Filed under: — lana @ 12:11 pm

Off topic. If there were a topic to begin with.

Why is it that on frozen food packages there is a picture of something that is completely unattainable given the contents of the package? It always looks much better, nice and fluffy and professional looking. You know. Like… food.

But when it comes out of the microwave, it is usually some sort of unrecognizable mash and the only further instructions on the packaging are to “stir” or “mix well and enjoy.” There is no stirring on Earth that will make my superheated slop look even remotely like “asian chicken in peanut sauce,” and it will take a bit more than a mix to enjoy.

I suppose it all boils down to the fact that I hate cooking for one person and have gotten lazy about it so I buy whatever is frozen, easy, and “moderately healthy” packaged for one.

And for some reason, that depresses me even more than looking at whatever it is I just pulled out of the microwave.


Cold Fronts and Fallen Trees

Filed under: — lana @ 12:37 pm

So every now and then someone high up in the chain of command looks around at someone else high up in the chain of command and remembers that from time to time we are all supposed to be soldiers and wander about in the woods doing soldierly things. Then, after much hemming and hawing and yes-sir-ing, someone is bound to come up with a plan to send us all out into the field for a few days to remember just how itchy our sleeping bags are. Such was the case this week when out we went for fun in the sun.

Only it wasn’t so sunny. It was raining. And cold. A rather rare early summer cold front decided that it would be a lovely time to squat over our training area, commencing the first evening and only starting to brighten up as we packed to depart.

Now of course, this is no tactical field unit wandering around in the woods. That was a point I should have remembered, having heard the stories of how last year one of the non-commissioned officers packed his entire entertainment system, complete with playstation, for the annual event. Having come from a place such as Fort Bragg, I brushed aside such stories and gathered my military gear. I should have paid attention, as my first sergeant sent out an email telling us to pack our sleeping mats because there were no mattresses. Mattresses? Yes, mattresses. Our field time began with moving our things into large open bay barracks. Not quite the Hilton, but certainly more comfortable than bedding down with the German wildlife.

But it was not all fun, games, and bedsprings. Due to a logistical error the other company did not exactly “plan” their portion of the exercise and hell had already broken loose by the time my company arrived. The chemical chamber being the first event on the schedule, we soon discovered the other company had failed to secure any gas tablets. Moving along to medical evacuation, no one had confirmed the event with the local helicopter unit. And so it began.

My first sergeant got things back on track by having several of the non-commissioned officers, including myself, begin teaching the classes we had been assigned. He then worked with the other company’s commander to plan how to get most of the classroom material in during the first day instead of spread over two and a half days. While this meant we would get to go home a day early, it also meant that my hour block of instruction expanded to over seven hours as they broke down into teams and cycled through the different classes. It also meant that the following day they could do the testing lanes, for which I had now become a grader for the duration of the exercise. Luckily myself and the other high-speed NCOs grading at my station found an open door to the laundromat near our testing site and sat inside out of the rain while waiting for teams to move through, unlike the poor NCO at the theater who had to stand outside waiting for teams in the rain on the windy side of the building. One team found him hunkered down under the steps to the theater in one iteration and had the additional task of coaxing him out. I was also lucky enough to be with one of the loudest NCOs who had, coincidentally, lost his voice while teaching reaction to indirect fire drills the day prior, most of which involved a lot of whistling and yelling “BOOM” at the top of his lungs at a group of running soldiers. We worked out a system that he would tug on our sleeves and we would yell “BOOM” for him.

The weather didn’t clear much the following day when we wandered out to the land navigation course. I found myself working again with the loudmouth NCO who was now regaining his voice and happily back to tormenting others (myself included, of course) and asked my first sergeant to put my soldier on my team because I knew he was weak in land navigation and wanted him to be my map reader, figuring that way we could spot any errors and fix them before we got obscenely lost. My first sergeant, always up for a laugh, not only gave me my soldier, but gave us one of the company “problem” soldiers as well and then made myself and the loud NCO privates for the duration of the exercise, making my soldier the team leader. The loud NCO, who is former infantry, asked me to jab his eye out ten minutes into the exercise as we patiently explained a third time how to correctly plot points on a map to my poor and exceedingly nervous soldier.

Points (roughly) plotted and the compass in the hands of the problem soldier, we made a third junior soldier the pace counter and followed our motley crew into the woods. A kilometer and a half later, we were scouring a patch of woods looking for a cutout figure with a point marking on it. A half hour later, we were still circling the same patch wondering if it hadn’t been removed the last time the German Panzers rolled through the area. Finally another team wandered up and informed us that while we were looking for the cutouts, as described at the beginning of the exercise, the points were ACTUALLY marked by a piece of white engineering tape (cloth) tied around a tree with a tiny slip of paper stapled to it with the coordinate information. We must have walked by a tree with a piece of engineering tape on it six times in our wanderings. My friendly co-NCO could probably be heard all the way back at the start point. In the misplanning adventures of the event no one had actually gone out looking for the points to confirm what they looked like prior to our commencing the course, so apparently no one knew until one of the soldiers got curious about the engineering tape and then spread the word to the other teams.

Now that we knew what we were looking for, we progressed much smoother, except that we insisted on training the soldiers the right way to track points instead of what some of the other teams were doing which was “take the road.” About an hour and a half in I was kicking myself for that as we negotiated the fifth stream, fell over fallen trees, and slipped on wet bark into puddles of muddy terrain. The grass was up to my knees and my weapon, an M16 from Vietnam, caught on the overgrowth that masked the holes, roots, and fallen branches. About the sixth time I fell I realized that I probably wouldn’t walk the following day (I was right) and when we finally found our points and returned to the start point I informed my first sergeant that not only could the garrison take that course and shove it (I didn’t even have to finish the statement, nor apparently was I the first one to mention it) but I was going to head back over to the pace count area and find out what my crawling pace count was because for the amount of time I spent sprawled out on the ground during the course I might as well just move along that way.

But there was some relief as the first sergeant called together the NCOs and informed us that we could go ahead and go home immediately instead of waiting until the following day. Now, I actually don’t mind and even sometimes like going into the field and soldiering about, but the news did bring a sense of joy to all those gathered there, including myself. I learned a lot in the past few days, mostly things about what I still have to teach my soldier before I part ways and leave him at the mercy of the Army, and now I just have to work it into the training schedule. I do wish it was more than an annual event, as I tend to find that soldiers get a lot more out of going to the field than sitting through a class in a comfortable office, but the lack of planning for the event was starting to eat away at my psyche which is always a dangerous predecessor to my opening my mouth and getting into trouble.

And my sleeping bag was getting a little itchy anyway.


Replacing the Cause

Filed under: — lana @ 6:44 am

Last Wednesday I finally allieviated a year-long headache not associated with my inability to breathe out of one side of my nose: I went north and signed my medical board packet, officially ending the process. The board results came back to retain me as “fit for duty within the limits of the profile,” which is a mild annoyance to my command as the profile dissuades them from doing things like sending me into the field for long periods of time in chilly weather. Since a good portion of Germany weather counts as chilly, they are now increasingly pressed to find somewhere to stash me for the winter. But at least my part of the headache is over.

So I find that I need a new cause to mull over, and am having trouble finding one with staying power. Note that is not to say I am having trouble finding one at all, since every day a new opportunity seems to arise.

Lately it has been the fact that the garrison to which I am assigned has a running track. “Wonderful,” you might say, and that it is an excellent opportunity for our soldiers to get some gauged interval training. However I found out last week that the only access gate to the track is locked, and upon further inquiry discovered that the track is there for the use of the high school football and track teams only, and the soldiers (some of whom are the parents of the players) are not to use the track. This, compounded with my discovery that there exist no outdoor circuits to include pull-up bars outside of the one in the (small) gym, sent me on a mini-crusade against those I perceived to be fattening up our soldiers. But it was only enough to sustain me for about a week, as there are only so many complaints you can stuff into online suggestion boxes.

With an estimated personal military exit strategy culminating in March, one would assume that I could focus freely on the job search. That would be wonderful if I could eliminate the “estimated” in front of that strategy. Much like our politicians, I can’t seem to decide on the best course of action, waiting on feedback from sergeants major, branch managers, retention NCOs, and various external sources to determine if I feel like staying in for some training, extending for a promotion and a deployment, or just jumping ship and swimming for the sweet shores of Civilianistan. This is both allieviated and somewhat complicated by my husband’s recent departure for all points dusty.

So until I have a new cause I fill the time with other matters, such as developing training schedules, physical fitness schedules, composing after action reviews, and going on a half an hour long quest in our commissary for a container of hummus only to discover that the commissary managers have never even heard of such a condiment. With a week long field training exercise on the horizon two days before a few days of training at headquarters one day before I head to Russia for leave, I find myself occupied enough that I don’t miss the sense of impending doom that came with the perpetual medical board proceedings.

For now.


Just My Luck

Filed under: — lana @ 12:43 pm

Wouldn’t you know it.

Today being my first day back to work in two weeks, I was all set for the adventure of a lifetime playing the fun catch-up games that occur every time I leave. Despite my “Out of Office” messages detailing who one should contact (whom? I never learned that rule properly) in case of this or that I still ended up with all of the frantic messages on my email repeatedly begging me for the answers to their questions. Really pressing questions. Like when I last qualified on a weapon. Questions that can be answered on most of the trackers I spend a better part of my day filling out, really.

So while filtering out the nonsense I received a call from my first sergeant welcoming me back and seeing how I was feeling. Incidentally, he asked me that before informing me that there is now a holdup on paperwork that is about a year and a half old because someone high up in my new command happens to be buddies with someone high up in my old command, and it is doubtful that this particular someone in my old command shed any tears when I left that unit. So instead of processing the paperwork as one would assume reasonable, they brought my old friend politics in to play, making getting just about anything done including the processing of ancient paperwork pretty near impossible. About the only thing that might happen rapidly at this point is the souring of my reputation in my new unit, because as just about anyone can tell you, the Army is a much smaller world than one might think… so if you are going to make someone angry at you, make sure they are going to retire soon… as opposed to my case, where instead of retiring him they promoted him.

And of course this news comes down mere moments before I get a phone call from the medical folks informing me that my packet, which I had not expected to receive back until sometime in mid-July, has arrived and could I please come up and sign it. For those who have been following the story closely, I recently - and foolishly, it appears - selected “retain the soldier” on the packet, effectively cutting off the hope that I could escape this recent outburst of politicking.

To get my mind back on track I promptly took myself into one of the back rooms to give myself the sound beating I deserved.

An eventful first day back to work, to be sure. Not to mention further proof that the Army appears to have been soley created for the purpose of making me slightly miserable and completely confused…


Who Put the Fun in Run?

Filed under: — lana @ 6:19 am

So I was convinced the other day to participate in a 5 kilometer so-called “Fun Run” this morning.

The Army likes these, organizing them for the occasional event such as a unit deployment send-off or a spouse fitness day or something, and I have always had a problem with the title. Who in their right mind considers getting up to go running at 0930 on a Saturday morning on a hot and humid day around what I estimate to be one of the least scenic spots in the area “fun”?

It was probably made less fun by the fact that I am not supposed to be running anyway and haven’t without a purpose (i.e. someone chasing me or something tasty and preferably containing either rum, ice cream, or both at the finish) since sometime in late 2005.

It was probably made even less fun by the fact that I opted to go out with some friends to a German festival last night and was out until 0400, a fact that I started noticing in my lower gut sometime around the second hill.

I really wish they would get the idea to have a “Fun Mosey” or even pick up the pace to a “Fun Saunter,” because I felt remarkably misled by the title of this little jaunt which consisted of way more “Run” than “Fun.” And this coming from someone who enjoys high altitude hiking and sitting on the side of a mountain for several days at a time.

I did finish, despite my ankle somehow morphing into a cantaloupe while still inside the brace, and still beat not only the ten year olds and the people pushing strollers but even a few others. I do find that I miss running a bit, though that feeling wears off after about the first mile or so, and will probably try to get somewhat back in the habit once the swelling goes down.

But I sincerely doubt I will ever agree with the name given to these Saturday morning excursions. Particularly during festival season.


Don’t Spend It All In One Place

Filed under: — lana @ 4:32 am

The US Senate decided to allow a whole 3.5 percent pay raise come next year.

That will increase my paycheck by about eighty dollars, give or take.

Mind you, that is taxable income, so I will only see about sixty dollars of that, also give or take.

With the cost of the euro to the dollar, since I live in Europe, we can assume it essentially amounts to…


Ah, Army living overseas…

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