09 September 2005

Day 8

The major event of the day was missions similar to the ones we’ve been doing for a few days now; hauling police around. Today I hauled Georgia Department of Natural Resources cops. We went on the same kind of house-clearing detail that we did yesterday. These guys were a lot less well-armed and professional than the Michigan guys we hauled yesterday. The Georgia boys were pretty laid back.

It’s interesting to see the different cultures and attitudes different groups of policemen have. The Georgia DNR cops were good ol’ boys with pistols and bulletproof vests they wore about half the time. The Michigan police were all carrying automatic weapons or shotguns, never took off their vests, and had a much more agressive approach. The California Highway Patrol (Yes, we’re working with CHiPs) are allegedly pretty stuck up and standoffish. This is evidenced tby the fact that they started driving around in a convoy of their police cars instead of using our trucks. This, in everyone’s opinion, is silly and wasteful, but the cars have air conditioning. And look cool. And also take up a whole lot of room on the roads.

I got to drive through some water today looking for any remining residents. It didn’t quite get up to the bumper, but was fairly deep in spots. It would have been foolish to get out and manually check the houses by knocking on doors (the water is contaminated with God knows what), so we drove slowly down the street, honking the horn while the police called out “Police!” occasionally. We came to a T-intersection on one street where the water had subsided somewhat and there was whole lot of mud. So much that there was a car up to its left front fender, tilted over into the mud. I decided it wasn’t safe, and we turned around. The truck could probably have made it, but I didn’t want to risk it, especially since the automatic tire-deflation system in my deuce doesn’t work.

This is a good time for a sidebar I’ve been wanting to do: The new deuces. A deuce-and-a-half, for those that don’t know, is a 2 1/2 ton cargo truck, model M35A2, made famous in many Vietnam-era military movies (Good Morning Vietnam is a good example). Well, some of us are driving the same trucks. And by the same trucks, I don’t mean the same model but a later year. I mean the exact same trucks as were in use in the Vietnam era. I don’t think I’ve run into one that was manufactured after 1971. But they’re good old trucks; they’re simple, durable, have no electronics at all, run on almost any fuel, and are fairly powerful. But they’re also rough, extremely loud, have a manual transmission (the Army has switched to automatic transmission because they found the costs from decreased fuel milage is offset by the savings of not having to replace clutches), and have the old-style tires, with dual tires on each side of the two back axles, and no automatic tire inflation. And they’re usually pretty slow. I was amazed that I got one up to 60 MPH on the way down. In other words, they’re outclassed by every other cargo truck in the current military inventory. Well, someone in the military somewhere came up with a brilliant idea: Instead of getting rid of all of our old deuces, why not upgrade them to put them on a footing with newer machines? And that’s exactly what they’ve done: Completely rebuilt the old trucks into the new, improved M35A3. The A3 version has an automatic transmission, a new, more powerful and much quieter engine, 6 large single tires (instead of smaller singles on the front and four sets of duals on the back) with Central Tire Inflation System (which allows the driver to reduce the tire pressure in order to more easily travel through rough terrain, sand, snow or mud), windshield washers (only wipers before), shoulder seat belts, and other improvements. They didn’t add power steering though. All in all, they’ve brought the old crappy deuces up to par with the much newer 5-tons we have, except for the reduced carrying capacity, and turned trucks destined for the junkyard into deployable, combat-ready vehicles. Cool.

Anyway, after we got out of the water we moved on to much nicer and richer neighborhoods—there are some absolutely beautiful houses here. We made it as far as Loyola University before calling it a day.

Like yesterday, the Lieutenant sent several trucks back after it was time to shut down without waiting for all of them to come in. Smart man. When we first got back, it was announced that it was time for chow, so we all piled into the back of a truck and went to the mess hall. It was open today, but the line was long. It didn’t take too long, though, and soon we were eating. The facility had obviously just reopened; there was only milk to drink, for instance, and the ice cream machine was not working (sob). But the food was good (spaghetti), and I had a slice of delicious pecan pie. There was one odd thing about dinner, though; we had an armed guard watching us eat. When we first got into the building, he was standing at the door, telling people where to go just like a traffic cop. Later (I suppose he got replaced) he was standing in the “mess deck” as the Navy calls it, hand on the butt of his pistol (which was tucked behind the front of his belt) (okay, so I later learned that that was his truncheon/nightstick (no jokes please); his sidearm was where sidearms go; on his side), standing very straight with a grim look on his face, watching us eat and politely asking anyone who had finished eating to leave because there were a lot of people waiting to sit down. While I suppose this might have been a useful function, it did seem that he was taking his job awful seriously. Then some soldiers in our unit who had been in the Navy explained: He was a Navy Master-at-Arms. This cleared things up immediately. He wasn’t just some Joe picked to guard the mess deck who got a bit overzealous; it was his job to be a jerk. Fine. But it was still weird to eat under an armed proctor.

After we got back from chow, it was looking for a while like I would have several hours to rest, polish my boots, work on the blog, etc. Well, it didn’t work out that way. Just when I was about to change into my PT (Physical Training—workout) clothes and start on personal business, the call came that we had to move gear off of working trucks and onto deadlined trucks in order to free the working trucks for missions. This was a perfectly reasonable idea, but no one person was really put in charge and it turned into a cluster (military folks know what word comes after that one). Eventually we got it sorted out and the job done, but by that time it was after dark and time for bed. I was going to blog then, as someone actually ran lights and power to our tent during the day, but by the time I was ready, they had turned off the generator for the night, and I had not been charging my PowerBook for long enough to finish the entry. So I didn’t get very far before it died.

FACT: They have a PX (well, I suppose it’s actually a NAVX—Navy Exchange) set up here. Excellent! I hear they have alcohol from floor to ceiling—all roped off with a sign reading “off limits.”

RUMOR: The Governor (who today I found out was female) has ordered forced clearings of all residents.

INTERESTING SIGHT OF THE DAY: I saw an explicit porn magazine laying open, soaked with water, in the middle of one of the streets.