Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dodged a Bullet... Again

Last night is definitely a story for today. The scenario is me sitting on my bed studying for my International Relations Written Partial Review (IR WPR) which is going to be two essays on two articles. At about fifteen past nine I fall asleep. A quarter hour passes...
Enter stage left my platoon sergeant (PSG)

PSG: Hey [my name] are you awake?
ME: *indistinct grunt*
PSG: Oh good because you know you're plebe is going up for Brigade SOQ tomorrow morning right?
ME: *indistinct grunt*

At this point, I'm not even paying attention because of course I know that my direct subordinate and only leadership responsibility a plebe (freshman) with prior military service experience is going before the Brigade Soldier of the Quarter (SOQ) board tomorrow. I drifted off back into sleep only slightly hearing my PSG ramble on about having "sooo much to do tonight including a problem set and..." I just fell asleep. Then I had this crazy dream sequence where I went down the hall and asked my plebe if he was ready for the board and that I went downstairs and was in another building after taps. All of this was so dreamy and almost none of it happened. I never set my alarm and didn't even think it had really happened.
The next morning my PSG asked me how the board went for my plebe. I gave a blank stare,

"What? The board? Oh I don't know, I haven't asked him yet."

I swear my PSG's eye twitched, but all my PSG said was that it was okay "it happens". As if to throw gasoline on a fire I found out at lunch that my plebe had actually slept through the board. Then I heard word at lunch that the blame was being shifted to me in a sneaky attempt to keep someone else's military performance squeaky clean. I was defensive and on edge, and asked for a little advice. I clearly didn't remember being told to be there or to get my plebe in the morning. I spent the better part of the day wondering about it since a couple other people had brought it up.

In the afternoon today after PMEE (called PME squared, and I don't even remember this acronym but it usually means a BORING class in the free part of our afternoon) I got to meet the sponsor of the other girl on the company sandhurst team. She was a '93 grad of West Point and lots of fun. She helped a little with the cake, but just a couple tips with the frosting and flouring the pan which I had already greased. The cake was cute, dense and perfect! It was for loosing a bet to a guy in my company, but I had loads of fun making it when I brought it back to the barracks I couldn't resist telling the people giving me funny looks,
"Yeah, I baked this cake.... for a man."
It's sort of a running joke here due to a speaker last year who made a joke in which he said, "Woman, go bake me a pie." Well here I had an actually baked cake. When I brought it to his room I'm pretty sure if he'd been gone for longer than 20 minutes his roommates would have devoured half of it without him. Everyone was floored I had actually done it because it's one thing to 'bet' you're going to bake a cake, and another thing to give up your afternoon go out of your way to meet someone with an oven and get the ingredients and really bake a cake. It was a very yummy cake by the way, but extremely simple. See, the my sponsor offered to pick up the ingredients too and I made sure I picked a recipe with plain ingredients most of which I knew she would have around the house. Just as as starter recipe and since I wasn't sure if I'd get the opportunity to go to the commissary with her.

It was much fun and she even had decaffeinated Pepsi around the house because it's all her husband drinks and since I gave up caffeine for lent, it was awesome!

I then had practice which to be quite honest was a 'suck-fest' today. We put our gear on and went downstairs to the basement weight room. I chose a 35-lbs plate for the squats, the bent-over row, back and forths, etc. Then our fearless squad leader got us to scramble into our gear and run upstairs. I also had to get the rope ruck and so after snapping on my Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) I went to my room and pulled my gas mask out of the bottom along with pulling the E-tool out of its pocket too. Theeen we starting running down Thayer Road towards Thayer Gate and though I really put my heart into it I began to fall back. Unfortunately one of the much more fit members of the team had an eye on me today and fell back preemptively to push me up to the group. I was both embarrassed and propelled forward at the same time. Fortunately less than a mile into it we paused to go over the 8 steps to evaluate a casualty then we pushed up the hill to michie stadium. I required a lot of help this time, but I definitely pushed hard. The same person who had been watchful earlier was close by a second time and definitely helped push me up the hill although the squad leader had me grab his Load Carrying Vest (LCV) too. I had multiple help, but I still managed to push an awful lot by myself given we were definitely going faster than my pace even without gear. Another pause to recite the 9-Line Med-Evac Radio Call and we were off again. At the beginning of the steep S.O.B. that is the bottom of the PX hill another super fit member of the team began to push me, but I was hurting at this point. Once again the person who had fallen back to help me the previous two times was suddenly next to me again pushing me literally and verbally. When I couldn't help but slow down some more he said,

"Come on, I'm pushing all you're weight right now."
To which I curtly replied, "I get it!"

And immediately tried to alleviate the pressure. Sure, I didn't get all my weight off his hand, but I was trying and trying. I felt like my lower back and legs were going to disintegrate or seize up or spontaneously combust. I honestly wanted to throw myself on the side of the sidewalk and just lay there and vocalize the pain I felt in my muscles. Eventually we switched to a quick walk then we ran a little more and in a brief moment of walking the squad leader asked how I was doing, in particular about my knee and I was honest that it was feeling tight. That was more than likely just due to the extra weight of gear and the pounding of ramming up the hills after exerting our muscles. Nonetheless, I had knee problems earlier this school year and it was better to let him know than to be stupid. I had already done two runs in times difficult for me, and I had done two hills (true with help, but I was obviously waning in my strength) and there was no point in destroying myself for practice.

Along the way the same guy who helped me those three times also instructed me in how to hold my rifle while running and told me to control my breathing because I would "wear myself out long before I had to." I was sucking down air like a freight train...

The last thing the team did was buddy carries up the hill past Delafield Pond (Yes, ANOTHER hill, like I said there are so many f-ing hills around here) And I helped where I could but did not carry anyone because it would have been more stress to my knee I didn't need. I offered to carry two teammates' dummy rifles (called rubber ducks) and one of the dummy rifles of the 'casualties' they had to carry. Along the way "M'n'N" asked me to help him for a moment with the multiple rifles he carried and I jogged over and started to take rifles from him, then he said,

"Or you could just take my place for a little bit."
I shook my head and said,
"Sorry, squad leader told me not to carry anybody."

He gave me this annoyed look and dropped the rest of the rifles at my feet. I stooped to pick them up, but I didn't forget about it. When we got to the top he approached me and asked me to help him unclip the rifle on his back to which I replied and didn't care how snooty I may have sounded,

"No. You threw two rifles at me down there."

He apologized unconvincingly and I made some excuse up about being unable to see how it was clipped in and other people removed it. M'n'N was apparently having a bad day but I was still irritated.

The day ended earlier but I've been trying to finish my Econ Problem Set and study for Statistics, the latter of which didn't happen at all tonight. Oh well, it will pretty straight-forward and I don't care for that class much anyway. A lot happened today, it was a full day in a make you tired kind of way.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Blah. I was late to statistics today. However, the room looks great for Wednesday A.M. Inspection (WAMI) which I stayed up an extra hour to clean the room for. We are getting a new Tac NCO Thursday, so everyone is on guard. SFC Bright is straight out of the Infantry and has already expressed that he is not impressed with our company area. There is a company run on Friday morning. Everyone is "girding their loins" so to speak, because every time a new Tac NCO comes around they have to establish themselves as in charge and as a proficient NCO. We basically have no idea how the rest of the year is going to go. West Point is run very differently from the way the regular Army is, so it's usually a rough transition for both the company and the new Tac NCO.

In addition to having a pretty clean room today I also did great on the Physics Written Partial Review (WPR) which is a major test often being as much as 10% of your total grade. I have an International Relations WPR tomorrow morning in class, but that won't require nearly as much studying. Statistics is going to require just a little bit of nose to the grindstone unfortunately I can hardly focus on Day 2's at 0730 in the morning. The material is all a little bit dry... and I was falling asleep at the beginning of the semester a lot. Sorry if this is a bit straight-forward. Typical school life, with a couple exceptions here and there.

For instance this afternoon we took functionable M16 rifles and practiced target acquisition in the hallway. Most of us wore our Army Physical Fitness Uniform (APFU) but more commonly called PTs for Physical Training (PT). We also wore Load Carrying Vests (LCV), which I cannot figure out how to adjust to make fit better. There is more than a fist's distance between my body and the vest the way it hangs at some points, yet it's a snug fit for some of the boys. At the end of the ruck march the other day as we sat on a rock I asked S.,

"Why is it that the ruck that fits you comfortably... is supposed to fit me too?"

The frame, while much more comfortable than the previous Vietnam-era one, is still huge in comparison with my body. I was carrying about 40 lbs of weight on me if you don't count the LCV.

There was a ruckus in the hallway today though. Apparently someone in company is opposed to a mandatory company run to welcome the new Tac NCO this Friday morning. This somebody was making their opinions 'Loud' and 'Clear' in front of everyone. It definitely was not what you wanted subordinates in the company to see. I'm not sure what the result was or who had the right of way or who got their way for that matter. Let's say someone who has already familiarized me with the SOP was referencing a different chapter to support their case. I don't see the harm in a morning run, when frequently people work out here in the morning even if they have graded requirements and besides we will be working out in the mornings in the Army. I wonder what the punishment will be for being late in that scenario.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Made it to the Weekend

It turns out I did improve my time up the 1/1 Trail by :31 seconds. I finished the trail hard and when I touched the handrail and stopped my watch I was smiling as I sucked air in and out and tried to get my heart rate back to normal. From there we ran to the highest point on West Point and I needed a hand to get up that hill, but I knew that I'd made progress, so that was okay. Some people from our company set up a scenario for us to practice problem-solving too so we ran down another hill and from there we had to memorize a 'message' for the 'village sheik' something about communication. We headed up the slippery hill and into the wind and swirling bits of ice in the air.

It wasn't snowing, it wasn't raining, it was just tiny particles of ices falling and bouncing off our noses and sometimes sticking to our eyelashes and gathering on the guys' short haircuts. The weather was sort of beautiful and thanks to the more relaxed pace of the scenario I had time to enjoy it. I was cold, but warmed up because of the running, and since I had stepped in several puddles my feet were soaked. I had two choices, either be purely miserable because of the weather or at least appreciate the fluctuating amount of ice that was drifting down all around at one point thick enough to catch flurries on your tongue.

There was still some 'smoking' during the scenario. That is we were told to do diamond push-ups, flutter kicks, and jumping jacks. One of the things they wanted us to do was push-ups in a line, but stay in order of our message. Unfortunately doing pushups with someone's feet on your back is hard enough if your back is half as wide as everyone else's and then I forgot that being of similar weight usually helps. When we started the first rep I collapsed and could not for the life of me get up. At first I thought it was just a lack of trying, but then I realized that I had my feet elevated on someone else's back and that the person in front of me weighed almost 180 lbs! I realized that I don't bench that much, in fact I've never benched that much. I also realized when I stood up that I pulled a muscle in my back trying to do something I just wasn't physically strong enough to do yet.

That day was good though. We ran down a trail and the PX hill past Michie Stadium and then took the cadet chapel turn-off and down those stairs till we took a right behind Brad-Long Barracks and upstairs to Pershing. It was a Spirit Dinner night, and the theme was Mardis Gras. Sometimes these Corps-wide mandatory dinners just mean we are wearing the seasonal (and drab) uniform and getting a speech, but tonight it meant we could have fun with a theme and the plebes were expected to try to dress up for the theme with only issue items. All upperclassmen are allowed to wear civilian clothes to themed dinners.

I love Mardis Gras, so even though it was a Thursday and I had almost nil time to get ready I grabbed my pink halter-top because it is covered in a flower design that is basically outlined in sequins and shiny bits. This was the most mardi-gras-esque piece I owned and I paired it with jeans and closed-toed blue heels. I wore a jacket to dinner because it was still cold outside even though it was only about a 150-200 meter walk to Washington Hall. Towards the end of dinner, a junior who is also in my chain of command came up to me and said she needed to speak to me later that night about what I was wearing. I asked innocently why? It was Mardi Gras theme, right? She curtly told me that what I was wearing could be offensive to others. I agreed to talk to her that night. As soon as she left the table, the guys jumped to my defense.

I ended up talking to her later that night where she lectured me about what was appropriate clothing and what wasn't. She printed out two pages of SOP indicating what civilian clothes were strictly prohibited. She said she understood that you could hardly walk through a mall without seeing haltertops and tube tops, but that my rule of thumb should be asking myself, "Would I be embarrassed to wear that in front of General?" She also told me that having that much cleavage showing was setting a bad example.

I didn't argue, nor am I arguing here that she didn't have a point. However, things that I thought of that I wisely didn't bring up at the moment were things like the fact that the SOP says verbatim,

"Examples of clothes that do not represent... well and therefore are not allowed include: cutoffs, any shirt that exposes the midriff, shirts inteded to be worn as undergarments, tank or halter tops, mini-skirts, shower shoes / flip-flops, or..." etc. etc.

Yet the SOP also says in 5-2 the page before that within area 4-1 cadets are allowed to wear a "modified" Casual civilian standard "which includes collarless shirts, pants without belts, flip-flops and any clothing printed without offensive material or language that references or promotes the use of drugs or alcohol"

I was within 4-1 and it was a Spirit Dinner which does not have defined limits of what to wear and my shirt didn't promote drugs or alcohol. Additionally I would not have felt embarrassed to wear my halter top in front of a General given the situation and the fact that it is a halter top that fits me and I wouldn't have worn it to a formal or semi-formal event.

I still only nodded my head, took the papers and gave the proper emphatic, "Of course" whenever it was required of me. I haven't really changed my mind, but neither has this girl. It would be administrative punishment anyway, and not really worth the time or trouble of fighting.

Friday morning we did hill repeats, which really had me riled up at first because I thought after two days of hills that a third hard day was a bad idea. We were wearing our gas masks and carrying our "rubber ducks" (hard rubber casts of M-16 rifles with metal barrels and sight posts). We did four hill repeats regular, and then three wearing the gas masks. It feels like you are inhaling the same air you are exhaling. After the 6th repetition up the hill I was getting ready to throw in the towel, but all of sudden we were done. We had to run up the hill to get home, but that was understandable. I felt ten times happier I finished the work-out and the week and what's more is that about three of the hill runs I finished a lot closer to the rest of the team than usual. Progress!!

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon we did weapons disassembly and reassembly. We worked on the 240B machine gun, the M249 Squad Automated Weapon (SAW), and the AK-47. For some weird reason I ended up bruising my hand, but all of my disassembly/reassembly times were reasonable. I am not the fastest, but I am okay with that I know I will improve steadily and my combined skills are at a level that I am happy with but know has room for improvement.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I hate hills

Today was going well. I finished a paper in time, readjusted my Load Carrying Vest (LCV) and put inserts in my boots that made them fit I think perfectly. I didn't get a nap, but I wasn't that tired today despite going to sleep at 0330 and waking up at 0508. I did well in the swim this morning too. I also had a chance to shoot a virtual target and my shot groups are still "very nice" All this means is that I pulled the trigger on a real M-16 Rifle that had no ammo but has been rigged up with a giant projecter screen and connected to a super computer that tells me where I shoot. It also has gas powered simulated kick. Basically I was having a good day. I was even all over my simple role in the one-rope bridge and made a good suggestion. Then it happened: the hill.

We ran from the river all the way up to the bridge over the Beat Navy Tunnel. I mentally broke down in a way I haven't in a while. It was because of two things really. At this point we were supposed to stay together. I felt myself falling behind everybody else and I panicked. I pushed extra hard at the beginning hoping I could 'fake' my way through the hill. I wanted so desperately to finish with the team. Unfortunately not only did I fall back today but I also wanted to quit at what I thought was going to be the top. Then our rest time was cut short for me since I was the last one to arrive. The whole time one of my teammates is pushing me telling me I'm a fighter and to catch up to the team. My breath was ragged, my frustration mounted, and I felt so embarrassed of my performance. A perfect day ended in depression and a google search for better techiniques to run hills. I hope I can fix this, because I suck at hills, and you can tell so much worse when I'm wearing gear.

I don't know why this little set-back got me all down and out. I guess it's because I mentally broke today and I haven't done that for a while. I've gone miserably slow but I've always trucked on, even shuffling up the steep hills, even alternating between walking fast and jogging when I was really sucking. Today I became frustrated and even stopped before the end and retorted to my teammate's encouragement,

"But we stop here, we always stop here."

It still sounds so damn whiny to me.

Tomorrow we have the 1/1 Trail Timed Run. I guess I better go google trail runs now and hopefully improve my time from the last time, otherwise I will probably feel doubly bad about today. I think as long as I'm within a minute or so on either side of my time I will be happy. I have to remember I am working on my weakness. One of my weaknesses is hills, but I'm not defeated by hills. I just get tired as hell running on them. Wish me luck, since West Point is surrounded by the steep bastards and it's the favorite ingredient for a tough workout.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Role Call!

I am currently writing an 8 page Internation Relations Paper right now. I'm sorry if the last post came across as too whiny. There is a lot to cover and I intend to do so but in good time. Classes are a little rough due to time crunches. There are also grades dependent on our physical activity and our "military" aptitude.

It's a little puzzling that we subject ourselves to such a harsh system of judgment. Apparently I have roughly a B- in Military Development grade, but the funny thing is that I'll bet that will have little to no bearing on whether I'll be a good leader in the future. I constantly hear cadets berating themselves for not rising to the occasion. There are few particularly gifted cadets that sort of have a better attitude, but they are far and few in between and hell we're all a little bit warped for putting ourselves through this. Somewhere in our mutinous muttering and hidden in our bitching and moaning is an affection for West Point. There is also this self-image of exalted humility or of suffering for the greater good of humanity. West Pointers in general - myself included - are primarily type A personalities, we've been told we're natural-born leaders, we're self-critical and never satisfied. Is it necesarily a bad thing? I don't think so. I think we really love this place and think we'll never live up to the image we've developed of the perfect officer, or the unknown image we have yet to solidify but have started to conjure up.

There are many other great organizations with pressure to live up to high standards exists. Any Ivy League school, or pro-football, or even being the perfect housewife. All of these roles emphasize certain sets of skills and values. West Point is no different. The secret to West Point is that it really is impossible to perfectly balance it all. You might be a pentathlete and wine and dine at the Dean's home. Fit and smart and hard-working you won't be the fittest though, or the smartest, or the hardest-working and even if you are the hardest-working you may not have the highest military grade. Maybe you had a lazy squad leader or a platoon leader who just didn't take a liking to you. Maybe you weren't doing perfect 100% of the time. And you know what? For all the cadets hyperventilating at this thought out there tonight possibly at this very hour... that's okay. Take a deep breath and calm down. Yeah, you too Psuedo-Mr. Incredible. Faux-Miss Everything-in-its-place-all-the-time. Maybe you're bitter and in the bottom half, or jaded and somewhere in the middle. Maybe your skeptical and in denial at either the extreme top or bottom. The point is... West Point may as well be a giant social experiment. Don't worry though... be happy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Article 1: Sleep Cycles

At West Point, there are few cadets who go to sleep early. Those who do amaze and astound us night owls. Our schedules are hectic here. Wake up? Depends if you have a morning work out, or if you have a random drug test (via urinalysis, there's no better way to start the morning if you wake up dehydrated right?) or the occasional health and welfare inspection. At least the latter is fair since the entire company is roused at some ungodly hour and instructed in whatever clothes you have on to sit outside your room and wait for a small team of three to four active-duty senior NCO's and Officers to individually inspect each room looking for things that would be, well, a danger to our "health and welfare". Drug tests only affect about thirty or forty unlucky individuals.

Perhaps you like waking up early? Well say a cheery good morning to 0520 hours if you want to get a lane at the pool or a stationary bike in the '69 work-out room. Then squeeze a shower in before breakfast formation and breakfast at roughly 0700 hours. In case you thought you could relax, the first hour of classes is at 0730 sharp. There's no guarantee you will have one of these morning classes, but there is a significantly strong chance you will.

At 1250 the plebes (freshmen) announce to the company that lunch formation goes and in what uniform. You rush from class to your room to drop off books and lock up your laptop in case there is a random security inspection. You run to formation and if it's Monday (who doesn't love 'em?) you get to march in a haphazard formation in front of typically empty stands, a few stern officers, a handful of cadets who "grade" your performance and all to the monotonous beat of a drum and the annoying blare of bugles. You can't blame the band, all they do is their job, and to be honest it's not half bad except your marching over the parade field and there is goose shit everywhere.

Cut scene to Dean's hour. The hour set aside after lunch for a natural pause. During this hour a still settles over the barracks and you can feel the reluctance to go through with the second half of the day. At 1355 hours classes start again stat. At 1600 extracurriculars begin. There are so few afternoons that belong to you individually. At this point most teams are impatiently waiting for those who have last hour to grab their gear and meet at Arvin Gym, or the track, or at Mac Arthur's Statue, and before this most of the corps-squaders have already begun practice.

Finally as long as you aren't a plebe and it isn't Thursday Night Dinner you get to the evening. It may be anywhere from 1730 to 1845 by the time you are sitting in your room alone and contemplating the night's work. Hopefully you don't have a 1930 briefing in Rob Auditorium and you can take a shower and start on tonight's homework.

Unless maybe the thought of giving 'the man' your free hours distresses or annoys you. Then you might be the kind who puts your homework off. Defiantly kicking up your feet and surfing facebook or talking to your roommate if the two or three of you get along. Maybe you take a nice long shower, and maybe afterwards you start to read the book you've been wanting to, or perusing the magazine that's been glossily waiting in your second desk drawer. There's also all the little things you just have to do. You have to do laundry, and you have to clean up for the next day's A.M. Inspection, and you have to eat dinner.

What about the fun extracurricular activities at West Point? They do exist in the form of language clubs and dance lessons or the infantry tactics club if you're a little more HOOAH. When are you supposed to catch up on the latest gossip involving your circle in the throng of 4,000? Not when you're busy thinking about how you're going to finish an Excel File, a 2,000 word essay, ten pages for economics, and by the way you have to reset your PIN for you military I.D. because your computer just gave you the blue screen of death and thinks you tried the wrong PIN the max number of times so you need to go to the fourth floor of Washington Floor and stop by the S-1's office too.

I wish I still went to sleep by half past midnight. I've pulled all-nighter's now. Two in one month and right before major tests too. Just a small idea of the insanity dealt with every day. I'm not trying to get crappiest schedule of the year award, just trying to relate a lot at one time to people who don't know the school. If you have questions, let me know. I'll post a few examples of weeks (not just mine) hopefully in the near future. To be continued...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Middle of the Way

Despite the dangers of blogging today especially being in a position to be scrutinized, I still want to do this again. I have learned from experience not to use this as a tool to vent, but to instead practice writing and to hopefully share part of my life with the reader who more than likely knows me and would like to keep up even if we're not in constant communication. If I get really philosophical or passionate about any particular subjects maybe I will branch out, but for now it's just a general journal of sorts. I'm not at the beginning or end of anything particularly interesting right now, so I'll just be filling in the gaps that are the past and adding the new material as it comes to future posts simultaneously. The continuity may be lacking, but hopefully it will make sense. That's all I have at this hour, sleep is important as I've (hopefully) learned recently. Goodnight.