Sunday, September 30, 2007


At the post where I am taking my current course of instruction, in addition to training Soldiers, Airmen and Marines for the services' various version of my job, they also train military firefighters for the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps. These "firedogs" are an intriguing bunch. The majority are reservists who will return to their hometowns with their top-notch firefighting and hazmat training to become professional firefighters. A surprising number are from inner-city Boston and speak in accents that prevent me from ever being able to take them seriously, since people only really talk like that in movies. All of them have completely drunk the Kool-Aid and bought into the particular firedog mythos that is force-fed to them by their Drill Sergeants. Their bravado -- dare I say, braggadocio -- is not entirely unearned, of course; their training is seriously intense physically and nothing to sneeze at academically. It also strains relations that they have absolutely no real clue what my job entails, but do seem to have some strange ideas in their heads about it. So all in all they keep life interesting around here.

All of this is as background to the particular firedog ritual I had the honor of witnessing just now from the 3rd-floor walkway where I pick up a rogue wifi network. Every Sunday night, all the new firedogs fresh from Basic who've inprocessed over the weekend are called to line up in front of the barracks for a photograph. As the photographers snap away, senior trainees dump buckets of soapy water on the new recruits from said 3rd-floor walkway. Mild hilarity ensues. I'm sure it probably meets some bureaucrat's definition of "hazing" and someday someone'll complain and ruin the fun for everybody, but until then, we all just get to shake our heads and chuckle.

Yet More Thoughts on Texas

This weekend was the first in several weeks that I've stayed in town and just relaxed here with friends, and I was reminded of all the little reasons I really like it here. Friday night we went out to a great low-key country bar for a night of pool-playing, dart-throwing, and beer-drinking. It feels strange to think of it as "going out", though, because the experience is so different from what "going out" meant in California or in most cities I've been in. See, I can go out here and actually have a conversation with my friends, because I never have to shout over the music. Paradoxically, I find myself paying more attention to the music, since it's at a level where it isn't just noise to be tuned out. I also pay attention because on weekend nights it's karaoke, and the singers are actually really good, and they sing all sorts of songs I've never heard before, or certainly never heard done on karaoke.

Beyond being able to talk with my friends, I love the fact that I end up meeting other people at the bar. People socialize here; beyond just single men and women looking to hook up, people actually engage strangers in conversation. And everyone's so polite. When someone brushes past in the crowd, he makes eye contact, smiles, and says "excuse me". In other words, he treats me like a human being, not just an object obstructing his path.

The bar is an excellent microcosm, but the observations are universal. People here take the time to acknowledge each other and treat one another with dignity and respect. I've gotten accustomed to being called "Sir", I'm getting used to using "Sir" and "Ma'am" myself. It's just so many small things, but together they add up to so much. I guess this is why I will always prefer the town to the city and the heartland to the coasts. And much as my primary complaint about California was all the Californians there, the single greatest thing about Texas is that it's full of Texans.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


It's my birthday! Happy Birthday to me! In celebration, I'm going to go wash my car. It's completely encrusted in bugs from driving to San Antonio and back (where I actually celebrated my birthday with activities considerably more fun than car-washing). Perhaps after evening church I will go get some ice cream at Marble Slab (whose chilled stone slab is, ironically, granite).

My First Blogging Award

Word has it, via Cheryl at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale, that I am a Thinking Blogger. I am very much honored by this nomination, particularly because I'm rather new to this. Now that I have documentation that someone besides my superior older sister is reading my posts, I'm starting to feel a bit more pressure to perform, or at least to post more often.

The conditions of this tag state that I must now tag four previously unnominated blogs that make me think; sadly, I fear I can't complete that task. See, part of my slow start blogging myself has been because I have precious little time to read others' blogs, either. As it stands, all my regular reads are already Thinking Bloggers, so I don't have anyone to tag right now. Oh well.

I really do wish I had more time for reading and posting, but it seems Uncle Sam has finally decided to get his money's worth out of me; my current course of instruction is the most time-intensive I've dealt with since Basic Training. I do sit in front of a Web-connected workstation, however, and I'm sorely tempted to surf during class. As of now, I generally pore over satellite imagery of Baghdad, convincing myself that it's relevant to my job to have a good sense of the city's layout.

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At least, it's certainly more relevant than the sort of material favored by the Marine who sits next to me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Isn't it remarkable how the mind works, how the tiniest details of a morning can be crystallized forever? So much like those a generation before us, who remember in exacting detail how they received the news of JFK's assassination and those a generation before them, hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I imagine -- I hope -- that my generation will remember as well the timeline of our collective realization that we had been attacked. For in an age of instant media, we heard about it before we even knew what was happening.

It was my second week in college, a complex time by any standard. I remember that I was standing by the toasters in St. Olaf's cafeteria waiting for my bagel to finish when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Knowing no more than that, we all imagined a small private plane, the pilot off-course and confused. Over the course of breakfast, more students filed in with more bits of news to process, enough to realize something serious was going on. We were watching CNN in the student lounge when the second plane hit, and it became horrifically clear that it was no accident.

We say we will never forget, but already so many are trying as hard as they can to do just that. Our mass media are reluctant to air the video of that day. We live in ahistorical times, and when a people is so willing to forget its past, where can its future lead?

Friday, September 7, 2007


Finished our FTX early this morning. The field training was awesome, better than I was expecting even considering the positive reviews past classes had of the exercise. But I've had maybe five cumulative hours of sleep (and never more than two at a time) over the past four days, and the days have been a touch intense themselves. Then today we still had to clean our rifles and attend sundry outprocessing and other personnel appointments all day. And I have to get up tomorrow to continue cleaning weapons for a few more hours. So it's off to bed for me, and I'm sure I'll have more to report in the next few days.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Yet Another TLA (Three-Letter Acronym)

Tomorrow we head out to the field for our big final week of field training exercises (FTX) which culminates our course here, as well as our tenure in Initial Entry Training (IET) status. In general, I'm looking forward to the FTX. I hear that the cadre who run it do a very good job with the exercises, so it should be good training for us, particularly for those of us heading to tactical units and -- sooner rather than later -- to Iraq. The last week or so of train-up has been a lot of fun, and the other soldiers we'll be out there with are a pretty interesting bunch, so I'm sure I'll have some good stories when I get back. In any case, I'll be out of touch the rest of this week (not that I'm all that in-touch, generally).

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ellipsis, Thrice

Okay, so I have my actual assignment now, and I am headed to the 82nd. I'm pretty happy about that, overall, but I wish I hadn't let myself get so excited at the prospect of heading to 3rd Group, because now I feel a little let down. I shouldn't, as I'm intending to have a great time with the 82nd. The way assignments work at the big divisions, the greatest detail I know is that I'm headed to the 1st Brigade replacement company, from which I'll be picked up by whichever unit needs me. As such, there's a good chance I'll spin up with a unit that's already deployed. Which is to say, I could be headed either to the Sandbox or Afghanistan by the end of January. A sobering thought, but not really a frightening one, as such; I did join the Army in wartime, after all. One fairly common question from a certain sort of acquaintance is along the lines of "you do know you might have to go to Iraq, right?", to which my response is an expression conveying something along the lines of "... ... ...". It's right up there with people who ask smokers, "you know those are bad for you, don't you?" as if they half-expect the offending cigarette to be suddenly thrown aside in shocked disgust. Some people (okay, most people) need work on the whole brain/mouth filter mechanism (and I, too, am guilty as charged).