I last left off my account of my transition to Iraq in Camp Dawson, WV. Before I dive in to my impressions of Iraq, I wanted to comment on the Army's orientation process.
All military and civilians deploying to the US Central Command's (CENTCOM) theater in Iraq must go through a weeklong orientation process at the Continental US (CONUS) Redeployment Center (CRC) at Fort Benning, Georgia (Home of the Infantry - although soon it will be home to the Army's Armor School).
How to describe CRC? The Army, as with any large organization is a bureaucracy. And like all bureaucracies, it has myriad paperwork requirements to satisfy. CRC is the Army's way of doing that and it is excruciating because the process seems to be geared towards special needs kindergartners.
Part of the problem is that military and civilians alike are processed together. This is not the most efficient way to do this since there are different strictures for each group. And even though many of the civilian contractors are former military, some are not. And it's just needless to treat civilians like military. I'm sorry. I have many skills and learn quickly but I don't respond well to being marched around like a soldier.
I could excuse some of the efficiencies if the Army were new to this deployment process. But they are not. They have been doing this, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for five years now. There is just no reason for them not to have learned some of these lessons by now. Here's a prime example. One of the things that they do during CRC is to issue you your body armor. This is about 40 pounds of armor for almost your entire upper body, a gas mask, Kevlar helmet and first aid kit. Why on earth do they give you this stuff at Ft. Benning? Worse, they issue it to you before you have even finished CRC. Conceivably, at some point you may become non-deployable in which case you would have to give it all back.
Even crazier is if you refuse the equipment. There are many guys who are returning to Iraq or Afghanistan and who already have this equipment. If you don't want to have the gear issued to you, you need a memo signed by an O-6 (Colonel) or GS-15 or higher. If you don't have such a memo and don't want the gear, what do they do? They charge you $2900 for it. You read that right. If you don't repeat don't accept the gear, you have to pay for it. Excuse me?
Of course, none of this goes to answer the most basic question, which is, why don't they issue you this crap in Kuwait just before you enter the theater? No-one seems to know.
Here's another example of the lunacy. In order to deploy, you have to be medically cleared. Rather than give you a physical there, you have to get one before you go. I spent $360 for a physical and blood work prior to going. That expense is reiumbursable from Northrop Grumman. Presumably, Northrop Grumman will slap their overhead on it and bill that to the Army. So, instead of me getting a physical and blood work that would cost the Army about about $200, they are going to spend about three times that much for the exact same procedures.
Want more? Ok. In order to deploy, you also need up-to-date immunizations. When I went through medical clearance, I was informed that I needed three immunizations. Did the Army give me those shots? Of course not. They sent me off-base to a private clinic where I spent $190 for three shots. So, once again, Northrop will reimburse me, add their overhead to the cost and bill the Army. So, instead of immunizing me for about $50, they are going to spend roughly ten times that much for three shots.
Still want more? One of the other big things you do at CRC is get your CAC card. CAC stands fo Combined Access Card and it's your military ID that gets you on base, into the dining facilities, PX, gym, etc. They marched us onto a bus and drove us to an office where we were briefed, filled out some forms and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I and a bunch of other guys ended up waiting six hours to sit in a chair, have our fingeprints and photographs taken electronically and get our badges printed. Elapsed time from when I sat in the seat? About 12 minutes.
That's not the worst part, though. While I was there, I talked with another fellow who already had a CAC card. Recall that the first C stands for Combined (as in combined armed forces). He had to sit their all afternoon to get another CAC because the one he already had said 'Air Force Contractor' and not 'Army Contractor'. Now the CAC is a 'smart card'. It has a chip that has some electronic certificates loaded onto it. The Army, if it wanted to, could easily load their credentials on to a CAC printed by the Air Force. They just don't.
And they want us to do this once a year! In case you were wondering why I plan on staying longer, I can now answer that one of the reasons is to avoid having to go to CRC again.