Sunday, May 31, 2009

last week of DCC!!

My direct commission course ends this coming Friday! As soon as we are released on Friday, we have to move to another barracks...a couple hundred yards away. So we'll have to clean our rooms, pack up all of our gear and move to new rooms. Right now, there are 43 JAGs in DCC, here at Ft. Sill. We have been together since Feb. 8th. We will be divided into 2 groups (we're going to 2 different companies) next week...this will be a big change for us. We will no longer be 1 group of lawyers. Next week, we will be in the minority. The vast majority of our classmates will be newly commissioned West Point and ROTC kids. I say "kids" because they are fresh from college...22 year olds. We will outrank them as they are all 2nd lieutenants and we are 1st lieutenants...but most of them will know more and have more experience in the service than most of us. And where I am accustomed to being in bed at 10pm to get my 6-7 hours of sleep before a 5am wake-up, they will likely need less than that. I am hoping that I get to room with another JAG.

We will likely be doing more of the same that we have been doing here. A little more intense, I expect. I know that the last week is living on a "FOB" (forward operating base)...where we will be kept awake for most of a week....sleeping in 2-3 hour blocks all week. But once we do that, it will be done and I'll be going home.

We are going to get a taste of the FOB life tomorrow. We are going out tomorrow morning with our rucks and won't be back to the barracks until Wednesday (we get to ride in trucks tomorrow morning, but ruck 6 miles back on Wed)...our "camping" trip. We'll be sleeping outside tomorrow night and Tuesday night. MREs the entire time, except for "hot" dinners. I bought a lot of snacks to take with me (plus extra bug spray!). But once we get done with the camping trip, the rest of the week looks mostly administrative.

So week by week I am getting closer to home. But time here seems to be at 1/2 speed. Seems like I've been here for months and Charlottesville seems so long ago. Boston seems like eons ago. "Drive On" (a customary Army saying)...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

land navigation (aka "orienteering")

It has been some 25+ years since I did land nav in the Boy Scouts, but those skills still managed to remain in somewhere deep in my brain. And they really helped me for the past 2 days. Yesterday morning, we had classroom instruction on plotting grids on a map and use of a compass. In the afternoon, they took us out in the middle of nowhere to a land nav course and gave us each a map and protractor (we already have compasses) and gave us 3 hours to find 5 points (each marked with a relatively small sign). Everyone had different points to find so I was alone for most of the time. The terrain encompasses just about everything you could imagine...forest, grass prairie, streams, rocky hills (400+ meters high). I found 3 of the 5. I would have found all 5, but my plot on #1 was wrong which threw my nav to #2 off. I realized my mistake when I got to #2...but it was the wrong #2. I corrected my course and got the last 3. That was the intro.

This morning at 3 am, we went out again. We had 5 hours to get 8 points. In order to pass the land nav we need 5 of 8 my program now, this is not a requirement to move on to the next course (I am in commission course. On June 7, I start BOLC...basic officer leadership course). In BOLC, we need to get 5 of 8 to pass the course. DCC is a familarization course to prepare us for BOLC. So back to the 3am adventure...they let us plot our grids on the ground in front of the trucks' headlights for 20 minutes...then it was lights' out and we could only use our flashlights with a red lense (we have red inserts for our light doesn't travel as far, it preserves your ability to "see" in the dark w/o a long readjustment, and the details of the map are generally still clear). The problem with the night nav is that you almost have to be right on the nav sign to see I learned with my 1st target. My 1st target took me about an hour or so to locate...I was about 50 meters from it, but didn't see it and walked in the opposite direction. After walking away from it (searching the opposite direction), I double-backed and found it. By the time I made it into the general area of the 2nd point, it was starting to get light outside so the rest of them came easier. When I got my 5th, I was on the side of one of the 400 meter high hills around 7:15am. Rather than go for the 6th (which was on the same hill, just on the other side of it), I decided to take a I had some water, ate a breakfast bar and took a couple pics of the view (will have to wait for those pics...they are on a disposable camera). Then I headed back in and was about 40-45 minutes early which gave me time to eat an MRE breakfast (not very tasty).

We came back to the barracks, had a class on pitching the big army tents, cleaned our weapons and were released about 11:30am. I went to lunch, took a shower and then slept for about 4 hours....getting up just in time for dinner! So that was my day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

relaxing on Memorial Day

As I sit here trying to think about what updates to give, I find it difficult to organize my thoughts. I have been feeling a bit more emotional this past week or so...I suspect that it is a combination of the physical challenges of recent weeks and the separation from Karina and the girls....and the future that I expect to experience in the Army. It is clear to me now that JAGs are in high demand amongst deploying units as the nature of the conflicts we are now engaged in bring a multitude of legal issues into play. Deploying brigades have begun to drop officers (non-JAG) in order to make space for an additional lawyer. It is no longer a question of "if" I get deployed, but rather "when" and "where". It doesn't necessarily mean Iraq or could just as easily be Germany, Africa, or to Walter Reed hospital in D.C. My primary concern then is being away from Enya and Grace (Karina, too...but she at least will understand the "why" part). In some places, the girls could come with me (Germany, D.C.).

My role upon return to Boston is that of a legal assistance attorney...providing legal "aid" to soldiers on a variety of issues...landlord/tenant, wills, family issues, re-employment rights, consumer immigration/naturalization. Legal assistance is perfect for me, obviously. I believe that I become eligible for promotion to Captain in December 2009 (I do not know how long the process takes from "eligible" to "promoted", but would expect it to be 3-6 months or so). Once I am a CPT, the chances for deployment become more likely. I understand that my unit requests volunteers first and hasn't had to do any involuntary deployments...but I would expect that there is some pressure to carry your own weight. As for what I'd do if deployed, I am really interested in civil affairs...being the legal officer of a unit that works with the local communities in responding to their immediate it building schools or medical clinics or establishing/rebuilding a local judicial system. In civil affairs, I'd have significant contact with the local communities and I believe that I'd be good at that.

I long to return to many ways, things seem so much simpler there. Even though there is always a complicated case to deal with or just the mass of people that need assistance, at least I go home at night.

It may seem that I am questioning what I have done by joining the JAG. And I admit it that there are times when I wonder to myself "what am I doing here!"...usually at the end of the day when bedtime looms, I've spoken with Karina, and know that I have 6 hours to get sleep before getting up and doing it all over again. This is definitely the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. The challenge is so much more than fact, whereas I once feared the physical aspect of it more than anything, I have overcome that part. I have proven capable of handling the physical difficulties. It is the separation from my family that is now forefront in my mind...and the question of fairness to them that I struggle with. Even though many of my reasons for being here are for their future benefit, it is sometimes very difficult to see them on the webcam and not be able to touch them.

At the same time, I do feel like I am serving our country and our world. My primary role in the service is to uphold the rule of law. As it was put to us at the law school...we are the keepers of the laws and regulations. While they oftentimes are not followed, it is our task to ensure that they are. If not me, then who?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

week #2

Monday's ruck march went much better. Even though it was 4 miles v. 2 miles last Friday, I finally got my ruck adjusted and the weight more evenly distibuted. My brother-in-law suggested moving weight to my hips...but as I am pretty much a straight-board body type, I didn't think I'd have anything to support weight on there. While I really don't have hips, I did have my pants' I put the ruck belt above my waist belt and let it rest on that. I also tightened the middle straps which, between the 3 spots, spread out the weight much more evenly. Thanks, Ryan!

Yesterday, we practiced with our rifles. Not shooting, but loading, charging, aiming, unloading, etc. Today, we went to the range for some target practice. Went pretty well. Got a bit of a sunburn on the backs of my hands and neck from laying on the firing range for a couple hours. Tomorrow, we go back to qualify. Should be interesting tomorrow...we have to wear the full gear to qualify....body armor, helmet, ammo/canteen vest. Today, the instructors were just checking our form, but wanted to be able to see us up close (which will be more difficult with all the gear on). Oh yeah, I hit the target! But got off to a bumpy start...I ejected my first round because I pulled the trigger shot. I hadn't charged the when I went through the process to chamber another round, I ejected the one that was in there waiting for me to charge it the 1st time. And, knucklehead move #2, I got a finger pinched (just a little bit) when I charged it. But after that it was pretty smooth sailing.

2 more days until a 3 day weekend. I need it. Body is sore. Bruises just about everywhere (mostly remnants of last weeks fun and exciting events!).

Last weekend, I did get some sleep...not as much as I had hoped for, but enough to get me this far! Saw Star Trek with some of the guys on Saturday...was really good. Looking forward to staying off my feet this weekend. Think we are going to see the new "Terminator" movie...the theater in town (beautiful Lawton, OK) is just $5 for military so a pretty good deal.

Got to "see" the girls on Sunday via webcam. Was really good to see them. Earlier on Sunday I had a tough conversation with Enya...she was asking if I was coming home that day. When I said that I couldn't b/c I had "school", she said that she'd take a taxi, get a map, and take a plane to see me. Really choked me up. Karina says that the girls have been really good. I really miss them all.

Friday, May 15, 2009


WOW, what a week it has been. Monday was all paperwork and equipment issue. Tuesday morning at 5am was the PT test. I did pretty well. Just slightly off my last test in C'ville (50 pushups, 66 situps, 16:08 2 mile run). Not bad since our last 2 weeks at C'ville were pretty light on PT. I think we had some classes Tuesday afternoon, but honestly don't remember exactly what they were.

Wednesday...classes in the morning. Lunch. Another class. Then we got smoked. About 3pm, 95 degrees and sunny. Pushups, pushups, scissor kicks (laying on your back, straight legs, with your feet about 6-12 inches off the ground, moving like a pair of scissors in the air). Then we did about 20-30 minutes of marching in formation around the yard. Then we ran in formation. Somewhere between 2-3 miles, I'm not sure. It was hot, very hot. Everytime someone couldn't go on and dropped out of formation we would keep going until the Cadre decided to turn us around and run back to the person and have them fall in to the formation. We did that about 10 times. I never fell out, but certainly felt like it and don't know how much more I could have taken.

Thursday...obstacle course. Overcast, but really, really humid. We raced through a dozen or so obstacles. Some were relatively easy (like crawling on our bellys under bars about 18" above the ground or crawling over telephone poles laid horizontally), but a couple were extremely difficult. "The Weaver"...on an "A" frame structure were horizontally-laid, circular wooden poles (maybe 1' diameter) that were about 3' apart. We had to "weave" ourselves through the poles...difficult to describe...over one pole and under the next without falling. So what you would do is while hanging underneath a pole with arms and legs wrapped around it (our backs to the ground...which had a thick safety mat), we'd swing a leg on to the top of the next pole, then an arm, then pull the other leg over and then the other arm. Very, very hard to do. Probably 6 poles on each side... 6 up, 6 down. I have some bruises/scraps from that one. Another one was hanging upside down from an inclined rope (legs and arms wrapped around it....our backs to the ground) and pulling ourselves about 50' a little rope burn from that.

Today...2 mile ruck march at 6am. In C'ville, we were doing 4 mile marches (but with a light load on our backs). The ruck (aka a hike with a big backpack) is done in boots with our rifles...about 60 lbs of added weight (I weigh 154 lbs) a 15-18 minute mile pace. My feet and legs did fine, but my back is really sore. I learned afterwards that I needed to position the ruck straps higher on my shoulders to take some of the weight of my lower back....lessons learned. This Monday 0520, we go 4 miles (to eventually work up to 10!!!!!!!!). That gives me 2 days to recover.

I have the weekend off. I am doing laundry right now (cleaning all the sand out of my uniforms). I plan to sleep, sleep and sleep with some eating in between! A good week, but wow, really physically demanding. The good news is that I am not only keeping up with guys 15 years younger, but am solidly in the middle of the pack. A good place for me to be!

Monday, May 11, 2009

My new living arrangements

I am living in the barracks...reminds me of my freshman year at Xavier. I have 2 roommates. I have a twin sized bed, a closet and a desk. However, the "tech" aspect is a bit spartan. No tv, internet only through one of my roommates currently as my laptop is having some sort of wireless problem, no phone. Communal bathroom. Up at 5:15 this morning, 5 am tomorrow. Today was mostly paperwork and getting gear. We were issued our helmets, body armor, ruck sack, sleeping bag, etc this afternoon.

Has been really rainy here. We ran in the rain this morning and supposedly it will rain all week. I am going to bed soon as we are getting up early tomorrow. Sounds like it will be a lot of long days during my stay here. The good thing is that at night I don't miss the tech stuff so much as I just want to go to sleep!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I'm now in Oklahoma

I arrived today. I drove with a classmate from Charlottesville. We left C'ville on Thursday and have to report in tomorrow morning. I don't really know what tomorrow entails. It may just be "signing in" and getting instructions for Monday morning or it may be a day of fun and interesting activities! We'll see...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

They're gone.........

Girls flew out about 2 hours ago and I am sad.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

more pics

Enya was more concerned about her friend, Hanna, leaving than getting the "family" picture taken!
Enya and her friend, Hanna. They played a lot together.


I am now certified as a judge advocate! Of course, I still have almost 3 months to complete the real "Army" stuff in lovely Ft. Sill, Oklahoma! We had a nice graduation ceremony. It is sort of a weird ending...I just spent 3 months with 111 people. We graduate and everyone is immediately out of here. I will see about 1/2 of them in Ft. Sill. The other 1/2 go to Ft. Benning and it is unlikely that I will see many of them again...I should be used to this kind of thing by and colleagues come and go...

The girls leave very early tomorrow A.M. I then leave around noon or so. I am riding with a classmate and should be there sometime on Saturday. I have to report in on Sunday morning. I'm looking forward to the drive...a little time to decompress before the next challenge!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Classes are over!

Yesterday, we completed our last course of instruction at the legal center. Now we have a couple days of paperwork to complete prior to our graduation on Wednesday.

It was an interesting week. We had our "gauntlet"....running us through a variety of rules of war/rules of engagement exercises. It was very interesting to see how all of the classroom instruction on the Geneva Conventions get applied in different scenarios.

Thursday evening we had our "dining in". It is an old tradition of having dinner and basically making fun of ourselves...skits were the highlight of the evening. Classmates impersonated other classmates, faculty and the Cadre. It was very, very funny. We have quite a few talented comedians in our class...I was laughing throughout as most of it was just hilarious.

Karina and the girls are going back to Boston rather than Mexico City as originally planned. Obviously, the flu is enough of a reason not to take any unnecessary risks. Karina's Mom is still coming to Boston in July for a few weeks. The girls may go to Indiana and stay with my folks for a while in June.

The next 3 months are going to be the "real" challenge!