I hope this note finds you and your families well. We are still plugging away over here, trying to do a good job every day and taking care of each other. We have been talking about the 6 month mark coming up in a few days, and we had a chance to pull the whole company in for two days this past weekend ahead of the 6 month milestone. We met with the key leaders first, and discussed some housekeeping items as well as some transitions that the company will be involved in as we move to a new higher HQ this month (same location, different bosses). We reserved the movie theater and watched a combination of video and slideshow with training and mission footage and photos from March 2009 until the end of October. We put out some general information and had a Q & A session with the guys. On Sunday, everyone played some softball and the HQ section put on a cookout complete with some decent-tasting ‘near beer’ for the guys. That will likely be the last time we all get together and take a break for a while since we’ll continue to be busy with missions.
The mission set we’ve been doing since we became “Battlespace Owners” on August 25th has kept everyone extremely busy. The LRS platoons rotate in and out of sector and provide security in the area and focus on finding and detaining locals who are up to no good. The operational tempo eased up a bit towards the beginning of October, but everyone is still busy with the various types of missions we are tasked with. In addition to the security-related missions the guys do, it is very common for LRS platoons as well as the headquarters element to sit down with local village leaders, drink chai with them, and discuss any concerns they have about their particular village’s situation. Today we had one element in sector doing security-related tasks, and another element went to a village to distribute 50 bags of food as part of a humanitarian assistance (HA) drop. We’re working to initiate reconstruction projects, starting with the renovation of a girls’ school, the renovation of a health clinic, and the installation of street lights in the market area of a city we work in frequently.
One of the main focuses in Iraq over the next few months will be setting the conditions for a successful election on January 16th, 2010. Because the area we’re in is called a “disputed area” in terms of Kurd / Arab tensions, the work we’re doing is important in the bigger picture of enabling Iraqi’s to pull off the election in January.
The majority of the guys I talk to tell me they know the deal about morale during a deployment, and they tell me things are “fine.” But, most guys will tend to give an overly positive response when talking to me as opposed to their buddy at the gym. We joked around last month about how we should “enjoy October” because you don’t know what’s waiting for us after that. Here’s what I see in terms of how the guys are doing: Some think we’re too busy, some don’t think we’re busy enough. We have the same cross-section of issues and concerns that any deployed unit faces. We invited some external folks to come in and do a survey for us in order to get an accurate read on how the unit is doing in terms of morale and welfare. 33% of the guys said their morale was “medium”, 27% said it was “high”, and 12.6% said it was “very high”. (I think the 12.6% must be going on leave this month!) Personally, I’d tell you that “medium” is a good day in a combat zone.
When asked how confident they were that the “unit can perform its mission”, 45% said “agree” and 44% said “strongly agree.”
Everyone gets annoyed about having to do surveys, but it’s important for the chain of command to keep their finger on the pulse of the morale and welfare within the unit. It’s the same type of thing with the FRG back home…being plugged in and knowing how families are doing helps out a lot.
We’ve been able to pull off some pretty cool training with rotary wing assets (helicopters) everywhere we’ve gone since May. We’ve recently conducted joint training exercises with Iraqi Army Commando’s focusing on air assault missions and other tactical tasks. All of the platoons and sections have been proactive in “sharpening the saw” by going to the range to fire their weapons, conducting training on the various communications packages we use, or just doing rehearsals before they go out on a mission. It gives me a lot of confidence to see that leaders at all levels of this organization take training seriously and understand that keeping our skills honed even while deployed is a critical task.
Even though news outlets have reported that troop levels will be drastically reduced over the coming months, the lines at the gym and the chow hall keep getting longer and longer! November is another transition for everyone on this base. Our higher headquarters will be leaving, and we’ll be working for the 3-73 CAV from the 82nd Airborne. In the meantime, there are a lot more people on the base while these units conduct their battle handoff tasks. We’ve had to consolidate living spaces temporarily, as well.
The rainy season is here, which means lots of mud on the base, and more challenges when working outside the wire for days at a time. As always, though, the guys continue to rise to the occasion and exceed expectations.
On November 9th, we hit the 6 month milestone (184 days) from when we went on “title 10” orders or active duty. The leadership team will start working on the redeployment planning and preparation on a weekly basis at that point. I don’t have any specific information about exactly when we’ll be headed home, but this “halfway point” is when we start digging into a lot of those details. As soon as we have information to put out about an estimated return timeframe, we’ll send it out.
Redeployment planning will be a ton of work, but I don’t think anyone will complain about working on this project!
I want to thank each and every one of you reading this for the sacrifices you make every day. Our Soldiers’ strength comes from the strength of our families, no question about it. As I hear about the challenges many of you face every day, whether it’s the struggle to get the kids ready and dropped off in the morning, or the never-ending balancing act of juggling priorities that you manage while we’re gone. I know how hard it is for me to get two girls dressed in something that resembles a matching outfit and get them somewhere on time…I give you all a ton of credit and respect for handling all of those things and so much more every day. The sacrifices we make to serve our country are echoed and amplified in all of our homes on a daily basis. When we say we couldn’t do it without you, we really mean it. So, thank you. Thank you for the courage and strength you demonstrate every day of this deployment. Thank you for the care packages and the thoughts and prayers. And most of all, thank you for the love, dedication, and commitment you have for these Soldiers. Our gratitude is deep and heartfelt.
Thank you to everyone who has been able to help out with the FRG. I was very thankful last year when Tammy agreed to lead our FRG for this deployment. The professionalism and genuine commitment to our families’ well being is evidenced in everything she does. The team of volunteers has really come through for us. I appreciate everyone’s work to plan the mid-tour briefs. The lines of communication and support network have remained consistently reliable and effective.
I hope you and your loved ones have a great November!
CPT Brian Genz