Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Life on the FOB

This is an attempt at something different. I realized most probably don't have a very good idea what life is like for me here. Not that you probably have much of an idea of what it's like here in general, but I'm not sure I do either. (I am a FOBBIT, as they say, and have only convoyed to the supply/logistics hub about 20 KM away.)

I have one of the more boring, although not unpleasant, jobs on the FOB. (That's a Forward Operating Base, that's where all the Soldiers over here live and work, when they're not roaming about, unless they're at a "Camp," which is considered more permanent, although a lot of times, more primitive, dusty, dirty, and not at all comfortable. As a First Sergeant, I have a certain luxury of position here on the FOB. (But my schedule can by first in, last out.)

While I am responsible for everything and everyone in my Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), responsibilities are delegated down through Platoon Sergeants and Section Sergeants (often Staff Sergeants), who really carry out the heavy lifting, management wise. We control the activities of over 100 soldiers, comprising the Battalion (BN) Staff, Maintenance and Motor Pool, Mess Section (they oversee KBR contractors but do not cook here), our HHC orderly room and supply, and our Analytic & Control Element (ACE), which is under the Operational Control (OPCON) of the Division G2, but administratively under HHC. All 158 of us are under the direction of my Captain, the HHC Commander, and his First Lieutenant, the HHC Executive Officer (XO) (a kind of Commander in Training).

So not glamorous. I decide who does what details: FOB Security, PX Security, working the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facility, Dining Facility (DFAC) Guards, and escorting Iraqi Army (IA) soldiers down at the IA area within our FOB. I make sure things are kept clean and in order, people are where they're supposed to be, that discipline is maintained, training is conducted (heavy when we prepared, lighter now), that trouble and problems and insubordination are dealt with properly. I baby-sit, I'm Mom and Dad, I'm the good guy and the bad guy depending on what the leadership is doing at any given time. I am the Senior Non-commissioned Officer (NCO, versus a Commissioned Officer) for the Company. Hence, First Sergeant.

Our natural enemies are the Staff Officers and the Battalion (BN) Commander they work for, a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC). The BN's Senior NCO is the Battalion Command Sergeant Major (CSM), who supports the LTC but is considered my "NCO Advisor," although in many ways he's a "dotted line boss" in addition to my CPT. I say Natural Enemies humorously of course, but that's because they are not in my hair at present.

We do some training, but mostly do our respective jobs and try to keep busy and entertained.

Our Commanders (BN and Company) describe our most important missions as the ACE (Intel Work for the Division), running the Interrogation Support Element (ISE) within the Detainee Confinement and Control Point (DCCP), and FOB Security (all those details the troops enjoy so much). And that's about right.

We have a first class motor pool, whose mechanics take care of not only our BN vehicles, but the vehicles of the two Military Police (MP) Companies on post, and the non-tactical vehicles (SUVs) the Division staff and DOD contractors and DA Civilians drive around the FOB. They maintain our vehicles without any being dead lined, shipped the entire fleet over here with no losses or damage, and have spare parts on hand to cover us for our entire tour without replacement or restock. They are considered the finest Motor Pool in all of Iraq, and they are good. We've had vehicles all tore up from blasts, or completely broken down from years of neglect, and they have them humming and back online within the day.

My ACE is outperforming the active duty counterparts they replaced. Many of these soldiers are older, prior active duty, with lots of maturity and outside civilian skills that make them better analysts, more dedicated, and often more persistent. They are chasing after bad guys who probably thought they were off the radar screen until we came to town. They have significantly aided security and interdiction efforts in our part of Sunni-dominant Iraq.

My Mess Section covers 4 meals a day, makes sure food handling is done to exacting standards, and they even find time to organize social events and donation drives for local Iraqi schools (teachers and kids).

The HHC and BN staff deal with time constraints and pressures with paperwork, forms, promotions, job appraisals, training records, and on and on and on. We are pretty friendly at HHC, even if under pressure from time to time, so it's not unpleasant and we laugh a lot (they like to tease me quite a bit, more on that some other time). BN Staff, on the other hand, have to work in a fishbowl with the LTC and CSM over their shoulders. I'm glad we don't have their job. (That, and they have to listen for hours and laugh at the right moments. That will cause some post traumatic stress disorder I have no doubt.)

Otherwise, we are well, still no injuries or accidents, and we are in a dull routine with everything. We've started sending people home for two weeks leave and bringing them back, the whole process takes about three weeks. But it goes well and people are happy for the break and to go home (or Germany or wherever). I am down on the helipad or waving goodbye to a convoy at least once or twice a week with soldiers going home. I take pictures of them all, I shake their hands, I wish them a safe and happy and enjoyable visit back home. I am glad they go, sad they go; glad they make it back, sad they have to be back. We are already on our way home, mentally.

We are beginning to plan for the pack up home, it's getting closer every day.

We have a lot of troops detached or assigned to other places, working at remote sites or training Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. I give them a lot of credit, they have more nerve and guts than I would have I think. If there's an attack or explosion, if there were 100 men in line one day, the day after an attack there's 500. They won't give up, and the ones I hear about are true patriots who care about making the most of this amazing opportunity for them.

We laugh a lot, we joke and tease, we have lots of stories to tell, but they will be hard to translate. Maybe some of them will only be for each other. That's not to exclude those outside this experience, but rather to comfort and console those of us who have given so much of ourselves and our lives in service to a grateful nation. A kind of shared nobility, masked in cutups and taunts and exaggerated stereotypes of ourselves, in jest. No one thinks himself a hero, because heroes in our eyes don't come back home. And we want to come back home.

Oh, by the way. I am one of the very few people who has his own room (my CPT and the XO and two of my Sergeants First Class or SFCs are the only others). Not even the BN Commander, CSM, and BN Staff can claim that. But we have more room to work with. That, and I have a government laptop with my own Internet line, so that is how I have so much time available online. I am on it until late, and wake up with it in the a.m.

But that also means I can find time to Blog!

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