Back Again

Filed under: , — lana @ 8:42 pm

Is there no way to escape this place?

Fort Bragg. Nothing changes. I was here two years ago. I was here last fall. I think one of the restaurants closed and there are probably seven new barber shops along the main roads leading from post replacing the sew shops because with so little sewing to be done and desert boots with the new uniforms there isn’t enough business to keep eight million sewing/boot polishing places open. A tragedy, really.

The restaurant that closed, unfortunately, was a pretty good one. Micro-brewery. A shame. Not like I am supposed to drink, but as usual I assume that means “to excess,” and really, that is quite subjective.

But no one, at least not yet, has stuck a needle in my arm since Monday, which is a lovely change of pace as my track marks start to heal so I can help my husband look for a place to live without getting nasty looks from landlords wondering if I intend to perpetuate my apparent habit while staying on their property. Two of them pointed out the “no illegal activity” clause in the leases specifically while eyeing me rather pointedly.

While I sit here, I have time to figure out things such as how to begin clearing the atrocious amount of money racked up on my government travel card for the sojourns in Arizona and Washington, which caused a little bit of a stink as I was trying to leave the premesis in Washington and was told I couldn’t go anywhere while the front desk tried for an hour to reach the bank in order to authorize my transaction just to check out. I wondered, actually, what they would do if the bank had said no, I couldn’t check out, because they wouldn’t pay yet. Would they then have to let me stay in the room because I was not allowed to leave?

Moving along, I also have time to ponder my remaining years in the Army, which have suffered a slight setback with this little tumor problem. The original plan was simple: go to a course. Graduate. Deploy. Come back. Be a platoon sergeant. Get out. The step missing, the graduation, interfered a tiny bit and now I find myself bound to head back to Germany for about a week and a half before some already-signed-off-on leave, then come back, then maybe a month, then maybe come back to go graduate, then back to Germany, then possibly another trip out for a mandatory school I won’t be able to avoid forever though I will certainly try, then back to Germany, then fingers crossed deploy, then maybe be a platoon sergeant? But what to do in between all of this? I reenlisted for the course and the deployment, so the stink will be large should they attempt to shuffle that around too much. It was not really my fault that five doctors, at last count and probably an underestimate, chatted with each other and avoided chatting with me and yanked me from a class to have a tube shoved into my head. Not so much my choice, but certainly threw a wrench in things.

But then, I know all too well that decisions such as those are made at echelons higher than myself, and sooner or later someone in the Army will let me know what is happening with my future and where I need to be, when I need to be there, and in what uniform. The Army tends to be fairly easy in that way.

Now if I could just find a decent microbrewery left in this state, we might be in business. At least for now.


On The Town

Filed under: — lana @ 10:13 pm

So I was able to clear Fort Bragg in my four days, though they are “required” to give you ten, and have officially stamped my way out. Not without difficulties such as systems being down, my entire brigade being on a live fire exercise and thus unable to sign my paperwork, and memos that I didn’t have that no one knew needed to be written. Many adventures and not-quite-under-the-breath comments later, I am free of the glories of Dragon Corps and on to things in Europe.

Things that I hope will be not all that similar to my experiences this evening.

My husband and I decided that we would attempt to find fun at the Fort Bragg fair this evening. A few dollars, like twelve, and free rides and live music. Not a bad deal, so we gave it a shot for my last chance at good old fashioned American fun before I head to the land of Mozart and art nouveau.

Good thing we were wearing our neutral gang colors, because the place was packed to the fences with sideways hats, pants that I was amazed were staying up until I noticed the cowboy swagger of the fine youth, and unintelligable language such as people axe-ing other people questions. Tight, low-cut tank tops on twelve-year-old girls and what appeared to be a large silver (platinum? the world may never know) medallion of Cartman from South Park at belly button level, weighing down the wearer until he had a hunchback. Apparently Fayetteville is the secret ghetto of the south, because these kids certainly found themselves tough.

What I want to know is when exactly this happened, and exactly why I would want to put a hat on so it only provided shade for one eye. I have heard the excuse that it is culture, but having been to Africa, I can tell you that I saw them with their pants pulled up and bandanas worn to protect their necks from the sun. I do recall my own youth of multi-colored hair, large pantlegs, chains attaching my wallet and keys to my waist, and an affinity towards loud music that tended towards the anarchist side of the political fence. The hair was fun, the pants were comfortable, and the chains provided security particularly at shows with a large amount of being tossed around. I failed to find such a practical excuse for the gentleman wearing sunglasses. At 1030 in the evening. With a ballcap covering one eye. And a hood. And an attitude problem to match.

I was intrigued, moderately amused, and quickly bored. Mozart, beers and lagers, and full museums await. No time to figure out this culture, only time to prepare to defend such culture from overseas.

I think I need a drink…


Clearin’ On Out

Filed under: — lana @ 1:49 pm

Today I was allowed to go and pick up my clearing papers, officially beginning the departure process from the delights and wonders of my current station and preparing for the adventures of the station to come.

But before celebrations can ensue, first I had to allow transportation to come and get my belongings, get the appointment to obtain said clearing papers, and then start clearing post.

To begin, we backtrack about two weeks ago when I went to transportation to schedule a day when my belongings could be packaged up and begin their journey overseas. I went to the briefing and with a happy-go-lucky and everything-is-super smile the nice man giving the briefing informed me that the earliest date for them to arrive would be about three weeks from then, coincidentally on the exact day I am to report to my new unit in Germany. Seeing this as somewhat of a problem, I chatted with the nice man until he agreed to call the company and see if I couldn’t get something a touch sooner. Best they could offer was ten days before my report date. Then they informed me that it takes almost a month and a half for anything shipped from here to get to there. Mental note recorded to pack enough clothes and uniforms to last.

Immediately following this I wandered over to the desk to get information about shipping my car to the land of five dollar a gallon gasoline. The nice lady informed me that in addition to finding a way to get my car to Charleston, I should then not expect to see my car for approximately two to three months while it took the boat. I held my tongue instead of asking if they were expecting to take the circumnavigational route. Furthermore, confusion ensued when I informed them that I may not in fact be assigned to the base on my current orders because my unit was Europe-wide. After a brief pause and a blank stare, they told me I would be better off getting someone else to ship my car for me after I had my final orders, in case I end up in Italy and my car in northern Germany. I expect to see my car sometime around August.

Finally I could go and set my clearing appointment, so with leave papers and orders in tow I wandered into the office for what I expected to be a quick and painless briefing and to walk out with papers in hand. Alas, this was not to be the case, as the kind lady behind the desk ignored my appointment schedule as well as any other information I could provide and scheduled my appointment for today: the same day transportation would arrive as well as giving me about four days to clear post. She said most people only take two days to clear. Most of the people I know took at least six. Some dusty notice somewhere says all soldiers are to be allocated ten days to complete the process. I will take what I can get, and went to the briefing to get the papers.

Delightfully, three places to clear are near the briefing site, so I went back to transportation to clear and pick up my flight itinerary, then down to the provost marshal and post security with the silly thought that they would be nice and streamlined, having people coming through in and out processing every day. I suppose it wasn’t that nasty of a shock; after all, logic and the Army have never worked all that closely. A major, myself, and two other sergeants waded through a complex number system and patiently waited while a blind man received a post decal for his car before we could sit for our thirty seconds while the nice lady signed our papers. My trip to the dental clinic was much easier by comparison, and the dental clinic has never even figured out my name change after two and a half years of marriage and half of my files are somehow missing.

And so it goes, with four real days left before new adventures are to be had. If there is adventure here, there must be adventure everywhere…


Baby Steps

Filed under: — lana @ 6:49 pm

Well Monday was the first step in the right direction. Followed quickly by several large and staggaring steps backwards, to be sure…

After weeks, nay, months of nagging my S1, I finally acquired my orders to leave lovely Fort Bragg, North Carolina to head to… somewhere in the general vicinity of Germany. These are the orders that make everything happen. These are the orders that allow you to escape and learn and do great and wonderful things that may or may not include trips returning to my favorite vacation spot. These are the orders that will allow me to move. These are the orders most soldiers acquire two to three months before departure in order to ensure a smooth transition.

These are also the orders that tell me that I am supposed to be there in three weeks.

So upon receipt of the orders, I find out that my second-in-command for my team is not going to be around for the next two weeks, drastically increasing my workload to ensure my team doesn’t get left in the dust. Most of the time they take you off the team leader position when you are on orders. Well, I wasn’t on orders until this past Monday, and so now I have to clear as well as steer around a gaggle of privates who are new to the unit and have nary a clue of things such as a convoy operation or what a guy looks like upon taking a .50 cal round to the head. Thanks to my husband, I have multiple photos of such things, since I opted not to add those to my normal photo album while I was overseas. So I teach, maintaining the team leader spot and all the fun it entails particularly when my platoon leader calls me with strange and off-the-wall questions at random hours of the day, and in my spare time I get ready to move to another country. In two and a half weeks.

I go to transportation when I find some time. I find out that they are backed up and that I will not be able to schedule a pick-up for trivial things, like clothing, until around the day I leave, so I won’t have such trivial things, like clothing, in Europe until sometime around the end of May.

I head to port call to book my flight and inquire about the transport of my car. They can get me to Germany by my report date in early May. The car should show up by July.

Meanwhile the doctors are trying to medically eradicate me from the Army system due to my gangrenous foot, with which I continue to gross out my first sergeant who perpetually reminds me I shouldn’t have gone ahead and climbed a mountain in Africa, I make plans to go SCUBA diving for a weekend a week and a half before I am set to leave (despite my gangrenous foot and the fact that I had scar tissue removed from my eye three weeks ago), and I haven’t a clue of what on earth I am going to pack.

Looks like life is picking up the pace a touch. Good thing I took four days to leave North Carolina and not be surrounded by the hectic nonsense… It will work itself out, to be sure. I left Afghanistan and Iraq intact, surely I can leave Fort Bragg the same way. Just with a few less pairs of socks…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:05 am

So perhaps a short entry, as I attempt to stare down my computer with my one operational eye in an askance version of a pirate glare.

On Monday I was fortunate enough to brave the Army medical system for some sort of procedure they refer to as something long beginning with an M that no one outside the medical field, and indeed most likely several in it, could never hope to remember. This was done in order to correct the significant amount of scarring on my right eye that occurred after I underwent corrective eye surgery in 2004, was made undeployable by the medical staff, and was subsequently made deployable again a month later by my unit when they looked at the undeployable and scratched out the “un” and said to get on the plane. Ten months of 140 degree UV rays pounding into my eyeballs later, the doctors seemed a bit shocked that it looked like I was looking at life through a moldy shower curtain draped over one eye. So this past Monday a fine lieutenant colonel grabbed a very sharp knife, held me down under a very bright light, and scraped said knife back and forth about half a million times over my eye, all the while reminding me that it was inadvisable to move at this particular juncture.

Five days later I can finally open both eyes again, though now I have perfect vision in one eye and am convinced they actually removed the other one and replaced it with that of a friendly fruit bat. So I wander about the house bumping into things on one side and attempting to distinguish the difference between the valium pills and the anti-nausea pills, which they conveniently put in similarly shaped bottles and which are exactly the same size but one seems to be a slightly different color than the other, which is particularly handy when you are having trouble distinguishing between your significant other and the cat much less which pill is ivory versus which one is off-white.

The doctor said, upon the follow-up visit, that it would be fine, that most people get their vision back sooner rather than later but that it could take up to a few months. I said that was just ducky. He said that technically you only need one good eye to be able to drive. I asked him if he was kidding. He said he would show me the law if he thought I would be able to read it, which he didn’t think I could.

In other news, this coming week I get to go in for “joint manipulation therapy,” which is a fun way of saying they are going to break my foot in the hopes that I will be able to walk better.

There were complaints in the media that our friends overseas that try to blow us up from time to time are upset because we torture or demean them. I don’t think they have seen what it is we do to ourselves…


If You Are Crazy, You Are Grounded

Filed under: — lana @ 6:10 pm

But only crazy people want to fly. Catch-22.

Today was a fine exercise in logic. The S1 lost my overseas orders. They will not attempt to find my orders until I put in the dates for my PCS (permanent change of station) leave.

In order to know my dates for leave, I need two things: an overseas brief so I know what I need to plan for, and my transportation brief so I know the details of when I need to get my car to port and so on.

In order to get a transportation brief scheduled, I need to present them with five copies of my orders.

Furthermore, the S1 says that my company clerk doesn’t need to know when the next overseas brief is, because according to their records no one in his company is going overseas because no one has orders to go overseas.

So without the orders I can’t schedule the two briefs and without these briefs I can’t get my leave form done and apparently therefore can’t get my overseas orders which are necessary to schedule these two briefs with which I could complete the leave form that would allow me to get my orders.


My platoon leader told me I was allowed to go up there and punch them all as long as I said I was from the other company.



Filed under: — lana @ 8:24 pm

More than just a roll of sweet candy now, as I am now a tested and qualified Combat LifeSaver. Another grand Army class taught in the fashion of being designed sometime around the Civil War and carried through without accounting for current battlefield techniques, which says I know primitive ways to bandage wounds and administer intravenous fluids.

It was, in fact, the IV that was the joy of my day today. I really don’t have much of an issue with needles, more like a squeamish problem as things look unnatural. Blood is fine, as long as nothing is bent strange. As such, seeing a needle going into someone’s arm is simply not natural.

As it turned out, I was fine with performing the IV, though my subject was a touch displeased when the first attempt went awry due to rubber gloves a touch too big. Disassociating the arm from the person attached was probably not what he wanted me to do, but it kept me on my feet. Tragically, I can’t say the same for watching the demonstration. I was fine until the medic started poking around to show how it all worked. Then I took a knee. That wasn’t enough either so I sat on the floor with my head well below table height so I didn’t have to watch anymore. Outranking most of the people in the room didn’t help, as it did make me a bit of a spectacle. The medic was happy to point out that I was sweating around the same time one of the soldiers announced I was looking a little pale. A bit later, I was fine and had to watch again because I may have missed something while I figured out that the room wasn’t actually spinning and my stomach had not jumped three feet to the left of my body. Then I had to wait another stick or two until I could trust my feet well enough. Two people passed out… of course we all laughed, just in case we did the same.

But come the time of my own adventure, I was steady and found it quite manageable. It was hard to watch, but easy to do. And what this did for me psychologically was worth it, as now the helpless feeling I got in Iraq as I watched people die can finally subside. Nothing is worse than watching a person die, unless there is nothing you even know how to do. Hopefully getting this certification and staying on my feet, or at least conscious, will help the feeling of helplessness that has been with me for months finally go away.

So overall, not the worst experience of my life. A chance to learn, of course, should never be passed up… or passed out…


Sitting Still

Filed under: — lana @ 8:01 pm

It isn’t that hard to sit still.

Unless someone tells you not to move.

I went last week for a bone scan. After several months, someone finally thought to ask why it was that I was still having problems with my ankle and with my feet. They ignored my comments that it may be because no one has actually done anything to cure any problems I may have and sent me for some tests grumbling about how busy they were. So I sat on a table with my feet placed in positions I wasn’t aware they were supposed to be in so the camera could get a good angle and then I was told not to move for approximately eight minutes at a time while the camera attempted to detect the radiation that had been pumped into my bloodstream several hours prior. Then my feet were moved to another obtuse angle and another eight minutes was put on the clock. And so my day went.

Once the scans were done, I puttered around the waiting room for a bit watching some movie on the women’s channel which only airs movies that involve the vengance of a wife that was beaten, or of a female detective trying to figure out a murder while her husband changes his name and blows up boats to cover up a deal gone bad. Those movies are great. But I digress. The nurse finds me and tells me I have to go talk to the doctor, something that is not common around the hospital where I am convinced the doctors actually would avoid all patient contact if they believed they could get away with it. I wander through the labyrinth of hallways to his office, which is well hidden from public view, and sit down to answer a few questions. He seemed a bit nervous, which I found disconcerting until I realized that he must simply be nervous to be talking to a real live patient, and to avoid making eye contact which seemed to make him worse I looked over his shoulder at the computer screen where the pictures of my feet were still milling about.

One foot, the one that doesn’t hurt, looked normal. The other one had black splotches all over it that looked like someone spilled the dregs of a coffee pot that had been sitting on the burner for approximately seven and a half weeks, allowing it to glop all over the ankle and the top of the foot, along with a few toes. I found this a little nerve-wracking so I listened to the doctor again, who was asking me exactly how long this had been going on and whether anyone had done anything prior to this to correct the issues. I found his questions fairly amusing, and the pictures not nearly so, and saw fit not to ask about the results which he said would be given to my doctor within the week.

I think I’ll just wait until I see the podiatrist in a week and a half. Something tells me an extra week on top of the six months isn’t going to make or break the issue here.

In other news, my husband has returned from the wonders of the Middle East, so I no longer can sit on my couch all evening puttering about on the computer without feeling like some kind of loser. Soon enough he will rediscover television and I can go back to my routine, I figure, but until then I feel a bit like a sideshow carnie attempting to entertain bored children. Good thing I have my freakish toes to show off.

I’m off to play with my other big toe. The nail is finally falling off of that one now, too, though it had the decency not to get infected first…

Another day in the humdrum life of the military soldier…


Too Long

Filed under: — lana @ 11:23 pm

A year is too long overseas.

Two years can be too long to have left some days.

Three years is a long time already in.

My dog, back home, fell today. She always slept too close to the edge of the bed, and fell off time and time again. The problem is that now that she is over 14 years old, her bones aren’t catching her like they used to when she was a young and stupid puppy. Her leg broke, apparently the femur, and the surgery prognosis for a dog that age is simply not that good. It’s traumatic, and chances are she wouldn’t survive and if she did, she would not be happy.

I was going to go home next month, too see friends, to see family, to see my puppies. They’ve been around since I was 11, so they are a big part of my life. We promised to take care of them, my mom of course ended up doing the work. They weren’t bright, they weren’t well trained, and they were named as only an 11 and 12 year old can name them with names that made no sense whatsoever but the parents agreed that our names would be the ones that stuck. I wasn’t allowed to name her sushi… my mom said it would give her a complex.

It’s strange how we get so attached to pets. My cats are my sanity until my husband comes back from deployment and don’t complain when I get cranky. My dogs sat on the bed next to me when I got my wisdom teeth out on break from college and didn’t laugh at my huge chipmunk cheeks.

I can’t get home nearly enough. I haven’t seen my dog since Thanksgiving; before that it was the previous Thanksgiving. I just can’t get back as often as I want. I can’t get leave, there are places I want to get to without home on the schedule, my parents could come to see me so I didn’t have to get up there. There just doesn’t ever seem to be enough time, or maybe I just didn’t make enough. I always say that I can’t stop, that you only live once, that time is a’wastin’ while I sit in North Carolina or Iraq or Afghanistan, gotta see it do it have it whatever. It’s finding that balance, understanding what time needs to be spent doing what, that I still need to learn.

I miss my puppy, I miss my family, I miss my friends. Life takes us in all directions sometimes, and we can’t always be there for everyone we want to be at the times we want to be there.

But we can try, in whatever capacity available. For however long we need to. Too long or otherwise.


Amazing Days

Filed under: — lana @ 8:05 pm

If a tree fell in the forest and no one was around to hear it, would it make a sound?

Similarly, if my battalion support element ceased to operate on a day-to-day basis, would anyone notice the difference?

So my lieutenant tried to sneak me in to a levy brief today, despite the hard-fought efforts of the S1. I went to the brief and they said it was okay that I was there, but that I couldn’t stay because there was a security clearance issue. I looked at them with the blank look I have perfected by now, seeing it so regularly on the faces of others when I ask things like “Why are we laying out these tent systems for the third time in three weeks?” and “What happened to that paperwork that I submitted to you two weeks ago?” and sometimes, “What are you doing for lunch today?”

Then I called my S2. I got what I assume, being on the phone, was a blank look, given the lengthy “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” that happened before the “Lemme go check.” Turns out that when I was told two weeks ago, when I went there in person to ask them nicely to make a phone call, that when they said, “I’ll call tomorrow” it actually meant “I will forget about that until it comes back to bite someone else in the butt and ensures they have a more difficult time of starting their outprocessing.” Silly me and my misinterpretations. How could I have been so foolish?

The days, they get more amazing as they go on. I grow convinced that not a soul at battalion level actually works. My first sergeant said they would probably not show up if they thought no one ever went up there to ask for stuff. I asked him what the point was in asking anyway, because we never got anything we asked for, and usually whatever it was would be lost in transit anyway. He thought about that for a minute before sighing deeply, lowering his head in sorrow, and shuffling off to his office.

The Army. An amazing machine.


One Step at a Time

Filed under: — lana @ 5:14 pm

We live in a first world country. We have high-speed internet, every house (for the most part) has a flushing toilet, electricity is there all day every day, and life is for the most part easy. Now, some may disagree with me and tell me how hard their poor life is in the ghetto with their project housing and thug life, but most of those people I would like to dump on Haifa Street in Baghdad and remind them that they probably don’t want to get caught as they may lose their head, they are going to have massive quadraceps from squatting to use the bathroom, there is no internet and electricity is four hours a day whenever the lines haven’t been blown up. Good luck.

But this isn’t a dissertation on my irritation with people who complain their life is so hard in LA when they have never been to a country where waste runs down the middle of the road and a dead donkey is a cause to call an explosive disposal team. Instead, its a comment on fear.

Today we did drown-proofing. To those who say “Why do you need to train for water when you deploy to the desert,” I challenge them to get the door seat in a Blackhawk flying over Lake Thar-Thar when they have to make a turn. It’s almost as unnerving as Haifa Street.

Now I can’t get in the water these days, what with my Africa Toe still oozing and frightening small children, so I was the sidelines coach, having taken the class previously. Nothing more entertaining than watching a warrant officer wearing a full uniform plus a rucksack and a combat helmet drag a commissioned officer across a pool, paying little attention to the fact that the commissioned officer can’t seem to convince the warrant officer that his face is supposed to stay above water. I was coaching one of my team members who never learned to swim, and I never realized how hard it is to teach someone to overcome a fear. No matter what technology we have, what resources are available, if you are in the water, none of the flushing toilets in the world can help you, you have to help yourself.

The purpose of the class is to show soldiers that there are ways to survive with your equipment if you find yourself in a situation where you overturn a HMMWV, get dumped from a helicopter, or perhaps wade to the deep end of the waste canal. A rucksack will float. Most types of combat helmet will float. A human being will float, given the proper circumstances and training. And if you are having particular trouble, the pants of a uniform end up making an adequate life vest if you know how to do it properly.

The purpose of my lesson was to show someone that putting her face in the water did not mean that she was going to drown. Forget the rucksack. Forget the helmet. Lay on your back, hold onto my hand over by the wall, and breathe normally. Every time the water touched her chin, her feet would hit the bottom as she proclaimed she was sinking and that she was just not naturally bouyant. The fear was not of drowning, the fear was simply that once her face went under she would not find the surface again. Watching someone with a fear so pronounced she would not put her face into the water even with her feet solidly on the floor was a learning experience for everyone involved. For all the technology, for all the things that we have, there are still basic instincts the world over that will not be aided by a modem connection or the new mixed drink at Outback (which, for a quick note, is very tasty).

Though her confidence grew over the course of the hour and a half we spent at the shallow end of the pool, she never did get her face completely under. She knows how to use her rucksack to float, she used a kickboard for the first time and didn’t drown, and her pants made an excellent life vest. If she fell out of the blackhawk, she would be able to survive as long as she kept her head. I think I might have learned more from the experience than she did, about fear, persistence, and the ability to trust natural laws.

And I learned that I’m much happier sitting typing about it than I am holding onto a rucksack in the middle of an ocean, and that will probably never change.


Big Questions

Filed under: — lana @ 8:52 pm

Certain things in life are simply not meant to be understood. On that list are things like the meaning of life, how many stars are in the sky, and why female undergarments and bathing suits are so expensive and get more so the less fabric they have.

Another of life’s great mysteries is how exactly an entity (I refuse to use the term organization any longer, as that is clearly not in their vocabulary) like the US Army can actually win a war when they can’t seem to find one piece of paper on a given day.

I was called today, after attending a class sponsored by the Army, by my platoon sergeant. He asked how the first day of the two-day class went, and then proceeded to tell me that I may want to swing by the battalion because there appeared to be some sort of security clearance discrepency and, oh yes, I had missed two levy briefings and the company had gotten a nasty-gram from the battalion on my behalf.

Brief pause: a levy briefing is the brief several months before you are supposed to move to a new unit, in my case Germany, and get all of the information about transportation, reporting, outprocessing, and so on. Not something you want to miss.

To resume: I commented to my platoon sergeant that this was impossible, as I hadn’t been scheduled for a levy briefing, much less two. He said apparently this was not the case, though it was in fact the first he or my first sergeant had heard of either of them. I told him I would investigate and headed to the battalion headquarters.

I stopped in the S2, where they handle security clearances, and asked the sergeant there what the problem was. It was, of course, the first she had heard of it. She looked it up and there was no discrepency, so we puttered around in confusion for a few minutes until someone from the S1, Personnel, shop came in and said, “Hey someone in here needs to verify your clearance and make the phonecall up so it can get over to our people to cut your orders to leave.” I responded with, “And this involves me personally standing here… how?” to which there was of course no good answer. Please note that these two shops are down the hall from each other. Apparently this was the first time someone actually got up and wandered down the hall all day. Maybe ever. So while he was in there, I asked him about the levy briefings. He said that apparently I had been scheduled, and that no one had told me because their shop hadn’t called my company for reasons he didn’t know (he’s only a specialist, the poor guy). I told him that was evident, so I would go the following week. He said that I couldn’t do that, because once you miss two briefings you aren’t allowed to schedule another one. I counted to ten, started over, started over again, cursed, counted one more time, and gave up and asked him about awards instead. He forwarded me down the hall.

Upon going down the hall and finding the sergeant who was supposed to know about some awards that are now several months old, I made the discovery that two awards of mine are completely lost and one award had been “renovated” and downgraded without proper downgrade authority by someone, though no one seemed to know who. They also lost a submission for a badge for combat, as well as another soldier’s paperwork for a badge, and another NCO’s award paperwork. They also said that before I go to Germany I would need to do force protection training, which I said I did before I went to Africa and had attached the certificate to my leave form. They looked at me with the blank look that reminded me that oh yes, they had lost that particular leave form.

It amazed me so much that one office could lose so much paperwork, when their office is the paperwork mecca of the battalion, that I had to go outside and beat my head against the steering wheel of my car for five or ten minutes to try and understand. No luck. I must not have done enough damage to my brain. I need a hammer.

Some questions, I fear, may just never be answered. Ah well. I’m off to look at and not buy from the latest Victoria’s Secret catalogue.


Continuing Saga

Filed under: — lana @ 8:03 pm

So I went to the doctor. Last month (around 3 January). I point to my toe, which was green, and said, “I think that is bad.”

Doctor says, “Make an appointment and we will fix that right up for you.”

Appointment lady says, “The earliest appointment we have is on 3 February. Tough nuggets.”

I go back to the doctor. It is New Doctor. New Doctor says, “Can’t help get an appointment, but at least here’s an antibiotic for that green toe there.”

3 February I go to Surgery Doctor and Surgery Doctor (and his accomplice, Med Student) say in response to my green, black, red, and purple toe, “AHHH! Why didn’t you come in sooner?!”

Med Student gets hit in the face with toe juice. I promise it wasn’t on purpose, though I did laugh a little.

At least right now I get to wear a half moonboot for a week, take fun pills, and realize that in fact my ankle (which I went to the doctor for in December) still hurts.

And so the games continue! You know, these people get PAID for this…



Filed under: — lana @ 7:05 pm

Normally I like to avoid political discussion, because everyone has their own opinion and so on and so forth. My father told me never to talk politics or religion with friends if you expect to remain so.

However, something in the news is making me laugh. A lot. In that tragic way.

This international hooplah recently exploded over a political cartoon released in European newspapers. Mohammed with a bomb for a turban, for those who haven’t been keeping up on the news (can’t say I blame you). After the cartoon was released, Muslims were angry because it depicts not only an image of Mohammed, which is against their religion, but because it depicts Islam as a violent religion. They have now set fire to a Danish and a Norwegian embassy, one each, protested, beaten people, held signs that call for the extermination of those that slander Islam, and so on and so forth.

Okay okay okay. So let me get this straight. You are angry that your religion has been depicted as violent. So the proper response would be… SET FIRE TO THOSE CRAZY DANES! EVIL NORWEIGANS! Next I expect it to be DOWN WITH THE SWISS AND THOSE CLEVER YET SOMETIMES COMPLICATED KNIVES AND SUPERWATCHES! I mean, honestly. Let’s pick the most random European countries possible and burn their embassies to the ground? Who is in charge here? Who makes these arrangements? Who is making the calls here? Because that is a person in some serious need for guidance.

I know these idiots aren’t a representation of all Muslims, as most of the Muslims I am friends with are actually reasonable, intelligent, non-violent, happy people with real jobs and they don’t have an underground bomb lab. Maybe they can talk to some of their whacko bretheren. I mean, political cartoons are political cartoons. The Jews, the Christians, Bhuddists, Taoists, just about everyone has been made fun of by caricature with big chins and big noses. Get over it. Seriously. Not everything is a personal insult.

And oh yeah: proving the point of the cartoon is probably the wrong way to go about convincing people that it was wrong. I mean, call me crazy (goodness knows I’ve been called that before, even by people with advanced medical degrees), but one would think that maybe some letters to the editor would have done it. I didn’t see Bill Clinton burning down embassies whenever he got teased, nor the entire country of Canada, which usually has something said about them almost once a week. Exactly when did people get so stupid? Who’s watch was that on, because I know it wasn’t mine.

Now I understand why so many houses in the nations of at least Iraq and Afghanistan were made of mud: insult your neighbor and get your house torched.


Practical Boredom

Filed under: — lana @ 6:40 pm

Another entertaining day spent serving the country in the United States Armed Forces. These are the people protecting and defending the freedom of those around us, innocent children, disabled senior citizens, and fat domestic pets all alike.

This morning we cleaned and inventoried equipment while critiquing our lieutenant’s skills with women. We also shared stories about poor drinking decisions and resulting bodily functions. It was very educational.

This afternoon we debated the meaning of the word weft, for which I called my english major father (no idea) and my librarian mother (who looked it up: an old English term for the side-to-side weave in woven material, fitting since we found it in a Persian-Farsi dictionary and they sure do make a lot of rugs), then proceeded to go to our storage area and smash video cassettes with a large wooden mallet that we found somewhere. A few people attempted to break the tapes open by punching them, karate master style, but we had ice packs on hand for the resulting bruised knuckles. Stacking the tapes into large piles and seeing who could smash the most with the mallet was an entertaining, though not very safe, game, but surprisingly no one lost any eyes or appendeges to flying pieces of plastic. All in the name of Area Organization, of course. Anything for the country.

Sadly, the brigade commander did not pay us a visit, or we could have presented him with the remains of “Flexibility and Proper Stretching Success.” I could begin to list all of the injuries and sore muscles that we all know will result from the destruction of that tape… but I have to dig this piece of plastic out of my arm first. Ah well. Back to the defense of The Freedom to Tell Your Friends Stories You Would Never Tell Your Mother…

And this is only the beginning of the work week. Who can tell what fun lies in store for the remainder…


Motor Madness

Filed under: — lana @ 4:37 pm

The other day the Army dealt yet another fine blow to my sanity. This is cause for concern, as I believe that I am running out of marbles to donate to the cause.

I was placed in charge of a detail that involved moving a bunch of large, heavy objects from here to there. Here was over a mile from there, and by heavy I mean most of the objects needed anywhere from two to six people to lift them. I was given five people. Challenge number one.

Challenge number two, apparently, was vehicles. In case no one was aware, you cannot transport military objects that belong to the greater military establishment in a personal vehicle, so it was rapidly apparent that I was going to have to find a truck from somewhere. We had the problem that we had left all of our vehicles in Iraq, so it would be begging, borrowing, or reallocating (stealing being a bad word) to get what we needed.

So it was off to the motor pool of another unit to attempt to acquire the necessary vehicles to get said large, heavy objects from willy to nilly. It only took about an hour to secure a large cargo vehicle (the first truck didn’t work, and we were constantly told by the motor sergeant that he had no trucks out there but every time we went outside three trucks with his unit painted on them stared back at us), and a further hour (for which I left) to dispatch it because our one qualified driver discovered that his license for such vehicles had expired while we all milled around playing in the sand the previous year. In the meantime, we unloaded most of the cumbersome and never used large, heavy objects to a convenient loading area to wait for the truck.

Break for lunch. Salami is made of pig, but pastrami is made of cow, for anyone who cared. We don’t have much to do with our time.

As I sat waiting for the fun to begin anew, I noted that we would not have enough room on the large truck for everything, so I decided we would have to get a HMMWV to finish the remainder of the load if we wanted to make only one trip, which we did. Back to the motor pool, where we had seen several of the necessary trucks, so we were confident that we could get a truck and be back in half an hour since my license doesn’t expire until sometime in 2009.

Boy, were we wrong. The first truck, which had our unit designator printed on it, was not in the system of the parking lot it was in. We offered to just cut the lock and take it, but the motor pool sergeant disagreed that this was the best solution and denied us access to the bolt cutters or the truck (as I said we had bolt cutters back at the company). The second truck they had lost the key for and had no intention of replacing the lock because it wasn’t their problem, so we were told. The third truck was already dispatched to someone else. The fourth, fifth, and sixth trucks were not in the system. The seventh truck no one knew why it was even in this motor pool. Having now spent an hour attempting to find a single, drivable, practical truck for our purposes among the seven in the lot, we called back to the company to inform them of the delay.

The platoon sergeant, aware of the troubles we incurred in the morning as well, sighed, loaded the rest of the equipment onto his pickup, covered it with a tarp, and drove everything remaining from hither to thither.

Counting to ten, I find, does nothing for me anymore in an effort to stop me from having my joyous army cup overfloweth. I have to count to several hundred before I’m allowed to talk to people anymore…


Third Country America

Filed under: — lana @ 5:03 pm

I have finally figured it out: the postal system is our bridge to the third world.

Before any marauding postal workers live up to their stigma, please allow me to explain.

I went to the post office several weeks ago upon hearing that the postal rates were going to increase by 2 cents. I have a lot of 37 cent stamps. I wanted to buy a lot of 2 cent stamps. I did not think that this was about to become a voyage into the realms of uncharted territory within the postal system, particularly since there is usually a rate increase something like every full moon that falls on Tuesday, and sometimes just on every Tuesday.

I asked the nice lady behind the counter at my local post office for some 2 cent stamps. Lo and behold, they had run out. Luckily, there was another post office on my way back from the one in which I was currently milling about, because for some reason the post office that delivers mail to my house is way across town when there are about five post offices within a decent radius to where I live. I have yet to figure out this logic, I simply wave to the poor postman as he finally makes it over to my house sometime in the early evening hours. But (as usual) I digress.

So I stop at post office number two. Same problem: all out of the required denomination. This is a bit more strange, as one would think that given the increase, the postal system would have planned for and accomodated for the need to sell the extra postage. Assuming defeat, I gave up for the day, allowing The Man to win this battle.

A few days later, I went onto post to try the post office there, as some of my bills were looming close to the overdue mark as I couldn’t seem to afford- or really, to acquire- the postage. I wander in and they are out of the stamps, of course, but they had a handy dandy machine. I went to the machine. I think it was still selling stamps from about 1938 and most of them were flashing the Sold Out indicator. I put in my 80 cents in the hopes of acquiring a meager handful of 2 cent stamps. I push the button. It tells me that, as I should have assumed, it was sold out. I push the coin return button. I expected no fight, no resistence, simply my 80 cents so I could crawl back to my home with my tail between my legs and call my mom and ask her to mail me some 2 cent stamps from The Great North, where surely they must have stamps, because The South appears to be out.

Lo and behold, this was not to be. The machine refused to give me back my 80 cents. It insisted, in its arrogant LCD-flashing manner, that I make a purchase in order to receive change. These were the cheapest thing in the machine, and the only other option was outdated postcard stamps from sometime before carriages went horseless. They were another 35 cents, which I scrounged from the pocket of my jacket which luckily I never clean out. As I flung the little door open to get my stamps (violently, to teach the machine a lesson for its attitude problem), I could only think of the little third world island of Zanzibar in Africa where they also refused to give you any change unless you made a purchase, probably the most frustrating thing in the world when all you want is a few 1000 shilling bills and they will only sell you something for 5000 shillings, and realized that the postal system is merely a design to ensure people maintain a grasp of what a third world country is really like and to make everyone just as disgruntled as someone living in that environment (or working in the post office).

Then the little door flung back at me, bruising the back of my hand. So I did the American thing: I kicked the machine, cursed at it, and told it that it would get no more of my money until it could behave, or at least until I could hire a contractor at six times the rate to fix it for me.


The Food Line

Filed under: — lana @ 3:10 pm

Something disconcerting happened today as I went to the ol’ chow hall for a fine lunchtime dining experience. I checked the hot lunch line and most of it was unrecognizable, as per the usual and despite the signs labeling it as “stew,” so I went to the sandwich line.

While waiting, I noticed that today one of the sandwich options was pastrami. I questioned the infantry soldier standing next to me with a pop quiz of what exactly pastrami was, and what animal it comes from. He thought for a moment, admittedly a tough task for some of these soldiers particularly now that we are back in the mindless garrison environment, and then admitted that he had no idea. The questioning persued to two other fine soldiers in line. Two votes for pig. A friend, amused by my questioning, also participated saying that he wasn’t sure, but he thought it was not pig, though for all he knew it was cat. I said it wasn’t fatty enough for cat, and he said that my cats are the exception to the rule. But I digress.

The next logical step was to ask the young specialist attempting to make our sandwiches despite my intruding upon the normal peace and happiness in the sandwich line with my invasive questions about the contents of meat-type products. She eyeballed the pastrami and then answered that she had no idea, and that it looked like the scraps from everything else.

It bothered me somewhat that the food service person, the person serving me my sandwiches, had no idea what animal that little slice of meat comes from. I thought again about the stew at the other end of the chow hall.

I ordered a turkey sandwich, please.

As an afterword, by the by, and for all of those as perplexed as I was for my lunch hour, I looked it up. Pastrami is smoked corned beef. Cow is the correct response. We all learned something new today. Tomorrow I will inform the nice specialist and the sandwich line can once again be a place of joy and happiness and stew relief.


Army Medicine (Strikes Again)

Filed under: — lana @ 9:26 pm

So on the trip to Africa we learned that maybe it isn’t the greatest idea to go for a mountain climb when you have a bum leg. Apparently, there are infections to be found in that part of the world, and one seems to have settled in on my toe which was taking most of the weight off of my ankle, and the disease now seems to have made a little green home for itself where I once had a rather pinkish toenail.

While on the trip, I noted that it was oversized, unpleasant-looking, more-than-unpleasant feeling, and generally should probably be looked at by a medical professional. Upon returning home, I got up the nerve to examine it again and realized that it was turning… well… green. By green, I mean the color of a freshly manicured golf course in the springtime combined with that of your average pepper. Delightful though this color might be on lawns, apples, and possibly on living room walls, I figured that it was probably a bad color for a part of the body to be turning. I therefore took it upon myself to schedule an appointment with the lovely medical personnel in the Army.

And so I went to the appointment. I only waited to see someone for half an hour between getting my blood pressure read and the doctor actually showing up, which might be some kind of record, and when he asked the question of why I was there I promptly pointed to the toe, which was also lovely shades of purple to accompany the green and blue hues already present, and told him that it did not exactly feel what I would call “good.”

He gave me a perscription for Motrin and told me to make another appointment to have the nail removed so they could see if it was infected. He then sent me on my way with instructions that I probably shouldn’t run for a few weeks. He also mumbled something about how if that got much worse I would probably lose the toe, then hustled me out of the room.

Now, to me, green is usually a bad sign. One might think, perhaps, that the name gangrene came from somewhere, though admittedly the spelling is a little off. Also, despite the fact that I was now back in the land of regular running water, there was still an interesting and thankfully undescribable scent accompanying this little discoloration. Combined with losing feeling in the tip of the toe and the inability to bend the toe, I was a touch leery of the prognosis as I returned to my unit, but it was, after all, doctor orders.

There isn’t much to do at the company these days, so upon hearing of my trip to the doctor, a few of my stronger-stomached compatriots wanted to see the freakish toe. Upon the removal of my sock, a few changed their minds, and my lieutenant casually asked as he turned away why exactly I wasn’t getting that looked at. I told him of my adventure and he told me to hurry up and do something. I called for the procedure appointment and was told that the first opening for removal would be in a month. My command was quick to sign the sick call slip to go back to the doctor and find an alternative, before I grossed everyone out of the company. We did, however, get to play the interesting game of seeing which non-commissioned officer would throw up first.

And so, two days later, after the day in between where I had a dental appointment only to arrive and find that the dentist had quit and they had “tried to call some people and reschedule” but apparently I hadn’t made the cut, I wandered back to the hospital for another opinion.

This time, I received two strong perscription medications plus an antibiotic, as well as permission (though not recommendation) to wear my duck slippers to work if I felt I needed to. Actually, all he said was that he suggested I not wear fuzzy pink bunny slippers, and when I told him I had ducks and they were yellow, he just shrugged. I also found out that I might even get to keep the tip of my toe, now that I was actually on antibiotics. Apparently the “staving off further infection” part was not included in the previous exam.

So now I get to hobble around for the next month doped up on perscription painkillers waiting for time or the procedure clinic to remove my toenail and see what lies beneath and whether or not I get to keep my beloved big toe. Every day brings new photo opportunities for the crazies at my unit who are enjoying the progress of the infection, and I have decided that I am going to start charging if they begin parading me around the batallion as some sort of carnival sideshow. After all, just because I can regularly hear the circus theme music wafting in the background noise of my brain most moments that I spend in the Army does not mean it is a free show.


Home Again

Filed under: — lana @ 3:39 pm

After another fun adventure, it is nice to be back with my obese cats and the beautiful and ever present rains of North Carolina. I think the state is simply concerned about my having spent a year in a country where it rained about three times during my sojurn there, and so it is trying to make up for it by dumping gallons of water on my house, car, and on me when I go to take out the trash.

Zanzibar was an interesting part of the Africa journey. A small island in the famed Spice Islands on the Indian Ocean, there is only a limited amount to do and everyone is trying to make a dollar (no one knows what the Euro is yet) off of vacationing westerners. Harrassed for massages or henna tattoos, refusal to break a bill unless you are going to buy something, and everyone expecting to be tipped for everything, the relaxing beach vacation was almost as harrowing as being trundled down a mountain on a metal contraption.

We did get to go SCUBA diving, probably not the best decision for me with my foot just starting to regain some of its orginal coloration (discounting the toe, which I am starting to wonder if it is worth keeping), but still fun. The trade winds were in full effect as we piled onto a wooden boat which had to be bailed out from a compartment in the bottom by the Tanzanian boat workers, and the waves were high enough that we had to keep switching seats around to balance the boat to prevent overturning. The currents below were heavy and stirred some of the bottom, but the lionfish and the stonefish did not seem to mind. After two dives, my toe had drained into the Indian Ocean (for a few hours, until it built itself up again to the dismay of my fellow travelers but to great interest of anyone in the medical profession), and the equatorial sun was contentedly baking my shoulders as we attempted to get back to shore without flipping the boat.

An expensive trip to Stone Town, a former Arab stronghold in the area, and a local show with barbeque and hungry cats sitting under the tables waiting for a sucker like me to drop food on the ground, and then back to the hotel to relax for our last day in Africa. We sat drinking at a table on the beach for most of the day, watching the people pass by and betting on their nationalities by personality quirks. Americans were large, loud, fairly obnoxious in taking over whatever space they could, and usually wearing a tee-shirt with a horrible slogan on it. Italians and Greeks were large groups of varying generations who took over several tables at a time and yelled at each other even if they were sitting directly next to each other. Australians stood up so the entire beach could watch them put lotions and oils on, and the Germans stayed to themselves (probably to avoid a war) while the French snorted and cast disapproving looks at everyone equally. It was a most entertaining game, one which improved as we sampled the various drinks off the menu.

The game continued at the airport, where a large and loud American family played some game they had obviously made up to keep the kids occupied but still thoroughly annoyed the rest of the population of the small transportation station, and still continued on the planes home. Upon returning to the States, where it took over an hour to get through customs and get the car (which we had long since forgotten the parking designation), we found that we could still continue as a high-school aged group of three passed, cutting to the front of a line as though the world were made for them, one of them with his hat sideways and his pants halfway down his legs. Though he was caucasian, it did make me note that I had not seen this in two weeks, and it looked even sillier now than it had when I left. We also noted that such style is usually touted as being “Of the culture,” but that we had just been to Africa and had seen exactly zero Africans dressed in such a way. An interesting observation, if I do say so…

And so it is back to the land of the ego and the land of the rude, but also to the land of running water and consistent electrical power. A decent trade-off, I suppose, one that makes me listen to my washing machine while sitting with the lights on petting my fat cats and thankful that I am not outside in the pouring rain dealing with obnoxious people…

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