05 June 2009

AT09-Day 7

The FOB

Okay, I've changed how I post-by email rather than MMS picture mail-and it definitely seems to be looking better, as well as not having the sending problems the previous method did. Leave a comment if anything still looks wonky.

I saw a UFO today! It was weird. Driving out to the FOB (pronounced 'fob') this morning, I saw a light in the sky. At first it was fairly small, but then it brightened into a globe. High and far away, so it looked pretty small, but still very noticeable. Then it dwindled a little and just vanished. It was almost certainly sunlight glinting off a small plane or perhaps even a weather balloon (do they still use those?), but the way it was just gone was freaky. I don't know what it was, so it's definitely an Unidentified Flying Object to me.

Today was not a lot different from yesterday. We didn't get to do the car bomb yesterday, nor did we today. It's just as well; combat (well, simulated combat) is a lot of fun, but that's not the point of the training we're doing here, and the tamer scenarios we did instead were better training.

Nonetheless, I achieved one of my objectives: I got killed. I mentioned that I had been playing an Iraqi chieftain, trying to get on base for a meeting with the commander. Then we would get hit by sniper fire. Only the first group handled this really well, getting us down without letting us run free. This group did neither; they didn't protect us, and when we did finally get behind cover, they didn't watch me very well, or cuff me, so when my 'wife' moaned and fainted from excitement and lack of water, I ran to her aid and got shot for my trouble. So now an entire friendly tribe of Iraqis has turned hostile. I'm happy; I've tried to get killed by them all week with no success (it's a different group every day, remember).

As the picture from a couple of days ago shows, I've been wearing a Middle-Eastern robe for several days. First off, it's too big; they ordered only extra large and double-extra large, apparently. Secondly, the tag on them said that the company has been making them since 1403. 1403. ~1403~?? Geez. Thirdly, I see why Arabs wear these; they're damn comfortable. I'd bet that with no clothes except perhaps underwear they'd be pretty comfortable even in the desert heat, as long as you kept outside and moving around, and they stay comfortable in the cool down to about 50° or so. BUT it doesn't work without the headdress. I see why they wear that thing. I haven't had one, and my head is hot and very sunburned.

04 June 2009

AT 09-Day 6

Part of the ECP (Entry Control Point)

Yesterday...what happened yesterday? More of the same, except that my platoon, or most of it, was going through the training. They did a pretty good job; one of my new guys--did I mention that Sergeants Morgan and Hayes had to leave for the rest of the week for Combat Lifesaver class? Yeah, it sucks. But we got two replacements-one of them mandated to be female, to provide a lot more realism-and they're just as good. The other guys still got to stay in the barracks, though.

We put in a new wrinkle on the 'pregnant lady' scenario, though. Instead of just trying to get in to work, we were the local tribal chief and his pregnant wife/interpreter trying to get on base for an important meeting with the Colonel (this was all my idea). The snipers were thus targeting us even more than the soldiers, because we were collaborating with the enemy. It went over well, and was fun, although nobody has done as well as the first group at handling the civilians after the firefight began.

One thing that really irritates me about the military (take note whenever I say 'military,' that I've only seen the Army National Guard and small parts of the Regular Army, so if what I say doesn't apply to your service, let me know...but I bet a lot of it does). Is that it's all about looking good. If what you're doing looks good, you can get away with almost anything; conversely, if you don't look good, you can be doing everything right and it doesn't matter. By 'looking good' I don't just mean looking handsome and sharp, but presenting an appropriate-seeming appearance, and not doing anything that looks bad or out of place or wrong, whether it is or not. My current Platoon Sergeant is particularly bad about this. He's actually a pretty easy-going guy, but if you or what you're doing looks at all weird, you can be sure he'll say something about it.

For instance, the Army standard for male haircuts is actually fairly long-AR 670-1 clearly states that the hair 'must not fall over the ear when combed.' Take note of that 'when combed.' That means that the hair can be long enough, when ~uncombed~, to fall over the ears. Well, apparently I'm the only one in the Army that can read, because that kind of haircut is never acceptable. It can't fall over the ears at all, whether combed or not. Even when you point out the wording, it's meaningless. Sure, the commander can prescribe a stricter standard, but he has to actually do so, and that's rarely the case. Everyone just enforces a nonexistent standard, while other ones, such as that everyone carry a pencil, which ~is~ prescribed in a policy letter, go ignored. Why? Long-but-proper haircuts look bad, but the lack of a pencil doesn't. Another example happened yesterday, when I was wearing my Army PT (physical training) shirt (with 'Army' printed on it) with my blue jeans in the barracks. I'm on OPFOR, remember, so I'm supposed to be in civilian attire. The regulation specifically encourages wearing pieces of your PT outfit with your civilian clothes, but I was made to change shirts by my PSG (Platoon Sergeant). Why? Because the usual rule is that you can't mix uniform items with civvies, so it looked bad, regardless of whether the truth was pointed out.

What's wrong with this is that it encourages blind conformity and timidity. You don't dare take chances, don't dare do anything or be anywhere everybody else isn't doing, and restrict your behavior (where your leadership can see anyway) to what you're already sure is acceptable, meaning there are certainly things that are okay and no one will yell at you for that might benefit you or just be easier that you don't do for fear of looking bad and getting called out.

Just today, I got called out by my PSG for not having shaved. Of course I haven't shaved. I'm OPFOR. I'm playing a civilian. I haven't worn a uniform all week. I deliberately didn't shave to make me look less like a soldier in Arabic dress. If I could have made my skin brown and given myself longer hair, I would have. As it was, I did what I could. But it didn't look professional, so I got told to shave it off (and this after overhearing this very same PSG-who is also on OPFOR-say a few days ago that HE wasn't going to shave).

The Army's big on what they term 'avoiding the appearance of impropriety.' By this they mean avoiding both acting improperly and even looking like you're acting improperly. But all too often-the great majority of the time, I'd say-we avoid the ~appearance~ of impropriety without worrying about the actuality. This means that people who look good without worrying about doing the right thing get promoted, while people who focus on doing the right thing regardless of how it looks-like me-get nowhere. Guess what kind of people lead our military?

AT 09--Day 5

Apparently no one is actually reading this; I started doing this so that I wouldn't have to tell everyone my summer camp stories separately (which I usually don't get around to anyway) and to let people who want to know how I'm doing up here. But if no one is seeing it, I may not bother.

Anyway, yesterday was a lot like the day before: We ran the soldiers (another platoon from our sister company, the 1544th Trans) through various scenarios during their base defense/Entry Control Point training. The first time through, we posed as two innocent civilians trying to enter the base to work, and they searched us and our vehicle (a HMMWV, since nothing else is available), finding nothing since there was nothing to find. Another time, two people tried to get in, one of them female and pregnant (that was SGT Morgan). Before we could get in, there was sniper fire from the treeline. The last scenario was the car bomb again, but this time SGT Morgan rode in the back and popped it off. This worked much better, especially since one of the instructors popped a smoke grenade behind the truck when we blew it. Then the two civilians (the other two members of my team) who were protesting outside the gate dropped their signs and started shooting, and all hell broke loose.

It occurs to me that I haven't actually said where we are this year. We're somewhere we've never gone to Camp before, Marseilles Training Area, near Ottowa, Illinois--not far from Peoria. It's an Illinois National Guard training camp, and it's nice for several reasons. First, it's owned by Illinois, so coordination is easier, and there are fewer restrictions on what we can do. Secondly, it's much closer from all points in Illinois than Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which is where we normally go. For us, this cuts out a whole day of drive time there and back. The bad part is that it's not a permanent camp of any sort, just a training Area, so the amenities are nil. There's no PX, so there's no way to buy supplies without sending someone to Walmart, there's only a little, crappy workout room, there are few training areas, etc. On the other hand, the barracks are new, they have laundry rooms, and individual showers. They're pretty nice by Army field standards, although a Coast Guard veteran thought they were unbelievably primitive with their cinderblock walls and cement floors. It's all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

01 June 2009

AT 09--Day 4 Continued 2

Windmills

The group that went through today (there are four groups and four days) did a really good job. The were very hard to ruffle, remained professional, and were never rude. When I was an innocent bystander in a firefight, they pulled me to safety but did not let me get away. When I was a maniac with a bomb in my car I wasn't able to get near the base and managed to kill only one of them, at most. Unfortunately my stupid bomb didn't go off, and I had to shout ';boom.'; It's supposed to shoot talcum powder everywhere, but something's wrong with it. Disappointing. OPFOR's an easy gig. We don't have to report until 0900 tomorrow, so this is basically a 9-to-5 job. I guess it pays to be an old fart sometimes.

AT 09--Day 4 Continued

Anyway, the mission of the group I'm in charge of is to act as civilians trying to enter the FOB. Many civilians have legitimate business on base, so the soldiers have to inspect them and their vehicles to ensure they aren't carrying weapons, etc. Sometimes we were innocent workers submitting to a mildly humiliating search in order to do our job. Sometimes we were insurgents intent on killing Americans. It was the soldiers' job to tell the difference, and remove any weapons and/or detain us before we did any damage if we were hostile, and let us in with a minimum of degredation and disrespect if we were peaceful.

AT 09--Day 4

Windmills at sunset

Have I mentioned all the windmills around here now? Wierd. They're huge. You'll be driving, and they will seem to hop up out of the trees from nowhere. Today we got to play bad guys all day. We wore Arabic 'man-dresses' (no one seems to know what these robes are actually called) and played ';hadji,'; which is the (probably deragatory) term Army folks use to refer to Arabs. In my day we called them 'ragheads.' I don't know where 'hadji' comes from, but it's just the same as calling the Germans 'Jerry' or the Vietnamese 'Charlie' except that those words referred mainly to combatants, but 'hadji' refers to any Iraqi or Afghani, presumably because you never really know who the bad guys are over there, and there's a lot of interaction with civilians.

Twitter

Oh, I forgot to mention--I'm posting frequent updates to my Twitter feed. I'll put a link to it here at some point, but for now I'm Calion on Twitter.com. The Twitter feed should be updated even when I don't have time or energy to post to this blog. Besides, the network connectivity out here sucks, so tweets might go through when blog posts might not.

AT 09--day 3

Sitting in a culvert

Yesterday was a classroom day. We sat in a large tent in the FOB that stayed hot even when the air outside was cool and breezy, and learned about IEDs. IEDs are what the media calls 'roadside bombs'--Improvised Explosive Devices. They account for more than a third of the fatalities in theater, outstripping even accidents, which surprised me. The can be pretty scary; easily emplaced, hard to detect, and deadly. They've even got armor-piercing versions of them now, called EFPs--Explosively Formed Projectiles. That's new. Previously, some good armor pretty much made you immune, unless you got hit on your vehicle's soft underbelly or something. These new weapons are amazing--cheap, fairly easy to make in a machine shop, and make use of some cool physics. You take some metal--copper is good, because it melts easily--pack it in a cylinder over some explosive, and form the surface into a concave lens shape. When it's fired, it forms itself into a liquid metal bullet

AT 09--Day 3 continued

that slice right through armor, then explodes into whatever is behind it--namely the crew compartment. Wicked. We saw some horrifying videos from ogrish.com that were taken by insurgents (interestingly, one video called them ';the resistance';--but that's another post). One of them showed an APC with about 10 guys riding on top that got blown up by a bomb placed under a bridge--bodies flying everywhere. Scary stuff. The scariest thing is that now they're using an old Soviet hand grenade designed to pierce vehicle armor. There were scenes showing someone just walking up to an armored vehicle on the move and throwing it at it, taking it out. Then we went out and tried to find IEDs that the instructors had emplaced on a road. We missed the first few until we stopped looking for evidence of their prescence and started looking for places we might put them--which was the point. Someone mentioned that it reminded her of a deadly Easter egg hunt.

31 May 2009

AT 09--Day 2 continued



My fuel tank

My accident was minor. I was going around a serpentine obstacle (concrete barricades offset so you have to snake around them, in order to slow down traffic and prevent vehicles from rushing onto the base (remember Beirut?)) into the Forward Operating Base (FOB) (where everyone will be staying during the firld portion of our stay), and it was a tight fit with an MTV tractor and a 30-foot trailer. I had enough room on the left , and I asked my A-driver (passenger), an experienced truck driver, if I had enough room on the right. He said I had plenty of room, and a couple of seconds later I heard the concrete scraping the truck. The furlough tank was damag, but not punctured, so it's still driveable. I'm sanguine about this, because it wasn't my fault at all; I trusted my A-driver, which you're supposed to do. If I'd been by myself, I probably would not have wrecked, because

AT 09--Day 2

Windmills from the motor pool

Well, yesterday was pretty interesting. The company had a total of three accidents yesterday, one of them mine. The first was pulling out of East St. Louis, when a female soldier hit an electric pole with her trailer when turning. The second was on the Interstate. A truck blew a tire and pulled over. The wrecker pulled in behind them to assist. Possibly because they were trying to pass one of our trucks that was in the left lane (to avoid the vehicles on the margin), a car sideswiped another car right into the wrecker. This apparently involved a couple of other cars as well. Reportedly, the car was totaled, and the wrecker has some scratched paint. The good thing about this is that we did nothing wrong; this wreck was in no way our fault. The bad thing is that the lady in the car had was injured and evacuated to a hospital.

29 May 2009

Annual Training 2009--Day 1 continued 2

Well, apparently we were observed, because I got pulled aside later and asked, "are you a swinger?" When I said no (swinging and polyamory are NOT the same thing), he said "two?" and I said, "yeah, I've got two girlfriends." He said "I didn't know you had game like that. Why haven't you been bragging about it?" I told him the reasons I gave above, and he said that he couldn't think of any rules I was breaking. So maybe I had nothing to worry about after all, or maybe it's because he's cooler than most. Interesting, anyway.

Stupid trick of the day: I had to copy someone's military ID, then when I went to give it back I couldn't find it. I checked the copier, retraced my steps four times, and asked everybody if they'd seen it. I was worried, and very confused. Turns out the First Sergeant had used the copier and snagged it in the two minutes before I came back to look for it. Arg.

Annual Training 2009--Day 1 continued

I don't know if I'll need it, but it's nice to know I can use my phone's cool mapping feature if needed. We had some difficulty binding down the commo huts; not enough chains and binders. This is frustrating, for one thing because it's actually not our job to provide tie-down materials. It's the shipping unit's job. But no one ever remembers that, so we have to provide them, and we often don't have enough. My girlfriends dropped by during this to say goodbye. Yes, I said girlfriends. Yes, they know about each other. No, I am not going to explain the details of polyamory right now. The point is that this arrangement has been going on for about two years. I've not exactly been hiding this from the military, but I haven't flaunted it, either. I figured, "don't ask, don't tell." I thought it might get me looked at askance, especially if I were to become an officer, something I've long wanted.

Annual Training 2009--Day 1

I'm trying something new: attaching two pictures at once. Let's see how that works. The second one is of my son. So: Three posts in one day. This is my last National Guard summer camp; I'm retiring. So expect these entries to be a lot more candid than my previous ones. I'm still not going to criticize people by name, though. If I have problems, they're with the institution, not with individual members. We left Cairo this morning, went to Carbondale, picked up some commo huts (to be delivered to an undisclosed location; OPSEC is always good practice, even stateside), and came to East St. Louis. I drove an MTV, Medium Tactical Vehicle, one of the Army's newer trucks. It's a lot nicer, though they still don't have air conditioning. I don't understand that, given we're fighting in the hottest parts of the world. Oh, well, 2/60 AC still works. Luckily, it has a cigarette lighter, so I'll be able to charge my phone on the road. This is useful, as my phone has GPS.

Inland Hurricane--wrap up: Continued

Wups! The previous post got sent too soon. As I was saying, what we had been calling an inland hurricane was apparently officially a 'derecho.' You'll have to look that up; I can't provide links from here (I'm posting from my phone). Secondly, there's to be no talk of this being a result of global warming (as I saw on democracynow.com). This is the second one of these the region has seen in thirty years. So unless you're going to say that the effects of global warming were in full swing in 1980, leave climate change out of this. Big storms happen occasionally. Thirdly, lessons learned. An obvious one is: have backups. We had a hand-powered emergency radio--that the kids had hidden somewhere. So we had no input from the outside world for several days. Do go over your disaster plan and supplies regularly; batteries corrode, lamp oil runs out, and during an emergency is no time to discover this. Also, don't eat MREs that are over ten years old. Yech.

Inland Hurricane--wrap up

Well, everything's pretty much back to normal around here. All power is back on, Internet and other utilities seem to be working, most of the brush and debris has been removed, and the local radio stations have long since returned to normal programming after having 24-hour disaster talk radio while the power was out. But some signs still remain. Walmart is ridiculously overstocked on C batteries, having gotten tons in to cope with the shortage; several houses are still damaged, some severely so; tree-cutting and disaster service trucks can still sometimes be seen; many billboards and business signs are still damaged (McDonalds signs seem to be particularly vulnerable to having the plastic blown out of them); and many signs still display things like "we have phone chargers," "Chainsaws in stock," and "Chainsaw Sharpening." So this seemed like a good time for some parting thoughts. First, although I and others have been calling it an inland hurricane, apparently it was actually

13 May 2009

Inland Hurricane--Day 7

Power came on last night, about 10:30 p.m. It was kind of sad, but it was certainly nice to have a working stove and fans and refrigerator. Life can get back to normal now, I suppose, although the cable/Internet is still out. And like I was saying, I realize we really do depend on electricity for a lot of important things--food storage, temperature control, communication--but it was nice to get out of our lighted caves for a while, feel a part of the community around us, and slow down for a while. However, there's a storm, hail, wind, tornado and flood advisory for tonight, so we'll see.

12 May 2009

Illinois Hurricane--Day 6

Electricity is starting to come back on. We don't have any yet, but I expect that to change sometime today. I saw more and more streetlights outside my window every time I woke up. It's kind of sad, actually. We get to go back to the same old everyday existence we're used to. It's amazing how dependent on electricity we actually are: that is, not as much as we presume. After three or four days, you get into a routine. Sure, continually cooking on a grill gets old, and we've had to find innovative ways to charge our cell phones, but it's amazing what you can live without if it comes down to it. Yes, I understand that if there were no electricity or fuel, our methods of food packaging and delivery, our transportation, communication, heating and cooling (we're very lucky the weather has been mild) and construction would not work. Our society would grind to a halt and we'd have to revert to older, less efficient methods. More later; my phone limits text sizes.

11 May 2009

Inland Hurricane

Okay, I've used this blog to record my military adventures in the past, but I don't see anything wrong with using it to record my adventures in general as well as updating folks about events in my life. On that theme, we've had a hurricane! Yes, in Southern Illinois. This is the second one of these I've lived through. The first one was 29 years ago, in March 1980, right after we first moved to Herrin. I'm not sure which one was worse, as I was 9 at the time of the first one, and didn't get to see as much of the damage. Our power was out for about a week, though, so it was probably similar. But this was certainly a hurricane. I saw the Katrina damage, and although that was certainly much worse, this is definitely of the same order. It hit on Friday afternoon, and we've been without power--the entire region has been without power--since then. I've responded to disasters, but I've never been a disaster ~victim~ before. That's all for now, other than to relate that everybody's ok

16 June 2008

AT08--Day 5

Me in a truck


Okay, first off I am going to do something I should have done several days ago: give my mailing address for Summer Camp that I got when we arrived. So if you want to send me (or another soldier down here) mail, here's how!

Rank Last Name, First Name
1344th Transportation Company
Building 1440
Fort Chaffee MTC, AR 72905

Today I ran my first mission of this camp: a mission we got fairly late last night (when we KNEW they knew they were going to need it yesterday morning! Grrr) to haul some more ammo from the ASP to the AHA (often when someone mentions the AHA, which is pronounced aha, someone will return 'aaah haaaa'. Why? 'Cause the name sounds funny).

--
Okay, that was like a week ago. I never finished it, and I have mostly forgotten what happened that day or many of the days after.

I've realized that after things get rolling at AT, I really don't have the time or energy to write every day. After you've gotten five hours of sleep a night for three nights in a row, when the choice on the fourth night is blog or sleep, guess which is going to win? Add that to the fact that after a day or two of this I've fallen behind on the blogging and feel I have to do two posts a day on things that happened a day or two ago, and it's no longer fun. Add to THAT the fact that I promised myself that I would use this camp to think and work out some problems I've been having (if you're a close friend, details are on my LiveJournal blog—and that's another thing; this isn't the only place I'm blogging), when downtime is never too plentiful in the first place—we're here to work, after all; this is no 9 to 5 job—plus the email I'm writing, all adds up to precious little time for blogging. So I've decided to give up trying to blog every day, and I'm definitely not going to try to go back and make up for missed days. Instead, I'm going to blog as I feel like it and have time, conveying what anecdotes, thoughts and happenings I feel like relaying at the time. This should keep it less work and more fun for me, and will keep up the posts (and possibly make them more interesting) for you.

07 June 2008

AT08--Day 4

Barracks at Ft. Chaffee


The big event today was picking up a bunch of ammo on several tractor trailers and hauling it about a mile. We went out to the motor pool at 0520 (wakeup was at 0500, but I was smart and set my alarm for 0450 so I could have a little time to wake up before I had to get going), PMCSed, did 626 inspections, then drove to the ASP checkpoint to get our trucks inspected. They also inspected all of our paperwork: our military IDs, civilian driver's licenses, military driver's licenses, and HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) certification cards. A couple of people had military licenses that, even though they had been issued the night before, were expired. All our military licenses were issued in a rush last night to put the Hazmat certification on them for today's mission, but then the inspectors said that all we needed was the certification card. Oops.

I was tasked to check each and every fire extinguisher to make sure each truck had two good ones. I sent one back because it was very slightly overcharged...no big deal, only an eagle-eyed inspector would have rejected it. But one truck didn't even HAVE two extinguishers! How does that work? You're told that the inspections are rigorous, that one failed item means you can't load ammo on your truck, given time to check over the trucks, a form that tells you what to check, told several times that each truck needs two 10:BC extinguishers, and you don't actually bother to check to see if you have them! How does that happen? And it wasn't enen two green privates; one was an E-5 Sergeant. I jus don't understand the motivation behind that kind of sloppiness.

Anyway, the problems were fixed, and we drove into the actual Ammo Supply Point proper. It's a fairly new, very secure set of bunkers with grass growing on top of them, set close together (this is a little odd; usually they are set far apart to reduce the risk of sympathetic explosions. I guess they've found a better way. The Army doesn't screw around with explosives safety, on that level at least; it's been burned too many times before). I would post a picture here, but I didn't take one as I presume it would be a no-no; don't want to provide intel to someone who might want to break in and steal some ammo.

Anyway, it took forever to coordinate with the people who knew what we needed and start loading, but once it started it went fairly steadily. They would forklift pallets of ammo of various kinds onto our trailer, and we had to strap them down and then placard the vehicle with the proper warning labels for the most dangerous class of explosives on the truck. My assistant driver (A-driver) amused herself (and impressed a couple of people) by figuring out, from the codes on the boxes and the book we got from our hazmat class, what the class and compatibility codes for each type of ammo (bullets, blanks, flares, smpke, etc.) was. You can't just throw ammo on a truck; for various safety reasons, certain types can't be loaded with certain other types. She didn't need to, as the ASP guys knew all that, but she wanted the practice.

Once we finally all loaded and strapped, we drove to the AHA to drop off the trailers, which was about a mile or less from the ASP. The whole process took about eight hours. So, as I told Jenn, we drove a mile in eight hours.

04 June 2008

AT08--Day 3

videoA-10 Warthog overhead


Early wakeup tomorrow; I should really already be asleep, so I'll try to keep this short.

Hot night last night; took a while to get to sleep, tho' not as long as the night before. We theoretically had A/C, as I think I said, but it just trickled out. The blower was out; fuse blown or something. They fixed it today, and while it's not exactly cold tonight, it's a lot better.

Today we rearranged our motor pool, moving trucks and trailers around, did PMCS, and a few of us went on a mission to haul MREs out to the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases, where the combat troops will be oerating out of, set up as in Iraq or Afghanistan. The word is that the air conditioning in their huge circus-tent-looking things is better than ours). It was a little wierd...I got told I was going on a mission, and to continue working on the truck until the mission briefing. Then later I got told I had better get going, the other trucks are rolling out. In fact I lost them and had to have help finding where to go. Not sure what happened with the briefing; some wires crossed there.

While on the mission waiting for another truck to be unloaded (by our own guys; something went wrong there too--we're truck drivers, not stevedores. I hope we're not going to be expected to load and unload all this stuff ourselves; that's the supported unit's job) I saw two A-10 warthog attack airplanes droping flares and firing their Vulcan cannon (2000 rounds a minute, IIRC). Cool. I tried to post a video of one above; we'll see if it works.

When we got back we did 626 inspections of our trucks, which are safety inspections for hauling ammo. If, for instance, a single reflector is cracked, or a wiper blade doesn't work, the ASP (Ammunition Supply Point) won't let you load the ammo, and you can't do your mission. So we make sure the trucks are good to go before we get there. Unfortunately, the only one of us who has done this before is me, and it's been seven years, and they've changed the form in the meantime, so I'm sure we won't get right the first time. We'll learn tomorrow.

Well, that's all for today; I need sleep. The only silly story I have today involves obscene material, so I won't be relating it here.

03 June 2008

AT08--Day 2

My rack last night


We're down in Chaffee now, which so far (in contonment anyway) looks a lot like Ft. McCoy, except not as nice. And hotter. We're staying in double-story WWII barracks identical to those at McCoy. At least these have walls between the toilets (but no doors on the stalls). And two, count them two, shower heads per 40-man floor. I think I'll forgo showering in the morning. The air conditioning doesn't work very well; it sort of trickles out. But at least there IS air conditioning. The rest of garrison so far looks like Ft. McCoy 20 years ago with a new paint job. McCoy's been modernized with a new PX, refurbished barracks, a NICE club, etc. Not so here. The barracks do have these neat closet deals that two people can share but lock separately. Much better than the usual footlockers, especially for 3 weeks.

The bus ride down here took maybe 9-10 hours. It was alright; it was a charter bus, so it was more comfortable than the Army school bus I was afraid we'd be in. The only bad thing about it is that it has video screens for in-flight movies. Sounds great, only I'd usually rather listen to music and read, and the guys turn it up too loud for either one to be feasable. Oh, well, I got to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith and most of Transformers again. Besides, my CD player (yes, CD player...my iPod died, the headphone jack on my smartphone is busted, and so I'm back to the 20th century. Hopefully by next year I'll have an iPhone and my problems will be over) kept quitting on me; I felt like throwing it through a window until I realized that it was a battery issue; it uses about half the battery capacity and quits. New batteries made it all better, but still, annoying.

After we got here, we inprocessed by getting our ID cards swiped (it's getting a little creepy how everything you have to do in the Army nowadays is starting to require putting your ID card into a computer) and watching a little movie of big brass from Illinois talking to deploying soldiers (which we're not, but everybody else here is). I recognized one General as a guy I drove around Ft. McCoy one year to the club and other places, many Summer Camps ago. He gave me a mug which he signed and I have since broken. Then we ate; I had forgotten how bad Army chow was; having no cooks, all our meals are catered nowadays. But not here. Then we went to the barracks and got settled in until tomorrow.

I realized I didn't mention what we actually did yesterday: not much. The major highlight of the day, besides drawing new uniforms and making sure everyone was packed, was going to Scott AFB to get new ID cards and go to the BX. I didn't need either, but I was sent along to ride herd. Well, we sat for 3 hours at the ID card office and got exactly 2 (out of 10) cards done. Computer problems, apparently (damned Air Force ;-). We watched Disney's Tarzan while we waited, which prompted me to download the original novel to my Treo and start reading it. It's actually surrisingly interesting and readable.

Last night was HOT. I took forever getting to sleep--not til 1 or 2, I would guess, with an 0500 wakeup. Some horrible rotten person had closed the bay doors, so there was no fresh air on the drill floor, I didn't dare reopen them for fear they were closed by 1SG for security or something. The overhead fans were inoperative, and the single exhaust fan I could find was also broken. Ugh. Fortunately all we had the next day (today) was a long bus ride, so I slept on the bus.

Stupid trick of the day: apparently I didn't screw the top of my laundry detergent on tightly enough, and it came open during the trip. Fortunately, it only came open a little, and the worst damage it did was to wet the corner of my copy of The Federalist Papers. I'm lucky; it could have been a LOTworse.

02 June 2008

AT08--Day 1

Baggage waiting to be loaded


Here we are...another Summer Camp. I'll try not to crap out again before the end like I did last year (and at Katrina, for that matter, but I claim extenuating circumstances for that). You missed hearing about some good stuff, too, like me firing a sniper rifle and hearing artillery shells flying over my head. Well, maybe I'll get bored sometime and fill in the missing bits.

Anyway, this year we'll be at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, which apparently used to be the home of JRTC (hopefully I'll come back later and add links to confusing words and initials--check back after Camp), a big Regular Army training center, but that moved to Ft. Polk, LA during BRAC, and now it's a Reserve training post. I hear it's hot and primitive, but at least it's not Ft. McCoy again! It'll be refreshing to go somewhere new for once.

We're going for about 3 weeks this time, which is also new. Usually it's 15 days, but this time we're supporting a huge training maneuver for an Illinois BCT that's on the road to war. We aren't going to be involved in the training--our mission is only to support them by hauling their troops, supplies and ammo so they can focus on training. We're not going to be doing any training ourselves that I'm aware of. But hauling ammo is something few of us have much experience with (I did it once for a couple of weeks in 2001), so that part should be a good learning experience for those of us in the ammo platoon. The training (it's called an XCTC for some reason) is actually going on all month, but another unit is going to take over for us on the last week.

Silly story of the day: I was at lunch, and I asked a soldier if she had gotten her boots taken care of. However, my mouth was half full at the time, and the commander, who was sitting next to me, thought that instead of "boots," I had said...something else. It was both awfully embarrasing and really funny. I turned pink, I'm sure.

Also...somebody was nice and got us all extra nametags for our new uniforms. Mine, however, read "Sysler." Anybody named "Sysler" out there that wants two new ACU nametags?

Currently listening: Seal, ~Human Being~

23 August 2007

Chinook Flight

I had promised that I would post the pictures and videos I took from our Chinook flight. Well, I’ve finally done so. The pictures and videos are at http://zarquon.staticcling.org/1344/Drill/Chinook/. If anybody has additional pictures, please email them to me.

I’m hoping to pretty up the website these are on, add titles and descriptions to the photos, and make a blog post on that drill, but don’t hold your breath.

25 July 2007

AT07-Day 6


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Trucks in the field


I didn’t post yesterday, so this post is about the day before yesterday. Fortunately for me, we didn’t do much, so it should be easy to remember.

We went out into the field “today” (I’m having trouble with tenses now that I’m not posting the day of—help?) for the first time. The company we are supporting (who are themselves supporting the Cavalry (note Cavalry, not Calvary; Calvary was where Jesus died)) has established a TOC in the training area in South Post. So our mission changed from hanging out in a parking lot waiting for missions to hanging out in a tree-lined clearing (pictured) waiting for missions.

I may have to retract what I said earlier about going to the field needlessly. It’s nice out here. Pretty. Quiet, as always, except when a vehicle is going by. Nice as it is to go back to a bed and the option of a shower every night, I wouldn’t cry too hard if we had to stay in tents out here.

We didn’t do too much today; the only mission I remember was to replace the water in the water buffalo. Apparently someone was under the impression that it had to be emptied and refilled every day, which I thought wasteful and silly. Fortunately, that got straightened out, but not before we did it the first day.

We had a bit of a problem with it; we couldn't open the drain plug on the back of the thing; the nut was bigger than any wrench we could find, including the extra-large crescent wrench every truck is supposed to carry. So we propped open the spigots and drove down the road, not sure how long it would take to drain at that rate; the thing was half full. Well, when we got to the water point, we found the ACTUAL drain plug UNDERNEATH the tank, which of course makes much more sense. This one was small enough for our wrench, so we didn't have to stand at the water point for half an hour waiting for it to drain. I wonder what the thing on the back is for? Bakos climbed up on the tank to direct the 4-inch hose into the hole. I turned on the pump, and Bakos only sprayed himself once. We had a moment of panic when he told me to turn off the pump. I did, but the water kept going. It got all the way up the neck before stopping. We were afraid we were going to have a mess on our hands.

Since that’s the most interesting thing that happened to me all day, I have room to hold forth on the trucks we're driving (apparently MMS messages have a character limit, which is why yesterday’s post is broken into two parts). The manual is marked “approved for public release,” so I won't feel bad mentioning some technical details (when did THAT happen? Last I remember, truck TMs were marked with a destruction notice to avoid falling into enemy hands. Now they read “distribution unlimited” instead. I was all ready to say I was NOT giving technical details).

The trucks we’re driving this camp have been loaned to us from the 1544th Trans Co. out of Paris, Ill. They got them from the old artillery units that had switched to infantry and didn't need them anymore, to replace the nice new trucks that they took to Iraq a few years ago but some other unit (probably a deploying one) needed them more. The 1544th got nice new FMTVs to replace their old trucks which were of the exact same type as the ones they have now, but were not the actual same trucks; I don’t know where those went. No, the trucks the artillery got were the ones the 1244th TC gave up when they transitioned to Det. 1, 1344th, which used a different type of truck. The 1244th got these trucks when they (we) deployed to Saudi/Iraq for Desert Storm.

So are we getting this? I'm currently driving trucks (called M923A2s) on loan to the 1344th (part of which was formerly the 1244th) that I drove in Desert Storm that were then given to the artillery, then to the 1544th to replace their FMTVs, which replaced THEIR M923A2s that THEY took to Desert Storm. Yeesh.

Anyway, they’re pretty nice trucks, at least when well maintained, which these aren’t, really. The arty beat the hell out of them. They’re not as nice as the FMTVs, which have air conditioning and such, but they're a lot nicer than the deuce-and-a-halfs they replaced. The picture for today shows one of them: our desert tan one in the background (they got painted before we deployed in 1990). The other two are also 5-ton cargos, but different; the one in the foreground is an older model (M923—no “A”, which means revision or update, number) of the same truck, with an identical body, different engine, and old-style tires The one in the middle is an older type, an 800-series Vietnam-era truck with roughly the same capabilities as the others.

They’re 5-ton trucks, which means that that’s their hauling capacity over cross-country terrain. Their carrying capacity over roads is double that. They’re cargo trucks, which means that they’re general-purpose; they can haul ammo, troops, or general goods (there’s another phrase for that I can’t remember), but not containers or (without special equipment) fuel or (non-bottled) water. They've got tarps that can be put on or off by a couple of troops in five or so minutes, and a pintle for towing small trailers (like a water buffalo) or disabled trucks, and on-the-fly three-axle drive.

The version we have (A2) has three major differences from older models: A more powerful, turbocharged, Cummings engine; large, single tires (older trucks had smaller duals on the rear two axles); and CTIS. The Central Tire Inflation System is what made these trucks unique when they were new. What it means is that you can change the tire pressure from the cab. This is much more useful than it may sound. On the highway, you gain nothing from it. But off-road or on gravel or dirt roads, it’s great. Not only is the ride smoother, but you gain a lot more traction, especially in sand. I challenge anyone to get a fully functional, unloaded 923A2 stuck where the tires can get purchase. I don’t think it can be done. Put that b!@*# into 6x6 low transfer Emergency mode and she’ll pull out of almost anything. Unfortunately, the CTIS has a lot of fragile parts and electronics, and breaks easily. And since it isn’t necessary for driving, the mechanics are never in a rush to get it fixed. But it’s awesome when it works. It even has a Run Flat mode where it will constantly keep pressure in any tire that has a leak.

Well, that’s all for now. Toodles until tomorrow.

18 July 2007

AT07-Day 5


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Aah, what boredom does to you (waiting to load with meals at the TISA—Day 4)


Reading through my old posts, I realized that I’ve never really explained what’s going on here. That’s probably confusing for those who don’t know what “AT07” means.

I am on National Guard Annual Training (usually called AT or Summer Camp)—two weeks every year spent with our unit at some Army base (nearly always Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, for Illinois guardsmen) doing combat training in our job field, in my case truck driving. That's the theory, anyway. In practice, the two weeks always remains the same, but everything else can change. Some years we do “Golden Cargo” missions where we haul loads over the road for the Army and never see a tent (that’s FUN). Some years we stay home and come in a few at a time and drive missions for the State out of the armory, or do “home station” AT where a few of us stay at the Armory and do whatever odd jobs the full-timers have for us. Sometimes (like this year) we get tasked out to support other units going to the field without actually doing much field training ourselves. And sometimes, sometimes, we actually go out as a company, set up our tents, establish a defensive perimeter, get attacked occasionally, and run combat-style missions or LANES training. But that’s rare. I can count the number of times we’ve actually done that as a company since I’ve been in on the fingers of one hand (well, there may have been a few times that that happened that I couldn’t go for some reason).

Those two weeks, plus one weekend every month, constitutes the obligations of the National Guardsman, barring getting called up for State or Federal active duty.

A little about Fort McCoy: First, I’m sick of Fort McCoy. I’ve come here, for one reason or another, probably more times than the number of years I’ve been in the Guard. Several times it’s looked like we were going to go to Honduras, or Germany, or even Egypt, but it always turns out to be Ft. McCoy. Well, we went to Camp Ripley, Minnesota, once. When I first joined, some guys talked about a winter camp they had been on in Alaska. Brr.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been other places (barring activations, of course): California for NTC twice (fun!), Fort Campbell, Kentucky. But those were on my own, attached to other units. The only time I can remember that the unit went anywhere other than Fort McCoy or Camp Ripley (or stayed home and ran sporadic missions for year-round AT) for AT was Golden Cargo in Utah. Well, they did a Golden Cargo in New York once, but I wasn't with that time. Still, I've seen much more of Fort McCoy than I'd like.

Nonetheless, there’s good reason why we come here so often: it’s a nice, big (and I mean big; check a map), wooded training area, it has tons of temporary housing, with headquarters buildings and mess halls in each housing area, it’s a Reserve post, so coordination with the Regular Army is not necessary, and it’s not far from Chicago, where many of our units are. It’s a very good, convenient place to bring most or all of the Illinois Guard to train together.

The place has changed a bit in the last few years; besides the ongoing modernization of the barracks (this has been going on for nearly ten years, and I saw them working on one the other day), Fort McCoy has become a major mobilization site (the only site? I heard units from Texas mob from here) for Reserve and Guard units deploying to and from Iraq. They have set up FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) around post to simulate being in Iraq, complete with road signs in Engish and Arabic, simulated roadside bombs (IEDs), minarets broadcasting prayers in Arabic five times a day, and “civilians” walking around in Arabic garb. None of this was here four or five years ago.

It’s pretty here, too: This part of Wisconsin is heavily forested, with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, but mainly pine and fir. There's a lake on post that some years we have been allowed to have a company party/picnic at. And they have seriously modernized the facilities in the last 5-10 years: The PX is now almost a shopping center, and the club has gone from an old Enlisted club with a bar and a few pool tables to a real nightclub with dance floors, beer gardens, and loud music called McCoys (which it looks like we won't be allowed to go to this year—darn).

The main thing we did yesterday was pick up dunnage from a Mark 19 range, which took a lot longer than we thought; we were almost ready to leave when the Sergeant Major said, “You’re not leaving, are you?” When we told him that we were going to, he told us that he still had people that had to fire. When we asked how long that would take, he told us fifteen minutes. An hour and a half later, we got loaded and moved out. Then the NCO in charge of us and I dropped the dunnage off at the ASP. We got the Cav boys to load it all on the truck, but there was only the SFC and I to UNload it (well, alright, we had a forklift to help us, but we had to load all the ammo boxes onto the forklift). That’s okay, they had Schwan’s ice cream bars for sale at the ASP for 50¢. I had a caramel cream. Mmmmm.

I’m trying to arrange the ability to go to the gym after duty hours, but it doesn’t look likely. Apparently, we’ve got it fairly easy compared to some of the others; they were out until 2200, whereas we got off at about 18. So they need us in the area in case something comes up. Understandable, but annoying. I could probably get away with running around the Company area, but it’s just not the same. I wish I had that iPod Nano and Nike+ kit; that would probably make running down the street fun. But that's $250 I Just Don't Have.

RUMOR: There are 50,000 troops on Fort McCoy: 25,000 mobilizing, 22,000 demobilizing, and 3,000 at Annual Training like us. I don't believe it; the post seems even less crowded than usual at this time of year, if anything. But it’s a big post; they could easily be hiding somewhere I haven’t seen.

17 July 2007

AT07-Day 4


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Day 1—driving to Wisconsin


We'll see how long posting on the next day lasts; it’s convenient, and I don’t cut into my sleep, but the days all run together, and I forget what we did the day before.

I’m trying a new method of posting: Blogger Mobile, which allows me to post pictures I take with my phone, which the last two posts show. Unfortunately, there's no way to post HTML from my phone, so there's no formatting or links possible. I’ll update the formatting when I get home.

I’m going to get fat out here. My goal was to lose weight this summer camp, but I’m bored so often (like right now, waiting for them to finish firing the Mk19 so they can load their dunnage, although watching them fire is pretty cool) that I’m eating a lot, just for something else to do.

The main mission we went on yesterday was a “one hour” mission to get MRE’s and heater meals for our chow hall. This turned into more like three hours making three trips to pick up several pallets of meals, then ice, bringing them back to our chow hall, and unloading them by hand—with help, of course. Normally we aren’t supposed to help with loading and unloading—as I like to say, we’re truck drivers, not stevedores. But when it’s your own unit you’re supporting, all bets are off, since you’re fair game for a detail in the first place. I had intended to work out yesterday, but I considered that my workout, seeing as we were throwing and catching a couple hundred thirty-pound boxes.

Units will sometimes get miffed at us for not helping to load or offload stuff. But what they don't realize is that they have to do that once in a while; if we could be counted on to load and unload their equipment from our trucks, we would be doing nothing else. It's Not Our Job. Now, that doesn't mean we’re not allowed to help; if I’m asked nicely as a favor, if they don’t have enough people and I feel bad for them, or, particularly, if I’m in a hurry, I might lend a hand.

Regardless, it’s nice to work for the chow hall; we got two plates full of freshly baked peanut butter chip & M&M cookies, plus milk, for our efforts. Yum. Not having had lunch yet, I essentially had a lunch of cookies.

I got a chance to go to the PX yesterday for the first time since we got here. Good thing, too, as I was almost out of socks. You’d think that, after almost 20 years in the Army, I'd have more boot socks than I knew what to do with. Well, that’s true of brown T-shirts and underwear, but for some reason I only managed to find five pairs of Army socks, total. I’m hoping to buy a lot more stuff later to go with the new uniforms we have, but I’m broke at the moment, so that will have to wait.

We didn’t do much after that; after our shift was over, we chilled in the barracks for the rest of the evening. Or at least I did; my co-driver volunteered to go on another mission that lasted quite a while. I tried to get to sleep early, but was fairly restless and not sleepy. After I got to sleep, I was woken up by a meeting in progress. Apparently, they decided to be nice and not wake people up for it if they didn't absolutely have to be there. I got up and joined in. It took another while to get to sleep after that, so I’m pretty sleepy today.

I’ve pretty much stopped explaining military terminology in these posts; if you don't know what a word or phrase means (either in a new post or an old one), leave a comment and I’ll make a glossary entry.

AT07-Day 3


PastedGraphic.tiff


I had the great idea of using my copious downtime between missions to write my posts instead of trying to do it when I’m dead tired and
ought to be sleeping. And it was a great idea…except for the fact that I can now barely remember what happened yesterday.

Let’s see…my co-driver (Bakos) and I got tasked to support Delta company of the battalion we’re supporting, along with two other trucks with drivers. This involved a lot of sitting around in our trucks, their office, or their barracks waiting for missions, getting a mission, doing it, then coming back and waiting some more. Apparently, this is what we’ll be doing for the rest of AT. This leaves a lot of time for reading, resting or blogging.

Most of the missions are to take the Cavalry (who the Forward Support Battalion we are attached to is supporting) out to ranges: M16, .50 cal (that’s what’s in the picture), MK19 (an automatic genade launcher I would love to see fire), SAW (the smaller successor to the M60 “pig”). The main thing we did yesterday was to pick up some dunnage from the range and keep it in the truck (a 5-ton M923A2) overnight to deliver it to the ASP this morning. There’s another team that falls in on our trucks at night; apparently they want to be able to send missions out at a moment's notice.

The rest of the company (well, platoon, really; we’ve only got a platoon's amount of people) is doing similar missions, but out of our own area and possibly at a faster pace.

The current word is that we (the 1344th element) won’t be moving out to the field, partially because we didn’t bring any tents. Everybody’s pretty happy about this, myself included. Of course, nobody really likes going out to the field, but I don’t mind it if we’re going to really play the game and do some serious field training. But going to the field for the sake of the experience of staying in tents and running missions from there instead of the barracks—which has happened before and what this would almost certainly be—is just silly, and I’m glad that we’re (hopefully) not doing it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not running down good field training. What we did in 2005, running real combat style missions out of a FOB, was great, and I wish we could do it again (minus all the heat casualties, of course). But this would not be like that.

The rest of the day was uneventful; I was pretty tired (I live a fairly sedentary life out of uniform), so I went to sleep early only to be woken up for a meeting (of course). I still got a decent amount of sleep.

I’ve got a little time (I’ve been writing on this as time permitted all day), so I’ll write a couple of things that have been rattling around my head.

First, an important admin note: if you are subscribed to this blog via Changedetection, I strongly recommend unsubscribing from that and resubscribing using one of the methods on the right. It’s a lot better.

Second, on cell phones, particularly mine: I didn’t bring my laptop this time, and mostly haven’t missed it. I can do nearly everything I need from my Trēo: check email, send email, check the Web, check manuals, take notes, play games, listen to music. I can’t watch movies or play really cool games, but that’s a fairly small sacrifice for not risking damaging my PowerBook.

The only problem—especially the first night—is that the network gets slammed by all the soldiers doing exactly what I'm doing (making phone calls and using the Internet), making it nearly impossible to make calls and the Internet extremely slow.

Well, that’s enough for one day; more tomorrow.

14 July 2007

AT07-Day 2


Well, I didn’t last the night in my cot; I finally realized that that cold breeze was going to keep me awake all night, so I gave up and moved my sleeping bag and poncho liner into the cab of the truck, which turned out to be an excellent idea. The cushions made a nice bed, there was barely enough room, and with no breeze, it was plenty warm enough to sleep. About 5 a.m., I had a bit of a panic; it started to rain. I jumped up to see if I had left anything important out; I shoved my bags under the cot (which my co-driver had since occupied), grabbed my weapon, and went back to the cab and to sleep for two more hours. Thank goodness; I hadn’t heard the wakeup time and was afraid it was going to be 0400 or something. But as it turned out, it was forever before we moved out, for some reason.

We eventually continued to Ft. McCoy without incident (unlike yesterday, with three breakdowns including one blown steering tire), found our barracks, unloaded our gear, parked the trucks, ate dinner (not as good as last night's catered serve-yourself), and chilled in the barracks for the rest of the evening.

The barracks. Ugh. These are World War II-era wooden two- story buildings, with each floor being a large bay filled with bunks. Think Biloxi Blues. I had thought that these had all been renovated and modernized, but apparently not. They are clean and in decent repair, but not only do they lack a water fountain or air conditioning, the toilets have no partitions of any kind between them. Apparently privacy was not valued in the 1940s.

Sorry these posts aren’t as detailed as my Katrina ones; I had my computer then and typing was easier. I’ll try to do better.

Until tomorrow,

Jim

AT07-Day 1


Much to write but won’t; late & need sleep.

What a day. We start out an hour late, which is neither unusual nor surprising, seeing as we are driving trucks loaned to us from another company with unknown maintenance issues. For instance, my truck developed an air leak in the tire inflation system that had to be fixed.

But no major issues; got on the road and arrived at where we were to meet up with the Co. we will be supporting at Camp. But they were quite late, so we didn't leave there til late, resulting in us getting to our RON (Remain Over Night) until about 2330, and bed only just now. Bed is on our trucks as best we can make it; cots are available to those who want them. I took one, put it in the open bed of our cargo truck, and am sleeping under the stars on a sleeping bag for a mattress (and to crawl into if it gets cold, which it probably will) under a poncho liner and a poncho. Only problem is there’s a breeze on my head that might keep me awake. It’s pretty though. I saw the Milky Way and a satellite.

Dinner was odd; a chow line set up outside in the dark to serve ourselves. I had eaten Subway earlier and was not hungry, so of course I ate some. It was good, but probably a bad idea. I’m trying to lose weight, and will now probably have to use the latrine in the middle of the night now, presuming I can find the porta-potties in the dark. Why do we do things we know to be bad ideas?

Forgotten item: my extra battery for this phone. No way to charge it up tonight, and it's almost out of juice.

Family & friends back home: I love you and miss you.

Nite.

02 December 2006

U2


Alright, I’m just incensed at this point. I’m hugely in favor of free speech. I normally don’t get angry at the fact that people sometimes spew the rankest idiocy; it’s their sovereign American right, and I usually confine myself to arguing with their viewpoints, not with the fact that they presented them.

But this has gone too far.

This strikes at me personally, and everyone else who participated in the effort described in this blog. The new U2 and Green Day music video, The Saints are Coming, presents a huge lie (for some reason, the video on YouTube is slightly different from the one MTV is showing). Now, one argument that they seem to be making, that so many of our troops and resources are overseas fighting in Iraq, leaving us vulnerable to disaster at home, has merit: Earlier in this blog, I mentioned a sign we saw on the way into New Orleans reading “Screw IRAQ, troops come home and clean your own yard.” Certainly Louisiana was harmed by having so many (40%, I heard) of their National Guard soldiers and airmen deployed to Iraq. It cost them—in money, in speed, and in pride, for having to rely so heavily on troops from other states. So far, so good, and if that was the point of the video, I might even approve.

But it’s not.

The video shows fictional news footage of dozens of Apaches airlifting refugees, B2s dropping supplies, Navy jets helping to fill broken levees, and (my personal favorite) tanks patrolling the streets of New Orleans in support of Katrina relief efforts, with subtitles like “U.S. IRAQ TROOPS REDEPLOYED TO NEW ORLEANS” and “AIRFORCE LAUNCHES AID DROPS.” Then the video ends with a sign reading “NOT AS SEEN ON TV.”

Well, Bono, or “milk,” or whoever produced this idiotic video, I’m sorry you weren’t watching your TV very closely. The Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard were out in droves doing exactly the sort of things portrayed as never happening in your video. At one point, I was told by a Coast Guard pilot, there were actually more military helicopters flying over New Orleans than over the entire countries of Iraq or Afghanistan. No, they weren’t Apaches—what idiot would send an Apache on a rescue mission, if any other aircraft was available? No, we didn’t rescue people trapped in flood-surrounded buildings using tanks—we used 5-ton trucks, which hold a lot more people.

Or is the problem that’s being lamented the fact that it was National Guard Army and Air Force troops that were called on to help in this disaster? Are they insinuating that the National Guard wasn’t good enough, the States can’t handle it, and the whole thing should have been Federalized? That’s even more insulting. It was FEMA—a Federal agency—which handled things worse than anyone. True, it would have been nice to have troops on the ground earlier, and it’s possible that if so many of Louisiana’s units hadn’t been deployed, that would have happened. But the video is clear that regular troops and equipment are the ones who should have been redeployed to New Orleans. Can you imagine if that happened? How many more people would have died, and suffered, and remained stranded? We, driving from Illinois, were there in about 5 days from the first notice; can you imagine how long it would have taken to get a significant number of servicemen and equipment (including tons of tanks and Apaches, if you go by the video) from Iraq to New Orleans? Weeks.

No, Green Day and U2, we did not need the troops to redeploy from Iraq to help us in New Orleans. We had it handled just fine, thanks. The last thing we want is for the Federal Government and its active military to take over domestic disaster relief too. If you think it’s a good idea that all the troops come home from Iraq, fine. but—except for the fact that the National Guard is overdeployed (which the video didn’t address at all)—that has nothing to do with Katrina relief.

If you’re as angry as I am over this, make some noise! Write letters, post comments on websites, write MTV and ask them to stop showing the video. Free speech means that the Government has no right to censor what people say—it does not mean that we the people have to like or accept any garbage that people choose to spout; only that we may not use government power to silence them. But there are other ways. Speak up. And if you want to see thousands of pictures of actual soldiers actually helping with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, well, take a look at the Katrina Pictures I collected.

There, I’ve said my piece.

30 June 2006

Strong Words


If the truth is admitted, it would appear that the lives lost and the money spent have been in vain.  Instead, more casualties must be sustained to prove a false premise.  What a tragedy!  If the truth is admitted, imagine the anger of all the families that already have suffered such a burden.  That burden is softened when the families and the wounded are told their great sacrifice was worthy, and required to preserve our freedoms and our Constitution.

But no one is allowed to ask the obvious.  How have the 2,500 plus deaths, and the 18,500 wounded, made us more free?  What in the world does Iraq have to do with protecting our civil liberties here at home?  What national security threat prompted America’s first pre-emptive war?  How does our unilateral enforcement of UN resolutions enhance our freedoms?

These questions aren’t permitted.  They are not politically correct.  I agree that the truth hurts, and these questions are terribly hurtful to the families that have suffered so much.  What a horrible thought it would be to find out the cause for which we fight is not quite so noble.” --Ron Paul

24 October 2005

Blog reposted


I’ve put back all of the completed blog entries. I don’t know if I’ll fill in the rest of the story; that will probably depend on whether there’s interest. So let me know.

Lots and lots and lots of pictures from our deployment are now up at http://zarquon.staticcling.org/1344. Hopefully, the picture site will improve over time.