Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony, Globalization, International Women's Day, and My Intermittent Blogging Schedule

If you enjoy this post, or any of the previous, than please go to this website to continue reading.  It's a new layout, but I'm going to try to continue the majority of writing here!  I'll update this blog from time to time, to hopefully redirect any readers here to the new website! :) Thanks for all the views here at!

It is difficult to keep up with the world and my personal life sometimes.  Sorry for the über-long title.  I am running back and forth between the Housing and Finance Offices on post because this week I moved into my apartment!  I posted some pics on Flickr of this new place. More on that later... now, about these pics below.  This is a picture I took while visiting Cape Verde in 2009, an archipelago off the west coast of Africa.  It's a small country with relatively low rates of violence, a problem with drought, and was originally uninhabited.  It is one of Africa's most stable democratic governments (source: CIA World Factbook).
Woman in Capo Verde
The media frenzy surrounding Kony in Uganda and the fierce reactions I've read from both fervent supporters and disdainful skeptics, have got me thinking about the rights and wrongs surrounding the issue.  It is true that some parts of the viral video are a little misleading... read this article Joseph Kony is not in Uganda by Michael Wilkerson if you aren't tracking yet.

In spite of the misinformation, part of me is inherently opposed to dismissing the international crimes of one individual because they don't directly influence my life.  Still, I agree with a lot of what Michael Wilkerson wrote; namely that there is no clear solution and simply getting media attention is not the answer (and is a bit suspect if it's directly related to a fundraising effort. I'm vaguely reminded of The Twelve Chairs, where Ostap Bender is smoothing appealing for everybody to give money for a "good cause." p.s. if you haven't seen the Mel Brooks film... do it!)

There are a lot of injustices in the world, and globalization almost suggests that the more a country can guarantee it won't meddle outside of its borders, the less likely the international community is to do anything about it.  Eddie Izzard has a great skit about "mass-murdering f***heads" that covers this phenomena.  The atrocities committed by the warlord Kony, are worse than anything NATO Soldiers have done as individuals (because their countries' governments always pursue some sort of disciplinary action even if it's not totally satisfactory to the international community) in recent international conflicts, yet they are so ubiquitous in times of civil war in Africa, they rarely make the headlines.  I think this doesn't excuse Soldiers of war crimes ever, but it is nice to know our Soldiers presumably follow the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC).  Meanwhile, 'warlordism' is a serious problem that developed countries tend to look at with sympathetic eyes without stirring so much as a hand in many a case (and truthfully we can't devote resources to hunt down every single warlord).  Rape as a weapon of war, has been used openly in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia at an alarming level.  It has spurred U.N. Security Council Resolutions, international conferences, and is a serious issue of justice let alone international law.

Amid all this outcry over Kony and the sad reality of warlordism and the suffering of women and all victims of warmongering, I would like to remind the international community in the global effort for peace it has been proven that women are a key factor, too often an overlooked one.

Which brings me to my next point:  Happy International Women's Day 2012!  I know I sorta missed in my time zone for the post anyway, but it's still going on in my native USA.  It's a great day and I'm sorry I didn't make more room in my schedule to prepare a product this year.  I checked out the book, A Few Good Women at the library and told the librarian Happy International Women's day, to which she replied surprised and chuckling, "Why yes, I suppose so! [smile]  Same to you!"

SO, about my intermittent blogging schedule.  I am currently in the process of moving into my apartment.  I also won't have time to install high-speed internet there before I deploy to Afghanistan... and would have to cancel the plan right after it was set up... so I am just using a stick internet... which doesn't even work that well at my apartment.  I have plenty of ideas I want to blog about, but I have to set up my computer at a McDonalds or the Community Activity Center on post, so it's a little hassle to write.  Then during the deployment my blogs will be more intermittent, but I'll keep up to date as much as possible within reason with operational security (OPSEC).

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why Do I Care Project X?

In spite of my age, in spite of having a very satisfying job and life, and in spite of feeling successful and what one could call 'attractive' somewhere in the middle on a scale of the elephant man to Gisele Bündchen, I still find myself sometimes sad and downtrodden about my body image.  The recent movie, Project X, is a childish celebration of teenage debauchery apparently, and movie critics rate it as less sophisticated than the hangover series... I guess it got a few points above the Jackass series for featuring more aesthetically pleasing flesh art in the background.  Even though I can make an effort and get dolled up for an evening, I feel like in the day I return to being the average-bodied and far from glamorous though decent looking girl at work.  So I feel a vast disconnect with the movie, me personally.  Therefore looking up images from the movie, I think:
 Project X girls partying
 Me at a Small Fourth of July Party

But even though I feel like I don't measure up, Project X is not reality, and I didn't go see the movie... so why is it bothering me?  Because my boyfriend went to see it, and before he did so, when we saw the previews for it he clearly got excited, and afterwards he was extolling its 'virtues' (okay really he just said it was "pretty good").  And sure, it's just a movies thing, but it honestly haunts my psyche... I did not go to very many high school or college parties, and it becomes easy to let Hollywood tell you how those parties were.

I may have not gone because of my relatively later in life involvement with alcohol, and my early pretty much self-imposed curfew that I followed without much of a fight or many attempts to sneak out, but through the lens of movies like Project X, I didn't go to these parties because I didn't associate with the right people and wasn't invited to do so because I didn't have a drop dead gorgeous face, or the right hip to waist ratio... Looking up the movie reviews, Project X is "pure hedonism without consequences" - Melissa Anderson of The Village Voice - and even on some sad levels mixed in with misogyny-cultivating behaviors... so why would I be happy my boyfriend enjoyed this movie?

I suppose it's just a sad reflection of the fragility of some parts of my self confidence also.  I mean, it's not like he's leaving me on the curb to go chase this stupid dream.  He even told me that's all it is, just Hollywood.  But that isn't really any consolation.  When Hollywood panders to women it's for them to get married or be self-satisfied career women and when Hollywood panders to men it's with not one, but multiple hot "babes" all apparently size 0 or generously endowed and between the ages of 18 and 24.

Women?  We get to appreciate the value of the 'funny guy' and the endearment of the guy we banished to the friend zone who turns out to be 'the one.'  It's not like I could go indulge my sorrows in a movie of some geeky or goofy looking women I could relate to enjoying all sorts of muscular, athletic men vying for their attention. Men?  They can watch any action flick and see hot women in strappy tanks, v-necks, with mini-skirts, boob brushes, asses outlined, a full body camera pan, and a sultry voice tell our hero (whether he is attractive or not) how important he is to the plot, and then they turn an action packed corner and get it again from a barely distinguishable girl.  How could I not love mainstream media?  I need to take a film class.

And I don't know if I'm angry or if I'm just insecure... either way, those images from the movie aren't me and I'm not going to desperate lengths to mold myself to that image, but I think I am just terrified of judging myself by those standards.  If it's all in good fun, why does it matter so much?  First, in my reaction, why is it so strong?  Second, in the effort the producers:  I mean why spend so much money on women to portray those roles in movies?  And beyond movies, why does a book like "The Game:  Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists" have so many avid readers?  Why is it acceptable for these men to play on the insecurities of women, to ply back possibly hard-earned self-esteem to get what they want?  There might be such thing as a gold digger, but I can assure you she didn't make the rich snob feel like he couldn't get another hot young thing.  I'm sure he didn't feel insecure in his ability to attract another money-sniffing playboy bunny.  And when you hear about male exotic dancers, no one says they are out there doing it because of mommy issues, like they do about strippers and daddy issues.  I don't know what I'm accomplishing by writing this post, except trying to analyze and vent my very real if very uncalled for reaction.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Short Post Afghanistan

This post is more about Afghanistan than anything else, it's not a mini country profile like the one I did on India, but more of my thoughts on the history of Afghanistan.*

Currently the U.S. still deploys forces to Afghanistan to support ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force).  President Obama says we are drawing down in 2014, the Secretaries of Defense and Chief of Staff confirm the timeline barring national emergencies and unforeseen contingency operations of course.  The news is ripe with stories of the dependence our national security has on covert Navy Seal and CIA operations.  But lets look at Afghanistan a little more closely, in particular starting at the threadbare story of the burning of the Koran (Quran).  Though many stories about the resulting riots have ensued, it is interesting to me that such a strong response is rattling through the country.  These were not Qurans confiscated from ordinary citizens but from detainees, and they were being disposed of it seems (since the investigation is in progress, these are just my speculations as a citizen spectator of the news stories).  It doesn't seem like the holy books were being desecrated actively by misguided or misled Soldiers.  So, it seems to me to be wise to hold back on all the media judgment.

Delving into the country's history, the fiercest resistance has been intertwined with religious zealotry that many Muslims agree is a warped and twisted representation of Islam.  Even with the sensitivity military forces (e.g. ISAF) must have for the culture of a country that is the target for security and infrastructure development, it seems like making mountains out of molehills to trigger violent uprisings and revolts over the accidental improper disposal of the holy texts.  If other big cases of Quran burning are researched just quickly on Google or Wikipedia, it is clear that in those instances the Quran was being purposely defamed and disrespected.  So it confuses me why this bitter outcry?  Is it being fostered by the self-declared guerrilla fighters?  Is it an overreaction due to misrepresentation of the situation?  Research into the strict religious law imposed by the Taliban and the relationship between the leader of the Taliban - Mullah Mohammed Omar - and Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda forces, shows the shocking and dehumanizing application of religious texts to an already war torn population.  Of particular pertinence to me is the treatment of women under this strict law:  which was absolutely dehumanizing.  It is not unheard of for cultures to subjugate women as second-class citizens, but it was chilling to see how what was at first a resistance to war-lord-ism became a militarily backed movement to apply a specific set of laws to many different peoples.

Since I first read about the leader who was directly opposed to Mullah Omar, Ahmad Shah Massoud has stood out to me as an extraordinary figure and a true loss to military and political operations in the country of Afghanistan.  Also known as the Lion of Panjshir, he was considered by some to be a war lord, but he fought the Taliban and effectively countered them time and time again in the northern region of Afghanistan.  This sort of internal conflict shows me there is something broken within Afghanistan.  I don't think it is a failed country, but maybe it is failed politics.  It is a country whose citizens question the elections, but that is not limited to Afghanistan.  The same goes for Russia, and it wasn't too long ago that American citizens were demanding recounts of votes in Florida.  The difference is of course in the level of activity of the resistance.  Activist groups in the United States raise money and hold up wildly offensive pickets.  Russian protesters mob streets and bridges showing force in numbers of the people who want to see change.  Afghanistan is a mine-filled, AK-47 plentiful, and dangerous land with snipers and small arms fire a risk in many places.

So, what am I saying?  Not much at the moment, just sharing the thoughts that have been brewing in my mind in light of recent news and forgotten history.  What will history think of this in ten years time?  What will we think in just five years?

*I'm still writing for me at the moment, so this isn't well-targeted writing.  I am hoping that my deployment will get me what I need to really put the right edge of genuine experience into my writing and provide direction for the motivation and passion whirring away madly in my heart and mind:  it's energy that already goes into outlets.  I'm hoping to channel it more productively in the future, though.  Comments greatly appreciated!

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Reaction to DoD opens 14,000 Army jobs to women

My feelings on this can pretty much be summed up in the quote from Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center,

"It's good, but it's not very much more of a step forward."

I totally concur.  I've written very passionately about this.  I guess I would have mixed feelings if the barriers were removed right now because I've already started my military career and I'm generally happy being a Transporter, but it should still be changed.  I'm really thrilled General Odierno is pushing for more changes, even though I know a lot of his quotes come from a similar article about a month or so ago.  He expressed disappointment the deadline for reviewing the gender policy was not met and he spoke highly of the real contributions women make in our Army.

Unfortunately, I believe a larger percentage than are speaking openly and plainly in interviews and from podiums are reluctant to see the change.  Someone said to me today referencing the article with a shrug about women being in combat:

[Just saying...] "Could you pull me out of a burning vehicle?"

I wish I'd had a better retort on hand, but I was off guard and tired.  I wished I had mentioned Sgt. Monica Brown, the medic who may not have pulled anyone who weighed a ridiculous amount more than her from a burning HMMWV, but who shielded Soldiers with her own body in Afghanistan one day, risking her life to treat the wounded.  And beyond that, on countless missions she provided much needed aid to the unit she was attached to.  Though just doing her job she was awarded a Silver Star for valor.  A few days after the flurry of media attention though, she was pulled from the area because she was too close to combat according to current policies.  According to the unit taking her out on missions though, there was no other medic to take at the time.

Now, reading a story like that, why turn to me and ask bluntly if I could carry you out of a burning vehicle?  I think of the guys who already push 200 lb when they are in plain clothes.  Could he pull that guy with a full combat load and body armor on out of a burning vehicle if the seat belt is in place?  I mean let's quit with the what if statements, these hypothetical scenarios don't address the real issue.

The real issue is that women deserve as much fair treatment in this government job as they receive in any other.  The real problems are not about the chivalry of men, the emotional reaction to combat, or the physical demand of their jobs.  Real problems may be privacy, and preventing affirmative action from debilitating the fighting force.  Additionally, the article mentioned the so few women in high ranks because the best career jobs in the army are in fields closed to women.  For me it is not really about the 'Brass Ceiling'... though that part does have some legitimate backing and research.  If the Army is viewed from purely a career standpoint, than it is a problem, but from a more traditional standpoint, call it nostalgic maybe, but from the the standpoint that the Armed Forces are the real life heroes of a nation - the defenders and upholders of the Constitution - it's just plain heartbreaking.  Ask me can I pull you from a burning vehicle... but then let me try.  Don't look at me, my gender, and simply shake your head.  Defense officials say there is no Brass Ceiling, and that women have "no disadvantage in... promotion rate."  Wonderful, so women have not been detrimental or performed any worse than men in all the jobs they are allowed?  So, give us a chance in the Infantry.  Give America's daughters a shot at Eleven Bravo (11B)!  I think she may surprise you if you'd give her half the chance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weather Forecast: Sudden Bursts of Irrational Behavior

I don't understand how I have been so incredibly happy these last two weeks and now all of a sudden I am having this 180 internal crisis.  I am transformed into this delicate, easily tripped, emotional reaction-bomb.

Starting yesterday night I was feeling pangs and aches in my (metaphorical) heart for no reason whatsoever... I started reliving all the bad moments in my life during times of high change and stress and how I wish I had closure or that I'd reacted differently.  I started speculating whether if I had not driven away some people in my life I might be even happier.  I started thinking maybe the happiness I had now was just a farce... because I'm just pretending to be happy through the sadness of people I'm missing.  That maybe I'm hiding a sadness under the surface of my happiness and excitement to be somewhere new??  It's crazy talk, and I know this.

So, the analytic side of me is wondering what should I do to banish these feelings?  Maybe work out, but the gym is closed, it's 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and it's 11:40 p.m. I feel a quick push up and flutter kick work out will not make this emotional sea any calmer.

The real problem is I don't really want to do any of the things that would make me feel better.  It's not that I want to sit here moping over nothing... I just know I don't feel like drawing, or editing photographs, or working out, or chatting.  Even though I was chatting just an hour ago.  While I used some poor excuse of a conversation to launch into a more obvious show of my feelings, it's deeper than that.  My unhappiness stems from an unknown source, and hours like this only leave me wondering when the feeling will pass since I apparently have no control over it.

But I know after a little bit of rest my high spirit will return... just an occasional low in my high-speed speed.  Plus I have a guest to look forward to tomorrow!  Everything else is just growing pains:  I am literally outgrowing the pains of the past.  Unfortunately I cannot be as emotionless as Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, I am - sometimes unfortunately - afflicted with the strong and high emotions of a very high energy human being.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Living in Germany: Week 2 AAR

I have officially arrived at my unit for two weeks now, and it's great.  Last week I had a bunch of briefings that couldn't be helped.  I have to admit I got some decent information from each one, but they were long days and I felt drained after hours of PowerPoint and the monotonous repetition of, "Welcome to Bamberg."

Friday a friend visited me and we reminisced on our days at the Universidade de Coimbra in Portugal.  I can't believe it was two years ago already.

This Saturday 391st CSSB had a Valentine's Ball, and it was a nice event, I'm going to post some pics soon to my Flickr account.  I'm glad I had my ASU (Army Service Uniform or "dress blues") ready to go, because it would have been a shame to miss it.  While these events do have somewhat a frustrating compulsory aspect to them, they are - like everything else in life - what you make of them.  I ended up getting to know some of my peers in the battalion a little better, and a chance to see the people I've met throughout the week all in one place.  I met some Lt.'s wives (or girlfriends) as well, and in spite of the below freezing temperatures outside even enjoyed (most) of a nice cigar outside.

Sunday followed with more fun because of a group dinner 'party' which included a group effort to cook a dinner.  We tried a new recipe, so no one was entirely certain how it would turn out.  It was sort of a casserole with chicken, carrots, ginger, yogurt, spices, and rice.  Very delicious even though the rice was soggy, we served it in bowls, and since we were just having fun, it didn't matter that the appearance wasn't stellar.  I give the recipe four stars, because even not cooked perfectly, it was totally yummy!

Today as I was investigating the contents of my fridge, I discovered that my freezer actually does work to my chagrin.  The bottle of champagne I was saving for my boyfriend's arrival had unfortunately exploded:

It's a shame, but as you can see, it wasn't too costly of a mistake to make ;) plus I at least know that I will have ice cubes... even it seems to take forever.  Wish I had a balcony because it would be easier to just leave an ice tray outside at these temperatures!

As far as the upcoming week my to-do list is lengthy, even though I don't have a platoon yet, or really any subordinates to speak of (a manager with nothing to manage) it's a sort of free limbo for me:  a rare opportunity to get adjusted without heaps of pressure loaded on me.  It's funny that I should get the honor to deploy so soon after arriving when I never agonized over it like some of my male counterparts.  Some of them right now at West Point were trying to figure out by analyzing the dates of their respective branch BOLC and the rotating deployment shifts of the Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), but of course it's sensitive intelligence, important to national security; and not everyone can just know it!  I'm pretty sure the people in charge don't even know exactly when and where deployments are scheduled and I am not saying this is part of the disorganization so often associated with government work, but because the world is a pretty fast changing place.  No one can say with total certainty where we will be in the next few years.

It's a short week though, and I have good things to look forward to!  There are exciting pictures and blogs to come in the near future!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Real Deal

I'm in the real thing now, the "real" Army, an actual post, an actual job.  I've been out of college for almost nine months, and finally I get to Warner Barracks in Bamberg only to hear they might be closing this base in a couple years.  I will still get to stay in Germany (fingers crossed) but apparently in a different area.

I will not be enjoying Germany this summer though if approval goes through because my unit is trying to deploy me with a company that is already in Afghanistan. I obviously can't write much about this, just enough to say that this would all be happening pretty fast for me.  How do I feel about it?  Well, it is what I signed up for in the Army.  I didn't sign up in war time thinking I would avoid it.  It's also a great opportunity for me to get tons of on the job training, and an opportunity for me to hurry up and get a platoon - which is a key leader position for someone of my rank.  It's also a transportation position which is awesome because often junior officers are lumped together as logistics if they are transpo, ordnance, or quartermaster.  That's only supposed to happen at the captain level and above.  But it's not uncommon for someone like me (a transportation officer) to get put into a quartermaster or other 'loggy' related position that's not my actual branch.

Anyway, a lot of people (Soldiers here, and the family I've told) are asking me if I feel ready.  Honest?  I don't feel ready!  How could I?  However, I am more than willing.  If someone asked me if I wanted to do this, my answer would be absolutely.  But ready?  I wish I had studied Pashtun with more concentration, I wish I had more experience in my job, I wish the training at BOLC made me feel more confident than I do now.

I do have a lot of great resources of experience available to me though.  I have a friend who deployed in a similar situation to me, and so I can ask her how it worked for her.  The Army has been doing this for a while now, so I would be crazy to think I was facing a unique challenge - well at the general level anyway.  I know even if I got all the preparation I wanted, there would still be suprise challenges along the way and that's why the Army has been leaning towards leaders who are critical thinkers.

I think that everyone pauses and hopes they are prepared for this.  It all seems so fast, I do know that I am willing, it's my job on top of it all.  Is there someone else?  If there was, and leadership deemed it better, they would send that person.  I've got to remember I've been trained up for this.  No one said it would be simple.  I may have to take a break from the blogging for a while, but I'll keep a journal downrange, and I'll still write until I get deployed - about everything, the whole moving to Germany experience.

Which reminds me, I don't have an apartment yet, hopefully will do some looking this week.  I would like to have my own place before I leave.  I do have a phone though which I have been looking forward to endlessly!  I got a plan with O2, a German phone company, it's the cheapest plan, although the phones are full price (which is expensive here, I shudder every time I do the euro-dollar conversion).  I still haven't finished inprocessing, there are hours of online training I still have to do.  I have had a full week though.  My sponsor has been nice, but my unit has been busy because they have a range (shooting range) next week.  My commander is actually a Military Intelligence officer but he requested a command position and he interviewed for and got it.  It just goes to show there's a million and one different ways to do a career in the Army.  I went to two different Italian restaurants in Bamberg already, and the food is pretty good.  I also finally saw my friend who graduated in 2009 and has been stationed here the whole time.  She is awesome and doing Pathfinder school, so good for her!  Tonight is the Super Bowl and I was invited by another West Point grad to a party - which is cool, since otherwise I wouldn't really have a thing to do tonight.  Somehow it's another move to a new place in which I've somehow managed to have something to do from the very first weekend on.  How do these things happen to me?  I am most certainly grateful!