Archive | December 2006

There goes 2006

Well it’s the last day of 2006. I hear tomorrow will be the first day of 2007.

I spent most of the year at war, so I don’t remember most of it as actual time–more like the seconds before a doctor sticks you with a needle. You sort of hold the whole damn enterprise at a wincing arm’s length distance.

There’s a small burning pain and you’re done–either in good health or dead. That’s the way war is if you’re lucky. Otherwise you hold on to the memories, the smells, the sights, and it hangs on and stains you like melting wax.

Now that we’re back, some people talk about it like it was a bit of initiation and use the fact that newly arrived personnel didn’t go with us, and so aren’t as “in” as we are. You can rail on about how people who brag about war weren’t really AT war, but that’s beside the point. Damage done, point conceded, people make up their own minds, regardless of reality.

My neighbor talks about losing a few friends and his platoon leader, sitting on our porch, dragging the moment’s cigarette in the evening drizzle.

“Hot for December, eh?” I say after a bit of reflection. “Yeah, I don’t mind it, though, and my daughter is traveling, so I’d rather it not snow.” I see him and I a bit more pensive than we should be, in light of comfortable America and excess.

Here’s to leaving 2006 in the past. God help those still there.


Everything’s an emergency

I’m writing a huuuuuge, mammoth article for work. It’s supposed to summarize and capture the innovative way the unit approached “log” (i.e. logistics) while in Iraq.

As a testament to how dull I’ve become, it’s all sort of interesting. I got to learn a little more about all the acronyms I always heard during the hundreds of hours of briefings I had the…um…pleasure to sit through. I had to go out and interview nearly every field-grade officer in the brigade and sift through six and a half hours of interviews to glean the whys and wherefores of our entire year at war.

Never mind that I already wrote several “Year in Review” pieces as we wrapped up our deployment. I guess command didn’t check them out.

No biggie. It has kept me very busy. The Fridays just keep coming as hours pour out of the month like water from a sponge in a vice.

Sponge being me. Vice being the incredible sense of urgency that follows every request by military seniors.

I guess it might be the same everywhere, but those in charge in the military routinely come up with grand ideas that send subordinate commanders screaming to their NCOs to get cracking on projects.

“I need a roster of all E7s without ANCOC by MOS by noon!”

“Email your finance NCO if you have a government travel card immediately!”

“PT test on Monday, you’re on the list!”

“The USR slides are being briefed to the general at 1900, they’re due to me by 1400!”

Each and every one belted out by an officer standing over your desk, driving you in to the same consternated fervor that the major himself was in a tiff over just minutes prior in the colonel’s office.

The quip I have about the whole shebang is so many of these random day-to-days are purely reflexive, fired off with little thought and sometimes no foresight. Not that they’re ill conceived, but they’re completely reactive. There’s a saying that goes “failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine;” but that is never actually said. As a lower-enlisted Joe, I’m just supposed to do what I’m told. Remember that my unit’s motto is “Just get it done!” which is what commanders say to subordinates who voice concerns (viewed as excuses) over time issues or having other things to do. Failure to “get it done” is seen as a failure to “manage one’s time well.”

Problems also arise when you belong to a special staff section like Public Affairs. There, every commissioned officer and sergeant major can come to you with requests for projects. We get everything–promotion announcements, requests for promotion photos, story ideas, gripes over why a person isn’t in the newspaper more, requests to put together unit history reports, requests to make PowerPoints for ceremonies or meetings…on and on. All of them interrupting our normal series of tasks given to us by our higher Public Affairs echelons of command, who exist in a whole other world of objectives and priorities.

“PAO! I want a story on Thanksgiving Dinner,” the XO shouts. So we stop our work on posters the command wanted us to make from photos through the year in Iraq. We start planning to interview Soldiers who are going home verses those who are—

“PAO! There’s a WLC graduation at 1400. Go take pictures,” a sergeant major informs us of. So we stop our work on the Thanksgiving story. We get the camera ready, lenses cleaned, batteries charged so that it’s ready for—

“PAO! I sent you an announcement regarding the Change of Command ceremony this morning. Did you design the cover yet? It’s going to the printer today,” an outgoing commander says. So we stop our work on getting ready for the WLC graduation. We open the email and read the requirements for the cover, notice a LOT of concerns over unclear information and readability and start to edit the—

“PAO! The colonel wants you,” says the command group secretary. I stop looking at the cover design, grab my notepad and head in to the big man’s office.

“Sit down Sgt. Salmons,” the colonel says. I do. “How are we on that ‘Year in Iraq’ story?” he asks.

“Good, sir. It’s taking me a little longer than I thought, but—”

“I need you to put that on the back burner. I need you to get on a story about our organizational changes–what we changed, why we changed it. I’m going to just go off and you write it all down and go from there. We’ll start Monday. I need it in two weeks.”

“Sir, I was scheduled to go down the ports next week and do a story on container reception.”

“Who’s bright idea was that?”

“The XO’s.”

“Well, tell him ‘Thanks for the vote.’ Get to work on this.”


Well, today came and went and that meeting was moved from 0900 to 0930, then to 1030, then to Tuesday, and now to Thursday. Two weeks became one. Joy of joys.

And just as the others cycled in giving the requests, they’ll all cycle back, wanting to know why things aren’t done, and then making cute remarks about how PAO doesn’t do any work. Everything is a priority. Everything has to be done right now! And, when I first joined the Army, I took that to heart. I honest-to-God would come in on Saturdays and work late to do everything. I thought it was the right thing to do.

But eventually it wore me out. When everything is so GD important, it all assumes an equal level of urgency. And since a good chunk of the service could give two sh*ts about doing anything beyond the minimum effort required for promotion; there are two choices given to the average soldier when facing the hailstorm of “AAAAAAAGH! Now now now!”: freak out or don’t care.


Strange parallels

I went to see Mel Gibson’s new flick, Apocalypto, on Friday.

Billed as an “action adventure” piece, it’s really a heady statement about civilizations in decline. I had heard a couple of reviews of the movie earlier that day. All decried the film’s ghastly level of violence that seems to be Gibson’s penchant. From Mad Max to Braveheart to Patriot to Passion of the Christ to this; the man loves to bathe in blood. And, sure enough, Apoc won’t disappoint. There is everything from skewered people to beheadings to hearts being cut from chests to mountains of corpses; and enough throats sliced and gallons of blood to sate everyone.

Even kids, which is really the point of this post.

It really bothers me that parents take their toddlers and children to movies like this. It also is sad that theaters are all to happy to take money from parents pushing strollers to see Apocalypto. The kicker, however, was this one family I sat right in front of.

It was a young couple with two children. One was just a young toddler while the other I’d say was about four or five.

Before the feature there were a few trailers. All of them were for upcoming horror movies (which, I suppose, was the demographic the marketers thought would be drawn to the Gibson piece). You know how those go–crazy-quick camera cuts, sudden screams, the killer leaping out at you. One was about some super-killer that is stalking a teenage couple. He grabs the boy and for the last few seconds of the trailer, as the footage and screams build and build, he gets the kid to cry out “I want to die!!!”

At which point the four-year-old follows suit and screams out “I want to die!!!” And everybody in the theater has a laugh.

The father was one of those commenting types, yelling out “Aw, sh*t don’t go out, dummy!” “Yeah, get some!” “Ooooh, yeah that’s what I’m talking about” every few seconds. I had to move seats.

The central message of the movie (that I could figure out) was that this great Mayan civilization was on the brink of collapse because of some plagues and such, but were deserving to die out because of what they had become. They had reached a point where they were a people who didn’t value life and rejoiced in violence and human sacrifices just for pure sport. They loved to see blood and didn’t care about who they exploited to get their kicks….

…Which were the exact characteristics of every one in that theater. What’s even more confusing was that the film contradicts its own message.

If, as it seems to assert, a society no longer deserves to exist once it gladly indulges in violence and makes the ending of human life a form of entertainment; then what validity does that message possess when it uses undue violence to indulge its audience?

If you want to rid the world of AIDS, you don’t infect people with AIDS to spread the word about the disease, do you? Moreover, there’s teaching in Scripture that people wanting to do good are foolish if they think they can make goodness look better by doing evil.

Then again, I can’t be the one to talk. I’m a soldier–an engine of violence. My main purpose is to end life. So all the contradictions just rattle around in my head a bit.

Anyway, go be good Americans and see it. It’s what our high priests in Hollywood have brought to us this week. Take the family too!


A knock at the door

Earlier this evening I was peck, pecking away at my keys when there came a knock at my door.

Now, no one knows where I live, really. About 99 percent of my socializing goes on at work. My domestic seclusion is partly voluntary (to avoid “hey you!” sorts of details that pop up in the military when you’re too available) and partly not (most have families), so the fact that someone was at my door in the cold of the evening was very unexpected.

“Hey there man–oh, sorry to bother you while you were eating–,” said the guy at my door. I was holding a plate of pizza rolls, just out of the microwave. He was a white guy garbed up in a normal hip-hop getup–logo-ized stocking cap, pulled low, and a zirconium “bling” encrusted dog-tag chain, long shirt, etc.

“Oh that’s alright,” I said, and popped another pizza roll in. “What’s up?”

“I just came from your neighbors about three doors down and am on my way to meeting a 1000 people who are friendly and not violent, you think you might fit that description?”

I laughed, “I guess.”

“Cool, man, cool. I was hoping you were, it’s a long way down,” he motioned off the balcony and had a laugh, before continuing. “Hey man, how long have you been in the Army?”

“About…ummm, four years,” it took me a minute to think.

“Wow, so that would make you, what? Twenty four?”

“Close, 26.”

“Well that works for you, ’cause you don’t look a day over 24. How old do you think I am?”

Dude, I had no idea. I don’t guess at ages very often. “Oh, I don’t know, man. Umm, 28?”

“Close man, close, ha ha! Hey, I just wanted to thank you for what you’re doing man, fighting for us and all that, you know. Are you going to have to go back to Iraq?”

“Maybe, things are a little crazy right now. There’s a lot of reorganizing going on.”

“Yeah, wow, that’s great. Listen, I’m trying to go on a cruise, man. You ever been on a cruise?”

“Me? Nope.”

“Well, I’m trying to get on one, and this year it’s guys against the girls. First one to 20,000 points get it, and it’s going to be me. You know why?”

“Why’s that?”

“‘Cause you’re going to help me get some points, you know how you can do that?”

“Nope,” ah yes, I’ve been though this routine before.

“You can help me out by getting some magazines. I know nobody wants ’em, but they’re cheap and we have a lot of ’em. What are some of your hobbies?”

“I do some graphic design, some writing, you know stuff like that.”

“On computers?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Wired. You get that?”


“Well there it is my man, right there, just fill out this slip right here and–”

“Look, man, I’ve done this before and have been burned–”

“Oh, when was that?”

“Back at Fort Knox, I signed up for some magazines and they never came.”

“Were they using pink slips or yellow slips?”

“I don’t remember, but–”

“Well, we got different slips now, see the address at the bottom is different?”

“Look, no thanks, I don’t want any magazines.”

“Well, let me ask you this. If two dogs walked by your door and one peed on it, would you get mad at the other dog?”

“No, but–”

“I’m that second dog. Don’t have to get mad at me.”

“I’m not interested in any magazines.”

“So, you’re telling me that you let me go through my whole thing when all you had to say was I’m not interested at the start?”

“Hey, sorry, I don’t need any magazines.”

“Well, you know what?” he gritted his teeth. “You have a good night, then.”

“You too, man.”

I’m more naive than I thought. I thought, honest to God, that he was out meeting people, whether it was for some religious reason or maybe some quirky social experiment…I guess because I could see myself doing something like that. But, nope, just out to get some money. I felt like a moron for investing in the conversation. Next time I should, what? Just close the door? That’s not very neighborly.



The Quest for Stripes: The Long and the Short of It

The short:
I passed the board and will be promoted January 1st.

The long:
Preparing for a board is like betting on roulette. All of your perceived worth is put on the line for a number that might or might not come up.

The higher-ups hand you a letter with a large list of subjects not normally touched on in regular life: Army maintenance regulations, the symbols of Army family programs, the slogans of Army programs, the administrative form codes for soldiers being rated while on physical profile status…bits of info as abstract and out there as “red 32.”

Normally you have a few weeks to prepare, so you study and study your arse off, memorizing regulation numbers, the distance between patches and seams, the body fat requirements for troops, the muzzle velocity of the .50-caliber machine gun…on and on until chapters, paragraphs and weapon weights blur into a hopeless mass of random integers.

The day of the board arrives. You trim your uniform, cut off the loose strings (which are many on the ACU), adjust your velcro, steam or smooth out any wrinkles. PT goes by quickly as your mind is set on nothing but the board. Self doubt trickles in–what will they ask? Will they be in a good mood? How many people will go before you? Will you be able to eavesdrop and hear some questions before you go in? Do you remember the NCO Creed?

Then comes the convening time for the board and, eventually, your turn to go in. You knock, enter, and give the standard reporting procedure. The ball is dropped and starts its clink-clink-clink thing…black 8, red 12…then they start with the questions.

And again, like roulette, either you’re right or completely wrong.

That’s the rub with boards. There is just SO much they want you to be able to rattle off in a moment’s notice, that it’s hardly worth actually spending the 12 hours per day necessary to fully commit all of the information to memory. The odds are against you knowing what they’ll actually ask you. And so you will have spent days, weekends, and months of your life, just to look like a moron when they ask you the six aspects of Army life you didn’t spend extra time on.

Part of the game is confidence, superiors always say. They know you’re not going to know everything. They just want to see how you hold up to the barrage, to see if you sweat when all of your winnings are swept aside when black 2 comes up when you swore to the heavens the next hit would be black 24.

Still, it takes considerable effort to not look like a complete moron, and so you strike a balance between winging it verses the life-ending amount of time it would take to answer every question. It’s sort of like statistics–you just want an 80 percent certainty rate, or some such. In boards, it’s not even that. It’s just looking like a winner. In the Army that means being “motivated,” which means being loud.

So I shouted my picks and took my licks. I am officially retired from boards. This was my last one.

Come January 1st, I will be Staff Sergeant Salmons. Nifty, eh?


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