Well, it's long overdue, but allow me to welcome you to my new deployment blog series, "Live from PACOM". Unfortunately I have limited access to Blogger itself and so probably won't be able to label my posts with anything approaching regularity. Indeed, once we're on the boat I won't be able to post with regularity, let alone label. Oh the sacrifices we make for the Corps.
Anyway, I'm now esconced here on lovely Camp Hansen in Okinawa, Japan. Instead of flying halfway around the world to the east, we flew halfway around the world to the west. It was first class all the way, too, though I really wish I could fly first-class on trips other than those requiring me to leave my family for six months and go to the crappy corners of the planet. In all fairness, however, Okinawa is just a bit nicer than the Anbar province. For one thing, there's water. And trees. And beaches. Flying into Kadena Air Force Base was like flying over the Florida Keys - little coral islands as far as the eye could see, shimmering blue water, and happy puffy clouds. One thing they share is heat, but of different stripes. Iraq-hot and 29 Palms-hot are identical: scorching temperatures but very dry air. Being in Oki, on the other hand, feels like deploying to Houston. You get the heat AND tropical humidity so thick you wonder if you'll have to breast-stroke your way to work. Then there's always the chance of a typhoon whirling your way (that's what they call a hurricane out here for the uninitiated). Indeed, just like the Gulf we're starting typhoon season out here, so the odds are pretty good that at some point we'll have to land on the shores of a Pacific country that's just had half its towns wiped off the face of the earth.
So we're here and we've been at work the last couple of weeks preparing to get on our boats in September and piddle our way around the Pacific. Training has been the focus, in spite of the strong urge to get off base and enjoy a vibrant locale with many attractions and a population not actively trying to kill us. I've been settling into my latest in a string of non-FAC related billets, this one being the assistant mission commander for the MEU's Maritime Raid Force (MRF). If you've never heard of something called a Maritime Raid Force, you're not alone; when I was told back in CONUS that I'd be doing this job once we got out here, I went "Huh?" and did what every responsible officer does when he doesn't know something. I Googled it. The MRF has been known by other names on older MEUs, but whatever you call it, its mission is pretty simple. It's the precision strike force of the MEU when something needs to be done quickly and neatly. All the line companies of the battalion have a specialized raid job they've been trained to do - mechanized raid with AAVs, boat raid with little Zodiacs, or raid by helicopter - but these raid forces are generally used when a certain level of destruction is either necessary or permissable. The MRF, on the other hand, is called on for tasks where sheer firepower is not the best means to the end. It's delicate tasks include VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) of ships, taking down oil platforms, and hostage/prisoner situations. The idea is to get in, snatch Person X from room 3 of house 2, and leave.
It's not like I get to kick down the door though. I doubt they'd ever let a pilot do that. What I'm mostly concerned with is the logistics/support aspect: requesting ammunition, vehicles, collecting rosters, getting air support, and mission planning. I'll get to do a few unusual things as well - next week, I'll be fast-roping out of a helicopter to the ground 60 feet below - but I leave the sexier stuff to the professionals. There's always the small chance that, should there be problems with command and control or if certain assets don't make it to the objective, I may have to assume command of the force and continue the mission, in which case I may default to my FAC training and solve the whole problem with a 500lb JDAM. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Apart from training and planning, there have been one or two opportunities to get off base and explore the area. I went down to Camp Foster last week to get my special Oki driver's license, so I'm now free to show off my ignorance of local driving rules by inadvertently straying to the right-hand side of the road (Okinawans drive on the left) and terrifying oncoming traffic. To get ourselves around the island, myself and the other FACs in the battalion went in on a 15-year old minivan. It's the only minivan I've ever seen that has off-road suspension and 4-wheel drive. If only the A/C worked. Oh, and its leg room seems to have been designed for Oompah-Loompahs. But it has 4 wheels and a (mostly) working engine, which is enough to give us a modicum of freedom while we're here.
Last weekend a few of us decided to explore some of the local sights as well. Just around the corner from Camp Hansen is an old Buddhist shrine, which has also doubled as a sake distillery for hundreds of years. It's hidden in a residential neighborhood off the beaten path, so I doubt we would have stumbled across it had we not known where we were going. The temple itself was small and pretty humble, but what was truly curious was the sake distillery. See, the sake, after being bottled, is stored in a fairly extensive underground cave system next to the temple, where it remains for anywhere from a few years to decades or even centuries. Before World War II, there were jars of sake down there over three hundred years old. The battle for Okinawa unfortunately destroyed all of them, so the oldest brew only goes back about sixty years. Still, the cave distillery was fascinating (and also the coolest place yet we've found on the island; I think I might go back there on a hot day just to relax), and the caves themselves are still quite active. Enough water drips and trickles through it that in another few hundred years, the owners might be able to open a new brewing wing.
That's about all I've been up to so far. Nothing too exciting, I know, but we just got here, and there are plenty of hot spots around this AO to make things very exciting on very short notice. Time for chow. Until next time . . .