04 April 2010

April Foolishness

"A good idea at the line-of-departure is a bad idea," the old soldiers' saying goes. It's an even worse idea when it's April 1.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that good things can happen on the first of April--my first date with Household-6 happened on an April 1, for example, and look how well that worked out for everyone involved. In the United States--and in other countries, too--"April Fool's Day" is celebrated with all sorts of hoaxes and practical jokes, first-dates notwithstanding.

The guys and gals who have come onto active duty early in my unit's pre-deployment have been working hard. We're obviously not at 100 percent staffing yet, but those who have shown up to the party have been moving trucks and supplies, establishing computer and communication systems, writing training and operations plans--all while trying to get as smart as possible on Afghanistan's people, politics, and problems.

Prior to our as-yet-unannounced mobilization day (M-day), every soldier is also required to pass a certain number of tests involving "warrior tasks." These are individual tasks, such as how to treat a casualty for shock, and how to react to direct fire (someone is shooting at you with a rifle) and indirect fire (someone is shooting at you with artillery). We probably will have to don our chemical protective masks, too, and breathe in the usual snort of tear gas. And you think spring pollen is bad ...

Weekends at home are now more rare than weekends at work. At the same time, the oft-repeated message from our leaders is: "Now is the time that you should spend plenty of time with your families." There's a diabolical echo of Catch-22 in this. After all, anyone who has just come onto orders hasn't accrued enough military leave to take time off to spend with their families.

Springtime arrived in Iowa last week, with sunny days blossoming past the 60s and into the high 70s. Last Thursday--April Fool's Day--spring fever plus overwork plus the upcoming Easter / Passover weekend wall added up to the perfect time for someone to start a rumor. The rumor was that the entire brigade was going to get a pass (similar to military leave, but you don't have to count it against your personal vacation days) to take Good Friday off. (Or, as one Iowa city briefly considered, "Celebration of Spring" day.)

So, Sherpa, when you tell a story ... have a point ...

Roger. So it's Thursday, April 1. And someone strolls through our makeshift Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and says that one of the battalions is getting a pass for Good Friday. Lucky red devils.

Later, that same person ducks back into the TOC and says that the entire brigade is now getting a pass for Good Friday, given how much we've been working weekends. There has to be a catch, we all say.

No, we're told, this one is confirmed. Comes all the way down from the top.

Like Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify." We verified. And it turns out that someone had a good idea at the line-of-departure. Everybody is giddy like schoolchildren. Household-6 immediately issues a Top Ten List of Things Sherpa Can Work on at Home.

Then 1630 hours (4:30 p.m. civilian-time) rolls around, and we're told that, while our leaders really, really intended for us to go on pass, they hadn't gotten full approval from the paperwork monkeys. The pass is rescinded, before it's even issued.

It was no joke, but it was April Fool's.

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