Saturday, December 18, 2010

On the Road Again

After long, colorful, ethnic deliberation, the Schlep family decided to winter in Morocco this year. This may be my last opportunity to galavant around the world (read: drink, get lost, some times in that order, sometimes not) before I begin my training/swallow what's left of my dignity to work at LDAC. You may be surprised to learn that Morocco is quite near my old stomping grounds of Beirut - you should be very surprised, because they're actually not near each other at all. In fact, you'd half to cross the entire African continent widthwise to get from Casablanca to Beirut - but I bought the tickets anyway.

Due to Europe's chronic woes of snow and unionization, our Delta connection through Paris was cancelled. Instead, we're flying a long straight shot from New York to Casablanca - with Royal Air Maroc. From what I've read, it's, well, a third-world airline lacking many of the comforts characteristic of 21st century air travel (movies, possibly food) and doesn't exactly make up for them with great service. Discomfort, unhelpful Arabs, and schleps are practically my specialties - but combine those with the company of a few females who share my blood and survival might be an issue.

After two weeks with my family (I mean two weeks in scenic North Africa) I'll be more than thrilled to spend New Year's Eve in Beirut. I'm meeting up with some school friends who are studying at AUB. Inshallah they'll handle the girls and club reservations - I'm bringing the Four Loko.*

*Original caffeinated, of course.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top Banana

As of our awards ceremony Wednesday, I'm the new Battalion Commander!
The announcement actually came as something of a surprise, since the other school in the BN held command last semester and my school only has five MSIVs (after two dropouts, two who got bumped back to the limbo of being a III/IV, and a December graduate). It's more work, of course - but I just wouldn't feel right if it was someone else behind the wheel when this 18-wheeler shoots off a cliff..

There will be blood!

The will be more of my infamous safety briefs!

There will be pull-up bars, paintball mines, and meticulously animated PowerPoint slides!

There will be times that cadre turn to each other and question why they put me in charge of everything - but in the end, despite my opaque and questionable methods, they'll see I knew what I was doing all along. That, or in the end I'll graduate and become a lieutenant (spelled it right on the third try) anyway!

God help you all.

-Banana 1-6 out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Waterproof sketches from FTX

I drew this while manning Known Point 1 on the night land nav course, laughing with some of the other delinquents who pass for MSIVs about being tired, sitting next to a smelly swamp, and spilling chem light juice.

Touring the STX lanes I planned and glowing with pride as I watched a squad leader brief the mission I created. That warm and fuzzy wore off as soon I realized that I forgot to give objective coordinates to one of the evaluators ... whoops!

The jewel of my STX rotation: A FRAGO mission that ended in a negotiation with a local commander over the release of a downed American pilot accused of bombing his village. This was inspired by the fenced-in "cage" I discovered in the middle of the woods during my recon. The shovel was a nice touch that my OPFOR came up with on his own. And if you're wondering what the consequences of being an unpopular MSIV are, there aren't many - but I can assign you to stay in a cage for four hours of STX.

I went with the (real, not cadet) BN Sergeant Major to bring some hot meals back to the guys left guarding equipment at the TOC. We couldn't stop laughing when we realized how completely we'd dicked them over. The SGM consoled them that at least we'd brought a big container of coffee. I asked him if we'd remembered to bring any cups - and he burst out laughing again. The captain and LT who had been waiting in the cold for their dinner were not as entertained. Whoops!

I told the PL to devise some passwords for his patrol base so the cadets could challenge anyone trying to get in. I gave him some time, then tried to sneak in and test his security - suffice to say he got a very exasperated lesson in password design.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crazy Eyes

The nickname stuck until graduation. And I'd like to posit for the record that nobody other than this one E-6 has ever noticed something wrong with the alignment of my eyes.


In other news, FTX coming up - except this time I'm the mastermind behind the STX lanes instead of the squad leader scrabbling my way through one of them. This is my last hurrah as S-3. After that, some other poor bastard gets the post and I get to relax as ... no, in all likelihood I'll get even more responsibility next semester. Yes, it's great to be in charge, just less great when I know that the guy in charge of the battalion gets commissioned just the same as the guy in charge of the newsletter.

Years ago, I met a distant relative while celebrating passover in Tel Aviv. He was a fat, jowly old jew, not so uncommon in the circles I run in, who came to my attention when someone mentioned he had fought in FIVE wars. He fought around Europe for the British in WWII, then came to Israel in time for the 1948 War of Independence, and stayed through the Suez War, Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, and first Lebanon War. Awestruck, I asked him what rank he had ascended to after so many wars. "I was a buck private the whole time," he told me. "Why not? [in socialist Israel's army] Everyone gets paid the same!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Follow Me!

The system works! I branched infantry. Of course, the same system would have rewarded me equally for being at exactly the 50th percentile or for offering an extra four years of my life to the Army, but I can be proud knowing I got there "legitimately," by being at the 92nd percentile. Not that it means anything after today - I can't tell you how many generals I've heard brag about what terrible students and cadets they were (OK, I can. Maybe like two).

The next exciting game of craps the Army will play with my future is selecting my BOLC (Basic Officer Leaders Course) date and posting. My choice is due tomorrow. My preference list looks like this:

1. Italy (Vicenza) - 173rd Airborne, elite paratroopers, Restrepo, apparently the Italians don't like us there (shocking) but did I mention it's ITALY?

2. Germany (Grafenwoehr, no idea how to pronounce) - 172nd Infantry, it's heavy infantry, not light like I like, but big girls need lovin' too, and apparently (and mystifyingly) the Germans DO like us there (seriously, what?) and, not to beat a dead horse, but it's in GERMANY (not my favorite European country by far, but still Europe).

3. Ft. Bragg, NC - 82nd Airborne, elite airborne unit #2. Hopefully makes up for what an awful place Bragg would be to live.

4. Ft. Campbell, KY - 101st Airborne, kind of elite technically airborne unit #3, though actually air assault. Still badass, not too far from Nashville, though I already ate at all three of Clarksville's worthwhile restaurants while I was at Pathfinder.

5. Ft. Drum, NY - 10th Mountain Division, tough light infantry, though it gets pretty cold up there.

6. Hawaii (Schofield Barracks) - 25th Infantry Division, also light infantry but their insignia looks kind of like a turd (a strawberry at best). Hawaii would be nice, but I've
never really surfed successfully.

7. Alaska (Ft. Richardson... I hope) -25th ID again, but have a new airborne unit. I really don't want to live in Alaska.

8-10 - No idea. I'll be pretty pissed if I don't get one of my top four ... if it gets down to these last three I'll skip town and join up with the IDF/Foreign Legion/get into Canadian politics.

Note: That's the US Army Infantry song up there, not just some shitty poem I came up with.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Combat-Focused PT (Partying & Tequila)

The most enjoyable part of Pathfinder School for me was getting to spend time (in the classroom, field, and pub) with active Army officers and absorb some of their knowledge/experience/jokes I can't print here (the best of those, of course, came from NCOs). The most prominent (talkative) member of my class (myself excluded) was a Special Forces officer who, as per Army tradition, never missed an opportunity to poke fun at the handful of cadets in the course. When he wasn't regaling an ever-growing group of listeners with stories from selection or 5th Group's trip to Mali, he unleashed his "wit" on the nearest cadet (or the idiot who did the worst job of keeping his head down, whoever that was). I'd guess he had a bad experience during his own ROTC days, but for whatever reason CPT Africa Hot (all the best blogs have pseudonyms) thought Ranger Challenge simply was the most risible thing we did. And he wanted to make sure we were entirely clear on where he stood on the issue.

The idea of us cadets doing extra training for a contest with "Ranger" in the title and thinking we were little badasses for it was beyond stupid to CPT Africa Hot. Why endure unnecessary schlep (my words) at school when we should be devoting our time to "getting wasted and chasing pussy" (his words) ?

And it was those words that came to mind as I agonized whether or not to be on the Ranger Challenge team this year. The team needed me and the extra PT couldn't hurt. On the other hand, having PT three days a week instead of five would open up a crucial third night of drinking. But my friends were still doing the team, and didn't want to let them down. On the other hand, not waking up early Friday morning. But the guilt I could feel ... Then again, partying Thursday night.

CPT Africa Hot had a point. After three weeks of his unsolicited commentary, my mindset began to change. With commissioning less than a year away - and my friends from the class of 2010 already midway through BOLC, a fraternity brother who graduated the year before arriving in Afghanistan, and my school's class of 2008 suffering their first wounded and killed in combat - the Army is steadily shifting from a distant fantasy to an exciting, but serious, reality.

Playing Army now is less appealing now that it's clear I'm going to be living Army. Conversely, I'm never going to get a better time to live like a college student.

As any student of economics will tell you, it's simply most efficient for me to focus on partying while I'm a student and then soldiering once I'm a soldier.

So no Ranger Challenge.

I'm still not a complete dirtbag, and I still put in work I can be proud of as S-3 (training officer), but goal numero uno is to עושה את החיים/
oseh et ha-chaim, "live the life," as Israelis say. To that end, I should mention that I am taking a minimal number of credits, am in only three classes that aren't pass/fail (including ROTC), and essentially have no class Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. That captain had a bigger influence on me than he could have possibly imagined. Thanks to him, my life cycle basically looks like this:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Order of Merit List

The results of the highly scientific and carefully calibrated rating system that is the ROTC OML have just been released, and I'm pleased to say I'm in the top ten percent, which means I should be guaranteed the branch I want (Infantry).

It wasn't a huge surprise, because despite the great injustice of LDAC my grades and APFT are pretty good. I even got a percent or two for studying Arabic - props to Cadet Command for coming up with this incentive just in time for the end (yeah, right) of our seven-year war in an Arabic-speaking country.

Regrettably, this elaborate formula has absolutely on no bearing on where (and with which unit) I get posted... meaning despite how cool the Army thinks I am, it's going to be dumb luck that determines whether I get to be a paratrooper in Italy or end up schlepping around in a Stryker in Ft. Polk, Louisiana.

To be fair, dumb luck has taken me a long way so far...

Saturday, September 18, 2010


An alumnus of my school and ROTC program was killed in Afghanistan last week. He's the first grad to die in combat since Vietnam. I only met him a few times because he graduated the year before I enrolled, but that made him the first KIA I have ever known personally.

There was a small memorial service at my school.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Path to Pathfinder

And this is the abridged version of the story.

(As part of my continuing effort to achieve 100% realism in this blog, the emails featured in the comic are the actual ones I received)


I graduated from Ft. Campbell's Pathfinder course last month. I know, I'm kind of a big deal. A lot of mind-numbing studying, chips (potato and corn), and a three-inch-high stack of flashcards and I did it. With the highest average in the class. I was not selected as honor graduate because of a technicality (I failed the "pre-test" for sling load inspection, which was not meant to count as an actual test), though I maintain that they just didn't want to give it to a cadet. The Pathfinder badge was a pretty good consolation, though.
Now, you wonder, after skimming through a lot of words I thought were important, "How did he get the spot?" A lot of good luck, back luck, and good luck again - the ridiculous saga to follow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The bitter "S" cadet's guide to camp success

LDAC was like a bad blind date. On one side of the table are the cadets, the most motivated of whom are still pretty dejected after they realize what a stupid and inefficient debacle it's going to be. Sitting across from them are the cadre, or, even worse, national guardsmen pulled up to teach first aid or babysit an obstacle course for two months. The cadets and their trainers have been forced to interact together, though neither wants to do anything but go home - a bad blind date.

I really shouldn't complain - It was a big schlep, but I had some fun, and though my "E" was cruelly snatched from my deserving hands, I got pretty lucky in some other areas. I was one of a few who maxed the PT test, a particular accomplishment (or, more likely, act of God) at camp, where the APFT is graded by brand new lieutenants who apparently get off by not counting pushups. I, of course, took matters into my own hands by sprinting ahead of everyone else before the pushup test so I could get the chance to choose my own grader. Apparently I'm a good judge of non-awfulness in a man, because my guy counted every pushup I did.

Lucky thing #2 is I got to go to Pathfinder School.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Forging my Warriors

The next month I'll be at the post formerly known as Ft. Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord) running around with boots and a notebook. No internet. War is hell.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Plans

I'm leaving today to try and relax and learn some Arabic without thinking about the increasingly difficult Army tasks ahead of me.

Warrior Forge is not meant to be very hard, but it looks like it could be a schlep. It's a big camp where we take a PT test, do land nav, and get assessed on leading each other in the "field" (STX lanes) and in garrison (frantically sprinting around a tent city trying to find your subordinates/superior concerning the new order about which pocket pencils must be kept in). Every cadet does it, it lasts a month, and there's no glory in graduating. My rating there will determine about 30% of the national ranking (Order of Merit List/OML) that determines what branch I get. That's a big proportion, but considering that the rest of the OML is based on my grades and my past performance in ROTC, I already know that I'm on track to get what I want (not 100% sure what that's going to be, though).

After that ... something more difficult, badass, and impressive that I will post about in late August when I'm finished.

Land Nav

LAND NAV: A battle of wits between man a man and a US Army map from 1930: "I've plotted it out and If I just go a little further that way at a 40 degree azimuth, I should hit my point - whoops, forgot the G-M angle (difference between north on the map and the direction your compass actually points), it should have been 50 degrees. Oh well, but looking at the map, it should be sitting right between these two hills - wait, 70 years of natural erosion has turned this spot into a river - oh! I see it! Just barely, but I see it! Thank god I don't have to do this at night."

NIGHT LAND NAV: An exciting game of fortune where, guided by the illusion of a pace count, you pick a spot from which to traipse blindly into the forest. Will you walk into your point? It's possible! Don't worry, you've been issued a fantastic MX-991 elbow flashlight that we've had lying around since Israel sent it back to us after the Suez War. It can "illuminate" one square foot, which is all you'll need since that's the exact size of a land nav point! Also, watch out for the bats, deer and bears!

As my drawing suggests, I'm actually pretty good at day land nav, owing mainly to my ability to run like an idiot the whole time and not mind tearing up my feet. Night land nav... Again, I'll refer you to the comic.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stop me if you've heard this one...

Long time no post

I have not been particularly busy and I only briefly forgot how to use my computer, so I have no real excuse for the long gap in my posts. ROTC has kept me moderately busy/sweaty/lost in the woods (posts on that to come), but that was no reason to miss my ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY, which by now is a few months old.

If for no other reason than to be able to list a hobby other than "partying and TV," more posts to come.