Monday, September 2, 2013

The Beginning of a Journey: Becoming an Air Advisor

For those of you who don't know -- and many of you don't since I haven't been overly talkative about it -- I'll be deploying to Afghanistan for a year toward the end of this year. I'm going to be the advisor to one of the Afghan Mission Support Group Commanders there, as well as "the mayor" of the base I'll be on. Basically, I'll be responsible for all of the base support functions -- those functions that keep the base running, like infrastructure, food services, logistics, and security -- for my base and advising an Afghan partner how to do the same for his base. That's similar to what I do here in the States as the deputy to the Mission Support Group Commander.

"That's great," you say, "but aren't we getting out of Afghanistan?" Good question. What's really ending in 2014 are the military operations; the advisory role, which I'll be filling, will continue until 2017. That means there will still be a significant number of people deployed over there, yet only a small percentage compared to what we have now. Leading up to this deployment, I've had to click through an infinite number of computer-based training modules (CBTs in AF-speak) on everything from the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions to preventing sexual assault in the deployed environment to Afghan culture and language. All good stuff...well, okay, not all of it...but mind-numbing. I've gotten an inordinate amount of gear, including uniforms, magazine pouches, two different Camelbaks, a compass, a knife, and a headlamp, and that just scratches the surface! The uniforms are fire-retardant right down to the gloves and underwear. I'm just not sure I can do AF-issued underwear, but the gloves rock! I'll definitely be keeping those! It's enough to fill two very large rolling duffle/hockey bags -- with even more to get once I get in-theater.

As part of my preparation, I've also had to attend two training courses. The first was basically a Code of Conduct class that taught us what to expect and how to behave in the unlikely event we're captured. Mom, you can rest assured this is a VERY unlikely event, but better to know what to expect and how to act than to inadvertently or unknowingly bring dishonor on yourself or the United States. The second course I'm attending right now, and is a five-week course called the Air Advisor Academy. Its primary objective is to prepare us first and foremost on how to build up our Afghan partners for success but also to prepare us for the uncertain environment we could potentially find ourselves in.

That second part is what we spent the majority of our first week doing, and it totally took me by surprise! It was extremely physically demanding, and at the end of each day, I was physically exhausted! I was expecting the first day to be all classroom with lots of PowerPoint, complete with where to find the bathrooms and how much the coffee costs. Instead, I was thrust into a line where we were issued a first-aid kit, body armor and helmet, and a dummy 9-mil and M4 to carry around, which we were told to carry around with us at all times -- back to our room, to the chow hall, etc. At one point, I decided I needed to add Full Metal Jacket to my deployed movie list because I had "This is my rifle, this is my gun..." chanting through my head! Anyway, I digress...Then we spent the entire afternoon outside in full battle rattle (about 25-30 pounds of body armor, helmet, (fake) weapons, etc.). I was spent!

The next day, we spent the afternoon outside learning self-protection, which basically boiled down to hand-to-hand combat. We learned a lot of simple protective moves and a few offensive moves. So beware: When you thought before that I knew 8 ways to kill you, now I really do!

The week finished up with two and a half days of Combat Lifesaver training. This was a really great course that took our usual Self-Aid/Buddy Care to a whole new level. We learned how to put tourniquets on and completely dispelled the myth that if you ever put one on, the limb has to come off, meaning that if you only have time to put on a tourniquet, that's okay. It can always be taken off later. To make the point, in fact, we had to put them on ourselves and then tighten them down to as tight as they would actually be. We also dispelled the myth that tourniquets can't be put on the neck. Just kidding...that only fixes misbehaving kids! We also learned how to pack wounds with quick-clot gauze and how to put in a nasopharyngeal airway. In fact, one of our class members actually had to put it down the nose of another class member. No, neither one was me!

Our two finals were a written test and a series of practicals where we had to rescue some casualties during hostilities and then treat their wounds (again in full battle rattle and in low light). To make it more realistic, they even used real blood, which we got all over ourselves. And, these skills could be invaluable outside of the military, too. In fact, Cristi already said that she feels better knowing I have those skills when I go out hiking with the Boy Scouts. Yep. Sure enough, if one of the boys gets shot or steps on a landmine, I've got 'em covered! All seriousness aside, these are great skills to have in the event of a broken bone or other serious injury when you need to keep calm and doctor on.

Well, one week down and four to go. Last week was full of training that I hope to never use, but better to be exposed to it and know what to do than to sit there paralyzed from shock and fear. It's why the Boy Scouts spend so much time on first-aid and wilderness survival skills: To be prepared...for life! Next week is much more focused on the advisor role with only a couple of days of fieldcraft. If I can keep my blogging motivation up, I'll let you know next week how that went, too!

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