Talks with Tom #17

This weekend was a whirlwind.

Tom’s bestie returned from his 9 month “business trip” to Afghanistan in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It was so touching to be part of that moment when Martin saw his family again. I felt extremely privileged to capture those moments for them.

And of course to see the relationship between him and Tom be rekindled was heartwarming!

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I love Martin’s family’s faces in the background.

Martin and Tom went to basic together. They were part of a small handful of that graduating group who moved here to Ft. Campbell. So naturally they stuck together despite being put in different brigades.

They are brothers from other mothers. It is ridiculous how much alike they are.

I am super pumped about Martin being back because while I love my husband and wish I could provide the world to him, I know that I cannot be everything to him. We all need a bestie. I have come to terms with the fact that there is going to be less time for Tom and I, or that some nights we will have another roommate. I know Martin being home is going to up our quality of life exponentially! (And I hope that his lady and newest baby will be coming to visit more often because quite frankly I love them too!)

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They picked up like they have never been apart! Love it!

Since the unit came in around 3am, it meant that none of us got sleep since you have to be there for hours before the plane lands. You also have to wait for hours afterward while they turn in sensitive items. So to let his family go back to their hotel to get some down time while we waited for Martin to be freed, Tom volunteered to wait the extra couple hours in the parking lot.

Which meant, Tom slept in the parking lot for a couple hours.

Tom- “I was sleeping in the Jeep waiting on Martin.”

Tom- “When I woke up, I thought what was that smell?”

Tom- “OH MY! Is that my mouth?!?! It tasted like I smoked a dog turd.”

Tom- “So I used Wrigley Spearmint to hide my shame.”

Me- “So you can be fresh for when you reunite with your bromance?”

Tom-“Yea. You don’t want your first post deployment kiss to taste like dog shit.”

(sorry about the language)

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They are two of a kind. This was one of my favorite shots.

This is just a preview of the ceremony pictures. I have tons more to share next week after editing (and some catch up on sleeping-this girl doesn’t do all-nighters very well friends.) I am going to include them in a post about fun facts about home coming ceremonies. I hope you come back to read all about it!

So even though it was a rough weekend on my body, it was a great weekend mentally!

It was a true testament of the friends turned family that you can make while in the Army.

It’s a No Go

So EIB is over. If you didn’t read about EIB you can find more here. It is basically a week long test that soldiers go through to say they are an expert at their craft. (Honestly, it reminds me of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

On Monday, the brigade had around 850 soldiers start EIB.

Monday consisted of a PT test, day land navigation, and night land navigation.

After PT around 450 people were left. After the navigation part, 200 people passed through to day two.

Tuesday-Thursday were lanes with specific tasks that are judged on every minute detail. If you do not get through a detail or task, you are given a No Go.

You are allowed 2 No Gos.

For the entire week.

Each day more people fell off the ranks.

Going into the 12 mile ruck march on Friday, there were less than 20 soldiers left.

Only 12 soldiers out of 850ish were pinned with their Expert Infantryman’s Badge.

Unfortunately, Tom was not one of those. Only one person from his company made it through the week. Tom made it until Wednesday, so he did not get to do the last lane or Friday’s march.

Personally, I think the entire unit was doomed from the start. They have been working up to this for awhile following all the codes and learning the rules one way. Then just a couple days before, they changed the rules so that they could only get two No Gos for the entire week, instead of the initial 2 No Gos per task. They also didn’t allow them to challenge their No Gos like the rules stated, so they weren’t able to be heard by the graders if they thought their No Go was unjustified. They got to protest, but no one listened like the rules say they are supposed to. Tom wasn’t even allowed to talk to the next highest rank about his only no go. And when his Platoon Sergent tried backing Tom up and fight for his right to challenge, both Tom and his Platoon Sergent were kicked off the lane. This was the end of the test for Tom.

I am still astonished by the fact that the passing rate for the week was less than 2% of the brigade. It just seemed pretty messed up to change the rules. I mean the graders got 6 No Gos when they passed, why would they change it all of a sudden? Not my fight, but it seems a little ridiculous to put all this time and effort to get the brigade ready for this week and make it nearly impossible for anyone to pass. Any Army class is supposed to be a 20% pass rate, and here they sit with only 12 people newly minted with the badge. A lot of time and money for just 12 people, but what do I know.

So in true infantrymen fashion, all of the men have been poking fun at the notion of “No Gos” since they aren’t “experts.” Tom has been shouting it for the past few days at anything that he finds disapproving. And this weekend at a get together with some of our Army family, of course this was a running joke for the night. No go this, no go that.

So they all seem to be taking the defeat well.

Before this all went down though, Tom was really excited about land navigation. He is really good at it. It just comes so naturally for him. However, he was still concerned about the course time limit to find the four points, and was looking for ways to shave off time and make things as easy as possible.

Tom’s brain went to work to invent a handy map holder to attach to his uniform.

He is a map checker. He is constantly re-evaluating his route, just to make sure that he is doing what is right with the land. So he will look at his map at least once every 2 minutes. His thought is that if you aren’t willing to always re-evaluate your route, you may screw yourself over without realizing it because even a minor mis-step can take you way off course.

He was keeping the map in a ziplock bag in his pocket, because inevitably when they do land nav the weather is miserable and wet. So you can see over a couple hour stretch how checking a map ever 2 minutes can be cumbersome.

So we bought:

  • one old army duffle bag from a surplus store in town
  • clear plastic vinyl
  • snap buttons
  • velcro
  • cotton webbing
  • We also had to buy a new sewing machine…
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Crosby was not impressed with Dad taking over the living room for Army stuff.

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Here is he making sure all the pieces fit where he wants them before sewing everything together. The green pieces are the old duffel bag cut up in squares. Then the vinyl plastic is on top to keep it water proof.

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He added Velcro so it would fold up nicely and stay put.

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He put the snap buttons on the straps so it can be attached to the FLC (vest).

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Then it was just a matter of sewing everything into place.

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He even made pen holders on the backside. So clever.

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This is the FLC. He just used the snap straps to slide into the FLC molle. (those horizontal strips you see)

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Modeling off his creation

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It just flips out so he can read it just like that. Now he doesn’t have to fumble through his pockets and a crumpled map in a ziplock bag anymore.

So even though he didn’t get new bling for his uniform, he did get something new for his uniform. This one seems more practical if I might say so myself.

Also I might add, it was pretty hot to see Tom use the sewing machine. Just saying people, a man doing crafts deserves a one way ticket to my heart. Lucky for me, I already snagged this crafty soldier.

One Year Ago

One year ago, I was gearing up for the holidays, and was dreading every moment being alone.

One year ago, I woke up every morning to my beautiful Gracie, but without my husband.

One year ago, my husband was here.

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One year ago, we were having our holidays worlds apart.

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One of the hardest parts of being part of the military is knowing that you will miss out on days together. Days to make traditions. Days to be lazy. Days that are holidays. Days that are just days.

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Here is where Tom and 9 other soldiers stayed during on of their missions. He received “holiday” meals a few days after while on guard duty.

Last year I was so apprehensive to go home for the holidays. I didn’t want all the reminders that Tom wasn’t there to share them with us. These were also the few weeks where I had very little to no contact with Tom. Come to find out later, these were the biggest weeks for Tom’s unit because this is when they got their CIB and had some pretty out there missions.

But all I knew were the days of silence.

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One year ago, I jumped every time my phone rang, vibrated, or shuddered when I looked at it and saw nothing. One year ago, I was grasping for peace of mind.

One year ago, we both had to make the best of our distance.

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Deployments are hard. They are hard for so many obvious reasons.They are hard for reasons I could never begin to explain.

And because of that, I don’t want to take this year granted. I want to make these moments we have been blessed with ones that we will cherish forever.  I have loved being able to experience holidays with Tom. I love the sense of being normal. I love knowing we are both safe. I love having the peace of mind.

I know that there are so many soldiers that are still overseas. Many military families are going to have distance between them this year. I think about this often, and know that this year I am extremely blessed to have my family whole again. My prayers, thoughts, and heart goes out to those who wait for their homecoming.

This company was shared with me recently, and I thought it was pretty neat to think about how far technology has come in the past few decades. It makes deployment a smidge easier to swallow when you can have glimpses of each other through the various means of technology like Dropcam.

This was taken from their website:

Dropcam’s simple live streaming abilities allow soldiers and their families to experience the joy of the holiday season together, even when they’re miles apart.  Military members can tune in and watch the excitement on their children’s faces as they tear open presents on Christmas morning.  Dropcam’s Two-Way Talk feature allows our soldiers to speak directly to their families as they watch the action unfold online right before their eyes. If schedules don’t permit our service members to tune into the live stream, 24-hour Cloud Recording makes it possible for them to relive the moments whenever it’s convenient for them. Dropcams can even be purchased by military members and their families using a special discount at the Apple Store

How cool is that? Looking back, Tom was not able to do much on either Thanksgiving or Christmas because of their mission at the time. Plus the time difference may not have allowed for our holiday contact either. We also only used Skype one time during the whole deployment due to the internet connection and availability. So the chance to have these moments recorded and saved for when it becomes possible for the soldier is really a great idea. Much better than pictures, or trying to mail tape recorders, although those are great too!

Dropcam also has shared some heartwarming holiday homecomings. Grab your tissues and be ready to weep! Obviously, the one that got me the most was the one with the dog. Such a powerful moment, to see your loved one again after so much heartache, unknown, and waiting. Such a relief and a renewed sense of life and focus on what matters. I remember one year ago watching videos like these on Christmas morning so thankful for these families to have their family together, and praying that mine was ok.

It is a gift to have our soldiers home, and one that I am not taking lightly this year!

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Armucation: Airborne vs. Air Assault

Since I got a pretty good response on the last couple posts about my little Army knowledge, I figured I would semi-regularly write about details and tidbits about the Army. It is really educational for me too, so I hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about the Army.

There are a lot of qualifiers, training, and titles that go along with the Army. It can get confusing real quick!

Two of them are Airborne and Air Assault. These are known as qualifiers.

Fort Campbell is home of the 101st Airborne, which is one of the most famous units, most recognizably for Band of Brothers.

So most people have heard of Airborne before. If you were like me though, you may have never heard of Air Assault. One would think that it has to do with fighting in the air from plane to plane-assault in the air duh!

So here is your Armucation for the day.

Air Assault and Airborne are fairly similar. They both refer to the mode of transportation that a unit specializes in getting to their mission. And both have to do with vehicles that fly.

Airborne is when a unit jumps out of an airplane with parachutes. There is a school that you must go to at Ft. Benning, GA, to become qualified. It generally lasts for about 3 weeks. I am sure it involves some jumping in the air and what not.

Air Assault is when a unit deploys out of a helicopter. This also includes sling loads, which is basically a rope that is hooked underneath the helicopter. When Tom was deployed, this is how a lot of food, mail, supplies were delivered. The school is here at Ft. Campbell and lasts for 11 days.

both pictures via

Fast Facts:

  • These are an individual qualifier not an automatic right since you in stationed within the unit.
  • A soldier can be qualified for both, and it is not just restricted to the infantry.
  • From WWII there has always been an airborne unit.
  • The 101st Screaming Eagles is the only air assault unit in the world, but this doesn’t mean that other units aren’t air assault qualified.
  • There are a few Airborne units.
  • Everyone in the Army (or even infantry) is not qualified for either. From what I can tell, a lot of it may be due to your MOS and duty assignment and what options may be available there.
  • You can have gone on deployments before being “trained” for these. Tom went through the Air Assault school a month after he returned form his deployment.

There are two other “types” of transportation besides these Air Assault and Airborne.

  • “Light” is foot infantry meaning they come in by foot. They may use other vehicles, but they are made to do foot traffic.
  • “Mec” is mechanized infantry. This is when they roll in vehicles like strykers (kind of like a tank).

The mode of transportation will be picked depending on the mission and terrain they are going into. It is all situational, and the same area may call for all four depending on what is occurring at the time.

This is part of the Air Assault training. They have to rappel off the side you see but also off the other side where there is no wall. This thing is huge and kind of daunting, but I kind of want to do the jump…
Picture from http://www.campbell.army.mil/units/Sabalauski/Pages/AirAssaultSchool.aspx

It seems like I learn things about the Army every day. If there are things that you have questions about or you would love to see a post about, just let me know! I am by no means an expert at all things Army, but I love exploring new topics and sharing what I see as a military spouse.

I am starting a list of topics, so any ideas are welcome!

Hope you enjoyed today’s Armucation.

Armucation on Ribbons

Have you ever wondered what all the ribbons on the uniforms are? As I watch Tom make sure his uniform is ready for his layout (which is basically an inventory), I thought I would explain just a couple things for you. An Army educational moment for you on this Monday.

There are so many things that can be added to the uniform, and they all have a special meaning. Badges, ribbons, even the berets mean something.

Some are given because of the unit you are in, but most are earned through a specific action done, task or course completed.

Right now Tom’s unit is going through EIB warm ups. EIB (Expert Infantryman’s Badge) is a 2 week long course where they do various tasks to prove they are “experts” at their job.

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The tasks range from physical endurance, land navigation, to rifle ranges. It takes a lot of work to get it. They have to score a certain number on each task to be qualified for the badge. The bar is set really high on all the tasks. For example, they have to clear/load/fire/correct malfunction/re-clear a m249 (a type of gun) in 30 seconds. It would take me that long to pick up the SAW.

Although, Tom’s says that if you don’t know how to poop using an E tool as a stool, you aren’t an expert infantrymen. So I guess that is a task they can consider if they ever update the course in the future.

They have been training for the EIB the past month or so. They go through the official course after Thanksgiving.

Some would say a more coveted badge is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. This is one that Tom received while on deployment. Only infantrymen can receive this, and they can only get it on deployment (hence the combat part). They have to be direct contact and personally fight in active combat to qualify for this award. It is a huge deal for an infantrymen to receive this.

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So while the EIB is  the non-combat counterpart to the CIB, the CIB comes with greater risks and thus more honor (in my humble opinion.)

There are also other badges that are listed in the same categories for other MOS (military occupational specialty aka job).

Combat Action Badge is given to soldiers who are not in the infantry but are stationed in an area where there is hostile fire.

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Combat Medical Badge is given to anyone who is part of the medical unit that assists and provides medical support to ground troops who are engaged in combat.

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These are explained from my perspective from what I have pulled from various places online and what I have heard from Tom. As you can see, they all have value and have different merits.

Those are just a few of the gazillion badges and ribbons that the Army can earn. It is really fascinating to learn about the stories and experiences behind each one. The service is humbling when you think about it.

So there you have it. Welcome to my world of “Eye Spy” badge version. I hope you enjoyed the Armucation.