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July 29, 2007

Back Home with Family and Friends

As soon as I got home, the first thing I wanted to do was take a bath! In this picture, Milkshake is helping me get the bath water cold enough:

Here I am relaxing in my nice, cold bath. Boy, did I ever get dirty in Iraq! Polar bears are very clean animals. It’s important for us to keep clean because if our fur gets dirty, it can’t keep us warm! Unfortunately the showers in Iraq were not big enough for me, so I had to go without for most of the tour.

A few days after I got home, my friends put on a parade for me! Here we are getting ready for the big parade. You can see Snort and I are riding on the hood of a car so that we can wave to the crowd. My friend Toby, the Beagle, is walking ahead of us carrying the flag, and also serving as an honor guard are an Eagle and another Bear from the Minnesota National Guard. Milkshake got to ride inside the car.

Here are some of my friends getting ready to watch the parade. From left to right are Big Owl, Doogan, Reba the Golden Retriever (hidden behind the flag she’s holding), Tiger, Owl, Fiona the Irish Setter, Harry the Spider, and Red Rover:

Amy got to drive the car in the parade!

Amy loved driving the car and waving her banner!

Hooray for parades!

July 23, 2007

The Reunion

After finishing demobilization, I finally got to go home! Here I am on the bus with MSG Hoppe, getting ready to leave Fort McCoy. MSG Hoppe has been in the army for almost 40 years! His first tour in the Army was in a place called Vietnam. He said it was very hot there, too. Sheesh, why does the American Army keep fighting wars in such hot places?

Here are the other soldiers on the bus. Most of them look very happy! I don’t know why CPT Jensen looks unhappy. Maybe he was hungry.

Here’s a picture of the sign welcoming us back to Minnesota:

Some nice people called the Patriot Guard rode motorcycles with us and then held flags outside the Armory when we returned. You can also see our families waiting in the background!

Finally I spotted Milkshake in the crowd (it wasn’t hard, since she weighs 600 pounds)! I ran over to say hello.

Then my two cubs and my niece came over and we had a group bear-hug!

Finally, Josh and Kelly’s cub, Amy, came over to say hello. She was very happy to see me.

It’s great to be home!

July 22, 2007

Demobilization at Fort McCoy

When I got to Fort McCoy, the first thing I did was stop by the 1/34 BCT command cell to see my friend from the property book office, SFC Clevenger. Boy, was I surprised when I saw her! It turns out she went to the Warrant Officer Course and is now WO1 Clevenger! I had to salute her! I congratulated her on becoming a warrant officer and asked what she was doing at Fort McCoy. She explained that she was helping to coordinate the return of all the brigade’s equipment from Kuwait. Some of it is going back to Minnesota, Iowa, and several other state National Guards; some of it is getting turned in for repair and then getting reissued to new units, and some of it is getting turned in for repair and then going back to Minnesota. Wow, that sounds complicated! She told me that it does not make it any easier when people lose stuff on the way back, and so far a few soldiers have done that. Oops.

The next day, I got my inbriefing. It lasted 8 hours! There must have been 10 different people who gave us part of the briefing, and they all talked a lot! The day after that I started outprocessing. Here I am looking at a map and trying to figure out where all the stations are and how I should get started:

This is me waiting in line at one of the stations. I’m holding my personnel file, which has all of my important paperwork in it.

Here is a picture of me at the G.I. Bill station. The man here is explaining to me what my education benefits are. I didn’t realize it, but because of my service, POLARCOM will pay me 20 Arctic Dollars a month to go to school full-time! With that much money, I can go back to school and finish my degree in Mauling Studies!

Next I went to the medical stations. Here’s a picture of me getting a hearing test.

After the rest of my medical tests were done, I went to see a doctor to review them all. Dr. Spencer was a very nice man, and he took the time to answer a few questions I had.

As far as I can tell, demobilization is another word for “standing in line.? Here I am waiting in another line to go through one of the stations. This line went all the way out of the building!

Another requirement for demobilization is a dental exam. It takes a very brave dentist to examine a polar bear’s teeth!

On the evening of our second-to-last day, the company had a big party at Fort McCoy to celebrate the completion of our tour! Naturally I was there – bears love a good party. While I was there I met MAJ John Engels. He is the brigade’s lawyer – he calls himself the “SJA? for “Staff Judge Advocate.? He was drinking a pitcher of beer with his assistants, and he offered me some:

MAJ Simer stepped in before I started drinking and explained to MAJ Engels that you should never, EVER give alcohol to a polar bear. He said that when we get drunk and start looking for a fight, we can cause a lot of damage and injury. Hmmm. I think someone may have told him about some of the things that happened during my active duty time on Spitsbergen.

Well, I wasn’t allowed to have any beer, but I did help some of the soldiers eat their food. Here I am grabbing a bite of CPT Jensen’s hamburger. Our company commander, CPT Petersen, is to the left – you can see he’s being very cautious, since he’s worried I might take a bite of him by mistake.

On our last day we had a reintegration briefing. A lot of different people came by and spoke to us about getting back to our families and to civilian life. One of the speakers was a good friend of Kelly’s named Andy Davis! He talked about going back to school. He said that it might be a hard adjustment for some of the humans, since a lot of their fellow students have never served in the military. Fortunately, almost all bears volunteer for military service, so I don’t think I will have that problem.

After Andy’s talk, I met with a bear from the Minnesota Veterans’ Affairs department, who talked to me about some of the employment services they offer.

Finally, we were done! They assembled my company together in a big group to review our DD214s. A DD214 is a form that describes your active duty service. It lists how long you were on active duty, the awards and training you received, and a few other things. MAJ Simer told me this was a very important form to keep. I had not gotten one from my earlier active duty service, because I was on active duty with the Polar Bear Army. MAJ Simer helped explain the form to me and when we finished making sure everything on it was correct, I signed it.

Now I’m finally ready to start the last leg of my trip home and see my family again!

July 20, 2007

The Journey Home

After I handed over the mission to my replacement, 2LT Goldy, it was finally time for me to go home. Gosh, it was a long trip! I had to start it by showing up to the airfield at 30 minutes after midnight. I don’t understand why those silly air force guys wanted us to show up then. I have a sneaking suspicion that decision was made by an owl. Just to add insult to injury, our flight didn’t leave until 0500! I had to wait four and a half hours in a little tent with the other soldiers. Here is a picture of me and CPT Schooler passing the time waiting for our flight from Tallil:

Finally it was time to get on the plane. Once again, the loadmaster tried to have me strapped down to a pallet, since I weigh 1100 pounds. MAJ Simer convinced him that he didn’t need to do that. Here is a picture of us on the plane just before takeoff:

The plane flew us to Kuwait, where we got on buses and went to a place called Camp Virginia. MAJ Simer told me that we had to wait at Camp Virginia for our flight back to the US. He explained that because of the frequent sandstorms in Iraq, the Army always schedules soldiers to spend a couple of days at Camp Virginia waiting for their flight, to allow a little room for error. I guess that makes sense.

When we got to Camp Virginia, we moved into some big tents. MAJ Simer was having trouble with his shoulder, so I helped him move his baggage:

MAJ Simer gave me a reward for helping him:

Kuwait is very windy! While we were at Camp Virginia, we had a problem with the portable toilets getting blown away in the wind. I offered to help. I put a rope over some of the toilets and cinched it down so they would be secure:

Unfortunately, I guess I cinched a little too hard. Sometimes we polar bears don’t know our own strength:

Finally it was time to get on the plane back to the US! I got a whole row to myself, sort of by accident. A bunch of soldiers came by and asked if the seats next to me were taken. When I said, “Grrrrrrrr,? they all moved on to different parts of the airplane. Here is a picture of me getting ready to take off from Kuwait:

We made a lot of stops. We stopped in Germany, in Ireland, and also in a place called Bangor, Maine! There were a lot of people waiting to greet us in Bangor. Apparently a lot of US soldiers stop there on their way back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and people from the local area come out to meet every flight! That’s very nice of them. A lot of these people are veterans. MAJ Simer found one man who had served in 1-9 Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam! MAJ Simer was in 1-9 CAV as a Lieutenant from 1998-2001. This man had served from 1965-1966. I took this picture of them together:

Finally, we arrived at Volk Airfield in Wisconsin! The weather was MUCH cooler in Wisconsin than in Iraq, although it was still a little warm for my tastes. Here’s a picture of MAJ Simer and I at the airfield just before we got on the buses to Fort McCoy:

My journey wasn’t over yet – I still had to get on a bus to Fort McCoy to do my outprocessing - MAJ Simer called it either “demobilization? or “REFRAD,? for “Release From Active Duty.? That was an interesting experience, too - I’ll tell you all about it in my next update!

July 14, 2007

The deployment is ending, but THE ICEBLOG is not

Several people have expressed concern that The Iceblog will end since my deployment is almost over. Although the deployment is drawing to a close and soon I will be back with my wife and cubs, I plan to continue to maintain my blog. It might not be as exciting as it was during my deployment, but I will continue to drill with my unit. I have some upcoming stateside training with the animal squad and we definitely have training scheduled for 30, 60, and 90 days out. So have no fear - this is not the last you will hear from me even if I'm a little quiet for a few days. I will be very busy in the coming days as I travel home and complete demobilization, but I plan to share stories and photos of my adventures as soon as I can! Thanks for the well-wishes!

July 13, 2007

Transfer of Authority

Today we finally came to the end of our deployment! Our replacements have gone with us on a few missions, and they are ready to do the mission without our help. I reported this to MAJ Simer, and he told us to conduct a "Transfer of Authority" ceremony. So we just did a very simple ceremony on the roof of the BCT Headquarters.

Here are some pictures from the ceremony - I'm handing the flag over to Second Lieutenant Goldy, the platoon leader of the group replacing us. 2LT Goldy is a graduate of the ROTC program at the University of Minnesota. He’s an engineer officer - he told me he chose that specialty because of his excellent digging ability.



2LT Goldy was really excited to take the flag and get started with his mission!

And here's a picture of 2LT Goldy and I posing for a picture right after the ceremony. You can just barely see the Ziggurrrrrrrrat of Gurrrrrrrr right over 2LT Goldy’s left ear...

I'm a little sad to leave behind some of the friends I've made here, like the local village bears and the camels. I'm also a little sad that the war is still going on and that the Iraqi people still have to face insurgents and terrorists every day. But I think my soldiers and I have done everything we could. I’m excited to get home and see my family again!

MAJ Simer has warned me that it will be a long and tedious process to get back home and finish all the paperwork to "demobilize" (that’s what they call it when National Guard soldiers like me leave active duty and return to their civilian lives). I hope it's not as bad as he says - I'm getting really impatient to get home, so if I get slowed down just for paperwork, I might have to maul someone!

PS: For photos from the 1/34 BCT's Transfer of Authority ceremony (held on July 11th), you should check them out here: http://www.redbullweb.com/12.html

July 11, 2007

Redeployment

The big day has finally come! I sent most of my squad back home! The US Army calls this “redeployment.? Going from home to a war zone is called “deployment,? and going the other way is “redeployment.? I’m not sure why that is, but anyway, my soldiers all went home. I’m going to stay for another couple of days to finish handing things over to the unit that’s replacing us.

Our first order of business in redeployment was to pack up all of our equipment:

Reggie volunteered to be the one to pack all of the equipment into the container. He explained that the person he’s named for was not only a famous Eagle, but was a famous Packer as well.

Once we sent the equipment off, it was time for the soldiers to load up! Because I have soldiers from so many different countries, I had to send them home to a lot of different places! Ian and Winston were the first to leave.

Steve was next.

And finally, I sent the others. All of the animal soldiers from the US have to go to the same location for outprocessing before they can go home:

(Reggie and Tony didn’t get in the box because they’re flying themselves home)

I’m sure their families will be glad to see them! And don’t worry - it will just be a couple of days before I go home, too!

July 9, 2007

Our Replacements Arrive

Today was a terrific day for us! The loadmaster of the Sleigh-130 came by with another delivery.

It looks like the Minnesota National Guard has begun sending our replacements over! Hooray!

It will still be a couple of weeks before my unit goes home. First we need to do what the US Army calls a “relief in place.? This means that we’re going to take a couple of weeks to go through our missions together with the new unit, to teach them about the area they’re in and to show them some of the things we’ve learned over the past 18 months. That way they’ll be ready to conduct missions on their own when we leave.

I started out with some classroom instruction, going over some of the most important lessons I’ve learned here in Iraq:

We’re one step closer to going home now! Hooray!

July 4, 2007

Reintegration Briefing

Before we can go home, the Brigade Commander said that we all have to get a reintegration briefing. When I asked why, MAJ Simer explained to me that it can often be difficult for human soldiers to make the adjustment from being at war to being home again. These reintegration briefings are part of the Army’s program to help soldiers prepare for those adjustments. He said that the Army was interested in helping animal soldiers with this process, too. MAJ Simer contacted our home units and asked them to put together a briefing that would address some of the problems animals have when they get home from the war.

Because I’m squad leader, I got my briefing first. POLARCOM’s briefing was kind of scary:

The presentation for birds was a little controversial, and Reggie and Tony had a lot of questions about it:

Ian and Winston got a briefing that was specific to dogs. This one focused more on their own personal safety:

I thought the Florida National Guard had some excellent advice for their alligator soldiers:

The briefing for the “Red Bull? soldiers focused mostly on the dangers of SUI (Stampeding Under the Influence):

Snort and I agreed that the briefing was probably a little too morbid:

Finally, Steve came for his briefing. I got the impression that the Australian Army had not taken this as seriously as the others.

I’m not sure how useful all those briefings were, but at least they’re finished and we can continue with our plans to go home!

July 3, 2007

The Welsh Guards

Wow, that insurgent sure ended up giving us a lot of information! Thanks to that, and to some other intelligence that we got from the local villagers, we were able to learn a lot about the insurgents in our area. In fact, it was enough for our higher headquarters to plan a big offensive against them! Before we could do this, though, we needed reinforcements. An entire company of the Welsh Guards showed up to help us!

welsh.jpg

Winston explained that due to cutbacks in the British Army, the Pembroke Welsh Guards and Cardigan Welsh Guards have been combined into a single regiment.

As for the offensive… well, it’s too soon for me to tell you anything more about that! Maybe later, after I get home…

The Locals turn in an Insurgent

I got some great news today! A local sheikh and his two teenage sons stopped by and asked to see me. It turned out that they had captured Hussein Khan Youssi, one of our two most wanted terrorists!

I thanked them and made arrangements for them to receive the award money. I’m really glad to have this dangerous criminal off the streets! He’s been involved in a lot of bad activities, and I know he has a lot of information about insurgent activity in the area. I asked him to tell me what he knew, but he just stuck his tongue out at me:

I’m not a specialist at interrogations, so I called Nicole over because she’s been trained in that sort of thing.

Sure enough, as soon as she showed up, the insurgent began to tell us everything he knew! With the information he gave us, we should be able to catch a lot of his former buddies!

MAJ Simer later said that Nicole probably looked more like one of the insurgent’s natural predators than I did, and this may have explained why he started talking. MAJ Simer also warned us that the Red Cross may have something to say about that particular tactic. But can I help it if my only trained interrogator is virtually indistinguishable from a crocodile?

Wanted Posters

Thanks to help from those villagers and the other tribes I met with last week, we’ve been able to identify two very dangerous insurgents operating in this area! Both of them are members of a very violent group known as JAM (Jaysh Al-Mamba, or “Army of the Snake?). Nicole put together some wanted posters, and we’ve been handing these out. Hopefully someone will be able to help us find and arrest them!


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