11-14 May 2008 (Camp Taji, Iraq)

It wasn’t terribly late when we finished unloading and unpacking all of our gear. As usual, our vehicle crews got the raw end of the deal; they still had to go fuel the trucks, secure all of their equipment, park in the motor pool, secure all the hatches and doors, and walk back to their billets.

We were told that the 11th would be downtime. I think we all wanted to stay in Sadr City, but we were happy to have a day off.

They held a BBQ for us at the DFAC patio area. Our battalion and brigade commanders spoke to us about the work we’d done, and I remember that they had a big cake sitting out there melting in the heat. My mother wouldn’t have approved. I skipped the cake, but eating real food again tore my stomach up for a few days after we got back.

The following day, the 12th, we had to prep for a layout starting bright and early, 0600. We started getting our equipment out to be ready for Captain Newbill, our incoming company commander, and our XO to check the company’s equipment from 0800 to 1200. The XO came around about 0845.

Around 1, it was decided that we would simply turn in every piece of equipment that we didn’t want. We packed up the things we needed to keep and moved my squad’s locker into my room. It was more cramped but far less cluttered since I now had a place to store equipment.

On the 13th, there was a dust storm. I tried to stay inside and spent most of the day organizing and naming photos on my external hard, trying to find anniversary gifts online for Theresa, and starting to write awards recommendations for my soldiers. They all qualified for Combat Infantryman Badges, but those recommendations had to be accompanied by multiple sworn statements, explaining exactly how each individual soldier was engaged in active ground combat. Those sworn statements had to be handwritten, witnessed, and filled out in a very specific way. Of course, we had to walk to the company CP to print off those forms. Nothing in the army was ever simple. Maybe that’s why I get so easily frustrated now, when a seemingly simple task starts to require extra steps.Taji Dust Storm

We were called up to the chapel, and Chaplain Burton, the battalion or brigade surgeon, and the brigade’s psychologist all talked to us.

We laid out the same equipment again on the 14th. If the army were a business, it would have gone bankrupt due to lack of efficiency, probably when Washington was still just a general. We waste so much time and effort; I can’t even begin to describe how ridiculous it is.

This time, we were told to turn in the equipment we use and wanted to keep. I was hesitant and asked questions about this. Why would I turn in the things we need to operate? I wanted to be damn sure that I was getting my things back. I was told that I would receive the same squad equipment back once the change of command had been completed.

Once that layout was over, we had an after-action review (AAR) for team leaders and up. This is a reflection on what we did. What was supposed to happen? What happened? Why? What did we do well? What could we have done better? It’s basically a way to identify flaws, best-practices, and to get better at what we do.

NCOs and officers brought up some good points, and they brought up some bad points. CSM Ordonio, who wasn’t in Sadr City with us, seemed to counter everything that was said. I became more and more frustrated through the whole process; the repetitive layouts and CSM Ordonio’s feedback was about all I could stand for the day. I just can’t handle the lack of coordination, communication, and planning. I’m sure there are great detailed plans at levels above me, but it never gets communicated down to us. It’s just this hurry up and wait game, mixed in with a little just do it over again attitude that makes me nuts.

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