So, when I last left you guys, I had finished HROTP. It was late June 2006. Honestly, I can’t remember the date, and I’m too lazy to go dig out the certificate. There, I said it. Deal with it.
I’d like to point out that I am intentionally vague about some of this stuff, and I’m sure (or at least hoping) you guys understand why. I’m not bringing out the whole “If I told you, I’d have to…”, no I’m not saying that at all. What I AM saying is that there’s a modicum of security and intentional ambiguity that goes along, and that’s just part of the deal. Not trying to lead anyone on, or make it to be more than it is, but there is a certain decorum I am expected to maintain. I’ve been in law enforcment 18 years, and quite simply, it is what it is.
Now, moving on, I’d also like to point out that there’s a way you’re told things are going to work, the way things are supposed to work, and the way things actually end up working……and I was about to learn this lesson.
By design, our field office was divided into Teams (we had three at this time, but were expanding to six). Red, Blue and Gold Teams. Each Team had 16 Agents assigned to various disciplines. I was on Gold Team. The idea was to have the team deploy to their respective missions as a whole. Everyone was assigned to different missions (criminal investigations, counterintelligence, liaison and guys attend to special ops squads–like me). That way, everyone left at the same time, and returned at the same time. If you know anything about “government planning”, you know this fell apart…quickly. As a matter of fact, we all left at the same time, but then filtered back one by one and were never on the same schedule again…
So, after HROTP we went through a few weeks of specialized training. Because I was going to a SOCOM entity, I got some “additional training”, then returned back to get some additional CRFO/NCIS specific training (anyone seeing a “training” pattern here? Yeah, it got old for me too). Before I knew it, it was late July and I was ready to go…and I had no idea what I was getting into.
You have to remember that in 2006 Iraq seemed to be on the verge of completely coming apart at the seams. Troops were dying with alarming regularity, and the country was skating right to the brink of civil war. It was the lions den, and I was walking right into it. To make matters worse, I was going to be working with a unit working in Al Anbar province (Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit). Our job was to confront insurgents, seek out terrorists and arrest/”neutralize” them. It would not be safe. There were firefights and IED’s every day. I had come to grips with my mortality years ago, when I first pinned a badge on my chest….my mom, not so much, but this was much different reality for me.
So, in late July 2006, my parents, my wife and I had, what would become, my traditional send off to deployment meal–Fried Porkchops, rice and pan gravy, corn…and man, did I eat a lot of it. I didn’t ship any of my stuff over, I had everything I was going to take with me…and boy were those bags heavy…didn’t think about it much at the time…I would think A LOT about it later….
My wife and my mom and dad drove me to Jacksonville International Airport for a United flight to Dulles International Airport. From Dulles, I’d fly to Frankfurt, Germany, then get on a Lufthansa flight to Kuwait City. For subsequent tours, United would operate a direct flight from Dulles to Kuwait City, but for this one, I was on the “hopper”. Upon arrival in Kuwait, we were going to be met by an NCIS Logistic team who’d take us to the Hilton Kuwait Resort where we’d have 72 hours to adjust to the time change, get additional gear, chill out a bit, then head into theater. This fairy tale would come crashing down almost immediately upon arrival.
Flights were smooth (but long) …met the team and checked in without issue. it was about 2100 (9 PM) local time, and I hadn’t slept at all in about 24 hours. There’s a Pizza place in the hotel complex, so we all went and grabbed a pizza before taking a shower and crashing. While I was in the shower, my phone rang. One of the logistics guys told me that I had travel set into theater, and would need to be checking out at 0230 in order to get to Ali Al Salem Air Base to fly into Iraq….WHAT?? WHAT ABOUT MY 72 HOURS??? Yeah, about that….seems like the guys in Kuwait (who lived in the Hilton…) just wanted to get all of us out of the hotel so they could go back to goofing off by the pool and partying….I was royally ticked and screamed at the guy who backed down but told me there was nothing he could do about it….I would have to leave at 0230. Talked to my partner who was also ticked, but conceded we didn’t have any choice….So now it was about 2330 (1130) and I had to get some sleep (I didn’t). Called my wife who was sympathetic, and helped me cool off a bit.
So at 0230 I was downstairs ready to go…no nice Hilton breakfast (LOL) or time on the beach or at the pool. (rough right..LOL) An hour later we pulled up at Tent 2 (passenger terminal) to check in for my flight into Iraq. Took our orders to the KBR contractor who stamped them and handed them back to me and told me to “come back at 400 pm” for my flight. 1600?? Are you kidding me? It’s 0330!!! Now I was really ticked. We tracked down the logistic guy and pretty much wanted to choke him….he initially told us we had to just wait here, but after getting chewed out, he agreed to take us back to the Hilton for breakfast and a nap and then bring us back….
So I got breakfast after all….and a nap…and it was good…and I ‘m lucky…I could’ve been stuck in a tent at Ali. I mean, come on, a tent? Really? Hold that thought.
We returned to Ali Al Salem at 1600 and checked in (again)…now, remember the part about my heavy bags?? No, not a problem yet, as we took our bags to a pallet for them to be loaded onto an Air Force C130. A last minute check of gear, bags and equipment, and they loaded us onto a bus for transport to the flight line. The bus ride took about 20 minutes…if you think Disney Buses can be bad…let me tell you, it could be a whoooole lot worse.
It was late July in Kuwait…when we had landed at Kuwait International, we got the standard, “Welcome to Kuwait City. The local time is XXXX. There’s blowing sand and the temperature is (and at this point the pilot actually LAUGHS) 137 degrees F”. This bus was now full of guys in full combat gear (including helmet), packed in with minimal air conditioning….I can’t even describe the heat (or the smell), it’s just that hot. We pulled up at the plane to learn that the crew was on a break and wouldn’t load us for another half hour or so–multiple groans. The bus driver takes pity on us and restarts the bus so that the interior of the bus cooled off to about 105 degrees. Then he puts in the movie “Striking Distance” for us to watch—I’ll remember that for as long as I live I think. Well, after a long 30 minutes we finally boarded for an hour and a half flight from Ali Al Salem air base to Al Taqqadm Air Base on the oustkirts of Fallujah, and on the banks of Lake Thar Thar and the Euphrates River.
Here I am on my flight in…
Well, I had been transferred from my comfortoable office at Kings Bay, GA to our Operational Deployment Office (Contingency Response Field Office) in Brunswick GA. Now I needed to be trained for the mission…
So what kind of training do you get to attend if you’re headed to a war zone? Well, for us it’s called HROTP…or High Risk Operations Training Program. When I went through in June of 2006, the course was 4 weeks long—which doesn’t sound like much, but you’re pretty much dead at the end of it. It has since been increased to 6 weeks, but I think the only thing they have really done is add in some down time (which is probably a good thing). While I was still assigned at our Deployment Field Office, I served as a Firearms/Tactics instructor for no fewer than 15 HROTP iterations. It’s hard work for students and instructors. These were no shorted than 12 hour days….
Quick Caveat: In some of th pictures, I’m wearing running shoes….yes I should have been wearing boots–but I had to wait until my size came in–the curse of having a common size foot (10.5) Just wanted to get that out of the way for peanut gallery, because, while I realize some of you wouldn’t notice, I’m sure SOME of you would point it out given half a chance (Barry/Doc). Again, I’m going to speak to my class only….some of the training has evaluated and improved over the years (this is a good thing) as guys like me came back and pointed stuff out….Prior to December 2005, we only deployed one or two guys at a time and had no real formalized training course, which all of us realized was not the best way to do business. My office also became the Agency SWAT/Tactical Team so we would get more training later when this decision was made. But for now, this was it…and it was (and still is) consider our toughest, most intense training course.
????If, for some unknown reason, you don’t get outrageously bored, you’ll also notice that some of my equipment will evolve (particularly my vest)…this is also a good thing. The vest I wore in training and for part of my 2006 deployment, was a standard “over the head” style Bullet Resistant Vest with two ceramic plates (front and back) rated to protect me from 7.62 (AK 47 caliber) Armor Piercing rifle founds. That vest is covered by a Molle Load Bearing Vest that held magazine pouches for rifle and pistol. We did evolve some, and as I trained and deployed I moved stuff around. We also got new vests, but more on that later. As a general rule, we trained with a lesser load than we actually carried, but the gear averaged anywhere from 50 to 60 pounds of extra weight….Yeah, that’s heavy.
My class was held in June 2006 at the Federal Law Enforcment Training Center (FLETC–my home office for the next 4.5 years)…for you guys who drive to Disney via I 95, you pass it at Exit 38 in Brunswick, GA (look for the big sign at Exit 38). And it goes without saying—it was hot. Averaged right about 90 with 100% humidity.
At the time (this has since changed) we started with two weeks of firearms, a week of tactics, and a week of driving ended with final drills to put it all together. In the middle we all became CPR certified (again) and were taught basic combat first aid/treatment/triage. It is all crawl/walk/run, because believe it or not, a lot of Law Enforcement types aren’t that proficient with firearms–yeah, scary I know, but it is what it is. Even then, most Law Enforcement firearms training is static in nature (Stand here, shoot target) due to it mostly being designed for a technical qualification, and not an actual dynamic situation. Sure, I’d been on a SWAT team, but my training had been long ago (early 90s) and these are perishable skills–it’s not bicycle riding by any stretch. So while I wasn’t exactly “crawling”, I wasn’t running 400M Hurdles either. A lot of my fellow Agents struggled…but in the end, all of us got through.
Now for the pictures and some explanation….I’ll point me out…but if you see a hat related to Bass Fishing, that would be me…LOL
Getting instruction from our Agency Lead Firearms instructor (in the gray shirt….anyone not in a beige shirt is an instructor)..I’m the guy on the far right in the beige hat
One on one instruction….again on the right in the beige hat.
On th line….now, this range looks like it’s indoor—it’s not, it’s outdoor…
Adjusting a sling…
Learning the M4 Rifle…we would be issued Mark 18’s for my time at this Field Office. The MK18 is the same rifle, but with a 10.5 inch, vice 14.5 inch barrel. Pictures later. By the way, you learn real quick to wear elbow pads. In this exercise, we’re unloaded and working on trigger manipulation, but once the lead started flying, that ground got real painful, real quick like.
After basic range exercises, we moved into things like shooting on the move, utilizing cover/concealment etc. etc…..and we trained in shooting out of vehicles..
This is a suburban, and I love this pic….you can see the ejected brass flying off to the right…
So after two weeks hard at it…you look kinda like this (by the way, I’m about 20 pounds lighter than this now)
So now we move into tactics training. For this type of training we use a lot of Non-Lethal training rounds (Simunitions)…essentially you use a real gun that shoots a marking paint bullet (and it stings). Instructors during the “source ambush”…which you’ll see here in a minute…use paintball guns to “send us a message” (painfully–luckily for me, I did not get shot–and I have been an instructor since on multiple occasions, and I tend to go a little “soft” on guys who are trying—goof offs or people not cutting it get lit up)…Blue barelled weapons are Non Lethal…
So the story behind this is, we go to meet a source (much of what we do) and get ambushed by insurgents….it suuuuuuuuuucks…
For the record, I’m the guy in the Oakley Sunglasses in a beige ball cap with blue bill..I also have my boots now–had to buy them myself.
So we get briefed on our mission…
And then we enter the scenario…..and we get “new information”….don’t know it at the time, but our day just got worse…
Our “new” information…I’m the guy closest to the camera…note the protective gear.
Revising the (already bad, but no one would listen..lol) plan…I’m on the far right now
On the move…I’m in the center, to the left of the instructor (see if you can find him…LOL)
Grabbing the source…I’m the guy on the right..
Taking fire…getting out of dodge…I was responsible to protect the source, so I’m not shooting…See if you can tell which direction the fire is coming from!! I’m on the source’s (red suit) left side.
We did a few other drills, but these are the only pictures I have….while the instructors intentionally do you a little “dirty”, I learned a lot.
Now we had to learn to move as a team…formations, etc. etc….(which would’ve been nice to learn BEFORE the source meet–but hey, they were working on it)…We utilized FLETC training “raid” houses for this….Notice that only a few of us are in full “Hero” Gear (tactical vests)…those of us at CRFO had to wear them, those just doing the training for a one time deployment did not.
Instruction and picking ticks….I’m the guy on the table pulling off a tick…FLETC is ground zero for ticks in South Georgia.
Escorting out…I’m front Left….as I look at this now, my technique and focus of attention are TERRIBLE…I need to be paying attention to my Area of Responsibility (which is front and right of the formation)…I’m looking down and to the left…Bad bad bad…but no longer an issue..
Again…front right of the formation…and not paying attention to what I should be focusing on….oh well, that’s why they call it training.
Someone has to run in the middle of the road and risk becoming a hood ornament…may as well be me…
From these exercises we moved to driving….we drove the FLETC Tahoes a lot (since we used Suburbans in Theater), trained in our junker alley Maze getting smoked out and shot at, and finally trained on our track where they simulated IED disabling etc. etc….These are pretty much the only pictures I have, but you might get the idea.
Junker alley…junk cars used to create a maze so you can destroy your car and the junkers….LOL
AMBUSH!!! We’re in the Old Police Caprices (I had one as a police car in 1994) with welded ram bumpers (to somewhat protect that tank)…we would get disabled, smoked, then ambused…it’s loud, confusing…and fun.
After we get out of the vehicle…which is the point…I’m the last guy on the right with a helmet…laughing…the other guy has on a shower cap because you have to wear one under the helmets…Government rules…OSHA and all that.
Final Debrief…I’m the guy standing on the right arm of the dude in the helmet…
Final picture from class…don’t ask how I ended up front behind the class counselor…I have no idea, and can’t remember…
So that was training….I had no idea I didn’t know what I didn’t know…LOL
Next Stop….Kuwait to Camp Fallujah, Iraq..(IZ)
Ok, so a couple of people have asked me….What’s it like to “do what you do” and travel to the Middle East. Well, I thought I’d answer, but in our little corner of cyberspace (thanks AJ).
Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, I’ve done four deployments to Iraq since 2006. In 2006 I was assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF), Al Anbar Province (Fallujah/Ramadi/Sunni Triangle) as a law enforcement liaison for the SOCOM. If you know anything about Al Anbar Province in mid-late 2006–it was not a pleasant place to be.
I didn’t deploy in 2007 because my son was born, but in February 2008 I was assigned to the Counterinsurgency Operations Group (COIN) at Camp Bucca, Iraq..essentially operating in the prison at Camp Bucca, which is right at the port of Um Qasr, just south of Basrah. Due to the outbreak of violence in Basrah, and the subsequent desertion of most of the Iraqi Police in Basrah, I was reassigned halfway through to train and advise Iraqi Police Investigators. Again, my timing was impeccable as I landed in a hot zone and stayed there until I left.
In 2009 I was deployed as the NCIS Supervisor over our Criminal Investigative Office (NCISRA Iraq) at Al Asad Air Base, Al Anbar Province. Al Asad is a huge sprawling Air Base that is larger in square mileage than the state of Rhode IslandBy 2009 Iraq had really cooled off….and as a supervisor I was stuck behind a desk, so it was a little slower than I was used to. My guys were hopping and busy, but in true “boss” form, I was tied to a computer and a phone. Good experience for me though. At any rate, they didn’t call Al Asad “Camp Cupcake” for nothing, so I was comfortable.
Last year, I was assigned as the Special Agent In Charge for the Joint Counterintelligence Unit Iraq, South, again at Camp Bucca. Much different experience for me at Camp Bucca this time around, as I was the supervisor of a very critical US Forces Command. I was responsible for about 65 people, including our Texas National Guard security detail (love those guys). As far as what we did…..well…..you know the line…LOL
So that’s some background. As luck would have it, except for 2008, I found myself deployed right through the summer. In Iraq, they turn the furnace on right about mid April, and it stays on until Late Septemeber, Early October—with some notable exceptions—but suffice it to say I experienced Iraqi weather from blistering (and I can’t even describe it in words) heat to freezing (literally) cold……
I got to do some really cool stuff…..and from the looks of my pictures lost a few pounds along the way (go figure). I started out knowing literally nothing, I mean, I was a SWAT guy at my police department, but it had been a while, and Iraq was a whole different ball game than anything I was used to as a cop—and I had to learn on the fly, quick fast and in a hurry in 2006….
So hang on and give me some time to get into this, as it will take a bit—but I’ll try to keep it short if I can. I have a bunch of pictures, especially of my later deployments…I failed to recognize the significance of 2006, and in 2008 my camera was….destroyed…so I lost a memory card with some stuff on it. I like pictures (you know “Grog no read. Show Grog pictures”), so I’ll put them out there.
Now before you hit the ground running—you have to learn some basic stuff….in other words, you get to training.