When Soldiers deploy for a Middle East mission, usually they have a train-up period somewhere in the states (I say "Soldiers" because that is how the Army rolls. I have no idea how the other branches do it). Neal's first deployment took him to Ft. Drum, NY, then on to Iraq. His second deploying unit trained at Camp Atterbury, IN before leaving for Kuwait. This time they are at Ft. Bliss, TX. The biggest difference, though, between this deployment and the previous two, is that they did a significant amount of training prior to the mobilization. That month he spent at Ft. Hunter-Liggett, CA in June and the month at Ft. McCoy, WI in October were all part of deployment training. So, the unit actually spends less time in the states before heading overseas than previous units. Because these troops only train stateside for about 6 weeks instead of the typical 8-12 weeks, they have started eliminating the 4-day pass that is given between stateside training and the flight overseas. I understand why, but I do not agree with it. Those last 4 days before shipping out are integral to maintaining high morale and strong bonds within the family. Small benefits like the 4-day pass actually lead to a higher retention rate within the Army. High retention means a larger Army and a larger Army means a less exhausted Army when the government insists on keeping us in battle for decades at a time. Of course, some Soldiers should go ahead and make a graceful exit...larger Army does not always equal a competent Army and that's where wasteful military spending comes into play. Let the Soldiers have a pool in Balad, but don't continue to employ individuals who are clearly unfit for duty. The PT test is required for a reason...
OK...sorry...that was a total tangent....
Anyway, the 4 day pass....Neal's unit will get one but they are one of the last units to do so. And, of course, the Army reserves the right to change anything and everything, usually at the very last moment. So, by talking about it, I'm terrified someone somewhere is going to say "oh the 352 is getting a 4-day? I don't think so. Send out a memo..." And that would be the end of the 4 day. I'm basically holding my breath until we drive out of the Ft. Bliss gate. It's not logical thinking, but it's a behavior you learn when Uncle Sam owns you. However, I'm quite excited about the trip that we have planned, so I'm taking a risk and sharing it with you. Then I will be crossing all of my fingers and all of toes, hoping this doesn't come back and bite me hard right on the ass.
Since I failed to blog about the last deployment, here are a few pictures from the last 4-day, April 2008:
This time we are renting a car and heading north of Ft. Bliss (because there's not much to the east or west and driving south is completely out of the question. You know what's directly south of Ft. Bliss? Juarez. Mexico. They kill people there. No thanks. I'd prefer not to be murdered before I become a jewelry designing sensation.).
So, our first couple nights will be at the very vanilla Hampton Inn in Las Cruces, NM. Although that particular Hampton Inn got very high marks on TripAdvisor, so I'll let you know. For me it's a roof, a bed, and a free breakfast, but sometimes Hamptons go above and beyond.
Then it's exploring around White Sands National Park, which looks a little like this:
Then, we are heading north to Truth or Consequences, NM. I initially started researching this desert town because I loved the name. But then I discovered Riverbend Hot Springs and the attached lodge. The springs are, according to the lodge website, the only outdoor hot springs in the area and they overlook the Rio Grande. And that all supposedly looks something like this:
And then we haul it back down I-85 to Fort Bliss for an 1800 check-in. And I catch the first flight back to Atlanta the next morning. Everyone who is flying out to El Paso to be with their Soldier for these last 4 days has different plans. Some are driving to Tucson, others are flying on to Vegas, but I like our trip the best. Private hot springs, anyone?
And for the record...I realize that "72 hours" is not 4 days...but the first day and last day are always half ours, half the Army's. 72 full, uninterrupted hours. From Bliss to bliss and back again.