Friday, December 22, 2006
The past two weeks (in no order or proper format):
I'm going to Germany now. I swapped duty stations with one of the other LTs in my class. I'm pretty excited except that organizing a move overseas is going to be so much more of a hassle than tossing everything into the back of my car and driving across the country. Also, the idea of living off of only two pieces of luggage until the rest of my things are shipped over is a bit frightening. On the other hand, the blizzard in Denver makes me so happy that I won't be in Colorado.
We've completed our first week-long field exercise, Bull Run. It wasn't too bad, but the days went much longer than usual (partially explaining the lack of posts; I was just too tired and drained). If one other person tells me that I look lost, I'm going to scream.
I was platoon sergeant of the class week. No one could hear me, I got a million speeches from our TAC about being more confident and taking charge, and pissed off one of the civilians by telling him to shut up (I was in charge of the formation, had info to share, and he kept saying to just fall them out - I told him to shut up - it shocked the entire class, too). He actually complained to our platoon leader, but the PL just told me he thought it "was fabulous." The week ended with me yelling at the class to "get off their asses and move the rest of the shit" because we had a detail but apparently people were actually rather impressed/amused with me for lashing out and "growing a pair."
I have staff duty on the 30th - so much for doing anything over the four day weekend.
Since I'm going overseas, I need a recent HIV test, even though I just had one in August at Ft. Sill. Another student (he's going to Korea) and I went to the clinic only to later find out that we were in the wrong location. Since we were there, they pulled up our records online, and they decided I needed four shots - all of which I was told I didn't need at Sill but since my actual medical file is probably still in Oklahoma, I didn't have proof. Even better, I needed a pregnancy test before they would give me the measles shot which resulted in the worst blood drawing I've ever experienced. I got stuck 3 times before they got any blood. All I can say is that 7 needles in one day is a bit much. And I blame BOLC II. They should have let me hand-carry my medical records.
This morning, I spent two and half hours waiting for a five minute dental exam. I didn't even get a cleaning, and since I'm not stationed at Eustis, I can't make an appointment, either. Basically, I'm going to get sit around the medical office for another two or three hours next week waiting for a gap in the schedule.
I'm currently reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and I've been bringing it with me to formation because we aren't actually doing anything at the moment. One of my friends grabbed it today, read the back, and then said: "You know, they have new ones. Like Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks." I thought that was pretty funny. My TAC just said that he had to read it for an English class once.
There's a Cheesecake Factory in Virginia Beach. I thought that was exciting news.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I ended up discussing the Army value of respect in my paper, and specifically addressed that the instructors here don't exactly treat us as fellow human beings. I even quoted the chaplain's note on the board from the first week - he's the one grading it, so we'll see how that goes. One of the other LTs said he should have written his paper about two other students: one as an example of selfless service, and me for personal courage since I "tore into the chaplain" in my paper. Of course, I did pretty well on the brief, so at least that will keep my grade up.
I was actually somewhat busy this weekend. Much like in college, we started the weekend on Thursday and went out to karaoke that night. We didn't have PT the next day so a few of us, myself included, took full advantage of it. We actually had three people unaccounted for the next day at formation because they slept through their alarms. We also went out Saturday night, but it was much more low-key, and I went to a concert on Friday night.
There's been a lot of high school drama here this week. There's a Christmas Ball this Saturday, and on Monday, everyone was talking about buying dresses, suits and getting dates. I didn't even realize that we didn't have to wear dress blues until that morning, so needless to say, I have neither a date nor a dress and am not going. As much as I would love to buy a new dress (but not shoes - I hate shoe-shopping), I am not about to show up to a formal without a date - going stag to my high school prom was more than enough. I am not about to do that to myself again.
Edited December 22, 2006: Okay, so I actually gave in and went to the dance. I bought a dress, had my hair and make-up done and everything. I had a date, too, even if she was the same gender as me. It was more fun than prom but naturally, I developed a stomach ache in the middle of the dinner so I had to cut the night short. I looked good, though.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Obviously, in college I had papers due on the same day occasionally, but the professors all worked independently of each other. While we have different instructors here, this is ONE course - therefore they should have to consider our other assignments for that week. The class leader is going to try to talk to the major again tomorrow but so far, the cadre here have yet to show much compassion or humanity. Maybe the chaplain will change the date for his ethics paper (oh wait, I forgot, the chaplain is just as bad as the rest of them). Why couldn't I have been branched AG? Or Med Service?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Let's start off with the fun craziness that is Transportation School. We had motor pool orientation on Monday which involved getting a twenty minute intro to six vehicles. And I guess that's all I actually need to know about trucks. Tuesday and Wednesday we worked on some computer programs the Army now has but the classes were ridiculous. For example, on Tuesday, we did a video game simulation of a route recon and had to send text messages every time we saw a curve in the road. After that, we had to play Kuma War, which is an actual video game. Some of the class found it entertaining, though useless, but since I've never really been into the gaming thing, I was just bored. The system we learned about on Wednesday was actually much more interesting - it helps keep track of the locations of all different types of units, cargo etc. (the Army is impressed with itself, although I'm pretty sure FedEx and UPS have been doing this for years). Unfortunately, BCS3 usually involves a two week course and we had less than eight hours to learn about it. Additionally, even the few things our instructor could show us in that time were very much along the lines of use it or lose it.
That's the thing I really don't get about this place: we aren't trained on anything. We just get quick intros to everything, but when I get out of here, I'm not actually going to be proficient in anything. 20 minutes on a vehicle when 80% of transportation units are truck units? That really makes me feel prepared.
The worst part about the computer systems training was the LTC who was in charge of the instructors. He came in at the beginning of class on Tuesday, and basically acted like a complete dick. I was actually talking to one of the OCS grads that's been in transpo for 10+ years: she is very disappointed by this course and the officers representing the Transportation Corps. Except for the captain in the beginning, all the green-suiters have been complete asses. When I told her I didn't like the Army, she responded that this was the first time in eleven years that she hasn't liked it, either. This is just some perspective on how messed up this place is.
Anyway, back to the newest ass in a growing line up: he came in and had all the prior enlisted guys that had been deployed stand up, and then fawned over their combat patches. One of them had been in during the late '80s/early '90s, left the Army for the civilian thing, came back recently and is now going the officer route. As a result, he had a combat patch from Panama and the image looked like a pirate ship. The LTC asked H about it, and a completely different LT made the comment that H had earned it by sailing with Columbus. The colonel just about had a cow, made the LT come up to the front and gave a big speech about respecting the combat patch, the tradition behind it, and that we'd "all get our chance to earn one." He then let him return to his seat after slapping him hard on the back. One of other guy was standing up as well, but when the colonel asked him about his prior-service experiences, the guy just told him that he was standing so he wouldn't fall asleep. Somehow the fact that he was trying out for Ranger School came up, and that all the Ranger-wannabees had a pre-Ranger physical that day. The colonel first went on to insult Ranger School, and how it wouldn't help him as a logistician, then proceeded to cancel their appointments because his classes (i.e. Kuma War) were too important to miss.
Later on, some people were talking about the fact that Ranger School might not help with logistics but was still the best leadership course around. The theory is that the colonel is just compensating for the fact that he doesn't have one. I have to say I'm kind of sick of all the male ego that is attached to the Ranger tab. While at LDAC, the LTC in charge of the regiment made a big deal about how it was the only patch that mattered because he was trying to make up for the fact that he was Field Artillery, not Infantry, while here, the LTC just completely dogs it. I know one Infantry 1LT who went through Ranger School, and he thought the FA guy was making a complete fool of himself. Apparently, it's easier to see things in a proper perspective for the Infantry guys.
We were also pretty pissed off about the guy's infatuation with enlisted guys and combat patches. No offense, but doesn't at least half the Army have one now? As a result, I wouldn't exactly say it makes you better than anyone else. As some of the targets of the man's love even said - there are some pretty ate-up NCOs out there.
That wraps up all the Army stuff of the past week, but there were also some other odd developments going on. I didn't date in high school, I was involved with someone my freshmen and sophomore year of college, but other than that I didn't date much in college, either. Every once in a while some seriously freaky guys would come out of the woodwork and tell me they liked me (in one case, a guy told me he liked me in the very same conversation during which he told me about his ex-girlfriend who slept with his stepfather and had an abortion - needless to say, there was not a follow-up date), and I would respond by avoiding them. Anyway, the universe apparently decided to make up for this lack of guys by having them all appear last weekend. It's made for a confusing week, to say the least.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Seriously though, we’ve been doing a lot of BS details this week. On Wednesday, we had to go to a welcoming reception. Now that we've been here for seven weeks and have even already had a dining in, it's time to welcome us to Ft. Eustis. The best way to do that is to have us sing the Transportation Song, the Army Song and recite the Soldier's Creed in front of a general before eating a variety of finger foods. What, that doesn't sound exciting? Well, I guess that's why they turned it into a competition with the new TBOLC class. Somehow, my class got stuck in the middle - we had dining-in with the previous class, barely giving us enough time to prepare, and then we get put together with the new class for the reception - we've started referring to ourselves as the red-headed step-child. We also feel a certain amount of disdain towards the new class (it's all in good fun) - they actually get to stay at General Small's Inn (so much more convenient) and they keep showing up very early for everything (what a bunch of overachievers). Anyway, we "won" the competition, but that's because the colonel doesn't like the Ohio State fans in the other class. In fact, he made us sing the Michigan fight song to piss them off. Personally, I always thought that the big rivalry was Michigan and Illinois, not Michigan and Ohio, and therefore couldn't sing the fight song in good conscience. I don't even know the words for the Illini song but I know "Hail to Michigan" now. This whole Army thing is making me go against my principles.
Due to military customs and courtesies we weren't allowed to leave until the general left (of course, no one said anything about the fact that the general was late for the reception, and we had to stand around for fifteen minutes waiting for him while the food was taunting us). Anyway, eventually our class leader gave us permission to start disappearing in pairs, especially since we had a 6 o'clock formation the next morning because we had been tasked to attend a retirement ceremony. We thought we were just going to sit in the bleachers and take up space, but we learned differently this morning at the rehearsal. We are going to have to stand in two formations to make it look more formal. It could be anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, and being tall, I have to be up front. I tend to start fidgeting after a while so this could get ugly tomorrow morning.
Also, it turns out that our stuff isn't safe anywhere. As of Wednesday morning, one woman was missing her wedding ring, and another one couldn't find her check book. They live on the same floor right by each other. Basically, we can't leave valuables in the room, and we can't leave them in our cars. Too bad we aren't staying at General Small's. Damn that new class.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I wanted to see the Folger Shakespeare Library but unfortunately it's closed Sundays (obviously, I didn't plan ahead that well - I didn't even know the library existed until Saturday). So what did we do with our last day in DC? We went to the zoo. And did I mention it was a rainy day? A lot of the animals were actually inside because of the rain but it was fun. Even though all of the wolves had gone into hiding.
We also stopped by Mount Vernon on the way back. We got there around 3:30, and the guard told us we wouldn't have time to see everything or give it enough time but we could still see the house. When we asked if there was a military discount at the ticket counter, the woman said, "There was yesterday. You're a day late and a dollar short." Yeah, I thought she was pretty rude. How about a "it's almost closing time" discount? No? Full price it is then at $13 a piece. While it's great that all these historic monuments were free for military on Veterans Day (the Smithsonians are always free to the public), I think having a daily military discount would be a much better way of showing one's support for the troops than a one time a year deal. The back porch had an amazing view - it's right on the Potomac, and it was also nicely decorated. I guess the hideous wallpaper that was popular when Lincoln's house was decorated hadn't become a fad yet. We were on the tour with three other people who were wearing LSU sweatshirts (apparently LSU and Ole Miss are huge rivals so I'm lucky I didn't witness a bloodbath). When the guide showed us Washington's bedroom, she said that Washington also died in that bed. The people from LSU looked so sad - you didn't think he was still alive, did you? Unfortunately, we didn't have that much time to walk the grounds but it was a rainy fall day, so it wasn't as if we had come at the right time of year for that anyway.
I definitely want to go back to DC some time but I really hope that next time I go I can go with someone or visit someone who knows the area so I can see the less obvious places than the monuments and the Smithsonian museums. I think it was a good start for a three day trip, though.
View from Mt. Vernon
Front of Mt. Vernon
View from Lincoln's Memorial
After that, we walked back to the Capitol but the line was extremely long. While it would have been neat to actually go into the Capitol, I had other things I wanted to do, so I left J to stand in line while I went to the National Gallery of Art. From what he told me later, the building was impressive but the tour guide was rather disappointing. The National Gallery of Art, on the other hand, was amazing. If I actually lived in DC or near DC, I'd like to think that I'd go there on a monthly basis. They had an entire room devoted to Monet. Granted, there are only about 6-8 paintings per room, but still. That's more than the Chicago Art Institute (still an awesome art gallery). I spent three hours in the art gallery, and then went to the Freer and Sacks Galleries as well as the African Art Gallery. The Freer and Sacks Galleries are both devoted to Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Iranian and Indian art. Basically, it covers anything that isn't European or American. I'm not actually sure where they put art from Central or South America, but I didn't really see any.
Palazzo da Mula, Venice
After I hit up the Botanical Garden, J and I met back up in front of the Museum of the American Indian. It was interesting but I felt like it tried to do too much given that it only used two of its four floors for exhibits. Not only does the American Indian museum attempt to give an overview of the culture, history and art of a variety of different tribes, but it also addresses both North and Central America. Given the fact that these two areas were colonized by different powers, they had vastly different experiences. Additionally, the Aztecs were very distinct from the tribes and nations that existed in North America. There's just too much - it would be like having an American Museum and then discussing the history, culture and art of Canada, the US, Mexico and various other countries in Central America. It can't be adequately done in one museum - unless the place is just huge.
We had dinner at an Irish pub near Union Station, and then went to see Borat. Everyone had been talking about how funny it was, but I didn't think it was that great. There were a few things I liked, such as the bear and the hen, but it wasn't my type of humor. I knew it was a satire but some of the stuff that was supposed to be funny such as two naked men wrestling made me cringe. There was a scene that took place at what appeared to be a religious revival, and J recognized one of the participants as an Army general. The "preacher" apparently is a judge in Mississippi, and one of his lines in the movies was that he wasn't an ape (I guess it was an anti-evolution meeting), but given the way he was acting, that probably would have been a step up.
Actually, we had another fun North vs. South moment earlier in the day after seeing the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's second inaugural address was posted in the memorial, and J said that Lincoln seemed to blame the South for the war. Maybe that's because the South left the Union. I've also heard the comment, it was about states' rights a lot recently from various sources. Of course it was - and one of those rights? The right to own slaves. Yes, there were several causes but no amount of rationalizing can ignore the role of slavery. And now that I've pissed off all the Southerners, how about some pretty pictures of flowers?
The Orchid Room
Originally three of us had planned on going to DC for the weekend, but N and his replacement both bailed on us, so it was just J and me. The first day we went to Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust Museum was very well done, but I questioned the judgment of some parents. While we were waiting to get on the elevator to the exhibition, there was a seven or eight year old girl kneeling on the floor, saying that she was bored and wanted to go. It just seemed like maybe it wasn't the right time to take that child through an exhibit about the attempted genocide of the Jewish people (I wasn't only judging parents: I also thought the teenager that was popping her gum in the museum was rude and disrespectful). It wasn't so much the age that bothered me, just the fact that the girl clearly wasn't in the right mood to go through something like that (of course, I could be wrong; maybe once she was up there, she became more interested and calm). I was probably about 8 or 9 when I first became aware of the Holocaust and what had actually happened. My parents took me to Dachau while we were on a visit to Munich, and I was very strongly affected. Afterwards, I started reading a lot of novels and books related to the Holocaust. I grew up in Germany and the Holocaust has definitely remained a part of the public conscience, so it is easy to find information about it. I know that in Japan, for example, there have still been issues in the recent past with Japan's approach to things such as the Rape of Nanjing but Germany is very good at acknowledging its dark history. As a result, I already knew most of the things that the exhibition discussed but I liked some of the more personalized details as well as the quotes, including the famous Heinrich Heine quote: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too."
Afterwards, we tried to walk by the White House but the front was blocked off, so we only saw it from the back - and honestly, the Eisenhower Executive Offices were much more impressive looking than the actual White House.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Yesterday, we had another practical exercise with a briefing. When they assigned us our groups and units, they told us the units we would be representing were all located here on base, so if we wanted to know how they worked, we could give them a call or drive over and hang out for a while. It's almost as if our instructors didn't actually want to deal with us and were trying to pawn us off on basically anyone else. Also, if I were in a unit, and got a call from a group of LTs asking if they could come hang out that same morning, I'd probably say no - after all, I'll have an actual job, so I'm not sure how much time I would have to give tours to TBOLC students (now, if they gave me a few days warning, that would be a different thing). My group didn't contact anyone, but two groups did - and they got dogged during the briefing for having false info ("They told us they'd lie to us!"). Actually, giving the briefing was rather similar to facing a firing line. Our 10-15 minute briefings were followed by 10 minutes of questions by a subject matter expert and when he couldn't find anything wrong with the actual information, he started picking on people's font sizes and slide shows.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Yesterday, as part of his ethics class, he decided to go back in history all the way to Aristotle and his philosophies. After all he had a famous military leader as a student - Alexander the Great. Surely, we all know about Alexander since that movie with Brad Pitt came out recently.
Me: Colin Farrell, sir. *
Chaplain: You've seen it?
Me: Yes, sir.
Chaplain: How was it?
Me: It was bad, sir.
Chaplain: So you wouldn't recommend it?
Me: No, sir.
Apparently, there were at least two other people in class that had seen the film and disagreed with me. I haven't seen the movie in a while so I can't really go into any great detail about my dislikes but I have a few distinct reasons for disliking Stone's interpretation of the historical figure Alexander. I went to see it in theaters the week it came out (given my like for Braveheart, as a historical epic, this should have been right up my alley). I had taken a Greek history class earlier that year, and while I was already fuzzy on some of the details, something just seemed off about the film. I have since heard that the film was more or less historically accurate, but it still felt off - obviously, Stone hadn't consulted with my professor about the proper interpretation of certain events. It was also long, surprisingly boring, and I remember thinking that some of the camera work was odd, to say the least.
However, my two main problems concerned Alexander's relationships. Stone clearly hints (although that is too weak a word) at an attraction between Alexander and Jared Leto's character. Stone basically had his characters declare their eternal love for each other but stopped short of having them do anything beyond one long hug. Obviously, the idea of two men is going to alienate some viewers, but I think by this point in the story, they have already been so alienated just by the interactions between the characters that actually having them kiss really wouldn't have made too much of a difference. Instead, it looks like Stone wants to address the fact that homosexual acts** were accepted within Greek and Macedonian society but stops just shy, perhaps afraid of losing his more conservative audience, when he has clearly already lost them.
I also disliked the protrayal of Alexander's relationship with his mother. Stone chose the Freudian route, and decided to focus on the story of Oedipus Rex. However, in ancient Greece/Macedonia, the lesson behind Oedipus Rex's tragedy had more to do with people's inability to escape fate and not so much with the fact that he wanted to kill his father and sleep with his mother. That was pure Freud. As a result, I was rather appalled that Stone chose a 20th century theory to explain the lives and relationships of a 4th or 3rd century BC man.
* How can you confuse Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell? One of them looks greasy and dirty in most pictures, and has basically lost any attraction he may have once had, while the other one is Brad Pitt. I mean seriously, Farrell had a beer gut in Alexander and badly bleached hair.
** I make the distinction between homosexual acts and homosexuality. After all, homosexuality wasn't actually a term in the English language until the 1800s nor did it exist as a concept in the same way that it does today.
Monday, November 06, 2006
The chaplain's class was about ethics and morals. He managed to insult one LT within the first five minutes of class, asking him if he was different when at the mall vs. in uniform. When the guy said that he stayed true to himself, the chaplain said, "but your pants aren't hanging down, and you aren't wearing earrings." He then implied that this was something he saw many youngsters of today doing but the fact that he made this statement to a black man certainly didn't help in the "the chaplain is actually a nice guy" campaign.
For a large part of the first hour, we discussed the perceptions of soldiers, and how the Army's doctrines are designed to help people internalize their new and improved Army-provided values. That's when I realized why I'm having so many issues here. I am actively fighting against internalizing any of this stuff. I still see myself as an English major first, future academic, feminist, liberal, and only somewhere after that does the label/title Army officer come into play for me. There was also a list of questions such as what do "fill in the blank" expect of officers/you (some examples were the public, chain of command, religion), and the chaplain called on random people to answer the questions. He never called on me, but in response to parents, one person answered, "honor and hard work." I think I would have said, "my parents expect me to continue to pursue my education, not get killed, be safe and go to grad school (because that's what I want, they aren't exerting any kind of pressure on me)." Similarly, my answer to what I expect of myself, "Not to lose my identity in the Army, not to lose sight of my goals, and to maintain my writing skills, and desire for education." Obviously, I want to be a good leader and do the best I can while I'm in the Army, but I see the next few years as more of a hurdle than anything else.
We also got yet another assignment out of the whole deal: a three to five page paper about ethics/values/etc. One of them has to be a story about a value that we got from the civilian world, and another one has to be about an Army value, and how it has affected us in ROTC/BOLC/OBC. The chaplain said he was generous with the due date, giving us a whole two four day weekends to work on it - excuse me, sir, do you seriously expect me to work on this over Thanksgiving? Seriously. (Any Grey's Anatomy fans out there?) Half the reason I even applied for the ROTC scholarship is because I thought it would be easier than writing a bunch of essays about who inspired me and what the most important moment of my life was, and what I value. I can't write those kinds of papers, and it seemed like half the scholarships had those types of topics. I never have been able to make up that kind of BS. I can analyze a novel, but sappy, corny reflections on my life - ain't happening. I just am. Period. If I'd known I was going to have to do this crap in the Army, I would have just applied for those scholarships and saved myself a lot of trouble (I'm kidding - for the most part).
Also, when I signed my contract, we were only in Afghanistan, so being deployed wasn't nearly as likely as it is today. And at 18, the Army thing appealed to me for some reason. Obviously, the lack of war in Iraq made it look better then than it does now, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life at 18. Why not join the Army? Unfortunately, in ROTC, you don't make a four year commitment for that time in your life - you make a commitment for the person you are going to be four years later. A lot can change in four years. When it comes right down to it, it's an eight year commitment because at 18, I decided what I would be doing with my life up to the age of 26, and given my personality, there was no backing out. (In theory, I could have decided to quit ROTC up until the first day of sophomore year without any repercussions given the scholarship I was on, but once I'd signed the contract, I felt obligated and committed so there was no way I would have left the program. I'm just too damn dependable, even if I bitch about it a lot.) Here's the funny part: I also thought it would be a nice way to avoid entering the real world directly after college - once again, no war. I don't know why I never even considered grad school my first few semesters in college, but it might be a sign just how wrong history was for me: I didn't want to do all that research and write a thesis or dissertation about a historical topic. On the other hand, I can't wait to figure out my topic for my English dissertation and get started on that. Of course, history will also play a role in an English paper for context, especially given my current interests but I like history much more when it's combined with cultural analysis. Honestly, I don't think the history department at my school was necessarily that good.
I definitely didn't intend for this entry to end up here. I seem to be very good at going off on a tangent, and getting bitter and depressing. I also don't mean to scare anyone off from the military; I just think people need to be more aware of what they are getting into than I was.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
We had a class on cultural awareness on Wednesday, and the major that taught it kept asking the student from Afghanistan, "is that right?" He also showed us different gestures we might want to avoid making, while saying, "I'm probably offending the guy from Afghanistan right now." Smooth. The class was basically what I would have expected from an Army slide show. First, they started off by showing us some American stereotypes of Arabs including the film Aladdin (of course, Disney and race is its whole own topic). After that we got into deeper topics, such as shame and honor, illustrated by an old drawing featuring the decapitated body of one man lying at another man's feet. During the discussion on women, they used a picture of a woman surfing in her burka right next to a picture of a belly-dancer to demonstrate the difference between public and private. Then, there was a very long discussion about camels. The actual slideshow had more stereotypes in it than the "this is a stereotype" slide. I mentioned something about it to the major afer class, and he just said, "we contract those out." Maybe they should find someone with a bit more knowledge and subtlety to do the cultural awareness slides next time.
Of course, as we learned in our next class about giving a briefing, all these slideshows come with a script so basically, anyone could teach any of them - isn't that nice. I'm not expecting experts on Arab culture but someone who has done a little bit more research than simply reading through a script would be nice. Does anyone have any recommendations for good books about Arab culture, and the role of women in particular? Unfortunately, by the time I took feminist theory, I was a senior so I didn't get a chance to pursue some of the topics that we addressed, such as global feminism, because my schedule was too full.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Colonel's Moment of the Day, Monday:
He walked in carrying a huge sword. Apparently he saw our skit, and actually has a sense of humor. Of course, it would have been a lot cooler if he had walked in with the sword, and left again. Instead he hung around for a while, started playing shadow puppets in front of the projector and generally pissing our instructor off. After he left, our instructor told us how unprofessional and childish the man's behavior was. Additionally, he does not like the fact that the colonel likes to test his instructors by asking the same question three or four times in slightly different ways. When he came in later that day, he was carrying some type of wooden object, and then walked down the aisles, stopping to ask random people if they were learning anything. He didn't ask me but I had my answer prepared: "Actually, sir, you're kind of distracting me." Maybe he would have taken it as a joke . . .
Speaking of humor, when I walked into the school building Monday morning, the 1SG said to me, "I didn't know you had a sense of humor. I didn't know you even talked until Friday night." I guess my performance in the skit made an impression. Where's my Oscar?
The Colonel's Moment of the Day, Halloween edition:
He walked in during our afternoon history class dressed up as a giant pumpkin and threw candy at us. If all distractions and disruptions came with candy, I'd be much happier here.
For the past few days, we've been learning about movement planning. Our fun, sarcastic instructor from somewhere that isn't the South (he forcefully told us where he wasn't from, and that he says you's guys instead of y'all - does that mean Chicago or New York?) also gave us more random, entertaining, ironic tidbits:
- Back in the olden days when Eisenhower was a 2LT and hadn't created the interstate system yet, he participated in the first transcontinental convoy. The average march rate was 6 mph. I think they made better time on the Oregon Trail.
- At some point in the '90s, we were giving aid to someone in a program called "Provide Comfort" or something equally lamely named. Unfortunately, when you throw pallettes of MREs out of an airplane, they can inflict quite a bit of damage when they LAND on the recipients of this comfort. Now, the MREs boxes break apart as they fall but there are still some kinks in the system: humanitarian MREs come in the same yellow packaging as a certain kind of explosive - you do the math.
This afternoon, we had a very long history lesson. Turns out those four years of high school really payed off because I seem to have retained the basic knowledge of American wars and thus was dazzling the rest of the class with my participation. Also, since I had to give a brief about TC earlier this summer, I even knew what year we were established. Transpo wasn't actually its own branch until World War II, and had been part of the Quartermaster Corps up until then. At the moment, the Army is actually working on combining Quartermaster, Ordinance and TC into a logisticians branch so we're reversing history. Our instructor is not all too happy with the idea since the past has shown that transpo needs to be separate (hence the creation of the transportation corps). I guess we'll see what happens. They are already working on combining the captain's course but I should probably be out before the changes really start occuring. By the way, why is the Army making all these changes while we are at war? Let's add BOLC, shorten OBC and completely change the branches. Isn't a complete overhaul something we might want to save for peace time? I mean, I know a lot of these changes have been inspired by the war but these are things it might be better to develop after the war. We've all seen that BOLC wasn't exactly ready for actual LTs just yet.
Also, my classmates are now describing me as a "hardcore feminist" to other people in class. I guess that means my work is done.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Since I haven't actually posted any pictures in quite a while (the last time I tried, Blogger was having issues - although I'm going to blame it on the hotel connection because as we know from my last post, my hotel is evil), so I'm going to out myself as the crazy cat woman in the making that I am, and put up pictures of my two Persians.
I have two cats, Caesar and Samantha. They live with my parents, and will continue to live with my parents even once I have an apartment, because while they might be my cats in name, when it comes down to it, they are my parents' cats. We got Caesar and Sam last June despite my mother's protests. Our cat Cleo had recently died, and my dad and I wanted a replacement - my mom wasn't as excited because as in most families when the child and husband want a pet, guess who gets stuck caring for it? The mom, of course.
In the past year, Sam and Caesar's personalities have changed quite a bit. Caesar used to crave attention while Samantha would start squirming at the thought of being held but now she is the "needy one." He was also a very bold kitten, and figured out how to climb over the toddler gate after two days. Now, he hides when we have company while Samantha comes downstairs to view the visitors with the proper amount of disdain. But enough talk, here are some more pictures.
Sam in the Harley-themed bathroom
There's a reason we refer to him as Chubby
The colonel still keeps dropping by class, but we have now noticed that he has a tendency to bring random items with him. For example, the last two times, he came into class carrying a huge knife (after he left, the instructor quipped that the colonel was going to cut himself). I wonder if he is trying to over-compensate for something? As part of our dining skit, we had someone randomly walking around on stage with a folding chair to represent the colonel.
Dining in was a lot more fun than we expected but that may have had something to do with all the alcohol we were consuming during the intermissions. I know I had four drinks within my first hour of being there. Our skit went well - at least we kept each other amused but there may have been a few too many inside jokes for the rest of the classes to get it. Originally we had also planned on having someone walk around in an orange wig and blue sun-glasses to represent our TAC (who has recently been nicknamed "The High Lighter" and "The Great Pumpkin") but she talked to the person who was going to portray her. It wasn't worth any problems it may have caused, although after 22 years in the Army, you'd think she would have developed a thick enough skin to handle a few jokes. She actually didn't even bother to show up for the dining-in, which seems unprofessional to me but maybe she had a good excuse.
After dining-in, a lot of us went to a bar in the mall, and stayed there until about 2 am. It was a every entertaining night all together, but I mixed just a few too many types of alcohol - I had my first hangover in almost three years on Saturday. So much for me being able to handle my liquor. Obviously, I made great progress on my training schedule as a result. It's only 25 points, though. Every single test we've had is worth more than that.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Yesterday we learned about movement planning and management. We keep getting different classes on the same topics: last week we did hazmat and airlifts as part of Unit Movement, now we're getting the movement planning perspective. I don't know why they don't break it down differently, such as learn everything about hazmat or airlifts at once instead of getting several overviews. At least the instructor was entertaining: he shared his own experiences and stories, but also viewed things with an appropriate amount of sarcasm. For example, he told us that the Army was unable to deploy a division in 90 days so naturally, they've changed the goal to 5 brigades in 75 days because that makes so much more sense.
He also told us about two other things that just make me question our leadership (since I was so supportive to begin with): Wolfowitz had been trying to sell the concept of the axis of evil to Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton with no success. I muttered, "he found a buyer" to all those around me while another LT loudly announced to the class that "Texas will buy anything."
The other item was Rumsfeld's genius new approach to war: 10-30-10. It hasn't been implemented yet, but the plan is that we will go to war for ten days, rest for thirty and then go back for ten more. Now I don't see how it is even feasible to send soldiers for only ten days (wouldn't there be some minor issues with equpiment? Just maybe?) but obviously greater minds than mine have thought this out. I just want to know if we are going to be going to war in the same country every thirty days or if we plan on switching enemies every month. Maybe Rumsfeld has been reading up on his military history and discovered the blitzkrieg. Obviously he hasn't gotten to the part where Germany loses just yet. Or maybe they are counting on the invention of a transporter so we can just get beamed over Star Trek style. I know I shouldn't be quite so disrespectful to the country's leadership, being in the Army and all, but it's just so easy to make fun of this stuff.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The full-bird keeps dropping by our classroom - I'm not sure if it's because we have a reputation as a class (today, a new instructor told us, "I heard this class was screwed up, but I think you did a great job"), or because he has absolutely nothing to do. I'm honestly not that impressed with him but as a few of the other prior service LTs have pointed out, that's why he's at a school rather than an operational unit. I guess I get it - we're at war, let's have the good personnel leading the troops but wouldn't you also want good soldiers/officers etc. training the leadership of tomorrow? In fact, that is one of the reasons this place is so inefficient. When the 1SG came to talk to us way back, he told us that 18 months ago he lost his TAC officers so the NCOs had to take their place; all the able-bodied transpo personnel are needed down range so he finally asked for anyone that could read and write to fill the slots. Today, one LT accurately described T-School as the recovery place for all the hurt and wounded NCOs.
Today, we had a hands-on application of some of the class room training we had last week: we had to load up rail cars, and practice tying vehicles down with chains. The rail class instructor was one of the more long-winded guys we've had so far so I wasn't excited about spending the day with him, but I survived. There was another instructor that helped him out, and served as the safety officer. He retired in 1982, so I guess that explains his behavior but I don't exactly think that it excuses it: one of the LTs gave a safety brief at the beginning, and afterwards, whenever he referred to her brief, he said, "remember what that little girl said?" He also used the term "little lady" at one point. It's bad enough to refer to grown women as girls, but it's common within society, so I would have let him slide on that. Add in the word little, and it's just patronizing and sexist. Other than that, he didn't seem like a bad guy - an ass but also a bit amusing. The "little girl" was actually flattered because she's 29 and she's always excited when people think she's younger than she is. As a result, I kept my mouth closed but if he calls me little girl when we have him again, I'm definitely saying something. Other people were saying he's from a different generation but still, it's not like he hasn't been around for the past twenty, thirty years. And he even knew that he was doing it, because he was about to correct himself once, and then just said, "screw it, the little girl." I need to figure out the best way to be diplomatic but honest here so I don't feel like I'm always biting my tongue.
In unrelated news, we actually did PT yesterday! We went for a three mile run as a platoon so it was a nice, relaxed pace - plus, people were still complaining about being sore from Lucky Dip. Of course, being TBOLC, we couldn't do PT two days in a row, so the 1SG called zonk this morning at formation (although, that might have also been due to the unexpected cold today) so we all disappeared from sight and drove back to the hotel.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
The class before us said they were done by 1 or 2, so we are all looking forward to a short, but possibly tough day - we didn't get released until 4:30 which is pretty much business as usual. We started off the competition with a short smoke session which involved two NCOs yelling at us, and forcing us to do exercises such as the flutter kick and leg spreaders. After that, we had to distribute eight sand bags throughout the squad to carry with us for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it had started raining as soon as we got to formation that morning so the sand bags weighed even more than they usually would. We then walked around from one location to another, picked up more equipment and did different missions. For two of the missions we had to drag vehicles from one location to another, but luckily we had a few big people on our team so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. We even had the best time for the 5-ton. The final event was an obstacle course - the monkey bars were spaced very widely, but other than that, this was definitely one of the "nicer" obstacle courses I've been on: only one or two of the obstacles really messed with my fear of heights unlike the course at Ft. Lewis. It also included a walk through a muddy river but I liked that part.
During the awards ceremony, we got a little speech from one of the colonels who told us about his time as platoon leader, when he only did PT twice a year. I should have joined the Army in the '80s - he didn't have to start physically challenging himself until he was a captain. It was definitely a different Army back then, but that's why it's always so weird having these people tell us about their time as PL - their experiences don't really seem to relate that much to what we are going to be doing. He also asked if any of us "hated this shit:" I was in the process of raising my hand when he said of course no one of us are going to admit to it because we are being watched. I wonder what he would have said if I'd been just a little bit quicker: that I have an extra-ordinary amount of personal courage (it's an Army value!) or am so honest that it approaches stupidity?
Next up, we had a major who of course wasn't about to be outdone. He told us that Lucky Dip was designed to be physically challenging, and he doesn't know what kind of physical conditioning we were getting at BOLC II but now we know what we need to work on. While I'm the first to say that BOLC has some definite problems, I am very amused by the fact that everyone feels the need to rip on it in comparison to TBOLC. In fact, except for the fact that we didn't do PT in the FOB (and an odd obsession with jumping jacks on the part of some LTs), we actually had a pretty good PT program at BOLC. It helped that we actually did PT there (PT for Thursdays has been reinstated by the way - apparently there weren't enough of us showing up to drink - of course, it's kind of hard when we all live eight miles away and are told not to drink and drive . . .).
Yesterday, I went to see The Prestige and Marie Antoinette. The Prestige was great but I found Marie Antoinette rather boring. Some of my favorite movies are slow-paced; I also like period pieces occasionally because of all the visuals (clothing included) but MA relied way too much on the pretty clothes and buildings. Also, I wasn't sympathizing with Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of the poor little rich girl who is oh so misunderstood in her new country. It wasn't Dunst's fault; the movie was just too slow and had too little dialogue to really get into it.
Tomorrow I have a test (which I haven't studied for - it's open note), and next week my training schedule is due. I was going to work on it this weekend, so naturally, I haven't even started it. The problem is just that none of this homework even interests me. In college, I never ran off to start papers early, but I'd be thinking about them, and I'd be interested and care. All our homework here just sounds tedious and boring. Also, they keep telling us not to reinvent the wheel, but they want original work which is amusing. In the real Army environment, if I ever have to write a training schedule, I'm going to find someone else's and change it to fit my circumstances because that's the way things are done in the Army. One of my friends had to come up with an SOP for his unit - he found one, and changed it around a bit but basically, 60% of it was someone else's work because "there is no such thing as plagiarism in the Army." Only 43 months left to go. I need to start looking into online classes or night school before my brain completely deteriorates.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Random items from the last week:
A C-130 can carry the weight of 71 African elephants. Why do I know that? Well, we learned all about unit movement this week which includes truck, rail, air and sea (actually, we haven't done sea, so I guess we didn't learn all about it). For some reason, the little video clip included that tidbit of information about the C-130. I wonder if this is supposed to come in handy during my Army career - Operation Dumbo Drop anyone? Or is elephant a common military weight unit?
Transportation officers don't do PT. Actually that isn't accurate. Everyone keeps telling us how important PT is once we get to our units, but here at OBC, we have better things to do, such as watch foot ball games, and drink. Yes, that's right - PT got cancelled on Wednesday because they wanted us to go to an intramural game Tuesday night, and we don't have it Thursdays because they want us to "get our drink on" every Wednesday night. Apparently, it's supposed to help us make connections with higher ranking personnel but the highest ranking person I've talked to while there was a 2LT.
The Army has a new slogan/campaign. "Army strong." While I realize that it's intended to be used as an adjective, as in "he's not just strong, he's Army strong," it also makes me think that the Army is made up of a bunch of illiterate cavemen: "Me Tarzan, you Jane, Army strong." I guess maybe I'm just looking for ways to make fun of this place. We saw one of the new videos for it last week in class, and while it wasn't half-bad, they went completely overboard with the music. "You must feel this emotion now because the music is swelling . . ." Oh, the joys of propaganda.
I hate the military's use of language. I really, really do. We got a speech about dining-in this week, and the guy who briefed us included words such as honor and ladies etc. Granted, he's a Vietnam era dinosaur, but it still doesn't quite excuse the way he kept talking about bringing honor to the family name, "being a man," and behaving like a gentleman in the presence of ladies. Excuse me, but we are all in the Army, so why do the guys have to pull out my chair? I hate words like chivalry, honor and patriotism. To me, they are empty words that have lost all meaning because everyone in the world describes themselves as honorable/patriotic/etc. I'm sure the fact that I hated Song of Roland plays into this, too - what person is stupid enough to choose honor and glory over life (of course, Roland had a messed up sense of honor, but I can't help but think that the Army has a similar concept).
Speaking of the Army and language, I have to write Army style papers. No more than 15 words a sentence. One of them has to be a letter of sympathy to the parents of a medal of honor winner - I wonder if I can avoid the words honor, heroic, patriot and great American.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
This morning we had our PT formation, and our class leader told us that we needed to have our names sown onto our cat eyes (elastic band that goes on the kevlar). Thanks for the warning? I'm not blaming the class leader because he's just relaying information down from the cadre but I guess they told him that we had lucky dip (some stupid, torturous tactical team building event) on Saturday and therefore needed to get this done. Last we were told, Lucky Dip isn't until 21 Oct (it sucks enough by the way that I have to give up my weekend, but it's even worse that I'm losing my Saturday for tactical crap). Now, maybe they moved it, but more likely, the cadre just aren't on the same page, and need to get their act together before they start yelling at us about not showing up etc. I was expecting TBOLC III/TOBC to be much better organized than BOLC since it's been around for YEARS, not a few months. Yes, they've had to readjust a bit due to BOLC but seriously, they still should have a system in place, and communicate amongst each other better.
It also doesn't help my mood that I got up at 4 am for a 5:30 formation. Now why in the world would I do that? Well, we have to show up 10 minutes early for every formation, so everyone actually starts forming up at 5:20. Since we have to be there at 5:20, our leadership told us to be there at 5:10. And then, of course, my carpool didn't want to be late, so we left at 4:40. Okay, so I probably should have set my alarm for 4:10, but the point is still that I'm getting up way too early for a 5:30 formation. Actually, while I was at LDAC, one of the cadets made everyone show up for formation 16 minutes early (we don't know why he picked such an arbitrary number). The TACNCO I was working with got very annoyed about it: As he put it, since everyone wants their ten minutes, if there is a brigade formation at 0800, by the time you get down to the private, he's showing up at 5 o'clock because everyone in the chain of command keeps pushing the time back.
Monday, October 09, 2006
After completing OBC, most 2LTs go to their units, and are assigned as platoon leaders. Occasionally, they might join the staff or have some other job, and if they are in the National Guard, they might quickly find themselves thrust into the position of XO or even Company Commander due to shortages. Basically, platoon leader, or PL, is not the only job for 2LTs but it is the one that is most emphasized. In school, whenever we talked about these kinds of things in class, we basically worked off the assumption that we would start off our careers as platoon leaders, and most of the rest of the cadre I've met since thinks that way as well. These same captains, majors, colonels, and sometimes even generals all tend to tell the same story: it's the greatest and most challenging experience ever; fight to stay with a platoon as long as possible because that's the only time you get to work with men; work hand in hand with your platoon sergeant etc. Last week, one colonel asked us who amongst us wanted to be a PL, and every single person in that class raised their hand, so eventually I did as well. That's the problem I'm having right now: There are other positions available for lieutenants, not everyone can be a PL and some people love and want to do it longer (normally, it's anywhere from 12 to 18 months, but one of our captains was a platoon leader for 27 months) but I can't really come out and say that. I'm supposed to want to be a platoon leader so if I get to my unit and tell them I'd like to be staff, if possible, I'm afraid I'm going to give them a horrible first impression. (I was talking to J about this, and he felt a similar pressure to raise his hand in response to the colonel's question; however, as National Guard, he might have a bit more control about what position he can get.)
There are two reasons that I don't want to be platoon leader, and it's only in combination that they really bother me. Unfortunately, both reasons apply to my situation and there's nothing I can do about it.
1) We're at war.
2) I'm a Transportation Officer.
One of my main weaknesses that keeps coming up over and over again is my lack of command presence. I'm a quiet person, and while that might work as a leadership style in many instances, I'm afraid I'd lose control of the situation if I were ever under fire. Unfortunately, as transportation, I have a slightly larger chance of taking fire or hitting an IED than other branches - after all, transpo leaves the FOB (forward operating base) on a daily basis for convoys while other branches are more stationary (such as AG or Medical Service, which I wanted and still regret not getting). Basically, if I were one of those other branches, I'd feel a lot better about the idea of being a platoon leader, or if I were guaranteed that my unit would not deploy while I was platoon leader, I would be less worried about being a transportation PL. When it comes to Iraq, though, I just feel like I'd be better put to use in a different position, and the troops would be better off with someone else leading them. I'm sure being a platoon leader and working with the soldiers (in some cases as a social worker as one captain has said) would be a rewarding experience, but I don't like the current circumstances.
I don't really have any say where I'm going to go or what I'm going to be, but I hate the fact that I don't even feel comfortable telling higher-ranking officers that I'd prefer being staff to being a platoon leader.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
1. You move to a new city: what is the first thing you're most likely to check out in your immediate surroundings: restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, movie theaters or historic sites?
So I actually managed to check out almost all of those my first weekend in Virginia. In general, my priorities tend to be in this order: movie theaters, restaurants, malls, historic sites, grocery stores. Of course, most the other places I've been didn't exactly have historic sites, so that could be why it's so far down the list.
2. Consider the local television stations in your area: do you generally stay more with one station for entertainment and local news, or do you tend to rely on one station for local news and others for entertainment?
News? What's that? I watch several stations for entertainment - usually, I only watch about three hours of television a week, though (Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Veronica Mars and 24 when it starts up again) - I hadn't had a television in my room for more than a year until I moved into the hotel.
3. Is there a set time of day or night that you blog, or do you just post whenever the spirit moves you?
Whenever the spirit moves me. Or I might force myself to make an entry when I haven't updated in a while.
4. How often do you write a blog entry, then save it as a "draft" rather than publishing it immediately to think it over before actually posting it?
I actually have one saved right now. I will start drafts and finish them up later, but in general, once it's completely written, it's getting posted.
5. Which makes a better dessert after a good meal: ice cream, pie, or cake? See, that depends on the meal, and how long after the meal I'm having dessert. Pizza and ice cream go together well, other times cake is better, and nothing beats Dairy Queen.
6. What is your favorite flavor of the item you selected in question #5? Ice cream: Ben&Jerry's Karmel Sutra; cake: chocolate, or sometimes German chocolate; Dairy Queen: M&M blizzard.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
So how did a class of 46 all manage to miss class? Well, that would be due to one of the many miscommunications that have become the staple of this week. We finally got a schedule yesterday, even though it was only tentative. In fact, we hadn't received one earlier in the week because our TAC didn't want us to freak out and ask a lot of questions when things didn't go according to the master plan. While I noticed the 7 am class on the schedule, when we were told that formation was at 7:35, I simply shrugged it off as yet another change. Well, turns out, it wasn't. I guess one of the problems is that there are two different chain of commands in charge of us: there are the cadre and TACs who are in charge of such things as formations and the more administrative aspect of our stay here, and the instructors who teach class. The company has formations at 0745 which is what our TAC was going by, but she didn't know or ignored the fact that the class was on the schedule.
Now, if I were a teacher, and my entire class didn't show up, then I'd be pissed but I'd also be willing to listen to them before making a judgment. I mean it's one thing if half the class is there and the rest oversleep or something, but if the whole class isn't there, it seems like there might be a good explanation. Our current PSG (despite the fact that we are going to be officers, platoon sergeant is still one of the positions they use to evaluate us so I'm referring to another LT) showed up at 7:05 since he's in leadership, and found a note on the board left to us by our instructor: "Is there any intelligent life in this class? Did you pass 1st grade and reading comprehension?" Yes, perhaps we screwed up (or somebody else screwed us over, it's debatable) but that still doesn't make it necessary to be quite so rude and disrespectful, especially to people he's never even met. Oh, and did I mention that this is our CHAPLAIN? Meaning, a "man of God," in general a person that soldiers should be able to bring their problems to and yet he's the one calling us morons. No wonder I don't do religion. He also gave us a writing assignment - 500 pages on time management and personal responsibility; after all, we should know how to read a schedule. Unfortunately, the only thing I've learned from this course so far is to go with the flow; in other words, to keep my mouth shut and not ask questions because I'm on student status. Our TAC managed to talk him out of the assignment but he finally came in that afternoon to introduce himself and tells us how we had all failed each other. Thank you, sir.
In addition to actual classes, we also were welcomed to the course by two more people. I really liked the 1SG (First Sergeant) despite the fact that he cut into our lunch. He said that he'd learned the best way to react to mistakes is to find a solution and not to yell or call people stupid (something he had done earlier in his career since he is very physically imposing). I wonder if he's told the chaplain his command philosophy yet. Later in the afternoon, a full-bird talked to us, and I learned yet again not to ask questions. He opened up the floor for questions, so I asked him to go about becoming an instructor at TBOLC upon completing my time as PL (I actually like the non-chaplain cadre from the instructors' side of the house - so far). First, he wanted to know what the acronym PL meant because he too wants to be young and hip. I guess I seemed a bit nervous in response because I thought he was joking and somehow implying that it isn't okay to use abbreviations when addressing a colonel because he said he wasn't being facetious. I (and all the other LTs) have always heard the term PL used to refer to platoon leader so I don't know how he could never have heard it but I guess it isn't quite as common as we all thought. As to the answer to my actual question, he said to do my three years at my first duty station as PL and staff, then do the captain's career course, take company command, and finally apply for it after six years in. And yet, our current instructor went straight from PL to TOBC (granted, he was PL for 27 months rather than the usual 12-18) and is currently getting ready to leave for company command. Go figure. I guess it helps to be stationed on Ft. Eustis. (Actually, it would be rather convenient for other reasons as well: since all the OBC instructors are right on base, there is one extra resource that all the rest of us won't have when we get to our units.)
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Last Saturday, I went to the Lee Hall Mansion. It was a plantation/mansion built in 1859, and played a minor role in the Civil War. This area has played a role in all the major parts of American history that tend to be emphasized and glorified in high school: the colonies (Williamsburg and Jamestown), the Revolution (Yorktown and Ft. Eustis share an exit) and the Civil War (I'm about sixty miles from Richmond; also, speaking of the Civil War, our two field training exercises are called Bull Run and Manassas - and here I thought they were the same thing; I guess they wanted to give both the North and the South their due). Anyway, the mansion was nice though it wasn't that big (this was one of the poorer counties in its day so that it didn't take as much to be the richest man in the community), and the tour guide and the receptionist were both very helpful and informative about the local area. There is another plantation in the area that has been around since the Revolution that I want to check out this weekend if I get a chance. I actually prefer touring through old houses to museums since they seem so much more authentic. Depending on the museum, it might show pictures of how things used to be and random objects, but in a house it is all recreated as much as possible with some period pieces.
I switched hotels Sunday and finally unpacked completely for the first time since June. I found space for everything, even if I had to use the room safe for clothes. It's definitely nicer than the barracks, but I liked the other inn better: there was a lot more closet and storage space, it wasn't eight miles away from post and even had bathroom storage. At least I have a microwave and fridge (no freezer though). Not that it really matters since I've been going out to eat for dinner every night. I ran into J from BOLC on Saturday so I've been car-pooling with him and his friend, and we've also been trying some of the local restaurants. My favorite so far is Cheeseburger in Paradise (yes, I realize it is a small chain but there isn't one in Champaign, and the guys had never heard of it so I'm counting it as local). Since the chain is owned by Jimmy Buffett there is an extensive drink menu, and they even had a frozen drink sampler. Every time I've been to a microbrewery with a beer sampler, I've thought they needed something similar for me, and finally, somebody agreed with me. By the way, they had the best pina colada I've ever had if anyone ever gets a chance to go there.
So far TOBC, or TBOLC III as they are now calling it, has been a bit disappointing. This is our TACs first time in charge of a class so the past few days have been disorganized. The actual classroom instruction is done by other people, and so far that seems promising - today was our first day of classes; Monday and Tuesday was devoted to briefings by different sergeant majors and colonels. The class used to be 18 weeks but has been shortened to 12 weeks due to BOLC II. Unfortunately, BOLC II isn't covering everything it's supposed to so TOBC basically still has to squeeze the same amount of classroom knowledge into less time. One of the instructors today was telling us how he wishes he could still teach us basic leadership classes but BOLC was supposed to take care of that (the only thing I got at BOLC about actually being a leader and PL was a one hour class about taking over a platoon - however, the platoon leader thing is actually a topic I want to blog about later more in depth). Looks like BOLC is negatively affecting everything it comes into contact with (as one person said, by just renaming TOBC to TBOLC they have lowered the standards and efficiency). We were supposed to have a PT test this morning, but after we stretched out, the cadre told us that the graders weren't coming so we went back to our hotels. I love getting up at 4:30 just to show up for formation and drive back. It wouldn't be so bad if we were staying a bit closer to post (or on it).
Basically, my first impression of this place is not that good yet, and some of it seems to be due to changes caused by the addition of BOLC, and the fact that we have a new cadre member in charge. I realize at some point every teacher has to teach for the first time, but I have all the bad luck when it comes to cadre. J. agrees since he's had the exact same cadre as I have.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Once we were back, we just had to pick up our packets, and we were released. I was one of the first people in the parking lot. When I picked up my papers, the sergeant told me I'd do good things for the Army. I also finally saw my peer evals which had the usual: needs to improve PT and command presence but tries hard and has a good attitude. And yet I'm so cynical and negative.
I drove twelve hours straight and made it home around 1 am. While I was home, I caught up with friends, watched the second season of Veronica Mars, slept a lot and neglected to work out. I can still pass a PT test (just nothing spectacular). I left Wednesday afternoon after lunch and made it to North Carolina by Thursday evening, where I had dinner with an old friend (although I'm not sure if a one hour long dinner was worth a three hour detour), and watched Grey's Anatomy - so far, it's been a very disappointing season. I'm so sick of the McDreamy story line, especially now that there are two guys fighting over her - I'm sorry, but I don't see what is so great about Meredith that two men would fall for her head over heels - she whines a lot, and looks rather anorexic. At least, there are some entertaining summaries of the show on some websites.
I made it to Virginia yesterday. Reporting in was a bitch because by the time I got there, I couldn't find anyone else at the building even though I was there before 5, so I had to go to a completely different building. Naturally, all my orders had on them was the building number, which is not that useful without a street. I also tried the Transportation Inn, which looked deserted. Once I finally found the building I was looking for (and they didn't actually know what to do with me there), they sent me to General Small's Inn where I learned that the Transportation Inn is their old building, but many of the orders haven't been updated yet. The General Small's Inn is actually pretty nice, and my room even has a small kitchenette. Unfortunately, I won't be staying there after Sunday because there isn't enough room (despite the fact that the place is huge), and instead the Army will be housing my class in Holiday Inn Suites. I just hope they have a mini-fridge because none of the normal rooms I've stayed in during my past few months of traveling did.
While reporting in, I met a guy who is in the class ahead of me for OBC. He said that I'd have every weekend off, at least in the first month, and usually get off by 5. The first month is mainly classroom stuff - sounds perfect to me. With weekends off, I should be able to actually take advantage of being in Virginia - I'm closer to DC and New York than I've ever been, and being one of the first colonies, I'm sure there are a lot of historic sites that might be of interest to me. Apparently, next weekend is Columbus Day so I might even have a four day weekend already (at least the guy I talked to does, but since it's only my first week of class, I'm not sure if I will).
Thursday, September 21, 2006
We also had CIF turn-in on Tuesday which was ridiculous - we got there about 30 minutes before the place even opened, and the line moved extremely slowly - basically the first people went through the line at 8, and the W's finally made it back to the barrack at lunch time. It wouldn't be a big deal, but it would have made so much more sense to take one platoon at a time, or one quarter of the alphabet since we still needed to clean weapons at that point but no, they had all 157 of us in the line at the same time. It's almost as if they've learned nothing from the last cycle - which they haven't given us an AAR for the past two weeks so maybe they haven't.
The past two days we've been packing and cleaning. We also had graduation rehearsal today - another waste of time since all we have to do is stand up and sit down at the same time. The only people that have anything to do are the key leadership and the honor grads who are getting certificates. I read my book through half of the rehearsal. Actually, I don't even see the point of graduation - I'd much rather just sign out and go to my next school. They greeted friends and family during the practice run throughs, but all of us LTs just about fill the room so it's not like they're even expecting family. Although I heard one woman in my platoon talking to her sister on the phone about how excited she was about her coming since no one else in the family was. The only way I'd want my parents to come would be if they lived in Lawton, and even then I'd reconsider making them sit through it - it's not like I do anything in the ceremony.
Anyway, off to pull my last CQ shift for a while - since we stay in lodging and not barracks at OBC, it might not even exist there but I'm not sure.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I had a nice, relaxing weekend though. First off, there was running water, so a definite improvement over last week (which the most annoying part about that wasn't the lack of showers or flushing toilets, but the fact that they didn't even set up hand-washing stations anywhere, not even before chow). I watched two movies yesterday while in Oklahoma City (they actually show movies other than Talladega Nights up there), and went to Barnes and Nobles. Today I spent most of the day reading in big, cushioned chairs at Starbucks and Atlanta Bread Company. It's so nice having my car back, although the traffic definitely bothered me on my back from OKC last night. It's actually kind of weird that interstate traffic makes me so nervous at the moment considering that my accident was a one car mishap and had nothing to do with anyone else.
Anyway, while the obstacle course is going to suck, I am missing out on the combatives PT tomorrow since I'm part of the cleaning crew for the FOB. Whoever would have thought I'd be excited about cleaning. I wonder when we are finally going to have our sensing session with the general. I can't wait to have an opportunity to voice my complaints and concerns to higher (although I'm sure a few people will beat me to the punch on quite a few issues).
Saturday, September 16, 2006
We left Monday morning for the FOB, and my platoon was in charge of FOB security that first day which basically translates into guarding towers and tracking where all the other platoons were. It was mostly uneventful except for when the OPFOR scaled the walls and took over the TOC (one of our cadre was pretty mad because he felt like it took away from our actual learning experience - the TOC was overrun by the OPFOR just about every day we were out there but it's definitely not a common occurence in real life). On Tuesday, we rotated and became the Quick Reaction Force. Normally, one squad is ready to go and the rest of us are sleeping, waiting to be called up as a necessary. However, since we have a certain mentor, he took the one squad out for five hours so the next squad in line had to take their place. The point of the QRF is to go out around the FOB and investigate disturbances, or help out and then come back. A five hour mission is much more like a patrol. A two-star general also stopped by that day so in order to impress him with our high speed training, the acting QRF squad was loaded on a truck ready to go, and so was my squad, the on-call squad while a third squad was waiting in the classroom. Everyone was complaining about the training but as soon as the general asked if we were getting high-speed training, a few of them replied with "Hooah, sir." I just bit my tongue as usual.
The third day was nice since we were OPFOR for the patrolling platoon. They needed the whole squad for one mission and only half of us for the next one, so I spent most of the day in the barracks reading and sleeping. They even took us out for showers that evening (only the women though - Bravo Company, on the other hand, took in everyone for showers on a daily basis).
I didn't enjoy patrolling that much. We had one night mission - assaulting Liberty City. I am so sick of attacking that place in the dark - I don't like using the NODs when attempting to walk stairs (yes, I finally had a pair that worked). Our afternoon mission was ridiculously long and involved us lying in a field for two to three hours waiting for the imaginary CID force to complete its investigation (in other words, we were waiting for our captain to decide we'd "learned" enough). Of course, our ten mile road march took eight and a half hours, so I have to give the man credit for being able to drag things out. I hate road marching, and was a bit worried about this one because I've never road-marched that far. I was grateful for the first stop because I needed to readjust my ruck due to some shoulder pain. After that, all the stops and missions just drove me crazy. We stopped way too many times, and at each stop we had to take our rucks off to get into the prone - every time it was sitting comfortably, we'd stop. I would have preferred a straight road march to one with a lot of missions - I hate road marching so making it incredibly long doesn't make it better. Oh well, at least it's done and over with. Now all I have to do I clean my rifle to standard, and outprocess.
In other news, I got my car back today so I will actually be able to leave next Friday.