I began this series of Writing the Military with a post titled Life in the Infantry, about what Soldiers do when they are at their home base. This post will be a continuation (long time coming, sorry), discussing what Infantry (and combat arms in general) soldiers do when they are deployed.
This information is useful for those authors who are writing fiction books about military characters or situations who are deployed to combat areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria.
As I mentioned before, Soldiers are constantly in different phases: recovery, preparation, combat – among others, and their daily routine changes depending on which phase and what location they are in.
So, this blog will cover three phases: pre-deployment, deployment, and redeployment.
This consists of certification and equipment preparation for an upcoming deployment. This can begin 3 – 6 months prior depending on the deployment.
Certification is usually conducted at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Fort Polk is home to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC).
Wikipedia describes JRTC as follows:
The Joint Readiness Training Center is focused on improving unit readiness by providing highly realistic, stressful, joint and combined arms training across the full spectrum of conflict (current and future). The JRTC is one of the United States Army’s three “Dirt” Combat Training Centers resourced to train infantry brigade task forces and their subordinate elements in the Joint Contemporary Operational Environment.
With great emphasis on realism, the JRTC Operations Group provides rotational units with the opportunity to conduct joint operations which emphasize contingency force missions. The JRTC training scenario is based on each participating organization’s mission essential tasks list and many of exercises are mission rehearsals for actual operations the organization is scheduled to conduct. JRTC scenarios allow complete integration of Air Force and other military services as well as host-nation and civilian role players. The exercise scenarios replicate many of the unique situations and challenges a unit may face to include host national officials and citizens, insurgents and terrorists, news media coverage and non-governmental organizations.Wikipedia
Most infantry units will be required to rotate for a month through the center. The center boasts some of the most realistic training in the world and often foreign countries will be invited to send their units through the training. The center has its own forces assigned that conduct missions using the tactics of the enemy against the friendly forces. Assessment are meant only to highlight lessons learned and how units can do better, but often they are used as bullets for evaluation reports and therefore are treated much more seriously. Must Soldiers dread attending this training.
Additionally, units will traditionally get issued new equipment and uniforms, preferably before their pre-deployment training, in order to get trained before they deploy.
Roughly 3-6 months before the main troops deploy, a small group of leaders and key specialists will travel to the future deployment area to determine any problems and get briefs from leaders currently at that location. This group is called the PDSS team, or Pre-Deployment Site Survey team. They will usually have a long checklist that will include lodging, food, other logistics, and specific mission requirements.
The start of a deployment might include sending equipment ahead of the troops so it is all on the ground at their new location. This usually requires a small group of personnel to travel with the equipment, inventory the equipment on arrival, and store the equipment until the troops arrive. This group is called an ADVON team.
Finally, the troops will pack their own equipment and build pallets to transport all of the equipment securely in the planes. This can take up to a week depending on the amount of equipment, and includes preparing vehicles and ammunition.
On the day of travel, usually early in the morning, the Soldiers are accounted for and board the planes. Most planes on their way to the Middle East will either stop to refuel/ rest in US Military bases in Ramstein, Germany or Incirlik, Turkey (10-12 hours of flight), followed by a shorter (4-7 hours) trip to Bagdad, Iraq or Bagram, Afghanistan.
On arrival, most Soldiers will require 3-5 days of in-processing and briefings that will include: suicide prevention, chaplain, pay, General Orders (orders everyone must follow such as no drinking, no hanky panky, no walking without a weapon, no getting pregnant, no gambling, etc.) The Soldiers will be housed in temporary housing, usually large wooden barracks or tents, until they are moved to the base/ location they will actually be working from. Soldiers that will be working out of the main base will eventually be assigned permanent housing depending on their rank. This can be a cement barracks building or individual rooms.
Most of my personal experience in war deployments is at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and also some bases in Kuwait, but I assume the larger bases in Iraq are similar.
The base has a lot of amenities. Burger King, Coffee shops, Pizza Hut, sometimes Chilis, Post Exchange, Massage parlors and barbers. They usually have multiple cafeterias (called mess halls or dining facilities) that serve fast food (hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza) and main meals of chicken, steak, shrimp, vegetables, a salad bar, and pies/ cakes/ cookies.
Soldiers assigned at the larger bases will usually be support Soldiers. Infantry Soldiers will rotate through guarding the gates and fence-line or be conducting staff jobs to support the missions throughout Afghanistan. Staff Soldiers will arrange shipment of food and supplies to other bases, help call MEDEVAC helicopters and air support if the team is under attack, coordinate foreign ally support if necessary, synchronize intelligence reports, and assist the units as much as they can in the field.
Soldiers assigned to the smaller bases will receive their food by truck or helicopter weekly and will either be assigned US military cooks, contracted US cooks, or hire Afghan cooks to prepare their food. Normally, they will either be guarding the perimeter fence, conduct patrols outside the base, conduct meetings with Afghan leaders in the areas, enjoying free time, or training/ preparing for patrols.
Free time can consist of games (xbox if they have brought it with them, or if the base is big enough they might have a game room). Most Soldiers will have access to internet at bases nowadays, though early in the war that was not the case. If they have access to internet, then they will be allowed to speak to their families using SKYPE or other apps. Nowadays they can also buy Afghan SIM cards.
When not patrolling, leaders will ensure that the Soldiers do regular physical training. Some bases might have a range where they Soldiers can practice. Some soldiers may be conducting online military training to prepare them for promotion. Still others may take online college courses.
Here is a sample day in the life of normal Infantry Soldier
Most people will also rotate through guard shifts on the perimeter as well
I hope this post gives you an idea of the life of a Soldier deployed. let me know if you have any questions. This is meant to be rough wo that you can write accurate stories.
Next Writing Military post will cover the equipment that a Soldier wears – body armor, ammunition, etc.
See you then!