Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The C Word

Convoy. Two years ago, it was my dirtiest of dirty words. I didn't like the sound of it. I didn't want to hear it. And I certainly didn't use it. Because whenever US troops were being killed, it was on a convoy. A convoy was just disaster in the making and I didn't want any part of it.

In lieu of tasking. A dirty phrase. I knew eventually I would deploy and I wanted to. I was an oddity in the military-in almost five years and never deployed. Hanging out in Korea doesn't count for shit. I was crossing my fingers for a cushy deployment-Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan where you can go on weekend hiking trips. The worst case scenario was an in lieu of tasking, now called a joint expeditionary tasking (JET) where I would take the place of an Army bubba because the Army is that strapped for people. Most of these JET positions involve that nasty C word and going "outside the wire," or outside the base.

So on 23 December 2008, my world turned upside down. My unit deployment manager (UDM) came into my office and said she had a deployment for me. I was both excited and nervous. Then she said it was a long one. What? Longer than six months? How is this possible? I just came off of a short tour (Korea) and should not be eligible for a 365-day deployment. Oh, it's just a 270-day deployment with three months of pre-deployment training that doesn't count towards the actual deployment time. That makes me feel better. Oh, and you say I'm with the Army on an Afghanistan PRT and I'll be going on that C word two to three times a week? Fantastic.

Adapt and overcome. I've been put outside my comfort zone so many times that now it's the only place I can exist.

Now I feel at home with the Army. Don't let that fool you into thinking that I actually like the Army. But, the Army is pretty simple. If you're not a Sergeant, you're pretty worthless and your opinion counts for a whole lot of nothing. Officers are God-like and placed on a pedestal (even the really dumb Lieutenants). If someone gets in trouble, you drop them for push-ups rather than dropping paperwork. But there are a lot of draw backs. The Air Force always talks about diversity and learning from other people. I've learned a lot in this joint deployment, just by asking questions of my Army brothers and sisters and listening to their answers. But they did not ask me one question about how the Air Force operates. The Army only operates one way-the right way, and their personnel cannot see it any different. Completely incapable of thinking outside the box. And that irks me. We are fighting a counter-insurgency (COIN) war and people throw around the COIN phrase more than Megan Fox around here. But when the Army bubbas have been told to operate a certain way and this is the only way they know, they cannot adapt and overcome the COIN environment. Because all their training is the exact opposite of what they should be doing in a COIN environment. You should live outside the wire, eat your meals with locals in their house and take off your ridiculous body armor that makes you look like a monster. Okay, I'm going off on a completely different tangent. I'll save that piece for another entry entitled "Risk Adverse."

What I'm trying to say is the Army is still pretty messed up, but I feel at home with them. Two years ago I was petrified of a JET tasking and now I don't want to reintegrate with the Air Force. But I don't want to be with the Army. A catch-22 in classic military fashion.

The Air Force thinks I'm extraordinary. Here I am, running missions outside the wire, living at a small forward operating base and directly contributing to the war effort. I'm a hero in Big Air Force eyes. But it's ridiculous!! The Army does this stuff all day, every day. I'll ensure you that there's nothing special about me, but whenever the Air Force big wigs come to visit, they like to stoke our egos and tell us how awesome we are. Yeah, I'm really brave for going outside the wire in a big vehicle that was specifically designed to be IED and small arms fire proof.

Two years after I thought convoy was a dirty word, I couldn't image myself at Diego Garcia or Manas. What would I write on my Officer Performance Report? That I supported the infrastructure so the real war fighters could make it to the fight? I'm one of those real war fighters now and I'm not looking back.

Over the past 11 months I've acquired an Army PT uniform. When I return to Mildenhall, I plan on wearing it to my first day of squadron PT. But I have a feeling that no one will get it.

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