Welcome to my random muses of being an aspiring banjo player, a Battalion Commander, a student of Army War College, and my admiring observations of Soldiers. It's all to the tune of yet another deployment to this country called Iraq.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Now it's our turn to run things

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's
character, give him power" -
Abraham Lincoln

Contingency Operating Base Speicher.... Prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom the place was home of the Iraqi Air Force Academy. Tikrit - Saddam Hussein's hometown - is right next door. During the course of OIF, Speicher has been home of many Soldiers, Airmen, and Contractors. At the height of the surge (when I last visited Speicher) there were over 25,000 uniformed personnel manning three Brigade Combat Teams and a Division HQ. Now that OIF has transitioned over to Operation New Dawn things have been scaled back dramatically. The focus now is closing up shop and returning everything to the Iraqis. Many sections of Speicher are now completely run by the new Iraqi Air Force. The place still looks the same though. And one thing that hasn't changed is the dust storms - fierce. Two days after the arrival of my command team a storm hit that blocked out the sun. Everything went pitch black dark and visibility dropped to around five feet. Wouldn't you know it? The next day dawned bright and clear - only to be followed by several days of wicked thunderstorms. Speicher turned to mud in time for the arrival of the rest of my Battalion.

Due to various flight issues, the main body arrived about three days later than planned. That meant we had to immediately embark on a compressed TOA with our predecessors. This created the potential for serious issues ranging from incomplete inventories to inability to perform assigned tasks. With that in mind, we immediately embarked on extended working hours. Nobody seemed to complain. Only the weather remained a thorn as we drove ahead. Many of my Soldiers had never deployed before and were adjusting fast in a crash course of spartan lifestyle. Yet there were no complaints, no gripes, no moans. Our predecessors were eager to go home - understandably. But they were very professional, courteous and thorough. We all wanted to ensure the mission was never compromised by our transition. I never had any doubt we'd meet the TOA requirements on time. When the big day came we were ready.

Our TOA ceremony was held inside the main gym on the basketball court. Speicher actually has a nice gym, the building is one of the few in Iraq that continuously has been used for its original purpose. Due to the weather, our Commanding General was unable to attend. Some people may not quite fathom that but, trust me, when the weather doesn't cooperate around here you do not fly. The ceremony is a simple event. The Battalion Colors from the outgoing and incoming units are both carried by the Color Guard. The Colors of the outgoing unit are "cased" by their Commander and CSM. Then the Colors of the incoming battalion are "uncased" by their BC and CSM. This symbolizes the transfer of one command to another. The orders are published and then the speeches are given. I kept mine short. Soldiers get bored very easily and their minds can only endure what their butts (or feet if they are standing) can take. In less than thirty minutes we were done. The only thing left for the outgoing unit to do was go home. They'd earned it. My Battalion went to work. This is our mission now, our responsibility and our task. It will occupy our efforts for the rest of the year. COB Speicher is now officially our home.

Monday, April 25, 2011

JBB to COB Speicher - the TOA begins in earnest

"If everybody's thinking alike, somebody isn't thinking." - George
S. Patton, General, USA Exactly six days after arriving in Kuwait it was finally time to travel the last leg of the journey to COB Speicher. My little entourage was picked up from the DVQ around 0900 and driven to a place I am very familiar with - the Joint Base Balad Fixed-Wing Pax Terminal. In thirteen months of deployment between 2007-2008 I lost count on the number of times I flew through this place (and Catfish Air as well). Here I was again waiting on another flight. There were no false alarms on this one though. We were space-blocked on a C130 traveling to Speicher and then beyond. About an hour after we arrived we brought our dufflebags, rucksacks and other luggage out to be loaded on the 463L pallets. I waited until all the bags were arranged and then gently lowered my banjo case on top. The thing is too heavy and unwieldy to carry-on when you are also wearing your IBA (body armor), weapon, ammo, and ACH (helmet). Once bags were loaded we waited. Fortunately, it was only another hour before they were loading us on the buses and hauling us out to the waiting aircraft. On we went in a single file. I intentionally loitered in the rear so I could be the last person on. There's always more room on the cargo net seats in the rear. I was awarded with room enough for three people to spread out on.

Even in a prop-engine plane the trip from Balad to Speicher is very short. Wheels-up to wheels-down is thirty minutes or less. We taxied for a few and then once the pallets were off-loaded we filed off the aircraft. It was a "turn-n-burn" for the C130 and the engines continued to roar as another group of passengers waited to load. Buses were waiting to take us to the pax terminal, which is much smaller than the one at JBB. Our contact was waiting on us, as well as members of our ADVON. They had already been on the ground here for about eight days. They wisked us to our assigned billets. CSM and I had a "wet" CHU, which means we shared a full bathroom centrally located between our rooms. The only thing we did at this point was drop off our bags. From here we headed to the PX food court because we had missed lunch at the DFAC. Over a lunch of Subway sandwiches we talked with the ADVON about how our TOA (Transfer of Authority) was going with the battalion we were replacing. As expected, it was going well but not without some speed bumps.

Now I had also been to COB Speicher before. It was another place I had frequented during my previous deployment. Things were changing rapidly. Barely one-tenth of the personnel strength remains. The base is rapidly being turned back over to the Iraqis. Speicher, near Tikrit, was home of the Iraqi Air Force Academy and will resume that role soon. Where there used to be three DFACs there is now only one. Most of the permanent structure buildings have been handed back over. It has become a land of temporary buildings for the remainder of the stay. Hell, they even removed the Mount Rushmore diarama from the north DFAC (which is now the only one). I was disappointed to find it wasn't there, as I had fondly reported it to the folks back home on the previous deployment.

We started our TOA almost immediately. The previous battalion had accomplished great things. They were very cooperative to get us in the driver's seat. I was eager to be there too. The biggest challenge was being careful to look for ways to do things even better. It is very easy to simply assume that doing things exactly the way the folks previous had done them is the best way. That just wasn't good enough for us. We wanted to do things better. For now, we were in the right seat while they continued to drive for us. This is the tedious part of the TOA. We bided our time and waited for the arrival of the main body from Kuwait. There were dust storms to keep us company. They were very fierce.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Escape from Kuwait

"..there is always something to see in a desert, with a bit of patience
and an eye for detail..." -
Kuwait Travel Information,

Did I mention that Kuwait is always best in your rear view mirror? Let me clarify that statement. If you are in the U.S. Army, Kuwait is always best in your rear view mirror. And like I said before, that's true both coming and going. As soon as I woke up from my post-travel sleep I began plotting my escape from Camp Buehring. This little place is where units deploying to Iraq stop for a few days of additional training. Never mind that the training is identical to stuff we'd just been validated in only two weeks prior. The folks on high say we have to do it again. Essentially this means, "we couldn't book you a flight on to Iraq right away so here's something for you to do while you wait." Our "training" would consist of walking through another Counter-IED lane with instructors from MPRI. CSM and I immediately went to our LNO at Camp Buehring and informed him that we needed to be pushed forward ASAP. I also tapped two more key members of my staff to come with us. Our ADVON was already at COB Speicher and we needed to catch up with them. Fortunately, the LNO complied and started looking for a flight north. In the meantime, we sat through the training and explored lovely Camp Buehring. The place is dreary and dry. It is a camp in the middle of nowhere.

However, Camp Buehring isn't as comical as Ali Al Salem Airbase. Ali is the gateway to Iraq and Afghanistan. Every Soldier who flies through Kuwait has to spend at least a few hours at Ali Al Salem. This is Disney World. It's a neverworld of different rules, dirty tents, civilian clothes, grab-assing under the MWR tent, and unsanitary looking food courts that are a fly's wet dream. Permanent party people assigned to AAS pretend as though they are hardcore, toughing out a dangerous deployment. Yet, in their off-duty hours they can be found lounging in civvies, falling out with PDA on someone of the opposite sex while dining on McDonalds from the food court. I can't stand AAS and every minute I spend there irritates me. CSM was ready to explode on various people he saw. I had to remind him that this was AAS, different rules applied - what I call "Kuwait Rules." The only good news is that we were Space-R on a C130. We only had to endure AAS for a few hours while we waited. Three days after arriving in Kuwait, we were flying north to Iraq.

Our C130 landed at Joint Base Balad (LSA Anaconda). I am very familiar with JBB, having been based there during my last deployment. It really hasn't changed much except there are fewer people and facilities. The retrograde from Iraq is in full-swing. Unfortunately, we couldn't continue flying north to Speicher. We would be at JBB for at least a day waiting for the next leg of our journey. No convoys were available either. After sitting through the "Mortaritaville" briefing for about the 50th time, another LNO took us to the DVQ (Distinguished Visitors Quarters). CSM, my two staff members and I would enjoy a huge upgrade in our billets. It turned out that the music group Vertical Horizon was also staying there. They were at JBB to perform a free concert that night. I thought about going but refrained. Instead, I hit the USO with my laptop. That night we were entertained by a mortar attack fended off by the CRAM (Counter Rocket and Mortar). Folks in the DVQ couldn't help but hear everything. The CRAM is right next door. I took it that the bad guys were disappointed at not being invited to the Vertical Horizon concert.

The next day we were under a "weather hold." No rotary-wing flights could be conducted and there were no fixed-wing flights scheduled for Speicher. We were stuck in JBB another day. I hit the gym, PX, USO and then made the mistake of eating an "Italian" restaurant across the street from the DVQ. My stomach paid the price. I warned CSM not to go there but he did anyway. He had the same result. The waiting continued but not for long. The LNO let us know there was a fixed-wing to Speicher the next morning. We were almost there. Almost....

Friday, April 22, 2011

From MacGregor Range to Kuwait and several points in between

"Where ever the enemy goes, let our troops go also." - Ulysses S. Grant, General, USA

With the battalion validated for our mission there remained only one thing to do - fly to Kuwait and then on to Iraq. If it were up to me we'd avoid Kuwait altogether and report straight to our ultimate destination. Unfortunately, higher powers than a lowly battalion commander dictate the rules. A visit to Kuwait would be required. Upon our return from 4-day pass we hastily packed our bags and cleaned the Alamo for the next unit. We would travel on a "ULN" charter flight that would depart straight from Biggs Army Airfield at Fort Bliss. On the day of our flight we lined our dufflebags, loaded them on the trucks, and then convoyed to the airfield. There would be an MP unit joining us on the flight. It was a Boeing 757, so the normal wide-body comforts would be absent. The MP unit had a loud, fat, and pompous Lieutenant Colonel with them who quickly got on my bad side. I dubbed him LTC "Tubby" and made several offhand wisecracks at his expense. He had made the mistake of jumping on one of my Company Commanders earlier in the day when I wasn't around. Then when I talked to him he commenced to tell me all his war stories of time he spent at Victory Base Compound on a previous deployment. A simple rule of thumb is this - if someone boasts about their war adventures it actually means they did very little and saw even less when they were deployed. That way, if a mortar round landed a mile away on their compound it means a year later they tell the story as though it landed right on their lap, failed to immediately explode, which allowed them to dispose of the ordance in a manner that saved everyone around and earned accolades from God himself. Bottom line? This chubby LTC had never done anything on his previous deployment except walk from his CHU to the DFAC and then to the Liberty PX and back. But damn he could sure boast about it.

While waiting to load our aircraft we ate a hot meal as we passed the time. I held a formation so that we could exchange our full-color U.S. flag patches for an infrared (IR) version. This signified to each of the Soldiers in the Battalion that we were now considered a forward-deployed unit. CSM and I walked the ranks and shook hands with each of our Soldiers as we switched their shoulder patches. It was a moving event and set the tone to everyone that it was time for the game face. Then we boarded the plane and got comfortable for the next 30 hours of traveling. Dammit! I had to sit almost right next to Tubby.

A flight to Kuwait is never direct. In our case there would be two refueling stops. The first was in Bangor, ME. Having flown through Bangor on several military charter flights I knew what was in store for us - the Maine Greeters. These folks may be the most patriotic people I have ever met. It is truly an honor for any military member to be greeted by them. They are old and young, veterans and civilians, women and men, and all selfless in their love of Soldiers. No matter what time of day or night, when a military charter flight arrives at Bangor they line up and greet every single person coming off the plane. They have phones to use, food in abundance, stories to share, coins to hand out, and will even mail things for you. I consider it such a special moment to experience the love they share. God bless each and every one of them. I love them all. True to form, they greeted every Soldier on our flight and loved them as their own. We were on the ground for around an hour and for that entire time we were taken care of by the greeters. Then we said our goodbyes and loaded back on the aircraft. Next stop Leipzig, Germany.

Not much to say about Leipzig except that it's another refuel stop I've seen many times. The military terminal has a gift shop where the German girls at the registers have Rammstein blaring on their stereo. In a cruel twist of irony, the coolers in the gift shop are stocked with beer. We can only stare. Most of us simply find a latrine to take care of two of the three S's. Then we wait. There's lots of waiting in the Army. It doesn't respect rank. I waited with everyone else.

We finally landed at Ali Al Salem, Kuwait at around 0300. Our travel wasn't over. We still had to unload the aircraft, board buses, and drive to Camp Buehring. When all was said and done we were at our transient location. At 0600 we swiped our ID cards and sat through about an hour of welcome briefings. I noticed they were all out of date but really didn't care at this point. We shuffled to the DFAC for breakfast. Everyone had the zombie look. By 0900 we were, at last, bedded down for a day of recovery. We needed it. All I could think of was how to plot my escape from Camp Beuhring and get on up to Iraq. Sleep first though. Kuwait is always best in my rear-view mirror. That's true both coming and going.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MacGregor Range, NM - Home of the Alamo, tumbleweeds and LTC "Dr Phil"

"Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to
do less."
- Robert E. Lee, General, CSA

History tells us that the Alamo is in San Antonio, TX. Yet, my Soldiers and I were about to find out that it is actually in MacGregor Range, NM. We even lived in the place for a month. Is it possible that I slept in the same room that was once occupied by Jim Bowie or, perhaps, Davy Crockett? I wasn't able to confirm but there was no evidence PeeWee Herman's bicycle had ever been stored in the basement. How could this be you ask? Well our next pre-deployment training requirement began in February and involved a month of collective training and validation at MacGregor Range. The range is an isolated outpost that is a subsidiary camp to Fort Bliss, TX in nearby El Paso. Believe me, the place is perfectly suited to train Soldiers for Iraq. It is nothing but sand, dirt devils, dust storms and tumbleweeds that seem to be straight out of an old western movie. This is the place where my Battalion would mobilize for war.

Upon our return to Fort Lee from Hunter Liggett most of our Soldiers went home for a couple of weeks. Around the middle of February we all reported back to our HQ at Fort Lee. After a couple of days packing up our gear, we held a "farewell ceremony" and said goodbye to family and friends. Then we loaded up on a bus, headed to the airport to a chartered flight and flew straight to Fort Bliss. This is where we would be in-processed for our deployment. For the next three days we attended a series of briefings and went through a series of stations that checked us off for medical, personnel, legal and finance. Once we'd all been through all of this the battalion moved from Fort Bliss to MacGregor Range for our training. The billets we moved into were aptly named "The Alamo" for a reason. Apparently, they were designed by the same folks that put up the fort for Colonel Travis and his Texans. It was actually a pretty nice place in a very dreary location. MacGregor Range is completely dry and barren. The wind blows constantly, dust devils swirl all around the place, and tumbleweeds are constantly rolling around looking for someone to bump into. I was personally assaulted by one on my way to the mess hall. General Order #1 finally reared its ugly head too - no alcohol authorized under penalty of UCMJ punishment. Farewell to my friends Yuengling and Shiner Bock.

Our training picked up almost where we left off at Hunter Liggett. At this point, we were moving into collective task training. For the next several weeks we conducted convoy operations, counter IED, TOC operations, and many other events. Much of the training was redundant and, in many cases, it involved skills that our battalion would never utilize once we deployed. Yet, it was good training that was always good to have in the Soldier kit bag for future reference. As expected, there was a lot of "hurry up and wait." The uniform drill occurred frequently too, as the training schedule often failed to match training with the correct uniform. Everything was externally driven by the training brigade that was in charge of us for the duration. With that in mind, everyone kept a good attitude and always brought their A-game to the training. I continued to beam with pride for my Soldiers.

The big event for MacGregor Range was called the CTE, which stands for Culminating Training Exercise. It was a seven-day event that put our Battalion in a scenario that simulated what we would be doing once we were on the ground in Iraq. It was a 24/7 training event that tested my staff on their ability to produce the planning and decision-making products necessary for us to accomplish our mission. How did we do? We kicked ass and did it with wit, grace and style that made me proud. Here it was, my newly formed staff working together in a stressful environment and running like a fine-tuned machine. I knew, at last, that we were ready. We were validated by our trainers to be prepared for deployment. The green light was on over the drop zone.

However, our validation didn't come without having to endure the pain or the worst After Action Reviews (AAR) I have ever had to sit through. It wasn't bad because we'd done anything wrong. It was the conduct of the AAR. Perhaps I'm "old school Army" with regards to this stuff. I like having to members of the staff backbrief their mission and develop the timeline from their perspective. Then we discuss the "sustains" and the "improves" before wrapping up the AAR. Well, it must be a new Army that loves touchy-feely, politically correct AAR formats. Instead of us doing most of the talking, we had to listen to the teachings of Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) "Dr. Phil" and his sidekick. He spent at least thirty minutes building his happy place puzzle for us. Then he went off on some tangent about Soldiers using spice (which had absolutely nothing to do with our CTE). Next he was back in his trust tree and asking my staff members how they felt when different things happened during the course of the CTE. In the meantime, I was making notes that literally said, "blah, blah, blah, blah...." The whole weird scene culminated when another LTC came forward at the end and blurted out, "I just wanted to say that this is the best AAR I HAVE EVER sat in on!" CSM and I looked at each other with that "who the hell are you?" look. When it was our turn to talk - finally - neither of us said anything except to thank the trainers. What has the Army come to? Where were my sustains and improves? We never got them. I don't think the trainers remembered to note those critical components of our AAR. I'm still waiting for the written AAR comments I was promised. I'll probably still be waiting a year from now. I don't care. My Battalion kicked CTE in the ass. I knew they would.

With our training complete we were allowed to take a four-day pass. My biggest concern here was that everyone stayed safe and returned on time when it was over. No worries. They all came back with no issues. I got to taste Shiner Bock again one more time. All that was left now was the clock ticking down the hours until time to load up on the plane for our trip to Kuwait and then on to Iraq.

Monday, April 18, 2011

RTC-West Fort Hunter Liggett - Next to nowhere and nowhere is nowhere close by

"I yield no man in sympathy, but I am obliged to sweat these men tonight so I may save their blood tomorrow." - Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lt Gen, CSA

Training for war is no joke, never easy, and cannot be taken lightly at any moment. For two straight months we conducted training at "home station." We qualified our Soldiers as Combat Lifesavers, prepared them in their battle drills and developed our SOP's. Finally having a Command Sergeant Major and an Executive Officer made day-to-day life much easier for me, as at last I could focus on the future of the Battalion. Holes on the battle roster were filled with new faces. The staff got a taste for my expectations in the art of MDMP, mission analysis, and COA development. At last I was starting to have fun and finding my groove. Army War College was clicking on all cylinders during my "off" time. Slowly, steadily, yet clumsily, my self-guided instruction on the banjo was plodding ahead too. We took a well-earned break for the Christmas holidays to get our minds focused for the next step - Regional Training Center-West, Fort Hunter Liggett, CA.

Now I had always heard that Hunter Liggett was this super high-speed training base hitherto known only to Special Forces types. I'd never been there, never seen any photos, and figured it would be pointless to find it on a map. After all, why would I ever go there? I'm not prone to walk around humming the "Ballad of the Green Berets" or stay awake at 0300 sharpening my bayonet. Besides, my Battalion falls into the Combat Service Support category. Well, it seems, the SF folks decided to share their beloved gem of an Army outpost. It is now one of the designated training centers where folks like me go to be validated in our individual and collective Warrior Tasks. Those are the basic skills - weapons qualification, combatives, land navigation, first aid, etc - that every Soldier has to be certified in prior to deployment (and also annually in peacetime). Our month of January would be spent in this dusty, sleepy, secluded place that's located somewhere in California wine country (or so they say).

We flew out on a chartered flight. My banjo accompanied me on the plane. The flight attendants immediately assumed I'm an expert picker. That I am not, but, I did agree to their requests and pulled out my 5-string. I wowed them with those beginner favorites like "Cripple Creek," "Old Joe Clark," "John Henry," and "Jesse James." After a refuel stop in Kansas, we landed in San Jose. There we enjoyed a burger from IN-N-OUT. Being the commander, I was the last to grab a burger and it was cold. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for what the fuss is all about. Almost two hours later we finally reached our destination after circumnavigating winding roads with numerous jagged hills that revealed bare evidence of earth-shattering tectonic activity. Fort Hunter Liggett? Are you kidding me? This is it?

For the next twenty one days we trained with no abandon. Everywhere around us were jackrabbits that eyed us curiously and always managed to hop a few feet away from us when approached. The post seemed practically abandoned. There was no wi-fi. The bowling alley was closed on the weekends. There was a bar at the post guest quarters but it was practically never open and, even when it was, closed at around 2100. Yet against this backdrop of "twin-peaks" dreariness we trained. My Battalion came together. They sang cadences marching to and from training. They packed the gym at night. They greeted me with motivation whenever they saw me. My command team drew closer and talked of the coming deployment. The magic moments of command were at work, processing feelings and emotions that those who never command will never know the joys of experiencing. Command is intoxicating and I embrace it. I simply can't understand any Officer who doesn't seek opportunities to command. But I digress...

Our time at Fort Hunter Liggett went by very quickly. Every single Soldier in the Battalion successfully qualified in all of their Warrior Tasks. When we arrived we were still a loosely-knit organization. By the time we left we marched in step to the same tune. Trust in the chain-of-command was complete. The Army Values were internalized as a team. However, Fort Hunter Liggett was unchanged. Only the weather was warmer. All else remained frozen in time. I did suffer the worst haircut of my entire life right before we departed. Thinking it would be good to go home looking sharp, I popped into the PX barber shop. There were two chairs so I took the first one to open. As the lady was cutting the top of my head the attachment on the clippers came off, which resulted in a bald spot front and center. When she saw what had happened she offered to paint in the stubble with mascara, claiming it would blend with the rest of my hair. What the F#@*? Then she offered to hold a tuft of my hair in place using hairspray. I couldn't believe she was serious. Finally, I just told her to go "zero" all over. I walked in looking to get a nice "high and tight." When I walked out I was bald and spitting mad. It's comical now but at that precise moment in time I was not laughing. She did have enough sense not to charge me for her masterpiece. Good call on her part.

Then we bid farewell to Fort Hunter Liggett. At 0130 we loaded the buses and moved out to San Jose. It was too dark to scan the barren landscape one last time. I don't think I'll come back. Yet, I will fondly remember the time we were here and forever be thankful to the professional NCOs of RTC-W who devoted 21 days to my Battalion. Thanks go to the jackrabbits too for being such observant friends. I may have chased you but it was all in good fun. Hold down the fort bunnies!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Time to roll up the sleeves, pull out the finger picks, and put on the command hat

What was I thinking? I loved my old battalion. The team was fine-tuned. There were no issues. The HQ was devoid of drama. Now I was walking into a new command, a new HQ, and more drama than a soap opera. It was immediately apparent why the old commander and his top NCO had been fired. The battalion was every Soldier for themselves. Everyone had a "1000 meter stare." There were Congressional inquiries, EO complaints, "15-6" investigations, and just about any other type of negative personnel action you could think of. Rather than go negative, I looked for the silver lining. It wasn't hard to find. The Soldiers of the battalion were desperate for leadership and eager to move forward. Most of the Officers and NCOs were ready to embrace a realistic command philosophy. And, besides, I had my banjo. Now the tasks I faced were daunting. I had four months to rebuild the command team, fill holes in the battalion deployment roster (and there were many), establish an esprit within the unit, and accomplish a myriad of training requirements necessary to validate the unit for our mission in Iraq. Initially I would have to proceed without a battle buddy. I had no Command Sergeant Major. Yet armed with a TDY order I moved out smartly to Fort Lee, VA, which is on the edge of the Petersburg battlefield. Thanks to Marriott Execustay, I had a furnished apartment to move into. Unfortunately, I had to leave my banjo teacher behind. Seems I was on my own in my pickin' endeavors too. Within days of arriving at my new command I departed with my XO to Iraq for a Pre-Deployment Site Survey, or PDSS for short. This afforded me the opportunity to see where we would be living, meet the battalion we were replacing, and become better acquainted with our mission. Turns out we'd be headed to COB Speicher - a place I know very well from my last deployment. The banjo enjoyed a few MRAP convoys but really didn't see much action. It was a great trip because it got me focused on the big picture again. This came crashing down almost immediately upon our return to Fort Lee. Two days after we got back to the battalion I had to fire my XO. Now I truly stood alone as a command team of one. Fortunately, help was on the way in the form of my hand-picked CSM and a new XO. Progress was being made on all fronts though. Through all this I completed several modules of Army War College and became a little more acquainted with the fret of my banjo. I'm just a beginner on that instrument and have a long, long way to go. Most importantly, despite adversity my battalion was now becoming a cohesive team. They were beginning to believe in themselves, each other, and our mission.

Friday, April 15, 2011

And so how did it come to this?

A year ago I never would have imagined I'd be back in Iraq. There was no reason to think I would be deployed again. The Battalion I commanded at the time was not scheduled to deploy and I'd just been selected for Army War College. If anything, my future was very stable it seemed. Armed with that knowledge, I had finally gotten off my ass to pursue a lifelong dream - playing the banjo. Things sure did change in the space of a few months.

Towards the end of last July I was with my beloved Movement Control Battalion conducting training in Fort McCoy, WI. I didn't suspect anything when my phone rang. It was my commander - someone I spoke with almost daily. But instead of the normal chatter this call turned out to be something else. Another battalion within the Sustainment Command I belonged to had recently seen both its commander and Command Sergeant Major fired. My commanding general wanted to know if I would be willing to leave my current command and take over this troubled battalion. The kicker was that the battalion was deploying to Iraq. I was stunned and honored at the same time. Fortunately, my CG didn't need my answer immediately. After about a week of careful consideration, counsel with mentors, questions answered by the Army War College, and a lot of prayer I reached a decision. Yes, I would leave command of my beloved MCB and take command of the other battalion. Soldiers in need of leadership can never be denied. My banjo would come with me.

After passing the colors of my old battalion in September, I grasped the colors of my new command shortly after. The unit is a Combat Sustainment Support Battalion based in Fort Lee, VA. That's where this journey really began. The months that followed saw me spend countless hours at the headquarters rebuilding the command team, developing the staff, eliminating the deadwood, and infusing the entire battalion with a passion for teamwork and mission success. The predeployment training included time at lovely places with names like Fort Hunter Liggett and MacGregor Range. All the while, my banjo and Army War College studies traveled with me.

So that's how I've arrived back in Iraq - a country I've deployed to three times previous (I kept a blog on my last deployment - http://fortsam.blogspot.com ). Now I've returned for a fourth time. Only this time I'm here as a Battalion Commander and an aspiring banjo player. This is going to be a fun journey. I'm glad to have all of you visiting to follow along. Bear with me for a few entries to catch you up to the present. Then we'll stay on track for the present. Take your shoes off, sit a spell, and listen to me spin a yarn about my Soldiers, my various locations, my command, my studies, and my pursuit of banjo excellence.