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An Introduction and Some History

lakerayToday is January 10, 2009

I enlisted into the US Army more than a year ago, 7 Nov 2007. It’s been a year of excitement and a year of challenges.

In about 12 days I’ll be deploying with my unit to Afghanistan, roughly about 7,000 miles away from my home, my family, my friends, and my country.

I have chosen this path to make myself a better person and to serve the country that I love. It is not an easy path and one that very few choose to follow. Growing up as a boy I fell in love with the military and military history. The act of giving back to my home was something I felt necessary I do. I cannot imagine something happening to my friends and family due to terrorist activities. It was my chance to make a difference.

I was attending college, not really sure of what my future held. I couldn’t decide on what I was majoring in and what I really wanted to do with my life. When the childhood memory came back into my mind I jumped at the chance to make a difference. With the help of my friends, I found a job that seemed to jump out of the page at me.

Chaplain’s Assistant.

It truly has made the biggest difference in my army career. When I reached the Army Recruiters office in Jacksonville, Florida I was sent to take a test at the MEPS station located just a few miles down the road.

I scored high enough on this test to hold almost any job that the Army offers to enlisted soldiers. After only a week of in processing I raised my right hand and was sworn into the United States Army.

Next I was shipped to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for my Basic Combat Training course that all soldiers must complete to officially become Soldiers. The trip to Ft. Jackson took about 10 hours, due to the stops for dinner and to drop the two Marines at Paris Island. The tension with the other 11 recruits was so thick one could cut it with a knife. Upon dropping the Marines off, our fears were only worsened. The Marine Drill Instructor didn’t even let the two off the bus before chomping into them like a starving animal. Our time was next!

We continued our journey in almost complete silence until the lumps in our throats felt like a softball when we saw the gates of Ft. Jackson…

 

I’ll share more of my Basic Training experience with you in a later note.

But after 11 weeks of training I was officially proclaimed a Soldier of the United States of America. Basic Training is designed to weed out anyone who is not truly ready to make the step of joining the service. It consists of primary military tasks, including obstacle courses, physical training, basic marksmanship, and the mental training of going through non-stop military training.

I had had the privilege of attending the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel, for my freshman year. I also attended Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. Both of which gave me a firm foundation of ridged military discipline.

I found myself to have too much fun at The Citadel causing me to leave after only finishing my freshman year. The Army offered a chance to return after my service and finish my degree, a chance that I will take in 2010. I actually enjoyed Basic Training and excelled at it. I already knew how to shoot, and was awarded the Army’s Expert Marksmanship Award shooting 36 out of 40 pop up targets ranging anywhere from 50 to 300 meters away from my position.

Following Basic Training I was sent to the United States Army’s Chaplain Center and School for Advanced Individual Training where I would learn how to become a Chaplain Assistant. In many ways this was just an extension of Basic Training; the biggest difference was the way we were treated more as if we were soldiers and not as fresh recruits. We also had more privileges such as being able to explore the post. The training focused on how we were to be used to assist a Chaplain during everyday life in a unit.

An important aspect of our job is to be the eyes and ears for the Chaplain. The Chaplain is an officer and is unable to see all of what occurs in the enlisted life. This would come in hand as I reached the unit that I would be assigned to.

The other part of this job is to protect a Chaplain.

The Chaplain is the only job in the Army in which one is unable to carry a firearm, or a weapon of any kind. So our job is to ensure the safety of that person.

After seven and a half weeks of training I was awarded the Military Occupation Code of 56M - or Chaplain Assistant. I decided in the final week to extend my contract, originally 15 months ending in December of 2009, until June of 2010 in order to go “AIRBORNE.”

I felt that only having signed up for 15 months wasn’t enough, I needed to give more. I had seen my younger brother go skydiving, and remembered the Airborne assaults of World War II that had made D-Day a success. I knew I was ready for the challenge, so I extended my contract until the 29th of June 2010 to be able to attend the United States Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

The trip from Ft. Jackson to Ft. Benning felt as if I were going to Basic Training again. The difference was that I had more confidence in myself than I had 5 months before. I was ready for whatever the Army could throw my way.

The next three weeks was filled with intense training on how to become a United States Paratrooper. The term Paratrooper means a soldier who is inserted into combat via jumping from an aircraft from a height ranging from 1250 feet to 500 feet. And upon reaching the ground conducting military operations against the enemy.

Paratroopers pride themselves as the most effective soldiers in conventional warfare. During this training we were taught how to exit the aircraft and successfully land and direct our parachutes without breaking our limbs or causing harm to ourselves or others. After completing 5 successful jumps from an aircraft we were awarded the Army’s Basic Parachutist Badge, more commonly known as our “Jump Wings,” and were officially called Paratroopers. My mother was there to pin on my wings!

After allowing me a short 2 hours of free time to spend with her, I received my orders to travel to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina with 4th Physiological Operations Group. My mother was sad to let me go after the short visit, but she knew that the Army had a timeline and I had to leave.

I then boarded the bus for my trip to Ft. Bragg, home of the Airborne and Special Operations. 4th Psyops Group is a special operations group that conducts operations to sway the hearts and minds of our enemies via dropping pamphlets over areas, and through TV and radio stations of the enemy. I had been selected to join a special operations unit and I was both excited and nervous about what it might mean to me.

But I would never have the chance to find out.

Next came in processing for a week into Ft. Bragg’s system… including dental records, health records, and financial records. But I was notified on the day I was supposed to meet the unit that I had instead been moved to _SFG(A).

At that point, I had no idea what that meant. But I was a little disheartened at not going to a special operations unit. I was then told by one of the sergeants at in processing that it meant _ Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Commonly known in the civilian world as “The Green Berets!”

I was floored that I was being sent to the most respected unit in the United States Army. I had literally 30 minutes to grab my gear (all 4 bags that my entire life’s possessions fit in) and await a van that would be sent to pick me up. Little did I know my entire Army life would be flipped upside down. I was greeted by the person I was replacing, SGT M., a chaplain assistant who looked like a mountain of muscle, but had the personality of your best friend. He was able to make sure I had a room in the barracks where I would be staying and also introduced me to the man who I would be assisting and protecting. My Chaplain, Chaplain (Captain) T. G.

I hate to leave this unfinished, but I plan on continuing this blog throughout my time in Afghanistan. I hope you all have enjoyed it so far, this is barely scratching the surface and it should be more entertaining in the future. I just wanted to put thoughts down on paper and give you all a brief history.

–Lake

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