09 March 2010

The Whale in the Room

Call me "Sherpa."

I've been meaning to take a "tactical pause," in which to bring new readers up to speed, and to reiterate the known-knowns and the known-unknowns for those who have been reading longer than that. There's no time like the present, particularly given the weirdness that was my March drill weekend. To tell you about that, however, I'm going to have to reveal a little more of my reality.

My psuedo-name is Charlie Sherpa. I use a pseudonym because I'm waiting for my unit, my state, and my Army to make up their minds about what is appropriate for soldiers to do, Internet-wise. 'Nuff said on that for now, for fear of getting up on my iSoapbox.

I've been an Iowa Army National Guard soldier for nearly 20 years, and wore a uniform a few years before that. I'm Army-trained in communications, which, even back in my pre-Internet past, included operated everything from radios to computers to photocopiers. I've served my community in times of flood and tornado and blizzard, and served my country by deploying to southwestern Asia.

I currently drill with the Headquarters Company of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, located in Boone, Iowa, pop. 13,000. Since August 2010, the entire brigade--some 3,500 soldiers--has been alerted for a late-summer-2010 deployment to Afghanistan. Other units that don't wear the Red Bull patch have also been alerted, but that's another post.

Fair warning: Just because I'm in the same unit as the Brassy Big Wigs doesn't mean that I've got some sort of inside track or scoop or angle. I usually just try to keep my head down and focus on doing my job. In future posts, as I begin to tell you more about that job, it would become painfully obvious that I was working in a headquarters organization of some sort. All I'd have to do is describe some of the computer systems that we use, for example, or talk about our topsy-top-heavy officer-to-soldier ratio, or complain about being tasked to fix the broken espresso machine in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC), and you'd be on to me.

Some soldiers and veterans, upon learning that I word in a headquarters, might automatically label me a "FOBbit," a "REMF" (that's "rear-echelon mother f-----"), or a "TOC-rat." These are derogatory, demeaning terms, meant to demoralize those of us with the stamina, mental focus, and bladder discipline required to give the warfighter our full attention, the instant he calls for artillery fire, Close Air Support (CAS), or more ammunition. We are ... the Help Desk of the Apocalypse.

I told you that story so that I could tell you this one:

The brigade commander pulled the entire Headquarters Company into a room last weekend, and did a great job of pushing out information about what he knows and doesn't know, and even what his best-guesses are, regarding our pending deployment. And, even though he told people it would be OK to repeat anything discussed in that meeting, I think that, given my recent musing and ranting on OPSEC topics, I'll summarize and even sanitize it a little more here:
  • Our brigade will probably get a mobilization order within weeks or months, which will set a relatively concrete "mobilization day." At "M-day," a unit goes from state to federal control. The "12-months boots on ground" maximum-time for National Guard deployment actually begins on M-day. The brigade commander said that, since the rule was put in place, not one unit has been extended beyond that cap. (That's a big deal, particular for those "Red Bull" soldiers and families that deployed with 1st BCT, 34th Infantry Division in 2005-07: 16 months in country; 22 months total.)
  • Following M-day, our brigade would spend between 30 to 60 days at a "mobilization station"--an active-Army or larger National-Guard/Reserve post. During this time, soldiers who had not yet been tested on their "common skills"--the ones that each soldier must know how to perform, regardless of rank or function--would be tested. We'd also train collectively--each of us in our specialty functions, working together as a team.
  • The brigade would move from mobilization station to a national-level training center, at which all our units would participate in a large-scale exercise simulating some of the missions we'd expect to perform downrange.
  • The brigade would then move downrange, perform its mission, and return home not later than 12 months from M-day.
A couple of buddies were joking that the deployment has seemingly already begun, given the number of weekends we've been working. (A lot of us are now on temporary active-duty, and are in uniform 7-days-a-week.) That same joke wasn't quite as funny when Household-6 observed the same: I won't have had any time off from mid-February to April 1, and she's both worried about me and feeling a little stretched herself. Last weekend, the brigade commander said that we should all focus on our families right now, and focus on getting ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready for deployment.

If only we had the time.


  1. Is there ever enought time to get ready for depolyment? Sometimes I think it would be best to do it like in WWII (or the movies). Just go on the base one day and ship out. No warning, just saddle up.

  2. I'm going to have to go back to Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" and other books--I seem to recall that training time was awfully abbreviated, like you said. There's an HBO miniseries starting next week on the Pacific theater that I'm also looking forward to. I have no doubt that my present lifestyle will look like paradise by comparison ...


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