05 May 2014

'O-Dark-Thirty' Publishes Poem about Driving to Drill

Traditionally, National Guard soldiers attended regular military training drills close to home: In the village green, or at a camp ground, or at the local armory.

The latter building was a centerpiece of many communities, used as much for social gatherings as military musters. In fact, living in rural Iowa in the early 1990s, one could still navigate most any medium-sized town by surveying the locations of a few archetypical buildings: The courthouse, the bank, the fire station, the water tower, and the National Guard armory.

In the Iowa Army National Guard, we used to say that we were a locally grown organization with a statewide mission. Sons would enlist in the same units as had their fathers and grandfathers. If the local unit was Field Artillery, you were a cannon-cocker. If it was Infantry, you were a foot soldier. Just like pappy and grand-pappy.

Times, demographics, and missions change, however. Rural areas have lost population to urban concentrations. Daughters and wives are now just as likely to join the military, leading to still more family names on unit manning rosters. And, as they progress in rank, citizen-soldiers often find it necessary to transfer to other military units located in other towns, in order to find new challenges and opportunities for growth.

It used to be that only Iowa National Guard officers might be asked to drive more than an hour to their military unit. Now, many mid-level and senior enlisted soldiers willingly drive for hours to their parti-time military jobs. We've become a state organization with dwindling local roots.

In some (too few) assignments, I lived only five minutes from my bed to the armory's front door. In others, I was 55 minutes. For a long stretch of years, however, my monthly commute averaged around 2.5 hours. When the first formation of the day is 0800 hours, that means wheels-up by 0515—assuming good weather and road conditions, and that your presence isn't required at any pre-drill coordination meetings. At best, then, call it an 0430 wake-up—provided you've packed your duffel, shined your boots, and ground the coffee the night before. "We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day" wasn't always a lot of fun.

Looking back, however, some of my favorite times in uniform were spent driving to drill in the early-morning dark, sipping double-strength coffee, and listening through the A.M. static to distant radio stations still operating on nighttime power. Later on, of course, I realized that it all added up to good training for running the night-shift in a Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"), keeping an ear on multiple radio nets. You might say I was driven to success.

I don't miss the periods of forced wakefulness, but I do miss the deliberate mindfulness and mental preparation brought about by long miles.

Many of my former colleagues were on drill status last weekend, so it was appropriate that the on-line version of the Veterans Writing Project's "O-Dark-Thirty" journal coincidentally published a poem written about those early-morning Interstate commutes. It's called "dawn patrol," and I hope you like it.

You can read it here.


You can now support the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Veterans Writing Project, publishers of the on-line and print literary journals "O-Dark-Thirty," by participating in the AmazonSmile program. Designate the Veterans Writing Project as your favorite non-profit here, and Amazon will donate 0.5 percent of the price of your eligible shopping to the organization.

For an Amazon FAQ regarding the program, click here.

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