It Rolls Downhill

Filed under: — lana @ 2:57 pm

My first sergeant set a fine example today of the wonderful and oft-used expression “It rolls downhill.” He is a little more explicit about what, in particular, is doing the rolling, as well as just how it affects me.

There is an exercise approaching that he knows I would like to attend. It is a short, two week exercise held in different locations every year. I went two years ago when it was in Eastern Europe in a cold and rainy fall. This year it will be oceanfront. In June. Not a bad gig, I think. So I told him about it and told him if it comes down, I want to go. At that point, which was several months ago, he said if it came down HE wanted to go. We fought over it, we played rock paper rank, he won as usual, but nothing had come down anyway.

So recently I got a phone call. One of my Soldiers was being tasked. To what, I asked, and got the response “To go to the exercise.” I mentioned now wait a minute, how come he gets to go? He answered quite plainly that I couldn’t go because I was going to a different country, one to which I have been and of which I am remarkably less fond. I said that was hardly an excuse, as I don’t even like that country. He then explained the actual scenario:

The tasking for the exercise called for an enlisted person. My commander, who we know would have gone in a heartbeat, therefore could not go. Since he could not go, he told the first sergeant that if he, the commander, could not go then neither could the first sergeant. Since the first sergeant could not go and was therefore not happy, he decided to share the misery and tell me I could not go either, and therefore my Soldier would go instead. It rolled downhill.

I asked about the other tasking, which is work and not an exercise. He answered that he hates that country. The commander, however, told him that he must go on this particular tasking. Since he has to go, I have to go too. And since this logic, when coupled with the previous, made perfect sense, I said, “Oh. Okay. What are the dates again?” and went about my merry way until I realized that once again I think I was had.

What I don’t understand is why the good things don’t roll downhill as well. Why is it that when people are in lovely moods somewhere in the annals of the Army that those feelings of happiness and goodwill don’t come barrelling down the chain into my lap, and instead I end up in countries to which I never had any intention of returning instead of the warm beaches of a country to which I have not yet been? But no, the good just stays up wherever it might be, floating about on some sort of cloud which eventually comes over and piddles a misty, cold sleet on the peons mucking about in the deepening piles of that which has already rolled our way. And I am assured that it isn’t intentional, that that is just the general size and shape of the bad versus the good, and gravity therefore works its magic.

I informed my first sergeant today, somewhere amid this conversation, that I was putting in for a change of station. When he asked why and where to, I answered The Moon. He asked for clarification, so I calmly pointed out that if things continue to roll downhill, I really need to relocate to a place with lower gravity. It might not stop the eventual progression, but at least it might slow it enough that I can get out of the way.


Dear Germany

Filed under: — lana @ 3:31 am

Dear Germany,

We really need to talk. It’s about time we sat down and had a heart to heart, because some of this is starting to get really silly. My case, summed up in a point:

Snow showers predicted for next week.

I mean, honestly, you pulled this last week with two inches on the ground over the Easter holidays, when for some reason people run around in fields looking for rabbit eggs filled with chocolate and marshmellow chickens. I will not get into that at the moment, but will point out that it is much more difficult to run around in fields and look for rabbit eggs when they are buried in the snow and the chocolate in the egg has hardened to the point of chipping teeth. You had your fun, you laughed at the people with the chipped teeth and maybe even got a cut from the dentist bills, I don’t know and don’t want to assume. But do you really need to do it again, getting towards mid-April?

I will grant that predicting the weather in Europe is something like spinning the wheel of doom, and quite likely it will be 80 degrees and sunny next week because some air pocket over some channel or something shifted two degrees left. But I, and my frostbitten feet that have to out physically train Soldiers, would really appreciate it if you stopped with these mindless jokes, stop playing mind games with the weatherman and with all of us, and just try having a little decency. I won’t ask for much. Maybe in the mid-60’s or so, even the high 50’s would be passable. But really, stop the madness.





Filed under: — lana @ 2:21 pm

In all honesty, the statement “It will really look good on your NCOER” never really held much water for me, and each day less and less.

Brief pause: For those unaware, an NCOER is the Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report, a bullet-formated report given annually to NCOs and can in theory make or break careers. It is just like any evaluation in the civilian world only it has to be approved by everyone and the Brigade Commander’s Brother’s Cousin’s Stepson, involving much hemming and hawing up and down the chain and seldom reflects anything remotely close to anything anyone actually accomplished during the year. End pause.

Since the rather unexpected demise of my supervisor about five weeks ago, I have been tasked to fill at last count three official roles, two unofficial roles, and multiple roles that no one seems to know how it came to fall in my lap or why I am out there completing the tasks, usually in the snow.

Brief pause 2: The Germans seem to have missed the memo that informed everyone of the oncoming spring. Starting the day prior to spring and lasting until roughly yesterday it has snowed daily. My landlord’s daughter built a lovely snowman out on the lawn on Easter Sunday. I resisted the urge to kick it down in protest. Barely. End pause 2.

I realized today after my third straight day of being in my office for ten or more hours in a row that perhaps I am letting myself get a little overworked. Particularly since my pay has not increased one bit though most of the jobs I fill are above my pay grade, to include my regular babysitting duties for the various lower ranking Soldiers running amok in my office. These duties have resumed since I picked them up from the field last week. I now am the agent in charge, the non-commisioned officer in charge, the head babysitter for my Soldiers, casualty assistance for the bereaved widow, in charge of a German-American pistol range effort that can’t seem to go right, and a million other things. And I routinely point out that I should have flown out for some relaxation on Wednesday. Never mind that said relaxation was at what is supposed to be one of the more demanding courses for my job. I have no doubt that no matter what the course demands I would probably get more sleep that way.

Brief pause 3. Today I took it upon myself to contact the course and obtain the correct packet for admission. This is after repeated assurances from my training shop at Battalion that everything was in order for me to attend the May course. Upon receipt of the actual packet directly from the school, I was mildly amused that it required three items which I had never completed and did not request the two items the training shop had me send previously. I completed my part of the packet and sent it to my First Sergeant, who still assures me that I can reenlist for courses with confidence that they will get me there. I have trouble seeing how, given my experience with the barrel of monkeys populating the training shop these days, but regardless of that fact I still will sign if they get the paperwork to me by the end of April. The doctors are right: my sanity is long out the window. End pause 3.

So every day my work day starts at the gym by 0600 because I have noticed a significant slacking in the physical fitness of the Soldiers who are now back in my charge. An hour at the gym, shower, change, in the office usually by 0730. Complete what I can without significant distraction until the motley crew shows up at 0900. Work all day, send the Soldiers home roughly on time at 1700, stay there until at least 1800 or so and then grumble that the post office and commissary are now closed. Go home, putter about, go to bed wondering why I am so tired at 2100. Next day do it over again. I have gotten smart about it now, however, and have cereal and a bowl at work and keep milk in the work fridge, so at least I won’t starve. And my parents, thankfully, send Girl Scout cookies from time to time to sustain me.

My first sergeant called just yesterday to inform me that there will be a warrant officer en route mid-April or so, which came as something of a relief as it will allow me to hand off one or two of the job titles and tasks. I did inquire if he wanted to trade for that, as in I would swap two or three Soldiers for one warrant, but he turned it down. He maintains that he gives me privates because they provide an excellent training opportunity in leadership challenges. I maintain that he gives me privates because he enjoys watching other people suffer. I think both of us might be right. Regardless, I now have an additional implied task of preparing the office to hand over to a new agent in charge, as well as the personnel and equipment shuffle that inevitably accompanies such tasks.

In the meantime, however, I am due for a nap.


Is It Really That Hard

Filed under: — lana @ 12:49 pm

I would like to conduct a test. It will be a simple test with relatively few supplies. I need two rooms, some pencils, several copies of a generalized IQ test, a diaper, and maybe some water.

In the first room I would like to place some headquarters shop elements, particularly those in the training, schools, and logistics persuasion. They do not have to come from my own headquarters, as I am starting to become convinced that they all come from the same dark void. I would like to give them each an IQ test, a pencil, and perhaps a cup of water in case they got thirsty. I really am a nice person and like to look out for them.

In the second room I would like to procure, at least for a short period of time, a small monkey from the local zoo. It doesn’t have to be a chimp or an ape or a rhesus, any monkey will do. If it appears to have mild brain malfunctions, that is acceptable as well. I would ensure the diaper went on the monkey to assist in general clean-up later. I would give the monkey a pencil and the IQ test, and even a bit of water if it was thirsty. Because I am a nice person.

After a certain amount of time, I would like to collect the IQ tests and the pencils. I would tally the scores, add those of the training shop personnel, and would find out if my suspicions all along are correct.

I would have tested the hypothesis as to whether or not the collective IQ of a training shop is actually lower than that of the average, or possibly mildly brain damaged, monkey wearing a diaper.

My school dates have been screwed up. Again. The schools person was elsewhere doing another job, so the non-schools person looked at the email sent from my company with the information with a blank look for somewhere around three weeks until the schools person came back and jostled him, at which point he may have gone off to find something to eat while the schools person happily looked at the packet, tried to enter me in the school and found it didn’t work because there was another part of the packet he had to procure to give to me and pleasantly went about his day thinking that I would magically appear on the roster anyway. At least, this is what I can assume. It might have been much simpler than that. It might have been that my information went up and directly into the shredder. I really can’t tell.

My first sergeant, ever the optimist, has said I will go to the school in May instead and has promised that this time it will work. It’s really adorable that he is so convinced.

Though I can’t blame him, as I admit that I am like a dog constantly beaten by its master that continually, despite being hit over and over again, comes back begging for schools wagging the tail and excited about the possible treat.

The more I think about it and the more I realize that combined efforts only seem to lower the overall IQ and about my impending reenlistment, it occurs to me that I might need more diapers.


Who’s The Crazy One Again?

Filed under: — lana @ 12:30 pm

Now no offense to psychologists, psychiatrists, the whole lot, but I am beginning to believe that in order to find the crazy you must be a little crazy. It might be why I am so good at spotting a nutty Soldier, but it is a little creepy when dealing with doctors trying to assess your crazy and put it in terms of their crazy.

I had to go and see a psych the other day. Something about I’m not supposed to see things out of the corner of my eye and some people actually can sleep through the night. Piddly nonsense such as that. Things I have well gotten used to by now, actually, and was doing quite fine before all of this assessment nonsense came about.

I talked to him for an hour and a half.

I came to the conclusion that he is officially bonkers.

He said I have anxiety. No kidding. He mumbled something in Italian. I looked for the exit. He quoted Bob Dylan and told me he knew people. I wondered why I was there and how much longer this might take.

He said he wouldn’t classify me with PTSD, that something like that was too harsh and might adversely affect my future though I do have some of the symptoms but can squash them, so he punched “Anxiety Disorder” into my medical records and hustled me out the door.

I wandered back to my car feeling better than I think I have felt in two years. I think that was because I realized that I’m actually going to be fine, even if I am a little off, largely because it appears the whole world has gone crazy sometime recently and I’ve only just now begun to notice.


Officially Nutters

Filed under: — lana @ 3:37 pm

So for a list of reasons, I appear to have officially lost my mind.

First point: I have submitted for a two-year extenstion of overseas tour, which would also, coincidentally, add about a year and a half to my existing contract. This is in exchange for two schools that will about guarantee I will never leave the field I am in, as well as move me to a position where I will be surrounded by moronic privates every day and spend most of my time either with my head in my hands or yelling about something.

Second point: I find both of those consequences to the reenlistment rather appealing.

Third point: I continued in my quest to complete these health reassessments that my first sergeant informed me are two years overdue. Each appointment I have wandered to so far has lead to at least one more appointment. This last one, it turned out, led to somewhere along the lines of seven things to do. I forgot a few of them already, but I am sure someone will remind me at some point. They all have something to do with a legitimate bout of the crazy, as I have termed it.

It actually seems, along the lines of point three, that I knocked myself about the head one too many times over the course of my time in Iraq. Really, it only got significantly jarred twice, once in the accident that made my foot all wobbly and once a few weeks later when those crafty and wily insurgents put explosives in the road and our convoy found them the hard way. With my head still sore from the accident, where apparently I got whiplash or something, the concussion from the blast reseated my brain and bruised the melon. All the things I thought were unrelated to Iraq and were possibly just indicators of the Army making me dumber actually have something of a cause. Clever thing is I don’t even have anything to show for it, since my battalion commander was kind enough to deny my combat action badge based on a misconstrued tale he heard from an officer who doesn’t like me much. But pretty soon I will have pictures of my dented cranium, so at least I can frame those for the wall.

What is nice to know is that there is now something of an explanation for the vertigo, the vision problems, the balance problems, the occasional numbness in the arms, the lack of memory and diminished attention span, and a host of other things. It is also nice to know that according to the neurologist most of the issues are fixable.

She has yet to be able to trace the reenlistment considerations to any mis-wiring in the dome, however, so that part I will have to continue to officially deem as crazy.


Generally Human

Filed under: — lana @ 2:11 pm

A general officer turned up today on our installation. Though I say turned up, anyone with any affiliation to the military knows that these people never just “turn up.” Their schedules are tracked and planned days, weeks, months in advance and everyone has preparations completed for the preparations for the rehearsals for the practice briefings. Usually this is dependent upon the number of stars worn on the general’s uniform, but even a one-star tends to get people hopping about.

I was required to attend the main briefing, though pleaded ignorance of the upcoming visit just long enough to avoid having to prepare any slides or present anything. The acting Agent-In-Charge at Criminal Investigations finally ratted me out to the installation commander and promised my presence at the briefing, mostly out of bitterness that he had to be there and wanted me to keep him company. Since I am now the Agent-In-Charge at my office and I couldn’t dig up anyone else to go in my place, I wandered over to the briefing area bright and early, 45 minutes before the officer was scheduled to arrive.

During that 45 minutes, the aforementioned criminal agent and I sat around with one of the representatives from the legal office and wondered a few things. First, why we were there 45 minutes early. The general had flown into the area so we knew his schedule and that it was unlikely he would pop up early, and according to the Army ten minutes early was the usual request. I figured it was not only because of the large number of civilians, but that the typical “ten minutes early to the ten minutes early” may have occurred and hence everyone was there milling around schmoozing for an inordinate amount of time when I really should have been catching up in the office on the myriad of things that I have recently discovered have not been done since I left around the beginning of November.

But there were snacks provided, so I was actually rather content to mill.

We then began to marvel at the fear in the room, a fear so thick you could taste it, at least when you weren’t snacking on the chocolate muffins or cheese crackers. I mentioned off-hand that I have never felt that fear of generals, probably because when working in Baghdad I reguarly dined with them because of the lack of sufficient seating in the dining facility at the old Embassy. I have always seen them as people, and in fact wondered if they were ever lonely because the only response they ever get from anyone all day is “Yes, Sir,” and probably seldom hear a good joke. The criminal agent, being a warrant officer, agreed with me, but the lawyer, a commissioned officer, gave us a look as though we had just nominated the Iranian President for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The briefing, as it turned out, lasted a good three to four hours as opposed to the scheduled hour and a half. I got bored and cut out early, having cleverly planned ahead and scheduled a meeting in the late morning. I took two pieces of fruit, a bottle of water, a pack of snack crackers, and a muffin for my trouble, so really I made out rather well. The agent and the lawyer, between them, only snagged a bottle of water, a pack of crackers, and three mugs of coffee, and had to sit there for the entire time giving some sort of impression they were paying attention because the notetaker for the general was sitting within the line of sight. I took part of my afternoon to pour some salt on that wound in retribution for my forced attendance.

Overall, however, the general seemed to be quite a pleasant person. He poked entertaining holes in the briefers’ presentations, didn’t make anyone stand up for him, stayed awake even during the department of public works slides, and overall acted like a human being.

A human being with the power to destroy whole brigades with the sweep of a pen, but still a human being.


You Would Think It Would Be Easy

Filed under: — lana @ 1:54 pm

Between organizing and conducting a memorial service, taking on duties well above my pay grade, training Soldiers for the field, pinning Sergeant onto one of my former Soldiers, and spending my Saturday in the field, my week was full of fun and excitement.

So much fun and excitement, it seems, that when my First Sergeant called on Thursday morning and offered me a deal for a two-year reenlistment, I didn’t tell him where to shove it. I blame it on the fact that on Tuesday I have to go have my head examined anyway, so I may as well give them justification. He offered me some classes, that elusive and wily formal training concept, a platoon sergeant position which would allow me to take out my frustrations on a larger number of Soldiers, and only 16 extra months on my existing contract.

On Friday, I agreed.

On Saturday, the Army realized it had been a little too simple and threw everyone for a loop. I had been anticipating such a move. My command, it seems, had not.

My First Sergeant received a phone call late Friday saying that gee, they would sure love it if I would reenlist, but could he convince me to reenlist for three years and not two? He did me the favor of telling them where they could go and how they could get there. Something about a handbasket or some such. I didn’t quite catch all of it. He then informed them that if they offered me three years or nothing, it would be nothing, so they really ought work something out regarding this two year bit. He told me about the mishap on Saturday as we wandered around in the cold and the rain in hurricane force winds and after I got b*tch-slapped by a falling tree branch while trying to move a government vehicle from the path of an unsteady pine tree he yelled something over the howling gusts about how great it would be when I could move out there and enjoy all of this full time. Luckily, the wind picked up enough that I don’t think he caught my response or I might have been demoted back to sergeant.

Upon checking the regulations, it appears that the Army is, oddly, right. Because I am overseas and essentially reenlisting for stabilization at my current unit, the regs say I must reenlist for three years. In order to do a two year, I have to reenlist for needs of the Army, always a dangerous option unless you really like places like Fort Hood, Texas, or Fort Polk, Louisiana, or something like that. Dank no-man’s lands where good NCO’s go to become cranky and bitter. Since I already fit that description, I would rather not go there.

So now my battalion has had to don their thinking caps, possibly for the first time in awhile since I am pretty sure some of those caps must have a thick layer of dust atop them by now. They are working a few different angles, making their phone calls, and trying to see what they can come up with. How times have changed from the days when my unit couldn’t wait to watch the door hit me on the way out, now they are struggling to get me to stick around. Given that in the coming week I have to go to the field to support range operations twice, conduct multiple meetings, entertain a general, develop a plan for a functioning office, assist a grieving widow, and maybe throw in a briefing or two for good measure, it is a good thing my head is getting examined once this week and once the week after. I have a feeling I will need it, particularly if I sign any paperwork to continue this nonsense.

Just as you would think deploying a Soldier who actually wants to go to Iraq would be easy, you would think that keeping a Soldier in the Army who wants to stay in for a little longer would be easy as well.

But see, that’s where you would be wrong. It all started with that word “Think.” Don’t do that. You are only asking for trouble ’round these here parts.

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