Saturday, February 28, 2009

Got My HEMMT License; Rode in Oklahoma Winds

Today I had a 20+ mile ride in a large Army vehicle in the morning and a one-speed bike in the afternoon. After safety videos, classes, written tests, hands-on tests and driving in the motor pool, I drove the HEMMT in traffic and out on the ranges on both tank trails and paved roads. So now I have a license to drive yet another vehicle that did not exist during my first enlistment.

Actually, the only vehicle the Army still uses from my first enlistment is the M35A2 2-1/2-ton "Deuce and a Half" truck. And that is used only by the National Guard. I understand that by the time we get back they will all be retired from active service and replaced by the LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle).


Fort Sill
We had most of the afternoon off so I rode around next Sunday's Race course backward. The wind was 20-30 mph steady with a high of 50 degrees. The terrain here is almost all rolling hills. Never flat. I was riding all of 5mph up some of the hills. But it was great to be out on the bike. I might be riding tomorrow afternoon with one of the pilots.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Borrowed Bike for the Race

Just before Noon I went to the Post Chapel and picked up a Cannondale road bike from one of the post chaplains. He offered to loan me one of his bikes for the race next Sunday. He is not a racer, but an avid rider. How avid a rider you ask? When I was getting ready to take the bike outside he said he needed to pump up the rear tire. He pulled a floor pump with a pressure gauge from behind the door in his office. A guy who keeps a floor pump in his office is somebody who loves to ride.

I will be going out to ride on Saturday. I did not ride or do any PT on Friday. My shoulder is bothering me and my right foot still hurts from the plantar fasciitis that was bothering me from last October. Joe and Gretchen, the physical therapists who treated me before I left told me to listen to my shoulder. I am trying, but my shoulder never says anything I want to hear.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

One More Race Before Deployment

On March 8 at 0930, Fort Sill is hosting a 17-mile bike race through the middle of one of the ranges. They won't be firing that day. I registered last night on It looks like a citizen race from the registration. I called and they have a 55+ age group, which will be my first race in that category. It is a great course, rolling with several long and short 4-6% climbs and one 40+mph descent. I rode the course on the one-speed today and am hoping to borrow a bike with gears from the post chaplain tomorrow--he's an avid rider.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Drugs in the Army--Then and Now

This drug testing class is not very much fun. Forty hours of how to fill out paperwork and supervise urinalysis drug tests. This program started in 1971 and continues with more and more emphasis for nearly 40 years.

From the perspective of someone who served at both ends of the program, the class never addresses the really important difference 38 years of drug testing has made in the military. For me, the primary difference is that people inclined to use drugs know they are going to be hassled for all of their career and, thankfully, they mostly decide to get out.

Back in the 70s, that was not the case.

When our unit got a new platoon sergeant in the 1970s, everybody hoped it was one of the young guys with only one tour in Viet Nam, or better yet, none. Because you never knew back then if the guy running the tank platoon was going to be an experienced NCO who knew tanks and soldiering really well, or a burnout who was just trying to get to 20. The great thing that continuous testing does it make it hard for addicts to stay in. Most soldiers who really want to do drugs end up getting out before they are in charge of anything.

Most, not all. The bind the Army is in is that they instill pride in us. But pride is a sword that cuts in two directions. Once you make a soldier proud in a positive sense, you have given that soldier everything he needs to believe he can do anything. So there will always be a few cases of the senior sergeants and officers who take the pride that got them the rank and let it convince them they are smarter than everybody else.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wrong End of the Digestive System

All this week--Monday through Friday from 0830 to 1630--I am in a class with 40 other sergeants on how to monitor drug tests--specifically how to fill out al the paperwork necessary to properly conduct a drug test. All of us were assigned this job as an additional duty. There are people from the unit I am in, various units around Fort Sill, drill sergeants and recruiters. Unfortunately, this testing is necessary because no one wants to give soldier on drugs a loaded weapon.

But I really feel bad for three people in that class. One is a cook, the other two are the instructors. First the cook. For various reasons, the Army does not have cooks cook our food. When my friend the cook gets deployed, he will be filling out papers about food service, but will not be baking, roasting or frying. Although the Army won't officially let him put our buns in the oven, he will be putting his initials on bottles of urine. I would rather see my friend the cook be a cook. But he's a good soldier, so he will be working the Exit of the digestive system rather than the entrance.

Maybe a worse situation than the cook is the instructors. These two must face a class of 40 or so men and women who have taught many classes and present information that dull hardly begins to describe. Both of the instructors are good natured and resist the temptation to make any of the jokes that are being whispered in various corners of the room. And since they are experienced teachers in this subject, they have heard all of these jokes over and over.

Monday, February 23, 2009


If you have been reading my recent posts you know that we are banned from sex and alcohol (except on pass) for the duration of our deployment. But a few a indulgences remain within bounds. There are no limits on music so devotees of Death Metal, Gangsta Rap, Country and Gospel can be roommates. Also tobacco, both smoking and chewing, is allowed. The smokers have to go outside to designated smoking areas, but they are no more restricted than in public places in civilian life. The 20-year-olds can, for the most part, smoke and pass the PT test. The most fit 30-somethings can also smoke and run.

The weirder tobacco habit, at least for me is chewing tobacco. A lot of ex-smokers turn to chew because they can be more fit and still use tobacco. Since I worked for several years on the dock at Yellow Freight, it looks reasonably normal to me to see a half dozen men in the motor pool with their lower lip swelled out spitting into Gatorade bottles. Gatorade had a wider mouth than a soda bottle.

What will take a while for me to get used to is seeing young women chewing and spitting into those bottles. I know we are all soldiers, but seeing women the age of my daughters carrying spit bottles still looks wrong to me. Maybe after a year, I will be completely used to it. I hope not.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best Day in OK

Today we had nearly the entire day off. We had one formation at 1300 hours followed by a briefing from the commander than off the rest of the day. I went to chapel at 0830 then rode for more than an hour. After the the meeting and formation I rode again. altogether I rode 38 miles, the most I have ridden in one day this year. Usually riding in Oklahoma means fighting a steady 25mph wind. Today the wind was only 15 mph. It seemed like still air after the usual wind here. The temp hit 55 degrees, also better than the last few days.

Besides the bike riding, the Mob Cafe served real turkey with cornbread dressing for lunch and dinner. It was really good.

Tomorrow we are up before 5 for morning PT. But one day of sleeping in until 0730 was really nice.

Anthrax Chapel for Church

I returned to the Anthrax Chapel this morning for Church. The last time I was in it, I was part of a gas mask training exercise that ended with a test of how fast we could put on our mask. This morning there were no gas masks, but many of us had weapons.

Church looks different when 40 or so men and women in camouflage with weapons are singing hymns. The sermon was about the difficulty of hearing God's voice. The chaplain is a man who readily tells jokes and had one on himself on this topic. He opened the sermon by saying that if we traveled back in time a hundred years or more the thing we would notice most was the silence. (Since I was seated in the Amen corner, I shouted Amen at this point. I was alone.) Then he pointed to his shirt pockets saying he had two cell phones, and when he is home he lives alone, leaves the TV on and listens to the radio/CD the whole time he is in the car. His advice was to hear God's voice by seeing needs and meeting them.

But for many soldiers, they can have more silence in a barracks than in many places back in the real world. Soldiers are serious about sleep and lights out rules mean the metal music and slasher movie fans have to put on headphones at lights out.

We don't have formation today until 1300 (1pm) and the whole barracks is quiet because most everybody is sleeping in. Many of these soldiers live in homes with TVs and other media on constantly.

Going to war may be the best chance they have for a few months of real quiet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Then and Now--My Team

Early in 1976, when I made sergeant for the second time and I was a new tank commander, I was in charge of three men, my crew. We trained together at Fort Carson, Colorado, for several months with the specific goal of qualifying at annual tank gunnery. As an ex-Air Force soldier, I really wanted to qualify distinguished (expert in tank weapons), since the Army considers service in the Air Force somewhere below the Cub Scouts on a difficulty scale. The three men on my crew were 19, 19 and 21 years old. One of the 19-year-olds was married with one child and one on the way. He was my loader. The other was married with no kids; he was my driver. The 21-year-old was single and my gunner. I was among the oldest 25% of the unit at 23-years-old.

We did fire distinguished in August of that year. Partly because I drilled my crew more than most of the other tank commanders and partly because my gunner was mostly a rumpled, grumbling lousy soldier, but he was an awesome gunner. The targets on the final test, the moving range, were pop-up panels the size of tanks in the open and tank turrets behind berms. We mostly fired armor piercing, a round with a flat trajectory at distances below 1000 meters. But the final shot that got us the top category was a truck-sized target at 2350 meters. We had to fire a high explosive shell at that target. HE is low velocity with an arc of 50 meters above the gun at 2350 meters distance. My gunner punched a hole in the center of that target with the second shot.

Tank Commander is wearing the beret, loader is wearing the helmet. The driver sits in the middle, front, just visible underneath the gun. The gunner is inside the turret just ahead of the tank commander.

My team now is simply three members of the maintenance team who tell me when and where they are when they are not in the barracks or at work. In the 1970s, I would have described the typical soldier as a 19-year-old from either the inner city or the rural south, married with one child and one on the way. His wife was 17. He enlisted because he needed a job with health benefits.

My team now are a 20-year-old welder, a 21-year-old dispatch clerk, and a 47-year-old mechanic. I see them at formations and get text messages from them when they go to the PX or the gym. I do work with the mechanic at times, but for the most part, everyone has different training specific to their jobs. Very different from the training combat units go through.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Anthrax Chapel on

Marc Abrahams, editor of "The Annals of Improbable Research" (Subscribe Today!) and the Web site, posted The Anthrax Chapel on his site, complete with my camera phone picture, properly oriented. This may be the first connection between the Ig Nobel Prize and training barracks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Marc at AIR staff meeting

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"What Exactly is a Processing a Person?"

Today I was the escort for a soldier who is going home and not deploying with us. I told a friend who is a chemical engineer that I was getting this soldier processed.

"Processed," he said. "What Exactly is a Processing a Person?" He said his mind went straight from chemical processing to food processing to processing a chicken. I laughed at the image then told explained that processing in the Army means filling out all the papers necessary to get someone in, out or to a new duty assignment.

I could have posted some really disgusting chicken processing photos, but the cut-in-pieces image seemed appropriate.

I will try to be careful to explain the acronyms and Army-specific terms I use, but every day I am being "processed" further into the abyss of Army language. I am re-reading Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) now so I keep standard English in my mind while the acronyms pile up.

By the way (BTW), my friend knows by now that any three-letter military acronym with the letter 'F' in the middle is always the same participle used as an adjective. So a BFR (Big F#&king Rock) is a large stone and if a soldier uses it, BFF may or may not mean Best Friends Forever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Specialist Dust Pan

One of the enlisted men in our unit lost his room key three times in a week causing him to be late for formation. His squad leader decided to make it harder for the young man to lose his room key, so his key ring is now connected to a black, metal dust pan. At every formation and when we are not training in the field, he has to carry his keys on a dust pan. If you haven't ever carried an M-16 rifle and a dust pan, I don't recommend it. By Saturday he should be able to turn in his dust pan and just carry a key ring.

I, on the other hand, may become Mr. Clean. This morning I took a half-dozen soldiers form the motor pool back to the barracks to sweep and mop stairwells and hallways. Then two of us paste waxed a hallway floor in the afternoon. They tell us soon we will be training hard. Tomorrow I get driver training in a HMMTT fueler.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anthrax Chapel

One of my co-workers back in PA asked for a photo of The Anthrax Chapel. It's not much more than a name painted on the wall above the door of a rectangular room in a military barracks. I guess about 20 by 50 feet. As noted before, this classroom also serves as the chapel for our unit. And according to one of our intelligence sergeants, the same room is where soldiers here got shots for anthrax immunization during the anthrax alert following September 11, 2001. So someone had the bright idea of calling the place The Anthrax Chapel.

This is a camera phone shot and I could not save it rotated 90 degrees. So turn your computer to the right if you want to see the photo correctly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

All Day Cleaning

Today most of the company was in convoy training or sleeping in after midnight fueling training. The few of us that were left had little to do so we cleaned and reorganized the stuff we are using while we are here in Oklahoma. So I volunteered to clean the latrine. With one platoon training all night and other people out in the field, the latrine looked bad, so I decided to clean it rather than wait for something to happen.

The other soldiers were surprised I would volunteer for that, but they weren't running after me saying, "Can I clean the latrine too?" So I spent the morning cleaning the walls and floors and restocking the supplies. One of the officers paid for real cleaning supplies (Clorox and Clorox spray cleaners) because we only have Simple Green and with all those guys, I wanted to clean with real chlorine.

In the afternoon I saw one of the sergeants in the headquarters company picking up trash behind the barracks building, so I told her I had a few soldiers killing time and we would get the front. When I got back to the motor pool, the idle soldiers were cleaning Humvees and the shop. So I got a bag and spent an hour picking up trash, mostly cigarette butts.

At the end of the day, the motor sergeant said the tool van for deployment would not be leaving for another three weeks so I could take the fixed-gear bike out of the van and ride it till then. He didn't hare to say it twice. I rode 10 miles after final formation yesterday. Riding a bike here MUCH harder than in PA. More on that later.

We have partitions--but I have been in barracks that looked like this and may be again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Multi-Use Rooms

On Sunday the main classroom in the barracks is also the Chapel and the movie room. In fact the room has "Anthrax Chapel" painted above the doors on the inside. This morning there was a sign on the right door listing chapel services at 0830, 1000, 1800 and 1900--two Catholic and two Protestant services. On the left door was a photocopied sign for tonight's movie which starts at 2000 hours, right after the last chapel service. The Sunday night movie: Righteous Kill

Mob Cafe--Intellectual Corner

Seated near the drinks in the far corner of the Mob Cafe are the soldiers with some college who hang together and make jokes almost devoid of 4-letter words. If the Mob Cafe is a high school cafeteria, these are the smart ass kids that don't like the jocks.

Tonight I was doing my laundry when one of this group walked into the laundry room to take his stuff from the dryer. He is an ex-Marine with a shaved head in his late 20s. He was talking on a cell phone as he emptied the dryer. He was also carrying a cup he found that says, "Retired Navy." As he walked by, I noticed he was wearing a red CCCP t-shirt (the Cyrillic alphabet letters for Soviet Socialist Republic), blue sweat pants, shower shoes, and carrying an M16 rifle. An ensemble you just don't see everywhere.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mobilization Cafe, Part 2

I got several comments back on the Mobilization Cafe. A co-worker who is also a Sopranos fan loved the idea that everyone calls it the (long O) Mob Cafe, but it looks like the Mob Cafe--like Tony, Silvio, Paulie, Bobby, et al would be sipping espresso and planning revenge hits.

Alas, there is no repose and no barista. In fact, the coffee is a good instant, but it's instant. And while the food is fairly good and there is lots of it, three meals per day more than 1,000 soldiers eat in just two hours.

At any given time there are more than 100 people in line. At a recent lunch I counted as follows: 50 people outside the door in line, 25 people between the door and the sign-in desk, 50 more between the desk and the serving line. It took 12 minutes to get to the sign-in desk, then 12 more minutes to get to the servers. Two minutes later I got the hot foot, dessert and went through the salad bar. Two more minutes to get drinks. Usually, I come to chow alone because of checking something on line or talking to someone. So while I am waiting, I look for someone who is 20 or 30 people ahead I can eat half of lunch with them. Typically, we eat in 10 to 15 minutes, so if you sit with someone who got their food 10 minutes before, they are done two minutes after you sit down. There are also a few of the older enlisted men who get to chow early and eat slow, so I can sit with them even if they have been eating for 15 minutes.

Today, the dinner choices were spaghetti with meat sauce, baked or fried chicken, and lasagna. Squash, baked or mashed potatoes and corn on the cob for vegetables. The fast foods tonight were corn dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. A salad bar with fruit and about five dessert choices are available at every meal. The food really is pretty good. The plates and cups are styrofoam, the silverware is white plastic.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weapons 24/7

In my room with my M16A4. We just pulled out all of our field equipment for a platoon inspection.

Tonight at 6pm (1800 hours) we drew our weapons from the arms room--permanently. We will have our weapons with us for all training until we leave. And it makes everything we do some part of weapons training. Because if it rains, our weapon gets wet along with us. And we have to clean them. The smart soldiers clean their weapons THEN themselves. I hope that neither me nor any member of my team is the first one to forget, misplace, or God Forbid, lose their weapon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sleep in a Building , Eat in a Tent

For the two months or so we are in stateside training, we are living in three-story concrete buildings more than 600 feet long with four entrances on each side. The two main buildings our unit lives in are side by side and together are almost 1/4-mile long. In front of the buildings is a 100-foot wide paved area with parking near the buildings. On the far side of paved strip, more or less centered between the buildings is a 200-foot-long, 100-foot-wide pair of tents with shipping container-sized enclosures in between. The tents are our dining facility called The Mobilization Cafe.

If you are curious this Web site has photos of the Mob (long O) Cafe, our barracks and other local landmarks.

Each side of the Mob Cafe seats 288 soldiers at tables that seat 16. I'll say more about the food and the service in my next post, but the seating is definitely high school cafeteria with uniforms. Junior officers sit with junior officers, pilots with pilots, fuelers with fuelers, sergeants with sergeants (also junior with junior, senior with senior), enlisted soldiers divide by age and sex, above and below 25 years old. For all the dividing up by age and sex and rank and job, almost no one divides by race. When I first joined in 1972 I was surprised how integrated the military was compared to civilian life. It's even more so now. But if all mechanics of all races sit together and talk shop, they don't generally sit with clerks and fuelers. I don't think that will ever change.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 2 at the Range--I Qualified

This morning we went to the rifle qualification range. It has pop-up targets from 50 meters to 300 meters that come up randomly for 3 to 5 seconds. To qualify, you have to hit 23 of 40 targets with 40 rounds of ammunition. I got 27. I passed. Since I was last on an M-16 range in 1972, I was very happy just to pass.

Cheap Bike Helmets

Apparently the Army REALLY wants soldiers and their families wearing bicycle helmets--or at least they want to remove one excuse for not wearing one. "Helmets are expensive" is not something you could hear at the Post Exchange (PX). My folding bike showed up in a shipping container that will be here just two weeks. I won't have much chance to ride it, but I took it out anyway, just because I miss riding a lot. My wife mailed one of my helmets here, but till it arrives I thought I could buy a helmet if it wasn't too expensive. I went to the PX to buy a helmet and found ANSI approved adult helmets on sale less than half price. So I bought one.

The original price: $4.28
This week: $1.99!!!!

The original price is the same price as a Venti Carmel Macchiato (my favorite) at Starbucks. The sale price is less than a tall coffee.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"That's What a Soldier Looks Like"

Today I had the biggest anxiety attack since this whole deployment started. It was first of two days of live fire with the M-16. Although I spent 11 years in the military back in the 70s and 80s, I have not fired an M-16 on a qualification range since Air Force basic training in February in 1972. Worse, in AF basic we did not go through the whole qualification process: zeroing the weapons, pop-up targets, night fire, firing in gas masks. In the Air Force, they handed us a weapon, we shot at some targets, they took the weapons and that was the one and only day in my Air Force career I handled a personal weapon.

When I joined the Army, I went straight to tank training. For the next eight years my personal weapon was a 45 cal. pistol. So this morning we boarded a bus to go to the range wearing our new bulletproof vests and helmets.

On the first range we zeroed the weapon. To zero, you shoot three rounds at a paper target at 25 meters. To zero the weapon, you must put 5 rounds in a 4 cm square. Since the M16A4 we use has both traditional iron sights and the new close quarters optical device, we have to zero the weapon twice, once with each sight.

So to zero the weapon with both sights, you have to shoot at least 12 rounds--six with each sight--and hit at least five out of six. Most of the 25 of us who were shooting fired 36 to 48 rounds. I fired 60. A few soldiers fired more. One soldier, a female sergeant, fired 12 rounds and was done.

We fire side by side in 8-foot-wide "lanes" with very prominent numbers. When the safety NCO told the tower the woman in Lane 6 zeroed with 12 rounds, the tower told her to walk down the embankment we shoot from and clear her weapon. As she walked toward the ammo point to turn in her unused ammunition, the tower told all the rest fo us to turn around and look at the female sergeant walking to the ammo point.

The sergeant in the tower said on the PA system, "Take a look ladies and gentlemen, that's what a soldier looks like. Now turn around."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Horror Movies Before Breakfast

This morning we all got up for PT at 0530 and at 0510, they canceled it. No one asked why, we just went back to bed. But one of my roommates got up an hour later, went to chow early and came back before 0700 when I woke up. When I sat up in my upper bunk, I saw one of my roommates hunched over his computer with his back to me at the other end of the room watching a movie--Saw V.

The guy in the lower bunk on my side of the room was already gone to breakfast. Our other roommate was still asleep. Since it was time to get up anyway, the movie fan took off his head phones. As I dressed I heard yelling and screaming. I had set up the coffee pot the night before so I turned on the switch while my other two roommates stared at the screen.

While the coffee started to drip into the pot, a woman was being electrocuted in a bathtub on screen. A few seconds later, both of my roommates started sniffing and got alarmed. They both turned around and said, "What's burning?" Then they realized I was making coffee.

For a minute they were having a real multimedia experience, thinking they could smell the on-screen murder.

As I reported before, we get weekly warnings that porn is illegal and can get you busted for watching it. From the 15 minutes I saw of this movie, it's OK to watch people get crushed, stabbed, electrocuted, and bled to death. At least they weren't having sex!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More Than the Sins of the Flesh

Two days ago our battalion commander spoke to several hundred of us on the parade field about what he expects for the training ahead and the deployment to follow. Since the deployment began and most recently last night, we have been getting official warnings about the sins of the flesh, but very little about the sins of the spirit.

If you need a brief refresher, the Seven Deadly Sins (from least to worst):
Anger (murder)

The first three are the sins of the flesh. The last three are the sins of the spirit. Sloth can be either.

We get warned regularly about all the penalties of lust: No sex with other soldiers being the primary warning. We have also had many warnings about porn, but several thousand young men with DVD players and computers makes that warning hollow at best.

Gluttony gets two mentions: We cannot drink during training or on deployment, and those who do not meet weight standards don't get promoted, no matter how proficient they are as soldiers or technicians.

Anger gets covered in Rules of War briefings.

Sloth (meaning lack of motivation in a military context) is penalized in many ways, both official and social.

Of the sins of the spirit, greed gets mentioned mostly in the context of stealing, but is very little tolerated.

But when our commander spoke he brought up Envy. He said specifically that envy can destroy unit cohesion--which is the military way of saying it destroys community. He then said, "If someone else is getting something you are not getting, go find out how to get it. Don't sit back and complain." He's right, of course, envy does destroy community. It's just the first time I have ever heard it condemned in a military briefing.

I don't suppose I will ever hear Pride condemned in a military formation. It is hardly ever condemned in Church. But Envy is a big step forward. My friend Bruder Timotheus of the Franciscan Brotherhood in Darmstadt Germany was my roommate at Wiesbaden Air Base in 1978. He left the military to become a Franciscan and lived in Germany ever since. He has said more than once that his vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience lets him and the other brothers get on with the really difficult work of living in community for the rest of their lives. By pushing aside the sins of the flesh, they can begin the difficult work of spiritual warfare against Envy and Pride, the sins Dante put at the very bottom of Hell.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Training While We Wait

The best laid training plans get delayed and fall apart for a variety of reasons. So with 20 minutes between training sessions today, our platoon sergeant paired us off for 20 minutes of martial arts training. We learned two moves: how to parry a jab to the face and hit your opponent below the belt in one smooth move, and how to disable an attackers arm when he swings a fist at you. The second one is called a "destroy" move on the attackers arm.

Our platoon sergeant is a martial arts instructor, so he can fill in down time with martial arts instruction. Other sergeants fill in with different training.

More PT

This morning we got up at 0445 (WAY before sun up) for an hour of PT beginning at 0530. We stretched then did timed sets of pushups followed by sit up ladders and other exercises. We did the exercises in pairs so with the sit up ladders, I did 5, he did 5, then 10, then 15, then 20, then back down the ladder. It looks like PT at 0530 will be the rule until April. The only change will to an earlier time. Most everyone in our platoon managed to eat breakfast and change between 0630 when PT ended and 0800 formation. But in another platoon only half of the 40 soldiers ate. So if the other platoon does not eat, we get up earlier. We were almost all civilians until two weeks ago. I am sure that the prospect of getting up even earlier will get the soldiers who missed breakfast into the chow line--or at least saying they weren't hungry.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My New Wardrobe

We are still getting new equipment, medical exams, filling out forms and waiting for the rest of the unit to arrive before we start training. Yesterday we got our new body armor--the latest version with a quick-release system and an eight-layer cold weather suit. I am wearing the outer layer in the photo.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Good Time to Take Leave from my Day Job

I just got a note from one of my friends at my day job. The economic crisis just caught up with CHF and nine people were laid off or about 15% of the employees. A few weeks ago, I was joking with my boss about how much money she saved by not paying my salary and benefits for the next year or so. I hope having me on military leave allowed one more person to keep working.

Our New Love Life

This morning fifty of us were out in the cold and the dark waiting for a bus that, among other things was going to take us to get cold-weather clothing. While we shivered, the motor platoon leader (a first lieutenant in his mid-20s in charge of the motor platoon) came to the front of the formation to talk to us. He began by asking how many of us were married--about a third of us raised our hands.

Then he said, "How many of you are married to a soldier in this platoon. . .In this company. . .In this battalion? Good. No one. That means no one should be having a sexual relationship with anyone in this command."

He said this policy was one of the general orders of the Army. He then asked if anyone in the formation could explain the Army policy on this kind of relationship between soldiers. A voice from the back of the formation yelled, "DON'T F#CK YOUR BUDDY SIR."

After we stopped laughing the LT continued without missing a beat, mentioning the terrible penalties for getting caught.

Then we were dismissed because the bus was not going to arrive for another 20 minutes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Shot in the Arm, Actually Both

Today I got shots for smallpox, anthrax, hepatitis, and typhus--three in the left arm, smallpox in the right. They also took three tubes of blood for various reasons. They asked before the shots whether I was left or right handed. I said left and almost immediately I got the smallpox vaccine in the right arm. Since this one is the most painful, that would be a good idea normally, but the right shoulder is the one that got operated on. I suppose it will keep all the pain in one place. So far it doesn't hurt too much.

Tomorrow we get more equipment for Iraq. Because we are leaving about the time the chow hall opens for breakfast we will be eating SunMeadow Shelf Stable Meals. My squad will be eating meal M033:
Two (2) 7.5 oz. Can Spaghetti
One (1) 4.0 oz. Fruit Cup
One (1) 1.0 oz. Trail Mix
One (1) 1.0 oz. Wheat Crackers
One (1) 4.0 oz. Pudding
Two (2) Packets Hot Sauce
One (1) 11.5 oz. Drink
One (1) Wrapped Peppermint Candy
One (1) Cutlery Kit

Spaghetti for breakfast. Yummmm!

If you check out the SunMeadow Web site, you'll see their main business is assisted living and nursing homes. I am going to run back to the chow hall and get some fruit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Food

At dinner last night, several of us were talking about how good the food is here--and it really is. Several different options, a good salad bar, good deserts. But talking about food always brings up the perfect meals that someone's mother, grandmother, wife, even a mother-in-law got a nod in this list of roast chicken, sweet potato pie, meat loaf chocolate cake, and other memorable foods.

I got the table laughing telling them that I loved military food from the first day. My Mom burnt nearly everything. In basic training when the other guys we moaning about the meat loaf I was saying, "You gonna eat that?" She did cook things I like, but I remember I got into the habit of drinking coffee only after I left home. My Mom had a plastic percolator.

She made a full pot of strong coffee in the morning then unplugged the coffeemaker when she left for work. She plugged it back in when she got home and drank the re-perked coffee in the evening. I grew up thinking that when you put milk in coffee, the resulting liquid was gray. I liked Army coffee. But when I went home on leave, I only drank coffee at Dunkin Donuts or diners. I let my Mom think I didn't drink coffee. She still had that percolator.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First Day on the Ground--Cattle Car Buses

Next time we ride in Fort Sill buses I will post a picture. The troop transports that took us to the base theater for the welcome briefing were not buses, they were tractor trailers with seats--cattle car bodies with multi-level seating borrowed from Boston T subways. They actually were comfortable, but they look so strange, a lot like cattle trucks. On the second ride we filled all 50 seats and had 20 standing. There were "moos" every time the truck turned a corner and the standing riders bumped into each other.

Among the welcome briefings was a captain who introduced us to his team and told us that they were the ULNO for our unit. He had a dozen PowerPoint slides and and never once spelled out what ULNO meant. I suppose many soldiers know that ULNO is Unit Liason Office, but I didn't. I asked the captain what ULNO meant after the briefing. He said Unit Liason Office, but didn't explain the "N." So I asked another member of his team during the break. The soldier I asked was a lieutenant who had been an enlisted man for many years before becoming an officer. He looked like a guy who take a joke so I said, "WTF ULNO." He smiled and said, "It should really be a small "n." (ULnO). I was using the first definition of WTF in Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hollywood Again

The Lancaster Sunday News published another story about the old soldier going back once more. My kids told me that the print edition includes a photo of the whole family, but the online edition doesn't. Follow this link and you get the story, but only a photo of me. We all arrived safely this morning. Training starts tomorrow. Superbowl party tonight.

The Philosopher of War and Terror and Politics: Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt 1906-1975 Today a friend asked and I were talking about politics and how refugee problems have led to wars in the p...