Soldier's Diary: Learning a New Job in Iraq

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

May 20, 2006, 0730 Hours

I talked about taking command of a company in my last entry. I failed to describe what exactly a company is, for any readers who don't know. Here is my attempt to explain:

A team is made up of three to four soldiers.

A squad is made up of three to four teams.

A platoon is made up of three to four squads.

A company is typically four platoons along with some support sections, such as a team of medics, mechanics, cooks, etc…

A battalion is usually four to five companies.

My company is composed of approximately 185 soldiers, military police officers, medics, mechanics, cooks, quartermaster and communications soldiers.

May 20, 2006, 2200 Hours

Just four days into command, my company ran a small arms range today. What this means is that a number of our soldiers went out to qualify on their assigned weapons. Every soldier over here carries a weapon, and each soldier is trained on the weapon they carry, be it a pistol, rifle, or machine gun.

It is vitally important that soldiers maintain their proficiency not only with their marksmanship but also in the upkeep of their weapons.

The weapons maintenance is another detail of life we all encounter. There is nothing glorious about it, but we all do it. Depending on the weapon assigned, a soldier can spend a good part of a day cleaning his or her weapon.

Watch any war movie, and you rarely see someone taking the time to clean a rifle, but if you want the weapon to fire when you need it, the cleaning better get done. We also change magazines when we run out of bullets, but don't get me started on war movies.

While out at the range, the soldiers spent the time firing at paper targets, making sure their sights are set properly. There is no shade on the range, and by noon the temperature was already hovering at 100 degrees.

All the soldiers were wearing their body armor, helmets and various other gear. With those conditions, you would almost expect someone to complain, but sure enough, no one does. It's always a good feeling to be surrounded by professionals like the soldiers I work with every day, and it humbles me at every moment.

May 22, 2006

This entry is being written as I complete my first week in command. Adjusting to being down on the company level and dealing with soldiers on a regular basis takes some time coming from the brigade staff. I am trying to stay aware of the big picture, but the focus is now oriented at the soldier level.

Over the first week, my efforts have been focused on talking to the soldiers in the company, getting to know them more on a personal level. It takes time, and with 185 soldiers in my company, I've got a long way to go. The second focus has been learning the requirements of the job: What reports are due to higher headquarters and other daily operations that I am required to fulfill.

Going into a new job, I would think it would be like this in any profession — it's always in the back of your mind just how much you don't know.

The other balancing trick I am learning as each day passes is when to focus on immediate problems and when to put those aside and think long term. We are looking at getting home in a few months and preparing my company for the redeployment is the big long-term picture; however, putting all effort into that project would be like baking a fruitcake; a recipe for disaster.

This was a short entry, and certainly not my best writing. I am drinking water from a fire hose, trying to ingest all that is going on as a new commander. As for columns, it opens up more subjects and even more of the fantastic soldiers I work with to write about.

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.