The “E” word

7 May 2013

I apologize for not writing recently. I have been buried in work, meetings, and evaluation reports. As you all know by now, we are in the final stretch of the deployment. My days are spent attending numerous meetings on the process of getting our Soldiers home. During one of these meetings, the Squadron Commander decided that it would be a good idea to have all evaluation reports and awards that are due through September done, before we go home. Although this added a little more work on the already hectic schedule of my Troopers, it is a great idea. I know from experience that the last thing we are going to worry about upon our return is that of staying late to finish awards and evaluations. At first, I was a little worried that we would be rushing the products just to get them done as we were leaving soon. But then they dropped the dreaded “E” word.

The “E” word is “Extension”. Our troopers have been extended for a little while due to current operations. No big deal really… I have been telling them all to prepare to stay until August from the beginning of the deployment, anything sooner is gravy. However, most of the family members were tracking the return of their Soldiers earlier. It is always tough to have to tell a Soldier about an extension, especially after they have told their families that they are going to be home soon. One of the Squadron’s platoons was within hours of leaving when we got the word that they had to stay.

Giving bad news is part of the job. Over the years I have lost count of the bad news that I have had to deliver. One tactic I have used, and have used as recently as a couple of days ago is giving the Soldier “2 minutes of no-consequence bitching.” I’m not sure where I came up with the idea, but I have used it on numerous occasions. Getting bad news in the Army happens a bit (last minute tasking, weekend detail, overnight training support), so I decided one day to let the person I was giving the bad news to the authorization to bitch about the detail (without consequence) for two minutes. The bitching is done behind closed doors (usually my office) and cannot be bitched about again after the 2 minutes is up.

The first Soldier I afforded this opportunity looked at me kind of funny, deliberating if it was some sort of trap. I looked at my watch and counted down the time “1 minute 30 seconds remaining.” Then he went off complaining how he was getting screwed, how the tasking messed up his plans, etc. After he was finished I asked him if he felt better. He said he did. I don’t use the tactic every time I hand out a tasking or bad news, but when I have to give out some shitty news it is accompanied by the “2 minutes of no-consequence bitching.”

My Troopers took the extension in stride and the “2 minutes” were not needed. A minor extension like this one isn’t anything compared to the extension we received last deployment. I was deployed for the standard 12 month deployment in Ramadi. Jimm and I would tell Soldiers to plan for December (well after the 12 months would end) to mentally prepare them for the long deployment and to stay focused. I think it was near the 9 month mark when rumors started to swirl through the platoon. Jimm and I did our best to squash them, but Soldiers were really amped up. “They can’t do this” or “My wife is going to freak out” were commonly heard throughout the barracks. The rumors got so bad that the Battalion Commander held a formation to inform us “If it doesn’t come from me, it’s not official!”

I think it was that night, or maybe the next, I was eating chow with Jimm when everyone was looking at the TV as we walked in. On it was Donald Rumsfeld telling the world that the “Surge” was going to happen and that all deployments were now 15 months, including those already in theater. That extension was a blow to the gut for a lot of Soldiers and their families. Come to think of it, that may be the first time I allowed the “2 minutes” to happen.

The weather is continuing its warming trend. My evening stroll to the shower is becoming enjoyable as the temperature remains in the mid 60’s to low 70’s around midnight versus the freezing temperatures at the beginning of the deployment. The stars are beautiful here at night. The lack of light from the town and FOB allow for them to really shine. The moon is on its downward cycle making illumination at night less and less. Only one more full moon remaining here in Afghanistan… Even the extension hasn’t changed that.

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