Monday, December 28, 2009
I have been in Afghanistan for about two weeks and needless to stay there wasn't any sort of "integration" process. You have to learn fast. In the short time here I have seen things that you would only think occur in movies or in vivid dreams. Afghanistan is a hard country, but it still retains a rough beauty and certain hospitality that is a direct contradiction from the utter ruthlessness from which this war is being waged.
I have sat down and talked with multiple Afghani's and one thing holds true with all of them. They carry an ancient sense of identity despite cell phones and the billions of dollars that is associated with modern warfare. Pashto is a language that rolls of the tongue in waves with deliberate pauses and emphasis so that you almost feel the words.
I won't pretend to know the secret of the conflict or even attempt to slap a simple understanding on the problems that have ancient roots. But I feel this place is a poster child for the have's and the have-nots. There are simply a lot of have-nots surrounded by cunning individuals that seek to exploit the situation for whatever end. I can tell you however that the US is bending over backward to return Afghanistan to Afghanis. And that is not just lip service.
I am proud to say that all my men are learning quickly and are all team players. Whether it is burning shit (yes we have to do it to maintain sanitation when we are out in the wilderness) or sitting on guard for hours on end while staring into the dark abyss of a mountain at 4 am. My only hope is to keep each other fresh and avoid a dangerous complaciancy.
Not to give to much away, but this was by far, the most interesting Christmas to date!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Some of the places in Afghanistan are wild. And not in the "exotic" wild. I mean the "ability to export modern society to any corner of the globe" wild. I packed expecting to be in the hinterlands devoid of all sense of civilization. There is Burger King, Dairy Queen, Hair stylists, and even Salsa night. Now these things are at the big bases which is far from where I will be stationed. But it is still amazing how we as Americans and as the modern world are able to export or society despite the terrain, location, and fact that there is a war on-going.
I am sure it will be easier once we get settled into our actual positions down range. Right now its like waiting in the terminal at the airport. With a weapon and way to much gear.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I arrived in Dublin and made the 2 hour journey by bus turn in into a 4 hour trip as I missed the main bus to Belfast and had to catch the "express" which was anything but. I managed to finally get to my old friend Madeline's house. In fact while I had gotten off at the right stop, I had no clue as to where I was. So when I asked the bus driver to take me to Ballybean , he only stared at me in blank confusion and said, "you are in Ballybean". Much to my chagrin I simply sauntered off and found Madi's apartment.
Madi works for the YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) program in Belfast. Madi and her peers toil with a salary well under the poverty line as volunteers for church's in Belfast working with old and young alike to improve the lives of Northern Ireland one christian at a time. I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with Madi, her roommate Amy, Lynnea, Nate, and Finn. A great group who despite my fatigue and crazy life showed me a great time in downtown Belfast.
This picture simply illustrates the joy of Madeline Burgess. So instead of going around and seeing the historical sites of Belfast (of which there are ample and of which Madi and I share a passion for as we are both History majors) Madi and Amy decided to take me shopping. My time as a younger boy with an older sister and mother who like to just "look around" were immediatly coming back to haunt me. So of course we entered a store that sold bath and skin products that looked more like they should be eaten rather than slathered. The store dabbled so much in illusion that Madi looked down to the sample display and asked "Do you think this is real ice"? I really look forward to the world where fake ice costs less than real ice. Maybe in the sahara?
Fortunately enough for me Madi and I didn't do our usual cat & dog routine and enjoyed the short time we had in Belfast with a few pints, loud music, and a couple of Harvey Wallbangers.
Amy and Madi are two long lost roommates that have just waiting for fate to bring them together.
So I have to leave it with this. Despite my Camera breaking, missing the big Aussie VS Ireland rugby match, missing my flight and paying more dough than I hope to ever spend in 4 days, I did get to have a beautiful glass of Guinness in Ireland. It does taste sweeter when you are in the land of luck.
Thanks to Madi, Amy, Lynnea, Nate, and Finn for a great time in Belfast. Don't burn down the house when you get here.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Mary Kay (my geriatric 95 VW Jetta for all those unaffiliated with my "whip") made it up the mountain pass with the ease of gazelle. Slight exaggeration, but she did just fine. I managed to stay at a comfy hotel nestled in the valley of Zillertal complete with Sauna and German TV. I only had one full day of snowboarding but that one day was more than enough to satisfy my appetite. Hintertux ski resort is a beautiful area tucked away in the far end of the Zillertal Valley. I was a bit disconcerted when I got to the resort and there was absolutely no snow anywhere. But there were enough Austrian, German, and Italians in ski gear to convince me that snow was somewhere. It actually takes 3 nearly vertical gondolas to get up to the ski area. Once at the top you literally feel like you are on top of the world. No houses, barely any kind of civilization in the form of a few T-lifts that take you to even more remote parts of the mountain. The boarding was a bit crunchy but decent enough for my purposes. I met a few crazy Europeans and enjoyed the mountain for most of the day. After coming down the mountain I roamed about the Zillertal valley and made my own pub crawl despite the town being close to dead.
I came back to Vicenza for a short week yet intense week of work. Tuesday was our proficiency jump that allows our unit to have jump pay while we are down range. I was also put on one of two aircraft that had Italian jumpmasters which gave all the jumpers on our bird the Italian Parachutist Badge. It was my my 7th jump and by far the best I had. I was on the first chalk which meant I would be the first order of jumpers to exit. With the Dolomite mountains in the background we exited at 1,000 feet AGL and I was on the ground before I knew it. The only hairy part was that the drop zone was littered with large Hay bales, impact craters full or rocks, and a large berm to smack against. I was lucky enough to land smack in the middle of a bunch of hale bales with my chute landed almost on top of me. I did my first actual PLF and watched the rest of my guys exit without any incidents. 500 ROCK paratroopers got out that day and not one injury! Good day for the 173rd.
Alright so I was a total dunce and forgot to bring my Camera as I traveled to Scotland this past Friday. My buddy Jesse Jensen and I bought cheap tickets on Ryan Air and decided last minute to headed to the land of Freedom, Haggis, and Single Malt.
We only had 48 hours in the country as our flight back was earllyyyyy Sunday morning. We made the best of it staying mostly in Glasgow. Lets just say that the Scots are the friendliest bunch in all of Europe. Even the bums on the street where nice enough to wish us a good time while they haggled us for money. We walked the streets of Glasgow, caught an up-to-date english speaking movie Men Who Stare at Goats Which was absurd and hysterical and in english which was awesome. I managed to grab a personalized Celtics FC jersey, a big Scottish Flag and most importantly, I ate Haggis. I can leave this world with one more thing crossed of the list.
Next on the list. Madeline Burgess and Irelend next weekend :)
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Below is a picture after a morning long hike of Mountain Training in Asiago. I am standing with my Platoon Sergeant Rodolfo Delagarza, by far the best PSG in the Army
I took a four day trip to Rome and stopped in the Vatican. Of course I had to take a picture of my favorite sculptures, La Pieta.
And in the typical fashion of American tourists, made a stupid pose while standing in front of an ancient monument. I am sure Titus wouldn't mind.
Kevin Mcdonald and I decided to start our time off in Rome the right way, drinking a Moretti and eating pizza while sitting on the Spanish steps and watching the crazy tourists pass.
So what have I learned so far? No matter how you prepare yourself, adapting to a new culture takes time. Having already been to Italy, I made the great assumption that transition to actually living in Italy would be easy.
I could not have been more mistaken.
Moving from the leading world power to any other requires a certain patience, the ability to wait as people around you move at a slower pace. The Internet will be slow and down more often than up. Voicemail is really a joke. Everything will cost twice as much as you assume it will. You have to pay to sit down. You have to pay to sit down and go to the bathroom. You will only be able to do real business between 10 to 1130 and 3 and 4 in the afternoon. And you will blow at least 8 lightbulbs on the electrical system that was designed by a cross-eyed psychotic.
But then you have a glass of even the most meager wine with a fresh piece of pan “bread” and enjoy the olive oil and mild breeze blowing through the pleasant afternoon and realize…
Maybe this is why they don’t move fast.
Suffice to say my move to Italy has been a painful lesson in patience and appreciation.
This weekend was tough as my entire unit enjoyed a four day weekend. I however had to stay back and pull Staff Duty. You are basically the on-call officer waiting for the inevitable incident where someone gets drunk and hits someone or there is a meltdown on some part of post. Much to my chagrin I found out I wasn’t required to be on duty afterwards because someone higher up couldn’t get paperwork straight.
The good news is that I will be more diligent to plan my weekends traveling, away from any paperwork.
My goals as of now: The UK, Oktoberfest, Prague, A bullfightt in Spain, Skiing in the Alps……and a bevy of other bits of depauchery and such.
We Shall see how it all goes. J
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I returned home from my training rotation in Germany 5 days ago. I am proud to say that not only did our unit have a succesfull training rotation, but we also won the Brigade Banner day. Banner day is an opportunity for all the units in the brigade to come together and compete in everything from basketball to weight lifting. The scores from each event are totalled and we dominated in enough categories to win the whole day.
Once I returned home I was confronted with the challenge of finally getting my personal life in order. My car arrived and I picked up the keys to the house in the same 24 hour period. Fortunately the army provides the basic furnishing if you don't have any. So after much waiting I at least have a fridge, a couch, and a bed. So whenever guests want to come around *ahem* all they need to do is let me know when the flight is coming in.
I finally started using my cameras video feature so people can get the full update from my video above. Let me know what you think!
Monday, August 31, 2009
As I was left on my own, it was up to me to find a way to explore the area beyond Vicenza and taste a little more of the area around me. So what do you do? You rent a tiny car.
This is the Fiat Sport 500. A cool little diesel that was honestly a lot of fun to drive. Italy is full of crazy drivers, round abouts, and tiny roads that apparently lead to no-where. Suffice to say, I enjoyed driving this silver go-kart. (As you can tell from the following picture
I found through the local paper, that there was a Celtic Folk Festival in the Dolomite mountains north of Vicenza. The Brintaal Celtic music festival has been held in Valstagna, Italy since 2001. This is Valstagna, a quaint little town that sits in a gorgeous valley complete with lazy river.
The center piece of the Festival is large white tent complete with Guinness and popular Celtic dishes.
There was free camping offered. So in true form, I rented a tent (my great REI tent is currently being shipped across the ocean at the moment) and set up shop right next to the river. When the local Italian kids camping near me found out who I was, from then on I instantly became "that American guy". The best part about the festival was that it was free! This is the German Celtic band "Faun". Very cool and between sets spoke in English which was a cool plus.
One of the best shots of the night.
The next day I came back to Vicenza to attend the local soccer match. On the way I had to have the typical Italian fast food, Kebap. Basically a Turkish burrito, the kebap is an amazing blend of meat shaved off a rotating roaster that is topped with lettuce, tomato, mayo, (the Italians like ketchup on it...kinda weird if you ask me) and hot sauce. Delicious.
At the ticket office I got 5 euro off my ticket because I was a soldier. I bought the cheap tickets which in fact where the best as they were filled with the local football hooligans! The game was a lot of fun and ended in a rain soaked tie. The best part was learning all the Italian swear words as the locals basically cussed out the opposing team at every instant.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I literally hit the ground running. I arrived in Venice around noon where my sponsor 2LT Jesse Jensen picked me up at the Marco Pollo airport. I had e-mailed Jesse earlier and we developed an instant re pore. He is a native of South Dakota who worked as a Senators aid before he joined the Army.
After arriving at Camp Ederle (the base where I am stationed) in Vicenza, I immediately went through the motions of a new LT arriving at a unit. I threw on my uniform and went to meet my new boss. Unfortunately my new maroon beret (maroon berets indicate you are part of an airborne unit) wasn't ready so I had to borrow Jesse's (which was a size to small). So as I walked with my new CO, CPT Jensen, I was focusing more on the goofy looking beret that was hanging off my head and not the intense questions he was asking me. After a short walk we arrived at a meeting where I briefly shook hands with my new Battalion commander, LTC Butler, a straight forward gentlemen who made me feel right at home. After that I went through the motions of getting into my office and checking out the company area.
The following day was my first chance to PT with the company. Once again I had interesting luck as I found myself doing SGT Latham's (my weapons squad leader) man making workout that involved 1,000 jump ropes front and back, 100 lay outs, and 100 clean lifts of a 125 pound sandbag. This was how I was "warming up" after Ranger school. However, everything worked out and I was able to hold my own.
Thursday turned out to be Banner day. A Battalion wide event that includes sports, festivities, and competitions that brings friends and families out in order to build cohesion within the unit. I was put on the company's basketball team, which brought me right into the company fold. We came in last, but I had a great time and got to know a few of the guys in my platoon and company.
This morning was my first chance to walk around downtown Vicenza. I was immediatly reminded by the HBO show "Rome" that features the interesting conversations that take place on urban graffiti. Of course the first graffiti I walked across was the following picture.
On the top left is "Fin la Ederle" (End Ederle) and on the bottom is "Furie America", which I will allow you to translate for yourself. Unfortunately, the American presence while long, is not completely welcome here. I look forward to getting to learning the real impact of the U.S. in this beautiful city and how Italians understand big America.
This is typical Vicenza, a lazy river flowing between beautiful old villa's complete with trees and flowers.
Throughout the city are public squares. This is in the heart of the cities pedestrian district, where locals and tourists alike are encouraged to walk through the history that is Vicenza.
You cannot walk through Vicenza without running into this man, Andrea Palladio, a 16th century venetian architect who is considered to be the single greatest influence on western architecture.
After a great walk through downtown Vicenza, I developed a genuine feeling that this is really where I am supposed to be. The culture, climate, and simple feel of Italy is amazing. I cannot wait to live downtown and enjoy the Italian life!
Monday, July 27, 2009
The biggest part about Ranger school is learning to be a part of a team. That team starts with your Ranger Buddy. This is Sergent Richard Donofrio, my Ranger Buddy all the way through. Not only was he the NCO Honor Grad, he was more importantly, the guy who got me through Ranger school. Your Ranger Buddy essentially watches out for you whenever you start to slip, fall asleep, or make really fatal mistakes. When you do the same, you learn that you can accomplish damn near everything.
I was really fortunate to have a lot of supporters come all the way down to Fort Benning for the graduation ceremony. Here is my dad pinning on my Ranger tab.
There is no beating a hug from Mom. She came all the from Texas with Steve just to see me graduate. Ranger school also teaches you interesting things about yourself. When you are cold, tired, and hungry, you really begin to see what your strengths and weakness are and even where they come from. I realized a large portion of my strengths come from my mother. She was a woman who taught me hard lessons at an early age about patience, discipline, and most importantly, the strength to care for and place others over yourself. Now don't get me wrong, I hated and complained because of those lessons when I was a kid. However, they paid dividends in Ranger school, where they become key ingredients to surviving.
This is Hurley Hill, the site of our Ranger Graduation. The three companies that made up our Ranger class are arranged from left to right, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. I was in Bravo Company and was in the rear center of the formation. Here we are finishing the graduation ceremony with the Ranger Creed.
And most important to Ranger school is escaping back to the "real world". On my way back to Raleigh starting our 4 day pass, my Ranger buddy Troy Peterson had the wild idea to go to an Atlanta Braves baseball game. I think the picture speaks for itself about our excitement to be back!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Today I started Air Assault School (AAS). AAS is a twelve day long course that is designed to teach students how to prepare sling-loads and rappel from a hovering helicopter. The school is very detail and physical fitness oriented. I am looking forward to the challenge as the current break from real Army training has taken a toll on my motivation.
I was really surprised this weekend however when I found that my response to an article in Esquire magazine was actually printed on the May 09 edition! Esquire decided to write an article about the top 59 breakfast restaurants in the country. Having been to Atlanta several times, I have found the best breakfast joint around happens to be Ria's Bluebird, a phenomenal organic restaurant that is the best way to start your morning. When I read in Esquires march magazine that Ria's was in the top 59, I wrote a response to Esquire in agreement with their assessment of American Breakfast restaurants. If you get a chance, peruse page 14 of this months magazine and check out my brief run in with the world media.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In preperation for our original Ranger date I recieved the honors of shaving off my roommates hair. This Mike Thompson, roommate, who is about to recieve the cheapest haircut of his life.
I was fortunate enough to go to two of my classmates Ranger Graduation this past Friday. Before the ceremony, there is a 1 hour demonstration called "Rangers In Action" where everything that Rangers conduct in operations is demonstrated to the crowd. Here are four Rangers on a SPIES/FRIES quick extraction system. No theme park in the world can top this ride!
NCSU Wolfpack ROTC Alums from the left: Adam Chappell, Myself, Lamar Cantelou. I couldn't be more proud of what these guys have accomplished. I can't wait to join them.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Last week I was on the adventure of a lifetime. I had prepared for months, purchased over $1500 in equipment, and finalized all the details so I could fall of the face of the earth for over two months. I was going to U.S. Army Ranger School.
The morning had finally arrived and my roommates Brian, Mike, and Mike headed down the road to start the suffering. The first 24 hours will tell you how any experience will eventually turn out. It will come in hints whether or not what you are about to do is worthwhile. Whether or not what you are about to do is something that can be accomplished. In my first 24 hours at Ranger school I felt completely lost but completely at ease at the same time. The Instructors were constantly yelling, we were required to run everywhere, and no one seemed to know what to do. However, I felt like it was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I passed the PT test with relative ease. We went to the Combat Water Survival Assessment and I actually enjoyed the cold water because it was starting to get muggy. Even when our instructor yelled at me for calling the Assessment a "Test" (even though that is what every instructional document around has called it) I smiled and continued on.
It wasn't until the afternoon on that Monday that our chief instructor called a roster and told about 200 of us to report to HQ because we had to see the Battalion Commander. We were being administratively dropped because they had allowed 540 students into a course that could only hold 300 at maximum. A few of my buddies got to stay. I didn't. It wasn't failure. But it wasn't success. I had told myself I wasn't leaving until I had my tab.
It is funny how the world works. The best laid plans...
Now instead of having no time, I am inundated with so much time it is hard to comprehend. Luckily, we are being put to work. We have been told that we will be put into Air Assault School (a course I have been trying to get for sometime that teaches you how to assault from helicopters) . So life is not all bad, not all good. Right now I am just trying to focus on this thing called "patience". I am fairly certain it is an old french word that is meant to describe a slow, debilitating pain that has plagued mankind throughout the ages.
Friday, March 20, 2009
So we had a long and final Field Training Exercise to complete IBOLC. These are the three "old guys" from our platoon Roseberger, Vaughn and Shandy. They are the model that no matter how old, you can still act like you are seven and put on face paint and act goofy.
Of course when we are out in the field it decides to snow. In Georgia. It never snows in GA. Of course it put everything in a tailspin. We eventually had to be evacuated for a day so the snow could blow over. The important thing is we attempted to complete a 10,000 point game of rummy. We only got to 7,800 pts.
So we finally graduated. This is my good buddy Drew Sorge before the graduation ceremony.
In celebration I headed up to Raleigh to celebrate St. Patties. Despite heavy rain all weekend, I got to have the best weekend of fake golf, ACC tourney, and a night on the town. The only thing I have to look forward to is Ranger school starting this Sunday. See you in 2 months!
Monday, February 23, 2009
The other big news is that tomorrow morning we head out to the field for our culminating event: Leader Forge. A 9 day straight FTX (field training exercise) that will see us operating out of FOB Leader conducting full spectrum operations (fancy army term for constantly doing stuff!) Once that is complete we begin out processing and graduate March 12th. If you want to come down and check out the ceremony you are more than welcome.
And to sum up is a picture/commentary that sums up the past three weeks.
This is FOB leader. A simple 500 meter square clearing with 8 tents that are lined with white insulation foam to keep in the heat. 20 men per tent, you do the math= Home sweet home. This is our platoon preparing to depart for the ruck march.
This is our platoon doing what it does best "sit around and BS while we wait for hours on end". Inge is the guy on the right. A combat vet, he is a big source of common sense, experience, and overall humour.
This is Tim Mussack looking out of the window of the training house that we occupied for five days.My roommate Brian Varns. Part of the IBOLC course requirement is completing a series of footmarches ranging from 4 to 12 miles (with a 60 pound pack and weapon). Varns decided to wear the wrong pair of boots on the 10 mile march and ended up creating massive blisters on the front pads on his feet. He had to be taken out for several days after the medics decided to cut the entire blister off. Not fun.
The good time with explosives continued as we learned how to prepare C4 (plastic explosive) line charges. Instead of laying ours out, my platoon decided to lump all the explosives together.
The result was a meter deep crater that we were all really proud of!
We also created breaching charges to blow away doors. This is a silhouette charge that uses DET cord to cut a man size hole into a door.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Once again I have let my blog get back logged as we have been out in the field for the past 4 to 5 weeks. Each week has been focused on different areas of tactics, procedures, and skills.
Last week was focused on operating in an urban environment. 90% of our time was focused on simply waiting for something to happen. However, that 10% of action was some of the best training I have had to date. The attached video shows the product of our demolition classes.
The first door shows a line charge. The charge is about 6 feet long and consists of 6 - five foot long pieces of det cord that is taped together. It is used to blow the hinges off doors. The second door represents a shaped water charge. Two bags of saline solution are taped between a coil of det cord. This creates a blast the focuses the water into a steel (or in our case concrete) door that effectively concaves the door and allows an entry team to easily pass through. The third door is by far the coolest. Two silhouettes (a silhouette is a human shaped target for target practice) that are lined with det cord that is designed to cut instantly a human sized hole into a wooden door. Very cool techniques for getting through doors.
Unfortunatly I can't fit the other video because it is to large. However, we also learned to utilize C4 (a form of plastice explosive) by creating line charges that effectively made our own mini-bombs.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
The week wasn't a complete loss however, as in the last day of training, I was able to volunteer to call in a fire mission of eight 81mm mortars on a hilltop/tank position. This was the first time I have ever completed an actual call for fire mission using live ammunition. By far the coolest experience of the week.
Last week was much more relaxed. We focused on using our machine guns and even on Friday we had a family/friends Machine gun range. For an hour or so, we were told we could bring anyone out to the range to see what we do, to fire the machine gun, and most importantly bring food to replace the usual MRE for lunch.
Several of the guys in my platoon have large families. This is LT Shandy and his daughter who kept her hands on her ears the entire time the machine guns were firing.