Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our story so far...

Well, it looks as if the blog will work, so I'll send out the links to all and sundry later on today.  I thought I might recap my progress to this point, for anybody who hasn't been following along to date.  Following that - either today or tomorrow - I'll tell you about my interesting day today, including first daytime tours through the city of Djibouti and environs.

I knew that I'd be going on this tax-payer sponsored all expense paid beach excursion (it helps me to think of it as a really big beach), around December of last year.  A couple of folks have asked me if I had to go, and the answer there is no.  As the Chair of a major department at a big teaching hospital I probably could have made a case for staying put, but...the department was where I wanted it to be; I had for the first time a strong cadre of junior, senior and mid-level officers;things at home were favorable - Jack is a well adjusted kid in a school that we love well, and Donna has always been a paragon of self sufficiency.  All these were good reasons to expect I could head out for 6-7 months and not cause upset at the job I love and to the folks I  most care for.  In truth though,  perhaps the most telling motivation for me was the experience of having sat on the comfortable, Captain side of my desk and told officer after officer on the opposite side "You're going". 

In this regard, my role is often as the secondary confirmation of the tidings they will have already heard from detailer or specialty leader - but it is an uncomfortable seat to sit in on either side of that expanse of cherry wood.  

It has been about 18 years since my last tour in an area of active operations, and I frankly felt awkward that I couldn't very well know what it is I was sending my folks to without doing it to some degree myself.  That is not meant to sound noble - it's certainly not.  To do my job and feel comfortable doing so, I needed to do something like this.  So here I am.

The Navy has decided that all of its folks going to the CENTCOM area of operations (and that includes all the interesting stuff from pirates to the Taliban), who are not shipboard, will go through about 3 weeks of what we fondly call "NARMY" training.  This is three weeks of a group of folks ranging from youngish seamen to oldish Captains with all types of skill sets (lawyer, doctor, electrician, dog handler, computer network get the idea), learning to wear body armor; carry, shoot and maintain weapons; do some rudimentary land navigation and learn to be a member of a military convoy.  As you'll learn in future postings, for the approximately 20 of us who bound here to HOA, this was perhaps a bit more than is likely to be required, but for my colleagues bound to Iraq and Afghanistan these skills may indeed prove essential.

The training takes place at Camp McCrady - a smaller outpost on the enormous Fort Jackson, just outside Columbia, South Carolina.  The Fort is one of the Army's basic training sites, so was well set up to support us.  We arrived at the end of April.  Within the first day or two  our  gear and weapons  were issued  (M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol in my case) and thenceforth we daily strapped on our 70 odd pounds of armor and weaponry, and learned to aim, shoot, maneuver and the myriad other skills useful to the ground soldier.  Our instructors were Army drill sergeants who were firm but friendly and frankly stood up well in my estimation to the task of ordering about a large and fractious group of older folks (average age 37) often far senior to them and unused to being told the whys and wherefores of their day without a chance for commentary or demurral. 

It was fun in an odd way (and in retrospect).  There is something oddly liberating about surrendering the need to make any decision to someone else, and just having to remember to muster as told, wear the assigned kit, and shoot at what the nice man pointed at.  For all that, I was sore every evening from the unaccustomed weight of kevlar and ballistic shields (Take a moment here to reflect on the uncomplaining service of the tens of thousands of young men and women who right now are standing in the hot sun with this stuff strapped on them - unwelcome armor against an unwelcoming world.  I respect them now more then ever).  In any event, I am now substantially more likely to be able to aim a rifle appropriately, and more importantly less likely to hurt myself doing so!

The net here is pretty slow but I'll try to get a representative photo posted.

In any event, after 3 weeks it was done.  We gratefully packed away our heavy "battle rattle" and boarded a bus headed for Norfolk.  Had a great BBQ sandwich at a roadside lunch place en route, then boarded a 0100 flight and arrived 2 days later in Djibouti.

I think that's enough for today, so I'll sign off here.  I've been here in the Horn of Africa about 4 days now - still jet lagged, although less desparately so, and it will be a fascinating  (if hot) tour with lots of potential for interesting and diverting work.  More of that and of first impressions of our camp and of the surrounding country and people tomorrow.  Apologies to those for whom this prologue is unnecessary but it felt like the the right thing to do.  Picture is of me close to the end of my Camp McCrady training.

Au revoir!

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