Monday, January 16, 2006

One Week Down, 51 To Go

Some answers to the most likely to be asked questions about my first week back in the Army.

Who We Are -- I was one of 107 IRRs who reported to duty at Camp McCrady on Ft. Jackson last Sunday, approximately 90 of whom made it through the medical and dental screenings. I am currently living with about 20 other officers in an open bay barracks. About half the officers are West Point graduates who served their five years on active duty, but hadn't yet completed their total eight year commitment. Suprisingly, most of these Captains say they were strongly considering volunteering anyways when their recall letters arrived. There are 3-4 retired field grade officers, including some Vietnam veterans, who volunteered to return to active duty. And then there are a handful of officers in my situation, who have already completed their eight-year commitment, but chose not to resign their commissions in order to avoid being deployed to Iraq, in essence volunteering for active duty.

Among the enlisted soldiers recalled, there is a fair amount of cynicism regarding being back in the Army again. Yet this is not surprising, as soldiers are never happy unless they have something to complain about. Only two soldiers have complained about being reactivated on political grounds, one of whom is a kid in a rock band in Green Bay covered from head-to-toe in tattoos and is trying to apply for conscientious objector status. However, these two are outweighed by the roughly dozen soldiers I've heard support strong support for the war, or the retired senior NCOs who volunteered to returned to active duty.

What We Do -- The first four days were spent in endless lines inprocessing (i.e. going through mental and dental screening)and pre-deployment paperwork (i.e. legal and financial matters). Think of your worst experience at the Deparment of Motor Vehicles, only stretched out over three days. On Friday, we finally transitioned to actual refresher training. Thus far we have covered first aid, NBC training, land navigation, and communications. We have only had Physical Training (PT) once so far, but given how many people reported to duty overweight, it is unlikely that we will be doing anything too strenuous.

What We Wear -- Since I left active duty in 1998, the Army has begun the transition to something called the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). All the tabs on the uniform are velcroed rather than sewn on. The camo pattern is computer generated, and a paler green (think boiled lima beans) than the previous Battle Dress Uniform. Although the desert boots worn with the ACU are more comfortable than the old boots, the uniform is still somewhat ungainly looking.

What We Eat -- The food here is mediocre at best. Maybe I was just spoiled by the award-winning dining facility at my last unit in the 82nd Airborne, but the dining facility here is just plain bad. Because Camp McCrady is at the extreme corner of the post and we are not authorized private vehicles, we do not have many other options.

How We Sleep -- Not much. In addition to the long training hours and early wake ups, the Officers' barracks is plagued by chronic snorers. Unfortunately, we've figured out that the chief culprit is the senior officer in the bay, a full-bird Special Forces Colonel. He is a great guy, but it is not like we can go up to his bed in the middle of the night and roll him over to make him stop. Ear plugs help a little, but not completely. The most ironic part of this is that my wife tells me David is now sleeping 5-6 hours a night. So in the end, my two-week old son is getting more sleep each night than I am.

In the end, I am doing okay. It is hard for any amount of idealism to survive the inanities of Army bureaucracy, but so far I have not been deterred. I miss my wife and my baby and my dog (and decent coffee, but that's another story). But the dedication of the officers and soldiers here has me convinced that I am doing the right thing.