Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Barracks for Charlie CO 2/508 82n Airborne

There's a pretty spirited debate about military families and housing going on at the St. Petersburg Times. Jan Wesner, the author of the blog Standing By, wrote the story:

Slow home sales pain McDill officers

I post this video, which hit the major news markets yesterday, as a counter point to some of the commentary that followed her story.

Staff sergeant killed returning from service for fellow soldier

From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer


Staff Sgt. Jeffery Hartley had traveled from his combat outpost to Forward Operating Base Rustimiyah to mourn a fellow soldier, killed days earlier by a roadside bomb.

Such is not uncommon for the soldiers of the close-knit 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Many of those who attended the memorial service for Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal did not know him personally.

But he was a member of the Sledgehammer Brigade.

Enough said.

Hartley, a staff sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, was leading his platoon back to Combat Outpost Salie following the memorial service when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

Hartley, one of three soldiers in his vehicle, was killed.

News of Hartley's April 8 death was made public a couple of days later. But the details surrounding the trip to the memorial service were not released until much later.

Hartley, of Eagle Lake, Texas, was no stranger to Fort Benning. He had served three deployments with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment before joining the 1-10 and deploying twice more in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the "Rock Support" battalion.

"He simply was one of the finest leaders I have ever known," said Capt. Drew Staples, commander of Headquarters Battery. "He combined a sense of mission with a human touch that will be hard-pressed to ever be duplicated."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane

Chance of showers before 2pm. Partly cloudy winds
south southeast between 2 to 8 mph.

“Bummer. Looks like there won't be any help from the rain gods
tonight. For once. Let's see if the Air Force will
give us a little help,” I told myself followed by a
short sigh.

But I had the feeling. . . The feeling that I wasn't going to get out of this one. I was going to actually earn that extra hundred and fifty dollars I
get paid each month. I closed my laptop, grabbed my
keys and headed for work. They had given us a late
call of noon, seeing as I most likely would
not get off work until tomorrow morning.

When I got to the company, I walked up the ramp removing my maroon beret and was greeted by Sgt. Anderson at the door. He stopped and looked at me and without a word we both
looked at each other and began shaking our heads.

A staff sergeant was standing at his locker changing into
the duty uniform.

“Grab the cherries (privates) and get ready for
weapons draw.”

“Roger sa’arnt. Already on it.”

"Shira, Bulger, let's go fuckers, weapons draw five minutes."

Both jumped to their feet and headed for the arms room.

“Uh, specialist?” Shira said in his small voice and going to parade rest.

“What's up guy?”

“Uh, will I be jumping the SAW (machine gun) tonight?”

“Yeah,” I replied laughing. “Oh, and make sure you
draw a modified weapons case.”

He cracked half a smile that clearly said “dammit!” the only way a
private can.


At once we were first in line at the arms room so the draw went
quickly which is rare. With our weapons and night vision drawn, we went to our task
double checking the rigging on our parachute drop bags
as well as checking our night vision and changing
batteries as needed.

sergeant from his office.

“You heard the man get your gear and move over to
chicken field,” someone echoed.

Generally that's where things start to get interesting. Several
hundred men all gaggled around. . .the phrase too many
chiefs and not enough Indians comes to mind.

As NCOs try to make sense of it all and get everyone divided
into the right birds and the right order. For a
combat equipped jump, they do what they call combat
cross loading. Basically mix you in with a bunch of
guys you don't know from other units. That way you
have no idea whether or not they are going to freak out
in the air. At least that's what I think they say, so if
in the “real thing” a bird gets shot down a whole
unit wont be lost.

Jump masters begin combing the lines inspecting helmets and checking dog tags. For
some reason you cannot jump without you dog tags. I
think they help with aerodynamics during the free fall
portion. . . not really I made that up.

At that point, there were still rain clouds moving in
and out and the overall thinking was that we weren't
going to jump 'cause of the weather. I knew better.
For some reason I think I'm the only one who checks the
weather. But I didn't try to tell them otherwise. They
seem happier when they have hope.

I guess I should explain that the majority of America's paratroopers
hate to jump out of airplanes. It's not at
all like sky diving. Oh no, it's much more dangerous.
Between 60 and 80 some odd paratroopers exit two doors
in an average of thirty seconds. There is certainly a
long list of things that can go wrong, from becoming
a towed jumper (I'll let your imagination figure that
one out), to mid-air entanglements (which happens quite
often), to partial or total malfunctions of your main
parachute (nice way of saying your chute doesn't
open), and to the fact that you have no way of really
controlling where you go, so you are at the mercy of
the wind.

I will say, most don't care about
the jumping out part, it's the landing really. Hitting
the ground at 18 to 22 feet per second, and a lateral
speed of whatever wind gust has you, never feels very
good. Broken legs, ankles, heads are common place. But
I digress.

Eventually we made our way over to Pope Air Force Base
to a place called Green Ramp. It's basically a line of
warehouses and bays along the flight line with row
after row of strange looking wooden benches that are
'specially made so that they are only comfortable to
sit on when you are wearing a parachute.

We waited for hours before actually dawning our parachutes. My
shoulder hurt just thinking about it. The T-10-Delta
parachute weighs around 60 pounds alone. Then strap
on combat equipment and you're looking at about a hundred
pounds all together rested on two torturous shoulder
straps. The longer you're in the harness, the more you
want to jump out the door just so when you hit the
ground you can take the damn thing off.

Now in the chutes and hating life, the jump masters
having done their final inspections, the
starting of jet engines introduces adrenalin into the
blood stream. The only two guys from my platoon in my
chalk was Shira and another young private named
Myamoto, both doing the airborne infantry man thing. . .
they were both asleep. It's funny to me that all these
guys getting ready to exit an aircraft at over a
hundred miles an hour and eight hundred feet above the
ground can sleep. Heads slumped down in front resting
on their reserve parachutes.

Everyone wakes up when they open the giant metal doors to the flight
line. . .front row seating over looking a row of four
C-17 massive cargo jets, sleek and very impressive with
rear ramps down, bright white lights shining out from

I turned to the two guys, “Hey, when you hit the ground come to me and we will
move out to the assembly area together.”

“Roger, specialist.”

“You know what to do if you can't find me? Find
the center line dirt road and follow the direction of
the planes. The company assembly point should be on
corner of the field.”

“Roger, specialist.”

Then it comes.


With a sigh, I struggle to my feet. With the parachute drop bag strapped around
your legs in the front, it's nearly impossible to walk. So,
of course, the Air Force parks their birds like a mile
away, which makes for a very awkward and painful

C-17s look, well, like a space ship inside. Very
high tech and powerful birds with much more room inside
than C130s. Those Vietnam era birds are louder on the
inside than the outside and smell of oil and exhaust
and often break down. It's so tight in there that when
the jump masters have to get to the front of the
aircraft, they literally walk on you.

Less than five minutes in our cargo net seats and
guys are again passing out left and right. Many times
the pilots need flight hours so we load up and “race
track” for several hours. Was not to be the case
tonight. We had been pushed back already for whatever
reason so it was to be a about an hour flight to a
drop zone five minutes away. When the ramp goes up
the white lights turn off and the red lights come on.
Really sets the mood, I'll tell ya. A short taxi and a
hard throttle up and we are airborne.
The adrenalin really starts going when the two
jump masters near the tail begin yelling and giving
hand and arm signals.

“TWENTY MINUTES!” and the jumpers snap awake look to
the front and repeat. “TWENTY MINUTES!” f

Five minutes later comes, “TEN MINUTES!. . .GET READY!”
Each time the jumpers turn to the front and repeat.

“OUTBOARD JUMPERS STAND UP!” All the jumpers on the
outboard side of the aircraft stand up folding up their
cargo net seats.

“INBOARD JUMPERS STAND UP!” The jumpers along
the center of the bird move over the anchor line
cable, two steel cables strung from front to back
along the side of the aircraft about a foot apart from
each other.


I grab the long yellow chord thats draped
over my shoulder and hook it to the cable above my


I trace the line from the cable down over my shoulder making sure it hasn't gone under
the riser or under my arm. Then reach forward and
trace the line on the guy in front of me from his
shoulder down ensuring the same for him. Then slap
him on the shoulder letting him know he is good as
someone does the same for me.


Trace my helmet strap, tightening
it once more and go down ensuring each snap hook on
the harness is secure. Then from the back its passed
to the front. Someone slaps me on the ass and yells
“OKAY!” I do the same to the man in front. When it
gets to the number one jumper he yells, “ALL OKAY

It's about that time that they open the doors and the
wind rips around the cabin as the four screaming jet
engines reach your ears. Guys start screaming and
yelling muffled “WHOO!” and “YEAHS!”

I turned to the guy standing next to me and yelled in his ear, “YOU
LED ME TO THIS POINT!” He laughs and shakes his head.

All the noise and commotion seem confusing but its kind
of a strange ballet. The jump master known as the
safety literally sticks his head out the door and
looks for the approaching drop zone. When he sees
that he's two thousand meters away, he gives the signal and the
jump masters yell, “ONE MINUTE. . .STAND BY!”

The number one jumper turns and stands in front of the door. That to me
would be the worst job and I refuse to do it. I can jump
because I don't think about it, I just do it. The
number one jumper stands there for an eternity looking
out into the world from a high performance aircraft.
Then the amber light comes on and the jump masters
give the second to last command.


Blink hard, breathe deep and focus. Body and mind ready.

And then it happens. The little amber light by the door turns green.

GO!. . .”

One by one, each jumper hands off the static
line to the safety turns and runs into the darkness
and disappears.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

One Percenters? Maybe not.

This from this morning's Washington Post:

"A Pew Research Center poll earlier this month found that 14 percent of Americans considered Iraq the news story of most interest -- less than half the 32 percent hooked on the presidential campaign and barely more than the 11 percent hooked on the raid of a polygamist compound in Texas."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baghdaddy Beat

Mark gave us this video last summer when he was on leave. I watched it over and over again while he was gone and was really hoping that some day I could post it. Thanks to YouTube, I can. Thanks to first platoon, Bravo Company. This beats the Pepsi commercial any day. SPC Mark is in there a couple of times. It was a Godsend to us through the darkest of days. SGT Schilling, who made the video, is a very talented young man.

New recruits

A lot has been written about the U.S. Army having to grant more waivers to let new soldiers in the all volunteer force. NBC was particularly graphic last night about the new recruits: drug problems, never graduated from high school, felony convictions. I cringe thinking that these are the guys that Mark will be taking into Iraq on his next deployment.

That said, two of my youngest son's friends have signed up for the Army. They are a pair of 19-year-olds with nothing but time on their hands and no sense of the future. They've been hanging around the house the last few days. They already have their GI haircuts and their voices from afar (I can't bring myself to talk to them) are giddy with the sense of an upcoming adventure. Both are high school graduates, so no waiver there. Probably some family issues though.

They report to Ft. Benning soon and both want to go airborne.

God bless them both.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking the day off

Yesterday, after our alpha male paratrooper, home on a pass, had secured the TV remote and the couch and our 16-year-old son had turned our backyard into a testosterone-filled Spring Break Central, Gayle and I decided to take a break and head to St. Augustine.

It was an extraordinary spring day and we ended up at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Most visitors from out of state come to the Alligator Farm for the novelty of seeing some big, well-fed gators (and an occasional croc as well). Most people don't know that this time of year, the farm has a world class rookery of wading birds. Virtually every species will come through there and many nest. The birds like the relative safety of the farm because the alligators keep the predators away from their nests. At any rate, here's what we saw:

It was nice to have a day off.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

SPC Sergio Sanchez

SPC Sergio Sanchez, who was acting as a designated driver for his buddies, died Saturday, the Fayetteville Observer reports.

Sanchez had stepped out of a Fayetteville night club and stumbled upon a robbery in progress in the early morning of April 12. He was robbed and shot by five or six street thugs.

Sanchez, a member of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne, had been home for 50 days after a 15-month tour in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad.

Our prayers are with his family and friends.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dangerous places, part 2

This is from the Fayetteville Observer:

"A Fort Bragg soldier remained in critical condition Sunday night from being shot in the neck by robbers after leaving a Bragg Boulevard nightclub, authorities say.

Spc. Sergio A. Sanchez, 22, was shot around 3 a.m. at Blue Street and Washington Drive. Authorities believe he may have stumbled across a group of five or six men who were in the process of robbing other people on the street.

The Police Department would not release additional details of the investigation late Sunday.

“We don’t have anything else,” a police watch commander said. “The police report has not been released yet because it’s still being investigated.”

Sanchez is a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said Maj. Tom Earnhardt, a spokesman for the division. Sanchez had returned from a deployment to Iraq about 45 days ago.

Earnhardt said Sanchez was serving as the designated driver for his friends Friday night and had stepped outside the club to make a phone call. “At that time, he was attacked, resulting in a gunshot wound to him,” Earnhardt said.

“The chain of command of the division is heartsick over what happened here,” Earnhardt said. “We wish we could make some sense over what appears to us a senseless act. By all indications, we had a paratrooper who was doing the right thing for his friends.”

Sanchez was treated at the trauma center at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center before being transferred to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he underwent surgery. . . "

I have been following the Observer all week and have not seen a follow up. The 2nd Brigade had been in and around Baghdad since January 2007.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sad homecoming

SPC Jeremiah C. Hughes came home to Jacksonville yesterday. But not as his family ever wanted or dreamed of. SPC Hughes died April 9 in Balad, one of 19 U.S. service members who died last week. Hughes, 26, was a member of the 21st Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division out of Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He was, by all accounts, an extraordinary young man.

On Monday, Dan McCarthy, the City of Jacksonville's military liaison, put out an e-mail blast to the military community asking them to turn out for his arrival at Jacksonville Naval Air Station at 2:53 p.m. I have felt guilty about not showing up for some of these ceremonies in the past given what the community has done for us. But my schedule is generally too tightly wound to undo on short notice. I had a national conference call at 3 p.m. It wasn't going to work.

It was a very unusual day in North Florida yesterday. A cold front passed through and temperatures hovered in the 50s. An unfriendly wind blew out of the north at 20 mph with a occasional gusts to 35 mph. As I sat in my office, a rain squall slogged in off the ocean and the temperature dropped to 51 degrees. . . in Florida. . . in April. It was warmer in Minneapolis yesterday.

As the conference call progressed, I watched the minutes pass on my computer clock. I thought: The funeral home where SPC Hughes is headed is in Jacksonville Beach, a couple of miles from my office. I am on my cell phone. Maybe I can pay my respects there.

So I trundled into my truck and headed down beach to the funeral home. The squall passed and the skies began to clear and the temperature warmed to 61 degrees. I pulled into the H&R Block office parking lot across the street from the funeral home. It was Tax Day and the lot was crowded. I was lucky to find a spot.

The conference call progressed and ended after 4 p.m. At 4:15 p.m., I figured I had made a mistake. It wouldn't have been the first time I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I headed south down 3rd Street toward my home. At Butler Blvd., the Jacksonville Sheriff Office motorcycle honor guard was blocking north bound traffic at the exit ramp. The procession was heading to the Beach as planned.

I circled back but got stuck in the traffic about four blocks from the funeral home as the honor guard moved the procession on to 39th Street. Impatient drivers began making U-turns through the medians grumbling about the tie up. Must be a wreck or something.

I couldn't even make it to my church parking lot which was a block away from the funeral home. As I passed the home, the honor guard was at present arms. It looked as if there were at least 40 members of the Patriot Guard there as well.

As Dan McCarthy from the city will tell you, if nothing else, Jacksonville will turn out for its returning service men and women under the best or worst of circumstances. And based on this morning's news coverage in The Florida Times-Union, yesterday was no different.

But I had missed it. I drove by, gave a short salute and a silent prayer.

Godspeed SPC Hughes and God bless your family.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Friend at war

For those who keep prayer lists, please add LCPL Robert T. George, a Marine reservist now on duty in Iraq near the Syrian border. We've known Tommy since he was born and are still good friends with his parents, even though they are in Virginia and we are in Florida.

Bob and Sharon, we wish Tommy a safe return. Godspeed.

Today's NY Times

This is from columnist Frank Rich in today's Op Ed page:

"The simple explanation for why we shun the war is that it has gone so badly. But another answer was provided in the hearings by Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, one of the growing number of Republican lawmakers who no longer bothers to hide his exasperation. He put his finger on the collective sense of shame (not to be confused with collective guilt) that has attended America’s Iraq project.

“The truth of the matter,” Mr. Voinovich said, is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”

This is how the war planners wanted it, of course. No new taxes, no draft, no photos of coffins, no inconveniences that might compel voters to ask tough questions. This strategy would have worked if the war had been the promised cakewalk. But now it has backfired. A home front that has not been asked to invest directly in a war, that has subcontracted it to a relatively small group of volunteers, can hardly be expected to feel it has a stake in the outcome five stalemated years on."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dangerous places

SPC Mark has been home from Baghdad for about five months. For 15 months, we were anxiety ridden knowing that he was in one of the most dangerous places in the world.

On Thursday night, our oldest son Mike was driving home having worked on a yard project for his mother at our house. He was heading west on Butler Blvd., the main east-west limited access highway from the Beaches to Jacksonville. He was in his 1999 silver Ford Contour SVT, heading toward the entrance to I-95 North.

A black Mercedes, going about 90 mph witnesses say, rear-ended him. His car did a NASCAR-like 360 crashing into a concrete barrier before coming to a stop. The Mercedes kept going for about a half-mile before it stopped. The driver, a woman, fled the scene on foot.

After a five-hour stay in the emergency room, Mike was released with a sore neck and back, a collection of bruises that have yet to blossom, and a busted up finger. The impact of the collision was so hard the radio flew out of the dashboard and the deploying air bags blew the lenses out of his glasses.

All-in-all, we are very, very lucky that he is alive. The SVT has a very low center of gravity for handling and rather than flip, it spun. The car saved his life. Had he been in any of the other family vehicles, we would be planning a funeral this morning.

Unfortunately for the poor little SVT, it's destined for the salvage yard. Only 5,000 of them were made and some day it would have been a collector's item. It's why we hung on to it for nearly 10 years.

The Mercedes, a high sport model, looks to be totaled as well. Still haven't heard about the driver although the police said at the scene that she had a DUI and a suspended license.

We all know where the most dangerous cities in the world are. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that our own cities can be just as dangerous.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Heartwarming story

If you are in need of cheering up, go over to Eighty Deuce on the Loose. His link is on the sidebar below the stories.

He and Charlie (the dog from Baghdad) have been reunited. It's a great story.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Company picnic

Bravo Company held it's annual picnic Friday at Ft. Bragg. I received the flier in March and made tentative plans to attend. Free food and beer and team activities like basketball, volleyball, poker tournament and softball. Sounded like a lot of fun.

Unfortunately work intruded and I wasn't able to go.

So I talked with Mark yesterday and asked him in which activity did he participate.

He replied, "Beer pong."

Glad I didn't go. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How we knew about the surge

From SPC Mark:

The caller i.d. said LIPE. I opened my cell phone and
put it to my ear. “Merry Christmas bro.”

“Same to you man. whats up?”

“Ah, nothing man. Lying on the couch. I’m a little hung
over to say the least.”

“Right on man. Listen the reason I'm calling is I’m
on CQ.”

“Wait. What? You're at work? You didn't take leave?”

“Nah man, I stayed cause they're actually going to let
me stay for the (my) wedding.”

“Oh. How nice of them.”

“Yeah, surprised the hell out of me. But listen I'm on
CQ and I've got some bad news. The call out roster has
been initiated and they're calling everyone back from
leave early.”

“You're fucking kidding me.”

“No man, I wish I was.”

“At least they waited until the day after Christmas.”

“Yeah right. Well, I gotta let you go man. I'll see you
when you get in.”

“Alright bro, I'll see you soon. Peace.”

I closed the phone and my arm slumped down off the couch. I let the
phone drop from my hand on to the floor. Sat there
motionless, thoughtless. Mom was in the other room
and wanted the news that she probably already knew.
With a sigh, I broke the news. Picked myself up off the
couch and headed for the shower. It was the day after
Christmas, nine days since I left Fort Bragg on leave,
and about 20 days since I landed at Pope Air Force
Base from Iraq.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had survived my first tour in Iraq despite having
kicked doors in every hot spot in country. . . every bad
neighborhood that you hear about on the news . . .from the
Sunni Triangle of Death to Tikrit to Ramadi.

We landed at Pope to welcome home banners, joyful and
cheering family members, and the 82nd band playing the
82nd song. Some officers spoke and told us “welcome home”
and “good job” and “enjoy yourself you earned it.”

But it was to be short lived.

For some time now the President and some generals were putting together a
plan to escalate the war. . . a plan they called a “surge” that would flood the streets of Baghdad in
a desperate attempt to secure the Iraqi capital. Being
choice to spearhead the surge. We specialize in
rapid deployments and can get out much faster than
most of the Army.

The day before the President went before the nation to
announce the plan, we were called into work. My first
sergeant came out and from the look on his face and
the commander's face, we knew it was bad news. There
had been whispers that we were going back but no one
believed them.

“Bring it in men and sit down.” He preceded to read
the warning order that basically spelled out that we
were to begin preparations to deploy some time around
the 1st of January. Not believing my ears, I scanned
the room and every face was blank. No emotion. it
really felt surreal.

The hardest part was passing off the news and listening to my mother cry on the other
side of the phone. They decided to send us home for
14 days of leave before we actually started
preparations. Really didn't have much to do. All our
equipment and gear never left Iraq. I went home with
weight on my shoulders that was nearly unbearable. Christmas
that year was a somber affair.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I had 48 hours to report back to Bragg. I turned the
shower on and climbed in. Sat in the tub and stared at
the drain. I got in the shower because I didn't want
my family to hear me cry. It was a strange feeling.
shedding a tear. Two tears and a sniffle, I soldiered
up and started packing my bags. Hugged my parents and
drove away.

At least they waited to 'til the day after Christmas.