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.


Clint Laskowski said...

Mark, great blog and postings! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Please be safe and continue to post your updates.

dcurley said...

hey mark,
thanks for blogging. happy new year.

Anonymous said...


Keith here from Madison...Jeff forwarded me your blog upon my request. Stay strong and know that you are in our prayers by name while you are gone. Thank you for all you do!!! I know we are all waiting your next entry.