22 May 2008

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24 September 2007

BOLCII: Final thoughts on BOLCII…

One of common themes to emails I received was how to prepare for BOLCII “experience”. From gathering current intel from other LTs at BOLCII Ft Benning and Ft Sill each BN, Co and PLT does things drastically different. You are right, it should not be but it is. In D Co CQ room there was a binder of a high level cmdrs presentation given when BOLCII was still in its pilot phase. It contained a number of AAR comments that were identical to the ones our PLT gave at the final BN AAR now almost two years later. What does that tell you? The Army monolith is slow to change but keep in mind at the same time the units concerned were tasked to run 1000 LTs thru a month in a new program during war time with very little support resources.

A common complaint was “too much time between training iterations” and a “waste of time for IOBC” Maybe it is my perspective of a few more years but for goodness sake used the time you are given even read a professional development book. I know from working with my unit what it is like to have 18-20 hr days with no weekends off. The Army takes and the Army gives –Understand and use it wisely. I still think there is significant value interfacing the Combat, CS and CSS LTs together from different commissioning sources and learning to work together.

But there is a valid point here. In my lowly opinion as a 2LT, BOLCII does not need to be 7 weeks. 5 weeks would be about right IF the programs were resourced properly. For the BOLCII experience to be uniform there needs to be spot checks from the BDE and BN levels at the PLT.

Examples of differences:

PT. Our PLT Mentor placed a high emphasis on PT every day, garrison or at the FOB with the exception of road march days. Moreover, it was “real” PT, no shamming. Other PLTs only did PT until the APFT and quit. Our PLT APFT average was about 273. We had about 10 LTs score 500 or above on the Iron Voyager APFT contest.

Meetings. Other PLTs constantly held “meetings” (I think they were professional development orientated, or maybe just cadre on a soap box) we would walk by and they would be in there for hours it seemed, with all the LTs looked as excited to be there as in a dentist office waiting for a root canal. Our PLT Mentor did believe in these, We had two professional meeting which were very intellectually engaging and that was it.

You could tell the PLT cadre that a “death grip” on their PLTs. Those PLT were the ones that did not display any enthusiasm or initiative, took forever at the arms room and lost sensitive items.

I heard of one PLT Mentor would keep his PLT will 2000+ on Fridays and then individually interview every single LT about their plans for the weekend and deny approve them even with in the 150 mi radius. Another PLT Mentor was a total shammer and got caught sleeping in a car during qualification.

Our PLT Mentor set the tone right away, he was very professional and down to earth. He expected us show responsibility take initiative and then let the PLT student leadership take care of business. Given, a requirements for that plan to work and be successful, is the personality, maturity and experience of the PLT members. If your PLT has a bunch of shammers and scum bags then the cadre will have to be a lot more involved.

PLT Cadre: I believe it is requirement to have several deployments to serve as a cadre and it is regarded as time for the CPT/E7/E6 to spend time with family before another tour. Some cadre will pencil in the training and others will go above and WAY beyond. We were fortunate and for the exception of one, all of our cadre genuinely wanted to prepare us and yet keep it done to earth.

FOB Missions. Our PLT ran 2 missions a day plus PT, other PLTs only ran 1 mission a day with no PT. Who got more sleep? Who got better experience?

I came during the hottest cycle possible for GA (Aug-Sep) and during a record heat wave, which accounts for the high number of LTs going to the hospital in an ambulance. Any other cycle should not experience this degree element of stress but you do need to be in shape. As a baseline, shoot for a 250 APFT with a decent run time and you should be fine. Be smart stay hydrated and used Gatorade /electrolyte replacement in your camel-bak and eat something every meal even though you may not feel like it.

PLT Demographics:

-41 with 1 international
-5 Females
-65% West Point (high % due to graduation timing) 4 LTS were OCS including me, the rest ROTC.
-About 12 IOBC, a few Armor, the rest CS and CSS.

From talking with a current LT a Ft Sill, his PLT has few West Pointers, 50% Female and the majority CS and CSS.

West Pointers: As a general rule a very sharp and physically fit bunch. They have an enviable tight bond after spending 4 years together. They had a few prior service graduates but for the most point had limited experience in the “real Army” Typical age 22. Lots of Airborne, Air Assault, and even SCUBA qualified.

ROTC: Hit or miss depending on the school. Some very high speed and mature LTs and some LTs that should have not been commissioned. Limited practical Army experience with the exception of prior service “Green to Gold” types. Age from 20 (yes 20!) to mid 30’s. Lots of Airborne qualified.

OCS (Federal, NG State and Accelerated): I am biased here since I am OCS, but I think OCS brought the best mix of experience of time inside/out the Army, the only group to go thru Basic Combat Training and a deep appreciation of earning our gold bar. The OCS commissioning source definitely stands above the sources with the level of physical, mental stress received (smokings!) and attention to detail taught during training. Age 28-32.

Note on social activities: Generally, you will have weekends off. You will need to prepare for the next week training (laundry, packing, reading/writing assignments due etc) but for the most part it is for you to rest and refit.

Columbus does have some rough areas so used some common sense and do the buddy team thing and know where you are going (i.e. Victory drive has an average of 3 people killed each weekend.) The historic riverfront is a project in progress and is very nice and is also the location of the better local drinking establishments/clubs. Anything further out and you run into the cougar type establishments. Be advised there can be a lot of testosterone flowing around with all the Ranger regiment and Airborne graduates, do not put yourself in a situation where you get in a confrontation and an enlisted/NCO strikes you because that will have serious career repercussions for them for striking an officer -even off duty. The MPs have an arrangement with the Columbus police and routinely patrol the historic area. Plenty of cabs run to and from base, it will cost you about $5 each.

Exit 7 has the Peachtree mall with a number of name brands and hotels. Exit 10 has a large modern strip with all the major chain restaurants and shopping outlets. The other exits have one or two points of interest but those are the main two exits.

P.S. I am going to try and fill in some of the missing days as I have time so check back.

20 September 2007

BOLCII Day 33: Graduation

0500 wake up, quick hygiene, take the rest of my stuff do to the car stand by for room inspection by SFC Kerr. There is definitely a difference with the ROTC rooms, as they had not dusted their wall lockers, shelves and desks. Hand over my key and time to collect linen.

Here is an example of classic Army way; we collect all the sheets blanks and pillow covers in bundle of 25, haul them down stairs and then find out they need to be individually turned in so we un-bundled everything, and bag one pillow case with blanket and 2 sheets call the PLT down and send the PLT there on their merry way.

NOTE: There was no contingency to have BOLCII LTs stay over post gradation in the barracks as all the cadre take advantage of the downtime before the next cycle. So plan to leave Ft Benning on graduation day if at possible for your BOLCIII. Otherwise, you will have to stay in a hotel or try to borrow a room from a IOBC LT.

At 0730 it very evident the chow long line is too long so a number of us POV to the on post Burger King and down some high quality food and reflect on the past 7 weeks and what the future holds for all of us. 0820 we head to the bld 4 for rehearsals. The parking lot is getting full because there is a Basic Training graduation on the front grounds and the Infantry conference is happing this week in bld 4.

Only the honor graduates have assigned seating the rest is a free for all in the front center section. At this point I hand out the “coveted” ACU BOLCII tab I had arranged a source for 3rd PLT to wear under left pocket flap (if you need a qty of these send me an email.) Rehearsal are quick and we are released to explorer the infantry conference, there is definitely a lot of cool gear on display by the vendors. Everything from the latest high speed uniforms, personal equipment, weapons and munitions, to robots and IED resistant trucks.

Back to Marshall Auditorium, a video presentation of pictures from our training (a number of my pictures show up, which is cool) prayer from the chaplain, a few good words from the guest speaker about what our PLT will expect from us, and the 2 honor graduates from each PLT go across the stage. We recite the Soldier’s creed, sing the first refrain of the Army song and we are pronounced “graduates of BOLCII.” The graduation is anti-climatic. However, honestly there really is no way they could run all 480 of us cross the stage in a timely manner. We each take away with the satisfaction of what we have put into of the program and the life long friendships we have made.

The only issue I have is wife traveled 4 hours from Augusta with sons and by the time she arrived, the MPs would not allow her to park in at the Infantry center and kept directing to her to the “next” entrance where she would be told that entrance was closed as well. Long story short, she missed the graduation. She was very unhappy about it and so am I.

POV back the Co area we collect our dental records from the previous day and then are called outside to a formation the cadre because the common areas are not clean enough, after threats of continued formations our PSG take over and assign details to get it knocked out. 30 mins later it must have meet with satisfaction as we are released to sign and copy our DA31s and receive our diplomas. I give the cadre each a BOLCII tab and they are suitably impressed. CPT McGinty even places it above his Ranger tab(!)

Off to SBOLC for me!

19 September 2007

BOLCII Day 32: Out process III

0545 at Peden field. We form up and move out for our C and D Co’s 4 mile run. The pace was about 8:45. CPT McGinty kept changing the distance between us and the lead PLT so it was almost like a fartlek run at times. The cooler temperature change is noticeable as I am barely sweating by the time we come back to Peden field.

Chow and change in to ACUs. Draw weapons and clean, clean. After touching up the few minor spots SSG Dunfee had found yesterday I take my weapon down to for another inspection, but I take a few cleaning supplies just in case. SGG Dunfee finds (or they appear, I’m not sure which!) a few more minor things, no sweat, I correct them on the spot, wait one person in line and SSG Dunfee finds a few more things! Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against a high standard and expect them of other myself but I find moving targets frustrating. -This plan is not working so I take my m4 upstairs to wait the process out.

After some quality time with a tooth brush, dental pick and CLP while watching Shooter DVD on my laptop I decided lunch time might make a good opportunity target time so down I go and this time I am a go for turn in. I spend the rest of the afternoon working on making the PLT movie with XPs movie maker. LT James is kind enough to not assign any details to me so I can stay focused.

CPT McGinity calls for 4th squad to received our end of cycle counseling. Counseling is individual and very informal. My rating is about the middle of the pack which considering the high percentage of tight knit West Pointers in the squad is pretty good. CPT Mcginty expresses his appreciation for my “senior age” (ha!) and maturity in helping maintain balance in the squad.

A detail was sent to the Ammo Supply Point (ASP) to count, inventory and restock all the unexpended and unused ammo from our training and apparent it was the worst experience of all BOLCII for them! No food, no water and very over bearing DA civilians for 8 hours with multiple redundant verifications of the ammo. They have all promised when they get to their units, there will be organized spend-ex’s but NO unexpended ammo, ever!

We were released at a reasonable time. LT Grams and Boudro and I headed to chow for a snack so we could start packing and still be hungry for the PLT party at the IOBC LTs house. We packed an hour and a half or so and headed over. When I arrived, “power hour” had already been in progress.

I hung out for had some good food, received my official Red Sands employee tee shirt (our PLTs new security, stability operations company) I stayed an hour and half and headed back to pack and clean my room which would end up taking till 0100 by the time I got done talking with everyone and carrying out all my stuff and sweeping and mopping,. I had to wake my roommate up as he was planning to wait until morning to mop, that was a no-go in my book!

18 September 2007

BOLCII Day 31: Out process II

Downstairs at 0540 at the squad office for ice sheets. The “chill” in the air at 70 degrees is definitely noticeable.

LT Sadoun leads PT, we have an ab and lower body work out with flutter kicks, multiple variations of crunches and partner resisted sit ups and ability group sprints. Off to chow and a little down time till weapons draw at 0830. 4th PLT PL tried to bully their way into taking our place. LT James our PL for the week stood fast and we had our draw done in 2 mins! LT Kwia gave a brief on Liberia’s army. It was very fascinating and little known how US involvement in the past several years has literally turned there country around from civil war to a relativity stable country. LT Kwia is one of a very few officers being trained by the US to lead their new army.

SSG Dunfee gave us the download on the DA31 for BOLCIII and what he was expecting for weapons turn-in. BOLCII is requiring us to claim graduation day as our first day of leave –not cool!

I then worked on a detail cleaning up the squad room for the next cycle, what a mess! I received my leadership counseling from SFC Kerr for my PSG duties last week. It was very informal working thur each of the Army values and how they related to my responsibilities. Basically SFC Kerr was looking for me to relate a particular scenario I faced and how I dealt with. The rating scale is 1-4 with 4 being above average. I scored about 50% 4’s and 50% 3’s so I good to go at this station.

My unit had given me a job list of about 120 pre-mob tasks that need to be complete be for deploying next year, I took the list to SFC Kerr and he was able to mark off about 75% which will be a HUGE time saver!

I took my M4 down to SFC Dunfee for a the first run thru, I somehow hoped for a first time go but that illusion was quickly shattered. A few minor cosmetic things to touch up and I should be good to go. The armoror in OCS doesn’t even measure up to this standards! –Not a bad thing ether.
Bottom line is the cadre want the downtime between the next startup so they will make sure the LTs take care of everything possible.

I help LT James make a run to Little Caesars for a load of “Hot and Nows” for the PLT so we can keep them cleaning weapons instead of breaking for chow in the defac. “LT Ninja” has to be given a 30 min counseling lesson by LT Seitz about not order other LTs around and talking with his moth full of pizza drinking straight from the Pepsi 2-little bottle!

We completed turn-for the day and were released at a reasonable time. LT Grams and I headed to Commandos surplus to pick up 41 BOLCII tabs for graduation and a hair cut (Note: the haircut place next to Commandos is the best in town!) We then headed to Texas Roadhouse at exit 10 to meet up with a dozen other LTs for some good steak and good times.

Tomorrow AM is the BN run with 2 Co’s of 6 PLTs each in formation, this will be fun! I still have to catch up on last week blog, crate the picture CD and pack all my stuff tomorrow –ah!

17 September 2007

BOLCII Day 30: Outprocess I

Sunday night I got back from Augusta about 8pm and dumped all my stuff out. I had taken advantage of LT Deriks’ laundry service this weekend for $10 a load and cleaning CIF/turn-in so I didn’t have to worry about getting back earlier and going to the on post laundry CIF machines.

I also had to complete a peer eval for the squad which was difficult for me. You rank them 1-10 or what ever then explain why you picked the top tree and bottom three. My last chopice was very clear but the others were not, I felt like I blue falcon’d the other two last place LTs.

I went thru and organized all my platoon issue for turn-in Monday; MOLLE vest, canteen and, mag pouches, blank adapter, mags, IBA, IBA plates, elbow and knee pads and reference books.

I dumped my two duffels of CIF out and went thru double checking I still had everything, that took awhile. I am so glad I have home unit issue gear!

0600 PT, we divided the PLT into three teams for soccer, football and ultimate Frisbee. Boy was this a nice break and still a good workout!

After chow we waited on other PLTs for our weapons draw and then brought them up to the 3rd floor for cleaning. LTs broke out the radios and we went to work. Over the weekend I bought a can of foam shaving cream and had had my M4 looking like new in no time (trick I learned from Basic Training) just wet down the m4 with water then spray and brush the shaving cream everywhere, it lifts the oil and carbon right off. All the other LTs immediately became interested in this time saving technique and in no time, my can was depleted with promises of “I’ll buy you another one!”

About 1130 LT James decided to turn weapons back in for CIF return, he had chow and load a bus up for the short trip. It was actually fairly painless, LT James put in front of the line because I am working a PLT picture CD and once they found my paperwork I dumped my gear in a shopping cart and went down the line handed stuff back. The civilians where very reasonable, the one ting I was missing; a strap for a 2Qt they did not ding me on.

We walked back to the barracks as soon as each of us was done. I ran our PLTs pictures over to C Co as they are making a BN picture CD

By the way the IOBC guys did not have CIF turn in. They will keep their gear thru the end of IOBC course. They got to put on PTs for the day and clean crew served weapons. What fun –NOT!

By that time it was 1700, we fell out for for formation and after a few words form CPT McGinty, where released.

I went downtown to a coffee house with a few other LTs and knocked out a bunch of paperwork work for SBOLC.

BOLCII Day 29: rest after 10 mile ruck and mission