Friday, January 23, 2009

Winding Down, In time for the Wind-up

Since January 6th we have been here at Fort Dix, NJ completing our required training prior to our deployment downrange. I've mentioned before, and if you've kept up on any of our Soldier blogs you'll have heard, that our time here has been C-O-L-D, cold.

The cold weather, which no words could truly convey the severity of, has been a useful marker to the moments we have spent here. All of our training opportunities here have been emphasized by the morning ritual of determining just how much cold weather gear one should wear. One layer? Two layers? No, wait, maybe three layers!

It is a never ending guessing game at just how far to go. This one aspect of the time we have spent here will make it memorable. One day, when all of us are old and gray, and the weather man on the evening news makes some statement about how New Jersey set a new cold weather record, which has stood for 25 years, we can all proudly say we were here back when the first cold weather records were set. That's how cold it has been.

But, that aside, we now look forward to winding up for warmer climes. Our time here will soon come to a close. No dates, as of yet for our departure, but the time is getting closer. Our last "real day" of required training is scheduled for tomorrow, and then we wait.

We'll be packing our bags and simply, patiently and with anticipation wait for the call that says our jet plane is ready. When that happens then phase four of our journey will be completed and phase five will grab hold of us and whisk us away.

So you may ask how many phases are there? Here's how I see it, and this is not Army doctrine just 1SG Martinez' opinion. Here are the phases:

Phase 1: Coming together, forming a team (completed in early October)
Phase 2: Regional Training Center (completed in October)
Phase 3: Homestation Pre-mobilization training (completed in Decemeber)
Phase 4: Fort Dix mobilization training (going on now)
Phase 5: Deployment to Iraq (to be determined)
Phase 6: Preparation in Iraq for return to the U.S. (to be determined)
Phase 7: Redeployment at Fort Dix (to be determined)
Phase 8: Mission complete

This is the world as I see it.

Now, back to the present.

There is another sub-phase, if you will, to our current phase - a four-day pass. We have been granted an opportunity to take a four-day pass. A pass in the Army, is like a paid holiday. For four days we can take a mini-vacation from our daily grind. The commander has set the limits to travel no more than 150 miles from Fort Dix. Most of us will be taking the opportunity to get away from the post and see some of the regional sites around us; New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia to name a few.

It will be a welcome break just before heading out. I'm sure there will be some interesting stories that come out of the break so keep posted to this and the other Soldiers' blogs for their updates.

Another thing of note that you might find of interest. Last week we had the opportunity to have an Army chaplain come to visit us. He spent an hour or so sharing his experiences while deployed. He talked about family, stress, spirituality and host of other touchy-feely type things that chaplains often talk about.

After his comments and a brief Q and A session, he opened up an offer, for anyone interested, to take communion. This a part of the Army that many don't often think about; Soldiers and spirituality.

For many Soldiers the spiritual aspect of their life needs attention, and in many ways even more so during a military deployment. Many Soldiers take comfort in their faith to help them get through the challenges of a deployment. It was a great opportunity to have a chaplain available to see to those needs too.

Finally, I wanted to give a big kudos to one of the Soldiers in our unit that, in my mind, really stands out during this phase of our deployment - Sgt. Heise.

During our the Mission Readiness Exercise (MRE) we had last week she really showed what she was made of. First let me say that all of our Soldiers have made great sacrifices and efforts to make our little unit successful, but Sgt. Heise really made her mark during this exercise.

The MRE is a 24 hour operation. Most of our Soldiers worked the day shift and a few (4 total) worked the night shift. What makes Sgt. Heise stand out is that she worked both shifts for three days with little more than a few cat naps along the way. She is a great example of making the best out of a rotten situation. Due to circumstances beyond anyones control, certain equipment, timelines and story ideas all went awry.

Truly undaunted, she pushed forward to make sure that the requirements of her mission were met - and they were. If we placed gold stars on the forehead she would have one placed dead center. For a little more insight to Sgt. Heise CLICK HERE for her latest blog entries.

In fact, there are a lot of great new entries from our soldiers today. Just click on one of the Soldier photos to the right to get a feel for what we've been up to here at Ft. Dix. They range from introspective to humorous. You'll also find some of the stories our Soldiers have produced and written. Please take time to get to know our unit and see life from our Point of View.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Few Words From The Commander

Wonder what we are doing today? Click on this LINK to read the commanders blog entry about our mission readiness exercise (MRE). It's a great sum up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Operational Tempo (OPTEMPO). This is a term we use in the Army in reference to "being busy". When we are breakneck busy we say we have a high OPTEMPO, when we are deploying more often we have a high OPTEMPO, when we use up resources quickly because of deployment or assigned mission we have a high OPTEMPO. 

Presently, the 211th is working at a high OPTEMPO. Since our return from the holiday break, we have been going, going, going. It has been a few weeks since my last entry and so I'll do my best to play catch up here.

By all reports, our Soldiers had a great holiday break - being with family, friends, dogs, cats and all those that mean anything to us. It was a well deserved break. But, we're back to work now. We left Bryan, Texas at 0230 on January 6th. It was cold, raining and, did I mention - cold. 

Because so many of us come from other places around the country, our send off really lacked the intimate and warm feeling of families and friends gathered around. No free hugs, tears, banners waving, TV cameras and the kind of stuff you see in the news. We did have Sergeant Major Dunn and Maj. McDiffet of the engineer command, there to shake hands, give words of advice and in the SGM's case, offer a prayer. The most festive part of our departure were the goodie bags presented to us from family programs representatives and a few cookies left over from the day before, compliments of 1Lt. Sarratt's wife, Domenica.

Actually, the best part of our departure were the great accommodations at the hotel the night before. We stayed at the Hyatt Place Suites. The bed was comfy, the TV huge and the room temperature perfect. It was our last night living in luxury.

Today we are at Ft. Dix, again. It's been like returning to our autumn home since we spent three glorious weeks here in October. At Ft. Dix, we are familiar with our surroundings so we aren't too uncomfortable yet. The big difference this time around is the temperature. The only one who truly feels at home, especially with the climate, is PFC Johnson. This is where she grew up - not 45 minutes from her hometown. The rest of us - with the possible exception of the commander, who just may have slush running in her veins - the rest of us are truly feeling the bitter winds of change, climate change. It is cold here and there is no way around it.

When you think about it, this is the best place to send us before going to Iraq. Who wouldn't be motivated to get out of the cold and head to a nice warm, sandy place with date palms lining the roads. Isn't that what everyone dreams, sand, sun and date palms. Of course it would be nice to add a little surf too, but hey, when you are trying to escape the winds of winter, you don't mind a minor trade off.

But for now this is where we are. We continue to train, train, train. It's what we do at this point. Fortunately, we are finally conducting training in our journalism and media relations skills. It's the kind of training most of us really like to do - writing stories, putting video reports together and conducting public affairs functions. We are finally starting to get a taste of how we work together in our journalist and public affairs specialist roles. So far, so good. The group remains professional, motivated and happy.

We do however have a few other training requirements and administrative screenings to complete. We've had more immunizations, more blood draws, more finance, personnel and deployment life briefings since we've been here. Some of it is repetition but, overall these screenings help ensure that we each are truly prepared - mentally, physically, and emotionally to deploy.

I continue to be impressed with the unit. They have fun, they work hard and they work well together. To prove my point, I want to share one of our training videos with you. These guys know how to have fun and successfully complete the mission.