“People want to be in control of their lives.” Our desire to be in control is sadly almost always overpowered by our uncontrollable habits. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business details how habits are created, the power behind them, and how we can change them. Written by Charles Duhigg in 2012, this book is a powerful and interesting read that every person should keep in their library. I had seen this book recommended by a couple influential people that I follow. I decided to give it a shot. I ended up having a total of 51 highlights from a 439 page book and it took me about 2 weeks to read it. The book presented facts and information in an interesting, I’ll be it sometimes repetitive, manner. I took the repetition as a way to really grasp the information being presented. The basic idea that was presented was that a habit is composed of three parts: Cue, Routine, Reward. Every habit has these three components but not all are easily recognizable. It is important to understand where, when, how, and why habits are formed.
The brain is composed of many different lobes or areas and each area has certain influence over thoughts, behaviors, actions, functions… etc. A very simple way to look at the brain is to divide into two sections; our new brain and our old brain. The new brain is where all of our deep thought and analysis happens while our old brain (AKA reptilian brain) is where our basic instincts live. The base of the Reptilian Brain is a small ball of tissue called the Basal Ganglia. The basal ganglia will begin to acknowledge a repeated behavior and eventually store it. Once this happens the behavior has become a habit. This is a pretty rudimentary explanation of where and how it happens. The reason why we have habits is to reduce effort of the brain. When you are forced to think about something complex you can feel this sensation and fatigue but habits happen with such ease. For example, driving to work is a complex task but you can do it with barely any effort these days. This is because the task of driving to work has become a habit that is run by your reptilian brain. The brain creates these habits and relegates them to a more efficient but rigid part of the brain. The brain initiates this habit when it senses a cue which can be anything like sitting in your driver seat to sipping coffee.
Habits are composed of three components: the cue, routine, and reward. The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Luckily, habits are fragile which means they can be modified with just some cognitive effort. The hard part is recognizing what the components are in your habit.
The easiest part to identify is the routine. This is smoking that cigarette, eating that cookie, sitting on the couch after work. This is the most obvious aspect of the three components and is always the part that you desire most to change. Knowing the routine is not what is really going to help you though. You need to know what the cue and rewards are so you can recognize what triggers and continues your habits. The cue is the hardest thing to figure out so working on the reward aspect is the second step in habit modification. Once you have the ability to recognize you are stuck in a habit you can begin to experiment with rewards. Start out by testing a few different rewards like going for a walk if you get that urge to smoke a cigarette. You could also try doing 10 pushups or listening to a motivating speech on Youtube, look at videos of puppies, talk to a friend on the phone… Eventually you will find something that removes that urge to smoke, sit down after work, or eat that cookie. Once you have the routine and reward figured out you can work on the cue. What starts the whole habit? Cues almost always fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, or immediately preceding action. The easiest way to determine the cue is to have a notebook and immediately take notes once the habit is triggered. Answer every one of those questions and after a few cycles of the habit you should be able to see a pattern. One of those five categories will remain consistent.
One of the most important parts of this book is getting across the point that YOU have the power to change a habit. You just needed to understand how and why habits exist but most importantly YOU need to make the choice to change. Changing a habit is not an easy process. You will feel burnt out and will struggle because you are fighting efficiency. Your brain wants to retain that habit but your conscious self does not want to. Your conscious self is the stronger part when you want or need it to be. That is how people sober up after years of substance abuse or lose and keep weight off after being extremely overweight most of their life. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it
I woke up this morning to the sun shining into our room. I ordered some black out blinds so we could keep our room dark but who knows how long it will take for them to arrive? I did the bad thing of immediately checking my phone for messages, emails, and social media notifications. It’s always recommended not do this because it can put you into a frantic, defensive, and reactive mood to start the day. I am glad that I looked at it though because Motor Sergeant texted me saying I have a flight out today. I needed to have my room completely packed and ready to go in 2 hours. Not a problem for me because we couldn’t bring a ton of stuff anyways… So I get finished packing up in about an hour. It sucked how fast it all happened. Just yesterday my CO (commanding officer) mentioned that I would be heading up to Erbil but I didn’t realize it was going to happen this fast.
Just before lunch the twins (identical twins with very similar names) pick me and my stuff up in their pickup truck. They taxi us over to the PAX tent where we wait around for an hour. I am traveling with SGT. Jameson who is another late addition mechanic. SGT. Jameson came from another NC NG unit and was filling the role of another mechanic that was hurt during training. After waiting we head out to the flight line where we wait some more. There was some equipment that needed to be unloaded. While that was happening we chatted with a couple Airmen about their deployment and a little bit about their life. During the conversation an E9 from the Air Force came up and joined the conversation. We talked about how shitty Ali Al Salem Air Base is and especially the piss poor transient area. He agrees that it is crap but there is not much he can do about it. We also talk about the frustrations about just trying to get on a flight. Flights in the military are never a guaranteed thing. You will very rarely get your first flight out of a location. Luckily, this time was not a struggle for Sgt. Jameson and I to fly out of Al Asad.
We flew on a C17 fully loaded with an International MaxxPro Dash MRAP as well as some Polaris MRZRs. The way the C17 is loaded is that there are passenger seats up the side of the cabin. The middle of the plane has the vehicles strapped down. During take off and landing the suspensions of the vehicles flex and the vehicle shakes. It would suck if the chains broke that hold down the vehicles. Another interesting note is that there are no windows to look out of. This is not good for people who get motion sickness.
The flight was a short one that probably lasted 30 or 40 minutes. We landed in Erbil with no real idea of who we were supposed to meet. While we were trying to figure that out part of second platoon landed. I wasn’t expecting to see them for another couple of days. I guess they finally caught a flight out of the hell hole that is Ali Al Salem. Sadly, only half of the group actually made the flight. The remaining group was still stuck there!
The second platoon guys had a solid contact there so we didn’t end up waiting long once they arrived. The group we linked up was from the unit we were replacing. They took us over to the transient area which was a lot nicer than Ali’s area. This is probably because KBR was contracted to maintain the transient area versus Ali’s area which is barely controlled by the Air Force. We quickly head over to the DFAC which is a decent sized building. The food is pretty standard.
After the DFAC the guys drive us over to the Bare Buhar which is a little market place. We couldn't bring our rifles into the market so some people stay back to watch them. I purchase an internet puck and some refill cards. The internet here is so much cheaper than anywhere I’ve been so far. It was only $45 for the puck and $35 for unlimited data. This is compared to $100+ for slow internet elsewhere.
We get back to the tents around 2000 so we shower up and hit the sack. Tomorrow is a waiting day. We aren’t scheduled to fly out for another day.
We didn't really do much these days. We did some more exploring and battle hand off tasks. One of the most eventful parts of the day is when the C-RAMS went off. I am pretty sure it was for testing because there were no sirens. For those that don't know what a C-RAM is they are machine guns mounted to a detection system to counter rocket and indirect fire (IDF). I don't know how successful they are at shooting down incoming fire but they sure are loud.
The commander arrived and told me that Jaymo and I would be flying to Erbil soon. We were to be attached to second platoon to assist them with vehicle and equipment maintenance.
Stewart and I woke up around 0630 so we could get some breakfast chow before the workday. Breakfast chow is definitely my favorite and most calorie dense meal of the day. I try to get as much protein and calories in as I can during breakfast. The reason is that Army DFACs, unlike MREs, don’t cater towards the non meat lovers diet. I keep breakfast very consistent in that I eat scrambled eggs, waffles with peanut butter, and handful of mixed nuts, and a bowl of Kashi Cereal. I like to keep the breakfast the same everyday so I can reduce the amount of decisions I have to make in the morning. I don’t know if decision fatigue is a real thing or not but it’s just easier for me to keep things consistent.
A slight tangent; everything contractor related in the Middle East is done through KBR. Every dining hall, pretty much all maintenance, laundry, bathroom servicing, etc…. Everything that the US military has deemed not important enough for a soldier or doesn’t have enough soldiers to do is being done by KBR. I have been to five locations all over Iraq and Kuwait and every single one of them is serviced by KBR contractors. The contractors are a mix of local nationals, Indians, low income foreigners, and a handful of Americans. It seems KBR has been the main contractor for the US Government since the initial invasion of Iraq back in 2004. KBR must be making some serious bank on that contract. War is expensive and it is truly hard to grasp how expensive it is until you are a part of it. The amount of money it takes the government to just get us over here is massive. I read Times article this morning and it was saying how Global Military spending has doubled since the end of the Cold War. The crazy part of this is that it is really just a handful of countries racing against each other. The world is becoming more and more militarized and it will eventually lead to another World War… It is just a matter of how long it will take and what starts it.
And on that gloomy tangent, let’s get back to the story. We have just barely started the day and I already went on a tangent. So we were told by our Motor Sergeant to be ready to go at 0900. Turns out that was bad intel and at 0745, while the entire platoon was eating, we got a text message saying we needed to be out front of CHUs at 0800. Nice! The Army always keeps you on your toes. The goal of today was to meet up with the unit that we are replacing so we can get a grasp on the current situation. We call this a RIP or Relief in Place. A bus was supposed to come pick us up and take us down to the workshop/TOC (Tactical Operations Center). Apparently the bus driver missed the memo so we ended up walking. This was my first real encounter with the true enemy at Al Asad… the fucking gnats. Holy shit these gnats are ferocious. I swear they have been trained by the Air Force because these gnats know how to organize and conduct effective air strikes. There are a million gnats in every cubic foot of air. It is a constant battle walking around Al Asad.
After about a hike, past the Norwegian camp, down a steep cliff we arrive at this re-purposed airplane hanger. The left side of the hanger has some American equipment like a disassembled 10 ton dump, a M984 wrecker, and a Buffalo MRAP. The right side has some British equipment like cabless Foxcatcher, and what looked like a Cougar MRAP. The backside of the hanger has a double wide trailer which hosts the TOC. There are some barrels of POL (Patruleum, Oil Lubricants) scattered around the back and on the American side of the hanger. The floor of the hanger is cement with some large potholes and a ton of dirt/sand. Do an about-face so you are now facing outside the hanger. To the right you have a generator, two port-a-shitters, and then a mix of Army equipment and Connexs. To the left there are some British vehicles and equipment as well as some more connexs.
We waited around the hanger for an hour before anyone from the unit we were replacing (2120th) showed up. There was no maintenance assets left at Al Asad which meant we were on our own in figuring out how to run the shop. That problem was for another day though. Once the 2120 guys showed up we hoped in their bus and took a tour of the base. Asad is pretty big, sandy, hot, and in the middle of nowhere. The cool thing about Al Asad is that it sits in a dried out river bed. Our CHUs were on the top of the ravine and we looked down onto the majority of the base. The base is roughly split in half between the Iraqi military and the coalition forces. The story is that we gave the base back to the Iraqi’s when we pulled out of Iraq but then ISIS came and we had to go back to Iraq. The Iraqi military made us buy back the part of the base we currently occupy. I don’t know if its actually true but I wouldn’t doubt it. Back to describing the base… So the Coalition side is split up into different regions. The main part is called Havoc which holds the gym, the DFAC, the MWR, the Danish MWR, BOSI, PX, and then some other housing units. The other sections are Tripoli (which holds the Green Bean Coffee as well as some other soldiers), Guadalcanal, and Inchon. There are some additional areas of base but those are the relevant ones for me.
This entry abruptly ends and I apologize for that. I was still trying to stay motivated to write early on in the mobilization.
Flight day! Finally getting out of this transient world of Ali Al Salem. The free time has been nice but we all had to remain on edge for a flight at any moment. We were stuck living out of a small backpack in this shitty tents and decrepit showers. It was nice to finally know we were leaving. After breakfast we headed down to the terminal where we checked in and got our bag/equipment sorted out. There was a couple of hours in a holding area before we hopped on a bus out to the flight line. As we were pulling up to the plane you could see this thick orange wall rapidly approaching. The flight crew runs up to the bus and yells out to get on that plane now! We wanted to beat this massive sandstorm. It wasn’t but a minute later that the storm hit us with such ferrocity that it knocked soldiers over. The sand was filling the plane as we boarded. It was tough to breathe and impossible to see. It was quite an experience. The wind from the storm shook the plane as we sat on the tarmac. The crew chief comes over the intercom and says that we are stuck on the tarmac until the storm clears. He was saying it should take about an hour. After about 2 hours of cooking inside of a plane the storm cleared and we got the green light. The flight was pretty uneventful, except for a couple soldiers throwing up. One interesting note about military flights is that there are no windows to orientate yourself with the outside world. All you have is the feedback the plane provides with turns and thrust.
The flight was short (about an hour or so). We landed at Al Asad around 1930. As we were unloading the plane some high speed looking motherfuckers were boarding. Using what I learned later is that these were probably Danish or Norwegian special forces. We then jammed into some buses and were brought over to these tents with chairs lined up on the left side. We got in and received a quick brief, loaded a magazine into our weapons, and then sprinted over to chow. The chow “hall” is this small drash tent setup behind a T-Wall compound. Being that it was dark and a new location it was a challenge just to find the door into the tent! The selection was very limited but I still stuck to the vegetarian diet. This is where I started to realize that it probably wasn’t going to be feasible to stay a strict vegetarian for the entirety of the deployment. After chow we stumbled our way across a rocky road to our living accommodations. Our bags were already unloaded from the plane and laid out on the ground. We got our rooming assignments and I got lucky by rooming with Sgt. Stewart. He is someone I have connected with since back stateside. I knew we were going to get along.
Our living situation was surprisingly not too bad. Besides a lot of dust/sand the rooms were not too shabby. We were assigned a CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) which is essentially a single wide trailer divided into thirds. We had two windows, one at the head of my bed and the second next to my wall locker. The room is about 10’ x 12’ and contained two single beds, two wall lockers, some shelves, and a table that had been left by the prior guests. We spent the next hour or more unpacking all of our gear and exploring our immediate area. Since it was night time, our exploring was very limited. We went to sleep around midnight.
Some how I managed to get a good nights sleep. I was smart and grabbed my woobie and fitted sheet out of my bag before it got palatalized. So I used the sheet as my pillow and the woobie as my blanket. I had to sleep in my uniform though because I didn't have anything to change into. Yet another day of smelling like shit and being dirty. When I awoke from my sleep I checked my phone and saw a text from a soldier. It said our flight had been canceled and no update on a new flight. Of course it was canceled... This leg of travel couldn't be easy for us just like the last.
After breakfast I headed down to the MWR and hung out. While I was chilling at the MWR my phone buzzed from a text message. I open the message and saw something crazy! Sadly, for the security of the unit I cannot include the details of what I saw. That will be kept private for now.
Woke up at 0330 to finish packing and to clean the Q huts. We all dragged our luggage out to the road to pack. Then we said our goodbyes to the part of unit staying back and headed out to Ali Al Salem. It took about an hour of driving to get to the air base. There really isn't much out in the desert except for some small random houses and a lot of trash and sand. The ranges for Buehring reach far from the camp too. Once we arrived we got off the buses and loaded our bags onto a pallet. Naturally it began to rain, luckily it was only a light rain. It seems that it rains only when we have to bring our bags outside. It didn't rain at all during our time at McGregor except for when we cleared the barracks and our bags were outside.
We knew our flight wasn't going out until tomorrow so we headed up this hill to sign for some billeting. This is where the fun began. The billeting is this assembly of disheveled large tents with a ton of bunk beds shoved inside. We walk into our tent and it is pitch black, blankets are draped over beds, and there are a few "hermits" living in there. This small group of people were in civilians with grown out beards. Apparently they have been stuck there for over a month and probably going to be there longer. It gave all of us this uneasy feeling. One more thing to point out is that the mattresses on the beds didn't actually fit the frames. The beds were all too long so the mattresses had these awkward folds in them. I tell ya, it is one crazy situation.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The majority of the unit stayed in the Drop Zone aka the MWR where there was internet, TVs, and Bingo.
Not much happened today. It was set as a recovery day so we can all catch up on our sleep. There was only two Army things we had to do. The first was to get ammo for our weapons. It was a weird feeling drawing that much ammo. I've never held on to a full combat load because I am just a POG (Person Other than Grunt). We will most likely never use this and to show our confidence level we taped over our magazines so we didn't lose any rounds. Losing a round is the end of the world for one of us and is way more likely then firing a round. Before we got issued the ammo we were counseled about how not to use this ammo except under certain circumstances like kill'n for defense. The second Army thing I had to do was a Battalion in-briefing. We met the entire BN and part of Brigade. My Motor Sergeant was already at Asad so I stood in for him. There wasn't much for me to say. The meeting was pretty short and afterward I headed to the chow tent. I grabbed a quick bite, headed to the gym, and then spent the last bit of the night packing up my bags. Tomorrow is going to be an early morning for more movement. This time northbound!
The past couple of days have washed together. It is tough to tell how many days or hours we have actually been traveling. It took a couple people a concerted effort in order calculate that we had been traveling for about 4 days. This is 4 days without showers or changing clothes. 4 days of being stuck in uncomfortable seats and not much sleep. Today is the day we finally land in Kuwait. We took off from Bahrain late in the evening We landed at Kuwait City International Airport after the short 45 minute flight. We were transported by bus into this walled off outdoor holding area. We were there for about an hour before things started to move. I think we got stuck as the bus drivers changed out because of shift change. During the shift change our stateside BN commander talked to us.
The bus ride from the airport to Camp Buehring took just under an hour. We were greeted by our advanced party when we arrived at 0300ish. We spent the first hour unloading bags from the trucks and getting briefed on the Camp. The barracks we were staying in weren’t bad. They were a similar setup to Westbrook back at Bliss just slightly bigger. The walk from the unloading area to the barracks was a trek. It was about a half mile which sucked because carrying 50-100lb bags that far over rocky, sandy, and wet ground made every weight feel double. No time to really rest after dropping bags off. By the time that was all done it was breakfast chow and then straight into meetings. We did have just enough time to take a shower and get into clean clothes. That made 50 hours of being stuck in the same uniform and without shower.
BN wanted to knock out our Theater In-Briefs. This was a horrible idea because we were all so freaking tired. I have never seen so many soldiers falling a sleep. In the Army we tell people to stand up and go to the back if they are tired. Logic is that it’s harder to fall a sleep standing up. Well… towards the end of the briefs we had 2/3rds of the company standing. One third practically had toothpicks holding their eyes open. We finished these briefs in mid-afternoon. Everyone immediately went back to the barracks and passed out. There just wasn’t anything we could do to remain awake. There wasn’t any reason to stay awake either. I went back and took a short nap. I just needed something to get me through the rest of the day. I finished off the day with a quick gym workout, dinner chow, and some gaming.
This is where stuff gets real interesting. So, get this... no rain or anything while we were at Bliss but once we get to the big desert in the ME there is a huge thunder storm. The plane was not happy flying through it either. I mean it felt like our plane was falling a hundred feet at times. There was this one soldier that had to puke, but luckily made it to the lavatory. So during this crazy storm and plane shaking we are coming in for landing. I shit you not, the altimeter on the video screen said 150 feet from ground and all of a sudden the jets turn to full power. Are we taking off again???? We were practically on the ground! Well turns out you can watch this camera on the front of the plane. If you were watching that then you would see the wind from this Thunderstorm was so bad it kept pushing this massive heavy plane off the runway. The pilot called the landing on account of safety. Probably a good idea because crashing a plane filled with soldiers wouldn't look too good. So we start to head south east. Our secondary landing location was planned for Muscat. But apparently the person planning this didn't think about fuel... So the pilot comes over the PA and says that Muscat is just a little too far and he is looking for another place to put the plane down. After a short time the pilot comes back on and says we are landing in Bahrain. So 30ish minutes later we land in Bahrain at 0300ish.
The plane taxis into the gate and we sit. And then we sit some more. Another hour later and the pilot comes back on the PA. He says that we were pushing out. We push off the gate and not more than 3 minutes later the pilot says there are too many paperwork issues and it has to be called a day. It's like somewhere around 4am and we are 45 minutes away from Kuwait, our final destination. So we pull back into the gate, but remain on the hot plane, so the people (idk who) can figure out what to do. After 2 hours of almost anarchy on the plane we taxi, very slowly, over to a Navy flight gate.
The civilian crew debark the plane and head off to their nice hotels. We were told hotels would be reserved for us too. So we get off the plane and head to some breakfast right outside of the Navy flight gate. It didn't take long to figure out that we weren't getting hotel rooms... We were stuck in this tiny Navy complex for 15 hours while we waited for the civilians to rest and sort out paperwork.
These 15 hours were extremely boring. This is what the National Guard and Army really train you to do; sit around for long periods while tired. Luckily, this time we were allowed to sleep but it was advised to hold off and get adjusted to the new time zone. The two companies that were on the plane were spread out through the small terminal. We hadn’t showered, shaved, or changed in 3 days. Soldiers were spread out on the floors, tables, and chairs trying to find some sort of comfort. It looked like a refugee camp at times.
I spent the 15 hours doing a mix of reading, gaming, and watching of movies. The Navy terminal had a copy of 12 Strong so everyone watched that. It was another great motivating military movie. There was one real sobering moment while stuck at Bahrain and that was the Funeral Detail that passed through the terminal. A young sailor was struck by a vehicle while crossing a street. While it was not a combat death it was still sobering for all of us and brought us back to reality for a moment. We aren’t just flying to some training exercise, we are flying into war.