Wednesday, April 30, 2008

D-280: Departure

Keeping up with this blog while at Fort Jackson was obviously pretty difficult. Our days were long and regimented, and what little free time that was left was spent video-chatting with my wife and watching Battlestar Galactica episodes on DVD.

All in all, Fort Jackson was a pretty good experience. I feel pretty comfortable carrying and firing my weapons, and I understand a bit more about Army "culture," so I suppose all my learnign objectives were successfully achieved. Future RFF-611 IAs will be sent to a five week program in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, so this gouge won't be too helpful for them.

We're leaving on an airlift for Kuwait tonight, where our training will continue. The goals of the Kuwait training are more advanced convoy operations and close quarters combat, but also to acclimatize to the brutish weather. It is 95F in Kuwait at 4PM as I write this.

The biggest downsize to the training was that the second weekend was not free time. My wife was here on Friday morning and I had to train until 2200, and then return on Saturday until about 1400. We had a nice time together anyhow, but I think a little family time should have been worked into the schedule. Our airlift was scheduled a day earlier than expected which really threw a wrench into the training schedule.

I have been really impressed with the professionalism and enthusiasm of the Army staff. The Navy LNO office however, did not overly impress anyone. They worked banker's hours while we trained for the whole day, leaving very little time for customer service once we returned from the range. We constantly had to work around their schedule, which was extremely aggravating given the circumstances. The Navy still has a lot of work to do in the IA support department. Their is always big talk coming from the big wigs about making IA service a priority, but it's just rhetoric and very little substance.

For example, I took great pains to complete all my checklist items prior to reporting to NMPS. The only things I could not get taken care of on time were eyewear and a blood type lab (there was a clerical error in my medical record causing some ambiguity in my blood type). I finally got the blood lab sorted out here, but I had to visit the LNO four times! The eyewear from WPAFB never showed, the eyewear I ordered from NMPS finally showed up on Monday, but was missing the UVEX ballistic glasses. I am really pissed because I told the LNO medical department that I had eyewear issues on the very first day, I wrote it on my medical check in sheet, and I visited them. They never even looked into it. They have absolutely no contact with NMPS, so they never followed up. So now I get to go the Udari Range in the middle of the desert with two choices; wear contacts and try to keep them clean while living in a tent with no shower facilities or sinks, or wear regular glasses that won't protect my eyes from sand and be forced to wear the goggles over them all time. I am unhappy.

I met a lot of cool people here, most of whom are also RFF-611. None are going to Camp Falcon with me, but Victory isn't far away, and many of them will be there.

I have no idea what kind of internet access will be available in Kuwait. If nothing is available, I'll check back in two weeks from Baghdad.

Monday, April 21, 2008

D-290: Fort Jackson, Week 2

Week 1 Hotwash:

Sunday: Half Day Intro
Monday: PT, Gear Issue
Tuesday: PT, Weapons Issue, Briefs
Wednesday: PT, Briefs all day (horrible day)
Thursday: Briefs, Marksmanship Intro
Friday: M-4 Shooting, Group and Zero.
Saturday: Pistol Shooting, Done by 1400
Sunday: Liberty

The first week was very easy, PT was a joke, and then we stopped it all together; shooting was really fun. Do not worry about shooting if you are not a skilled marksman. They teach this stuff on the level of someone who knows nothing about guns, which was perfect for me. Just do everything they say and you'll be knocking down the 300m targets on your first try.

Working on Saturday is lame, but at least we got one night out. We went to Sushi in Columbia and then out to a bar for "sodas." They tell you on the first day no drinking, but it is very 'wink, wink, nudge,' they basically just don't want people acting stupid, and they a need a reason to cut your balls off if you do act stupid, but they really don't care if you go drinking. It is pretty much expected. This is not boot camp, they don't give us barracks inspections, or turn out lockers. They aren't checking that we're in our racks or turning out the lights. We only worked past 1700 once, and after that the Drill Instructors all go home, so technically you could drink every night, but you're going to be pretty tired if you do that.

Today we fired the rifle a bit more, and then went to a HMMWV (Hum-vee) trainer, where the thing turns upside down and you have to get out. It wasn't too hard, although it is challenging to move around with all your gear on. Then we got to drive a HMMWV through a course. It was a pretty fun day, my favorite so far.

Most of the people here are pretty cool. Obviously, the aviators grouped together and went to the bar. I think the SWOs went to the movies.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

D-298: Fort Jackson

D-298: Fort Jackson

We arrived at Columbia airport yesterday after a grueling cross country flight that began at 7:00am - which meant that after a night of drinking Johnny Walker with my buddy Greg, I had to wake up at 3:45 to get to the airport on time. The flight was uneventful with a short stop at O'Hare, and we took a taxi van to the McCrady Training Center at Fort Jackson.

Today we started some meetings at 1:00PM, which were boring and covered mostly common sense items. My uniforms still aren't in, all with most of the rest of the RFF-611 folks from Port Hueneme, so they just gave me a loaner pair of standard Navy PT gear to wear around until my stuff gets in.

The open bay berthing is not that bad, the beds and lockers are all new and it's got good wireless access, so I will still be able to deliver blogging gold to my throngs of adoring fans.
I wrote the above on Sunday, after our first day of training, and haven't had time to come back to it until now. I can't really remember where I was going with it, so I am abandoning it.


Army training isn't bad, we've been issued out individual body armor (IBA) which is just an amazing pain in the ass to get around in. The vest and helmet weigh in at about 50 lbs, and I have an M-4 and an M-9 that I have to carry everywhere and care for meticulously. So, that is going to take some getting used to; I think the main point of this training is to learn how to handle all that shit safely. Everything else is just "Army appreciation," they want us to learn to understand Army culture. Army culture is totally stupid.

Truthfully, our Army drill instructors are pretty cool, unfortunately it's the Navy chiefs who are pissing everyone off and making life fucking miserable. They put the senior enlisted in charge of the student platoons, probably because the enlisted drill sergeants believe them to be easier to deal with than officers. Nine times out of ten, this is probably true, and it is true in 3 out of the 4 training platoons in my company. However, my company is run by an idiot Senior Chief who has no clue what he's talking about most of the time and wants to have a bunch of meetings, which is infuriating because it cuts in to our very limited liberty time.

There are really a lot of IAs here. I would guess about 250. There are two companies; each with four platoons of 40 people, ranging from E-3 to O-6. Everyone is mixed into the companies and is basically given the status of "student," to avoid any issues of rank.

Day 1 was just an intro, day 2 we were issued 3 seabags full of crap, from the aforementioned IBA to canteens, sleeping bags, and bug spray. I don't know how on earth I am going to drag this shit all over the world. I am guessing that I'll never use at least one full seabags worth. There are some cool items that we can keep, like sunglasses and silk thermal underwear. I have four army ACUs, rain gear, cold weather gear, and virtually every other thing that has ever been made in a camouflaged pattern.

Bottom line: So far, this is not so bad. The food's okay and guns are fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

D-301: NMPS Hot Wash

In total, NMPS falls just short of being a complete waste of time. The entire weeks' schedule could very easily be achieved in a single afternoon. If you have completed the ECRC checklist, expect to have very little to do here; however, you still have to show up everywhere and be told that you already did it. It's frustrating, but still not overly time-consuming; you will have plenty of time to yourself, so make friends, especially friends with rental cars.

Here's a few things you may not have heard:

1. Rental cars are available, just call the coordinator and ask for one, and the accounting data will be added to your orders.

2. For some reason, they go out of their way to say don't wear a flight suit. Ignore this, bring a flight suit and wear it everywhere. It is not a big deal what-so-ever. I recommend a Khaki flight suit since you already have to pack a bunch of brown T-shirts.

3. You will want a few pairs of civies for liberty at NMPS. Just bring them and plan on mailing them home. My wife is coming to South Carolina on the final weekend of Fort Jackson, so I just brought an extra duffel bag, which I will fill with all my overflow gear and send back with her.

4. If you require eye-wear, that might be worth getting sorted out before you show up here. Everything else, don't worry about, get it done if you have time, but don't sacrifice valuable family time to do it. The final day of NMPS is when they make the legal appointments, so if you want most of Friday off, get your will and POA taken care of ahead of time.

5. Do not expect any real connection between NMPS and Fort Jackson; I thought having the eye-wear forwarded to Fort Jackson would be no problem, but they won't do it, I have to have them shipped to my wife and mailed to me. They don't know anything about Fort Jackson, so don't ask.

6. NMPS is undermanned by activated reservists; the staff is not interested in hearing your pissing and moaning, so just leave that shit at home. A smile and a cooperative attitude will earn you great customer service, act like an asshole, and you will politely be told to go stand in line somewhere.

I have a very light schedule tomorrow, I plan on meeting up with a buddy and possibly doing some drinking. We all leave on Saturday, the first day of Fort Jackson is Sunday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

D-303: Immunization

I got five more shots today! FIVE! I got seven at WPAFB three weeks ago; and it's not as if I haven't seen a doctor in 10 years, I deployed in 2006. What are all these shots for? I really need to start keeping track of these things. They tried to give me another smallpox, but I diligently searched for my paperwork and by the grace of God found it; another disgusting smallpox scab would have sent me over the edge.

In spite of the lab work I had done at WPAFB, they need three more vials today, apparently there is some ambiguity over what my blood type actually is, so I guess that is worth sorting out. The HM3 who stuck both of my arms came away empty, so he had to send me over to the actual lab, where a civilian skillfully drew the vials without making me pass out, which is no small feat.

There is a spirit of docile acceptance among the IAs; everyone knows this is just part of the drill. There is a lot of waiting around time that we fill with cheerful griping. A few of us are going to Sushi tonight, which I am grasping to as the light at the end of the tunnel as I await my 1300 PHA appointment.

Note: For all of you aviators out there, a PHA is not the same thing as a Flight Physical - well, actually yes it is, but it is called something different and has a different number form, so your flight physical won't count. So if you want to save yourself about a half hour at NMPS, make sure you get a PHA when you are running through your checklist. However, like everything else on that checklist, you are going to repeat it all here at NMPS anyway, so I wouldn't spend to much time worrying over it.

D-303: The Augmentee

Monday, April 7, 2008

D-304: NMPS

It has finally begun, I had a nice weekend with my wife, said a long and very sad goodbye, and left for my first intermediate stop. Port Hueneme, a small SeaBee base in Ventura County, California, is where I will be attending NMPS (Naval Mobilization Processing Site).

Avoid changing planes at LAX at all costs. I arrived in Terminal 5 with my connecting flight leaving from Terminal 9. Not only did this constitute a three mile death march, but I was forced out past security and had to re-screen. Naturally, the spare laptop battery in my backpack was a device so alien to the security idiots, that they had to check it for dangerous materials of some kind by wiping it with a rag and feeding the rag through a machine. The retardation of these clowns is the staple of hack stand-up acts across the nation, so I won't bore you with any more analysis here.

The week was kicked off in style by United losing my luggage. This is the second time in two consecutive United flight where my bags did not arrive with me. I stayed up late to do a load of laundry at the BOQ, as I was a little funky from a day's travel. I will leave it to your respective imaginations to figure out how I managed to wash the only shirt, socks and underpants that I possessed. I arrived at 0730 for my first brief of the day in faded Lee jeans and a lavender polo with a little lime green horsey on it.

The first brief was long, but the short message was this: "You are about to endure a very long, boring and painful week filled with repeats of all the tasks that you've been driving to Wright Patterson Air Force Base to do all months long. I know it sucks, but just shut up about it." I realized that this speech was carefully crafted through months of dealing with a new batch of 50 or 60 cranky, bitter, non-volunteer Sailors every Monday morning. It was probably an important thing for us all to hear. The bottom line; this is stupid, but it's going to happen. I just wish I hadn't done any of it on my own, as it seems there is ample time here to repeat every checklist item.

The class has around 80 people, about half Chiefs and Officers. With few exceptions, virtually everyone seems to be giong to JCCS-1 in some capacity, so I have uncovered some more gouge, including a welcome aboard letter from the CMC which seemed a little dated, but was enlightening none-the-less. Mostly, the letter is the first thing that gave the impression that JCCS-1 is an actual command, and not just a place where I will stop before being shuffled off to some Army command.

The rest of the morning was spent filling in forms, with block by block instructions from some NMPS staffers. "Block 1, last name comma first name; Block 2, date of birth in day-month-year format," and on and on for two hours or so. We then filled out some online health assessment, "have you ever though about hurting yourself, do you have a family history of heart disease," and on and on.

Last, we were fitted for uniforms, and by fitted, I mean of course that we were directed 12 at a time to an outdoor CONEX box filled with piles of uniform parts where we were basically just supposed to find shit that fits. I was warned several times about the "one size fits all" mentality of the screeners by my CO, and decided that a few things were far to important to be treated so cavalierly; namely, the comfort of the shoes and the comfort of the pants that I would be wearing for the next 10 months in the world's most unforgiving climate.

I took my time trying on shoes, and ultimately decided on a 10.5W, which is insane because I never buy shoes smaller than 11.5, but that's military issue for you. Pants were somewhat more tricky, because as I stated earlier, we were outdoors. I looked around and noticed that everyone was trying on their pants over the top of their uniforms, and deciding on sizes. I found this unacceptable, I asked them to pop open another CONEX for us to change in, seeing as how the uniform supplier was a female, and I didn't think it was appropriate to drop my pants in front of her. They said that they couldn't, so I got over my modesty and dropped my trousers right out in the open, and slipped on a pair of large-long, which were too long, so I tried large regular which fit nicely. The moral of the story; if I decided not to drop my pants in front of the world, I would have spent 10 moths in Iraq with my pants to long.

After that we were cut loose, which was a nice surprise because it was a gorgeous day and I've never been to California (besides Lake Tahoe). I ran into a hinge from VAW 125 who has a rental car, and went with her and a helo guy to an outdoor restaurant on "the 1," which is a very cool piece of highway flanked by mountains on one side and the Pacific on the other.

We have to go back to NMPS at 2000 for some reason, I think I'll kill the time with some Battlestar Galactica.