Sunday, March 25, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies

Apparently it is Girl Scout Cookie season because we are being inundated with lots of cookies and not the homemade kind. Everyone is trying to share their cookies they have received, but everyone already has several boxes of them. I am thinking of selling them back to the girl scouts; don't you get some prize for the most cookies sold? And have you noticed how many flavors of cookies there are now? I remember a few years back there were about 3 flavors of cookies, I think they were the sugar cookies, Smores, and of course the thin mints. Now there is every variety you can think of including cafe cookies, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches (did they really need two Peanut Butter cookies?), Shortbread, Cartwheels, Caramel Delights, Lemonades, and Thanks A Lot. One of my favorite varieties is the "All Abouts", I am all about the "All Abouts". And what about the little brownies? Brownies aren't a cookie they are a brownie, hence the name. Shouldn't there be some investigation on the girl scouts and false advertising or something for selling brownies as cookies? And another thing, I don't think the girl scouts are really making these cookies, I just can't picture them in some tree house cranking out 15 varieties of cookies to go peddle to the entire population. If the girl scouts want to make some money though, they really should set up a stand at Fort Riley selling to all these military folks here in Kansas, they are suckers for boxes of cookies and of course for girls in uniforms.

Rebecca set up Blog site for the family. It is not quite a MySpace thing, although I suppose it could get close to that. For those non-techies out there a blog (short for weblog) is a personal online journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. The author of a blog is often referred to as a blogger. Being a blogger doesn't sound like the most attractive name to be called and since Rebecca really set up the site, I am merely a blogger wanna be. If you start calling me a blogger, I may have to hunt you down and hurt you. Actually, I would be proud to be called a blogger if I knew what I was doing. Believe me, I am just figuring this stuff out too. If you are interested in visiting the site it is Right now it has my updates and a few pictures of the family Rebecca posted.

I thought I would share a brief statement from a friend of mine, Andy Bystrom, who is in Afghanistan. I will be relieving him of his position when I arrive. He gives a bit more detail of what the position is. "Now for the Wild Wild East of Supply - I feel very fortunate for my position as the Mentor/OIC/Commander of the Central Supply Depot (CSD) which receives, stores, and issues Class II, IV, VI, VII, IX materials (basically everything except ammo, food, fuel, and medical supplies) to the Afghan National Army (ANA) from Depot-1, Depot-2, TMSI Warehouse, Central Issuing Facility (CIF) and 22 Bunker sites. The depot currently maintains a stock list of over 1100 items of supplies worth 170 million dollars. These national depots support over 180 ANA units to include the Police, Detainee Operations, and Ministry of Interior. CSD has 240 personnel, 2 dogs, and 4 cats. 21 of the personnel are Navy and they are a great bunch of sailors." Thanks Andy for letting me share that.

This week was filled with lots of HUMMWV driving, we are getting quite good at this stuff. It used to take our team about two hours to prepare our vehicles and do briefings and start rolling, we can now do it under an hour. Monday was a pretty interesting, it was Mounted Combat Patrol obstacle course. You drive around a set course looking for danger and react as you would in a real situation. It is all simulated with various Army personnel playing the bad guys using blanks (blank ammunition) and smoke bombs. We encountered 3 IED's, 1 VBIED (that is the vehicle borne IED), small arms fire, an oncoming vehicle attack, towed one of our vehicles after some damage, provided medical help to casualties, called in a Medevac (Medical Evacuation) and set up a TCP (Traffic Control Point) where we stopped a vehicle loaded with weapons. I am very pleased to say our team did quite well on all the scenarios. Although, if I was ever to have a real day like that one you might find me huddled in the corner afraid to come out, it was a bit stressful. The intent of the exercise was to throw too much at you so you would learn from your mistakes. Tuesday was more mounted combat patrol, but on a range. This was another course where we drive from one site to the next and engage the enemy with our Crew Serve Weapons (Machine guns) and report all our activities to higher up. It was more of a communication drill than anything else. The neat thing was we did ride in Up-Armored HUMMWV's which have armor plating to stop bullets. The bad thing was the seating area is very small and we are all wearing our Kevlar helmets, body armor, knee pads and have rifles and pistols. I would like to find the guy who designed these vehicles and squeeze him into a very cramped space for hours and throw things at him. I can only guess that this guy was 5' 5" and 140 pounds and he said to himself, "my these things are roomy." We have some guys here that are 6' 4" and 6' 5" and they have a heck of a time.

Wednesday we had a nice diversion from driving and getting attacked, we were in the classroom for DAGR training. I know that sounds really neat, I thought it sounded good too. I was imagining learning all kinds of special knife throwing and special agent stuff. Turns out it was another acronym for the military's GPS. We used the handheld GPS units and learned how to set up points in them and then we went out and tracked various locations. Mine kept trying to lead me right to my rack (that is a bed, I obviously have been doing this military stuff too long), but I got back on course and found the tree that we were supposed to find. In the afternoon we had a great time. All the teams went to the confidence course on Fort Riley. It is a funny name, Confidence Course, it is really an obstacle course where the entire team needs to accomplish each obstacle together. I imagine if you are successful you get more confidence and if not successful, there must be a "loser course" somewhere. Our team did a great job and had a lot of fun, we had the best time in one obstacle where you needed to climb a rope wall and bring up a casualty and then take it down the other side. After that we crawled in the dirt under barbed wire, carried logs across beams on the ground (a balancing trick) and then we had to figure out how to get across parallel beams set 15 feet apart without touching the ground. There were several other events, but we ended the course going over the high wall, where you run and jump over a 10 foot wall, it was just like the Army films you see. I of course was the "big toe" for my team. (Editor's note: Big Toe Explanation If you have seen the movie “Stripes,” the classic comedy about the Army, you may recall the scene in which Bill Murray volunteers to lead his platoon. “An Army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe,” he said to his fellow Soldiers. “And Sergeant Hulka (their platoon sergeant) isn’t always gonna be there to be that big toe for us.” Someone posted the video clip on You Tube, it's in reference to something with David Letterman but it's the best I can do...

Thursday we were back on our trucks heading out to the small arms range and firing at targets. This exercise was how to move and shoot with your weapon. It was a bit controlled but fun nevertheless. There is always great concern for safety, that is a good thing. When you put loaded weapons in peoples hands and have them walk around, you tend to get a little nervous. On Friday we did what is called Battle Drill 6. This is how to clear a room and I don't mean by letting loose a bean and cheese burrito fart. (Can I say that? I know this is a family show, but farts are always funny, at least my kids think so.) This is when teams enter a room and start shooting at bad guys to make sure they secure the area and then move on to the next room. It is a little like an episode of "Cops"; "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when we come for you." We learned that clearing rooms is extremely dangerous and chaotic. We were using blanks and firing all over the place and the bad guys were firing back. We had a lot of people get hit. Fortunately we found out that the Navy will not be used for this type of engagement so it was all good learning and fun.

On Saturday we were back to our mounted combat patrol on the range, this time with live ammo. We ran through the range course firing at pop up targets. Sometimes our shooting was good, sometimes, not so much good. I think when we ran through it the second time, we were all thinking about the weekend, so we missed a bunch of targets. Now don't tell the bad guys that or they will figure out, if they attack on Saturday's the Americans are worried about their weekends and they will not fight well. Of course that plan would completely backfire on them as there are no weekends, at least as we know it; we are on all the time.

We graduate from Fort Riley in less than two weeks and then we get some time at home before shipping out. My brother Bill is planning to come visit next weekend. It should be a good time. He is older than me so I don't have to be the oldest dirty old man when we go out in Manhattan.

Take care until next time,


Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Countdown

It is hard to believe that I have been on this journey for 59 days, only 481 to go, but who's counting. Well I am and I think Rebecca and the kids are too. It's not that I am making little tick marks on the wall like in prison, these are modern times... I am using a white board. Seriously though, it is amazing to think that just 2 months ago, I was home in San Diego not knowing for sure what I would be doing and now I am turning into an Army infantryman. I recall back then, thinking: why is a 41 year old man in the Navy going to a landlocked country across the world to perform a mission I do not understand? Now I look at what I am doing, and all the training I am receiving, and I know what I am and will do is worthwhile. I have had to make sacrifices and so has my family, but when my duty is complete, I am confident this will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Here is another count for you. Did you know this e-mail goes to 236 people. I guess that is what I get for letting Rebecca log onto my Gmail account and add recipients. If not for her, I am sure I would only have 50 or so on the list. I have heard from many of you that you are forwarding it on to others to read ... so there could be thousands reading these updates. I am glad most everyone is enjoying the updates, it certainly does put some pressure on me to be creative though, and I will continue to do my best. Occasionally, we do have times when the Internet availability here goes down, which happened last week. This can create some delays in my note getting out. Rest assured, I am on the job and I will get updates out, despite the technical difficulties.

This was a really fun and exhausting week. We sent a lot of rounds down range. That is Army speak for we shot a lot of bullets at targets at the firing range. We shot the M2 50 caliber machine gun during the day and night. This is a weapon you really want around when hundreds of insurgents are storming your position... or for you hunters out there, I am sure it would hit a few deer, turkeys, rodents or anything else you might want to stop in their tracks. We also shot the M240 and M249 (saw) machine guns. Very cool weapons, these might be something you see Rambo using as he is running through the woods. I am sure these would come in handy for when I am taking orders for supplies and people don't fill out their paperwork correctly. "I told you I need that form in triplicate!" That would straighten them out. Another cool weapon is the MK19, pretty much a grenade type launcher that blows up a small area, good for blowing people out of bunkers. Some of the best training we had was on foreign weapons. We shot an AK47, that is the Russian made rifle. We shot a Russian machine gun and sniper rifle. You might ask, why are we shooting Russian weapons? Well, the Afghan military uses these weapons and I suppose if we are going to be with them, we should be familiar with their weapons. I am sure the Russians left a few of these laying around after they went running home. For you WD-40 people, it was interesting to see that the guys using the foreign weapons had several cans of the WD-40 Smart Straw that they were using to lubricate the weapons. I took a picture of me with the can and the weapons together. It was on a disposable camera so I will have to mail the picture in to the office. I am sure we could use it for our future ad campaigns in Russia and Afghanistan. The US Army does not allow us to use WD-40 on weapons, they use CLP, a poor substitute.

So that was the fun part, shooting all the weapons. The exhausting part was staying out at the range until almost 2 am and then getting up the next day to do it all over again. Each day we went to the range we conducted convoy operations to get there. We would travel around in our HUMMWV's in a convoy and conduct training along the way. Most days we would travel in small teams, but one day we decided to go as one big group with 12 vehicles following each other. I was elected as convoy commander for the group. I am happy to say the evolution went off without a hitch. Our call sign for the convoy was "Sand Dog" and as we neared our destination, I came on over the radio and made the following announcement, "This is your Convoy Commander speaking, our destination is just ahead on the left. I hope you have enjoyed your trip and I thank you for choosing Sand Dog for your convoy travels. We know you have a choice in convoys and I hope you will think of Sand Dog for your future convoys." It was a little funny, other than that I was extremely professional. And guess what happens after you shoot all these weapons, that's right, you have to clean them. We had a big gun cleaning party on Friday afternoon and made those weapons shine. The Lava came in handy afterwards since our hands were all covered in carbon and oil. You see I still am a company man, two plugs for WD-40 products and here is a third, I am using X-14 to clean my bathroom and have shared some with others.

We ended our week with Combatives, if you recall that is the Army wrestling I mentioned in a previous update. As happens with guys, the testosterone starts flowing and some people get a little carried away. We had two people going all out in a match and it ended with an accidental head butt to a nose which resulted in a little blood and a possible broken nose. Boys will be boys. I, of course, was smart and operated at quarter speed to avoid any injuries.

I found out this week what I will be doing in Afghanistan. I am going to relieve a buddy of mine, Andy Bystrom, as the Central Issue Facility Commander. This is the Afghan military distribution network and is right in line with my background, so I am pleased with this news. Andy was deployed last year and I am sure he is eagerly awaiting my arrival so he can go home.
It was St. Patrick's Day this week, I hope you all enjoyed yourself. I of course had to live up to my name and have a few beers for the occasion.

Take care and peace to you all,


Monday, March 12, 2007

Everything is Relative

To my family and friends,

When we last left our heroes, we heard about the fine living conditions at Fort Riley. I must always remember, everything is relative (and relatives are everything), and after hearing of the concerns at Walter Reed Hospital, I suppose we don't have it so bad. (Editor's note: I beg to differ... here is a picture of the "facilities" out on the range.)
It has given me a new perspective on living conditions and also reinforced the idea that I do not want to get injured and go to the Army hospital so I will keep my head down. I am sure it would not be as bad as Tom Cruise in "Born on the Fourth of July" and who hasn't sat in soiled undergarments for a few hours. Not me. In reality, the media sensationalized the story about Walter Reed Hospital because it does make for a better story and that is what we are all about, good stories.

Speaking of stories, I shared one about the female Lieutenant who was having trouble with qualifying on the range. She has since been sent home and I think it was the best thing for everyone concerned.

This was a relatively light week (you see once again, everything is relative). We had lots of classroom training, go figure since the weather was actually pretty nice. I am sure the Army plans things this way, bad weather train outside, good weather sit in a classroom. They must have really good weather guessers. We also trained on our Crew Serve Weapons (those are the machine guns mounted on our HUMMWV's), we did not do any live firing but we learned how to take them apart and put them back together. They have lots of parts, much more than our M4 rifles or M9 pistols. Not to scare anyone, but we did have an entire class on IED's, those are the Improvised Explosive Devices I am sure you have all heard about. The class was all about how to recognize and avoid them and what to do if you do encounter them. What I really learned was to stay the heck away from them. I am hopeful the training will never have to come into play during my tour. We also had some classes on Detainee Ops, this was how to avoid another Abu Graab (not sure of the spelling). I guess we are not supposed to lead prisoners around by leashes with hoods on their heads and they are supposed to be given clothes. There were a few people in the class that were a little disappointed by this news; I will have to keep my eye on them. We also had a class in Traffic Control Points, I was thinking this could be a good fallback career working for CALTRANS creating traffic jams. This is actually important training on how to safely monitor vehicle traffic around the roads of Afghanistan. I am told there are roads there and not a single tollbooth, I will find out soon enough.

The majority of our week was spent on Military Intelligence. I know that is an oxymoron, however the training was very informative and useful. We learned how to be investigators, some real CSI type stuff. I am planning to submit the idea to CBS, CSI Kabul; you can never have enough CSI's. Hey they would still have a long way to go to catch up to the 8 Law and Order shows. I think I would cast Robert Downey Jr. as lead investigator, Hamed Hussein Abdul Al Assi. In the first episode, Hamed would be struggling with a Heroin addition, I think Robert Downey Jr. could play that well. You see that is funny because Robert Downey Jr had a drug problem and the major export from Afghanistan is poppy seeds for use in heroin. I thought I might have to explain my reference there for those who don't follow movies or Afghanistan's economy. So that would be just the first episode, I am sure there would be lots of stories to develop a long running series. Random thought: isn't it funny how you must say some people's entire name, like Robert Downey Jr.? It doesn't sound right if you just say Robert. I wonder what his friends call him? Did his parents intend for people to use his full name? He doesn't seem like a Bob. Or how about other famous people with just one name like, Madonna, Prince, or Cher. How do they sign their checks? When I get to Afghanistan, I will have to pose these important questions to the locals because they tend to use 5 names all strung together.

For those of you interested in what I did for entertainment this weekend, we chartered a 40 passenger bus and headed to Lawrence , KS (home of the Kansas, Jayhawks) to see a concert by The Red Jump Suit Apparatus. They are an alternative, slightly punk band whose base player is the son of our Commanding Officer. A good time was had by all.

A couple of pieces of big news from the home front. My Daughter, Madigan, got her cast off. She still sleeps with it next her at night for comfort, I guess you get fond of things attached to your body after a few weeks. Also, my brother Matt and his wife Dawn had a baby boy, Austin Matthew, on Monday. Congrats to them, your lives will never be the same, and I mean that in a mostly good way.

Until next time, this is Commander Wade, your GWOT (that is Global War On Terrorism) correspondent signing off. Stay safe and as Kasey Kasem says, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars". Kasey was best known for his America's Top 40 radio show, he was also the voice of Shaggy in Scooby Doo (bet you didn't know that one). He really was the Ryan Seacrest of the 80's.

Take care,


Sunday, March 4, 2007

"It's not the Ritz"

To my family and friends,

Often I am asked about the accommodations here at Fort Riley and my simple answer is "It's not the Ritz". The Ritz Carlton is known for its great service and accommodations, in reality this place is not The Marriott either, I am not sure I could put it on par with the Motel 6, although I have stayed in some pretty bad hotels, but at least I did not have to share the room except with some roaches. You might think of this place like a college dorm room setting. I have 3 roommates, which is actually living in luxury as the majority of people live in 40 man bays with bunk beds lined up together. In addition, our room has its own bathroom so we do not have to fight for a stall or a shower. Of course this is a plus and minus depending on what we had for dinner that day.

At the end of this week I was very fortunate to get away from Fort Riley and relax at a friend's house. A good friend of mine, Pat Meriwether, who lives in Kansas City invited a couple of us over to his house for the short weekend. Pat and his wife Kathy had us over to relax and remember what a normal household is like. They have two kids Brannon and Elizabeth who are around my kids age and it reminded me of my own kids. I am really looking forward to seeing them at Easter. I truly appreciated their hospitality. I am writing this update in reverse order, kind of like one of those Quentin Tarrantino movies.

Saturday is somewhat of a stressful day if you have something to do on the weekend because everyone is trying to get out of here. It reminds me of my old Naval Academy days when we eager to get out for liberty. Part of the feelings come from the fact, that we shouldn't be working on Saturday anyway, and when you have a busy day it complicates things. So this Saturday was busy. Part of our training requirements are to execute convoy operations. This is where you have to get your team together on your HUMWWV's and convoy, think of that old song "Convoy" by CW McCall from the 70's, "Breaker One Nine, this is the Over the Hill Gang moving out". We do talk on radios but speaking in a Southern accent and calling people "Good buddy" doesn't work real well with the Army, I was informed of this during our training. Actually, there is a lot of planning that goes into a successful convoy operation. It is like planning a family picnic, someone is in charge of the maps and route, another is in charge of the supplies and someone else is in charge of the machine guns, we usually left them off during our family outings. In the end, we were successful in loading up and getting everybody out and back from our trip. Our destination was a classroom in another part of the post (base) where we practiced calling in gun support from artillery and aircraft resources. We finished the day around 6:30 PM and we were on the road for liberty around 7:00. Liberty is an interesting word, I think of freedom and that is what we are fighting for, during the week it is what we are looking forward to on the weekend.

We had a pretty fun day Friday, learning more Dari and preparing for our convoy. We also practiced a course called "Combatives" which is really just a form of wresting and choking people till they pass out. No one suffered any major injuries during this evolution and we did a get a pretty good workout. I must say the choke hold does work if you are interested in having someone pass out in about 10 seconds. I of course really don't want to be in situation where I have to fight hand to hand with the enemy, I figure things must have gone really wrong, if I get to that point. It might be handy for the bars around Manhattan though.

Earlier in the week we had various courses in understanding the organizational structure in Afghanistan, more language class and how to recover captured personnel. The week started out with a continuation of Combat Lifesaver where we had a couple of scenarios where we had to rescue injured personnel. One scenario was in dark building and we had to find casualties and administer first aid and get them out of the building. After my team completed this one I saw the Army guys do the same exercise but they used their night vision goggles so they could see in the dark. Now that would have been a good tip to know before rushing into this scene with our little flashlights. You live and learn. The second scenario was outside and we had to march in a patrol formation about a mile away and get some information from a contact out in the field. Of course we were wearing our full body armor during these drills and that adds a few pounds especially when you are trying to carry wounded people on a stretcher. Overall it was a great training evolution and our team did pretty well.

Some of you probably heard about the attack on Bagram in Afghanistan, it was on the news earlier this week. Vice President Cheney was visiting when the attack happened, he was unharmed. It reminds us all to keep vigilant.

Well that is all from Kansas until next time. I hope you and your families are all well.