I’m at the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Benning, Georgia this week in preparation for my trip to Iraq as a civilian contractor. My experiences and some lessons learned that can be used for future deployees are below.
First, some quick lessons learned in case this is all that anyone wants to see.
- Get your CAC card early. If your PM/PEO is on the ball and you get your application for a CAC card (DD Form 1172) submitted before you leave for CRC, you can go to your nearest DEERS/RAPIDS facility and pick it up early. Getting your CAC card is one of the stations during SRP, but it will save you A LOT of time if you can get it early. DEERS facilities exist on many military installations (army posts, air force bases, naval stations, reserve centers). I’m sure there are other places you can go as well. The nearest place for me was the Army Reserve Center in Darien, IL. To find your nearest DEERS/RAPIDS facility, try here. As long as the paperwork has been submitted and has had time to propagate from CVS to DEERS, just show up with two forms of ID and you can get your CAC card.
- Fly in to Columbus, not Atlanta! My employer flew me into Atlanta and then had me drive a rental car 100 miles down to the Fort Benning area (Columbus). This wouldn’t have been that big of a deal except, that when it comes time to turn your rental back in, you’ll have no way to get back to Fort Benning if you’re going to be flying to theater on a government chartered aircraft (SAAM flight). If your employer is providing commercial transportation for you then this won’t matter. My employer’s solution was to call up Hertz and change the drop off location to the Columbus airport. CRC is to provide transportation from the airport back to the CRC. If you’re staying off post in a hotel, this is when you will want to check out and get a bed at the CRC barracks. Or you can take a taxi to the CRC on Friday, but that will cost you. It’s 10-15 miles to get onto Fort Benning, depending on which hotel you stay at.
- Although it is nice to stay in a hotel off-post, it isn’t necessary. Your employer can save contract monies by having you stay in the CRC barracks, provided courtesy of the United States government. It will also make things easier once it comes time to sign-out and be on your way down range. Plus you won’t have to worry about waking up on time and driving the 15 miles onto post, which is going to cost you gas. Even though it’s not a big deal to go to sleep early and wake up on time, sometimes people like to be lazy, or stay up late at a bar or restaurant, or whatever else floats your boat. Although, the barracks are communal, so if you want your privacy, get a hotel.
- Checking in â€“ You don’t need to check in early to ensure your reservation for CRC. As long as your employer has done their job and reserved a seat for you, you only need to show up at the CRC at the scheduled check-in time (0900, on Saturday as of April 5, 2008). If you’re not staying off-post in a hotel, you can show up at CRC anytime to receive linen and be assigned quarters.
- If you’re prior military you have several options when it comes to medical processing. You will need to get a physical and dental exam before leaving for CRC. I was a new hire with my employer and didn’t have health or dental insurance yet, although my employer did say they would reimburse the cost of the physical and dental. The only problem was, I didn’t have any money to afford it. I went to the VA hospital in my area (Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, Hines (Riverside), IL) and applied for eligibility to see one of their doctors (bring your DD Form 214 and last years tax return). Come to find out, ALL military personnel have VA health benefits for 5 years after separation from the service. Yes, I know you’re all thinking “no they don’t.” According to one of the social workers at the hospital, eligibility for benefits has changed several times within just the past decade and they finally decided it was too complicated and everyone will be granted benefits. So, I was assigned a primary health care provider, he did the physical, gave me some of the required shots and a prescription, and I was on my wayâ€¦ All courtesy of US taxpayers. As for dental, I found a coupon on the internet for a free checkup, including x-rays from 34th Street Dental Care in Berwyn, IL, which fulfilled the necessary dental requirements.
- Don’t worry about your shot records if you’re prior military. This was one thing that I was nervous about; I couldn’t find my shot records anywhere. Thank God, the CRC has access to MEDPROS during your medical processing, so any vaccination you received in the military, they have access to. I thought I would have to receive everything all over again, Anthrax, Smallpox, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, PPD, Influenza, MMR, Polio, Yellow Fever, Varicella, Meningococcal, and TD. My primary care physician did Influenza and the PPD, while my MEDPROS records showed the remaining shots I had already received while in the Army. The only shot I needed was Typhoid, and that was provided at no charge during the medical processing.
- Bring a wet weather jacket! While I did bring a jacket that would protect me from rain, I didn’t wear it the first day to CRC and it was raining harder than I had ever seen before. Thunderstorms can come out of no where in Georgia, so be prepared for it and watch the local forecast. Unfortunately, it gets very hot too, so if you bring a jacket and you don’t need it that day, it kind of sucks having to carry it around with you everywhere you go.
- Do as many of the required CBT’s as you can before leaving for CRC. My employer provided me with links to many of the CBT’s, however, the longer ones they either didn’t know about or didn’t know I had access to them through AKO. Ask your employer about SERE’s training, and ISOPREP. If you don’t have a SERE’s certificate you will have to endure several hours of boring, yet informative and possibly life saving, videos on this topic. As for ISOPREP, this isn’t a long process at all, except for during SRP, you will have to sit and wait your turn in line to get your picture taken and your ISOPREP information entered into a computer. ISOPREP is available via AKO for prior military here, and I believe the SERE’s training videos are as well. If you do manage to do SERE’s before leaving for CRC, the certificate needs to be signed by an O6 or GS-15 or higher (if I remember correctly) (talk to your PM).
I think that’s it as far as lessons learned. I also covered mostly everything I wanted to talk about. Being a civilian, you obviously aren’t required to follow many of the military standards that don’t fall under UCMJ, to include shaving and properly standing at the position of attention while in formation. CRC does, however require a certain level of professionalism. Your clothing must be conservative, and no open toed sandals. During daily processing you aren’t allowed to use your POV to get to and from different areas of CRC. You will be in formations, and marching in formations (at easy march (route step), not quick march). You don’t actually have to go to the position of attention, or know how to properly do a left/right face, or march in synchronization. Most of the CRC area is a no solute zone (doesn’t matter for us civilians anyway), however you should give the proper courtesies to officers. There is a lot of “Hurry up and Wait”â€¦ how annoying, but there is a purpose for everything. If you’re prior military, you know what I’m talking about. Be patient with the cadre, they do their jobs very efficiently. Don’t worry if you screw something up (it’s not easy to do) during processing, just tell the cadre and they’ll get you squared away. And don’t be scared to ask questions.
CIF was very painless compared to CIF just about everywhere else. As a civilian, you will be issued two army duffel bags, an IBA (OTV) with ESAPI plates and all kinds of MOLLE webbing, side armor with ESAPI plates, and the additional armor for your arms, an ACH helmet (not PASGT, Kevlar, K-Pot), a protective gas mask, and the newer Improved First Aid kit (includes a nasopharyngeal airway, latex gloves, surgical tape, gauze, and a tourniquet) (very cool, but will likely never be used). It’s highly likely you won’t use any of this except for the ACH and IBA.
The Schedule (by Day):
- Check-in, orientation, and computer based training (CBT’s), not much more.
- CBT make up, if you didn’t finish. SRP briefings for Day 3, SERE’s training.
- SRP â€“ SRP consists of several stations that you must clear, including CAC Card issue (get yours early), ISOPREP, Legal (for Wills (military and retirees only) and Powers of Attorney), Finance (military only), Chaplain, and a couple others just for the military. If you can get your CAC card early and do ISOPREP before leaving for CRC all you need to do is see the Chaplain. All he does is ask you a few questions, as long as you don’t say anything to indicate you’re in need of help he’ll sign off on your paperwork and that’s it. In the afternoon you’ll go to CIF which is a very painless process.
Medical/Dental â€“ This is a relatively quick process, consisting of a few stations.
- Screening â€“ They just look over your paperwork to determine what you need as far as shots, and labs.
- Lab â€“ If you need an HIV test (must be on record and within 1 year), cholesterol, etc. You should have done this before leaving for CRC, but if not they will do it right there.
- Optometry â€“ Many employers will do this with you before leaving for CRC, if not then they just have you read a line from a Snellen eye chart from a distance.
- Dental â€“ If you didn’t see your dentist for a checkup and have him fill out the DD Form 2813, then you might be in trouble. I don’t know what happens if you haven’t done this before leaving for CRC.
- Health Care Provider â€“ Just looks over your paperwork to make sure you’re healthy enough for deployment and will ask a few personal questions.
- Immunizations â€“ Any shots that the screener determined you needed will be provided here. From my observations, it looked like some of the more exotic shots required you to go off-post somewhere to get them. Not sure if you’re required to pay for these or not, but CRC will provide transportation.
- QCC â€“ They just make copies of your paperwork and assemble your medical folder (DD Form 2766).
Medical/Dental only takes a couple hours if that (unless you need to go off post for shots) and then you’re released for the day.
- IRT â€“ Anyone want to go back to Basic training? That’s what this felt like except without drills yelling at you. Classes include Law of War, Rules of Engagement (generic), Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, Evaluate a Casualty, First-Aid to Prevent or Control Shock, First-Aid for an Open Abdominal Wound, First-Aid for an Open Chest Wound, First-Aid for Bleeding of an Extremity, First-Aid for an Open Head Wound, Transport a Casualty, Request MEDEVAC (9-line), and React to UXO. This will take longer than 8 hours of the day so be prepared.
- Police callâ€¦ that’s about it.. LOL. Ummm, police call and then go get ready to leave.. Pack your stuff. If you’re flying commercial you’ll check out in the morning and be on your way, otherwise you’ll have a briefing in the evening and that’s it.
- Move out.
Overall, I was very impressed with the flow of things and the professionalism and knowledge of the cadre. These people have been doing it for a long time and they have their stuff together.
Oh, one more thing â€“ Don’t Forget your passport and orders (LOA)!
Acronyms, initialisms, alphabetisms, abbreviations, and acronym-initialism hybrids used in this article:
- ACH â€“ Advanced Combat Helmet
- AKO â€“ Army Knowledge Online
- CAC â€“ Common Access Card
- CBT â€“ Computer Based Training
- CIF â€“ Central Issue Facility
- CONUS â€“ Continental United States
- CRC â€“ CONUS Replacement Center
- CVS â€“ Contractor Verification System
- DD â€“ Department of Defense (Form)
- DEERS â€“ Defense Enrollment and Eligibility Reporting System
- ESAPI â€“ Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert
- IBA â€“ Interceptor Body Armor
- IRT â€“ Individual Readiness Training
- ISOPREP â€“ Isolated Personnel Report
- LOA â€“ Letter of Accreditation
- MEDEVAC â€“ Medical Evacuation
- MEDPROS â€“ Medical Protection System
- MMR â€“ Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
- MOLLE â€“ Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment
- OTV â€“ Outer Tactical Vest
- PASGT â€“ Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops
- PEO â€“ Program Executive Office
- PM â€“ Project Manager
- POV â€“ Privately Owned Vehicle
- PPD â€“ Purified Protein Derivative
- QCC â€“ Quality Check and Control
- RAPIDS â€“ Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification System
- SAAM â€“ Special Assignment Airlift Mission
- SERE â€“ Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape
- SRP â€“ Soldier Readiness Processing
- TD â€“ Tetanus and Diphtheria
- UCMJ â€“ Uniform Code of Military Justice
- UXO â€“ Unexploded Ordnance
- VA â€“ Veterans Affairs