After eight days of a five day trip, I have finally made it back to FOB Apache. The only thing that sucked about staying the extra days is that I was flying space available and had to be ready at a moment’s notice to get on a flight. May not sound like a big deal, but when you only pack for a five day trip, I was starting to get a little funky. The laundry service up at COP Bullard was a 48 hour turn-around, and with being on a short leash for flights, I couldn’t risk getting my laundry back in time.
I hate packing, ask my wife. I waited until the night before I was to fly out to pack up what I was going to need for the five day trip. Knowing how military flight’s work, I packed for six and then dropped off my laundry at the Apache facility so I would have some clean uniforms for when I returned. My XO gave me a ride down to the flight line and dropped me off about an hour prior to my flight. The flight showed up on time and I was on my way. My Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) platoon that I was headed up to visit is paired up with a Romanian battalion and live on a remote outpost. It takes a few hours to drive, but since flights often head up to drop off Soldiers and supplies, I was able to fly. I have said it before, and I will say it again many times, I love to fly!
I was again flying on a Mi-8 helicopter and after about an hour (we had to stop at a few other COPs) I landed at COP Bullard. The CBRN platoon was out on the LZ waiting for me. A couple Soldiers carried the boxes to the CP and the others took me to my living quarters. They had set aside a room for occasions such as these. It was understood that the Commander and I would be making monthly trips up to live with them for a few days. The room was nice, heated, and they had put aside some sundry items just in case we had forgotten anything. I dropped off my bags, took off my kit, and headed to the Soldiers living quarters.
It was Christmas Eve and they were not planning on any missions for that day or the next. This allowed me to spend some quality time with the Soldiers and get to know them a little better. As the HHT First Sergeant it has been tough to get on a personal level with each Soldier in my troop. Not having to go on a mission for a few days was going to allow me to shoot the breeze, play some games, and hang out with all of the Soldiers. The CBRN platoon didn’t disappoint and we were quickly involved in a serious game of Dominoes!
When deployed, Soldiers bond and build friendships that last a lifetime. The bonds that this platoon has built remind me of my Scouts. The CBRN platoon is doing something that no other platoon in the squadron is doing and living so far away from anyone else has strengthened that bond. I was afraid it would be a little awkward being the 1SG and hanging with the Soldiers trying to get them to speak freely, but they opened up right away and treated me as if I just another Soldier in their platoon. I may have facilitated the ease with the amount of shit talking I started when I walked into the room. It wasn’t long before the bones were being slapped on the table, Madden games on the X-Box were being played, and Spaded were being dealt. One way you can tell the level of morale in a platoon is the amount of shit talking that is thrown around. I am positive that some of the insults being thrown around today are nothing more than repeats of insults that were thrown back in the days of the Roman Empire. And judging the amount of smack that was being talked in the CBRN platoon, the morale is sky high.
The CBRN platoon has really built up their living areas. SSG Filmon, the resident loud guy and Squad Leader has built a recreation room for his platoon. It’s got a card table, X-Box, TV with movies, and a computer. He’s also a dang SEC and Florida Gator fan, so everything in that place is tagged with the Florida Gator symbol and he has even named the building “The Swamp” which is prominently displayed on the front entrance.
Around 9pm that night, we started to hear a growing sound that resembled banging on pots and pans. It grew louder and louder until there was a knock at the door. We all looked at each other wondering what the hell it could be. One of the Soldiers opened the door and about 10 Romanian Soldiers promptly entered the Swamp dressed up in Christmas hats and decorations; they had decided to come sing the American Soldiers a traditional Romanian Christmas Carrols! It only took them a couple of seconds before all of us American Soldiers were standing up and clapping along with the Romanians. It was really cool and much appreciated by all. They left after a couple songs and I was then informed that on Christmas day they were planning on having a Madden Football tournament. I was in, as well as a couple of civilian police advisors that lived on the COP. The guys had nick-named them “Duck Dynasty” due to the outrageous beards they sported and the southern drawl they spoke with.
I decided to do something a little special for the tournament. The guys had already taken a pt belt and stapled some cards to it and called it the championship belt, so I decided to make a Madden 2013 belt. I grabbed some cardboard, tape, cut it out, and then covered it in tin foil and some things that were lying around, and wah-la!
Around noon we all took a break from the games that were being played and headed to the Romanian ran chow hall and ate lunch. Normally the guys had been complaining about the chow situation, but for Christmas day the Romanians put on a large spread. It was really nice spending the time standing around the tables, Christmas Carrols being played over the radio, and chatting with our Romanian brothers. I had trained some of them while I was an Observer Controller in Hohenfels Germany. It was fun trading horror stories of the training events during the German winters and talking about the old Timberwolf O/C Team. The rest of the day was spent chilling out. I made it to the finals of the Madden tournament but lost. Oh well, the belt needed to stay at the COP anyway. I don’t have anywhere in my office to hang it.
It wasn’t all fun and games while I was there. I did get to go on a few missions. I have been waiting for the opportunity to show up in kit to one of their mission briefs and give a Soldier a day off. I was going out as just another Soldier, not as the First Sergeant. I did this for two reasons. The first was to actually give one of the Soldiers a day off and show them that 1SG was still up to chewing on some dirt. The other reason was to witness the platoon’s missing planning and briefs. I could stand back and do it from the outside looking in, but wouldn’t be able to see the mission execution. Of course I found things that they needed to work on, but overall it was good. Mind you, I compare every platoon to that of my former Scout platoon (which if you haven’t figured out by now, walked on water) so no matter how good they were, I was going to find something they can improve on.
Although I can’t go through all the details of the mission, what I can tell you is that it was COLD! It had been snowing for the last couple of days and the temperature was peaking at around 10 degrees with a steady 10 mph wind. We were out in sector for only a few hours, but damn it was miserable. But I knew no matter how bad the weather was we would be fine. I remember having a conversation back at a training area in Germany with an old Command Sergeant Major and friend of mine, Randy Sumner.
It was during a unit’s preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan and I was telling him that I didn’t believe we needed to put Soldiers up in the guard towers. My thought was that they would gather better training out in “The Box” than staying static for hours in a guard tower in sub freezing temps. We knew when the enemy was going to attack and if they were not, they shouldn’t be pulling guard. He disagreed with me saying that he personally thought that it made him a better Soldier when he was deployed and in the suck. He would look back at the times he was pulling guard in training for hours, freezing his sack off, and know that if he could do it then, he could do it during war. After my mission with the CBRN platoon I saw his point. I now agree with the wise old man!
The next couple of days were filled with missions and figuring out how I could help with improving their quality of life. On the day I was supposed to leave it was nothing but blue skies as far as you could see. That doesn’t mean crap in Afghanistan. What you don’t see is the other side of the mountains and the cloud cover and fog that it has trapped. My stay was extended for a few days due to weather. I did eventually make it back to FOB Apache and back to reality. My mini-vacation was over. I had over 150 emails waiting for me.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot! One thing that I did do before I left was cut out an Oregon Duck stencil and tag a bunch of stuff around the Swamp. I even tagged SSG Filmon’s room in two places: One in an obvious spot on his door and the other is hidden behind a bag that he will eventually find. Gotta represent!
During my first deployment I also did some writing for family and friends. One thing that I did, and will do now is let you know something that I miss or crave the most. I will leave out the obvious (my beautiful wife, kids, family, and friends) but include other things like Dirty Dave’s Pizza, driving my car, etc.
Thing that I miss most today: Windows! When deployed, enemy mortar attacks are a threat. Everywhere you work and live have all the windows filled with sandbags and plywood. I would imagine it’s like being in jail. I miss the ability to look outside from my desk or living area.