Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Physical Therapist Will Be Furious

I finally took the PT Test this morning. Joe and Gretchen told me to do the minimum push-ups. Just pass and don't hurt my shoulder. I told the grader I should just do 20 and pass. At 36 she reminded me I was supposed to do 20. At 48 she said, "One more." But that was it. I got 48. Max is 56 so I scored 91 out of a possible 100 points on the sit-ups. I maxed the situps (76) and was four seconds from max on the run. My total score was 290 out of 300. And since I scored at least 90 in each event, I get the Army PT Badge and a few more promotion points. Since coming back in I scored 252, 271 and 290 on the three PT tests I have taken. I know I never did that well when I was in my 20s. Of course, I smoked then.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Just a Short Ride to the Lake

When I don't have enough time to ride around the artillery range (28 miles) I ride to the lake recreation area and back, a 16-mile trip. I still; have not gotten used to the sights I see on these rides. At the end of the first mile I am riding past Medicine Bluff, legendary cliffs where Geronimo is supposed to have jumped with his horse 300 feet down into the river below and survived.

On the 2nd mile of today's ride I rode past a towed artillery battery with four guns under camouflage nets getting ready to fire. At mile 6 a rider blew past me without waving. I was riding with flat pedals in uniform with combat boots. The other rider had racing spandex on, but he had leg hair and looked a little too thick in the middle to be a racer. The steepest hill on was less than a mile ahead so I bent down and started riding after him. I also moved instinctively to the edge of the road to be fast as possible. A moment before the competitive brain turned on I was thinking this is the stretch of road where I saw the wild pigs and the rattlesnake. I rounded an uphill right turn and almost ran over an armadillo. It was dead at the edge of the road, but very big. So I moved back out to the middle of the road and kept pedaling. I caught the other rider just below the crest of the hill. He waved this time. I don't have to wonder if I still feel competitive.

On the way back, I heard the boom of a howitzer. The battery had just started to fire. As I rounded the corner to the clearing where the battery was set up, a towed 155mm howitzer fired a round. About 15 seconds later a gray cloud plumed on the hillside seven miles away--the same hillside where the rounds land in the "Fire Mission" (Click Click Boom) video. And about ten seconds after that the dull thud of impact echos back to where I am riding. I rode slowly and watched a couple more rounds go, then finished the ride and went to chow.

I am going to miss the sights of Oklahoma rides, but not the Oklahoma wind.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Zombie Film Review and the Formula 1 Racing Season

Just after 10 pm I went to the dayroom to see if it would be possible for me to watch the Grand Prix of Australia on the big-screen TV. There were a half-dozen watching a movie, but it did not look like any of them would be hanging around until 1 am when the race started.

NOTE: I am a devoted fan of the Formula 1 World Championship car racing and have been for many years. How much of a fan you ask? My favorite driver is 1992 champion Nigel Mansell. And my son's name is. . . Nigel.


One of the people watching the movie was sergeant who let me know the movie the assembled group was watching was (I think) "28 Days." He said it is the best Zombie movie ever made. I left.

Later on, near midnight I was walking down the hallway toward the dayroom to watch the race. I ran into the sergeant who told repeated his high esteem of the Zombie movie. I told him I was glad to know there are ratings of every sort of human endeavor, but even the best Zombie movie was not something I could see myself watching. It was clear the fan of Zombie movies feels the same way about watching a car race.

The race broadcast live from Eastern Australia at 5pm local time, 1 am Oklahoma time. I watched the first hour, but could not hang in for the end. My son Nigel's favorite driver is Lewis Hamilton, a British driver of African descent who is the reigning world champion. Hamilton started 18th and finished fourth. Since the TV is gone at my house, I will be able to tell Nigel how his favorite driver did when we talk later today.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Suicide Prevention--Best Army Training Film I have Ever Seen

Every soldier here had to take a three-hour class on suicide prevention. Sad subject, but as the class progressed I could not help thinking this is the best Army video I have ever seen. For those who have not seen military instructional videos, imagine your least favorite safety video and then imagine the script and final production is reviewed by an 18-layer bureaucracy.

But this video was different. The subject clearly is so serious that whoever had responsibility for it, decided to go with Best Practices on making a video rather than taking a vague, edited message in four-syllable, Latin-derived words and trying to shoot a video around it.

This video was interactive. We saw a scenario, we talked about what the soldier should do next then watched where that course of action lead. One scenario could lead to a bad end, another to saving the soldier's life. We could see both the good and the bad play out.

But the real reason this video work is that everyone knew somewhere in the back of their mind the plot of this video. Whoever wrote the script was a soldier or knows our culture cold because the plot line of the script was following what happens to a soldier who is the victim of Jody.

Who is Jody? From the 1st day of basic training soldiers, airmen and marines sing about a mythical guy named Jody who was your best friend back home. As we march, we sing about how Jody is:
--sleeping with our girlfriend/spouse
--driving our car
--emptying our bank account
--living in our house
You get the idea.

In the video we see a good soldier who is going on combat patrols in Iraq turn progressively worse as he gets a dear John letter, finds out his girlfriend is pregnant with Jody's child, hears from home Jody is driving his car and living in his house, and Jody has emptied his bank account.

In the video we see the soldier deal with these things alone and how it could lead to suicide. Then we see what happens when he gets help. Then just when the Jody's victim is straightening his life out, his best buddy is killed on patrol. The soldier has to get control of his life without the guy who pulled him through the last crisis.

It has a happy ending, assuming you choose the right path.

If you want to know more about Jody, you can look him up on Wikipedia, or better yet, watch the movie Jarhead. As you read this, some formation of soldiers somewhere is marching down a road singing:
"Ain't no use in goin' home, Jody's got your girl and gone . . ."

I could not find a song about Jody on You Tube, but here's a marching song so you get the idea of the sound. Jarhead is still the best source for seeing how Jody fits in soldier's lives.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Worried About What?

Earlier this week we got a briefing on the two or three weeks we will spend in Kuwait before going to Iraq. During the briefing we found out we were likely to be living in 200-man tents, huge open spaces that will give us 199 roommates. That news barely raised a murmur. They told us it could be blazing hot, but that did raise much of a reaction. In fact, the average temps during our stay, according to Google weather is mid-90s for highs, 70s for lows. Arctic conditions compared to what everyone has been telling us.

So what got everyone buzzing? They told us we would get one phone call per week and have to stand in line three hours to get that call, and there would be little or no internet service for us. That got everyone upset. No internet!!! Only the few soldiers willing to pay $1+ per minute or more for AT&T service will have cell phones. It will be interesting to see just what everyone does without internet. . .and without text messages. Almost all the squad leaders text formation and other information. I just got one telling me to verify my weapon was cleaned and turned in.

Before we go to Iraq, we will have a three-week fast from internet, cell phones, text messaging and very limited phone access. I can't even guess what people will do instead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Convoy Training--Age Shows After it's Over

Sometimes I feel good about my ability to keep up with the 20- and 30-year-olds. Then reality shows itself on the smiling face of a 20-year-old who is in shape. On the first day of convoy training, we did not do anything particularly strenuous. Mostly, we stood outside wearing more than 40 pounds of Kevlar vest and helmet, gas mask, weapon, and a Camel Back and walked about a mile. But it was a hot day, we were out in the sun and a 25mph wind in the afternoon. After the first day of convoy training ended, two soldiers went running. Me and the guy who used me to wipe up some of the dirt in the field where we did Combatives (hand-to-hand combat) last May.

I was so sore and tired I ran three minutes slower than Saturday for the fast two miles of a three-mile run. The 22-year-old's time was also off. He was 30 seconds slower than his last run, but he thought it might be the course. He ran two miles in just over 12 minutes. He could have run three miles and beat my two-mile time.

Now it's Wednesday. We just ended the longest day of convoy training. We actually did pretty well up until the last exercise today when the convoy commander got taken out of the exercise and the assistant commander (me) took his place. I'll try explain on Saturday when the training ends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Goodbye Roomie

This morning at 3 am our roommate went home. He was a 22-year-old mechanic who joined us just three weeks ago, one of the later arrivals. He came here over the maximum weight, but his home unit sent him anyway. He was a great guy and we hoped he could lose weight fast enough to be able to deploy with us. But late last week the medical staff decided he could not lose weight fast enough to be ready to go and be healthy, so they sent him home.

So how overweight was our roommate? I don't know exactly because there is a complex formula called taping that takes into account the general size of a soldier's body to determine maximum weight. Specialist Big Dude weighed 335 pounds the day he arrived. He is a weightlifter. He has a size 19 neck and has trouble finding clothes in general and gloves in particular. Even Army XXLs are tight on him.

I only worked with him a few times in the motorpool, but it was clear he is a good mechanic. We were a team on the SAW (machine gun) range. I qualified. He was a sharpshooter and was one target away from expert (the best). He is also a sharpshooter with a rifle. But at his size, he can't run two miles at anything close to the maximum time. So he is back home now. I really will miss him when he is awake, but not when he is sleeping. He was in the bunk above me (Yes, we have very strong beds.) and snored so loud he made the bed shake. Some nights I would wait for the moment when he quit snoring and will myself to sleep before he started again.

Our first roommate lasted about a week before they sent him home. He had a previous back injury that was too severe for deployment. In a couple of days we get another roommate. I hope our room is not medical bad luck for him.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Convoy Training

Today we dressed up in all of our field gear and spent the day learning about how to avoid getting killed by Improvised Explosive Devices, better know as IEDs. This first day was all classes. The rest of the week we will be rolling in convoy and learning what to do to find and stop IED attacks. I'll write more later in the week when we are moving long distances and getting "attacked" on the road.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wild Pigs and a Rattlesnake

Today I rode north toward the lake 8 miles from our barracks. At about the five-mile mark, I heard rustling then running in the reeds next to the road. This low point ofn the ride looks like it can be swampy when there is rain, but it has been dry during the past six weeks. In a second I saw two brown pigs moving faster than dobermans away from me, up the hillside into the woods. They were high-speed pigs and lucky for me, they did not want to chase bikes.

Earlier in the week, I was riding this same stretch of road with the base chaplain and saw a long stick in the road. We were riding fast. When we got close, the chaplain yeller, "That's a rattlesnake!" I turned around to get a picture (from a safe distance) but the snake had slithered away. The chaplain said the rattlers are just waking up for spring. They are hungry, shedding their skin and grumpy. He said I should not bother them. He did not have to repeat himslef.

Pink Running Shoes and Combat Boots

The hallway next to the one I live in is where the women live. We pass through their hallway on the way to the laundry room or the B Stairwell dayroom. Today when I can back from chow I saw this ten-foot line of shoes outside a room where six women live. If my roommates and I lined our shoes up in the hall, it would look different--except for the boots.

Non-Sexist Zombies

This morning I got a note asking if it is just guys who watch Zombie movies for breakfast or do women watch horror flicks also. I didn't know. An hour later I left my room and walked to the dayroom while my roommates watched another Zombie movie. When I walked in the dayroom the only soldiers inside were two young women watching Sponge Bob and eating cereal. One said, "Good morning sergeant. How are you?" I answered that I was good and I was going to sit in the back of the dayroom because my roommates were watching a Zombie. One of the women turned from Sponge Bob and said, "Which one?"

So young soldiers are fans of Zombie movies without regard to gender.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Today was the battalion party. Six hundred of us went to a recreation area on post just after lunch. Each soldier was allowed two beers. The lines were long long enough that it took an hour between beers so no one could drink two beers in the same hour. And then the keg ran out before many soldiers could get a second beer. They bought more, but that spaced the two beers out even further. For many, they got an idea just how fast they can get a buzz on after six weeks without alcohol.

I promised not to drink and rode my bike to the picnic--8 miles out, 21 miles the long way back. So I had a great time. Some of us hiked up the bike trail near the picnic area. We were at Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area where the bike race was held. We saw the bikes go up the hill, but did not see the trail down the other side. The trail is steep and covered with loose rocks leading down into a dry stream bed--and that was just the first mile.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zombies for Breakfast

It's Friday morning. I am back in the room behind the stairwell. My roommates are watching a Zombie movie this morning. Lawton, Oklahoma, is on the western edge of the Central Time Zone, so when we went on daylight savings time, sunrise moved to 0745. This morning sunrise was just past 0730. We got up at 0450 to run. One roommate early training so he did not have to do the run. He went back to the room and got changed for training. When the rest of us got back from the run he was watching an anime Zombie movie based on a video game. I was laughing about Zombies for breakfast and another of my roommates said, "It's dark outside, that's when you watch horror movies." Makes sense. I got showered and went to the hidden room without TV or video games.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Remember in that Movie When. . .

I am soooo 20th century. Actually so early 20th century. I did no notice how culturally backward I was when I first rejoined the Army. Without knowing it, I surrounded myself with backwards people just like me who use books as cultural references. Not here. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, uses movies as the shared culture of their lives.

For the first month people tried to include me. They would say, "Sergeant G, do you remember in Wedding Crashers when. . ." Or "That's just like in that Jim Carey movie when they watched his whole life. Yo G, remember. . ." And I don't. No it's just a joke. Someone will start to say, "Do you remember. . ." then look at me and say "Right. Never mind."

I don't watch sitcoms, I don't watch comedy movies, I watch one or two movies per year. These guys go from room to room sharing gigabytes of DVDs on thumb drives and plug-in hard drives. One of my roommates has a terabyte drive full of movies and music. He is still mourning the loss of a second terabyte hard drive that crashed a few days after we arrived.

At home, my friends, co-workers and family all read books. Two nights ago I got an email from a friend, a college prof who had never been in the military. He was commenting on a post I wrote that the military is a meritocracy where everyone knows who is the best at everything, and the most competent people tend to take over whatever their rank.

My friend Ray said the military is a hierarchy and he couldn't believe what I wrote. So I called him and could remind him to read CS Lewis' essay "The Inner Ring" which begins quoting Tolstoy's "War and Peace" on the real rank structure of the military and the actual way things get done. With Ray, I can use books and essays to illustrate a point. I read to my own kids till they graduated high school and knew many of the books they read for classes, so even though I could not share movie culture with them, we had a lot of literature in common.

I brought some movies with me because everyone said I should. I haven't watched one yet. Maybe when we get to Iraq I will. In the meantime, it's seems OK for me to remain a cultural illiterate. I am old enough to get a pass. Right now I am in the back of the C Stairwell dayroom and a small room people forget about. I can sort of hear the drone of a TV movie through the walls, but I don't have to look at it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Riding in Battle Gear

Yesterday I returned to the FARP (Forward Area Refueling Point) to see both Blackhawks and Chinooks refueling and rearming. Today when the Blackhawks took off they flew to a nearby machine gun range and circled at steep angles firing their door guns. Yesterday I watched the fueling from the other side of the range road because I did not bring battle gear.

We had no scheduled training in the afternoon so I rode to the FARP on my borrowed bike. Since I wanted to get close to the birds and talk to the fuelers, I wore my bulletproof vest and carried the Kevlar helmet in a backpack. When I left it was 87 degrees and sunny. So I got a small preview of my future by riding in my full uniform and bulletproof vest with a pack. I wore a bicycle helmet on the road because Army helmets aren't approved for road use. I got some strange looks even on an Army range road. The ride was longer than in bike clothes--I climb a lot slower with 30 pounds of battle gear and pedaling in combat boots.

I got to the FARP just in time to see two Chinooks take off and within a minute two Blackhawks zoomed in from the south. When the Chinooks came back I called my son Nigel and held the phone up while the big helicopters refueled and rearmed. When Nigel and Annalisa got home, they looked up Chinook on the web. Then Nigel got his geography lesson for the day about where Daddy and Chinooks are and where they are going.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pit Stops for Blackhawks

Today I rode out to the Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) on the edge of the gunnery range area of Fort Sill and saw two Blackhawks get refueled and rearmed. It was beautiful to watch.

Like NASCAR teammates dropping from the high banks of Daytona for a green-flag pit stop, two Blackhawks flew hard out of the south then wheeled 180 degrees and seemed to stop as they settled into the Echo Company "pits."

The Echo Company "pit area" can be any field with enough room for rotary-wing aircraft to safely land, re-fuel, re-arm and continue the mission. In this Fort Sill training area, two HEMMT 2500-gallon fueling vehicles wait at opposite edges of an open field. The crews, like their NASCAR counterparts, waited in the sun, suited up with protective clothing and helmets. They check their equipment, watch the sky and wait for the sound of approaching helicopters.

The first birds this afternoon fly straight past the FARP (Forward Area Refueling Point). Then just at 1500 (3pm) the Blackhawks circle in. While both NASCAR and Army Aviation pit crews fuel their high-performance vehicles, the cars get new tires, the Blackhawks get guns and ammo.

In nine minutes the two Blackhawks faced into the south wind and flew up and off to the east, re-armed and re-fueled. The Echo Company FARP got ready for the next pair of Blackhawks already visible on the horizon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Remedial PT Honor Grad


Medicine Bluff

All military leadership schools have an honor grad--the overall best soldier in the group. Honor grad is based on a point-scoring system and ties go to the soldier with the best overall leadership skills and attitude. Among the more than 20 soldiers in my remedial PT (Physical Training) group, one is clearly looking like the honor grad. He is a big guy in his 30s who needed to pick up the speed of his run to pass the PT test. In the past six weeks he has shown up for all the scheduled PT: Monday, Wednesday, Friday company PT at 0530; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday at 7pm with my group, plus he and his roommate have been running and going to the gym other times when they can. Two days ago my honor grad and his roommate ran, jogged and walked an 11-mile circuit. Because we are on Fort Sill, the circuit began with a 4.5-mile run to Geronimo's Grave, then back to Medicine Bluff where Geronimo is reported to have jumped off a 300-foot cliff one horseback. Geronimo survived, the horse was not so lucky. They also stopped at the Confidence (Obstacle) Course on the way back. My honor grad should have no trouble passing the 2-mile run now.

Geronimo's Grave

Helping a buddy on the Confidence Course

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Camp Cupcake

At a recent class, five of us who are scheduled to go to Balad Air Base were in a class with more than 30 regular army sergeants. All of them had been to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once and when they found out where we were going they all said, "You [guys] are going to Camp Cupcake." They had all heard of Camp Cupcake. And every one of them hoped their next tour would be there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Almost the Whole Weekend Off

On Friday I heard we might be released early on Saturday, so I asked to schedule remedial PT for mid afternoon instead of Saturday evening. When we formed up at 0830 we had about 15 minutes of peperwork then were released for the day. I was up late on Friday so I went back to my room and took a nap. I woke up to my roommates watching an animated Manga (Japanese with dubbed English) vampire movie called Hellsing. I still am having trouble getting used to the horror-for-breakfast thing, so I went to the PX, got a latte and talked to everyone in my immediate family except my stepdaughter--and we will talk Sunday evening.

My son Nigel won his basketball game Friday night in his 9-10-year-old league. My oldest daughter Lauren was home all week for spring break and was happy for the break from studying. Lisa is still waiting see which college she is going to. Both she and my wife are on Spring Break the coming week.

In the afternoon I had time to ride 28 miles around the artillery and machine gun ranges before Remedial PT. As I rode uphill beside the impact area I heard the high-pitched whistle of a ricochet round spinning through the air above me.

When I got back to the room, my roommates had switched to a Wolverine/Vampire movie, this one had actors, not animation. I changed and went to Remedial PT. Because of the day off, I had a half dozen more soldiers than usual. The gym had more than 100 people on machines and weights and at least 1/4th of them were from Echo Company.

I am taking a PT test on Tuesday along with several of the E-4s in the platoon who need to pass the test to qualify for promotion. Since the time for me to max the run (14:42 for two miles) is only one minute 12 seconds faster than the minimum time for a 20-year-old to pass (15:54), I am going to take the test and try to max the run, which should give the guys who want a passing pace someone to run with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Upside-Down-in-a-Humvee Training

This afternoon we took three 180-degree rides in a Humvee Roll-Over Simulator.

As you can see in the photo, the simulator is an Armored Humvee passenger compartment mounted on a large axle. The training begins with a briefing explaining all that will happen to us. We enter the vehicle in groups of four--one for each seat. We wear our helmets, body armor and elbow and knee pads. The pads are REALLY helpful in an upside-down vehicle. We carry foam replicas of M16 rifles. In addition, there are foam replicas of water bottles, radios and other things that should be tied down in a combat vehicle, but are not. The worst is the fire extinguisher. It is also foam, but weighs eight pounds. One soldier crawled out rubbing his nose after getting hit in the face with the equivalent of a gallon bottle of milk.

When we got inside, the sergeant operating the machine first turned the Humvee to 25 degrees to show the maximum lean angle for an armored Humvee. Then he tipped us 30 degrees in the other direction to show us the max lean angle for a standard Humvee. Next he turned us 180 degrees just to show us what it feels like to be upside down, then turned us back upright.

With the preliminaries over, the operators made one final safety check, then we took the six second trip to upside down and stopped. We had to hang upside down for ten seconds or so and wait while the operators made a safety check, then we heard "Egress" on the sound system in the vehicle. This was a two-way sound system. The operators and the soldiers waiting can all hear the sounds coming from inside. We release the seat belts then flip over and crawl out. The operators disable one or more doors from the outside so we if our door doesn't open (mine didn't) we have to crawl along the ceiling and follow the first soldier out who yells, "Door. Door. Door." When we get out the next task is to set up security and make sure all four of us are out. With that complete we get back in and simulate a water roll over.

In water, we wait inside till everyone is out of the seat belts then go out one door. We have 30 seconds to get out. Our crew made it in 27 seconds. The rollover was a lot of fun on a Friday afternoon. When we were on the ready line, one of the young soldiers who was not looking forward to being upside down asked me why I was smiling. I said, "I am 55 years old and this my last carnival, so I am going to enjoy all the rides."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Click Click Boom

When we first arrived at Fort Sill, we got a very dull General Orders briefing. It was one of several PowerPoint presentations that were read aloud saying we can't drink, leave Fort Sill, fraternize, etc. But before that PowerPoint started our commander, who first served in artillery, played one of his favorite videos: Fire Mission. It is available on You Tube and uses the song "Click Click Boom" by the group Saliva (first I have heard of them). With artillery, as with the cannons in the tanks I was in, click click boom is the sound. The round slams into the breach of the gun (click). The breach closes (click). And the gunner pulls the trigger (BOOM).

Fort Sill is the Army's training base for artillery. A lot of the footage in this video was shot on Fort Sill. When we first arrived I saw a Fire Mission on the very same hillside as you will see in the video. I counted a dozen rounds hitting the hillside--Fire for Effect is the term they use. We were ten miles away and could see and hear very clearly. The road the bike race was on was midway between the guns and where the rounds land.

Fort Sill Bike Race Pictures

Here's a few more pictures from the bike race.

My fan club!! 20 members of my unit came out on a Sunday morning to see me race and to see the first bike race they have ever seen live. Unless I can manage to organize a race in Iraq, it will probably be the last one they will see. Our race was nine miles out and nine back. So they got to see the start and the finish. Not exactly NFL football for a fan experience.

Before the start. The racer in the middle is a Med-Evac Blackhawk pilot in our unit. She raced on the one speed and finished ahead of about of a third of the field--and they had gears. Before going on active duty for deployment, she and her boyfriend rode from Portland, Oregon, to Buffalo, New York. She's a strong rider.

Two of the dispatch clerks made a sign for me. It is on display now in our motor pool.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Barracks Life--The Following is Posted on the Door of a Room Housing Six Sergeants

The Man Rules
At last a guy has taken the time to write this all down
Finally , the guys' side of the story.
( I must admit, it's pretty good.)
We always hear "the rules"
From the female side.
Now here are the rules from the male side.
Please note.. These are all numbered "1"

1. Men are NOT mind readers

1. Learn to work the toilet seat.

You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down.
We need it up, you need it down..
You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports. It's like the full moon

Or the changing of the tides.
Let it be.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want.

Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work!
Just say it!

1. "Yes" and "No" are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it.

That's what we do.
Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.

In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days..

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are.

Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one

1. You can either ask us to do something

Or tell us how you want it done.
Not both.
If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings

Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color..
Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it will be scratched.

We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we will act like nothing's wrong

We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to,

Expect an answer you don't want to hear

1. When we have to go somewhere,

absolutely anything you wear is fine... Really .

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball

Or golf.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this.

Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight;
But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.
Pass this to as many men as you can -
To give them a laugh.
Pass this to as many women as you can -
To give them a bigger laugh.

More from the Obstacle Course

First I have to properly identify the place we trained yesterday. It is called a Confidence Course. But to the rest of the world it is an obstacle course. So there, I said it.

Two views of climbing the Skyscraper. The soldiers cooperate to push and pull each other up and down four floors of this obstacle. It is easier to go up than down.

I was one of the first group on the Flight to Freedom ride down a rope on a pulley. So I waited. I have no idea what I was thinking about, but it must have been serious.

We all went on the pulley ride. Only two of us climbed this obstacle. We will all do it when the company does the Confidence Course.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obstacle Course on One Hour Notice

I spent the morning cleaning the SAW. Just as I was getting ready to take it back to the Arms Room, our platoon leader said, "Be downstairs in one hour. We are going to the Obstacle Course." It turns out 16 of us were going to get certified as instructors on the course so we could get the whole company over and through the most difficult obstacles. The whole group went through the Tower of Freedom, a 200-foot slide down a rope on a pulley. It was a lot of fun going down that rope.

A few of us went through other obstacles like the tower where you climb up ropes and ladders and descend a cargo net. We went through many of the ground obstacles as a group. We will be going through as a company this weekend, maybe with races.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Then and Now--Sleeping on a Range

Today was qualifying day on the machine gun range. Almost 30 of us went spent the day qualifying on the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. It was a much longer day than it was supposed to be. We arrived at the range just after 8 am, but did not start firing until almost 1 pm. Someone somewhere screwed up and the ammo did not not arrive until 12:30.

But I was happy. I love being on ranges. And after yesterday's race, it was good to have some time to relax. When things are screwed up on a range, we just sit and wait. We sit and wait in a Kevlar helmet and bulletproof vest so we are very warm.

In the 70s I knew I had acclimated to Army life on ranges when I woke in the middle of the day on a tank gunnery range on Fort Carson, Colorado. I was lying at the ammo point 100 feet behind 17 tanks lined up fender to fender test firing machine guns. It wasn't until they started firing the 105 mm cannons that I woke up. Even then, I was half asleep and saw the little stones in the sand bouncing from the blast. I stayed lying on the ammo boxes and watched the dirt bounce for a few seconds before I actually woke up.

This afternoon, after my team had fired, I was one of several soldiers who stretched on the gravel at the briefing area 50 feet from the machine gun firing positions. An hour later I woke up to more firing. If I can fall asleep and nap while four SAWs are firing full-auto on a range, then I am really getting used to life on the range again.

When I was awake, I fired qualified, so it was a really good day. Here's a good You Tube video of a SAW range.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Green Cheerleaders

When I was racing and my kids were young, I often had the largest fan contingent of any racer. My wife and four children were at the race giving me five fans, plus about 5% of all the spectators at the race. Today at the Hills of Hell Road Race more than 25 members of my company, including half the motor platoon came to the race in a large van and a truck. It was great to have that many fans. I will post pictures from the race later when I can get them from the various people who took them.

For the bike geeks, the race was an 18-mile out-and-back course on a paved road that runs through the middle of a Fort Sill artillery range. Nobody was shooting on Sunday. I have ridden the road during the week, but the shells pass high overhead on the way to distant targets. The road are made for heavy vehicles but get little traffic compared to a public road so they are very smooth. The course began and ended at a lakeside recreation area at the base of one of the larger hills. We went up three miles form the start on a shallow grade to the west, turned south and went down the steepest hill on the course--a short 7% descent--then on rolling terrain to the turn around.

I finished third overall out of 20 starters. Definitely a citizens race. I rode with the two guys who finished first and second from the beginning of the race till the base of the big climb on the way back. At that point, the 30-year age difference between us took over and I got dropped with four miles to go. First place dropped second in the middle of the climb. Second place was strong, but he had aero bars and lost a lot of ground on the climb. Fourth place finished three minutes behind me.

There was one other racer from our unit, a Blackhawk pilot who has ridden from Portland Oregon to Buffalo NY with her boyfriend. She finished 12th overall and was the first woman. He placing was better than it sounds because she rode my one-speed bike. The chaplain also offered her a loaner race bike, but she wanted to see how well she could do on the one-speed.

I am still coughing three hours later. It was great to hang in with the 20-year-olds for most of the race and to feel like I went as hard as I could.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Night at 8 pm in My Room

So right at this moment my roommates have guests.
Two 200+ pound soldiers are dancing with each other.
A female soldier is sitting in the doorway downloading Hispanic rap songs from another roommate.
Our platoon leader just walked by and asked if I was going to sleep for the race tomorrow.
The first two stopped dancing and my roommate's dance partner returned to eating ribs and bitching about how tough the ribs are.
One of the squad leaders just walked by to ask how much one of my roommate's duffel bags weighs.
The dancer just dropped the ribs and went back to dancing in the hallway to a song called "The Percolator." Without the female soldier, my room, which is about the size of a suburban kitchen, would start looking like a San Francisco bar.
It's now 8:02pm. The dancer is back to the ribs. The music stopped. The soldier eating the ribs just asked for a toothpick.
I am going to take a shower.

College Dorm Room Draw in Camo

Today we picked our roommates for Iraq. Just as the room choice lottery is the biggest event at every campus, and in Harry Potter's world, figuring who will be your roommate in Iraq is a very big deal.

And just as college room draw goes by class and sometimes by grade-point-average, our roommate choice has several restrictions. At least in our platoon, people of the same rank room together. When there are odd numbers, soldiers can room with someone one rank above or below, but not two. And just as in college, you want to pick a roommate you really like first (we call them battle buddies). Failing that, you want to pick a person you feel like you could get along with or at least would not be too judgmental about your flaws.

But the big drama is avoiding rooming with a soldier you don't get along with. This may seem silly for people going to a war zone, but if you have to spend most of a year in a place with a lot of stress, it is important not to have more stress when you get time off.

We don't have a Sorting Hat like Hogwarts Academy, or an sorting algorithm like college deans, so roommate selection is handled by several sergeants, a group that currently shares one large room and is know collectively by soldiers outside the platoon as the Fab Five. Cliques, whether in high school, college, the Army or at Microsoft Corporation, almost always have that kind of name from outsiders.

All this applies only to the male soldiers. Some different process governs roommate selection for the female soldiers.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Road March

This morning we were up at 0345 to get ready for a five-mile road march at 0430. For the march we wore our Kevlar vests and helmets and carried our weapons, about 35 pounds of gear including Camelbacks. The march was so fast I entered it in my exercise spreadsheet as a 1-mile jog and a 4-mile walk. I spent a lot of time on the downhills at a slow run closing up the gaps that formed as the leaders strode along at the highest pace they could step out.

After the march my heel hurt enough that I limped and did my ankle exercises every time I stood still the rest of the day. I got to ride 22 miles between 1630 and 1800 (430 and 6 pm) which made my ankle feel a lot better.

The best part of the march by far was that everyone finished. When we run, we break up into three ability groups and those groups splinter in the first half mile. But with the road march some people moved up, some dropped back, but we regrouped twice and everyone finished. Some finished a few minutes after, but everyone was there at the end. It was a big confidence builder for the people who usually get dropped on the runs. It was worth limping for a day.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Weeks of Remedial PT

Tonight marks the third week I have been leading Remedial PT. Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening at 7pm, I lead the fitness training for those who failed one or more of the three events of their last PT test. The test is pushups, sit ups and a two-mile run. Of the 20+ soldiers in my group, most failed the run or the run plus one or two other events. Only two soldiers failed just situps, and no one in my group just failed the pushups.

The good news for those who get back up to speed on the run is that fixing the run almost always leads to better performance on the other two. And I already have two graduates. Two soldiers who were too slow on the run on their last PT test, ran two miles under their required time and now they don't have to show up for my formation.

But for the others, three weeks is a big deal. Most of the soldiers in remedial do not have a habit of fitness training. Most organizing or exercising gurus say if you can keep a habit for three weeks, you can potentially keep it for a lifetime. On the negative side, that's probably the same threshold for smoking or other bad habits.

So the remedial PT soldiers are getting better and they are on the way to changing their habits. I was talking to one of the soldiers today and had a Dostoevsky moment. I told him I was here partly because of wanting to do good and never getting around to actually doing it. We agreed that pretty much everybody on this deployment wants to do good in some way and also wants to clean up some part of their lives: money, fitness, weight, whatever. Dostoevsky says there is a spark of God in all of us, but we need to fan it into a flame.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sergeant Rock and Sergeant Rumpled

The military will never be the flat organization business gurus say is the future of management. We have rank, structure and a chain of command. And alongside the official chain of command (Tolstoy is great on this subject in War and Peace) is the unofficial hierarchy. We have a hierarchy in everything: the best marksman, the fastest runner, the best at drill and ceremonies, the strongest, the best sprinter, who can fart the loudest or belch the longest. Because we live so close together, everyone knows these hierarchies.

Just as we all know the best at everything, we all know the worst. Not only does everyone know who has the highest PT scores, they know who has the lowest. Some are great at one thing and bad at others. Some are good at several things. But there is always one who is the all-around best at everything and his direct opposite: Sgt Rock and Sgt Rumpled.

Our unit is the same. We have people who max the PT test, but are just OK on the range or marching troops, or leading a field exercise. We have expert marksmen who barely pass the fitness test. And people who are great at drill and ceremonies that can't shoot very well or run. But Sgt Rock can do everything, if not the best, in the top 10% in every category. Sgt Rumpled can do almost nothing except show up when he is supposed to. That's how he hangs on. He does what he is told, complains when he can get away with it and lingers on hoping to get to retirement. In fact, my first time around there was an acronym everyone used: LIFER (Lazy Inefficient F#$kup Expecting Retirement). I haven't heard the acronym here and don't want to be the one to bring it back, but it applies to Sgt Rumpled. He looks unwashed and ragged even when he puts on a new uniform. He can't lead or shoot and has the worst PT score in the company.

Not surprisingly, he also thinks himself nearly a sage as far as technical competence, but his supervisors will not give him any job they cannot check, because he is also a bad mechanic.

Rock and Rumpled are also opposites in personality. Rock makes self-deprecating jokes and is cheerful with almost everyone. Rumpled only makes jokes at another soldier's expense.

Every unit I have been in over the years has had both of these guys. I wish I knew if it was the nature of the Army or I have just been in units with the best and the worst the Army can put in one place.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Same Day Bike Repair Service

This morning I rode the chaplain's bike the half-mile to his office using the Fred Flintstone propulsion system--my left foot pushing the road like a kid on a scooter. He had the bike by 0900. He said he was going to check and see if he could get it fixed. At 3:30 in the afternoon he called to say I could pick the bike up TODAY. The shop rethreaded the pedal mountings and put on my racing pedals. I could not get the bike from him yesterday, but will pick it up at 0800 tomorrow before formation.

I Missed This Formation Last Week, But Not Very Much

Last week when I was learning how to do the paperwork for the drug test, I missed a formation in which our commander reminded everyone present that they must always take their weapon to the chow hall--unless they are on an assignment where weapons are not allowed. My class was one of the leave your weapon kind. So I did not join the other hundred or so men and women who did forty pushups in cadence (or as many as they could).

I have a photo someone emailed to me, but I cannot get Blogger to upload it. I'll ask someone who is better than I am with photos to see if they can fix it.

I hope they looked as happier than these guys.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Communion and the Lack Thereof

This morning in the Anthrax Chapel we had a communion service. It is the first Sunday in Lent and our first communion service in our mobilization training. One of the lieutenants plays the guitar at our services and the music was especially good this morning.

So now it's 9pm (2100), we have to get up at 0450 for PT at 0520. It will be 21 degrees with a 10 mph wind. We got a new roommate so there are now four of us in the room. In the Army of the 1970s, we would all be trying to go to sleep and bitching about PT in the cold and asking why we have to get up so early and complaining in general. But our room is almost silent. I am typing. Another guy is taking to his family on a vid phone on his computer, but he has his headphones on so we only hear when he talks. The other two guys are surfing the net or doing something else that makes no more sound than a mouse click.

None of us is talking to each other. We are four individuals on laptops. But at 0500 we will be bitching together, then at 0520 we will be freezing together, so we do have more interaction than most people.

Tried Out the Chaplain's Bike and Broke It!

I rode the chaplain's bike today to try it out. I was going to change to my pedals--Shimano Dura Ace for those who wonder what kind--and noticed the pedals on the chaplain's Cannondale R400 were on crooked. He said his daughter rode the bike so I thought I should try to ride it as is. Bad decision. The pedals actually were stripped and on of them came off. So one week before the race my one-speed bike will be gone before the end of the week and my borrowed bike has one pedal.

I told some of my friends the position I was was in. There advice: (paraphrased) "Gussman you are [screwed]."

I called the chaplain and he couldn't have been nicer. Although I offered to pay for a new set of cranks, he said his son put the pedals on crooked and he will try to get the bike fixed for next Sunday. So despite the stripped pedals, I may still be able to race. I guess if the bike can't be fixed I can try to rent one from the one bike shop in Lawton. Otherwise, I can only ride the clown bike. And the shifter is broken on it, so I don't think I'll do very well on a one-speed clown bike.

Stay tuned.

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...