Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Tag: hhb 1/180th

Over Here – Day 92

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, hope you all had a blast. Things have been pretty slow over here. We’re essentially waiting to get to Baghdad, and I really can’t wait until we get there. That’s because once we do, I can start doing what I’ve been trained to do. Thanksgiving was interesting. The day started with us going to the range to fire our pistols and rifles. They asked us to keep an eye downrange in case camels or bedouins came into our field of fire. In the event of that happening, we were supposed to yell “Cease Fire!”. I didn’t do too well on the pistol qualification the first time around, because I have never fired a pistol before. But on the second try, I did pretty well once I figured out what I was doing wrong. After the range, we got back to the base. They had held the DFAC (Dining Facility) open for us, so that we could enjoy the Thanksgiving dinner. The food wasn’t too bad. They had the whole deal there – Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, and so on and so forth. I ate until I was stuffed!

Today we didn’t do much other than weapons maintenance. Being out in the range all day, filled the weapons with sand. That’s one thing I’m going to have to deal with for the next year – cleaning the sand out of everything. So as you can see, things have been pretty slow so far. We have some more training coming up, but other than that, it looks to be a waiting game. I’ve been around camp some more, but the landscape doesn’t change significantly. However, there are really pretty sunrises and sunsets here. The flat land makes for good viewing.

Oh I also have my address in Baghdad, so you guys can start mailing me. The address is going to change in a month when the unit we’re attaching to leaves, and a new one comes in. However, the APO should remain the same. I will let you guys know when it changes:

Vivin Paliath
504th MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s about all I have for now, and here are the pictures I promised. There are some pictures from my visit to Phoenix as well:

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Naima, Me, Suraj, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Keerthi, Me, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen, Naima

At China Lite
L-R: Anjali, Me, Keerthi, Rachna

Vibha and I
L-R: Vibha and I

Surreal Phoenix
What Phoenix looks like, with slow shutter speed.

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Naima, Me, Suraj, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen

Camp Caisson
L-R: Ortiz, Greene, Kramp, Smith, Me

Singalong
Outside our barracks at Ft. Louis, singing along to SSG Lopez’s “Bear Song” to pass time

At McChord
Waiting to board our plane at McChord AFB.

In the plane
In the plane…

In the plane
How often do you see a person with an automatic rifle, on a civilian aircraft? SGT Cook is either flashing the peace sign, or the donkey sign. I suspect the latter.

Our barracks
Our barracks in Kuwait

Picture of the Camp
A picture of our camp.

Picture of the Camp
Another picture of our camp.

Picture of the Camp
One more picture of our camp.

At Baskin Robbins
Greene and I at Baskin Robbins.

Kroney's new ride
Kroney with his new ride.

In Full Battle Rattle
That’s me in full battle rattle, minus my rifle.

Desert Siesta
Relaxing in the desert in the afternoon.

Maintenance
Top L-R: SFC Bottemiller, SPC Greene, SGT Laning, SPC Kronemeyer, Me
Bottom L-R: SGT Dahlseid, PFC Smith, SSG Lopez, SPC Ortiz

Maintenance
Top L-R: SFC Bottemiller, SPC Greene, SGT Laning, SPC Kronemeyer
Bottom L-R: SGT Dahlseid, PFC Smith, SSG Lopez, SPC Ortiz, Me

Camp Sunrise
Camp Sunrise

Camp Sunset
Camp Sunset

Over Here – Day 88

Finally, I – we, are here. A landscape foreign, yet familiar. A desert of a different kind. For me, the sight meant a little more since it reminded me of where I grew up. It’s funny how when you fly, your entire period of travel stretches out into one long day. My wake-up at Ft. Lewis doesn’t seem that long ago. Our last day there wasn’t too eventful, well, if you don’t count to whole “going to war” thing. We packed up our stuff and staged it outside before we had a “GI Party” (Army euphemism for cleaning things up) at the barracks. That took a few hours, since we had to sweep and mop, strip the floors, wax them, and finally buff them. We waited around for a while with nothing to do, since we wouldn’t get on the buses until 22:30. Our unit was split in two, with one half taking off earlier than the rest of us. So after we said Good-Bye to them, we sat around watching movies, listening to music, and talking to family and friends. I called up almost everyone I know and bade farewell to them. I also had the opportunity that evening to meet someone I had met during AIT at Ft. Lee. It was another Malayalee in the Army. It was actually pure luck that I got in touch with him. While I was at the Soldier Processing Center, one of the stations I went through was the Chaplain’s station. I noticed his last name was “Joseph”, and his features looked South Indian to me, and so I was pretty sure he was a Christian-Malayalee. I proceeded to ask him if he was from India, and if so, if he was from Kerala. He replied in the affirmative, and we proceeded to talk some more. I was telling him how he was the second Malayalee that I’ve met in the US Army. When he asked me who the first was, I told him, and that was when he told me that he knew who I was talking about and that the soldier had been here for the last four years. He gave me his number and I was able to get in touch with him on my last day at Ft. Louis. He said it was a pity that we couldn’t get in touch earlier, since he could have introduced me to the other Malayalees on base. Apparently there are at least 20 on the base, and there is a sizeable Malayalee community in the vicinity of Ft. Louis. In addition, had we met earlier, I could possibly have even celebrated Onam there. But eitherway, it was good to get in touch with him again.

Our departure from Ft. Louis was pretty uneventful and we made it to McChord Airforce Base pretty quickly. There, we waited for a while since our flight wouldn’t be leaving until 2:30 am. My buddies and I got some dinner from the USO and then I took a nap until it was time for our flight. To get to our flight, we had to walk to the plane. It was a decently long walk at a brisk pace, with all our gear (minus the ruck and duffel bags) in really cold weather. Once I boarded the flight, I felt rather incongruous. The flight was a civilian flight, but here I was, walking down with my rifle slung in front of me, and a pistol strapped to my thigh. You don’t get to do that every day. The flight was pretty comfortable, and I was pretty tired, so I slept most of the way to our first stop, which was the town of Gander in Canada. Gander happens to be in New Foundland, which as I learnt, is pronounced “Noo Funland” and not pronounced how it is spelt. The town is also in the middle of nowhere. The landscape looked pretty desolate and seemed to have been through a controlled burn except for the occasional evergreen. We were in transit at Gander for almost on hour. During that hour, I got to brush up on some French by trying to read the signs and understand them. I also got some real chocolate from the duty-free store. We got back on the plane and flew to Budapest. During this flight, I slept some more, listened to some music, and watched the end of The Italian Job, watched Fantastic Four, and saw most of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life before they stopped it in mid-show because of our arrival at our destination. We weren’t allowed to deplane at Budapest and so sat around for about three hours while they changed crews and refueled. I couldn’t see much of Budapest since it was night, and the city lights outside made it look like pretty much any other city at night. For the next leg, I listened to more music, finished Contact by Carl Sagan for the second time, and started on Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Soon, I heard the pilot announce over the intercom that we would be coming into Kuwait International Airport in about 20 to 30 minutes. People pushed up the window shades, and sunlight spilled into cabin. Once we were at a lower altitude, I could make out the landscape. It reminded me a lot of Oman, and also of Arizona. Once we landed, we secured out gear, and waited around for instructions. Somebody came onto the plane and in true military fashion, barked out instructions for us. We got out, made our way to a bus and headed to the staging area where we waited for two hours for more instructions. After waiting around, we finally got an escort to our base. It was supposed to take us an hour and a half to get there, but it took us three because apparently, our escorts got lost.

We finally reached the camp, which is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing as far as the eye can see, and the land is completely flat. There is absolutely nothing around here. The camp looks like it’s in a permanent state of construction. The landscape is dotted with white tents in the shape of ellipsoid half-cylinders. This is what we live in. There are also other forms of housing that are either other forms of tents, or pre-fabs. The placement of the buildings seem to be pretty haphazard, but I think there is a method to the madness. I haven’t seen a single living thing (other than us, and I did see one fly) around here. The land is devoid of any vegetation and frankly, looks like some sort of lunar or martian outpost. However, it’s not all that bad. They’ve done a good job of making the place habitable. The food here isn’t that bad – it’s actually better than what they had at Ft. Louis, and there are more choices. Also they have Taco Bell, Burger King, and Baskin Robbins here. Oh yeah, and Shawerma shops too! I don’t feel that this place is all that bad, and I’m not disappointed to be here. I’m looking at everything as a new experience, and so far, it has been pretty interesting. We’ve had this entire day off, and I haven’t done much other than eat, sleep, and play computer games. It’s been a slow day. Tomorrow, we start training. I don’t know how long we are going to be here, but our time started the moment we got here. So I’m hoping that I’ll be back in the United States a year from now.

That’s all for now. I’d put up some pictures, except the upstream speed here is pretty slow, and it’s taking a while. I’ll try and do it next time, if I have more time. Until then, take care and keep in touch.

Over Here – Day 85

Well, it’s finally here. I’m leaving for Iraq. I guess the question on all your minds is “How do you feel?”. To be very honest, I am excited. I can’t wait to get out of here – this place with it’s cold and wet weather, and get to Iraq and get my job done. The sooner I get there, the sooner I get back, right? I think we’ll do a good job out there. I have a lot of pride and complete faith in my fellow soldiers. I think we’ll do great.

Nothing much is going on today. We’ve packed all our stuff and staged it outside. We’re currently cleaning the barracks right now, to make it ready for the unit that’s coming over next. I don’t leave until much later today, so I’m just playing the waiting game. Our flight is going to be long, but I have a bunch of books, and my MP3 player with me, so I think I have enough to pass the time. Plus, I’m hoping they have some sort of in-flight entertainment or something. Who knows…

Anyway, that’s it for now. The next time I post, it may be from Kuwait or Iraq. It may be a couple of weeks before I get in touch with you guys again. I’d like to thank you all for your continuing support and your prayers for my fellow soldiers and I. It means a lot to us. I miss you all terribly and love you even more. Take care, and I’ll be back safe and sound among you all, in a year.

Over Here – Day 75

This is going to be a bit of a long one, with a bunch of pictures too! I’ll start off with where I left off last time. We got to Yakima on the 21st, which was a Friday. It was good seeing everyone in my section after a week and of course, they were giving me crap about having an easy time back in the barracks. The maintenance section didn’t have much going on other than Weapons Guard, it seemed, and the shifts were six hours long too. The rest of the week was pretty slow. I didn’t have much to do than updating some Excel spreadsheets, and driving around Humvees. We weren’t allowed any alcohol at all, except for three nights where the commander let us have some at the Oasis Club that’s on base. The last two days were a little hectic, with us having to pack all our stuff up, clean vehicles and equipment and turn them in. Yakima reminded me of home, because the weather was cool and dry and the area was essentially a desert. Never have I been happier to see desolation. I had been getting sick of trees.

While we were at Yakima, we were informed of a new “Leave policy”. Apparently we wouldn’t be getting any leave at all to go home, before we left for Iraq. Needless to say, we were pretty bummed out. However, things in the Army change by the minute, and so the next day we were informed that we would be getting a four-day pass, where we were authorized to go home. I booked my ticket that same night.

Once we got back to the barracks, we unloaded all our equipment. That same night, we were driven over to the airport. There, Sergeant Eagleman, PFC Silva and I first checked out the USO, but decided against staying there. We actually decided to get a hotel since it would end up being pretty cheap with the cost being split amongst the three of us. We left all our stuff at the hotel room, grabbed something to eat, and then headed out to Downtown Seattle. The first club we headed out to was closing down, so we headed to another bar across the street. We had a couple of beers, met some pretty ladies and then took the “Party Bus” back to the airport. From the airport, there was a free shuttle to the Hotel. We took an hour-long nap, and then headed to the airport to take our flight to Phoenix. I’d say about 50-60 people from our company were on that flight. The pilot even welcomed us on the plane through the intercom since they could tell we were from the Army by our distinctive haircuts.

I reached Phoenix on the morning of the 31st, and my sister was there to pick me up. It felt absolutely great to be back home. The weather was just gorgeous and it was just nice being in good old Arizona again. My dog Honey was elated to see me again, and she was going crazy with happiness. First we ran some errands, and then headed home. There, we got ready to go to Josh’s place in Tempe, so that we could all go to Mill Avenue for Halloween. I didn’t have a new costume, so I wore my Star Trek costume from last year. We met up at Josh’s had a couple of beers, and then headed over to Mill. Mill was crazy as usual, and there were some pretty neat costumes this year. One I saw, was a pretty good imitation of Johnny Depp‘s character in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow. We headed to The Tavern, where more beer and shots of Tequila were had. The night was pretty crazy, and I ended up crashing at Josh’s place. The rest of my trip in Phoenix was pretty hectic – my sister and I had to take stuff at the house our parents just bought, and then I had to run around and meet all my friends. The days went by pretty quick, and before I knew it, I had to go back to Ft. Louis. The entire trip was bittersweet, because I knew that going to Phoenix meant I would have to leave. However, it was completely worth it. I got to hang out with my family and friends and got to see Arizona one last time before I head out to Iraq. I had a really great time, and I was very happy while I was there. I want to thank everyone for showing me a great time, and showing me that I am loved and missed.

The trip back home was alright, and I spent most of the time watching the in-flight movie, and listening to music. I got back to base to be greated by really unpleasant wet, and cold weather. It was a complete letdown from the gorgeous weather in Phoenix. In fact, yesterday was the only day it didn’t rain. It rained for every single day since I got back until the day before yesterday. I’ve been bundling myself up in all sorts of cold-weather gear to get through this absolutely disgusting weather.

The training we’ve been going through for the past few days has to do with Detainee Ops. This means anything having to do with handling Detainees, such as your interaction with them in a Detainee Camp, searching detainees, Riot Control, and things of that nature. The Army has put a lot of time and money into this program to train soldiers so that another Abu Gharaib doesn’t happen. The training is pretty good, and I probably wouldn’t mind it as much if it wasn’t for this beastly cold.

The other major information that I have right now is our date of departure. I found out about this barely a few hours ago. I’m leaving on the 19th to Kuwait. We should be there for a while, and after that we’ll go to Iraq. We should be there for about a year, and then head back about the date we left, next year. Mark your calendars! I’m actually pretty excited because the sooner I get there, the sooner I can get back. I’m pretty sick of Ft. Louis (the terrible weather doesn’t make it any easier) and I just want to go downrange and get my job done. I’m not sure when we will get internet access, or access to phones and such, so I’m not sure when I will be able to contact you all again. Rest assured, I will contact you as soon as I can.

Oh yes, and I have to say this. I’ve got Mysql, PHP and Apache installed on my laptop, and I took a complete dump of my website and set it up on the laptop. So I can continue to develop even if I don’t have internet access. Woohoo! Oh yeah, and if you’re wondering about the ungodly time of the journal entry, it’s because I’m on guard duty.

This is all I have for right now. The next time I write, it will probably be from Iraq. Take care, and as always, here are some pictures. I will be adding some more to this entry since I haven’t downloaded them all from my camera yet, but this is what I have for now:

Yakima Motorpool
Motorpool in Yakima. The hill in the background is called Squaw Tit. No joke.

HQ Platoon
Headquarters leads the way HOOAH!

Roughnecks
1/180th FA Roughnecks!

Me with 240B
That’s me, holding a 240B.

The next few shots are my, ahem, “artistic” shots.

Pipedream Clear
Pipedream: Clear

Pipedream Cloudy
Pipedream: Cloudy

Pipedream BW
Pipedream: B&W

Pipedream Sepia
Pipedream: Sepia

Rochelle and I
Rochelle and I in downtown Seattle

Halloween Group 1
L-R:Me, Nasser, Shareen, Yasmin, Keerthi

Rachna and I
Rachna and I

Sakeena, Johanna and I
L-R: Me, Sakeena, Johanna

My sister and I
My sister and I

Hemina and I
Hemina and I

Halloween Group 2
L-R: Josh, Loretto, Me, Daniella

Daniella and I
Daniella and I

Loretto and I
Loretto and I

Halloween Group 3
Top L-R: Laura, Michael, Carlos
Bottom L-R: Lance, Keerthi, Me, Jenny, Andreas

Over Here – Day 54

Firstly, there are lot of pictures in this post, so be patient while the page loads, and secondly, sorry about not having written in a while. We’ve been pretty busy over the last three or four weeks, and whatever free time I got was spent in talking to friends, hanging out with my buddies here, or just relaxing. So I really didn’t have the time to update my journal. We’ve only had two major things going on since I last wrote, and one of them is still going on. The first training event we underwent was “Force Protection”. Here they taught us different things like searching vehicles, personnel, and reacting to incoming mortar fire, and small-arms fire. On the final day of our excercise, I was in the CCP (Casualty Collection Point), listening in to the Radio and relaying the information to the First Sergeant. It was a pretty good experience, and it isn’t my normal job, so it was pretty cool doing something different for a while. You get to listen in on the entire battle and know what’s going on.

The exercise was pretty realistic. We had civilians dressed up as Iraqis, and even some Middle Easterners too. While I was operating the radio at the CCP, we would have casualties come in. Sometimes it got pretty hectic, with the floor packed with wounded or dying (simulated, of course) soldiers. We would then have to radio in for a MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation). Once the chopper landed, they would have to pick up the casualties and carry them to the chopper. At one point in the excercise, they killed off our entire leadership (Commander and First Sergeant), and then blew up the Operations Center. The point was to see how we’d react in adverse circumstances. Of course, nothing like that is remotely going to happen in Iraq, so you can quit your worrying!

After Force Protection, we got a day off because the Commander was extremely pleased with our performance. That night we didn’t have curfew, so my buddies and I hit up a karaoke bar. That was a whole lot of fun. We didn’t get back until 2 am! The next morning, even though we were off, the HQ platoon had guard duty (luck of the draw). I had duty from 9 am to 1 pm, so it wasn’t so bad. Later that evening we had a barbeque where we had lots of beer and cooked Bratwurst. A welcome change from the chow-hall food. The next training event was more of the same, although this time the line-platoons got to fire weapons. HQ didn’t do much other than co-ordinating the attack and things like that. The first day, I was at the CCP, but the second day I got to run around with the Commander as his Radio Operator, which was also pretty cool.

Right now, most of the unit is at Yakima, which is a base about four hours from here. I was originally supposed to go, but then I was told that I have an ULLS-G class, and wouldn’t be going to Yakima for another week. I wasn’t too disappointed because I’d rather be here! But what sucked was that my stuff was already packed, and it looked like I wouldn’t be having my clothes for a while. However, I ended up getting them that night. We pretty much had the weekend off because there are only eight of us here from the whole unit. I was able to sleep in, which is always good. Classes started on Monday, and they have been pretty easy. We also get off somewhat early since we can leave after we finish our practical excercises. It has been a good week so far, and I think I’m going to be a little disappointed when it’s over. Oh well. However, time has been going by pretty fast. We should be leaving for Iraq sometime between the middle and end of November. Once we leave the US, our year starts. So hopefully, I should be back no later than December of next year.

Well, that’s about it for now, but here are a few more pictures:

Hotdog Buns
Me with some hotdog buns

Sacrificial Lamb
This is a prank we played on a guy in our bay. We made a “sacrificial lamb” out of a towel, complete with blood drops (red cough-syrup) and hung it in front of his bunk. Although it’s not clear, the rocks at the bottom of the picture are arranged in a pentagram

Rucking Up
Rucking Up before heading out to train

Marching Out
Marching out to train

Casualties
The Wounded and Dying

Thomas
Doc Eagleman

RTO
Reading you loud and clear

Foggy Morning
A foggy morning at the range. I had to turn the flash off for this picture since the fog was so dense. You could see the droplets if the flash was turned on, which gave the picture a splotchy appearance. This one turned out surprisingly well. Very surreal.

TOC in the woods
On the way to our Operations Center in the woods

Snake
We found this little fella by some trees. Anybody know what kind of snake it is?

Commander and I
The Commander and I. I was his radio operator for the day. Hence the “phone” strapped to my head.

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!

Gassed!
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

It’s finally here

Tonight is the last light I will sleep as a civilian. Although technically I came under orders on the 26th of August, it’s only tonight that I feel, is my last night as a civilian.

Starting tomorrow, I am a full-time soldier for at least a year and a half, waking up at o-dark-thirty every morning.

I don’t think I can put into words the emotional turmoil I am feeling right now. Tonight I saw many of my friends for the last time (for about a year and half). My family has been with me for the past two weeks, and I will be seeing them for the last time (for a year and a half) tomorrow. I cannot ask for a better set of friends and family. They are the most magnificent, caring, loving people I have ever met, and I am blessed to have them.

I want you all to know I love you, and I will sorely miss you all. Thank you for all the surprises and the gifts you have given me over the past month. Thank you for all the love, laughs, and beautiful memories. Thank you for making my final month before my mission to Iraq a treasure-trove of good memories. Thank you for everything.

I will be counting the days till I get back…

I have updated my blog. If you are still seeing this entry, it’s due to a bug I have in my redirection. 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..

Thoughts

So this whole “going to war” thing is a huge deal. Obviously. There are many reasons why I don’t want to go, and then there are reasons that I must. But anyway, that is not the point. Sometimes I think that getting away from here for about a year would be good. An escape? I don’t know. It feels like it sometimes. But I prefer the euphemistic term “welcome reprieve”. I like to think that things may change when I get back…

I find myself seriously questioning certain facets of my life. First, am I happy? I guess I am… but it would be more accurate to say that I am mostly content. My job is a pleasure – I do what I enjoy doing most – writing code. But at other times I feel seriously apathetic about my life. I mean, I go to work from 8 to 5. I pick up my dog, Honey, from Sadhana’s home (I am really thankful to her family for taking care of her), I spend maybe half an hour there with her parents and grandma, and of course, Juju and Nimbus. After that, I come back home. I check my mail (real mail), pay bills, have dinner, write some of my own code, and then I head to bed. That’s it. That’s my day… how boring.

I sometimes want to go back to being in College. Each day was different. But then again, when I was in college, I wanted the stability of a normal job. I guess the grass is greener on the other side. My friends are still here, but of course, they have their own lives and the things that they need to do. My family is here and I do talk to them on occasion (although I should call my mom and dad much more frequently). They’re always there for me and I have never felt neglected by them.

I guess things changed a lot when I graduated. When I was in school, there was always someone I could interact with on a regular basis. Now that’s not there. It’s much harder for me to interact with any of my friends because I don’t see them that much. I guess what I am saying is that I feel pretty lonely at times. In response to that most of my friends might be saying “get a girlfriend” and some might even say “go get married now”. As far as the second one goes, please, I am only 23. The first one? Well. I am picky. Not that there is a serious lack of women to go around, but the fact is that I am picky about who I want to be with. No, I’m not on the look out for “that special someone” and I don’t believe that there is any one person with whom I am compatible. I’m sure there’s a whole range. But of course, that set, when intersected with the ones that my parents would find compatible, leaves a much smaller set. But still, it’s one that can be worked with.

So now you might be saying “so what? just date someone for fun!”. Can’t do that. I consider it a waste of time. “WTF?!”, you say. Well.., let’s say I date a girl… I go out with her… and then what? Eventually there comes a point when I have to break it off because I can’t make the committment. I am going into the relationship without the intent of ever making one, so logically, what is the point? I guess it would be different if it was mutually agreed upon that there wouldn’t be a committment, but that is rarely the case. So in that sense, am I looking for someone with whom I can have a long-term committment? Yes. With can being the operative word. That word has a lot of import. I have to think about what my parents want as well. They would want me to marry a nice, Malayalee, Hindu, Nair girl. I am not averse to that at all. In fact, that’s what I would like ideally, because then my parents and I are in total agreement. Some of my friends say that I am closing out a lot of options if I think of it that way. Yes, that’s true. I am aware that as an individual there are definitely women who I am compatible with, but aren’t any of the things that my parents want (for me). Therein lies the problem.

An Indian Marriage isn’t just the union of two individuals. It is the union and alliance of two families. In that sense, I can understand the cultural isolation that my wife could feel in the presence of my family, and vice-versa. And also the awkwardness and lack of any common ground when both families meet. But then again, there are cross-cultural marriages that do work, and work well. So I guess I am saying is that I don’t want to go through the trouble of it all. Which in a sense might be chickening out. I myself am not sure what it is. There are certain things I want, and I think I might have them better if I were to be with a woman who is aligned as closely to me as possible. For example, I consider my culture very important. My customs and traditions are very important to me. This is something I would like to pass on to my children. And this isn’t because of some misplaced sense of pride or superiority. No. I consider culture and tradition to be something that has evolved over a period of so many generations and so many hundreds of years. Something built upon the traditions and observances of the generations that have passed. I feel I should try and preserve as much of that as possible. Otherwise, something precious will be lost. I might be able to make it work with a girl from a different culture – something that is still close to mine – a girl from Tamil Nadu for example. Tamilians and Malayalees have reasonably similar languages and customs. But even still, between these two similar cultures, there are a vast number of differences… and with differences, arises the possibility of conflict (but isn’t there conflict in any marriage?). What if she is as concerned about her culture as I am of mine? What would the children learn? Would they be confused? Would it be cause for conflict between she and I? Almost always, one side has to give way. The children end up knowing one side better than the other. Is that a problem? I don’t know. When I was younger, and therefore more idealistic and naïve, I thought I could easily make it all work, and it didn’t matter who I married. Somewhere along the way I realized that real life isn’t so simple.

I guess my dilemma right now is that I don’t know if I’m limiting my options too much. I can’t say. Most of my friends have someone special. Sometimes I find it hard being around them sometimes because I feel that I’ve missed out on that aspect of life. It would certainly alleviate a lot of the loneliness that I feel… But then again, I’m only 23… a lot can happen in the next few years.

So… am I being too picky? God knows… but that’s also why I think it may be nice to get away from all of this for a while… get everything in order.

I can’t believe I wrote all this crap on a public website for the world to see. Someday I am going to read this and laugh… or regret writing it… or possibly both. Is there such a thing as a regretful laugh?

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