Friday, January 23, 2009

Living the Dream...

As Sgt. Zoeller reminds me from time to time, we are living the dream. So, what does 'living the dream' mean? It is a phrase that each Army Soldier defines for him/her self.

Sgt. Risner says he has said it plenty of times, but he says, "I've never really given it any thought to what it means!"

Sgt. Burrell has used the phrase often and says it means to him that he is "living what people are dreaming about".

It is a great phrase to say to anyone of higher rank than you when they ask you how you're doing. Generally, it captures the moment.

So, now I have made it a little bit of a habit. How ya doing Spc. Alperin?, "living the dream, Sgt./First Sgt./Mam/Sir, living the dream."

Sgt. Zoeller expresses it well by saying that it means "I'm not sitting in a cubicle, I'm not picking up trash, and I'm not doing taxes."

Sgt. Zoeller says he stole 'living the dream' from Sgt. Taylor. Sgt. Taylor says for him the phrase 'Living the dream' replaced another catchy Army response to the question of how ya' doing, 'phenomenal'.

Anyway you look at it, while in the Army, 'Living the dream' is an optimistic outlook on your day.

Realism dominates Heat instruction

FORT DIX, N.J. – Extend to your left, and stretch. Warm-up exercises as part of Physical Training continue everyday for Soldiers here at Fort Dix. Soldiers take part in these exercises in order to get their bodies ready for a good workout. But, Soldiers doing warm-up exercises in battle rattle, including Individual Body Armor and Helmet with eye protection is definitely not the norm.

It’s all part of the class HEAT (Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer), which takes Soldiers through a simulated HMMWV (Humvee) rollover. The class is intensely physical, requiring Soldiers to exit a Humvee simulator from an upside down position so that they can prepare for any real-life rollovers that may happen during their deployment.

“They need to be loose before they get in the simulator,” said Staff Sgt. Lamonte Thomas Sr., HEAT instructor, from Colonial Heights, Va. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va.
Due to the nature of the training, instructors must focus Soldiers on handling both the physical and psychological elements involved in getting out of the vehicle. Instructors teach how to handle Humvee rollovers and the aftermath of a rollover incident.

The training begins with classroom instruction, and takes Soldiers through a process that covers all the basics for getting out safely from all positions, including driver, team captain, right and left rear seats and the gunner’s position.

By the end of training, after Soldiers have successfully exited the simulator, added emphasis is placed on what to do and the positioning of Soldiers outside of the rollover.

“We call it muscle memory,” said Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. also of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. “In case of an accident, Soldiers must know procedures. There must be accountability.”

The aftermath also includes having Soldiers react to enemy fire, Improvised Explosive Devices, and caring for the wounded.

“In case someone goes down, they need to know what to do, including the nine-line medivac,” said Vega.

Instructors are dealing with different levels of knowledge when it comes to riding in Humvees.
“Soldiers who have never rode in a Humvee before are not aware of the dangers a rollover can cause,” said Thomas.

HEAT began soon after the war in Iraq started, said Thomas. It was due to the high amount of IED’s encountered by Soldiers.

Thomas has been an instructor here for two years and he also taught for 4 months at Camp Baring in Kuwait. He knows that HEAT makes a difference and keeps Soldiers prepared for the worst.

In reference to a rollover accident here in September of last year, Thomas said, “Soldiers knew what to do. This made us feel that we are helping Soldiers and that the training is realistic.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, unfortunately, it’s not just the IED’s, the terrain also makes a difference.

“You can roll over by hitting a sand pocket going 25 miles per hour,” said Thomas.
HEAT is evolving, too. New to the simulator are combat door locks. These are the same combat door locks that are part of the Up-armored Humvees. These are heavy, equipment laden Humvees.
“Up-armored Humvees are more dangerous than regular Humvees,” said Thomas.

Thomas and Vega take pride in providing the most realistic instruction possible. They know the importance that HEAT has in preparing Soldiers for deployment. Making Soldiers aware of what to do in a rollover is their goal.

“Having all the information they need to keep them safe is the key, said Vega. I’ve been over there, I can give my input to help get them ready.”

First, 30 degrees to the left, then it’s 30 degrees to the right, two full rotations later and now it’s gravity’s turn as the simulator goes into full effect. Soldiers are yelling instructions to each other and reaching for the seatbelt, gunner’s release, or combat door lock all in an effort to egress and get to a secure position outside of the simulator. It’s a time for Soldiers to be expedient and proficient when their senses might be telling them otherwise. It feels completely unnatural, but it’s a Soldier’s reality.

HEAT is a whole humvee rollover experience taught by knowledgeable, passionate instructors. HEAT involves a multitude of tasks for Soldiers that requires an active mind, a sound stomach, and a limber body. PT uniforms are not allowed.

Photo Caption: Sgt. Ted Vega, HEAT instructor, from Escondido, Ca. of the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade of A.P. Hill, Va. takes Soldiers through a series of warm-up exercises prior to Soldiers entering the Humvee simulator. Vega begins with neck exercises and works his way down the body as Soldiers follow his lead.

Proactive COIN sets behavior standards

FORT DIX, N.J.--Counter Insurgency (COIN) is a working priority and a theme that is being repeated during mobilization training here. It is the standard operating procedure for Soldiers currently active in and deploying to countries which have insurgents. These daily laws to follow are priority for the Iraqi soldiers as well.

Training here for mobilizing Soldiers emphasizes COIN through classes, briefings, lectures and discussions. Training inside the classroom is complimented with plenty of real-life training outside the classroom. Soldiers are engaged in convoys, night fire exercises, land navigation, and plenty of urban environment training.

“War is routine, and then it is terror,” said Lt. Col. Charles P. McCormick, commander of the 332nd Ordinance Battalion, from Redhouse, W.Va. “Soldiers can’t be listening to IPoDs in the gunner’s hatch, and they must always apply the 5 (meters) to 25 (meters) watch. They must look out for any changes of behavior in the population.”

Guarding against complacency and trying not to set patterns are major elements of COIN according to McCormick. He adds that living among the Iraqi people is the basis for COIN and working with the host country is the key.

“No longer are we in a sterile environment, “ said McCormick. “The Army has done an excellent job replicating what it’s like over there. In fact, we are even employing displaced Iraqis as trainers who talk to troops to give real-life experiences.”

McCormick is getting ready for his third deployment to the region. He is working closely with his command sergeant major, who is also preparing for his third deployment to the region, to engage his battalion in COIN-related operations.

COIN allows the leadership to get a better idea of what is out there, said Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny M. McPeek, from Kingsport, Tenn. Preparing the Soldiers to report what they see, changes they see, and any high-value targets to watch are all part of training Soldiers as sensors.

Iraqi soldiers and American Soldiers have trained together to form Military Transition Teams. McPeek has firsthand experience as part of a MiTT, and has additional experience as a graduate from the COIN Center For Excellence in Camp Taji, Iraq, which serves both U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces.

“Iraqi soldiers are liaisons,” said McPeek. “We utilize the ISF to use as an assessment of our surroundings.”

McPeek indicated that information gathered by ISF was pretty accurate. It is has been an adjustment for troops to count on information from ISF, but they have used it to their advantage, said McPeek.

A significant byproduct of successful COIN is the ability of Iraqis to work together on teams that include Shiites and Sunnis. Soldiers have made significant strides in mending fences between these groups, according to McCormick.

McCormick says that Iraq is turning more toward what America represents. “It’s the right of all people to worship as they see fit,” said McCormick.

McCormick adds that COIN contributes to helping Iraqis see that tolerance of all religions and points of view can coexist.

“I had Sunnis and Shiites in the same battalion; by the end of the mission’s year, they came together as a collective unit,” said McPeek. “One team, one fight, I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it.”

COIN is a way of life. It is a lifestyle that works by being proactive, vigilant and patient. It is the fabric of the current mission, Operation Iraqi Freedom. COIN means to always be aware of the surroundings and to report any and all suspicious activities that could interrupt progress of the growing infrastructure of the host nation or to inflict violence.  McCormick and McPeek are prime examples of Soldiers living, training and working daily toward making all Soldiers more aware of where COIN fits in the framework of the Global War on Terror.

Photo Caption: Commander Lt. Col. Charles P. McCormick, Redhouse, W.V. and Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny M. McPeek, Kingsport, Tn. of the 332nd Ordinance Battalion out of Kenova, W.V. stand together in front of both the U.S. and Iraq flags to show support and solidarity for the newly formed Iraq government. McCormick and McPeek are leading the efforts to strengthen COIN among Soldiers. “Every Soldier is a sensor. Soldiers must have situational awareness. They must know the surroundings. They must be on watch. They must look for patterns and changes in patterns,” said McCormick.