22 June 2010

Living the Army Dream

Life in the "hootch" means 10 older guys living in a barracks bay built for 20. The building is cinder block, and doesn't seem to be air-conditioned. Luckily for us, however, we haven't had much reason to complain about the weather this Annual Training. It's been mostly cooler and cloudy, with mist and rain. I'm certain we'll face hotter duty in the next few months.

We share latrines with another bay of similarly middle-aged men, meaning we avoid the usual hassles of wrestling matches and speed-metal lullabies. There's also a single washer and dryer for all of us. Earlier this week, I duplicated the mistake of forgetting a small bottle of alcohol-based hand cleanser in a trouser pocket. Coming out of the dryer, my clothes smelled like hot vodka.

Living in barracks means less privacy and quiet than in the field (unless, of course, the Field Artillery barrels into the Forward Operating Base--the "FOB"--blaring AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" from their vehicle-mounted loudspeakers). It's still pretty cushy, however. We don't have to worry too much about spiders or ticks.

We have four shower heads and three toilet stalls for about 20 guys. Of the four shower heads, one sprays hard enough to strip paint, one is as weak as a cattle-mister, and one has "hot" and "cold" reversed. The remaining one is a handicapped-accessible seated shower. None of us is coordinated enough to figure out how to use it from a non-seated position.

I sport a bright multicolored beach towel to the shower each morning, the better to see when I'm not wearing glasses. A Facebook friend of mine recently bought her downrange husband some SpongeBob Crocs for shower shoes, an idea which sounds useful to me for similar reasons of visibility. She was also tie-dying towels for him. Both were efforts to prevent loss downrange, whether due to theft or accident.

A Red Bull buddy of mine, who toured Afghanistan earlier this year as a civilian contractor electrician, says heavy-duty Crocs are indeed the shower-shoe of choice, at least at Bagram Airfield.

Depending on our shifts, most of us are getting to bed by 12 midnight. One of the guys, who works nights back in the word, has a white-noise generator that he sets to "ocean waves" or "night forest" sounds. We tell him that he needs something stronger to drown out all the snoring in our barracks. A relaxing, subtle setting such as "Pterodactyls giving birth," for example.

Each of us has a slightly different time we get up, and slightly different alarm. Some chirp like angry crickets. Others sound like electronic fiestas or game show buzzers. "Who the HECK has the alarm that sounds Revellie?!" asked one troop. (My phone sounds like a 32-bit Army bugler.) I shot back: "Who the HECK has the alarm that sounds like the sparkly Good Witch of the West?" He got quiet.

Seriously, if I have one more half-awake sparkly pink fantasy visit from Glenda, I'm going to seek out and destroy that alarm clock with maximum prejudice.

Every morning, it's up for breakfast chow, which is served from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Then, we put on the battle-rattle--helmet and body armor and weapons--for the six-block walk-and-waddle to the TOC. We spend most of our days in an air-conditioned and florescent-lit tent, with constant stimulus and little sense of the passage of time. We skip lunch, or eat "Totems"--"Tailored Operations Training Meals," which allegedly have fewer calories than the full-bore "Meals-Ready-to-Eat" (M.R.E.)

Pretty soon, it's time for dinner chow. We eat, we work, we do physical training (P.T.), we put out the lights. Then, the next day, it's Groundhog Day all over again.


  1. Dude... are you going to eat your TOTmS??? Shades of Camp Atterbury... PDV

  2. Dude... are you going to eat your TOTmS? Shades of Camp Atterbury... thanks for sharing! PDV

  3. OK, I've been to Camp Ripley...it's 100 times better than Camp Roberts in CA.
    Did you know that if CA was a country, it would be teh 7th largest in the world---but our National Guard camp was built in 1942--the old 2 story wooden barracks that were supposed to only last 5 years-- until the war was over.

    Our State won't spend a penny on the Guard---but they'll call us up in a second for floods, fires and earthquakes (and a riot every 20 years or so)

  4. Been there too (Camp Roberts)... same old WWII barracks that we had in the 80s? Incredible! PDV

  5. "Pterodactyls giving birth,"

    Classic. Love it. I'm catching up with all your posts. Enjoying them immensely.


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