Another One Gone

Filed under: , — lana @ 7:43 am

I think I must have a cloud over my head this winter.

My boss and mentor died this week, making it something like the fifth or sixth death in recent weeks. The psychologists are going to have a field day in two weeks when I mention to them that I barely feel anything anymore. They have yet to realize that I won’t take their medications anyway. Ah, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes it’s an underestimated convenience, as it allows me to get work done despite the situation.

My boss was a fantastic man. Kind words, good heart, concern for everyone before himself, always did the proper thing. But what got me was the vast amount of knowledge in his head. He spoke something around five languages that I knew about, had a doctorate in psychology, held more than three duty titles in the Army which he was in for almost 45 years, designed many of the programs for my field, worked with some of the great names and on some of the great cases for Army intelligence, and was a legend in the flesh. He was an honor to work for and to work with, despite our occasional heated arguments over the fate of our job field and whether or not a scuff in the carpeting was as important as he seemed to believe.

The funeral was yesterday, and I was asked to present the flag to his wife, whom I have been helping along through the bereavement process. Apparently before his death my boss mentioned to his wife that should something happen to him that I would help her take care of everything with the American side, seeing as she is German. This is not as much of a task as it is an honor, just as handing her the folded flag in honor of her husband’s service will remain in my memory as something I am proud to have done.

Steve, my friend, you will be missed. There aren’t words for it, really, and only pleasant memories. My only regret is that I never got all that knowledge out of your head before you left, and now the rest of us are left to figure it out on our own.

A cherry pastry and beer in your honor.



Filed under: , — lana @ 2:27 pm

So it appears that I owe my dear husband a hearty “Thank You.”

Last weekend I went through my monthly conundrum of whether or not I should reenlist to get something or another from the Army. After some mild debate, I settled once again on a negative answer, mostly because of some wise words from my Army spousal counterpart. He pointed out that I have become one of those people I always made fun of: those that are scared to get out.

I got over my fear on Tuesday morning, bright and early off a four-day weekend. I wandered in and asked how the physical fitness assessment went that morning. I learned that one of the Soldiers failed. Again. And only lost about 20 seconds on her run, making her slightly slower than dirt. I then conducted a dress uniform inspection which had been on the schedule for, oh, let’s give it about six weeks. Two of them, to include the one who failed that morning, show up with blank uniforms. Not a single ribbon to be found upon them. The one who had failed that morning also had not brought all of the pieces with her, so when I instructed them to put their uniforms together in as polite of a fashion as I could muster through my gritted teeth and clenching my hands so as not to put them around the Privates’ little throats, she said “Whatever, I’ll go get ‘em during lunch or something.”

This is right around where I just about lost it for the first time that morning. I don’t know what they are doing at Basic Training or Advanced Training these days, but there is no way I would have ever done such things when I was still new to the Army. I went into my bemused boss’s office to cool off, then went back and wrote up some counseling statements for them. I handed the statements to their supervisor and took the third private to go get a missing item or two for his uniform. When I returned, the supervisor had sent them to lunch and told me how the counselings went.

One was upset because she said she didn’t know she was supposed to have her uniform put together for an inspection and that I would help her. I wondered whether she expected, if told there would be a weapons inspection, if I was supposed to clean her weapon for her as well, or if during a barracks inspection I would be rolling in with a broom and some trash bags. I spent that afternoon explaining just what an “Implied Task” is, such as if someone is going to look at your uniform, it is implied that you at least made some sort of effort to put it together.

The other was angry and wanted to talk to the First Sergeant. The supervisor couldn’t get her to tell him why, which amused me because what did she think, that the First Sergeant would just say, “Gee, Private So-And-So has an issue but no one knows what it is. Sure, I’ll talk to her! Send her in!” Chain of Command comes to mind, but whatever. I must be in a different Army. So I pulled her out and asked her what her deal was. She said, after about ten minutes of trying to dodge it and finally giving in to my prodding when I pointed out that there was no way the First Sergeant would acknowledge the request without her telling us what it was about, she said that it was her opinion that I had given the First Sergeant the wrong impression of her.

I did try not to laugh. I really did try.

This was the same Soldier who, in one morning, failed a physical fitness test, came to an inspection with nothing on her uniform, and then gave me an attitude about it all. She has also failed to meet body fat standards in recent weeks. She said that at a course she attended she did really well, so clearly she was actually an exceptional Soldier that I had misjudged. She then made the mistake of telling me she didn’t have enough to do and that was why she seemed so unmotivated in the office. She drastically underestimated my ability to find things for Soldiers to do.

I passed the message to the First Sergeant, who had some entertainment from the whole thing. He ended up meeting with her and I don’t believe she got quite the response she was looking for. He also responded to my question of whether or not I could choke Soldiers if I promised not to kill them with the comment that I appeared to be desiring combatives training for my office and he would see if he could accomodate my request.

Luckily for her, I was called back to my other office on the other side of Nuremberg that afternoon following the death of my boss and co-worker, which capped off an already wonderful day.

So I finished it out with a lovely thank you message to my husband for convincing me just the day prior that I shouldn’t reenlist. Now I think certain Soldiers’ safety might depend on it, so perhaps I should get them to send him notes as well.


Humdrum Life

Filed under: , — lana @ 8:11 am

Another week gone. A short week, no less, because USAREUR decided to give us a four-day for the President’s Day weekend. Nonetheless it still felt like the longest week of my life. Again.

Though I do recall Dunbar from Catch-22, who repeatedly stated that time passes more slowly when miserable, so he consistently remained miserable in an attempt to live forever.

I might well live to a ripe old age at this rate.

The week started out well, at least were I on Dunbar’s plan. I received notice that I did not get accepted to a job for which I had interviewed a month back. I didn’t much want the job to begin with, but was moderately annoyed because the employer had made several mentions to this element referred to as “formal training.”

Some of you might be in the military as well, and therefore as confounded as I was with this term. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that you received initial training for and completed a job in a combat zone to much acclaim. It doesn’t matter that in essence you qualify for this position because of the training you received and the extensive experience that was all a part of your job description and assigned duties, not just on-the-job training but what you are in the Army to do.

No, it matters only if you have this new “formal training.” It’s the same training you already have for the most part, but puts a qualifier or two at the end of your job description and gives you a pretty certificate to shove into a file someplace and pull out only when Personnel is trying to update your records and has once again discovered that they have lost everything that you have ever given them. Did the whole thing in combat? Who cares. Trained and trained others in advanced methods and techniques in both combat and strategic units? Meh. Where’s that certificate at?

Well, my friends and potential employers, we have this little problem called “consecutive deployments.” It turns out when you spend more of your time deployed than at your home station, your home station finds it difficult to send you off for weeks at a time for “formal training.” They prefer you to learn what you need to know while on hand for tasks like lawn mowing and post police calll. Then you move to another unit, but that unit is broke because some high ranking officer decided to take more personnel than necessary to combat with him and as such blew all of the unit funds on training those personnel who mostly sat around and played cards for a year because there was no need for them downrange. So that certificate? Make that out to someone else.

But I didn’t care much, because the job itself was less than appealing as it were, so I moved on. Next step was to help my Soldier. This was a task easier said than done, apparently.

Every Soldier who has poor eyesight is supposed to travel to any duty station or assignment with at least two pairs of glasses. When you depart a station, you are asked if you posess both pairs. Your answer is “Yes,” and you move on. Apparently, my Soldier said “Yes” when really she meant “What? Two? Army glasses? Huh?” because I now have a blind Soldier who fell asleep in her glasses, rolled over, they fell off, she rolled again, and the glasses snapped in half. They were civilian glasses, hence the shoddy workmanship, and she left the ugly but still useable glasses the Army had given her at home somewhere because they just weren’t classy enough to think of packing. So now she periodically bumps into walls and all of her reports are typed in 72 point font while I try to get her an expidited pair.

Easier said than done, again. I send her to the optometrist to order another pair. She has to wait until the optometrist shows up. Which is only about three days a week, not counting coffee breaks, it seems. She finds him and he tells her to talk to his NCO, who appears to reside about an hour away. She finds him and orders the glasses. She is told they take about a week or two because they can’t get them here, they have to process it through another base and they will mail them, but they only deliver on Tuesdays. Tuesday comes and goes, they say maybe next week. The next week the glasses are still not there, she remains blind, and they tell her to check her post mailbox. She finds that the glasses are sitting in the mailroom, but they are addressed to someone with a misspelling of her last name so the post office refuses delivery. She begs the post office. I call and beg the post office. I call the clinic and the optometry NCO (just in from coffee break) calls and begs the post office. But to no avail. The post office insists that the person to whom the glasses are addressed must come and get them, and if not they will return them to the mysterious base an hour or so away. Since there is no one in the army by the name to which the glasses were addressed, I can only assume they will send them back to the base. I called the NCO there and made arrangements to just go and pick them up next week with the Soldier in tow, because I am about to take this Soldier to a live fire range and would really rather not get shot because my Soldier thought I was a pop-up target because she can’t see more than five feet with any sort of clarity. I already have a list of Soldiers to be wary of for other reasons; a blind one is the last thing I need.

And on and on the week went. Each day only seeming longer than the last. Dunbar must have been onto something.

On that vein, I have again been considering reenlistment. While I say it is to get some of this “formal training” I have been hearing so much about, I really think it is just part of my unconscious effort to live forever.


No, Yes, Well… Let’s Go With Maybe

Filed under: , — lana @ 1:19 pm

I spent this week out in the field alternately dressed up like a detainee and dressed like a Staff Sergeant who repeatedly bangs her head on the wall in frustration.

Unfortunately, when I went home, I left the detainee suit and all I had left was some rank and a good wall upon which my head could make contact. Minor bruising has ensued since.

The field was the field. Because of my frostbite and the fact that I was doing the platoon a favor with my presence because it was not my platoon or my exercise they allowed me to stay in a spare barracks room instead of out in the bays they had set up for the platoon Soldiers and other role players. This turned out significantly in my favor, since the very first day someone noticed that the heaters in the buildings out at the field site weren’t turned on. They made a call to the Department of Public Works, who patiently informed the caller that their meters showed those buildings at a cozy 80 degrees, so to please leave them alone. On Thursday, someone at the Department of Public Works also noticed that their meters outside the buildings were reading 80 degrees, and upon resetting them realized both the internal and external meters had been doubling the temperature. They turned on the heaters, but turned them back off at night to save energy. I am sure the Soldiers were most appreciative of the environmental gesture. You just couldn’t tell because they were all too deeply hunkered down in their sleeping bags.

Regardless of shivering in a detainee suit, I spent my week trying to remind the platoon just what it was they had learned for five months or so out in their initial entry training, since most had not been through an organized exercise since. It was an interesting process, mostly ending with me swearing I would never in my life agree to work out at the initial entry training “schoolhouse” and only having me threaten the well-being of a few, usually because the Chief Warrant Officer out there kept sending them away from me before I could build up steam.

In the midst of all of this, my First Sergeant approached me and offered me a deployment. For a year. Starting in May. When I get out in November, with leave starting in September.

As we all know, I didn’t say no, at least not right away.

I thought about it, I tracked down my husband and had him think about it, I posed the question to the few present whom I could trust to give educated advice, I thought about it some more.

Then I called down to the unit to which I would be assigned and discovered that they might be the only unit downrange that actually gets out of work at 1700. I know this because I called them at 1703 their time and no one was there to answer my questions. My planning shop wanted an answer, but luckily they seem to leave work at about 1530 every day, so I held them off for another day. When I finally found the people I was looking for downrange the following morning, the one person who could answer my questions was at breakfast. My First Sergeant observed that of all the units to work for, this one seemed to be pick of the litter.

Finally, after hemming and hawing, I opted not to take the deployment. As much as I wanted it, as much as I felt the pull to head back to the place I feel I should be, I grudgingly acknowledged that it was a little stupid to extend my contract again for yet another deployment. Especially when I could get a higher paying job on the outside that would still send me to play in the sand.

Thinking this was well and done, I went about the rest of the exercise trying not to use my turban as a means of executing the supply guy who I continually caught napping.

Then today, on a weekend no less, I received an email from the unit downrange telling me I was on their gains roster, who I would replace, and a lovely welcome packet. This for the assignment I thought I had turned down a few days ago, and from a unit I figured would spend their Saturdays at the pool.

So another mess for the First Sergeant to straighten out. At this point, I don’t really care if I go or I don’t go; I can make things happen either way. My unit seems to love games like this, so I shall let them play. Whenever they make up their minds, they can go ahead and just let me know and I will pack my things. And then unpack them. And then repack them.

My main concern is that I have yet to figure out how I am going to fit the wall I have spent the past few days denting into my luggage.


More Good News

Filed under: , — lana @ 3:24 am

Well it seems no one got the message to the Taliban. A shame, really, because you would think they would talk to their friends more often and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I found out late last week that another friend of mine, in the same task force as my friend killed earlier this month in Afghanistan, is now missing a limb or two. He survived, and is now back at Walter Reed getting whatever care it is they offer now that they have been through the government microscope.

It appears that no one is passing messages along from place to place, because the Taliban is going the opposite way of the Iraq insurgency. They seem to be moving from frontal assaults to the cowardly improvised explosive devices, thinking that the more of them they put in the road, the more scared we will be to come and find them. No one seems to have pointed out that this is backwards, as demonstrated by the mobilization of the Marines and the increasing interest in Trashcanistan. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the locals are rising up against the insurgency and as such there are whispers of bringing some of the troops back because of increased security. I say whispers because I trust most of those politicians about as much as I trust my cats to make foreign policy decisions. There are days when I think my cats might actually be a bit better informed.

It seems like a no-brainer: stop trying to kill people, no one will come to your country, set up shop, and bother you. Kill people, and more foreigners show up trying to get you to quit messing around. I could make them a very nice PowerPoint presentation with graphs and charts and all if I thought it would help, but I would keep getting blown up just trying to get to the presentation site, so what’s the use.

My quest to get down there to talk some sense into these people continues unabated. They aren’t the only ones that are thick-headed, apparently, since I appear convinced that someone can get through to them.

I’ll be working on that presentation, just in case.

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