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.