Thursday, March 09, 2006

Duct tape doesn’t solve all problems Pt. 2: Getting closer

Part one is below this. Read it first. Okay. A LOT longer than I expected. There will be a part 3.

A PAD has a lot of equipment assigned to them to help them achieve their mission. They have the computers, cameras, editing systems and related accoutrements. There are supplies, tents, field desks, chairs and all that mundane stuff you don’t ever think about until you have to plan such an expedition. They also have vehicles and trailers, etc. to transport said equipment and personnel on the battlefield.

For most Army journalists, a PAD is their only real experience with combat-like training. (Ed. More correctly: Every soldier gets combat training every so often. What I mean to say is that this is a PAO soldier's only experience being in a combat-ready unit of other PAO soldiers. They may be assigned to combat units individually, but they'll never have the experience of a PAD -- getting the equipment ready, etc.) They have to stay on top of their assigned gear and their deployment equipment. But, most PADs tend to have a daily mission supporting the installation Public Affairs Office that takes a lot of time away from combat mission-related training. There aren’t a lot of PADs in the Army. Most journalists spend a good bit of time assigned to installation PAO shops where all they do is work on the newspaper or broadcast products and have that seldom-seen relationship with the company as I was talking about earlier.

Some PADs have really good relationships with the installation where they are assigned. Some don’t. The 11th PAD falls, or fell (as I have no idea how they are now) into the latter category. The problem is, is that with a commander and NCOIC, they have a detachment rating. Which means they are treated as a company-level element, but they don’t really have the personnel to support company-level activity. They should be attached to a full-size company or detachment and that company should assist the PAD in personnel and equipment issues. This relationship should be administrative only. The company and battalion supporting the PAD shouldn’t get into the business of running the PAD. BUT, it’s inevitable that these things are going to happen.

At Fort Polk, while I was there, we were attached to the 142nd Corps Support Battalion whose mission is primarily quartermaster and maintenance. At the time, they had a battalion commander who was very interested in getting in the business of all his companies, administratively attached or no. Basically, we had to start attending all battalion training meetings and perform all their training activities also.

In ways this was good. In ways this was bad. It was bad in that it took us away from supporting the post PAO and from giving the journalists training and experience in doing their public affairs mission. It was good in that it caused us to become far more battle focused. That is, we became far more familiar with our combat and field equipment, loading and unloading the equipment into vehicles and preparing ourselves for deployment.

As “Army training” is concerned, I learned more about how the Army works and how it is supposed to work in my last two years in the Army than I did in the eight proceeding. This is due in large part to our detachment commander, a major, who was a former armor officer. He knew all this stuff and forced me to learn it. He was an asshole. But it was baptism by fire and I learned tons.

The reason Maj. Mike was so influential in us actually learning stuff is because he insulated us, in large parts, from the BS that went on at the battalion. Their exercises and such tended to be cluster effs. We participated but at the same time did our own thing relevant to our mission.

One of the biggest clusters the battalion did quarterly was the rifle range. Every soldier has to qualify at least semi-annually with the M-16 and any subsequently assigned weapons, such as the M-9 pistol, the M-249 SAW, the M-24 sniper rifle, etc. Since soldiers had to this, the battalion took it as a training opportunity to take care of several requirements.

While there were several ranges on Fort Polk, the battalion decided to have its ranges at Camp Beauregard, an Army Reserve installation in Alexandria, LA. This allowed the battalion to perform a load exercise of their equipment, a tactical convoy to Beauregard and they would do the Common Test Training and Testing while there. This quarterly excursion would last three or four days. Sounds good on paper, but the execution was always, and I mean ALWAYS, a mess. Things didn’t happen when they were supposed to happen. Soldiers were running around not aware of what to do. Soldiers were running around intentionally not doing what they were supposed to do. Soldiers were running around doing things in private that they weren’t supposed to be doing. Again, it was a cluster.

So, these quartermaster and maintenance units, whose jobs were also their daily missions, would do all this stuff and it was pretty easy for them. However, those of us who were attached to the battalion, my unit, Finance, and the Personnel Services Branch were kind of ass out. We had daily missions and couldn’t really afford to take off for the majority of a week just to qualify with our weapons. So, generally, we had to cut deals that we would drive out for one day and return that evening. The catch was that we had to drive our tactical vehicles, HMMWVs and the like, and couldn’t drive regular government-owned, civilian-style vehicles.

No comments: