Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Next Stop: Kuwait

We finished our last day of training at Fort Jackson today. The last few days have been both challenging and fun; we practiced urban combat and convoy techniques. I cannot imagine a scenario when I will actually be involved in urban combat or room searches, but it was very informative to see what our Army brothers do on a daily basis to push back the insurgency. I've posted a video of one of our room searches...many of the sailors fired blanks. I used a 9mm pistol that didn't have blanks. I had to yell "bang" when I shot my gun. It may look funny, but it was good training!

We just got word that we leave for Kuwait on Friday. We will be there for approximately eight days while we receive additional training and wait for our flights. While in Kuwait, we will be sleeping in tents and experiencing life in the desert. I will try to send some photos from Kuwait sometime next week.

The past few weeks have been an amazing experience. I have made great friends and learned so much more about our military. While I'm ready to arrive in Afghanistan and begin work as a PAO, it's dissapointing to say goodbye to all my new buddies. I have a feeling, though, that I've forged some long-term friendships. There's an inexplicable bonding that happens sharing the experiences such as the ones we've had these past few weeks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Family and Friends

This weekend, my dad and stepmom came up to see me off. My flight to Kuwait leaves this Friday, and it was so great that they wanted to drive all the way from Miami to visit. While we had only 24 hours together, it was so special to see them one last time before beginning my year-long journey. We had a nice dinner in downtown Columbia and they even reserved a hotel room for me so I didn't have to sleep in the barracks.

This experience is giving me even more appreciation for friends and family. In the rush of daily activities, sometimes we don't stop to fully appreciate the people in our lives whom we love. My parents fully support my decision to serve our country, and their love and encouragement continue to be the wind in my sails. I cherish them and you, my extended family, and thank your for helping to keep my spirits up during this difficult mission.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heavy Weapons

On Friday, we fired heavy weapons, fully automatic machine guns with large ammunition. These are the guns placed on the top of HUMVEE's and other military vehicles and are intended only for heavy combat. They are very scary, and I hope never to be in a situation where they are necessary to use. The drill sergeants at Fort Jackson simply gave us the opportunity to briefly use and become familiar with them. As a Public Affairs Officers we are not likely to be gunners on a convoy.

These weapons give the United States the unparalleled advantage when fighting adversaries directly, and it is probably one reason why the insurgents have used asymmetric tactics to inflict NATO casualties.

Here is a picture of me firing the M240 Bravo machine gun and some video shooting the .50 cal, the largest machine gun in the US inventory. The shells have a range of up to four miles and will pretty much destroy anything they hit, including vehicles and buildings.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Standing Watch

It is 1 AM here at Fort Jackson, and I'm standing watch, standard military practice. One person stays awake and alert all night in case of unforeseen threats or, in this case, to provide security for our weapons. This training course has us living in a barracks with 40 people, and each of us carries two weapons. Someone must be responsible for these weapons 24/7. Tonight it's my turn.

What I enjoy about standing watch is finally having some time to myself to check email, write this blog, and use the Internet when hundreds of other people aren't trying to log on, slowing down the system enormously. How, I'll feel tomorrow? Stay tuned!

I must admit, while this training has been rewarding, I am ready to get to Afghanistan to start doing my job. It's great that the Navy prepares us like this, but any longer than three weeks, and I think it would start to wear on me. I can only imagine the long boot camps that some of the young enlistees go through. We see them here on base every day, and they look so young, many right out of high school. I wonder how I would have reacted to this situation at 18. These kids are tough.

Before signing off, I will leave you with an interesting story about what's happening in Afghanistan. General Petraeus met with President Karzai to discuss a myriad of issues. With our new Commander-in-Chief taking office just yesterday, I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall for this one. Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguraltion Thoughts

The historical implications of January 20th are almost beyond comprehension. Our nation's first African-American President will be taking the oath of office at perhaps the most difficult time our country and world have seen in generations. As a Washingtonian, it is hard to be in South Carolina watching from afar when I want nothing more than to be on the Mall to celebrate our new Commander-in-Chief.

I feel somewhat removed in Fort Jackson, away from DC, but at the same time, my mission is directly connected to the success of the incoming Administration. President Obama not only will be my new boss, but he has pledged to concentrate on the effort in Afghanistan to ensure that we bring stability to that country, opportunity for its people, and deny a haven for terrorists. In that regard, I feel more linked to our new Commander-in-Chief.

I am proud to serve our incoming President on a very important mission for the security of our country and other parts of the globe. It is my sincere hope that the American people support him in his policy for Afghanistan, as well as for the large endeavours that he will undertake to bring us to peace and prosperity. I promise to work every day toward that goal.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


We have the day off today, and this post is from Starbucks.

This post is to introduce you some fellow Navy Reserve shipmates with whom I am training at Ft. Jackson to prepare for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a privilege to work with such talented people, and they are destined to make major contributions to our efforts overseas.

LT Gus Perez: Gus is a fellow Public Affairs Officer and we have known each other for several years. He's a Reservist who lives in San Diego and works for Ernst and Young on the civilian side. We share many interests, and he is a good friend.

LT David Parr: David lives in Adams Morgan (another DC friend!). He went to Texas A&M and is heading to Afghanistan. He will be at Bagram Airfield, about 30 miles from Kabul, but we probably won't see each other due to the danger of travel in Afghanistan. David and I plan to grab coffee at Tryst on 18th Street to compare "war stories"when we return next year.

LT Brian Walsh: Brian, a Naval Academy graduate, could be a stand-up comedian. He's hilariously funny, and we've enjoyed spending time together. He, too, is headed to Afghanistan. Brian is an avid reader with a keen intellect, and we spent today together reading the New York Times. He lives in Annapolis and is someone I'll look forward to seeing when we return from our missions.

LT Timothy French: Tim is a graduate of the Naval Academy and Georgetown Law. He is a member of the Navy's Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps and is going to Iraq to handle detainee operations. His wife is an attorney for the International Red Cross in Geneva.

It is an honor to serve in this community with men and women of outstanding talent and character. They truly are the best and the brightest.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Home on the Range

We've spent the past two days out on the range, learning to use our weapons. I have been issued both an M16 rifle and a 9mm pistol. Let us up that their use is not necessary in Afghanistan, but it's important to learn how to defend one's self when going to a dangerous part of the world. Target practice has been fun, although the weather is unexpectedly cold. Temperatures in the teens are unusual for South Carolina, and shivering while shooting is not helpful for accuracy.

Now that we range training is completed, it's time for our first day of "liberty", the military term for a day off! Waking up daily at 5 A.M. is not my usual rising time, but that will be the rise-and-shine time in Afghanistan!

These pictures--even some video--are from the range.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's Really Happening

For the past few days, we have been at Fort Jackson for combat training. Today, we were issued the equipment you see on TV: body armor, helmets, weapons and several other bags worth of gear that could be useful in Afghanistan. Wearing it for the first time was a stark reminder of how dangerous this duty really is. It's no longer an abstraction or a job performed by others. This is the real "it," and very sobering. Please be assured that our military is taking good care of us as we embark on this important mission to bring peace to to a country devestated by brutality and warfare.

These photos show how wearing body armor can take some getting used to. We are required to carry our weapons with us at all times. I took a picture standing in a long line waiting to clear our rifle, which is to ensure that no ammunition goes indoors.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Training Begins

Here's a tiny glimpse of Fort Jackson, near Columbia, South Carolina., where I arrived yesterday for a three-week training stint to learn how the Army does business. With me is my new friend, Lt. Tim French (JAG). As a Navy Reservist, I am part civilian and part sailor, but not a soldier. Army terminology is different, the ranks are different, and the mission is different. By the time we finish here in three weeks, we are expected to be ready for full deployment to Kabul (via Kuwait). True confession? I have the jitters, but expect that's normal considering the assignment I am about to undertake.

While time for blogging will be scarce, I'll do my best to share experiences and information you may not find in the media. Sometimes, photos will tell it best. Please don't forget to send me your news!