I realize there were far more opportunities for lows than highs this past year. But whether it was sheer luck or the experience gained from previous deployments and our constant training, the worst of the two was prevented from transpiring.
To prepare for our rotation in Iraq, we are required to conduct a series of training events aimed at gauging our ability to work as a cohesive combat team. Our rotation to the National Training Center
at Fort Irwin, Calif., was to be our culmination event, wrapping up months of intense training.
Because of President Bush's surge, the NTC came to us instead of us deploying there. Some people were skeptical of this decision and the media was abuzz that we might not receive proper training to deal with the people and environment in Iraq. They could not have been more wrong.
Probably one of the biggest cons to not going to NTC was the fact that we as a brigade were denied the ability to practice deploying as a combat team, a team with a multitude of moving parts, which must be synchronized to the nth degree to ensure success.
The cons, though, were outweighed by the pros. The most important pro was the opportunity to train our Provincial Reconstruction Team. Interaction with the Iraqi people is where we have gained most of our success. Once we got our feet on the ground in Iraq with our embedded PRT, we knew exactly what we needed to do.
We all knew what the surge was and what its intent was focused on accomplishing, but I personally didn't know what to expect. All I knew was we were the last of the five surge brigades, we were going where help was needed the most and we were going in three months earlier than planned.
I don't think anyone really realizes the enormity of the task of deploying a brigade-size element, much less one on a surge time line. We were working almost around the clock to meet an accelerated time table.
Leaving the family was probably the single hardest thing I had to do. Maybe it was leaving the kids (who are 7 and 11).
The trip over was pretty solemn. We didn't say much at all the whole flight.
We left May 9 and arrived the next day in Kuwait. This was my second time there. During the first, we didn't think there would be a need for a second trip. Who knows when it will be over with.
About 10 days later, we arrived in Iraq and went straight to Forward Operating Base Kalsu. People usually rotate in and out, and I would usually get a desk and a couple of computers. We replaced no one. There was nothing for us to use. We worked and lived out of tents in 120-plus degree heat. We had air conditioners, but inside my little tent, sweat was still rolling off me. My desk was two boxes of copy paper and another for a seat.
Things started to improve when we moved from a tent to a containerized housing unit. We have a motto in the Army:
Every day you improve your foxhole.
The death of a soldier never gets any easier. You know it's going to happen. It's not a question of if but when. I remember the first one during this deployment. I was with the colonel in the dining hall.
One of our Bradley fighting vehicles had been blown up with an improvised explosive device.
We have about 30 mine-resistant vehicles now. Some can't fit down the little roads we are used to getting down, but for the most part they are doing what they are intended to do: save lives.
The bottom is shaped like a V. When an improvised explosive device goes off, instead of the blast hitting a flat bottom, it goes on either side of the V and deflects a majority of it. There are still injuries but nothing like we were experiencing.
My lowest point of the year just happened. My stepfather died two days before Christmas. He was a Navy medic in Normandy on D-Day. I remember him telling me there were things he saw that were better left unsaid. When I told him I was going to join the Army, he thought I was crazy.
He said, 'You have a college education. Why would you want to do that?'
I love what I do.
My highest point of the year had to be coming back home for Christmas. That was thrilling.