Thursday, June 24, 2004

Holy Exploding Assholes, Batman!

It happened in Korea. Then it happened in Colombia. Then in Afghanistan. Now it's happening here in the Sandbox.

The case of the Exploding Ass.

I wash my hands religiously. I use gallons of hand sanitizer. I only drink bottled water. To no avail. I still spend all my free time hunched over in the portajohn...which, by the way, is essentially an oven in the midday heat. When I'm briefing the Colonel, I'm praying all the while, not here, not now.

Here's a way you can approximate how we live here, exploding ass excepted: bundle up in long sleeves, pants, etc. Then add the thickest down vest you can find (that's the body armor). Weigh yourself down with a bunch of gear, put a motorcycle helmet on your head. Now hop into your car in the middle of the day after it's been out in the direct sun. Go ahead and leave the door open, I'll allow that. Crank it up, turn the heat on high, and sit there with that blast in your face for a few hours.

But you know, for some reason I'm not miserable. Actually, I felt okay all day. I'm either acclimating or just accepting it all. Okay, so it's hot. Yep, there's blowing sand. Roger, we live in the ghetto. And yeah, I'm not crazy about the job I've been given. But at some point I think I must've mentally rolled up my sleeves and decided to quit fighting it all, just roll with it. I feel better when I force myself to be cheerful--mood follows actions.

I'll somehow make it through this thing. I wish I could be more descriptive, but Operational Security dictates discretion.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Sandbox, with gale-force winds

We're in Kuwait for the next three weeks. And you know, if I lived in a place like this, I might be pissed off at the world, too. It is an absolute shithole.

The winds vary from Moderately Annoying Sandstorm to No Visibility Sandstorm, depending on the time of day and how many degrees over 100 it happens to reach. The hotter it gets, the higher the winds.

I'm told we'll live well once we get to our permanent area. I'll believe it when I see it. Right now we're crammed into a damaged tent--I wake up several times a night to a sandblast to the face, which I suppose could have theraputic exfoliating qualities...but not when I'm trying to sleep, damn it!

My job right now is as Collection Manager, which means I marry up intel requirements to assets. Booooo---rrrrinng! I'm trying to understand how the HUMINT Platoon Leader gets sucked into this one.

But I did tell everyone who needs to know up my chain that I intend to leave the Army, got the paperwork started. One officer tried to talk me back into staying in the Army, but I stopped him in his tracks. Buddy, you don't get it, I am DONE with this crap.

It can only get better. Right?

Monday, June 14, 2004

Part One, Mefloquine Madness

The first of the technicolor, Mefloquine-tainted, virtual-reality dreams came upon me last night. Reference earlier post from Afghanistan about the psychological side-effects of Mefloquine. Shit makes me crazy. The dreams are the best part of it. The paranoia, irritability, and the way it turns your entire digestive tract inside-out...I could do without those little perks.

So at any rate, in this dream, I had returned from Iraq, left the Army, taken a job in some swank office building that also contained my apartment. And what an apartment it was--huge, with plush bathrooms for each oversized bedroom, windows everywhere. I walked around deciding which room I would call my bedroom...except that the place was trashed.

The previous occupants were ditzy coeds. Dirty laundry, old garbage, long-spoiled food languished everywhere you stepped. I had just decided to call the landlady and raise holy hell when I came across the head of a cat on the kitchen floor. As I stood horrified, it began wiggling around, making noise. And the whole garbage can was full of rotting kitty corpses, all moving around and making a fuss.

See what I mean, psychological side effects? I dream about houses all the time, and it's almost always a case of their being large and beautiful and full of doors that open to entire wings of rooms I hadn't known about previously. And almost always in a state of disrepair, in need of an owner who would make it into something. And these dreams started a decade ago, long before I owned a house.

But dead kitty heads running around on the floor?!? Good lord!

I must admit, though, it is HIGH entertainment.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Encounters With Nature

Yesterday, I took a 5-mile run on a trail I love that parallels the Black River the whole way. I mostly gazed out at the river, not my feet, and hence came very, very close to one rather large, well-fed porcupine.

It stood up on its hind legs on the side of the trail, some sort of vine in its hand which it slowly ate. I braked just in time. I didn't want to jump over it, 'cause can't they, like, shoot quills at you?

Then I just bent down and watched it. "Hey, uh, I tell you what, you go your way and I'll just go mine, deal?" It reacted like a pampered patron at the Four Seasons seated at the table next to Anna Nicole Smith's entourage...shot me an annoyed glance over its shoulder, kept eating leisurely. How uncouth, how untoward. Can you NOT see I'm trying to enjoy my luncheon here?

I grinned and crept past, still envisioning quills! shooting! into! my! leg! He was gone by the time I'd finished the trail and came back his direction.

Then this morning, I heard the distressed squawking of a bird growing steadily louder and closer. And Esther crashed into the dining room through the slightly-open deck door with a grey dove in her mouth, which she released into the kitchen as all hell broke loose.

It flew into the window, POW! Then into the wall, BANG! I thought the next impact would surely crush its light little skull. It hit the floor as I pushed the cat out of the way, then darted into a space I didn't even know existed...under the cabinet, there is a hole in the baseboard that leads into a small, awkward spot under the counter, where the drawers don't reach.

Shit! How the hell to get it out of there? I could hear it flapping a squawking. I tried a broom...hell no. I tried to pry up the became clear right away that I'd have to remove the entire sink for that one to work. Finally, I just stood there and waited.

It didn't take long for it to head for the light and burst from the little hole it had squeezed through. I caught it and held it in my hands, all trembly bird energy. It didn't seem hurt and flew for the stately maple tree in my yard when I released it.

I've been a terrible procrastinator. I must go pack for this goddamn deployment. I'm putting together a series of care packages for myself, all the crap I can't fit in that giant fancy-schmancy Camelbak, eight books (Tom Robbins, mostly, and some Flannery O'Connor), extra superpowered sunscreen, girly shit like haircolor because I've gone so grey and I just don't need to see it.

But right now, I'm not quite done with this month's Runner's World and it's a beautiful, warm day. The front porch beckons.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Perfect Brownie

Awoke earlier than I'd intended due to the bright sunlight streaming into my room. I adore this house--any time of the day, there's sunlight everywhere. This particular morning, though, it's thirty-nine degrees. In June. I'm running the heat, for chrissakes.

God I'm going to miss my life here. We leave Wednesday. I can't help having a bad attitude about it, because I don't want to go. Period. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, but I was somewhat excited before we went to Afghanistan, it was this big adventure. But now I know the truth about deploying--it sucks. It's boring, it's acutely uncomfortable, and I was only in Afghanistan for five months. This one is for a year.

I can't even conceive of it--that's a Korea tour. And THAT felt like a decade, the year I spent in Korea--where I had a room, a bed, a shower, hot food, all the books I wanted, subway trips to Seoul. There will be none of that in Iraq.

I'm struggling to wrap my head around this thing, because this time I'm the one in charge. Right now I need to pull an Oscar-winning performance out of my ass, smile like an idiot, and GET EXCITED! Isn't this fun, ya'll??

I think I found the absolute perfect Brownie recipe. I should've known it would be the best one, it came from Good Eats, on the Food Network.

Good Eats is hosted by this character named Alton Brown. I love this guy. He's like a Mr. Science for food. He'll demonstrate why your souffle' falls by blowing up twenty white balloons and going into the Molecular Structure of Egg Whites. But these brownies, they have four eggs and two sticks of butter--just pure fat and sugar, like a brownie should be. I just heated some up and topped it with some vanilla ice cream for breakfast.

That's what I'm talkin about!!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Sign Here, Then Grab Your Ankles

"I got a call from the CG about you today."

CG=Commanding General, as in the two-star guy...and this one, he stands about six-eleven and sounds like the Voice of God from high in the stratosphere. Needless to say, I got a call from the CG about you is NOT a statement I'm looking to hear from the mouth of my commander, jackass or not.

"Yep, he says you're non-deployable. Do you know what that's about?"

For one moment, my heart soared. But then reason took hold...I knew it would be some mundane technicality, one that would quickly get resolved.

I was, of course, absolutely spot-on.

"Um, it must be because I just got back from Afghanistan."

"Oh, so you'll need to sign this form..." He (with much mustered nonchalance) pushed a counseling form across the desk to me, already filled out, with the title DECLINATION OF STABILIZATION PERIOD/VOLUNTARY DEPLOYMENT. Then I got it.

He (my commander) waited this long to present me with the fact that I could, in fact, decline this deployment. I felt a little sick to my stomach as I read the form...I understand that this deployment is for the period of one year or until mission participation is entirely voluntary...

See, the commander knew that if they'd presented me with this document a month ago, I may very well have refused to sign. I still could. It was never pitched to me as something I could opt out of--instead, I got the speech that went something like this: the Army never guaranteed any standard length of time between deployments, this is what you signed on for whether you knew it or not, we're counting on you to be the kind of leader who will stand strong for this mission...

In other words, vastly different from what's actually going down on paper. On paper, I fully stepped forward and said, Ooo! Ooo! I WANNA GO!!

So did I sign? I hesitated, while certain thoughts went through my mind: what do you care, you're fixing to leave the Army and join the FBI, you could stay and work on the house...

But of course I signed, and here's why: I'm a leader of soldiers, I'm in charge of forty-two people, we're in this together. And who would suffer if I acted like a little bitch and backed out one week before we leave? Not my commander, not the CG...these soldiers and my fellow lieutenants, that's who.

See, I have to be able to look myself in the eye as I'm brushing my teeth in the morning. And the six years I've already served would be forever tainted by this one cowardly act, refusing to go to combat with my troops. And the thing is? The commander KNEW that. That's why he waited until the CG called, until my not having signed that form became an issue with The Boss.

But here's what I also know: I'd still get deployed in September or January, at least this way I'm getting it over with. Also, I know I was hand-selected for this position, and it's a testament to the Battalion Commander's confidence in my abilities to lead this platoon. AND, the other lieutenants in the Battalion, the ones who could/would potentially replace me...well, this platoon needs someone who's willing to be A Total Bitch (i.e, ME) and stick up for them with this commander. I don't trust them to anyone else. You know, when you want something done right, you do it yourself? Yep, that's exactly the case here.

I'm not a Patton. I'm not a Bradley, not a McArthur. But neither am I a chickenshit, and the thing is, I DO care (very much, actually) about what happens to these folks.

So this job, I'll do it myself. I couldn't stand it if one of these soldiers approached me on returning and reported how fucked up things were and that their Platoon Leader wouldn't stick up for them.

So what I need to do now is quit thinking about how I could've said no. I need to quit being pissed off about getting sent right back out the door, get my head in the game, and just move out, do what needs to be done.

OK, got it. Saluting smartly and moving out.