13 March 2013
Things are going good here at FOB Apache! I want to thank everyone for the awesome support they are sending! Recently, we received over 100 pounds of coffee from Rogers Family Company Coffee and Tea! Really good coffee and they will have my continued support when I get out of this place and back home! They are the ones that produce the “San Francisco Bay” brand you find at Costco and a few others. Not much exciting is happening that I can write about, which I guess could be considered a good thing. We have moved a large TV into our office and have Armed Forces Network piped in. I am able to get my daily Sports Center fix and we hooked up a PS3 to play games or watch movies during the slow parts of the day (or when we just want to take a break).
Times are changing in the Army, that’s for sure. But the thing that amazes me is that the young Soldiers are talking about it, and I get a kick out of it. I have been chatting with the wife about subjects that I should write about, and she recommended I talk about my perception of the changes since I enlisted and the “Ranch” generation (as I have named them) we have now. I don’t mean it in a derogatory way, it just refers to an incident I had back in 2006 as we were preparing for our second deployment to Iraq.
I believe I have been part of three distinct phases of the Army: Pre-War/Post Cold-War, Initial War on Terror, and the Transition to Post-War (the one we are currently in now). I started my 17 years of service in the days of spit-shined boots, pressed uniform, and hours upon hours in the motor-pool conducting maintenance on our Tanks. We marched to and from the motor-pool, conducted Sergeant’s Time Training, and shot gunnery. If tank crews fired gunnery and didn’t qualify, leaders were fired. Gunnery and our Tanks were our lives.
We spent months in preparation for gunnery shooting simulators, conducting chair-drills, and getting our tanks into tip-top shape. Following gunnery would be a 3 week trip to conduct maneuver training where Tank Commanders, Platoon Leaders, Company Commanders, and Battalion Commanders would get to exercise their tactical knowledge. Units were still preparing for war against the Soviet Union and our doctrine had been unchanged for year.
Being in the field was tough. You ate, slept, and worked on your vehicle for stretches of up to three weeks. No showers, lack of laundry, and chow was served out of large containers out of the back of a 5-Ton truck. I remember praying each meal that 1SG had hot coffee and that the chow was somewhat warm. But that really didn’t matter as the food was normally cold by the time you got it back to the Tank and ate it. Conditions were shitty, everyone smelled, but that was the life of a Tanker. You lived it, bonded with your crew, and were a better Soldier at the end of it. We lived, breathed, and believed in dying on our Tanks and deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo during this phase.
Then we invaded Iraq. Our focus quickly changed as we entered the war. Less time was spent on the Tanks and more on wheeled vehicles. We were no longer facing the Advanced Guard Main Body (AGMB) with BMPs and Tanks of the Russians, but now the Al Qaeda Insurgents with small arms and IEDs. Specialty training was created to prepare us for the new threats we would be facing. We were second group of Troops to enter the war in Iraq, so things were still relatively new to us. We were issued equipment that was alien to us and had to quickly figure out how to use it. Even the field exercise to validate our Brigade for deployment was a new concept. Instead of fighting out of Assembly Areas, we fought out of rudimentary Forward Operating Bases. We got through it and had a successful deployment.
In preparation for my second deployment to Iraq, training doctrine for the Counter Insurgency fight had improved. The training area had improved quite a bit and had built small cities and FOBs for us to live and work in. This is when the “Ranch” incident happened. We arrived out at FOB West in Hohenfels and I immediately noticed a large white tent and a bunch of white containers. When I asked what they were I was informed that the large circus tent was the chow hall and that the white containers were the showers and laundry facilities. My initial thoughts were “Holy shit, we have came a long way.” I was going to have the ability to wash my ass and eat hot meals while sitting down during a major field problem; something I had not been able to do in any other training events up to that point. That first night I was walking through the chow line, getting some hot food, loading up on some salad, and that’s when I heard it. “What, no ranch?” I looked up and locked eyes with the young Soldier.
I nearly lost my mind. It was a young Private, clearly his first training event, and he was truly pissed off. Immediately images of previous training events flashed through my mind. Standing in knee deep snow, at tactical interval, praying to God that 1SG had coffee on the back of the truck… And this kid was complaining about no ranch… Looking back, I think I overreacted. That same Soldier that was complaining about not having a certain type of condiment on his salad was the same Soldier that deployed to Ramadi and wrecked shop. It was just a new generation of Soldier that we were dealing with, and it was my first experience as “The Old Guy” that has to get with the times.
By the time I was an Observer Controller in Germany, we had been at war for years and all training was FOB-centric. The chow hall, laundry facilities, and showers were normal. We old guys had been weeded out from retirement or getting out, leaving only a few of us, and the “Ranch” Soldier was now a leader helping train the new Soldiers. What was once the new was now the normal.
Now we are in the transition phase as we close out this war and deal with the budget cuts. No longer will we have contractors cutting the grass, working as security, and doing the jobs that the “Ranch” generation has never had to deal with. It’s been over 10 years since the Army has had to live like we are going to, and it will be imperative for our leaders to treat it as the new normal. The young Soldiers that will be entering service will know no difference between the new and old Army, only the Army they are in now. We leaders must not complain about the changes but accept them and move on.
Now excuse me, it is lunch time. I am headed to the chow hall to have a chicken salad with some ranch!