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

A-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~