28 November, 2012
This blog, diary, storytelling, or whatever you want to call it is intended to keep all friends and family informed of what is going on during my deployment. I will attempt to write every day, but due to operations or the fact that days may become redundant and I have nothing new to write about, it may only be updated every few days. For my military buddies, this will probably be some boring reading as you have all “been there, done that”. I will attempt to keep it profanity free, but I cannot promise that a few will not slip through the cracks. Also, I am in no way a writer, so take it easy on the critiques! So here it goes….
It was raining outside; perfect sad setting for the goodbyes that had to be said. I couldn’t complain much as my original flight had been delayed long enough for me to see the birth of my third girl. Amelie Nell Gibson (pronounced Ah-may-lee) joined us on the 19th of November 2012. I had asked a friend of ours, Allen to pick me up at the house and give me a ride to post. Katrin was still on pain killers from her recent c-section and was unable to drive. Saying goodbye to your family is tough and I have done it on numerous occasions, but this was the toughest by far. My last combat deployment, Tabea was only a couple years old and couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. Katrin was working and was able to drop off Tabea at pre-school each day, keeping them both busy and the time occupied. This time, Katrin is a stay at home mom raising three kids. Not that her time won’t be occupied, I just think she will have more time to realize that I am not going to be home until August 2013. Tabea is taking it pretty hard as well. The school she belongs to has a program for children of deployed parents. I hope it helps.
I made it brief… Quick hugs, quick kisses, and then out the door. Like taking off a Band-Aid I told myself. My buddy Allen had his truck parked out front and I quickly loaded my bags and got in. The sight of Katrin at the front door holding our newborn baby attempting to hold back tears was almost too much. I shot Allen a quick glance and told him to “get me out of here”. It was tearing me apart, but also filling me with comfort knowing that my wife is more than capable to raise a newborn, a 19 month old, and a 10 year old while I was gone for the next nine months. She is an extraordinary woman, and I know that she can handle it.
Allen dropped me off at the barracks and after a handshake I was on my own for about an hour. I wanted it this way. It gave me time to clear my head, situate my belongings in my office, and pack up my computer. I looked at my watch and realized that I had enough time to walk to the store real quick and get some snacks for the trip. Walking back through the parking lot, I noticed that the family members were starting to drop off their Soldiers. It’s not a fun thing to be around. I witnessed one car pull towards me after dropping her husband off, only to stop after a few seconds; she was crying too hard to drive.
The flight from Washington to Manas International Airport went smooth. We flew a few hours to another state and then sat for a couple hours while the plane refueled. One of the privileges of being a First Sergeant is that you normally get to fly first class when your unit is flying on a civilian plane. Not this time…. As my luck would have it, it was nothing but economy class the whole plane. I did score a bulkhead seat at the front though, allowing myself the ability to stretch out a little bit. I tried to sleep a bit, knowing that we were going to hit the ground running when we landed, but only squeaked out a couple of hours on the 10 ½ hour flight.
We arrived at Manas International Airport around 5am and were quickly introduced to the Himalayas; it was a scorching 15 degrees outside. After securing our 72hr bags, we headed to billeting. Our mandatory training was spread out evenly throughout the day. Jetlag was kicking everyone’s ass but we were able to accomplish everything and set our flight out to Kandahar Afghanistan the next morning.
Now for those that have never flown in the military, it is the stereotypical “hurry up and wait”. We were manifested and prepared to board the plane 5 hours prior, but were pretty well taken care of. The passenger terminal (large circus tent) had wi-fi, coffee, snacks, and was heated. We were headed to the “Stan” in the back of a C-17 cargo plane. It’s a big jet, but is a “cargo” plane that they set inserts of passenger seats down the center. And of course, comfort isn’t at the top of the priority list. These seats have little to no leg room and the seats do not recline. Adding to the discomfort is the 50 to 75 pounds of gear each Soldier is wearing along with the assault pack that is sitting in their lap. Down the sides of the plane are seats that face towards the center, giving you ample leg room to stretch out, but are limited in numbers.
To our surprise, the call to board the busses that took us to the plane happened about an hour and a half early. I worked my way towards the door and boarded the third bus. We were quickly taken to the flight line and unloaded the busses. As I turned the corner to walk up the rear ramp of the plane, I noticed that all the side seats had been taken; only leaving the shit seats in the middle. This is where 17 years of service and a couple of combat deployments have its advantage. I halted everyone behind me and walked down the sides of the plane looking at each right shoulder to see if the Soldier had a combat patch on signifying that they had an earlier deployment. When they didn’t have (what we call “Slick Sleeve”) I kicked them out of the seat and made them move to the center. Some may call it a dick move, but I look at it as a rite of passage. I have many deployments sitting in the shit seats, time for the young kids to feel the suck! We with prior deployments have earned the right to sit in the more comfortable seats. Don’t like it? Get promoted and deploy.
We rumbled down the runway and took off for Kandahar Afghanistan. The flight was cold, but bearable. Most Soldiers quickly fell asleep but a few of us stayed awake and shot the shit. As I had mentioned before, this wasn’t my first flight into combat, so when the crew chief announced that we needed to strap down our seatbelts and prepare for landing, I knew what was coming. I mentioned to the Sergeant First Class sitting next to me to watch the passengers, it was going to get funny. When planes land in a combat zone, more often than not, they conduct what they call a “rapid decent” as a defense measure. And they didn’t let me down! Within minutes of the crew chief’s warning, the nose of the C-17 dropped and started a decent that almost left you feeling weightless. Those that had never experienced it, a large amount on our plane, immediately woke up and were quite startled. Some were even freaking out. I, along with the Air Force crew was getting a kick out of it. Oh, the little things in life.
They have Soldier in-processing here at Kandahar down to a science. After 10 plus years, I would hope so. Move here, go here, get on this bus, sign for this, take this, go here, eat chow, and go to your tent. We ate chow at a British dining facility and the wear of little sleep over the last few days had me headed back to my bunk. Some of the guys wanted to check out the post, but I wasn’t having any of it. I needed a nap! We had nothing scheduled until 0730 the next morning, so at 1230 I laid my head down on my pillow for a brief nap. I woke up at 0500 the next morning.
We spent the next day attending some training and I was able to find some time to find a wi-fi hot spot and call the wife on Skype. God I miss those girls.
And now here I sit waiting for my flight to FOB Apache where I will spend the next nine months advising and assisting the Afghan National Army on how to defeat the Taliban and stand on their own two feet. I am ready; my Soldiers are well trained, and are excited for what the next nine months will bring.
1 December 2012
Getting to FOB Apache (Forward Operating Base Apache) was smooth and easy. Only a few hours were spent at the passenger terminal waiting on the “birds”. We would be lucky and get to fly out on CH-47’s or “Chinooks”. The only bad part about flying on these is that you have to carry all your bags and pile them in the back. If you fly “fix-wing” airplanes then you place your bags on a pallet that are strapped down and loaded into the bird by a forklift. For a young Soldier this isn’t so bad, but for myself carrying an additional box filled with additional Troop records, it’s a pain in the ass.
I love flying in helicopters; early in my career I even through around the idea of becoming a Warrant Officer and flying. This flight was packed to the gills with troops, bags, and supplies. Unfortunately this flight was at night with little moonlight so I was unable to enjoy the ride. We landed at the FOB a little after midnight, unloaded, and then packed our bags on the waiting vehicles that took us to our living areas. My Executive Officer was my ride. He pulled up in his “Gator” and quickly gave me a short tour of the FOB. I made it to my living area, unpacked my sleeping bag (or Fart Sack as us Army guys call it) and fell asleep.
Yesterday was spent wandering around the FOB and getting to know the place. I needed to dive right in. I was on the last flight out of JBLM and have to get caught up on what’s going on, both administrative and operationally. By the time 2100hr rolled around, miles walking around the FOB, and still not quite over the jetlag, I hit the pillow with vengeance.
Up this morning at 0500 and off to the showers to get cleaned up. I spent some time unpacking yesterday and am no longer living out of my bags. My room is sufficient. I am sharing a clam shell tent with the command group of my troop and that of another. The tent is partitioned into six sleeping areas by plywood walls. It is heated by a “central air” system on the outside that keeps the rooms nice and warm. I have a bed, a table that houses my alarm clock, PS3, monitor and laptop, and a shelf for my personal hygiene items. I was lucky enough to snatch a chair and a metal bookshelf that I have turned into a makeshift dresser for my clothes. My Executive Officer came by early yesterday and dropped off a metal wall locker with some hangers for my uniforms. I have wireless internet in my room. It costs quite a bit, but the ability to see my girls on video chat every day is priceless!
I am established.
It’s cold outside. Not freezing cold, but the cold that leads to confusion. Do I wear cold weather gear or not? I’m not sure how long I will be working outside and what my activities will be. I hope this will be the hardest decision that I have to make today!