Friday, October 22, 2010

REPLACEMENTS

The last I recall we had 50,000 troops in Iraq and around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Most of these troops arrive as entire units such as a company of perhaps 200 soldiers, a battalion containing about 750 soldiers or a division which might contain 15,000 soldiers. However, in addition to these large groups there is always a need for individual replacements for specific purposes.

My assignment is for 90 days in Iraq so I’m sent to a replacement center at Fort Benning, Georgia which processes as a group several hundred individuals every week. I believe there are several replacement centers. Just providing replacements for 150,000 overseas troops is a very big job. Most of the replacement soldiers are sergeants or officers since the lower ranking soldiers (privates & corporals) would likely be arriving with their units.
 

Although this is an army base only about half of us are in the military with the other half contractors. The contractors, who mostly have prior military experience, are older, and quite casually dressed. They usually go over for a year at a time and we won’t talk about their personal or family life. There is also a small group of Department of Defense employees and I’ll omit the details as to who they are and what their job is.

So we are in a sprawling compound on a military base for the purpose of being “processed” into an overseas military mission. We stay in single story dormitory type buildings with two bunk beds making it four to a room with a central bathroom with showers, a dining facility, a gym, a general store carrying stocked with the specific goods we need for our deployments and some large buildings for classes and support services. Because we were about half military and half contractors the atmosphere was like a cross between a military base and a frontier town. The contractors were a very varied lot with some being very high functioning and others looked like the crowd at the horse races or at an OTB betting parlor. They also reminded me of the male crowd at one of the old Jewish bungalow colonies except that most of them were tattooed and a few looked like they consumed body building supplements. There is also a day room with computers, lounge and a wide screen TV that is always featuring Rambo style movies or martial arts flicks.

Everybody seems to get along and I found everyone very helpful. They know I’m new at this and without even asking I’m constantly offered support and I’m coached as to how to do all this processing that is unique to the army.

My three roommates, all of whom I believe are in the National Guard, have prior deployments and a significant amount of military experience including combat experience. They’re all headed to Afghanistan and it seemed like two thirds of the soldiers and contractors are headed there with the other third (like me) going to Iraq.

I don't think anybody would imagine that my bunkmates are military veterans with combat experience and they are quite reserved about it. They all live in rural areas and are all extremely interesting, very physically fit and exceedingly bright. Two are younger who started out as privates and are now newly minted officers and it is so obvious that they have been promoted based on merit. I believe that two and possibly all three said that they're of German ancestry.

I would estimate that one of them is in his late 20's, the second one is in his early 40's and the third one, who is a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) is probably in his 50's. I believe that when he first went into the military he was as a combat engineer and served in the First Gulf War. He later became an attorney practicing in a small town in one of the prarie states. He said he’s with the JAG (where the military puts lawyers) but in addition to legal work he is obviously involved in the actual operations of the military. Unlike the other two he’s not in superb physical condition however he certainly does carry himself the military bearing of a highlevel officer.

The LTC immediately showed his leadership abilities by showing his interest in all of us and making sure that our needs were addressed and that we got to know each other. We were only roommates and each of us are headed to different units and we really didn’t have to get to know each other. He simply took advantage of the fact that by bunking together this was an opportunity for us to get to know each other and help each other and it worked. I already know that because I interacted so much with my three bunkmates I will also feel close to them and be interested in their welfare.

Every day we went to various stations for more processing. I received at least six vaccinations including Smallpox & Anthrax and the soldiers going to Afghanistan have to take daily antibiotics due to the threat of malaria. In just one of the six days of actual processing I had to do the following:
Because I’m over forty I had to get labs, EKG and answer many pages of medical questions but when I finally got to see the doctor she said she didn’t have to examine me because I have no medical problems. We had to answer pages about our backgrounds including minute details about our first pet, first car, first girlfriend, first apartment etc which they said they needed to know in case we had to be identified in the future.

We also received some lectures about Middle Eastern culture, improvised explosive devices and similar subjects that I’ll pass on those details. They asked us from every possible angle you could think of as to what type of care we would want if we were hurt, who gets our life insurance if we die, who gets notified , who gets notified first, second & third, who gets to make medical decisions if we’re not competent and more details on top of details

I also had to qualify on a 9 millimeter pistol called a Beretta on a firing range with pop up targets and I’m happy to say that I did pass. I’ve been issued my firearm which I must keep double tied to me at all times. A few were issued M-16 automatic weapons but generally higher level sergeants and officers carry side arms.

Finally on the day of departure we are addressed by a series of high level sergeants and officers about properly representing our country everywhere we go, thanking us and our families for our sacrifices. Our names are called and we file past several different check points and we were told that our country is grateful to us and they are eagerly waiting for our safe return. As we are ready to pass through the gate and board the bus more high level people and a Chaplain shake our firmly shake our hands and look us straight in the eye and wish us Godspeed.

There is a two hour bus ride to the Atlanta airport and we are taken we meet our chartered commercial jet at the private & cargo terminals area. There is an advance party of military police which choreographs every stage as we board wearing our uniforms and carrying our weapons. We don’t have to go through any airline security as we walk out on the tarmac to board the plane. There are just a few airport employees around who wave & urge us on. When you get to read this chapter I have already deployed.

2 comments:

bailahora said...

Hey, Martin,
You are somewhere out there! I'm so glad you're keeping up with this blog, it's very interesting and I enjoy your perspective. Just got in from a Book Club meeting. 3 gay psychiatrists (2 men, 1 woman), a gay may who's an adminstrator of English as a Second Language at NYU and is involved in setting up ESL at NYU's new campus in DUBAI, a straight woman who's an landscape gardener, and me. They are all very intelligent, very well read. Sometimes I'm intimidated!
My W. 20th Street apartment is on the market and in 3 weeks, no offers at $725,000. The broker told me to reduce the price to 695 and I said yes. My tenants moved out and I'm not getting rent. I want to buy a 2 family house in Brooklyn, but can't do that till I sell my apartment.
Thinking of you.
Love, Bee

ROBERT said...

ZEI GEZUNT UN SHTARK...YOUR REPORTING IS FASCINATING ,YOUR INSIGHTS PROFOUND,BE WELL STAY WELL. LOOKING FORWARD TO MY TRADITIONAL GEFULTE FISH RATION, WITH A SPHARDIC TOUCH TWIST...........CHAPLAIN (CAPTAIN )ROBERT MILLER US ARMY RETIRED.......SHALOM

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