19 September, 2008

My Normal Blog

Just thought I'd let you know that my normal blog about life (post mobilization) in Silicon Valley can be located at http://pichi6.blogspot.com/

The Colonel

08 September, 2008

Back to Work and Time to Close It Down

Apologies for not having updated my blog like I said I would after I got back home but the few times I started to write I kept saying "screw it and I'll get to that later". We'll that later kept being pushed out and I guess that today is the day to post and close her down.

I enjoyed my 3+ months of leave and vacation thanks to the US Army and Sun. It was a great feeling to do what I wanted to do, get up when I wanted to get up and basically enjoy some serious down time, and also gave me a chance to get fat and happy!! On top of that there was plenty of work to do around the house. May was rather hectic, the same night I got home Javier had his Confirmation. The next week Ascension received her Nursing pin and the week after that she graduated from University of San Francisco with her BS in Nursing.

We got a chance to do some traveling while I was still on vacation. Carmen and I went down to Paso Robles for a couple of days. Besides getting out of the house and having some time alone, it had been years since we were there and the wine is just awesome. Getting a chance to visit the various vineyards for two days and tasting the great Zinfandel and Rhone style wines made the trip a blast. I went home (Wisconsin) for about 10 days to spend time with my parents and sister and her family. Plus on the 4th of July my parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary so all of us congregated in Milwaukee to enjoy the celebration and get a chance to meet lots of old friends and family. We also got a chance to spend a week down in the Florida Panhandle along the Emerald Coast in Panama City Beach. After 13 months in the desert it was nice to just be able to chill out on the beach, swim in the ocean and enjoy all that great seafood! I have been able to spend time with my family and that is what I have enjoyed the most of my vacation!!

I have been back at work since 11 August, and just as I had thought I had been voted off the island, meaning that my old job no longer existed, which wasn't surprising. Prior to leaving I had handed off that job to another Program Manager, so I was offered another position in the same group but now a Manager of the Customer Backlog Management group which handles the key Sun accounts. So bottom line is that I am learning a new job and getting back into the heart of operations which is what I wanted to do.

I found a new unit the 1st Brigade 75th Division at Camp Parks which was my first reserve unit that I joined in 1995 but back then it was 1st Brigade 91st Division. It was reflagged last year and I know a fair number of the officers in that unit. I begin drilling later this month. As for the rest of the PMO team, Major Young is working down at USARC HQ in Georgia and she sounded very happy last time I got an email from her. She's going in front of the O-5 board soon and I am sure that she will be selected for LTC. SSG Gamboa finally finished his BNCOC, I was there at his graduation. He should make E-7 at this coming board, and it looks like he too is making a career change and is applying for the AGR program. Filly the interpreter who was like a brother to me was dismissed from his job in Taji due to performance issues and I'll leave it at that. Bob is putting in his paperwork for a Visa to come to the US as part of the special program that allows interpreters to apply for Visas based on their performance as interpreters for the US forces and as gratitude for their sacrifices they have made putting their lives on the line in support of coalition forces.

I look back at these past 16+ months of mobilization and deployment and I am proud to have once again been able to answer the call and deploy into harms way. Yes this deployment was different that Desert Shield/Storm, the circumstances, living conditions, coalition, enemy were all different. But the underlying theme was that we were helping people in need to become free and get a chance to enjoy the freedoms that we as Americans have enjoyed and worked so hard to maintain since 1775. Was it worth it? A resounding yes it was, as I could see the difference that we made in Taji and in other places inside Iraq. Someone asked me when I got back what would happen if called upon again by my country to deploy. I told them that I would once again answer the call wherever need be. As Thomas Jefferson said: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

Thanks to all of you who read the blog, sent me emails during my deployment, sent me care packages, prayed for my safety and sent me many words of encouragement. Also thanks to those who stayed in contact with Carmen and the kids to see how things were going on the home front. Although I am home there are still over 160,000 members of the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan serving in harms way, please keep them in your prayers!

"God Bless America"

The Colonel

06 May, 2008

Mission Accomplished-I'm Finally Home!!

The bus pulled into Camp Funston (FOB Army Strong) a little before 0500 hrs. We got off the bus and were piled into the sterile area's gym and given the first of many briefs welcoming us and what laid ahead. After the brief it was time to temporarily turn in our M4 and M9 for the day. We then were given our schedules for the upcoming three days and it was back onto the bus and we headed to our barracks where we would check in, pickup our bags and for us lucky ones meet our families.

We pulled in just about the time that light was coming up and I anxiously scanned the parking lot to see where Carmen was. Just seeing her face and smile while I waived to her from bus was worth the wait as I hadn't seen her since we said our "see you laters" in Frankfurt Germany in mid-January during my R&R.

I got off the bus and gave her a huge hug and it felt like I had never left her. After our hugs we headed over to the barracks. From the corner of my eye I saw someone drop a camera lens cap and when I looked over to tell that person they dropped the lens cap I realized it was my daughter Ascension, then my son Javier jumped from behind a car. I was shocked since I knew that Carmen was going to be at Ft. Riley, but never expected my two kids. What I found out later was that all along the kids were going to be at Ft. Riley but Carmen fed me the hook and line I bit off on it thinking that Javier was at home since he supposedly had gone to prom that weekend and his sister was home minding the house. By the time I gave them their hugs I looked up to see my parents also had showed up and this was indeed a real homecoming!!

My family and I at Ft. Riley (Mom, Javi, I, Dad, Carmen and Censi)

Another photo op with Carmen and Censi

After grabbing my bags we headed back to Manhattan for a breakfast and then to the hotel. The next couple of days went by quickly and yet slowly. That afternoon we had some more briefings, turned in our weapons for good, then it was the 1st ID welcome home ceremony at the gym. The next day starting at 0530 hrs we had our personnel and medical briefings and outprocessing. That meant more shots, tests and updating personnel records. The next day it was time to turn in our TA-50 at CIF, and as most had already said it was for me the easiest CIF turn I had ever had in my almost 30 years of being in the military. We signed our DD214's that afternoon and since I had told the Army that I needed to be home in time to attend my sons confirmation on they got me special travel so I could get out of Ft. Riley early the next day. That night in the barracks it was for most of us a last chance to say our goodbyes before we headed out the next morning. I had to catch the van at 0400 hrs which would take me to the Manhattan Airport. From there it was to Kansas City International, then through snowy Denver and finally arriving in San Jose International Airport.

At the airport Carmen, my daughter Ascension and Kathie Sylvia one of my co-workers at Sun were there for my arrival. As luck would have it only one of my bags arrived which meant someone out there in netherland was my duffle bag.

Kathie and I at the San Jose Airport

Carmen and I at the San Jose Airport

I finally arrived home around 1500 hrs and there on the garage door was a banner that my daughter had made which said "Welcome Home Dad".

Finally Home

That night after Javiers confirmation I finally got a chance to sit in my favorite recliner and that is when it really hit me that I was really home! I am still getting used to things here back home as it has been over 15 months since I left home on 25 January knowing that I would not be back until I had demobilized from this tour. I imagine that in a couple of days I will finally be able to let this sink in believe that I am home for good!

I will wrap up my blog in a couple of days with one last blog since I am still trying to grasp all that has went on in the past 15 months and what I learned from it.

The Colonel

01 May, 2008

Back in the USA

As the title says I am finally back on American soil and it is a great feeling! It took over 30 hours from the time we cleared the barracks in Kuwait until we arrived here at Ft. Riley. On the 26th we were told that our clear the tent time was 2200 hrs and that we would be wheels up at approximately 1030 hrs in the morning. So most of the Soldiers chilled out and slept on their cots knowing that we were not going to get much shuteye that night. We had our final brief that morning then I went to work out then lounged around the tent. At 2200 hrs we were told that the truck would be there at 2300 hrs and after loading the truck with our bags, we boarded the buses for Ali Al Salem which is where we would clear customs and clear theater. We arrived a little after midnight and checked in for our flight. As in any military plan there was plenty of waiting around for the mandatory customs briefing on what you could and couldn't bring to the US. Finally around 0500 hrs we made our way out of the briefing tent, picked up our duffle bags and made our way over to customs.

These guys make TSA look like amateurs. The US Navy customs guys were very thorough. We first had to empty out our pockets, backpacks and all the stuff that was strapped to our uniforms and run those thru the x-ray machine, then we got wanded. After that it was grab your bags and when we were called by a Customs Agent we then moved forward to the location which we were assigned. Once there you had to empty out the entire duffle bags and rucks that you had. The customs guys went item by item checking to make sure we had no body parts, weapons, hand grenades and any of the 100+ contraband items that you couldn't bring into the country. Here I was thinking that we just spent one year in a combat and now here we are expected to go through customs on our way home. Incredible to say the least!! The real reason they do this isn't so much for customs but the stuff that guys want to bring home that the Army won't let them. Any of you who have been in the military know that when you pack a duffle bag it takes some planning to get 200 pounds of crap in a 100 pound bag. Yet when the customs guy finished searching each bag everything was placed in a huge bin. After 3 duffle bags and my ruck sack I then had the honor and pleasure to repack my belongings in the same bag and manner as before.
Unfortunately when one is sweating like a pig and is under the gun to get the stuff packed ASAP, things don't turn out like they are supposed to. I was one of the last ones through customs and out the door into freedom. Once we got through the customs portion we were in a lock down area where we couldn't get out and had to remain there until it was time to get onto the bus which would take us to the military side of Kuwait International Airport.

From Ali Al Salem we got onto the bus which was supposed to stop before arriving there but as usual there was a change in plans and those of us who had been drinking water non stop because it had been a sweat box in the customs area were dying to take a piss but to no avail. We then sat in the buses for about 30 minutes waiting to load up the plane and could not get off the bus until we were authorized to get onto the plane. The order was finally given and we headed to the plane, and as an O-6 I got to sit in front of the plane in normal seats but we basically had our own row to ourselves which was nice. The plane was supposed to take off at 1020 local time but there were issues with the fire alarm in one of the rest rooms, then they couldn't start the plane and there we sat on the tarmac for almost 40 minutes with the temp over 100 degrees. I fell asleep since I hadn't slept at all for the past 24 hours. We finally got off the ground at around 1145 hrs and we were finally on our way to the US of A.

We had a 6+ hour flight to Shannon Ireland and were told that we could not consume nor purchase any alcohol while we were in Shannon. It was a cold, rainy and dreary day in Ireland but that didn't ruin our day as we headed into the airport for a 90 minute stopover. I got out and after seeing there was nothing worth buying headed back into the aircraft and finally caught wind of the main issue at hand. We had topped off with enough fuel to get us to Topeka Kansas, but with the rain and the weight of the plane due to the MITT teams bringing on board 4 duffle bags plus their rucks, the plane could not abort a takeoff with the weight it had. So the plan was to download a certain amount of fuel, the only problem was that the fuel truck designated for that mission only had a 5K liter capacity and after picking up the fuel had to go over to another part of the airport to drop it off. Talk about a time waster, what was supposed to have been a 90-120 minute stop ended up being almost a 4 hour logistical nightmare. I had a good time shooting the breeze with Adelle the Irish girl who was handling the refuel and stop at Shannon and the pilots who were from the west coast. I was kept in the loop on what was going on so I could relay that info to the DOC at Ft. Riley so they knew what was going on and to let the families know about what time they could expect us.

We finally got out of Shannon and because of removing the fuel no longer had enough to make it safely to Topeka, so instead we headed to Bangor Maine which was an 8+ hour flight. When we got there, they had about 20-25 VFW and American Legion reps at the airport to welcome us home and shake our hands as we came down the walkway. We spent about 90 minutes in Bangor so I was able to call Carmen and let her know where I was. We then headed to Forbes Field in Topeka KS for our last aviation leg of the journey. We arrived there approximately 22 hours and 40 minutes after wheels up in Kuwait City. It was 0308 hrs in the morning in Topeka.
We then got in the buses and were escorted by an honor guard on motorcycle all the way to Ft. Riley. The third step had been completed and all I needed to know was when was I going to see Carmen again here at Ft. Riley.

The Colonel

27 April, 2008

Working my Way Back to the US of A

My last day in Iraq was really uneventful which is a good way to end my tour over here. I was able to sleep in until 0700 hrs, and a little after 0800 First Sergeant Anderson came by and said that we had a 1000 hrs show time at the Air Pax terminal. We hit the PX and the EOC to check email and at check in were told that our flight would be leaving at 1400 hrs and that baggage was to be turned in at 1100 hrs.

After turning in our baggage we hit the DFAC and it was rather ironic that on my last day in Iraq I happened to eat at what was for me the best DFAC so far. It was run by the Air Force (no surprises there) and the selection of food and other entrees was really impressive and it wasn’t too congested like DFAC 1 in Taji.

At 1300 hrs we were told to be at the gate and they bussed us to the aircraft and we climbed on board the C-130 and it wasn’t too full so we had empty seats between each of us. At 1355 we were wheels up and phase II had been accomplished, getting out of Iraq!! The flight was uneventful and I got a chance to peek outside the window right about when we crosses into Kuwait airspace and all I could see was sand. It was weird knowing that 17 years earlier I was on the ground directly below with the Soldiers of A Company 701st MSB working our asses off supporting the Division in prior to, during and after combat operations. We arrived in Ali As Salem at 1515 hours and SGM Laos was waiting for us and we transferred to the bus which had the rest of the 104th folks on this serial who had flown in earlier from the IZ (BIAP).

We then boarded the bus which would take us to Camp Virginia which is basically the same type of camp as Camp Buerhing was when we arrived, both are out in the middle of the sandy desert surrounded by camels. The big difference is those of us at Camp Virginia are going home versus those Soldiers in Buerhing who are just arriving. At Camp Virginia we were bedded down in the same white style tents that we had in Buerhing, where you can sleep at least 80 guys in there but we had about 30 which wasn’t too bad. We sort of have an idea of when we will be leaving this camp for Ali Al Salem and our flight home but they have not released the final date or time. While we are here except for a couple of mandatory briefs the rest of the time is our free time so I hit the gym and did my 6 mile gig on the elliptical trainer. I then hit the internet cafĂ© to look at some of my email. Other than that the wait out mode continues and only time will tell when we get the green light for onward movement. Until then it’s chill out mode and the chance to relish the fact that we are no longer in Iraq and that life is good!

The Colonel