Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learning from the Past

This is not Neal's unit. Thank you, Google Images.

Very little in the way of actual progress has been happening around here lately. A little bit of laundry, a tiny bit of cooking, and a fair amount of work...but nothing like what the 352 is getting done at Ft. Bliss right now. In the past 48 hours, they have been issued additional uniforms. duffles, and ballistics vests (which, according to Neal, fit and perform much better than the gear from his previous deployments) and visited the "secret" training site where they will be in the coming days. Secret training sites are vital to the mission, but seriously inconvenient for me. Upon entering the building, Soldiers must hand over all electronic devices and they are not just turned to the "vibrate" position, they are turned off. Incommunicado. They are an island and I...well, I lost my "Regis, can I phone a friend?" option (fantastic preparation for the Iraq months, though, when I must wait for my friend to phone me). We experienced some of this while we were on temporary duty at Ft. Lee last November. Within the 2 days that he was in the secret room, I needed to know: where to go to get my flat tired fixed on post
            how to get to Verizon
            why I couldn't use the first gate after 2 PM
            how to find the airport to pick up the commander

If you are not a naturally independent and self-reliant person when you marry into the military, you will become one. Sink or swim. Or get divorced.

So, the 352 has been very busy...with the first morning's formation at 0400 and subsequent mornings at 0600. I have very little sympathy for Neal, though, because 0600 is actually 0800 his time and he rises with the roosters. This is almost sleeping in for him.

Today, however, brought an interesting new task...the ANAM (Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics)....basically a brain scan. In the wake of fighting a war that introduced the Improvised Explosive Device and a seemingly unending supply of suicide bombers, the military is finally beginning to understand the need to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries accurately and efficiently. ANAM promises to do just that. All deploying troops are required to complete the baseline scan prior to mobilization. Should, God forbid, something turn them or their vehicle upside down, the baseline will then be used to determine if a traumatic brain injury has occurred, to what extent, and help doctors provide the best possible treatment quickly.

This reminds me of the question we were asked during the interview Neal and I did for the local news. The question (and our answers) never aired, but the reporter asked us, "Have you all discussed what will happen if, Heaven forbid, he doesn't come back?" We stared at each blankly, which silently answered her, we had not. Neal, quick with a response, said "Well, we have discussed what will happen financially. She will be provided for with the life insurance policy...but nothing beyond that." Would that have been the appropriate time for me to say, "Well, if he doesn't come home, I think I will become a nun." or "If he doesn't return, I will just go ahead and commit myself to a mental institute for the rest of my days."? Because that is how I feel. No, we haven't had that conversation, but it is part of being prepared. Just as the ANAM is meant to prepare our troops and the doctors who treat them for one of the worst possible scenarios (not the worst, but certainly not one that anyone looks forward to).

Neal just texted me to say they are finished with the ANAM and I'm sure he will tell me all about it tonight. In the meantime, I applaud the Department of Defense for learning from the past. IED's and suicide bombers don't seem to be fading away into the sunset. The ANAM looks to be another tool in the DoD's toolbox used to prepare for them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Land is Our Land

Tonight's State of the Union Address was shrouded in drama reminiscent of high school hallways. Words those congressmen and women hadn't uttered in decades...Who is your date for Tuesday night?...Do you have a date for the Prom yet?...were suddenly flying from their lips as they prepared and positioned themselves for tonight's speech. A congress seating, anyway.

It was a symbolic gesture and one that may not have even occurred had a mentally unstable man not put a bullet through the brain of one of their own. Even Obama joined in on the centralist love by sporting a purple tie for the event...not red, not blue...the bipartisan hue. Having canceled cable last week, I had to listen to the speech on XM Radio's CNN channel. That made it unusually difficult to tell who was clapping where. Did McConnell cheer when he mentioned cutting non-essential military spending? Did Pelosi clap wildly when he spoke of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell? Who knows. Not me. I think there was booing at the mention of his health care bill, but then I would think that booing at the President would be frowned upon. This is not Britain, after all.

What I do know is that he gave an extra shout-out to our military who are serving bravely in all of our various locations overseas. And to the families who have stayed behind. Democrat or Republican or Tea Party, you can't help but agree with that.

"We must never forget that the things we've struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us - by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation." ~President Obama, State of the Union, 25 January, 2011

I would venture to say that everyone clapped for that one. I am not here to press my politics on anyone. Although, as a family member in the U.S. Army, I am discouraged from saying anything negative about our Commander in Chief. Not that I would, anyway. He is our ultimate boss and trash-talking the authority only weakens morale. But I appreciate that President Obama always takes an opportunity to thank our military and the families and reminds a country who sometimes forgets that we are still at war and our troops still need our support. 

Overall, I think the speech was vague and full of rhetoric that works on the battlefield but rarely works on Capitol Hill. We are a cynical and exhausted nation that needs a plan with defined goals, but I trust that our government remembers who hired them and why they are there in the first place. Naive, maybe, but so is thinking that republicans sharing armrests with democrats will carry over to Wednesday morning. However, it could just work...

Monday, January 24, 2011

And the Journey Begins....

Welcome to 400 Wake-ups, a blog, a journey, a story about the 352nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, also known as the 352d CSSB out of Macon, Georgia. Orders for Operation New Dawn were cut and issued for a 400 day deployment. As my husband always reminds me, it could be less, it could be more...nothing is in stone with the Army. And nothing could be more true. He counts down these weeks and months away in terms of how many wake-ups he has until he's home. Hence...400 wake-ups...maybe less, maybe more...but let's start with that.

The 352d CSSB has a very unique and historical mission. They will be instrumental in the draw-down of operations in Iraq. They are a logistics unit and thus very knowledgeable about transporting gear and people in and out of country. As one speaker said at the Deployment Celebration yesterday (hardly a celebration, but we must be brave and jubilant in the face of adversity anyway), "You will be going over to bring back stuff...maybe some stuff you broke the last time you were over there." A much-needed laugh erupted in the auditorium. And so while CNN and Fox News proclaim that our troops are out of Iraq, our men and women of the 352 are rolling in.

They are mentally prepared and battle-ready. They have trained for months specifically for this mission. They are, as we say in the Army, Army Strong. And as we say in the unit, WE GOT THIS!   

As for those of us back at home base, tasked with keeping the bills paid, cars running, children fed and clothed, we got this, too. For some of the family in our unit, this is their first deployment. Anticipation is high, anxiety is great. But this is our 3rd mobilization and while I know the nights can be long and that bed can be pretty cold, I look forward to the challenges I have given myself for the next 400 days; polish up my French for our Parisian holiday in the fall, organize all of my family photos into one album, complete with captions, learn how to digitally scrapbook on Photoshop, and on and on. The journey of 400 wake-ups starts with a single list. But as we say in the 3-5-deuce, 

Just 396 wake-ups to go...