Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making a New Friend in a Locker Room

When I got home last night I said exactly that to my wife:  "I made a new friend in the YMCA locker room tonight."

After many years of listening to my jokes, she was waiting for a punch line.  But it was not a joke.

And she thought I made this friend in a "Very Neil" way.

I stopped at the YMCA to swim after driving back from Philadelphia.  The pool is not very crowded after 9 pm, so I swam my exhausting 300 yards--my next post will be how hard it is to learn how to swim at 60 years old.

After swimming I went to the locker room to change.  There was no one in my section of the locker room, but across the row of lockers another guy was changing and playing Rap music on his iPhone.  In three months of going to the Y I never heard anyone play music in the locker room.  I didn't want to hear his music and I had my iPhone, so I started listening to my current audiobook:  The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  It is read by a guy with a British accent.

A couple of minutes later, another swimmer opened a locker near mine to get changed.  I shut off the audiobook.  He asked "Was that a British recording?"  I told him what it was.  He said he went to high school with a girl who married Solzhenitsyn's son.  I asked if it was the son who plays the piano.  He said yes and as we got dressed to leave we started talking about Russian lit, Medieval lit. and science education.

We kept talking outside.  It was a lot of fun to meet a guy half my age who has read Tolstoy and wants to read Dante.

It was a great way to end an evening--thanks in part to Rap music.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not Going to Afghanistan

As some of you know, I had some hope of deploying one more time with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

That will not be happening.

As you may have heard in the State of the Union message, the number of troops in Afghanistan is being cut more rapidly than the original plan.  The unit I was going to go with is not going.  And at my very advanced age even the most hawkish in Congress could not start a war fast enough for me to deploy again--at least let's all hope so.

But it is not like I will be bored. Yesterday I heard from Xavier on Facebook. Xavier is the 14-year-old from Haiti we hope to adopt. The paperwork on the adoption is stuck in the bottomless morass of Haitian government bureaucracy. Haiti combines Carribean urgency with French bureaucratic efficiency. He can only get on facebook occasionally, but it was nice to chat with him.

If you pray, please pray for Xavier and his orphanage.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sergeant Major Moves Up

Today Command Sergeant Major Dell Christine took over responsibility as top NCO of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.  He takes over from CSM Christopher Kepner who is now the top NCO in the 28th Infantry Division.

CSM Christine takes the sword of NCO Leadership from COL David Wood, 28th CAB Commander.  Looking on are CSM Kepner (left) and CSM Dowling.

Command Sergeant Majors are, for the most part, men with big personalities who take care of the smallest details.  CSM Christine runs the state aviation safety office as his day job.  CSM Kepner is the operations manager for Schneider National, a long-haul trucking company.  Both men spend their working life making sure that their soldiers/workers track the details that keep trucks safe on the road, aircraft safe in the flight, and soldiers safe while they train for war.  

I guess we all admire people who skills we will never have.  I have never played golf, but love to watch a golfer loft a little white ball 300 yards toward a little flag and see that ball drop, roll and stop just feet from the hole.  Or gymnasts on a balance beam!!!  

Maintaining Army standards for thousands of American soldiers--all of who want to do their own thing--that is a job I can admire from a distance, but know it is as far from my abilities as rodeo riding!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

NCO Induction Ceremony

At the end of today's drill, I went to the auditorium in the training center at Fort Indiantown Gap (Building 8-80) to watch an NCO Induction Ceremony.  Command Sergeant Major Worley of the 628th Aviation Maintenance Battalion decided he would have a formal ceremony after NCO Development Training for 11 new sergeants.

The eleven new sergeants stood in front of the the rest of the battalion's NCOs (about 150 of 256 were able to attend the ceremony) and recited the NCO creed.

One of the best parts of the Public Affairs job is that people ask me to go to the things they are proud of.  CSM Worley wants to make this ceremony part of the quarterly training for the NCOs in the battalion.  It reminded me how serious I was about making sergeant--before any of the sergeants in the photo above were born.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Private D-Bag and Mr. Money Mustache

In 2008 during our first three-week pre-deployment training I was in the bunk next to a perpetual whiner--wheel call him Private D-Bag.  This young, overweight, out-of-shape soldier had many problems in his short life.  One of the biggest, in his eyes, was a lack of money.  He bitched about being broke, wondered how he was going to make it to payday, and generally saw life as a platoon of evil trolls who lived to trip him at every step.

One day I was sitting in my bunk and D-Bag walked in furious that some member of his family refused to loan him money.  He unloaded his pockets.  In seconds his bunk was littered with cigarettes, a high-end cell phone, candy, a wrapper from McDonalds, and an iPod.  He also brought a TV and a PC with him.
(He wasn't this bad, but. . .)

I exploded.  "You are bitching about being broke and you smoke, eat candy, have a cell phone and a $200 iPod.  You could have spent three weeks eating Army food and not spent a dime.  You have no money and your pockets are full of stupid."

If I ever share a 40-man room with another idiot like D-Bag, I will be able to tell him to read the blog Mr. Money Mustache.  MMM is a delightful blog by a guy who retired at age 30 by spending his money as little as possible.  He is an engineer who looks at every part of life as a way to increase efficiency.  The link above is to a recent post titled "The Oil Well you can Keep in your Pants."  

My wife loves the MMM blog and has been reading his posts to me at the rate of one or two a day.  MMM would fit well in a barracks.  He is a great storyteller and his language would help him fit right in.  He does not swear in all posts, but it is odd to hear my wife reading financial advice in her soft voice and read "If you don't have $1,000 saved for an emergency start selling your stuff and stop fucking spending until you do."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Basic Training Plus 41 Year, One Week

Today is 41 years and one week since I went through USAF Basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Tx., in 1972.  At the end of the first week, our flight had the first of seven days of KP--Kitchen Police.  At that time KP started at 3am and ended at 6pm.  The first time was just luck--each flight (platoon in Army language) was supposed to have KP once.  We took KP for the seven of the other other eight flights in our group because we failed our tenth-day inspection so miserably.

We never go a weekend off like the other trainees.  It was more than 30 years later that I saw San Antonio.  We had KP both days of the weekend the other flights went to San Antonio.  On Sunday we served a Soul Food dinner.  Among the entrees were Chitterlings or Chitlins.  Pig's intestine!!  I stirred a 50-gallon vat of this southern favorite while it simmered.  

Chitlins cooking smells like boiled urinal!  I had no trouble staying awake on that job!  

Bucket of Raw Chitlins.  Mmmmmmmmm!!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why I Got Out in 1984

In July of 1984 my Army career came to an end.  At least that was the plan.  At the time I was a tank section leader in charge of two M60A1 tanks like the one pictured below.  I really liked playing Army in the reserve unit I was in, but my uncle Jack, a Viet Nam vet, convinced me it was time to leave.

Reserve service is never just one weekend a month for the leaders.  So I was coming in the night before drills, going to meetings the Wednesday night before drill weekends, etc.  It was also time to go to Officer Candidate School if I was going to stay in.  I decided I could not have a professional civilian job and be an Army leader, so I left.

Jack also reminded me that, as a reservist, the retirement money did not begin until I was 60 years old (I was 31 at the time) and that if I did retire, I was subject to recall by the government until age 63.

So I left.

When I came back, I was so old I could no longer go to any leadership schools, so I thought it would really be one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.

But now I am in charge of our unit's Facebook page.  I just wrote an interview article with the division command sergeant major, I will be writing another one next week after drill.

My part time job is leaking back into the rest of my life.  This time, at least, I knew what I was in for.  But it is funny that as I approach retirement age that my decision 29 years ago led me to a place where I am 60, working well beyond drill weekends and not able to retire because I was a civilian for so long.

Going Legit on Facebook

Some of you know I have a Facebook page for my unit.  The Pa. National Guard does not authorize Facebook pages below the brigade level, so this battalion page is not an official Army page--it is a fan page connected to my personal Facebook page.

This weekend I will be meeting with an Air National Guard sergeant in the Public Affairs Office to make my page legal!  The battalion page will officially become the page of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, with the approval of the brigade commander.  So I will be legal as of next week.

Mostly it is a matter of me getting Facebook training and filling out paperwork--it's the Army, nothing exists without paperwork.

So I will be maintaining the brigade page until they put someone in the brigade PAO slot who can keep the page running, or move me to that slot.  There is some possibility that I will officially or unofficially move to brigade.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...