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October 03, 2005

Getting to the fight, part 5.

Blake, retired soldier turned civil-servant-in-the-assault, reports in from "Somewhere Not In The USA." I can attest to the fact that the Army is getting serious about the OPSEC aspects of things (especially blogging) and have some pretty interesting briefs up (all FOUO or better, so I can't share) on *why* they are doing that. And some very good milbloggers we all know and like sadly figure prominently in those briefs (no, I won't name names except to say Argghhh! has not attracted any officially-mentioned attention - it's all deployed guys describing ops). My visit logs do show visits from the people who now monitor things like that, however. Which is okay, I don't think I've given away anything that wasn't already out there in wide distribution. Which means I've been scooped on stuff, but, hey - I'm *not* a reporter, nor do I play one on TV. And I didn't spend the night last night in a Holiday Inn Express, either. I *will* admit to being a journalist. In the original use of the term, one who writes a journal...

Anyway - on to Blake and his latest.

CENTCOM is getting a seriously serious case of the collywobbles about the potential for the Bad Guys in Iraq to make use of open-source material about the war there (such as blog entries,) to improve the effectiveness of what they are doing. While a part of this is based on the calculus that if the Opposition might be able to do something, the prudent planner must assume that they can do it, and that they will do it, some of the briefs Iíve been given with respect to some of what Iíve been doing over here have given me pause, and Iíve become extremely reluctant to discuss certain specific activities in real time, or to provide photos that could be used to identify a specific operating location. Iíve concluded that Iíd rather seem boring than do something that would put our side at any increased risk.

So, suffice it to say that Iíve spent a good chunk of the last ten days at a seaport somewhere around here, offloading a whole bunch of equipment, making sure those civilian mariners from MSC (pirates, the lot of them,) didnít trade our HMMWVís for beer in Gibraltar or something, and then arranging to move all this junk to our staging base, which as weíve already noted, is right next door to the Ass End of Nowhere. (This also involved persuading one of our maintenance warrants that he couldnít just accidentally load a couple of cute little Navy arc-welders that were sitting in the yard looking lonely aboard a couple of our trucks... ...but thatís a whole different story.) It involved a lot of long days, under unpleasant conditions (temps 120-130 degrees F, winds gusting to 30 knots, blowing sand, and so forth. But we did in fact get all our stuff accounted for and sent off to where it needs to be.

In lieu of interesting details, though, I offer the following:

True Tales of Horror from the Unit Movements Bidness, Part 1.

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John keeps encouraging me to tell stories, observing that logistics is an essential part of any major military operation that seldom gets a lot of press coverage. The only problem I have with that is that a lot of the better stories I have to tell donít show the units Iíve worked with in a very good light. You see, if everybody does everything right, there isnít much of an interesting story to tell. The equipment gets packed up; the rolling stock gets prepared; the necessary paperwork gets shuffled; everything gets put on the transportation, it all gets delivered, the unit unpacks its gear and loads up everything in a combat-ready configuration, and moves out smartly. Lots of work gets done, but
there's nothing all that interesting there...

Itís when things DONíT go right that the good stories emerge. Like the time I went to Honduras in 1985 as an acting platoon sergeant with D Co, 1-187 Inf. There we were, part of the worldís ONLY Air Assault division, engaged in a major multiservice, multinational exercise in northeast Honduras. And us with no helicopters... about embarrassing.

About two days before we left Fort Campbell, a UH-60 had come apart in mid-air over Fort Rucker, AL. (The UH-60 was still fairly new in 1985, and we hadn't gotten all of the bugs out of the system yet.) As a result, the entire UH-60 fleet, Army wide, was grounded until the safety gurus could determine what had happened and figure out how to prevent it from happening again. The day I landed at Golason AFB, (near La Cieba on the northern coast of Honduras,) an MH-47 of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment literally chopped itself into flinders on a taxiway at the airport at San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The rear rotor tilted forward well past its normal limits and started chewing its way down through the fuselage. (Nobody got hurt in this one: the pilots went out the front and the crew-chief and gunners went out the back.) But the entire CH-47/MH-47 fleet was grounded until, once more, the safety gurus could determine what had happened and figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

Which left us with precisely no helicopters with which to air assault into the exercise area.

Offshore we had a US Navy amphibious group with an embarked USMC Battalion Landing Team that included a helicopter carrier with a bunch of CH-46ís and CH-53ís. Heck, we could SEE the durned ships from some of the guard towers, and could count the number of helos on the flight deck if we were using binoculars. So Col. Dave Bramlett, our brigade commander, asked the Marines politely if we could borrow their helos and pilots long enough to deliver our troops to the field. The response was a study in obfuscatory language that boiled down to the fact that the Marines were not going to sully their precious Marine helicopeters by using them to carry Army grunts. Which left us little or no way to get over the mountains to where we were supposed to engage in quaint forms of folk-dancing with the Honduran Army and the United States Marines. Fortunately, we had both a smart transportation officer and a competent contracting officer along on our little tropical excursion.

Now, it is a little-known fact that when a classic American yellow school bus becomes a little long in the tooth, it generally gets sold to a used-bus wholesaler. A lot of these buses wind up getting sold to buyers in Central and South America, where they form an important part of the rural transportation system. A local entrepreneur will buy one of these old buses, install a roof-rack for luggage and an access ladder for the roof-rack, weld an extension on the exhaust pipe to facilitate fording rivers, obtain a concession from the government, and set himself up as a transit operator. Typically, the bus will start out in the early morning from some tiny village in the hinterlands and thereafter travels toward the principal city or town in the region, stopping in every little village and hamlet along the way to pick up passengers. Arriving in town about mid-morning, the driver will discharge his passengers, refuel the bus, and then wait at some designated location for his returning passengers. About mid-afternoon, with everyone loaded up, goats, chickens, piglets, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, the driver starts the bus back up, and wends his way back into the countryside, dropping off passengers and livestock as he goes, until he eventually reaches his place of origin, where his route ends. And, as it happens, we found out that on any given day a number of these buses are available for private hire...

Which is how we wound up making the infamous ď140-km-nap-of-the-earth-Trans-Sula-bus-assault-mission.Ē 35-40 kph over gravel roads with the traditional ď40 x 40Ē climate-control system. Yep. 40 open windows at 40 kph. And we werenít the only traffic on the road, so dust was a constant companion. See the two accompanying photos taken during the bus assault

Even with all the dust it still beat walkingÖ

I hadnít really intended to tell that story here, but it does make the point that military transportation people donít get paid to tell units that we canít move something from where it is to where itís needed. Which is how I wound up helping to airmail a water buffalo to AfghanistanÖ Öabout which more in a later installment.

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Oooo. I can't wait for *that* one!

Parts 1, 2, and 3, 4, can be reached by clicking the respective numbers.