So we are on baggage detail on a Sunday. SGT Hines had a remarkable idea. Well, I’m not sure who thought of it. I know I voiced my approval of it. But he was the one who put the plan into action, so we’ll give him the credit.
There are six of us on this detail. The First Sergeant said something like “To avoid confusion, we’re going to keep the baggage detail the same. It seems to be working out, so we’ll just run with it.”
Now I gotta say, the First Sergeant is a good guy and serious about the Army by which I mean hard training to keep soldiers alive. I personally would rather be dead than do hard training at this point, since whether you live or die seems rather random, so no sense inflicting unnecessary pain on the living, but that’s just me. We joked around and called him Strickland, after the principal from Back to the Future. He was always trying to get us to go on one of his 13 mile character-building ruckmarches, and I was always trying to avoid this. Fortunately for me the officers and sergeant major I worked for didn’t want their characters built either and I was able to avoid him as he roamed the hallway searching for slackers. I never served under him in combat, but most people liked him, with one or two notable exceptions. Another interesting thing about him is how he is a terrible public speaker. I don’t mean that he stutters or mumbles or anything. His motivational speeches are just depressing. His safety briefs are soul-quenching.
(bonus for the first person to post in comments who this really is and from what movie)
(double bonus if you know what the distinctive sound of the enemy is)
In a motivational speech, he never fails to mention your good chance of dying in war, how hard we will be training, and once again that better men than you have died, so you have little hope of making it through the deployment.
I’ll break down one of his safety briefs here. He always mentions the same things. Once we had a battalion meeting and the battalion commander asked first sergeants and commanders for suggestions for how to stop the surge of drunk driving arrests. It’s ridiculous in Alaska how many people get nailed for driving drunk. More on this later. The commanders and first sergeants came up with various brilliant ideas like mass punishment. That’s a great one. Imagine working in a company with 140 guys and one of them who has only been there for 2 months gets arrested for driving drunk. Then you have to come in to work on Saturday and ruck march or mow the lawn or something. What the hell does that teach? Anyway, I was just clicking the slides of the Powerpoint, and i wanted to chime in with some useful suggestions, being that I was under 40 and had less than 25 years in the army like the first sergeants did, and was from Planet Earth unlike the commanders, but wisely I kept my mouth shut. When your job is clicking a mouse every time the Sergeant Major coughs and slams his hand on the desk, your input is not highly valuable. More on this slide clicking business later. I gotta back post some of these things.
So our First Sergeant comes up with the gem that soldiers just needed to learn more about their unit history. If they knew about what guys in World War II did, they would have more pride and get less drunk driving. If you think that learning about dudes jumping into North Africa in 1943 to fight the Nazis is going to keep some illiterate drunkard from putting away a 12 pack on a Friday night and swerving down the Glenn Highway in his pickup truck, then you should be a First Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Needless to say, a few hours later, when my comrades and I were on the receiving end of a history lesson from him and the commander, I was less than thrilled.
Here are typical elements of the safety brief we get every Friday afternoon:
1. Underage girls go to the clubs and bars in Alaska, so be careful.
Now I know a lot of girls at the bars have fake IDs or are blowing the bouncer and are under 21. But the age of consent in Alaska and the Army is 16. Really? I’ve actually been to bars here in the last 5 years and I’ve never seen anyone remotely close to 15 years old. I know, because I looked. Ha.
2. If you do drugs, you are wasting your life. Also we will catch you. With a urine test.
I’m not going to debate any of these things. The only difference is that it didn’t take me from 4:17 – 4:33 PM on a Friday night to say them.
3. Don’t drink and drive. Call any NCO. They will pick you up. Cue the ubiquitous cool NCOs snickering and saying “Not me, I’ll be drunk myself”. Hilarious. Good advice, again, didn’t need 15 minutes of my life gone to hear this, and the guys who are going to get the DUIs are already zoned out, thinking about how they should try to get into post through the Air Force side, since those guards are nicer.
4. When he was the First Sergeant of our actual company, he would say depressing things like “if you get a dwi or piss hot, you will miss a lot of hard training in the field and not freeze to death while you learn your combat skills. also you will not get to die in combat alongside your sober buddies.” I paraphrase, but this actually made me want to start doing drugs right then. Now that he is the First Sergeant of all the broken rejects on Rear Detachment, he says “If you get a DWI or piss hot, you will stay here forever while we process horrible administrative paperwork on your ass and make it take months and months.” Again, I paraphrase, but yeah, that actually is something that makes me want to put the needle down.
5. Ten minute rant about the MPs and how they are just dying to give you a traffic ticket. He makes it sound like they’re hovering around our parking lot, trying to fill their quotas. Now, I know the stereotype of MPs and maybe I’m just trying to keep my nose clean since I joined the Army, but I have never had any problem with these guys.
6. Avoid Natives. Is it racist if it is true? Say whatever you want about me, but dude has a point. Don’t believe me? Go to any bar where more than 70% of the people drinking there are Alaskan Natives and see for yourself how long it takes before you’re throwing down.
7. It’s cold in Alaska, so wear proper clothing when you go outside.
8. Valid warnings about some of the shady things the MPs and the gate guards do. For example, popping 20 year olds riding in the back seat of a car for underage drinking. Yeah, better that you sleep on the street. Popping dudes walking through the front gate for public intoxication. Yeah, better that you crash through the gate with the shady girl who brought you home and isn’t allowed on post. Popping people for DWIs when they’ve had 1 beer and have a .02 BAC. Think I’m kidding?
In retrospect, many of these things are valid points. I guess I’m just bitter because I’ve been hearing the same 45 minute speech every Friday afternoon for the last 2 years and haven’t done any of these things. Well maybe fighting my way out of a Native bar, back to back with another soldier, or staggering through the Front Gate and running through the woods to hide in a snowy forest.
Verdict – First Sergeant is actually a good guy (see my future or past post entitled Good Guy Good Guy). He has been nothing but understanding about my messed-up situation and never fails to treat me with respect I probably don’t deserve.
Back to the baggage detail. First Sergeant says: “To avoid confusion, we’re going to keep the baggage detail the same. It seems to be working out, so we’ll just run with it.” To put this in perspective, this is like saying “I know everyone should take turns cleaning the toilets, but because you do such a good job at it, you’re going to do it from now on.” F*** my life. Now, me personally, as I’ve said before, unless it’s on a weekend, I don’t mind it. I actually volunteered for this detail, because I felt bad that I couldn’t pull staff duty anymore. But the rest of the guys’ opinions on this thing ranges from quiet resignation to loud vociferous complaints (yeah that’s you Benson). Benson has various brainstorms like us not showing up, or getting a day off everytime we pull the detail, etc. Then he wants me or one of the other NCOs to breech this subject with the First Sergeant. Yeah, because First Sergeant is going to feel sorry that we have to lift bags when dudes are going to war. He put the same guy on staff duty every Saturday for a month because it was convenient for him to keep the days the same, never mind that Staff duty on Saturdays F***s your whole weekend, while if you have it on a Thursday, it basically gives you a 4-day weekend when you take into account the recovery day afterwards.
Hines, who is in charge, split us into two groups. Three of us go to load the bags onto the trucks and then leave. The other three go to the JMC and load the planes. We alternate every time. The truck detail is much better because it only takes a few hours, the bags are already waiting for you, and then you can leave. The JMC part kind of sucks because you have to show up at our building first, so that the First Sergeant can see that you are there. Then he doesn’t know that you’re not going to load the trucks, and that you are going directly to the JMC. But the plane, bags and people are not going to be at the JMC for another 3 hours, so that time is basically a waste. Hopefully we get it straightened out so that you know what time you need to be there and go directly there. The genius of this whole scheme is that when the NCOs call your unit at the JMC, there is always a rep. Also, even if you only loaded the truck for an hour, everybody at our unit thinks that you slaved away all day.
Last thing, related to the title of the post finally. It was our turn for the JMC. We loaded everything onto the plane, then dealt with the Air Force dithering while it was 0 degrees outside. Hines and the other guys pay attention to the briefing and figure out which side of the plane is going to get the duffel bags, because they are much lighter and convenient than ruck sacks. Dudes frequently strap their body armor, or another pack to the outside of their ruck sacks, making them weigh up to 100 pounds. Then a lot of them have shoes and clothes spilling out of them. So when I see Hines and the others scramble up into the plane, I follow with haste. You also don’t want to be outside when it’s that cold. I was in such a hurry last time that I knocked a guy off the conveyor belt by cutting him off. Then the guy in front of me accidentally kicked me in the face, giving me a black eye. Afterwards, we try to hide in the belly of the plane sucking up the heat, while the Air Force and the civilians argue and make terrible decisions, like taking bags we’ve already loaded off of the plane, etc. Watching all of this from up above with the roar of the jet engines drowning out the sound (we wear earplugs too) is like watching a bad silent movie. A A lot of pointing, yelling, storming around with arms waving and bags being thrown to and fro. Then someone gets dramatic because they have to rehandle bags they’ve already loaded. Sometimes the dramatic ones are us.
Finally this is all done and we go back into the JMC. At this point, I usually start urging SGT Hines and Malenock that we should just go home and avoid cleaning. The problem was this Sunday, they specifically asked us to make sure that none of the privates did that. It’s kind of hard to do that yourself when you’re put in this position. So we waited around and when everyone left, I picked up some trash and made sure privates were doing the dirty work, like mopping the bathroom. Then of course some bags needed to be loaded onto a truck.
But wait, they only needed 10 guys for this work, and it was inside the hangar. Some quiet kid named Santos from another unit (but who is a hard worker like the girl who just had her kid) mutters to us that there are 10 guys from his unit who are here on extra duty. Meaning they are being punished for being drunk, late, stupid, etc. Perfect. Otherwise they’d be at their unit raking the snow. And we can go home. We’ve been there since 330 and it’s almost 10. So the 10 bad seeds go off to load the truck. But wait.
This first sergeant named Cartwright… Yeah, I’m calling you out with your real name. By the time you see this, I’ll be out of the Army, you prick. Sue me for libel. It’s all true. I got witnesses. This c***s***ker Cartwright says:
“Hey, get that truck loaded.”
One of the kids who works there but doesn’t lift anything – he’s a sergeant who’s waiting to go to officer school – so he practices by walking around with a clipboard – good guy though, we call him Sir as a joke (he actually does something useful – there are about 20 others E-6 through General, who walk around with their tools in their hands getting in the way). This kid, Murphy, rushes up and tells First Sergeant Cartwright that we already have the ten guys working on it. First Sergeant Cartwright says “I don’t care, I’m tired of looking at your faces, go in there and work.” Never mind that we’ve been loading planes with heavy bags since four in the morning, while he just stands around and makes ugly faces. There was a lot of griping about this as we went into the hangar area. I actually heard some guy threaten to frag him. Now, I’m getting out of the Army, so it’s a moot point, but I’m assuming 1SG Cartwright and some of the extra duty guys will eventually find their way over to Afghanistan. Is it really a good idea to piss off 19 year old guys with automatic weapons, explosives and drug problems who think their lives are ruined because you just made them fill sandbags?
We went to load the truck. There were about 25 duffel bags and toughboxes lying around the floor. Sure enough, there was one E-7 standing in the truck with a clipboard and two privates. He would consult the clipboard and say, “Yeah, lets move this box over here” and him and the privates would shift it. Now there were thirty of us standing outside the truck watching him. A few minutes later, 1SG Cartwright came in to make faces at us. With him was a Captain, I wish I could remember his name. The Captain starts yelling
“Why is there an E-7 in the truck doing work while the rest of you stand around. I don’t care if you have to work in shifts as long as you get up there and help him and get these boxes loaded.” Now you know one of the reasons I want to get out of the Army. He made us all do 5 pushups and then afterwards, five more privates jumped into the truck to “help” – actually just get in the way. When the Sergeant in the truck was done figuring out where he wanted everything, the rest of us pitched in and loaded the rest of the stuff in about 3 minutes, then went home.
Man, people like these two are one of the reasons I want to get out of the Army so bad.
Two final closing comments. One is that you may have realized that this post is extremely long. If you don’t like this, you can either not read it, or read it in little tiny chunks as suits your schedule. Or learn to read faster. I’ve got a lot of crucial things to say before I die.
The last thing is that I plan to turn this blog uncensored when it comes to names. By the time you read this, I will be out of the Army and I don’t give a f***. If you’re a prick, you deserve it. And to Captain Murray (aka Ralphie) and Sergeant Blogsworth (don’t know your real name, but you have a mustache and claim that revealing what country we’re deployed to constitutes an OPSEC violation), who I know read this religiously, rest assured that I won’t actually divulge any state secrets. I do however, read the logs and know that I’m very popular among .mil domains. Now get out of here and do some work. I’m tired of looking at your faces.