Archive | August 2006

Up in the air

For the record, I have a bad feeling about this…

Our replacement unit had need of a journalist. When their command staff came to Taji a few months back as a part of a “see what to expect” visit, they asked me to join them for a second year.

I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but if they needed someone, why not? I was single and fairly good at what I did. I might as well put my money where the ol’ kisser is and do my part, as I’m always quick to chide slackers.

The whole enterprise would be easy enough—I would stay put. The new unit had an unfilled personnel slot—meaning they were “authorized” to have someone of my rank and job in their unit. I knew how to get in and out of different camps in theater. I had convoy experience, and I was already here. It seemed like an easy fix to their problem, and easy for me, as I’d be dealing with the same sort of unit in the same place.

But as any veteran will tell you, our governmental bureaucratic systems are hardly ever rational. It came to be decided that I would leave Iraq with my current unit, out-process theater, arrive in Texas, immediately in-process with the new unit, get on a plane and come back to where I started. The whole thing would take as little as a month or as many as four.

Strange? A huge cost to the government? Yes, it was, but I’d be able to get a little of a break from the whole scene, albeit a little expensive one with the car rentals, plane tickets and all; but a needed reprieve.

So I tried to be as “pro-active” as I could, emailing involved parties periodically and being just shy of a nuisance to my personnel office here.

The weeks and weeks went by with little progress. My current division wanted justification. My gaining division wanted a resume to show my qualifications. My corps-level command got involved, mulling over the decision of whether or not to grant permission.

Even my gaining unit—the ones supposedly glad to have the extra troop, has not answered emails or phone calls for the past month. What gives?

Am I staying or am I leaving? There are some things like—oh, I don’t know…packing and shipping of personal goods to consider. We’re sealing up the official containers in the next few days. I guess I’m still on standby. The whole reason for my insistence on getting this decision finalized weeks ago was to avoid this last-minute runaround.

So there it sits. Everyone is too busy for ol’ Salmons. I’ll just wait and see what happens. Regardless, I’m sure it will involve the maximum inconvenience—and, granted, we are at war; but these types of stressors can be easily sated with just the smallest of foresight. I am a sergeant, barely on the radar, prestige-wise, I realize; but I was hoping for a little help.

Anyone? Hello…this thing on? Beuler…Beuler…


Doom and gloom

Recently, several Stryker units had their tours in Iraq extended.

I had heard about it during my daily news scans and didn’t think much about it. Several select jobs were taxed beyond numerical limits in light of recent operations. The extra bodies had to come from somewhere.

My folks first brought it up during a call a few days back, “Any chance on you guys being extended?” my Dad asked. I told him I hadn’t heard anything, so nothing so far.

There was always a chance of having a tour extended, but I guess I just hadn’t thought of our little detachment of command staff as overly essential.

Sure what the unit as a whole did was important, but the brass that we toted along was being swapped out–keeping us in theater wouldn’t add anything to the overall mission. All we’d be able to do is go to meetings–well, and send me out to take pictures of convoys, but I’m already staying another year, remember?

So I put is aside. But, the next day and now every day after, someone will come running through the office every couple of hours or so with a wild look about their eyes.

“You hear we might be extended?!” they manage to get out, blasting me with a glare that would send lesser men into a terrified frenzy.

There are two responses I give. The first, “No, we’re not being extended. What would they do, send you out on convoys? Do you even know where your armor is?”

With that, the rabid rumor-monger usually subsides.

The second response, “Yeah? You think?” stokes the flames and pushes the hapless victim of hearsay to the brink, forcing him to imagine the myriad horrors of war, realized with the notion of a cold blade at the nape of his neck, cameras rolling, and an Arabic banner hanging in the backdrop.

For pity’s sake, I usually stick with the first.

It’s normal for units to be seized by rumors of more war, especially with those playing hooky from the fighting. Every day on the FOB is like sleeping in on a farm while the other siblings go out for morning chores. You think that any day now, Dad will come storming in, overalls and tools in hand, and shake us from the covers into the morning.

And I’ve seen these poor bastards that were extended. They’re already moving into their new spaces down on Victory Base Complex. A good lot of them were home in Alaska when they got the call to head back to Iraq. Seems the Iraqis needed help securing the capital, and we needed bigger, scarier vehicles on the roads for a show of force. Can you imagine? After a year of training and a year of missions, to finally make it home, kiss the wife, kiss the kids, go out for a long weekend, and hear the answering machine with the orders to repack and head back? Wow.

After the “what if” conversations, most guys typically say the same thing, “I’m only (X) months from (retiring/getting out) you can have this crap.”

“This crap” referring to the foreseeable future involving constant operations in Iraq and anywhere else in the Middle East you can throw a dart at. Most guys I know (including me, actually) are looking forward to doing their time and saying “thanks for the memories.”

But with juniors and seniors all itching to get out, and the majority sentiment of “let someone else fight,” who will be left?

Honestly…who will go to all these new wars? Lebanon, Djibouti, Iran, Sudan, Korea…there’s a lot brewing in the pot. Terror is everywhere!

Post 9/11 we needed a war to vent our frustration. We chose Afghanistan and, when that wasn’t enough, we rolled into Iraq. Now we’re like the guy who super sized his meal and can barely choke down the fries.

Who’s going to fight? Me? I’ll have put two tours of war under my belt if I make it through, God willing. How many more years out of my 20s do you want me to give away to the desert? I mean I’ll do it, but do I get a chance at dating, clubs, and all that crap?

Will you enlist? Think you “got” it? How about your kids, then? Suit them up to go “spread democracy”?

I guess I’m just honestly worried about how the “all volunteer force” model is going to hold up when war isn’t fun any more and actually requires commitment, patriotism, and minimal bullsh**, instead of the wishy-washy, “I’m just here for the college money”, bureaucratic monster we have today.

So what say you? Think we can take on all these bad guys? We sure as sh** can’t just “pull back” like a lot of cats are saying. You don’t stab somebody and just yank out the knife.

Think we can keep it going? How long? Ten years? Twenty? We’re already trillions in debt, what’s a few more, eh?

What keeps me awake at night is the revulsion of many toward serving a country that, yes, was just showing off, but now may honestly need them. “F*** this, I’m out!” is something I hear way too much.

When everyone runs back home to Fort Living Room, kicks their feet up and lets someone else worry about the problem, who’s left to keep America from turning into Iraq?


the other side of the coin

We had a few visitors today. People have been coming and going, meeting with various parties and groups to ensure that all will run smoothly when it’s time for this unit to depart.

One of the groups was a pair of journalists from our division higher headquarters down south. It’s not often that my boss and I get a chance to talk with other journalist folk. Passersby gape in wonderment at our strange language–our mentioning of terms and phrases like “making good leads” or “putting up with grip-n-grins”, f-stops, diffused flash, and pagination.

As fate would have it, both of them were female, which got the guys crowing. Salmons the playa’. Don’t know about that one.

I had granted myself one blog post and one day of pouting over the award fiasco. Yesterday was it, so I was on the mend.

Our guests were making rounds of all the brigades in the division’s area of operation, touching base and scouting for material to be used in the divisions final yearbook-style project–dubbed “historical report” nowadays, as “yearbooks” never get funding. Our own “historical report” still got the axe, due to the fact that the Army is flat broke for the remainder of the year…still, generals get their toys, so division gets the goods.

They said they wanted to come to us specifically because we were the source of a lot of examples they used down south.

Now, I usually don’t toot my own horn, but thought it was appropriately humbling after my tirade the other day. Apparently, my higher headquarters uses my newsletter as an example that other brigades should follow. There were even a couple of specific pictures that our guests requested because they had seen them earlier in the year and wanted them in the final magazine.

That’s a lot better than any medal could have made me feel. The print journalist (one was a broadcaster, whom we won’t speak of…finch and brogonzo can fill you in) even asked for some photography advice. It felt amazing to have someone come in and say they liked my product! My command has never said two words about it, other than “another issue?” and a sigh, since they have to approve it before it’s published. After a year of that sort of thing, you get pretty down in the dumps about your war effort.

But I guess I had been doing okay after all. Didn’t even see that coming. That made my month–hell, my deployment!

So there! You got a taste of bitter Josh, now here’s a little beaming Josh. We’ll get back to normal soon enough!


Letting greed take you

Well friends, with just a scant few weeks left in the first official deployment, things are drawing down.

The offices are being cleared of things, containers are scheduled for packing, inspections loom…

…and it’s time for the end-of-tour award ceremonies.

I’ve talked about it before, the Army gives every one an award for showing up. Back in the day during Desert Storm, soldiers received a certificate of appreciation for average work and an Army Achievement Medal (AAM, our lowest award for achievement) for “outstanding” work.

Over the years, because of inflation I suppose, those standards have risen. Now, an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) is for the average, while a Bronze Star is for outstanding achievement.

This whole business played with my mind. On the one hand, I feel that people shouldn’t get such high awards for just showing up to work on time. To put things in perspective, remember Band of Brothers? Remember that episode near the start of the series when the Easy Company guys got together and assaulted the German artillery positions, inventing a new way of assaulting an entrenched position? That was crazy, eh? Yeah, they got Bronze Stars for that. Nowadays, as long as you don’t get pregnant or drunk, you get one. And if you do get pregnant or drunk, as long as you reform, you get the ARCOM.

So that’s what it used to be for. Now it’s the “good job” award, with the Army Commendation Medal as a “thanks for not f****** up too much” award.

On the other hand (still counting hands), if you don’t receive the best and shiniest medal, others judge you.

Back when I was a wee specialist (rank prior to my current disposition), I decided to apply months of my life in pursuit of soldier boards. These boards consist of senior enlisted “board members” who convene and grill you, arrayed in a perfectly assembled and groomed class A uniform, in various subjects of military knowledge.

It’s all terribly stressful, but I won several boards and was on the way to my major command’s soldier of the year board, which required me to jaunt on down to Georgia from Kentucky.

It was a big deal, honestly, and many other soldiers had received medals and awards for the steps along the way to the big year-end board. I hadn’t. While I could have been a self promoter, I thought that if my command felt I deserved an award, I should wait for them to recognize that. They never did.

“Where’s your medals, specialist?” one of the sergeants major on the final board asked.

“I don’t have any, sergeant major,” I replied, feeling a bit deflated when seeing the rack of colors on others’ chests.

“Well that’s the wrong answer! You need to get some,” he snapped back. He had misunderstood and thought I just hadn’t felt to put together my medal set. I don’t think he realized that I never had been given one.

I came in third out of twelve participants, which is still damn respectable, seeing how it was against the likes of Fort Bragg, Benning, Stewart, Knox, Polk, and several others–all the big’uns.

Later I went to an advanced journalist course at the Defense Information School and graduated top of my class. Then I went on to attend the Primary Leadership Development Course and was an honor graduate. There was nothing at first, but after making a bit of a huff, I finally got an AAM for all the individual events rolled into one.

But still, I felt that I shouldn’t be greedy. If my higher-ups didn’t think I deserved the same awards as others, that was fine. It was their business. It just was a bummer, as the “voice of Fort Knox” (a dubious honor granted from my oratory confidence demonstrated while at the boards), having to narrate post award ceremonies, I saw soldier after soldier receive kudos for the same achievements I had accomplished.

Even when I left Fort Knox, no award. Everyone receives a medal when leaving a station of duty. Again, it’s for doing your job, but, again, without it, your command thinks you’re a real f*** up. I had to call back and complain, and they eventually sent along a half-completed certificate that I’m still fighting to get recognized.

So for the deployment, I started to get a little greedy. Many had said it was my own fault for not “selling myself” and forcing my supervisors to put me in for awards. I had seen medal whores, the way they calculate and act only when others see them, just to be thought of as deserving for kudos. I didn’t want to be that way, but is that what it takes to garner the recognition necessary to be considered a decent troop?

As petty as it was, I decided I would push myself for the “outstanding” Bronze Star medal this year. I went out on convoys, attended briefings, did staff-level work with majors and captains, lived on other FOBs throughout theater, and received emails and phone calls from units I worked with, saying how they enjoyed my work.

While the colonel passed out ARCOMS to others throughout the year like candy, I reserved myself to aiming for that final award. Sure, all of the other major players would get one too, but it was my goal.

Since being put in for a Bronze Star herself, my boss thought it was proper to put me in for one too. Sweet! Victory! It would be my second medal for achievement–still laughable at my career stage, but dammit, I was still excited.

I volunteered to take the pictures of the Bronze Star award ceremony (they even went so far as to split them in two: the BSMs are given out by the commanding general for amazing-level work; the ARCOM ceremony, if it happens, is just a quick “yeah…uh, great job” deal later on). I didn’t need to stand up in front of anyone…just getting the medal was the world to me.

One of the admin sergeants took me aside, “You know they downgraded your award, right?”

“Oh!…Ummm, wow. Okay,” was all I could get out. “Did you guys still get yours?”

“Well, yeah.”

So there we are.

But you know what? I don’t like how prostituting for awards makes me fell. I’m tired of looking for a feeling of worth from the Army. I’m tired of looking for approval from the military. They can have it.

It’s a bummer, yeah, but it’s their call. I never would dishonor myself to outright complain about it. That’d be like a kid who throws a Christmas present down in anger because it’s not “good enough.” I did that once as a young dude, and it still bothers me that I could have been that greedy.

Besides, there’s always next year’s deployment.

That’s it. Rant over. Thanks for hanging with.


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