08 September 2005

Day 7

Well, crap. And it was such a good day, too. I’ll start with the big news first: Remember when, in the inaugural post, I said that we’d see how long “21 days” was going to last? Well, it lasted a week. The official news came tonight that we have been federalized, and that our new orders read 32 days. Yes, 32. So don’t expect us home until October 4. On the other hand, October 4 is not when we leave Louisiana; it is when we should be sleeping in our own beds. No, we don’t have new orders yet. Yes, they are working on getting them.

An important note in this context: Just because we have been federalized does not mean that we have been put on Federal Active Duty; that is, Federally activated like National Guard soldiers going to war are. It simply means that the Federal government has taken over paying for the operation, and we are on a kind of duty somewhat similar to our Annual Training. Pay statuses are confusing, and I don’t pretend to understand them all, but the major point is that we are still, as far as I understand it, under the ultimate command of the Governor of Illinois, not the President of the United States.

I’m really not sure what I’m going to do about school at this point; by the time I get home, it will be far too late to try to catch up with the semester. On the other hand, I have a class that I really need to make up from Spring semester; if I don’t make up the incomplete this semester, I’ll get an F. It’s also a requirement for a class that I really want to take next semester. Grr.

Not going to school means I don’t get any financial aid this semester, and that means that my family is $5000 short in our budget this year. Which means that I’m going to have to get a job if we’re going to survive. The problem is getting a decent job that only lasts until January, when school starts again. They have offered to try to let people stay on Federal duty down here for the rest of the year for people in my situation. I’m considering it. Family: feedback?

Anyway, the rest of the day before this went pretty darned well. I got to go out on a mission all day with a squad of police who were knocking on every door on a given street, looking for stragglers to evacuate. If no one answered and the door was locked, they moved on. If it was unlocked, they checked the house for residents, looters and squatters. If someone didn’t want to come, they were going to strongly persuade that person to come, but not physically force them if it came to that. Someone else said that their group was making people sign waivers if they didn’t want to come out.

We only found one person, who didn’t really look like he lived in the fairly nice neighborhood we found him in; possibly he was a squatter. But I really don’t know; I wasn’t there when they found him. The reason they needed us for these missions was to take the squad of police (Michigan police, in this case) to their destination, take them back when they were done, and transport any evacuees. We stayed a house or two behind the police so we wouldn’t get in their way if there was some action.

I’m still amazed by the architecture in New Orleans. Most of the houses and many of the businesses I’ve seen have a certain feel or style to them that I’m sure has a name, but is distinctive to this area. The streets themselves were littered with trees, leaves and downed power lines and poles. But the one we were going down was clear enough for us to drive down, even if we had to push aside a few low-hanging power lines. It was a little boring, following a squad of policemen at 2 MPH, but it was a hell of a lot better than sitting back in the tents doing nothing all day.

Things got even better from there. After we got back to the police base camp, it was too late to go out on another mission, so the Lieutenant sent us back early. After we got back, we were told that hot chow was available, when before we had been expecting to eat only MREs. Well, we packed up on a truck to find the chow hall. We succeeded, but they told us that hot chow would not be available until tomorrow night. No matter; I got something of much more value than hot chow.

I got a shower.

Yes, it was in a tent. Yes, the water was cold. I didn’t care a bit. I hadn’t had a shower since Memphis.

During my shower, I got an even more important bit of information: They have laundry facilities here. And I was told where they were. Yay! There is very little I hate doing less than putting dirty clothes on a clean body. The reverse doesn’t bother me a bit; as long as I have clean underclothing, I can go without a shower almost indefinitely. But I have to have those clean clothes.

When I got back from my shower, I discovered even more good news: First, I found my power strip that I had lost the day before; it was being used on the light set in the one tent that had gotten power today (running from our generator that I suppose Maintenance set up while we were gone). Second, hot chow was available after all; a truck had lots of meals in Styrofoam containers. Rice, carrots, bread and brownie. It was yummy, and gone very quickly. Luckily, I keep an extra MRE spoon in my rucksack, because no silverware was provided. Then, after a legal briefing (telling our legal authority to arrest people, etc. during this operation in Louisiana) and the meeting to tell us that we had been extended by 11 days, they pulled out boxes and boxes of fresh peaches and apples. I ate one of each immediately, and stashed some apples for future days.

So, other than the fact that we discovered that we weren’t going home when we thought we were, this has been a pretty good day. Tomorrow may not be, though; I’m going out on mission again, which is good, but I’m also washing my clothes at 15 ’til midnight. I still have to fold them once they come out of the dryer; my least favorite part. It always takes so long, especially when I’m sleepy. Which I am. So I may not get very much sleep tonight.