Vibrant Spring

Constant Training

This week has been a good work week. Since I’m responsible to help train new soldiers and re-train soldiers deploying back overseas, that means I get to go out to the range a lot instead of sitting in an office I’m not allowed to do any work in.

The bottom line? I’m useful again. Not to my unit, which has disowned me. But to new soldiers who want and need to learn how to do things for when they themselves go to war. The thing about the Army is that it’s constant rotation. For all the new soldiers who sign up (and kids are STILL signing up a lot, despite lowered projections), there’s a bunch of soldiers who get out of the military or who retire or move on. In the military, you’re replaceable. Even if you’re the most knowledgeable person in your job, if you leave, your slot is quickly filled by someone else. I make no illusions about my importance in the system — I just fill a slot.

But I at least got to go out and help new soldiers zero their rifles (a process of adjusting rifle sights so that they shoot where you aim them) and also help them to learn proper shooting technique. On Monday I helped some people learn the M4A1 rifle, and since I used to be a bad shooter because no one would give me advice relative to my problems, I had to learn the hard way and can now address other soldiers’ problems more accurately.

Today I went out and trained soldiers on the M240B (a machine gun) and on the .50 cal (the big gun that rips through anything). I also got to help them with some IED avoidance training and convoy movement.

It was fun. I sat in on their convoy, and I remember as I looked at the scenery as we drove through the back forty as they call it (the term for all that wooded area near every military post where they have shooting ranges) that I really appreciated seeing such vibrant green leaves on the trees. I remembered convoys in Iraq, where all I would see was dust kicked up from the vehicle ahead of us. Rocks. Dirt. Endless dirt. Potholes in the concrete road. The back forty is like Tolkien’s Middle Earth while Iraq is like Mordor. Mordor is an industrial rock and steel fortress that devours living things and creates nothing but desolation and waste.

Yet, I missed those convoys. I miss people kitting up, readying their weapons, checking their equipment. I miss the alarms from the radio comms and the chatter inside the vehicle. I miss seeing all the soldiers knowing their jobs and executing them quickly and coolly. I miss staging on a convoy, and returning after an uneventful convoy.

I remember seeing Iraqi MiGs half-buried and riddled with bullet holes and big Texas flags spray painted on the tail. I remember the shimmering pools of highway concrete that we drove on underneath the full moon in Baghdad. The surreal lighting that illuminated mosques at night. The winding, narrow streets.

I miss leaving base for a few days, taking up in an Iraqi town. Then coming back and feeling the relief of being inside the wire again, then heading to the DFAC to enjoy some hot food and ice cream.

I also remember watching the first week of American Idol this season (along with a bunch of other soldiers who were just killing time waiting for the plane to come and take us home, as well as with a bunch of Filipino workers who are hooked on American Idol and on pro wrestling) and thinking Taylor Hicks was the stand-out. Now he’s probably going to win the whole thing! His music’s great!

I don’t mind difficult or dangerous jobs. What I mind are useless, unproductive jobs. And so I’m glad I’m out of the office. Really fucking glad. =)

Child-Rearing

Soldiers and Marines just keep dying in Iraq. Not only that, but Iraqis are being executed by the hundreds by extremists and fundamentalists. I subscribe to an RSS feed that links to local stories of the latest service-members killed. I just want to know a little about what those people were like. Most of the stories are surprisingly and depressingly simple and brief.

It takes humans a long time to age and become productive. These people are dying at the ages of 18-24 mainly. The ages most kids are just beginning to understand themselves. It takes most people until 35-50 to even begin to become comfortable with who they are and to find their calling.

All the investment put into these soldiers and Marines. Parents who birthed them and raised them when they were helpless babies. They went to school, had dozens of teachers who each passed on a little bit to them. Family, friends, TV, heroes. They kept learning. By the age of eighteen they were supposedly men, ready to tackle the world outside of a controlled academic environment. Not only were hundreds of thousands spent to educate and grow these kids, but even more was spent to train them to become servicemembers. Even more than that was the investment their parents and family put into them.

And just in a snap of your fingers, they’re gone. Forgotten. All that investment just gone.

Yesterday I went to the shoppette to grab some food for today’s range. Well, the woman at the counter was frantic. She was complaining about how she needed to get home and clean and how she was glad her boss gave her this weekend off. She was frazzled. I looked at her a little weird as her co-worker said, “Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you!” She answered my expression with “My husband is coming home, can’t you tell???” And I could see how happy and crazy and uncontrollably excited she was. Her husband was finally coming home. It didn’t even matter how long he’d been deployed. He was coming home.

I read the Army Times next to the counter and it mentioned how this one brigade had its deployment orders cancelled. I thought about all those happy families of the soldiers who wouldn’t be going anymore.

I thought of my girlfriend’s voice and my mom’s voice when they heard me for the first time back on American soil. The relief in their voices.

I thought about how witnessing that snapshot of emotion in the shoppette was the most worthwhile thing I’d seen in a long time. I thought to myself that that was the most important thing in the world. I thought to myself how happy soldiers would be to know they weren’t deploying anymore. About the euphoria their families would feel. I thought about the Iraqis who have endured Hussein, a bloody war with Iran, and constant pressure and stress for decades. The futility of striving for something better because it will just be destroyed by forces they can’t control. I thought to myself how burdened we servicemembers are by what is considered a perpetual war. There is no relief on the way. There is only darkness.

In that moment I committed myself to finding ways to provide the feeling that woman had to as many people as possible. The return of hope, the erasing of sadness, the prospect of building lives together.

MacBook

I ordered a white 2.0GHz/1GB RAM MacBook on the day it came out. It shipped today. People are complaining about the new keyboard feel and the glossy screen. The benchmarks are kind of poor and the graphics card is severely underpowered for gaming. However, I wanted a replacement for my 2002 laptop and I realize that mainly what I use when I take my laptop to places is the Internet.

I’m thinking of going on a road trip once I get out of the Army next year. I wanted to buy a video camera and travel the country looking at green designs or visiting tennis tournaments or just getting to know Americana. I wanted to produce a ton of video footage for use on my site and for future projects. I’m low on recent imagery. I want a crew to film stuff with, people to help me photograph myself and each other. I also just want to enjoy the new freedom and go see what people are up to. Maybe it could be an international thing instead. I want to hit the Pacific Rim in particular.

The MacBook will be my interface during that time. It isn’t enough for video editing or serious Photoshop use but it will allow me to access the net and my desktop remotely. It does what it will do for me very well: on-the-go use. Also a trainer for increasing my Mac knowledge.

And yes, being a computer geek is an expensive hobby. But it’s what I enjoy and I can afford it. =) And I’m thinking it’s going to give me tenfold in returns! When has the Internet let me down?

According to FedEx, my MacBook has just shipped from…er…China? Suzhou. Wow, straight from the Orient!

Other Stuff

I’m studying for my Graduate Record Exam in order to apply for grad school. I took a few practice tests and I’m doing pretty poorly on them. It’s not like the SAT which requires a lot of memorization. The GRE is pretty difficult because it requires you to have studied answering techniques pretty well. That is, there’s a certain mindset behind the questions and you have to tap into that. You have to learn the nuances of the questions and how to select the best answer.

I’m worried that I’m bombing on them right now but I’m motivated to study pretty hard and the Barron’s book I have has a lot of practice examples and resources to use.

Also I took a physical training test yesterday. I thought I’d do worse because to be honest I haven’t had as much pent-up energy to burn off by working out or running since I got back from Iraq. I think it’s a combination of having a demotivating job with no benefit for physical performance, and just the fact that I cherish my time spent on more productive things to me than working out for about ten hours a week like I used to.

Anyway, I didn’t max my push-ups but I did only a few less than the best I’ve ever done. I did the max for sit-ups as usual. My run-time improved by a minute over what I’d been running on my own (I’m competitive!) but I missed max by about 32 seconds. Not that bad. I still got a really good score.

Next week there is a jump out of a Cassa that I’m trying to get on. I’ve jumped out of a Chinook helicopter and from the usual C-130 but never a small plane. Also a Blackhawk jump would be fun.

10-Year High School Reunion

The last time I went home, I snagged a lot of personal shit I had plus some of my recent mail. One thing that caught my attention was a notification of my 10-year reunion. It’s run entirely by the primadonna clique. One of them is the class president who I used to hang out with but then joined the football team and ran for president which as we all know was just a college application move. He went to Baylor and probably graduated with a bachelor’s in management and then worked his underlings to the bone at a big Baylor fraternity business and earned his way up to a Chrysler Sebring.

To be honest I’ve only heard a few things about people I went to school with. One was this chick who always dressed like Abercrombie & Fitch (you know, before it opened) who ended up being one of the final three female contestants on the initial season of The Bachelor. She decided to take The Bachelor to her parents’ house for the date and inundated him with scary love for her pets and for Christianity. Not surprisingly she lost.

Another chick who was considered weird in high school because she dressed uniquely and didn’t fit in became what seems to be a pretty decent, stylish photographer who traveled all around the world to take beautiful photos.

There was this one chick who was the top cheerleader and who all the guys wanted to sleep with because she had big breasts and a tan and an all-American face. She was rumored to have said “I LOOOOVE SEX” while on-stage at some school function but I don’t see how that could have happened. Anyway, she’s a real-estate sell-out in Dallas now and attends her business’s charity functions. Aww.

Now, do I want to go to this thing? To be honest I had pretty cool classmates. There was diversity, although not ethnically (our valedictorian was a computer geek Mormon and students #2-2,000 were Asians, but we only had a couple blacks in my classes, one who went to Princeton and the other who went to Dartmouth or something, so…). I’m sort of curious to go just if I could record the whole thing. Make a production out of it. I don’t think many people would remember me but I remember a lot about them.

It also intrigues me to see how people turn out. I mean, how did how people act in high school affect how they would discover themselves later on in life? How predictably did people turn out? Did anyone make a 180 degree turn-around in their life and completely surprise you? What did classmates manage to accomplish? Did they find social responsibility? Did they sell out? Or did they all just settle?

I figure if I went it would be eerily like Grosse Point Blank. I’d be John Cusack and I’d show up dressed in black and people would wonder where the fuck I went and I’d tell them I joined the Army and then I’d lie about becoming a professional assassin and then the reunion would come up and it would just be a bunch of exaggerated caricatures of the one-dimensional people I remembered from when we were all younger.