Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Finally! I Leave Tomorrow

Well, it's been an interesting, repetitive, and sometimes frustrating process, but I'm finally all done with the mobilization processing, and I have a seat on the plane for tomorrow (Wednesday Oct 11th).

Today was the last step - reporting back into to my unit. When I came up from Ft. Benning last week, everyone was already off for the long weekend, so I just had to cool my heels until today. So yesterday I did a load of laundry and put the finishing touches on packing. When I got up this morning to leave, I packed everything so that it could be picked up and taken to the airport if necessary. It turned out that I don't have a flight until tomorrow, so I'll open it up and live out of it in a sort of minimal way, then pack up again in the morning.

I finally met the people in my actual section today. Up until now I've been dealing with the augmentation company, but now that I'm finished processing in to the unit, I'm assigned to the STB (Special Troops Battalion). I will definitely be going over to be the facilities engineer for Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. The official title is FMO - Facilties Management Officer. Since I knew that was the most likely thing they had me slotted for, I've been joking with people that I'd be fixing air conditioning. Well, the first thing somebody asked me today was whether I was good at fixing A/C!!

I guess there are budget, manpower, and responsiveness issues with the contracted support services, so it's not uncommon to get out your toolbox and fix something yourself. I don't think that's what the Army has in mind for majors to be doing, but like Larry the Cable Guy says: "git'r'done!".

I met a number of people today, including my new commander. He seems like a pretty cool guy - I have an idea we'll get along well. There are lots of different kinds of officers that you run into - most are good, solid people, some are dumber than rocks (or just lazy), and some are really exceptional. I couldn't make that sort of judgment about him at this point, but it seems he's a thinker, and if pressed I'd put my money on his being in the latter category. We've read many of the same books, and he's even reviewed some of the ones I've read recently for military publications such as "Parameters" and "Military Review". He's also authored his own books, and seems to be a specialist in counterinsurgency warfare. He has a professional development reading list for his officers and conducts regular discussion sessions on the readings with them (us). So it seems we at least have similar views on professional development and that he takes the job seriously. I'm sure I can learn some things from him.

He told me that the major challenge I'll face is time and resource management. I'll be responsible for everything to do with the infrastructure on the base - contruction projects, maintenance, appearance (e.g. painting and cosmetic repairs as well as functional repairs), etc. They've had a number of people rotate through this position who have had varying levels of success. I gather that my management and people skills will be most relevant, and that my field gear will mostly just stay in the wall locker. So I will definitely be a rear-area pogue! On the whole, it seems like the sort of invisible, unglamorous, thankless rear-area job that nobody wants but somebody has to do to help keep things flowing forward into the fight.

I'll post more as I learn it, but what I know so far is that this is a (the?) major U.S. logistics support base in Kuwait. I was told that the facilities are starting to age a bit, and I already know the desert is a tough environment to operate in. Much of the equipment is nonstandard, which means people may or may not be trained on maintenance. I have no idea who does PMCS on it, but I'm guessing that gets short shrift when the choice is preventive maintenance versus fixing the broken stuff that somebody's complaining about *right now*. Just a guess, but I won't be surprised. And I can hardly wait to be responsible for having everything nicely painted when sandstorms can strip paint to bare metal in minutes. (!!)

I lucked out and got hooked up today with another major in our unit who's been over there for several years, in and out of various countries and assignments. He's on his way back to Kuwait, and we'll be traveling together. He knows his way around, and will make sure I get where I'm going with the least possible fuss and bother. He's assigned to one of the sections that has him traveling back and forth, so he has a room over there already and a lot of his stuff is there. My assignment is not like that - I'll be over there the whole time unless something changes radically.

I got really tired of chasing internet connections all over Atlanta, and last night I had an insight I wish I'd had earlier. I am only two train stops from the airport, but had been heading north into Atlanta instead. Today I came to the aiport. I'm sitting in a nice restaurant with a solid internet connection, and it's open 24/7 so I won't get kicked out - I can stay until I'm good and ready to leave!

The officer I met today told me that it's very feasible to just buy my own internet connection once I'm over there.The card costs about $250, and the service is about $30 per month. After what I went through at Ft. Benning and here, that sounds very reasonable. If nothing else, the time savings and convenience will be worth it - I am going to be very busy, and have a lot to do. Having a connection where and when I want it will be very valuable, and well worth the cost.
I managed to get an FM 5-34 (Engineer Field Data, also known as the "Woodchuck Manual") before I left Eighth Army. Today I went out and bought the other two indispensible tools of the Engineer Officer - a tape measure and a scientific calculator. I still have the same tape measure I carried in my ammo pouch as an Engineer lieutenant in Germany, but I didn't think of it before I left, and it's hanging on the pegboard over the workbench in my basement at home. I also left my HP12C at home, since I didn't think I'd need to calculate internal rates of return or net present values in combat. But my old scientific calculator bit the dust years ago, and I needed a replacement. Something with trig functions, at least. I wasn't happy with the selection, but I got a TI that will be OK for now. I may do some online shopping once I get over there - I really like the HP system of data entry (RPN), and I know my college roomate had an HP scientific calculator. They just don't stock them at the electronics stores, for some reason.

Now I'm just taking care of a few last-minute details and enjoying a few beers. No alcohol in theater (Islamic Law), so this is it for a year or more. I don't plan to get falling-down drunk, of course, but I'm glad it's a train ride back - I don't have to worry whether I'm legal to to drive or not. :-)


The next entry will likely be a few days from now. They tell me that from when we take off it will be about 48 hours before I'm in my assigned quarters. We fly to Kuwait through Europe, with a layover in either Ireland or Germany. Then once we get to Kuwait, it's about a 2 hour bus ride to the place where we inprocess, and then a 2 1/2 hour ride *back* to Camp Arefjan. (I asked why it is that we don't inprocess at Camp Arifjan, or at least closer to the airport, and the answer was "Don't go there..." - seems I touched a nerve). I'll more than likely spend the first night in temporary billets and get assigned permanent quarters the next day. I'll spend a few days getting oriented and learning the job from my predecessor, and then be off and running.

I'll get hooked into the internet as soon as I can, and the next entry here will be from "In Country".

Mood: Excited
Music: In Country - "Saigon Warrior"

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