Monday, July 20, 2009

Observing the First Lunar Landing

There are a lot of stories today marking July 20th as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and I wanted to write my own piece. As my family will tell you, I have always been interested in astronomy and space. So it's no surprise that I wanted to blog about the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing in 1969. Though I wasn't even born yet, I have an intense fascination with our American space program, especially the Apollo era in the 1960s and early 1970s. The national sense of purpose and pride in accomplishment still inspires today. I wish I could have watched the happenings myself from the vantage point of having lived during that time. If ever there was a time when civilians, private industry, government and our military worked together for a grand accomplishment that benefited mankind, it was the lunar landing of Apollo 11 on this day, July 20, in 1969. Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander and the first man to walk on the Moon, was a former Navy pilot who flew combat missions in the Korean War. He also flew the experimental X-15 rocket plane, which was the link between aircraft that could fly at 30,000 feet and spacecraft that could fly outside the atmosphere. Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin was a career Air Force officer and pilot who helped develop a lot of the rendezvous techniques that made the Apollo mission possible. A little-known fact is that he was the first, and far as I know, the only person to ever hold Holy Communion on the surface of the moon, from inside the lunar module. Command module pilot Michael Collins, another career Air Force pilot, flew the command module that stayed in orbit around the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin took the lunar module to the surface. As you may be able to tell, I have read a lot of books about the Apollo mission. I have some old NASA DVD discs at home that I found in a bargain bin at a store back home. The footage is grainy and unrefined and the audio is far below today's digital quality, but the stock footage of the Apollo 11 mission and the landing is still awesome to watch. In some ways, I like it better than new videos because it features the original radio transmissions and videos. It looks the way it would have looked in 1969. So today, I join other Americans in saluting the Apollo 11 mission and the hundreds of thousands of people who made it reality.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Varnish & Vanity

We had worked hard to beautify (as much as is possible) the Media Operations Center here at Camp Liberty, Baghdad. We installed wooden panels on which to post our photography, of which us 46Qs are proud. With help from 1LT Sarrat and SFC Burke, I nailed up the selected photos. Then we hung an enormous wooden display to hold the portrait of each unit member. It has filled the hall with the smell of varnish and we all admire it again every time we walk by. I have to admit, it is impressive to see our unit in pictures on the wall. We joked that our replacement unit will be intimidated when they see our handiwork.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Heat Is On

For six months, I have heard about the infamous high heat of Iraq during the Spring and Summer months. I tried to imagine what it would be like, comparing it to the humid heat of the South. But it is a different type of heat, a dry desert heat about which I've heard. Soldiers returning from Iraq often compared it to a hair dryer. I am finding now, as we have been in triple-digit temperatures for a week, that the "hair dryer" comparison is accurate. Wearing full body armor and spending any amount of time outside will result in torrents of sweat soaking the entire uniform. We drink several quarts of water a day just to stave off the dehydration that so easily befalls people living and working in this climate. The highest temperature so far has been about 111 degrees, and they say it will get hotter. It will stay this way until about September, I am told. This year, I have experienced two extremes of weather - the single-digit temperatures of the New Jersey winter back at Fort Dix, and now the triple-digit temperatures of Iraq.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I am the 211th MPAD's newest non-commissioned officer. I officially received my sergeant stripes in a promotion ceremony last week. Our other newly-minted NCOs, SGTs Fardette, Anderson and Logue all helped me prepare by rehearsing the promotion ceremony and the NCO creed. The ceremony was held in the evening, and it turned out to be great weather. We had a cookout afteward and everybody had fun. I was humbled that the unit would hold a cookout for me on my promotion day. It feels good to have my stripes now, after my promotion paperwork disappeared somewhere in Texas. Another packet was submitted here in Iraq. Now, with rank comes more responsibility and accountability. That means less complaining and fewer excuses. Thank you 211th for helping me with my promotion.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Groundhog Day #73

As I've told many people, everyday here in Iraq seems like Groundhog Day, as the days of long hours and tedious work all seem to melt together. I'm calling today Groundhog Day #73, which counts the days in country. But we have been mobilized 108 days, not including pre-mobilization back in Texas. So a deployment becomes measured in milestones instead of hours, days and months. That is the best way to measure the time passing. If you try to count days and estimate the days left in country, it just seems too daunting. For example, instead of measuring by days, you might mearsure the time in blocks: the last day of mobilization, the first day in Iraq or the beginning of a new season. Significant holidays, like Easter or Mother's Day are also good ways to measure the deployment. Even mundane things can become milestones of time passed. For example, the day I finally removed the bandage from my smallpox vaccine back at Fort Dix, which measured about six weeks passed, was a milestone. I even measure the end of a bar of soap as another month or so passed. Either way, we are starting to mark our time in country, but we have a ways to go. In the picture is a milestone for the 211th MPAD---receiving our combat patches to show we have deployed to a war zone with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

About Out Of Here

So we cleaned up the barracks today, about as good as they've ever been cleaned from what I can tell. One thing remains consistent here at Fort Dix--the cold. It doesn't really let up. The ground is hard and icy all the time. But we may wish for cold weather again once we are in the desert in Iraq. We are feeling good after completing our mobilization training. It feels like we have accomplished so much already, before the mission has even started. Pictured at right, we are on a range at Fort Dix rehearsing to defend a base attack. Days out on the range are usually fun days, and this day was no exception.

Friday, January 23, 2009

At Fort Dix

The 211th MPAD has been here at Fort Dix since January 6th, which is another leg of our tour of duty. It has been bitterly cold up here, and getting up and outside before day has been tough, but now I've finally caught up with the rest of the unit, which trained together here in October. Nobody has gone stir crazy yet, but most of us are ready for a change of location, even if it is overseas. I've been out on the range, firing my weapon more than I ever have before, probably. I've got huge bags full of equipment and the extreme weather gear, which almost takes up a whole duffel bag. But we have also had some good times in this Winter wonderland. I celebrated my birthday here. We had birthday cake and, appropriately enough, watched the Bill Murray and John Candy comedy "Stripes" in the day room. A good time was had by all. Our last big hurrah here was watching Super Bowl 43 on the big screen in the Fort Dix gym.