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.