Sunday, April 22, 2007

Checking in

Last two weeks have been lots of prepwork and doing visits since I got my orders. Last week was the doctor/dentist/lawyer visits. Lots of fun. Next week I get pocked and popped some more. Then just waiting for the paperwork.

Now that it is pretty much definite that I'm going, I've been having to tell a fair number of people. I imagine that means I'm connected and actually have some reasonable set of responsibilities outside of work and relations. Reactions have run the gamut, from asking if there was "any way you can get out of it" to "I was in the service . . ." Lot's of people have been telling me of being a military brat at one point. A few sons and daughters in the service. Lot's of "good luck and stay safe." And "we want to see pictures and hear stories when you get back." Back when I was in grad school, I was at one of those soon to be starting career workshops at my professional society. One of the speaker (Michael Trick of Pitsburgh) made the plea for stronger participation in social networks. I imagine he would look on my initial progress in Pittsburgh and elsewhere as reasonably satisfactory.

Well, my checklist is mostly filled in. Only a few more items, most of them completely out of my control. A few scheduled for the next couple of days. Not much longer now.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Came back home this afternoon. Checked my email. My official orders came in. So it looks like this is for real.

Visiting home

My girlfriend and I spent the past weekend visiting home, which happens to also be where I went to grad school. We spent Friday visiting my old school, where we had lunch with former classmates, and I spent the rest of the time walking up and down the department talking to faculty and staff. Everyone is excited because this is real life application. Several of the faculty asked if I can give a seminar talk when I get back (every academic department in the country is constantly looking for people to give seminar talks). One staff guy who is prior service (Army) and I traded stories. And a couple of the other administrative staff had motherly type reactions (see FAQ).

This was the visit-family-before-deploying visit. Spent time with parents over dinners. Ditto sisters and family friends. My cousin's daughter was a lot of fun. She is going through the stage where she focuses on one thing at a time for about 15 minutes at a time. At one point she was coloring and I wanted to look and she got mad. When her mother asked if I could watch her color she said, "no, because it is not good." I did not think I was that harsh a critic.

Did not really dwell to much on Afghanistan when I was with my parents. This was more for spending time together.

Lots of time spent telling friends what I was going to be doing. One of the deacons from my home church made the observation that after all these years of war, noone from there had gone in the service (well, there was a son of a member in the marines, and one person was in the marines before he started coming to this church. And there actually was one guy who went out of high school, but not many people knew him.) So this was something new for many of them.

Funny story of the weekend. At church, the deacon who was moderator of the service was going to announce that I was deploying. There was a part of the service where they greet newcomers and visitors, so as part of this he says "and L and (girlfriend) are here visiting, raise your hands. They have a special announcement that I'll tell you later." Now, if you do not find this amusing, you need to find a female friend above the age of 21 to read this and explain this too you. What made it worse, was, well, this deacon was planning on explaining this when announcements came, at the very end of service. But the guy who was before him jumped the gun, and closed out the service. Without the promised announcement. So everyone who was paying attention came to me asking about the "special announcement" after service.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I spent the past week in predeployment training that is for personnel on separate duty (meaning they don't deploy as a unit), civilians with the government and certain categories of contractors. For something like this, it is a week spent mostly getting presentations, and some equipment. There is an organization that the contractor that is coordinating my going there works with that is preparing a team of analysts to go to Iraq that is letting us piggyback with their training. This was a good thing, because it means that
(1) The group going through was pretty small
(2) The training was tailored for analysts, and older ones at that (they assumed that we were adults).

Presentations included descriptions of equipment we were getting, CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) training, Law of Armed Conflict (i.e. Geneva convention), what to do if captured, medical information, and some presentations on current conditions in country. Of the group, I was definitely the most junior of the bunch. The four fellow contractors included a retired general and two retired colonels. Lots of experience. And some strong opinions about various topics. In particular, a very practical and realistic approach to war.

Some observations:

1. The military produces some incredible junior enlisted folks. Two of our instructors were probably second term enlisted, but not NCO. Obviously young, but their poise was great, even in the presense of people like the retired generals and colonels. You would be hard pressed to find a 3rd year undergraduate who could do this without falling into the pitfalls of either arrogance or lack of confidence.

2. This is a very thoughtful bunch. There is an understanding that the American focus on this cannot be on the bullets, even if we need to be good at this. The focus is on the population and the economy.

3. These folks like General Patraeus (new commanding general for U.S. forces in Iraq). One presenter was calling him "a poet-warrior." He literally wrote the book on counter-insurgency (his last assignment included overseeing the new Army/Marine Corps doctrinal manual). And he has done this before (he commanded a division in Iraq in 2003, one of the best of the first bunch of post-major conflict generals. Of course, it means we are doing a lot of things the political leadership in the past said we won't do. Something else that many of the people I was with approve of.

4. This group takes very seriously the concept of an American ethos. At a number of points, the fact that the United States is a liberal democracy came up as the reason we do things the way we do. It is not a secret that, contrary to what you hear in the media, historically insurgencies against the great empires fail (basically, almost all instances prior to the Peninsular War, which had the advantage of the British helping against Napolean. Of course, the British were on the receiving end not much earlier so they figured a few things out.). But because the United States is what it is, we don't do it the easy way (the easy way is what the Roman Empire did against the Jews around 70 AD). And that is important to our national identity. Duty with honor is something that has meaning to be taken seriously.