Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just another day in Lawton

I've decided this place is cursed.  Or at the very least that according to some higher force I'm not actually supposed to be here.  After all, while I've never been strong at many military skills, I've never had as many problems shooting or keeping up on runs as I've had since arriving at Sill.  When you add in the fact that I had an accident on my way to Oklahoma, it all seems like a sign that I'm in the wrong place.  Too bad I'm not religious so I don't believe in signs from God but I've certainly hit a streak of bad luck.  I just talked to my insurance company, and apparently I misunderstood them so they aren't actually paying for the rental.  The claim said I could have one for up to five days while the car was being repaired - my car's been at the shop more than a week now, and isn't covered for being in the shop, waiting to be repaired.  The part that I find extremely annoying though is that even if I hadn't misunderstood, the five days is not enough.  My car is an hour away, I have long days, and the only time I have off is on weekends.  Since I can only get up to the dealership on weekends, or more accurately Saturday (the rental place isn't open Sunday), I would need at least a week of coverage because of my life style.  I thought the whole point of insurance was so these kind of things wouldn't be a problem but apparently I was wrong.  If I'd known this was going to happen, I would have taken a cab back to Lawton - it probably would have been cheaper!

Tomorrow is going to be a pretty long day; rumor has it that we aren't getting back till midnight.  I think we are going to be clearing buildings at night so we are getting night vision, but I still think I'll fall or run into things, especially since night vision doesn't provide very good depth perception, and some of those staircases are narrow and steep.  Friday is a tactical day, and we will be raiding Liberty City.  Even though it's happening during my squad leader rotation, I won't actually be squad leader during the attack so it shouldn't be too bad.  Maybe I'll even get rid of the radio for the day.  Halfway there!

I went out for Chinese tonight with some of the guys.  My fortune was just about the funniest thing I'd ever seen, considering my summer:  This year will bring you much happiness .  I guess I'll be very happy come graduation day but I don't know if that's enough to make it a happy year.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

US Weapons

Today was a relatively easy day. We shot five different types of weapons within an hour time frame so I guess that means we are now "familiar" with them all. I didn't like the grenade launcher although I think that had more to do with the fact that it was set for right-handed firers so I had to completely readjust to shoot the thing. The .50 cal was cool, though, and the M240B and the M249 (or SAW). I'd already shot the SAW at camp last year. It's actually kind of funny: all these different training schools (including Basic from what I hear) have a weapons day to familiarize us with assorted fire arms but that's about all the time we spend with them. I can basically now say I've shot them but I wouldn't be able to hit anything because they just send us on the range with about 20 rounds and tell us to shot them (and 20 rounds on machine gun goes a lot more quickly than on an M16A2 or an M4).

Despite the fact that we got done rather early today, I feel like my platoon keeps getting screwed over. 3rd and 4th platoons had weapons day yesterday while we were on the range, and today we flip-flopped. We didn't get back until about 6 last night, and basically missed the evening hours for the dining hall while today 3rd and 4th got back before 4, and they had enough time to get everyone qualified (there was one person that hadn't qualified by the end of last night since we only got one run-through). I guess we were the guinea pigs yesterday and helped them work out the kinks in the system, but it just shows how inefficiently they were running the range yesterday.

Tomorrow we start MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) so that should be a bit more interesting the past few days. Part of me was actually grateful that I hadn't qualified on Monday because ARM just looked absolutely boring and horrible - not to mention that my legs get stiff and sore very quickly from standing with my knees bent (they had to be in a half squat position to fire). I'm going to be squad leader for the next three days so hopefully it works out. We're spending Thursday night on the FOB (forward operating base) so I guess I'll definitely have things to do as squad leader, even if it is just PCIs/PCCs (pre-combat inspections/checks). There sure are a lot of acronymns in this paragraph.

I wanted to mix things up a little bit today and do one of those online quizzes or memes (I learned a new blogging word) but I didn't see any that really seemed that exciting. I just thought it might be fun to post something other than "God, the Army really sucks," but I guess it'll have to wait until some other time. We have to do peer evals tonight, so maybe I can post my results when I get them in a few days. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be last in the squad, just because my technical skills are rather lacking (I was the last in the platoon to qualify after all), and my PT scores are lower. Other than that, I'd say we're all rather even, although some of the others might be more social than I am. After all, my idea of a perfect evening is going to Atlanta Bread Company alone to read and take advantage of their wireless internet (kind of like I'm doing right now).

Tomorrow is the midway point!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Finally, some good news from BOLC II

I made it: I qualified with 26/40, which is the standard on paper targets.  I got pretty lucky since there was one shot that could have gone either way but they counted it in my favor.  Now all I have to do is Land Nav and other than that, as long as I show up and try, I will graduate and leave this place.

I actually was starting to think I wouldn't have time to qualify today.  Only 1st and 2nd platoon were on the range today, so there were five of us that had to rezero and qualify.  First, the cadre forgot to bring the zero targets, and then they had the whole rest of the two platoons go through all their training before they pulled us onto the range.  I had thought that we'd be a priority or that we'd be shooting at the same time as them, but instead we shot at the end of the day, and we were in charge of the ammo point all day.  By 3:30, everyone else was finally done, but then there were some inclement weather issues so we didn't even get on the range until 4, leaving us exactly an hour to zero and qualify before the range would shut down.  Fortunately, I got it on my first try since the cadre had to shut down the range once we were done with that first round.  One person still isn't qualified, but the cadre were originally intending to give us two or three changes so hopefully they'll manage to work him in with 3rd and 4th platoon tomorrow.

Tomorrow should be a nice day, too.  Our first formation after PT isn't until 8:20 which means we have almost an hour and a half rather than a hour to get ready and have breakfast.  We have more classroom training in the morning, and in the afternoon we will be shooting a variety of US Weapons, such as a SAW (machine gun) and other pieces of equipment that I know nothing about.  Plus there are no targets, so nothing for me to not hit.  Unfortunately, I just found I have CQ duty tonight/tomorrow morning from 0400-0500, so that sucks just a little bit.  They finally came up with a plan by which it rotates alphabetically, but I thought I was late enough in the alphabet to miss it tonight, and not have it until the weekend.  At least it's only an hour shift.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Where'd my weekend go?

I'm currently sitting at the Atlanta Bread Company, messing around online and trying to enjoy the last hours of my weekend. At least this next week won't be nearly as long as last week, but I just don't want to deal with more training. At the end of the week, we should be working on Urban Operations, something that might actually be relevant to my future in the Army. I remember when I was at LDAC, both as a cadet and a cadre member, one of the big complaints about the field was the fact that we were going through these huge "Vietnam-like" forrests rather than training in a desert environment. Of course, that's also the big difference between BOLC and LDAC: BOLC is much more about focused on training while LDAC is designed to evaluate leadership which of course you can do anywhere.

I realize that these schools and training aren't actually what the real Army is all about, but the more I'm at these places, the less I want to be in the Army. Is it bad if I've already started a countdown? (45 months out of 48 down, by the way.) I actually even tried emailing a Transportation officer that graduated from my school a few years ago to get some information about what I'd actually be doing but he never responded.

Meanwhile, the fall semester started last week back at home. I wish I were still in school, especially this semester. The English department was offering a class on Margaret Atwood (!), and GWS had a class on the politics of fashion. Doesn't that sound cool? I love Margaret Atwood, especially The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. Actually, I think I've read all the books that would have been on the syllabus, but my favorite part about English was always the ability to discuss the novels with other people that were also reading them, and hearing some of the interpretations from professors that I had not quite seen. Hopefully once I'm settled I can take classes at night or online, or possibly even join a book club.

Tomorrow I'm going to have to rezero my M-4, and then have another chance to quaify. If I don't, I'll be here a few more weeks and have to go through combatives all over again, so wish me luck.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Halfway There?

I've had the past few days off, so I've been relaxing and catching up on reading for the past few days. I might go to the movies tonight but while I have a minor interest in Invincible and Idlewild, I'm not sure if I want to go to the theater just to go. I watched about three different rentals on Thursday (Shopgirl, Imagine Me and You, The Brothers Grimm), so I might just finish my book instead. One of my roommates went to see her husband for the weekend, and the other one might be getting a hotel room tonight, so it will be nice to have some time to myself.

The last week has been absolutely miserable. This place just keeps getting worse and worse. Last Friday, I fell out on the company run. I have never fallen out on a run before. It was so humiliating. The Company Commander said it was 9 minute pace or slower, but it was actually a bit quicker than that, and I'm not the only who thought so. Of course, unlike the company commander, we were all sore from a week's worth of combatives by that point so naturally we had a hard time keeping up since we were exhausted and he was still rather fresh.

We were at the range from Saturday up until Wednesday. Days on the range are always just long and exhausting, especially if you aren't that good to begin with. They actually let the people that got done early leave before the rest of the platoon, but I was out there in the heat all day Saturday. I got back and my squad was on a special detail so I didn't even have time to eat or shower before we had to go work on that, and then we left for the night range. Fortunately, the days after that didn't go much past 5 or 6, but I was on the line for most of the day Sunday because I couldn't zero, and then on Wednesday, I just couldn't qualify. A lot of people were struggling, and even though now most of the company is qualified, there are only two experts, so I'd say we all still need some practice on the new sights and the CCOs. I'm going to have another chance to qualify on Monday but if that doesn't work out, I'm going to have to start BOLC all over again. My main problem is that I don't think my weapon is quite zeroed since I kept shooting high and to the left, and as much as I tried to adjust, it didn't quite work because I didn't have a reference point. I wasn't even aiming at the target; I had to aim way below it, and still shot above it almost every time.

We also had another PT test on Wednesday morning. A lot of us were rather unhappy about the fact that they'd scheduled a PT test after ten days straight of work, and I was also a bit stressed about the fact that they had to graduation requirements on the same day. I actually improved despite expectations and soreness so that was rather exciting. Now if only I could qualify, I'd be set.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Black and Blue

We've been working on combatives for the past four days in the mornings with class room instruction in the afternoons.  It was fun at first, but by about the third day I was ready for a break.  I could barely move today so when they were teaching us new ways to break someone's arm, I couldn't even rotate my body properly or use my nonexistent momentum.  They keep emphasizing the importance of proper technique, and how some people can take out guys twice their size, but not only am I smaller than most of the guys, but I'm also slow so if I ever get this close to the enemy, I'm basically screwed.  That is actually also the reason that we are doing combatives five days in a row rather than giving our bodies a chance to recover: if we are sore, we have to use proper technique and won't muscle our way out - at least that's the theory.  Personally, my body is too tired to use any type of technique, good or bad (random note: for some odd reason, my email account has a bunch of advertisements for martial arts websites on a sidebar right now).

This afternoon we had more classes on BRM since we have five days of BRM starting Saturday (this is the only weekend we have to work through, and we have a four day next week to make up for it, but I definitely could have used a break after combatives).  We got our body armor issued to us today at the end of the day to add to the weight we'll get to carry around eventually.  While we were standing in line to turn in our weapons, the guy in front of me gets down into the kneeling and starts pretending to shoot stuff.  Apparently my expression was less than enthusiastic so he turns to me:  "You're going to have to learn this, you know.  As transportation."  First off, could people please stop telling me about how dangerous Transportation Corps is, especially other 2LTs.  Secondly, just because I need to know it doesn't mean I have to like it.  Also, I don't see how acting like a ten year old boy and playing cops and robbers with imaginary robbers is going to help me be a better leader.  (I'm kind of in a bad mood right now.  My shoulder hurts, I'm tired, it's hot, and I still feel like we should be getting just a bit more off a heads up on leadership positions - 24 hours sounds good, but there are a lot of things that are due 24 hours prior so it still puts that person behind the power curve.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

One week down

Friday was a rather low-key day.  We had our first road march early that morning, and we even got lucky with the weather since there was a cloud cover the entire time.  That morning was probably the coolest it has been since I got here.  In the afternoon, we had a welcoming brief from some of the higher ranking officers at Ft. Sill.  One of the superior officers sounded like a Jon Stewart impression of Bush - he had almost the exact same mannerism minus the laugh.  All of the different speakers focused on the importance of getting beyond cliquishness since at least half of my class is made up of West Pointers.  They encouraged us to put this into practice at that night's required fun - a informal reception to get to know each other and our mentors.  It was two hours, which was at least an hour too long, and there was a crazy sergeant major there who briefly spoke to us.  As one person put it, "I want six of what he's having."

A lot of us went out after the reception, and the bars in Lawton aren't even too bad.  I also am happy about the fact that since it's a smaller town, the prices are very similar to what I was paying at campus bars.  It's actually kind of funny, but I've been out drinking more often since I reported to Ft. Lewis, and became an actual member of the Army than my entire senior year of college.

Other than that, I watched quite a few movies this weekend.  I had CQ Saturday night so hopefully that means I won't have it on the four day weekend that's in a week and a half.  I also learned that it is a mistake to watch Brokeback Mountain with two women from the South, especially if one of them has already stated, "I don't like gays."  It probably didn't help that the volume on my lap top wasn't that loud (I swear it used to be louder) so they couldn't hear much of what was going on.  As a result, they kept making fun of me or the movie, even after I threw a Gatorade bottle at them.  We actually get along pretty well, but we definitely fall along different lines of the political spectrum.

The one thing I don't like about BOLC II at the moment is the lack of communication.  It seems like every platoon is doing something slightly different, and even within the platoons, the squads are on different wave lengths.  For example, 1st and 3rd squad have known who their squad leaders for tomorrow are since Friday.  4th squad, which is of course my squad, is still waiting to find out.  Also, I actually had homework this weekend, although no one really knew exactly what the assignment was until this morning and once again it varied according to the platoon.  I just want some uniformity and a bit more prior planning time.  Of course, it is still a work in progress so by next year they should have all the kinks ironed out.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Army and "Political Correctness"

As part of medical inprocessing, I had to get a shot today.  A few days ago we all received a packet explaining the different immunizations we could potentially receive (fortunately, I only received the combination Hepatitis A and B shot while some people got as many as 6).  I didn't read through any of the information except for the first page which just happened to be Hepatitis A.  One of the groups of people they recommend getting immunized from this illness was "men who have sex with men" - am I the only one who finds this messed up?  It's almost as if the Army is still living in the 80s - next, I'm going to learn about how AIDS is a disease that only occurs within the gay community, and poses no threat to heterosexual men or women.

Yesterday we received EO (Equal Opportunity) training as part of our orientation into the Army.  It's intended to educate people about race and gender issues (of course, given my English and Gender and Women's Studies major, parts of it seemed simplistic to me) and promote a better work environment based on "merit, fitness, and capability" (while the Army might believe that plagiarism is okay, especially when it comes to OPORDs and such, I still feel the need to at least acknowledge where that wording came from, therefore the link).  It wasn't too bad, but I was getting a bit annoyed with the examples the instructor chose.  At one point he discussed five different levels or types of harassment, including such things as separation (or something like that) and extermination.  For everyone one of these five points, he used Nazi Germany as an example which I got sick of for several reasons:
1) Having grown up in Germany, it occasionally gets on my nerves when it is always used as an example due to the Holocaust (yes, the Holocaust was horrible but there is more to German history, and, not to take away from the Holocaust, but unfortunately there are many other almost equally horrifying events and genocides that have occurred in world history tbough perhaps less well known).
2) In relation to that, the fact that many of the examples referred to such an extreme case as the Holocaust could potentially defeat the purpose of EO training because it gives people the excuse nothing they are doing is that bad so therefore it isn't necessarily wrong.
3) There are plenty of other examples of racism/sexism within this country's' past and present.  While I understand that some of the more contemporary ones could offend people in the room, that doesn't mean we couldn't mention the South, or the whole United States for that matter, before the Civil Rights Movement.

I had to put my gear together today - a lot of it was among some of the most current equipment on the market  (the MOLLE gear, which is the equivalent of an LBE (load bearing equipment) even has the ACU pattern - what a difference from the Vietnam era stuff) so I had never seen or used it before.  It is actually surprising how much money they are spending on this training given all the resources - and then what do they have us do with our afternoon?  Oh, that's right, scrub scuff marks off the wall - of course now the walls look even worse because rather than marks they have large splotches on them.  The life of a second lieutenant.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Inprocessing Week at BOLC II

As it turns out, the Army computer system here at Ft. Sill is even stricter than it was at LDAC.  I can't even get onto Yahoo Movies, let alone blogging sites.  Luckily, there is an Atlanta Bread Company in Lawton (it's like a Panera's!) with wireless so I was able to change my blog settings, and can now update via email.

BOLC II itself isn't too bad.  We are only halfway through the first week, but the cadre keep saying we should make our mistakes here rather than later, so it isn't anywhere near as stressful as Warrior Forge was as a cadet - the evaluations don't exactly affect us in the same way, and we aren't all getting ranked against each other.  We have the evenings off, and have been getting done with duty by 1700 for the past few days.  Despite that, the days seem incredibly long, perhaps because we get up early (4 am this morning), and then don't really do anything too productive.  We've been getting a few briefs and classes, but mainly we've been working on getting different paper work done.  The dining facility is also rather nice although we are sharing it with a large group of Air Force soldiers who are preparing for deployment, and tend to pull up by the bus loads. 

Oklahoma is extremely hot, and I'm not that impressed by Ft. Sill, either, especially after Ft. Lewis.  The clothing and alteration store closes at 6 in the evening.  That just seems so early.  Of course, I've had some problems adjusting to post hours since places like Burger King close at 9 when in the real world drive thru's are open until 11 and later.  Lawton, which is the closest town, is not too horrible just yet - at least they have a large book store, and apparently a mall though I have no clue where it is.  We have been hearing stories though about some of the trouble previous LTs got into - I'm not sure how much is the truth, and how much is just cadre using scare tactics to encourage us to behave responsibly.  Although, the story about a group of lieutenants getting into a fight with the police outside a bar was rather funny (by the way, that is one of the bars that isn't off limits to us).

I'm in a room with two other women, and oddly enough, we all went to Germany for CTLT last summer after completing 10th Regiment at LDAC.  There are actually a ton of people here from exactly that same regiment, and it seems like everyone else is from OCS (officer candidate school - this is a way for enlisted soldiers to become officers) or West Point.  All the West Pointers had about two months of leave after graduation so many of them are in this cycle of BOLC because their leave is now up.  They've already been here a week or two longer than the rest of us so they have even less to do at the moment.

Anyway, as I said there is not much going on here yet.  We have our first real training event on Friday - a road march (although I guess we did have a diagnostic physical fitness test this morning - I did horribly but passed).  That evening we also have a meet and greet with the cadre, and then we have the weekend off.  Not that my roommates and I have any clue what to do in Oklahoma - other than sleep in at least one of those days.  For the most part we have weekends off although we are working through next weekend; in return, we have a four day the following weekend, and then a three day for Labor Day.  As for time out in the field, we spend one night out there in the 4th week, and then every night in Week 6, so it shouldn't be that bad.  There definitely are advantages to being a lieutenant rather than a cadet.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Somewhere in Missouri

Given the long silence, I guess I should probably start with a quick update about the past month. After my cadets graduated, all of the cadre except for the 2LTs returned to their homes and families. They couldn't send all of the LTs to our next training station because there is not enough extra housing to accommodate more than one hundred LTs with no actual training for any kind of work. As a result, we had to stay around in Ft. Lewis and Warrior Forge where many of us became part of the 2LT sustainment training - basically, a nice long title meaning nothing. Based on their BOLC II (basic officer leadership course - basic infantry tactics) date, some people are going to be sticking around much longer with no jobs. Luckily I was able to leave after only a week and a half of having a non-job. We were in the office from 9-5 (finally, normal hours), and in the beginning when there were only three of us in the office, there was also unlimited internet access (even though my job didn't entail much of anything, I still felt guilty about blogging at "work" so therefore no updates).

Since the Army believes in giving its soldier's insane amounts of travel time (6 days to get from Seattle to Lawton), I decided to take a day of leave, which gave me time to drive to Champaign on my way to Oklahoma. I drove almost a thousand miles on Sunday (Missoula, MT to Mitchell, SD - home of the corn palace - still didn't see the palace though). I stopped in Chicago Monday night, visited a friend, and was in Champaign from Tuesday evening until lunch time on Friday. My mom called me a brat when she saw me since my dad and I had both wanted it to be a surprise that I was coming.

Right now I am about 20 miles east of Springfield, Missouri, and tomorrow I'll report into Sill. It was great seeing my family and friends again but I am thinking it might have been better if I'd gone straight from Lewis to Sill, if only because I was in the proper military mindset at the time while now I got to be a civilian again for a few days, and had to leave home for the Army yet again. Of course this way maybe I had the necessary break to make me less cynical about everything when I get to BOLC.

Today was a very bad driving day. I was getting annoyed at the road construction in South Dakota but here in Missouri there was a lot of construction right outside of St. Louis. I spent about two hours in St. Louis traffic thanks to both the construction and rush hour. And that wasn't even the worst of my driving experiences today. That would probably have to be when I spun across the interstate onto the access way next to the interstate. I'm okay, and the car's basically okay but here's what happened:

I was doublechecking something on the map so I'd know where to switch interstates once I hit St. Louis. When I looked back up, I wasn't quite on the road anymore so I tried to get back on the road, but started going way too far to the right and beginning to spin. At that point, I jerked the steering wheel back to the left, and then the car started spinning in that direction. Since everything I was doing seemed to be making it worse, and I was just spinning in circles, I decided the best thing to do would be to just let the car spin until it ran out of momentum. I went from the west bound lanes across the grassy area in between (fortunately, it was a small ditch or dip filled with grass rather than a wall), across the east bound lanes, through the hole in the fence between the interstate and the access way and ended up stopped halfway on the access road and in someone's front yard. Once again, I got lucky since I came through where the fence was already damaged. I lost a hubcap, my car appears to be growing grass in some areas, and my passenger side airbags went off but other than that there doesn't appear to be any real damage to the car - or me. Turns out the closest dealership to Lawton is in Oklahoma City so it's going to be fun trying to get my car checked but other than that, I got off pretty easy. Hopefully the dealership doesn't discover more damages, because I don't want the bill to be too high. Of course, I also put a large amount of money into my IRA this week so it was naturally the perfect time for this to happen.

I was checking at the Ft. Sill BOLC II website - am I the only one confused by this statement:
"You should report no later than 24 hours prior to the reporting date listed on your orders. Early reporting is authorized, but highly discouraged." So in other words, come early but don't come early. Right.