GOING TO AFGHANISTAN |
October 18, 2006
My life in brief: I am 44 years old, have been in the Air Force for 17.5 years, passed over for Major (that means I am still a Captain) but allowed to remain in the Air Force until I can retire at 20 years. I have a wonderful, lovely wife, Jancy; three terrific kids, Taylor, Elise, and Ryan; five dogs; live in Tullahoma, Tennessee; and am a Logistics Readiness Officer at Arnold AFB in TN. My passions include soccer, science fiction, dog rescue, and ice tea (with lemon). As of April 2006, going to Afghanistan had not even crossed my mind. Iraq, yes, Afghanistan, no.
My job at Arnold AFB is (or was, and hopefully will be again in a year) to prepare the military personnel stationed there for deployments. Yes, I would be in the mix too, but my next window of deployment availability (we actually use the term "vulnerability") was the summer of 2007 (it was April 2006 when the fun started). In the Air Force there are two types of deployments, the shorter 4 or 6 monthers, and those that last one year (called "remotes"). The one year deployments are treated like an actual move, as though you were transferring to another base, while after a short one, you'd come back to your home base and continue with your job there. This is, of course, a very simplified explanation, for those of you not in the military. For my military readers, you know all too well how much more there is to it.
In mid April, give or take a week, I found out that I was number five on the list for getting tagged with a remote. Fair enough, I had never done one, and it was certainly my turn. A brief discussion with the guy (who will remain anonymous; let's call him Captain X) who handled these remotes lead to the conclusion by him that I would probably go on a remote tour in the spring of 2007. OK, plenty of time to prepare and wrap my brain around going to Iraq for a year. But wait, there was more. Before going away for a year, as an added bonus, I would get to do two months of Army Combat Skills Training (CST). The fun never stops hitting you full in the face, usually with a large, aluminum bat.
At least I knew nothing would happen for a while, because I was number five on the list. Even if someone say, broke a leg, during CST, there were four other guys ahead of me on the list. So I had a little breathing room. (If you aren't familiar with the literary device known as "foreshadowing," pause here, dig out your dictionary, and look it up. It's important you know this, because I'm laying it on thick, in multiple layers, with a side order of foreboding. Look that one up too). As I was saying, plenty of time to make that list of things Jancy would need to do if I died. Plenty of time.
Has everyone looked up foreshadowing? Good.
The very next week, Captain X calls me up, and the conversation goes something like this:
Captain X: Hey, Doug, how are you?
Me: Since you're calling, probably about to be very bad.
Captain X (laughs evilly): Remember what we talked about last week?
Me: We talked about many things, none of them good. They did all have heat, sand, and impending death in common.
Captain X: Remember when you asked what would happen if someone got injured in training?
Me: Yes, I do, but I remember even more vividly that I was # 5 on the list, not # 1, so why have you called me? Did the other four already decide to leave the Air Force?
Captain X (ignoring me): We had someone get medically disqualified mid-way through CST, and you are going to be the short notice replacement. We may need you to leave next week.
Me: Let's go back to the part where I was #5 on the list.
Captain X went on to explain that I would be #5 on the list in September, but was #1 right now. Seems all the other guys who would eventually get ahead of me on the list did not have one year on station yet, so could not deploy. So I had a choice, go or get out of the Air Force. After having put in 17.5 years, and being able to retire at 20, I could, as a fellow Captain once said, stand in quicksand and eat dirt for a year.
The assignment was to Afghanistan for a year, with the delightful additional two months of CST training first. A fourteen-month, all-expenses-paid vacation. The only question was, how fast could they get me over there? My group had already completed a month of training, and they needed to figure out how to get me there ASAP! Thus began three weeks of being jerked back and forth wondering whether or not I would even deploy, or what base I would train at (or, to spare my former English teacher pain, "the base at which I would train"). I was told a total of four different training locations, and also told that my assignment might only be for six months, in which case I would not go at all. I wasn't #1 on the six-month list, only the one-year list. I received final confirmation three days before my flight would leave. I was going to go to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and only for 3.5 weeks instead of two months.
Did you follow all that? If not, go back and read it again. There will be a quiz next week. Let's pause and critically analyze the situation, looking for good points. I can think of a hundred of them.
1. My training would be one month instead of two.
2. I wasn't going to Iraq.
3. The weather would be cooler in Kabul than Iraq.
4-100. I wasn't going to Iraq.
There, 100 reasons why I was a very lucky guy and should be grateful. Which I was. And am. Next post we'll see how much fun I had at Fort Sill. I'm sure the anticipation is killing you. Fort Sill almost killed me.