Friday, August 30, 2013

Current and Future News People. . .NOT!!!

Each day we have public affairs class, Mr. A starts the class off with a news quiz.  In every class he encourages us to have news feeds on the computers at our desks.  (The other two instructors DO NOT want us to be multi-tasking when they are talking.)  Mr. A says we should know what is going on at our base, in our community and in the world at large.

He is right.

But what news do students, faculty and other folks here at DINFOS care about?  Today I was eating lunch at the end of chow hours, about 12:40 p.m.  Since I was sitting alone, I sat near the CNN TV.  Each of the five dining areas in the dining facility has a TV up high on the wall at each side of the room:  one on CNN, one on ESPN.  I was watching a speech by John Kerry about Syria.  I had to leave, so I got up in the middle of the speech.  As I walked toward the back to drop my tray, I went into the next room where about 20 DINFOS people, civilians and soldiers, were standing looking up at the TV.

For a millisecond, I thought they were watching CNN.  Nope.  ESPN was re-running bloopers from a NY Jets press conference.

Part of the reason I chose this career field was my obsession with the news, a Gussman family tradition.  This is a career field for those obsessed with the news.  It will be tough out in the fleet and field for folks who really don't care about local, national and world events.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

High in the Morning: Low in the Afternoon

Today was the best and the worst day so far here at DINFOS. 

At 4:45 a.m. this morning we lined up to take our first fitness test.  The test started worse than usual for me.  I have gotten the maximum score on the fitness test for the last two years.  The first event is the pushup.  I needed to do 53 pushups in two minutes to score the maximum.  I could only do 50.

So I knew I was not going to score 300 again.  But I did enough situps to score 100 on that event.  I have not actually run since 2010.  Soldiers over 55 years old have the option of walking or riding the bike for the aerobic event.  I took the bike.  This time I decided to run since we will take two more fitness tests before we leave.  I did the two-mile run in 15 minutes, 10 seconds.  That is 12 seconds faster than I needed for a maximum score.

So I got a 297 out of 300.  Not max, but it felt good to get a top score while doing the run with everyone else.

Then in the afternoon we got our grades back from three days of Public Affairs training.  We have to score at least 70 in all graded exercises.  In the initial news release, I made an error in fact and a few small errors.  Together that dropped my score to 63 on that assignment. 

So Tuesday morning when school resumes, I have to do a remedial session before class. 

It is a relief that if I blew an assignment that it was a single large error.  In this case, I said all of the victims were transported to the post medical facility when two went directly to the hospital. 

Oh well.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Air Test Today



Today's class ended with a mock on-air interview.  I did well at this with the huge assumption that it would be edited.  I was sincere, got my facts correct, but I was hesitant.

My classmates thought it was weird that I would be nervous on camera. 

Actually, the job of a spokesperson is a very special skill which I do not have.  I do not memorize well.  And a spokesperson has to be in full control of the facts before getting on camera.  A great memory is an important part of being on-camera talent.  And I have a spotty memory.



Monday, August 26, 2013

4 a.m. Just Sucks

After a fun and restful weekend, I had a little trouble going to sleep which led to a very sad 4 a.m. wake up.

Getting up at 4 a.m. leads me to do all kinds of things to be able to stay awake through eight hours of classes and sometimes two or three hours of homework. 

Here is our daily schedule:

Up at 4:10 a.m.
Shave, brush my teeth, put on PT uniform, ride one mile to the PT field.

4:45 a.m. fall in for morning accountability formation. 

5 a.m.  One hour of PT.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we warm up for about 20 minutes, run for 25 minutes and cool down for 10 minutes.

6 a.m. ride back to my room.  On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday the pool opens at 6 a.m.  So I can swim on those days.  For the first week and Wednesdays and Fridays I take a shower and sleep till 7:10 a.m.  Then I dress and go to brakfast.  On swim days, I swim to 6:55 a.m. then change and go to brakfast.

7:55 a.m. class begins.

11:30 a.m. we get released for lunch.  I jump on the bike, ride to my room and take a nap till Noon.  Then dress, ride to chow and get back to class by 12:30 p.m.

12:30 p.m. afternoon class.  We get released between 3:45 p.m. and 4 p.m.  Then we go back to the PT field for an end-of-the-day formation at 4:30 p.m.

On Tuesdays, this formation is followed by another hour of PT.  On Thursdays instead of formation we have an hour of professional development. 

Then dinner, my chance to go for a long-ish bike ride, homework, maybe swim. 

Then bed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Another National Guard Weekend

Just like last weekend, this weekend was civilian job on Saturday, bicycling with my wife on Sunday, but less of both.

Last weekend I got a lot of work done on Saturday and rode 76 miles on Sunday.  This weekend, I rode 45 miles and got less work done.

It is good to go home, get all the laundry done and remind the boys they have a Dad.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Student Parking Lot

Every morning at 4:35 a.m., I roll out of the parking lot in student housing on my $800 single-speed bike.  As I ride the mile to the field where we do fitness training, I get passed by some really nice cars and trucks.  The are the cars of my fellow students. 

Rolling past me are a champagne Escalade,

A $29,000, 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid with heated leather seats, even the rear seats,


an immense, black crew cab pickup truck, an Audi, a new VW Beetle, and several other cars and SUVs three years old or less.

Then there is my car:  a 2002 Chevy Malibu with 172,000 miles.  All of my classmates are enlisted soldiers around the same pay grade as me.  There cars are new, shiny and represent about a year's pay. 

I suppose this is normal in America, but living with my frugal Ninja wife and working with young people who live in Philadelphia and mostly drive old cars or no cars, it is strange to be with young people who live in middle America and own new, expensive cars.  Just another bit of culture difference when I go on active duty.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We Really Are PR Guys


The course I am taking at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) used to be the basic journalism course.  It is now the basic public affairs course.  During the first two weeks we spend half of each day learning how to write as journalists do and the other half learning public affairs.

In the 70s when I did this job, we really thought of ourselves as journalists, but now it is very clear we learn to write as journalists do, but our job is public relations. 

Yesterday during the PR class, we had guest observers, an Air Force husband and wife team who were assigned together as public relations sergeants.  When asked to say a few words, they told several stories, finishing stories the other started and full of enthusiasm.  The longest story they told was about how they handled the security shut-down at their base after Osama Bin Laden was killed. 

Their job was to be sure none of the journalists swarming the gate connected the vastly increased base security with the death of the Al Qaeda leader.  The two sergeants were gleeful explaining how they managed to speak to the press about the increased security while giving them no quote that would link the increased security with the recent demise of Bin Laden.

In the class itself, the instructor said we should never lie to the media:  our credibility is everything.  He reminded us that the DINFOS motto is:  Strength though Truth.  But in the real world, media relations is a game in which the journalists need access and the public affairs staff controls access.  So in awkward situations the public affairs pro is tying herself in knots trying to tell as much truth as possible while the journalist is staying with the rules of his profession and attributing all facts.

The Air Force team won the Bin Laden round of the game and were very happy.  Thirty-five years ago, military journalists were sometimes confused about their role--thinking they were journalists first and public affairs second. 

The message is very clear now.  We are learning to be public affairs professionals who can write in journalistic style.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Up Even Earlier!



Today I got up earlier than usual.  Not by much.  I got up at 3:48 a.m. instead of 4:07 a.m.  But in the sad world of Zero-Dark-30, every minute counts. Today I was on the duty desk for 4:30 to 6:30 a.m.  Some of my classmates were jealous.  Being on duty on weekday mornings means you are not doing fitness training. 

So while they did pushups, situps, pullups and the other morning exercises, I was checking my email and checking ID cards of everyone who went in and out of the building. 

I am way behind on email so the time was kind of nice.  We are not allowed to have any personal items on the desk, especially personal electronics, but I can check email on the Army computer. 

At 6:30 a.m. I was released to go to class--which starts at 7:55 a.m.  I went straight to the chow hall.  Although the food here is not as lavish as the food in Iraq, breakfast is by far the best meal.  Every morning the cook who makes the eggs, Anna, sees me and makes an omelet with ham, cheese and green peppers.  Depending on the day, I  get either a biscuit and bacon or a biscuit and sausage gravy.  Sometimes home fries, sometimes grits, French toast when they have it, juice and coffee.

And for the environmental folks who read this, like my wife, we eat with metal silverware on plates and trays with cups and mugs.  Everything gets washed, not tossed.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Weakly Working the Weekly Publishing Schedule


In 1979 I was a staff writer for the Wiesbaden Post newspaper, published by the Wiesbaden Military Community in Germany.  In that era every base and fort had a weekly newspaper which went to press on Wednesday and had a publication date of Thursday.

The following two years I worked for the Elizabethtown (Pa.) Chronicle also a weekly newspaper that was published every Thursday.

Today, the Post, the Chronicle and many other weekly newspapers have disappeared, replaced by web sites.  As late as the military is to all electronic and social media, base newspapers are disappearing faster than ice cubes in Algeria, but we are writing our news leads holding to the weekly publication calendar.  As a teaching aid, I can understand it because it is a small puzzle to solve, and some of us may go to the half-dozen posts that still publish a weekly.

But it is strange to have this weekly calendar back in my head so long after I used it in as part of my daily work.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weekend Off: Day 2

Today was a real day off.  I was one of more than a thousand cyclists who rode 100 kilometers and around Lancaster County, Pa.  Originally, my wife and I were supposed to be part of a group of math professors from here department doing the ride.  One professor was injured, her husband stayed home with her, so our group was us.

We rode a steady pace of just over 16 mph and finished the ride close to noon.  We rode to and from the event so the total ride for the day was 76 miles, a new distance record for my wife. 

When we were two miles from home, Annalisa said "Let's run three miles when we get back."  At first I said no way, but I knew she was right, we need to practice transitions.  So when we got home, I changed clothes, she just changed shoes, and we ran.  We only ran two miles, mostly because I was so sore.

After the run, I did one more load of laundry and headed back to school.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Weekend Off: National Guard Style



I went home this weekend and had two very different days.  Today, I took two of my kids and drove to Philadelphia.  They saw the Liberty Bell, ate at the Bourse food court, and played on computers in my office.  I stayed at my desk and caught up on work I did not finish before I left to play Army.

National Guard soldiers with civilian jobs in management get stretched trying to fulfill their obligations to their work and their unit, not to mention family and the rest of their lives.  So a day off from the Army meant an afternoon at work for this soldier.

At the end of the day, I got a lot of work done and my kids were full of greasy food.  Everbody wins!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Real Fitness Training at School

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know I have to work out on drill weekends because our training is mostly attending classes and other equally strenuous activities.

Not at the Defense Information School.  We are up every day at 4 a.m. and do an hour of PT from 5 to 6 a.m.  In that hour this week I have run 7 miles, done 240 pushups, 220 situps and five pullups in addition to the dozens of other exercises I don't keep track of.

As you would expect, I ride everywhere, so I also rode 105 miles, much of it one mile at a time on the single speed bike.  I managed to get to the pool for three workouts.  Twice I swam a kilometer, once a quarter mile.

This weekend I won't be exercising at all on Saturday and riding about 70 miles on Sunday.  And at this school, I will not be complaining about a lack of exercise.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not My Job

This image won the "Not My Job" Award

In any government organization the people in charge have a defined area of responsibility.  Go beyond that area and someone will be on you like dung beetles on a manure pile.

When I went through job training as an armor (M60A1 tank) crewman, the drill sergeants who were responsible for our daily life also taught our classes.  When we did fitness training, a tank commander was in front of us.  When we learned how to align the sights of our 105mm cannon, it was a drill sergeant who was also an armor crewman who taught the class.

With academic courses like DINFOS, the cadre who are in charge of housing, food, fitness training and our lives outside the class are different than the instructors inside the class.  If there is anything that will keep me from succeeding in a journalism course, it will be lack of sleep.  We get up at 4 a.m. every day.  We are in class from 7:55 a.m. to 4 p.m.  We have a formation at 4:30 p.m., then we do homework until we go to bed.

Our instructors at the school made clear they have no influence on the detachment that is in charge of the rest of the schedule--and reminded us we better not fall asleep in class.  They teach us, the detachment trains us.  Neither group can tell the other what to do.  And they don't.

So we struggle to stay awake in class, stay up late to finish our homework, and roll out of bed at 4 a.m. for fitness training.  Both the detachment and the school say "Time management is the key to success."  They are right.  But it is clear that the two groups work independently.  Could more students succeed if the detachment and the school worked together?  We'll never know.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Army, My Military

Our group of 27 soldiers got divided into three classes on Monday.  I am in a group of eight: two airmen, a Marine and five soldiers.
[NOTE:  Marine is always capitalized.  You can look up the fact in the AP Style Guide.  You can look up the reason on line if you are curious.]
During the first class we had an "ice-breaker" exercise.  During that exercise, I knew I was in the the part of the Army where I belong.
We each took a Post-It poster-size sheet, stuck it on the wall, and divided it in fours quadrants: Bio, Likes, Dislikes, Goals

Our class student leader is Ben.  Here is some of his answers:

LIKES:
Norrin Radd
Clubber Lang
Vita Sackville West
The Saturn myth

DISLIKES:
Fox News
The Lord of the Rings movies
Crossfit (as religion)
Ideology, particularly American pragmatism
Wynton Marsalis as representing all of Jazz
 
BIO:
31 
from Connecticut
Grad student at Trinity College

GOALS:
fulfilling employment
personal writing
learning to play the upright bass or speak a new languauge
develop more capacity empathy

Ben is a tall quiet staff sergeant who lifts weights and is a very fast runner.  

I like being in the Army, but I like it a lot more in a room of soldiers like Ben.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Good at Grammar After All--and Learning More

It's official. I got the highest grade on the grammar test in my class at DINFOS.  I got 93 of 100 right on the grammar test.  Next best grade was 90.  And I will be even better soon because we are spending the next week or so reviewing grammar.  Tonight's homework is looking up 33 grammatical points in the AP Stylebook and then editing several press releases.

It's after 9 p.m., I have less than a third of my homework done and I have to get up at 0400 hours.

More later.

Monday, August 12, 2013

First Day of School--and a Bonus Class!!!

 Today was the first day of school in our basic journalism course.   As promised we began with the 100-question grammar test.  We took the test online, so we thought that we would get the results immediately.  Wrong.   It turns out that the Army has to have paper for nearly everything so this online test is graded on paper at a different location.   Even the parts of the Army that are automated often really have a "sneaker net" behind the automation.

 Before and after the tests we were told that we must score at least 70 or we would be required to take a remedial grammar class.   It turns out this requirement is not ironclad, at least not for guard and reserve soldiers. But after the test most of us were waiting rather nervously for the results to see if we would continue in the course or start over again later after two or three weeks of grammar class.

 Since this is a military school we listened to introductory lectures  for the rest of the day. Several of them were welcome lectures by senior staff members who reminded us in various ways that we must attend class and obey all the rules. In the middle of the fourth or fifth of these lectures one of the instructors came in the class, read several names, and told those people to go to the hallway and bring their gear.  They were headed for the remedial class.  We won't see them again.

At the end of the day, we signed out and met in front of the building to get a short writing assignment from our class leader, due at 10pm tonight.  We started to walk toward chow when one of the sergeants from the cadre said we had to sign back into the building.  In 10 minutes the First Sergeant is going to teach a class in treating and identifying cold-weather injuries!

Really!

To be fair, we also heard about heat injuries, but that was only the last 10 minutes of the next hour.  For forty minutes we learned how to identify frostbite, trench foot, chill blains and administer first aid for these and other injuries.  The high temperature today was 87 degrees in case you were wondering.

After eight hours of tests and lectures in school, it was quite a challenge to sit in a windowless room for an Army Powerpoint presentation on cold weather injuries.

Hooah!!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

My School Barracks--NOT!!!!

Before I arrived at school, I heard from several people the barracks would be really nice.  At summer camp this year, I thought the barracks was exceptional.  I had almost 40 roommates, but we had air conditioning.

The junior officers and senior NCOs had their own rooms--with AC.  I was happy for my roommates.

At Basic Journalism School, I heard we would have our own rooms, sharing a bathroom with one other guy.  But when we got here, they did not have enough room for all of us.  I had a moment of wondering if I would get a two-man room, a four-man room?  Neither.

They took us to a IHG Hotel (Holiday Inn) office on post.  The guard and reserve sergeants and specialists got rooms in one of the IHG buildings on post.  This is nice!  We have our own TV, microwave, refrigerator, and coffee pot!  We have our own bathroom!  

I am sitting at the desk next to the bed, drinking tea I made in the microwave.  Waking up at 0400 every day won't be much fun, but so far everything else is great.

 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Two Terrifying Tests--Today and Monday


At dinner yesterday, most of the talk was about to the terrifying tests. We took one test this morning. We will take the second test Monday morning.

This morning's test is called height and weight. We line up in our PT uniforms, take off our shoes, step up on the scale and get weighed and measured. That height and weight measurement is compared with the chart. "Making height and weight"  as it is called means you weigh less than the chart allows for your height. If you don't make height and weight you could be sent home. In most cases the soldiers who are just a few pounds overweight are allowed to stay because we do so much PT it is likely they will pass the next time. We take a fitness test followed by height and weight at the end of every month.

The height measurement put me at 71 inches and 186 pounds. My scale at home says 183 and my less calibrated tape measure says 72 inches. But even though the Army thinks I am shorter and fatter than I am at home I still was within the standard. At my advanced age I am allowed to weigh up to 197 pounds at 71 inches tall.

On Monday we take a grammar test. Soldiers who don't pass this test do not get sent home; they actually spend more time here. If you fail this test, the school puts you in a two-week, intensive, remedial grammar program and you start regular classes two weeks later. As with height and weight, I'm pretty sure I will do okay on this test, but most editors I have worked with would wish I was put in the remedial grammar program.

I just finished lunch with my classmates. Now I'm headed home for about 24 hours. I'll have to return tomorrow afternoon. I am bringing back three more bikes. I already have one of my racing bikes here. And I'm going to bring the others to loan to soldiers who flew here from far away and have no transportation. It really is a great group of soldiers that I'm in. I hope they all pass the grammar test and we stay together.

This morning when we were waiting for height and weight one of the students who has been here a month and a half told us when their group took the grammar tests all of the Army people passed, but six Marines and two Airmen  failed. I am going to hope that all the soldiers pass and it is Navy, Marines, and Airmen who fail.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hurry Up and Waaaaaait



Yesterday we reported to the orderly room to complete in processing paperwork at 0845 hours.  And waited.  At 0930 hours one of the cadre sergeants started our initial briefing.  He said he did not want us to hurry up and wait.  Then he had to go to a staff meeting.  He said he would be back in 30 minutes.

At 1215 hours one of the sergeants in the student group said, “I’m making a command decision.  Time to go to chow.”  We went to chow, ate quickly and returned to the waiting area.  At 1315 hours, the sergeant who left us in the morning came back and said he had not had lunch yet and was going to eat.  He told us to go in process at dental and medical and return at 1500 hours for finance and administrative paperwork.

Most of us were rejected at medical because our orders were not yet in the system.  We tried to fix this by going to the ID Card section, but the line was so long we could not get the paperwork fixed and get back at 1500 hours. 

So we left.

At 1500 hours we waited again then got our administrative paperwork completed. 

This morning several of us went back to the ID Card building.  We are getting a lot of the paperwork done.  In fact we may get the paperwork completed this morning. 

I am writing this partly to help me stay awake.  We were up again at 0400 hours and will be up every day at that time until we graduate.  This morning’s PT hour was warm-up exercises followed by a 2.25-mile run then stretching.  After the first quarter-mile, the run was self paced.  I finished about 15th out of the 52 soldiers who ran.  Another 20 or so left the formation because they had medical profiles that excuse them from running. 

Several soldiers shook hands or bumped fists with me after the run.  Getting over the “shitbag” impression takes time.  Everyone is aware who finished up front in the run.  Of course, everyone behind me is younger than me, mostly by a factor of 2 to 3.  So now the soldiers who look at me as just old know that I can run.

Thursday, August 8, 2013





It's 8:15 AM.  In processing my new unit begins 30 minutes. I've already been up since 4 AM, I did an hour of really hard training, rode my bike, took a nap, and I just finished breakfast in this lovely dining facility.  Whew!!

The alarm went off at 4 AM. I did not get ready as fast as I could have and just made it to formation at 4:45 AM. At 5 AM fitness training started with the usual warm-up exercises. Then we did push-ups and situps and the instructor’s favorite exercise: lie on your back and lift your legs and upper body together. By the time the hour session was over I had done 150 situps, 140 push-ups and I don't know how many other various exercises.  I was tired. I went for a short ride on my bicycle just to stretch out and was riding nine or 10 miles an hour.

When I got back to my room, I tried to read and then ended up checking my eyelids for leaks. They did not admit any light for the next 30 minutes.  After I showered and changed I went to the Dining Facility (not called Chow Hall or Mess Haul anymore).  This lovely place served a breakfast my sons live for:  Omelets, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, waffles, scrambled eggs, juice, coffee, bagels, toast, grits, home fries, hot and cold cereal, and fresh fruit.

I ate like I did an hour of hard PT then started writing this post in the Dining Facility.  I am at the in processing unit now.  Real Army here!  We are sitting in rows of chairs facing a TV waiting for someone to come out and tell us how to fill out their particular Army forms. 

More on in processing later.  I thought this was going to be nothing special, but we are almost at two hours of waiting.  In the active Army, accountability is everything.  What matters is that the people in charge of us know where we are.  Our time has no inherent value except in accomplishing whatever mission our leaders have.  So a dozen men and women are sitting in front of a big screen TV watching the movie “300” probably for the tenth time.  And we are here to learn to be writers.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Presumed to be a Sh*tbag!




Today is the first of 90 days on active duty with the Army. I am at Fort Meade in Maryland attending the defense information school. This morning my wife saw me looking anxious as I got ready to leave and asked what was bothering me. I thought for a minute and then told her that I was thinking about going to a new unit and having active duty soldiers presume I was a shitbag. 

The Army and all military services are very competitive. Everyone is sizing everyone else up based upon their appearance or how they speak or how they carry themselves. So I know that when active duty soldiers see someone who is my age and my rank they assume I am some kind of hold over National Guard failure. At my age I should be a general or a Sgt. Major or a warrant officer five.  They don't assume I started over after a quarter-century break in service. 

When I reported to school today they sent me to the billeting office to get quarters. I walked in the company responsible for quarters and told them I was reporting for school. There were four young soldiers at two desks in that room. One of them got up to ask the Sgt. in charge where I should be assigned a room. The soldier who was walking turned and asked one of the soldiers who is sitting down which group I should be in.

One of the soldiers who is sitting down said with an obvious sneer “He’s a reclass, look at him.”

The soldiers who attend Army schools are either straight from basic training or they are being reclassified. I am obviously not straight from basic training.

At 5 AM tomorrow morning I will start to undo one assumption that young active duty soldiers make about old National Guard sergeants. Students have physical training every morning at 5 AM. They will expect me to have a profile or waiver and not participate. 

When I reenlisted six years ago I knew this would happen. At the time I didn't think I'd still be here past age 60. Tomorrow I will process into the school and do what ever other paperwork and medical tests they require.


And tomorrow night I will let you know how things go with fitness training. It should be fun.