Another One Bites the Dust

Filed under: — lana @ 1:09 pm

Week, month, year, whatever. I am heading off to Amsterdam this evening for New Year’s festivities, though I assure that all of the activities will remain military friendly. I particularly assure anyone from my unit who might be in charge of the next urinalysis who may be reading this…

So I suppose it is time for the age old year in recap, as is tradition (not really).

Started out the year on a plane in Dar es Salaam airport en route from Kilimanjaro back to the States. They played that new year song and had fireworks on the little TV screens. I had my foot up and was just beginning to observe that it was turning rather greenish and wondering who on board might be eating almonds. Then I realized they didn’t serve almonds on my flight and the smell was coming from my sneaker.

Fast forward through the festering wound stage and I got to see my husband for two months, the longest period of time we had seen each other since 2004. My cats grew steadily fatter and were over the weight limit for my move to Germany in May so they had to stay behind, where I am convinced they ate the landlord and were starting on that annoying kid down the street who always starts mowing the lawn before making sure you wanted it mowed and even had the money to pay him. He was just like those windshield washers outside of the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour that you have to dodge around and if I wanted it washed I could do it next time I got gas. I gave the cats the kid’s picture.

I moved to Germany. I realized that no one can ever make fun of a New Jersey, New York City, or Boston driver until they have competed with the likes of the German people. Not only do they all drive superfast station wagons that may cost more than my apartment, they are also very aggressive and get very uppity when you are aggressive back. They also have a shorter range of personal space than we do and either do not understand or simply have nary a care for the concept of a queue. The proper way to get something done is to muscle your way to the front and point at what you want. Fewer questions that way, and you don’t look so foreign.

I have been to Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, Belgium, briefly to Switzerland, and now (impending) to Holland. Most of them look just like Germany, actually. Small town, church on a hill, all set in the countryside with a pretty and usually mountainous backdrop.

I got a cat. She is moderately brain damaged, I believe, and is currently napping in a cardboard box instead of in her carpeted kitty tower, cuddled up with the lining cut from a bra and an old hair elastic and ignoring the toys purchased specifically to please her.

I’ve started learning Arabic, at least reading and listening and just a bit of speaking. I know how to say “black car.” All I need now is “three men, AK-47, sandals, and ski masks” and I will be all set to blend seamlessly into the culture.

The holidays were largely spent watching first season episodes of MacGyver which my sister sent to me in a box set. It has given me the strangest dreams for the past few nights, and while I seem to get kidnapped by The Terrorists every time, there always happens to be a nail, a gum wrapper, and a rubber band nearby to make good my escape. It has been a Very MacGyver Christmas this year, and would be a Very MacGyver New Year if it weren’t for this gallavant to Amsterdam. My friends ran an intervention. I was tucking in my tee-shirts and considering cutting my hair into a mullet.

Ah well. Another year where a lot happened and yet very little happened. Most years tend to be like that, it seems, and I am not complaining really. I should, however, remember to purchase more hair elastics for the new year… not only do they please the cat, but you never know when The Terrorists may snatch you up…


To Stop

Filed under: — lana @ 12:39 pm

I need to procure a wine stopper, one of those cork substitutes that will prevent me from drinking the entire bottle in one sitting because I can cork it back up and save it for another night.

On second thought, after the week I have had, perhaps I actually need more bottles of wine.


Not Even Supposed To Be Here

Filed under: — lana @ 2:03 pm

Ah, the holiday season in the military. While many take leave during this festive time of present-buying and bank account-hemorrhaging, I usually stick around to enjoy the happy green of the machine in which I am a part. The primary reason for this participation in military holiday activity is not only because I hoard leave days like a squirrel preparing for the winter, but because most years we and the rest of the Army go on what is known as “half-day schedule.” The concept of this is something of a reward for a year of semi-hard work milling around waiting for someone to accomplish something, and really because so many people do take leave that there is little left that can be done to constitute a productive day.

How that is dissimilar to any other given time period I have yet to discern.

Regardless, my office worked out an amicable schedule for all which by and large had me “on-call” this week, i.e. I could stay curled up in bed and shut my phone off and say I never got the message.

Then the Army came along and threw a wrench in my late-sleeping plans, namely the reintegration of several soldiers back from sandier nations.

I also found that although 1000 monkeys working on 1000 typewriters for 1000 years might be able to come up with Hamlet, they apparently will not be able to come up with a reasonable reintegration plan. This is not to suggest that my higher headquarters is a pack of monkeys, only to suggest that they might do well to occasionally ask the monkeys for advice, as the monkeys may have gotten a little closer to reasonable than, say, trying to convince a health clinic to open on Christmas to check the tuburculosis test of one soldier.

Today, the first of my “half-days” I worked from the regular time in the morning until about an hour before regular closing time in the evening, making phone calls, cursing other offices’ long lunch breaks, making excel sheets and lists, and logistical planning galore. Combine that with my requisite weekly trip to some doctor or another who proceeds to remind me that when I delay getting something looked at for a year and a half or so, such as an arm that periodically loses feeling as a probable result of wearing body armor which weighs half as much as I do for 18 hours a day plus a rather nasty car accident, it makes it very difficult to make a diagnosis or get appropriate treatment. Live and learn, I say, and look forward to visiting the physical therapy department again for a little while.

Not only did I work nearly a full day in order to attempt an organized reintegration schedule more reasonable than whatever the pack of monkeys at the zoo came up with and spit over to my unit, I also realized that I might be the only one who did so. I submit as my example for the preceding the finance company, who I am actually convinced is just a few cardboard cut-outs and one poor private who moves them around periodically in an office that always has people lined up outside, never takes any customers, those that do get in rarely get their issue fixed, and most of the time the door is closed with some reasoning posted on the door for why the entire finance office is once again closed for the day. Today I discovered that regardless of it being the holiday season, when most soldiers are particularly concerned about finances, the office is strictly enforcing their half-day schedule and closed at noon, giving them an effective (or not so much) three hours of work. Amidst my annoyance upon reading the sign on the door indicating the closure, the annoyance was admittedly sprinkled with a touch of jealousy.

Tomorrow, naturally, looks much the same as today, though I have made the declaration on multiple occasions through the last 12 hours or so that I will be gone by noon tomorrow. Well, maybe after lunch. Well, maybe a few hours later…


Cobwebs, Dustpiles, and One Soldier

Filed under: — lana @ 1:10 pm

The contents of the corner where I have been told to stand several times in the past week for trying to make sense out of a nonsensical predicament and asking questions of practicality for planning purposes. Apparently no one in the echelons higher really appreciate it when asked questions to which they have not already thought of the answer, so they ignore your question, get angry at you for asking, and tell you to stand in the corner until you can come up with something useful to say.

Early in the week we got word that some of our fine unit-mates may be coming back from The Grand Land of Jihad. Even if putting when exactly they were due to arrive weren’t an operational security violation, I couldn’t say, because they were all just guessing anyway and no one had a real clue, only that all of a sudden everything had to be hectic and shoot from the hip and superplanned so that whenever they did finally arrive they would be all squared away and lined up for their briefings about not beating the dog and that all dark spots on the road are not going to explode.

As the main unit, located several hundred kilometers away thankgoodnessforsmallfavors, peeked out of their little spider holes (or whatever dark cavern into which they had crammed their heads, though I hate to make assumptions), they apparently realized that there were a few logistical problems with the reintegration of several dozen soldiers when dates were approximate, the holidays were fast approaching, their cars had been stored halfway across the country, and a multitude of other hassles. They then promptly went back into their holes and i do believe hung a sign on the door saying they were gone for the winter and the detachments were on their own, come see them again in the spring for all your logistical planning needs.

Over the past week, I have been told that the soldiers will reintegrate together, then individually at their detachment offices such as my own. I was told my commander would pick up all of the soldiers coming to our area. Then a staff sergeant from one of the nearby officers was assigned. Then all of us were told to go get our own soldiers. Then we were told to squat hold on the entire pattern as maybe they would be reintegrated together after all. Then (today) I was informed that no, plan was a go to pick them up… sometime.

Then there was the weather problem. When there is inclement and possibly hazardous weather and road conditions, in other words from November through April in Germany, roads are declared “amber,” meaning we are allowed to drive on them with caution and with a dispatch signed from God or his next higher counterpart, the rear detachment commander who resides and works halfway across the country. These dipatches can take several hours to procure his signature, since we have to fax or otherwise electronically send it, someone has to find it, lose it, throw it away, dig it out, spill coffee on it, lick the coffee off, wait until it is dry, lose it again, ask whether or not we submitted it in the first place, get it resubmitted, and eventually walk it to his office. Provided he can be found, which is another process in itself, he signs it and the reverse process ensues until it is finally electronically sent back to our office. Since many of our departures were scheduled prior to the start of the duty day, long before anyone in his office even wanders into work, it can put quite a damper on one’s plans for the day. So, silly me, I pointed out that it is supposed to snow/ice/hail/sleet/rain/other precipitation for the duration of the holiday season, so had anyone thought about how exactly we were supposed to drive out there to pick up the soldiers?

I was told to stand in the corner.

Not listening, I asked if we could get a preemptive amber dispatch, say, the evening before.

I was told to shut up and was I not told to stand in the corner.

I then asked them what we were supposed to do about the four-day weekend in which Christmas is encompassed, as there would be no facilities on our base open for reintegration to occur. I may have obscurely passed a reference about the poor planning skills and loose grasp on reality that appeared to be rampant in higher headquarters while pointing out some of the gross planning errors and the demands placed upon the offices, but I can’t seem to recall…

I further inquired about the automobiles of the soldiers, and whether there was a way to regain them without zig-zagging across the entire country several days in a row. This question was not even acknowledged with a response, so I will just take that as a “no.”

About the only thing that I have really ascertained this week is that we need to dust the corners of our office more often, particularly if I intend to spend much more time standing in them.


Who Am I Part II

Filed under: — lana @ 8:42 am

Apparently, confusion ensues as to who exactly I think I am. Despite this question having been asked of me from various supervising non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers from time to time over my Big Green Tenure, apparently the answer is not nearly as easy as I once believed.

Today I came to work as usual. I sat down at my desk and put my ID card in the little ID card reader that allows me access to all things fun and exciting, like my email and CNN headlines.

I get a response that I cannot be verified, pound sand, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

I try again and get the same response. I think I heard it laughing at me as well.

I call the local help desk folks and they tell me that for no reason at all the card has probably been locked, so I should come over to where they are, about a ten minute drive, and they will unlock it. I made it over there and they did whatever it is they do and said I was good to go.

Lo and behold, when I got back to my desk in front of the broken heater which broke right when the weather became particularly dismal, I got the same instructions, and this time I am sure there was giggling coming from somewhere in the annals of the harddrive.

Unwilling to go back over to the other base, I went across the street to another ID card office and asked the nice lady there after waiting 30 minutes when I was third in line and called in via a computer which sounded remarkably like a femal Stephen Hawking. She, the lady not the computer voice, was most sympathetic, but casually mentioned that since my main army email account is in my maiden name and my local email account is in my married name, the system sometime last night became convinced that I was two people and therefore cannot verify who it might be putting this ID card into the computer. I asked her if she was kidding. Apparently not, though I have been married three years and my card has been functioning perfectly on this system for about seven months.

The fun part is that no one seems to know how to fix it, because convincing a non-sentient being that I am in fact only one person and not two people is apparently quite a challenge. Nor do they know why last night the system suddenly made this arbitrary decision and shut off my account access.

So it appears I am once again of two minds, but both of them keep thinking the same thing: four more months…



Filed under: — lana @ 12:11 pm

Acting quickly, before the Czech Republic switches to the Euro and everyone goes bankrupt, I found that a trip east was worth the time and 58 dollars yesterday, mostly thanks to an overmotivated shopaholic for a friend and my need for a pair of boots.

It has yet to snow with a purpose here in Germany, having had unusually mild weather the past few weeks for this time of year. I suspect, however, that this will not last much longer, predicting the first major snowstorm to coincide nicely with the next time my car breaks down.

Speaking of which, the nice German man downtown fixed my car, at least mostly with only a minor repair to take place sometime this week, with the comment “Hmmm… good thing it didn’t blow up.” That was encouraging. Kind of like the equivalent of a doctor looking at something and going “HOLY MOLEY WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT?” A nice, warm fuzzy feeling, to say the least.

But back to topic, I took the day yesterday to wander around a Vietnamiese flea market, in the middle of Eastern Europe, paying with a mixture of European and American dollars, for some multi-cultural fun in bargaining techniques. I used to be a good bargainer, particularly with Iraqis to whom I can just say “Look, this is what I will pay you for that. Do you want to sell it to me or starve?” but I have gotten a touch out of practice and was less than motivated as the cold rain seeped into the collar of my jacket and slowly gave me pneumonia. This is where my friend came in. We quickly found that these items probably “fell off the truck” somewhere between Russia and France, and these sellers would accept the most absurdly low price if they thought you were going to go to the stall across the way. With several hundred stalls in about a three block radius, it was a pretty cutthroat business, and I wandered away with two pairs of boots for 38 euro combined, a new bag I didn’t really need for 10 euro, and a new gym bag for 6 euro. 54 euro spent when original asking price for the various items was about 140 euro, so not a bad day overall. We have already made plans to go back after the new year to see what else we can pick up.

Tomorrow, it appears, will not be a bad day either, as I will be alone in the office with my soldier out training and my boss out on illness. After haggling with my command with almost as much gusto as my friend haggled with the Vietnamiese sellers, I secured a rifle range slot for my soldier so he could go and fire a real weapon for the second time since he left initial training. Though we are in the Army, so one would presume it would be fairly easy to get someone out to fire a rifle, it has been a three month process of nagging, harassment, and obscure threats against first-born children.

The same has not, unfortunately, gone the same for myself in terms of Green Negotiation. I casually informed my supervisor that I would be more than happy to drop pursual of my medical board if he could give me three things in return: a course which I have wanted since coming into the army, a deployment next winter to avoid the cold, and a million dollars cash, untaxed. I was open to suggestion, but my flexibility would be limited, particularly on the million. As it stands now we appear to be at a stalemate, as for some reason he thinks the deployment would be hard to procure.

So while my bargaining skills are improving, it seems I still have a way to go.


Bang, Zoom, To the Moon

Filed under: — lana @ 2:05 pm

Yesterday an article came out about how NASA would like a permanent moon base sometime around 2020. I would like to point out that I would like a car that had wheels that turned even when it was pushed while in neutral or stayed on at stoplights, but sometimes we can’t all get what we want.

Regardless, it brought to mind how I have always wanted to be an astronaut. In fact, that was part of my ultimate plans for the whole military shebang, involving getting into the army, getting eye surgery, switching to the air force, flying some sort of supersweet high-powered aircraft, and getting selected to battle the aliens when they turned up to blow up the Earth just like in Independence Day.

No, I didn’t do drugs. Why do you ask?

Anyway, I got as far as signing up and getting the eye surgery. Beyond that I hit some speedbumps. Fighting terrorists is a backup plan. When the aliens come and start blowing up monuments in Washington, they will know where to find me.

But with NASA and their moon base, I recalled the Army astronaut program and figured I could go meet the aliens on their home turf. I sent my commander an email asking him if I could join, saying that they would need volunteers to man this moon base so I should probably start training soon. I even sent him a copy of the article, because I know how officers like proof. He wrote back saying that I am an intelligence collector and so what would I do on a moon base, as there is no intelligence on the moon.

I asked him how that was any different from being down here.

He wrote back and told me to get back to work.

I can never win with these people…


The Fun of Politics

Filed under: — lana @ 2:01 pm

There have been things going on in life as of late.

First, my car doesn’t work. Affectionately known as Sweet Ride, she started sputtering shortly before Thanksgiving. I parked her in the parking lot for the holiday weekend and wandered off to Scotland. Upon my return, she started up again, but my soldier and I upon listening to her thought it might be best to call the German who sold her to me and does all of her work because the Americans won’t touch my car (probably, I am finding, with good reason). I called. He said he was busy this week, bring it in next week. Oh, now that is helpful. I made do for the week, and then today started her up to take her downtown. She started. She sputtered. She refused to move. Then she died. Then she started again. She continued sputtering and refusing to move, then died again. My soldier tried. Same situation. The German, to whom I had a native German speaker make a mildly irate phone call, said he was moving tomorrow and couldn’t come look at it. The native German speaker, thankfully, has learned enough American custom to know when something is unacceptable, and I will see the mechanic sometime around lunch.

Second, I have realized that my car is not completely necessary, if only I were allowed to telecommute. It appears that Germans do not need to leave their house. Ever. They can have eggs delivered, in a previously mentioned oddly-decorated truck that looks vaguely like an ice cream truck only with grass painted on the sides. They can have sodas or water delivered. They can have their groceries shipped to their door. They can, of course, also have beer delivered. I fail to see why the roads are so crowded with cars every day, because I haven’t a clue why these people leave their houses. I also, therefore, am starting to wonder why I leave mine either, and am putting in for several connections of various types to be installed in my apartment. Then I don’t even need to find a way to tow my car ten kilometers to the German mechanic shop, which will probably still cost me about 100 euro. Since the dollar is doing so exceptionally well and couldn’t even pay for my sarcasm, that comes to around 135 dollars. For ten kilometers. About six miles.

So to take my mind off of things, I read the news. And then, of course, I laugh. Lately, it hasn’t even been my own country in which I find humor, but in the antics of others. In particular, I have a keen fondness for Iran that I liken to new dog owners when the puppy gets excited upon seeing his leash and lets a bit go on the floor. It’s so innocent, yet still rather dirty and messy and while it’s cute, it still will eventually need to be cleaned up later.

The Iranian president is a personal favorite, as more strange things come out of his mouth than the Ayatollah’s, or even the Ayatollah’s words combined with the statements of another close favorite in President (again) Chavez. What does not get blamed on the Great White Satan that is America and the west gets blamed on the Jews. Usually while he is wearing an American-made tailored suit. A grand statement made within the past two weeks tickled me so much I copied it, made it into large print, and printed it out, but my boss told me I could not frame it. It was various commentary which he made to the Iraqi president about how the United States is behind the violence in Iraq. Apparently, somehow, we think that it will absolve us of fighting the war if we then cause more violence among Sunni and Shi’a in the region. Because, after all, that makes sense. Right? Wait. I can puzzle this one out. We go to war. We topple the government. Our soldiers get killed trying to clean up the last remains of the insurgency. We run into problems. So… we start in-fighting to cause more violence and kill more people! Wait. Hold on. Nope, that isn’t it either. But no matter! Because of course, he follows this up with pointing out that there would not be any fighting if the Americans would go away, because naturally the Sunni and the Shi’a would never fight amongst themselves. This statement, of course, was backed up by the Ayatollah.

Now, I am not a Muslim. However, I have read a bit of history and studied the culture a bit, given my apparent draw to the region that really has me considering just getting an apartment in Baghdad. They are probably going for pretty cheap around now. Anyway, in my various studies I noted that once upon a time the prophet Mohammed died. He was a man, a prophet, and not Allah, so off he went. He did not, however, appoint a successor. After some squabbles, one man came into power over another possible choice, who bided his time, and then after more squabbling and some suspicious deaths the second choice found himself in power. The factions, at this point, were made, and further drawn as one said that imams could speak to Allah and one said this was not the case. Instead of sitting down and figuring it out, or just going to mosques that they believe in, they did what most major religions do when they have a family problem: they fight each other, usually to the death. I haven’t a clue why religions seem to do this, killing each other over faith when faith is the one thing that can’t be proven anyway, but it seems to happen fairly frequently as far as history is concerned. However, all of this happened in the late 600’s. I would like to further point out, Mr. President and Holy Ayatollah, that the Great Western Satan of America did not show up on the western maps until at the earliest the late 1400’s. Now, I’m an engineer, not a historian, but I would daresay that is about 800 years of piddling about and killing each other which had nothing to do with the Americans. And don’t go blaming it on the Jews, either, my friends, as despite being a favorite scapegoat fallback they at this point had been kicked out of just about everywhere on earth for the umpteenth time and didn’t have time to go messing around in Islamic politics.

Now, why do I feel the need to teach especially an Ayatollah about the history of his own people? I would think that I wouldn’t have to, and in fact I don’t because it gives me something to read in the news almost every day. It puts a smile on my face to watch them as they steadily dig holes around their credibility.

So the moral appears to be that while I wait upon my car getting fixed, at least I can sip a home-delivered beer and giggle as the Iranian government gets excited from time to time and piddles a little bit each time on world politics. At least I am not the one who has to clean up the mess…

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