20 September 2005


We have an address!

232CSB (1344TC)
Soldier's Name
P.O. Box 3150
Gretna, LA 70054-3150

P.S. Comments explaining what happened to this blog have been added to the post below.

13 September 2005

Blog Ends

The military has asked me to stop blogging on this site.

Instead, here are some pictures.



11 September 2005

Day 10

Today I stayed back in the rear, while others went on missions. It was an interesting day nonetheless.

Today is September 11, 2005. My Commander (CPT Belsha) had a formation in the dark this morning (we have one every morning at about 6) in which she said that every day she wakes up and asks herself if she could be doing more for her fellow man, and that right now she couldn’t think of anything more that she could be doing than what we are doing right now. I have to agree. Then we had a minute of silence in remembrance of the events of 9/11/01.

I went on sick call for my finger this morning—it had become stiff and swollen during the night. It was more to document the injury in case complications developed later than because I was worried about it. The doctor said that it had probably been hyperextended, gave me Motrin, and sent me back to duty.

The base is starting to come together. Showers, laundry, a mess hall, a PX (alright, NEX), some order established on the airfield where we’re living (one way in, one way out)...even an Internet cafĂ© that I discovered today. I’m starting to feel like a soldier again. I got a haircut (finally! I’ve needed one since we moved out), I have clean clothes, a reasonably clean body, hot chow, a permanent place to sleep, electricity to the tent...all I need now are shined boots, which I will have as soon as I find my shoeshine kit. I may have to buy another one.

My haircut was paid for by an Air Force Colonel who needed to jump in front of me (and others) for a quick hair fix. I told him not to bother, but he paid for me and four others.

I finally broke down and bought a digital camera from the NEX (Naval EXchange) today, for about $200. It’s pretty nice. I’ll post pictures soon.

Our camp is really shaping up as well. We’ve put out camouflage netting as porches for our tents. It’s amazing how much cooler it is under there—cooler even than in the tent. A Wal-Mart run was made today, and people went all out. This evening people were sitting around in their new camp chairs, playing their new CDs on their new stereos while being protected from bugs by their new bug zappers, being cooled by their new fans, and lighted by their new tiki torches (tiki torches!!), while others threw footballs or frisbees with their new...you get the idea. I’m sure that once we get everything set up the way we like it, we’ll have to move.

Fire ants are from the devil. I and another soldier are convinced that, under a microscope, they reveal little horns and cloven heels. Thank God for ant spray. Holy water would probably work just as well.

The mosquitoes, on the other hand, are surprisingly benevolent. They’re large, slow, easy to kill, and kind of politely bite you and flutter away, leaving a bite that itches (a lot, I admit) for only about five minutes. A light coat of bug spray, reapplied occasionally, keeps them off nicely.

This evening I got tasked to go out on a mission to deliver water to the police base camp. This mission has already been aborted several times, and the trucks have been sitting in our motor pool, full of water and unavailable for other missions, for several days. Well, we finally got in the trucks to take them (weapons in hand), drove out of the motor pool, around the giant concrete pad where a lot of people and equipment are, to the gate—and turned right and went back to our motor pool. And parked. That was it. The mission was over. Apparently it had been cancelled before we got out of the gate. We have a military photographer from Illinois Public Affairs with us (sometimes), and she was hanging around after almost everyone had gone back to the tents. I asked her what she was doing, and she said she was waiting for the mission to go out again. It took a bit of convincing for her to believe I wasn’t pulling her leg when I told her it wasn’t going out again; that was the extent of the mission for the night.

The Commander came up and asked what happened. I told her that we had simply driven around the parking lot and she just keeled over. She literally doubled over with laughter, tears coming out of her eyes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone laugh that hard. I think she’s getting a little frustrated with the disorganization around here; like I said, that mission has been canceled several times now.

It’s funny—Soldiers in the field never know what day it is. The day of the week just has no meaning for us. We don’t get weekends off. Someone said they tried to call their wife at work yesterday, only to realize that it was closed; it was Saturday. I’ve done the same thing. The only time we know what day it is is when they announce when Chaplain services will be—then we realize that it must be Sunday.

My accent is coming back. Well, sometimes. See, I grew up in the South, principally in Alabama, where I spent four years, from 4-8 years old. So I have a latent Southern accent that comes out whenever I’m around southerners. It started to emerge when I spent that day in the back of a truck with the Georgia DNR cops, but it’s going away again now, around our own Illinois soldiers. It’s amusing—I don’t pick up the accent of the people I’m with; I simply revert to my old Alabama accent. Georgians talk a little differently.

I’ve made a deal (somehow, the phrase “drug deal” has become current when any sort of unofficial or off-the-record (but not illegal) deal is being made) with the photographer I mentioned to get all the pictures she has so far. Hopefully, I’ll get lots of good shots.


• There are more military aircraft flying over New Orleans than over Iraq or Afghanistan.
• There are 50,000 military servicemembers either on the ground or on their way.


10 September 2005

Day 9

New Orleans is very slowly coming back to life. It’s good to see. The electrical workers are busy constantly, trying to bet the power lines disentangled from trees, righting tilting electric poles, and replacing poles that have been broken in two. Today I saw a McDonald’s sign on, announcing what specials were going on. There was no one in the store, so I presumed it was not opened yet (obviously they never turned the sign off when they evacuated), but it was an improvement. In those areas (such as those close to the base I’m at) where people have been allowed to return, I’ve seen people with chainsaws trying to clear their property, and here and there businesses open. There’s a bar with “thank you Guardsmen” painted on the wood over its windows. Of course we all want to go there, but no drinking is allowed. The roads, even in the restricted areas, are much more crowded now than when we first got here, mostly (if not entirely; it’s sometimes hard to tell) with rescue vehicles.

I had a very interesting day today. It started with injuring myself. As I believe I mentioned, I used to drive the old deuce-and-a-halves when I was a Private, so I know them pretty well. Well, I was climbing around on one today, checking the oil and such, and in the process of lowering the hood, I went to put my foot on the bumper—and it wasn’t there. Apparently they shortened the bumper on the A3s by about three inches, but I hadn’t really noticed, and wasn’t thinking—I know this truck by heart, right? So the edge of my foot just caught the bumper and I slipped to the ground, barely hanging on by one hand. In the process I managed to pull or twist the middle finger of my right hand. It’s been stiff and sore all day.

But the day got better. We went out on the same mission we’ve been doing for several days now—hauling police around to check for stragglers who haven’t left yet. This time we were working for the California Highway Patrol. Apparently riding around in our trucks is too much work for them—all they used our trucks for was to haul (potential) evacuees; they themselves drove around in their nice air conditioned SUVs, clogging up the roads. At first we drove around trying to find where we were supposed to be (every truck has a Louisiana State Policeman in the cab directing us, because obviously the CHP has no more idea of where to go than we do). I have a feeling that coordination between everyone could be greatly improved. I wonder how much a) duplication of effort and b) missed areas there have been. I have no way of knowing. Anyway, eventually we found some streets to clear (same process as before—leave comments if you want to know more detail about anything I say), then went back to the base camp. After waiting for a while there, we went out again—but this time to an area of town I hadn’t seen before. We crossed a bridge, and then—wow. Mud. Everywhere. Obviously, this was a place that the floodwaters had hit pretty hard. The floodlines on the buildings were about 5 feet up, and every car had dried mud on its roof. The streets and lawns were all covered with either wet or dried-out mud, depending on how close to the levee you were (closer to the levee was uphill, and dried quicker). It was very, very messy. While we found no people (though apparently one dead body was found), there were several dogs running around. They were quite tame, and looked in good shape—so far at least. I was amazed that they had survived, but dogs can be pretty resourceful.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned how the police are marking homes they’ve checked. They have red marking paint in spray cans that they draw big X’s on the house somewhere (nice policemen do it on boarded up windows or sidewalks or window glass; uncaring ones do it on doors and walls) with the date in the top “V” of the X and a 0 in the bottom one. The 0, I presume, refers to how many refugees or bodies they found within the home. The paint is marked “temporary,” so perhaps it washes off, but I’m going to come down Cadiz street five years from now and see how much of that paint is still left.

On the way back, we went through the French Quarter. New Orleans is absolutely amazing. Have I said that yet? If so, it bears repeating. Downtown is awesome, but the French Quarter is absolutely astounding. Bourbon Street is much narrower and more built-up than I had pictured it. I’m not going to try to describe it to you, except to say that there were tons of vehicles of all types around; it was tough weaving through them. Traffic laws of all sorts are void in New Orleans right now—at least for relief vehicles. We ignore stop lights, stop signs, one-way streets; we pretty much go wherever we want. There was plenty of trash in the French Quarter, too, but some people were beginning to clean things up. I must come back here after they’ve had a chance to move back in and get things running again.

Downtown Canal Street is being used as a command center for just about every civilian organization—Federal agencies, television networks, you name it. I have never seen so many RVs with satellite dishes on them.

I will try to get pictures of all of this posted, but all I have is film—no digital. I’m trying to beg digital photos from other people.

New Orleans doesn’t believe in boring street names. Most cities name their streets after trees, States or Presidents. Not New Orleans. One of the least interesting street names I’ve seen is Annunciation. There’s also Magazine, Melponemes, and—get this—Tchoupitoulas. I had to pass by several street signs to ensure I got the spelling on that one right. I think I’ve got the pronunciation down, too: “Chopitoolas.”

We got weapons today! And ammo! Thank goodness. Not that I’m worried about violence; I’m not. It’s just that it’s downright embarrassing to have a cop stay back from their job to guard our truck and us. We’re the Army, for cripes’ sake.

I’m a little surprised that I’m not getting more comments—isn’t there anything you want more info/detail on? Less? Let me know.


09 September 2005

Day 8

The major event of the day was missions similar to the ones we’ve been doing for a few days now; hauling police around. Today I hauled Georgia Department of Natural Resources cops. We went on the same kind of house-clearing detail that we did yesterday. These guys were a lot less well-armed and professional than the Michigan guys we hauled yesterday. The Georgia boys were pretty laid back.

It’s interesting to see the different cultures and attitudes different groups of policemen have. The Georgia DNR cops were good ol’ boys with pistols and bulletproof vests they wore about half the time. The Michigan police were all carrying automatic weapons or shotguns, never took off their vests, and had a much more agressive approach. The California Highway Patrol (Yes, we’re working with CHiPs) are allegedly pretty stuck up and standoffish. This is evidenced tby the fact that they started driving around in a convoy of their police cars instead of using our trucks. This, in everyone’s opinion, is silly and wasteful, but the cars have air conditioning. And look cool. And also take up a whole lot of room on the roads.

I got to drive through some water today looking for any remining residents. It didn’t quite get up to the bumper, but was fairly deep in spots. It would have been foolish to get out and manually check the houses by knocking on doors (the water is contaminated with God knows what), so we drove slowly down the street, honking the horn while the police called out “Police!” occasionally. We came to a T-intersection on one street where the water had subsided somewhat and there was whole lot of mud. So much that there was a car up to its left front fender, tilted over into the mud. I decided it wasn’t safe, and we turned around. The truck could probably have made it, but I didn’t want to risk it, especially since the automatic tire-deflation system in my deuce doesn’t work.

This is a good time for a sidebar I’ve been wanting to do: The new deuces. A deuce-and-a-half, for those that don’t know, is a 2 1/2 ton cargo truck, model M35A2, made famous in many Vietnam-era military movies (Good Morning Vietnam is a good example). Well, some of us are driving the same trucks. And by the same trucks, I don’t mean the same model but a later year. I mean the exact same trucks as were in use in the Vietnam era. I don’t think I’ve run into one that was manufactured after 1971. But they’re good old trucks; they’re simple, durable, have no electronics at all, run on almost any fuel, and are fairly powerful. But they’re also rough, extremely loud, have a manual transmission (the Army has switched to automatic transmission because they found the costs from decreased fuel milage is offset by the savings of not having to replace clutches), and have the old-style tires, with dual tires on each side of the two back axles, and no automatic tire inflation. And they’re usually pretty slow. I was amazed that I got one up to 60 MPH on the way down. In other words, they’re outclassed by every other cargo truck in the current military inventory. Well, someone in the military somewhere came up with a brilliant idea: Instead of getting rid of all of our old deuces, why not upgrade them to put them on a footing with newer machines? And that’s exactly what they’ve done: Completely rebuilt the old trucks into the new, improved M35A3. The A3 version has an automatic transmission, a new, more powerful and much quieter engine, 6 large single tires (instead of smaller singles on the front and four sets of duals on the back) with Central Tire Inflation System (which allows the driver to reduce the tire pressure in order to more easily travel through rough terrain, sand, snow or mud), windshield washers (only wipers before), shoulder seat belts, and other improvements. They didn’t add power steering though. All in all, they’ve brought the old crappy deuces up to par with the much newer 5-tons we have, except for the reduced carrying capacity, and turned trucks destined for the junkyard into deployable, combat-ready vehicles. Cool.

Anyway, after we got out of the water we moved on to much nicer and richer neighborhoods—there are some absolutely beautiful houses here. We made it as far as Loyola University before calling it a day.

Like yesterday, the Lieutenant sent several trucks back after it was time to shut down without waiting for all of them to come in. Smart man. When we first got back, it was announced that it was time for chow, so we all piled into the back of a truck and went to the mess hall. It was open today, but the line was long. It didn’t take too long, though, and soon we were eating. The facility had obviously just reopened; there was only milk to drink, for instance, and the ice cream machine was not working (sob). But the food was good (spaghetti), and I had a slice of delicious pecan pie. There was one odd thing about dinner, though; we had an armed guard watching us eat. When we first got into the building, he was standing at the door, telling people where to go just like a traffic cop. Later (I suppose he got replaced) he was standing in the “mess deck” as the Navy calls it, hand on the butt of his pistol (which was tucked behind the front of his belt) (okay, so I later learned that that was his truncheon/nightstick (no jokes please); his sidearm was where sidearms go; on his side), standing very straight with a grim look on his face, watching us eat and politely asking anyone who had finished eating to leave because there were a lot of people waiting to sit down. While I suppose this might have been a useful function, it did seem that he was taking his job awful seriously. Then some soldiers in our unit who had been in the Navy explained: He was a Navy Master-at-Arms. This cleared things up immediately. He wasn’t just some Joe picked to guard the mess deck who got a bit overzealous; it was his job to be a jerk. Fine. But it was still weird to eat under an armed proctor.

After we got back from chow, it was looking for a while like I would have several hours to rest, polish my boots, work on the blog, etc. Well, it didn’t work out that way. Just when I was about to change into my PT (Physical Training—workout) clothes and start on personal business, the call came that we had to move gear off of working trucks and onto deadlined trucks in order to free the working trucks for missions. This was a perfectly reasonable idea, but no one person was really put in charge and it turned into a cluster (military folks know what word comes after that one). Eventually we got it sorted out and the job done, but by that time it was after dark and time for bed. I was going to blog then, as someone actually ran lights and power to our tent during the day, but by the time I was ready, they had turned off the generator for the night, and I had not been charging my PowerBook for long enough to finish the entry. So I didn’t get very far before it died.

FACT: They have a PX (well, I suppose it’s actually a NAVX—Navy Exchange) set up here. Excellent! I hear they have alcohol from floor to ceiling—all roped off with a sign reading “off limits.”

RUMOR: The Governor (who today I found out was female) has ordered forced clearings of all residents.

INTERESTING SIGHT OF THE DAY: I saw an explicit porn magazine laying open, soaked with water, in the middle of one of the streets.


08 September 2005

Day 7

Well, crap. And it was such a good day, too. I’ll start with the big news first: Remember when, in the inaugural post, I said that we’d see how long “21 days” was going to last? Well, it lasted a week. The official news came tonight that we have been federalized, and that our new orders read 32 days. Yes, 32. So don’t expect us home until October 4. On the other hand, October 4 is not when we leave Louisiana; it is when we should be sleeping in our own beds. No, we don’t have new orders yet. Yes, they are working on getting them.

An important note in this context: Just because we have been federalized does not mean that we have been put on Federal Active Duty; that is, Federally activated like National Guard soldiers going to war are. It simply means that the Federal government has taken over paying for the operation, and we are on a kind of duty somewhat similar to our Annual Training. Pay statuses are confusing, and I don’t pretend to understand them all, but the major point is that we are still, as far as I understand it, under the ultimate command of the Governor of Illinois, not the President of the United States.

I’m really not sure what I’m going to do about school at this point; by the time I get home, it will be far too late to try to catch up with the semester. On the other hand, I have a class that I really need to make up from Spring semester; if I don’t make up the incomplete this semester, I’ll get an F. It’s also a requirement for a class that I really want to take next semester. Grr.

Not going to school means I don’t get any financial aid this semester, and that means that my family is $5000 short in our budget this year. Which means that I’m going to have to get a job if we’re going to survive. The problem is getting a decent job that only lasts until January, when school starts again. They have offered to try to let people stay on Federal duty down here for the rest of the year for people in my situation. I’m considering it. Family: feedback?

Anyway, the rest of the day before this went pretty darned well. I got to go out on a mission all day with a squad of police who were knocking on every door on a given street, looking for stragglers to evacuate. If no one answered and the door was locked, they moved on. If it was unlocked, they checked the house for residents, looters and squatters. If someone didn’t want to come, they were going to strongly persuade that person to come, but not physically force them if it came to that. Someone else said that their group was making people sign waivers if they didn’t want to come out.

We only found one person, who didn’t really look like he lived in the fairly nice neighborhood we found him in; possibly he was a squatter. But I really don’t know; I wasn’t there when they found him. The reason they needed us for these missions was to take the squad of police (Michigan police, in this case) to their destination, take them back when they were done, and transport any evacuees. We stayed a house or two behind the police so we wouldn’t get in their way if there was some action.

I’m still amazed by the architecture in New Orleans. Most of the houses and many of the businesses I’ve seen have a certain feel or style to them that I’m sure has a name, but is distinctive to this area. The streets themselves were littered with trees, leaves and downed power lines and poles. But the one we were going down was clear enough for us to drive down, even if we had to push aside a few low-hanging power lines. It was a little boring, following a squad of policemen at 2 MPH, but it was a hell of a lot better than sitting back in the tents doing nothing all day.

Things got even better from there. After we got back to the police base camp, it was too late to go out on another mission, so the Lieutenant sent us back early. After we got back, we were told that hot chow was available, when before we had been expecting to eat only MREs. Well, we packed up on a truck to find the chow hall. We succeeded, but they told us that hot chow would not be available until tomorrow night. No matter; I got something of much more value than hot chow.

I got a shower.

Yes, it was in a tent. Yes, the water was cold. I didn’t care a bit. I hadn’t had a shower since Memphis.

During my shower, I got an even more important bit of information: They have laundry facilities here. And I was told where they were. Yay! There is very little I hate doing less than putting dirty clothes on a clean body. The reverse doesn’t bother me a bit; as long as I have clean underclothing, I can go without a shower almost indefinitely. But I have to have those clean clothes.

When I got back from my shower, I discovered even more good news: First, I found my power strip that I had lost the day before; it was being used on the light set in the one tent that had gotten power today (running from our generator that I suppose Maintenance set up while we were gone). Second, hot chow was available after all; a truck had lots of meals in Styrofoam containers. Rice, carrots, bread and brownie. It was yummy, and gone very quickly. Luckily, I keep an extra MRE spoon in my rucksack, because no silverware was provided. Then, after a legal briefing (telling our legal authority to arrest people, etc. during this operation in Louisiana) and the meeting to tell us that we had been extended by 11 days, they pulled out boxes and boxes of fresh peaches and apples. I ate one of each immediately, and stashed some apples for future days.

So, other than the fact that we discovered that we weren’t going home when we thought we were, this has been a pretty good day. Tomorrow may not be, though; I’m going out on mission again, which is good, but I’m also washing my clothes at 15 ’til midnight. I still have to fold them once they come out of the dryer; my least favorite part. It always takes so long, especially when I’m sleepy. Which I am. So I may not get very much sleep tonight.


07 September 2005

Day 6

Well, crud. I have almost no battery life. Twice today I thought I had turned my PowerBook off when in fact I had only put it to sleep. The sun was too bright to see the screen, so I couldn’t tell. So this may well be a very short entry.

All of 2nd Platoon (including me) who hadn’t gone on any missions yet got to do so today. We went down near the Convention Center on the river (where there is parked a short Navy helicopter carrier) and sent out trucks one, two and three at a time on various missions in support of the Louisiana State Police. Police forces from various other states were there as well, including some from California, New Mexico, and Illinois. There’s something wrong in the world when police are more heavily armed than the military. A local cop told us that the shooting and violence had calmed down considerably once the National Guard arrived with their M-16s and automatic weapons Apparently people aren’t afraid of shooting at cops, but soldiers are another matter.

The missions were of various types, but most of them were to pick up refugees. I went on one to clear 911 calls from days ago, and we picked up one very old man. I reiterate from previously: New Orleans is trashed. I haven’t seen any flooded areas yet, but even the areas that only got direct storm damage are pretty bad. New Orleans is obviously a very beautiful city; I’ve never seen anything like it. Nowhere did I see what could be called a “typical” neighborhood. The Crescent City obviously prides itself on its interesting culture and architecture. But that beauty was hard to see today. Windows broken out, brick walls fallen over, power lines down everywhere (we posted a guard on the back of the truck to ensure that no power lines caught on the truck—they were to warn the driver if any were too low), many many trees broken, bent or uprooted, and tons and tons of debris. Oh, and cars up on bricks taken from fallen walls with all their tires and rims missing. The evacuees were delivered to the Convention Center (I hear it is absolutely disgusting inside from the time when it was a refugee center) where they are processed and put on a helicopter. Apparently, they are then taken to Chicago, presumably by plane.

Oh, a note on helicopters, while I’m at it. Okay, two. First, what I’ve been calling a Jolly Green Giant apparently isn’t. According to a former Marine, it is a Sea Stallion. My mistake. Second, I am positive I saw Marine One today. Well, okay, Marine Two: someone mentioned that the VP had been tasked to assess the damage for the President. But it was that same green and white “United States of America” helicopter that we always see on West Wing. It landed at the Convention Center, then took off and spiraled around and around until it was out of sight.

Anyway, that was the only mission I went on today; for the rest of the day I stayed back at the little base camp the police had set up and sent out missions and kept track of what trucks were where. Most of the missions that went out were full of heavily armed policemen who were sent to strongly persuade residents to evacuate, the Governor having issued a mandatory evacuation for fear of disease and gas leaks, etc. However, for all their armament, I did not hear of any cases where residents were actually forced out of their homes. If they could not be persuaded, they were left, and their addresses were written down.

Some trucks came back festooned with Mardi Gras beads (one with a fake baby alligator tied to the hood). Apparently, they went down a street (Burbon Street perhaps? I really don’t know) where these beads were all over thee trees, so they grabbed some. Well, a lot.

Darn. At this point my power died. Let’s see if I can remember what else I was going to say.

Did I mention the fire? No? At one point during the day huge clouds of black smoke came billowing out of downtown. The scuttlebutt is that this is happening regularly, when power is turned back on and short-circuited wiring catches fire.

Late in the afternoon, just before we left, I saw something I’d never imagined I’d see: a convoy of 30 ambulances, lights flashing, go down the street in front of me and get on the Interstate.

OH! I almost forgot to mention: We moved again. Yes, again. While we were off on the mission, we heard that we were going to move again, and that the rest of the company would have been moved by the time we got back. When we got back, the trucks went the wrong way, toward the old location instead of the new one. When we got to the old location, we found most of the trucks, but almost none of the personnel there. This was confusing, as they were all supposed to be gone. Since I happened to be in the Humvee the Lieutenant was in, I got to go with him to the new location while everyone else waited to see what was going on. Turned out that they had just sent everyone back for the trucks, because they had spent all day putting up tents (nice brand new ones, like I mentioned; a model most old soldiers have never seen before. A lot like the old GP-Mediums, but with metal Y-posts, mosquito netting most of the way around, and large doors on three sides. And vinyl, for those that only remember the really old cotton duck GP-Mediums.) and figuring out where the trucks were supposed to go. We are now set up right next to the runway from which all those planes and helicopters I mentioned earlier are taking off. We now have to walk each individual truck in from the road outside the airbase area (not the whole post; just the Air National Guard airbase area on post) which takes an incredibly long time when you’ve got tens of trucks to park. So far we have moved every single night since we arrived in New Orleans, each time closer to the airport. Tomorrow, we speculate, we will be moved to the end of the runway so that every plane will pass directly overhead. Sometimes I wonder whether there’s a little man in an office somewhere giggling and rubbing his hands together wondering what he will do to us next. I’m sure it’s all for some good reason. Well, kicking us out because both us and 1st Cav were promised the same area isn’t a good reason, but it is a reason. Hey, it doesn’t matter: We have a permanent place to live. We have tents, and cots, and maybe tomorrow electricity. Most importantly, I hopefully will no longer have to pack up my gear every morning. I don’t mind living out of our trucks; it’s kind of nice in several ways. But packing up every bit of your gear into the back of another truck every morning only to bring it all out every night gets old quickly. It’s hard to get to your more buried gear that way, because you don’t dare unpack everything when you’re only going to have to pack it again either that night or very quickly the following morning.

RUMOR: There are between 10,000 and 30,000 dead in New Orleans.

• We should be getting weapons soon.
• A soldier got injured last night by falling off the step of a truck onto her head on the asphalt. She was conscious and making sense when the medics took her away; hopefully she’ll be alright. I’m not going to post her name, if I do at all, until we know what her status is and give her a chance to notify her family. Those that need to know will be told, don’t worry.

On a related note: I’m really not sure how I feel about posting other soldiers’ names here. On the one hand, there are privacy issues, but on the other, I’m sure that relatives would be pleased to see their soldier’s name appear here. Does anyone have any thoughts on the subject?


06 September 2005

Day 5

Today was kind of bogus, at least for those of us who stayed in the rear. Most of 2nd Platoon left fairly early to complete the mission that didn’t go off yesterday. Those of us stuck back with the baggage trucks had something of a frustrating day. First, everyone was pretty disappointed and angry that once again they (I say they; I’m certainly included in the group, but I learned a long time ago that in the Army, sometimes you get the good stuff and sometimes you get screwed. It has nothing to do with who you are; it’s just fate, or chance, and more-or-less random. So unless I’m getting really screwed over, I tend to roll with the punches because I know that next time (or perhaps the time after; these things are unpredictable) it will be someone else who gets the rotten job while I get the good one) didn’t get to go on a mission for a second day.

Second, well, the military has two modes that nobody likes: “Hurry up and wait,” and “Dig a hole. Now fill it in.” We got stuck with the second one today. Not with holes, but with baggage. What’s worse was that I was giving the orders to dig holes and fill them in. I was in charge of the baggage detachment. The mission this morning (for those in the rear) was to move to a new location that had a grassy area that would allow us to set up tents, not far from where we were. Well, we got over there and started to offload the baggage in order to get to the tents when a Lieutenant from the 3637MT came up to us and said that we were in his area, and that we were supposed to be on the other side of the field. I say “we,” but I was parking the trucks without tents on them further down the runway from the grassy area (which turned out be a skeet-shooting range, of all things. On the side of a runway!??). The NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer, remember?) on the scene started sending the trucks to the other end of the field, which is when I showed up. I spoke to the LT and got things straightened out, then went back to park trucks while the other NCO worked on getting the tents offloaded. Well, when I came back, all the baggage and gear and water was off of the trucks on the ground, and the tents were ready to be offloaded—on the wrong side of the field. Apparently the other NCO had misunderstood the what the LT and I had worked out (translation: I wasn’t clear enough in my directives); we were supposed to be in our original spot. So all the baggage, gear and water had to be put back on the trucks, driven across the field/range, and taken back off again. It was at this point that we realized that there was no human way for the tents to be offloaded by hand; they were in massive crates that only a forklift could handle. So we sent someone to get a forklift and driver. After much prodding and pulling and finagling, we got a crate off a truck with the forklift. At this point we were told to stop unloading; the grass was going to get mowed (who cares!!?) and so we had to re-load everything back onto the trucks. Before we could do that, however, we were told to stand fast again; several high-ranking officers from the 1st Cavalry Division (Regular Army) had showed up and wanted to know why the hell we were setting up in their area. Apparently, the base commander had told both them and us that we could use that skeet range to set up tents in.

So we waited to be told whether we were staying or going. And waited. And ate. And waited. And still no word. Finally, the Commander (acting) of our unit comes up to where we’re sitting in the shade behind some trucks and asks us what we’re doing; word that we had to move was put out an hour ago and we were moving out in the next few minutes. So we all had to rush over and throw the baggage and water back on the trucks, ensure that the tents had been re-loaded, and leave. By the time we accomplished all this and pulled out to the road/runway, we saw the last of 1st Platoon’s trucks just about to disappear around the corner; the company had moved out. Finally, after hurrying to catch up with everyone, we drove to our new location, and I realized why they hadn’t worried about the fact that they were leaving us behind: The new area was within easy walking distance from where we were.

So here we are on a different (but identical) runway, next to a building with something that looks like a giant bowling pin on top but is probably some sort of radar device.

Other people had different experiences today. 1st Platoon did all the sitting around that we did, but about midday they got word of a mission going out, so they offloaded all their gear onto the ground behind their trucks to get the trucks ready to go. It was looking for a while, then, that not only were we going to have to move, but that our small detachment (12 people) was going to have to move the entire company’s gear to the new location. I think you can imagine that this wasn’t the most popular idea (especially as at that point we would have been the only people who had not done a mission into New Orleans), and what the level of frustration among my troops was today. Some nerves got a bit on edge, including mine. Luckily (from our point of view), the mission never went off, and 1st Platoon had to move their own gear.

The rest of 2nd Platoon got to accomplish the mission that did not go off yesterday. They drove through four feet of water and evacuated victims, with the assistance and direction of the Louisiana State Police. Some of them got quite dirty in the nasty, disgusting water. Luckily, there was a shower run tonight. Hopefully, all that needed to got to go.

When 2nd Platoon returned, they discovered something that I hadn’t thought to check: The weird, noisy building with the bowling pin on top has outlets on its outside walls. Very soon there was a Christmas tree of power strips, cell phones and chargers sprouting from it.

RUMOR: Our Battalion is the only unit down here without weapons.


05 September 2005

Day 4

Not much battery power left; I used it all up this morning trying to send that update and making some adjustments to the blog. So we’ll see how long it lasts. Hopefully I’ll be able to recharge tomorrow, or else there will be no blogging.

I promised myself I was going to try to do this in the morning so I could get some more sleep, but I’m really not sure I’ll have time. Besides, I find it strangely comforting; a close to the day.

We moved out to Belle Chasse from England (I’m not sure that’s the right name, frankly) AFB today. It was...strange. We came in on I-45 to I-10, and fueled up at Baton Rouge. After that, we did not stop until we got to Belle Chasse, some four hours later (I changed driving duties with my passenger at one point when traffic was jammed up and moving slowly). It’s always interesting to drive into New Orleans on I-10, just to see the Interstate run for several miles on pylons over the swamp and ocean. But of course it was different this time. I really saw very little damage for the longest time; just the usual downed road signs and ripped-up billboards. Then it started. First it was the railroad on the coast. It was out in several places, the embankment underneath having been washed out by the storm, with the rails just hanging unsupported. I-10 was indeed closed past US-61, but the police were doing a poor job managing traffic. There was a sign several miles earlier saying “Emergency vehicles only in left lane,” but what’s an emergency vehicle? Do we count, or is that only for ambulances, police cars and the like? It turned out that it was meant for us, because all non-relief vehicles had to exit. But since we didn’t know that, we didn’t get over, and so got involved in a major snarl. Besides that, the civilian cars chose to completely ignore what lane they should be in, and decided to try to pass us on the left. Eventually the police up front (they had a little shelter tent on the side of the Interstate) had us go around on the right margin, and then we made it smoothly past the roadblock.

New Orleans is trashed. At first it was little things, like Mcdonald’s signs without any plastic in them, or roofs with many shingles missing, and leaning electric poles. Then as we drove southeast on US 90 it was entire roofs missing, electric poles broken in two, and billboards and gas station shelters crumpled into heaps of metal—but all the glass on the buildings was intact, even if the roof was gone or caved in. Finally, even the glass gave way, and parts of walls were missing, electric fixtures hanging down—completely trashed. But nowhere were entire buildings demolished that I saw. Nor did I see any flooding where we were. It would have been absolutely terrifying to have been there when all that damage was done.

Many businesses were closed, but some were open—how, without power, I’m not sure. Perhaps they had generators. Domino’s in particular had two guys outside holding signs saying SPECIAL! PIZZA FOR $9.99! Too bad we didn’t get their number; that wasn’t far from here. Another building had painted on the plywood over the windows the message, “We kill lootrs.”

The rumors of no cell service are exaggerated; I don’t have service here through Cingular, but some Verizon customers do. Occasionally, anyway. And I had signal not too far out of the gate of this place. But the news has been saying that they’ve been working on it, so perhaps this is a recent development.

Things improved on the approach to the Air Station; the damage wasn’t so bad near the coast. So here we are, sitting on a really long, old, disused...runway, it has to be. We can hear planes and helicopters overhead and taking off all night so far. It’s not really what you’d picture when you think of a runway: A long black strip with jets parked on or near it surrounded by lights and close-cut grass. This place isn’t like that at all. This is really old asphalt patched in certain places with crumbling concrete. The asphalt is cut into huge squares, kind of like sidewalks are, but with like 4 squares across and a zillion up and down the runway. They’re surrounded by woody, briar-filled marshland.

Not everyone went straight to Belle Chasse; 2nd Platoon had a mission to rescue survivors, as I mentioned (except, like I said, for a few of us who had to haul baggage). Apparently that mission was a bust; they got there too late and the State Police wouldn’t send the mission out for fear it wouldn’t make it back until after dark. Or something. I wasn’t clear on the details.

Days activated: 7. Lives saved: 0.

Things have been pretty messed up here; we never did get dinner, though nearly all of us had extra MRE’s and ate them if we were hungry. No one really knows what’s going on yet. They seem to be having difficulty with coordination and organization at higher; we got told many different plans in a very short amount of time. Sometimes you wish they would just sit down and hash things out with everyone before they told us to do something. But I’m sure that that’s exactly what they do, and all these changes come from unforeseen things happening.

No tents tonight; we’re sleeping in the beds of our trucks or on the ground. Most of us have cots if we want them.

RUMOR: We saw the President flying overhead. We did indeed see a really nice Jolly Green Giant Navy helicopter fly overhead, painted green (most Navy helicopters, including Jolly Green Giants, are grey). Later someone said that they heard that that was the President. Wonder if it was true? It was certainly some big-wig’s aircraft.

Hm. I’m sleepy and out of battery power, so I guess it’s bedtime.


Day 4 Morning

Update: the place we are going to is called Belle Chasse Naval Air Station, just south of New Orleans.

FACT: I-10 is closed to all but military and law enforcement traffic after a certain point.

(I’m going to update my definition of “facts”: Items labeled FACT is information I’ve received from my official Army chain of command. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will turn out to be true, but it’s certainly more reliable than a “rumor.”)

RUMOR: There will be no cell phone service once we move south of here. So don’t be surprised if this is my last post for a while.

I’m actually blogging from a moving Army vehicle. Amazing.

I wonder what the fording depth on a deuce and a half is. I know it’s 30“ on a 5-ton. Need to check the manual.

04 September 2005

Day 3

Today we stayed at England Airport all day, doing PMCS (Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services) on the vehicles, resting, and getting ready to move out tomorrow morning.

I figured out why this place is so bad for an Air Force Base; it’s not, and never was an Air Force base. At least not the part we’re staying at. Where we’re staying is a staging area for JRTC—a massive Regular Army training area. This is for Army units processing into this area for several weeks of training in the field. Everything makes sense now: The recently built but very rough buildings (JRTC moved from Arkansas to Louisiana in the last decade or two), the horrible chow (chow got a little better today), the scary PX, everything. For the Army, this is typical. That the Air Force would ever treat its people this way is almost unthinkable (wusses ).

We’re going into the city tomorrow. Or at least some of us are. 2nd Platoon has been tasked to evacuate personnel from New Orleans. Finally! Unfortunately, I’m not going with. Although I’m in 2nd Platoon, the truck I’m driving is being used for baggage, so I and a few others have to go straight to where we’re staying. I’m pretty disappointed; this is about the most honorable mission we could get: To be the first out-of-state National Guardsmen to enter New Orleans, and help evacuate those poor people. Oh, well. I’m sure we’re going to have plenty to do. They say that they already have a backlog of missions for us, which is completely unsurprising. Frankly, I’m not sure why we didn’t move down there today. We didn’t really need a rest day. Probably there were other reasons.

The place where we’re going is called Belchase Naval Base, south of New Orleans. I mention it (when I don’t normally mention destinations) because that’s where we’re going to be working out of for about the next two weeks, and if families of soldiers in the 232nd CSB need to get ahold of their soldiers in an emergency, they should contact the Red Cross and tell them where we are. We may not have any cell phone service down there, so don’t be surprised if no one hears from us for the next 10 days or so. As long as I have power, I’ll try to keep writing, even if I can’t post until later.

Whenever anyone hears “south of New Orleans” they automatically think, “what, in the ocean?” We asked exactly that, but looking at a map, New Orleans is not on the south coast of Louisiana. Who knew?

Our living conditions down there are uncertain right now. We will probably be living in tents, as most buildings have had their roofs blown off by the hurricane. They were supposed to get their electricity turned back on last night; no word on whether this was successful. Apparently the base is on high ground, so there’s no danger of flooding there, but we have been told to expect 2-3 feet of water in the city itself. These trucks should be able to ford that much water safely.

We have been told to wear our Kevlar helmets at all times off-post, both here and at Belchase. We will have armed escorts into the city. No, we haven’t been issued weapons yet, and it doesn’t look like we will be before we go in. But someone will certainly have weapons accompanying us.

We’ve been told to expect downed power lines and road signs, both hazards of different kinds.


Someone congratulate me: I’ve officially been demoted three times in three days. No, this is not because of my own incompetence (at least I hope not!), but because people from other units have been integrated with us, and several of those people outrank me. It’s only natural that they be given the leadership positions. Here’s what happened: On Wednesday I was the Platoon Sergeant of 3rd Platoon, my normal position. (I’m a Staff Sergeant. Platoon Sergeant is a position for a Sergeant First Class, one rank above me. So I was serving in a position above my rank. This is not too uncommon.) On Thursday we integrated into one platoon, and I was a squad leader (a Staff Sergeant position). On Friday we got fillers from other units, and I became a team leader under a Sergeant First Class from another unit who is serving as Squad Leader (so he is serving in a position below his rank. Team Leader is also a Staff Sergeant position, but below Squad Leader). On Saturday they got the Squad roster finalized, and it turned out that the actual Team Leader is another Staff Sergeant who outranks me (that is, he has been a Staff Sergeant longer than I), and I am in charge of a few soldiers (6) within the team, all originally from the East St. Louis or Cairo units (namely: Edwards, Samuel Young, Durer, Randolph, Cox and Schneid). That would normally be a job for a Sergeant (also sometimes called Buck Sergeant). At this rate, I’ll be a civilian before the end of the week! I don’t mind. Much. It means I sleep more, anyway.

Another NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer; Sergeant) friend of mine, SSG Witt, told me today that he could tell that I had been moved down from my customary leadership position by two things: First, I wasn’t carrying the document bag (which sometimes is called by an informal and vulgar name I won’t repeat here; the Army calls it a Map Case, though I’ve never seen it used for that purpose) that I keep all my Platoon info in, and secondly, I was walking differently, more ambling along than my usual purposeful strut. I hadn’t even noticed that my walk had changed until he pointed it out to me.

One more note, and then sleep: It’s interesting to me to discover that the gear that works great in cantonment (i.e. back at base, with buildings, electricity and amenities) doesn’t always work or is even needed in the field. My Palm Pilot, for instance. I utterly depend on it both in my civilian life and during Guard Drill to keep me on time and keep up with all the things I need to do. But in the field, first off I don’t have nearly the amount of things to do that can’t be done right then, so a pad of paper works much better than my Palm, and secondly the thing has turned out to be too fragile for the field. I managed to reset it because I left it in my blouse, which I wrapped around the base of the gearshift of my deuce and a half because really hot air was coming up from the engine around it. Well, I guess it overheated, because when I turned it on, it had lost every bit of its memory. Oh, well. I wasn’t using it anyway.

FACT: Apparently, a female reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times is going to be embedded with us.

RUMOR: 8 engineers got shot at in New Orleans while trying to repair the levee. Police fired back and shot 5 attackers.



03 September 2005

Day 2

We have arrived at what was supposed to be Camp Beauregard, but turns out to be England Airport, formerly England Air Force Base. I’m not sure why we changed our destination; I didn’t know it had changed until we arrived.

Today seemed like a very long day. We started out from a National Guard armory in Memphis, after having the most unnecessarily-catered breakfast ever: Three kinds of doughnuts and frozen orange juice. Did we really need a caterer to bring us that? Then we drove. And drove. It seemed like a really long time to me, though I suppose it was only about seven or eight hours all-told, not a ridiculously long time. Perhaps it was the unusual way the breaks were spaced out. I’m used to a rest stop of 10-15 minutes every two hours, but this time we took a break after 1/2 hour, then 3 1/2 hours, then 1/2 hour, then we arrived after another 3 hours. Odd.

We started to see some of the damage (not bad enough to call “devastation” yet) at Jackson, Mississippi. A few trees blown down, some of those large Interstate signs blown down and twisted, and lots of billboards either torn up or completely demolished.

After we got to Louisiana, I saw a handmade sign that read “Screw IRAQ, troops come home and clean your own yard” (or something like that).


No comment. However, I certainly wouldn’t want to be one of the 40% of Louisiana’s Guard troops that are deployed to Iraq right now. I can’t imagine how they must feel. When I was in Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm, there was a credible prediction of an earthquake in Southern Illinois. I remember wondering what we would do and plotting to steal transportation to get home if it happened. Not that we would have, but we were worried.

I had kind of an odd experience; parts of Louisiana look exactly like Cairo to me (Cairo, IL is where the unit I’m from is based). Not the city itself, but the rural floodplains outside of Cairo—down to identical-looking houses.

I know, I know—you want pictures of all this. Problem is, I don’t own a digital camera. I’m trying to find someone here who has one so I can post some of what we’re seeing.

Anyway, after a couple of mishaps, we finally made it here. This place is someone’s nightmare of an Air Force base. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every Air Force base I’ve ever been to has been extremely nice, comfortable and well-appointed. Heck, the “chow halls” are basically restaurants, which shocks me every time I enter one. This place, on the other hand (what I’ve seen of it), is an absolute hole. It looks like a refugee camp. We’re sleeping in a long metal barn-like building with hundreds of cots on some sort of burlap covering over bare ground, with wooden walls, open on the top half, covered with chicken wire and white tarps. Chow was some of the worst Army chow I’ve had in years: Chili over rice, warm soda or milk, and fresh-out lemonade. At least there was lots of ice. There is also the world’s smallest and ugliest PX (alright, Shopette) outside: a couple of short semi-trailers tied together with a porch and doors of old, ugly wood (PX=Post EXchange=military store. I’m going to have to start a glossary page. Post a comment if there’s something you want clarification on). I hope it’ll be open tomorrow. Oh, and porta-potties without toilet paper. I think we brought our own though.

That said, I want to reiterate something I said in my inaugural post: I’m not complaining. I’m really not. I am absolutely positive that this is the best that they could do for us, and I am honestly, truly happy to have a place to sleep that has a roof, lights and electrical outlets (yay!), and hot chow, no matter how bland. This is the Army. As long as I have food, water, adequate clothing, and a place to sleep, I’m satisfied. And I have all of that, plus electricity (again, yay! I used up all the charge on this PowerBook setting up this blog while riding in the truck today).

We’ve been getting lots of honks and waves on the road ever since we left Springfield, increasing as we go further South. At first I thought it was just the same kind of patriotic fervor I’ve been seeing since the Iraq War began, but then I realized, especially as we entered Arkansas and Mississippi, that that wasn’t it; there was far too much of it. No, they knew exactly where we were going and why, and were honoring us for that. I was a bit humbled. There was one guy standing outside of a store waving a huge flag and saluting.

We have had several breakdowns yesterday and today. This is not even remotely surprising. We have several kinds of trucks that have been scrounged from all over the State (Illinois that is). They’re bound to be in varying condition. We have a lot of very good maintenance people with us; we’ll get the issues worked out soon enough (if, that is, we have access to parts. I hope we will. But that’s outside of my department). I seem to be lucky so far, though. I’m driving a deuce-and-a-half that is older than me, but it seems to be in excellent condition. It has yet to give me any problem at all (knock on wood), except that the speedometer is awful wobbly and inaccurate. Luckily I don’t need to know how fast I’m going; if I’m 100 meters behind the truck in front of me, I’m all good.

I realize that I’ve missed a couple of days: Yesterday and the Wednesday that we first reported. I’ll try to work them in as I have time.

I’m sorry for the disjointed character of these entries; I’m just writing things as I think of them. I’m going to have to work out some sort of note-taking scheme so I’ll remember what I wanted to write about when it comes time to actually write.

• It looks like we’re going to be here until Monday. I have no idea what we’re doing tomorrow.

• Someone’s spouse told them that they saw General Thomas (the chief of the Illinois National Guard, called The Adjutant General) on TV saying that we would be gone for 47 days. (How can this be when our orders read 30 days?)
• There are 30,000 Guardsmen from all over the country converging on this area for Crescent Relief.
• We can only be on State Active Duty for so long; after that they have to put us on Federal status (I don’t believe this one in the slightest).

Actually this mistake was made a few days ago, but we saw the results today. When the Operations Order and strip map for the convoy from Springfield to Camp Beauregard were made up, the strip map (a route map to show how to get where you’re going; often hand-drawn—kind of like the Trip-Tiks that AAA puts out) was just a printout of the Mapquest route. On the surface, this was not a bad idea. However, we realized when we got down here that the map led us to the middle of Pineville, LA. No National Guard base around. What happened is that if Mapquest doesn’t recognize the address you give it, it gives you directions to the town you typed in—the exact geographical center of the town. That is what the strip map led us to. Oops! I’m just lucky I wasn’t in front; whoever was had the sense to know something was wrong and not turn into the residential district. I would probably just have followed the map and led a 20-some truck convoy into a narrow-streeted housing area. I’ve done that before, and it can get ugly.

Now that I think of it, though, we ended up not going to Camp Beauregard after all, so I suppose the mistake didn’t really cost us anything; the leadership figured out where we were supposed to go pretty quickly.

The problem here, as I see it, is that the Lieutenant who organized the convoy is from our brand new (to us) Battalion, which is not a Transportation Battalion, and he (I presume; I didn’t catch his branch) is not a Trans officer. In my experience, putting a Transportation Company under a Battalion that is not itself Trans works out badly. People tend to think, “how hard can it be? Point the trucks in the right direction, and tell them to go.” But Army Transportation, especially at the company/battalion leadership level, is a lot more complicated and difficult than it would seem. Even I, who have been in a Trans unit for 16 years, don’t know all the things that my officers know about this stuff. It’s really amazing how much there is to know, and how easy it is to get seriously wrong.

But, this battalion is going to be our permanent battalion from here on out (not just for Operation Crescent Relief), so I’m certain things will smooth out.

Again, a caveat: I’m sure that Battalion had good reasons for assigning the job to that LT (Lieutenant—the lowest Officer ranks). And I’m certain that that Lieutenant did the very best he knew how. It was obviously his first convoy, and he did pretty good for not having been specifically trained for it, like our officers have been. Like I said before, none of this is meant as criticism of my leadership. They, like the rest of us, are doing the absolute best they can under trying circumstances. My purpose here is just to point out lessons learned. Besides, no one got hurt, and we all made it here more-or-less on time. No harm, no foul.

So, Lessons Learned:
• If at all possible, let Transportation people both run and supervise Transportation missions (this probably applies equally well to every branch in the military. Anybody got good stories to share?) By Transportation people, I don’t necessarily mean someone that is in the Transportation branch, just someone who is familiar with good Trans ops. The best commander I’ve ever had was branched MP (Military Police), not Trans. If this is not possible, solicit and follow the advice of the officers of the unit you’re directing. (It’s amazing how much you start to appreciate your officers when you compare them to officers who haven’t had their training.)
• Always, always, always do a route reconnaissance if you’re a convoy commander. Even if it’s only looking closely at a map, never just accept what you’ve been given. This goes double for Mapquest and the like. This is one lesson that young LT is not likely to ever forget after today.

Oh, and here’s another dumbass mistake, this time by me: My boot polish was all broken and crumbly, so I decided to light it on fire so it would melt and be smooth and usable again. That’s not the dumb part; I’ve done it many times. The dumb part was when I realized that the spot I chose outside our building to do this was surrounded by dead, dry grass. I quickly blew out the on-fire polish.

And now I have officially spent way too much time on this tonight. Don’t expect such detailed entries in the future. I’m going to confine myself to about 15 minutes a night. (Damn mosquitoes!)


Inaugural Post

The purpose of this blog is to share some news, information and personal views on the National Guard Hurricane Katrina relief operations. In particular it will show the perspective of SSG Jim Syler, 2nd Team Leader, 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, 1344th Transportation Company, 232nd Combat Support Battalion, Operation Crescent Relief. Everything here is completely unofficial, and only my own perspective. Nonetheless, I hope you find it useful and informative.

I'm certain the family members of the units involved will be particularly interested in the information presented here, as well as other members of the general public. There are a few points to keep in mind:

• Anything labeled as "rumor" or "hearsay" is just that: unsubstantiated hearsay, and probably, in my experience, false. I include it here only to give you a perspective on what we're hearing, NOT to pass along information. Items marked as "rumor" should NOT be taken with a grain of salt; they should not be believed at all, and only used to better understand what we're going through.

• Items labeled as "fact" are true to the best of my knowledge, unless I goof. That doesn't mean that they are true, just that I think that they're true. But they're probably right.

• I am a member of the military. Therefore, don't expect to see criticisms of the government, my leadership, or indeed any specific person (except perhaps myself) in this blog. It's simply inappropriate. That doesn't necessarily mean I think everything is always hunky-dory, and I'll probably express some of the frustrations we're bound to have. But nothing here should be construed as criticism of our civilian or military leadership. That's not just to cover my butt, but because it's true. This simply isn't the place for it. That said, I may tell stories, with names removed, of some boneheaded things people do. When your loved one(s) get home, you can ask them, "was that you?"

• I am a team leader in the 1344th Transportation Company. The experiences I have are not going to be the same as for people in any other unit. Beware of extrapolating our conditions, mission, etc. to any other unit in this operation. Also, there are other units or elements of units than the 1344th in the 232nd CSB involved in this operation, namely the 126th Maintenance Company, the 1544th Transportation Company, the 3637th Maintenance Company, and probably others I don't know about. While we're all involved in this operation together, unless members of the other units are attached to the 1344th (many are), I'm not going to know much or anything about them.

• OPSEC (OPerational SECurity) is important. Guardsmen have reportedly already been shot at, and besides, we are still involved in the Global War on Terror. Therefore, there's plenty of stuff people would probably be interested in that I won't feel it appropriate to post here. For instance, I will rarely if ever tell where we're going tomorrow. I will try to keep you posted on where we went today (at least generally), because by then it will be too late for any potential enemies to act on.

• Lastly, no promises on how often I'll be able to post, or even if I'll keep posting all through our mobilization. I get little enough sleep as it is. But I'll try to write something every day. If I don't post anything for a while, it does not mean that I am hurt, or that the unit is in trouble, or anything like that. It only means that either I don't have cell signal, or more likely, that I have no time.

01 September 2005

Day 0

Well, the second day of our Operation Crescent Relief mobilization is over. It’s 2:19 A.M., so I’m not going to write much tonight. Yesterday we assembled at the East St. Louis Armory at 1400 (2:00 P.M for civilians), packed and went back home or to a hotel (paid for by the National Guard for those that live more than 50 miles away). “Today” (yesterday, actually) we rode to Springfield in buses—well, most of us. A few, myself included, drove some trucks up. After in-processing, PMCS (maintenance) on the vehicles, and multiple snafus with staging (lining the vehicles up) and getting proper driver’s lists made up, I’m finally about to bed down. The troops have been asleep for a couple of hours, and the higher leadership is still up. Probably no sleep for them.

Today (Thursday) is Day 0 because our actual State Active Duty doesn’t start until tomorrow (Friday). Today we are on “Additional Annual Training” status, and yesterday was a Drill day, in lieu of September Drill.

• We are heading South tomorrow, probably to Memphis.
• We have drawn a lot of 5-ton cargo trucks from other units, and will be driving them for the duration.
• We received orders that read “30 days.” They do not read “unless later extended” meaning that it would at least be somewhat difficult for them to keep us longer than that. They are telling us to expect three weeks.

• A National Guard helicopter has been shot at in the disaster area.
• A National Guardsman has been shot in the disaster area.
• Martial Law has been declared in the disaster area.

Electrical outlets are in extremely high demand. There is probably not an accessible outlet in this building (or on the outside wall) that is not in use. For what? Cell phones. I had to unplug a soda machine to recharge mine. I have never seen the like of this before.

Power Strip

I had to cut the lock off of a truck this evening because I couldn’t find the keys. I presumed they had fallen out of my pocket at some point. Only later did I realize that I had given the keys to someone else in case the truck needed to be moved in my absence.

Good night.