I am an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. All views expressed in this blog are my personal views as an individual and not those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Friday, January 29, 2010

As promised, I'm going to try to keep these updates more regular. I've added fiber to my diet, and that helps.

I'm back from EMV (Enhanced Mohave Viper, the big exercise in the desert). It was a great learning experience, and I got about 100 hours of controlling under my belt. The TRAP mission I mentioned last time was awesome - I got dropped off in the middle of nowhere with a Harrier pilot who was playing a "downed" pilot. Some Hueys came by, shot up some "enemy" near us (not too near) with rockets and guns, swooped in to pick us up, shot up some more enemy, and went home. They don't seem all that flashy but hueys, I learned first-hand, are very capable and maneuverable platforms.

I didn't have a camera with me, but google images did, so here's a huey...ours weren't nearly as clean and new-looking:

UH-1N Huey

The last few days of EMV were the best. The air traffic picked up, so I had to pay more attention to make sure I deconflicted aircraft from each other and from mortars/arty. We also did a few mock casevacs, which meant I was briefing a pilot on where he was going and other such info as he was lifting zone and en route.

In other news, it rained, biblically, in CA last week. There are large ponds in the desert where there was previously dust, and the mountains are snow-covered.

The desert

It's cold in the desert!

Also went to Palm Springs and played blackjack. I just can't lose at this game (I know, famous last words). Won back for my friend the $ she'd lost and called it a night.

Next week I start pre-deployment stuff down in Miramar. Oh yeah. I met my Gunny at 29Palms (the one who will be my chief in my wing billet) and he's great. 18 years in the Marine Corps and lots of experience in the kind of work we'll be doing. Any good 2ndLt knows how little he knows, and how much he needs dependable SNCO's to help and teach him, so I think I'm in good hands.

The adventure continues...

Sunset in Twentynine Palms

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The adventure begins

Welcome...or welcome back. It's been a long time since I posted, but I wanted to start (again) using this space to bring people along for the Marine Corps ride that I've been on since the fall of 2008.

Since we last saw our hero in this here blog, a lot has happened. A quick (haha, you know me better than that) rundown:

In May, while still a student at The Basic School, I got my MOS. I am a 7208: Air Support Control Officer. Actually I got my top choice first - intel - but higher powers determined that with my many connections abroad, it would take too long for me to get clearance. My next choice was combat engineers but that was extremely competitive and I ended up with #3 (still not bad). The job is awesome and one to which I think I'm well-suited. Just as an air traffic controller (ATC) controls aircraft over the airfield, my job is to control aircraft over the battlefield, deconflicting them from one another, from other supporting fires and from enemy threats, in order to get them where they're needed (e.g. close air support, CasEvac, assault support, etc.). It's not a terribly difficult job under most circumstances, though in a high-tempo environment it can be challenging.

I State Your Name, Do Solemnly Swear...

In July, I graduated and took leave to see family, and then drove cross-country in 3 days (plus one spent at the Grand Canyon) to s. cali. If you've never seen the desert, I highly recommend it. I've never seen anything like sunset on the red rocks of Sedona, AZ.

The Grand Canyon


In August, I reported to my unit - Marine Air Support Squadron 3 (MASS-3) based in Camp Pendleton, CA.

In September, after 6 weeks of on the job training at MASS-3, I went to air schools in 29Palms, CA - about two hours inland in the high desert. I learned a lot about friendly and enemy air assets, how to control aircraft without being able to see them (we don't use radar, which makes us a lot more versatile and expeditionary than we would otherwise be), and related stuff. I went to Vegas and gambled for the first time in my life, and somehow came out ahead. I watched the Yanks win #27 and lost my voice.

It's hot in the desert

In November, I finished air schools and went for a quick visit to Atlanta/Montgomery for Thanksgiving, where I went hunting for the first time and dropped a deer within my first hour (ok maybe 70 minutes). Watched my brother miss a buck at 50 yards, scope notwithstanding. A marksman not is he. Watched him and his wife have borderline coronaries before Alabama finally put away Auburn.

In December I went on leave again for the holidays and got to see my whole family for once. Watched Tebow cry. In NH I took the brothers to the range where I taught the middle one the basics of marksmanship (brass to the grass, pointy end toward the enemy/deer). In his defense I should say that he is pretty good with a bow, having killed numerous stationary targets (but no deer) in the eight years he's been using one. The youngest brother is no doubt a killer with his IDF-issued bullpup, but should not be allowed near a pistol. But I digress.

The youngest bro with his bullpup

While on leave I was offered - and accepted - the opportunity to deploy not with my unit, MASS-3, but with the Wing - the air equivalent of a division - in a billet outside my MOS. Erring on the side of caution, I won't post specifics here but just say that it's an opportunity I've been waiting for, in which, I'm told, I'll be working with and training Marines on security-related matters. The one drawback that I identified in my MOS even before I left TBS is that you don't get much of an opportunity to lead Marines - to train them in a specific mission and help them execute it. I think I'll have that chance in this billet.

So now it's January. Last week, I watched Alabama win #13. The tide rolls on. Now, I'm out at 29Palms again, this time supporting Enhanced Mohave Viper (EMV), the Marine Corps' biggest training exercise. My job is pretty easy - I talk to pilots and get them from point A to point B safely so they can support the troops on the ground. Two days ago, I got to go out with a FiST (Fire Support Team) and watch how they integrate supporting fires from mortars, artillery, and fixed and rotary wing aircraft. A day observing what they do, how they do it and what challenges they face in doing it is worth all the classroom instruction I've ever gotten on the FiST, and helps me understand what I can do in the DASC (Direct Air Support Center - the agency I work for when I'm controlling aircraft) to make their jobs easier. On Monday (MLK day) I'll watch choppers practice evading/returning ground fire, and then watch a TRAP mission (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel). Cool stuff.

In February I'll leave EMV and actually get to sleep in my apartment for more than a few nights in a row, as I report to Miramar for pre-deployment training. Then, some time shortly thereafter (it's best not to be too specific online though it's hardly a secret) I'll deploy to Afghanistan. I'll do my Wing billet for six months and, if everything goes according to plan, transition to doing my actual job, controlling aircraft, for six more months. In all the deployment will be around a year; not more than 13-14 months at the most I would think. It's the equivalent of two back-to-back deployments for most Marines, but it allows me to get experience both in and outside my MOS - something that every Marine wants and needs but few get so early on.

Ok, as always I've gone on far too long. I promise to try to make future posts more frequent and thus shorter. One final note on my safety, because I know many people just have a vague picture of Afghanistan as an unsafe place. Like any place, there are parts that are "better" and parts that are "worse." I'll be spending most of my time in the "better" parts, trying to support the Marines who are in the "worse" parts. My challenges will be those of most Marines and other troops in Afghanistan - trying to stay productive amidst boredom, connected despite distance. So no matter how inconsequential it seems to you, trust me, I want to hear what's going on with you while I'm away. Check back here for ways to reach me once my deployment date gets closer.

Semper Fi