Monday, March 24, 2008

D-318: Math is Tough

IA prep has been pretty slow-going, but in the interest of continuity I thought I'd throw a post together anyhow.

First order of business is correcting the D number. I had it all jacked up for some reason, but I am pretty sure it is correct now. The 304 days on my orders start on April 7, so I believe I'm at D-318 right now. I'm not sure how I got that wrong; math is hard.

I took care of all my shopping. I have a new camera, a new laptop with extra batteries, some cool sunglasses, and some fancy pants new luggage. I've got a Skype account set up to video chat with my wife, which turned out to be extremely easy to set-up and to use. I've heard that a lot of guys have pretty decent internet set-up, depending on where you end up getting stationed, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tomorrow and Wednesday are back to WPAFB, so stand by for more complaining. I spent the morning making that picture at the top of the screen; enjoy!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

D-320: Packing for Iraq

Aside from completing the medical portion of my checklist, I am just about complete with my pre-deployment line items. My ECRC checklist is now 2 days late from the mandatory 14 day deadline, but what can I do, my physical isn't done. I e-mailed the ECRC help desk to ask if they want me to send them an incomplete checklist on time, or a completed checklist a week late, no response yet - so I'll just guess.

I know I won't be able to get the eyewear before I go to NMPS, so I e-mailed the medical help desk and asked if this was going to be a problem, the response basically said:
"The eyewear is always a problem. NMPS may or may not be able to get your eyewear ready in time. If you arrive without it, there is a good chance you will have to go forward to training without it... But you will need eyewear."
This left me scratching my head a bit; I now know I need it, but I may not get it? Not sure, so whatever. I plan on buying 18 months worth of throw away contact lenses, and buying a pair of Wiley-X goggles. I don't care about glasses because I hate wearing them, and I have a pair for emergency use anyway. As for the gas mask inserts and ballistic eyewear, I'd rather have plain old non-prescription ones because I plan on wearing my contacts all the time. My vision is not that bad anyway, so if I had to go to the head without contacts in, it's not like I'll accidentally walk into a mosque in downtown Baghdad.

I have been looking for a consolidated "shit-to-pack" list since I was first handed these orders. One does not seem to exist, I've tried every help desk, I've e-mailed my gaining command, I've e-mailed my buddies who have went before. I only have the following gouge:
  • Buy a great big bag with wheels. My buddy Scott says the Osprey SpaceStation 140 will do nicely. This god-damned thing is $249.00, but I think it's probably worth it.
  • Wiley X Sunglasses: A couple of Marines told me these are top of the line for not only blocking the hellish sun but also keeping sand and shit out of your eyes. Between $80-$100, these seem well worth it to me.
  • Laptop Computer: Well fuck, this is getting expensive. I'm told a laptop makes life a million times better. Besides watching movies and playing games, many of the trailers can get wired for like $60/month, giving constant e-mail access, web-camming, and allowing me to keep up with my memoirs, cementing my place in history for all time. All that seems worth $750. Oh, and here's the rub; apparently the sand in Iraq gets all over everything and plays havoc on electronics, so this laptop will likely be a piece of FOD once I return. I'm looking at a Dell Inspiron 1525, but may still just go to Tigerdirect and buy the cheapest one I can find. I'm undecided, but I know I want to have a built in webcam, and enough power to be able to run vegas studio so I can make stupid movies (I aspire to be a youtube star as well as a blogger star - the sky is the limit!)
  • Two pairs of civvies, shower shoes, towel: OK done.
That's pretty much the extent of the advice that I've gotten. I'm open to any suggestions.

I heard somewhere, that there is a whole office full of people in Norfolk who are dedicated to helping IAs deploy. I assume that is where all these e-mail that I'm sending are going. The average turn-around time on a help-desk e-mail is 2-3 days. Now, maybe I'm crazy, but when I think of "help-desk," I picture a fucking desk! With a person sitting in a chair, and likely staring at a the screen of a computer. I really don't think it is unreasonable to expect a response to simple questions in 10 minutes. However, aside from bitching about it here, I have little recourse. I can call and leave messages, or I can write e-mails. The next step is to go tattle to my O-6 boss, and have him start calling other O-6s and screaming that his guy isn't getting support. Then heads start rolling and hard feelings abound. So while I don't have an intermediate option, I still don't want to stir the hornet's nest, so I'll just figure it out myself.

I am not going to spend much more time worrying about this crap anyway, I am going to Boston this weekend with a bunch of friends. Then I am going to come back and check off this shopping list, and plan a weekend in Charleston with my wife for the last weekend of Fort Jackson.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

D-322: Another Trip to Wright-Patterson

I had a flight physical and a will execution meeting scheduled for today at WPAFB. I got the reminder call about the physical yesterday, which was one of those recordings that said my appointment was at 0830. I had planned on getting there a little early, which is usually a good practice for any kind of military medical or administrative appointment, since they schedule ten people for the same block of time every day, being early gets you in first.

Well, the last appointment I had was during the big blizzard, this one was during a torrential downpour. I know I have mentioned that WPAFB is about an hour away, but I don't think I mentioned that more than half of that is along windy, one-lane, country roads with no shoulder, so inclement weather can cause any undetermined amount of time delay, depending on what kind of yahoo you get stuck driving behind.

I arrived at 0840 thinking I'm only ten minutes late, so I signed in and took my seat. The Air Force lady behind the desk came out and said "you know you're appointment was at 0800" in a very pissy tone. I cheerfully replied that was incorrect, my appointment was at 0830. She snapped back at me that "You have to be here a half hour early for your hearing and eye exam because you're a flyer, and they told you that when you made the appointment."

So, wondering how she could possibly know whether or not I was told that when I made my appointment, but unable to dispute it because I rarely pay attention to people I am talking on the phone with, I just smiled and asked her to make me another appointment.

I would have liked very much to tell her to fuck off and go get someone without the shitty attitude to help me, and there was a time not so long ago when that is exactly what I would have done, but that would be counter-productive, and I have a too much to do. Usually Air Force people are so cheerful, I wonder what this chicks problem is.

The moral of the story is, if you have a Flight Physical at an Air Force Base, be very early.

Now I have to go back to WPAFB twice next week which is just terrific. Maybe there will be a tornado or a volcano eruption for me to drive through next time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Airplan Cartoons

I am a big fan of "Air Plan Cartoons." For those of you who don't know, it is the unimaginative practice of stealing someone's intellectual property(i.e. Scott Adams copyrighted Dilbert cartoon pictured here) and changing a few words here and there to make it seem like you are very funny and clever. They are usually posted on the backs of air plans and sometimes flight schedules, and they give the JO community a chance to take a few jabs at the man.

My cartoons are usually a Dilbert spin-off, because I find Dilbert hilarious. I have no permission to reprint the cartoons shown anywhere on this blog, nor do I intend on acquiring it. While I'm sure it doesn't really matter, here's a link to the Dilbert Website as a token of my good faith

Savings Deposit Program

The Savings Deposit Program is an incredible program that very few people seem to know anything about. I had never heard of it before my CO brought it up to me the other day, but I wish I had.

Do not confuse this with TSP or any other retirement account. This is an investment account, it would be subject to regular tax rules, but in a combat zone there is no tax, so it's academic anyway.

You are only eligible for SDP when you are receiving Combat Pay. The program allows you to deposit up to $10,000. The money will accrue interest at 10% APR guaranteed! That's quite an offer in this market, where even conservative S&P index funds are turning up losses. This is a risk-free investment, like a savings account on steroids.

As if that wasn't good enough, the interest is compounded quarterly! Watch the $10,000 cap though, you will not receive any interest on money over the limit, so withdraw the accrued interest at the end of each quarter.

If you don't have the 10G to drop in from the get-go, you can set up an allotment. So now all that extra combat money can really work for you while you're gone, and keeping it out of the checking account can help your family avoid frivolous temptation. You can set up the allotment or make a deposit with your local PSD or check with your admin department.

Here's a link to DFAS

Thursday, March 13, 2008

D-326 - The Government Passport

First off, I am convinced that getting ready for deployment is a million times more difficult for me because I am so far away from the loving bosom of mother Norfolk. I am forced to use Air Force or Civilian facilities to accomplish simple tasks, and they just never know how to deal with a Navy person, or Navy medical record, or who is going to pay for what, etc.

Although my orders do not require an official government passport, my CO recommended that I get one because "you just never know," which is always reasonable logic as far as I am concerned. The problem is, our DOD assistant doesn't know how to do it, the people at the local Post Office don't know how to do it, and I don't know how to do it.

Well, I did some research, downloaded the proper forms, got my picture taken at CVS for $8.49, drafted a letter for letterhead stating the requirement for a "no-fee" passport, and headed off to the Post Office to get the thing signed by Post Office people. The Postal Workers took out their passport instruction and found that while I the federal fee was waived, they were authorized to charge their $25.00 "execution" fee.

The wording there is important, the post office lady said she had to charge me $25.00, I argued that it says you are authorized to charge it, but not that you must. An important distinction but she insisted that it must be paid.

I am beyond pissed off! The United States Postal Service, a federal agency, is authorized to charge me $25.00 in order to sign a piece of paper, which allows me to go fight a war! Literally, they just signed a piece of paper, easiest I've ever seen someone earn $25.00.

I thought the USPS pretended to be some kind of flag waiving, patriotic organization. I am not one of those servicemen who feels entitled to a little something extra from everyone, but the Post Office is a government agency. The least they can do is waive the "signing the passport paper" fee for other federal employees who need an official passport to travel overseas to perform their government job. Further, USPS does not offer any discounted rates for packages being shipped to FPOs. I hate the USPS!

I wonder if mail trucks pay tolls, or get parking tickets. Those bastards.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Corrections - Blog 1 Explained

In my first Blog of this series, I wrote the following:
"They lulled me to sleep; after all, I am currently first alternate on a different set of orders."
This statement is not true, the orders which I received are in fact the very same set for which I am prime alternate. The truth is, I had dismissed the possibility of having to go fill that role, so that is my fault, and not Big Navy screwing me. Further, I was supposed to have been completing this checklist as the alternate, in preparation for this exact circumstance. A task which I knowingly blew off.

Second, RFF-611 references the "Request For Forces" that generated the billet that I am going to fill. The billet is described as "Battalion EWO" but is really best described in this Sea Power article;

Navy's New Crew


Whenever I tell someone I am going to Iraq for 10 months, it is clear that they don't know how to respond. The general response is one of condolence; "Oh dear, I'm sorry."

Don't be, it's fine... really. It is not a death sentence, it is my job. I am a member of an all volunteer military force during a time of war. "I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation."

Yes, it sucks that I have to change my summer plans, it sucks to miss my friend's wedding, and another holiday season. But those are the breaks, no peacetime sailors here. My number got called, so I pack my shit and go. I don't feel sorry about it, so please don't be sorry for me.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

D-332: Medical

I drove out to Wright Patterson Air Force Base to get my pre-deployment physical yesterday. It was a nice facility, and infinitely more organized than Branch Medical at Norfolk. I had to get a million shots, have blood drawn, and get a dental cleaning by a hygienist who I suspect was intentionally punishing me for lying about how often I floss.

That alone would have made it the worst day of my life, but I also got to drive home in the biggest blizzard since before Christ. The highway was closed down, which was highly inconvenient seeing as how it was the only way I knew how to get home. So, it took me 4 hours to get home. This is a trip that takes 50 minutes under normal conditions.

On the bright side, the Air Force Whatever Sergeant (I can not learn USAF enlisted ranks for some reason) that gave me the shots was hot, and she put Garfield Band-Aids on both my arms.

Today, I feel like I was hit by a train, particularly on my right side where I was given the flu shot and Anthrax. Well, at least I got to shovel 15 inches of snow off my driveway.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The weight of this rapid deployment was grinding on my nerves a bit today. I had modest goals for the day; I would spend the morning completing the required Navy Knowledge Online courses. Which are always a nuisance, but usually you just click through a powerpoint, take a test, and print off a certificate. I would turn over the remainder of my NROTC duties in the afternoon. Nice little Wednesday actually.

Then I had a two hour meeting with my CO, who has been on IA before. and had a lot of very sound advice on the difference between tax deferred and tax exempt TSP contributions, and told me about something called a Savings Deposit Program (I think that's what it's called), which guarantees a 10% return on up to $10,000 for the length of your deployment.

It was after lunch when I finally got around to NKO. First, my browser was improperly configured; by the time I fixed it, I had to go to a staff meeting which took forever. I got back to NKO at 1500. I started the first required course, M-16 Safety. Infuriatingly this is required even though I am not being issued an M-16. Instead of powerpoint format, the M-16 brief is a video presentation. It is given in 2-3 minutes segments, and it takes the crappy applet about 20 seconds to load in between. So the presentation itself is 2 hours long, and you can not pause it, so each time you get interrupted, you have to restart a segment.

Frustrated beyond belief, I skipped to the test. The test asked a series of bizarre and specific questions, and I failed my first 4 attempts. So I quit and went home. I suppose I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Today was a decent day. I basically dumped all of my responsibilities that are not related to my upcoming deployment. So that feels good, because most of that stuff is shit I hate to do.

I spent the morning unraveling the mystery of this strange kind of deployment. I took a long lunch, briefed my co-workers on how to do my various office tasks (which took surprisingly little time, maybe I'm not as important as I sometimes think), and went home at the leisurely hour of 1600.

I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the pros and cons of my current situation; here's how it pans out.

Pro: I am going to make a ton of money this year. I will be getting combat pay and 8-10 months of tax free. So I will finally be able to take my wife to Europe. I'm thinking about a Norway, Sweden, and Poland trip.

Pro: Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things, but I do. This place is booooooooriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnggggggggggg.

Pro: Timing. I haven't started my Master's program yet, and I will be back on time to start in the 2009 class. Upon completion of the 14 months MBA program, I will be at my end of obligated service. The timing literally could not be better.

Pro: Timing again. Who know who is going to be in the White House next year, and what kind of chaos will ensue if they decide to evacuate Iraq.

Con: I'll be catching the whole of summer in the desert.

Con: Missing another Anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Wife's Birthday, My Birthday etc. I was out warring for the 2006 holiday season as well.

Aside - it amazes me how much bitching goes on about the war, when it really affects almost no one here at home. Whenever the topic comes up of my deployments, most people have to stretch to distant cousins or friends of friends, e.g. "My buddies older brother is over there." While most people who have served in the war, have gone multiple times, and do relatively little complaining. Just enough complaining so it's funny, not pathetic, e.g. "the food was so bad, it was so hot..."

Con: And this is a very big con; We just moved here and my poor wife has no family here and no close friends. This is going to be a tough one on her, and I can not describe how guilty that makes me feel.

Con: Danger, why the hell do I need two guns? What am I going to do there?

D - 338 "Captain Wants To See You"

"Captain wants to see you about something."


"Please, sit."


"I've got a set of primary IA orders for you."


Well, the gig is up. I have been dodging a hailstorm of IA request since I checked in to my NROTC job. I knew this is how it would be when I took the "good deal" orders. Those are breaks, you wanna dance, you gotta pay the band.

They came right when I thought I was pretty safe. They lulled me to sleep; after all, I am currently first alternate on a different set of orders. Oh well.

I think it should be pretty exciting anyway, I think I secretly wanted to go. Even so, I could never look my wife in the eye and tell her that I volunteered to go on another deployment. This one for a year, and not on a nice safe aircraft carrier, and not doing a job that I have any training or experience in. So I remained a non-volunteer, and as I suspected, it didn't matter anyway.

So, as mentally prepared as I was, I was still caught off guard. I had no heads up about these orders. The written orders just showed up in the message traffic. The CO and XO had no idea. The depart date is 34 days away. 304 days total, hence today is D-338. I thought the days of 1 month notification were long gone, but upon conferring with some of my buddies, this shit is still pretty common. So, nice job Navy. Way to plan ahead. I look forward to jumping through my asshole to complete my pre-deployment checklist in one month.

The thing that I can't seem to wrap my brain around, is the fact that my orders specifically state that I will be getting issued two guns; an M-9 Beretta 9mm and an M-4 carbine. Further, the orders state that normally, IAs are issued only one, an M-9 for E-7 and above, and an M-16 for E-6 and below. Here is some text from my orders.


So, as you have likely guessed, I am very anxious to figure out what RFF 611 means, and why it not only requires two weapons, but it requires the lighter more high speed M-4. Exactly how many people I should I expect to have to shoot that I need to carry two guns? Is this some John Rambo shit?

So with that question bouncing around in my head like a rubber ball, I was graciously awarded the afternoon off. I sat at home, imagining breaking the news to my wife when she got home from work. I called some friends, told a buddy I can no longer be a groomsman in his wedding, and called my Mom, who cries when I leave her house, let alone when I leave for Iraq for a year.

Still anxious about telling my wife, I opened a Hoegaarden to settle things down. I subsequently open 8 more, and then opened a bottle of rum. So, ultimately this is how I chose to deal with it; don't judge me. My wife called at some point between beer 5 to 8 and sensed that something is wrong, as wives often do. When she got home, I was three sheets - I said "I have bad news." She said "your going away again."