27 June 2012

A Month Without - My NTC Rotation

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my unit is set to deploy in the Fall of this year. Part of the training leading up to the deployment is a month long field training exercise at the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, CA. Every MOS has a different experience here, and my post is simply my experience as a 92G, Food Operations (cook).

I am laying on my cot on the eve of my departure, excited beyond belief to go home and be with my wife and now one year old son. We got here as the advance party on May 28th. While most people in the Army were enjoying the 4th day of a 4 day weekend, my wife was dropping me off at brigade HQ at 2:30 a.m. and saying "goodbye" for a month. It never gets easier saying goodbye.

My Field Feeding Team was the first FFT to get here, and will be the last to leave. We have worked hard every day that we've been here. This was essentially the first field exercise that this team has had. 3 of us had worked together previously, one private is a new member of our team, our FFT leader is new to the team, and three were members of another team given to us to help accomplish the mission. 7 of our team members from our last FTX were not with us this time for various reasons. That made the first few days extremely difficult. Trying to set a good example for the new, and new-to-the-team, soldiers turned out to be more difficult than it should have been. Early on it was clear that some members of the team would spend more effort avoiding work than it would take to get the mission accomplished. Others' laziness was a battle I found myself in almost daily.

I was also assigned to pull rations for our team. I don't mind that at all. It gives me something to do throughout the day. Staying busy helps each day go by a little faster. However, from May 28th through June 25th, I was in the rations yard moving and loading boxes each and every day. Some of those boxes weigh upwards of 50-60 pounds each. After a month of doing it, my body is ready to give out. My entire body is sore. I found myself toward the end struggling to lift boxes that a month ago I was tossing with ease.

We got very little sleep, staying up until or after midnight many times, only to have to be back at work at 3 a.m. the next day. We were perpetually crabby. Temperatures in the 100-109 range with daily dust storms didn't help much.

We did have some creature comforts throughout the time we were here, mainly showers. That was very nice. The tents were canvas tents with wooden floors with artificial turf overlayed, and an air conditioner that worked well enough, most of the time. Life could have been much worse.

I'm not afraid to say that I feel old when I'm out here. That, though, is proof that I pushed my body to the max, and feel like I worked hard. Even though others may have gotten more recognition for this or that, I have the self-satisfaction of knowing I did my job, and did it well.

It was difficult at times out here. I missed my 3rd anniversary, meaning I have missed more anniversaries than I've been home for (2 to 1), I missed my son's first birthday, and that was a very difficult day for me. I wasn't alone though. Lots of folks out here missed important things in their lives. The two weeks in the "box" with no phones, computers or other source to learn about the outside world was also difficult. I found myself not only craving the sound of my wife's voice, but also the news, weather forecasts, and other things that are usually easy to access with just the press of a button.

With all that said, I found a new appreciation for what I do. Yes my work hours suck. However, I'm not out on a mission for three days living off of MREs. I'm not out there training to kick down doors, getting shot at, sitting atop a gun truck. Cooks get a bad rap. Many cooks are lazy, but most of us take our job very seriously. If I can do my part to fill the stomach of a hungry infantryman, or communications person, or intel NCO, well, I guess that's all I can hope for. If I mess up at my job, then some people don't like the food, but I get the chance to redeem myself with the next meal. But if the combat personnel are distracted because they are hungry for a hot meal, then they stand the chance of getting shot, killed, and never getting to go back home to the people they love. Even though field food is not always popular, it is important. We are not always looked very highly upon as cooks. However, I know how vital we are. Regardless of how I feel we are treated by the others, I know that without cooks, the mission would suffer. That gives me and the rest of my fellow "get-downs" the self-satisfaction of a job well done.

In short, this last month has been hot, dusty, long and miserable. But during tht time I've learned a lot about myself and what I can do. I've learned a lot about the people I work with and work for, and that is good. I get to wake up and go home tomorrow. I get to kiss my wife tomorrow evening, and sleep in my bed tomorrow night. That's a big deal for me , and I am very much looking forward to that.

Goodbye NTC, and Tacoma , here I come.

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