iraqistan

7/27/2009

Nappin’

Filed under: — lana @ 12:05 pm

Most people think that the phrase, “You snooze, you lose” has no real meaning off the playground. Most people figure that it can’t mean a thing when it’s not being said by the class bully who just stole the one remaining inflated kickball and kicked it onto the school roof before you could get a good game of four-square going.

Most people think these things, of course, because they do not work for the biggest class bully of them all, Mother Army.

And I, apparently, was napping at the switch while waiting for my turn at four-square. Which is a shame, because I play a mean four-square.

Actually, in trying to see that the Army doesn’t screw me over again, I got screwed over. Again.

I have been waiting for the unit to go ahead and cut payment for my upcoming course. The course may well affect some of the options for the places I would like to go next which for all the wonders it holds, is not still another year or two in Germanistan. They promised me the class ages ago when I was first silly enough to bite the bullet and reenlist, and now that the brain tumor is contained to just one side they are finally about to follow through. But first, they have to cut payment so I can get orders. In exchange I told my first sergeant and commander that once I have the orders I will look at reenlistment and, in all probability, sign on for another few years. But I am being careful, because I don’t want them to use one of the promises from last reenlistment to rope me into anything silly for this reenlistment.

So I waited because the class I am to attend has people in it from organizations like the Air Force. The Air Force is great; they treat their people fabulously and the rest of us are jealous every time we walk onto an air base. However, they can sometimes be a little lax about some things such as, say, providing names for school slots the organization was already promised. Until all names are provided, no one from any organization gets the message that they can attend. No message, no payment, and no payment, no orders. So I sit around and wait for the Air Force, checking every few hours to see if the message came through yet. The faster this gets done, the faster we can all move on from the fiasco.

In order to make sure I didn’t end up getting shot in the foot, however, I got shot in the other. The Army apparently, maybe a week or two ago, went on a reenlistment freeze. While people can still reenlist, they do so at the devastating Needs of the Army.

Needs of the Army is like when parents take a six year old to the pound and say “You can pick any one you like,” and let the kid wander around to find a puppy. But all the good puppies already have adopted signs on their cage and all that is left are a few wheezy, mangey-looking ones growling from the back of the reinforced steel cages towards the dark end of the hall. It is when you reenlist for some reason that sounded good at the time and Mother Army can put you wherever she pleases. Since everyone else reenlisted before the freeze for the good assignments, that puts you square at places like Fort Hood, Fort Polk, Fort Sill, or worse yet, back at ol’ Fort Bragg. All the places that no one else would possibly pick.

My branch manager informed me that I can contact her after 1 October when the freeze is supposed to be lifted. However, my job is one of the very few that has a decent monetary bonus right now. The bonus is sure to disappear around 1 October.

Basically, I snoozed.

Recently I mentioned that the ball was in the Army’s court at this point because of the decisions I could try to make. I retract that. The Army waited until I was good and napping, stole the ball, and kicked it onto the roof where it will remain until the janitor can get around to getting up there and tossing it back down. Until then, we are both out of moves.

I had better rest up: no more naps starting 1 October. This time, I mean it.

7/25/2009

Lost and Found

Filed under: — lana @ 12:46 pm

So somewhere around two years ago my medical records disappeared. I had a copy, and most of it is digital these days anyway, so no big deal except that periodically the Army records clerk who sits in the back room with the creepy automated records rolodex would ask me if I actually belonged to the clinic. For a little while there was a bit of a hunt, and we thought they were found somewhere in the vicinity of a hospital that closed well over a year ago and were now snug in their little slot in the back room rolodex.

By the way, I say “they” because my file is a little large. Two folders at last count, and that was before the Walter Reed Extravaganza. A piece of paper is generated every time you get a shot, you order a pill, you pick up a pill, or your foot almost falls off. All four of those things are more of a regular thing for me than most, among others. So a little large may be an underestimate.

The other day, the phone rang. My warrant officer, who was surprisingly in the room and reasonably close to the telephone, answered. His face got confused almost immediately, but I ignore that these days. Then he walked up to me and handed me the phone, telling me some confused little private was hurting his brain.

Turns out the private was not the only one who was confused. Having addled my warrant, he proceeded to ask me if I could stop into his office. I reminded him that I had no idea who he was, and he informed me that he worked at the clinic in the records department. All was good, as I happened to have to go to the clinic anyway, so I would drop by later. I asked which room he was in, and was mildly confused with his answer. Turns out, he very nearly forgot to tell me that the clinic to which he was referring is about two hours away from where I was currently standing, and as a matter of fact in a clinic to which I had never been. I’d only been to the base twice.

After a little more idle chit-chat, I provided the nice little private with my main clinic and asked that he have my records sent via courier, since I don’t even know that I will visit his base in the next ten months before I leave Germany. He agreed and promised to do so with the next courier heading in our direction. I suspect I will never see them again, but have gotten by this long without them anyway.

He then asked me why my records were in his files.

Privates are funny creatures. Some of them are simply terrible. I was one of those, though I was never technically a private. I was always asking questions about why things appear to be stupid, always with full knowledge that the NCO would try to make something up, and then gleefully pointing out when the answers made no sense. Thoroughly obnoxious, but I was fairly bored of throwing tennis balls at the other platoon while waiting on The Word (which was supposed to be “Go Home,” but usually was more like “Oops! We forgot to clean the bathrooms/mow the parade field/sweep the parking lot. Go clean/mow/sweep now even though you should have been released two hours ago.”) so I would amuse myself by annoying others with more rank. I particularly enjoyed choosing the ones that would try to defend the Army or otherwise acted like they knew everything, mostly because they would squirm more while trying to come up with something plausible. I was never one of the good little privates, like this poor kid, who asked questions about why things appear to be stupid and actually expected a real, intelligent answer from an NCO because these naive little souls still believe that no way could the Army really be that dumb. Sorry, kids, but it most certainly can. I probably destroyed all of his hopes and dreams about the Army when I answered to him that pointless, dumb things happen every day in the Big Green Machine, so he should probably just get used to it. He had to learn someday, I suppose. Poor thing…

But at least, despite the fact that no one knows how they were lost or how they ended up two hours away or why the clerk decided to call and ask about them now, my records are theoretically en route to their dark home in the bowels of my home clinic. In the meantime, I’m just waiting for perhaps a base in Korea or perhaps Djibouti to call and tell me they have a copy of an old certificate of training for me or maybe they found that patrol cap I lost four years ago. Would make for an interesting story.

And people wonder why I hate to answer the phone…

7/23/2009

Hungry

Filed under: — lana @ 12:30 pm

So Lord Xenu of Scientology, who has taken up residence in my cavernous sinus for those who are unaware, appears to seriously dislike the rain. This is tragic, because the German weather gods appear to love rain. Makes the manure in the fields more fragrant and delicious, I think. Also, since I leave the window in my car cracked frequently, it makes my car fragrant. Right now it smells like an old hooker, as close as we can tell. We are going to get a vanilla-scented air freshener for it so at least it can smell like an old stripper. My car is putting itself through college the best way it knows how. Don’t judge.

But I digress. So Xenu has been having a rough time this summer, since I think it has rained at least for a few minutes every day since April. I have medication for these things, of course. Since my shoulders and my feet also don’t get along with damp weather, I have other medication for that. All in all, I keep the general grumblings of my body in check through my lovely local Army clinic pharmacy.

The only problem, it appears, is when I get hungry.

Yesterday I was sitting in my office and felt a headache coming on. I couldn’t tell if it was the rain or a particularly poorly worded sentence from the report I was trying to read, so I took my headache medication just in case. The shoulders were also acting up, predicting a thunderstorm en route, so I took some of that, too. Pre-emptive strike, so I thought. Then I remembered that I had forgotten to eat lunch, reminded by the sandwich that was still sitting on my desk three hours after lunchtime.

Our local supermarket, the commissary, has a sandwich-to-order section. They have delicious spinach wraps. The trouble is they wrap them on little styrofoam trays with plastic wrap which they heat the ends of to break in a clean line. The plastic wrap sometimes gets a little too warm and melts more of the wrap when they close the sandwich, creating a good seal but something of a pain to figure out how to open.

This problem gets exponentially worse, it appears, when you mix medications and then try to eat a sandwich. Much like Lennie and the rabbits in Of Mice and Men, I appear to not know my own strength when it comes to thunderstorms, poor English, pills, hunger, and a tasty sandwich wrapped in melted plastic. I thought I was careful, but made something of a mess trying to get half the sandwich into my belly. I then decided I wanted the other half for later. The problem to my addled brain was that I had demolished most of the plastic wrap in my need for sandwich.

The solution lay in front of me: scotch tape.

My warrant officer came in about two minutes after I had finished repairing the damage to the sandwich wrappings. He walked in to see me puzzling over another sentence in the report and a pile of sandwich, plastic wrap, and about a quarter roll of scotch tape on my desk. He was smart enough to just ask what report number I was on. He doesn’t like to torment me when I am on medication… a wise move, as evidenced by the plastic wrap strewn about. He also got another roll of tape for me from the supply cabinet, which was nice of him, before ducking into his office to giggle just loud enough that I could hear him.

For the record, I used to have plastic containers in the office for occasions like these, since tape gets expensive after awhile. Unfortunately my previous commander used my last good container making a rudimentary mouse trap when we were in the field, which I point out failed to catch anything but mouse poop, and I have not replaced it yet.

Given the amount of time and energy spent trying to get to my half-sandwich dinner last night, in addition to the fact that the thunderstorms have not abated, perhaps it is about time to invest. I might starve to death otherwise… or worse, run out of tape.

7/19/2009

Choices

Filed under: — lana @ 9:57 am

Ah, choices. The reason the human race is supposed to be so advanced is because we have the ability to make educated choices about our options in life. That and opposable thumbs, anyway.

Periodically I sit down and try to figure out what I am going to do with myself. Usually, this involves rum, because no one should have to plan their life without rum.

The Army has recently come out to say that because of manning issues and money issues there are no retention perks any longer, such as station of choice and training options. Station of choice can still be done, but it involves negotiating with…

The Branch Manager.

My branch manager is a very nice person. She has only told me not to bother her three times and my first sergeant only once… before he got the sergeant major on the phone, if I recall, which only led to more drama. She is usually very polite in the varied ways she possesses to tell me where I can shove my requests, however, so I really have just taken to avoiding her altogether. Which isn’t too hard, seeing as she won’t talk to me anyway.

In order to deal with my particular branch manager we must either have the sergeant major or the battalion retention NCO call to negotiate on my behalf. Most branches don’t work that way; we are apparently just lucky.

So no problem, since I know what I want for a reenlistment, I just need to get the retention NCO on the phone and see if he can figure out if what I want is possible.

Well there are a lot of people that the Army is looking for, it seems, and the current going theory is that if we can find the retention NCO we may just find everyone else playing cards with him in a cave in Afghanistan or perhaps drinking a Mai Tai in Cuba or something. Great guy, but very elusive.

I have a general mistrust of retention personnel. Retention is of the same breed as recruiters, and those are the people that got me into this mess in the first place. Retention also has a nasty habit of disappearing as soon as they sense that they are needed. It’s something of a reverse Bat Signal: we flip the switch to the spotlight and all throughout Gotham you will not find anyone in the retention branch. This happened to me last time I bit the bullet as well, though with a different retention NCO, so I am not all that shocked.

The deal here, however, is that I am in the midst of several choices, though really they are out of my hands now. I am supposed to have a class date in mid-August. However, the Brigade has recently said “Oops… so we signed off on you being able to go back in April, actually earlier, but yeah, we forgot and now have no money…” My command is working hard to get them to run a bake sale or something, but we shall see. Should I get the course, I will figure out how to communicate my request before my branch manager can hang up on me and reenlist prior to departure. Should the unit decide I will go to the October (read: new fiscal year) class, I will wait until the class can confirm the new date (which the battalion would have to move for me) and until I have orders stating that they have already approved my funding before I then figure out how to reenlist. Should both of those options fall through, well, it’s open season and I can either try to find a good assignment without reenlistment or just wait for the crap shoot in the fall and then get out of the Army if I don’t like where she puts me. I already reenlisted once for this course; no way am I enough of a sucker to do it twice.

One might think that the Army doesn’t care enough about one Soldier to figure out that the Soldier is too bitter to reenlist after they get screwed over one too many times. That one would be thinking incorrectly. Mid-level retainable personnel such as myself are not very common, so there is a little more going for them than normal to get me on the books. One class confirmed for funding, and it’s good for them, and they know it. The ball is in their court.

Plus, they can use the opportunity to find my retention NCO, break up the card game, and after all this time we will know what actually happened to Bin Laden, TuPac, and Elvis. Everyone wins!

7/17/2009

My Big Fat Mouth

Filed under: — lana @ 6:44 am

So late in the week the phone rings and lo and behold, it is the first sergeant. I answer the phone and first thing out of his mouth is “Since when are you doing a ruck march on Tuesday?”

Now, I would like to point out that I scheduled the ruck march three weeks prior, on the day of the previous ruck march which was called off 5 kilometers early on account of one of the Bundeswehr not drinking water and having to be taken to the medics. For us, that just means we will all get a lecture later about heat safety. For the Bundeswehr, that means it is too hot and everyone has to come in from the rare German sunshine. In order to make it up to two people who did not get to complete their goal, I scheduled another march for a few weeks later. I let the training room clerk know, let the ones who had not finished know, let some of the Soldiers who had expressed a little interest in the last ruck march know, and let the first sergeant know in passing since really that is the training room clerk’s job. But she’s new and still scared of him, so I pass messages along.

So I received the phone call on Thursday and was less than surprised, because not a single person whom I had told wrote it down. By Friday it was clear that no one was going to be able to go. The company is a little on the short-staffed side, since most of the company came here together and therefore are now leaving together. I informed the first sergeant that was fine, I had to go anyway because several military police are going.

This is when I realized I had a big mouth. Actually, I already knew it, but usually casually forget until someone reminds me. My first sergeant is usually that person. It’s something of a hobby of his.

My first sergeant periodically peruses my little memoirs. I like to think that it is so he can tell me before something gets me slapped down by higher authorities, but really I think it’s so he can keep tabs on my stupidity and make fun of me for it later.

Such was the case this time. He didn’t really care much about any of the logistics or the ruck march or much of anything (having answered my question of “Oh, you’re here today?” with “Well, physically, sure…”), but he sure wanted to make sure that I was not actively participating in the ruck march.

This time, I am not only allowed to ruck with the appropriate weight, but I am not allowed to ruck with just water. I will not ruck without a bag at all. I will not walk any portion of the course. I will not ruck from a house. I will not ruck with a mouse. I think I heard something about Green Eggs and Ham came at the end of his list of rules, but I may have misheard.

His theory is that he retires in about three months. Knowing me, he is well aware that I will do something stupid to myself between then and now that he will have to explain to the command. He is making every attempt to stop this from happening. I think this is one of the reasons he is not objecting too much to my course date in August, because at least if I know I am going to a course I will do fewer dumb things in order to not jeopardize my class. Plus, once in Arizona, I avoid the doctors because they have a nasty habit of freaking out and sending me to Walter Reed. But no matter how much I assured him that I would not do anything dumb (after four years, I no longer consider popping my ankle stupid, though it appears I am the only one on that), he maintained that unless I was on a bike or in one of the Bundeswehr trucks I would not be anywhere on that trail. And that order will stand for the next four months.

So I will still go out there on Tuesday. I just invested about 300 dollars in various things (way more than that over the past three years) for the Bundeswehr, so I may actually belong to their unit by now and should really make sure I am present for their training. Technically, since I have been avoiding doctors for a few months now in order to postpone my MRI as promised for the course, my profile is expired and I can do what I like at pace and distance. But it is either listen to him or keep my big mouth shut, so I am just going to go with the easier of the two for now and listen. Plus, he is not above checking me for blisters when I see him next Thursday, so I may as well save the drama and the couseling statements and sit this one out.

But come November, it is on. I do, after all, have 250 kilometers in the Sahara to start training for…

7/13/2009

Charlie Don’t Surf…

Filed under: — lana @ 1:03 pm

… and Hajji Don’t Ski.

Observations made while jibber-jabbering in the midst of catching up on work.

While Charlie Don’t Surf is one of the most famous lines from the movie Apocalypse Now, today I happened to make the observation that Hajji Don’t Ski. The trail was convoluted, as most of my conversations are, but I just used the tumor excuse and my warrant let it slide. The details are inconsequential, what mattered was a new slogan was born in our office. It has replaced the “Fun Guerilla Retaliated” slogan for now, though those tee-shirts are still being made.

The theory already exists that we (the United States) will never go to full-on war with a country containing at least one established McDonalds. For instance, Russia was a total pain until they decided to throw the Golden Arches up by Red Square, and nevermore shall we point nuclear devices down their throats. General direction, who knows, but right down their throats is unlikely. Side note on that particular McDonalds, by the by, is that our tour guide said it was the first one in all of Russia. People waited for three hours, had a two burger limit, and were paying each other hundreds of dollars to get extra burgers. Anyway, so Russia, until the day they kick Ronald and his friends out, is pretty secure in their peaceful future with the United States. My theory is therefore to toss one up in Tehran, Mogadishu, and Pyongyang so I can officially go home and take a long nap.

But today we noted that despite the ski masks in Iraq, we never fought against the Iraqis that could actually ski. In Sulimaniyah and the nice, Kurdish, resort areas there are mountains and (former) ski resorts and all is well. The Arabs in the ski areas are also rather pleasant outside of Kurdistan. In Pakistan, local people didn’t get riled up until the Taliban moved into the Swat Valley and started taking the nice ski areas. People got mad and booted them back up to the higher elevations where the air isn’t good for skiing. This is more than coincidence, folks, this is a plan to victory you are smelling. Okay, that might in fact be napalm (which smells like victory, according to other movie quotes), but this is still a plan.

Now it is true, I avoid sports where things are strapped to my feet, to include skiing. I have tried, and have found I am simply too clumsy for such adventures. However, it appears that with a few more McDonalds and more ski lifts, we might just be able to solve some of the bigger world problems.

And as a disclaimer, yes, I know that Hajji is a respectful term that is used for one that has made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and that Hajji and Terrorist are not synonyms. I also know too many Big Macs will give you a heart attack and may not be the total way for peace. But Charlie Don’t Surf still rings well years after the movie and long after “Charlie” became politically incorrect, so I maintain that for marketing reasons, “Hajji Don’t Ski” rings much better than “Radical-Islamic-Extremist-Insurgents-and-Terrorists Don’t Ski.” So please, bear with me, and don’t burn down an embassy should we make a tee-shirt. A burned embassy means no McDonalds. That’s the deal, folks. Take it or leave it.

7/12/2009

No Bounds

Filed under: — lana @ 2:07 pm

My foolishness apparently knows no bounds.

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend of mine whom I last saw puttering around a tiny and rather terrible-smelling airport in the southern reaches of Russia. This was a few days after we had found the energy to mosey up the tallest mountain in Europe on a very windy day, take a photo, and wander back down. Since both of us had been so foolish as to do such a thing, it stands to reason that our chats would lead to other absurdities.

Lo and behold, this chat did. He is a doctor of sorts, so is aware that I should probably not go above around 5,000 meters until the doctors figure out what they want to do next with my brain. So I mentioned the idea I had a few weeks prior about running around in deserts for a week at a time. Whereas most people would say, “Gee! That sounds awful! Who would do that?” he said, “Well, this October is not so good, so let’s plan on 2010 instead.”

And so it begins. I have my sister nearly roped in, since this is an “ultra-marathon” and she is the marathon runner and is not to be outdone by her measly little sister who hates to run. I just have to get funding worked out by turning on my magical charms to find some sponsorships to fund the race fees (sponsors who really don’t care if we win, since even she said running would be dumb). I also plan to raise money for charity, probably for disabled veterans seeing as I am one. About as disabled in the brain as you can get, apparently, since I think running around for a week in the Sahara under the premise of a race is a fabulous idea. I hope Xenu is picking tasteful furniture for his apparent move into my frontal lobe…

Speaking of which, I know that Xenu is taking up plenty of space as evidenced by my self-assessed 70% chance of reenlistment. I think he made an insider trading agreement of sorts with the Army doctors when I was humming Foreigner songs to myself the other day and is now doing his best to get me to stay in. I really should pay more attention to the things he does before I end up banned from France or something.

Side note for those that don’t follow the news as much: as of May 2009 France has declared Scientology a cult - ahem, sorry, sect, though cult is also true - and is working on a ban because it uses fraud to get people to pay vast sums of money in order to move up in the ranks. There are days when I can honestly say I love the French. Not many, but there are days, and that is one of them. End side note.

So I find that these days I sit around most of the time, juggling bad ideas around in my head until one accidentally spits out of my mouth and I get others involved. By this time next year I might be a Sergeant First Class with another year or so on my contract training to hike 250 kilometers around a huge expanse of sand for absolutely no reason. The best part is that I know full well how silly each and every one of these ideas is, yet I persist and indeed commit to them.

All I can say to that is really to my friend and my sister and some of my fellow considering-reenlistment-Soldiers: I got Xenu. What’s your excuse?

7/5/2009

Flying Solo (for now)

Filed under: — lana @ 10:39 am

I have mentioned previously that one of the things about the Army that takes getting used to is the fact that every few years you find that you have to make new friends (or, as in my case, just get another cat). The military is fluid: you move, others move. Basically, every so often the Army goes topsy-turvy and everyone gets jostled around like Lotto balls until you come out some chute at the end and wonder where your household goods are.

My last good, old (for the Army, about three years) friend is about to depart Germany for far-off lands where tequila presumably replaces beer in the diet. This is of critical importance, as someone should warn his new associates that tequila can make him a tad onery. But no matter, as he begins dumping unwanted items at my house in his rush to get out of here, for it all just means it is once again time for me to eerily hum “Just The Two Of Us” periodically at the cat.

This particular friend is my oldest one in Germany. We had both been in country a few weeks and decided to take a bus trip to Italy to get out and see some things. We were two of the only people traveling solo on the trip, and got jammed together in the bus seat when some sort of hooplah happened in Heidelberg when two ladies refused to get on the bus unless they could sit next to each other. The trip ended up being one of my favorite ones since I have been in Germany, including losing a girl in Florence on a quest for some Prada sunglasses and getting drunk on Lemoncello with a bunch of food inspectors on a boat back from Capri (where we all had at least two bowls of ice cream, and all maintain it may well be the best ice cream in the world). Since that trip, we have taken others, usually involving wandering mildly inebriated through various European cities and him, except for the brief stint where he was married (but most of that was while he was deployed anyway), trying to find lovely European ladies impressed by his car.

There were long periods where we didn’t talk much, with him having his own pilot social circles and me disappearing for a brain vacuum for a few months and all. But I still believe that the nine months I have left here once he departs are going to be the longest and dullest. I messed with the rotation; usually the Army keeps you in a place for around three years at a time. I stayed an extra year so now I deal with the consequences.

To be more accurate, my husband and my cat deal with the consequences. My husband gets his nightly phone call where I get to tell him all about the Nothing I do on weekends, and the cat gets tunes hummed in her general direction from time to time. The cat appears to take this fairly well, though I think the husband starts to worry when I mix up the two and start humming to him and talking to the cat.

Such is the Army life. Kicking around another reenlistment idea, waiting to do the paperwork for a school that still hangs by a thread since everyone always pleads denial when faced with their previous promises to pay for it, wondering what tomorrow might bring, and waiting to be reunited with old friends. Because you must understand that the Army is small for over a half million Soldiers; no matter where people go, sooner or later you end up finding them again.

So for now, I fly solo (the kitty makes a terrible co-pilot: too easily distracted by the lights). This time next year I will once again be in places full of old and new friends, hopefully within driving distance at least of my husband, and being a beer snob because nothing tastes European enough. I look forward to it, and am planning my last few vacations accordingly to finish off the few destinations within my dwindling budget. If I make more friends on those trips, so much the better, as it might mean that I don’t have to spend the entire time practicing my vocal techniques to a furry creature who would rather be napping on top of my shoes in the closet.

And if I don’t, hopefully I can at least come up with other songs to sing.

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