Filed under: — lana @ 7:50 am

As someone in the military, I should be the last person to judge the oddities of another cultural entity. Given that many of the things that occur in my day-to-day existence representing the greater military good leave me scratching my head in moderate confusion more evenings than not, I tend to be more focused on the conundrums of my own little world.

However, as I travel around and about Europe, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps the strangeness is being compounded by the environment in which I find myself currently surrounded.

I have mentioned previously that there are certain interesting practices with the businesses and their customer service. I submit as exhibit A the experience I encountered just this afternoon as I was attempting to pinpoint if and when the phone company was finally going to draft the money I owe them from an account, or if they would simply wait a few months and then sue me for everything I have ever owned, currently own, or ever wish to own. They sent me an email several weeks ago informing me that I owed them the equivalent of the soul of a small child for set-up fees and the first month of charges, but that they would draft it from an account which I do have, but with information I don’t remember giving to them. Nearly three weeks later, they had yet to draft the money, and upon further investigation it turned out that they always draft the money at the beginning of the next month but that everything is put into the computer around the middle of each month, resulting in the confusion that thus ensues.

While I was there, I also saw a poor and unsuspecting couple engaged in the familiar battle of When Would Service Become Available. Whereas I had the World Cup to contend with, these fine people were relocating to the post at the beginning of the Bavarian Holiday Season, when everything in the state shuts down for a month because the entirety of Bavaria goes on holiday, or as in the States, vacation. They were suggested to check back sometime next week, because they wouldn’t get service for at least two and a half weeks, if then. And no, no one has any idea if they can even provide service to their home and whether or not a technician will even need to come out. I expressed my sympathies.

But on post and American dealings aren’t the only things that make this place seem a little off. I submit this previous weekend as Exhibit B. I encountered, this weekend, a large and famous one-night-only-annual festival that was cancelled because there was the merest possibility of rain. I encountered a frightening museum about the history of a city which included dollhouse shadow boxes containing misproportioned dolls, to include one set-up with a gigantic baby doll sitting at the head of the table with the rest of the family average doll size and the father doll downstairs appearing to wedge himself between a nightstand and an armoire while the porcelain dog on the tiny rug watched him and wondered what it was he was hiding from. Note that we could not understand the German descriptions, so we were left to make up our own stories about what was happening, which is never a good situation.

The following day I ventured to a nearby city for a music festival,full of German Funk Reggae, some guy who had translated American songs into German and got his buddies to play back-up, as well as a lot of accordians, bagpipes, and flutes on the little side streets. I also saw a man at an ice cream shop in a bright red clown wig, spiked collar neckpiece, black dress and fishnets, as well as a bleached-blond lady in a mostly see-through lace outfit wandering down the road arguing loudly with herself. A few hours later we saw her again sitting on a bench, presumably still carrying on the same argument. We never found out who won. Further up the road in front of the first church I have seen that had full battlements and spots from which one could pour a healthy-sized vat of boiling oil was possibly the most frightening statue I have ever seen. It was of a large rabbit, apparently breaking out of a box. It looked very very angry. There were little rabbits around it. There was a human foot under it. There were what looked like large nails or stakes in its teeth. I saw it again in a nightmare last night. I have no idea what it was supposed to represent. I took a picture because I realized that no one would ever believe such a thing would be on display in a square in front of a church, despite the ramparts overhead.

I think the crowning achievement, however, for the weekend was driving away from the location of the overly-expensive Wagner Festival where, 2000 euros short for a ticket, we took a picture outside and departed, was the man we saw on the all-terrain vehicle heading in the opposite direction. ATV’s are pretty popular around here, and he was all suited up for safety. He had his helmet on, his cotton shirt with a leather jacket, leather boots… and no pants. I am unsure if he had someone at home who could point out the slight fashion faux-pas, and he was a large enough individual that I did not want to be the one to do so, nor do I know how to say, “Excuse me, Sir, but you seem to have forgotten your pants,” in German.

And so the days go on, with us starting to excuse everything that happens as simply being German. I think I should swing by the clinic and see if they can give me something for these pantsless rabbit dreams I have been having of late…


The Value of Friendship

Filed under: — lana @ 11:46 am

Friends are absolutely invaluable. They are there for you when you need someone to complain to after the idiots at the medical clinic forget to send the fax that will get your MRI images sent from your last post. They are there when you just want to go get ice cream but don’t want to feel like a huge fatso going alone. And they are still in some of the most hot, sandy, smelly places on earth and yet still willing to help out a friend who departed almost a year ago when they need to get a message to some crazy Iraqi who still owes you things.

Before I departed my sweet home away from home of Iraq, I went to a local and asked him to procure some souveniers for me from some of his contacts down further south. He worked with the Americans, he had done it before, he had gotten me a few things before, so no big deal. I gave him a bit of money to get them and told him I was leaving soon, so get them to me before I go.

Then came Ramadan. Then all the roads shut down. Then there was a threat of a nuclear chicken running around a town about 15 miles south because of course all of the weapons of mass destruction were on some guys chicken farm, according to another sandal-wearing friend of mine. Then the moon wasn’t right. Then I left Iraq… without the items and without my money.

Several people were on the procurement mission for me upon my departure, until they were moved about midway through their tour because someone somewhere far away from where they were stationed thought they could better serve their country a little closer to the nuclear chickens, which they still had not found. So a few new people got on board, and these were a touch more persuasive…

First there is one of the fine people I worked with for six months, him relying on me if we get in a firefight because he carries no weapon, me relying on him to make sure I understand what color dishdashas the men that no one saw were wearing, despite them being asleep and the men were not from this town because there are no bad men here. My interpreter had switched to a new job by this time, but he was still in the same area, and he got very angry when I told him what had happened. He found out where the Iraqi was now working. He found out where the Iraqi was now living. He dropped in on the Iraqi one day and told the Iraqi that he was some obscure relative of mine (I think something involving a nephew, a cousin, and a stepson, but I could be wrong) and, though I don’t know exactly, something about how he may never work in this town again. The Iraqi gave him my money back.

Then there is another friend of mine, a contractor who also decided that he was not going to have some Iraqi taking the money of a fellow American and not giving that American anything for almost a year. After a few trips to the workplace, he contacted the employer of the Iraqi, since he didn’t have some clever story about how I was some sister of a husband of a niece of a grandson. Upon his following visit to the Iraqi, he acquired the items that the Iraqi had promised nearly a year before.

Things in this world are all about who you know and the relationships you maintain. These two gentlemen were excellent compatriots while we were all sitting in the boiling misery of the July heat the previous year, and even more rewarding than getting the items as well as the money back was the realization that these were two friends who were still willing to lay down some ground rules for me despite several time zones and about 40 degrees of temperature difference.

And I am sure they had a good time doing it, too, which makes it even better…



Filed under: — lana @ 10:19 am

So only three months late, I received confirmation today that my Good Conduct Medal has been processed and is sitting on someone’s desk somewhere until they can get it to me. Heartwarming, to be sure.

Let us recap, shall we?

Basic was basic. Easy cheesy, had a blast, kept my mouth shut, did my pushups, ate my dirt, and it wasn’t too hard. I hear it is even easier now, but that is funny things for another day.

AIT (advanced individual training, for those who don’t like to memorize pointless Army acronyms) was also a good time. Studied what I needed to study, followed the examples as given, another Army school. Made or was affiliated with a few comments regarding Bob Saget to the drill sergeant which occasionally made them have the entire company do pushups for a little while, but really didn’t have too many problems.

Still on good behavior upon reaching Fort Bragg, making enemies only when I knew more than they did, usually as a result of having just come from the training center while he may have been out for a good, oh, let’s give him about ten years and 100 pounds.

The situation deteriorates from there, however, as I began to note the oddities of the armed forces. Apparently, being the person to point out when something is a Catch-22, asking why someone promoted Major Major, and wondering aloud why something simple must be resolved with 40 reams of paper instead of a phone call to the office to which the matter pertains does not make friends. Last count was 3 UCMJ (uniform code of military justice… write that down) threats dodged, each closing with no punishment (usually involving a call from an Army lawyer to my unit telling them that the matter was non-punishable, because you can’t give someone UCMJ for asking a question) but receiving a lecture about the Army way being the Army way and that I have no business getting my nose involved in trying to make sense of any of it, and certainly no business trying to change anything to have it make sense. And those were the three threats that I knew about. To be sure, there were others. I never did learn the lesson that they scolded me with and wrote down for me and threatened me about, as my internal voice as I proceed to file the same paperwork for the same badge for the third time always seems to be louder than anything else, and frequently not as internal as I believed.

But the way to prevent a soldier from the GCM is to actually present the soldier with UCMJ action, so the Army has shot itself in the foot once again and grudgingly cut my orders. Luckily, saying I received the GCM to several of my associates has provided them with a great deal of entertainment, which is really what matters.

In other news, the unit took the essential part of our computer connectivity system halfway across the country for inventories and then neglected to give them back, instead sending us an email informing us where we could pick them up. None of us could get the email. Because the connectivity system, missing parts, was inoperational. So our system was down for over a week until I called them asking when we could get the parts back and they lectured me about how they had sent the email a week before. I asked how I was supposed to check the email when they had the parts that made our computers run. After a period of silence, they told me to shut up, not ask questions, and to please come pick up the parts the following day.

Luckily, they had already processed my GCM by the time I talked to them…


Truly Outrageous

Filed under: — lana @ 2:05 pm

In the late 1980’s, that was the theme of a not-very-good-but-still-moderately-popular television cartoon called Jem.

Now, it is the theme of the telephone company, a part of Deutsche Telekom, or however its spelled with its nonsensical mix of constenants and vowels.

I received my first bill today. It was for TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN EUROS and someodd cents. Depending on whose exchange rate you are using today, that comes to between 275 and 300 dollars. That, of course, includes installation and set-up fees.

I would like to point out that they simply had to flip a switch to make my phone and internet run. I also had to purchase a modem on the economy for another 100 euros, not included in above billing.

However, it also does not take into account that when I finally after multiple phone calls cajoled a poor unsuspecting telekom service technician to my home because NOTHING WORKED, I pretty much held him prisoner until he had everything functioning to my liking.

Quite frankly, I prefer Jem.


Maybe Next Year

Filed under: — lana @ 6:53 am

I seem to be having a rash of bad luck in terms of getting things accomplished. Almost every mission I send myself on to get something done, there is some sort of stopping point where I realize I must quit for the day and try again sometime in the future.

My first goal of the day was to send a 21-page fax to my military supervisor who works a few hours away. He called on Friday asking for the fax which includes just about every document I have ever received for the Army that would pertain to my current status and training. Despite the fact that my company already keeps this information on file, I agreed to send it to him first thing after the fourth of July holiday.

However, their fax machine, for the millionth time in the past month, is down. Our fax machine, on the other hand, is one of the very few things in our office that actually works. Our scanner, our digital sender, and half the time our computers, will all have their days of operation, but today was not one, and so our only solution would be to fax the documents to another third party, have them scan everything in, and then have them digitally send the documents over to my headquarters.

Did I mention that my main headquarters already has just about all of the papers? I may have…

So that has not been accomplished yet today because I refuse to send a 21 page fax to someone who really doesn’t care.

Then my supervisor told me that I have been selected for mandatory training in August. Super, except that my booked-five-weeks-out appointment with apparently the only podiatrist in the world happens to be during that time period. So I was told to reschedule. So I called. So I find out that if I cancel that appointment the next possible date to see someone, if I act fast and call in early August and the moon is right and it is on an alternate Tuesday and in the background I can hear Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band being played backwards, will be sometime in mid-September. I’m shooting for another healthy dose of gangrene by then, which might, though I doubt it, teach them a lesson.

So life continues across the pond, with the Germans losing the soccer game to the Italians so now maybe we can get some customer service out here, and all is going smoothly as ever…

For the Army…

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