Dispatches from the Front

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    (Editor's note: Rachel Brune of Vernon is a military journalist with the 101st Sustainment Brigade, which was recently deployed for one year as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The views expressed are her own and are not official military views. Her dispatches, which will appear regularly in this newspaper, are cleared by her commanding officers.) Taking off September 4, 2005 I was waiting for the moment when it would hit me. Off to Iraq for the second time, heading overseas and leaving behind my family, friends and this time, my fiancé. Departure day was a hectic exercise of hurry-up-and-wait. First, my duffel bag and rucksack were loaded onto a truck to go out to the airfield and then, fueled by the last giant cup of coffee from my favorite shoppette on post, I took my car over to be stored for a year. All of this happened before 8 a.m. My friend, Troy, showed up for the family time and departure ceremony wearing a giant white T-shirt with "We Luv You, Rachel" emblazoned on the front and signed by his family. We talked about things like music and how much we would miss going to Nashville together, and still it didn't hit me. A week earlier I had attended the departure of our advance party, snapping photos and writing down some quotes for the story I would write for the post paper, The Courier. I had watched other soldiers go through a million different emotions n sadness at leaving their families, nervousness at being sent to Iraq, but also an eagerness to get on with the mission that our fellow service members are facing every day. Time, which seemed to have stopped in the weeks leading up to our deployment, suddenly decided to run at double speed. Before I knew it, we were all standing back in formation, saluting our families and friends and watching as our battalion colors were furled. Only when we got to Iraq would the red and blue flag emblazoned with the Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne Division be let loose to fly over our tactical operations center. It still didn't hit me. The rest of the day passed in a blur. There was a final processing, some prolonged waiting for the plane, a speech by the division commander. Finally, when night had fallen, we boarded the plane. If I was still waiting for that moment, after the plane landed, after we got out blinking and sleep-deprived onto a dark, sandy landscape, after a quick ride to our temporary destination in Kuwait, I missed it. What I was hit with instead was an intense feeling of déjà vu. Not for myself, but for the look on the faces of those without the combat patch, landing for the first time in a foreign country on their way to a combat zone. That was the look I know was on my face the first time I was here. The moment may not have hit me, but it's real all the same. More training September 5, 2005 If you ever wondered what the Army does all the time that it's not deployed, here's the answer: Train to fight. We've been in Kuwait for about two weeks, waiting as the final preparations are made to go up north. What have we been doing? Training to fight. Some may ask: Isn't it a little late for that? Let me clarify. The sort of training we are doing has two purposes. First, we can train all day long in the 89-degree humidity of Fort Campbell, Ky., but it's nothing like doing the same training in the 115-degree baking heat of Kuwait. A large part of our mission at the moment is getting the troops used to just plain existing in temperatures that cause rolling blackouts and kill people in the States. Let me ask, how often do you get a drink of water? The more health-conscious may do their best to drink at least eight glasses a day. For others, it's one or two. A soldier training in this heat will drink about a liter an hour. Drinking this much water anywhere but here could actually cause health problems. Not drinking this much water here is a sure ticket to the troop medical clinic and some overeager medic with an IV. Our second purpose is to refine the training we have already done. Learning things like detecting and avoiding improvised explosive devices or conducting a convoy take on an added urgency when you're learning them from people who have just come back from Iraq. Although all of us went through a convoy live fire exercise back at Fort Campbell, rolling through the flat landscape of Kuwait with the sun roasting the metal of your Humvee and the sand blowing through any crack in your goggles is something quite different. My personal favorite was learning how to fire the M2 machine gun. This is a crew-served weapon that fires big bullets at a high rate of speed. As a military journalist, I don't foresee there being a large call for me to fire the weapon outside of training, but I feel happier knowing that if something happened to a gunner in my convoy, I would be able to operate the system. I've heard soldiers complain about the heat, the chow, the plumbing n or lack of it n and about many other things. But not one single complaint have I heard about training to fight in Kuwait.