Thursday, April 29, 2010

The lost day we'll never forget...

Let me start by saying that at this time none of us have spoken to our families since leaving Ireland. If you all are reading this know that we are all healthy and in good spirits. We look forward to the mission ahead, but long to be back at home as soon as possible.

All in all we have been constantly on the move since Monday morning at 0345…a grand total of 58 hours (not including the time zones lost over the past two days). Below is what turned out to be our timeline, I’ll expand over the next few paragraphs.


26 APR 2010
0345 – Wake up at Camp Shelby in preparation for flight
0700 – Manifest (this is where all personnel are called out by name)
0800 – Informed that plane broke down in Shannon, Ireland…flight postponed
1830 – Formation for manifest (postponed)
1945 – Formation for manifest
2000 – Leave Camp Shelby en route to Gulfport / Biloxi Regional
2115 – Arrive at Gulfport / Biloxi

27 APR 2010
0445 – Depart Gulfport / Biloxi
0745 – Arrive Bangor, Maine
0945 – Depart Bangor, Maine
1500 – Arrive Shannon, Ireland (County Claire)
1900 – Depart Shannon, Ireland
2230 – Arrive Bucharest, Romania
2345 – Depart Bucharest, Romania

28 APR 2010
0315 – Arrive Kuwait City, Kuwait (Ali al Salem Air Base)
0500 – Depart Ali al Salem
0700 – Arrive Camp Buehring, Kuwait
1200 – Arrive at Transient Tents (“Tent City”)

Soldier baggage waiting for the flight...notice how easy it is to see those Alabama flags!

The travel arrangements were weak at best; due to the volcano in Iceland earlier this month we had to fly on a 757 (holds about 200 people) instead of a DC-10 (holds well over 300 and has lots more room). Apparently we filled the entire bottom cavity of the plane with cargo and then did the same thing with all of the first class seating.

Trying to catch a catnap at the Gulfport / Biloxi Airport on the concrete outside; it's about 2:00 a.m. in the picture and no we couldn't actually fall asleep.

The guys with their new neck pillows in Maine. Chad...please note that I've always made fun of people who have these and have spoken with disdain about these pillows for years and still refuse to actually spend money on one.

What we didn’t realize is that all of the pain associated with these flights began back in Gulfport / Biloxi. Granted we did have to wait over 20 hours for a flight to materialize, but the way the plane got packed wound up causing the greatest problems. Let me first say that our time in Bangor, Maine was excellent. The Maine Troop Greeters are located at the Bangor Airport and they do a wonderful job. Their sole purpose is to make us comfortable…they give out food, calling cards, handshakes, cell phones to call home…you name it and they’ll give it! The greeters (mostly veterans) are standing in a line when you depart waiting to shake your hand and give you a pat on the back; truly a wonderful feeling. They had a numbers board behind their counter with the amounts of personnel greeted since they started back in 2003; 1,088,938 Soldiers and 238 working dogs.

Back to the flights…I can’t say whether it was the folks at Camp Shelby or the professionals from Omni Air, but somehow the plane got packed incorrectly. Upon our arrival in Shannon, Ireland our flight crew had to change out. Immediately upon our new pilot boarding the plane he saw the way we had stacked duffel bags throughout first class and said it would have to change and after some work he also said that we were too heavy. Our layover in Ireland was scheduled for 1.5 hours, but it lasted for 4 hours. Most Soldiers weren’t too mad because Ireland is one of the few places where we are allowed to purchase one beer each…most Soldiers choose a Guinness since it is Ireland. I didn’t have a Guinness; however I did partake in their free wireless internet! Long story short we were 53 bags lighter leaving than we were landing. The wonderful new crew also decided that we were not allowed to carry knives (every Soldier has a knife) so we had to put them in a box and lock them up. The funny thing is that we all also have a rifle or a pistol, but no knife.

Our next stop was Bucharest, Romania. Romania has a very green countryside and looks like a pretty country. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to disembark the plane for the 2 hours in Romania so we stood in the plane and stretched our legs as best we could.

Henri Coanda Airport; Bucharest, Romania...unfortunately this is about all we saw of the airport.

The next and final flight landed in Kuwait City at 11:45 p.m. CST (7:45 a.m. here). We had planned to stay up all day and get a good night sleep so we wouldn’t have such horrible jetlag. What we didn’t realize is that we would actually be traveling or listening to briefings for the better part of the day and night. When we finally did stop moving around for the day we were at Camp Buehring and it was 8:00 p.m. local time. I’m pretty sure that Buehring is code for Bureaucracy…this place is considered to be “combat zone” but after listening to the briefings we all decided that Birmingham is more combat than Buehring. Any place where you walk around with reflective belts on so the oncoming traffic can see you better is not combat.

View of Kuwait City, Kuwait from the plane.


It’s morning and we’ve all had a little sleep now. You would be surprised to know how cold it can get in an enclosed tent…no one expected the chill since it’s around 95 degrees outside. We were quite cold and slept on cots, but it was just nice to get a little rest. We should be here in Kuwait for another day or two before flying into Afghanistan. I’ll be sure to update you again once we arrive there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The countdown begins...

I didn't expect to have another opportunity to blog before leaving, but it seems we were lucky enough to make another run to the coffee shop before our flight. This afternoon we plan on going to a local establishment (Chesterfield's) for what we hope will be an excellent steak dinner. I still vividly remember my "last good meal" in El Paso, Texas before leaving for was at a Mexican restaurant with four other lieutenants that I didn't really know. Even though I didn't know them we all shared the same common goals, fears, and loneliness that comes with a deployment. Thankfully this deployment I'm with three teammates whom I have grown to share a great bond with and a common desire to come home in one piece as quickly as possible!

Sometime in the next couple of days we'll be leaving Camp Shelby and headed to an airport for our extremely long flight to Kuwait...and then Afghanistan. The flight to the war zone is possibly the longest day known to man, some call it the "36 hour day." We'll be in flight / on a tarmac / loading / unloading for some 24-28 hours and on top of that we'll lose 9.5 hours due to time zone changes. FYI: A little nugget of knowledge for you...Afghanistan is the only country in the world that has a time zone on the half hour. When it's midnight in beautiful Cullman, AL it will be 9:30 a.m. in Afghanistan...that in itself should tell you there's something odd about the country. We'll spend some period of time in Kuwait before heading to Afghanistan, not real sure how long, all of that depends on how many people are needing to get in / out of country.

The pictures below are from here in Hattiesburg at USM and at Java Werks (they spell werks differently). After leaving the coffee shop one day we went across the street and walked around the University of Southern Miss (most famous alumnus = Brett Favre). USM has a beautiful campus and they are celebrating their bicentennial year in 2010. The old growth of trees reminds me a lot of my own alma mater, the University of Alabama! We walked over to the campus and it just so hapened that the gate into the stadium and then onto the field was wide open...I promise! Enjoy the pictures.

One of our new favorite pasttime...Skyping with our families! This is Rich talking to some of his people, likely his wonderful wife Renee.

Me in a state of awe at the sheer amount of "stuff" that is required to deploy. I've got three full duffel bags, a massive rucksack, and a computer bag full of personal gear.

Jeff talking to his son on Skype.

The 1960th on USM's football field, known as "The Rock."

I'll do my best to update the blog again as soon as possible, surely I'll have more pictures at that time to show. All I ask is that you say a little prayer for us and our families upon reading's a tough time, but as I keep telling Loni...this too shall pass.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wrapping things up at Camp Shelby...

Our time at Camp Shelby, MS is coming to an end. By this time next week the 1960th should be in flight, in Kuwait, or maybe even in Afghanistan...either way we shouldn't be in Mississippi. Over the next few days we'll be going through our last few medical checks (SSG Richardson & SSG Martin still hoping to weasel their way out of the smallpox injections), combat checks and inspections, and hopefully a good steak dinner prior to our flight.

We have had a good time here in Hattiesburg, however, there comes a time when you are just ready to strap in up and get in the game. We've trained for months and now it's time to actually get involved. I'll do my best to post one more blog before we leave, but I'm not promising anything. So...if I don't post for a week or so you'll know that I'm likely en route to my deployment destination.

Enjoy the last couple of pictures that I've posted too!

The dryers at Shelby are huge! The guys said this was supposed to be what the inside of a can of "whoop ***" looks like, but apparently I was smiling too much. I was actually trying to scare Rich, but the dryer began rolling.

I'm not supposed to put this TOP SECRET picture on the internet, but this is a picture of a test program the Army is fielding called COMBAT NINJA. Sssshhhhh!

Please notice the speakers being held directly above the washer...somehow they got dumped in. Thunder Dan didn't think about them for a few minutes and they were completely full of water; amazingly they still worked!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A few more pictures of the Team

A few more pictures of the 1960th from Camp Shelby...

SSG Martin after a very successful landing!

SSG Richardson in the weeds.

CPT Campbell directing the charge!

Me beside a really cool old, rusting ambulance.

A few pictures of the Team

Here are a few pictures of the 1960th that we've taken since Tuesday.

Welcome to Mississippi!

Sheets that I was issued to sleep on...No Thanks!

My paperwork stamped "DEPLOYABLE"

The medications we were issued.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The people around Hattiesburg...

This post won't be a long one, but I just wanted to take a minute and tell you about the folks around Camp Shelby. For those of you who aren't familiar with Camp Shelby it is in Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is known as "The Hub City," although I'm not sure why.

The reason for this post is simply to say thanks to the people in this area for the hospitality, even though they'll likely never read this. We've been off post to town three times now and each time we've been stopped by people of all ages that just wanted to tell us thanks for serving, they're praying for us, or simply that they support what we're doing.

Soldiers don't join the military for accolades or praise and I can assure you that they don't join for deployment purposes...that's the hardest thing most of us will ever do. Soldiers join because they believe in a cause; something larger than themself...we join to make a difference. Being a Soldier can be a tough job, but around here we just keep getting stopped and thanked.

As rough and tough as some Soldiers are or at least try to be...the four of us are pretty much in awe when this happens. You really don't know what to say other than "thanks" or "you're welcome" or "I'm glad to do it"...nothing really reciprocates when someone has the courage to come up and speak. all the people of Hattiesburg who will likely never read this...thanks!

WAFF 48 reports on the 1960th CCT...

The following article was posted on the WAFF 48 website on Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Alabama guard deploys first contracting team

MONTGOMERY, AL (WAFF) - On Tuesday, April 13, the Alabama Army National Guard deployed its first contingency contracting team (CCT) to Afghanistan. CPT Todd Floyd, CPT Jeffery Campbell, SSG Daniel Martin and SSG Lesly "Rich" Richardson make up the four man team known as the 1960th CCT. The team is only the second CCT the Army National Guard nationwide has deployed to Afghanistan.

According to LTC David Cooley, battalion commander for the 1169th Contingency Contracting Battalion, the 1960th will augment the contracting staff of the Joint Contracting Command – Iraq/Afghanistan (JCC-I/A) and assist them in procuring needed commodities, services and construction projects in support of operations in the joint theater.

"Basically our job is to help grow the infrastructure for the U.S. military and the Afghanistan National Army," explained CPT Todd Floyd, commander of the 1960th. "When a large base is established, we move onto a more geographically separated location and build a smaller base there."

Cooley says the team will also assist commanders in the planning and execution of Commander's Emergency Response Programs (CERPs) which focus on urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects for local populations.

The team is scheduled to be on active duty for 400 days, including a brief training period at Camp Shelby, Miss., before heading to Afghanistan.

Cooley says the team has undergone extensive training in preparation for their mission. "Team members were required to complete two years of progressively difficult on-the-job training to become Level II certified in contracting," explained Cooley. "They were also required to complete coursework from the Defense Acquisition University."

Floyd said that in order to be on the team, members must have a bachelor's degree and at least 24 hours of business credits.

"We are trained and ready," said Floyd. "In my opinion, this team is the cream of the crop and I'd match them up to any unit in Alabama."

Between the four team members, they have seven deployments under their belts. Some team members have already deployed together during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Soldiers on the team come from various military and civilian backgrounds. Cooley says this gives them a varied and unique skill set. "The main factor in determining the success of the 1960th is their dedication and maturity, both as individuals and as a team," said Cooley.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A visit to sunny Camp Shelby!

My apologies for not posting a picture again today. I had planned to post a photo of either myself or one of my teammates getting their immunizations, but the nurse said it is prohibited to take pictures in that area. Apparently, they don't want pictures of American Soldiers getting pricked by needles floating around on the internet.

I was lucky enough to only need 4 shots; much better than my first deployment where I received 16 before leaving. I know some people out there absolutely hate shots (LONI!), but they really don't bother me...until I have to get the anthrax shot. It's a series of 5 shots that are spaced out over a few months; I received 3 of 5 while in Iraq, but only 1 of 5 made it into my permanent record. This basically means that if I can't prove I had 3 then I only had 1 in the eyes of the military. The shot is administered in the arm and the nurse always says something like, "this is going to hurt pretty bad." Let me tell you...if an Army nurse says that then they mean it because most of them are pretty tough. You're supposed to massage it for 10 minutes after getting the shot, but I think that's all just a mental issue to make you feel better. Anyway...long of the hurt!

The only other thing that I had more or less forgotten about from my first deployment that was thrust upon me today is doxycyclene. This is a malaria pill that we are supposed to take daily. I got the prescription and am still weighing the pros and cons of whether or not to take it. First of all, with 100% certainty you will rush to the bathroom multiple times each is tough on the stomach. Next, it makes your body real sensitive to sunlight. Finally, and I'm saving the best for makes you dream some of the craziest things, almost to the point of hallucinating. I just pray that I go somewhere that is low risk for malaria and am directed not to take it.

Camp Shelby hasn't been too bad thus far...we're here and we're settled in. Should be here a few weeks before catching a hop to Asia.

More later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

...the toughest thing I've ever done.

I've read that blogs are a great place to release a little bit of pressure and stress, I hope that's true. I've not updated my blog in about a week...I blame that on a mixture of not having much to say, not knowing what to say, and not knowing exactly how to put feelings into words.

The entire family has kept it together quite well over the past week until yesterday. Our church family brought my parents, Loni, and I in front of the church to pray for protection over us. It was one of the most powerful moments I've ever been witness to. Yesterday was also my son's 1st birthday, I'm very thankful that Uncle Sam didn't need me last week!

The Team was back at the office this morning for some last minute paperwork and packing. If you have never deployed for any period of time, you literally can't imagine what it's like to pack for an entire year. I'm the boy scout in my family...always packing way too much and never needing it, but I'm always prepared for the least expected events.

Tomorrow morning (less than 8 hours from now if anyone is counting) I'll be leaving with my Team for our mobilization site. We should be there for a couple of weeks and then we're off to A-stan, or Fafganstan to hear my 2 year old say it. She doesn't understand what's happening, she just says that she doesn't want me to go. I love the military and all that it stands for, but Uncle Sam never had to try and explain deployment to a curly-headed little two-year old who thinks he hung the moon.

That's all for now, I'll do my best to try and keep you all updated on our happenings. My only request is that those who read this will pray for our protection and for the protection and sanity of those we are leaving to take care of things at home. Tomorrow we'll all dry up the tears and put our focus on the mission at hand, but for tonight we're just going to hold our spouses and children and pray that this deployment goes by quickly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

Rich and I had an interesting evening on Friday and I know that I'm glad to be home for a few days. We left Barstow on Friday afternoon to spend the night in Vegas before flying to Huntsville. Prior to checking in at the hotel we drove about 20 minutes out of the way to see the Hoover Dam...Wow! It's amazing that with all of the technology we have today this Dam was built between 1931 - 1935, it's huge. After seeing the Dam we checked into the hotel and drove downtown to the strip.

We tried (unsuccessfully) to go in the Silver & Gold Pawn Shop where the show Pawn Stars is filmed; although the sign says "Open 24 Hours" they were closed from 9p - 9a. We cruised the strip and found ourselves in the Bellagio watching people play Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps. Neither of us understand Craps so Rich asked one of the should've seen the look he gave us...I'm sure our accents didn't help much either. We never gambled any, but we did walk the strip to a few more joints. That place is a real life Soddom and Gomorrah, but the lights sure are pretty.

To make Saturday interesting we couldn't turn in our rental car until 4a and our flight left at 6a. If it weren't for our uniforms and being allowed to pass about 500 people in line we would not have made it. The flights were easy, especially since Rich worked his magic and got us a 1st Class seat from Denver to Huntsville...thanks United Airlines! We arrived back home to our lovely wives on Saturday (after lots of restless airplane sleep) and had a great day.

Yesterday was Easter and some great time with family playing horseshoes, washer toss, good conversation, and great food. Today was "back to the old grindstone" at work to wrap up a few loose ends while we're still stateside. All in all I think the 1960th is just ready to get this deployment started and do the mission that we have been tasked to do. Unfortunately, the only thing left is the hardest part and that's saying goodbye. Keep us in your prayers!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

...leavin' on a jetplane...

I'll give you a few acronyms for tonight's read since I'll likely be speaking in 100% acronyms in the next few months...this should help!

"Household 6" = On a military radio the #6 refers to the commander. Household 6 is the wife, or the house commander.
"Pop Smoke" = This is what Soldiers do when they need to move under concealment; they literally pop a smoke grenade or pop smoke.
"R2" = This stands for Rich Richardson, my partner in crime out here in the acronym from his wife.

So...I really thought about pulling a good April Fool's joke and saying something like "it turns out our country doesn't need us in Afghanistan"...but I thought better because that could've gotten me in some hot water with the Household 6.

It's 10:00 p.m. here on the left coast and I'm finally beginning to pack my bags for the flight home! R2 and I are working about a half day tomorrow before we pop smoke, or make our exit for the civilians reading this. Although we're less than 150 miles from Las Vegas we have learned that it can routinely take upwards of 4 hours to get there from Barstow...traffic really backs up late Friday headed west on I-15. Our plan is to enjoy the sites of Las Vegas tomorrow night before an early morning flight on Saturday.

Hard to believe we've only been here for 2 weeks, but with a deployment lurking right around the corner it seems much longer and we're both ready to be at home spending time with family. Overall we've had a good time; we have learned some valuable lessons in contracting while we've been here and look forward to what lies this point we're just ready to get this deployment started.