Sunday, September 9, 2012

An Explosive Event

I dont think that anyone can ever truly love their job.  I know some of you are reading this and think, "I love me job!", well let me stop you right there.  If you love your job so much, you should do it for free, you know, out of love and all.  Still love it so much?  The thing about jobs is that no one would do them if you didnt love PART of that job.  See what I did there?
     I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am going to be in the Army for life.  Im not.  There is an expiration date to my time in uniform, but that doesnt mean I dont enjoy what I do.  I am very proud of my position and have no regrets.  There is one part of my job though that will always have my heart.  I love shooting Artillery.  I love it like I love chicken, like I love Bell's Two Hearted Ale, the point is that when a round is going down range, I want to be involved.
     We had our chance a few weeks back, we went out to the field for a few days to perform this art in motion.  It was very hot, being the desert and all, but that did nothing to dampen the feeling of hearing a howitzer burst in the distance.  We had a few exercises to work with but the main event was cross Battalion training with our local infantry friends.  They wanted to practice asking us to blow things up, we really wanted to blow things up, its a match made in Military heaven.
     On my end, we dont get all the glory to sight a target, make the call, and watch it leave this earth in spectacular fashion, instead we get to see the nuts and bolts, the engine.  There is a fine process making the act of artillery work and I am happy to be one of those that get to be involved.  Safety and hard work go into every round.  When you are sending a round out of your line of sight and destroying a football field, you want to be sure that you dot your T's and cross your I's.
     I also had a few firsts of my own this time.  I am usually involved on my end in the production of a fire mission, but I ventured out and got into one of our howitzers.  They allowed me to join in a crew drill, get out of their way, watch them be awesome, then they let me pull the lanyard and send a few rounds firing.  The feeling?  It was much as it sounds... AMAZING.
     Am I a fan boy?  probably, but you should know that when the heat of battle hits, everyone is happy Artillery is around and we are some of the best.  I love getting to actually do my job even if the other 90% of my time is not at all as glamorous.  I just hope that everyone has something in their day that makes them as happy as this does for me.  Otherwise, what are you doing working there?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Real World Application

     How many tests have you taken where you stare at the question, the unreal scenario, the math problem that you are pretty sure was made up in english class due to its vast use of letter, and thought to yourself, "When am I ever going to use this"?  We surround ourselves with facts and knowledge that while legitimate, might not be pertinent to our lives all in the name of a higher understanding of the world.  Its commendable, really, but what if one day you were told that you needed to learn something, that this particular something would be used for real, and people could die if you dont learn it well?  Id say its time to pay attention.
    This is what happened to me when I began to refresh myself in the matters of manual field artillery safety.  Basically, you are given a set of information and asked to calculate and construct the boundaries and angles a cannon can lob a 100lb round over the horizon where you are sure it will land without incident.  Yeah, no big deal.  For those not familiar, the effects of field artillery have been referred to as the wrath of god.  The projectiles used have a kill radius of 50 meters.  Its no joke and needs to be taken seriously.  Its so important that the military would only trust their officers with this responsibility.  Well, officers and the occasional soldier like myself who wants to learn something new.
     The parameters are set: spend two weeks learning things that officers get six to learn, then sit down and take a four hour test. Easy... wait, did you just say four hour test?  It gets better than that!  Turns out, safety is kind of a big deal in the Army, so only grades of 90% or higher will be considered passing.  Alright, those are some steep needs, but I felt confident in myself, and why not?  Just a year ago, I passed this same test and I might not have seen this material since then, but how hard could it be?
     This is where I will give credit to my LT, who spent a great deal of his personal time teaching me what he knew.  I began to do scenarios, work with stock data, my workspace was a pile of papers, notes and books filled with data for the sole purpose of filling out the required information.  I was packing alot of info into a short time but it was worth it.  I was ready for the test.  Fast forward to the afternoon post-examination where Im cursing up a storm.  60%!?  You have got to be kidding me!
     I wasnt raised to be a wuss, and my mom taught me something that I took to heart, Whitworths are not sheep.  I made my appointment and I sat down to review this sucker.  Keep in mind that grades are recorded, so I would have to take the test again two days later (two days, no big deal, officers got a week to retrain) this was just for my sanity.  I began to scour my test, line by line, I even proved an answer of mine right, then another, and then another.  The man in charge looked at my test, then the answer sheet, checked the reference book, and threw away the answer sheet.  JUSTICE.  Im not going to lie, I didnt make 90%, but believe me when I say that I was no 60.
     The results speak for themselves, I went back the next day, dropped another chunk of my life into a test that demanded your utmost attention with the most deadly real world application, and I walked out of there with my head held high.  This test means nothing to my career.  Soldiers dont need it.  If I fail again, I go back to work and my life goes on, pass and Ill get a pat on the back, but thats no reason not to push yourself for something you know you are capable of doing.  I may not love this job enough to stay for 20 years, but I am really happy that I am the one doing my job.  I wont have to do this for another year, but at least I can say I gave it my all.

By the way, I passed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fun and Games

     I tend to feel that the rigors of war are a bit unseemly.  Maybe you agree and maybe you dont but lets face it, its not such a big party for those involved.  Shocking, I know.  But its not all bad, there are clean, cool, and fun for those that know how to enjoy it.  Why just the other day, I was strapped into a glorified video game, shooting away at targets in the name of efficient military training.  Thats right, I was training in a digital setting.  Ill tell you all about it, I swear.
     Essentially the premise is simple.  Some people can shoot and some cant.  Anyone with any talent behind the trigger will tell you that its more than just aiming down a barrel and flexing that index finger of yours.  There are mechanics involved, breathing to consider, you need to be stable, ready and clear minded.  Ok, it also involves a bit of an index finger squeeze but even that has to be modified for that perfect shot.  Lucky for me, somebody smarter than I am, descovered that teaching these methods in a practical setting was getting a little expensive.
     I dont know if you watch the news, but bullets are not cheap and war requires a few of them, so what about the soldiers that need to train?  Well, its time we got 21st century about all this business and played some video games.  I was at a driving range once that was located inside a shopping center.  It involved a large screen that would calculate the speed and angle of your hit and show you where your shot landed.  Picture this with an M4 Carbine.  A laser attached to the front would spit out a little light when your, artificially gas powered, shots would go off.  This way you could learn a few things about your shot in a safe, effective, and cheap manner.
     A few trigger pulls later and a computer, which is also smarter than I am, spits out a list of data telling you whether you are fit to serve or in need of some tweaking.  Its all very low stress, just mentally make a list of corrections and be conscious of your shot.  The results are awesome.  I wont say that this training will make a sniper out of your average joe, so dont think this makes you a marksman, instead it enforces the fundamentals.  After about 20 min, any soldier with basic rifle training will be able to put three shots into a space the size of a silver dollar.  Not too shabby for a video game.
     As a new generation is born having never known life without internet, it is fitting that we all make the digital jump.  I really dont want to compare this "amazing" technology to other branches or time periods, but I can think of worse training Ive done with less improvement.  In a world where it seems that war is just a push of a button, dont forget that a bullet can push alot harder than a hand and the army is making sure its soldiers are able to perform the task.  I wouldnt expect to see this next to your local driving range, but its a fun thing to think about.  Video games, anyone?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Sweet Reward

     Lets face facts, life is nothing more than a constant stream of comparisons.  Good times are only good because there are bad times to be had.  If nothing bad ever happened they would just be called the times.  This works both ways, mind you, If it werent for those pesky moments that make us so darn happy, we wouldnt know how bad things could get.  That being said, I would like to say that everything is done for the reward, whether that be eating to stop being hungry, helping others to feel good, or catching a bandit for that money, you are all just looking to make things better in some way for yourself.  I know reward and I know what Im after - Ice cream.
     Now, I cant speak for everyone but sometimes a man has to put an object just out of reach and force himself to hold back until such a desire is earned.  This pedestal, trophy, icon of all that is good might as well be as simple as a scoop or two of your favorite ice cream on a hot day, in the middle of the desert, all because you earned it.
     The rules were simple.  I set a goal weight that I wanted to achieve and I told myself that when I lost ten pounds toward this goal I would allow myself desert.  Not just any desert, Im talking a sweet, creamy, delicious milk shake prepared by hand in my local dining hall.  Now Ive been hard at work and I have been really good at not sneaking this delicious treat all while sticking to my work out regime.  It consisted of going to the gym twelve times a week, twice a day for six days.
     Every day from about 1100-1200 my workout buddy and I would hit the gym hard for some weight lifting, focusing on one or two muscle groups, then going back to the gym from 2000-2100 (8-9pm) for some intense cardio using the INSANITY program.  This has given us some pretty good results.  At the time of writing this I have been in country for about 36 days and Ive been on this program for about 32 days.  As of this morning I weighed myself at thirteen pounds lighter than when I got here.
     It basically comes down to a lot of work and determination.  I just set my mind to a task and saw it done.  The results are already showing themselves as I am thinner looking and becoming more defined.  The real goal will be to keep this going for the remaining eight months that I will be here.  Personally, I have nothing else to do besides work out, so Im not rubbing this in anyone's face.  The point Im trying to make is that I am working hard, sticking to my goals, and today I ended dinner with a milkshake that I absolutely deserved.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Thing of Memories

     Its hard to say with any certainty that there are days with much importance to the rest of my life.  Sure, this experience is one that will shape me in ways I might not fully understand, but that is a judgement of the experience as a whole.  As the tedium of the day-to-day drags on, one cannot help but get lost in each wake-up, brushing it off as "just another day" or "SOS".
     Its exactly this mindset which makes a special day, almost more special.  Im sure we all have mile stone days in our lives, moments which we will never forget, which we can remember a clear as the day it happened.  This deployment wasnt official for me until July 7th.  That was the day I finally earned the right to complete my uniform.  That was the day I was officially deployed.  That was the day I received my combat unit patch.
     Now, I know that this may come as little significance to most, and to those who have been here, some multiple times, the act of receiving this patch is an empty gesture and probably a waste of their afternoon.  This may be the case, but around the jokes and through the cynicism, you cannot deny the face that you were there, you gave it up and this is the day you are recognized for your efforts.  I may not ever want to sit through that ceremony again, but Ill remember my that ceremony for the rest of my life.
     I have been in the Army for two years this month.  For the entirety of my military career I have had a large patch of velcro on my right sleeve and I have been constantly reminded of that blank space.  I was once told to show some respect to a guy I outranked because he had a combat patch and I didnt.  Sure, this only happened once, but thats the kind of moment that leaves its mark.  I finally have some validation to my choice to join the army. 
     We could argue the ups and downs of history and experiences your friends or relatives had at war and maybe my experience isnt one that would make me heroic and I might not be in much danger, but I still went when and where I was told to go.  I didnt back down from my orders and if I dont measure up to someone elses standards, so be it.  Im walking under the same desert sun as anyone else who has seen the middle east, Im with the men Ive grown to trust, and I deployed in a time of war in the manner my country asked me to.  I have no regrets and I am serving my country with honor.
     I cant say which days will leave their mark in this deployment of mine, but its nice to know that Im not just counting the sunrises numbly as I await my return flight.  There needs to be a mix to the tedium and this is one day that felt better than the others.  I advise everyone to pay attention to the days that mean the most.  If its the destiny of such times to remain only as a good story among friends, then at least when youre asked, you can tell it properly.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Living Like Twilight

     Last time I checked, the Sun was hot.  I dont know who decided to move so close to a star, but here we are and we might as well get comfortable with the idea.  But that doesnt mean we need to be in the worst areas of the planet.  What baffles me is that someone was walking through the desert, getting blasted by my new favorite weather pattern, "Sand", planted their flag and announced that they had found home.
     I mean, seriously, what was the original draw to live in such a barren waste land?  I digress, I wanted to talk about the the heat and the way we are dealing with it, or rather, not dealing with it.  The goal in the desert is to get maximum time of efficient work with minimum people dying out in the sun.  Sounds like a reasonable idea, so a plan must be put into place to fit this goal.  This is whats known as working a reverse cycle.
     Usually when you deploy there is no break in the action.  The base is operational and pieces are moving 24 hours a day.  If the enemy knew you went to sleep at a certain time, it would most certainly guarantee that they would be working at that time and then problems would arise.  I am, however, not in such situation so it is not necessary to keep a full operational force at all times.  Mind you, there are things happening all the time, just not to the same extent.
     In order to make sure that I could get my job done and not die (as I am wont to do) we have been working reverse cycle now for about a week.  We wake up every morning at 2 am and work until noon with a combination of training, maintenance, and classes to keep our warrior minds sharp.  The work is nothing more than we are used to doing on a regular basis so the real complication comes from a frustrating combination of: sleep, my need for sleep, the time difference home, and the schedule of the world around me.
     Its simple, really.  I need to go to bed early to make up for the changed wake up time.  The base, however is not on reverse cycle, so they have normal operating hours as if nothing is changed at all.  My friends and loved ones are 7 hours behind me, so I can only talk to them in my afternoons, and I need to do this all with my time given before said 2 am wake up.
     Ive been working pretty well so far working til noon, getting lunch then going to bed. Ive been able to sleep from 1pm til 6-7 pm (6am - noon on the East coast) then waking up for dinner, gym and anything else my little heart desires.  This way I can talk to friends, enjoy afternoon activities, and have my free time in the middle of the night.  So far so good.
     Only problem is that the world doesnt sleep at noon, Meetings come and go, days off, holidays, and special events have been known to creep up so I am required to "soldier on" and meet the need.  Thats fine but I seem to recall a study about poor sleep cycles and dementia.  Probably not important, Id say.  Time will tell how this all works our for me, but for now its really not so bad.

Friday, June 29, 2012

One day at a time

     The position I find myself in is not one of choice.  I cant help my location or the time I have to spend here, so I might as well make a goal.  Any hobby or activity can be used to pass the time, but Im going to pick one that everyone else seems to pick, but Im not looking at that like a bad thing.  Ive decided to spend nine months working on my health and fitness.  I have 38 weeks to be here total and I have decided I want to lose 30 lbs.
     Its a big number for sure, but what else do I have to do.  If youre like me, youve already done the math and seen that its less than a pound a week.  When you say it like that it doesnt sound bad at all.  I just need to  have a little diligence and mind my diet. Now there is the problem.
     I dont know what it is about deployment but we get the sweet deal when it comes to food.  I wouldnt say our quality goes up but the quantity does for sure.  All the dining facilities (Dfacs) are civilian run, so they dont care how much you eat.  Three scoops of white, two of brown, two slices of beef AND a chicken breast?  Too easy.  So how is one supposed to curb their appetite when such a feast is offered four times a day?  It wont be easy, it means leaving food on your plate which any soldier will tell you is not a part of training.
     I am also setting reasonable expectations.  I want to increase my workouts with my abs and in cardio training.  I want to tighten this stomach of mine and sweat out what I want to lose.  Lifting weights is a big part of my routine, but I am not interested in getting bigger.  Its time to tone and when will I have more time than nine months in the desert?
     My favorite work out tool so far?  TREADWALL.  Its a rockwall on a rotating course so you can climb forever.  It works with body weight so the speed is regulated.  If you think this sounds easy, youve never gone climbing.  I find myself falling off it after 5 minutes or so, panting and sweating.  Do that three times and you wont have much left.
     Your body is yours to master.  Its not easy to change your lifestyle but nothing good has ever come easy. Ive been at this for two weeks now and lost three pounds.  so far so good.  I need to get a steady workout schedule and start cutting back on what I eat, but I think I will hit my goal easily and when I come home I will be in the best shape of my life.  All it takes is a plan and the will to do it.  Maybe this will be easier than I thought.