Monday, October 16, 2006

The Tao of warrant officers

(Warning: This post contains material regarding blatant disregard for uniform regulations and is not appropriate for individuals holding, or aspiring to, the rank of sergeant major. Command sergeants-major, sergeants-major, first sergeants, and exceptionally hard-assed platoon sergeants should go here.)

One base I was passing through recently is large enough that, except for the occasional mortar attack that's more irritant than threat, the war is "out there" on the other side of the perimeter. While on base, its like an exceptionally strict stateside base that you can never leave. People are constantly on duty, and for some people, that includes enforcing petty regulations and uniform requirements.

One of the most sacrosanct and silly army uniform requirements revolves around "headgear." One always wears a hat out of doors and one always removes a hat when going under cover - except that one always wears a hat while "under arms," which is, of course, thanks to army regulations and tradition, not simply the same thing as being armed. And, if you ever want to spend an instructive half-hour of hair splitting interpretation that would be admired for its sophistry by the most exacting of Talmudic scholars, ask a senior NCO to define "under cover", with particular reference to outdoor pavillions, awnings, and the separate roof thingies over some gas station's pump islands.

Also, for the following to make sense, you have to understand that one of the tenets of the army is that anyone can issue an on the spot correction for uniform dicrepancies, even to an individual of higher rank. Some NCOs live for catching officers "out of uniform" and issuing the on the spot correction. By tradition, such corrections are always graciously acknowledged and usually even acted upon - usually.

I was trying to catch up with one of my friends, a chief warrant officer, coming out of the main DFAC (pronounced "dee-fack", by the way), the chow hall for a huge number of conventional troops and the occasional SF guy stuck on the wrong side of the base for lunch. He, as is often the case with SF guys, and even more often the case with SF chief warrant officers, didn't bother to put his hat on for the 50' walk from the chow hall entrance to the parking area where we had left our Defender.

Of course, he didn't make it 10' before he was called on it: "Hey sir," a fearless buck sergeant with an "I caught you" smirk on his face said, "you need to get yourself a hat." Unfazed, our hero patted his leg pocket and felt for his hat as he passed the sergeant: "No," he replied, "I've got one right here in my pocket, but thanks, I appreciate it." He smiled cordially at the sergeant and continued his hatless walk to the truck.*

*This sort of thing is, by the way, one of the truly wrong reasons that people want to be SF warrant officers.

Notes on this post:
1) Please don't think that I'm making light of the threat that all of us - no matter what our job - live under here: yes, people can get hurt or killed, and I have the greatest respect for the bravery that our people show in coming here, especially the mechanics and cooks and clerks and technicians and logisticians who didn't sign up to close with and destroy the enemy, but who do their job and keep things running every day under the threat of IEDs, ambushes and mortar fire. God bless and keep all of them.

2) Someone remind me: in a later post, I'll explore why the army has all these stupid rules and why they're actually a good thing for Big Army to have - and not just because they drive everyone who can think "outside the box" into SOF.

3) Yes, to my everlasting discredit, I already had my hat on when this happened.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I finally got here

I made it in late last night after a 48 hour wait and a 7 hour flight on a C-5, and I have to admit, this arrival was much better than getting to Afghanistan. I suppose it's because I've already done this, but I didn't have the sense of disorientation that I had the first time. In fact, everything had an almost eerie "been there, done that" feeling to it.

Also, of course, what a difference a few years and big Army makes. When I got to Afghanistan, we arrived at 3am local and, for my first night, I got assigned to a tent across from the airfield at Bagram. The tent was a GP medium, and I was in it with five other guys with nothing but our gear and some army cots. I assumed that the people who had set the tent up had neglected to put in the floor, but in the morning I discovered that the floor was simply covered with 4" of sand. Sand was everywhere, and blew through the tent on a hot wind all night, and, because we were close to the airfield, I got to wake up to the sound of C-130's taxiing every half hour or so. For our comfort, there was a row of porta-potties with accompanying smell immediately behind the tent. It was a pretty miserable way to start a war.

But then, I don't suppose there's really a good way to start out a combat tour. This time came much closer though. I got through with the inevitable in-processing and drew quarters for the next few days until I get to something permanent. I'm sharing a room (OK, it's in a plywood hut, but it's sealed) with one other guy - there are two single beds (with mattresses!) and a wall locker in the room, and (if you can believe it) an actual air conditioning unit in the wall. A bit down the way is a latrine and shower - a much nicer way to start out my time.

Of course, I also know enough about the army to know that it can't last. But I'll enjoy it while I can.

Monday, October 09, 2006

On the road again

For anyone who's interested, I'm in Europe right now, waiting for a ride to Iraq (Amazingly, the aircraft I was on broke down in a cool European area, and not in the Middle East - funny how that sort of thing always happens to the Air Force.) Hopefully, more to come soon (This means that I'll have to get on the ball and finish my Afghanistan stories so that I can start on some new ones.)