Le Sigh… The End of Days

Filed under: — lana @ 11:52 am

Well, my friends, it comes to pass that this site shall be removed, as it is not compatible with new assignments and such and so forth.

Perhaps some day, after retirement (should that be my ultimate and rather tragic fate as a cog in this Army machine), publishing may be in order. I shall keep a log, privately, for such a development. Any ideas on titles before this site disappears?

Thanks to all that have supported me as I wander through the interesting developments in my life over the past seven years. To those in the service or who ever entertained the idea of joining, learn well from my mistakes and experiences. To those that never joined and plan to never join, support those that did or do, as they probably need it as they wade through the silliness. Remember that, just like most things in life, no one knows what a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine goes through until they have lived it themselves, and that the whole experience is always what you make of it. Take life seriously only when other lives depend on it, and laugh about everything else.

In short: Speak softly and carry a big boomstick, but you better make sure you know how to use the damn thing before coming to my range.

Be safe, dear readers. I’m off to save the world…

“Mama Mama can’t you see
What this Army’s done for me
Mama Mama can’t you see
This Army life is killing me
I don’t know why I left
But I must have done wrong
And it won’t be long
‘Til I get on back home”


Still Alive

Filed under: — lana @ 11:15 am

Yes, I need to update.

I have been taking notes on fun happenings, but some have not made it up. I have a six week waste of time coming up, commonly known as required NCO academy training, so I should be able to update then.

My next unit will not be particularly blog-friendly, so this may well be the end of, but we shall see.

Stay tuned… or check back in a month or so and see what made it between 7 March and present. Whenever I am done updating, this post shall disappear into the history of the interwebs…


Resetting the Clock

Filed under: — lana @ 10:38 am

Six years, needs of the Army.

No, really.

I have been a bit out of touch lately. I submitted a packet for a rather high-end program within my little field and have encountered last-minute change after last-minute change, reminding me that just because this is an elite program doesn’t mean it can withstand all of the winds that blow against the walls from Big Army. Turns out there are still a few cracks in the walls that still allow some of the dumb to seep through, similar to the miniscule holes in my roof that allow tiny drips to leak onto my music collection when the snow on the roof finally starts to melt. Only trouble with the Army cracks is that I need to do more work than just strategically place a few paper towels around.

My packet was originally up for review in January. January’s board was moved to early February. They moved the board again, and the pre-board was in early February instead. That is about the time they figured out that my branch had failed to complete some paperwork allowing me to be released to the program, paperwork that they promised back in the fall when I called them to make the request.

So my packet was delayed. The February board came up, and apparently after the board the General Officer who actually looks at the packets decided to go back to the old packet structure and request a few more items. Nothing big… oh, wait.

Security forms for my spouse, involving a few hours on the phone and dredging up addresses of people he barely remembers. Letters of Recommendation from whomever was around and able to draft one in about two days. An application letter that requested things I had somehow not discussed in my nearly 20 hours of previous interviews. All that and more, and as soon as possible. Let the hoop-jumping commence.

I submitted everything on time for the pre-board and took my sigh of relief… until another message showed up from the person handling my packet. I had been under the impression that I would have to reenlist for the program after being accepted, an acceptance of which was hardly guaranteed. Instead, on Monday after I had happily sent off the last few items for the packet, I received the message that I in fact had to find a way to ensure that I had at least three years remaining on my contract from the anticipated start date in the program, which is anticipated to be this summer. I have a little over one year left at the moment, so this one last hoop threw me off for a moment.

Then it was business time. Contact the first sergeant to try and see if she can help me find battalion retention, a notoriously elusive individual. Figure out how long I need to reenlist for, which would be four years in order to meet the requirements. Find my husband to inform him of the news and listen to him snicker at my pain… the list went on.

Then, after I told him my plans, the packet-handler had a stroke of genius I had overlooked: why reenlist for four years for a paltry bonus when I could reenlist for two extra years for six thousand dollars more? I about choked as I conceived of another six year hitch: it would nearly double the time I have already been a cog in this machine. But the logic was actually sound, when it was thought through. It is no secret that I could medically board whenever I really had enough, so quite frankly nothing is holding me in the Army with the exception of my possible cowardice of leaving the familiarity of this absurdity in my life. It would sort of be like Alice leaving Wonderland, only she had enough sense to wake up. If I actually do enjoy working on the Other Side of the Army, I can apply to become a warrant officer in about two years, enjoying the warrant ascession bonus as well. If I don’t enjoy it, or if I don’t get in at all, there is that pocket medical board that will allow me to trade in a piece of my pride for freedom.

So logically, it all worked out.

Nevertheless, as I sat and signed the paperwork and my commander barely contained his giggle as he swore me in for another six years, there was the unmistakable taste of bile in the back of my throat. Six years, needs of the Army, for around 17,000 pre-tax dollars, is something that I remember from my past: someone else made nearly the same decision back in 2005 and after I stood in the formation to watch him swear in, someone walked up to me and said, “You’re good at math! What is 16,000 dollars for six years?” to which I merely responded, “[insert approprate impolite adjective here] stupid.”

And now my clock is reset: 4 March 2016 should be showing up on my Enlisted Records Brief any day now. I know that it was a good move and wise given my circumstances, but I also know that the appearance of that date on that document will only have me find new and colorful ways to describe just how stupid I might very well be.


Preventative Care

Filed under: — lana @ 2:10 pm

I inquired today about whether or not I should possibly enroll myself in the Army Substance Abuse Program, which is the Army’s rehabilitative program for Soldiers with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

I am not currently an alcoholic, in fact rarely drinking, but I am growing concerned that perhaps it might be a good investment in my sanity. I figure that if I enroll in ASAP now, I can head off anything really damaging later. More of a preventative measure to forming a real addiction, perhaps, because quite frankly, I could use a drink.

This morning, right before I was getting ready to head into work, I received a phone call from the NCO whom I have placed in charge of the other kids in an attempt to save me a few headaches.

Wait, stop, first please reference yesterday. Yesterday started my migraine, and has direct impact on today’s lessons.

So he called me today with the fun news that the very same Soldier to whom he gave a counseling last night about driving safety had, in less than 12 hours, hit another vehicle in the parking lot when she stopped to get a coffee for the road on her way to her training exercise. As it turns out, I happen to know the Soldier whose vehicle she hit, and he described it along the lines of she had about 20 feet to back up her little coupe before making contact with his vehicle, but that just wasn’t enough by about a foot. He said the damage was minor, and was most entertained when I informed him that she had just been counseled the evening prior about driving safety.

This particular NCO knowing me, he waited until she was again on her way after filing the reports with the military police before telling me. This is undoubtedly because he knew that if he called me immediately (she, thinking I am the devil in an Army uniform, would never call me directly) I would tell him to hurry up and get ready for a drive, because he was about to meet her on-post and drive her out to her training exercise since the night before I very carefully pointed out to her that driving to a course on her own was not something I needed to let her do, so was trusting her with a responsibility. I informed him upon seeing him that morning that I was displeased he let her go with her car, but he is used to me beind displeased so I don’t think it fazed him much. I am also getting the impression that he didn’t really want to be in a car with her for the two hours out to the exercise, either, and that might have weighed into his decision to just send her off.

So that started my day, though I did find entertainment in calling the exercise to tell them she would be late and listening to the warrant in charge of the exercise rant a little. She likes to do that, so I like to let her. Then I let the acting first sergeant know, who was way more concerned when she thought it was a government vehicle. Once I told her it was the personal vehicle, she just proceeded to laugh about it and remind me that nothing is more fun than having a Soldier give a class on how to not do dumb, so to make sure corrective training is involved somehow that involves such humiliation.

Not an hour after finishing dealing with this debacle did another one hit, this time with the German in my office. When stupidity rains, it pours around here.

He came in to mention he was going to lunch, but I stopped him to ask whether he had contacted another German to plan some joint training I wanted to conduct. He said yes, and gave me the date. Well, I thought he gave me the date, and so did my warrant, who repeated the date along with the question of how the training was supposed to work because the German in our office was supposed to be on leave that day. Our German then responded that it was okay, because the other German with whom I wanted to conduct the training speaks English, so his presence is not necessary. I said the other German’s English is not all that good, but I suppose it would get me by for what I needed to train, which was mostly weapons anyway so it is more pick it up and pull a trigger, then hope for the best.

So this back and forth exchange goes on for a few minutes and I, repeating the date again, state that I do not know if the facility where the training is to be is even free on the day the two Germans decided upon. Between my warrant and I, we must have repeated the date at least five times. I called the facility and asked. No, the date was booked already. I hung up and told the German to recontact the other German and reschedule. He asked me why I asked about that date, because the training was not going to be conducted on that day, it was for another date that I had already given him as a possible date. He had never said that the training was supposed to be on the date for which I had just called to request.

Wait. What? Didn’t we all just have a long conversation about this date? Did someone put something in the promotional gummy bears that my warrant and I regularly reallocate from the phone shop two floors below because they are addictive and delicious that now we are hallucinating and the entire conversation never took place? This not being the first time something similar has happened with this particular German, whom I am convinced each day speaks less and less English, I sent him on his way to lunch and then proceeded to pound my head on the desk and yell about how much I hate him, scaring the Soldiers off to lunch as well.

My warrant, naturally, tortured me with it for the rest of the day. While he was just as pained and perplexed with the entire situation, he found some relief in extending my misery as long as possible, hoping to get me on a screaming rant again about the many reasons I believe in forced sterilization.

My day only marginally improved because my warrant finally bought a game we saw weeks ago at the thrift store but couldn’t figure out how to play until he dug up an obscure, scanned file from the depths of the internet with the rules. A top, some string, and strategically placed small, wooden bowling pins all surrounded by a wooden maze structure is surprisingly theraputic. Unfortunately, it is a little loud, therefore sometimes attracting the attention of the objects of my wrath and therefore depleting all therapy value.

So really, I am still thinking I should swing by ASAP in the morning and see if there is anything I need to do for a preventative class. I have a bad feeling that two more months here might be a little too long.


Board Bored Board

Filed under: — lana @ 3:18 pm

There are a few things for which a garrison Soldier, which we all are out here in this crazy land, should always have prepared:

1) The ability to pass a physical fitness test
2) Basic items needed for short-term field training
3) Their dress uniform

There are more, but these are absolute basics that every Soldier knows. Furthermore, when a Soldier knows that they are being sent to any board, be it a Soldier of the Month Board or a Promotion Board, there are certain implied tasks like, say, study.

The combination of these things did not happen today. Today I had to sit on a Soldier of the Month Board, asking questions of the Soldiers recommended through their leadership in order to determine which of them was the best among the competition.

The trouble was that among the junior enlisted Soldiers, it turned into more of a “Well, that was absolutely terrible, but at least your rank wasn’t taped onto your sleeves, so I guess that means you win.”

That’s right, folks, you heard it here first: the acceptable thing to do when you buy your rank too late for it to be properly sewn onto your uniform is apparently to take some masking tape, stick it to the back of the rank, and slap it onto your dress uniform sleeve. He said he also realized he couldn’t sew, or even attempt to sew, too late to ask a friend for help.

He then proceeded to freeze up and forget the answers to about half the questions he was asked. Mine, apparently, were particularly hard this board, because none of the candidates to include the one NCO could answer some of them. I thought they were easy ones, too, and some were straight from my previous boards, but I guess things like “What is the Army’s birthday?” can be a little much to ask. The NCO was closest on that one, at least.

So then, after him, came my Soldier. She had pinned on some things last minute after a great deal of whining about how no one told her six months ago when she arrived to the unit that she might need to fix her uniform to represent an active duty unit instead of a guard unit, but the two other NCOs I had also brought with me fixed her to at least something reasonable while Specialist (Taped) What’s-His-Name confessed to me that he couldn’t take a deep breath and relax because his pants were so tight it was hard to breathe. So at least her uniform was only slightly messed up, with pants too long and one or two ribbons askew.

But it was her demeanor that got me. First, she seemed bored. This coming from a Soldier who regularly informed anyone who would listen that she has been a Specialist for-EVER and therefore really really really really super really wants to go to the Promotion Board. By her seeming bored, I mean she slumped down in her seat, letting her hands fall between her legs and her head cock to the side, and answered every question (of the roughly 40 percent that she knew, anyway) quietly and with absolutely no enthusiasm. She tried to get smiley and cute with the first NCO on the board, another Staff Sergeant who might just be as mean as my reputation proclaims me to be, but as he got annoyed and asked things she didn’t know she was dejected upon realizing that I was next in the firing order to take shots at her. I gave her two easy ones, then apparently perplexed her with questions that were straight from the book about military justice and what the new Army uniform will be called The posters are hanging up all over every Military Clothing and Sales shop in the country, but then again I don’t know for certain that she ever once attempted to head over there herself to buy what she needed for her uniform, so she probably never saw it. I simply got to hear the grumbling later about how that question wasn’t in the study guide book. Silly me for thinking that a general question about the uniform new Soldiers already get in Basic Training might be something anyone who wants to be a leader should know, even if it isn’t in a book of the usual questions.

So the day dragged on like that, though I did get to velcro NCO rank onto one of my Soldiers again today and sit through some training that reminded me that the Battalion only has a loose idea of it’s own schedule for the next two months despite harping on me to have things set in stone at least six weeks prior to any training I want to conduct. We finally got back around 1900, and I was pre-informed that the Soldier who had, by default on account of her rank being sewn versus taped, won the board was very upset with me that I was making her stick around because she needed to be read a counseling or two.

The first counseling was because she was about to be in her primary zone for recommendation to a Promotion Board, so I wanted her to be aware of what I expected of her in order for me to answer “Yes” when the Commander calls to ask whether I think he should recommend her for a board in a given month. Right now, the answer is somewhere below “No” but above “Over my dead body,” but that is only because I know that sooner or later someone is going to accidentally pin rank on her and I still have a few things left to do before I keel over. So it was really just a list of things that she needed to make sure she either kept doing or, more likely, needed to start doing in order for her supervisors to gain some confidence in her to make her an NCO.

But why do it at 1900? Because she was scheduled to leave for temporary duty the following morning and I wanted to ensure that she knew what was expected of her before she left. I thought it was reasonable, and it fit in nicely with the reminder that she is now active duty, so she goes home when the work is done and not before, so sometimes that means staying late.

She was also counseled because the NCO responsible for her decided at the last minute to inform me that she asked, nay, TOLD him that she was going to drive her personal vehicle to the training, since we could not let her drive a government car out there with a turn-in for vehicles anticipated in the next few weeks. This late notification was despite me telling her weeks ago, upon notice that she would be attending the training, that she would have no vehicle out there because we could not spare a government vehicle without knowing when the turn-in might be. I have no problem with her taking her personal vehicle, though a little more notice might have meant we could give her the requisite counseling of “this is your own expense and your own responsibility” a little bit earlier and therefore cut down on the whining I had to hear about how late I was keeping them at work. Instead, I had to write it while the other NCO gave her the first counseling, and then he gave her the second one. Mostly about safety and winter driving and how everything was at her own risk and expense, but she better be smart about it.

As I watched him give her the counselings, I noticed something particularly disturbing: she still looked bored. At least it wasn’t just the board, the important step in figuring out if she is ready for promotions, that bored this girl. It appeared to be any time anyone opened their mouth that she would get slack-jawed and slump forward, clearly tuning out whatever was said so she could hear the wind whistling through her head.

I have a bad feeling about all of this. One concern is that someone might trip and fall on the promotion recommendations while I am still in this unit, therefore requiring me to feign support for her to lead others. The other bad feeling is not that she might fail to successfully get to this training exercise in the winter in a little American coupe that is not designed for German weather, but it is more that she might successfully return to me again. I have offered to trade her for various objects, but no takers as of yet. Her counseling packet grows thick, but she is so bored I don’t think she even cares to notice.



Filed under: — lana @ 1:40 pm

When people ask why I think I am surrounded by idiots, I usually have a tale to tell.

Yesterday was Monday. This was not a surprise. Everyone knew it was Monday, to include the Soldiers. That meant that, just like in most units that follow Big Army rules, it was time for the weekly vehicle preventative maintenance checks. This is commonly referred to as Motor Pool Monday, and I think it is the flow of the words that makes every unit I have ever known to recognize Monday as the day to check the vehicles and do other random tasks like count holes in the camo netting and repeatedly set up and take down G.P. Mediums (rather large tent structures) in the middle of a parking lot for no apparent reason. Go ahead: ask around to any other Army buddies you might have what a Monday in the Army means. I’ll wait… You back? G.P. Mediums, right? It’s always G.P. Mediums. Not really sure why that is… I just know that every commander seems to only be able to inventory them if they are set up in the middle of a large parking lot, all in a row, and that this act is performed repeatedly, somewhere in the Army (usually multiple somewheres in the Army), on any given Monday.

Anyway, so last week during these checks I very pointedly reminded the Soldier I placed in charge of our vehicles to play particular attention and ensure I am aware of any deficiencies. This is standard, but sometimes they need a little refresher on the obvious. By sometimes, I mean all the time. So the Soldier returns with the report that the wiper fluid was low in both vehicles. We, for some reason only known to the Status of Forces Agreement gods, are not allowed to add fluid to our own vehicles and one of them needed the brakes checked anyway, so that car was sent off to be repaired. We picked it up on Friday, so by Monday morning we once again had two vehicles and I could send them off to check them again. By the way, the wiper fluid is notoriously shifty in these vehicles, but can be checked via a tube which I showed them before. When the tube looks like it is low, it means the tank is getting low. The Soldiers know this, because they reference the tube periodically whenever they mention the wiper fluid. There are also indicator lights, but I have a rule that to the person responsible for maintenance, any random lights on in a car should never be a surprise, because they should know what to look for, having been shown during every previous Monday since time began, or at least since their time in this unit, which to me feels like since time began anyway.

Now that we are all caught up with the back story, fast forward to yesterday. The checks done, The Kids return and report that the vehicles look good. I instruct them to take the vehicle that was not repaired last week up to get repaired. They take the keys and leave.

Time Passes.

They return. They dropped off both sets of keys on my desk, which meant both cars returned with them. This is when the conversation got out of control.

Me: Wait… could they not take the vehicle?
Them: No, it’s not due for its routine maintenance yet!
Me: Did they add wiper fluid?
Them: No! Remember? I told you that had to be done at the dealership for some reason.
Me: But you were going to drop it off for that reason, right, so they could add fluid, since you said last week it was low via the tube you checked?
Them: Oooooooh. I forgot about the wiper fluid!
Me: You just told me about it last week… and would have just checked the fluids this morning. How could you have forgotten? Did the wiper fluid magically multiply so now it is not low?
Them: Maybe it isn’t low. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell.
Me: But last week you told me it was low.
Them: Well, see, you can’t really SEE it.
Me: Go look again. If you can’t tell, check the manual. If it’s in German, bring the manual up here and the Internet will do marvelous things for you.

They disappear. I sit and wait, because I know that the manual will tell them about the tube and then they will recall previous lessons. They return a few minutes later, very proud.

Them: You can’t check it really easily! The tank is near the bottom of the block so you can’t really see it!
Me: And this helps me… how?
Them: The manual says it’s a matter of preference how much wiper fluid to have.
Me: I prefer to have wiper fluid. Do we have any?
Them: There’s no light.
Me: What?
Them: There’s no light saying it is low. You said before that on the other car a light comes on. There’s no light. We aren’t sure if there is a light on the newer car, though. I wonder if there is…
Me (interrupting the contemplation of the magical light I regretted ever mentioning): Sweet holy hell. What does the manual say?
Them: Matter of preference. We pushed the button and it works, though, so we have fluid!

Long pause as I hang my head and contemplate bearing the bitter cold and blowing snow for the momentary victory of chucking at least one of them out the window.

Them: So we should take the vehicle back up there, Sergeant?
Me: No. Just go away. Go away and leave me alone. I have a headache.

I had no G.P. Mediums, though that did not stop me from calling around and seeing if the local units had any to spare. All I wanted was for them to take care of a mundane task like maintaining two vehicles without giving me a headache… and now instead I have to maintain my composure.



Filed under: — lana @ 4:54 pm

This is a public service announcement:

If you have a problem with this site, or with anything my cynical and admittedly arrogant self has posted, you might want to go ahead and let me know.

Because my warrant, my former first sergeant, and several people in my battalion are all regular or semi-regular readers. They all know me personally, and they get to put up with me daily as it is. Yet funny thing is, they find it funny (and usually can identify the element of truth as well as the caricature). Much of the things on this gripe list I call my running rant are also running jokes and running commentary among all of us, and what I say on here I have frequently said to the people involved, or at least passed the nasty-gram higher to get told I might want to rephrase.

But if you have an issue, take it up with me. Don’t come up with some creepy fake address and have grammatical errors in an email sent to my warrant officer, because he just has the immediate reaction of calling me to giggle about it. Though thank you, because he did just have some minor surgery for which I have made fun of him for two straight days, so he probably appreciated the laugh.

If you think that because the idiocy of certain aspects of the Army amuses me that I am therefore a poor example of the NCO corps, ask one of my Soldiers what my safety brief is. No, actually, I’ll just tell you, so you don’t go and randomly contact other people. It’s a simple brief:

Don’t do dumb.

Do dumb things, you’ll pay the price. Don’t do dumb, you can go about your business. I check my dumb against people I trust, to include my warrant (when he isn’t out getting coffee or smoking) or my first sergeant (when we have one). I still do dumb every day, but I have learned since being a wee little specialist what is exceptionally dumb and what is just minor dumb, and try to stick with the latter (and really, I still don’t understand why if I am cold and my computer is warm that it is so entertaining to my warrant that I rest my head against the keyboard when it gets cold. I remind him that for me to close the window, I would have to get colder because I would get closer to the window, but he just asks me if I have taken my medication and wanders off to make a new cup of coffee anyway. He never listens to my logic).

So, dear readers, if you like what you see, go ahead and read through and learn to laugh at yourselves. And if you don’t, please feel free to call me an arrogant, cynical, snot-nosed, holier-than-thou NCO, though the recent psych test left it in the realm of “Excessively Assertive” which simplifies the whole thing. Just do me a favor and contact me instead of my warrant or others, particularly since in this instance you are clearly in the military and therefore supposed to be a brave Soldier. Afraid I might poke a little fun? You haven’t met my warrant…

This ends the public service announcement. You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.



Filed under: — lana @ 9:15 am

Some people are slow learners. I am starting to think that might be okay, so long as at some point they do learn.

I had a moment of success the other day. I am in charge of, on a good day, at least one complete waste of oxygen. It seems that the moment one improves, another one becomes more vapid in order to make up for the fact that there might be a few extra synapses firing elsewhere in the room. I prefer days that are balanced, when everyone has their share of idiot ideas, because if we all share the load it can be managed. Yes, I am included in this, particularly if I lose my temper or if I took my red pills. My stupidity just seems to be in the form of doing things like realizing that my computer is warm and using it as a headwarmer when everyone else gives me a headache. I think it’s therapeutic; my warrant says I should just get a hat.

At the same time, even though I know everyone else will contribute idiocy to make up for it, I still like breakthroughs of intelligence once in awhile. I think they give me hope that perhaps all is not lost with some of the people put in my charge. They are slow learners, but I think two and a half years later one of them might finally be getting it.

This one has, since being medicated to quell some of his more peculiar tendencies, taken to calling me “Boss” (which was stopped… fast) and sometimes calls his male Soldiers “Bud” (which I let go a few times only because it creeped out the Soldiers, which was most amusing to watch). He thinks it makes him more friendly and approachable. Really, it makes him creepy and unprofessional. His major issue is he doesn’t like making people upset, because he wants desperately to be liked. The desperation is sad, and the fact that he rarely will reprimand his Soldiers is just plain annoying. I think one of his Soldiers might like him, but only because he is nice and she doesn’t strike me as terribly bright. She might improve one day, but I am not expecting to see it in my lifetime. But most of the time he just lets things slide and tries to make up for their deficiencies in order to keep me appeased. He doesn’t want me angry, but he also doesn’t want to make his Soldiers upset. A conundrum when there is work to do.

Enter his cynical and somewhat disillusioned supervisor: Me. One of his charges, due to time in service, might be eligible for a promotion board appearance soon. This, I would like to mention, is a concept that should everyone lose sleep at night if only so I have someone to talk to from staying awake in my terror. As such, I need to do my most-senior-non-commissioned-officer-in-the-office duties and ensure she recognizes that I have a strong belief in standards being met for promotion, standards she knows but does not meet. She has a lot to improve on that he rarely enforces, but I want this guy to really start being a supervisor, so I asked for his input before her counseling.

I think he was thrilled that he could be mean without actually having to be mean, because I was going to do the actual mean bit for him. I had him put his thoughts regarding this particular Soldier in writing, so I could incorporate them into standards for her to meet. I expected little, and so was actually pleasantly surprised when he delivered some very astute observations. Given the opportunity, he actually showed a glimmer of potential. He noted most of the main problems with her, in short, that she is usually the one taking up the precious oxygen.

This being an important counseling, I told him that he will be present, but I am going to give it. In exchange, he provided the list of things I believe he would like to say to her, but would prefer the Big Bad Me tell her instead since I already have a reputation for letting them know when they are not meeting my standards. He is still not at the level of bravery it takes to actually communicate these things to her in anything other than a fatherly, kind way, which goes right through the space between her ears and doesn’t even pause to check out the scenery in her skull, but he is at least noticing what needs to be noticed at some level even if he does nothing about it. Still annoying, but at least he is observing. A huge sigh of relief can be heard throughout the ranks.

Basically, he is learning. It took him two and a half years, but he can finally identify some of the qualities needed in a good Soldier and recognize when those qualities are lacking. Baby steps, and very slow baby steps, but at least they are steps. I felt at least a tiny bit less nervous of leaving him in charge of a few Soldiers in the spring, which is something. I take my job very seriously, and had major concerns about leaving him as the head babysitter, whether I like the Soldiers I would leave him with or not. I still wouldn’t leave him alone with, say, any of my friends’ children, but we are working on it.

My concern right now is where the brain power he used is going to come from. My warrant already hides under his desk and sulks when the acting first sergeant calls and asks for him to do something, but that is his normal behavior. I have too much to get done in the next few weeks to go stupid on everyone, and I don’t think his Soldiers can take on the responsibility of more stupidity when there is already so much going around. There is the hope that this was a glitch, and all else will remain status quo while he actually learns something, but I have my doubts… particularly with as much paperwork as I have floating around the system at the moment. Physics says that energy is a constant, and I say that so is intelligence within the Army. He gained, so something else must lose… now it is just to determine where.

But where there is hope for him, perhaps there is hope for others. Perhaps this means that people in this machine I love to hate can actually get things together once in awhile, if only for a fleeting moment. Perhaps this could be a breakthrough in the world of Army Physics, and a new and better day is on the horizon.

Oh. Nope. Nevermind. False alarm. Just got the message that I have to resubmit every piece of paper I might have put into the system since September. Glad to see the system is up and running… had me worried for a minute there.


Every Year

Filed under: — lana @ 2:08 pm

Hey, Germany, sorry to let you know so late, but it is winter. It does come around every year, and every year it is cold and there is snow and ice everywhere.

Well… Surprise! It is here. It has been snowing continuously for a week or two now, just like it does all winter long. Every year. Probably for a few millenium or a few million years, depending on who you ask. Point it, it shows up on schedule every year.

But every year, you seem even more perplexed than the cat at the white stuff coming from the sky. She goes and checks it out, puts a paw in, and wisely heads back inside for the rest of the season. You, however, stare at the sky and say, with some amount of amazement, “It is winter!” every day. Sometimes you use it as an explanation when I say it is freezing and I hate it, but most of the time you say it and sound a little perplexed, as though we all lived in Tahiti.

We don’t live in Tahiti, Germans. We live in Germany. January is cold and terrible and filled with snow and car accidents and you pulling me over just to check and make sure I have the correct tires on my car. Right on schedule, we got snow. It will be here until sometime in late March.

Maybe between now and then you can figure out how you could have possibly encountered a road salt shortage before the middle of January in a country that always has a cold and slippery winter. Winter is roughly from October until March here. It was actually pretty reasonable in October and November this year, so there is no excuse why my road - well, to be fair, not so much the road but the snow layered on top of the road - is covered with sand instead of something that will make the hill a little easier to navigate. The only excuse you have given me is a road salt shortage. Pardon me? A country on the latitude of Canada cannot properly figure out how much road salt they might need in a given year and do a little planning?

Winter, seeing as how it coincides with the natural rotation of the earth as it swings its way around the sun on a very consistent basis, should not come as a surprise. It is not like it is showing up to a funeral in June with a party hat on wondering where all the chicks are at. It is not hiding behind your couch on your fortieth birthday waiting to pop up and blow an obnoxious noisemaker in your ear. It waits until at least a few of the leaves change color and then hits and sticks around for a few months like your mother-in-law who begs to visit and then constantly complains she would rather be in Florida. If anything, it gives you warning with those sudden absurdly cold days in late August or early September that remind you to buy a better hat this year. It’s actually rather polite that way, except for that whole sticking around well past its welcome thing.

Get it together, Germany. I will not be here next year to see if you made any progress, but I will ask my friends who are stuck through another tortuous season with you. I will give you a hint: start collecting road salt in April this time. Sand on top of snow doth not good traction make. Little tricks of the trade those of us everywhere outside of perhaps Fiji learned ages ago…

Winter is already here, and just to tell you, it will be back next year, too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:38 am

Yesterday was a momentous day in the world of my unit:

They Accomplished Something.

It took awhile, don’t get me wrong, but they did something and they did it on time and we think they might have even done it correctly. The combination of those things is simply a feat, and a day which should be marked and celebrated unit-wide. We celebrated by going home early. Oh, wait, no… that was because of the snow. But it should have been because of them.

Let’s see… the story begins when I was recovering from having my brain vacuumed. I was sitting around somewhere in the States, happily medicated and checking my e-mail. I received a message. The message was that I had been unwittingly scheduled for a course in roughly a month that would require things like physical activity that would make my nose bleed heavily given my current condition. I think my nose stopped bleeding during physical training sometime around six months after the head cleaning, but the doctors were pretty specific about not doing stupid things until a set date in October. This course started before that date.

So I did the thing any good little Soldier would do: I forwarded the email and the message from the doctors to my first sergeant and mentioned someone should probably clear this up. He sent a message back to me agreeing, and a message to the correct person in the company to deal with it so I didn’t end up on the dreaded “No-Show” list.

The No-Show list is rumored to be some vast pit of hellish nightmares that makes people in the ranks of Sergeant Major and above very grumpy, as well as possibly taking you off the list for future schooling. I say rumored, because I saw no evidence of any of this. I did, however, see evidence that I was a no-show. I emailed that to my First Sergeant. He again tried to take care of it. Apparently, it didn’t work. That part is still a mystery, because everyone in my personnel shop and training shop mysteriously has amnesia for that particular time period when questioned about my paperwork. But no matter.

So I cruise about and get into the course, which is a required course for promotion, mind you, a few months later. This time, the course was online, so it was tedious and stupid and long and boring but at least I could complain loudly for three months.

Then I asked about the next part of the course. See, this particular course is in two phases, one which must be completed before the other (unless you are one of my friends who somehow did the second part without the first, thereby meaning he still has yet to complete the course but has so thoroughly confused the system that no one can get him into the first part now… but that’s another story). I completed part one online. Part two, I was told, would be scheduled by the Department of the Army, so I should wait.

And so I waited. I should have realized that any time someone says Mother Army is responsible for something I ought be wary and question fully, but I was naive and listened to my supervisors.

A few months later, I was medically cleared for just about anything, so I started wondering whether the Army had overlooked me for the class because they were waiting on medical. I asked. I was told to wait some more. I mentioned that I needed the course before the promotion board, which was coming up. I was told to wait.

Sometime in the fall, I called my Branch Manager, who was appalled that I had not attended the course and started making attempts to get me in. My unit, now clued in that I was not waiting, immediately started lecturing me about how I should have been asking for, nay, begging for, this course. I mentioned that I was told to wait. I was told I was a fool, and that it was my fault I had not gotten in. I was then, later in the same conversation, once again told that Department of the Army was responsible for scheduling the course. But it was still my fault.

Eventually, I got a course date: start date two months after the promotion board. So I needed a waiver. Again with the lectures about how it was my fault, but I was persistent. I called various elements I probably shouldn’t be calling to find out the waiver process. I wrote memorandums and dug up documents. I sent everything forward to my company, who sent it up to Battalion.

Battalion sent it back. They told my Commander to get me to put the blame on medical instead of on the unit. I did that and resent the memo. Battalion sent it back. They wanted more detail on who actually dropped the ball on getting me into the course. I did that, practically rewriting the first memo, and resent. Battalion sent it back. They didn’t like how it was ordered. I rewrote the whole thing and reminded them that board submissions closed in about three weeks. They finally got the hint and sent me a document to sign that already had the Battalion Commander’s signature. I pointed out that I could not sign it after the Battalion Commander, copied it to a new form, and sent it back to Battalion. They found the Battalion Commander to get him to once again sign the document (I can only imagine the conversation). Finally, they got it to Brigade.

Brigade, at 1900 Germany time on a Friday evening, finally sent the completed waiver request to Human Resources Command. They sent it two weeks prior to the closure of the board. They sent it over a month after we first submitted a memo, and over three months after I first began badgering them that I did not have the course and would need either the course or a waiver to be boarded for promotion.

Whether HRC will grant the waiver remains to be seen, as well as whether I get picked up for promotion even with the waiver. But HRC confirmed receipt of the request, which is a step in the right direction for my unit. Any time they accomplish a task I like to give them some sort of recognition, like a puppy that needs to be housebroken so he gets a treat when he does the right thing. Call me sentimental, but I want to encourage them to do things like, I don’t know, their jobs, every once in awhile.


Polizei Games

Filed under: — lana @ 10:48 am

I think someone put a tracking chip in my brain.

This evening I went to the pub, as I am wont to do, and had a few expensive glasses of water and some snacks with a few friends. Since I am driving and on duty, I had two reasons not to drink.

And so I hopped into my car around quitting time and eased out onto the road.

A block later, the familiar lights of the Polizei were flashing in my rearview mirror. I pulled over, and rummaged around for my documents. As I rolled down the window to the bitter evening, I saw a familiar face: the same Polizei who pulled me over nary a week prior. He looked at me a bit strangely until I pulled out my license and informed him that yes, indeed I was the person he pulled over recently. His partner wandered up and I gave her a friendly wave as she fed me the breathalizer, though this time neither of them were as surprised that I was stone-cold sober and only made me take the test once. In fact, they seemed to find it all moderately amusing, something to which I agreed since I could sit in my car and they were still wandering around in the bitter cold without wearing hats.

No apologies were necessary; after all, I had just left a pub after midnight and slid down the slippery road to get into my car. However, there were about three others, all Germans, leaving around the same time and each one got into a car and drove. I was the only one pulled over.

There is a theory that the Polizei sit in the parking lot near the pub and go Drunk American Hunting. The game is easy: head to the parking lot and park in a spot where one can observe several plate numbers. Call the dispatcher, who is probably just as bored as you, and have them run each plate. Wait for an American plate to turn up. Watch that car until someone gets into it and turns it on. Pull the car over. Rinse and repeat.

It is certainly a good way to make a quota, unless of course you pull over the one sober American getting into their car… twice in roughly a week. It’s like when you play poker and all you get is a pair of twos: you can still bluff your way through to try and make it worth it, but you are probably going to lose in the end.

I don’t know that these two were as amused when I called out “See you next week!” as they spun around to head back to their hiding spot near the pub. I am at least hoping that they made note of my plate number and will stop wasting their time. They have all month to make their quota… but they won’t have any luck if they keep playing the same hand.


Ringing the Bell

Filed under: — lana @ 12:14 pm

It took me two years, but I finally figured out one of the strangest Soldiers I have had the misfortune of guiding.

He is not a bad person. He is nice, polite, respectful (Except when he smirks. I hate it when he smirks. Especially when he is wrong), follows directions well, takes criticism and tries to improve… one would think he is a model Soldier. Were he a private, he might well be.

Trouble is, he is not. He is, not by my doing, a Non-Commissioned Officer. But he has trouble leading others and generally doing his job because he seems to be a little afraid of people. I am not just talking about being scared of me, which he is, but he is nervous around just about everyone. In our field, that makes everyone else nervous around you. That is not so good. I’ve gotten calls after sending him to another office requesting that next time could I please send someone else or just go myself. I am fairly sure even the Germans find him peculiar, and these are people that still think acid-washed jeans are awesome.

I finally, however, figured him out today. I was describing a recent class I ran on questioning techniques, since it appears that some of the people in the office just can’t seem to grasp the concept that we are in the business of details. I was noting that he actually did fairly well when it came to tedious, meticulous questioning. Normally, when I make up stories to role play for Soldier training, I am not bored because I can mess around and make up things and try to see how observant they are. This time, I started getting bored sometime around the half hour mark of him getting the description of one of my made-up characters. He didn’t even get to the part where the guy was wearing a white, pleather suit and an ostentatious pinkie ring before I finally cut it short, the training having lasted longer than anticipated as it was and I was getting sleepy.

I realized that he can question. Boring, but thorough. That is good most of the time, naturally, in our line of work, but he was still stuck on the social aspect. Meanwhile, the other two in the training were still giving blank looks and twitching when they thought they might want to write something down. I mostly gave up hope on them already, though, so that was fine.

The social aspect of our job is when boring no longer becomes boring, encouraging the person to spew out everything as fast as you can register it and write it down. Me? I was bored. But there was something there, something I have been missing in the two years he has been in the office: he was, after all tedious and methodical. There are jobs in the Army that are tedious and methodical. Ours is not one, but I know several that certainly are.

Upon pondering this when discussing it with others, I figured it out: he was what I have now termed an “After the Bell” guy. In initial training for these jobs there is always a bell signifying when the end of one phase starts and another is to begin, so the hired role players can ensure the student gets the correct, allotted questioning time. If the student can’t figure out the role player’s scripted motivation before the bell, right after the bell rings the role player usually says something along the lines of, “Well, what I would LOVE is…” and drops a hint you would have to be on Mars swimming in polar ice lakes to miss. Even if this happens, this doesn’t always fail a student for the first part of the iteration; this is both a good and bad thing.

It is good because it puts the focus on questioning, which is the bulk of the job only because the student needs something to report.

It is bad because it convinces the student they are socially okay when they might not be. Then they bundle those people up and send them to me. It’s how my life works, it seems. It is also completely unrealistic and never allows the student to realize that real life has no bell in a social situation. Instead, they think they are the best ever at the job because they are a meticulous questioner and never totally failed the social parts despite being ineffective.

My guy, as I figured out during this exercise, was an “After the Bell” guy. He can’t walk up to someone and start a conversation without the other person wishing they had an appointment somewhere, anywhere, five minutes ago. He can’t pick up social cues to figure out what someone likes, and is visibly uncomfortable trying to do so. He doesn’t like the social aspects of the job.

He relies on the bell.

Once the bell rings, he can launch into asking questions and be fine, following up to the minute detail until the other person passes out from sheer boredom. Before the bell, he is awkward and really a little creepy. After the bell he is normal with the exception of being totally uninteresting. He has always insisted to me that he did well at school, and I believe him based on this assessment: the school is designed that way. We had someone in my class who smeared feces on the wall. Yes, that should scare people a little, but it’s okay: we heard she was kicked out right after graduation for being a little bananas. But it goes to show that just about anyone of any social skill level can still pass as long as they can meet the basic standards. He could meet the social standards without handling poo and could question people to the point of sleepiness, so he is a win in the training books.

To me, he is a win as an analyst. They can do all that questioning, bossing us around with their requirements, without talking to a single person themselves. They read whatever drivel I churn out and then tell me what I missed. He is a reports junkie and loves it. Plus, it would mean that he would get to smirk at me in his mind every time he churned out a requirement I might have to meet. I would concede to that victory to move him along out of this job field if that is what it took. I have started contacting some of my analyst buddies to help me out with smoothly converting him somewhere a little less… awkward.

I am starting to meet my quota as a non-commissioned officer. I have figured out what makes three out of four Soldiers tick, the fourth being new, and guided them as best I could to the extent they would listen to reason. Those that didn’t listen call on a semi-regular basis to express regrets. The fourth one is my next project, and she will be a doozy. I am tempted to just see if there is a deep hole that needs digging somewhere far away from anyone I respect and if that is, in fact, an Army position. I am working on it. This last one took me two years to finally figure out, having to rely on interactions with those of limited social skill sets which is never an easy task. But it served as a reminder that there is no bell to ring in most aspects of life, no way to just move on to the next phase without it being awkward and incomplete.

My own bell rings sometime within the next six months, though, moving me on to bigger and better things, or at least different things. There are a few bells rung in the Army, such as setting a specific date to change assignments. Good thing, too, because I still have no idea what motivates this unit and don’t think the extra few months are going to help. I can only hope that around the time the bell rings and I can move to my next station I get to hear their real motivations for the things they do. Should be interesting, and then I can leave the meticulous and dull follow-up questioning to the Soldier I am leaving behind.


Safety Last

Filed under: — lana @ 12:29 pm

The past week and a half or so the Army has largely left me alone. I do my thing, babysit a warrant and a few Soldiers, and occasionally get told that I am too angry because I sent snotty messages to my reports officer when he asks for another PowerPoint slide so he can show the Battalion where we are and what we do. Nothing out of the ordinary.

So that, naturally, means that it is Germany’s turn.

The other day it snowed. This being on the same latitude as Canada, one would think that this would not come as such a shock to the local residents. Tragically, one would be wrong.

0500, as it turns out, is way too early on a Saturday for a German to be out plowing the roads. It makes the Works Council (yes, there is such a thing… like a union but fewer mafioso and more whining) unhappy to think that the plow operators might have not had enough rest to sleep off the beer from the evening before. A reasonable concern, but doesn’t help anyone when the snow started the evening before. By the time they wander out into daylight, which is around 0800, there is a fine layer of ice under everything else. I like to think they are just trying to make it more fun.

So when I drove to my friend’s house to help her make cookies to send to Soldiers recently departed for points south, I noticed the roads were a bit slick for my 1991 rear-wheel drive beast. I confirmed this fact when I passed a Polizei sitting and reading a book in her car next to the scene of a flipped over and completely totalled vehicle. I then narrowly dodged being hit by a car sliding around a curve, who I then watched spin out in my rearview mirror and bump out to get stuck in a field less than 50 meters from the Polizei, who looked mildly annoyed. Her having seen the accident, I kept plodding along, making the 15 minute drive to my friend’s house in about 30 minutes.

The way back, almost 11 hours later, was no picnic. Slipping to my car and then taking five minutes just to convince my car that backing out of a spot onto the road was a good idea, I figured it would be prudent to take my time going home.

Apparently, this was where I went wrong. I made it to within a mile of my house, just turning onto the main road in town, when the blue lights and the “STOP! POLIZEI!” lights flashed behind me. I went a block ahead and found a place to pull over.

Upon discovering that I spoke English, the Polizei decided to speak it as well, which was fun because his English was about as good as my German. We understood each other enough for me to communicate that I have a strong dislike for poor driving conditions in darkness, and for him to communicate that he thought I was coming from the nearby American Refugee Camp, also known as the local Irish Pub. He wanted to know why I was driving so slowly and more towards the middle of the road, and why my car looked like it was weaving and slipping a little. I gave him an incredulous look, but then realized that I recently had Botox shot into my face as part of a perverse headache treatment attempt, so really I probably just looked rather young and blank. I instead explained to him that I have been in an accident on icy roads, and just that day had seen a few, so was trying to be careful. He sneered at me. He actually sneered at me. I don’t think he tought I would notice. I did. I was not happy. This is a culture that cannot seem to keep their roads clear, eventually just putting sand down on top of the snow when the plow guys decide they had enough for the day, had two accidents in a row just that I had observed in less than 12 hours, and he sneers at me because I tell him I am trying to be a prudent driver in poor weather conditions. Plus, I think I recognized him from previous trips to the indoor rifle range. We will see who gets expert next time, buddy, we will see…

I watched his partner slip and slide back to the Polizei vehicle to get her Breathalizer and agreed to play his game. To not do so would have meant a Driving Under the Influence with Refusal to Submit to Testing, plus a forced blood test on the spot, so I didn’t have many options aside from chatting with him to wait for her to return with the machine. To make small talk, I asked him if the roads were clear near where I lived. He tried to give me directions to my house. I stopped him to try again, and got more directions to my house. I decided I should give up and wondered which of us should take the test. He asked me if I was from Arizona, since that is where my most recent license is. I was getting tired, so I said sure and told him the desert is hot. He agreed. We were both content.

I blew a 0.00. They had me try again, apparently hoping for a higher score. I must have lost the game, because they seemed very disappointed when I failed to produce any trace of alcohol. I told them I had last had a glass of wine with dinner five hours before, but they could give it a third try if they really wanted to. They declined my offer. Before slipping back to their car, the nice Polizei told me to drive carefully. I bit my tongue, rather hard in fact, so I wouldn’t point out that was what had caused the trouble in the first place.

I know the nice Polizei were only trying to do their job by making the roads safer, taking the drunkards off the streets. I know I could have pointed out the quality of my automobile or the darkness or the ice that was raining down in little flecks onto his head to make him understand, but I knew that no matter what I was going to take the test and he would continue letting others speed by and whipping themselves into fields. Laws of German Nature, I suppose.

So instead I just told him he should really be wearing a hat to avoid catching cold, turned on my car, and plodded home at the same speed I had been traveling earlier: a few kilometers an hour under the posted speed limit. Meanwhile, they whipped around and went back to stake out the Pub. I finally made it home safely with nary even a citation to help explain the delay to the cat. It was only then that I realized I had forgotten to take any cookies home with me.

I blame it on Germany. If the Army isn’t doing it to me, it can only be the location. A few more months and there will be all new adventures. So long as I drive slowly enough but obviously not too slow, I should be able to live to see the day.

And that, I suppose, is the best I can hope for.


Two Cents

Filed under: — lana @ 5:22 pm

Want my two cents? Can’t have it. Sorry. Army already has it.

No, seriously, and quite literally. Nothing has changed in the regulations: Mother Army still really doesn’t care what her little peons like me have to say. I can give my two cents all day long, were it mine to give.

But it isn’t, because see, Mother Army didn’t give it to me.

Story goes like this. I shall do it in steps so those that might have trouble following a long story (as in, other Army folks) can follow along:

1) Soldier goes on five week temporary duty assignment halfway around the world.
2) Roughly two weeks into assignment, Soldier gets cryptic message saying that the approval for the assignment that Soldier is already on was retracted because someone accidentally hit the wrong button when trying to remind the Soldier to send a payment request voucher. How that happened is still something of a mystery expounded upon during previous sleepless nights.
3) Soldier completes assignment and returns to station.
4) Soldier finds a voucher cannot be submitted because the approval was returned.
5) Everyone gets perplexed.
6) Everyone remains perplexed for about a week and then tells Soldier to just start over with the paperwork because it is easier than figuring out the whole thing again.
7) Soldier is reminded of a conversation with one of her junior Soldiers about how he said something similar when his stripper fiancee cheated on him but he decided to go through the wedding because it was “just easier that way.”
8) Soldier remembers telling him he was an idiot and bites tongue and resubmits.
9) Soldier resubmits a few times to help some random person up the chain try and “streamline” the process, which eventually extends the process by a week or two.
10) Nothing happens for a few months except occasional calls to the company from the Sergeant Major wondering why nothing is happening and Soldier’s bills were not paid. Soldier wonders why the Sergeant Major doesn’t ask the people who sit at the desks upon which her paperwork has sat for two weeks, then returned, then sits again, then gets returned, and so on.
11) Soldier finally gets paid nearly three months after returning from a five week temporary duty assignment.

Here comes the kicker, folks:

12) The bill paid to the now-suspended government travel card, which was for several thousand dollars, was two cents short of the bill. Probably a conversion error somewhere, but two cents short nonetheless.
13) Soldier and supervisor both agree that at this point it is probably just spite instead of a conversion error.
14) Soldier beats head on desk repeatedly. Supervisor puts Soldier’s mittens on the desk to absorb some of the shock, since they just got some new computers over the summer and he is signed for them and would hate to see the Soldier damage them with the daily beating of Soldier’s head on the desk.

Two cents. No big deal, right?

One would think so. Trouble is, the card is suspended. That means the entire bill needs to be paid before the card can be unfrozen. To include those last two cents. The two cents I would love to give the Army, only the Army already has them and won’t give them to the government card.

So as I wait for the new bill showing the paltry sum so I can figure out what to do, I realize that I have a few options right now:

1) Wait a few weeks for my name to come on the delinquent roster again for bills owed. This might be entertaining only because it would mean that the Sergeant Major would have to find a way to complain with a straight face that I am delinquent on debt for two cents. That alone might be worth the utterly annoyed and exasperated telephone call from my Commander that would result. I would hope he would counsel me in writing for it. That would be a keeper along with the electric tape extravaganza from my time at Bragg. I really like silly counselings. I keep them to remind myself to never get like that. Ever.
2) Suck up my pride and do an electronic check through my bank to the government card for the bill. I like my bank, though, and don’t want them to laugh at me, hiding their electronic smirks behind their electronic hands.
3) Tape two pennies to a notecard and mail it to the government card. I don’t think they take cash, though.
4) Write a check for two cents and send it in. Both 3 and 4 have the additional problem that stamps cost 44 cents now. I would be spending 2200 times my bill to send in payment. I feel like that violates some of these new laws about absurd rates and such. I would then feel the need to write my Congressman, which would need another 44 cents. Now I am 4400 times my bill for this little problem. That is just out of control and a travesty. I can’t be so wasteful.
5) Have the bill in hand, call the company, and offer to give them my two cents. I have a nice rant on the political climate in eastern Africa that I have been saving up for such an occasion. See how long it takes them to hang up.

Quite frankly, I am wondering if the government card company is actually ballsy enough to send a bill for two cents. If they are, well, kudos to them and I shall pay after copying it to frame for my Commander’s wall. I strongly suspect that they will, seeing as they are on a government contract anyway. I’ll get the frame ready.

At least this finally gives me an excuse to give some of these people my two cents. All I need is for the first person to ask for it…


Use and Abuse

Filed under: — lana @ 4:34 pm

Even after they leave, Soldiers can be useful.

Case in point: My Branch Manager is highly elusive. He is a very nice guy on the phone, but very busy and so if you don’t catch him with enough time to accomplish the entire task needed before the conversation is over, it may not get done. Good luck getting him on the phone, too, because most of the time that involves dealing with his full voicemail box, his unread email inbox, and usually calling at an obscene hour. Luckily, his obscene hours fall in the middle of my day, so that helps, but nevertheless he is a wily one, ducking and dodging phone calls even better than a warrant officer can dodge a full day’s work. The difference is that Branch Managers control assignments and reenlistments, making them fairly important people with whom we start to get fairly frantic in our attempts to get in touch when threats of Fort Gordon loom in our possible future.

So we found that if we call another lady who works down the hall from him sometimes we can convince her to transfer the call over if she knows he is in the office. It isn’t very nice, and it very obviously annoys her to no end particularly after I let the secret out to a few other people in my position who now don’t even bother trying our Branch Manager’s real number anymore. Today one of the warrants tried to get her to do it and she finally told him no, call in half an hour, and don’t call her. I took that as my cue to get hopeless for ever getting the class date I need to get promoted or get an assignment that doesn’t involve me contemplating just how far I could get if I squeezed out the window and took off across the lawn towards anything looking like freedom, what with freedom being particularly hard in both Korea and Georgia, the two current threats. I needed the class and no one but Branch could put me in. I had to find him. Now.

I started to lose hope until my warrant came up with a plan: Call the other lady and pretend I had a Soldier who would fall into her realm, one who is our sister job and a sergeant or below. I told him she looks them up by service number and name, so I couldn’t just make one up. My head fell into my hands… and then he mentioned my previous Soldier.

My previous Soldier hates the military. We get along fine, particularly now that he is gone. He periodically sends me emails and even calls to tell me that he understands now all those days I threatened his well-being and why I did all the things I did. He would kill me, rightfully, for what I was about to do: put him on the Branch radar for re-enlistment.

I did it anyway. He is not happy with his current assignment anyway, so what is the harm in asking about options that would send him back to this hole? I called as a favor to him, of course, and was therefore most upset that I would have to let him down by telling him that he was not able to move again for at least another year, maybe even more. Bummer (and something I already knew). But hey, while I have her on the phone, could she transfer me over to my own Branch Manager?

By the end of the day, I had a class date. Not the one I wanted, but a class date that might keep me in the running for promotion even if at the bottom of the list because of the late timing of the class.

Every Soldier uses and abuses his NCO. It is what we are here for, really, while we are accountable for that Soldier and he falls within our realm of influence. But once they are gone, it is fair game to take their names in vain and potentialy bring retention’s persistent wrath upon them. He is an NCO now, which means he can now attempt to employ some sort of retribution against me, but he also thought Hugo Chavez was from Russia for awhile so I am not that concerned. I’ll thank him for putting up with my abuse, albeit unwittingly and from halfway around the world, one last time when I next see him.

All I know is I have a class date and I don’t have to go to Georgia, nor do I have to call that lady again and have her catch wise and ban me from calling as she banned the warrant earlier today. I already have a long list of places I am not supposed to call; I would hate to have to start a new page.


Receipt for Payment

Filed under: — lana @ 3:11 pm

This morning, I lost my patience.

Not that such an event should come as a shock to anyone, but nevertheless it turned out to be a rather traumatic experience.

I decided this morning to check on the status of my travel voucher. Much to my surprise, it appeared to have passed on to the next level! I decided to doublecheck and opened it up to see who had the courage to actually do their job for the day. Upon doing so, I noticed that it said “Adjustment.” My warrant started to giggle. Adjustments are never in our favor. I opened it up at his prompting and immediately saw the trouble.

Something to the effect of “Until your final receipt for your auto rental is included, you will not get paid for your rental. When you have the receipt, submit an amendment to be repaid for that.” In very fine print, it laughed at me and called me a sucker.

The thing was, I submitted the final receipt the rental company provided for me after my return to Germany. I was, therefore, once again confounded by the perplexities of the system. Surely there was something missing? No, indeed the receipt was loaded into the system just as it has been for well over a month in total. Perhaps it was illegible or not clearly a receipt? No, I understood it just fine and the amount on it matched the amount paid on my credit card statement. I notified my Commander and then realized that it was Training Meeting Day, which has a tendency to turn into a seven hour affair, so my warrant prompted me to get more information by calling the person who left the cryptic adjustment on my voucher.

The conversation started out pretty normally: I was told there was probably nothing anyone could do, a hearty “Eff You,” but at least he would hand me to the person who made the adjustment so he could confirm.

The next conversation was rather circular in nature. It consisted of the person telling me he needed the final receipt and me explaining to him that I submitted the final receipt. He insisted that there was another receipt I needed because this wasn’t the final receipt. I informed him that indeed, it was, it even said “Receipt” in bold letters at the top. He insisted he needed the receipt from after my final payment. I pointed out the total amount and how it matched my statement and the dates and the account numbers and informed him, patiently, that it was the only receipt sent after I requested it directly from the company several days after the payment was made and this was what was sent so please just give me the money you owe me and I will go away. He said no, he needs the final receipt.

He wanted something, anything, that told him the balance on the receipt was zero. Apparently, “Balance Owed: Zero” was the key phrase missing. The receipt showed the amount owed to the company, the credit card used for payment, the itemized charges, and so on, and he also could see that the bill identified the company and matched the dates, accounts, and amount, but that was not enough. He wanted the company to generate a “Balance Owed: Zero” statement for me. Until then, perhaps they would pay me the rest of what they have owed for several months, but will hold the rental repayment until I can come up with the balance receipt, which does not exist in this world as far as I am aware. I hung up the phone, put my head in my hands, and finally worked up the nerve to write a pleading request to the company to please generate the receipt. The adjustor had also mentioned, in passing, that if I could get in writing from the company that they would not generate such a document, in other words tell me Eff You, it would also be good enough for him. He just needed a formal Eff You in writing, and until then he would continue to just give me a hearty Eff You.

My Commander then called, having received my email. I told him about the conversation. He got irate, mostly because the entire thing was absurd. He ranted, he raved, he called Battalion. Battalion agreed to call the adjustment demons. The Commander ranted and raved until he had to go so he could call back Battalion for an answer.

Five minutes later he called me back, possibly about to cry. The adjustors had told Battalion to Eff You, making Battalion call my Commander to tell him Eff You, so he had no choice but to call me and tell me Eff You. He did mention that he was not going to repeat the excuses that he was given, because as far as he could tell none were valid, but to find a way to get the company to either generate the receipt these people wanted or at least tell me Eff You in writing. Apparently, that one last Eff You is the key to repayment paradise around here. It’s like levels of success, and the more people who can tell you that one phrase in a day, the closer you are to getting what you want. Somehow, it all works out that way around here. It’s a little bit of a backwards system, I think, but what do I know, really?


Exercise in Patience

Filed under: — lana @ 4:07 pm

I am starting to wonder if my unit is doing this to me on purpose. Trouble is, I am not sure what “this” is, because it is all-encompassing and thus harder to define.

Let’s see. Just today:

I discovered that my payment for travel from which I returned over two months ago has been sitting at the same office for the past 12 (soon to be 13) days. My Commander called them last week to get them to sign it and move it along, since it needs just their signature and one more to pay me, but apparently he doesn’t hold enough sway. The Sergeant Major is apparently trying now. It is a curious phenomenon, as these people are civilians and can therefore be replaced. I assume it is indicative of how word is spreading to others about this unit, even culling the Europe-dwelling civilian herd to the lame and dull so if we were to fire these (which have their competent days, just not in the past few months) we would struggle to find replacements. I am pretty convinced that my lack of payment has something to do with someone saying “Uh oh” sometime within the past year which now indicates lack of funding. I wonder how they will explain that to the bank, because I don’t want to get involved anymore.

Then I received an email from the head of the health clinic who spoke to the main personnel division for Europe’s medical command. He was asking about my Purple Heart and CAB. He was told “This is Personnel 101.” I still requested that he get it spelled out, because it will be needed. Today he confirmed my worst fears: everything has to go back through my current unit. Again. Let’s see if they can get it right THIS time. Doubtful. I will have the backup packet ready for my next unit. One would think it would be easy. Look at evidence. Determine if evidence supports criteria as defined in published regulations. Evidence does. Sign paper and move it forward. Repeat until a General looks at it. General signs and sends to Human Resources. Human Resources grants badges because oh, right, those particular things are already defined in regulations and you either meet the criteria or you don’t. I happen to, so easy, right? Apparently this has puzzled entities higher paid than I for four years running. And so the games shall continue on Wednesday.

So kick forward to later in the day, because everything in the middle was also mundane to include trying to puzzle through a conversation where someone admitted to having an imaginary pet hermit crab when she was eight. No, really, and when I asked her if she had a real terrarium to hold the pretend hermit crab in she answered that no, that was where her real pet lizard was kept and looked at me as if I were stupid. My brain bled a little in its attempt to escape the pain.

My resident fool, for whom I have had to follow up on his little cardiac problem since he seems to think 39 is ancient and therefore he should be absolved of all decisions regarding his health and well-being and accept “You’re getting older” as an excuse for nearly passing out doing pull-ups, went to the doctor after my repeated pestering (of the doctors and of him). Turns out my pestering of the doctors got a referral into the system for him a week ago but he didn’t know because he didn’t ask, walked into the doctor today and was turned right around with a comment of “Your referral has been in for a week. You could have just called and asked.” The doctor doesn’t like him much, either. The doctor is 79 and has little patience for the under-40 age group trying to say they are too old to run. I like that doctor.

Then, maybe a half an hour before closing time on my warrant’s schedule and the Commander calls to ask if my Soldier has a government travel card because he needed to send her on temporary duty halfway across the country for two weeks starting, oh, let’s just say in the next 18 hours. Time frame nonwithstanding in this unit, even this was a little irritating, but needed to be dealt with because the Commander was just as annoyed. Now, things like government cards are usually standard applications upon inprocessing, but I wasn’t around when she inprocessed and have been finding that a remarkable number of things that should have been done for her were somehow overlooked. The person leading her around during inprocessing, the “Old Man” as it were, emits maybe one nanowatt of brain power per year on average, and that is only if I am really making him try extra hard by asking him simple questions to lead him to a correct answer, so I had my doubts. I called. Nope, she didn’t have one and thought the magical government card fairies would take care of it because she didn’t really bother to mention it either. My fault, I should have asked instead of assuming things would have been done correctly in the first place. I talked to her about using a personal card for meals and getting reimbursed (a pipe dream, but maybe someday…), and she said she had one. I told her the hotel fees would be taken care of and arrangements were already being made through other resources. She agreed and I got a long-winded story I didn’t care to listen to about exactly how much is on her card.

Should have asked more questions, because I foolishly assumed that at least said personal card would be one readily accepted in, say, German dining establishments. She called me later to mention that she has an American Express card. Foolish me. Germans don’t take American Express, along with most of the world. She doesn’t know where another card is, though she thinks she has one in the house somewhere. I stopped her because I didn’t want to have another aneurism today.

I mentioned that at least today was payday, so can she figure out how to get enough money to sustain for a bit and then we can advance pay her in the system to cover the rest? Well, she could, but oh wait the money goes to an account her husband can access and not her. She has to wait for him (and he is currently deployed) to put money in her account. She has little liquid assets until he can get to it. They haven’t gotten around to fixing that stuff yet.

Great. So I would have to talk to someone about rushing her advance payments, then. Okay. I then mentioned that we have to make sure her accounts are all correct in the pay system and we would talk to the movement people in the morning. I then double-checked, starting to learn my lesson now, that she even registered in the pay system.

Of course not. And of course she never thought it important enough to talk to me about, only her husband who is in a completely different Major Command. Her (giggly, because she seems to find it immensely funny when she screws up) response was “Well, he looked to see if he could sign me up,” here I pause, because you sign in yourself because it is unit-driven payments, “and he couldn’t because he’s not actually responsible for me! Teeheheehehehehehehe!” I responded, in the most patient tone possible, that perhaps then she might have thought to bring it up to the people who ARE responsible for her? As in, perhaps, me? “Oh. Well, I didn’t really think of it. I just thought something was screwed up and it would fix itself eventually! Guess I could have asked… Oops! Teeheehee!”

Instead of seeing if I could reach my hand through the phone to choke her, I reminded her that her husband has no bearing on her success in the Army and that there are also no magical finance or any other fairies in the Army to fix her issues. She giggled again, so I calmed myself by pretending to have a pet hermit crab and imagining how happy it is at having found a new home in her vacant skull. It’s very theraputic.

So tomorrow, I, having too much real work to do in order to do this myself, have to trust fool number one to take fool number two back out to the company where fool number two can fill out the paperwork and get herself into the pay system and apply for a government card, and then be whisked away from me for a glorious two weeks. Meanwhile, fool number one has to pick up some equipment, load it into the government car, take the car to another post, switch it out for a new car, remember to move the equipment and anything else we own to the new car, get all the proper paperwork, and then drive back to us without getting horribly lost even with a navigation system. Last time, he ended up an hour north of us and I had to guide him back because he had the Soldier I liked in the car with him. This time he might not be so lucky, since my warrant is signing for all of the equipment anyway and I am not so sure I want any of these people back, so I don’t really have any alliegance to seeing any of it again.

My patience wears thin. I have little hope of seeing my awards before the turn of the next century, so instead I called my Branch Manager to again plead with him to send me to a course to which I should have already attended, what with promotion boards coming up and all. His mailbox, just like last week, is full.

Xenu might want to get out of my head while he can; my frontal lobe is stockpiling explosives, trying to make good once and for all my brain’s escape in a last ditch effort to save itself. I might just let it go this time in the heroic move that should it be able to get free at least one of us can survive to warn others.


New Job

Filed under: — lana @ 1:49 pm

It came to my attention today that I could quite easily do the job of several others with little to no training.

It did not, as it turns out, come as much of a surprise.

Today I decided to follow through on some advice from a few medical officers and actually put together the paperwork for my Purple Heart and for my elusive Combat Action Badge. The latter has been something of a thorn in the side of those above me for quite some time now, possibly because it seems like a lot of work to, I don’t know, read the regulations for a retroactive submission. This is, however, the first time I have tried to submit for the former, so I figured it could make for an entertaining use of my morning.

I started out by doing something that it appears few people in several of my units have thought to do: I read the regulations and messages governing the submissions. Cue: gasp of shock and awe!

Indeed, folks, it does appear that just like everything else in the Army there is in fact a way to do these things. They are governed by several regulations, several military personnel messages, and even a few headquarters letters. The Internet, as it were, held the answers. In roughly five minutes I had more information than I have been able to procure from several at higher headquarters, and within ten minutes figured out that roughly half of what I had been told regarding the Combat Action Badge was incorrect.

Now, I am sure it is not the fault of those in, say, my personnel shop. Who asked them to read a regulation when it is their only duty to have things sit around for five weeks before passing them on for a signature from someone of whom they are quite possibly terrified? My Sergeant Major usually seems like a pretty nice guy to me, but I am sure he scares the person who has been sitting on one of my requests for the past two months. He must, right? Otherwise, why wouldn’t they process it… right?

I am misleading myself. It makes me feel better.

Anyway, so I pulled out the regulations and the messages and printed off the relevant passages. I was careful to underline or otherwise note the important sections, just as I did within my medical records in case they didn’t feel like reading the whole, long paragraph to get to the important bit where it says that things that went boom in 2005 made me screwy.

Then came the problem of the actual paperwork for other people to sign. Not wanting to make them look like the escapees from the zoo chimp house, despite my suspicions, I decided to ask for a template for the Purple Heart. I already have four templates for the Combat Action Badge, one for each time it was previously submitted (one, it seems, is still missing, since it was submitted five times in total, each time turned around for some oddity or missing piece of paperwork or, my favorite, because no one read the regulation to figure out how to process it the fifth time so they assumed they couldn’t and turned it around instead). While waiting for my personnel shop to get back with my training room and provide a template, I figured I had time to go ahead and figure it out on my own. This was confirmed when my training room contacted me to let me know that the personnel shop had no idea but were going to look into it. I have heard that before. I had several hours at least.

I generated a form that looked reasonable within ten minutes. I found the correct addressee for the decision-maker right in the award regulation. I used a similar request as a template and generated one for a Purple Heart, adding in the documentation requested in the regulation.

Basically, I made it all up using the limited resources of the Army regulations that sort of govern this whole process.

I submitted it to my training room and asked her to have the personnel shop look it over and let me know what needed to change. She emailed me back and asked me to submit the supporting documentation, because apparently it was good enough for government work and they were going to at least figure out if it was correct. They had no template; they were going to use mine instead. They went to school for this, you know.

I then did the same thing with a Combat Action Badge request, which is going to be processed through the medical system since my unit freaks out every time they look at the thing. Then I generated a new copy of a medical document that my doctor wanted to sign but didn’t have time to generate. I asked my warrant officer if there was anything he needed, because I was clearly on a roll.

Tomorrow is signature day when I go to the clinic and run everything by them and get their signatures on their required paperwork for all of these documents I generated, so only time will tell. According to regulation, everything I did is correct, though a few addresses or wording might be a touch off. I have full faith that the form submitted to my unit will take at least four months to go anywhere, since it takes roughly a month to clear Battalion and then at least another month to clear Brigade, and no one is even sure where anything goes after that anyway much less how long it might sit wherever that is, so I am confident that having the medical team look over and sign a few documents won’t really hurt anyone or anything.

I do, however, feel very proud that I had the mental and physical fortitude to find the regulations, read them, and generate the necessary documents. Clearly, as evidenced by the length of time it takes some people to do the same at higher echelons, this is a task not to be undertaken by the faint of heart. What seemed quite simple to me is obviously much more challenging at a higher level and with more training, so I should not get cocky lest someone decide to bump me from my current position and move me over to admin. I have already had brain surgery once; a full lobotomy is not something I desire.

In the meantime, however, I shall practice and perfect my new craft of reading Army regulations and applying them practically to situations, plying this craft as necessary when others do not feel like doing their jobs. I anticipate using it a lot in the coming months… a shame it took me this long to figure out.


All My Fault

Filed under: — lana @ 6:56 pm

I’m so sorry, Mother Army. I apologize for not having been more watchful over things that should be happening automatically at echelons above me.

Oh wait. No, I am not, though apparently I should be.

On Friday I happened to call up to my orderly room. There is a charming Specialist who sits in there and allows the rest of us to make her life miserable with our demands, which she then forwards up to higher elements, who yell at her in return. Hey, it’s a living, I suppose. I enjoy talking to her because she is usually one of the few people justifiably more miserable than most of us on a daily basis. So I called her to ask her if she happened to know why my pay documents have been sitting on the same desk for a week, and if she had any word on whether or not I would be attending a required school anytime in the near future, since it was needed for promotion and I have been on the list over two years now.

To the first, she responded that she asked about that payment and had been told to “expect it would sit there awhile.” Funny thing is, my government card is suspended now, which has recently made the same elements that told her to tell me to wait on payment very angry. Makes one wonder what it takes to spurn them to action, since clearly freezing the card wasn’t enough. My Commander informed me that I should just make minimum payments and worry about getting paid back later. I don’t think he realizes that on a government card that regularly bills you when you are not in the country to receive the bill, you cannot carry a balance. So unless I pay somewhere around 3,000 good, American dollars for the next two months to clear past due and currently due debts on my previously authorized travel, my card remains frozen. I am also well aware that getting paid back would be something of a pipe dream, given how long it takes them to figure out why it is so dark with their head shoved in such uncomfortable locations. But I am not allowed to call the people who sit at the desk where my paperwork lays, because that would be jumping the proper channels. So every time I ask, I am told to wait. Then every time I see my Commander, he asks why I haven’t been paid. It is a tragic circle of life around here, one for which I have little hope of escaping before my credit rating goes belly-up.

The circle was made more tragic by her response to my other question. You see, there are certain schools that everyone is required to attend. Some of them, to include the one I currently need, happen in two parts and you are put on the list sometime around when you are promoted to the appropriate rank. I was promoted in 2007. Presumably, that means Big Army put me on some list. Now, there are apparently conflicting theories as to how exactly one gets scheduled for the class, as in getting one put at the top of the list. Up until last week, everyone in my command was telling me that it was a Big Army job and all of my complaining about not having attended wouldn’t do me any good because it wasn’t anyone’s fault or anyone’s job to schedule me. Recently, I spoke to someone in Big Army who said it was the unit that is supposed to call and move you up to schedule you for the class. Somehow, I believe Mother Army, given my unit’s track record for failing to tell the truth when it involves anything that looks or sounds even remotely like “work.”

Now I graduated from the first part of the course in April, thanks to Big Army wanting participants for a trial program for the new course and randomly selecting me. Had that waited for my unit, I would undoubtedly have nothing at this point, because remember: It’s Not Their Job. One would have assumed that, should Big Army be the one to schedule me for the next bit, they would have done so immediately. That wasn’t the case, so I started asking. I was told to wait. I asked if I could go before my class in August began, since the two lined up almost perfectly. I was told to wait. I came back from the class and pointed out that I am up for promotion in the spring, so perhaps I should get scheduled for the class as soon as possible. I was told to shut up and let Big Army do their job and it was not the training shop’s fault. I brought it up again to my command about a week ago after my Branch Manager at Big Army informed me that my unit was screwing my career by not scheduling me. I was told that it was not the unit’s fault.

Then, apparently at last week’s Battalion training meeting, I finally turned up on the training room’s slide as needing the course. Good job, folks! I only needed it for over two years now, so great that we finally got around to updating the PowerPoint. Baby steps… Too much too soon and we might overwhelm them with expectations of the potential for efficiency.

But then word on the street is the Sergeant Major piped up and said I was too close to leaving the unit, within six months (um… actually I have seven or eight, depending on who you ask, but no one asked me to do the math for them), and therefore couldn’t go because it was a waste of money. Furthermore, I should have requested the class before now, so it was clear I only wanted to go for promotion reasons.

Well first of all, no one wants to go to this class except for promotion reasons. It is boring, worthless, and a waste of six weeks of my life. But we go because without it, no promotion, so he is correct in that sense. CSM: 1, Me: 0. However, the tally begins to change when they become aware that I have now been eligible for the course for two years, or at least since April when Big Army squeezed me into a pilot program of the first part of the course, and they were supposed to be tracking me since 2007 for the course in order to emphasize career progression. Tie score. Furthermore, I did ask for the class. Repeatedly. Now I am winning. Also, they don’t even pay for the course, as I am told that Big Army does, so that would be another point to extend my lead. Moreover, they are the very ones that told me to shut up because Big Army scheduled the class, now they are saying that I should have complained so they could pay attention more and get me in. That type of waffling gets me game point, particularly since it then becomes muddled as to whether or not I am supposed to baby-sit their training room. Apparently so, as well as every step between myself on the low end of the totem pole and their end who knows how high. And yet, I am not even allowed to call above my company level, so how exactly am I supposed to find out if my complaints or requests traveled any higher? Oh, they didn’t? Fancy that… All I know here is that I win, but there is little I can do about it without seriously making the Sergeant Major very angry. How little he knows me if he thinks I won’t do such a thing, particularly since he is now significantly hindering a promotion opportunity in “The Year of the NCO.” Maybe he missed that briefing.

Friday was the closest I have come yet to calling the doctors to accept their repeated offers of transfering me far, far away from this unit and then getting me out of the Army with a nice paycheck to go along with it. It has come to my attention that I have long since stopped working for the good of anyone but those above me, and they are distracted by anything sparkly that catches their attention anyway so no matter what I do that is right it won’t hold their attention long enough for them to actually do anything about it, and they can also happily ignore anything that goes wrong around them so long as it doesn’t affect them or anyone in their immediate vicinity who might pester them. They are free to let their minds wander as they bask in the glory of being middle management.

And as for everything that they screw up? Well, it all rolls downhill. That’s right, folks. Apparently, I should have been paying closer attention when I signed my contract: I didn’t realize I would have to baby-sit both my lower AND my higher levels. Must be in the fine print somewhere. My fault…


The People Under the Stairs

Filed under: — lana @ 6:16 pm

Today one of the local deploying units had something of a Veteran’s Day Send-Off for themselves and the post. It was entertaining and well done for a unit activity, with plenty of food, beer, gluwein (warm, spiced wine traditional once it gets cold here… you sometimes start seeing it around August), and a bouncy castle.

I steered my warrant around the bouncy castle. It was not an easy task. Luckily, he was wearing shoes with laces today so I could convince him it was too much effort to take them off just to go in the bouncy castle. I promised him next time and then sincerely hoped I would be gone by the next time.

We made our way to the food, running into some of the unit members who were oddly allowed to have beer but not food, and found seats at the long fest benches. We just so happened to sit across from a rotating arsenal of membership representatives for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.

I like the VFW. They contribute great things to veterans and their children and to society in general. They are fun to talk to, and when I find I have my membership card on me near a VFW hall the alcohol is cheap. Sometimes conversations can get a little confusing, particularly when they trail off and start another conversation with you about something you all of a sudden realized happened in Saigon but they are talking to you as though you were there with them, or when they follow a train of thought for five minutes before jumping back to finish a sentence from three topics ago, but really that doesn’t bother me having worked with Iraqis, Afghans, and my warrant, all of whom do the same thing.

So we chatted with a few of the gentlemen, most of them Korea or Vietnam veterans, and listened as they pitched lifetime VFW membership and the like. I happen to be planning on getting a lifetime membership sometime after my husband finishes paying for the new windows on the house, so I asked the nice man currently sitting at the table (he replaced the man who had four purple hearts from ‘Nam couldn’t hear so well… or balance so well, but that was probably also because of the four beers he consumed) for a business card. As he pulled out the card, he explained to us that there are meetings locally once a month.

I knew there was a VFW somewhere, because I have seen the members around at some events. I always figured they met off-post or in someone’s home or something. Shows where assuming gets you, as I shall explain:

“So you know the Burger King,” He says to my warrant and I.
“Sure. Only food place on post not run by the Army,” Says I.
“Okay, so you know the dining facility next door, right?” He says.
“Of course,” I says.
“There is a staircase on the side of the dining facility closest to the burger king. It goes down into the basement. Go down there on the first Tuesday of the month and we have our meetings there in the evening after dinner is over,” He says, now leaning in and speaking faster to accentuate the immediately creepy.

My reaction is mostly triggered because I have seen stairs going up in the dining facility, but not stairs going down. Most of the buildings around, with the exception of some of the Brigade and Garrison buildings with offices in the basements, have exceptionally creepy underground storage areas. Furthermore, I have never seen a VFW member on post when it was not an event, but he is telling me that once a month they gather in the basement and do whatever it is they do.

“Wait, what? Stairs? Basement room? Are you saying the VFW ‘Hall’ is a previously unknown room somewhere underneath the dining facility which we should visit after dark sometime?”
“Exactly! Don’t worry. The meetings are usually less than an hour. You’ll be out by 8pm.”

Yeah, if I ever leave at all… I reiterated that I would probably not get my membership until close to my departure, due to the windows escapade going on at my house in the states at the moment. Windows are expensive, after all. At this point, I made reference to the fact that I was from New Jersey, a topic which had previously been mentioned but, in true VFW veteran style, now needed to be revisited in depth. Once New Jersey was exhausted, he and his new friend, a jolly-looking fellow quietly sitting and eating his hot dogs (the chili cook-off hadn’t started yet… I’ll spoil the surprise and mention that we did not end up sticking around for it), asked what my heritage was. He was not satisfied with the “Mixed” response I tend to give, and then told me about a website where you can trace your lineage all the way back a few hundred years. He wrote it on the brown paper lining the table.

He explained (needlessly, upon examination of the web address) that it was a particular faith’s website, while methodically tapping the paper, circling the writing abstractly and occasionally making his point with a little dot near the top of the words. His previously quiet friend (who had been turned the other way watching something going on near the front of the hangar) quickly turned and jumped in with “I’m One!” at this point, nearly causing me to fall off the bench from my recoil to evade the hotdog that swung at a prescribed radius in front of him as he spun. He was not the gentleman who could not hear, and was stone cold sober. I braced myself.

Now, before anyone gets all uppity, I tend to love most of those I know of this particular faith. They are either very nice or what we call “Fallen Members” who were raised strict members but decided to break a tiny rule, perhaps eat or drink something wrong, and spiraled downhill back to the rest of us, and they are usually very fun. I have worked with several and find both types to be lovely to work with or hang around with, and have made and remained friends with more than a few because they seem to be everywhere in the Army. I don’t really buy anything they have to say about religion, but I feel that way about pretty much all religions, so no hard feelings, and I like how the nice ones are really just genuinely nice as a general rule. My issue is when people, regardless of faith, get creepy. I had the sense that was about to happen. My warrant officer smelled it as well and started edging to the end of the seat as we sought a potential exit. I love older people until they get crazy. This was heading in the wrong direction for anything less than that, so it was time to duck out. But when…?

We let him tell us how the site worked. We avoided eye contact when they started getting too deep into anything. My warrant then tried to make a comment about the religion. Dangerous move. They both glazed over, talked again about the website and how we should try it and enter our information into it, and asked us again to come on a Tuesday evening to the basement room below the dining facility. They then began to make no further reference to other topics than coming to the meeting, not even attempting to get me to commit to paying membership dues for the VFW. In fact, the very initials of VFW had not been mentioned in quite some time. We found a pause, stood up, promised to get in touch, shook hands, and made for the bouncy castle and behind it, the exit.

In the cool, free air we broke down what we had learned:

1) There is a basement room under the dining facility.
2) It may be a VFW hall.
3) There is no smell of alcohol in the area of which he speaks, so presumably no bar.
4) On certain Tuesday evenings, a small group of old men gather there and discuss things.
5) These men appear normal on the outside and for most conversations.
6) These men can turn on the crazy at the drop of a hat and it is hard, maybe impossible, to switch it back off.

We have thus, with the evidence at hand, decided that there is a secret, possibly religious society plotting nefarious deeds in the basement of our dining facility which may or may not be the VFW, though they all are seemingly members of the real one and using this as a cover. Many of them are over 60 years old and slowing down in the cold, but there has been “sewer reconstruction” lately in that area which we think may actually be part of the underground tunnel network they are working on to keep their arthritis at bay during the winter and to further their eventual goals. Perhaps the basement room is only indoctrination. We don’t know how far this goes…

I’ll still get my membership, but I am not going to a rumored basement room to get it. I’ll do it by mail or wait until I move in spring. I love the VFW, and encourage every combat veteran to support their local chapter and sign up and volunteer and help them out, but I am pretty sure if this supposed underground clubhouse had a bar I would have known about it by now, so just how real are these people? If this room even exists, I ask what’s a VFW with no bar? I think I need to examine the pins on their hats more closely…

This could be big, folks… big…

Of course, it’s all speculation based on a short conversation with some very genuinely nice gentlemen from an organization I love and respect, and both of us have watched a lot of movies involving scary basements and buildings with hidden rooms and tunnels. Way too many, probably. We only know about the stairs right now. How much more we intend to find out regarding the people under those stairs remains to be seen.

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