Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weather or Not

One of my family members asked me to talk about whether or not/how often we were being attacked here at TK; if there were people shooting at us; just how dangerous is it? I told her that sort of discussion would not be appropriate for a public blog as it would deal directly with base security and would likely not be looked upon too kindly by the powers-that-be and not too conducive in maintaining the integrity of my butt - as it would be chewed up one side and down the other by each link of my chain of command.

I did say I felt safe with the security measures in place and asked my family member what else could I tell her about life here and she (okay, it is my Mom) said she was very curious about the weather: the temperature; is it snowing; is it sunny; and was it dusty (I know, that last one is not really weather).

Being as we are in the arid mountains, I thought the sunny and dusty part would be a given, but since she lives in SLC, Utah, and there is sometimes snow in the mountains there through late May, I can understand why she would think we might have the white stuff here.

During one of the briefings we received at Fort Campbell prior to deploying, we were told the weather at TK would roughly parallel what we would experience at Fort Campbell and, for the most part, so far that seems to be roughly the case.

Sunrise is currently occurring about 0515ish. Around 0830ish the sun starts to cook and it gets a bit warm (feels like 80's, but that is subjective and there is a distinct lack of thermometers for accuracy) from then through around 1700ish. Because of the altitude, it seems like the sun is much closer and during the day it can feel like being inside of an Easy Bake Oven (Google it if you are under 35). The evenings can be quite cool, or at least seem so after the intense heat of the day. But as they say in Arizona, “it is a dry heat.”

Once the sun goes down the cooler air sometimes gives up its moisture and we will have bursts of rain (about three or four times in the past 30-odd days) throughout the night. In the mornings there will be some mud and water pooled in ditches, but it is gone by the afternoon.

The first night it rained, while I have been here, I was driving up to the Dutch Compound and passed a depression about 12’ by 3’ with a six or so inches of standing water where I thought I saw several somethings darting in the water and thought of the frogs and other creatures that sleep during the dry times and spring forth for a 24-hour life-span after a rain. But it was just a glimpse and could have been a trick of the light. If I get the chance, next time it rains I will go see if it was frogs or imagination.

What is definitely for real and ever-present, is the dust. The ground vehicles and rotary wing aircraft stir up the particulates, from the smell, there seems to always be something burning somewhere, and we get winds during the evening/night as well as a fairly regular 1500ish wind keeping the air fairly hazy. It all makes for some spectacular sunsets when the sun begins to fade behind the western edge of the mountains ringing our TK valley.

So, there is no snow, lots of dust, and it is baking hot and getting hotter, although we have plenty of bottled water and other liquids to keep us hydrated so the mission continues, weather or not.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

In the very early ‘90s, after getting my pink-slip from the Army due to Graham/Rudman downsizing after we won Desert Storm, and while we were in the Reagan-recession, I could not find a decent job in my hometown of SLC, Utah. I made contact with an old school friend who had joined the Navy who was then working at a recruiting station in Raleigh, NC. This was before Al Gore invented the internet and email was something being toyed with at certain universities so she used the US Post and sent me the Sunday classifieds to show me the plethora of jobs available in the Raleigh/Durham (RDU) area. I packed-up my car, drove across country, and was gainfully employed with great job within a week of arrival.

I would end up spending the next 10 or 12-odd years in the RDU area and became quite an expert on the roads and highways. When I first arrived, however, I was greatly confused by the ‘beltline’ that circles Raleigh and how it seemingly shifts from “South on the beltline” to “Northwest” without any signs or indications. More than once I found myself circling the entire city because I was told to head north when the exit I needed was only a few miles in the opposite direction. This became very frustrating; even more so when I, much to their schaedenfreudian amusement, shared my misadventures with my co-workers and friends (who were also fairly recent transplants to RDU and had suffered the vagaries of the beltline).

After a few weeks, I had what I thought was a brainstorm and answered an ad in the paper (remember, pre-internet) for a weekend job delivery flowers from a wholesale warehouse to local florists. I figured I might as well get paid for learning my way around the area and use someone else’s gas at the same time – I was honest about being beltline- challenged when I interviewed; the boss said ‘no worries’ and gave me good directions when I made my deliveries.
A month or two of weekends later, I could find almost any strip mall within a 20-mile radius and was an expert on the ways and byways of the greater Raleigh area.

I had a similar experience recently here in TK when I was tasked to drive the 18-pax bus that ferries soldiers from one side of the base to the other – with occasional stops at the Dutch Compound, the refueling point (FARP), and the ammunition supply point (ASP). Except I was not getting paid extra; and I did not volunteer; and it was GIs, not geraniums I was delivering.
My delivery schedule began at 0800 and ended at 1900 with a generous 30 minutes to grab some chow. My mission was to continuously drive the horseshoe route from the area where the soldiers live in the RLBs, around the airstrip to where most of the soldiers work at either the hangar, the motor pool, the warehouse (where I work), and the command center - the hangar has its own stop just past the stop where the other work areas are located.

The circuit is a bit over a mile long and even at 30 kilometers an hour (that’s 18 MPH to you metric-phobes) only takes about 8-9-minutes. It was a bit different and fun at first – the bus is standard and it had been 15+ years since I had used a clutch – but after the first 10-20 iterations it became a tad monotonous and after the 40th and 50th iteration, my butt was sore, my calves were cramping from keeping a steady position on the gas and from the clutch (I used 2nd and 3rd gear only), and I was bored to tears.

At first I was a bit put out when a soldier (US, Dutch, or Australian) would ask me to take them outside of my set horseshoe path to the Dutch Compound, the ASP, or the FARP, but I soon looked forward to these requests as something to break the monotony. And, it gave me the chance to learn where most everything was located on the base.

I soon intimately knew each curve, bump, and seemingly every stone on the road; I knick-named the larger rocks. Coming around the bend I would mentally salute Barney Rubble, swerve slightly to give a little fright to Fred Flintstone, and mentally paid homage to the TK Stonehenge as I passed-by.

Oh, you might be wondering why soldiers need a bus to take them a mile when they could walk it in 15-minutes. One, when you only have less than an hour to get from your place of work to the mess hall (pardon me, Dining Facility) it is a bit of a bother to spend half the time left-foot-right; two, it does get a tad warm here so even an un-air conditioned ride is appreciated; and three, soldiers are supposed to always have at least one Battle Buddy with them when moving about the base and this can sometimes be a challenge due to work requirements and such so having a bus addresses all the issues.

Since I had the duty it has been changed to two eight-hour shifts to extend the hours of service and to cut-down the driving time from the 11 hours I performed. There is also talk about roads being shifted and rerouted in order to move traffic further away from the airstrip. This means there will be a new route for me to learn, but, one thing about having duties in the Army, they always come round and round.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

TOA Party

As Mr. Newton observed, for every action, there is an equal reaction. In the case where the action is a group of soldiers deploying to TK for a year, the equal reaction is the group of soldiers who have been at TK for the previous year getting to go home. This official act of one group relieving and assuming command for another group in theater is called “Replacement in Place – Transfer of Authority” (RIP TOA), or TOA (pronounced TOE-ah), for short.

Being the Army, the TOA includes both paperwork and ceremony.

The paperwork is plentiful, but basically consists of the incoming commander signing for responsibility of all equipment and property on the base (belonging to the Army) from the outgoing commander. This entails much work for the soldiers as they must conduct inventories and ensure all equipment and materials correspond with what the paperwork indicates should be present and accounted for.

The ceremony is fairly brief, but very meaningful with the guidon (the respective unit’s flag with streamers representing past campaigns and awards) of the outgoing unit being presented by the guidon bearer, alongside the US Flag with accompanying rifle-bearing guards (collectively, the Color Guard), for encasing by the outgoing unit’s Commander and Sergeant Major – the unit’s senior NCO (SGM).

Once the guidon has been encased, the bearer, the unit’s Commander, and SGM leave the ceremony floor and the incoming unit’s guidon bearer forms up in-line with the Color guard. The incoming unit’s Commander and SGM then uncase their guidon, which represents the assumption command by the incoming unit.

Then there are the speeches. Typically, the commander one level higher than the incoming/outgoing commanders will comment on the previous unit’s mission and accomplishments with well wishes to the incoming commander. Then the outgoing commander will speak followed by the incoming commander. Thankfully for those actively participating in the ceremony, the speeches tend to get shorter with each speaker.

Once the speeches are complete, the Color Guard retires by leaving the ceremony field to the singing by all present of their respective unit songs and then the Army Song.

Being in the Color Guard is an honor and performing well is vital to the success of the ceremony; carefully choreographed movements must be followed with the soldiers standing statue-like through out the speeches. For anyone who has been in the Army for more than a day, you have likely participated in one or two TOAs or Change of Command ceremonies and know the drill. For anyone who has not had the pleasure; stand-up, with your back straight, chest forward, chin up, and do not move at all for 30 minutes.

How does one get to be chosen for the Color Guard? Well, for me, it was a two-fold qualification process of: one, being a tad over six foot, and two, not being in the room when the selection was being made.

That’s right, look closely at the photos and you will see the soldier carrying the National Colors is yours truly. After several days of practice and the successful completion of today’s ceremony, this is one soldier who is happy that today the TOA is complete.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The military, and the Army particularly, is known for using acronyms, which are sometimes used without the knowledge of the abbreviated words. For example, our living quarters here are called ‘RLBs’, but I cannot find anyone who knows what RLB stands for. A Google search came up with a company named RLB that does construction and it seems logical they would produce temporary housing, so at this point, I am working under the assumption the RLBs are named after the company that makes them.

Or maybe it stands for “really long box.” Because that is what RLBs basically are; about nine feet tall, about nine feet wide, and about 20 feet long. Me, at six foot, can ‘palm’ the ceiling and almost touch wall to wall with my arms outspread.

The RLBs have white metal interior walls, which have the feel, look, and color of a kitchen appliance - like a white fridge. The ceiling and floor are metal as well with the floor having a glued on wall (floor) paper – mine has an abstract appearance that might be trying to look like marble.

There is one door on an end of the RLB that opens out – thank goodness, as if it were to open in the swing-pattern would take up valuable real estate, with a window directly to the left (if you are entering). Directly to the left of the window, tucked into the wall and ceiling join, is a small AC/heating unit that works like champ to cool the air and, based on my initial fumblings while trying t o figure out the Celsius-based system, also works quite well to heat the air – probably will not need that function too often. There are two single florescent bulbs running down the middle of the cell and electrical (US voltage) outlets on each wall.

An individual RLB is called a ‘cell’. They are stacked two high, two deep, and 10+ (or however many) long – not unlike a motel with the units facing you having doors visible and the second row of units in the rear being the mirror opposite. A collection of cells is called a ‘block’, designated as Alpha, Bravo, etc., with one side/row being the ‘A’ side and the other ‘B’. For example, I live in cell 214 on the Bravo side of A Block.

In each side of a block, two cells on the bottom corner are where the latrines and showers are located. One cell has six stalls and two stand-ups (can’t speak for the female latrine) with two sinks equipped with two spigots each. The adjoining cell has six shower heads and two sinks - the mirrors must be from a defunct funhouse as your image fluctuates from fathead to pinhead; makes shaving kinda interesting. Remember, the cells are only 9 feet wide so if you are at a sink, you have to scootch-in a bit if someone needs to pass.

Having to walk 20-odd feet and then go down a flight of stairs whenever I need to use the restroom is a bit of a pain. I mean, when you are in your 40’s, waking up in the middle of the night needing to pee is pretty common. After stumbling down the aisle and down the stairs into the fiercely lit latrine, it can be difficult to go back to sleep even when you are exhausted.

So, remember the concern about my eco-kharma taking devastating damage from all the plastic water bottles that get tossed since we can’t use the local water for drinking? I found one great way to reuse liter bottles (RLB) – just need to remember to keep it separate from the fresh ones.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rocky Road

Today as I was running the road that follows the airstrip down one way, curves around the end of the strip, and follows back up, I thought about how I had gotten used to there being no asphalt. No sidewalks or pavement.

Except for the airstrip itself, the rest of the base is completely covered in gravel. Ranging in size from the most populous standard-size; about as big as your palm, through the quite common size of an Idaho baking potato, to the regularly seen melon (and larger) sized bullies, which hunch over in squatting bulks, daring you to say anything.

It seems somewhere in the first days of arriving my feet have made some adjustments and I now walk as if barefoot in a darkened room; toes questing out as I take a flat sweeping step, a tad slower than normal, lightly onto the ball of my foot – bringing my heel and the weight of my body down once safe and secure footing is assured. Close your eyes and walk around the room a bit and you will see what I mean.

Running on a gravel road takes a bit of foot placement concentration as there is the strong possibility of physical injury and worse - such as the grief I would have to put up with from my buddies. ‘When Sgt Corbin bit it running, would enter the deployment lexicon forever after as a reference point such as, “No, that happened after Sgt Corbin twist/broke his ankle because he was still on crutches.”

Anyway, as I was running, picking my way carefully and eyeballing likely ankle-biters, I thought about how the gravel road was slowly becoming paved, in a fashion, from the various vehicles – mostly fat-tired military, but also with a couple of 18-pax civilian vans – constantly driving, back and forth, day by day.

By its nature, the ‘paving’ is slow. And it seems at times, like at night when no one is looking, some of the stones grind their rough shoulders together to work themselves up from the rocky earth, like in a New England farmer’s field during spring tilling, so they can squat, toad-like, on the road in anticipation of the next unsuspecting ankle.

However, the constant and consistent effort of the vehicles tires is working and the process, while slow, is working to make the rocky road easier and safer to travel. Perhaps there are several analogies that could be made from differing viewpoints of the rocky road here in TK and the encompassing one we find ourselves on in the country, but I am going to just keep on running and my eyes on the road.


David: Thanks for your comments. Since you had several questions, I will blog the full response. I appreciate your interaction as it helps me know what you would like to read about. Hope you keep engaged.