Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ft. Riley, KS- After 1 Month

I just thought I'd drop a few lines to say hello and let ya'all know what's going with me and the Army adventure. I have been at Ft. Riley for 4 weeks now and will be an advisor (under the 82d Airborne) to the ANA (Afghan National Army) on a small team replacing a team in place right now.

Training has been full-speed and many long days- this advisorship to Iraq and Afghanistan is growing with the DoD (Dept of Defense) and Congress has made this program a high priority for the Army- and you can tell by the size of this 'Camp'.. It is a simulated FOB (Forward Operating Base), which is a military base in a Combat zone- they play Islamic prayers over the loudspeakers 5x per day like 'in country' and many Afghan and Iraq actor and translater contractors are here to help us get accustomed to the culture and environment.. The Camp has produced roughly 5000 advisors already and currently has 1500 going through. The 'DFAC's (dining facilities) are packed as well as scheduling for classes- we have had to have some language and commo classes at 6am to get trng accomplished.

The Army is short of troops and is now reaching out to AF and Navy- which was very unheard of in the past. We have 4 AF guys training with us and they are very 'high speed' and have fit in very well, but I have heard of some not doing well w/ Army culture and the difference in weapons, etc.. It has been very interesting hearing about their careers and lifestyles on AF bases- and I tease them constantly because they get stationed at cush bases stateside and often in Italy, Germany, Alaska.. Our guys are hospital administrators that will be advising the ANA (Afghan National Army) and Govt on medical depots.

I'm still not completely sure of what I will be doing in Afghanistan, but I am on a team that is slated to go to Kabul to work with the MOD (Ministry of Defense) forces and advise/ partner/ mentor the ANA to help them build a better Army. Basically what this 'advising' means (from what I can gather so far) is two-fold; first, work with them in a technical and professional manner to build a more better forces- and these vary by region. Where I will be I think the forces are professional and disciplined- I may be helping them in planning processes or communications planning- for example- communications infrastructure, budgeting, emergency planning- planning commo/ radio training for their soldiers.. (think secure, long range walkie talkies and satellite links- frequency and encryption planning). Secondly, 'winning the hearts and minds' as its called to get them to trust the NATO and US forces. This country is over 4000 years old and has been under war conditions many times over- most recently by the Soviets ending in 1989.. Also, traditionally their has been a lot of corruption in the forces. Working with the Ministry of Defense sounds like a great opportunity as this is their equivalent to our Pentagon and is where the President and Dept of Interior is.. Althought this could change in a heartbeat and I could also go down to Kandahar where all the action is or anywhere else so we'll see.

Training has been interesting.. We have PT (Physical Training) almost everyday at 5:45 for an hour- I am very lucky- our SGM (Sergeant Major)- a high ranking NCO (Non- Commissioned Officer, (the guy who most of the time knows and leads everything and everyone- incl the Officers!) is a career Army guy and is a Master Fitness Trainer (equiv to Wis Athletic Club trainer type) and really knows how to challenge us. Lately we have been running 4-5 miles on odd days and doing a variety of other hill-climbs, abs, rope climbs, sprints- he seems to know just how to make it hurt- but, I have to say- I really enjoy it and have been getting into decent shape. Next subject- Food- the DFACs here are amazing and serve excellent food- today I had bbq ribs for lunch w/ vege's, salad- consistant, clean, free, and fast- you all would love it.. There are 2 DFACs on base and are basically nice cafeteria's and large dining rooms. News on a big TV is constantly played. I almost had to eat my first MRE (the infamous Meal-Ready-to-Eat) the other night at a range but dodged it by eating beef jerky and Triscuts that I had in my pack- I don't like MREs at all- (preserved food in packets made to last about 3 years- though the latest ones include candy such as Skiddles and M&Ms) let me know if you want one and I will try to get you one if interested..

Training completed is too much to list, but highlights include: language (Dari)/ culture (Midl East and Islam), best practices of advisors- we have had many culture and country briefs, a Afghan cultural dinner, and simulated ‘Leaders Meetings’ (meetings with Afghan tribal leaders, Mayors, or military commanders).. Driving HMMWVs (Humvee’s- Army Jeeps) day and night (we had to convoy without lights on using only our NVGs (Night Vision Goggles). Humvee rollover training- they literally have a couple of machines that roll you over and you have to get out w/ wpns, gear, and then practice getting an injured person out.. This week we completed weapons familiarization with some of the larger weapons- the M240 (SAW) machine gun and the infamous M2 ’50 CAL’ which is often mounted on the top of Humvee’s- we get to shoot them soon.. I have been issued a 9mm pistol and a M4 rifle which we qualified on the ranges already- day and at night with the NVGs and laser sights.

I have had specialized training in radios and SATCOM which was very cool- the military has it's own satellites and I learned how to get access to 'the birds'.. It's a challenge to get access to 'the birds' here in the states as most are in the Midl East.. Lastly, I had some training on computers that each Humvee has which tracks GPS, friendly and enemy positions, and communications- it is very impressive stuff- you wouldn’t want to know the price tag on some of this stuff. Coming up is training in CLS (Combat Life Saver), more weapons, some legal stuff, and Cordon and Search.

Living conditions- a unique experience to say the least- living with 35 guys in one big room.. Well, enough said- once done here I should get my own space (though measured in inches) in Afghanistan. Snoring, other peoples alarms, no personal space- but it is also quite comical and fun at other times. I have visited a nice brew pub in Manhattan, KS with some friends. I went golfing last Sunday. This weekend some AF guys and I went to Topeka to see the normal world and had a great lunch.. On Sundays I have been enjoying attending several types of Christian services to get a taste of what things are like outside of Catholic Mass..

Lastly- thanks for reading- I will be home for Thanksgiving..! I will then be back for 2 weeks to finish our class, then home for a week in DEC before shipping off to Kuwait for a bit before Afghanistan.. Time in Kuwait and Aghanistan will be 10-12 months with a 2 week visit home sometime in summer 08.. Whew- I still cannot believe this is me being engaged in all of this.. The only tough part about it is missing Susan and my girls, family and friends, but other than that the Army is a pretty fascinating environment and should continue to be that way.

Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and messages. I will try to write monthly to share what I am learning and experiencing.

Arrival at Ft. Riley, KS


I have arrived at Ft. Riley, KS.. It’s a very beautiful post- General Custer was here in the early 1900s. This is home to big Cavalry history and their are still CAV facilities- many large great buildings made of limestone from the nearby Kansas River.

After administrative check-in for a few days, my class was moved to a similated FOB (Forward Operating Base) which are what our forces put together when we are oversees in a combat zone.. it is camp with just about everything needed; arms rooms, DFAC's (dining fac's), barber, training facilities.. Our lodging is 40 man open bay rooms with bunk beds and wall lockers- holy cow I thought this stuff was done in basic training. We do have wireless connectivity so I do have a connection to the outside world and I did a Windows Live conference w/ family today.

I am on a MiTT which means Mil Transition Team- these teams act as advisors/ trainers to foreign Army's. It is part of our natl strategy to make Iraq and Afghanistan's security forces self sufficient. With an eventual troop draw-down this advisor role will continue on for some time. I am scheduled to be on a advisor team in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I have met and continue to meet many interesting people; Officers and Enlisted, from Army Air Force, and Navy- My team is a 'mature' group of I'd guess my age and many smart guys.. One charactor is a West Point grad lawyer f/ Dallas, our leader is a Major and Ranger from Puerto Rico- a great guy.. I am fortunate and comfortable being MOBd w/ my team- I don't know how they came up w/ a slacker like me.. Life has been mostly getting lots of equipment- much of it very cool- you almost feel like RoboTron when you have it all on. I am issued a M9 (9mm pistol) and a M4 (rifle). It would be fun if I was getting ready for a paintball game w/ it all on- it also weighs geez I'd guess 75- 100 lbs when all on. I was shot up w/ all kinds of shots the other day- and more to follow.. Anthrax- our medic said: ya, many GI's have issues w/ that one....

My initial duties in training as the Communications Officer is to facilitate 'add-on' training for our language training- mainly Dari- a form Persian. Later I will get into communications equipment (Satellite and HF) and I may be working some web items for communications w/ families..
More to follow as I get integrated and more time..
I will be wearing the 1st ID (Infantry Division- The Big Red One) patch for my deployment patch which is a great unit in American history..

Mark, MAJ M

Friday, November 9, 2007

Images of Fort Riley, KS

Here are a few pictures of Fort Riley which is one of the oldest Army posts- it was formed in 1853 during westward expansion.

Office buildings (above)
Once 1st DIV HQ, now museum and office space.

Cavalry horse stables- 12 total in the early days- now many converted to other things. Patton Hall- they don't build 'em like that anymore- not just the building itself, but if you could see them in total and placement on the rolling hills..

Officer housing- Field grade on left and senior officer housing on right- these overlook the Parade Grounds where significant events occur.

King Hall (above left)- once a massive indoor training facility- now a gym and cafeteria

St. Mary's Chapel (above)
Old HQ building (right)- now the museum.

Senior Officer housing (above)- notice the 'Southern Living' beautiful porch. Congress has mandated that 'Quarters' will no longer be built so large..

Simpler porch below, but still very nice. Remember, I am just visiting this neighborhood- they have us 'trainees' in quite different 'Quarters'.