9 steps to getting a soldier into (and out of) a war zone

The Army has a few ways it breaks down deployments, chief among them is the “Army Force Generation Cycle.” But that looks at how Big Army assigns different units to different missions. Here’s how deployment cycles actually work for soldiers.

1. It starts by getting sweet new uniforms.

multicam-army-afghanistan

Photo: US Army Sgt. Cooper T. Cash

For soldiers, pre-deployment is a special time when one can shed the Universal Camouflage Pattern and put on a camouflage that actually works. Also that switch and the IR flags lets everyone know that a soldier is about to go to combat, allowing them to feel really special at the PX and commissaries.

2. Packing, repacking, then packing other stuff

Packing-List-army-unpack

The Army is just one long series of packing lists.

Those new uniforms will get sweaty quickly as the unit packs, repacks, and stows gear for the deployment. Connexes and vehicles traveling by ship go first, then everything moving by plane, and then personal gear has to get packed away. All of it will have to be unpacked for inspection at least once during the process, and probably twenty times.

3. Being jammed like sardines into a flying can

C-17-redeployment-troops

Photo: US Army Capt. Henry Chan

Finally, the soldiers get to actually deploy. To do this, they get on a plane with limited access to hygiene facilities and then jam themselves in so tight that they can barely breath without inhaling each other’s sweat. Ladies, tell us again how you like a man in uniform, but go ahead and cover your nose while you do it.

4. “OMG, this place is so hot/cold/wet/dry!”

EIB-Kuwait-national-guardsmen

Photo: US Army Cpl. Trisha Betz

Coming off the plane is always punctuated with a lot of curses for the local weather. This is kind of dumb since complaining won’t help and the weather isn’t going to change. But in troops’ defense, it really is stupid hot, cold, wet, and/or dry, and sometimes all four at once somehow.

5. No sleep till fully mission capable

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Jason Nolte

Arrival in country kicks off a long series of briefings, gear checks, travel, acclimation, orientation, set-up, and more. Sleep is hard to come by until all of this is done. Sometimes, troops get lucky and are replacing a unit that streamlined the process. More often, the sergeant major decides the previous unit built the base wrong and orders it redone from scratch.

6. “Groundhog’s Day”

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Photo: Sgt Harold Flynn

Once taking over the area, Army units find themselves in a “Groundhog’s Day” situation where they just experience the same things over and over again for months. The places may change a little bit, like going to a school in the morning instead of the district center, but that’s about it.

6. “Groundhog’s Day”

Ramadi_august_2006_patrol-army-automatic-weapons-team-awt

Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock

Once taking over the area, Army units find themselves in a “Groundhog’s Day” situation where they just experience the same things over and over again for months. The places may change a little bit, like going to a battalion base in the morning instead of the shura, but that’s about it.

7. Short-timer

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn

Oddly, getting down to the last 100 days of a deployment is generally considered a bad thing. This is because troops can get cocky or lazy as they dream of heading home. First sergeants have to walk around saying, “Complacency kills,” and “It’s just as easy to die on the last day as it was on the first.”

8. Social media offensive

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor

As the time dwindles down, troops will start spending more time on Facebook, Tinder, and anywhere else they can find people who might want to party once they land. They have to create a long list of potential “Welcome Home!” partygoers, since only about 10 percent will show up and at least half of those will leave once the first staff duty runner is tossed over a barracks railing.

9. Packing, flying, and partying

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Photo: US Army Capt. William Carraway

Getting to that “Welcome Home!” banner is basically repeating steps two and three. Pack, pack, pack, get onto a crammed plane, build up a thick layer of funk, and then march into a hangar to hug family members and friends. Then, party.

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