Of course, it's not all fun and games. There are days when the stresses of being away from home, family, friends and our real lives takes it's toll. With that kind of stress, the ability to focus on our mission wanes a bit.
One of the hardest aspects of deployment is maintaining that focus. Day after day the mission continues. There is no break, there is no stopping. There's always another story to write, another mission outside the wire, another event, another deadline, another day away from all that we love, all that we know, all that brings us comfort. Sleep is restless, hours pass like minutes and seconds like hours.
In all of this, for any Soldier, journalist or infantryman, it's inevitable that sharp focus can give way to complacency, laziness, daydreaming, lack of interest, anger, resentment, feelings of fear, doubt and apathy.
Understandably, some of these challenging side effects have found their way into the 211th. It has been a pretty tough three weeks here. And the reality of our environment has hit home.
My goal in writing this blog is to share with those who have never deployed or those not in the military to see what it is like to deploy. This is one of the aspects of deployment you may have wondered about and though it isn't easy to put out there, I felt like you should get a little flavor of this part of being away.
As a first sergeant, my main job is to look after the health, safety, training and morale of my soldiers. This includes everything from food and lodging to personal problems and job proficiency. It is a delicate balancing act between allowing soldiers to guide themselves or giving specific direction to accomplish the mission.
Today that balance shifted entirely onto my side of the scale. I took control and in many respects I took hold of our soldiers and pointed them in the right direction to get the mission complete. It might sound like a nice thing to do, but ask one of our soldiers if they feel that way and I'm sure you'll get a solid, 'no'.
In essence, I set some new ground rules for our daily work schedules. Changed the way we had been doing things to a more regimented process and took away some personal liberties. The forum for this change in course included a lot of yelling, push-ups, rolling in the dirt and general humiliation. What one might picture as a basic training scene. This of course did not go over well, and honestly, I didn't expect it to.
Don't get me wrong - I am truly proud of our Soldiers. They are honestly some of the smartest Soldiers I have ever had work for me. They are intelligent, witty, resourceful, talented and motivated to work. But, even the best Soldiers can be distracted by the challenges of being deployed. Back home there are relationships that need attention, there are family health issues, behavior problems with our children and a myriad of personal issues that we cannot address from across the miles that separate us.
Here in Iraq, there are personality conflicts, differences of professional opinion, feelings of inadequacy, fear of the war itself, disappointments and uncomfortable living conditions. All of which blurs our focus.
Generally, moments like this pass, and I'm confident they'll pass with us too. But, sometimes a little nudge by someone in authority is needed to move the group in a forward direction. I've mentioned on several occasions how very much like a family, an army unit is. And like a family, there are times when some stern motivation can help get everyone back on track.
I've mentioned to some of my NCOs that it isn't my goal to be a great friend to each of my soldiers, though I think there are a few that would consider me friendly. My goal is to keep my soldiers focused in a positive direction, help them find success in their work here, accomplish the mission assigned to the unit and get them back home to their families with an experience they can be proud to claim.
That's a tough job when you consider all the factors that affect the life of a deployed Soldier. Too many aspects of a Soldier's life are out of their control, beyond their influence and tremendously frustrating. For now we'll focus on the things we can control. Getting rest when we need it, eating when we're hungry, getting to work on time, telling the story of the American Soldier and staying safe.
I'll grant you, that's not much of a life, but for now, these things may very well be the only things we can keep in focus.