Things have been pretty crazy here lately. Maureen and my mother came down to visit while a PBS film maker followed me around for about a week to start on a documentary. We were issued our new digital uniforms (the ACU) and M4 rifle. A few individuals have been removed from duty while others have returned from being reevaluated after having heart attacks. It seems that there is always some kind of drama or something happening down here.
Maureen and my mother were down here from Friday the 9th of April to Monday the 12th. It was a great visit, but far too short. I don't think I could decide on an adequate number of days for a visit. It will never be long enough until I get home for good. They both had to deal with the PBS documentarian following the six of us from the First City Troop around. The film maker, Chandler, caught plenty of moments of the visit. He interviewed my mother and Maureen and plans on continuing the interview with them and the rest of my family back in Pennsylvania. The documentary is supposed to highlight the similarities of the citizen soldier back in the Revolution to the citizen soldier of today. Since the First City Troop participated in the Revolution, and members are about to participate in this current conflict, it seemed suitable to focus on members of the organization. He plans to follow us through this entire deployment until we return home. I'll try to keep everyone posted on the progress with this project.
Our new uniform, the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), looks like a digital mess. It is to replace the current woodland and desert patterns. The digital pattern is supposed to break up a soldier's sillouhette so the enemy cannot get a good sight picture on him. It is to be used for urban, woodland and desert environments. As ugly as the new uniform is, it is actually pretty comfortable. We will not start to wear it until June when we get back from California. You should notice the change in the pictures
We have also been issued our M4 rifles which replace the M16A2s we had. The M4 is more suited for close quarters combat in urban environments. It has a collapsable stock and a shorter barrell. It uses the same rounds as the M16, but does not have the same range because of the shorter barrell. We also were issued laser sights which mount ontop of our rifles. A lot of the gear we are getting is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the M4s look like they got in directly from Iraq. They were dusty and grimey. Mine is a little beat up, but it looks like it will work just fine.
My platoon sergeant was replaced for one reason or another. The new E7 in his place seems like he will do a good job. I look forward to working with him. Another soldier is on his way out for messing up. There are plenty of mess-ups to go around. It is unfortunate that we all have to get punished for the mistakes of others. Too many meatheads and deviants in the Army. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. . . Right? I think I'll pass.
There is no point in trying to sweeten up the truth by leaving things out. Even though I have to leave a lot out of this website for security reasons and beuraucratic silliness, I still feel as though I owe it to everyone to give them a truthful idea of what this Army life is like. It is not glamorous and often times not even interesting. It looks like it might be dangerous but not rewarding. You want to fight by the side of men you would like to consider brothers, but often times they hate you more than the enemy - they don't even know where they are going (Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is all the same to them). It can be difficult to relate intellectually to others. But even harder is to relate morally. I am not trying to paint a picture for the entire military, but with my personal experience, I have never seen infidelity and callousness at such a level. Yet, there are some decent people I have encountered. If I can find just one decent human being to go through this with, then I consider myself lucky. I hope this does not seem like whining. I just feel as though you are entitled to a better understanding of all of this. Everyone back home is what makes this all worth it. I appreciate you all more than ever.
Right now the rest of the guys are out in the field. I went out but came down with a nasty infection. I am coughing my lungs up in the barracks until they come back tomorrow. I do feel as though I am getting better, and it is really nice to enjoy the quiet of an empty barracks. Well that is it for now. Adios.
Happy Easter! Hope everyone is enjoying today with their families. I have the day off today and will head to Mass at the post chapel at 2PM. Easter should bring a bigger turnout than usual for Sunday. Brigade is running shuttles to and from the Turtle Creek mall in Hattiesburg. Some will use their time to go out to eat while others have already left to spend their two days off in Gulfport or New Orleans if they are more daring (New Orleans is off limits).
I have been running almost everyday. We have a nice sized lake not far from the barracks where I run. On a nice sunny day it almost seems like I am not at Camp Shelby. We have had a few severe storms along with tornado warnings over the past week or so. As the weather continues to get warmer, it looks like we should experience a few more twisters and storms. By the end of April things should be pretty hot and muggy.
I'm looking forward to my Mom and Maureen visiting. They have tickets to come down on the 8th of April. I only hope that they do not schedule some last minute training to interfere with their visit. The next time I will get to see anyone will be on June 11th when I come home for ten days. This would make the wait until then a little easier.
On Easter I usually spend it with my family at my Aunt's. All of the cousins put on jackets and hats from the closet and grab a pillow case to get ready for the big egg hunt. The winner of the hunt would be awarded with one of three prizes (3rd place: the deer tail; 2nd place: the golden bone; 1st place: the golden antler). Nothing celebrates Easter like animal parts. I don't think there will be a hunt this year, but everyone will still get together at Aunt B's. I'll give them a call so I can talk to everyone.
P.S. - In case anyone was wondering, my smallpox scab finally fell off a few days ago. I was really excited but decided not to save it. Also, I have been attempting to grow a mustache over the past few weeks. It is a sad attempt but very amusing. Some people have even offered me money to shave it off.
Things are looking a little better at Camp Shelby today. The rain from the past couple of days has finally cleared up and we are back at the barracks after a long, cold week in the field. Today we met with some OCs (Observer/ Controllers) who went over some things we will need to know for live fire at the range we will be going to over the next couple days. OCs are basically trainers from other units who are experts on Army doctrine and their fields of instruction. Tomorrow we will be doing more of the same training (patrols, IMT, react to IEDs, etc.).
On Sunday my platoon will be heading to the range. I hope to be able to get to Mass on post if there is a break in the training. I try to make it to the post chapel every Sunday if it is possible. If we cannot make it to a religious service because of a training conflict, they often try to send a chaplin out to the field to accomodate us. Father (MAJ) Killmurray is the Catholic chaplin here on post. He is from Dublin, Ireland and has a great sense of humour. Funny to hear an Irish brogue coming from a US Army officer.
While we were in the field this past week we concentrated on IMT (Individual Movement Techniques), deliberate assault, raids, link-up with other elements. The training I received at Basic Training was for Cavalry. We are now acting more the role of Infantry and are receiving training more oriented to that. In fact, it is said that the Cavalry may no longer have a future in the US Army, as I read in the Army Times newspaper from February. It is an old profession and it will be strange to see it go.
Last week we also received our vaccination for Smallpox. They take a small pitchfork-like needle and poke your arm a few times and spread in the virus. You wait about a week for it to fester and puss up. I am festering quite nicely right now. Tomorrow morning I think we are supposed to get them checked by the medical team. By the end of the second week we are supposed to have a nice black scab covering the area. Until that point I am capable of spreading the smallpox. As interesting as this sounds, perhaps I should quit while I am ahead.
I would like to thank everyone who is sending letters and packages. The Archers, my neighbors across the street, sent some great cookies and chocolate covered pretzels. My Aunt Bernadette and Aunt Kathleen both sent packages filled with food and other items. Aunt Kathleen, being the dental hygenist, made sure to send enough oral care products for the entire Army. The Laffertys tried to sent some Girl Scout cookies but I rudely declined the offer due to an abundance of junk food and sweets which had already accumulated in my wall locker. Maureen and my Mother have been sending a good deal of mail and are keeping me posted on all of the news back home. Thanks to everyone.
I hear there is plenty of snow to deal with back home. Everyone be careful on the roads. I am jealous because I love the winter and the snow. Down here winter means freezing nights and rain--and rain means mud. I hate mud. The consistency varies from soup to sludge. I would take the snow anyday. Luckily it should start to warm up down here. Some days it gets as high as the low 70s. It will be nice once that starts to hold.
Be sure to keep posted for more pictures and make sure to ask if there is anything you would like to see or for me to write about the next time. Take care.
It has been a while since the first entry, so I apologize for the wait. Things have been pretty busy at times keeping me from getting any free time to send Mark any updates. I have some new pictures on the way. I will make sure to send some captions describing them as well. Most of our Troop has finished qualifying on our primary and secondary weapons. I will be the 50 cal (M2) gunner on an up-armored HMMWV (Hummer). We are all require to qualify on the M-16 rifle. Chances are, I will also be issued a 9mm Beretta pistol. I have also fired the the 240 B machine gun while being a range safety down here. It seems like it may be pretty exhilerating to play with all these weapons, but it honestly gets pretty old. Strange to say to someone that you get to fire the MK19 automatic grenade launcher and you got bored. Anyway, enough about stupid weapons.
Recently, we have been to the field for training to occupy and defend an FOB (Forward Operating Base). An FOB is basically where you live while in country. After that we occupied a training area for urban operations. There we learned to clear buildings and secure perimeters in an urban environment. We also learned how to subdue riots and maintain control of them while dealing with their political and religious leaders. Some of the operations went on the whole night. In a few days we are headed back out to the field for mounted operations. We will probably be living in our vehicles for those five days. The last eight days I have been involved in some pretty interesting training. My Troop selected three soldiers to attend a class on the RAVEN SUAV. It is basically an unmanned spy plane which you launch by hand and fly by a control box. Tomorrow is the final test and culmination excercise of everything we have learned in the class. We will be official RAVEN pilots at that point. How exciting. We will get some lame certificate or a sticker or something. I am sure there is more which I could have written about, but it is hard to keep track of every little thing that happens. Hopefully some of the pictures Mark will put up will help fill in the gaps and give everyone a better idea of what I am doing down here.
Hope all is well back home. Until next time...
I assume most of you visiting this website know me in one form or another, but for those who do not, I will give a little background information. My name is Andrew but I go by a number of other names depending on the group I am with. Here are a few: Andy, Drew (I hate that), Wildcat, Crabcake, Coldcuts, Culpit, Xulpit, etc. I was born on August 13, 1981 making me 23 years old as of this date. I have a pretty big family if you are to include all the cousins and distant relatives. Otherwise it is just my Mother, Mary, and myself. They have all been very supportive of me while I am away.
One person I know I would not be able to do without is my beautiful girlfriend Maureen. We only started dating in December, but she has somehow managed to change my life. Thanks, Maureen. You are the best thing to ever happen to me and now everyone knows. Sorry. I wonder if I would be able to go the course without her. I don't think so.
I also need to thank Mark Del Rossi for putting this page together. I don't know anything about computers but how to break them. As long as I don't break this one Mark will keep updating this page with pictures and postings from me. Until June I will be writing from Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Sometime in early May I will be heading to California for additional training. By June I should be in Iraq. As far as I know, I am unable to mention much about my location in Iraq and can barely talk about our training and mission. Pictures which are posted will have to be selective. I will find out more about what content I can post as this deployment continues.
Before I moved into Camp Shelby I was working some construction. Supposedly, I was a student before that. Those who know me also know about my love for my beloved Villanova. Upon my return I should get back into that educational environment -- not Villanova. But that is another stage in my life to come.
Anyway, enjoy the page and let me know about anything you would like to see or know. Thanks for visiting.
A Tribute to a Fallen Friend:
Back in 2000 I joined the Army and attended basic training at Ft. Knox, KY. At first I was quite disappointed with the people I was in training with. Friendships were often formed of convenience since it is much easier to get through teamwork excercises with cooperation. However, I did develop a few true friendships over the course of the training. One of those was with Nelson.
Nelson was instrumental in helping me cope with the daily annoyances one encounters at basic training. The Army attracts an array of people from all different walks of life. I found myself getting annoyed with a majority of the other trainees because of some social and intellectual differences. Nelson was an easy going guy, only 18 years old at the time, and seemed to get along with everyone. I got along with everyone, at least in appearance, but I would get frustrated and often vent such frustrations to Nelson. I think I was able to get along so well with Nelson because we were a lot alike. He was a sort of peace-maker during training. He helped me to brush off the ignorance factor and just cruise along with everything. I am thankful to him for making life a lot easier for me.
After training, many of us went out seperate ways. I kept in touch with a few of the guys, but seperated by many states, it was almost inevidable that we would drift apart. The last time I saw Nelson was at our graduation, but I definitely never forgot him. I know that if I were to have ever run into him again we would get along just as well.
Sadly, on December 29, 2004 Nelson passed away from his wounds he received in Iraq. Reading through the Army Times while training down in Mississippi for my own deployment, I came upon his picture and death notice in the KIA section of the paper. I did not know how to react at first, but it hit me pretty hard once I absorbed the reality. Reading articles from Nelsonís home town in Louisiana reaffirmed how good of a person he was to everyone he encountered. I would like to say thank you to a friend in the only way I know how since he is now gone. I hope by others reading these personal accounts and articles about him, they can also see how he greatly touched many others.