Team Jedi after unolading their bags at an airfield in Iraq.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Murrell, http://murrellmitt.blogspot.com/

Team Jedi Episode 5: Combat Advisor Journal

Heat-seeking missiles, Gen. Petraeus and Chuck Norris

(Editor's Note: Merv Brott and Kevin Connaughton, former Sulphur Springs residents, are part of a 10-man team tasked with training hundreds of Iraqi soldiers how to do the job of protecting their country. Maj. Brott, the team leader, has graciously offered to write about the experiences of "Team Jedi" for the News-Telegram. These dispatches can also be foun on the "Team Jedi" blog.)

Episode 5: 26 Aug 08

August 31, 2008 - Once again Team Jedi was moving forward under the cover of darkness. Our Chinook twin-rotor helicopter suddenly deviated from its course into a steep left bank. We all could see the flares being jettisoned from the aircraft to protect us from the shoulder-fired missile homing in on the massive heat signature generated by the big turbines on the Chinook. The flares lit up the night sky.

My communications chief, Staff Sergeant Greg Murrell, was sitting next to me. I could see the genuine look of concern on his face from the residual light of the flares coming through the window of our blacked out aircraft. A few seats down was Sergeant First Class Montes, the team medic. He was desperately searching for his seat belt which he had not secured before take-off.

"Sir! What was that!" yelled SSG Murrell above the intense noise.

"Flares. They go off automatically when they sense a threat." I said matter-of-factly.

"What kind of threat!"

"Heat-seeking missiles."

I was having a little fun at SSG Murrell's expense. I knew a little secret and could hardly keep a straight face. The flares that went off were just a "test-fire" by the pilots. I had done it many times as I departed the Forward Operating Base (FOB) on night missions on my last tour. Our Chinook was just departing its home base when it picked us up on the other side of the FOB. We all laughed about it the next day in the mess hall, each guy telling on the other about how scared they were. Jokers -- my team is full of them, and that's a good thing.

Before we took that fun Chinook ride to our new home (away from home), we spent our last week getting our final piece of training for our Combat Adviser mission. The highlight of last week was meeting with THE Man, General David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq (i. e., everyone). He is the author of the Department of Defense's new counter-insurgency manual and the architect of the successful surge strategy in Iraq (yes, it is working -- more to follow in future articles).

His meeting with us was privileged and one we won't soon forget. SFC Connaughton, CPT Rich Connaroe (the Effects Coordinator for the team) and I all asked him questions and received insightful replies. I can, however, tell you something about General Petraeus that I'm sure very few people are aware of: He is a big fan of Chuck Norris.

For those who may not know, the legend of Chuck Norris is huge in the Army, if not the entire armed forces. You go to any porta-john in Iraq and you are bound to read a new Chuck Norris fact on the wall. General Petraeus shared his favorite Chuck Norris facts with us:

1. Chuck Norris does not sleep -- he waits.

2. Millions of kids wear Superman pajamas at night -- Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas.

3. Chuck Norris will never win an Academy Award -- because he isn't acting.

4. Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song.

5. When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks the closet for Chuck Norris.

6. Chuck Norris doesn't wear a watch -- he decides what time it is.

7. There is no theory of evolution -- just a list of creatures that Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

Well, we have arrived at our home away from home. We have a one-week handover with the outgoing team, and then we are on our own. Right now, all the guys on the team are just happy as clams to not be living out of a ruck sack like we have been doing for the last 23 days, traveling across continents, oceans, time zones and deserts using a variety of military aircraft. Not only that, but in a couple of days we will all have our own rooms! Oh, the luxury! (I'm not being sarcastic.)

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have in life than going through a little hardship. I like that. It recalibrates the soul. You start out by appreciating the simple things like having a chair to sit on, having your own room, or not having to get dressed in the middle of the night to go to another building to use the bathroom. Then you realize that you have much more important things to be thankful for.

For me, her name is Joy.

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