Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stupid Shit of The Week™

Dear readers, it has been far too long since my last entry. It's the same old same old, rushing around at the last minute to squeeze two months worth of work into a few weeks. I would have liked another entry before another edition of SSOTW, but this simply cannot wait. The winner of the award this week is the undisputed champion and there is no need for nominees. Loading connexes with thousands of pounds of worthless equipment pales in comparison to what was handed down to us early last week. The bar has been sunk readers, sunk to an unrecoverable level and I want the world to hear about this before any of you consider a career in the military or know someone who is thinking about it. The only candidate and winner of SSOTW:

Personal Armor Restriction

I touched on this subject on my first post, how the Army has restricted soldiers from wearing armor superior to the ceramic weights we currently haul around.

"We're very concerned that people are spending their hard-earned money on something that doesn't provide the level of protection that the Army requires people to wear. So they're, frankly, wasting their money on substandard stuff," said Col. Thomas Spoehr, director of materiel for the Army.

This is exactly what happens when you let an ultra bureaucratic committee of blowhards decide the fate of soldiers who actually do, gasp!, dangerous things with the terrible equipment they've been given. I am willing to bet anything that this colonel doesn't leave his air conditioned office at the Pentagon, where his most intense moments are posing for photo ops and keeping his uniform neat. I can say with all confidence, Colonel Spoehr, that I could look online for five minutes and find plates that will better protect me from rifle rounds and shrapnel than the Army issue plates. I'd even say that they'd be lighter than the roughly 15 pound ceramics we lug around. Embarassment of the Army's shortcomings in the armor sector apparently is worth more than blood and lives.

Our issue vests come in three pieces, thin kevlar inserts that protect from nothing more than a 9mm round, the ceramic plates and the outer shell that holds them together. The outcome is as follows:

These vests will stop anything!

These vests are put on like any other. You slip them on like a jacket, and the vest closes with two velcro flaps on the front. In many cases the flap's velcro will be worn and come undone from the added density of the plates. You can buy clips that hold it shut, but why should you?
There is a place near Ft. Lewis where you can buy an alternative vest, and my team leader was kind enough to have his dad's company sponsor a purchase of nine vests for my squad, at $400 each. This vest doesn't fold in front but rather fits over your head like you've seen in countless cop shows. The sides are held together with velcro and are buckled for a more secure fit.


In simulated and real combat, the vest needs to be taken off to assess and treat a casualty. With the first vest, it's extremely difficult and dangerous to remove the vest given the nature of wear. If the casualty has a neck or spinal injury, movement of the casualty could further harm him. With the new vests, it's a matter of unclipping and ripping off one of the two panels, gaining instant access to the injury with minimal movement and maximum efficiency. So when you get shot in the chest because your inadequate armor failed to stop a rifle round, the amount of time it takes a medic to treat your wound means life or death. Thus, the vest you wear means life or death. I've worn the old vest for a year and a half and the new one for a month, and without reserve I can tell you the new one is better in every way. If you're a dedicated reader of this fine blog, you know it can only get better from this point.
Under the new banned armor directive, we cannot wear the vests I have praised because it qualifies as third party armor, though it is merely a shell and still holds the actual armor we'd be wearing anyway. We were told if we were killed wearing the new vests, our families wouldn't get the $400,000 life insurance policy because we weren't wearing Army issue equipment. A most subtle blackmail I'd say. And people like Colonel Spoehr sit back in comfort, far removed from the patrols in the streets of Ramadi, Mosul and Baghdad, and decide I am too irresponsible to choose how to protect my own life, that it's out of my hands. This is where the bar has been set, to a new level of shame and reckless abandon.
549 days.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bastions of professionalism

I read an interesting article on MSNBC about soldiers suffering from post-tramatic stress syndrome serving additional tours in Iraq.

The Hartford Courant, citing records obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act and more than 100 interviews of families and military personnel, reported numerous cases in which the military failed to follow its own regulations in screening, treating and evacuating mentally unfit troops from Iraq.

The military stresses cohesion to an almost insane degree, yet they show their true colors with this sort of thing. A lack of bodies forces soldiers with serious issues to be put into situations that will further destroy their mental well being. Oh well, it's about the bottom line right?

Commanders, not medical professionals, have final say over whether a troubled soldier is retained in the war zone.

That's like giving your dissertation to a twelve year old for approval. What does a twelve year old know about astrophysics, anyway? Remember readers, these people are responsible for the lives of your sons and daughters.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stupid Shit of The Week™

Sadly, it has been a full week since my last entry, also another SSOTW summary. As we draw closer to deployment, the workload increases exponentially. Ranges have filled the schedule for the past two weeks, day after day and in many cases at night. We just finished another round of ranges and it is suspect that we are done with them. But one of the few things I've learned is to not trust superiors. Which brings me to this week's nominees for Stupid Shit of The Week™ :

  • Bold faced lies to subordinates
  • Moving a huge gym mat into a connex
  • Sending weights to Iraq with us

And the winner is:

Bold faced lies to subordinates!

As we finished a range at 4:30 in the morning this Wednesday, we were given a late call of 10:00 after almost twenty straight hours of work. After doing quite literally nothing all day, we were finally released sometime around 5PM Thursday evening. Not an hour went by when we found out that our platoon was relieving another platoon for ammo guard at midnight, and that everyone is going. As usual, the story changed three times over the course of an hour, but what was final was that six guys were going out, and they would receive Friday off as a consolation for volunteering for the shaft. Figuring it came from an influential person, I thought it sounded like a legit deal and jumped on it. As we get there, we decide to clean up the range to get a start on what the whole platoon would be doing the next morning. At about 2AM we decided to call it quits. As everyone began arriving from their full nights sleep in warm beds, they bitched about us not finishing the job with little time and inadequate manpower. It was then when we found out the truth we secretly held in our hearts: no day off for us. Thanks for the help and for volunteering to hose away your night though, suckers. We each learned the bitter lesson of walking into lucrative promises. I can't think of a better morale booster than an old fashioned bait and switch.

The gym mat, now there is another black hole of common sense and reason. We have this rubber sparring mat that is maybe 30 feet by 25 feet. It's so thick and long that it couldn't fit up the stairwell to get to the second floor. Some genius thought of erecting an elaborate system of pulleys on the second floor balcony to get it up, using a Bronco for leverage. It made it up after almost crushing several people to death and almost ripping off both the handrails on the balcony and the frame of the truck. But Friday it was decided to throw the mat off the roof and load it into a connex, bound for Iraq. Now, before you ask if there are facilities at bases in Iraq that have mats and matlike surfaces like the one we're loading, the answer is yes. I couldn't give you a straight answer as to why we're taking it, but you know how it goes by now dear reader, if you've been current with my updates. I am supremely interested in what civilians think when reading about these parades of nonsense I march to every day, so feel free to leave comments or questions.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stupid Shit of The Week™

This is part two of a weekly series, Stupid Shit of The Week™ and as usual, I nominate the most frustrating, backwards and pointless events of the past five days. The nominees:

Zeroing rifles for the fifth time

KD Range Support

Packing for cancelled layouts

And the winner is:


A known distance range is a range with lines 200 meters and 300 meters away from targets, so you know exactly how far you are from them. In today's superiorly modern army, we have ranges with computer regulated pop up targets that can give feedback on where the target is shot. If you happen to miss and the round is close enough, it can even show where the round passed by the target. Now, this is where army trademark inefficiency sets in. While that technology is available, we have something World War II-ish for KD ranges. The targets are on a chain pulley system under a dropoff, and you have to pull the bar up and down to raise and lower the paper targets. When an iteration is complete, you lower the target and put a white cardboard circle the size of a coaster into where they're shooting, so they know if they're doing well or not. It gets better, really. You then put little pieces of black tape over the holes so you can differentiate between iterations.

So stupid

Now, this lunacy is compounded by people shouting constantly to hurry up, and people firing taking forever to actually shoot. I can tell you with no reservations that this kind of training is a waste of a clean gun and a sunny day. Not to mention the slave driving in the pit. We worked from 9am-5pm with no food and little water. When we were approaching the end of the day, it took a turn for the surreal. We got word we were doing a nightfire, which means using nightvision sights with infrared lasers on our guns to shoot the targets. To my knowledge this is the first time a nightfire was attempted on a KD range, given the feedback is a WHITE CIRCLE A FEW INCHES IN DIAMETER. How do you see a white circle at night 200-300 meters away with night vision, you ask? I joked about pouring glowstick juice on the circle so they can see it, but to my astonishment, someone else higher up had the same idea and told us to do it. At this point, everyone in the pit gave up on accurate feedback and stuck the circle any damn place. We made it off the range past midnight, so 15 hours straight of pulling up and down, up and down, down and up. But we did get small breaks in between groups of firers.


Above: Brave vanguards of freedom
sleep on each other. I'm on the right.

Tune in next week for another edition of SSOTW. I have a distinct feeling there are going to be many nominees.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hell Week

Faithful readers, I've been away at ranges for the past three days and haven't found time to sling ink at this sorrowful rag and the sordid details it is inspired by. Every night of this week we have been released past midnight at the earliest, 3 AM the latest. What is most puzzling is that the past two weeks were filled with idle time; we literally did nothing all day. But this whole month is plagued with ranges, day and night. It's not only draining physically but emotionally, and they chose to dump it all on us as we prepare to leave for Iraq in June. I lost the ability to be baffled, shocked, bewildered or surprised a long time ago by the reckless inefficiency that the Army holds as its highest dishonor. I feel bad for the guys that have a family here, kids or a wife, that will be seperated from them for a year come this June and they spend this week sleeping on my couch, because going home is too far and will take too long in the morning. Instead we spend the days and nights on bullshit needless ranges that serve no purpose except unabridged tension and stress. I will go into detail about one of the ranges on Friday or Saturday, as it surely qualifies as Stupid Shit of The Week™. I'd say it is the clear cut winner of the (prestigious?) weekly award, but it's only early Thursday morning. There's still two more ranges this week! But for a taste of something, anything, here's an SUV that plowed into a Stryker:

Ahahaha, aaaah

Seven hours from now, I begin the process over. A range from 9 AM to whenever. The only difference is that I moved one day closer to the light. 569 days until I get there.