Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kings Dominion and New Tires

Time continues to tick away. I've finished my time in my office at the Pentagon. My last day was this past Friday. I'm taking a week of leave to spend as much time as I can with my family - and tie up as many loose ends as I can before I leave. After this week, I'll be reporting to the JIEDDO. I'll have to do some inprocessing with them - administrative stuff - and then I'll get the indoctrination briefings and hopefully some insight into what they want me to do in Iraq. After a week and a half at JIEDDO headquarters, I'll head off to Fort Benning. I think 5 or 6 of us from my earlier pre-deployment training are heading there together. That should be an interesting week of training, not because of any great things we'll learn, but because I've never had any training at an Army base before. Even the Army guys say it will be an experience.

So what does a person do in the last couple weeks at home before deploying? I continue to work on the list of things to get done around the house - the garage is still a mess - and we try to have as much fun as a family as we can. We had a great day yesterday at Kings Dominion. I recommend that park to anyone in the D.C. area. In my opinion it's much better than Six Flags. The kids both start school next week. At least I'll be here for my son's first day of kindergarten. I was also lucky enough to be here for him losing his first tooth yesterday. The importance of things like that moves to a higher level when you have to think about how much of a 5 and 7 year old's life you'll miss by being gone for a year - especially when I've already missed close to 500 days of their lives. While that sounds like a lot, and it certainly feels like a lot to me, I never forget there are many people who have missed much more time than that.

Mundane tasks interlaced with as much family fun as possible - that about captures what happens in the weeks leading up to a deployment. I also continue to mentally move towards Iraq - I'm writing this at 1:00 am - not because I'm intentionally trying to adjust to what the new time zone will be, I just can't sleep with so much stuff running through my mind. I guess I should try to go to sleep - I have a big day tomorrow. I'm getting new tires put on the car so I don't have to worry about that while I'm gone. Ahhh... the glamorous and exciting life of an Air Force officer.

Friday, August 24, 2007

We've Been Here Before

Strange things happen mentally in the few weeks leading up to a deployment. For those of you who have been down this path you know what I'm talking about. As the time for my departure draws closer I find my mind drifting to Iraq and this upcoming challenge more and more. I'm starting to distance myself mentally from home. That may sound like the opposite of what a person should do, but it's what happens. I know the feelings and emotions that come with this, because this is my third deployment. My wife and kids also know how it goes in the days leading up to my departure. I've become preoccupied with what I'll be doing and what it will be like when I get there. I have to start turning responsibilities around the house over to my wife - she will after all, be taking care of all of it while I'm gone. Those normal conversations people have about Halloween or the next family birthday or some other upcoming even are avoided because I won't be here to be part of it. I try to compensate by spending as much time with the kids and my wife as possible, but the reality of my impending departure hangs over everything we do and say. It's strange and hard to explain but I think it's a normal part of getting ready to leave. Mental distance as a defense against inevitable goodbyes. At least we (my family) know the feelings and we know they're normal so we can push through this and not get upset with each other. After all, we've been here a couple times before..........

Monday, August 20, 2007

Getting Ready To Go

It feels like time moves way too fast. I'm sure I won't feel that way soon, but for now the days are burning away much too quickly. I have almost everything done that I can do at work before I leave. Lots of paperwork and medical clearances. I'm still having problems with the uniform issue and the slow security clearance. For those of you who aren't aware of what's happening with Air Force uniforms, we are in the early stages of transitioning to a new combat uniform. For people deploying to Iraq, these are supposed to be issued prior to departure. Because I'm not deploying in a traditional method, and the time line is so short, there has been lots of confusion and blank stares when it comes to getting these. As it looks now, I'll be wearing the Army uniform while I'm deployed. When I depart the local area for my pre-deployment training with the Army, they will issue me their uniform if I don't have the new Air Force uniform. I don't really mind, I'm just a bit disappointed with the Air Force for not getting me what I need - Go Army! I'm sure everything will work out, and who knows, I might get those Air Force uniforms before I go.

While I might have most of the military stuff taken care of, I'm not even close to getting the things around the house done. I need to do all those things on the "Honey Do" list like cleaning the garage, painting, vehicle maintenance, etc. For those of you who have not deployed before or are not in the military, think about all the personal things you would need to get in order if you were going to leave for a year. The list is long. One of the biggest challenges is trying to find someone reliable to take care of the kids. With the wife working full time and me being gone, we need someone to be available to get the kids on and off the bus, help with homework, food, housekeeping, etc. We've been looking at Nannys and Au Pairs - it feels like a full time job just trying to find the right person. While it's a stress on me, let's not forget the stress on the spouse who now becomes a single working parent for a year. There's plenty of stress and anxiety for both of us. Even with the experience of a couple previous deployments, it's still a stressful time in our house, but I'm sure it will all come together by the time I leave.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pre-Deployment Frustration

It's always hard in the weeks leading up to a deployment. There's always an endless list of things to get done at home before I go, the turmoil of the upcoming family separation, the nervousness of the unknown tasks that await, and of course, the military requirements that must be complete before I go. The military requirements are always challenging and have been the basis for many a good joke about hurry up and wait, the inefficiencies of the military, etc. etc. Well, I'm learning a whole new level of frustration with this deployment. Because I'm deploying as part of a joint organization, it seems as if I now have several different agencies levying requirements against me and yet they are still unable to help with some of the most basic questions like "who gives me my uniforms to deploy with"? It seems simple enough , I'm in the Air Force so I should get Air Force uniforms to wear while I'm deployed. Unfortunately for me, I'm not deploying through the normal Air Force channels so I'm sort of falling through the cracks. I could wait until I get to the Army post for my Army deployment processing and see what happens there, but I have the funny feeling I'd be wearing an Army uniform for the next year. It's interesting to say the least, but I know it will all manage to come together before I leave so I shouldn't worry too much about it - besides, I have that endless list of things around the house to worry about.....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

High Risk Environment Deployment Training

I finished my high risk deployment training yesterday. It was a good experience and I feel better prepared to handle certain situations and threats. Here's a little synopsis of what the training was like. Day one - we studied hostile surveillance techniques and countermeasures. Hostile surveillance is when the bad guys watch you with the intent of capturing or killing you at some point. We then did practical exercises to put classroom instruction into real world scenarios. I won't go into too much detail about the exercises - I'll just say they were useful and eye opening.
The rest of the days were all structured the same. We would spend the mornings learning combatives - this is hand to hand combat techniques covering both defensive and offensive moves. We learned and practiced theories for everything from how to fall without getting hurt to how to disarm an attacker (both guns and knives). The main focus was on principles and not specific techniques. This way we have a broader sense of how these applications work and can operate in more fluid situations. Specific theories tend to work best in specific instances. With a broad understanding, we can better adapt to varying situations. The main principles of our training followed the Russian martial art known as systema. Here's a link if you're interested in what it looks like - this is just some website I found and not where I received my training One of the main principles we were taught in our combatives was to never give up. Keep moving and fighting and looking for a way out. They used some very interesting training to help us overcome some fears and mind blocks people typically encounter in violent situations. We learned how to take a punch. It sounds strange, but we learned the idea of getting hit is many times worse that actually getting hit, and if you are prepared you can take almost any kind of hit and still move and counter attack. There was a lot of hitting going on - not hard knock out punches, but more hitting than anyone in the class was used to. All this instruction on taking a hit culminated with the wooden pole. This was a one inch diameter four foot long wooden pole. We lined up and each of us took four hits to the stomach. Certainly the instructor was not hitting us as hard as possible - not even close - but, my stomach is black and blue and very sore, so these were not little taps. We did other things like alternately lie on our backs and stomachs while someone did knuckle push ups all over our body. Find a 200 pound friend and ask them to crank some of these out on your shins and stomach. It gets you wide awake first thing in the morning. We also had to lie on our back and have four people lie on top of us and then figure out how to get out from underneath them. Again - it may not sound too bad, but that's about 800 hundred pounds of dead weight. It teaches you how to breath, keep your head, and keep struggling no matter how scary and impossible the situation may feel. Almost everyone managed to get out after some struggle. We did sit ups with our legs out straight and someone sitting on them. Hard enough, but every time we did the sit up the person would throw three or four punches into our chest, stomach and head (open handed to the head). I'm not sure exactly what that taught us - plus it was the day after getting hit with the stick so every punch to the stomach was a little extra torture.
The afternoons were all about shooting. We did three days of hand gun techniques and one day with the long gun. I'm not exactly sure how many rounds we shot each day but it was in the multiple hundreds. We did strong hand/weak hand shooting, one handed shooting, practiced every malfunction you could imagine both one and two handed, shot around barriers, vehicles, engaged multiple targets. You name it we shot it. We also used simmunitions. For those not familiar with this, it's like paintball on steroids. These are real guns shooting special plastic bullets with marker dye in them. We learned they'll shoot through shirts and draw blood. We did many scenarios with these simunitions as well. We spent one day on the long gun, but it was tiring. Hundreds of rounds with a relatively heavy rifle takes a toll. Now, to top all this training off, we had record heat all week long. Everyday was a horrible sauna. There was no cover on the ranges so we were just out in the burning sun standing on hot asphalt. We put a thermometer on the blacktop on Wednesday and it topped out at 136F. The ambient air temp was around 107F and the humidity was around 80%. Miserable.
So, the question is am I prepared for combat? No. In the end, I'm still an Air Force guy that has never been trained for combat. It's OK because I'm not going to be out on patrols or kicking in the bad guys door, so I don't need to be trained for combat. What I am, is better prepared if I find myself in a bad situation, which has happened and will happen again to people in Iraq. As I mentioned in another post, this was great training that taught me valuable skills I hope I never have to use.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I've never been punched and hit so many times in my life. I've never shot more rounds of ammo in one day before. This is good training but a little painful. Getting hit repeatedly with the long pole was interesting. Check back. More details will come.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

High Risk Environment Deployment Training

I've just finished day 2 of my training. I won't go into too many details just yet - I'm very worn out and hungry. It's interesting - highly productive - and skills I hope I never ever need. Keep checking back - I'll give much more detail when I'm done.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

High Risk Environment Pre-Deployment Training

Here's a little about the training I'm going to next week. I'll compare what the literature says about the training with my post training impressions once I complete it.

Here's what the literature says about the training:

This 5-day High Risk Environment Pre-Deployment Training Course was specifically designed for selected individuals from the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) requiring unique and specialized skills in personal security and safety awareness skills in support of organizational missions throughout the world. The course provides realistic, hands-on training in the concepts, techniques, and methodologies associated with travel pattern analysis, surveillance detection, attack recognition, combative drills, weapons qualification, weapons drill scenarios, night fire and trauma medicine.

So there's the generic description. As I said, I'll contrast that with my impressions of the training once I complete it.