Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Biggest Loser

Weight Control

When we first came to Iraq, it was published that you could get a 4 day pass to Qatar as a break from the combat enviornment. A lot of guys during the first couple of rotations had combat stress problems. The Army figured that to mitigate this issue, they'd offer soldiers a 4 day stay in Qatar and you could hang out at a pool on post or something to that effect.

Well in my unit, it was decided that the 4 day pass would be reserved for soldiers who have been exposed to a horrific or life-altering event (basically the people who really need it get it) - to this day no one has used the 4 day pass.

At headquaters, we have a number of soldiers who came into this deployment over weight and many of them have not lost any weight - due in part to the dining facilities on post offering lots of sweets (ice cream, candy, power bars, fried chicken, etc).

Over the weekend, the entire headquaters unit was told to stay in late for a nutrition class. The concept was to get some training on how to eat properly and this was geared toward everyone to get people to make 'healthier choices' in the dining facilities on post.

During a staff meeting earlier in the week, the XO proposed that headquaters use our day Qatar passes as an incentive to lose weight. As a large number of soldiers in the headquaters company could probably use some other type of external motivator for losing those dangerous pounds. The sales pitch for this idea was to hold our own 'Biggest Loser' competition.

The idea received a lot of chuckles at first. Then 'serious' questions came up like, well what do we do for soldiers who aren't over weight? The CSM proposed giving a pass for the 'Biggest Loser' and then a pass for the 'Most Fit' (most fit defined as a soldier that maxes or exceeds the Army Physical Fitness Test - APFT standard).

At this point, I'm not sure how much credibility can be placed upon any of this suffice it to say, the next day I went to the gym for my treadmill work out and noticed that the gym was holding their own 'Biggest Loser' competition. It took no stretch of my imagination to find the origin of my unit's contest.

I Want My Mickie Dee's!

A day or so later, word got around headquaters. During a shift change briefing, one of our specialists was reading the news,

"And today Saddam announced that he and his co-defendants are on a hunger strike."

The battalion commander asked her, "Well why would he do that? What's that all about, specialist?"

"Well sir, I think he's trying to lose weight and get to Qatar."


This particular instance of humor excited one of our battle captains and he grabbed the news article and posted on a wall in the TOC "Saddam enters Biggest Loser contest for trip to Qatar".

Field Day

In another series of conversations I had with some enlisted soldiers in headquaters, I discovered that the most senior NCO in the battalion (the CSM) wants to have a field day to improve soldier morale.

Granted a number of people think is a bit strange considering our location, it really isn't overly dangerous but for the occasional mortar attack. Which is not to say people don't keep their eye's open, we just know that - for Iraq - we got a pretty sweet deal.

I inquired about what they meant by 'field day'. It was explained to me that we'd basically have a bunch of events like the PT test, except they were named differently to sound cool and we'd have to do something called 'The Salamander Crawl'.

At this point, I stopped the soldier and asked what the heck that was and before he even told me it occured to me that "The Salamander Crawl" was the ever dreaded "Low Crawl".

At this point, I asked if this was a mandatory event and they soldier told me, "Yes, sir. Everyone has to participate. He's even picked out the teams, they are by staff section."

I thought about my section of two. My corporal and myself are the smallest section in the entirety of headquaters and we are often called by the battalion commander the "Center of Mass" for the entire battalion - i'm often confused by that but, whatever. I started to get the sinking feeling that the signal corps in this battalion was getting the short end of the stick.

So concludes this installment of "Not Without My Laptop". Take care everyone and I'm hanging in there.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fire in the Sky

Black Snow

I've mentioned before the quality of air at my location. All our trash and waste is burned. This occurs frequently and there's a never ending cloud of thick, black smoke, billowing over our area.

This foul air floats across the post and into our living areas. I'm now acquainted with the smell of burning plastics and organic waste.

In any event, my unit's officership has mandatory runs through out the week. I'm mentioning this because, as one of my fellow lieutenants and I rounded the last corner to the straight away of our run, we could see the cloud was darker than usual.

No less than 3 minutes after we completed the last stretch of the run, black chunks of ash started to float over our work area and billets.

Someone started shouted, "Look! Black snow!"

I ran back to my billet to grab a camera and by the time I returned the wind had shifted directions and the ash along with it.

Well, They Called It A "Test Fire"

From time to time we have test fires on post - you can hear the anti-air protection guns screaming across the base.

I'm noting this experience because outside of chaff, dropped from the sky by aircraft , shimmering from the heavens and the off chance a flare goes off from base defense, there isn't much that happens at night.

During one of these test fires, I was moving to do a late night work out. I heard the guns initiate fire.

I was trying to figure out what was going on and when I looked up to the sky, I saw a fountain of fire billowing up and into the night sky. This went on for a couple of minutes and you could hear the crackle of the tracer rounds either impacting on something in the sky or detonating - it sounded something like fire crackers.

An amazing sight to say the least.

Earlier in this deployment, I had wrapped up a morning work out and moved to a shower trailer. When I heard the high pitched scream of the anti air cannons opening up. I had just stepped out of the trailer on to the porch when this went off and I was in a state of confusion because,

A) I had never heard that sound before.
B) I didn't know how to react
C) It was so freaking loud I couldn't think - when this thing starts shooting imagine those shrieking fire alarms in most buildings constructed today and magnify that noise by about 50 and you have a comparable experience.

The trailer door closed and my roomate was next to me. I yelled,

"What the hell is that?"

He tapped my left shoulder and pointed to the sky on the other side of the shower trailer - I could faintly make out a copper stream - almost like tiny birds moving toward a large object in the sky. At about that time, the screaming had stopped.

"Yeah! That was the defense system kicking in!"

At that point you could hear the rounds crackling and see the incoming mortar fragment into small pieces that ended up (fortunately for us) missing post.

Range Fire

I've also managed to get on to a range to re-zero my weapon and get re-acquainted with my weapon. A great experience and, I think I'll try to work some time into my schedule and get on to a range more frequently.

And with that, I move on to business as usual.