Spring Cleaning

Filed under: — lana @ 11:10 am

This weekend, in my ongoing efforts to make the German Weather Gods listen to me, I decided to complete Spring Cleaning. Seeing as I had yet to unpack from the field, and hadn’t cleaned terribly much before I left anyway, there was a good amount to do. Today, as it turned out, my plan worked and it has been mostly sunny and getting close to 60 degrees. It appears I have found the chink in the German Weather Armor: standing on my balcony in pyjamas sweeping cat hair from my rugs. My neighbors were most entertained. Hopefully they will leave their thanks in the form of baked goods on my doorstep.

Unfortunately, it all came about three weeks too late. There is a saying around these parts: no matter what the weather anywhere else, if someone is outside in the field at Grafenwohr it will rain there. I would like to amend that statement to include things like snow, hail, sleet, mixed cold precipitation, and so forth.

Let us take, for example, the day that I had to run the grenade launcher range. The M203 is a simple weapon. I haven’t fired one in a few years, but coincidentally nothing on it has changed: just don’t shoot the ground in front of you and you should be fine. It is very hard to shoot the ground in front of you. That, naturally, did not stop not one, not two, not three, but four people from hitting the ground remarkably close to them because they showed up to my range from other companies with absolutely no idea which part was dangerous. This was demonstrated in particular by one person, I think from our sister company which will remain nameless, who shot the sandbags he was leaning against. Twice. These were paint rounds for training, so no injuries were incurred, though he was a little more orange when he left my range than when he arrived.

But I digress. I got to the range and the weather was bleak. No surprise, since this was about day five in the field so far and each day we had been outside and each day it had done something nasty. It began to drizzle as I planned the range out with the warrant officer who was supposed to be in charge of the range who clearly wanted to be anywhere other than where he was at the moment. As soon as he went inside the small, unheated shack while I stayed outside to set a few things up it began to snow. Not little flurries, but outright snow in nearly the middle of March. I began to get cranky. Then my First Sergeant called. He called for no other reason than to giggle at me, asking how I was enjoying the weather. I have learned, somewhat, from mistakes made over the years to control my temper, but did offer to give him a grand tour of the range once he made it out there, but he should bring warm boots. He mentioned he might well get snowed in where he was, so I should just have fun. I hung up around then using the excuse of getting the Soldiers helping me run the range set up. He was kind enough to show up later, bring me soup, and order me indoors for twenty minutes around lunchtime so I could move my fingers again. I had been about to ask him to help hold up targets.

The snow did turn to rain later in the day, giving way to cold sunshine as we packed up to leave the range. That was how every day went. It rained if I was outside, perfectly fine if a bit cold the moment I stepped indoors. Because it was perpetually miserable, I did not get sick from the malicious weather patterns, only losing my voice a bit because three days in a row we had no voice projection system other than my loud mouth on two ranges. Much to my command’s dismay, I did not lose it enough to keep snide comments from escaping periodically. I tended to direct them in the general direction of the Soldiers, however, most of whom were kind enough to demonstrate the behavior that reminds me of all the reasons to get out of the Army.

The Soldiers had nothing to do with the weather. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. That is the same in every unit, just like every job. Some of these, however, were more like spoiled children. Somewhere along the line they turned into bratty pre-teens or some such, many of whom appeared to be in the middle of a growth spurt because they could not stop eating. One actually had the gumption to wander up to myself and the other staff sergeant as we stood on the machine gun range waiting for clearance to begin firing. She wanted to know if she had enough time to run to the “car” (We moved around in HMMWVs. She could have at least said “truck”) so she could get some food because she was “freaking starving.” It was approximately 1000. She had been on the range for about an hour. Furthermore, while asking us this question she was in the process of stuffing her face with gummy worms. She actually still had food in her mouth while telling us about her conundrum of how to in fact procure MORE sustenance to feed her. My comrade, who was in fact the Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of that particular range, recovered himself quickly enough to tell her that in fact she did not have enough time so to go back to her weapon (which she did, pulling out her cell phone to send a quick text message as she did so, undoubtedly about how mean we were. Her cell phone made it two more days before I had it taken away from her). I, however, could not control myself for a good while and could not even imagine what my response to her would have been had I been able to speak. Between the ones like her, me having to put out standing orders as if they were brand new every day, listening (during the few times I couldn’t avoid it) to the Joes whine about everything under the non-existent sun, and assorted other “Joe” problems, I reminded my First Sergeant on a fairly regular basis that the unit has until Easter to get me into my May course because I was already kicking myself for having postponed the medical treatment that could spell freedom. I also regularly asked him about homicide prevention classes, but was told they were unavailable.

The field itself was the field. Ranges, a few well run and a few not-so-well run, exercises, training time, and spending a good amount of time reminding Soldiers that this unit gives it to them easy and requesting that they send me postcards when they get to the real Army to let me know how they are faring. I asked them this particularly since most of the complaints consisted of “But we might be late for chow!” and “What about breakfast?” and “But I am running out of clean uniforms and First Sergeant is too mean to let us do laundry!” The last one coming on day 5… with a packing list of 4 uniforms… I, I point out, used only 2 the whole time and that is because the first one finally got disgusting on the 20 kilometer ruck march I shouldn’t have been doing in the first place and got in trouble for convincing my First Sergeant to let me do.

So between it all, my shoulders suffered pretty badly, my ankle popped out only once, and I ran out of medication by accident so I was a little grumpy and spent more time drinking water and going to the bathroom towards the end, really it was nothing terribly new. The kids are all home safe still whining about their blisters, they all complained even though we got them the bays with beds this year and they had running water and two hot meals a day for free, and the cat is now back home to shed on the rug I just cleaned to appease the German Weather Gods.

Next year, maybe I’ll clean it off in late February. It may not stop the Joes from whining, but it might at least stop it from snowing.


Business as Usual

Filed under: — lana @ 1:28 pm

The summary of the field problem is too long for an evening, more like a weekend, and last weekend I spent sleeping and trying to shower the feeling of being surrounded by joes off of me. Joes, for those unaware, is the term used for junior enlisted. In our case, hungry, whiney, and usually lazy joes with some exceptions. But again, a topic for perhaps this weekend.

Today I vaguely rememberd I had scheduled an appointment at Landstuhl for my shoulders. Given that over the course of the field problem I had successfully completed every task I was not supposed to do, I anticipated a good time. I was in for disappointment.

The whole day was rather disappointing, come to think of it. I felt like Wile E. Coyote today, with a perpetual rain cloud only over me. Literally, I point out, since the German definition of spring apparently involves snow, hail, mixed rain, and generally terrible weather, but only over the section of Autobahn on which I happened to be driving. I could actually see blue skies at all times during my trip, but was consistently getting pissed on by something dreadful.

I made it to my destination, but during the course of the trip my music player went out, freezing up. I blamed my First Sergeant, who has made it his mission in life to convince me to give up my early generation player and upgrade. He does have a point that about the only use I can get from my current one is to put it in a sock to beat people with it. I am adamant about waiting until this one dies, so I am thinking he rigged it somehow. Tragically, it took the first step on the way to Landstuhl, which meant several hours of terrible radio programming. Lucky for me the Germans also have a thing for Phil Collins, so all was not completely lost. The player booted back up again on the way home, saving me from succumbing to the wishes of those afraid of me wielding a music-player-stuffed sock, but was still traumatic.

I get to the doctor and explain the problem. He looks at my records. He smiles exactly zero times. I counted. His bedside manner reminded me of a cross between a mortician and a robot. He may have been a mortician robot for all I know, since no credentials were posted. He then said I am too young for the surgery my left shoulder would need, and if I were to have surgery on the right shoulder I would not be able to climb again. He said to try physical therapy and medication, which thus far has yielded no results, but other than that maybe rub some dirt on it and drink some water. The rest, he thinks, might be in my neck, which is not his department and which the neurology department has said is not her problem.

On the way home part of the road was closed due to road work. This portion of the road has been closed for awhile, and today I may have found the root of the problem: instead of a standard size steamroller, the Germans are using small, one-man push steamrollers. I didn’t even know those existed, but today I was proven wrong. They have made it approximately one kilometer in the month or so since I was last on that stretch of road. Today only one man was working, and appeared annoyed because it started pissing hail on him as I passed by.

I finally returned to the office to watch my Soldier lose a game of risk to my warrant officer. At least someone was productive today.


Field Time

Filed under: — lana @ 4:05 pm

I am about to depart for the field for a few weeks. The excitement just never stops…

I dropped off my Soldiers a few days early, but had to man the fort since there was apparently an exercise they sent my warrant on that no one read the operations order for so he thought he would be gone one week but I think last count was a total of six weeks over the next few months.

Within the first fifteen minutes of my Soldiers being in the field and me not being in charge of them, one was already lost. As in, misplaced. Their NCO, who thankfully someone has since removed them from his control as far as I understand, misplaced one Soldier, two sets of body armor, and at least one helmet within fifteen minutes. I found all of it, to include the Soldier, who was a little distressed at having been misplaced, before the First Sergeant, luckily for all of them. He was already cranky with only one cup of coffee so far that morning.

The last thing I want to say before I leave an NCO out in the field with only two Soldiers under him (that’s roughly half a light infantry team, for those who are counting… and a team is the smallest unit Soldiers really come in) is “Please don’t lose anyone or anything else before I come back in two days. Please. Just that one favor. For me? Now go away.”

It’s going to be a long few weeks. In the cold. And probably in the rain. With a cranky battalion. And a cranky First Sergeant when I tell him tomorrow that even though I didn’t allow the doctor to give me a profile, it was on the condition “Okay, but you heard what the other doctor said about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. I will trust that you and your command will negotiate. You aren’t going to do anything stupid, right?” to which my response was “Stupid is relative, Sir…” I think he felt bad that he didn’t actually tell me what was in the injection before he shot it into my shoulder, only potentially in the correct spot (Comment: “Ooh. That’s solid. Must be the bone… hmm…”), and then another doctor gave me a whole list of things I couldn’t do AFTER they had given me the injection and didn’t like my response that I had to fire a weapon in two days. His only answer was that I could only fire if I could lift my arm that high, and he wasn’t all that positive that would happen in two days. They told me it was cortizone when they asked if I would give them permission to get it that day. Only it was cortizone plus other stuff that was going to give me a dead shoulder for roughly two weeks because they figured they may as well see if they can break up some of the bursitis. But cortizone was the main stuff, so it’s like the same thing. Only not really, and it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to get out of my uniform yesterday evening because I couldn’t actually move one arm. The solution involved a wall, a door handle, and an open dryer door. It was complicated.

But I am off to the field. Hopefully, all of my Soldiers will be there to greet me. If not, well, I’ve gotten good at finding them and sheparding them back to the flock. Slightly easier than herding cats, but only slightly…


Another Big, Green Week

Filed under: — lana @ 1:21 pm

I have no concept of how I am going to convince myself that going to work Monday morning is a good idea. I have no idea how I am going to say to myself, “Self, get up! It’s another great day to be in the United States Armed Forces!” and then be enough of a sucker to believe myself and get up.

Last week began innocently enough. I got up, I met my Soldiers at the gym, and realized I had forgotten my water bottle. Not so good for someone with a wee bit of a dehydration problem, but I didn’t pay it much mind. Until I realized upon getting back in my car that in fact my water bottle, a rather expensive one I use for climbing and other activities I probably shouldn’t be doing anyway, was actually missing. I have a nasty inkling it is somewhere in the vicinity of Landstuhl. So I was annoyed.

Then I get a call from someone indicating that my unit is, surprise surprise, jerking me around with a course they promised. They appear to think I am fool enough to have signed for three additional years for only one class, particularly after a month of discussing only signing up for two additional years. They appear to have forgotten that the deal was in fact more than one class, regardless of what rumor has it some officers in my chain of command think of that class. Since I am not permitted to speak my mind about officers, we will just say that (according to multiple sources) this particular gentleman said something like, “That class? That class is silly. I know people who have been in 20 years who have the same experience they can get from that class.” Yes, Sir. See, that’s the point of the class: we won’t have to wait until we have been in 20 years to have that experience. Not one to point out the fault of those paid exponentially more, but it appears to my silly enlisted mind that might not be the smartest thing ever said. Between that and the unit’s insistance that I apparently requisitioned an inoperable brain tumor that had to be treated across the ocean because they don’t keep those kinds of doctors in stock in Landstuhl, I about had it and it was only 0930 on Monday.

And it went downhill from there. Rapidly. By the end of the day my warrant officer had run an intervention and by the end of the next day I was asking my Soldiers for empty glass bottles to make moltov cocktails. Firebombing was on my to-do list several times, but I rarely got that far down on my list on any given day.

Friday summed it up nicely. I found out early in the morning that our local medics were running a combat lifesaver class. Having deployed without that class, it has always been a source of bitterness and a large contributor to my eventual post-traumatic stress. Something about watching someone die when you figure you could have at least made him more comfortable, maybe even figured out how to get him out from under the front-loader, tends to make one itchy about medical awareness. So since one of my Soldiers is about to deploy (an endless source of drama, giving her 18 chains of command in which I am only included sometimes though she still belongs to me, but that’s another tale) I wanted to try for the fourth time in the past year to get her in. I found the medic I needed to find, set it all up, and then notified a few people in my Soldier’s 18 chains that might care. I had been told on Monday that because of her deployment she was not going to the field next week with the rest of us, so figured this was a perfect use of her time. Silly me.

Half an hour later, I get an email from my First Sergeant telling me to hold on the class, because now maybe she was going to the field.

I responded, “With all due respect, First Sergeant, you’re killing me.”

He called within about two minutes, pointing out that whenever he opens anything that starts “with all due respect” he knows something not so respectful is coming.

After some discussion, we figured out a mutually positive solution mostly involving him promising that I would not let her deploy without this class but she needed to be in the field. I didn’t argue, since I believe these Soldiers really need some combat skills practice more than half the things this silly “deployment” is sending them to, and tried to get back to work when he asked the fateful question, “So… uh… when was the last time you fired an M203?”

“Uh… we can give it 2005, but that might be a rough estimate. Been a long time… Dare I ask?”

“Oh! So you have fired one! Great! You’re running the M203 range in the field. Here’s the dates, at least right now, everything is as always subject to change. Oops! Gotta go!”

As I have mentioned, his favorite hobby is to say something he knows I won’t like and then get off the phone. This was certainly no exception.

That wasn’t even the cap to my week, but was one of the highlights. My entire week went something like that: try and help someone out or get something done that needs to be done, get told no and then handed something completely out of the blue that means I won’t get anything else done. My First Sergeant was not the only one doing it last week; it was something of a conspiracy among everyone that has any position of authority, it seemed. Then I spent half of my weekend doing PowerPoint presentations no one will ever look at for an online version of course I have to be in that I never intended to take.

And from my phone calls over the weekend, next week is only looking to be more of the same. Luckily, I go to the field on Friday, so at least then I might be able to hand over some of my current 12 jobs and get something done, despite the freezing cold. They won’t let me go to Antarctica, but they sure don’t mind sending me to the field in the rain and snow.

The retention NCO better stay far, far away from me this month…

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