CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) Part I
Ft Benning, GA - November 1998
Just weeks prior to deployment, I was notified that I would soon be on my way to Bosnia where I'd be serving for six months, first as the SFOR Chief of Operations & Deputy Chief Joint Engineer then, during the Kosovo Campaign, as the Acting Chief Joint Engineer.
However, before one arrived in Bosnia (or any other 'war zone' as an individual sans unit), one had to pass through the CRC...CONUS Replacement Center...to receive briefings and rudimentary training that applied to the war zone in question.
While the briefings and training had some relevant value to most, the CRC facility, itself, was of little value...relevant or not...to any of us who were billeted there. The CRC facilities were not suitable for Third World militaries much less members of United States Armed Forces (see pictures).
By the time I arrived in Bosnia, an editorial had begun to take shape in my mind. Fingers to key board resulted in the following.
NOTE: This 'story' come in Three Parts; the link to Part II is below.
Submission to: ARMY TIMES
SOLDIERS ARE WHOSE CREDENTIALS?
by LTC JD Lock
27 November 1998
It was 1800 hours when I indirectly learned that I was being considered for a temporary change of station (TCS) assignment to Bosnia. A quick call and brief conversation with the division deputy commander a few minutes later confirmed it. Shortly, thereafter, an e-mail message sent at 1900 announced that I was the lucky ‘winner’ of an all expense paid, six-month vacation to Bosnia. The ‘wheels’ of deployment were in motion and, though the process had only begun, I would soon learn to a degrading degree of agitation and personal frustration that those deployment wheels are square, not round.
I will not focus on the fact that this specific tasking—just as with many other routine taskings that support our military operations overseas—was known six months out with the deployment of my predecessor and not decided until a little over three weeks from my TCS date.
I will not focus on the fact that, despite these regular and recurrent overseas taskings, my orders still did not arrive until less than a week prior to my departure.
I will not focus on the abuse—for the lack of a better term—of a good and decent senior NCO whom I had the opportunity to meet during my travels who recently spent eighteen months in Bosnia only to find himself deployed for another six months to Haiti—leaving him only days to prepare for his retirement and to find a second career when he returns from his most recent tasking.
I will not focus on the fact that the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Benning, Georgia—the site through which all US Army and Navy active, reserve and guard personnel process for overseas deployment from the States, does not have a clue as to how many people are deploying for a given cycle or returning on a specific day until the day prior…if they find out at all—Federal Express does a better job of tracking its packages than the US Army does of tracking its people.
I will not focus on the waste of keeping reservists at the CRC, as medical holdovers—some for longer than two years—as ‘go fers’ to perform menial and mundane tasks when many of them could be better utilized assigned to an installation or unit near their homes as they await the results of their medical boards.
I will not focus on the fact that the organization to which I was assigned in Bosnia did not even know I was in country, on the ground in Sarajevo, following eleven days of routine predeployment processing and travel.
What I will focus on, instead, is the squalor of the mobilization and force projection facilities—otherwise infamously known by its ‘inmates’ as CRC—that would make a slum lord blush. Of a forty man billet that had three non functional urinals, four commodes—one without a seat that, by default, had become the sole urinal, and a three head shower with partially clogged drains and standing water up to the ankles. Or of a single washer and dryer, neither of which ever seemed to work simultaneously. Or of the necessity for field grade officers and senior NCOs—as they prepared to deploy to war torn lands—to mop floors, scrub shower walls, scour sinks and empty trash cans to minimize their exposure to environmental and health hazards. I now know why we received Hepatitis shots; it was to keep from being infected within our own latrines.
I love the Army and I’ve devotedly and voluntarily served in it from the age of seventeen as a private, sergeant, West Point cadet, and commissioned officer. I'm Ranger qualified and have served with the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne. I’ve deployed on alert to Warsaw Pact borders, chuted up for forced entry combat jumps, slept in swamps and awoken in the woods to find myself covered by nearly a foot of snow. Consequently, I believe I can make a strong case that I’ve “been there, done that,” when it comes to ‘sucking it down’ under relatively adverse conditions.
But, the conditions I experienced at the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC)—a bastard of an orphaned facility located far outside the cantonment area of Fort Benning—were the most adverse and embarrassing that I have ever experienced. I was embarrassed for the soldiers who looked to me for guidance and answers which I, for once, could not provide. I was embarrassed for the members of our sister service, the Navy, whose impressions of my service were tainted by such seedy and miserable surroundings. But, most of all, I was embarrassed for the United States Army which I have proudly and selflessly served for over twenty-four rewarding years.
Is this how the world’s one true superpower should treat its serving sons and daughters in the weeks prior to their deployment to hostile or potentially hostile territories? Is this the appreciation shown by the world’s most wealthy nation for those who are willing to give at least six months of their lives, away from loved ones and families, in support of national foreign policy? Is this how our senior leaders thank those who are consistently asked to “do more with less?”
Now, I fully realize that I am not aware of all the facts—though I did ask a lot of questions of a CRC cadre who are overwhelmed, undermanned, barely resourced and mostly not to blame. For some of the issues, there may be some rational explanations that do not border on excuses. For some of the shortcomings, senior officers may have been taken to task for pushing too hard for a resolution. Sadly, while I may believe some of that, to a limited degree, I do not believe it applies to a large percentage of what I saw and experienced at the CRC.
Courtesy of the Army and the Military Academy, I do have a graduate degree that mentions that nebulous word ‘statistics’ and, hence, prompts me to ask one simple question of myself. Can all of what I’ve experienced in such a brief number of days be the exception to the norm? To that question, I must say, “No”—especially when every US soldier I encountered in Sarajevo without exception —to include those who were ready to redeploy after six months in exceptionally adverse living conditions, asked if the CRC was still in the same mess they had left. Interestingly enough, it has provided all of us a ‘bond’ nearly as strong as that felt by those of us who wear the Ranger Tab.
What, then, is the solution to this disgrace? The two obvious responses are command interest and money. The first is easy for leaders who truly care about soldiers; the second requires a bit more thought and effort and I seriously doubt that our national leaders have the courage to implement my prime recommendation: cancel at least one of the twenty wasteful, $1 Billion B2 Stealth bombers currently funded and inject that money into an armed forces infrastructure that is failing on every military installation. The perceived detriment of having ‘only’ nineteen of those budget busters on hand would be more than offset by the combat multiplying effect on soldier’s and sailor’s moral when they realize that the nation really might give a damn about the conditions in which they are forced to work. Somehow, though, I don’t believe this suggestion will be given much...if any...credence.
Therefore, as an alternate solution, I offer that we, the Army, back off on the size, frequency and length of the numerous and expensive conferences held throughout the year by various major commands. Having recently attended a few such conferences, myself, I speak from some experience. I, for one, would not feel put out in the least if I were to find myself double bunked in a Motel 6 rather than a single room in a Hilton—contentedly knowing that those savings were being applied to finance a force mobilization and projection facility worthy of this nation’s great soldiers, sailors and airmen. For the Army command to continue condoning such opulent activities within the confines of plush surroundings at government expense while a soldier’s final thoughts when he departs the shores of this great nation are, “Damn, I can’t wait to get to Bosnia if it means I don’t have to spend another f’ing day at the CRC!” is a sad commentary on the state and character of our great service.
But…then again, now that I think of it, maybe that desire to have me go anywhere other than to stay at the CRC was the ultimate intent of some higher plan all along?
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