Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


Rough Week

We are back out of the field for Christmas. We have done some interesting things this week. We had a full day of classes on cultural and situational awareness which included everything from Iraqi history and current tactics. My job at the Red Cross required us to use tracking and trending and random sampling as tools to help solve problems and conduct checks. Well it seems the enemy "insurgents" are also using these tools to figure out our weaknesses. If we use the same routes or follow the same schedule we become predictable and become more susceptible to ambush. This covers everything from patrols to sleeping and eating.

The leadership challenge is to find some doctrine to maintain order and discipline, but vary enough so not to become complacent or predictable. Yes, for the Star Trek fans it is like fighting the "Borg." We have actually developed some tactics and techniques that should work well.

I was also faced with another leadership challenge last week, which left me with very little free time. My company commander was determined to be non-deployable for medical reasons. This meant that I have been in charge doing his job running the company and coordinating training with the Camp Shelby trainers and our higher unit. I have also been trying to keep up with my job. In the middle of all this we had a five day live fire exercise with many moving parts. We had .50 cal. machine guns and M249 machine guns mounted on HMMWVs and we had the guys on the ground with grenade launchers and rifles. Lots of moving parts and live bullets. Not to mention the final exam was at night in a thunder storm. It was pretty intense, since the national guard is normally allocated only 49 rounds per year to qualify on our rifles.

Before we went hot on the range I had a pep talk with the guys and told them, "Don't be nervous but to have fun. This will be the last time you shoot real bullets without getting shot at." We all laughed a bit, but they all focused on what they were doing and we did a good job in the mud and rain. I was in the HMMWV on the radio behind the firing line taking contact reports and issuing orders to 45 guys on the ground.

The mission started with 4 guys in watch towers and plywood targets popped up beyond the wall of dirt protecting our perimeter. A few shots rang out in the dark and the report came in from the Platoon leader. He called for the rest of his platoon to join the defense as more targets presented. Lightning flashed illuminating more silhouettes as a volley of rifles broke the sound of the rain in the earth. In pairs the rifles fired and more reports came across as ammo was distributed.

Plywood truck targets and artillery were observed from the lookout towers and the platoon leader called me for reinforcements. The second platoon in the HMMWVs was on its way as the rifles continued to hold the line. Across the radio the second platoon leader reported he was nearing the position and stopped just behind the dirt berm. I signaled and at once all four trucks pulled up and the machine guns were unleashed echoing the thunder and lightning. Tracer rounds bounced off the dirt as flares and lightning flashed across the sky.

I watched the wet soldiers scurry back and forth passing ammo and reports to each other. I sat in my vehicle recording the battle and directing the flow of events. I realized my truck was leaking and I was just as wet. It didn't bother me, I was focused taking casualty reports and plotting artillery rounds. It was a long night, but everyone went home happy, knowing they could perform under pressure and the weather.

The next day we went on a Mounted combat patrol to clear routes along our supply lines. We had to identify suspicious activity and visit a local town. The army has hired several Iraqi refugees to participate in our training and they interact on our simulated battle field serving as translators, officials, bad guys and passers by on the street.

We ended our training with a convoy back to base on the 23rd. I was more excited on Christmas eve putting on a clean dry uniform than I was thinking about opening presents. I took my commander to the airport Christmas Eve and had to find the luggage of another soldier who arrived a week ago at the base. He had only one uniform with him and his bag was lost in transit. So I set off with two of my Sergeants to find him clean clothes. I relaxed in the afternoon and agreed to go out to dinner and a club with half the company. They were very excited that I was coming along. Three weeks ago they hardly knew me and on Christmas eve they would not go out without me. I was there for them on their first real tactical test and they now trust and respect me.

We had Christmas day off and many people had guests. I spent the morning doing laundry and my friend who lives near me is also training here with another battalion picked me up in the evening to watch a movie. His wife flew in from a business trip in China. It was weird not being home with family for Christmas. We spent the last two days conducting land navigation and the powers that be picked another Captain to lead the company, but the process is not finished so I am still in charge and I am keeping him informed of our training. I hope this issue is resolved in three weeks before we go to Kuwait. I am glad I had this opportunity to prove myself, but being in limbo once again has taken a lot out of me.

I hope you all are enjoying your holidays. We got our ballistic plates for our body armor Saturday and I am looking forward to a visit from mom on New Years.

What happened to the Patriots at Miami? Do we still have a chance at the playoffs?

Take care everyone and Happy Holidays.

posted by Scott | 22:26 Baghdad time | © 12.27.2004
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My New Family

A quick recap to bring everyone up to speed on what is going on and answer some questions. I reported to my guard unit in Vermont on the 29th of November when we went on Federal activation requiring a train up and validation period of a couple months (for us 34 days). The location of the Mobilization center is in Mississippi.

The training here includes medical and dental processing as well as mandatory briefs on the military legal system the rules of engagement, area specific customs and considerations. We also have completed training on our personal rifles, three types of machine guns and two grenade launchers. Future training includes operating a base camp, mounted convoys land navigation, basic soldier skills, urban combat and reflexive fire techniques. We should finish all this the second week in January and then leave Mississippi for Kuwait. I don't know if we will stop in Germany on the way, but we will spend some time in Kuwait for more weapons qualification and area specific information and most importantly climatization. From there we will road march north in to Iraq and it is likely that we will operate in a base camp in the Najaf Area South of Baghdad. Hopefully we will stay there for our tour. I am already tired of living out of three duffel bags.

I am new to this company, in fact I had not met any people before 29 Nov. However, they all like and respect me. My function here is the Company Executive Officer. I am second in command to the captain and responsible for reporting our actions and status to the higher unit to allow the commander to focus on training or the mission. My other responsibilities include all our equipment from HMMWVS to radios and coordinating supplies and food. I have to be in sync with the commander when he is called away and meet his requirements but I also have to be a sounding board for him to make sure he does not push the company too hard or not hard enough.

The guys from Vermont are interesting. Being from the Northern tank Battalion many of them speak French-Canadian and have a little bit of an accent (well so do the southerners). One of the guys said he heard that the hunting registrations in Vermont are down this year and the deer population is up. Another guy said, "Yeah, we are all down here in Mississippi shooting plastic targets." (The Vermont Guard has about 1200 National Guardsmen, 800 are already deployed and another 300 were activated around the time I left.) We have a Russian who was in the Russian army. One day he said, "Come here, Sir," and I asked what is wrong. He said, "Nothing, I just never see a sober Lieutenant before." He then explained if a Battalion commander didn't like someone he just shot them there on the spot.

We just finished our week of day and night fire on the ranges. It was long days. We had to be on the range at 0630 in the morning and we often did not clear the range until 10pm at night and took the ride home to the barracks. Regulations require we shoot at night for qualification and deployment. Sleep deprivation started setting in and we still had to be able to shoot. Our sister unit from Alabama was shooting with us and they were overcome by the sleep monster. It is funny the places people sleep.

I want to thank everyone again for writing to me and sending me stories and pictures. I'd prefer that people wait to send packages until I am settled in Iraq. Otherwise I'll either have to carry or dump it on the way. I have gotten a few cards and some goodies already and they have been well used. Thank you.

posted by Scott | 17:48 Baghdad time | © 12.13.2004
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One Week of Duty

After one week of duty we are finally settled in our temporary home in Mississippi. It has been rainy and humid here. We have been getting up at 3:45 for physical training at 4:15 and are fed, showered, and ready for training at 7am. We have been getting a lot of high speed gear. We were issued our rifles today with the cool scopes and night vision devices as well as the body armor. It looks cool now, but it weighs a lot when you have to run around.

We typically finish company training around 7pm and the platoons do their business and I do administrative stuff until 10 or 11pm. My position is company executive officer. Often abbreviated XO and affectionately dubbed the extra officer, I thought it was because I don't conduct the training of the platoon or company like the platoon leaders or company commander. However, I realize the extra officer does all the extra stuff from unit administration to coordinating supplies, fuel, ammo, and training sites. I have been running around a lot and have my own van and foot power to get things where they need to be.

I have to go throw some laundry in before it gets too late.

posted by Scott | 22:27 Baghdad time | © 12.06.2004
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