Off Again

Filed under: — lana @ 3:31 pm

Someone owes me a cheeseburger.

See, good cheeseburgers are pretty hard to find in Germany, so whenever we make a bet it has become habit to bet a cheeseburger. My first sergeant appears to have started it.

Well, I was right on this one. Shenanigans were conducted, and I now get to head to the field at sometime-before-the-sun-rises tomorrow.

Luckily, since I am on field staff for the exercise, it isn’t a real field problem for me. I can bring a few uniforms, but can change into People Clothes after the day is done and go back to a hotel room. My officer said she didn’t want to sleep on a cot this time, so we are all getting full duty pay to get a hotel for our element. Apparently, this is the way this whole course that we are hosting is supposed to run, but this did not occur on all previous iterations. So really, I am just going to a hotel for two weeks and spending my day herding cats… er… privates… same thing… around large open areas interspersed with asbestos-filled buildings from the days Elvis was a private.

Then I come back and a week later spend three MORE days in the field showing a different group of cats which end is dangerous on the boomstick. Hopefully I can doctor-dodge long enough to fire a boomstick myself this time, since they get uppity when my shoulders act like party favors and move in ways shoulders aren’t supposed to move. But either way I will have to go and chaperone, so good times. Maybe it will start snowing by then, too, which always makes for a great time standing outside yelling at people for 12 hours or so of my day!

Ah, the Army life. Who could possibly want to get out?

Off to pack. Then again, I am expecting a call tomorrow that says funding got cancelled and thanks for playing, go home. I said I wanted variety in my life. Looks like I at least got unpredictability, which is close to variety… though it has become rather predictable unpredictability…


More of the Usual

Filed under: — lana @ 2:23 pm

So about a week ago my warrant officer sent me an email. It went something like this (not a direct quote, but in essence):

“You have to go to the field the Monday you get back. It’s because you are one of the only non-commissioned officers left in the company. Have fun. Sorry. Bye.”

It had more detail, but that was essentially the message. My unit periodically runs a refresher-type course for our units and other participating units out in Middle-Of-Nowhere, Germany. By periodically I mean a few times a year. He was notifying me that it was my turn to go be the NCO link to the other units, and I would start two days after my return from my course. Good times, only not really.

So I returned on Friday afternoon and proceeded to make the phone calls to figure out where I needed to be and when and if I had time Monday morning to pick up a prescription which wouldn’t get me to the field until late morning. Despite having notified me, he apparently hadn’t really found time to figure out those essentials in the past week or so despite being located in the same area as the others attending the fun. I made one phone call, found the Officer-in-Charge of the ordeal, and asked her. She mentioned she thought I wasn’t coming anymore. Apparently the person covering for my first few days (the exercise prep started a few days earlier) had not received funding for the course he was supposed to attend this week, so it had been assumed that he was staying. I called him to confirm, and he bitterly responded that he may as well stay, but I HAD to take the next one (he also took care of the last one and we are supposed to rotate between the three people of acceptable rank for the job). I will probably head out there by the weekend instead to relieve him, seeing as how I had planned to be there anyway and now have that oppressive guilt that comes with someone telling me “Don’t worry about it… I will do it for you this time.” It’s like when my mother used to ask me to clean something and I would wait too long so she would say, “Fine. I’ll just do it myself,” usually with a follow-on threat to throw everything I owned into the garbage.

But it is definitely business as usual, seeing as how the person covering has no idea if all of a sudden on Monday or Tuesday the funding will come through and I will have to rush out to cover him. That is actually anticipated, seeing as how I received funds a week prior to my departure and the last person to attend the course received funds roughly two days prior. So back to my world of not knowing where I will end up 36 hours from now, back to my world of sudden phone calls of, “Uh oh… could you,” and back to my days of planning things that I have to cancel because they are more than a week away.

Basically, back to business in Germany. 7 months, 14 days and counting…


Getting Along

Filed under: — lana @ 1:16 am

This year Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan, folks, stay with me…) and Rosh Hashanna (Jewish New Year… I promise that’s all the foreign stuff for today) fall on the same weekend. Muslims and Jews, partying together. For slightly different reasons, but the two biggest holidays of two cultures are for once having their people thinking more about having fun than annoying each other. It only lasts a weekend, but every weekend counts.

In our line of work it is helpful to know quite a bit about other cultures. The more you know, the easier your job becomes. You don’t have to believe it or even like it, but you have to know it to be able to do what it is we are supposed to do. I happen to like that part, not just because it makes me better at what I do, but because it brings me one step closer to figuring out how people can do some of the things they do.

The other day, class conversation got interesting. We have a tendency to get sidetracked when sitting around after having already been there for twelve hours and still writing reports. I have a theory I could have gotten out of there a lot earlier every day were it not for those conversations, but they are interesting and sometimes irresistable.

The other day the Marine in the class and I sparked a debate on whether or not Lazurus was a zombie because he had been brought back from the dead. That debate goes on, because we never finished once we got started on other religious thought. Someone mentioned Mormons. One of the Warrant Officers in the class mentioned he knew someone who had converted from Islam to Mormon and thought that was something new.

I pointed out it wasn’t such a far stretch. Come to think of it, all of the monotheistic religions aren’t really too far from each other. I said that Islam states their prophet went to heaven, came back, and wrote (well, spoke) about it. Is it such a far-fetched concept to then believe that someone else, more recently, wandered into the wilderness and found some golden tablets no one else could see or read? Moses, at least, brought back some rocks everyone could see with the words written in local tongue, but there is that strange burning bush thing. Jesus, of course, said the same thing written on the tablets to a bunch of guys that all wrote it down later, among the whole water into wine and walking on water and raising Lazurus thing.

All of this sounds like blasphemy to whomever it offends, at least until you step back and look at it from far enough away. Once you look far enough away, all the lines get blurry and you realize that actually, all of them are the same. Offend one, offend all, but before the molotovs start flying through the window, that also means understand one, no excuse not to understand all. Let’s try that game a little bit, shall we?

Everyone had their main spokesman asking people to just go ahead and get along. Sometimes things ended up on stones or gold, sometimes people seemed to disappear and come back later, and everyone had some sort of theatrics or another. But the point is, everyone wanted to tell everyone else to just go ahead and get along. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Taoists, whatever, they all eventually have their inexplicables and oddities and, at the core, the same message.

Funny thing is, that message seems to have caused more wars than anything else ever known. Religion, even though all of them are so similar, makes people forget that the basic message is pretty simple: be nice. Usually there is a “Come to my faith so you can go to heaven,” but none of the religions say that whether or not someone else is “saved” is actually your personal problem enough that you have to force them to believe exactly the words of whatever prophet you got your message from.

The two holidays allowed two religions, supposed enemies since the Jews did not show up for Mohammad’s battle (twice, if the literature is accurate, though according to the Qur’an even afterwards the only real bad guys were the polytheists because he could forgive), to party together. For one weekend, everyone could get along. They could see the similarity on this one because it is obvious with all of the apples, honey, hummus, pita, and things made of dates and figs. But the rest of the time it isn’t so obvious, so people forget. But for one weekend whenever the lunar calendars line up just so, they can remember they are cousins. Whoever did what miracle is put aside by everyone (well, except Ayatollah Khamenei, but very little cheers him up) and for a little while, everyone can get along.

I am aware that many people don’t want to hear things like this. No one likes being told that their enemy is more like them than they care to admit. No one wants to look at the stories they were told and figure out which ones are real and which are just trying to teach us all a lesson that should be common sense but one that too many forget. No one likes having their belief system challenged.

But I can’t believe that no one likes to get along. Research doesn’t back that up. As volatile as religion can be, if it works for one weekend when everyone just has a similar holiday, it should be able to work once people take the time to actually get educated on someone other than themselves.

Then again, perhaps I ask for too much. I hate to ask for people to get along and end up like everyone else who ever mentioned it to a reasonably-sized group of people.


One More Reason

Filed under: — lana @ 10:40 pm

I keep a running list. On the left side are the Pros, the reasons to stay in the Army. Mostly it tends to involve things like “pays the mortgage.” The right side are the Cons, the reasons to get out and never, ever look back. Let us check an example or two, shall we?

Today was my best friend’s wedding. It was in Northern Virginia. I am told it was lovely and fun and everyone had a fantastic time. Though, see, I wouldn’t know: the military kept me in Arizona.

I am in the middle of an exercise. Because it is an exercise where you schedule the timing for the tests, I could have gotten away with having nothing on Friday, the day of the wedding. I could have hopped in my car, driven north, gotten on a plane, flown east, taxied to the hotel, gotten changed, gone to the wedding, eventually gotten back on a plane, and would have arrived safe and sound for further testing on Monday.

This past Monday was scheduling day. I had discussed my plan with my head instructor, she said to give it a shot. I am doing very well in the class, so why not? I put together the schedule. A little work and a little bargaining and Friday was clear. I told my head instructor. She went over to check with the Senior Course Non-Commissioned Officer. He is a Marine, but he smiles sometimes. I have caught him. He can’t fool me.

He told her if it were up to him, sure, no problem, but it has to get past the school Sergeant Major because it is still a training day even though I can set my training pace during the exercise. He was told “No” before he even picked up the phone. The Sergeant Major wanted no words: a policy was out that military could not leave the area on a training day without having completed at least part of the day with the exception of emergency leave. Civilians taking the course, as roughly half the course is? No problem. But military is being paid to be in Arizona, so the military must be in Arizona and be trained.

Shot down and angry, I decided to go ahead and schedule one more test for the day to fill in the time (I had intended to do that test maybe Monday or first thing Tuesday), so I didn’t get extremely bitter, but it happened anyway. See, on a full day off during this exercise, since most people don’t get one anyway, we are technically more than welcome to sit in our hotel and not even really roll in to say “Hello.” But military must do that from somewhere within shouting distance of the base. Not so for civilians. A civilian friend of mine, as a matter of fact, left for a wedding today. She did roll in during the morning because she is reserve Air Force and today is the Air Force birthday (ceremony was short and we had cake), but then she went and caught her flight out. Me? I decided to come in around 0800 and didn’t leave until around 2030. If I have to be here because the Army won’t let me be anywhere else, may as well stick around and finish up every last little thing on a Friday night.

The mortgage is still getting paid, so the Pros side has yet to be affected in all of this. But my list of reasons to get out grows nearly daily. Today, on top of already being angry that I once again had to miss my best friend’s wedding (I missed another best friend’s wedding over the summer because the course got bumped so the scheduling didn’t line up) when she spent every day visiting me in the hospital last year among seeing me through countless other things usually involving pints of ice cream, I also found out that when I get back to Germany next Friday I get to unpack, find my Army stuff, pack, and head out Monday for the field for a few weeks because everyone of higher rank will be otherwise tasked somehow and they need an NCO-in-Charge for an exercise. Nevermind that I am nearly out of medication because I kept having to stall doctors for a class that kept getting bumped, a month (soon to be two months) late for an MRI on that pesky battlelord in my head, and had some rather critical meetings and tasks lined up for the weeks ahead already. Nope, they needed an NCOIC, and actually when you spin the wheel of choices it has already narrowed down to about a 75 percent chance of landing on me anyway these days given the manning and taskings.

As though I really needed the “Get Out” side to get longer. If it keeps up like this, I am going to need more paper…


Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Filed under: — lana @ 8:32 pm

Arizona, my love affair with you is now officially over. No longer will I stand it when you are warm and beautiful while I sit in a classroom with no windows, then rain the moment I step outside after class. No more must I sit idly by while creepy bugs with long antennae and sticky feet swarm my car while we drown our sorrows at Applebee’s Happy Hour. No longer shall I deal with your changing construction patterns so as soon as I find a viable route to class, the next day I need find another path.

That is it. We are officially through, at least as far as wanting to come here is concerned. You may have some beautiful mountains for hiking and lovely and fun towns such as Tombstone and Bisbee and… well, Tombstone and Bisbee… but I no longer wish to call you up, even just to hang out once in awhile on a boring Saturday evening.

Not to mention that on Friday as I drove through one of the 14 construction zones to get to class a small nail lodged itself in my tire just deep enough to cause it to leak. By fifteen minutes into class, I had a note on my windshield, a mass email sent by one of the course administrators to the entire school trying to find out whose car had the flat, and my instructor giggling as I read her my license plate number from my keys. At lunch, the rental company told me they would send someone out just to change the tire, though after that I would have to drive it to Tucson at 50 miles per hour or less in a 75 mile per hour zone so they could give me a new car. I told them nevermind; I am perfectly capable of changing a tire myself, having gotten so much practice in Afghanistan, and would hate to inconvenience them. So after class an Army Ranger Warrant Officer, a Navy Officer, and a retired Army Sergeant Major, with their powers combined, changed my tire to a spare (the Marine Staff Sergeant offered to help as well, but I finally convinced him there were plenty of cooks out there already to spoil the soup). The nice thing about being in the military is that it seems many of the gentlemen only signed up to prove they were men, so they will usually offer to do manly things like change a tire for any vaguely feminine-looking object that wanders past. These three also happen to be friends of mine, so their bonus was I could offer to bring them beer when I suffer through a football game tomorrow. They got the tire changed in only slightly more time than I could have accomplished the task solo, mostly because they kept rotating positions and complaining about how squatting made their knees hurt. I mostly watched and laughed. The Ranger then told me of a place that would patch the tire for free, which I took advantage of today. Discount Tire Company is actually quite nice, and speedy if you make an appointment online, which I did. Hopefully I will never return to this one… good tire service aside, southern Arizona and I are on the outs.

But breaking up is hard to do, as the song says. I recently received an email from my unit asking for some of my basic data (all of which, I pointed out, was readily available both in my office and at the company, but I digress) so I could be placed on the order of merit list for Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course Phase Two, which is four weeks of mind-numbing PowerPoint interspersed with half-hearted attempts at physical training. All four weeks, I point out, are at this very same base where I now sit. Rumor has it my unit is even too cheap to give attendees a rental car for the duration of that trip, despite nearly every other unit giving one to their students because to not provide one would be absolute torture. Those from my unit can be spotted easily: they are the ones trying to thumb rides to class from everyone else since the barracks is quite a walk from the windowless building where the PowerPoint torture takes place. So hopefully I can at least delay that experience long enough to get to a decent unit that is actually participating in the Army suicide prevention programs by allieviating some of the depression associated with such schools. So perhaps I can delay my return for six, perhaps seven months.

But I know I will have to return sooner or later, dispite my disdain for my current location. I am about at that age (in Army years) where I can be evaluated for the next rank and, should I be so foolish as to take it, will have to attend at least one or two more schools here.

Make no mistake: any return will not be by choice, southern Arizona. It is like when you find out that popular brat you secretly hated in high school is going to be at a party you are attending and so you feel you really HAVE to sit through at least a drink and a few bits of idle conversation. They have changed, you have changed, and it is time to move on and you don’t have to pretend to like them anymore. I will always enjoy Tombstone and Bisbee and the scenery in the canyons, just as I enjoy the company of the others at the party whom I actually came to see. For now, and as long as I am forced to endure, I shall tolerate this place and this conversation, but then I shall move on.

Given the choice, however, I would prefer to simply go to the Crystal Palace in Tombstone, knock back a whiskey chased with a rum and Coke with friends, and then head out to my best friend’s wedding which I am missing because I am trapped here with a patched tire, a headache, and my course certification exercise. The separation paperwork is in, Arizona. Expect to be hearing from my lawyer.



Filed under: — lana @ 1:32 am

I work in a strange environment. That goes without saying at this point, I suppose, but occasionally bears repeating. But really, the strangeness is spreading.

There is someone in my class who regularly espouses his opinion on politics. I don’t really mind, since he is fairly young and seems to just like using big words to make him seem smart, so it just turns into a tragic game. He declared he is a libertarian, so I now regularly spit out views to get him to disagree. The fun part is when I get him to disagree with libertarian views, which has become more frequent as he falls into the pattern. Mostly, this only serves to prove I am a bad person, but really, this is very common through the military. And the more I read the news these days, the more I notice it everywhere: the world is becoming brainwashed.

The military is particularly strange. It is a socialist, almost communist environment, in theory to promote discipline through taking care of the “Everything Else.” Free health care, cheap life insurance, free education for Soldiers and their children, discounted goods, free housing… I could go on. What is so peculiar is that so many people in the military are terrified of such living for everyone else. They rarely even realize that they live the way they do, many of them indoctrinated otherwise in one way or another. Some of them from home, having grown up in gun country. Some of them get it from work, from the media, from a myriad of sources. The military attracts them. It’s actually remarkably frightening some days, despite the potential entertainment value. They remain blissfully unaware that everything that comes out of their mouths which is a repeat of a statment from The O’Reilly Factor is in direct contrast to the life they already lead.

This morning, as I waited for my breakfast to digest so I could go to the gym, one of the supergeniuses from one of the mixed armed forces that pop through here from time to time was watching the news. On the television was the usual tripe about who hates whom this week and for what imagined reason. She, unlike the television, was impossible to ignore, however, so I had hear it. She was boasting about how her friend was going to keep her child home from school because the president was going to be aired at the school, “Spreading his brainwashing program.”

While I normally just laugh at the stupidity of such a comment, remembering when Bush Senior went on television for the exact same reason and we got the special treat in school of watching it (my school rarely allowed us onto any live access ever since we watched the Challenger explosion), I also observed that she was not alone. Apparently, the president can no longer encourage students to stay in school without raising a ruckus among those terrified of brainwashing. They are apparently unaware that they, therefore, have been brainwashed. Even right-wing media has shown that the speech will be about studying and staying in school, and that the Department of Education rescinded the silly wording that went from “goals to help the president” (ahem, even that wording was about personal education, not about health care, people… the kids are not of voting age) to “goals to get smarter” (paraphrasing). But really, who gets that far in the article? I get surprised when half these people show proof they can read at all.

When did people stop thinking for themselves, and where was I when this happened? Was I on vacation or off napping when everyone went dumb? Is it because I have not owned a television in three years or so, therefore meaning I have to read whole stories instead of being innundated with two minute talkies with flashing lights and pretty pictures and people with nice hair and smooth voices? Or is it just my natural cynicism and charm? This woman’s friend was going to keep her child from a day of education because she is afraid of a speech about… staying in school. So she doesn’t believe he should be president, therefore she does not believe he should be the one telling her child to stay in school. So she keeps her kid home. Does anyone else see the irony here?

She is right: she should be the one telling her child to stay in school (and sending her child to the aforementioned school). But the problem is that also doesn’t occur to people these days. Despite not wanting someone from the government to brainwash their children, people also want to blame the government when their child can’t get a passing grade. Wanting everyone to stay out of your business all the way up until something goes wrong, at which point it becomes someone else’s fault. Just like these people who agree with libertarian views unconditionally all the way up until someone asks what happens when one state won’t recognize a driver’s license from another because the laws are vastly different.

Now I don’t get involved in politics. I stay educated on them, but really politics has become so polarized that there is little point in discussion. No one listens, so no one learns. I even got points taken off the other day during an exercise because I found an article when doing my required research that contradicted what the instructor had on paper. He didn’t know how to react, so he told me the research must have been wrong and docked points. Evidence, as usual in these situations, was pointless. Plus, the class is pass/fail, so I did the unthinkable (for me) and bit my tongue in hopes that I can make it two and a half more weeks.

We now live in a world where the president cannot do the same as several predecessors (of the other party) because people are afraid. Everyone is scared that a decision might be the wrong one, so no one makes one. It’s everywhere, from the people to the military to the government. We are in a mess. It is why we can’t get beyond health care, why my unit can’t figure out if they want to pay me or not, and why my class of eleven people could not come up with four toppings to put on pizzas for dinner on Friday when we had to stay until almost 2100.

So who is brainwashed now? Give you a hint, people, it ain’t your kids. They are fine, and they should stay in school and study so they can learn to make up their own minds and thus be smarter than you.

As for us, well, half an hour later we settled on two chicken and pineapple and two various pork product pizzas.


Lessons Learned

Filed under: — lana @ 12:28 am

So the course, which I finally got around to attending, is a bit on the sensitive side. They get all jumpy even though a lobotomized monkey could, provided he had internet access (and time available from his apparent day job somewhere in the upper echelons of the military), find out at least the basics on the web without even so much as a half-thought-out password. But they get ancy, and I want to graduate, so let us just stick to lessons learned.

Today was particularly educational. Here is what I learned:

1) I know nothing about submarines.
2) I know nothing about torpedoes.
3) I know nothing about destroyers.
4) I know nothing about how ships are designated.
5) I know nothing about boat yards.
6) I will continue to know nothing about any of these things (and many others, particularly maritime vessel-related things) unless certain people stop waiting for key words and start answering questions like a human being.
7) Never go to a military course and let them figure out early on that you have already done this a few times. It only makes them front-load the really obnoxious and difficult instructors.

The course which I am attending is completely subjective. Before my test this afternoon the instructor with whom I was about to take the test reminded me of this as well as reminding me of some other basic tips. He also asked me to break some basic patterns that I already know work and try something new… on a tested block. I’m doing well, so I figured sure, why not. I made a few modifications, figured I would take a small hit to try his new technique. How much could it hurt? Let’s see what he’s got.

Well, he’s got more than I do, apparently, and I paid for it with my hide. He wrote the background information paperwork and then contradicted every single scrap of the background in the first five minutes. He danced around a small topic like nomenclature for twenty minutes because my questions were too specific, then danced around a larger topic for twenty more minutes because my questions were too general. He told me I was illogical in my pattern because I had to revisit topics after he contradicted himself. Then in the after-review of the test he wrote things down and told me new things (usually more contradictory things) and circled things (on the library map, not even the photocopy… my mother would have a fit!)… and now I have to wake up in the morning and be careful not to include anything he told me in the review or else get an automatic failure. My primary instructor, upon hearing the conundrum, could only inform me that I was officially screwed, gave me a few tips on how to minimize the damage, and promptly made his exit stage left for his house while we stayed another hour to get organized. An hour, it turns out, was not long enough. What a surprise.

Oddly, I passed the test with a fairly good score. Well, I think a fairly good score, since no one really knows how the grading system works around here so we just operate on the thought of “so long as I don’t get called into the office for a private conversation, I know I can come in as usual tomorrow.” Even most of the instructors seem to make it up as they go along because the formula is contained in the head of one senior instructor somewhere who decided to use a base 8 mathematical system for grading. Engineering school was too long ago for that, so we just go about our daily duties and hope no one calls us in to tell us we failed. Really, what this has done is initiated a small group of us to declare our own table at a few local happy hours. Whoever has the worst instructor of the day gets to drink for free. Today was my day… I have now had, out of two tests, two of the hardest instructors in the course. The theory goes that my next test will simply be a dull stick repeatedly poking me in the eye. I might actually request it at this point. After happy hour, a few old television shows where I can watch other, fictional people use poor questioning techniques, and then bedtime before another delightful day of contradiction and confusion at this course, one of the best courses those in my job field can hope to attend.

But before I go enjoy reruns of Law and Order I would like to point out to those interested and/or simply following along that I still know next to nothing about items 1-5. Item 6 I am told is not to be resolved via throat punches, but that remains up for debate for now since no better answer has yet been presented (though other punches were suggested, I maintain the throat will at least stop the inane circle-talk for a few minutes).

And as for item 7, well, that one I learned well. Next time I head to one of these courses I am putting my dog tags on that lobotomized monkey for the first few days of class. It’s a win-win: gets me some easier instructors to get warmed up, and it keeps that monkey away from my travel orders.

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