JULY - AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2006

PRE-DEPLOYMENT

 

July 28th

Greetings from Anchorage,
Since I can't update my website anymore and because carrier pigeons are so old-school I thought I would send an email and let everyone know what's been happening.

I'm pretty well settled up here in Anchorage, Alaska. I've been at my unit now for almost 2 months and it's everything I could ever hope for in a first assignment. For starters, it's an Airborne Brigade so we jump from C130s quite a lot, but I'm kind of used to that with all the skydiving I've done. I've already jumped twice since I've been here and both times have been great. I learned a few lessons about lowering equipment and putting too much weight in my rucksack, but nothing too serious. My CO up here is an Infantry captain on his second command and he's awesome to work for because he's got high expectations, but he's a quiet professional who helps you any way he can so that the team succeeds. He's a WP grad, too. My 1SG just finished a tour as a Ranger Instructor in Florida Phase a year ago so he and I get along pretty well and half the troop either has their Ranger tab or came from one of the Ranger Battalions. They're some awesome guys.

My job here in the Cavalry Squadron is the Sniper Platoon Leader in the dismounted troop. That means that even though I went through Armor OBC and learned nothing but tanks and mounted cavalry operations for 6 months I was given control of the sniper platoon for the squadron. My learning curve has pretty much been a sheer cliff. My Ranger Tab has given me some credibility with the guys, but I've still got a long way to go. It helps that I shot a 38 out of 40 at the M4 range a few days ago while wearing body armor and using someone else's weapon. I've got incredible soldiers and NCOs in the platoon (they were all hand-picked to be in the sniper platoon) and it's quite an honor to work with them. In just the last few weeks they've taught me an incredible amount about how they do the things they do and I absolutely love it. We're headed to Louisiana in August to spend some time at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and it'll be quite the learning experience for us all.

I competed in my first Triathlon this past weekend. My CO "highly suggested" that all of the LTs in the Troop enter into this race with him so we all did. We swam a half mile, mountain-biked 11 miles over a pretty ridiculous course (my buddy Eric broke his wrist when he fell and my buddy Hayden wrecked his bike), and then ran 3.1 miles over the first part of the same bike course. We all had a few incidents along the way, but everyone eventually finished despite the multiple moose hanging out on the run trail. Pretty surreal to turn a corner in the woods and come face to face with an animal like that. I finished with a time of 1:55 which was only 2 minutes slower than my CO and 20 minutes faster than the next fastest LT. I guess all that time teaching aquatics at scout camp, riding my bike 6 miles to high school and back, and having long legs paid off. Whatever it was, I gained a bit more credibility with the guys I work with because of it.

Life here in Alaska is pretty phenomenal. I actually experienced my first real earthquake just this morning. The "epicenter" was 8 miles SE of here and it measured a 4.9 on the Richter scale. Not dangerous, but it woke me up around 5:20 this morning. Crazy. Besides the earth moving once in awhile it's an amazing place. The snow-capped mountains in the background, the incredible wildlife everywhere (you can't go a single day without seeing a moose or bear or wild fox or coyote or SOMETHING), the "rough around the edges" people that live here, the fishing and hunting, the places to go and things to see... It's AWESOME. Oh, did I mention the glaciers just a few miles north of here? Or the innumerable state parks with hiking trails and incredible scenery everywhere you look? Ok, you get the point. It's a great place. Come visit when I get back from Iraq.

Hopefully I'll be able to enjoy as much as I can up here before our upcoming deployment. My Brigade is slated to deploy just south of Baghdad in early October and we're honestly excited to go and do some good. It's to the point in the conflict where our #1 priority will be, "to train Iraqi forces so that they may operate independently and without our assistance." You know what that means? The more we teach them, the more they can do without our help. And the more they don't need our help, the less we have to be over there. I'm just glad I'll get a chance to go while we still can. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to jump into the middle of a firefight, but performing in that type of environment affords you opportunities you wouldn't otherwise be able to take advantage of. So I'm pretty excited.

Overall, life is grand. Erika and I are doing fantastic and looking forward to Labor Day when she flies up here for a little while. It'll be the first time we've seen each other in a few months and I can't wait to show her around and spend some time with her. It's gonna be great.

That's pretty much all I've got for now. I hope everyone is doing well and if you get a chance please drop me a line. It'd be great to hear how everyone else is these days.

-Tom

 


 

August 31st

Hey everyone,
We're back in Anchorage now after a month spent in the garden spot of the world. Fort Polk, Louisiana is LOADS of fun in August when you're wearing BDU's and body armor for days on end. Oh yeah, good times.

All things considered, it was actually a rather informative and educational trip. My snipers and I all learned quite a lot and really came together as a group out in the woods. I gained a bit more appreciation for all the skills involved with being a sniper and they gained a bit more confidence in their fearless PL. We did a few recon missions, a few site overwatch missions, and never once were we "compromised". That means we were really good at being super-sneaky and never got caught while we were creeping around the woods checking things out.

My guys taught me quite a few tricks about how to make a "hide-site", how to make entire Humvees disappear in the woods, and how to use our weapons systems and optics to observe anything from multiple hundreds of meters away. Pretty cool stuff.

The weather was pretty good for us, considering where we were in the country, but the heat and humidity definitely got our attention. Water became a bit of an issue the last day we were out there, but we made it.

The evaluators down there said we did pretty well overall, but the whole point of going to JRTC is to learn how to fix your mistakes so it was a rare occasion to get a "Good job, snipers." from any of them. It's all good.

Anyway, being back up here in Anchorage sure is great. The temps are starting to dip into the upper lower 40's and upper 30's at night and there's new-fallen snow on the mountain peaks to the east of town so I'm glad to be back. I'm trying to soak up as much cool air as I can before we deploy to Iraq in October.

That being said, we still don't have a specific date for when we're leaving, but soon enough I'll be wishing I was back in the states. I've been in touch with quite a few buddies over there and they've had some rather interesting stories, but I'm honestly looking forward to it. There's no experience in the world even close to what I'll be doing over there. And as a sniper platoon leader? Fuhgeddabowdit. Like I said before... How many Armor officers get an opportunity like this?

Erika is flying up tonight/tomorrow morning for the 4 day weekend and life is gonna be grand when she gets here. We're headed to Seward tomorrow to take a "glacier cruise" and hopefully see some whales migrating south. We're gonna check out some trails around here and meet some of my buddies up here and I've also told her we're gonna see how good she can shoot at the rifle range. It's gonna be a great great weekend.

That's about all for now. Hope everyone is doing great wherever you are on the planet and please drop me a line to let me know what's up.

-Tom

 


 

September 8th

Erika and I are engaged!

 

The ring on the girl


She flew up for Labor Day weekend and had no idea what was coming. I showed her around Anchorage a little bit the first day she was in town and then we took a little drive down to Seward, about 2 hours south of here. Along the way we saw some pretty amazing things. At one point I noticed a few tourists pulled over on the side of the road with cameras and binoculars and all that so I knew something was out in the bay we were driving by. We stopped and got out just in time to see a pod of Beluga Whales passing through. Some of them came within 40 or 50 feet of where we were standing on the shore. Cool stuff. We made it to Seward and got up the next morning for our Kenai Fjords tour. We saw all kinds of stuff straight out of National Geographic like otters, sea lions, puffins, dall porpoises (they were jumping in and out of the water as they raced with the boat), and then the tour boat pulled up to the Aialik Glacier. As we got close the captain turned off the engine so we could hear the snapping and crackling of the ice and just as we got there a rather large chunk broke off and crashed into the water with a surprisingly loud CRACK and then a SPLOOSH!!! It was awesome.

 

          

Dall Porpoises racing our boat

 

One of the "smaller" glaciers along the way

 

Sunbathing sea lions

 

The boat ride

 

Tom pre-proposal


We just sat there admiring the view for a few minutes, taking pictures, and enjoying the experience until I decided to ask Erika a rather serious question. We were facing the ice and I hugged her from behind and started talking about how life was perfect when we were together and how I wanted that in the future. I talked about all the trips we’ve taken and the good times we’ve spent together and how I thought we both wouldn’t mind doing stuff like that for the rest of our lives. I told her to think about what I was about to ask her and then as I turned her around so she was facing me I got down on one knee and brought out the ring and asked her to marry me. She rather adamantly said yes and as I put the ring on her finger the people around us started clapping and cheering. It was perfect.

 

Right after Tom stood back up- candid camera by a complete stranger


The rest of the boat trip was a bit of a blur for both of us, but everywhere we went people were congratulating us and asking to see the ring . The captain even bought us a round of drinks and the crew made us a heart-shaped cookie. Very cool. Sunday we were back in Anchorage and tried to go to the rifle range, but it was closed so we found a decent hill in the Chugach National Park and started climbing.  Erika flew out Monday, but I’ll see my future wife all next week while I’m on leave.

 

Just your average Alaska day

 

Two days ago I got to do another jump from a C-17. We jumped “Hollywood style” meaning we didn’t have any equipment other than our parachutes on so it was a blast. The C-17 is WAY better to jump from than a C130 because it’s quieter and you have a lot more room inside the aircraft. The exit from the door isn’t quite as violent either, haha. Anyway, one of the Joes in my Cav Troop had a video recorder with him and got a short clip of us exiting the aircraft and then floating to the ground. If you look closely at the wall of the aircraft in this first video you can see the light turn from yellow to green and then away we go… SPC Demildt, the kid who made the video, was right behind me so the guy you see going out the door is yours truly.

http://www.tommym1080.com/hotlinks/green light.mov.MOV


This next one is the video he took while he was floating to the ground and then a “textbook landing”. Hehe, yep.

http://www.tommym1080.com/hotlinks/demildt.mov.MOV


And finally this is a video he took from our last jump with combat equipment.

http://www.tommym1080.com/hotlinks/combat equip.mov.MOV

I hope everyone is doing great wherever you are. We’ll be on leave all next week, but when we come back it’ll pretty much be Go Time for our deployment in October. From what I’ve heard it’s gonna be a hoot.

Take care,
Tom

 


 

September 27th

Friends and family,

We’re quickly approaching the date we deploy to Iraq and I just wanted to give everyone a final update before we leave. 

Things here have been surprisingly quiet since our block leave all last week.  We’ve done a few things of note including a grenade range and a trip through the CS gas chamber, but nothing too earth-shattering.  Everyone is just taking care of personal issues in preparation for our upcoming deployment.  I still don’t have a snail mail address for where we’ll be over there, but as soon as I have it I’ll get that out to everyone. 

I had a most excellent break last week and got to see the family and Erika quite a lot.  The entire Martin family was finally reunited for the first time in 15 months and it felt great to look around the room and see my entire family there at once.  Sarah’s wedding to her new husband Jeff Hood went very well and everyone had a fantastic time. 

 

The Martin's/Hood's

 

That night we got to watch the Army vs. A&M game and it was a little heartbreaking to lose after coming so close like that, but we definitely held our own when everyone said we would get blown away.  Army’s gonna turn some heads this year.  In other football news, how bout them Bengals???  Many of you know I’ve been a Bengals fan my entire life and it’s about time they started turning things around.  It sure was nice to beat the Steelers like that, even with the mistakes Pittsburgh made in that game, but a win is a win and I’ll take it.

Last weekend Erika flew up here for the last time before I leave and we had a great great time.  We had an early birthday for both of us since neither one of us will be around for our actual birthdays in October.  She got me a new ipod and it’s AWESOME.  We went to our Cavalry Squadron Ball Thursday night and she got to meet and hang out with the guys I work with. 

 

Erika and Tom

 

Everyone was rather impressed and it was quite a fantastic feeling to introduce her as my fiancée.  Man oh man, September 08 can’t get here soon enough.  That’s the tentative time we’re planning to get married up at West Point in the Cadet Chapel and everyone who can make it is invited.  More formal invitations will go out much later in the future once we both finish our deployments.  I’m leaving in the next 10 days and she’s slated to deploy next June.  If you do the math on that you’ll notice we won’t see much of each other for the next year and a half, but we both knew what we were getting into when we took our oath of commission.  Saying goodbye at the airport on Sunday was pretty brutal, but I’ll see her again soon.

I found out last Saturday that Erika is a pretty good shot at the rifle range.  We took my dad’s 8mm Mauser out and punched a few holes in some paper at 100 yards and she had quite the shot group by the time we left.  For her first time shooting anything other than an M16 at USMA I was rather impressed.  It’s quite a difference shooting a high-powered rifle with iron sights when all you’ve ever touched is a .223 M16 and she did a helluva lot better than the locals from Anchorage there at the range with hunting rifles and scopes. 

 

         

At the range...

 

I've attached quite a few pictures of stuff we’ve done the last month or so and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them.  That’s about all I’ve got for now.

The Georgia Aquarium

 

Don’t worry about me deploying or anything like that.  True, we’re deploying to an area just south of Baghdad which is right between the Sunni and Shia areas, but we’ll be fine.  The news reports might sound pretty bleak, but I’ve got the absolute best guys in this Airborne Brigade going over there with me and that’s no bull.  My snipers know what they’re doing and we’re gonna take care of business when we get there.  Wars don’t last forever and someday very soon this will all be over, but until then we’ll keep taking care of each other and come home safe and sound. 

If I’ve left someone off this distro, like relatives I don’t have the email address for please forward this to them and let me know their email addresses so I can include them on future letters.  I sincerely hope everyone is doing well and if you get a chance please drop me a line to let me know how you’re all doing. 

RLTW

-Tom

 


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