information is paramount.
National election are coming up rapidly. The new Security Agreement between Iraq and the US is already in effect. The bottom line is things are continuously changing and we have arrived here at a challenging time. Regardless of what you see on the news, or how peaceful you might think things are at the moment, you must always be vigilant, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. So far, with the personnel we have on our team, I think we have the right combination of optimism tempered by realism and pessimism. That sounds kind of hokey, but we are ready to go. In the next couple of weeks we get through Phoenix Academy and transition with the current team.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
We are back at Camp Buerhing after a few days in the field finishing what I would categorize as refresher. Last Thursday, we loaded up and drove out into the Kuwaiti desert with the intention of pulling into a placed called FOB Scimitar, a location set up by the Army and contractors with the purpose of preparing Soldier, Sailors and Marines for life in Iraq. Because of a few missed turns, what was supposed to be a 45-minute drive to the FOB, ended up around 3 hours with a brief visit to the Kuwait/Iraq border. We were a little more than surprised.
For three days, we conducted refresher training. We spent a day at the range doing Close Quarter Marksmanship. It is always a good day when you can shoot for fun. The next day the team executed a scenario-based mission. The range attached to the FOB was a collection of mini-villages packed with role players complete with moving cars and camels. I was taken aback when we hit the first turning circle (in the Middle East, there are few traffic lights, but many turning circles) and the intersection was packed with villagers, livestock and moving vehicles. Up to now, our training has been unable to replicate those conditions.
Of course, as goes, we ran into our worst-case scenario, or what we would call our 'Kobayashi Maru.' We were hit with a vehicle IED, an angry crowd, and multiple additional explosive devices. In the business, we call this a "complex ambush." This is where the enemy lures you in with an initial strike, takes advantage of the chaos and crowds, and follows up with delayed multiple deadly attacks once you pull together to treat your initial wounded. It is another lesson that with only a ten man team, there is only so much you can do short of returning fire, buckling down and running like hell. Overall, it was a great weekend of training put on by the contractors at MPRI.
Now we wait on a plane. We have today to kill before we find out this evening if when we manifest. It could be tonight, could be three days from now. With our team's luck, we will probably draw the 1 hour notice, 1 a.m. bus ride to the airport. If any of you did not know, whenever there is a better or worse probability for mission, travel, or whatever, it seems like our team gets the worse of the two.To make up for our misfortune, wait, I should not call it misfortune because more often than not it's more inconvenience than actual hardship. To make up for all the inconvenience, we are blessed with an abundance of talent and experience. I will get more into that in the future, but for now, I will end at that. I hope that next time I write I will be at Taji, Iraq undergoing yet more training.
Until next time
Monday, January 5, 2009
We're still adjusting to the time and region change. Even after a week in country, we find ourselves waking up at all times of the night for various reasons. Sometimes we fall back asleep, sometimes not. A few of the men in the tent are starting to get sick. The main concern is a bug spreading around. That's what you get when you cram 70 Soldiers in close proximity. At best you stay clean, wash your hands constantly, use lots of sanitizer, and hope for the best.
In around a week we'll head up just north of Baghdad to continue our indoctrination training. We look forward to linking up with the team we will replace and moving to our ultimate destination at FOB O'Ryan. There we will conduct what is called a RIP/TOA, or Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority, with the current team to signify our assuming control of the ongoing mission of advising an Iraqi infantry brigade.
With a week of training left here and another 10 or so days of training up north, I think it goes without saying that our team is ready to get the mission underway. We have been training for this assignment since the end of September. Among other things, I think more than anything, the team is lookinig forward to getting a little privacy.
After almost four months of living is rooms full of dudes, we're happy to be moving into a facilities where everyone has their own quarters. They're called CHU's or Container Housing Units; shipping containers converted into portable apartments. They are small but for us they'll be the best thing since sliced bread.
After that we can start to worry about other amenities. I have no idea what kind of communication or internet capability we will have at FOB O'Ryan, but I will make the best whatever is available in order keep everyone informed as we take over the mission.
Until next time.