Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Month: September, 2005

Over Here – Day 34

The past few days have been pretty easy. Once we finished MOUT training, we had about 9-10 days off before we start any new training. I was able to get a 3-day pass to fly out to LA to see my parents before they left for Oman. The timing worked out perfectly with everyone being there, including both my cousins.

I got there on the night of the 21st, at around midnight. My sister let me in, and hearing the noise my doggy Honey walked out to see who it was. She stopped because she didn’t know who I was at first. But once she recognized me, she ran out to greet me. She was rolling on the floor, jumping on me, and licking me all over. My sister told me that Honey was pretty depressed after I left Phoenix, so she was really happy to see me again.

It was fun hanging out with my family, even though the days passed by really quickly. I just sat around and chilled, and ate some nice home-cooked meals. On my last day there, we had a barbeque, which was pretty awesome too. Though I felt like my time with them was too short, it was better than nothing so I’m glad I was able to spend time with them. I left on the 24th back to Ft. Lewis. It was hard for my family to see me go again, but I did my best to put them at ease. It was pretty hard for me too – but I know that each second that goes by only brings me closer to when I can see them again.

Since I’ve been back, things have been pretty easy here. We’ve been getting time to relax and chill, so that’s pretty good. The other major development was the removal of all four of my wisdom teeth. It was a mildly unpleasant experience. The parts that sucked were the numbing (when they stick a needle into your gum, and roof of the mouth) and the part where they used to drill to cut up my lower teeth – their roots were intertwined with the teeth in front of them. Once I was done, they gave me Percocet and Ibuprofen for the pain. The combination is pretty good – makes you feel mellow and chilled out, and helps the pain. Right after I got done, I was sorta miserable because my mouth was completely numb and I was unable to swallow. As a result, the blood and saliva were pooling in my mouth. Since I wasn’t allowed to spit it out anyway (because spitting can cause dry socket), I could only let it dribble out. It was pretty gross. Once the numbness went away, I was able to swallow. Towards the middle of the day, I felt much better, and the bleeding had stopped for the most part.

I’m on quarters for 3 days, and I am also on a no-PT profile for a week. It’s kinda cool, because I get to sit around in the barracks and chill. Today I was able to sleep in, and part of that was due to the Percocet, which completely knocked me out. Other than that, nothing much is going on. But I’ve been rather pensive recently, and especially when I was travelling out to LA. Everytime I see a civilian now, I feel how I am not part of that world anymore. I feel detached and separate – a sense of “us” and “them”. I imagine how they are able to go home after work to their families. It is not a sense of regret. I should say it is more of a sense of longing. There are simple things that you miss, like some of your freedoms. The freedom to go anywhere you want, and to do anything you want. There are things that you have to give up. I have even realized how simple my needs have become. A soldier has very simple needs and wants. A good bed, a nice meal, a few words from home – these are all a soldier needs to make his/her day. These are also things that I used to take for granted, and their importance is only evident to me in times like these. Well, that’s about all I have for now. Take care.

I have updated my blog. If you are still seeing this entry, it’s due to a bug I have in my redirection. I haven’t had the time to devise a new algorithm yet. What you want to do is clear your browser cache and reload the page. It should redirect to the latest entry. The best way to know if I’ve updated my blog or not, is to take a look at the calendar. If you don’t see anything new, jump forward to the next month to be sure.

Over Here – Day 21

As of a few days ago, it has been the longest time that I’ve been under Title 10 (Active Duty) since I underwent training at Fort Lee for my 92A (Automated Logistics Specialist) MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). It doesn’t feel all that bad right now. The first week was the hardest. I missed my friends and family terribly. I mean, I still miss them, but I’ve become more used to the feeling. I’m looking at this deployment like a vacation, or a new job, if you will. I try to remain focused on my duties and my tasks, and take each day as it comes.

Yesterday, we met a few soldiers (from Arizona also) who had returned from the Middle East (Kuwait). I remember in Basic Training and AIT, I would feel pretty bad when I saw other platoons graduating. It would remind me of how long I had before I could finally go home. When I saw these soldiers, I didn’t feel disheartened. Sure, I did wish I was in their place – but right now, I just want to get my training done, get out of Fort Lewis, and head out to Iraq. Once there, I can start taking care of my mission ther. It’s actually very rare that a unit has to go through three months of training. Many of the instructors here, looked very incredulous when they heard about it. The reason our training period is so long is that we are doing a mission in Iraq that is completely different from what we normally do. My unit is normally an artillery unit, but our mission is quite different from that. Hence, we have to undergo a lot of training so that we know what we have to do when we get to Iraq. Looking at it that way, I guess it is necessary, even though it makes our mission a whole lot longer.

The training we are going through isn’t all that bad. Some of it was just a refresher of what I was taught in Basic, like the Gas Chamber for example. Oh yeah, the Gas Chamber. That was… fun! I had almost forgotten the smell of CS gas! We went into the chamber (a tent, actually) and stood around in a circle. The instructor would come to you, and instruct you to remove your mask. You have to take a huge breath, pull off your mask, and then count to then. You then put it back on, and clear it (remove all the CS). It never clears perfectly – and so you can feel the CS gas burning the damp parts of your face. It feels like really bad razor burn, or like sunburn. After that, you can either take of your mask and experience the full effect of the gas, and then walk out, or you can just walk out with mask on. But being the macho and masochistic individuals we are (actually we’re just high-speed, HOOAH soldiers) we took off our masks, opened our eyes, and breathed in some of the gas. We came out gasping and choking, with our ears and noses and mouths streaming out tears, snot, and saliva. Not a very pretty picture, but it does a lot to clear up your sinuses. You are supposed to walk in a circle, waving your hands in the air so that the wind can blow away the CS particles. After about five minutes, your skin isn’t burning all that much, and your eyes should have stopped burning. In about ten minutes, you feel perfectly normal. So it’s not all that bad – I actually wouldn’t mind doing it again. The pepper spray thing didn’t really happen, but I hear we will get sprayed sometime before we leave.

Friday, I was supposed to get my wisdom teeth pulled. At least that’s what they told me. I get to the dental clinic at 8 am, and the clerk there tells me that I wasn’t supposed to be there until 12:30 pm. I get to the clinic at 12:30 pm, and after a few minutes, a doctor takes look at me. He asks me about my teeth, and how they’re feeling, and starts telling me about how they would be pulling my teeth out. After doing that, he tells me that I’m all set. I blink a couple of times and then ask him why hasn’t pulled me teeth out yet. He tells me that this was simply an evaluation and they were just verifying that they had to pull out my teeth. I was pretty pissed off. I felt like the entire day was a waste of my time. Anyway, I got a new appointment for the 27th. That’s the day when they’re actually going to pull out my teeth.

On Saturday, we had a road-march. I hate them with a passion. It involves carrying a huge load of your stuff over a long distance. You’re not marching properly, so it’s more of a walk. That’s not too bad, right? Wrong. I’m short (5’4″), so I have short legs. Conversely, taller people have longer legs, and therefore they take longer strides. I have to power-walk to keep up with them, since two of my strides equals one of theirs. Also, I get really bad shin splints while road marching, which doesn’t make the experience any more pleasurable. But since this is the Army, you just have to suck it up and drive on. I used to get them while running, but I don’t anymore. I guess if you keep doing the activity that gives you shin splints, they eventually go away. Still sucks. The rest of the day we got off, but since I had guard duty from 1 pm to 5 pm, I didn’t get off until 5pm. That sucked a little bit, but I’m sure there are more of those free days coming up. Which reminds me – I’ll let you guys know if I have a day or two off. So if any of you are going to be in the Seattle area at that time, maybe we can meet up. Rach, if I remember correctly, you might be coming up here, right? Hopefully I’ll have some time off then.

Since Sunday, we have been doing MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training. It’s actually pretty awesome training. MOUT is fairly recent. Most military training in the past emphasized on training in non-urban terrain. However, most modern combat seems to be happening in urban terrain (Somalia, Iraq, etc.), which implies that we need some serious urban warfare training. That’s where MOUT comes into the picture. We learn various techniques that allow us to effectively engafge and neutralize the enemy in such a terrain. Currently, we’re focusing on room-clearing techniques. These are techniques that allow us to clear rooms in buildings where there are suspected enemy combatants. These techniques emphasize teamwork and fire superiority to neutralize the enemy threat. Technique is very important here, and we’ve been spending a lot of time perfecting the correct SRM (Short-Range Marksmanship) stance, in addition to room-clearing techniques. We’ve been going over them again and again to ensure that they are comitted to muscle memory. On Sunday, we also went to the MOUT training site. The site consists of a entire fake neighbourhood that the Army has built. The buildings are real enough, but they aren’t complete. But that is irrelevant since it’s simply for training purposes. We actually got to try out our room clearing-techniques in these buildings, which added a whole new dimension to our training. We had to learn to adapt to our surroundings, because you never know what’s behind a door – where the enemy is hiding, and where obstructions are. We also learnt how to communicate effectively among our teammates and also with other teams. All in all, pretty good training. On Monday, we did live-fire qualification using the SRM stance. This is to ensure that you can engage the enemy target at close quarters. I’m actually a little ashamed to say that I didn’t qualify the first time. It was pretty much my fault. I’m pretty good at getting a good sight picture for long-range fire, but I wasn’t doing the short-range sighting correctly. As a result, all my shots were off in one corner of the target. However, once I figured out how to sight correctly, I ended up qualifying with a 20 out of 20. Also for motivation, my Sergeant told me that if I didn’t qualify I wouldn’t be able “play with my computer” for a week. 🙂 Tuesday was more MOUT training, where we learnt how to pull security on stairwells (open and closed) and clear hallways. Yesterday and today, was MOUT training with live rounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go. I was in the Orderly Room all day. The main reason is that we got our Cable Internet Access yesterday from Comcast. The network was initially set up with WPA-PSK, but my Laptop crapped out on it and wouldn’t connect. In addition, a few other people weren’t able to connect as well. Then suddenly, at about 10 pm, the entire network went down. Next morning, we found out that some moron had unplugged the Modem to watch the TV. We plugged it back in, but it was all screwed up. So I set up the wireless network again, this time using WEP. It’s working pretty smoothly so far, except for occasional outages where I have to power-cycle the modem. I think it’s because of the intense load due to the number of people we have here. I tried to reboot the modem, but the option was disabled by Comcast. However, I was able to access the reboot functionality anyway (hehehe), but I couldn’t really verify whether it had actually rebooted or not. Anyway, it seems to be functioning pretty well for right now, so that’s a good thing. I’m glad that I have access to the Internet now :). Right now, I’m on guard duty – they told me at the last minute. I have to be here for four hours – that’s till 1 am. I was looking forward to a good night of sleep because we don’t have wakeup until 0715 tomorrow, but now I’m only going a little more than 6 hours of sleep, which is even lesser than normal. It sucks. Talk about Murphy’s Law. I’m pissed right now. Everytime I’ve had guard, I’ve been screwed over. Bah.

That’s about it for now. Oh yeah, and I’ve got a few more pictures:

Firing Range
M16 Firing and Qualification Range

So Cool
Those BCG (Birth Control Glasses) shades make you look so cool

Full Battle Rattle
Full Battle Rattle Baby!

Thomas and I with Masks
Thomas and I with our masks on

Waiting to get Gassed
Waiting to get gassed!


Stack Right
Stacked Right before Entering and Clearing a Room

Over Here – Day 12

I’ve changed the title of my blog to “Over Here” – a play on the FOX network show Over There. I hope I don’t get sued or anything. The last few days have been pretty busy. We got in here on Monday morning. Once I walked out of the aircraft, a blast of cold air hit me and I think I finally understood the meaning of the word “refreshing”. We got onto a bus from the flight-line, and they drove us over to Ft. Lewis

Washington seems like a very pretty state. Some parts here remind me of northern Arizona. Actually, anything green looks pretty to me, because I’ve grown up in the desert all my life. The sky looks like the opening scene of The Simpsons and the weather is gorgeous – it feels like a nice Arizona winter. Although the mornings are pretty chilly – they are in the 40’s.

The first day, we didn’t do much. They just sent us over to our barracks. We unloaded a bunch of our stuff. A few words about our barracks. They are falling apart – they look like they were made in the 1930’s. Oh yeah, and they were condemned about two years ago, but then suddenly they were “un-condemned”, and now soldiers on pre-mob live there now. There are fifty soldiers staying in one billet and we all share one washer and dryer. We also have only three showers, and four toilets. But one thing about being in the Army is that you learn to deal and do the best with what you got. The next day we did SRP (Soldier Readiness Processing). SRP involves tons of paperwork and medical work. The Army basically does this to make sure that they can send you off. I was a “Go” (pass) at all stations, except dental – I apparently have to get all four of my wisdom teeth pulled. I’m not really looking forward to that, but oh well. At least, I’m not paying for it.

The next day, we got all of our gear. Doug, this is for you – they are providing us body armor. Although I didn’t get mine, because they are out of Small. I have to wait until next week. The day after that we did a whole bunch of weapons training, including the M60, the M249, and the MK19. They’re pretty amazing weapons – rather destructive (as weapons normally are) and very complicated pieces of machinery.

The days have been pretty long. It was only the first day that we all got to get personal time early. Over the last two days we’ve been going to bed later and later, but that’s because we’ve got so much stuff to do before settling in. I guess once we settle in, things will be much better.

The day after that, we also did some weapons qualification. I qualified on the MK19 (Mark 19), as an expert, and also qualified on the M16 in NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) firing mode. This is where you wear your gas mask and fire. It really sucks, and is really hard. In addition, I had body armor, and this was the first time I fired with body armor. It’s nor very easy – the collar of the vest pushes down on your neck, so it’s very hard to get a good sight picture. But I managed to get a very tight grouping during sighting. Today is also when we’ve finally got some down-time. Like I mentioned before, the last few days have been pretty hectic, with early mornings and late nights. So we’re really enjoying the time that we’re getting off.

Yesterday, we did more training. We first did a Land Nav (Land Navigation) course, where you have to plot courses to grid co-ordinates on a map, and then find your way to them within a specified time limit. It was a pretty good exercise, because map reading is a very important skill in the Army. The course wasn’t too difficult, but they really made you work for it because the terrain was pretty hilly and you only had your map, compass, and terrain features to rely on. All in all, some pretty good training. After the Land Nav course, we started learning room clearing techniques. These are the techniques you use to clear rooms in buildings where enemies are suspected to be hiding. You enter the rooms in four-man teams, engaging targets as you see them, and eliminating those targets until the room is clear. They taught us some pretty good stuff, and the techniques are very strategic, ensuring fire superiority and the safety of your team members.

Today, we didn’t do that much. We did some more Glass House (room clearing) training, and that was about it. Tomorrow however, is going to be fun. We have the Gas Chamber where we get exposed to CS gas (tear gas), and then get sprayed with OC spray (pepper spray). Fun stuff… I guess!

Oh yeah, and yesterday was my birthday! I turned 24 – it wasn’t a very eventful birthday; we did have some pizza and coke, and that was because a pizza guy just happened to come by our barracks. But I got a really good surprise today when I received an unexpected mail package from Sadhana. There were brownies in it and a birthday card – she had got together with my friends to send that to me. I hadn’t expected it at all, and it was a really nice surprise. It really made my day! Thanks so much, Sadhu! I love you! And thanks to everyone else who was in on it! You guys are awesome! Love you too!

Anyway, it’s funny how quickly you get adjusted to the Army mindset. I haven’t made a bunk in over three years, but the first day I got here, it all came back to me. Then there’s the “hurry up and wait”. In the Army you do a lot of waiting around. Especially in lines. While in basic training or AIT, you simply have to suck it in. You have to stand around getting bored. Here it’s not so bad. I usually carry around some reading material with me. Right now, I’m reading The Confusion, volume two of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Then there’s sleeping (although that’s heavily discouraged and you can get in trouble) – it helps pass a lot of time. In some sense, it feels like being in Basic Training all over again, but in other respects, it’s much better. For example, we have a lot more liberties. Also, I know almost all the people I’m with. So it’s not like Basic Training where you have to start building up your relationships with your fellow soldiers from scratch. A sense of belonging exists from the start, and that definitely helps. I think I’ve gotten used to the idea of being a soldier for the next year and a half. I mean, honestly – there’s no use pining over it. I’m a soldier, and this is my job, and I’m going to do it. There were probably many ways I could have gotten out of being mobilized. But I don’t think I could have done that and lived with myself. I am part of a team, and my fellow teammates – my fellow soldiers, they depend on me. Also throw in words like Honor and Loyalty. To some, these may simply seem like words, and that too, overly clicheed. But to me, they mean a whole lot, and I know that some of you out there understand.

I still miss my friends and my family, and I guess I will continue missing them until I get back. It’s hard to think that I won’t be seeing them for the next year and a half. But I know they are proud of me, and I want to live up to that by doing my duty. I know it won’t be easy. However, in the end I think it will all be worth. It will be the experience of a life time, and it will change me and build me up in ways subtle, and not so subtle.

Ah yes, before I forget, here are some pictures:

Our Barracks
Our Barracks

Ancient heater
Ancient heater

Weapons Training
Weapons Training

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