Friday, November 30, 2007

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

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.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

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 Army's height and weight standards. And then he said "Those of you who failed the PT test should know that Old Man Gussman passed with flying colors last month. Any of you who are younger than him--that's every damn one of you--should be ashamed of yourselves." He then said those who flunked will retake the test after everyone else is dismissed this evening and do it every month till they pass.
0815--We are told at formation we will get a gas mask test fit at 0830. Several of us go to the test area, but the test will be delayed, so we go to the motor pool.
0830--The motor pool building is one mile away on the range road, but there is a barrier across the range road and no vehicles are allowed. So everyone drives 5 miles around the airstrip to the motorpool. I walk. I listen to my iPod for 20 minutes and arrive 5 minutes after the people who drive.
0850--My assignment for the morning is to set up the side curtains and start the heater on my $200,000 tool box. See the FRS (Forward Recovery System) post from last month for details. Next I inventory a box of filed lighting equipment. It's a 100+-pound green plywood box about 2x2x3 feet. Inside are wires, bulbs, connectors and power cords. I count everything, verify the lengths of the cables, and issue tools from the FMS.
1100--The motor sergeant sends several of us back to the headquarters building for gas mask fit. When I get there, he is shutting down for lunch.
1130--In the monthly newsletter sent to everyone a few days before drill, my name is listed as needing to sign some paperwork and turn in other paperwork--college transcripts, direct deposit authorization, etc. So I go to our company HQ and take care of the paperwork.
Noon--Lunch. Beef in gravy over noodles, mixed vegetables, fresh fruit--pears and oranges--rolls, cole slaw, and orangeade. I eat everything. Lots of jokes at lunch about how the lunch is going to look coming back up during the PT test.
1300--I get my gas mask from the supply room and join the line for mask fit. The new method connects a pressure sensor to the drink toube and makes sure the mask fits correctly by sensing pressure while we breath normally, breath hard, turn our heads side to side, up and down, and finally pretend we are chewing gum.
1330--I walk back to the motor pool. I am always alone for this 20 minutes. As far as I know, no one ever walked to the motor pool except me. Certainly no one has in the last three months. So I talked to a friend who teaches English at Lancaster Bible College about a class he is teaching on faith in the arts. We talked about the music he was using to tracing Dylan's career in one class session.
1400--With the light box inventory complete, I began to inventory the refrigeration mechanics tool kit. It turned out to be a total of four tool boxes. I also stowed the tools takes from the FRS.
1610--Back to HQ for afternoon formation. I walk fast. "Walk This Way" by RunDMC keeps me on cadence.
1630--Afternoon formation. Everyone is dismissed until 0800 Sunday. I decide to stay around because my squad leader is one of the guys who has to re-take the AFPT.
1700--I tell my squad leader i will run with him then go and change into exercise uniform while he and the others do the push-up and sit-up part of the AFPT.
1730--Everyone drives to the track.
1740--We arrive at the track. Another company is testing. I talk to them and they are fine with us sharing the track as long as our timing is on the opposite side.
1745--The two-mile run begins. I run beside my squad leader. He gets slower in the middle but recovers enough to pass. He was sure he was going to see his lunch again. 1805--At the end of the run, seven of the nine guys who needed to pass made it. Two left for next month.
1815--Everyone goes home. My left knee was swollen before the run. It feels better now so I do three more laps because I know I will have to lay off running for at least a week anyway.
1845--Drive back to Lancaster. On the way home, I talk to my best friend from the last time I was in the army. He is a recently retired firefighter in San Diego. We laugh a lot about how little the Army has changed. At other times we have talked about how much more combat ready the Army National Guard is now than the active duty unit we were in during the post-Vietnam malaise.
1945--Stop at Starbucks then go home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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% of the troops are under 25. The over-50 guys are so rare, leaving us out gives them a much better sample than having to deal with the 99th percentile (by age) soldiers.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

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.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

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.

Re-enlistment: When the paperwork is done

The latest word on re-enlistment is the paperwork is filed, but it might be several weeks until it is completed. So no word yet, but maybe by Christmas.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

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.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

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.