Several people have asked me what it is like transitioning from teaching in a public school to contracting on a military base. The truth is that it has been a long and sometimes frustrating process, but it has also been full of opportunities for growth and self-reflection.
I came across the opportunity to teach in Afghanistan several months ago and began the arduous process of medical and background clearance. It took several months before I was able to receive final approval and set a start date. After leaving Minnesota, my first step was to attend training and onboarding in Orlando, FL. The training sessions included information about personal protective equipment, NATO security briefings and a host of other standard business trainings.
Once onboarding was complete, I headed to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas to be processed through the CONUS Replacement Center. As someone who has never been in the military before, training at Fort Bliss was certainly a learning experience. I learned quickly how to fall in line to military formations. There was another whole set of theater specific training requirements, including information on antiterrorism and counterinsurgency, as well as sessions on threat awareness and non-lethal weapons.
We also had to go through a final medical screening, which tested the patience of just about everyone on site. The process involved a lot of waiting, moving seats, waiting again, and then tracking down the next medical check on the list. The labyrinthine process was aided by color coded tape and hallway guides - follow the blue tape to vision, the white tape to audiology, the brown for immunizations, and so on. I ended up needing to get a couple extra immunizations in both Orlando and El Paso. Some were standard; others, like Anthrax, were a bit more unique.
Unrelated to the immunizations, I also picked up a softball-sized bruise on my right arm, along with a few smaller bruises, bumps and scrapes up and down my forearms and shins. All courtesy of what was one of the most intense training sessions of CRC: rollover training. Now, when I saw rollover training on the weekly schedule, I have to admit that my mind went straight to 401K rollovers, and I assumed that we would be learning about some mundane financial practices. Turns out that rollover training involves gearing up inside a giant MRAP (sort of like a Humvee) and going through a simulated rollover experience. We ended up needed to egress upside down, and let's just say that I am not as graceful as I would like to be when it comes to exiting a vehicle in more than 30lbs of body armor.
The first two weeks of training have reminded me that the qualities and characteristics one develops as a teacher can be useful across a wide variety of life experiences. The ability to build relationships with others and be patient under stress certainly helped me make it through training without too many complications. With the last few trainings under my belt, I boarded a chartered military flight with a couple hundred other contractors and soldiers and began the journey to my final destination - Afghanistan.