Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ask A Deployed Soldier

Briefly tell us a little about yourself. What branch of the military are you in? What is your MOS?
Ah well, Im SRA (Senior Airman) Mitch Carter. Part of the United States Airforce. At home station I'm part of the 90th Missile Security Forces Squadron and Overseas Im currently a part of the 838th Security Forces Squadron. Basically, I'm MP(Military Police).

So the feature this month is "Ask a Deployed Soldier" -  where are you deployed?
Shindand Air Base, Afghanhastan. Its on the Western side of Afghanhastan, near a city called Hurat.

Did you volunteer for deployment, or was it just "your turn"?
Absolutely volunteered. And I haven't regretted it since. I feel like Im doing something important. We were the first Securtiy Forces team to touch ground here, so it's cool being a part of something kinda monumental. Ive missed out on some important things back home from being here, but that just part of the job. The "sacrifice" people talk about.

How much notice did you get before having to ship out?
3 days. It was kind of out of no where. And there is alot of paper work involved. So my team got about 8 hours of sleep total that 3 days, THAT'S how much gets put just into the process of sending you on a deployment.

What crossed your mind when you first found out that you would be deployed?
At first, I was excited. Then I realized all the people I was going to have to tell, and to make it worse, it was Friday evening, and I was leaving the following Monday. Try explaing to your next weekends date that you can't make it due to a deployment.

How did your friends and family react when they found out you were going to be deployed?
Overall, very supportive. Naturally there were a few who were upset. Didn't want me to leave, and were concerned I would get hurt, or killed. It was stressful to tell everyone, but its very helpful to have the amount of support I have.

What sort of training did you do prior to deployment? Do you feel like you were adequately prepared?
You can always use more training. That never stops. There's always something else to learn. New, better ways to do something. A lot of what I learned, I had learned in my tech school, prior to to getting to my first duty station. Building clearing, firing techniques, alot of classrooms on how to detect an IED (Improvised Exploding Device) and the procedures, should I find one, over-all security procedure for various incidents, even a class on Cultural Awareness for the Afghani culture so not to offend the locals. We're here to win the hearts and minds, let the citizens of this country know we are here to help them, not hurt them or in any way do any harm. So that was an important part of the deployment training. Also, got to throw grenades. That was alot of fun.

What are the main ups and downs of being deployed?
Well naturally, being away from home. Friends and family, the ones who care about you is the biggest down. Also, unfortunately, many of the locals we try to help don't like us, so its always a shame when they spit in your face. But its just their way, can't hold it against them. The food is not exactly 5-star. and the living conditions are cramped. I dont complain though, warm meals and somewhere warm to sleep. The ups? Well the money is okay. A little better then if I was state-side. Also, it's a wonderful expeirence to see a different country, and a culture completely different from the one I grew up with. You meet all kinds of people, some bad, some good. But it's all memorable.

What are your living conditions like?
Like I said, a little cramped. But not terrible. I live in a tent with twelve other guys. Luckily we all get along fine. But it can smell pretty rank from time to time on a hot day. Whoever designed our gear didnt design it for sweaty, desert conditions.

What things do you and your fellow troops do to keep morale up?
You'd be suprised the kinds of games you can come up with when you're on duty for 10 to 13 hours a day. So that helps. My squad has come up with too many to count since I've been here. Games we've called, Schwack, the name game, water wars, ninja hesco, just to name a few.

Do you feel like you've served your country more now that you're deployed than you did being stationed stateside? Why/why not?
I felt like I was serving my country fine before I got to Afganhastan. You don't have to go to a combat zone in order to serve your country. True, I wanted to do more, but I consider anyone in a uniform to be serving their country.

What sort of psychological changes have you noticed in yourself and/or your fellow soldiers (if any)? Have you changed spiritually? Has your personality changed?
I've definetly seen the world in a different light. I've noticed several of my fellow co workers have become more spiritual, open-minded, and aware of the world in a different way. However, there are a few who have become hateful, resentful, and down-right predjudice towards the local nationals. It's unfortunete, but Im afraid it's the nature of the beast in some cases. Me personally? Ive never been a spiritual person, and Ive always tried my best to be as open-minded as I can be. So I'd say the only real change is I've become more grateful for what I have at home after seeing a country where the usual, and most basic comforts of America are not only unavailable, but completely inaccessible to those native to it.

How are soldiers received and perceived by the locals where you are?
Well, there is a large number of Local Nationals who like us. Like us here. And apreciate what we are doing and trying to do. But on the other side, there are a number of people, even the ones who work for us, who simply hate us. We are not of their way, therefore, we are shunned, disrespected, and unapreciated. But any self-respecting soldier would think to understand this, because, as I stated before, this is simply their way. They were born and raised into this. It's just what it is in their world. and I accept and respect it.

What terms or phrases should we avoid when speaking or referring to soldiers who are or have been deployed? Are there things that people say or do that you find offensive or insensitive?
Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I very much despise the word "Hodge." [ha-jee]  It's a derogatory term used to describe a middle-eastern citizen. To me, it's racist, and wrong. Unfortunetly, many people do not share my beleif, and feel that there is nothing wrong with being racist towards someone from the middle-east. It's appalling and needs to change. Also, something else that really irritates me, is someone (most of the time is a retired-military, or a member whos been in for quite some time) talking down on your deployment. Claiming how easy you have it compared to "how it used to be." Here's the deal, I'm still in a foreign country where large groups of people want me dead, I'm also still away from all my friends and family who worry about me, I also, like everyone else I'm with here, work my pink-irish a** off everyday. Just becuase the Pony Express was replaced by Internet and telephone, and communication between us and family at home is easier, doesnt mean "Your" war fighting efforts are better or of more worth then "mine." We all fight for the same thing, the same team, and for the same country. Get over yourself.

In what ways can we best help support the soldiers who are deployed right now?
Well, if you've got loved ones, support them eternally. No questions asked, just love them, and be there for them when they need you. The support of ones loved ones here can do amazing things for morale. If you want to chip in and help a soldier, there are plenty of charities who send packages to troops overseas (getting mail is like Christmas morning here.) Namely, the USO is a great way to get involved.

Are there specific items that you guys LOVE to get in care packages? What do you find most useful that you can't get where you are?
Junk food is always a plus. And of course, the usual items- razors, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Mostly, just a taste of home. Pictures, homemade baked goods, that kind of thing to remind us what we're doing here.

Do you have any advice for people who have a friend or loved one who is (or is about to be) deployed?
Support, support, support. I can't stress it enough. Sure, you may be scared for them to go. And don't want them to leave, and it's causing some kind of breakdown for you, but keep in mind, THEY are the ones going somewhere foreign, and dangerous, and you're safe at home. They are scared as well, even just a little. Be there for them, and let your strength be theirs.

What advice can you offer for new recruits to the military, or people who are thinking about joining?
It's not for everyone. But it was the best decision I made for myself. Completely turned my life around, and gave me something, one thing, to be proud of. If you've got questions, you can ask any soldier. We are always willing to share our input on the career feild. And ofcourse, recruiters are a plethora of knowledge. Just dont let 'em trick ya into joining without knowing all the facts. They're wily like that.

I want to thank SRA Carter for taking the precious little free time he has to do this interview. Also, thank you for serving, Mitch. You're a great American and I'm proud to call you my friend!

If anyone has any follow-up questions for Mitch, please EMAIL ME and I will try to get your questions to him. He will be returning home to the United States before the end of the year.

The following are links to a couple of websites you can visit to help support our troops:

P.S. Ladies, he's single. (at least...he was last I knew....)   ;-)

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