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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Silent Warriors Among Us - Civilian Contractors

"America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on
imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand."
- Harry

There are silent warriors among us. They represent the backbone of the continuity that has sustained the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often derided by many back home as overpaid byproducts of pork-barrel politics, they drive on and stay focused on the people they care about most – the Soldiers. I’m referring to the civilian contractors. We depend on them here. They always deliver quality in all they do. Civilians can be found toiling at every FOB. Perhaps best known for the amazing dining facilities that keep us fed, the civilian workforce also provides various other services. These include laundry, facilities maintenance, air terminal operations, MWR facilities, fuel issue points, water treatment plants, military equipment maintenance, and many other services. They also risk their lives every day driving trucks alongside Soldiers while conducting convoy operations on some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Unlike Soldiers, civilians don’t deploy for one year. They stay as long as their contract continues. There are contractors in Iraq who have been faithfully serving Soldiers since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They will be with us all the way to the end of Operation New Dawn. Many of them will then move on to Afghanistan and continue their faithful service. They are amazing people who we’ve come to respect immensely for their dedication.

My Battalion manages some of the contracts at Speicher. While the civilian contractors involved with those contracts don’t work for me, they are still accountable to our mission. As such, we have civilians driving trucks on convoys planned by my staff, managing fuel yards that issue thousands of gallons of various types of fuel daily, and provide maintenance support to the tenant units. I am extremely proud of all of them. We try to give them recognition whenever we can. Since we can’t give them an achievement medal, we make do with special gatherings to honor them. Normally, this means we also hand out a few Certificates of Appreciation to thank them for their hard work. Recently, my Direct Support Maintenance section held a special breakfast to thank the civilian contractors who are part of their operation. CSM and I attended and shared a few words of praise and thanks. I had them hold their hands up if they had been in Iraq at least a year and keep them up as I counted up additional years in country. Every one of them had been in Iraq for at least two years. One of our mechanics had been serving the DS Maintenance at Speicher for seven years. Now that is continuity. The Soldiers have come and gone but the contractors have labored on in selfless dedication.

I have little tolerance for people back home who have never deployed yet feel they need to wax eloquent to me with their various opinions about the reasons we’re in Iraq. Often times they’ll use the civilian contractors as “proof” to their argument that the war was concocted for oil or to pad a politician’s stock portfolio. It’s a tired, sad argument at this point. It’s also an argument that shows complete ignorance with regards to really knowing who the contractors are. Simply stated, the contractors are a Soldier’s best friends in this war. They are truly “salt of the earth”. They are the unsung heroes of this war and will always have my respect.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kalsu Another Day

"Those that hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not" -
Thomas Jefferson

Given that our battalion area of operations is over a geographic area larger than the State of Georgia, it's only logical that I have to travel to see all of my Soldiers. They perform many roles in support of our mission and operate from remote locations. One such location is FOB Kalsu - a place I'm quite familiar with from my previous deployment. I have fond memories of Kalsu, one of which is the time I had to fill two sandbags prior to going into the DFAC on Thanksgiving. Ah yes, the memories... But back to the present I go. It was a bright, clear and very hot day as CSM, Chaplain, an NCO from my HQ and myself all loaded into a Blackhawk. We wouldn't be making this trip all the same day. Our plan was to fly into Liberty Main (aka Club Liberty Pad) at the VBC complex and then fly on to Kalsu the next morning. Leg one went as planned. A 45-minute flight and we were touching down at another of my old haunts from "The Surge" days. My HHC Commander met us and drove us over to our waiting CHUs. Then we made another stop along my memory lane - DeFleury DFAC. Camp Liberty is a massive complex that reminds me of a dirtier version of Fort Hood, TX. It is a seemingly endless series of CHUs, HQs, motorpools, and mess halls. They say it isn't as crowded now as it was back in 2008. To me it still looks exactly the same. After chow we hit the sack. An "O-dark-thirty" flight to Kalsu awaited us.

0300 the next morning we were all on our way to BIAP for the early bird special to Kalsu. It was too dark for us to notice the haze of a building dust storm. Once at BIAP, we hit the 24-hour Green Beans Coffee for a jolt'o joe. I got the MOAC (Mother of all Coffees), which is a GB 24-ounce concoction of dark coffee mixed with four shots of espresso. In the end, this turned out to serve only as a bowel movement inducing blast of hardcore java. As the sun began to come over the horizon we began to realize Kalsu might be just beyond our grasp. Then the official word came - red air. That's the new phrase for what used to be called weather hold. The wait began. Two hours later our original flight was cancelled. We were shifted to a later flight. The wait continued. By 1100 we were tired, crabby, and impatient. My MOAC had given me a burst of energy that subsided after I dealt with the Mother Nature side effects of drinking something so bold. We called the HHC Commander and had him return to pick us up. Not long afterward, the other flight to Kalsu cancelled. We would have to see Kalsu another day.

That evening we all stopped by the Camp Liberty PX, which is a large complex that is surprisingly well stocked. We all purchased cigars and fake beer. Then we headed out to the smoking area and lit up. The weather won this round. It happens here. I made the decision not to try again the next day. Instead, we would return to Speicher. With the decision made we relaxed and enjoyed our cigars, all the while pretending our beer was real. It was a brief respite from an exhaustive, frustrating day.

As if to mock us, the flying weather the next day was perfect. Truth is, we had the last laugh. We didn't get stuck at Liberty for another day. Kalsu is in our future. We'll spin the roulette wheel on the weather somewhere down the road and it will work out. Another Thanksgiving at Kalsu perhaps? I may plan that just to see if I have to fill another two sandbags to get in the DFAC.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Never Forgotten, Never In Vain

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.” – Abraham Lincoln

As dawn broke it seemed like just another Saturday morning here at COB Speicher. Soldiers, Airmen, Contractors and others went about their normal business as we continued our daily preparations to close up shop and continue our responsible retrograde from Iraq. As the sun climbed into the Iraqi sky we started to hear trickles of news from a tragic event that had taken place hundreds of miles to our east. On a distant battleground in another country in which our brave men and women selflessly toil, a helicopter had been shot down with terrible loss. Another war in which we fight with equal professionalism, selfless service, and painful sacrifice rages on in Afghanistan. Thirty American warriors, seven Afghan brothers-in-arms, and a fearless military working dog, all dedicated to one another in faith, confidence in each other and their mission, paid the ultimate sacrifice when their CH-47 Chinook was struck by a missile and downed. It was the worst combat loss in a single day since the start of the war in Afghanistan. Its impact resonated across the entire military community. For when one mourns we all join hands and hearts together. In the military we are all family and we share the grief for the loss of a fallen comrade. I can’t say if anyone here at Speicher actually knew any of our comrades on that helicopter. I know I didn’t. But to all of us that is irrelevant. We don’t need to know our comrades personally to feel the sting of their loss or share the sorrow felt by their family and friends. For we are all linked together by our sense of duty to serve our Nation, preserve her Freedom, and our commitment to the Warrior Ethos. August 6, 2011 was a dark day for all of us, as though there truly was a “tremor in the force” that is the bond of military service. Our resiliency is in knowing that from this sad day we will recover, we will prevail, and we will emerge victorious. We will never allow a fallen comrade to have made such sacrifice in vain. The thirty Americans lost aboard that Chinook may be gone but they will never be forgotten for the sacrifice they’ve laid at the altar of Freedom. Neither will the seven Afghan patriots who gave their last full measure for their Nation and their people. Last, the Military Working Dog is yet another in a long line of devoted K9’s who never questioned faithful service and died alongside the men with whom they served.

God bless the families, friends and the fellow members of their unit in this time of loss and know that all men and women of our military family are bowing our heads with you now and always. Although there are times when we feel our life of service is eternal, we know that in the end we are all mere mortals who are made mighty only by our trust in one another. We know that when Heaven’s roll call is sounded we will all one day be present and accounted for. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Farewell Burger King and Good Riddance

“If we do not lay ourselves at the service of mankind whom should we serve?” – John Adams

Throughout multiple deployments I have never been a person to frequent the food courts found on every FOB. Normally, they are located at the PX and range in variety from Pizza Hut to Subway. Green Beans Coffee is another fixture. Now that base closure is the name of the game, these food courts are on the wane. The one at COB Speicher isn’t very large, consisting of a Burger King, Subway and Green Beans. A sad day came for many a Joe in the past week. The Burger King closed and the trailer facility that housed it is being removed. Soon the other two will follow. It really makes no difference to me. The DFAC serves massive quantities of quality chow. I never really understood why anyone would pay money at the food court when they have so many options for free at the mess hall. Oh well, it is becoming a moot point. As the FOBs get closer to their end the food courts are disappearing. Joes have no choice now but the DFAC.

Food court closures are just a sideshow to the real events ongoing here. Oblivious to such events, and ignoring the increasingly bare shelves of the PX, we drive on in pursuit of our mission. Along the way we seize every moment we can to recognize our amazing Soldiers. There are two times we have an opportunity to recognize Soldiers – awards and promotion. We’ve had several of both. In the past two weeks I’ve had both Officer and Enlisted promotions within the Battalion. This has afforded us the opportunity to give special recognition to various members of our unit for their hard work, excellence of performance, and professional progression of their careers. What makes this all the more special is that we are able to take time out from our pursuit of mission success in Iraq to pay homage to our own. What’s best is that we have many more Soldiers to recognize in the coming months. Food courts may be soon a thing of the past here in Iraq but what isn’t is the incredible determination and drive of our Soldiers. They’ll just all be fueled by the DFAC from now on.