TAC-SWACAA: Total Army Communications-Southwest Asia Central Africa and Asia 

I’m working with Exelis, Missions Systems (formerly ITT Systems) in southern Afghanistan at the moment. I will say this; as a person who’s been to Afghanistan once before with the military, it’s something to get used to, but despite this reality, the duration of your contract can prove to be rewarding, granted you adopt a professional networking and positive mindset . With that being said, those of you who will be working in Afghanistan for the first time have your work cut out for you as far as getting accustomed to the vast differences between your typical home/work life and living in such a fiscally and amenity inept country such as Afghanistan. For all others that are assigned to surrounding areas, this post will prove pertinent up to the endeavors directly preceding your final destination.

I think it’s best for me to break down my experiences thus far chronologically in order to effectively and impartially convey to readers the true essence of what lies ahead for Exelis contractors — deploying to SWACAA terrain.

I.  EMPLOYMENT / RECRUITING CAVEATS: First thing’s first, make sure you’ve exhausted your possibilities of obtaining the most handsome monetary reward for devoting your efforts to sustaining this environment — even if that entails working with another company. If you HAVE decided to accept a position with Exelis, you will soon be the recipient of a plethora of electronically exchanged paperwork grazing over the pithy specifics from your recruiter. Objectively speaking, most of your questions from this point on can be answered from poring over ALL documents you’ve been provided, but still, things have an immanent way of remaining misunderstood especially when it’s the first time you’re encountering  the situation. Despite this, READ ALL OF THE INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE, as a wholesome understanding of all enclosures is paramount in reducing any incurred anxiety or confusion.

Within your packet of employee processing information is the mention of a $500.00 mobilization bonus. You are NOT eligible to receive this money unless you’re medically cleared by Occu-med (the company Exelis uses to handle new employee medical appointments and needs) and have flown out to CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) within 14 days of your offer of employment date. The Exelis group you fly out to Kuwait with will be further informed about other entitlements, terms on which you accumulate vacation time, etc. during the various briefings you receive from some of the Exelis Bigger-Wigs

II. TRAINING / TRANSITION EXPERIENCE (CRC): I won’t go over topics that are covered in your employment packet (unless I found them to be vague and/or inaccurate)…

  1. Packing >> Pack as light possible, as lugging around a bunch of really unnecessary items will prove to be a pain in the ass during the next couple of weeks. The documentation that Exelis has provided to address the topic of bringing personal baggage is pretty dead-on with the exception of them almost forbidding you from bringing luggage with wheels. Staff at CRC concisely state that bags with wheels are authorized for milair flights. I wouldn’t recommend you bring these types of bags because as you advance in your trip, you will find it increasingly challenging  to move your bags around with ease especially in Kuwait (sandy terrain) and Afghanistan (uneven and large rocks are what you will walk amongst).
  2. When You Get Paid >> Your pay-period begins the day you report to CRC, but your bank account will not be credited until approximately two weeks out from your CRC report date. All depends on what day of the bi-weekly Exelis pay period payday falls on. With that being said, make sure you have a financial means and reserve in place to hold you over until you start collecting those nice checks of yours ;~) Also, your first check will include an educational re-imbursement (if you’ve acquired any new certifications to secure a certain job/position — post offer of employment letter receipt) and CRC per-diem (around $31.00 a day). Bear in mind that your first check will be a bit untraditional compared to your future checks due to your recorded work hours still being in cahoots, pending you touching boots on ground at your base and receiving your stabilized work schedule. No worries.
  3. Living Quarters >> While at CRC, you will be expected to stay in Army provided open bay barracks, but you may stay at a hotel out in town, granted you have a privately owned vehicle to make it to the briefings and various processing stations on time. If you elect to stay on the base, expect to rest your head on one half of a bunk-bed, wrapped up in a flimsy sheet set and a scratchy  wool blanket, all proceeds of our good ol’ U.S. Army. For men, these sleeping conditions will be accompanied by space restrictions, due to there being a bunch of other dudes (some still awaiting medical release from previous weeks) living with you.  Women have the consistent advantage in the world of contracting in regards to having more elbow room and privacy because of the totally off balance gender ratio. For those who are prior military or have been subject to CRC-like conditions, you have the privilege of knowing what to expect and preparing yourself for the endeavor. For those of you who have no prior experience with limited living amenities, welcome! You’ll be fine, it only lasts for 6 days or so as long as your ducks are in a straight enough row to get you medically cleared for departure.
  4. Food at CRC >> If you, like myself go through Camp Atterbury, Indiana, for processing, you can expect to eat at the Dining Facility (DFAC) for two square meals a day and plastic-bagged lunch. OR….you can mosey on over to the base bar where they have pretty good bowling alley type of food (try the pizza, wings, burgers, or steak). I’m an aspiring vegetarian and I STILL found fulfilling meal options like their steamed edamame and veggie burger to munch on. I believe the name of the place is The Outer Ranks or something to that effect — just ask around.
  5. Other amenities >> There’s a gym, a chapel, a couple of fast food joints, laundry facility and a shuttle that goes to Walmart every day except Sundays at 7:00 P.M (the group meets in front of the Chapel). The trip reveals itself to be a nice break from the monotonous scenery and experience of Camp Atterbury. Interesting to find out there’s a whole world outside of Camp Atterbury! The group leaves on a first-come-first-serve basis so get to the meeting point at a favorable time.  Everything you’ll really need while at Atterbury is a matter of a walk away from your barracks or the main building (Whitaker Hall), as these buildings are in  mostly centralized locations. Oh yeah, try not to be in Indiana during the colder months, like I was, as walking everywhere on base can be damn near unbearable without the proper attire — hell, even with the whole cold-weather get up, you’ll be freezing your ass off — in Indiana at least.
  6. Base Organization / Operations >> I don’t honestly think that I am the sole criticizing survivor of Camp Atterbury’s CRC facility. Camp Atterbury’s infrastructure could  bear a few improvements starting with the state of their medical processing unit. My initial and lasting impression of how business is conducted at Camp Atterbury is greatly influenced by my unit’s holistic experience of frustration with gaining medical clearance for supposed issues they either didn’t have or had already addressed and rectified either via local medical facilities or previously with Occu-Med. All in all, most medical hindrances existed due to paperwork being neglected and improperly transferred to the appropriate parties. I behoove you to make copies of ALL paperwork and to ardently monitor the processing of such. It appeared as if the staff on site weren’t prepared for the significant demands of hundreds of people — as if they hadn’t yet come to terms with the inevitability of our arrival and incumbent needs. Oh yeah, if you have to go off-base to tend to any medical needs, I was told there’s a decent Mexican restaurant near the medical facility where they have a mean Margarita ;`p
  7. Your Departure >> So, now, a week has passed and  you’ve checked the notorious list announcing the medical status of CRC’s attendees and lo and behold, your name is etched in green highlight (or whatever color represents getting the hell out of CRC) on that magic sheet of paper. The final steps involved in leaving CRC may vary greatly  from time to time, but I can shed light on how my group departed. I attended CRC in January 2012 and at the time, Superbowl was going down, which inspired CRC staff to bus us 3 plus hours to Cincinnati to avoid 2012 Superbowl Indianapolis airport congestion.  Chances are you won’t have to worry about this when you depart CRC. Get ready for your extensive flight to Kuwait with a refuel stop in Germany…

III. KUWAIT: Congratulations, you are another, monumental step closer to settling down in your soon-to-be home (unless Kuwait is your last stop)…

  1. Meet Your Site Representative(s) >> More than likely, you will arrive in Kuwait in the middle of the night; ready to eat, take a dump and finally crash to sleep. WAKE UP, you’ve got a plethora of information to process tonight / this morning!! When the group of you land in the big Kuwait, you will be herded together like livestock to receive your set of verbal orders for how and where to proceed from this point on. I won’t go into specifics as to the entrails  of what’s shouted out to you, just know that you need to submit your newly issued CAC (Common Access Card) / ID to the friendly soldier blaring orders at you, then meet the site rep. The site rep may or may not be holding up a sign printed upon with letters announcing their affiliation, or may just yell out for Exelis group members. The site rep rounds you all up and meets and greets you, then advises you to collect your bags from the land-fill of freshly unloaded luggage before continuing with the introduction. Do yourself a favor ahead of time by uniquely labeling your bags so you’re not spending a ridiculous amount of time identifying  your bags  — only use the CRC provided bag tags if you have absolutely no other means of ostracizing your belongings!! You’ve re-discovered your bags and you’re now ready to be re-acquainted with the site rep. Your site representative will give you a few sheets of paper; a visa application, your tent assignment and reservation sheet and some useful base and Exelis  transition information. For the next three days, newly minted Exelis employees will stay at a villa out in town for Exelis Employee Orientation. But for tonight, you will sleep in the tent before meeting around 6 or 7 A.M. to be bussed to the villa out in town. While you all are staying at the villa, all time after the briefings (7 a.m.-5p.m.) is yours to walk around, grab a bite to eat, visit Kuwaiti malls, etc., enjoy it!  After the 3 or 4 day orientation, you all return to the tents you’ve been assigned to on the base until you get a flight out of Kuwait into Bagram or Kandahar Afghanistan for further  disbursing to your Forward Operating Base (FOB) — or on to meet your fellow Exelis colleagues if either of these bases is your final destination.
    Typical time it takes for you to get a flight out of Kuwait to Afghanistan falls right around 2-3 days. Welcome aboard and I wish you the very best on your journeys!!