Going Home!

The title sounds enticing. It would be if I were the one going home. I seem to love pain. When I first came in the Army, one of the few words of advice my recruiter gave me was that I should never volunteer for anything once I get in the Army. I have violated that advice at opportunity since joining the Army, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. I thrive on stress. When I am put into stressful situations I seem to work a lot better and more efficiently. I’ve been in the Army for almost 10 years (January 18th is my 10 year anniversary) and I am already a Sergeant First Class. I was promoted to SFC in Al falls, Iraq on 1 July 2003, which makes the feat a little more amazing. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I have to in order to make the following point: I NEED TO STOP VOLUNTEERING FOR STUFF!!!

My readily acceptance of responsibility has helped me get promoted, but it’s also filled my head with beautiful, shiny silver (you call it grey and your next meal with contain baby flies!). My most recent stepping in of poop happened when we first arrived at Fort Carson. In the haste of getting here, no one was appointed to track personnel accountability. We in the Army pride ourselves in hoarding large swathes of information and having full accountability of every $450 toilet seat. We also know where our people are at all times….except this time. Since I really don’t have a whole lot to do here, I volunteered (there’s that word again [shiver]) to track all of our personnel – a total of 168 people. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a monumental task. As a senior NCO, I’m often in charge of many people, though usually not more than 100. As a platoon sergeant, I was in charge of about 30 people. When I’ve played the acting First Sergeant role, I’ve been in charge of about 100 people. When/if I become a Command Sergeant Major I’ll be responsible for about 600 people, but I’ll have First Sergeants (1SG) helping me. Anyway, it’s not normal to make SFC this quick and I’ll probably be here until I get out now, though I hope not. If that happens, I’ll petition everyone I know to write to their congressman and demand that I get promoted.

The thing that makes this different is that all these people, in the ranks of Sergeant First Class to full bird Colonel are scattered all over the place. The big officers apparently have post war syndrome because they never stay in one place too long. Keeping track of where a Colonel is on any given day is a task in itself, then add the responsibility of tracking 150 other NCOs and Officers that are going in and out of the field on a daily basis. Then you have the ones and twos who will have family problems or emergencies and need to go home early. Now, all these people need to get home and, therefore, need flight from here to there. Then transportation needs to be coordinated once they arrive at in California so they don’t have to walk 120 miles home (that’s how close our nearest airport is).

Seems like a lot for one guy doesn’t it? Well, that’s not all. We have in the military what’s called specified tasks and implied tasks. Specified tasks are things that need to be done and you’ve been given specific guidance on how to do it. Implied tasks are things that need to be done that you weren’t told need to be done, but in order to accomplish the mission you have to do it. Example: The specified task may be to go to the store and buy some ice cream for your beautiful wife who just happens to be craving ice cream. We all know that when a woman is craving something, you DON’T say no or disappoint them. You DON’T complain about it or mention that you’re too tired. You go out and get the ice cream. Yes, it may be 2 o’clock in the morning and you just went to bed 45 minutes ago, but you get the ice cream. So, that’s the specified task. The implied tasks may be some of the things I’ve previously stated: don’t complain, get out of bed into the car, don’t complain that you’re too tired. The other implied task is that you get something that she’s going to like. You DON’T come home with plain Vanilla. Statistics have shown (I’ve done my own research in this area) that when a woman wants something at weird hours of the day or night, she doesn’t want the boring stuff. Vanilla won’t do. She doesn’t necessarily like chocolate. She really likes sherbert, Moose tracks, Peanut Butter Cup, or some other Dryer’s exotic flavor without whole cherries in it.

The military is much like a woman. You DON’T complain that you’re too tired or busy. My implied tasks were to account for all the radios that 168 people require to perform missions and turn them in as they leave if they are leaving on a weekend, or before the civilians come into work on Monday. So, on top of arranging flights for everyone, I’m now arranging times to pick up and turn in a kabillion radios, each worth $5500 each.

[ have to stop here because I almost had minor emergency. I accidentally unplugged my laptop, but nothing happened because I have plenty of battery power. However, when I plugged it back in, the computer shut off and went into standby mode for some reason. Lucky for me, when I logged back in, my post was still here waiting for me. Now, I don’t curse. I believe people who use excessive profanity are just trying to make up for a lack of English vocabulary and don’t know how to express themselves properly. But I have to admit that I came close to letting a “darn it”, “shiznit”, and “son of a biscuit eater” out!! I apologize for my momentary lack of proper vocabulary and now return you to the post already in progress.]

You’ll notice I skipped more lines than normal. I lost my train of thought, so I’m taking a different track. My main purpose here, If I haven’t mentioned it, is to plan and execute media missions. As a soldier, we are constantly approached by media for interviews or soundbites. I manage civilian role players who act as reporters to give the soldiers training on the proper ways to deal with the media. A couple of days ago, my media team was prevented from going into a “town” to cover a meeting between US Forces and “Iraqi locals.” Without getting into too much detail, the media were prevented from going into the town and would not provide a reason. The media was properly credentialed and known to be working in the area by the public affairs officer. When they attempted to speak to the person in charge, they were forcefully detained and excessive force was used. It was a learning experience for the soldiers who were obviously not trained on how to deal with these types of circumstances, but the experience meant that I had to provide a briefing to 4 generals, 2 Colonels and many other people.

You’ll recall earlier in this post that I thrive on stress. Getting up in front of Generals is not stressful for me. I grew up a Navy brat. My father was in the Navy for 32 years. He was the Command Master Chief of many Navy posts both in the states and in Japan. I was often surrounded by Admirals and other high ranking officials and learned early not to be intimidated by rank. The only rank I’ve ever been really intimidated by was my wife’s father, who was a fellow Sergeant First Class in the Army at the time. Briefing a bunch of Generals about how their soldiers are not doing the right thing is nerve-racking for a lot of people, most of them officers. I was privileged enough to have many officers attempt to tutor me in how to approach my particular part of the brief. “Be respectful.” “Say sir a lot.” “Don’t use non-doctrinal terms.” “Stand up straight.” “Don’t babble.” “Don’t stutter.” “Make sure you say your name correctly.” I guess about the only advice I took was the first one, be respectful. I’ve learned over the last 10 years how to deal with officers that like to be all high and mighty and take themselves too seriously. I’m smart enough to know where the line is. I’ve learned that you can be 100% honest when speaking to an officer and still be respectful. It’s even possible to tell him/her that he/she is full of it and not have to worry about a court martial. I’ve even recommended a platoon leader and commander of mine for UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) action. That takes steel….ummm….cojones. Because when you burn a bridge with an officer, right or wrong, your life is hell. My father always taught me to do the hard right over the easy wrong and I’ve lived by that.

Anyway, the briefing was well received. I was respectful, but I used MY vocabulary. I was able to slip in words like hardcore, definitely NOT a doctrinal term. I also said roughhousing, instead of “excessive use of force.” The life of an NCO and an officer are completely different. We can usually get away with things some officers can’t. We’re actually expected to be more nonstandard in our ways. We have to be “hardcore!” That’s what I like about being an NCO.

Until next time, I remain………

CJ

Winds of Change

As you may know by now, I’m stationed at Fort Irwin, CA. I know that to the untrained, some of you may not know where Fort Irwin is. To steal and tweek a line from my favorite movie trilogy (soon to be a sixilogy?) Star Wars: If there’s a bright center of the universe, Fort Irwin is the place that’s furthest from it. It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert, outside of a po-dunk town called Barstow. There is only ONE road between Fort Irwin and anywhere (unfortunately, it leads to Barstow).

Now, let me explain about Barstow. It lies halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. In the old days it used to a waypoint for two trails and Route 66 runs right through it. Trust me, there are no kicks to get on that stretch of Route 66. I-40 ends at Barstow where it merges into the north-south I-15. It’s a sort of crossroads. Apparantly, a lot of trading took place there as there is also a huge train station. The station hosts about 15 tracks that take stuff to all points around the US. Barstow started as a small trading post and has grown a little. Barstow’s other claim to fame is the restaurant Del Taco. The first one was built there and still stands to this day.

There are two reasons that Barstow exists today in my opinion, and only two. The first is that it lies smack dab between Vegas and LA. If you’re on I-15 northbound on Friday, the traffic is insufferable as all the weirdos in LA are trying to meet up with all the weirdos in Vegas. On Sundays, you have the exact same problem going southbound. Here’s where my first reason comes into play. At some point, people drove up to Vegas to gamble, see the shows, get ripped off, or otherwise squander their hard-earned money. While there, they didn’t think about the return trip home and only realized about halfway home that they no longer had enough money to make it back home. Stuck in the middle of nowhere their only choice was to create a town. They named it Barstow.

The second reason (again my opinion) is the military presence. Barstow is host to three military installations: Fort Irwin, Marine Corps Logistics Base, and the Yermo Supply Depot. The military is the largest producer of jobs in San Bernardino County. It accounts the majority of employment in Barstow. The rest of the people work either for the Police force (whose main purpose in life is to raise revenue through traffic enforcement, sometimes unethically), the fuel industry, or McDonald’s….or they don’t work at all.

Now, since I’m so longwinded when I describe stuff, I completely forgot the point of this post.

Okay, now I remember. I just had to look at the title.

When it rains in the desert, the ground is so dry that the rain just sits on top of it, instead of soaking into the ground. When it rains, that one road onto post becomes flooded, resembling one of those ramps you may use to launch a boat into a river. There is no going around it. You either attempt going through it or you go back home. Those that choose the former usually end up in the middle of a river crying for help. The rest just go home and cry.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the flooding that has stricken most of southern California. I sympathize with them and my heart and prayers go out to them. So, I can’t make fun of that. But, I can make fun of our predicament!

My kids love it when it rains there because I love driving through puddles. The more water I can get to fly over the top of the van, the better. Of course, to make that happen I have to be driving through some pretty deep water. The streets at Fort Irwin become mini rivers themselves, carrying mud, rocks, and dirt onto the roadways. Most of the time I ride a motorcycle (which I promise I’ll write more about one day) and the flooding forces me to get into a four-wheeled vehicle….or have my wife drive me to work.

I personally love the rain. Being in the desert makes you appreciate those rainy days. The other great thing about the rain is the lakes. There in the desert we have lakes. They aren’t like lakes most of you are used to: they’re dry. I remember the last time I was stationed at Fort Irwin before I went to Iraq that we took our motorcycles out on the lakebed for a ride. It was in the middle of nowhere and I felt a strange feeling of freedom. Without giving away too many details, I’ll just say that it’s a mostly wonderful feeling driving across a dry lakebed in your birthday suit. It’s when you hit the bumps that you begin to appreciate the invention of clothing, especially blue jeans.

Anyway, we actually have lakes now. All the rain has filled the lakes with water, reinvigerating the brine shrimp that patiently await their rebirth. We have a few of them in our house since it’s the only animal we can manage to keep alive. I’m not allowed to have a dog or cat and we can’t seem to keep normal fish alive, so we settled with brine shrimp, commonly called seamonkeys.

Well, that’s it for now. Talk more later. Until then…..

Comments

Your comments are welcome and can be added by clicking on the comments link at the bottom of each of post. Let me know your views of what I’ve talked about or how you’re feeling. Maybe you’d like me to post about my experiences in other areas than I’ve written about.

I’m tired and need a good nap.

Fort Carson

I arrived at Fort Carson on the 4th of January. The unit here has to deploy to Iraq sooner than they thought and couldn’t come to Fort Irwin for their training. So, in the Army’s infinite wisdom, instead of the unit coming to Irwin for training, we brought the training to the unit.

When we first got here it was super-freezing. For those of you who don’t know what super-freezing is, it’s the temperature at which I get really cold. That temperature may vary depending on where I’ve been or how long I’ve been subjected to it (acclimated). When we first got here, the temperature was -1. It was so cold that my cell phone clip shattered when I went to use my cell phone. Now, that’s cold. It snowed for a couple of days and iced all the sidewalks over.

So, not only is it super-freezing (see above definition), but the sidewalks are also frozen. Ever seen a newborn deer trying to walk? It looks pretty clumsy, kind of like me when I’m walking on snow. I’m a southern boy, I don’t take well to this cold stuff.

To add to the super-freezing weather, I wasn’t adequately prepared. Before we took off from LAX, we had to load any baggage we had in addition to our carry-on and one other bag onto an 18-wheeler truck that was going to drive the bags to Fort Carson. Well, that’s great!! I didn’t pack with that possible decision in my mind. I had three bags and a carry on. One bag was nothing but civilian clothes. One bag had all my uniforms, my sleeping bag, underclothes, socks, etc in it. The last bag had ALL my cold weather stuff in it. So, do I take the cold weather stuff and not have any uniforms? I guess I could wear so much that no one notices I’m naked underneath it all. Do I take my uniform bag and freeze to death in sub-zero temperatures (which I now understand why those temps could kill “The Claw” [see Liar Liar for explanation])? I chose to apparantly freeze to death. To add insult to injury, the storm delayed the truck almost two days.

Finally, a few days late, the truck arrived. Joyous Triumph!! I wore just about every article of clothing I had for the next two days. Then, the uncool happened!! It warmed up!! What the?!?! Am I being punished? Here’s the funny part: it warmed up to about 40 degrees. Since when is 40 degrees warm? I find myself driving around with the windows down. Back at Fort Irwin (which is in the middle of the Mojave Desert), I think I’m snowed in if the temp guage even approaches 60 degrees. That used to be cold to me.

Anyway, the training is going along well. Colorado is a nice place. We went to the land of Orange of White for dinner a few nights ago. If you don’t know what the land of Orange of White is, it’s my little secret then. I haven’t had to go to the field which I wholeheartedly agree with. We sleep in old barracks that have decent mattresses and some heat. It’s a little stuffy with 3 people per room. It’s not something that I’m used to as a Sergeant First Class (SFC), but even the Lieutenant Colonels (LTC) are doing it.

Well, that’s it for today. Till next time…..

Welcome

Well, everyone else is doing it, so why not me? The purpose of my blog is let the every-American know what life is generally like inside the military, both deployed and not. I will also post my basic opinions about different topics, ranging from the inane to the insane. There is no real subject matter here, though my focus will be military life. Sometimes I will complain about and sometimes I will laud my chosen profession of arms.

So let’s get started…