Alright, I’m going back to the states.
They still haven’t made up their minds, but I have two days to be out of my trailer, so they can figure things out as I leave.
Just for posterity, I’ve been trying to find out where the short circuit happened. My request to stay was three fold. First we had to get permission from my commander. Then we had to push the “packet” through my division (the losing unit). Then we had to push the packet through my new division (the gaining unit).
As soon as it left my realm of influence (i.e. my unit), it apparently stopped completely. After asking around for weeks, I was finally told yesterday that my case “wasn’t a priority, so no action has been taken.”
And there we go, friends. That pretty much summarizes my entire experience with the military. For all the parades, flag waving, well wishers and grandiose speeches about vanguards of freedom and benevolent champions of justice; when reality sets in, I remember that I don’t matter. I can try to volunteer or fix something all I want, but if it requires someone else to help complete it, it’s a crap shoot if it gets done.
We call this “I could give two sh**s about what you need” as getting a dose of “humble pie,” which can be anything from a well-deserved reprimand, to being blown off and told to shut up because you are lower ranking than the person who has to work.
I remember back in the states, every once in a while I’d run across an angry patron of a business, fuming at how he or she had been treated. They’d be all in a mess because the service wasn’t exemplary, or some sh**. And I’d be surprised that someone could be offended so easily.
That’s one of the harder lessons to learn while in the military–to deny your sense of worth and individuality, to be pushed around and ignored. The overall, overarching reason for this humility and servant attitude is to bolster the atmosphere that we’re all equal, struggling in harsh circumstances; and that it is through collective sacrifice that we can eek out a ration of normalcy in the God-awful mess of war.
However, in reality, some are more equal than others. A person’s willingness to step forward and bear the stripes of military service is honorable, but it is cheapened when you see how many are out to take and steal all they can, at the expense of others.
There’s a female admin sergeant in my unit who is an amazing person. She refuses to let the other sections blow off soldiers when she has the power to help. As a reward, she gets harassed by her boss, her coworkers and her subordinate personnel sections. She gets blamed for things out of her control and has to correct and rewrite the piss-poor quality of paperwork submitted through her section.
When I asked why she takes all the extra time to fix the mistakes others purposefully put off on her, she said, “It’s the soldier who is not going to get the deserved award. Why should they suffer because these other people are lazy?” You see, people know she will stay hours beyond what she has to, so they take off early and hardly try.
Everyday I go out and sit with her as she smokes and listen to how she’s on the edge of a breakdown. She just can’t take how selfish people are, and how many are just here for the paycheck and don’t care. I don’t know what to tell her. I try to be an encouragement, but it’s hard to see through the flippant attitudes of these cats, never having to leave the safety of their camps, complaining about how many flavors of ice cream are in the DFAC, working on their tans at the swimming pool, and complaining about how bored they are.
This is war? These are warriors?
She did have a small victory.
There was a corporal who was supposed to have made sergeant this month, but his promotion paperwork was completely scrambled. His battalion just blew him off and said to wait until we got back to the states, but God bless that admin sergeant, who outright fought with the subordinate battalion’s people, the regional personnel office’s people, and people stateside to prove that they had made mistakes and this soldier deserved to be promoted. After six weeks, the corporal pinned on his sergeant rank, after all the involved parties were finally proven to have been lazy and mistaken.
But she’s a dying breed within the service. It’s far, far easier to just sit and get paid. There’s a mantra I’ve coined about service in the Army:
If you work hard, you get promotions, medals, and a lot more work. If you blow off work, you get promotions, medals, and, since you can’t be trusted to do anything, no work.
It’s this subsidized atmosphere that leads to where there are no consequences for laziness. I can’t be fired, I’m in Iraq, and you have to give me an award (based on rank, of course); what are you going to do? The easy answer is nothing, to collect your portion of glory, make up a war story to two, and move on to the (hopefully not as f***ed up) next unit.
People who are competent are jumped on and savagely torn apart by the sloths, who burden them with ever-increasing workloads until they’re burnt out or forced out of service. What you’re left with is an inefficient, obese, fickle, complaining gaggle of uniforms.
And so all that to say that’s what seems to have happened for my little request for an extension: nobody cared to even pass it down the line. Now I’ll go back home and the unit getting here will be short handed. In a few months I’ll get shipped out again and will be extended past my enlistment exit date.
Everybody wins. Everybody’s a hero.
We’ve had a series of briefings over the past several days. They’ve been split up by rank bracket—officers with the colonel, senior enlisted with the sergeant major, and so on.
Mine is tomorrow, the junior soldiers have theirs the day after.
It’s one of the “welcome to the rest of your life” sorts of briefings. In it, the head honcho of the group, be it colonel, sergeant major, or other delegate, lays out the next year or two of the unit, deployment schedules and the like.
It’s a chance to take stock in the goings on of the unit we’re currently assigned to, as well as see how the other units of the division will fare, deployment wise.
At the end of these briefings, all are given a choice: stay with the unit, move to another unit within division, or offer your life up to the Army as a sacrifice, to be placed wherever they wish. Every choice is underscored with the understanding that the Army can override said selection, so it’s really only for show. As our retention NCO puts it:
“You have wants. The Army has wants. If you want what the Army wants, then you get what you want.”
Meaning, if you are eager to get deployed again, the Army can accommodate.
Not that there is much difference in the choices we do have. Although my briefing hasn’t happened yet, I already know my entrees. Everyone is deploying again—and damn soon. It doesn’t really matter where you go; you’re going to war again. It’s just a matter of months, sometimes less.
These sorts of briefings are commonplace as deployments wrap up, I’m told. They like to get you as you’re on your high after a year is almost complete. It would cause suicides if they forced you to think about your next deployment just a few days into the current one, I suppose.
Still, it’s pretty damn depressing regardless, seeing nothing but “not at home” in your future. No wonder the military has such severe divorce rates. I just couldn’t see holding a marriage together by doing this every other year, sometimes more.
For a good chunk of guys, this is their second tour. If I’m here for this next rotation, we’ll start to get the third-timers.
Three years in either Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001? Wow.
When I first got to Fort Hood, they put you in the “reception company” where you’re given a stack of checklists, naming all the stations around post where you have to register. It’s a common pool where everybody comes together, before we’re all separated into our respective units—tankers, mechanics, network techs, admin, etc. I remember how vacant a lot of the faces were, and how sad the attending spouses were.
“We knew as soon as we were told “Hood,” he was deploying again,” said one of the wives to a group of spouses. Holding an infant while a toddler played at her feet, she tersely said, “We’ve been married three years and he’s been gone longer than he’s been home. He comes back, I get pregnant, and he leaves.”
A few months earlier I was still at Fort Knox, a haven and refuge where a lot of guys hide out—lost in the system at a training post. Some guys make a career out of hiding in the back channels of personnel shuffles, never rotating to a constantly-deploying post like Fort Hood.
I was attending sergeant’s school (Primary Leadership Development Course for the initiated); already having received orders for Fort Hood, I remember talking to the school’s first sergeant.
“Where you from soldier?” he asked, going through the few small-talk questions he did with each troop before hitting the one that stuck with me. “What are your plans, troop?”
“Well, first sergeant, I just received orders to Fort Hood.” I said.
“You mean Iraq,” he said, a smile creeping up. A lot of the older gents, combat veterans or no, loved to scare the bejeezus out of first-termers like me with the threat of going “down range,” as a way of terrifying us into paying attention to advice and lessons.
“Ummm, yes, first sergeant, I suppose Iraq will come.”
“You’ll see,” he said, and moved to the next soldier in line.
Was he one of the “hiding out” guys? I don’t know. I’ll never see him again. So many seniors are getting out. I can’t speak for the whole Army, by any means, but you can just rattle down the list of the ones in my unit.
“If anyone has less than 10 years in, I recommend they get the hell out,” my admin E7 told me. “Cause I sure as hell ain’t putting up with this sh** anymore! Deploying every other year? No thanks.”
I see some of the same vacant stares from my reception briefs at Hood as troops come in to sign their “choices” in the personnel office. Sure, some are optimistic—more deployments mean more promotions and more chances to serve in various leadership positions, yadda yadda yadda—but it’s still more deployments.
I’m paraphrasing, but I remember a bit from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, the book that is on every businessperson and Army officer’s desk. It said: “when you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and blunt your edge.”
Indeed. God give us strength.
There are isles of the stuff–trinkets and “soufeneers” as the Iraqi signs say outside.
In my quest for finding gifts for family, I am inundated with mountains of touristy junk.
It’s like the cheesy, cheap snow globes and such back in the states, except more on the cheap side. You go out to these local merchants to grab a little taste of Iraq and find “made in China” on almost everything. Well, “local” merchants as in those who are allowed to sell things on the camp. And even most of them are Indian or Pakistani.
The same statues and pictures are at everyone’s booth. I suppose everyone gets by.
Also, my merchant friends seem to think that Americans are just interested in something “foreign,” African, Egyptian and Asian pictures and statues are prevalent. Nothing says “Iraq” like a Buddha or Cleopatra statue.
Then there are the shady cats who sit in the back, without all the gaudy, plastic nonsense. They usually brood over a glass case or two, watching a staticy Arabic prayer broadcast on a nearby 13-inch. Their displays are of spoons, a plate or two, and a few dozen tattered bayonets or other Army stuff. All of it looted, of course, but strangely tolerated and amazingly overpriced. $75 for a plain spoon?
“Is Saadam. Yes. Is Saadam,” the merchant explains as I frown at the paper price sticker.
“Saadam used this?” I ask.
“Yes. Is Saadam.”
Some guys have personal pictures of the former dictator, in stacks of unorganized piles, taken with personal cameras. It’s creepy to see things peddled like that…former relics of the old order thrown to the conquerors. Would people break out their old flags and pictures of presidents to whoever eventually takes us down? Would I be saying “Is Bush. Yes. Is Bush,” in scraps of some other tongue while manning a booth on a military post?
What were these guys before the fall of Saadam? Still merchants? You read of engineers and doctors who become laborers and shop owners to earn enough to feed their families. These guys endure hours of searches and lines to get into our base. It’s definitely not for the love. I guess we throw them enough scraps to make it worth their while.
And what about the Indian guys? Money must be pretty good for them to leave their families and travel thousands of miles to open up a gaudy watch and plastic paperweight stand on Camp Taji, Iraq.
My final stop for the day is the jacket stand. Racks of dusty leather jackets fill a booth, the shopkeeper sits outside. I’ve found that the Middle and Near East may have been the originators of the high-pressure sale.
“Sir, sir, you want to try?” the jacket vendor said as he leaps up. I guess it was a slow day.
“I’m just looking, thanks,” this response, while adequate in America, has no meaning here.
“This is good for girlfriend, yes? Sheepskin. Very nice! You pay thousands in America. I give you for $425.”
I had no intention of buying a jacket, nor did I plan on spending 1/3 of my monthly pay.
“No, thank you. No girlfriend.”
“Then for you! Try this on. You’ll like. You like brown?”
And before I know it, I’m looking at myself in a brown leather sports jacket from a shard of broken mirror the merchant is propping up on the floor. Still, I’m not feeling it. After three jackets, we had finally given up on working zippers and went with buttons.
“I give you good price. I give you both this and sheepskin jacket for $550.”
It may have been a good price, but, again, I didn’t need a jacket. I had to refuse again.
Saying no to guys here breaks your heart. They are so excited to see you in their shop and when you finally put your foot down, their faces just drain and they look so sad. Somebody doesn’t beat them if they don’t make quota, do they? Jeez, makes me think I just took away their son’s dinner. But, then again, maybe I did.
For the record, I have a bad feeling about this…
Our replacement unit had need of a journalist. When their command staff came to Taji a few months back as a part of a “see what to expect” visit, they asked me to join them for a second year.
I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but if they needed someone, why not? I was single and fairly good at what I did. I might as well put my money where the ol’ kisser is and do my part, as I’m always quick to chide slackers.
The whole enterprise would be easy enough—I would stay put. The new unit had an unfilled personnel slot—meaning they were “authorized” to have someone of my rank and job in their unit. I knew how to get in and out of different camps in theater. I had convoy experience, and I was already here. It seemed like an easy fix to their problem, and easy for me, as I’d be dealing with the same sort of unit in the same place.
But as any veteran will tell you, our governmental bureaucratic systems are hardly ever rational. It came to be decided that I would leave Iraq with my current unit, out-process theater, arrive in Texas, immediately in-process with the new unit, get on a plane and come back to where I started. The whole thing would take as little as a month or as many as four.
Strange? A huge cost to the government? Yes, it was, but I’d be able to get a little of a break from the whole scene, albeit a little expensive one with the car rentals, plane tickets and all; but a needed reprieve.
So I tried to be as “pro-active” as I could, emailing involved parties periodically and being just shy of a nuisance to my personnel office here.
The weeks and weeks went by with little progress. My current division wanted justification. My gaining division wanted a resume to show my qualifications. My corps-level command got involved, mulling over the decision of whether or not to grant permission.
Even my gaining unit—the ones supposedly glad to have the extra troop, has not answered emails or phone calls for the past month. What gives?
Am I staying or am I leaving? There are some things like—oh, I don’t know…packing and shipping of personal goods to consider. We’re sealing up the official containers in the next few days. I guess I’m still on standby. The whole reason for my insistence on getting this decision finalized weeks ago was to avoid this last-minute runaround.
So there it sits. Everyone is too busy for ol’ Salmons. I’ll just wait and see what happens. Regardless, I’m sure it will involve the maximum inconvenience—and, granted, we are at war; but these types of stressors can be easily sated with just the smallest of foresight. I am a sergeant, barely on the radar, prestige-wise, I realize; but I was hoping for a little help.
Anyone? Hello…this thing on? Beuler…Beuler…
Recently, several Stryker units had their tours in Iraq extended.
I had heard about it during my daily news scans and didn’t think much about it. Several select jobs were taxed beyond numerical limits in light of recent operations. The extra bodies had to come from somewhere.
My folks first brought it up during a call a few days back, “Any chance on you guys being extended?” my Dad asked. I told him I hadn’t heard anything, so nothing so far.
There was always a chance of having a tour extended, but I guess I just hadn’t thought of our little detachment of command staff as overly essential.
Sure what the unit as a whole did was important, but the brass that we toted along was being swapped out–keeping us in theater wouldn’t add anything to the overall mission. All we’d be able to do is go to meetings–well, and send me out to take pictures of convoys, but I’m already staying another year, remember?
So I put is aside. But, the next day and now every day after, someone will come running through the office every couple of hours or so with a wild look about their eyes.
“You hear we might be extended?!” they manage to get out, blasting me with a glare that would send lesser men into a terrified frenzy.
There are two responses I give. The first, “No, we’re not being extended. What would they do, send you out on convoys? Do you even know where your armor is?”
With that, the rabid rumor-monger usually subsides.
The second response, “Yeah? You think?” stokes the flames and pushes the hapless victim of hearsay to the brink, forcing him to imagine the myriad horrors of war, realized with the notion of a cold blade at the nape of his neck, cameras rolling, and an Arabic banner hanging in the backdrop.
For pity’s sake, I usually stick with the first.
It’s normal for units to be seized by rumors of more war, especially with those playing hooky from the fighting. Every day on the FOB is like sleeping in on a farm while the other siblings go out for morning chores. You think that any day now, Dad will come storming in, overalls and tools in hand, and shake us from the covers into the morning.
And I’ve seen these poor bastards that were extended. They’re already moving into their new spaces down on Victory Base Complex. A good lot of them were home in Alaska when they got the call to head back to Iraq. Seems the Iraqis needed help securing the capital, and we needed bigger, scarier vehicles on the roads for a show of force. Can you imagine? After a year of training and a year of missions, to finally make it home, kiss the wife, kiss the kids, go out for a long weekend, and hear the answering machine with the orders to repack and head back? Wow.
After the “what if” conversations, most guys typically say the same thing, “I’m only (X) months from (retiring/getting out) you can have this crap.”
“This crap” referring to the foreseeable future involving constant operations in Iraq and anywhere else in the Middle East you can throw a dart at. Most guys I know (including me, actually) are looking forward to doing their time and saying “thanks for the memories.”
But with juniors and seniors all itching to get out, and the majority sentiment of “let someone else fight,” who will be left?
Honestly…who will go to all these new wars? Lebanon, Djibouti, Iran, Sudan, Korea…there’s a lot brewing in the pot. Terror is everywhere!
Post 9/11 we needed a war to vent our frustration. We chose Afghanistan and, when that wasn’t enough, we rolled into Iraq. Now we’re like the guy who super sized his meal and can barely choke down the fries.
Who’s going to fight? Me? I’ll have put two tours of war under my belt if I make it through, God willing. How many more years out of my 20s do you want me to give away to the desert? I mean I’ll do it, but do I get a chance at dating, clubs, and all that crap?
Will you enlist? Think you “got” it? How about your kids, then? Suit them up to go “spread democracy”?
I guess I’m just honestly worried about how the “all volunteer force” model is going to hold up when war isn’t fun any more and actually requires commitment, patriotism, and minimal bullsh**, instead of the wishy-washy, “I’m just here for the college money”, bureaucratic monster we have today.
So what say you? Think we can take on all these bad guys? We sure as sh** can’t just “pull back” like a lot of cats are saying. You don’t stab somebody and just yank out the knife.
Think we can keep it going? How long? Ten years? Twenty? We’re already trillions in debt, what’s a few more, eh?
What keeps me awake at night is the revulsion of many toward serving a country that, yes, was just showing off, but now may honestly need them. “F*** this, I’m out!” is something I hear way too much.
When everyone runs back home to Fort Living Room, kicks their feet up and lets someone else worry about the problem, who’s left to keep America from turning into Iraq?
We had a few visitors today. People have been coming and going, meeting with various parties and groups to ensure that all will run smoothly when it’s time for this unit to depart.
One of the groups was a pair of journalists from our division higher headquarters down south. It’s not often that my boss and I get a chance to talk with other journalist folk. Passersby gape in wonderment at our strange language–our mentioning of terms and phrases like “making good leads” or “putting up with grip-n-grins”, f-stops, diffused flash, and pagination.
As fate would have it, both of them were female, which got the guys crowing. Salmons the playa’. Don’t know about that one.
I had granted myself one blog post and one day of pouting over the award fiasco. Yesterday was it, so I was on the mend.
Our guests were making rounds of all the brigades in the division’s area of operation, touching base and scouting for material to be used in the divisions final yearbook-style project–dubbed “historical report” nowadays, as “yearbooks” never get funding. Our own “historical report” still got the axe, due to the fact that the Army is flat broke for the remainder of the year…still, generals get their toys, so division gets the goods.
They said they wanted to come to us specifically because we were the source of a lot of examples they used down south.
Now, I usually don’t toot my own horn, but thought it was appropriately humbling after my tirade the other day. Apparently, my higher headquarters uses my newsletter as an example that other brigades should follow. There were even a couple of specific pictures that our guests requested because they had seen them earlier in the year and wanted them in the final magazine.
That’s a lot better than any medal could have made me feel. The print journalist (one was a broadcaster, whom we won’t speak of…finch and brogonzo can fill you in) even asked for some photography advice. It felt amazing to have someone come in and say they liked my product! My command has never said two words about it, other than “another issue?” and a sigh, since they have to approve it before it’s published. After a year of that sort of thing, you get pretty down in the dumps about your war effort.
But I guess I had been doing okay after all. Didn’t even see that coming. That made my month–hell, my deployment!
So there! You got a taste of bitter Josh, now here’s a little beaming Josh. We’ll get back to normal soon enough!
Well friends, with just a scant few weeks left in the first official deployment, things are drawing down.
The offices are being cleared of things, containers are scheduled for packing, inspections loom…
…and it’s time for the end-of-tour award ceremonies.
I’ve talked about it before, the Army gives every one an award for showing up. Back in the day during Desert Storm, soldiers received a certificate of appreciation for average work and an Army Achievement Medal (AAM, our lowest award for achievement) for “outstanding” work.
Over the years, because of inflation I suppose, those standards have risen. Now, an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) is for the average, while a Bronze Star is for outstanding achievement.
This whole business played with my mind. On the one hand, I feel that people shouldn’t get such high awards for just showing up to work on time. To put things in perspective, remember Band of Brothers? Remember that episode near the start of the series when the Easy Company guys got together and assaulted the German artillery positions, inventing a new way of assaulting an entrenched position? That was crazy, eh? Yeah, they got Bronze Stars for that. Nowadays, as long as you don’t get pregnant or drunk, you get one. And if you do get pregnant or drunk, as long as you reform, you get the ARCOM.
So that’s what it used to be for. Now it’s the “good job” award, with the Army Commendation Medal as a “thanks for not f****** up too much” award.
On the other hand (still counting hands), if you don’t receive the best and shiniest medal, others judge you.
Back when I was a wee specialist (rank prior to my current disposition), I decided to apply months of my life in pursuit of soldier boards. These boards consist of senior enlisted “board members” who convene and grill you, arrayed in a perfectly assembled and groomed class A uniform, in various subjects of military knowledge.
It’s all terribly stressful, but I won several boards and was on the way to my major command’s soldier of the year board, which required me to jaunt on down to Georgia from Kentucky.
It was a big deal, honestly, and many other soldiers had received medals and awards for the steps along the way to the big year-end board. I hadn’t. While I could have been a self promoter, I thought that if my command felt I deserved an award, I should wait for them to recognize that. They never did.
“Where’s your medals, specialist?” one of the sergeants major on the final board asked.
“I don’t have any, sergeant major,” I replied, feeling a bit deflated when seeing the rack of colors on others’ chests.
“Well that’s the wrong answer! You need to get some,” he snapped back. He had misunderstood and thought I just hadn’t felt to put together my medal set. I don’t think he realized that I never had been given one.
I came in third out of twelve participants, which is still damn respectable, seeing how it was against the likes of Fort Bragg, Benning, Stewart, Knox, Polk, and several others–all the big’uns.
Later I went to an advanced journalist course at the Defense Information School and graduated top of my class. Then I went on to attend the Primary Leadership Development Course and was an honor graduate. There was nothing at first, but after making a bit of a huff, I finally got an AAM for all the individual events rolled into one.
But still, I felt that I shouldn’t be greedy. If my higher-ups didn’t think I deserved the same awards as others, that was fine. It was their business. It just was a bummer, as the “voice of Fort Knox” (a dubious honor granted from my oratory confidence demonstrated while at the boards), having to narrate post award ceremonies, I saw soldier after soldier receive kudos for the same achievements I had accomplished.
Even when I left Fort Knox, no award. Everyone receives a medal when leaving a station of duty. Again, it’s for doing your job, but, again, without it, your command thinks you’re a real f*** up. I had to call back and complain, and they eventually sent along a half-completed certificate that I’m still fighting to get recognized.
So for the deployment, I started to get a little greedy. Many had said it was my own fault for not “selling myself” and forcing my supervisors to put me in for awards. I had seen medal whores, the way they calculate and act only when others see them, just to be thought of as deserving for kudos. I didn’t want to be that way, but is that what it takes to garner the recognition necessary to be considered a decent troop?
As petty as it was, I decided I would push myself for the “outstanding” Bronze Star medal this year. I went out on convoys, attended briefings, did staff-level work with majors and captains, lived on other FOBs throughout theater, and received emails and phone calls from units I worked with, saying how they enjoyed my work.
While the colonel passed out ARCOMS to others throughout the year like candy, I reserved myself to aiming for that final award. Sure, all of the other major players would get one too, but it was my goal.
Since being put in for a Bronze Star herself, my boss thought it was proper to put me in for one too. Sweet! Victory! It would be my second medal for achievement–still laughable at my career stage, but dammit, I was still excited.
I volunteered to take the pictures of the Bronze Star award ceremony (they even went so far as to split them in two: the BSMs are given out by the commanding general for amazing-level work; the ARCOM ceremony, if it happens, is just a quick “yeah…uh, great job” deal later on). I didn’t need to stand up in front of anyone…just getting the medal was the world to me.
One of the admin sergeants took me aside, “You know they downgraded your award, right?”
“Oh!…Ummm, wow. Okay,” was all I could get out. “Did you guys still get yours?”
So there we are.
But you know what? I don’t like how prostituting for awards makes me fell. I’m tired of looking for a feeling of worth from the Army. I’m tired of looking for approval from the military. They can have it.
It’s a bummer, yeah, but it’s their call. I never would dishonor myself to outright complain about it. That’d be like a kid who throws a Christmas present down in anger because it’s not “good enough.” I did that once as a young dude, and it still bothers me that I could have been that greedy.
Besides, there’s always next year’s deployment.
That’s it. Rant over. Thanks for hanging with.