Sunday, February 25, 2007

Greetings from Mudville

Another week of long training days. One of the things about Fort Riley when the weather warms up a bit after having snowed is that the snow melts and it gets extremely muddy here. If you can imagine hundreds of people walking around through mud with their boots (most with two boots) and leaving a trail of mud where ever they go that is what it is like. If you ever yelled at your kids for tracking mud through the house, you would have a heart attack seeing all the dirt and mud tracked through all of the buildings. It was interesting to note that Lent started this week (for you Muslims out there, you can ignore this part). Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and unfortunately I was unable to get to church and get my ashes. I figured I had rolled around in enough mud and dirt and did some praying while doing it that I was OK to have missed it. As is traditional during lent, you are supposed to give up something during this season to represent the sacrifices of Jesus. So this year I have decided to give up my family, my job, my house and my way of life. I figure I should be good to go to with the Big Guy. OK so I was forced into those, I did give up coffee and soda for lent, pretty tough since I used to consume mass quantities of both.

Monday, we found ourselves back on the firing range. Some people had to get qualified on their M4 rifles and some had to complete their M9 pistol quals (some both). We also had to do night qualifications, where you fire in the dark with Night Vision Goggles (NVG's), that was pretty cool; the things actually do work. For those who have never used NVG's it is similar to using your night shot on your digital camcorder only people don't look so "Blair Witch Project". It was a long night and we did not get finished until after midnight after a 8 am start. We had a scary incident that evening. It was around 10:30 at night and pitch black out. I was standing around near the firing line waiting for some of my teammates to finish up their night quals when I noticed someone waiting to go to the line to shoot, shaking and making noises. I walked over to find a female officer holding her weapon and 3 clips of ammunition about ready to collapse. This woman is around 52 years old and was obviously worn out from the long day. I asked her if she was OK and she began screaming she just couldn't do it anymore and she was tired and wanted to go on the bus back to the barracks. Well that was all I needed, a completely distressed woman with live ammunition shooting rounds in the dark. Images of the movie Full Metal Jacket started going through my mind where "Private Pyle" is found preparing his weapon in the latrine. I chose not to do what that actor did and ask her what her major malfunction was and did her Mommy not love her enough. See movies are pretty good for training. I immediately took her clips (that is magazines with rounds) and her weapon and said you are done for the night. We took her back to a staging area and gave her some fluids and she waited around until the range was closed around midnight.

On to more fun stuff, we got to drive around in our HUMMWV's and go off-roading through the mud and through an obstacle course. We did some night driving with NVG's and that is an experience. All lights are out and you are driving in the dark looking through your goggles and just trying to stay on the road. I would not recommend this for a cross country trip. We also went in a trainer where they put you in a simulator of a HUMMWV and flip you upside down to simulate a rollover and then you have to get out of the vehicle while wearing all your gear. I wish someone had told me these trucks were prone to flip over, I might drive a little more safely. Needless to say, the wearing of seat belts is a good thing. The trainer was pretty good and we were all able to extricate ourselves from the vehicles with only minor scrapes. We also spent some time mounting our 50 cal and M240 machine guns on our trucks. These are big guns. The pictures I attached are not of these machine guns, I am holding my M4 rifle in full battle gear. I do look like I am ready for battle. Let's hope I am stuck behind a desk and don't have to use all this training, but I will be ready just in case.

Later in the week we did some communications training with our radios and had another round of practice negotiations. This is where you sit in a room with Afghans and play out a negotiation scenario. There is a tremendous amount of cultural learning that goes on in these sessions. We are also continuing our language classes. Not sure that any of us is getting much out of it as it is hard to understand the instructors English so his Dari is even tougher. I can count to ten though so here is another quick Dari lesson, counting from one to ten.
Yak, doo, se, chawr, panj, shash, haft, hasht, no, da. That was as easy as ABC, I mean 1,2,3.

We ended our week with Combat Life Saver, which is a first aid course with a kick. We saw lots of pictures of different wounds apparently to scare us in to taking this seriously. We all practiced our techniques to stop bleeding and other things. They used some sort of Kool Aid mixture to simulate blood. Then we topped off the week with giving each other IV's. Yes we all stuck each other with needles and attached saline drip solution IV bags to each other. I kept mine in for a while to hydrate as it was Saturday and I planned to dehydrate myself with a few beers later than night. At least you can rest assured that if I am out with any of you and you get a sucking chest wound, I will know what to do. More likely if you fall down and get a scratch I can put a band aid on you.

We have now completed 3 of the 8 weeks of actual training. It has been over a month since I left home and I am looking forward to getting a break. We did get word that we are closed for Easter so we get a 4 day weekend in April to see family. This training is kind of like having kids, the days are long, but the weeks are flying by. Well not really, but with kids that is how it goes. I am learning a great deal and overall enjoying the experience.

Take care,


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Good Day Sunshine!

I thought about that famous Beatles song, "Good Day Sunshine" today as it was a beautiful sunny day here in Kansas. How appropriate since it was "Sunday". I am not sure what you get for Monday, I don't even know what Mon is. Perhaps it stands for Mono and if that is the case I definitely don't want that considering that is the kissing disease and all there are a whole lot of guys here. Of course the shining sun caused all the snow to start melting and created big pits of mud throughout the camp that was fun and challenging to navigate around. Ah, but it was sunny and almost 50 degrees so it was all good. Being from San Diego, I often neglect how the sun makes us feel and I take it for granted sometimes. Another thing we all may take for granted is how important our families and friends are to us. I am very fortunate and blessed with wonderful people who support and love me, being away certainly makes all of that very clear. It is worth spending some time reflecting on what's important in our lives.

So keeping with the music theme, I might have mentioned that we PT (that is physical training) in the mornings. For my team this consists of running around the compound, generally in the freezing cold. We run together as a group and if any of you military types can remember running in formation we used to sing some songs to keep us going and keep the group together. We have a Chief who remembered some of the old songs and he will sing cadence while we run. You may remember such great hits like, "My Grandma is 92, she PT's just like you" or who could forget "My girlfriend is a vegetable" or the classic "Left, left, left, right, left". Brings back memories, not all good, but memories just the same. I have loaded my favorites on my iPod so I can enjoy them at my leisure.

It was another busy week. We started out on Monday, with M4 rifle qualifications. It was a cold, rainy day and for those of you who like to shoot, these were less than ideal conditions. Probably good for a rugby match, but not so good for looking through a scope to see a target. We all have to remember though, the bad guys don't call off attacks on account of rain, so we pressed on and continued our day. I did not have too many problems and qualified relatively quickly, I am sure I could have done better in sunnier conditions but I made it through. Many did not do so well. Not only was it rainy, but it was cold, probably around 35 degrees not quite cold enough to snow. The longer you stayed out on the range zeroing your weapon (that is a task where you make sure your sights are set properly) and then trying to qualify, the colder and wetter you got. People were out there for over 5 hours many over 7 hours and we were expected to be out until 9 PM after an 8 AM start. Well after a few people were shivering so bad and could not feel their fingers anymore, some sense came over the Army and they called the day at about 4 PM. We actually had a few people sustain some cold weather injuries. It was quite a site seeing people soaking wet, covered in mud and freezing to the bone. I guess that is called good Army training. Since we had so few qualifications, we are back out on the range again on Monday to do it all over again. We are also going to qualify on the M9 pistol. Forecast is for 50 degrees and sunshine so it should go much better.

We also picked up our HUMMWV's this week along with some more weapons. We got 50 cals and M240 machine guns. We haven't had the opportunity to shoot them yet, but I am looking forward to blowing some holes in things. We also got some training on the Army's GPS system and some communication tools. Overall we learned a great deal and there is more to come.

Just so you don't think it is all work and no play. We did have an opportunity on Saturday night to go out in town. My team went out for pizza and beer at a local place called Old Chicago and then we headed out to some hangouts in Manhattan (Kansas that is not the Big Apple, although they do call the town the "Little Apple"). Manhattan is home to Kansas State University or as we locals call it K State. It is fun college town with a strip of bars and restaurants about 3 blocks long, we had a good time.

Back on the home front, we had some big news. My daughter Madigan, got her ears pierced. I wish I could have been there, I heard she was very brave and only said "ouch" when they made the holes. Now she is "blinged" out. Who knows, if i was there, I might have been motivated enough to get my belly button pierced.

Shortly after this brave episode, she had an accident in our backyard and broke her leg. She is now the proud owner of a hot pink cast from the top of her thigh to her toes. Of course she had to bling the cast too and it now has her name in rhinestones on it. She is very stylish.

Thomas hasn't broken anything this week, but did have a chance a week ago to try and blow some things up as he built a rocket with his "Uncle Gordy" and Gordy's son Colin. Rebecca seems to be handling things OK, of course it is tough, I really did do a couple things around the house.

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day, it was business as usual around here. Of course the Navy's policy is "Don't ask, don't tell" so even if I knew of any romantic behavior among the sailors, I could not tell you.

Take care,


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Assalamu alaykom!

No I did not have a spasm while I was typing the subject line of this e-mail, although it does look like that. I am merely saying hello or really, peace upon you, in Dari the official language of Afghanistan. So this is your first language lesson, it is pronounced just as it looks if you can figure that out, in any case peace to you and yours from Kansas. The short version of this is to just say "Salam" just like the meat without the "i", of course I don't think the Afghans eat salami so it would be a poor reference if any of you were Afghans or Muslims.

We started our "official" training after finishing all our mandatory training requirements (we call it death by powerpoint) and receiving all our gear. We ended up with over 4 full seabags (that is a big duffle bag for you civilians) of stuff. We also received our M4 rifles and M9 pistols. The heaviest thing we got was the kevlar vest which weighs almost 50 pounds, it is kind of like wearing a fat suit that stops bullets (not that I want to test that) and protects you against bumping into large objects as you stumble around from all the weight. So it is actually pretty useful. When we have our full gear on including helmet we look like the kid, Randy from a "Christmas Story" as his mother is getting him ready to go out in the cold. Speaking of cold, it is unbelievably cold here in Kansas, I think they set up the weather like that so we would get used to freezing our buns off because Afghanistan gets really cold. Kabul is over 11,000 ft in elevation so a little less atmosphere to protect us. I am sure we will have an oxygen deprivation tank training session to get us used to the elevation (not really). I don't know how we will train for the heat because it also gets pretty hot over there as well. I am sure sitting in a sauna with full gear on would do the trick. We actually did learn that Kabul has over 300 days of sunshine so it is just like San Diego except without beaches, nice buildings, great weather, people who speak English, bikini clad women, freeways, nice restaurants and OK you get the picture it is nothing like San Diego, but I hear it is beautiful from the travel brochures.

So this week was incredibly busy. We had Cultural Immersion for three days. Not that you could learn everything about a culture in 3 days, but they tried. We learned about the country and the people and it really was quite interesting. We had language classes, which is how I was able to come up with that catchy subject line. We also learned about religion. Afghanistan is about 99% Islam (you might call them Muslim, same difference). The majority are Sunni Muslims and the minority is Shia (I hear they don't get along). I am not sure where those 1% are hiding, but I bet they are probably just atheists who refuse to respond to official surveys. It is estimated that the literacy rate is only 20%, again not sure how they figure it out because who likes doing surveys, I guess if you don't respond you are illiterate, maybe that is what happened to Alabama, they just don't like surveys. Sorry to you folks from Alabama. This week was also filled with weapons familiarization. Fortunately, I was somewhat familiar with the weapons but it was good training. We also got to shoot on a range simulator, kind of like a X-Box but with guns with laser beams. It really gave you a feel for shooting the M4 rifle. I am not a big video game guy, but if you were it would really give you a leg up, so if you get a chance play one of those special forces video games they have at the arcade. I am happy to say that I can take apart my M4 in 65 seconds and put it back together in 90 seconds and I usually only have a couple parts leftover (just kidding).

Some additional training we had was on communications training, this was how to set up and operate the various radios the Army uses on its vehicles etc. They say this is a basic skill that every soldier/sailor needs, I think we will need to review this again, but I am sure everyone will get it. They are basically $90,000 walkie talkies with high security that can be dropped from the top of a building without breaking. Just like anything they need batteries and if the batteries die and you don't have backup they are pretty much rocks. We also had MCP training, that is mounted combat patrol training, how to operate a convoy. MCP, just one of the thousand Acronyms we have to learn from the Army so in addition to learning Dari (that is the official language of Afghanistan, I referred to this earlier in the e-mail, but since this thing is getting a little long, I figured I would refresh your memory, I forgot to mention that about 40% of the country speaks Pashtu so I guess I will hope that my little bit of Dari will suffice), so where was I? Oh yes, acronyms, so learning Dari and all the Army speak is very interesting. Here is a lesson in Army while I am thinking of it. HOOAH! This is a "word" the Army guys use when they see each other, when they like what someone said, when they cheer, or when they get something caught in their throat, so it is good for just about any occasion. Actually, it is HUA (look at that another acronym, who'd of thunk it), it stands for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged, they just seem to have taken it beyond its original intent. Interestingly, many services have some form of guttural sound they utter. The Army has HOOAH, the Marines have OORAH, the Seals have OOYAH, the Airforce has LOOKOUT, I think, but the Navy does not seem to have a sound, so we thought about it here and came up with ARGH. Appropriate with the pirate theme and old time sailors, so ARGH to you all. OK, back to MCP, this was another pretty cool video simulation of driving around HUMMWV's (these are the military version, not the GMC H2 Hummer) and going out on patrol and dealing with insurgents who either attach your convoy or place IED's (Improvised Explosive Devises) on roads. Don't worry, IED's are pretty limited in Afghanistan, more prevalent in Iraq, but very dangerous. The greater worry in Afghanistan is land mines which have been placed throughout the country by the multiple wars the country has gone through. Again not to worry here, we were issued really long sticks as part of our gear so we are able to test them before we step on them (for you skittish people, I am kidding, they give us rocks which have a greater range).

So the days are long. A typical day starts out waking at 0515 (5:15 AM) and then PT (physical training) at 0530 (I am sticking with the military time, those who don't don't know how to tell military time are going to have to learn). Did I mention it is cold here, well PT in the freezing cold is not what I would call fun or healthy, after we finally work up a sweat, we have to walk in the cold ensuring that we get sufficiently chilled to neutralize our immune systems to receive all incoming attacks from germs. After PT we shower (yes we do shower, no bubble baths here, so you people who enjoy a relaxing bath, might have a problem) and then get some chow (that is food). The food is fine, nothing fancy but OK. After that we either head off to a training class or to one of the various other site training evolutions. We do get a lunch break which sometimes is an MRE (that is a fancy term for Meals Ready to Eat, full meals that come in bags, but can withstand a nuclear attack and still be eaten). They are not quite a frozen dinner meal, but I did have a very nice Turkey Tetrazina this week that was not bad. Better than some who had the franks and beans which caused the expected side effects that are not pleasant when you are in a room of 150 of your closest friends with no escape. It did keep us awake during the lectures though, even if we could not breathe or see with our eyes tearing up. I thought for a moment it was part of the training as a simulated poison gas attack, but then noticed the franks and beans packages and I relaxed and enjoyed the lecture. After the training sessions which go sometimes as late at 2000 (OK, I will help you on this one, 8 PM), we get to go back to our rooms relax and get ready for the next day.

I think the highlight of my week, besides getting to go out off post (that is Army speak for Base) and drinking beer, was a lunch I had with the Commanding General of US Forces in Afghanistan, General Durbin (may have spelled his name wrong). He was joined by the General of the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the General of the Afghan Security Force. They were visiting from Afghanistan to see how the ETT (Embedded Training Teams) training was going. 6 Officers were selected to join them for lunch at the DFAC (that is the galley for you Navy types) and we had some great conversations. It was interesting to hear direct from the Generals how they think things are progressing in Afghanistan and they were incredibly positive and enthusiastic about how well things have progressed. General Durbin has developed such a strong relationship with his Afghan counterparts, they consider him their brother (that is a big deal) and the Afghan Generals were so grateful to him and the US. It really was a very positive meeting, I was very fortunate to have this opportunity.

So it was a busy and eventful week and I will continue to move forward with training and learn everything possible to do my job to the best of my abilities. I think keeping busy makes the time pass and we are learning a ton. And of course we do get Sundays off so we can recuperate, I mean relax.

For those who want the address here it is below.

CDR Patrick Wade
Bldg 7006, D Co, 101st FSB
Class #17, Team: URF 8631
Fort Riley, KS 66442

Tashakor (that is Thank You)

Pat Wade