Preparing for Deployment

It’s time I gave you an update of what I’ve been doing.

I’ve been on full-time orders with the Army since early January. We started off with a couple of weeks of premobilization training at Camp Swift, near Bastrop, TX, then I did the Combat Medical Ministry course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and since February 10th we have been at North Fort Hood.

Premobilization training consisted of review of a lot of basic soldier skills–marksmanship, land navigation, convoy operations, reacting to IEDs and direct and indirect fire, etc. All from an infantry perspective–but we are a Combat Aviation Brigade, and will likely never do 90% of what we had to be trained in. We had to do one morning of Modern Army Combatives (hand-to-hand fighting, using a system that the Army adapted from Brazilian jiu-jitsu). If an aviation brigade headquarters ever does this, we are all in serious trouble! I participated just for the fun of it (as did everyone else).

I then went to Fort Sam Houston for two weeks of Combat Medical Ministry training. This included two shifts as a duty chaplain for Brooke Army Medical Center, running to the Trauma Center whenever they called, “Trauma team to the trauma room.” I only responded to three during my hours on duty, including 1) the birth of a baby, 2) a guy who poked his eye on the corner of his stove, and 3) a drunk guy who leaned over a bridge to vomit and fell over and hit his head. We got tours of the hospital, and of the Warrior and Family Support Center, and the Center for the Intrepid, meeting lots of wounded warriors with burns, Traumatic Brain Injury, and amputations. I was reminded of my 2 1/2 months of Clinical Pastoral Education that I did back in 1986 (and because I had done CPE, upon completion of this course I received the Additional Skill Identifier of 7S, Combat Medical Pastoral Care Specialist). Lots has happened in military medicine since 1986–soldiers and their families are cared for much better, and the science of surgery and rehabilitation has come far. It was a wonderful two weeks.

On 9 February we had our Mobilization Ceremony at our hanger at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where we said good-bye to our families. Joy and Andrew got a ride up from Houston, and we had a weekend together.

Then, on 10 February, we boarded busses for North Fort Hood. We are now on Title X, active duty status. We didn’t have to redo the training we did during premobilization, fortunately. We began with Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP)–making sure paperwork and medical work was up to date. It took me several days to clear because they didn’t like my cholesterol level and had to request a waiver from CENTCOM (saying, “He’s a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, mostly vegetarian, has 116/70 BP, Framingham score of 6% likelihood of heart attack, never smoked–he’ll knock out the rest of the animal products from his diet and go on lipitor”)–and the waiver came through in 2 hours. We had various blood tests and immunizations–including anthrax and smallpox (my last smallpox vaccination was 5 November 1962).

We’ve had some mandatory classes, some training in MDMP (military decision making process), but most of our time is focused on our real world mission of deployment to Kuwait. This week included a morning of key leader engagement training–what to do/not do when we meet our military counterparts or government leaders. My chaplain assistant, SSG Ben Swisher, and I also had three days of specific Unit Ministry Team training with CH (LTC) Paul Andreasen. We were joined by CH (MAJ) Robert Morris of Idaho (deploying with a unit from Waterbury, CT), and CH (MAJ) Saul Castillo, a fellow Seventh-day Adventist from the California National Guard. We head into a CTE (Culminating Training Exercise) next week, and then go to Fort Rucker, AL, for an ATX (Aviation Training Exercise).

On February 20 I got word that the DA promotions board selected me for Major back in November, so I am waiting now for the orders to pin it on (I’ve been operating in a Major position for a year now).

One of our subordinate units was also training at Fort Hood, B Co., 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, stationed at Ellington Field in Houston. This was my former battalion. We saw them a few times, then the Cdr, CSM, XO and I were able to go see them get on the plane for Afghanistan. They are ably led by CPT Stacy Rostorfer and 1SG Johnnie Cox.

We have lots of “white space” when there is no organized training I’m either visiting soldiers, training SSG Swisher, or working out of the office in the chapel. We have a full schedule of services–Bible studies on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, Catholic mass at 1400 on Saturday, and services at 0800, 0900, and 1900 on Sunday. I do the Friday night Bible study, covering the book of Acts, and the 0800 Liturgical Protestant service, and help out with 0900. We were joined last week by one of our subordinate battalions that is going with us to Kuwait, 449th Aviation Support Battalion from San Antonio, with CH (CPT) Guillermo Cardona and SGT Donald Boland. Coordinating ministry at North Fort Hood is the Hood Mobilization Brigade chaplain, CH (LTC) Paul Dirksmeyer, who was one of my fellow students when I did Phase II of the Chaplain Officer Basic Course at Fort Monmouth, NJ, in the summer of 1990.

We have Brigade staff meeting three days a week (normally), and the boss has asked that I do a brief teaching to start each meeting on some aspect of moral or ethical leadership, resilience, culture, etc. He also had me do a training for the entire HHC on varieties of Islam. I’ll be posting some of my briefings here.

One negative–the National Guard continues to be treated like stepchildren by some in the Active Duty component. We were welcomed with a video clip from “300,” contrasting the full time warrior “Spartans” with the part-time “Arcadians,” who were potters and sculptors. This is highly offensive and flat wrong. We are soldiers–but we are also NASA scientists and engineers, nurses, pastors, business professionals, lawyers, paramedics, and far more. We have the soldier skills–and we have more. And we stand in the shadow of those other citizen soldiers like the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord and the Texans at the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto.

That’s enough for now, catching up on a couple of months worth of stuff. Keep us all in your prayers (and pray that the politicians in Washington end their sequestration squabbles soon!).

Below are some pictures, in chronological order. I took most of them, but I added some photos taken by our PAO, MAJ Randy Stillinger (those of me at places other that Fort Sam Houston, and the last ones of the departure of B/1-149); those of me at Fort Sam Houston were taken by their staff photographer, whose name I forget!

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