16 August 2010

Red Bull on the March, in the News

Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (2-34th BCT)--as well as their National Guard counterparts already downrange--have been in the news a lot recently. The send-off ceremonies in Iowa are over, and the units that comprise the 2-34th BCT are now mobilized and training at Camp Shelby, Miss.

Des Moines Register writer Reid Forgrave is consistently delivering insightful, well-crafted narratives about the deployment. Yesterday's newspaper featured the story of some Red Bull soldiers on their 2004 deployment to Afghanistan. Not all of them came back.

It's pulse-pounding, heart-breaking stuff.

Take, for example, these words from a father of a soldier killed on the mission:
"Every one of those well-wishers, whether they knew it or not, were sharing that little piece of the Almighty that rests within. When everybody is sharing just that much of the Almighty with somebody else ... you can't hold it in. You gotta give it back."
Last Friday, Col. Ben Corell and Chaplain (1st Lt.) Martha Kester were interviewed at length on Iowa Public Radio's "The Exchange." Corell is the commander of the 2-34 BCT. Kester is the chaplain of the 334th Brigade Support Battalion (B.S.B.), and the first female chaplain in the Iowa Army National Guard. For a time, the 46-minute interview is available as a free download and streaming-audio: Click here.

The radio interviews feature good info on conditions at Camp Shelby, how the unit was the first to be issued the Afghan-specific "MultiCam" uniform, and how soldiers and families are dealing with the first days of separation.

(Click here for a slide show from the Hattiesburg American depicting the new camouflage gear. And here's an official National Guard news release about the same.)

Lastly, Spencer Ackerman of Wired's "Danger Room" blog tells how Vermont National Guard soldiers are using their technology skills to help maintain a computer lab in Tokchi, Parwan Province. I don't just find this interesting because I'm also a communications guy: Previous news reports in Iowa have indicated that at least some of the Red Bulls will eventually relieve the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont.

Ackerman's article (click here) is a good snapshot of how soldiers attempt to build bridges with small, concrete projects. Dealing with people through an interpreter can be frustrating, as can be trying to untangle the local political webs. At least one commo crew on one day, however, reduced all the confusion down to providing tech support to the locals:
[Capt. Cristian] Balan, true to form, thinks it was a good day. He’s got big plans for the computer lab. He wants to network the computers so they can print to a single printer – maybe add some speakers, too; oh, and he’ll need printer cartridges – so he says he’ll write home to solicit donated equipment. After the platoon rolls back to Bagram, he hangs out in front of its office on some picnic benches and talks about the new software he wants to install. Maybe something about learning English. [...]

Balan’s eyes indicate that he’s already musing about all the cool stuff he can introduce to the Tokchi computer lab. Whether his tech upgrades will be useful as a counterinsurgency tool may require some more imagination.

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