Wishes for a White (Toilet Paper) Christmas from Afghanistan

Dorie Griggs

Dorie Griggs

The following post is written by long-time contributor Dorie Griggs who started writing for Off the Base while her son was still a cadet at the Citadel. She’s a new Army mom and he’s now deployed.

By Dorie Griggs

Never again will I look at toilet paper the same way.

My son sent me a private message on Saturday morning. I had missed his Skype call the day before. He doesn’t contact me often so I wasn’t sure what was up. It turns out the toilet paper I ordered through Amazon.com arrived. I sent 96 rolls, enough for each member of his platoon to have a package. He told me the guys were treating it like gold. They received a number of boxes this past week, but the toilet paper was, “the hit of everything.”

I told my son to let his guys know I’ve got their a$$es covered. I am pretty sure he rolled his eyes when read my comment.

An Army Family Prepares for Deployment

The Colors are Cased – a battalion ritual as soldiers prepare to deploy. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By Dorie Griggs

The last few weeks have been full of rituals and changes.

October 12-13 was Parents Weekend at The Citadel. My son graduated in 2011, but I am still in touch with quite a few families with cadets there. It is fun to relive the fun weekends through their stories and photographs. Since the first year cadets or knobs are promoted and the seniors receive their rings this weekend, it is a very happy time to visit the otherwise serious campus.

This year, I will admit to spending a bit more time looking at Facebook photos of this fun weekend. It was a great fun way to escape the ritual our family was about to begin. . . deployment.

Our oldest son is about to deploy to the Middle East. He was home in early October for his pre-deployment leave. He spent most of that time living it up with good friends. We saw him for a couple of meals and a going away party his father and step-mother threw for him. It was tough not having more time just to visit, but I was very happy to see him enjoying all his friends. Continue reading

Army Mom Uses Websites, YouTube, Facebook to Learn

Graduation from the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Dorie Griggs with her son Nelson and family. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m on the steep learning curve on how to become the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After four years of being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, I thought I was pretty aware of the real military process.

I was wrong.

Over the years I have learned how to navigate various military related web sites. In my previous professional positions, I honed my Internet research skills. Those research skills and my drive to learn are coming in handy now.

The past few months, I’ve heard from other mothers of soldiers that they too are learning a lot. We learn more from our own research than from what our sons or daughters tell us directly.

I found great support from other mothers in particular about the various processes. Our children are busy starting their new careers. Many of them are in training that requires them to turn in their cell phones and don’t allow for computer access. It is during these periods, when we can’t hear directly from our own sons or daughters, that we as parents and spouses reach out to each other.

Armor school Basic Officer Leader Course graduating class. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The Army’s Family Readiness Groups (FRG) appears to be most helpful to spouses of military members. So far, I’ve not found them to be particularly helpful to family who do not live near the base. My son is scheduled to be deployed in the fall. I wonder if the FRG will be more helpful at that time.

I’ve found the base websites to be very helpful with back ground information.  During Armor BOLC both the website and the Facebook groups posted updates. The same was true when I researched Ranger School, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and Airborne School.

I found I could get lost in research on these sites. I also found answers to many of my questions on the various Facebook groups. To find more information on the particular training your soldier is going through, I have had  great success using the search window on the main base website. I used the search window to find the links to the various training pages and Facebook groups listed above.

Airborne soldiers during an exercise. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To find the Facebook group for my sons battalion and regiment, I put 3-69 Facebook in the search window on the main Fort Stewart website.

At Fort Stewart, they have an extensive website and also a variety of Facebook groups. Fort Benning does as well. Through these sites I’ve come to “meet” other parents and staffers who were more than willing to answer my questions.

If you want to find the group for your soldier, enter the base name in the Facebook search window. Once you find a site, you can also check the “Likes” section on the right side of the page to see what other related groups are listed.

YouTube is another source of information that I believe is under utilized by parents. I also know that sometimes you can have too much information. The videos in particular may not be very comforting if you are worried about the training your loved one is going through.

If you’d like find videos about the training or unit your soldier is in just enter the name in the search window of YouTube. I try to watch the videos posted by an official source like this one about the U.S. Army Basic Training.

Airborne graduation. Photo by Stanley Leary.

While my son was in college, he was involved in learning Modern Army Combatives. I found some training videos that helped me understand that discipline. One website gave me the background and another link showed a series of training videos. Now that he is active duty, the other videos I’ve found about the Rangers training, and the U.S. Army Special Forces are ones you need to be ready to watch. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone struggling to come to terms with this extremely challenging career choice.

The greatest gift I have received is the many new friendships, most virtual, that I have formed. Our children are on a path most of us haven’t traveled. The parents with military background help those of us without that experience.

The training we go through as family members isn’t physically grueling, but it is tough emotionally. We have peaks and valleys. The best you can hope for is that the peaks out weigh the valleys. Reaching out to others who understand this dynamic may not literally save your life, but the military family community can ease the stress.

The Citadel Ya-Yas become Military Moms

The Citadel Ya-Yas in March of 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

A year ago Monday, I wrote about the friends I made through the Citadel Family Association, The Citadel Ya Yas. We are a geographically diverse group of moms who met through our volunteer work and our mutual interest in supporting our children while they attended The Citadel. This group of friends continues to be a strong source of friendship, support and comfort. Between us we have children in the private sector, graduate school, and a few branches of the military. We are in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls when really important events pop up.

The summer my son attended Leader Development & Assessment Course (LDAC), I found a another group of friends. Most of us have never met, or even spoken on the phone.  We are family members of the cadets who went through LDAC the summer of 2010. We met via the LDAC 2010 Facebook group.  We formed our own Facebook group and now support each other as our children become officers and go through the various stages of training and active duty.

ABOLC graduation. Dorie Griggs, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, Taylor Lalli. Photo by Stanley Leary.

LDAC also maintains an excellent blog, Operation Warrior Forge, where they post photos and stories about the cadets at LDAC. I was able to watch the graduation in real-time via their live stream, WarriorForgeLive. The LDAC 2012 group should be up later this spring.

I am now on the steep learning curve now being the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I’ve learned about Fort Benning, the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), the Armor Branch traditions, Airborne School, Ranger school, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and am now learning about Fort Stewart and the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. Each one of these groups has a Facebook page or group as well. I wrote blog entries about our experience at the Armor BOLC graduation and included links to the sites where I learned about their traditions. I also wrote about the Airborne School first jump and graduation.

Airborne School graduation, November 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

When my son went to Airborne school, I corresponded with other family members through the  US Army Airborne School, Fort Benning Facebook group. Some of us met at the Fryar Drop Zone or at graduation. We shared photos from the jumps we attended and even checked on each others’ soldiers. A few of us are now Facebook friends. The experience last fall helped me see the bond the families of active duty military members share.

I am finding that as the mother of a single soldier some information is harder to track down. The Family Readiness Groups seem to be geared more toward the married soldiers who have spouses with them on base to attend meetings and events. At least, this is my experience with a soldier who is not deployed. I was visiting the Fort Stewart site recently and saw a post about their redesign. I plan on sending in a few suggestions.

One of the stated goals of their new design from the feedback page: “We are aiming to be a model example for all other military websites to be based upon.” If you are the family member of a single soldier and have ideas to share, scroll to the bottom of this page and send in your suggestion.

Florida 53rd Final Group Arrival Delayed

Thursday's Welcome Home ceremony for more than 300 soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 124th Infantry Regiment with Florida National Guard's 53rd Brigade based in Pinellas Park. Photo by: Army SPC Christopher Vann.

The final group of the Florida National Guard 53rd infantry brigade soldiers has been scheduled to return on Sunday to Hunter Army Air Field near Savannah, GA.  Originally, the guardsmen were set to return Friday night.

Their welcome home ceremony at Ft. Stewart, GA is when the soldiers get to meet family and friends for the first time in nearly a year. That ceremony is rescheduled too.

Over the last two weeks, members of the 53rd have been returning in groups of a couple hundred at a time.

Members of Florida's 53rd Brigade have been deployed since January in Iraq and Kuwait. Photo by Army SPC Christopher Vann.

Florida guard officials were hoping all 2,400 members would be back and processed from active duty to National Guard status before Christmas. But, the demobilization process takes six to seven days and includes medical, dental and other testing. So, it means not all of the 53rd will make it back to their Florida homes for the holiday. However, the guardsmen can spend time with their families at Ft. Stewart if they were able to travel there.

The 53rd IBCT was deployed almost a year to Kuwait and Iraq. They were tasked with protecting convoys that traveled from Kuwait to Iraq. During their deployment, two soldiers died but not from combat. One was killed in a rollover accident, the other was diagnosed with cancer and returned to the states.

Always Ready, Always There, Now Home

For those who may not recognize it, “Always Ready, Always There” is on the National Guard emblem. The final group about 100 from Florida‘s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is expected to return from Kuwait on Friday.

Nearly 2,400 soldiers from the brigade were deployed to Iraq and Kuwait for a year. Now, they’re returning home in groups of a couple hundred at a time and processing through Ft. Stewart, Georgia. The most recent arrivals came Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Many soldiers were greeted by family and friends and were captured on video by the Florida National Guard Public Affairs Office. Here’s another video from another group of Florida’s 53rd IBCT returning home.

The families you’re watching have waited almost a year for those hugs and kisses captured on video. The soldiers have several more days as they’re processed out and can return to Florida. But, all members of the team are expected home by Christmas.

Some 2,500 Guardsmen Home by Christmas

Posting an article from the Florida National Guard which is celebrating tonight as the first wave of soldiers returns to the U.S. from its largest deployment since WWII. More than 2,500 soldiers are scheduled to come home before Christmas. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) is based in Pinellas Park, FL.

A Soldier from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team gets a hug from a family member after a welcome home ceremony at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. (Nov. 28, 2010) – The first group of Soldiers from the
Florida National Guard’s largest overseas deployment arrived in the U.S. this
morning, marking the beginning of the end for a nearly year-long mission in
Southwest Asia.

As temperatures dipped into the 30s more than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) landed by plane at Hunter Army Airfield
near Savannah, Ga., and were taken to nearby Fort Stewart for a “welcome home
ceremony.” The Soldiers were the first group to return home from the 53rd
Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s mission supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom
and New Dawn.

A young family member awaits the arrival of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

This first group was composed of Inactive Ready Reserve Soldiers, Guardsmen heading to various military schools and members of the 53rd IBCT serving as an “advance party” for the remainder of the nearly 2,500 Soldiers still in
Kuwait. The rest of the 53rd are scheduled to return in groups beginning in
early December, and all members of the 53rd are expected in the U.S. before
Christmas. After a brief demobilization period at Fort Stewart, the groups of
Soldiers will be released home to Florida.

“It’s great to be home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Miner with 2nd Battalion, 124th
Infantry Regiment, shortly after he stepped off the airplane into the frosty
Georgia morning air. “I think the Brigade did a tremendous job, and we had a
lot of support from the citizens of Florida.”

More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Miner, who is also a commissioner from St. Johns County in Northeast Florida,
noted that the return also marked his one-year wedding anniversary and he was
looking forward to seeing his wife Cheryl later in the morning. A few hours
later the couple was reunited on the parade field at Fort Stewart.

“It’s lucky that he’s getting back today,” Cheryl Miner said, noting their
anniversary. “(The deployment) actually went by pretty fast.”

Deployed since January 2010, more than 150 soldiers are the first from the 53rd to return home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rappel, a resident of Titusville, Fla., who also served
with the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, said it felt “wonderful” to
be back in the U.S. before Christmas.

“I look forward to seeing my wife and kids, and I know they’re looking
forward to seeing me,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Mark Miner from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team greets his wife Cheryl after a welcome home ceremony. Photo by Debra Cox

The 53rd IBCT – which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, Fla. – is made up of
Soldiers from around Florida, and includes large contingents based in Miami,
Orlando, Panama City and Lakeland. The Soldiers left Florida in January 2010,
and conducted pre-mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, before departing
for Southwest Asia in early March 2010. One of the most high-profile missions
the unit performed during the deployment was escorting convoys of U.S. forces
leaving Iraq as part of the scheduled drawdown of troops and equipment in the

The mobilization and deployment of the 53rd was historic in that it was the
largest single-unit mobilization for the Florida National Guard since World
War II.

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