Monday, November 19, 2012

Marines 0; Army 1

Specialist "Hutch" Hutchinson

As I mentioned, back in 1986, when I was a young Private First Class stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, the US was still in the Cold War with the USSR and the Arms Race was in full throttle with everyone stockpiling atomic, nuclear and other weapons.
To shield us from Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) threats, every Soldier was issued a protective mask (gas mask) and special clothing - which back then was called MOPP gear (Mission-Oriented Protective Posture).
You may have seen pictures or videos from Desert Storm of Soldiers wearing gasmasks with black Mickey Mouse gloves and funny looking bulky clothing that made them look they were wearing a Hollywood special effects fat suit - that's MOPP gear.
MOPP gear has different levels from "Ready" to Level 4 depending on the threat - from: have your stuff ready; to: big mushroom cloud on the horizon.
As you might imagine, wearing MOPP gear is not something Soldiers looked forward to but in the Army you need to ensure you know how to wear and use your equipment - train how you fight.
One of the things every Soldier still does during Basic Training is go through a gas chamber filled with tear gas (chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile, if you want to get technical ).  The main purposes being to ensure you know how to put your mask on correctly as well as giving you an appreciation of how the equipment protects you; secondary purposes are to give you a taste of what it is like to be gassed and for the great amusement of Drill Sergeants.
First, you go in with your gas mask on, then, your Drill Sergeant, who keeps his mask on, has you take yours off.  It has been 29 years since I went through the gas chamber and I still remember like it was yesterday.
Today, NBC has evolved to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN - pronounced see-burn); the Soldiers who become trained specialists in this area are 74Ds.
Our unit's 74D is Specialist ("Hutch") Hutchinson.  Married with two kids, SPC Hutchinson has been in the Army for about two years and this is his first deployment - with the Army that is; he is a former Marine who was deployed to Iraq as well as Djibouti (that's in Africa, in case you were wondering.)
He told me he enjoyed the esprit de corp of the Marines but likes the opportunities the Army offers; when he was in the Marines his job was much more combat-oriented than what he probably will experience as a CBRN Specialist.
As you might imagine, there is not, (thank goodness!), a great daily demand for CBRN services, so the 74Ds tend to have additional duties and provide support in other areas.
Aside from his CBRN duties, SPC Hutchinson also does whatever needs to be done - from picking-up the Soldiers' mail from the Mail Room, to overseeing headcount at the mess hall, to doing administrative tasks in the Orderly Room
Our Orderly Room, our unit, and the Army, in my opinion, is fortunate SPC Hutchinson is with us and no longer a Marine - ever since I first met him about a year ago, he has always impressed me as being a can-do Soldier with a positive attitude and great military bearing: Marines 0; Army 1.
S H O U T O U T S !
@ and PVT Jacob L. of Columbus, OH: Thank you for the Care Package; the toiletries went to our Orderly Room so all the Soldiers in our unit will have access and the treats were shared amongst our Soldiers.
@ Sharon S. of Westlake, OH: I enjoyed your letter and story about Perch-flavored ice cream in Russia; thank you for your ongoing support.
@ and David, Mary, and Daniel J. of Columbus, OH: I smiled when I saw Daniel's signature on the card; thank you for the treats - I gave them to Soldiers on Guard Duty.
@ Kay H. of Huntington, Beach CA:  Your starfish postcard brought a bit of the beach to the desert; thank you for writing.
@ and Jack and Nicole S. of New Albany, OH:  Thank you for the great Care Package - the Pringles in your Care Package were greatly appreciated by my fellow Soldiers and I really like the "energy" gum.
@ Helen C. and the Virgin Angels: Thank you for your letters and the eclectic Care Packages - I really enjoy the colorful stationary and, must admit, I am kinda selfish about your packages and keep most of the items for myself.  I look forward to meeting you all in person next June-ish.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not just in November

96th ASB NOV12 Solder of the Month
Specialist Bien-Aime
In 1986, I was 20 years old and serving with USAEUR 7th Army in Heidelberg, Germany. Ronald Regan was President and while his main geo-political focus was the Cold War with the USSR, things got hot with Operation El Dorado Canyon when the US bombed Tripoli in response to Libyan agents' terrorist bombing of the La Belle disco in West Berlin, Germany - killing three people and injuring around 230 people, including 79 American servicemen.

Meanwhile, much closer to the United States (just over 700 miles), dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as "Baby Doc") was being forced from power and exiled with General Namphy taking over leadership of the
country under a provisional military government.

Around this time, a young 10 year old Haitian boy by the name of Emmanuel Bien-Aime, decided he wanted to someday be a Soldier so he could do good and help others.

In 2010, Bien-Aime, then living in Massachusetts, fulfilled his childhood aspirations by becoming a Soldier in the US Army.

Today, Specialist Bien-Aime is here in Bagram, serving on his first deployment while his wife and three children wait back in MA for his safe return.

SPC Bien-Aime has always given me the impression of being a good Soldier, but this month, he proved to be the very best Soldier in the 96th Aviation Support Battalion (ASB) when he outperformed at least 17 of his nominated peers to win the November Soldier of the Month Board.

A Soldier of the Month (SOM) Board does not really have a civilian equivalent, but think of it as an extremely intense job interview conducted by a panel of leaders who are doing their best to be very challenging and intimidating.

Suffice to say, SPC Bien-Aime was judged on his military appearance and bearing while being grilled by 96th ASB First Sergeants on topics such as Army Regulations, Military Programs, world affairs, and the history of the Battalion as well as the 101 Combat Aviation Brigade.

As the winner of the November 96th ASB SOM Board, SPC Bien-Aime distinguished himself above his peers and showed his potential as a future leader.

In the picture above, SPC Bien-Aime is showing a MP3 player donated in a Care Package by Veteran and former Army leader, Sergeant First Class (Retired) Terry Brillheart of Austin, Texas.

SFC Brillheart has generously sent me Care Packages with school items for the
Cat in the Hat Language Arts Center, treats and goodies I distribute to Soldiers, and items such as eReaders and MP3 players, which I give to very deserving Soldiers in recognition of their winning the 96th ASB monthly SOM Board.

SPC Bien-Aime told me he recognizes SFC Brillheart's as someone who "has been there" and appreciates his ongoing support of the military.

In this month of Veterans' Day, I echo SPC Bien-Aime's appreciation and offer my sincere gratitude for those who support deployed Soldiers with Care Packages, letters and cards - thank you for continuously keeping us in your hearts and minds, and not just in November.

@ Kara and Phil T. of Houston, TX for the Big Easy post cards, the beef jerky (which I kept for myself), the granola bars and treats that I shared with my co-workers.

@ Linda M of Tishomingo, OK for being a Soldier's Angel and sending mini PayDay bars (one of my favorites!), instant oatmeal for healthy breakfasts and maybe not so healthy chocolate puddings - I took to the gate guards who will be up all night in the cold.

@ Lois L. of Streetsboro, OH for the Care Package of snacks and treats which I shared with the Soldiers who work at the supply warehouse.

@ Jesse D and the Solera Residential Community in Beaumont, CA for the great box of apple sauce, crackers, nuts and writing materials; almost everything was distributed amongst very appreciative Soldiers - I kept the apple sauce for me.

@ Vivian M and Ms Soto's Class - Thank you for the letters and the "thumbs' up" picture of everyone in your Halloween costumes. Vivian - I put your "CORBIN" letter on my wall

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Next Day

Punxsutawney Phil

Last week I was talking to a 20-something Soldier who works in our Orderly Room (kinda like the Human Resources department) and when he asked how things were going, I quipped, "Just another Happy Groundhog Day."

And he responded, "Oh, today is Groundhog Day? I didn't know."
"Noooo," I drawled, "I was talking about the movie; did you ever see that Bill Murray movie - 'Groundhog Day'?"
"Uh, I think I remember it," he answered.
But, I think he was just humoring SGT Corbin - who often spouts non sequitors such as 'Do you know why the junior ranking Soldier is supposed to walk to the left of the senior ranking?' or 'Do you know how many little balls there are on your dog-tag chain and why?'

SGT Corbin sees these as teaching moments to pass on military history and tradition but sometimes thinks others might see them as SGT Corbin being a weird/know-it-all old guy.
Anyway, it got me thinking about how in the early/mid-90s "Groundhog Day" entered the popular lexicon as verbal short-hand for monotonous repetition and was often used by military personnel but now seems to have lost some of its usage when the concept is really more appropriate than ever for deployed Soldiers.
This is, by the way, is in no way an original or unique observation of mine, but just something I have been dwelling upon the last week or so.
In the movie, Bill Murray finds himself waking-up each morning only for it to still be the ‘same day’ - Groundhog Day; no matter what he does, or what happens, every day is a repeat.
For deployed Soldiers, it is a very similar experience with the days blending together - maybe being somewhat distinguishable by what was served at the Mess Hall (Thursday is Pizza Day, Friday is Steak Night, etc.) or perhaps Wednesday standing out for the Ground Maintenance Meeting.
But even those 'landmark' events become fuzzy with week-after-week repetition.  At first, it seems to make time go by faster and it seems like the deployment will be over and we will be back home lickety-split.
In the movie, Bill initially uses his infinite do-over days to figure out how to rob banks, play practical jokes and indulge his various appetites.
But, eventually, the predictability and sameness without apparent end weighs heavily on Bill and he begins to devise various ways of short-circuiting the day by dropping a toaster in his bathtub or driving off a cliff.
For deployed Soldiers, once they are in an every-evening rut of 'Call of Duty' or simply being overwrought with the time left in the deployment and being separated from family, it can be a challenge to self-motivate and stay positive.
This period of time can really be tough on everyone - Soldiers and family - so it is very important to stay focused on the mission, to keep in touch with family and loved ones, to use the time in constructive ways for personal growth instead of the stagnation of spending all free time playing video games or watching TV.

Bill eventually broke free of his self-destruction cycle through the desire to have a relationship with love-interest Andie McDowell and used his déjà vu days to learn classical piano, to speak French and some pretty nifty ice-sculpturing skills.  He also learned about the people around him and how even the smallest thoughtful and considerate actions could have a great impact on others.
So, if you are deployed, or know someone who is deployed, push yourself/your Soldier to  positively combat the every-day ennui by strengthening relationships and doing things like volunteering at the USO or Cat in the Hat, taking on-line college or military courses, writing/practicing rhymes, working-out, or getting involved in unit activities.
That way, we can be like Bill and get past Groundhog Day, stronger and better, to the next day.
@ Helen C.& amp; the Virgin Angels - I really enjoyed reading about your KISS-adventures; all the letters are spirit-lifters. Maybe next June I will be able to visit SF for some pampering and sushi.
@ Heidi& amp; Scott L. of Sidney, Iowa - Thank you for your note and the Comics; we get some via the Sunday Stars & Stripes but it is always good to get more laughs.
@ Desert Angels of Auburn Hills, MI - As per the note in your generous Care Package I "opened and shared"; the "love, hope & prayers" was and is greatly appreciated.
@ Tom Y. of Poolesville, MD - The candy and treats went to Soldiers on Gate Guard, the books went to the USO library and the socks went to a Soldier next to me who really needed clean ones - pee-you (teasing).
@ Yellow Ribbon Support Group & Pat and Mac M. of Palatine, IL - Thank you for the boxes of great treats and toiletries as well as the 'teddy bears' - the treats were immediately distributed to a number of Soldiers, the toiletries went to a distro area so they can be used as needed, and the teddy bears will definitely go to Afghan girls at Cat in the Hat.
@ Bobby S. of Hudson, Ohio - When I was in high school I was focused on girls and Frisbee, not sending Care Packages to Soldiers; thank you for the beef jerky and gum - I kept the jerky for myself and my 'neighbors' are happily chewing.Good luck to Hudson High making the playoffs.
@ Pat G. of Pride Packages - I salute your Marine Veteran son and your on-going support of deployed service members; the candy, crackers and cookies were enjoyed by Soldiers in platoon and unit.
@ Wendy V. of Mount Sterling, KY - Thank you, llama Grandma for your uplifting card and John's work on keeping military helicopters sky-ready.