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Showing posts from 2007

Class A Inspection

Saturday morning, January 5, our company will have its annual Class A (dress uniform) Inspection at morning formation. At the end of last drill my squadleader said not to worry about the inspection for the very good reason that my Class A uniform pants are on backorder. We made all the obligatory jokes about me getting inspected without pants. But I found you can buy ANYTHING for an Army uniform (of many armies for that matter) on line. So I bought Class A pants from a North Carolina on line store.

I got the pants and jacket tailored at the men's shop where I get all my suits for work. I had a nice conversation with a guy who works there about why I joined. And it turned out he was in Germany as a student when I was there in the Army in the 70s.

Lisa and Nigel Help Clean Up

In the morning before the holiday party, a half-dozen of us set up additional tables and chairs and put nuts and mints on the all of the 59 tables set up for the Christmas lunch. After lunch, the 23 tables and 184 chairs we added to the usual set up had to be put away again. Lisa and Nigel helped pick up trash and stack chairs for an hour after the party ended. Because we were cleaning up Lisa took leftover fruit and salad home with us. She brought "Army salad" for lunch. I can say confidently she is the only kid in her high school having Army food for lunch today. Nigel's best moment was when a young enlisted man decided to push a cart with 10 eight-foot tables stacked on it. He was having a lot of trouble getting it moving, so Nigel ran over and started pushing. Nigel helped the soldier push the 200-pound load the length of the mess hall and was very pleased to have helped an "Army man" push the tables.

Brigade Christmas Party

On Sunday beginning at noon, members of our brigade on drill this weekend had a Christmas party, complete with Santa and an Army Christmas dinner. This is the first time my family went to any official Army event. Nigel loved the food. At dinner he asked if we could put gravy on the shopping list--lunch included turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, all with gravy. Lisa, now in her sixth month as a Vegan, at the salad, fresh fruit and dinner rolls that were part of lunch. Although this was Annalisa's first step into Army culture, she did meet an old friend. Our battalion chaplain was for six years in the 1990s assistant chaplain at Franklin and Marshall College. He is Greek Orthodox and when he was at F&M had a full beard, so even though I had seen him a couple of times in the past few months, I did not recognize him without the beard. He went to Afghanistan in 2004 and seems excited to deploy again.

Warning Order for Deployment

This morning at a battalion formation our commander told us we now have a warning order for deployment. If all proceeds according to current plans, we will move to Fort Sill OK on January 20, 2009, and be deployed two months later.

Sept. Sunday News Link is Down--Here's the Story

He's (back) in the Army now at 54!
Executive joins Guard, hopes to use his knowledge of chemicals

By JON RUTTER, Staff writer
Sunday News Published: Sep 02, 2007 12:17 AM EST LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Fifty-four-year-old Neil Gussman is in the Army now.
Actually, he's in it for the second time.
He originally joined back in 1972, when the draft and the Vietnam War were still on.
Gussman had just graduated from high school in Boston. He enlisted to get money for college. He was, by his own admission, clueless.
"I had no political opinion. ... I don't think I had a view on the war, positive or negative."
Thirty-five years later, Gussman lives in Lancaster with his wife and four children. He travels the world as a corporate executive. He's a self-described "token Democrat" at his church, Wheatland Presbyterian.
He isn't out to spill blood. "I'm 54 years old," he reiterated. "I didn't join the Army now to kick down doors in Tik…

School Catch 22

Last month, I decided to sign up for the on-line version of 63J (chemical weapons dectection equipment maintenance) training so I could get started now rather than waiting till next year for a resident school slot to open up. The 63J non-resident program is several hundred hours ofd on-line training followed by two weeks at Aberdeen. I am scheduled for the two weeks at Aberdeen, but I am on a WAIT list. Because I am on a wait list, I have not received the the authorization code to start taking the 63J course. Until I get off the wait list, I can't start the on line course. In the meantime, I am taking a chemical weapons on-line course that I can sign up for as additional training. It turns out that I can't take the mandatory job rtraining course without formal authorization, but I can take a course that has the same content but is not job training on the same subject. Computers have not changed the Army when it comes to approving paperwork.

Catching up with my old Boss

Tonight I spent nearly an hour on the phone with Col. Rich Goldsmith, retired. In 1977-78 Rich commanded 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Wiesbaden, West Germany. I was a tank commander in B company during that time. It was a lot of fun to catch up on what he is doing and fill him in what's been going on with me and my family. He sounds the same. I hope we can meet in person when his travels take him to the North, or I get to Alabama--which will be my first trip.

Training Day

What does an Army National Guard soldier do all day on a training weekend? Here's a log:
0600--Get up, make coffee, get dressed, check my e-mail, make sure I have everything I need in case we have night training and I spend the night.
0645--Drive 39 miles north, all on back roads, from my home on the west side of Lancaster, Pa., to Fort Indiantown Gap.
0740--I am inside the mess hall at our headquarters building and waiting for formation. The cooks sell egg and sausage sandwiches for $1.50, the coffee is free. (Only the noon meal is provided for Guard drills, unless we have night training.)
0800--Morning formation. Usually the First Sergeant begins the day with routine annoucements for the whole company and formation takes about five minutes. this morning, the first sergeant expressed his displeasure with the results of the preceding month's APFT (Annual Physical Fitness Test). He reminded everyone that their enlistment contract included staying in shape and meeting the A…

Soldiers as Guinea Pigs

As long as there have been state doctors, soldiers have given those doctors a perfect test group for new drugs, new surgical procedures, new life-saving techniques. Sometimes big things, sometimes small. On May 11, I broke three of the seven vertebra in my neck. The surgeon who replaced my C-7 vertebra with a bone from a cadaver recently returned from Baghdad. I am not dead or paraplegic because he has had a lot of recent practice in the kind of surgery I needed.
At drill this coming weekend I get a flu shot. Actually I am one of four men in my unit to get a flu shot. The rest get their flu vaccine by inhalation. This new technique promises to offer better protection, but needs testing. Soldiers are a great test group—young, in good shape, and well fed. And they do what they are told, so they all take the new vaccine and give researchers a great set of data points. So why do four of us get shots? We are in shape and well fed, but we are also over 50. In the Army more than 80%…

Training Squeeze

I'll be very busy between now and March 9, now being defined as whenever the paperwork is approved and processed for me to take chemical weapons training on line. The second phase of my training--two weeks at Aberdeen--is already scheduled for March 9. I have to complete the first phase on line before March 9, but that will occur when the paperwork is approved and that might take weeks. So maybe I will be spending the Christmas holidays learning about Chemical Weapons.

Lauren's Team Makes the Championship

In the final game of the regular season, my oldest daughter Lauren's soccer team made qualified for the playoffs. With an 8-4-4 record they just made it to the championship. This is Lauren's freshman year at Juniata College. The current starting goalkeeper is a senior and Lauren should be playing a lot more next year when she and another freshman goalkeeper will step up as Russo graduates. Lauren had high hopes for the first-round championship game against Scranton. Unfortunately, the Juniata title bid ended in the first game with a 3-2 loss. I am looking forward to seeing Lauren in the goal next season. It was strange this year going to her games and seeing her on the bench for the first time since the sixth grade. She has started every game in middle school and high school on defense and, the last tow years of high school, in the goal.

State Cross Country Championships

OK This is not about the Army, but I am also a dad and my youngest Daughter ran in the Pennsylvania AAA High School Cross Country Championships today. This is her first season in Cross Country and she is doing great. she was first finisher on her team in every regular season meet this year. She finished first once, second four times and fifth once--although there is a different scoring system that followers of the sport know and would be too long to explain here. In the post season, she finished ninth among more than 200 girls in the Lancaster-Lebanon AAA League meet; 39th in the district championship which allowed her to make the state meet; then 82nd today in the PA State Championship among the 300 best runners in the state. Her time today was 20:22. Her best time of the season for the 5k distance was 19:22.

Chemical Weapons Training Scheduled for March

I just received confirmation that I will attend 63J--chemical weapons systems maintenance--training phase 2 from March 9 through March 22 of 2008. I should be receiving a link soon to on-line phase one training in 63J. So I will have from receipt of that link until March 9 to complete phase 1. I'll be spending a lot of time on line between now and then.

Linking Viet Nam and Iraq

Today's Philadelphia Daily News has a 20-page section on Viet Nam. I am quoted in the lead of the first article in the section--partly about the Starbucks story below. Here's the link: PDNews

New Training Schedule

I just received a revised training schedule for FY 2008. We will have two weekend drills in February and summer camp will be a couple of days longer. It looks like the additional training for deployment won't begin until later in the year.

Chemical Weapons Training

Not confirmed yet, but it looks possible that I will be able to complete much of my training on line. Instead of attending an 11-week school at Aberdeen, I will be able to complete an on-line course then complete the final phase in two weeks of resident school. That will get me qualified for the work at the technician level. Then another two-week course will make me eligible for the supervisor level--and the sergeant's list. If all goes well, I will start the on-line training in November.

Dog Tags

This weekend I got dog tags. My youngest daughter saw them on my bureau and said she would like a set. I found them on line in about a minute and ordered a set for each of my kids. And by ordering them this way, I could replace my actual Social Security Number with "SSN." I went through identity theft in the spring and I have no desire to repeat it.

FRS Forward Repair System

Saturday morning our motor sergeant put me in charge of the most incredible toolbox this side of a NASCAR garage. The FRS is a self-contained, 18-foot long repair center moved around the battlefield by a five-axle all-terrain tractor-trailer. Dropped off the trailer and leveled on the ground next to any vehicle including an M-1 tank, the FRS has every conceivable tool necessary to fix anything on tracks or wheels. At one end is a 200-amp diesel generator and a 190 psi compressor system. At the other end is a 10,000-pound capacity crane with a 20-foot reach. In the middle are MIG, Arc and gas welders and cutting systems along with five 7-drawer tool cabinets. Inside are 1/2-inch and 3/4 drive air wrenches and sockets and hundreds of hand tools. It also has a full set of curtains, workbenches on a heating system. It comes with a 40-hour training course!

The irony is, I am the only guy assigned to the Echo company motor pool who is not a mechanic. Almost everyone else would like …

Not Like Viet Nam

During the Viet Nam War soldiers were pariahs in many parts of the country. Tonight, I stopped at Starbucks on Columbia Avenue in Lancaster on the way back from drill. The man in front of me in line was in his 40s. After he ordered two coffees he asked if I was having coffee, then bought mine also. He thanked me for fighting the war on terror. Nothing like that happened to me during Viet Nam.

Safety Meeting, Then Deployment Announcement

After morning formation we had a mandatory one-hour safety briefing for everybody. After the briefing, the battalion commander got up to say that, while he has no paperwork, the most likely timetable for our unit to be deployed is that we will move to deployment training in January of 2009, then "boots on the ground" in March 2009. He also said we may have as many as three two-to-three-week training sessions during 2008.

Morning Formation: Push-ups in Place

At this morning's formation, three soldiers were late including a staff sergeant. After calling us to attention and receiving the morning report, the first sergeant told the three tardy soldiers to "Drop and start knocking 'em out." (push-ups) He let them do about 15 push-ups before saying "Recover" and letting them return to their places in the formation.

Re-enlisting October 20

I will be re-enlisting on Saturday, October 20. To go to school, I have to be committed to more than one year. To get a security clearance to apply to school, I have to be committed to more than one year, so it's time to re-up. As things stand now, I should be going to school in April of 2008.

Hugo, Bill and me

Long-time friend Joe Chang is the editor of ICIS Chemical Business, a global chemical news magazine. He put me in this week's "Movers and Shakers" column with Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton. Practical jokes go to a whole new level when you edit a magazine. (Click on the image if you want to see it more clearly.)

Catch 22 on School

It turns out I cannot go to school unless I get a security clearance and I can't get a security clearance without re-enlisting. I enlisted for one year on a new program called "Try One." But the current regs don't allow processing of a security clearance for a "Try One." So I plan to re-enlist as soon as the regs allow. Maybe in two weeks, maybe sooner.

PT Test Plus 2 Days

I am still sore!! Yesterday I did the daily ride and had trouble hanging on. I gave up in Washington Boro at 20 miles. I ached all over and did a very slow roll for the ten miles home. This morning it still hurts to go down stairs. Recovering at 54 is clearly different than recovery at 24.

Rumors--Today's Army vs. 30 Years Ago

I wondered how different the rumor mill would be in the Army of 2007 vs. 1977. What effect would e-mail, the internet, and cell phones have on the spread of rumors? On Sunday we had a brigade mandatory class in dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (always referred to by PTSD). When the class was announced at formation, the rumors of our deployment increased, both in number and in absolute certainty. Of course, not all of the absolutely certain information agreed, but every bit of information was absolutely right. Nothing has changed.

I Passed the PT Test!!

On Sunday after morning formation, I took the annual Physical Training test with six other members of my unit. We will serve as graders at next month's drill for the rest of the company. The order of the events is push-ups, sit-ups, then the 2-mile run. The minimum for me to pass (at age 54)is 20 push-ups, 28 sit-ups (each in two minutes) and then 19:30 for the 2-mile run, which would earn 60 points for each event. The maximum possible score on the test is 300.
I did 31 push-ups in a minute, then quit. I could only have done a few more and thought I was pushing my luck given my recent injuries. I did 55 sit-ups and finished the last one at the last second. I could not have done one more. I was last (by 10 seconds) of the seven graders on the run with a time of 15:38. The scores were 72, 88, and 92 points respectively for a total score of 252 out of a possible 300.

New Brigade Commander, My First Parade Since the 70s

On Saturday morning I was one of a half-dozen members of Echo Company to participate in a Brigade change of command ceremony. the last time I was in a large ceremonial formation was in the 1970s in Germany. I wondered if I would do something dumb, but I managed to follow all the orders. The formation looked very good. From what I remember from the 70s, they looked better than some active duty units.

Installing Motor Pool Computers

This weekend's drill began at 7 pm with a formation under a beautiful clear sky on a starlit night with a nearly full moon. After the formation I filled out the paperwork to get dogtags then walked to the motor pool. The motor pool is a little more than a mile away walking on the range roads that are closed to cars. It is a 3-mile drive around through the security check point. I am the only one who walks. and what a night to walk. 60 degrees. Moon bright as a searchlight. I listened to Letters 8, 9 and 10 of the Screwtape letters. Letter 8 is on undulation as the normal state of human life. Works for me. iPods are great.

When I got to the motor pool my squad leader asked me if I knew anything about computers. I said I did and spent the next 90 minutes setting up four rather old desktop Windows machine. No network. They are just used for shop manuals--much easier to update than the paper manuals. At 930 pm I walked back. We were dismissed for the night at 10 pm. I de…

Nothing Until November

the modern Army is high tech, but the flow of virtual paper is along the same lines as the days of quadruplicate e-mails. After filling out that 37-page application for a security clearance, I was told this evening my application was rejected. The reason: one-year enlistees are not eligible for Security clearances. Actually, it turns out that "being on a one-year" (to use the training NCO's syntax) also means I cannot apply for school. I am eligible to re-enlist November 17. For those who might wonder, I re-enlisted for one year at the advice fo my recruiter. If I enlisted for three years, I could not get a bonus. By re-enlisting for three years after serving 90 days, I can get a $10,000 bonus. It seemed like a good idea, but it does mean I may have to wait until April for the school.

Just After Midnight

Just after midnight last night I finished the application for a Secret Security Clearance. The result is a 37-page PDF summarizing my jobs, my friends, my addresses and my overseas travel in the last 7 years. The seven-year cutoff was great for me. If I had to reconstruct 8 and 9 years ago when I was overseas every month I would have been up till 3 am.

Changing the Schedule; Fitness Test Standards

On Monday I started letting people at work know that I would not be going to the school in Sacramento until next year. Since I got the cervical collar off on August 2 I have been training to pass the fitness test. It's not too difficult for men between 52 and 56 years old: 20 pushups in 2 minutes, 28 situps in 2 minutes, run two miles in 19:30. I was concerned about the pushups because of the injuries to my right shoulder in May. But I can do the 20 in just under a minute, so I should be fine. The situps and the run should be no problem. But there is no way I am going to max it. For a 100% score in each event I would have to do 56 pushups, 66 situps and complete the run in 14:42. If you want to see the standards for your age:

No School

Today I got a message from saying I would not be attending chemical weapons school. Reason: I need a Secret Secutiry Clearance. Now I can plan the next three months.

Enlistment Day, August 16, 2007

Today at 0930 I enlisted. My wife and children watched the two-minute ceremony in the headquarters of my new unit: Echo Company 2-104th Aviation Battalion, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

First call to my recruiter

After thinking about joining for way too long, I called SFC Kevin Askew on Maundy Thursday, April 5, 2007, and asked him about joining the Army National Guard. We talked for more than a half hour. He told me that the Army National Guard has a unit that both looks for WMDs and provides Hazmat response support in the region. He said to send in my DD214s, pay statements and any other paperwork I had that would establish my prior service and he would determine if I could actually join. I collected the papers over Easter weekend and started faxing them on Monday morning.