Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Uknown Soldier

As part of a continuing professional military education program, Air Force members are required to complete certain courses during certain time frames. Ones a member has become a Senior Airman (E-4), he can not be promoted to Staff Sargeant (E-5) until he/she completes Airman Leadership School (ALS). I took this course in November of 2002. Each class had to design, plan, research, and perform a presentation at the graduation ceremony/dinner, which had commanders and first sargeants from every students squadron as well as other distinguished peopl which very upon availability.

my class decided as a group that we would do a presentaion about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We sat down and discussed what it was that we wanted to do, show, and demonstrate. We decided on a slide show, a recreation of the "changing of the guard" ceremony that is actually done at the Tomb in Arlington National Cemetery, and a speech that gave information on the Tomb itself, it's purpose, the bodies that were placed inside the Tomb, and what the Tomb actually represented. One person in the class designed a short slide show and we used music from the "We Were Soldiers" movie as a backdrop for the slide show, a group of several other students did the guard changing, and finally, the speech, which included a narration of the guard changing, was broken into four parts in an effort to get more students involved in the actual presentation. I enjoy writing and I had a personal feeling of conection to the subject, so I volunteered to write the speech. I did the research and came up with a rough draft, which the class as a whole went over and made notes for revising and shortening, after which I rewrote it. When we were all done, I had the sudden urge to write a poem as inspiration hit me strongly. I wrote the poem down, and it was added to the presentation as the closing. Here is that poem, which I hope you enjoy.

In Remeberance Of The Unknown Soldier
By: Robert Jeffrey
Their country called,
Their time had come,
They shouldered their packs,
And they grabbed their guns.
Where they come from,
Is everywhere,
All walks of life,
They didn't care.
They did their jobs,
They stood their ground,
They fought with fury,
As devestation rained down.
With their futures unknown,
And their time uncertain,
They fitfully slept,
With nightmares for curtains.
When the dust settled,
And the smoke had cleared,
Their lives were paid,
But our freedom's secured.
As we look back,
At the battles gone by,
We rememberthe price we paid,
Ans ask, "Was it to high?"
If we ask that of those,
Who remain nameless this day,
Thay'll tell us that nothing,
Was too much to pay.
So remember the many,
Who are dead and gone,
For in their deaths,
Our lives can move on.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Basic Military Training Ceremony

Back in the end of 1999, I went through Bast Military Training, or BMT for short. On the Sunday morning after graduation, at the chapel on, it was traditional for each of the graduating flights to come up with a poem to read in front of the congregation of trainees and the parents and loved ones of the graduating flights. I don't know if this is still done or not today, but I thought it was pretty cool back then.

I co-wrote the poem for my flight, which was read by 10 of the graduating Airmen, myself included. Below, I have posted that poem and hope you enjoy it.

By: Robert Jeffrey and Curtis Bittle
We came in the night,
Anxious and scared.
The black hats came at us,
From everywhere.
After night and day,
Of scream and stare,
Comes the Solemn call,
Of "Taps" in prayer.
From the shock of the day,
And the wide eyed worry,
Our hearts are then moved,
Beyond the hurry.
With silent steady steps,
We stride.
Hope shines past threat,
Our guiden pride.
We marched around the base,
Processing here and there.
We stopped at the barber,
And lost all our hair.
We all got our shots,
In our arms and our rears,
We tried to get along,
With our flight, our peers.
PC and classes,
Study in free time,
For the tests we must take,
Of our bodies and minds.
Though we may know,
The worst day's next,
One step ahead,
And we pass the test.
We built our confidence,
Through FTX and Warrior Week,
We shot off the guns,
Our adrenaline at its peak.
Then in our blues,
Graduation did come,
With the hope/knowledge that Honor Flight,
Was ours to be won.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Well, today is Thanksgiving Day, and once again thousands of American service members are hard at work around the world. Every base has guards posted, command and control centers still operate, planes and jets are still maintained, battles rage in areas of conflict, and American lives are placed in danger to ensure that your freedom continues unabated. As I sit here, in the comfort of my own home writing this, I personally know more than a dozen airmen and soldiers who are working in and around Iraq. They may get an extended lunch, but most will work a good 10 to 12 hour shift, just as I did on Thanksgiving and Christmas during my tour in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Many people question the importance of our involvment in Iraq and Afganistan. Many want our men and women pulled out as fast as we can get them out. Sadly, many parents, who were proud that their son or daughter joined and served our country, now degrade their sacrifice because they gave their life in that service. How can one honor the fallen, but not honor what they fell for? How can you blame any one person, whether he is the president or not, for the price in lives that our country has paid in this conflict, when each of those that died volunteered for the job they had? The draft was not imposed for this conflict, so how can my service be the fault of the government, or the president? I knew the risks when I signed the paper, raised my hand, swore the oath, and put on my uniform, and I'll guarantee that every member of today's U.S. military knew those risks when they did the same.

Many people say that we had no reason to be there in the first place. In response to that opinion, I ask this: Is your freedom worth more than your neighbor's? The U.S. Constitution proclaims that all men are created equal, and that they have the inherit rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Are the people of Iraq and Afganistan not to be considered men? Are they not also entitled to these rights? Is it not right and good to help lift the yolk of tyranny from that of our fellow man? How can we be wrong in helping those who can not help themselves?

Now the primary complaints that I hear are that the people of the countries we are helping don't really want us there as evidenced by the continuing acts of violence against our people. Better check that line of reasoning with some facts. Over 95% of the violent acts currently being committed in Iraq are not being committed by Iraqis, but by terrorist dissidents that are entering the country from else where, many coming across the border from Syria. As a person that has been there, I can tell you that I have never been treated with more respect and gratitude than by those Iraqis I had the good fortune to meet. You can see it on their faces as plain as day that they have been allowed out of their fear of Saddam and his evil rule and that they can't thank us enough.

To see the places that the children played and learned, you would have thought they must have layed on their bellies the entire time to avoid gunfire. Schools riddled with bulletholes, playgrounds and parks torn assunder by various explosions. One such playground was rebuilt by members of the U.S. Air Force in Kirkuk, Iraq in 2003. The place was swept for mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), barbed wire, and the thrashed play equipment removed, and then a group of Air Force Civil Engineers rebuilt the entire playground. The community, seeing that we had ensured safety before beginning work came out to help with the process. The children were ecstatic about the reconstruction.

The tools of war were everywhere. While I was stationed in country, the base I was at had a regularly scheduled detonation of confiscated weaponry every week. Every 6-8 days, you would see a firball rise into the sky, followed by secondary explosions in the same location. In the short time I was there, over 4 tons of munitions were destroyed. For a while, money was offered to locals in exchange for weapons and ammunition to be destroyed. I met with a ten or eleven year old boy who brought in RPGs, ammo and other small arms. These tools were so prevalent that he brought in a wagon load of the stuff every day, and took home in a week a monetary equivilant to what his father probably earned in a year. The program had to be discontinued because the ,monetary cost was just too high. Given all this, how can we not have had reason to be there in the first place?

In my opinion, if you aren't willing to risk your life for some one else's freedom, then you don't deserve your own. Yes, this is my opinion, and I don't not expect or ask others to agree or disagree with me. I don't ask others to fall into line with this line of thinking. As an American, it is my right to have this opinion. As a member of the U.S. Air Force, I live this opinion. My family has served this country for over 230 years, some as teachers, some as preachers, some as farmers, and many as military members. At least one person from every generation as answered the patriotic call of service. My brother just joined this year, making two people from this geeration. My father is a retired Marine, I have a great uncle and two grandfathers who served in World War 2 in the Army, and this list goes on and on. We know the cost of freedom, for it surely is not free. There is a blood price on freedom, and those who would deny that fact are either deluded, ignorant, or both.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Average everyday life

As you can see by my profile, I'm a utilities systems craftsman. Well, just so you know what that is, it's basically a long way to say that I'm a plumber, though it also includes water and wastewater treatment, pressurized air lines, and natural gas lines, all both interior and exterior. It's my job to make sure every facility on the base has drinkable water, hot water, working drains, natural gas when necessary, and air lines when necessary.
In addition I also have to make sure that I'm ready to deploy at a moments notice. This means I must have bags with equipment, clothing, uniforms, toiletries, and tools ready to grab and go at all times. We call these bags, which can double as luggage, "mobility bags."
As you saw in my last entry, we also have war time training. Our wartime jobs are not the same as our jobs here at our home bases. When we deploy for war, not only do we do our normal job, but we also do everything we train for in the "exercises" that we do. We don't go without anything we need, and we don't go without knowing how to use everything we have.
At this base I, along with the rest of the people in my shop, are responsible for the maintains and care for millions and millions of dollars worth of assets, equipment, and facilities. Next time you see a young person at their job, just think about this. The average 18-24 year old person is responsible for a few thousand dollars, at most. In the military, you have 18 year olds responsible for fixing multi-million dollar aircraft, ships, and structures. Not only do they do their jobs, but they do it in conditions that are worse than most convicts serving life in prison. Then compare the paychecks. Yes, I know a 4 star general can make over 4,000 dollars a month, but your average serviceman, with 2 years of military service, makes just over 1,000 dollars a month, plus health and dental care, housing and food allowances, and a small annual clothing allowance. I don't list retirement here because at that point, there is no guarantee that they will stay in for 20 years, which is the minimum amount of time required in military service to be eligible for retirement. Clothing allowances may be enough to cover needs for those who have jobs that keep them at a desk 90% of the time, but for those of us out digging trenches, filling sand bags, and repairing buildings and such, the allowance is no where near enough to cover the costs of maintaining acceptable uniforms, and much of that money comes from our own pockets. The housing allowance for a single, 18 year old, in many cases, wouldn't cover the cost of a one-bedroom apartment and the inherent utilities. The food allowance is around 250 dollars a month, which is enough if you have a slim diet. With increasing inflation problems, food prices are going up faster than our food allowance. Now, with this comparison in mind, I'm sure you would agree the the stress of the average 18 year old military member is much higher than that of someone his/her same age in the civilian world. As such the honor he earns with such a sacrifice is ten fold.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

War Training

Well, this is Thanks Giving week, and therefore a short week. Last week we had an exercise. For those who don't know, that's what we call our war games, or wartime training in the Air Force. We dress up in our battle armor and chemical warfare suits and practice for the real thing. I can't say that it's all realistic, but the training is something that we need to be sure we'll be ready for the real thing.
We don't do live fire training here in the Air Force, though I know that other branches have in the past done live fire training. I can't say they still do today in all honesty, but I know they used to within the last 25 years. My father is a retired Marine, and I know he had live fire exercises. The Air Force doesn't because of safety issues; instead, we use blanks. Sometimes we joke around like little kids yelling, "I shot you," "no you didn't!" We have a little fun with it. No one I know actually enjoys the exercises, in fact, most of us hate it. It cuts into personal time because we normally have to do 12 hour shifts, sometimes longer depending on the timing of a simulated enemy attack. It really screws up our sleep cycle and we generally feel like we've got jet lag for the next several days.
Anyway, some of the training includes doing our jobs with a gas mask and gloves and the rest of the chemical gear on. It may not sound to tough, but it a lot more difficult than it seems. We have 2 pairs of gloves, so doing things like turning wrenches, or swinging a hammer, or pulling a trigger suddenly becomes 10 times harder because you can no longer feel what your holding, and there isn't much room for movement inside the trigger guard of the M-16. Peripheral vision is very limited because of the gas mask, so driving becomes more difficult, not to mention using the gas and brakes are tough when you are now wearing rubber boots over your combat boots, making your feet about one to two inches longer and wider.
We train on repairing craters, doing damage assistants, facility repair, facility construction, and actual combat among other things. We "kill" off people to see what the next person in the chain of command will do and if they can handle the stepped up responsibility they suddenly find themselves in. That was one thing everyone hoped for. If you got "killed" you got to go home for the rest of your shift, you came back the next shift though.
Well, just thought I'd give you a very brief glimpse of some of the war time training we do. We've been doing one every month and it lasts about a week at a time, though we won't be having one in December. If anyone has any questions regarding any specific types of training, just respond to one of my posts, and I'll let you know whatever I can.

To begin with

I'm in the Air Force and have been for 6 years. I have been deployed to Iraq once and will most likely be returning to the Middle East in the near future. With this blog, I will post things that I do at work, things about the life style of the military, personal essays and or poems that I have written in the past or will write in the future, and any other little tidbit of information that I think relevant to this site. You may ask any questions of me that you wish, and I will answer them to the best of my abilities. Keep in mind that some questions may be inappropriate for me to answer because of classification levels, Privacy Act issues, and critical information, as it is called in the military.
With that in mind, I also may go several days or even a week or two without posting anything at all. Rest assured I will return to answer and inform you of things in due time.
If it should so happen that I am rendered incapable of logging in anymore due to severe injury or death (keep in mind that I am in the military) my wife will log on and post one last post on my behalf informing you all of such an incident.