Thursday, February 23, 2006

FTX Highlights

I'm back from the field, and as anticipated, it was not a big deal. Although the ops tempo was almost ridiculously laid back, the civil affairs training was actually pretty good, especially the interaction with the "Arab" role players. Herein are some quick highlights of our 72-hour war:

- On our way out to Camp MacKall on the first day, we meet an Arab "militia" operating in the "Republic of Pineland." The Army contracts Arab-Americans to be role players for these exercises in order to give us practice interacting with the indigenous population we'll encounter in Iraq. So for 15 minutes our vans are surrounded by young men carrying AK-47s, with only their eyes visible through the headscarves they are wearing, while our student leaders go out to talk to the local "Sheikh." The local militia agrees to escort us to our Forward Operating Base, FOB Freedom.

Outside FOB Freedom, about 20 "demonstrators" block the road and hold anti-American placards. (The demonstrators, incidentally, look conspicously like off-duty grunts and their girlfriends). Although I've seen anti-American protests up close outside army posts in Korea (not to mention at Harvard, but that's another story), this demonstration was somehow effectively menacing enough to convey the realism of the exercise.

The FOB itself was about the size of a football field, surrounded by triple strand concertina wire and guard towers. With two rows of quonset huts in the center of the field, it felt as if we were in an internment camp. (It turns out that when this facility is not in use by Civil Affairs, Special Forces uses it to practice conducting raids). As expected, the tents are heated, and despite the freezing temperatures outside at night, the sauna-like conditions actually made it difficult to sleep at night.

- As noted earlier, our operations tempo was painfully slow, with only two primary missions per day. On our first day, my team was assigned to assess a potential site for a well (the nearby town, "Freedom Village," was suffering from a water shortage because of the civil war in Pineland, as well as an outbreak of dissentery) and assess a damaged bridge for repair possibilities in order to boost local economic development. On both missions, an actor portrayed a USAID representative, and other actors played indigenous personnel who either interfered or aided the mission, depending upon how we reacted.

On the bridge assessment, I was responsible for "far security," meaning I went past the far side of the bridge to watch for any insurgents or civilians. The only person who approached was a North Carolina State Trooper, which was actually cause for serious concern. A few years ago, some Special Forces soldiers were participating in a similar exercise at Camp MacKall and were approached by a local police officer just off post. They thought he was part of the "game," and drew their fake weapons on him. He didn't know that they were acting out a scenario, drew his weapon and fired on them, killing one and seriously wounding the other. So when I saw the trooper approach, I quickly threw my hands in the air, warned him about my fake 9mm, and told him we were in an exercise. (Apparently, he only wanted to know about a jeep that had been parked near the bridge for a day to ensure it wasn't local teenagers screwing around on post). When I came back to the team at the end of the mission, I took some ribbing for surrendering so quickly.

- Our daytime missions on the second day focused on foreign nation support, and included assessments of an airport in Hamlet, NC, and the police station in Aberdeen. This time, local civilians were generous enough with their time to allow us to pester them with questions. In their own small way, these North Carolinians can proudly say they are making a contribution to our national security by helping to train our Civil Affairs and Special Forces officers/soldiers. Driving through rural North Carolina, I couldn't help but be struck by how many small, ramshackle churches dotted the countryside. It seemed as if every mile we passed another one story, or two-room building with name like: "Church of God in Christ," "Jubilee World of Faith Church," "Action of Christ Ministry," or "New Jerusalem Holiness Church." Unless you have ever spent significant time in the Bible Belt, it is impossible to understand how important religion is to large segments of this country. And although I do not share their doctrinal beliefs, few things bother me as much as the condescension of people who've never left the Northeast or university settings show towards these people of faith. But that is a rant for another time and forum.

- On the second night, my team is tasked with running the CMOC (Civil-Military Operations Center), which is basically a meeting place where the U.S. Army, the indigenous government, and IOs/NGOs meet to share information and pool resources to help look after the local population's interests during a conflict. At this CMOC, we had role players representing USAID, UNHCR, UNHA, UNDP, and various NGOs. I was working security at the front door of the CMOC when the local Arab governor and lieutenant governor arrived with an armed entourage and an interpreter. My team leader, a tough Navy Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) from Texas, came to the door to greet them, and all hell broke loose.

Although the Governor entered the CMOC without any problems, the Lt. Governor demanded that his bodyguards (again, masked by headscarves and carrying AK-47s) be allowed into the meeting as well. My leader was determined to enforce a prior agreement that no militia would be allowed into the meeting, not realizing the catch was that these were personal bodyguards rather than militia. An argument ensued, during which the Navy LCDR unintentionally made gestures that are considered obscene in the Arab world. I tried to tell him to flatter and praise the Sheikh, but either he didn't hear me, or was trying to establish his authority. Rather than taking a conciliatory approach and seeking bargaining space, he took a "My Way or the Highway" approach that offended the Lt. Governor. When the Lt. Governor turned to leave, the LCDR grabbed the interpreter with his LEFT hand, a major no-no in Arab culture. The Governor exited as well, and the meeting had to be conducted without any representation from the local government.

While at DoD, I attended a lot of meetings with Iraqi officials, and consequently recognized many of these mistakes as they were occuring, but could not intervene without undermining my leader's authority. The instructors were, um, less than pleased about how events transpired. One cadre described the LDCR's actions as "beligerent, dismissive, and disruptive." In his defense, he strikes me as an excellent officer who only needs a little work on his diplomatic skills. And since that was the point of this exercise, the fiasco ended up being an instructive moment for the class.

- The next morning we received a mission to meet with the same Lt. Governor about an undisclosed topic. This time, the Army Captain acting as team leader designated me his assistant and "cultural advisor." I prepared a script for him that ensured he would use certain key words (i.e. honor, respect, praising his reputation as a caring leader) to show the proper respect to the Sheikh, and he did an excellent job. (The topic the Lt. Gov. wanted to discuss was the alleged rape of a local teenage girl by an unidentified American soldier, and they even brought along an Arab woman who shrieked and cried throughout the meeting. Forget Reese Witherspoon, this woman deserves the Oscar).

They also threw us a curve ball by having role players representing "Pineland Network News" show up during the meeting. As I saw them approach, everything I overheard during my five months sitting in the NSC's press office suddenly kicked in. I rushed to meet them before they could set up, made them show credentials, checked with the Sheikh that they had his permission to be there, and established the ground rules that they could only take three minutes of still shots with no sound due to the sensitivity of the negotiations. In the AAR (After Action Review), the role players said this was the best any team had ever done of handling the press, not knowing my background. (The contractor playing the Lt. Gov. broke character for a few minutes during the AAR, and we had a good laugh about the confrontation from the night before).

- That day, we ended the exercise about 18 hours ahead of schedule. Apparently the officers attending the nine week Civil Affairs course needed the tents for their field problem, and given that we really had no more missions remaining, there was no reason to keep us out there. Some other time I'll comment on the utter chaos that is surrounding the effort to train and deploy the mass of reservists here for Iraq.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Going To The Field

The Special Operations Command Civil Affairs course ends with a six-day field exercise that starts tomorrow, so I will likely be incommunicado for a few days.

For the past three days, the temperature here in North Carolina has gotten above seventy degrees. But the high temps for the weekend aren't expected to get much above 40, and it is supposed to rain throughout the week. But don't worry, we won't exactly be roughing it.

Apparently we are staying in tents with hard wood floors, cots, and heaters. Not exactly roughing it.

Also, instead of humping it through Camp McCall, we'll be driving in 13-passenger vans. Instead of twenty-four hour operations, for safety reasons we will pretty much end the exercise each day at sundown.

And because much of the exercise revolves around establishing CMOCs (Civil-Military Operations Centers), we'll need to have computer capabilities in order to email situation reports and FRAGOs.

So maybe I will not be as out of touch as expected. Either way, I don't think it will be as difficult as some of the more difficult field problems I experienced while on active duty.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Letter from the Mayor of Tall' Afar

I received some good news today about my duty position in Iraq that may cut short my purgatorytime here at Ft. Bragg, but I will wait until it becomes official to announce it.

Until then, here is an amazing letter (reproduced on the military blog Mudville Gazette) from the Mayor of Tall' Afar to the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment which, along with several thousand Iraqi Security Forces, recently led a major operation to clear the city of terrorists.

(And my apologies for not just providing a link rather than the text. I have yet to figure out how to perform that simple function).

In the Name of God the Compassionate and Merciful

To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.

To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.

To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.

Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.

I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.

The leaders of this Regiment; COL McMaster, COL Armstrong, LTC Hickey, LTC Gibson, and LTC Reilly embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom. Officers and soldiers alike bristle with the confidence and character of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.

God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.

Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families.

Mayor of Tall 'Afar, Ninewa, Iraq

David (and Precious) Interlude (II)

An older picture from the weekend we brought David home, but one that disproves the old canard that you shouldn't leave babies around pit bulls.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

1-184 Infantry

Still in limbo here at Ft. Bragg, attending the Special Operations Civil Affairs course while the decision as to whether I'll be released to the commands that requested my services is made several echelons above me.

In the meantime, check out this op-ed from today's LA Times. The most persistent complaint I've heard from friends, colleagues, and instructors who have already served in Iraq is that the media persistently ignores the good news or stories of heroism which they see everyday.

The war you didn't see
A controversial National Guard unit's heroics got lost in the hype and scandal.
By Robert C.J. Parry
ROBERT C.J. PARRY, a first lieutenant in the California Army National Guard's 1-184 Infantry, is a senior account manager for a Century City public relations firm. Contact him at

February 12, 2006

LAST MONTH I returned from Iraq, swapping my desert camouflage for a suit and tie to resume my desk job at a Century City firm. For the first time in 18 months I was separated from my battalion, the 1st of the 184th Infantry Regiment, which was among the first California Army National Guard units to be sent into combat since the Korean War.

From the first weeks of our mobilization in August 2004, we were in the spotlight. We were the battalion "mired in scandal." We were, according to the disgruntled, poor in training and morale. Once in Iraq, we were the battalion that suffered casualties seemingly faster than anyone could count: 17 killed in action and nearly 100 wounded in 12 months. We were the battalion whose commander, Col. William W. Wood, became the highest-ranking soldier to die in action. Our previous commander was relieved of duty after a scandal involving the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Even as we rolled out each day to confront terrorists, we were known at home primarily for things that had nothing to do with the job we did or how we did it.

Over the course of 18 months, the 600 soldiers of the 184th experienced almost every high and low a band of brothers could, from great distinction to shocking heartbreak. But what never made it into print were the things that will mark our hearts until well after we become the old-timers down at the VFW.

We served with honor. We served with valor. We earned distinction.

Google us to find the litany of supposed woe. But if you want to know the real story of our battalion, go find Sgt. Thomas Kruger and ask him about April 5, 2005.

On that bright spring morning, with his legs shattered, Kruger dragged himself across 100 feet of debris and shrapnel to reach Cpl. Glenn Watkins, who had been mortally wounded moments earlier by the same ghastly roadside bomb.

You might also ask anyone from our ranks about Staff Sgt. Steve Nunez. Broken and bloodied by an IED, he was ordered home to recuperate after refusing to go voluntarily. He rejoined us to carry the fight forward, refusing the chance to stay home.

There were no front-page headlines for Kruger, Nunez or even Sgt. 1st Class Tom Stone, who covered a wounded subordinate's body with his own to protect that soldier from a secondary attack that could have come at any moment.

Stone, a Los Angeles Police Department officer, and Kruger, a paramedic on movie sets, were awarded Bronze Stars for their valor. Nunez, a Riverside metalworker, received our awe and admiration, and I hope yours too.

Equally deserving of recognition were Sgt. 1st Class Chris Chebatah and 1st Lt. Ky Cheng. One terrible September night, an armored personnel carrier in their patrol was destroyed by a tremendous blast and flipped, pinning a soldier. Even while taking enemy fire and directing the care for casualties around them, they rigged a chain to pull the 10-ton vehicle off him. The effort was successful but ultimately futile.

So far, 14 of our soldiers have been decorated for valor and another 48 have earned the Bronze Star for service. But that cannot be found in print.

Our unit — supposedly just a band of weekend warriors from the National Guard — was selected by the Army's renowned 3rd Infantry Division to take on its primary challenge: taking control of a sector of south Baghdad that was home to leading Baathists and Al Qaeda fanatics. In that capacity, we conducted more than 7,000 combat patrols totaling nearly half a million man-hours. We captured more insurgents in one month than did whole brigades. We stand nominated (with the rest of our brigade) for a Valorous Unit Award.

But instead, people who didn't know the first thing about us trumpeted the misdeeds of a handful of young men who scoffed at the concepts of honor and duty that our commander invoked.

At dawn on the June day that that story broke, we awakened to the deep reverberation of a complex attack — five car bombs and at least three subsequent ambushes designed to hit those who responded — in an adjacent sector. The 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment was in a hot fight. Our Alpha Company — a part of our battalion, based in Fullerton — rallied to 3-7's aid. The company fought through ambushes to find, kill and capture terrorists. For a few hours, the men of Killer Company, as we call Alpha, were heroes.

But that night, amid rumor and whisper, the Alpha soldiers were taken off patrol and isolated. Within days we knew the ugly story. Months earlier, it seems, shortly after we arrived in Iraq, a few of Alpha's young NCOs had abused a group of Iraqi detainees.

It was immature, nasty, stupid stuff — using stun guns on the genitals of men allegedly caught trying to attack a power plant. The men they tortured were later released, as are so many of the suspected terrorists caught in country. In the investigation that followed, nine others were accused of lesser misdeeds — taking photographs of themselves with detainees and the like — in which no physical harm came to anyone.

The Army PR machine touted the news, almost proudly, much like "Access Hollywood" touts B-list celebrity gossip: "Baghdad Troops to Face Court-Martial for Detainee Abuse." Before long, word leaked out that they were ours. What was not said was that it was one of the soldiers in our own battalion who had found the video of the abuse and turned it in to our commander.

Lots of folks had lots of theories about why the Army made such a big deal of it. Mine is that the Army wanted to get out in front of "another Abu Ghraib," and a group of "nasty Guard" soldiers made good poster children. It was sound PR, but lousy teamwork.

Whatever the case, in the end, only three went to prison for their role in the abuse, all for short terms. The others received minor administrative punishments, and our commander — a schoolteacher, poet and a man of noble values — was sent elsewhere. The facts did not live up to the hype, but the hype was what we, and you, were left with.

While our Delta Company patrolled a stretch of Baghdad road where five of our soldiers were eventually killed, people who had never set foot in Iraq were quoted about our performance. People who rarely left the safety of an operations base damaged our reputations. We never flinched in a fight, but we were smeared nonetheless.

What none of us could explain was why no reporter actually met a single 184th soldier in Iraq until November. Even that only came after the tragic death of our new commander, Col. Wood, an amazing active-duty officer who held us together and made us strong again. Whether it was some form of politics or simply the realities of journalism in war, I do not know. The hype was all that mattered.

During my tour, I was blessed — or perhaps cursed — with a "utility infielder" role, serving in a variety of positions that gave me a diverse look at the lives of soldiers and Iraqis alike.

I patrolled the streets of Baghdad's elite Karrada neighborhood and its insurgent-rich Doura sector, shaking people's hands and learning their problems. I lived and worked alongside American contractors upgrading a key power plant. I trained Iraqi police, saw their enthusiasm and came to understand their different approach to things. I worked as a junior officer on our battalion staff, witnessing how the decisions governing the street fight were shaped. I was shot at and attacked with IEDs.

I saw the successes. I struggled with the failures. But most important, I saw people who once had nothing now bursting with hope and thanks.

While I was in Iraq, I read Walter Isaacson's remarkable biography, "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life." I was reminded of the passion and determination of our founding fathers, and of the long years they experienced between independence and the founding of the government we enjoy today. Franklin and company recognized the importance of having a fully informed American constituency involved in making the decisions of government.

When it comes to Iraq, in my experience, that constituency is poorly served.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Quotes of the Day (III)

In honor of Iran being referred to the UN Security Council because of its nuclear program, a brief reminder of why this issue matters

"The governments of the world should know that Islam cannot be defeated. Islam will be victorious in all the countries of the world, and Islam and the teachings of the Koran will prevail all over the world."

Ayatollah Khomeini

"We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization and for the uprooting of the Americans and the English."

Iranian Pasdaran official Hassan Abassi

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fitness Stud, or Lowered Expectations?

Okay, so maybe I'm not as fat and out of shape as I thought.

Yesterday morning we had our APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test), in which I scored 280 out of a possible 300.

I maxed the push ups (75)in under a minute, just like I used to in the old days (1994-1998).

I maxed the sit ups (76) in the alloted two minutes, just like in the old days.

And then came the two-mile run.

Ten years ago, after returning to Korea from the Olympic trials, I could run my two miles in under 12:00. I stopped jogging after 1998, and two weeks ago, I ran two miles for the first time in almost eight years in 16:05. On Sunday I knocked about 30 seconds off my best time on the course I run through the Old Division area, but both times I absolutely felt like death-on-a-stick during the second mile. So I went into yesterday's PT test with some serious doubts as to my running ability.

But suprisingly, not only did I not have a heart attack, I actually started to feel myself gaining strength on the sixth or seventh lap, and on the final homestretch I outsprinted a fellow Captain who used to be a running back for Notre Dame. (Okay, he was a fullback). I ended up running a 15:25, good for 80 points.

My 280 was only the second time in my army career that I scored below a 290. But of the eighty officers in my class, I had the 12th highest score. So the question remains whether I'm in better shape than I was giving myself credit for, or whether the standards for my age bracket are so generous that I couldn't help but scoring well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

David Interlude (I)

The hardest part about being away from home . . .

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Random Observations

Some random observations on the past two weeks here at Ft. Bragg:

- At 0630 Monday, my group of ten officers from Ft. Jackson reported to the Colonel Aaron Banks Special Warfare Center for a weigh in and to begin the Special Operations Command (SOCOM)'s Civil Affairs course. Unfortunately, so did over 200 other officers, which was problematic because the course can only hold 80 students. So right off the bat we lost half a day while the instructors determined who had priority to attend the course, and who would have to wait until March 1st. Fortunately, I made the cut. However, the Army is (belatedly) undergoing a major expansion of its Civil Affairs branch. Rumor has it that 700 personnel are scheduled to report to Ft. Bragg for the course next week, to be followed by another 1,200 the following week, many of whom will have to stay in tents rather than barracks. After the cluster experienced on the first day, I shudder to imagine the chaos the influx of an additional 2,000 personnel will create.

- I am old, fat, and out of shape. Regrettably, the Army wants to quantify this fact by making me take a physical fitness (PT) test. So at 0530 (yes, that's 5:30 AM) on Tuesday we report to Hendricks Field, where my biggest concern suddenly isn't my girth or my damaged knees, but the 30mph winds and freezing rain bearing down on us. I stealthfully try to pick out the, um, "broadest" reservists to draft behind for the portion of the track going into the wind. Mercifully, just as we form up to begin the push-up portion of the test, the battalion commander decides to postpone it.

- Tuesday night we crowd around the 17-inch television one of the other Captains purchased to watch the State of the Union. In the background, we can hear small arms fire coming from one of the nearby ranges. The speech went over well with the officers in the barracks, including the two self-described liberals amongst us. I thought the foreign policy section was especially strong, but felt a strong tinge of regret that I consciously walked away from the chance to work on the address.

- On Wednesday I had lunch with my buddy Ramey, who was a lieutenant with me in the 82nd Airborne back in 1996-98. Ramey's an Army physician now, and it was good to see an old friend to connect me to the old days here at Bragg. We ate in the cafeteria at the new Womack Army Hospital. Without a doubt, the most striking change since I left Ft. Bragg in 1998 is all the new construction that has taken place. In addition to the new hospital and the new enlisted/Sports bar, there have been probably twenty state-of-the-art barracks built to replace the decrepit dormitories in which my soldiers used to live.

- On Friday we went through another round of medical inprocessing. Instead of seeing a physician, I am interviewed by someone they describe as an "assistant" (not even a physician's assistant). So after four weeks I still have not had any sort of invasive examination to determine my fitness for duty. Short of coming on to the commanding officer, I do not think there is anything that will prevent me from deploying at this point.

- The soldiers in the 82nd wear the traditional maroon beret, and even the most baby-faced 20-year old specialist boasts a combat patch on his right shoulder. Conversely, my duty uniform is the Army ACU without any patches or honors, and a simple patrol cap. In other words, the Airborne troopers here now look at me with the same condescending look I gave every non-Airborne soldier I encountered during my two years here. Life has its ironies.

- Finally, on Sunday we slept in and went to breakfast at a Waffle House in Fayetteville, followed by a quick run to WalMart to pick up bandages to dress our small pox vaccinations. At the entrance of the WalMart, there is a wall dedicated to local soldiers killed in action. Although there were some faded black and white pictures from WWII and Korea, there were more than two dozen fresh pictures of young men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, it is impossible to escape the gravity of the endeavor upon which we are embarking.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Quotes of the Day (II)

"This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case . . . some people don't really want to be free."

Brent Scowcroft, as quoted in theNew Yorker, 10/31/05

"It doesn't matter if you feed someone or give him a little flat to live in if he doesn't have his freedom. This is an essential human need. Without it, life is nothing."

Ali Bashir, Iraqi plastic surgeon and artist (and a favorite of Saddam Hussein's), 3/21/03, as quoted in Jon Lee Anderson's The Fall of Baghdad

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Still Stateside

A few people have emailed to ask whether I've arrived in Iraq yet. Unfortunately, whereas I'd expected (and hoped) to have been deployed by now, I am stuck at Ft. Bragg for the time being.

Basically, I'm caught in the middle of a dispute between Army G-1 and the two commands in Iraq that requested I be assigned to them. Until the Army decides what to do with me, I'm attending the Special Operations Command's Civil Affairs course here.

I'll provide a more in-depth assessment of life here at Bragg (and how it has changed in the 7.5 years since I was last stationed here) later in the week.