Monday, July 25, 2011

A Slightly Different Tune: Helping

I continue to draw and talk and hum.  I am moving towards my goals slowly and surely.  I checked out apartments near Fort Lee.  Since Transportation OBC is sort of longer, I am definitely on the look out for a place I can really focus at.  I finally get my dream:  a room to myself, a glass of wine, and my laptop on a desk in a peaceful, private setting.  I mean that's all I need, all else will follow.  I've been looking at career opportunities and realizing all the things I've done that actually translate into experience:  my travels, my thesis work, my constant analysis of the world around me.  I welcome challenge and try to learn from people I've identified as intellectual giants in my life.

Today I identified a sharp new cadet girl.  She was quick, and asking great questions.  She was a much faster learner than her squad leader was a teacher.  I felt frustrated for her, but I hope she keeps up that enthusiasm.  She also just had the genuine and honest sound, not the stuck up pride of a new cadet who thinks they are the shit, and not the upwoundedness of a new cadet freaking out because of all the dumb pressure, and not the lackadaisical attitude of a prepster who just doesn't care.  I got her contact information and told her I would shoot her an email from my AKO account.  If she's as I perceived her to be, than I hope to be some sort of intermediate mentor.  She'll still get guidance from all the same Majors and Colonels who are at West Point, and still from the coaches and seniors of whatever sport she does, but I can hope too help with my current experience living the officer life from 2011.  I just felt the urge to be available to this girl.  It was the only way I could think of to counteract the frustratingly inadequate leadership of her squad leader.  No offense to him, poor thing, but he just wasn't enough and she was particularly bright.

Continuing my own pursuit of self-improvement I launched into Rosetta Stone Level 3 for German and was pleased to understand quite a bit.  It's been a great supplemental tool to all the practicing I do but am too shy to put into practice with my german-speaking friends.  I also tried some of the individual lessons for Rosetta Stone Farsi and was grudgingly able to admit they were decent review pieces.  I still wish I had time to write notes, which I guess I do except then Rosetta Stone likes to think I'm particularly dumb for taking so long on the pronunciation portion.  I know all this language work will pay off eventually.  I guess since I've gotten away from learning all the languages of Europe, that I'm headed towards the Strategic side of things.

I am still happy to have gone the military route, and still trying to figure out how West Point changed things.  A friend doing an internship in D.C. told me he was happy with West Point because what other institution would pay you to travel the world and just learn?  I guess he's right, but at the same time I cannot forget all the shit I went through at West Point.  The good far outweighs the bad, but the bad was frustrating many times.  Many of the individuals who go through West Point do so with the expectation that the world somehow owes them.  It don't owe you a thing... I have come to respect my Senior ROTC officer graduates who may have enjoyed a regular college life more often but who proceed with the intention of doing the best at their level having less control over where they go.

Of course whether West Point or ROTC, I prefer the company of individuals based on them caring about their job or - outside military matters - caring about something.  Basically not just plowing through friends and running straight for the stars whilst pushing over and back stabbing their peers for promotion and prestige.  I think the best thing for human beings to do with their lives if they can with even a fraction of their energy it is to make the world a better place for the oppressed.  It is not the same as simply bettering the world, any Capitalist could explain the economics of how his personal wealth improves the quality of the world, and while that person may be correct, it is the principle of the matter.  How have or can you help the bereft?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music Art Life

In respect to my artistic goals I guess there's more to admit, I also want to learn to play the guitar. Mumford and Sons songs inspired me. I love the feeling in the music. Sometimes I'm not totally on board with their lyrics, but it's the guitar that's got me going.

Musically speaking, in the Netherlands, a friend had some music out and when I asked why she told me about her violin. She said she's not great, but she likes it none the less. She recommended I go to the Czech Republic if I'm looking for a cheap violin while I'm in Germany. I'd love to pick it up again. I believe this means I should look for an apartment that doesn't have restrictive noise measures in place.
My friend who is already in Bamberg, she lives in a great apartment but it's a little out of the way. I'd rather be closer to downtown and public transportation. I can't wait to really start my life. I know it seems like I keep looking forward as though what I have in front of and around me isn't really life. Yet, I feel like I do not waste what is around me, I just get impatient with it. Why can't this bit be over? Living only barely outside of Thayer Gate, why can't I really be free of West Point?

So I drew a new picture and am publishing it now.  I decided to make this a separate blog entry because I felt it detracted from the overall different tone and theme of the previous blog.  So this one may be a little bit of what you already read, if I do have any readers.  Also for those of you new, I have my Twitter account on the sidebar as well now.  If you enjoy any of these posts, or any of the art, please subscribe.  And if you want any particular topics feel free to comment or message.

Today was a particularly creative day at work.  First listened to a small lecture on keeping the Cadets from using the roads.  It's an ambitious goal.  Keeping Cadets off roads is difficult because the land navigation sites are just too big and it's too impractical to monitor all the roads.  In reality, the very existence of so many roads makes it almost a moot point.  If the roads weren't there, the Cadets couldn't use them.  The roads are there... I do empathize with some of the frustration, if it's there why not use it?  Because we're trying to teach them the basic blocks of skills they will need on land navigation courses that are more flat and not so easy to terrain associate with.  I've been thinking of another way to relate to Cadets (having been one so recently) the importance of true land nav as opposed to trail-walking.  I think it boils down to this:  when I tell my civilian hiking counterparts how our land nav course has trails, they laugh out loud at the thought of having to teach Soldiers how to read a map with trails.  I think we should aspire in our training to be able to do more than walk a trail.  We should come away from our training able to tell our civilian counterparts that we can wander terrain without trails, we should be able to say things like "Well on a linear feature you could resection to figure out where you were on a map, but man you better have a good map."

To be fair, I think when civilians envision land nav for the military they think of huge open woods or the heart of some tropical nowhere in the middle of the night, a Ranger silently wading in waist high water, rifle trained ahead of him and making silent hand gestures to keep his squad in line until the moment is right... then BAM! Bullets start flying, and our heroes have taken the enemy by surprise having navigated to this point with nothing but a gut feeling and impeccable sense of direction.

The reality of land nav tests is you have your map, which you are trying to keep dry because if it is not raining you are incredibly sweaty.  You have your plastic protracter, with maybe a string tied to the center to more quickly calculate grid azimuth.  You have your military grade magnetic compass with degrees and mils on it.  You have at least two kilometers to cover on an easy course.  You don't take off running, and you're not on a Sunday stroll.  You're somewhere between, power walking and trying to maintain your course.  You're looking around and trying to make sense of what you see around you with the lines of elevation on the map.  Like most things in life, it's been highly romanticized.  But I would like to impress on these Cadets they should not come out of this training with skills that would make an amateur hiker laugh at them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

and Pause

The committee I'm working for this summer is the land nav committee, and as far as work goes, it's really not bad and I even appreciate how relevant it is as skill.  It has been a rewarding experience thus far, even considering recent sad events.  A new cadet died on one of the courses.  The cause of death is unknown.  I don't know anything about it since it was the evening I got off work with a day off to look forward to, but today there was talk.  There are already a handful of theories being rumored through the Corps.  Whatever the theory, it's being layered with the heat wave going through the North East.  According to the news, the heat has accounted for 22 deaths in this region of the country this summer.  I don't really know, it's possible, but I'd much rather wait for a news update rather than jump to conclusions.  There are three land navigation sites.  I'm at site one.  The occurrence was at site three, so the long course day.  We have been in the upper heat categories, tonight there will be a Taps Vigil at West Point.

Similar to when a Soldier passes away, the Corps (most of those who are in Garrison in the summer anyway) will gather on the 'Apron' which is the area in front of the main buildings (Ike Barracks, Washington Hall, and Mac Long Barracks) and the deceased Cadet's name will be called three times.  It's symbolic and sad.

A brief scan of news showed the last time a young cadet died from a training-related activity was actually as recently as 2003.  The circumstances were a little different, and in the 2003 case the cadet was trying out for the marathon team.  I have not been able to pinpoint the last time a New Cadet died in Basic Training or Beast Barracks.  As I said I have no idea the cause, but the New Cadet was on the individual long course when he was found.  Rather than wait for the result to be determined there were those in the media who immediately investigated if abuse was a factor.  That is, thankfully, not part of training anymore.  Beast barracks is still a challenge, but Cadets who try to haze their New Cadets in a way that could harm them are punished, sometimes failed militarily and forced to re-do their summer leadership details after extensive retraining.

Today there was pause, but training must continue.  The big Army machine cannot stop, but tonight at TAPS it will pause.

In addition, and not to add to the doom or gloom, and certainly not to make light of the situation, but Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home.  She was only 27.  It just makes one stop and wonder for a moment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My New Dream

My new dream (folly? pastime?) is to write intriguing, challenging articles until I can get my J.D. and then can write academic articles or be better qualified to get the kind of job I'm interested in.  I don't know where or how to start.  It sounds both simple and ridiculously hard.  I mean, I haven't got a degree in this sort of thing.  It sounds intimidating and fraught with failure.  But I told my friend about my fear of rejection and ridicule from editors or worse just being plain ignored... and he said that the ridicule and criticism could be good things.  People who aren't trying to spare your feelings are maybe the best way to make progress.  So now I'll start working on a couple articles on important issues to me.  Then see what, how, and where I can peddle these sorts of wares.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This is Not Over

Today felt old stirrings.  A captain was enthusiastically telling us about a leadership book.  Obviously the book made little difference to me, since I cannot remember the title.  Apparently it's all the rage with commanders.  Anyway... reading Obama's Wars offers such a complex variety of insights, I am appalled we didn't have to read this at the Academy.  It offers so much more breadth and depth on the decision making of this country, that would have helped fuel and foster good conversation in our officership class as opposed to the pointless thinking exercises with incomplete information.  For example the GEN McChrystal case... reading this book is making me reexamine my original evaluation.  I think overall my evaluation has not changed, but I have so much more food for thought on the broad and complicated problem that faces our nation and military forces today.

The other familiar old feeling came when this same captain was referring to Gates of Fire and how it's the ultimate leadership book, blah blah blah, he made all his Lieutenants read it.  It's about the Battle of Thermopylae and the men who fought in it.  While I'm sure it's a great book, just like Black Hearts, which the captain also mentioned, I wanted to point out that we needed a modern book that highlighted the women leaders who are participating in battle right now.  Or we need a historical fiction book about the Arabian Battle Queens, or Joan of Arc.  He talked about how impressive the training was, how it just beat you down and getting back up the description he said was inspiring.  Well, sir, how would you like the same feeling with societal convention?  Want to feel like your a fish out of water?  Like what you're doing is unusual for your gender?  Like you get hit with or have to hear a stereotype describe your peers?  It may not be the physical brutality that you're so in awe with, but women face a challenge and an unregulated indoctrination process as harrowing as that which you've described.  Also, with all the book's accuracy how come you don't know a damn thing about Spartan women and the training they had to undergo or the rights that they had (though few) or the cultural nuances that affected women.  Why do you men give me a blank stare if I ask you, what about the women?  I guess the unspoken question in your minds which saddens me is, "What about them?"

Monday, July 18, 2011

And the Tired Just Hit Me

Today I got to work just on time, and was a little nervous.  I pulled up and all the other cars were there.  I couldn't help nervously thinking,
Thankfully my arrival was right on time.  The Officer in Charge just greeted me with a good morning Lieutenant and gave me some instructions.  Ironically enough I was given charge of the compass confidence course which I haven't done myself.  So I was briefing the freshman hopefuls - known as New Cadets - how to do something I myself haven't done in at least two years, possibly four.  It's a simple course though, and the brief isn't too hard.

When I was done at half past three, I went back just as the rain started and I took a much-needed shower before crashing into my sleeping bag.  It's on a sleeping pad, so not so uncomfortable.  I ended up falling into a deep sleep until eight at night.  A lightning storm was the evening's entertainment after a fast food dinner.

During work earlier though, I walked with one group to hear their questions and get a feel for how well the squad leaders had grasped the land navigation as we taught them in their four-day training, I was observing how the New Cadets acted.

Sometimes they were as docile and desperate to be led as to be sheep, and sometimes they were as proud as a former small town "All-Star" can be, with all the contempt for West Point for not recognizing them as the little Ceasars or Tsarinas they were in their hometowns.  I kept thinking Beast is the most bizarre combination of bruised and battered egos.  They are simultaneously beaten down, yet expected at times to perform and demonstrate mature, level-headed problem-solving skills.  They aren't treated as human beings, having to raise a close fist which they must refer to as their "paw" to say something, yet we expect them to be human beings after this trial by fire, and even during this summer hazing trial, they are supposed to learn basic military skills such as marksmanship, land nav, and field craft.  So, when I am watching them try to learn land nav... I wonder if it's okay that they only sort of get it.  A few of them have the cockiness as to believe they know land nav.  Really, they know how to "beat the terrain into submission" but that doesn't mean they know the nuances and technical skills of land nav.  They are even more blind to this than the cadre, having never been on these courses many New Cadets gripe and moan when they go around a hill to attack a less steep side.  In their minds, they have wasted time and energy to go around when their nerves and competitive instincts tell them to go straight up the sheer cliffs of Blackcap Mountain to get their points.  So many Alpha males and females.  I was one of the most motivated New Cadets back in my day...

...and somehow being that motivated only made me hated by some peers who didn't understand how very human I was.  I almost feel like self-sabotage was necessary to pass as a human being that could be friends with others.  I don't really know anymore, but looking at Beast from this perspective from four years away, I can see how much potential there is in these young men and women... but I also see all the folly and pride that will be washed and worn away if not this summer than by four hard years at West Point.  I think the most difficult part of West Point is the social side of it.  There is no grade, but there is certainly a lot to learn from yourself when you are in that environment...

Again, I've sabotaged my sleep and have to be awake at six so I can get to work a little earlier tomorrow.  I don't need that much thankfully and the time passes pretty fast since the cadets arrive at about 0800 and I'm working from 0830-1200, break for lunch, then either walking the course or keeping track of groups signing in and out.  Walking the course is nice in that it's freedom from sitting around trying to look a little busy.

Favorite quote today:  "El Paso is pretty flat, except for the mountains."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

So Many Books, and Lost for Words

Today was a good day I think.  I took my friend to the airport and said goodbye for an unknown length of time.  It was a sad moment because he's a good guy and there aren't too many of those in this world.  I was equally annoyed with a friend who blew me off last minute due to piss poor planning and vague reasons.  I offered a solution, but having been excluded from his poor decision-making, it was too late for us to meet up.  Thus I had a paradox of feelings, general annoyance for him, and the annoyance of missing the chance to see him.  Quite a complicated emotional reaction for "just a friend."  Meanwhile the very good guys of this world feel like they're finishing last with women like myself.  Sometimes all the good or bad in the world has no influence on who you care - or don't care - for.  Ach, but that's too deep for this hour and the length of time I'll spend writing tonight.

I feel like I've surrounded myself with books lately.  Notebooks.  Real books.  Language books.  I just bought a five-language visual dictionary guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment... eventually.  I am still reading Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward and have been too busy (or lazy) to make more definitive progress lately.  Still the more I read, the more that names pop out at me in the paper such as the death of Karzai's half-brother, who was sorta head honcho in the Kandahar region.  In the book he's just mentioned as a problem taking money from CIA and others, but a problem that at least provides some order.  (btw if anything is misspelled here it's because I'm writing rather fast tonight, I do need some sleep).

I feel a little bit lonesome now that the couple friends I originally felt like I was multitasking this weekend are now gone.  One to Austria and the other home.  I really don't like admitting I would like to have someone I enjoy to talk to around here.  It's not that I'm totally unfriendly (I hope not) it's just I have a barrier and there are few people I just love to talk for hours with... and there are a lot more people where I am not nearly so committed or happy to converse with.  It doesn't necessarily have to do with intellectualism either.  It's just a level of comfort.  I guess I've just been missing the hours when those that I like talking to are online or available.  But this evening I had some luck with a couple friends from back home.  I hope for more luck tomorrow afternoon when I get out from the first day of work we have broken into shifts.  More to follow regarding housing and traveling situation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ah... So This is what they call Work

So much has happened since I started working "for reals" a week ago.  I was technically "late" and missed the first day of orientation, but it turned out not to matter since the first day was like most first days at any job.  Mostly pointless and not much potential to screw up.  So on day 2 I showed up on time and "ready to go."

During this time I'd moved into Camp Natural Bridge, the 'lodging' facilities for Active Army personnel training Cadets during their summer training.  It's enough to live in, but I was quickly pissed off by the persistent fire alarm which went off arbitrarily and could not be turned off without the fire department present.  This obnoxious alarm forced us from our beds once at 2300 and 0300 hours in the same night.  Besides this hiccup, it's basic housing:  a tin can or box which puts a roof over your head and walls around.  It had air conditioning, electricity, hot water, and toilets.  And that's it.  No internet, not even phone signal.  The last thing eventually convinced me it was worth it to leave, but I hadn't moved out until today.  But this is also part of "work."

My job is at the Land Navigation Site #1.  I help to run the compass confidence course and 500 meter pace count course and also supervise the carrying out of the terrain walk.  I feel a lot better at land navigation without trails now and would like to keep working on the skill.  The first four days were more than that though.  They involved long hikes covering a few kilometers a day uphill, overhill, and downhill.  In the humid heat or the pouring rain and thunderstorms.  We walked.  A lot.  My feet are still torn up a little.  Blisters and calluses on parts of my feet I wasn't aware bore all that much pressure while hiking.  There came a point while we trained the cadet cadre where my feet hurt more to just stand on site than to get out and hike up and downhill again.  It was strange because standing still even my toes hurt like my feet were swollen and I just needed to sprawl out and elevate them... but walking briskly up and downhill seemed the best cure.

We received the cadet cadre on a Saturday and I got a group of ten to train for four days.  These barely junior cadets were all unfamiliar to me, which somehow helped.  One of them asked if they were the first group I was leading as an officer.  The sarcasm and cynicism amused me.  It annoyed the older officers who think cynicism ruins training.  I think it can do that... but I also think it's a firm reminder to get your head out of the academic clouds and realize you are training people with very human traits and if it was you on the ground at that age again you would have the same attitude.  I also can see that some very clever kids are just frustrated with the repetition and 'dumb down' process of it all and are itching to actually perform.  Now, often these particularly bright cadets are also a little bit proud, but they are willing and even eager to perform, they just hate being talked down to or doubted and the Army has a tendency to give that impression.  I sort of get that attitude, I understand it, and maybe it's a problem because I haven't learned how to deal with that yet, but I feel like I connect with those cadets.

Anyway they picked team names which I'm obligated due to verbal promise to repeat here:
  • The Purple Cobras
  • Ladies
  • Swamp People
  • Best Buds
  • The Reapers
The "Ladies" were two guys, but that name came up because I was explaining to them when to use "female" and when to use "Ladies" or "Ma'am" or "women."  My basic explanation was this:  Whenever it's appropriate to use "males" you may then use the term "female(s)", but whenever you would say "men" or "guys" or something similar say "women" or "ladies" etc.  There were some jokes, but also a little bit of the light bulb going on... I could tell a couple of them agreed that made sense.  I'm glad I was able to reach ten individuals.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Mysteries to Ponder

My new quests involve answering questions that I have always had a genuine curiosity about but have never been able to satisfy myself to the answers.

Question 1:  How true are those trashy tabloids?  Do actors and actresses and pop stars pick them up and cringe... is it closer to the truth than we know?  Or are they really "just like us"? I'd love to do some work for one of those trashy magazines just to see how they come up with stories...

Question 2:  Is it really that crazy to work for a hotel chain?  Are there all sorts of sexual deviancies going on in the rooms?  Is there evidence left behind?  This one intrigues me and I'd be interested to work either concierge or manager at a high end hotel.  I'm just so interested if it's really that crazy or just tedious.

I just wonder what it'd be like to do this sort of job day to day until you got tired of it and moved on.  I'm not sure I could live like that.  I spoke to an officer today who told me that while being a geologist interested him, the labwork was so unfulfilling to him so he went to the Army.  I wonder if that's how I'd be out of the Army... or can I find fulfillment in another job... the pay and benefits surely wouldn't be as good... but that shouldn't be what guides our choices... right?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I'm Not Worried, Are You Worried?

If there is something this trip has taught me, it's that no matter how bad things are... you pull through one way or another. It makes more sense to keep your cool, though I cannot claim I'm skilled at that yet. I did get practice during this trip however.  I would say the "trip" home was one that cannot be repeated ever again quite the same, and thank God for that, it was one hectic trip that took me from train station to airport.  My last leisure trip was with a friend in Düsseldorf, and I got to see the topsy turvy architecture of the Gehry Buildings on the Rhine River, and have a nice walk and talk in the evening, and some casual German lessons of course, but it was a very short visit all considered.  In the morning was another hearty European breakfast with Brötchen or Semmel in the south (fresh morning bread rolls in Germany) and soft-boiled eggs and tomato and mushroom organic sandwich spread (which sounds strange, but tastes okay).

Next was the 'trip' home.  The original plan was to get to Ramstein Air Base and fly home for free... unfortunately that wasn't quite how it played out.  Turns out, it's not quite so simple to get to Ramstein from Düsseldorf.  I began with a train to Köln, then to Mannheim, then to Kaiserslautern, then to a tiny station called Landstuhl, and then took a bus from there to the air base... where I discovered a ridiculous number of people languishing in what looked like the purgatory of space available passenger air terminals.  I forgot how close the Fourth of July was... and so I was stuck in a long list of people trying to get to the States and I had the wedding of my friend to get to... so I made a decision to book a flight from Munich Airport to Frankfurt Airport to Montreal Airport and then to Cleveland Airport. The cheapest flight was with multiple airlines, so I was flying with Lufthansa and then Continental.

Unfortunately Lufthansa did not check my luggage all the way through to Cleveland... and the hour between flights was inadequate for me to catch my connection.  Continental was not helpful at all though in this matter and I hope it was only the counter "leader" and not Continental in general.  I am writing a very strong letter to complain about the woman who scathingly handled my issue.  Instead of being polite, or even professional, this woman brazenly asked me why I'd missed my flight since in her words I had "plenty of time" to catch the connecting flight.

When I explained my situation again, she quickly absolved Continental Airlines - and herself - of any responsibility for my plight and told me coldly to go to Canada Air to fix my problem.  I took out my notebook and asked for her name and wrote down the time and told her she had seriously dissuaded me from pursuing further flights with Continental airlines, that I had paid good money for my ticket, and that I was severely disappointed with way I'd been treated.

Canada Air was great though, and they helped me out a bundle.  After arriving in Cleveland everything else went smooth.  Plane is boarding now, so the story will have to wait till later.