01 February 2012

Hometown News ... from Downrange

Love it or hate it, a deployment turns an overseas patch of dirt into something akin to a high school, or a hometown. You spend a lot of time on the same ground, with the same people, doing a job that no one understands, speaking jargon and language foreign to anyone who doesn't wear the same uniform. There are inside-jokes, pep rallies, and lots of rules to follow. Some bonds are made, some friends are lost. Then, one sudden day, you leave.

Everyone leaves it behind, but everyone deals with it differently. Some people want to forget it all. Some people can't help but remember. Some people want to relive the stories of glory and war, over and over again.

Still others try to hold on in a different way, and keep an ear tuned to what's happening back in the old neighborhood. If you've ever wondered whatever happened to the star quarterback, the class clown, or the prom queen, you know what I'm talking about.

So it is with me. In 2003, I deployed to Egypt as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. I saw a lot, learned a lot, made a lot of friends. I had experiences I would have never had unless I'd joined the Iowa National Guard. Ever since, I have had an interest in political and cultural happenings there. I didn't realize I was so transparent until my grade-school daughter started checking out library books on ancient Egypt, and the lives of children who live there today.

"Someday, Daddy, can we go to Egypt together?" she often asks me.

Inshallah, Sweet.

The National Guard is something of a small community, too. There are interstate rivalries, to be sure, and occasionally quirky differences in character and capabilities. Given that the National Guard is now considered part of an "operational" reserve—one routinely called upon to augment active-duty forces—rather than as a "strategic" one of last national resort, keeping track of which brigade is doing what mission has become a little like following hometown sports.

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog, for example, will remember that the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th B.C.T) was the second U.S. National Guard brigade ever to deploy to Afghanistan as a "battlespace owner"—and the first to be configured for that mission from the start.

Following the Red Bull is one of the reasons I continue to take an interest in all things Afghanistan. And Iraq.

In 2009-2010, Vermont's 86th BCT had successfully transitioned from its role as the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix to become a battlespace owner.

Currently, Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" BCT is in Eastern Afghanistan, operating on some of the same ground as their Vermont and Iowa predecessors.

In 2011, another Red Bull brigade—the Minnesota National Guard's 1-34th BCT—deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. At the last minute in 2011, some elements of Oklahoma's 45h BCT were diverted to Kuwait to serve alongside the Red Bull. After U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011, the Red Bull remains in Kuwait to serve as part of a 15,000-soldier regional reserve.

Jonathan Raab is a New York National Guard soldier currently on his second deployment. In 2011, New York's 27th Brigade Combat Team had been preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. The brigade went as far as the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., before taking an unprecedented pause over the December holidays. Thousands of citizen-soldiers were caught in a limbo between mobilizing and deploying. As Raab wrote in a December 2011 essay published by Stars and Stripes:
They told us we were not going to Afghanistan, but that we might go elsewhere. The new rumored deployment date was far enough down the road that I’d run out of money well before then; I had just enough time to find a new job or a new place to live, to get settled back in with my friends, family and girlfriend, and to get on with life before having to let go of everything and everyone all over again.
Raab has since learned he will deploy not to Afghanistan, but to Iraq, in a mission similar to that currently performed by the Red Bull and Thunderbird soldiers there. Raab has a blog called "With a Bible in My Ruck," which I hope will continue. Consider this recent excerpt:
This is a non-combat mission. We'll be training and pulling guard duty for a year. Am I happy that my comrades won't be coming home killed or maimed? Yes, praise God for that. But as an infantryman and a soldier, I can't help but feel like I don't have utility in a peacetime mission. I feel unnecessary. I feel like I'll be in football practice for a year with no chance to get in on the game. That's irrational, I know. But there it is.

I wouldn't be honest with you if I told you that I wanted to go at this point. My article in the Stars and Stripes 'Ruptured Duck' Blog sums up how I feel about the situation and its uncertainty. Ever since we were cut loose in November, I used that time to find work and plan for my life. With this deployment, however, that's over. I'll be going overseas for a mission that I did not want or volunteer for, and I'll be returning to an even more difficult job market.
For more official detail on missions and units comprising the 27th BCT deployment click here.

In yet another sign that the National Guard fight is changing in Afghanistan, Arkansas' 39th BCT was recently notified that its pending deployment has been cancelled.

Deployed with the Ohio National Guard's 37th Infantry "Buckeye" Brigade Combat Team (I.B.C.T.), "Old Blue" is a senior non-commissioned officer (N.C.O.) with 29 years of experience. He's on his third deployment to Afghanistan, and his third military blog, "Afghan Blue III."

He's previously served as a trainer with Afghan National Police (A.N.P.) in Kapisa and Nuristan Provinces. He's also had eyes on Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan, where he worked with British soldiers.

Like Raab in Kuwait, Old Blue has found himself pursuing a different mission than the one for which he and his buddies had prepared. The brigade to which he is assigned will not be conducting "full-spectrum operations"—a term that includes everything from humanitarian assistance to finding and killing bad guys—but will instead be performing "security force assistance" (S.F.A.)—advising and resourcing their Afghan counterparts. (It could be worse/better: Some Buckeye soldiers were diverted to Bahrain.) Still, he is a believer in counterinsurgency ("COIN"), and sees his new role as part of a process. He writes:
My quest in Afghanistan parallels my nation’s quest; finding a new role in an increasingly globalized world. [...] [I]f the United States can assume the role of mentor, advisor and enabler of development, perhaps future conflicts can be avoided altogether. Insurgencies can be avoided and terrorism prevented from developing.

In the meantime, I will do what I can to help speed success in Afghanistan. I believe that success can best be accomplished through the adaptive and intelligent practice of population-centric counterinsurgency.

I am the father of four children; two girls and two boys. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. My intent is that someday my children will visit Afghanistan as tourists, not as soldiers.
Inshallah. And roger that.


Both the "With a Bible in My Ruck" and "Afghan Blue III" blogs have been added to a "News & Views from Downrange" blog-roll on the right-hand side of Red Bull Rising. Both writers have also been featured on Garry Trudeau's/Doonesbury's "The Sandbox." If you know of other blogs written by citizen-soldiers currently downrange, please recommend them to: sherpa AT redbullrising.com.


  1. Totally off topic, but I have to let you know I have awarded you with a Liebster. Check it out:


  2. @ Christina Fawn: Thanks for the blog-love. In a face-to-face meeting earlier this week, I had a reader volunteer to me how thrilled she was that you've continued your "Glory, Guts, and Glitter" writing over at "Tin and Phoenix." Keep up the great work, and I'll also look forward to figuring out how I can pass along the Liebster love.

    Semper Fi!


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