10 February 2013
My Command Sergeant Major approached me as I was exiting the door. “Hey, we need to send one First Sergeant to the Senior Leaders Conference in Kandahar, you are it.” Ugh… Visions of endless PowerPoint slides and monotone speakers immediately filled my mind. Our Squadron’s awards suspense was quickly approaching and I didn’t have time to leave the FOB for a couple days. Didn’t matter one bit, I was “Volun-Told” and I would be accompanying the Brigade Command Sergeant Major, Brigade Operations Sergeant Major, and another Command Sergeant Major from one of the other units here on the FOB.
One nice thing about traveling with V.I.P is that you pretty much have a guaranteed ride to and from the event you are attending. There was no difference with this trip. It just so happened that the FOB was going to have a VIP arrive that day and we would be using his birds for the trip. I arrived at the Landing Zone (LZ) a good 30 minutes prior to the departure time. Standing around the LZ was a group of Jordanian Soldiers. I took a seat along one of the concrete barriers and observed the antics that were going on with the Jordanian Soldiers. It must be something with putting on a military uniform; they were playing the same type of goof-off games that a group of US Soldiers would have been playing. I keyed in on one guy that was sitting behind the group, sunglasses on, with his head hung low. Every so often, he would reach down, pick up a pebble and lob it at one of the Soldiers that had his back to him. The rocks were big enough to draw someone’s attention, but not big enough for them to know they were being hit by a rock. The Soldier that was hit with a rock would look around quizzically wondering where it came from. Every time one would turn around, the Soldier that threw it would continue to look at the ground as if nothing happened. This went on for a good 20 minutes, with the Soldier in the back hitting different Soldiers. I assumed that one of the group mentioned feeling something as they all started gesturing to where they were being hit. After a few minutes they realized what was going on and they all dog-piled the Soldier that was throwing the rocks.
The Command Sergeant Majors showed up just prior to the helicopter landing and we exchanged pleasantries. Each of us expressed our displeasure of having to leave the FOB to attend this conference, which made me feel a little better. This is when I found out that we would be using the General’s birds for our trip to Kandahar. The birds landed and off came the entourage of people there to support the General. We rendered salutes as we passed and waited for the Crew Chief to wave us aboard. With a quick wave of his hand I led the group towards the Blackhawk. Just prior to stepping on, I turned around and looked at the Command Sergeant’s Major and pointed to my boots. I then made exaggerated motion as if I was wiping off my feet prior to getting on the General’s helicopter; they all got a kick out of it. We all strapped in and took off.
It was a beautiful day, blue skies with limited visibility. Our flight altitude was up there for majority of the flight which allowed us a great view of the barren surface of Afghanistan. Once we made it over the mountain pass, the nose of the Blackhawk tipped forward and we descended to the nap of the earth. I swear I could have reached out and touched the ground at some points. We ripped down the runway of the airport and as we reached the passenger terminal the pilot pulled what I could only explain as a “power-slide”.
Out the left side of the bird all I had an up close and personal view of the tarmac, and out the right side, blue sky. The bird leveled out, descended, and stopped. We all looked at each other with the same expression on our face… Not a single one of us felt the landing. As we walked off the Blackhawk each one of us looked back and gave a “thumbs up” to the pilot. He gave us a smirk and slight nod of his head as if to say “Yeah, I know I’m good.”
We were picked up by a driver and taken to our quarters. The conference would start early the next day. I unpacked my bags and fired up the Kindle to hook to the internet. I needed to let Katrin know that I had made it safe. We all met up for dinner later that night and then retired to the rooms to get good nights sleep. The agenda for the next morning had us arriving for opening remarks at 0730 and the briefings wouldn’t end until 1930 that night. Twelve hours of briefings with over 200 slides. The call was made by the Brigade CSM that we would meet up about 15 minutes prior so we could sit together.
I arrived at the prescribed location only to walk in and see that we had assigned seating; so much for sitting together. Glancing over the names I noticed that the Division CSM, along with the IJC CSM was going to be attending. Every Brigade CSM in the Regional Command was there, as well as CSMs from numerous Battalions. Thirty of us in all when you counted the Operation SGMs and us lowly four 1SGs, I was the lowest ranking Soldier in the group. The Division CSM wanted to pull us all together and “Flatten the network” and put out information to a wide variety of senior leaders. The first half day of briefings was great. During the breaks side-bar conversations were abundant, and for the first time in my career I felt as if I could talk to CSMs as almost an equal. Not once did I get shunned for an opinion or a proposed course of action.
We boarded some busses at noon and headed to a chow-hall. We were escorted into the VIP room, and again we had little name-plates that assigned us to seats. The Division CSM steered the discussions about the future of our Army in the current fiscal crisis, future of promotions, and where we are headed as a whole. We received a few more briefs while eating and then it was back to the conference. Not one brief was a waste of time and I started to feel a little guilty for not wanting to take part. The briefings ended and I headed back to the room to call my girls.
No matter how long you have been in the military, it is still cool to watch jets take off. During the night you could hear the roar of the jet engine, alerting the base to the impending take-off. Most everyone would turn their heads toward the runway to watch the conical shaped stream of fire propel the jet into the sky at break-neck speeds. This was the case on a few occasions as I walked back from dinner that night.
I got some good sleep that night after I enjoyed the endless hot water and strong water pressure. The second day of briefings was as good as the first. Just prior to the last brief I was given some good news, we would be flying back to FOB Apache that night. Again, it’s good to be flying with VIPs! The Division CSM thanked us all for the great discussions and we were released. I shot back to my room, packed up, and threw on my gear. A driver picked me and the CSMs up and drove us to the passenger terminal. I know I have said that I love flying in helicopters, but at night with no moon light, it’s quite boring. If you are wondering what it’s like, go into your laundry room, close the door, put an un-even load of laundry on the spin cycle, sit on top of it, and shut off the light. Nothing sexy about riding at night….
My Executive Officer was tracking my flight and was waiting for me at the LZ. I loaded my bags into the Gator and headed back to the office. I fired up the computer to notice that over 50 emails were anxiously awaiting my arrival. The Army doesn’t stop. It is now almost 9 at night and I have finally caught up to what I missed over the last two days.
Thing I miss most about home: My shower! I miss the ability to take a shower in scalding hot water, killer water pressure, and not having to wear flip-flops. I miss not having the fear that I am going to obtain some un-namable disease from the nasty standing water that is filled with unspeakable things on the shower floor. LOL