Segment Synopsis: Russell P. Galeti Jr. was born in Garfield Heights, Ohio in 1980. He was drawn to the armed forces when he became interested in his family's military history. He enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1998 as an M1 Abrams armor crewman. In his interview Galeti talks about growing up in a big family, his interest in his family's military service, joining the National Guard, going to The Ohio State University, and his experiences in basic training. He explains his choice to transfer to Kent State, his memories of 9/11, the pull between the Navy and National Guard, and his deployment to Iraq. He discusses the difficulties of war, preparing Humvees for duty, his interactions with Iraqis, and his day-to-day activities. Galeti reflects on his experiences at Forward Operating Base Caldwell, his return home, dealing with the difficulties of coming back to civilian life, and his homecoming at Fort Bragg.
Map Coordinates: 33.719444, 45.290000
Segment Synopsis: He speaks of his attempt to join the Navy, his Army aviation training and Officer Candidate School, working for Ted Strickland's campaign, and working a civilian job. Galeti recounts learning that he was assigned to an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team in Afghanistan, training at Fort Riley, and working with the Hungarian Army. He speaks about his time with the Afghan National Army, the combat operations they undertook, moving from Bagram Airfield to Joint Combat Post Khilagay, and his decision to go to graduate school.
Map Coordinates: 35.8009873,68.504421
JH: This is November 9, 2015 at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio. I'mJess Holler and I am here with Jaime Marsh and we are interviewing Captain Russell Galeti about his experience in the Ohio National Guard for the Standing Together project. To begin, Captain Galeti, could you state and spell your full name?
RG: Sure. Russell P. Galeti Junior. Spell the whole name or just the last name?R-U-S-S-E-L-L P. G-A-L-E-T-I Junior.
JH: To begin, can you tell us a little bit about when and where you were born.
RG: Sure. I was born in Garfield Heights, Ohio at Marymount Hospital, inCuyahoga County, December 1980.
JH: Where did you grow up?
RG: Mostly in Garfield Heights, so a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio until I was about10, and then we moved a little further east into Geauga County. I stayed there through high school.
JH: What was in your early childhood in school experiences like?
RG: The big break in my early childhood in school experiences were when we madethat move because there was several short duration stays. It was a little disrupted by moving for about two years, every few months, but about three or four times in a space over few months I guess. Generally filled with family, I have significant family size, several dozen cousins all in the Cleveland area. I had three little sisters myself. I wouldn't say we were best friends growing up, but there was always at least people in the house to play with.
School experiences, I was high achieving from a very early age. I got broughtin, one day I didn't understand what was going on but got stuck doing some IQ test back in kindergarten. I distinctly remember getting pulled out of story time to the brand new computer lab that the school had on an Apple IIe. I wasn't sure why I was getting singled out for that, but I ended up skipping 1st grade. It was downhill for a few years because I fell out of place, didn't understand why I was being advanced and had all this pressure as 2nd, 3rd, 4th grader.
That coupled with the moves, my grades dropped. I don't know if it was justdisciplinary challenges or maybe not understanding what people wanted out of me for academic achievement. I was, I wouldn't say disciplinary problem, I was definitely disruptive throughout middle school and high school. Having some of my cousins there in school with me that I was more interested in being friends with, and went out, being each other with, how disruptive we could be lead to just -- I was a problem throughout high school and managed to pull off like a 2.0 GPA, but also an Honors Diploma.
Because at the time state of Ohio put forth eight requirements for an HonorsDiploma, one of which was a GPA of a certain 3.5 or above, and so you had to meet seven out of the eight. I met all the other ones. That strange dichotomy of -- I had the potential but I never used it until many years later after the military in college got me back on track.
JH: What things that you enjoy as an elementary school or under high school?
RG: Reading literacy, I was very illiterate at a very early age. Knowing myimmediate family or extended family never go to college, but they all seem to know that reading was the key. Whatever level of literacy or reading aptitude I demonstrated, I'd always get push to just read more complex stuff, especially my parents at least understood that much. I'd also buy books, steal book, borrow books. My parents would get me anything I could just to read, so lots of reading, a lots of writing also, sketching and drawing. I was really into comic books as a kid.
Also, I thought I wanted to be like a comic book artist, so would sketch my ownsuper heroes and stuff. I still draw a pretty mean Batman. Also humor and comedy, I grew up -- Sometimes at my aunts' and uncles' houses or at my grandparent's house, especially my grandparent's house, they were the grandparents with cable. Every Sunday afternoon we go there and I'd spend the 00:05:00day in front of the TV watching Comic Relief, night at the Improve, all these stand-up comedians and the late 80s, early 90s.
I use to also want to be a stand-up comic. This probably factored into mydisruptive nature in school later on. Just trying to go for the biggest laughs possible with whom ever was around.
JH: You mentioned a couple of times that after leaving Garfield makes to yourfamily moved for a benefit there and also been a lot of moves in between for a period of time. What lead to those moves?
RG: I was nine, 10, 11, so I don't totally understand it. I remember it well,but I think my parents were selling out house and we're also buying another house contingent on the sale. The purchase of that other house didn't happen or fell through, but we still sold the house we were in. End up having to stay with once at the grandparents for three to six months. Another side of grandparents for three to six months and then we finally ended up in the house that we're in, in Geauga County.
JH: What do your parents do for a living?
RG: My mom took care of us and my dad was -- From birth till about seven he wasan iron worker. He did structural iron. Point of pride for me and my family is he built a lot of the high rise buildings in Downtown, Cleveland now. You can't go through Cleveland without getting a story of what Russell Senior built, or big Russ. He did structural iron till I was about seven. Very well paying job but also very dangerous, so we moved into -- Because of the danger factor and also the hours, just brutal overtime.
I remember him coming home at midnight covered in grease and leaving again to gowork. He moved into interior construction, dry wall, acoustic ceilings, stuff like that. Basically he retired out of there many years later.
JH: Was there a traditional military service in your family growing up?
RG: I'd say no. I don't think anybody in my father and uncles' generation,except for one uncle had served. I don't know if he is drafter or not, but he was a sailor near Vietnam, and worked on an aircraft carrier. Otherwise just the Vietnam and post-Vietnam generation of my uncles in particular, because it's very patriarchal in our family. I don't think they felt the need to serve. I think just the community, or groups, or click that they grew up in didn't encourage it. My grandfathers and their brothers all served both, because of the national mobilization. I also think it's just the thing that men of that generation did more.
My paternal grandfather was a sailor, he's a Boatswain mate, which was deckhandon a minesweeper ship in Asia-Pacific theater in World War II. He made a Boatswain mate 2nd class, which E-5. It's a mid-non-commissioned officer rank. My other grandfather, my maternal grandfather I believe was an anti-aircraft gunner who had China service, and also just service throughout the Asia-Pacific theater with the Marine Corp. He got promoted and demoted several times in his time. Prior to that there's not actually a lot of good family history because just early 20th century Italian immigrants, not a lot of written documentation, also not a lot of time in America. The bulk of my family came over 1913, so there's no telling what they're up to before then.
JH: Do you remember any of your early memories of considering military service,or thinking about it?
RG: I do. Both of my grandfathers who are also building tradesmen, iron workers,I was aware that they had served in World War II, but the aunts and uncles never really investigated, so they had nothing to talk about it, and didn't know a lot about it. The grandfathers never spoke about it. They didn't have any artifacts around. Again, losing them in at eight years old, I didn't know what to ask about it, I didn't know what the army or Navy Marine Corp. were really. We never addressed it while they're alive.
Throughout my history classes growing up in elementary school, middle school00:10:00learned a little bit more about the military, start asking questions by 8th grade to the Obligatory Ohio school trip to Washington DC. I saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns that are link to National Cemetery, and that's pretty much right there where I decided I'd join the military. That got me reading more focused on military service, got me asking questions to my parents, and I got, "Yeah, I think grandpa was in the Navy or Marines or something."
Probably by the end of 9th grade I'd figure out that you could write the federalgovernment through the National Personal Record Center and obtain next of kin's military records. I essentially petition for both my grandfathers' military records, replacement sets of medals and start building from scratch the military histories of both my grandfathers, just because it was so fascinating to me. The more I thought about my own military service throughout the end of middle school and high school, that happen upon a book called the Nightingale's Song Robert Timberg. He was a reporter who did basically a group biography of Annapolis graduates and their experience in the Vietnam War and also in the Reagan administration later.
Profiles of guys like Jim Webb, Oli North, John McCain, Bud Mcfarlane, AdmiralPoindexter. Reading these stories, now this is my first real exposure to heroes other than sports heroes. It got me very interested in, not just biography but military biography, and military history. I kind of reading and seeing, so seeing someone, some of the guys who were mentioned in this book, seeing them still play out their lives, their political lives, John McCain in particular. I thought I join the Navy and be a pilot. Also as I developed that line of thinking, John Glenn's biography came out, so being impressionable high schooler and seeing these giants of men who looks like the starting point for all of them were to be Naval Aviators, so that's what I would do.
I decided probably sometime in high school that I'd go to Ohio state and pursueNavy ROTC scholarship with the goals becoming a Naval Aviator after that.
JH: As you develop this butting passion for your family's military history, wasthis something you shared with your family or shared with history teachers at school with your peers?
RG: Yeah, my family especially my aunts and uncles thought it was just amazingthat I've been able to pull that together. It gave me the opportunity to not only contract that history of my grandfathers but figure out how to translate it to lay people to building tradesmen who don't have any military service, and housewives. I had to not only do deep research for an 8th grader or 9th grader on what these symbols meant that I was also unfamiliar with, but how do I then explain that in the context that they would understand. It was really my first -- I didn't realize it at time, but first experience being an instructor and also doing some research.
It connected them with their -- Especially on my dad's side, it connected themwith their fathers in a way that I don't think they ever understood while their fathers were alive.
JH: Can you say a little bit more about what these venues for sharing yourresearch with your family would look like, where you put this informal conversation or were doing presentation or building a collection that was probably the slave of these medal and these archival documents?
RG: The medals were hook, because if someone sees military medals and theiruninitiated they just assume that they're for gallantry or something. You would be expected to bring these box of grandpa's medals to the -- Our families would all get together at one of the aunt's houses or my grandmother's house at Christmas, Easter. Russell would get told, bring the box, so I'd bring the box and I'll pull out this rack of bronze medals on, ribbons. It's neat, because my grandfathers were both just every man, just random guys, they got drafted, they 00:15:00did their service, they weren't officers, they didn't command anything, they weren't -- As far as I can tell, never did anything physically heroic, or courageous, or instrumental to a battle.
They're just dudes who did their jobs when their nation needed them to. Probablymaintain their individuality and personality throughout, and I'd saw that with my one grandfather who got three days bread and water for stealing a jeep, and apparently was promoted and demoted several times, but sent half his pay home to his mom every paycheck. Yeah, I'd go to Christmas parties or Easter, pull out the medals, and I'd have to talk them through what each one meant and each of pertinence. As you can see in my ribbons, I've got little brass things glued to them. Then I have to tell them. He's got the Asia-Pacific medal with one bronze star. My aunts were, "Grandpa has a bronze star." No, not the decoration for valor, but it just means that he spent to campaigns there.
Some of the more serious folks who would actually let me take them through thepaperwork and go, "See, he sent great grandma 25 bucks a month", or ,"See, he got arrested." It's interesting because sometimes concepts that they didn't like or more receptive to, I'd say, "Grandpa is a petty officer 2nd class." That's the name of the Navy rank. Petty officers interchange with whatever your specific job is. I think, "I don't like that. We're not going to call him petty officer." That doesn't sound good. I'm just trying you the world as it is. You can't mild off to aunt Rosie, so you just say, "Okay, I won't call him petty officer."
JH: How did this process intersect with what else was going to on for youbecause of high school by then or middle school?
RG: Yeah, mostly high school. I could never make it relevant to anything I wasdoing in high school, but it's just a nice project to have, to stay focused on. I felt I was learning, doing something. I felt that would be more, if I want to be this military guys someday, that's going to be more relevant to what I want to do, just understanding this world and doing my own self gathered research, then learning with the Pythagorean theorem is, whatever high school, middle school wanted me to learn. Much like comic books, much like art, much like my writing, it was a way to get out of being an XDT, and still do something constructive and not go our drinking with the cool kids, or smashing mailboxes, or anything, getting arresting. It was a constructive avenue for thought, learning.
JH: What were your friends in your peer group inspiring towards the time careerwise? Were they also considering military service?
RG: It's very interesting because I didn't have a whole lot of super closefriends. I had my two cousins who were more like brothers that we were all in the same grade, at the same school, at the same time, which was -- We're basically like a gang, and that's for good purposes. They seem they were consign to go in the build trades like all our uncles were, doing basically interior construction, demo stuff like that. Different from -- Most of my uncles, my dad was insistent that I not go into construction. I also don't think there's a lot of go make money, go be a doctor, go be a lawyer, but there wasn't a lot of, "Here's how you get there." There wasn't a lot of exposure to people who had those jobs, because they were -- The view in our largely blue class extended family group was like yuppies, you don't want to be like them, all they care about is money, but there's also, you need to get some job where you go make money.
I went to -- Part of why we moved out there was we move to the best schooldistrict that we could to provide my sisters and I with the best opportunity possible. It was not very diverse socioeconomically. Basically the narrative was that you're surrounded by -- Keeping in touch with high school and middle school friends since then, it's been interesting to see who also felt so wildly out of place that now I question the entire narrative that I subscribe to when I was in 00:20:00middle school and high school, that it was a little more diverse than I believed it to be. I do remember having conversations with kids I had played football with. One kid in particular, we're talking about, "What do you want to do after college." He's like, "I want to be a businessman."
I'm like, "What do you think a businessman does?" He's like, "He wears as suit,signs papers, makes money, that's all I want to do." That was just a standing for what I assumed most of my peer group would end up doing, just doesn't matter what it was, but generic business job.
JH: Yeah. Is there idea that you want to go into a Naval Aviation at the time,you got this sort of pandiatonic heroes your forming or into military biography, in your family's military history. What is your senior year high school look like? What are you planning to do?
RG: I was really stressing the NROTC scholarship at Ohio state, because thatbasically it would cover the next four years of my life, I'd know what I was doing, I'd have a goal. Again, I had not really has exposure to anyone with any extensive, with college education, extensive military service. I just didn't know how to go to college, I didn't know what these papers I was signing, or I didn't know that I had to pay for a dorm, take loans out. I'm pulling King College loans and stuff, I have no idea what they would go towards, or how much it cost to live in a real world. I was just going into -- I actually could not -- This memory came to me distinctly as I was walking around work on Friday. I remember the point in time where I wrote this letter, I wasn't sure who it was to, but it was just -- I could not visualize leaving Bainbridge, Ohio.
I was convinced that I wouldn't make it out, something would happen or it was sostrange, but I just had no idea what three, four months after summer vacation was over and I start college, I was convince it wasn't going to happen, because I had just no idea how to envision it going. It was very strange. I was really stressing the scholarship because, again, my grades were awful. I had teachers that, because I was disciplinary problem, I wouldn't participate in the recommendation process. My test scores were great, probably -- Maybe not for -- They're good enough to give me that Honors Diploma, they were definitely competitive for the scholarship, but I probably wasn't the best. I still thought someone is going to see my passion and my interest, and help me use this potential. Everyone keep saying I have, but they're frustrated with my disciplinary problems.
There's all that. For the last, basically, two weeks of your senior year you getto do a senior project, which I think is boondoggle. Most people just go shadow. You're supposed to go shadow somebody with the job, and you're supposed to come back write a report on it, do you first resume, which is ridiculous as a high schooler, because it's mostly just interest in books I've read, which 20 years later is just silly. I have to put that in the resume. Finally in communicating all of these to my extended family that Russell is going to join the military, and go be this Navy pilot or this air force pilot, or whatever. My grandma finally pipes up and says, "You're cousin Kate is married to a Navy pilot." I'm like, "What?"
My mom's first cousin was married to a -- He's a Courier Naval Aviator, a Navalflight officer, actually. They were in Maryland, and so trying to coordinate this opportunity. I'm like, "I got to go stay with these guys for my senior project." Most of the time it was, Susie goes and basically works the front desk, the reception desk at her dad's cosmetic surgery practice or whatever and stays in town. I was pushing the envelope that I went to Maryland for my thing. This part of my family that I had never interacted with, or seen in any events, they -- Thanks God we're just so gracious enough to let me come down and stay with them. It was a week, not two weeks, in Maryland.
He was a lieutenant, so an O3 in the Navy at the time. He was at the US NavyTest Pilot School where he had finished his time as a student and he'd stayed on 00:25:00to become an instructor at the Test Pilot School. He took me on the base every day and he introduce me to his peers and coworkers, as if what I was doing was actually serious. I always tell them that they were the first college graduates that I had really been exposed to for prolong period of time, and that I could see that these are normal people, this is what life can be like. You don't have to go in the building trades and stay in Northeast Ohio. It was just having that different exposure is short term. I'm sure it was a throwaway experience for them. If I never talk to them again in their lives they had forgot about it.
It was really helpful in just seeing, "Okay, I can do this being a normalperson, uncharted life, make my own way, take off the training wheels kind of things." I found out very late in the academic year that I didn't get the scholarship, I was going to go to Ohio State and participate in ROTC but without a scholarship. That's when I started pulling down student loans and stuff. Thankfully it was 1998, so college was very cheap then, it actually cost more, it was 1,500 bucks a quarter for the dorm, but then 1,200 bucks a quarter for tuition, is what I recall. Everything was cheap this late 90s, gas was 99 cents a gallon.
I had an '86 Chevy Caprice that I just kept taking up and down at 71. Yeah, Iwould go to college and participate in ROTC without a scholarship, and I'd win them over through force and personality and dedication, and just being dedicated to the ROTC program. I would somehow convince them to give me a scholarship, yeah.
JH: How did that go? How was your first quarter college?
RG: in the summer before college I started scrambling like, what are all thethings I can do to communicate to ROTC that I am serious, I'm in it to win it, I want to be the best little ROTC dude that they've got. I might have read on the message board or talked to somebody that enlisted experience would help. Again, it was the late 90s, I started calling all the reserve components, because I thought I could do reserve enlisted service while I'm college, and that would show them how serious I am. It will give me privilege nuanced access to their language, customs, credibility with them, stuff like that. I started calling around all the reserve components, I started with the Navy Reserve.
Because it was the late 90s and we just reduce the act of duty militarysignificantly, Navy Reserve would not take anybody who wasn't already prior service, they don't have to pay to retrain you, and they wouldn't take anybody who was under 26, because those are very turbulent years in your life, and they didn't want someone to join, pay to train them, then they move to California, or whatever, or stop coming. Okay, I want an aviation related job so I can be, "Look, I was a plane mechanic, I should be a pilot." I called the Air Force Reserve next. They weren't taking anybody, period.
Then I called the Air National Guard, because those are also air force jobs.They wouldn't even answer the phone, so then I called the Army National Guard, and that guy got back to me within an hour. I listed, I was, "Some experience is better than none, I'll still be a reserve enlisted guy while I'm going to college." That would communicate to them that I'm serious, and not motivated by this. I found out through the process that they got college money too. That's also a big problem for me. At that point in time they are paying 85% in state tuition for public universities, and that was just a tremendous weight off my shoulders.
By August, I have the recruiter over to our house, I was 17, because I'd skip1st grade, so my parents had to be involved in the process. I thought, because internet, computers, technology, it's all still booming in the late 90s, and I was excellent writer, typist, potentially detail on paperwork. When the 00:30:00recruiter was like, you can -- I got a good score, I didn't get the highest score in the test, 86 maybe, but the recruiter was like, "You can do any job you want." He had a list of about 80 different jobs that were available to me in the Ohio National Guard. I didn't know at the time that this guy had a unit that he was assigned to and he had a mission that he had to make. I'm glad things worked out this way.
My speech to him was, "I'm pretty good with computers and I'm really good atpaperwork, so I want to be a headquarters guy." I didn't know that there was an admin specialty, I thought it was headquarters guys, like there's machine gun guy and walkie-talkie guy. I'm like, "I want to be a headquarters guys. I know headquarters is down in Columbus and that's where I'm going to school, so I wouldn't have to drive far." My reasons were not very well thought out. The guy is like, "Do you know there's tanks right in your backyard?" We're on the back porch. I'm like, "What are you talking about?"
There was a armored battalion that was right in Northeast Ohio. Obviously givingthe reasons that he would probably give every kid in the area, "If you're going to college in Columbus, this will you get back home once a month, you can drop off laundry, see mom and dad." He had it all worked out, and I ended up joining that day as a tanker. I was an M1 Abrams armor crewman in the Ohio Army National Guard, it was August. By the time I actually signed up and got all the paperwork done, I had an approved packet, it was August 26th, 1998. Ohio State started in September, so I was a private in the Ohio Army National Guard. I didn't do -- I drove down to Columbus, started college, started ROTC, really through myself into that.
My first drill back with my unit coming back to -- It was in Cleveland at thetime, Wentzville Heights, but we did all our training out at Ravenna, there's a small military post out there in Newton Falls. It was October 1998. That's when I got all my uniforms, equipment. Met more people that really expanded my -- I had a very small circle at that time, meeting five dozen enlisted and some office military guys, all the sudden I was, "Wow, more college educated people, more people with jobs that aren't in the building trades." Showed me what more of life could be like outside of what I didn't know.
The exposure to other service members, to have people who actively mentored you,could give you advice, don't take these classes, put all of these classes to the front of college, stuff like that. Any kind of advice, that exposure for a dumb 18 year old, 17 year old like me to adults who have done things both in the service of their country and just in life in general, that weren't authority figures telling me, "Do this. Don't do that", was beneficial. Just from seeing how a different sergeant major we dominate a conversation, "Okay, I got to talk like that guy from now on", to seeing how different leaders interacted with their soldiers that this leader is very -- Was a fair, this leader is really authoritarian.
Started shipping away what my ultimate leadership style would start to look likeonce I was put in authority position a few years later. It was the social mobility and the exposure, and the network that the Guard provided me at that age is tremendously helpful later on in life, in figuring out who I wanted to me and what I wanted for myself. In college, having roommates help that a lot and going to parties, because I learned how to socialize. I felt I was teaching myself how to socialize with new people that weren't my family and weren't the same 200 people that you spend 10 years in school with. I gave ROTC my all, and those were the only classes that I got As in, As and Bs in.
I still didn't have any academic discipline. I thought college -- For somereason I had in my head that college didn't have homework, and that you can just come to class whenever you wanted, these were kind of urban legends that other kids who weren't going to college would tell me, some like, "Yeah, you could do what you want." I also started partying, which I never done in high school or 00:35:00middle school. It was a lot of fun college was, that first quarter and first year. Academically it was a bust, but I was pretty my own ROTC at the start.
JH: Can you say more about how your butting life and service with the Guardintersected with your ROTC service in your college experience? Because you had said originally you were almost thinking, "I'm not going to get out of Cambridge, Ohio, but how is this going to work." It seems the Guard provided you with a template and structure for life, but it was also in addition to you college life and world, right?
RG: Yeah. It made college a unique experience for me because I was a guy withresponsibilities, I was 17 years old, but I did drive halfway across the state and be a tank crewman for the entire weekend. I had to have phone calls with my platoon sergeant, my first sergeant and make sure that I either did my homework for drill, or later on could give classes at drill. Lots of people do reserve duty and college at the same time. I was probably one of the few people in my new circle at college. It was like, "What is Russ doing? Why does he got to do that?" Either that's weird or that's cool, it's depending on who it was.
It was especially weird because I was pursuing a Navy commission, but I was inArmy enlisted soldier. No one knew what to make of that. Because in my ROTC group there were act of duty enlisted sailors and marines who they're pulled, they do five, 10 years in the Marine Corp. or the Navy, and then their next assignment is you report to Ohio State University and you're paid for four years, you go to college and then you become an office at the end of that. It's like a very selective competitive program. There's also people who got out of the Navy, I'm going to school, I'll do ROTC while I'm doing that. There's folks who are in the Navy and Marine Corp. Reserve while doing an ROTC.
There's nobody doing Army stuff. It just confused the heck out of them. On theArmy side, some leaders took notice of me, because I made it clear I'm going to college, I want to be an officer. Sometimes when lieutenants or captains hear that, they're like, "I'll show you the ropes." They're happy to have someone who wants to share their pain and to tell about what made them as great as they are. It threw everybody for a loop that I was trying to be a Navy officer, but they were still -- I had my first sergeant who was my top sergeant for my company, he'd put me in headlock and say, "Show me your grades at that the end of every quarter." Even thought my grades were crap, they were just all there encouraging of someone my age who is going to college and making it work, especially in a tank company. Tank Company is about 75 guys and it's almost inverted, it's not the standard pyramid that most military units are, because tanks are highly technical.
There's a lot of senior non-commission officers, so guys who are in their mid tolate 30s, early 40s. They're all established in life, teachers, businessmen, building tradesmen, stuff like that. It was also the 90s, so I don't know, a lot of guys weren't signing up, so there's just no real young people in the unit. I was the youngest guy, and then there was maybe two or three guys in their early to mid-20s at the lower ranks. Everyone as -- I was our mascot in a way, I was our Radar O'Reilly at the start. Everyone was always willing to help me, teach me, encourage me, they wanted me do well at college. Because I made the Guard my life the more and more the longer I was in it, and contributed to it, I'd do my homework in between drills, I'd teach classes with no notice if asked. They saw someone who is willing to do the work and wanted to improve the organization, and so they kept pilling stuff on me and supported me.
JH: This is all fairly new and coming at once during your first year of college,what was your family's reaction with everything you are doing?
RG: They weren't sure what the heck I was trying to do, but they were supportivejust because I was in college. If Russell is going to college, then we're proud to tell of him. They didn't understand the Guard thing, I don't think. I wasn't fully in the Navy, my narrative at that point in time was, I'm going to be a 00:40:00Navy officer. ROTC is not real military, especially your first semesters. I went on a trip and I got some Navy family bumper stickers from parents and gave them to them and they're like, "You're just going to be an ROTC kid." Just because I was going to college, I knew I was going to do something in the military. They're just proud as heck.
I remember at that point in time, it was no big deal to get in Ohio State. Ifyou had a policy here in Ohio, you can get in, it felt -- Especially in my school, everyone was going to University of Miami or OU, but just because I got in my mom made a cake, decorated it, threw a little party, they're just happy that Russell is going to college.
James:Was that a family? Basically you wanted to join because of your family andshowing your family. You were going to be in the building trade and that you owe your family, the other family members were and you were like, "I don't actually want want to do that," so you chose to enroll.
RG: It's a combination of my dad didn't want me to do that. Because my daddidn't want me to do that, and just wanted me to do something, make money, be successful. They knew from first grade on that I was smarter than maybe most. They wanted me to use my brain, they were, "You're going to college, we don't know what college is or college is like, but that's what you're doing, that's for you." Yeah.
James:Was it quite right for you? Responsibility.
RG: Yeah. I have this responsibility, but it was just frustrating, because Ididn't know why I was failing or not doing well in school at first. I didn't know, obviously if I listen to the professors and done my homework, and not partied. I haven't train myself or build the discipline in myself to succeed in this system to that point. I wasn't going to just spontaneously generate the discipline to do it now. I had either for a period no coach, no role models, you could say, this is how it went for me, this is what's going to be like for you. With the exception of, those cousins that I stayed with for those couple of weeks, and then the folks I started meeting in the Guard. Otherwise it was just my roommates with whom I'd go out and party with. If they were somehow the guys who have their stuff together a little more and could get to class, and do the homework, I didn't connect the dots that's why they're successful.
I just assumed Tim was better at school than me. I figured it out eventually.
JH: Can you tell us a little bit about how basic training for the Guardintersects with this experience your first year of school? Did you wait to do that or you are able to fill it?
RG: I was able to put it off for a year, so you can basically drill with yourunit for 12 months before having to report to basic training. That was very cool, because it allowed me, and it's a nice little hook for the recruiters, because you don't have to disrupt your plans, you can go to college like you want and then just boom, the summer between first and second year you got a basic training. The reason why it was great was because there was no pre basic training pipeline program for the Guard. It was just you're in a unit, you are a tanker, you couldn't do everything that a full trained and qualified tanker could, because you hadn't been to the training. Guys would teach you the task, once you helping in this tank and I'll show you how to drive it real quick, that was invaluable experience and preparation for basic training.
I get to basic training and it was scheduled July 1999, and I got to MEPS, whichis the Military Entrance Processing Station, which was in Brecksville, Ohio. Didn't realize it, but you had to be a certain weight to ship. I was maybe -- I 00:45:00think you had to be 200, as maybe 210. They come back in a month, loss 10 pound already. I was now behind by a month, I did some -- Not being at home, not being in college, waiting to go to basic training, having the tearful goodbye with the family and then showing up later on that day, "Hey guys, sorry I screwed up." I just started working masonry with a guy my dad knew, running pallets of bricks around, and bags of stuff you needed to make cement.
I finally lose the 10 pounds a month later, go to basic training, it's at FortKnox, Kentucky and it's essentially four months of unit of privates working for your drill sergeants and they combine -- Some places in the military they'll do two distinct phases where it's basic training, you're just learning how to be a soldier or a marine. They'll do an advance school, that where you'll learn your job. For a lot of high through put jobs, infantrymen, tanker, they will just run you through the entire cycle with the same drill sergeants. That's where I started to figure out what success was, I think. Now I'm one of the older guys in basic training, I was only at that point 18, but I was starting to pull away in maturity, because I already had a year of college, and I already had a year with my unit, and I had a year of ROTC, so a year of basically preparing you to become an officer.
The one thing the Navy did great was, they let those enlisted marines andsailors who had just come from the fleet, they are on the show. Some of these guys had just finished being a drill sergeant and now they're teaching once a week classes on how to march in ROTC while they're pursuing their own undergraduate degrees. I get to basic training and I already know how to march, I already know all the commands. I know some fundamentals of some basic military knowledge that might take two weeks in basic training for you to get down. My drill sergeant see that. There's one day where you have to -- You're in a line, you have to run over to a station where your drill sergeant is and they will call out different marching commands and you have to do it. I did all mine, they're sharp.
Drill sergeant goes, "Where did you do ROTC?" I'm like, "Ohio State, drillsergeant." He's like, "All right, you're a squad leader." That got handed. I kept that job, if you ever seen full metal jacket where they're constantly firing guys from their squad leader or platoon sergeant job in the basic training phase, I kept that job the entire 14 weeks or whatever it was. I got to exercise leadership, because drilling with the drill sergeants for maybe eight, 12, 16 hours a day, but then there's barracks life at night and you got to diffuse fist fights, you got to make sure that the guy whose job it is at three in the morning to polish the floors is going to do it. Is very, very small consequence, small level leadership, intrapersonal bargaining, "Hey men, I'll give you this extra pair of boot laces if you can give me this brass stuff or whatever I needed."
It's really intense way of -- It's my first exposure with people from all overthe country. If kids that came off from cattle ranches in Montana to gang bangers from Oakland, to just a guy who had a full scholarship to play football for Oklahoma, so brought exposure to all sorts of different kinds of people. The small leadership experiences, and then finally learning how to be a soldier in the US Army, and do my job in the US Army. Once we get to the tank part of it, I already know a lot of the tank stuff too, because I had all these exposure in my unit. I did well, I wasn't like an honor graduate or anything, but I was very happy with my performance in basic training, and to take part of it.
I get back and I realize there's no real way in my unit to prepare guys to go tobasic training. I basically write everything down. There's a smart book that you have and it's the US Army's smart book. It's very thing that they think that a basic training should know. It doesn't cover a lot of the tribal knowledge that, "Do this so that you're good." Look likes it stayed, made throughout the night, 00:50:00polish your brass this way, instead of that way. Tips, and tactics, techniques, and procedures is what we call it in the military, but informal travel knowledge to pass onto guys who are about to go to basic training. I take what's really important out of the Army smart book, and I take specific unit, history, lineage, honors, information from what I know about our unit and how to be -- It was really a book on how to be a private in Delta Company first battalion, 107th cavalry regiment in this nice glossy 30 page smart book.
I give it to my first sergeant, because there was no basic training pipelineprogram. I'm like, "We should give this to the new guys." That got me -- They gave me a small coin award, they pull me out in front information, recognize me, but that was, "All right, this is people value improving the organization." I know how to play this game now. I will just keep working harder and harder to make this organization better, sand to the rough corner is off, train whatever I need to be trained on, and then also teach classes on whatever I can teach classes on. It reinforced that entrepreneurship, though I had actually no bearing on my academic success yet.
I got back in December '99, so I was turning 19. I haven't done anything to getready to go back to college in January, so I just started working construction with my cousin. We both saved up, maybe a few 100 bucks. Our grandma at that point in time lived in Florida with some of our aunts, all lived in the same area of Florida. We both saved up a few hundred bucks and we just drove down in my crappy Chevy Caprice down to Florida and stayed with my grandma for about six weeks. We ran out of money so we stared working construction down there. I was just not keen on going to back to Ohio State. Still the Guard with something I was doing, but I wasn't going to make a career out of it.
They pushed for scholarship reapplications in my first year at Ohio State and itwasn't looking good, or I didn't get it. I knew I wasn't doing well in school, so I sought out a more discipline environment to learn in. I had started working in application to the Naval Academy. I thought I was going to hang my hat on that, which is part of the reason why I had no urge to go back to Ohio State. Literally the day after basic training, my mom had coordinated all of these, because they -- To get into the Service Academy you have to be selected by the academy, which means you have to have academic potential leadership, potential all that, but you also have to be nominated by your Congressman.
I had applied to Congressman Sherrod Brown's office, at that time he is still aRepresentative in the House, for his nomination. They call home and my mom was, "He gets back from Fort Knox on December 10th. Can we do it December 11th, because that's pretty late in the cycle?" I get back to Ohio and mom is like, "You've got to go to Sherrod." There's a library near Sherrod Brown's office, or it's one of his offices, "You've got to go to Sherrod Brown's office tomorrow and interview for the Naval Academy." Okay, so I throw on my Navy ROTC uniform with my one Army service ribbon, and that threw those guys for a loop, because they're -- They are both prior Army veterans, "Why are you wearing a Navy uniform with an Army ribbon on it?"
I didn't realize that was incorrect at that time either, there's a federal, anaward so I can wear that old uniforms like that, which is wrong. I'm like, "I'm a tanker in the Ohio Army National Guard, but I'm pursuing NROTC commission." Again, I did not have a strong pocket for ROTC, because my grades were dismal, now my college attendance is spotty. I answered the question, so the interview -- I later had to run academy interviews for a Congresswoman in Ohio, and so I modeled it off my own experience. One of the questions in the interview was, 00:55:00"Name a graduate of the Naval Academy who was very prominent in the news and got into some trouble in 1986?" Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North.
They're like, "You're the only who's gotten that right, how did you know that?"I told them about how I read Robert Timberg's the Nightingale Song. They're like, "Where did you even happen upon that book?" I'm like, "Bainbridge public library." They're like, "Do you have your library code on you right now?" I'm like, "I always have my library code on me." It's interesting, that clinched it, they are like, "This guy, he's enlisted in the National Guard, he's been trying to get the scholarship." Ultimately the Congressman has 20 nominees for the different service academies, but for some reason just -- It wasn't my academics that got me that nomination, but just what I was hoping would give me that scholarship, just forcing personality, dedication, focus on that specific area of wanting to be the best at the military got me that nomination.
Literacy, the emphasis that I place on reading throughout my life, just havingthat library card at the right place at the right time. I thought I was going to maybe swing a Naval Academy nomination. I got Congressman Brown's nomination. Went to Florida right after basic training. Worked to construction. Was putting all my hope into the naval academy process now. Was not doing anything I needed to do to go back to Ohio State. Went to the Naval Academy for an interview. Because I was enlisted in the military, so I was considered prior service enlisted that also made me eligible for secretary of the Navy nomination.
That interview was at Annapolis. I showed up there wearing my Army uniform,confused more people, but I got it. I, again, just demonstrated the passion for -- This was a very long term goal that I had, and I didn't know how to get there or the things I needed to do to do it well, or you had to prove that I can do those things well, but I just really wanted to do this one thing. Felt that if I was proficient at my military task or duties, or if I was good at ROTC, that would really show people I was serious. I got the SECNAV nomination as well, but ultimately I didn't get appointed because, again, my first year of college grades. I came back to Ohio State and this is now spring 2000. I realized that part of the reason why I wasn't doing well was I thought to be a Navy pilot, I should have an aviation related degree, so I was pursuing aviation system as my bachelors.
I wasn't into anything that I was learning, because it was all in a veryquantitative, you had to have calculus one done. I've never been a quant guy. I switched my major to history. The first class that I can get into was, basically it was a -- It was historical thought and thinking, but it was maybe history 398 or something, but it's historiography. Because I realized the only class I liked in high school, the only class I responded well in was history, and so that's where I'll switch my major to. I fell in love with it, and I started getting to history of the Ohio National Guard, it's the one topic I wrote on my papers on, I'd come here to do research. I just found out this thing that was just more than a throwaway experience, but I wasn't totally committed to, that was going to do my six years and hopefully get a commission to the Navy before it was over with. I never anticipated deploying with.
Everyone thought was, "Why are you doing that?" Because it didn't fit neatly toany of the buckets of my life, is just something that I have to do in addition to school. I found out that the Ohio National Guard has this just rich history in service to the country, going back to independent militia of 1788 and the influence that people like General and Senator Charles Dakehead over the modern National Guard.
All of a sudden, my navy prospects were dimming and I got very connected to this01:00:00organization both its history, its role in society and I felt that was part ... Everyone knows when you're going through basic training that you're a soldier in the US Army. That point, I had impulses to think of what that meant, but all of a sudden, I started reading about the legacy and the history of the Ohio National Guard and the militia and the role that it played in the development of the state and it was like a spark. I felt connected to this organization finally. I felt like a stakeholder in it and a part of its history. That's my basic training back to college.
JH: Was there a moment in time maybe during these history classes especiallywhere a light bulb went off and you were like, maybe not the Navy, maybe the Guard as a career where you're still pulling out and wanting to that appointment.
RG: I still had single minded focus on being a Navy pilot much like I couldn'tvisualize a world outside of Bainbridge, Ohio for a time. I also couldn't visualize having to fend for myself or figure out a path that wasn't being a Navy pilot. Now, I didn't think I was getting an ROTC scholarship. I ended up not getting a Naval Academy appointment. I retreated and wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I wanted to be a Navy pilot so I did that last quarter at Ohio State and again, still just like not having good adult skills.
I didn't do the things I needed to do to come back to school in fall of 2000. Ididn't know how and what I needed student loans for, how to maximize my tuition benefits with the Guard so I just did my one quarter after basic training until I'm done and I went fulltime National Guard. It was like fulltime temporary National Guard so just being a soldier thing is something I'm good at. These people are encouraging me. I know basically what inputs, what effort I have to put in to get good outputs and there's a place for me here.
I worked out of Cleveland. I went to my first annual training, my first twoweeks in the summer with the Guard. We did tank gunnery which is one of the coolest things ever and I was on two tank crews because I was a young guy who showed hustle, they put me on not just my tank crew, but the battalion operations officer's tank crew, so I was a driver on both tanks which means I'm responsible for the mechanics, the maintenance and the driving, fueling of both tanks and that meant doing double weekends, so two weekends a month, but it was seen as an honor and I worked my butt off because again, it was just this positive cycle of this guy is doing a good job, let's pat him on the back, let's promote him, let's give him this additional work and I worked harder and harder because that's one thing I did understand growing up on job sites and working at grocery stores Kmart and stuff as a kid was hard work like stand around doing nothing, grab a broom or move some drywall and stuff like that.
The Guard was a place where I can express that college was not at that point intime, so I was working fulltime recruiting assistant for the National Guard and it was just like I was living back in mom and dad's place and I was working hard at that and I was also trying to show that there's an advantage to having me on fulltime for my unit so I try to do whatever I could to do pink stuff to help my unit out. I bring guys in at night into the recruiting office and I train them on different boresighting procedures, checklists, stuff that if a guy fails during the weekend, how to boresight or prep a tank.
I could get some bush block paper, put it on the wall, draw the control panel orthe gunner's panel on the tank, I sit in the stool behind him, he'd sit in a chair and he'd have to touch all the buttons as he call them out and I'd go through the checklist with him so that started maximizing my skills as a trainer 01:05:00or instructor or a teacher which then won me more favor in my unit. Not only is this guy a hard worker who does his stuff and is a good tanker, but he's also fulltime so we can leverage that to help our tank company train.
I got into a positive cycle there and recruiting, I wasn't passionate about it,but I did an adequate job. I was like a helper for the recruiters, so I'd be driving candidates to and from maps, getting them ready to take the ASVAP test. Otherwise, I wasn't really advancing myself outside of my one week and a month duties. Back home with mom and dad, I wasn't making more money than what I needed for gas and I was basically making sneaker money and because I wasn't in school anymore, my student loans were now required payment so I was just really doing nothing outside of that two weekends a month.
I did that for about a year and was tired of living at mom and dad's, I realizedthat I shouldn't be living at mom and dad's. Realizing that no one cares about a guy who has a year and a half of college under his belt and that I couldn't put all my hopes and efforts into my one weekend a month job so I set myself to the goal of you're going to go back to college, you're going to go to Kent State because it's at least close to home and you can live out of mom and dad's, but drive down. It's about a 40-minute drive every day.
You're going to go for one semester and if you're not good at it and you don'thave a girlfriend, you're just going to go active duty US Army enlisted for the rest of your life, right? I stopped the recruiting thing, I signed up, I loaded up with classes at Kent State, I started in the summer so it was like they're summer three session so they're like where they give you this semester of classes in six weeks and I took the maximum, I think three more than the maximum amount of credits that you could take so it was like no more than 12, I took 15, something like that.
That had me on campus from in-class, in classrooms from 7:45 in the morninguntil 5:30 at night and I wasn't doing anything great, I was just taking more general education requirements. I never bothered to knock out at Ohio State but I finally figured it out. I did well in college. I came out of that semester with something like a 3.6, 3.7. I was like, I could do this and I also got a girlfriend during that semester so it's like all the more reason to stay in school.
I finally figured out what success was in that venue and I figured out how Icould be good at school and then that took me into fall, that was summer of 2001. That took me in a fall semester of 2001 so it was August 2001, I starting taking classes, again, full load. I'm living at home so if I'm on campus and I'm distracted, I do all my homework there. I'm not at home, I'm not on the computer and I'm on there all day so I'm not driving around in the middle of the day like I can just have a single-minded focus on schoolwork all day and do well. Then I started getting into committees and clubs like the dean of the college of arts and sciences had an advisory committee so I started getting involved in that. I figured out this kind of virtuous cycle of campus involvement, academic success, responsible network-enhancing socialization and I figured out how to succeed in life. They're releasing the college undergraduate context then my eleventh happened so that was basically my second semester at Kent State.
Tuesday morning, go into class, it was like my first class of the day, it waslike something innocuous like Intro to Speech. The professor comes in, she teaches the entire class. At the end of the hour, she says, by the way, as I was coming in, something about a plane hit a building in New York. That's a new 01:10:00story you might want to follow for the rest of the day. Okay, following my in-between class routine, I went down to the computer lab in the bottom, Bowman Hall and on the computer, I started reading Yahoo News and I just stand up in the computer lab and started reading it out loud because it wasn't just when she said that, almost a throwaway comment in the class.
I was like, whatever, but yeah, the first plane had hit one of the buildings andI think as I was reading that story, news was coming out that a second plane had hit and then you walk outside of the computer lab and people start talking about more and more, louder and louder and then someone says classes are canceled for the rest of the day and I repeat that someone, the professor asks me if it's true or not and I'm like, several people said that and then campus is now extremely animated because it's clear what had happened.
I didn't have a cellphone at the time. I ran over to the student center, there'sa bank of payphones and I just started dialing people in the Guard trying to figure out what's going on. I couldn't get a hold of my first sergeant, I got a hold of my platoon sergeant and he was just like, just make sure all your stuff is ready to go. That was a very strange feeling that we could be sent back to mobilization and deployment out because when I thought about my Guard service, it was looking at the way the Guard was used to that point before 9/11, I thought maybe the most you would ever do with six months in Coatesville because just as I got in in '98, they're actually trumpeting that a Pennsylvania National Guard unit was taking the Coatesville mission over from active duty and that was a big deal because it spoke to the renewed professionalism of the National Guard and also success in that operation that we could hand it off to a Guard unit.
I kept all my gear in the trunk of my car at that time and then the guys who Ihad worked for in recruiting, at that point, the forest protection measures, because we had no idea what was going to happen, so it's just defend all facilities with everything you've got so it was kind of circle some of the larger trucks around the building and actually one guy came in and had his own rifle because we have our own US Army issue weapons in vaults. They belong to units in the armory, but rarely is there ammunition collocated with those weapons.
One dude is like, I don't care about that. I'm going to defend this place and sowe got called in and we just did walks around the building to make sure no one was doing anything and it was really underwhelming and realizing that a recruiting station in Northeast Ohio wasn't going to be the next target, so it's bizarre because you had this strange dichotomy of a nation under attack but also who the hell is going to do anything to a recruiting office in Northeast Ohio, but later events have proven that those can be targets as well.
I was trying to deal with the prospect of we could be called to do anythinganywhere, but also, I got to keep going to school, so just strange pressures because you see now that you are a nation at war in 2001, but you're a military member, you're just going to go in college or also, that pending question of when is the shoe going to drop? Those early days were just confusing.
JH: Will you say more to what that was like for you personally because it soundslike you just found your stride at Kent in a way and figuring out ... Being a really involved and really successful student and at the same time, you're looking at a potentially really different role for the Guard and it's not really been written yet. What were you thinking about the possibility of being mobilized and deployed compared to the pact you found yourself on in that moment?
RG: I had no idea how we would be used because as it became clear that we were01:15:00going to be fighting in Afghanistan, I knew that a not that ready Army National Guard tank unit was just not going to be on that first wave, but also, I self-identified ... Some people in the reserves don't, but I self-identified very much as a soldier and so I grew up in an era where we glamorized the greatest generation who, since Pearl Harbor happened, they jammed the recruiting offices and they ran boats out to the Philippines and all that great stuff.
I was just so confused because it seemed like none of that was happening, butpart of me very much wanted to be a part of something like that like to just get that call and go, all right, we got to go do what our nation needs us to do because I'm a soldier. That's our whole reason for existence, but the first few weeks and then months, it was just wait. Afghanistan was intentionally a very small footprint, special operations-heavy, theater of war, is not conducive with tanks at all and at that point, we were nothing but tankers and so it started to pan out that there might not be a role for us in that fight.
I was ready to go. I was ready to abandon my success at college and just whollyaccept the identity of I'm a soldier in service to my country, but I was just so perplexed because it wasn't happening, it wasn't looking like it was going to happen and then that constant tension of when is it going to happen, because every month, we went to our drills. Okay, we have a reason to train harder now. We just started doing more and more training to the point where we'd show up on a Friday night, we do 24 hour operations until Sunday night and we'd basically live out on our tanks and we'd be training the entire time. It was extremely fulfilling to get that kind of training on just a weekend and to feel like at that point in time, our first sergeant, was one of the few guys in our unit who had any combat experience because he had been a tanker in the Gulf War.
Now, we're under this combat-tested leader who's going to get us ready andthat's very much kind of what the narrative became even though again, it was unclear if we'd ever do anything and so just trying to be a normal dude and go to school like nothing is going on, but also, half of your brain is very animated in thinking about the circumstances under which you'd go to war, what it would be like when you got there, what you needed to do to get ready, all those questions just like, you're sitting in a history class trying to talk about the Formation of NATO and just like, when are we going to go? When is it going to happen? We didn't end up getting ready to go to Iraq until late 2003, so those intervening years were just jittery.
JH: Can you say more about what those intervening years were like before youactually got the call to mobilize? What did you do with your time?
RG: I had this great balance between Guard and school, living at home, doing theGuard, going to school all in the same area. It's about a 45-minute triangle between each, Guard, school and home. I was doing well at school, but now that I had figured it out, I started taking on more and more challenges like, okay, I know how to get good grades. Now, I need to be on the newspaper. Okay, I can whip out a 600-word column in a half hour so now, I need to be on the student advisory committee. Okay, I can do that.
I need money so maybe I'll get this other job. I think it's kind of nature of myfamily and especially how I was raised like again, if you're standing around doing nothing, grab a broom. Also, just feeling like everyone else had done that in the building trade which is very physically intense, being someone who is now dealing in information, how to write a newspaper column, how to do a paper at school, you start questioning like, is what I'm doing for $15 an hour or whatever really worth the same thing my dad making the same money, putting up however many thousands of square feet of ceiling in a day? Probably not, so I 01:20:00need to do more and more of it.
I felt like I would just keep taking on more and more. I had kind of anappetite. Things were going well with my girlfriend, I was doing very well in classes, I was always taking a full load or three credit hours more than a full load, I was on the newspaper, all these advisory committees and stuff and then I decided to become an RA as well. I was like I can cut an hour and a half out of my day driving to and from school if I become an RA. My girlfriend was an RA so I saw what it look like. I was spending most of my time in her dorm anyway and so I had become an RA and that would involve me more in the campus. At that point, I was 22. I didn't turned 23 until we're mobilized for Iraq, but I was 21, 22 in the Undergraduate Education System and I was also in the military and the public perception of the military is like they rediscovered it and so it became a very good thing and that got me a lot of social capital in that community.
A very strange dynamic at being in Kent State and me being an Ohio NationalGuard, but just in general, whether it was warranted or not, I'd get asked my opinion on things. I'd be able to speak with authority on things. A lot of guys abuse that or talk about things they don't know about and so I'm sure I'm guilty of that as well, but it allowed me access and the ability to demonstrate this other world for largely academic audience. To my peers, it was, it's really cool. Russ could go to war any day now.
Also, I was one, two or three years older than a lot of folks in undergrad sothere's like I say, a cool factor, but you're a little more mature, you're a little bit more above the fray. You can buy beer, that helps, but things were going great in college, but at that point, I'd figured it out and turned that around and there is a neat kind of feedback loop between Guard and college where especially in some of my history classes, I could talk to specific points or things that I would read because again, wanting to be an officer, I'd read on the officer professional development reading lists and so a lot of that, I could bring to bear in the classroom as well.
JH: I know I asked you a little bit earlier about your thoughts on your careerwhen you were in OSU and started hard stuff and were really liking that and were ultimately like not going to go on with ROTC so at this point, at Kent, what are you thinking about what you want to do with your life and career?
RG: Still want to be a Navy pilot so the last option, kind of a Hail Mary, it'scalled OCS. If you are not prior service, but you had a 4-year degree already, the military doesn't need to pay to get your degree or pay for your degree so you just go through, I think it's four months training program and after that, you'll be a fully qualified officer in the Navy and that usually comes with a specialty so then you'll be sent onward for aviator training, boat driver training, whatever specialty the Navy wants you to have. That's open to anyone. In particular, you get a lot of sailors who did their time as a sailor, they got a degree while they were an enlisted sailor and then they basically volunteer or apply and compete for OCS, so it's a way to turn sailors into officers and it's a way to take college kids and turn them into officers. The movie An Officer and a Gentleman kind of show what Navy OCS was like and so okay, I will finish college and I'll go to Navy OCS.
During that time, 2002 to 2003, I was positioning myself to be a verycompetitive applicant for Navy OCS while I was going to school and doing the Guard.
JH: What happened next?
RG: I got in. I sent my application packet forward in 2003. Spring 2003, we had01:25:00been in this kind of wartime mentality in my unit for two years almost. I picked up more responsibility and I moved up in the system a little bit. I was a specialist. I've just been promoted to corporal so that's the first non-commissioned officer rank. You're just below a sergeant, but it means you're in charge of somebody or something and I had been moved into a tank gunner slot. The fact that I was a corporal in a tank gunner slot spoke to ... I was kind of a new class of young leaders that were coming up.
I saw very good friends who are my peers and we were all like young sergeants atthe same time once we went to Iraq, but at that point in time, it was a little unusual to both be a corporal because that means you're under grade, you haven't been promoted yet, but you're in that position so that I think spoke to the effort that I put into the Guard and the way I prioritized it, but I was a tank gunner, we were getting ready to do gunnery and maneuver in summer of 2003 and so I think because we're just getting all those extra money and opportunity and had achieved higher levels of readiness in case we did deploy anywhere, we took a week in the spring, went up to Minnesota and just did, we called it a spring gunnery, but it was basically a pre-gunnery exercise so that we could spend more time on gunnery in the summer.
It was like your smaller, lower level machine gun tables and stuff and so I candistinctly remember, it's like April 2003, just cramming, sitting on the back of a tank in between gun rounds and just cramming for finals and figuring out what classes I was going to pick next semester, so it was very strange kind of life. Spring, summer 2003, I basically went before the board. I sent my packet for US Navy OCS, officer candidate school and you can pick several jobs because you're boarded in several job tracks so you tell them what your preference is and they say whether or not they will select you for that preference.
There was an option, one year of school remaining, there was an option to whereyou could request they select you as a Naval aviator and they pay for college, they basically pay for your last of college or they select you as a Naval aviator without paying for college or they select you as a Naval flight officer. That's like the person ... There are offers referred to as a backseater, they handle the weapons, all the electronic systems. They're essentially a copilot or a navigator, weapon system officer I think.
Goose in Top Gun was the Naval flight officer and so I stacked it like that. Myfirst preference was aviator, pay for college. Second preference was aviator. Third preference was Naval flight officer and they boarded you in that order. Summer of 2003, just before our annual training, I got accepted. I got accepted and I still got the letter at my desk. It's very strange now because I'm a Navy civilian at the Pentagon in my day job and I've got the letter at my desk because they always think it's weird that I'm this Army guy working for the Navy. Congratulations, you're accepted, Naval flight officer, designator 13750 whatever, report to Pensacola, Florida. June 6, 2004, I started a program of running and swimming immediately, whatever. I got accepted to be a Naval flight officer, my last choice or last preference. The next step is, because I'm still in my first six years in the Guard so I can't just quit, but now the task is to move me from a reserve part of the Army to a reserve part of the Navy until I finish school and then I become an active part of the Navy.
There's a form called a conditional release and they're very hard to do becauseif you want to pursue an officer's commission or you want to get out of the reserves and go active duty, it's conditional because your unit approves it and says, if you're accepted to become an officer or you're accepted into the active duty Army, then we'll release you and only then. It gets staffed in multiple 01:30:00levels because it's a loss. You are then a loss to the Army, or you're a pending loss to the Army National Guard so it gets staffed up to like usually the first one star in your chain and it just takes months and then it's only good for six months because they don't want to consider you a pending loss indefinitely.
I got this conditional release staff and it was only good for six months andthat had to accompany my Navy packet. We're not going to pick this guy if the Army won't let him go so that six months had started taking some time before I got selected. I got my selection letter, my chief petty officer who was my recruiter and managed me through this process was elated, ecstatic, they have very low throughput. They spent a lot of time developing these applicant packets. It's very competitive, not everyone gets it, who applies. They might only make one, two, half dozen officers a year in their office so it's a big win for them.
Okay Russ, come on in the office and swear in. Basically, I execute an oath intothe inactive Navy reserve and they send a copy of that signed oath back to the Army and that affects my discharge from the Army National Guard. I have to do this right now. Yeah, the sooner the better. Let's get this done. Let's close this case. I'm going up to Minnesota in July for two weeks. It's my annual training.
I've been a part of a tank crew for a year. It's my first year as a gunner.These guys have paid for my college. They're like my friends and family now. I've been training with this crew all year. If I don't go as their gunner, that crew can't qualify so that unit will have ... You only qualify 10 things instead of 11 and that it will affect the readiness of my unit. I really wanted to do this last two weeks with my unit. Okay, we can push you out a couple of more weeks. As soon as you're done with your annual training, come into the office. It was in west side of Cleveland. Come into the office and swear in. Okay.
It's now July 2003. I do my annual training. It's awesome. It's fun. We dogunnery, we do maneuvers, very successful. Under this first sergeant and commander we had, we qualified just a massive number of tanks. Tank gunnery is very complex. Exercise to undertake. We qualified 11 tanks out of the 14 in our company. We can only put together 11 crews and all 11 qualified and then we took four tanks and we sent them to do qualification together so they're firing and moving similar to the movie Fury, but no German tanks obviously.
They're firing and moving at the same time commanded by one lieutenant and sothat's called the Table 12 and it's the highest level of tank gunnery you can do and we got to do it and I got to be a part of it. It was just awesome. I come home, I get back into Kent. I think I started getting ready to move back into my dorm and I go into the recruiting office and I'm wearing my dress blues and I got my corporal rank on and I swear into the inactive Navy reserve and I did a sheet of paperback that says, basically, you're a E-5 in the inactive Navy reserve and you will complete your degree and then report to OCS on this date.
I go back to getting ready to go to school. I go back to my unit so now, it'sAugust 2003, we pull into the parking lot, it's like August ... Whatever the Saturday was, but it's like August 15, 2003. Pull into the parking lot, I had brought all my gear because I thought I'm getting out of the Army. I turn in all my gear. They like close the doors, close the windows and they're like, we're going to Iraq guys. We basically got our notification of mobilization and it was a very long timeline, so this is August. We're basically going to be consumed as a part of the active Army, so Title 10 is what it's called because usually, we exist in a Title 32 status under control of the governor.
In October of 2003, we will become Title 10, so part of the active duty US Army.We go down to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for approximately six months and then we deployed to Iraq in early 2004 essentially in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1. With operations still ongoing in Afghanistan at that time, they just used up too much of the Army to where they realize that those guys were going to be in Iraq for longer than a year in the first wave so they needed to start bringing in 01:35:00National Guard and reserve troops to relieve them.
I'm not sure what this does to me getting out of the Guard and going into theNavy and I'm not sure I want to so this created a lot of introspection, reflection, asking basically every military person who I respected for advice and I just wasn't sure what the people work situation was because I was effectively out of the Army. I swore an oath, they sent it in, that affected my discharge so I came out of that drill just kind of stunned and wasn't sure what the ramifications would be of me getting out while these guys go to Iraq and fight the war which could be over by the time I finish college, and I just go into college and being in college, now, after having lived under these jitters for two years, now these guys of whom I was a part are fighting the war and I'm still in college.
I just didn't know what to think or how to see myself or how to explain this tomyself in any way. I think I walked away from that drill. There's got to be something that can be done and I need to think about this and figure out a plan because I just don't think proceeding as normal is now going to happen or should happen. The Navy sent my oath to the Army. The Army accepted my oath and my conditional release and they cut me discharge orders. At some point between August and October 2003, I was effectively discharged from the Army National Guard and brought into the inactive Navy reserve.
As they were doing a final quality check on all my paperwork in the Navy, mychief calls me and he says, Mr. Galeti, your paperwork is screwed up. When you swore your oath, your conditional release had already expired because we let you go to your annual training so we just need you to get a new conditional release. I'm like, roger chief. I will bring that up to my unit. I'm trying to remember the exact sequence of events. I brought it up to my platoon sergeant. My platoon sergeant was also the fulltime readiness sergeant who manage our paperwork day to day. In explaining the situation to him, he's like, that's basically a fraudulent enlistment into the Navy. Since your released expired, you can get out of this if you want. What do you mean? We can revoke your discharge orders because they were based on a fraudulent or an expired release. Again, what do you mean? You can choose what you want to do.
God. Okay. For years, that would be like the single biggest decision I had tomake and I think it still might be because it's such an early inflection point in my life. Do I do this thing that I've been chasing for years across different modes? The one thing I ever really felt was a calling for this organization that I thought I was only going to do six years in, it was enlisted service in support to something bigger and helping me become this other thing. I was just stunned. I was numb. I could not figure out what the right thing to do was and there's always questions about just, are you sure shirking an opportunity to go to war? Should you want to go to war? Is it a right war to go to? Is it a just war because I'm in history class, I'm in the politics of war. We're talking about a just war theory and I'm politically involved on campus, I'm working for the newspaper and we're talking about the merits of Iraq versus Afghanistan.
There's questions of masculinity at play too like, how does it look for the restof your life if you tell someone that you had an opportunity to go to war and passed it up? All kinds of crazy stuff is just rattling around my head. On top, I have to go to college. I have to do class stuff and I have a girlfriend who we thought we were going to be serious and so she's like, I don't want you to go to war. It's not helpful. That's not a reason for argument. It's not a good thing 01:40:00to want to go to war generally.
I was also 22 at that point so there's a fear of missing out. These guys that Icome up with over the last five years to that service, they were going and I wouldn't be. I canvassed any senior military NCO or officer that I could, what was the right thing to do? Everyone was pretty much like, I think I biased it and I think I felt like I was going to go with my unit, but I think a lot of folks recommended that. Most people said, you need to do what you feel is right which doesn't help because I had no idea what was right versus what I preferred which I think could be two different things. I didn't know.
The girl who would later become my wife, we grew very close during this periodbecause she seemed like the only person who is helping me to objectively talk this out with myself and I think that's part of the reason why we started to grow so close because it wasn't ... Don't go. It was, let's think about the objective reasons why you should and shouldn't do this or that. It was helpful. I finally made my decision. I tried everything to create an outcome that would make everybody happy. I even asked the Navy, this is a very unique situation. I'm a non-commissioned officer in this Army National Guard unit which means I'm a leader. I have responsibility. They're starting to form truck crews in our unit so I was going to be a gunner which meant I had two soldiers, a small team I was responsible for. I have this responsibility. Is there any way to defer my acceptance? Being maybe so excited, maybe so just a bureaucratic organization, the Navy came back and said no because it crosses fiscal years and we don't know what the school slots will be in the next year.
God bless them for doing this, but my colonel at the time, he's my battalioncommander, he was an O5 lieutenant colonel. Because my sergeant major used to be my first sergeant, my sergeant major is the enlisted advisor to the colonel on matters of troop welfare and discipline and he used to be my first sergeant so we maintained a very good professional relationship. This guy had known me for all five years and had known that Galeti has this single-minded focus on being a Naval aviator and now, that's coming to conflict with he might have to go to Iraq so he actually asked the colonel. The colonel was happy to do it. We went from Stow, Ohio near Akron out to the west side of Cleveland to the recruiting office. He met with the lieutenant commander who ran the officer recruiting station and said, here's one of my best soldiers. One of our hardest worker. He talked me up and then he said, is there any way that we can have him for this mission and then he can somehow stay in that school seat or get another school seat when we come home?
Because part of it also was being an Army National Guard unit and being a partof the first major mobilization of Army National Guard units since the Korean War and not knowing when liberty would break out all over Iraq, they kept couching this deployment in terms of we may not go. We may go to Fort Bragg and they either determine that we're not ready enough to go or that we won't be needed if the active Army can generate more force structure so they might just send us home. Don't quit your jobs. Use the legal protections out there to protect your jobs. Don't sell your homes, rent them out or get a housing allowance. Don't divorce your wives. This could take two years. Our orders were up 730-day orders which was the norm. We're basically mobilizing under this Cold War model where we are the strategic reserve and we'd come in after six months of slugging it out with the Soviet so we had two year orders so this could take up to two years or they could send us back home in a month.
If I get with this opportunity now, at least maybe let's secure something for meto come back to if this deployment doesn't happen. The Navy just wouldn't do it and so I basically decided that the best thing for me to do would be to go with my unit to Iraq and it was not an easy decision at all and it was definitely 01:45:00maybe a shortsighted one at that point in time, but I didn't want anyone ever to say that I used favors or used the system to get out of going to combat regardless of whether or not just war or good use of national power or any of those questions, but just my guys, my tribe, my village in Ohio is going to fight a war on behalf of the country, I should be a part of that and then my cousin who, he was currently a Naval flight officer, I think he was deployed already in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.
After several weeks and after I made my decision kind of cut the cord with theNavy, came back and said, don't second-guess yourself. You've wanted this for a long time. You're still a warrior, you're just changing jobs. Damn it. Where was that like two weeks ago? I basically got my discharge orders revoked and got promoted to sergeant in October 1, 2003. We throughout September had been doing this weird thing where we come into the armory every morning, we do like nominal mandatory training like, here are some classes that you need before you can go on active duty.
Here are some classes that you need before you can go to Iraq and then we getreleased at maybe noon, 1:00 to 10:00 to basically getting our families ready because this was before constant deployment would become a fact of life in the National Guard and we just didn't know what that organization tree looked like and so I basically come back down to Kent. I was still an RA, I was still in the dorms, I still had a full load of classes and they kept telling us don't withdraw from classes until you actually leave the state because you might be back here in a month. If you break your leg while we're training, we're going to send you home and you'll have to re-enter this life so I was just living a normal life. I actually ended up on homecoming court.
That was just this bizarre euphoria of every night was a going-away party. I wasan undergraduate guy. It's a pretty good party school. I was going to war and I had a lot of like adult problems that I was staring down as far as, did I just make a decision that's going to ruin the rest of my life or was it the right thing to do? Yeah, every night was just booze-filled going-away party. October 6, 2003, we as a unit flew out of Akron-Canton Airport on C-130s to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and we moved into our rickety old barracks in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
JH: What were you thinking at that time? Did you look back with your decision at all?
RG: Yeah. These guys knew. I was the guy who wanted nothing more than to be aNavy pilot and so every time, we're next to an Air Force base, every time a plane flew overhead, Galeti, that could be you you idiot. There is a lot of guys that are like, why did you do this, because different guys are down on the unit. Why did you go with this screwed up unit to this screwed up war? You're living in this dilapidated World War II barracks. You could have been going college and end up being a Navy officer and a pilot. You're an idiot. It's also guys just giving each other crap, but yeah, because now, I was more married to this Army and National Guard thing and I didn't know what kind of future that would create for me. I didn't know if or how I could ever get back into the Navy's good graces and resell myself because my chief, when I told him my final decision, he was upset. He shoot out on the phone. He's a big lumbering tough guy, E-7 and a career sailor, the kind of guy that spits nails.
He's, you're making a huge mistake. I can't believe you're doing this. We had adeal. I'm like, sorry chief. I got to. Sorry. All I could say was like, sorry until I hung up. Yeah, once again, I can't visualize the future. Also, you really didn't want to because 95% of us, this is our first time at war. We were 01:50:00focused on the next week's training, where we'd be in the next couple of months, what kind of catastrophic or nightmarish things awaited us. I think that stuff is in the back of every guy's mind. Yeah.
JH: You had mentioned your newspaper involvement and the political appointmentsurrounding, or involvement and then in Iraq. At the time, what were you thinking along those lines in terms of the war you were getting in to and being mobilized for?
RG: I wasn't very politically thoughtful. Active, but not thoughtful. I didn'tunderstand the underlying ideologies or the history of those ideologies. I just thought Kent State was one way and I was going be a contrarian. I brought like an unheard voice to the paper. It was very antagonistic, very contrarian and just kind of like very ... On one hand, there's just general patriotism like you, I felt like, needed to support your country. On the other hand, I dared not admit this to anyone. I was like, what are we doing here? Why is this going to happen, but also, along with the people who believed that we shouldn't be engaging in this war in Iraq or that it was based on a false premise, there are people who believed it's equally hard that there was evidence and that it was part of a larger strategy to combat terrorism in the world and also proliferate democracy. Depending on the moment, I very much felt myself kind of pulled in both directions and giving credit to both school some thought.
I think personally, my voice in the paper was ... I'd have to look back becausemy writing back then was so horrible that when I do find it when I'm cleaning up the house, I cringe, but a lot of it was like just poorly written. Angry guy rants and now a lot of what I probably believed then, I definitely don't believe now so I've definitely changed maybe 15 years since then. I think I was kind of like this train is leaving the station, we all need to get onboard with regard to the war and Syria better not start anything either I think is an article I actually wrote.
Especially now, recognize that Kent State is not ... Whatever I mischaracterizedas a kid, actually I think strongly emphasizes peaceful solutions, conflict resolution both from the interpersonal to international level and also because of the events of May 4, 1970 has a very unique perspective from which to speak on individuals, relationship with the democratic institutions and the state in general and aspects of violence and just kind of the nature of how democracy should interact with the citizens. Those are all great things that I think were very present at the school and I didn't recognize them for what they were at that point in my life.
JH: How did you think about in your own impending involvement? It seems like itwas much more about what you called the tribe and your relationship with your unit as compared to what was happening on the ground, interacting in larger US strategy, would that be accurate?
RG: Yeah. I had always read military history and I was most closely drawn topersonal accounts. A favorite book, and I think this is what got me involved in my first history class that kind of kicked it off for me, Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam and the company documentary, I found that even in the middle of ... Whether you didn't agree with the war or even didn't understand kind of the greater geopolitical aspects of it, you could rely on soldiers to justify 01:55:00their actions and involvement there by doing what they had to do for themselves and their fellow soldiers. Having two soldiers on my team that I was in charge of, I started defining my limits of what I thought I would do and thought I wouldn't do and why I was doing this was because if I didn't go, someone else would have to go and they wouldn't care about these guys as much as I do. They wouldn't do as good a job as me and all those reasons. Probably not true, but there are better guys out there than me, but that's how you start justifying for the people around you.
Also, we weren't the unit that was going to find the WMDs. We weren't the unitthat was going to find Saddam Hussein. We were not going to be engaging in very edgy combat operations. It became apparent that because we were tankers who are now converted to Humvees, we were going to be doing a lot of convoy security which is routine, mundane, dangerous but maybe less strategically significant. Okay, what I can focus on, especially the young guy who didn't understand all the interrelated gears of the war, where i can focus on is just doing my part, keeping my guys safe, staying in my lane so to speak.
JH: What did your pre-mobilization training look like and how did you ultimatelyget in the country?
RG: We were just virtually condemned row houses on the backend of Fort Bragg.They called it Old Division area and it was because that was where the 82nd Division lived during World War II. If you've ever seen Band of Brothers, kind of those long row houses, whitewood siding on the outside and just like row wood on the inside, it was very strange because they didn't take our whole battalion, they only took two companies from our battalion, so two tank companies, Bravo company which is my company at that point and Charlie company which I think at that point was in Stow, Ohio. Bravo company was in Warrensville Heights.
They used us to round out, an under strength unit from West Virginia, the firstbattalion, 150th Armor. That battalion was used to round out a brigade from North Carolina, the 30th. At that point, I think it was called the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade and that brigade would ultimately join the first infantry division in Kuwait and serve as basically an additional brigade for the first infantry division which is an active duty combat unit, famous for its actions in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Gulf War.
All the kind of troops started playing out. We roll up to the worst part of FortBragg. The 82nd Airborne is off in Afghanistan so there's a lot of vacant barracks that we can't have and we're literally like basically fenced-in. We're not allowed to wear the standard gear of the rest of the US Army because we're in training or we're untrained so we got to wear our patrol caps which is fine, but being 22, I played into the whole second class of self-pitying, second classes and things. It was such a strange world over there on Old Division because the preponderance of guys were from North Carolina, but you had units that comprise this bigger North Carolina unit, you had units in individual augmentees from all over the country.
There is a signal company from Alabama, there is us two companies from Ohio,there is the battalion from West Virginia. I think there is a cap troop from Florida so very quickly, also being in North Carolina and being in the Ohio National Guard, I very quickly in letters and emails home, started characterizing it in civil war terms because you'll just walk through a mass of soldiers on your way to chow and there's the 120th North Carolina and the 150th West Virginia and it also took up a lot of other aspects of camp life as you read it described in the Civil War.
Mobilization training was just ...
RG: So bad because it was 6 months long. Again, this was how the Army planned02:00:00during the Cold War to get us in the fight against the Soviets. The active duty Army holds out for 6 months and then fresh divisions start coming in. Six months you can basically with the exception of a few jobs, you can totally retrain a soldier and give him or her an entirely new army job. Most of our basic trainings and basic schools combined don't last longer than 6 months, but for some reason they could have made us all military police. They could have made us all truck drivers in that time. These tasks were just, they were offense, defense, and stability related tasks. Again we were used to be a tank company, but we're now kind of serving as an infantry company. We were more or less motorized infantry.
There wasn't a good word for us. We called ourselves convoy security company.Some guys called us dragoons, the aspect of highly mobile cavalry because we had come from an armored unit. Some guys thought of us as military police because of the wide area of security and route security functions that we'd have to do. We were truly neither, none of those. Later on, I made a plaque for myself and my 2 guys. Every military job has a number. As a tanker I was in 19 Kilo, as an infantryman I was in 11 Bravo. We took all the different jobs that we thought we were or we had to do during that deployment and average them together and code it like a 34 Hotel superscript 5 or something (tanker, infantryman, military policeman, medic, whatever).
The training was from individual up to I think company; individual and up tocollective training. Different tasks that were on prescribed list that they thought that we need to go fight the war. The way I just having to do it as a brigade 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers over the course of 6 months with a limited training area, limited instructors, limited resources, and to go from scratch up to company level collective training. It took every bit of those 6 months but it's just so inefficiently done that there's one day where "Okay, everyone has to do individual tasks." So what they do is they'd set up stations throughout the woods and you just run from one station to the other.
I would spend the day training and evaluating individual soldiers on abdominalwounds. Nothing but to the point where I had it memorized. "Welcome to task number 081-831-1025 in your CTT Manual. This is how to do an abdominal wound." I would have to train like I think I got through an entire battalion, so like 500 soldiers in one day. Then you'd sit there for a week. Obviously then it's on you to do opportunity training, or hip pocket training, or weights-based training, or whatever. It was the result of the Army having developed this list and saying like we're starting from scratch with these National Guard Troops. They have no operational experience and we need to certify on active duty that they've trained to all these tasks. Then only using Army Reserve Training Units.
All our trainers and evaluators would come from the Army Reserve. We could onlyget evaluated and ultimately validated by those guys; and to do it as a brigade we do the big company level collective operations at the end of our 6 months in like January and February. It was very, very bureaucratic, dogmatic, lockstep, outmoded because that modeled and developed so long ago. In contrast, the same process now takes about 2 months and the active Army tasks the National Guard that we do everything up to the platoon collective training. A platoon is about 30 to 50 soldiers commanded by a lieutenant. When we arrive on active duty, we're expected to be proficient up to platoon collective tasks. Then they only have to worry about platoon and company level, or above collective tasks. We learned lessons as an army but I went through the part before we had learned the lessons.
Then there's just second class citizens type issues where you're on the furthest02:05:00away from anything part of post. Also being Ohioans, we do not have our vehicles with us. We're confined to like these row houses. No personal vehicles. Most of the North Carolina guys lived locally. They'd have their cars all over the place and they'd split on Friday night. A lot of unpredictability because I was at the low end of the pile just being a sergeant. The company commander kind of developed a training schedule, the short-term training schedule put it out to the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants. You'd really only be or have any predictability for 48, 72 hours at my level. Also there was like we had a bit of an authoritarian command climate where the one guy who had been to Desert Storm was in charge of us all.
It was like we are going [inaudible 00:05:54] on purpose. I'm depriving you ofyour liberty. It's a little bit on purpose to hopefully harden you up for the realities that you're about to face because that was just kind of his leadership style. Also, army life shouldn't be comfortable or easier, any of those things like you don't need comfort. You need to get ready for what's about to happen. Like Friday night, we would get information at like 6 pm and we get kind of the conditions of our weekend if we got a weekend. If we got a weekend, "Okay, be back here midnight Sunday." We would sprint to a taxi. Sprint a quarter mile to a taxi, take the taxi to the post PX. At the post PX, get a rental car. Bring the rental car back to the area, load it up with guys and drive like whatever it is, 9 to 14 hours up to Ohio.
Since I was the sergeant, I made a little more money. I'd rent the car. We'd allchip in for it and I drive it. We were just kind of like make our way up to freeway from Southern Ohio and drop a guy off in like Steubenville, then drop another guy off in like Coshocton, drop another guy off in Akron, and then drop off all the northeast Ohio, the Cleveland guys. We'd get in very early Saturday morning like 2, 3, 4 in the Saturday morning. Then we'd spend all day with our friends or girlfriends. Then like Sunday at noon, we'd have to start picking guys up and make our way back down. We got to do that like probably happened about 1 week in a month after November. We trained straight through and we trained hard until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was like our first day off and it was terrible.
It was great and terrible because Thanksgiving was our first day off, but we hada lot of training to do. We spent until about 2:00 I think Thursday morning of Thanksgiving 2003 on a machine gun range. It's like freezing our butts off. It's wet, rainy, soldier stuff, but we had to get this machine gun range done for Humvee gunnery. Then we finally got released for Thanksgiving. Because we were the lone Ohioans without cars, bless their hearts, the local VFW reached out and was like, "Who doesn't have a place to go on Thanksgiving?" Most of us were like, "I just want to sit in a hotel room with a 12-pack of beer and flip channels, and not be around any smelly idiots for the entire weekend basically," because we lived in open bay barracks with 50 guys in a room with creaky floors and 2 shower heads. It was the worst and you hated these guys because familiarity breeds contempt.
The local VFWs like, "Who doesn't have a place to go for Thanksgiving?" All ofthese Ohio guys. The commander was like, "Everyone is coming to this Thanksgiving." We got released in like 2:00 Thursday morning. We again did the hustle to the rental car, to the hotel room. Something happened like my credit card was declined, or maxed out, or something. The hotel room where I told at the time my friend to come meet, my reservation was lost. I had no idea where she was. I called her. She went to try to check in. They wouldn't let her. She's at another hotel. We go to the hotel. By noon that day Thursday we're at like this VFW. That what this guy's I think house, or it used to be a house in the 02:10:00basement having just like a wonderful meal. I call it because my family, this dish makes an appearance at every family event too, and so you get tired of it. You make jokes about it but rigatoni in a foil pan.
It's a lovely potluck and they were so generous, but we didn't want to be aroundeach other at all. We want to be with our girlfriends or wives. It's now a running joke with my wife because VFWs are also social clubs. There's a little small bars usually there. It wasn't a bar per se where they sold you beer, but you brought in whatever you wanted and you left it there with your name on it. Then you could just say give me one of my beers. Obviously out of their incredible generosity, I walked up to the little window that's cut in this dry wall and I say like "Hi, can I have just a beer place." It has a label on it. It says in handwriting it's like Jim Cook. It says, Jim Cook's beer. I got a streak at this other guy's stash. Everyone was [grumbly 00:11:10] about it. It was an incredibly sweet gesture that we appreciate and still remember to this day apparently; but we all just wanted to be alone. That was Thanksgiving.
That was like an example of kind of how time off but also not off worked there.Otherwise we're training at Fort Bragg doing a combination of by today's standards, they're not just military police tasks but their infantry tasks, and stability operations tasks. Things like because we were tankers, so we didn't have a good grasp of offense and defense as dismounted soldiers because you fight from your tank. You don't carry everything in the combat like an infantryman. You kind of rest your rucksack on your belly, load it over to the tank. You throw it on the tank. The tankers saying is "Death before dismount." You fight from your tank and you have incredible 2 miles of standoff that you can fight from. Our whole theory is like you were never on the ground. We're never talking to people. We're never searching people, like we're just killing other tanks.
Now we're on the ground. We're talking to people. We're searching people. We'regetting shot at by these little guys with rifles and we're running around as little guys with rifles. When we're used to just ... The joke among tankers is like, "What do you call little white specks at 300 meters?" Infantrymen, because in your thermals they show up as just little white specks. Now we're basically infantrymen, or military police, or just stability operators. We don't know what we are, but we got to train on this whole new mindset of how to fight. It's very poorly articulated because all these tasks are not made for this kind of transitional war that we're in.
It's pieces from peacekeeping. It's pieces from counter insurgency. It's piecesfrom stability, and it's pieces from straight offensive and in defensive tactics but there's no entire theory kind of unifying it. There's no uniformity among all these tasks that we're doing. They're all new to most of us, and so a lot of frustration. Also, we're getting tasks that an infantry unit would have to accomplish and we're not an infantry unit. We're 75 guys when an infantry unit brings about 140 to a fight, and we're not organized like an infantry unit where a staff sergeant has a squad of 9. A lieutenant has a crew of 3. Just the capabilities are wildly different and totally new and untested because they're basically, "Okay you were tankers but now you just have Humvees instead of tanks, but you have to do all the stuff on the ground."
It was new, frustrating, constrained, confusing, and we just wanted to kind oflike suffer through it and get to, there's always the next place will be different; be that Fort Polk, Louisiana, or Kuwait, or Iraq. It will be, we're one day closer to all this BS being over with. It was just a uniformed, high level of frustration throughout the entire period.
JH: Do you guys know for sure at that point that you're individual duties andmissions would involve this broader range of activity than what you've been trained on, or was it just like preparatory just in case?
RG: Both because we knew that the invasion was over. Our training took placefrom October '03 to February '04. We knew the invasion was over, so we wouldn't be doing combined arms maneuver across wide areas. Every day we'd watch the 02:15:00news, or listen to the news, or read the news and kind of picked up what shape the fights were taking over there. It looked like we're going ... We called it I think SOSO or SASO at that time, Stability And Support Operations, or Stability Operations Support Operations. It's a lot of, I should deal with this now in my full time job but defining it not in terms of stuff that's not offense or defense. It's just a junk drawer of individual tasks and collective tasks and you don't want it to be that. You wanted to have an articulated, kind of unified concept behind it. We got very much the feeling that we'd be doing a lot of convoy security checkpoints and also the missions that they would probably give the National Guard Units versus active duty units.
The Rangers are still going to be doing time-sensitive raids, and air assaults,and stuff, and the 101st Air Assaults are going to do that. We are probably going to get relegated to the less desirable maybe lower risk, lower impact because this is the first big try out for the Guard since Korean War; so lower risk, lower impact missions like base security, convoy security, route security, checkpoints. We were more of the bulk commodity. I wouldn't have been able to articulate kind of all of this at that time. I don't think I saw the bigger pictures much but my experience in education since then has kind of informed that picture.
JH: Fort Bragg wasn't the end of the road for you guys. Where did you get sentnext and how did you eventually, how and when did you eventually get into Iraq?
RG: By late December 2003, we got like a nice long Christmas leave. We got maybea week and a half over Christmas back in Ohio. We packed up out of Fort Bragg and we took a chartered commercial flight down to Fort Polk, Louisiana. I believe it's called the Joint Readiness Training Center, JRTC. It's one of the major training centers in the army. It primarily focuses on dismounted collective training and evaluation. It was very comical because we had to wear all our combat kit and bring all our weapons on the plane. Here I am, I had a M240 machine gun, a 20-pound machine gun and all my kit, and a rifle, and a pistol. They had like real stewardesses who were this plane's crew, flight attendants and civilian all of them.
Over the intercom it's like, "Please do not store your machine guns in theoverhead compartment as they might fall out and injure somebody." It just was one of the funniest running jokes from the rest of our deployment. We get down to Fort Polk, Louisiana. We first take up residence in these warehouses with bunk beds. We're staging for our movement out to the box which is the big training area where there's Rangers, and role players, and evaluators, and a giant base that we operate out of. It was I think literally a circus tent, just one of those massive church tents that we operate out of. We got there either right before or on New Year's Eve 2003 to 2004. That really sucked because we basically spent New Year's Eve at the post's bowling alley in our uniform without boots, bowling. There's like a no beer order in effect too. Just the most tepid New Year's Eve I've ever had, but we get into our warehouses and we get out to the box.
We didn't spend an entire month in the box, but it was maybe 2 weeks in the box.Validation of all the collective training we'd had to that point. We're doing cordon and search operations, raids. We're securing like a water treatment plant. We're dealing with simulated local and nationals, and Arabic language speakers. It's about as realistic and complicated in our training gap, and still poorly flowing information, high levels of frustration and confusion. The feeling that there's just not enough guys to accomplish whatever task our unit gets assigned because again, we keep getting these oversized tasks that we're 02:20:00not confidently trained for, or equipped for, or organized for.
Then getting to Iraq, we came back to Fort Bragg. God, I think it was earlyFebruary by this point, late January early February 2004. Then it was just waiting. We're in a casual status and waiting, and it's winter at Fort Bragg. There's no training laid on because this was not really anticipated time. We are in a flow or flowing the brigade out to Kuwait, and we are may be last in the order of march or something. We're just kind of sitting there for a few weeks as we wait on flights. Obviously Fort Bragg has a lot going on because they got the 82nd Airborne there and a lot of special operators, probably high traffic post. We're just waiting for several weeks of doing nothing. Obviously, the good non-commissioned officers in the unit say do opportunity trainings.
We're setting up white engineer tape in the front yard and just basicallypracticing clearing rooms all day. It's much more realistic and impending that we're actually going to go to war. It feels heavier, much, much heavier now. All our trainings behind us and when's it going to happen, what's it going to be like? You read every good collection of letters from Vietnam that I've ever read or World War II. You have these long paragraphs of guys describing their first breath when they get off the ship or get off the plane. We're like, "What's that going to be like for me?" Is it going to be just like mayhem and nonstop combat, or is it going to be boring as hell? Because I've read accounts of both. How will my own narrative reflect all these other narratives that I've studied and kind of. We're living day to day there because we don't know when we're going to line up a flight out.
Finally it's like Valentine's Day weekend. We get the last minute ... I'm suresomebody above us was like just asking and pestering like, "Are these guys good for the weekend, or might we leave over the weekend, or what?" We have Valentine's Day weekend off. We did the caravan back to Ohio, the crazy caravan and ended up getting engaged to not my girlfriend. The girl would then become my wife. She and I had been talking the entire time I was down at Fort Bragg. We've been falling in love. Again, I just loved her intelligence and objectivity in this situation. It was this very strange kind of multiple contradictions of I don't want any long term attachment right now because I have these soldiers to take care of, and I might not come back from this.
I don't want to worry about, because also being with predominantly married guysjust both the longing for and the hassles of having somebody back home. I don't want any part of that right now, but also I don't want to lose this person. Simultaneously, she's an undergrad. We are not boyfriend and girlfriend. I had a girlfriend and so why would I want to agree to any of this right now. "He might not come back. He might not want to stay together when he comes back. He has a girlfriend and you're not it. He's engaging with you when he has a girlfriend." For all the right reasons, my wife was like we're just kind of having fun. We're friends. We're having fun.
I kept pushing for what are we? The kind of stick out our nature of going out tothe fields for a week, talking all night on the phone, coming up to Ohio for random weekends was not conducive to any kind of figuring out what relationship we were. The girlfriend and I were pretty much broken up for good by December, but still then that emphasized the question even more what we were. We came to 02:25:00Ohio. It's Valentine's Day weekend. It kind of speaks to the nature of our relationship that I had to ask her if she was doing anything on Valentine's Day. "Are you going out with anybody? Can I see you for Valentine's Day?" Just because I didn't know she had going on, and I didn't know what we were.
She was in a production of The Vagina Monologues that weekend. Being a goodsport I went and sat in the crowd. I think I was one of the few guys there. It was great production, but there were like girls from the newspaper who were like, "Russell, is that you? I thought you left? No, we've been to like 4 of your goodbye parties. What is going on?" I'm like, "We're just waiting to leave." This is very strange because this whole, now you're finally paying for this whole waiting to leave thing for 6 months. We didn't want to get married because it's kind of clich-like and rushed. You don't want to make that decision right then. There were a few guys who did that. For some people, it didn't work out getting married the day before you go to combat.
I was kind of trying to figure out what we were and she didn't want to beserious. Then finally, "Fine. What if we get married?" "Okay, let's engaged." We shook on it. The next morning, there was still like almost like a funny bet or a gentleman's bet. I'm like I'm going to tell your mom. She's like, "Fine. Tell my mom." I basically asked her parent's permission. This was like the second or third time they'd ever even heard of me or met me, and it worked out. We were engaged from Valentine's Day weekend. I think when we talked it about the night before, she was not going to do it on Valentine's Day either because just it's Valentine's Day. On the 15th of February we got engaged. Then I went back down to Fort Bragg. We left on a giant, I think C5 cargo aircraft from Pope Air Force Base on I want to say February 28th, 2004 and because it was a leap year we got in on the 29th.
Our first day in theater was February 29th. We flew into Kuwait and we posted upat Camp Udairi, Kuwait which I don't even know if it exists anymore. It might have been a temporary camp in the middle of the desert, but it had very much had the feeling of "Okay, you're in theater now." Probably not the same feelings that the guys who were in the initial invasion, but we're heading north. There was this like almost super organizational mass of just this pulse that we're all heading north because there was I think at the same time 1st Infantry Division. That's several tens of thousands of guys. First Marine Division, that's tens of thousands of guys. I want to say 1st Cavalry Division was starting to filter in. That's the largest division in the army. That's also tens of thousands of guys. You start kind of feeling this ominous like pressing almost like we're going north.
We're in Kuwait. We are there to draw our vehicles. They're in horrible shape.It's very strange because the army was starting to I think reallocate equipment based on the need, because half of the unit had brand new for that time up-armored vehicles. At this point, the war in 2015 they are unacceptable because they're flat-bottomed thin armored. They were the best technology that we had in 2004. We filled it something like 14 machine gun Humvees. As a company, we had 7 brand new M1114 first generation up-armored Humvees. Then some really beat up M998 made in the '80s or '90s thin aluminum-skinned Humvees that we would call them El Caminos because they're just like open back plastic-roofed pickup trucks. They would just have like a pedestal mount in the back. A guy would be standing completely up exposed just hanging on to his machine guy. We 02:30:00would create these wood frames around them and fill them with sand bags, or bolts, or weld iron, just scrap quarter inch of steel.
We're there to basically organize ourselves, meet our equipment, draw ourvehicles, mount our weapons on our vehicles, draw ammunition. It was about 2-week period, and get ready for the movement north.
JH: Where are you guys headed?
RG: Iraq. I don't know when I knew what part of Iraq we were going to. I thinkat my level, we just knew the north. We barely even had I think like the decent complement of maps across our units. It was very much just take Route 2 until you get to the city and then hang right. I'm sure my leaders like my company commander, my platoon leader may be had a better idea. We knew that we are going to a place called FOB Caldwell which was named after I think a specialist Caldwell who was killed as a member of 4th Infantry Division in the initial invasion. My company would be a part of the 30th Brigades Reserve. Usually whatever unit, you have 2 levels down. You keep one of those in reserve. We were 2 levels down from brigade. I think because we're one of the better performing companies in the brigade as far as just how organized we were, and how well we performed during our training.
We were made the brigade reserve which means we do either quick reactionmissions as the brigade commander directs, or kind of special missions that he needs the reserve to do. We entered up at FOB Caldwell which was near a small village called Kirkush which is kind in the northeast of Baghdad. The small town closest to our FOB was called Balad Ruz, I think. I think we got into that part of town on St. Patrick's Day 2004.
JH: What was your mission at FOB Caldwell as a part of the 30th Brigade Reserve?
RG: Generally we're used as convoy security. We ended up doing, because thetraditional mission of a brigade reserve is to either reinforce success. If you're moving on the attack and you find a place that your unit is penetrating, you throw the reserve behind it to really exploit that success, or if you're lines are about to falter or something, you throw the reserve to kind of plug that gap. In something like stability operations, there's less of a reserve needed. We ended up doing a lot of convoy security. We operated out of Caldwell. We would do up to 5-day missions. I didn't go on this one but the unit went as far north as Mosul, and as far south as Baghdad. Just kind of we would escort personnel both individuals who needed to get movement from place to place, to goods that were needed from vehicle repair parts to ... I remember one time I think our cargo was a truck full of uniforms for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
We'd escort kind of lower-postured units. Any kind of leader in the army or anykind of unit in the army should reasonably be expected to be able to defend itself, but there are just some units that needed additional security. We'd escort them, or they had like heavier equipment that required special lift vehicles. That made them slower and better targets. Adding us will create a harder target and increase their security.
JH: What were the situation and the local culture seemed like in Northeast ofBaghdad near Balad Ruz? Was it pretty dangerous or they're ... I mean you're convoy, they expect it to be secure? Were there a lot of IEDs?
RG: We were always postured as if we were going to be attacked. One of the best02:35:00pieces and the most common piece of advice that we'd be given was that if you present a hard target to the enemy, the enemy will not attack you. We did that. Our 14 trucks and bravo company did that as best we could, anywhere we went. You read accounts of guys rolling around with their helmets off. No one's manning the machine guns on the vehicles, smoking, listening to the headphones, just kind of those things. They've got equipment strapped to their truck in such a way that their guns can't traverse 360 degrees, or their guns still have their covers on them, or rusty. All those kind of small discipline things will project an image of your unit that will ultimately influence the enemy's decision to engage you.
We maintained a high posture but is also a very safe area I think. I thinkperhaps they didn't want to put at that point in the war a National Guard Brigade in Fallujah or the southern city. Not my official opinion as military officer but just speculation, again I think at that point both because of equities. The Guard had its equities to defend and the active army had its equities to defend at the congressional table. The Guard was getting relegated to low impact, low risk missions. We didn't get to engage with the locals that much. We were kind of the examples they give in modern counterinsurgency now, just like robots that lived in giant armored hulking vehicles with helmets, and radios, and sunglasses, so you can't see our eyes. We were inhuman to the populous. We rarelygot off our vehicles when we weren't on bases.
Adapting techniques that had been professed to have worked in the initialinvasion, wherever we were we tried to dominate. It's high speed is a safe combat convoys. You get off the road or you'll get bumped. I think a chief advantage of the National Guard is that its soldiers are generally older, a little more not all of them obviously and not to disparage all of active duty, but older more life-experienced, usually have larger families, definitely have other careers. That means that we don't always have to be ... We can be aggressive but we don't have to be as aggressive and that especially suits us for stability operations and counterinsurgency. We were less quick to engage with our weapon systems which probably saved lives, and mitigated any needless property damage or collateral damage.
We are more thoughtful about I think the communities that we had to drivethrough. We wouldn't just run people off the road because they're in front of us, or we'd kind of take that second to second guess like did this guy just cut into our convoy because he's a car bomb, or because "Oh no, he's got his entire family. Now they're scared as hell because they didn't realized they're emerging with our convoy. Good thing I didn't shoot them as soon as they showed up." To that point for the most of the tour but especially for the first 5 months, our interaction with the locals were limited. It's low risk, low impact area. I think people were generally happy to have the Ba'ath Regime gone. It seemed somewhat prosperous. It seemed like markets were still there.
JH: Did you have any or activity that gave you an idea of how do local people inyour area received the presence of US troops?
RG: It was very strange. I don't think so. It was almost maybe they ignored usbecause they were worried that they might provoke us. I just don't know what the units that actually own that land prior to our presence were like. I felt very 02:40:00isolated from the ... I rode on the turret of a Humvee most of the time. I felt really isolated and removed from the people I'd see on the streets. They wouldn't demonstrate an opinion toward us one way or the other. Even when we got to do foot patrols in some villages and towns, you can't tell if people are accommodating, and smiling, and nodding, and happy to have you in their shop because they are genuinely happy to see you or they're just scared out of their gourd because you are again this hulking Ohio guy. Even naked, you're larger than most Iraqi guys.
Then you've got ceramic plates, and a helmet, and sunglasses, and 40mm grenades,and 200 rounds of ammunition, and bazooka, and like if they're just scared of you. Also what their relationship with authority was under the Ba'ath party? Maybe they have been ingrained to be completely acquiescent to any security force or authority figure. It was really hard to, almost never got to engage with locals or get a feel for how they felt about us.
JH: What was culture like on the FOB?
RG: It was kind of an extension of camp life from Fort Bragg. We slept on ourvehicles for the first couple of weeks while they put up tents to accommodate us. We lived in maybe 20-man tents in cots. It was a very expensive FOB because we're at the middle of nowhere. We're across from like a defunct brick factory or something. It was still a lot of remnant equipment and throwback ways of doing things from the '80s and '90s in 2003 that would look straight out of the '80s now if I went to a FOB in Iraq or Afghanistan. We showered in tents like giant green 1980s tents with just like water cans and nozzles attached to them and stuff. We'd lived in big green tents. Guys would watch DVDs on their laptops. There's no shortage of bootleg DVDs and country. Any downtime, you'd just be watching movies. I caught up on all the TV, all the movies.
Guys play cards. We would make a LAN network to play Command and Conquer orother games on our computers. Everyone had a laptop, a big kind of escape too. There's one small shop like a phone card activity that you could get a call home. At that point like the infrastructure because we are so far north, the infrastructure not yet the kind of institutionalization of the way America fights wars. KBR hadn't caught up to us yet. We ate military rations out of a military containerized kitchen unit for the first couple of months. There was no chow hall. The satellites and the phone trailers weren't there yet. It was like they can only handle one soldier phone call home a week, so like Sundays I'd call home [inaudible 00:43:52]. You'd try to get on missions to go to bigger bases.
Now when people like a counterinsurgency talk like the Disneyland nature of theway we created our bases, and the way we tried to insulate ourselves from the wars that we're actually fighting in at that moment. The concept of success for us was just keeping everybody safe and trying to get as much exposure to better bases, better facilities, all as soon as possible because we'd run the convoys as we got them successfully and no problem. There's no overall way for us that was tied to kind of fighting and winning the nation's war. There is no way for us to turn successful execution of combat convoys into winning the war. You just make it through your year.
Obviously your bases are called FOBs, Forward Operating Bases. The people who02:45:00kind of reclusively stay on the FOB's safe, and avoid danger, and avoid missions, they're called Fobbits kind of like hobbits. That deployment for me was very much the fobbitization even though we went on combat missions. If you weren't on combat mission you weren't trying to figure out how am I going to beat the enemy on the next time. How am I going to win this war? It was just do what I got to do to get in front of a DVD player or one more day until I can get home.
JH: How did that day to day reality meshed with what you were imagining aboutthis mobilization when you had to make the decision about your naval position? [inaudible 00:45:46]
RG: I never knew what to expect when I was going into Iraq. I tried to puttogether a picture from everything that I would read from books like Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam to Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I read through all of Kurt Vonnegut's books when I was in theater especially Slaughterhouse-Five and just trying to find humor in the everyday boredom of war and make sense with that way that, "Oh, this is going to be more of a MASH-like experience than a With the Old Breed at Okinawa and Peleliu experience. Okay, I guess that's just going to be my experience." I was also trying very hard to do as well as I could to bring credit upon myself so I could demonstrate a record of satisfactory or commendable combat service.
It's like I then go back to the Navy and say, "Look guys, I did good. I was anon-commissioned officer in combat. I made a hard choice. I hope you guys appreciate the risk I took when I made that choice. You wanted me then, you should want me even more now." I had every intention of like basically reapplying when I got back. Later on in our deployment, we moved down to Baghdad and worked for a Naval Special Warfare Task Group, Seals. As much as one could network with Navy Seals in combat, when you're this misfit National Guard Unit that just barely supports them, I networked my way up to their O5 Commander to where I got a meeting with him and said, "Sir, we've been doing this work for our unit for half of the year that we've been here. This is my situation." I explained to him, told him the entire story. It would help if I had a naval officer who saw me work in combat recommend me for OCS, and he did.
He was one of my letters recommendation after, but I had every intention ofputting together a neat and better application after Iraq. Once I had an insight like, "Okay, we're not going to be in theater for more than a year, maybe 16 months if things got bad or worse. I'll come home. I'll go back to college and I'll just try at this again." I could sort of visualize after this.
JH: You've talked a little bit about convoy security missions and little bitabout like life on base. How did these things fit together? What was your daily routine like in those days? Maybe what's the difference now that you guys moved around a little bit. You were up the FOB and then later on went down to Baghdad?
RG: Our deployment is kind of 2 distinct parts. The first 5 months we're on thenorth doing convoy security. The second 5 months we're in Baghdad doing fixed site security and what we call the VVIP escorts. I think again, somewhere in the army they said, "We need 3 full infantry companies to move from the north to Baghdad to support 1st Cavalry Division." They owned Baghdad. They were actually Task Force Baghdad. Then 1st Infantry Division who's our parent division sent down 3 companies but one of them was us, a tank company. We had half the guys again. We get down to Baghdad and it was looking like we're going to do essentially rolling armored security for people like the President of Iraq, and Ambassador Negroponte, and any big deal convoys that needed just more trucks and guns. We weren't enough guys to support doing that regularly; driving around 02:50:00Baghdad, doing security surveys of these people's residences, or the Ministry buildings. We'd get up. We'd have a Navy Seal. We gear up as if we're going on a convoy.
Some Navy Seal would hop in one of our trucks, go left, go right, go here. Thisis the house. This is where you guys going to have pull security from. This is what the mission would be. You're going to pick up these vehicles, escort it there. We did that a few times but then I think it turned out to be our manpower couldn't support the tempo, and the number of gun trucks they needed. We ended up just running gates around Baghdad. They essentially ringed off a certain part of downtown Baghdad with tall concrete barriers, and steel gates, and became the green zone at that point, and so the international zone. We moved down there in like May, June 2004 right before the transition to the Iraqi government. We ended up just running gates under this Naval Special Warfare Task Group to either let one of them. We'd let their forces in and out of one of their bases. Another was a route that apparently was only for use for like ministerial and above officials in and out of Baghdad.
In the north during our convoy days, we get a mission. I wasn't really involvedin the planning of the operation. I was a sergeant and a machine gunner. My job was to make the truck ready with the driver and assistant gunner, make sure that the truck is fueled, has food, water, clothing, like special combat chemical suits, stuff like that. It has ammunition. The ammunition is organized right. The machine gun is clean, and serviceable, and ready to fire. The radios were all filled with frequencies and cryptography. We had a computer system. The computer systems working well, and make sure the driver is doing his job on the maintenance piece.
We get our briefing from our lieutenant usually in the morning. We try to departsometime in the morning, get a briefing from our lieutenant. Lieutenant would give us our briefing. We'd mount up. We'd roll out. Most of the time we'd be picking up some cargo. We could either be escorting vehicles off our base or going to another base to pick it up. Just be kind of this. I'd just be sitting and a machine gun up to my shoulder, just kind of scanning the highway. I was at the lieutenant's truck and the lieutenant can place himself wherever he wants. We're in a 4-vehicle platoon of 20 guys. The lieutenant always rode in the front of the column. I was basically the first vehicle in the columns. My sector was front. If anything happened in front of us, I would be the first guy to encounter it.
Again, we started that deployment in country in spring 2004. That's when IEDsstarted taking off as a tactic because it was somewhat placid our first few weeks in country. Then I think around the one year anniversary of the invasion, that's when the insurgency started; though I think it took them a few more months to actually say that word. With IEDs and being a gunner exposed on the top of a Humvee, that was before we had big fragmentation shields and all that stuff, I always had a fear of getting thrown from the vehicle and separated from my guys. The Battle for Mogadishu which people will always incorrectly refer to as Black Hawk Down which inspired the book and movie. You read stories of the helicopter pilots that got pulled out of the wreckage and beaten, mutilated, taken prisoner. I think those images stuck with me both when they happened and marked kind of the gray zone challenges that we faced when we're doing stability operations. That you can get pulled into the town square and mutilated, or taken prisoner just being in that vulnerable position on top of a Humvee.
I was very okay with dying because I figured the nature of that would be quickknowing what I knew about IEDs at that moment. I think I would have been okay engaging in motorized infantry combat from my machine gun position, but I was 02:55:00not okay with getting thrown from the vehicle and separated. My mantra when we're kind of rolling, and we'd be driving for 8 hours straight. Those convoys took anywhere from 4 to 8 hours and we would normally not drive more than 8 hours in a day. Sometimes we go longer until we hit a US base overnight there. Then keep going on to the next base. We'd leapfrog bases but just kind of like sitting there for however many hours a day. I'll be against the gun waiting for something to happen.
Just kind of in my head, just be like, "When it's going to be happen, when it'sgoing to be happen, when it's going to happen?" Expecting explosion on the side of the road, or someone start shooting RPGs at us from the side of the road, or just kind of the road coming up at you as so often described. That was kind of what filled my head while we're driving. The IEDs would always hit later on in our column. They weren't, thank God they weren't very good because I don't think the north was the hotbed of activity that Baghdad was at that point in time or Fallujah. IEDs were very new tactic that were being deployed so guys would bury them the wrong way or it'd be faulty detonator mechanism stuff like that. They explode at the wrong time. They explode in the wrong direction, or they wouldn't explode at all. That helped us out a great deal.
In the few times that we were ambushed with small arms and rockets, we just getlucky and we return fire and they'd miss. We'd get out of there because since we're escorting softer units, we generally didn't stay in fight. We sped the truck full of money, or uniforms, or Bradley parts out of the area. That was most of our days. Then we'd get to a US base. We'd overnight, usually sleep on the ground underneath, or next to my truck, kind of explore the new base. I think senior leaders on our company were picking missions and picking bases based on "Oh, this please has a pool. This place has movies. This place has a gym and I really want to get a pump on." I both being kind of a frustrated young NCO and had a contrarian nature at that point in my life, like once I figured out that's what was going on I'd start bucking against that.
I remember arguing, I get into a lot of arguments with my lieutenant. He was myplatoon leader, so we had 4 vehicles and 20 of us but he's also my truck commander. My job was to make his truck ready and make sure soldiers were ready on that truck as his sergeant and gunner. At one point he's like, "Let's go to this base because it's got the movie theater." "Don't you want to stay another day because its got the swimming pool?" I just start arguing with him about why. "No, that's a stupid reason to choose to do anything." We butted heads a lot. I think that's why they put me with him because everyone knew I wanted to be an officer. "All right, here's how you learn." Also there's probably 3 or 4 of us in the company, but just one of that college boys.
They put like all the college boys on one truck so we could have our [inaudible00:58:59] intellectual conversations. Then also met like our platoon sergeant's kind of a tough guy. He would just steamroll us with anything he wanted us to do, or any crap detail that we had to do. Just kind of sheer force of personality and lack of self-awareness, would just steamroll us. That was kind of the day to day of the missions. I feel like the inordinate amount of work was done by us sergeants in kind of keeping the platoon together. The enlisted guys were the ones who like, the specialists and privates. They did the actual physical work of maintaining the vehicles, and the vehicle loads, and the driving. Then we had the guns, and the ammo, and the supervisory responsibilities to kind of make sure things or tasks were supposed to happen. 03:00:00
We had several different lieutenants in our platoon for different reasons. Someof them were just challenges to kind of keep him from following us up. Now having been through that process and being an officer myself, I don't like the whole lieutenants or babies that need to be taken care of narrative because that's not a good way to develop them. Also sometimes it's true. Just kind of like challenges that are universal throughout the army. Then in Baghdad it was much more like shift work because we're doing fixed site security. They figured out a way to where you had 3 shifts. It might have been 2 shifts like a day shift and night shift. We just sat on machine gun trucks and over watch different gates or different routes.
In the north the fight was very much, I'm sorry for jumping around. The fightwas very much small arms fire, and ambushes, and IEDs alongside the road. In Baghdad the fight was very much and this is also now summer, fall, winter of 2004, very much indirect fire, rockets, mortars, vehicle bombs, suicide bombers, hitting large concentrations of civilians. We just kind of sit there and it's more shift work. Baghdad had greater amenities; eat better, eat more, access to more bootleg DVDs, really focused on kind of planning my wedding with my fiancee at that time. She was finishing undergrad and her mom was battling cancer. Kind of focused on keeping it together for her and keeping in touch with back home.
Trying to keep like the guys and myself focused through the sheer boredom. Onone hand it's a terrifying war because there's always rockets, and mortars, and car bombs literally hitting the walls of your basement sending body parts flying, and doing the run from the green zone to Baghdad airport along notorious Route Irish which is probably one of the heaviest IEDed routes in Iraq. On one hand it's a very terrifying experience. On the other hands it's so boring because you're not in the middle of it, or you're just watching smoke plumes go up around you, or you never know when it's going to happen. You're just kind of sitting there waiting for it too. That was the day to day.
I find little routines too. If I could get this certain, we have a giant table.People sent us care packages like, "Whoa." We dump them. Anything that we didn't want out of this care packages. Some of them would be like your friends send you the stuff you want like dip, or magazines, or beef jerky. Some of it was just a church or a Boy Scout troop would get together and just jam with full of peanuts or whatever. Some aspects of tailored care packages versus random care packages. You take what was good and then you dump the rest on a giant community table. We lived in a bombed out palace. Actually was it a palace? It was I think the Ministry of the Interior Building; big granite columns and floors, and like ballrooms throughout, and offices, but then rubble. Like someone had gotten a bear cat plow in there and then just like pushed all the rubble from the inside of the building into piles around the outside.
Then they built basically a wood structure inside that served as smaller roomsfor our offices and barracks. It was all the E-6s in below which were about 50 of us in one ballroom on bunk beds. Then all of the E-7s in above in a smaller ballroom, or meeting room on cots. This very famous footage of the initial cruise missile strikes on Baghdad. There's a strange pyramid building we called it the Death Star, but it was like their Ministry of Defense Building I think. There's big, long, rectangular sandstone looking building next to it which I think was the Ministry of the Interior Building. That ended up being the building that we occupied for most of our time in Baghdad.
We would dump all our care packages out on a big community table. My smallerteams, if I can get 2 packages of those little cheese crackers every day to eat 03:05:00while I'm on shift and 2 cold Diet Cokes to drink, or a cigar to smoke at the end of the day. Every couple of weeks I change my routine and go like, if I'd get into gym and work out for one hour every day, or okay if I get off my truck, hit the bathroom, clean my weapon. I've got 3 hours to watch TV. Then I'd go to sleep and get ready for the next day. You try to build small routines, not I'm like a prisoner. Small routines that you can control and that gives you a great degree of I think sanity and resilience.
JH: I'm curious, could you speak more about the relationships you developed withother servicemen and women in your unit? That's part 1. Part 2, you seemed to take really seriously your leadership role where you want to be an officer. How did that reflect the type of relationships you're building and camaraderies, you being in a leadership position and be aspiring towards more leadership?
RG: It was I think a unique experience for me because I was a sergeant. I wasthe first line supervisor of these 2 guys. I had a boss. I had several bosses that I had to answer to because my next ranking sergeant was a platoon sergeant. He's the sergeant in charge of all 20 of us. Then also the lieutenant as my truck commander and my sergeant's boss. Also I'm just a college guy. This is my one week and a month's job. The army puts you through institutional training to make you a leader. Then you gain what you gained from, if you do self-study and reading history. Also different communities in the army breed different kinds of soldiers and leaders. As a tanker you make rank and you are prized based on your ability to manipulate technical systems; so less on your ability to convince guys to run up a hill in the face of a machine gun fire like an infantry.
Tankers by their own I think, they're less direct leaders. Also I'm a collegekid, and I've got 2 equally smart college kids on my team. It's kind of the nature of the militia like my boss, my day to day life could be working for me in the military life. You have a much more congenial atmosphere than the kind of authoritarian hierarchy of the 82nd Airborne or wherever where you live and die based on what your sergeant says. The Army National Guard is a lot more democratic I think, because otherwise what convinces militiamen to leave their farms through the planting season if they don't feel like they have a say in the way their participating in their nation's defense. I knew my job was to take care of these guys but it was also more than myopic advocacy for their well-being.
I also knew that I had to kind of either reign in or contain my lieutenant insome ways. I was just kind of, I think with specific regard to my leadership experience in that deployment, it was fighting those 2 battles; to make sure my guys were protected not steamrolled, and that we were all doing our jobs because I couldn't just be their buddy. I also couldn't be a hard ass and try to crush their souls and make them do flutter kicks and push-ups for stupid reasons because it's just harder to train people like that in the National Guard versus the reserve components in general, versus the actives with the military where they're 18-year-old kids who just live and die by their sergeant's orders.
More influencing, modeling, bargaining leadership styles and then just fightingthe 2 battles of taking care of those guys, making sure we did our jobs, and then trying to keep the lieutenant and the platoon sergeant out of our hair; or trying to get the platoon sergeant to take care of us by working with me on the platoon leader thing. We remained very good friends, my 2 guys and I for years after the deployment, keep in touch. I think out of our group, I was the only who seemed committed to the military. They were both just like there. They both did their ... I think one didn't finish the 6 years and got out. The other did 03:10:00finish the 6 years and got out but they are just both kind of like, "Yeah I'm doing this now, and I won't do this later." I have always demonstrated that I kind want to succeed in the organization.
JH: There's quite about the structure of a tank crew that you get tight with asmall group of people, with the guys that on one tank versus maybe like knowing the larger unit.
RG: Absolutely, that's expected and encouraged especially in the tank communitythat you live in that vehicle and you spend 24 hours locked inside that tank. In its best form it turns out that there's no topic off limits. You can, I don't want to be crude. You deal with the way each other smells. You know who likes what part of what MRE. You can dig through a guy's backpack and set up his bed for him if he's off at a platoon meeting or something. You talk about each other's families. All the camaraderie that you get from kind of reading a history of guys in an infantry squad. It's more concentrated I think on the tank crew similar to aircraft crew or submarine because there's that persistent proximity. Like guys who fought in the Gulf War who talked about they'd go 2 weeks or month without ever getting off their tank. It's intentional and they probably had to go to like some lengths to avoid that. That's the nature especially that community in the army.
JH: Now you mentioned when you first got into country, the communication systemsback home. How did it quite caught up to where have you guys were? How did that look across the whole deployment? What sort of communication were you able to have with your family back at home, friends, and your fiancee as you're planning this wedding?
RG: At the start when we were aware KBR hadn't been yet. It was like onesatellite phone. We go to this small shop and we'd have to buy a phone card and we call home. Again for the several hundred guys using it, even showers weren't developed yet. For the troop, what needed to make sure everyone has equal access to a phone like you'd probably get maybe one 20-minute phone call a week which is definitely wasn't terrible by the previous invasion standards. Obviously Joe, the stand in for every soldier is going to complain about anything and everything. It wasn't good enough. Then soon after, an enterprising Iraqi set up a phone lab. We still had to buy phone cards but they're like 20 phones. Then a small internet caf and AOL Instant Messenger became the predominant way of communicating with everybody back home.
Then when we got down to Baghdad like there was a full blown computer lab on thebase. You pay like maybe 2 bucks, 4 bucks for an hour. You could just like flop down in front of a computer and just kind of zone out for a few hours. Guys who do correspondence courses. I would sort letters though because I understood the importance of that. I wrote emails. I had a list of maybe 1,000 people both friends, family, college faculty because I just recognized this unique experience and this was their neighbors, and firemen, and policemen, and teachers going off to war. I had a largely predominantly Northeast Ohio audience. I tried to talk about as politically and diplomatically as I could kind of what we were experiencing, because I knew it would like it'd get back to my commander or first sergeant all of that stuff.
I also felt like I was ... If anyone in our unit was going to be able to try totell that story, I'd be that guy. I had a list served. I wrote my wife, my fiancee at that time like may be one letter a week which I thought wasn't bad. By comparison in Afghanistan, I called home every day just about. I had a small cell phone that I carried on with me the entire time. It's a local cellphone. 03:15:00Let's see, maybe 20 bucks a call but I didn't have any else by. I emailed a lot, a ton. I had a WordPress blog setup. I wrote literally one letter for the entire deployment to Afghanistan some sort of primary documents out there.
JH: How did you choose what you shared? How you structured whether they're likepersonal letters to your fiancee and then that sort of like mass email that you would send out?
RG: There was no filter with what I tell my fiancee, other than I didn't get anydetails about combat just because I didn't want to scare her. I just would share it all when I got home. As far as like opinion of people in the unit, or frustration with the way things are going, that was the one person I could share that with. The list served would be a much watered down version of where if you knew me, you could read between the lines and infer things. If you didn't, you just kind of missed that message. Things are all right. There's some challenges here etc., etc. It would be a little more watered down just because I wanted to tell a story. I also didn't want my commander or first sergeant to say, "You're not going to do this at all anymore." Even people just to take issue and pick fights with me over anything I said. I wasn't uniformly optimistic but I try to kind of temper my dissatisfaction when it rose.
JH: Were there any formative experience, are there moments that you feel likereally encapsulate your first deployment that we haven't gotten a chance to talk about?
RG: I think the decision to go was that by far the most impactful decision orinstance. Then just again, we probably got the lion share of low-risk, low-impact missions because we were a massive National Guard Unit and the first big tryout of the National Guard since the Korean War. We still saw combat. We still got ambushed with small arms and RPGs. We still got rocketed and mortared. We didn't get kicked out of theater for being woefully combat ineffective. We didn't suffer any casualties or Purple Hearts. I didn't do anything exceptionally valorous but I reacted to contact. When we got shot at, I'd react. I would say the right things on the radio. I would start telling my guys what to do the right way. It didn't capture Saddam Hussein, or find the WMDs, or take an airfield, but for my infinitesimally small piece of the pie of the war, I did things well. It was documented that Sergeant Galeti executed battle drills during enemy contact with the way he was supposed to.
I took that as a point of pride that "Okay, I know what I'm doing." That bigquestion mark, I knew a Special Forces guy that called it, "The first time I saw the elephant." I know that's a little dramatic way of putting it. That giant question mark that maybe every guy has about what would I do if anyone ever shot at me, or how I would I act if I was in a war? I did okay, like I did good. I was pleased with that.
JH: What were your memories of the days leading up to your return to the US?
RG: Just fuzzy, and dark, and almost impending; not impending doom but it wasjust like, I felt like I was mentally preparing to be underwhelmed, or let down, and not by anybody or anything. Just kind of that's where you start thinking about all those questions because you're not infantry, you're a tanker. You're 03:20:00not Army, you're National Guard. Did I really fight the war? Did I really participate? You didn't like go blow anything up. You just either return pot shot for pot shot, or you drove the way you're supposed to once you got shot at. Does my experience match up? All of that stuff I said about my biggest accomplishment or my formative experience like, that's after a kind of 11 or 12 years of chewing on it. At that moment I was like, "Yeah, I guess I went to war." That's what my buddy and I would always tell each other.
It's nowhere near the experience of Vietnam veterans had where they wereliterally told they didn't go to war by World War II and Korean War veterans, and kept out of VFWs and stuff. Again with like this gray zones where we conduct stability and support operations, there is that; unless you'r rocking a Purple Heart, or a Silver Star or something like that, or you made some big explosions. As a young sergeant in the first year of what ended up being a 10-year, 11-year engagement, you're not sure. There's that and also trying to take on too much too soon, and pretend like everything's fine. You didn't just lose a year. All total we were out of Ohio for 16 months. You didn't just lose a year of your life and you know what a Miley Cyrus is and all that stuff.
I went back to college and I just try to double down on taking it all on. We gothome. We returned home on like something like December 29th, 2004. We were released from Fort Bragg. We had New Year's Eve weekend back home if we wanted to go home. I drove back to Ohio. I was still in Iraq on Christmas Day but I was unsupervised on a holiday in Ohio by New Year's Eve. That's just dangerous, but it happened. We got that weekend off and then we went back on to Fort Bragg to do our outprocessing and we were back in Ohio for good on January 11th, I want to say. Then by the 16th because I've been able to like sign up for classes and stuff, like Monday the 16th I was starting winter semester. I can't stay with the 18-hour course load.
Probably not the wisest set series or decisions because it was on one hand likea triumphal return, all but a war hero. Everyone wants to buy you a beer, talk to you, touch you, see you. You got to catch up with all your family. Some of them like see you as an alien now. You're kind of not-of-us because you decided to go to college. Now, you're really into this army stuff. You just started losing things to talk to the people you once knew about. You start feeling like a lot more. I didn't see a fundamental change from my combat service, but you do start feeling a lot more disconnected from the things that kind of where your life before that. Then just like the tumult of school, planning a wedding now, dealing with the recent loss of who would have been your mother-in-law.
I did not move back into mom and dad's when I came home from Iraq. I movestraight into the fiancee's apartment. Living with somebody for the first time romantically this person who you have been engaged to for 18 months, but never dated except like on the margins of random weekends home, or trying to figure out juggling 2 relationships; so all that stuff. I knew it was coming so I felt a lot of pressure. Then like getting deprocessed out of the Army. You're like, "Oh, now I'm back to being a National Guardsman. Now I'm back to being like everyone at Fort ..." You have to outprocess through Fort Bragg. They're used to dealing with the 82nd Airborne, the Army way of doing things.
Even though you're the National Guardsman that just got back from the war,you're there eating their food and their resources. You're a distraction or the 03:25:00ugly cousin. You're not of the same Army especially like there's a lot of those people that handle your outprocessing, or either retired active duty military, or contracted civilians. You are just a hassle to be dealt with. Also like you're feeling some of the peak highs and lows of your life just emotionally. It's a hell of a time.
JH: Would you say that you experienced difficulty adjusting fact from deploymentzone and that mindset involved back to civilian life?
RG: Now, yes. Then, everything's fine. I was emphatic that everything's finebecause you're grappling with the question so much of, "Did I really go to war? Was it really a war? Was it the right war? Did I do the best that I could in that war? Did I get the fullest experience?" Absolutely, you want to convince yourself and everyone around you that everything's totally fine because I don't even know if I went to war. Of course, everything's fine. It's not like I actually went to war and it was the worst war. One great thing about I think, it's a hard lesson that we learned with the generation of Vietnam veterans. It did open up a dialogue of military suicides, post-traumatic stress, and just broader behavioral health issues, but because it's so prolific that conversation, now you're asking yourself, do I?
Am I supposed to? Does that validate my experience? Did I have the fullestexperience I should have had? If I don't? Am I fine? I don't know. Also dealing with the full load of school, and the wedding, and all that stuff, and so like you really don't know what to think. I can definitely tell you I was more aggressive driver immediately following that. I dealt fine with school. I had some neat war experiences to speak from, and I felt like it was well-received. I think the perspectives I gave on my experiences were pretty balanced. That I wasn't, "I just been to war so I know everything." I realized while I was over there and since I come back at, and due to the protracted nature of these conflicts, I basically have a few dozen friends who are constantly rotating in and out of combat zones now; both then and now. One thing you can do is just stay in touch with them both to get stuff off your chest, but also keep tabs on them; keep tabs on, or live precariously through them, or just be a sounding board for them.
JH: The way you're able to return to or talk with to grapple with thesequestions, "Did I go to war? Was it the right war? Did I do enough?" Did you reach back out to the folks that you had served with overseas, or were family, friends, fiancee?
RG: I think my family was kind of on this unshakable image of me as Russell wentto war and did the best at it. It was the worst the war and we're just glad he's safe now. I wouldn't combat that. Then I would be interested to know kind of what my wife's impressions were of me at that time because I don't know. I don't know what we ever spoke about it. There's also like this masculine block of I'm not going to question these things and I'm not going to do it in front of you. That probably kept me from having that quick conversation with anybody other than my wife. Definitely guys that were actually on my truck or in my deployment, we just kind of took for granted as a casual joke at the nature of 03:30:00our deployment.
Obviously the famous book by Joe Galloway and Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young. That was the foundation of Mel Gibson Vietnam movie. We always joke that our book about our deployment would be, We Were Soldiers? We just kind of like laughed it off and try to one up each other with jokes. There's a few guys who were very deep friendships that I made at the start of college through ROTC actually. We stayed in a group. Were kind of like, I call us the ROTC Breakfast Club because almost none of us finished ROTC for one reason or another. One did and he was the best at it. He's outstanding active duty Marine officer. One enlisted in the Marine Reserves to get enlisted experience just like I did and was Military Policeman whose studies were interrupted for Iraqi Freedom I.
One ended up not finished in ROTC and ended up as a nuclear submariner, butbecause we are such good friends, dorm relationships, and stuff prior to my deployment, they were kind of my baseline. We remain good friends to this day, almost 20 years since those first college experiences especially the 2 marines who had both in OIF I, and one was in OIF II I think. I think in some ways they've seen a different kind of combat that I had and in some ways more extensive combat. We all read the same books. We can all talk about either our own experiences in terms of those books such as or without necessarily talking about things that we're grappling with. By talking about Swofford's experiences in Jarhead, I don't necessary have to talk about my own frustrations that I did do or didn't whatever when in contact. We would just kind of have those conversations.
We'd also just like camaraderie is a big thing. We would just go crash at theone guys who's in San Diego's apartment and spend for days drinking, eating burritos, and playing [Madden 01:32:34]. We're not to speak a word about our combat experience. It's great. You still feel like there's a big weight off your chest after doing that.
JH: Most of your generation your cohort of servicemen and women, what impressiondid you get of the availability of services for veterans transitioning back from deployment? What impression did you get about the desirability seeking services?
RG: I felt like especially with the start of Iraq in addition to Afghanistan.The country recognized the need for greater veterans services. As I understand it during that period, the federal government was also reducing veterans services strangely enough. I also was as a several years later so like now 2006, 2007, working in politics in Ohio as a civilian of course; was a veterans advocate, and so realized that there's a significant policy window that was opened because of Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of Vietnam War veterans were never brought through it. Even though the impetus is Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, there's a lot of wrongs that need to be righted for Vietnam War veterans as well, and all veterans generally.
I feel like outside the VA which is the singular federal veterans serviceprovider, there's goodwill. I wouldn't say it's services, but there's goodwill. Everyone wants to do something. Everything now, if you want to basically if you're an NGO and you want to receive a grant, you got to have a veterans program. If you attach veterans to anything, people will respond in a way that they just won't for anything else. I think speaks to the amazing generosity of the American people but also why won't you do this for a homeless person who's just a regular homeless person? It scares me. It worries me. I feel like there's 03:35:00a ton of just goodwill that lacks a direction, or synchronization, or coordination because you can like if I wanted to, I could definitely get a handout, or a care package, or just a thank you.
I feel like infinitely grateful for all the goodwill that folks have shown methroughout my time and service. I don't wear my uniform a lot of places because I am embarrassed if I get bought a meal because I'm paid well for what I do. I know that person is so well-meaning who wants to do something. I feel like it's there but federally like just the difficulties grappling with the need. Who needs what and where? Because when you want to grow these programs, it means growing a bureaucracy and the government which people have conflicting ideals on that. It's there but it's just significant growing pains as we tried to apply that to connect supply and demand, to get the veterans to the help they need.
Then on the seeking it part, I feel like on one hand institutionally we almostforced it now, but veterans are much better and much more open about seeking help I think. It's not perfect but I know, I as a leader now have definitely pushed soldiers to seek help especially behavioral health help. Now, behavioral health readiness is a pre-condition for continuing service. We've done some amazing things like we take combat and trauma-related behavioral health issues off of security clearance screening forms, or certain employment applications for the government because we don't want to disincentivize seeking those services especially when related to trauma or combat service. I think that's helped enable a broader national conversation on behavioral healthcare in general.
On one hand awesome, but on the other hand it's bad that it takes being aveteran or having veterans suffer to make it okay to seek behavioral healthcare. I think just the culture has nudged a little bit because nobody wants more military suicides, and deployments do not necessarily correlate with military suicides either. The answer is just creating an environment where Joe isn't scared or disincentivized to seek behavioral healthcare. I think it's improving incrementally for sure.
JH: I was curious what your own experiences with that were? You've mentioned acouple of times you think there's also a culture of masculinity almost that seems to discourage servicemen and women from seeking health, seeking counsel whether it's for trauma, or just feel like, "Hey it's kind of crazy to adjust back to my everyday life. I have a family. I have a job. I have school. This is different." Did that tension exists for you? Did you feel that this was something that was maybe like more valiant to kind of like handle the transition on your own?
RG: Not as pride or masculinity as much. It's just not recognizing the ways inwhich my thinking had changed, or my security posture had changed. My perceptiveness to threats when you train yourself I think, or you're expected to kind of interrogate everything as a threat in one environment, and then you're in a college classroom 3 weeks later. In classroom it's fine because you are in a classroom. There is nothing in combat that stimulates classroom. I distinctively remember waking up one night right after I came back, like one of the cats was like banging it's head on the metal bed frame or something. The clanging woke me up. I am very blurry. I jumped up, and I looked out the window and you just see like the orange sodium lights of the city of Kent, Ohio down below our 8th floor apartment.
I just could not remember where I was for a minute because one of the distinctthings I think I remember of Baghdad was like orange sodium lights that lit; what we did when we're on our night shift. Part of it is just like recognizing that I've changed. Actively recognizing that and actively trying to change 03:40:00myself back, be a civilian again because this was also long before they had any of those. Now they actually have like reintegration weekends, where your first 3 weekends back you do it with your unit that you deployed with. They are focused on introducing you to behavioral health services telling you what all is available in your community; giving you kind of education on coping mechanisms and signs.
Also bringing in the family members and showing like spouses and children likedon't blast fireworks off around daddy or whatever. The system is definitely improved and I think my end, a lot of our soldier's self-awareness has significantly improved, now that we've gotten to this new normal of repeated deployments and jumping in and out of combat.
JH: Let me back up for a minute or 2, and ask you what was your home look likewhen you're back to Ohio? This is early on in the conflict.
RG: My wife's probably going to be mad at me. We landed at Pope Air Force Base,Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A lot of families went through the effort of greeting us while we were there even though it was clear like you're going to have that weekend off. Then you're going to have to come back down here and we have a lot of stuff to do. You don't like get your families down there for the week. My wife's sister, that was her birthday. Her birthday is New Year's and they always like go over and above to give her a good birthday because her birthday is New Year's and that sucks. Let's see this is December. Two months prior, they lost their mom. They're largely raised by their mom.
We talked about it. I was like, "I'm really okay with you not be in there." Iwaited a few days until we had New Year's weekend came up, did dinner with her sister for her birthday. We had just kind of a party at our apartment. It wasn't like a welcome home anything. It was like a New Year's thing and like it was my drinking buddies and her girlfriends. I don't think there is like any kind of big, grand parade, or anything. I think I'm struggling to remember. We might have come back to one of the armories in Ohio and had like all the families gathered there to welcome us home. We did. We [inaudible 01:43:20] back to ... God, it was a gymnasium. It was like a college or it might be like the University of Akron gymnasium. We did do something like on the basketball court. I can't believe I forgot that.
Then it was like my whole family was out for that. It was mid-January but it wasmom, dad, sisters, grandma, anyone who could came out. Otherwise it was just catching up with friends one-on-one and having dinner with folks. I think we had a smaller like welcome party for me, my family put on maybe in February because my grandma really wanted to throw something.
JH: I'm just going to ask, we've been talking for a little while, do you need abreak? I don't mind.
RG: I'm okay, unless if you want I can.
JH: Nope. I'm good. I just want to ... I thought I would ... In case you weresuffering and stuff.
RG: No, I'm good. As long as I'm not like leaning out of the frame or anything.It's all right.
JH: You're back home. You're back at Kent. You lived with your fiancee nowgetting ready for wedding. Not to sound like a broken record, but you want to be in the Navy? You still want to be in the Navy?
JH: How does that look given this deployment that maybe like you didn't knowwhat to expect? Maybe it didn't look like what you didn't know what to expect? How do you think about that decision? What are you aiming to do going forward?
RG: My focus is going back to school and doing as well as possible and getting03:45:00that thing, Navy OCS letter again. I reassemble a packet as soon as I get home. I submitted and apply. Part of the process is they measure you because if you're legs are too long before the knee. Basically if you're not going to fit into an ejection seat, they don't want you because ejection seat should shoot up 400 miles an hour whatever. If your limbs are too long, you're going to land with 2 broken legs, or no arms, or something like that. They don't want that. They seat you in a certain seat against the wall and they measure the length of your arm from ... Can you tweak a knob at this length while your strapped in? Can your legs not bump against the dashboard, whatever? I've never been in a fighter aircraft. This time they said that my arms are too long.
JH: You grew.
RG: Apparently, because they also don't say like here's what too long is to therecruiters because they don't want the recruiters to flex their numbers and say, "If 37 is too long, this guy's a 35." They want the recruiters to just objectively measure you. Then they determine, the Navy selection board or whatever. I got measured the first time and I was fine. Now apparently my arms are too long. Other coincidental information is that they had cut naval aviation accession by 60% during that year I was gone. They're taking in less new pilots, but I wasn't going to get it because it wasn't like if that is what's wrong with me, that's not a qualitative change. Like I can improve my grades, test scores, or essay. That's my arms are apparently too long. They won't entertain a reapplication.
Now, I'm kind of directionless. That is effectively the end of me being a navypilot. I'm going back to school full time, getting ready to get married. The Navy thing is not happening. I started thinking do I want to be an Army pilot? The thing about Army, Navy pilots, like Navy pilot you have fire attack aircraft. You got all kinds of aircraft. Army aviation is a little more specialized communities. You either have attack aviation, or you have lift aviation, or utility aviation. You can kind of fall into being a bus driver in army aviation. Obviously everyone and their brother wants to be an Apache Attack Helicopter pilot, right? I'm thinking now, I'm a sergeant. I'm about to make staff sergeant. I'm getting kind of close to being over the hill in the non-commissioned officer ranks where you might as well just stay enlisted and stay a non-commissioned officer.
I can finish college. Go to army officer candidate school and I'd be a very,very competitive candidate for that because of my preceding 8 years of army experience at that point. Army aviation is like something like 18 months at Fort Rucker in Central Alabama. My wife's not keen on that. They just lost their mom and her sister needs assistance from time to time. We're very concerned about her sister. She's like, "I don't want to be anywhere where I have to hopscotch a couple of flights to get to my sister and also Central Alabama." We kind of put a pin on that. I'm thinking, "Well, what if I stayed in the Ohio National Guard and became an Ohio National Guard aviator," because we do have a limited aviation capability. We have I think heavy lift Chinook helicopters and some Black Hawks. Then we also have a Special Forces company and they need aviation support from time to time.
Now this is like 2006, 2007. During that time on the civilian side I'd finishedcollege. I'd interned for a congressman locally that turned into a job on a governor's campaign. I'm getting passionate about veterans advocacy issues; doing veterans advocacy for that campaign. I started thinking like I can reshape the way Ohio deals with its veterans services and create a bridge because there's no bridge between county where veteran services are mandated, and where they exist in the constitution to federal benefits. There's no good state bridge at that time. I moved down to Columbus and I'm working for the Ohio National 03:50:00Guard as a civilian in the Public Affairs Office trying to improve employer and community support of the Guard, because our deployments take heavy tolls on employers especially multiple deployments.
Also communities because a lot of us are municipal employees, police, fire,teachers, county maintenance workers. They have to deal with our absences but also municipalities. Local leaders just don't know their community guard. I'm working on that and I'm assembling this Army National Guard Aviation packet just in case. I end up not doing the active duty army OCS route because I'm not that passionate about being an Army aviator. My wife's not into it. Now we're kind of directionless as far as my career goes, but maybe this politics and advocacy thing can be a good way ahead. I decide I'll just be a National Guard officer, like not I'll just be, but I'm in this unit. I'm committed to it. I've already made tough decisions to stay in it. I need to be a stakeholder in this organization and improve it, and own it.
When I die, I want people to think about me as Mr. 107th, or Mr. 145th, like theguy who is always there whether you wanted him there or not. It's kind of like the permanent cheerleader and he's the heart of this organization because one reason why the specific unit I'm in, is it's very special to me because it was that platform for social mobility. Figuring out, I had to use my potential early on when I could have completely screwed up my life and not done anything with it. We're sitting at Christmas dinner back in 2003 before I'm getting ready to go. My wife had never invited boys over to Christmas dinner. It was just something that wasn't done. It was always like a very kind of quiet affair with mom, step-dad, sister, like very, very quiet. Maybe even a little stiff I might say, or at least compared to the rambunctious poker tournaments that our family Christmases will become.
Out of nowhere her mom goes, "Are we going to invite this boy to dinner?"Knowing that I was in town for my Christmas break before I deployed. I get to their house and again, I'm incredibly awkward. I'm wearing my bus cargo khakis. I don't know what I'm doing there or why I was invited over Christmas dinner. She doesn't know. She's blown away that her mom invited me over for Christmas dinner. I'm just like, "Oh," the first snowflake falls. I'm like, "I should've salt the driveway." I just go like start salting and shoveling her parent's driveway until dinner time because I just didn't know what to do with myself. Then we sit down at dinner and then they start the conversation about what I'm about to do.
How did this go? The step-father says, "Russell, what service are you in?" "I'min the Army National Guard." "Oh, really? What unit?" I said, "I'm in the 107th Cavalry." Then the mother chimes in, "Oh, that's wonderful! I didn't know you're in the 107th Cavalry. My father was in the 107th Cavalry." Like, "What did he do?" "His name was Fred [inaudible 01:53:48]. He was a machine gunner and it was back when they had ... It was a horse regiment." The thing about that unit was like the upper crust of Cleveland society like that what's really kept their polo horses. They basically fought back at the big army and said, "No. We're keeping a cavalry regiment here in northeast Ohio because horses."
I didn't know him. He was a machine gunner. Apparently he elected to stay inthat unit when the War Department was like, "You work in Cleveland Trust. You need to come to the Pentagon and help us manage resources." He's like, "No. I'm going to stay a private and a machine gunner." Then the step-father goes. "I didn't know that dear. My uncles were in the 107th Cavalry." "Who are your uncles?" "Ralph and Woods King." I just dropped my fork and like the armory that I had served in is the Woods King Cavalry Armory. They were back to back regimental commanders I believe during and after World War II of the unit. That was a big part of my life then. After that I'm like, "Good sign." 03:55:00
We've changed designations. We're now the 145th Armored instead of the 107thCavalry. I've just as long as I can make that happen, that unit's going to be a part of my life. I'm going to be a part of it. I was kind of thinking that way. I decided I was going to stay in the Ohio Army National Guard and become an officer. That and being in state politics or state government administration, those can be mutually supportive tracks to follow. I go to officer candidate school and it's a 2-month affair down in Alabama ironically enough, and very intense but validating experience. At that point, they need an officer so badly that they said you can just be an officer. There is a process whereby if you're an experienced sergeant, and you had recommendations, and this many years of service, you can compete and they would just give you a direct commission.
I said, "I'll look at it." A lot of my friends were doing it. I just wanted togo through the 2 months school just to make sure like I wasn't passing up any training. If I go to combat and screw something up or fail in the future like, I don't want it to be for lack of haven't been trained properly. It turned out to be a great validation of all my skills. I wasn't necessarily challenged. It was very physically demanding and mentally exhausting, but it seemed like I'm more, and more frequently fell under a position where I was helping others get through. We're like training folks even to the point of giving classes. That was just incredibly validating. By that point I've been promoted to staff sergeant and had converted to infantry because I figured it's highly unlikely we'd ever take our tanks into combat overseas as the National Guard. I might as well learn how to do dismounted ground combat for real.
I was an infantry staff sergeant by the time I decided to go to OCS. Icommissioned in August 2007. I hadn't yet been assigned a unit. You have some influence over the matter. You have to basically interview with different commanders and pick a home or have them pick you. I was deciding whether or not do I stay in this unit as an infantry officer, or do I go create this other special application to become an aviator. Then you get picked by the federal army and they say, "Yeah, this guy meets all the qualities to become an aviator." Then you can be an aviator in the Ohio Army National Guard. It's a little more essentially controlled. I've been working with the warrant officer who handles this applications. I was back at state headquarters now and this is fall like September 2007.
One day as I'm kind of thinking it over my cubicle like, "You know what? I coulddo the aviation thing but I don't want to be a bus driver for someone in the Army. The infantry is really the heart of the Army. I'm going to be an infantry officer. I'm going to stay with this unit that I love so much." I called up my colonel, Col. [Ziol 01:58:37] at that time. I've said, "Sir, I'd like to come over and be an infantry officer in Alpha or Bravo Company. You wouldn't put me in the company that I'd come from as enlisted man. Does that make sense?" I went over to Alpha Company. Now we're the 145th Armored Regiment. As I'm walking down the hallway, I passed the Aviation warrant officer who I'd been developing my packet with and says, "Hey Russ, I just had a guy crap out on us. Can you be ready to go to training in February?"
I was like, "I just decided I was going to be an infantry officer." He was like,"Oh, well." That was it. My military career was kind of set to an extent. I'm an infantry officer now, but I still wasn't exactly sure where my civilian career was going. My full time career because that naval aviator thing was out of the window. Just state politics and state government were very ambiguous.
JH: We're in kind of fall of 2007 at this point?
JH: Okay. So you had been you said working intern and working for a governor'scampaign. Where were you at this point in time in civilian side?
RG: November 2006 we won. Ted Strickland became governor of Ohio. He was in ...
Inaugurated in January, 2007, and I got a job as a State of Ohio civilian,04:00:00working for the Ohio National Guard. Basically, I was an additional public affairs officer on the adjutant general's staff. I think my start date was actually April, 2007. I think the intervening few months after the campaign I kind of focused on ... Once it was clear I was going to end up with a job in Columbus, moving my wife and I out of our apartment down to Columbus. We made that move in February. Then I moved to Texas and worked on a cattle ranch for a couple of weeks just to blow off some steam. Then I started working for the State of Ohio in April 2007.
JH: By the time you'd been commissioned with the Ohio National Guard, in theinfantry, what were you thinking about your civilian-side career? Was it set? Was it a temporary thing?
RG: It was a political appointment, so it would have ended with the Stricklandadministration. I think I was thinking about getting ready for the 2008 campaign cycle and then seeing what I would have to do to work in the 2010 campaign cycle because the Ohio governor was offset. I was really hoping there would be a legislative liaison opportunity. Just kind of seeing, just keeping an ear open, for any Veterans Affairs related jobs that would handle advocacy at the state level, like in the State Department of Veterans Services because they were still implementing a lot of recommendations that came out of the governor's veterans platform to turn the governor's office of Veterans Affairs into the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.
There's a little side work like helping on that, connecting with people, givingadvice, but also just seeing if in the pool of campaign alumni working for the State of Ohio if anything would reveal itself in veterans issue area, in legislative affairs, in the governor's executive office, stuff like that.
And also just keeping up with my National Guard commitment. Now I'm in thisweird position where I'm a civilian at the top of the food chain who has access to senior leaders and has more of a strategic job, but at the tactical level I'm out in the counties as a, at that time, just staff sergeant, later as a second lieutenant. From their perspective, at state headquarters, a big player. I wanted very much to keep those two worlds separate because I want to be the best infantryman I can be in my one weekend a month job, and I want to be the best whatever I was in my civilian job and don't want one to play off or affect the other.
JH: Yet they were both affiliated with the Guard at that time.
RG: Yes, but I never wanted it to be put in a situation where it would beconstrued that I was using my influence at the top to change conditions at the bottom or using my job at the bottom to get out of work in my civilian job, anything like that. Also, just trying to keep civilian and military jobs separate is a helpful principle for any reservist.
JH: What happened between your commission and the second deployment? How soondid you find out that you were going to be mobilizing?
RG: It was probably like ... Not between my commission but just starting thatcivilian job in Columbus, it was ... I was there for two years. In a way, it was disrupted and broken up because I still had to do my basic, my officer candidate school in 2007, so that was two months away from home and work. Then I had to do my officer basic school, my infantry school, in 2008, so that was four months away.
In some ways, Columbus, just life in Columbus as a civilian, was plotting04:05:00mundanity. It was just, "Hi honey," leave at nine, come home at five, six. "What restaurant do you want to try tonight?" It was very, very generic life which wasn't bad after very disruptive undergraduate and Iraq deployment life, but also it was disrupted by those big blocks of schools.
I got home from my infantry officer basic course at Fort Benning in earlySeptember of 2008. I was just planning on going back to work. I also had a string of more military schools lined up that are seen as more essential to being an infantry officer than any other officer, but airborne air assault, pathfinder, pre-ranger, ranger school, I was starting to schedule those out over the next year. That's where my civilian job came into conflict with my military job because I'd give notice that, "Next spring I'm going to be gone for all these schools for six months." "You were just gone for four months." "I have to get qualified."
The top civilian talks to the one star talks to the colonel talks to thecaptain, cancels all the lieutenant's schools. That was kind of the danger and what I was trying to avoid in keeping those ... "You're more valuable here." "Yeah, but I also want to be competent there." That's what I was trying to avoid. It wasn't happening.
On one hand, it's unfair to put my civilian employer in a position where I'mgone for that long. On the other hand, the Guard has responsibility to the Army to provide the Army with fully qualified officers and soldiers when the Army asks the Guard for that. In infantry, you should just want to be more qualified than especially other branches. There's conflicting opinions on whether more school equals more qualified or just more time away.
It started to come into conflict with one another, and, also, on paper I'd beenhome for five years. Coming up on five years that I hadn't deployed to, since my deployment to Iraq. What they do is, at the state level, they maintain a merit list where the guys who are A) qualified and B) home the longest, get teed up for the next deployment, so that you're not sending the same three guys over and over again.
My unit, these guys, got simultaneously in 2008, tasked with multi-nationalforce and observer's mission in Egypt. "All right, I get to do my lieutenant job. I'm going to finish school, my basic school. I'm going to come back just as you guys are getting ready to leave. I'm going to come back in September '08. You guys are going to leave in October '08, and I'm going to go to Egypt. Even though Egypt's not combat I get to be a lieutenant on active duty, and I'll do my lieutenant job and I'll have thirty guys and I will be the best at that."
I'm seeking this great validation of now my officer skills. I talked to mycolonel. My colonel was like, "If you can spin it with your civilian job, I'll approve it and I'd be happy to have you." I talked to the civilian job, "Nope, you're not going." Now it looks like a politically connected civilian is getting out of a deployment. I get that you think you need me here at the headquarters more and that could be a general's prerogative, but do you see how this looks really bad for me later on in my life?
I fought it. I fought it. I got an audience with, I think, the one-star and thefull bird colonel. Cruelly enough, because I was in public affairs, I had to go out with them to Ft. Louis Washington to do the video, the photos and the story, the ultimate Army National Guard magazine story on my guys' deployment. In bringing up around these guys, "I'd really love to ... I'm a lieutenant now. I'm eager. I'm qualified. I'd love to deploy again." I got uproarious laughter at the table and a slap on the back and, "Russell's next deployment's going to be as a company commander." That's maybe three, four, five, six years in the future, and I didn't see any big unit deployments coming down the pipe that would need a company-sized element, so I thought, "That stinks."
I was very, very down on the civilian job. I was going to work, doing my thing,04:10:00and one day I get an email on my Blackberry as I'm driving to work. It's my one weekend a month commander. It just says, "How did you get out of Egypt and now you're on an OMLT?" I texted him back, "What the hell's an OMLT?" He said, "Afghanistan." "I don't know. I didn't know we were in Afghanistan." Obviously, I get to work and I start investigating. OMLT is an Operational Mentoring Liaison Team.
We had had a relationship with Hungary through our state partnership program.They are one of our state partners in conjunction with Serbia. The story as it was told to me and our adjutant general at the time, Major General Waite, had an outstanding relationship with the Hungarian Chief of Defense. As it was told to me, Hungary, a new NATO actor, wanted to become more involved in the NATO mission to Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF. Part of the way some state partners were doing that was they would engage their National Guard state partner and they would either do combined or entire OMLT missions, where the American state partner would help get them ready or they'd actually deploy together.
We had one of those arrangements from the Hungary where we were sending halfAmerican-half Hungarian teams to first Hungary to train with the Hungarian army, and then sending that team to Afghanistan to mentor Afghan units. Hungary was the lead nation and technically had overall commanding control. Because I was the guy at the top of the list who was fully qualified and hadn't been home, and not going to Egypt, my time had not reset, so now I'm showing five years of dwell time, they call it, I end up on an OMLT.
This must be what the general was talking about. It's not a company commanderjob but he's the general. He's got to know that I got pulled from this mission, so he must have put me on this mission. Going to work, the boss, "I'm on an OMLT now. I guess I'm out of here in six months. I guess this must have been what the general was talking about." I drilled with them for about a month. Our initial weekends, we were training together, and then I got pulled from that. I had a series of weird conversations with colonels who would catch me in the hallways and these guys were all on different generals' staffs in the organization.
The nature of the National Guard to that point was such that a lot of the seniorofficers had never deployed anywhere, unless they were in command of an operational unit that deployed essentially in Iraq, the first few years of Iraq. They got in in the late seventies. Most of their career, coming up, was in the eighties and nineties, when the National Guard wasn't deploying a lot at all, almost, and so they had no operational experience.
One day, I was in the restroom and another colonel walks up to me and says,"Have you ever deployed anywhere?" This guy wants to know about me. Great. Eager, young lieutenant, I want to make a name for myself, getting known by others colonels, I say, "Yes, Sir. I was a sergeant with first 107th, went to Iraq in 2004." He looks at me and he says, "Once is enough, huh?" This is not where I thought this conversation was going. I said, "I'm sorry, Sir. What?" He said, "Once is enough. One deployment is enough. Got it?" I said, "I just want to do the best job I can, Sir. Sorry for being eager." That ended the conversation, because it was clear that I think they got the message that I wanted to go on another deployment, especially to rectify having been pulled from one, because that's just a story that I didn't want following me around, especially if I was going to have a career in state politics or state government.
Couple of days later, I'm in the hallway. Another full bird colonel, "HeyLieutenant, come here. Let me give you a thirty-second counseling session." "Yes, Sir." "We're not in the business of sending lieutenants on little vacations to Afghanistan. If you want to go on vacation, go to Disneyland on your own time. Got it? You've got the boss sideways with you. Your name is coming up in meetings. You don't want this kind of stuff on your record." Just 04:15:00intimidating me. He is kind of blustering dude anyway. I said, "Roger, Sir. All right."
Finally, it gets to the point where I'm trying to work through channels tocommunicate that me having been pulled off of now a second deployment is wrong and that I can't really tolerate that, and I have to do something about it. I keep communicating to my civilian bosses that this has to be fixed because they are the ones who keep taking the liberty of going to the colonels and generals to get my schools pulled, because their interests are me creating a program in the state of Ohio. That's ultimately of a greater strategic value to this two-star, but I'm being kept from doing my one weekend a month job to the fullest.
Finally, I'm in a reception line where they call everybody in for cake tocelebrate whatever month it is or someone's promotion and the generals serving cake. He says, "Russell, do you want to go to Afghanistan?" "Yes, Sir. I do. I don't want to get keep getting pulled from schools and deployments." "All right, come here." He takes me down to the J1 Mobile. It's our personnel mobilization office. He stands me in front of this [inaudible 00:16:30] officer. He is in charge of basically building that list of guys who've been home the longest and need to deploy next. He says, "Chief [inaudible 00:16:37]. This is Russell. Put him on the next deployment to Afghanistan," in a very "Screw you, I'm giving you exactly what you want," kind of way.
Essentially, these OMLTs were leaving in six-month intervals and because of theHungarian timetable, the Hungarians wouldn't spend more than six month in Afghanistan, we would deploy out every six months. I got moved from OMLT 2 in the series to OMLT 3. Once I felt secure that I wasn't going to get pulled from this deployment, I basically tendered my resignation from my state job.
The two ways to look at it are it's unfair for me to occupy that spot inabsentia, or also ... I don't know if I wanted to keep working for guys that were going to feel free to stick their fingers in my part-time job for the sake of my full-time job at the civilian office level. I feel like basically, the two-star generally was probably unaware of this and had my best interest at heart and I was a valued member of the team. Folks in between that, trying to realize his intent though, were making what I think were ham-headed moves.
Maybe a lieutenant is a bulk commodity and there are enough of us to go aroundthat we shouldn't have that much agency in our own careers, and should be happy with what the army tells us to do, but that's how it shook out. I resigned-resigned from my civilian job, effective April 2009. I spent my weekends in late 2008, early 2009, training with that OMLT. Basically, storming [inaudible 00:18:29] informing that team. We were more an ad hoc group of Ohioans, different headquarters, because it wasn't an actual unit that existed on the books we didn't have our own equipment, our own people, our own authorized vacancies. We were all holding down ghost vacancies in other units.
The responsibility for getting us deployed rotated between different stateheadquarters. Most of the guys came from a unit in Southwest Ohio. I was one of the few guys that came from Northeast Ohio. A few of us were from Central Ohio, and it seemed to me like very hastily organized, but we did all right.
JH: How were you feeling about being mobilized in the midst of [inaudible00:19:28] a tense situation where your service career and your civilian career felt like coming to ahead around this? Were you excited about deployment or looking forward to the experience?
RG: I think yeah, absolutely. I was fresh out of my infantry school. I wasexcited to be an infantry officer. I feel like in infantry supremacist and it's the top branch of the army. I wanted to go do the most infantry thing possible, 04:20:00which basically being light infantry and training and advising the Afghan National Army and having to do it through Hungarian partners was both very infantry and also just so crazy and unique that it was not a mission that was going to come around ever again. It was not the typical, as I describe before, base security, [inaudible 00:20:31] security, taking out the garbage missions that big National Guard units kept getting handed.
This was a small unit, which was great. It was predominantly combat armedsoldiers, which was great, and it was a light infantry mission in Afghanistan, which was rare and great. It was also a very unique counter-insurgency mission and an international partner mission. That all satisfied my civilian and professional interests, this new way we're fighting these wars.
It had a lot of promise to be a hundred and eighty degrees different from myprevious deployment. For a lot of reasons, I was just ... Also, I had no roadmap. I wasn't going to be the navy pilot. I wasn't going to be the army pilot. I had no civilian roadmap, really, no thing I wanted to be as civilian. Hell, yeah. I'll invest a year and a half of my life in this and see what comes out on the other hand. I was very excited.
My wife was okay. She had some pre-conditions to allow me to deploy, that I hadto make sure that we'd be okay, that I'd be okay. Get a behavioral health baseline set up, stuff like that, but she supported me. I was excited and she was supportive and that was enough to get out the door.
JH: What did this deployment look like this time around from joining up andforming the American side of the team here in Ohio State side to collaborating with Hungary and then getting over there into Afghanistan? Can you walk us through that?
RG: Totally different. Yes, happy to. I'm an officer now. I had much more agencyin the process. We were a much smaller team. In Iraq, we were seventy-five guys in a unit of three thousand, five thousand maybe. This time around, we're twenty-eight guys. No one ever knows where we are, what we are doing, or cares. Not only do I have much greater agency in shaping how we get ready, I'm one of- there is basically three ranking officers on this mission. It's a Lieutenant-Colonel and he is already in Europe, because he is an Ohio National Guard officer who is basically on active duty alone to special operations command Europe. He's a career special operations officer.
That was a tremendous advantage and one of the guys I'd ever worked for. Ihadn't even met him yet, but he is our commander. In the greater scheme of it, he ends up being the Hungarian Lieutenant-Colonel's deputy commander. He is the commander of US Forces, but the overall deputy. Then, there is another Lieutenant who later became a Captain. He and I both came up similar ways. We both made the enlisted rank of staff sergeant, prior to getting commissioned. I think he was a direct deployment, I was OCS but we're both combat arms guys. He is artillery, I'm infantry, but we're similar enough to where we're like step-brothers and we're both working full-time in different capacities for the National Guard. A lot of good cross-talk early on led to a great working relationship, and he's just a great, easygoing guy to work with.
Basically, since he was a few months senior to me and was more in the loop onthis mission than I was, he ended up being essentially the second in command and the acting OIC (Officer in Charge) for all our activities in Ohio before we actually got linked up with our colonel, but we were very much allowed to shape our own training regiment. There's only been two missions prior to us of this type that had been kicked out the door in Ohio and I think everyone was different, and a giant question mark in what they were supposed to train to prior to going to their mobilization station.
It's much shorter timelines now. When I described that timeline previously,where you do get together and do six months of active duty training. Now, we 04:25:00maybe had four or five weekends together and then we went to our mobilization station. We were there for two months before the overseas.
This mission called for a ton of self-study, which I love doing. Originally, wewere going to be paired with the Hungarians, but we were going to go to a part of Afghanistan called [inaudible 00:25:25] down in the southwest of the country, which is at that time was a very dangerous part of the country. It's in Uruzgan province, a very strong Australian Special Forces presence there and a very strong Dutch presence there, and a very, very kinetic part of Afghanistan. Even as I'm working my out of my civilian job, I'm printing off big colored maps and putting them up in my cube.
The first day I finally found out enough information to go off of on a mission,I went to Barnes and Noble and probably dropped three hundred dollars on books and just started reading through them, everything from really highly personal memoirs, like Lone Survivor, the Marcus Luttrell Operation Red Wing story to very dense operational memoirs like First In, by Gary Bernsten about the CIA's prosecution in the first couple of weeks in the Afghanistan campaign to basic, elementary Dari Persian language training stuff, and just really tried to self-study my way to proficiency.
Realizing that we had these weekends that we didn't know what to do with anddidn't know what to train on, we had some stupid preliminary army tasks that we had to, like, "You're going to Europe? You have to do European driver's license, Scantron tests." That's not going to help us get ready for combat. Then, the nit-noid administrative classes like, "You're going to need to send one guy to the ammo handlers and hazardous materials class." That stuff, but I was able to ... again, much more agency. I called Ohio State University and I found there on Hungarian professor, Dr. [Agurisco 00:27:24] and she was such a hero. I just said, "I can give you eight hours of our time. Can you maybe teach us some tactical Hungarian and Hungarian culture?"
Realizing that this mission would be built so much on interpersonalrelationships that I said, "Help us survive in Hungary." She came out to Defense Supply Center, Columbus, which is where we were headquartered. She got us in a classroom and the guys were trying. Hungarian is a really hard language. Some of them were zoning out or nodding off, but she taught us customs and courtesies and gave us few hours of the history of the Hungarian people and made us giant bowls of desserts called "somloi galuskas" and other kinds of cheesy biscuits and just was indispensable in getting us ready and setting the tone for what we could expect when we got with our Hungarian partners.
Then the next month, same thing with ... I'm blanking on his name right now, buta very prominent Afghan professor at the Ohio State University. He was, I think, I want to say to UK's ambassador to Afghanistan for a moment. He was on the Afghan national soccer team, but the same thing, he came in and gave us the thousand-year history of Afghanistan, gave us some tactical Dari Persian and Pashto language vocabulary. He was just such a multiplier for us.
Then, developing my own training devices. Flash cards, stuff like that tofamiliarize soldiers for anything from culture to language, it was a real scramble. There is a place that popped up in the middle of these two wars or gained prominence called the Center for Army Lessons Learned. I would just call there and they would send cases, dozens of cases, eighteen by eighteen by eighteen cubes, just full of books, pamphlets and the guys hated it, because one drill, we had twenty-eight tables or desks, and I just put a stack of books in front of each seat and said, "Put these in your bathrooms and read as much as possible, as you can out of every single one of these pamphlets." Everything from the most up to date tactics on IEDs, counter-IED fight to Persian language 04:30:00books to counter-insurgency manual FM3-24, all that stuff.
Later on, one of the adages that we used, this was Master's level warfare, andso even though we had some relatively low ranking guys and we all had very Hulk smash combat arms jobs, self-study and self-awareness, and cultural awareness were paramount importance to affecting any change in our mission. Just getting to design our own curriculum before we got out the door to Kansas, a lot of agency, but also a lot of advocacy.
The State of Ohio has several large formations. Six brigade-size headquarterselements, and we are not the priority. We are twenty-eight guys and we are a distraction. We're a nuisance. We are taking sniper rifles away from snipers. Some colonel has got in mind that, I'm going to take this brigade overseas and win the war, but these damn twenty-eight guys are taking my sniper rifles. They are taking my radios." On one hand, we felt like we kept having to remind Ohio of their commitment that they need to provide us with the equipment that we need to accomplish our mission out there, and on the other hand, the rotation for the responsibility for establishing us had moved to an Air Defense artillery headquarters.
Air Defense artillery and infantry are not really compatible at all. When Iwalked into a meeting, we had to brainstorm a list of equipment that we needed. I'd say we need PAS-13s, which are big chunky thermal sights that go on top of heavy machine guns and the supply guy who is in charge of coordinating all this will go, "What's a PAS-13?" "It's a big chunky thermal sight that goes on top of heavy machine guns. Every machine gun should have a PAS-13." "Why do you need that?" "Because we're doing [inaudible 00:32:13] operations." It was just constant ... You had to advocate both with the relationships that Captain France and I had in the networks that we built to that point as full time employees there, and also just by hook or by crook, get or steal, bargain or cajole whatever equipment, accommodations or training, or transportation that we needed. It was a very, very dangerously self-made...
On one hand, it was great. We had the latitude to write our own check. On theother hand, the extent to which our care and feeding was largely unsupervised and uncoordinated, or just the, "Yeah, that's good enough. They got what they need," attitude was applied to us spoke to the depths of which a lot of guys who had no operational experience back in the Ohio headquarters that was responsible for getting us out the door fundamentally misunderstood what we'd be doing in light infantry combat, advising [inaudible 00:33:29] security forces. Why do you need machine guns and thermal sights? You're on the [inaudible 00:33:33]. No, that's what a trainer does. An advisor goes on missions with their Afghans and provides them key combat enablers.
The same guys who would tell me, "One deployment is enough," or "This is avacation to Disneyland," were the same guys who were saying, "You don't need those PAS-13s. Why do you need so many binoculars?" All that stuff. "You don't need that school." I was lined up to go to a school called Pathfinder School where it's basically you coordinate airdrops, landing zones. Also during the night, sling-load operations to get stuff off of helicopters or to sling stuff to helicopters, air assault operations where you're moving air [inaudible 00:34:23]. It's a three-week course and as I was rotating my way out of my job and had already resigned, it would've meant three more weeks away from that job, like the last three weeks away. They said, "You don't need that. You don't need those skills in Afghanistan." That was the nature of what we were up against, trying to get out the door.
JH: [Inaudible 00:34:48] what did your training look like and how did you get toAfghanistan? I'm assuming working with Hungarian Army looked a little different than when you deployed the first time with your unit. 04:35:00
RG: Yeah. Our mobilization training was two distinct parts and this is, I willforever call this the single best decision the US Army ever made, the best school I've ever been to, and the best just thing. We as a team, as a cohort and a class, went to Fort Riley, Kansas. While it was a long bus ride and uncomfortable, we reported to Fort Riley, Kansas and we went through what was called the Combat Advisory Development course. It came in different flavors.
There was a eight-day version where it was just the down and dirty of workingwith host nation security forces. There is, I think, a three-week version, and there is a full two-month course. Somehow, I think it had to have been by accident, because I don't think anyone could've been smart enough to say, "This is a value and these guys needed," but the army proved that it still has, to me, the opportunity to be a very adaptive, forward-thinking, and also introspective organization, because they came up with this course in the middle of these two wars where they started instituting a lot of successes and failures that we had learned from working with host nation security forces.
We also realized that getting these host nation security forces up to a certainlevel of capability was key, and so it was also called the John Nagl School, after Lieutenant-Colonel John Nagl, who wrote a very famous book called Eating Soup with a Knife. It was on earlier counter-insurgency works, kind of that cadre of colonels and young generals who truly understood the nature of the war we were fighting, but again, this is where it came home that this was master's level warfare. We would get to a classroom as a team, which is important. Our dynamic was O-5 special forces lieutenant-colonel down to E-4, E-3 private first-class truck driver and we were all peers in this classroom.
We'd have an hour or two of tactical Dari Persian during the day, at thebeginning, where they had an actual Afghan contractor come in and teach us the language. Then we'd get into an all classroom discussion for the rest of the business day. It was a great classroom discussion, because it was things like cultural awareness and sensitivity, learning the human terrain. We analyze physical terrain in terms of how well we can maneuver over it or deny the enemy maneuver over it. Human terrains are relatively emerging concepts where you learn the people, the capabilities, the organizations, the buildings, the events that make up your operating environment, because ultimately you're on a hilltop, you don't want to valley UN people.
It proved to me that the army is doing things right and it was a great course.It was the most positive and reaffirming experience I'd ever had, because I felt so well-prepared and I felt like the couple of months that we'd spent up to that point just kind of creating our weekends in the dark away from any adult supervision or guidance, our instincts served as well. I felt reaffirmed because a lot of guys join the army to be tankers or join the army to be infantrymen, but they don't do host nation security force stuff. They don't want to hold Afghan guys' hands, literally hold their hands, have tea with them, have to talk to them, deal with them. They just want to roll around and shoot stuff in combat, because that's what their jobs told them that they'd be doing.
Getting in to the host nation security force stuff, it's a much grayer, lessblack and white form of warfare and it's based on how well you can build rapport and communicate with your peer. You will never and you can't expect to kill all the enemy. You need your host nation security partner to do that and also win legitimacy. If you're not good at your interpersonal relationship building and communication, in addition to having a mastery of the tactics, you're never going to succeed.
A lot of people are uncomfortable with that and, "Screw this combat advisingstuff. I just want to blow stuff up with my tank," is I feel like why a lot of our capacity building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have faltered, very broadly speaking, Joe just didn't want to do that and so didn't put his all into 04:40:00it. Coming out of that course, I felt like our team had an excellent grasp of the material. This is upper level baccalaureate or master's level stuff and even the lowest ranking or the least educated dude got that, what he needed to do and how he needed to behave with the Afghans and Hungarians even to be successful. We came away feeling very, very good from that training.
Then we got to Hungary. This is August 2009. This is a trip getting us toHungary because we flew with civilian air. We're too small and it costs several hundreds thousands of dollars to fly military aircraft, load it up, pay the crew and all that stuff. You're only doing it when you have a high priority and big lift missions. Twenty-eight of us with just our light gear isn't going to warrant a C-130 or a C-5 trip across the ocean. We had to fly Delta-KLM from Kansas City to Detroit, to Amsterdam, to Budapest.
During this time and while we were there, a buddy of mine that I'd gone to myinfantry school with was a well-placed lieutenant in the first infantry division. Somebody screwed up and he had happened upon several pallet-sized, four-foot high containers of field gear. Just pouches, waterproof parkas, fleece overalls, goggles, boots. They'd all been used by combat advisor units that cycled through Riley and then dumped. The idea is, they are either resold, destroyed or whatever. He said, "Hey man, do you want any of this stuff?" None of our guys needed it, because we had all new gear, but seeing the opportunity, "I'll take as many duffle bags as I can," because that would get us great rapport and credibility with our Afghan partners, especially if it's used as reward for doing something well or sticking with it.
I filled up eleven green army duffle bags, which was great, but our containershad already shipped. We had shipping containers. Those had already shipped. We had unlimited baggage. My colonel said, "Yeah Russ, you can do that but if you want to carry it, you're going to have to get it all the way to Hungary on your own." "I'll try." There is a great photo of me just ... We're flying in civilian clothes. We've all got all this army garbage duffle bags. I've got one of those trolleys with eleven over-stuffed green army duffle bags on it, and then our guns. Our heavy weapons had moved in our shipping container but our individuals weapons, we had to carry. We were all up to Kansas City Airport at four in the morning. After a two-hour bus ride from Riley to the airport, every other guy probably had three, four, five duffle bags because it's all your gear, and I had eleven of these things and all our gun cases.
We just probably looked ridiculous. Gun cases in a pink button-down, khakis andthen just the long trek of trying to keep your unit organized and keep everyone organized across Detroit, then to Amsterdam. We had an eight-hour layover in Amsterdam. One guy actually left the airport to see whatever there was in Amsterdam and then we got to Budapest. Our Hungarian colonel was there to pick us up and it was very late in the day. I think it would've been the next day. He goes to help me with one of my bags and picks it up and "[Foreign language 00:44:29]," which is kind of like, "Thank you, beautiful." Not, "Thank you, you are beautiful," but "Thank you, that's beautiful," which is a way of saying, "Thank you very much." He said, "You know Hungarian?"
I said whatever was "A little bit." It blew his mind and it was so reaffirmingto me and it just validated that we had done everything right to that point. That time that we had invested in getting Dr. Rishko in there was just such a help to us. 04:45:00
Then we were in Hungary and we were supposed to be in Hungary for about sixmonths. Not six months, I'm sorry. We were supposed to hit Afghanistan around the start of the year. It would've been four months. Three months, really. Three and a half. Hungary is the lead nation, but they don't have the advantage of just having had two months of intense counter-insurgency theory, doctrine and tactics training that we do. It's a little challenging of an environment to work through.
I felt like constantly there was tension between the political and strategiclevel, where they are a new NATO partner. They are a great, phenomenal partner, [inaudible 00:45:55] National Guard, and we have a great relationship with them. At different parts of the organization, we cooperate wonderfully. We, in our special forces units, do jumps together and all kinds of stuff, and we send guys to their schools and they send guys to our schools, but at the tactical level, there is going to be a lot of difficulty making it work because while they are the lead nation, we had all the operational experience, all of the most recent and best training, and all the best equipment.
We were constrained, in that we had to play good guests. The great thing was ourcolonel was a career special forces officer. He knew all about partnering with host nation forces that outranked you and kind of presenting an idea to them in such a way that they adopted it as their own. We basically, as best we could, used our combat advising skills on Hungarians well before we used it on the Afghans. In that, in the American military, and I get that we're blessed because we're so well resourced and we just have all this operational experience, but we're able to forecast out and we look at training in terms of thirty, sixty, ninety, hundred and twenty days out.
When we got on the ground there, it was one, two, three, four, five, six, sevendays out. Realizing there was no way to forecast and resource, and schedule training, and that the value of the training was very limited, it was a lot of very kinetic offense and defense training. Not even useful offense. Digging prepared positions, it was getting ready to fight the Soviets in the Carpathian basin and so it was constantly attention to figure who among the twenty-eight Hungarian contingent got it and understood the need for more of a counter-insurgency focus, security forces assistance focus and who just was immovable.
Their colonel was a little Napoleon type guy. He was immovable. The US Army hasa lot of those colonels too who they commissioned in 1988 and they were promised they were going to fight the Soviets in the [inaudible 00:48:23] from the top of their tank with all their tanks and damn it, that's how it's going to work out in Afghanistan in 2010. We had to just kind of work him, massage him as best we could, but also it was still validating and reaffirming that we could exert influence from underneath that even though we're not the lead country, we could still maintain good rapport and good friendship but get some ideas across. Not just force our ideas on them but generate buy-in from them, that they do understand the value in this.
We got three Hungarians through. Me and the other captain, the American captain,France and several Americans had gone through a course called Joint Fires Observers, which is a very tough American course. It's two weeks long. I did it before we left the country. I think we had some guys go from Hungary to Germany to get it there, but it's basically how to manage and synchronize all kinds of artillery fire, aircraft fire, naval gun fire. It's bringing indirect fires on steroids. It challenges your ability to spatially conceptualize and de-conflict stuff and also procedure, because there is a big manual and you've got to be exact in your coordinates, your directions. Your communication with the aircraft 04:50:00have to concise and accurate, all that stuff.
It's maybe only three quarters of the Americans that go through it probably passit. We basically got some Hungarians into it, which is a huge feat, because it's very sensitive information on how the United States brings in its fires but we not only advocated to get the first three Hungarians into that class, but all three of them passed it. It just reaffirmed that we were doing things right to that point. Otherwise, we got to the field. It was very, very interesting and different to work with Hungarians, because they are a unionized army. They had a very strict forty-hour a week requirement.
They loved going out to the field, because if you're basically out during thenight that counts, and so we'd start the week Monday morning out in the field and by some point Wednesday, they'd have to cut out. They'd say, "All right, we're doing for the week." That happened a few times and we loved it because then, "We're done too." Sometimes, that would lead to long weekends in Europe, which were beautiful. Being in Northwest Hungary, when I had weekends off, I'd take to train to Vienna, flew to Zurich, check out Bratislava. That was just wonderful. I got my wife out to Vienna for a long weekend once and phenomenal time. Just the camaraderie of exploring a different city with some of your guys, grabbing beers and meeting locals, phenomenal experience.
Then, we realized the impending specter of combat on the horizon, again. Westarted training in addition to our time with our Hungarian partners. We'd train all day at the base. Then we'd do some night school with the Hungarians, if they were up for it. An hour after training, we'd go over advanced medical stuff, advanced communication stuff, standing operating procedure development. How do we operate together in combat. Then when they'd cut out, we'd just train ourselves. We'd give each other IVs. We'd go over even more advanced medical procedures. Stopping, controlling, basically advanced controlling of bleeding on not clean cuts or in joint areas, shoulders and pelvis, stuff like that.
The great thing about being so small, so under the radar, having a veryentrepreneurial lieutenant-colonel who had an idea for the way he wanted things done, because I think [inaudible 00:53:08] were, "This is not a special forces A-team. What the hell am I getting into?" I think we rose to the occasion. We demonstrated throughout Kansas that we could grasp this stuff and even though we weren't a special forces A-team, we would do well when we all brought different operational experiences to the table. Almost everybody had been deployed to Iraq already in various capacities.
Then, by the time we got to Hungary, it was kind of, "Let's shore that up asmuch as possible," and so he was able to somehow arrange to kick our medics out to Afghanistan for a month, the month of October. In the middle of our time in Hungary, our medics were working at a surgical hospital in the middle of RC East, because you don't want the first time a medic who sees combat to be when you're the wounded guy. He just got all that operational experience working on injured service members and injured Afghans at a hospital. Then they brought back videos of how they were treating these guys. Some of it was gory and not for the squeamish, but we learned how they would deal with these just massive and complex blast wounds and just benefited from their experience.
Really entrepreneurial. Really used our combat advising skills under theHungarians, working through. It was a constant battle reminding guys to be gracious guests and also be modest, humble, because we are Americans and especially being in the American military, we are extremely gregarious, and we 04:55:00are relatively phenomenally paid. The Hungarian economy was pretty weak at that point, and so we just had this amazing buying power that the Hungarians soldiers didn't. Having humility and graciousness. Some of their food was a lot different.
Some of the senior guys or the guys who got it, when you get just a fish and abowl of soup, you're going to dig in even though it's a little gross or unconventional, because what are you going to do when someone hands you whatever in Afghanistan? Some of the Americans were saying, "I'm not eating none of that," liver ball soup and stuff like that. It was fun. I saw this great training like if I can't hack it, using my rapport building and combat advisory skills with the Hungarians, I am not going to be able to do that with the Afghans. [Inaudible 00:56:02] all the Americans tried their hardest to make it work and generally pleased with the way all of them acted in Hungary.
JH: You were explaining the complexities of working alongside the Hungarianarmy. What did that dynamic look like once you got into country in Afghanistan and were working with the Afghan National Army?
RG: It changed because of the pressure of combat. Our OMLT was unique from theprevious ones, I think, because we characterized ourselves as we would very much accompany our Afghans wherever they go. I know previous iterations had literally said, "We are on the FOB trainers. We don't leave the base and let a local special forces A-team have control of the scalp platoon of the Afghans." We've somewhat being interpreted as being gung-ho, forward-leaning, looking for a fight. Our colonel probably had the best interpretation of anybody who would have that job, what being a combat advisor means, because that's a core special forces mission, and so he set a clear expectation that we would be with our Afghans, whenever practicable.
The way that relationship and that tension kind of manifested was with - andvery generally speaking again, some Hungarians got it, some Hungarians didn't. Just like some Americans get it and some don't. The Hungarians wanted to be very kinetic, a lot more aggressive. The OMLT part of the Hungarians, I don't think they were as interested in not offending the local populace, so not running them off the road, not leveling your weapons at them and stuff like that. There was also a provincial reconstruction team that Hungary contributed. They were solely focused on winning the populace, but you can't have two elements in the same area at cross purposes like that.
The way that manifested itself in our combat advising relationship was theHungarians interpreted that as we will go everywhere Afghans will go, (we'll probably remain two hundred meters rear of the frontline, stay in our vehicles and just engage with machine guns.) The way the Americans interpreted that, "I will go everywhere where my Afghans go that it makes sense." That if they are trying to pull us into a revenge mission, that's so and so's governor's brother needs to get snatched up by the Afghan National Army or whatever, or if they are trying to pull us into a trap, or they just haven't done their military decision making process to actually plan a mission, I will withhold my combat power in an effort to coerce them into using those conceptual and planning tools.
I will veto American involvement in certain missions, but if I'm committed to myAfghans, my radio antenna was always next to the Afghan commander's radio antenna. I would be furthest forward friendly element with him, three feet away from him, talking with him and generally arguing and bargaining that he needs to get his guys away from my trucks and send out flankers. That was the source of tension with the Hungarians. They weren't as focused on leveling with the Afghan people. Very focused on force protection, protecting. Risk aversion, maybe. 05:00:00
Then resource differences too, because we did share some equipment. We tried tomount Hungarian machine guns in American Humvees. At the political and strategic level, they'd sell previous generation Humvees to the Hungarian army for use in this mission, and so the Hungarians would be using sub-standard Humvees and we'd have newer Humvees, but the way we were integrated at the start, we tried to make it as equitable and as much [inaudible 01:00:38] as possible equipment-wise.
I had a team at the start of I want to say seven Americans and four Hungarians.Basically two American trucks and one Hungarian truck. My sergeant, my next subordinate was a Hungarian sergeant first-class. Then, we'd keep the trucks more or less segregated so that intra-truck communication could happen in whatever language you speak, because you're not going to remember the English word for IED left, when an IED is about blow up or something.
There were significant differences in equipment and I think also every missionhas pecking orders. If you're in that army, you want to try to get on the PRT mission, because it's a bigger base, safer, more fun, better coffee. All the stuff that I described about our Iraq deployment. If you're in that army, you want to get on that PRT mission, because you get paid the same. If you don't, then you end up on the OMLT mission. That was my take. Guys might have been unhappy that they got on the OMLT mission on the Hungarian side.
JH: Where were you guys based in Afghanistan?
RG: We were in the regional command north, RC North, in a Baghlan province, thecity of Puli Khumri.
JH: What was it like there?
RG: Pretty, more or less peaceful. The thing about 2010, when we were incountry, was that was the Afghan search campaign. That was when we finally started pushing off the ring road and contesting territory. It was picking up in intensity. We got in country, I want to say last few days of January 2010. As winter turned into spring, the seasonal fighting season was approaching. You had several thousand more American troops in country. You had one or two thousand more American civilians in country to try to make it more of a whole of government approach to the war. We just started pushing off of the ring, the big road that rings the country in contesting more land.
Not only I think were we attracting foreign fighters and Taliban fighters fromthroughout the country, but we were also probably just inspiring more people to join their local militias too.
JH: What does day to day life [inaudible 01:03:48] mission?
RG: We had basically three maneuver elements, three companies. There is first,second and third company. The American captain France had the first company. One of the Hungarian lieutenants had the second company and I had the third company. That allowed each company to be in either a combat operations phase, an essentially just patrolling phase and a recovery and administration phase. We would call it red, amber and green. One company was always on the hook for being our main effort and another company was ready to support them. Then a third company was working on unit business that needed to be conducted.
We weren't just there to advise them on conducting offensive combat operationsor counter-insurgency operations. We were also there to advise them on training, administration and maintenance, which realistically, we focused on the combat part the most I think across the entire US military effort, but it was and remains the sustainment effort that needs our focus as far as how do they fix 05:05:00their trucks, how do they maintain accountability to weapons, how do they weapons from rusting out, and all that stuff.
We had to basically cover all twenty-four/seven/three sixty-five of running anarmy. We did that in those three phases. We had from south to north, it was called Camp [Kaligui 01:05:35] and we could never figure out what Kaligui meant or how to spell it. Common spellings are K-H-E-L-A-G-A-I or K-H-E-L-A-G-A-Y. There was maybe six hundred meter by six hundred meter square. It was home to one battalion of Afghan National Army, a twelve-man US special forces team, and then our fifty-six men OMLT. We would have various actors come in and out from time to time, join for a couple of episodes.
We were based there. About half hour north of there was the actual start of thecity of Puli Khumri and because it's based on the Ring Highway and it's fenced in by the Kunduz River running north-south on the west. It's very long and narrow along the ring road. Moving north through the city, very dense where it is the city. Moving north through the city, you arrive at a three-way intersection where, I want to say it's ... Dushanbe Road follows the Kunduz River up to Kunduz, and then into Tajikistan, I believe. Or, if you're off to left, northwest, back to Mazar-I-Sharif. If the ring road is a clock, we were at one o'clock, on the clock. That intersection was strategic for us. It had a strategic importance for us because it controlled the ring road, and also there was smuggling operations off that route and the road in Tajikistan.
We had a combat outpost, which was an old Russian base but it was basically anold plaster building, kind of dilapidated and up the hill from that, we put a fifty-three foot shipping container, and that was basically our base. We'd keep one company up there most of the time and in conjunction with how our trucks were [inaudible 01:07:51] we'd live up there for usually more than one or two weeks at a time before we go take back down the Camp Kaligui.
Then we started trying to dominate the terrain in between where the two routestriangled apart, veered apart. Setting up a small series of combat outposts, even smaller and closer to that triangle, like platoon-level outposts. I'd call that one outpost ... I'm struggling to remember the names right now, but I think it was [Pusais Shan 01:08:38]. That was the company-level outpost, the shipping container, and then smaller, platoon-level outposts within supportable distance from that outpost, but you could put maybe thirty guys there for a few nights, closer to the confluence of that triangle of that land, the river and highway all made it very important to control and interdict.
JH: What was going on in the region and what was going on with the AfghanNational Army at the time? Who controlled what happened day to day? Did that come from the OMLT mission and the Afghan National Army was following along a training sequence, or were you following their independent operations and helping? I don't even know if that makes sense as a question for what was going on, but trying to get a better [inaudible 01:09:30].
RG: Nobody was in control. This mission, if you read about how the Civil War andWorld War II units were created as cohorts, they elected their officers or their officers were selected, this Afghan National Army, six hundred-men battalion, KANDAC, as it was called, they were formed out of new recruits in ... I want to say 2008-2009. Our first OMLT actually formed them, trained them and moved them 05:10:00to occupy that base at Kaligui. They had, I think, some experienced sergeants and officers brought in from other units around the country.
The second operation just focused mostly on the second OMLT, focused mostly ontraining them, sustainment training. The sustainment of their infantry skills, not sustainment of their equipment. When we got there, we tried to focus on counter-insurgency operations. Baghlan province is I want to say about the size of New Hampshire and the security density in it was pretty low. I want to say Puli Khumri was maybe a hundred thousand folks, definitely several tens of thousands but there was maybe three hundred Afghan national police of questionable loyalty and commitment. Three hundred Afghan national police, maybe. Our six hundred Afghan National Army, our fifty-six men combat advising teams, the twelve-men special forces team and then the Hungarian led PRT, which is about maybe a hundred and fifty guys, also located closer in the city of Puli Khumri. That's it. Probably less than twelve hundred security force actors for a province the size of New Hampshire.
The nearest major American military base at that point in time was Camp Span,Camp Mike Span at Mazar-I-Sharif, about five-hour drive away. We were out in the middle of nowhere. So much so that the store we went before we got there, a three-star American general stopped at our base to check out some buildings and our predecessor team created a helicopter because there is an American helicopter here, let's go check it out. [Inaudible 01:12:11] helicopter and the three-star general looked at them and goes, "What the hell are you guys doing here? I didn't know we had people here."
We lived down in Afghan base. I think the unique combination of being in thenorth, being Americans in the north, because most of the north is multi-national, being Hungarian-led, we showed up as a Hungarian flag on most place mats, not an American one, so no one tracked us as an American combat unit. Being National Guard, we weren't keyed into any of the active army organizational structure, and being combat advisors created this situation where we didn't really have any operational control and we really didn't have access to resources or enablers, or support.
It was always a very tenuous question as to how does our own [casual 01:13:07]evacuation system work, how do we get close air support when we need it? How do we get emergency ammunition re-supply? These were all questions that we ultimately had to figure out in the moment. The operations were largely driven by the Afghan National Army. Our Afghan National Army battalion, KANDAC was part of a brigade and that brigade was one of the key brigades in the north. That brigade staff had a, I think, Belgian-led mentor team, but we only saw it once. I have no doubt that they were doing their jobs, but it wasn't parallel channels like it should've been. If it was all one country and maybe all one cohort, I think it would've been better parallel channels where as the Afghans get the idea to run this operation, the Belgians should call down to us and say, "Just so you know, they are planning an operation down here. We're going to go through the military decision making process with them. Just a heads up."
Then the operation makes its way down and then we start our military decisionmaking process. That's what it should've happened. It's never really happened. What really would happen is usually, the Afghan battalion commander would just get an idea, say, "We need to go here and do this. We need to get rid of these guys," or "We need to go here and ..." sometimes it was just trying to use urgency to get us to move, "The governor's brother has been kidnapped. Let's go." What? "The governor has been kidnapped." "No, I don't think so." We would have to either use our judgment, withhold support or ask the special operations team for, "Do you guys have any intelligence sources that can corroborate this?" Sometimes, it was just wild operations that we'd get pulled on. 05:15:00
It was largely driven by our Afghan unit and then we had staff advisors. Part ofour Hungarian-American team that would try to get them to participate in the military decision making process, which can be done relatively quickly, but it's a deliberate process whereby you plan military operations. Then those orders should come down to my company commander and say, "Third company has this route from here to here and it needs to clear west to this route. Engage these people. Look for these signs. Drop some humanitarian assistance at the school," and it would never come down that way. It would just be crazy wild, getting pulled down to operations and having to fight it out with either the Hungarians or the Afghans as to why we should or shouldn't participate.
JH: What sort of combat situations were you all involved in?
RG: The mantra of counter-insurgency warfare is to clear, hold and build. Clearan area, then you hold it and then you build it. You build not just institutions but governance and legitimate authority in that area. We would primarily clear, clear, clear, because we could never really get to the hold or build part, kind of like a stress balloon or one of those things that you get in an aquarium, the thing that you squeeze and the water comes out to the other ends. We would clear and dudes would run over the river, wait it out, they'd stash their weapons. All the typical stuff you've read in Vietnam memoirs about being unable to tell the populace from the fighters. We would do a lot of clearing operations and just presence patrols.
Again, if you're patrolling and you're presenting a hard target, the enemy willchoose not to engage you sometimes. Just being there denies the enemy free use of that area.
Sometimes, we'd get into larger, more coordinated combat operations, where wewould actually clear town and folks we'd encounter would stay and fight with us or clear a series of villages. Less IEDs, a lot more small arms and RPGs, rocket propelled grenades ambushes and clearance operations.
JH: What was life like off-duty on an Afghan base of Hungarian-led combatmission? You've got a lot of different languages and cultures coming together. Are you kind of in separate areas or living together and recreating together?
RG: It was kind of just a portrait of very tired worn-out Spartan camp. We hadhard buildings on the FOB itself, FOB Kaligui or Camp Kaligui, or whatever, but again, I think combat outposts were where we spend maybe half our time. It was just moon dust. We called it moon dust because that's what the granularity of the sand was, basically, just arid moon dust, and a shipping container. Some guys would build benches out of pallets or try to cook group rations over a fire, or sling hammocks between MRAPs, armored vehicles, but really Spartan. Kaligui, we had a small patio.
The Hungarians would get a beer ration of two beers once every Thursday, ifyou're not on quick reaction force duty or you're not outside the wire, which is extremely reasonable. Everyone would look forward to [inaudible 01:19:20] day, which is I think the day for Thursday and [inaudible 01:19:24] word for beer on the Hungarian side. Otherwise, there was a multi-purpose room that had a air-hockey table and a couple of weight-lifting benches. Another room with six computers for computer lab and everything else was just dedicated to combat operations.
I was, especially being an officer this time around in combat, there was nolaying around watching movies anymore. I just remember being profoundly tired 05:20:00and profoundly angry the entire time, or frustrated. I think I recall at one point, I got on the internet, read about whatever the scandal of the day was. It was a military sex scandal where someone was doing something, of just being incensed that someone in the combat zone had the time and energy to do that. We wanted the opportunity but we were focused on our mission, but no time, no energy, no distraction or anything else. It was just you were lifting weights. Sometimes could catch a football game. We finally got a big screen TV and the Armed Forces Network tuning box or a satellite dish.
Some guys got together some money and paid an Afghan to hook up a satellite dishbut there was no Disneyland-ification of that part of ... When we got up to Bagram Airbase, which is about five-hour drive away, it was like going to the moon, because that's where all that stuff was. The combat zone Starbucks. Every Friday night, there is a salsa dancing contest. Self-serve ice-cream. A small shop.
We really did feel like aliens by the time we got to ... Once we had been therefor a few months, and then we'd go do turn and burn missions, where you drive five hours, you go pick up the radios that you need and then you drive back so you could do it all in one day, so you'd go back to operating the next day. By the time we got that and we'd get up to Bagram, we felt like there are so many different wars happening here. It's a totally different war than what we're seeing, and we weren't even seeing it as bad as the guys in Helmand or Marja, or Korengal Valley were, but just different gradations of war, I guess.
JH: What were your relationships like with the other servicemen and women atCamp Kaligui and at the outpost? Do you have strong camaraderie within the American group of twenty-eight soldiers, but then also across the Hungarian forces and the Afghan National Army?
RG: I think the American contingent had great camaraderie, especially theyounger Americans had really good relationships with the younger Hungarians, because there is a certain aspect of being, I think, a young dude in Central Europe that was universal across twenty-two year old guys. There was a clique of them that seemed to get along really well. Good professional relationships at I think my level and above with the Hungarians, until tensions started making their way into the relationship, the inter-team relationship.
There was some Afghans whom I really, really liked. Unfortunately, they were inpositions that in no way had any effect on what I ... My Afghan commander had been a major when the Soviets were still there and was now a captain. A step down, and that means he's forties, fifties, maybe, and he was an air defense guy by trade, I think. He was just all over the place crazy. I was hard to ... It was also they had seen Americans come and go for so long that they were just, "Will you give me grenade launchers or won't you? Will you give me close air support, or won't you?"
You read the books about this is how you build rapport, this is what you need todo to be an effective combat advisor. Then you see a guy who has largely been at war for thirty years and is seeing Americans come and go, this is a very transactional relationship. It's how he is looking at it, especially at an American lieutenant, but there was some Afghans who, "We're not just willing to fight." They were all willing to fight in their own way and at their own leisure, but there were some Afghans who were saying, "I'm committed to Afghanistan. I want these guys out of my home."
There was one guy who actually took a demotion of two grades to move across thecountry to be closer to his home. He was a sergeant-major. He came to us as a 05:25:00platoon-sergeant and I just wish there was ten thousand more of them in the Afghan National Army. It varied by soldier, but we maintained decent relationships. The Afghans loved to play volleyball and wrestle. You could get some cheap laughs playing with them. You would catch random ones in conversations about differences between Americans and Hungarians.
I had one, he was an American staff-sergeant at the time. A big meat-head kindof guy, led through just personal toughness and intimidation. He had a very intimidating persona but he was just always, both in the Americans I've seen him work with and the Hungarians and Afghans, he could whip a squad or a platoon into shape and just get them to respond favorably to him and create a little cult around him. He just gave the Afghans, then his squads, nicknames based on how they looked. There was a little guy and they called him, because he was shaped like a gas can, they called him Gas Can and sure enough, two weeks later he is happy that he's being called Gas Can and he is like, "Gas Can! Gas Can!" "Okay, dude. You're Gas Can. I get it."
They were definitely willing to fight, definitely gracious hosts to us,receptive to our presence and the enablers that we brought. That deployment was almost entirely a relationship management.
JH: I know we've talked a lot about someone serving [inaudible 01:27:14]political situation, you're someone who's worked in politics. Working closely with the Afghan National Army on the ground and hearing their reception of the US involvement, how did you feel about what America was doing and the US strategy in Afghanistan at the time, given your close relationship to the Afghan National Army on that mission?
RG: Again, this is my own personal opinion or reflections. I felt like we wereon the cusp of getting it right. Having just come out of that great school experience that I'd gotten at Fort Riley, I felt like the army did it right there. Six months of validation and kind of testing our combat advisory skills in Hungary, I felt like we had it right there. Then, actually saying that we were re-surging, not just service members but government civilians to Afghanistan, to try and provide a real whole of government approach to counter-insurgency operations.
Everything I've learned since then, in grad school and real life, leads me tobelieve that it was the right choice for that time. Just the strategic leaders we had, where in 2009, General Stanley McChyrstal who was the commander of ISAF, I believe, at that point, career special forces officer himself, great reputation as one too, took a huge hit in the court of public opinion for issuing what was called his tactical directive.
Overarching document to try and get twenty or thirty-some countries thatconstituted ISAF on the same page and really said, "We're not going to use close air support here. We're not going to use close air support here. We're not going to use indirect fire here. You're going to drive your vehicles this way. You're going to treat civilians this way," and said, "I don't care whether you think this is supposed to be your job or not. I don't care if you think this is the war that you wanted to fight or not. This is the way all these nations' armies are going to fight together in Afghanistan, if we're going to win this war."
By the time it got to your base-level cable new channels, "It's unfairly tyingthe hands of Americans and exposing them to unnecessary risk," and I tried 05:30:00through my email lists and blog, and every communication back home to underscore how I felt was very much the right thing to do if we were ultimately to win over the populace we can't go too kinetic or when we do go kinetic, it's got to be the right people, like our special operations forces or light infantry forces. It has to be well-targeted, well-developed targeting and vetted, and the case for military necessity has to be made. Otherwise, we have the right doctrine in place, we have the right leaders in place. I felt like we were doing the right thing at that point in time, during that deployment.
JH: In terms of your own personal experience of the deployment, what wascommunication back home in your own reflection or writing practice like this time around?
RG: Totally different from Iraq. Like I mentioned, I could get on Facebookdaily. Facebook messaging and Facebook posts, updates. Between that, emails. I've had probably about a thousand-person email list, fifteen hundred people. I had a Word Press blog because I was not only trying to tell our story again, but I also realized other guys were probably in this crazy ad hoc team situation and were scouring the internet like I did for what's it mean to be a combat advisor, what's an OMLT.
Trying to write to be kind of a light house out there for folks who if they canfind the information can start preparing themselves the way we did. I had a small Afghan National Army phone or a local Afghanistan Roshan Company phone that I carried on me. I was able to text my wife regularly. I figured out the number that you needed to text and you associated your phone with your Facebook, so I could post from my little Nokia with not on a smart phone, I could post to Facebook as if I was sending a text in the field. Good and bad aspects of that.
Even in our fifty-three foot shipping container, we had what was called a snapterminal, but it's a very small aperture satellite dish that provides you with very low speed internet, but you could check email there and once I've actually had to email a colonel to get close air support, because there is just no way of getting a hold of the higher level unit on the radio. Coms were much better in Afghanistan. In some ways, worse, I guess.
JH: Are there other formative experiences from your deployment that you haven'ttalked about?
RG: A few. Some things that exacerbated our relationships, I think, in April2010. There was what was called a Good Friday Medevac, where as I understand it, the German army suffered a significant amount of casualties and American forces had to medevac them to the point where the Germans couldn't medevac themselves because of just the conditions on the ground made it very difficult, to the point where the American crews that medevacced them received German gold crosses, which are equivalent to medals of honor that hadn't been awarded since World War II in the City of Kunduz, about two hours drive to our north, which is also to say that Kunduz was much more dangerous than where we were.
By this point, we'd been in the country three months, almost. The differencesbetween the American and Hungarian colonels were apparent and the American/Hungarian styles of doing things, as I've described. I started getting into the habit of checking with my American colonel whenever something would come across that didn't seem like it had been vetted by either colonel or had just come from the Hungarian colonel.
Typically, my Afghan captain says, "We must go do this now." "Let me verify thatwith someone else," or with the Hungarian colonel, because again, the difference in the styles of the way we did things, the Hungarians would always accompany 05:35:00the Afghans but were much less present, I guess. Were we to end up in that same situation, we could expose ourselves to significant unretractable risk because again, we're not an American combat unit with American Medevac within an hour away. We're five hours away from anyone who's marginally aware that we're even in the country.
Even, how far can we really go before we run out of ammo, because the nearestplace to get [inaudible 01:35:40] ammo might be five hours away and it might take a few days to coordinate, or fuel. Things like that were always concerns, if we got too involved in operations or got too far away from our base. Right after this German Medevac incident, there was this massive brigade operation planned up there that was supposed to be an all Afghan operation for the adjacent brigade to the north of us.
All of a sudden, much the way things happened in their mission planning process,our brigade got added. We're going out of area to a place we've never been, heavily mined area in flat bottom vehicles which we had been fighting to get some V-Hold vehicles like MRAPs. My colonel was gone that day. He had to go up to Mazar-I-Sharif just to get in the five-hour way base to take care of some kind of business with the American unit there. It was just my Hungarian colonel. When the call came out that you're going to contribute a company of Afghans to this giant we don't know what mission up north, I volunteered my company.
I started digging into the mission and figuring out what was going on and justnothing smelled right at all. Then, we had never operated in this area before. It's two hours away. I'm on my own up here. I've got three gun trucks and my Afghan captain is saying three hundred Afghans. I'm counting eighty, and some ford rangers. You want us to go to a place we've never been before, link up with some Afghan National Army unit that we've never worked with before who doesn't have any ISAF mentors with them. We don't know what the mission is and it's in a heavily mined area where so many Germans were just killed a few days ago. I'm not comfortable with that.
Very scary, even though if he wasn't in my army for a lieutenant to push back ona lieutenant-colonel like that, and also walk that line between is this really ... everyone should be on the lookout for that moment in their lives where they have to stand up for something. Is this the moment where I have to push back or could it be that I'm just being a chicken? Then, how is that going to mark the rest of my time both here in Afghanistan and the rest of my military career, that I was the guy who said no to this operation out of cowardice?
Huge question, and the Hungarian colonel is very Polyannic, "We'll do this. Youwill go there. You will do this. I don't care. Shut up. You will go with your Afghans." I'm stalling and trying to figure out both what's wrong with this picture and how do I really feel about this, and also trying to get a hold of my American colonel to make sense of it. If he was to say, "No, Russ. Go," I would definitely trust him and I'll go. The Hungarian colonel thinks I'm scared. He says, "Fine, I will go with you." I say, "It really doesn't matter. You're not bringing any extra fuel. You're not bringing any extra ammo. Your machines are Hungarian machine guns. The ammo is not compatible with ours. I don't need you there as a security blanket. I need to coordinate.
Once I drive all my vehicles two hours, is there even diesel fuel in that partof the country? If I get engaged by a significant- because it's one shot. It's one road. They are going to know we're coming a few hours out. If I get engaged, who's QRFing me? Who's going to come help out or do we just have to fight our 05:40:00way out of there? If we suffer casualties, all these questions that aren't guaranteed in the area that we're currently operating, but are not even addressed in this place where they are wanting us to go. Also, base question is what's the mission?
We can't get a straight answer from the Afghans or the Hungarians. We hear allkinds of crazy stuff like "VVIP mission." Who's the VVIP? [Inaudible 01:40:33]. Obama. I really don't think so. All we know is it's a big mission two hours north. Finally, Hungarian colonel chews me out a bit. "All right. I'll go up north. I'll try to find this Afghan brigade headquarters and at least see what I can see there." We go up to the basic Kunduz. It's a brigade-level Afghan base, about two hours away. We go up to the Afghan brigade headquarters. Lo and behold, they do have a Belgian mentor and his attitude is quite [inaudible 01:41:17] about it, "We don't know what they are doing."
"We'll just go up there. We'll go this far," which is a very marginal distanceaway. "We'll go here and we'll sit here." I'm not sending my Afghan troops forward and not being with them. If I'm there, I'm there. If I'm not, I'm not going to just sit a few hundred meters back while they walk into this giant minefield where everybody is [inaudible 01:41:48] everyone just incurring significant casualties.
"Go to the police station and they have more information." Then, we're in thissmall police station off the southwest side of Kunduz. The area is called [inaudible 01:42:08] and it's the actual area where this operation happened a few days ago, where the German suffered significant casualties. The more and more we pick up from the smattering of ISAF forces that are there, and the Afghans that I'm trying to talk to and tease some information out through my interpreter, the more and more it's a big revenge clearing operation.
I start sending Americans out like, "Go into this guy's command post and seewhat you can see. See who you can talk to who is European force. Just gather as much information as possible, because we still don't know the nature of this operation or what our role is." To the Europeans that I talked to to that point, they are very much just decided that they are just going to set up at a road intersection and just watch. We could do that and stay safe, but as soon as our Afghans become decisively engaged, we would be compelled or risk losing the relationship to come to their aid. That should really drive whether or not we engage in this operation at all.
Then, one of my guys ends up in someone's command post and sees basically thelandmine and IED map of the area, and it's just almost completely red. We're all on flat bottom Humvees which are a generation more advanced than what we had in Iraq but our colonel had since come to the conclusion that they are unacceptable for heavily mined area. I think part of why he was up in Mazar-I-Sharif that day was trying to make the case that we need to get some of the first of these new MRAPs that are getting fielded in this area of Afghanistan.
Finally, I made the call, "Sir, we can't go forward of here without moreinformation, better planning or more idea of what we're doing. Exactly, how you expect us to get it done, because the Afghans are not doing any military decision making process at all. For this level of risk, I'm willing to take it but we need to demonstrate more diligence," and he just said, "Fine. Go." He sent our three trucks back down to Baghlan and called up three Hungarian trucks. That was the start of the wedge between the Americans and the Hungarians on the team was that the Americans refused to go on a dangerous operation.
Of course, the Hungarians either didn't leave the police station or stayed a few05:45:00hundred meters, didn't leave within a few hundred meters of the police station but that was the start of the edge that ultimately ended with our teams going straight American and straight Hungarian teams for our operation.
A few days later, there was another big brigade clearing operation down in fewvillages in our area. Let's see, it was ... I'm blanking on the village names, but it was essentially three small villages along the river that we had to clear, and the idea was our battalion would sit in the hillsides above these villages and provide support by fire, and that two more battalions from an adjacent unit would basically work from north to south, and clear all these villages. This was one of those instances where the HIG or Taliban, whomever they were, were staying to fight us.
By this point, I had realized that my Afghan company commander had some issuesgoing on and was frequently hearing voices that were his commanders and coming up with operations on his own, but we'd spent a few days in these hillsides, just taking fire, receiving fire, waiting for the rest of the Afghan brigade to get ready to go. As the brigades were rolling in, it's taking them a few hours to get across the bridge, taking them a few hours to get through the first few villages, and it's the support by fire line is the first company, second company and third company. My company is going to be the last part of this clearing operation and sitting there over-watching.
Finally, and this was after about six or seven hours of them fighting it out inthese villages and us supporting them with fire from the hillsides. My Afghan company commander said, "I have to go." "What do you mean you have to go?" "I have to go down into the town." "What the heck are you talking about?" "I have to link up with this guy." "No, you don't." "The Colonel said." "I don't think he did." Then, he'd get on the radio and the American colonel says the Afghan colonel is not calling that company down into the villages. My interpreter goes, "Sir, he has not been on the radio all day." This guy is just fabricating a reason to run down into this mele of Afghan, not our Afghan National Army guys, other unit of Afghan National Army guys, just fighting it house to house and possibly just running back and forth, crazy, throughout these villages.
Frantically working the radios, trying to figure out what he's doing and whyhe's doing it. It was so chaotic that at one point, when we needed a place mortar fire, which is immediate shorter-range, indirect fire on some of these villages, we had Afghans in the villages on their phone, talking to Afghans who were up with their mortar crews, saying, "Hit this building." They'd chuck a few rounds. "No, hit this building," to the point where we had to do what we could do to turn off their cell phones, so they would stop calling indirect fire in a very informal, over the cell phone, "How about your cousin?" Kind of way. Frantically working the radios, trying to figure out why the heck my Afghan company commander thinks he needs to go down into this mess either with his whole company, which then takes fire support away from all those guys or by himself, which is even crazier.
Finally, "Sir," my colonel, "What the heck is going on? What is he going onabout?" He says, "Russ, he's going. You've got to go with him." "Roger that, Sir." I get four guys, American, Hungarian guys and try to talk it out and the colonel is like, "Russ, I think you might want to go." I look over my shoulder and my Afghan captain is just running, sprinting down the hill, going into the town. We spent the last few hours of daylight in the town, in these villages, 05:50:00following this guy around. He was just saying, "We need to go here." We'd run a few blocks. This guy is not here. There was obviously an insurgent presence still at the south end of the villages and there is just Afghan National Army soldiers running all over, ostensibly taking on that insurgence presence, but it's crossfire, basically.
Then we'd run a few blocks. Maybe he's over here. We were basically zig-zaggingour way from east to west, towards the river, where these villages ended. Then finally, as we're moving past this compound, one of my medics goes, "Sir, what the hell is that?" We look over there and it's an IV bag and several bloody bandages just kind of tangled up in some brush and hanging off a tree. It's obviously someone who got hurt, someone was getting worked on. As we're standing in a lull in the fighting in this entry of this compound, these six dudes, military age males, come around the corner and just freeze and see us. None of them were armed but they all got this look on their face like they just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Realizing that the whole other villages had basically been vacated, except ofinsurgents, because all the families, women and children typically when something was about to happen would know and leave, or I assume the way the news travels in Afghanistan, they'd get told, "Leave, because we're planning to have a fight here." These guys were there was a huge indicator that there were bloodied medical supplies around this compound, another huge indicator, but we need to detain these guys. Thankfully, they were unarmed and we didn't have to fight with them, but I tell the captain, "We need to detain these guys." "They are good." "No, they are not. You need to detain them and send them up to battalion. Have someone question them and find out where they are from, what they are doing here and all that stuff." "Okay, fine."
We didn't have any flex-cuffs or rope or anything to tie them up with, but I'dvery clearly tell my colonel, "Expect six EPWs to come up the hill with several Afghan National Army escorting them, because these are the circumstances of what we found. Military age males. Deserted compound. Bloodied medical supplies. This area has been clear for a while." They looked as guilty as all got up when we happened upon them. When they got up the hill, the Afghan battalion commander talked to them for about five minutes and just said, "They are good. I know them." It's almost a typical anecdote of how things would work in adventures in combat of advising the Afghan National Army.
In one other operation, one of our Americans was severely wounded and throughluck and I think almost miracle, survived. We were responding to an operation that was already in progress. The other company was basically investigating, there was a Navy dump truck that was being hauled on an Afghan flatbed and obviously presented a great target. There was no body in the destroyed flatbed indicates that they said, "Stop. Get out, and then we're going to blow this up." Basically, easy target. Blow up a Navy dump truck that's being towed.
The other company was investigating in the villages near this site, who mighthave done that and why. We had first company's compliment of Afghans. We had just my team of Americans and Hungarians and we had about twenty, fifty Afghan national police. The Afghan national police were of dubious integrity and would typically disappear immediately preceding an ambush, but since we didn't have my Afghans for this mission, our trucks, we had three gun trucks and our trucks' jobs were to basically two of our trucks would lock down a major intersection in order to secure route out for the other company and my third truck had our motor 05:55:00specialists on it, whose job was to go up in the hills or any favorable terrain and establish a motor firing position so we could bring in direct fire to bear, if we needed to, in support of fighting through an ambush.
We were walking down this intersection, ring-road is running north-south. It'sbasically a farm road running east to west. My truck is positioned almost on the intersection with the other truck, on the other side of the ring-road. As first company's trucks are moving further and further west, towards the river, we're losing visual contact with them. Radio comms are breaking up. There was maybe one to two kilometers between us and so I start creeping my truck forward and my other truck basically takes up my old position, because it's hard to support them and over-watch them and secure their ex-filtration route if we lose visual contact with them, and can't support them with our weapons.
As they get further and further out there, finally, I can't go any furtherforward without losing ... I was maybe half a kilometer off the ring-road and since our job is to secure that intersection, we basically stay where we are, as strung out as we are, trying to get the other company on the radio to figure out how much longer they will be or what their situation is. Apparently, they'd gotten into a sit-down with some of the locals, doing local engagement, exactly what you should be doing in that situation to figure out what might have happened and why, and what the security situation was there.
While they were doing that other fighters were laying in an ambush because thefarm network is very conducive to the effective ranges of some of the weapons that are used there. It's just kind of happenstance that I'm sure going back to the Alexander the Great's time, however big your farm field was was about the size that you could stay behind a wall or some shrubbery and shoot arrows or throw spears, or whatever. As they are doing that, fighters were laying in an ambush. We couldn't see anything. The other company mounts back up on their trucks and they've got maybe fifty or sixty dismounted Afghans with them. Five gun trucks, because they have the colonel, Captain France and his team with him.
As they are getting ready to get back on their trucks and walk and drive, kindof slowly roll out of there with their Afghans, that's when they engage with grenade fire and small arms fire. Master-Sergeant Doug Reed was dismounted and he was one of the senior listed guys on our team. Father of seven. Career volunteer firefighter and former Army National Guard recruiter, and the newly elected mayor of Jackson, Ohio as of last week, but he was hit, a direct hit with an RPG round.
These RPG rounds, they are explosive in nature, but they have small metal safetycaps that you need to pull a fabric lanyard that's attached to a pin. That pin comes out and then you can flick the cap off and that arms the round. If you bump it on something, it doesn't explode, and if you are nervous or rushing, you will frequently forget that step and not bump the cap off, or it could've been a bad round. He was hit directly with that RPG round. It came in and hit him in the hand, hit him in the rifle. Then it went upwards. It cut his grenade. Most of us that grade launchers as well had a bandoleer of grenades across our chest. Cut his bandoleer, came up and basically from this point, over and up, just flayed the skin off his neck, jaw.
His jaw was destroyed, took his helmet off and went off and exploded, but hesurvived the initial hit and with all this vasculature was exposed. His jaw was shattered or missing. He had a pistol on his chest in a holster, that was gone. With that, the team members moved to pick him up and wearing all our kit, the average man is close to three hundred pounds. It took five guys to get him on the hood of the humvee, and obviously, now that they've been engaged with 06:00:00rockets and small arms fire, they are all returning fire, I think primarily in one direction.
There is a series of higher walls running east-west on the south, lower wallsand shrubs and irrigation ditches running east-west on the north, and so they were being engaged from primarily the north, I believe. We threw him up on the hood of the humvee and as soon as I heard the first boom, not knowing any of that happened, I heard, "Boom, boom boom, boom boom." Contact. I just scream at the the radio, "Go, go, go!" My truck is the front one and Sergeant Michael Burgess's truck is the second one. We just slam the gas and roll towards them, and then we start receiving fire from the north. We were rolling towards them. We were returning fire to the north and it's cyclic rate of fire. Full-auto.
I had a Mach 19 machine gun, automatic grenade launcher on top of my humvee andSergeant Burgess has a fifty-caliber machine gun on top of his humvee. We're just hauling into the engagement area. Then we see headlights from the other Humvees coming back towards us. These guys are making their way out of there. It's a very narrow road. Crap. Now we've got to turn around, because it's a very narrow but high crowned road. We would basically have our trucks executing a five-point turn while returning fire at these ambush positions.
The memory from Afghanistan that's seared into my brain is just framed almostlike a television screen, because of the square shape of my Humvee window, but it's just this open field where it looks like mortar rounds are exploding, rockets are coming across, tracers are coming across in both ways and the headlights of the other Humvees are coming at me. It's just pure chaos.
As we are executing these five-point turns, hoping that we don't get a miredvehicle with its belly up, prime target for an RPG. We finally get turned around, due to the exceptional skill of our drivers and we're still returning fire. Now, we are, I think, seven trucks in a line just engaging over. Depending on where we are, moving east-west and engaging over both sides, north and south, returning fire, because we were taking fire from the south too for some portions of it. It's a complex ambush.
As we start moving back out of the engagement area with now that company teambehind us, we realize that we are the lead vehicles, and it's chaos on the radio too because the other company team all prefer to operate on one radio net. We had an echelon of nets, that way talking to higher, flip a switch, talking to lower, so it's uncluttered net, except for the leaders. How everyone ends up on the same radio net is chaotic. As we're making our way out of there, I start seeing all these Afghan National Army guys who were the guys that accompanied the first company team in, they are walking alongside our vehicles, because obviously, they went in there on foot and they are coming out on foot. Some of the Americans were still on foot.
Realizing that they are so close to our vehicles, because they are using us asrolling cover, I give the order to slow down, we've got Afghans walking alongside us, they need us as cover. Give these guys cover, they are going down over here. Actually, I was seeing other Afghans fire.
RPGs create big concussions when they fire. I just remember one Afghan NationalArmy soldier in the back blast area of another soldier's RPG launch and it just withers him and he just goes down because of the concussion. He gets back up, looking like he just had his face knocked in, but we're trying to provide these guys rolling cover now. We're moving no faster than two miles an hour under fire out of this engagement area. We still have several hundred meters to go.
Then I hear the senior medic come on the radio, "Three-six." That was my callsign. "Three-six, step on the gas. Get the hell out of here right now." "I can't. We're giving these guys rolling cover. They don't have any cover without us." "Three-six, I've got a US urgent surgical on the hood of this humvee. Get 06:05:00the hell out of here now." Crap. "Okay, we've got to go." I didn't realize that they had a wounded guy. Thankfully, that information got to me so I didn't delay Sergeant Reed's CasEvac any longer than we already have by going so slow, but we started screaming on the radio for Sergeant Burgess's truck who is now ahead of me, "Mickey, hurry up. Step on it. There is wounded," and they are not hearing me because the net is so chaotic.
Finally, I say, "Effing ram him." Talking to my driver, because we all have bighumvee tires, spare tires on the back of our trucks. It's not going to terrible, but just ram that truck and tell him to get out of here. As he revs it to ram them, finally they heard us on the radio and they speed up. We speed out of there, the rest of the kill zone. We take up positions, basically locking down the portion that intersects with the ring road and as different vehicles, that's not my vehicle but this different vehicles start coming through and Afghan National Army start making their way out of that bottleneck that was into the engagement area.
Just one humvee with Master-Sergeant Reed laid out, everything blood andSergeant Ty Henry is the medic on top of him, working on him. We see this bloody, bloody humvee speeding out of there. I didn't know who it was at the time and I wasn't sure. I had heard it was an American, and so I look and I saw that they were wearing a different camouflage pattern than ... Some guys wore the new style camouflage pattern, which is browner. Some guys were wearing a gray old-style camouflage pattern. I thought, "Who the hell?" I was just doing an inventory in my head of who the hell was wearing multi-cams is what they are called, out that day.
I thought, all the typical guys were wearing multi-cams they were around myteam, they are all accounted for. They are on my trucks. Then I remembered Master-Sergeant Reed had just [inaudible 02:07:18] we had to get stitches down his leg for an injury that he incurred a few weeks earlier. He hadn't been going out on missions for a week or two and was so eager to get out on a mission, first he asked me because he thought I was going out first, "Do you need an extra gunner?" Then he found out Captain France's team was going out first and that's how he ended up with them but then someone in one of the last trucks came out and told me that it was Master-Sergeant Reed and he got hit with an RPG. We're still technically at fight and being as [inaudible 02:07:57] as possible, "Okay. Let's work on getting him outside of here."
One other guy started wailing and gnashing teeth. "You're Sergeant first-class,you need to focus on what needs to be done right now." I think one of my hard-earned CO is to get to work but that truck and then Sergeant Burgess's truck, which was the truck that was originally with me, once he saw that there was an urgent surgical on the hood of the humvee, he sped off and so those two trucks speeding through the city of Puli Khumri. They went for five miles with Ty Henry on top of Doug Reed, trying to keep him alive and working on him, stopping that bleeding.
They, thank god, a couple of weeks earlier, because of the concentration offorces that they had there then, the United States had a one full surgical team that they basically could allocate to that area of Afghanistan. When they were doing their survey, they were asking, "Where do you think the best base is for us to locate? Where do you think the most of the fighting is going to happen?" We all had different opinions, we all gave them different opinions, and it seemed to me that they were going to locate an hour and a half south of where that fight happened, where our combat outposts were, down at the big base at Camp Kaligui. It surprised me but they ended up working at the PRT, which was at the north end of the city, only a few miles away from where that fight happened instead. Few minutes drive.
That's one in a number of several miracles that fell into place that kept this06:10:00guy alive but the forward surgical team had just set up maybe a few days prior. These guys basically ran through the gate, honking the horn. Someone thought it was such a just surreal picture, this bloodied humvee with Master-Sergeant Reed on it that they actually stopped what they were doing to take pictures of it. They were standing in an odd position and saying, "What is that?" They worked on him and they stabilized him. They got him to a different part of Afghanistan, I think, within a day, Medavac'ed him there. He stayed in Afghanistan for maybe a few more days, I think got to Germany after that, and a few more days out of Germany. Essentially, he got flown to a, I think, at Fort Sam, in Houston, Texas. He made the flight from Germany to Texas just before the Icelandic volcano stopped Transatlantic air flow for a couple of days, or whatever. It was just a series of near-misses that ultimately saved this guy's life.
Before I stopped keeping count, he clocked fourteen surgeries in a year.Everyone pulled together and did what they had to do despite any inter-team strife, any personalities. That reaction in particular, everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do and there was no way we could have done that situation better and did great in fact, because now seven kids still have their father, small town in Ohio has their mayor.
JH: Given what sounds like the real complexities of this deployment ... All ofthat seems complex but there are so many factors coming together in this. As you were preparing to come back to the US, how did you summarize it to yourself in terms of what you had accomplished, what had been the challenges, and maybe any good that was done? How do you think about now?
RG: With regard to our actual successes in incrementally improving the AfghanNational Army, I think we did that. I also think we framed the reality differently than maybe the overly optimistic assessment that preceded us. We actually tried to downgrade our unit when we first got it, because just our observation, they weren't capable of certain independent operations. We set a realistic expectation for our unit. We didn't try to foist the American way of doing things on them. We tried to work very much with what we've had and speak to them at the level they were on, and worked with them. Not bring this giant mess of social upheaval to them but work with them on the margins so that they didn't feel like the way they'd been fighting for thirty years, we were saying was now wrong and it's all going to fall apart when we leave, because it's so dependent on our technology and weaponry.
Take what they had and just improve it incrementally and marginally, which foran American army that loves big bold audacious, innovative ideas, anything marginal and incremental is a turn-off, but I feel like it was the right approach and our battalion wasn't going to win the war in six months. In a larger context, I didn't come away feeling accomplished but I came away feeling like I finally knew what the problem was. I've been in the problem. I've been a part of the problem in a way and now, I can fully - I have all the qualifications I need, I can fully engage in this conversation back home to try to change the way that future generations of Americans will fight this war.
I am scared that just the way attrition happens. When I went to Iraq, we had oneguy who'd done his tanker job in combat, our first sergeant. We had another guy who did his tanker job in Kuwait, in a shell-force, like Operation Desert Fox or some maneuvers. We had another guy who was an infantryman in the invasion of Panama, but that was it. Out of seventy-five guys, three combat veterans or deployment veterans. I realized that as people get out and the army loses its 06:15:00institutional experience, it seems like there is a theme of being condemned to repeating history and learning the same lessons in blood and treasure over and over again. Now, I have that tribal knowledge now and so the next five times in my career, when we end up doing anything other than combined arms maneuver warfare, and I'm good at combined arms maneuver warfare, but the stuff that we constantly issue, I'm good on that too and I can speak on that from experience.
The next time, when I'm some colonel or major, or something, and my unit says,"We've got to go do this stability thing in Afghanistan or Iraq," I am now a more senior experienced stakeholder in this organization and just like from Iraq to Afghanistan, I was able to demonstrate significant agency and more advocacy in that job to get us to what I thought my vision was to fight that war, I'm only going to have, I think, more of an outsider's influence as I move around in organizations to make sure that we're fighting this same war better the next time around.
A few months after, still targeting grad school and trying like heck to get intoa good graduate program, I've met with Dr. Pete Mansour who was the head of the military history discipline at Ohio State University. As someone who is a prominent contributor to the way our country and part of that cohort of colonels and generals who got it in our dealing with counter-insurgency warfare, I exercised my privileges as an Ohio State student at times, because I was taking some brush-up economics classes and sociology and terrorism class to help me get into grad school, I am back from this experience. I am deeply affected by this experience and I don't know what I want to apply all this experience and knowledge that I've gained from it, and motivation.
I had a lot of motivation bubbling around, but I didn't know how I could turnthat into something. He said, "What do you really want to do?" I want to change the way we fight counter-insurgency. I want to institutionalize it better and I want to make sure that we take it seriously and resource it next time around. We need to go to school for that, because I was thinking about Hill jobs and try to affect things from the legislative side and he really said, "You need to go to school."
I got into Georgetown. I focused on international development, because that'swhere a lot of these conflicts take place is in developing nations and it's something that I think the whole of government approach is very important to these conflicts and so as a maneuver officer, knowing who my whole of government partners are in a stability or counter-insurgency fight would be invaluable. I studied international development. I worked for USAID and so I was just reflecting on it a few weeks ago, because now I'm in the Office of Secretary of Defense, and we're updating Defense Department-wide stabilization policy, and I'm helping to lead my team to re-write that.
The overall doctrine from which all the military services write their manuals,such as the 3-24 Counter-Insurgency Manual, we're re-writing that. In five years, from that meeting with Dr. Mansour, I was able to get into a place where I went to school, finished school, got some jobs and now I've got the job where I can actually affect the way the United States Military prosecutes these kinds of wars. Hopefully, we can create some sort of theory of change for such a massive organization.
JH: What's next for you?
RG: My presidential management fellowship ends next September, whereupon I willend up somewhere in the civil service as a GS-13 and hopefully in a place where I can continue to affect policy like this. I think that's kind of what I think of when I think about what's next for me. What's next for me is the battle between staying in the military and staying relevant in the military, not just being the old-timer who sticks his thumbs in his belts and says, "When I was in 06:20:00Iraq..." but making that relevant to how the next generation is going to have to fight that war because there is plenty of guys who came in and out of our unit and talked about all the great things they did on deployment, but it never affected our training schedules. It never affected the environment that we created when we were training in it. It was just Joe puffing his chest and talking about how he shot at stuff.
Making sure that I'm not just sticking my thumb in my belt hooks and saying, "Idid some cool stuff in Iraq," but saying, "This is how we need to train for the next time we go," or "This is how we need to train for the next low-intensity conflict." Also, continuing to remain relevant in parts of my professional development that are not counter-insurgency and stability operations but if it ever comes down to combined arms maneuver fight, making sure I'm good to go there, as well and not being one of the kind of rambunctious old-timers that they do try to railroad out. Working within the system to change the system, without also selling out to the system.
I saw some really good colonels whom I admire greatly that were insurgentswithin the military system and some of them found success and are now general officers, famous general officers, and some of them just get fed up and said, "It's not worth it for me to try to change these idiots' minds. I could have this really cool job on the outside and spend more time with my wife." Just making sure that those things don't either get me kind of railroaded out or make me want to get out, that I never lose heart that I can get us ready for whatever that next conflict is. Not that it's all on me, but ...
JH: How would you say that your military experience in the way it shaped up inthe career and the Guard in particular? How has that affected you and your family?
RG: It's kind of defined my relationship with my wife, because one of the firstthings we tell folks about how we work as a couple is that we're really good at being apart. We're not very dependent upon each other. It's probably delayed our kid schedule by several years and I'm actually envious of previous generations because they went to war, the war happened. It was over and they came home. They never had to deal with ever again. There was one master-sergeant who was recently killed in action who had something like fourteen deployments. He was a very specialized operator and they may be shorter than one-year big army deployments but he has fourteen operational deployments of probably higher stress and higher intensity combat than I can even imagine.
I'm not sure how sustainable such a model is for peace keeping operations likeKosovo or multi-national force and observers in Egypt. It's very sustainable and that's what the European armies' bread and butter is is long duration, low-intensity peacekeeping, peace enforcement, but for what we're trying to do over fourteen years, I don't know. I think America will be very weary of ever engaging in something like that again. That's nice an essential thread or doesn't have the promise of a significant reward, just because of the impact it has on a very small, specialized cast of service members and their families.
Otherwise, it's given direction to my life. Again, when defining myself fromtenth grade to twenty-five, of wanting to be a naval aviator, I've still found direction and something I'm apt at in my National Guard service and I've been able to use that to compliment my civilian service, and vice-versa. I've refound that mutually edifying virtuous cycle of interplay between civilian and soldier that one helps the other.
JH: Given that I think it's just less than one percent of the US population06:25:00serves, what do you think that people watching this need to know about military service, about modern combat and about the people who choose to serve?
RG: We are implements of your power. We go and fight where you tell us to fightand where we are led to fight. Your decisions or inaction will lead us into conflict. Sometimes, for obvious and just causes and sometimes, less so. To be the most jealous guardians of not just our national security but the resources of our young men and women to know what's going on and take an active stance in what's going on.
Again, I characterize our entry into Iraq as they were educated, good,well-meaning people who both believed that it was a just cause and worth our attention, and that there is severe threat to the United States, that didn't, but you need to have vocal, energetic, informed debate on both sides of such an issue to make sure of making the right and best decision possible. Or, if we made the wrong decision, we made it after intense public scrutiny and that we are representatives of America, that military service broadens our horizons. If we give you your soldiers back and they are not the same, maybe they learned something, maybe they met people they wouldn't have otherwise met. We then become ambassadors from our military service and from the rest of America, and from the world back to our local communities.
Otherwise, we're not aliens. We are not some nameless, faceless security force,but we are your neighbor's kid, your employees and we generally demographically represent the people and the backgrounds of the United States of America, so we are of you. Even though we're largely relegated to a few dozen bases in the south, we'll go where they send us and we'll do what they ask us to. It needs to be informed, resourced, thoughtful.
Listen to our stories when we're through to make sure that that effort was worthit and recognize that we don't all come back irredeemably disturbed from our services. We're not all basket cases or charity cases, but our service and our need for support doesn't end with our service.
JH: Given that [inaudible 02:28:40] it seems like there are changes you want tomake in how we do current [inaudible 02:28:47] wars we're in, based on your service experience, your deployments and what you've seen. Given that there are some changes that you want to make, what keeps you serving with the Army National Guard? Why do that from the inside or as a service person?
RG: Lots of reasons. It's very strange to be in the case - I'm a very good casein that I can continue to gain operational experience while I'm also affecting policy. The active duty military folks that they pick to do these things, you'll go be a battalion commander for three years, and then you'll come to the Pentagon and you will write policy for three years. Then, you'll go out and be a brigade commander for a few years, and then you'll come to the Pentagon and do whatever for a few years.
Also, the military totally controls that process so they might self-select orhave some selection bias in there where this guy wants to fight the Hulk-Smash kind of war, let's put him in this office so he can write the Hulk-Smash policy. 06:30:00It's a bit of a wildcard, in that the military had little to no planning or preparation, or grooming. I'm not the guy that a uniformed colonel said, "This guy is going to be colonel like I am someday, and he's going to be a colonel like I am someday. Let's make him write his policy."
In that way, my civilian track is extremely separate from my military track, tomy advantage, because I come with different supporters, different nuanced expertise, different lexicon, different network of inter-agency, contacts that I can bring different ideas to bear and I'm totally motivated to be where I am because I have those different ideas. Simultaneously, my reserve service gives me up to the minute operational experience to where I can be in a high-level meeting one day, discussing something and say, "I was just at this low-level thing the other day and the message that you think you're putting out at this level is not what's getting received at the captain level."
I was in maneuver captains career course just last month and they were stillteaching this doctrine. It's extremely beneficial to keep those tracks mutually supportive and the changes I'd like to make I guess, a great paper just phrased it like this that traditional warfare or conventional warfare is the paradigm, but grey zone challenges such as low-intensity conflict are the norm. There is a great book called Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot and the Marine Corps is a little more keen on this because they are more expeditionary and deployable in nature, especially in the Pacific, but do a lot of low-level engagement in the developing world, but small wars and low-intensity conflicts outnumber our traditional conventional wars.
It's depending on what you define as what several dozen to several hundred toone, and so if anyone in the army or in the military is going to say, "Look, this is the way we have, we will and we always will fight wars," even though we have to be ready to fight and have to resource the big conventional battles to defend the homeland or support our allies overseas, we don't need to divert all the resources, but we do need to institutionalize our ability to take everything else seriously and stop confining them to a junk drawer.
That comes down to changes in the way we classify personnel, instituting actualspecific military jobs, perhaps for combat advisors and other skills that are useful in those grey zones. The way we think about different mission sets and the walls between special operations forces, general purpose forces and also calling for greater integration across the inter-agency, because ideally, if your ultimate goal is political stability, good governance, democratic institutions, or at least representative institutions, none of those are necessarily the Department of Defense [inaudible 02:33:50]. That needs to be perhaps a state department or USAID-led initiative.
When is the time and who is the agency that we transition leadership of thiseffort to and why do they not have an overarching federal government, whole federal government response plan, it's kind of calling for those things from within the system.
JH: Is there anything about your service that you would like to add?
RG: I probably dimed out some folks in this history or made it sound like I wasdown on certain experiences. Even after twenty-four hours ago, I was freezing my rear-end off in Ravenna but it's been, and I go through this just five levels of acceptance every drill weekend with my wife about denial, anger, acceptance, bargaining about how I don't want to go to drill, but especially now being a 06:35:00commander, it's been extremely fulfilling throughout because of the way people treated me when I was a young soldier and non-commissioned officer. Folks saw potential in me, they helped me unlock it and get it going in the right direction. They invested time, energy and effort in me and in large part, maybe the man I am today and now I get to do that.
People still do that for me and I get to do that for my soldiers. I've been ableto connect soldiers with jobs, behavioral health care, community resources that they need. I've been able to see things that aren't soldiers' jobs but that they are really good at and help them maximize those talents and apply those talents to either to their military work or their civilian work. It's paid for almost all my education.
The National Guard is I think perfectly unique in the sense that it is theconstitution of militia that has evolved from. The Northwest Territory and the Massachusetts Bay Colony Militia in 1636 to we are the actual defenders of the homeland. The United States Army, the Air Force, they all nominally have an obligation to defend the homeland, but it's very fitting that the motto of one of the best states to be from in the Army National Guard, the Ohio National Guard, their official registered motto with the institute of [inaudible 02:36:50] is "Ohio will take care of itself." That speaks to the unique character of the Ohio National Guard among all the states' National Guards and I think we are of Ohio and I think we are what's best about Ohio.
My ability to serve in the Ohio National Guard no matter where I'm living keepsme connected to my home in a way that I can't even articulate how much I appreciate, because I don't transfer to DC, Virginia or Maryland because I don't care as much about what happens in DC, Maryland or Virginia. I love Ohio. Ohio is where my family is. I want to protect the places where I grew up, the schools that are dear to me and so I want to come hopefully talk people down during a riot. It hopefully never happens but during a riot or bring boiled water to communities when there is algae or serve in combat alongside Ohio-men and women and this is the place where I can do that.