Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blue Force Tracker

Today we had an all day training on how to operate a "Blue Force Trackers" (BFT) also know as Force Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). This might be the most amazing piece of battlefield technology ever developed when working properly. In a nutshell, all the friendly forces (which are blue symbols on the screen) have a computer system made up of a transceiver, touch-screen and key board, CPU, Hard drive and a GPS receiver. What it does is share the location, movement, action, and status of our entire force with everyone else and the commanders. That means, by looking at one large screen in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) the commander can see, in real time, the location of all his units. In addition, folks over at the Pentagon can also watch a battle take place in real time.

But it doesn't just track friendly forces. It also helps track the enemy. If someone sees enemy forces, all they have to do is touch the screen on the map location where the enemy was seen and give their description. Then, that enemy position is loaded onto the entire system and becomes available to all our forces (Ground, Air and Sea).

Additionally, messages can be sent over this system including specific operations orders, status reports, Medical Evacuation, and my favorite, instant messaging. The biggest improvement to this system when compared to the old system is distance. Previously we would still use a normal radio that worked on an FM radio signal which means line of sight. Well when you get to an area that has lots of mountains, line of sight is not always the best way to go. This system instead uses satellites in orbit to communicate. That's sweet.

While the Army and the Military as a whole has lots of issues (and believe me... it does!), it is really cool to see technology like this that continues to help us maintain our status as the worlds greatest military.

Now, how does this help me as a Chaplain. I will be a Chaplain for at least 4 different companies. Each of these companies can be at a different FOBs (Forward Operating Base) or en-route to different bases. When I turn on my BFT I can get the real time location of all my units and check on their status reports. I can also send them a message and let them know when I will be at their location to provide Religious Support. It is going to be a really great tool. Plus, it combines 3 things that I love: 1) maps, 2) cool technology, 3) things I can touch.

It was a great day of training! Hope there are more like it coming.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Unit Assignment

2 weeks down, 5 to go. Week two seemed to be a bit easier and less stressful. I think I am finally comfortable in the uniform and with the training we are doing. It took a little while but it is beginning to feel normal.

Yesterday I finally talked to someone with answers at Ft. Campbell. I called the Deputy Division Chaplain (who will be one of my many bosses) and we spoke briefly. He gave me my unit assignment. Drum roll please............. I will be the Chaplain for the Support Battalion in the 4th Brigade Combat Team. I am sure many of you need that explained. So here's my attempt.

A few years back the Army decided it restructure itself. Instead of sending entire divisions (like the 101st Airborne Division) to combat, which would be tens of thousands of soldiers, they came up with the idea to make a brigade (which is one level lower than a division) a self sustaining unit which could be deployed on its own. So the higher brass restructured the Army around this brigade model. They call the Brigades "BCT" = Brigade Combat Teams.

At the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) there are 4 normal BCTs and there are 2 Aviation BCTs. I have been assigned to the 4th BCT.
Within every BCT there are 6 Battalions. There are 2 Infantry Battalions which are really the heart of the unit. The other 4 Battalions are essentially in a support role to those infantry guys. They are made up of an Artillery Battalion, a Special Troops Battalion, an Aviation Battalion, and a Support Battalion.

That Support Battalion is now mine! Their official name is 801st Brigade Support Battalion.

The mission of my Battalion is to rapidly deploy by land, sea or air and provide integrated combat service and health support to elements of the 4th Brigade Combat Team. The 3 essential elements of the Battalion include a supply company, a medical company, and a maintenance company. My soldiers provide everything that is needed to make sure the guys in the fight have everything they need.

Now what does this mean for Christina and I in terms of deployment? The 4th BCT has been deployed twice. First to Iraq from Nov 05 to Nov 06 and the second deployment was to Afghanistan from Mar 08 to Mar 09. I will arrive in September which means they will have been back for about 5 months. As of right now there is no public announcement of the next future deployment for the 4th BCT but from what I have heard we will most likely deploy in late 2010.

That's the latest update. I hope you are all doing well. I am going to enjoy a nice weekend off and I hope you do the same.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The dog-less family :(

As most of you know, we have a crazy dog. We've been working with him for the past 3 years, and really intensely over the past 2 months. He shows signs of aggression to tall adults, kids, strollers, bikes, moving plastic bags and anything else we call an "apparatus". It's really been a crazy ride trying to work with Rex. He bites us often and we've learned to dodge his attacks.

A few months ago, we agreed this was not good enough. We're looking to have/adopt kids and there is no way we can have him act this way. We decided to invest in helping him get better. He recently was kicked out of boot camp (first dog in 10 years) and I began a training at home with him. We've established a pack and been working on obedience. We make some good strides, and then he regresses. A few days ago, he attacked me 2x in a day, and now I have cuts and bite marks all over both feet.

I couldn't do anything except cry as he was trying to eat my feet off. Luckily my mom stepped in and said the trigger word, "treat" and he snapped out of it. That was the point that I decided this wasn't going to work. I know he has bitten me many times, but this was different. After all our obedience and pack training, we've really established a bond. It was too hard to have him snap on me after working so hard with him.

Tonight I take him to the city vet where the rescue that we got him from will take him back.

Most of you are probably thinking, it's about time. Well, I know that's easy to say, but this is sooooo hard. I love him. I've spent the last 3 years trying to work with him and teach an old dog new tricks! He runs with me every day. He is my little buddy. But... I can't take it any more. I don't want to move to a new place and not be able to have people over because of the dog. I want kids to be able to pet my dog. I want to be able to pet my dog!

Hopefully the rescue can help him more than I can. My mom is going with me downtown tonight, so that I don't have to do this alone. I know Chris wishes he could be with me with this tough situation. As the tears run down my face finishing up this post... I just wanted to let you all know that we are now the dog-less family.

I do hope to have a dog again some day soon. We'll just have to be more picky about the right choice for our family.

We love you Rex!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Much Needed Day of Rest

Week 1 is in the books. I made it through our first week of training without any problems. The training day has been long, I typically leave my hotel room at 4:20am and return around 6:30pm. We've covered a wide array of issues in the first week from counseling, to confidentiality, to Operations Orders, a Staff ride to Ft Sumter, to Ramp Ceremonies, to Army Doctrine, Ethical issues, to Traumatic Events Counseling, to Sexual Assault counseling. I worry that there is so much we are being trained on that none of it will actually set in. All I can do is study hard and hope thats not the case. My soldiers need a competent Chaplain who will serve them and work hard to meet their spiritual/religious and emotional needs.

This weekend I was able to hang out with some new friends. We've spent so much time together over that past week, it feels like we've known each other for years. Yesterday I slept in really late, did laundry, ate, ran and went back to sleep. It felt sooo good. Today, I got up and went to the Jewish service. We have to observe the various chapel services on post while we are here. The Rabbi was very charismatic and quite funny. This afternoon I spent some time reading my homework by the pool and then going for a swim when it would get too hot.

I miss Christina a lot. We talk a few times each day, but this phone relationship is getting old already. She is doing well with her family and its nice to know she is in good hands. Thankfully I'll get to see her in 2 1/2 weeks.

One of the biggest frustrations is not having a kitchen. I have a small refrigerator, and a microwave. That means frozen dinners, lunch meat sandwiches and cheese and crackers. But I can't complain too much about that.

I'm really looking forward to next week. At 5:00am tomorrow I have a Fitness Test. Then we have more Operations Orders training, and Counseling Soldiers on the Moral Implications of Combat. Latter on in the week we have some cool events coming up. We are heading down to Paris Island where they conduct Marine Boot Camp. We will meet some Navy Chaplains serving with the Marines and see what their ministry looks like. We will also get a briefing by an Air Force Chaplain about Chaplaincy in the AF.

Hope you are all doing well. I miss everyone a great deal and look forward to seeing many of you in September.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What's going on at "home"

As you've probably read, Chris is off at Fort Jackson and I am at "home". I say "home" because I'm at my parents home, which used to be mine, but I'm staying as a visitor right now for an extended time. It's been good so far. 2 days before Chris left we had morning coffee with my mom (a ritual each day she is home from work!). Her opinion about it all was, "well... this could have been really bad... but it's not". She and my dad have been great at making us feel welcome and helping us anyway they can. It was really cute on Saturday (the day Chris left for South Carolina). She came home and said she was quiet at work all day because she misses Chris! We had a lot of fun over the last month hanging out because Chris and her get along really well. Now... it's me and her! We get along well too... but I have to be careful about how much I try to "change" around the house. So far so good.

My mom took this week as a vacation so that we could hang out and I wouldn't get too sad. We've been busy so far. She wants to get in shape so that she can give bone marrow to my uncle in a few months. We've been going to a school down the road with a trail around the fields. We take resistance bands and mix muscle work with walking laps! We've done 2 days so far and I'm hoping she'll be able to walk today (yesterday's workout was a little harder than I meant it to be). I'm also doing my own workouts (p90x), so this should be a good month in the weight loss category! I've lost 18 pounds since January, an I am hoping to lose 2 more this week, and be at the 20 lb mark. I had to eat gluten during the month of June, so needless to say, I ate everything I couldn't have for the last 5 years and was happy that I didn't gain! Now, I'm off the gluten and feeling better than ever. Today I have an arms and chest workout for myself and I'll be working out with my mom and her friend Diane this evening.

I do get to go see family and Chris in two weeks. I'm going with my mom and dad to Florida for a week and a half. We're going back to Sarasota, which is where Chris and I got married. I'm excited to relax and enjoy time with good family. We also hope to head a little south of there to see some family from St. Louis as well. On the way home, my parents are going to drop me off at Fort Jackson and I will stay for a long weekend! It will be fun to hang out with Chris. I LOVE staying at hotels. I figured out it is because there is nothing to clean! As long as I am home, I have trouble relaxing because there is always something to be done. At a hotel, there's not much to get done, so it is easier to relax. It will be a fun few days. I know Chris is also looking forward to it!

I'm also looking into more information about work at Fort Campbell. I've looked up substituting jobs and teaching jobs on base. It's about the same pay I was making while teaching in Chicago, so it would be interesting. If I were to work for 2 or so years, we could pay off all student loan debt, cars, etc. It would be pretty fabulous to be debt free, considering that our housing would be paid for. I don't think I'll work right away, because I do have unemployment benefits for 6 months. But, I am more open to the idea because of the debt free future it allows for us. I also think it would be better for me to be working when Chris gets deployed. It would be hard for me to not have anything to do. Unless we have a kid before then, I do thinking working would be the best situation. Once the kids start coming, I definitely don't want to work a full time job, and would probably not want to work at all. I am still thinking about getting a personal training certificate. I would have to do the online option because there is not a school nearby Fort Campbell.

That's about it for now. I'll try to update more often so that the entries are not as long! Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

School Is In Full Swing

Well the Chaplain School is well underway. Most of the people here have been here for 6 weeks already (which I completed in 2006). That means their patterns and issues have been worked out. As returning students we are expected to just fit right in, but a lot has changed in the army in the past 3 years and much has changed here at the Chaplain School.
I've got lots of administrative issues to get taken care of with no time on the training schedule to do so. What that means is, most days I won't eat lunch because I'll be trying to get various tasks done on my lunch hour.
But other than my normal issues (which many of you know well), I am doing fairly well. My body is trying to adjust to the higher stress level. I really only get 4-5 hours of sleep a night and let's just say that's not what I'm used to. I am still trying to get comfortable being back in uniform.
I'm really looking forward to the first weekend (and its only Tuesday). I'll get to sleep in and get caught up on homework, laundry and have some fun.
I miss Christina like crazy. Its not easy coming back to an empty hotel room when we have rarely spent a single night apart in the past 3 years. The added stress makes me see just how much Christina's presence in my life does for me. We got to talk on the phone for a while tonight but nothing takes the place of her hugs. Thankfully, I'll see her in just a few weeks when she comes out to visit.
I hope everyone out there is doing well! Hopefully, I'll be able to post a few pictures soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ft Jackson, Here I Come

I'm getting ready to walk out the door and start driving down to ft Jackson, 13 hours. Lots of emotions. 7 weeks of training. Doesn't seem like it will be long enough to train/prepare me for what I'll face. I'll miss Christina a ton.
Goodbye family and friends. I'll hopefully be back in September for a few short days and then off to ft. Campbell, KY.

Have a great rest of the summer. God Bless.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

RIP CH Vakoc

CH Vakoc was severely wounded in Iraq by an IED 5 years ago. After making a partial recovery, he passed away June 20th becoming the first Chaplain to die from war related injuries in Iraq. He served his country and his soldiers and he will be greatly missed.

Read the Full Story Here: