Friday, September 28, 2012

MilJo - Part 3

Alright, well after a LONG, but amazingly awesome day yesterday, I rose at 5:30 a.m. today (Thursday, Sept. 27) and we headed out for another full day. We headed back to the reception center for the new recruits, and went on a tour of the facility. We were able to see where the recruits receive their clothes, get their hair cut, or rather shaved, everything. It was a little entertaining to see all of the recruits standing in their socks as they waited to get their boots. 

We had about an hour there before heading over to witness the Army’s stand down day as they recognized the issue of suicide prevention. Did you know that 18 percent of military women and one percent of men will report being sexually assaulted? Although the women have a greater percentage, the number of men is actually higher. 

And along with financial and relationship problems, sexual assault is a major contribution to military suicides. The presentation was witnessed by numerous military measures so they could take the lessons back to their men and women.

Following the presentation we were able to interview Major General Mark Yenter and Command Sergeant Major Robert Wells about everything from the suicide and suicide prevention issue to the future of the Army with most of our troops coming back home from Afghanistan in the upcoming months. 

The last thing on our agenda for the day was heading back to the reception center so some of us could interview the new recruits. Luckily, they did find one recruit, Brittany Smith, from Milwaukee, Wis. who volunteered to for an interview. Or rather, one of the drill sergeants mentioned it to her and she gave the only possible answer: “Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

Unlike most of the recruits there, Brittany was 28 years old and because of her college degree, was able to enroll as an E-4 specialist, the highest possible rank a new recruit can enter as. She comes from a strong military family and has family members that have served in every branch of the military. When I asked her why she chose the Army over the other branches, she said that the Army and Marines go harder on the female recruits, and she wanted a challenge. What I found inspiring is that she had to lose 80 lbs. before she could enlist, and in the process she grew stronger, strong enough to match or do better than some of the guys during physical training. 

To see a video interview with Brittany Smith, visit: for part 1; and for part 2.

To see more photos from Thursday, Sept. 27, click here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

MilJo - Part 2

We’ve had a couple early days this week. On Wednesday, Sept. 26 my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. and I was out the door by 4 a.m. At about 4:15 our bus pulled out and off we went to meet some Army personnel for physical training. After a half hour tour of the barracks, we headed over to their indoor training facility as it was storming, complete with thunder and lightning. 

We were told that anyone who wanted to participate could, so OF COURSE I hopped right in, and I believe I was only one of four of our group that did, and the only female. As they were doing ground drills, I found that I was able to keep up with the recruits. We did pushups, leg lifts, leg tucks, supporting our body on the right and left arm, sit-ups, a whole slew of activities. Then after that we headed over to the bars for some pull-up activities. I found out I did not have a trouble with the shoulder shrugs or doing the shrug while leaning back, but there was no way I was managing a pull-up, the last time i successfully did one I was 14. Another time they had to hang onto the bar and lift their feet up and wrap them around the bar. I was able to get mine to about 90 degrees. 

We were unable to do the Confidence Course, a military style obstacle course, because of the thunderstorm. As much as I was disappointed at not getting to challenge myself against the other recruits, I was happy that they at least stopped by the course and I was able to get some photos. 

After that, we headed back to the hotel for “personal hygiene time.” For some of the others, it was not necessary, but for me doing physical training for an hour, I was extremely grateful. 

After we were all squeaky clean we headed over to where the students enrolled in the engineer course of study stay, were able to check out their living quarters, which are different from my original thought when it comes to military sleeping quarters. Instead of having metal bunk beds stacked in a darkened room, each recruit had what appeared to be a twin bed, all in a row. 

From there, we headed to one of my favorite parts, the simulated shooting range. And this is not your typical shooting simulation, such as the one the Deerfield Pistol and Archery Center has, or the one utilized by Dane County deputies. There were no handguns, no Glocks of Smith and Wessons. Instead, there were weapons like an M2 weapon trainer and an MK 64 Mod. One was even attached to the top of a humvee. Two words: freakin’ awesome! Thanks in large part to a couple of my fellow attendees I have both photos and video of my performance, which will be up later. 

Here I was thinking that I already was able to do PT with the Army boys and “shoot” an M2 in a simulation. How could this day get any better? One word: robotics. We were showed some of the robotics the Army utilizes for the detection and removal of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They have this tiny little robot with four cameras, including one which can sweep around 360 degrees. The operator can also utilize a claw in the front to pick up items such as hand grenades. I had the opportunity to operate a Talon robot, but as fun as that was, it was no way the highlight of the robotics. 

At the end, I was able to go down and check out this M160. Military personnel use it for road clearance if they suspect IEDs are present. The machine can travel 1,500 feet ahead of the operator, can take up to 18 hits and has different attachments. The price tag is about $250,000 for one, but the savings come in the hundreds if not thousands of lives that are saved. 

We were told that we would be unable to operate the machine as they had military personnel training on it. When I went down I was able to interview Staff Sergeant Tim Nichols about the M160 and the training recruits have to go through to be considered proficient to operate one. As I was wrapping up and getting ready to go, he handed me the controls, put the strap around my neck and let me operate it! I literally never expected to have that opportunity, and I was the only one in the group who had that experience. You better believe it when I say I was up on cloud nine the rest of the day!

If you think my day ended there, however, you are dead wrong. It was only 3 in the afternoon. After the robotics course we were able to see how they apply it in the field during a road clearance operation. We stood at the top of a hill and one of the smaller robotics investigated a suspicious package, placed a tag on the package, which was then detonated, rendering the suspected explosive harmless. 

Afterwards we had an opportunity to interview some of the military personnel present, and I was able to speak to Private First Class Joel Barrett, who was a graduate of Carthage College in Kenosha. A profile on him will be available at a later date. 

Our final transition of the day included taking a look at the facilities the Army uses to train personnel in dealing with hazardous chemicals. There used to be various facilities across the United States, but after 9/11 a central location was established in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. I won’t go into too much more detail, but suffice it to say it was definitely an educational experience. 

Unfortunately, our final scheduled event of the day, a Night Infiltration Course, was cancelled because they apparently did not have a group on base that could take us through that. While I am sure it would have been awesome to see/do that, I’m not going to complain. After all, I got to drive the M160!

The rest of the night was ours, and after dinner and watching the latest episode of Criminal Minds, I tucked into bed. After all, Thursday we needed to be showered, packed and on the bus by 6 a.m.

To check out more photos from Wednesday's (Sept. 26) events, click here

Check back tomorrow afternoon for Part 3 of the Military and the Media workshop, which will include an accounting of our last day at Fort Leonard Wood, before heading back to Fort Leavenworth. I’m definitely going to be sad to have to go back home....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

MilJo workshop - Part 1

Sorry I did not update earlier. The first couple days were jam packed and I did not have time. Then when I tried yesterday I could not access the hotel Internet. Anyway, here is a recap of the first few days. I will try to get another one up later tonight, but it depends how I'm feeling. My day started at 3:30 a.m. today.

After doing the Rockman Challenge in Watertown, Wis. on Saturday and then finalizing my packing for the trip, I grabbed three hours shut eye before waking up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Rick Klemp graciously said he could drive me to the Dane County Regional Airport in the morning, and since my flight from Madison to Detroit was scheduled to leave at 9 a.m., I thought it best to get there a couple hours early. After arriving at the airport around 7:10 a.m., I checked in and made it through security by 7:45 a.m.

My first flight from Madison to Detroit, Mich. took off at 9 a.m. and we arrived around 45 minutes later, around 10:45 a.m. with the one hour leap forward. From there, I boarded a second plane around noon, and while we were supposed to lift off around 12:20 p.m., there was a delay because they apparently didn’t have the necessary signatures stating everything was checked off and ready to go, so instead our plane took off at 1 p.m. Two hours later (and going back a time zone) we arrived in Kansas City, Mo. 

After checking into our hotel, the IHG Army Hotels, we headed out on the town for a walking tour. 

While there we were able to visit some historical buildings, such as the general’s mansion, where various generals, including General Custer, have stayed over the years; the buildings where the international students stay; the clock tower; the Buffalo Soldiers Memorial; and numerous other places. We also heard some ghost stories. For instance, the international house the Koreans currently occupy is said to have a ghost that reads bedtime stories to the children and does the dishes. Quite terrifying, I know. 

The walking tour took us until about 10 o’clock at night. From there, we headed back to the hotel, and I tucked right into bed.
Monday we listened to a variety of speakers on everything from an overview of the Army to the United States Disciplinary Barracks. We were also introduced to five Army majors, who participated in an hour long panel and answered any questions we had. Then at 4:30 p.m., we were able to attend a ceremony recognizing the departure of 50 soldiers from the 705th military police internment that are deploying to Kuwait. 
Afterwards we were able to interview four of the military personnel that are deploying.

Our day finished early, and after dinner at 6 p.m. we were given the rest of the night to do what we wanted. For some, that meant heading back to their room to file stories. For me, I headed out on the tour to get some more photos of the historic buildings. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 25 I was able to interview Major Jeffery Jensen, who graduated from high school in Benton, Wis. He is currently studying at Fort Leavenworth with the goal of becoming a Lt. Corporal. More information on him will be posted at a later date.

Afterwards we had two more informational presentations, one on Fort Leavenworth, the other on the Army Leadership Program. Those wrapped up around 10:30 a.m. and from there we loaded into a shuttle bus and began the five hour drive to Fort Leonard Wood. We arrived a little after 4 p.m. Although we were supposed to arrive at our hotel around 6 p.m., we actually arrived closer to 4:30, so we had a little extra time before heading out to interview some new recruits - literally guys that have been in the Army no more than a day or two - at 8 p.m. We were there for an hour and then departed for our hotel at 9 p.m.

To check out photos from Tuesday's activities, go to

Our day will begin VERY early tomorrow - we are meeting between 4:10 and 4:30 a.m., and will be participating or observing 5 a.m. physical training. Yours truly will of course be participating. I will also be participating in a military style obstacle course, and will be donning the head camera to film the whole ordeal. Our day includes a whole slew of other activities, too many to mention at present, but our day will not end until 10:30 p.m. 

To see more photos from Monday, Sept. 24 events, click here.
To see more photos from Tuesday, Sept. 25, click here.

Keep an eye on my blog for more updates as they become available. A full article describing my week’s exploits will also be published in the Thursday, Oct. 4 issue of The Star.