Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another HRC Nightmare Scenario

Check out this blog post from Jason, a fellow IRR draftee who is about 6 months ahead of me.

Money Quote:"When notified to deploy, the 104th scoured their list of qualified candidates and cross leveled and determined that they didn't have enough Captains to fill mission requirements. They put a request into Human resource Command (HRC), who proceeded to fill the unit needs by recalling the requested officers from the Inactive Ready Reserve. The rest is obviously history - I got my telegram and reported as ordered and here I am. Here's the catch, though. After receiving the requested fill from HRC, the 104th realized that they did in fact have enough officers to fill the mission. So, they contacted HRC and told them that the IRR recalls were no longer necessary because they had enough people. The response from HRC: Sorry, too late. You asked for them, so you got them. So what did the 104th do? They sent home their own people."

Doesn't this just fit perfectly with everything else we've been learning about HRC? As I've said many times, I'm happy with Civil Affairs--I think it's the best job out there for someone of my abilities and interests. But to hear these stories about how HRC assigns folks to units...mind boggling.

At Long Last...Class Has Begun

"You're all about to go down range for a year or more...there's no need to practice being miserable"

Yesterday I officially started Civil Affairs Qualification Course (Mobilized) Class 05-07. Things will be pretty light this week, as some students are still rolling in throughout the next couple of days. But towards Thursday and Friday, we'll kick things off in earnest, and from there we'll have 6-7 weeks of classroom instruction. Ten or so days in the field will follow, and after that there won't be much left to do besides cleaning off all our gear and weapons, and graduating.

As we haven't really started learning anything yet, I don't have much to report on that front. Some information has trickled in, though, which is nice considering we've been left in the dark for the last 3 weeks.

Weekends are off, and we will have 2 long weekends during the course (labor day, and one other). There is minimal organized physical training, which means that we won't have to wake up at insane hours of the morning to run, do push-ups, etc. Class will start at 8 or 9 most mornings, and finish at 4 or 5 most evenings. The material looks interesting and useful (for the most part, at least) and I'm generally excited to get things going.

The quote at the top of the post was something that one of our instructors told us yesterday. His basic point was that the cadre have no intention of making things difficult/painful in the CAQC just for the sake of it, as is so often the case in Army culture. This came as a great relief to me and my friends, and is a big part of why I'm in good spirits as we begin the course.

One last note--the class is roughly half Navy officers. Some of them are reservists, but I get the impression that most are active duty--aviators, surface warfare folks, sub guys...it would seem that the Army is taking all comers. Add these guys to the Navy folks that I encountered down at Fort Jackson, and it becomes apparent just how many Navy dudes of all shapes and sizes are being loaned out to the Army in our ceaseless struggle to surge-out neoglobal islamo-fascist jihadists.

I suppose they've been telling us for years that joint operations are the future, so why not embrace it, right? Go Narmy.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How I Got Here (a work in progress)

Hey everyone.

I'm going to start putting together a little running photo essay to keep up with where I've been, and where I'm going, as I progress through the journey I set out on several weeks ago.

For now, here's a little taste.

This continuous, multi-part series will be part of a general expansion of the blog. Expect regular features, guest columnists, and a greater organization to the type of content you've been enjoying so far.

As far as how to implement this, any and all suggestions are appreciated--I know that like me, a lot of you enjoy putting this sort of project together.

Truth in Advertising: PT 1

I think this picture speaks for itself...

Truth in Advertising: PT 2

This one too...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Need Cash--Have Guns

I had duty again last night. Like last time, nothing horrible happened, which is a good thing.

As I sit here getting ready to take off for the morning, a Lieutenant Colonel walked in with an official looking flyer in in hand. Along with Captain Cannon, who is here to relieve me of my duty, I stood up when the LTC entered the room, granting him that simple courtesy which is part of the privledge of the LTC's rank.

Chris and I thought that this LTC must be some sort of high level staff officer, probably here to give us an important memo to post up on the Brigade bulletin board--something about Safety, Sexual Harrassment or the like.

We promised the LTC to post his "memo", wished him a good morning, and he was off.

And then we looked at the paper. (I deleted the image because it contained the name/number of the LTC in question--it was a gun advertisement for a civilian rifle the LTC was trying to sell.)

I'll leave the legality of such a bulletin board flier to the lawyers in the family, but I will say this--both Chris and I are already fully stocked on M14 Springfields and late Lake City 7.62mm rounds. My Bipod is a little rusty, sure, but I've still got more Hard sided airline carrying cases than I can shake a stick at.

So if any of you want to take the LTC up on his offer...just let me know.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Different Take

My dad, himself a former JAG, has a different take on Legal Assistance (emphasis added).

"Legal assistance is one of the most valued and valuable services provided by an SJA office. One of the quickest way to ruin the reputation of an office is to provide poor legal assistance. The work is not easy, and can present some of the most varied and complex challenges available in a military legal practice. Very few JA want to work in the LA office, as it isn't seen as a career enhancing assignment, and is of no post-service value unless the JA wants to go into a small general practice. The choicest positons in an SJA office rarely go to the non-career JA.

It should be noted that neither of the Captains in the "choicest" positions are career JA. It will be interesting to see if the work tends toward the complex and challenging (think big time Medical Board Cases for one example), or if tends toward entering in pre-defined forms on a software package for Wills.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Needs of the Army

I need to preface the rest of this post by saying that these are my opinions, my views, and that Lauren is a great soldier who would never think to question things as strongly as I'm about to. If she asks me to, I will take down or tone down this post...

Lauren got her specific job assignment for Fort Belvoir today--Legal Assistance. These are the attorneys who help soldiers write wills, fill out paperwork, deal with loan-sharks, etc.

Legal Assistance a job that, while very important, can be competently performed by a trained monkey. It wouldn't even need to be that well trained, like the ones who can play baseball and help you fight crime and the like. A poorly trained monkey with little to no movie star potential could do this job.

Back in the day, Lauren worked in the Fort Carson Legal Assistance Office for 3 months, before moving on to administrative law--finance law, health care law, stuff like that. Moving back to LA is basically a demotion, and a big one at that.

Lauren all of a sudden finds herself in a position where her talents are not being fully utilized by the Army, and she's not receiving any sort of personal professional development to boot. I call that Lose/Lose. The Army calls it Standard Operating Procedure.

Oh, the Army will generally try to frame things in such a way to make it seem that it's got your best needs, as well as those of the Army in mind. But junior soldiers and officers in the Army see right through this stuff. We are frustrated by a system that often seems, from our vantage point at least, to be strangling itself on its own rigidity. We recognize and embrace the necessity of a fixed chain of command, but we chafe at the notion that regardless of our performance and aptitude, we have very limited ability to advance through it at a rate any faster than anyone else.

My friend Robin works at PG&E, and she's soared through the ranks, ahead of countless workers that, while competent and industrious, lack Robin's brilliance for the work. As such, she manages folks who are much older than she, and she's constantly on the lookout for further advancements.

I'm sure there are plenty of good reasons, organizational impediments and the like, that prevent such mobility within the Army. That suggest that such mobility would bring the Army down like a house of cards. Fair enough. But if Human Resources, and higher level officers wonder why each year 75% of their best people (my estimate) leave at their first available chance, don't come complaining to me and wondering why we prefer Robin's setup to our own.

What's the silver lining in all of this? Lauren will hopefully have the ability to take a leadership role in the office, to bring to bear her exceptional organizational abilities upon improving the way the Legal Assistance operates. When I was in the Army the first time, and found myself in strange jobs that I really didn't know what to do with, I was blessed to have the kind of trusting, empowering, highly proficient bosses that would let me swoop into an office, implement change, and lead. Will the same hold true for Lauren's new chain of command, who are from everything I've heard very competent, smart, squared away JAG's? I think it will. But as always...we shall see.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Contact for the Next Few Days

A quick note--I won't be reachable at my cell for the next few days. This is because I dropped it in the toilet earlier today. The phone worked for a bit after that, but quickly decided that not-working would be a far more amusing way to wile away the rest of the afternoon.

I feel like making these things more water proof is thoroughly possible, but that the cell companies are making way too much money off of dolt's like me ruining their phones to ever try to fix the issue.

Fortunately, I pay the 5 bucks a month for insurance, so a new phone is on it's way...but as I don't have an address at the moment (and even if I did, it could very well change at any moment) the phone is getting sent to Manassas. I'll pick it up this weekend, and then I'll officially be back on the net.

In the meantime, I picked up a handy dandy prepaid deal, so anyone who needs to get a hold of me between now and Friday can do so at my new number--which I'll gladly email to anyone who'd like it Otherwise, I'll talk to everyone on Friday.

Highlights From (yet another) Awesome Weekend

OK, everyone, it's time for the run down. I'm back at Bragg after one of my patented Awesome Weekends with Lauren. Here's more or less how it went down.


7:30AM--After what most experts agree was one of the greatest staff duty runs of all time, I hand over the desk to my replacement. I've been awake since 6:45 the previous day, and I'm feeling fine.

8:15AM--I'm on the road, heading for Emporia, VA where I'll meet Lauren. Lauren's been in NoVA since Wednesday, and she's on her way to wisk me away to a weekend of errands, Harry Potter, and relaxing with my parents. Still feeling fine.

9:32AM--Feelings of fineness beginning to wane. Eyelids becoming heavier by the second. Must...get...to Emporia.

Fade to Black

1:13PM--I wake with a start, and forget for a moment where I am. Groggily I come to, and I seem to remember that I successfully slept walked my way through the rest of the drive, switched to Lauren's car in Emporia (leaving the CRV with the nice people at the Knights Inn), and had been zonked out for the last three hours while we drove North to Fort Belvoir.

2:15PM--Sitting at the Fort Belvoir Starbucks--that's right Every Other Post, Starbucks--and I get a call on my cell. Apparently the apartment we were going to move into in Alexandria won't be completed until September. This crimps our plans, and we officially enter the stress zone. I contemplate suggesting that Lauren might be able to find exciting, Venetian-Blinds-Optional housing at Fort Bragg, but hold my tongue.

3:45PM--After successfully signing Lauren in at her new post, we narrowly avoid rush hour traffic and arrive at my parents house in Manassas. Mom is thrilled to see us, invites us all out to the porch to relax with a glass of wine...and promptly locks us out of the house.

11:15PM--Dad eventually comes home, saving us from the out-of-doors. Dinner, conversation, and the rest of our bottle of wine follow, and Lauren and I head out to Woodbridge Borders to wait in line to pick up Harry Potter 7. Borders turns out to be a disaster, so we drive cross county to the Manassas Barnes & Noble, who has a grade-A operation going. We pick up our copies, head home, and promptly fall asleep.


10:30AM--Lauren and I drag ourselves out of bed, and set out to tackle the days chores. We would both rather be reading Harry, but attempt to slog through other stuff anyways. We quickly determine that the apartment situation has got us down, and must needs be resolved prior to moving on to happier tidings. As such...

12:30PM--I call the apartment complex and see if they have anything available sooner. It turns out that we can get in on the 9th floor, with a two month rent free discount, if we move in before August 1st. Only downside--not as good view of the Potomac from the lower floor. But for immediate move in and no rent for two months? We'll take it.

1PM--Lauren and I make a triumphant post apartment acquisition trip to my parent's neighborhood pool. We swim, read Harry Potter, and have a genuinely awesome time. We've got our apartment, and we're feeling fine.

I think the timeline routine is getting old for now, so I'll summarize the rest of the weekend. We had another nice dinner at my parent's place, then headed to Fort Belvoir to spend Saturday night with some privacy. Come Sunday we took Christine out to a birthday brunch, signed our lease for the apartment (hurrah!!) and met my mom for dinner at the Mac Grill, before Lauren drove me back to my CRV in Emporia.

Lauren and I said our goodbyes, and drove to our respective posts--Bragg and Belvoir.

Somewhere along the way, we managed to read the first 300 pages or so of Harry Potter. We rule.

Love to All.

(Still More) New Accomodations

Looks like that it was too much for us to ask that the Army keep us in our current, quite comfortable living quarters. Yep, it looks like in the next few days or couple weeks, we'll be moving into new digs.

Now, I can't remember how much I've written about our barracks to date, but I should say that we've got it pretty good right now. A nice sized room, most of the lights work, only minor insect infestation, etc. But that's not all.

The shower works (hot water and everything), we have a fridge and a microwave (that we've no plans to use, but still), we could pay to get cable or internet in the room if so inclined...we're basically living the life, here. I honestly have zero complaints.

That said, this is our second set of rooms here at Fort Bragg. We started off in the same building, down one floor, where it would seem that vicious venetian-blinds hating Gnomes were set loose to destroy light sockets, air ducts, and (of course) all of the venetian blinds. In my room, the bathroom lights didn't work. Not a light bulb thing, mind you--they straight didn't work. My neighbor had working lights--but the shower itself didn't turn on. The room after that had both a functional shower, and light with which to shower in, but he was getting a little tired running a bathhouse out of his room, and understandably so. That's a lot of out of shape, wet IRR nakedness for one man to have to deal with.

So now, as we all ponder what exciting accommodations await us, we can't help but wonder--are we about to plunge back into a world free of the encumbrance of running water? Will we be returning to the land of light-less showering and bowel movements? Will our new rooms have shown poor, innocent Venetian Blinds the respect that they so desperately deserve?

As always...we shall see.

p.s. The blinds pictured were in my first room, and stand as a constant reminder of why Gnome related vandalism, if left unchecked, will almost certainly result in the terrorists winning. Good day to you all.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Upbeat and Feeling Fine

A buddy of mine pointed out that this blog got a mention at the Command Toc. The Command Toc site is basically ground zero for folks trying to find out information about IRR call ups, so I was happy that I've been noticed--should help out folks trying to learn more about what the Irr/Fort Jackson/CA/Fort Bragg scene looks like in mid 2007

I should also mention, there's a 5 part article running on MSNBC this week about some dudes who went through this process two years ago. It follows them all the way, Fort Jackson to Iraq and back again. A very interesting read. But as conditions and circumstances have changed a ton since then, it's worth having an updated snapshot available to anyone about to go through the IRR/Jackson/Bragg process.

Back to Command TOC--it started out as a great site to get information about putting together delay/exemption requests for those of us called up from the IRR. It still definitely serves that purpose--albeit with a large slant towards folks with medical situations, something that never applied to me--but recently, the Command TOC has (in my opinion) devolved slightly the way internet message boards do --people sniping at other people, making the same inflammatory posts over and over, etc. There are a handful of bitter, angry folks over there, and I of course can't blame them for feeling that way. And the site itself is still where it's at if you want to join a forum that's looking at the IRR, muster, etc.

What was interesting about my mention on that site was that I was described as being very upbeat and positive about this whole process. I was flattered that, despite my (hopefully humorous) accounts of some of the absurdity that my Army friends and I have encountered, angry, bitter people do not perceive me to be either angry or bitter. And yeah, I've kept a sense of humor about this whole process...but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't at all bitter. If I didn't have a bone or two in my body--nothing big, like a metatarsal or two--that wasn't a little bitter about everything. I'm just not broken up about it, that's all.

So to my friends over at Command Toc--thanks for noticing, and keep on fighting the good fight.

Staff Duty

In the Army we have a thing called Staff Duty. As the Staff Duty Officer you sit at a desk and wait for something horrible to happen. When something does, you leap into action, and you handle it. Handling it usually entails calling and waking up other people, the people responsible for the particular situation, and they do the big-H Handling. But getting that ball rolling, whatever handling is required to make that happen, that's your job as the Staff Duty Officer.

Fortunately, horrible things rarely happen. Unfortunately, that means you stay up all night waiting for nothing to happen. Such is the state that I find myself in now. Fun fun fun.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Oh no. As the SDO, you also get to log everything that happens during the day on a good old fashioned Army Form--DA Form 1594 to be precise. But as nothing horrible usually happens, the log ends up filling up with events like "Driver goes to lunch", "Driver returns from lunch" and the always popular "Officer conducts security check of the Brigade Area."

So yeah, I get a driver, which seems like it might be cool. But his job is really just to keep me company during the day and drive to get meals at regular intervals, so it isn't as cool as it might be. And as for my security checks, it's not like I get a gun or anything. I basically just walk around in the dark and make sure doors are locked.

The picture, incidentally, is what a log looks like when lots of stuff happens. Non driver going to dinner kind of stuff, that is.

More from Signal Land

Another fantastic update from Kevin at Iraq Part II.

It turns out that Kevin, a Signal Officer, won't be the Signal Officer for the Field Artillery Battalion he's been assigned to. They already have a Signal Officer. Kevin will be a staff officer or a battery commander--slots usually reserved for FA officers. This FA unit, incidentally, is from Northern California.

So for those of you counting at home...Kevin from New Jersey, who wants to go Civil Affairs and was trained as a Signal Officer, is being assigned to a Northern California Field Artillery unit to fill a Field Artillery slot.

I am a Field Artillery Officer who lives (until recently) in Northern California, and they're sending me to Civil Affairs. I actually prefer CA to FA at this point in my life...more interesting work, better opportunity to take advantage of my MBA skill-sets...but still. Wow.

And of course, we all remember Kevin's fellow signal officer who wants to stay signal, just finished his master's in Comp Sci...and he's getting sent CA as well.

I think all of this kind of speaks for itself at this point, but it just goes to show--we don't have the infrastructure and systems in place at Army Human Resources to effectively match IRR soldiers against demand. There are certainly an infinite number of bigger problems in the world. But still.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Great Weekend

Heading back to Fort Bragg, after a successful cross country drive with Lauren.

We just got back from seeing the most recent Harry Potter film, and now it's time to head to the airport. I'll fly from Hartford down to Fayettville (via Atlanta or Charlotte, I forget) and then it's on to Fort Bragg.

To those of you wondering why I didn't post regularly while I was down there last week, as you might have imagined my internet access was limited. At Fort Jackson we had that great computer lab, but I'm guessing that had a lot to do with the presence of the Navy guys training there (hundreds of them, as compared to a mere handful of us) and to the NCO Academy.

The barracks I'm staying in now are wired up for cable, so the soldiers who typically would occupy them usually hook up their own stuff. I might go in halfsies w/ Chris on some internet while we're at Bragg, but I won't have my laptop down there until this weekend. All decisions will be made once I have my computer with me.

In the meantime, I hope to be able to have a bit more free time now that my inprocessing is over with, and the chance to get to a library every couple of days to check in and say hi to everyone.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mr. Frownie

Frownie (pictured left) is apparently what passes for a mascot at Western Pennsylvanian restaurants.

It would seem that the best they can come up with out here is an ill-tempered, anthropomorphic brownie that threatens to attack little kids after they finish their dinners. "I'll be waiting for you after your meal"? Wow.

Perhaps their market research shows that terrified children eat more brownies than non-terrified children.

OK, we're off for our last leg of the trip--see everyone soon.

Latest Post At Iraq Part 2

Good morning, all.

I just wanted to check in quickly, and link to Kevin's most recent post about his IRR experience.

This is basically my thesis statement about the CA Corps and the IRR process. Un-freaking-believable.

Time to hit the road--see everyone tonight, and as always--God Bless Freedom.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Updated Timeline

Again, there are things I'd like to say--but won't.

Still, as I realize that a reading of this blog to date would have you all believing that I started the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC) this past Wednesday, an update is in order.

You see, showing up at Fort Bragg and then starting the CACQ this past Wednesday would have been way too easy.

Instead, we spent the last week--and I'm not kidding or exaggerating even a little--DOING THE SAME IN-PROCESSING AND PAPERWORK THAT WE DID AT FORT JACKSON OVER AGAIN! Literally, on Monday, we took all of our paperwork, arranged it in a different order, collated it into four different versions, and then got it all stamped off on as it now met the Fort Bragg Gold Standard of Excellence.

Because we were busy doing such things all week (including the previously posted urinalysis repeat) we couldn't start the Course in the class that started on Wednesday . The next course doesn't start until...drumroll please...31 July! So my crew and I are stuck at Fort Bragg, getting paid to hang out at the Gym and read Harry Potter Books for 3 weeks.

And don't get me wrong, I'm all for the time off, and the laid back schedule...but I'd rather spend 2 salary free weeks with my wife. You know, what with the whole "going off to war" thing and all.

Missouri, Home of Freedom

This weekend I made a deal with the devil to swing a 4-day pass so that I could fly out and meet Lauren, and help her drive cross country from Colorado to Connecticut. We're spending tonight at a hotel in historic, beautiful Effingham, Illinois.

Along the way, we grabbed some lunch at Hardees. The pictured note was posted on the wall, in a collage of children's articles on freedom.

This was our favorite. This little girl likes lots of people. She even likes a Mexican.

God Bless Freedom.

Transportation To and Fro Fort Bragg, NC

Let me start by saying that most of the really good stuff, the really juicy gossip, the absolute choicest cuts of Fort Bragg dish...I probably shouldn't share with you. I'm going to have to (gulp) self-censor--something that most of you know pains me to no end.

I'll just say this...my crew and I have been so surrounded by hilariously cringeworthy beauricratic nonsense, that I don't even know where to begin. If anyone wants the full version of events, feel free to call...or just wait for me to publish the war memoirs (I Gambled and Lost--the Andrew Exnicios Story).

Still, propriety and appropriateness aside, the story of my arrival at Fort Bragg is a tale that requires telling.

Now, as most of you will recall, I flew up from Columbia, SC to Fayetteville, NC last Saturday. I rolled out with the 3 other officers who I processed through Fort Jackson with--Chris (Captain Cannon), LTC Smalls, and Major Newman. The four of us braved our two flights, hours of killing time at the airport, and arrived at Fayetteville Regional Airport at about 5 PM. We had been told that a specific representative from the unit would be waiting at the airport to pick us up.

We arrived at the airport, and were met by noone.

Now, this usually wouldn't have been that big a deal. After all, we really weren't expecting someone to come meet us on a Saturday evening, and we were four grown men, Army Officers all. But in this particular case, we had been left with nothing. We had no contact numbers. We had no building number. We had asked for all of this information, of course, but we had been told not to worry about it--someone would be waiting for us at the airport.

So, we waited. We waited for 15 minutes. And then another 30. At that point, it was pretty clear to us that noone was on their way to pick us up.

Not to be deterred, the team swung into action. LTC Smalls got online using his Verizon Mobile Card. I called up Matt Holmes, an old buddy of mine from Alaska and Oklahoma. LTC Smalls got a lead on which building might be our headquarters, and Matt--father of 4, mind you--generously offered to come pick us all up at the airport.

We drove onto Fort Bragg, and we called the Military Police to ask where on Post the building number in question was. We got directions, and as we approached the address, we began to see signs on the buildings for USACAPOC--the USArmy Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command--so we reckoned that we were at least in the ballpark.

As it turned out, we reckoned right. We opened up the door of the building in question, and there she was--the Captain that had promised to be waiting for us at the airport.

Without skipping a beat, or expressing even a modicum of surprise that we had suddenly shown up at her desk, the Captain looked up from her Lifetime TV and said "Hello, go ahead and sign in and take some linen."

My crew was stunned. Where was the apology, the excuses, the "Oh my God, I COMPLETELY forgot to pick you up at the airport???!" Instead, the Captain continued, completely unaffected by our sudden appearance.

"Yeah, the guy who has the keys to where you're staying is off post. Probably about 30 minutes away. Have you guys already eaten? Can you kill time for an hour or so while he shows up?"

Uhh, sure we muttered. We all slinked out of the office, and piled back into Matt's minivan. He took us to grab some grub. Upon returning to the office, the NCO was there, and...Dear God, there are about 7 more really important details to this story, and I just feel like I can't post them in this public forum. Let's just leave it at this...we left Fort Jackson at 7AM, and we didn't arrive at our final destination until 8PM. 165 miles in 13 hours.

It was probably--after my wedding day--the greatest day of my entire life.

Forget Turkey--let's talk Urinalysis

For anyone that might still question whether or not the powers that be read this blog, examine the following. As soon as I posted about the regularity with which I was eating turkey/stuffing, we ceased being served turkey/stuffing**. Haven't seen the delectable duo at the Dining Facility even once since that day--someone was paying attention, and keeping my dietary variety needs in mind.

Never fear, however, as several other events swooped in to ensure I was getting a sufficient does of redundancy in my life. To that end, this Thursday my crew and I went through our second drug test (i.e. urinalysis) in as many weeks, meaning that if the current pace holds...I'm looking at 78 weeks / 2 = 39 drug tests between now and sweet, sweet freedom. That said, if everyone would go ahead and add the Original Whizzinator to your care-package list, I would be much obliged. You can never be too safe, right?

**After realizing this, I promptly went down town and enjoyed a turkey plate at Boston Market. I heart turkey/stuffing.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The US Army: waging a war on fitted sheets since 1775

Hello, all, and greetings from beautiful Fort Bragg, NC!

I made it here safe and sound yesterday, and lemme tell you--I have about 23 blog posts that I need to make right now. But not until tomorrow...

I know, I know, you're dying for fresh content, and you'll have to trust me--there are some jems, and I'll do each and every one of them justice tomorrow.

For now, let me throw everyone a little taste.

When we walked into the office to which we reported yesterday evening--at 7PM, no less, which is a loooong story unto itself--Captain Lifetime (more to follow on her) pointed us to a pile of army linens that we were to take to our rooms. All of our hearts sank--these are the same sheets we had at Jackson, and I immediately thought "Yep, we're getting put in open bay barracks after all."

However, much to my surprise and shortlived delight...we took these linens, and made up real beds in real barracks rooms. Basically, we're living in the 82d Airborne Division's barracks while all their guys are down range Surging, keeping freedom free, and/or fighting the terrorists where they live (so the rest of us don't have to fight them here).

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? Hold that thought, and I'll be back again tomorrow with more...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Fort Jackson Recap

To any of you who are late in getting on board the Racer-X express, here's a rundown of what we've been talking about so far.

It all started with a wedding...the great stories always do. From there, I headed south and arrived at Fort Jackson to start training.

But instead of training, it was time for something far more difficult. Three exciting days of in-processing, in-processing, in-processing.

Fortunately, I was rewarded for my paperwork prowess by something I would have never expected when the week began...a great weekend w/ Lauren!

Heading back to the Army after all that fun wasn't easy, but a day later the Army gifted my something almost as sweet...a modicum of information about what I'd be doing once I left Fort Jackson.

I didn't have much time to process that info, because before long I was off to enjoy my 4th of July, sans Lauren unfortunately.

From there, it was a simple matter of figuring out my nonsensical transportation to Bragg, and passing a little test in Basic Rifle Marksmanship...and that pretty much brings us to the present!

A good weekend to everyone, and I'll see you in a few days--once I figure out what the internet situation is up at Bragg.

One More Random IRR Note from Fort Jackson

To any current or future readers who have or will stumble upon this blog, I wanted to invite you to contact me with any questions that you might have about the IRR process, particularly as it applies to the re-classed civil affairs folks.

In the meantime, here are a few tips--but keep in mind that just because this is what training is like during June/July 2007, doesn't mean this is still the deal when guys get called up in 2 years to go invade Syria.

1) Expect to have weekends off. The op-tempo here is pretty relaxed, and the reservists value their time off as much as you will. During my rotation, we had a full weekend off, and they re-worked the rest of the schedule so we'd have a holiday for the 4/5 July as well.

2a) Bring lots of civilian clothes. There isn't a fixed schedule, but our enlisted folks didn't get their uniforms issued until Wednesday afternoon of week 1. We officers bought our uni's on Tuesday, but didn't wear them until the enlisted guys had theirs. So that's what...4 days up front in civilian clothes? Plus weekends and evenings off? Make sure to plan accordingly...

2b) Do NOT bring BDU's. Some of the info out there still mentions BDU's, but you won't need them. Bringing them just creates hassle as you figure out where to stow them.

3) It seems obvious, and it's written all over the place...but really do bring all of the paperwork you can think of. Marriage licenses, birth certificates for your kids, rental agreements leases and mortgages. If you are re-classed Civil Affairs**, and you don't have a security clearance, expect to have to fill out all of that paperwork as well.

4) Bring a car if you dare...but don't expect them to be happy about it. Apparently, the CA folks at Bragg have been giving the cadre at Fort Jackson a hard time about officers driving themselves up there. For the life of me I can't think why they care, but still...know that if you bring your car, you risk being ordered to get rid of it at some point down here at Jackson.

**All of the combat arms enlisted dudes (and MP's) in my class got re-classed to civil affairs, but none of them knew it when they reported. If you've been re-classed, it's on your orders...but can be hard to find. Comb through the orders, and look for "38B"...if you see it, you've probably been re-classed.

Sometimes, getting the minimum is juuuust fine

As I alluded to in my previous post, today was our last day of Army Training here at Fort Jackson. To celebrate, we drew M16-A2 rifles early this morning, and headed to the range for a little Basic Rifle Marksmanship, or BRM.

Now to those of you who knew me during my huahh-huahh Army 1.0 days, you probably recall that BRM was something that I was never really that good at. Sure, I had my good days...but I never qualified expert (36 out of 40 hits) and once or twice I put up some real stinkers.

In fact, in a 4 year Army career otherwise unmarred by mediocrity, my rifle skills were never more than average.

Furthermore, I found rifle ranges so stressful--I was never 100% positive I would qualify--that the last time I fired an M16 back in April of 2005 was, at the time at least, one of the 2 or 3 happiest moments of my life. It meant that I never had to fire an M16 again, and I was more grateful for that than you can imagine.

All of that brings us to today, and my triumphant return to the M16. And by triumphant, I mean that I managed to put up a 23/40...the minimum score needed to pass. Of course, had I failed to pass they would have simply made note of it, and sent me on my way. What else could they do, really? Send me to Iraq?

All in all, though, I was relieved to pass after my two year hiatus from shooting. And to be honest, I'm proud of my 23. It was a nasty-hot day, my glasses fogged up on me, and I didn't have time to properly zero my weapon before the qualification range--I basically had to aim low and left on all of the targets to get the rounds to hit where I wanted them too. At the end of the day, I passed, and that's good enough for now.

Busses are for Suckers

Well, the results are in--we're flying from here to Fort Bragg after all. I think it's worthwhile to examine this decision, as we need to dig just a tad deeper in order to reveal the true brilliance of "fly" vs. "ride".

Fort Jackson and Fort Bragg are about 175 miles apart, give or take.

We're leaving Fort Jackson tomorrow at 0700 for a--wait for it--1230PM flight. That's 5.5 hours to move 25 miles to the airport, check in, and make our plane.

That first plane will take us in the exact opposite direction of Fort Bragg, to Charlotte, NC. From there, we take a second flight to Fayettville, where bus/van transportation to Fort Bragg will await our arrival. For those of you keeping score, that's another 15 miles of driving.

That said, we should arrive at Fort Bragg at around 4PM tomorrow. So all told, we're looking at 40 miles driving, and 9 hours of total travel time, all so we can spend MORE money than it would take for the 4 of us to load in a car and do the 2.5 hour drive from here to there.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the above: my thesis statement on why the Army is awesometastic, and the terrorists don't stand a chance. Keep on Surgin' boys, keep on Surgin.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Back at Jackson...again

Hola, folks, and apologies for failing to post yesterday--my second miss in only a handful of days.

And it's not that I'm no longer smitten with you, my faithful supporters and avid readers--it's that the nice people here at Fort Jackson gave us the 4-5th of July off to spend as we pleased.

Unfortunately, I could not get out to Colorado, and Lauren--who only had off the Fourth--could not come back out to Carolina. So instead of spending time with my wife, I got a ride from my Columbia based pal Andre down to Charleston. Together, we attended various celebrations and beach related revelry, while Lauren was stuck in Colorado doing little things like, you know, organizing our cross country move (Colorado Springs to Alexandria) all by herself. She is truly a saint, and while I appreciated the time to relax, I really wish that I could have been with her, helping out with our household. As Lauren said to me recently, if/when we move the next time, I'm doing all the work, and she's going to the beach with her friends. Fair enough.

All the same, I had fun and enjoyed Charleston, a beautiful old town that everyone should check out. At the very least, our tourist presence--and by "our" I mean all non-native South Carolinians--annoys all the Charlestonians like you wouldn't believe. And as I've said for years, there's nothing wrong with a little good natured annoying when there are Southerners involved. Besides, if we don't keep them in a state of nearly constant peevedness, this whole "rising again" business that they're always blathering on about might finally come to pass.

One last note before I go--I had a long conversation this weekend with one of Andre's law school classmates, an avowed Conservative and son of an Air Force officer who went out of his way to tell me how great what I'm doing is, and how he really thinks that we're doing the right thing in the middle east. I did not and do not begrudge him his politics, nor his assessment of the overall political situation over in Iraq...but if you feel so strongly about all that, guy, let me take you on down to your friendly neighborhood recruiting station, so you too can help the rest of us Surge our way to victory. But no, actually signing up to support these policies you espouse would only serve to inconvenience you, and you enjoy your cable TV and marijuana far too much to be inconvenienced.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The CA Command Comes Through...Maybe.

Good afternoon, everyone, and a happy day-before-independence-day to you all.

I just got out of a brief with some Civil Affairs folks from Fort Bragg, and it would appear that our long, national no-information nightmare is over.

I'll leave out of Fort Jackson on a bus sometime on Saturday. We'll head to Fort Bragg, where my fellow officers and I will be dropped off with the CA command up there (CAPOC). We're to take a 9 week course of Army training on how to be Civil Affairs officers--so to everyone who has asked me about what the hell a CA guy does, ask me again on or around the 12th of September. Hopefully I'll have it figured out by then.

From there, I'll be assigned/attached to the unit with which I'll go down range to Iraq (99.99%) or Afghanistan (0.01%). Hard to say when I'll know the details on that assignment, but depending on the timing of it all, I could be overseas as early as mid-September, or as late as...well, it could potentially drag on if I get attached to a unit that isn't deploying until this winter. We'll see.

But for now, the good (great, grand!) news is that I'll be at Fort Bragg, NC from Saturday until at least 12 September. Fort Bragg is about 4 hours from home and Lauren and my parents and everything else. And while I don't know how much time I'll have off, or whether I'll get weekends free or run of the post, at the very least I'll be a short drive away for anyone who wants to come down and visit.

There have been some horror stories about the living conditions at Bragg (and about how long you're stuck there post-course, pre-deployment) but they swear up and down that conditions have been recently improved. I've heard that one before, but again--we'll see.

Come to think of it, based on the number of "we'll see's" I've included in this email, I still don't really know a whole lot about the what/when/how/where/why's of my next many months in the Army.

But hey, a little bit of knowledge is infinitely more than the ignorance I was wallowing in before, so for now I'm happy. Will I stay that way in the long term? We'll see...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Back at Jackson

As I knew it would, the weekend has come to an end, and I'm back at Jackson ready for work. I'd be lying if I said the idea of not coming back didn't cross my mind a time or two...but if I go AWOL, then the terrorists win, and we can't be having that.

We had our first physical training (PT) session this morning, and we'll spend the rest of the day playing with heavy weapons. Fun fun.

Still no word on when we'll be heading to Fort Bragg, what we'll do once we get there, and how long we'll be there before shipping out. But for now, everything is pretty relaxed, and I'm going to head out to see if I can't remember which end of the MK-19 I'm supposed to point at the terrorists.