Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hey L.T. - wanna try?

A little while ago I wrote about some of the missions that we accomplish (see below) and one of them was SAR (Search and Recovery). In our squadron we have 4 groups of people, all of which perform a distinct function:

Pilots: Of course you can't really fly anything without a qualified pilot - well I assume you could, but I'd say the odds are that gravity would take over and calamity would ensue. One of the important groups of people we have are pilots. All in our squadron are commissioned officers - most rank between LT (O3) and CDR (O5) and vary between 5-25 years of experience in the Navy. At some point they have been through various stages of training, most of which I can not name, and they have earned their "Wings of Gold". They are therefore provided the classification of "Naval Aviator". We find them very important when we want the aircraft to go airborne...

AirCrew: These guys are all enlisted Sailors in the Navy, and ages and experiences vary. What I've learned over the last few months is that their paths can vary a good deal. Most seem to have started as maintainers (more on them later) and decided that they wanted to change their job (so to speak) to become an aircrewman. I know even less about their training, except that they are the ones that know how to operate all the gadgets inside the helicopter - the hoist, the guns, the communications equipment - whatever it takes to get the mission done other than fly the aircraft. One of their other jobs is to be a SAR swimmer - where they jump out of aircraft and swim to the rescue of those in need. So not only are these guys tasked with operating the cabin, looking out the door for obstructions, and potentially defending the aircraft by shooting bad-guys - they may also have to jump out and save you.

SIDENOTE: Sometimes these guys can have amazing 'sea stories' and you find yourself somewhat in awe of things they have done. For instance there is a Chief at our squadron who had 39 'saves' during relief missions for Katrina in New Orleans. Yes - he saved 39 people from situations that they could not get themselves out of - that's impressive in my book!

Maintainers: I kinda fall into this category as I do work in the maintenance department, but these guys are 'ground-pounders' or 'wrench turners'. Working in 3 shifts on a 24 hour-a-day basis they inspect, fix and maintain the aircraft - all the way from the frame to the engine to the electronic equipment that is in there. They pretty much know everything about the aircraft, and how to fix it. It really is quite amazing when you think about taking your car into the shop, and you hand it over to the mechanic, and a few days later its fixed. Now there's a pretty good amount of stuff going on in your car - now take that and add communications equipment, weapons systems, and a 100 times more powerful engine. Oh and if that stuff doesn't work, then 5-6 people could die because when failure occurs in a helicopter you really can't pull off into the breakdown lane!

Front Office: As with any smoothly operating office we have our administration department. These people work very hard at getting all the paper that the paper-less Navy seems to generate done. Downstairs in our squadron are the maintainers and upstairs is the front office and administration departments. I find myself climbing a lot of stairs on a daily basis trying to get things that upstairs wants, and trotting down to my office to get it ordered.

Every afternoon at the squadron the OPS department posts the flight schedule for the next day, listing what pilots and what aircrew are going on what mission. I saw that there were going to be SAR jumps going on the next day, and those are not usually on the flight schedule. I figured that I would ask the question "Can I go on that flight and jump?". Most everyone seemed OK with it - but unfortunately the request never made it across the CO's desk, and I was relegated to try another day.

Instead I saw some of the AirCrew heading out in the rescue boat - in the event that something happened and someone needed to be rescued during the exercise. I asked if I could tag along - since my wife isn't here, and all I have is an empty hotel room to come back to, sitting in a boat watching this stuff seemed like a great great alternative. We went out in the boat and waited for the helicopter to take off - at this time I realized how a sense of humor comes in handy in the Navy. As we sat in the inflatable rubber boat the coxswain radioed in to the helicopter, and requested our call sign changed... to 'rubber ducky'... and so it was for the rest of the night. Men who had saved others lifes, run missions through areas unknown in Iraq were being referred to as 'rubber ducky' - humor ensues.

The first two sets of jumps went off well for the most part. It seemed as if the crewman in charge of the hoisting had some issues with the hoist at first, and some of them seemed jerky, but everyone did two jumps and were recovered successfully.

There was a nightime part of this training evolution, and we had to wait about 30 min for the sun to set. During this time the swimmers came over to the boat, and hung on the outside just talking and waiting. One of them asked me "hey LT - you wanna try?". Needless to say I was hesitant as I'm not really sure if I was supposed to be in the boat, but I'm pretty sure that I wasn't supposed to be geared up and getting hoisted up. In all honesty, it didn't take much to convince me, but I was sold on the fact that this was a good training opportunity for the guys - taking someone who didn't know what they were doing and then 'teaching them'.

So I took the mask and snorkle, harness and flippers and jumped into the water. We hung out there for a bit waiting for the helicopter to return. As it did, we all swam into a line in the water, and the first group got ready to be hoisted.

When the helicopter starts to come over, it not only gets reall really loud, but it also starts to spray water everywhere. As I was given the gear I was told to make sure I had my mask on when the helicopter came over and to breathe through the snorkel as it would be almost impossible to breathe and see without them. This I found out was very true. When the helicopter came over the spray from the rotorwash was pelting me in the face, and it didn't really hurt - but it was kinda annoying. Then I watched the first group hook up and get hoisted up, then the helicopter came our way.

We had to go up in tandem simulating the rescuer (not me) and the person being rescued (definitely me). I swam over with the guy that was rescuing me, and tried to find the hoist. It was really difficult to see it - its dark, there is ocean spray everywhere, and there is a hook with an orange flag on it that's sitting under water. Needless to say we got there, we hooked up and off we went! It didn't last long, but it was amazing, we went up in the air just under the helicopter then back into the water and up and down again. There you are at night, being hoistted out of water, and the only thing to identify you is a night stick attached to your harness. Really really cool... I can't believe people are paid to do this stuff :)

When I got back I had to tell Jen, and I don't think that I really got to sleep until late that night. I'm sure for those that do this regularly its not a big deal, but for a Supply Officer, these experiences are not offerred very much - so when they are you have to take them. My hope is to get on a GUNEX soon and I hear they are actually doing jumps again in OCT - I'm going to beg and plead to jump out of the helicopter next time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


When I first knew I was reporting to a helicopter squadron something hit me: I'd never actually been in a helicopter. Strange feeling when you're going to work for a group of people that go fly in these things every day, and you don't even have a clue what it is they do, or what its even like to be in one. During my check-in process I spoke with the CO and XO, and expressed interest in going up on a ride with the pilots to see what it was like - they wholeheartedly agreed, all I had to do was schedule it.

Over the next few months I kept mentioning it to the Operations room, the ones who schedule the flights, and eventually I managed to get on a flight. I was told that it was going to be an EW 'hop' - in other words it was an Electronic Warfare flight that we were going on. First let me explain the different kinds of flights the squadron may do on any given day:

EW: I'll start here, since this is the flight that I went on, and I have at least an idea of what they do here. The purpose of an EW hop is to practice evading radar, once it is locked on to you. In order to do this you have to get low and fast, banking and rolling - basically like a roller coaster. There are radar sites with different kinds of radar (can't say which exact types!) that try to lock you on, then once you're locked on a simulated fire message is issued - basically they just shot a surface to air guided missle at you (for pretend). At this point the helicopter tries to get as low to the earth and evade the missles and/or radar system that is tracking it.

GUNEX: This is one of the training exercises I really want to go on - its where they mount up a GAU and a 240, and go to the range and shoot thousands of rounds. Think of it this way - a GAO can shoot up to 4,000 rounds or so per minute!

SAR JUMPS: SAR stands for Search and Recovery - so this is when someone is downed, either on land or at sea and they send a helicopter out to rescue that person. If the mission is at sea then swimmers must jump from about 10 - 15 feet in the air, and then swim to the rescue of whoever needs it. There will be more on this in another post - I'm trying to get permission to do the jumps myself :)

NSW Training: Yeah - I can't really say much about these. Let's just say that our squadron has Special Forces swing by every once and a while, and they go out and play. Unfortunately these are training missions that I'll never be able to join on - but as I've said before, I'm glad there are people who do what they do.

So I got to do an EW hop, and I'm glad I did. Essentially during this training exercise were going to be locked on by different kinds of radar, and then do evasion of that radar capability. Our hard deck for this mission was 35 feet - meaning that aircraft shouldn't be flown below 35 feet. Why? Well there are trees that were 30 feet tall in the area.

The flight out was pretty cool - it was different being in a helicopter, its not like being in an airplane. Obviously the take off is a little different since you go almost straight up, and there's no massive acceleration. There's also that great big difference that the windows are all open, and the door is open! That's more than necessary as on a summer day the cabin can get really hot, and the air that rushes in cools you down nicely.

We traveled down from Norfolk into North Carolina where the radar training sites were located. The flight down was pretty simple, we flew along the coast, just barely over the water - a lot of people on the ground waived to us. We did a quick stop, where the helicopter rocks back in the air and slows its forward progress quickly which was fun.

When we arrived at the site we did a few practice passes through it, so familiarize one of the pilots with the layout of the area since he had not been there before. I heard the call that we had been locked on, and then the fun began. Immediately upon hearing that the radar had lock, and I think they said fire - we dove down, hit the accelerator and started banking and rolling. Here's a video of it I made from my camera...

If you can see it, you'll see that the horizon is going up and down, meaning we're banking and rolling all over the place. It became apparent to me why some of the pilots had said to eat a light lunch earlier in the day.

Overall it was a lot of fun, and quite an experience. As I said before I'm going to try and get into a GUNEX and SAR JUMPS. These kinds of experiences are not the main reason, but definitely one of the reasons, that I joined the Navy to begin with. It really is amazing when you see some of the opportunities to do things that others will never get to see or do. I'm grateful that I'm going to get to do them!

UPDATE: I've gotten confirmation - I'll be heading to Iraq sometime in the last week of October, only for a few weeks...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Attention in the HSC84 spaces, Seawolves arriving

Helicopter Assault [Light] 3 - HA[L]3
Our legacy. This took a while to go write up, but its still a great story, and I had to make sure that I posted it. On July 18th we had a visit from members of the HA[L]3, Vietnam War veterans who were frankly amazing gentlemen to speak with. I need to backtrack here just a bit to how they came to visit us. I was walking through my hotel lobby (yes, I have to stay in a hotel because barracks on base are completely full), and I noticed that there was a Vietnam Veterans reunion going on. Their name was called the "Game Wardens of Vietnam", essentially there were a few different groups there, but there were a lot of helicopter guys, ground pounders and small boat craft veterans. As I was walking through I saw a few gentlemen with the logo posted above, the logo for the HA[L] 3 Seawolves, so I stopped and chatted with them for about 5 minutes. I explained I was a member of HSC 84, and that our legacy was the Seawolves (we are now called the Redwolves).

When I mentioned this to Senior Chief Danner the next day at work, all he could say was "Cool, you invited them to the hangar right?". Oops, rookie mistake, I let members of our legacy, those that had served before us in essentially the same unit go by without offering them our hospitality. Needless to say that night the reunion was still going on in my hotel, and I spent about an hour hunting down the same guys - and I made sure to invite them to our hangar the next day. I exchanged phone numbers, and eventually it was decided that at 1500 they would come by and visit.

The next day around 1500, I saw them in the parking lot and went back into the maintenance desk to let everyone know they were coming in. Next thing I heard was over the 1 MC "Attention in the HSC 84 Spaces, Seawolves now arriving". One of the pilots that knew a lot more about our history than I did, had met them in the parking lot and walked them into the hangar. We had a big poster board out that had pictures of the squadron throughout the years, from the Bin Thuy flightline that they used to work out of, to our current day hangar and the HH-60H helos that we fly today. These guys seemed to be very impressed with that, and were taking a look over the board quite intently.

Next we brought them out to into the hangar and started to show them the birds that we currently fly. Some of the pilots and aircrewman seemed pretty amazed at how the helos looked now compared to what they had flown back in the day.

A little sidebar history here on HA[L] 3. I'm going to recount what I remember both hearing, and what I've remembered reading - as my wife likes to tell me, my memory can be shaky, and this may not 100% accurate. I apologize in advance if I'm wrong here... HA[L] 3 was originally stood up using Army huey's. The Army Huey, or Bell UH-1, looks like this:

These Hueys were essentially left over birds, ones that could be spared for the Navy. Both the Army and Marine Corps had great necessity for these helicopters due to their nature of combat, so the Navy had to make due with what it could get at the time. One of the main reasons HA[L] 3 was stood up was out of necessity. During the Vietnam war there were small light attack craft patrolling the water ways of Vietnam - you know the ones that John Kerry served on. These craft needed air cover during most of their missions, and so the Army was originally tasked with providing it. This did not work out as well as either branch had hoped, and so the Navy stood up its own helicopter assault force, which was HA[L] 3.

From what I can gather the primary mission for HA[L] 3 was to do insertion and extraction of SEALs (sound familiar? our mission today!) and to cover the PBR boats that were patrolling the water ways of Vietnam. It was a dangerous mission, and unfortunately HA[L] 3 suffered many KIAs and WIAs during the Vietnam War - but they were most certainly heroes to almost everyone they served with. One Veteran that I spoke with at my hotel said this when I told him I was looking for HA[L] 3 members: "HA[L] 3, those guys were crazy! They would fly into places I didn't think a helicopter could fly, but man, they'd fly in there. I swore half of them were nuts. I thank God they did though, they saved our lives quite a few times." I remember this gentleman because he was a veteran of a PBR boat, or a River Patrol Boat, and I could tell he had great respect for the men of HA[L] 3.

In the hangar we showed them around a bit, and the men were looking at the aircraft, comparing what weapons we had on them now to the weapons they flew. Of course we now have Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), radar, and a host of counter measure systems. Our armament is a little more up to date as well, but it was amazing listening to the men of HA[L] 3 and some of the missions that they accomplished. During their visit we took this photo in the hangar bay -

Yep - there's me in the front row on the right, surrounded by real heroes and warriors - I was proud to be there.

There is one gentleman that you need to try and locate now - He has a large white beard an is in the back row. His head is turned to the left hand side of the photo.. find him? Now here's his story, and I'm going to do my very best to recount it.

How to Win A Navy Cross 101
The gentleman in the picture above is the recipient of the US Navy Cross. To put how amazing that is the Navy Cross is ranked in order of precedence, one behind the Medal of Honor. That is purely in the Navy order of precedence, but it is the highest ranking medal you can receive in the Navy - other than the Medal of Honor. That should sink in a moment because most of these medals are given posthumously, because the acts of bravery are so selfless that most have died to accomplish them.

While we were chatting in the squadron hangar bay, we could all see that he had earned that medal - he was wearing a small replica of all his medals. So we asked him to recount the story, and I'm going to try my best to both paraphrase and recount the story accurately. I hope I can get across the magnitude of the actions this man took, without losing any of the facts.

From what he recounted to me, the story went like this:

There was a ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), or the South Vietnamese Army, battalion that was doing a patrol in the jungle. In that battalion there was an embedded Master Sargeant and Major from the US Army, acting as consultants. What the ARVN battalion command did not know was that there were traitors in their midst, and they had given away the entire planned patrol route to the North Vietnamese. Thus this battalion was walking directly into an ambush.

When the firefight broke out, the Army Major on the ground called for air support and an extraction. The words that I remember the gentleman telling me were that they were "getting killed down here". Thus HA[L] 3 went into action. They got into their Huey's and took off to the area where the firefight had broken out, and the distress call was being sent from.

As they arrived the second Huey took fire, and the pilot was injured and some hydraulics had been hit - so he was in pretty bad shape. It turns out that as the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had known where the battalion would be patrolling, they also knew there would be gunship support - so they armed themselves with anti-air caliber guns. At this point with his wing man hit, and injured, and the men on the ground in dire straits - he ordered his wingman home, and continued on.

He went down and continued to fire from the air, even though the Army Major had insisted that they were "done for" and they couldn't be saved. The situation was so bad on the ground that the command had almost been overrun and they were calling off support.

Instead of heading home, he decided to continue in and rescue those that were left. As he radioed in he asked for them to pop smoke to identify the LZ (landing zone) where the friendly troops were. Part of the information the NVA spies had managed to gather was the color of the smoke they would pop in the event an extraction was necessary. So the NVA also popped the same smoke, and he unfortunately landed near the NVA instead of the ARVN unit. He took large amounts of small arm fire, but managed to take off again, and relocate the ARVN unit on the ground.

The second landing didn't go much better - even though he was closer to the friendly unit on the ground, the NVA was all around and the Huey was taking a large amount of small arms fire again. The Army Major and Master Sergeant, as well as the ARVN Battalion commander, managed to get on board the Huey, even though they were injured. Due to the weight of the additional men on board, plus the Huey being hit from small arms fire, taking off did not go well. Instead of climbing and gaining altitude as helicopters usually do, the Huey just bounced along the ground. The clearing they were in was not large, and so as they bounced along the ground trees were quickly approaching and endangering the Huey. The solution was to use all the rockets loaded on the Huey and blow the trees down, giving them enough 'runway' to take off successfully.

So to summarize, this man managed to risk his (and his crew's life) to save 3 other men, and in the face of unbelievable odds thought clearly enough to clear a 'runway' so they could take off. The end of the story goes well enough, all the men survived, but a lot were injured. The twist here is that when the Army Major woke up there was a JAG Lieutenant (Judge Advocate General - yes lawyers) standing in front of him. He started asking strange questions, and when the Major asked why he was asking those questions the JAG LT said "well we're trying to determine whether to charge the pilot with a court martial". The Major apparently replied something like "Court martial? I'm alive because of that man, and he should have the medal of honor" - and wouldn't say anything else.

Unfortunately he had violated two major Rules of Engagement at the time:
1) Never leave your wingman - yes, all you Top Gun fans, it's true.
2) Never go against overwhelming enemy fire.

As you can see the net outcome is that the Navy came to its senses and honored a man who risked all to save a few men. My most unfortunate side of this whole story is that I can not remember his name - if I can, then I will surely post it.

Overall it was a great day with the HA[L] 3 Seawolves, and its one of those experiences I don't want to ever forget!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What to expect.. when you're...

Well this will be a bit more of a personal post today as there's a lot going on at work, and I need a 'happy thought'. Much like Peter Pan I wish I could fly away at the moment, but alas Captain Hook is not after me lucky charms.... yeah, it's been that kinda day.

The most important thing here is that Jen and I are expecting! Yes, its true, at some point the big man upstairs went against all logic and has allowed me to procreate.. to some of my older friends: Stop shaking your head in disbelief!

How I found out is a funny story, and so I shall regale you with my tale.

A few weeks into mobilization I came home for a weekend, and thought that I would be a good husband and take care of my wife by cooking dinner. So I went got some burgers (nice good ones), threw them on the grill and had some nice toppings for them. Well Jen likes her burgers rare to medium rare, and she thought it looked great. Within about 5-10 minutes of the first bite, she's running to the bathroom... my grill master ego was shot. Fast forward to the next morning, and I take some asagio cheese bread and make a killer french toast. At least this time she made it through the meal, but then ended up rather ill for the next hour or so.

I had to leave the next morning for work, and didn't think much of it. During the next week Jen was rather terse, or quick on the phone, and I thought she was rather angry at me. So again, thinking I would be a good husband I planned a little dinner for that Friday when I got back home again. The night before she had mentioned she had a little surprise for me when I got home, but threatened to hang up the phone if I pressed the issue. One of the questions that I (honestly here) innocently asked was "I know you're running a little late..." to which the answer was "G-D D-it!!". That reaction had me a bit perplexed, but moving on to the next day.

When I finally got home I told Jen I had a little surprise... there were steaks ready to be cooked, some nice side items, and a bottle of nice wine ready for dinner. She wanted to give me her surprise first. She handed me a little package all wrapped up, and when I opened it I pulled out a little onesy that said "My Daddy Rocks". This is when I do my best Keanu Reeves impression... complete deer in the headlights look going on, I had no clue why she had just handed this to me. Based on this reaction, and my astute question of "what's this for" she yelled out "Put it together stupid - I'm pregnant!" Right so there's the story, at least how I remember it, and its written down - so over the next few months while my mind starts to slowly grip this whole "I'm going to be a Dada" thing I won't forget.

At this point Jen is approximately 14 weeks in, just outside of her first trimester, and I'm learning a whole lot. Here are some things that I have learned over the last few weeks, and mind you, I've been a geo-bachelor and not home every day, so I'm sure there's more I could learn:

- Pregnant women require a vast amount of rest. Yes, she managed over 30 hours of sleep one weekend. Yes, she slept for over 50% of the weekend. Jen sleeps a lot, but good lord!
- One of the most amazing events of my short life thus far is when I went to the second ultra sound appointment. I couldn't make the first one due to work, but I'm more than glad I made the second. I could see the head, the tiny little arms, and it started to look like a baby = wow!
- Movies about pregnant women like "Knocked Up" become infinitely more funny, and you start to understand these little nuances that never made any sense. Yeah, it happens... and I'm definitely reading the 'baby books'.

So that's it, January 16th (or 25th depending on the doctor Jen visits) is the due date. We've already painted the nursery, and its going to be Winnie the Pooh whether boy or girl. Thank the good lord I didn't have to go to Iraq for this whole time!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So I shed my butterbar

Now introducing... LTJG!!
Been too long since my last post, but some things have happened since then... some personal, which I will address in a later blog entry, and some professional. Professionally I've now been in the Active Duty Navy for about 2 months now and I'm fully engrossed in the Navy Aviation Supply Systems. One thing that did happen to me was a promotion!

When I entered the Navy I was a DCO (Direct Commission Officer) and there's a whole process behind that. In a nutshell I spent over 2 years putting together letters of recommendation, interviewing with senior active duty officers, going through medical checks and taking tests. When all that was said and done my 'package' went before a board of Supply Corps Officers. I don't know what happens at these boards, and unless you are selected as a member of them you probably never will, but someone there thought me worthy of being an officer. Here's where two very important dates come into play: Date of Rank and Oath of Office.

Date of Rank
: When the board selects you, there are other steps along the way before you can be commissioned into the Navy. First your approved package goes onto a 'roll list' where congress then has to approve you as well. Next you are approved by the President, or so they tell me, I don't think that he actually ever saw my name, but hey - if he did then I find that rather cool. Anyway there's probably nitty gritty that I'm missing, but that's the high level process that you go through. Mind you this is different than Active Duty and really only applies to the Navy Reserve DCO program, so other officers out there may have a completely different experience than mine.

From this point I received a phone call telling me that I was approved and that I was going to commissioned in the Navy Reserve - here's where the Date of Rank comes into play. I'm not 100% sure, but pretty close that once approved by the Executive level for a commission that becomes your Date of Rank. This date is very important on multiple levels since it determines who is senior and who is junior among similar pay grades. It also dictates when you are promoted, which for those interested in pay raises becomes very important! :) More on this later...

Commissioning Date
This, AKA the date on your Oath of Office, kinda confused me at first since I thought it was the date that I was officially in the Navy. Well it was, and it wasn't, and there's differences between the day you take your Oath of Office and the day you may be promoted. My Date of Rank is 30 JUN 06, and the day I took my Oath of Office was 25 JUL 06. Yeah, it takes about a month for the papers to go from the approval stage, to the recruiter so he can swear you in - and the strange thing is that I was one of the faster ones.

The gist here is that while I wasn't sworn into the Navy until 25 JUL 06, I still get promoted on the 30th of JUNE. So on the 30th of JUNE I went from ENS to LTJG.

From ENS to JG
There are some massive differences between enlisted sailors and officers in the Navy when it comes to promotion. E-3 (Seaman or Airman) to E-7 (Chief Petty Officer) have to take an exam, pass it, then go before a board and be selected for promotion. That is a bit different in the officer ranks - 01 (ENS) to 03 (LT) are automatic, at 04 (LCDR) you then have to be boarded in order to be promoted. The rule of thumb is, and this is really over simplifying it, just don't screw up and you'll make LT. Does this minimize the rank of LT as an officer? Some people have told me so, but then again its a very difficult to be selected as an officer to begin with. Making CPO, now that's a different story, lots of respect to those who make CPO in the Navy!

Now I am a LTJG, or ENS (Upper Half), as some may like to call it. What this means is I get a little more pay. Essentially I'm out of that nice cushy situation where everyone knows I've been in the Navy a while, I'm by no means a seasoned veteran, but I'm definitely not brand new... so some of the naive excuses I could have used for the last 2 years don't carry as much weight now!

Look for some more posts to come about work, and also some personal stuff :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A bunch of mutts!

One of the things that makes our unit different than most is how it is comprised. To lay it out a little bit one needs to know how personnel can be classified in the Navy and the Navy Reserve Component. This is something that I've had to learn a lot about over the last few weeks, so here goes my best explanation:

Active Duty - Active Duty is the easiest to explain because its pretty self evident: a sailor who's day to day job is in the Navy, full time. Depending on if this is an enlisted sailor or a warrant/commissioned officer can change a great number of things of course. Enlisted Sailors have enlistments, which they are legally obligated to fulfill, and once their time is up they can leave the service. Commissioned officers are a bit different in that they may have a 4 year obligation, and then they too can leave the service - but they can be subjected to recall in the event of war etc. At least that's what I've been told, and anyone who's been in the service can tell you there can be bad gouge all around.

Full Time Support (FTS) - This guys used to be called 'TAR's or Training and Administration of Reserves, but now they are FTS. They are a seperate community within the Navy that allows a sailor to essentially be on Active Duty, but their jobs are specifically tailored to supporting the reserves. So you may have people with administration jobs that are in the FTS community, and they help with a lot of the paperwork, pay issues and things of that nature for reservists. If you're a reservist in the Navy, these guys really do an important job of supporting you and making sure things are taken care of.

Selected Reserves (SELRES) - So here's where I fit into this picture, I am a SELRES - more specifically a Mobilized SELRES or MOBSELRES. Essentially I am a reservist, I have a civilian job, and I'm the guy that does one weekend a month / 2 weeks a year. When the need arises, in the event of contingency operations around the world, I can be either voluntarily or involuntarily called to Active Duty. In this case I was involuntarily called to active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), with a boots on ground (BOG) of no less than 350 days and up to 24 months.

MOBSELRES vs Individual Augmentee (IA) - I had a hard time with this one actually, and the benefits and drawbacks to being one or the other. An IA is someone who has been pulled from their command and placed somewhere else as an individual. They could be an Active Duty sailor that gets orders to be an IA to another command for a year or they could be an FTS that gets IA orders, and in lot of cases in Iraq and Afghanistan they are reservists that are filling individual billets.

Our squadron is unique in that we are a reserve squadron that has been mobilized as a unit since 2004. Since we have been mobilized as a unit since 2004, that means we have a great need of people to fill jobs that are available in our command. We fill them with some FTS, some Active Duty IAs and some MOBSELRES.

Here's where this gets tricky... FTS usually get orders to our squadron for about 2-3 years, meaning that they will be with us for a good duration of time. This will be an FTS's permanent assignment, and they will be around a while. IA's on the other hand are usually on loan to us from another command for a certain duration of time - usually a year. Also MOBSELRES are usually mobilized for 365 days in most cases, and therefore around for a shorter duration.

From a personnel manning perspective this makes managing schedules, and who gets what training one of the biggest nightmares on a day to day basis. Our squadron can look like grand central station on bad days with all the new people checking in. For the most part the first week of each month a new group of people are rolled in from Ft. Jackson IA training and assigned to us. They are then placed in their perspective work centers and told what their job will be on a day to day basis.

DETACHMENTS!!!! - DETS throw another monkey in the wrench where we send a group of people over to Iraq for 3 months, constantly rotating people over and back. There are also DETS that happen for training purposes in the US.

Here's the gist, and the wrap up for this lovely novel - with people coming in every month, people rotating to the desert, and people transferring out or retiring, we spend a lot of time just trying to figure out who we're going to get.

That's it for now... for those who may be interested in what kind of helicopter we fly here's a nice picture. I'm going to really work on trying to get more pictures or video up here soon!

Friday, June 13, 2008

So that's how you do it!

Just saw my CO do a re-enlistment ceremony, and after my bungle I found it rather 'instructive'. He managed to run through it from his memory, and didn't have him run through an entire sentence... of course he pointed that out to me after he finished!

First week as the SUPPO here is over and its been a bit hectic along with a learning experience. We've managed to solve a major hurdle involving a few hundred thou - which is good, and watching the budget on a day to day basis is priority one. The amount that we may spend on repairing a bird is very important, and getting the parts in time is even more important. If we can't order the parts in time, or make sure they are the correct parts, then maintenance can't get them.. and if maintenance can't get the parts, the birds don't fly!

Onto the weekend, some sun, and some sailing with Jen. I'm going to try and get some pictures posted up here soon as there is a lot of (what I think is) really cool things going on here. For one most of the Atlantic Fleet is home ported here, and the helicopters themselves along with a whole host of other things. Its certainly different than waking up every day worrying about customers and if they are going to buy software :)