Monday, May 31, 2010

In Memorium

It’s alright, lean on me.

I won’t let you fall.

We walk slowly toward the flowers, our steps getting smaller and smaller.
The large box seems so harmless. The red, white, and blue colors so vivid and sharp against first the gray stainless steel then the deep green.

I feel your sharp intake of breath when you first see his face. Perhaps until that moment you thought there had been a mistake. I feel your body shudder as you cross the threshold of hope into pain, despair, and darkness. There was no mistake.

This is a defining moment in your life. The moment he went from being your friend, lover, and soul mate to when he became your past.

He served honorably, paid the ultimate sacrifice. No words can comfort you now so I don’t even try. He was my brother in service, a kindred spirit that I will never meet but know so well. His service and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.
We turn to sit. I feel your knees buckle, unable to hold up such an immense burden of loss, pain, sorrow.

It’s alright, lean on me. I won’t let you fall.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ghosts of APFTs Past

Early Tuesday morning the 4 females in my small group gathered in room 602 of the Hampton Inn in our gray and black Army physical training uniforms and stepped on a scale to see how much we weigh. Nobody likes to do this…you know how women are with their weight, but the Army requires that all personnel are weighed twice a year to ensure that they are within regulation weight for their height and age. I was over the weight allowance (most women are) but came in under the maximum allowance of body fat, done with a wildly inaccurate body fat test done by measuring the circumference of the neck, waist and hips. There is a lot of math involved in trying to figure out if you’re within standards but thankfully someone came up with a program that does all of that calculus or algebra or whatever for you. You just punch in the measurements and other information (weight, age, gender) and voila! You find out if the Army really wants to keep you or not. (Actually, in full disclosure, if you’re over they just send you to Afghanistan.)
This morning our small group completed the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT. This test measure aerobic endurance and muscle strength and if you have the ability to count and follow directions. It is comprised of 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and an aerobic event. Most soldiers complete a 2-mile run but since I am old and broken I do the 2 ½ mile walk. Repetitions and time are based on gender and age (although the sit-up standards are the same for both males and females). Passed all 3 events with flying colors. Well, I passed. I quit trying to impress people years ago with how many push-ups or sit-ups I could do because people will be happy that you did 82 sit-ups in 2 minutes at 5:30 a.m. but by 9 a.m. they’ve forgotten. And on my evaluation reports I get either a “pass” or a “fail”. I have 39:30 to walk 2 ½ miles…I usually finish around 31:00 flat. I could walk and take a 5-minute nap at the turn around point! But today my feet hurt and I kept getting distracted by the birds and the bunnies along the route. I finished at 34:00. My slowest time ever, but again…”pass” or “fail”.
There were only 3 walkers in our class and the other 2 were males, so they left me behind at about the ¾ mile mark. So, I was the last student to cross the finish line (the other 2 finished at about 31:00). As I realized this I had to laugh…even when I was a runner I was the last to cross the finish line so, really, in 20 years of 2 – 3 APFTs a year nothing much has changed! As I moved through the various age categories and was given more time to run…well…I took more time. My mother taught me that it is rude to refuse when someone gives you something nice.
So, to celebrate we are going to the local Mexican hangout and indulge in margaritas and macho tacos…and do more homework. Maybe tonight’s readings will actually make sense after a margarita or 2.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reading, Writing, but no 'Rithmetic

How many books do I carry home each day? How much reading are we assigned each day?
Today, as I was leaving the Army Logistics University after class and lecture, I was happy to think that carrying this large, heavy pile of books home in my backpack was, in reality, preparing me for my upcoming backpack trip across Ireland. Perhaps even too much, as the load I carry home each day far outweighs whatever I would carry on my back trekking across the Emerald Isle.
Our readings vary from day to day, depending on what class(es) we have scheduled. Yesterday we didn’t have any readings to prepare for today's classes. That left the afternoon open to play “catch up” and work on some of the other long-term assignments, such as our persuasion essay (due 1 June), or our leadership/philosophy essay (due 13 July), or our argumentative essay (due 22 July), or our media plan (due 5 August), or our Individual Development Plan (due 27 May) or just to…play. But for today’s class, we did have a small-group assignment : to develop an “open system” model as it relates to National Security, based upon a reading from a prior class written by none other than our own instructor for that block. Simple instructions…and each team was to come up with, present and, if necessary, defend their model. My group consisted of Rosa, Missy, and Allison (real names, but won’t post last names). On Monday we sat down over chocolate chip cookies (which, if eaten in large numbers, reveal the secrets of the universe) and wrote an open system model based upon geography. Not only “geography” in the simple sense of maps and boundaries, but climatology, geomorphology, population, and political and medical geography. After the basis of this model was explained to me by its creator, I grasped the concept fairly quickly. Each of the “base” principles listed above have factors that affect it as well as (down the road) our national security. This input then directly affects the related output. But it’s not that simple as the input/output of geomorphology can interact with the output of population and so forth. There were a lot of arrows on our chart, pointing in each direction. Some of the students in my class openly expressed that they didn’t like the model, saying it was too passive or not related to national security.
But discussion is a major part of ILE so we welcomed the questions and comments and, IMHO, defended our model quite well.
After the presentations we were treated to a lecture by COL (retired) Doug MacGregor, who had a lot to say about military operations large and small. He has written a few books that I have added to my list of things to read.
Today’s readings for tomorrow’s classes are fairly extensive: probably about 40 pages or so across 2 separate but related topics. Same with Thursday’s preparations for Friday’s class. Then, of course, are the weekend’s readings to prepare for Monday’s three separate and unrelated classes. See how unorganized we can easily get without calendars, sticky notes, and reminders programmed into our phones?

The views expressed in this ILE Class 10-002 Blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Week Two Thoughts and Tidbits

We have finished the first full week of our 16-week ILE course and here are some of my observations:
1. There are some very smart officers in my class.
2. I am not one of them. :)
3. I am learning a great many things about military tactics and procedures, leadership, and plain ol’ gettin’ along with others.
Our subjects last week ranged from civilian-military relationships throughout the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, media relations, and a possible new way to approach MDMP, the Military Decision Making Process. Any officer who has survived OBC (now BOLC), CAS3, the Captain’s Career Course, or CGSC knows how complicated and time consuming MDMP can be, but also its effectiveness in reaching a decision. Or not reaching a decision, depending on which lens you are using to view the process and outcome.
Anyway, at the end of Week 2 I wanted to share some information and tidbits about ILE Class 10-002. First of all, for all my non-military readers out there, the class number comes from 2 separate numbers: The year of the class (2010) and the number of classes that have started in that year. We’re the second class. The previous class was 10-001 and the next class will be 10-003. We have 63 students overall but we are divided into four staff groups: A, B, C, and D. Sorry if you were expecting something more fancy and inventive, like Apples, Bananas, Carrots, and Dates (the fruit, not the mating game). We have three officers from the US Navy, one who is in our group. Sadly, we don’t have any international officers. When I went to the Captain’s Career Course in 2005 we had officers from Lithuania, the Ukraine, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. They rounded out the class, offering us a glimpse into the mindset of an officer from another military.
I am in staff group (SG) C, along with 15 other officers who represent a wide range of specialties and branches. For some officers, ILE is based specifically on their branch, such as Infantry or Armor. This ILE is a hodge-podge of smaller branches and specialties. SG C is comprised of a veterinarian, a social worker, some contracting officers, our Navy officer, some other specialties I haven’t figured out yet, and me…the lone Public Affairs Officer. In fact, I think I might be the only Army Reserve Soldier in the entire class and that to me is quite an honor. I am the first example of an AGR officer that some of these personnel have come across and I want to make a good impression. That alone makes me study harder, even on sunny Sunday afternoons when I want to be outside.
One like: We did an “off-site” class this past week. Subgroups of SG C presented discussions on various topics and we did our final presentations at a local restaurant for breakfast. So, over eggs, waffles, and corned beef hash (that’s what I had), we discussed…well, I’m still not sure exactly what we discussed. See number 2 above. It was nice to get out of the building and into a more informal and relaxed atmosphere to posit ideas and share theories.
One dislike: Some officers in our class need to realize that they don’t have to offer their opinion or viewpoint on every single topic that we discuss in class. While their input to discussions is valuable and meaningful, every once in a while they should sit back and listen, just listen, to what others have to say.

The views expressed in this ILE Class 10-002 Blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

The First Weekend

There were many tired souls wandering around the classroom areas of ILE Class 10-002 today. It's Friday, May 7, only the third "full" day of class but me, and many of my distinguished classmates, were exhausted. Not from late nights studying, not from partying, but from trying to adjust to the student "battle rhythm".

The assigned homework isn't overwhelming...pages in books here, handouts there. The classwork isn't overwhelming...discussions on topics that have so far ranged from 'what is a leader?' to 'is studing military history relevant?'. We have ample breaks and plenty of access to the caffeine source of choice. So, why are we all so tired? Because our schedules have been thrown out of whack and our brains are in overdrive. While the information we're being given or researching isn't rocket science, it is a lot of minutiae and concepts and themes. It's a different life than what we're used to and it's going to take some time to master that ever-important student battle rhythm. But we will accomplish this task and we will succeed!

So, it's Friday evening of the first ILE weekend. Classes let out at noon on Fridays. After lunch I walked through parts of the Petersburg battlefield, enjoying the birds, the deer, and the Civil War artifacts and sites. The trails were nice...up and down so an effort...and shaded so I didn't get too hot. After a bowl of soup for dinner, I am now working on...homework. I have enough to keep me busy this weekend but not enough to keep me from accomplishing two tasks: 1. Getting out on Saturday and exploring the cities of Colonial Heights and Petersburg; and 2. Buying a bookbag/backpack. I thought my briefcase would suffice but alas, it's not big enough to carry my books, notebooks, pens, papers, and that all-important coffee mug.

One interesting note about ILE: We are being treated as adults here. I hated the Captain's Career Course that I went through in 2005 because I hated being 40 years old and treated the same was that I was when I was a Private in basic training. We are given the coursework, the schedules, the homework, and the assignments and expected, as field grade officers, to do the work relatively unsupervised. We are expected to conduct physical fitness training and behave as befitting our rank. We are expected to come to class prepared and participate in class discussions. We are expected to clean up after ourselves and ensure our buddies aren't left behind. Our advisors have expectations of us...and I can already feel that myself and my new peers/friends will meet, nee, surpass, those expecations.

Graduation date: 18 August. Mark your calendars!

The views expressed in this ILE Class 10-002 Blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

Time For Another Adventure!

No, I'm not being deployed again, although I'm sure someone, somewhere, is plotting that future for me. This adventure is at ILE (Intermediate Level Education) at Ft. Lee, Virginia.

Let me explain: Majors in the US Army have many requirements necessary to move on to Lieutenant Colonel. A Master's Degree is helpful to make them competetive with their peers. This course, ILE, is required and comes in three different forms:1. The 10-month PCS course at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. 2. The 16-week course at various satellite campuses across the US. This is the course I'm attending at Ft. Lee from 5 May through 19 August.3. A two-week residence course, followed by insufferable correspondence courses for 9 - 11 months, then another two-week residence course.To get to courses 1 or 2, an officer comes up on a board and then is selected as either an alternate or a primary. For 3 years, since I was promoted to major, I showed up on the boards as an alternate for the 16-week course. I figured I'd just sign up for number 3 once I returned from Iraq.But, lo and behold, I showed up as a primary for the 16-week course in January 2009 (while I was at Ft. Dix getting ready to mobilize if you ever followed my blogs). I happily picked the May - August course at Ft. Lee because at the time I wasn't sure when I'd return from Iraq.

So, here I am. Just finished Day Two and, am happy to report, that I am sincerely enjoying this course. The Army is paying me (well) to do what I love to do the most: read, research, and talk. :) I am, after all, a Public Affairs Officer. We are required, as part of the course, to either do a blog, a media interview, or a community engagement. Well, I've been doing media interviews at the local, national, and international level since I was a First well as community engagements. So I thought I would blog. I hope you enjoy my blog and please...give me feedback! Get ready...the Games have begun.

The views expressed in this ILE Class 10-002 Blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.