Sunday, December 21, 2008


I remember it distinctly....
The day I walked into the office of the newly formed 211th MPAD. I was on my way out of the Army, and it was a last-ditch effort of a certain Major that I knew to keep me in. I'd been with the 7-6 Cav for the past six years and my time was up. "Just go talk to the command and get a feel for the MOS choices there," he said. I'd driven the 120 miles from Houston thinking, "I'm done, why is he sending me here?"
As I said, I walked in early that morning and introduced myself to a 1st Lt. Tony Lopez who asked a lot of questions and joked around quite a bit. I also ran into Staff Sgt. Tim Williams, Staff Sgt. Robert Ramon, and Spc. Alex Delgado. Williams and Ramon introduced me to the 46-series specialties (print and broadcast journalism) and I fell hard. I realized that I can stay in the Army and do what I enjoy (photojournalism, which I taught at school) and 'retire' from aviation (the Cav).
As we were leaving that afternoon, Lopez asked me if I was still interested in transferring to the 211th. I said yes. Ever since that day back in early 2001, I've worked in the building where we've been completing a lot of our pre-mobilization training for the unit's second deployment. The next day, back at work, Maj. Beesley had a grin on his face as he asked me how I liked what I saw over the weekend. He knew.
Now, he's Col. Beesley, Chief of Staff of the 90th RRC. Sgt. 1st Class Ramon is still serving in Public Affairs. Williams is now a captain serving with the National Guard and Staff Sgt. Delgado will soon become an officer (no, I won't go direct!). Maj. Lopez is now with the Public Affairs Operations Center that we'll be working with in Iraq. We've all moved on and grown professionally. I've been working for the 211th in that same building since its early days. I had a short hiatus from the 211th when Col. Beesley tapped me to be his PAO with the 321st Sustainment Brigade from 2005-2007. Now, I'm back as a team NCOIC.
So, it felt kind of strange when we began cleaning our offices and moving our unit stuff into storage in preparation for our year-long deployment. Everyone was moving about quickly amid the clamor of office furniture being moved around. Bulletin boards were being taken down and boards were being erased. Funny, I didn't feel like this last time when we went to Afghanistan. I felt like a lot of time has passed since that fateful day when I decided to venture into Public Affairs. Older....I guess you can say. I know that if I wasn't working in PA, I would've already left the Army.
We have one more day at the Moore Memorial Reserve Center, current home of the 211th MPAD before we go home for the holiday break to be with our families. Once we leave, the 420th Engineer Brigade assumes most of our office space. When we come back from our deployment, all but a few of the Soldiers in our unit will either go back to the unit they cross-leveled from or transfer somewhere else if they are AGR. I'm going to be in the same situation I found myself in 7 years ago: re-enlist and stay with the 211th or get out of the Army when I return home. I'm sure Col. Beesley will have something to say about that. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Modern Inferno...

I guess it's the teacher in me....
Ever since we've had our first cold blast (and ensuing snowball fights), the heat has been on in our building. Normally at this time of year, that's not a problem. Right now, however, with the extreme fluctuation of temperature (the high for today is near 80!), we're enduring a sort of hell.
So, I've been comparing this building and its many rooms to Dante's Inferno. When it's warm outside and the heat is on, there is little relief to be had while you're working.
Unfortunately, we don't have a great Roman poet to guide, I'll be your guide if you'll follow me. We start by entering the 'drill hall' or what was the chow hall in the old days. That cavernous area is usually close to the outside temperature...where the trees are so it's like the wooded area that Dante wanders around in. This is the Vestibule.
The double doors to the building can function as the Gates of Hell in a sense...Abandon All Logic Ye Who Enter Here. Come on in...we open the door to a blast of heat. Welcome to 'Hell'. Charon is not available right now to ferry you around, that's still me.
The first floor of the building could be Limbo. So many things that can kinda happen or not....we just never know. Many souls here claim innocence. Then you have the Circles of Hell, nine in all. For our purposes these Circles are some of our rooms here in the building. Each room or circle has its own level of 'punishment' and temperature.
We enter a small stairwell and work our way up to the second floor. Upon entering the 2nd floor of the building, the heat becomes uncomfortable. Little beasties surround you screaming, "Get out!", their faces contort with pleasure and they writhe in euphoric bliss. Stroll into my office and the temperature rises. In here the River Styx winds around the desks, the wrathful pulled here and there in the current.
At one end of the building is the City of Dis. A city within our confines of Hell. Flaming demons guard the gate and an Angel arrives to force the door open for us. Major and minor creatures rule here. Centaurs, angels, and demons stomp about, focusing on this and that. As you leave you can see the souls of the wicked strike and bite each other and fed to the god of riches, Pluto. The Hall of Hounds lead you to our destination...
The beasties flutter about gasping and pulling at you to enter the mouth of Hell. You may want to stop to examine the masses of policy letters and announcements curling on the bulletin board...but you need to keeping following me into the Ninth Circle...the admin room. Standing at the threshold of the room, the heat pounds your body in waves.
In this room is Sgt. Zoeller, frothing into the phone, typing frantically with three hands, and guarding his hoard of bottle caps on his desk. Here, his eyes glance upon you and me and he rants off into a rapid, incoherent tangent and we are told to climb down the stairs and float down the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, back out to the wood. The burly demons who guard the building rudely request a card swipe or you will never get to make your exit.
The Gates of Hell slowly close and we are left to contemplate our remaining time in the reserve center. Another cold blast is forcasted to hit us very soon and we'll be heading back home for a short time. Wait....didn't we just go somewhere?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

INCOMING! Get Down........Shut Up!

For those who don't know, we have a saying in the Army about our training. "If it ain't rainin' we ain't trainin'..." This is usually mentioned during a pretty crappy day when we're doing some tough training. It peps people up. Well, today, that mantra came to light. When I walked out of our illustrious hotel this morning I stopped short--there was a light layer of sleet on all the cars and it was pretty cold. Starbucks time...
During the day, while we worked inside, it was overcast and precipitation. Well, when we started changing into our PT clothes it started to snow a bit...just little flurries. By the time we got to the track, the snowfall had increased to where it would sting your eyes as your were running into it. PT today consisted of running up and down the stairs of the stadium twice and running around the track. By the time we had finished our run, it was snowing heavily. We were all freaking out...except for our northerners: Spc. Anderson who is from Wisconsin, Staff Sgt. Burrell who is from Chicago, and Maj. Daneker who is from Minnesota.
After hopping into my trusty tissue box, I drove back to the hotel in a small Texas blizzard! The wind was whipping little swirlies of snow around all the vehicles. It was cool. We had to keep explaining to everyone that this weather is a rarity in Texas. We had a few from Hawaii who have never experienced this much snow.
Once we all got to the hotel, the fight began. I was lying in wait...and the others began to exit their vehicles. Bap! Bap! Snowballs rained down on my fellow Soldiers. Some ran into their rooms while others proceeded to scoop up snow and try to return fire. Of course, their aim sucked and I started call calling, "Come on Chicago boy!" Staff Sgt. Burrell gathered more ammo. "Hey Hawaii girl...bring it!" 2nd Lt. Douglas (from Hawaii) had to move quickly to avoid the barrage of snowballs from the lot of us.
Even Pvt. Snowman took part in our festivities. Not really, but we all had a great time...a nice way to wind down after a hectic day of prepping all kinds of things for mobilization, writing features, and editing video. Of course, this weather will be nothing compared to the weather we will encounter at Fort Dix in January. Brrrr...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Once More Into the Vein...

I consider myself lucky (I guess) that I'm a person who doesn't freak at the sight of blood. Loving horror movies helped somewhat I imagine. Needles, however, will cause a shiver and quick scoot across the room. I hate them. I mean, think about's a long, thin, VERY sharp steel thing that you're inserting into an essential part of the body!!
Yesterday we finished up our Combat Lifesaver Certification Course by giving each other intravenous injections. Yay. Oh yes, there was blood. Some bled a little...others a lot. This medical stuff is pretty easy, especially with all the new stuff that we're issued to take care of someone who would need first aid. I just don't like getting stuck with big needles...and the instructors are saying that the needles were using aren't big. I'd hate to see the really big ones.
So, Spc. Soles, the newest member of our unit, was my 'stick' buddy for today. Now, he's told me that he's had a history of passing out during this type of thing. "Great," I thought. I was more worried about myself...would I remember all the steps? Would I make him pass out? When it came down to it, he did very well. I ended up going first for the entire group (dang guinea pig!).
I turned out to be a 'bossy buddy' because I kept verbalizing commands to Spc. Soles. He took it in stride though...thanks Spc. Soles. So now we're all heading into theater combat lifesaver certified. Another check off for our block and another sign that January is getting closer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things Sometimes Make You Go Hmmm....

Have you ever second guessed yourself before? I mean you’ve made a major decision that impacts your life greatly….and sometime later on….you’re thinking, what if? What if I’d done this or that and then that would’ve happened instead of this? Hmmm….brings to mind Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”.
Read the poem. Stand at the fork in the road and lean this way and that, taking a really long look down each path. One’s worn and the other, not. Which do you take? Why? Which of those paths stemming from that road are you on right now? The path that was worn or the one that needed wear? Since that decision, whenever it was, are you stopping and wondering…what would’ve happened if I’d gone the other way? What’s made you stop to think? Ugh…what if?
North Shore students of mine…remember that little kid I told you about? Remember how he ended up at North Shore and what he did while he was there? Read the poem now? Makes sense eh?
There are 65 plastic Army name tags in two groups at home. One being the LOTC Class of 2003…best group I’ve ever had and the biggest surprise of my teaching career. The other being the LOTC Class of 2005…they were the last of the best and the most definitive year of my career. Sixty-five reminders out of the thousands. Which road are they taking? There’s a good what if for me.
In Afghanistan, I ran into a cadet buddy of mine that I had ROTC classes with at the University of Houston. When we ran into each other I was an NCO (E-6) and he was a Captain. What if?
The end of the poem holds the revelation. That road that we take, whichever we take, makes all the difference. I took one. It’s made a lot of differences. What if??

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Calm Before the Storm

Almost three weeks have passed since we've returned to College Station. After a non-stop three week stint at Fort Dix, it was nice to come 'home'. Since then, we've been training on this and that and working on paperwork and equipment.
Some of the training has been pretty interesting. An Iraqi (he left Iraq a long time ago) guy came in from the Defense Language Institute and taught us some basic Arabic (awguf!) for use in certain situations. The driver's training was cool. A few guys from the 420th Engineer Brigade set us up with three brand new humvees with all the newest and coolest stuff. Yes, we drooled. We took off to some country area outside of Bryan and ran them off-road. I've never driven a humvee on that type of terrain...we had a good time bouncing around and traversed a 40 degree slope. We also had to exit/enter the vehicle on a hill...kinda tough when those doors weigh somewhere between 200-240 lbs!
We've also been able to work with some of our new equipment. I taught a class on Adobe Photoshop and Indesign basics and we're putting together a small newsletter for the families of our Soldiers. Yes, I know I ramble...I don't write blogs like I write stories. Deal with it.
Some of us were poked and prodded last week. I had to get four shots....I hate needles. Some got more or less. We've also been doing PT about three days a week.
The holidays are coming up. Most of the time it's a nice time....when we're still stateside. Please don't forget about all the other military personnel who are in Afghanistan and Iraq and in various other locales who can't talk to or see their families and friends during the holidays. We get to enjoy our holiday season and our way of life because certain others venture out in support of their country and way of life.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One Down...

21 days. Sometimes it seems as if the day just drags on and some days zip by when the training is good. Our first major hurdle or step to our dance in Iraq has been fulfilled. That last big test that I mentioned the other day was an interesting one. The day before, a soldier from the other unit that trains with us was the convoy commander and one of our soldiers was the assistant.
The next one was our CULMEX. Guess who was chosen to be the convoy commander? Yep. Once I found out I grabbed the assistant and we chose our TCs(troop commanders for each vehicle), we pulled those guys in and put together a plan. Our mission was to enter the city of 'Balad' to meet with an Iraqi Police chief who was on our side.
The next morning we received more intel, mapped our routes, geared up and headed out. Before the first vehicle entered the city we hear gunfire and rolled in hard. All our vehicles established their positions to cover our movement and the members of the cordon team ran to clear the house of the Iraqi policeman. After their okay, I met with him, received intel on the 'bad guys' and what the policeman wanted as far as assistance. Once the meeting was over, we exited the house and then all hell broke loose. By the time I reached my humvee three explosions rocked the 5-point intersection where we established our position.
Members of our team that were on the ground (QRF quick reaction force) were trying to fire on insurgents who were dashing around and provide cover for the cordon team who were trying to get back to their vehicles. The gunners on top of the humvees were letting loose also. M249 and .50 cal. brass arced through the air as the gunners worked to surpress the movement and/or 'kill' the 'bad guys'. Yellow smoke began to fill up the streets, obscuring our line of sight and the net(radios) was filled with shouts. I was scrambling to get accountability of the vehicles so we could get the heck out of there (VERY difficult when the poop hits the fan).
Once everyone was in the vehicles, we began to roll out and got stuck behind one humvee that sideswiped a CONEX. It backed up and hauled butt and the rest of the convoy rounded the corner amid grenade and RPG fire. After that, the OC called endex (end exercise) and we rolled back in to complete an after action review. I was surprised to see the amount of OPFOR(opposing force...the bad guys) standing in front of us who worked to screw up our mission and 'kill' our soldiers.
Overall, it was said that our planning was well done due to our staging and execution of our mission. Once that meeting was over between me and the police chief, it fell apart and we found that practice was needed in communication and contingency planning. I learned quite a bit and I know that we're not an infantry unit or an MP(military police) unit, but we did pretty good considering. I'm very thankful that I had some NCOs(noncommissioned officers) who had strengths in certain areas and was able to use their strengths to accomplish our mission.
Normally, a public affairs detachment doesn't go breaking down doors to hunt down high value targets....the cool thing we do is one of us goes with that high-speed infantry squad who is going after that HVT and we get to cover what they're doing and show the world how they're kickin' butt.
So, overall, our training here was great. Combatives, M16 and M9 qual, live fire with the big guns, urban operations and an assault on a bldg., humvee rollover scenarios (yes we rolled over!), and some cool new toys and gear all wrapped up in 21 days. I'm to be heading home to Texas....but not for too long. We'll be back. That will be another story altogether....and pictures from our adventures here will be posted soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Big Test

What day is it?! I'm already losing track of days. I DO know that it's election day and were out at the FOB (Forward Operating Base) for our training exercise(s). Finding this little trailer that has internet access was a small challenge. We're all hyped about the elections and then I get on here and then........wait. No results yet.
Our exercise this morning was interesting. A convoy of humvees traversing the edge of Fort Dix and we defend against attacks, meet the sheik of a village and watch a woman use her 'baby' as an IED. Our instructors were impressed with the performance of our unit...tomorrow is the big test....the CULMEX(culminating exercise).
After that we head back to the barracks to pack up and get ready to travel home to Texas. place to be ya'll. I'd like to thank those who've taken time out of their day to jump on here, read, and leave a few comments. Amazingly, I've had two who have told me they would take my place here/overseas: Loren Kirby and the senior JROTC instructor at Sam Rayburn HS.'ve taken everything I taught you and have become a wonderful young lady. I'm going overseas so you'll never have to (fight terrorists). And Sir, we both have our jobs serving our country and it's your turn to prepare those JROTC students that want to join our Army. Several of mine have already become Soldiers or Marines (North Shore LOTC) and I'm damn proud of them.
Our return to Texas begins another round of home station training. Until then, enjoy the read and have a good day HOOAH!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halfway through Pre-Mob Training

Today couldn't have been better. We ventured out to one of the big ranges where there are old tanks and vehicles and took turns with a MK-19 (automatic grenade launcher), a .50 cal., a M240B and a M249 machine gun. It was cold and windy on that hill but after a few volleys down into the valley I was fired up.
After some hot chow and a weapons cleaning session, we had time to chill and pizza arrived for dinner courtesy of our commander.
We're a little over halfway through our pre-mobilization training here at Fort Dix. Hands-on training in Army combatives, M-16 and M9 qualifications, land navigation, and many, many more tasks that we're training on....all culminating in a field exercise.
The soldiers in the unit are jelling well. They know how/when to have fun and when to get dead serious in respect to what we're training on. So far, I have a hell of a team. 2LT Almodovar, who I met at BNCOC (Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course) is my Team Leader. I'm the enlisted guy who runs my team. My team consists of SSG Burrell (well-traveled English person like myself), SGT Taylor (can be relied upon in just about any situation), SGT Heise (very motivated and always in a great mood), SPC Fardette (from Hawaii, great guy!), SPC Anderson (she can kick your butt!), and SPC Alperin (the analyst who speaks Spanish extremely well).
I can't wait to get over the pond and tackle our real jobs. I think that my team and the rest of the soldiers in the unit will kick some butt.
Don't are coming soon. I didn't bring my camera here but I will have it later and overseas. So, tune in later for another posting....oh and this blog would not be possible if weren't for our First Sergeant, 1SG Martinez, who got everyone set up to blog so their friends and families could keep in touch and track our deployment. Thanks Top!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just the Beginning...

Well, looks like this is THE first official post so I'll start by saying that whatever IS said in my blog, by me or anyone who comments on what I say, is not endorsed or is the opinion of the U.S. govt. in any way shape or form. I will have the ability to allow or disallow comments so make sure you are 'nice' so it can be posted. I DO want and welcome feedback!!
We (the 211th MPAD) are training/prepping for mobilization at Fort Dix now. I can say that some of the training is the best I've had in a really long time. The drills here know their stuff. This deployment is going to be VERY different from the last one (Afghanistan) in many, many ways. Our unit has cross-leveled several soldiers to fill empty slots so I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who I will be working with for the rest of our time overseas. Those guys and gals are pretty high-speed too.
Last deployment was cool. Afghanistan. Kind of like Texas weather-wise depending on what part of the country you're in. Iraq is a big sand box. Different ways, language, and customs to learn too.
I'll blog when and where I can. Some posts may be long and detailed and some will be short. Moods will change. I hope all who read keep in touch (many have NO idea how that helps deployed military personnel) and comment when they can. I wouldn't be able to stay sane over there without the gym and the loving support of my troops who work with me, my school and students (go TEXANS!), my family, and my wife and daughter. So, until the next one, see ya!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This is Just A Test

Testing, testing - Is this thing on ?