Thursday, December 25, 2008

Twas The Night Before Deployment

There was very little color present, other than the digital camouflage of an Army uniform. There were no stockings hung by the chimney, if there were they would smell to high heaven. But, the spirit of the holiday was thick and there were candies and cookies to munch on.

This was an Army holiday celebration.

1Lt. Sarratt, dressed as one of Santa's oldest elves, brought the kid out in each of us and had us all sitting on the floor while he read two versions of The Night Before Christmas. The traditional version and a special 211th Commemorative edition, as penned by Sgt. Risner. (I'll publish that version as soon as I can get a copy of it from the author).

Cookies and candies were provided by Maj. Daneker and in the end, we all felt warm and fuzzy. It was another one of those Mark The Moment experiences.

Earlier in the week we had a great holiday party provided by one of the units former members, Barbara Reed, and her husband. It was a great time to let the hair down and relax.

Again, entertainment was provided by Sgt. Risner. A crooner to say the least, his music is great and the stories about how his lyrics come to him kept us all hanging on to every word. His talents will be used up by the time we're through with him.

And finally, no holiday story would be complete without a story of children (the real kind, not the kind we all act like at times). So, I've included a picture here of Sgt. Heise holding the newest member of 1SG Martinez' family, Alivia. If she's looking for a job when she comes back, Sgt. Heise can nanny for us anytime. Thanks for keeping the little one quiet during the noisy get together.

Happy holidays and see you all next year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Breaking Contact

In the Army we use an operational term, generally reserved for tactical situations - "break contact".

We use this term as a directive during tactical situations in order to discontinue any contact with an opposing force. However, like so many aspects of military life the tactical starts to merge with the practical. Today, the term "Break contact" is used in everyday army life too. Someone might say, "okay, let's break contact," to signal the end of a conversation or meeting. In general, the term signals an end to any contact with another individual or group (informally speaking).

So, here we are at the end of phase one of our deployment - phase one comprising of our time here in Bryan for our pre-mobilization training (to include our three weeks at Ft. Dix).

For the next two weeks the Soldiers of the 211th will break contact with each other. It is our privilege to get some time to head home for the holidays and a well-deserved break. In essence however, as we break contact with the unit, it really is the final preparation to break contact with our families for the next year.

For me, it is a difficult time. I've grown to appreciate each Soldier in the 211th and being away from them for the next couple of weeks will surely be a challenge as we have all grown so close - I honestly look forward to having them all back together again.

At the same time I am anxious about breaking contact with my own family for the next year. The holidays are an emotional time for most people. It's generally a time for coming together, renewing family relationships, remembering old times; renewing spiritual commitments and a host of other very positive aspects. Underlying these feelings this year is my upcoming deployment. Some of you may feel the same.

It's time to Mark the Moment. Make a decision to make this time memorable and filled with great experiences. I will strive to focus on making this year a great memory, just like all the years before. What I won't do is wallow in my concerns about the year ahead and about the challenges of breaking contact with my family and friends.

Every year, the holidays allow us to bring together those we love. Families and friends reunite, share the experiences of the past year, laugh and cry, eat and likely laugh some more. Since our childhood most of us look forward with great anticipation to the holidays - an annual reunion of hearts.

While this year we may be anxious about breaking contact with those we love most for the year ahead. We look forward with great anticipation to our reunion with each of you, our family and friends a year from now. Regardless of the day we return, it will be like Christmas day - no doubt we'll share with each other the experiences we've had, we'll probably eat like it was Thanksgiving day; we'll laugh and probably shed a tear or two.

As a kid I sometimes would count the days down to the next Christmas beginning December 26th. I couldn't wait to get there. I couldn't wait for the magic of the season.

I, for one, will be counting down the days until our return. Today I officially put my family and friends on notice that no matter the day we get back, I expect presents, food, a good laugh and a big hug.

Until we MAKE CONTACT again, Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Print and Video Dispatches From the 211th

Kudos to our broadcast team for doing a great job on this short clip about some of the training we've been going through over the past several months.

Our print journalists have also produced several print and photo pieces highlighting some of the Soldiers in the unit. To read their submissions click one of the following links:

www.spchowardalperin.blogspot.com
www.spcjonsoles.blogspot.com

Good job to all. Enjoy.


video

A Letter To The Parents of Our Soldiers

Dear Parent,

Twenty-one years ago, I joined the U.S. Army. Memories were still somewhat fresh about the War in Viet Nam back then and when I told my parents I had made a decision to join up and serve my country, they were supportive, but reticent. I was 24 years old then and so I'm sure my parents felt that outright discouragement would be counterproductive.

I didn't quite understand their lack of full-on support back then. "They should be happy about my desire to do my patriotic duty," I thought. I wanted them to feel and see my decision the same way I did.

Today, I have three children, I got started late on the family thing and so my family is pretty young - ranging in age from one month to three years. Today my eyes are wide open to why my parents might have felt less than fully supportive of my decision. I'm sure they were proud that I had taken my life by the horns, made a decision about how I would support myself and so on. Looking back however, I'm sure they simply wondered, "of all professions, why the Army?"

As a parent, it is impossible to ignore the inherent dangers of a child's service in the military, and especially now as we prepare to deploy to a war zone. I wish I could tell you that we were able to remove any and all risks associated with our deployment, I can't. And I wouldn't think of telling you not to worry about them, that "they'll be fine," - worry is hardwired into the soul of a parent, when it comes to their children.

I know that some of you have served in the armed forces as well, and may understand the point I now make. I am now on both sides of the fence on this quandary. As a Soldier I love the Army and the service I am rendering my country and family. As a parent, I can't imagine allowing my child to be placed in harms way. It's a little internal war I fight regularly and not with just this issue. Parenting is a delicate balance of providing protection to our children while allowing them enough latitude to protect themselves.

Three days a week, I leave my daughter, Araya (uh-ray-uh), with strangers at pre-school. In a world where the news reports molestation, school shootings, abductions and child abuse, to name a few, as regular occurrences, I feel a certain apprehension each day I drop her off at the school. Some days are easier than others, but that anxiety remains.

On the other side of the coin, each day when I pick her up and get her report on the day, my smile widens and my mind sees her limitless potential. I am amazed at what she learns, how she retains concepts and how she is developing her independence. She's in good hands at the school and they are doing their best to teach and protect her. She's making friends, having a great time and preparing for a time when I won't be able to watch her every move.

Your Soldiers are in good hands. We are doing all within our power to teach them and protect them. They are incredible individuals who make our unit strong, effective and fun. Their personal reasons for being here are varied, but they are all serving with honor. The memories and experiences they have over the next year will certainly change their lives and the lives of those associated with them. We have all become great friends, we look after each other and we sometimes even hold hands when we're crossing the street.

We hope that when you get their reports from Iraq, you will see how they are improving, how they are reaching their limitless potential- how they have developed their own sense of belonging in the world.

Thank you for lending them to the us for a while. We appreciate all you have done to prepare them for this moment in their lives. We'll do all we can to add to your efforts.


Respectfully,

First Sergeant Anthony Martinez
Father of Araya, Ammon and Alivia

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mark The Moment

I have a saying. I'm not sure if I made it up or if I picked it up from someone else. Either way, it's a saying I use and I have claimed it as my own. The saying is, "Mark The Moment!"

It's not something I generally say out loud, although I have at times. The saying is more of a guide that I use in my decision-making process. I don't use the guide in every decision, just a select few - specifically, when a choice between two options does not pose a significant threat to anyone or when the result of either choice will not cause a major change in outcome for myself or others.

In essence this is what Mark The Moment means for me; Does one of the choices in front of me offer a greater opportunity to make this moment special, magic or eternally memorable?

Today, one of those choices was presented - snow fell in Bryan, Texas. This is not a normal occurrence - it is truly rare. It was a Mark The Moment kind of opportunity.

The decision point came when we went out for PT (physical training). I heard a couple stray comments from the Soldiers that maybe, with snow falling, we might postpone PT for the day. I had even considered it in a passing thought, but that was my cue - should I cancel PT and move on? What would it hurt? The answer was obvious - Mark The Moment. We held PT in the snow.

It was cold, it was a bit windy and the snow was coming down, but the moment was magic. Seeing our Soldiers run up and down the Bryan High School stadium steps, snow flying, red noses and lungs burning in the chilly air became an eternally memorable moment, if for no one else but me.

There isn't much about this week that in 10 years I will remember with any clarity, but this one day, when snow fell on the Soldiers of the 211th MPAD; when the athletic staff of Bryan H.S. looked out their office windows and laughed at, "those crazy Soldiers, out in the stadium." This moment, I will remember forever. I hope our Soldiers will remember the moment too.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Faces















(left and below) 2Lt. Douglas and SGT Taylor in fierce team competition during PT






























SGT Risner (AKA crazy magazine head guy) gets immunized against some awful unknown disease.

















PFC Johnson and that, "You are not going to run me into the ground" look on her face

















Facing fear, SSG Ford prepares to start an IV on PFC Johnson


















Baring his "war face", SPC Fardette gets a little wheelbarrow shove from SFC Burke.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Combat Lifesavers All

Look out medical professionals everywhere - the Soldiers of the 211th are certified Combat Lifesavers!

Several years back, the Army revamped their policies and curriculum regarding the teaching of the Army first aid program (called, buddy aid at the time). What they determined is that teaching Soldiers a few advanced lifesaving techniques and providing them the medical equipment to go with it, would increase the mortality rate of Soldiers injured on the battlefield. Hence, the Combat Lifesaver Certification Program. I don't know the statistics of its success, but I have heard that an increase in life expectancy for injured Soldiers has gone up. Good news for us all.

So, that has been the focus for us this week. On the outset, I have to admit that I felt a bit intimidated by the course itself. Some of the advanced techniques I am referring to are things such as how to insert a Nasopharyangeal Tube into the nostril; how to perform a chest needle decompression for a tension pneumothorax condition and how to insert an IV catheter into a patient. The words of these procedures alone are enough to scare the bugga buggas out of you much less make the committment to perform such procedures if necessary.

Fortunately, the nose tube thing and the chest needle decompression are procedures we only practiced on medical mannequin's. Not so lucky on the IV insertion and infusion. That part was real - real challenging and scary.

As I mentioned in our chow (lunch) formation today, "there ain't nothin' like a good old fashioned blood-letting, to kick the day off." Every Soldier got the chance to be the sticker and the stickee. We had a couple Soldiers perform perfect sticks, without spilling a drop of blood. Others - not so much. There was blood everywhere. To put it into a phrase, "making someone bleed their own blood? Well, it just isn't normal."

However, when it was all said and done, we all passed. It was messy, but it was a success.

Kudos today go to SSG Ford. He hates needles - hates them, I tell ya', but he and his partner hung in there. He faced his fear and made his partner PFC Johnson face a little fear on the other end of the needle too.

That's what Soldiering is all about. Facing your fears. Most of us probably wouldn't choose on our own to undergo the training we've had this week, but we do it - we do our part. Heaven forbid we have to do it in real life, under grave circumstances, but if we are needed, we'll be there. It may be messy, but maybe we'll save a life.

Photos:

- SSG Ford inserts a Nasopharyngeal breathing tube into a mannequin while SPC Alperin looks on.

- Soldiers practice loading and moving a casualty on a SKED (newfangled stretcher).

- Success! SSG Burrell makes the grade by successfully inserting and starting an IV drip in the able veins of 1SG Martinez.

- SGT Taylor checks the set up of an IV bag in preparation for his shot at a successful IV start.

- SPC Fardette cleans and secures the IV start for his final practical exercise. (bleeding arm courtesy of SPC Anderson)