Friday, November 20, 2009

Hello everyone,

I have been given the privilege of blogging for the Houston Chronicle. I will still post here from time to time, especially posts that may be to strongly worded for the Chronicle. The URL for the new blog is:

Check out the new blog and remember to check back here from time to time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Sharacracy- a system in which everything you own belongs to the collective; items to be excluded from the list of shared items include wives and girlfriends

According to a couple of our guys, that is the definition of a Sharacracy. It is a concept that they developed on the fly due to the fact that we all share everything we own. It is phenomenon that develops out of necessity. It’s is common to ask your buddy to borrow a pair of socks, or an undershirt, and external hard drives are passed around like an over eager groupie at a rock concert as guys swap movies and music. Gear is also swapped around as guys figure out what works best for them on their tactical kit.

I almost forgot cigarettes. I am willing to bet one month’s salary on the notion that prisoners, at a prison of your choice, have nothing on the smokers on our team when it comes to sharing cigarettes. I’ve seen one of our guys put multiple cigarettes in his mouth, light them and pass the lit death sticks around to the guys gathered around.

POGy bait (POG- Person other than grunt pronounced pouge; POGy – junk food, pronounced pougey, like clumsy) is the biggest factor in the equation. We all like to stash food away to keep hunger at bay or, in my case, avoid the trip to the chow hall. Guys stock up on junk food whenever the gut truck comes around or when they make their trip to the troop store. It is hilarious to hear the guys come ask each other for “our” Gatorade or “our” magazines. Just a few minutes ago James came over and asked me where “our” food was as he searched the bags in my wall locker.

There is one other trend that is emerging as part of the Sharacracy philosophy. The trend is based on the purchasing of goods for others as a type of credit for future purchases. For example, every time the gut truck comes around, one of the guys is either asked by the rest of the crew or designates himself as the person to purchase this round of POGy bait. That person will then have his tabbed picked up the next few times until it once again his turn.

Not everyone has embraced the Sharacracy philosophy; I thought it would fall apart after the first few days but it seems to be spreading slowly throughout the barracks as a few of the guys in the other sections have begun to slowly become assimilated into the culture. The strange thing is that they do not even realize it. They offer up their goodies and we, at a later point in time, reciprocate their gesture of benevolence.

My take on these developing trends are that we are allowing ourselves to open up to each other. We are getting to know each other a little better and we are beginning to trust each other. We still have our differences or issues that need to be tended to. Some of us still need to grow as individuals and embrace the struggle that we are all experiencing in order to make that fight a little easier but as a whole we are beginning to interact the way best friends do. I don’t mean the superficial friend that show up to drink your beer and eat your food and then move on to the next party. I am talking about the friend that is willing to sleep with the fat chick while you chase her hot friend. That is the buddy the will down a few beers, get in a bar fight, run from the cops, bail you out of jail, take you to breakfast, drop you off and do it all over again the next night.

It is always the little things, or the actions that take place out of the limelight, that go unnoticed but sometimes those are the things that begin to define who we are or who we become. Right now those little things are helping us come together as one big happy family.

I’ll leave you with a quote from our fearless leader.

Keep your heads up. I know it’s painful. We are all dealing with issues, both public and private. Don’t forget, we are all family and we can help each other.
--Our Company Commander

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Team building is one hell of an experience. Being on the high school football team is one thing, preparing to go to war with a group of guys are two completely different monsters. Knowing that the receiver, running back and tight end are going to run the play correctly and knowing that your buddy is going to stand his ground and put rounds down range when the time comes is like comparing a Ford Focus and a Lamborghini.

Our team has been coming together quite well in terms of camaraderie but we still are having issues with maturity and the decision making process. I see the guys growing up but it is difficult to know what is going on inside their heads and why it is taking so much time to realize that there is no reset button to the game that is about to commence.

A few of us have begun to babysit the guys that need it. I hate doing it but sometimes it is the only way. The issue in these types of environments is the ego. The ego either wants to stand its ground or it submits to the will and some of the guys do not have the will power to understand that their ego is detrimental to what we are here to accomplish.

Let visit about the term babysitting for a minute. I hate being on the business end of a babysitter and I hate being the babysitter. For example, our unit policy is that everyone moves around Camp McGregor in pairs. I get it, I understand it, but I do not like. I hate waiting on someone when I am ready to head to chow and why do I need someone holding my hand when I need to run to the PX to pick up a Gatorade? I understand the concept and how it keeps soldiers safe in a combat zone but it is driving me insane. I hate it so much I have stocked up a stash of foil packed tuna and chicken to munch on when I don’t feel like waiting on someone to head to chow.

Now when I have to stand over someone and ask them to clean their sleeping area several times I know they hate is just as much as I hate taking a buddy with me everywhere I go. However, a man can only be told to fix a problem so many times before he is either micro managed or fired, and in the Army, being fired is not an option.

The downside to having to babysitting these guys is that they will never grow up and if they are left to their own devices they will never change. The process is one vicious never ending cycle. If they have not gotten their heads in the game by now, it is not going to happen until the first bullet flies by their heads.

The issue then becomes one of trust. Can I trust this guy to maintain his sector of fire and not shoot at friendly forces (that means me)? Can I trust him to do what is necessary to keep himself and everyone else safe?

OK so you may be asking yourself, how does keeping a sleeping area cleans equates to trust ? I mentioned in a previous blog entry that a soldier is judged by his peers based on his level of professionalism and the decisions he makes. That concept holds true in the civilian world as well, just think of the coworker you dislike because of his questionable behavior either because he hates his job or he is stabbing everyone in the back in order to climb the corporate ladder. Would you trust him to lend a hand and help meet a deadline? The concept is the same but live rounds are a big part of the equation in our line of work and, the last time I checked, live rounds do a lot more than tickle when they come in contact with the human body.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I should have posted this sooner! It's a sitiation report (sitrep) on how our brigade is doing here at McGregor.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Soldiers always fight the war with ethics and morality and it is that war that comes to define the virtues of a professional soldier. There are thousands of instances where a soldier must make decisions that in any other setting would be mundane. However insignificant these decisions are, these instances cause us to evaluate and re-evaluate our belief system and this constantly challenges the very basis of those virtues. These are also the decisions that, in the eyes of our peers, project what each and every one of us is capable of. Loyalty, honor, respect, and self-discipline are a few of the virtues that a soldier must constantly work for to earn the mark of a professional. The story I am about to tell you is one of those instances.

We have be running around our FOB with blanks in our weapons to simulate walking around a FOB in a war zone with live rounds. A few days back one of the guys in my section lost his Magazine with five blanks in it. I don’t know the specifics of how this happened, but speculation has it that someone picked it up off his bunk and threw it in the trash. Fortunately the mag was found, but it is what happened in the 24 hours between the loss and the recovery that I am going to tell you about.

Shortly after the wag went missing, the Joe came up to me with his plan to replace the mag to avoid punishment. I was taking part in training that required me to be away from the rest of the company so he wanted me to lend him my mag with blanks while he acquired blanks at the training event the rest of the company was going to be attending. I declined his request for two reasons: one he is a grown man with a combat patch so I expected him to do the right thing and two; I am not in the business of babysitting grown men, especially men with combat patches.

If anything, they are the men that should be watching me and preparing me for the day we cross the imaginary line into a combat zone. Let me clarify this a little bit more, there is a fine line between babysitting men and being a leader. A babysitter never takes the training wheels off the bike when he sends his men out, but a leader slashes the front tire after taking the training wheels off. He allows his men the opportunity to grow and learn from the experience.

He and I are on the same team and this is where loyalty kicks in. I knew if I ran to our section Sergeant and dimed him out, I would lose the trust and respect of most of the guys in my section. I am about to go to war with these guys the last thing I want is half the guys hating me. My mistake was assuming he was going to do the right thing and take his mistake up the chain of command.

I know that assumption is the mother of all screw-ups and I wish I had taken that into account then because he did not come clean with his mistake until the next day. Like I mentioned earlier, I was separated from the company so, when I returned from my training that day I arrived to see him and the Non Commissioned Officers in our section tearing his living area apart looking for the missing mag.

What happen next made me feel like a dirt bag. Our section Sergeant walks up to me and asks why I hadn’t informed him of the incident. I didn’t want to sound defensive so I took a hit and ended up taking one of the other guys down with me. When the lost mag came to my attention I had asked one of the combat hardened Joes in our section for advice. He had the same mentality I had so we decided to let it ride out, hoping our buddy would do the right thing. The look of disappointment on my section Sergeant’s face made me want to crawl under my bunk and and curl up into the fetal position.

I have had very ambivalent feelings about the whole event. Part of me is upset that my buddy put me in that position but part of me does not care. We all make mistakes; it is how we learn. Part of me is upset because I should not have assumed that he would have done the right thing, while part of me knows babysitting is not in my job description. Part of me is upset because my reputation of being a turned on Joe took a hit but my loyalty to my guys did not. It is a very precarious situation to be in; I knew it then and I know it know. I may have lost a little trust from my chain of command and my honor as a soldier took a hit but it is a lesson learned. I must have forgotten to inflate the tire after the training wheels where removed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

As Infantrymen we have every God given right to complain and it seems that regardless of how much conditions improve we still find something to gripe about. Complaining is something that comes with the territory; it comes along with the long hours and low pay. I know people working at taco stands that make more money than some lower enlisted soldiers.

When we were at Ft. Hood we were staying in a large bay where all but a handful of guys in the company were crammed into. The bunks were in excellent shape by infantrymen standards. The mattresses were a mixture of old, fabric covered, urine collectors and hard, cold, plastic covered bricks. Some of the bunks were so close together that you might as well jump into bed with the soldier next to you.

Our barracks here at Camp McGregor are like the Marriott compared to the last place. All the furnishings are new and there is ample space between bunks. We are still staying in a huge 36 man bay, but it is better than the 80 man bay at Ft. Hood.

These open bays are a soldier’s worst nightmare. People coming and going at all hours of the night is not conducive to a man’s sleep cycle. Some people are so bad about cleaning up their sleeping area that the stench of dirty laundry and sweaty boots permeate the barracks.

There is also the goober that sets his alarm for some strange hour of the night and does not wake up when it goes off. I have gotten out of my bed three times in the last ten days to wake up different people for being that guy. I am usually not nice about it either, not because I like to be an asshole but because I hate getting my sleep interrupted. I am like a Grizzly coming out of hibernation at the wrong time.

There are also hygiene issues that arise when 36 men are staying in the same room. When we were in processing, we were all pumped full of smallpox and anthrax vaccinations and just a few minutes ago one of the Joes was walking around with the blister that forms around the site of the smallpox vaccine injection exposed. We were told that the infection can spread easily to other parts of the body, if the enemy does not kill us, that idiot will. These barracks are like a Petri disk when one person gets sick the illness spreads like an STD at a college frat party.

This is just a taste of some of the complaints that the average Joe is capable of. I can sit here all day and write all day about all the jaw jacking that takes place on a daily basis but that would be the literary equivalent of being on death row and not knowing if your appeal is going to go through. I might as well end it now, on my own terms, instead of leaving it in the hands of others.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We have been at Ft. Bliss for a few days now. The weather is beautiful and, from what others tell me, the mock FOB (Forward Operating Base) we are staying at looks allot like Iraq. The Islam call to prayer even plays out over the loudspeakers five times a day to acclimate us to it.

The flight in to Ft. Bliss was interesting as well. We were driven out onto the tarmac from some rear entrance at the airport in chartered buses, loaded all the gear into the belly of the plane, took our seats and liftoff. No airport security and tickets to deal with, just simple and to the point. It reminded me of the scene in Jarhead where the Marines are seated in their plane for their first trip to the sandbox.

The first few days was a dog and pony show as we started and completed all the in processing that the army requires when we are activated. We are herded around like cattle until every administrative and medical task required is complete. Some of the guys would start mooing from time to time just to break the monotony of the routine. It was truly a circus show and the irony was that the whole process started in a big white tent that was big enough for a circus show. It even had the big peaks in the roof that are created when the tent poles are shoved tight up against the ceiling.